Yankees fill void, Jays jettison Mondesi

By Jim Callis

July 1, 2002

How bad did the Blue Jays want to get rid of Raul Mondesi? On Monday they traded him to the Yankees for a 26-year-old Double-A reliever who didn’t crack BA’s 2002 Prospect Handbook. Toronto also agreed to pick up $6 million of Mondesi’s 2003 salary. Yet the trade made plenty of sense for the Jays.

The move eases a logjam of outfielders. Jose Cruz, Shannon Stewart and Vernon Wells are still in Toronto, but the DH spot is now wide open and available for Triple-A slugger Josh Phelps, who has little left to prove with the bat. (He’s hitting .292-24-64 in 70 games at Syracuse, leading the International League in the latter two categories after winning the Double-A Southern League MVP award last year.) The cash-strapped Jays will save $12.5 million (the remaining $5.5 million in 2002, plus $7 million of his $13 million salary in 2003). And they’re rid of a player who questioned the credentials of new Toronto manager Carlos Tosca last week when Tosca benched Mondesi for a game after he arrived late for a team meeting.

Mondesi, 31, has one of the major league’s best packages of tools—including power, speed and a show-stopping right-field arm—but has been somewhat of an enigma. With the Dodgers, he earned all-star honors in 1995 and turned in 30-30 seasons in 1997 and 1999. But since coming to Toronto in a trade for Shawn Green, he has hit .271-24-67 in a 2000 season shortened by injury, .252-27-84 in 2001 and just .224-15-45 in 2002. Nevertheless, New York was dissatisfied with its right-field platoon of Shane Spencer (.247-5-24) and John Vander Wal (.278-3-15). The Yankees hope some of their professionalism and plate discipline rubs off of Mondesi, who has been found wanting in both categories. In 1,236 career games he has hit .278-229-714 with 201 steals, numbers more impressive than his walk total (366) or on-base percentage (.332).

The Blue Jays picked up lefthander Scott Wiggins in the trade, but make no mistake about it—saving money and dumping Mondesi were their primary concerns. A 1997 seventh-round pick out of Northern Kentucky, Wiggins throws in the high 80s and uses a curveball as his out pitch. He succeeds by mixing and spotting his pitches, and he’s tough on lefthanders, who were batting just .143 against him at Norwich in 2002. He has gone 2-1, 2.28 in 24 games this year, striking out 26 in 28 innings. Wiggins underwent heart surgery to remove an extra valve in 1991 and had his shoulder operated on following the 1998 season. In 148 pro games, he has gone 24-18, 3.23 with 397 hits, 161 walks and 424 strikeouts in 435 innings.