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Sweating out the deadline possibilities

By Gordon Edes
July 25, 2005
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CHICAGO -- If the Florida Marlins do indeed have interest in Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo, they had a funny way of showing it yesterday. No Marlins scouts were in attendance here to see Arroyo struggle without his curveball, giving up five runs in the first three innings of a 6-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox.

By now, of course, the Marlins have probably seen enough of Arroyo to make a decision, and if Marlins manager Jack McKeon had any last-minute questions, he could always make an informal call to his son, Kasey, who is a special assistant to Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd and was at U.S. Cellular Field in yesterday's sweltering conditions.

Arroyo said the heat was the only thing that made him sweat yesterday, that and the discovery while warming up that his curve had abandoned him. ''It's the worst curveball I've had in two years with the Red Sox," he said.

But, no, he insisted, as he has right along, that trade talk was not a distraction.

''I never thought that this could be my last outing here," said Arroyo, who actually kept the Sox in the game until departing after allowing Scott Podsednik's two-out double in the seventh.

Podsednik would score when Tadahito Iguchi singled off reliever Jeremi Gonzalez to give the White Sox a 6-3 lead.

What Arroyo has counted in years -- his time with the Sox -- could be dwindling to days if Sox GM Theo Epstein is able to execute a deal for A.J. Burnett, the Marlins pitcher who not only won yesterday, but also hit a home run in Florida's 4-1 win in San Francisco.

The trading deadline is Sunday, and the Marlins still appear determined to get something for Burnett before he becomes a free agent after the season. Arroyo is the Sox' hole card in a possible trade with the Marlins, packaged either with prospects or a pitcher from another team if Epstein can make a three-way deal work.

Last week, the Baltimore Orioles seemed to have a deal all but in place for Burnett. But since then, there have been these developments:

They refused to take third baseman Mike Lowell's big contract as part of the deal.

They traded pitcher Sidney Ponson to the Padres in a deal that still requires the OK of first baseman Phil Nevin, who is supposed to go to Baltimore.

They've lost seven of their last eight games, including their last five, were swept by last-place Tampa Bay, are closer to fourth place than first, and have raised serious questions about whether they're more pretender than contender in the AL East.

All of the AL teams jockeying to play in October -- the Red Sox, White Sox, Yankees, Twins, Angels, Indians, Rangers, and Athletics -- realize they are flawed. The most solid team at the moment may be the Angels, who beat the Yankees three straight before falling yesterday. The hottest team is unquestionably Billy Beane's Athletics, who just swept the Rangers in Texas and are a stunning 36-13 since May 29, when they were 15 games under .500.

Only one team in major league history has qualified for the postseason in a season in which it was 15 or more games under .500, and that team was called a ''miracle," the 1914 Boston Braves.

Epstein understands that the Sox as presently constituted are not likely to repeat as World Series champions. They need another starter and a reliever, not to mention good health for both Keith Foulke and Curt Schilling, who won't be starting any games for at least a month, regardless of how good he feels, because he is nowhere close to doing so and the Sox need him to close in Foulke's absence.

Why all the excitement about Burnett, who in his career has won exactly as many games as he has lost after beating the Giants yesterday? Consider the following three testimonials:

Schilling last week: ''He may have the best stuff of any pitcher in baseball."

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen before yesterday's game: ''He has one of the best arms I've ever seen."

Giants manager Felipe Alou, after his club was beaten by Burnett yesterday: ''He could be one of the best pitchers in the game and probably will be."

The Sox won the World Series last year with Schilling and Pedro Martinez at the top of their rotation and Derek Lowe having an October renaissance, and even then they were just a few outs away from being swept by the Yankees in the ALCS.

A healthy Schilling at the top of this rotation might get you back there this October. Burnett would give the team another potential ace to play the Martinez role this season, and a potential No. 1 starter in 2006 if Schilling's ankle woes persist. The White Sox may pose the biggest threat to that scenario, with a package that includes promising righthander Brendan McCarthy and reliever Damaso Marte. ''We're pretty good friends," Guillen said of Burnett, whom he got to know when he was a coach with the Marlins.

''What's the date today?" asked Kevin Millar, who also has been featured in trade talks.

Yesterday's date was secondary. The one that counts is Sunday. Until then, there are no friends. Only potential trading partners.

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