Despite the addition of Paul Molitor and Dave Stewart, general manager Pat Gillick says the defending World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays won't be as strong next year.
"Molitor should fit in well for us," said Gillick, one of the honored guests at last night's Tops In Sports banquet at the Towson Center, "but I don't think we have the overall strength we had last season. We only have one guy [Duane Ward] as a closer instead of two [Tom Henke and Ward], and the left side of our infield is a little uncertain.
"We won't be as strong defensively at third base [with Kelly Gruber gone], and I don't know what we're going to do at shortstop," said Gillick. "Since obtaining Mark Eichhorn last July, we've lost 21 players from the organization through trades, expansion and free agency -- and Molitor and Stewart are the only two we've added."
Asked if he expected the Blue Jays to improve before the start of spring training, Gillick shook his head. "No, I don't," he said. "I think the overall effect will be that the division will be tighter next year."
Gillick said that, at the moment, he considered the New York Yankees and Orioles as the teams most likely to challenge the Blue Jays. "The Yankees helped themselves by adding two left-handed pitchers [Jim Abbott and former Blue Jay Jimmy Key]. I don't think they're strong enough yet to go all the way, but they've definitely improved."
He did not mention the Yankees' acquisition of former Boston Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs, but did say he "wasn't sure about Boston."
As for the Orioles, Gillick said he figured their primary hope for improvement was the continued development of their young players. "They haven't done much [in the off-season], but they did pick up a good player in Harold Reynolds," said Gillick. "He should help them, and I'm sure they're counting on their younger players getting better.
"I don't think you can expect [Mike] Mussina to be any better than he was last year, and [Rick] Sutcliffe might not do as much. But [Ben] McDonald should get better, and the left-hander [Arthur Rhodes] did a good job the second half last year and he should be all right."
Gillick said he is not among those who think Brady Anderson's career year last season (.271, 21 home runs, 80 RBI) was a fluke. "I thought he carried his year through the season pretty good," said Gillick.
"There were stretches where he was really hot, but you can't expect him to maintain that. He's become a tough out. I don't think he's a fluke at all.
"Our reports on him where always good. If anything we're surprised he hadn't done more before now. I think Brady will be fine," said Gillick.