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Published: Sunday, 8/3/2008

Contenders make rare maneuvers

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

In my role covering major league baseball for this newspaper, I wrote the following in Thursday's editions about the Tigers trading future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez to the Yankees:

"Rarely, if ever, does a club in contention trade a key starter "

So, of course, the Red Sox followed up by trading Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers in a three-team trade Thursday.

Shows what I know.

In the case of Detroit trading Pudge, a 14-time all-star, to New York for a reliever when the club only trailed Chicago by 5 1/2 games in the American League Central at the time, Tigers manager Jim Leyland knew it didn't sound right when read aloud. That's why when discussing the deal with reporters, Leyland offered lines like: "I don't think that catching Pudge or catching Brandon Inge will be the decisive factor in whether we win or not."

In other words, even though Rodriguez had been hot over his last 30 games, the Tigers needed bullpen help more than it needed two capable catchers.

The Red Sox' trade was part brains, part bravado.

Boston, which trailed Tampa Bay by three games in the AL East when the deal was made, got a player it wanted in Pittsburgh's Jason Bay in return for a player in Ramirez who would not have been back next year.

But Ramirez, another future Hall of Famer, dared the Red Sox to trade him, antagonizing the team's upper management in public.

For both the Tigers and Red Sox, it wasn't like the contending clubs were getting rid of a star in name only. Rodriguez and Ramirez can still play.

Entering Thursday night's contests, Rodriguez, 36, was batting .295 with five homers and 32 RBIs. Ramirez, also 36, was hitting .299 with 20 homers and 68 RBIs. He was an all-star in each of his eight seasons with Boston.

It is quite possible that four players destined for Cooperstown - Rodriguez, Ramirez, Ken Griffey Jr. and CC Sabathia - were all traded before Thursday's nonwaiver deadline.

Amazing.

The fact that two of those players came from clubs still considered to be playoff contenders

Rare, if ever.

TWILIGHT ZONE: When Dane Sardinha gets promoted to the majors, strange things happen.

For instance, Sardinha was called up from Toledo on Wednesday when the Tigers traded Rodriguez. The game that followed stretched over two days and 13 innings, included 41 hits, and saw the Tigers survive five extra-base hits by Kelly Shoppach (which tied a major league record) and win 14-12.

The first time Sardinha was called up from the Hens this year - on June 25 - the Tigers engaged in another long, weird game against St. Louis that included a nearly 2 1/2-hour rain delay and ended the next day.

Detroit won that game too, by the way, 8-7 when Gary Sheffield's gapper easily scored Clete Thomas from second in the bottom of the ninth at 12:51 a.m.

ENOUGH ALREADY: At least in my mind, Shoppach has earned the Indians' starting catching job for next year.

What about Victor Martinez, you say? Play him at first base.

Entering this weekend, Shoppach, 28, was batting .303 with eight homers, 24 RBIs, and 11 doubles in 35 games since Martinez went on the disabled list June 12. We all know what he did Wednesday night (two homers, three doubles), but his consistency stretches far beyond that game.

Before Friday's action, 25 of Shoppach's 39 hits had gone for extra bases. He was batting .271 with 11 homers and 31 RBIs for the season.

This isn't fair, but Shoppach had more homers in a couple hours Wednesday night than Martinez has all year.

I know, I know, Martinez was playing with a bad elbow and hamstring, which precisely is why the Indians should move him to first base.

Before this season, Martinez was a career-.301 hitter. He had at least 20 homers in three of his previous four years and never drove in less than 80 runs during that stretch.

Imagine the numbers if his legs weren't taking the pounding a catcher takes day in and day out.

Martinez, a former shortstop, is an excellent athlete and a capable first baseman. He could turn into a great defender at first if it were his primary position.

When Martinez returns from elbow surgery - likely this month - the Indians should play him at first and catch Shoppach most nights.

There's no use risking further wear and tear on Martinez in this lost season, and it might give the team's deep thinkers more time to see that Martinez and Shoppach belong in the same lineup.

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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