"It won't be easy," Shapiro admitted. "I grew up in Baltimore and saw what it was like for third basemen who played there after Brooks Robinson."
Even if Vizquel does not return to the Indians in 2005, Peralta, who hit .326 with 15 homers, 109 runs and 86 RBI at Class AAA Buffalo, is not absolutely guaranteed of starting at short for Cleveland.
"He's a candidate," manager Eric Wedge said. "He's the leading guy, but I'm not going to lock him into it. Brandon Phillips is another candidate. I like Brandon at the position very much."
Peralta, a very soft-spoken native of the Dominican Republic, has little to say about the situation, except: "I admire Omar Vizquel very, very much. He has been a hero to me. All I want is the opportunity to play in Cleveland. I think I can play in the major leagues."
Peralta got a taste of what it might be like all next season, however, when he replaced Vizquel at shortstop to start the ninth inning of the Indians' final home game.
Vizquel got a mighty ovation. Nothing wrong with that. But two batters later, Peralta went to his backhand and couldn't make a tough play. It was ruled a hit, but the fans didn't care -- they started booing.
Fair or not, that is going to be the case until Peralta wins them over -- whenever that scenario unfolds at Jacobs Field.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL NOTES, COMPILED BY THE INSIDERS' STAFF:
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Ozzie Guillen was very honest about the job he did in his first year as White Sox manager.
"I grade myself A before the All-Star break," Guillen said. "Now, I have to be a Z. I didn't get it done, you know what I mean? I just made that point to the fans, to my bosses, to the people around me. I think when you don't get something done when you should, you can't grade yourself (positively). If you're in first place (maybe). When you're not, you don't deserve any grade." While the Sox did finish second in the AL Central for the third consecutive season, that isn't good enough. It wasn't in 2002, it wasn't in 2003 when former manager Jerry Manuel was fired, and it isn't now.
Guillen pointed out that the Sox are only a few players away from not only challenging the Twins in the division but finishing ahead of them and reaching the postseason.
"I'm the type of guy that's not going to lie to the fans, not going to lie to the media," Guillen said. "I think this team, if we add a couple of players here and there, and we get the (starting) pitcher we need, we should win the division.
"The reason Minnesota is winning is because they play better than us at some point, but I think this team is going to start winning the division. I also don't think we're too far away from seeing what I want to see."
That transformation is expected to begin with the Sox picking up the club options on relievers Cliff Politte and Shingo Takatsu.
Politte, who made $800,000 this year and went 0-3 with a 4.38 ERA, had his season cut short when he had an emergency appendectomy Sept. 1. The Sox hold the option at $1.3 million for next year and see Politte as the perfect fit for that bridge guy in the seventh and eighth innings.
"Cliff has got electric stuff," general manager Ken Williams said. "You just have to remind him every now and then of that fact. I think we need to get another guy or someone has to grow into that setup-type role and occasionally close for us to be really good down there, but Cliff is definitely a key member to what we're trying to do."
As for Takatsu, the Japanese import emerged as one of the top closers in the AL, going 6-4 with a 2.35 ERA and 19 saves. Takatsu, on whom the Sox hold a $2.5 million option after he made $750,000 in '04, was first among all relievers in save percentage (19 of 20 for 95 percent) and third in opponents' batting average (.181).
While the Sox don't see him as the everyday closer for them next year, they do envision Takatsu and his magical off-speed stuff as a key member of a bullpen-by-committee philosophy.
NOTES, QUOTES: 3B Joe Crede hit .333 with four homers and nine RBI over his last 10 games, but did not answer the questions he was supposed to in 2004. He struggled most of the season, hitting just .239. Rather than easing the organization's mind that it was set for years at the hot corner, the club was left with more questions about third base heading into the offseason. Hitting coach Greg Walker said he was confident that Crede will be right by spring training. "Joe's got one mechanical flaw, and it's something that should be able to be corrected," Walker said. "When we got to spring training, I thought it was something that could be fixed early. It was just something that I didn't realize how deeply imbedded it was in how he goes about hitting." Crede has been working on keeping his back knee from leading in his swing and is planning to build a batting cage at his home this offseason to continue working on the change Walker has made with him.
INF/OF/DH Ross Gload was named rookie of the month for September after hitting .403 with four homers and 16 RBI. He finished the season with a career-high 16-game hit streak. More than anything, for the first time in his career he is assured of a roster spot next season as a key reserve off the bench. "We were looking for left-handed pinch hitting off the bench and as soon as I saw this kid take batting practice (in spring training), play the game, play outfield, play first base, that's the one I really liked from the beginning," Guillen said.
RHP Jon Garland tried to explain why he was critical of fans at U.S. Cellular Field earlier this season. It was after an Aug. 19 start against Detroit in which he made a gesture to fans after being lifted and afterward said, "People are always getting on me here, I'm used to it. I'm not here for them. I'm here for me and my teammates." Garland did his best to further explain himself this weekend. "Every time I step on the mound I grew," Garland said. "Every time I'm around my teammates I grow. The thing with the fans, I don't hate them. I just feel that when you're at home you should have home-field advantage. When you get down on us, that makes the other team more comfortable. Then there's not home-field advantage. That's a big difference-maker."
The Sox released the home portion of their 2005 schedule, and they will be in a very unfamiliar place on Opening Day -- at home. They will open next season at U.S. Cellular Field on April 4 against Cleveland, ending their streak of 14 consecutive Opening Day road games, which was the longest in the majors. The last time the Sox opened at home was 1990, when they defeated Milwaukee 2-1.
