Peter Gammons Realigns Baseball, Team by Team
17 DEVIL RAYS
Lumber, But Not Limber
It seems like the Devil Rays were in the transactions column every other day this winter. "Where are they getting the money?" you wondered, knowing that the 1.7 million fans they drew last season was not only a disappointment, but fifth-lowest in the AL. Now they're in spring training with a paper payroll higher than that of the Diamondbacks, hoping to open the community's eyes while continuing the long-term development of the organization. Think of it as bread and circuses-with a strategic plan. Owner Vince Naimoli figured that if he gives the fans a team that bangs home runs, they will come. So to go with Jose Canseco, the Devil Rays re-signed Fred McGriff for $12M over two years, lavished $34M on Greg Vaughn for four years, gave Gerald Williams a two-year, $11.5M deal and traded for Vinny Castilla. While the average age of their starting lineup is 31.5 (older than the Yankee starters), at least they now have the firepower to play a lot of 14-11 games. Plus, they're that much closer to their retiree demographic. The Rays also spent a ton on a trio of veteran arms-Juan Guzman, Steve Trachsel, John Burkett-theorizing that if two young keepers named Ryan Rupe and Dan Wheeler develop as expected, they'll someday soon have a solid staff. What they have to do immediately, however, is catch the ball better and throw it straighter, and that will be the spring training emphasis. The Rays allowed 108 unearned runs last season, the most in baseball. And yet, while the stated goal is to cut down on the errors, the players they signed prompted one executive to ask if they were still interested in Kevin Mitchell. The short-term plan is to give the Tampa Bay area something to embrace. The Rays believe that as the season unfolds, the depth of bullpen arms-from Roberto Hernandez to hard-throwers like Albie Lopez and Esteban Yan-will help them make some deals. They need young, athletic middle infielders who can handle what is likely the fastest turf in baseball. They need a legitimate leadoff hitter. And, like everybody else, they need a few more young arms. In the meantime, what they have in store for fans at Tropicana Field are a lot of bombs, a lot of balls rolling to the wall and a lot of time to buy concessions. By the way, the sushi at the Trop is excellent.
Close to Completion
For three years the Pirates have been carefully pointing to 2001, when they will open their new ballpark. So after edging up from the 1998 season, when they lost 25 of their last 30, to last season, when they finished just five games below .500, the Bucs want to be competitive in 2000 as they prepare for their return to contention. To get to that level, they have to have things go right. Catcher and team spark plug Jason Kendall, who severely dislocated his ankle last July 4, has to be fully recovered. Young OF Chad Hermansen, who can run, hit for power (32 homers in Triple-A) and electrify crowds, needs to cut down on his strikeouts and make the big leap to the majors-now. And rookie Aramis Ramirez has to take charge at 3B. If all that works out in Bradenton, and if the return of Pat Meares to SS-where he started only 21 games last season-steadies a defense that made 147 errors and coughed up 93 unearned runs, the Buccos may be on their way. Brian Giles has become a star. Kevin Young had 20 homers, 20 steals, 40 doubles and 100 RBI. And Kendall and 2B Warren Morris are stars in the making. If they can figure out where to play Wil Cordero and improve the combined .223 hitting they had in the 7-8 spots, the offense can be decent. O And decent will be good enough, because their rebuilding plan is predicated on pitching. Kris Benson won 11 games as a rookie and is a legitimate staff leader. Todd Ritchie, the former Twins first-rounder picked up as a minor league free agent, won 15 games-the first Pirate to do so since Doug Drabek in 1992-and was throwing 94 mph in the ninth inning of starts. With Jason Schmidt and Francisco Cordova, they have four starters capable of 200 innings and 10-15 wins. Big (6'5") righthander Jose Silva had a 1.95 ERA in 22 relief appearances and converted four of five save opportunities after being sent to the bullpen. And in fireballer Jeff Wallace, Scott Sauerbeck and either Jimmy Anderson or Chris Peters, they could have three solid lefties in the pen. If the pen fits together, the Pirates could have the sort of pitching that could keep them in the race for 85-87 wins. Then they have to come up with a plan and a budget that will take them into their new ballpark next season as legitimate contenders.
