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Pirates Williams traded to Houston; L.A. takes Mulholland

Wednesday, August 01, 2001

By Paul Meyer, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The Pirates traded relievers Mike Williams and Terry Mulholland in separate deals yesterday that netted three pitchers, including a closer.

Left, Houston Astros Tony McKnight and right, Los Angeles Dodgers Mike Fetters. (AP)

Williams going to Houston and Mulholland winding up with Los Angeles came on the heels of a trade Monday that sent Jason Schmidt and John Vander Wal to San Francisco.

"A traveling secretary's nightmare time," Mulholland said, referring to the person with each club who must make flight arrangements. "The world's turned upside down -- again."

All the changes left Pirates General Manager Dave Littlefield and Manager Lloyd McClendon wondering who's still with the team, who's coming when and what to do now.

"I'll have to sit down with the staff [next week] and decide," Littlefield said. "But I think we've done some things that will work."

"We'll be all right," McClendon said from his office at San Francisco's Pac Bell Park as he tried to make sure his lineup was correct for a game against the Giants last night. "I like the things we've done."

So ... just what have the Pirates done?

They acquired outfielder Armando Rios and right-hander Ryan Vogelsong from the Giants Monday.

Yesterday, they received right-handed starter Tony McKnight from the Astros for Williams. And they obtained right-hander Mike Fetters and Class AA left-hander Adrian Burnside from the Dodgers for Mulholland.

 
 
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Rios started in right field for the Pirates last night, a position he probably play regularly. Vogelsong is with Class AAA Nashville building up arm strength so he can join the Pirates' rotation, perhaps in two weeks.

"It won't be long," Littlefield said.

McKnight, 24, will join the Pirates today and start tomorrow, according to McClendon. That caused some reshuffling of the rotation. Joe Beimel will start tonight, with Mike Lincoln moving back to the bullpen.

Burnside, 24, will be sent to the Pirates' Class AA minor-league team in Altoona, where he probably will get a start this weekend.

And Fetters, 36, an 11-year major-league veteran, will report to the Pirates today and supplant Williams as the closer.

"In all likelihood," McClendon said.

However, because of his, Fetters won't likely be the Pirates' closer of the future.

"We lost some quality individuals who were important to this organization, but, heck, we're 22 games under .500. Obviously, the combination we had hadn't worked to this point," McClendon said. "We're certainly trying to move forward. We got some younger guys, and we're going to send them out there and let them compete."

After Rios, the next newcomer to compete for the Pirates will be McKnight -- who beat them for Houston Saturday night in the second game of a day-night doubleheader at PNC Park.


 
 
THE BOTTOM LINE

Based on one-third of the season remaining and working from 2001 opening day salaries, the Pirates figure to save $2.19 million in salaries the remainder of the season based on the deals they made the past two days:

Traded

Player

2001 salarySavings
Jason Schmidt$3,200,000$1,066,666
John Vander Wal$1,850,000$616,666
Terry Mulholland$2,750,000$916,666
Mike Williams$1,200,000$400,000
Acquired

Player

2001 salaryCost
Armando Rios$310,000$103,333
Ryan Vogelsong$200,000$66,666
Tony McKnight$200,000$66,666
Mike Fetters$1,725,000$575,000

   

 

McKnight allowed nine hits, a walk and two runs in seven innings in a 12-3 victory. He knew after the game he would go right back to Class AAA New Orleans, but he probably accomplished something other than just winning a game that night.

"I was called up to do the best I can and, hopefully, open some eyes," McKnight said.

He certainly had the Pirates' attention. And that might have begun Sept. 27, 2000, when McKnight pitched a four-hitter in a 10-1 win at Three Rivers Stadium.

McKnight, who won't be eligible for salary arbitration for perhaps two more years, is 5-1 with a 3.91 ERA in nine major-league starts, three of which have been against the Pirates.

One troublesome thing about McKnight is his frequent brushes with arm trouble. He began the 2000 season on the disabled list because of tendinitis in his right shoulder. He missed three starts in 1999 because of a sore right shoulder. He had shoulder and elbow problems in his right arm in '97. And he had more arm trouble in '96 -- the year after the Astros made him their No. 1 pick in the June draft.

"You're always concerned about a pitcher's health, but we've had him checked out and we're comfortable with him," Littlefield said.

