Friday, March 31, 2006
The already crowded outfield picture in Baltimore is potentially getting even more complicated as 22-year-old Nick Markakis, who owns a dazzling .328 minor league batting average, continues to hit at a more than .400 clip for the spring and has all but made it impossible for the Orioles to send him down. Front office favorite Jeff Conine, 39, has been expected to be the opening day starter in left but perhaps would be comparatively more suited to come off the bench. Markakis runs well, though he doesn't steal much, and projects as a singles hitter with a good batting eye and gap power.
Though Pittsburgh OF/!B Craig Wilson has no place to play for the Pirates this year, he's among the major league leaders in spring appearances with more than 60 AB. The Pirates have been forced to keep trotting Wilson out as a parade of scouts show up at Pirate City to evaluate the accomplished veteran, who is being vigorously shopped. Wilson, who could easily start for a number of teams, saw his record blemished last year due to a rash of injuries. But he was impressive in '04 when he batted .264 with 29 homers. He lost his first base job with Pittsburgh's acquisition of former Red Sean Casey, who hit just four homers last year despite playing in Cincinnati's launching pad of a stadium. The Mets are among the teams who are looking at Wilson.
Rookie shortstop Jason Bartlett's mother will be disappointed but the Twins pitchers are delighted. Bartlett, a minor league hitting sensation, has been lost in the field all spring, muffing even the easiest of routine popups. Thus he has been sent to the minors in favor of mediocre veteran Juan Castro, 33, who has never played a full season in the majors nor impressed with his bat at any level. With the defensively limited Tony Batista playing third this year, the Twins could ill afford another weak sister on the left side of the infield. Castro at least brings a good glove to the position, but Bartlett's failure is a major disappointment to management, who had dubbed Bartlett the shortstop of the future.
Balco founder Victor Conte, released from jail after serving four months for running an illegal steroids distribution ring, blasted what he said were false allegations in the book "Game of Shadows" that he provided Giants slugger Barry Bonds with steroids. In an interview broadcast by KMVR radio in San Francisco and heard throughout California and the Cactus League in Arizona, Conte said he intends to provide proof the book contains "outright lies" and added: "I've said it before and I'll say it again. I've never even had a discussion about steroids with Barry Bonds."
Already suffering through a rocky exhibition season, Baltimore SP Kris Benson must now deal with the additional distraction of divorce. Benson's ex-stripper wife of seven years, Anna Benson, filed papers in Atlanta describing her marriage as "irretrievably broken." Anna Benson, who had been seen watching her husband during Grapefruit League games this spring, has been widely, although not necessarily fairly, blamed for causing her husband to be traded by the Mets to the Orioles, a charge the Mets have denied. She has repeatedly drawn attention to herself with risque behavior thought to have been regarded by the Mets as unwholesome.
Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell of Maine, tapped to oversee an investigation of steroid and other illegal drug use in baseball, is not only a member of the Boston Red Sox board, as has been widely publicized, but also is chairman of Disney Corp., parent company of ESPN. The network connection means that Mitchell has a proprietary interest in Major League Baseball's eight-year, $2.4 billion broadcast contract, which entitles ESPN to present a number of games throughout the season. U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, a Hall of Fame ex-major league pitcher, has criticized the selection of Mitchell on grounds that the former senate minority leader has a potential conflict of interest. Bunning contends baseball would have been better served by a more neutral individual.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
With rookie Joey Devine breathing down his neck, Chris Reitsma's best defense may be a strained hamstring that has kept him off the mound. The more manager Bobby Cox sees of Devine, who has racked up 18 strikeouts in 11 innings while recording a 2.45 ERA this spring, the more Cox likes him. But the 22-year-old Devine remains behind Reitsma, 28, on the depth chart because Reitsma has been sidelined by the injury, having pitched only 4.2 scoreless but somewhat inconclusive innings. Reitsma, who says he'll be ready by opening day, will keep the closer's job for now but Devine has won a reserve role that will very quickly translate into the closer's job as soon as Reitsma falters.
Speedster Chris Duffy, 25, seemed all but certain to win Pittsburgh's starting center field job by bringing a .300 minor league batting average to camp and by hitting at a .341 clip during a 126 AB callup last year, all while playing strong defense. But this spring Duffy has been troubled by a sore shoulder, sustained a concussion after being beaned and has struggled at the plate with a .230 average. Meanwhile rival Nate McLouth, 24, is batting .350 with three homers, six steals and 10 RBI, and has made it difficult for management to demote him. The idea of starting McLouth over Duffy is tempting, but expect McLouth to win a roster spot as a reserve and Duffy to keep the starter's job. Their assignments could be reversed by the end of camp or during the early weeks of the season if McLouth continues to outperform Duffy.
Florida manager Joe Girardi's decision to split catching duties between Josh Willingham and Miguel Olivo only serves to make Willingham even more valuable as he will still qualify at catcher but also in the outfield, and perhaps the infield, as Girardi commits himself to find ways to keep Willingham's bat in the lineup. Expect Willingham to top 500 AB no problem. Willingham has hit a homer in nearly every seven AB this spring while maintaining a more than .450 average, following up on last year's .324 average with 19 homers in 219 AB at Triple A Albuquerque. Olivo, who brings unusual speed and a fine arm to the catcher's position continues to struggle offensively, as he did for the White Sox, Mariners and Padres, batting only .150 for the spring.
Arizona pitching coach Bryan Price thought it would be a good idea to hold out SP Brandon Webb from Wednesday's game with the Rockies to prevent the Rockies from seeing him just a few days before the two teams square off in the first game of the season. But Webb still needed his work so he was sent to minor league camp to face White Sox prospects, an easy, relaxing outing for the Diamondbacks opening day ace. Right! The Northside minor leaguers hammered Webb for eight runs, seven earned on 93 pitches.
