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By James Bailey

If you have a question, send it to Please include your full name and hometown if you'd like your letter to be considered for use in an upcoming column.

February 27, 2001

As I mentioned Thursday, today's column marks the end of the road for me as the Ask BA guy, at least on a full-time basis. I'll be helping out with the site in the upcoming weeks as we break in a new Web editor. I hope nobody minds too much if I spend today looking back a little and forward a little and not talking much about how Frank Thomas ever manages to get by on his meager salary or how Mark Teixeira's ankle injury will affect his draft status (not much if he shows he's healthy by draft day).

When we came up with the concept for Ask BA back in October 1999, we weren't sure exactly what to expect as far as reader participation. How many questions would come in? What's on people's minds? Will people even be interested in reading it?

Well, since I first started writing this column, I've probably seen close to 10,000 questions come in to Even in the slow weeks, we probably get 100 questions, though that number's a little skewed by the spam that comes in along with it. Yes, junk e-mail is so pervasive that it even hits on an e-mail address that doesn't really belong to an individual person. And their marketing ploys are not working!

If I had to take my best guess, I'd estimate there have been 700-800 questions answered in this space. Most by me, though I've received a good bit of assistance from folks like John Manuel, who has handled most of the college questions, Jim Callis, David Rawnsley, Lacy Lusk and certainly others whom I'm forgetting to name. I've probably answered at least another thousand, by responding to the readers directly.

Over time, a few readers became regulars in the Ask BA Cafe. They frequently wrote in with interesting questions, and often I'd put a little extra into trying to find an answer for them. And once we started running our Friday Chats, I'd regularly see the same names popping up. I'd like to thank them, as well as the multitude of other readers who were less visible, but there nonetheless, for making Ask BA and Baseball America Online a part of your regular Web routine.

Since Thursday, I've heard from numerous readers wishing me well in my future pursuits. I have to say I appreciated that quite a bit. One in particular really jumped out at me.

    Hi James,

    I hope you realize that Feb. 28 is Ash Wednesday this year. That means that those of us who are Christians will be giving up James Bailey for Lent. That certainly is not something that I had planned on for this year.

    Many years ago I read in the Seattle Times that George Argyros, the penny-pinching owner of the Mariners, gave all the team's scouts a subscription to a new baseball paper called Baseball America. I managed to find a copy somewhere, read it and entered a subscription to it. That's back in the days when it was printed in British Columbia and mailed from Bellingham, Wash.

    Last winter I had open-heart surgery, followed by two surgeries on my feet. I was down from December 1999 to late August 2000. I had a lot of time to kill and found Baseball America Online. You guys helped me make it through my recovery. Other than Opening Day at Safeco Field, my doctor would not let me go to any baseball games until late August.

    So every day I opened up Baseball America Online and lived baseball as closely as I could. For this I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart and say that I will miss you very much. Good luck in wherever life leads you.

    Thanks for everything,

    Joe Hamilton
    Shoreline, Wash.

That was way too kind, really, but awful nice to read regardless. Joe is one of the regulars, and even better yet, a huge Mariners fan. One of my other favorite projects here outside of Ask BA was tracking Mariners prospects and writing the M's Top 10 list for the past three years. Joe fed me a lot of Mariners questions, and many of them found their way into the column.

Like Joe, I used to live in Shoreline, Wash., back before it was Shoreline. It was just unincorporated King County back then, which was always great for trying to explain to people where you lived. But now it's got a name. Mets lefthander Glendon Rusch is another Shoreliner. He graduated from my high school, Shorecrest, six years after I did. (I'm sure that he probably mentions that frequently when he's trying to impress people.)

Anyway, to Joe in Shoreline and everyone else who wrote in with such kind things to say: Thank you, very much.

A number of you asked what I'll be doing next. I actually don't know. That's part of what made my decision to leave such a tough one. After years away from my family, I started giving some serious thought to my priorities last fall. I can almost pinpoint the moment in time, an afternoon I spent with my older sister, as the time I started thinking about moving. I decided I didn't want to become someone who looked back with regret at not having spent more time with everyone I cared about.

So I'm moving to Rochester, N.Y. It's not really "home" in the sense that I didn't grow up there. But it's where my heaviest concentration of family happens to be. And I'll add myself to that number next week.

As some long-time readers might recall, this won't be my first departure from BA. I began working here as an intern while I was still in college and worked my way up to assistant editor before leaving for Seattle in 1995. Less than three years later, I was back. I know I'll miss many of the same things I missed the last time I left. It's been a challenging and rewarding job that has provided opportunities I never would have received elsewhere. I've met so many outstanding people, both in our office and in the game.

I've also heard from numerous readers since we joined the e-mail age two years ago. (We held out on the technology as long as we could.) Many e-mails have been encouraging or informative (or both), while a few have made me shake my head at times. But we know what's on your minds now, at least in a general way.

One topic fans are thinking about, that I try to avoid most of the time, is the imminent labor troubles on the horizon. Here's a question from a reader on that subject.

    Thank you for your great column, Mr. Bailey. As a person who has written in with a couple of different questions, I appreciated your prompt and concise answers. I do have one final question for you and I hope it is one that you have an opinion on.

    Let's face it, baseball is on a runaway train headed for another lockout. The climate is becoming much more unpleasant than it was in '94, with the Sheffields and Thomases of the world dominating the spring headlines. As we rapidly approach another work stoppage what do you think the fans can do to demonstrate their displeasure with the idea of baseball being taken from us again?

    Do the fans go on strike first? Say an Opening Day boycott? Regardless, of whose fault it is (owners or players) I don't want to see another season lost. I would be very interested in hearing your point of view on this matter or those of the other column readers.

    Joshua Bartosh
    Scottsdale, Ariz.

I hate to say it, but in all practicality, I don't think there is much the fans can do. The owners and players know how awful everything turned out last time. They've acknowledged the mess that they made. How can anything the fans do now make that more clear to them?

The only way fans could make a difference would be by simply abandoning baseball. If after another work stoppage, fans simply stopped coming to games, eventually the money train would stop running. But this won't happen. It's in our blood. We've got to have baseball. We love it and we'll keep coming back.

We hear from frustrated fans all the time who say, "If they have another work stoppage, I swear I'm not coming back." Bull. If you came back after the 1994-95 fiasco, you'll come back this time, because there's nothing they can do that would be worse than canceling the World Series. If you forgave them for that, you'll forgive them for anything, whether you want to admit it now or not.

By the way, I don't think it's anywhere near as bad now as it was in 1994. Frank Thomas and Gary Sheffield don’t speak for the majority of players, and I think most of their colleagues wish they'd shut up and stop whining about the money they make. And any work stoppage that occurs will pale in comparison to 1994, I think.

I guess we'll find out at the end of the year, though. If things get really ugly, we'll have to turn our attention elsewhere. Maybe we'll find a new appreciation for art, music, nature, our children, our parents, our pets, the XFL or any number of other things.

Maybe I'm just getting a head start on that now. Baseball will always be one of my great loves, but I think the beauty of baseball is illuminated when we can step back and put the game into some perspective.

I'm hoping I'll be able to do that myself. Wish me luck.

