The NL Central is perhaps the best argument against small-market and large-market distinctions presaging a team's destiny that there is in baseball. The two large-market teams, Chicago and Houston, look pretty good, but small-market St. Louis is still the favorite among most analysts.
Besides the size of the market is not determining where these teams end up: it's the poor decisions that they make. Witness these three moves that have happened in the last few days:
- Pittsburgh cut recently acquired and reportedly "shocked" Matt Herges. Herges had a good spring, cost the Pirates a top prospect, and makes under a million dollars. The Pirates get to save the extra $500K they would spend on him and they hold onto Salomon Torres in the bullpen as a safety starter should #5 man, Jeff D'Amico prove ineffective. A) No one really uses their fifth starter for a month anyway, so Torres is a backup to a backup and B) Torres was out of the game for 5 full years--why the interest in retaining his services if he can't make the rotation?
- Cincinnati sent down Chris Reitsma. Reitsma is far from an All-Star but there should be a spot on the weak Cincinnati staff for a 25-year-old who had a 3.64 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and a 1.87 strikeout-to-walk ratio last year. Why is Reitsma gone? Because he had a poor spring and because he was 6-12 last year. And he was the only guy with options left.
Consider that journeyman-cum-staff leader Jimmy Haynes had a 4.12 ERA, a 1.55 strikeout -to-walk ratio, and strike out only 5.77 men per nine innings last year. Oh, and he won 15 games. That's what impresses the inimitable Reds manager, Bob Boone. When you look at the dreck in the Reds' rotation and bullpen, it's amazing that Boone couldn't find a job for a decent young starter.
- Tonight the Cubs sent second baseman Bobby Hill down to Triple-A and gave his job to veteran Mark Grudzielanek. Hill had a poor spring batting .154 and committing 5 errors, but the Cubs' bringing in Grudzielanek as his understudy probably didn't help build his confidence.
The Cubs are left with a poor choice at second base, both offensively and defensively. There are rumors that Grudzielanek (.301 OBP in 2002) may even lead off. Meanwhile, one of the clubs' biggest prospects languishes in the minors.
Expect the same treatment for Hee Seop Choi at first with Eric Karros waiting in the wings. Consider that Grudzielanek was batting only .133 in limited action this spring himself. Choi is having a good spring (.304 BA), but rumors are already circulating that he has too slow a swing to be a power hitter. And Dusty does love those veterans. Karros is already set to start against left-handers.