This week in baseball

Andy Zides

The other day while watching pre-game Superbowl interviews and highlights on ESPN with my friends in Dana, a short tribute was made for former “Miracle Met” center fielder, Tommie Agee, who died of a heart attack at 58 years old. A few video clips from his playing days were shown. You saw Agee at bat, running the bases, and making two great catches in the 1969 World Series.
As soon as the tribute was over and ESPN went to a commercial, Bill Villany, who was one of my friends watching it, said, “You know, I can’t wait for baseball to start.” We all agreed. Just watching a few baseball highlights from the 1960’s rekindled something. Who really cared anyway what Antwon Walker, Stephan Marbury and Theo Flury did last night? I told my friends that pitchers and catchers report for spring training in about 25 days. Matt Pereia said, “Yeah Zides, you would know that,” and everyone laughed. “So what did you guys think of David Wells going to Chicago?” I said. And then we discussed baseball through the obselite basketball, football, and hockey highlights, and it was as if it was late August again and the pennant race was heating up. Hearing my friends vigorously stand up for the likes of Jose Offerman and Timo Perez, says something about how much we all care for baseball.
Money is boring and who wants to listen to more talk of the mammoth salaries of Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Mike Hampton. All that really matters now is that ARod is a Ranger, Ramirez is with the Red Sox and Hampton is with the Rockies. Yet there were many more off season moves made, some, like the Indians pick up of Juan Gonzalez, which was lost in a sea of other signings and trades. Here are all the other significant off season moves and happenings up-to-date:
The Astros resigned Jeff Bagwell and the rumors of him being traded to his hometown of Boston, are over
– The Braves will have the pitching services of John Smoltz this year, who missed all of 2000. They also signed their former star rookie, Steve Avery, after about five years
– Mo Vaughn will miss most of the 2001 season for the Angels with a torn bicep. The Angels signed Jose Canseco and Ismael Valdes
– Pat Hentgan signed with the Orioles
– Tony Gwynn resigned with the Padres and will finish his Hall of Fame career in San Diego
– David Cone, Hideo Nomo, and Craig Greback were signed by the Red Sox
– Kevin Appier and Steve Traschel were signed by the Mets. Rick Reed and Al Leiter also resigned
– Mike Mussina was signed by the Yankees
– Charles Johnson was signed by the Marlins
– The A’s traded Ben Grieve to the Devil Rays in a multiplayer/ multiteam deal, which sent Johnny Damon to the A’s and Roberto Hernandez to the Royals
– Fernando Tatis was traded by the Cardinals to the Expos for Dustin Hermanson and more pitching
– David Wells was traded by the Blue Jays to the White Sox for Mike Sirotko and more pitching
– Mark Grace signed with the Diamondbacks
– Darin Driefort resigned with the Dodgers, and Ramon Martinez and Andy Ashby also signed with them
As spring training approaches more deals will be made. Arbitration cases between players and their owners will be resolved. Numerous minor league contracts will be signed and non roster spring training invitees will have the opportunity to sign with Major League clubs. There will be more free agent signings and a few minor trades. The probability of a blockbuster trade is unlikely, because clubs like to enter spring training with particular mindsets. If major players are traded, then the philosophy of a club might change, just as the team is supposed to be coming together and taking shape during spring training. There probably will not be another major trade until close to the All Star break.
It is not difficult to predict some teams that will be competitive and make a serious run at the post season in 2001. The four National League teams that made the post season last year will remain at the top of the NL. The Giants under Dusty Baker will always remain one of baseball’s most fundamentally sound teams. Even if Mark McGwire doesn’t play too often for the Cardinals, their deep pitching staff and great blend of young and old offensive talent, will keep them on top. The Braves, who will get John Smoltz back this year, are still the team to beat in the NL. They have been in the post season every year since 1991, though they only have won one World Series in that time. Other NL clubs to look out for are the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. These two high budget clubs are just like the Orioles in that they look great on paper, but seem to never be able to put all the talent together.
Many New York Mets fans are still upset over losing Mike Hampton and not picking up another ace to replace him. Though resigning Al Leiter and Rick Reed, and acquiring Kevin Appier and Steve Straschel via free agency should ensure the Mets at least a very good pitching staff, they still are one top starter away from having a World Series caliber pitching staff. Offensively however, the Mets do have a World Series caliber club. Mike Piazza and Edgardo Alfonso are two of baseball’s best all around hitters. Robin Ventura and Todd Zeile struggled at times last year, but still are fine veteran players to have in the middle of a batting order. Jay Payton is the model hard working Major Leaguer and will continue to improve. The corner outfield spots for the Mets are question marks though. Benny Agbayani is a good fastball hitter, but because he has played way over his head at times, expectations for his abilities as the everyday left fielder may be exaggerated. For every three hits Agbayani got in 2000, he struck out two times. Who will play right field is the biggest question mark of all. Timo Perez showed flashes of Pepper Martin, Kenny Loften, and other dangerous post season speedsters. However, Perez is very young, and in order for him to win the job as the regular starter in right, he must perfect the drag bunt, cut way down on his strikeouts, put the ball into play on nearly every at bat, and have an excellent eye at the plate.
In the American League the road to the World Series goes through the Yankees. As if the Yanks really needed Mike Mussina anyway. As soon as the hall of fame skills of David Cone eroded, Mussina was acquired to fill the hole. Though Roger Clemens, Orlando Hernandez, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neil, Scott Brosius, David Justice, and Bernie Williams are over 33 years of age, the Yanks continue to buy younger stars as the older ones stop producing. If they win the World Series this year, they will become the first team since the 1949-52 Yankees to win the championship four years running. Oh yeah, the Yanks also won the World Series in 1953.
Though the Indians lost Manny Ramirez, they signed Juan Gonzalez. If Gonzalez’s back stays healthy, he could carry the Tribe again to the post season. The White Sox pick up of David Wells gives them much needed stability in their bullpen. If James Baldwin recovers from his shoulder surgery to win 14 games again, and Jim Parque can continue to improve his crafty skills, the hard hitting White Sox may once again defeat the Indians in the AL Central. The Mariners pitching staff is one of the deepest in the Majors, but they have been without a solid ace since they lost Randy Johnson to the Astros in 1998. Look for Freddy Garcia to become somewhat of a Bartolo Colon type starter. Though Arod will sorely be missed, the Mariners have enough money saved up from which they tried to resign him, that they will be a major player in mid season trades and free agency next year.
And now for my beloved Red Sox, god bless them as always. It would have been better for them to sign Mike Mussina then Manny Ramirez, but no true New Englander is complaining. The heart of the Sox lineup, which will feature Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, Carl Everett and Dante Bichette, is more potent then any other middle of any team’s batting order in baseball. With baseball’s batting and pitching leaders from 2000, the acquisition of Ramirez, Craig Greback (who is one of the game’s most underrated hitters) Hideo Nomo, and David Cone, I’m calling a Red Sox victory in the World Series and baseball’s champions on their 100 birthday. Ramirez will homer in his first at bat at Fenway Park on April 6 and David Cone will clinch a playoff spot against the Yankees during their four game series in mid September. Pedro Martinez will win his third consecutive Cy Young and “Nomah” will bat .406, tying Ted Williams mark fifty years later. Believe it baby!