Thursday, August 23, 2007

Next 10 Days Key for Phillies Chase Utley

Injured Phillies second baseman Chase Utley's rapid healing testifies to his superb physical condition at the time he was sidelined by a pitch that broke his hand, but while he already has begun hitting, it remains to be seen how quickly he can return to full strength.

Utley not only will have to stand up to intense pain resulting from the concussion of swinging a bat against speeding fastballs, but must restore strength and stamina to his wrist, which had been immobilized along with his fractured fourth metacarpal after a pin was inserted to stabilize it following the break.

Utley is not content to return to action Sept 1, he wants to come back now. But don't be surprised if he continues to be held out for the better part of three weeks. Even if he comes back in 10 days, how quickly can he be expected to rediscover his timing and power?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Just Up Justin Upton Needs to Live Down 'Bad Rep'

Former No. 1 overall pick Justin Upton -- hitting .310 with 13 homers in limited time at Class AA Mobile -- has stunned the baseball world with his sudden appearance in a major league uniform, but now must prove his maturity is on par with his playing skills.

Upton, 19, arrives in Arizona with a reputation for egotism and surliness. More than once during the early part of his career Upton had been observed squabbling with coaches and managers over protocol or lack of hustle, creating a feeling that he might be uncoachable.

But if Upton remains self-absorbed he has managed to hide it more recently, with no major issues reported this year. Still, Upton will be watched closely for issues of attitude.

Upton -- younger brother of Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton -- won his chance to join the Diamondbacks by a combination of circumstances: starting outfielder Carlos Quentin was injured, fourth outfielder Jeff DaVanon failed to find his stroke after coming off the injured list, and -- most importantly -- the Diamondbacks' kiddie corps unexpectedly was found not only to be contending for a playoff berth, but actually leading the pack.

If Upton follows a familiar pattern common among young, inexperience players, he will struggle and be sent back down at least a time or two before establishing himself. But this stunning package of speed and power sooner or later will lay claim to full-time playing status, maybe as quickly as now.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Seattle Outfield Crowded with Adam Jones Arrival

The long-anticipated arrival of minor league slugging prospect Adam Jones to the Mariners creates a crowd in the outfield, likely pushing established veterans to the bench from time to time in an unhappy game of musical chairs.

Designated hitter Jose Vidro has been seen as a likely candidate to go to the bench, not because he cannot hit but because he can, with a better than .300 average and an ability to swing from both sides of the plate in key situations.

But that means more playing time would go to outfielder-first baseman Raul Ibanez or first baseman Richie Sexson, both of whom are performing poorly and hardly can be expected to be seen by Vidro, Jose Guillen, Ben Broussard or other teammates as deserving of extra at-bats.

As if the Mariners didn't already have enough trouble coming down the stretch, now the team must contend with what likely will amount to a potentially unhappy clubhouse.

Cardinals Tony La Russa Motivates Albert Pujols

The public will never know unless Cardinals manager Tony La Russa one day acknowledges it, but the master motivator apparently crafted a solid dose of shame, humiliation and embarrassment to motivate his star slugger Albert Pujols.

La Russa -- as manager of the the National League All-Star team last month -- deliberately humiliated his own player by leaving Pujols on the bench for the entire All-Star game, later offering implausible explanations that Pujols was being held in reserve as a pinch hitter.

Pujols -- who had been playing anemically all year -- was put to shame not only before his teammates, fans and the public at large, but even family members whom he had flown to St. Louis to watch him.

Pujols -- proud as only a Dominican can be proud -- was obviously shamed and shocked. The result: Since the All-Star break Pujols is hitting .351, with a .449 on-base percentage and .784 slugging.

Ervin Santana's Struggles Hamstring Angels Trading

Former 16-game winner Ervin Santana continued to struggle at Triple A Salt Lake, giving up 13 hits and six earned runs over six innings in a 13-7 victory over Albuquerque in which Santana was credited with the win.

Santana's difficulties have hamstrung the Angels ability to trade young starter Joe Saunders for a big bat, as Saunders cannot be spared because former ace Bartolo Colon's injuries have left him questionable for the remainder of the season, while Santana remains utterly unworthy of a return to Los Angeles any time soon.

Meanwhile the Angels are so desperate for offense that the team has been reduced to occasionally batting 30-year-old utility infielder-outfielder Robb Quinlan in the cleanup position.

Yankees to Introduce Joba Chamberlain to Bullpen

Though the Yankees long-term plans continue to envision Joba Chamberlain as the team's future No. 5 starter, expect the prized prospect to soon be quietly eased into the majors as a member of the bullpen.

