Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Ruben Sierra Fits Unfortunate Twins Pattern

Sure, the scouting report out of Minnesota is that switch-hitter Ruben Sierra is still just as good from his left as he is from his right. Unfortunately, manuevering a wheelchair with both hands doesn't count. Sierra, who just signed a $400,000 minor league contract with the Twins, will be 41 when the season gets under way and will be two years past his last half decent performance when he hit 17 HRs in 307 ABs for the New York Yankees. He fell offf to .229 with just 9 HR in 170 ABs last year, and the Yankees knew full well how little Sierra had left when they let him walk. That the Twins signed Sierra is not such a big deal in itself. Few fantasy leagues, even the deepest of them, would have had much use for Sierra anyway. But the troubling thing about it is that Sierra fits a very disturbing pattern for a club that up until last year remained very competitive and now seems on a downward trajectory to become the next perennial cellar dweller. The signing of a has-been like Sierra, plus the signing of 33-year-old Japan refugee Tony Batista and 34-year-old walking MASH unit Rondell White, combined with the Twins passing up ex-White Sox free agent Frank Thomas and ex-New York Met Mike Piazza, tells you that the team is not trying very hard. And to think the Twins could have signed Piazza, who hit 19 HRs last year and could give C Joe Mauer a chance to rest his injured knee, for a mere $2.5 million! And Thomas would have signed for a base of just $500,000! Come on! Are the Twins really going to sit back and waste a top staff like SPs Johann Santana, Brad Radke and Carlos Silva, not to mention closer Joe Nathan, by running them out to the mound every day only to see them lose because of lack of run support? And what does this say about the future of Twins superstar CF Torii Hunter? He'll probably be traded as soon as the Twins fall out of contention at the end of July.

Pierzynski Object of Contempt

Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski a cracked the top 10 most hated athletes list, according to a survey by GQ Magazine. It's not surprising that NFL badboy Terrell Owens topped the list -- even beating No. 2-ranked Barry Bonds and No. 4-ranked Curt Schilling. But Pierzynski appears to be rapidly closing at No. 9. According to interviews by writers David Gargill and Nate Penn, opponents and teammates had little good to say about Pierzynski, describing him as unprofessional, immature, arrogant and aloof, with little sense of baseball etiquette. "He'll step on your foot at first base, " explained one player, " and then say (sarcastically), 'Man, I didn't mean that.'"During spring training with the Giants in '04, a pitch hit Pierzynski between the legs. When trainer Stan Conte asked him how he felt, Pierzynski replied, "Like this," and viciously kneed Conte in the groin. Pierzynski also is accused of building ill will among the umpires by bitterly contesting balls and strikes.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Piazza to Roll Stone Up Hill

Mike Piazza has always put up his numbers at pitcher-friendly parks, i.e.: Chavez Ravine and Flushing, but now he goes to the worst of all hitters' parks in San Diego and the prospects do not look bright for the 37 year old ex-Mets backstop. As the newest Padre, Piazza this year will try to scratch out 300-350 ABs at catcher plus occasionally appear at 1B, or DH during interleague play. Though the Padres are moving the right-center fence 11 feet closer, it will still be 400 feet off the plate and won't significantly boost Piazza's home run total. Although Piazza hit 19 homers last year, more than any Padre, the comparison reflects not so much Piazza's prowess with the bat as the enormous difficulty for any hitter to reach the stands in the cool salt air of San Diego.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Michaels Wins Full-Time Gig

Expect OF Jason Michaels, whom the Cleveland Indians just acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for reliever Arthur Rhodes, to see a significant increase in ABs but a decline in his production percentages as the Tribe utilizes him as its new full-time left fielder in '06. Though Michaels, 29, who bats right, owned a .300 BA and .400 OBP as a part-timer for the Phillies over the past three years, he accomplished those percentages primarily facing lefty pitchers. Thus those numbers will be difficult to match when he faces more righties batting every day in the No. 2 hole for Cleveland. The Indians' left-batting Todd Hollandsworth, 32, a former rookie of the year for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has been held back by chronic injuries throughout his career, so the Tribe will hold Hollandsworth in reserve, strictly as No. 4 outfielder, and not platoon him with Michaels.

There Once Was a Catcher from Pawtucket...

