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Baseball 2000
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Cooperstown Confidential
by Bruce Markusen
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June 14,2000

Say It Ain’t Sosa

If you had suggested during the 1998 or ’99 seasons that the Cubs would ever seriously entertain trade offers for Sammy Sosa, the paddywagon would have been summoned and you would have been immediately carted off to the nearest local branch of the John Rocker Institute. Although your stability and sense of logic would have been severely questioned, you would have been absolutely right. Given the Cubs’ continuing struggles on the field and the fully deteriorated relationship between Sosa and manager Don Baylor, Chicago management has indeed decided to seriously explore all trade possibilities involving their resident superstar. While Sosa does have no-trade rights as a "ten and five" player, he will probably waive those rights to get away from both Baylor and a Cub front office that has become hypercritical of Sammy’s defensive shortcomings. If the Cubs can acquire a package of three to four quality minor league prospects (or young major leaguers with high ceilings), they WILL trade the most popular player to hit the North Side of Chicago since the days of "Mr. Cub" himself, Ernie Banks… Although Sosa is still one of the top 10 position players in the game, the Cubs are facing the reality that only a few teams will be willing to put offers on the table. Why? Sosa will only be attractive to pennant-contending teams, and most of those clubs feel they already have enough offense at their disposal. Three of the exceptions to this rule are the Red Sox, the Mets, and the Yankees. With Troy O’Leary struggling and Brian Daubach slumping, Boston wants one more bopper for the middle of their order. Given the departure of Rickey Henderson, the early-season foot injury to Darryl Hamilton, and the sporadic development of Jay Payton, the Mets are desperately in search of a run-producing outfielder. Obviously, Sosa is the best available player who fits that description, better than Juan Gonzalez, Jose Canseco, and the rest of the usual suspects. As for the Yankees, they’ve been lacking in offense all season long and would love to place Sosa in the middle of an order that could use an additional home-run bat. George Steinbrenner would also like a drawing card for a team whose television ratings and attendance figures have suffered this season. Let’s also keep in mind that the Yankees will have their own cable network beginning in 2001… Do the Red Sox, Mets, and Yankees have enough to convince the Cubs to trade off Sosa? The answer to that question is yes, but a more appropriate question is this: Will either of those three teams be willing to meet the Cubs’ asking price, which figures to be hefty given Sosa’s popularity and production of the last two seasons? No one knows the answer to that question just yet… What would the Cubs want from the Red Sox? Pawtucket pitching prospect Sun-Woo Kim, who might be ready to pitch in the major leagues right now, will likely top Chicago’s list. Kim pitched brilliantly in the Arizona Fall League last season and has continued to progress in his first stint of Triple-A pitching. The Cubs could also ask for outfielder Michael Coleman, a power and speed athlete who asked the Red Sox to trade him earlier this spring when he learned of his demotion to the minor leagues. No one questions Coleman’s physical ability, but there are doubts about his emotional temperament. Then there’s hard-hitting first baseman Dernell Stenson, who owns a compact swing from the left side of the plate and power to all fields. Stenson is a brutal first baseman but has enough of an upside offensively that most teams will live with his defensive shenanigans… If the Cubs are to deal with the Mets, they will almost certainly ask for the team’s top position prospect, outfielder Alex Escobar. Up until now, the Mets have turned back all requests for Escobar and his five-tool talents, but then again, they haven’t been in a position to acquire a player of Sosa’s caliber. In addition to Escobar, the Cubs will probably want right-hander Grant Roberts, the Mets’ top pitching prospect at Triple-A Norfolk. If the Mets are willing to surrender both Escobar and Roberts (which may be unlikely, given their high opinion of both players), they will have gone a long way toward getting a deal done for Sosa. Throw in someone like Payton, Melvin Mora, and/or Jason Tyner, and Sosa could become a Met by the All-Star break… Although the Mets do have the minor league goods to entice Chicago, the Cubs would probably prefer to deal with the other New York team, if only because the Yankees play in the other league and don’t figure to be visiting Wrigley Field via interleague play anytime soon. Plus, the Cubs figure that the Yankees can offer even more than the Mets and the Red Sox since their farm system is so much deeper, even with injuries to D’Angelo Jimenez and Nick Johnson. Any Yankee package will have to start with Alfonso Soriano, who is playing well at Triple-A Columbus after a shaky call-up to New York earlier this season. Soriano could figure as a major league starter at any one of about six positions (second base, shortstop, third base, or one of the three outfield spots), which would give the Cubs loads of flexibility in designing their future plans for a starting lineup. If they decide to trade the overachieving Ricky Gutierrez to a pennant contender later in the season, they can try Soriano at short. Or perhaps they can put Soriano in left field and intensify efforts to trade Henry Rodriguez for more prime young talent… In addition to Soriano, the Cubs will ask for another one of the Yankees’ most prized possessions—Double-A third baseman Drew Henson. While the Yankees are willing to part with Soriano, they will almost certainly turn a deaf ear to the possible inclusion of Henson. Although Henson is still undecided about whether to pursue a fulltime career in either baseball or football, the Yankees remain optimistic that he will opt for the longevity and relative safety of the diamond. If he does, the Yankees believe that Henson will be ready to hit major league pitching by 2002... Since the Yankees won’t surrender both Soriano and Henson, the Cubs will probably ask for two pitchers from the Yankees. The Cubs want Ramiro Mendoza, but realize that the Yankees prefer to hold on to him, especially with Roger Clemens and David Cone struggling. Then there are Triple-A prospects Ed Yarnall and Jake Westbrook, both of whom the Cubs like, and Double-A rookie Adrian Hernandez, recently signed out of Cuba. If the Yankees are willing to trade two of those three young pitchers, the Cubs will probably back off on their demand that Mendoza be included… Two other players who might be included in the deal are Ricky Ledee, an underachieving talent with a great swing (and a potential replacement for Sosa in right field), and Jason Grimsley, who has the stuff to be a closer, filling one of Chicago’s many needs. But if the Yankees are to give up a five-man package that features Soriano, two young pitchers, Ledee, and Grimsley, they will almost certainly demand that the Cubs include Ismael Valdes in the deal. The Yankees might be willing to give up four players for Sosa straight-up, but five is pushing their limit… One factor that might heavily favor the Yankees in the Sosa Sweepstakes is Steinbrenner’s cozy relationship with Tom Reich, who is one of Sammy’s agents. Simply put, there is no agent-owner duo that is tighter in the game today.