BY THE NUMBERS: 6 and 20 -- The Sox boasted six players with 20 homers or more this season for the first time in franchise history. Joining Crede were Carlos Lee, Paul Konerko, Juan Uribe, Aaron Rowand and Jose Valentin.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You better be very careful here to turn your team into a Punch-and-Judy team because this is now a small ballpark or it's playing like a small ballpark. You better play to your ballpark's strengths, so you've got to have a certain amount of power to go through that. At the top and bottom, we would like high on-base percentage guys who can run and handle the bat and move the runners along." -- Sox GM Ken Williams, shooting down the theory that the franchise was planning on making wholesale roster moves to his lineup this offseason.
POSSIBLE CHANGES IN 2005:The Sox haven't come out and made it official, but all signs point to the end of Valentin's five-year stint as their shortstop. He is a free agent this offseason, and is expendable with the emergence of Juan Uribe. The Sox like Valentin's power (25 or more homers all five years) but he gives away too many at-bats -- his average dipped each season and went all the way down to .216 this year. Adding veteran Omar Vizquel is a possibility.
Starting pitcher wanted: Williams has already said that adding a starting pitcher is atop his priority list, and he will attempt to go after some of the biggest fish out there. The Sox are expected to have some salary to play with, given that Valentin and free agent-to-be Magglio Ordonez are both expected to walk. Williams wants a No. 1 starter if he could get one, but would settle for a No. 2 or 3 starter so that Jose Contreras is pushed to the No. 4 and Jon Garland and Jason Grilli can battle for the fifth spot.
The end of an era: Magglio Ordonez walked away from a five-year, $70 million offer from the Sox earlier in the season because it had a lot of deferred money. With health concerns surrounding Ordonez after he missed half the season with bone marrow edema in the left knee, it's very unlikely that he will get that type of offer from anyone. The only way he would be back in a Sox uniform is if he takes less money and signs a deal with playing-time incentives.
STATE OF THE FARM SYSTEM: GM Williams is the first to admit he has sent out a lot of his minor-leaguers in trades for major-league talent the last three years. And while the Sox don't have a playoff appearance to show for it, he insists the minor-leaguers who were traded did not fit into the big picture anyway.
While the Sox have some pitching talent in the minors, it's mostly in the lower levels of the farm system. Where the Sox have some immediate talent is in the outfield. Besides Joe Borchard, who was called up from Triple-A Charlotte the second half of the season, both Brian Anderson and Ryan Sweeney are "close." That's why the Sox believe that they can let Ordonez walk.
PROSPECTS TO WATCH IN 2005: INF Wilson Valdez was acquired from Florida in June for Billy Koch and spent the last month of the regular season in the big leagues. Valdez showed he has potential as a key utility player next season. Guillen sees him as a reserve next year and will give him some work at all three infield spots.
OF Brian Anderson was a first-round pick two years ago and has been on the fast track to the majors. He will get a serious look in the spring, and Williams said that if the big-league squad would have had one more injury in the outfield this year, he was going to bring up Anderson this year.
3B Josh Fields was the Sox's first-round pick this year and improved rapidly. If he has a solid offseason and spring training and Crede struggles the first half of next season, Fields could get his chance.
MEDICAL WATCH: DH Frank Thomas (stress fracture in his left foot) missed almost the entire second half and could have offseason surgery to have pins put in if the foot doesn't start healing faster. RF Ordonez (bone marrow edema in the left knee) has started a swimming program, but his injury is also considered a slow-healer. The Sox will monitor him as best they can, with Ordonez becoming a free agent this winter.
TheIndians are expected to sign a free-agent starter during the offseason, and they already have RHP Jake Westbrook, LHP C.C. Sabathia, and LHP Cliff Lee coming back. In addition, RHP Scott Elarton, who was consistent as the No. 5 starter in the second half, is expected to be re-signed.
If so, Elarton would be the favorite to be the No. 5 starter next year although a handful of others, including RHPs Kyle Denney and Jeremy Guthrie among them, will undoubtedly get a look in spring training.
NOTES, QUOTES: Manager Eric Wedge recently gave the first hint of the possible makeup of the middle of the Indians' infield in 2005. It will apparently not be INF Jhonny Peralta at shortstop and INF Brandon Phillips at second base. One or the other might start, but not both.
"It would be hard for us to do that," Wedge said of potentially starting Peralta at short and Phillips at second. "It would be tough to have two new guys there. But both of them will have the opportunity to make the club in spring training. I'm not sure in what role, but I wouldn't be opposed to (one or both of them) making it in a utility role. A lot of players break into the major leagues like that."
Wedge's comments are the first indication that Indians officials are hopeful SS Omar Vizquel could be back. It seems likely 2B Ron Belliard will not return, which would allow the Indians to move 3B Casey Blake to second to make room for INF Aaron Boone at third.
Asked about the status of his coaching staff for next season, Wedge said, "I want and expect to have all of them back. I wouldn't be surprised if a few could potentially have interviews for (major league) managing positions, but outside of that I hope to have everyone back."
DH Travis Hafner, arguably the club's MVP this season, sat out most of the last week with continued pain in his inflamed right elbow. He will have surgery immediately after the season to remove loose bodies removed from the elbow. Hafner hit .311 with 28 home runs and 109 RBI.
