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07/17/2004 Archived Entry: "Cooperstown Confidential - July 15, 2004"
Cooperstown Confidential - July 15, 2004
Regular Season Edition
by Bruce Markusen
In the baseball card business, they’re called “want lists.” Simply put, they’re the cards that you’re looking to acquire to complete a set, whether by trade, by purchase, or (on those rare occasions) by the generous giving of others. Well, major league teams have “want lists,” too. In some cases, they’re looking to make trades or purchases, or hoping for a second-half bounceback by a key player, or anticipating a return from the disabled list. With the All-Star break having come and gone, and the second half upon us, let’s take a look at the want lists for each of the 30 big league teams.
Anaheim Angels: The Angels are hugely disappointed in their starting pitching, which explains their interest in acquiring Randy Johnson and trading both Ramon Ortiz and Jarrod Washburn, though not necessarily in the same deal. With a bevy of prospects, the Angels might have the best chance of filling the needs of the Arizona Diamondbacks and satisfying Johnson, who would prefer to stay near or on the West Coast. Trade or no trade, the Angels need huge improvement from Bartolo Colon, whose ERA is near six and a half and whose weight has reached all-time personal highs… Anaheim’s offense has been OK, but it should be better than middle of the pack. A healthy Garret Anderson would help, but the trade market remains an option. One way to improve run production would be to swing a deal for Nomar Garciaparra, who had been an offseason target of new owner Artie Moreno. Garciaparra would represent a major offensive upgrade over David Eckstein, who could be part of the package sent back to Boston (along with Washburn) or could slide over to second base, where’d he platoon with Adam Kennedy.
Baltimore Orioles: In an ideal world, the O’s would like about four new starting pitchers. In the real world, they’d settle for a 20-pound weight loss by Sidney Ponson and continued experience for their young starters. At some point, Baltimore will make a trade for more young pitching, offering one of their second basemen (Jerry Hairston Jr. or Brian Roberts) and possibly left-handed relief stud B. J. Ryan. Another potential trading chip is Rafael Palmeiro, whose diminishing power (12 home runs in the first half) has Oriole executives worried that the five-year clock on his wait for the Hall of Fame might start ticking sooner than later.
Boston Red Sox: After witnessing the recent three-game sweep in the Bronx, Theo Epstein clearly wants to make some changes to the Red Sox’ roster, but the trading might not start until he makes a decision on Nomar Garciaparra. Some Red Sox observers believe the team would be better with Pokey Reese playing shortstop, which would mandate a trade of Garciaparra, who certainly wouldn’t be happy as a DH. If Epstein decides to deal, he has plenty of suitors interested in the hard-hitting shortstop, including the Angels, the Atlanta Braves, possibly both Chicago teams, and the Florida Marlins. Epstein would prefer a return package that includes a starting pitcher, which might eliminate the Cubs and White Sox from the Nomar Derby… The Red Sox would also like to add a frontline first baseman (John Olerud, anyone?) or outfielder with good defensive skills. That way, Terry Francona can make either David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez his fulltime DH, while upgrading the team’s subpar fielding at either first base or left field… On the injury front, the Red Sox are hoping for a speedy return from Scott Williamson, whose currently on the disabled list with a bad elbow. Along with Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke, Williams has helped form a devastating trio out of the Boston bullpen.
Chicago White Sox: At one point the White Sox were frothing at the possibility of acquiring Garciaparra, but now they’re not so sure. Jose Valentin and the surprising Juan Uribe make them two-deep at shortstop, so they’d have to shift Valentin to third base (where he hasn’t played since 2002) and move Uribe back to second base on a fulltime basis to clear room for Garciaparra. That would certainly improve the Sox at second and third, where Willie Harris and Joe Crede have been relatively unproductive… More realistically, the White Sox would like to find a big-time closer or at least add to their bullpen depth, giving Ozzie Guillen more options with his bullpen-by-committee. One possible relief ace is Detroit’s Ugueth Urbina, but the Tigers might not want to help out a team within their own division.
