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Sunday, August 24, 2003
Updated: September 1, 6:55 PM ET
Players find pressure cookers
awaiting in Boston, New York

By Peter Gammons
Special to

Aug. 24

The Jeff Weaver deal was the right deal when the Yankees acquired him. So were Scott Sauerbeck, Scott Williamson and Jeff Suppan, as was Roberto Alomar when the Mets got him. "It can be different when they get to a New York or Boston because the experience isn't like anything else," one AL GM said. "I still think the Weaver deal was one of the best of the last three years, and there's no question the Red Sox did the best job at the deadline. Sometimes there's no way of knowing how someone will respond." And, remember, Brian Cashman once said that playing outside of the Northeast is "Club Med."

Jeff Suppan
Jeff Suppan has a 7.04 ERA since coming to Boston in a deadline deal with Pittsburgh.

The furor hit in Boston when on two consecutive nights, the revamped Red Sox bullpen was beaten by Oakland's mail-order special. With a 2-0 lead on Aug. 19, Sauerbeck walked two lefties, then Williamson surrendered a three-run homer. The next night Grady Little was reluctant to go to Sauerbeck and Byung-Hyun Kim blew a lead to a string of Oakland lefties.

"It's hard to gauge the impact of going from a small market non-contender to a Boston or New York in a pennant race," said Bob Tewksbury, who besides mentoring young pitchers in the Boston organization is working on his Master's in psychology with the hopes of following in the footsteps of noted sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman. "I think it's easier when a player moves in the offseason. This can be a big culture shock."

"I think what can happen is that everything speeds up for you," said Suppan, another of the Boston deadline acquisitions who had three rocky starts before beating Seattle on Aug. 22. "You overthrow, you try too hard. It's a matter of settling back into a routine. I love being back here in a race, but it's an adjustment."

During this homestand, several Red Sox players expressed concerns about the negativity of the local media as it responded to two losses to the A's that, at the time, left them two games under .500 since the All-Star break. "What players have to understand is that the fans are booing performance, not them personally," said Mets GM Jim Duquette, whose goal is to try to acquire players who can handle New York. "It's easy to say that, but when Robby Alomar sees the back page of the paper and it reads 'Rob-E' and he's a sensitive person, it's not easy." There was no way Duquette would trade Steve Trachsel at the deadline because he knows he can pitch in New York.

The Yankees this summer acquired Jeff Nelson, Jesse Orosco and David Dellucci, all of whom seemed assured of being able to handle New York, by experience or personality.

"There's another factor that can't be overlooked," said Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi, "and that's the difference in leagues. No, not the strike zone; that's no different. It's the lineups. Sometimes if a guy's been pitching in a National League small market without much pressure and he's thrown into the fire in the American League, he can get spooked by difference in the 7-8-9 holes. That to me is the biggest difference between the American and National leagues, and when a guy faces it for the for the first time, it can be a little scary."

Sizing up the money pool
There are general managers who predict that even with Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Sheffield and Miguel Tejada on the market that no player will approach a Jim Thome deal, in terms of average annual salary ($15 million) or length. One major agent doesn't buy that, but he does say no one will approach the last $17 million player, Jason Giambi. "What you will see," said one AL GM, "is that the era of the pitchers getting more than three years is over. Pat Gillick called that many, many years ago, and some teams fell in to the trap."

Vladimir Guerrero
Montreal Expos
287 .321 17 56 .415 .979

This is the way one club figures it: If one assumes that because of flat growth in the industry in 2003, that the Opening Day payroll dollars will be approximately the same in 2004 as they were in 2003 ($2,020,938,999). That means with $1,550,426,598 already allocated to players in 2004, less than $500,000,000 will be left for the remaining players

Understand, that includes:

  • Nearly 450 players yet to be signed currently on 25-man rosters;

  • 275 pre-arbitration players;

  • 40-man roster players who will be on option assignments.

    The total for non-arbitration and option assignment players is estimated at more than $120,000,000.

    That would leave approximately $350,000,000 for free agents. There are going to be more than 200 free agents. There will almost certainly be another 100 or more non-tenders.

    If one assumes that arbitration-eligible stars like Carlos Beltran and Javier Vazquez will get $10 million-$12 million and that the cream of the free-agent crop -- Kevin Millwood, Bartolo Colon, Kaz Matsui, Ivan Rodriguez, Tejada, Guerrero, Sheffield -- will average somewhere around $9 million. That's 25 percent of the pie for more than 300 players.

    The club then assumes that the next level of free agents -- Keith Foulke, Carl Everett, Greg Maddux, Andy Pettitte, Ugueth Urbina, Tim Worrell, Javy Lopez, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, Luis Castillo, Rich Aurilia, Shannon Stewart, Kelvim Escobar, Sidney Ponson and perhaps a significant non-tender candidate (Derrek Lee, Carlos Lee, Freddy Garcia, J.D. Drew, Doug Mientkiewicz) -- will average $4.5 million-$5 million. That could be close to another 25 percent of the cash.

    Assuming there are 175 free-agent roster spots available to the 300-plus free agents and non-tenders, the math tells you there isn't going to be a whole lot left over for the mad dash for roster spots come January.

    David Ortiz
    First baseman
    Boston Red Sox
    333 .276 18 67 .362 .915

    "Look at how successful Boston was in getting David Ortiz, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller and guys like that in January," said one general manager. "That's going to be the route most teams will take. Baltimore, San Diego, Los Angeles, the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox (for pitching, pitching and more pitching) will all have money to spend, but it's going to be a buyer's market."

