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Archive for Sunday, July 27, 2003

Tip for trading deadline: Read fine print

Complicated contracts bog down many moves

July 27, 2003

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— The Atlanta Braves need a starting pitcher. The Baltimore Orioles have one they might no longer want.

The Oakland Athletics, the Seattle Mariners, the Florida Marlins -- about everybody, really -- would like to add a left-handed-batting outfielder. The Pittsburgh Pirates have one they would like to get rid of.

Seems pretty straight-forward, right -- supply and demand, all that stuff you learned in Econ 101?

Well, none of it holds in today's baseball environment, where general managers frequently have to negotiate a treacherous trail of no-trade clauses, no-term contracts, free agency and deferred income, any or all of which can derail even the simplest of deals.

So with Thursday's non-waiver trade deadline fast approaching, more than half of the 30 major-league general managers are working overtime to fine-tune the fine print on deals some of them have been discussing for weeks.

"Used to be you were just trading players," said Marlins manager Jack McKeon, who earned the moniker "Trader Jack" for the complicated deals he swung as general manager of the San Diego Padres in the 1980s. "Now, you're trading contracts."

Take the case of Pittsburgh's Brian Giles. A left-handed hitter batting over .300, he can play all the outfield positions well and has some power.

But he also has a no-trade clause and a contract that pays $16 million through 2006. So while the Pirates say a lot of teams are interested in Giles, Joe Bick, the player's agent, said no one has asked whether Giles would consider waiving his no-trade clause. And without that waiver, Giles can veto any deal except ones with Atlanta and the five teams in the National League West.

That might not be a problem because the favorites in the Giles sweepstakes are the Padres, who, for a last-place team, have been surprisingly aggressive in the run-up to the trade deadline. They have deals on the table that would rid them of pitcher Kevin Jarvis and outfielder Rondell White.

In an attempt to build interest for the club's move to Petco Field next season, the Padres have been talking to the St. Louis Cardinals about a J.D. Drew-for-Jarvis trade. Meanwhile, a number of teams, including the Mariners, have expressed interest in White.

The Pirates, who say they have lost $30 million since moving to PNC Park three years ago, also have been active, recently trimming $12.5 million from next year's payroll by trading relievers Scott Sauerback and Mike Williams, center fielder Kenny Lofton and third baseman Aramis Ramirez.

And they hope to save more by dealing pitcher Jeff Suppan and by including catcher Jason Kendall and the $42 million left on his contract in any deal for Giles.

That could complicate talks with the Athletics and Mariners, who are interested in Giles -- but not Kendall. The no-trade clause also could be a problem for those teams. As an alternative, the Mariners could go after White; the Athletics reportedly are interested in Texas' Juan Gonzalez, who has already used his no-trade clause to veto a deal with the Montreal Expos.

The Rangers are still heavily shopping Gonzalez, however, and are reportedly trying to move pitchers Ismael Valdes, John Thomson, Ron Mahay, outfielder Doug Glanville and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.

The Cardinals appear unwilling to part with Drew. That has already held up a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. But with Matt Morris back on the disabled list, St. Louis needs pitching, so it will continue talking to the Blue Jays about Kelvim Escobar and Cory Lidle, and to the Pirates about Kris Benson.

The Cardinals might have deal Drew for a pitcher if they stay in the pennant race.

The Braves, meanwhile, are the frontrunners for Baltimore's Sidney Ponson, who is tied for the major-league lead with 14 wins. Ponson is a free agent after this season, and the Orioles are making one last run at trying to work out a deal.

In the likely event that fails, Ponson could make his next start in another uniform.

While a number of deals are certain to get done this week, the passage of the deadline probably won't slow the trade talk much.

Beginning Aug. 1, a player must clear waivers before he can be traded. But if a club makes a waiver claim, they become responsible for his contract, meaning few teams will make a claim to block the Pirates from trading Kendall, for example.

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