The Yankees will follow a strategy successfully used by the Twins, who have traditionally worked young hurlers into the rotation gradually. As such, Chamberlain's arrival from the minors is widely thought to be imminent, though he may not appear as a starter until next spring.

Such players in the past would have found themselves on the trading block, but general manager Brian Cashman has resisted offers to trade Chamberlain for immediate help for the team's playoff run.

Cashman's estimations of Chamberlain's potential are so high that he spurned Rangers offers to trade veteran closer Eric Gagne for him, even though the decision meant Gagne would go to the arch rival Red Sox.

The 20-year-old, 2006 supplemental round pick (46th overall) throws a high-90's fastball that can hit triple digits. He also throws a natural slider, curve and changeup. Chamberlain eventually will move to the top of the rotation if he can overcome a history of injury difficulties.

Chamberlain has the potential to develop into the best American Indian player in the major leagues since Jim Thorpe.

Fans fear not; Twins Owner Carl Pohlad Has a Plan

It couldn't have been uglier than if it had been a scene out of Frankenstein: an angry mob of townsfolk converging on the Edina, Minn., mansion of Twins owner Carl Pohlad, waving torches, pitch forks, sickles and clubs.

Fools! Don't they know Carl Pohlad has a plan?

Yes, Pohlad failed to improve his team prior to the non-waiver trade deadline; and yes, he traded away .300-hitting infielder Luis Castillo and has little to show for it. But the aging tycoon didn't acquire his vast wealth by being stupid.

Word about Pohlad's plan has yet to be announced, but sources close to the venerable chain saw manufacturing magnate hint that he believes he is close -- very, very close -- to a special, ingenious, arrangement whereby upon his death, he will miraculously be enabled to take his money with him!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Mariners Weigh Deal for Top Prospect Adam Jones

The sudden halt to the Mariners plans to call up top outfield prospect Adam Jones points toward a potential blockbuster deal in which Jones would be dealt for pitching before Tuesday's non-waiver trade deadline.

Jones, 21 -- a 2003 second round pick -- is batting .313 at Triple A Tacoma with 24 homers and 81 RBI in 96 games. Jones had been thought to be ready for major league action some two weeks ago, when the team abruptly decided to hold him back.

With the likelihood that an unexpected new offer for Jones was thrown over the front office transom, expect management to use what little time remains to carefully weigh all the options.

Braves Deal for Mark Teixeira Quiet, Too Quiet

When it comes to the Braves supposed attempt to trade top prospect Jerrod Saltalamacchia for Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira, no news is good news -- at least if you're a Braves fan.

Atlanta's front office typically buttons up just before a deal is made. No one is saying a peep. If that's any indication -- even as a stretch -- don't be surprised if the deal comes down any minute.

Royals Refuse to Give Away Octavio Dotel Cheaply

Potential trading partners are quick to point out closer Octavio Dotel's propensities for injury and putting runners on base. But the Royals are quick to defend him -- noting that Dotel's somewhat less than sparkling 3.91 ERA is the result of a just a few bad outings, and that he has 11 saves.

More important is Dotel's refusal to give up more than a hit an inning while striking out more than one per inning. The Royals see Dotel as having been a key contributor in helping the team go 23-19 since the beginning of June, and are in no hurry to give him up too cheaply.

Meanwhile, the deal remains a distinct possibility as bullpen mates Joakim Soria, David Riske and Zack Greinke can be expected to step up if needed. The Indians and Tigers are among teams thought to be participating in negotiations.

Reggie Sanders Trade Will Open Spot for Royals

With Reggie Sanders swinging a hot bat -- .314 with a .500 slugging average in fewer than 100 plate appearances -- the Royals are optimistic about the possibility of trading him before Tuesday.

Sanders' roster spot would open the door for Ryan Shealy's eventual return to first base, though Shealy is hitting an anemic .237 in 38 at-bats for the Triple A Omaha Royals. Perhaps a better spot starter at first base would be versatile outfielder-infielder Mark Teahen, whose occasional moves to the corner would help create at-bats in a crowded outfield.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Alice Cooper Converts His Baseball Skills to Golf

It's hardly a secret, but rocker Alice Cooper has a high profile on golf's pro-am circuit, bringing a 4 handicap to the links thanks to his background as a baseball player.

The owner and operator of "Cooperstown" -- a popular Cleveland restaurant that includes an impressive Indians motif -- Cooper credits baseball for providing a foundation for him to launch his golfing career, and help him escape his addiction to alcohol.

