- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Ordonez, who can be a free agent, just broke off contract talks with the White Sox until after the season. But no matter what he's looking for, it will be less than the $78 million Ramirez has coming over the next four years. Whether the Mets would have the players to trade that would make dealing Ramirez worthwhile for the Red Sox, though, is a whole 'nother question.
Meanwhile, clubs that have spoken with the Mets say they haven't completely ruled out trading their best prospect, third baseman David Wright, in a huge deal. But to do it, they either would need to get a third baseman back or obtain one in a separate trade.
"The guy I'd be more interested in trading if I were them is (2002's No. 1 pick) Scott Kazmir," says one scout who has covered their system. "Unbelievable arm, but a little enigmatic for me. Just seems like everything has to be perfect for this kid to pitch. He's a terrific talent. But if I were them, I'd keep hyping that guy -- and then move him."
The same scout on Wright: "I hate comparisons. But if I could pick one third baseman who has had a career path like this guy, it would be Scott Rolen."
After their 10-game winning streak, the Giants have moved out of the July Sellers Club back into the Buyers Club. But should that change, clubs we've canvassed say the Giant they'd most love to trade for is Felix Rodriguez.
Jason Jennings' recent surge (4-1 in his last six starts) seems to have convinced the Rockies not to deal him. But scouts who have watched Jennings recently say his miraculous seven-walk, no-strikeout win against the Giants last weekend was more proof that the clock which seems to tick on every pitcher's ability to survive Coors hell has gone off on Jennings.
"If he puts together a couple of good ones in a row, I think they'd be wise to move him," says one scout. "His delivery is a mess now. His stuff is flatter. His old sink isn't there. I think it's a great time to get him out of there."
One Rockies pitcher who is starting to appear on several clubs' July bullpen shopping list: starter-turned-closer Shawn Chacon.
If we had to pick a National League manager of the year right now, is there any doubt it would be Dave Miley in Cincinnati?
"Everybody I talk to raves about the way this guy has pulled things together," says one NL executive.
And an official of an AL team says: "The chemistry of that team is a real tribute to Dave Miley. There's no circus atmosphere around that team anymore. Even in spring training, you could see the attention to detail and the work ethic of that staff. And it's paid off."
Across the division, Jimy Williams appears to be in no imminent danger in Houston. But if the Astros continue to slide (and they were 10-15 since their 21-11 start), Williams' seat could get surprisingly hot. Given all their free agents and the Clemens-Pettitte buzz, this is a must-win year for Houston.
Clubs that have spoken with the Astros say Williams is clearly running low on patience with Tim Redding and Brandon Duckworth, who was demoted Wednesday. But the Astros have no starters waiting in line in New Orleans, since Carlos Hernandez's comeback from shoulder surgery is going slower than they'd hoped. And it's still unclear whether owner Drayton McLane will give them the thumbs-up to make a deal.
The Astros have concluded that both of Andy Pettitte's DL visits this year haven't been caused by pitching. They've been caused by hitting. So when Pettitte returns, it's a pretty safe bet you won't see him taking hacks quite as vociferous as, say, Vladimir Guerrero.
Arizona is going to have a tough call next month on whether to trade Steve Finley, among others. And Finley, as a 10-and-5 man, can veto any deal. But if Finley does hit the market, the Diambondbacks could position him as a fabulous center-field alternative to Carlos Beltran.
"I would trade for Steve Finley in a heartbeat," says one scout. "He's a 39-year-old in a 28-year-old body. He stays in there against left-handers. He plays hard. He runs hard. He's still got great instincts in center field. He's a guy they could trade in July, then re-sign in November. You know the two places he prefers to play are Arizona and San Diego."
One AL scout who has followed the Reds recently says he isn't ready to hurl himself onto the Griffey Is Back bandwagon quite yet.
"He's not the same hitter he was in Seattle," the scout says. "He's swinging out of his shoes every swing, trying to hit home runs to get to 500. And what really struck me is, he's not that good a center fielder anymore. He gets slow jumps, and he's running three-quarter speed, like a guy trying not to get hurt. Not that I blame him for that."