Texas SP Adam Eaton will be out for nearly a month, maybe more, after straining the same finger he injured last year...Rob Quinlan and Juan Rivera, a DH platoon, have the inside track along with Tim Salmon to make the final cut for the Angels, with Dallas McPherson, Kendry Morales and Howie Kendrick being sent down...San Francisco SP Jason Schmidt's sparkling spring has won him the opening day assignment...San Diego's Ryan Klesko may miss time with an ailing shoulder, resulting in the opening day 1B job going to Adrian Gonzalez...Scott Podsednik of the White Sox, who has missed time with a strained groin, should be ready by opening day...Claimed off waivers from the Red Sox, Tony Graffanino hit a grand slam for the Royals...Jim Thome of the White Sox went 10-16 with six homers in his last four games.
Former Stanford quarterback Joe Borchard, trying to make a roster...any roster...after being cut by the White Sox and picked up by the Mariners, made a strong impression by going 2-4 with a single and a homer in Tuesday's 10-10 nine-inning tie with the Royals at Peoria Sports Complex at Peoria, Ariz. Then he negated the impression with a bad showing in the eighth inning when he came up against Royals closer Ambiorex Burgos, who nearly spun Borchard into the ground like a cork screw in retiring him on four pitches. Others homering in the contest included the Royals Angel Berroa and Tony Graffanino, and for the Mariners the 6-foot-8 catatonic hulk Richie Sexson, too dimwitted to recognize the throng of young admirers begging for his autograph and yet always seeming to be swinging where the pitcher is pitching and able to get around the bases despite dragging his knuckles in the dirt.
Cubs manager Dusty Baker, a former Marine who knows a little bit of how to deal with a man in a uniform, smiled his best smile and tried to take the blame for the team's bus driver being in violation of his "hours of service" limit. But the cop wasn't buying it. Having pulled the bus over as the Cubs were enroute to a game with the Mariners at Peoria, Ariz, the cop found the bus driver's log book was three days out of date, with the last entry recorded in Colorado. Ordinarily, the bus driver might have been put out of service on the spot, but in consideration of the players on board and the 10,000 fans waiting to see them at the Peoria Sports Complex, police escorted the bus to the stadium where the driver was ordered to catch up his log book and take a 10-hour break. The bus company was compelled to call another driver to take the team back to Mesa, Ariz., at the end of the game.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson had good news and bad news for CF Ryan Church: The good news is an all-expense-paid trip to the colorful vacation destination of New Orleans. The bad news is Church had better start studying French, because he's not coming back. Actually, Church doesn't have to learn French because the city outlawed that language in 1925, so he should have no trouble following the present day tongue: Mexican. Church, who likely will bat cleanup for the Zephyrs triple A team in the Crescent City, lost his spot with the parent club after he batted just .200 for the spring while rival Brandon Watson batted .311 with seven SB and a .368 OBP, making him suitable to bat leadoff. Watson will play center with occasional spot starts against certain lefties by Marlon Byrd. Watson batted .354 last year in 373 AB at triple A.
Baltimore SP Kris Benson, acquired along with 100 viles of penicillin as a throw-in in a trade for his wife Anna, has had a rough transition to the Orioles. While Benson struggles with a 5.89 ERA in 18 spring innings, his ex-stripper wife has enjoyed Florida camp, attending Grapefruit League - uh - action and tallying some 2 million hits a month on her AnnaBenson.net website devoted to celebrity poker and other persuits. Anna Benson, right, recently denied she and her husband were traded by the Mets to Baltimore because of her racy public profile, preferring instead to think of the deal as a "business decision." She has called attention to herself with a publicized sex romp with her husband in their automobile in the parking lot of Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh and with spicy photos on the internet. Despite her image, she is a self-described conservative mother of three who, if she ever caught her husband cheating, would "screw everybody" on his team in retaliation. "Coaches, trainers, players...everybody would get a turn," she has warned, but presumably no bat boys.
Angels 2B Adam Kennedy, 30, whom some predicted might lose his starting job to upstart rookie Howie Kendrick, has batted .340 for the spring with a .532 slugging percentage and has prompted management to send Kendrick down. Kendrick, 22, skyrocketed into prominence by batting .342 at Double A last year. But he looked overmatched at the plate in camp, hitting only .250. Kennedy batted .300 last year and contributed key hits in the Angels unsuccessful '05 pennant drive. Former 3B Dallas McPherson and 1B Kendry Morales are ticketed to follow Kendrick to the minors at week's end.
That the Yankees are considering awarding the team's last roster spot to third string catcher Wil Nieves tells more about manager Joe Torre's regard for the decline of starter Jorge Posada than the abilities of Nieves. Nieves, 28, who has virtually no power stroke, has batted nearly .290 over the past three years at Columbus, Ohio, and is hitting a barely respectable .260 this spring. But Posada's homerun rate has fallen from 30 in '03 to 21 in '04 and only 19 last year, a decline attributable not only to Posada's aging at 34 but to a general tiring and wearing down due to excessive action behind the plate. Backup catcher Kelly Stinnett has already made the team but the addition of Nieves would present Torre with further options on days when Posada needs rest. Over similar concerns, the Yankees blocked Posada from playing in the World Classic games earlier this month. Posada currently is recovering from a broken nose, his second such injury in two years, but is expected to be in uniform opening day.
Cardinals 3B Scott Rolen, coming back from shoulder surgery related to a baserunning collision last year, has hit the ball to all fields this spring but has had difficulty reaching the warning track, to say nothing of the wall. Rolen is batting .289 but has only one double, one triple and no homers. It's early, but so far he looks a long way from his form in 2004, when he batted .314 with 34 homers in 500 AB.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Former Stanford quarterback Joe Borchard acquitted himself well as he appeared in center field for Jeremy Reed and the Mariners following Reed missing time after slamming into a wall and injuring his wrist last week. A series of tests, however, shows Reed's wrist was not broken, as originally was believed, and he could be back as soon as opening day. That puts a quick end to Borchard's trial as a starter and threatens his status as a reserve.
