NL East

Spring Training '99: The Major Issues

February 21, 1999|By JOE STRAUSS

Atlanta Braves

Manager: Bobby Cox

1998 record: 106-56, first place

No. 1: Perennial bullpen problems. Who closes? John Rocker? Kerry Ligtenberg? Mark Wohlers (blush)?

No. 2: With Denny Neagle dealt, can rookie Bruce Chen be the fourth starter behind Kevin Millwood?

No. 3: Can Brian Jordan, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones and Javier Lopez each hit 30 homers? All but Jordan did so in '98.

No. 4: Will ill-fitting left fielder Ryan Klesko be a suitable replacement for Andres Galarraga at first?

No. 5: Cox builds case as a Hall of Fame manager.

Florida Marlins

Manager: John Boles

1998 record: 54-108, fifth place

No. 1: If Jim Leyland couldn't do better than 54 wins, can Boles?

No. 2: Fish converted 24 of 46 save chances. Will former Cardinal Braden Looper do better?

No. 3: Is Alex Fernandez, who has 96 career wins, compared with 39 from the rest of the projected rotation, healthy again?

No. 4: New ownership has vowed to boost payroll from $11 million to $24 million.

No. 5: Matt Mantei, Vic Darensbourg, Looper and Kirt Ojala help form a potentially imposing bullpen. Wonder if Orioles GM Frank Wren is interested?

Montreal Expos

Manager: Felipe Alou

1998 record: 65-97, fourth place

No. 1: If denied a new stadium, can the Expos finish last in two countries in consecutive seasons? D.C. seamheads hope so.

No. 2: Young star Vladimir Guerrero could reach 20-20 status -- 20 homers, 20 errors.

No. 3: Alou is a rarity among managers: one of his clubhouse's best compensated members.

No. 4: Expos have reason for hope: They lost 45 of 97 by only one or two runs.

No. 5: Mike Thurman, Jeremy Powell, Mike Johnson, J. D. Smith and Ted Lilly vie for rotation spots.

New York Mets

Manager: Bobby Valentine

1998 record: 88-74, second place

No. 1: Can Bobby Bonilla go home again? It beats playing for a guy in L.A. whom Bonilla wouldn't let manage his Rotisserie team.

No. 2: Robin Ventura's arrival at third allows Edgardo Alfonzo to return to second base.

No. 3: Can Armando Benitez return to '97 setup role? Can't wait for Yankees series.

No. 4: If Camden Yards is Jurassic Park, is Shea Lost World? Average age of outfielders Rickey Henderson, Brian McRae and Bonilla: 36.

No. 5: Are pitchers Jason Isring- hausen and Paul Wilson healthy?

Philadelphia Phillies

Manager: Terry Francona

1998 record: 75-87, third place

No. 1: Who will emerge in a bullpen that returns one save (Wayne Gomes) from '98?

No. 2: Ace Curt Schilling will ask to be traded when the Phillies fall from contention. So will he wait until at least late March?

No. 3: Catcher Mike Lieberthal tries to prove his elbow and pelvic area have healed.

No. 4: At 33, does new left fielder Ron Gant have anything left?

No. 5: Scott Rolen may replace Chipper Jones as the game's best young third baseman.

Pub Date: 2/21/99

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