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O's among trade winners

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It'll take about two months to fully evaluate everything that happened leading up to Thursday's deadline for making trades without waivers, but who wants to wait that long? The New York Yankees did what the New York Yankees usually do, acquiring big-name players to assure their place in the postseason.

The Boston Red Sox did what they had to do to maintain their standing in baseball's greatest rivalry.

The Orioles made a deal that could accelerate their rebuilding effort and, just maybe, help them make a wild card run in 2004. Or they set themselves up for a decade of second-guessing if Sidney Ponson really has matured into one of baseball's best pitchers.

If Syd Thrift were still around, he'd be telling everyone that somebody is going to look pretty smart in a couple of years. From this angle, new Orioles executives Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan look pretty smart already.

So do Brian Cashman, Billy Beane and Theo Epstein, all of whom made deadline deals.

Though hard-and-fast conclusions may be premature, here's a thumbnail look at the winners and losers in this year's midseason trade market.

Winner: Yankees

The acquisition of third baseman Aaron Boone makes them younger and stronger at a time when they need badly to be both. The Red Sox aren't going away and the Yankees have proven vulnerable in the postseason the past couple of years, so Cashman's ability to deal for Boone and deal away aging, slumping Robin Ventura proves again that he's one of the best GMs in the business.

Of course, Boone isn't the only player the Yankees added in July. Cashman acquired frontline closer Armando Benitez to be a setup man for Mariano Rivera and beefed up the middle of the bullpen by picking up reliever Gabe White on Thursday in a separate deal with the Reds.

Loser: Cardinals

General manager Walt Jocketty spent months trying to upgrade a pitching staff that has had nothing but bad luck, but he ended up on the outside looking in at the waiver deadline.

It wasn't for lack of effort. Jocketty also is one of the best in the business, but a confluence of bad fortune and stiff competition left him unable to make the midseason adjustments he has made so deftly in the past.

The injury that knocked Matt Morris out of the rotation put the Cardinals in a desperate situation and the shoulder injury that continues to hamper slugger Jim Edmonds prevented them from making a major deal to stabilize the pitching staff. They couldn't afford to deal outfielder J.D. Drew with Edmonds' status uncertain and they didn't have enough else to offer to get a frontline starter.

Winner: Orioles

Ponson finally is coming into his own, but the Orioles could not afford to let the deadline pass because they would have had very little negotiating leverage going into the offseason.

If you're talking about Mike Mussina, you take that chance because you know that even if you overpay you have a pretty good idea of what you're going to get in return. Ponson might be on the cusp of greatness, but he might also be a carrot-and-stick guy whose motivation diminishes after he signs a rich-for-life deal.

The Orioles had to get while the getting was good, and they did. They acquired a solid No. 2 or No. 3 starter in Damian Moss and picked up a promising pitcher (Kurt Ainsworth) who could develop into the ace of the staff. If they perform, the Orioles will be better off than they would be with a productive Ponson in the 2004 rotation.

Even if they don't, there was no guarantee that Ponson would be back next year, anyway.

Loser: Reds

What a mess. Reds ownership picked a strange time to fire general manager Jim Bowden and manager Bob Boone, leaving the organization in an apparent state of confusion right before the waiver deadline.

The Reds got some decent young talent for big hitters Aaron Boone and Jose Guillen, but they left themselves with just a new ballpark, a couple of young sluggers and one tarnished superstar to keep fans interested.

Winner: Giants

OK, so how can the Orioles be a winner for trading Ponson and the Giants be a winner for getting him? Because he's having the best year of his life, and he has every reason to want to impress his new team.

The Giants needed a go-to power pitcher to flesh out their rotation as they cruise into the postseason. Ponson can be that, though there is no way to know how he'll fare against National League hitters or what he'll do in the postseason.

He probably will do just fine. He's pitching for a much better team, and his confidence is at an all-time high. If the Giants get back to the World Series, it was a good deal no matter how well Ainsworth and Moss pitch for the Orioles next year.

Loser: Pirates fans

The Pittsburgh Pirates looked like they might be competitive when the season opened, but now it looks like they might be headed into another long rebuilding phase.

They unloaded several solid veterans before the deadline and could trade slugger Brian Giles and catcher Jason Kendall during the next few weeks, leaving them with little short-term upside.

If they were the Cleveland Indians, who ran off a string of playoff appearances before embarking on a painful rebuilding project, the fans could be expected to show some forebearance. But this team hasn't done anything since Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla left in the early 1990s.

Winner: Red Sox GM Epstein

The boy wonder took some heat for opening the season without an established bullpen closer, but the Red Sox are still hot on the heels of the first-place Yankees and Epstein has shown he can get things done.

The June deal that sent third baseman Shea Hillenbrand to the Diamondbacks for starter/closer Byung-Hyun Kim was a stroke of front office genius, since it allowed the Red Sox the flexibility to acquire either a starter or a stopper in July. Epstein made a couple of deals to add bullpen depth and topped off his midseason makeover with the acquisition of hot starter Jeff Suppan.

