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Rene Gonzales, utility infielder for the Rangers, says that
teammate Juan Gonzalez "can be the most dominant player in
baseball...if he wants to be." The rap on Gonzalez has always
been that it wasn't clear what he wanted to be. Now, it seems,
he has decided in favor of being that dominant player. Instead
of jogging to first base on ground outs, he's running out every
ball. Instead of playing rightfield as if it were mined, he's
playing it aggressively. Instead of chasing bad pitches,
especially early in the count, he is much more patient at the
plate. Instead of trying to pull every ball 500 feet, he's using
the whole field. Instead of being a loner off the field, he's
outgoing, happy, a team guy.

Last week Gonzalez finished off one of the best months of all
time: He led the major leagues in batting (.407), homers (15,
tying Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg and Joe Adcock for the most
homers ever in July) and RBIs (38), the most in one month by an
AL player since Cecil Cooper had 39 in July 1983. Through
Saturday, Gonzalez was hitting .336 with 33 homers and 99 RBIs
despite having missed 25 games earlier in the season because of
a torn left quadriceps muscle. "Scouts tell me that they've
never seen anyone locked in like Juan has been," says Rangers
special assistant to the general manager Sandy Johnson. "He has
been amazing."

Gonzalez has always had the talent to do what he's doing now;
he's only 26 years old and hit his 200th career homer last week,
making him the 10th-youngest player to reach that plateau. But
he has matured tremendously in the last year, mostly after
attending a religious retreat in his native Puerto Rico last
November. "I learned that when you have God inside you, you have
peace of mind," he says. "I'm finally relaxed in my mind." Now,
Gonzalez says, he doesn't feel he has to win the home run title
to please the fans from Puerto Rico. Now he doesn't bring his
off-field distractions to the park. Now he's working in the
community in Arlington, often taking groups of underprivileged
and problem kids for pizza and talking to them about how to cope
with life's problems. Meanwhile, American League pitchers are
having a hard time coping with the game's hottest hitter.


Last week's flurry of trades showed how the July 31 trading
deadline is supposed to work, with frenzied general managers
trying to make that one last deal to push their team over the
top. "I didn't leave my office for 48 hours," says Indians
general manager John Hart. His Rangers counterpart, Doug Melvin,
who traded for Red Sox reliever Mike Stanton less than five
minutes before the midnight (EDT) deadline, says, "It was neat.
We ordered out pizza. Every G.M. I called on his private line
picked up. It's the only time I didn't get their voice mail."

The most active traders were the division leaders, some of whom
were trying to ensure themselves a playoff spot while others
were looking ahead to probable postseason matchups. And then
there were the Indians, who may have been looking beyond this
year's playoffs to next year.

The Padres, who are attempting to hold off the Dodgers and the
Rockies in the National League West, made the biggest splash,
sending three prospects--sinkerballer Bryce Florie and
hard-throwing lefthander Ron Villone, and an outfielder, Marc
Newfield--to the Brewers for outfielder Greg Vaughn, who had 31
home runs when the deal was made. (No player with more than 22
homers had ever been traded in midseason.) Vaughn will play left
for his new team, and Rickey Henderson, a career leftfielder,
will play right until Tony Gwynn comes off the disabled list in
mid-August. Then look for Henderson to be traded.

Milwaukee got the best of the deal, according to many
executives. Hart even called it "lopsided" in the Brewers'
favor. But you have to admire the boldness of the new Padres
management. It knows the only way to survive in San Diego is to
win, so general manager Kevin Towers acquired the best power
hitter available to fill the team's most glaring weakness. In
recent years San Diego has dealt high-priced veterans for young
players, but this trade sent a strong message to Los Angeles,
which then made a deal to get centerfielder Chad Curtis from the
Tigers. And the Padres say they want to sign Vaughn, who can be
a free agent after the season and reportedly wants a three-year
contract in the $18 million range. "The next two years are vital
to the existence of this organization," says Towers. "The fans
are coming back now [attendance is up 80% over last year, the
best improvement in baseball], and we said in spring training
that if we needed someone in late July or August to improve our
club, we'd do it."

