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Decisions await non-contenders
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
For everyone else, the season has gone to black, with the sounds of Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Bret Boone and the A's in the distance.
If you are in Pittsburgh, Detroit or Kansas City, the restorations are a long, hard way off. If you are in Minnesota, Montreal, Florida or Anaheim, you don't know what to believe or how to differentiate contraction from (Nardi) Contreras, relocation from (Jeff) Reboulet.
We are a week from the playoffs, and no one seems to know what the offseason holds for anyone. We don't know whether the owners will order a Nov. 6 freeze on all transactions and repulse their public with threats of a lockout or whether they'll tuck their million billionaire squabbles into the trunks of their Rolls Royces for a year. When the Players Association leaders met agents this week, they informed the agents that -- five weeks from the end of the current agreement -- they have absolutely no idea what the owners want.
What they want is to rid themselves of a few franchises and move a couple of others, but no one seems to know when and how any more than they'll know where they can watch nearly half the divisional playoff games (hint: it's a hopeless task courtesy of a mindless decision).
This is a time when general managers and managers worry, even GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Torre in New York, as owner George Steinbrenner demands another world championship. Detroit GM Randy Smith probably knows calls have been made around him (including one to Bob Watson) to feel out candidates to take over his position. Texas' Doug Melvin incredibly lives on the edge (he will not be out of work long -- be it Toronto, Boston, wherever -- if Tom Hicks replaces him with a big name). If Torre isn't certain to return, then it isn't surprising that Buddy Bell (Colorado), Joe Kerrigan (Boston), Tony Muser (Kansas City) and Tony Perez (Florida) wonder as well, for various reasons.
But in this last week, seven teams that could consider themselves disappointments can crawl from the frustration. They can look forward and believe that 2002 is going to be a whole lot better than 2001:
Because the Cubs got to 18 games above .500 when closer Tom Gordon began being bothered by tendinitis, the finish is a disappointment. But remember, this was a team that hadn't won more than 67 games in either of the previous two seasons. As GM Andy MacPhail looks forward, he has the framework for a very good team in a very strong division.
MacPhail has to make a decision on whether or not to bring back White. He is heading to a leg specialist this winter, and MacPhail believes the offense is at least adequate with White and McGriff around Sammy Sosa. Three of their key prospects -- first baseman Hee Seop Choi, second baseman Bobby Hill and third baseman David Kelton -- were slowed by injuries, so how they perform in the Arizona Fall League will determine a lot of the decisions they need to make. Jon Lieber, Kerry Wood and Juan Cruz are a wonderful foundation for a long time to come. And while MacPhail wants a left-hander, other kids like Carlos Zambrano, Will Ohman, Scott Chiasson and Courtney Duncan add some depth to the pitching staff.
MacPhail is not worried at all about Corey Patterson. "It isn't a matter of if; it's when," says MacPhail of Patterson. MacPhail, in fact, is trying not to rush right-handed pitcher Mark Prior, the Cubs' first-round pick (second-overall selection) this past June by letting him return to classes at USC this fall. This is a franchise that is building a very solid foundation.
It was an awful season for the Reds, cursed with a record number of home losses. On a $45 million payroll, Junior Griffey, Barry Larkin and Aaron Boone have to be healthy. But with Adam Dunn reeking of superstardom and the addition of Todd Walker, GM Jim Bowden can market Reese and perhaps even Young for pitching.
Bowden has a lot of arbitration concerns, but he believes Harnisch and Joey Hamilton, kids Chris Reitsma and Lance Davis and the comebacking Williamson and Seth Etherton are a start toward a more stable rotation. Then he has to make deals.
In a season that was one of the most disappointing in either league, the second half provided hope; after Friday, the Rockies were three games over .500 since the All-Star break. They are young up the middle with shortstop Juan Uribe, second baseman Jose Ortiz and center fielder Juan Pierre. They are blocks on which to build. Pierre, in fact, has impressed to point where he is second in the NL in hits with 193 through Friday. They can also build on their young right-handed pitchers -- Jason Jennings, Elarton, Shawn Chacon and Thomson.
