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Inside Baseball | AROUND THE HORN

Anderson's Bat Best Negotiator

May 18, 2003|ROSS NEWHAN

NEW YORK — Having just spent $183.5 million to buy the Angels, one of Arte Moreno's first assignments will be to reach for his wallet again and extend the contract of Garret Anderson. If the left fielder remains one of baseball's most under-publicized stars, he also remains one of the most underpaid -- comparatively, at least.

Anderson's four-year, $20-million contract expires after the 2004 season, when he becomes eligible for free agency and his bargaining power expands. As it is, he continues to gain leverage with almost every at-bat.

Anderson is sixth in the league in average (.331), fourth in runs batted in (37), tied for second in doubles and fourth in hits. He has moved past Alex Rodriguez and trails only Derek Jeter for the most hits in the American League since 1996, and he is averaging one RBI every 4.5 at-bats this season.

"Garret hits the ball as consistently hard with runners on base as anyone I've ever seen," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's a left-handed Tony Perez, who was an RBI machine. He's in elite company."

Perez, of course, is the former Cincinnati Red first baseman now in the Hall of Fame.

Through almost a fourth of the season, Anderson's pace projects to 140 RBIs, compared to his 123 of last year. He might also surpass his club-record 56 doubles and 88 extra-base hits.

Although not a home run hitter of the 35-plus variety -- he hit 29 last year and has six this year -- the Angels continue to bat Anderson in the cleanup spot for better lineup balance between right-handed hitting Tim Salmon and Troy Glaus and to take advantage of his RBI prowess.

As of Saturday, Anderson was batting .348 with runners in scoring position.

"He's probably a natural No. 3 hitter, but we feel like we can set the table for him even better hitting fourth," Scioscia said.

No matter where he hits, it won't change Anderson's approach. After stealing two bases on his own in Wednesday night's victory over the Yankees, he was asked if he planned to join the 30-homer and 30-steal club.

"More like 10 and 10," he said.

The Short Stack

Trying to rank the superlative group of American League shortstops has always been tricky. The return of Jeter from a dislocated left shoulder prompted Yankee Manager Joe Torre to suggest that it's not entirely a matter of statistics. In comparison to A-Rod, Miguel Tejada and Nomar Garciaparra, he said, you have to consider Jeter's intangibles, his leadership during a span in which the Yankees have won four World Series in his seven full seasons.

"I'm not sure that, ability-wise, Derek matches up with any of those three," Torre said, "but you have to look at the whole package, and on that basis he's just as good, if not better."

When Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $252-million contract with the Texas Rangers in December 2000, a wary George Steinbrenner was pressured into giving Jeter a 10-year, $189-million deal. Jeter's numbers have slipped since then, partly because of injuries. His average dropped from .349 in 1999 to .297 last year, his RBIs from 102 to 75, and his on-base percentage from .438 to .373. That's one reason Steinbrenner played the nightlife card last winter, even though people connected to the club say there is no basis for thinking Jeter ever leaves his game under the neons.

Having recently filmed a credit-card commercial with Steinbrenner, in which he playfully tips the Boss on the best night spots in New York, Jeter was reluctant to revisit the episode that made for tabloid headlines, but he said:

"I've always felt I'm more about winning than numbers. If the contract meant I had to hit 50 homers and drive in 150 runs, that's not what I do. At the same time, I'm my own worst critic. I know I have to improve on the last couple years, and I know I will. If I'm healthy, the numbers will be there."


The New York bullpen has had trouble bridging the gap between the vaunted rotation and closer Mariano Rivera. Of 50 inherited runners before the weekend, 24 had scored. The Yankees are expected to bring Cuban defector Jose Contreras back from triple A soon, but Steve Karsay, who has been rehabilitating a bad shoulder in Florida and could address the problem, may be out for the year.

Still, the Yankees are not without their usual trade chips.

As General Manager Brian Cashman put it, "The first half of the year you find out what you've got. The second half you change the furniture, if necessary."

Heavy Duty

The surge that has carried the Houston Astros back into the National League Central race has been borne on the bats of their potent lineup and the backs of their bullpen. Incredibly, closer Billy Wagner and four other Houston relievers are all on pace to appear in more than 70 games. No Astro starter has won more than three games, the back end of the rotation has been a revolving door, and Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller, who were a combined 34-13 last year, were 4-9 through Friday.

"We can't continue like this," Manager Jimy Williams said, and catcher Brad Ausmus agreed.

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