February 18, 1998
Rotisserie Turns: Spring Training Decisions, Part 1
AL position-player roles that are up for grabsThis week, we'll take the first of four looks at major-league jobs that aren't currently nailed down by one player. These positions offer opportunities for hedging (if you've got one contender, get the other), for speculating (bet on the underdog or the battle's eventual loser), and for shunning risk entirely (avoiding the guys whose jobs aren't safe), depending on your risk tolerance. In this column, I'll discuss AL hitters in the running for various starting roles.
Casanova, imported via Randy Smith's Wayback Machine when the dial was set to San Diego, 1995, still hasn't gotten a clean shot at the starting job. Just when it looked like the job was his after the Tiggers rid themselves of The Walbeck, they imported Joe Oliver, a 32-year-old catcher who'd make a great backup but is a poor choice for a rebuilding team's starting role. Casanova should win the job in spring training, but remember that he didn't impress in 302 AB last year (.243/.308/.332) and now has to overcome that poor performance in Buddy Bell's eyes.
Team: NY Yankees
Whispers that Posada will get the starting nod this year strike this Yankee fan as too good to be true, given the paycheck that Girardi will receive this year (the last year of a 2-year deal). The fact is that Posada can help a team offensively right now, and was pretty good in his first real major-league exposure last year (.250/.359/.410). He's not young (26 this year) and is unlikely to ever swat 20 homers in a season, but he can play defense and could outhit Girardi 8 ways to Sunday. Posada's a great choice for speculators, because he won't hurt you in limited time, and could surprise pleasantly if he beats Girardi down. He's even better in OBA leagues.
Finally, a team that wants to give the job to the prospect. The Oakland front office loves AJ Hinch, and it's not hard to see why: the '96 draft pick hit .328/.420/.568 with 24 homers combined in the California and Pacific Coast Leagues in his first year with the wooden bat. Scary to think he might still be adjusting. He'll get every chance to win the job outright this spring, but expect to pay full price for him this year, as the secret is out about him. If you get him, George Williams is a pretty good hedge; he shouldn't hurt you on average and is a conservative bet for 10-15 homers in a full season.
What an unholy mess. The right solution here would be to put Ortiz at first, put Koskie at third, put Coomer on the bench, and put the other two out to pasture. The Twinkies aren't winning anything this year, so they should really focus on putting kids on the field wherever possible. However, Coomer's a fan and management favorite, and it would be unrealistic to expect him to sit. Neither Ortiz nor Koskie has much experience above AA (Koskie has none, in fact), and Ortiz is just 22 years old, so the organization may find it easy to send one or both guys to AAA to start the season. Much depends on spring training.
Team: NY Yankees
No one's talking about it, but third base is really up for grabs in New York. Wade Boggs is gone, and Charlie Hayes was pawned off on the first idiot to call Bob Watson about him. The really interesting guy here is 24-year-old Mike Lowell, who broke out in fine form last year, posting a .344/.439/561 in AA Norwich and continuing his success with a .276/.347/.562 in AAA Columbus. The guy has major-league power, draws more than a few walks, and should hit for a roto-plus average--but the Yankees hardly have a great track record at bringing up rookies; hence, we have Scott Brosius hanging around. Brosius isn't a bad player to have on the roster, especially since his presence means that Kenny Rogers is gone, but he won't hit as well as Lowell, and is a lot more useful backing up 2b/ss/3b off the bench. Sveum isn't really a contender for the third base job, and God help us if he wins it anyway.
The job is apparently Abbott's for now, as Billy Beane and his frijoles have decided to send Tejada to AAA for a few more months of prep. Still, a hot spring from Tejada could change things quickly, as the organization has made it clear they see the job as his long-term. Incidentally, does anyone wonder why the A's gave up Eric Ludwick to get Kurt Abbott when they could have kept Scott Sheldon for free?
Wilson has been Cleveland's top infield prospect for approximately 17 years, yet is just 22 years old - an amazing feat when you get down and do the math. The Indians are apparently leaving this all up to spring training, but my money is on Carlos Garcia continuing to prove that he's actually eligible for Medicare benefits by having a lousy spring.
...and quite possibly none of them good. O'Leary and Bragg are useful role players, but neither hits enough to play a corner spot full-time. That said, O'Leary is a good bet for 450-500 plate appearances this year, given his new long-term contract. You know what to expect from those two; you know Buford isn't really very good; Prospectus readers know that we don't really care for Trot Nixon's tools; so the real wild card here is Mr. Coleman. Coleman was another tools goof with bad plate discipline until last year, when he broke out all over with a serious case of offense: .301/.372/.496 in 444 PA at AA, .319/.391/.619 in 128 PA at AAA, with 24 steals combined at the two levels. It's hard to ignore the fact that he never hit like that before, but at his age (22), it's quite possible he finally put it all together. If the Sox don't make a trade, Coleman seems like the only choice for the 3rd outfield slot.
