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Minaya deserves legitimate shot



Special to ESPN.com

July 6

It seems as if they've been from Tucson to Tucumcari and driven every kinda rig that's ever been made and it's time to be movin', for once and for all.

Omar Minaya
Omar Minaya has always been optimistic about the Expos.

"It is time," says Expos GM Omar Minaya, who expects that some time at the end of this month there will be an announcement that baseball's vagabonds can stop playing in front of 3,000 in Montreal and 12,000 in San Juan, put an end to one-month midseason journeys away from "home" and designate where the Expos will be relocated for the 2005 season, like Dust Bowl victims in The Depression.

Minaya has never complained about his role; the Expo mess was the product of the ill-advised greed known as the expansion of the '90s that has drained the industry of billions, not to mention dignity. "I think the players are tired at this point," he says, and rightly so, in the midst of a one-month sojourn away from Montreal as they try to keep focus on their roles in the final hours of the Expos.

Minaya is in a yellow sky world. He will explore trades with a potential free agent that has rejected a contract extension, like Orlando Cabrera. He will think about a July 31 deadline deal for a fifth-year arbitration case like Tony Armas. But for whom is he building the future? Even if he believes that the team will end up in the District of Columbia and realizes that the Kerry administration will include the next logical commissioner, Bruce Reed, Minaya is left to operate the second half of the season in the fashion he thinks the new owners would approve.

Which is why Major League Baseball should make Minaya a condition of the sale. Granted, any new owner wants his own man and a Pat Gillick is obviously attractive because of his remarkable résumé and so is a (Red Sox assistant GM) Josh Byrnes because of his own résumé and Washington background. But not only does Minaya know what's in this organization, but his loyalty to MLB and his indefatigable efforts to maintain the Expos' respectability have earned him the right to move forward with the franchise and have the opportunity to develop it in something other than a matchbox frame.

Ask Brian Cashman or Ken Williams, Mark Shapiro or almost any other general manager, and he will tell you how much he respects Minaya and what he's tried to do. When Omar arrived at the spring training headquarters in Jupiter, Fla. in February, 2002, he had no staff, no coaches, nothing. "I've tried to do two things," he says. "Keep the club as competitive as possible and make sure that the integrity of Major League Baseball is maintained at all times."

When the club looked as if it has a chance in 2002, Minaya jumped early and made the Bartolo Colon and Cliff Floyd deals, to try to pique interest in Montreal as well as make the team more attractive to prospective buyers. Did the deals work out? No. The Indians got foundation players and Colon ended up being traded for Rocky Biddle, and when the Expos slid, Minaya wisely moved Floyd that summer to Boston. But Omar tried. He's never stopped trying.

Hernandez
Hernandez

Vidro
Vidro

But he also traded for Livan Hernandez and Nick Johnson, and both Hernandez and Jose Vidro signed contract extensions rather than exploring this November's free-agent market because of their respect for Minaya.

He deserves the opportunity to run a real franchise and have a front office and real scouting department. Minaya's strength is that he has an astute scouting eye, so he needs a Byrnes or Chris Antonetti -- a young, bright future GM -- working with him to organize and run the daily details.

So MLB should work out an extension for Minaya and assure that he moves on to D.C. as GM knowing that in the coming months he can work with real owners and build a real organization. "I don't know if anyone could have done a better job given the circumstances than Omar," says Cashman. That, and loyalty to MLB, should stand for something. Minaya has done the framing with little more than a hammer and nail, and deserves the right to bring in a legitimate construction crew to build something for a franchise that has something other than squatters' rights.

Leaders at the turn
July 4 was essentially the midpoint of the season for most teams. So here are the first-half award leaders:

AL MOST VALUABLE PLAYER:

This comes down to a virtual dead heat between Vladimir Guerrero and Ivan Rodriguez, with Manny Ramirez on the outside a strong third. That these three are the leading candidates speaks volumes for the condition of man. Guerrero and Rodriguez received their last great free-agent contracts and Ramirez knew he was offered for the $20,000 waiver price, later Alex Rodriguez. All three have played as if they are fighting for roster spots. The edge goes to Guerrero because he has carried the injury-riddled Angels in the AL race with his enormous talent and energy, but this does not diminish that Rodriguez not only has added to his Hall of Fame plaque but helped restore a dormant franchise.

NL MOST VALUABLE PLAYER:

This is getting ridiculous, but it has to be Barry Bonds. That the Giants recovered from their abysmal start and got to the Fourth of July in first place is a testament to the fact that this man carries a baseball team the way Michael Jordan carried his teams. In any normal world, we would probably be toasting Scott Rolen, followed by Jim Thome and Sean Casey, for the award. Not that this thing is over, because Rolen's 80-game, 80-RBI binge, his defense and the fact that the Cardinals are in first place gives him a legitimate shot in the end.

