If Delgado stays, Jays go into wild-card picture

ON BASEBALL

Baseball

November 28, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Toronto Blue Jays have unloaded potential MVP Shawn Green and former Cy Young Award winner Pat Hentgen during the past three weeks, but it would be foolhardy to assume that one of the Orioles' chief division rivals is downsizing again.

Of course, if the Blue Jays succeed in adding big-swinging first baseman Carlos Delgado to the list of departed stars, they will enter the 2000 season with limited offensive potential -- but there are indications that Delgado may remain.

"As far as I'm concerned, he's going to bat fourth behind [Raul] Mondesi," Jays manager Jim Fregosi told reporters recently.

The Jays have shopped Delgado around, but are encountering the same problem that has slowed the Seattle Mariners' efforts to deal superstar Ken Griffey. So far, no one wants to give up the kind of talent necessary to justify dealing such a productive player.

Delgado is one of the game's most dangerous hitters, but he plays a position (first base) that is not in high demand and he is viewed by some clubs as a potential candidate for full-time designated hitter duty. His pending free-agent eligibility and his desire for a top-of-the-market contract further complicate the Jays' efforts to get a sufficient package of talent in return.

Maybe it's just a ruse to raise his trade value, but speculation is growing that the club will improve on its five-year, $60 million contract offer and Delgado will decide to stay. If the deal were increased by an additional $6.5 million, he would equal Anaheim Angels first baseman Mo Vaughn for the highest average annual salary ($13.3 million) at his position.

If he remains, the Blue Jays figure to remain a viable wild-card contender, even though they have dealt away one of the cornerstones of the starting rotation.

Hentgen won the 1997 Cy Young Award, but he was a combined 23-23 the past two seasons. The deal opens a regular place in the starting rotation for promising Roy Halladay, who is expected to develop into a premier starting pitcher.

Fregosi defended the trade and disputed the notion that the Jays had sacrificed pitching depth to trim Hentgen's large salary.

"Last year, I used a pitcher that I thought was one of the best pitchers on this staff as the long man out of the 'pen most of the year," Fregosi said, "out of respect for the other players that were in the rotation at the time and Mr. Halladay needs to start every fifth day."

The Blue Jays figure to have a very representative rotation, especially if Joey Hamilton can bounce back from an injury-marred season. He and ace David Wells should provide leadership for a solid group of youngsters that includes Halladay, Chris Carpenter and Kelvim Escobar.

That is, if the Jays are serious about staying in the playoff hunt. If they keep Delgado and resist the temptation to deal Wells to the New York Mets, they will be well-positioned to make another bid for the American League wild-card berth.

Palmeiro's primary position

Former Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro isn't complaining about his fifth-place finish in balloting for the AL Most Valuable Player Award, but he's not going to take it sitting down.

Palmeiro told the Dallas Morning News recently that his failure to garner more support from MVP voters was directly connected to his inability to play first base last season. "It's not going to matter next year," he said. "I'm going to play first base for 162 games. I'm ready to do that."

His ability to play in the field was hampered by a knee injury that twice required surgery, but it didn't keep him from ranking second in the AL in both home runs and RBIs. There was talk of another operation to reduce inflammation in his right knee, but his off-season rehab program is going so well that he doesn't believe any further surgery will be necessary.

Neion Deion update

The Cincinnati Reds have confirmed that they are talking with Dallas Cowboys star Deion Sanders about another baseball comeback, but don't hold your breath.

It may be no coincidence that Sanders has expressed the desire to resume his baseball career at about the same time that it is becoming apparent that the Cowboys will void his $52.5 million contract extension at the end of the season to gain more flexibility under the NFL salary cap.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has indicated that he wants Sanders to concentrate entirely on football, but the baseball option may force Jones to keep his money where his mouth is.

Not giving up

Apparently, the Reds have not given up on acquiring Griffey, even though general manager Jim Bowden said earlier this month that he would have to break up his team to get a deal done. "We continue to have a dialogue on a regular basis," Bowden said.

No doubt, Bowden just wants to stay in the game in case the Mariners decide to lower their asking price.

The Reds may be hoping that the Mariners succeed in signing free-agent first baseman John Olerud and then drop their demand that budding Reds star Sean Casey be included in any package for Griffey. Stay tuned.

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