The waiver wonderland
We've seen Larry Walker go through waivers on his way to a new team. Who else is cleared for a possible trade?
Well, we can put those Carlos Beltran trade rumors to bed for the last time. Say goodnight, Carlos.
It's now safe for Roger Clemens, Paul Wilson, Ramon Ortiz and Jorge Julio to unpack for the rest of the year, too. Because we know now they failed to navigate their journey through the waiver-wire forest without being claimed.
All of those names made it into many a conversation before the trading deadline last month. But even though numerous sources indicate that more players are flying through waivers this month than they've seen in years, some of the most talked-about names were claimed and pulled back.
Those seven players we've mentioned so far fit into that category. So we can now delete them from Rumor Central for the final time. Congratulations, men. It's safe to breathe again.
Those three are among the hundreds of players who hadn't even been placed on waivers at last check. So while it may not be any more likely to see them moved in August than it was in July, stay tuned.
But that brings us to the group of players who can be traded this month with no fuss, no muss and (theoretically) no messy paperwork. We've pieced together this list of players who did make it through waivers, as best we can determine. We assume the Rumor Central staff is assembling their head shots as we speak.
PITCHERS WHO CAN BE TRADED
OUTFIELD BATS WHO CAN BE TRADED
(Then there's a second category of players who made it through, but are less likely to go anywhere, since they're still assuming reasonably regular roles on assorted contenders. That list includes:)
OTHER BATS WHO CAN BE TRADED
Quite a few of these guys come with various contract issues, of course. Johnson still has that pesky no-trade clause, which he already has invoked once. Anderson would be owed an extra half-million bucks if he's traded. Sweeney, Ibanez, Cruz, Boone, Young and May (among others) have hefty contracts or vesting options that carry them beyond this year.
And then there are guys like Lofton and Polanco, who seemed dispensable a couple of weeks ago but don't anymore -- because of injuries and other assorted developments.
"I think you'll see a handful of moves, but nothing drastic," said an assistant GM of one contender that would love to add both a bat and a bullpen arm. "This is one of those years where the kind of guys who are available aren't head and shoulders above what most of us have already got, with just a couple of exceptions."
In a few weeks, it will be 1,000 days since Major League Baseball assumed ownership of the Montreal Expos. Back then, it was all going to be very temporary, of course.
|Larry Walker Rumblings|
It clearly wasn't the Rockies' first choice to trade Larry Walker to the Cardinals. They had a deal with Texas for better prospects and more money coming back. They had other trades, with the Marlins and White Sox, for more attractive prospects, although the money end of the Florida deal would have been complicated by the Marlins' attempt to redistribute who still owed what to Mike Hampton.
But Walker apparently wasn't interested in going to the American League. And even though he has a home in West Palm Beach, he also balked at going to Florida. So despite the fact that the Yankees had let Colorado know they were mulling a run at Walker, the Rockies took a deal with St. Louis for unspectacular prospects, mostly because it saved them $8.5 million.
"It's not that we didn't want him," GM Dan O'Dowd told Rumblings. "We just needed to move on. It's a great opportunity for Larry. And it allows us to move our process along."
Of the three pitchers the Rockies got back, left-hander Chris Narveson is the most likely to pitch in the big leagues. But even he is viewed as a middle-to-back-of-the-rotation, knows-how-to-pitch type starter.
Of the other two pitchers they got, Luis Martinez was described by one scout as a "serviceable left-hander in the bullpen." And Jason Burch was billed as "just a chance guy."
But one problem they had, in trying to figure out an acceptable deal with St. Louis, is that, aside from pitchers Danny Haren and Adam Wainwright, the upper levels of that Cardinals farm system are thinner than Calista Flockhart.
"To be honest," said one GM of the Cardinals, "there's not much there in their system you can put together a deal with."
On the Baseball Prospectus Web site this week, Keith Woolner and Chaim Bloom rated the middle of the Cardinals' order as, prospectively, the best since the 1953 Dodgers (Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson).
But one NL executive isn't so sure.
"I'm not sure he's the same player he was three or four years ago," the executive said of Walker. "I think he'd lost interest over there. Now, going to a contender, I'm sure that will help motivate him again. But I think he's slipped some. I think power pitchers can get him out now. There was a time he hit everybody."
But this is a story giving new meaning to that word, "temporary." Since MLB bought the Expos, Ichiro Suzuki has gotten 600 hits. Jim Thome has bopped 135 homers. Dan Miceli has pitched for teams in five different divisions.
Yet this week, when baseball owners assemble in Philadelphia for their regularly scheduled quarterly meetings, it will be more of the same old same old, as the commish once again puts off a final decision on the Expos' next home.