February 22, 2001

Since we launched Baseball America Online back on Opening Day 1999, we've come up with numerous ideas for the site. Most of the good ones are still with us. Most of the bad ones have been discarded. Ask BA has been one of the success stories, and I'm not too modest to take credit for coming up with it back in October 1999. It's been one of my favorite tasks over the past year and a half, and I often wished I had more time to devote to it. At one point it ran three days a week, but for most of the last year we've run Ask BA twice weekly.

If you've enjoyed the column, you'll be happy to know it's not going anywhere. I, on the other hand, am. Next Wednesday will be my last day at Baseball America. I may still contribute to the Website and the magazine in the future, but I'll be handing the reins to the site over. Jim Callis probably will take over Ask BA, at least for the short term, and I'm sure he'll do a great job with it.

But I've got one more column in me. If you've got a question you've been saving or just something you'd like to say, be sure to send it in the next couple of days. And make it good.

    There is a lot of hype surrounding Miguel Cabrera, the supposed future shortstop for the Florida Marlins. Everyone I know is raving about him, but unfortunately his stats and build aren't showing. He batted just .260 with just two homers in the Gulf Coast League. Those don't seem to be star stats and form. I understand that he is just 17, but do you really think he will be a star?

    You guys say that he may contend for batting crowns and home-run titles? Why is that? What do you guys see in this kid? I understand he is just starting out so anything can happen, but I am bewildered! Please clear this for me and many others.

    Brian Borsch
    Portland, Ore.

What is scouting, really? How do scouts go about doing their job? How do they decide to hand out $1.9 million to a kid, establishing a new record for players from his country? Well, one thing they rarely consider is his statistics.

When scouts look at a 16-year-old kid, which is how old Cabrera was when he signed, and they see a great batting eye, a compact swing and plus power potential, their eyes light up. When he tosses in a strong arm and soft hands, they really get excited. These are all traits Cabrera has. He has the tools that the Marlins project will turn into numbers by the time he reaches the big leagues. (There are some who feel he'll move to third base in time, but that doesn't take too much of the luster off for me.)

Scouts, farm directors, managers and others in the game don't care much about numbers in the Gulf Coast League. In some respects they shouldn't even bother keeping them, especially for 17-year-old kids away from home for the first time. But they do. And when I look at a stat line for a kid like Cabrera and see he hit .260 with two homers in his debut, I think, hey, that's not too shabby.

Are they star stats? Well, are these?

Player A.24616732416202215291
Player B.27818029509002313305
Player C.2176961550077172
Player D.24023324564103621577
Player E.1919481840193191
Player F.1731041418110518241

Those are the debut numbers from a handful of players in short-season leagues. Do they look like the statistics of anyone worth keeping? Player A is Tony Batista, 1992, Arizona League. Player B is Carlos Beltran, 1995, GCL. Player C is Bobby Bonilla, 1981, GCL. Player D is Juan Gonzalez, 1986, GCL. Player E is Javy Lopez, 1988, GCL. Player F is Edgar Martinez, 1983, Northwest League—and he played college ball in Puerto Rico first. Not everyone burns from the start.

I'm sure I've said it before, but in case you weren't paying attention, don't read too much into numbers from players in their debut season, especially in Rookie ball. It's not how they hit in the GCL that matters. It's how they'll hit in the big leagues.

    How will Edgar Martinez' stats be affected this year by A-Rod leaving, and his age? Will he ever slow down?

    Phil Anderson
    Madison, Wis.

I think you can expect to see a slight decline across the board in the Mariners offense due to the loss of A-Rod, and that will affect Edgar Martinez like anyone else. There won't be quite as many RBI opportunities, which would make it tough to repeat as the league leader even if Edgar weren't 38 years old.

But, if Ichiro hits like I think he will, the dropoff won't be that drastic. I'm not saying Ichiro is the offensive equal of A-Rod. Not even close. But I do think he'll get on base at a healthy clip and he'll bring a little bit of pop as well. There's room for several returning players to improve on what they did last year, which would also help pick up some of the lost A-Rod offense. John Olerud hit 15 points under his career average last year. Dan Wilson was a nonfactor at the plate. The Mariners are encouraged by Wilson's swing this spring after Lee Elia, former Mariners hitting coach got him straightened out. Bret Boone's not a great hitter, but he's an upgrade on what Mark McLemore did last year. And if the Mariners do land a third baseman before the end of camp, they could score just as many runs as they did last year.

Most players don't come through with a career year at age 37, but Martinez did. Certainly this late in his career, I don't think it sets a new standard for him. I'd take it as an aberration. Considering that Martinez' previous career highs in home runs and RBIs were 29 and 113, in 1995, I'd expect a dramatic decline from last year's 37 and 145. Last year was just one of those special years in which he came up with a lot of runners in scoring position, and he knocked a lot of them in.

But he's a .320 career hitter and he hit .324 last year, which is about where you'd expect him. He's never been a guy who relied on speed, so his age doesn't hurt him there. He might lose a few points off his average, but I think he'll be close to a .300 hitter until he retires.

    I just read where Kansas City released Steve Rain for not showing up on time. What's the deal?

    Dale Walters
    Greenwood, Ind.

Rain apparently came to the Royals with a reputation for being tardy to the ballpark. So when he was late to the third workout of training camp, he was informed he wasn't welcome back for the fourth.

"He wasn't 10 minutes late or 15 minutes late," Royals manager Tony Muser told the Kansas City Star. "He was hours late with no phone call—nothing."

Rain would appear to have been in the right spot, going to camp with the Royals, who need to rebuild an atrocious bullpen. He did a solid job for the Cubs last year, going 3-4 with a 4.35 ERA in 49 2/3 innings of relief. Had he made the team, he probably would have been used as a setup man for closer Roberto Hernandez. But he learned the hard way that there are repercussions for not following the rules.

I'd be surprised if he doesn't find another opportunity somewhere with the current state of pitching being what it is. And I'd also be surprised if he didn't make a better effort to get to practice on time in the future.

    Do you think Tom Davey will succeed in his role as setup man for Trevor Hoffman? I think he has finally turned the corner and will finally display command of his pitches.

    Andrew Margolick

Everything finally clicked for Davey late in the 2000 season. After struggling through the year in the Pacific Coast League, he was dynamite for the Padres in 11 appearances, posting a 0.71 ERA and walking just two batters in 12 2/3 innings. Padres pitching coach Dave Smith suggested a new grip for him and it seemed to work wonders.

What he did was encouraging, but before you get too excited, balance off those 11 outings against his previous seven years of performance. He's always had great stuff, with a mid-90s (or occasionally better) fastball. But he hasn't been able to consistently throw it for strikes. Maybe that new grip will do the trick, but I won't be sold until he does it for a longer period of time. I'm not saying he won't, I just need a little more convincing before I believe.

    Now that spring training is beginning, we're reading about visa complications delaying the arrival of players who, I assume, played a healthy dose of winter league games and don't feel a need to be early birds. Is that the conventional wisdom in baseball, i.e., let some of these guys stay home an extra week or so?

    Tom McCullough
    York, Pa.

I suppose it depends on whom you're talking about. If you're looking at a veteran player who has a track record of coming to camp in good shape and taking care of his business, I'd say most managers won't lose a lot of sleep if he comes to camp a few days late. If you're looking at someone who's fighting for a job, it's probably not a good idea to miss any time at all.