Westbrook, who effectively replaced struggling Sabathia as the Indians' No. 1 starter, finished with a record of 14-9 and a 3.38 ERA. "I don't think I could have asked for anything more out of my season," he said. "I think I was very consistent all year and gave my team a chance to win in almost every game."
RHP Bob Wickman, who missed the first half of the season with a strained ligament in his right elbow after missing all of 2003 recovering from Tommy John surgery, went 13-for-14 in save opportunities in the second half. The Indians are not expected to pick up the $5 million option on Wickman's contract for next year, but would like to bring him back for a smaller salary. Wickman said he will sit down with his family after the season and discuss whether he wants to continue to play or retire.
OF Jody Gerut had surgery Sept. 27 to repair a torn ACL in his right knee. He is not expected to be ready by Opening Day next season, but club officials think he should be able to play again sometime in the first half of the season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 25 -- Number of games the Indians lost in which they were winning or tied after the sixth inning.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Somebody asked me, 'What did you do yesterday?' "I told them, 'I got shot. What did you do?' " -- RHP Kyle Denney, who was shot in the right calf while riding on the Indians' team bus.
POSSIBLE CHANGES IN 2005: The Indians will attempt to sign a significant free-agent starting pitcher to lead what will still be a young rotation. The Indians would like to get a No. 1, 2 or 3 starter through free agency and appear to have the money to bid on any starter short of Pedro Martinez.
What about Omar?: The Indians will not pick up the $5 million option on the 37-year-old shortstop, but want to bring him back on a one-year deal for less money. They also have SS Jhonny Peralta waiting in the wings. Peralta was the MVP of the International League this season.
Who's on second? With 3B Aaron Boone slated to join the Indians after a year of rehab following knee surgery, there will be a trickle-down effect. The most immediate of those is that 3B Casey Blake, one of the club's steadiest players, will have to move to another position, possibly second base.
Free agent departures: Vizquel and Wickman will both become free agents when the club doesn't pick up their options. The Indians might make offers to one or both. Elarton is also a free agent but will likely be re-signed. C Tim Laker will not be brought back. Belliard is also a non-tender candidate. RHP Rick White and INF Lou Merloni are free agents and will probably not be brought back.
STATE OF THE FARM SYSTEM: It couldn't be better. Four Indians minor-league affiliates won league championships, and the Indians have multiple prospects at most positions at all levels of their system. Several solid drafts in recent years and some trades of veterans for prospects have replenished what had been a barren farm system three years ago but is now one of the most talent-laden in the game.
PROSPECTS TO WATCH IN 2005: OF Grady Sizemore appears to be the club's center fielder of the future. A speedy player whose makeup and hustle make him a front-office favorite, he was very impressive in a September call-up.
Phillips could be the starting second baseman, he could be back at Triple-A Buffalo or he could even be used as trade bait. Phillips had a solid season at Buffalo, but there doesn't appear to be an opening on the big-league roster, where either Belliard will be re-signed or Blake will be moved to second to make room for 3B Aaron Boone.
MEDICAL WATCH: RHP Kazuhito Tadano missed the final three weeks with a bulging disc in his lower back, but said the day after the season ended he was not going to have surgery. The rookie from Japan said shots had reduced swelling in the area and that he felt much better.
Sabathia missed the last two weeks of the season with a strained hamstring. He should be 100 percent by the start of spring training. Gerut tore the ACL in his right knee, had surgery, and is expected to be sidelined for six to nine months. Boone had surgery to remove loose bodies from his left knee on Aug. 20 and should be ready by the start of spring training. Hafner will have surgery immediately after the season to remove loose bodies from his right elbow. He should be 100 percent by the start of spring training. LHPs Brian Tallet and Billy Traber spent the 2004 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Both should be ready to pitch again at some point during the 2005 season. LHP Jason Stanford had surgery on his forearm in August and is a little behind the other two on the rehab schedule.
The bullpen and defense are two areas where the Tigers need to improve significantly if they are to continued their advancement in 2005.
The Tigers were the worst defensive team in the league for the second consecutive season, something manager Alan Trammell said would be unacceptable next year.
"It'll be awfully difficult to move up if we're last in defense," Trammell said. "It makes it too tough to win close ballgames when you give away extra outs. We can't afford to be last (in defense) and make the kind of improvement that we expect to make next year." Some defensive improvement will come as a matter of course.
Installing Brandon Inge as the regular third baseman will plug one of the holes, but reducing the 32 outfield errors will be difficult if Detroit doesn't change its cast of characters. Craig Monroe cut down his careless early season errors as he went from part-timer to regular, but he figures to be playing nearly all the time next year.
Trammell said repeatedly over the final month of the season that Detroit's relief staff would be overhauled. The absence of closer RHP Ugueth Urbina put an untenable strain on the bullpen.
Detroit had 72 wins, but lost at least a half-dozen games because relief pitchers could not hold leads. It accented a trend that surfaced periodically throughout the season. The collapse of the bullpen and some weak late inning hitting sent Detroit from the fringes of a battle for third place in the AL Central as August neared its end to its final resting place, 20 games out of first.
Detroit will have to decide whether or not to bring back CF Alex Sanchez -- and, if not, who plays center? Do the Tigers, indeed, put Inge at third and go after a solid backup catcher? Do they rely on Rondell White and Craig Monroe to give them the outfield production they needed most of the season? Do they spend a ton of money on a front-line starter or trust that RHP Jeremy Bonderman and LHP Wilfredo Ledezma will do the job and let them spread the money around elsewhere?
