Astros, A's and Royals all win in Beltran deal ... and Yankees left stranded
Posted: Friday June 25, 2004 11:36AM; Updated: Friday June 25, 2004 11:36AM
Carlos Beltran is on pace for a fourth straight 30-steal season.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
The big card in this frenzied game known as the free-agent-to-be free-for-all -- OK, so that's not its official name -- has been played. Already. We're not even out of June yet and Carlos Beltran, the Royals' five-pronged center fielder -- wanted by every team in baseball, it seemed, but the Royals -- has been traded to the Astros.
The good news for baseball fans everywhere is that, hey, at least the Yankees didn't get him. Beltran was by far the most coveted of players that will be moved around before the July 31 trading deadline. Normally, that means the Yankees get first dibs.
They're the Yankees, you know. They have gobs of money. They always get what they want.
But Royals general manager Allard Baird knew what he had to have for his prized player, and he knew the Yankees couldn't give it to him. So Baird did the deed in a three-way deal with the Astros and A's and all three teams involved got what they wanted.
The disappointing Royals, out of contention this year and never in contention for Beltran after the season, landed a young, cheap third baseman in Mark Teahen, one of the best prospects in the A's organization, to replace Joe Randa (who, if he isn't traded before July 31, will be gone after the season). They got a young, cheap, major league-ready catcher from the Astros in John Buck. And they grabbed a young, cheap major league-ready starter in Mike Wood for the back end of their shaky rotation. It was a good trade for a team that had to trade, and that's not always easy to do.
The nearly desperate Astros got what many consider the best young all-around player in baseball, if only until he hits the free-agent market this winter. The switch-hitting Beltran can do it all, both at the plate and in the field. He will instantly spark an Astros lineup that, curiously, has lost its way. The Astros are only 12th in baseball in combined slugging and on-base percentage (OPS). They've fallen five games behind the NL Central -leading Cardinals. But the St. Louis, guaranteed, is a lot more nervous now than it was at the beginning of the week.
And Billy Beane, the general manager of the A's, pulled off another deft midseason deal to get the big piece his team needed -- a closer. He had to give up a promising third baseman and a minor-league pitcher to the Royals in the swap, but Oakland was rewarded with Octavio Dotel, a 30-year-old with a live arm and the competitive disposition to snap the stumbling A's out of their funk. Dotel has blown some games this season, but he's good. He's real good. And the A's, who have blown more than half of their saves (14 of 27), had to have him.
With Beltran now off the market, Mariners starter Freddy Garcia becomes the hottest name in trade rumors. Diamondbacks ace Randy Johnson has been mentioned as trade fodder, too, though Arizona ownership insists he's not going anywhere. The Royals' Mike Sweeney has been said to be on the block because of his large contract, and the Rangers' Alfonso Soriano may be available for the same reason.
But the Astros, who couldn't afford to wait, have made their move. The A's have made theirs. The Royals have slapped down their trump card. Now it's up to everybody else to get in the game.
Are you there, Yankees?
Comments, questions or obviously unfounded criticism? To e-mail Donovan, use the form below.
Well, here's the E-Bag, bursting at the E-seams this week with E-missives on E. Gagne, Barry Bonds and race, the All-Star Game, the Indians and more.
In trumpeting the Indians' return to .500 ball, you cavalierly dismissed the AL Central and the Twins. Excluding the overpriced Yankees, have you bothered to look at the Twins' record compared to other division leaders? The Twins (and the AL Central) are hardly the bottom feeders you make them out to be. -- John Bursch, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Well, well, Mr. Touchy ... OK, so the Twins are playing decent ball. Great for them. The Twins, if you want to know, were my pick to win that division. I'm on the record with that. But as far as the AL Central ... let's not get all worked up comparing it to the other divisions. Top to bottom, the Central is still among the worst two or three divisions in baseball, which is why the Indians think they have a shot at the title in the first place.
Cleveland is a young franchise on the rise for sure, but let's give credit to the previous administration where it is due. John Hart drafted, or acquired, Jody Gerut, C.C. Sabathia, Victor Martinez and Bob Wickman. In addition, Hart was responsible for acquiring Jason Davis, Jake Westbrook and Omar Vizquel. So while it is fair to give Mark Shapiro credit for "tearing down" the Indians, it must be said that in order to tear down a house and rebuild you must have a strong foundation. -- Warren Twocock, Vancouver, B.C.
Noted, Warren. John Hart won a lot of games in Cleveland, and maybe he mortgaged the future a little to keep it going, but, you're right, he didn't leave the cupboard completely bare. Remember, though, that Shapiro was in on all that, too. He's not some GM that just dropped in from another team. He was Hart's right-hand man. That he's brought this team this close this quickly is remarkable.
