Three Different Plans - 1998
Part three of our series covers the 1998 season. All three teams improved marginally in their won-loss records from 1997 (see Part Two below) to 1998. Oakland by 9 games, Kansas City by 5 games and the Twins by 2 games. Here are the raw numbers and general lineups for 1998.
THE 1998 LINEUPS
Prior to the season, all three teams made some rather uninspiring 'station keeping' signings of or trades for veterans players. Kansas City went out and signed Hal Morris, Terry Pendleton and Pat Rapp. They also traded Blaine Mull (yeah, I don't know him either) for Jeff Conine. Minnesota signed Otis Nixon , Mike Morgan and Orlando Merced. Oakland did their part by signing the likes of Mike Blowers, Rickey Henderson and Kevin Mitchell.
The Royals most exciting news of the offseason probably generated no mention of all at the time. On December 16, 1997, they signed an amateur free agent by the name of Runelvys Hernandez. They also made a trade very early in the 1998 season, moving Mike Macfarlane to Oakland in exchange for Shane Mack. Jay Bell and Tom Goodwin were gone and Jermaine Dye appeared in just 60 major league games in 1998, so the Royals went from scoring 747 runs in 1997 to 714 in 1998. Kevin Appier was injured and his 236 innings and 3.40 ERA were replaced by Pat Rapp's 188 innings and 5.30 ERA and the pitching staff suffered accordingly.
Minnesota made a very interesting trade prior to the 1998 season. With Todd Walker slated to play second base for the Twins, they moved Chuck Knoblauch to New York for four prospects and cash. Two of those prospects were Cristian Guzman and Eric Milton. Walker proceeded to hit .316 in his first full season and the 22 year old Milton managed to log 172 innings. Outside of Walker and 39 year old Otis Nixon, however, the Twins had a very non-descipt offense and could not take advantage of a pitching staff that surrendered 43 fewer runs than in 1997.
Oakland improved by the most of all three teams in 1998 and it is not very hard to see why. After having no pitcher throw more than 134 innings in 1997, the A's had four starters log 175 innings or more, led by two veterans free agent signees in Kenny Rogers and Tom Candiotti. With essentially four rookies in their every day lineup, Oakland had just two pitchers on their staff under 25 (Jimmy Haynes and Blake Stein).
Although better than in 1997, there was no confusing any of these three teams for a contender. With the exception of Damon and part-timers Sweeney and Dye, the Royals offense was all nearing or over 30 years old. With Appier hurt and the 36 year old Montgomery compiling a 4.98 ERA as a closer, some of what happened to their pitching staff could not be helped. They still had a pair of promising 23 year olds in Jose Rosado and Glendon Rusch and late in the year added another young pitcher in Jeff Suppan. Minnesota was faced with replacing aging Paul Molitor, Terry Steinbach and Otis Nixon and the spectre of a declining Marty Cordova. They had young arms in Hawkins, Milton, Radke and Frankie Rodriguez, but a bullpen that had only one reliever of note with an ERA under 4.00. Oakland had handed shortstop to 22 year old Miquel Tejada (who hit .233 in 365 at-bats) and catcher to A.J. Hinsh (who hit .231 in 337 at-bats), but they did have the rookie of the year in Ben Grieve and an ever improving Jason Giambi to replace Mark McGwire. They had patched together a mostly veteran pitching staff to take the heat off a young offense and were rewarded by a team that was learning how to win.
The Draft and The Systems
The Royals selected Jeff Austin with the 4th pick in the 1997 Amateur Draft. The Twins, picking 6th, selected Ryan Mills and with the number two overall pick the Athletics made a spectacular pick of Mark Mulder. Sandwiched between KC and Minnesota was St. Louis' pick of J.D. Drew, but below those in the first round were a bevy of prospects: Austin Kearns (7th), Sean Burrougsh (9th), Jeff Weaver (14th), Brad Lidge (17th) and C.C. Sabathia (20th).
After Austin, the Royals also had the 30th and 31st selections, taking (and wasting) them on Matt Burch and Chris George (Brad Wilkerson and Aaron Rowand went 33rd and 35th). Other players taken by KC in 1998 were Paul Phillips in the 9th round and Shawn Sedlacek in the 14th.
Minnesota absolutely wiffed in the 1998 draft, the most notable player they drafted was Juan Padilla in the 24th round. As we will see, however, Minnesota had already done their good draftwork earlier.
In addition to Mulder (who followed the drafting of Tim Hudson in 1997), Oakland added one other solid ballplayer by picking Eric Byrnes in the 8th round.
The Royals system was about to contribute Carlos Beltran and Carlos Febles, both of whom were up for a cup of coffee in September of 1998. Jermaine Dye was shuttling between Omaha and KC and Mike Sweeney was still toiling away behind the plate.
The outstanding season complied by Todd Walker was just the beginning of the Twins reaping the benefits of the good drafts of the early nineties. Corey Koskie, Doug Mientkiewicz, Torii Hunter and A.J. Pierzynski all had gotten a taste of the bigs with September callups and there was hope that Hawkins, Milton, Frankie Rodriguez and former number one pick Dan Serafini would join Brad Radke to form a young and talented rotation. Maybe even a raw talent like big David Ortiz might turn into something after hittin .277 with 9 homers in 278 at-bats in 1998.
Oakland had Ben Grieve to join Jason Giambi and were hoping their young shortstop Tejada would improve. Eric Chavez had hit .311 in 45 September at-bats and there were those two young arms, Mulder and Hudson, coming up to join the promising Jimmy Haynes.
The Twins and A's had both upped their payroll, mainly to plug gaps with veterans while they waited for youngsters to be ready. Oakland had invested wisely in Candiotti and Rogers to keep their team competitive and somebody (Mike Blowers) had to play third so Chavez could develop - particularly given the rookie Tejada was already playing on that side of the infield. Otis Nixon was better at 39 than Torii Hunter would have been at 22. While the likes of Ron Coomer and Terry Steinbach bought time for the Twins to develop Pierzynski and Koskie.
Even the Royals, while fielding a rather ininspring collection of veterans around Johnny Damon, had the offense on the way in Beltran, Sweeney and others. They even had some hope in some young arms. Probably Kansas City's biggest transgression at this point was carrying a high thirties million dollar payroll while both Oakland and Minnesota were saving money for later.
The winds of change, however, were about to begin blowing and three times that were so very similar for over ten years were suddenly about to get very different. Next installment: 1999.