On the surface, the NL West may look respectable, with three of five teams over .500. But peer a little closer, and you might notice that through Tuesday, the West teams were a combined 15 games under .500 (72-87) when they played teams outside their own division. And now they have two solid weeks against the AL East ahead of them.
"It wouldn't surprise me," says one scout, "if nobody in the NL West was over .500 by the time they finish playing the AL East."
Mike Piazza's teammates say they're puzzled by the lack of patience in New York for Piazza's on-the-job training at first base.
"I don't get it," says one Met. "They say, `You've gotta get the guy out from behind the plate so you can get his bat in the lineup.' Then he's out there, playing a position he's never played before, and people expect him to be Keith Hernandez. Well, you can't have it both ways."
New Yorkers also don't seem to be noticing the top-of-the-line defense of Mike Cameron in center field. But it's time to pay closer attention.
The brilliant number-crunchers at Baseball Prospectus just broke down the rate of extra-base hits that are falling in Seattle, since Cameron departed, and in Queens, since Cameron arrived. And this can't be a coincidence:
Projected doubles and triples against the Mets this year: 267 -- or 81 fewer than last year.
Projected doubles and triples against the Mariners this year: 390 -- up 156 from last year.
When informed of those numbers by the Newark Star Ledger's David Waldstein, Cameron (last seen hitting .196) laughed: "At least I'm doing something right."
But as hard as it is to quantify the effect Cameron has had on the drop in the Mets' ERA, teammate Joe McEwing looks at it this way:
"It's amazing to see how much he's transformed our team. A year or two ago, if it's first and second and a guy hits a gapper, we're down, 2-0, and there's a man on second, nobody out. This year, a lot of times, that same ball is an out. So now it's first and second, one out, and a ground ball gets us out of an inning. That's a potential three-run swing."
An AL scout who has been watching the Giants lately says he can't believe how different that Barry Bonds' approach at the plate hasn't rubbed off on the rest of the lineup.
"It's unbelievable how aggressive those guys are," the scout says. "Throw a can up there, they'd swing at it."
On the other hand, the scout continues to be blown away at how Bonds towers over every game he plays in.
"How can one guy control a game like that in baseball?" he asks. "Babe Ruth didn't control games like that. Ted Williams didn't control games like that. They walk him with a runner on first. They walk him with nobody on. Hell, they walked him with the bases loaded once. The way he controls a game, he's gotta be the best ever."
It got lost in all the money talk, but there's a reason beside dollars that Jered Weaver fell all the way to the 12th pick in this draft: Many teams just aren't sure he's as "special" as agent Scott Boras has been telling them he is.
"Oh, he's got great control, and he's a competitor," said an executive of one team that passed on Weaver. "But his delivery stinks. He's a long-armed slinger. He doesn't have any secondary pitches that will work at the major-league level. And when he gets to the big leagues, they'll just load the lineup with left-handers. So what's he going to be? A fourth or fifth starter. That's my read."
In other words, to compare this guy to Mark Prior is laughable.
"Hell," says one team's assistant GM, "to compare any college pitcher to Mark Prior is laughable. I know people who have been doing this for 40 years, and they say they've never see a guy like Prior coming out of college."
One NL executive's nominee for the best second-round sleeper in the draft: Miami of Ohio first baseman Mike Ferris, who went to the Cardinals with the 60th overall pick.
Ferris' 21 homers, .755 slugging percentage and 1.268 OPS were the highest among all college position players taken in the first two rounds. And while he may not have played in a powerhouse conference, the same executive says:
"I saw him in a series against Rice, which had three first-round (pitching) picks. And he went 5-for-8, with 4 walks, a homer over the scoreboard, a triple off the center-field wall and a double off the left-field wall. Of all the players I saw, this guy was the best hitter in the country."
The same executive also thinks the big steal at the bottom of the first round was the 30th and final pick, by Texas: Florida high school right-hander Eric Hurley.
"I love this kid," he says. "Great arm. The day I saw him, he threw 96 miles an hour in the fifth inning -- on every single pitch."