Speedster OF Angel Pagan added an exclamation point to the pending announcement that the Cubs will take him north to Chicago as Pagan went 2-4 Tuesday with a three-run homer that broke up a shutout in the eighth inning of a Cactus League game with the Mariners. Pagan has had a sensational camp, batting .367 with a .412 OBP, .700 slugging rate and 10 RBI. The announcement by 38-year-old OF Marquis Grissom that he is leaving camp to retire solidifies the switchhitting Pagan's status as a backup to CF Juan Pierre, RF Jacque Jones and as a pinch hitter/pinch runner.
Not to suggest that Orioles reliever Chris Ray has been rushed to the big leagues, but it has been observed that he still has his shoes on backwards after frantically packing his suitcase at Double A Bowie. Though Ray has a strikeout per inning and an ERA under 1.00 this spring, pitching coach Leo Mazzone's search of the waiver wire and inititation of trade talks to acquire bullpen help strongly suggests a lack of confidence in the 24-year-old closer. Ray won the closer's job after striking out 42 in 39 innings in the minors, then another 43 in a 40-inning tryout in Baltimore last year. But Mazzone is aware that the league has seen so little of Ray that it is virtually inevitable that as time goes on hitters are going to start figuring him out, and it remains to be seen where Ray's rate of productivity will level out.
A brilliant spring for Angels SP Jeff Weaver, 29, has bumped fellow SP Irvin 'Magic' Santana, 27, from the No. 3 spot in the rotation to No. 5. Though Santana's arsonal is all but spectacular, his productivity will tend toward marginalization because of the move, with his starts reduced to perhaps as few as two for the first month of the season, then cut back again and again for the rest of the year every time the team has a rainout, heavy travel schedule or holiday. Other young luminaries who will be similarly impacted include Seattle's Felix Hernandez and Detroit's Justin Verlander.
One of the happier stories of camp will come Friday when the Cardinals announce that rookie Chris Duncan, 24, son of coach Dave Duncan, has hit his way onto the St. Louis roster. The choice became easy when doctors immobilized the broken foot of the projected starter in left, Larry Bigbie, 29, an oft-injured perennial underachiever who was deemed expendable in Baltimore and Denver and who will be out until at least mid April. Duncan, who hit 21 homers last year at triple A, has a .513 slugging percentage with six doubles and four homers in 76 Grapefruit League AB this spring. He is batting .276.
Monday, March 27, 2006
Seeing wide-eyed '05 rookie Dallas McPherson feverishly competing with potential '06 rookie Kendry Morales, veteran Tim Salmon was only too happy to offer avuncular advice to calm the two youngsters. And whom of the two has one the coveted DH spot they were fighting for: Tim Salmon. Based on consideration of his fine spring, magnificent comeback from injury and considerable status as one of the greatest players ever to wear a halo, Salmon will win the final roster spot, McPherson will be sent to the minors to recover his stroke and Morales will be sent down to polish his defense. The Angels ongoing negotiations with Boston to trade youth for veteran Red Sox OF Manny Ramirez could break the logjam if the two teams could come to terms. Among other issues, talks are stalled over how much of Ramirez's contract the Sox should cover.
Mets trainers found SP Pedro Martinez had passed his first test, as the ailing ace felt strong the day following his first spring outing. Martinez pitched three scoreless innings, giving up a hit and two walks on 35 pitches on Sunday. But the key measure of his condition was determined largely by how he felt on the trainers table the following day, and whether his specially built shoe was successfully protecting his strained big toe. Based on that evaluation, Martinez was cleared for another spring outing Friday, and likely would appear in an official game on a limited pitch count by the second weekend in April.
...Oakland SS Bobby Crosby shoulder tendonitis caused by weight lifting is responding to therapy...The Rangers outfield picture is getting thin with Laynce Nix, Gary Matthews Jr. and Brad Wilkerson battling injuries...Giants slugger Barry Bonds is scheduled to start Friday after a brief layoff because of elbow soreness...Yankees SP Chein-Ming Wang has been cleared to play after being struck in the leg by a comebacker to the mound...The agent for former Tigers 1B Carlos Pena is preparing for negotiation with one or more teams following Pena's release by Detroit...As Cubs SP Mark Prior continues to struggle with shoulder problems and missed a scheduled throwing session Monday.
Look for Yankees GM Brian Cashman, following directives of boss George Steinbrenner, to wait until the 11th hour to extend OF Gary Sheffield's contract arrangement. Though it irks Sheffield, the Yankees are known to wait as long as possible before committing to major expeditures because it affords the team more time to observe and evaluate a player's progress, and possibly sidestep an unforeseen injury. Steinbrenner will almost certainly keep Sheffield, but there's no reason to hurry while the 37-year-old slugger struggles with a mediocre camp. Sheffield is in the last year of a three-year $39 million pact, and will become a free agent at the end of the year without a new agreement with the Yankees.
The team physician can't be blamed for being ineffective when he asks to see Mets closer Billy Wagner's injury and Wagner responds with an obscene gesture. No matter, Wagner's stiff middle finger hardly needs medical attention; just rest. This is not the first time Wagner has suffered from the malady. The stiffness also occurred when Wagner was in Philadelphia, and rest was the prescription then, too, and it was effective. Cause of the stiffness may be attributable to broken blood vessels. Wagner, having completed a couple of days of long tossing, is optimistic he can be ready for opening day, though he wants to baby the injury for the first few days of the season.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Red Sox OF Adam Stern, who has had a strong camp while opening eyes with his outstanding defensive play and timely grand slam for Canada in the World Classic games, will make the opening day roster but likely will be sent down by May. Stern, a Rule 5 pick stolen from Atlanta, was required to remain on the team for all of last year or be offered back to the Braves. The Red Sox had little difficulty stashing him away as he was injured for most of '05, but Boston must continue to carry him for 18 more games before he loses his Rule 5 status. His spot on the roster means acquisitions such as 1B Hee Seop Choi, picked up by Boston after being cut by the Dodgers, has no choice but to start the year in the minors. Choi, regarded as a sensational prospect when he was with the Iowa Cubs, batted .253 with 15 HR in 320 AB with Los Angeles last year, but now ranks behind 1B J.T. Snow and 1B/3B Kevin Youkilis and cannot be regarded as much more than a deep reserve.
