Why did the Phillies protect shortstop Juan Bell, who, according to one American League general manager, was the major league's worst player in 1992, while the White Sox didn't protect his brother, George, one of baseball's top run producers? That question was one of a thousand being asked before the start of the National League expansion draft last week in New York City. Almost eight hours later, after the Florida Marlins and the Colorado Rockies, who will take the field for the first time next April, had selected a total of 72 players and made six trades, there were hundreds of new questions—including, Who the heck is Andres Berumen?
Here are 10 of them.
1) How good are the Marlins and the Rockies?
They're bad. And even with trades and free-agent signings yet to come, they won't get much better. The Chicago Bulls will win more games this year than cither of these teams. Both will finish last in 1993, though Colorado will win more games than Florida. The starting pitching for each is unproven and will be overmatched. And consider these two first-round picks: Marlin centerfielder and leadoff man Chuck Carr is with his fifth organization in seven pro seasons; Rocky centerfielder and leadoff man Alex Cole is with his fifth team in eight years.
But then, expansion teams are always bad. The object of the draft is to help build a foundation of good pitching prospects, which Florida general manager Dave Dombrowski and his Colorado counterpart, Bob Gebhard, were both able to accomplish.
2) Isn't the Marlins' relief corps already better than a few others in the majors?
Yes, including those of the Rangers, the Mariners, the Red Sox and maybe the Angels. The most important player drafted was the Angels' Bryan Harvey, who until he was injured midway through last season was the second-best closer in baseball, behind the A's Dennis Eckersley. Harvey, who had surgery on his right elbow, says he will be 100% by Opening Day. His setup men in Florida will be veterans Cris Carpenter and Jim Corsi.
The prevailing view is that good late-inning relief is of little use to expansion teams because they'll often be so far behind that a bullpen is superfluous. The Marlins have a different philosophy. "[Oakland manager] Tony La Russa told me that nothing is more devastating to a club than losing a game late—except when you have a quality closer," Dombrowski says. "Then when you lose a game late, everyone knows it's a rarity, and they bounce back from it."
3) Which expansion team did better with its top pick?
Colorado's first pick, former Brave righthander David Nied, 23, was, according to one National League scouting director, "the one slam-dunk guy in the draft." Meanwhile ex-Blue Jay outfielder Nigel Wilson, 22, who was taken first by Florida, has drawn mixed reviews. Supporters say he will be a big-time power hitter in a few years. But, says one American League scouting director, "he's just a bat. He's a leftfielder, not a centerfielder or rightfielder. He can't throw."
4) Which teams were hurt most on draft day?
The Angels and the Yankees. California lost not only Harvey but also Junior Felix, one of its top run producers. During the draft Angel general manager Whitey Herzog said he needed to sign DiMaggio, Gehrig and Ruth, and then added, "That might not be enough."
New York protected minor league infielder Dave Silvestri instead of third baseman Charlie Hayes and got burned. Hayes, who hit 18 home runs and played terrific defense last season, was the second pick of Colorado. His departure left a gaping hole at third in the Bronx. The Yankees also lost two good prospects—outfielder Carl Everett and Brad Ausmus, the best defensive catcher in the International League last year. If George Steinbrenner were back in power, someone would have been fired during the third round of the draft.
5) In what direction are the Red Sox going?
The wrong one. Desperate for power, they left Eric Wedge, a catcher with home run potential, exposed while protecting slop-baller Mike Gardiner and backup outfielder Bob Zupcic. The Rockies took Wedge in the second round. The Red Sox hit only 84 homers in 1992—five of them by Wedge in 68 at bats near the end of the season. "We're not concerned [about losing Wedge]," said Boston general manager Lou Gorman. Well, it's time to be concerned about the Red Sox, and it's also time to wonder if Gorman is capable of leading them out of the mess they're in.
6) Why were many of the more-established—and more expensive—players not drafted?
Money is tight. The first real sign that teams won't be doling out big money to middle-echelon talent came the day before the draft. First baseman Andres Galarraga, a free agent who made $2.4 million with the Cardinals in 1992, signed with the Rockies for $500,000 (with performance bonuses that could add another $600,000). He's no gem, but such a huge pay cut this early in the free-agent game is a clear warning sign. That same day outfielders Mel Hall, late of the Yankees, and Glenn Braggs, formerly of the Cincinnati Reds, signed to play in Japan because their agent, Brian Cohen, said there were no multiyear deals for them in the big leagues.
7) How tight is money in Pittsburgh?
Very. The sad dismantling of the Pirates, champions of the National League East for the past three seasons, continued when $2 million-a-year Gold Glove second baseman Jose Lind—available but unchosen in the draft—was traded two days afterward to the Royals for two pitching prospects. With the dumping of Lind and the departure in the draft of $2.3 million pitcher Danny Jackson, the financially strapped Pirates saved themselves more than $4 million to use in their attempt to re-sign free-agent ace Doug Drabek. MVP free agent Barry Bonds is already as good as gone, and the next to go, via trade, may be $2.1 million catcher Mike LaValliere. Shortstop Jay Bell (he could get $2 million through arbitration this winter) has also been rumored to be available.
8) When will Danny Jackson set the record for most teams played for in a career?
At this rate, soon. Jackson, 30, has been with six teams in his career, four in the last year. (The record in this century is 10 teams, shared by pitchers Ken Brett and Bob Miller and outfielder Tommy Davis.) The Marlins drafted Jackson and then traded him 90 minutes later to the Phillies. He's one of those guys who looks good when he's on another team because he's lefthanded and throws hard, but he doesn't look so good when he's on your team (his record the last three years was 15-24). The Rockies were also set to draft Jackson and trade him to the Phillies, but the Marlins beat them to it.
9) What happens to some of the players who were expected to be drafted but weren't?
They may be traded. Cub shortstop Shawon Dunston, who missed most of last season with a back injury, was expected to be taken by Florida and then traded to the Royals. When the Marlins asked for three prospects in return, the deal died. Look for Dunston and his three-year, $9 million contract to be dealt. Also on the block are Yankee first baseman-DH Kevin Maas, Expo outfielder Ivan Calderon and one of the Cardinals' two second basemen, Jose Oquendo and Luis Alicea.
10) Who the heck is Andres Berumen?
He's a 21-year-old righthander drafted in the second round by Florida from Kansas City. He hasn't pitched above Class A and is the most obscure of the many obscure young players chosen. But that's what expansion drafts are about: rolling the dice on unknowns and hoping you cash in a few years down the line. After all, Jim Clancy was no household name in 1976 when he was drafted by the expansion Blue Jays. Fifteen years later he finished his major league career with 140 wins.