Fixing a hole
Ten teams still searching for answers at key spots
Posted: Thursday January 24, 2008 1:23PM; Updated: Thursday January 24, 2008 11:45PM
When the Braves told Andruw Jones back at the beginning of October that they would not need the services of their star center fielder any longer, it opened up a hole in the Atlanta outfield the size of Stone Mountain. After all, a 10-time Gold Glove winner -- Jones has won one every year since 1998 -- can't be replaced by just any warm body.
So the Braves kept asking around, and earlier this month finalized a trade with the A's for Mark Kotsay, a very good center fielder (when he's been healthy, anyway) in his own right. The Braves even talked Billy Beane and the A's into paying most of Kotsay's salary for 2008.
That is how good teams try to fill the gaps in their lineups. And just about everybody has holes this time of the year.
The Braves had managed to take care of their most pressing business by doing what they absolutely had to do. "I said I'd love to find a veteran center fielder who would fit our club for '08 and put us in position to bridge to our younger guys, who'll be ready in the next year or so," said new Atlanta general manager Frank Wren. "I can not think of a better guy to do that than Mark Kotsay."
The repair jobs for a lot of other teams have not gone nearly as smoothly. The Brewers lost closer Francisco Cordero to the Reds, replacing him with Eric Gagne, who comes both with a huge one-year deal ($10 million) and a load of questions about his effectiveness. The Orioles traded sudden headache Miguel Tejada to the Astros. So 23-year-old Luis Hernandez, with all of 69 big-league at-bats, will take over at shortstop for the O's. That could bring plenty of headaches of its own.
Those teams aren't alone. With less than a month until pitchers and catchers start their annual march to spring training, every team has questions. Here's a look at the 10 biggest holes that still need to be filled:
The lower half of the Yankees' rotation: I'll give you Chien-Ming Wang. And I'd tend to give you Andy Pettitte, if he hadn't had all that offseason drama. But should Yankees' fans be convinced about Mike Mussina, who lost his rotation spot last year? Plus, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain are unproven in taking on a full big-league season. We'll see.
Starting rotation for the Astros: One of the busiest teams in the offseason failed to do much to upgrade its starting staff, known now as Roy Oswalt and the Whos. Woody Williams is 41 and hasn't thrown 200 innings since '03. Wandy Rodriguez is still waiting on his potential to catch up. Then you have ... well, a lot of trouble. And no free agents worth signing that can help, either.
The Giants' cleanup hitter: Barry Bonds isn't in San Francisco any more -- you might have heard -- so a team that scored only 4.2 runs a game last season, better only than the Nationals, is without its best hitter. The options: Ray Durham (two homers as a cleanup hitter in '07), some youngster or an all-out, unabashed move to "small ball." Good luck with that one.