After hitting a homer in every 14 AB after he was recalled to Detroit last August, 1B Carlos Pena was only too happy to agree to a fat $2.5 million contract. Ironically, when he signed it was like his death warrant, for the money was not guaranteed and left the Tigers with few other options but to cut him when he lost the first base assignment to another righthanded bat, Chris Shelton. The Tigers had no intention of paying big money to a reserve, and Shelton is under contract for less than $400,000. Shelton batted .299 with 18 HR in 388 AB last year.
All the A's Frank Thomas had to do to win approval to play was sprint from home to first base in spikes without undue discomfort to his surgically repaired ankle, which he did. And in his first start in an A's uniform during interleague play in Arizona Sunday, he bashed a 450-foot moonshot to break up Colorado's Josh Fogg's no hitter in the bottom of the fifth. Thomas, 37, likely will be productive when he plays, as he was briefly last year, batting only .212 but hitting 12 homers in 101 AB. The problem is, the Athletics do not envision the 275-pound, 6 foot five slugger appearing in many more than 300 games. Thomas signed for a mere $700,000.
With the start of the season less than a week off, fans across the nation are readying to tune in to their favorite play-by-play broadcasters, iconic figures such as Vin Scully, John Miller, Marty Brennaman, Mike Shannon, Harry Kalas, Jerry Coleman, Bob Uecker, Milo Hamilton and many others. Some names are bigger, but none perhaps is more remarkable than the Royals Denny Matthews. Though it is not generally known, in 1996 Matthews stepped off a curb at 12th Street and Vine in Kansas City and was instantly flattened by a Boulevard Beer truck, and had no pulse or respiration when his body arrived at the hospital. And yet, Matthews has managed to drag himself to the broadcast booth and work a complete season year after year even though he has been stone-cold dead...DEAD...for the past decade.
Barry Bonds, batting .692 with five homers in 14 spring AB, will sit for the remainder of camp while he waits for anti-inflamatory medication to ease discomfort as a result of a strain in his left elbow. Giants manager Felipe Alou said Bonds would be playing if this was the regular season, but seeing as it's merely exhibition, it is prudent to rest him. Although Bonds appears to be running without restraint despite a knee injury that kept him out all but three weeks last year, observers expect Bonds, 41, will be babied throughout the season and likely will not play more than 100 to 120 games. He needs seven homers to pass Babe Ruth's 714.
Time grows alarmingly short for the Oakland Athletics to acquire every starting pitcher in the major leagues. The trade of reliever Juan Cruz to Arizona for lefty starter Brad Halsey means the A's have only eight starting pitchers: Barry Zito, Rich Harden, Esteban Loaiza, Danny Haren, Joe Blanton, Kirk Saarloos, Joe Kennedy and Halsey.
The Royals' injured $430,000-a-year closer, Mike MacDougal, will need at least a month, perhaps six weeks before he returns to action, and will be spelled by $339,500 setup man Ambiorix Burgos. Meanwhile manager Buddy Bell has disclosed his starting rotation as follows: Scott Elarton, $4 million; Runelvys Hernandez, $1.2 million; Joe Mays, $1 million; Jeremy Affeldt, $1 million; and Denny Bautista, $335,000. Say good night, Buddy.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Former Stanford QB Joe Borchard's timing was impeccable as the White Sox gave up on him at just the right moment for him to be acquired by Seattle, which has lost center fielder Jeremy Reed for six weeks with an injured wrist. Not only is Reed out until the middle of May, the injury has the potential to undermine Reed's performance for much or all of the rest of the season. It remains to be seen how much of Reed's time will fall to Borchard, if any, but Borchard's prime position is center field. He has never hit for average, but hit 30 homers in 495 AB at Triple A last year.
Toronto's Eric Hinske, a lefty, and Alexis Rios, a righty, will start the season in a right-field platoon, but the arrangement likely will not last. Management hopes Hinske, who has never played the outfield in the majors, can finally live up to the hyperbole and win the everyday job, or else sit down in favor of Rios, the former Eastern League player of the year. The Blue Jays want power from one of the two, and Hinske has five homers this spring compared to Rios' one.
Astros 1B Jeff Bagwell's decision to undergo surgery to remove bone splints in his shoulder breaks the logjam on the Houston bench, clearing the way for Lance Berkman to move from outfield to first, opening a spot for speedster Willy Taveras in center and moving Preston Wilson from center to right. Berkman has been keeping a low profile, supporting Bagwell in his heartrending comeback attempt while Berkman discreetly coveted 1B for himself. Meanwhile the clock starts ticking on '05 rookie Taveras, who must prove the league has not figured him out, as last year's second half stats suggest. Taveras could steal 40 bases or more, if only he could steal first. In the meantime he must put the ball in play and hope his legs are fast enough to help him rack up a raft of singles.
The stars seem to be aligning for Pirates '05 rookie Zach Duke to have a big year if he's got one in him. If Duke can get past the perennial sophomore jinx, circumstances could not be favoring him better as he has been dropped to the No. 3 spot in the rotation, meaning he will face mostly second tier opposition pitchers. Also, as a lefthander, Duke can force most righthanded batters to hit flies where they go to die in Pittsburgh's caverous left field. Moreover, Pittsburgh's offense has been punched up, as has the defense. Duke, who has a low-90s fastball, has been regarded as something of an overachiever after going 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 81 innings last year for the Pirates, and 12-3 with a 2.92 ERA for Triple A Indianapolis.
