1. CINCINNATI REDS
From the file of Sentences You Never Thought You'd Hear came one from Reds manager Lou Piniella this spring. After detailing his team's magnificent winter of trading, he said, "The only guy we really wanted but didn't get was Casey Candaele."
Candaele is a nice little utility player for Houston, but we fearlessly predict that the Reds will survive without him. Cincinnati general manager Bob Quinn snagged everyone else he pursued, including pitchers Belcher, Greg Swindell and Scott Ruskin, and outfielders Roberts and Dave Martinez. Quinn called the off-season "a bit of a coup"; Piniella says his team is the most improved in baseball.
"We don't have holes," Piniella said—just before Rob Dibble, Cincy's monster closer, was disabled with tendinitis in his right shoulder. Dibble pooh-poohed the severity of the ailment, but he most likely won't return before May 1. The Reels can weather April without him, but Dibble's 5.13 ERA in the second half of last season coupled with his poor spring is suspicious. Nevertheless, says a National League scout, "that wild man will be throwing 98 and saving a ton of games before long."
If so, the Reds have no holes. Their top four starters—Swindell, Belcher, Tom Browning and Jose Rijo—threw 882 innings last year. All have 20-win stuff. "When I saw who we got in trades, I couldn't believe it," says Rijo. "I said, 'No way, Jose.' " Equally delirious is Swindell: In his six years with the Indians, his winning percentage was .522, while the team's was .432. In 1991 he was burned by the most unearned runs (20) in baseball.
But the Reds' most important winter deal was Myers for Roberts, a lifetime .291 hitter who can play the outfield and the infield, hit leadoff and steal bases. With Roberts at the top of the lineup, No. 3 hitter Barry Larkin won't go 35 straight plate appearances without a runner in scoring position, as he did in '91.
"The [winning] attitude is back because of the trades," says Rijo. "Last year was terrible. No one wanted to come to the stadium. Players were getting here late."