The Yankees had a different agenda when they sent DH-outfielder
Ruben Sierra and minor league pitcher Matt Drews to Detroit for
Cecil Fielder, who will be New York's full-time DH. The Yanks
were 10 games ahead in the American League East when they made
the deal, but they desperately needed a righthanded bat,
considering that they're 15-16 in games started by opposing
lefties. Fielder, 32, has been begging for a trade to a
contender for two years and is thrilled to be finally playing
for a winner. The downside is that Darryl Strawberry, who had
been the designated hitter, now has to play leftfield on a
regular basis. That could be a disaster.

The Indians deal that sent infielders Carlos Baerga and Alvaro
Espinoza to the Mets for infielders Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino
was a little harder to figure at first glance, but sources in
Cleveland say Baerga's play at second had slipped so badly that
something had to be done. "His defense was killing us," said one
member of the Indians organization. Cleveland felt that Baerga,
who was an All-Star in 1992, '93 and '95, had become too
interested in the glamour that comes with being a star and had
stopped putting in the necessary work to maintain his skills.
The Cleveland brass had several meetings with Baerga on this
subject, and he would work a little harder for a couple of days
and then get lazy again. Baerga had his own bodyguard this year,
often took limousines instead of the team bus from the hotel to
the ballpark and was seen talking on his cellular phone instead
of taking extra ground balls or extra hitting. At the time of
the trade he was last statistically among American League second
basemen on both defense (with a .971 fielding percentage) and
offense (with a .267 batting average). "This will be a wake-up
call for him," says one teammate. "It wasn't going to happen
here." Meanwhile, by dealing Baerga's salary ($4.7 million a
year for two more seasons), the Indians now can make a run at
Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, who might be a free agent
after this season.

It's rare to see such long-term thinking these days. Two weeks
ago the Reds were seven games out of first place and planning to
trade pitchers John Smiley and Mark Portugal, among others. But
a hot streak got them within three games of first, and instead
Cincinnati acquired Kevin Mitchell from the Red Sox for two
minor leaguers. The Orioles and the Cubs also backed off deals
after winning a few games, again proving how teams today often
operate in a week-to-week, even game-to-game mode.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Gonzalez had a big bat and a rep for being a lone Ranger. Now he's a team guy who's hitting harder than ever. [Juan Gonzalez]

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH The Padres' pickup of Vaughn for the stretch could cost Henderson his job. [Greg Vaughn and teammate]


Time will tell whether the Padres gave up too much to get Greg
Vaughn from the Brewers, but when a team deals prospects, it
takes a chance of being second-guessed later. Here are the five
most debated deadline deals of the last 10 years and how they
worked out.


In 1987 the Tigers sent Alexander went 9-0 and
P John Smoltz to the Braves Detroit won its division,
in exchangefor P Doyle but Smoltz has since
Alexander. averaged 12 wins a year.

In '88 the Yankees traded, Phelps hit .224 with 10 homers
essentially, OF Jay Buhner for the fifth-place Yanks,
to the Mariners in exchange while Buhner has since
for DH Ken Phelps. slugged 197 homers for Seattle.

In '89 Rangers sent OF Sammy Baines hit .285 and Texas
Sosa, P Wilson Alvarez and finished fourth; at week's
IF Scott Fletcher to White end Sosa, now a Cub, had 37
Sox, mainly for DH Harold HRs and Alvarez had 13 wins.

In '90 the Red Sox dealt Andersen allowed three runs
minor league infielder in 22 innings as Boston made
Jeff Bagwell to the Astros the playoffs, but Bagwell
for long reliever Larry turned into an All-Star.

In '93 the Padres sent 1B McGriff has been the most
Fred McGriff to the Braves potent bat on a perennial
for OF Melvin Nieves, P pennant winner; only Nieves
Donnie Elliott and OF Vince has really made it in the bigs.