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Cooperstown Confidential
by Bruce Markusen
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Cooperstown Confidential By Bruce Markusen

Little Mac To The Mets

What exactly were the Cardinals thinking when they traded one of last year’s Rookie of the Year candidates for a 40-something situational reliever who could be out of the game within a year? We understand that Joe "Little Mac" McEwing was in danger of not making the 25-man roster because of a glut of middle infield types, and we realize that the injury to Scott Radinsky leaves the Cardinals short of left-handed relievers, but was Jesse Orosco the best they could do in return? McEwing was arguably the National League’s best rookie over the first half of 1999, and though he did slump in the second half, he still batted .275 with some pop (nine home runs). Versatile enough to play three infield positions and any of the outfield spots, McEwing became a fan favorite in St. Louis because of his production, hustle, and enthusiasm. Cardinal fans have just begun crying foul over this trade.

The addition of McEwing will either make a good Mets’ bench even better, or eventually set them up to make another trade, this time for a starting pitcher. Like Melvin Mora, McEwing can play every position on the field except for catcher and first base. In the late innings of close games, Bobby Valentine can now turn to right-handed hitters like McEwing, Kurt Abbott, Melvin Mora, Todd Pratt, and either Benny Agbayani or Jay Payton, and left-handed bats like Matt Franco and Jon Nunnally, making it very difficult for opposing bullpens to match up. If the Mets decide to make another trade (which is a very strong possibility, what with Payton out of options) they can attempt to package McEwing, Agbayani, and perhaps another player for a decent fifth starter... Of course, there’s also the very real possibility that the Mets will sort out their overloaded roster by farming out McEwing, who has a minor league option remaining. But that seems like a wasteful experience for McEwing, who’s 27 years old and capable of playing in the major leagues... The Mets are facing several tough decisions as they prepare to whittle their roster down to the 25-man limit. If the Mets don’t make another trade, the hot-hitting Payton will likely win a job as a reserve outfielder, with Agbayani heading back to Triple-A Norfolk. Agbayani has already asked for a trade, but given his lack of tenure in the major leagues, the Mets won’t feel too much pressure to deal him...unless they’re thrilled with what they’re offered in return ... And then there’s the derby for the fifth starter, where Bobby (Lefty) Jones, Bill Pulsipher, and Dennis Springer have all looked awful, but Glendon Rusch has pitched well after a shaky start. Rusch’s impressive five-inning stint on Monday will likely earn him the job, but his record as a member of the Royals (12-25 W-L, with an ERA near 5.80) doesn’t indicate a long-term answer to the problem...

Fullmer, Segui, Or Stevens?

So which team made out the best in that unusual three-way trade of first basemen last week? Of the three, Lee Stevens is the best player right now, given his ability to hit 20 to 25 home runs and his solid defensive play at first base. If Stevens can duplicate his career-best season of 1999, he’ll provide the Expos with lineup protection for Vladimir Guerrero. One concern involves the quickness with which the 32-year-old Stevens adjusts to National League pitching...and the bigger ballparks… Brad Fullmer, who’s still only 25 and has one of those picturesque line-drive swings, has the most potential of the three first basemen. He’ll be a better fit in Toronto, since he won’t have to play first base, where he’s brutal defensively. But he’ll also need to show more power and maturity with the Blue Jays, two characteristics that were lacking in Montreal... David Segui is probably the worst of the three players traded, but may still be of some benefit to a team in transition. The addition of Segui, the American Leagues’ best fielding first baseman, to the Rangers’ lineup continues Texas’ transformation from a power team to one that will rely more heavily on defense and situational hitting. We just don’t understand why the Rangers plan on using Segui as a DH, with Rafael Palmeiro getting most of the playing time at first base. Palmeiro’s a good defensive first baseman, but Segui is better, plain and simple... It’s interesting that the Rangers made the trade for Segui, who was born in Kansas City but is of Cuban descent, just a few days after Juan Gonzalez criticized the organization for treating Latin players poorly. We’ll see if Segui (the son of former major leaguer Diego Segui, who was born in Cuba) enjoys Texas any more than "Juan Gone" did...