Cleveland Indians: With Cleveland’s rebuilding program running ahead of schedule, the Indians might be content to stand pat and continue to watch their young players develop. They’re also hoping for a solid comeback from Bob Wickman (just off the disabled list), who should improve what is arguably the worst bullpen in the major leagues… One everyday position that could use an upgrade is center field, where the wonderfully named Coco Crisp is less than wonderful at reaching base and is probably best suited to filling the fourth outfielder role… The Indians are also hoping for an August return for the recently signed Aaron Boone. At the least, the ex-Yankee and Red will become the team’s primary utility infielder; at the most, he could challenge Casey Blake for playing time at the hot corner.
Detroit Tigers: Like the Indians, the Tigers have improved more quickly than most prognosticators would have expected, and that includes the manager and general manager. Dave Dombrowski does face at least one major roster decision in the second half. Does he trade the inconsistent Ugueth Urbina for more young prospects, or keep the veteran reliever around in the hopes that the Tigers can avoid those demoralizing late-inning losses by the bullpen? Dombrowski may wait to see what the market bears for Urbina, whose repertoire of pitches and possession of a World Championship ring will likely make him attractive to at least one playoff contender.
Kansas City Royals: Having fallen flat in Tony Pena’s second season, the Royals need just about everything, but the front office will have to set its sights more narrowly—and realistically. As with any team out of contention, GM Allard Baird must decide which veterans to trade for packages of prospects and young major leaguers. The Royals made no secret of their desire to acquire a catcher and third baseman in a trade for Carlos Beltran; now they’d like to pick up some outfield and pitching help. Mike Sweeney is their most valued trade commodity and could be joined by Benito Santiago and, if healthy, Juan “Mr. 162” Gonzalez… The only major league untouchables for the Royals appear to be Willie Horton lookalike Ken Harvey (their All-Star representative) and pitching phenom Zack Greinke, who has pitched better than his 1-6 record would indicate.
Minnesota Twins: The Twins desperately need to find more offense from amongst their infielders. While Corey Koskie figures to hit better in the second half, the same can’t really be expected from Cristian Guzman, Luis Rivas, and Doug Mientkiewicz. So what are the options? The first answer should be obvious: bring up Justin Morneau from Triple-A and make him the starting first baseman or DH. The second answer should involve a trade; once Shannon Stewart returns from the disabled list, the Twins will have four frontline outfielders for three positions, putting them in a position to trade either Stewart or Jacque Jones for a middle infielder with some pop. Not that it will happen, but Nomar Garciaparra would look awfully good in a Twins uniform the second half of the season… Like most teams, the Twins could use another starting pitcher. Jones or Mientkewicz could be the bait, assuming that general manager Terry Ryan is willing to do something daring. According to a recent rumor, the Twins are considering a deal that would send the younger Morneau to Toronto for right-hander Miguel Batista. That wouldn’t be daring, just downright ill advised.
New York Yankees: With the best record in baseball, some organizations might tend to stand pat. That never happens in New York, where both George Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman recognize the need for another starting pitcher. The Yankees have already invoked Plan A, which involved the recall of veteran Orlando Hernandez from Columbus. If Hernandez can continue to pitch as creditably as he did in his first outing against Tampa Bay, the Yankees might have their No. 4 starter for the postseason (after Javier Vasquez, Mike Mussina, and Kevin Brown). If not, the Yankees will pursue Plan B and continue to talk to Arizona about Randy Johnson and to Seattle about Jamie Moyer. The Yankees are willing to give up Double-A catcher Dioner Navarro and another top prospect as part of a three or four-player package for Johnson, but are expecting a much smaller price tag on Moyer… The Yankees’ bullpen could get even stronger with a possible July recall of Steve Karsay, but Cashman would still like to add a quality left-handed reliever who can actually get lefties out. That would allow the Yankees to either use Felix Heredia in long relief or give him his unconditional release… At one point, the Yankees considered second base and center field as areas that needed upgrades, but that has changed, at least for the moment. If Miguel Cairo can maintain a .280-plus average and his solid defense in the second half, the Yankees will be satisfied with him as this year’s Mariano Duncan. If not, they’ll consider possible trades for Roberto Alomar and Jerry Hairston Jr. They won’t be prepared to give up much for either, however, especially the aging Alomar. As for center field, the Yankees have backed off on talks for Andruw Jones and seem happy with a platoon of Bernie Williams and Kenny Lofton. Both of these aging onetime stars have somehow improved their defensive play this season, with Lofton’s arm seemingly having received a shot of adrenaline.