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
The Phillies just can't seem to catch a break. They went out and showed Curt Schilling they were serious by trading for Andy Ashby and signing Mike Jackson, and what happens? Schilling finds out he needs a shoulder operation, and could miss a month or two of the season. They have phenom slugger Pat Burrell (.333, 28 homers in Double-A) just about ready to step in and make everyone in South Philly forget J.D. Drew, and what happens? Not only can't they get anyone to take Ron Gant off their hands, but in January, Rico Brogna has to have his knee scoped. Still, as the Phillies try to regroup and threaten to have just their second winning season in 14 years, nobody figures this to be their breakout year, not with the Braves and Mets in the division. But what they still reasonably hope to do is crack .500, regain some respectability and be ready to contend in 2001. That, the organization believes, would help build support for a desperately needed new ballpark to replace the aptly named Vet. Spring training will determine if Burrell is ready to step in and play. Chances are, he'll spend most of the summer in Triple-A finishing school. When he's ready, Burrell will join a nucleus of talented young players: Scott Rolen, Doug Glanville, Mike Lieberthal-and Bobby Abreu. How many people realize how good Abreu is? He batted .335, walked 109 times, stole 27 bases, scored 118 runs and knocked in 109. The Phillies have to decide how far they can go with Desi Relaford at SS and Marlon Anderson at 2B. How those two play in Clearwater this spring may go a long way toward determining their future. With Schilling down-they don't even want to think about the possibility of a post-rehab Schil being anything less than the old Schil-they have to see how the starters line up after Ashby. Rotation candidates Randy Wolf and Robert Person showed promise in 1999, but the Phils will also audition a long line of Chris Brocks and Joe Grahes in spring training, and move some of those candidates into the bullpen brigade with closer Jackson, Wayne Gomes and Jeff Brantley. This is no longer simply a building proposition. Now the Phils have to decide what to keep and what to throw back, because in 2001, they're going to want to move in with the rich kids of the NL East.
The Air and the Pitching Are Still Thin
The first order of business this spring may be to put names on the front of the uniform in addition to having them on the back. Dan O'Dowd was hired last fall to overhaul an organization that was decaying. He hired Buddy Bell as manager. He made a four-team trade. By the time he gets to Tucson, he will have more than 30 new players. He also has a new philosophy of how to develop a team to play in Coors Light Field, where balls travel and the outfield has the acreage of West Texas. Still in place: Larry Walker in RF, Todd Helton at 1B, Mike Lansing at 2B, Neifi Perez at SS, Pedro Astacio and Brian Bohanon in the rotation. Period. Former Milwaukee All-Star 3B Jeff Cirillo replaces Vinny Castilla. According to O'Dowd's computer projections, Cirillo-playing half his games in Coors-should hit .353 with 25 homers and 115 RBI. Also gone is Dante Bichette, who provided big lumber but little leather. The outfield now has three virtual centerfielders- Walker, CF Tom Goodwin and LF Jeffrey Hammonds-who can cut off the alleys and run the plains. The improved defense should make the pitchers at least a little happier. Finding pitchers who can survive in that park is like recruiting crash-test dummies. What Bell and pitching coach Marcel Lachemann will stress to their pitchers this spring is that to be successful in Coors, they have to throw strikes, change speeds and increase their groundball/flyball ratio. And not be too picky about their ERAs-it's the W's that matter. Then they'll try to sort through the pitchers who came in the mail. Ex-Devil Ray Rolando Arrojo has been an All-Star and had a decent 1.31 groundball/flyball ratio last season. Ex-Cardinals Jose Jimenez and Manny Aybar have very good arms, and Jimenez was tops in the NL in groundball/flyball ratio in '99. Ex-Brewer Scott Karl throws strikes and competes. As they work toward the season, O'Dowd will keep working the phones, trying to relaunch a franchise in dire need of a new direction. Do they seriously expect to contend against Arizona, Los Angeles and San Francisco this season? Probably not. Can they start to bring back the sellouts that made Coors such a wonderful place its first few years? Yes. And if they keep Walker, Goodwin and, especially, Hammonds healthy, they could surprise. At Coors, strange things do happen.
