Reds-Indians deal curves into foul territory


If baseball did videos of front-office bloopers, the trade of prospects between Cincinnati and Cleveland a couple of weeks ago might lead this season's highlight film.

It all started when the Reds designated Reggie Jefferson for assignment rather than put him on the disabled list. The Reds had intended to send Jefferson to the minor leagues, but he was suffering from pneumonia at the time and a player can't be demoted if he is physically unable to perform.

The suspicion was that the Reds intended to put Jefferson on a minor-league disabled list to avoid paying him a major-league salary. The club denies that charge, but general manager Bob Quinn admitted making a technical error by putting Jefferson on the designated for assignment list -- from which a player can only be traded or released.

With a valuable commodity dangling in limbo, the Reds had 10 days to work out a deal to save face.

That's when the Indians entered the picture. The Reds had several offers for Jefferson, but the best came from the Indians, who traded Tim Costo, a power-hitting first base prospect who was the No. 1 choice in last year's draft, for Jefferson, also a first baseman.

However, there was another technicality involved. Depending on which story is accurate, either the Indians forgot a rule or the commissioner's office decided to let it slide -- and probably both.

A No. 1 draft choice is not eligible to be traded until one year after he signs his first professional contract. Costo was still a week away from that date when his contract was assigned to the Cincinnati organization.

Even though it had been announced, the trade could have been voided. It was allowed to stand because it was deemed the teams involved did not break the spirit of the rule, which is intended to prevent one team from trading an unsignable player to another team willing to pay the price.

Regardless, the deal was a major-league foul ball from beginning to end.

* NO HANGUPS HERE: The Indians didn't have to work their fingers to the knuckles on fancy paper work for the trade they made yesterday with Toronto. The consensus is that the Blue Jays took a major step toward the AL East title by acquiring knuckleballer Tom Candiotti, but that the Indians will benefit most in the long run.

Even though they didn't get a front-line player, the Indians strengthened the weakest position in their organization when they picked up a pair of quality outfield prospects in Mark Whiten and Glenallen Hill, in addition to lefthander Denis Boucher and a player to be named.

The reaction in Boston, the team most affected by the trade, was one of wait and see. "They got a lot, but they gave up a lot," said Wade Boggs. "Remember last year when people thought they'd win the division when they picked up Bud Black and John Candelaria.

"With Whiten and Hill gone, what happens if somebody goes down in their outfield?" asked Boggs. "We'll have to wait until October and see what happens."

The Red Sox got into the bidding for Candiotti, but backed off when the Indians demanded four players, including prize prospect Mo Vaughn, who was promoted from Pawtucket yesterday.

One important aspect of the trade that remains to be determined: How the Blue Jays' young catchers (Pat Borders and Greg Myers) react to Candiotti's knuckler. They won't have any time to practice because Candiotti makes his first start tonight.

* THE TAMPA BAY TRIBE? For a last-place team, Cleveland is creating more than its share of news, the most important of which for the city is taking place behind closed doors. Sunday is a self-imposed deadline for securing leases from the Indians and Cavaliers for a new downtown sports complex.

Although the deadline is considered flexible, and an agreement reportedly close, the Indians will go stadium shopping if a deal isn't cut by the end of the season, with the Florida marketplace the most attractive alternative.

One report has the Indians being sold to Wayne Huizenga, who has been awarded the Miami expansion franchise in the National League, with that team going to Tampa-St. Petersburg instead. It doesn't seem feasible, however, that the National League would agree to that maneuver, having already selected the Miami area over Tampa Bay. But the domed stadium in St. Pete is open for business and looking for a tenant.

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