Friday, February 19, 1999

For Reds, it's addition by inaction

Houston fails to make deal, seal division

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The New York Yankees don't simply want to win the World Series. They're working on world domination. If you're an American League contender, what do you do now?

        Cleveland looked pretty good, until the Yankees traded for Roger Clemens. Now the Indians need the Marshall Plan to get to the Series.

Trade coverage
from Associated Press
        The Yankees are back to being who they were in the 1940s and 50s. The Damn Yankees. Everybody has a reason to hate the Yankees again. Everybody except the Reds.

        New York got Clemens and the Houston Astros did not. Instead of hitting against Clemens and/or Randy Johnson (who left Houston for Arizona), the Reds get Jose Lima and Scott Elarton. This is what's known as gaining a competitive advantage.

        Cincinnati's view of the top just got a whole lot clearer. It's a beautiful day in sports when your fortunes improve and you haven't spent a dime.

        With Johnson and Clemens, the Astros would have been a two-game groin pull for the Reds and everyone else in the division. You see the Big Unit one night and The Rocket Man the next, on Day 3 your therapist is knocking on your door, asking if the nightmares have let up.

        Of course, the chances of Houston having both weren't great. Wallets are only so thick, unless they belong to George Steinbrenner. The Boss' model expands like an accordion.

        But with either pitcher, Houston could have stamped its October ticket. With both, the Astros would have seen lots of teams whose hitters suddenly developed 48-hour viruses.

        Johnson isn't the bullet train he used to be. But he

        can still curl your eyebrows with a fastball. Clemens is still Clemens, as fast as he needs to be.

        The Astros had a chance at Clemens and didn't take it. Clemens lives in Houston. He wanted to play at home. Of course, he made a ridiculous demand or two. Who doesn't these days? Clemens wanted the Astros to provide him with a jet when he and his family needed it. Frankly, I don't see how he made it all these years without one.

        The Astros passed. The asking price was too steep: A couple of young players they think will be stars. In this here-today, gone-tomorrow age, you win when you can and let the future worry about itself. Maybe the Astros think they're good enough to win the National League Central without Clemens.

        Maybe they have a point. But with Clemens, they could have blown the division apart. The Astros said no. Despite exploding salaries and the canyon between teams with money and teams without, the NL Central remains competitive for clubs who'd do Europe on $25 a day.

        On Thursday, when Clemens didn't go to the Astros, the Reds died and went to second place. At least.

        The good thing about February (I knew there was something) is you can analyze teams on paper, where nobody's arm is sore and nobody's rotator cuff looks like canned spaghetti.

        Take pitching. On paper, the Reds' starting pitching is as good as Houston's. Houston has Lima, Shane Reynolds and Mike Hampton; the Reds offer Pete Harnisch, Brett Tomko and Denny Neagle. If anything, the Reds win on points in the 12th round.

        The rest of the Central features pitchers who thank God baseball has expanded twice since 1969.

        As for the everyday lineups, Houston's is far and away the class act. But with Greg Vaughn, the Reds have closed the gap. Should they acquire second baseman Fernando Vina from Milwaukee, as has been rumored, they'll close it some more.

        St. Louis has Eric Davis, but not Brian Jordan. As much as I love Davis, I'd rather have Jordan. The Cubs have Sammy Sosa, who won't do what he did last year. Pittsburgh has Kevin Young, Jose Guillen and eternal hope. Milwaukee has. ... somebody.

        Thanks to General Manager Jim Bowden, the Reds won the offseason. Thanks to George Steinbrenner, they've got the early lead in spring training. No Roger Clemens. No Randy Johnson. The future looks brighter. And slower.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.


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