As the trade deadline nears, contenders are looking for
Giants general manager Brian Sabean could have been speaking for
most of his major league counterparts last week when he
discussed the moves he would like to make by the July 31 trading
deadline. "All of us are looking to improve our pitching; I
don't see the quality out there to meet the demand," said
Sabean, who is generally happy with his team, which at week's
end was in second place in the National League West, 1 1/2 games
behind the Diamondbacks.
The midsummer call for arms is as predictable a part of the
season as the trading deadline itself. Heading toward the zero
hour of baseball's shopping season, here are several contenders'
wish lists as they gear up for a postseason push.
General manager Brian Cashman deserves credit for picking up
outfielders David Justice and Glenallen Hill, lefthander Denny
Neagle and infielder Jose Vizcaino without dealing prized
prospect Alfonso Soriano, but his work is not quite finished.
"Obviously we still have needs," Cashman said last Friday after
making the deal with the Cubs for Hill, who will pinch-hit and
DH. "I'm not done lining up choices for George [Steinbrenner] to
say yea or nay to." With leftfielder Shane Spencer (torn right
ACL) lost for the season, the Yankees are trying to fill that
hole, and they might be able to use Soriano to reel in Expos
outfielder Rondell White, who has a strained right hamstring but
may come off the disabled list this week. That deal could be the
next choice presented to the Boss. Says manager Joe Torre about
the likelihood of a trade for another outfielder: "There's no
question we're looking."
Atlanta lost its second baseman and leadoff hitter for the
season when Quilvio Veras tore his right ACL on July 14. Though
19-year-old rookie Rafael Furcal and veteran Keith Lockhart have
filled in ably, the Braves are considering Rangers second
baseman Luis Alicea, a free-agent-to-be who's having the finest
offensive season (.307 average, .383 on-base percentage through
Sunday) of his career. Alicea, an 11-year veteran, would provide
a solid bat and dependable defense, and allow Furcal to continue
splitting time at shortstop with Walt Weiss. Atlanta also needs
outfield help: Reggie Sanders, Bobby Bonilla and Trenidad
Hubbard (combined .216 average, 10 home runs and 34 RBIs) have
given the Braves less production from leftfield than any other
team in the National League.
As one of the few teams with pitching depth--righthander Brett
Tomko is buried in the bullpen despite a 4-2 record in eight
spot starts--Seattle is in good position to acquire the
lefthanded bat it has craved since spring training. Brewers
outfielder Jeromy Burnitz (.217, 20 homers and 58 RBIs), who
broke off negotiations for a contract extension last week and
may be dealt, could fill that role, as could talented first
baseman-outfielder Travis Lee, who was sent to Arizona's Triple
A affiliate in Tucson on July 16 after struggling in the majors.
The Mariners have also inquired about Astros righthanded-hitting
outfielder Moises Alou (.349, 15, 53), who would have to waive
his no-trade clause for a deal to go through.
Boston has the American League's best ERA (4.19 through Sunday)
and is anticipating righthander Bret Saberhagen's return from
shoulder surgery next month, so Dan Duquette will be one of the
few general managers not looking for pitching. "Our defense has
been all right, and our pitching has been a strength," he says.
"But we need consistent offensive production from third base,
first base and designated hitter." The Rangers are listening to
offers for first baseman-DH David Segui (.342, 10, 56), who
would give Boston much-needed pop and a defensive upgrade over
first baseman Brian Daubach. The Red Sox are also interested in
Three weeks ago general manager Ron Schueler insisted that the
American League Central-leading White Sox didn't need to make
major moves. That changed last week when righthander Cal Eldred
went on the disabled list with a sore elbow. "We are doing a lot
of searching, a lot of talking and a lot of scouting," says
Schueler. "We're talking about getting some pitching." One
possibility is Reds righthander Pete Harnisch, who was being
scouted by the White Sox and several other teams last week when
he threw his second straight complete-game win, against Houston.
