Rangers, Tigers looking snake-bitten

ON BASEBALL

May 14, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Maybe it's a little early to draw any real conclusions, but the blockbuster, nine-player deal that sent two-time MVP Juan Gonzalez from the Texas Rangers to the Detroit Tigers looks like a major bust for both teams.

The Rangers found out last week that starting pitcher Justin Thompson - the key member of the six-player package they got in return - will not throw a single pitch for them this year, instead undergoing another shoulder operation in hopes of being healthy for spring training 2001.

The Rangers also got promising outfielder Gabe Kapler (on the disabled list after a slow start), infielder Frank Catalanotto (hampered by a groin injury), reserve catcher Bill Haselman (who seldom plays in place of Ivan Rodriguez) and reliever Francisco Cordero (the only bright spot at the moment) for a player who was one of the cornerstones of an outstanding offensive lineup.

If the Tigers got the long end of the deal, you might have trouble convincing them of that fact. Gonzalez has been in one of the deepest run-production slumps of his career. He has just nine RBIs in his first 34 games and seems wholly unsuited to the Tigers' new ballpark.

Of the three players the Tigers acquired, only middle reliever Danny Patterson is having a representative season so far. Reserve catcher Gregg Zaun was traded to the Kansas City Royals during spring training.

No doubt, both teams are displeased with the outcome, but no one in a position of authority has admitted the deal was a mistake. Rangers general manager Doug Melvin concedes that the early returns have been disappointing, but he insists that the deal cannot be evaluated over the short term.

"If you want to evaluate it after one month you could say that [it's a bust]," he told reporters recently. "But I don't think so. It's difficult to analyze a trade that was made for the future. We didn't trade a player we were going to have for one year for five players that we're going to have for one year. We traded for players that we're going to have for a few years."

That may be true, but the Rangers clearly traded down for the near term. The loss of Gonzalez has put a dent in the club's explosive offense. His absence is definitely a factor in the team's slow start.

The Tigers have to wonder if they would have been better off keeping Kapler, now that it seems obvious Gonzalez isn't going to replicate his Texas numbers in Detroit ... and probably isn't going to re-sign with the club at the end of the season.

He announced recently that he had cut off contract negotiations with the Tigers until the end of the year after balking this spring at a proposed $140million deal. Tigers GM Randy Smith still feels he has a chance to re-sign Gonzalez, but it seems more likely that he'll turn up in right field for one of the major-market clubs.

Scary thought for Orioles fans: He would be a very nice fit for the New York Yankees in 2001.

Juiced ball update

Several major-league pitchers have performed experiments to find out if there is a difference between the new "Bud Selig" baseballs being used this season and the AL and NL balls that were used during the 1999 season.

Toronto Blue Jays reliever Billy Koch sliced open one of the Selig balls and also a brand-new ball left over from last year. He removed the two cores and dropped each of them several times from the same height.

"The 2000 ball bounced a little higher - from two to four inches - every time," Koch said. "We [the Blue Jays pitchers] aren't scientists, but we're laughing at it. They [baseball officials] say they're doing all these tests and that the balls are the same, but they're not."

Rangers starter Kenny Rogers cut one of the new balls open to see if it had a "cork-cushioned center" like baseballs of old. He found a small rubber ball at the center and immediately concluded that something evil was afoot."This thing doesn't look like a cushioned-cork center to me," Rogers told a reporter. "It's a conspiracy against pitchers."

No comment

The decision by commissioner Selig to withhold any announcement of his ruling in the salary dispute between the Orioles and former general manager Frank Wren is inexplicable - and wrong-headed.

Selig chose not to make an announcement that he had ruled in favor of Wren in the long-running dispute, presumably to save Orioles owner Peter Angelos the embarrassment of being publicly repudiated by baseball's central office. It would seem to be more important for the commissioner to make a decisive ruling on the sanctity of a front office contract than to worry about the possible hurt feelings of the losing party in the dispute.

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