Beating The Clock
As the trade deadline neared, contenders got help for the stretch
When he finally waived the no-trade clause in his contract and
accepted a move from the last-place Devil Rays to the first-place
Cubs last Friday--19 days after the teams originally agreed to the
deal--first baseman Fred McGriff explained the delay by saying, "I
didn't want to make a hasty decision. I knew I had time to think
about it. I wanted to analyze things."
All that ruminating was a gamble. There was no guarantee the Cubs
would not pursue another cleanup hitter while waiting to see if
McGriff would give his consent before the July 31 trading
deadline. Nor was it likely that McGriff would be dealt to
another team--say, the Braves--that would have kept Crime Dog close
to his wife and two children at the family's year-round home in
Tampa. Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar says that he
discussed a McGriff deal with only one team other than the Cubs,
and that Chicago was the only club that made a serious offer.
However, the delay in accepting the trade paid off for the
37-year-old slugger, who hit .318 with 19 home runs and 61 RBIs
with the Devil Rays. Last Thursday morning Cubs G.M. Andy
MacPhail called LaMar, desperately seeking to revisit the deal
McGriff had rejected. They agreed to the same terms: Tampa Bay
would receive journeyman righthander Manny Aybar and a prospect,
and LaMar gave MacPhail permission to talk contract with
August 5, 2001
Chicago offered to raise McGriff's 2002 salary from $6.75 million
to $7.25 million and guarantee that year. (McGriff also can
choose instead to become a free agent after this season.) What's
more, McGriff was offered an $8.5 million option for 2003 (he
could play for the Cubs or they could buy him out for $500,000)
and a no-trade clause for as long as he is with the Cubs.
Suddenly the family concerns that McGriff had cited when he said
he wanted to stay in his native Tampa melted away. "I just had to
think about everything as far as, Do I want to continue to play?
If so, where? How long?" he said. "Now, more or less, I can
control my future better rather than leave it up to [new Devil
Rays chief operating officer John] McHale and the rest of them."
The trade may have taken nearly three weeks to work out, but all
parties got what they wanted out of the deal. Tampa Bay
accomplished its goal of whittling payroll in preparation for a
youth movement. McGriff, who, LaMar says, volunteered two months
ago to waive his no-trade clause if Tampa Bay could swing a deal
that interested him, parachuted into a pennant race and assured
himself freedom to play where he wants for the next two years. As
for the Cubs, they got a much-needed power hitter to prop up a
weak lineup and to protect Sammy Sosa. "McGriff could have a big
impact on the Cubs, because he'll see a lot more fastballs in the
National League," says one scout. "He gives them a legitimate
middle-of-the-order guy to pair with Sosa. Plus now they can move
Matt Stairs [from first base] back to the outfield, where he
Entering Sunday's game, in which McGriff made his debut as a Cub
by going 1 for 3 with one RBI in a 7-5 win over the Cardinals,
Chicago had a four-game lead over the Astros in the National
League Central but had the league's fifth-worst offense (4.5 runs
per game). Sosa had been intentionally walked 27 times, the most
in the majors. Meanwhile, McGriff was on track to have one of the
most productive seasons of his 16-year career, which was why the
Cubs were willing to wait--and pay heavily--for his services. "The
more we evaluated," MacPhail said last Friday, "the more it
became clear to us that this was our best option."
Reshaping the Rockies
Trades to Build For the Future
While the Rockies were riding to the airport in San Francisco to
catch a flight for Los Angeles last week, they were jolted by the
impact of their team bus hitting an overhead obstruction. The
collision sent bits of windshield flying onto seats in the front
row. Among those hit by the glass was righthander Pedro Astacio,
who at the time was the subject of much trade speculation. No one
was hurt, but given the club's luck this year, it would have
shocked no one had Astacio suffered a freak injury a few days
before the July 31 trade deadline. "When everything's going
wrong, even the team bus goes bad," says general manager Dan
Through Sunday the Rockies had lost 29 of their last 37 games and
were buried in the cellar of the National League West, 16 1/2
games behind the first-place Dodgers. Only seven months after the
Rockies had dropped $172.5 million on two free-agent pitchers,
lefthanders Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle, Colorado was one of
the most active players in the trade market, sprinkling pieces of
its roster across the majors like shards of glass. "It concerns
me and a few other veterans, too," says All-Star rightfielder
This year's trading period was notable for its scarcity of
marquee names (no player who had changed teams through Monday was
expected to swing a playoff race as, for example, Randy Johnson
did for the Astros in 1998) and for the number of projected
contenders who instead found themselves unloading as the deadline
approached. The defending National League pennant winners, the
Mets, pulled the plug on their season by gutting their bullpen,
sending lefthander Dennis Cook and righthander Turk Wendell to
the Phillies for promising southpaw Bruce Chen. New York then
shipped starter Rick Reed to the Twins for outfielder Matt
Lawton. The Rangers dumped high-priced veteran first baseman
Andres Galarraga on the Giants, who on Monday also picked up
righthander Jason Schmidt and outfielder John Vander Wal from the
Pirates. For the second time in six months the Royals traded
their best outfielder to the A's--this time rightfielder Jermaine
Dye, following the trade of centerfielder Johnny Damon.
No team underwent a more dramatic dismantling than Colorado.
Astacio still had not been dealt when SI went to press on Monday
night, but he was expected to be moved before the deadline. On
July 25 Gold Glove shortstop Neifi Perez was traded to Kansas
City (the Rockies received three prospects from Oakland,
including second baseman Jose Ortiz, in the three-way deal) and
starting second baseman Todd Walker was sent to the Reds for
much-traveled outfielder Alex Ochoa on July 19.