How do you put Gagne as the man of the week when he was clearly rattled by the Yankees and only recorded a save on Sunday because of terrible calls by the umpire? Have you ever seen a strike zone so big? -- Daniel Martin, London
I got a lot of letters on my mention of Gagne in this week's Payoff Pitch, and that was before I stuck him on a pedestal later in the week. You know what I saw Sunday against the Yankees? Gagne's stuff was so good that it even fooled the ump. Gagne's stuff was so good it blew away A-Rod, who was looking for that fastball. Gagne's stuff was so good that Hideki Matsui had no idea what was coming. There were two hard-hit balls in Gagne's appearance. One by Gary Sheffield, who can hit anything fast. It was grounded sharply to third base for an out. And the home run by Jason Giambi. He hit a good pitch, what looked like a splitter or a change down in the zone, maybe even out of the zone. Give Giambi credit. The thing with closers like Gagne is that they do give them up once in a while, often in spectacular fashion. Billy Wagner does it. John Smoltz does it. They all do. It's just that Gagne hasn't given it up for the longest while ever.
Forget Manny Ramirez's helmet, have you ever seen Trot Nixon's? I think Trot loans his helmet out to the local gun club for target practice between games. How on earth do you get that many pock marks and dents in a helmet? -- Peter Ruffini, Carver, Mass.
Yeah, but have you seen ...
If you're nominating Manny's helmet for most hideous outer-equipment piece, you'd better take a look at the World War II-era topper worn by Doug Mientkiewicz; there's no comparison. -- Christopher, Minneapolis
I think I've touched a nerve with the baseball fan Fashion Police with this. Remember John Wetteland's lid? Ugh.
When did it become a "rite of passage" to pose at the batter's box? The reason I asked this question is because I was watching ESPN's Baseball Tonight this past Saturday, and I heard all three commentators (Trey Wingo, Rob Dibble and Tim Kurkjian) blast Miguel Cabrera for posing after a long single off the wall, costing the Marlins a win that night. My issue with all of the commentators is that if you're going to be critical of Cabrera, then you need to be critical of Mike Piazza, Ken Griffey Jr. and, of course, Barry Bonds. They're the biggest posers in baseball. -- Joseph Hodge, Atlanta
Everybody does it. Saw Cleveland's Matt Lawton drop his bat almost on the catcher's toe and strut for the first couple of steps after a homer against the White Sox the other day. Saw someone else on the Indians (I think it was Ronnie Belliard) do it the next night. Guys that have no right posing or watching a ball go deep do it all the time. It's the funniest thing in baseball watching someone who thinks he has hit something suddenly have to break into a run when the ball falls short. It's maddening, too, and you're right, Joseph, it sets a bad example. God, I sound like my Dad. Next thing you know I'll be ripping on how Coco Crisp wears his hat. (Honestly, I kind of like that.)
I agree with your statement that there is little difference between the AL and NL. The most overused and overrated phrase in baseball is "They play NL-style baseball" when referring to AL teams. Maybe I'm watching the wrong games, but I just don't see all those bunts and steals that supposedly characterize the NL. NL teams are as homer-happy as AL teams. -- David Holsted, Oregon, Ill.
Tell me about it. As I look at the homer totals before Thursday's games (hey, I have to work ahead a little in this gig), there are as many NL teams in the top 10 in homers as there are AL teams. (The Cubs, with 93, lead the NL and are in fourth place overall, nine behind the top-ranked Yankees.) And there are six AL teams in the top 10 in stolen bases. (The Angels lead baseball with 67.)
In answering an e-mail regarding All-Star voting, you claim that the game is for fun and that it is only an exhibition. However, MLB has decided to make it more than an exhibition and allow the outcome of the game determine home field advantage in the World Series. Don't you think, because of the importance MLB has put on this "exhibition," that they have an obligation to come up with a fix for the All-Star voting? If MLB wants the outcome of the game to have a greater importance, it can't require representation from every team and there should be less importance on fan balloting. -- Craig Johnson, Chicago
First off, Craig, I think the importance of home-field advantage in the World Series is overblown. It may make some difference (though not last year). It's certainly not life and death. And, as I said, I think the voting by players takes care of any perceived mistakes fans might make. Either way, it's not like you'll get some absolute dog of a player in there deciding home-field advantage in the World Series. Plus, pitching often decides the game, and the fans don't have a say in that at all. Here's how I view the All-Star Game: Until these guys play all-out (which won't happen) and until the game is managed all-out (which will never happen), it will remain an exhibition. Placing any kind of real importance on it is folly.