A Definite Change of Stripes
On Opening Day 1998, the Tigers thought they were on the verge of becoming the Indians II-a young team that would hit the power circle just as their new stadium opened in 2000. But they stumbled, and GM Randy Smith fired Buddy Bell. Last season they lost 92 games, and Smith fired Larry Parrish. Now Comerica Park is opening, and Smith has been forced to lay his professional life on the line, hiring Phil Garner as manager and trading several prime products of a farm system he worked hard to develop for Juan Gonzalez. And then he had to commit $140M over eight years to make the deal worthwhile. On paper, the Tigers don't look too bad. Tony Clark did hit 23 HRs in the second half. Damion Easley is an All-Star 2B with power and range. Deivi Cruz is a good SS. Dean Palmer always hits homers. Brad Ausmus is an All-Star receiver. Bobby Higginson has been a good player. And they think Juan Encarnacion can be one. But the club had almost the same look last year and turned out to be, well, Paper Tigers. Enter Gonzalez, a dominant offensive force and two-time MVP-but also a free-swinging, all-or-nothing guy, which only adds to an old Tiger problem. Their OBP out of the first three lineup spots was .336-simply dreadful. That's why they hit 212 home runs and still managed to score fewer runs than the Devil Rays. Tiger starters were 51-71 with a 5.57 ERA last season, and their best arm, Justin Thompson, was sacrificed in the Gonzalez deal. They replaced him with Hideo Nomo, which could be a wash. So the task is to put Jeff Weaver, their best prospect, back on track, get Seth Greisinger healthy and hope a kid like Victor Santos shows enough this spring to warrant a spot. Then, with veterans Brian Moehler, Dave Mlicki and C.J. Nitkowski, they'll just have to hope for the best. The bullpen can be very good, especially if Matt Anderson harnesses his 100 mph fastball. As he left for Tigertown, Smith read what another GM had to say about the Gonzalez deal: "The easiest way to get fired is to trade for a player who can be a free agentand have to sign him, which is what happened to Randy." A grain of truth? Maybe. But it doesn't matter: Smith knew he had to do something-and fast. After all, Plan A hadn't exactly worked out.
Not Exactly a Masterpiece
Jeff Loria is a rarity-a baseball owner who actually likes baseball. He's also an art dealer. There are those who might argue that investing $75M to save the Expos is like going to an auction and spending $75M on an oil painting by Britney Spears. Loria started off by declaring to the good people of Montreal that the laughable sell-offs of the last five years were finis. "The Expos' days of being a farm team for the rest of baseball are over," he said in English and French at his first press conference. Then he actually went out and overpaid Graeme Lloyd, not so much for Lloyd's closing skills, but as a statement-he was, after all, the first free agent signed by Les Expos since Elias Sosa in 1979, two years before Montreal's only postseason appearance. Next he allowed GM Jim Beattie to pull off a man-bites-dog story: The Expos traded prospects to the Yankees for Hideki Irabu. And he signed free agent Mickey Morandini. Now, as they head into spring training, Montreal has a higher payroll than three-fifths of the AL Central. "We will make this work," says Loria. "And we will get our ballpark." The Expos have already unveiled plans for a 35,000-seat, downtown, outdoor-only ballpark that would replace what may be the worst stadium in big league history, Olympic Stadium. The team that Loria bought does have some talent. Vladimir Guerrero could be the MVP any year. Mike Barrett, whether at third or behind the plate, is a potential star. Beattie has admitted to Rondell White that he probably needs to be traded off artificial turf, but in closer Ugueth Urbina and starter Dustin Hermanson- who signed a long-term deal, as well-they have the foundation of a pitching staff. If they are to move up, though, the Expos have to have several of their young players mature in spring training so they can come into the season on a roll. Among them are pitchers Carl Pavano (Big Mac's No.70 victim), Tony Armas Jr., Javier Vazquez and Miguel Batista, as well as outfielders Milton Bradley and future leadoff man Peter Bergeron. It would also help if 1B Brad Fullmer hit the way he did the first half of 1998 and the second half of 1999-and improved his defense. "There's a lot of talent here," says Loria. "What we have to do is keep it, develop it and capture the public's imagination. It can be done. It will be done."
