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East Carolina Hall of Famer and
former baseball coach Keith LeClair.
 (Photo: ECU Media Relations)

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From The Dugout

By Keith LeClair

Off-season winners and losers

NY $$$ has its limits

With spring training about to come into full swing, I thought it would be fun to look at some of the off-season winners and losers. Hopefully, once the season starts, all the talk about steroids will die down and our thoughts will be focused back on the field.

These are just my predictions of who had the best off-season signings and trades, so if you disagree just bring it on and we can discuss it. But remember, I am a biased Red Sox fan, so take that into consideration before you grill me on my choices.

I think this was by far the most interesting off-season that we have had in some time. Even though I am not a big fan of free agency, it always gives the die hard baseball fan something to talk about. Well its time to give the Peter Gammons fans something to argue over.

The Winners

10. Texas Rangers: I know you're thinking I am completely nuts, but I think the trade for Alphonso Soriano is going to be a giant sleeper. Here is a guy who has the ability to be a forty-forty guy (40 homeruns and 40 stolen bases) and could give the Rangers a spark nobody expects with A-Rod gone. In addition to Soriano, they have brought some veteran guys in to complement all their young talent — in the likes of Brian Jordan, a leader and hard-nosed player, Eric Young, a quality player that can steal you some bases, Greg Nelson, a proven guy out off the pen, Kenny Rogers, who has the ability to win 15 games, and Brad Fullmer, a left-handed hitter with power.

As good of a player as A-Rod was for the Rangers, I truly believe they will be better off without him. When he signed that gigantic salary, all of a sudden one player became bigger than the franchise itself. Now they can start to become a team again and not a one-man show — and that's not knocking Rodriguez, but the Rangers for signing him for all that money.

9. San Diego Padres: I know you're saying, "The Padres?," but hold on and hear me out. During the off-season, they went out and got some veteran pitchers in David Wells, Sterling Hitchcock, and Ismael Valdes. Granted, Valdes has been hurt a lot and Wells is having back problems, I still believe that these guys, if healthy, will give the Padres a big lift in complimenting some good young arms.

They also signed three position players in Roman Hernandez, Jay Payton and Jeff Cirrillo that can help make a difference in bringing the Padres back to respectability. Hernandez was an all-star catcher for Oakland last year and Payton, when healthy, is a productive offensive player. Cirrillo may be a gamble after two down years with Seattle, but has shown all-star potential in the past with the Rockies. I like these signings and think the Padres will be a big surprise this coming season.

8. Detroit Tigers: Only one way up for these guys, so how could I leave them out of the Top Ten? In all seriousness, the Tigers went out and really improved their club in signing Pudge Rodriguez, Rondell White, Fernando Vina and Carlos Guillen. They also made significant strides up the middle defensively with Pudge, Vina and Guillen. Those three guys could be as good as anyone in baseball, especially turning the double play. Although Vina was hurt last year with the Cardinals, this guy can play and is hard-nosed and produces in the clutch. I also like the fact that the players they signed all come from winning organizations and should breed an attitude change amongst the other players.

I won't predict a World Series yet, but do not be surprised if the Tigers go .500 this season. And no, I am not overdosing on all my meds today.

7. St. Louis Cardinals: This pick wasn't easy because there were a lot of teams I could have gone with, but after looking at the guys they acquired, I felt it was a solid choice. I must admit it came down to the Cardinals and Rockies for the seventh spot.

With the addition of Reggie Sanders, who hit 31 home runs for the Pirates and is a solid outfielder, he should easily replace J.D. Drew, who cannot stay healthy. Plus, he adds a great bat that will most likely hit seventh in the lineup. After Sanders, the Cardinals acquired three arms that, I think, will give them a boost: Jeff Suppan from the Pirates, who should give them solid innings in the rotation; Julian Tavarez, who is versatile in both coming out of the pen and also spot-starting on occasions; and the sleeper pickup I believe is Jason Marquis from the Atlanta Braves. This kid has great stuff, but lost his confidence with Atlanta and hopefully a change of scenery is all he needs.

Again, this was a tough choice, but I think the Cardinals will be better this year if their pitching can just hold up.

6. Philadelphia Phillies: The next three picks could be flip-flopped and put any order, but I had to make a pick and I went with the Phillies. I would have put them in my top three had they acquired one more bat to compliment the pitching they picked up.

I give the Phillies a lot of credit, though. Their bullpen let them down last season and they went out and erased that problem by acquiring Billy Wagner, Tim Worrell, Roberto Hernandez, and getting a steal in starting pitcher Eric Milton. Wagner was one of the premier closers in the league for Houston over the last few years, and Worrell had a career year with the Giants as their closer last season, but most likely will be a set-up guy for Wagner this year. Milton, when he is healthy, could easily be a 17 to 18 game winner with his stuff.

The Phillies also picked up Doug Glanville, who adds some speed and experience to the outfield, and they picked up Shawn Wooten from the Angels, who has dropped a lot of weight and hopefully can have a career year. The Phillies' season in my eyes still hinges on Pat Burrell and whether he can come back from a disastrous last season.

5. Houston Astros: This is one pick that I am a little cautious about, but I just couldn't turn down the idea of Pettite and Clemens not bringing an attitude of winning to Houston. They have been so close over the years, and with the addition of these two guys to an already solid staff, I just have to believe this is the year for Houston. They also picked up Brandon Duckworth in the Wagner trade from the Phillies, who has a big upside and terrific stuff, and signed Dave Veres from the Cubs, who is a solid lefty out of the pen.

I just hope the age of Bagwell and Biggio won't catch up with Houston at the wrong time, because they are relying on the past to carry the offensive load, which this year may only take three or four runs a game. Great off-season for the Astros and now its wait and see how it all pans out.

