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They May Need Fixing, Quickly

May 25, 2003|ROSS NEWHAN

The Angels are in a delicate position. General Manager Bill Stoneman is in a delicate position. The first test is already here for new owner Arte Moreno.

It was at the Moreno news conference Thursday that Stoneman reiterated: "Our overriding focus is on the long term. We're not looking at a quick fix."

Good thing, generally. Too often in too many years the Angels sacrificed the long term for the quick fix.

Now, however, Stoneman and his new boss are caught between two forces.

No one can predict when Darin Erstad, their Gold Glove center fielder and offensive catalyst, will return to the lineup -- if he does at all this season. Troy Percival, their closer, is on the disabled list with a degenerative hip, which doesn't sound good considering the stress that the high-octane Percival places on it. Their starting pitchers are inconsistent, key hitters in their lineup haven't returned to 2002 form and the Angels are on a pace to win 79 games in a division that requires more than 100 to beat the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A's.

It is one thing, of course, for Stoneman to suggest he is hesitant to sacrifice the future by trading first baseman Casey Kotchman and catcher Jeff Mathis, among others, to maybe secure a player of the Carlos Beltran magnitude for only a brief time.

But there's another perspective involved as well. What obligation do Stoneman and Moreno have to maintain the momentum of last year and the enthusiastic new fan base, to the 21,000 season-ticket buyers swept up in the World Series excitement and thinking they were buying into a team that had a chance to repeat rather than battle for last in the American League West?

"Even if Erstad is going to be out for the season -- a worst-case scenario that I don't think is going to happen -- still, do you give up the future?" Stoneman asked.

Of course, are you giving up the future?

At 26, the talented Beltran in many ways represents the future, a center fielder who would provide position flexibility for Erstad and others. The question, however, is the price beyond the prospects.

Would agent Scott Boras, with a pattern of taking his eligible players to free agency, allow the Angels to sign Beltran if the Kansas City Royals agreed to a 48-hour window? Would the Angels be willing to meet the contract demands -- now or in November -- considering they are also faced with re-signing Garret Anderson, who becomes eligible for free agency after the 2004 season, as does Beltran?

At his news conference, Moreno reiterated that he is here to win, and to spend to win if Stoneman recommends it.

With the season, and the attendance boom, possibly hanging in the balance, the first dilemma has already presented itself.

Welcome to the fire, Arte.

The 300 Club

Nolan Ryan joined in 1990. Roger Clemens tries to become the first 300-game winner since then when he faces the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium Monday. In a national conference call with reporters Wednesday, Ryan called Clemens "one of the most fierce competitors I've ever seen" but said he thought Clemens' career more paralleled that of Tom Seaver, even though Ryan, who retired at 46, and Clemens, who will be 41 Aug. 4 and is in his final season, remained power pitchers from start to finish.

"I think Roger is a better comparison to Seaver [also a 300-game winner] in that both came out of college [Seaver went to USC and Clemens to Texas] and were basically polished major league pitchers early in their careers," said Ryan, who signed with the New York Mets out of high school and was handicapped for several seasons by wildness.

"If there's some similarity to Roger and I," he continued, "it's that later in our careers he developed the split [finger fastball] and I developed the changeup and I think both were very effective pitches for us in that it made our fastball better and allowed us to extend our careers."

Both, of course, were also dedicated to their work ethic and ahead of the curve in training evolution, which, Ryan said, combined with genetics, also helped extend their careers by "holding off the aging process."

Fall Guy

Another pitiful season and revolving door roster for the San Diego Padres has suddenly resulted in a closer examination of General Manager Kevin Towers' record, but the immediate scapegoat was pitching coach Greg Booker, who was fired for the failure of a young and force-fed rotation to show much improvement.

Booker didn't mince words.

"Every year," he said, "you can't turn four, five, six double-A pitchers into big league pitchers, and that's what I was trying to do. I did everything I could with the material I had. You can prepare a donkey to run in the Preakness, but he probably won't run very well."

The Padres' situation is so miserable as they prepare for the long-delayed move into Petco Park next year that Manager Bruce Bochy said, "We don't want to go into the new park right now. We have more work to do."

Valentine Message

So Bobby Valentine, now an ESPN commentator, picks the Arizona Diamondbacks to win the National League West only to decide already that they don't have a chance, which didn't amuse Arizona Manager Bob Brenly, who said of Valentine:

"Well, he's managed some teams that were out of it on May 20, so maybe he's the voice of experience. I don't think we're done, and I'm sure the Giants and the Dodgers don't, but at least there's one genius who thinks we are."

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