23 WHITE SOx
One Big Hurt and Lots of Little Ones
Chicago is the third-biggest market in the country. In the year after the White Sox had the second-lowest attendance in the AL, they open spring training with the third-lowest payroll. And Frank Thomas accounts for slightly more than one-quarter of that expenditure. Jerry Reinsdorf is a big part of the reason that people haven't liked the White Sox. He had a chance to build the first Camden Yards, and built the vanilla New Comiskey. He wanted the 1994 strike, and then blamed it for his team's troubles. He asked Michael Jordan to be a replacement player. He exploded the salary structures by signing Albert Belle, then wondered why fans don't like the players. ut rather than firing dollars into the sky for players who aren't taking them into October, Reinsdorf has accepted the low attendance and given his organization the opportunity to retool. One year from now, they may be ready to move into the Indians' neighborhood, and then you'll probably see Reinsdorf spend. Meanwhile, this season is the last grading period. First, they have to find out if Thomas' two-year decline is merely a bump in the road of a great career; The Big Hurt worked this winter with old guru Walt Hriniak. They need another year's seasoning for talented young players like Ray Durham, Magglio Ordonez, Paul Konerko and Carlos Lee, while finding out if boffo rookie Chris Singleton or McKay Christensen is the CF of the future. They want to see how close young 3B Joe Crede and C Josh Paul are to helping, while they stick veteran Jose Valentin at SS in place of the talented but erratic Mike Caruso. Also on the agenda is the development of what could be one of the best young pitching staffs in the league in two years. Kip Wells, Aaron Myette and Jon Garland are all under-23s with high ceilings who will eventually allow James Baldwin and lefties Jim Parque and Mike Sirotka to fill more suitable roles. The 5.25 starters' ERA of last season may be their worst for a long time, because Wells and Myette should be in the rotation by June, supported by some very strong bullpen arms. Check Keith Foulke's 1999 stats, then hope he doesn't have problems bouncing back from 100-plus innings of relief work. If he's okay, the Sox get a little better. And maybe someday soon, they'll actually be liked.
Two-Way Hit Parade
The 1999 Royals scored more runs than any team in the once-proud history of the franchise. Yes, that means more than the Royals of George Brett, Willie Wilson and Hal McRae. They also allowed more runs than any team in franchise history. Which means they allowed more than, well, the 1998 Royals. They actually had more quality starts than the Indians, but their bullpen was a tawdry wreck, blowing 30 saves and losing 35 games in which they led or were tied going into the seventh inning. So when the Cardinals released Ricky Bottalico, whose ERA the last two years was 5.48, the Royals grabbed him to rehabilitate him. They've brought in Jerry Spradlin, Tyler Green and anyone who ever threw hard. They hope Jose Rosado and Jeff Suppan build on decent 1999 seasons. They pray they can find at least one starter lurking in the Jay Witasick/Blake Stein/Chris Fussell trio. And they're keeping their fingers crossed that kids like Dan Reichert, Chris George, Jeff Austin, Kyle Snyder and Mike McDougal will develop by mid-
season. If former Wal-Mart boss David Glass can stabilize ownership and put some serious money behind the search for pitching, then the Royals may be able to keep some of the promises they've made to their fans. It's been a long time since they've been able to do that. Carlos Beltran and Carlos Febles are young players with outstanding skills and live bodies. Jermaine Dye hit 27 homers and played a superb rightfield in a breakout season. Johnny Damon hits line drives from foul pole to foul pole. Mike Sweeney hit .322, scored 101 runs and knocked in 102. Mark Quinn and Jeremy Giambi hit .360 and .346, respectively, in Triple-A. On the immediate horizon is young OF Dee Brown, who can mash and step in when Damon becomes too expensive. It will be interesting this spring to watch how Tony Muser sorts out the pitching, nurtures Austin, Reichert and young reliever Orber Moreno and pushes Beltran and Febles. The Royals have operated without strong leadership the last few years, but with Brett finally jumping into the organizational chart and a strong financial commitment from Glass, they may be able to crawl out of the basement window in the next couple of years. For now? Hey, at least they'll score runs.
