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Inside Baseball

Hot Commodity
Though he's coveted by contenders, Jim Thome's heart is still in

As the July 31 trade deadline approaches, Indians first baseman
Jim Thome looks like the hottest commodity on the market. But
whether or not he's likely to be moved remains unclear. Thome,
whose 28 home runs ranked second in the American League at
week's end, is a free-agent-to-be on a team that's dumping
salary and rebuilding, and could tip the balance of power in
several division races. But there's a catch: His contract
includes a no-trade clause, and he says he's not interested in
leaving. "He wants to stay," says Cleveland general manager Mark
Shapiro, "and we want to keep him."

The question for both sides is, Why? The cost-cutting Indians
have little chance of re-signing Thome, 31, unless he accepts a
huge hometown discount. Thome, who refuses to discuss his plans
for next season, will probably seek $15 million to $17 million
per year. Shapiro has begun a major renovation, and Cleveland
won't be a contender until 2004 at the earliest. Last month he
unloaded ace Bartolo Colon to the Expos for three top prospects
and veteran Lee Stevens, and last Friday he sent lefthander Chuck
Finley to the Cardinals for two minor leaguers.

Thome, meanwhile, would have a chance to join a team with
postseason prospects, a change that might be especially welcome
after recent developments in Cleveland. The day after the
All-Star break, manager Charlie Manuel, whom Thome calls his
"second father," was fired. Manuel had been Thome's manager or
hitting coach since 1991. Last week another close friend of
Thome's, assistant trainer Jimmy Warfield, died after suffering a
brain hemorrhage.

Yet Thome still wants to stay with the Tribe. "I've played here a
long time and loved playing here," says Thome, an extremely
popular figure in Cleveland who has hit more homers (310 through
Sunday) than anyone in franchise history. "The contract I signed
carries an obligation, and I want to fulfill that obligation."

Despite the team's financial limitations--the Indians' $79 million
payroll on Opening Day could be sliced to around $60 million by
next season--Shapiro says he will try to re-sign Thome, who at
week's end hadn't been asked to waive his no-trade clause.
Although such a deal is still not out of the question, it is
unlikely unless the Indians get a major-league-ready prospect in
return. Boston, the contender with the most pressing need for
Thome, has a near-barren farm system. The Braves also have a hole
at first, but they were comfortably ahead in the NL East race and
have little need to part with prized farmhands in order to rent a
player for two months (or even less if there's a strike). The A's
have been using light-hitting Scott Hatteberg at first, but
they're not likely to part with valuable prospects for a player
who won't fit into their budget next season.

In other words the most desirable commodity is likely to stay
right where he is.

Minnesota's Dynamic Duo
Instant Relief From the Bullpen

One of the first things Twins manager Ron Gardenhire did when he
replaced Tom Kelly last winter was make a call to the bullpen.
First he rang Eddie Guardado, a workhorse who had earned the
nickname Everyday Eddie as Minnesota's primary lefthanded setup
man since 1995, and told him he was being promoted to closer.
Then the new skipper left a message for lefthander J.C. Romero,
who had struggled in the rotation over the past two years, and
informed him that he would be filling Guardado's former role.

The moves have worked brilliantly for the Twins, who at week's
end were 13 games ahead of the White Sox in the AL Central.
Guardado, 31, was leading the league with 32 saves, two more than
his total over his nine previous seasons, and was named to his
first All-Star team. In his first stint as a full-time reliever
Romero, 26, has been as effective and as tireless as Guardado. He
led the majors with 54 appearances and had a sparkling 2.04 ERA.
"He's kind of a raging bull," says Gardenhire of Romero. "He's
going to be a closer someday."

No one ever made that prediction for Guardado, whose fastball
seldom tops 90 mph. "I thought it was a joke when I got that
call," he says. But Gardenhire liked Guardado's durability (his
431 appearances from 1996 to 2001 were the fourth most in the
majors) and the way he pitched as an occasional stopper last
season (12 saves in 14 chances). Guardado has been effective
against lefties (.250 opponents' batting average this season) and
dominating against righthanders (.191).

Romero, who relies on a hard sinker, is equally tough on righties
and lefties. Gardenhire goes to him with runners on in the late
innings, saving Guardado to start the ninth. The formula has
worked: The Twins have the fourth-best bullpen ERA (3.53) in the
league. "I have to do well as the closer," says Guardado. "My old
job is gone."

On Deck
Two series to watch for next weekend:

--Northwest Passage. The Mariners have won six of 10 games against
the Angels this season and at week's end led second-place Anaheim
by one game in the AL West. After sweeping Seattle at home last
week, this series at Safeco Field is the Angels' best chance to
make up ground until the two teams meet again in late September.

--Bombers by the Bay. With 148 homers through Sunday's games, the
Yankees are on pace to smash the single-season club record of
240, set in 1961. The Devil Rays have been taken deep 121 times,
second most in the AL. Memo to the Rays' front office: Order
extra baseballs before New York arrives for a three-game set.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID MAXWELL/AFP The Indians say they want to re-sign Thome even though they are slashing payroll.



On the Block
With many teams looking to slash payrolls, here are the five
players most likely to be dealt by the July 31 trade deadline:


Ellis Burks DH Indians Though productive, the 37-year-old Burks
(.277, 21 HR) is due to make $6.5 million in 2003

Paul Byrd P Royals Can Kansas City afford to keep surprise
(13-6, 3.66 ERA) AL wins leader and free-agent-to-be?

Kelvim Escobar P Blue Jays Oakland could use a strong setup man
(18 saves, 4.79 ERA) for closer Billy Koch

Derrek Lee 1B Marlins A likely fallback for Red Sox at
(.266, 18 HR) first base if they can't land Thome

Randy Winn OF Devil Rays All-Star centerfielder Winn is Tampa
(.317, 19 steals) Bay's most marketable player


Who Is This Guy?

The Giants began the season with two rookie righthanders in their
rotation: unheralded Ryan Jensen and 1999 first-round draft pick
Kurt Ainsworth, the jewel of the farm system for the past three
years. Because of a roster crunch in late April, one of them had
to be demoted. Figuring that Jensen was better suited for bullpen
duty if necessary, San Francisco sent Ainsworth to Triple A

It turned out to be a wise choice. Jensen (10-6, 4.16 ERA through
Sunday), an eighth-round pick in '96 who had mixed success in six
minor league seasons, has been the team's best starter. He leads
the Giants in victories and is their first rookie in 12 years to
win 10 games. The 26-year-old Jensen relies on a 90-mph fastball
that has excellent late movement and changes speeds with pinpoint
control. The Giants also like his composure: In five starts
against NL West rivals Arizona and Los Angeles, he's 3-0 with a
1.13 ERA. "He gets his breaking ball over whenever he wants,"
says one NL advance scout. "He's not going to overpower you, but
at the end of the game, you look up and somehow you went 0 for