There are many great things to be said about Matt Bush, the local-hero high school shortstop the Padres picked at No. 1. But scouts have big questions about his size, speed and, most of all, his offensive potential.
"I like the kid," said one observer. "But is he the best player in this draft? He's not. No way. His bat is a big question mark. And he's a fringe runner. Very good fielder, though. And tremendous arm."
Any baseball man who has ever done any amateur scouting has to chuckle when he hears people moaning about how Barry Bonds never gets pitched to.
"The same problem," says Brewers GM Doug Melvin, "exists in the scouting world."
How many scouts have driven five hours to see a high school player get walked four times? Enough to fill up Miller Park. That's for sure.
So Melvin is a big proponent of a rule change that would apply throughout the amateur and professional baseball world -- one that would both help people like Bonds get pitches to hit and stop the right-left-right-left situational-bullpen parade that grinds the rhythm of many games to a screeching halt.
"One rule that I would like reviewed -- and it would create a lot of strategy -- is that pitchers have to face at least two hitters instead of one," Melvin says. "And the intentional walk does not count as a hitter faced. If a lefty pitcher is brought in to face the lefty hitter before Bonds and he walks Bonds, he still must face one more hitter who is right-handed. Maybe the lefty/righty matchup could favor the offensive club that keeps putting runners on base."
Melvin admits this proposal is "not a cure-all." But any idea that promotes strategy, quickens games and increases the potential cost of an intentional walk is a brainstorm well worth thinking about.
It's amazing how people in baseball continue to speculate about whether the Braves would trade John Smoltz if they fall out of the race. But GM John Schuerholz is talking like a man who A) doesn't expect his team to do anything but contend and B) has zero interest in trading his closer.
"It's not an issue," Schuerholz says. "We feel so good about this team's ability to work through these tough times and come out the other side and still be in the dogfight in the National League East that we expect John to be our closer in the seventh game of the World Series."
Not that Smoltz isn't frustrated over having one-third as many save opportunities (10) as Danny Graves (31). But Schuerholz says: "Chipper Jones is frustrated, too, because he's not able to contribute. Marcus Giles is frustrated because he's not able to contribute. A lot of guys are frustrated."
It's a lonnnggg year, though. And by October, the last thing Schuerholz expects people to consider John Smoltz is irrelevant. Or trade bait.
One thing the Braves haven't determined is where Chipper Jones will play once he finishes his DH Week interleague tour through Detroit and Chicago. It could be first base. It could be third base. And eventually, it isn't out of the question that Jones could wind up back in left field once his hamstring improves.
As much as anything, Jones' final destination will depend on which of his teammates get healthy fastest -- and, potentially, which positions the Braves think would be easiest to address before the trade deadline if they find themselves in buyer's mode come July.
"Our thinking right now is, keep all our options open and let's be flexible," Schuerholz says. "But if we get to that point (where they're ready to make a trade), then we'll have to be less flexible and more decisive about what it is we want to do."
However this ends up, you have to admire the selflessness of a player of Jones' stature volunteering to bounce to a new position at this stage of his career -- even if health is one factor in that stance.
"What's more remarkable than the fact that he could play either of three positions," Schuerholz says, "is his willingness to play either of three positions."
While the Braves, officially, aren't targeting any positions to fortify right now, clubs that have spoken with them say they've been looking hard at prospective third basemen. Two guys they're believed to have checked out: Joe Randa in Kansas City and Rich Aurilia in Seattle (as a third-base option only).
Some folks might be surprised to hear Schuerholz refer to Giles as "our MVP." But in case no one had noticed, this guy had turned himself into the most productive second baseman in the league.
"Last year, he had the best at-bats on our team, against the toughest pitchers, in the toughest situations," the GM says. "He's turned himself into an all-star second baseman. And he's really the catalyst for our success. ... What gives me a lot of hope is that we continue to stay in the race and stay within striking distance at a time when our MVP isn't in the lineup."
We keep seeing the Phillies listed among the potential suitors for Carlos Beltran. Well, cross them off the list.