"The theme for next year is we have to be more efficient," Trammell said. "If we do that we take the next step forward.
"(President/general manager) Dave Dombrowski and his staff will put together a game plan, present it to Mr. Ilitch, and I feel comfortable Mr. Ilitch will allow us to do some things."
NOTES, QUOTES: Trammell completed his second season managing the Tigers and will find out by a Nov. 1 deadline whether the Tigers will pick up the option it holds on a fourth season. "I haven't really thought about it at this point," he said, "but I feel good about myself. Things have always kind of fallen in place for me and somewhere along the line in the next month, I'll be told. I'm not worried about it. There is a fourth year, but it's not even crossed my mind. It's their choice, but I feel comfortable about the situation. I feel I've done what I'm supposed to do."
"We're very happy with the job he's done," President/General Manager Dave Dombrowski said, "but I'm not prepared to comment about it at this point other than that. I'll sit down after the season to discuss it with (owner Mike Ilitch)."
Detroit's entire coaching staff is expected to return, although only pitching coach Bob Cluck and bench coach Kirk Gibson are under contract for next year.
RF Bobby Higginson became a 10-and-5 player (10 years in the majors, the last five with the same team) at the conclusion of the season, meaning he can veto any trade provided the Tigers don't decide to eat the final year of his contract and release him. "I signed on for four years," he said.
"I'm willing to fill my commitment. It's just up to them if I'm in their plans or not. I don't know what they're thinking."
Higginson is due $8.85 million next season no matter where or whether he plays. He understands that's out of whack with today's market. "They let (Damion) Easley go," Higginson said, "and he had $14 million left. So you never know."
Detroit finished with 32 outfield errors, most by any major-league team since the Tigers made 33 in 2002. Only two other Tiger teams since World War II have had more outfield errors: 43 in 1996 and 35 in 1974.
RHP Gary Knotts won his final two starts. Knotts wound up 7-6 -- one less win than Opening Day starter RHP Jason Johnson -- for a team that was way under .500, and he did it even though he was bounced between starting and relieving.
"I do want to say he's done a heck of a job this year, however we've used him," said manager Alan Trammell. "A guy like that is very valuable for any club. It's a little added bonus for us."
Knotts said, "If they can't get the right-handed starter they're talking about in the offseason, or if somebody goes down, they know I'm a solid backup. I think that works in my favor. I really don't prefer one or the other, although if I had my druthers, as we say in the South, I'd probably say I'd be a starter."
In his last two starts he pitched like a player no long worried about staying in the majors. He flashed the sharp curve he needs to succeed, kept runners off the bases and kept things from spinning out of control when he did get into trouble.
LHP Mike Maroth rebounded from a 21-loss season to go 11-13 despite losing his final start of the season.
"I feel real bad for Mike," manager Alan Trammell said. "If he could have gotten a little more luck this year ... he pitched outstanding ball and got a couple bad breaks."
Maroth was 6-6 with a 3.55 ERA in his last 15 starts. However in his final six starts they totaled seven runs of support while he was in the game.
"I felt I had a pretty good year, especially coming back after everything I went through last year," Maroth said, "but I'm definitely not satisfied. Next year I want to get even better."
The bullpen also blew five saves after Maroth left the game, and 15 of the 27 runners he left on base were allowed to score by his relievers.
C Ivan Rodriguez and pitching coach Cluck were seen arguing heatedly in the eighth inning of Detroit's 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Oct. 1. Afterward, the clubhouse was closed for an extended period, apparently to get the matter under control and keep it out of the papers.
"We don't have a problem," Cluck said. "The relationship between the pitching coach and the catcher is the most important one on the team. There's no problem. Water under the bridge. We just had a disagreement. I argue with my wife. We've been married for 36 years."
"I don't want to talk about that," Rodriguez said. "It was in the dugout. It stays in the dugout. We already talked about it. It's over. It's already behind. Clucky and I, we're fine. Nobody needs to know what happened."
CF Alexis Gomez was claimed off waivers Oct. 1 from the Kansas City Royals. Gomez, who just turned 26, played in 13 games with the Royals and hit .276 with a double and four RBI. He batted .251 in Triple-A with 17 doubles, eight triples, seven home runs, 34 RBI and eight stolen bases in 109 games.
"He's a guy our scouts have liked for a few years," Trammell said of Gomez, who will join Detroit in the spring.
Kansas City believes David DeJesus is its center fielder and it would have had to keep Gomez on its major league roster next year because he is out of options, a problem the Tigers will confront in the spring.
He is a left-handed hitter with speed who lacks patience at the plate, strikes out too much and whose stolen base totals have fallen as he moved up the system.
SS Carlos Guillen showed up in the Detroit clubhouse Oct. 1 with his surgically repaired right knee in a brace after getting his ACL repaired earlier in the week. "It doesn't feel bad," Guillen said. "I can even bend it a little." Guillen said when he had the same surgery in 1999 "I was in bed for a week."
RHP Jeremy Bonderman was terrific over his final nine starts of the 2004 season, leading Detroit to hope he's ready to take a major step forward next season. He was so good the Tigers were downplaying his dominance to keep a lid on expectations. "For us to be anointing him, I think you have to stay away from that," Trammell said. "We'd like for him to develop sooner, but not because we're saying it.
"He has to go out there and pitch like that. We all feel he's a top-of-the-rotation guy, but top-of-the-rotation guys do that on a regular basis."
