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Trade market different this year


Special to ESPN.com

July 20

In the trading world where cash is king and "taking on dollars" is the framework of every trade, it got crazy this week. Reds GM Jim Bowden had a deal in place on Wednesday that would have sent Double-A pitcher Josh Hall to Cleveland for Chuck Finley. But Cincinnati refuses to take on any money, even if it means having a winning team going into its new park. And consider the fact that Ken Griffey Jr. volunteered to defer even more of his salary to help the club, which the Reds decided not to do.

So Bowden was about $1 million short, because Cleveland didn't want to eat much of Finley's $5 million salary. Indians GM Mark Shapiro gave Bowden a window, during which time he went to the Red Sox to raise capital. Boston has allowed its farm system to deteriorate the past few years, and since the Sox didn't sign their second-round draft pick in 2001 and didn't have a No. 1 pick this past June, the idea of paying $750,000 for outfielder Brady Clark -- who could help them right now -- as well as three other younger, high-ceiling prospects, made sense, especially considering what could be a bottoming-out process at the end of the 2004 season.

At this juncture, I almost think August 31 is more important than July 31 as far as a deadline is concerned. There are going to be a lot of good, expensive players who clear waivers in August. What will be interesting is to see if someone gets stuck with a Randy Myers. (San Diego claimed Myers in 1998 to block him from going to Atlanta and got stuck with his contract). If someone tries a block on a Mike Hampton or Bobby Higginson or Chan Ho Park, that club could get stuck with a doozy of a contract.
An NL general manager

Bowden also wasn't going to sell Double-A pitcher Dustin Moseley (he could have dealt Moseley for Finley), and wouldn't sell infielder Brandon Larson, who is now on the Reds' big-league roster after being promoted from Triple-A Louisville. But the Reds farm system is deep and could afford a sale.

So Red Sox team president and CEO Larry Lucchino signed on, and as of early Friday afternoon Bowden thought he had the deal. But his second deal, which would have saved him $250,000 to $300,000, fell through, and since Shapiro couldn't eat any more money, he had to move on to the Finley trade to St. Louis.

All the maneuvering and cash shell games demonstrate how different this trading period is than any in recent memory.

"Two-thirds of the teams are sellers," says one NL GM. "Problem is, with the exception of the Yankees and a couple of other teams, no one can take on money. So there is all this laundering and redirecting of cash. It's amazing.

"The Giants want to get Randy Winn or Jose Cruz," says the GM, "but they have to move Livan Hernandez to take on anything (Winn is making only $875,000). The Braves say they can't take on money. You know what's happening here? Prospects and young players have become more valuable than veterans with big contracts."

What several GMs this week suggested is that with the economy -- both in baseball and on Wall Street -- squeezing owners, that if a team knows it's going to lose a free agent and, as expected, there is no draft choice compensation for lost free agents come next June's draft, then it might be worth it for the selling team to pay off the rest of its player's contract and trade him for prospects.

"Take Scott Rolen," says one GM. "He's not going to re-sign with the Phillies. They probably aren't even going to get two draft picks for him. So if they want to trade him and get something for him, they may have to pick up part of if not all of his contract ($8.6 million) in order to get a couple of decent prospects. Some of these teams that have prospective free agents don't understand that they can't have both the payroll relief and prospects. In the case of the Phillies, they were going to have to pay Rolen anyway, so this is a way to get something to replace him, and the prospects might be closer to the major leagues than draft picks."

The Indians made up some of the cash difference with Montreal in the Bartolo Colon trade to get three good prospects. Florida picked up cash to balance the Cliff Floyd deal, to get pitching prospects Justin Wayne and Don Levinski. And Toronto rid itself of half of Raul Mondesi's contract.

"At this juncture, I almost think August 31 is more important than July 31 as far as a deadline is concerned," says another NL GM. "There are going to be a lot of good, expensive players who clear waivers in August. What will be interesting is to see if someone gets stuck with a Randy Myers. (San Diego claimed Myers in 1998 to block him from going to Atlanta and got stuck with the contract). If someone tries a block on a Mike Hampton or Bobby Higginson or Chan Ho Park, that club could get stuck with a doozy of a contract."

General managers say the Rangers will pick up Kenny Rogers' money if he will waive his no-trade clause, but the GMs want prospects in return, especially because they know Rogers wants to re-sign with Texas next season. The Mets will apparently pay Shawn Estes' money for prospects. The Royals want a good prospect for 13-game winner Paul Byrd, because he is hot and cheap.

As it turned out, in trading Finley the Indians believe they got a prospect and good corner bat in first baseman/outfielder Luis Garcia (they receive a player to be decided, too, from a list of four intriguing minor leaguers). Garcia is a tall, thin converted pitcher who was traded by Boston to St. Louis in the Dustin Hermanson deal. The Double-A Akron staff (the team for which Garcia was playing) believes he has the most electric power in the Eastern League (.255, 12 HRs, .778 OPS), although he's growing into his power and learning to hit; that he converted in a Red Sox organization that did no teaching is appealing. Anyone who saw Garcia almost hit a ball out of Safeco Field during batting practice before the 2001 Futures Game immediately thought of an extremely raw Richie Sexson.

And now what happens? The Reds may use Larson and other prospects and take a run at Rolen, who might be open to signing in Cincinnati. They also may work on Rogers, Estes or Detroit's Brian Moehler. Rogers was the original choice of the Cardinals and still may be on their radar screen, as well as the radar screens of the Diamondbacks, Red Sox and others; his offseason operation freed his range of motion and he has regained his velocity. He is also one of the game's best fielding pitchers and is so good at holding runners that no one even attempts to steal against him.

The Braves have cash restrictions and presently claim they are happy at first base, although that could change before Sept. 1 with Derrek Lee (Marlins) or Fred McGriff (Cubs) potentially available. Atlanta would like a veteran starter for depth, but the Royals say they have not discussed the rumored Byrd-for-Marcus Giles swap.

The Dodgers want relief help and a utility bat like Tyler Houston, Frank Catalanotto or Greg Norton. The Red Sox are looking for a bat, and while Ellis Burks is their consensus perfect fit, they need the Indians to take back some of the money on the $2.3 million Burks has remaining this season and the $6.5 million he's due next year. The Sox have also talked to Florida, but while Kevin Millar is apparently not on the market, Lee might be.

Oakland has cash put away and is looking at middle relievers and center fielders. Anaheim claims it has some cash and is looking for a power reliever to sit in closer Troy Percival's chair until he returns, and to set up for him when he does return. Seattle wants pitching and, if possible, another bat. Houston has been out looking for pitching, preferably left-handed, and a center fielder (Winn), but has precious few pennies to work with. The Yankees are always on the prowl, with veteran lefty reliever Dan Plesac this week's rumored target.

"There are new realities that we all have to deal with," says Bowden. "This is a fast-changing economic world in the game, and you have to react quickly and be creative." Which is why Bowden was shifting four players to the Red Sox for cash in order to pay for Finley after trading Hall to Cleveland

"It didn't quite work out," says Bowden, who refuses to complain about not being able to add any payroll. "But something else will. I'm not about to go to bed and sleep. We've got a pennant race to worry about."

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