ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD : There Are Too Many as Winfield Trade Creates a Roster of Part-Timers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Luis Polonia was still a New York Yankee when he heard the rumors: Dave Winfield was going to be traded.

"I said that would be good for me, if Dave Winfield was traded," said Polonia, who wanted to play more.

Unfortunately for him, he recalled those words this week, sitting in a chair in the Angel clubhouse--a few stalls from the locker assigned to Winfield, once again his teammate.

Polonia already had checked the night's lineup, and for the fifth time in seven games, his name was not on it.

Winfield, relegated to a part-time role in New York, has been a regular with the Angels, as Manager Doug Rader said he would be from the start.

"There's no room for me here," said Polonia, who was acquired in a trade with the Yankees in exchange for Claudell Washington and a minor league pitcher on April 28, a couple of weeks before the Angels traded for Winfield. "Sometimes I sit here and think, 'What am I doing here?' "

Across the room, Dante Bichette had strolled in late, checked the lineup and stood back in studied surprise--not because he was not in the lineup, but because he was.

Bichette hit three home runs in the first eight games of the season. The day the trade for Winfield was announced, he was batting .295, leading the team in runs batted in with 17 and throwing out runners from the outfield at a pace that would shatter the major league record.

But the May 11 deal that eventually brought Winfield to the Angels for Mike Witt has made the Angel outfield a crowded field.

Beginning with Winfield's first start, Bichette has been out of the lineup six times in 13 games.

"It's tough," Bichette said. "I feel like I'm definitely one of the best three outfielders we've got. I'm not saying I'm better than any one, I'm just saying I think I have proven I'm one of the best three."

With six outfielders on the roster--seven if you count Brian Downing, who has only been a designated hitter--it has made filling out the lineup card a complicated task for Rader. The manager says he is simply choosing the best nine to send against a particular pitcher on a particular day, but he is left with the delicate matter of handling the particular emotions of the players he leaves out.

"Doug has got a tough decision to make," Bichette said. "They made moves that stacked the outfield."

When the Winfield trade was made, anticipation of a follow-up trade to deal some of the excess outfielders was high. But the Angels have gone on a tear in which they have won eight of their last 10 games, and the move has not come.

Polonia and Bichette, two players who say they expected to play every day, both plan to walk into Rader's office, looking for answers.

"I know it's tough on Doug," Bichette said. "I'd like to talk to him about it. He understands how I feel. I want to understand what he's doing."

Mike Port, the Angels' general manager, is making an exercise of considering the situation a positive, not a negative, one.

"Maybe a title could be, 'Angel outfield--Surplus or Depth?' " Port said. "Right now, because things are going well and we're enjoying good health among guys, it seems like a surplus and a difficult situation, as some see it. I submit that it is not at all a difficult situation. If someone unfortunately becomes injured, then our surplus becomes depth."

Surplus is the operative word now. The Angels have Winfield in right and Devon White in center as regulars. But they also have Bichette, Polonia, Chili Davis and journeyman Max Venable, as well as Downing.

For Downing, who at 39 is facing the end of his career and has not appeared in a game since May 19, it is beyond frustrating. Asked how he was doing recently, Downing said simply that he was "dead."

Port met with Downing Wednesday to discuss his situation, but also downplayed the meeting by saying he had also met with Winfield, Chuck Finley, Johnny Ray and Davis.

The trade for Winfield was one the Angels made to fill a desire for a right-handed power hitter--a role Bichette contends he was filling. But Winfield also was acquired to help in a role that seemed vacant--clubhouse leader.

Winfield joined the Angels on May 17 and made his first start the next day in a game at Toronto. Bichette was not in the lineup that day, but he thought he was just getting a day off.

"I was not worried whatsoever," Bichette said., "I knew I'd be playing. I figured I had no worry. I'd just keep showing up and doing my job."

It has not turned out that way, and Bichette's average stood at .270, before a three-for-four performance with a solo home run Wednesday night against Cleveland boosted it back to .281. Once the Angel RBI leader, he has fallen behind Wally Joyner, who has 29. With 25, he is only one ahead of Davis.

Somewhat bothersome to Bichette is the fact that while he was playing well, the Angels struggled terribly. Without him as a regular, they have climbed within two games of .500.

"I can honestly say it wasn't my fault we were losing," Bichette said. "I showed up playing ball every day. For some reason, I'm not right now. It's frustrating."

He is hoping to avoid any echoes of last season, when he hit .388 during the spring but was sent to triple-A Edmonton on June 19, not to return to Anaheim until the September roster expansion.

Bichette said he was unable to perform well in a platoon situation, sharing right field with Claudell Washington early last season.

"I'm not going to put up any numbers in this type of role," Bichette said. "I think I proved that last year. I'm not a part-time player. Ask Dave Winfield what it's like. He's not a part-time player. Even he couldn't hit when he wasn't playing every day in New York."

Polonia, batting .292 with six steals and 11 runs in 29 games, came to the Angels as the ballyhooed solution to the team's long search for a leadoff hitter. But that role has faded quickly--in part, Port said, because White has been performing better lately. The spot Polonia came to fill is no longer open every day.

"Here it is, I'm playing for a team that needed a leadoff man," said Polonia, who after a stretch as the regular left fielder has become a part-time designated hitter. "I thought for the first time in my life, I'm going to play. But every time I find a little bit of luck, it just goes away. I don't know what I did to get this over me. It looks like sometimes there's a voodoo over me. I'm out of New York, and I'm so happy. But here is worse."

He has not started in the field since May 12, when he committed an error that allowed a run to score. Rader said it was a coincidence that Polonia has not started in the field since the error.

"What can I think? A little ground ball, what can I say," Polonia said. "It seems like there's no chance for me to play the outfield anymore. Here I am playing good defense, then I make a mistake. Boom. I'll probably have to frame my glove."

Like Bichette, he doesn't envy Rader the task of making out the lineup.

"I don't blame him. He's a great guy. I can see the situation. I'm sure he has a tough time doing the lineup every day."

That doesn't make his predicament one he likes.

"It's a pretty hard situation," Polonia said. "I don't want to be traded. I don't want to go away. I think this is the best team for me to have a future (with). They've been looking for a leadoff hitter for a long time. I don't want to be the one who's got to go. I just came here."

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