They'd Better Knock on Wood
In less than four months, the bottom dropped out. The Cubs were 32-23 on June 9. They went 35-72 the remainder of the season to finish last. After sifting through the rubble, the Tribune Company hired Don Baylor and allowed GM Ed Lynch to spend the money to bring in Ismael Valdes and Eric Young. Thus they laid the groundwork for the not-too-distant future, when they'll have Kerry Wood healthy and Corey Patterson patrolling center-two young players who make people want to leave work early and get to Wrigley Field. Spring training will feature the Wood Watch and the Patterson Preview. In Wood's case, of course, Baylor has to determine how close the 1998 Rookie of the Year is to coming back from elbow surgery, how free his motion is and how quickly he is able to get back the torque in an arm that throws some balls 100 mph and makes others curve as if defying nature. For Patterson, the 20-year-old who hit .320 with 72 extra-base hits in the Midwest League and then tore up the Arizona Fall League, spring training will be a month-long master class from Baylor on how to play the game-to be continued when Patterson arrives in Wrigley some time in the summer. The Cubs should be far better than last season. If Wood comes back, 36-year-old Kevin Tapani stays healthy and Kyle Farnsworth starts harnessing his exceptional arm-which he did in his final three starts-then with Valdes and Jon Lieber, they will have a competitive five-man rotation that could blossom into one of the best in the league. The bullpen needs help, though. Rick Aguilera is old enough to have been Padres GM Kevin Towers' college roommate at BYU, and he doesn't have much in front of him. Young gets on base and can run, which should change the nature of the offense. Last year, the Cubs' first and second hitters combined for a measly .322 OBP, so the 146 homers they got out of Sammy Sosa and the rest of the bats in the 3-4-5-6 spots were often wasted. If Wood is as healthy as early reports indicate he is, and if Patterson is the special player the Cubs believe he is, then when Sammy's contract is up in two years, he may not have to leave the home he's made on the North Side of Chicago to play on a pennant contender.
Presenting Your 1997 World Champions
The next time you hear someone say, "I'd trade everyone for one championship," click on flamarlins.com and see if you can figure out how long it'll take for the trees to grow back. Now they've had one winning season out of seven, soon to be eight. Until the new, enthusiastic owner John Henry pulls a Miami stadium out of a hat, this remains a franchise stuck among such Florida roadside attractions as Orville Tribewasser's House of Taxidermy. When John Boles replaced Jim Leyland after Leyland took the evacuation route, he assumed the role of Mr. Chips, the kindly, firm headmaster. His general manager, Dave Dombrowski, has been widely applauded for restocking the organization in deals for all the players who won the 1997 world championship. But except for Alex Fernandez, there is no player who can be a ballast for all the youngsters. Preston Wilson proved to be an electrifying rookie, and if Clifford Floyd can stay healthy and Mike Lowell has regained his strength 13 months after his battle with cancer, then they have the makings of a middle of the lineup. Flashy 2B Luis Castillo stole 50 bases and had a .384 OBP last year, so there's a bona fide generator at the top of the order. A patient man, Boles will allow SS Alex Gonzalez to mature, provide C Ramon Castro with on-the-job training and give 1B Derrek Lee and OF Mark Kotsay the season to prove they're everyday players. If not, OF-1B Brant Brown goes from role player to regular. If Fernandez can push past the 100-pitch limit that restricted him last season, then the young pitchers can develop in his wake. Vladimir Nunez, Ryan Dempster and Joe Fontenot have the 2-3-4 spots-for now. Three potential No. 1 horses-A.J. Burnett, Brad Penny and Jason Grilli-stand in line waiting for their shots. Antonio Alfonseca was given the ball after Matt Mantei was traded and had 21 saves in 25 chances. This winter, he went on a conditioning regimen and lost 20-plus pounds. Henry must sell the ballpark concept, but he also must sell fans on this team's legitimate talent. He also has to convince them that he won't give away that talent as players near arbitration eligibility. The good thing is that he has something to sell: The two best-stocked organizations in the game, most observers agree, are the A's and the Marlins.
