The midsummer baseball trading season is in full swing as teams work against the July 31 trading deadline to either shore up potentially contending rosters or give up the ghost in favor of seasons down the line.
The New York Yankees have set the early pace, picking up outfielder David Justice from Cleveland, whose five-year run atop the American League Central appears to be over, and pitcher Denny Neagle from Cincinnati. Justice is hitting .242 with two homers and six RBIs in 10 games as a Yankee, and Neagle, a 20-game winner in 1997 who was 8-2 with a 3.52 ERA with the Reds, joins Joe Torre's rotation Tuesday.
The Yanks, who lead Toronto by half a game and Boston by two in the AL East, look like they've strengthened themselves nicely for a run for their third straight World Series championship.
The Neagle trade fuels the feeling that the Reds won't be a contender until 2003, when they'll have a new ballpark. The Reds got four minor leaguers for Neagle, including highly rated prospect Drew Henson, who might opt for a football career. Cincinnati will keep Ken Griffey Jr. under contract and maintain a solid roster. But tongues are wagging over how the Griffey-less Seattle Mariners have shot to the top of the AL West while the newly Griffey-ed Reds are languishing seven games behind St. Louis in the National League Central.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers can't seem to make their $90 million payroll pay dividends on the field. They're tied for third in the winnable NL West, five games behind the fading Arizona Diamondbacks, but they haven't shown much promise. Look for them to chase the Yankees into the nine-figure payroll range by the end of the month, especially with available high-priced talent such as Barry Larkin of the Reds, Mike Mussina of the Orioles and Curt Schilling of the Phillies.
THE MONEY ANGLE
While the Yanks were trading, commissioner Bud Selig released the findings of an 18-month study on baseball's economic stability. The blue-ribbon panel recommended that Major League Baseball share 40 to 50 percent of local revenues, create a 50 percent tax on payrolls above $84 million and push clubs to maintain a minimum payroll of $40 million. This from the socialist likes of former Sen. George Mitchell, conservative columnist George Will, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker and Yale president Richard Levin.
Colorado third baseman Jeff Cirillo spoke for most fans and owners, if not most players, when commenting on his signing of a four-year, $28.8 million contract extension: "To be able to be paid what I'm going to get paid is almost ridiculous," he said.