As I checked out Saturday's Giants-Red Sox game, I saw more reasons why I will never concede that Barry Bonds is a great player. First, there was a costly error in the field, and then something far more annoying. Bonds hit a smash to second base. Bonds, as usual, was jogging out of the box when the ball was booted by the second baseman. Of course, by the time Bonds started running it was too late. He was nipped at first. This is hardly the first time Bonds hasn't hustled out of the box. In my mind, he'll always be a one-dimensional player, more concerned about his stats than the team, and he's always coming up short in the postseason. -- Curtis Heikkinen, Portland, Ore.
I don't think anyone could ever consider Bonds the best all-around player in the game's history. Not given his defensive degeneration in the past several years. Curtis, he is one-dimensional. But, ah, that dimension.
Bonds' comments on never playing in Boston because of racism were both stupid and thoughtless. And this guy wonders why fans have never warmed up to him? He may have Hall of Fame talent, but he certainly doesn't have Hall of Fame character. -- Steve Betz, Walled Lake, Mich.
Lots of mail this week on Bonds taking on Boston and racism. Read on ...
I think until you know what it is like for African-Americans to be in Boston, it's unfair of you to just label Barry Bonds as "bitter" like every other writer. Boston is widely known as the most racist city above the Mason-Dixon line and Bonds was echoing that truism. There is a reason that Bill Russell is not as revered as Larry Bird, and race plays a huge factor. I am in law school now and the purveyance of racism in Boston is one of the reasons I turned down a job at a great firm there. I guess I am just bitter like Barry. -- Jaron, New York
Jaron, you're right. I've never been an African-American in Boston, and I won't ever be. As I said, maybe Bonds has a reason to sound bitter. I don't know. But the fact is, he sounds bitter and angry to me. Can't get around it.
I don't understand why people aren't more upset about Barry Bonds' comments about the city of Boston being racist. I don't know what decade he is stuck in, but things are a little different from when he first came into the majors. He really ought to try living in a city before he makes generalizations about it. People were a lot more upset when John Rocker made his prejudices known about New York. Why does nobody care when Bonds makes an ignorant statement? -- Jay Moreau, Boston
And that's another view from the home front. I'm sure there are plenty of African-Americans and other minorities in Boston who would say that their city is no more racist than any other. And I'm sure there are plenty who would agree with Bonds. It's not like we'll settle this issue in the E-Bag. In a column on this site regarding race, Frank Deford called it the third rail of sports. Touch this subject and you're liable to get electrocuted. This is a perfect example.
I was at the Twins-Brewers game on Sunday, June 20. Craig Counsell hit a fly ball to center. Torii Hunter missed it and Counsell ended up scoring. It was scored a triple for Counsell and a run scored on Hunter's error, yet they charged Johan Santana with an earned run. Do you know why that is? -- Francisco Elizondo, Minneapolis, Minn.
I'm no scorekeeper -- don't pretend to be -- but here, I think, is the relevant bit from the official rules: "In determining earned runs, the inning should be reconstructed without the errors (which include catcher's interference) and passed balls, and the benefit of the doubt should always be given to the pitcher in determining which bases would have been reached by errorless play." So, although Counsell wouldn't have made it home without the error on his leadoff hit, he would have scored an out later when Junior Spivey flied to center.
After reading your argument against Chipper Jones' defense at third, I'm a little surprised that fielding percentage is still so highly regarded. I find the old argument of using fielding percentage for judging a player's fielding to be unfair. That is why stats like Range Factor and Zone Rating were brought in. I'm wondering why not more baseball analysts use stats like RF, ZR and double plays turned to judge the defensive value of a player? -- Feng Cao, Waterloo, Ont.
You're right about fielding percentage. It's not a very reliable statistic. But even the statmongers are having trouble coming up with decent ways to measure defensive ability. Range factor and zone rating have their own sets of problems because they're so subjective. And double plays turned rely on another player, so that's difficult to use. No getting around it, rating defense is troublesome. All I can say is that when the Braves had a chance to get what they deemed a better defensive third baseman (Vinny Castilla), they jumped at it.
Could you fill me in on why everybody rides Larry Bowa so much? I'm not saying he should be up for coach of the year, but calling for his head is a little ridiculous. If he is too "tough" of a coach because he wants his players to run out every ground ball or play through minor injuries, than baseball just isn't the sport it used to be. -- Braden Snyder, Williamsport, Penn.
If Bowa's Phillies fall out of contention, with that talent, he ought to be on a hot seat. But, for now, I think what he's doing is just fine. Yeah, he's tough but, you know, if someone gets paid $1 million a year or more, that someone ought to be able to take a little criticism, even if it is at a LaGuardia decibel level, don't you think? That's the guts of this thing. Most other managers -- the so-called "players' managers" -- stroke the talent and feed them little treats while they run around and tear up the neighbor's lawns. Bowa uses a choke chain.