Bonderman was 6-10 with a 6.07 ERA until being told by Detroit to just go out and pitch. He ended 11-13 with a 4.89 ERA. Over his final nine starts he was 5-3 with a 2.32 ERA, 60 strikeouts and 19 walks in 58 innings and an opposing-team batting average of .201.
"I just started going after people," Bonderman said. "Attack the zone and make them hit my pitch."
Cluck said Bonderman, who won't be 21 until later in the month, "won't be a star in this league until 2006."
Rookie CF Nook Logan flashed his awesome speed Sept. 30 when he scored from first base in the eighth inning on a hit-and-run single by SS Omar Infante.
Logan, hitting from his weaker left side, has battled back from a 1-2 count to draw a leadoff walk. He was in motion when Infante hit a single past the vacated shortstop position, and Tampa Bay CF Carl Crawford routinely threw in to second -- only to be startled at the sight of Logan making a no-stop dash for the plate.
"He flat-out can run," Trammell said. "That play shows you what Nook Logan can do. If he can develop (as a hitter), he can be something special."
Inge said Logan's first-to-home dash "was probably the most unbelievable display of baserunning I've ever seen."
"I hate to say he has world-class speed," Trammell said. "But it's world-class-for-baseball speed. When you see it, it's so exciting.
"It gives you a taste of what he can do. If he can develop, he could be something special. If not, he'll be one of many. He's raw, very raw."
Johnson, Detroit's Opening Day starter, was winless in his last seven starts to finish 8-15 with a 5.13 ERA.
"I'm not happy about it," said Johnson, who signed a two-year, $7 million contract before the season to assume the position of staff ace. Johnson blamed fatigue and said he will cut back on his in-season workout program next year.
"The last three years I've stuck with the same workout program throughout the whole year, never tailed off at all, and it's hurt me the second half (of the season)," Johnson said. "My shoulder starts to get tired. I kept working out (this season). That's something I'm definitely going to change and next year I'm going to come back strong the whole year."
Johnson was 3 1/3 innings shy of reaching 200 and was hurt at times by lack of run support.
"He knows he has to make some adjustments (in his workout regimen)," Trammell said. "He recognizes it, that somehow he needs to back off a little bit."
Johnson gave up four home runs in his last start, and 16 of the 22 he allowed came in Comerica Park.
"People talk about how this is a pitchers' ballpark," he said. "It's not even close to that. The only safe haven is center field for any pitcher here. The ball jumps out of left and right field."
The figures of Detroit pitchers would dispute that, but Johnson did pitch better on the road than at home this year. He was 4-10 with a 5.98 ERA in 19 home starts and 4-5 with a 4.14 ERA away from home.
He won once after the All-Star break, beating Chicago on July 29 at Comerica Park. After that he was 0-7 in 11 starts with a 7.13 ERA. He started 33 games and the Tigers won only nine of them.
3B Eric Munson hasn't fielded well enough nor has he hit well enough to retain his spot as the regular. Still, he flashed enough power so that the Tigers will have to argue for some time whether to pay him the minimum $1.2 million it will have to pay to keep him on the bench next year.
The major league contract Munson signed as the No. 3 draft choice in the country in 1999 expired this season. He made $1.5 million this year, and Detroit can only cut him 20 percent without releasing him.
Munson hit his 19th home run last week (a game-winner) and ended the season barely getting more than 300 at-bats.
Moreover, his home runs come at good times. He has hit 16 with a difference of three runs or less in the score, and 10 have tied the score or put the Tigers ahead.
Curiously, Munson has barely hit .200 against right-handers.
"Eric is still a guy who's a threat," Trammell said. "He has power, and that's a tool which is hard to come by. As much as there's been some frustration from his side and from our side, he's still a guy that's a threat."
"I've never had to play like this," Munson said. "I've never been in and out and not play a week at a time. It's an adjustment for me, and I haven't done a good job of adjusting to it.
"That's one thing you have to learn. It's a game of adjustments and I haven't made too many adjustments this year."
BY THE NUMBERS: 29 -- Increase in victories by Detroit from 2003 (43 wins) to 2004 (72).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We just had a disagreement. I argue with my wife. We've been married for 36 years." -- Pitching coach Bob Cluck on his heated argument with C Ivan Rodriguez, seen in the Detroit dugout Friday (Oct. 1) in the eighth inning of Detroit's 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay.
POSSIBLE CHANGES IN 2005: Beefed up bullpen: At least six wins were turned into losses the last month of the season, exacerbated by the absence of closer Urbina. Help must be found for LHP Jamie Walker (LHP Steve Colyer?), and Detroit must decide whether to gamble on RHPs Franklyn German and Roberto Novoa or go outside for high-priced help. The Tigers want to retain free agent RHP Esteban Yan, who was used outside his comfort zone.
Better outfield boppers: How many teams don't get 100 RBI from one of their outfielders? Not many -- and Detroit is one. Production from RF Higginson has been off for three years now, and he figures to be a high-priced part-time player unless the club decides to munch on his $8.85 million contract and release him. LF Rondell White had a superb first half, but a subpar second, slumping after the All-Star break and then being hurt. Monroe hit for average but not power in the first half but picked it up in August (again) and looks as if he'll be a regular next year. Sanchez was MIA after July 7 (40 ABs), and Detroit found out his minuses were equal to his plusses.