Wait 'til the Year After Next Year
Okay, they're not like the Marlins. Their payroll will be more than twice that of their East Coast cousins, for one thing. The downtown ballpark they're planning will benefit all of San Diego- including the San Diego Symphony. And they've begun aligning young players for the 2002 opening. But fishy things keep happening. A lawyer sues, trying to put the park back on the ballot. Then, when they trade Andy Ashby to the Phillies for three young pitchers rather than lose him to free agency in November, the best of the newcomers, Carlton Loewer, falls out of a tree while hunting, costing him half a season. Oh, yes-and they're still paying Randy Myers. With Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and closer Trevor Hoffman keeping fond memories of 1998 aglow, the Pads tried to add power by trading for Bret Boone and Ryan Klesko and their potential 50 homers. Free agent (and All-Star) Ed Sprague fell through the cracks to them, so they have some added righthanded power. But the strategic plan for Ballpark 2002 requires that they find out now who can play and who can't, and where they can find additional talent. For instance, they have two good young catchers-Wiki Gonzalez and Ben Davis-and a rehabbing veteran, Carlos Hernandez. Is there a market for Hernandez? Should they choose between Gonzalez and Davis and trade the other? (Arizona talked of a Davis-Travis Lee deal last fall.) Can Mike Darr move into the outfield with his multiple skills? Can Matt Clement get command of his nasty, running stuff? How long will it be before 3B Sean Burroughs, who hit .359 in the Midwest League, moves to the middle of the order in San Diego? Now that it appears the ballpark referendum will not go back on the ballot and they can stick to their 2002 projections, one of the most important elements in spring training will be the marketing of Sterling Hitchcock. The Padres are still over budget and unlikely to find a taker for SS Chris Gomez, so they expect to have several teams looking at Hitchcock this spring. They hope to deal his workable contract- he's signed through 2001 at $6M, practically bargain basement for frontline lefties-for a young power hitter and a power arm. Count on one other change: no-hunting clauses in player contracts.
Cleaning the Same Old House
Brewers owner Wendy Selig-Prieb has said that she doesn't feel sorry for herself or the club, not when three men lost their lives in the construction of Miller Park. That was tragedy-postponement of the opening of the new stadium was just unfortunate. Actually, the Brewers can make good use of the extra time. Now new GM Dean Taylor and new manager Davey Lopes will have a full year to shape the team before bumping up against the heightened expectations that will come with the new venue. Taylor essentially wiped out the entire starting infield, trading Jeff Cirillo, Jose Valentin and Fernando Vina to get pitching and making it clear that rookie Kevin Barker-who has knocked in at least 100 runs in each of his three full pro seasons-will replace Sean Berry at first. Gone are five of the six pitchers who started the most games for the Brewers. But before you call your cousin Bud in Waukesha to offer your condolences, remember that Rafael Roque was their Opening Day starter in 1999. Enough said. Lopes has two
definite strengths: 1) an outfield of Jeromy Burnitz, Marquis Grissom and Geoff Jenkins that's capable of 90 homers; 2) the bullpen, anchored by Bob Wickman. And the DP combination of SS Mark Loretta (who had a .392 OBP leading off ) and 2B Ron Belliard can hit. New 3B Jose Hernandez brings pop and versatility, but also 140-K potential. Lopes, the former Dodger and the pride of East Providence, R.I., has to sort out all the new arms. Holdover Steve Woodard is an innings guy. Former phenom Jeff D'Amico may be ready for a comeback. Jamey Wright, who came in the four-team deal for Cirillo, has a high ceiling. Jimmy Haynes, Juan Acevedo and John Snyder have live arms, which should be refreshing. If you hit off that Brewers staff last year, you got a steady diet of 87 mph sinkers and sliders. The new guys at least throw hard. Last year, basestealers succeeded against Milwaukee at an 80% rate. But another part of the Cirillo trade, C Henry Blanco, had the NL's highest percentage throwing out runners. By the end of this season, Lopes and the Brewers should have a good fix on what they need. Then they can add $15-20M to the budget-thank you, Miller Park-and go shop in what promises to be the strongest, most diverse free agent market ever.
Who Wants to Be an Angel?
