Mondesi loves the look of himself in pinstripes

ON THE AL EAST

July 07, 2002

Sitting in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium in April, wearing Toronto blue and a solemn look, Raul Mondesi mentioned how much he would love to be a Yankee someday.

Having cut his teeth in the Los Angeles Dodgers' organization, Mondesi was aching to be back in the spotlight again, away from the sterile confines of SkyDome, where the Blue Jays have drawn mostly miserable crowds for years.

Mondesi even hinted that Baltimore and Camden Yards would be a nice fit.

"I need fans," Mondesi said.

Last week, he got his wish.

Looking to unload payroll, the Blue Jays sent him to the New York Yankees for Scott Wiggins, 26, a Double-A left-handed reliever. Toronto agreed to pay $6 million of Mondesi's $13 million salary for next season, figuring they would still save themselves about $12.5 million over the remainder of the contract.

Once again, it looked like a case of the rich getting richer. The Yankees have won four consecutive American League pennants, and their payroll just expanded to $135 million.

"Look at the contract; it's a no-brainer," said Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner. "Where else can you get an All-Star for what we're going to owe him the next two years?"

Mondesi hasn't been an All-Star since 1995. At the time of the trade, he was batting just .224. But he still has a cannon arm, and his 15 home runs show he still has plenty of pop in his bat.

The Yankees had to answer those clubhouse chemistry questions again. Mondesi had his problems with former manager Davey Johnson and general manager Kevin Malone - the former Orioles duo - when they were all in Los Angeles, and he recently criticized Blue Jays manager Carlos Tosca after getting benched for being 10 minutes late to a meeting.

"Ten minutes is like 10 years," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "But I don't want to get into that. It didn't happen here."

Torre offered Mondesi a clean slate. Having been traded to Toronto for Shawn Green, Mondesi never lived up to his billing there. But he also never felt at home, as he did in L.A.

Mondesi has a brother and sister who live in New York, along with several friends of the family. Basically, the Yankees took another chance, setting themselves up for more criticism about their payroll, on the hunch Mondesi might experience a rebirth.

"Putting on the pinstripes and being in first all of a sudden gives you a little poke in the rear end," Torre said. "I've always been a Raul Mondesi fan. Hopefully, the move to New York will put him on a little bit of a spark."

In his first two games at Yankee Stadium, Mondesi went 3-for-6 with a home run and two RBIs. Something tells us, the Yankees got this one right, too.

Will Delgado be next?

Since the end of last season, the Blue Jays have unloaded Mondesi, shortstop Alex Gonzalez, designated hitter Brad Fullmer, second baseman Homer Bush, closer Billy Koch and relievers Paul Quantrill, Dan Plesac and Pedro Borbon.

Carlos Delgado has a no-trade clause and loves Toronto, but the Blue Jays might be willing to move him if another team pays some of the $45 million he has remaining on his contract.

"I think [the Mondesi deal] put a stop to everything," Delgado said. "That's my guess. But, if they come to talk to me, then I'll worry about it. In the meantime, I'm staying put. I signed because I wanted to stay in Toronto."

Ricciardi's out clause

Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi has a clause in his contract that allows him to leave as long as he waits six months before joining another team. Ricciardi is a Boston native, and there has been speculation he would bolt for the chance to replace interim Red Sox GM Mike Port.

Trying to quash those rumors, Ricciardi told the Toronto Star: "When I signed on for three years, I committed myself to three years. I'd really like that message to get out there. I have a job to do, and it isn't finished. I don't plan on going anywhere. This whole thing has taken on a life of its own, and I wish I could stop it because I'm not leaving."

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