"People seem to think I enjoy making a lot of trades," says
O'Dowd, who has made 26 deals in his 21 months on the job as G.M.
and has recently taken heat from players and fans for constantly
tinkering with the roster. "We're trying to win and rebuild at
the same time. If I'm guilty of anything, it's of trying to win
Colorado's deals were spurred by its ugly performance this season
(44-61) and by payroll concerns. Perez, 26, a four-year veteran
with two years of arbitration eligibility left, had been
bickering with management over the terms of a proposed long-term
contract. The Rockies felt his request was too steep for a
four-year deal worth $29 million--a price that figured to rise as
Perez's Coors-Field-inflated numbers improved (.347 with 36 RBIs
at home, compared with .237 and 11 on the road). In Astacio's
case O'Dowd was hoping to save more than $11 million that
remained on his contract through next year.
O'Dowd is looking to spread talent more evenly across a team on
which the gap between stars such as Hampton, Neagle, Walker and
first baseman Todd Helton and the other regulars is huge.
Colorado's key acquisition was Ortiz, a 24-year-old Dominican who
was the Pacific Coast League MVP last year and, according to one
scout, has a chance to be a much better player than Perez, the
one the Rockies gave up to get him.
"Until we have a deep 25-man roster and another five to 10
players ready in the minor leagues, it will be difficult to win
here," says O'Dowd, "and nearly impossible to sustain it."
The Twins' Shaky Play
Don't Give Up on Them Yet
The second half of the season has been a nightmare for the Twins,
who led the Indians by five games in the American League Central
at the All-Star break. At week's end Minnesota had lost 13 of 18
games since then and had fallen a half game behind Cleveland. Has
the clock struck midnight for one of baseball's most surprising
There's reason to think so--Minnesota's 5.55 ERA since the break
was the league's highest--but it's still too early to sound the
alarm. The Twins got a boost from last Saturday's trade that
brought reliever Todd Jones (who tied for a league-leading 42
saves last year) from the Tigers for lefthander Mark Redman.
Jones, 33, had only 11 saves and a 4.62 ERA this season through
Sunday, but the nine-year veteran gives Minnesota experience and
bullpen depth. On Monday the Twins made up for the loss of Redman
by trading outfielder Matt Lawton to the Mets for righthander
Rick Reed. The deals were also significant because, for the first
time in general manager Terry Ryan's seven-year tenure, Minnesota
is trying to acquire immediate help at the deadline.
The Twins also have a favorable schedule. They have 12 games
remaining against the Indians, and at week's end only one other
opponent in August and September (the Angels) had a winning
record. Most important, Minnesota anticipates the return of
shortstop Cristian Guzman (.308, 17 stolen bases), who went on
the disabled list with an inflamed right shoulder on July 13 but
was eligible to come off this week. When Guzman went down, the
Twins were averaging 5.3 runs per game; without their All-Star
shortstop and number 2 hitter, they've averaged 3.5 runs. "We
need him," centerfielder Torii Hunter says. "He scores in damn
near every game."
Until Guzman gets back, his teammates will have to keep Minnesota
in the race.
Aug. 3-5 Expos at Astros
In Montreal's only visit to Houston this year, the Astros get
another chance to do something no other National League team has:
make Expos rightfielder and career .323 hitter Vladimir Guerrero
look pedestrian at the plate. In 111 career at bats against
Houston, Guerrero has hit .261 with one homer (he's gone deep at
least five times against every other National League opponent)
and seven RBIs. At week's end Guerrero was batting .327 with 28
home runs, yet the only other time he faced the Astros this
season, in May, he had three hits in 13 at bats as Houston swept
a three-game series in Montreal.
For scores, stats and the latest news, plus more from Tom
Verducci and Stephen Cannella, go to cnnsi.com/baseball.
Two advance scouts, one from each league, reflect on what they
saw and heard last week:
The Todd Jones-for-Mark Redman trade was good for the Tigers and
the Twins. The lefthander Redman, a solid third or fourth
starter, will benefit from pitching in the big ballpark in
Detroit. Jones, a righthander, has struggled with his confidence
this year--his fastball barely reaches 91 mph, and he really
needs his velocity to set up his curveball--but he brings
experience to the Minnesota bullpen....
The Indians don't have as menacing a lineup as they have had in
the past. They still have home run threats in the middle of the
order, but they're not as powerful one through nine as they were
over the last few seasons....
You have to wonder how much relievers Dennis Cook, 38, and Turk
Wendell, 34, [traded last Friday from the Mets to the Phillies]
have left in the tank. Both have been through the wars, and
their experience is huge for Philadelphia, but they worked a ton
of games the last couple years for New York [527 combined
appearances since the start of the '98 season]....
Getting rightfielder Jermaine Dye from the Royals was big for
the A's. They still have a decent outfield and a solid
middle-of-the-order hitter next year in case first baseman Jason
Giambi leaves as a free agent....
A lot of people want to shovel dirt on them, but the Royals'
recent West Coast trip [they won three of six from the Mariners
and the A's] told us that they're still playing hard for manager
in the Box
INDIANS 6, TIGERS 4
Detroit got lucky--actually it caught a base runner napping with a
move straight out of Little League--and still couldn't kill
Cleveland's game-winning rally. With the score tied 3-3 in the
top of the eighth inning, two outs and Indians runners at first
and third, Tigers reliever Danny Patterson trapped Jolbert
Cabrera off first base by faking a throw to third, whirling and
throwing to first.
Cabrera got into what had the makings of an inning-ending
rundown. However, instead of nailing Cabrera by running him back
to first, Detroit shortstop Deivi Cruz turned to check on
Cleveland's Kenny Lofton as he danced off third. Cruz's
hesitation allowed Cabrera to slide into first safely, and Lofton
retreated to third without drawing a throw. American League
batting leader Roberto Alomar then doubled to drive home both
teammates with what proved to be the winning runs.