I don't think the visa-problem guys are necessarily showing up late because they think they're in good enough shape, though. When a guy reports late due to a visa problem, it's because he didn't get his paperwork taken care of in time. Sometimes that's due to circumstances beyond his control, but I'd guess for the most part, visa problems could be avoided by players making sure they send everything in soon enough to allow for unforeseen delays.

February 20, 2001

We've got a couple of timely questions to attack today. I guess you could say that we need to get a little deeper into spring training, because the big stories of the day are still things that are happening off the field and not on it. But they're everywhere right now, and we might as well take a look at them here as well.

    I shall skip my tirade over Gary Sheffield's demand to be traded. Several questions though regarding this demand. Number one, does he have the right to request a trade, and if so what if L.A. cannot trade him for an equal player/players? Number two, if Gary does hold out do the Dodgers still have to pay him? If not, maybe a four-year holdout would be the respect he needs.

    If he does have the right to demand a trade in his contract and if he also will be paid whether or not he plays, then I suppose the Dodgers deserve what they are getting due to stupidity. Unfortunately the Dodgers fans take it in the shorts once again.

    Craig Dyberg
    Running Springs, Calif.

As far as I'm aware, Sheffield doesn't technically have any right to demand a trade. The Basic Agreement specifies that a player traded in the middle of a multiyear deal can demand a trade at the conclusion of the season in which he was acquired. That's not the case here, and I don't believe there's any special clause in his contract that would allow him to demand a deal, because we'd probably have heard a lot about that by now.

Assuming that's the case, the Dodgers can ignore him at their own risk. His only real leverage right now is to act like a baby (apologies to any babies out there for comparing you to Sheffield) and do what he can to make things unpleasant in L.A. Coming from a guy who has admitted throwing balls away on purpose while an unhappy Brewer, that's some solid leverage. I can just imagine the headlines now "Another Sheffield throwing error proves costly for Dodgers: Left fielder's throw onto roof allows winning run to score."

Should Sheffield decide to hold out, the Dodgers would be justified in withholding his salary. That would be a tough case even for the best lawyer the union can find. I'm sure Sheffield wouldn't expect his paycheck, however, because it's not about the money. "It's about the disrespect I've had to deal with since I came here," according to Sheffield.

In case you haven't been following along with baseball in recent times, "it's about the disrespect" is another way of saying "it's completely and utterly about the money." Sheffield wants a lucrative extension, even though he's got four years left on his current deal. In trying to fathom his logic, I guess he thinks the only way the Dodgers can make up for any previous slight is to lock him up beyond the 2004 season, for big-time capital, of course. Essentially he's saying either get me out of this horrible place right now, or make sure I stay here for a really long time. (Can you say "paradox," boys and girls?)

Sheffield has never struck me as the most mature guy in the game, and maybe I'm not surprised to see him come out with something like this. But that doesn't make it less obscene. When a player signs a long-term extension for a deal that makes him one of the richest players in the game at the time (which he did in 1998), he should never be able to demand an out. He's taking the long-term security when it fits his needs, without wanting the responsibility of living up to his end of the deal for the life of the contract. Sorry, but that's not how contracts work.

I get the feeling that most of these players who sign these big-bucks deals don't understand how severely they limit their future options. There aren't many teams, especially once spring training has begun, that can fit a $9.5 million-a-year-guy into the budget. And there probably aren't a lot of managers out there who are eager to take on a guy who's so willing to be a clubhouse distraction.

The Dodgers are in a tough spot right now, because if they deal Sheffield just to get rid of the problem, they're not likely to get much in return. And if they go into the season with a pouty Sheffield on their hands, they face the risk of allowing him to sabotage their season. These are the kinds of things teams might want to consider before they break the bank for players who have shown questionable character and teamwork skills in the past.

    I had some questions concerning the Mike Sirotka "Shouldergate" situation. If the commissioner's office rules it necessary, what would you think is fair compensation to Toronto if this was a good-faith trade by the White Sox? Would it be different if he ruled there was bad faith involved, such as the suspicious offseason cortisone shot given to Sirotka shortly before his trade?

    What are Major League Baseball's rules concerning trade and results of physicals? I had always thought that unlike the other major sports, a full exam was not required. I find it disconcerting that with all the money involved in players and contracts, baseball people have so easily invoked used car metaphors in this situation.

    And finally, what was the last deal that was completely rescinded by a league office? I cannot seem to remember one.

    Jim Harmon
    New Paltz, N.Y.

I think the extent of the action taken by MLB will definitely depend on whether they determine the White Sox acted in bad faith. There may still be compensation if the commissioner's office doesn't find bad faith, but it likely will be negligible.

It was common knowledge in the baseball community that Sirotka was having difficulties toward the end of last season, though they were with his elbow not his shoulder. If the Blue Jays were interested in trading for him, it would seem incumbent upon them to have him thoroughly checked out on their own (though it's not required by the rules). Which they did. And he passed the exam.

That's about the point at which the Blue Jays' case breaks down, in my opinion. Their argument would seem to be with the doctor who didn't catch the torn labrum, not with the White Sox, who have to be taken at their word that they didn't know about it.

According to what White Sox general manager Ken Williams has said, he was up front with Blue Jays GM Gord Ash with the information as he knew it. If the commissioner's office agrees, that would rule out bad faith. But that might not settle the issue, because you still have to determine if the White Sox should have been responsible for knowing the extent of the damage to a player they were about to trade. And MLB could decide that the White Sox should have had to know that.

This may sound like too much to expect, but in the myriad regulations for waivers is a rule that says basically that players have to be either on the active list or eligible to be activated from the disabled list and that the "requesting club guarantees that the player has recovered from the player's ailment and is capable of performing at the player's accustomed level." And that's for players who are essentially being given away for nothing.

This is different, obviously, in that Sirotka isn’t on the DL and wasn't at any point last year. But if it's an accepted standard in the business that you don't offer players around if you can't guarantee that they're healthy, that could work against the White Sox.

I'm sure it's only a most unhappy coincidence, but it doesn't help Chicago's case that one of the minor leaguers they sent to Toronto, righthander Mike Williams, was also determined to be too injured to pitch. They've already agreed to replace him in the deal. One of many options the commissioner's office could choose, in theory, is to upgrade whatever replacement the Blue Jays would have received for Williams and let Toronto keep Sirotka as well. So they'd replace Williams with someone like a Gary Majewski or Rocky Biddle, who aren't the premium prospects in the organization but are solid prospects nonetheless and an upgrade over Williams.

I'm not sure they will do that, but I think that might be the most equitable solution. Long-term, I'd have to think the Blue Jays would rather have Sirotka than whomever they might receive as compensation. (I'm assuming MLB won't go crazy and grant them Jim Parque, Jon Garland or Jon Rauch, for example, which would be unwarranted.) If the compensation is anything less than Parque, the Jays won't get the rotation help they need this year anyway. So letting Sirotka rehab and come back in 2002, and taking a compensation player like Majewski or Biddle might be the best solution for both teams.

I can't remember the commissioner's office stepping in and wiping out a deal since the days of Charlie Finley's Oakland selloff. Bowie Kuhn put the kibosh on Finley's sales of Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi in 1976, because they were straight-cash deals that Kuhn decided weren't in the best interest of the game. Since then there have been other deals fall through when a player has failed a physical, but to the best of my memory, those have always been settled by the teams involved without the need to get a ruling from the commissioner.

