Chan Ho Is Ho-hum
Dodger Chan Ho Park's fizzle could cost him big in the free-agent
Earlier this season agent Scott Boras predicted that one of his
clients, Dodgers righthander Chan Ho Park, would command a
contract worth $20 million per year on the free-agent market
this winter. Such a deal would make Park the highest-paid
pitcher in baseball, and that possibility essentially
transformed Park's season into a series of auditions for the
role of high-priced ace while he has tried to help pitch Los
Angeles into the playoffs. As the year winds down, however, Park
appears to be falling short on both fronts.
With 12 games to play, the Dodgers, who had lost seven of their
last nine, trailed the Diamondbacks by four games in the National
League West and the Cardinals by five in the wild-card race.
After starting 11-6 with a 2.85 ERA, Park had dropped to 13-11
and 3.30, and he had won only twice since the beginning of
Seven innings into his start against Arizona last Thursday, Park
left with stiffness in his pitching elbow. That followed a
disastrous relief outing three days earlier, in L.A.'s first game
after baseball's six-day hiatus in the aftermath of the terrorist
attacks. Park was summoned in the seventh of a 1-1 game against
the Padres and failed to retire any of the five hitters he faced.
He took the loss after getting booed off the mound at Dodger
That debacle sparked criticism from Boras of the way L.A. was
using Park, 28, and from others it rekindled the questions about
Park's tenacity and toughness that have dogged him through much
of his eight-year career. "Twenty million for a guy who's 20
games over .500 in his career?" scoffs one National League
advance scout, pointing to Park's 78-54 record. "That's exactly
what's wrong with this game."
"I don't think the Dodgers will make the same mistake they made
with [Darren] Dreifort," says one National League general
manager, referring to the five-year, $55 million deal L.A. gave
29-year-old righthander Dreifort to re-sign last winter.
Dreifort, another Boras client, was 4-7 with a 5.13 ERA before
undergoing surgery to repair a torn elbow ligament in early July;
he could be sidelined until the start of the 2003 season. "As for
the rest of the clubs, I don't think the money's out there."
Not that Park will want for suitors. He is still the cream of
what will be a thin crop of free-agent starters (chart). His
95-mph fastball and sharp curve are ace quality, and through
Sunday he was third in the National League in strikeouts (211)
and opponents' batting average (.212). Still, Boras may find the
going slow if he begins negotiations with the $20 million mark in
mind. "Park has the potential to be great," says Diamondbacks
manager Bob Brenly, "but he hasn't done what some others have."
Players Likely to Leave
Pack Up Your Cares and Woes
Six months ago the Reds approached Pokey Reese, their 28-year-old
second baseman, with an offer of a four-year, $21 million deal
that would have kept Reese, a two-time Gold Glove winner and an
accomplished base stealer, in Cincinnati through the prime of his
career. The Reds saw him as a core player in their plan to build
a contender in time for the opening of their new ballpark in
2003. How highly did the club think of Reese? He was the player
whom general manager Jim Bowden refused to part with to get Ken
Griffey Jr., a stance that nearly put the kibosh on Cincy's trade
talks with the Mariners in December 1999.
What a difference a season makes. Through Sunday Reese was
batting .226, had tied his career-high in errors (15, including
10 in 78 games at shortstop) and, frustrated by the Reds'
disappointing performance, had spent much of the year bickering
with management. In May, as Cincinnati fell into the National
League Central cellar, he called Bowden a liar--in response to
trade rumors and disputed reports of contract negotiations--and
indicated more than once that he wanted to be traded. Bowden has
spent much of the season trying to accommodate Reese and nearly
completed a deal that would have sent him to the Yankees. Instead
of being a key part of the Reds' future, Reese appears headed out
of Cincinnati in the off-season.
Similarly, several other high-priced players seem to have worn
out their welcomes. Pirates outfielder Derek Bell, who signed a
two-year, $9.75 million free-agent deal in December, has been a
bust, batting .173 with only five home runs and playing a mere
46 games because of a strained left knee that had him on the
disabled list for four weeks in May and June and a strained
right hamstring that has kept him on the DL since July 4. Then
two weeks ago Bell's name surfaced in testimony that is part of
a police investigation of a Tampa underaged prostitution ring.
He hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing, and a lawyer
representing Bell denies the player's alleged involvement.
Cardinals veteran righthander Andy Benes has become a forgotten
man because he's been struggling with his mechanics. He was 7-7
with a 7.38 ERA in the second season of his second stint in St.
Louis and despite being healthy had pitched only nine times since
the All-Star break. The Cardinals are likely to try to unload
Benes and his $6 million salary during the off-season, but figure
to have difficulty doing so.
