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Yanks surveying the scene
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
DIAMOND NOTES: May 25
Every day it seems the Yankees are about get someone new, and the fact is GM Brian Cashman and lead scout Gene Michael are exploring the waters so they know what they can get when and if they need to get someone.
"We'll have to see what happens in the next few weeks," says manager Joe Torre. "We have to see about the pitching. It looks like Andy Pettitte is going to be all right; he's got a couple of more rehab outings, then we should have him back."
But back is a testy word to both David Wells and Orlando Hernandez, so Jeff Weaver and Bartolo Colon remain possibilities.
However, when it comes to right field, Cashman is waiting, especially since the Yankees production from their right fielders going into Saturday's game was a .321 average with a .390 on-base percentage, not too shabby despite defensive shortcomings.
The Blue Jays would love to move one of their outfielders to New York, but the Yankees have no position for Shannon Stewart; he's a left fielder, and the thought of a Stewart/Rondell White/Bernie Williams throwing brigade would drive the infielders into relay positions; Jose Cruz, Jr. is a 130 strikeout guy, which the Yanks don't need; and they have no interest in Raul Mondesi, whose contract is huge and who's never knocked in 100 runs in a season.
The Yankees are going to be in the playoffs and they know Boston doesn't have the talent to trade for a prime player, so they can sit and wait and see if Cliff Floyd or Brian Giles becomes available.
There are some trades being discussed. Cincinnati sent special assistant to GM Jim Bowden Larry Barton, Jr. in to see Blue Jays pitcher Esteban Loaiza this weekend. Boston has inquired about Texas' Gabe Kapler and the Reds' Brady Clark, but apparently got nowhere. Several teams are also reportedly interested in Oakland's Cory Lidle.
Punching out the ballots
But while we're a month from the end of the balloting, these two positions seem to be the most interesting on Memorial Day Weekend, a weekend that commemorates that Scott Cooper twice made All-Star teams and Steve Swisher made one:
Natonal League: Second Base
American League: Third Base
Braves, Mets and Angels in the news
"The best thing that's happened for us is that we've been allowed the time to develop Jason Marquis and Damian Moss, and they're both going to be outstanding pitchers," says Schuerholz. "We've known for awhile that we had to start developing young pitching, and these two have really begun to step up. If anyone in the division had been hot and run off to, say, a 10-game lead, then I don't know if we'd have had this opportunity." Obviously the importance of developing both Marquis and Moss is greater with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine both free agents at the end of the year.
While the Braves wait for Gary Sheffield and Chipper Jones to break loose, in New York, the fact the Mets are only in the middle of the pack in runs scored in the NL is beginning to be cause for concern. The Mets have seven homers out of first base, third base and left field, although to be fair between injuries and the time off, Mo Vaughn has earned the right for others to be patient. The patience (16 at-bats with three pitches or less Wednesday in a quick loss) hasn't been there, and once again the catcher stage questions arise on Mike Piazza, although he's had very little around him. Piazza has traditionally been a great first-half hitter, .313 with a .694 OPS before the All-Star break the previous three seasons, compared to .254/.816 through Friday night.
They have shopped Jay Payton around, and nearly sent him to Oakland for Jeremy Giambi before deciding that Giambi wasn't a necessary part because he's a first baseman/left fielder and they're not about to give up on Mo and Roger Cedeno. But there seems to be good news with their pitching at Triple-A, particularly Pat Strange as well as Adam Walker and Jae Seo, which gives them some chips if they need to deal. Of course, it also happens that every one of their starting pitchers could be free agents at the end of the season, as well. Strange is interesting as he's a command guy with a sinking 89-91 mph fastball, a good slider and two changeups, one of which he cuts to look like a soft slider.
Pedro Astacio has been a tremendous signing, and should encourage teams to look at Mike Hampton. Dave Wallace, who had Astacio in L.A., says, "he nevert had a curveball like this one before this season. What I think happened is that he had to work so hard to throw one in Colorado has paid off out of that air. That could happen to a lot of guys."
But credit Anaheim GM Bill Stoneman for one of the smartest deals of the winter, unloading Vaughn's contract and getting Kevin Appier in return. Over the last three years, Appier is 12th among major-league pitchers in quality start percentage, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, and has, with Aaron Sele, taken the load off Anaheim's young pitchers.
"The way Ramon Ortiz has developed into a top starter is testament to having Appier around," says one AL scout. "Appier always battles, and he always pitches innings."
There are few manager/pitching coach duos more respected than Mike Scioscia and Bud Black, and one thing they've stressed with five solid starters, a star closer and the league's second best offense has been for the starters to go deep into games. Going into Friday's game, Angels starters had gone at least seven innings in 25 of their last 37 starts. They may not get the great earned run averages, but they're getting the team wins, and that's what it's supposed to be about.
Urbina heating up for Red Sox
"I have a lot of problems in the cold weather," says Urbina. "I'd leave spring training and go to Montreal, which was indoors. But it was cold here this spring. I wasn't throwing as well as I can. Then we got into the dome in Tampa (the beginning of May) and all of a sudden it felt right. 98. Now I'm throwing as well as I have in a long while. And I'll soon have my good slider back."
Urbina's good slider breaks with a downward tilt, similar to the ones thrown by Robb Nen and Appier. "That's definitely a hot weather pitch for me," says Urbina. "It's on its way."
"We know one thing," says Red Sox manager Grady Little. "No one's got a tougher guy closing that Ugie."
The Red Sox may be 24-2 in games started by Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez and John Burkett (through Friday), but they're beginning to worry about the 4-5 spots. Dustin Hermanson is inching closer to a return, and Tim Wakefield could start. But not being able to take on Mike Hampton's salary might preclude any significant deal.
The Red Sox are in a difficult position, because they can't load up too much on the present without the prospect of hitting Desolation Row in 2005. Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon are all free agents at the end of the 2004 season. Nice planning.
Keeping an eye on the draft
There may be overdrafting on college lefties, simply because there are so few. Virginia Tech's Joe Saunders likely will go in the top half of the first round, as may British Columbia's Jeff Francis. Luke Haggerty (Ball State), Rich Hill (Michigan, Milton, Mass.) and Tulane's Steve Bourgeous could all go quickly from the sandwich round on.
There are some interesting relatives in this draft, including highly rated outfielder John Mayberry, Jr. of Kansas City and first baseman Prince Fielder of Melbourne, Fla. Nick Swisher (son of Steve) is an Ohio State outfielder expected to go in the first 50 picks, as is San Diego high school shortstop Jake Blalock (Hank's brother) and Catawba, N.C. catcher/pitcher Kris Harvey (son of Bryan). And Auburn shortstop/third baseman Jonathan Schuerholz will definitely be drafted and off how he played in the Cape Cod League last summer likely will be a better player than his draft position. Hey, Clemson shortstop Khalil Greene lasted until the 14th round last year, came back for a huge senior season and now will go in the first 40 picks, where he should be chosen.
This and that
Fox does have to pay for the postseason if there isn't one, but to burn a so-called "broadcast partner" -- one who vastly overpaid for this current deal, which will never again be replicated -- would be a message to all future bidders that this is the way these owners do business.
"I asked Derek (Jeter) how in the world he made that play against Oakland," said Kidd. "He gave me a modest answer. That amazed me. The Yankees amaze me because they play with so much modesty, with dignity."
A few feet away, Torre said, "there are two people who mirror one another -- Jeter and Kidd. It doesn't get much better, in sports or just in life."