    In your chat on Friday, you said that as current MLB rules state, no team could trade for Matt Harrington's rights until a year after he signs, so it looks like the Rockies are just going to lose him. I've known about this rule since the Indians had to wait a couple of days to announce they had traded Tim Costo for Reggie Jefferson, and I think it's pretty foolish, but here's an idea.

    Is there anything to prevent the Rockies from signing him for some other team (say the Yanks) and then loaning him to Greensboro? Maybe acquiring Alfonso Soriano from the Yanks for a player to be named, and next February announcing that, what a surprise, Harrington was the PTBNL? Perhaps there's a limit to how long a player can be loaned to another organization, or a finite length in which a team has to name a player to be named later?

    Matt Hoagland

Out on all counts. Trades for players to be named must be completed within six months. As for player loans, the rulebook states that "with the prior approval of the commissioner, clubs may arrange for the loan and return for players under minor league contracts during the championship season." I think you'd have a tough time on the "with the prior approval of the commissioner" part, because it'd be pretty obvious something fishy was at hand if the Rockies were suddenly willing to loan out one of the top bonus babies in the draft.

February 15, 2001

Before we get to more fantasy baseball questions, I have to follow up on something from Tuesday's column. A reader asked about Andy Barkett's chances of winning the Braves' starting first-base job. I said I didn't think he had a shot. After reader Wilbur Miller pointed out that Barkett isn't with the Braves any longer, I really think his odds are bad.

I should have looked for that before I answered the question. My mistake. According to all of the signings we've received from Howe Sportsdata over the winter, Barkett is unsigned after becoming a minor league free agent in October. Even if he re-signs with the Braves, I still don't like his chances.

Enough about Andy Barkett. Here are today's questions.

    What's the deal with Jose Ortiz? The guy basically toils in the lower minors for a few years and nobody cares. Then he has one nice year at Triple-A and now he's the next great thing at second base. I figured if a kid had a great year and it was totally out of context, people would figure that it was a one-time thing. Why is everyone so sure Ortiz is going to be great?

    Jay Tate
    Montgomery, Ala.

That's a legitimate question. How confident should we be that Ortiz is going to be a solid major leaguer based on one above-average season in the minors? I'd have more confidence if he'd done it in back-to-back seasons, but I still like him pretty well as a prospect.

Ortiz is a guy the A's have liked since they signed him in 1994. He had a nice debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League, hitting .330 with a little bit of pop as a 19-year-old in 1996. It's not really fair to say he toiled in the lower minors for years, either, because he held his own in high Class A, Double-A and Triple-A, moving a level a year from 1997-99. He showed flashes of his potential during that time, but he never put it all together because of injuries and immaturity. Last year, in his second tour of duty in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, he exploded with an MVP season for Sacramento, hitting .351 with 24 home runs, 107 runs and 108 RBIs.

I think some of the current Ortiz hype could be chalked up to the fact that we're looking at a relatively weak rookie crop in 2001. There aren't too many first-year guys who figure to break camp with starting jobs. Ortiz, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, Devil Rays second baseman Brent Abernathy, Twins second baseman Luis Rivas are the only position players who look like locks to win starting jobs. Well, technically you have to count Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki as well, but I don't really think of him as a rookie. There are a few others who have a chance, and will likely be up shortly after the start of the season if they're not there Opening Day. I don't think this will be a top-notch season for rookies. But everyone wants to find a rookie to fall in love with, and that gives more spotlight to guys like Ortiz.

In a normal season, Ortiz might be allowed to go about his business with less attention, which would probably be better. I think he'll be a good major leaguer, but it took him two shots to really turn it on in the PCL and it might be wise to expect some growing pains in his first season in Oakland.

    I picked Tim Hudson in our draft last year and did well with him. But I am puzzled what he has that makes him such a consistent winner? The A's scouting reports had rated both Mark Mulder and Barry Zito as having better stuff and more upside. He had fewer quality starts than Gil Heredia, who only won 15 games.

    How good is this guy? If you look at his results, you are looking at a much-needed young ace to compete with an aging bunch in Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Chuck Finley, etc. Some pitchers seem to just win more than their "stuff" would project. Is he one of those, or did he benefit a bit too much from very high run support last year, and can we expect him to drop back a bit?

    Robert Hanscom
    Annandale, Va.

Hudson did benefit from the second-best run support in the American League last year, with 7.34 runs per nine innings. So that has to be taken into account when you look at his 20-6 record.

There's a lot more to Hudson than run support, though. When the A's were battling for the division title in September, Hudson turned his game up a notch. He went 6-0 with a miserly 1.39 ERA in September, allowing just 40 baserunners in 45 1/3 innings and nary a home run. That's just an awesome performance.

One of the concerns on Hudson that caused him to be ranked behind Mulder as a prospect (Hudson was No. 10 and Mulder No. 2 on the 1999 A's Top 10) was his stamina. Hudson is still a fairly slight individual. But he has shown by this point that he is capable of taking the ball every fifth day. He's also shown he's a winner. He's 31-8 in the major leagues. He was 23-10 in the minors, and in his senior season at Auburn, he went 15-2, while hitting .396 with 18 homers as an outfielder on his nonpitching days. He's got something special.

    Who is going to play first base for the Cubs this season? With Mark Grace gone, you would think that would give young Julio Zuleta a chance to show he can play. He has had two great minor league seasons in a row and did an adequate job in the majors last year in limited appearances. But then the Cubs turn around and pick up Matt Stairs and Ron Coomer. Who's going to get the playing time? If Zuleta gets the chance to play, he could be a huge steal in any fantasy draft.

    Dustin Wilson
    Bloomington, Ill.

My money is on Coomer, though I don't think he's really any better than Zuleta. He has had a chance to show what he can do in the big leagues, and he's an average to below-average first baseman. Zuleta would likely fall in that same category if he got to play every day for a couple of years.

I wouldn't go as far as calling Zuleta's last two seasons "great," though he did post some impressive numbers. He hit .311 with 26 homers in 392 at-bats at Triple-A Iowa last year and .295 with 21 homers in 482 at-bats at Double-A West Tenn the year before. But he also struck out 199 times and drew just 66 walks. Maybe it's a question of semantics, but I'd reserve "great" for what Nick Johnson did at Double-A Norwich in 1999 or even what Jose Ortiz did last year at Sacramento.

Zuleta could be considered a steal in a fantasy draft if he went late or if he went cheaply in your auction. It would be nice to have 20 homers and 85 RBIs for a couple of bucks, and that's probably about what he'd do if given 500 at-bats. Coincidentally, that's probably about what Coomer will do if he holds the job all year. And Stairs could factor in too, because the Cubs have a lot of outfield options.

    Which player (everything considered—including health issues) do you think is the better longterm roto player, Nick Johnson or Carlos Pena? And, extending this question a bit, who is a better long-term Rangers prospect, Pena or (my favorite) Kevin Mench?

    Tom Dandrew
    Fonda, N.Y.

