Sunday, February 11, 2001

NL Central previews




       

        ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

• 2000 record: 95-67 (1st)

        • Manager: Tony LaRussa

        • Estimated payroll: $75 million

        • Welcome to the club: 1B-OF Bobby Bonilla, 3B Shane Andrews, RHPs Dustin Hermanson and Steve Kline, OFs John Mabry and Bernard Gilkey.

        • Say farewell to: INF-OF Shawon Dunston, 1B Will Clark, 3B Fernando Tatis, RHP Britt Reames, OFs Eric Davis and Thomas Howard.

        • Spring priorities: St. Louis must make sure 1B Mark McGwire's troublesome knee is sound, along with LHP Rick Ankiel's head and throwing mechanics. Craig Paquette is the early favorite to capture the third-base opening, though Andrews and utilityman Placido Polanco will push him. If Ankiel's out of his funk and Matt Morris becomes the No. 5 starter, Garrett Stephenson could be traded for a third baseman or a right-handed-hitting outfielder.

       

        MILWAUKEE BREWERS

        2000 record: 73-89 (3rd)

        • Manager: Davey Lopes

        • Estimated payroll: $42 million

        • Welcome to the club: CF Jeffrey Hammonds, RHPs Will Cunnane and Brandon Kolb.

        • Say farewell to: 3B Charlie Hayes.

        • Spring priorities: The Brewers think they have as many as 10 legitimate candidates for the final two spots in the rotation behind Jeff D'Amico, Jimmy Haynes and Jamey Wright. None has the star quality of Olympic hero Ben Sheets, a Rookie of the Year candidate who'll have to fail miserably not to win a job. Marquis Grissom, who has averaged 583 at-bats the last 10 seasons, faces a challenging transition to being a backup behind ex-Red Hammonds.

        HOUSTON ASTROS

• 2000 record: 72-90 (4th)

        • Manager: Larry Dierker

        • Estimated payroll: $48 million

        • Welcome to the club: Cs Brad Ausmus and Jeff Reed, INFs Jose Vizcaino and Charlie Hayes, RHPs Mike Jackson, Kent Bottenfield, Doug Brocail and Nelson Cruz.

        • Say farewell to: 3B Ken Caminiti, C Mitch Meluskey, INF Tim Bogar, OF Roger Cedeno, RHPs Chris Holt, Joe Slusarski and Marc Valdes.

        • Spring priorities: Left-handed closer Billy Wagner's elbow and second baseman Craig Biggio's left knee must be sufficiently recovered if the Astros are to regain prominence in the division. Besides Wagner, three other relievers — Brocail, Jackson and Jay Powell — are coming off arm surgeries. Houston will be eager for early signs of defensive specialist Ausmus' influence on the pitching staff, which recorded an NL-worst 5.42 ERA last year.

        PITTSBURGH PIRATES

• 2000 record: 69-93 (5th)

        • Manager: Lloyd McClendon

        • Estimated payroll: $47 million

        • Welcome to the club: LHP Terry Mulholland, OFs Derek Bell and Thomas Howard, RHP Billy Taylor, 1B-OF Reggie Jefferson, INF Leo Gomez.

        • Say farewell to: LHPs Jeff Wallace and Chris Peters.

        • Spring priorities: The Pirates will closely monitor the health of starting RHPs Jason Schmidt (shoulder) and Francisco Cordova (elbow). Competition for jobs could be fierce, because only Bell, OF Brian Giles and C Jason Kendall are assured of starting. Enrique Wilson and Jack Wilson (no relation) will push 2B Warren Morris and SS Pat Meares. Adrian Brown will get a chance to handle the CF-leadoff combination. The team's adjustment to new manager McClendon, who might be stricter than predecessor Gene Lamont, could be intriguing.

        CHICAGO CUBS

• 2000 record: 65-97 (6th)

        • Manager: Don Baylor

        • Estimated payroll: $65 million

        • Welcome to the club: C Todd Hundley, 1B Ron Coomer, 1B-OF Matt Stairs, 3B Bill Mueller, LHP Jeff Fassero, RHPs Tom Gordon, Julian Tavarez and Jason Bere.

        • Say farewell to: 1B Mark Grace, RHP Rick Aguilera, 3B Shane Andrews, C Jeff Reed.

        • Spring priorities: The Cubs seem to have improved, but their efforts will be nullified if starting RHP Kevin Tapani (knee) and LF Rondell White (knee, shoulder) aren't whole. Finding a closer could be difficult if Gordon, who apparently has recovered from Tommy John elbow surgery in late '99, regresses. Some wonder if RHP Kerry Wood, who avoided elbow setbacks last year, really is OK and whether CF Corey Patterson, a top prospect, is ready. Keeping RF Sammy Sosa's contract hassles from becoming a circus also is key.

       



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