Some got snowed in trading flurry

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Most trade deadlines come and go with few deals of significance. But this year. . . . Wow. Lots of intrigue, lots of action.

The Prey: Mets pitcher Bret Saberhagen.

The Winning Predator: The Colorado Rockies.

Why: Rockies owner Jerry McMorris agreed with the assessment of his baseball people that Colorado needed one more solid pitcher to hold off the Dodgers in the NL West. The Rockies ignored the medical report (small rotator cuff tear) and the big money concerns ($4.3 million) that scared off other teams.

"If you go back to spring training," McMorris said, "we said if we were in the hunt and the fans continued to support us like they had, we had room [in the budget] to make another move.

"We are [in the hunt]. They have [supported the club]. We did [make another move]."

The Return: The Mets got pitcher Juan Acevedo, who led the Eastern League with 17 wins last year, and 18-year-old Arnold Gooch, a pitching prospect. The Mets are already worried, however, that Acevedo may have an arm problem.

The Prey: Minnesota pitcher Kevin Tapani.

The Winning Predator: The Dodgers.

Why: The Dodgers didn't undertake their pursuit of Tapani until Monday afternoon, just hours before the trading deadline, and completed the deal 45 minutes before the deadline. This was done in response to the Rockies' deal for Saberhagen.

"I was just going to bed," said Dodgers first baseman Eric Karros, "when I caught [ESPN] SportsCenter and saw the Rockies got Saberhagen. I'm thinking, 'You've got to be kidding me.'. . . . I feel a whole lot better about it after hearing [about the Tapani trade]. . . . I'm not saying this is the complete answer, but it definitely helps."

The Return: Tapani, now part of the Dodgers' rotation, came with left-handed reliever Mark Guthrie in exchange for three minor-leaguers. Pitcher Jose Parra was considered the best of the three prospects, and he's expected to replace Tapani in the rotation. Prospect Ron Croomer may unseat Scott Leius as the Minnesota third baseman.

The Prey: Detroit left-hander David Wells.

The Winning Predator: The Cincinnati Reds.

Why: Reds GM Jim Bowden had been given a hard-and-fast budget by owner Marge Schott, noted for her penny-pinching. But Bowden found a way to get more money out of his boss.

"I didn't push," Bowden said, "I didn't plead, I didn't shove. I laid out the options to her. I said, 'It is not a smart business move, you'll lose money. But if you want to win, here's what you do. We make the trade. If you go strictly by business and don't want to lose more money, don't do a deal.' "

The Return: The Reds gave up C.J. Nitkowski, their top pick in the '94 draft, a mediocre Triple-A pitcher and a player to be named later. The Reds must pick up Wells' $3 million salary next year.

The Prey: San Diego pitcher Andy Benes.

The Winning Predator: The Seattle Mariners.

Why: Benes could be eligible for free agency after this season, depending on how service time from the strike is counted, and he had reached a dead end with the Padres. In his last start on July 29, he had been booed heavily.

On the morning of July 31, the San Diego coaching staff met and agreed that Willie Blair could replace Benes in the rotation, freeing the right-hander to be traded. Seattle wanted Benes to aid their run at a wild-card bid, which may be critical for the future of the franchise: On Sept. 19, county voters will decide whether the Mariners will get a new $270 million stadium. If not, the Mariners may move.

So Seattle GM Woody Woodward worked hard to pick up one more pitcher to make the club more attractive. "I'd be lying if I didn't admit the stadium issue played a role in our decision," said Woodward.

The Return: The Mariners may have overpaid for a pitcher who could be a free agent after this season, giving up left-handed reliever Ron Villone and outfielder Marc Newfield. Some scouts think the Padres got a steal in this deal.

The Prey: St. Louis pitcher Ken Hill.

The Winning Predator: The Cleveland Indians.

Why: St. Louis was out of the race, and Hill was a major expense ($4.375 million) and a major disappointment.

"I was not happy with his performance or with his attitude," said Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty. "We were obviously disappointed with him."

The Return: Three minor-leaguers, including third baseman David Bell, the acquisition of whom may allow the Cardinals to not tender Scott Cooper a contract this off-season.

Block that trade

Making deals and augmenting the roster for a pennant drive sounds great in theory. But Colorado Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard and Bowden, who aggressively traded in the last hours before the deadline, are giving every indication they're going to be just as aggressive in preventing trades after the deadline. Any player traded must first clear waivers, and Gebhard and Bowden intend to make claims on any deal that could hurt their chances to win their respective divisions.

