YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Early Returns Favor Braves

November 29, 1998|ROS NEWHAN

With plenty more dollars to be dished in this wild and wacky winter, here is the early line on the winners and losers:


1. Atlanta: Addressing the imbalance between pitching and hitting, the Braves clearly have improved on a team that won 106 games and a seventh consecutive division title but was a disappointment again in the postseason.

They traded Denny Neagle and Michael Tucker to Cincinnati for second baseman Bret Boone and signed free agent right fielder Brian Jordan for $40 million over five years. Jordan brings a football mentality to a conservative clubhouse and Boone provides stability at an unstable position.

The projected lineup includes five players who hit 25 or more home runs last year and five players who were not with the team on opening day in 1997.

"Call up any player who was on our team last season and ask them if they don't feel good about the moves we've made," said General Manager John Schuerholz, who may not be finished.

The Braves are still talking to San Diego outfielder Steve Finley and could be a sleeper in the Kevin Brown sweepstakes. They have even shaken up the coaching staff, replacing hitting instructor Clarence Jones with Don Baylor. Clearing the table, suggests Schuerholz: "New linen, new china, even new crystal."

2. New York Yankees: Seldom does a World Series champion remain intact, but the Yankees will bring back the entire cast, having re-signed free agents Bernie Williams and Scott Brosius while picking up the renegotiated option on David Cone.

The Yankees handed archrival Boston another beating by winning the battle for Williams, a Gold Glove center fielder and American League batting champion who seems to fit best in the New York lineup, but they took a financial drubbing in the process. Victimized by the market and their previous hesitancy in the Williams negotiations, the Yankees ultimately pulled out of escalating negotiations with the dreaded Albert Belle and opted to match Boston's seven-year offer to Williams, closing the deal at $87.5 million, more than a 50% increase from their previous offers over the course of a year.

Said Boston General Manager Dan Duquette: "What it came down to is that I'm not sure Bernie ever really wanted to leave the Yankees, and when George Steinbrenner realized that one of the best all-around players the Yankees have had since Joe DiMaggio was ready to leave, he wouldn't let that happen."

3. Anaheim: The Angels acquired proven power and presence in the $80-million signing of Mo Vaughn, heralding Disney's new commitment. The signing of Randy Johnson would further elevate the Angels' status on the winners list, as well as their playoff potential, clearly distancing the team from its division rivals.

General Manager Bill Bavasi has major work to do if Johnson signs elsewhere, but Vaughn's arrival provides the manpower flexibility to get it done. The Angels did not ask Vaughn to accept weight and character clauses, as the Red Sox did, but Vaughn does have a limited no-trade clause, which the Red Sox refused to give him. He can veto any trade during the first two years of the contract. In subsequent years, he has the right to name six and then eight teams to which he would accept being traded.

4. Cleveland: The Indians' major need would seem to have been a Brown or Johnson, a No. 1-caliber pitcher to match the No. 1s of their playoff rivals, given that the Indians are certain to rout the AL Central again. Instead, General Manager John Hart elected to improve the pitching by improving both the offense and defense with the $32-million signing of free-agent second baseman Roberto Alomar, who puts an end to the revolving door that has seen the Indians employ 16 second baseman since trading Carlos Baerga in midseason of 1996.

There were questions about Alomar's intensity last year in Baltimore, but he should be invigorated playing with his brother, Sandy, and he has a new obligation with his engagement to tennis player Mary Pierce.

"The Braves have three or four number one starters and haven't made it to the World Series in either of the last two years," said Hart, who did improve the bullpen by trading outfielder Brian Giles to Pittsburgh for left-hander Ricardo Rincon. "We've been to the World Series in two of the last four years. I'm very comfortable with our pitching. There are a lot of ways to put together a championship club."

However, owner Richard Jacobs, who sells out his namesake ballpark before the season begins, insists the payroll can't go higher.

"We won't make any money, but we'll have a damn good team," he said of the Alomar addition. "We've got our blocks in place, but a lot of it is luck. Things always look good on paper. Like a marriage certificate."

5. Tie between St. Louis and Arizona: The Cardinals lost two potent bats in free agent Jordan and Ron Gant, who was traded to Philadelphia, but the primary need was to get bullpen help for Juan Acevedo, who blossomed down the stretch, converting 15 of 16 save chances.

Los Angeles Times Articles