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Seller's market turns Benson into this season's Ponson

Posted: Friday July 30, 2004 11:12AM; Updated: Friday July 30, 2004 12:59PM
Pitcher Age Rec. ERA IP H HR BB K
Benson 29 43-49 4.26 782 806 79 299 553
Pitcher B 28 49-53 4.58 883.1 927 93 372 663
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This year's MLB swap meet is an outrageous seller's market.

One cocktail-napkin illustration as to why: Last night in Arlington, Texas, I watched the Rangers and A's joust for first place in the A.L. West, in a matchup between Kirk Saarloos (5.43 career ERA) and R.A. Dickey (5.57). Neither made it out of the fourth, and between them served up four home runs in Oakland's 7-6 win.

(Not exactly Vida Blue and Fergie Jenkins.)

You know, of course, Pittsburgh's Kris Benson is the most coveted starter available to teams not included in the Randy Johnson derby. Part of this is a simple supply-and-demand imbalance -- like how Sidney Ponson briefly morphed from chubster to ace last July, when there were precious few alternatives, and before quickly recovering his form this season in Baltimore.

But there's a fashionable line of thinking that suggests Benson, the first overall pick in the '96 draft, may be turning a career corner. Compare Benson and Pitcher B, another hard-throwing right-hander who moved at the trade deadline in '01 (see chart, right).

Pitcher B, also dealt from the Pirates, is Jason Schmidt, who turned out just fine in San Francisco. Should Benson land with the Mets, he'd be in a pitcher's park at least as flattering as Pac Bell was to Schmidt.

Schmidt, whom I profiled two weeks ago in SI, was really concerned about the possibility of a jinx, asking repeatedly during a photo shoot whether his picture would appear on our cover. Not likely, I replied, truthfully as it turned out. Yet Schmidt, who had not lost since April, promptly lost a stinker to the Padres, giving up eight runs in 5 2/3 innings, exactly one day after SI hit newsstands. He told the Giants' beat reporters, "The guy put the hocus-pocus thing on me."

Jason, big guy, if I could put the hocus-pocus thing on anybody, my targets would be, in order:

• The men responsible for Coors Light commercials (but not those responsible for sweet, sweet, delicious Coors Light).

Dutch Boyd and his insufferable "Crew" from ESPN's World Series of Poker coverage (Guys, if you wear a visor, and you aren't a septuagenarian, or in Florida, you're a herb).

Kanye West, because if you drive around New York a lot, and you listen to a lot of Hot 97, you will hear his paean to Jesus ("I'm just trying to say the way school need teachers/the way Kathie Lee needed Regis/that's the way I need Jesus ...") way, way, too often. And anyone who presumptively complains about a lack of airplay on a song that subsequently infests the FM band for months gets the Gas Face. Kanye, baby, it was cool when Public Enemy said radio was scared of them, because it was true.

Jimmy Fallon, who needs a haircut as badly as I do.

I did a silly thing in the Pittsburgh airport yesterday, while waiting on line to buy an ambiguous meat sandwich. I saw a 20-something guy sitting in the food court, plugging away at his laptop, and I was positive it was Alex Lee, my freshman-year college roommate, whom I have not seen since graduation. (Alex, my man, where are you?) To surprise him, I wrapped my arm around him and half-shouted, "What's up, mother------?" Needless to say, it was not Alex. As if the TSA needed more reasons, besides my ethnic-sounding surname, to keep an eye on me.

OK, I'm out, but not before I plug an album you should check out: Final Battle, by Graham Smith.

It's getting spins in my apartment, even though my fiancée, Joan, doesn't like it all that much.