Sunday, June 25, 2000

NL INSIDER


Another fire sale in Florida likely

By Chris Haft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Reds fans need to realize that it could be worse — much worse. They could be rooting for the Florida Marlins.

        It was bad enough the Marlins dismantled their talented but expensive roster after winning the 1997 World Series. Speculation has been rampant that they'll have to strip-mine their roster again, despite their meager $20 million payroll and inability to climb consistently above .500.

        With as many as eight players becoming eligible for salary arbitration at the end of the season, it's believed that the Marlins might have to cast off some of their attractive young stars if a plan for a new stadium isn't in place.

        Rumors became so pervasive and negative that manager John Boles, who doesn't deserve to be concerned with such matters, felt compelled to ease the minds of fans and players alike.

        “Please feel comfortable, because this team is going to be kept intact,” Boles said. “Any decision that our general manager (Dave Dombrowski) makes will be in the best interest of this organization from a player-only standpoint, not financial. We are not going to lose players because they're arbitration-eligible — period. We are in the business of getting better, and the people who are saying these things are wrong.”

        Marlins owner John Henry hasn't been as definitive as Boles. Perhaps Boles was expressing his views more than the organization's.

        “If we start getting rid of players because they're arbitration-eligible, we might as well hang a shingle on the door that says, "Out of business,'” Boles said.

        AVAILABLE "UNIT': Starting the All-Star Game in Atlanta doesn't exactly fit in with Randy Johnson's schedule. But still there is the possibility of a Big Unit-Pedro Martinez matchup.

        Though Johnson is expected to pitch for the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 9, the left-handed ace said he might have enough resilience to make a token appearance two days later against the AL All-Stars and Martinez, their likely starter.

        “There's no reason I couldn't pitch an inning,” Johnson said. Then he added: “I haven't made the All-Star team, so I don't intend to answer things that aren't there yet. I'll just worry about it when the time comes.”

        Sure, Randy. Leading the NL in wins, ERA, complete games, innings, shutouts (tied) and opponents' batting average might not get you on the squad.

        But seriously, if Johnson feels that his valuable arm can't handle the strain of facing the AL, he won't do it. He usually plays long-distance catch two days after a start and refines his pitching mechanics three days later.

        “It's more important to be healthy and start every fifth day. That's the big picture,” he said.

        CUB COMMODITIES: Those rampant Sammy So sa trade rumors haven't ended speculation about right-hander Ismael Valdes and outfielder Henry Rodriguez, two other Chicago Cubs management would like to dump.

        Valdes has attracted significant interest from the Reds and other teams, though he had won just once in eight starts before Saturday. They're seduced by the obvious talent he flashed from 1995-99 with Los Angeles. They should be more concerned with his numerous injuries and his reputation for being soft.

        Rodriguez would be a salary dump. He's earning $4.5 million with an option for $5.2 million plus a $600,000 buyout for next year. After averaging 90 RBI for the last four seasons, his production and desire appear to be dwindling.

        “I talked to him a few weeks ago and he said that, inside, he's not lazy, which is the appearance that he portrays,” Cubs manager Don Baylor said. “He said it really matters to him that he does well.”

        WELCOME TO THE BIGS: Pat Burrell, the Philadelphia Phillies' brightest prospect, displayed his dazzling skills last week. He homered in the ninth inning off New York relief ace Armando Benitez to tie the score Tuesday evening at New York before the Phillies won in 10, then victimized Benitez again the next night for his first career grand slam. It capped a two-homer effort.

        But Burrell has struggled when he hasn't slugged. Entering Saturday, he was batting .231 with 40 strikeouts in 104 at-bats.

        “In the minor leagues, I usually hit for a pretty good average first and then for power,” said Burrell, the first overall pick in the 1998 draft. “It's been kind of the opposite here. I'd like to get on base more often.”

        Phillies manager Terry Francona preached patience. “I think when he gets a lot of at-bats and starts to know the pitchers, he'll have some really good stretches,” Francona said. “... I don't think he's going to be a guy who either hits home runs or strikes out.”OVER THE HUMP: The newest member of the Pittsburgh Pirates is Doug, a six-inch-tall plastic camel who serves as a good-luck charm.

        After the Pirates plummeted 10 games below .500, catcher Keith Osik decided to search for some sort of totem in Montreal, which happens to be a nice place to shop.

        “He said we needed an animal or mascot or something to get us going,” catcher Jason Kendall said. “So we walked into this hole-in-the-wall store and found Doug.”

        Why “Doug?”

        “Because we dug ourselves this big hole,” Kendall said. “He's the only one who can get us out of it.” Doug worked, at least temporarily. After the Pirates ended a four-game losing streak with a 2-1 victory at Montreal, infielder Abraham Nunez brought Doug onto the field for the postgame handshake.

       



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