They signed Mo and finished last with 92 losses. For 39 years, be they the Los Angeles or California or Anaheim Angels, the proud product of Gene Autry or Disney-nothing has ever worked. By the time Vaughn fell down the dugout steps and tore up his ankle April 6, Jim Edmonds was already on the DL, where he would remain until August. Tim Belcher and Ken Hill-72 DL days combined- spent much of the summer aching. Manager Terry Collins, saying he had tried everything, quit in tears Sept. 3. GM Bill Bavasi resigned under fire Oct. 1. (The closest the Red Sox have come to erasing the Curse of the Bambino was 1986. Why? Because they played the Angels in the ALCS.) There are still some good players on this team: Vaughn, Edmonds, Tim Salmon, Darin Erstad, Gary DiSarcina, Garret Anderson, Troy Percival. But even the appointment of a new GM (Bill Stoneman) and a bright new manager (Mike Scioscia) does not alter the perception that this franchise is hopelessly stalled on the Santa Ana Freeway. Club president Tony Tavares promised to shake up the team, but the spring training clubhouse contains not one significant addition. They scored the second-fewest runs in the league because they had no one to get on base, and did nothing to improve. They ranked 11th in the AL in homers and 12th in stolen bases, and did nothing to improve. Their starting pitchers won 42 games-18 fewer than the next-worst staff in the division-and they did nothing to improve. (Unless you want to count adding two released veterans, Tom Candiotti and Kent Mercker-and you don't.) All winter, they tried to trade Edmonds and Anderson for young players or pitching. No takers. And they're still trying. No change. Sooner or later, they'll have to address their pitching, or lack thereof. Hill has chronic elbow tendinitis. Belcher likely won't be back. That leaves Candiotti and Mercker, plus youngsters Ramon Ortiz (a potential big-timer), Jarrod Washburn, Scott Schoeneweis, Seth Etherton and Brian Cooper, who were a combined 39-34 in Double-A and Triple-A. To make the inexperience worse, they want to throw them out there with a kid catcher, Ben Molina. Maybe what Disney needs to do is put whoever came up with the idea for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in charge of the grievous Angels for a while.
Hopelessness Springs Eternal
This was such a great place once, and that wasn't so long ago. No one whined about the BaggyDome being anything but one of the sports world's greatest home-court advantages. They had Kirby and Hrbie, and while Bill Clinton was out on his first presidential campaign trail, the Twinkies won 90 games. With their two world championships in five years, the Twins scared the socks off the A's. And then it all turned to ashes. Owner Carl Pohlad demands the smallest payroll in the game. They haven't developed any major league pitching. And the St. Paul Saints are better-liked. The BaggyDome isn't even much of a help to the Twins. Why? Lack of power to reach the baggies. They hit 105 homers, 40 fewer than the next-worst power team in the league. (At least Tampa Bay did something about it.) Run the league average by position in the field or by position in the batting order, and you get the same result: The 1999 Twins were below average at every position. Pohlad let his best closer (Mike Trombley) leave, and he would like to trade one of his two best starters (Brad Radke). And yet he wonders why Minnesota voters would elect Jesse Ventura as governor but won't donate one penny of their own money to give the richest man in the state-that would be himself-a free facility. The time has come to let potential power hitters like 3B Corey Koskie and 1B David Ortiz play. Well-traveled Butch Huskey has more HR pop than the departed Marty Cordova. Sophomore SS Cristian Guzman, whose arm matches anyone's, had a nice rookie season, and young OFs Jacque Jones, Chad Allen and Torii Hunter show promise. This spring, Tom Kelly has to determine who's worth keeping. At the winter meetings, GM Terry Ryan told clubs he had two untouchables, Koskie and Eric Milton. They offered Radke a three-year, $21M package, which he rejected. If he doesn't sign, he might be gone before Opening Day. Starter Joe Mays may be a keeper and LaTroy Hawkins has the stuff, the aptitude and athleticism to be a winner. Otherwise, the development of pitchers has been a disaster. Trombley's departure means they have four 1999 saves on the spring roster, but with lefties Everyday Eddie Guardado and J.C. Romero, they do have some upside. Uh, oh-Everyday Eddie is a free agent at the end of the season.
In the Stands Scouts scramble for seats, trying to figure out who among Randy Winn, Dave Martinez, Quinton McCracken, Jose Guillen, Bubba Trammell and Steve Cox will stick-and who'll be available in trade.
Devil Ray starters averaged an anemic 5.41 IP per outing last year, worst mark in majors.
Players-Only Meeting, 4 p.m. Today's Topic: "How to Say 'See You Next Spring' to Baseball Grannies."
Third Base The Bucs need Aramis Ramirez to take over at hot corner. If he doesn't, they'll have to play Wil Cordero there.
