Having scored fewer runs than every other AL team but the Tigers and the Indians at the time, the White Sox kicked off a buyer's trade market on June 30 by getting two veteran switch-hitters: second baseman Roberto Alomar from the Mats and outfielder Carl Everett from the Rangers, Chicago gave up only minor leaguers, none of whom are major league-ready, and assumed only a fraction of the millions of dollars owed Alomar and Everett. With budgets strained, noncontenders are likely to throw in cash to sweeten deals before the July 31 trading deadline. Here's a look at some of the top talent in an overall mediocre market:
The Giants, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Cardinals and Braves are looking for help. The Orioles' Sidney Ponson is the prize, with teammate Jason Johnson and the Marlins' Mark Redman drawing interest. The Pirates' Kris Benson can also be had.
The Yankees, Mariners, Blue Jays and Cardinals need to bolster their bullpens, The Rangers' Ugueth Urbina and the Mets' Armando Benitez are top-shelf. The Pirates' Mike Williams, the Giants' Felix Rodriguez and the Dodgers' Paul Shuey and Guillermo Mota are also drawing interest.
Unless the Marlins change their minds and deal third baseman Mike Lowell, the Cubs, Dodgers, Expos, Royals and A's have little to choose from. The Mets' Jeromy Burnitz, the Devil Rays' Ben Grieve and the Cardinals' J.D. Drew are the best of the bunch.
Though Juan (I Love Texas) Gonzalez used his no-trade clause to kill a deal that would have sent him to Montreal last month, the Rangers haven't abandoned their effort to trade the free-agent-to-be. They have told Gonzalez, 33, they want to look at youngsters Mark Teixeira, Kevin Mench and Ryan Ludwick in the outfield, which could cost Gonzalez at bats. The A's, Diamondbacks and Dodgers have interest in Gonzalez, especially with Texas willing to pick up most of his contract. Meanwhile, Rangers general manager John Hart is peddling Gonzalez, Urbina, pitchers Ismael Valdes and John Thomson, and even first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who could wind up in Montreal.
Got milk? Major league teams are eating money like cereal this year. Kevin Young ($3,25 million) became the sixth player released in 2003 with more than $3 million left on his contract when the Pirates last week paid him what was left of a four-year, $24 million deal. The others were Damian Easley (a record $143 million) by Detroit, Greg Vaughn ($9.25 million) by Tampa Bay, Matt Williams ($6.6 million) by Arizona, Jeffrey Hammonds ($5 million) by Milwaukee and Todd Van Poppel ($475 million) by Texas.
Clubs released 24 players through June, which was in line with numbers from the same point last year (22) and in 2001 (24). However, those teams ate $57 million worth of contracts, almost double the amount last year ($30.3 million) and in 2001 ($30.2 million).
"These guys signed contracts in a different era," said one G.M. "What's happening is, G.M.'s are going to their owners and saying, 'I can't move him. The guy's an albatross.' It's no different than businesses writing off losses in tough times, saying, let's take the loss and move on."