GM Dan O'Dowd has to figure out whether or not to stick with Jeff Cirillo or to upgrade their power at third base, add right-handed power to go with Todd Hollandsworth in the outfield, find a catcher and about three or four relievers. It's fine to want right-handed power, but it's tough to find and/or afford. They'll listen on Mike Hampton or Denny Neagle, but they might not accept any trade because they both like being in Colorado so much.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The word from Dr. Frank Jobe is that Kevin Brown should be back by spring training and so should Andy Ashby. Park will be gone, but they hope to re-sign Terry Adams and Baldwin, then see where Eric Gagne and Luke Prokopec fit and decide whether or not to pick up Shaw's option after a half-dozen second-half blown saves. They need a leadoff hitter and a shortstop and if no one bites on Eric Karros or Tom Goodwin, they may even explore the Gary Sheffield market, particularly if Sheff wants to re-open his contract talks. They have a lot of bad payroll to swallow.
San Diego Padres
If someone had told you last spring that the Padres would go into the final week with a chance to finish with a better record than the Rockies, Blue Jays or Red Sox, you'd have laughed yourself to sleep. But it's a possibility, and as they stick to a $32 million budget next season, they are a team on a healthy curve.
GM Kevin Towers' trades for outfielder Mark Kotsay and infielder D'Angelo Jimenez were great moves, he has third-base prospect Sean Burroughs ready for next season and in two years can have a Floridaesque rotation of right-handed power in Adam Eaton, Ben Howard, Dennis Tankersley and Jacob Peavy. Phil Nevin turned down a four-year, $32 million extension offer this week, so he could be a cheap cleanup hitter next season or one of the winter's most sought-after trade commodities.
Boston Red Sox
Few teams have more shamefully resembled a platoon of Boer War deserters than these Red Sox, backbiting, finger-pointing and in tattered desperation trying to blame the media. The problem here is that no one knows who is going to run the team. Justin Moreale, who is overseeing and administering the sale for Bingham, Dana and Gould, is trying to expedite the process so the new owners can come in and have their own business by November.
That has led to a great deal of speculation about a general manager, as the official DanDuquetteSucks.com web site only feeds the frenzy in a season that produced record attendance, TV ratings and revenues. John Hart, Brian Sabean, Brian Cashman, Billy Beane, Doug Melvin and Jim Bowden have all had their names thrown into the air as potential GM candidates, with numerous managerial speculations, from Buck Showalter to Joe Torre to Felipe Alou to Terry Francona. But that's all speculation, because no one knows.
In addition, no one knows about the 2002 health and performance levels of Pedro Martinez and Jason Varitek, but if those two are close to their normal strength, with Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez and Nixon they have a solid core of stars to superb players. Even if Derek Lowe and Casey Fossum make the rotation, they need a starter who will give them innings, perhaps some bullpen help (Urbina's future in Boston at $6 million in arbitration value is questionable) and a legitimate leadoff hitter, as well as some depth.
One problem is that they may have to pay the freight for someone ... anyone ... to take Carl Everett.
The arbitration cases take them precariously close to their break-even point and because of their disappearing farm system have virtually nothing to trade or bring in to fill spots at low salaries.
"It's a long process because the farm system has to be rebuilt in terms of talent and coaches," says one interested GM. "But when you have Garciaparra, Varitek, Manny, Nixon and Pedro, that's a heckuva start. Restoring respect among the players will be a major step forward, and that core will respond to that."
Toronto Blue Jays
Sure, there are firegordash web sites, and history has shown the Jays to be at their best in March and September.
But the Jays have to decide whether to deal Stewart -- who has at least 6-8 interested suitors -- and possibly Alex Gonzalez, but add in a veteran presence who can hit, a catcher and a frontline starting pitcher and the Jays can get competitive again. They can mix in Stewart and Felipe Lopez and have talent leftover to trade, and remain under $80 million.
Searching for new talent
Fifteen players whose contracts may become available
Eight contracts teams will pay others to take
Critical fifth-year arbitration decisions -- Tender, non-tender or trade
News and notes
"He can run and steal bases for a second-division team," says one AL GM. "But his defense makes him a DH and his instincts make a lot of us wonder if he is worth a lot of money on a good team."
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