Oakland A’s: Billy Beane already addressed one need by making a smart first-half deal for Octavio Dotel, which will allow Chad Bradford and Arthur Rhodes to perform more comfortably in set-up roles. Beane would like to do more, though. He continues to field offers for the slumping Barry Zito, whose lack of an overpowering fastball has helped opposing hitters catch up to him the past two seasons. Either Zito or one of Oakland’s young pitching prospects could be trade bait for a second baseman. Marco Scutaro has slumped badly after a fine start, leaving the A’s with a question mark on the right side of the middle infield. One name that has been mentioned is Philadelphia’s Placido Polanco… On another front, Beane will have to decide how to deal with the public pressure to fire pitching coach Curt Young, who has come under criticism from both Bay Area fans and media. It’s too bad that Wes Stock is well past retirement age.
Seattle Mariners: Oh where do we begin. The plunging Mariners need help across the board, from finding a new shortstop to overhauling the offense to improving the starting rotation. The trade of Freddy Garcia represented a start in the right direction, netting a potential starting catcher (Miguel Olivo) and outfielder (Jeremy Reed); now the M’s will have to determine which players will join Garcia at the exit ramp. General manager Bill Bavasi would like to move three veterans (Bret Boone, Jamie Moyer, and Eddie Guardado), but only if the return packages can come close to matching the haul he received from the White Sox for Garcia.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The first priority for Lou Piniella and company is finding a capable hitter to fill Tampa Bay’s black hole at DH, where both Robert Fick and Fred McGriff have failed their auditions. The Rays would love to find another veteran starter to help out the rotation, but they won’t give up top prospects and don’t have much to offer from the major league roster. One possible trading chip is Jose Cruz Jr., who could become expendable if the D-Rays give speedster extraordinaire Joey Gaithright another look in the second half.
Texas Rangers: Despite having a dozen players on the disabled list, the Rangers have emerged as the surprise leaders in the American League West. They also lead the American League in runs scored, so they don’t need to do much to their youth-studded lineup, other than hope for a second-half resurgence from Brad Fullmer. No, the second-half target will be the pitching staff, which has improved by leaps and bounds from last year but is still allowing nearly four and a half runs per game. Needing to find some help for starters Kenny Rogers and Ryan Drese (their only pitchers with over 100 innings logged), the Rangers will continue to dangle Mark Teixeira, whose power (17 home runs) and ability to play two infield positions (first and third) make him attractive to other teams. One team that might be a fit is Atlanta, which has already made Russ Ortiz available in trade talks and would love to add a young position player of Teixeira’s ilk.
Toronto Blue Jays: The American League’s most disappointing team, the Blue Jays will hope for improvement from first-half busts Carlos Delgado, Josh Phelps, and Roy Halladay. General manager J.P. Ricciardi would like to trade Miguel Batista for some young hitting; Batista’s eight wins and his respectable 4.02 ERA should make him highly desired on the trade market, with the Twins a possible destination. Delgado could be moved as well, though Ricciardi might be reluctant to trade his superstar hitter at a time when his value is relatively low… Ricciardi’s toughest decision might involve manager Carlos Tosca. Ricciardi likes Tosca’s resume and approach to the game, but Toronto’s sorry level of underachieving will put pressure on the general manager to make a change.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Don’t believe all the first-half hooey that the Diamondbacks’ front office won’t even consider a trade of Randy Johnson. They will, and for several reasons: other than his 4,000-strikeout milestone game, Johnson hasn’t had much of an impact on Arizona’s attendance; his trade value is such that he could bring a truckload of prospects in return; and the Diamondbacks are such a bad team that Johnson figures to be ready for retirement by the time they’ve rebuilt themselves into contention. Perhaps most importantly, Johnson’s recent statement that he would not invoke his no-trade rights (assuming he’s dealt to the proper contending team) will clear the way for the D-Backs to make a deadline deal, with either the Angels or the Yankees being the most realistic destinations… While Johnson occupies most of the Arizona mindset, the D-Backs would like to trade several of their veteran position players. Shea Hillenbrand, Roberto Alomar, and Steve Finley could all find themselves in other uniforms by July 31… And then there’s the matter of health. With 12 players currently on the disabled list, no one will blame GM Joe Garagiola if he prays out loud for fewer injuries during the second half.
