Brewers Trade Talk
Doubled Up At Second
Just when the Brewers, desperate to acquire pitching help, have an extra second baseman for trade bait, no team with available arms needs to fill that position. The Braves, with the steady Bret Boone at second, are willing to give up lefty prospect Bruce Chen, but they crave a first baseman with power. The Orioles, with young Jerry Hairston and veteran Deli-no DeShields at second, are shopping righthander Scott Erickson but need a young starter. The Royals hope to unload righty Kevin Appier but have Carlos Febles at second. The Blue Jays, the Rockies, the Yankees—all have arms to swap, but none is in the market for a second baseman.
Thus Fernando Viña, an All-Star last year, and Ron Belliard, an All-Rookie team candidate this season, wait and wonder: Which one of them will depart Milwaukee and when? "You have to trade from your strength, and our number one strength is second base," says manager Phil Garner. "We've talked to several teams about Fernando, but it hasn't happened."
The Brewers were close to sending Viña, 30, to the Braves or the Cardinals in the off-season, but an injured left quadriceps that twice landed him on the DL this year has hurt his market value. While Viña mends (his return is expected around July 31, the trading deadline), Belliard, 24, who was ticketed for Triple A Louisville, flourishes. In 56 games through Sunday, he was batting .325 with five home runs and 26 RBIs. He doesn't have the range or quickness of Viña, but Belliard reaches most balls and turns a smooth double play. He is, by all accounts, Milwaukee's second baseman of the future.
Viña, in his fifth year with the Brewers and hitting .266 before he went on the DL the second time, in early June, understands the situation. "I can't be bitter toward Ron" he says. When Belliard was a September call-up last season, Viña took him out to dinner several times, gave him a couch to sleep on and was quick to advise him on defensive positioning. Says Belliard, "He's been great to me. Maybe we can both find a way to play here."
Maybe not. Viña never officially demanded a trade, but he made it clear to Gamer and general manager Sal Bando that, although he expects to return to the starting lineup as soon as he's healthy, a trade to a contender would appeal to him. "I don't think it's blowing smoke when I say I've proven myself as one of the best second basemen around," Viña says. "There are definitely teams I can help."
The Long and Short of It
The interleague portion of the major league schedule ended on Tuesday, so what will probably be the most enjoyable part of the Marlins' season is over. At week's end Florida was 10-6 against the American League in 1999 and had the majors' best record (30-17) in three years of inter-league play. Still, the Marlins, 22½ games behind Atlanta in the National League East, had the worst overall record in the big leagues this season, a 34-58 mark befitting a team with the game's second-lowest payroll and only 10 players who began 1999 with more than a year of major league service. So if s little pleasures such as interleague dominance that keep manager John Boles from despair.
"You look for positive things, like the fact that we're improving and that we might have three or four guys on the All-Rookie team," says Boles. "The thing you cling to is that there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel."
The question is, just how long is that tunnel? As the July 9 deal that sent closer Matt Mantei to the Diamondbacks for pitching prospect Brad Penny and 24-year-old reliever Vladimir Nuñez showed, the Marlins are good at stockpiling young talent but are still far from being a contender again. Though the rebuilding project that followed the tearing down of the 1997 world champions is still in its early stages, there are those "positive things" that Boles speaks of.