Cooper's newly released memoir -- "Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: a Rock and Roller's 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf Addict" -- recalls that Cooper was an outstanding baseball player as a youth, but after devoting his life to music, found himself endangering his health by excessive drinking due to boredom while traveling with his band.

He already knew how to hit a ball, so by staying sober to play up to 36 holes for more than 10 hours a day, Cooper not only stopped drinking but became so skilled that he occasionally shot in the 60s, even outscoring pros. Cooper in shot a 1-under 71 in the FBR Open pro-am in February in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"Everything I do I do to extreme," the 59-year-old Cooper explained in a recent interview with Public Radio International.

When young fans complained that their fathers refused to allow them to attend Cooper's controversial concerts, Cooper would challenge them to a game of golf. If Cooper won, the father would have to buy a concert ticket.

"I would win 90 percent of the time," Cooper said.

Future Looms Big, Very Big, for Jon Rauch of Nats

Where does a 6-foot-11, 260-pound man play? Anywhere he wants if his name is Jon Rauch, and he just might want the closer's job for the Nationals.

The biggest man in baseball is biding his time as the minutes tick down toward the trading deadline, with pressure mounting for the Nationals to accept one of a multitude of offerings for closer Chad Cordero.

Cordero's value couldn't be higher, as an accomplished possessor of 20 saves despite pitching for one of the worst teams in baseball. The Red Sox, Tigers and Indians are among the potential suitors who have come calling.

That leaves Rauch, his sub-4.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and six wins as a key enabler.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Angels Joe Saunders is Finally Here to Stay

Angels starter Joe Saunders -- who has ridden the I-15 shuttle to Salt Lake so often that Las Vegas should offer him frequent flyer points -- at long last has arrived to stay in Los Angeles.

The promising young lefty will remain not only because he is 4-0 with a 3.25 ERA in six spot major league appearances so far this season, but because he is out of options and cannot be sent down again without being exposed to a claim by another team.

At this point the worst that could happen is that Saunders would be relegated to the bullpen, but that seems unlikely considering Saunders has a starter's rhythm. Even if former No. 2 starter Ervin Santana should return from the minors, the Angels likely will find a rotation spot for Saunders with former ace Bartolo Colon back on the injured list.

Colon's injury -- the latest in a series of setbacks all season -- has prompted speculation that he may not be able to be effective from this point forward.

Starter Mike Maroth to Return to Cardinals Rotation

Struggling pitcher Mike Maroth -- whose last scheduled start was skipped when he was relegated to the bullpen to work on his mechanics -- will return to the rotation this weekend, the team said.

Dodgers Dangling Chin-Lung Hu as Trade Bait

Dodgers prospect Chin-Lung Hu -- an acrobatic defender hitting in the .350 range with moderate power in two minor league stops this season -- is among the ballyhooed farm system stars the team would be willing to deal for the right price, according to scuttlebutt around the league.

Hu -- who plays shortstop for Triple A Las Vegas -- would not come cheaply as he projects as a potential long-term replacement for aging veteran Jeff Kent.

The Dodgers could use a backup closer, or a starter. Look for general manager Ned Colletti to run up his long-distance phone bill discussing the possibility of reacquiring fan favorite Eric Gagne from the Rangers.

Other possibilities would include the Nationals Chad Cordero, the Astros Chad Qualls or Dan Wheeler. The Astros have recently been seen as having withdrawn Brad Lidge from consideration.

Franklin Gutierrez Fails to Win Indians Confidence

Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez has been pleasant surprise for the Indians, performing well in the field and hitting at a better than .300 clip in something approaching full-time play.

However, Gutierrez evidently has failed to win the team's confidence as the pennant drive wears on. The Indians continue to look for a big bat to fill a perceived outfield void, and may consummate a deal as soon as next week.

Gutierrez's teammate, Ben Francisco, has also acquitted himself well, but may find himself part of a package to swing a deal.

Mariners Raul Ibanez Claims Injuries Behind Him

If outfielder Raul Ibanez's bad back and hamstring troubles are behind him -- as he claims -- then why do the Mariners continue to give him rest by playing him at designated hitter?

An uncharacteristic .270 batting average and mere half dozen homers in more than 350 at-bats suggest the 34-year-old veteran is considerably less than his usual self.

Red Sox See Wily Mo Pena's Value Tumble

There was a time when the Astros might have seriously looked at an offer to trade troubled closer Brad Lidge to the Red Sox for a prospect package with outfielder Wily Mo Pena as one of the centerpieces.