Atlanta Braves: Much to the surprise of yours truly, the Braves have managed to keep themselves in contention in the National League East. Bobby Cox’ latest dose of magic will likely prevent any second-half firesales, but the Braves are still looking to make some moves. They’ve made Russ Ortiz available and would love to acquire a power-hitting infielder in return, since none of their starting infielders has reached double figures in home runs. (Did someone say Nomar Garciaparra?) The Braves are also grappling with a decision regarding a possible position change for the slumping Chipper Jones. The impressive all-around play of rookie left fielder Charles Thomas, who’s made several highlight reel plays already, has the Braves thinking about moving Jones back to the infield, with first base the likely destination. A switch involving Jones would also clear some playing time for supersub Eli Marrero, who could platoon with Thomas in the Braves’ outfield.
Chicago Cubs: The Cubs’ biggest “want” is simple: a healthy second half. Injuries to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior have tested the depth of the starting rotation, while physical setbacks to Aramis Ramirez and Sammy Sosa have exposed the offense for its lack of depth. Even if healthy, the Cubs could use another hitter, perhaps a right-handed hitting center fielder to platoon with Corey Patterson. A true leadoff hitter, which would allow the Cubs to move Todd Walker and Mark Grudzielanek down in the order, would also help. And perhaps most importantly, the Cubs would like to conduct a complete makeover at shortstop, where Alex Gonzalez remains on the disabled list with an injured wrist and Rey Ordonez still can’t hit. Garciaparra would be a perfect fit (perhaps via a three-way deal), but the cheaper and easier acquisition would be Rich Aurilia, recently released by the Mariners.
Cincinnati Reds: Given a nucleus of Sean Casey, Adam Dunn, and Ken Griffey Jr., one might expect the Reds to have a top-flight offense. Yet, they’re ranked only sixth in the National League in runs scored, in part because of an injury-riddled first half for Austin Kearns, who won’t return until early August. Now Griffey is hurt, expected to be out until mid-August with a torn hamstring. His absence will put an improving Wily Mo Pena (nine home runs in fewer than 160 at-bats) under the everyday spotlight. The injuries only underscore the need for a power hitter at third base, where Brandon Larson has flopped and Ryan Freel is better suited to a kind of super-utility role… As with most other teams on the planet, the Reds need help in the starting rotation, but the injury to Griffey takes away an important trading chip. The Reds would like to see improvement from Corey Lidle in the second half, while hoping that Paul Wilson and Aaron Harang can match their first-half performances.
Colorado Rockies: Having once again fallen out of contention, the Rockies are looking at yet another retooling program. Vinny Castilla, Jeromy Burnitz, and Shawn Estes seem like the most logical trade candidates, but the conditions at Coors Field make it difficult to evaluate Colorado’s talent, thereby hurting their value in the trade market… The Rockies would like a few of their young starting pitchers to emulate the success of Joe Kennedy, who has been a godsend from Tampa Bay. Kennedy’s 77 strikeouts and sub-4.00 ERA in 100 innings have the Devil Rays wishing they could have a do-over on that trade. Unfortunately, Kennedy is currently residing on the disabled list with a bad shoulder, and isn’t scheduled to return until late July … Aside from starting pitching, the Rockies have other needs. They’d like to get younger at shortstop and in the outfield, and will have to determine if the time is right to trade their two biggest stars, Todd Helton and Larry Walker.