Why the latest delay? Several factors:
There is no doubt now that Selig wants to move the Expos to Washington or Northern Virginia. Obviously, Angelos has reason to be unhappy about that. So Selig clearly is struggling to find a solution that makes him, well, less unhappy. (We're assuming ecstatic is out of the question.)
Predicting the effect of a Washington/Northern Virginia team on Orioles attendance is almost impossible. But there would be a clear effect on the TV market. So indications are that MLB is exploring ways to lessen that load.
There are rumblings that Comcast could create a second regional sports network, which would allow Orioles games to continue being shown in the Washington-Virginia metropolii. Angelos then could be offered a bigger chunk of the revenues from that network than the Expos for some lengthy phase-in period.
Seems reasonable to us. But then again, we don't own the Orioles.
But there is trouble on that front, too. Earlier this year, MLB was assured by the Northern Virginia delegation that land and financing for their ballpark was a done deal. Uh, maybe not.
A recent Washington Post story reported that while the group "controls a site appropriate for the ballpark" itself, it still would have to acquire more than half of the land needed for the much-hyped 450-acre shopping, residential and commercial complex surrounding the park.
Meanwhile, the AP reported this week that Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell is strongly opposed to the legislative approval that would be needed to use any "moral-obligation bonds" to finance the ballpark. Moral-obligation bonds are more highly rated and carry a lower interest rate than bonds the stadium authority could issue itself -- but need the OK of the legislature.
So if MLB wants to make a decision on relocation in the next month, these are questions the Northern Virginia folks are going to have to resolve ASAP.
But a ruling by an arbitrator related to that suit has been postponed again, until September or October. And one source involved in the relocation discussions admits that the timing of that ruling has become "part of the equation."
What that means, by one analyst's estimation, is that MLB undoubtedly can't settle with these partners until it knows how much legal ground they have to stand on.
So it's just one more reason for Major League Baseball and its commish to do what they do best -- delay a decision on the Expos one more time.
Multiple sources have corroborated that they had a trade done to send Placido Polanco to Oakland -- and could have parlayed that into either A's reliever Ricardo Rincon (in a two-way deal) or Yankees center fielder Kenny Lofton (in a three-way deal). Except Oakland had bullpen injuries and had to back out.
The Phillies also thought they had the makings of a deal for Steve Finley. But it now appears that Arizona would have taken the Marlins' offer on him, unless Finley had decided to block that deal because he preferred Philadelphia (which he apparently did, until deciding his west-coast options were better).
Eventually, the Phillies found themselves in such need to make a deal for starting pitching, the consensus is that they overpaid (with three decent prospects) for Cory Lidle. Even in that case, it's believed their preference was to trade for Lidle's teammate, Paul Wilson. But the Reds opted to hang onto Wilson, because they think there's a better chance they can re-sign him.
Just since last winter, the Phillies have traded Taylor Buchholz, Ezequiel Astacio, Nick Punto, Bobby Korecki, Elizardo Ramirez, Alfredo Simon, Javon Moran, Joe Wilson and Anderson Machado -- in deals that brought them Billy Wagner, Eric Milton, Todd Jones, Felix Rodriguez and Cory Lidle. So the reality is, they suddenly don't have much left above their very lowest levels.
"They're getting dangerously close to having an inability to go out and acquire players," said one NL scouting director, "other than signing free agents, just because they have so few projectable young players left."
If you don't count their short-season teams and their Lakewood club in the South Atlantic League, the scouting director said, "they're down to like three guys in the whole system" -- Hamels, Floyd and Ryan Howard -- who look like impact players in the big leagues in the near future.
But now that the deadline has passed, and he has Todd Jones and Felix Rodriguez to keep him company in the bullpen, Wagner is softening that stance. His proviso this time is that he doesn't want to see the current roster overhauled, as disappointing as this group may have been so far.
"I have no problem coming back to Philadelphia if we keep this team together," he told Rumblings. "I feel bad that I haven't contributed more. I've been a grind on everybody. ... I feel like I've let my teammates down, and I feel I owe it to them to come back."
Asked if that meant he'd decided he wouldn't demand a trade, Wagner replied: "I won't say I wouldn't or I would. It depends on what this team wants to do, as far as bringing this team back. The reason I would want to be here is because of the chemistry in this locker room -- not the chemistry in the coaches' locker room or the owners' box or anything like that. ...
"I know our record might not show it, but this team is as good as any team in baseball. I'm not going to write this year off, because this thing is far from being over. But I just hope they look at the upside here for next year. This is a team that can win, with very few changes."
Really Rumbling & Grumbling
Two different baseball officials have told Rumblings that the night before the deadline, the two teams thought they had all the players agreed to in a Johnson deal. Arizona would have gotten Brad Penny, Jayson Werth and highly regarded pitching prospects Chad Billingsley and Chuck Tiffany.
