WTNYMarch 15, 2004
Checking Back
By Bryan Smith

First of all, I’d like to start off today by making my big announcement...I have joined a cast of other writers to form The Hardball Times. Aaron Gleeman and Matthew Namee (Bill James’ assistant) are heading up the project, and we really feel it will be worth your time everyday.

The site should be less analytically based than some sites, focusing more on the written word than the number. This fits into my style, and hopefully will appeal to the general baseball fan. We’ll throw at least three articles at readers on a daily basis, and the technical guys have done a great job with the layout. Comments are welcomed, and I hope you’ll be stopping there to see my work in the coming days.

OK, now to your regularly scheduled Monday article...

Spring Training sure flies by. After a November and December that fly by due to the Hot Stove, we fall into January. While signings like Ivan Rodriguez and Greg Maddux have made the late offseason interesting the last few years, every January I find myself counting down to Spring Training. And when it gets to Spring Training? I’m just counting down to the season.

The exhibition games often go unreported, so it’s very difficult to keep up with the latest happenings, even surrounding your favorite team. I’ve gone through all the MLB team sites, Rotoworld, and a few other sources to bring you as much as I’ve heard on Spring Training 2004...

In Contention

If a team is serious about making a postseason run, Spring Training should be no more than a tune up. The team should already be somewhat decided, so managers can do more teaching and less evaluating. But there are some interesting stories going around the big boys that are worth keeping track of.

First and foremost is your only $200M team, the New York Yankees. Steinbrenner can throw all the money he wants at this team, but health will always be a question mark. Jon Lieber’s groin is still being difficult, and it should sideline him for another two weeks. Probable fill-in Jorge DePaula is out with back injuries, and El Duque won’t be ready until May. The door looks to be flying open for Donovan Osborne, the ex-Cardinal pitcher that I didn’t think I would ever see again, much less with the league’s favorite.

St. Louis doesn’t seem to be worrying about their pitching staff as much as I would like, as Cris Carpenter is very confident in himself. If Carpenter pitches effectively he could bring the Cardinals back into NL Central discussions, although I don’t anticipate that to happen. In other Cardinal news, the team let Steve Cox and Brent Butler go, as Tony La Russa figured there was no way they make the team. There is no word on the 1B/LF situation of the Cardinals, and they would be much smarter to go with John Gall than Kerry Robinson or So Taguchi.

Cardinal rivals, my team, have had a little drama this season. Mark Prior’s injury seems to get a larger headline everyday, and it’s probable that Prior will miss his season opener in April. This, accompanied with the Mike Remlinger injury, is not a good sign for an organization that can’t remember the last time they won back-to-back seasons. Remlinger’s leftie role will likely be filled by Jimmy Anderson, the ex-Pirate that’s had a fantastic Spring thus far.

Across town, the White Sox are narrowing down their rotation choices. Scott Schoenweis appears to have been given the fourth spot, leaving the last spot down to Dan Wright, Jason Grilli, or Neal Cotts. Ozzie Guillen eliminated Cotts recently, and Wright is said to be the heavy favorite. I’ve always thought Wright’s knucle-curve would work well in middle relief, but the White Sox simply don’t have enough arms. The fact that a team with Schoenweis and Wright at the back end of their rotation is talking about a division championship sure doesn’t speak well for the AL Central.

The former World Championship Diamondbacks also have pitching concerns, and have begun eliminating names. Prospects Edgar Gonzalez and Mike Gosling weren’t given much of a chance at the last rotation spot, a battle between Steve Sparks, John Patterson, Andrew Good, and Casey Daigle. Daigle, who? Baseball Prospectus 2004 talks about how Arizona has bad minor league stadiums for pitchers, so maybe Daigle’s 4.59ERA has been deceiving us. That’s not likely though, and I expect Steve Sparks will be named to the position in a matter of days.

Finally, the Philadelphia Phillies must alter two player’s careers before Spring Training is up, likely sending them to another organization. Amaury Telemaco, Bud Smith, and Dave Coggin are all out of options, and only one will make the back end of the bullpen. Put your money on Telemaco, the ex-Cub right-hander who seems to be remaking his forgotten career.

Too Many Questions

It’s March 15. It’s time to figure out the last few spots of the rotation, and managers should already have rough estimates of their Opening Day lineup. The teams that don’t? Well, that’s the type of ballclub headed into disaster. While stories about the Pirates or Devil Rays don’t normally interest me, their Spring Training drama normally beats out any team.

