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April 01, 2007|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

WEST

HOT TOPIC

Bonds: Going, going ... gone?

Barry Bonds, of course. You expected maybe Steve Finley, and his quest to play for all five teams in the NL West?

Bonds needs 22 home runs to pass Hank Aaron's all-time record. Bonds hit 26 last year, even while limiting himself to 130 games, so he'll get his record, basking in his unpopularity all the while. Commissioner Bud Selig says he isn't sure he'll show up to witness the milestone home run, and God forbid Bonds breaks the record on the road, where he could be greeted with asterisks and syringes.

The more pressing question could be this: Does Bonds finish the season in San Francisco? The Giants figure to be awful, and they would have milked him for all he is worth if he breaks the record by July, when the All-Star game hits San Francisco. Hey, Barry, how about a last chance at winning a World Series? Can the Giants convince him to accept a July 31 deadline trade to the Tigers?

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IMPACT PLAYERS

It's a Young man's game in this division

Randy Johnson has won the Cy Young Award five times, Greg Maddux four times and Brandon Webb and Barry Zito once each. Jake Peavy led Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and Jason Schmidt is a three-time All-Star. But Chris Young, hidden behind Peavy, Maddux and David Wells in the San Diego rotation, could be the most dominant pitcher in the division.

In his second full season in the major leagues, Young took one no-hitter into the ninth inning, another into the eighth and a third into the sixth last year. He was the toughest pitcher to hit in the majors, holding opponents to a .206 average. And he wasn't a creation of pitcher-friendly Petco Park, because he went 6-0 with a league-low 2.41 ERA on the road.

Another Chris Young enters his rookie season as the Diamondbacks' starting center fielder, one year after Arizona acquired him from the White Sox. Young posted on-base percentages above .360 and slugging percentages above .500 in each of his last three minor league seasons, and a comparable performance in the majors could vault him toward the top of the

Diamondbacks' lineup later this season, triggering the offense ahead of fellow young stars Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson, Chad Tracy and Carlos Quentin.

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1. Arizona (76-86)

J.D. Drew flees Dodgers, and kid brother Stephen leads Arizona kiddie corps that beats them.

2. San Diego (88-74)

Padres starting pitchers led the league with 4.10 ERA last year. Here comes Greg Maddux -- with his 4.20 ERA last year.

3. Dodgers (88-74)

Check the radar gun at the home opener: $47-million pitching ace Jason Schmidt struggled to top 85 mph this spring.

4. Colorado (76-86)

Coors Field effect? Garrett Atkins, Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe combined last season for 43 homers in Denver, 42 away.

5. San Francisco (76-85)

Starting pitchers under 30: Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Noah Lowry. Everyday players under 30: None.

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CENTRAL

HOT TOPIC

Cubs apparently think money can buy happiness

How could the Cubs spend $300 million without fixing their weaknesses?

They finished last in the NL in on-base percentage. They finished next to last in scoring runs, in giving up runs and in starters' ERA.

So they spent $136 million on Alfonso Soriano, who will hit home runs and steal bases but also get caught stealing too much and walk too little. They spent $13 million on second baseman Mark DeRosa, coming off a career year at age 32.

They spent $40 million on Ted Lilly, who gives up too many fly balls to prosper in Wrigley Field. They spent $21 million on Jason Marquis, who led the league in losses, runs allowed and home runs allowed. They spent $2 million on Kerry Wood, just in case.

They spent $75 million on third baseman Aramis Ramirez -- a wise investment, but he was already there. They spent $3 million on outfielder Cliff Floyd, a designated hitter at this point of his career. And they spent $10 million on Manager Lou Piniella, who will have to explain daily why this mess wasn't all Dusty Baker's fault.

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IMPACT PLAYER

Maybe you will hear of him now

The Brewers can't afford to spend tens of millions on one player to cover up the mistake of signing another one, so they take their best guess and keep their fingers crossed. They invested $42 million in Jeff Suppan and $39 million in Ben Sheets, pitchers with certified track records.

They just spent $24 million on Bill Hall, the richest contract for a position player in club history. The commitment appears curious, because Hall was not eligible for free agency until 2009 and did not emerge as an everyday player until last season.

But he was one of five players to hit 35 home runs and 35 doubles, and you might have heard of the other four: Alfonso Soriano ($136 million), Carlos Beltran ($119 million), Carlos Lee ($100 million) and Aramis Ramirez ($75 million).

If Hall turns out to be a one-year wonder, the Brewers could be sunk. If he puts up big numbers again, hitting behind Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder, the Brewers could ride his bat into October.

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1. Milwaukee (75-87)

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