Skip to main content
Original Issue

Caught in the Draft

When Florida and Colorado get together for the expansion draft, it may go something like this. God help them if it does

Marlon and Rocky can't wait for the draft. The two have ordered a pitcher of draft in this airport lounge where they met only moments ago. Marlon wears a gold Rolex with a face the size of a compact disc and pays the waitress with his American Express plutonium card, which he pulls from a lead sheath. Rocky wears a beard and Birkenstocks and claims to be "a little light" when it comes time to pay for successive rounds. Marlon mentions that he is from Miami and is a big baseball fan; Rocky lets slip that he is from Denver and also loves baseball. Thus their conversation is immediately steered to the fact that....

Marlon and Rocky can't wait for the draft. The National League expansion draft will be held in New York City on Nov. 17. Over three rounds and seven hours, the fledgling Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies will select 36 players apiece, choosing from the rosters of the 26 major league teams. Each of those teams is allowed to protect 15 of its major and minor league players.

The free-spending Marlins are owned by Blockbuster Video founder H. Wayne Huizenga, and the H. stands for Head of lettuce, which is what the wad of bills in the man's pocket resembles. "We don't want a 10-year plan," Florida general manager Dave Dombrowski says. "We want a heavy emphasis on player development and scouting. We do have ownership that has money, though. With the free agents that are out there, it is an interesting situation."

The penurious Rockies are owned by a partnership whose most recognizable member is the Coors Brewing Co. The Rockies will be, by their own account, tight with a buck—tighter than Cher's face in a wind tunnel. "We will definitely go with younger players," says Colorado general manager Bob Gebhard. "I don't want to wake up in three years and still be an expansion team."

Marlon and Rocky can't wait for the draft. So during a short layover that will lead to a long hangover, these two rabid fans hold their own expansion draft. We forthwith present—though in no way endorse—the impaired ramblings of these two knuckleheads.

MARLON: We win the coin flip, we choose first. We'll take Danny Tartabull of the Yankees. He's one of the best hitters in the game, and we have to make a splash now that the Giants, who have a 110-year head start on us, may be in Tampa-St. Pete next season.

ROCKY: Come on, the Yankees won't let Tartabull go.

MARLON: Au contraire, mon frère. The Yankees have a lot of young studs in their system—pitchers Sterling Hitchcock, Sam Militello and Bob Wickman, first baseman J.T. Snow and catcher Kiki Hernandez, to name a few—and they're determined to protect them all. Their 15-man list might include nine players who have less than two months of major league experience.

ROCKY: Well, Tartabull's always hurt anyway. I heard one American League general manager say, and I quote, "If the Marlins can schedule their rainouts around all the games he can't play, there won't be any problem." In other words, you guys can take Vince Coleman next and give your Blockbuster owner his own live version of The Two Jakes. Besides, Tartabull has four years left on his contract at $5 mill a year. How can Huizenga afford that? Is he going to charge $2 every time someone doesn't rewind his Marlin highlight tape?

MARLON: Droll. Very droll. But enough of your stalling. Who are you taking first?

ROCKY: Brian Hunter, the first baseman with the Braves. They're loaded with good, young players. In fact, when their manager, Bobby Cox, was asked about the draft, he said, "We're screwed." They will lose some valuable players.

MARLON: Yeah, but Brian Hunter's no Danny Tartabull.

ROCKY: Well, at least he's played a couple of years in the big leagues. We didn't want to take some kid who would fold under the pressure of being the Rockies' first-ever pick.

MARLON: Fold? Hunter'll fold like a Denver omelet. In fact, that should have been the name of your team: the Denver Omelets. Let me get this straight. You guys expect to be a regional franchise, drawing fans from 300 miles away, and you're going to lure them to the ballpark with a top pick who is a platoon player?

ROCKY: We're not worried about the fans. With the possible exception of your Marlins, expansion teams always draw well the first year. The Blue Jays were lousy in '77, their first year, and they still drew 1.7 million to one of the worst stadiums of all time. The Rockies have already sold more than 24,000 season tickets, including four to a Nebraska farmer who lives five hours away. We have ticket requests from 35 states. We'll have no problem filling all 76,000 seats at Mile High Stadium on many nights next year. Then in 1995 we get a new downtown stadium that's going to look like Camden Yards in Baltimore, only you can see the Rocky Mountains from your seat.

MARLON: Trouble is, you can also see the Rockies from your seat.

ROCKY: Yeah, well, the new stadium alone will take care of attendance. By the time we move into there, our young draft picks will be ready. You guys are playing in a football stadium. No wonder you're going to sell only, what, about 16,000 season tickets? Floridians aren't going to bake in 100° heat to watch baseball. Plus, it rains every day in the summer down there. Weather statistics show that your team would have had five rainouts in the first half of this season alone. You shouldn't have taken Tartabull first. You should have taken George Toma, the Royals' legendary groundskeeper.

MARLON: Listen, Willard: Our air may be hot and wet, but at least you can breathe it. Your air is so thin, you should replace the CR on your caps with CPR.

