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AROUND THE HORN / ROSS NEWHAN

Hot Stove Deal Leaves Both Teams With Warm Feeling

August 01, 2004|ROSS NEWHAN

The baseball adage suggests that the best trades are those that help both teams. It seldom happens, however, and it certainly seldom happens to the beneficial extent of December's five-player trade between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals.

The non-waiver deadline came and went Saturday with the Braves and Cardinals resting on the laurels of that trade and their surprising division leads in the National League East and Central.

"If we hadn't made that trade I'd hate to think where we'd be," St. Louis General Manager Walt Jocketty said, his team running away with a division expected to be a three-way dogfight.

The Cardinals lead the Central by 10 1/2 games while the Braves lead the East by 4 1/2.

In dealing right fielder J.D. Drew and versatile Eli Marrero to Atlanta for starter Jason Marquis, reliever Ray King and pitching prospect Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals were looking for pitching help and payroll flexibility. They had offense to spare, and the Braves needed an economic response to the Javier Lopez and Gary Sheffield power void.

Drew has hit 24 homers and driven in 65 runs while avoiding the injuries that have plagued him in the past, and Marrero is hitting a productive .338 while sharing left field with rookie Charles Thomas, who is hitting .348.

Marquis, meanwhile, has an eight-game winning streak and 11-4 record after never having won more than eight games for Atlanta, and the resilient King has joined Steve Kline in forming what Jocketty calls the strongest left-handed relief combination in baseball.

No one, perhaps, could have predicted the emergence of Marquis except Marquis -- "They let me go, they made a mistake," he has said of the Braves -- but the Cardinals had to seek help where they could find it, and the trade had a bonus.

As Jocketty said, "It gave us the financial flexibility to acquire another starting pitcher in Jeff Suppan," who is 9-6 with a 4.02 earned-run average, "and to recoup some of the offense by signing Reggie Sanders," who has 17 homers and 51 RBIs.

"I think both clubs got what they were looking for in the deal," Jocketty said. "As I said at the time, it was one of those classic baseball trades of the past. The needs were clearly defined, and John [Schuerholz, Atlanta GM] and I basically negotiated it on our own without the involvement of a lot of scouts or other people."

Finalized at the winter meetings in New Orleans, the trade could produce an October Mardi Gras for both.

*

Back at the top of his pinpoint game, Greg Maddux goes after his 300th win against the Philadelphia Phillies today at Wrigley Field. Maddux would be the 22nd pitcher to win 300 but only the fifth to have registered both his first and 300th wins with the same team, having returned to the Chicago Cubs as a free agent amid an otherwise scornful market.

It would not be a surprise if some clubs are now regretting their rejection of the 38-year-old right-hander.

Maddux, who took a cut from the $14.75 million he earned with the Braves last year, has become a $6-million bargain for the Cubs amid the extended absences of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. He is 10-7 with a 3.96 ERA, closing in on his 17th consecutive season of 15 or more wins (which would extend his own record) and 17th in a row with a sub-four ERA.

He is also 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA in three starts since the All-Star break and has walked only two batters in his last 35 1/3 innings, or as Manager Dusty Baker said, "consistency, he's still the epitome of that, the same Maddux to me, all time."

*

The Florida Marlins won permanent possession of the Phillies and turned up the heat under Manager Larry Bowa with a four-game sweep capped by Thursday's 10-1 rout. The sweep put the Marlins back in the NL East race, gave them an 11-1 record against Philadelphia this year (they have won 23 of the last 26 games over the last two years), underscored the ineffective and injury-riddled status of the Phillies' pitching staff and compounded the tense environment in the Philly clubhouse and dugout under the tightly wound Bowa as his team continues to underachieve.

During a week in which General Manager Ed Wade caught the attention of several hundred nearby fans by shouting at a reporter who had merely asked about the trade landscape, and Bowa said his players should be embarrassed by their performance, several Phillies suggested there is need for the organization to turn down the negativity.

"What we need is just for people in the organization to be more positive," closer Billy Wagner said. Or as fellow reliever Roberto Hernandez echoed in saying he is happy to be in the pen and out of Bowa's direct glare and earshot: "The word relaxed doesn't exist [here]. Every loss is like the end of the ... world. Everybody panics, from the manager to the coaches to the players."

Well, said the unrepentant Bowa, they're adults who make a lot of money, and "they'll just have to deal with it."

For how much longer? Good question.

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