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ANGELS : Spring Experience Makes a Skeptic of Gonzales

March 02, 1993|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TEMPE, Ariz. — Rene Gonzales looks across the clubhouse and sees third baseman Kelly Gruber's left arm in a sling. He glances over at infielder Gary Gaetti, who wants to be traded.

Gonzales reads the newspapers, listens to the talk shows and hears everyone saying the same: He will be the Angels' starting third baseman.

But after 11 years in professional baseball, never knowing whether he was going to make the club, let alone win a starting job in spring training, he says it would be crazy to start feeling comfortable now.

"I've never had a whole lot of security, and I'm not about to take anything for granted," Gonzales said. "I still have to prove to the Angels I'm an everyday player.

"I thought I proved it last year, but I guess not, since they traded for Kelly Gruber."

Although Gonzales batted .277 with seven homers and 38 runs batted in in only 104 games to earn the starting third base job, the Angels didn't know whether he would be back.

He filed for free agency and sought what the Angels believed was an exorbitant contract. They refused to budge, and when they had the opportunity to acquire Gruber for Luis Sojo, they didn't hesitate.

"The irony is if we had known Gonzales was coming back, I don't know whether we would have made that trade," Manager Buck Rodgers said.

Gonzales resigned himself to being a utility player once again after signing a one-year, $600,000 contract in January. Yet when Gruber underwent rotator cuff surgery a week before camp opened, Gonzales suddenly was the starting third baseman again.

"It's sad it had to happen like this because Kelly's one of my best friends," Gonzales said. "But I've always wanted to be in the everyday lineup at one position, and here's my opportunity.

"Who knows, it might be the biggest break of my career."

Left fielder Luis Polonia, eligible for free agency in October, said that he is willing to open negotiations during the season to ensure that he remains with the Angels.

"Everybody wants to play in a World Series, and this team is not going to be there for a while," said Polonia, voted the Angels' most valuable player last season. "But I like the way the Angels treat me. I'm comfortable here. So I'm going to give them the first chance to sign me to a multiyear contract.

"They have until the end of the season, and after that, I'm going to test the open market. I've always been like a prisoner, and I'd love to see what it's like to have those opportunities."

Rodgers on the starting rotation: "Whoever is available, we're interested in acquiring. I'd take Walter Johnson, if he was still around." . . . Mark Langston will be the Angels' starter Friday for the spring training opener against the San Diego Padres in Yuma, Ariz., with Chuck Finley scheduled Saturday. Rodgers said he wants to wait before committing to his regular-season opening-day starter. "I don't want to say something premature."

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