- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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The first question people in Philadelphia asked after Kevin Millwood's no-hitter was: "How could the Braves have ever traded that guy?" The second question was: "What are the odds the Phillies can keep him after this year."
Well, as happy as Millwood seems to be, we'd still set those odds at well below 50-50.
Phillies GM Ed Wade says, "We'll do our best to get it done. He likes being with us, and we know that. It's just a case of figuring out the economics. The problem is: Whose economics?"
And the scary answer to that question, for the Phillies, is: Scott Boras' economics, at least for now.
Boras has been telling GMs all over the game that he expects next winter's free-agent market to rebound to 2000-01, or at least 2001-02 levels. So if that's the case, he would figure to set Millwood's price tag at Chan Ho Park's level (five years, $65 million) -- if not higher.
But even Boras' fellow agents aren't optimistic enough to think any pitcher -- including Greg Maddux -- could approach those dollars.
"I don't see Kevin Millwood getting Chan Ho numbers," says one prominent agent. "If you look at last winter, he's a guy who could reasonably expect to get around $10 million a year for three or four years. That was Kevin Appier money two years ago. But it was Tom Glavine money this winter."
Glavine collected three years, $35 million from the Mets. On one hand, he's nine years older than Millwood. On the other, he owns two more Cy Youngs and five more 20-win seasons than Millwood.
But now Millwood has a no-hitter on his resume, which Glavine doesn't have. And over the last 11 months, Millwood has certainly been the better pitcher (19-4, 2.83 since last June 1, versus 13-11, 3.75 for Glavine).
No one can make those numbers sing better than Boras. So in a market with just four top-of-the-line starting pitchers (Millwood, Greg Maddux, Bartolo Colon, Andy Pettitte), he'll be looking for serious dollars.
The Phillies, on the other hand, have their own issues. By 2007 (or four years into a prospective Millwood contract), they'll have Jim Thome making $14 million, Bobby Abreu at $15 million and Pat Burrell at $13 million. So, for the sake of flexibility, they'd obviously prefer a three-year deal.
They'd also prefer to sign Millwood before he ever gets out on the market -- ideally while he's riding the high of that no-hit love affair. But Boras, who prefers all his clients to test the market, isn't likely to bite. So for now, the Phillies will stay laid-back on this front.
"I don't think we'll try to use this as any type of springboard, one way or the other," Wade says.
The better the Royals' record gets, the more people seem to be feeling sorry for Mike Sweeney, whose "out" clause in his contract would get blown up if the Royals finish with a winning record this or next season. But those people obviously don't know Mike Sweeney.
"If they reach .500, he won't be upset. He'll be thrilled," says one of Sweeney's closest friends. "Mike is one of those people who would choose loyalty over winning. That's the kind of person he is. Loyalty, honor, relationships, commitment and effort weigh more heavily in his life than winning."
Sweeney didn't ask his agents, Seth and Sam Levinson, to negotiate that clause so he could escape Kansas City. He wanted it in there because he wanted to win in Kansas City. The "out" clause was just a way of insuring that Royals management would do what it promised -- and meet him halfway.
"After he signed the contract," Sweeney's friend says, "Mike told (vice president of baseball operations) George Brett and (general manager) Allard Baird that his dream was to take the entire organization, put it on his back and climb the mountain to success. That clause is only in there to hold the Glass family (ownership) to its word that it would do what was necessary to help climb that mountain."
As appealing as Bartolo Colon is supposed to look in next winter's market, some clubs are already having their doubts if he's worth a huge investment.
"Just look at last winter," says one NL manager. "(The Expos) were trying to trade Colon, but the guy everybody really wanted was Javier Vazquez. He's not just younger. He's better than Colon."
Colon has had only one bad start so far. But he's now up to 35 straight starts without a double-figure strikeout game. And it continues to puzzle outsiders how his fastball comes and goes.
"He just cruises along, throwing 91-92-93," says one scout. "Then all of a sudden, he'll reach back and throw one like he can -- at 97-98. He just looks very happy throwing his sinker. But that doesn't make him a dominating guy."
If you just listened to talk shows, you'd think the only shaky bullpen in baseball belongs to the Red Sox. But they've got company. So we surveyed a bunch of scouts this week and collected their votes on the best and worst bullpens in baseball these days.
Best: 1. Dodgers, 2. Angels, 3. Braves, 4. Orioles, 5. Royals.
Worst: 1. Red Sox, 2. Blue Jays, 3. Cardinals, 4. Rockies, 5. Padres.
Should be better than they've pitched: 1. Mariners, 2. Mets.
And now the reviews:
It's easy to speculate that Yankees manager Joe Torre will walk away from the rest of his $5-million-a-year contract if owner George Steinbrenner keeps pounding on him. But two baseball men who know Torre well say: No way.
"It's just too much money to walk away from," says one of them, "especially for a guy who makes more money as a manager than he ever made as a player. For guys of Joe's generation, that's a big factor. The money wasn't there when he played. It's there now. And he won't leave it on the table."
