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False idols

If Burnett is the answer, then what is the question?

Posted: Wednesday July 20, 2005 11:56AM; Updated: Wednesday July 20, 2005 1:11PM
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Mark Redman
Along with Marlins right-hander A.J. Burnett, Pirates lefty Mark Redman (above) has been a focus of trade talks.

When Mark Redman and A.J. Burnett are being floated around baseball's front offices as potential saviors, you know desperation is beginning to set in.

Desperation, of course, is a necessary ingredient of the trade-deadline season. If a team's not desperate in the late stages of July, it's usually not trying. The Orioles clearly are panicking. The Marlins are, too. The Red Sox are desperate. The Yankees are really gripping.

There are a half-dozen teams, probably more, that are so sweaty-palmed desperate right now that they're making Redman and Burnett -- two questionable talents in a mediocre trade class -- out to be Steve Carlton and Roger Clemens.

The problem is, Redman and Burnett are not Carlton and Clemens. They shouldn't be mentioned in the same sentence. Redman and Burnett are two serviceable starters with losing career records; two pitchers who have failed to live up to expectations. Really, how good can Burnett be if the Marlins, still in contention in the National League East, want to trade him away?

And the Pirates' Redman? He's not as good as Burnett. Redman hasn't won a game since June 10.

Tuesday, both pitchers -- and at least two others who are going through the daily churn of rumors -- took to the mound in a kind of mini-audition for baseball's desperate.

Burnett, the hottest name in the rumor mill right now, beat the Diamondbacks by pitching six innings, giving up six hits and allowing three runs in winning his first game in his past four starts. A right-hander with an upper-90s fastball, a solid changeup and a good curve, Burnett has a reputation for a live, erratic arm.

After Tuesday's win, he is 6-6 with a 3.68 ERA. He's also just 43-44 in his career, and he's due to become a free agent after this season, all factors that could scare off suitors. Still, the Marlins and Orioles reportedly are close to a deal that would send Burnett north in what would qualify as, at the very least, a semi-blockbuster.

Other considerations color this proposed deal. The biggest is that the Marlins are trying to get the Orioles, or another team, to take third baseman Mike Lowell and the more than $21 million left on his contract off their hands. Giving up Burnett in a package may be the only way to do that.

Whatever happens, Florida seems intent on cutting ties with Burnett so they can get something for him before he hits free agency. What he might be able to do for them in a pennant race seems secondary at this point.

To his credit, Burnett pitched well against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday (he also struck out six) despite all the talk, which can't be easy.

"Sometimes you don't even know, you know," his teammate, Carlos Delgado, told reporters after the game. "They're writing stuff that you're not even aware of.''

As for Pittsburgh's Redman, his situation is even cloudier. Some reports have him included in a three-way deal with the Orioles and Marlins. Others have him going to the Marlins straight up.

Redman, at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, is just 52-61 in 147 career starts. Tuesday, he pitched the second game of a doubleheader against the Astros, went six innings, gave up eight hits and allowed six runs in dropping to 4-10 on the season. His ERA jumped to 4.24. It was his sixth straight loss.