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Baseball 2000
(Spring 2000)

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Cooperstown Confidential
by Bruce Markusen
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Cooperstown Confidential By Bruce Markusen

Another Score For Beane

With good talent at a premium in the 30-team major leagues, there’s nothing quite like getting a serviceable catcher without having to give up a player in return. That’s exactly what the A’s did this week, when they picked up Sal Fasano from the Royals in a straight cash deal. Fasano, who was probably the fans’ choice to become the No. 1 catcher in Kansas City, made a good impression last year when he hit five home runs in the month of September. He also seemed comfortable handling the young Royals’ pitching staff, which performed better with him behind the plate than with any of Kansas City’s other mediocre receivers. Yet, the Royals decided to dispose of Fasano on the basis of just a handful of relatively meaningless spring training games. The 28-year-old Fasano will probably never be much of a major league hitter, but he does have some power, along with his excellent defensive skills. Although Fasano will start the season at Triple-A (where he was an All-Star in 1999), he’ll likely be brought to the major leagues by May or June. By then, the A’s hope they will have found a taker for the disappointing A.J. Hinch. Staying with the A’s, a preview of the 2000 season in a recent edition of the New York Post rated the best general managers in the major leagues. Billy Beane, Oakland’s energetic and bright executive, was voted No. 1.

Spreading The Word Of Baseball

Mark McGwire’s recent criticisms of baseball’s decision to start the regular season in Japan should really have come as no surprise. It’s been known for months that the Cardinals, with McGwire spearheading the movement, turned down the chance to open in the Far East. But, it’s their loss, not baseball’s. McGwire and the Cardinals lost out on a chance to promote the game internationally and become part of a history-making event—the first time that a regular season game has been played outside of North America. Toward that end, the Hall of Fame has representatives in Japan to collect artifacts from the two landmark games between the Cubs and the Mets. The trip to Japan could do wonders in improving baseball relations between American and Japan. And why is that an issue? One of baseball’s most legitimate concerns is its talent supply. There simply aren’t enough American-born players to fill out 30 major league rosters, in addition to all of the minor league affiliates. That’s one of the principal reasons why the major leagues have dipped so heavily into Latin America in the last decade. But even with the influx of Latino talent, there’s still a shortage of quality baseball players to go around. If the trip to the Far East loosens Japan’s restrictive system of free agency__while also encouraging Japanese stars to consider playing at least parts of their careers in the States...then the major leagues will have found another legitimate source of professional talent. That development, along with the obvious benefit of extra revenue provided by foreign merchandising, will have made the trip worth all the effort...

Edmonds In Big Mac Land

The Angels and Cardinals struck the fourth major trade of spring training last week, but this one is clearly bigger than the swaps involving Jeremy Giambi and Joe McEwing, and that unusual three-way trade of first basemen involving the Blue Jays, Expos, and Rangers. Jim Edmonds finally switched teams, after having been the subject of so many rumors that he could have been featured by Sid Hutchins in Hush Hush magazine (of LA Confidential fame). The Angels won’t be contenders this year, so we may have to wait awhile in judging whether they received enough value in return for Edmonds. Adam Kennedy will solve their second base problem over the long haul, but we have to wonder about the other player they acquired in the deal. Yes, Kent Bottenfield won 18 games last season, but is there any reason to believe he was anything more than a one-year wonder? He’s already 31, has always been overweight, and most alarmingly, had never won more than four games in any of his previous major league seasons. The best hope for the Angels is having Bottenfield pitch well over the first half so that they can trade him to a contender for prospects in either July or August... As for the Cardinals, they clearly did well in adding yet another dynamic offensive player to a lineup that already features the talents of Mark McGwire, Edgar Renteria, Fernando Tatis, Ray Lankford, and J.D. Drew. And their defense, which was already solid, will become that much better with Edmonds taking over in center and Drew moving over to right, where he won’t have to cover as much ground. Outside of catcher, the Cardinals may have the best seven-man lineup (infield and outfield) in the National League... The Cardinals still have concerns about their catching and pitching, though. Eli Marrero continues to struggle with the bat, which has intensified trade talks with San Diego about Carlos Hernandez. The decision to trade Bottenfield could leave them short in the rotation, but they’re hoping that the off-season additions of Darryl Kile, Pat Hentgen, and Andy Benes, plus the return of either Alan Benes or Matt Morris will make that a moot point. Kile, by the way, has looked terrific this spring...

