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Tom Verducci's View

Aug. 04, 2003
Aug. 04, 2003

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Aug. 4, 2003

Sports Illustrated Bonus Section
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Tom Verducci's View

REMODELING

This is an article from the Aug. 4, 2003 issue Original Layout

The Pirates have been wrongly accused of running a fire sale
after trading a 36-year-old centerfielder in decline (Kenny
Lofton), a 31-year-old arbitration-eligible situational lefty
(Scott Sauerbeck), a 35-year-old closer with a 6.27 ERA (Mike
Williams) and an inconsistent, poor-fielding third baseman
(Aramis Ramirez) whose $6 million salary in 2004 doesn't appear
to be a good value, even if he is only 25. Those are not
franchise-rebuilding blocks. "Playing .500 is not a goal," G.M.
Dave Littlefield says. "What we need are more players and
financial flexibility."

The Pirates would rather spend Ramirez's $6 million, for
instance, on three players--the way Toronto added shortstop Mike
Bordick, outfielder Frank Catalanotto and pitcher Cory Lidle in
the off-season instead of paying Jose Cruz Jr. Littlefield isn't
exactly breaking up the '97 Marlins, either. He's digging out
from under terrible contracts and a barren farm system left by
his predecessor, Cam Bonifay, and owner Kevin McClatchy.

Littlefield, however, should draw the line on outfielder Brian
Giles, whom he has considered moving in a package deal if someone
also takes catcher Jason Kendall's albatross of a contract ($42
million over the next four years). Giles is the kind of player a
team can build around.

RUN FOR IT

If the underachieving Twins (6 1/2 games behind the Royals at
week's end) are to make a move in the AL Central, the time is
now. They are done playing the Yankees, Mariners, Red Sox and
A's--the top four teams in the AL--and, starting last Friday,
were to play 22 of 29 games against losing clubs (Indians,
Orioles and Tigers). The other seven games in that span are
against K.C., whose young pitchers will be tested as they reach
new thresholds of innings and appearances.

MISSING ON PITCHING

Now that the Yankees have added relievers Jesse Orosco, 46, and
Armando Benitez, 30, their staff includes only one pitcher in his
20s: enigmatic starter Jeff Weaver. New York prefers veteran
pitchers in part because it has to. Except for Ramiro Mendoza,
who debuted in 1996, the club hasn't developed a good pitcher
since it called up Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera in '95.

The Yankees did have success with one international free agent
(Orlando Hernandez) but missed badly on others (Adrian Hernandez,
Mark Hutton, Hideki Irabu, Kats Maeda and, so far, Jose
Contreras). Every young pitcher they traded for since '95 didn't
stick (Ted Lilly, Ed Yarnall and Jake Westbrook being the best of
a sorry lot).

What's more, New York's record of drafting pitchers is abysmal.
Since '96, after Pettitte and Rivera arrived, all other pitchers
originally drafted by the team have combined for only 36 starts
and 20 wins in the team's 1,233 games. Lefthander Brandon
Claussen, who beat the Mets in a June 28 cameo, became only the
14th homegrown Yankees pitcher to appear in a game in that
eight-year span.

THREE STRIKES FOR ...

Diamondbacks starter Curt Schilling

Q: Can QuesTec be salvaged, or does it need to be eliminated?

A: It should go completely. It doesn't work. And the next time
[baseball officials] want to change something, they ought to ask
the people it affects.

Q: You have a no-trade clause in your contract. Is there any
temptation to waive it to go to the right team?

A: No. I like it here [in Arizona], and my family likes it. I
like everything about it.

Q: Are you focused on winning the division or the wild card?

A: The politically correct answer is the division. But the
realistic answer is the wild card. That's reality when you're 11
games out. The bottom line is to get into the postseason.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER (GILES) GilesCOLOR PHOTO: ED BETZ/AP (OROSCO) OroscoCOLOR PHOTO: AP (SCHILLING)