Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Randy Johnson Deal Would Aid Yankees Over Mets

The proposed trade of SP Randy Johnson would boost the Yankees in two ways: 1) ease budget constraints to make room for the aquisition of free agents Roger Clemens or Barry Zito; and 2) block the crosstown rival Mets from acquiring Zito, thus strengthening the Yankees at the Mets expense.

Both concepts are important in the competition for off-field revenues generated from everything from caps and T-shirts to commercial advertising sales.

Though the Yankees and Mets split the nation's largest TV revenue pie, the pie is finite and the competition for broadcast advertisers is fierce. That hard lesson was first learned in 1969, when the Mets won the World Series and swooped up much of the New York metropolitan area sponsorship, forcing the Yankees to cancel numerous TV and radio broadcasts with a commensurate loss of earnings for 1970 and for several more years to come.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

White Signing Relegates Twins Jason Kubel to DH

Minnesota's signing of aging Rondell White means former top prospect Jason Kubel will be relegated to DH, receiving playing time that already has been partly promised to newly signed veteran 3B Jeff Cirillo.

Twins management is trying to justify Kubel's downgrade as a provision for him to buy more time to recover from a knee injury. But the injury is already more than two years past; how much more time does he need?

Ironically, White, a 14-year veteran at 34, who reupped with an incentive-laced, $2.75 million one-year contract, has health issues of his own, having been unable to appear for more than 500 atbats since 1999. White will be paid $8.5 million in '07 if he gets 650 plate appearances. Sure!

Not fully recovered from a nagging shoulder injury from the previous year, White washed out last season as the starting DH, hitting just .194 in that role for the season.

Rangers C Gerald Laird Out of Doghouse at Last

When he was the property of the Oakland Athletics -- where he owned a .300 batting average in the minors -- catcher Gerald Laird was so prized that he was cast as the lynchpin in a trade with the Rangers for the even more highly valued 1B Carlos Pena.

Pena has yet to fulfill the promise forseen for him, and perhaps never will. But at 27, Laird -- Oakland's 1998 second round pick -- may finally have won his chance to shine after hitting .296 in 245 at-bats last season in the shadow of Rod Barajas.

Two years after becoming the property of Texas in the 2002 trade, Laird found himself in manager Bucky Showalter's doghouse for refusing to play winter ball overseas, But now Showalter is in Cleveland and Barajas is in Philadelphia,

Laird will be given a full-time chance this spring to demonstrate his skills at backstop (with potential to throw out runners at a 50 percent clip) and hit for average and occasional power. Having formerly played third base and shortstop in the Oakland system, he also has decent footwork.

Laird murders left-handed pitchers. Full-time exhibition play beginning next March will allow him to show he can hold his own against righties, whom he scarcely saw under Showalter's tutelage. The starter's job should become Laird's to lose.

Brian Bannister Asks: How About Dem Tomatoes?

SP Brian Bannister has caught the attention of the Royals front office with his performance for the Culoraton Tomato Pickers in the Mexican League, where he has demonstrated a full recovery from last season's injuries with a variety of off-speed and breaking pitches and a fastball sometimes topping out at 92 mph.

The 25-year-old hurler -- recently acquired by Kansas City from the Mets -- is racking up almost a strikeout per inning, enabling him to pitch reasonably deep into games, most notably two recent seven inning victories, one a five-hitter and the other a three-hitter, with an overall ERA of 3.68.

With newly acquired SP Gil Meche potentially coming into his own at 28, and a big upside for youngster Zach Greinke, 23, and veteran Odalis Perez, 29, the Royals have yet to be certified as true playoff contenders but have cobbled together potentially the team's best rotation in years.

Brad Radke Not Making Self Scarce in Minnesota

Retired Twins pitcher Brad Radke and his wife Heather have completed a new retirement home in Bel-Air Beach in South Florida, but they'll remain familiar figures in the Twin Cities, sometimes even in winter. Radke will maintain his property on a lake called Minnetonka -- Indian word meaning "big water, rich people."

Radke, an upper Mississipi Valley native, keeps a boat on the lake and has been a familiar face among the ice fishermen. Radke and his wife will continue to oversee the Radke Family Foundation, an important charity for the needy.

Monday, December 18, 2006

'07 Rookie of Year Candidates Excel in Fall League

Two top candidates for 2007 Rookie of the Year, SS Troy Tulowitzki of Colorado and 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff of San Diego, have done nothing since the end of the season to make their respective managers question the confidence being placed in them as potential and likely big league starters in April.

Tulowitzki, likely to top SS Clint Barmes in spring competition, hit .329 in the recently concluded Arizona Fall League. Kouzmanoff, who already has been promised the 3B job for the Padres, hit .382.

San Francisco 2B prospect Kevin Frandsen, however, has not fared as well. Though Frandsen batted .387, the Giants re-signed 35-year-old veteran 2B Ray Durham, leaving Frandsen's playing opportunities limited.

LaRoche Deal Creates Opening for Scott Thorman

A speculative trade of 1B Adam LaRoche would clear the Braves roster for two purposes: 1] acquisition of a game-ready outfielder to step in should Andruw Jones be shopped; 2] create a spot for 2000 first-round pick Scott Thorman, 24, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound lefty first baseman who batted Batted .298 with 15 homers in 339 atbats for AAA Richmond last year.

The Braves in limited action last season tried to break in Thorman as a left fielder, noting he was blocked from advancement by LaRoche. But results were mixed. Though Thorman has a strong arm, he is better prepared and best suited for first base, where his footwork excels. Thorman has been compared to former Braves veteran Ryan Klesko.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Despite Age, Steve Finley Still Viable Commodity

At 41, Steve Finley's .241 batting average and seven stolen bases in limited action last season might suggest that he's finished. The Giants seemed to think so, buying out his contract for $1 million and sending him packing.
But in a market where center fielders are in short supply, Finley hardly can be expected to rush to the rocking chair when there's money to be made.

It's a big stretch to think the Cubs would seriously consider an aging speedster such as Finley, even with the pickings so slim. Yes, somebody probably will sign him, but expect the Cubs to keep communications open with such teams as Milwaukee, considering the Brewers surprising number of tradeable outfielders, including but not limited to Brady Clark and Laynce Nix. Washington's Ryan Church is also being openly shopped.

Bubba Crosby is out there; very athletic, but just a spare part. Angels castoff Daren Erstad is still in his prime and used to play a strong center field, but injuries have taken a toll, with his ability to make quick turns, starts and especially hard stops now questionable.

Cory Sullivan could be pried from the Rockies, but who would want an outfielder associated with a number of problems both at the plate and in the field?

The Cardinals still have Larry Bigbee under control. Bigbee has played center field for Baltimore, but has been unable to stay healthy and finds his career in jeopardy even before he reaches his 30th birthday.

One oldie but goodie is the Yankees Bernie Williams, who can still run a little bit and hit left-handed pitching and -- oh, forget it.

Vernon Wells Cost Much Greater Than $128 Million

The good news for the Blue Jays is that Vernon Wells is inked though 2013, but the bad news is that his services come at a great deal more cost than his $128 million contract. With Wells off the block, speculation of a megadeal in which pitching might be acquired have screeched to a halt.

After Roy Halliday and A.J. Burnett, Toronto's rotation has been reduced to Gustavo Chacin, Gustavo Chacin and Gustavo Chacin, with the club having precious little to trade in exchange for addditional help. As if Chacin wasn't troublesome enough with his 5.05 ERA, the Jays must now cobble a rotation from the likes of Josh Towers or bullpen fodder Shaun Marcum, and perhaps high maintenance, low-cost free agents such as Mark Redman, Jamey Wright or Joel Piniero. Having shelled out history's seventh largest contract to Wells, no money is left to pay for a Jeff Suppan type, let alone a Barry Zito.

The Blue Jays have an interesting prospect in first baseman Chip Cannon, who tore up the Arizona Fall League. With no place to play, Cannon is ticketed for Syracuse and thus is expendable. But it's questionable whether any teams would offer much value for an untested commodity. Pity that Ted Lilly and Gil Meche slipped through the Blue Jays fingers.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Presenting Toby Hall, Best Catcher Nobody Wanted

The Dodgers decision to cut loose Toby Hall -- the best catcher that nobody ever wanted -- opens a number of possibilities for clubs seeking an upgrade at backstop.

At 31, Hall has a decent arm, owns a better than .300 average in the minors, has never embarrassed himself at the plate in the majors, and knows how to put his muscular, 240-pound widebody behind an occasional deep fly.

Oddly, in his four years at Tampa Bay, despite his bat repeatedly coming to life for weeks at a time, he was always left naked at the bottom of the batting order, wasting his potential to drive in runs.

Acquired from Tampa Bay as part of the deal for top rookie Dioner Navarro, Hall again was relegated to the end of the bench with the Dodgers despite hitting .368 in limited appearances. Hall is much better and more valuable than Mike Lieberthal, 37, but Dodgers GM Ned Colletti chose to sign Lieberthal rather than give Hall a continued shot as backup.

Hall thinks he deserves to play every day. He's right.

Andy Pettitte Passes Yankees Health Inspection

Ex-Houston SP Andy Pettitte overcame Yankees GM Brian Cashman's concerns about his physical strength and durability by presenting statistics that show his recurring elbow problems are behind him. The 34-year-old lefty exacted his $16 million per annum deal from New York by showing that he went 8-4 with a 2.79 ERA after July 1, enhancing his reputation as a big-game, late-season, playoff performer.

Sosa, Gonzalez Seen as Oldies, But Not Goodies

Former big-time sluggers Sammy Sosa, 38, and Juan Gonzalez, 37, are finding no takers as they put out feelers throughout the major leagues for a chance to make a comeback. Sosa is working out at his home in Miami and Gonzalez is working out and playing near his home in Puerto Rico.

Sosa's last big season was with the Cubs in 2003, when he batted .279 with 40 homers in 517 atbats. In his last season, for Baltimore in 2005, injuries held Sosa to 380 atbats though he managed 14 homers while hitting .221.