I'm assuming Johnson is healthy again, because all reports we've heard recently have said he is. And if he is, I'll take Johnson. The guy had a .525 on-base percentage at Norwich in 1999. That's absurd. Though his career high to this point is 17 home runs, I think the power is there for him to easily exceed that a couple of years down the road. It's a shame he missed the 2000 season, because he'd probably be the favorite for AL Rookie of the Year right now if he had spent a full season at Triple-A Columbus last year.

Pena is similar to Johnson in some ways. His power is further along, as evidenced by his 28 homers for Double-A Tulsa last year, but they both draw a lot of walks. Pena's path is blocked for the moment, but he'll probably get plenty of time in Arlington in 2002. Lefthanded hitters thrive in The Ballpark, and there's no reason to think he'll be an exception.

I'd take Pena over Mench, but not by much. I know Mench was No. 4 on our Rangers Top 10 list, but if I were making my own personal Rangers list, he'd be second, behind Pena. The biggest difference between the two is that Pena is four months younger yet has played at a higher level than Mench.

    I'm looking to draft some speed in the minors in the AL, in a keeper league. Who do you think, if any, has the best chance to make it to the majors and have an impact: Alex Requena (Indians), Esteban German (A's), Jamal Strong (Mariners), or Bo Ivy (White Sox). I personally like Strong the best.

    Michael Stern
    Mohegan Lake, N.Y.

Before I answer that, let me wonder aloud how many minor leaguers you can carry in your league. I'm always curious when people are asking about guys in Rookie ball for a fantasy league. It could be years before those guys are ready to help your team. Will your league even be around that long, and if it is, will you still be in it? It's one thing to look at next year if your team's not real strong. But drafting players who are more than a year away just doesn't make a lot of sense to me, given the context of most fantasy leagues.

In case you still want to draft those guys, I'll answer the question. All of those players had impressive seasons stealing bases, but the most important tool I'd look for in a basestealer is the ability to get on base. For that reason, I'd agree with your choice of Strong. But all four of those guys have shown at least some ability to draw walks, so there is hope for all of them. I'd rank them: Strong, Ivy, German, Requena.

One caveat, Strong and Ivy only have a couple of months of pro ball under their belts, so they haven't had much chance to struggle yet. They may be exposed as they face higher-level competition. I do think Strong, in particular, will move quickly, though.

February 13, 2001

It's fantasy baseball week at Ask BA. We received several interesting fantasy baseball questions, and I invite more submissions for Thursday's column as well. I'm kicking off today's questions with a general Baseball America question, that really has little to do with Rotisserie baseball, unless you figure getting the information in BA quicker would help you be a better fantasy manager.

    In Thursday's column you alluded to the current issue of BA being the NL Central Top 10 Prospects issue. To my knowledge that issue won't hit the newsstands for at least another week. The current issue (marked "On Sale Through February 18") is the College Preview issue, which interrupted the string of Top 10 Prospects issues between the NL East and the NL Central.

    That brings up the question as to how Jim Smith from Austin got the information about BA's attempt to project the Brewers top five starting pitchers in 2004. I believe that information is only available in the magazine issue. Furthermore, the Brewers Top 10 Prospects didn't appear on your website until Friday. The only thing I can think of is perhaps subscribers get their issues a week or more before they reach the newsstand. Is that true?

    Bill Putman
    Liverpool, N.Y.

It is true. Subscribers receive their copy of the magazine up to two weeks before it hits the newsstand. It's not a conspiracy on our part to reward subscribers, it's just that our distribution to newsstand is, and always has been, painfully slow—regardless of what we try to improve it. We've got a lot more direct control over sending the issues to subscribers, and we can see to it that those are sent out in as timely a manner as possible.

If you're interested in reading the issue while the news is still as fresh as possible, I'd highly encourage you to subscribe. When you factor in the savings off the newsstand price, I can't see why anyone wouldn't prefer to have us mail them the magazine. But to each his own.

Now let's dive into some fantasy baseball questions.

    How do you think Lance Berkman will fare this year given the fact that he will be playing regularly and playing in hitter-friendly Enron? I have always been high on Berkman as a player, but could this be his bust out year?

    Mike Langlois
    Keene, N.H.

Berkman does figure to get more playing time this year, with Roger Cedeno gone to Detroit. He showed plenty of signs of being ready to break through last year. He doesn't really have far to go, in fact.

After the all-star break, Berkman posted a .396 on-base percentage. In the last two months of the season, he had more walks than strikeouts. Those are very positive numbers for a young player. And his power wasn't generated by Enron. He popped 11 of his 21 home runs on the road.

The only real drawback last year was Berkman's performance against lefthanders. The switch-hitter batted .320 against righties and .218 against lefties. If he can make a few adjustments there, to show he deserves to be in the lineup against all pitching, he'll be a big-time run producer on that team.

Berkman's value to the club was boosted by the Cedeno trade in more ways than one. That deal sent Cedeno and catcher Mitch Meluskey, both switch-hitters, to the Tigers. Third baseman Ken Caminiti, another switch-hitter, moved on to the Rangers as a free agent. Houston's lineup this season could include seven righthanded hitters and Berkman. That should keep him anchored somewhere in the middle of the order, providing plenty of RBI opportunities.

    For the past year or two catching has been considered a strength of the A's farm system. Ramon Hernandez may turn out to be a very good major leaguer, but A.J. Hinch never seemed to pan out and now Miguel Olivo has been traded. Who does Oakland pin their future catching hopes on now, or are they content to see how Hernandez develops?

    Steve Miller
    Butler, Ga.

I think you can safely infer that by trading Hinch and Olivo the A's gave Hernandez a distinct vote of confidence. He's still just 25, but he played in 143 games for Oakland last season and all indications in the minor leagues showed that he's capable of hitting better than last year's .241 mark. Throughout his career he's drawn nearly a walk for each strikeout and he always has shown moderate power.

Beyond Hernandez, the A's do have a couple of intriguing catchers left in the system. Gerald Laird ranked as the No. 12 prospect in the organization, despite missing much of the 2000 season due to injuries. Laird is strong defensively and has some potential with the bat as well.

Beau Craig, Eric Munson’s successor at the University of Southern California, came to the A's in the sixth round of last year's draft. Oakland likes his power potential as well as his defense. Craig was limited to 77 at-bats in his debut because of a broken jaw, but he'll be ready to go this spring.

    My question is regarding a high school buddy of mine, Ted Rose. After being taken by Montreal in the major league Rule 5 draft, I think he has a much better shot of staying in the bigs this year with Montreal than with Cincinnati. I don't know for sure if has had a full year at Triple-A, but when he was sent down last year to Double-A, he ate those guys up. I also saw he put up some pretty good numbers in the Puerto Rican winter league. Since I have not seen him listed as an addition to the Montreal staff by anyone, I was wondering if this was a sign by Montreal saying he would be sent back to Cincinnati.

    Jim Duncan
    Martins Ferry, Ohio

Rose has a solid shot at making the Expos this season, and staying all year. To say he ate up Double-A hitters last year would be an understatement. Rose toyed with them, posting a 1.10 ERA in 31 appearances. He struck out 51 in 41 innings while allowing just 24 hits and nine walks. He didn't fare nearly as well after a promotion to Triple-A Louisville, going 2-2 with a 4.97 ERA in 23 games, but he pitched better than his ERA would indicate. In 38 innings he allowed 36 hits and 13 walks and struck out 33.

