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by Jonathan Mayo
Jonathan Mayo archive
The 2001 season is now a memory. Plans for 2002 are already in full swing. There's already a whole new slate of New Faces in New Places to talk about.But before we look ahead, lets take one last look back as the year comes to a close. How did the New Faces in New Places -- the top players who found new homes prior to the season -- fare in 2001? The Big Four These were the most sought after, eagerly anticipated free agents in this offseason. Some were more successful than others. Alex Rodriguez, Texas: A-Rod did just about everything he could do with the bat: .318, 52 HR (a record for shortstops) and 135 RBIs. Heck, he even swiped 18 bases. But he couldn't pitch. He did end up with a higher slugging percentage (.622) than the team's ERA (5.71). It was touch and go there for a while, but the Rangers' staff "improved" in the second half. Manny Ramirez, Boston: On the surface, Manny did what the Sox wanted him to do. He hit for average (.306), power (41 homers) and drove in runs (125). But his inability (or unwillingness) to play the outfield hurt the team and there were reports that Manny wasn't happy in the Red Sox clubhouse. Boston better hope that can be corrected for next year. Mike Hampton, Colorado: It started out so well for Hampton, didn't it? Nine wins before the All-Star break, even pitching well in Coors Field in April and May. Then the wheels fell off. Hampton had a 7.46 ERA after the break in 2001, and my guess is that the Rockies didn't shell out all that cash to get a 14-13 pitcher with a 5.41 ERA. He did hit seven homers, if that means anything to you. Mike Mussina, Yankees: Don't let the 11 losses fool you. Moose was one of the best in the AL last year, finishing second in ERA. With a little better run support (4.53, seventh lowest in the league), could've easily won 20-plus games. He had a sub-3.00 ERA in the second half of the season, and was definitely the Yanks' best pitcher after the break. Some could argue (and I wouldn't stop them) that Mussina was New York's best starter for the entire season, even better than the guy (Roger Clemens) who walked away with the Cy Young. Top Tier Trade Targets It was all quiet on the trading front for a large portion of the offseason, but then some big names got swapped to alter the face of the American League. The moves had mixed reviews by the end of the season. Johnny Damon, Oakland: Considering how Damon and the A's started, it's almost miraculous they made the playoffs. Damon finally started doing what he was supposed to, increasing his on-base percentage 50 points in the second half. It looks like it may be a quick stop for Damon. He's seeking out a new place for 2002. David Wells, Chicago: That was an unmitigated disaster, wasn't it? Boomer never fit in too well in Chicago, and ended up missing much of the season after back surgery. Wells thinks he can still pitch when healthy, but he could end up being a not-so-new face in an old place if he goes back to the Bronx. Roberto Hernandez, Kansas City: Hernandez ended up being pretty steady for the Royals, saving 28 games, albeit with an ERA over four. He only blew two chances in the second half. Of course, KC didn't give him that many opportunities, winning just 65 games all year. Considering the Royals gave up the aforementioned Damon for him, I'm not sure this deal was a stunning success. Fresh Starts They're young. They're talented. Their old team, for whatever reason, gave up on them. Sometimes a change of scenery can make a huge difference. In the case of these four, that didn't really turn out to be true. Fernando Tatis, Montreal: If anyone can find Fernando Tatis' promising career, please return it to him immediately. A man's livelihood is at stake. It seemed like just yesterday that Tatis was on the brink of stardom. Then there's an off-year, injuries, a trade to Montreal and more injuries. Next season will be pivotal -- either he bounces back, or he could bounce out. Ben Grieve, Tampa Bay: The guy the D-Rays got for giving up Roberto Hernandez, Grieve never fully settled into his new home, although he did hit .291 in the second half. I'd love to see him stay and develop with those other young, exciting Rays, but his name has been mentioned in a few trade rumors. He's still young, and still has a sweet swing, so he'll have a job somewhere in 2002, even if it's not at the Trop. Mitch Meluskey, Detroit: He didn't play a single game for the Tigers after coming over from the Astros. There are questions about whether he'll be able to catch again (some may argue he never really could catch in the first place). Now he just has to worry about finding a spot on the Tigers' roster next season. Seth Etherton, Cincinnati: He shared a boat with Meluskey. He never threw a pitch with the Reds in 2001. Once a promising young arm with the Angels, now he's a damaged young arm with Cincy. Only time will tell if he can contribute on the Major League level. I still think he can. Stay tuned. One More Try In the twilight of their careers, these guys are just looking for one more moment in the sun. It could be a last hurrah or it could be an embarrassing decision. Most ended up going the hurrah route. David Cone, Boston: So maybe he blocked the paths of some talented minor leaguers, but Coney ended up showing he had a little something left. He won nine games and finished with a respectable 4.31 ERA. Where he ends up next year is up in the air, but even if he never throws another pitch, he proved that he wasn't all washed up. Jose Canseco, Chicago: What a long, strange trip it was for Canseco. Cut by the Angels in the spring, he played with his brother on the Newark Bears. Then the White Sox came calling, and he responded with 16 homers and 49 RBIs in 76 games. He desperately wants his 38 dingers to get to 500, and I think someone will probably give him a shot to do it after that brief power display. Rickey Henderson, Padres: It appears Rickey