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July 21, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

The Friday Column

by Joe Sheehan

So many topics, so little time...

It's hard to argue with the suspension Carl Everett received. There is a lot of silliness on each extreme, with apologists at one end and executioners at the other. Everett lost control and in an effort to intimidate, did the thing you can't do, which is make contact with the ump. However, it's clear in looking at the replay that he didn't "head-butt" the umpire, which was the popular description. The contact was inadvertent and probably unintentional, but the result of a loss of control that does need to be punished.

The ten-game rest imposed on Everett will almost certainly be reduced on appeal by a couple of games, but the Red Sox will still miss Everett for about a week. While MLB has nominally sped up the appeal process by not waiting for players to come to New York, the process is now two-staged, so Everett will have an opportunity to drop his suspension if a good time arises.

Just out of curiosity, I pulled out the Sox schedule to see if there is that elusive "good time." Assuming Everett and the MLBPA can't stretch this out to August 29--when Everett could sit out eight games, six with an expanded roster, and return for a series with the Yankees--the easiest stretch they have the rest of the season is a ten-game homestand beginning August 14, when Tampa Bay, Texas and Anaheim come calling. I would be stunned if Everett's absence didn't coincide with that Devil Ray series.

(As an aside, here's another bit of fun scheduling. The Sox spend a week on the West Coast from July 27 to August 2, fly home to play three games against the Royals over the weekend...then fly back to California to play three games at Anaheim. That's two cross-country flights in five days.)

The Reds are shopping Barry Larkin, with at least three shortstop-challenged contenders lined up at the door. While some of the media has tried to spin this as the quintessential "small-market team" blues, the situation is a bit more complex than that.

First of all, Larkin has already given the Reds the ever-popular hometown discount. The deal that ends this season has paid him less than $6 million a year for the past five years, and he signed it in lieu of testing the market after his MVP season in 1995. For him to not want to accept a lot less than his value at this point is both understandable and unsurprising.

Secondly, unlike the Ken Griffey and Roger Clemens situations, this isn't a case of a player demanding a deal and putting his team over a barrel. In fact, Larkin doesn't want to be traded. And in a strange twist, his unwillingness to go elsewhere for the last two month of the season may be spun as some true test of his loyalty. If he exercises his ten-and-five rights and vetoes a deal, he runs the risk of being skewered as a barrier to the Reds' future success.

The Reds appear to be more concerned with winning the PR battle than with signing Larkin. By painting him as the bad guy for not signing a ridiculously cheap deal (they're offering $6M/year, Larkin is asking for $9M/year), they can avoid answering the tough question: if the whole point behind getting Ken Griffey to sign at below-market rates was to help afford a team around him, why are you dumping your second-best player when you're six games out of first place?

Finally--and regular readers may be surprised by the following--signing Larkin from 2001-2003 may not be such a bad idea. Whether they want to believe it or not, the $9 million per year (and they can probably get Larkin a bit cheaper than that) is almost certainly less than Larkin would get as a free agent this winter, quite possibly in a four-year deal.

If they sign Larkin, then this winter the team can shop Aaron Boone and Travis Dawkins, make the best deal they can and play Larkin at whichever position is open come March 1. I have no problem projecting Larkin as a good regular, even as a third baseman, in 2001.

Regardless of what happens, the Reds' handling of the situation has been awkward. Barry Larkin is a probable Hall of Famer and has been the best player in Cincinnati since Joe Morgan. He deserved better than to be hung out to dry by an owner who hasn't been around the team as long as some of Larkin's sanitary socks.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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