Gonzalez's last big season was with Cleveland in 2001, when he batted .325 with 35 homers in 532 atbats. Due to injuries, Gonzalez has been unable to play in more than 82 games in a season since.

Oakland Wheels Out Trojan Horse SP Rich Harden

Oakland GM Billy Beane's move to shop Athletics staff ace Rich Harden has encountered difficulty passing the sniff test among prospective buyers throughout the league, leading to suspicions that the six-foot-one fireballer is damaged goods.

Harden, 25, perhaps the most gifted pitcher Beane has managed since taking the Athletics helm, has a track record of injuries including to the elbow, shoulder and ribs, limiting him to only 46 innings last year.

Harden has never been able to reach the 200-inning plateau, and has clashed with trainers over a rigorous weightlifting and workout regimen so ambitious that some suspect it may be debilitating.

Though Beane has little need but to tweak his bullpen and batting order, he has deemed Harden expendable. If Beane finds a buyer, expect Joe Kennedy, Kirk Saarloos and Brad Halsey to compete to replace Harden in the rotation.

Giants Defer Bonds' Pay to Free Up Money for Zito

Of the near $16 million promised to OF Barry Bonds, some $5 million is being planned for deferment in order to help the Giants scrape up enough money to add to the pay package being put together to lure SP Barry Zito from the East Bay. It may take in excess of $100 million to sign the left-handed former Cy Young Award winner, who is being hotly pursued by Rangers owner Tom Hicks.

Pressure Mounts for Cubs to Deal for Center Fielder

With Kenny Lofton's signing with Texas, the limited availability of center fielders has become even more limited, leaving the Cubs in a bit of a bind. Initially, newly signed Alfonso Soriano had been envisioned as the prime candidate to take over for the departed Juan Pierre (now with the Dodgers).

But new manager Lou Piniella put the kibash on that; he insists on playing Soriano in right; with Matt Murton likely in left. Glendon Rusch, whose name is no stranger in trade talks, might be expendable as the club looks for a hitter with the requisite speed and arm to play center. Don't be surprised if Jacque Jones isn't already part of the propostion.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ryan Klesko May Find a Suitor in San Francisco

Even among teams that could use a first baseman as an upgrade, as a trade component or even a backup, Ryan Klesko isn't finding many eager takers. Though the 36-year-old San Diego refugee claims he's fully recovered following his injury-marred season, his best years are clearly behind him. Still, the Giants are looking Klesko over, not only for his potential, but because he brings a couple of key intangibles to San Francisco: he's old and he's old.

Monday, December 11, 2006

SP Barry Zito Attempting to Resist Pressure to Sign

Free agent SP Barry Zito -- feverishly pressured by the Rangers to sign -- is trying to keep Texas and other potential suitors at bay while various other teams work out deals to make room for him. Seattle is widely recognized as trying to shop 3B Adrian Beltre or 1B Richie Sexson, multifaceted moves that would free up money to pay Zito something close to or perhaps even beyond the $100 million he is seeking. Another surprise candidate is believed to be the San Francisco Giants.

Daisuke Matsuzaka's Not Likely to Humble Himself

Steeped in an ancient culture in which tradition, pride and honor are valued above all else, it is highly unlikely that fireballing Japanese ace Daisuke Matsuzaka would humble himself by accepting an undervalued contract from geigenes -- foreigners. With such pitchers as Gil Meche commanding more than $10 million a year for five years, it's laugable to think that Matsuzaka would agree to a $7-8 million contract for three years reportedly being offered by the Red Sox. If BoSox CEO Larry Lucchino doesn't want to be seen as scourge of baseball, he'll need to dig much deeper into his pockets than the $51.1 million he bid for the right to negotiate.

Rich Harden, Danny Haren Remain on Mets Radar

Oakland starters Rich Harden and Danny Haren remain ideal fits for an anticipated Mets rotation upgrade. The Mets are thought to be willing to part with young outfielder Lastings Milledge, who for some reason seems to be more highly regarded outside the Mets organization than within. Milledge could be dealt to the Athletics with any one of a number of tradeable arms, including coveted youngsters Mike Pelfrey, Phil Humber and Andy Soler, plus Oliver Perez or even Jason Vargas, both with major league experience and some upside. A's GM Billy Beane, however, is thought to have his eye on Aaron Heilman, who can start but is envisioned by the Mets as a longman in the '07 bullpen.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Loss of Andy Pettitte Opens Door for John Garland

Money conscious Astros owner Drayton McLane gambled and lost when he bet he could re-sign SP Andy Pettitte by offering him something no one else could: a chance to stay and play in his adopted hometown of Houston. But with Pettitte gone to the Yankees now for $16 million a year, the Astros still have Plan B in place: a trade for White Sox SP John Garland in exchange for a couple of of Houston's up-and-coming outfielders and pitchers. Ironically, McLean could have kept Pettitte if he had merely upped his original offer another $2 million, but he refused to cross the $12 million threshhold. Pettitte, of course, is widely regarded as a superstar alongside Garland, but apparently McLane is wishfully hoping for some vague kind of parity when Pettitte's and Garland's numbers are compared at the end of next year.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Daisuke Matazuka Agent Seeks Faustian-like Pact

It may be a little harsh to label it a pact with the devil, but the contract Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matazuka is negotiating with the Boston Red Sox has taken on Faustian overtones, if not overt subversiveness.

After shelling out an astonishing $51 million just for the right to negotiate with Matazuka, Boston CEO Larry Lucchino has been rebuffed by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig's office in the Red Sox attempt to pressure Matazuka's team, the Seibu Lions, to kick in a few million dollars to defray the amount Lucchino must pay the 26-year-old ace.

Though MLB has strictly forbidden the scheme, that hasn't stopped Matazuka's agent -- Boras Karloff -- from promoting a little creative financing to close the gap between the $7-$8 million a year Lucchino reportedly would like to pay, and the $14-15 million or more Karloff would like to collect for his client by the Dec. 14 closing deadline.

Instead of paying the Red Sox directly, the way Karloff sees it, the Lions could just pony up a little parting gift for Matazuka to compensate him for any perceived Red Sox shortcomings.

Nothing big, of course; just a little token of esteem. Yeah, that's the ticket: a case of wine perhaps or a gold watch. Maybe a couple of boxes of stationery would be appropriate, say some nice watermarked, 20-pound cotton-fiber bond with, oh, a personal, gold leafed monogram or possibly -- wink, wink; nudge, nudge -- printed in the form of stock certificates or pictures of dead presidents. We're only talking about $10-$20 million or so. Hey, who's going to let a little integrity get in the way when sentiment is at stake?

Astros Hopeful SP Andy Pettitte Will Stay in Fold

If the Yankees want to bid $15 million for SP Andy Pettitte's '07 services, that's fine with the Astros. The Astros won't match it, probably don't have to. The Astros are gambling that with Pettitte having earned more than $100 million in his 16-year career, he has plenty and there isn't enough to tempt the Louisiana native to leave his Houston environs at any price.

Moreover, with Pettitte considering taking a year off just to be with his family, perhaps even retire, it's a good bet he would never return to New York just for a pot of gold. Even if Pettitte leaves, the Astros are confident another pitcher can be acquired, either through free agency or trade. Among the bait being dangled: closer Brad Lidge.

1B Brad Eldred's Return Going Slowly on Hispanola

Pirates front office personnel is involved in a few quiet trade talks but likely will return from Orlando with little to show for it

The re-emergence of Pittsburgh's 6-foot-five, 270-pound first base prospect Brad Eldred, 27, would have allowed Xavier Nady to return from first base to this natural position in the Pirates outfield, thus making trade bait available.

But Eldred's rehabilitation is going slowly because of a long layoff after he fractured the joint and collateral ligament of his left thumb in a collision with a baserunner at AAA Indianapolis last season.

Eldred has returned from rehab, but went 1-18 with a homer in his debut in the Dominican Winter League on the island of Hispanola in the Caribbean. He'll get a look this spring, but it remains to be seen how long Eldred will need to recover his form.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Richie Sexson, Tim Hudson Deal Hits Snag with LA

Angels GM Bill Stoneman continues to play the spoiler in widespread speculation about a deal sending Mariners first baseman Richie Sexson to the Braves for starting pitcher Tim Hudson.

Outfielder Raul Ibanez would take Sexson's spot, newly signed outfielder Jose Guillen would take over for Ibanez, then the Braves would send first baseman Adam LaRoche to the Angels for infielder/outfielder Chone Figgins and one of the Angels pitchers.

The snag? With Angels ace Bartolo Colon's health in question, Stoneman refuses to give up any prized young arms.

Meanwhile, expect alternate talks involving Manny Ramirez of the Red Sox to crash and burn in Orlando even before Stoneman's bags are packed.

Yankees Beauty Contest Sees Shea Hillenbrand Lose Personality Competition to Julio Zuleta

Why should Yankees GM Brian Cashman be in any hurry to sign free agent first baseman Shea Hillenbrand, considering Hillenbrand has been described variously as a clubhouse cancer and self-absorbed prima donna, and was literally run out of Toronto as such.

Besides, Cashman has an ace in the hole with free agent Julio Zuleta, a 6-foot-five, 250-pound righty first baseman who has been pounding Japanese pitchers -- in more ways than one.

Oh, Zuleta hits homers, all right; he also has been fined some $10,000 by his league plus approximately $3,000 by his team after charging the mound last season and laying a beating on pitcher Satoru Kanemura.

The attack was so severe that Kanemura landed on the disabled list and Zuleta sat out 10 days in a resulting suspension, his sixth turn in the penalty box since he left the U.S. to play in Japan. Now there's a clubhouse presence for you.