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who reviews all large cash transactions, is expected to OK last week's deal between the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians. The trade -- in addition to Boston's $1 million cash sweetener -- features key component Coco Crisp, 26, a .300 hitter with intermediate power who played left for the Tribe last year, essentially in exchange for Andy Marte, 23, the former Atlanta Braves "can't miss" rookie acquired by Boston in the Edgar Renteria deal. Cleveland also gave up former closer David Riske and backup backstop Josh Bard, and received from Boston potential closer Guillermo Mota and rookie catcher Kelly Shoppach. Shoppach is hardly a throw-in, having hit 49 HR over the past two years for the BoSox farm team at Pawtucket. Shoppach, 25, won the 2001 Johnny Bench award as the nation's top collegiate catcher when he batted .397 and hit 12 HR in 300 ABs for the Baylo Bears. He had only one error in 406 chances. Shoppach will be given the opportunity to make the Indians opening day roster, as he will compete against journeyman Einar Diaz for the backup catching spot. Shoppach will be eyed as a potential full-time backstop to replace Victor Martinez, whom management would like to move to 1B to protect him from breakdown and extend the potential length of his career.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Willie Mays Rule

tony conigliaro after the beaning

Colorado Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook, who nearly died due to complications from a lung ailment but recovered to play again in 2005, was recently awarded last year's Tony Conigliaro Comeback Player of the Year Award. The award is named in memory of the late Boston Red Sox outfielder -- pictured here on the cover of Sports Illustrated after he was beaned in his right eye in 1967 -- whose potential Hall of Fame career was cut short by the blow.

Though Conigliaro came back to play the year after the beaning by California Angels pitcher Jack Hamilton, the BoSox lost Conigliaro's services in the World Series that fall and Conigliaro was never the same again.

Fans tend to forget that Conigliaro was part of a murderers row that dared defy the time-honored Willie Mays rule that batters should never antagonize pitchers. The trouble came about when Conigliaro and other BoSox batters during the pennant drive adopted the unmistakable, trade-mark batting stance of Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski, who held the handle of the bat next to his ear so that the barrel rose high above his head like an exclamation point. The gesture was designed perhaps to intimidate pitchers. But its unintended consequence was that it earned pitchers' enmity, and someone paid the price.

Hamilton and Angels catcher Bob Rodgers always denied deliberately beaning Conigliaro in retaliation for his inflammatory pose at the plate, or for any other reason. But Conigliaro's family was so convinced that the knockdown was intentional that they refused to let Hamilton visit Conigliaro in the hospital. Two days after the beaning, Yastrzemski began wearing a helmet with an earflap, which is now standard major-league equipment.

And what exactly is the Willie Mays rule? One: no styling at the plate like Yaz; two: no standing in the basepath admiring the ball like Reggie Jackson; three: no fist-pumping or clapping like Kirk Gibson; four: no "one flap down" like Jeff Leonard; five: no slow-trotting around the bases like Pete Incaviglia; and six: no coming back out of the dugout to tip your hat like Mickey Mantle.

Andy Marte to Join Girl Scouts

Most teams hold spring training each year, but when the Cleveland Indians report to Winter Haven, Fla., they hold Girl Scout Camp. At Girl Scout Camp, it's not about winning but rather building character, becoming a good citizen and learning to wait your turn. Last year fans tried to tell the scout mothers that Grady Sizemore was ready to join the parent club, but the scout mothers were too smart for that. They knew Sizemore needed to learn to wait his turn, so they signed the oft-injured 37-year-old Juan Gonzalez to an incentive-ladened, one-year contract with $600,000 guaranteed. Gonzalez, realizing it was his last chance, responded with one AB in which he could not reach first base before being carried off the field. And the $600,000? Who cares; the fans picked up the tab. And Grady Sizemore? The Indians were forced to call him up to replace Gonzalez. And you know what? That rookie was too stupid to know he was being rushed, so he batted .289 with 22 HR and 22 SB in 640 AB and was among the top 10 or 20 most productive outfielders in many fantasy leagues. What a dumb rookie! Now the Indians have acquired 3B Andy Marte, who some say is the most exciting hot-corner prospect since Mike Schmidt. But Marte must not be allowed to make the same stupid mistakes that Sizemore did. So Marte will be packed off to Buffalo, and Aaron Boone and Casey Blake, both 33 and with a combined .240 BA last year, will get the playing time. Remember, at the Indians Girl Scout Camp it's not about winning; it's about learning to wait your turn.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Bigbie, Rodriguez to Face Off

