A Fine Kettle of Fish
The Nov. 18 baseball expansion draft is a no-win proposition for general managers of the 28 existing clubs. They're guaranteed to lose two or three players, and they run the risk of years of embarrassment if they leave the wrong ones exposed. Do you think, for instance, the Atlanta Braves wish they'd kept third baseman Vinny Castilla (80 home runs, 126 RBIs the last two years), who was picked by the Colorado Rockies in the 1992 expansion draft, rather than first baseman Brian Hunter (seven homers, 28 RBIs), whom they chose to protect? Likewise, the Cincinnati Reds lost current San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman to the Florida Marlins in '92 while keeping mediocre pitcher Tim Pugh.
Teams, who will name their protected 15 by Nov. 11, will be allowed to protect three more players after losing one, and another three after losing a second. Half the clubs will also lose a third player to one of the expansion teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks or the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The newly crowned World Series champion Marlins are especially vulnerable. General manager Dave Dombrowski has already released veteran hitters Jeff Conine and Darren Daulton. For the draft, Dombrowski has only 12 open slots on the Marlins' 15-man list: Moises Alou, Alex Fernandez and Gary Sheffield all have no-trade clauses and must be protected.
Because players who have recently signed as amateurs and are not on a club's 40-man roster cannot be drafted, most teams kept their top young prospects in the minors all year. But Florida brought up stud outfielder Mark Kotsay, a 1996 draft pick, when centerfielder Devon White was hurt in mid-season. Too good to leave exposed, Kotsay will take up another slot.
Dombrowski figures to protect four young middle infielders: Edgar Renteria, Craig Counsell, Alex Gonzalez and Luis Castillo. Catcher Charles Johnson, outfielder Todd Dunwoody and pitchers Kevin Brown and Livan Hernandez are no-brainers. Felix Heredia, a 21-year-old southpaw with a strong arm, should be included, too.
That would leave Dombrowski with two spots. Hard-throwing reliever Jay Powell and lefthander Tony Saunders, who started the fourth game of the Series, are the logical choices. But that would mean risking prospects John Roskos, 23, a catcher who hit .308 in Double A; Kevin Millar, 26, a Double A first baseman who was the organization's minor league player of the year; and former first-round pick, infielder Josh Booty, 22. Then there's Antonio Alfonseca, who threw 6⅓ shutout innings in the World Series, and power-hitting first baseman-outfielder Cliff Floyd, 24, who last summer drew considerable trade interest.
All of which means Florida almost surely will leave hitters Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich and White, as well as pitchers Dennis Cook and Al Leiter, there for the taking.
Asked recently by a Spanish reporter if he had any thoughts on the international soccer icon Ronaldo, Michael Jordan replied, "Sorry, I don't know [who he is]." Well, here's a brief introduction: Ronaldo, 21, is the best soccer player in the world and a prodigious scorer. He has a clean-shaven pale and a multimillion-dollar contract with Nike. He recently became the world's highest-paid soccer player when he signed a nine-year, $82 million deal with the Italian club Inter Milan, and his number-10 jersey has sparked huge merchandise sales in Italy.
Michael, think you guys would have anything to chat about?