Once he got to Puerto Rico, he shifted back into his dominating gear, going 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA in 16 appearances. He struck out 24 and walked five while allowing just 14 hits in 22 innings.

Rose throws a low-90s fastball and an impressive curveball, which should give him enough to work with as a setup man. I'll be surprised if the Expos don't find room for him on their 25-man roster this spring. He appears to me to have the best chance of any Rule 5 pick to stick in the big leagues and actually contribute.

    Do you think there is any chance Andy Barkett will beat out Rico Brogna for the starting job at first base in Atlanta? I know that Barkett had a poor year last season for Triple-A Richmond (playing hurt, I think). But he showed what he could do in Dominican winter ball, where he absolutely dominated. Don't you think that Barkett has more upside for the Braves than Brogna, who is much older and has been hurt and unproductive for the last three seasons?

    Rich Rifkin
    Davis, Calif.

No. I just don't see it. Nothing against Barkett, who played at my alma mater, North Carolina State. I'll be rooting for him, but realistically, I just don't think he's got a shot at the starting job. This may be the year he makes his big league debut, but I'd forecast a reserve role for him in that event.

Don't take that as an endorsement of Brogna, by any means. He's completely done. But when the Braves realize that, I think they'll either go outside the organization or hand the first-base job to Dave Martinez.

    What's the deal with Aramis Ramirez? He's 22, younger than many prime third-base prospects, and he has excellent power potential and superb plate discipline. From what I hear, he may be challenged by Enrique Wilson for the Pirates’ third-base job. This makes no sense, when one of the bigger knocks on Ramirez is his defense. Wilson is just as bad, if not worse in the field!

    Are the Pirates still doubting this kid? Would they seriously not hand him the third-base job? And, if so, do you imagine other teams have been/will be showing interest? Another year of Triple-A seems counterproductive. Ramirez has dominated for two years in a row, and he needs at-bats against major league pitching.

    Jonathan Adelman
    Ramsey, N.J.

The Pirates have done everything they can to ruin Ramirez' career to this point, yet he's still on track to blossom as a hitter in the next year or so. This time, however, I think they're probably doing the right thing by not just handing him the job before camp even opens. Considering that all of his dominating has come in the minor leagues, he should have to win it.

In order for Ramirez to win the job, he has to be competing with someone. Enter Wilson. It's not uncommon for teams to play a young guy off of someone else in spring training to give him a little extra motivation. Ramirez probably needs that, too. It wouldn't be quite the same if he went to camp knowing he had the job in the bag. The Pirates may be bluffing a little on Wilson, but the truth is, if Ramirez flops, Wilson will take the job by default. So why not put that spin on it from the start and make sure that Ramirez takes things with the appropriate levity this spring?

I don't think Ramirez will flop. I think he's ready to hit, and I think he'll easily show he's the much better man for the job in exhibition play. Wilson is really best suited to a utility role, because he can play all three infield positions and even handle semiregular playing time in case of an injury. He's not a great fielder, and I think he'd be exposed offensively if he played every day, but if the Pirates want to use him to motivate more than just Ramirez, they could start dropping hints to Pat Meares and Warren Morris that Wilson could steal their jobs as well. I'll be surprised if Ramirez doesn't easily outperform both of them this season.

February 8, 2001

It's getting to be the time of year again when we start to see more fantasy baseball questions. Some of them are thinly veiled as general questions, but you can guess why the reader is curious. And others are flat-out "should I make this trade" kinds of questions.

Generally, I avoid answering obvious fantasy questions in this space, though I do on occasion respond to them individually. But in honor of the approaching fantasy season, I figured I'd invite any rotoheads out there to go ahead and dump your fantasy baseball questions on me. Next week's columns will be totally dedicated to fantasy baseball.

Remember to include your name and hometown, though. That rule still applies. Any questions that come in without the proper identification will be quickly dismissed. And try not to ask 20 questions. If you need that much help, I'm afraid there's nothing I can do for you.

    I would like to know which player will either win the right-field job or play the most for Oakland this year: Adam Piatt or Jeremy Giambi. And do you think if it is Giambi his brother Jason would part of the reason he gets it, or is he that much better than Piatt?

    Jack Brice
    South Burlington, Vt.

I envision Piatt and Giambi platooning in right field this season. Since Giambi would be the lefthanded-hitting half of that platoon, he would get more playing time.

If one of them wins the job outright, however, I think it will be Piatt. He needs to show in spring training that he can hit righthanded pitching in the big leagues, though. Last year, he hit .219 with no homers in 73 at-bats against righties and .369 with five homers in 84 at-bats against lefties.

Before you draw too big a conclusion from that, however, take a look at his numbers from 1999, when he won the triple crown in the Texas League. Piatt hit .299 with 10 homers in 154 at-bats against lefties and .366 with 29 homers in 322 at-bats against righties. The ability to hit all pitchers is there, he just needs to make the adjustment to major leaguers.

Giambi is a much better hitter than he showed last year, when he batted .254 with 10 homers in 260 at-bats, but I think Piatt has a higher ceiling. Neither one will be an asset defensively, but I think Piatt has the edge there as well.

Still, I'd guess they open in a platoon to start the season. Whether they finish that way is another matter.

    Where will Rickey Henderson end up this year? Will he back down on his reported insistence that he be in the starting lineup?

    John Pendleton

Henderson has played on five different clubs in the last four years. There are usually two reasons why players bounce around that much. Either they're fringy talent-wise, moving around wherever they can earn a little playing time, or they're questionable in the clubhouse/dugout. Henderson is a future Hall of Famer, who has kept himself in great shape considering his age, but I think he falls into both categories at this point.

Henderson has failed to hit .250 in four of the past five seasons (the exception was 1999 when he hit .315). He still draws a lot of walks and can steal bases, but he doesn't drive the ball like he once did and he's a well below-average defender at this point. When you add in his, um, character attributes, it's tough for some teams to justify keeping a player like him on the roster.

In theory, you'd love to have a player with his experience sharing knowledge with the younger guys on your team. But in reality, the card games and the more than occasional lack of effort on the field are things you just don't want a young player to see. I'm stunned when I watch a game and see Henderson just flat-out fail to run hard from first to second, jog after a fly ball, etc.

I think when he wants to be special, he still can, but there's no room on a winning team for a guy who doesn't give it everything he's got every day. And that's why Rickey is still sitting by the phone right now, despite the potential attendance boost he could provide with the records he's approaching this season.

    I noticed that Jamey Wright was not listed as one of the top five 2004 starters for the Brewers. I thought that a combination of the bigger strike zone and a pitcher's park would result in a nice year for Wright. Is he not highly thought of in the organization? The Nos. 4 and 5 starters listed don't look like the reincarnation of Cy Young.

    Jim Smith

For those who haven't picked up a copy of the most recent issue, featuring the National League Central Top 10 lists, the projected 2004 rotation included Ben Sheets, Jeff D'Amico, Nick Neugebauer, Jose Mieses and Horacio Estrada. Jamey Wright didn't make the cut.

Mieses and Estrada might not be the reincarnation of Cy Young, and perhaps Wright will hold them off. But he hasn’t exactly been a big league ace, and considering what it could cost to keep him around in 2004, it's not unreasonable to think the Brewers might turn to someone younger.