With Jim Edmunds and Juan Encarnacion holding down center and right fields, respectively, for the St. Louis Cardinals in '06, a battle is shaping up between two lefty power hitters who have yet to live up to the hyperbole that has dogged them for the past five years. Time grows short for Larry Bigbie, 29, who despite batting .280 with 15 HR in 478 ABs with the Baltimore Orioles in '04 was held back by injuries last year and has been perceived as expendable not only by Baltimore, who sent him to Colorado, but by the Rockies, who traded him to St. Louis. Though the Cards' left field spot appears to be Bigbie's to lose, his problem is that Rodriquez has a similar profile and is roughly the same age at 28. In a brief, 149-AB appearance with the Cards last year, J-Rod caught management's attention by hitting .295 with 5 HRs. The former PCL All-Star was the organization's minor league player of the month in April '04 whn he batted .352 with 9 HRs for the 30-day period. The parent club called him up last year from AAA Memphis where in 120 ABs he hit 17 HRs with a .419 OBP.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

$100,000 Prize Offered

Participants in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship, to be held simultaneously March 17-19 at the New York Hilton in Manhattan, the Donald E. Stevens Center in Chicago, and the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas, will compete for scores of cash awards including a $100,000 grand prize. Contestants will break into 22 5x5 leagues of 15 teams in this third annual such event sponsored by F & W Publications of Cincinnati.

Defending Theo Epstein

Cooperstown graybeard Two-Fingers Brown, who has all ten digits but drinks his coffee with two fingers of spirits of anemone, and who coached for the Braves in Boston, Milwaukee or Atlanta, but can't remember which, stopped by for his usual morning constitutional at Bob's Guns, Boats & Liquor at the end of the Lake Street pier and defended newly renamed Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. Epstein is very easy to get along with, said Brown, once you learn to worship him.

Neagle Pleads Guilty; Avoids Jail Jeopardy

Although certain police testimony had been suppressed in pre-trial action, and a trial date had been set, ex-Colorado Rockies SP Denny Neagle opted to accept a plea bargain in connection with sexual solicitation charges rather than expose himself to a potential 6-month denny neagle prostitute jail sentence and $750 fine. As a result of the plea, Neagle was sentenced to 40 days of community service. Neagle's encounter with an alleged prostitute almost cost him nearly $20 million. Neagle, who at 37 appears to have no future in baseball due to arm injuries, was arrested by police in '04 after he allegedly offered to pay $40 for sex with a woman he picked up on the street. The alleged street-walker - pictured at left in a police file photo - cost Neagle much more than $40, however, when the Rockies cited a morals clause in his contract and terminated it, asking him to forfeit more than $19 million. An undisclosed amount was restored, however, after the Players Union reached a settlement on Neagle's behalf last year. Neagle, who is married, owns a lifetime 124-92 record and 4.24 ERA, but was 19-23 with a 5.57 ERA in his three years with Colorado. He has been unable to pitch since 2002.

The Abreu-Prior Talks

If the Chicago Cubs are so content to start rookie Matt Murton in left, why do they keep trying to deal for the Philadelphia Phillies' Bobby Abreu even at this late date? The Phillies want Cubs SP Mark Prior in exchange, but are so fatalistic about the prospects that they have already warned set-up man Ryan Madson to begin building his stamina so that he can compete with Robinson Tejada and Gavin Floyd for a starter spot at the end of the rotation. The Phillies are close to seizing the National League East in '06, having won 88 games last year.

Prince Fielder: Like Father, Like Son

"The apple," so the old saying goes, "falls not far from the tree." With Lyle Overbay having been thrown overboard in Milwaukee, the Brewers' 1B job falls to Prince Fielder, son of former big-league slugger Cecil Fielder. So far, a comparison of the two puts the younger on a trajectory that potentially would make him a bigger star than his father. Prince was a first round pick in '02, compared to his father being taken in the fourth round in '82. Prince made it to the big leagues by age 21, following up his .288 average and 27 HRs in 374 ABs at AAA Memphis last year with 59 ABs with the Brewers in which he hit .289 with 2 HRs. His father couldn't crack the "bigs" until he was 22, and batted .311 with 4 HRs in only 74 ABs for Toronto in '85. Incredibly, the Blue Jays seemed to have little appreciation for Cecil, failing to play him full time for four years and allowing him to defect to Japan, where he waited for Sparky Anderson and the Detroit Tigers to see him for who he was and give him his first full-time gig in 1990. Cecil batted .277 with 44 HRs in 573 ABs for Sparky that year, the first of many in which he was among the most feared hitters in baseball.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Bottom of the Pittsburgh Bullpen

Expect fireballing RP Mike Gonzalez to be the Pittsburgh Pirates' closer when the season starts in April, despite competition from RP Solomon Torres. Gonzalez was to have won the job last year, but Jose Mesa could not be usurped despite his advancing age and declining performance. With Mesa gone to the Colorado Rockies, the path is open for Gonzalez. Newly signed Roberto Hernandez will vie for a setup spot.

