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Yanks surveying the scene

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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
One of the joys of the ballparks at this time each year is the group All-Star ballot punching. Yeah, yeah, the National League outfield decision is a lot more difficult than the American League, but check the shortstops and it's all about the AL.

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
Player Avg. OBP SLG OPS 2B 3B HR RBI R
Spivey, Ari. .335 .419 .585 1.004 15 4 6 31 35
Vidro, Mon. .333 .386 .471 .857 15 1 3 31 32

American League: Third Base
Player Avg. OBP SLG OPS 2B 3B HR RBI R
Glaus, Ana. .297 .376 .545 .921 14 0 9 41 41
Hinske, Tor. .297 .379 .542 .920 14 0 8 28 28
Hillenbrand, Bos. .330 .380 .540 .920 11 1 8 32 29
* (Stats through Friday)

Braves, Mets and Angels in the news
There have been reports the Braves may not be able to take on much salary -- such as Jeremy Giambi -- and they keep being reminded that Julio Franco and Wes Helms have nine combined RBI at first base. But GM John Schuerholz sees a bright spot in the muddled first two months.

"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
Ugueth Urbina has become the American League's hottest closer, with 12 straight saves since blowing one on April 11. Where early in the season he was throwing 89-92 mph, he has hit 98 in most of his recent appearances.

Ugueth Urbina
Relief pitcher
Boston Red Sox
19 18.1 15-16 7 18 2.95

"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
Ball State's Brian Bullington had a rough start this week, and there are reports the Pirates are re-thinking on who they should take with the first pick. Virginia high school shortstop B.J. Upton and Texas high school left-hander Scott Kazmir are now definite possiblities for the Pirates. The problem for the Bucs is that the price on any high school No. 1 pick is Joe Maurer's $5.5 million from 2001.

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

  • For those who don't see it regularly, the Providence Journal has few peers when it comes to sports sections, particularly baseball coverage. And the line of the week comes from columnist Bill Reynolds: "Memo to Jose Canseco: Before you write a book, you have to have read one."

  • Jury selection for the trial of the legendary Toe Nash begins June 17, and if he is cleared of all charges, the Devil Rays are expected to give Toe another chance. Meanwhile, another player from John "Hot Rod" Williams' SugarCane League is a hot prospect for the Rays. And he's outfielder Joey Gathright from LaPlace, La., a 3.65 runner who was noticed by scout Benny Latino when he jumped over a Chevy Impala -- passenger side right over to the driver's side.

  • The Red Sox have named 162-pound left-hander Casey Fossum, "The Blade."

  • This is Billy Koch: he threw three full innings one night, got the save the next and on the third day walked up to A's manager Art Howe and told him he was available.

  • From Joe Torre: "One of the things I love about baseball is how history is interwoven with the present. Shawn Green hits four homers for the Dodgers against Milwaukee, and fourtysomething years ago, Joe Adcock hit four homers for Milwaukee against the Dodgers."

  • Yes, the Braves really do have three players selected in the 1992 expansion draft on their team -- Vinny Castilla Darren Holmes and Chris Hammonds.

  • When the Twins beat the Angels on Friday night, it was their first win against a team that currently has a winning record. They are 0-6 against the Yankees.

  • As a reminder, Jason Simontacchi was 1-1, 1.17 for Italy in the 2000 Olympics. Roy Oswalt's ERA in those Olympics for Team USA was 1.45.


  • Speaking of the brilliant Oswalt, his catcher Brad Ausmus was asked to describe what makes Oswalt so good: "You could talk about all four of his pitches as much as you want. His explosive 95-mph fastball, his changeup-like-curveball, his increasingly better slider, his changeup and the location of all four pitches. But the thing that sets him apart at such a young age is that he knows he is going to get you out before you even step into the batter's box."

  • This is what it came to in Detroit last Monday for the Indians: Jose Cabrera (.125) was called back for a pinch-hitter, Brady Anderson (.163), who when the Tigers changed pitchers was hit for by Bruce Aven (.111).

  • Talk about a physical freak, Ricky Henderson has never had any kind of surgery. What about all the times he accelerated and crashed bags? "I jammed am lot of things," he says. "I hurt my fingers a lot. Maybe I broke them a couple of times, but they weren't broke bad enough to stop playing."

  • Juan Gonzalez is now nearing the 100 at-bat mark without a homer, dating back to last season. The Rangers really have been devastated with the injuries to Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, Frank Catalanotto and Pudge Rodriguez, and with questions about the future of Carl Everett. Oh yes. When John Rocker went to Triple-A Oklahoma City, Rangers pitching coach Oscar Acosta suggested that John's problem is that he never accepts responsibility for any failure. Same old story.

  • Carlos Baerga, the Bayamon owner who had Rocker as his closer this past winter, says, "John couldn't have been better, as a person and a pitcher." Baerga is kidded that he should buy the Twins, which has prompted him to start picking his staff.

  • The Twins are no laughing matter, although what Gov. Jesse Ventura and the Minnesota legislature passed for a ballpark bill is a joke, and seems to better the argument of commissioner Bud Selig and Twins owner Carl Pohlad that the club should be contracted.

  • One insider's caution on dire reports of a strike: "First, the players have no choice but to set a strike date to get the owners to bargain off their impasse stands. Remember, thus far Bud Selig's stance has been his along with the four or five owners with whom he talks. But come August, are the seven teams that are owned as TV programming going to going along with Bud and show bowling or ab informercials? What about clubs like the Giants, Rockies, Blue Jays and others that are leveraged to the gills? And are these people crazy enough to kill off any chance that Fox will ever do business with them again?"

    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.

  • Johnny Damon says "Carlos Pena is the best defensive first baseman I have ever seen. He's unbelievable." Pena's brothers, outfielder Omar (Northeastern) and second baseman/outfielder Pedro (Old Dominion), are both expected to be selected in the upcoming draft.

  • New Jersey Nets star guard Jason Kidd spent an hour on the field before Friday's Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway Park.

    "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."

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