Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Randy Johnson Deal Would Aid Yankees Over Mets

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

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

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

Thursday, December 21, 2006

White Signing Relegates Twins Jason Kubel to DH

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

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

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

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

Rangers C Gerald Laird Out of Doghouse at Last

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Bannister Asks: How About Dem Tomatoes?

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

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

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

Brad Radke Not Making Self Scarce in Minnesota

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

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

Monday, December 18, 2006

'07 Rookie of Year Candidates Excel in Fall League

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

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

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

LaRoche Deal Creates Opening for Scott Thorman

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

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

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Despite Age, Steve Finley Still Viable Commodity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vernon Wells Cost Much Greater Than $128 Million

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

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

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

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Presenting Toby Hall, Best Catcher Nobody Wanted

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

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

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

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

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

Andy Pettitte Passes Yankees Health Inspection

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

Sosa, Gonzalez Seen as Oldies, But Not Goodies

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

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

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

Oakland Wheels Out Trojan Horse SP Rich Harden

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

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

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

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

Giants Defer Bonds' Pay to Free Up Money for Zito

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

Pressure Mounts for Cubs to Deal for Center Fielder

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

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ryan Klesko May Find a Suitor in San Francisco

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

Monday, December 11, 2006

SP Barry Zito Attempting to Resist Pressure to Sign

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

Daisuke Matsuzaka's Not Likely to Humble Himself

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

Rich Harden, Danny Haren Remain on Mets Radar

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

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Loss of Andy Pettitte Opens Door for John Garland

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

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Daisuke Matazuka Agent Seeks Faustian-like Pact

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

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

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

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

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

Astros Hopeful SP Andy Pettitte Will Stay in Fold

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

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

1B Brad Eldred's Return Going Slowly on Hispanola

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Richie Sexson, Tim Hudson Deal Hits Snag with LA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dodgers SP Brad Penny Joins Trade Bait Rankings

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

Texas Leaps to Forefront in Barry Zito Sweepstakes

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

Monday, December 04, 2006

Despite Needs, Rockies Won't Trade Brad Hawpe

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

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

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

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

J.D. Drew Prompts Biggest Protest Since Tea Party

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

Vernon Wells Off Block, So What Else Have Jays?

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

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Brewers Doug Melvin Happily Parts with Doug Davis

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

Brewers Have No Room in Center for Ricky Weeks

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

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Jay Payton Spotlights Dan Johnson, Daric Barton

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

Kei Igawa Worth Much More Than Half of Matazuka

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

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

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

Giants Avoid Kevin Franzen; Shun Youth Yet Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 01, 2006

White Sox David Riske's Agent Leaves on Hunt Trip

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

James Loney Desperate for ABs with LA Dodgers

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