In Baltimore, Just the Bare Facts

A drunk staggers into a tavern and behind the bar sees a woman in a painting entitled "Reclining Nude."

"Hey," the drunk said to the bartender, "that reminds me. Have you got any dirty pictures of your wife?"

"No!" replied the bartender indignantly.

"Good," said the drunk. "Do you want to buy some?"

The New York Mets' trade of SP Kris Benson to the Baltimore Orioles, with Benson's wife, model Anna Benson, as a throw-in, might make for the most interesting autograph sessions since Joe DiMaggio consented to sign ex-wife Marilyn Monroe's pictures in Playboy magazine. That aside, Baltimore's rotation suddenly looks much stronger now with Benson, Rodrigo Lopez, Daniel Cabrera, Erik Bedard and Hayden Penn. With Julio Lugo gone to the Mets, the battle for closer now focuses primarily on Baltimore RPs Chris Ray and LaTroy Hawkins.

A Mule Named Theo

I had a smart mule named Theo,
Would stammer and balk and bray;
And then Theo whirled to face me,
For Theo had this to say:
"If you need me at Boston Market
To pull this wagon today,
Theo wants apples and carrots,
Plus me usual oats 'n hay;
And when we're at Boston Market,
Load this wagon just as I say,
For if you dare to oppose me,
You pull it the rest of the way."

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Halladay's Outlook Strong

Toronto ace SP Roy Halladay's broken leg, sustained when a screaming liner was hit back to the box, is a "shaft fracture" rather than an "articulate fracture" and thus offers better chances for an easy, full recovery without great risk of lingering complications or prolonged disability. Expect him to quickly return to form once he chips off the rust during spring training. Though he is throwing and excercising now, he hasn't appeared in a game situation since he was hurt in August. Recommendation: Buy!

Slim-Downed Bonds Withdraws From Games

San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds -- who needs seven homers to pass Babe Ruth's 714-mark -- played in the 20th Annual Juan Marichal Golf Classic in the Dominican Republic over the weekend and appeared older but trim at his supposedly new 195-pound fighting weight. Some observers thought he looked "as big as ever" but others noted he was wearing a cap that formerly belonged to ex-batboy Darren Baker. Playing golf, Bonds did not seem to favor his surgically repaired right knee. But shortly after the golf outing, in which he rode a cart, he announced he would withdraw from the World Baseball Classic Games in March to save his strength. Whether his weight remains an issue is uncertain. Bonds did, however, look somewhat undersized in baggy clothes. Some have speculated he'll suffer a decline in power because his self-proclaimed weight loss translates into muscle loss. No matter what size he is, however, he has warned Giants manager Felipe Alou that he has no intention of batting second this year, as Alou has suggested to get him extra ABs. Each spot moved up in the batting order is worth an average additional 17 ABs a year.

Aurelia Plays Hand He's Dealt

Veteran SS Rich Aurelia hits lefties as well as righties, owns a .276 lifetime average and a silver bat for hitting .324 with 37 HR in front of Barry Bonds with the San Francisco Giants in '01. Yet Aurelia didn't even get a sniff from the Boston Red Sox, who at this moment are forced to consider starting a spare part at shortstop. Aurelia, 34, who desperately wanted a full-time gig, felt compelled to condescend to a $1.3 million offer from the Cincinnati Reds, for whom he played last year and who plan to use him at utility. Aurelia believes his game suffers if he doesn't play every day, yet he must compete for ABs with a number of other Reds, best of whom is multi-faceted 3B-2B-OF Ryan Freel. Freel's stock, however, has fallen recently due to alcohol-related incidents with authorities. There is no truth, however, to the rumor that Aurelia has sent Freel five cases of Thunderbird wine.

The Centers of Pittsburgh's Attention

Rookie Nate McLouth, 25, grabbed plenty of headlines when he hit 5 HRs in 109 ABs for the Pittsburgh Pirates in '05, including three in consecutive games. But his production spike appears to be just that -- a spike -- and a bit of a fluke, and likely no harbinger of things to come. Though McLouth has been developed as a center fielder, the Buc's CF post will go to fellow rookie Chris Duffy, who is expected to nail down the job in spring training. Duffy, who batted .341 in 126 ABs last year and whose meteoric ascension has made possible the conclusion of the Tike Redman experiment, will be penciled in as leadoff hitter for the much-improved '06 Pirates. Meanwhile the Pirates will continue to look for a spot for McLouth.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Hall of Fame Game

The Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates will face off in the annual Hall of Fame game at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown on May 15th. This will be Cincinnati's first appearance since 1967, and Pittsburgh's since 1980. Tickets are on sale at the Hall of Fame.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Miller Signs With Cubs

Free agent Wade Miller, non-tendered by the Boston Red Sox after his truncated '05 season and resulting labrum surgery in September, lopped $500,000 off his requested signing price to ink a deal with the Chicago Cubsfor an even $1 million. He was also asking for $3 million in performance bonuses, but settled for another $1 million. Miller this month began throwing on flat ground as part of a rehabilitation program that doctors predict will restore him to 100% within 90 days, meaning he'll miss the first month of the season. Cubs starter Kerry Wood also likely will miss a month or more. Miller is only 29. His best year was in 2001 when he went 16-8 with a 3.40 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 212 innings. If you have an inactive roster, Miller might be worth stashing away with a late round draft pick or a $1 bid in an auction league. Those bidding for the oft-injured Wood probably will overpay.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Travesty of a Mockery of a Sham

Now let's get this straight. Boston Red Sox SP Bronson Arroyo overrules his agent to sign a 3-year contract beneath his market value so he can stay in Boston. Then the Red Sox turn around and say "thanks, sucker," and trade him to Seattle Mariners for OF Jeremy Reed, or to Tampa Bay for SS Julio Lugo. Talk about a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a travesty of a mockery of a sham! Be serious. (Worse yet, the BoSox are also considering relegating him to the bullpen because they have six starters.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Cruz Control

A technique sometimes used by the agents of Latino ballplayers is to falsify their age to a younger number so that their productivity curve makes them appear as though they have more potential and are more worthy of recruiting.

A careful investigation of the Puerto Rican vital statistics office has shown conclusively that Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Jose Cruz Jr., who has never quite lived up to the hyperbole, is actually older than Jose Cruz Sr.

Cruz last year was the property of the Boston Red Sox and the Arizona Diamondbacks, both of which thought so little of him they let him walk into the sure-handed possession of now-fired Dodgers general manager Paul Heezdetested.

Though Cruz had a decent year in 2001 - hitting 34 homers with an OPS of .856 - he has not had another full season with an OPS higher than .791. In 156 at-bats with the Dodgers last year, he batted .301 with a .923 OPS, but expect those numbers to return to earth under conditions of extended plate appearances.

Working in Cruz's favor, however, is the fact that young, supposed five-tool outfielder Jason Repko has yet to exhibit a great deal of his anticipated promise. Repko, however, did bat .291 with a league-leading 8 homers in 117 at-bats in the Arizona Fall League in 2004.

Don't be surprised if the Dodgers look over another outfielder or two during spring training.

Monday, January 16, 2006

New Tabletop Baseball Champ

Wayne Cannon, a 53-year-old Oklahoma City school teacher, walked off with the $6000 first prize in the Star Tournaments National Championship tabletop baseball competition Jan. 12-14 at the Desert Rose Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A veteran player, Cannon took Minnesota pitcher Johan Santana with his No. 1 draft pick and relied on quality defensive players to carry him to a sparkling 33-14 record. Cannon chose spacious, pitcher-friendly Petco Field in San Diego to complement his lineup, which was characterized not only by good gloves but players with strong on-base potential. Colorado Rockies 1B Todd Helton, batting third in front of cleanup hitter Eric Chavez of the Oakland A's, provided punch in the middle of Cannon's batting order.

More than 70 participants registered for this year's tournament, which took place Jan. 11-15. Star Tournaments is a not-for-profit league that has staged tabletop baseball contests throughout the nation for about a decade.

The Adrian Beltre Anomaly

Seattle Mariners 3B Adrian Beltre's anomalous, monstrous '04 year - when he batted .334 with 48 homers and 121 RBI for the Dodgers - may be attributable to a purported minor injury that forced him to stay back on one foot and swing late through the zone, providing additional power, more contact and a right-line bias to his grounders and liners. Regrettably for Beltre, however, he recovered in '05 and was unable to keep from swinging as he has for most of his career, stepping forward and swinging too early through the zone.

No Werth for Wear

Jayson Werth, the '04 Dodgers phenom who erupted in his rookie year to hit 16 homers in 290 ABs, dropped off the radar last year but for no good reason other than injury. If he has recovered by opening day, look for him to return to his former form. He's been promised the Dodgers' right-field job and he may likely be flying under the radar in points and auction leagues.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Long Shot to Get Long Shot

Atlanta Braves rookie RP Joey Devine, the former North Carolina State standout, will likely remain in consideration for the team's closer job considering that projected closer Chris Reitsma has never been management's first choice. If Reitsma falters, expect to see Devine back from the minors by July or August.