had done everything Rickey could possibly do. He set the walks record. He set the runs scored record. He got his 3000th hit. He spoke about himself in the third person more than anyone in the league. Rickey hit .278 in September/October, so he probably thinks he has something left in the tank. Besides, I have to think he wants a big farewell tour. Tom Gordon, Chicago: It was up-and-down for Flash in 2001. When he was healthy, he was terrific, saving 27 games. But the injury bug couldn't stay away for the whole season, and he appeared in just two games in September and October, right when the Cubs were in a playoff hunt. I'm not sure how thrilled I'd be if I had to count on him as your closer in 2002. Eric Davis & Shawon Dunston, San Francisco: It didn't end quite the way Davis was hoping, hitting just .205 in 156 at-bats. That takes nothing away from what had been a fine career for one of the classiest men to ever play the game. Dunston fared better on the field, hitting .280, albeit in 186 at-bats. If he'd be willing to take a limited role like that, he probably could find a job if he wanted one. The Replacement Players These are the guys who were called on to step in for guys who have left to become new faces in other new places. Considering two on this list were MVP candidates, it turned out fairly well. Juan Gonzalez & Ellis Burks, Cleveland: Seems like the Indians didn't miss Manny one iota. Juan Gone finished in the top 10 in all three Triple Crown categories and will use that to find a nice new place in 2002. Burks had his usual injury problems, but was productive when he was in the lineup. Both were integral parts of the Indians' playoff drive. Sandy Alomar Jr., Chicago: Alomar played in just 70 games all year, missing all but 11 games of the second half. He didn't hit much, but was brought in to take over from Charles Johnson in handling the young pitching staff. There was improvement on that front in the beginning of the season, but it's very hard to call a good game from the disabled list. Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle: I guess this "experiment" worked out pretty well. Even if you don't think he should've won the MVP, the guy still led the league in average, hits and stolen bases. Oh, and he also won a Gold Glove and Rookie of the Year Award. Not too shabby. The Good Guys Not necessarily the biggest stars who moved, these guys were brought in not only for their talent on their field, but for their skills off it -- as clubhouse presences, as veteran leaders, as peacemakers. Two of the teams involved made the playoffs, and one won it all. Brad Ausmus, Houston: He hit just over .230 (although .277 after the break), but that's not why he was brought back to the Astros. He was there for his steadying influence behind the plate and in the clubhouse. He won his first Gold Glove and the young Houston pitching staff ended with a 4.37 team ERA. It was 3.91 in the second half and Ausmus deserves some credit, especially considering the inexperienced arms (albeit very talented) Houston had to send out there. Charles Johnson, Florida: C.J. did what he's supposed to do: The Marlins had a 4.32 ERA for the year, not spectacular, but a nice improvement. He made just four errors all year and threw out 41.6 percent of would-be base stealers. He even hit 18 homers and drove in 75 runs. He could have opted to become a 2002 New Face in a New Place, but decided to stay put in Florida. Mark Grace, Arizona: So he's not the run-producer you'd like to see at first base. But the guy hits for average, gets on base, fields his position flawlessly, shows up every day and is a tremendous leader. Anyone who saw him celebrating after finally winning a title has to feel good for Gracie. Todd Hundley, Chicago: He ended up with 25 walks and 13 runners caught stealing. He ended up with a .187 average, less than his weight (195). Not the numbers the Cubs were hoping for. The Skippers There were six new managers on the scene as well and we would be remiss if we didn't keep tabs on them as well. Only one made the playoffs, but several performed their duties well. Bob Boone, Cincinnati: After starting well, things fell apart quickly for the Reds. Only the Pirates kept the Reds from being the worst team in the NL. With all the injuries, Boone had to be creative with the pitching staff. Unfortunately, little worked. Even his son got hurt. Larry Bowa, Philadelphia: Everyone waited for the collapse to happen, but it never did. Instead, the Phils finished a surprising second and Bowa walked away with NL Manager of the Year Award. Bob Brenly, Arizona: What can this guy possibly do for an encore? His first year as a manager, he does things totally by instinct, throwing "the book" out the window and ends up beating the Yankees in the World Series. Buck Martinez, Toronto: People were expecting a lot out of the Blue Jays, but it never came together. Martinez seemed to inherit more problems than he probably realized, and the Jays finished under .500. To his credit, it looks like Martinez and new GM J.P. Ricciardi are cleaning the slate and trying to rebuild the team. Lloyd McClendon, Pittsburgh: I saw Lloyd at the Winter Meetings. I feel bad for Lloyd. The Pirates, in case you didn't know, finished with the worst record in baseball in 2001. They have a lot of work to do. On the plus side, I liked that trade they made with the White Sox, acquiring Kip Wells, Sean Lowe and prospect Josh Fogg, and I think McClendon and GM Dave Littlefield will make a great team if they stay put. Jim Tracy, Los Angeles: Bowa was a worthy winner of Manager of the Year, but Tracy deserved just as much consideration. The Dodgers had enough injuries for three teams, especially to the starting rotation, but Tracy held the team together and the Dodgers hung around the playoff race longer than they should have. Jonathan Mayo is a senior writer for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and are not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.