Those days are gone.

The Red Sox decision to sign veteran J.D. Drew and play the once highly regarded 24-year-old Pena only intermittently has reduced Pena's effectiveness to the point that he can barely keep his batting average above .200, and his trade value has plummeted respectively; a rather expensive move, considering that starter Bronson Arroyo was dealt to acquire him.

Lidge -- who has trouble pitching in pressure situations -- would have been an ideal fit in Boston, where he could have pitched with less pressure setting up Jonathan Papelbon.

Now it looks like the Astros will keep Lidge rather than endure a search for a replacement closer, while the Red Sox look to pedal Pena elsewhere.

Hanley Ramirez Optimistic About Return to Marlins

Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez's prediction that he would return to action within three days of separating his shoulder would seem almost laughable, if it were not for the seriousness of the injury.

Normal players would measure time lost due to a shoulder subluxation in weeks and months, not days; just ask Richie Sexson of the Mariners or Derek Jeter of the Yankees.

Ramirez is a special case, however, falling within a very small category of individuals with trick shoulders that have a history of popping in and out of place. Whereas a normal person might be laid up for three or four months or more because of such an injury, those like Ramirez can put the pieces back together and are good to go -- with relatively little discomfort.

The problem is, these individuals might be burger flippers, bus drivers, candlestick makers or what-have-you, not professional athletes. Rough-and-tumble lifestyles require extra caution.

If Ramirez makes good on his prediction to return to action immediately, he is putting his career at risk by exposing himself to a potential recurrence. The more often his shoulder is thrown out, the greater jeopardy of his being debilitated by a degenerative shoulder capsule.

The best course of action for Ramirez is either to opt for surgery to tighten the shoulder now, or immobilize it for three weeks, then enter into a rehabilitative process that would keep him out for most or all of the remainder of the season.

In either case, the shoulder will remain problemsome for years to come.

Doctors have warned Ramirez of the advisability of going on the disabled list, though Ramirez's bravado suggests he will refuse; after all, it's his body, his call.

Though Ramirez plans to return to action now, the weekend would be plenty soon enough. But it's well within the realm of possibility that Ramirez yet will do the sensible thing if he values his future. In such a case Ramirez would be out at least until September.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Marlins Hanley Ramirez Likely Out for Season

Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez dislocated his shoulder while swinging at a pitch in Sunday's game against the Reds in Miami, and likely will miss virtually all or most of the remainder of the season, according to knowledgeable sources familiar with his injury. Ramirez immediately came out of the game and will require a minimum three weeks shoulder immobilization, plus a month's rehabilitation before being able to resume baseball activities. That will put him well into September at the earliest before he can return to play, when he likely will be held out of action as a precaution, unless the Marlins win a playoff berth, sources said.

Court Likely to Throw Book at Marlins Scott Olsen

Judges and prosecutors can hardly be expected to look favorably on Marlins pitcher Scott Olsen after his recent arrest on charges of drunken driving, failure to stop for police and violently resisting an officer. Olsen is in big trouble.

Not long after Olsen is be arraigned, a probationary investigation will that show that Olsen's scrape is just the latest in a series of anti-social behaviors. A judge likely will look at Olsen's 6-foot-five, 230-pound widebody and recognize it or what it is: a walking, talking, dangerous deadly weapon.

Out of consideration for the health, safety and welfare of the citizenry at large, Olsen will be taught a harsh lesson he will not soon forget. Don't expect him to get off with just a community service session for a couple of weeks at the local Community Chest.

As to whether Olsen will be suspended by the Marlins before his next start on Wednesday, he has three things in his favor: No. 1, the team needs his arm; No. 2, Olsen has yet to be convicted of anything; and No. 3, Olsen is one very, very sorrowful young man, and has humbly confessed this to his keepers.

Is Olsen a candidate for trade? Sure, but who would take him?

KC's Billy Butler Latest to Win Daily Playing Time

Royals rookie Billy Butler -- who went 4-5 with a homer in his most recent outing -- is the latest, fresh young outfielder to lay claim -- however tenuous -- to everyday playing time.

Butler -- who starts at designated hitter -- has won favor with a better than .300 batting average and a slugging percentage approaching .500, all with a decent eye for the strikezone.

Butler stands to hold the job at least until battered veteran Mike Sweeney returns from the disabled list, which might not be for some time.

