TEMPE, Zriz. (AP) _ During the winter, the California Angels traded for player who, they learned, was quitting baseball to try football. Later, they traded for a third baseman who, they learned, needed shoulder surgery.
Those deals, involving minor leaguer-turned college quarterback Jeff Tuss and third baseman Kelly Gruber, caused the Angels’ brass some embarrassment.
Also during the off-season, they didn’t want to pay his price so they traded one of the most popular players in the franchise’s history, pitcher Jim Abbott, to the New York Yankees.
They let Bryan Harvey, one of their best relievers ever, go in the expansion draft.
Those moves, particularly the loss of Abbott, caused the Angels’ brass some uneasiness, bringing stacks of critical letters and even death threats.
It was a winter to forget for the Angels following a season in which they went 72-90. Summer may not be much better.
With a lineup of unproven youngsters, with their pitching rotation shaky once they get beyond Mark Langston and Chuck Finley, and with no relief in sight from the bullpen, 1993 promises to be a long, rebuilding year for the Angels.
At one point during the spring, manager Buck Rodgers admitted, ″If we can finish 10 games over .500, that would be a heck of a season.″
He smiled and added, ″Maybe .500 would be a heck of a season.″
Rodgers, who missed much of 1992 because of injuries he received in the crash of the Angels’ bus last May 21 in New Jersey, wouldn’t seem to be under much pressure this year, at least.
Club vice president Whitey Herzog, however, said recently that he believes the Angels look much better now than a year ago, and that ″I really think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.″
Even Herzog, however, admitted that he is very concerned about the California bullpen, saying that was the key to team. The relievers the Angels will be counting on - Joe Grahe, Steve Frey and Chuck Crim - have been ineffective this spring.
Julio Valera, who ostensibly would have been the No. 3 starter, has been bothered by soreness in his elbow this spring and apparently will start the season in the bullpen because he’s had limited work.
The Angels can make it through most of April with a four-man rotation because of some days off, and Valera should be ready to rejoin the starting corps by the end of the month.
In the meantime, Langston and Finley give California an outstanding 1-2 punch, but the quality of pitching drops off quickly from there.
Scott Sanderson, who had a 12-11 record but a 4.93 ERA for the Yankees last year, is expected to be the third man in the Angels’ rotation. John Farrell will start the season in the No. 4 spot.
California’s lineup will have a few established players, including left fielder Luis Polonia and designated hitter Chili Davis, but will be heavily populated by youngsters - second baseman Damion Easley, 23; first baseman J.T. Snow, 25; right fielder Tim Salmon, 24; center fielder Chad Curtis, 24; and shortstop Gary DiSarcina, 25.
All five appear to have bright futures, but all would seem to need a few seasons of experience.
Salmon is one of the more highly regarded of the young players, since he barely missed winning a triple crown last year at Triple-A Edmonton. He had a Pacific Coast League-high 29 homers and 105 RBIs, and hit .347, just four points less than the league leader.
Snow, acquired from the Yankees along with Springer and Jerry Nielsen in the Abbott deal, batted .313, with 15 homers and 78 RBIs at Columbus last year.
Curtis hit .259, with 10 homers and 46 RBIs as a rookie with California last season. Easley hit .258 in 47 games for the Angels in 1992, and DiSarcina hit .247 last year in his first full season in the majors.
Rodgers said he believes the Angels are going about building a team in the proper manner, using a lot of young players.
″I really think this will work,″ he said. ″Just give it a chance.″
Projected Regular Lineup:. Luis Polonia (lf); Chad Curtis (cf); Tim Salmon (rf); Chili Davis (dh); J.T. Snow (1b); Rene Gonzales (3b); Damion Easley (2b); John Orton (c); Gary DiSarcina (ss).