Pick up the pieces or let them lay: Improving the offense was the mandate after 2003; this winter it's shoring up the defense, which means serious decisions are due concerning Sanchez and Munson. Sanchez is the best bunter in baseball and a major disruptive force on the bases -- but also a maddeningly un-instinctive center fielder with a weak arm. He's eligible for arbitration, so Detroit may elect to pink-slip him and try to get by with Monroe (but who backs him up?) until it can get Logan or CF Curtis Granderson ready, or it might sign him and deal him when the time is right. Munson hit 19 home runs in barely more than 300 ABs, which could put him in the 35-45 range with 100 RBI as a full-time player even if he did barely hit .200. Is that enough to live with his mediocre defense? (But remember, he's played third for only two years.) Could he contribute as a subpar backup defensive C/3B/1B? Detroit will have to pay him at least $1.2 million because the major league contract he signed as the third pick of the 1999 draft has now run out.
STATE OF THE FARM SYSTEM: The farm system mirrors the major league team. How could the Tigers get worse in 2004 than their 43 wins in 2003? How much worse can a farm system be that has produced no impact players for decades? That could be about to change. Emphasis on pitching should start paying off in 2005-06, and some position players could challenge for jobs in the next two years. CF Granderson and 2B Ryan Raburn got a taste of the majors in September, and SS Tony Giarratano could be next. Caution flag: Arm problems have afflicted the top pitchers in the system.
PROSPECTS TO WATCH IN 2005: Granderson displayed shock in his first game at spacious Comerica Park but has a shockingly good arm and looks able to handle the dimensions once he's ready offensively. He answered all the questions with a standout year for Double-A Erie (.301-21-94), breaking through for .343 average and 16 home runs in his final 62 games. He's ticketed to begin next year in Triple-A.
2B Raburn struck out in 15 of his first 22 at-bats and will have to speed up his bat, but he got two hits in the final game of the season for Detroit. Slowed by injuries the previous two years, Raburn oiled out the rust and overcame a .200 start to hit .364 over his final 58 games for Erie, finishing .301-16-63. There's room for a lot of defensive improvement. Will open 2005 at Toledo.
CF Logan would be a lock to replace Sanchez if he could hit left-handed as well as he bats right-handed. Billed as the fastest major-leaguer since Willie Wilson, he's got loads of work to do on his bunting and left-handed hitting, but will spend this offseason getting stronger and improving his port-side punch. A big plus for him is that he hit .263 in Triple-A and looked better (and supremely motivated) once he got to the majors. His speed is electric -- he scored from first, easily, on a hit-and-run single to left center. Defensively he's got it all over Sanchez in range, arm and routes to the ball. Would move Granderson to right if they both make it.
LHP Colyer was up briefly with the Dodgers last year and made a couple of cameos with Detroit this year. Wildness has negated his mid-90s fastball and sharp curve, but he was effective in nine of his last 10 one- and two-batter appearances for Detroit in September and could provide much-needed help for LHP Jamie Walker.
RHP Franklyn German has been up and down so many times with the Tigers over the last two years he should have a yo-yo tattooed on his forehead. He's walked roughly a batter per inning with Detroit, and the club has been waiting for him to get past his wildness so his low to mid-90s fastball and devastating split-finger can come into play. Was sharp his last two times out, so he'll go into the spring with a definite shot to make the team. Out of options, too.
MEDICAL WATCH: SS Guillen (right knee ACL surgery ACL Sept. 28) has a recovery time of 4-6 months that could have him ready for spring training. CF Sanchez batted just 40 times after July 7 because of hamstring and quad injuries, but arbitration eligibility could mean he won't be offered a 2005 contract. 2B Fernando Vina (right hamstring, 2/3-torn left patella tendon) declined surgery, which was iffy as far as a recovery, and is facing the end of his career. RHP Nate Cornejo (right shoulder surgery, labrum) is out until spring and will be brought back slowly. RHP Fernando Rodney (right elbow ligament transplant surgery) has begun throwing lightly and hopes to be ready during spring training. RHP Chris Spurling (right elbow ligament transplant surgery) is throwing again and hopes to be OK for spring training.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
The Royals were besieged by injuries in spring training, throughout the
season, and could not make it through the final week without another
Left-hander Jimmy Gobble was scratched from his final start Oct. 1 when an exit physical and MRI detected a problem with his lower back. The Royals sent Gobble to Los Angeles to see spinal specialist Dr. Robert Watkins, who has treated Mike Sweeney for his recurring disk problems.
Gobble said the exams detected a bulging disc in his lower back.
"No surgery," Gobble said. "I'll be rehabbing in the offseason, not really rehabbing, but a workout program to strengthen my lower back and my core (stomach muscles)."
Gobble said some of the exercises would be in a pool. He said his back did not bother him when he pitched this season, but he had discomfort in his left leg. He did not miss a start this season.
"Hopefully when I come to spring training, we won't even be talking about it," Gobble said.
Gobble, 23, a 1999 sandwich-round pick, was 9-8 with a 5.35 earned run average in 25 games, including 24 starts. Although he was the only Royals' starter with a winning record, Gobble was optioned to Triple-A Omaha on July 29 when he struggled. He was recalled Aug. 29.
Gobble won his final start, Sept. 24 at Chicago, holding the White Sox to four runs on eight hits over six innings.
"I could have pitched," Gobble said of the final weekend of the season, "but they are being cautious. Next spring, I'll be fine. It shouldn't be a problem."