Other outfielders recently emerging with potential, permanent, full-time playing status in their sights include the Athletics Travis Buck, the Indians Franklin Gutierrez, the Rockies Ryan Spilborghs and the Pirates Ryan Doumit.

Keep an eye out for Shelley Duncan of the Yankees.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Ryan Spilborghs Crowds Brad Hawpe in Colorado

The emergence of right-handed hitting Ryan Spilborghs in Colorado spells trouble for Brad Hawpe, who despite his strong season continues to struggle against lefty pitching.

It's hardly a surprise that the Rockies would move toward a platoon situation in right field, with Spilborghs hitting better than .400 against lefties, and Hawpe hitting a mere .130.

Still, Spilborghs' numbers are derived from a small sample, and have not borne the test of time. If Hawpe is denied the opportunity to play every day, then the claim that he is unable to hit lefties becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

While occasional substitutions are reasonable, Hawpe has earned the right to continue unfettered development. Anything less would be crippling. Given a chance, his average against lefties will improve.

Yankees Peddling Relief Pitcher Kyle Farnsworth

With a soft schedule ahead for the Yankees into August, it seems unlikely the team would throw in the towel while still within shouting range of a playoff berth. Yet hard-throwing reliever Kyle Farnsworth reportedly is being shopped.

Among potential takers is Colorado, according to The Rocky Mountain News. But if the Yankees are not ready to give up on the season, the question appears to be who would be sent to New York in the deal?

Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman has reportedly been looking for help in the rotation, at first base and in the outfield, but would be expected to pay off a good deal of Farnsworth's contract in order to receive a worthy player in exchange.

Marlins Jeremy Hermida Sits Because of Glove

Look for left-handed Marlins outfielder Jeremy Hermida to lose more and more time to right-handed hitting Cody Ross, now that Ross has finally returned from a leg injury.

It's not only that Hermida has been slow to figure out left-handed pitching, but his fielding has been suspect as well. Hermida's seven errors in fewer than 60 games has cost the team wins in a tightly contested pennant drive, as has his misreading of balls coming off the plate, inability to run efficient routes and worse yet, his tendency to pull up short for shallow pops and liners.

Some of these shortcomings show up in the box score, but plenty don't.

Whether this trend will devolve into a strict platoon is an open question, though coaches clearly would prefer to see Hermida improve his field work so that the former No. 1 pick can play every day.

At 24, Hermida has time to iron out these difficulties. The problem seems to be that Hermida is either unable to improve, or unwilling to work at it as hard as he should.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Orioles Aubrey Huff Appears Again at Third Base

Though used almost exclusively as designated hitter all year, Aubrey Huff appeared at third base again Wednesday's 6-5 loss to the Mariners at Seattle.

It was the first time Huff had appeared at third base since May, having been used only twice at the hot corner previously this season. Huff stands to gain more appearances at third base over the next week or two, as Orioles starting third baseman Melvin Mora deals with injuries.

Before coming to Baltimore, Huff played third, first and the outfield for Tampa Bay, though defensive limitations make designated hitter his best slot.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Rays Rocco Baldelli Swinging Bat, Lifting Weights

Devil Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli is complementing his running program with a new, concentrated weightlifting regimen to help restore strength and elasticity to his troublesome hamstring, which has kept him out of action for two months.

Though Baldelli is swinging a bat, he still needs regular rest and rehabilitative treatment, so no timetable has been set for his return. Baldelli was recently quoted in the St. Petersburg Times as saying he hopes to resume regular play sometime before the end of the year.

His objective is to enlarge existing healthy muscle to compensate for distortions, breaks or failures in other strands of his hamstring. The process takes time, though based on reports of his current condition it would appear he might be back as soon as a few weeks.

Such injuries, however, in rare cases have kept players out for the better part of a season or longer.

D'Backs Conor Jackson Deal Dismissed in Chicago

With Jeff DaVanon returning from the disabled list to a crowded Diamondbacks clubhouse, manager Bob Melvin tried young first baseman Conor Jackson in the outfield as teammates clamored for playing time.

A report that Jackson was run out there to be showcased for a trade to the White Sox drew a laugh from the front office in Chicago, according to the Arizona Republic. Jokingly the White Sox communication suggested: "Let us know next time you're showcasing someone for us."

Angels Ervin Santana's Problems Psychological

Promising lefty Joe Saunders -- sporting a 3-0 record with a .297 ERA in limited playing time for the Angels -- is expected to be called up from Triple A Salt Lake City to take over the No. 5 starting staff spot in replacing Ervin "Magic" Santana.

