2004 Andujar Watch Begins

Monday, April 05 2004 @ 08:04 AM EDT

Contributed by: Mick Doherty

With Detroit's Jason Johnson roaring (Tigers, roaring, get it?) to an early lead in the competition for the 2004 Andujar Award, let's break down who we should keep an eye on this year to take away Esteban Loaiza's crown. And yes, it's likely the actual winner won't even appear on this list, because ... hey, YouNeverKnow.

We took some early nominations on Groundhog Day, the annual kickoff date for the Andujar process; among the most-mentioned players were Atlanta's John Thomson, Colorado's Todd Greene, San Francisco's Brett Tomko, Toronto's El Artista, Miguel Batista, and the now-injured Little Ricky Helling, who may or may not return to the Minnesota rotation in time to make a run at his former Ranger teammate's title.

Others who received mentions but who are, at least for now, out of the running because they do not appear on an opening day roster due to injury, release or some other act of general manageriality, include Russell Branyan, Jeremy Giambi, Tyler Houston, Darryl Ward, Juan Acevedo, Todd Ritchie, Bruce Chen and Mario Ramos.

Now for a team-by-team breakdown of who might hold the coveted Andujar Rosin Bag after the season; if anyone's missing, or if anyone shouldn't be on this list (immediate disqualifications to anyone acquired by trade or method other than free agency, or to anyone who has made a major league All-Star team) ... corrections and additions are welcome.

Three teams have no identifiable candidates: Houston, Montreal and Philadelphia. So not only has Tyler Houston dropped off the map, so has the entire city of Houston ... the team, ironically enough, with which Joaquin Andujar himself began and ended his professional career.

A quick alphabetical run through the rest of the teams, then ...

Begrudge him the contract, but Anaheim's Kelvim Escobar qualifies as a candidate by strict interpretation of the Andujar rules ... Arizona's Steve Sparks tries to knuckle his way into infamy at the BOB ... Thomson is in Atlanta to replace Greg Ma -- can't even finish that sentence, sorry ... Baltimore's Sir Sidney Ponson returns triumphantly to begin the season 1-0 by beating Boston and new second baseman Pokey Reese ...

In the City With Big Shoulders, can Cliff Politte duplicate Loiaza's Toronto-to-Comiskey-to-Andujar run? How about former 40-save guy Mike Jackson? ... The NL's Windy City entry sports a couple of Todd-like candidates in second baseman Walker and outfielder Hollandsworth, while the bullpen has been fortified by LaTroy Hawkins and Kent Mercker ...

Speaking of Toronto-to-Andujar, any odds on Cory Lidle taking the hardware back to the Queen City? Or does new Cincinnati bullpen vet Todd Jones have a better chance? ... Cleveland has Jeff D'Amico penciled into its pitching staff, while the former "Mayor" of Boston, Lou Merloni is also aboard ... Colorado's Greene might slam 40 homers in Coors if Charles Johnson keeps hitting like Charles Nelson Reilly, and he'll be catching Jeff Fassero and Turk Wendell, the latter of whom presumably will not take a steroid-strewn path to an Andujar ...

In Motown, well, Jays fans have already met Johnson, Esteban Yan and the inimitable Alex Sanchez ... Is that really Darren Oliver battling for a spot in Florida's rotation? And Chad Fox is looking more and more like a guy who might make the pre-season Andujar list every year because he keeps changing teams ... Box policy might be to denigrate the term "professional hitter," but Matt Stairs brings that on his curriculum vitae to Kansas City, where new teammate Tony Graffanino attracted some pre-season attention from Boxers as well ...

If Rick White, Jose Lima or Olmedo Saenz win an Andujar for their new Dodger employer, well, that'd be a story along the lines of "Dodgers score six runs in one game" ... Milwaukee came up with Scott Podsednik and Danny Kolb last year; can Dave Burba regain the, uh, magic of seven straight double-digit victory seasons, or can Adrian "El Duquecito" Hernandez shine outside the glare of Broadway's bright lights? ...

Minnesota has Aaron Fultz on the pre-season Andujar list, and that's -- uh, nice ... For the Yankees, Donavan Osborne could back his way into a dozen wins if he pitches decently and lines up his starts with days the Yankees score nine runs ... Take the 7 train crosstown to Shea, where the Mets have no less than six candidates for an Andujar, including three ex-Yanks in Shane Spencer, Karim Garcia and Todd Zeile, along with former 20-game winner Scott Erickson, former Florida closer-in-waiting Braden Looper and former Kansas City closer-in-waiting Orber Moreno.

Beane's Boys offer Eric Karros, Chris Hammond and the just-under-the-wire offseason free agent acquisition Mark McLemore ... Pittsburgh re-acquired Randall Simon, who may lead the team in RBI, and has Chris Stynes, who just may lead that club in hitting. Think about the enormity of those statements ... San Diego has Sterling Hitchcock and Ismael Valdes in the rotation and Jay Payton patrolling somewhere in the outfield ... San Francisco, which probably needed to add way more Andujar candidates than it did, will send Tomko out to the mound pretty regularly ...

Seattle's top candidate is on the shelf right now, but Scott Spiezio seems like a good bet to place somewhere on the Andujar Top 10 come season's end; Mike Myers hopes to do a passable impression of Dr. Evil coming out of the bullpen ... The Cardinals' new leadoff man -- maybe, anyway -- is Marlon Anderson, and perennial prospect Jeff Suppan -- who's still only 29, can you believe it? -- will get a turn in the rotation ...

Tampa Bay may turn into Andujar Central as the years pass and the Rays try to improve; closer Danys Baez joins three other pitchers in Paul Abbott, Damian Moss and John Halama as candidates in 2004, while Toronto's favorite son, Jose Cruz, Jr. returns for another crack at the award ... Texas has Rod Barajas splitting time with rookie Gerald Laird, now that Einar Diaz is off to Montreal, but the better bet in Arlington may be ex-Expo Brad Fullmer ...

And in Toronto? Alphabetically last on this list, the Jays offer Batista, who could blossom, while Terry Adams and Kerry Ligtenberg will work out of the 'pen, with the latter eyeing more than a few save opportunities should Aquilino Lopez and/or Justin Speier falter.

So there's the list. (So far.) And here's a quick Top 10 Andujar Watch, which we'll update throughout the season, noting rising and falling candidates and the darkhorse newcomers. We start the rankings with a massive surprise as the favorite.

1. Jay Payton
2. John Thomson
3. Brett Tomko
4. Brad Fullmer
5. Todd Greene
6. Jeff Suppan
7. Kerry Ligtenberg
8. Danys Baez
9. Jason Johnson
10. Matt Stairs