It is that time of year again. Please

By Ken Berger Associated Press Published:

It is that time of year again. Please tell family, friends and pets to take a good look at you. If anyone on the ballclub owes you money, it may be wise to collect. You may not be seeing them again any time soon.

John Hart is on the loose.

After cleaning out the Cleveland bullpen, is the Indians general manager finished with his annual July trading frenzy? Or is he just getting warmed up?

"We are going to continue to examine other options as they present themselves," Hart said Thursday between two trades that reshaped the Indians' relief corps. "I'd have to say we are still in very aggressive mode."

Hart and the term "aggressive mode" is a redundancy if there ever was one.

With the July 31 trade deadline less than a week away, Hart has already pulled off two deals that rid the Indians of two struggling relievers. First, Eric Plunk was sent to Milwaukee for Doug Jones, Cleveland's career saves leader.

Less than an hour after Hart announced that deal, word began circulating in the Cleveland press box that another one _ perhaps a doozy _ would come after the Indians' game against Detroit. Reporters began calling agents and checking the skies for incoming aircraft carrying reinforcements for the pennant drive.

Was it Randy Johnson? Roberto Alomar? Had the Indians finally given up on star-crossed reliever Jose Mesa? Those who guessed "C" won 60 free cellular phone minutes and credits toward a diploma from the Hart school of wheeling and dealing.

Mesa, who never recovered from his blown save in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, was dealt to San Francisco for setup man Steve Reed in a five-player trade. The Indians also got outfielder Jacob Cruz and sent pitcher Al Morman and infielder Shawon Dunston to the Giants.

It was vintage Hart. Every July since the Indians have been contenders under his leadership, he has made some sort of trade. The Mesa deal and the one that sent Carlos Baerga to the Mets in 1996 will be remembered because they involved stars from Cleveland's 1995 World Series team.

And the messages they sent through the clubhouse were similar.

"This puts pressure on everybody," said Paul Shuey, a reliever who escaped the flurry. "You see guys getting moved in and out of here, and you're like, 'I hope they don't boo me. I hope I keep doing well."'

Hart continues to insist that he has yet to talk with Baltimore GM Pat Gillick about Alomar, the brother of Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar who would solidify the Indians at second base and spice up a strangely subdued clubhouse. David Bell is the 11th man to play second base for the Indians since Baerga was dealt.

As for Johnson, Hart wryly calls the Big Unit "an intriguing guy," but says he believes Seattle ownership is serious about not trading him.

"The last I heard, they said they would call if anything changed," Hart said. "I have received no calls."

That is not to say Hart isn't interested or won't try. A dominant left-hander like Johnson _ and there is no one more dominant _ would do wonders to combat the lefty-laden lineup of the juggernaut New York Yankees. Suffice it to say that Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez would just as soon see Johnson remain in the Pacific time zone.

Then again, like Johnson on the mound, Hart is in "aggressive mode." And in light of Johnson's recent resurgence and scuffle with teammate David Segui, Hart has no concerns about his health.

"The guy takes the ball every fifth day, gets in a fist fight, strikes out 12," Hart said. "That's OK. I guess he's healthy."

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