Wednesday, November 19, 1997
New teams trade up after draft

The Cincinnati Enquirer

PHOENIX - For seven hours, the expansion draft was a snooze. The Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays filled their rosters with names that ran the gamut from obscure to unknown.

Both teams picked 35 players, and not a man among them meant beans at the box office.

''I called my wife midway through the second round,'' said Julian Mock, the Reds scouting director. ''And she said she had already cut (the television) off, that it was boring.''

But then, at the end of a numbing ordeal, the new teams started to add name recognition to their numbers. In the space of 10 startling minutes, both the Diamondbacks and the Devil Rays put some familiar flesh on their bones.

Stars come out late

They traded some of their anonymities for All-Stars. Tampa Bay acquired Fred McGriff and Roberto Hernandez. Arizona landed Travis Fryman and Devon White. The notion that the new teams were determined to be doormats was quickly quashed.

As usual, baseball had it backward. It subjected ESPN's audience, and an increasingly hostile on-scene crowd, to a process with all the spectator appeal of a bingo game. The Devil Rays and Diamondbacks selected a succession of obscurities, passing up pricey, established players to pick journeymen middle relievers and unproven minor-leaguers. For a while, it was fun. Tony Saunders, the first player picked, spoke of learning that Tampa had taken him while out at a mall getting pictures taken for his Christmas cards. Brian Anderson, the Diamondbacks' No. 1 selection, vowed to have the team's logo tattooed between his shoulder blades.

Thereafter, though, it was tedium. Both teams grabbed as much young pitching and as little payroll as was possible. Thirty-nine of the 70 players selected were pitchers, and most of the names meant nothing to anyone outside the industry.

When Arizona chose former Reds reliever Hector Carrasco with its 25th pick, the few fans who were still in attendance began to chant, ''Boring.''

Ultimately, many intriguing moves were made, but baseball insisted they not be disclosed until after the draft.

Too late again

It was then that Boston announced its acquisition of Pedro Martinez, the Cy Young Award winner Montreal had put on the market to cut costs. It was then that the Florida Marlins revealed that relief ace Robb Nen had been sent to San Francisco. It was then that the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks finally found some players their fans would be able to pick out of a police lineup.

With nearly all of their tickets already sold for next season, the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks went into the draft knowing they did not need to put a quality team on the field to fill the stands. But because the expansion teams had been able to stockpile so much cash, some clubs believed they would try to buy their way to instant respectability. Reds General Manager Jim Bowden was disappointed no big contracts were taken off his hands.

''Obviously, a lot was talked about that a lot of money players would be left out there,'' said Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild. ''But I also think that with no-trade clauses now that are predominant with big-money players, that teams had to leave some younger players out there. And I think the ideology that worked was that you go for the young talent at positions and pitching.''

The Diamondbacks sent three of their draft picks to Detroit for Fryman, a third baseman who has driven in at least 100 runs in each of the last two seasons. Another draft choice brought them White, recently the Marlins' center fielder.

Tampa Bay got McGriff for a player to be named later, picked up Philadelphia shortstop Kevin Stocker and San Diego catcher John Flaherty in trades, and signed reliever Roberto Hernandez as a free agent.

''I've learned,'' Hernandez said, ''that you don't have to have a lot of big names to win.''