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Reds future may arrive quickly

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 14, 1999


The stated goal in Cincinnati was to be a contender by the time a new ballpark was built in 2002. The plan has gone awry. Somehow, the Reds goofed and made themselves contenders way ahead of schedule.

With a newly built rotation and a lineup featuring Greg Vaughn and Barry Larkin, Cincinnati could find itself challenging for the NL Central title by year's end.

General manager Jim Bowden is quick to point out that the Reds still are thinking long-term. Every move he made this winter was with an eye toward the future.

They just have managed to get stronger while also attempting to get younger.

* * *

"We've never made a move for today," Bowden said. "Long-term remains our goal, but if we get better today because of these moves, that's good too."

The Reds have taken on veterans such as Denny Neagle and Vaughn, but Bowden says the overall impact of those deals is long-term.

Neagle may be 30, but the Reds also picked up coveted pitching prospect Rob Bell and 27-year-old OF Michael Tucker in the Bret Boone deal. Vaughn may be 33, but the Reds dumped Reggie Sanders and his undesirable contract. With emerging star Sean Casey at first, the Reds were able to trade prospect Paul Konerko to get OF Mike Cameron.

The Reds also have supplemented the roster with their patented reclamation projects. No GM has had more success signing injured or slumping players to cheap contracts and getting quality production in return.

Pitchers Jason Bere and Steve Avery are the latest entries in that category.

"You don't want to throw 15 against the wall and hope one makes it. You'd rather throw five you think have a chance," Bowden said. "We've had (Pete) Harnisch, (Pete) Schourek, (Jeff) Brantley, (Jeff) Shaw, Eric Davis, Ron Gant and Deion Sanders.

"We've had our share, but we do our homework on the guy's makeup, character, intangibles. That's going to determine whether that guy has a chance of doing it for you."

With a payroll around $34-million, the Reds would be bucking recent history if they managed to field a legitimate contender.

"It's a fact that no team with a payroll under $40-million made the post-season last year," Bowden said. "Can we be the first to do that? I don't know. We'll find out in September."

HARD FEELINGS: Mariners pitcher Butch Henry has suggested Red Sox physicians and GM Dan Duquette jeopardized his career by telling him he should continue pitching last season despite a partial tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Henry tried, but later sought second opinions and had surgery. "In his own way, Dan Duquette is one of the best baseball men around," Henry said. "But he isn't much of a people person."

NOT THE GOOD HANDS PEOPLE: The Astros are not in the market to replace Moises Alou because they cannot afford to take on more salary. Unlike a lot of teams, Houston does not take out insurance policies on players with large contracts. So when Alou sustained a potential season-ending knee injury, the Astros were stuck with his $5-million salary. "We've looked at insuring contracts," GM Gerry Hunsicker said. "But our financial people determined that it was cost prohibitive."

BRAVEHEART: Tired of near-misses in the post-season, Indians manager Mike Hargrove has issued a challenge to his team: It's world champions or bust. "I said, "Hey, let's be honest and get it out in the open,' " Hargrove said. "I want to win the World Series and win 100 games. I'm tired of camouflaging things. ... I wanted to clearly state what our goals are. It's time for us to put up or shut up." Hargrove acknowledged he was trying to light a fire under his team. With the AL Central so weak in recent years, the Indians have been able to sleepwalk through the regular season.

BAT MAN: Jim Abbott has been impressive on the mound for the Brewers, but there has been almost as much talk about his hitting. The one-handed Abbott, who will bat for the first time in the NL this season, had a sacrifice bunt and a single last week. Afterward, Abbott was asked if he thought he'd be in the spotlight more for his hitting or pitching. "If I don't pitch well, there isn't going to be any spotlight," Abbott said, smiling.

TRADE SHOW: Scouts are turning out in droves to watch Kevin Appier pitch, but some were unimpressed by his performances. Appier reportedly threw no faster than 87 mph. The Indians and Red Sox have shown the most interest in the Royals right-hander. ... With six starting pitchers on the Dodgers roster, the assumption was Dave Mlicki would be dealt. GM Kevin Malone says he may go another direction, possibly dealing Ismael Valdes. ... Loaded with outfielders, the Reds could deal Jon Nunnally, Jeffrey Hammonds or Tucker. ... The Blue Jays acknowledged talking to the Angels about dealing Pat Hentgen. ... The Rangers are looking for an outfielder and New York's Chad Curtis has been mentioned.
-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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