OAKLAND, Calif. -- It wasn't the biggest trade that went down all week, but the deal that sent Jose Cruz Jr. to the Toronto Blue Jays for relievers Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric might -- over the long haul -- turn out to be the most significant.
No, not because it solidifies the Seattle Mariners' bullpen and puts them into better position to hold off the Anaheim Angels in the American League West. The Mariners were going to win anyway.
The deal is going to be long-remembered because it was the deal that turned around the Toronto Blue Jays.
Cruz could be one of the best outfield prospects of the decade. He came up to the major leagues this year and flashed his substantial talent and figured to be in the Mariners' outfield for the next five or six years, but the Mariners' front office panicked when the bullpen stopped closing out games and the Angels started closing in.
The Mariners pulled off back-to-back deals that left them with a pair of closers. Soon after picking up Timlin, who isn't exactly Lee Smith in his prime, they acquired Heathcliff Slocumb from the Boston Red Sox for another big prospect, catcher Jason Varitek, in a head-scratcher of a deal that may have left their bullpen too crowded and their minor-league system a little thin.
But enough about the Mariners. They'll be back in the news when Slocumb blows a two-run save opportunity in the fifth game of the Division Series. The Blue Jays suddenly look like next year's breakthrough team.
Cruz is the latest in a series of acquisitions that has accelerated the rebuilding program that the Blue Jays undertook after
winning back-to-back world titles in 1992-1993. If he is the player everyone thinks he is, he could provide the offensive boost the Jays need to become a serious threat to the Orioles and New York Yankees in the AL East.
Manager Cito Gaston was saying a few weeks ago that his club was just a couple of hitters away from being a strong contender. The Blue Jays will return next year with Roger Clemens, Pat Hentgen and -- they hope -- a healthy Juan Guzman at the heart of their starting rotation. Cruz joins a group of good, young hitters that already includes slugger Carlos Delgado and outfielder Shawn Green, and a contingent of veterans that includes Joe Carter, Orlando Merced, Otis Nixon and Ed Sprague.
General manager Gord Ash still has some work to do. He must reconstruct the bullpen and deepen both the starting rotation and the offensive lineup. But it isn't a pipe dream anymore.
If the Blue Jays were willing to spend more than $8 million a year on Clemens last winter, they probably are going to be willing to spend $4 million on Randy Myers or some other dependable veteran closer during the next off-season. Then it would just be a matter of finding someone to compete with Erik Hanson for the fourth spot in the rotation and adding some bullpen depth.
It could happen.
Black Sox II
Orioles assistant general manager Kevin Malone was right on the money when he ripped into Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf for tearing up a contending club and trading away Wilson Alvarez, Roberto Hernandez and Danny Darwin. If there were any justice in the world, Comiskey Park would be empty the rest of the season.
Reinsdorf and Florida Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga fueled the latest spike in baseball's salary spiral with a six-month spending spree that raised the level of pay for top stars more than 20 percent. Now, both of them have waved a financial flag of surrender.
Huizenga put his team up for sale because of mounting losses, and Reinsdorf put his team out to pasture while it still was within striking distance of the division-leading Cleveland Indians.
Malone, and others, raise a legitimate question. What are baseball fans supposed to think when they plunk down thousands of dollars for season tickets? They should think twice, because Reinsdorf again has proved that -- in baseball -- you don't necessarily get what you pay for.
Doing the right thing
The Orioles may have been "a little disappointed" that they could not complete a deal for pitching help by Thursday night's trading deadline, but they shouldn't be. The club is good enough to win as configured and the acquisition of anyone but a front-line starter would have created more problems than it would have solved.
General manager Pat Gillick should be applauded for setting the limits that the organization would go to acquire help, then sticking to them. The price for a veteran the caliber of left-hander John Smiley would have been too high.
If the Orioles could have gotten an ace like Curt Schilling for a couple of top prospects, that would might been different, but the club has enough starting pitching to get to the postseason and may have enough to get through it without mortgaging the future.
Bay area tug-of-war