Players are called up after rosters expand from 25 players to 40 on Sept. 1 for a variety of reasons: to provide bench depth in a pennant race; as a reward for a productive minor league season; or, as was the case with Rollins, to gauge their development. This year a club's decision on whom to promote is complicated by the uncertainty over a new collective bargaining agreement. (The current one expires after the World Series.) Some teams are leery of promoting their top prospects because any player who ends the season on the 40-man roster would be ineligible to play in the minors next spring if there's an extended work stoppage in the majors. A call-up for a few at bats or innings in September could cost a prospect valuable playing time next year.
Third baseman Sean Burroughs, the best player in the Padres' system, and outfielder Joe Borchard, a future star in the White Sox organization, are two minor leaguers likely to be held back because of the looming labor situation. Here are four players who have been or will be called up and who bear watching:
? Josh Beckett, RHP, Marlins. As far as Florida's front office is concerned, there's nothing left for Beckett, 21, to accomplish in the minors. The Marlins' first-round pick in 1999, Beckett throws a fastball in the mid-90s and a knee-buckling curve, and he was a combined 14-1 with a 1.54 ERA and 203 strikeouts in 140 innings for the Class A Brevard County Manatees and the Double A Portland Sea Dogs this season. He was scheduled to make his first major league start on Tuesday against the Cubs. Even though he has fewer than 200 innings in the minors, Beckett was brought up because Florida believes the experience he gets this month will help him earn a spot in the rotation next spring. Says G.M. Dave Dombrowski, "You won't find many guys with better stuff."
? Carlos Pe�a, 1B, Rangers. A strong September showing by this slugger, a 1998 first-round choice, could force Texas to make a difficult decision regarding Rafael Palmeiro in the off-season. Pe�a, 23, has hit 20 homers or driven in 100 runs in each of his three full minor league seasons, and he was on a tear for Triple A Oklahoma as the season ended, having hit .342 with 12 homers from July 1 through Sunday. He's also excellent in the field and thus a logical candidate to take over for Palmeiro, whose range this year has been limited by sore knees. Problem is, Palmeiro isn't ready to become a full-time DH. "If taking time off from first base will extend my career, I'm all for it," says Palmeiro. "I just don't see the need for other experiments."
? Milton Bradley, OF, Indians. If cost-conscious Cleveland isn't able to retain centerfielder Kenny Lofton, a free agent after this season, Bradley, acquired from the Expos in July, is his heir apparent. A 23-year-old switch-hitter, he batted .222 in 109 games with Montreal over the past two seasons, but the Indians are smitten with his speed and above-average arm. Bradley also showed signs of offensive life for the Triple A Buffalo Bisons, for whom he had hit .263 with nine stolen bases in 30 games through Sunday.
? Kurt Ainsworth, RHP, Giants. San Francisco's top draft pick in 1999, Ainsworth, 22, was on last year's gold-medal-winning U.S Olympic team. The Giants' need for pitching to stay in the postseason race landed him in the big leagues last Saturday. Ainsworth was 10-9 with a 5.07 ERA for the Triple A Fresno Grizzlies.
Rocker Swap and Other Bad Trades
A few weeks ago Indians manager Charlie Manuel announced to reporters, "You can second-guess me all you want, but John Rocker is going to pitch. If John Rocker gets me fired, so be it."
With Cleveland cruising toward the American League Central title, Manuel's job seems safe, but the June trade that brought Rocker from the Braves for relievers Steve Karsay and Steve Reed has rightfully invited second-guessing. Through Sunday, Rocker had been awful: six losses, a 5.04 ERA, three blown saves in five opportunities and 20 walks in 25 innings. Karsay and Reed, meanwhile, had been mostly effective, if not spectacular, for Atlanta.
At least the Indians aren't alone—the Phillies have also seen a swap designed to strengthen their bullpen blow up in their faces. Just before the trade deadline Philadelphia sent lefthander Bruce Chen to the Mets for righthander Turk Wendell and lefty Dennis Cook, two battle-tested relievers who were to bring experience and reliability to the Phillies' playoff drive. Instead, both have struggled. Cook had a 6.35 ERA in 11 outings for Philadelphia; Wendell was 0-2 with a 9.75 ERA