Starting Pitchers

Slots: #3-5
Candidates: Jimmy Haynes, Brad Rigby, Mike Oquist,
Ariel Prieto, Willie Adams

If it were my decision, this wouldn’t be so difficult. Adams doesn’t get
to start until he gets his act together, and Oquist goes to long relief
or to Edmonton to wait for the first injury or collapse. Of course, the
organization may have other thoughts, and it’s still unlikely that
former #1 draft choice Prieto will be cut loose just yet.

Slots: #5
Candidates: Felipe Lira, Paul Spoljaric, Bill Swift

Lira’s a great sleeper if you’re looking for $1 pitchers who could bust
out, or for starters to stash on a reserve/Ultra list. He looked like he
was on the verge of a breakthrough after the ’96 season, but struggled
early in Detroit and eventually was traded to Seattle, where
ever-patient Lou Piniella drove him further down. Unfortunately, I doubt
Lira will get first crack at the #5 job in ’98, as Paul Spoljaric is
getting increasing mention as the likely 5th starter. Spoljaric was a
starter as recently as ’95 in the minors, but has worked exclusively in
relief since then. The reason he’s getting such a lengthy trial as a
starter is simple: the M’s desperately need to show that the Cruz trade
wasn’t the worst transaction since Bagwell for Andersen. Swift, of
course, can only throw about 50 innings a year without getting hurt, and
he’s using most of them up in spring training. Spoljaric is the de facto
leader based on Piniella’s blunt comments to the media, but isn’t any
better than the other two guys. I expect each to get 7-12 starts this

Slots: #4-5
Candidates: Roger Pavlik, Bobby Witt, Rick Helling

Organizational inertia at its finest. The Rangers wanted to get rid of
Witt, but couldn’t seem to accept the notion of letting him go without
receiving some compensation, so they offered him arbitration. He looked
in the market, found no takers, and accepted the Rangers’ offer. What
are the odds they’ll put him in the pen? About 100:1 against. Similarly,
Pavlik is another Ranger veteran (and former undeserving All-Star) who
will probably win the job on name and experience alone. All that said,
if the Rangers are really serious about winning this year, they’ll put
Helling in the rotation immediately, preferably in the 3-hole ahead of
Aaron Sele. He continues to show flashes of brilliance when placed in
the rotation, and yet has been maddeningly inconsistent in relief. He’s
a great $1-3 gamble if you’re bottom-fishing.

Slots: #3-5
Candidates: Steve Avery, Robinson Checo, Tim Wakefield,
Bret Saberhagen, Brian Rose, Derek Lowe, John
, perhaps Tom Gordon

I love to hear that the Sox’ rotation is “thin” or that the team lacks
starting pitching. If someone’s going to pay you to write a damn column,
then do some research first: the Sox are overflowing with starting
pitching; the flaw is that nothing beyond Pedro Martinez is a lock.
Still, the Sox are in the luxurious position of having options should
any of their 5 initial starters bomb out. My best interpretation is that
Gordon, Lowe, and Wasdin will go to the bullpen, Rose will start the
year in AAA (his numbers last year weren’t all that impressive beyond
his W/L record), with the last three starters coming from Avery, Checo,
Sabes, and Wakefield. Since the first three of those four had injury
problems last year, plenty of these other worthy candidates will see
time in the rotation this year. Please note that I’m assuming here that
Butch Henry will be in the rotation behind Pedro, since Henry’s arm
can’t take the stress of regular relief duty, and Sox officials have
publicly said as much in the past.

NY Yankees
Slots: #5
Candidates: Ramiro Mendoza, Darren Holmes,
Willie Banks, Mike Jerzembeck

I know most folks presume Mendoza’s a lock for the 5th slot in the
Bronx, and as a Yankee fan, I hope they’re right. If nothing else, it
gives him a chance to establish himself so Steinbrenner is less inclined
to trade him for the next piece of overaged DH chattel to come down the
pike. However, the Yanks were quite coy about Holmes probable use when
they made the blockbuster signing, and Holmes has started in the past
without totally embarrassing himself. Banks pitched well in short time
with the Yanks last September. Jerzembeck is more likely to come up
midseason if someone (Irabu) is struggling. I still see Mendoza getting
the job; just remember to value Mendoza accordingly.

Tampa Bay
Slots: #5
Candidates: Rick Gorecki, Esteban Yan, John LeRoy

Probably a function of Gorecki’s health and Yan’s readiness, not to
mention whoever Rothschild takes a shine to first. Gorecki’s a huge
sleeper if he gets the #5 spot.

Slots: #5
Candidates: Erik Hanson, Kelvim Escobar, Chris
, Roy Halladay

I expect Hanson to get a legitimate shot this spring, since the
alternative is for the Jays to make him a really overpaid reliever or to
just eat the last year on this dumb contract. Carpenter is the
organization’s golden-boy starter, but may have to wait for Hanson to
fail one last time. A few readers have asked me about Halladay, and my
response to them is still the same: He’s not ready.