Let's just say, for argument's sake, that the Orioles worked out a wonderful trade with the Houston Astros for reliever Todd Jones (it's not going to happen, we're just dreaming). Bowden or Gebhard would put in a claim on Jones, or any player of any significance, so the balance of power wouldn't be altered. The Astros would then revoke the waivers on Jones, and the deal with the Orioles would be effectively blocked.

There really is no reason not to put in a claim on any player of significance, unless you feared -- without just cause -- offending the other general managers -- or taking on a player with an expensive multi-year deal.

But there aren't many players who fit the latter description. If the Pirates want to trade Orlando Merced or Jeff King, the Reds should claim them; they would improve Cincinnati's team. If the Dodgers are trying to swap outfielder Roberto Kelly for shortstop Felix Fermin (as is being discussed), then the Rockies should claim one or the other and block the deal. That's what competition is all about.

Some teams failed to address needs before the trading deadline. The Dodgers needed a better defensive shortstop, the Red Sox want another starting pitcher, the Orioles need another reliever. But they didn't get it done, and nobody owes them any favors.

The Orioles are terrible right now, their thoughts of winning the AL East fading. What to do? Well, they really can't do anything except sit back and wait and see if the team starts playing better.

Think about all the knee-jerk reactions -- firing GM Roland Hemond or manager Phil Regan. Won't change anything. A trade of significance? Almost impossible, for aforementioned reasons. Time to just play out the string and see what happens.

You can bet everybody in the organization will be evaluated after the season if they don't make the playoffs.

Empty interest in Wells

Cleveland and Boston inquired about Wells, but they weren't willing to part with much. Asked about the interest those two teams were believed to have had in Wells, Tigers GM Joe Klein said, "They had a funny way of showing it." . . . . Tigers first baseman Cecil Fielder was very unhappy with the trade of Wells, which he took as a sign the front office doesn't think the team can compete. "We never do anything," Fielder said. "We stay the same. Right now, I'm not enjoying the game at all.". . . . Former Orioles catcher Matt Nokes was furious after being run over by Expos outfielder Tony Tarasco this week, a collision which sprained Nokes' thumb and forced him to the disabled list. "It was a cheap shot," Nokes said, "underlined, italicized and with an exclamation point. I gave him the plate so he could slide.". . . . Toronto second baseman Roberto Alomar asked the Blue Jays to trade him to a contender before the trade deadline, but nothing happened, and nothing will happen; no way Alomar clears waivers. Can you imagine the most complete player in the game being picked up on waivers? . . . Padres right fielder Tony Gwynn on the trade of Benes: "The numbers don't lie. He was 4-7. If he was 7-4, he probably wouldn't have gotten traded."

Manager's privilege

During Oakland's exhibition with Triple-A affiliate Edmonton Monday, Tony La Russa inserted himself as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning. La Russa called catcher Garret Beard aside, and Beard relayed a message to pitcher Ian Epstein.

"I told them," La Russa said later, "that if they ever wanted to play for me in the big leagues, the pitches had better be right down the middle with nothing on them."

La Russa popped out on his second swing. Infield coach Carney Lansford played the second half of the game at first, and went 1-for-2. Chris Duncan, the 14-year-old son of pitching coach Dave Duncan, entered the game as a pinch-runner for Mark McGwire.

Phillies manager Jim Fregosi ripped into his players this week.

"There have been some things that have gone on that I have not liked," Fregosi said, "so I expressed my feelings to them. I got a lot of things off my chest."

Players said that Fregosi wanted to see a better effort, and didn't want them worrying about what moves the front office was or wasn't making.

Around the horn

* Texas' signing of the perpetually injured Juan Gonzalez to a seven-year, $45.45 million deal may be one of the worst contracts in history.

* Giants left-hander Terry Mulholland, he of the 7.46 ERA, talked about retiring, then decided to stay. Got to wonder if the Giants were sort of disappointed that he didn't follow through.

* John Kruk slipped out of Camden Yards last Sunday, after getting one last single and retiring.

"I can't even stand on my own two feet," Kruk said a couple of days later, "let alone try to score from second on a single. It was time to go. Why embarrass myself? I'm happy about it. Got to find me a good golf cart.

