NEXT YEAR IS HERE
It's time to ask if the four worst teams in baseball—the Orioles, Mariners, Phillies and Braves—are better off now than they were in April. And where will they be next year and the year after that?
? Baltimore: Make no mistake about it, the Orioles are going to be overwhelming favorites to finish last again in '89. But there is some autumn light for the first time in a couple of years. Third baseman Craig Worthington was the International League MVP this year, and he should team up with shortstop Cal Ripken and first baseman Eddie Murray to deliver at least 75 homers next year. Steve Finley, the International League Rookie of the Year, and Brady Anderson, who came over from Boston in the Mike Boddicker deal, should improve the Oriole outfield, but Baltimore still needs a righthanded-hitting outfielder with power, and a solid catcher. On the mound, youngsters Oswald Peraza, Jeff Ballard and Jose Bautista have been pitching well, and there are three outstanding righthanders in the wings: No. 1 pick Gregg Olson; Pete Harnisch, who got 17 strikeouts in his third start at Rochester; and Curt Schilling, who is 4-2 at Charlotte, N.C., after leaving Boston in the Boddicker trade.
? Seattle: Lucky Woody Woodward. In the last 10 months, the Mariners' general manager has worked for three of the toughest bosses in baseball—Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, Phillie president Bill Giles and now Mariners owner George Argyros. Though he will probably replace manager Jim Snyder before next season, Woodward, who came to Seattle in July, is convinced that the Mariners aren't as bad as their record. "With Mike Moore, Mark Langston, Scott Bankhead and a potentially deep bullpen, we have the makings of an outstanding pitching staff," he says. "The everyday lineup can be fine, especially with another lefthanded bat. Jay Buhner has shown the potential to be a good outfielder who hits 25, 30 homers. The key now is keeping Moore and convincing the players that this can be a winning franchise." Moore can become a free agent in October, and several teams are hot on his trail. Will Argyros shell out the money to sign him? "I think so," says Woodward.
? Philadelphia: The more things change here, the more they remain the same—confused. Lee Thomas, who replaced Woodward as general manager, is currently trying to trade several veterans—including catcher Lance Parrish, outfielder Phil Bradley and pitcher Don Carman—for younger players. The Tigers, Angels and Royals are interested in Parrish, but no team is going to give away the franchise to get him because he will be a free agent at the end of the season. Now that rookie first baseman Ricky Jordan appears to be the real thing, the Phillies might move Chris James to third and let 38-year-old third baseman Mike Schmidt walk away. Look for sweeping changes before next spring and a megadeal for a hitter of the caliber of Yankee slugger Jack Clark.
? Atlanta: General manager Bobby Cox has recruited a host of exceptional pitching prospects, but rebuilding the Braves is a five-year project, at the least. With pitchers Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Pete and Zane Smith, and three strong newcomers at Richmond, Cox should have the foundation for a decent staff in '89. The infield is productive, young and promising. "The key for us is what we can do these next few weeks," says Cox. He would like to move talented second baseman Ron Gant to third or leftfield and replace him with either Jeff Blauser or Mark Lemke, two minor league infielders with power. Cox is also considering deals to get outfielders, power and a catcher. Some possibilities include sending Blauser to the Expos for third baseman Tim Wallach or pitcher Rick Mahler to the Yankees for centerfielder Roberto Kelly and a young pitcher to the Cubs for catcher Jody Davis.
YANKING HIS CHAIN
After years of holding his tongue, Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly finally erupted last week. "You come here and you play, and you get no respect," he told reporters. "You get money and that's it. That's as far as it goes. They think money is respect. Money's not respect....
He [team owner George Steinbrenner] can tell you he wants to win all he wants to. They don't want to win here."
Steinbrenner offered his usual statement, rejecting any blame for the tattered state of the Yankees, who at week's end had fallen 5� games out of first. According to Toronto general manager Pat Gillick, Steinbrenner has privately shopped Mattingly and seriously discussed a possible trade with two teams. "I think he's gone, from the tone of the conversations I've had with the Yankees," Gillick told the Toronto Sun. Yankee general manager Bob Quinn acknowledged that two teams had inquired about Mattingly, but he denied reports that the Yankees were actually considering a trade, saying, "There is no truth to any of this."