Higgy Ready For A Ziggy?

As much as the Mets may be tired of Rickey Henderson’s continuing histrionics, they’d be well-advised not to trade him to the Tigers for the enigmatic Bobby Higginson. For all of his faults, Henderson can still play 100-120 games a season, and still reaches base 40 per cent of the time. Without him, the Mets don’t have a proven leadoff man who can work the count and intimidate opposing pitchers and catchers on the basepaths. The Mets have already lost one of their best "on-base percentage guys" in John Olerud; they don’t need to add a second veteran to that list, not when they’re trying to win it all this year... If the Mets decide they absolutely have to trade Henderson at some point this season, they’ll need to acquire another leadoff batter to take his place. Perhaps someone like Eric Young once the Cubs fall out of the race, or maybe even a Johnny Damon, assuming the Royals aren’t as improved as they think they are. In many ways, finding a suitable leadoff man is harder nowadays than finding a middle-of-the-order slugger... Even at his best, Higginson is no leadoff man, but he’s now become an overall liability. In 1997, Higginson seemed on the fast track to stardom. He batted .299 with career highs in home runs (27) and RBIs (101), drew 70 walks, and even stole 12 bases. Then, over the last two years, his numbers fell, all the way to a .239 average, 12 home runs, and 46 RBIs in an injury-shortened 1999. Unfortunately, scouts from opposing teams have continued to file bad reports on Higginson. He seems to have lost bat speed and no longer throws the way he did three seasons ago, when he had one of the best right field throwing arms in the game. The question is, why such a decline for a relatively young player? After all, he’s only 29. Most scouts don’t know the answer why, just that he’s following a hauntingly similar career path to the one endured by Carlos Baerga, another star who lost it before he turned 30...

Teflon Braves

It’s amazing to us how many people, without even batting an eye, continue to pick the Braves to win the NL East despite the season-long loss of John Smoltz and the very real possibility that Chipper Jones could go down with both a bone chip in his right elbow. Although Jones will start the season at third base, he might eventually have to undergo surgery, which could knock him out for two or three months. If that happens, the Braves, who lack the positional depth of the Mets, have no one who can step in and provide power at the hot corner... The Braves have other problems, too. Shortstop has become a bit of a black hole, with Ozzie Guillen and Walt Weiss no longer able to man the position effectively on a daily basis. The Braves are hoping that super prospect Rafael Furcal can fill the void by mid-season, but he’s only 19 and hasn’t yet played an inning above Single-A ball. And then there’s the pitching. Bruce Chen has been awful this spring and is no lock to make up for the absence of Smoltz, whose injury has been treated as a mere inconvenience by much of the media. Plus, Terry Mulholland is far better suited to pitching in relief than in the starting rotation at this stage of his career. The Braves might still be good enough to win the division, and perhaps even return to the World Series. But it’s already apparent that they’ll have to wade through as much adversity as they did last year, when they lost Javier Lopez, Andres Galarraga, and Rudy Seanez to injury and illness. And despite all the protestations to the contrary, the Mets are equipped to overtake them once and for all...