Dusty Will Chalk Up Another

Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker's many accolades DO NOT include patient nurturing of young, fragile talent. First Baker wrecked the career of promising first-round pick Corey Patterson by trying to force the youngster to transform himself into a groundball-hitting leadoff man instead of his true identity as a free-swinging gap hitter with power. Another of Baker's casualties was the once highly regarded farm prospect Hee Sop Choi, whom Baker turned into a platoon player just as the rookie was learning how to hit major league lefties. Baker's influence on former rookie Jason Dubois, who last year was to have competed for an everyday outfielder's job, also appears to be negligible if not outright disenfranchising. Expect Baker's next target to be young Matt Murton, the projected opening day left fielder. By the time June rolls around, Baker will have undermined Murton's confidence by reducing his ABs for the benefit of 38-year-old OF Marquis Grissom, and like Choi, Dubois and Patterson, Murton may never recover. His only shot may be to continue his torrid pace of '05, when he batted .321 with 7 HRs in only 140 ABs and hope Baker won't try to fix what ain't broke.

Julio Down by the Ball Yard

Jorge Julio -- the oft tried-and-failed save specialist for the Baltimore Orioles -- likely will compete this spring against newly acquired RHP LaTroy Hawkins for the team's closing job. Julio can be expected win the job by default, with Hawkins moving to the long relievers' post. Ironically, chief contract negotiator Mike Flanagan might easily have kept his true closer of choice, B.J. Ryan, under contract early last year, and would have done so relatively cheaply. But Flanagan waited so long to ink Ryan that the young Orioles fireballer had time to discover his ability to rack up saves, and recognize his undiscovered market value. Thus Ryan will close for the Toronto Blue Jays for the next five years at a rate exceeding $50 million, and Flanagan and Julio will take another turn through the revolving door. Baltimore fans hope Julio has matured enough to keep the job this time.

Thome Returning to Old Form

New Chicago White Sox 1B Jim Thome will report to spring training in his best physical condition since 2003, the year BEFORE he played with a chronically injured thumb all season and still batted .274 with 105 RBI and 43 HR in only 508 ABs.

Contract Language for Delgado

The New York Mets, owing Carlos Delgado $48 million on the remainder of the contract he signed with the Marlins, may want to consider adding some fine print to minimize the team's exposure in the event of off-the-field injury. Among player activities to be specifically proscribed for oversight, regulation, or banishment, are: mountain climbing, subject to supervision; cave exploration, subject to limitation; skiing, subject to limitation; motorcycling, subject to disallowment; marching or demonstrating against the USA in a pro al-Qaeda parade, forbidden; acting as a human shield at protest during U.S. Navy bombardment of Puerto Rican territory, forbidden; and personal transit aboard New York City subway system, absolutely verboten.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Banned from Radio

This is your brain: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. This your brain if you are Manny Ramirez: !!?#@(&%*\X"!?#@(&%*\X*!?@#. The Boston Red Sox superstar's I-quit-I'm-back routine is so overdone that XM Radio morning show host Mark Patrick has threatened to ban Ramirez as subject matter from his program. Ramirez's on-again off-again trade rumors are so numerous and goofy that they no longer have credibility nor news value.

Crosby on the Rise

The Oakland Athletics coaching staff has come to regard Bobby Crosby as the team's all-around best hitter. If he stays healthy, Crosby will reach stratospheric heights in '06 batting in the 3-hole in front of 3B Eric Chavez and, if they sign him, DH Frank Thomas.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Name Like a Girl, Hits Like a Girl

The Toronto Blue Jays' projected production from right field last year turned out more like what you'd expect from movie starlette Alexis Smith than '99 first-round pick Alexis Rios. The 24-year-old Alabama beanpole - who tips the scales at 190 pounds soaking wet despite his 6-foot 5 frame - has been a major disappointment after batting only .262 with 10 HRs in nearly 500 ABs in '05. With Troy Glaus, Shea Hillenbrand, Lyle Overbay, Corey Koskie and '01 rookie of the year Eric Hinske in a logjam at the corner infield positions, look for Hillenbrand or Koskie to be traded and Hinske to be tried in a LF platoon with Rios. Hinske, whose glove has enhanced his value against the backdrop of his somewhat mediocre hitting, has played outfield in the minors. If the plan works, '05 may have been the last that Hinske will be of great value n fantasy leagues.