4. Anaheim Angels: After winning the World Series two years ago and not making the playoffs this season, who can argue that the Angels didn't drastically improve their club this off-season? They signed potentially the best player in the game, Vladimir Guerrero, who can absolutely do it all as well as anybody in the game today. I really like this guy and have no doubt he will make an immediate impact on this offense. Plus he will allow Glaus and Anderson to get a lot more good pitches to hit.

The Angels did not stop there, but acquired Jose Guillen from Oakland, which adds another powerful bat to the lineup and one of the better arms from the outfield in baseball. Hold on, they also signed two great arms in Bartolo Colon from the White Sox and Kelvin Escobar from the Blue Jays, both with the potential to win a lot of games.

With their off-season signings, do not be surprised to see the Angels back in the World Series this season.

Are you ready for the top three? Ready or not, here they come:

3. Chicago Cubs: This may very well be the year we see Chicago and Boston battling it out for the World Series. Yes, you read that right. The Cubs went out and signed the diamond in the rough by acquiring Derek Lee from the Marlins. I am telling you, this guy is going to have a great year under Dusty Baker. He may end up hitting close to 40 home runs and driving in a hundred, so fantasy leaguers be ready to snatch him up.

What else do the Cubbies do but bring in Greg Maddux — an old Cub I may add — to bolster an already explosive young staff. A great addition even if he just pitches .500 baseball, just so the young guys can learn and feed off him. They also brought in Todd Walker, who had a great year with Boston last year and he is expected only to be a back up.

In addition to these guys, they have Letroy Hawkins, a reliever last year with Minnesota who is a reliable hard-thrower out of the pen, Michael Barret, a catcher from Montreal who has not yet put the numbers up he is capable of but certainly has the potential, and Todd Hollingsworth, a good left-handed stick coming off the bench.

So, all you Cub fans can at last book your World Series tickets and hope another drunk fan doesn't take your dream away. Maybe Wrigley should look at serving only Pepsi, born in Eastern North Carolina, as their number one drink.

Can you guess who will be in at number two?

2. New York Stinkies: So what, they signed Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Kenny Lofton, Javier Vazquez and Paul Quantrill. Who cares? Their payroll is more than our federal deficit. Hey, if these guys don't produce, they will be no better off than the guy who gets fired on the show The Apprentice, only it will be George doing the KO'ing and not The Donald.

I had to put them number two, just to give my Red Sox some incentive for the round two of Zimmer versus Pedro. I think George beefed up his team to protect Zim from the next mellay.

All jokes aside, money may not buy you love, but it sure can buy you wins. This is an incredible group coming in that may just be the Yankees' best team yet, at least on the offensive side. If Vazquez and Brown pitch up to their potential and stay healthy, the Yanks' staff will be as good as ever, if not better. The only weakness I see will be a lack of LHP in the rotation and out of the bullpen, which was a problem for them last year.

Did I call them the New York Stinkies? I am sorry, I meant to say the New York $$$$$$$$$. There, that's better.

Sorry all you Yankee fans. Look who is coming in at number one. Coach Herrion, this one's for you.

1. Atlanta Braves... Not! ... Ha Ha Ha... thee one and only Boston Red Sox: Start dancing in the streets all you long time suffering Boston fans. This is the year! As Jeff Charles says, "You can paint this one red!"

So what, the Red Sox didn't sign Alex Rodriguez. Our 24-year old GM, Theo Epstein, was just baiting George into spending more money. We never wanted to sign him and get rid of Nomar and Manny. Heck, we got the thrill Schill and the terminator Foulke and never have to watch Hi Ho Silvero Kim close a game again.

Breaking news just came in on March 11, 2004: Detroit 3 and Yankees 2. I may have to swap the Tigers down to number two and move New York up to nine.

Look, I am excited about this club and believe that with everyone coming back, with the exception of Todd Walker, the offense will score runs like they did last year and the pitching will be much improved with Schilling and Foulke. They have replaced Walker with Pokey Reese and have added some depth off the bench with Brian Daubach, Ellis Burkes and Tony Womack. Reese is a terrific defensive of player and will most likely hit in the two hole.

Well folks, I am tired and think I will go lay my head down and start dreaming of a World Series victory.

OK, I'm back. I was suddenly awakened from a horrifying nightmare in which Pedro and Schilling both had season-ending injuries, and to a chant of The Bambino lives on. This can't possibly happen again, could it? Only time will tell, so lets enjoy the season and pray its a great one.

The losers

5. Pittsburg Pirates: When they resigned Randall Simon, who hit the sausage lady over the head with a bat, it immediately put them in the top five.

4. New York Mets: They tried to be like Mr. Steinbrenner a couple of years ago and ended up broke like Mike Tyson. Sorry, Coach Herenda, the Mets stink.

3. Montreal Expos: They run their organization much like the Bass Masters Classic. Once they catch all the fish, they let 'em go.

2. Cincinnati Reds: They were doomed when Ken Griffey signed with them years ago. Only thing positive they have going for them is the fact Jerry Narron was hired as their bench coach.

1. Milwaukee Brewers: You know your team's in trouble when your owner allows an All-Star game to end in a tie. Enough said — wouldn't you agree? Do you think Jerry Jones or George Steinbrenner would call the coaches together and say, "Boys, we are awfully tired and I just want to go home?"

Chad Tracy update as of March 11: .385 avg., 5-for-13 with a double and one RBI.

I hope you all at least got a chuckle or two from this. And please, all you Yankee fans, I was only joking. Don't tell anyone, but I actually like the Yankees.

If you have a question or comment about the Pirates in particular or baseball in general, fire your best pitch at Ol' Condo: Sound off to Coach LeClair...

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02.23.07 10:27 AM


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