Give Hart points for a realistic assessment of the Indians' grim situation—Cleveland, three games above .500 and 10� behind the division-leading White Sox on the morning of July 28, was going nowhere with its patchwork collection of Triple A-caliber pitchers. But the deals raised this question: In what shape do they leave the Indians for the long term? Anything short of a playoff berth will provoke cries that Hart gutted Cleveland's future for an iffy wild-card run (the Indians trailed the A's, leaders in the American League wild-card race, by three games through Sunday), and even if the Indians do make the postseason, they may find themselves even weaker next year.
The upside: Wickman, an experienced closer acquired from the Brewers, figures to steady a young bullpen down the stretch. Further, starters Bere and Woodard, while only a combined 7-14 with a 5.39 ERA for Milwaukee, also have experience, which is more than can be said for many of the major league-record 30 pitchers manager Charlie Manuel had used through Sunday.
The downside: To get the trio of pitchers from the Brewers, Cleveland parted with 25-year-old outfielder-first baseman Richie Sexson, considered one of the game's most promising young power hitters; to get Cordero, whom the Indians had let go as a free agent last October, Hart gave the Pirates outfielder Alex Ramirez, 25, a budding power hitter, and versatile infielder Enrique Wilson, also 25, who had hit .282 in 191 big league games since 1998.
The mass departure of good young players raised the spectres of Jeromy Burnitz, Brian Giles and Danny Graves—all prospects traded by Hart since mid-1996 who have found stardom elsewhere. "These trades were greeted in [the clubhouse] with skepticism," says third baseman Travis Fryman. "It wasn't like we got any huge names, and we gave up some young players with bright futures."
Indeed, the deals all come down to the future. There's no guarantee all the newcomers will be Indians next season. As a veteran traded in the middle of a multiyear contract, Wickman has the right to demand a trade after the season. Bere, who pitched gems in his first two starts with Cleveland and shows signs of returning to his early-career form (over the 1993 and '94 seasons, he went 24-7 for the White Sox), can be a free agent this winter and will probably command a substantial raise from his current $800,000 salary. "Physically I feel as good as I've ever felt," Bere said after holding the Devil Rays to one run in eight innings last Thursday. "Coming to a team like this definitely brings some life back to you, too."
Hart's reputation may rest on how much life Bere and friends can breathe into the Indians down the stretch. "If they get Cleveland to the postseason, then the deal was a good one," says the Blue Jays' Gord Ash, another pitching-hungry general manager who tried to acquire Wickman and Woodard. "If the Indians don't make it, it's not."
Aug. 13: Cardinals at Brewers Note to St. Louis trainer Barry Weinberg: Bring extra ice packs for Fernando Vi�a on this road trip. Through Sunday the Cardinals' leadoff man had been plunked by a pitch a major league-leading 18 times this season. On this day he just may face Milwaukee righthander Jamey Wright, who along with Colorado righthander Pedro Astacio led all pitchers with 13 hit batsmen. Vi�a, a former Brewer who was traded to the Cardinals last December, and his mates should keep their wits about them in the other two games of the series as well. The Milwaukee staff had nailed 48 batters, third-most in the National League behind the Dodgers (57) and Rockies (53).
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