July 2006

Line forms to the right

Keep hearing how this will be another slow trading season because so many teams are in contention, there won’t be enough sellers to fuel a hot market.

Please … Take an online course in Economics 101. Supply-and-demand and all that. Having 22 of the 30 teams in hot pursuit of October will jack the price of help, not eliminate it.

In other words, this is a great time to be GM of the Royals, or of the Pirates, or of the Nationals. (Hey, maybe the only time that is great.) But those guys will spend more time atop sports sections the next two weeks than their teams have spent atop the standings the last decade.

Know how you can swallow all those reports that full control of the Yankees is what convinced Brian Cashman to sign a new contract with them? Philip Hughes is still in their organization, that’s how.

In the old days, with his lineup disintegrating (Hidek Matsui, Gary Sheffield), it’s a slam-dunk cinch that George Steinbrenner would have ordered moves for some high-profile reinforcements.

But the first name Cashman kept hearing in exploratory trade talks was that of Hughes, the 6-foot-5 right-hander who just turned 20. Cashman places a heavier premium on prospects than the Steinbrenner Yankees have historically — just look at some of the fresh faces in this clubhouse — and held firm.

The Red Sox’s "true" trade deadline for reinforcing their rotation could come two weeks earlier than for others. Try July 15, Saturday: It’ll be Curt Schilling’s turn, but there is growing doubt whether the liner he took off the elbow in his last start will allow him to take the mound. So, right now, Theo Epstein is working on a different clock than his competition. … Schilling’s rebuff of a late invitation to replace Jose Contreras on the AL All-Star Team was a dead giveaway of his condition. Red-light Curt missing a chance to show up among hundreds of cameras and microphones? Call the doctor.

Choices for Boston — and, for that matter, anyone shopping for pitching — are ample. MLB teams have had eye-popping success injecting youth, even green youth, into rotations. Felix Hernandez, Jered Weaver, Francisco Liriano, Josh Johnson, etc., etc. The trend will embolden GMs into moving some marquee veterans.

The market includes Jason Schmidt (Giants), Livan Hernandez (Nats), John Smoltz (Braves), Jon Lieber (Phillies), Greg Maddux (Cubs), Rodrigo Lopez (Orioles) — and Barry Zito of the A’s and Dontrelle Willis of the Marlins, two who stand out in this crowd because (a) they’re in their 20s and (b) they’re left-handed.

Billy Beane is agonizing over Zito. The conditions are perfect for the high future-payoff deals on which Oakland’s GM feasts. But how can he leverage his ace with the A’s in first place? He’d get a public hammering — more by fans than by the media, who understand his agenda.

And why is Willis on that list? Hasn’t everyone in Florida but Gov. Bush declared him "untouchable"? Hah! Baseball’s last true Untouchable was when Eliot Ness was playing Little League. Willis will move not because he is a luxury to the surprising Marlins, but because they’re up to the gills in pitching prospects.

Don’t expect either Pat Burrell or Bobby Abreu to be leaving Philadelphia — unless it’s in a Brinks truck along with bags of money. Burrell is set to make $13 million next season, Abreu close to $20 million — those are some big numbers, bigger than the ones in their home run and RBI columns.

Diving into the (trading) Pool

This is the time of the baseball calendar when an endless parade of shopped players will have some hyperventilating fans breathing into empty bags, and some upset fans reaching for air-sickness bags. Your bag will depend on whether your team is a player looking for reinforcements, or a prayer looking to bail.

That sound you hear are the CEOs of Bekins, Mayflower and United clinking champagne glasses.

After July 31, it’s a waiver world; to attempt deals, you will first have to expose the involved players to the claiming process. Until then, it will be simply a waver world; GMs will vacillate over pulling the trigger, or just pulling their hair out.

This is also the time of the year the Five W’s of Journalism expand to Six: Who, What, Where, When and How and joined by Wow. The Wow factor is very huge in reporting trade rumors.

Between now and then, big named will feed the buzz. Players on losers could be hitting the road, with their six tools and seven figures. Or, they could be going nowhere, just like their teams.

Whenever it all becomes a little too dizzying, just raise your hand, snap your fingers and call out, "Reality check, please!" In no time, we’ll be there to serve a dish of raw truth. No spices, no sweetening — definitely no preservatives.

Setting the tone …

AL superiority could pull the plug on the market

Historically, the biggest Trade Deadline moves have been across league lines. Mark McGwire, Carlos Beltran, Nomar Garciaparra, and so on. It makes sense: Unleash an unfamiliar weapon on the opposition.