The Blue Jays No. 2 pitcher A.J. Burnett will not come back from disabled status much before the middle of May, meaning he should not be depended upon for much more than 25 starts on the season. Burnett has been sidelined by pain in his throwing arm precipitated by the breakup of scar tissue resulting from Tommy John surgery two years ago. All things considered, the injury is not severe in relative terms.
Twins rookie Jason Kubel, 23, who missed all of last year because of injury, was supposed to be competing for the starting right field job, but looked so rusty due to his lengthy layoff that manager Ron Gardenhire had all but resolved to send him back to the minors for a further tune-up. But with IF/OF Michael Cuddyer out with a strained oblique and reserve OF Ruben Sierra out with a strained quad, and IF/OF/C Matthew LeCroy gone to Washington, Kubel's prospects have brightened a little. Kubel, a former top pick, may be pressed into service in a platoon with OF Lew Ford. Kubel would get most of the AB facing righties, and should he find his stroke in the process still could win the starting job.
Yankees ace SP Randy Johnson stood on the mound during a recent interleague spring game and read the letters on the back of the Cincinnati batter as he walked to the plate: E-N-C-A-R-N-A-C-I-O-N. Johnson thought he remembered the player from his days in the National League. Then he threw him a fastball and was taken for a ride on a moonshot over the left centerfield wall. That can't be Juan Encarnacion, Johnson later remembered thinking, because "this guy can hit!" That's right, it was rookie 3B Edwin Encarnacion, no relation to Juan of the Cardinals. And despite his rough transition to the majors last year, Edwin is leading the league in RBI with 18, is batting more than .400 and has six homers, second only to the Phillies Ryan Howard's nine.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Other than the fact that 33-year-old Mets OF Cliff Floyd has missed more than 1000 AB over the past four years due to various injuries, no reason suggests that he is incapable of playing a full season now because of imminent prognostications of renal failure. In fact, Floyd has been given a clean bill of health but for minor concerns about his kidneys functioning at less than ideal efficiency. Floyd says he feels as though he is at full strength and wants to play a full season as he did in '05. Doctors have cleared him to play without undue reserve. Floyd was alarmed 10 days ago when it was discovered he had elevated levels of creatinine in his blood and other symptoms that could foreshadow kidney failure, a congenital disorder he potentially inherited from his father, who underwent kidney transplant at age 37. Floyd, who batted .273 and hit 34 homers in 550 AB last year, has been placed on medication and agreed to modify his diet by cutting back on pop, sugar, salt and fast food. This year Floyd will bat sixth behind OF Carlos Beltran, 1B Carlos Delgado and 3B David Wright.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
If baseball radio were a Monopoly board, play-by-play/color man John Rooney's move from Chicago to St. Louis would turn the Cardinals broadcast booth into Boardwalk and Park Place, and relegate the White Sox to Baltic Avenue. Rooney, with his tireless preparation, expansive knowledge, devotion to detail, meticulous observations and demonstrable enthusiasm, stands head and shoulders among most colleagues, many of whom in comparison appear to be asleep at the wheel.
With Twins SP Scott Baker acquitting himself adequately as the team's anticipated No. 5 starter, can't-miss prospect Francisco Liriano, 22, a hard-throwing lefty in the mold of former hurler Steve Carlton, is ticketed for Triple A Rochester, N.Y. But the Twins have no lefties in the bullpen, and have been unable to fill two openings. Watch for Liriano to be pressed into service as a reliever.
The Cincinnati Reds have given the honor of throwing out the first ball at the home opener April 3 to the former owner of the Texas Rangers. George W. Bush, who sold his interest his club more than 15 years ago, has retired from baseball and now resides in Washington D.C., where he dabbles in politics.
Starter Carlos Silva, a ground ball pitcher who depends on solid defense for his effectiveness, stands to be the most negatively impacted of the Twins staff due to inadequacies in the team's new infield. Playing third this year will be Tony Batista, far from spectacular with his hands and very limited in range. Meanwhile rookie shortstop Jason Bartlett's range is not particularly suspect, but he has booted routine grounders and muffed enough infield pops this spring that his defensive abilities have been called into serious question. The coaching staff will soon begin perusing the waiver wire if Bartlett fails to pick up his game soon.
The Padres coaching staff will neither confirm nor deny spectulation that SP Dewon Brazelton, 25, will displace SP Woody Williams, 39, in the starting rotation. Brazelton would rank No. 5 behind Jake Peavy, Shawn Estes, Chris Young and Chan Ho Park. Park recently returned from the World Classic Games where he served as starter and closer, and nearly led Korea to the world championship.
Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, suffering from a broken nose as a result of being hit in the face by an errant ball during batting practice, will miss no more than seven to 10 days, meaning he should be in uniform for opening day. It is the second time in two years Posada has fractured his proboscis.
The Washington Nationals for more than 10 days frantically tried to find a trading partner to take $10 million man Alfonso Soriano off their hands, fearing he would refuse manager Frank Robinson's order that Soriano move from second base to the outfield. Soriano has at last acquiesced, diffusing the stalemate, but the trade talks have continued if for no other reason than their own impetus. A key focus of the talks is the Chicago Cubs. Chicago is offering minor league pitching prospects, perhaps those in the category of Rich Hill, a lefty who struck out 92 batters in 65 innings at triple A last year. But the Cubs want Washington, whose ownership group may be disclosed as soon as the end of the month, to pick up part of Soriano's $10 million contract, plus take 33-year-old Todd Walker and his $2.5 million contract. Washington, however, already has Daryl Ward and Robert Fick, both of whom have similar offensive profiles to Walker. Meanwhile Robinson has clarified that Soriano's spot as leadoff batter will be discontinued once the season starts, and that Soriano will remain in the outfield even if 2B Jose Vidro is injured again. The Mets and the Angels are also thought to still be negotiating for the services of Soriano.
