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Jun 24, 2003 7:28 AM

Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane has a strategy on how to construct a baseball team: "The first third of the season you evaluate what you have, the middle third you go out an get what you need, and the final third you sit back and watch as the pieces (hopefully) come together."

We are approaching the halfway mark of the season, and this is the time when deals are made. Look for a game of one-upsmanship over the next month as teams scramble to find bargains, dump contracts, and fix needs.

There’s no shortage of available talent. The New York Mets have had a disastrous season and new GM Jim Duquette will be unloading anyone he can. That would include 2B Robert Alomar, outfielders Jeremy Burnitz and Cliff Floyd, and closer Armando Benitez. Other struggling teams with talent on the block would include the Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers. Here’s a look at some good teams with weaknesses that are likely to be shopping.

Red Sox: Boston has been looking for pitching help all season, particularly in the bullpen. They acquired Byung-Hyun Kim, who can start or relieve, but are likely not done. The Red Sox have a monster offense that is No. 1 in batting average, but the pitching staff is ranked 25th in baseball.

Benitez and Texas closer Ugueth Urbina are both on the block and the Red Sox are one of the few teams that can take on extra payroll. Urbina pitched for them last season (40 saves), but the hard-throwing Benitez is a better fit. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Boston get one of them.

Yankees: New York’s erratic offense should be in fine shape when Bernie Williams and Nick Johnson return from injuries. The Yankees have had problems all season with the bullpen and are in the market for middle relief help, having just released Juan Acevedo. Urbina and Benitez would have to swallow their pride because Mariano Rivera is entrenched as the stopper.

With Rivera’s recent injury problems, it would be good to have an experienced closer in reserve. Either would be a good fit. Veterans Curtis Leskanic, Mike Williams and Tom Gordon lead the next level of available relievers. The Yanks would be wise to move struggling starter Jeff Weaver to middle relief before making a trade.

Blue Jays: Toronto has no trouble scoring runs, ranked second in batting average and sixth in home runs. Starting pitching is a problem. Expensive veterans Al Leiter of the Mets and Bartolo Colon of the White Sox might become available, and Arizona ace Curt Schilling called a coach in Toronto expressing his interest in pitching there.

Toronto has sliced payroll in recent years, so there is a question of money with respects to acquiring one of these high-priced arms. It will be interesting to see if they bite the bullet and swallow a big contract, or settle on lower-echelon starter. Rumor has it 40-year old lefty Chuck Finley is interested in coming back somewhere as a starter.

Dodgers: L.A can’t hit. The Dodgers have tons of pitching (No.1 in staff ERA), but the offense has struggled and they’re last in the major leagues in home runs. The Dodgers infield has not been productive, so Roberto Alomar might be a match. The 35-year old Alomar is having another poor season and some feel he just needs a change of scenery or a pennant race to pique his performance.

Playing in cavernous Shea Stadium has hurt his production the last two seasons: After 70 games in 2003, he was hitting .217 at home and .302 on the road. On the other hand, Dodger Stadium is just as bad a hitter’s park, so the guess here is that Alomar, if acquired, won’t jumpstart L.A.’s offense.

A’s: Oakland’s unproductive offense has been a big surprise. This is an organization that preaches plate discipline. Drawing walks has been a big key to Oakland’s success the last two years, but not this season. After 70 games, the A’s are 25th out of 30 teams in on-base percentage. What to do? When in doubt, call Kansas City for a star outfielder.

The Royals have been very good to Oakland the last few years, delivering Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye in mid-season trades. If Kansas City continues to fall behind Minnesota, talented outfielder Carlos Beltran might be on the block. His right-handed bat would be a perfect fit in Oakland’s heavily lefty lineup.

Rangers: Awful pitching may see Texas busy on the phones. The Rangers are out of any pennant race again, so many of their high-priced players are available. Need an outfielder? They have Carl Everett and Juan Gonzalez, but you may have to take them with pitcher Chan Ho Park, who is terrible, always hurt and makes $12 million a year.

If the White Sox continue to underachieve they may start to unload, and it will be interesting to see what they can get for pitcher Esteban Loaiza. A journeyman starter, Loaiza has a history of starting hot and cooling off fast. After 100 innings, Loaiza has a sensational 10-2 mark with a 2.17 ERA. With the lack of starters, teams in the race will come calling for him.

It may be the start of summer, but baseball GMs know this is the best time of the year to go shopping.