Ready to Leap?
There will be no playoffs for the Blue Jays this year. Instead, the 1992 and '93 world champs will try to avoid finishing last in the American League East. The future beyond 1995 isn't encouraging for the Jays either, especially if they lose second baseman Roberto Alomar, a free agent after this season.
Alomar, 27, is in the final year of a four-year, $18.5 million contract, and there appears to be little if any chance that he will re-sign with Toronto. He's unhappy with the Blue Jays for twice rebuffing his efforts to begin contract negotiations—once before the season and again early in the season. When the Blue Jays recently raised the subject of a long-term contract, he told them he would rather test the free-agent market. He's also upset that the team traded pitcher David Cone to the Yankees; by way of protest, he prevailed on manager Cito Gaston to sit out a game the day after the deal was announced. Alomar says he wishes it was he, not Cone, who had been shipped to a contender.
Alomar's desire to play for a winning team is admirable, but the snit about his contract has not sat well with Toronto fans, who have booed him at the SkyDome. Still, Alomar is among the five best players in the game, a brilliant defensive player who can steal 40 bases, throw better than any other infielder now playing, hit .300 and drive in runs. (As of Sunday he was batting .307 with 11 home runs and 51 RBIs.) He is capable of hitting leadoff, second or third for almost any team. Even in a depressed free-agent market, he should attract no less than a three-year, $25 million deal. At least 11 teams are in desperate need of a second baseman, including the Dodgers, the Orioles, the Red Sox and the Padres, four of his probable suitors.
Toronto general manager Gord Ash says Alomar "is still a cornerstone for our next wave of success, and we will approach the negotiations that way." Ash says that if Alomar leaves, "it won't be the end of the world for us, but we really want him back."
The Blue Jays have a young and talented core with third baseman Ed Sprague (age 28), first baseman John Olerud (27), shortstop Alex Gonzalez (22), rightfielder Shawn Green (22) and catcher Sandy Martinez (22). They also have vast quantities of the two most important resources in baseball: money and prospects.
This is undoubtedly the last season in Toronto for designated hitter Paul Molitor, 38, who most likely will retire (if not, he'll be released). But DH-first baseman Carlos Delgado, one of the top young power threats in the minor leagues, is poised to take Molitor's spot. Two of Delgado's teammates at Syracuse (Triple A), third baseman Howard Battle and second baseman Felipe Crespo, also are expected to be ready by next season. It's a stretch to think that fast-rising centerfielder Shannon Stewart, now at Knoxville (Double A), will be ready in '96, but he might have to be if centerfielder Devon White leaves as a free agent.
The trade of Cone to New York leaves Toronto thin on starting pitchers after Pat Hentgen and Juan Guzman, but signing two free agents this winter could give the Jays a decent rotation until minor leaguers Jose Pett and Marty Janzen, acquired in the Cone deal, are ready in '97. Ash says that "way too much has been made of the Cone trade. People have had a brain cramp. We only got him in April, and he was in the last year of his contract." The bullpen, which is just as shaky as the rotation, can be similarly bolstered through free agency, or by rookies Tim Crabtree and Ricardo Jordan developing during the last two months of this season.
It's the most exciting moment in baseball: The home team is trailing in the last of the ninth or the bottom of an extra inning. The crowd is screaming. A player ends the suspense by hitting a game-winning home run.