ROCKY: We'll stick with CR, thank you. What will yours say—VCR?

MARLON: Forget the caps. It's my pick, and I'm taking Bobby Thigpen of the White Sox, the guy who saved 57 games in 1990. He's 29, he lives in St. Pete and he can pitch.

ROCKY: Which is why the White Sox will protect him.

MARLON: Wrong, my friend. Thigpen had a bad year, he was booed brutally at Comiskey, and he needs a change of scenery. Plus, his contract calls for more than $3 million next year. The Sox have a lot of good young pitchers they have to keep. So Thigpen could go unprotected, along with Tim Raines and George Bell and Steve Sax.

ROCKY: What do you need a closer for? You're an expansion team. You're going to lose 100 games. You need a closer like we need a victory-parade route. There are plenty of closers available—Lee Smith, Mitch Williams, John Franco—but they all make lots of dough, and they're not getting any younger.

MARLON: YOU still have to win games—pass the beer nuts—and a closer is important to any team. If you have a bunch of young pitchers who bust their tails for seven innings every night only to see some stiff kick the game away, what will that do for their confidence? A good closer is more important than a good starter.

ROCKY: Even if you are right, Smith, Williams and Franco are all too rich for our blood. So we're taking lefthander Mike Stanton off the Braves' roster. They have so many relievers down there they don't have room for them all. I'm sure they'll try to trade him before the draft, but Stanton is ours if they can't. He's only 25, he throws hard, and he has a chance to be a top-notch closer. To ease him in we might also sign Jeff Reardon—the alltime saves leader—to a one-year contract as a free agent. He's going to be 37 next year, but he can teach the others how to win.

MARLON: If we want The Terminator, we'll pick up a copy at the nearest Blockbuster. Signing free agents is a crapshoot. If you sign a Type A free agent, the best kind, you have to give up a first- or second-round draft choice as compensation. No building team gives up first-round choices, unless you're Ted Stepien running the Cleveland Cavaliers into the ground.

ROCKY: If Reardon is a Type A, free agent, I mean—we know he's not a Type A personality—then we'll go after Doug Jones of Houston instead. He's another veteran who knows how to win and loves to teach young guys. Or maybe the Cardinals' Todd Worrell.

MARLON: Just to show you that young players are important to us, we'll take Ramon Martinez.

ROCKY: Right. And I'll take Sandy Koufax. If you think the Dodgers are going to leave Ramon Martinez unprotected, I've got some swampland in Florida to sell you. Come to think of it, somebody already built Joe Robbie Stadium on that land....

MARLON: Are you finished? I'm not talking about that Ramon Martinez. I'm talking about the Class A shortstop out of the Pittsburgh system.

ROCKY: An A-ball player who made 50 errors this year? You gonna sign a preschooler to play first base?

MARLON: Martinez will need a couple of years, I know. So sometime before this draft is through, we'll take shortstop Felix Fermin off Cleveland's hands. He catches all the balls hit to him, and he only makes $950,000 a year. The Tribe wants to keep him, but they'll protect Mark Lewis instead, because he's younger and cheaper.

ROCKY: The Blue Jays would like to protect about 30 guys. They're like the Braves, they have so many good players in their organization. The Jays have Pat Borders to catch, so we're taking one of their young catchers, Ed Sprague, who can also play third.

MARLON: Take as many unproven guys as you want. We're going with Ellis Burks.

ROCKY: Why would Boston let him go?

MARLON: He hasn't fulfilled his potential, and he's breaking down physically. But if there's ever a time to take a chance on someone, this is it. Burks is only 28. He needs to get out of Boston. I'm not sure he can play centerfield anymore, but I'll roll the dice.

ROCKY: Talk about rolling the dice—you haven't said a word yet about starting pitchers. I know we're going to have a hard time luring free-agent pitchers to Denver because of the thin air. Bill Veeck's midget, Eddie Gaedel, would have hit 40 home runs playing at Mile High. So I'll draft a few pitchers who will have to pitch here. I'll start with Cincinnati lefty Chris Hammond. He was the Reds' best starter in April of 1991. He's only 26, and he comes cheap.

MARLON: He's your Number One starter? Your ace? I got your ace right here: During the draft we're going to announce the signing of Dave Stewart of the A's as a free agent. He gives us instant credibility.

ROCKY: Hey, you're the one who said to be careful with Type A free agents.

MARLON: Stewart might not be a Type A, because his last two years haven't been particularly good. But he'll come back. The A's have 14 free agents, so they probably won't re-sign him. Besides, Montreal's Dennis Martinez is openly campaigning to finish his career in Miami, his adopted hometown. Somehow we'll come up with a proven Number One starter.

ROCKY: YOU know how many times Huizenga's going to have to rent out What About Bob? to pay Stewart's salary?

MARLON: Do you have anyone with Stew's solid track record?