Dodgers SP Brad Penny Joins Trade Bait Rankings

Mindful of SP Brad Penny's late-season meltdown, noises coming out of Los Angeles suggest that the Dodgers would add Penny's name to a list of other highly tradeable pitchers around the majors such as Freddy Garcia and Javier Vasquez of the White Sox, and Jason Jennings of the Rockies. The Rockies would love to keep Jennings, but, unlike rotation mate Jeff Francis, Jennings is not about to give himself up too cheaply when he can always test the free agent market after next season. Fine strategy, just don't have a down year. God forbid, don't become injured between now and then.

Texas Leaps to Forefront in Barry Zito Sweepstakes

Free agent SP Barry Zito loves New York, but with the Mets on the record as preferring to trade prospects rather than shell out for free agents, don't be surprised if Zito winds up in Texas. Rangers owner Tom Hicks has his check book in his gun belt, and he's not afraid to use it. Would it be out of the question for Zito to offer Mets GM Omar Minaya a sweetheart discount just for the chance to play in a spacious National League park like Shea Stadium instead of hitter-happy Arlington, Texas? If so, Zito would likely leave $20 million or more on the table just to accept the Mets reported $50 million to $75 million, five-year offer. It's hard to picture walking away from do much dough.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Despite Needs, Rockies Won't Trade Brad Hawpe

The Colorado Rockies have refused to deal left-handed right fielder Brad Hawpe to make room for prime outfield prospect Jeff Baker. The Rockies -- looking for a center fielder -- have been dissatisfied with Hawpe's performance against left-handed pitching, so much so that Hawpe may be forced into a platoon next season.

But Baker, meanwhile, appears to be a complete package. Though still largely untested, Baker has opened eyes by hitting .368 with five homers in 57 AB for the Rockies last year, following a .305 performance with 20 homers and 108 RBI for the AAA Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

Still, a number of teams have been rebuffed in making inquiries about Hawpe, notably the Pittsburgh Pirates with three center fielders on their roster, Nate McLouth, Chris Duffy and promising young prospect Nyjer Morgan, now playing in Hawaii.

As long as free agent journeymen outfielders Jay Payton and Darin Erstad remain on the market, the Rockies feel little pressure to make rash moves. The Rockies have up to $10 million to spend on free agents and will watch closely while the marketplace sets prices on players left behind after the first push.

J.D. Drew Prompts Biggest Protest Since Tea Party

Red Sox fans haven't been up arms like this since the Boston Tea Party. The idea of trading Manny Ramirez is bad enough, but the signing of frail J.D. 'Nancy' Drew for five years at something like $50 million or more has almost caused a revolt in Beantown -- especially after the Red Sox let Johnny Damon go to the Yankees last year. Ironically, the uproar over Drew in Boston has been matched by the glee in Los Angeles, where many Dodgers fans seem only too happy to see Drew go. If Red Sox GM Theo Epstein is determined to buck this kind of sentiment, don't be surprised to see one more boy wonder among the missing one of these days.

Vernon Wells Off Block, So What Else Have Jays?

By refusing to part with star center fielder Vernon Wells, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi has painted himself into a corner at the Orlando winter meetings. Ricciardi is determined not to bust his $80 million payroll budget, leaving trades rather than free-agent signings as his preferred way to pay for the acquisition of a starting pitcher. Ricciardi will continue to try to resign Ted Lilly or Seattle escapee Gil Meche, but both may be beyond Ricciardi's reach financially. That leaves the question: without Wells, what does Ricciardi have to trade? Outfield prospect Adam Lind is untouchable, but for the right price would Ricciardi part with prospect Chip Cannon, who just finished tearing up the Arizona Fall League? At 26, the 6-foot-five, 250-pound lefty first baseman has no place to play, and the Pirates, Reds, Orioles, Giants, Athletics and Yankees conceivably could use upgrades at that position during this or coming seasons.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Brewers Doug Melvin Happily Parts with Doug Davis

For two solid months Brewers GM Doug Melvin walked a tightrope as he attempted to acquire catcher Johnny Estrada from Arizona. It required skill, circumspection and patience -- and a certain amount of restraint -- to close the deal without appearing too eager to part with a pitcher, Doug Davis, in a pitcher scarce market. True, Davis has been capable of throwing 200 innings per season, a sold selling point. But Davis will be 32 at the end of next season and his stats show some unfavorable trends. For one thing his ERA balooned from 3.39 in '04 and 3.84 in '05 to 4.91 last year, while his strikeouts fell from one per inning over that period to 159 in 203 innings for '06, sending up a couple of red flags. Davis lost his concentration early in the season, resulting in control problems, and the difficulties seemed to snowball. Insiders say Davis was distracted by domestic and other related off-field problems, and they hope that he'll return to being his old self once those issues are resolved and he has the advantage of new environs. Maybe so, but the thin air of Arizona is less than an ideal for a fresh start for for a troubled pitcher, while Johnny Estrada arrives in Milwaukee with no baggage in tow.

Brewers Have No Room in Center for Ricky Weeks

It wasn't so long ago that speculation had Rickey Weeks and his hotwheels moving from second base to center field for the Brewers. It makes a certain amount of sense, Billy Hall and J.J. Hardy playing middle infield and Weeks replacing center fielder Brady Clark. But if it doesn't happen now, it probably never will. With the Brewers foiled by San Francisco in an attempt to sign Padres free agent Dave Roberts, (the Giants Old Folks Home just couldn't pass on a center fielder who'll be 35 at the beginning of next season) it looks like Hall, not Weeks, is ticketed for center field. With Weeks staying at second and Corey Hart likely taking over in right, somebody has to go, and that means Geoff Jenkins should be available for a song. Don't be surprised if GM Doug Melvin comes away from Orlando with a new pitcher, and with Jenkins or Kevin Mench wearing different colors. Gabe Gross, Tony Gwynn Jr., and Laynce Nix need spots to play, too.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Jay Payton Spotlights Dan Johnson, Daric Barton

The Athletics decision not to resign Jay Payton sets up a showdown between incumbent first baseman Dan Johnson, and prospect Daric Barton -- but not until mid-season at the earliest, more likely '08. With Payton looking to catch elsewhere, expect Nick Swisher to move to the outfield full time and leave Johnson with one more shot at winning the starter's job at first base. Johnson, who has hit for power and average in the minors, had a disappointing season last year despite an extended look. He'll be watched closely this spring, as will Barton. Barton currently is tearing up the Dominican winter league, but at just 22 likely will be held back for fear of rushing him.

Kei Igawa Worth Much More Than Half of Matazuka

The comparison has been made that Japanese pitcher Kei Igawa -- currently negotiating with the Yankees -- is half the pitcher that is Daisuke Matazuka -- who's negotiating with the Red Sox. While the negotiating rights did come at half the price, in point of fact, a statistical comparison between the two show Igawa is anything but half-strength.

Matazuka is coming off his career year at 17-5 with a 2.13 ERA, but Igawa's career year, '03, tops it at 20-5, 2.80. Both have eight years service, are almost the same age and same height and weight. Matazuka averages 169 K's per season, Igawa 146; while Matazuka walks an average of 62, Igawa only 49.

Matazuka's career won-loss record stands at 108-60 with a 2.95 ERA; Igawa's 86-60 with a 3.15 ERA while pitching for a much weaker team. If Igawa comes at anything like half the price of Matazuka, his glass isn't half empty; it's half full.

Giants Avoid Kevin Franzen; Shun Youth Yet Again

For years former manager Dusty Baker was blamed for the Giants stubborn refusal to develop rookies, the result of which was San Francisco's fielding of one of the oldest teams in the history of the major leagues last year. But now with this latest shunning of hot second base prospect Kevin Franzen in favor of Ray Durham -- and with Baker long gone -- the source of San Francisco's anti-youth prejudice must be placed at the feet of GM Brian Sabean.

Despite a need for a wholesale makeover of the Giants lineup, Sabean -- at the completion of 10 years at the Giants helm -- has opted to plop down nearly $8 million a year for the 35-year-old Durham, a player marked with numerous injuries, impeded play and missed time over the years.

Even with Durham's uncharacteristic 26-homer, 96-RBI career year last season, this money would have been much better spent on a free-agent outfielder, third baseman or pitcher, considering that the Giants already had a ready-made second baseman under contract in the person of the freshly scrubbed Franzen, 24.

Franzen had compiled a .322 combined minor league batting average, then topped it by hitting .388 with a .480 OBP and .588 slugging in the Arizona Fall League. Franzen is heartbroken over the prospect of being relegated to the minor leagues once more, and he has a right. Even when it was unclear whether Durham would re-sign, Sabean engaged in talks with Boston journeyman Mark Loretta rather than bring up Franzen.

Though Franzen has experience playing third base for San Jose State, a position in which he could excel defensively and contribute offensively for the Giants, it is unlikely Sabean will give him a shot to play there. For one thing he hits for average, not power, and for another, he's under the age of 30.

Barry Zito Loves NY, But Does NY Love Him Back?

It has generally been assumed that Oakland A's lefty Barry Zito will decline arbitration now that it has been offered, opting to find his maximum value on the open market. But would Zito change his mind, now that insiders see Mets owner Omar Minaya going to Orlando to trade for a White Sox pitcher rather than pay the price for Zito or any other free agent?

Zito prefers to go to the National League, where the hitting is lighter and where Shea Stadium is spacious enough to reduce Zito's propensity to give up the big fly. After all, Zito gave up 27 homers last year, one every five innings when he pitched against the Rangers at Arlington, Texas. He'll likely get bombed at Wrigley Field as well.

The deep fences and generous foul territory at Oakland Colliseum, on the other hand, have helped Zito chalk up a Cy Young Award, 3.55 career ERA mark and a 102-63 record. That's a success rate Zito will never enjoy again if he signs with the Rangers or Cubs.

Sure the Rangers and Cubs will offer big, big money, but the arbitrator's results would hardly be chopped liver. If Zito settled for arbitration he could stay close to home in spacious Oakland, where some say he best fits. It's not a likely scenario, but then again perameters are rapidly morphing for the 30-year-old ace.

