Cards serious in giving McGwire help

On Baseball

November 22, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

St. Louis was the center of the baseball universe for much of the 1998 season -- as fans all over the world followed Mark McGwire's every swing on the way to a single-season home run record -- but the Cardinals' front office is moving decisively to assure that 1999 is more than a one-man show.

Walt Jocketty, the team's general manager, shuffled the roster on Thursday with a series of deals that bolstered the club's bullpen and gave McGwire a little more backup in the offensive lineup.

The club signed outfielder Eric Davis and veteran reliever Scott Radinsky out of the free-agent market and pulled off a five-player trade with the Philadelphia Phillies that added reliever Ricky Botallico and former Oriole Garrett Stephenson to the pitching staff in exchange for outfielder Ron Gant, reliever Jeff Brantley and prospect Cliff Politte.

It was quite an eventful day.

"What this does in our opinion is change the whole makeup of the club, and that's something we felt was very important after the last couple of years," Jocketty said.

The flurry of front-office activity dramatically alters the chemistry of the bullpen, where the Cardinals closed by committee last year. Juan Acevedo and Brantley combined for 29 of the club's 44 saves.

Acevedo saved 15 games in 16 attempts to establish himself as a quality late reliever, and will arrive at spring training with a chance to be the full-time closer. But Botallico and Radinsky should allow manager Tony La Russa tremendous flexibility in the late innings, since both are capable of closing, too.

In addition, the acquisition of two solid relievers leaves the Cardinals with a big surplus in middle relief, perhaps enough to sweeten a deal for the veteran middle infielder that the club also desperately needs.

Davis should be able to duplicate the numbers of departing free agent outfielder Brian Jordan, but the Cardinals will have to do more to assure that McGwire will be surrounded by an adequate supporting cast.

The only thing that dulled his terrific, 70-homer performance last year was the performance of the team as a whole. The Cardinals needed a late rush to finish four games over .500. They were not a serious contender in the second half.

Jocketty seems intent on making sure that McGwire isn't operating in a competitive vacuum again, but the Cardinals still need middle infield help and at least one more frontline starting pitcher to overtake the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central.

Davis by the numbers

The Orioles were hesitant to guarantee Davis two years for $8 million, largely because new general manager Frank Wren wants to bring down the average age of the club and decrease the likelihood of a debilitating string of injuries such as the one that blindsided the club early last season.

That makes sense, but the numbers that are being thrown around for Jordan raise an interesting statistical comparison. Davis appeared in 173 games over the past two years and totaled 36 home runs and 114 RBIs. Jordan, who also was disabled for most of 1997, appeared in 197 games and totaled 25 home runs and 101 RBIs.

Obviously, the long-term upside for Jordan is better because he is five years younger, but it's still fair to ask if his numbers warrant a contract worth nearly $25 million more than the Orioles were willing to give to Davis.

The Cardinals obviously didn't think so.

More Dodgers dissension

Dodgers GM Kevin Malone, manager Davey Johnson and club && president Bob Graziano recently met with outfielder Gary Sheffield in Florida, hoping to clear the air and eliminate any misunderstanding about Sheffield's future with the club.

That's nice of them, but they should just tell the guy to shut up and play.

Sheffield reportedly is upset that the Dodgers traded his good friend Bobby Bonilla, claiming Bonilla's inclusion in the Mike Piazza deal with the Florida Marlins last June was one of the reasons Sheffield waived his no-trade clause and allowed the blockbuster trade to go through.

Let's try to put this as delicately as possible. If that reasoning were a pile of organic fertilizer -- and that imagery is not accidental -- it would be enough to keep the Dodger Stadium infield green all winter.

Sheffield got the equivalent of a $7.5 million bonus (the total value of cash bonuses from both teams and the forgiveness of a large loan from the Florida Marlins) to approve the Piazza deal. He has absolutely no gripe.

He takes it back

Former Oriole Bonilla now is insisting that he was misquoted when he allegedly ripped into Dodgers vice president Tom Lasorda last week.

Bonilla was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as charging that Lasorda undercut former Dodgers manager Glenn Hoffman and former GM Fred Claire early last season and had become a pariah in the Dodgers' clubhouse. Now, he claims his statements were misrepresented, but plans to apologize to Lasorda, anyway.

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