Anyone who has ever played poker for more money than he or she could afford to lose can appreciate the pressure on general managers today. The Aug. 6 deal that sent 35-year-old reliever Randy Myers from the Blue Jays to the Padres shows just how high the stakes can be.
When Toronto placed Myers's name on the waiver wire last week, San Diego general manager Kevin Towers had a dilemma: He could submit a claim to ensure blocking rival Atlanta from acquiring Myers, who is in the first season of a three-year, $18 million contract that pays him $6 million in each of the next two seasons, or he could pass and risk letting Myers go to the Braves, whom San Diego might face in the playoffs. Towers laid a pancake block on the Braves. Whether San Diego really wanted Myers is questionable. That the Padres didn't want Atlanta to have him is indisputable.
San Diego agreed to send Class A catcher Brian Loyd and a player to be named later to Toronto for Myers, who will serve mostly as a setup man for closer Trevor Hoffman. Towers conceded after the Myers trade that his actions were designed in large part to stop the Braves. (As it turns out, Towers may have been tilting at windmills. While the Braves held some discussions with Toronto about a deal for Myers before the deadline, their interest had apparently cooled, and Atlanta manager Bobby Cox recently stated that he was satisfied with Kerry Ligtenberg as the Braves' closer for the rest of the season.)
Still, Myers could fill a key role for the Padres as the first reliable lefty in their bullpen since Myers himself saved 38 games for San Diego in 1992. He could also take over some of the closer's workload from Hoffman, who through Aug. 9 led the majors with 38 saves but already had made 49 appearances following two seasons in which he pitched in 70 games each. After recently tying a major league record by converting his 41st consecutive save opportunity, Hoffman blew his first save of the season and sustained his first loss 11 days later, the same day as the Myers trade.
Myers, though, doesn't arrive in San Diego with satisfaction guaranteed. He's not the same dominant reliever who had 45 saves in 46 opportunities for the Orioles last season. Though he did have 28 saves for Toronto, he also had five blown saves, a 4.46 ERA and had allowed 65 base runners in 4216 innings. After Myers let a save get away against the Rangers in his final appearance for the Blue Jays, Texas hitters said he pitched tentatively, throwing one change-up after another. More tellingly, even Toronto general manager Gord Ash seemed to be criticizing Myers when he said after the deal, "You can't diminish the significant number of saves Randy had, but there weren't many save situations we felt overly comfortable in. He got the job done, but it wasn't always pretty."
Many baseball scouts think Myers's prime has passed. Said one American League executive, "The Padres got the big bomb dropped on them—a $14 million bomb." Myers is now the most expensive player the Padres have ever signed; he is under contract for more money than San Diego has committed to current stars Hoffman, Andy Ashby, Ken Caminiti or Tony Gwynn. With that in mind, Towers will likely attempt to trade Myers after the season. In the meantime, Towers thinks Myers can help the Padres beat the Braves and reach the World Series, a critical step in getting a favorable vote this November on a new downtown stadium proposal. Towers is gambling that his new high-priced setup man will help close that deal. Alas, against the Marlins on Aug. 7, in his first appearance back with the Padres, Myers blew a save in the ninth inning.
A Versatile Cub
The Utilityman's Utilityman
Insulting jacks-of-all-trades is nothing new. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald mocked "that most limited of specialists, 'the well-rounded man.' " So it goes in baseball, where calling a guy a utility player is a nice way of saying he's a journeyman .220 hitter who's only in the bigs because he can fill in when one of the good players pulls a hammy.
This year, however, Jose Hernandez of the Cubs is doing his best to dispel that stereotype. He is having the best season of his seven-year major league career, hitting .264 with 17 homers and 56 RBIs through Aug. 9. He has done all this despite the fact that he has moved around more than an Army brat. "I don't think you can call him a utility player," says Chicago shortstop Jeff Blauser. "Jose's an every-day player."
Yeah, but an every-day what? Hernandez started 78 of the Cubs' first 118 games—some in centerfield and others at all of the four infield spots—and he has hit everywhere in the batting order except third and cleanup. Hernandez has also played left and rightfield, and though he has never caught in a game, he has warmed up pitchers in the bullpen. "Every team needs a guy like Jose," says first baseman Mark Grace. "We can give any of our regulars a day off and not lose anything by having him in there."