Rookie moves to left

Rookie SS Mike Morse, who batted .278 with three homers in 230 ABs for the Seattle Mariners last year, will be given a look in left field this spring because he continues to lag behind fellow prospective phenom SS Yuniesky Betancourt, who plays spectacular defense and can hit. With the signing of veteran OFs Matt Lawton and Carl Everett, Morse's successful adaptation to the outfield would enhance the expendability of CF Jeremy Reed. Reed is being eyed by the Boston Red Sox as a potential replacement for ex-BoSox Johnny Damon, who has defected to the New York Yankees. Raul Ibanez and Ichiro Suzuki have a firm grip on Seattle's remaining outfield positions, though Ibanez has experience at 1B.

Rotation Takes Shape

The signing of free agent SP Ramon Ortiz virtually solidifies the Washington Nationals rotation for '06. Ortiz, who agreed to a scandalously cheap $2.5 million one-year deal, projects as a No. 3 starter behind the tireless Livan Hernandez and and up-and-coming John Patterson. Ortiz will likely be followed by Brian Lawrence and Tony Armas, with long man Ryan Drese getting a shot if anyone falls short or is injured. Ortiz was 15-9 with a 3.77 ERA in 2002, but was hammered in Cincinnati's hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark last year, where he gave up 34 homers as a Red, fourth worst in the league. His stats will likely greatly improve in Washington's spacious home park, perhaps the best for pitchers after the San Diego Padres'home park.

The Remarkable Andrew

Unless the roster changes remarkably between now and opening day, expect the Boston Red Sox to give youngster Andy Marte at least a brief look at first base this spring. Marte, ranked by many to have been among the top five or six minor league prospects when he was called up by Atlanta last year, is listed as a third baseman but may be added to Boston's DH and right-corner mix with J.T. Snow and Kevin Youkliss. Snow and Youkliss are expected to be the regular 1B platoon with 3B Mike Lowell seeing action there as well.

One Little Indian

It was a cold September night, ninth inning in the first of the last three games with the Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland Indians needed a baserunner for a chance to reach the playoffs. Though they still had their fate in their hands, the tribe had collapsed, losing 8 of 11 down the stretch.

Rafael Belliard had just reached base with a single and the Indians desperately needed to advance him, but when manager Eric Wedge looked down his bench, who did he have to pinch hit? Jason Dubois, a sluggish, 6-foot 4 26-year-old underachiever who had never batted more than .240 in his brief major league career. USA Today Sports Weekly listed his OBP at the time at barely over the Mendoza Line.

No surprise when DuBois quickly grounded out, but shocking that the front office just eight weeks earlier failed to grasp that though the Tribe was supposedly in a rebuilding year, the team was in contention and in need of veteran help off the bench.

Too late now, but the Indians finally are beginning to boost their spare-parts department by signing free agent journeyman 1B Eduardo Perez. Perez is strictly a platoon player, and will be limited to facing lefties, but his 11 homers in 138 ABs for Florida last year show he'll be valuable in special situations.

The signing also means, of course, that incumbant 1B Ben Broussard, whom some analysts at one time had projected to be ahead of Travis Hafner, is forever devalued to starter against righties only. Now 29, Broussard once and for all can be labeled for what he is and what he will remain: a prouctive major leaguer but of marginal worth for fantasy team owners.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

White Sox Fall from Favor

The publicly-traded Las Vegas betting prognosticator "Linesmaker" puts the White Sox chances to repeat as World Series victors at 9-2, behind the Yankees at 4-1 and Cardinals 6-1. The Red Sox and Angels are 10-1, the Astros 15-1 and Braves -- division champions for 14 years in a row -- 20-1. If the Marlins win, a $2 bet will net $1500 at 750-1.

Henderson Undecided

Future Hall-of-Famer Rickey Henderson finished his '05 tenure as leadoff man for the independent San Diego SurfDawgs with a .270 batting average and 16 SBs in 73 games, coaxing a .456 on-base percentage off minor-league pitchers. Now 47, he has yet to announce his retirement. His lifetime major league OBP is .401.

Among the Missing

Oft-injured 1997 first-round pick Brandon Larson -- one-time Reds 3B of the future -- failed to make the Texas Rangers roster for '06. At 30, his future appears in extreme doubt though he batted .289 with a .519 slugging mark for the Rangers AA Frisco farm club last year while being limited to just 34 games.

New Arizona Ace

Brandon Webb's sinker has served him well in the light air of the Diamonbacks' desert-air park, enabling him to post a nifty 3.54 ERA in 229 innings last year. With Javier Vazquez traded to Chicago, Webb becomes the new opening day starter.

