Everyone's waiting for Yanks to call

June 15, 2000|By KEN ROSENTHAL

The Orioles are sitting by the phone, waiting to hear whether the New York Yankees are still interested in B.J. Surhoff. Other teams are sitting by the phone, waiting to offer the Yankees pitching.

An entire sport is on hold, waiting to find out whether Sammy Sosa will join the team of Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle.

At first glance, the idea of the Yankees acquiring Sosa seems ridiculous, seeing as how it could push their payroll past $125 million in 2001 and $150 million in 2002.

But owner George Steinbrenner, still fuming over his front office's failure to trade for Jim Edmonds, might be thinking beyond baseball.

What could Sosa offer the Yankees?

A magnetic Latin star to appeal to New York City's huge Hispanic population.

A marquee name to boost the value of the team's next cable-television package just as the current deal is about to expire.

A major coup to upstage the two teams that concern Steinbrenner most, the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox.

The Mets probably would prefer to wait to make a play for potential free agent Alex Rodriguez at the end of the season.

But the Red Sox are deeply interested in Sosa, and apparently believe that they could offer the Chicago Cubs a better package than the Yankees.

The big question, of course, is whether the Cubs would even trade Sosa, the principal attraction on their own cable-television network.

On one hand, the Cubs still haven't recovered from the blunder of allowing Greg Maddux to sign with Atlanta as a free agent after the 1992 season.

On the other hand, Sosa is in the same position as Ken Griffey was a year ago - 1 1/2 years away from free agency, armed with a no-trade clause and seemingly disenchanted.

Do the Cubs want to offer a contract extension worth $18 million a season to a one-dimensional slugger who appears better suited for the American League?

Good question.

Would the Yankees' signing of Sosa to such a deal force Major League Baseball to finally address the disparity between high-revenue and low-revenue clubs?

An even better question.

With Sosa, the Yankees could have five players earning at least $70 million, assuming they extend Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and do the same with Roger Clemens, with whom they reportedly have a gentlemen's agreement.

Money often is no object to Steinbrenner, but the Red Sox appear in far better financial position to cut a deal with Sosa. What's more, they've got all of New England pleading with them to prevent the Yankees from adding another chapter to the "Curse of the Bambino."

Imagine Sosa, Carl Everett and Nomar Garciaparra in the same lineup. Imagine Sosa and Pedro Martinez on the same team, making Boston the honorary capital of the Dominican Republic.

There are just two problems.

Steinbrenner not only is known for getting what he wants, but also enjoys a cozy relationship with Sosa's agents, Adam Katz and Tom Reich.

Any proposed trade could easily fall apart - Clemens injured his groin yesterday, again forcing the Yankees to reconsider including right-hander Ramiro Mendoza in any package. But chances are, Mendoza wouldn't be a deal-breaker. And Steinbrenner could always order his baseball men to figure out something else.

Where does all this leave the Orioles?

Nowhere for now, as far a trade with the Yankees is concerned.

If the Yankees are merely concerned about baseball and payroll, they likely will settle for Surhoff. But if Steinbrenner indeed takes a larger view, not even Juan Gonzalez will satisfy his craving for a ratings and attendance blockbuster.

One possible Surhoff deal could be for outfielder Ricky Ledee and a minor-leaguer. Ledee, 26, might be the Yankees' version of Jeffrey Hammonds, a player who could blossom with another club. But unless the Yankees' offer included a solid pitching prospect, Ledee wouldn't be enough of a return.

The Orioles don't need to dump Surhoff; they should trade one of their best and most popular players only if they can get significant value in return.

Instead of Ledee, their principal target should be shortstop Alfonso Soriano, a dynamic offensive player with tremendous upside. If it took Surhoff and another player to land Soriano, so be it.

Of course, the Yankees still might balk.

They almost certainly would be willing to include Soriano in a trade for Sosa, along with third baseman Drew Henson, a University of Michigan quarterback who ultimately might decide to play in the NFL.

But if they don't acquire Sosa, they probably will prefer to keep Soriano. That way, they could use him in a possible trade for starting pitching, which probably is still their biggest need.

Surhoff, remember, turns 36 in August. He entered last night batting .247, the same as Ledee. And the Yankees could argue that he'll never match what he did in 1999.

For now, the question is on the backburner. For now, the Orioles are sitting by the phone, like every other club interested in trading with the Yankees.

An entire sport is on hold, waiting to find out whether the two-time defending world champions get Sammy Sosa.

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