Don't Go Away Mad, Barry Bonds; Just Go Away

Among the goofy MLB rumors making the rounds is one that free agent Barry Bonds might find a spot at DH with the Chicago White Sox. Chicago GM Ken Williams has no opposition to the idea, per se, but hardly could be described as interested. In fact, he'd prefer just to leave things as they are. "I grew up with Barry," Williams said in remarks quoted by the Chicago Tribune. "I played against him in high school and we maintain a friendly relationship. He is very nice to my kids. I would like to keep it that way."

Friday, December 01, 2006

White Sox David Riske's Agent Leaves on Hunt Trip

White Sox reliever David Riske's agent John Boggs has departed on his Orlando hunting trip loaded for bear --big bear -- like Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro, for instance. Boggs has been given a license to kill by the White Sox decision to withhold salary arbitration for Riske. Though Riske can still negotiate with the White Sox and will, he and fellow White Sox reliever Dustin Hermanson now are in big demand in a quickly tightening market for bullpen help. No team has a greater need for bullpen help than the Indians, who once upon a time designated Riske as closer of the future. Riske bombed in that rolefor the Indians, of course, but he has a couple more years of experience now with stops at Boston and Chicago and may have learned a thing or two. At his current annual rate of $1.8 million, he would be among the cheaper alternatives even with his impending raise.

James Loney Desperate for ABs with LA Dodgers

As if the Dodgers outfield wasn't filled with enough wannabees -- including Jayson Werth, Jason Repko, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp -- 1B prospect James Loney has begun practicing with deep flies , liners and major league pops in the hope of picking up a few ABs in left next season. After batting .284 with six doubles, five triples and four homers in just 102 ABs in '06, it's a shame Loney has no place to play. Nomar Garciaparra is entrenched at first base, and while Garciaparrra likely could make a transition to the outfield easier than Loney, there's no way the Dodgers would move Garciaparra there, nor would Garciaparra want to, no matter how many times the subject continues to come up.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Mark Mulder Negotiates with D'Backs, Devil Rays

Injured hurler Mark Mulder is playing the small-market Diamondbacks and Devil Rays against one another while the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals look on. The Cardinals, reigning in the purse strings regardless of the burgeoning free agent market, refuse to re-sign the former teammate for big money due to lingering questions about his condition following rotator cuff surgery. But Arizona and Tampa Bay seem to perceive an opportunity to pick up Mulder on the cheap, relatively speaking, considering that ace Chris Carpenter was snapped up by St. Louis for a mere $300,000 three seasons ago after Carpenter underwent the same surgical procedure.

GM Terry Ryan Hints Twins Won't Spend Whole Lot

On one hand, Twins GM Terry Ryan heads to next week's Winter Meetings in Orlando with the objective of returning with a new pitcher, and claims he has enough latitude to increase his $60 million payroll to buy one. Then, perhaps more characteristically, in remarks quoted by the Star-Tribune, he warns fans that in the current economic climate not to be surprised if he has to fill out his rotation from his stable of youngsters, including Scott Baker, Matt Garza, Glen Perkins or J.D. Durbin.

Yankees Outfox Mets in Bid to Sign SP Kei Igawa

The Yankees outfoxed their crosstown rivals by floating phony reports that Japanese free agent SP Kei Igawa was not worth much to the Bronx Bombers. The reports helped the Yankees hold down Igawa's bid price and enabled GM Brian Cashman to top the Mets bid by $10 million and scoop up the rights to sign him. New York Daily News sports writer Bill Madden was only too happy to run with the misinformation that Igawa was, to one degree or another, nothing to get very excited about. Thus at Cashman's hands, Madden turned himself into a complete monkey -- though that's not much of a stretch considering his idiotic campaign to run Alex Rodriguez out of town.

Eric Gagne Guaging Interest of Red Sox, Indians

Former Dodgers closer Eric Gagne is attempting to guage the interest of the Indians and Red Sox in signing him, but is leaving the door open for a return to Los Angeles. The Dodgers bought out Gagne's contract for $1 million after doubts continued about his health following back and two elbow operations. Gagne, 30, claims to be ready to resume play, but the stumbling block centers around his durability. He hasn't pitched in 16 months and, even if he returned to play tomorrow, it likely would take as long as two years before he could with certainty be given a clean bill of health. Gagne has yet to demonstrate that he can throw in a game situation. Though his arm is believed sound, degenerative discs in the spine remain subject to potential relapse. So far Gagne has beaten the odds as back surgery statistically has been shown to result in improved health in only about 33 percent of cases. Historically, 33 percent of patients gain no benefit from the procedure and another 33 percent are worse off.

Jason Werth's Recovery Offers Possibilities for LA

Injured Dodgers OF Jayson Werth's recent follow-up wrist examination by surgeon Robert A. Berger at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., reveals that Werth's recovery going so well that he should be ready for action at the start of spring training. Since having his full-arm cast removed two months ago, Werth, 28, has been undergoing an intense rehabilitation program to restore normal function of his torn ultra-triquetral ligament in his left wrist.

Werth was severely hurt during spring training of 2005 by an A.J. Burnett fastball. The injury was aggravated by what some have described as a misdiagnosis or misinterpretation of X-ray and other tests. Resulting surgery by specialist Norman Zemel was unsuccessful, causing Werth to miss two successive seasons.

Werth had been a prized Dodgers prospect before the injury, having hit 16 homers in two seasons of limited play in a backup role. Though Werth has yet to hit for average, he shows excellent plate discipline and a good batter's eye in the mold of an Adam Dunn type slugger. Even with the departure of J.D. Drew, the Dodgers outfield picture remains crowded, with center fielder Juan Pierre the only name etched in stone. In addition to Werth, corner outfield candidates include Jason Repko, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp.

Piazza Talks Show Barry Bonds' Options Narrowing

The Oakland A's progress toward closing a deal with free agent Mike Piazza to replace Frank Thomas at DH signals a narrowing of options for Barry Bonds. Bonds has been the subject of unconfirmed but well-worn rumors that he would cross San Francisco Bay to play for Oakland after reaching a stalemate with the Giants. Bonds had reportedly been seeking something in the neighborhood of $15 million a year to return to the Giants. But the Giants opened talks at about $7 million, and have balked at exceeding double figures. Bonds has been trying to claim that all 30 teams are dickering for his services, but the Giants are keenly aware that the slugger is running out of alternatives. Bonds projects as a poor fit throughout both leagues, not only for reasons of teams' lack of need but because of Bonds' contract demands, health concerns, age and performance limitations. That leaves Bonds with little leverage other than to threaten to retire. It's hard to believe Bonds would actually walk away from his chance top Hank Aaron's homer record, but he's making those noises. The next 45 days will tell.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Joe Crede Will Stay with White Sox for Awhile Yet

A certain West Coast rumor alleging an impending trade of White Sox 3B Joe Crede to the Angels has little viability. Joe Crede, his defense, right-handed bat and 30 homers aren't going anywhere but Chicago's south side -- at least for now. In the first place, the White Sox have a playoff contending team largely in place, and Crede makes up a key piece of it. Secondly, Crede will bring a much higher price at the trading deadline next July 31, when the front office will have had the option of dealing him if the team has fallen from contention. Moreover, coaches will have had eight more months to judge the progress of '04 first round 3B prospect Josh Fields, 22, as Crede's replacement, and another half a season to determine whether Crede has recovered from chronic back problems and other nagging health issues. The notion is laughable that the White Sox, even with Crede in the last year of his contract, would part with him for Angels IF/OF Chone Figgins. The White Sox wouldn't give up Crede for Figgins anymore than the Angels would just throw in SP Irvin "Magic" Santana, or the the White Sox give up SP Freddy Garcia, to balance the trade.

Mike Hampton May Be Atlanta's Secret Weapon

It's been a long time since once heralded lefty SP Mike Hampton's ERA balooned to more than 6.00 in Colorado -- even longer since he posted a 22-4 record with a 2.90 ERA for the Astros seven years ago. But before pronouncing Hampton dead, consider this: in his last 22 starts since undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, Hampton is 15-2 with a 2.61 ERA. If we are to believe what the doctors tell us about the procedure, chances exceed 90 percent not only for his full recovery, but the possibility that Hampton will come back to the Braves even better than ever. Hampton is already ahead of schedule, working on his sinker in Florida. Expect Hampton to have a rocky comeback next season, but within a month or two gather himself into his previous identity as one of MLB'S best starting pitchers.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Rangers Tom Hicks' 'If I Did It' Confession Scrapped

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. has scrapped the publication of Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks' autobiographical tell-all book, 'If I Did It,' a thinly disguised theoretical confession about how Hicks, if he did it, ruthlessly bludgeoned the Rangers' chances of reaching the playoffs. In the book, in which Hicks stops just short of claiming responsibility for the team's year-in, year-out disappointments, a scenario is advanced in which Hicks guts his team to pay Alex Rodriguez $250 million, then winds up paying him $9 million a year to play for the Yankees. A number of other graphic eviscerations, such as the trade of starting pitcher Chris Young and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to San Diego for what turned out to be the virtually worthless pitcher Adam Eaton, are also detailed in an account almost universally condemned as being in unspeakably poor taste. "In retrospect, this project was very ill-considered,'' Murdoch said. "We apoligize for trying to profit from the virtual bloodbath that is the Texas Rangers franchise. It's only too ironic that the Rangers evidently aren't interested in profits anyway, so it's of little loss to them." In the book, Hicks recalled that after he executed his deeds, he attempted to dispose of a bloodied baseball bat by hurling it into the Trinity River, only to have it become wedged in the pollution like a lipstick-stained cigarette snuffed in a jar of Vaseline.

