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Exhibition or mudpie contest?

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SEATTLE -- Cliff Floyd has accused Bobby Valentine of using his power as National League manager to carry out an insidious form of revenge.

Bobby Valentine
Bobby Valentine and Cliff Floyd have been playing the blame game ever since the All-Star reserves were announced.

Valentine, in turn, has accused Joe Torre of abusing his power by carrying out another form of revenge against Jeff Nelson -- that is, before Torre added Nelson to the team late Saturday.

On an occasion that should be a celebration of Ichiro Suzuki, Cal Ripken, Barry Bonds, Luis Gonzalez and Roger Clemens, of balloting that produced a thoughtful, valid team and brilliantly opened baseball's economic and visionary doors to make the world a part of that voting, baseball is stained by this mudpie-throwing contest.

So, fine, take selection out of the hands of the managers.

Most managers would be happy to have the blame off their backs. Especially today, when Torre has to duck brickbats that Bobby Cox, Cito Gaston and Sparky Anderson never endured for loyally rewarding loyalty and performance. The A's didn't have the same manager in 1975 as they had in winning three straight World Series (1972-74) -- as the Yankees have done -- but that didn't stop the '75 American League team from having five A's in the starting lineup.

The Commissioner's Office has done a boffo job publicizing and expanding the voting for this exhibition game. Let them form a committee of general managers and a few members of the media and take away even the hint of personal vendettas from the reserves selection process.

As long as players are allowed to have incentive clauses that include All-Star selection -- worsened by the Players Association's failure to disallow agents from representing both players and managers -- then there are traces of improprieties that do not belong.

And while they're at it, they should get rid of the rule that every team should be represented. Puh-leaze. Does anyone think for one moment that they're adding a ratings point to the game in Detroit or Tampa because of a Tony Clark or Greg Vaughn cameo? Let Ellis Burks, or Tim Hudson, play in a game in which they belong.

It is only an exhibition, and most baseball folks prefer watching the Futures Game to the Tuesday extravaganza. But it is a feel-good celebration of baseball, and no matter what Valentine really said to Floyd and whatever he meant to say about Torre, the game doesn't need mudpie fights.

Wheelings and dealings ...
Starting pitchers
Pedro Astacio (Rockies)
David Wells* (White Sox)
Albie Lopez* (Devil Rays)
Bryan Rekar (Devil Rays)
Pete Harnisch (Reds)
Rick Helling (Rangers)
Kenny Rogers (Rangers)
Ismael Valdes* (Angels)
James Baldwin* (White Sox)
Woody Williams (Padres)
Sterling Hitchcock* (Padres)
Jason Schmidt* (Pirates)
Jeff Suppan (Royals).

Relief pitchers
Mike Williams* (Pirates)
Jason Isringhausen* (A's)
Todd Jones* (Tigers)
Troy Percival (Angels)
Ugueth Urbina (Espos)
David Weathers* (Brewers)
Tim Crabtree* (Rangers)
Gabe White (Mets)
Dennis Cook (Mets)
Dan Plesac (Blue Jays)
Kelvim Escobar (Blue Jays).

Positional players
Dmitri Young (OF, Reds)
Johnny Damon (OF, A's)
John Vander Wal (OF, Pirates)
Garret Anderson (OF, Angels)
Jermaine Dye (OF,Royals)
Jeff Conine (1B-OF, Orioles)
Tom Goodwin (OF, Dodgers)
Fred McGriff (1B, Devil Rays)
John Flaherty (C, Devil Rays)
Mike DiFelice (C, Devil Rays)
Troy O'Leary (OF, Red Sox)
Herbert Perry (3B, White Sox)
Chris Singleton (OF, White Sox)
Sandy Alomar (C, White Sox)
Shannon Stewart (OF, Blue Jays)
Jose Cruz Jr. (OF, Blue Jays)
Neifi Perez (SS, Rockies)
Pokey Reese (SS-2B, Reds)
Steve Finley (OF, D-Backs)
Roger Cedeno (OF, Tigers)
Juan Encarnacion (OF, Tigers).
*-potential free agent at end of season

As the trade deadline looms three weeks away and David Wells may be done for the season with back problems, to the right is the working list of starters, relievers and players known to be available for discussion.

As the weekend before the All-Star Break closed in, the music kept playing and they all danced on.

  • None of the teams in the Pedro Astacio hunt had come close to meeting the asking price. Cleveland mentioned Bartolo Colon, but needed the Rockies to take salary and throw in Juan Pierre.

  • Reds GM Jim Bowden claimed he had more action on Dmitri Young than any player he's ever had, but the Braves backed down in favor of Ken Caminiti, which kept the Red Sox, Cubs and others alive. Bowden is also trying hard to deal Pokey Reese, and has been working on a deal with Colorado involving Reese and Neifi Perez, but Colorado insists on Young.

  • The Padres were so encouraged by Sterling Hitchcock's last outing that they think he might never pitch for them again, with the Cardinals and Diamondbacks among the interested parties who scouted Wednesday's strong outing. Woody Williams may well be moved, with Texas and L.A. involved in what is a large hunt.

  • Arizona is working hard to get starting pitching, looking at Hitchcock and going hard after Astacio, but while the D-Backs are offering Steve Finley around, it's Erubiel Durazo that everyone wants, be it for Astacio, Hitchcock or Jason Isringhausen.