Last week general manager Kevin Malone downplayed the likelihood
of his making a big deal, but if Los Angeles, which had crept to
within four games of the Diamondbacks in the National League
West and 2 1/2 of the wild-card-leading Giants at week's end, is
to remain a contender, it must bolster its rotation. A possible
addition is Devil Rays righthander Steve Trachsel (6-9, 4.57
ERA). Trachsel, a free agent after the season, is on pace to
collect $4.5 million in performance incentives, and Tampa Bay is
willing to dump him cheaply to avoid that obligation. That's
good news for the Dodgers, who would rather not part with young
starters Eric Gagne and Darren Dreifort--the players other teams
keep asking for in trade talks--in any deal they make.
The major leagues' top homer-hitting team has offense to spare,
so general manager Gord Ash is sniffing around for pitching.
Last week he grabbed inconsistent but talented righthander
Esteban Loaiza (5-7, 5.53 ERA at week's end) from the Rangers
and stuck him in the rotation. Ash hopes that deal was just a
start. "My belief is that one pitcher wasn't going to be the
answer," he says. "[Loaiza] is not the Number 1 guy. He's a guy
we liked, and there are other teams we're continuing to talk to."
Van Poppel's Comeback
Finding Relief in The Bullpen
When Todd Van Poppel made his major league debut at age 19 in
1991, he was sporting a $1.2 million contract, which had been a
record for a draft choice the year before, and had the weight of
unrealistic expectations on his shoulders. Observers felt that
the 6'5", 205-pound righthander would dominate games by throwing
mid-90s heat and striking out roughly one hitter per inning. It
turns out they were right, only it has taken him nine years to
develop into that overpowering pitcher, and he's doing it as a
setup man, not as a starter. "If I don't go back to starting,
that's fine with me," says Van Poppel, who is working out of the
Cubs' bullpen these days. "Honestly, I'm probably better as a
reliever. Knowing I have a chance to pitch every day is good for
me. I overthink, and as a starter I had too much time to sit
around and analyze."
After struggling through the 1990s as the poster boy for
expensive draft-day blunders, Van Poppel has resurrected his
career. Through Sunday he was 2-3 with two saves and a 2.36 ERA
and 42 strikeouts in 42 innings. He had been scored upon in only
eight of his 30 appearances and had allowed just two of eight
inherited runners to score. "I don't think anybody expected him
to do the job he's doing," says Chicago closer Rick Aguilera.
"He's helped solidify our bullpen."
Before Van Poppel was summoned from Triple A Iowa on May 11, he
had last pitched in the big leagues in 1998, when he went 2-4
with a 6.38 ERA in 22 games for the Rangers and the Pirates. The
Cubs are the sixth organization he's played for in five years,
an odyssey that began when Oakland, frustrated by his inability
to develop another quality pitch to go with his fastball, gave
up on him in '96, when his career record was 18-29. "My velocity
is pretty much the same as it's always been," says Van Poppel,
who has come up with an overhand curve and a slider to
complement a fastball that still reaches 95 mph. "But now I feel
I can get people out on any given day. In the past I felt I had
to have my real good stuff."
His confidence was restored last season with the Pirates' Triple
A affiliate in Nashville, the first time since 1995 that he
spent an entire season with one team at one level. He went 10-6
with a 4.95 ERA in 27 starts--the only time in his pro career
that he finished a full season with a winning record--and led
the Pacific Coast League with 157 strikeouts.
Chicago signed him to a minor league deal last November with the
understanding that he would shift to the bullpen; Van Poppel
says he had more lucrative offers but chose the Cubs because he
thought they would give him the best chance of returning to the
majors. His hunch proved right and after his May call-up he
pitched 15 scoreless innings over his first 11 outings.
"Todd's aggressive, and he throws strikes, which is what he has
to do in his role," says pitching coach Oscar Acosta. "He's
finally found his niche here."
July 27-30: Red Sox at A's
Even without postseason implications--Oakland led Boston by a
game in the American League wild-card race at week's
end--there's enough bad blood between these teams to keep things
interesting. During their four-game series in April, A's hitters
complained that Pedro and Ramon Martinez were throwing at them.
