Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Forney filling Goldeyes shopping list

'Way ahead' of last February as he picks something old, something new for roster

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For now, all is calm at Rick Forney's Maryland house, save for the rustle of shovels as the Goldeyes manager digs his home out from under a dump of East Coast snow.

"It's not as cold as Winnipeg," Forney said sunnily Friday, but still, the green fields of baseball seem so far away.

Not for much longer. A couple weeks down the road, Forney expects, his phone will start ringing at 7:30 a.m. and stay ringing until the sun sets. Agents will ramp up the pressure when affiliated ball clubs start making their spring cuts. When that happens, more than 500 players will be hunting for work, and Forney will have spots for some of them to fill. But for the first few months of this long off-season, the Fish skipper said, "you learn how to turn your phone off."

This is not to say Forney hasn't been busy -- in fact, he's done more than enough. The Fish already have 16 players signed for next season, including eight pitchers and eight around the field. Some signees are fan favourites, others among the more robust discoveries Forney made last year. There are still a few items on his shopping list -- a centre-fielder, a few more pitchers, a stout bat for the middle of the order and preferably a left-handed hitter -- but so far, not bad.

"Right now, I think the roster looks pretty good," he said. "We still have some pretty important holes to fill, but we're not in full panic mode... Obviously, there's not as much work to be done this year as we did this time last year. We're way ahead."

Last year, he was facing a whack of retirements, with only a handful of players set to return from the Goldeyes' 2012 American Association championship team. That left the dugout boss to hunt for an almost entirely new roster. By Feb. 19, 2013, only eight players were under contract.

This year, the team is already taking shape. Most of the Goldeyes' fan favourites are signed, including Amos Ramon, Josh Mazzola and catcher Luis Alen.

Last year's pitching ace, Matt Rusch, is gone. He asked for a trade back to Quebec, as his partner followed job opportunities to her home province. But veteran Chris Salamida is set to return.

That's a key addition. The southpaw cut short his retirement to join the Fish down the stretch last season and threw superb. He went 7-1 in nine starts and pounded the plate to the tune of a rock-solid 2.23 ERA. In two consecutive starts in mid-August, he pitched a complete-game shutout.

This winter, the 29-year-old tuned up his game in Australia, where the Kensington Cardinals raved about their "import stud" on Facebook. So yeah, he should come into Goldeyes training camp ready to shoulder a big load.

"He's a No. 1 starter in this league," Forney said. "It's really hard to find guys that can do that and stay healthy. Sal's one of those guys."

Forney has inked a whack of players who impressed at Shaw Park last year. As it stands, Ryan Scoma, whose .443 on- base percentage was second in the league, won't be back. Forney said the standout outfielder signed a tryout with the Blue Jays organization.

But big-swinging infielder Casey Haerther is inked for 2014, and bullpen heroes Chris Kissock and Brendan Lafferty too. Forney also re-upped outfielder Ray Sadler, who fired off 21 home runs between the Fish and the Kansas City T-Bones last season, pitcher Matt Jackson and righty hurler Jason Jarvis, who was the first to sign. Forney has inked some new guys too, including swinging a trade with the Sioux City Explorers to grab 24-year-old infielder Ryan Pineda.

There will be more, as Forney waits to see what kind of talent is set loose from the spring affiliated camps. Until it happens, he said, he's never really sure what kind of guys will be available -- but he bets some of them will fit the bill.

"I like to keep my roster fresh," he said. "I don't like to bring back 22 of the same guys... You have to bring some new people in, bring some of that youth and energy back to your club."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2014 C7

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