NOTES, QUOTES: After the Royals' final game Oct. 3, they outrighted six players off the 40-man major-league roster -- OFs Dee Brown and Aaron Guiel, C Alberto Castillo, INF Wilton Guerrero and RHPs Justin Huisman and Matt Kinney.
Huisman has less than three year of big-league service and no previous outrights, so he was assigned to Triple-A Omaha. Guiel will also be assigned to Omaha, but could elect to become a minor-league free agent on Oct. 15.
This is Brown's second outright and he has more than three years of major-league service, so he can opt for free agency. Kinney, Castillo and Guerrero all can choose to be free agents.
The Royals are optimistic they can re-sign Guiel and Castillo to minor-league contracts and invite them to spring training.
The Royals also announced that third base coach John Mizerock and interim pitching coach Mike Mason would not be offered major league contract for the 2005 season. Mason will remain in the organization as a roving minor-league pitching instructor, while Mizerock has been offered another position in the organization.
"We went him (Mizerock) to stay with the organization," Baird said. "He'll take a few days to think about it."
The Royals named Guy Hansen, who been with the Atlanta Braves' organization since 1998 and their pitching coach for the Triple-A Richmond Braves the last four years, as their new pitching coach. Hansen was the Royals' pitching coach in 1992-93 and their bullpen coach in 1996-97.
Joe Jones will take over as the first base coach after serving as the special assistant to baseball operations this season. First base coach Luis Silverio will move from first base coach to third base coach.
The Royals also announced they will restructure their strength and conditioning staff. Chris Mihfield, their strength and conditioning coordinator, announced he would not return next year.
BY THE NUMBERS: 104 -- Royals' franchise record for most losses in a season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It has been a very, very disappointing season for everybody. Nobody thought we'd finish the way we finished." -- Royals manager Tony Pena on the 58-104 record.
POSSIBLE CHANGES IN 2005: Revamped rotation: LHPs Brian Anderson and Darrell May were at the front end of the rotation when the 2004 season began, but will likely be at the end of the 2005 rotation. Don't be surprised if RHP Zack Greinke, who finished 2004 with an 8-11 record and 3.97 ERA in 24 starts, is the Opening Day starter next year.
Power shortage: The Royals got little run production from their corner outfielders in 2004. CF David DeJesus will be back, but who will flank him is to be determined. RF Abraham Nunez is a candidate to return, but certainly not a lock. The left fielder could come from outside the organization.
Changing of guard: Joe Randa has been the Royals' everyday third baseman the last six seasons but will likely not be back in 2005. The Royals have Mark Teahen, acquired in the Carlos Beltran trade, waiting in the minors as the third baseman of the future. Teahen might not be on the Opening Day roster but should make his major league debut sometime next year.
STATE OF THE FARM SYSTEM: Most of the Royals' upper level prospects -- i.e., DeJesus, Ruben Gotay and Greinke -- arrived this season. The top prospects are in the lower minors, probably more than a year away. Pitching appears to be thin in Double-A and Triple-A.
PROSPECTS TO WATCH: 3B Mark Teahen, obtained in the Carlos Beltran trade, hit .280 with eight home runs, 31 RBIs, 15 doubles and 30 runs in 66 games with Triple-A Omaha. It's just a matter of time until he arrives.
RHP Danny Tamayo went 12-7 with a 3.92 ERA with Double-A Wichita. Tamayo, who was sent to the Arizona Fall League, will likely begin next year in Omaha, but if he continues to improve could be in the Royals' rotation before the season ends.
RHP Denny Bautista, acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in a trade for reliever Jason Grimsley, was 0-4 with a 6.51 ERA in five starts after a September promotion from Double-A Wichita but will be a rotation candidate next March.
MEDICAL WATCH: RHP Miguel Asencio (elbow surgery) won't return to big-league competition before June next year. RHP Runelvys Hernandez (elbow surgery) throwing in the Instructional League, will be a candidate for rotation in 2005. RHP Kyle Snyder (shoulder surgery) will be a candidate for rotation in 2005. RHP Nate Field (left oblique tear) throwing off mound at end of season, bullpen candidate for spring training. 1B Mike Sweeney (recurring disk injury) will rehab back, sans surgery, in offseason. RHP Scott Sullivan (bad back) likely to be ready next spring. IF Tony Graffanino (left knee ligament tear) should be Royals' second baseman next year. C Benito Santiago (broken hand) would be backup if he returns next year.
A 4-8 finish after clinching the AL Central dashed the Twins' hopes of securing home-field advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
It meant that five days after the Yankees finished sweeping the Twins at Yankee Stadium, the Twins would return there to open a five-game playoff series. But the Twins didn't board their charter bus Sunday with their heads down as they headed to the airport. They pointed to their superior starting pitching, powerful bullpen and playoff experience as factors in their favor as they hit the road.
They also know they used much of the last two weeks to rest regulars, give aching players extended time to recuperate and line up their pitching rotation for the playoffs.
"We feel we're in pretty good shape," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
They also know that even though the Yankees knocked them out of the playoffs in the first round last year, that this is a different Yankees team that faces a different Twins team.
"I'll take my chances," CF Torii Hunter said. "With (Roger) Clemens and (Andy) Pettitte gone, I'll take my chances."
The Twins also held back last week against the Yankees, pulling their Games 1 and 2 playoff starters out of those regular-season games after just five innings each -- each with the lead. And leadoff hitter LF Shannon Stewart didn't play an inning. And still they led each of those games and didn't lose any of them by more than two runs.