Oakland first baseman Olmedo Saenz was plunked by Ramon a day
after he homered off Pedro, and Pedro nailed shortstop Miguel
Tejada an inning after Saenz took him deep. "They're good, but I
don't know who they think they are," said Saenz after the third
game of that series. The A's will have their chances at revenge:
Both Pedro and Ramon are scheduled to pitch in the series.
the HOT corner
The Rangers' David Segui played his 1,000th game at first base
on July 16, making him eligible for the alltime fielding leader
board. Not that Segui, whose .996 career fielding percentage at
that position at week's end placed him second alltime, is
impressed with the list or its leader, Steve Garvey. "Garvey was
not a great defensive first baseman," says Segui. "He didn't get
to a lot of balls. Just because you don't have any errors
doesn't mean you're playing great defense."...
According to agent Gus Dominguez, at least five teams have
expressed interest in third baseman Andy Morales, who arrived in
Miami last week after defecting from Cuba. One of the first
questions possible suitors want answered concerns Morales's age.
A bio distributed in a press conference last Friday says he's
25, but a Cuban baseball card from 1994, when Morales was
playing for Province of Havana, lists his birthday as Dec. 3,
Angels rookie righthander Seth Etherton was 5-1 with a 3.97 ERA,
even though he's been unable to use his best pitch. While at USC
and in 1 1/2 seasons in the minors the 23-year-old Etherton
relied on a palmball. The seams on major league baseballs are
lower than those used in college and the minors, however, making
it difficult for Etherton to grip the palmball well enough to
control it. Instead, he has relied on his fastball, curve and
Mariners lefty Jamie Moyer knows whom to keep happy when he's on
the mound. As he walked to the dugout after the seventh inning
in a win against the A's last week, Moyer tipped his hat to home
plate umpire Tim Tschida, thanking him for a job well done.
"Some people know the art of cultivating the umpire," said
Oakland catcher Sal Fasano. A's manager Art Howe wasn't nearly
as understanding. "Why don't you just take him out to f------
dinner," he shouted at Moyer from the dugout....
Mark McGwire, who has vowed to retire if there's another
labor-related work stoppage, again sounded off about the
staggering salaries given to players. "We're all overpaid. I
took less money [to play in St. Louis]. You see a lot of guys
taking more money and going to a place they really don't know
about, and they find out they've made a wrong decision. They
might be rich, but they're going to be unhappy."...
Dodgers catcher Chad Kreuter says he will sue Josh Pulliam, the
fan who allegedly hit Kreuter and stole his cap, precipitating
the May brawl between fans and players in the Wrigley Field
stands. "The guy who hit me, I want to serve notice that I'm
coming after him," says Kreuter, who was fined $5,000 and
suspended for eight games for his role in the incident. "I
served my penalty, but I'm bitter. [Pulliam's] gone into hiding,
but when we find him he'll [be served with] a lawsuit."...
Former Braves closer Mark Wohlers made a successful return to
the majors with the Reds last week by pitching four scoreless
innings in two appearances. The comeback trail has been rockier
for lefthander Steve Avery, another former Atlanta star. Avery,
who had shoulder surgery last August, had a 12.38 ERA, 14 walks
and only three strikeouts in 16 innings for Atlanta's Triple A
affiliate in Richmond.
SETTING (But Not Clearing) The Table
Marlins second baseman Luis Castillo is a classic leadoff
hitter, reaching base often (through Sunday his .461 on-base
percentage was second in the National League), stealing bases (a
major-league-best 41) and scoring lots of runs (a team-high 69).
But driving in runs is not his forte. Castillo, who had six RBIs
in 305 at bats, was on pace to knock in 10 runs this year, which
would be the fewest ever in a season for a hitter who had at
least 450 at bats. Here are the alltime leaders.
PLAYER, TEAM YEAR AB RBI
Enzo Hernandez, Padres 1971 549 12
Clyde Milan, Senators 1910 531 16
Roy Thomas, Phillies 1906 493 16
Charley O'Leary, Tigers 1904 456 16
Ivy Olson, Dodgers 1918 506 17
Chappy Charles, Cardinals 1908 454 17
Al Burch, Dodgers 1908 456 18
Morrie Rath, White Sox 1912 591 19
Bob Lillis, Colt 45's 1963 469 19