Friday, January 21, 2000
Reds open door for Deion
Sanders, Portugal sign minor-league deals with club
BY JOHN FAY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Reds signed Deion Sanders Thursday, which would be great news if they were looking for a great cover cornerback/punt returner.
But since the Reds are more in the market for an outfielder/leadoff man, the signing of Sanders could have minimal impact.
I don't know if he can make our club, Reds General Manager Jim Bowden said. We've got five very good outfielders in front of him.
The Reds are risking little by signing Sanders. They signed him to a non-guaranteed minor-league contract.
While Sanders' name gets the attention, another signing Thursday ultimately may have more impact. The Reds also signed pitcher Mark Portugal to a non-guaranteed minor-league contract.
Portugal was 7-12 with a 5.51 ERA last year with the Boston Red Sox.
He threw 150 innings, Bowden said. We need starting pitching. With our financial situation, we can't afford high-priced free agents.
Portugal, a 37-year-old right-hander, was 10-5 with a 4.41 ERA two years ago with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Sanders, on the other hand, has not played baseball the last two years. He was effective when he played with the Reds in 1997, hitting .273 with 56 stolen bases.
Sanders, 32, has spent the last two years as a full-time football player with the Dallas Cowboys.
We don't know if he can still play baseball, Bowden said. The only way to find out is to bring him to spring training and have him compete for a spot on the roster. We won't know until the end of spring training.
The Reds have had success with other players in Sanders' situation.
Eric Davis came back after not playing, Bowden said. Ron Gant was out a whole year with an injury.
Sanders has a .266 lifetime average and 183 stolen bases in 609 major-league games. He played for the New York Yankees in 1989-90, the Atlanta Braves in 1991-93, split the season with the Braves and Reds in '94, split '95 with Cincinnati and San Francisco and spent '97 with the Reds after sitting out '96.
Sanders played 115 games with the Reds in '97, the most he has ever played in the majors.
He stole 56 bases that year and he was going through some personal problems, Bowden said. Those problems are behind him. When Deion is playing well, he's one of the most disruptive forces on the bases I've even seen.
I've said if Deion devoted himself to baseball full time, he'd be one of the best leadoff hitters in the game. He'd be up there with Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines.
Whether Sanders is going to dedicate himself to baseball is anybody's guess. His $12.7 million contract with the Cowboys can be voided by the club, which could happen because of salary-cap considerations.
Sanders did not make himself available for comment Thursday.
But he talked about his situation with the Cowboys when their season ended 10 days ago.
I would like to come back, said Sanders, who wants at least $8 million. But there are things that need to be addressed.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones released this statement: In his contract with the Cowboys, Deion has always had an arrangement to play baseball. We knew that was a possibility in the 2000 season.
Bowden is banking that a new challenge will interest Sanders, who is an eight-time Pro Bowler in football and has won two Super Bowls.
He hasn't had that kind of success in baseball, Bowden said. Baseball is the only chapter in his life that ended without great success.
Portugal, a 12-year veteran, has a 109-95 record in the major leagues. He pitched for the Reds in '95 and '96 after coming to the Reds in a July 1995 trade with the San Francisco Giants. Sanders was one of the players sent to San Francisco in the trade.
Portugal was released by the Red Sox in September after losing his last four decisions.
Bowden rates Portugal's chances as similar to those of Sanders.
(Portugal) keeps you in games, Bowden said. Whether or not he can make our club, I don't know.
The Reds also signed former Reds right-hander Johnny Ruffin. Ruffin, who was 10-6 with a 3.88 ERA with the Reds from 1993-96, pitched in the Los Angeles Dodgers' minor-league system last year. He was 1-1 with a 3.17 ERA and 10 saves with Triple-A Albuquerque.
Xavier needs strong finish for NCAA bid
Xavier women bomb La Salle
Slaise scores 35 to lead UC women
Help wanted? Apparently not by Bengals
Jags betting on Brunell, Taylor
Bucs QB unfazed by rise to stardom
Ohio State 78, Michigan State 67
No. 1 Purcell vs. No. 1 St. X
Winton Woods newcomers jell during 11-0 start
Mason, up 50-0, coasts to 61-8 win
Cincinnati girls basketball roundup
Ohio girls basketball scores
Campbell County matures into winner
N.Ky. boys basketball roundup
N.Ky. girls basketball roundup
Kentucky boys basketball scores
Kentucky girls basketball scores
Campbell wrestlers young but experienced
Gymnast lends her talents to Lakota West
Notre Dame seeks another drive to No. 1
Ursuline's Myers rising star in freestyle