THE WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY
November 26, 2003 will be a date West Oakland Wolverine fans remember for quite some time. Management and Esteban Loaiza agreed on a 2 year $16.2 million contract, giving the Wolves a starting rotation of Loaiza (2.90 era), Mike Mussina (3.40), Kerry Wood (3.20), Roy Oswalt (2.97) and Jerome Williams (3.30). With the signing of Loaiza, West Oakland should have the best rotation in the Mays division for at least the next 2 years- and maybe beyond. Mussina is signed through 2006, and Wood through 2007. Oswalt is eligible for arbitration next year and will likely be signed to a long term contract. Williams is in just his 2nd year.
Not everyone was happy with the addition. Jim Trzos of suburban White Lake Township lamented, "Ticket prices will go up. And who the hell is going to play shortstop until Jose Reyes arrives?"
The starters will go deep into games due to a bullpen that needs added depth through the draft. Octavio Dotel is the only go to guy in an otherwise average 'pen.
The top of the batting order remains the same as 2003. CF Johnny Damon will lead off. Bobby Abreu, a solid rightfielder will bat in his customary 3rd spot. Big Richie Sexson will man 1b and hit 4th. Sexson was disappointing last year, for some reason unable to hit lefties. That shouldn't happen this year. The 2nd spot will see a platoon of Ramon Vazquez and Tomas Perez at 2b. Both bunt well and are able to move Damon along.
The balance of the order is up in the air. Matt Stairs should contribue in leftfield. Marquis Grissom will play all three outfield positions, play sparingly against righties and all the time against lefties. Grissom, as always, simply kills lefthanded pitching. Benji Molina will bring his cannon arm behind the plate and is backed up by Doug Mirabelli.
The problem is the left side of the infield. Management is stuck with Jose Hernandez, who had an awful year, at shortstop until phenom Jose Reyes is ready in the middle of the summer. Reyes struggles against lefties. Hernandez struggles against both. At third, Tony Batista, who will hit an occasional dinger, brings his .235 average to the plate. Batista did not hit lefties well. Management, hopefully solved that problem by signing Dave Berg to play 3b agains left handed pitching.
Overall, the Wolves should be better than last year with the addition of Mussina, Williams and Loaiza to the rotation. But West Oakland needs to find a way to score runs. The bottom of the order needs to be at least solid. And the bullpen absolutely must come through in the 7th and 8th inning before turning the game over to Dotel in the 9th. Last year, thanks to the Buckey Eclipse collapse, West Oakland was lucky to make the playoffs. In 2004, the Wolves should make a run at the division title.