New-look free agency is in the air, and the Angels had best be prepared to catch it coming and going.
The Angels need to keep what is theirs, namely designated hitter Chili Davis, and grab what is Minnesota’s, namely third baseman Gary Gaetti.
The fallout from Collusion ’87 won’t completely remedy the fallout from Collision ’90, but it stands willing to help, provided Angel CEO Rich Brown and General Manager Mike Port are willing to spend more of Gene Autry’s money. Davis and Gaetti are two of the 15 names that have been thrown in the new-look pool, and they are the two the Angels ought to zero in on, with or without Dave Henderson, Brett Butler and Jack Clark.
Gaetti is not the 100% solution he would have been three years ago, but he is the best on the board, considering (a) the Angels’ need for a third baseman, which borders on dire; (b) the Angels’ new no type A free-agent policy, which makes good sense, and (c) the staggering dearth of competent, much less available, major league third basemen--otherwise known as the Craig Worthington Condition.
Worthington is your basic garden-variety big league third baseman--decent glove, some power, but he has a lower 1990 batting average (.226) than Jack Howell (.228). Yet, Worthington’s name is on top of half the look-lists in baseball, mainly because the Orioles are shopping him, and half the teams in baseball are in the same boat as the Angels.
Not too long ago, Gaetti was the best third baseman in the sport. In 1987, he hit 31 home runs, drove in 109 runs, won a Gold Glove and talked the Twins into winning a World Series when they couldn’t talk their way into a 7-Eleven at midnight.
Gaetti and Kent Hrbek were the blood and guts of that overachieving group. They spat, they cursed, they caroused, they kicked malingering teammates in the rear--in short, exactly what the Wonder Bread Angels need right now.
But that was before a 1988 knee operation took a bite out of his once-outstanding range. And that was before a 1988 religious conversion, which induced a 180-degree personality change the Twins still haven’t come to grips with. Hrbek wonders where his old running mate went. The Twins wonder where their old fire-starter went. Gaetti hit .216 during the second half of 1989 and .229 in 1990--the lowest full-season mark of his nine-year career.
Still, the Angels would have begged for that season. Gaetti doubled Howell’s home run output (16 to eight) and nearly tripled his RBI production (85 to 33). Gaetti also spent the entire season in the major leagues.
Right now, Minnesota has no idea what to do with Gaetti and his new-look status. As one player agent puts it, “The Twins are scared to death that they’re going to lose him and scared to death that they’re going to have to re-sign him.”
The Angels, however, insist they are interested--and they should be. As a new-look free agent, Gaetti can be signed without sacrificing a No. 1 draft pick, the price that has backed the Angels away from the type-A market. At 32, Gaetti will be looking for a contract in the three-year, $8 million range, which, at the very least, could hold the Angels until their system develops a replacement.
The Angels have no replacement for Davis, unless they come crawling back to Brian Downing--that burned bridge will cost more than $1 million to repair--or they move Dave Winfield to DH and test-run an outfield of Luis Polonia, Junior Felix and Dave Gallagher. Look out, A’s. Or they could go with an outfield of Polonia, Felix and Dante Bichette, which is unlikely, because Manager Doug Rader is apparently convinced the Angels won’t go anywhere with any outfield daunted by Bichette.
Davis should be re-signed, because of what he means to the Angel offense and the Angel front office. Lower back permitting, Davis is the best guarantee in Rader’s batting order. You can write in the numbers now: .270, 20 home runs, 90 RBIs. Davis was well on his way again in 1990 until the disabled list interrupted, cutting him off after 113 games, 12 home runs and 58 RBIs.
Davis’ return also gives Brown and Port trade flexibility. Bichette could be dealt--that’s inevitable now, isn’t it?--and his market value will never be higher than it is today. Don’t repeat the mistakes of Devon White’s past. Look into this Tim Raines thing. Raines has consented to be traded to two American League cities--Chicago and Anaheim--and the White Sox fell out of the running when Raines-for-Ivan Calderon fell through last week.
How about a package including Bichette and a pitching prospect for Raines? The Angels have the prospects--Mike Fetters, Joe Grahe, Scott Lewis. The Expos could certainly use them. Montreal has noticed a great thing about rookie pitchers: They can’t become free agents for six years, which means the Expos get to keep them for six years.
Contrast and compare:
The Angels’ 1990 infield of Wally Joyner, Johnny Ray, Howell and Dick Schofield . . . or a potential 1991 infield of Joyner, Luis Sojo, Gaetti and Schofield?
A 1990 outfield of Polonia, White and Winfield . . . or a potential 1991 outfield of Felix, Raines and Winfield?
You make the call.