Losers: Dodgers

Despite all the positive vibes from GM Dan Evans, the acquisition of veteran third baseman Ventura is just more proof that the Dodgers are in need of a miracle to get to the playoffs - as if the decision to sign 44-year-old Rickey Henderson earlier in the month was not proof enough.

Ventura has been in a major funk, which is why the Yankees were so anxious to acquire Boone from the Reds. The Dodgers are desperately hoping to catch Ventura on an upswing, , but their offensive struggles already have turned them into a wild-card long shot.

Winner: Cubs

Who knows if Kenny Lofton or Aramis Ramirez will carry them back to the top of the National League Central, but they were the only contending team in the division to make anything happen on the trade front.

Loser: Mariners

Mariners GM Pat Gillick telegraphed his intention to stand pat at the deadline, despite several hot rumors to the contrary. The Mariners didn't do anything to upgrade their offensive attack, and the second-place A's picked up Guillen from the Reds.

The A's have yet to play particularly well this year and they're only a few games out of first place. If they make another big August run, the Mariners may end up kicking themselves.

Winner: White Sox

Neither Roberto Alomar nor Carl Everett have set the world on fire since they were acquired nearly a month ago, but the infusion of talent clearly had a positive effect on the attitude in the clubhouse.

The White Sox have turned their season around and are one of baseball's hottest teams. They are neck and neck with the Royals in the AL Central, thanks largely to solid pitching and a big offensive surge from the original cornerstones of the batting order.

THE SCHMUCK QUOTIENT

Cincinnati Reds chief operating officer John Allen displayed poor timing when he dismissed general manager Jim Bowden and manager Bob Boone just three days before Thursday's trading deadline. Then assistant GM Brad Kullman tried to cast the departure of key players Aaron Boone, Jose Guillen and Scott Williamson as a positive step.

"I didn't realize the best way to get better is by trading your two best players and your closer," Reds pitcher Ryan Dempster said. "I guess if that's what does it, then I guess we'll be expecting the Yankees to trade [Derek] Jeter, [Jason] Giambi and [Mariano] Rivera."

Good point. The Reds appear to be in complete disarray, and upper management is responsible. They're in a tough financial situation, but Allen and Co. still rate a solid 7.5 on the Schmuck Stupidity Scale.

TEAM RANKINGS

1. Braves (2)

Content to let the lesser World Series wannabes battle it out at the trade deadline.

2. Giants (1)

A rolling Ponson apparently does gather Moss.

3. Yankees (3)

Didn't let any grass grow under their feet in tough AL East.

4. Red Sox (5)

Despite Lyon do-over, boy GM appears to understand the art of the deal.

5. Mariners (4)

Stood by passively while A's made big move to upgrade lineup.

6. Athletics (9)

Jose Guillen should help wake up sleeping offensive giant.

7. Marlins (14)

Flying fish appear to have legs. How's that for a mixed metaphor?

8. White Sox (10)

Somebody forgot to fire Jerry Manuel, and now look what has happened.

9. Astros (6)

Need to put away wounded Cardinals before they find waiver help.

10. Royals (8)

Couldn't slow White Sox surge. Have to hope for help from AL West.

11. Phillies (7)

Suddenly, there's something fishy going on in NL wild-card race.

12. Cardinals (11)

Couldn't get anything done by waiver deadline, but there still might be a deal out there.

13. Rockies (21)

Can't be counted out of wild-card derby, though playoff chances still appear to be as thin as the air in Denver.

14. Cubs (20)

Rafael Palmeiro rumors remain alive, but deal doesn't make a lot of sense.

15. Dodgers (12)

Run-hungry Bums trying to lure Duke Snider out of retirement.

16. Diamondbacks (17)

Relinquished momentum at just the wrong time. Need to get some back to stay in playoff hunt.

17. Blue Jays (16)

Just lost three straight to Devil Rays. What more is there to say?

18. Twins (18)

Need to gear up for tough three-way stretch drive with Royals and White Sox.

19. Expos (19)

Guerrero is starting to look like his old self again, but is it too late?

20. Angels (13)

Appier release is equivalent of concession speech.

21. Orioles (15)

May miss Ponson down the stretch, but they'll be a better team in 2004 without him.

22. Pirates (22)

Bucs, in classic role reversal, get plundered.

23. Reds (23)

Remaining club officials deny they've gone back to Square One, but there doesn't appear to be a Square Two anywhere in sight.

24. Rangers (26)

Trading A-Rod not really within realm of possibility, so why is he talking about it?

25. Indians (25)

In the right division for an accelerated rebuilding effort.

26. Mets (24)

In the wrong city for any kind of rebuilding effort.

27. Brewers (27)

On pace for 10-game improvement over 2002, though that isn't saying a whole lot.

28. Devil Rays (29)

Never say dye D-Rays win three in a row again. Time for Lou to get a Mohawk.

29. Padres (28)

Giles, Kendall still could be on the way.

30. Tigers (30)

Couldn't get anyone to return their calls at waiver deadline.

(Last week's rankings in parentheses)

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