Give Cincinnati Reds manager Jim Bowden credit for one thing. He isn't afraid to pull the plug on an uncertain season.
The Reds have been inching their way back toward the top of the National League Central standings, but the organization obviously has decided to refocus on the future.
The trade that sent pitching ace Denny Neagle to the New York Yankees was just the first in what promises to be a series of moves to unload veteran talent before the July 31 deadline for making deals without waivers. Now, the Reds are waiting for veteran shortstop Barry Larkin to approve a deal to the New York Mets ... and pondering at least one other move.
The next hot rumor is pitcher Pete Harnisch to the Chicago White Sox, who may be looking for a replacement for injured 10-game winner Cal Eldred, but Harnisch is hoping that the Reds stay the course a little longer.
"We talk and joke a lot about it," Harnisch told reporters recently, "... but we feel like there may be some people trying to give up on us a little bit. We don't feel that way. If we can keep a couple of guys here - every day we lose somebody else - we feel we have a shot [at contending for the postseason]. No matter how many guys they trade, we're going to keep fighting because we feel we have a chance. Obviously, if you trade enough players away, it's going to destroy those chances."
Bowden undoubtedly realizes that, but the decision to deal Larkin, whether the trade eventually is completed or not, is a clear signal that the Reds intend to get what they can before the waiver deadline.
The 36-year-old shortstop was pressing for a three-year contract extension worth nearly $28 million. Reds chief operating officer John Allen had recently told him the club did not intend to meet his terms. It was obvious Larkin would either have to set his sights lower or set them on some other team.
Larkin may decide to stay anyway if the Mets don't offer him a multi-year deal, but the signal already has been sent to the Reds clubhouse and to the rest of the division. Wait until next year.
Back to the future
Andy MacPhail used to be one of the most respected general managers in the business, winning world championships with the Minnesota Twins in 1987 and 1991 before being named president of the Chicago Cubs.
Now, he has reluctantly reassumed a GM role with the Cubs, committing to the job for at least 1 1/2 seasons after accepting a letter of resignation from former Cubs GM Ed Lynch on Wednesday.
"I've done that job long enough - and I haven't done it in a few years - but I've done that job long enough not to have any illusions about how wonderful the position is, especially in Chicago, no offense," MacPhail told reporters. "But I think it's only fair to the players, the manager and the coaching staff that if you do it, you do it for at least a year and a half."
It may take that long to turn around a club that has some of the same problems that have scuttled the Orioles. MacPhail is expected to deal several veteran players before the July 31 waiver deadline, including Ismael Valdes, Henry Rodriguez, Glenallen Hill, Jeff Reed and Felix Heredia. Even deals involving pitchers Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera apparently are not out of the question, even though both have no-trade contracts.
"Sometimes a little activity is a good thing for the sake of a little activity," MacPhail said. 'This is one of those times."
The Atlanta Braves can't believe their good fortune. They took a chance on former Orioles pitcher Scott Kamieniecki after he was released by the Cleveland Indians on June 23 and have been rewarded handsomely.
Kamieniecki, who suffered from inconsistent work in Cleveland, entered the weekend with three scoreless appearances since arriving in Atlanta, recording a victory and a save and helping solidify the Braves' middle relief corps.
Sox bank on more youth
The Chicago White Sox have fashioned the best record in the baseball with a roster full of young players, but apparently the team wasn't young enough for soon-to-be Major League Executive of the Year Ron Schueler. Over the past two weeks, the club has added three more rookie pitchers to the surprising pitching staff.
Schueler has called up 20-year-old Jon Garland, 21-year-old Mark Buehrle and 22-year-old Lorenzo Barcelo to join a pitching staff that already included one other rookie (left-hander Kelly Wunsch). That brings the club's average age down to 26.6 years.
"We are tapping into a well in our minor-league system," manager Jerry Manuel said. "I don't know if it's dry yet. I still think there are a few talented people down there. But at some point obviously we can't continue to go in that direction."
Ramirez on fire
It has been less than two weeks since Indians ownership questioned superstar Manny Ramirez's desire to come back from the disabled list and help the team try to catch the White Sox. Now - after Ramirez came back and hit .409 in his first six games off the DL - the club is saying that it wants to re-sign Ramirez but can't because he wants to test the free-agent market.'There's no way, shape or form that they don't have free agency on their radar screen," said general manager John Hart. "They want to test it. In my conversations with [agent Jeff Moorad], he doesn't feel it's the right time to talk about signing.
"We'd like to do a deal. We've talked about an extension. But it's a no-lose situation for them to go out on the market."
Tradition be darned
Though there still are some traditionalists who don't like interleague play (and I'm one of them), you're not going to find any around the Metrodome in Minnesota.
The Twins drew six of their nine largest crowds of the year for the back-to-back home interleague series with the St. Louis Cardinals and Cubs. They drew 36,688 for the final game of the Cubs series last Saturday and 30,116 for the Cardinals opener on Sunday, the first time in three years the Metrodome has seen back-to-back crowds of more than 30,000 for baseball.
Of course, it didn't hurt that the Twins started marketing those two series in spring training.