On paper there is probably no way Manager Rene Lachemann, who performed the Indian rope trick last year while elevating the expansion Seattle Mariners to 76 victories in the American League West, can duplicate that performance in 1983.
Without his best pitcher, Floyd Bannister (who used his free-agent status to sign with the Chicago White Sox), Lachemann has no one who can give him a super effort on the mound every fourth or fifth day.
In fact, the Mariners were seven games over .500 when Bannister pitched in 1982 and just another scrappy team when he didn't. Floyd struck out 209 batters and also had the best earned-run average of any southpaw in the American League.
Going into spring training, the only pitcher guaranteed a spot in the five-man starting rotation was 44-year-old Gaylord Perry. Veteran Jim Beattie ( 25 wins, 44 losses) also was slated to be in the order, but has been sent to Salt Lake City on a 20-day rehabilitation option.
After Perry, Lachemann gets to choose from among kids like Mike Moore, Bob Stoddard, Bryan Clark, and 19-year-old Edwin Nunez, nearly all of whom are still in their development stage. Veteran right-hander Glenn Abbott, who has twice won 12 games in previous years, is also a possibility, although he didn't throw a pitch in the majors last season because of arm problems.
The feeling here is that Seattle is probably going to repeat last year's numbers with the busiest bullpen in the American League, an area in which Lachemann always seemed to have the right relief pitcher up and ready.
For example, Rene got 26 saves along with 12 victories from Bill Caudill; a record 78 club appearances from rookie reliever Ed Vande Berg; and 56 more appearances from Mike Stanton. It should also be mentioned that Vande Berg, who inherited a total of 98 men already on base during those 78 appearances, allowed only 13 of that group to score.
Even though Seattle didn't make any blockbuster trades during the off-season, it did manage to corral veteran outfielder Steve Henderson from the Chicago Cubs and first baseman Pat Putnam from the Texas Rangers. Putnam, who spent most of last year in the minors, does have some power and once hit 18 homers for Texas.
Dave Henderson (no relation to Steve) is again in center field and hopefully will hit more home runs (14) and drive in more runs (48) than he did in 1982. Al Cowens, a nine-year veteran who regained some of his power last season after short-circuiting with California and Detroit, is in right.
Richie Zisk, who set a Mariners' record by homering in five consecutive games last April, assumes the role of the team's chief designated hitter.
Behind the plate, Seattle will split its catching assignments among Rick Sweet, Bud Bulling, and rookie Orlando Mercado. Orlando, who hit .280 last year with Salt Lake City, is only 21. And while it might be a little early to compare him with Pittsburgh's Tony Pena, the physical dimensions are roughly the same.
While the middle of Lachemann's infield is set with Todd Cruz at shortstop and Julio Cruz (no relation) at second, the size of the question marks at first and third base would have trouble fitting sideways on a Manhattan bus.
After Putnam at first there is Jim Maler, who hit .226 last year. But the possibility exists that one of the team's reserve outfielders may end up there. While Manny Castillo is the third baseman today, there is no guarantee that he will be there tomorrow. Castillo's chief claim to fame is that he has always hit well in the minors.
Lachemann has had remarkable success so far with kids, rejects, and players who, after coming over in trades, worked themselves out of slumps. Four of Rene's most successful reclamation products last season (Perry, Caudill, Cowens, and Todd Cruz) had all been given up by other teams.
Lachemann, who served as the Los Angeles Dodgers' bat boy from 1959 to 1962, seems to have a way of knowing just when to go to his bullpen to avoid a crisis. A former catcher, he spent only 118 games in the majors with Kansas City and later Oakland.
But like Walter Alston, who had only one major league at-bat but later made baseball's Hall of Fame as a manager, Lachemann seems to know how the game should be played and who can play it that way.