When New York offered the 29-year-old Alfonzo only a two-year deal, worth $11 million, it was clear the Mets weren't that interested in re-signing him. In addition to the infielder's disappointing production in 2002 (16 homers, 56 RBIs), the team was not convinced that his lower back, which had bothered him the year before, was completely healed, and was unhappy with Alfonzo's lack of conditioning. He reported to spring training this year with what seemed to be a good amount of stuffing under his shirt. "I'm in great shape," he insisted. "Ready to go."
When healthy, Alfonzo is a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman; he also has a lifetime .318 average with runners in scoring position. He should be entering his prime. Last season the Giants had Benito Santiago (.261 with runners in scoring position in '02) baiting behind Bonds; Alfonzo, if he's 100%, will be a major upgrade. "He's a cold-blooded professional hitter," says Grissom. "He doesn't feel pressure. He just hits."
Midway through 1997 he was called up by the Seattle Mariners and hailed as the second coming of Ken Griffey Jr. Six years later everyone's still waiting for him to live up to expectations. Few major leaguers possess his natural talent—"He's a five-tool guy," says Durham. "You know how hard they are to come by?"—but Cruz has to stop swinging at breaking balls off the plate. Two seasons ago, with the Toronto Blue Jays, he broke through with 34 homers and 32 stolen bases. Last year, in part because of a sprained left ankle, which sidelined him for 33 games, he had 18 homers and seven steals. Sabean believes that the move to the NL, where first-pitch fastballs are more common, will help Cruz. "This kid is not totally there yet," says Alou, who will bat him third. "He got close a couple of years ago, but something happened, and he receded a little. Baserunning-wise and defensively, he's a real superstar. With the bat, he's still a little behind."
Upon acquiring him from the White Sox last July, the Oakland A's made it clear that he would be strictly a DH. Although Durham was a fixture as Chicago's second baseman for 7� seasons, he has always been a defensive liability. Three times he led American League second basemen in errors, and while Kent was no Willie Randolph, he did have soft hands. Durham does not. Had San Francisco re-signed Kent, Durham would be in centerfield. Many believe that's a more logical home for him at this point in his career.
While Sabean likes the idea of his sparking the lineup from the leadoff spot, Durham is the rare top-of-the-order hitter who whiffs a lot. Four times in his career he has exceeded 100 strikeouts in a season. Last year he struck out 93 times in 564 at bats. "That doesn't worry me," Durham says. "With Barry back there in the lineup, I'm going to score a whole lot of runs. That's the primary goal of a leadoff hitter. Score and score and score some more."
Alou has always had a soft spot for Grissom, whom he managed in Montreal from 1992 through '94 and calls "a giant of a man." But the player who in the mid-'90s won four Gold Gloves and twice stole more than 75 bases is a distant memory. With the Los Angeles Dodgers last year a healthy Grissom hit a surprising .277 with 17 homers and 60 RBIs in 343 at bats as part of a centerfield platoon with Dave Roberts. At his age, however, how will he hold up in Pac Bell's vast centerfield, especially with Bonds—whose defensive range is shrinking fast—in left?
Though Sabean will not say as much, the most encouraging thing about the new additions is their history of getting along with superstars. In other words, they're not Kent. Last June, Bonds and Kent got into a dugout shoving match in San Diego. It was a rare occasion when Bonds—on the whole not the most beloved resident of the clubhouse—earned high praise from teammates. The altercation took place after Kent, furious at a poor fielding decision by Bell, lambasted the taciturn third baseman for several minutes. Bonds ordered Kent to shut up, then shoved him so hard that Kent bounced off the back wall of the dugout. It was one of at least a half-dozen altercations between the two during their six years together. Kent and Bonds were the Tupac and Biggie Smalls of baseball, enemies who tolerated each other in between flare-ups. It was a productive pairing, but never a comfortable one.
In New York the low-key Alfonzo was more than happy to defer all attention to catcher Mike Piazza, who calls his former teammate "a good dude. Fonzie can get along with anybody." Durham was one of Frank Thomas's closest pals on the White Sox, and Cruz and Toronto slugger Carlos Delgado used to exchange motivational books. "He's a guy who can fit into any clubhouse," says Delgado. "He's not the type of guy who will run the clubhouse. He'll fit in."
Of the four, however, it is Grissom who seems best prepared to deal with Bonds and who—should the occasion arise—won't sit back and let a negative atmosphere take over the clubhouse. The Dodgers acquired Grissom from the Milwaukee Brewers in February 2001 and assigned him the locker next to that of Gary Sheffield, who at the time was demanding a trade and bashing the organization on a near-daily basis. Grissom often counseled Sheffield on controlling his anger, and soon enough the star outfielder started keeping his thoughts in check. "Marquis takes it upon himself to help iron out situations," says Dodgers rightfielder Shawn Green. "If a guy is wrong, Marquis will tell him. A lot of people just try to brush things under the carpet. If Marquis has an opinion, he'll give it, and it'll carry some weight."