Rising Star

Projected '06 rookie Jeremy Hermida will compete for a major role this spring for no other reason than the depleted Marlins must find somebody -- anybody -- if they are to field a team following their Hot Stove League fire sale. The 22-year-old, 6 foot 4 outfielder's stats at AA Carolina project power -- 18 homers in 386 ABs -- and more importantly a good eye at the plate with his .293 BA and .397 OBP.

Rocking Chair Bound

He's got his sights on Babe Ruth's 714-homer mark, but Barry Bonds admits that since he's on the wrong side of 40, he'll retire, in his exact words, "pretty soon." Bonds has often been resented by fans and press alike for being surly, disagreeable and self-absorbed, but as he readies to close out his career he has polished his image by agreeing to play for the USA team in the World Baseball Classic games in March. If all he wants to do is clean up his reputation, he needn't have bothered at this late stage. Fans already know all too well that underneath, Barry Bonds is nothing if not one big ... er ... athletic supporter.

After You, My Dear Alfonso

What does a .277 batting average, two homers and 42 RBI get you? If you play for the Angels and your name is Edgardo Alfonso, up to $8 million a year. The Angels traded Steve Finley to acquire the 32-year-old infielder from the Giants. They need him to play third if '05 rookie Dallas McPherson fails to recover from hip surgery he underwent in August. McPherson is reported to be on track for spring, but there's no guarantee. Meanwhile, the Angles seem to be stymied on the trading block because they are loaded with youths such as Cuban defector Kendrie Morales and promising first baseman Casey Kotchman, both of whom may be ready for everyday roles.

Report from the Morgue

"The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated," Mark Twain once wrote, and the Astros' Willy Taveras might argue the same thing. None-the-less, it says here that the Houston centerfielder may soon find himself among the rolls of the dearly departed. He's on a trajectory to become the brightest flash in the pan since the Cubs' promising Dwight Smith flamed out a decade ago after batting .338 in his rookie debut., then all but vanishing. The handwriting was on the wall for Taveras during the September playoffs when he was suddenly benched in favor of Chris Burke. Despite finishing second in rookie of the year balloting, Taveras' had suffered a precipitous and severe second-half decline, suggesting the league was quickly figuring him out. The Astros' recent signing of veteran outfielder Preston Wilson signals that the Taveras centerfield experiment is rapidly drawing to a close.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Heavy Hitter

Barry Bonds is projecting to report to spring training 40 pounds lighter, prompting wide speculation about a loss of power. Any weight trainer knows that a loss in weight cannot be achieved without a loss in muscle.

Life of the Party

When super agent Scott Boras was invited to dinner at Rangers owner Tom Hicks' sprawling Texas mansion to discuss the potential signing of free agent pitcher Kevin Millwood, Boras knew he would have to keep his 6-foot-6 host distracted.

A couple of dull moments, and Hicks might remember the 2001 deal with Boras' last client, Chan Ho Park, who signed for $62 million and nearly destroyed his franchise.

The effervescent agent quickly shifted his personality into high gear: After presenting Hicks with an exploding cigar, he catapaulted several pieces of silverware into Hicks' drinking glass. Boras tried the old "pull-my-finger" joke, then he reached inside his $350 silk shirt and made farting noises in his armpit. And he kept pace with Hicks' every move, both of them coating each serving of the lavish eight-course meal with a half inch of ketchup.

Finally Boras drew a moustache on an oil painting of Tom Hicks' mother, and when he saw that wide, dull smile creep across the lumbering team owner's face once again, he moved in for the kill.

Using an effective yet brilliantly simple ruse, he warned Hicks his shoe was untied, even though Hicks was wearing cowboy boots, and when Hicks bent down to check, Boras quickly emptied two packets of "happy powder" into the big Texan's after-dinner mint julep.

At the end of the evening when the jovial Hicks knocked Boras' glasses off with a powerful slap across the top of the agent's back, Chan Ho Park was but a dim memory and Boras had signed Millwood to a potential five-year deal worth more than $60 million.

And it was all achieved with Hicks bidding against himself for a 31-year-old pitcher who hasn't won as many as 17 games since 2002, hasn't pitched as many as 200 innings since 2003, has for the previous three years been unable to get anything better than a one-year contact from anybody, was shown the door in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Cleveland, missed more than two months with an inflamed labrum five years ago, missed a month two years ago with a strained ligament and tendon, and only won nine games last year for the Indians, who had him under contract for a mere $3 million annual base.

Five Easy Pieces

The Boston centerfield candidates have basically come down to this: Coco Crisp, Joey Gathright, Corey Patterson, Jeremy Reed and Dave Roberts; all available either as free agents or as trade bait.