FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The San Francisco Giants must have gotten lost in the free-agent free-for-all. They've won more games than any other National League West team over the past two years, but seemed to fall off the face of the baseball world after the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks went spend-happy over the winter.
They lost the National League wild-card berth in a playoff against the Chicago Cubs last year and have largely the same team back in 1999, but everyone is assuming that they'll finish well behind the Dodgers and D-backs, because each of those teams added a superstar pitcher to their starting rotations.
Kevin Brown definitely makes the Dodgers a better club and the addition of Randy Johnson and two other free-agent starters has transformed the expansion Diamondbacks into an instant contender, leaving the Giants to prove that they still are a potential playoff team.
"It motivates us," Giants manager Dusty Baker told reporters, upon hearing that his team was picked to finish well back in the NL West standings. "I'm not surprised. It happens every year. I guess we have to keep proving ourselves."
Baker is used to the Dodgers getting most of the preseason publicity. They've been favored almost every year that he's managed the Giants, but his club has finished ahead of them the past two years.
Last year's division champion isn't taking it lying down either, even though the San Diego Padres have downsized themselves out of contention. General manager Kevin Towers boldly predicted that either the Padres or the Giants would finish ahead of the Dodgers this year. That figures to be a pipe dream for the Padres, but the Giants are not out of the question.
Back in shape
Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitcher Bobby Munoz doesn't look anything like the guy who spent time in the big leagues with the Orioles last year. In fact, he looks like half the man he used to be.
Munoz has trimmed down considerably from the 292 pounds he weighed when he was with the Orioles. He said the other day that when he was called up to the Orioles, he couldn't fit into the biggest jersey in Jimmy Tyler's closet. The size 52 jersey had to be let out for him.
What prompted his decision to get into shape?
"My girlfriend told me, `Maybe it's time to get your butt in shape,' " Munoz said.
Munoz was once a promising young major-league pitcher with the Philadelphia Phillies, but his lack of discipline turned him into a journeyman minor-leaguer. This might be his last chance to get his career back in gear.
"His reputation was that he wasn't always serious about his work or doing everything he could to make himself the best pitcher," said Rays pitching coach Rick Williams. "Sometimes, it takes an injury or bouncing around from club to club for a pitcher with ability to realize that. Sometimes, it's too late. Hopefully, it's not for him."
Robbie calls back
If it seemed like Roberto Alomar left town without saying goodbye or expressing his gratitude to Orioles owner Peter Angelos for standing behind him through the notorious spitting incident of 1996, he has rectified the situation.
Alomar called Angelos recently to tell him that he appreciated the opportunity to play in Baltimore and also appreciated everything that Angelos did to help during the most difficult time in his career.
Angelos had contended all along that Alomar owed him no debt of gratitude that presenting the mitigating circumstances of the spitting incident involving umpire John Hirschbeck was simply the right thing to do. But he said this week that he was happy to hear from Alomar, who clearly was one of his favorite players during his three-year career in Baltimore.
Raffy on Robbie
Former Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro said last week that Alomar would have stayed in Baltimore if the Orioles had made him a decent offer during the 1998 season.
"I know he wanted to stay," said Palmeiro.
When Alomar left to sign with the Cleveland Indians, there was the perception that he was tired of playing in Baltimore, and that some members of the Orioles organization were tired of him. Palmeiro concedes that Alomar had some problems, but thinks that the club should have made a greater effort to keep him.
"He's the best second baseman in the game," Palmeiro said. "He has needs, but you keep him happy. A lot of things went down that upset Robbie, but when he's happy, he's the best in the game.
"It's the pride. He's a very proud player. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He is very proud of who he is."
Womack only goes so far
National League stolen base champion Tony Womack may have welcomed the trade that sent him from Pittsburgh to a newly built contender in Arizona, but he wasn't happy enough to go along with the club's plan to move him to right field. Womack told manager Buck Showalter last week that he isn't interested in playing right, which appears to be the only regular position available to him.