Fetters, a ground-ball pitcher, has bounced around the major leagues since breaking in with the Angels in 1989. He also has pitched for Milwaukee, Oakland and Baltimore. He had most of his success with the Brewers in 1994-96, posting 71 saves.

Last season for the Dodgers, Fetters was a key man in the bullpen. In 51 appearances, he was 6-2 with five saves and a 3.24 ERA.

This year, which he has spent trying to regain command of his sinker, Fetters is 2-1 with one save in three opportunities and a 6.02 ERA. In 29 2/3 innings, he allowed 33 hits, including six home runs, and 13 walks while striking out 26.

Burnside, who was born in Australia, was 4-3 with a 2.66 ERA for Jacksonville. A Pirates scout watched him beat West Tennessee, 5-2, Monday night. Burnside allowed three hits, two walks and a run and struck out seven in 6 1/3 innings.

"We think he has a pretty significant upside," said Littlefield, who will watch Burnside in his Altoona debut this weekend, perhaps Saturday against Harrisburg.

Mulholland, 38, just pitched in Altoona, working in back-to-back games Friday and Saturday during a brief rehabilitation stint. He missed 5 1/2 weeks because of a broken left index finger, which is one reason he thought he might not be dealt at the trading deadling. It's the third time in his career Mulholland has been traded on July 31.

"I'm left-handed, I have a heart and it's beating, but I also consider myself a fairly decent pitcher," he said as he made plans to join the Dodgers bullpen today. "It's nothing I haven't been through before, but this will be strange for my parents."

Mulholland, a Uniontown native who signed a two-year contract as a free agent in December, bought season tickets for his parents at PNC Park.

"I'm sure they'll still go," he said.

In fact, the Mulhollands can welcome their son back Tuesday night when Los Angeles begins a three-game series at PNC Park.

"My feelings are kind of mixed," Mulholland said. "Because of the injuries, I don't think the organization or the fans got to see what Terry Mulholland could've done for the Pirates. I didn't feel I had the kind of impact I thought I could have when I signed. But I am happy about going to a first-place club."

While Mulholland will return to Pittsburgh in less than a week, Williams will get two opportunities to pitch against his former team later in August. The Pirates are scheduled to play four games at Enron Field Aug. 16-19. The Astros visit PNC Park for three games the following weekend.

Williams, who converted 22 of 24 save opportunities for the Pirates this season, won't be a closer with Houston. That job belongs to left-hander Billy Wagner.

"I know I'm not going to close," Williams said. "I'm sure [Wagner's] not expecting me to take his job. Maybe if he throws three or four days in a row, I'll get a [save chance] somewhere.

"But I don't think that's really a big deal. It will be fun. It's a chance to win. That's not happening with [the Pirates] this year. And from the looks of it, it's not going to happen anytime soon there."

Williams, who turned 33 Sunday, signed with the Pirates as a free agent after the 1997 season. He became their closer in '99 when Rich Loiselle had elbow trouble.

Williams converted 69 of 81 save opportunities (85.2 percent) in 2 1/2 seasons and ranks third on the team's all-time save list behind Kent Tekulve (158) and Dave Giusti (133).

"I didn't want to leave Pittsburgh," said Williams, who will report to the Astros today. "I guess it was [Owner Kevin] McClatchy's decision -- or someone's."

Williams, who can be a free agent after this season, is in the second year of a two-year contract that pays him $1.2 million this season. He said recently he would like to be paid "closer money" -- which could be $6 million per year.

The Pirates, who already have about $38 million committed to next year's payroll, weren't about to sign Williams for that kind of money.

The Astros, who had interest in Williams early in July, had cooled on him somewhat and began seeking a starting pitcher -- including Schmidt.

As of yesterday morning, it appeared Williams would be traded to the Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks or Boston Red Sox. However, the Red Sox dropped out after landing Montreal closer Ugueth Urbina.

And the Astros' interest in Williams revived after they acquired starter Pedro Astacio from Colorado yesterday.

"Things like this do happen," Littlefield said. "It's just the way things unfolded. Over the course of several days, teams might have less confidence in their bullpen or their rotation than they had."

Those teams almost always are contending clubs which seek to tweak their rosters for runs at postseason play.

And teams such as the Pirates try to take advantage of that and get who they can so maybe, come next July, they'll be among the "tweakers."

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