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Puerto Ricans Key In MLB's Final Stretch
August 3, 2001
Rey Sánchez will play for a contender. This isn't the case for Armando Ríos. Felipe Crespo was the luckiest of all, going from a contender team to another one.
All this happened last week when the Major League Baseball season reached its deadline deals.
This week, as we enter into each team's final 50 games of the regular season, those with strong chances of making it to the playoffs are making their moves.
Sánchez, who started the season with the Kansas City Royals, was perhaps the biggest trade of all. He was hitting .303, one of the best averages on the team, and was playing a superb defense as the Royals' starting shortstop.
The next thing he learns is that Kansas City got Neifi Pérez from the Colorado Rockies. The Dominican Pérez is the best fielding shortstop in the National League, winning the Gold Glove Award this past season. He also is a consistent .300 hitter.
"Definitely, we knew Rey was gone when Neifi came here," said Luis Alicea, another Puerto Rican who plays with the Royals.
Sánchez started his career with the Texas Rangers and played with the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, and San Francisco Giants prior to signing as free agent with Kansas City before the 1999 season.
However, as Alicea said, Sánchez had to depart and, in doing in so, leaves a 41-64 Kansas City team, which is dead last in the American League Central Division. He arrives in Atlanta, where the Braves have the second-best record in the National League and lead the NL East Division.
"Atlanta's a great team. It brings a lot of positives," Sánchez said after learning about the trade last Wednesday.
The 2002 season seems like it will be another story. The Braves got Sánchez after losing their All-Star shortstop, Rafael Furcal, for the rest of the season. With Furcal expected to be back next season, Sánchez likely will move on or be thrust into a reserve role, unless the Braves opt him to second base, especially when the Braves' starting second baseman, Quilvio Veras, was released last week.
Still, Sánchez will enjoy the playoffs with the Braves, a team many consider will be a National League finalist.
Ríos, however, wasn't that lucky. He started with the San Francisco Giants, the team with which he has played his entire career. He was a star player, but coming off the bench, and patiently waited for his opportunity.
That moment came when Ellis Burks, the Giants' regular right fielder last season, left the team and signed with the Cleveland Indians. However, when it seemed Ríos would keep the position, hitting a respectable .259, 14 HRs, and 50 RBIs, the team decided to send him to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Contrary to Sánchez, Ríos went from the 57-49 Giants, frontrunners for the wildcard spot in the playoffs, to a Pittsburgh team, whose 43-66 record is the worst in the National League. Of course, the Pirates are already out of playoffs contention.
The good news, however, is that Ríos should be an everyday player in Pittsburgh. That should help him improve his game and become a more solid player, both in offense and defense.
Then, it's Crespo, who was traded from the Giants to Philadelphia. The Phillies are in second place in the East Division (behind the Atlanta Braves) and are in a tough battle with San Francisco for that final playoffs spot, known as the wildcard. Entering Monday, Aug. 6, Philadelphia led San Francisco by just one game, so a close race is expected during the final two months of the regular season.
That puts Crespo in a situation similar to the one he was in with the Giants--a key bench role for the Phillies, which could use the kind of production he gave Giants manager Dusty Baker last year.
Other top islander names recently mentioned for team transactions were Jose "Cheito" Cruz and Alex Cora.
Cruz is said to be back with the team he started with in the majors, the Seattle Mariners. At 78-31, the Mariners have the league's best record and are the only team to have its participation guaranteed in the playoffs. However, Cruz will have to stay with the Toronto Blue Jays, which is 11 games back from the wildcard spot.
Although there's still time to make a late run, it seems Toronto is nearly out of time.
Cora, the shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers, also was mentioned to be on the trading block, especially in a deal involving All-Star Neifi Pérez. However, the Dodgers, who lead the NL West Division, realize he can be the best in position, defensively speaking.
That's how it's going to be for Pérez for the rest of the season, including the playoffs, where the Dodgers have a strong chance to make it.