    It will still be a market in which starting pitchers will not starve. With Roger Clemens retiring, Pettitte a free agent and warhorse David Wells heading to 41, the Yanks will likely have to bring back Pettitte to go with Mike Mussina, Jon Lieber, Jose Contreras and Weaver (?), and hit the market. Boston figures to spend most of its money on pitching. Having completely revamped the Rangers into a young, hungry team and restocked the farm system, John Hart has to get pitching. The Mets want another starter, and so do the Cardinals and, if Maddux leaves, the Braves, as well as the Padres, Blue Jays and Orioles.

    For example, some major players whose options likely won't be exercised: RHP Felix Rodriguez, LHP Gabe White, RHP Scott Sullivan, RHP Jose Mesa, RHP Andy Ashby, RHP Matt Mantei, RHP Rick Reed, 2B Fernando Vina, SS Jose Valentin, 1B J.T. Snow and OF Brian Jordan.

    Then come the major potential non-tenders: OF Drew, RHP Freddy Garcia, LHP Ted Lilly, RHP Tomo Ohka, C Michael Barrett, RHP Tony Armas, 1B Mientkiewicz, 2B Luis Rivas, 3B Adrian Beltre, RHP Jose Jimenez, OF Jay Payton, 1B Derrek Lee, OF Carlos Lee, RHP A.J. Burnett, 1B Brad Fullmer, 2B Adam Kennedy, 1B Robert Fick, RHP Jason Johnson, LHP Damian Moss, 2B Todd Walker, RHP Ryan Dempster.

    Charting the waiver wire
    Here is this midweek's list of players who were blocked this month when they were placed on waivers:

    Jason Johnson
    Starting pitcher
    Baltimore Orioles
    148.0 10-5 161 87 60 3.83

    AL: Brendan Donnelly, Ben Weber, Alfredo Amezaga, Jason Johnson, Kerry Ligtenberg, B.J. Ryan, Bartolo Colon, Tom Gordon, Esteban Loaiza, Wilfredo Ledezma, Carlos Beltran, Raul Ibanez, Runelvys Hernandez, Eddie Guardado, Shannon Stewart , Jeff Nelson, Nick Johnson, Arthur Rhodes, Lance Carter, Travis Harper, Joe Kennedy, Victor Zambrano, Aubrey Huff, Francisco Cordero, Todd Greene, Frank Catalanotto.

    NL: Stephen Randolph, Jason Marquis, Kent Mercker, Horacio Ramirez, Jung Bong, Chris Reitsma, Ray Olmedo, Brian Fuentes, Justin Speier, Mike Lowell, Juan Pierre, Octavio Dotel, Brad Lidge, Wilson Alvarez, Danny Kolb, Richie Sexson, Luis Ayala, Javier Vazquez, Orlando Cabrera, Jose Vidro, Vladimir Guerrero, Brandon Duckworth, Joe Beimel, Kip Wells, Jim Brower, Jesse Foppert, Jerome Williams, Tim Worrell, Jose Cruz Jr.

    Wilson Alvarez. Wow.

    Some that got through that shocked me: Scot Shields, Danys Baez, John Thomson, Kelvim Escobar, Orlando Hudson, Mike Bordick, Luis Vizcaino, Mike DeJean, Livan Hernandez, Tomo Ohka.

    News and notes
    Bob Melvin is as conscious of on-base percentage as any GM, and proudly points to the number of Mariners with OBP over .350. "But," said Melvin, "I don't think you can ever overlook defense. There are too many plays late that determine games that are decided by defense." Going into Sunday, the M's had allowed just 27 unearned runs, compared to their chief competitors: Yankees 46, A's 50, Red Sox 61. Brian Anderson alone had allowed 27 unearned runs, a bad sign. Melvin plans to play Carlos Guillen at third with Rey Sanchez at short now that Guillen is coming back. ... Boston tried to get the Blue Jays to give up Mike Bordick for the stretch, but Toronto wants him back. Now their alternative is Fernando Vina. ... Jose Guillen has told the A's he'd like to sign a three-year deal and stay in Oakland. "This is a great team, a great place to play," said Guillen. "I've been through a lot the last few years, between injuries and situations. I've tried to work very hard to get back, with the help of Jose Rijo. I have my own personal trainer. Then in Cincinnati, well, it was not good. They lied to me. One day Bob Boone pulled me out of the lineup 30 minutes before game time and told me he was told to by the front office. It wasn't good." ... When one watches Russ Ortiz's smoothed delivery and the comeback of Mike Hampton, it is testament to how remarkable Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone are as developers of talent. That organization is so stable that Kent Mercker can return eight years later to the same manager and pitching coach. Although they still need another middle power reliever. ... "No GM has worked any harder this season than Ken Williams," said one of his AL counterparts. "Robby Alomar, Carl Everett, Scott Schoeneweis and Scott Sullivan were all significant acquisitions." Not to mention Bartolo Colon and Esteban Loiaza during the offseason. ... George Steinbrenner called into a Boston telethon for The Jimmy Fund, and when he was told that his former neighbor -- and legendary broadcaster -- Ken Coleman had passed away, pledged $10,000. A few minutes later Bud Selig called in and donated $20,000.