Ultimately, Jays' pain may be Gaston's gain

BASEBALL

March 27, 1994|By TOM KEEGAN

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Toronto manager Cito Gaston's chances of winning American League Manager of the Year honors never have been better.

This, of course, is a bad sign for the Blue Jays, good news for the rest of the American League East. It means expectations have eased.

The award winner generally can be arrived at by following a simple formula. Save the newspaper clippings from the preseason, compare the standings predictions to the final standings and choose the manager whose team climbed the most places.

"I really don't care if I ever get Manager of the Year because if I haven't won one by now I'll probably never win it," Gaston said. "As long as I have the respect of my players, that's all I care about."

Unfortunately for Gaston, spring training injuries have turned him into a candidate. If the two-time defending World Series champion Blue Jays were to leave Florida healthy, he would be guaranteed of not getting a vote.

Closer Duane Ward's biceps tendinitis, Joe Carter's broken thumb, Danny Cox's shoulder surgery that will sideline the reliever until mid-July and the off-season departures of left fielder Rickey Henderson and shortstop Tony Fernandez make the Jays a fashionable fade pick.

With Ward opening the season on the disabled list, the Jays have no obvious closer. Left-hander Greg Cadaret and right-hander Mike Timlin are candidates.

There even has been some talk of stealing Todd Stottlemyre from the rotation and putting him in the bullpen, where the lighter innings load enlivens his fastball by 4 mph.

Even before Carter's injury, the Jays' outfield was not set. Now, center fielder Devon White is the only sure thing. Rob Butler, Willie Canate and Robert Perez have been tried in left.

"I'm waiting for one of them to step forward, but it's getting a little late right now," Gaston said.

Consequently, Gaston is experimenting with using converted catcher Carlos Delgado in left and Darnell Coles in right.

"When you first look at him he looks like Lawrence Taylor," Gaston said of Delgado. "Then each time you look at him he looks better."

Delgado, 21, and shortstop Alex Gonzalez, 20, are ranked among the game's top five prospects by Baseball America.

"To me, Gonzalez and Delgado are the two best-looking prospects to come out of the organization since Tony Fernandez," Gaston said.

But are they ready to compete in the major leagues? Delgado likely is. Gonzalez, who committed 30 errors at Double-A last season, seems headed for Triple-A.

"Thirty errors is 30 errors," Gaston said. "I would hope he would not make that many up here. If we don't think he's ready to do better than that, then he won't be here. You start making errors like that up here, pretty soon the fans are on him, the media is on him, and you could just about destroy that kid.

"We'd like for him to play rather than sit. If he's going to sit, then we'll send him to Triple-A. If we kept him here, then we would want him to play every day."

A demotion for Gonzalez would leave all-glove, no-hit Dick Schofield with the shortstop job, thus spelling the end to the days of a strong top-to-bottom batting order.

It also spells the beginning of Gaston's postseason honors candidacy.

Yankees' bullpen a mess

Xavier Hernandez, Steve Howe and Bob Wickman are candidates for the Yankees' closer job, though some reports indicate meddling owner George Steinbrenner is pushing for veteran Jeff Reardon.

The Terminator has lost so much off his fastball he is again tinkering with a knuckleball. Steinbrenner reportedly arranged for Hoyt Wilhelm to come to spring training to tutor Reardon.

Go home, George.

Saber(hagen)-tooth Tiger?

If Detroit scouts like what they see of Bret Saberhagen, look for management to attempt to persuade ownership to take on a contract that could pay the injury risk, former Cy Young Award winner as much as $20 million over the next four years.

Adding an ace to a potent lineup, solid defense, and acceptable back end of the rotation could make the Tigers a contender in the AL East.

As it stands, the Tigers' rotation of Mike Moore, David Wells, Tim Belcher, John Doherty and Bill Gullickson falls short.

Reynolds on the block

The emergence of Derek Bell in center field for San Diego has pushed Bip Roberts from the outfield to second base, leaving ex-Orioles second baseman Harold Reynolds without a position to play. He is batting .213.

The Padres attempted to trade Bell and are glad they failed. He has four assists from center, is charging balls more aggressively and hitting to right field better.

Now, the Padres hope there is interest in Reynolds, whose contract guarantees him $230,000.

San Diego GM Randy Smith might consider placing a call to Texas' Tom Grieve.

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