Then there's Carl Everett, the Red Sox outfielder whose erratic
behavior over the the last two seasons has apparently exhausted
the patience of even general manager Dan Duquette, who had been
his chief defender. Last week the 30-year-old Everett was
suspended by the team for four games after reporting late to a
workout and then berating manager Joe Kerrigan in a profane
tirade when informed that he would be fined for his tardiness.
Late last week Everett's agent, Larry Reynolds, asked Duquette to
trade Everett, but moving him won't be easy. His stats have
plummeted this year (.257, 14 home runs, 58 RBIs; down from .300,
34, 108 in 2000), and with a pending reexamination of his right
knee, which he injured on June 21, his season officially ended
last weekend. Plus, he has two years and $16.15 million remaining
on his contract.
Bowden may find himself in a similar bind when trying to deal
Reese, who's making $3.2 million this year. He's eligible for
arbitration after the season, and teams are often leery of
acquiring players who could lead them into arbitration and an
unexpected higher contract. Complicating matters are Reese's
declining offensive production the last two years--his average
has dropped about 30 points each season from a high of .285 in
1999--and Bowden's insistence on getting high-level prospects in
In the end Reese's refusal to sign a long-term deal with the Reds
in April--he didn't even make a counterproposal--might have saved
Cincinnati from making a tremendous mistake.
No Time for Fighting
On Sept. 4 the commissioner's office sent a letter to the
players' association stating that ownership would seek changes in
the collective bargaining agreement when the deal expires after
the 2001 season. The missive, a formality under the National
Labor Relations Act, was the first official step toward
negotiations in what was expected to be an acrimonious labor
battle. Last week, however, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11
attacks, sentiment appeared to be building among players for a
Owners, threatened with a $1 million fine from commissioner Bud
Selig if they discuss the labor situation publicly, weren't
talking, but several players acknowledge that a nasty labor fight
and a work stoppage wouldn't be appropriate, given the recent
tragedies. "That would crush baseball, and [both sides] know
that," says Marlins outfielder Cliff Floyd. "Either come to an
agreement or put it off a couple of years."
"The last thing people want to hear about is labor problems
between us and the owners," adds Rangers righthander Rick
Helling, who, as the American League player representative, will
sit in on negotiations. "There's no doubt the negotiations will
be affected [by the attacks]."
Indirectly, they already have been. The quarterly owners meetings
scheduled to take place in Milwaukee on Sept. 11 and 12 were
canceled because of the attacks, meaning Selig and his colleagues
missed what might have been a key strategy session. Selig has yet
to reschedule the meetings. In fact, he says the labor situation
has disappeared from his radar screen since Sept. 11. "That's for
much later on," he says.
Some players have suggested that the wisest move may simply be to
extend the current labor agreement for a year. Selig says that
such a move would do nothing to solve the economic woes that grip
the sport. Given the situation, though, another year of
competitive imbalance would be a small price to pay for peace on
baseball's labor front. "[The terrorism] has changed both
sides--we'll attack this issue now with less ardor," says union
associate general counsel Gene Orza. "Perspective is sometimes
achieved at a terrible cost."
For scores, stats and the latest news, plus more from Tom
Verducci and Stephen Cannella, go to cnnsi.com/baseball.
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON
Chan Ho Park of the Dodgers (left) may not get the $20 million
per year his agent wants for him, but he seems to be a lock to
emerge as the highest paid among the lackluster pitchers
expected to enter this year's free-agent pool. Here are the five
most desirable starters on the market after Park, but teams
looking to throw money around would be better off chasing
hitters. Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Juan Gonzalez and Moises
Alou will be eligible to become free agents as well.
Pitcher, Team W-L ERA
Aaron Sele, Mariners 13-5 3.72
Had another effective season, but despite reliability, not
considered an ace
Jason Schmidt, Giants 12-7 4.08
Inconsistency and history of shoulder woes will drive down
Sterling Hitchcock, Yankees 5-5 6.03
Still trying to prove he has fully recovered from elbow surgery in
John Burkett, Braves 11-11 3.00
Had remarkable season until recently, but at age 36 won't command
Albie Lopez, Diamondbacks 8-18 5.10
Erstwhile rising star sabotaged by poor performance this season
Statistics through Sunday; two-team totals for Schmidt,
Hitchcock and Lopez
Sept. 28-30, BREWERS AT ROCKIES
There will be no pennant race drama in this series, but Colorado
still will be playing for a bit of history. Through Sunday the
Rockies had scored 827 runs, putting them on pace for a season
total of 899 (or 5.55 runs per game). If they can pick up the
pace slightly against Milwaukee, which had the fifth-worst ERA
in the National League, Colorado will have a good shot at
becoming the first National League team--and the first major
league club since the 1939 Yankees--to score 900 runs in three
consecutive seasons. (The Indians were also on pace to do that.)
The odds seem to be in the Rockies' favor: In their first three
games against the Brewers this season they scored 19 runs.