This year's trading period was notable for its scarcity of marquee names (no player who had changed teams through Monday was expected to swing a playoff race as, for example, Randy Johnson did for the Astros in 1998) and for the number of projected contenders who instead found themselves unloading as the deadline approached. The defending National League pennant winners, the Mets, pulled the plug on their season by gutting their bullpen, sending lefthander Dennis Cook and righthander Turk Wendell to the Phillies for promising southpaw Bruce Chen. New York then shipped starter Rick Reed to the Twins for outfielder Matt Lawton. The Rangers dumped high-priced veteran first baseman Andres Galarraga on the Giants, who on Monday also picked up righthander Jason Schmidt and outfielder John Vander Wal from the Pirates. For the second time in six months the Royals traded their best outfielder to the A's—this time rightfielder Jermaine Dye, following the trade of centerfielder Johnny Damon.
No team underwent a more dramatic dismantling than Colorado. Astacio still had not been dealt when SI went to press on Monday night, but he was expected to be moved before the deadline. On July 25 Gold Glove shortstop Neifi Perez was traded to Kansas City (the Rockies received three prospects from Oakland, including second baseman Jose Ortiz, in the three-way deal) and starting second baseman Todd Walker was sent to the Reds for much-traveled outfielder Alex Ochoa on July 19.
"People seem to think I enjoy making a lot of trades," says O'Dowd, who has made 26 deals in his 21 months on the job as G.M. and has recently taken heat from players and fans for constantly tinkering with the roster. "We're trying to win and rebuild at the same time. If I'm guilty of anything, it's of trying to win too quickly."
Colorado's deals were spurred by its ugly performance this season (44-61) and by payroll concerns. Perez, 26, a four-year veteran with two years of arbitration eligibility left, had been dickering with management over the terms of a proposed long-term contract. The Rockies felt his request was too steep for a four-year deal worth $29 million—a price that figured to rise as Perez's Coors-Field-inflated numbers improved (.347 with 36 RBIs at home, compared with .237 and 11 on the road). In Astacio's case O'Dowd was hoping to save more than $11 million that remained on his contract through next year.
O'Dowd is looking to spread talent more evenly across a team on which the gap between stars such as Hampton, Neagle, Walker and first baseman Todd Helton and the other regulars is huge. Colorado's key acquisition was Ortiz, a 24-year-old Dominican who was the Pacific-Coast League MVP last year and, according to one scout, has a chance to be a much better player than Perez, the one the Rockies gave up to get him.
"Until we have a deep 25-man roster and another five to 10 players ready in the minor leagues, it will be difficult to win here," says O'Dowd, "and nearly impossible to sustain it."
The Twins' Shaky Play
Don't Give Up on Them Yet
The second half of the season has been a nightmare for the Twins, who led the Indians by five games in the American League Central at the All-Star break. At week's end Minnesota had lost 13 of 18 games since then and had fallen a half game behind Cleveland. Has the clock struck midnight for one of baseball's most surprising teams?
There's reason to think so—Minnesota's 5.55 ERA since the break was the league's highest—but it's still too early to sound the alarm. The Twins got a boost from last Saturday's trade that brought reliever Todd Jones (who tied for a league-leading 42 saves last year) from the Tigers for lefthander Mark Redman. Jones, 33, had only 11 saves and a 4.62 ERA this season through Sunday, but the nine-year veteran gives Minnesota experience and bullpen depth. On Monday the Twins made up for the loss of Redman by trading outfielder Matt Law-ton to the Mets for righthander Rick Reed. The deals were also significant because, for the first time in general manager Terry Ryan's seven-year tenure, Minnesota is trying to acquire immediate help at the deadline.
The Twins also have a favorable schedule. They have 12 games remaining against the Indians, and at week's end only one other opponent in August and September (the Angels) had a winning record. Most important, Minnesota anticipates the return of shortstop Cristian Guzman (.308,17 stolen bases), who went on the disabled list with an inflamed right shoulder on July 13 but was eligible to come off this week. When Guzman went down, the Twins were averaging 5.3 runs per game; without their All-Star shortstop and number 2 hitter, they've averaged 3.5 runs. "We need him," centerfielder Torii Hunter says. "He scores in damn near every game."