Talking Coaches Here, Not Managers

A great question was posted by a fan on last week. "Which major league team has the best coaching staff?" Managers are analyzed and dissected ad nauseam, but coaches...who can impact pitching staffs, offensive productions, and in-game strategies--are mostly ignored by the media... So which are the best staffs in each league? In the American League, we’ll vote for the coaching staff of the world champion Yankees. Mel Stottlemyre has overseen the Yankee staff during the development of home-grown pitchers like Ramiro Mendoza, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera. Batting instructor Chris Chambliss had done wonders preaching the importance of taking pitches and working the count, which has helped the Yankees’ on-base percentage and their ability to wear down opposing pitchers. And let’s not forget Don Zimmer, whose 52 years of baseball experience make him invaluable as an in-game advisor to manager Joe Torre... The Yankees, however, will miss Jose Cardenal, who left the staff to join the Devil Rays after his request for a small raise was turned down. In addition to improving the Yankees’ baserunning and outfield play, Cardenal also served as a liaison and interpreter for Orlando Hernandez, making him more comfortable in the states despite his limitations with the language... The Astros, from our view, appear to have the elite coaching staff in the National League. Tom McCraw is one of the best hitting instructors around, a learned baseball man who should never have been let go by the Mets. Mike Cubbage and Matt Galante are hard workers whose lack of egos makes them ideal as teachers of the game. And pitching guru Verne Ruhle works extremely well with manager Larry Dierker, who takes such an active role in guiding the staff that he’s like a "second" pitching coach... Speaking of coaches, Merv Rettenmund will capably fill the void created by Don Baylor’s off-season departure from the Braves’ coaching staff. Rettenmund, like Chambliss and McCraw, is one of the five best hitting coaches at the major league level.

Questionable Kisses in Kissimmee

It should really come as no surprise that John Rocker received a standing ovation in his spring debut at Kissimmee last week. Baseball fans have a history of doing things like this. In the late 1980s, fans at Shea Stadium showered Dwight Gooden with a standing O when he returned to the mound after one of his first public bouts with drug abuse. Now, we’re the last ones to try to censor fans. If they want to boo, that’s their right. If they want to cheer, that’s their right, too. But doesn’t it seem like we’re "rewarding" players for either criminal or antisocial behavior when we give them standing ovations upon their returns? Why don’t we reward good guys and solid citizens like Tino Martinez, Jim Thome, and John Smoltz with similar reactions, just as an appreciation for the fact that they don’t mouth off, they don’t cause trouble, and they do treat fans and media with respect? These guys are the real heroes, the ones who should be hearing it-in a good way-from the crowd. And not just when they hit a game-winning home run or strike out the side...

Random Thoughts

The Mets’ release of Charlie Hayes is in no way a reflection of his ability to play at the major league level anymore; he simply got caught up in a numbers game. Hayes hit so well in the spring that he has scouts convinced that he’s fully recovered from last year’s wrist problem. Fewer than two days after his release, Hayes reached a contract agreement with the Brewers, one of several teams to show interest in him… Having acknowledged Hayes’ value, we’re not exactly sure why the Brewers decided to sign him. They already have Jose Hernandez and Jose Fernandez to play third base... The Yankees have backed off on the Jim Edmonds trade talks, at least for the moment. First, the Yankees didn’t want to give up Ramiro Mendoza, so they excluded him from the deal. Then, they didn’t want to trade Alfonso Soriano, whom they consider too valuable to trade for an outfielder who’s about to turn 30. And then they pulled Ricky Ledee out of the mix when he went on a week-long assault against Grapefruit League pitching. The Yankees have now turned their attention to the Twins’ Matt Lawton and the Cubs’ Henry Rodriguez. Since neither player is as talented as Edmonds, the Yankees figure that they might be able to acquire the left-handed bat they crave at a cheaper rate. The Yankees hope they can get it done by offering pitching prospect Ryan Bradley and minor league outfielder Donzell McDonald. That way, they can hold onto Ledee, Mendoza, and Soriano, and perhaps use one of those chips in a later deal for Minnesota’s Brad Radke... The Yankees are also talking to the Padres about veteran catcher Carlos Hernandez. If the Yankees, who apparently aren’t convinced that backup receiver Tom Pagnozzi can stay healthy for a full season, are willing to take on Hernandez’ $1.5 million salary, they can have him for almost nothing. Former Angel Chris Turner has outplayed Pagnozzi significantly in Yankee camp... One of the most interesting battles of the spring has been the four-way fight for the A’s center field job. Prior to the start of exhibition games, the A’s had ticketed Terrence Long for Triple-A, but he’s played like the MVP of the Cactus League and has Oakland’s front office and coaching staff debating the wisdom of keeping him on the major league roster. Rule 5 draftee Bo Porter has impressed the A’s with his athletic skills, but has also had trouble hitting curve balls and other breaking pitches. If the A’s don’t put Porter on their 25-man roster, and keep him there all year, they’ll have to offer him back to the Cubs. Rich Becker and Ryan Christensen are the least talented long-term options of the foursome, but also the most known quantities. So what’s the answer to this logjam. If the A’s are smart, they’ll keep Porter and Becker to start the season, and farm out Long and Christensen, who both have minor league options remaining. If Porter struggles in a platoon role, the A’s can always call up Long later in the season.

Feller Coming To The Hall

Thrilled by the success of Buck O’ Neil’s recent visit to Cooperstown, the Hall of Fame has arranged to bring former Indian legend Bob Feller to town for question-and-answer sessions on Memorial Day weekend. Feller, a veteran of World War II, will talk to "Friends of the Hall of Fame" fan club members during the multiple sessions that will take place at the museum. For more information on becoming a member of the Hall of Fame’s fan club, call 607-547-0397... The Hall also has plans to bring other Hall of Famers to Cooperstown throughout the year, including Tom Seaver.

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