WHAT A SALARY DRIVE
The brilliant season of leftfielder Rickey Henderson has been lost in the Athletics' plunge into the cellar of the American League West. Leave it to the temperamental Henderson to be riding high when the team is struggling. At week's end he was tied for third in the league in hitting (.327), second in on-base percentage (.469), tied for sixth in runs scored (70) and fifth in steals (29). He also led Oakland in home runs, with 16.
Since the All-Star break Henderson had 18 hits in 39 at bats (.462), including three doubles and four home runs. After watching him hit two homers in Boston last Thursday, Oakland manager Tony La Russa said he had seen Henderson in hot streaks before, but "he's on a higher level now. He can put a team over the top."
A contender, that is. Henderson would make the Red Sox the clear favorite to win the American League Hast. The same would apply if he were with the Yankees or the Blue Jays, even though both those teams need a pitcher more than an outfielder. Henderson is simply one of the top five players in baseball. He can hit any pitcher, he manufactures a run or two a game, and, at 34, he is in remarkably good shape. La Russa figures Henderson can play five or six more years.
But because he can be a free agent after this season, 1993 might be Henderson's last year in Oakland. He says he wants to stay with the A's, but he wants a huge contract even more. Look for Henderson to follow the big money, and it isn't likely to be in Oakland, which is on a tight budget.
If the A's don't think they can afford Henderson, it would make sense for them to trade him to a contender for the stretch run. That, however, could get complicated. First, Henderson would want a big chunk of money from Oakland just to waive the no-trade clause in his contract. Then he would want his new team to extend his contract four or five years.
BIDS NOW BEING TAKEN
Two National League pitchers might wind up settling the American League divisional races, depending on which contenders can strike a deal before the trading deadline passes on Saturday. Rival general managers have been playing a high-stakes poker game, each waiting to see if one of his counterparts makes a move for these starters:
? Dennis Martinez, Expos. The Blue Jays, Orioles, Royals, White Sox and Yankees are among the teams who have expressed interest in Martinez. He is eligible for free agency after the season and is expected to leave Montreal. Expo general manager Dan Duquette says he's leaning toward keeping Martinez and getting two draft choices as compensation when Martinez goes the free-agent route. A Montreal source says it's "99 percent sure" that Martinez won't be traded.
? Tim Belcher, Reds. He too can be a free agent after the season. The White Sox won't part with any of their top pitching prospects ( Jason Bere, Scott Ruffcorn and Jim Baldwin), killing a possible deal with Cincinnati. The Mariners, Rangers and Yankees have approached the Reds about Belcher, who has already cleaned out his locker expecting a trade.