Florida Marlins: The defending World Champions have enough pitching to make a return trip to the postseason, but they haven’t satisfactorily replaced Ivan Rodriguez and Derrek Lee from the 2003 squad. The Marlins believe that Hee Sop Choi will be the long-term answer at first base, but they’re not as sure about their catching, which they’d like to beef up. They’ve talked to the Mets about Vance Wilson, an excellent receiver who could hit 15 to 20 home runs if given a chance to play every day… The Marlins have also grown dissatisfied with shortstop Alex Gonzalez, to the point that they’ve talked to the Red Sox about Garciaparra. One rather wild rumor has the Fish sending All-Star starter Carl Pavano and World Series hero Brad Penny to the Red Sox for Garciaparra and Derek Lowe, both free agents at season’s end. (If that offer’s really on the table, the Red Sox should jump at it.) Whether it’s at shortstop, catcher, or left field, the Marlins may need at least one more hitter to overtake the best of the rest in the thinned-out National League East.
Houston Astros: Even the great Carlos Beltran has failed to revive the fading ‘Stros, which has put general manager Gerry Hunsicker in a difficult position at the midway point. Does he give his talented team the benefit of the doubt and hope that it can narrow its double-digit margin in the NL Central? And at what point does he give up the season and flip Beltran elsewhere?… The first move involved manager Jimy Williams, who was fired immediately after the All-Star Game and replaced by former Tigers and Brewers skipper Phil Garner. If the Astros can stage a second-half surge under Garner’s leadership and re-enter the pennant race, they’ll need to address their lack of depth in middle relief and find a power hitter for the left side of their infield.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Player transactions aside, the Dodgers would like to see the enigmatic Shawn Green return to form, and injured pitchers Hideo Nomo and Odalis Perez return from the disabled list. After a solid start offensively, Dodger hitters have cooled considerably, returning Green to the glass under the microscope. If he doesn’t locate the stroke, the Dodgers will have to trade for another bat, which will be easier to do once Nomo and Perez are healthy. A sound Perez would be a solid trading chip, with the Yankees among the teams interested in the veteran left-hander.
Milwaukee Brewers: Stay the course, baby, stay the course. With their rebuilding plan ahead of schedule and more prospects on the way from a deep farm system, the Brewers don’t need to make any major outside transactions during the second half. Sure, their offense could use some help, but that will come soon enough from within, whenever Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks are deemed ready to face major league pitching… Once Junior Spivey returns from the disabled list, the Brewers might shop infielders Keith Ginter and Wes Helms. If either Ginter or Helms gets hot in the second half, look for the Brewers to make a minor trade.
Montreal Expos: There’s an old saying in baseball. We’re just one hitter away from winning the pennant. In the case of the Expos, let’s make that five hitters. Well, maybe four. While neither of those numbers represents a realistic goal, Montreal does want healthy second halves from Nick Johnson and Carl Everett, and a higher on-base percentage from Brad Wilkerson. The Expos would also like to make some deals, with shortstop Orlando Cabrera the highest priority on the chopping block. Two other possibilities are Tony Armas Jr., who’s won only one game through the first half, and Zach Day, who might make an effective middle reliever for a contending team. There is one problem with Day, however. He’s currently on the DL with a sore shoulder and will have to prove himself healthy in a hurry if the Expos are to deal him before July 31.
New York Mets: On the surface, the Mets’ league-leading staff ERA might indicate that they don’t need pitching, but a closer look at their starting rotation proves otherwise. The front three of Al Leiter, Tom Glavine, and Steve Trachsel are very good, but there’s such a huge dropoff in quality to the number four and five starters that the Mets would like to pick up a back-end starter to balance the rotation. One theory has the Mets using the red-hot Ty Wigginton as the bait, but his 13 errors and 17 walks indicate that he’s not a frontline player. Once the Mets do the inevitable and call up David Wright to play third base, they could then make Wigginton their super-utility player, ala Tony Taylor, Tony Phillips, and Randy Velarde from the past three decades. Rather than dangle Wigginton, the Mets will probably offer second-tier prospects in exchange for a No. 4 starter… It’s not talked about much, but the Mets could also use a young, hard-throwing left-handed reliever. The elderly Mike Stanton and John Franco have been ineffective, allowing far too many baserunners per innings pitched… And what about the Mets’ offense, which has been ranked amongst the lower third in the National League for most of the season? The mid-season pickup of Richard Hidalgo has already helped the Mets immensely, especially in their first-half highlight—the three-game sweep of the Yankees. But herein lies the problem. The Mets are set at almost every position, leaving little room for another new acquisition to play. With Mike Piazza entrenched at first base, that leaves catcher as the weak link in the New York lineup, but where exactly are the Mets going to find a catcher who specializes as an offensive threat? Well, there’s always Piazza, but no, let’s not go down that road again.