Two years ago Bobby Jenks was Mister Nobody when the Angels gave up on him as just another hard-thrower with control problems. And yet in an astonishing turn of events, Jenks came out of nowhere because of a variety of chance circumstances to become the White Sox closer and slam the door on the rival Indians last October, setting the stage for the Pale Hose to become world champions. Now Jenks has an identity crisis at 25, and must decide whether he'll continue to be the biggest cold blooded killer in Chicago since Al Capone, or will go back to being Mister Nobody. Jenks 100-mph fast ball has inexplicably vanished, having lost 10 mph in velocity, and he has struggled with his effectiveness all spring. Manager Ozzie Guillen has warned Jenks that even though he still has the closer's job, it is his job to lose.
The captain of the USS Mark Bellhorn has been advised to keep up a full head of steam, but the reality is that the chance of making the San Diego Padres starting lineup is taking on heavy water in the forward and aft compartments. Just as sure as San Diego is a Navy town, the opening day 2B job will go to Josh Barfield, son of former Blue Jays slugger Jesse Barfield. Josh Barfield batted .310 with 15 homers and 20 steals last year for Triple A Portland. But what has really made the brass decide to pipe Barfield aboard has been his play the spring, which has been surprisingly strong not only offensively, but defensively, which really floats their boat.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Faced with losing his impending free agent status after this year, plus the loss of $61,700 a game if placed on the ineligible list by the Washington Nationals, slugger Alfonso Soriano has been forced to capitulate to manager Frank Robinson's demand that he give up 2B and move to left field. Jose Vidro, in his best health in two years, will keep the pivot position, though Soriano could reappear at second should Vidro become injured again. Soriano will bat leadoff, likely enhancing his stolen base potential while his power numbers decline in cavernous RFK Stadium.
Always one to seek the limelight as a fan and a photographer's favorite, 41-year-old Kenny Rogers has parlayed his grace and sparkling personality into winning the opening day starting assignment for the Detroit Tigers. SP Jeremy Bonderman, 23, last year's opener, will drop to the second spot, Nate Robertson, 28, will drop to three and Mike Maroth, 28, to four. That leaves the hard throwing Bonderman as the four's only righty. The three southpaws, with the vague exception of Robertson, tend toward throwing junk. Seeing the lefties in near succession will help opposing hitters to zero in on them.
"Game of Shadows," the book alleging Giants slugger Barry Bonds cheated with performance enhancing cocktails for five years, is due in stores this week and, while Bonds feigns indifference, likely has an intimidating effect on whatever possibility that Bonds would be so brazen as to continue taking drugs, undetectable or not. Batting without the suspected little helpers, Bonds is a mere 8 for 11 with three homers so far this year, a shadow of his former self. If he could continue his allleged cheating, he'd be more like 11 for 11 with 11 homers.
Manager Bucky Showalter's choice of leadoff hitter for the Texas Rangers has come down to David Dellucci, 32, who brings an approximate .350 on-base percentage, power and a handful of steals to the table, or Brad "The Sword" Wilkerson, 28, a fellow lefthanded batter with the potential to match or exceed Dellucci in each category, but whose promising career hit a snag when his season was spoiled last year by injuries and the limitations of playing in RFK Stadium in Washington. Loser of the competition will drop to the No. 7 or No. 8 hole in the batting order, which could translate to a loss of 50-100 AB on the season and considerably less value.
Washington Nationals 30-30 slugger Alfonso Soriano, who will lose $61,700 a game if he is condemned to the ineligible list for refusing manager Frank Robinson's order that Soriano move from 2B to the outfield, may be wavering in his game of brinksmanship. Sources close to Soriano indicate he is seeking the advice of his agent, family in friends before deciding whether he'll capitulate. However, Soriano has kept in mind that had he relented to pressure from Yankees five years ago to move from second to the outfield when Soriano played in New York, his pay today would be perhaps just $4 million to $6 million, instead of the $10 million a year he commands as one of the top three offensive second basemen in baseball. With those stakes, he can afford to lose some earnings for a few games.
Tigers management maintains a semblance of competition for center fielder but has quietly decided the job will go to Curtis Granderson, the 25-year-old rookie who burst onto the scene late last year to bat .272 with a near .500 slugging percentage in 161 AB. Though Granderson, who has had a dominant spring, is a lefty and could platoon with switchhitter Nook Logan, the full-time job will go to Granderson, who is the more polished of the two. It remains to be seen whether Logan, 26, is deemed ready to hold down the No. 5 outfielder's spot or needs to return to the minors. Either way Logan will never be able to match Granderson, who projects as a 25-homer, 25-steal player.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Angels slugger Dallas McPherson, competing for the left-handed DH spot, was sent to the Double-A Arkansas Travellers spring camp for a second time for extra AB and went 5-for-10 with a 500-foot homer. McPherson had been batting less than .100 and was facing potential demotion to Salt Lake City due to competition from rookie Cuban defector Kendry Morales. McPherson played 3B for the Angels last season.
The Nationals would prefer slugger Alfonso Soriano to simply move from his beloved 2B to left field and play, but are reluctantly willing to trade Soriano to resolve the problem of his refusal to switch positions. However, after investigating for several days potential trading partners such as the Angels and others, the Nationals have been unable to find a willing suitor with an agreeable exchange rate. In the meantime the team and Soriano continue to speed toward a collision course on Thursday, when the Nats will put Soriano on the ineligible list, which will bar Soriano from being paid and cost Soriano $61,700 a game. Most obsevers predict manager Frank Robinson will not back down, but teams like the Mets are slobbering over the potential, however small, that the Nats will decide to trade 2B Jose Vidro to open a spot for Soriano.
