When Rangers owner Tom Hicks ended speculation last week that All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez would be dealt—"We're not going to trade him. I want very much to keep him here," Hicks said-White Sox lefthander David Wells moved front and center on the early-season trading block. With his club 14 games behind the Twins in the American League Central through Sunday, Chicago general manager Ken Williams had talked to several teams, including the Astros, Cardinals, Mets and Red Sox, in search of a taker for the high-priced, high-risk Wells.
As attractive as a veteran lefty with a history of big-game success might be, finding a new home for Wells wasn't going to be easy. First, his performance has been off—he was 3-5 with a 4.54 ERA this season, and since last year's All-Star break he had won only eight of 26 starts and had a 479 ERA Second, Wells's contract may dissuade many teams from considering acquiring him. He'll make $9.25 million this year, and last week he threatened to retire if his $10 million option for next season isn't picked up. Teams such as the Red Sox, who already have the second-highest payroll in the majors, and the Astros, who have struggled to keep their payroll within a budget of $60 million, might be loath to make such a financial commitment to a 38-year-old with less-than-ideal conditioning. The Mets, who thought they had a deal with the Blue Jays for Wells in January only to see him land in Chicago, could afford him, but their refusal to part with prized outfield prospect Alex Escobar derailed their talks with the White Sox.
Finally, there's Wells's testy personality. In the past two weeks he has called Mets manager Bobby Valentine a "loser," labeled Indians fans "low-rent scumbags" and said he would never play in Cleveland, been photographed making an obscene gesture at the SkyDome and allegedly exchanged head butts with a fan in a Toronto tavern. "Wells is a real loose cannon right now," says one American League scout. "The White Sox are trying desperately to move him, but there aren't that many fits out there."
While Wells has drawn the most attention, here are two other pitchers who could move soon:
Sidney Ponson, Orioles. Despite his mid-90s fastball and above-average stuff, Ponson, a 24-year-old righthander (2-3, 4.73 ERA), has frustrated the Baltimore brass with his lack of command and frequent losses of concentration. The Orioles, who have spoken to the Expos about slugging third baseman Fernando Tatis, are hunting for someone to replace the calcifying Cal Ripken Jr., and Ponson may be their most alluring bait.
Albie Lopez, Devil Rays. General manager Chuck LaMar will listen to offers for nearly every Tampa Bay player, but Lopez, the Rays' righthanded ace and a free agent after this season, is his most attractive chip. One problem: Lopez (3-5 with a 4.28 ERA) was winless in five starts since April 24, having allowed at least six runs in four of them, and twice had left games with minor injuries. "His location was awful," says one scout who watched Lopez give up six runs in eight innings against the Angels last Friday. Still, Lopez would draw interest from contending teams looking for a cheaper alternative to Wells.
Base Runner's Mistake
Leading with the Head Isn't Smart
You could almost hear all of New England gasp last Thursday when Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez, trying to beat a throw in the ninth inning against the Yankees, heaved himself headlong toward first base. Ramirez landed awkwardly on his chest, and as he skidded into the bag his arms and shoulders were pulled under his body. He was out, but that mattered less than the fact that he walked away from the ugly-looking play uninjured.
The headfirst slide into first is to baseball players what playing with matches is to curious kids. No matter how many times they're told not to do it, they can't resist. Perhaps no other play inspires more dismay in managers, because it's an invitation to injury that can—and should—be avoided, since most coaches agree that diving doesn't get a runner to first any quicker than sprinting through the bag does.
"I think everybody realizes that, but you still see a lot of smart players do it," says San Diego first base coach Alan Trammell, who says Sparky Anderson, who managed him on the Tigers, fined players who dived into first. "When you smell hit, it's an act of desperation."