Philadelphia Phillies: Now that the “Fightin’ Phils” have figured out how to score runs after a disappointing 2003, they can place a higher priority on improving their disappointing starting rotation. They’d like to trade Kevin Millwood, whom they’ve offered to a number of teams, including the A’s and Red Sox. In return, they’d love to find another left-hander to team with Randy Wolf, with Barry Zito their target on the high side and Jamie Moyer the target on the low side. Another right-hander wouldn’t be a bad idea either, what with Vicente Padilla sidelined until mid-August… Although the Phillies currently lead the league in runs scored, two positions remain small sources of concern—second base and center field. The Phillies turned down the Yankees’ offer of Placido Polanco for Kenny Lofton, but they’d gladly surrender Polanco as part of a package for more pitching and then turn second base over to Chase Utley on a fulltime basis. As for center field, the quest will focus on a right-handed hitter, someone who can platoon with the underrated Ricky Ledee.
Pittsburgh Pirates: The Bucs will continue their youth movement, which made significant strides over the first half of the season. The development of Bobby Hill, Jack Wilson, Rob Mackowiak, Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, and Sean Burnett has finally given Lloyd McClendon a nucleus with which to work. The Pirates will hope for similar results from outfielder J.J. Davis and several of their young pitchers during the second half… While most of the emphasis will remain with the kids, the Pirates are also hoping to trade at least two veterans, Randall Simon and Kris Benson. They’d gladly dump Simon on anyone willing to pick up his contract, but they’re hoping to acquire a significant prospect for Benson, who has pitched well in recent weeks… Tougher choices will involve the popular Jason Kendall, who has hit for average but with no power (two home runs) and still carries that odious contract. Another difficult decision will have to be made regarding Daryle Ward; is he the real deal, or merely a player coming off a good first half, which has artificially built up his trade value? If they do elect to trade Ward, they’ll probably have to wait until after the July 31st deadline and hope he clears waivers, since he’s not expected to return from the disabled until early August. Determining the futures of Kendall and Ward will have a large impact on shaping the Pirates for 2005 and beyond.
St. Louis Cardinals: As the National League’s most surprising divisional leader, the Redbirds might be tempted to stand pat. Yet, general manager Walt Jocketty is too smart for that; he’d like to add some pitching depth and would prefer an upgrade in left field, where Ray Lankford and company have been mediocre… Of their current players, Matt Morris has been the biggest disappointment, giving up home runs at an alarming rate. A strong second half from Morris would greatly help the Cardinal cause in staving off a push by the underachieving Cubs.
San Diego Padres: An offensive malaise struck the Padres over the first half, with part of the problem stemming from the inability of Jay Payton and Ryan Klesko to adjust to Petco Park. The two power hitters combined for four first-half home runs, which simply isn’t enough to support the efforts of Phil Nevin and Brian Giles. And with Nevin hurt again and out until later this month, San Diego may have more of a struggle on its hands in reaching home plate. As much as the Padres would like to find some offensive help on the trade market, they don’t have much to offer in terms of major league talent. If, however, they’re willing to give up prospects and add salary, they might be able to swing a deal for someone like Arizona’s Steve Finley or Kansas City’s Mike Sweeney… The Padres’ pitching has carried the team this season, but could be even better with a return to form by Adam Eaton, who has given up four and a half runs per nine innings. The Pods would also like to see a comeback from last year’s relief ace, Rod Beck, who was limited to 13 ineffective innings during the first half because of personal problems.