Bid for Dave Roberts Would Open Brewers Roster

The Milwaukee Brewers are eyeing free agent Dave Roberts and the 49 bags he stole for the Padres this past season. It's a bid that would create room on Brewers roster for wholesale changes, most importantly the trade of veteran Geoff Jenkins, thus creating playing time for youngster Corey Hart. Roberts would take over in center, Hart would move to right and Jenkins would be dealt for a pitcher. If the deal falls through, Billy Hall would likely play center. Coming on the heels of the acquisition of switchhitting catcher Johnny Estrada from Arizona, don't be surprised if the Brewers not only acquire Roberts but aggressively persue a number of other deals during and beyond the MLB winter meetings schedule. With only eight games separating the Brewers from division champion Cardinals in '06, the Brewers front office perceives an opportunity to reach the playoffs next season, particularly if the Cardinals rest on their World Series laurels.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Are Yankees Feigning Disinterest in SP Kei Igawa?

It isn't difficult to imagine Yankees GM Brian Cashman -- wittingly or unwittingly -- as the ultimate source of a subtle whispering campaign denegrating potential Japanese free agent starting pitcher Kei Igawa. The resulting chatter around the Bronx has Igawa being painted as little better than a back-of-the-rotation hack, unworthy of anything more than mild interest from the Yankees.

That Igawa has mediocre stuff may be true, or it may be a slander designed to hold down Igawa's bidding price. What would Cashman be expected to say; that the Yankees want Igawa and money is no object? No, if you're interested in him, better to be coy, for whatever else Igawa may or may not be, he is in his prime at 27 and is left-handed, which counts for something; and this year's free agent market for pitchers is a tad thin.

Igawa has had more than a solid career in Japan, with a 14-9 record and 2.97 ERA last year for the Hanshin Tigers, coming off his career best of 20-5 with a 2.80 ERA in '03. Based on his record, there's no reason Igawa shouldn't be able to throw 200 innings a season, year in and year out.

Like most lefties, Igawa doesn't throw especially hard. His fastball is usually clocked in the high '80s, sometimes as high as 92 when he reaches back for something extra. But Confucious say good things come in small packages, as the 6-foot-1, 190-pound hurler has a nifty little breaking ball, and varies speeds so effectively with his 75-mph changeup that he has led his league in strikeouts three times, racking up 809 in 843 innings over six years.

OK, Igawa will never become the next Steve Carlton, but for some reason the Diamondbacks, Cubs, Mets, Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Mariners, Indians and Braves all consider him worth their attention, not to mention the Yankees.

Perhaps $10 million would once have been considered a reasonable price for the right to negotiate for the services of a pitcher such as Igawa. But with the Red Sox having recently outbid the competition by nearly 40 percent to pay $51 million just for negotiating rights to Igawa countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka, who can say?

Don't expect a revival of Tennesee Williams, but the next presentation of "Night of the Igawa" will likely come on the evening of Dec. 1, by which time the Japanese will have decided whether they have been successful in exacting yet another pound of flesh or two or three from inscrutable Americans like Brian Cashman.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Carlos Lee Deal Leaves Orioles Options Narrowed

The Astros signing of free agent outfielder Carlos Lee leaves the Baltimore Orioles Hot Stove League position out in the cold, with the club's free agent outfielder pickings dwindling down to Aubrey Huff, J.D. Drew, Cliff Floyd, David Dellucci, Craig Wilson, Trot Nixon and a number of lesser luminaries, most of whom are problematic and none figuring prominently in the team's ongoing negotiations, with the possible exception of Drew. With a present outfield of Brandon Fahey, Corey Patterson and Nick Markakis, the Orioles hardly scare anyone, hence largely unprotected cleanup hitter Miguel Tejada's failure to reach the 30-homer plateau this past season. Missing out on yet another big bat, after refusing to pony up more than $100 million for Lee, the Orioles find themselves languishing along the wayside while Alfonso Soriano, Gary Matthews, Nomar Garciaparra, Moises Alou, Juan Pierre and others parade to alternate destinations. If the front office continues to hesitate to make a deal, desperation may force a move of Melvin Mora back to the outfield to make room for a new third baseman, maybe somebody like Pedro Feliz. Whoop-de-doo! For their fans' sakes, hope the Orioles play for a trade, shopping a prized young pitcher for someone of the caliber of the Reds Adam Dunn.

Yunel Escobar Clouds Braves Marcus Giles' Future

Prospect 2B Yunel Escobar's sudden emergence as a superstar of the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League may mean 2B Marcus Giles' days are numbered with the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta's second-round draft pick in 2005, Escobar, 24, a Cuban defector, won the league's batting title by hitting .407, following up his '06 full-season combined minor league batting average of .320. Escobar's middle infield defense is outstanding, he has good speed and is ideally suited as a top-of-the-order hitter who can perform in the clutch. Giles, meanwhile, at 28 appears to be in a downhill trajectory, his average falling to .262 this season compared to his peak of .316 with 21 homers in '03. Giles has been limited by numerous health issues and injuries, including to both knees, the hand, shoulder, elbow, back and even his teeth. Don't be surprised if the San Diego native winds up joining his brother Brian Giles with the Padres. The Padres have a vacuum at second base now that Josh Barfield has been traded to Cleveland, but need not hurry to find a replacement. A plethora of middle infielders are on the free agent market, including left-batting Todd Walker, 33, whom the Padres had been platooning with Barfield.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Daisuke Matsuzaka 'Gyro Ball' Now New 9th Planet

In a rebuff to the International Astronomical Union's downgrading of Pluto to sub-planetary status, The Far East Observatory Society has designated Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka's "gyro ball" as a replacement. The gyro ball is the smallest but trickiest of numerous celestial spheres that can be tracked on any given summer night in various orbital trajectories around the sun. It can often be observed with the naked eye just above the horizon of the pitching mound, and has been hailed as the most amazing solar system phenomenon since the "Steve Hamilton Floater," which slowly passes through the Earth's solar orbit only once every 275 years. The gyro ball bears a striking resemblance to a common fastball when first observed, but despite its swiftness uses undetectable backspin to break late like a slider, coming in on right-handed batters before diving away. Former major league infielder Bobby Valentine, now managing in Japan, blames the gyro ball for his inability to watch bullpen warmups, as he now suffers chronic vertigo as a result of just trying to follow it. Like the famed Shinto Pagodas and the omnipresent image of Mount Fuji, the gyro ball has become so emblematic in the Japanese national conscience that it has been depicted in red silouette at the center of the Japanese national flag. All bow.

Torii Hunter Still in Minnesota, But for How Long?

The Minnesota Twins decision to pick up Torii Hunter's, one-year, $12 million contractual option signals that Hunter's injury-plagued season is behind him. Though Hunter hit .278 with 31 homers and 98 RBI -- placing him in the upper tier of offensive performers -- his defensive play lagged so noticeably that he was no longer among MLB's elite, quite a comedown for a player who with Atlanta's Andruw Jones had been regarded by many to be the very best defensive center fielder in baseball. But Hunter's decline was not so much a matter of age -- he's only 31 -- as injury, as Hunter played for most of the season with a nagging ankle. The Twins likely would not have held onto Hunter now if he had permanently lost the defensive dimension of his game, so expect Hunter to return at full tilt this spring. He's believed to be at 100 percent now that he has had several weeks to rest. The problem is that with so many questions in the Twins rotation, the team likely will not remain in contention, prompting Hunter's trade by mid-season. This is evident from the team's spurning of offers by Hunter's agent Larry Reynolds for a multi-year deal.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

George Steinbrenner Being George Steinbrenner

New York Yankees boss George Steinbrenner is reportedly happy to be rid of Gary Sheffield, even though Steinbrenner was in dire need of Sheffield's big right-handed bat, one of the most feared in baseball. The problem with Sheffield was not only that he was self-absorbed; he could be difficult, demanding, obstinate, surly and frequently contrary. In other words, he was just like George Steinbrenner.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Shea Hillenbrand Backs Yankees GM Into a Corner

Free agent 1B/3B Shea Hillenbrand has Yankees GM Brian Cashman cornered with no way out. Nomar Garciaparra re-upped with the Dodgers, Frank Thomas can't play the field and signed with the Blue Jays, Gary Sheffield refused to play first and was traded to Detroit, Craig Wilson is a slow, defensive liability and strikes out too much, Phil Nevin's best days are behind him, Daren Erstad has health issues and is a shadow of his former self since his high-school sweetheart ran off with a fireman, and Andy Phillips can't hit. Where is Nick Johnson when you really need him? Cashman is whistling in the dark when he claims he has players within the system to fill the void at first base. Like whom? Cody Ehlers, an 11th round pick who is three years away at best? And forget about Eric Duncan, the 27th overall pick in the '03 draft. The Arizona Fall League has finally concluded with Duncan turning in another lackluster performance, hitting just .257 with a couple of homers. Duncan will be doing well just to keep from washing out at AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre. No, Brian Cashman needs a respectable right-handed bat to balance his lefty-dominated lineup. All the stars have aligned for Shea Hillenbrand, who likely will sign for what not so long ago was thought of as superstar money.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Angels Have Inside Track to Acquire Manny Ramirez

Slugger Manny Ramirez has indicated to Red Sox GM Theo Epstein that he would not veto a trade to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, as is his contractual right. Ramirez has been unhappy living in the tight quarters of Boston, and finds sprawling Los Angeles more to his liking. Talks between the Angels and Red Sox have been ongoing for two years, not so much ending as just cooling due in part to Epstein's demand for top young prospects plus a front-line starting pitcher such as Ervin "Magic" Santana. With Epstein's $51 million winning bid for the rights to negotiate with Japanese ace Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Red Sox will be flush with starters when (and if) D-Mat signs in the next three weeks. Thus Epstein's demands will moderate and possibly provide the break that both sides have been needing to finally consumate the Ramirez deal.

Lyle Overbay Hears Huge Footsteps Behind Him

Blue Jays 1B Lyle Overbay brings decent leather, a .300 batting average and sometimes even a little power to the game. But no matter how well Overbay plays he's always having to look over his shoulder. Having been chased out of Arizona by 6-foot-8 Richie Sexson and from Milwaukee by 260-pound Prince Fielder, Overbay now hears behind him the thundering footsteps of 6-foot-6, 275-pound Frank "Big Hurt" Thomas, Toronto's next DH. Also ticketed for arrival is Chip Cannon, a strident, 6-foot-five, 250-pound left-batting first baseman who is tearing up the Arizona Fall League. In little more than a couple dozen at-bats, Cannon has hit 11 homers with a more than .700 slugging percentage, .350 batting average and .420 OBP for the Phoenix Desert Dogs. At age 26, Cannon may be just about ready for big-league play, and will be given a chance to prove it next spring. At 6 foot 2, 235, Overbay can't be feeling anything if not small.