Both sources said there had never been any meaningful conversation, up to that point, about including the Dodgers' best young pitcher, Edwin Jackson, in that trade. And one source said he believed the Dodgers were so sure the names had been settled that they had a tentative press release already written.
But then, the next morning, the Diamondbacks abruptly changed course and said they couldn't trade Johnson unless Jackson was in the trade -- a demand they almost had to know would be a deal-breaker.
At that point, the trade collapsed and never did get revived. But despite reports that Johnson had decided, earlier that day, he would approve a trade to L.A., an official of one NL club has his doubts.
"I find it hard to believe Randy would give his blessing and then that deal wouldn't get done," he said. "I don't think he really wanted to go. I just can't believe he would he have gone to the mound (for Arizona) on Friday night if he knew that on Saturday he was going to OK a trade to L.A. That just doesn't add up. In my view, there's a lot of spin control going on about this whole thing."
So the Unit now finishes out the year in Arizona. But you can bet those Johnson-to-the-Yankees rumors will explode again in November, when the Yankees can more easily put together a three-team deal, because they can (and will) sign free agents to replace anyone they trade.
One baseball man who knows Clemens says: "The early line is that he wants to come back. He wants to see what that team could do if they can get (Andy) Pettitte healthy and get (Wade) Miller healthy. He actually wouldn't mind leading those kids. So it will be interesting to see what happens."
But in all the last-minute confusion about who went where, the Red Sox and Cubs apparently never resolved which team was supposed to send that prospect to Minnesota. So when the small type settled, the Twins got only pitching prospect Justin Jones out of it.
Indications are that the Twins have decided not to pursue this further. But they are still in the market for another starting pitcher, after having missed out on Kris Benson.
And clubs that have spoken with them say they're still inquiring about another catcher -- which might suggest they're more concerned about Joe Mauer than their public pronouncements might imply.
The Japanese continue to balk at having Major League Baseball call all the shots. And a recent meeting to attempt to resolve that dispute blew up unhappily. So there is still no deal in sight that could get the World Cup back on the schedule any time soon.
"It's totally dead for '05," said an official of one club. "All the effort now is to try to resurrect it for 2006."
It won't be third base, with Dallas MacPherson on the way. But one scout says: "If I were them, I'd play him at first and deal Casey Kotchman. I really like this guy. I see him as a 20-to-25 homer guy, an RBI guy and a dangerous hitter."
"The return of Bob Wickman and Bobby Howry have really changed their bullpen," said one scout. "Both of those guys' arms have really come back. And the thing about their staff is, they sent out the guy with the best arm on the whole team -- Jason Davis. If they need an extra arm down the stretch, they can go and get him."
The same scout called third baseman Casey Blake "the most underrated player in baseball."
One scout who saw him give up 10 hits, six runs and three homers to the Devil Rays on Monday said he has never seen Schilling show as little faith in his fastball as he did in that game.
"His pitches were up, and his velocity was down," the scout said. "And he threw a lot of change-ups, a lot of splits, and he was missing away. I've never seen him use his fastball less or have less command of it."
Well, they began talking about that extension this week. And Benson's agent, Gregg Clifton, says one big reason for Benson's interest in staying with the Mets is the chance to learn from the likes of Tom Glavine and Al Leiter.
"The tough thing for Kris in Pittsburgh is that he always had to be the guy," Clifton said. "He never had those veteran guys around him to teach him the ropes."
One scouting director we talked to raved about Fortunato's 97-mph fastball and projected him as a potential No. 2 starter. Keppinger, meanwhile, was described as "a hard-nosed guy" who is hitting .336 in Double-A, with just 19 strikeouts all year in 400 trips to the plate.
According to one source who has spoken to the Dodgers about this situation, Finley almost didn't approve his deal to Los Angeles. Then owner Frank McCourt called Finley personally and reportedly told him, "We're not bringing you here to rent a player. We're trying to get the right guys to win now and in the future."
After Dennis Eckersley's recent induction, Billy Wagner couldn't contain his frustration that more closers aren't getting their due. If the only apparent explanation is that relief pitchers are looked upon as guys who weren't good enough to be starters, that's an explanation that makes less sense than the NFL tiebreak formulas.
"I guess we're really not that important," Wagner chuckled. "So maybe we should just do away with relievers and let the starters stay out there -- and see how the game goes."
Well, we all know exactly how it would go. So let's start doing the right thing and electing these men to the Hall of Fame.
Question: Chipper Jones just hit his 300th home run while playing for Bobby Cox. Can you name the only other active player with 300 home runs for any manager (even though it isn't for his current manager)? And can you name the only two other players who have hit at least 200 homers for their current manager?
Answer: Only other 300-homer duo: Ken Griffey Jr. and Lou Piniella. Only other current 200-homer duos: Andruw Jones-Bobby Cox, and Bernie Williams-Joe Torre.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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