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Yankees Will Give Mondesi a Chance

Baseball: New York acquires temperamental former Dodger from Toronto in exchange for minor league pitcher.

July 02, 2002|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The New York Yankees moved to address their outfield problem Monday by ridding the Toronto Blue Jays of their biggest problem, acquiring talented but temperamental right fielder Raul Mondesi for a minor league pitcher.

The Yankees sent double-A left-hander Scott Wiggins, 26, to Toronto for the two-time Gold Glove award winner and 1994 National League rookie of the year with the Dodgers, hoping that Mondesi, 31, leaves his questionable attitude at the border and improves their subpar production in right field.

The Blue Jays were so eager to end their relationship with Mondesi, who has a history of profanity-laced outbursts against management and recently blasted Manager Carlos Tosca for benching him, that they accepted only a borderline prospect in the deal. Toronto also agreed to pay $6 million of the $13 million Mondesi will receive in the last year of his six-year, $60-million contract next season, though the Yankees will pay the remainder of his $11-million salary this season.

Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman is gambling that Mondesi will conform to the Yankee Way and shut the revolving door in right, keeping his fingers crossed that Mondesi doesn't repeat the bad performances that closed his previous shows in Los Angeles and Toronto.

"We're obviously excited to acquire Raul Mondesi," Cashman said. "He's a player who has the ability on the defensive side to beat the opponent by preventing the running game, and on the offensive side, he has the ability to hit the long ball. He gives us a presence in right field that currently we do not have."

The Yankees (50-31), who were off Monday, lead the American League East by 1 1/2 games despite shuffling the deck in right. Shane Spencer opened the season as the everyday right fielder but was quickly dropped into a platoon with John Vander Wal. The Yankees have also tried rookie Juan Rivera, who has a broken kneecap and is on the disabled list, Marcus Thames and Enrique Wilson.

Mondesi is expected to join the club today and start in right against the Cleveland Indians. With Mondesi owed $5.5 million this season, the trade increases the Yankees' industry-high payroll to about $131 million.

Mondesi has struggled this season, batting only .224 in 75 games with Toronto, but has also hit 15 home runs, driven in 45 runs and scored 51. Wiggins, the Yankees' seventh-round selection in the June '97 first-year player draft, was 2-1 with a 2.45 earned-run average in 23 relief appearances for the club's double-A affiliate.

Mondesi, in his ninth full season, hit at least 30 homers with the Dodgers from 1997-99, and has hit at least 24 homers seven times. In '97, Mondesi became the only player in Dodger franchise history to hit at least 30 homers with at least 30 stolen bases during a season.

Teammates admired Mondesi for the passion he exhibited on the field, but Dodger officials grew frustrated with him because of his poor work habits.

In a tirade in August of '99, Mondesi blasted Kevin Malone and Davey Johnson, then the team's general manager and manager, respectively, spurring the Dodgers to trade him to Toronto that off-season in a four-player deal for All-Star right fielder Shawn Green.

Last week, Mondesi was upset with Tosca after he was benched for two games for reporting 10 minutes late to a team meeting.

The Yankees believe Mondesi, expected to hit seventh or eighth in their batting order, will provide stability in right.

"He has big tools, there's no question about that," Manager Joe Torre said.

"He can throw, he can run, he can hit for power and average--better than he's hitting now. We hope he's a big player for us in New York, and he'll certainly have the opportunity."

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