DALLAS — The Angels acquired another candidate for their beleaguered pitching rotation Monday, providing Gene Mauch an opportunity to enhance his reputation as one of baseball's most articulate and quotable managers.
Visiting with reporters in the media room at baseball's winter meetings here, Mauch touched on a variety of topics, including Dick Schofield's feet, Mike Witt's bank account, a deterioration in team chemistry last season, his goal to keep Devon White in right field and use Chili Davis in center, and the change in team structure from a year ago.
The Angels of last winter hoped to stabilize a suspect offense with quality pitching.
Now they hope to stabilize their suspect pitching with a quality offense.
Said Mauch: "I have great confidence that we'll score runs and catch the baseball, but I have more anxiety than I did a year ago because it always comes down to pitching."
With lingering uncertainty over their ability to sign free agent Witt and only guarded optimism regarding Kirk McCaskill's physical status, Mauch and Executive Vice President Mike Port are attempting to alleviate the arms shortage.
They first traded Gary Pettis to the Detroit Tigers for Dan Petry Saturday night.
Then, in Monday's draft of minor league players who were not protected on major league rosters, they selected right-hander Joe Johnson, 26, from the Toronto Blue Jays' triple-A Syracuse team.
The draft price is $50,000.
The Angels can offer Johnson back to Toronto for $25,000 if they don't like what they see in spring training.
Port said that his scouts saw enough of Johnson late last season to believe that he had recovered from a strained elbow suffered in his third start of the season and could regain the form that allowed him to go 7-2 with the Blue Jays after his acquisition from Atlanta in 1986.
Johnson was then 3-5 with a 5.13 earned-run average for Toronto at the start of the 1987 season and 6-4 with a 4.26 ERA at Syracuse.
"He's not overpowering, but he has major league experience (having also pitched for the Braves in 1985 and '86) and knows how to pitch." Port said. "I'd put him in a category with Willie Fraser and Mike Cook, who has been doing well in the Dominican Winter League, as three candidates to join our starting staff."
Said Mauch: "Getting Johnson is not a guarantee of anything, but it's at least an opportunity of having another experienced pitcher on the mound.
"I feel as good about it as I did the Petry deal. They've both done something at the major league level before, though I haven't seen Petry approach his recent work with the same confidence he had in the early 80s.
"An arm problem can create uncertainty in a guy's mind and it usually takes a year or two to clear that up."
Petry had elbow surgery in '86.
Where the Angels go from here is an uncertainty. Free agent Dave Righetti is one possibility. A trade involving Gus Polidor, the versatile utility infielder, is another, though Mauch said: "He's so important to me I wouldn't be in favor of letting him go for a maybe."
In other words, Mauch would insist on a proven pitcher in exchange.
Said Port: "Even if everything stays as it is, we'll leave with two new pitchers."
Added Mauch: "We've invariably been able to find at least one in spring training. If there's still a problem when the season starts, we have seven switch-hitters and that (versatility) could allow us to carry 11 or 12 pitchers until we can sort it out."
A larger problem is that the departure of Witt would leave the Angels without a No. 1 starter, a proven stopper. Port has repeatedly said that he is concerned about his ability to re-sign Witt, now being romanced by a number of clubs. Does Mauch share the concern?
"No," he said. "You could drive yourself crazy fretting about that. Mike will probably do what's best for Mike, and what's best for Mike is driving up his net worth.
"We've done a lot for Mike Witt and he's done a lot for us, but we probably need him more than he does us. I'm sure his agent is approaching it that way."
Tanned from a winter at his home in Rancho Mirage, the relaxed Mauch said of his reluctance to trade Polidor:
"He showed the whole world he can play shortstop in the major leagues last year (when Dick Schofield was sidelined by a separated shoulder in midsummer). I'd like to add that he showed he could play for a winning team, but we didn't win. One of the reasons we didn't win is that we didn't get him enough ground balls. Too many were hit over the fence. Gus was playing too low."
Would he consider trading Schofield, leaving Polidor the regular shortstop? Mauch shook his head and said that Schofield continues to get better.
"There are good hops and bad hops, but Schofield takes the bad out of all of them," he said. "I always thought Pee Wee Reese had the quickest feet I've ever seen at shortstop, but Schofield's are even quicker.
"I mean, aside from the guy in Toronto (Tony Fernandez) there aren't really any shortstops in our league who are better."