There’s Always Gonzalez, Too

If the Red Sox, Mets, and Yankees decide that the cost of acquiring Sosa is too great, they can always talk to Detroit about the very available Juan Gonzalez. The Tigers are determined to trade Gonzalez, who continues to have zero interest in re-signing with the team that calls Comerica Park home. In contrast to the Cubs, the Tigers have a much lower asking price for Gonzalez; they’d be happy to receive one or two prospects in return, as opposed to the three or four the Cubs will command. Gonzalez isn’t quite the player that Sosa is, but let’s not forget that he did hit .326 with 39 home runs and 128 RBIs last season, only one year after winning the American League’s MVP Award.

Stupidity As A Defense

Has an agent or lawyer ever been more brutally honest than Milton Hirsch was in his recent defense of former major league star Pedro Guerrero? In arguing for his client’s innocence on charges of conspiracy to sell $200,000 worth of cocaine, Hirsch stated that "the accusation that Pedro Guerrero could finance and underwrite a drug deal is ludicrous. He doesn’t have the acumen or ability to finance anything more complicated than lunch." Hirsch’s put-down defense of Guerrero, who has an IQ of 70, apparently worked. A jury in Miami acquitted the former Dodgers’ star of the drug-related charge.

Buccing A Managerial Change

With the Pirates falling several games below .500, rumors about the managerial future of Gene Lamont have begun to fly. Last week, the Pirates fired base coaches Joe Jones and Jack Lind in reaction to the team’s repeated problems running the bases. Lamont claimed that the firings were his decision, but most managers deplore the idea of changing their coaches in mid-season, so one has to wonder if management didn’t play a part in the moves. This week, Lamont raised eyebrows when he used rookie pitcher Bronson Arroyo as a pinch-hitter for Todd Ritchie in a game the Pirates eventually lost to the Braves. Lamont had fulltime hitters like Bruce Aven and Mike Benjamin available but instead sent up Arroyo, who promptly grounded out. If the Pirates fire Lamont (and we’re not advocating that, since he’s done an excellent job as the successor to the overrated Jim Leyland), they will consider several managerial candidates outside of the organization. One person that Pittsburgh should be targeting is Yankees third base coach Willie Randolph, who actually started his professional career with the Pirates in the early 1970s but was dealt to the Yankees as part of the Dock Ellis-Doc Medich trade. A very smart player throughout his career, Randolph has been ready to manage for awhile now. He narrowly missed out on the Brewers’ job, which went to the equally qualified Davey Lopes.

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