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Trade Winds Are Warming

July 28, 2002|ROSS NEWHAN

With the clock ticking toward Wednesday night's nonwaiver deadline, trade rumors are escalating faster than baseball's legal problems.

Will Scott Rolen be traded? Jim Thome? Ellis Burks? Kenny Rogers?

Do the Angels, still in the relief and outfield markets themselves, have to worry that Rogers, who rejected Cincinnati, could end up in Seattle? Or that Oakland, having already strengthened its offense with the acquisition of Ray Durham, as General Manager Billy Beane continues to demonstrate that good management can overcome meager revenue, could next acquire Thome or Burks or even Cliff Floyd or Randy Winn?

Do the Dodgers, also seeking relief help, have to be concerned that Rogers could go to Arizona or that San Francisco could end up with Rolen or Winn?

The only certainty is that one significant repository of available players now seems to have been closed.

Powered by the resurgent Mo Vaughn, who had slugged 11 home runs in his last 26 games through Friday, the New York Mets have given up their first-half claim to baseball's most underachieving team.

Although the Atlanta Braves have pretty much clinched the National League East, the rebounding Mets are back in the wild-card picture, and no longer is Edgardo Alfonzo or Roberto Alomar or any other key Met thought to be on the trade block.

The two-year, $18-million signing of Al Leiter ended rumors about his departure before the deadline and was an indication that the Mets are still trying to salvage 2002, even if it's with the diminished goal of a wild card.

"We still believe we're a playoff contender," General Manager Steve Phillips said at the Leiter news conference. "I hope a residual effect of this deal is to show everyone that we still believe that."

Inmates in Charge

Rogers, the Texas left-hander who is 11-5 overall and has won six of his last eight decisions, could be asked to waive his no-trade clause more often than Fred McGriff was last year before the first baseman agreed to leave Tampa Bay for the Chicago Cubs. Rogers said he rejected Cincinnati for family reasons, but it's believed he simply doesn't think the Reds can win this year and wasn't anxious to experience Bob Boone's heavier-handed style of managing. However, he probably would jump at the chance to join Seattle, having yielded only two earned runs in 17 innings of two starts at Safeco Field this year.

Snubbed by Rogers ("If he doesn't want to be here, to hell with him," said Sean Casey), the Reds were ready with a backup deal for Detroit pitcher Brian Moehler. General Manager Jim Bowden, having already participated in a three-way deal that landed Ryan Dempster (an 0-3 disappointment so far), must be given credit for trying to keep his modest-revenue Reds in the playoff hunt.

Bowden now has an offer of pitcher Scott Williamson and infielder/outfielder Brandon Larson on the table for Rolen, according to sources, but Philadelphia would have to pick up the remainder of the third baseman's $8.6-million contract this year, an insurmountable hurdle. Rolen is eligible for free agency at the end of the season, wants to remain in the NL and hopes to relocate to the Midwest (which would mean Cincinnati, St. Louis or Chicago), but he may have to go as far as San Francisco if traded before Wednesday. The Dodgers inquired before dealing for Tyler Houston but balked at the idea of exchanging Adrian Beltre, 23, for Rolen's future uncertainty--and price tag.

If the Reds can find the money to make a Rolen deal happen, they would move Aaron Boone to shortstop and Barry Larkin into a second-base platoon with Todd Walker, providing Larkin agreed. Meanwhile, the Moehler deal brought another Boone to Cincinnati (or, at least, the Reds' organization) in the form of infielder Matt Boone, the youngest of Bob's three sons.

Boone has often claimed that Matt, 23, is more talented than either Aaron or Bret, but he has spent five seasons at the Class-A level, which didn't deter his dad from saying of the trade, "This isn't nepotism. Matt has a real shot at playing in the big leagues. He may end up being the key to this deal."

Data Base

Although the Minnesota Twins have been removed from the contraction block and guaranteed of remaining in the Twin Cities through 2003, Minnesota media outlets have continued a legal battle with baseball and the Twins, trying to obtain release of a disc containing 9,000 financial documents pertaining to the Twins, contraction and, possibly, the relationship between owner Carl Pohlad and Commissioner Bud Selig.

Baseball's reluctance to release the documents is believed to be one reason it settled the suit that will keep the Twins where they are next season.

However, the fight over similar internal documents can be expected to flare on another front as the 14 former minority owners of the Montreal Expos pursue that information to help prove their allegations of mail and wire fraud against Selig and former Montreal owner Jeffrey Loria. Said Jim Quinn, an attorney representing the 14 partners: "We think we have a significant amount of evidence already but we will be pursuing more in discovery."

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