Sunday, July 27, 2003

Pirates' dismantling doesn't make sense


They shouldn't have needed to dump salaries

Enquirer news services

As the July 31 trading deadline approaches, the Pirates have all but clinched the Marlins Memorial Fire Sale Award, named in dishonor of the speed and efficiency with which former Marlins owner H. Wayne Huizenga dismantled his 1997 World Series-winning club.

In three dizzying days, general manager Dave Littlefield got rid of his closer (Mike Williams), leadoff hitter (Kenny Lofton), cleanup hitter (Aramis Ramirez) and top left-handed reliever (Scott Sauerbeck). And all indications are that he's still eager to do more. All offers considered! Everything must go!

And why is Littlefield doing this? "The ultimate goal is to win a World Series," he solemnly intoned.

Well, of course it is. But fans aren't stupid. The immediate goal obviously is to dump salaries. And while that's become an accepted practice for teams out of the running at this time of the year, there are a few problems with what's happening in Pittsburgh.

For one thing, the Pirates were one of the teams that was supposed to be able to compete with a new stadium and increased revenue sharing. Beautiful PNC Park opened in 2001. The new labor agreement that averted a strike last season included provisions for sharing the wealth more evenly.

And moving veterans like Williams, Lofton and Sauerbeck is one thing. All are over 30 and might not fit into the team's long-term plan.

Ramirez, however, just turned 25. And he's on track to have his second 100-RBI season in the last three years. Hmm. Sounds like a guy you could build around, doesn't it?

You have to wonder how many people in Pittsburgh still will be paying attention when and if the Pirates turn things around.

HOT STUFF: The Athletics and Mariners are said to be the teams most interested in getting Brian Giles from Pittsburgh, but agent Joe Bick said he hasn't been approached about having Giles waive his no-trade clause. He has to approve any deal unless it's to a National League West team or the Braves. If the Mariners decide they can't afford Giles, they could go after San Diego's Rondell White.

• The Rangers are said to be shopping pitchers Ismael Valdes, John Thomson, Ron Mahay and former Phillies centerfielder Doug Glanville, maybe pitcher Aaron Fultz and possibly even first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.

AROUND THE BASES: Marlins reliever Tim Spooneybarger, who has been on the disabled list since June 17 because of a sore elbow, hasn't spoken to manager Jack McKeon in weeks. He thinks McKeon has questioned if he's really hurt. "He's a general manager now. He's an orthopedic surgeon," Spooneybarger said. "He knows it all. This guy's going to tell me I'm not hurt?"

• Anaheim's Jarrod Washburn (8-10) is 2-5 in his last nine starts. "I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing on the mound right now," he said. "So I'm not going to lie and tell you I know how to fix it."

• Here's another reason why some hitters don't like to participate in the home run contest at the All-Star Game. Cardinals outfielder Jim Edmonds hurt a shoulder while competing this year and missed three starts as a result.

• Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson haven't pitched badly since coming off the disabled list but are a combined 1-3 for the Diamondbacks since then.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Royals reliever Curtis Leskanic, on an above-the-wall catch by Carlos Beltran to rob Seattle's Don Wilson of a homer last weekend: "I've been to two hog killings and a county fair and I haven't seen anything like that."

STAT OF THE WEEK: Yankees lefthander Andy Pettitte this week won his 12th game, a total he's reached in each of his first nine full seasons in the big leagues. That sounds like a modest feat, but consider: Cleveland's Stanley Coveleski was the last to do it. In 1926.

CHEERS: To Albert Pujols. The Cardinals' all-purpose slugger has reached 100 homers in his career, in just his third year in the big leagues. The only other hitters who got to 100 in their first three full seasons in the bigs are Hall of Famers: Joe DiMaggio, Eddie Mathews and Ralph Kiner.

JEERS: To Eddie Murray, who can't even be happy about being inducted into the Hall of Fame today. "Sometimes you look forward to it and sometimes you wish it was over with," he said earlier this week. "It can be a pain in the butt. Everyone means well, but you get mentally tired from it."

POP QUIZ: What do Casey Blake, Milton Bradley, Tim Laker and John McDonald have in common?

THE OTHER LEFTY: Barring a collapse, Florida's Dontrelle Willis should win the National League Rookie of the Year award. But Houston lefty Jeriome Robertson became the first rookie pitcher to win 10 games. He shut out the Padres for 7 1/3 innings Tuesday for his ninth consecutive victory, equaling the longest streak in the NL this season.

In the American League, Kansas City shortstop Angel Berroa has emerged as the leading rookie award candidate. The guy the Royals obtained from Oakland in the Johnny Damon deal in 2001 is hitting .286 with 12 homers going into Saturday's game with Detroit. More impressively, he entered the game with a streak of 33 consecutive errorless games after making 19 errors in his first 63 games.

"I know everybody talks about what a genius (A's general manager) Billy Beane is," one scout said. "But (Royals GM) Allard Baird absolutely robbed Beane. Berroa is one of the best young players in baseball. And the Royals got him as a throw-in for Johnny Damon? You have to be kidding me."

QUIZ ANSWER: Blake, Bradley, Laker and McDonald are the only non-rookie position players on the Indians' 25-man roster. With the recent addition of outfielder Ryan Ludwick and infielder Angel Santos, the Indians have 13 rookies on their 25-man roster.

"This is not a normal situation," said Eric Wedge, the rookie manager who was given a contract extension on Friday. "But with the injuries we have had to some veterans, and the way we are trying to speed up this rebuilding process, this is where we are right now."




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