The bigger park will be welcomed by all pitchers, but home runs have not been Wright's problem. Control has. Wright took a step in the right direction last year, allowing fewer hits than innings pitched for the first time in his career. But he still walked nearly as many hitters as he struck out (88 to 96) and he led the NL with 18 hit batsmen.

His situation isn't hopeless, as Wright is still just 26 years old. But if he doesn't begin to throw more strikes, he'll never be more than a No. 4 or 5 starter, even on a mediocre team. Basically, he'll be Pat Rapp. And if so, the Brewers will realize sometime before 2004 that they're better off letting him move on. I guess Tom Haudricourt, who wrote our Brewers Top 10, had enough doubts that Wright would find the zone consistently that he figured Wright won't be in Milwaukee three years from now.

    I noticed that the Mets recently signed a righthander named Harold Eckert. This name did not ring a bell so I looked around a little bit and discovered that he was drafted by the Dodgers in 1999. He signed, but then what? My question is, did he play minor league baseball this past year? If yes, where? I couldn't find a record of him ever being released by Los Angeles or if he ever played.

    Max Del Rey
    Pelham, N.Y.

Eckert signed with the Dodgers after being selected in the 19th round of the 1999 draft out of Florida International. But his contract was voided at the end of the summer. This commonly occurs when a player is found to have a pre-existing injury condition. I don't know the specifics in Eckert's case, but I'd guess he falls into this category.

I can't find any record of him pitching in 2000, so I'd guess he was rehabbing and now that he's healthy again the Mets signed him and he should finally get to make his pro debut. That's speculation on my part, so if anyone has the inside scoop on Eckert (you out there, Harold?) feel free to fill us in.

February 6, 2001

Nothing personal against Travis Lee, but it's sort of reassuring to see him come out on the losing end of his arbitration case. I sometimes wonder how a player who has had such an awful season can go in with a straight face and ask for his salary to be tripled. Lee, who made $500,000 last year, asked for $1.6 million, while the Phillies countered with an offer of $800,000.

Even as a loser, Lee comes out with a $300,000 raise on the heels of a season that would have left many players looking for work. Considering his past fortune, striking it rich when the Diamondbacks shoveled $10 million his way in 1996, maybe he should have just figured he's still well ahead in the salary game and taken whatever was offered without going to arbitration. But that never seems to be how the game works.

Let's start today's questions with one about a guy who would probably be thrilled to take just the major league minimum this year. (That makes two of us.)

    Do you think that the Cubs will ever give Courtney Duncan his shot in the majors? He was once considered a pretty big prospect by some people but kind of fell off the map in recent years. He has since been converted to a closer and had a successful year at Double-A West Tenn and had a dominant season in winter ball. With the Cubs recent lackluster bullpen showings, I would think they would be more than willing to give him a shot.

    Dustin Wilson
    Bloomington, Ill.

The Cubs like Duncan, and he's got a shot at a bullpen job this spring. He throws a low-90s fastball, a pretty good curve and an occasional slider. Sometimes his pitches flatten out and he gets hit, but he has come a long way since moving to the bullpen a year ago.

Duncan had some success as a starter his first two seasons as a pro after the Cubs drafted him in the 20th round in 1996. But in 1998 he started to lose the plate a little and the next year things really bottomed out. The problem was caused by him trying to throw harder than he was really comfortable throwing, and his control went south as a result.

Last year, in his third stint at West Tenn, he went 5-4 with 25 saves and a 3.07 ERA in 61 games. He allowed just 57 hits and 33 walks in 73 innings while striking out 72. That was just a warmup act for hit winter performance. Duncan set a new team record with 17 saves for Caguas in the Venezuelan League while posting a 1.03 ERA in 26 innings.

He's likely to fill more of a setup role for the Cubs should he make the team this spring, but there are definitely opportunities there for any pitcher who shows the right stuff in camp.

    Are MLB teams allowed to work out "sign-and-trade" deals with amateur draft picks? One would think that the Rockies would rather start a bidding war for Matt Harrington among the teams who would gladly meet his price than settle for a compensation pick next season. Iis there a rule preventing them from doing this?

    Greg Fingas
    Regina, Sask.

Under current rules, a player may not be traded until a year after he signs his first pro contract. So there can be no scenario under which the Rockies would sign Harrington and then immediately trade him to another team. It looks at this point as though he'll be re-entering the draft this June.

The question now is, how much has Harrington's unwillingness to sign scared off other teams? Will someone be willing to gamble a first-round pick on the kid? Considering their past success with difficult signs--J.D. Drew and Rick Ankiel, for example--perhaps the Cardinals, who pick 28th, will take a shot.

If Harrington does indeed slip to the second half of the first round, that will be just more ammunition for people who argue that the draft has outlived its useful life. What's the difference between a deep-pocketed team stepping up to draft him late in the first round of this year's draft and signing him to a big contract versus having the same team sign him for the same money as a free agent? In a lot of ways, I don't think there’s a substantial difference, and I don't think the draft is working as it was originally intended.

It's hard to say how high teams would go for a pitcher like Harrington on the open market. But one thing's for sure, had he been a free agent he'd have signed by this point, and we wouldn't be talking about his holdout any more.

    My question concerns Drew Henson and the Reds’ 40-man roster. Will he have to be placed on the Reds 40-man roster this coming season or else be exposed to the major league Rule 5 draft? Then, even if he decides to play football full time, will the Reds be required to keep him on their 40-man roster and option him to one of their minor league teams if he isn't playing any baseball? Finally, if the Reds have optioned him out for three consecutive years, will he become a free agent if he isn't placed on their 25-man roster? I guess I'm wondering if Drew can simply bide his time playing football and then become a baseball free agent and be able to sign with whatever team he wants.

    Erick Metzger
    Reynoldsburg, Ohio

Assuming Henson isn’t called to the big leagues at any point this season, he'll have to be placed on the 40-man roster in November. At that point he'll have three option seasons to use. If he leaves the Reds to concentrate on his football career, they can hold his rights by placing him on the restricted list.

A player on the restricted list doesn’t count against roster limits, so if Henson were on the restricted list, he wouldn't be part of the 40-man roster limit. The Reds still would have to tender him a contract every year, however, and if they didn't he would become a free agent at that point. There’s a two-year limit to the length of time a player may be assigned to the restricted list.

If Henson goes into the NFL, I don't think it would be to just bide his time while waiting for baseball free agency. I think at that point he'd be choosing to forget about baseball and concentrate on his football career. Unlike Deion Sanders and Brian Jordan, who played both sports simultaneously for a while, Henson will have to pick one or the other. As a quarterback, he won't easily be able to pop in on Sunday and lead his team in the NFL. And there aren't many football teams that will want to wait for October for him to join the team. Conversely, there aren't many baseball teams that would want one of their starters to leave in August to go play football and just forget about the stretch run and the postseason.

The two-sport gig really only works as long as the player is still in college and the minor leagues. Henson has another year to make up his mind, and after that, for all practical purposes, he'll have to decide on one or the other.

    Do you think players as a general rule have more trade value during the offseason or during the season as the trade deadline nears? My question is prompted by the Rays' catchers and third basemen. Aubrey Huff is the Rays’ third baseman of the future and I do not think he benefits from going back to Durham or sitting the bench behind Vinny Castilla. I also believe Toby Hall would immediately provide more offense than either John Flaherty or Mike DiFelice. I guess it all comes down to what value you can get in return, but I would like to see Castilla and DiFelice traded now and Huff and Hall begin to get the at-bats and experience they need. What do you think?