"I could have gone of the disabled list and counted their money. But why? Too many guys do that garbage."

* One problem for Reds GM Bowden: He's already committed to $29.6 million in payroll for 11 players next year -- not including potential free agent Ron Gant -- and owner Schott probably wants a total payroll in the neighborhood of $36 million next year.

* The Braves are winning in spite of a sporadic offense. Jeff Blauser is hitting in the low .200s, David Justice went into the weekend batting under .250, and Marquis Grissom is posting his lowest batting average since his rookie year. Oh, that pitching.

* Atlanta, like the Orioles, is having a hard time signing its first-round pick. Chad Hutchinson, a right-handed power pitcher, preparing to enroll at Stanford and pass on pro ball, for now.

* Kirby Puckett, who knows a lot about hitting, enjoys the Cleveland Indians.

"It's incredible, and fun to watch them continually come out and hit," Puckett said. "I love watching them play. If you're a pitcher, even if you give up four or five runs, you're still in the game. That must be a good feeling."

* Puckett, by the way, has given himself a new nickname after the trades of Rick Aguilera, Scott Erickson, Mark Guthrie and Kevin Tapani.

SG "I'm still around," he said, "so that's my new name. Still Around."

The numbers game

* The St. Louis Cardinals scored one run for the entire month of July in the second inning. For the year, they've been outscored 57-18 in the second inning.

* While Kenny Lofton was on Cleveland's disabled list for two weeks, he was replaced by a platoon of Wayne Kirby and Ruben Amaro, who combined for a .141 average and a .216 on-base percentage. And the Indians went 12-5.

* Does the Mile High air mean more homers in Denver. You be the judge: Through July 31, there were 133 homers hit at Coors Field, 20 more than Tiger Stadium and 77 more than the Astrodome. And the average distance for the Coors Field homers was 406 feet, eight feet longer than runner-up Fulton County Stadium.

* In his first 17 pitches in the NL, new Dodger Kevin Tapani gave up a double, triple, two homers and four runs.

* This year, the Seattle Mariners have traded four No. 1 picks: 1989 (Roger Salkeld to Cincinnati for Tim Belcher, who could've been signed as a free agent), 1990 Marc Newfield (for Andy Benes on Monday), 1991 (Shawn Estes, to San Francisco for Salomon Torres), and 1992 (Ron Villone, as part of the Benes deal).

* The Reds won 16 of the first 18 games started by John Smiley.

* Houston's Dave Magadan is replacing the injured Jeff Bagwell. Sort of. Going into Thursday's game, Magadan had 28 homers in 2,948 career at-bats, and 42 RBI in his last 405 at-bats. Bagwell had 16 homers in 336 at-bats this season, and had 31 RBI _ in July.

* Florida closer Rob Nenn was 0-4 with three blown saves in seven opportunities before the All-Star break. He's converted seven of eight chances since then.

* From the Remember Red Sox fans, It Can Go Quickly Dept.: On July 13, the California Angels were tied for first in the AL West with the Texas Rangers. In the first 19 games since then, they gained 11 games in the standings.

* All of Jay Buhner's 18 homers this year are against right-handers.

* The Minnesota Twins have pinch-hit for their cleanup hitters 25 times this year.

If you accept the premise that the Most Valuable Player should go to the player most valuable to his team _ and we accept that premise _ then there are some interesting possibilities for AL MVP, beyond the obvious picks like Mo

Vaughn.

Player, Team, Comment

Jose Mesa, Cleveland, Going into this year, everybody knew the Indians would hit and that their rotation would be OK, with Dennis Martinez and Charles Nagy and Orel Hershiser. The question was the bullpen. Mesa, 30-for-30 in save chances, answered that question.

Jim Edmonds, California, He's been a huge plus for the Angels this year, helping them, particularly, when Chili Davis went down with an injury.

Tim Wakefield, Boston, He's won seven games the day after the Red Sox losses. Can you imagine where Boston would be in the standings with this guy?

Patrons of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. got a unexpected opportunity to see an unusual exhibit last week. A real-life, active player. In uniform. Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell used his veteran privileges and walked around the hallowed halls as the Hall of Fame game was being played. "Being a baseball fan," he said, "I'd always wanted to come here, but never gotten the chance... Last week, I asked Sparky (Anderson, the Tigers manager) if I could go this time, and he said it was OK. It's something I definitely want to do again, although I wouldn't come

in uniform."

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