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Stephen Cannella
August 06, 2001
Beating The ClockAs the trade deadline neared, contenders got help for the stretch run
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August 06, 2001

Baseball

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Beating The Clock
As the trade deadline neared, contenders got help for the stretch run

When he finally waived the no-trade clause in his contract and accepted a move from the last-place Devil Rays to the first-place Cubs last Friday—19 days after the teams originally agreed to the deal—first baseman Fred McGriff explained the delay by saying, "I didn't want to make a hasty decision. I knew I had time to think about it. I wanted to analyze things."

All that ruminating was a gamble. There was no guarantee the Cubs would not pursue another cleanup hitter while waiting to see if McGriff would give his consent before the July 31 trading deadline. Nor was it likely that McGriff would be dealt to another team—say, the Braves—that would have kept Crime Dog close to his wife and two children at the family's year-round home in Tampa. Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar says that he discussed a McGriff deal with only one team other than the Cubs, and that Chicago was the only club that made a serious offer.

However, the delay in accepting the trade paid off for the 37-year-old slugger, who hit .318 with 19 home runs and 61 RBIs with the Devil Rays. Last Thursday morning Cubs G.M. Andy MacPhail called LaMar, desperately seeking to revisit the deal McGriff had rejected. They agreed to the same terms: Tampa Bay would receive journeyman righthander Manny Aybar and a prospect, and LaMar gave MacPhail permission to talk contract with McGriff's agent.

Chicago offered to raise McGriff's 2002 salary from $6.75 million to $7.25 million and guarantee that year. ( McGriff also can choose instead to become a free agent after this season.) What's more, McGriff was offered an $8.5 million option for 2003 (he could play for the Cubs or they could buy him out for $500,000) and a no-trade clause for as long as he is with the Cubs. Suddenly the family concerns that McGriff had cited when he said he wanted to stay in his native Tampa melted away. "I just had to think about everything as far as, Do I want to continue to play? If so, where? How long?" he said. "Now, more or less, I can control my future better rather than leave it up to [new Devil Rays chief operating officer John] McHale and the rest of them."

The trade may have taken nearly three weeks to work out, but all parties got what they wanted out of the deal. Tampa Bay accomplished its goal of whittling payroll in preparation for a youth movement. McGriff, who, LaMar says, volunteered two months ago to waive his no-trade clause if Tampa Bay could swing a deal that interested him, parachuted into a pennant race and assured himself freedom to play where he wants for the next two years. As for the Cubs, they got a much-needed power hitter to prop up a weak lineup and to protect Sammy Sosa. " McGriff could have a big impact on the Cubs, because he'll see a lot more fastballs in the National League," says one scout. "He gives them a legitimate middle-of-the-order guy to pair with Sosa. Plus now they can move Matt Stairs [from first base] back to the outfield, where he belongs."

Entering Sunday's game, in which McGriff made his debut as a Cub by going 1 for 3 with one RBI in a 7-5 win over the Cardinals, Chicago had a four-game lead over the Astros in the National League Central but had the league's fifth-worst offense (4.5 runs per game). Sosa had been intentionally walked 27 times, the most in the majors. Meanwhile, McGriff was on track to have one of the most productive seasons of his 16-year career, which was why the Cubs were willing to wait—and pay heavily—for his services. "The more we evaluated," MacPhail said last Friday, "the more it became clear to us that this was our best option."

Reshaping the Rockies
Trades to Build For the Future

While the Rockies were riding to the airport in San Francisco to catch a flight for Los Angeles last week, they were jolted by the impact of their team bus hitting an overhead obstruction. The collision sent bits of windshield flying onto seats in the front row. Among those hit by the glass was righthander Pedro Astacio, who at the time was the subject of much trade speculation. No one was hurt, but given the club's luck this year, it would have shocked no one had Astacio suffered a freak injury a few days before the July 31 trade deadline. "When everything's going wrong, even the team bus goes bad," says general manager Dan O'Dowd.

Through Sunday the Rockies had lost 29 of their last 37 games and were buried in the cellar of the National League West, 16� games behind the first-place Dodgers. Only seven months after the Rockies had dropped $172.5 million on two free-agent pitchers, lefthanders Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle, Colorado was one of the most active players in the trade market, sprinkling pieces of its roster across the majors like shards of glass. "It concerns me and a few other veterans, too," says All-Star rightfielder Larry Walker.

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