"He's a New Yorker, and he's a legend in New York," says the other source. "If George wants to risk firing him, that's one thing. But to quit when he's making $5 million a year? No chance."
Angels: "One of the most consistent closers out there (Troy Percival). ... Brendan Donnelly has been outstanding again. ... Really good from the right side. ... They win because of their bullpen, because their starters are nothing special."
Braves: "With (John) Smoltz as the anchor, any 'pen would be good."
Orioles: "They don't get much credit, because they don't win enough. But you pair the two left-handers (Buddy Groom, B.J. Ryan) and the right-handers (Jorge Julio, Willis Roberts), and that's a place teams will look to deal for bullpen help come July."
Red Sox: "The big problem is, they don't have anybody who has really done the job at the end of the game in the pennant race."
Blue Jays: "The set-up guys can't get the ball to (Kelvim) Escobar -- and he can be an experience himself."
Cardinals: "Man, they're floundering. ... Two of those guys (Cal Eldred, Russ Springer) didn't even pitch last year. Steve Kline's not in the right role. The closer (Jason Isringhausen) is out. ... Not very good."
Padres: "Without Trevor Hoffman, a real crap shoot."
Before anyone in baseball starts singing the We're Losing Money Blues over that initial five-percent attendance drop, consider this: The teams that draw the best have played at home the least.
Look at the early schedules of the eight teams that traditionally lead the attendance standings:
Yankees: 9 of first 25 games at home
Red Sox: 9 of first 25 at home
Mariners: 16 of first 25 at home
Cardinals: 8 of first 23 at home
Giants: 9 of first 24 at home
Dodgers: 10 of first 26 at home
Mets: 15 of first 25 at home
Diamondbacks: 11 of first 26 at home
So six of those eight clubs had played many more road games than home games when that first, dire attendance report came out. That might not account for the entire five-percent drop. But we bet it's close.
The most intriguing behind-the-scenes baseball drama in New York these days centers around Alfonso Soriano. Now that he has dropped his agent, Don Nomura, the jockeying has already begun among a group of prominent agents that includes Boras, the SFX group, Jeff Moorad and the Levinsons.
As the Tigers sink slowly into Lake Michigan, they're desperate for veterans who can steady the ship. So GM Dave Dombrowski is taking heat for the four veteran players he waved so long to over the winter.
He non-tendered his only All-Star last year (Robert Fick). He didn't re-sign his best reliever (Juan Acevedo). And he traded his leading hitter (Randall Simon) and best starting pitcher (Mark Redman) for a miniscule return. All the Tigers have to show for the four of them now is one player currently in the big leagues -- pitcher Gary Knotts (obtained from Florida for Redman).
But Dombrowski says there were unique circumstances in all four cases.
Royals closer Mike MacDougal may have gotten off to one of the great starts of any rookie closer in history (10 saves in his first 10 opportunities). But there were worries about his staying power even before he and the Royals blew a five-run ninth-inning lead in Toronto last Sunday.
"He wasn't throwing last week like I'd seen him in the past," says one scout. "His velocity was only 92-93, as opposed to the upper 90s. He's such a slender, max-effort guy, I just wonder how long he can sustain it."
Another scout calls him "a surgery waiting to happen."
He said Fick turned down an offer that was double the deal he later took from Atlanta (one year, $1 million). And Simon, now in Pittsburgh, was "a DH for us" who would have had to fight Dean Palmer, Dmitri Young and Carlos Pena for playing time, Dombrowski says.
The GM says Acevedo (now a Yankee) was "looking for closer dollars" even though he knew that if he returned to Detroit, he would have gone back to setting up for Matt Anderson, who was returning from surgery. And in Redman's case, "we were looking to get more young players in here."
"We won 55 games last year with those players," Dombrowski says. "We finished in last place. So sometimes, you just need to make changes based on where you are as an organization."
Nevertheless, Acevedo has more saves (five) than Anderson (three). Redman has as one more win than the Tigers' whole rotation (two). Simon (two HR, 13 RBI) would lead the Tigers in RBI. And Fick was hitting .323, with two homers, when he hurt his shoulder two weeks into the seeason.
Don't underestimate Felipe Alou's role in the Giants' sensational start.
"He don't miss anything," says Marquis Grissom, who once played for Alou in Montreal. "Any time the other team makes a mistake, he's right on top of it. There's a lot of knowledge in that man. Which comes from 20 years of playing baseball and 30 years of managing. You're talking 50 years in baseball.
"He'll let you know what it takes to be a baseball player. He wants you to respect the game, and he watches you, and as soon as he thinks you're taking it for granted, he'll let you know. And you better listen. He's still built like he can whup your behind, too."
The Diamondbacks may have had their problems on the offensive end. But they're really excited about the comeback of closer Matt Mantei (three saves, six strikeouts in 4 2/3 IP on their last road trip).