Team: NY Yankees
Joe Torre has strongly indicated that a healthy Darryl wins the left field job, which will certainly send Ledee back to Columbus and will probably lead Raines to ask for a trade. God knows why the Yankees re-signed Raines and Strawberry and then signed Chili Davis, with Ledee ready now, but they did. Regardless, the odds of Ledee getting a fair shot at the job seem slim with all these millionaires in front of him, and Curtis hit well enough last year that he'll have a bit of a halo around his spring performance. I'd stay low on Ledee & Raines for this year at auction, and I'd hope for a trade if Ledee were in my farm system.
Team: Tampa Bay
The three starting outfielders in Tropicana Field will probably come from this less-than-impressive bunch, and the best of them (Trammell) will probably be the one to get the shaft. McCracken will probably be way overvalued at many AL auctions, since his numbers the last two years were boosted by his ballpark. Kelly's another tools goof whose ultimate role should be as the RH half of a platoon, but whose overall numbers will suffer the more he hits against righties. As for Martinez, don't expect any more than you got last season (his numbers last year are a near-perfect match for his 5-year averages), and be aware that he's 33 and that this won't last forever.
Team: Kansas City
Let's assume, for a brief moment, that Johnny Damon and Jeff Conine are set in center and left, respectively. That leaves Tony Muser with what should be an easy decision: Rod Myers in right, instead of Jermaine Dye. But remember that Dye is the remaining bounty from a Herk trade gone horribly wrong - the sale of Michael Tucker to Atlanta for some shiny rocks - and that there's always going to be an organizational hope that he'll justify the trade. I still think Myers will take the job and Dye will be the 4th outfielder, but consider this a warning.
Mack doesn't have the job locked up already, so much can happen in the A's spring camp. Mack was more brittle than anything else last year, and while his .315 average looked nice, his .438 slugging percentage was nothing special. At 34 this year, I wouldn't expect any improvement. Jason McDonald is kind of a WYSIWYG player - what you see is what you get, and don't expect much more - but he has some roto value because of his speed, and he's especially valuable in OBA leagues because his OBAs are solid even when his batting average isn't. Christenson's an intriguing prospect who isn't especially young (24) but tore through three levels last year, with good power and a great batting eye. Watch him carefully, as he's expected to get a shot at the centerfield job, but hasn't garnered much press. Ernie Young is hanging on for dear life, and will probably rank 4th on this list of 4.
With Raul Ibanez's recent injury and surgery, it looks like the leading contender is out of the running for the left field job for now. That probably means that "proven veteran" Glenallen Hill will bring his flyball butchering act to the Kingdome. If so, expect a continued offensive decline to be less than completely offset by the move to the AL.
One can only presume that Giles is hanging around until the end of July, when John Hart will package him (a la Billy McMillon last year) for a stretch-run acquisition. The Indians aren't paying Berroa to sit on the bench, so Giles owners will have to hope for an injury or for an earlier trade for, say, Randy Johnson.
Baltimore Boston NY Yankees Tampa Bay Toronto c Hoiles Hatteberg Posada Flaherty Fletcher Leyritz Girardi Santiago 1b Palmeiro Vaughn Martinez, T McGriff Delgado (DL) 2b Alomar, R Valentin Knoblauch Cairo Fernandez, T Frye ss Bordick Garciaparra Jeter Stocker Gonzalez, A 3b Ripken, C Naehring Lowell Boggs Sprague Brosius lf Surhoff Bragg Curtis McCracken Cruz, J Ledee Raines cf Anderson, B Coleman Williams, B Martinez, Dave Stewart rf Davis, E O'Leary O'Neill Kelly, M Green dh Carter, J Jefferson, R Davis, C Sorrento Canseco Strawberry Stanley Chicago Cleveland Detroit Kansas City Minnesota c O'Brien Alomar, S Casanova Sweeney Steinbach Oliver Macfarlane 1b Thomas Thome Clark, T King Ortiz Coomer 2b Durham Wilson, E Easley Offerman Walker Garcia, C ss Gil Vizquel Cruz, D (DL) Miller, O Mears 3b Ventura Fryman Randa Palmer Coomer Koskie lf Belle Justice Gonzalez, L Conine Cordova cf Cameron Lofton Hunter Damon Nixon rf Sierra Ramirez Higginson Dye Lawton Myers Ochoa dh Ordonez, M Berroa Roberts Morris Molitor Giles Merced Anaheim Oakland Seattle Texas c Greene, T Hinch Wilson, D Rodriguez, I 1b Erstad Giambi Segui Clark, W 2b Velarde Spiezio Cora McLemore ss DiSarcina Abbott Rodriguez, A Elster Tejada 3b Hollins Bellhorn Davis, R Tatis Alicea lf Anderson, G Henderson, R Hill, G Greer Ibanez cf Edmonds Mack et al Griffey Goodwin rf Salmon Grieve Buhner Gonzalez, J dh Fielder Stairs Martinez, E Stevens