Texas OF Kevin Mench is as well-rounded a power hitter as there is in baseball, a lefty in his prime that hits lefties well, has good plate discipline and hits to all fields. Unless Kevin Mench is traded, which the Rangers have contemplated all year, Kevin Mench will also benefit from hitting in a power-packed lineup in a hitter's park. But in relationship to Kevin Mench's full potential Kevin Mench's RBI production will be held back, in relative terms, by manager Buck Showalter's propensity to bat Kevin Mench in the No. 6 hole or lower. If Kevin Mench was switched in the batting order with 3B Hank Blalock, who is expected to hit either No. 2 or No. 5, the sky's the limit on Kevin Mench's RBI totals.
Monday, March 20, 2006
Boston SP Bronson Arroyo, who rejected the advice of his agent and turned down arbitration and sign a three-year deal in the hope of staying with the Red Sox, says he is "as disappointed as I ever have been in my life" after the Sox showed him no loyalty and traded him to the Reds.
Former Colorado SP Denny Neagle, having completed 40 hours of court ordered community service in retribution for his conviction of patronizing a prostitute, has foreited $3 million of the remaining $19 million the Rockies owed him on his original $51 million contract.
The forfeiture resulted from the team's challenging Neagle's contract on morals grounds due to the prostituion arrest. Neagle, 37, was stopped on suspicion of speeding by Lakewood, Col., police Dec. 3, '04, when officers noticed Neagle's pants were unbuckled. Jill Russell, left, who was riding in Neagle's passenger seat and who later pleaded guilty to prostitution charges, told police Neagle had paid her $40 for oral sex. Neagle, who is out of baseball, last signed with Tampa Bay but was released in Feb. '05.
The forfeiture resulted from the team's challenging Neagle's contract on morals grounds due to the prostituion arrest. Neagle, 37, was stopped on suspicion of speeding by Lakewood, Col., police Dec. 3, '04, when officers noticed Neagle's pants were unbuckled. Jill Russell, left, who was riding in Neagle's passenger seat and who later pleaded guilty to prostitution charges, told police Neagle had paid her $40 for oral sex. Neagle, who is out of baseball, last signed with Tampa Bay but was released in Feb. '05.
The trade of Reds outfielder Wily Mo Pena to Boston for SP Bronson Arroyo and cash pleased no one more than 1B Adam Dunn, who stands to pick up many of Pena's outfield appearances. Dunn prefers the outfield over 1B. Likewise, reserve 1B/C Scott Hatteberg will gain 1B starts on days when Dunn moves to the outfield, and IF/OF Ryan Freel will pick up outfield starts when Dunn stays at first. IF Rich Aurilia and IF Tony Womack also stand to gain infield starts when Freel plays the outfield. The unfortunate likeliness of injury to CF Ken Griffey Jr. would turn Hatteburg into a virtual full-time player at first should Griffey serve time on the DL. Meanwhile in Boston it would appear that Pena, who hammers lefty pitching, would move into a platoon with lefthanded RF Trot Nixon, and would play every day with the likeliness of the oft-injured Nixon serving time on the DL.
Future Hall-of-Famer Roger Clemens is expected to sit out at least two months before deciding whether he'll retire. Four teams, including his homestate Astros and Rangers, are pursuing him to continue pitching. Red Sox catcher and team captain Jason Varitek is attempting to persuade Clemens to please come to Boston. Clemens has 192 victories pitching for Boston, which ties him with Cy Young for the team lead.
Red Sox closer Keith Foulke has experienced soreness associated with a series of lubricant injections into his knees to replace natural fluid required to facilitate movement and shock absorbance. Manufacturers of "Synvisc" say the soreness is normal and may be mitigated with cortisone injections if necessary. Yankees starter Randy Johnson used the knee injections to good effect last year, and Foulke claims confidence that he'll be able to pitch when the season starts.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Alfonso Soriano returned from the World Classic Games without a trophy, but Washington manager Frank Robinson will present him with a special token of his esteem: A $10 million hammer. Soriano will be told politely but in no uncertain terms that he has a $10 million contract to play for the Nationals and if he expects to be paid he must give up his intentions to play 2B, which belongs to infielder Jose Vidro. Soriano has resisted moving to the outfield because the switch would impact his earning power. He is correct that his services are coveted as a power hitting infielder, which enhances his value. But his defensive capabilities are less than sterling up the middle.
Texas Rangers No. 2 starter Adam Eaton underwent a doctor's examination and was awaiting precautionary X-rays after leaving Sunday's game in Mesa, Ariz., in the bottom of the second inning. Eaton was struck by a punishing liner off the bat of the Cubs reserve outfielder Marquis Grissom, and left under his own power but appeared to be in great pain. The ball appeared to strike Eaton on or near the bicep of his throwing arm. There was no immediate word on the seriousness of the injury.
The Red Sox have denied a published report out of Pittsburgh that the team is contemplating a trade of SP Matt Clement for Pirates OF-1B Craig Wilson. Wilson, 29, whose season was all but ruined by injuries last year, hit 29 HR in 561 AB in '04. But he has become somewhat superfluous with the Pirates acquisition of ex-Red 1B Sean Casey, who is projected to bat third in the Pirates batting order. Casey, who hit only four HR last year, is a perennial .300 hitter, and is a Pittsburgh area native. Wilson, a righty batter whose power has been somewhat limited by the deep left field wall in Pittsburgh, likely would flourish hitting off Boston's "Green Monster." His acquistion by Boston would likely push 1B Kevin Youkilis to the bench.