"I'm looking forward to it. This was a great series here, and gave us a little taste of what's to come in the playoffs," OF Lew Ford said after the Yankees completed the sweep. "And I know a lot of guys in here are ready to come back here and get after it."
NOTES, QUOTES: RHP Joe Roa, the middle reliever who finished with a 4.50 ERA in 48 games but pitched just four times in September, was replaced on the final playoff roster by rookie RHP Jesse Crain, a power-arm reliever the Twins think gives them a better chance to get a key out or provide a key inning during the playoffs. Roa was invited to travel with the team during the first round with the possibility remaining open that he could be put on the playoff roster later in the postseason, but he shocked and angered the staff when he declined.
LF Shannon Stewart returned to the lineup after spending a week sidelined to help heal a tight hamstring and the persistent ache in his foot that lingered from his plantar fasciitis injury. He went 2 for 4 in the season finale.
2B Luis Rivas returned to the lineup after missing a week because of elbow pain that was determined to be caused by bone chips. He had a cortisone shot in the elbow Sept. 26, but the elbow was still touchy enough that he's not expected to start at least early in the Yankees series. IF/OF Michael Cuddyer, who has played mostly second and third base this year filling in for injured starters, is the projected starter at second this week at Yankee Stadium.
Three players who didn't make the playoff roster traveled with the team to work out and prepare for possible duty in later rounds: LHP Aaron Fultz, OF Michael Restovich and C Joe Mauer (who continues to rehab his surgically repaired left knee in the hopes he can beat the odds and join the playoff roster at some point as a DH and pinch hitter).
The Twins' rain-caused doubleheader in New York last week was their first since a gimmicky, scheduled doubleheader against the A's at the Metrodome on May 26, 2001. When New York beat the Twins 5-3 and 5-4, it was the first time the Twins had been swept in a doubleheader since Kansas City did it to them July 18, 1997 in KC. Incidentally, the Twins had not had so much as a postponement since April 7, 2003, when their game at Yankee Stadium was snowed out and played the next day, an open date because the April 7 game was the Yanks' home opener.
BY THE NUMBERS: 4.03 -- Twins' final earned run average, best in the American League. It's the first time in the franchise's 44 seasons in Minnesota that it led the league in ERA.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I should have named my kid Tidewater." -- Manager Ron Gardenhire when told Chipper Jones gave his kid the middle name "Shea" because he hits so well in New York.
POSSIBLE CHANGES IN 2005: RF Jacque Jones is in the final year of a two-year deal that paid him $4.35 million this year. With the emergence of OF Lew Ford and the push being made by top prospect OF Jason Kubel, Jones is gone. He has one more year of arbitration leverage, and the Twins won't pay him what he'll command.
Infield shakeup: The Twins also figure to make a change at second base, where Luis Rivas is in his second year of arbitration eligibility, or third base, where Corey Koskie is in the final year of a contract that pays him $4.5 million this year. IF/OF Michael Cuddyer appears to be ready to fill one of the two spots, and it might come down to whether Koskie's willing to take a fairly large pay cut to stay.
Pitching for dollars: RHP Brad Radke, the longest tenured Twin and the key veteran throughout this four-year Twins renaissance, is a free agent at the end of the year and will command a contract in the $9 million range. He wants to stay and the Twins are likely to do what they can to keep him. But it'll be a challenge with shoo-in Cy Young winner LHP Johan Santana also due huge money in his second year of arbitration.
STATE OF THE FARM SYSTEM: The Twins might get the Organization of the Year award for the second time in three seasons, and their system has been the jewel of the team's big-league success during this run of three straight playoff seasons. But after this crop of Triple-A prospects comes through it might be a few years before another bumper crop.
PROSPECTS TO WATCH IN 2005: RHP J.D. Durbin, the high energy flamethrower who nicknamed himself "The Real Deal" after a 1-2-3 debut inning in Class A ball four years ago, made his big-league debut this year out of the bullpen and later made his first big-league start. He's got a nice breaking ball and is working on a changeup. Depending on his development at Arizona Fall League, he could be a strong contender for a job in the starting rotation next spring.
OF Kubel, who hit .377 at Double-A New Britain before a promotion to Triple-A, went on to lead the International League in hitting this season before getting called up Aug. 31 to make him eligible for the playoffs. The heir apparent to RF Jones, Kubel hit .300 down the stretch for the Twins in 60 at-bats, and he showed off a major league right-field arm in the few opportunities he got.
RHP Crain, the fast-rising prospect who began the 2003 season at Class A, made his big-league debut this August, ironed out a few wrinkles in his delivery the first week he was in the majors, then showed uncommon poise and uncommon power (95 mph) down the stretch to earn a spot on the playoff roster. He could grow into a key bullpen role next season.
MEDICAL WATCH: C Joe Mauer, who missed all but six weeks this season because of a knee injury that required surgery to remove bad cartilage, is expected to be at full strength and able to resume all normal levels of activity, including behind the plate, by next spring. RHP Joe Mays, who missed all season because of Tommy John surgery in September of last year and subsequent complications. He said he expects to be ready to go full speed in the spring. 2B Rivas is expected to have surgery to remove bone chips from his throwing elbow after the season. RHP Grant Balfour, who has been sidelined twice this season by tendinitis in his throwing shoulder, could have the area scoped in the offseason if a postseason exam leads to that conclusion.