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Baseball
Stephen Cannella
July 29, 2002
Hot CommodityThough he's coveted by contenders, Jim Thome's heart is still in Cleveland
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July 29, 2002

Baseball

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On the Block
With many teams looking to slash payrolls, here are the five players most likely to be dealt by the July 31 trade deadline:

PLAYER*

POS.

TEAM

SKINNY

Ellis Burks
(.277, 21 HR)

DH

Indians

Though productive, the 37-year-old Burks is due to make $6.5 million in 2003

Paul Byrd
(13-6, 3.66 ERA)

P

Royals

Can Kansas City afford to keep surprise AL wins leader and free-agent-to-be?

Kelvim Escobar
(18 saves, 4.79 ERA)

P

Blue Jays

Oakland could use a strong setup man for closer Billy Koch

Derrek Lee
(.266, 18 HR)

1B

Marlins

A likely fallback for Red Sox at first base if they can't land Thome

Randy Winn
(.317, 19 steals)

OF

Devil Rays

All-Star centerfielder Winn is Tampa Bay's most marketable player

*STATS THROUGH SUNDAY

Hot Commodity
Though he's coveted by contenders, Jim Thome's heart is still in Cleveland

As the July 31 trade deadline approaches, Indians first baseman Jim Thome looks like the hottest commodity on the market But whether or not he's likely to be moved remains unclear. Thome, whose 28 home runs ranked second in the American League at week's end, is a free-agent-to-be on a team that's dumping salary and rebuilding, and could tip the balance of power in several division races. But there's a catch: His contract includes a no-trade clause, and he says he's not interested in leaving. "He wants to stay," says Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro, "and we want to keep him."

The question for both sides is, Why? The cost-cutting Indians have little chance of re-signing Thome, 31, unless he accepts a huge hometown discount. Thome, who refuses to discuss his plans for next season, will probably seek $15 million to $17 million per year. Shapiro has begun a major renovation, and Cleveland won't be a contender until 2004 at the earliest. Last month he unloaded ace Bartolo Colon to the Expos for three top prospects and veteran Lee Stevens, and last Friday he sent lefthander Chuck Finley to the Cardinals for two minor leaguers.

Thome, meanwhile, would have a chance to join a team with postseason prospects, a change that might be especially welcome after recent developments in Cleveland. The day after the All-Star break, manager Charlie Manuel, whom Thome calls his "second father? was fired. Manuel had been Thome's manager or hitting coach since 1991. Last week another close friend of Thome's, assistant trainer Jimmy Warfield, died after suffering a brain hemorrhage.

Yet Thome still wants to stay with the Tribe. "I've played here a long time and loved playing here," says Thome, an extremely popular figure in Cleveland who has hit more homers (310 through Sunday) than anyone in franchise history. "The contract I signed carries an obligation, and I want to fulfill that obligation."

Despite the team's financial limitations—the Indians' $79 million payroll on Opening Day could be sliced to around $60 million by next season—Shapiro says he will try to re-sign Thome, who at week's end hadn't been asked to waive his no-trade clause. Although such a deal is still not out of the question, it is unlikely unless the Indians get a major-league-ready prospect in return. Boston, the contender with the most pressing need for Thome, has a near-barren farm system. The Braves also have a hole at first, but they were comfortably ahead in the NL East race and have little need to part with prized farmhands in order to rent a player for two months (or even less if there's a strike). The A's have been using light-hitting Scott Hatteberg at first, but they're not likely to part with valuable prospects for a player who won't fit into their budget next season.

In other words the most desirable commodity is likely to stay right where he is.

Minnesota's Dynamic Duo
Instant Relief From the Bullpen

One of the first things Twins manager Ron Gardenhire did when he replaced Tom Kelly last winter was make a call to the bullpen. First he rang Eddie Guardado, a workhorse who had earned the nickname Everyday Eddie as Minnesota's primary lefthanded setup man since 1995, and told him he was being promoted to closer. Then the new skipper left a message for lefthander J.C. Romero, who had struggled in the rotation over the past two years, and informed him that he would be filling Guardado's former role.

The moves have worked brilliantly for the Twins, who at week's end were 13 games ahead of the White Sox in the AL Central. Guardado, 31, was leading the league with 32 saves, two more than his total over his nine previous seasons, and was named to his first All-Star team. In his first stint as a full-time reliever Romero, 26, has been as effective and as tireless as Guardado. He led the majors with 54 appearances and had a sparkling 2.04 ERA. "He's kind of a raging bull," says Gardenhire of Romero. "He's going to be a closer someday."

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