    Rick Watson
    Palm Harbor, Fla.

I don't think there is necessarily one time of the year where trade value is the highest as a general rule. It really depends on the individual circumstances.

In Castilla's case, for example, I think his trade value would be much higher if he were to show that last season was an aberration and he still has the ability to hit. That will require some game conditions, either in spring training or the regular season. If he displays his old bat speed in the Grapefruit League, maybe someone will be interested in picking him up. If he doesn't, no one will want him.

In many cases, a player's value can be higher as the trade deadline approaches. When a team is forced to make a decision up against a deadline like that, it often will pay more. There's another reason why return can be better later in the season, though. If a player is being moved for salary reasons, there’s less owed to him in July than there is in April. The team picking up the salary only has to pay for a couple of months instead of the entire season.

February 1, 2001

It wasn't intentional, but today's column sort of turned into an "if I were a general manager" piece. As a preview, here's what I'd do if I were a GM:

I wouldn't give Felix Arellan a $3 million signing bonus. I wouldn't sign Andy Morales. I would sign Bobby Jones, if I could get him to be slightly reasonable about his salary demands. And I'd draft Mark Teixeira No. 1 overall if I were the Twins GM.

    I saw your piece on the Dodgers getting a wrist slap for yet another illegal signing. That's four revealed in the last three years (Josue Perez, Juan Diaz, Adrian Beltre and now Felix Arellan). Does anybody think that the Dodgers would not be willing to pay an additional $100,000 in bonus to get the player signed? I see this as a no-win situation.

    Apparently, the writers, including BA, are troubled by the fact that Arellan and Beltre could get open-market bonuses out of this situation. I'm more troubled by the fact that the Dodgers can't seem to stop breaking the same rule over and over again. It's bad enough that they have the resources of a major media conglomerate. Now, however, they are able to break a rule of talent acquisition and merely pay a parking ticket.

    Wes Bowler
    Bucks County, Pa.

The Dodgers certainly have been cited for their share of infractions in the past two years, but it's important to note a couple of things. First off, all of these signings occurred under a previous regime. Second, they all occurred before they were penalized the first time for the signing of the two Cubans.

It would be another matter if the Dodgers had kept up this pattern of behavior after it was first exposed and after Major League Baseball had penalized them for it. Then you'd expect progressively more serious fines and penalties. But with all of the illegal signings having taken place several years in the past, it's tough for MLB to say, "We already warned you about this stuff, now we're getting serious."

Had the Dodgers signed an underage player last July, after the Cuban case and the Beltre situation had been brought to light, that would be another story entirely, and I think you'd see very tough sanctions imposed.

I'm not troubled by the possibility of anyone getting a market bonus for the illegal signings, but let's be honest about the intentions of the agents who come in after the players have already been signed for three or four years. They're not in it because they think the poor kid needs justice. They're in if for the money.

The thing is, by now MLB has set a precedent with the way they've handled the Beltre and Betemit cases. They really can't rule any differently on other cases, because it wouldn't be consistent with what they've done already. So I think Gus Dominguez is wasting his time fighting for Arellan's freedom. And I think he's got a ridiculously overinflated sense of what Arellan would get if he were granted free agency. At least I know if I were a major league GM, I wouldn't be shelling out $3 million for the guy.

    In Tuesday's Boston Globe, it was reported that the Red Sox have made an offer to third baseman Andy Morales. The Sox are one of three AL teams (and one NL team) to have made an offer to the Cuban defector. Now to my questions: If the Sox did sign him, could he step in right now at the major league level or does he need time at Triple-A Pawtucket? What kind of player does he project to be in the majors. And where would Morales fall on your Top 15 Red Sox prospects?

    Shane Katz
    Marlborough, Mass.

Morales wouldn't rank very high on my personal Red Sox Top 15, because I don't think his ceiling is very high. He's 29 and his career high in home runs in Cuba is 17. Whatever he signs for, you can chalk half of it up to the home run he hit against the Orioles in an exhibition in 1999.

If any team gives him much more than a million bucks, I think they're not going to get a good return on their investment. But it's almost a sure thing he will get more than that. Somehow the words "Cuban defector" seem to hypnotize certain baseball people. They hear those words and start reaching for their checkbooks.

In some cases, things work out. Orlando Hernandez has been a great addition for the Yankees. Livan Hernandez has been solid for the Marlins and Giants. There are others as well. But there have been a few disappointments. No one on the Indians can tell you with all honesty that they hoped Danys Baez would reach Double-A last year. They were hoping their $14.5 million signing package (for four years) would get them a guy that was almost ready to step in and help. He may yet turn into a fine pitcher, but that's a lot of money for a guy who might only contribute to your big league club for two years of his four-year deal. Jorge Toca has now spent two seasons in the minor leagues since signing with the Mets, and he's no closer to winning a major league job.

There's a good chance Morales could fall into that boat. Of course, given the Red Sox' current third-base situation in recent times, maybe it's worth a gamble to find out. But if he turns into the Cuban Ed Sprague, just be glad they didn't give up Dennis Tankersley to get him.

    What has become of Bobby Jones, the righthanded version who one-hit the Giants in the playoffs last year? I guess he asked for $21 million for three years from the Mets, refused arbitration and vanished. Any idea where he will land? What kind of numbers do you expect from him this year?

    Paul Erkel
    Victorville, Calif.

I'm really surprised that Jones hasn't landed somewhere by now. The only thing I can think of is that he's still clinging to the hope he can get $6 million or $7 million a year. Considering the money some pitchers are getting, I'm surprised he didn't. But at this point, he just needs to find a job.

Jones, contrary to what super Mets fan and BA production assistant Matt Eddy says, isn't a bad pitcher. His overall record last year isn't impressive, but in the second half he went 8-2 with a 3.98 ERA. Maybe he wore out his welcome in Shea, but he showed in the playoffs what he's capable of. There are a few teams out there where he'd be one of the best starters on their staff.

Jones needs to figure about now that this might not be the year he gets the money he wants. But if he wants to come down in asking price, he can probably have his choice of new teams, sign a two-year deal and hit the market again after all the labor strife is gone, and maybe get his money then.

    Can you tell me why nobody thinks the Twins will draft Mark Teixeira. They should have the bonus money if you figure it will cost $3 million to sign any No. 1 pick, plus the $2 million to $3 million they didn't spend last year on Taggert Bozied and Aaron Heilman. And if Teixeira is as good as he looks the Twins would be able to give him a major league contract and a real shot at being a full-time player in a short amount of time. Plus he appears to be the type of player that a team can build around.

    Rob Maddock
    Brookings, S.D.

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck. And it's probably going to act like a duck for all its days. If the Twins are frugal with their draft money for years and years, they're probably not going to change. The reason nobody thinks the Twins will draft Teixeira because they haven't shown a willingness in the recent past to spend what it takes to sign the top players. And it will almost definitely cost more than $3 million to sign him.

If I were in charge in Minnesota, I'd take the guy and start a new era in player development there. But I'm not, and based on how the Twins spend their money, I really doubt that's going to happen.

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