San Francisco Giants: The Giants’ primary need has been obvious for a couple of years now (finding some support for Barry Bonds), but GM Brian Sabean appears no closer to making a deal for an impact hitter. Perhaps he doesn’t feel he needs one; incredibly, the Giants are ranked among the top three in the National League in runs scored, which is yet another tribute to Bonds’ mammoth abilities. On a related front, Sabean appears to have taken Edgardo Alfonso off the trade market now that he’s displaying some of the skills he once showed as a New York Met… The Giants could use some pitching help, both in the starting rotation (where Jason Schmidt has been a one-man gang) and the bullpen (where a shaky Matt Herges has posted 21 saves in spite of a 5.01 ERA). One possibility for the pen is Ugueth Urbina, whom the Giants like despite his poor first half. But the problem remains the same—as long as the front office is unwilling to trade its top pitching prospects, there is really nothing of value to offer other teams in return.
Flopping In The Far East
While much has been made of the exploits of Japanese stars who have made successful maneuvers in becoming major league All-Stars (such as Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki), we don’t hear as much about American players who have tried to make the transition from Organized Baseball to life in the Japanese Leagues. Thanks to the insight of Japanese baseball expert Marty Kuehnert, here’s an anti-All-Star team, containing the names of those American players (including some Latinos) who have flopped in trying to become part of the Asian baseball world.
Catcher: Nick Testa
After lasting only one game with the San Francisco Giants in 1958, this little known receiver played in 57 games for the Mainichi Orions in 1962. He batted only .136 with no home runs and five RBIs and wasn’t invited back for a second season.
First Base: Joe Pepitone
In what might qualify as the most infamous American-Japanese flop of all-time, the flaky Pepitone lasted only 14 games with the Yakult Atoms in 1973. The Atoms apparently gave little thought to the possibility that someone as wild and unpredictable as Pepitone might have trouble adjusting to the more stringent Japanese culture—both in terms of baseball and societal expectations. He arrived with long hair, which didn’t please team management, and proceeded to complain about the food. He missed several games with alleged headaches, but the aches and pains didn’t prevent him from spending many a late night at local dance clubs. Not surprisingly, “Pepi” struggled on the field, batting .163 with one home run before shipping out. In addition to leaving behind some feelings of disappointments with the Japanese baseball establishment, Pepitone also left a trail of unpaid bills and loans. He did, however, prompt the invention of the Japanese slang term, “pepitone,” which might be roughly translated into “goof-off.”
Second Base: Frank Coggins
The switch-hitting Coggins lasted an unlucky 13 games in Japan. He produced a .125 batting average in his unproductive stint with the Kintetsu Buffaloes. On the plus side, he did hit two home runs, but the Buffaloes were left unimpressed.
Shortstop: Chico Fernandez
This Latino born shortstop managed to last more games than anyone else on the all-flop infield, but his 52-game stint with the Hanshin Tigers in 1965 still left few indelible memories. Fernandez batted .144 with a whopping eight RBIs.
Third Base: Reno Bertoia
An obscure infielder, Bertoia compiled the best batting average of any of the all-flop infielders. Before we get too excited, let’s stop to consider that he batted .175 with a .242 on-base percentage and one home run in 20 games for Hanshin in 1964. Strangely, Bertoia’s failed tenure didn’t discourage the Tigers from signing Chico Fernandez the following season.
Outfield: Mike Greenwell
The former Boston Red Sox standout did his best to supplant Pepitone as Japan’s “Mr. Infamy,” but fell just short. Opting to leave the Red Sox via free agency, Greenwell signed a lucrative contract with the Hanshin Tigers (poor Hanshin, which has been burned all too many times by ex-major leaguers). Greenwell lasted seven games before suffering a broken bone in his foot. The Tigers questioned Greenwell’s toughness and the severity of the injury, which Greenwell claimed was legitimate. In the end, Greenwell never played another game in Japan, leaving some to call him a poor man’s version of Pepitone.
Outfield: Paul Dade
Formerly a member of the Cleveland Indians and San Diego Padres, Dade had hopes of becoming a stolen base king in the Japanese Leagues, but his struggles in reaching first base often made his speed a moot point. Playing 37 games for Hanshin in 1981, Dade batted a cool .219 before his Japanese career came to an end.
