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ON BASEBALL

Spring Issues Are Thaw-Inspiring

February 18, 2003|Ross Newhan

13. Is the control-minded Showalter the right fit in Texas?

Answer: It will be an interesting dynamic, indeed, to watch Showalter work with strong-willed owner Tom Hicks and General Manager John Hart. Maybe Showalter, who helped build championship teams with the Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks, has learned that it really doesn't matter what color the clubhouse furniture is. Hicks says Showalter alone will make the team 10 games better, but that's overlooking a pitching staff whose 5.15 earned-run average ranked 12th in the AL and is banking on Chan Ho Park (9-8, 5.75 ERA) regaining his form.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 20, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Baseball -- The Atlanta Braves will try to win their 12th consecutive division title this season, not their 11th, as reported in a Sports article Tuesday.

14. Are the Diamondbacks approaching the chronological wall?

Answer: Randy Johnson is 39, Steve Finley 38, Matt Williams 37, Curt Schilling 36 and Luis Gonzalez 35. It would be foolish to bet against Johnson and Schilling continuing their extraordinary work on the mound, and that may be enough for a third straight NL West title, but at some point -- with all of that deferred salary and age -- the bills are going to come due. The addition of Elmer Dessens should give Johnson and Schilling support in the rotation, and closer Byung-Hyun Kim may join that rotation if former closer Matt Mantei is sound. The loss of Erubiel Durazo, Greg Colbrunn and Damian Miller, however, significantly dilutes depth.

15. Was the hiring of Macha, the acquisition of Durazo or the retention of General Manager Billy Beane the most important off-season development for the A's?

Answer: Get real. Beane is simply baseball's best, and his rejection of a lucrative Red Sox package was critical to the future of the payroll-conscious A's. They must now cope with the challenge of shortstop Miguel Tejeda's demand for an eight-year contract or the likelihood he will leave as a free agent after the 2003 season. Beane has been something of a miracle worker in a difficult environment, but he will need to produce his biggest one yet to keep his AL MVP.

16. What direction are the Colorado Rockies headed?

Answer: What year is it? Last year, General Manager Dan O'Dowd tried to rebuild on athleticism and speed. Now he has reshaped his roster and is thinking to feature more power. Coors Field has so befuddled the philosophies of O'Dowd and predecessor Bob Gebhard that you truly need a scorecard to identify the players. First baseman Todd Helton, right fielder Larry Walker and shortstop Juan Uribe are likely to be the only opening day starters from a year ago, and that's only because Walker rejected a trade to the Diamondbacks. Preston Wilson is expected to be the eighth center fielder in eight years, and Jason Jennings the eighth opening-day pitcher. Clint Hurdle is still the manager, but stay tuned.

17. How much pressure does Jim Thome face with the Phillies?

Answer: Well, we know how Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are treated in the city of brotherly love, and it will be no different for the six-year, $85-million centerpiece of the Phillies' remodeling, given the high expectations. We also know of the jabs Manager Larry Bowa took at Scott Rolen when he felt Rolen was not fulfilling his heart-of-the-lineup responsibilities. The intense manager isn't fooling anyone when he insists that he intends to back off and let his veterans take more of a leadership role. As he put it, "I think we have some guys who fit the city's personality. They're thick-skinned, blue collar; you can't crack them." Check with Santa.

18. What can be expected of the Padres, aside from providing fodder for facetious reporters desiring to link their play to the name of their new stadium, Petco Park?

Answer: General Manager Kevin Towers remained handcuffed by the division's smallest payroll and the refusal of owner John Moores to do what the Phillies did, which was borrow against the increased revenue expected with the move into the new park next year. What hope the Padres have is based on a promising young rotation that may come of age in the new park but is likely to struggle again this year and is led by Jake Peavy and Oliver Perez, both 21.

"If the young pitchers are as good as I think they are, we'll be in every game," says Towers, who knows that might not be enough, considering closer Trevor Hoffman could miss the season because of shoulder problems.

19. Does the return of Roger Clemens to the Yankees and David Cone to the Mets underscore the perception that every day is seniors' day in baseball?

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