Pittsburgh had high hopes for their 2B position this year, and are quickly being let down. Freddy Sanchez is hurt, and Bobby Hill hasn’t played a lot. Even a not-ready Hill is a better choice than Abraham Nunez, and Lloyd McClendon should just be willing to let Hill learn on the job.

Speaking of open middle infield positions, the Brewers are having a fight in the middle infield. My choice would be Keith Ginter (a.k.a. Marcus Giles?) and Bill Hall, but the team seems happy with Junior Spivey and Craig Counsell. I can’t believe the Diamondback duo has yet to be dealt, but Ned Yost seems to be excited to hand the jobs to veterans. Hall has been fantastic in Spring Training thus far, but he’ll be going to the bench somewhere after this.

Both the Bucs and Brewers are bad, but the Reds are going to give the team a run for their money. Anyways, it appears the Reds are close to naming their rotation, with Jimmy Haynes, Paul Wilson, Cory Lidle, Jose Acevedo, and Jesus Sanchez penciled into the rotation. I’m in disbelief that Brandon Claussen doesn’t have a spot, and equally as mystified that Paul Wilson still plays baseball.

Wilson’s former team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, have been nailing down some rotation choices. Mark Hendrickson and Doug Waechtler are joining Victor Zambrano and Jeremi Gonzalez. Paul Abbott and Damian Moss are fighting out the last spot, and Piniella will likely give it to the man he’s more familiar with, Abbott. The team has done a good job with this, though many will argue Chad Gaudin and Dewon Brazelton should get spots. I disagree, let the two dominate AAA before exposing them to the harsh reality that is being a Devil Ray.

Esteban Yan never did much in Tampa, but he’s seemingly turning his career around in Detroit. After a great Winter League season, Yan is jumping over Nate Robertson as the likely winner of the Tiger fifth starter race. Yan could very well pull a Rodrigo Lopez this year, but chances are he flames out horribly. Detroit will be bad this year, but 50 wins will sure be nice.


Just to reiterate a few decisions, Darren Dreifort will formally be moving to the bullpen. The last spot is still between Edwin Jackson, Wilson Alvarez, and Jose Lima, but only Jackson has been pitching consistently through Spring Training. Jim Tracy has reiterated time and time again that Jackson will be in the rotation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a spot opens for Wilson Alvarez as well.

Dustin Hermanson has all but won the Giants rotation race, and Darren Oliver is doing the same over in Florida. Both have been fantastic this Spring, but it shouldn’t mask the fact that both are terrible players. Larry Beinfest should be counting down the days to Burnett, or he should be on the phone landing some pitchers.

Who’s on the Phone?

If Darren Oliver doesn’t appeal to Florida fans, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has mentioned Juan Cruz as a possibility. The team has reportedly offered a mid-level shortstop prospect back to the Cubs, indicative on how far his stock has fallen. It makes so much more sense to rebuild both confidence and trade value in Des Moines, but I can’t say I trust Dusty Baker in this regard. Hang on a little while until Cruz, then attempt to make a comprable Hillenbrand for Kim deal.

We’ve talked about Donovan Osborne earlier, but the Yankees are interested in Pirate right-hander Kris Benson. Like Ben Sheets, Benson has been on everyone’s mind since the 2000 Olympics, probably setting the bar too high. I haven’t seen Benson pitch since coming back from injury, so I have no first-hand reporting for you in that regard.

Benson has vowed that he will be traded before the season, and Ken Griffey Jr. is dropping similar bombs in Cincinnati. I just can’t see the Reds getting rid of Griffey, the hometown product they were so elated with to acquire. Ken is owed a lot of money, and few teams can take on the responsibility that comes with owning Griffey’s will.

Once Jerry Hairston returns from injury, what’s the market on how long it takes Brian Roberts to get dealt. 12 hours, 36 hours.

That’s all for today, but be sure to check out the Hardball Times, a baby we’ve been nursing for a few months now.


Actually, I wouldn't be surprised to see two of Coggin/Telemaco/Smith make the pen out of spring training, at least long enough to try to make a deal. Assuming Thome's ready to go, they might even do something silly like go with 12 pitchers and keep all three (with Utley going back to Scranton), though realistically Smith hasn't looked good enough to bother. He (or Coggin) could always come up with a case of shoulder stiffness in the next week or so, too.