Print and Go Back Baseball [Print without images]

Friday, January 23, 2004
Schilling on the spot in Boston

By Tim Kurkjian
ESPN The Magazine

One of the busiest and wildest offseasons in major league history has changed the look of several teams. It has seen five certain Hall of Famers switch clubs and it has given a number of young players an opportunity to shine.

All this movement has placed significant pressure on certain players and managers.

Here are 10 who will be on the spot in 2004:

Carlos Beltran
Carlos Beltran The Royals rightfully chose not to trade Beltran even though he will be a free agent after the 2004 season, and seems certain to leave for a bigger market.

Kansas City is going to try to win the AL Central with him, which likely won't happen without a spectacular season from Beltran. The bigger the year, the bigger his next contract.
Bobby Crosby
The A's let shortstop Miguel Tejada leave via free agency partly because they couldn't afford him, and partly because they think Crosby is ready to take over as the regular shortstop.

He'd better be if the A's are going to get back to the playoffs. But, he's a former No. 1 pick, is big and strong, comes from a baseball family and won't be awed by the big leagues. Twins catcher Joe Mauer, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft, could be in a similar spot. A.J. Pierzynski was traded to San Francisco to make room for Mauer, who is 20.
Josh Beckett
With his transcendent postseason, the expectations are going to be unreasonably high for someone with 17 career regular-season wins. Plus, the Marlins lost a lot of talent in the offseason, and the young staff, led by Beckett, will be asked to help make up for it.

His stuff is terrific, his poise amazing, but can he stay healthy and focused all year?
Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez If the trade to Boston isn't revived, the game's best player will have some making up to do with the fans in Texas. Even though he never demanded anything, he was the first to push the trade, and continues to push it.

He will hear boos if he gets off to a slow start, and even if he doesn't. But he is so impossibly talented, he surely will win back Rangers fans with another sensational season.
Kaz Matsui
Following the successes of Ichiro and Hideki Matsui, a lot is now expected, especially in New York, from the high-priced Japanese imports. Plus, Matsui's signing switches Jose Reyes, the Mets' top prospect, from shortstop to second base in a controversial move.

If Matsui starts slowly, or Reyes can't handle second base, it could get testy. But from all scouting reports, Matsui is going to impress and entertain Mets fans.
Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens
They left the Yankees, which few do, to sign with the Astros, their hometown team.

Going home to pitch can be difficult -- nothing hurts worse than to be booed at home. Plus, the Astros now feel (rightfully so) that they have a chance, with Pettitte and Clemens, to get to the World Series for the first time.
Mike Scioscia
Angels owner Arte Moreno spent roughly $150 million this winter to upgrade the team with Vladimir Guerrero, Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar and Jose Guillen.

Scioscia, like most managers, is thrilled with his new players, but now there is an expectation to win the World Series again. Also, these four new guys can be, at times, unapproachable. One reason why the Angels won it all in 2002 was their chemistry -- they were a bunch of grinders, not a bunch of high-priced guys from other organizations.

That will be Scioscia's test: turning a diverse group of players into a team. But no manager is better at communicating with his players and getting the most out of them.
Gary Sheffield
The Yankees became the first team in 100 years to lose three, 15-game winners in the same offseason. Sheffield is the biggest acquisition in a winter of change.

He can hit anyone, any place, any time, but with the many distractions of New York, the improvement of the Red Sox and the yearly urgency to win, Sheffield is on the spot.
Larry Bowa
Larry Bowa The Phillies spent an enormous amount of money this winter to improve the team with Billy Wagner, Tim Worrell, Eric Milton, Roberto Hernandez and the unexpected re-signing of Kevin Millwood.

The Phils are moving into a new ballpark. Phillies fans are getting anxious. Bowa's contract recently was extended, but with confidence so high in Philly, a rocky start will increase the heat on him.
Curt Schilling
The Red Sox haven't won a World Series since 1918. Now they've brought in a 37-year-old ace, a former Red Sox farmhand, to beat the Yankees and bring a world championship to Boston.

He'll have a lot of help and a good team behind him, but being trusted more than anyone to break an 86-year curse brings a lot of pressure.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to
Baseball Tonight. E-mail