AL CY YOUNG:

Both leagues are virtual dead heats at this point. In the AL, check the Mark Mulder/Curt Schilling comps:

W-L ERA WHIP QS QS % Opp. OPS
Mulder 11-2 2.95 1.16 13 76% .644
Schilling 11-4 3.05 1.11 12 71% .654

There is really no difference between the two except that the ballpark factors skew Schilling's numbers. Mulder has had to carry the A's staff as Tim Hudson got hurt, Barry Zito struggled to command both sides of the plate and the pre-Octavio Dotel bullpen blew 15 leads. But Schilling has had to deal with some defenders who play the field as if it were mined and near hysterical media pressure. And with the team playing poorly the last month, he has won five straight starts after losses. Advantage: Schill.

NL CY YOUNG AWARD:

So you thought it was a dead heat between Mulder and Schilling? If you void Eric Gagne because he is human, check the top six starters in the NL.

W-L ERA WHIP QS QS % Opp. OPS
Sheets 8-5 2.42 0.90 13 76% .578
Schmidt 10-2 2.61 0.97 11 73% .552
Johnson 10-6 2.90 0.86 13 72% .546
Glavine 7-6 2.49 1.05 15 83% .548
Clemens 10-2 2.54 1.20 13 76% .643
Zambrano 9-3 2.41 1.17 13 81% .633

Really, there is no difference between the six. Tom Glavine has pitched as well as Randy Johnson, without the support. Ben Sheets has been as dominant as Jason Schmidt and Roger Clemens, and one can argue that Carlos Zambrano has been the most consistent of all. All things considered -- ballpark, the teams -- Randy Johnson is ahead by a nose. Johnson going for his sixth Cy Young, Clemens for his seventh.

ROOKIES OF THE YEAR:

The debates here are similar -- shortstops in pitchers' parks vs. outfielders in offensive parks. Khalil Greene's numbers are not auspicious -- .263/4/28 with a .746 OPS. Colorado's Matt Holliday is .294/9/34/.849. But the nod goes to Greene for his defense and leadership in Petco as the Padres battle for first place.

Thus Bobby Crosby in the American League (Lew Ford has been great for the Twins with his .317 average and .872 OPS, but he doesn't qualify). Crosby is a rare bird. A star on the rise who's big and athletic in a Nomar Garciaparra sense, and after a .200 April, has become a key part of Oakland's run at the division. Check his April/May/June OPS numbers: .652/.768/.946. He is not only the successor to Miggy Tejada, but to the A-Rod/Jeter/Nomar generation of shortstops.

Starting pitching in short supply
Benson
Benson
"There is absolutely no pitching around right now except for Kris Benson," lamented one AL GM on Monday. "And Dave Littlefield knows what he's doing -- he has the one legitimate starting pitcher and he's going to hold out until he gets a position player who can step in soon." Thus teams like the Dodgers, Mets and Yankees who have chatted about Benson right now don't seem likely to get him.

"The one team with a lot of skilled young positional players is Minnesota," says another GM. "They have corner players like Michael Cuddyer and Michael Restovich (they would never deal Jason Kubel) they could deal." Problem is, they already have Brad Radke headed for free agency, which would mean they'd be faced with two of their starters moving out, and Cuddyer will be the likely replacement for Corey Koskie, another free agent.

"We're hoping that when Shannon Stewart comes back that our offense will get back to where we thought it would be," says Twins GM Terry Ryan. "Joe Mauer is getting going. We have help in Triple-A if we need it in (right-hand reliever) Jesse Crain, Justin Morneau and Kubel, but we don't have starting pitching." So, Ryan likely will try to acquire a starter. The question is what he can give up for Benson. "Maybe I keep too close an eye on '05," says Ryan, "but I have to."

Incidentally, one general manager and one assistant GM -- both young, bright and talented --casually call the Twins "the best organization in the game" in terms of scouting and development.

As for available starters, several teams have talked about Anaheim's Ramon Ortiz, but the Angels have pitching problems of their own. Which brings us to the high cost of pitching. Last year's free agents? Bartolo Colon and Sidney Ponson were signed for a combined total of $73 million, and they are 1-2 at the bottom of the AL ERA list. Then there's this year's free agent Derek Lowe, who has more games in which he's allowed seven runs (6) than quality starts (5). Ugh.

Oh yes, Randy Johnson. The New York media thinks it's the Yankees' divine right to acquire him, but 1) Jerry Colangelo has to sell '05 tickets and as he starts to try to sign Richie Sexson, he needs to keep his Hall of Famer, especially considering what he's done this season with the perfect game and 4000th strikeout; and 2) Randy can go where he wants if he wants. He owns a house in Southern California and would have just as good a chance of going to the World Series if he pitched for the Angels or Dodgers as the Yankees. Problem is, when one of those teams called, the answer was that Randy Johnson isn't going anywhere.






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