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Monday, December 10
Santa Barbara Outlaws


2001 record:
94-68 (.580); 1st place in AL West
Lost AL Divisional Series to Cook County in 4 games

Major additions:
DH Edgar Martinez, 1B Richie Sexson, RHP Roberto Hernandez, INF Jose Macias

Major loses:
OF Gary Sheffield, RHP Trevor Hoffman, RHP Kelvim Escobar, LHP Denny Neagle

2001 Review:
The Toledo Mudhens’ inaugural 2001 season certainly put their name on the BRASSball map, with the team earning a divisional championship behind a strong 94-win season. Key to the team’s success were star players DH Gary Sheffield (.336, 39 HR, 129 RBI) and RHP Trevor Hoffman (75 IP, 3.01 ERA, 35 SV).

Unfortunately, this success also earned them the right to face uber-team Cook County in the AL playoffs, a fate any team would dread. And while the Cook County juggernaut did indeed sweep the upstart Mudhens, Toledo did at least get a taste of the BRASSball postseason.

2002 Outlook:
Much of the divisional championship team returns in 2002, giving Toledo a strong chance at a repeat playoff appearance. However, the team has witnessed a couple of very major off-season changes.

The biggest off-season news out of Toledo was a blockbuster trade with the very team that knocked them out of last year’s playoffs, the Cook County Maulers. The deal sent Toledo star OF Gary Sheffield, LHP Steve Kline and a 2002 5th round draft pick to the Maulers. In return, Mudhens received DH Edgar Martinez, RHP Pat Rapp, RHP Roberto Hernandez and Cook County’s 2003 1st round draft pick.

In recent months, Sheffield had been outspoken about his desire to pursue free agency when his contract expired at the end of this season. This put Toledo management in a tough position. They could: a) trade Sheffield for long-term value but in doing so give up their best hitter and perhaps a playoff appearance; or b) hang onto their best hitter for one final playoff run but then lose him to free agency. Interestingly, they chose option c) all the above.

Since both Sheffield and Martinez are in the last year of their contracts, the deal is essentially a swap of the two players. And since Martinez (.344, 43 HR, 128 RBI) is a proven hitter who put up nearly identical numbers to Sheffield last season, the on-field impact of the change should be negligible. Likewise, the swap of Kline and Hernandez was essentially a wash (although Kline is a lefty and may be primed for a big season).

The rest of the trade gave Toledo both Rapp and a 1st round pick in 2003 in exchange for only their 5th round pick this year. Rapp should provide them with much-needed innings in their rotation, while the pick will bring them a top young prospect in 2003.

The acquisition of Hernandez, however, may have sparked the team’s next major off-season move. Shortly after the Cook County trade, Toledo then traded ace reliever Trevor Hoffman to the Minnesota Mudcats. In return, Toledo received RHP Mike Williams and Minnesota’s 1st round pick in 2003. This move certainly surprised many, as Hoffman still had three years remaining on his current contract. Given Roberto Hernandez’s experience at closing out games, though, the team apparently thought Hoffman was expendable.

In addition to the trades, the signing of free agent 1B Richie Sexson also was an important move. First base was a sore spot in Toledo’s 2001 lineup due to a disappointing season from incumbent Todd Zeile (.216, 12 HR, 78 RBI). Sexson should solve this dilemma.

Meanwhile, talented IF Jose Macias will help provide stability at all infield positions. As a byproduct of this addition, teammate Frank Catalanotto can now either DH or play the outfield on occasion. And without the defensive rigors of the infield to fatigue him, Catalanotto may very well see his talented bat come alive next season.

The team’s biggest concern in 2002 is its pitching staff. Most of its dominating bullpen returns, but the staff lost two key members in swingman Kelvim Escobar and starter Denny Neagle.

The team was able to pick up Rapp in the Sheffield deal, thus leaving them with four proven starting pitchers (Kerry Wood, Jeff Suppan, Dave Burba, Pat Rapp). The fifth spot will likely go to one of their young prospects, Bud Smith or Jon Garland.

Given their strong line-up, the success of this pitching rotation will likely determine the fate of the 2002 Toledo Mudhens.

Projected lineup
CF Eric Owens
LF Benny Agbayani
DH Edgar Martinez
RF Jeromy Burnitz
1B Richie Sexson
3B Mike Lowell
2B Frank Catalanotto
SS Orlando Cabrera
C Joe Girardi

Rotation
Kerry Wood
Jeff Suppan
Dave Burba
Pat Rapp
?

Closer
Roberto Hernandez

 

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