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Brewers have more questions than answers

Brewers have more questions than answers

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ARNIE STAPLETON

Associated Press

he Milwaukee Brewers felt good about their replacement team. They're not nearly as confident of their regular roster.

The Brewers have just six players under contract, and four of those are coming off injury-marred seasons.

General manager Sal Bando said returning regulars will face sticker shock like they've never seen. The 234-day strike, the longest and costliest work stoppage in the history of professional sports, cost owners $800 million and will have a deflating effect on salaries for years to come.

The six Brewers that are signed - Darryl Hamilton, Greg Vaughn, Pat Listach, Kevin Seitzer, Bill Wegman and Ricky Bones - will make $10 million.

Unless club president Bud Selig - baseball's acting commissioner who has led management's drive to reign in stratospheric salaries - decides to spend more, that leaves Bando just $6 million to spread among 19 others, including any free agents the club might pursue.

"It's going to be a problem, but that's the consequences of a strike," Bando said. "You can't make the money in a back room."

Of the players already signed, only Bones and Wegman are coming off healthy seasons.

Left fielder Vaughn, who had offseason surgeries on both shoulders, will be the designated hitter at least until June. Center fielder Hamilton had surgery to reconstruct his left elbow. He hopes to be ready for opening day.

Listach, the American League Rookie of the Year in 1992, has been plagued by injuries the last two seasons and his status is uncertain. Seitzer missed 35 games last year with a variety of ailments, including a torn left hamstring and multiple facial fractures thanks to a pitch from New York's Melido Perez.

The Brewers will try to re-sign B.J. Surhoff, Brian Harper and Jody Reed and will try to trade pitcher Jaime Navarro.

They should have strong starting pitching in Cal Eldred, Bones, Wegman, Bob Scanlan and Angl Miranda. Graeme Lloyd and Mike Fetters will anchor the bullpen.

Catcher Dave Nilsson is a rising star and the left side of the infield should be set with Seitzer at third and Jose Valentin at short. If Reed doesn't sign, Fernando Vina could play at second. If Surhoff signs, Nilsson could move to first base.

The outfield will be Hamilton, Turner Ward and Matt Mieske.

The club will go through voluntary workouts Wednesday and Thursday and hold their first

mandatory exercises Friday morning. The season starts April 26.

"If they're smart, they'll get here as quick as they can because that's an extra two days of getting themselves in shape," Bando said. "If I'm a player, coming in unsigned seems to be best way to do it

because it can drag on and now you've missed spring training. And their first obligation I think would be to get in shape.

"My first priority would be to contact agents to reiterate our interest in certain people and then I can't talk to them until I know what my number is," Bando said. "And I'm not optimistic that number is going to be exciting because of what's happened in the game.

"I'll get my number from Bud and then go from there. It's like putting a puzzle together."

Fifteen replacements packed their bags for home Sunday and 17 returned to their minor league assignments. Milwaukee manager Phil Garner said some of those who went to the minors could return to camp at Chandler, Ariz., in a couple of weeks.

"These guys are ready to play. I think a player goes downhill when you're ready to play and you don't play," Garner said. "You can't train for another three weeks and go through that again.

"So I have told all the position players that were here that they need to go play. That's the best thing. They're out of sight; they're not out of mind."

The replacements actually had some fun before scattering to minor league assignments and regular jobs back home.

On the complimentary tickets sign-in sheet in the clubhouse, camp clown Tim Dell scribbled in Selig's name and catcher Bob Kappesser, who earlier threw away his baseball cap, penciled in union leader Donald Fehr.

When they arrived at the clubhouse Sunday to pick up their plane tickets, they were told they'd get a $1,000 thank-you, a team jacket and the major league uniform they never got to wear - complete with their last name stitched across the back.

Replacement pitcher Dave Fitzgerald, who lives in Phoenix and threw batting practice for the Brewers last spring, said he'd like to do it again now that the regulars are coming back.

He said he didn't fear any animosity because he was a replacement. "I'm not concerned," Fitzgerald said, "because I'm the one throwing the ball."

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