"His last three pitches to close out one of the games in St. Louis were 99-98-100 (mph)," says GM Joe Garagiola Jr. "And he had two duels, with Albert Pujols and Mike Piazza, in which he went hard-hard for the first two strikes, then dropped curve balls on them for strike three, and all they could do was take them. When you're looking 97-100 (mph), and you get a top-to-bottom curve ball in that situation, it's devastating."
Garagiola thinks Mantei's fight back from surgery has brought him a new "maturation" and "a calmness." But the big thing is, "the ball's exploding out of his hand."
Mantei's emergence at the back of the bullpen has worked hand in hand with Byung-Hyun Kim's comfort level in the rotation, where his efficiency has been remarkably high and his pitch counts have been amazingly low.
Kim, despite his 1-4 record, had ripped off three straight sensational starts before scuffling Tuesday night. But the big bonanza is that starting allows him four days between starts to pursue his true passion -- sleeping.
"The great thing now is, he can really arrange his sleep a lot more regularly," Garagiola laughs. "He won't have to worry about getting those pesky calls in the bullpen to wake him up anymore."
As the June draft approaches, we get in the habit of thinking that it's a long, shaky road from the draft room to the big leagues in baseball. But with the recall of Dewon Brazelton by Tampa Bay, three of the top five picks from the 2001 draft are already in the major leagues. And the other two, Twins catching hotshot Joe Mauer and Phillies pitching phenom Gavin Floyd, are on the fast track to stardom.
So one scouting director says: "That has the makings of one of the better drafts in the last 15-20 years, just with that group alone." Here's a rundown of that fivesome, as reviewed by a longtime NL scout:
Mark Prior, Cubs RHP (No. 2 overall): "Could be the pitcher in this decade."
Mark Teixeira, Rangers 3B (No. 5 overall): "Should be a star -- at least with the bat."
Mauer, Twins C (No. 1 overall): "May be the best player in the whole draft."
Floyd, Phillies RHP (No. 4 overall): "He's got 'star' written all over him."
Brazelton, Devil Rays RHP (No. 3 overall): "He's the one guy in that group who may not be headed for stardom. Might not have enough command or stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation guy."
Also in this draft, Oakland took Jeremy Bonderman (now with Detroit) at the back end of the first round. The Giants got Jesse Foppert with the 74th overall pick. And the Yankees picked Jason Arnold (currently spinning a sub-1.00 ERA in the Toronto system) with the 63rd overall pick. Not too bad.
The draft in baseball that people pay just about no attention to is the Rule 5 draft of unprotected minor leaguers every December. But there have been some excellent pitching finds in this year's Rule 5 bargain bin.
Aquilino Lopez has rung up 17 strikeouts in 12 innings for Toronto. D.J. Carrasco has been a force in the Royals' bullpen (12 1/3 IP, 7 H, 12 K). And all three of the Tigers' Rule 5-ers look like keepers -- Wilfredo Ledezma (.175 opponent avg.), Chris Spurling (4.00 ERA) and Matt Roney (3.55 ERA).
There are no indications Drew Henson intends to ditch the Yankees to sign with the NFL's Houston Texans. But unless just about everyone who has seen him in the last year is wrong, he's playing the wrong sport.
"I'd advise him to go play football," says one scout who has seen Henson extensively, "because he's a better football player than he is a baseball player, and he'll have more success in football. Yeah, he was rushed. And he could use that as an excuse early in his career. But he's made absolutely no adjustments. Don't get me wrong. He's a kid I root for. But he's not near the player they're paying for."
We don't know how much better Texas will look in the standings come September. But they sure look better on the field. And everyone who sees them seems to agree on the reason -- Buck Showalter.
"They're not better because their talent is better," says one AL scout. "They're better because of him, because of his organizational abilities and his knowledge of how to get an entire 25-man roster going. You watch them, and he handles the bullpen well. He's sitting the kids against tough pitching. He's getting a lot of guys playing time. I like everything he's done so far."
It's only a week since we anointed these Yankees as, potentially, one of the great teams of modern times. But one AL scout reminds us that their top four starters are the same four guys who raised Boss Steinbrenner's blood pressure last October against the Angels.
"It's the same group," the scout says. "And they're old. And it's April. So the test for them isn't April. It's time."
On the other hand, we tend to take those Yankees starters for granted. But hitters and scouts have been saying since spring training that they've never seen Mike Mussina look better.
"You keep waiting for him to have that big, Cy Young-type year -- and this could be it," says one scout. "What makes him so tough is that there's no pattern to him. He'll throw any pitch, with a change of velocity, at any time in the count. With a five-run lead, to the No. 9 hitter, he'll still throw a 2-and-0 cutter.
"Now he's showing different looks on right-handed hitters, especially with two strikes, dropping down and throwing that breaking ball. There's no way to guess on him, because you've only got a 1-in-6 chance of being right."
Finally, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Steve Ziant has unearthed another spectacular promotion-of-the-year candidate.
On June 3, the Bisbee-Douglass Copper Kings, of the Arizona-Mexico League, will hold Ted Williams Night. First 500 fans get a Popsicle.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
2dKevin Van Valkenburg