Chicago White Sox
Slots: #4-5
Candidates: Scott Eyre, Tom Fordham, Mike Sirotka,
Carlos Castillo, Keith Foulke, Jim Parque,
Jim Bullinger

With all the hue and cry over the Chicago White Flags trade last July,
you’d think that the Sox would be in a big rush to put Keith Foulke in
the rotation to show everyone that they got real value in return. No
such luck: rumor has it they want him to be the primary setup guy for
Matt Karchner, not that he’s any kind of lock in the 9th inning anyway.
Parque’s an intriguing candidate with less than a year as a pro under
his belt, but most scouting reports say he’s not ready yet, and pitchers
who successfully make the jump this quickly are few and far between.
That leaves us with Eyre, who’s probably got the best stuff of the group
and is the current favorite for the #4 spot; Fordham, a longtime
prospect who was actually ready last year but never got a shot; Sirotka,
a lesser pitcher than Fordham but a man who’s out of options; Bullinger,
who’s barely good enough for mop-up work; and Castillo, whose arsenal is
limited and better suited to relief anyway. Eyre and Sirotka are
probably the best bets now, but Fordham’s a great bet to see 15 starts
later in the season, especially if Navarro is pawned off in July to
someone dumber than Schueler, like Pat Gillick.

Slots: #5
Candidates: Bartolo Colon, Steve Karsay, Melido Perez

The job should be Colon’s, but the Indians remain firmly planted in “win
now” mode, and have clearly positioned themselves to make a midseason
starting pitcher acquisition if necessary. They’re not going to be able
to use all of Giles, Aven, Casey, Branyan, and Sexson, so I’d expect
some of those guys to go midseason for a Randy Johnson or Kevin Appier.

Slots: #3-5
Candidates: Bryce Florie, Greg Keagle, Frank Castillo,
Tim Worrell

Except for Castillo, I think these are all ex-Padres. What a shock.
Anyway, Florie’s an interesting case in that he was much more effective
as a starter last year, but still posted weak overall numbers. Castillo,
of course, is now in the Jim Bullinger career stage, where he bounces
around for a few years, hoping to turn into Jaime Navarro and get one
more big contract to buy himself the next pair of his-and-hers Mercedes.
Worrell suffered from serious inconsistency and immaturity last year
(broke his hand punching a wall in disgust), and was less effective in
relief, but he could be the odd man out here. Best bet is that Florie
takes a setup role next to Brocail.

Kansas City
Slots: #4-5
Candidates: Pat Rapp, Glendon Rusch, Jim Pittsley,
Chris Haney

If you followed the Royals this winter, you won’t be surprised if Pat
(C)Rapp winds up in the starting rotation in Kansas City. While plenty
of baseball people talk about his stuff, the fact is that he can’t throw
it for strikes, and at this rate, I wouldn’t bet a silver dollar that he
will. Haney’s season was lost to myriad injuries, but he was an
acceptable low-numbered starter before last year. This race seems
completely up for grabs, but KC history tells us that the vets
(Rapp/Haney) usually beat out the kids.

Slots: #4-5
Candidates: Dan Serafini, Ricky Bones, Frank Rodriguez,
Travis Miller, LaTroy Hawkins

Not the most awe-inspiring group you’ve seen this spring, eh? Even
though Rodriguez is basically the devil the Twins know, I think they’ve
tired enough of his act to try anyone else in the slot instead. Hawkins
has made more than his share of enemies in Minnesota with his horrible
performances and temper tantrums. Bones has been getting pounded all
spring, but the Twins really have nothing better to put out there and
little left to trade in search for more talent. I’d avoid them all for
this year, and only consider Serafini a factor beyond ’98.

Closer and Key Setup jobs

Candidates: Mike Fetters, Billy Taylor, TJ Mathews

And the answer is: Yes. All three will likely close a bit this season,
with Mathews holding the edge of being the future closer beyond ’98. So
far, it appears that Fetters will start the year with the job, but I’d
bet on all three getting 10-15 saves.

Tampa Bay
Candidates: Rick Gorecki, Esteban Yan, John LeRoy,
Mike Duvall, Ramon Tatis

No one here is likely to get more than 3-4 saves with Roberto Hernandez
manning the closer’s spot. Tatis may return to the minors, as he was a
Rule Ver who hadn’t pitched above A-ball before last year. Yan, Gorecki,
and LeRoy are all contenders for the 5th spot in the rotation. Really
not much roto value in this group.

Chicago White Sox
Candidates: Bill Simas, Keith Foulke, Tony Castillo,
Carlos Castillo, perhaps Tom Fordham

Karchner will start the year with the job, but he also wins the dubious
honor of being the AL closer most likely to lose his job before any
other AL closer does – thus making the setup men particularly
interesting. Simas has the best credentials if you’re looking for a guy
who might start getting saves in June: he’s a reliever by trade, he
throws hard, and he’s already relieved for the big club, so he’ll play
better with the “long-time listener, first-time caller” crowd. Foulke
pitched well in short relief late last year, and the Sox seem intent on
giving him the job. Tony C is just a short reliever trying to find a
second career as a lefty specialist, and is not likely to get more than
3-4 saves.

Kansas City
Candidates: Lee Smith, Jamie Bluma, Hipolito Pichardo,
the losers of the 5th starter battle

Montgomery’s rock solid, but he’s also a free agent after ’98 and likely
to be dealt in July, especially if Bluma is healthy and looks like he
might be ready to close in ’99. That said, they may choose to put Smith
in the closer’s role first if he’s pitching well, and let Bluma wait
until next April to assume the closer job himself. Pichardo could always
get another chance to close next year, but I doubt it.

Thank you for reading

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