ROCKY: We're going after young starters. I'll even tell you in advance three more we're going to take: Kansas City's Chris Haney, Minnesota's Mark Guthrie and Milwaukee's Mike Fetters. They're all young, developing pitchers who in a few years should be ready to blossom. Remember, Haney came out of the Expo organization, and any Montreal product we take will be worth it. Larry Bearnarth, a special assistant to our general manager, was the Expos' pitching coach last year. And Gebhard was once farm director of the Expos, as well as Minnesota's assistant general manager last year. He knows Guthrie, too.

MARLON: You'll have a Mile-High ERA. I'm drafting Jonathan Hurst of the Expos, Wally Whitehurst of the Mets and John Burkett of the Giants.

ROCKY: That's two hursts on your staff already. Who's your fifth starter—Bruce Hurst or Patty Hearst?

MARLON: Hey, Patty Hearst used to have a rifle. Whitehurst and Burkett have major league experience. Jonathan Hurst has a great arm. As for Montreal players, don't forget that our man Dombrowski was the Expos' G.M. until a year ago, when he took our job. Plus, he brought with him scouting director Gary Hughes, John Boles from the Expos' minor league operations and Frank Wren, who was Montreal's assistant director of scouting.

ROCKY: Congratulations. We have our share of former Expos, but you've managed to lure away the entire scouting staff from a team that has finished first once this century.

MARLON: O.K., just make your next pick.

ROCKY: We're stressing defense, so we're taking Baltimore's Billy Ripken to play second base. He's not much of a hitter, but we need a great fielder.

MARLON: Yeah, you need a great fielder: Cecil Fielder.

ROCKY: SO who's your second baseman?

MARLON: NO, Who's our first baseman. What's on second, and.... Sorry. We're putting Jose Lind at second.

ROCKY: Pittsburgh won't let him get away.

MARLON: They might. He won't hit much, after all. But he's probably the best defensive second baseman in the National League. Our team president, Carl Barger, came from the Pirates, you know, and he doesn't think Pittsburgh will protect Lind. And if they do, we'll take second baseman Julio Franco from the Rangers. They're down on him for missing most of this year with a knee injury, for not always running out ground balls and for little things like—oh, never mind.

ROCKY: Little things like what?

MARLON: Like literally napping through batting practice.

ROCKY: And you want this clown?

MARLON: The man can hit. He was the American League batting champ in '91. He hit .341. If he does that for us, he can bring a Craftmatic adjustable bed to the batter's box for all I care.

ROCKY: But defensively he has more holes than a White Castle hamburger.

MARLON: SO we'll move him to first.

ROCKY: We're taking a first baseman who we'll use at third, Archi Cianfrocco of the Expos. Talk about a work ethic. This is a first baseman who has grown five inches and gained 30 pounds since he was drafted five years ago. If we wanted to make him a shortstop, he would probably shrink and become Dominican for us.

MARLON: GO ahead, take Archi, you Meathead. I'm taking a first baseman who I know is a real good defensive player, Baltimore's David Segui. This guy can pick it, he's a switch-hitter, he'll hit .275 playing every day, and he can play the outfield. Plus, Segui knows about expansion. His father, Diego, was the starting pitcher in the Seattle Mariners' first game.

ROCKY: Don't forget, old Diego was 0-7 that year. We want winning players, and no one plays harder than shortstop Andy Stankiewicz, so we're picking him off the Yankees' tree.

MARLON: We don't want anybody with stank in his name, unless it's Eddie Stanky. So we'll take Kelly Gruber of Toronto. I know he makes $3.6 million, but he hit 31 homers and drove in 118 in 1990. He's only 30.

ROCKY: You know that Gruber got booed quite a bit in Toronto this year, don't you? That's the world's most polite city, so something has to be seriously wrong with the guy. Gruber's teammates say he won't play hurt, that he's lost the hunger. I'm going for hungry guys, three of them outfielders—Cleveland's Glenallen Hill, San Francisco's Darren Lewis and Texas's Monty Fariss.

MARLON: I'll fill out my outfield with Dante Bichette of the Brewers.

ROCKY: According to my cocktail napkin, you still need a catcher.

MARLON: Joe Girardi of the Cubs. Lots of catchers will be unprotected, including the Reds' Joe Oliver, and Don Slaught and Mike LaValliere of the Pirates, but Girardi can catch, throw and run.

ROCKY: O.K., so you have your team of overpriced has-beens. Which means your owner now has exactly $2.25 to pay his reserves. That is, unless he buys nachos, in which case he's busted.

MARLON: And you have your team of bargain-basement underachievers. Which means John Elway will still be the best baseball player in Denver.

ROCKY: The Rockies will be better than the Marlins in three years.

MARLON: The Marlins will be contending for the next three years. And I'll tell you, when we do win the pennant, in your honor we'll celebrate with Coors.



Florida may nab Tartabull as its top pick.



The new teams could go nutty figuring which players to select from the mix.



Colorado may take the young, reliable Hunter as its No. 1.



Elway may still be the best baseball player in Denver—even after the Rockies finish drafting.


It will be years before Marlon's Marlins or Rocky's Rockies clean up.