Considering that 14 major league teams switched closers during the course of the season last year, is it any surprise that, even with opening day only two weeks away, such clubs as Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and Florida remain in flux as to who will get the majority of their saves '06? But whose hold on the closer's job could be more tenuous than Atlanta's Chris Reitsma? The 39-year-old righty, he of the .844 ERA during August '05, has reclaimed the Braves closer's job by default. Reitsma lost the job last year to Kyle Farnsworth, who left to become set-up man for the Yankees. This year Reitsma's understudy is rookie Joey Devine, who was rudely welcomed to the majors last year by giving up two grand slams during the playoffs. But management was impressed that despite that experience Devine refused to be rattled, exhibiting the classic coldblooded closer's psychological profile. Devine has 14 scoreless innings at the halfway point of spring camp. Stash him away for a rainy day.
Saturday, March 18, 2006
The Angels Dallas McPherson returned Saturday from minor league camp, where he had been sent to get extra ABs in intrasquad games in an effort to break him out of his spring slump. McPherson immediately struck out upon his return, but later stroked a clean looper to left center for a hit. McPherson continues to bat less than .100 and has had trouble hitting the ball out of the infield. It remains to be seen whether McPherson will stay with the big club or be demoted to Salt Lake City in two weeks. McPherson remains on the 40-man roster and is being given every chance to recover his stroke after injuries spoiled his season last year. Switch-hitting rookie Kendry Morales appears to be threatening to overtake McPherson in competition for the DH spot.
Friday, March 17, 2006
Former Cy Young winner Roy Halladay's signing of a three-year, $40 million contract with the Blue Jays confirms what all discerning observers have known for weeks: Halladay is completely recovered from last year's freak injury and, at 28, is poised to perform among the best pitchers in the AL. Halladay had a 12-4 record with a .241 ERA last year when his season was cut short by a screaming comebacker which broke his leg. The break is a "shaft fracture" rather than an "articulate fracture" and therefore the bone now is actually stronger at the break than it was before the injury. Halladay has about as much chance at relapsing as he does to be struck by lightning. With a new, strong defense behind him, plus B.J. Ryan closing, the Blue Jays should have no trouble gaining significantly on last year's 15-game deficit behind the East leading Yankees. The Blue Jays lost 21 games last year in which they scored five or more runs, games that this year likely will be chalked up in the win column. A 20-victory season is not out of reach for Halladay, nor is 90 or more wins for the team.
Josh Willingham is all but assured of winning the Marlins starting backstop job, having hit at a more than .400 clip through the first half of camp while demonstrating adequate defensive skills despite competition from Miguel Olivo, who has far more experience behind the plate. At 27, Willingham is likely to lead all or most NL catchers in ABs, perhaps exceeding 500 plate appearances. His youthfulness and bat will keep him in the lineup. He batted .324 with 19 HR at Albuquerque last year, then showed himself ready for major league pitching by batting more than .300 during his '05 callup with the big club.
On a recent outing at Surprise, Ariz., Angels rookie Kendry Morales playing first base muffed a little liner hit at his feet. A half way decent eighth grader likely could have made the unassisted out, but Morales could only pound the dirt with his glove and watch the ball skip into right. To say Morales' fielding is not major league ready is putting it generously. Yet since signing a $6 million bonus after his defection from Cuba last year, Morales has been so impressive with his bat that he may win a job out of camp anyway. Manager Mike Scoscia has moved Morales to DH, where his prime competition is fellow lefty power hitter Dallas McPherson. McPherson, who has already lost 3B to speedster Chone Figgins, is being given every chance to win the DH job, but handing him a bat has been like handing a grave digger a shovel. McPherson digs the hole deeper with every swing, now batting .099 at the midway point of spring training. Time is running short for McPherson if he expects to avoid being sent to Salt Lake City.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Reggie Abercrombie's strong spring and ability to play three outfield positions has vaulted him into a prime position to win a starting outfield spot for the Florida Marlins. The Marlins signed him last year after he was released by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Abercrombie immediately impressed beginning with his production at Jupiter, Fla., hitting 24 homers in two minor league stops, and has rapidly advanced through the system. Abercrombie has speed and a powerful and accurate arm.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia sent new third baseman Chone Figgins to play the outfield in a 10-7 win over the Royals at Surprise, Ariz., Tuesday, and took a long look at Dallas McPherson at the hot corner. McPherson, who had been annointed third baseman of the future last year, finds himself fighting for a roster spot now after hip and back injuries spoiled his rookie season in '05. McPherson has looked uncomfortable at the plate so far in the Cactus League, and may find himself ticketed for Salt Lake City. After playing with a strained muscle in his right side, McPhereson started with the regulars and appeared to be moving normally as he fielded grounders, although he went 0-2 at the plate with another strikeout. If he can recover his stroke, he may win a lefty platoon spot at DH.
And Tony Clark's reward for batting .304 with 30 homers for the Diamondbacks last year? How about a seat at the end of the bench? Clark got the majority of AB at first base last year but rookie Conor Jackson, hitting .455 (10 for 22 with four doubles) this spring will take over the starting responsibilities when the season begins. Jackson has worked hard on his defense during the off season and management believes he needs to play every day if he is to be Arizona's first baseman not only of the future, but the present. Jackson was unable to get comfortable at the plate last year as he appeared primarily as a pinch hitter and spot starter against lefties, and barely cracked the Mendoza Line with a .200 average. Jackson appears to be targeted for the No. 5 or No. 6 spot in the batting order, where he'll pile up RBI with his gap power. Any homers will be considered a bonus.
Monday, March 06, 2006
New leadoff man Coco Crisp wasted no time turning heads as Red Sox camp opened in Fort Myers. He violently dove headlong into the alleys and slammed his body on the ground, sliding along the grass. Then he repeatedly rammed his body into the center field walls and crumpled into a heap over and over on the warning track. It was then pointed out to him that position players would not report for another week, so wouldn't he rather spend his time resting in his room? Still, Crisp's pledge that he "will not be afraid to run into walls and get hurt" has management looking at potentially the team's most aggressive center fielder since Fred Lynn, the type of player that when the days grow short and the playoffs are on the line can be relied upon to be watching TV from the safety of his hospital bed.