Mets John Maine Expands His Repertoire for Spring

Mets hurler John Maine, 25, acquired from Baltimore in the Anna Benson trade, was a major surprise when he won eight games in 90 innings with a 3.60 ERA this season. Now Maine hopes to become even better by developing a split-finger pitch to complement his 95-mph fastball, breaking ball and off-speed stuff. Maine's idea is to have an extra option when he has trouble finding the plate, enabling to increase the number of balls he throws for strikes. Maine should have a firm grasp on a spot in the rotation next spring. Anna couldn't top that if she doused her bra with Oil of Olay and touched a match to it.

OF Elijah Dukes Will Get Look at 1B for Devil Rays

Troubled Devil Rays prospect Elijah Dukes -- up until now primarily an outfielder -- will get a look at 1B next spring as the team seeks a replacement for mediocre journeyman Travis Lee, who hit just .224 with 11 homers in '06. With the Rays outfield set with Carl Crawford in left, Rocco Baldelli in center and Delmon Young in right, journeyman infielder Greg Norton has been awarded 1B job by default. But barring a spectacular performance next March, Norton has little chance to be anything other than a backup. Dukes is the Rays top prospect with the ascension of Young and B.J. Upton as starters. Dukes has been described as hard-working and multi-talented. But he has had numerous clashes with authority figures, most notably AAA Durham Bulls manager John Tamargo, who suspended Dukes five times last year. Ironically Dukes now has the last laugh on Tamargo. Tamargo has been fired along with Bulls hitting coach Richie Hebner and the entire Durham staff after the team's 64-78 record in a season tarnished by Young's 50-game suspension for throwing a bat at an umpire and Tamargo's 10-game suspension for bumping an umpire.

J.D.Drew Seeks to Put Off Free Agency Rendevouz

Dumping J.D. Drew's remaining $33 million, three-year deal with the Dodgers became a no-brainer for Drew's agent Scott Boras. Boras recognized an opportunity when he guaged the number of anticipated position openings throughout both leagues for 2007, the relative shortage of personnel and the number of teams with cash. Moreover, Boras reasoned that under Drew's current contract his oft-injured client would be in a weak position to file for free agency three years from now when the current pact terminates just as Drew would be turning 34, marking the downside of his career. Better to file now, in his prime, while there's still a chance for one last big play. Expect Boras to hold out for a five-year deal that, given Drew's dubious health issues, very likely will take Drew to the brink of retirement at 36. And don't be surprised if Drew is one of those guys who irretrievably winds up on the 60-day disabled list when he finally hangs up his cleats. After all, even with two nearly fully productive seasons out of the last five, Drew still has missed a quarter of the games in which he was eligible during that period.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Like Bad Penny, SP Kerry Wood Returns to Cubs

More than just a few fans had hoped Cubs SP Kerry Wood would be gone after he filed for free agency, but no such luck. Even at the bargain-basement price of $1.75 million, many feel the Cubs are still paying too much for the oft-injured Wood, whose ERA topped 5.00 and was limited to just five appearances last year. Chicago GM Jim Hendry says not to worry, though. Next year, he's sure to coaxe him into six appearances.

Japanese Ace Matsuzaka Familiar to US Audiences

Yes, Americans loved Daisuke Matsuzaka when as a child actor he played "Short Round," Indiana Jones' loveable little sidekick in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." But wait. There's been some changes since Matsuzaka developed into a star Japanese pitcher. No, no longer does Matsuzaka need to strap six-inch blocks to the bottoms of his shoes to reach the pedals of Indy's 1937 Cord Phaeton. He needs only three-inch blocks now. And yes, Matsuzaka can almost see over the top of the steering wheel without having to sit on a copy of the Tokyo Yellow Pages. But he's still small for a major league pitcher. Is he really worth the anticipated $40 million the Red Sox would fork over just for the rights to negotiate with him? After all, even at the tender age of 26, Matsuzaka has already had two seasons of dubious health, and may be on a collision course such as that of ex-BoSox ace Pedro Martinez, another slightly built hurler who now may have reached a premature end to his career with the Mets. Can it be that the Red Sox sought the winning bid just to block the Evil Empire's Yankees from signing him, and have no intention of closing a deal? If Matsuzaka and the Red Sox fail to reach an accord, the team's money is fully refunded and the Yankees will have to wait at least another year to get him.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Agent Sad as Rangers Lose Bid for SP Matsuzaka

Agent Scott Boras -- breathlessly awaiting the chance to win a multimillion-dollar-a-year contract for Japanese free agent SP Daisuke Matsuzaka -- was put on a suicide watch early Thursday as word leaked out in Tokyo that Rangers owner Tom Hicks would be unsuccessful in his bid to win negotiating rights to the star Japanese hurler. Boras financed a 20,000-foot wing of his home in 2002 after tricking Hicks into paying $250 million to acquire slugger Alex Rodriguez, for whom Hicks currently pays $9 million a year to play for the Yankees. Boras was also able to buy a 32-foot yacht last year after negotiating a $60 million Rangers contract for SP Kevin Millwood. After looking on as Hicks signed Millwood's papers at Hicks' northern Metroplex mansion, Boras even sneaked off with a set of Hicks' Waterford Turkish towels, his monogrammed satin smoking jacket and a 30-piece antique Sterling silver tea service that Hicks had tried to hide beneath his wet bar. "I'm unspeakably disappointed," Boras conceded. "The A-Rod and Millwood deals were nothing. I was just getting started." Matsuzaka, 26, being made available by the Seibu Lions, was 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA in the WBC last spring. He strikes out more than a batter an inning with a fastball clocked as high as 97 mph. He augments the heat with a wicked slider, a breakneck forkball and a unique, fall-away spinning curve that hitters upon first seeing it have described as the biggest surprise since the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lyle Overbay Keeps Hearing Footsteps Behind Him

Blue Jays 1B Lyle Overbay brings decent leather, a .300 batting average and intermittent power to the game, but no matter how well Overbay plays he's always having to look over his shoulder. Having been chased out of Arizona by Richie Sexson and from Milwaukee by Prince Fielder, Overbay now hears behind him the thundering footsteps of Chip Cannon, a confident, 6-foot-five, 250-pound left-batting first baseman who is tearing up the Arizona Fall League. In little more than a couple dozen at-bats, Cannon has hit 11 homers with a more than .700 slugging percentage, .350 batting average and .420 OBP. At age 26, Cannon may be just about ready for big-league play, and will be given a chance to prove it next spring.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Rangers Ponder Dealing Mark Teixeira to Detroit

This has all the markings of a classic Tom Hicks deal. First the 6-foot-6 Rangers team owner deals SP Chris Young to San Diego, only to watch the former fan favorite lead the Padres to the playoffs with a 3.56 ERA. Also lost to the Padres in the deal was 1B Adrian Gonzalez, who goes on to hit .301 with 24 homers. Meanwhile, virtually the only thing Hicks gets back in the deal is oft injured SP Adam Eaton, who misses most of the season while going 7-4 with an ERA exceeding 5.00. Eaton then files for free agency, leaving the Rangers with two holes in the starting rotation. Desperate now to replace Young and Eaton, Hicks reportedly is considering trading future megastar Mark Teixeira to Detroit for SP Jeremy Bonderman, but must insist on getting highly questionable Chris Shelton in the deal because the Rangers would have no one to play 1B with Gonzalez gone, not to mention former Rangers farmhand Travis Hafner lost to Cleveland in a previous trade.

Rangers, Orioles Watch Barry Bonds Negotiations

The Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles are watching to see whether slugger Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants contract talks advance toward resolution. The Rangers and Orioles have room for a slugger at DH, and potentially deep enough pockets to acquire Bonds if Bonds and the Giants negotiations stall. So far, progress is limited, with Bonds and the team a reported $7 million apart. Bonds has reportedly opened negotiations with a request for $14 million a year, an amount the Giants have no intention of paying. Bonds will have to come down significantly to keep communications open. So far, it looks suspiciously like the Giants intend to pay little more than lip service.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Reynolds' Case Boils Down to 'He Said, She Said'

Herold Reynolds' $5 million wrongful termination lawsuit against ESPN will likely result in an out-of-court settlement in which the network essentially will pay Reynolds a nominal amount to just go away, allowing Reynolds to nominally clear his name. Reynolds would be wise to accept. Reynolds, 45, probably wouldn't dare roll the dice in a packed courtroom in which a judge or jury would have to choose between his and his unnamed accuser's credibility. Reynolds, a former Gold Glove winning second baseman and one of the best TV analysts in baseball, was fired last August after a female intern accused him of sexual harrassment, a behavior ESPN claimed fit Reynolds' pattern. Reynolds claims he only gave the intern an "innocuous hug," but jurors would probably learn more about Reynolds' behavior patterns and his decision to take the young lady to an expensive restaurant for dinner.

