Yanks still eyeing Ventura?
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
DIAMOND NOTES: Aug. 25
The Mets worked feverishly trying to move Robin Ventura and Todd Zeile this week, with Joel Sherman of the New York Post reporting that the club asked Ventura to undergo an MRI, hinting at a deal. The Yankees have had interest in Ventura that wanes in and out, but with Scott Brosius now out until mid-September, Ventura would be insurance at third and DH if the 2002 contract can be worked out; Ventura is ever reliable defensively, and the Yankees have 25 errors at third, fifth behind the Rangers (29), Rays (27), White Sox (26) and Reds (26) at that position. ... Meanwhile, when the Royals put Roberto Hernandez on waivers this week, it opened some eyes and led some to believe K.C. is trying to get out of one-sixth of his 2001 contract and 2002 option for $500,000.
|Robin Ventura is batting .230 with 18 home runs for the Mets.|
The Yanks have been looking for another right-handed bat, as well as a veteran pitcher. But while they seem vulnerable to left-handed pitching -- and Bernie Williams' left-right change over the last five years seems hard to explain -- they went to Anaheim second only to Seattle among AL clubs in winning percentage against left-handed starters. What should worry Yankee fans more is that after losing the opener in Anaheim Friday, they are 38-11 against Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Kansas City and 47-50 against everyone else.
The Mets tried to get Boston to bite on Zeile, but originally the Red Sox insisted on New York taking Jose Offerman, a virtual money wash for next season. Offerman has become a public target in New England, now with statistical proof to back up one scout's report "that where he once was a 3.8 runner to first, he's now 4.5 and slowing." The Red Sox went into Texas with a .297 on-base percentage and three steals out of the leadoff position, led the majors in fewest steals and were last in the majors in double plays turned. And they're right in the race...
Rangers folks who believe that Pudge Rodriguez will be traded at the end of the season -- and he will force the issue as he faces free agency at the end of the 2002 season -- point to his 5.98 catcher's ERA entering the weekend. According to Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News, no regular catcher since World War II has had an ERA over 6.00. ... There will be a lot of speculation that Juan Gonzalez will return to Texas if Pudge is traded. One thing to watch: insurance is getting more and more difficult to get, and it may be impossible to get a policy on Gonzalez without an exclusion for his back. It costs a club more than $500,000 to get a $15 million contract insured, and with the proliferation of exclusions for prior medical problems, there could be a major impact on players. The Orioles have cut way back on their payroll, but it's unlikely that Peter Angelos would ever take on Gonzalez knowing his history of back problems if he cannot have the back insured against another breakdown.
Once news of Mike DiFelice's barroom meltdown got out, everyone who knows Jerry Colangelo knew that the D-Backs owner would not tolerate such behavior, and DiFelice -- like Bobby Chouinard and Jason Kidd -- will not be back with a Colangelo team again. But while that incident got a lot of publicity, the key to that deal, Albie Lopez, has won his last three starts with an 0.39 ERA and has a huge role in their September race. ... Speaking of the Diamondbacks, how great is it when you look up to see Craig Counsell and Junior Spivey turning gaudy double plays? "Counsell is one of those players only managers appreciate," says one GM. "We want to get rid of him, but he helps managers win."
There have been reports out of Toronto that if Gord Ash leaves or moves upstairs, Rangers GM Doug Melvin, raised in Chatham, Ontario, would be ownership's first choice because he is an Ontario boy and he is one of the most respected executives in the business. That, in turn, would open Texas for John Hart. It makes for good talk.
Andy MacPhail is convinced that Kerry Wood will come back healthy and strong for the September run. "Our doctors are conservative, and they insist that Kerry will be fine," says MacPhail. "They also have no reason to not tell me the truth." ... After Roy Oswalt's win Friday, the Astros were 18-4 in games started by rookies Oswalt, Carlos Hernandez, Tim Redding and Tony McKnight, as well as 17-8 in games started by Wade Miller, who is in his first full year. But some clubs still are wary of firing young pitchers into the fray. "You have to be certain," says Giants GM Brian Sabean. "We love Kurt Ainsworth, but last winter when some of our people wanted to throw him into the fire, I looked at Mark Gardner and figured that if a kid went 10-10 -- a normal Gardner year -- he'd be close to rookie of the year. And I figured Ainsworth could benefit by pitching another year in the minors."
Around the majorsRoyals GM Allard Baird knows how important Mike Sweeney is to the Royals. "He obviously is one of the best right-handed hitters in the game," says Baird. "But more than that is the fact that he's such a good person, someone you want to build your franchise around. If you took him away from baseball and he were running a 7-11 or a gas station, he would still have an impact on everyone with whom he comes in contact. Mike's a special person." But with Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon out of town, few expect that Glass will even consider signing Sweeney to a long-term deal after his current contract allows him to become a free agent at the end of the 2002 season. And Sweeney knows it.
Tampa Bay may keep top pick Dewon Brazelton around the majors in September just to give him a taste of the major-league life. The Rays expect that the big right-hander from Middle Tennessee can be close to the bigs by the end of next season, when they could have a rotation of Joe Kennedy, Nick Bierbrodt, Jason Standridge and Brazelton, with Jesus Colome, Bobby Seay and Delvin James out of the bullpen. ... What the Rays have found out is that 2B Brent Abernathy is a legitimate championship player, and C Toby Hall looks like one, too. The curious player right now is Jason Tyner. OK, he is a left fielder, at 140 or whatever pounds. OK, he needs production at the other two outfield positions, but with Crawford, Josh Hamilton and Rocco Baldelli on the rise, the Rays may have that power. "A legitimate leadoff hitter is getting to be one of the most difficult things to find," says GM Chuck LaMar. "And as Jason continues to learn the strike zone, to bunt and improve his on-base percentage, we think he could be a .400 on-base, 40-steal player."
There are only two AL teams, the Rangers and Mariners, who have a leadoff on-base percentage as high as .350 (Texas .377, Seattle .376, heading into the weekend). Tyner has a long way to go -- his on-base percentage is .317, his pitches per at-bat 3.29, but if LaMar is right and he can and will learn, perhaps he will turn out to be a legit leadoff man.
Have many players reinvented their careers more successfully than Mike Lansing? Having recovered from an early hand injury, he is hitting and driving balls into the gap, he is turning the double play and did a boffo job playing shortstop for Nomar Garciaparra. "I knew that I could come back from the way I was last year once I had the operation on my hip last fall," says Lansing. "Then when I got a chance to play, I had the bad hand, but needed to play. But what surprised me was being able to play short. I hadn't really played it since college. I knew I had the arm, but I had no idea I could be adequate. I think in the long run it helps my career and maybe gave me a lot more confidence at second base."
It's been a lost year for C.J. Nitkowski, who in the spring was one of the most sought-after left-handed relievers. Curiously, none of the contenders grabbed Nitkowski when he was sent out by the Tigers this week, but the Rockies want him. Colorado will pay $100,000 of his remaining $250,000, and if he goes to the Rockies, Nitkowski gets the six days he needs to have five years of service time in the majors. Of course, it the Tigers choose to make this a vendetta, Nitkowski will be buried in Toledo the rest of the year.
The subject that prompted the most calls from club officials in the last week? The Red Sox tacit condoning of Carl Everett's crotch-grabbing. The kindest comment could be summed up in one word: "pathetic." "Most general managers would be on the owner's carpet demanding some action," said one GM. "But Dan Duquette decided it was Jimy Williams' fault." The point is well-taken, but something had to be done about the dead air around that team, and Duquette went with Joe Kerrigan's boundless enthusiasm.
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