King Carl Puts Down The Pinstripes

While we’re not ones to advocate trash-talking of opponents through newspapers, Carl Everett’s recent putdowns of the Yankees may actually be a good thing. It may stir up one of the game’s two fiercest historical rivalries (along with the Cubs-Cardinals), one that has been dormant for the better part of two decades. The Red Sox-Yankee "rivalry" hasn’t really been once since the late 1970s, when Carlton Fisk, Thurman Munson, Bill Lee, and Lou Piniella were all doing battle, both in words and on the field. Since then, it’s mostly been the fans of the two teams who have traded barbs, rather than the players on the field. The lack of antagonism between the Red Sox and the Yankees is one of the drawbacks caused by the rise in power of the Players’ Association, which encourages "chummy" relationships between players on opposing teams... Everett, originally a Yankee farmhand, has ticked off several people in the New York front office who remember him as an immature of the factors in the Yankees’ decision to leave him exposed in the 1993 expansion draft. Don’t expect Yankee players to respond to Everett with their own verbal warfare--that’s generally not the style of this team--but don’t be surprised at some hard slides and some inside pitching when the clubs meet for the first time on June 12th in the Bronx...

Comings And Goings

The Royals have decided to make a complete overhaul of their catching, which means Sal Fasano is headed elsewhere before the start of the season. Fasano had impressed the Royals with his power and his receiving last September, but a poor spring has convinced Tony Muser to go with former Giant and Red receiver Brian Johnson as his starting catcher. Either Gregg Zaun or Jorge Fabregas will serve as the backup. The Royals have talked to the Cubs and Yankees about a Fasano deal, with Kansas City expressing interest in New York’s hard-throwing right-hander Todd Erdos. Like Fasano, Erdos is out of options and can’t be sent to the minor leagues without first clearing waivers... Do not be surprised if the Players’ Association files a grievance on behalf of American League stolen base king Brian Hunter, just released by Seattle. The union will likely contend that Hunter was cut loose purely for financial reasons (which is against the rules), so that they do not have to pay him the bulk of the ridiculous $2.5 million contract he won through arbitration. Of course, the Mariners will point to Hunter’s lousy on-base percentage, his lack of power, and his poor throwing arm in the outfield as legitimate reasons for his release. In the meantime, someone would be well advised to pick up Hunter, who does have value as a base-stealer, and use him as a pinch-running specialist, ala Herb Washington and Allan Lewis of Charlie Finley fame. The Yankees are one of the teams interested in signing Hunter as a bench player…

Symptoms Of A Bad Season

One way to tell if your team is going to have a bad season is to look for "symptoms." Here are a few symptoms (three to be exact) to watch out for: Like… beginning the season with Kevin Elster as your starting shortstop. That’s what the Dodgers are doing. Elster, who hasn’t played in the majors in two years and has never been much for a hitter (except for 1996 with the Rangers), has beaten out rookie prospect Alex Cora… Like… facing the possibility that Steve Woodard will be your No. 1 starter. Woodard is the only pitcher on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster who reached double figures in wins last season. We like new manager Davey Lopes a lot, but the Brewers will surely test his patience this year… Or… beginning the season with Tom Candiotti as one of your three best starters. Even with the addition of Kent Bottenfield, the Angels may put the hard-hit Candiotti toward the top of their rotation, even though he hasn’t been truly effective since pitching for the Dodgers in 1997…

Hall Full Of Peanuts

Charlie Brown couldn’t have made the T-ball hall of fame based on his playing ability, but he and his friends will be taking their rightful places at the shrine in Cooperstown, New York, this spring. No, Charlie hasn’t been elected to the Hall, but he and the other Peanuts characters will be featured at a special exhibit that opens on May 20. The idea for the exhibit, which is called "You’re in the Hall of Fame, Charlie Brown," was actually conceived in 1999, prior to the illness and death of beloved Peanuts creator Charles Schulz. Amazingly, about 10 per cent of Schulz’ nearly 18,000 Peanuts strips featured baseball as a theme. Although Schulz’s central character of Charlie Brown wasn’t based on any real-life professional baseball player, there was a 19th century major leaguer who carried the same name. That Charlie Brown pitched for the Cleveland Spiders in 1897, with a record of 1-2 and an ERA of 7.77. In 24 innings, the six-foot left-hander allowed 30 hits and walked 17 batters. Good grief! He was OK offensively, though, batting a respectable .273 in 11 at-bats.

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