Twins Carlos Silva Makes Chump Out of Terry Ryan

Twins GM Terry Ryan has had his successes, his failures, his ups, his downs; and while perhaps not the greatest small-market general manager in baseball, he has been respected as at least being as good as the next guy. But picking up a $4.33 million 2007 contract option on 27-year-old hurler Carlos Silva elevates Ryan to something like world class chump. Not only did Silva test the patience of his teamates and coaches by taking himself out of key games over the course of the year -- most notably for a tummy ache in a resulting loss to Tampa Bay -- he pitched so badly that at one point he was demoted to the bullpen. Silva's near 6.00 ERA and 15 losses were among the worst in the majors, and he led all big league pitchers by surrendering 38 homers. The one bright spot was Silva's 3.34 ERA and 3-2 record over his last six starts, but even with him potentially rediscovering himself, the Twins rotation's outlook is dubious. With Francisco Liriano in all probability missing next season due to Tommy John surgery and Brad Radke retiring, a staff that once featured Johan Santana, Liriano, Radke and Kyle Lohse now looks like this: Santana, Silva, and youngsters Boof Bonser, Matt Garza and Scott Baker. Pressure is mounting for rookie lefty Glen Perkins, with his 1.59 ERA in limited appearances, to compete for a starting role. But with Ryan's propensity for refusing to challenge youths, don't expect Perkins to do much before the middle of next season at the earliest.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Grim Reaper Ruins San Francisco Giants Halloween

The death of Silas Simmons of St. Petersburg, Fla., born Oct. 14, 1895, means three things: the loss of the oldest surviving professional baseball player; the elevation of Ernest Pusey, born May 5, 1895, to his new ranking on the list of top 10 oldest living men in America; and the San Francisco Giants will have to look elsewhere to fill out their outfield next year.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Feds Probe Yankees' Alex Rodriguez Plane Mishap

The National Transportation Safety Board is trying to rule out whether an airplane carrying New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was illegally overloaded when it ran off a runway last week at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, CA. Rodriguez, who escaped injury along with four other passengers and two crewmen, was reported carrying no more than 35 pounds of soft luggage, well within the 50-pound limit allowed each passenger aboard the small twin-engine aircraft. Officials, however, want to examine the wallet A-Rod carried in his hip pocket, the cash in which in all liklihood weighed in excess of 500 pounds.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Red Sox SP John Lester May Be Out Until 2008

Knowing all too well that Red Sox pitcher John Lester's cancer advances further every day, doctors have already hastened the rookie's chemotherapy regimen. But no matter how quickly the treatment was begun, hopes that Lester will be back soon are wishful thinking at best. Though teammates are looking forward to seeing him next spring, the chances of him being ready to pitch by then are very remote. Suffering from one of the many varieties of non-Hodgekins lymphoma, Lester's chances for recovery are good, but not without great difficulty for many more months. Lester likely will not be ready to pitch in the majors until the end of 2007, very possibly 2008, if indeed he ever pitches again. Even with youth and athleticism on his side, his chemotherapy treatments will have the inevitable side effect of weakening his immune defenses, making him vulnerable to virtually hundreds of opportunistic maladies, from common infections and colds to pneumonia and other forms of cancer. Moreover, the treatments will cause Lester's stomach lining and intestinal walls to be weakened, making it difficult for him to injest nutrients, thus leading to prolonged loss of strength, muscle mass and body weight.

Reds Pass Over Homer Bailey; Tap Sun-Woo Kim

Journeyman reliever-starter Sun-Woo Kim will get the call to start in Cincinnati's hotly contested matchup with San Francisco on Wednesday while 20-year-old super prospect Homer Bailey remains in Chattanooga. Fans had flooded ticket outlets Sunday when the team refused to name a starter for the game, leading to wild rumors that the fireballing Bailey would be the surprise callup as the Reds battle neck-and-neck with the Giants for a wild card berth. Observers speculated that Bailey would be needed to halt a freefall in the standings following the Reds disasterous West Coast road trip in which eight of 10 games were lost. Though Bailey looks impressive with a sparkling minor league 1.63 ERA, and was personally visited in Chattanooga by Reds GM Wayne Krivsky last week, he has no experience beyond the AA level. Bailey was bombed Saturday when he came out of his most recent game with the bases loaded in the first inning. Facing just seven batters without getting an out, Bailey surrendered four runs in a 5-3 loss. Despite the battering, Chattanooga Lookouts manager Jayhawk Owens told Chattanooga Times Free Press writer David Paschall that Bailey would make his next regular minor league start Thursday. With the youngster rapidly approaching his innings limit for the season, Bailey likely will not be seen with the Reds before next spring.

Reds Ken Griffey Jr.'s Effectiveness Questionable

Fate may have dealt a potentially serious blow to the Cincinnati Reds playoff prospects Monday when superstar outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. dislocated his right middle toe while chasing a fly ball off the bat of fellow future Hall-of-Famer Barry Bonds of the Giants. Griffey limped off the field as Cincinnati went on to lose the game 5-4 in 10 innings. Griffey could be back soon if doctors are able to brace the toe to prevent pain and further injury. But his prospects of effectively playing a position as difficult as center field are a little dicey, considering that he may be forced to run rather gingerly for the remainder of the regular season. In the worst case, Griffey could even find himself virtually benched until the playoffs, doing little more than pinch hitting if anything. Worse, if he tends to favor one leg over the other, new strains or injuries could result.

Padres Move Rookie Josh Barfield to No. 5 Spot

Though he is hitting in only the .280s with just 11 homers in a little more than 400 atbats, Padres second baseman Josh Barfield has been moved up from No. 8 to the No. 5 spot in the batting order. The rookie, who has batted everywhere in the lineup No. 3-4, seems a bit of an odd choice until one considers the shortage of other options. Despite flirting with first place for the National League Western Division for much of the season, the Padres offense remains fairly lackluster. San Diego is ranked 26 out of 30 teams offensively, with a mere .261 batting average.

Indians Ryan Garko Considered for 1B Platoon

It's hard to imagine the Indians seriously thinking of such a plan let alone sticking with it, but manager Eric Wedge is considering platooning rookie first baseman Ryan Garko with Victor Martinez at first base, while Martinez alternately platoons with Kelly Shoppach behind the plate. Both Garko and Martinez are handling their bats well, with occasional power plus averages exceeding .300. But Garko, a righty, is thought to be potentially tougher on lefty pitching while the switch-hitting Martinez hits righties best, or so goes the theory. Someone should point out to Wedge that, so far this season anyway, Garko has been hitting 100 points higher against righties.

Fausto Carmona Will Displace Indians A.J. Sowers

Former Indians closer-of-the-week Fausto Carmona's arm is being conditioned by trainers at AAA Buffalo so that he can return to Cleveland, this time as a starter to replace fellow rookie Jeremy "A.J." Sowers in the rotation. With the Indians 18 games out of first, and with nothing to play for, manager Eric Wedge has decided that it's pointless to risk Sowers' health by pushing him too hard at his tender age of 23. Though Sowers has pitched only 76 innings for the Tribe, he already threw an additional 97 innings for the Bisons before being called up, putting him dangerously close to his career seasonal limit of approximately 175 innings. Sowers will continue to travel with the team, but he'll do little more than rest at game time. Meanwhile Wedge is eager to see whether Carmona, having failed as a closer, may be more suited to go long. Watch for Carmona to take Sowers' last two scheduled starts.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Rockies Clint Barmes Must Win Job Next Spring

Not bad enough that his season average has sunk to the .230s, Colorado's Clint Barmes' freefall has become so serious that he has only a half dozen hits in his last 100 atbats. For now, the one-time Rockies shortstop of the future has been usurped by rising prospect Troy Tulowitzki, 21, whose recent hot streak for the AA Tulsa Drillers enabled him to reach 13 homers while flirting with a .300 batting average in little more than 400 atbats before being called up. Rockies manager Clint Hurdle had tried almost everything to break Barmes out of his slump -- dropping him in the lineup, extra time off, more work in the batting cage, moving him to second -- all to no avail. Barmes must now pull himself together during winter ball and play himself back onto the team next spring or face demotion to Colorado Springs in '07. Tulowitzki has been compared to a young Bobby Crosby, only he's ahead of where Crosby was when Crosby was Tulowitzki's age. Tulowitzki's power should enable him to approach the 30-homer plateau once he fills out as a big leaguer.

Friday, September 01, 2006

KC Royals Will Let Alex Gordon Rot in Wichita

Even with super prospect Alex Gordon being named Texas League Player of the Year, what do the the Royals have to say to him? "Don't call us, we'll call you." Despite the fact that Gordon, 22, the No. 1 2005 pick, is hitting .323 with 28 home runs and 93 RBI in a little more than 400 atbats for AA Wichita, he will be passed over for a September callup. The Royals have Mark Teahen playing well at third, Gordon's main position, so there's no room for him there. But they won't try him at first base, DH or pinch hitter either. This despite Gordon leading the league with a .587 slugging percentage and hitting 18 homers and 16 doubles in his last 53 games. Gordon was the subject of wide speculation that he would be called up when Teahen was struggling earlier in the year, but it appears that despite all the big talk about improving the team this year, management's main concern is to block Gordon from advancing his service clock, thus postponing his rendezvous with his contract arbitration date.

Even with Phil Nevin, Twins Come Up Empty at DH

Last year the Twins were too smart to sign broken down old Frank Thomas to play designated hitter, even though he was available for a mere $650,000. Now as Thomas is poised to break the 30-homer threshold for Oakland, Minnesota has had nothing from the DH position all year, not from Tony Batista, not from Ruben Sierra, not from Rondell White. Now the Twins have acquired 37-year-old Rangers castoff Phil Nevin from Chicago in exchange for a bag of balls, two passes to A Prairie Home Companion and a half dozen Vienna hots, and they still have nothing at DH.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

ChiSox Skipper Ozzie Guillen Lauds Delmon Young

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, following Chicago's defeat by lowly Tampa Bay on Thursday, pronounced 20-year-old Devil Rays rookie Delmon Young a "future Hall of Famer." Young, batting .727 since being called up at the end of August, went 4-5 to help bring down Chicago, 5-3. "I think this kid is the real deal," Guillen said after the game. Young, finally called up from the Durham Bulls after a year in which he tarnished his reputation with a 50-game suspension for throwing a bat at an umpire, has been hailed as the most promising prospect in baseball. His brother Dmitri Young, who plays for the Tigers, has been exhorting his younger sibling to punish the White Sox to help Detroit maintain its first place lead in the American League Central Division.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Magglio Ordonez's Woes Coincide with Tigers Fall

The soft underbelly of the Tigers batting order has been exposed with the decline of its lynchpin, Magglio Ordonez. Ordonez, who had 17 homers in the first two thirds of the season, hit just one in August. At the same time his batting average has fallen into the .280s as he complains of discomfort in his surgically repaired knee, which may be affecting his ability to turn on a pitch. Meanwhile, Detroit's division lead, once 11 games strong, has narrowed to just five games as the club dropped 13 of its last 19 contests.

