Being realigned to NL isn't hit with DHs Likes of Molitor, Martinez could be out of league, job

September 15, 1997|By DALLAS MORNING NEWS

DALLAS -- Some of baseball's best offensive performers -- players such as Rickey Henderson, Edgar Martinez, Paul Molitor and Chili Davis -- could find themselves in limbo if their teams agree at this week's owners meetings to switch leagues under a widespread realignment plan.

At least six American League teams face immediate problems if changing leagues next year. Their dilemma is how to contend with the loss of the designated hitter in the DH-less National League. It is a particularly thorny problem for Seattle, Minnesota and Kansas City, teams whose offenses are largely built around talented designated hitters no longer cut out to be everyday defensive players.

"I think it would definitely affect my decision to return to the Twins," said Molitor, 41. "Obviously, the DH rule has prolonged my career. For me to have to go back to being an everyday defensive player, which I haven't done in a decade, I think would be a little unrealistic."

Mariners' DH Martinez, a four-time All-Star, said, "If Seattle goes to the National, it will create big changes for a lot of our players, especially me. What is my role?"

Martinez, 34, said a league change would force him to confront "a number of serious decisions including the possibility of retiring."

Handling NL pitching is not Martinez's concern. His .475 batting average in 16 interleague games led all players. But having to reposition himself at first or third base is a worry, since Seattle already has Paul Sorrento at first, and Russ Davis at third.

Martinez has two years and $8 million left on his contract, a significant investment for a player whose playing time might be trimmed by necessity.

"I would hope the players association would not allow such drastic changes as they're talking about," Martinez said. "I don't say anything about retiring easily, because I do love to play the game."

Changing leagues is problematic for other teams' DHs, as well: Anaheim: Henderson has hit only .218 since being acquired from San Diego, but remains arguably the best leadoff man in the game's history. But with Garret Anderson, Jim Edmonds and Tim Salmon in the outfield and Darin Erstad at first, Henderson is not likely to be re-signed without a DH slot.

Milwaukee: Acting commissioner Bud Selig will move his Brewers to the NL as an example to other owners, but it will cause his team problems in 1998. Injury-prone top run-producers John Jaha and Dave Nilsson have split time between first base and DH to get rest. Without the DH, Jaha will have to play first full time and Nilsson will move to left field.

Kansas City: Losing Chili Davis would cost the Royals their home run leader (29) and No. 2 RBI man (86).

Oakland: Jose Canseco proved again this year he cannot play the outfield, so his $4.5 million contract option for 1998 likely won't be picked up.

Pub Date: 9/15/97

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