Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Ted Simmons is trying hard to stop the bleeding, but it is no use. The two-time defending National League East champions are being dismantled piece by expensive piece, and the club's attempts to cast the situation in a less damning light has not been successful.
Bobby Bonilla left town in November. Twenty-game winner John Smiley was traded to the Minnesota Twins for a couple of prospects early last week. Relief pitcher Bill Landrum was waived Thursday for the purpose of saving his $1.7 million salary. This is not the ideal way to engineer a divisional three-peat.
Simmons sought to end speculation about the uncertain future of his remaining front-line players by publicly taking them off the market Thursday, but the damage was done. There were reasonable explanations for every decision (would you have given $29 million to Bonilla?), but the fans and the remaining players probably aren't going to accept any of this at face value.
"Everyone is a little spooked right now," Simmons said, "so the thing I tried to do was, I told all the organizations that have called and expressed an interest in our marquee players -- the Andy Van Slykes and the Barry Bondses -- that the window is now closed. I wanted to end the fear and anxiety. This morning's action is -- I feel -- the last tremor from Smiley. There has been much speculation, but our window is closed."
If this was supposed to prompt an organizational sigh of relief, it did not. Bonds, who occasionally disputes the company line, went on the attack again. He is, if nothing else, consistent.
"I saw where Ted Simmons said he wouldn't trade me or Doug Drabek or John Smiley, and you see where John Smiley is now," Bonds said Thursday. "I wouldn't say there is no chance I will get traded. I'm ready for anything.
"What are they going to do with me, keep me and get a couple of draft choices for me? That's all they got for Smiley -- two minor-leaguers. They can do what they want with me."
Sounds like a happy camp. Half the club is hurt, and the other half is waiting for someone to hand out plane tickets. The club says it is not just dumping salaries, but it is no accident that its payroll is about $5 million lower than it was a week ago.
The Pirates front office is not entirely unwilling to compete. The team did acquire outfielder Kirk Gibson from the Kansas City Royals recently and still has enough talent to be a division contender. The question is whether the chemistry of the club will survive a tumultuous spring.
"I, like everyone else, have had a very interesting week," Simmons said. "Now, I want to relax and get out of the way and let the Pirates develop in a normal way."
The trouble is, it may be too late for that.
Setting limits: The Ryan Express is about to become the Ryan Limited, according to manager Bobby Valentine. He plans to keep Nolan Ryan to a pitch limit this year in hopes of keeping him healthy from start to finish.
Valentine indicated last week that he'll closely monitor both Ryan and teammate Bobby Witt in the first inning. If either throws more than 25 pitches, the likelihood of getting past the fifth or sixth inning will decrease dramatically.
"I think they are going to take that approach with everybody," Ryan told The Dallas Morning News. "With my age  and physical problems and with Bobby's physical problems, they're not going to allow us to do that.
"There are going to be some games when it's going to be frustrating because we're going to end up coming out after five or six innings, mainly because of pitch count. My attitude about it is, I don't want to be selfish about it. I have to be understanding about what they are trying to accomplish and how it's in the best interest of the team."
Ryan has been throwing a lot of pitches this spring. In his past two exhibition starts, he threw 9 1/3 innings, walking seven and hitting a batter.
"It's good for everybody not to throw as many pitches and not give up as many walks," Valentine said. "But should people get up and leave if Ryan throws 25 pitches in the first inning. I wouldn't say that."
More Tribe tribulations: The Cleveland Indians had hoped to have their youth movement in full gear by now, but injuries to promising Jim Thome and Reggie Jefferson have left the Opening Day infield alignment uncertain.
Thome was supposed to be the regular third baseman, but he has been out the past 10 days with a sprained ligament in his left hand. Jefferson, who figured to play first base, has left camp with a sore left elbow.
This is particularly bad news for an Indians defense that was the worst in the American League last year. They apparently have picked up right where they left off, committing seven errors in a two-game stretch last week.
"We wanted to be consistent on defense," manager Mike Hargrove said, "but we didn't want to be consistent this way."