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Trade winds begin to blow in baseball's pivotal month of July

By Paul Hagen

Knight Ridder Newspapers

Now it's July, a month until the waiver trading deadline, and that can only mean one thing: The next 30 days will be filled with rumors and gossip and whispers and buzz and hearsay and speculation, most of which won't lead to anything.

All fans would like to see their favorite team pull off a blockbuster, and that's understandable. What sometimes gets lost in all the excitement is how hard it is to actually put all the pieces together. And the bigger the names, the higher the degree of difficulty.

Consider the story that has been making the rounds lately, which had the Marlins approaching Baltimore and offering righthander A.J. Burnett and outfielder Juan Encarnacion for reliever Jorge Julio, outfielder Larry Bigbie and one of two young pitchers, Daniel Cabrera or Hayden Penn.

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On the surface, that seems to make some sense. The Fish would save about $3 million and get something in return for two players who can be free agents at the end of the year. And the Orioles' playoff hopes, recently sabotaged by injuries, would get a boost.

But…; A source from another American League team said his team had been rebuffed when inquiries about Burnett were made. "We were told he's not available," he said.

And… The; Orioles see Cabrera and Penn, along with Erik Bedard, as giving them the foundation for a dominant rotation while Burnett would increase the payroll and could turn into a rent-a-player.

Except… Burnett's; wife is from Maryland and the pitcher's agent said he'd be open to talking about an extension with the Orioles.

But… The; Marlins are still very much in contention in the National League East. "I have a hard time believing he's available," said one general manager who has been keeping a close eye on the situation.

Plus… Another; source said that everything is on hold because the Orioles are now focusing on Giants righthander Jason Schmidt.

Except… San; Francisco general manager Brian Sabean, while admitting things can change, insisted he's "not in (trade) discussions about anybody who's considered a premium player on our roster."

Other than that, it's pretty simple.

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Hot stuff

• Talks; about a contract extension with Mark Kotsay have stalled, partly over the inclusion of a no-trade clause, making it more likely that Oakland could trade its centerfielder and leadoff hitter.

On the other hand, scouts say A's lefthander Barry Zito is throwing as well as he has in two years and Oakland has won seven straight. That might mean teams looking for pitching help will have to look elsewhere.

White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle charged that an unnamed Cubs veteran pitcher has been throwing spitballs this season. Gee, it doesn't take much to figure out who he was talking about, but Greg Maddux is unfazed. "Whatever. I sleep well at night. OK?" the four-time Cy Young Award winner said.

• The; going-nowhere Seattle Mariners are expected to trade second baseman Bret Boone, with San Diego a possible destination.

Around the bases

Manager Felipe Alou doesn't see the irony in the fact that the Giants, who have been impacted as much as any team by Barry Bonds' entanglement in the BALCO steroids investigation, has claimed Alex Sanchez on waivers. Sanchez was the first major leaguer to be suspended while with Tampa Bay this spring under baseball's new drug policy. "He's got plenty of company, and the fact that he's clean now puts him in big company, too," Alou said. "If a guy's clean, it's not like he murdered somebody or stole the Mona Lisa."

Scott Rolen knows he's not having an All-Star season, but recognizes he's certain to be voted onto the team as a starter. "I'm sure there are some third basemen having better years than I am. Maybe all of them," he said. "(But) to be hurt and out five weeks and still be selected is an honor. I would play out of respect for the fans."

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Orioles reliever Steve Kline was suspended four games and fined for remarks he made after being called for a balk against the Yanks on Monday night. "It was a (expletive) call," he fumed. "I think they favor the Yankees. The umpires suck up to them." He's lucky the punishment wasn't more severe.

Giants righthander Brett Tomko, who has been sent to the bullpen, on talk that he could be traded: "If they don't see me in their future, then let them do whatever they want to do."

Quote of the week

Yankees rightfielder Gary Sheffield, warning other teams not to even think about trading for him: "I don't want them to come ask about me. You inconvenience me, I'll inconvenience you in every way there is… If; I have to go somewhere else, a lot of things are going to have to be changed or you're going to have an unhappy player (and) if I'm not happy, you don't want me on your team."

Stat of the week

One of these days, managers will learn that it doesn't always pay to play the percentages. Opposing teams have brought a lefthander out of the bullpen to face Angels cleanup hitter Garret Anderson 13 times this season. In those situations Anderson has eight hits, including two home runs, a .615 average.

Warm and fuzzy moment of the week

Before Tuesday night's game in Texas, Angels backup catcher Josh Paul had the following conversation with a youngster in the stands:

Fan: "You're my favorite player. Can I have your autograph?"

Paul: "What's my name?"

Fan: "I don't know."

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