Outfield: Buddy Bradford
In 1977, the Kintetsu Buffaloes expected big things from Bradford, a onetime promising young outfielder the Chicago White Sox. Bradford showed some power with the Buffaloes, with four home runs in 56 games. Yet, the other parts of his game lagged, including a .192 batting average, causing the Buffaloes to say bye-bye to Buddy.
Outfield: Frank Howard
After helping the Detroit Tigers win the 1972 American League East crown in a supporting cast role, Howard longed for a chance to play everyday again, just as he had done with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Senators, and Texas Rangers. As one of the biggest names to move on to Japan, “Hondo” looked like a lock to put up large home run numbers in the smaller Japanese ballparks. Howard’s power, coupled with his reputation as one of baseball’s solid citizens, appeared to make him destined for at least one or two hallmark seasons in Japan. Yet, it didn’t work out. Appearing as a DH, an aging Howard played only game for the Taiheiyo Club Lions in 1974. In his first—and only at-bat—he struck out swinging, and injured his back severely in the process. He retired for good, opting not to attempt a comeback with either the Lions or any major league team.
Designated Hitter: Charlie Spikes
At one time a top prospect with the New York Yankees, Spikes never lived up to the billing, but did have some productive seasons with the Cleveland Indians. By the 1980s, his career had hit a crossroads in the U.S., motivating him to sign with the Chunichi Dragons. The Dragons expected lots of power for their money’s worth, but received only one home run in a forgettable 26-game run from Mr. Spikes.
Pitcher: Val Snow
Here is a name that will not bring many favors if mentioned in Japan. Formerly a star player at BYU in 1964, Snow signed a contract with the Nippon Ham Fighters in 1974, but didn’t pitch a single game in the Far East. Instead, Snow took his first paycheck and ran like the wind—never to be heard from again in the baseball world.
When Deron Johnson died in 1992, the notion of baseball mortality really started to hit me. Here was a guy I remembered well from my days as a younger fan, which really weren’t that long ago. Deron was strong, sizeable, and seemingly unconquerable.
Johnson, a longtime major league slugger who won the National League’s RBI title in 1965 with the Cincinnati Reds, died in April of ’92 while still employed as the batting coach of the California Angels. Johnson had been diagnosed with lung cancer the previous June, but refused hospitalization and treatment because he wanted to live out his remaining days at home.
Johnson was so well liked, by both players and front office types, that the Philadelphia Phillies once dealt him to the Oakland A’s as a way of helping him get a World Series ring. “I traded him to the A’s for a catcher named Jack Bastable,” former Phillies executive Paul Owens recalled in an interview with Bill Madden of the New York Daily News. “I could have gotten more for him, but I just felt so much of him, I wanted to get him a chance to be in a World Series.” Johnson received his first chance at World Series glory that fall, when he batted .300 for the A’s in their 1973 World Championship victory over the Mets. And that only made his 1974 Topps card a little more significant to me.
Tony Lupien (Died on July 9 in Norwich, Vermont; age 87; long illness): A veteran of six seasons in the major leagues, Lupien played first base for the Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, Detroit Tigers, and Chicago White Sox. Although a singles-hitting journeyman in the big leagues, Lupien became far more successful after his playing days. In 1956, the Harvard graduate was hired by another Ivy League school, Dartmouth College, to lead its baseball program. During a 21-year tenure as head coach, Lupien guided Dartmouth to four Eastern Intercollegiate League championships and an overall record of 313-305-3. In 1980, Lupien ventured into another baseball avenue when he collaborated with veteran author Lee Lowenfish to write The Imperfect Diamond, a book that details the history of labor in the sport.
Cooperstown Confidential author Bruce Markusen is co-host of the Hall of Fame Hour, which airs each Thursday at 12 noon Eastern time on MLB.com Radio. He is also the author of three books on baseball, including A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, Roberto Clemente: The Great One, and The Orlando Cepeda Story. A fourth book, Ted Williams: A Biography (Greenwood Press), is scheduled for release this fall. Markusen is also available for lectures and presentations on baseball and baseball history. For more information on lecture availability, send an e-mail to email@example.com.