For one thing, it's not their M.O. to give up prospects of Gavin Floyd's or Cole Hamels' magnitude for a rent-a-player.
For another thing, with a $92-million payroll, they don't have enough financial breathing room to take on even the last two months of Beltran's $9-million paycheck.
And finally, no matter what you hear, they're not ready to pull the plug on Marlon Byrd -- a perennial slow starter who hit .325 after June 1 last year. Then again, if Byrd hasn't gotten his stroke mechanics together by July 1, stay tuned.
But even if the Phillies were to shop for a center fielder before the deadline, their need would be a center fielder/leadoff man. And there's almost nobody who is potentially available and fits that description.
Steve Finley will almost certainly be on the market. But he hit .190 in 72 plate appearances out of the leadoff hole this year -- and, at $6.75 million a year, is probably too pricey.
The Yankees would love to move Kenny Lofton once he gets healthy. But he seems to interest fans in Philadelphia more than he interests the Phillies.
One commodity the Phillies are hunting for is pitching -- with Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla and Amaury Telemaco all on the disabled list. The buzz is that the Phillies are foraging for Triple-A arms to plug in there in the short term. They've also just signed Paul Abbott, who was just released by Tampa Bay, to a minor-league contract.
And for long-haul purposes, other clubs report, the Phillies are starting to call around exploring potential July deals for set-up relievers. They're expected to step up those efforts in a couple of weeks.
It's always possible the Phillies' hunt for a leadoff answer could be rendered moot by Jimmy Rollins, who went 14-for-his-first-31 (.452) since being reinstalled in the No. 1 hole June 1.
Baseball people who have watched Rollins over the years think he plays with more offensive energy at the top of the order. And the facts bear that out. Through Tuesday, he was hitting .316, with a .372 on-base percentage, batting first or second this year. But out of the 7-8 holes, he was batting .200, with a .257 OBP.
"I think Jimmy is a red-light player," says GM Ed Wade.
Because of the Phillies' desperation for a true leadoff man -- and his inability to play that classic "little man's game" people seem to expect him to play -- Rollins has probably moved into the much-coveted team lead in boos attracted in Philadelphia.
But if the Phillies ever wanted to move him, they'd have numerous takers. This guy, after all, is only 25 years old. He has averaged 43 steals, 31 doubles and 12 triples a year in his career. And he's such a good defensive shortstop, Wade says: "A lot of teams would take Jimmy strictly as a defensive shortstop, even if he was hitting eighth and he was a .218 hitter."
Up in the Phillies' front office, however, the trade-Jimmy talk appears to sail through the GM's ears without a pit stop.
"I think people are either losing perspective, or choosing not to have perspective," Wade says, "on what he brings in terms of his total package. ... I think Jimmy Rollins is a winning player."
The Phillies other frontline player whose local popularity seems to plummet by the day is Kevin Millwood -- which can happen to guys who go winless in their last 11 starts against the Marlins and Braves (0-8, 6.53).
But anyone who saw Millwood as a Brave knows his troubles have nothing to do with fear of pitching in big games: "I don't think Kevin shies away from those challenges at all," Wade says.
On the other hand, Millwood has always been high-maintenance mechanically, even as a Brave. And he has slipped in and out of sync all season. And scouts following the Phillies say they have big questions about Millwood's conditioning -- or lack thereof.
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Scouting Report of the Week
Finally, how impossible is Vladimir Guerrero to pitch to? One AL scout summed it up this way: "I just wrote on my report: `Good luck.' "
John Smoltz just returned to Detroit to face the Tigers team that traded him to Atlanta on August 12, 1987. Can you name the only pitcher still in baseball who finds himself on the same team now as he was back then? (Hint: He hasn't been there all this time.) In fact, only one other active pitcher is even in the same league they were in then. For extra credit, name him, too.
ANSWER: Same team now as then: Greg Maddux. Same league: John Franco (then a Red). For all those who guessed Tom Glavine, sorry. He was called up by the Braves two days after that deal -- to replace the man traded for Smoltz, Doyle Alexander, in the rotation.
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