  • Wells' back condition minimizes any chance the White Sox have of getting something for him in return, but there is renewed interest in Jason Schmidt, although a number of teams would prefer to get involved with Todd Ritchie, whom Pittsburgh wants to keep.

  • Toronto wants a 1-2 starter for Shannon Stewart, which likely won't happen, and Oakland likely will deal Isringhausen (St. Louis, Arizona, many others, although Durazo is a tough chip to pry loose) and Johnny Damon if the A's don't get too much closer to the wild card, but GM Billy Beane doesn't want to deal Jason Giambi, and won't unless he's forced to move or he gets an offer that makes the A's better in 2002 than they'd be if Giambi re-signed.

  • The bullpen market is rich, with Isringhausen, Ugueth Urbina, Todd Jones, Mike Williams, David Weathers and Dan Plesac. "The Angels worry about Troy Percival's medical history," says one GM, "but he's got a great club contract, they need too much for him and they have no one else to close."

  • Of the contenders, the Yankees have their toes in the water on everyone, with the fondest eye for Giambi or Jermaine Dye. The Mets would love to make another Mike Piazza deal -- acquire a big talent, then sign him -- but this week decided upstairs that starter Glendon Rusch should be kept.

  • Minnesota wants a starting pitcher, but the Indians need one. Cleveland's budget all but prohibits a move unless GM John Hart can either move salary to take on a pitcher or he can package Russell Branyan and some young pitching to Montreal for Tony Armas Jr. and Milton Bradley, low-cost players.

  • Seattle has the cash and the talent to jump into the sweepstakes for a Dye kind of bat or one of the quality starting pitchers (they're not getting Shane Reynolds, however).

  • Boston wants a bat and pitching (does it not make sense to get an Urbina and combine him with Derek Lowe for the last 7-9 outs?); the Cubs want a bat or a center fielder (Damon, Jeff Conine, Tom Goodwin, et al); the Cardinals want a starter and a reliever, the Astros would love another starter and a left-handed reliever like Plesac; the Dodgers need a veteran starter, but they are so thin in the high minors that the Luke Prokopec/Matt Herges cost for Astacio is out of the question. Atlanta may do some more fine-tuning, Florida might jump in on a young outfielder and the Phillies will trade for pitching.

  • Which brings up the Phil Nevin question. Yes, they will talk about him, but the cost is prohibitive because he's signed cheaply for 2002 and once Williams is gone, the Padres can keep Nevin, move him to first base next season, put Ryan Klesko in left, use rookie Sean Burroughs at third and have a payroll somewhere around $32M. And you don't think Kevin Towers is creative?

    The Padres do not want to bring Burroughs up during this season for two reasons: service time and the hint of a work stoppage. If a team has a good young player who has no major-league service, why have him sitting out if there's a strike or lockout? Next season they could have a very interesting team, with Nevin, Cesar Crespo, Burroughs and D'Angelo Jimenez in the infield, Klesko, Mark Kotsay and Bubba Trammell (was getting Trammell for Donne Wall one of the winter's best trades, or what?) in the outfield, Ben Davis behind the plate and Adam Eaton, Bobby Jones, Brian Lawrence, Jason Middlebrook, Brian Tollberg and Carlton Loewer for starters. On the horizon comes the three power-arm prodigies -- Dennis Tankersley, Jake Peavy, Ben Howard -- as well as Junior Herndon, Wascar Serrano and Mike Bynum. So San Diego can keep Nevin, have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball and be on the precipice of having one of the most interesting teams in the game, especially if it gets more help if it deals Hitchcock and Williams.

    Some scouts' observations

  • "I cannot understand what the Yankees were so worried about with Urbina, especially since they were only taking him for this season. He's gone back-to-back, he's throwing 96, he's very good."

  • "I'm worried about Tim Salmon. He plays as if his skills have diminished, and we all know his work ethic, his personal habits and dedication; if he weren't so diligent, I'd feel better. He's not a great athlete, and it appears as if it's catching up."

  • "The most impossible player to scout is Vladimir Guerrero. Most teams now are going to try to walk him, but pitching around him means breaking balls two feet off the plate and fastballs up and in where he has no chance to swing. If you're worried about the guys behind him, you're crazy."

  • "What has happened to Livan Hernandez and Shawn Estes? Last year, Livan pitched in the high 80s, and when he got in trouble he topped 90 or 91. I've seen him three times, and the best he's thrown is 86. As for Estes, last year I thought at times he had the best all-around stuff of any left-hander in the league. I've seen him twice. First time he sat at 83, this week he sat at 84 and topped out at 86 for one or two pitches, a far cry from the 93-94 I saw last season."

  • "Paul LoDuca is amazing, but he's a dead-high fastball hitter who doesn't miss his pitch. But he gets a lot of high fastballs, maybe because he's small and up at the top of the order. I've never seen him hit a breaking ball, but he doesn't have to. If he keeps damaging teams, they'd better worry about him first and starting throwing him junk."

    No, the Dodgers didn't always think he was so great. In spring training they were turned down on an offer of Gary Sheffield and LoDuca for Javy Lopez and a pitcher, because the Braves were afraid LoDuca couldn't catch, and last season the Rays thought they had a LoDuca deal for a minor pitcher, but then-Dodgers GM Kevin Malone didn't get back to them.

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