With SS Pat Meares hurt and 2B Warren Morris still learning, Pirates IF combined for an ML-worst 99 errors in 1999.
Coach Stargell running drills: "Once again, from the top, 'We are fam-alee / I got all my sisters with me '"
First Base/Leftfield If Pat Burrell shows he's ready to hit ML pitching, then Rico Brogna (1B) or Ron Gant (LF) should get ready to hit the road.
Despite Ron Gant's woeful .260, Phillies OF combined for .305 BA last season, tops in ML.
"It's going to be a tough adjustment," rookie Pat Burrell says of moving up to Philadelphia. "I really loved playing in front of big crowds."
Catcher They signed ex-Giants Brent Mayne and Scott Servais. But they want rookie Ben Petrick to win the job.
Power numbers aren't the only things that spike in Coors. Last season's team ERA (6.01) was NL's highest since 1930 Phillies (6.71).
New Rockies pitchers get together for first time to compare notes about pitching in Coors: "I see dead people."
Closer Youngster Matt Anderson throws 100-plus mph. Veteran Todd Jones gets guys out.
Tigers were only team in majors to drive home fewer than half of their runners from third base with fewer than two outs in an inning.
"Sure, Juan's built. But he's no Gabe Kapler."
Outfield At least the left two-thirds, where rookies Peter Bergeron and Milton Bradley try to oust Wilton Guerrero and turn Rondell White into trade bait.
You could blame Expos' ML-leading postseason drought (18 years) on the 1994 strike. You should blame it on (mis) management.
Hideki Irabu fails to cover first base. New owner Jeff Loria calls him "un gros crapaud."
Third Base A donnybrook featuring Greg Norton, Craig Wilson, Jeff Liefer and rookie Joe Crede.
White Sox infielders made 93 errors in 1999, which tied them with Red Sox for most in AL.
"Look on the bright side, at least we're better than the Bulls."
DH September phenom Mark Quinn, Jeremy Giambi and Todd Dunwoody slug it out.
Is there any relief in sight? Last year, KC relievers combined for 20-36 record, most losses by any bullpen in ML.
Jermaine Dye puts moratorium on questions about breaking Steve Balboni's team HR record (36): "If I have 30 at the end of August, then we can talk."
Centerfield Damon Buford tries to hold off up-and-coming super rook Corey Patterson. He probably will-until July.
Last year's Cubbies never quit. Seven times they won games they trailed going into ninth. Only Braves and Cards had as many of those comeback W's.
Don Baylor logs onto Cubs official Web site and sees that his Opening Day lineup has already been posted.
First Base Can Derrek Lee shorten his swing and keep Brant Brown and Kevin Millar on the bench?
Wrong league? Marlins' 31-18 record vs. AL is best interleague mark in majors since gimmick uh, format was introduced in 1997.
John Boles fires up the Fish: "If the ride from Viera to Dade County doesn't get the juices flowing, men, nothing in this game will."
Leftfield If Ryan Klesko hits lefties, rookie Mike Darr and Eric Owens will split time in center.
Pads won 24 fewer games last year (74) than season before-biggest drop in majors from 1998 to 1999.
"Don't look now, but I'm pretty sure No. 45 over there used to be Danny Tartabull."
Rotation Jamey Wright, Jaime Navarro, Juan Acevedo, Jeff D'Amico and Jimmy Haynes seek the truth.
Seven straight losing seasons for Brewers keeps them tied with Twins and Pirates for longest current futility streaks in major leagues.
"Hey Wendy, do you think you could ask your dad to suspend Randy Johnson for six weeks?"
No. 1 Starter It's a scrum among Ken Hill, Tom Candiotti and Kent Mercker. Ooph.
Angels are only AL team with a winning record (12-9, including postseason games) against Yankees over last two seasons. Too bad they have to play bad teams as well.
"Hey, Mo-tell us again about how great it was in Boston."
First Base Can slugger David Ortiz beat out Ron Coomer and Doug Mientkiewicz?
Rookies combined to start 651 games in 1999 (an average of four-plus rooks per game), most by any team in majors.
"We won't be intimidated by anybody Holy @#%!*! Their second baseman shaves!"
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