Doctors Roll Dice with Twins Pitcher Brad Radke

The point of giving Brad Radke yet another cortisone shot in his ailing shoulder is not so much to keep him in the rotation for the next 30 days as it is to help him limp into the post-season, when his availability will be more critical than ever. Doctors are gambling the shots will not weaken his tendons excessively, which would cause a rupture that not only would immediately end his career, but impact his quality of life in his long awaited retirement at the close of the season. Radke, 33, who plans to maintain his home in the northern Mississippi Valley, where he is native, is building a palatial, 5,000-square foot home in Bel Air Beach, Fla., which will become his main base after he hangs up his spikes.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Dodgers Nomar Garciaparra Still Hobbled by Knee

Los Angeles first baseman Nomar Garciaparra, despite being back from a sprained knee for two weeks, continues to go at half speed because of lingering pain. To one degree or another, Garciaparra remains in danger of missing more time as his injury could linger into mid-September, but he plans to play through it if he can. Utilityman Olmedo "Killer Tomato" Saenz stands to gain an appearance now and then to rest Garciaparra, but Saenz's opportunities are limited as both he and Garciaparra are righthanded. Look for the Dodgers to seek help from lefty rookie James Loney after rosters are expanded Sept 1. Loney was demoted to Las Vegas last week to make room for mopup pitcher Elmer Dessens, coming off the disabled list. As reported in advance by MLB Rumors Clearinghouse, manager Grady Little has decided to carry 12 pitchers to hold off fatigue in the bullpen.

Twins Face Endurance of Long, Long Schedule

With SS Luis Castillo struggling with sore legs, OF Shannon Stewart out with bad feet and 2B Nick Punto, C Joe Mauer and OF Jason Kubel all with bad knees, the Twins greatest challenge of the season remains before them. Beginning at the end of the month, Minnesota will play 33 games in 34 days, with only one day off, Sept 18. It's an exhausting pace not only for the tired and injured, but for the relief corps and the starting staff. Even healthy players such as youngsters Jason Tyner and Jason Bartlett, both with hefty .300 batting averages at the bottom of the lineup, will be challenged as both are without the familiarity of how to endure a grueling schedule at the end of a long, long season. Though the Twins have come to the brink of overtaking the Chicago White Sox in the Wild Card rankings, don't be surprised if the team begins to stumble.

Marlins Drop Jeremy Hermida to No. 8 in Order

Florida Marlins rookie Jeremy Hermida, batting .255 with just five homers and 22 RBI, has been dropped to No. 8 in the batting order, the first time in his career he has batted that low. Highly prized for his hitting potential, Hermida began the season in the No. 5 hole.

Lance Niekro Poised for Comeback with Giants

Former San Francisco first baseman Lance Niekro, who struggled at the plate for the Giants earlier this season, is poised for a September callup from the AAA Fresno Grizzlies, where he is on a tear. The 27-year-old son of former major league pitcher Joe Niekro is batting .321 while hitting a homer every 10 atbats for the hit-happy Pacific Coast League contender. Niekro, who had difficulty sharing time with Mark Sweeney when the two played first base for the Giants at the beginning of the season, appears to be recovered from injuries he battled earlier, including a groin injury that held him back for two weeks in June and a sore shoulder that caused him to miss 10 days in May. Look for Niekro to win a bench spot when rosters are expanded to 40 players Sept. 1, then compete to win a fulltime job next spring if not sooner. Ironically, his playing time will be limited now that the Giants have acquired veteran Shea Hillenbrand from the Blue Jays. Both Hillenbrand and Niekro bat right-handed. However, with aging outfielders Barry Bonds, Moises Alou and Steve Finley missing time or needing frequent rest, watch closely to see whether manager Felipe Alou moves third baseman Pedro Feliz to the outfield from time to time, allowing Hillenbrand to slide over to third and Niekro to start at first base.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

KC Royals Looking for a Spot for SP Zach Greinke

If the Royals are to make room for the return former top pitching prospect Zach Greinke, 22, the choice comes down to a bullpen demotion for somebody, perhaps either the veteran Odalis Perez, 29, recently acquired from the Dodgers, or Runelvys Hernandez, 28, once deemed to be a big part of the team's future. Though Perez is winless with a 5.32 ERA in four starts for the Royals, he's not pitching that badly, haven given up only 19 hits in 22 innings with 18 walks. The more highly regarded Hernandez, however, has been terrible, with a 3-8 record and 7.50 ERA, having given up more than a homer per game. With pitchers like that, it shouldn't be too difficult for the Royals to create a start or two for Greinke once rosters are expanded Sept. 1. Greinke left the team earlier this year because of reported psychological problems related to his being painfully selfconscious and excessively shy. But observers say he has come out of his shell somewhat since joining the AA Wichita Wranglers on June 2. Already he has racked up an 8-2 record with a sub 3.00 ERA, winning four of his last five starts, with a no-decision. Greinke has struck out 30 batters in his last 28 innings while surrendering only five walks, and has been described as virtually unhittable.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Who'll Replace Tom Glavine? How About Glavine?

After the all the magnetic resonance imaging, angiogramic applications, electronic soundings, physical examinations, X-Rays and whatever else the doctors try on the shoulder of Mets hurler Tom Glavine, what will the doctors say in the final analysis? Ca-ching! Ca-ching! Ca-ching! And what will be the determination? Don't be surprised if Glavine returns to the club with what is known as a "non-diagnostic workup," or possibly a determination of little worse than poor circulation...in other words, a fairly clean bill of health. No risk of stroke, no risk of a lost career, no risk of being out for the season, and no risk of missing significant time. Look for Glavine to make his next start at the end of the week, and remember you read it here first.

Aging Jamie Moyer At Last Goes Home to Die

Jamie Moyer, the 44-year-old flyball pitcher who has stretched out his career by relying on the distant fences of his spacious home park in Seattle, looks a little like an old horse going to the glue factory now that he arrives in his native Philadelphia area. While he has been effective at times in Seattle (he was 10-0 at home last year) , expect him to be hammered at the Phillies launching pad.

Mets Acquisition of Pirates Oliver Perez Brilliant

The Mets acquisition of former Pirates pitcher Oliver Perez in the Xavier Nady deal seems especially brilliant now with starters Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine missing significant time, and their outlook questionable for the remainder of the season. Perez, 25, who was 12-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 239 strikeouts in 195 innings for Pittsburgh in 2004, lost the confidence of the Pirates after struggling since last year. But he appears to be back on track after being relegated by the Mets to the AAA Norfolk Tides, where he is 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA in his last two starts, giving up just six hits in 13 innings. The Mets have several other alternatives, including Brian Bannister, currently on a rehab assignment with the Tides, but Perez's numbers are hard to ignore.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Crohn's Disease Continues to Impact Todd Helton

Rockies 1B Todd Helton has been restored to his customary No. 3 spot in the batting order, though his bat still appears unusually slow. Only three weeks ago Helton, his average dipping to .270 with just 11 homers, told manager Clint Hurdle he should be dropped to ninth in the batting order because he was swinging so poorly. Helton was tried briefly at No. 2, and finally settled in the No. 5 spot. But subsequently Helton -- traditionally a better second-half player -- has hit .347 with a .440 OBP and nearly .600 slugging, thus being restored to the No. 3 spot where he has batted since he became a Rockies regular in 1997. Though Helton has hit only one more homer since Aug. 3, bringing his season total to an even dozen, he is hitting with better authority to the gaps and right field line. Helton's homer drought may be attributable to some degree to the Rockies use of a cedar-lined humidor, an airtight storage compartment that causes game balls to play heavier and more compressed, preventing excessive deep flies in the Mile High City. Helton, who was hospitalized with fever and severe intestinal pain in May, has likely felt, weak, uncomfortable and out of sorts due to lingering effects of his malady, acute terminal ileitus, a type of Crohn's manifestation specific to the end of the lower intestine. As a consequence, Helton remains committed to diet restrictions and an anti-inflamatory drug regimen that may be impacting his performance. Though he has lost more the 30 pounds of muscle as a direct result of Crohn's, and his bat has been noticeably slower, Helton may finally be feeling a little more like his old self lately. Although Crohn's is rarely fatal, once contracted it lasts for life, occasionally affecting its victim's strength for weeks, months, a year or even longer.

Devil Rays May Look at Joel Guzman at First Base

Don't be surprised if the Tampa Bay Devil Rays give rookie Joel Guzman a look at first base if and when he's added to the 40-man expanded roster Sept. 1. Incumbent Travis Lee, though swinging a hot bat lately, literally can't hit his weight, and patience runs short. Even though Guzman, acquired from the Dodgers in the Danys Baez deal, has been trained as a third baseman, he should be capable of crossing the diamond. Besides, the Rays are already committed to the conversion of ex-shortstop B.J. Upton at third.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Devil Rays Bedeviled by Interest in Delmon Young

Tampa Bay Devil Rays management and staff continue to be hounded by dozens of questions about the status of troubled outfielder Delmon Young. Interest in the 21-year-old future phenom is so intense that even Young's overseers in North Carolina have been unable to escape, including former major league superstar Richie Hebner, the AAA Durham Bulls all-around coach. "I'm busy right now!" barked Hebner after being pestered for the umpteenth time about the hot prospect. Consultations regarding Young are reportedly ongoing weekly in the inner sanctum of the Rays front office in St. Petersburg, Fla., where Young as recently as 21 days ago had supposedly been ticketed for a callup, then forsaken. Young continues to be under contemplation, but considering that the team has lost eight of its last 10 games and has ranked last in the league in offense for August, it bodes poorly for him that executives can't make up their minds even when they are in such desperate need of help.