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Baseball
Stephen Cannella
April 03, 2000
High FivesAt bargain-basement prices, some Rule 5 pickups bring teams a major league boost
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April 03, 2000

Baseball

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Last-Minute Shoppers

Teams have two goals in the final week of spring training: keep everyone healthy and fill holes on the roster before Opening Day. We can't predict whose hamstring will pop, but we can say which clubs are likely to be active in the trade market. Here are four teams with pressing needs and four who are overstocked at a particular position.

Looking to Buy

TEAM

NEED

Blue Jays

Starting pitcher: With Joey Hamilton (shoulder surgery) out until mid-May, Toronto needs workhorse

Indians

Lefthanded reliever: Ricardo Rincon, only lefty in pen, had spring ERA of 6.75 through Sunday

Tigers

Centerfielder: Juan Encarnacion. in second full season, has great tools, but he's better suited to left

Yankees

Designated hitter: The Boss, itchy to make move after poor spring, unlikely to stand pat with Shane Spencer as DH

Looking to Sell

TEAM

SURPLUS

Indians

Outfielders: With Kenny Lofton due back this month, Jacob Cruz, Alex Ramirez or Dave Roberts is expendable

Pirates

Lefthanded relievers: With Jason Christiansen, Scott Sauerbeck and Jeff Wallace, Pirates pen has a lefty too many

Red Sox

Infielders: Manny Alexander, Jeff Frye (right) and Donnie Sadler all play nearly any position; all three can't stay

Tigers

Leftfielder: Rich in corner outfielders, Detroit eager to move Bobby Higginson (.239 in 1999) and his $4.3 million salary

High Fives
At bargain-basement prices, some Rule 5 pickups bring teams a major league boost

Dewayne wise has Major League Baseball's logo tattooed on his left shoulder, but that doesn't mean he has baseball's bylaws memorized. When a recent visitor to Blue Jays camp mentioned the Rule 5 draft to Wise, a 22-year-old outfielder whom Toronto plucked from the Reds in December, he shook his head. "When my agent told me before the draft that I might get taken," said Wise, "I was like, 'Rule 5? What's that?' "

For Wise and several of his fellow draftees, it can be a high-speed escalator from the low minors to the big leagues. A player chosen in the December draft-in which, for $50,000, teams can grab prospects not protected on opponents' 40-man rosters-must spend the entire season in the majors; if he is sent down or cut, his former team can reclaim him for $25,000. It's a small risk for the chance to turn up the next George Bell or Kelly Gruber or Dave Hollins, all onetime Rule 5 draftees who became All-Stars. Says Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar, "In the economics of today's game, $25,000 is a very good gamble."

Wise, who stole 35 bases for the Reds' Single A affiliate in Rockford last year, had hit just .188 this spring through Sunday, but the Blue Jays were impressed enough with his baserunning and defense to consider carrying him (or making a deal with Cincinnati so Toronto could send him to the minors for more seasoning). "This kid would be a first-or second-round choice [in the June free-agent draft]," says Blue Jays manager Jim Fregosi. "We paid $50,000 to look at someone we'd otherwise have to pay $1 million for."

Here are three other Rule 5 players who entered the last week of camp with a strong chance to make their respective teams.

? Chris Reitsma, RHP, Devil Rays. Tampa Bay hoped to draft him out of high school in 1996, but the Red Sox got there first. Since then, Reitsma, 22, has twice broken bones in his elbow while pitching; in 19 starts last year at Rookie League Sarasota he was 4-10 with a 5.61 ERA. Still, the Devil Rays, enamored of his sinking, mid-90s fastball, pounced on him in December. "I think he's a major league pitcher in the future," says LaMar.

? Matt Williams, LHP, Brewers. As one of the few lefthanders in camp, Williams, pitching for his sixth organization, had an inside track on a roster spot; he locked it up with a 1.28 ERA in eight spring appearances. Chosen from the Yankees, for whom he struck out 66 batters in 51 innings for Double A Norwich and Triple A Columbus last year, he'll be the Milwaukee bullpen's left-handed specialist.

? Johan Santana, LHP, Twins. Asked early in spring training how he felt about facing Ken Griffey Jr. in an exhibition game, Santana, 21 and a former Astros farmhand, said, "Let's get ready to rumble." Four of Santana's first five strikeout victims this spring were Griffey, Pokey Reese, Dante Bichette and Will Clark. He had a 2.16 ERA, and opponents were hitting .200 in 16.2 Grapefruit League innings.

Expos' Latest Phenom
Bergeron Takes Center Stage

Discussing his centerfield prospects Peter Bergeron, 22, and Milton Bradley, 21, Expos manager Felipe Alou sounds like a proud parent of twins trying to pick a favorite. "This spring Bergeron has showed he's been around a little longer," Alou says. "But Bradley is loaded with talent. He's just greener."

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