But the AL’s utter dominance may snarl this cross-league traffic. AL executives are going to think long and hard before extending themselves for an NL hot-shot, fearful of statistics inflated by the inferior company he keeps.

That puts a major warning label on two of the biggest sellers: Washington and Pittsburgh.

So-long Soriano: However which way, Jim Bowden will figure out a way to move Alfonso Soriano who, when he pulls on his next uniform, will be with his fourth team in four years. I hope his next manager asks Alfonso to play shortstop. Just to see his reaction.

Another MVP (Most Variable Player): Give Phil Nevin credit. Not many overall No. 1 draft choices could have gotten off to the wretched start he did with Houston, and bounced back to salvage a very decent career. But Nevin’s pride can still betray him. Soon after his lips move, he moves. Nevin could soon be on his way to his fourth team in years, because he has been miserable about getting to the Cubs (from Texas) just in time to sink with them.

Manny Ramirez recently had his regular mid-season audience with Theo Epstein to inform the Red Sox GM that … he’s happy, doesn’t want to go anywhere else, wants to finish his career in Boston.

Did the Cardinals insist that the Angels package a shrink in the Jeff Weaver deal? Being released in favor of your younger brother has got to leave emotional scars. Who knew Jeff was his brother’s (roster-spot) keeper?

Till next shift …

First call

Macy’s has Thanksgiving. MLB has Independence Day. That’s when the guns go off to signal the start of shopping season. Or selling season. Silly season … yeah, that’s it.

This is the time of the baseball calendar when an endless parade of shopped players will have some hyperventilating fans breathing into empty bags, and some upset fans reaching for air-sickness bags. Your bag will depend on whether your team is a player looking for reinforcements, or a prayer looking to bail.

That sound you hear are the CEOs of Bekins, Mayflower and United clinking champagne glasses.

After July 31, it’s a waiver world; to attempt deals, you will first have to expose the involved players to the claiming process. Until then, it will be simply a waver world; GMs will vacillate over pulling the trigger, or just pulling their hair out.

This is also the time of the year the Five W’s of Journalism expand to Six: Who, What, Where, When and How and joined by Wow. The Wow factor is very huge in reporting trade rumors.

Between now and then, big named will feed the buzz. Players on losers could be hitting the road, with their six tools and seven figures. Or, they could be going nowhere, just like their teams.

Whenever it all becomes a little too dizzying, just raise your hand, snap your fingers and call out, "Reality check, please!" In no time, we’ll be there to serve a dish of raw truth. No spices, no sweetening — definitely no preservatives.

Setting the tone …

AL superiority could pull the plug on the market

Historically, the biggest Trade Deadline moves have been across league lines. Mark McGwire, Carlos Beltran, Nomar Garciaparra, and so on. It makes sense: Unleash an unfamiliar weapon on the opposition.

But the AL’s utter dominance, only amplified by the just-concluded stretch of Interleague play, may snarl this cross-league traffic. AL executives are going to think long and hard before extending themselves for an NL hot-shot, fearful of statistics inflated by the inferior company he keeps.

That puts a major warning label on two of the biggest sellers: Washington and Pittsburgh.

So-long Soriano

However which way, Jim Bowden will figure out a way to move Alfonso Soriano who, when he pulls on his next uniform, will be with his fourth team in four years.

I hope his next manager asks Alfonso to play shortstop. Just to see his reaction.

Another MVP (Most Variable Player)

Give Phil Nevin credit. Not many overall No. 1 draft choices could have gotten off to the wretched start he did with Houston, and bounced back to salvage a very decent career. But Nevin’s pride can still betray him. Soon after his lips move, he moves.

Nevin could soon be on his way to his fourth team in <i>two</i> years, because he has been miserable about getting to the Cubs (from Texas) just in time to sink with them.

This is why you have to take trade rumors with a grain, or a slab, of salt: Philadelphia papers were abuzz over the weekend with rumors that outfielder David Dellucci was on his way back to the Rangers. Check out the Texas scouts at the Phillies’ weekend series.

Oh, yeah, well … the team the Phils happened to be playing were the Toronto Blue Jays, the Rangers’ next opponents. Teams <i>always</i> advance scout the upcoming foe.

Manny Ramirez recently had his regular mid-season audience with Theo Epstein to inform the Red Sox GM that … he’s happy, doesn’t want to go anywhere else, wants to finish his career in Boston.

Teams interested in taking a flyer on Jeff Weaver are strongly encouraged to include a shrink in the deal. Being released in favor of your younger brother has got to leave emotional scars. Who knew Jeff was his brother’s (roster-spot) keeper?

Till next shift …