Santana -- who won 16 games last year -- has been banished to the Utah desert after going 5-11 with a 6.22 ERA in 19 starts, with a perplexing 8.79 ERA and 1-9 record on the road.

The 24-year-old sophomore remained adamant that he was healthy and pitching no differently than in 2007, but the magic was gone.

Coaches reportedly saw a negative, self-defeating, psychologically beaten young man who was spooked during travel appearances because he seemed to lack the mental toughness to bear down when he was in trouble.

Coaches can tinker with mechanics, change an approach or strategy, but it is up to Santana to fix the problems between his ears. Santana cannot be expected to face major league hitters again until he does, at least while he remains an Angel.

Young Adam Jones Presses for Callup to Mariners

Mariners outfield prospect Adam Jones continues to make his case for a callup to Seattle, going 5 for 5 with a triple and double in his most recent appearance for Triple A Tacoma, a 12-6 drubbing of Salt Lake.

Jones now has raised his season's average to .314 with 23 homers, six triples and 26 doubles. Jones' torrid pace comes as the expectation of his summoning to the majors reaches a virtual crescendo, as the 21-year-old phenom was expected to have been called up nearly a week ago.

But the team remains in something of a flux as the front office strives for a playoff bid, with right fielder Jose Guillen refusing to sign an option to stay with the team without an extension, first baseman Richie Sexson in a season-long funk and the subject of trade rumors earlier this year, and designated hitter Jose Vidro likely balking at the prospect of less playing time to make room for Jones.

One or more of these issues may require resolution before Jones can be elevated.

The team had been expected to rest Vidro to make sure the oft-injured designated hitter would be healthy through the end of the season. That would have allowed Jones to take the majority of time in left field, and left fielder Raul Ibanez to move to DH and rest his troublesome hamstring.

Vidro has flirted with a .300 batting average all season, but has only two homers and less than two dozen RBI. With such little power, his switch hitting ability might be more valuable coming off the bench in key situations, but Vidro cannot be expected to see it that way. He has batted 10 for 21 since rumors surfaced regarding his change of status, hardly an invitation to management to sit him on the pine.

Perhaps at-bats could be found for Vidro at second base, his natural position. But the whole idea of moving him to DH in the first place was to spare wear and tear on his body, a concept to which Vidro supposedly had been amenable.

Dmitri Young Trade May Be Jeopardized by Greed

Whether Nationals GM Jim Bowden is actively shopping first baseman Dmitri Young or merely fielding offers, any potential deal is likely jeopardized by Bowden's reputation for demanding too much in return.

With the trade deadline looming and the team going nowhere, Bowden has little to lose by dealing Young, widely thought to be the comeback player of the year. Young has improved his average to .342 with 79 hits in his last 194 at-bats, an average of .407, making him perfect to move while he is hot.

But the situation has been likened to last year's talks to deal former Nationals outfielder Alfonso Soriano, who was lost to the Cubs with nothing in return while Bowden was criticized for holding out for the stars and the moon.

Young is seen as a good fit for a number of contenders, including the Yankees, who have indefinitely lost first baseman Jason Giambi to injury. It doesn't hurt that Young not only can play first base, but can stumble around the outfield a little bit.

The question is, will yet another opportunity be lost due to what must be considered little more than just plain greed?

Twins Kevin Slowey Pressing for Return to 'Show'

Having been demoted from Minneapolis to Triple A Rochester, Twins prospect Kevin Slowey refuses to be forgotten. He's still knocking at the door.

Though he has lost his big-league rotation spot to rival prospect Matt Garza, Slowey showed he still has what it takes to finesse minor league hitters, throwing a complete-game, three-hitter in a 1-0 win over Syracuse in his most recent outing. As a control specialist, Slowey is a marked contrast to Garza, who relies primarily on a more than 95-mph heater.

Both look to pitch side by side in the Twins rotation eventually, perhaps before the end of the year.

Slowey, 23, who has been compared to former Twins ace Brad Radke, was hammered during his brief call-up to Minneapolis, but he bettered his minor league record to 8-2 while striking out eight with his typical array of off-speed offerings.

Slowey's Triple A ERA stands at 1.59. Slowey leads the International League with four complete games in just 11 starts, though he has been kept at a 100-pitch limit.

Mariners Richie Sexson: Misery Loves Company

Mariners first baseman Richie Sexson -- dropped to sixth in the batting order as a result of his season-long slump -- remains hopeful his numbers will improve because historically he has been a so-called second-half player, with a .290 career batting average after the All-Star break.

In the meantime, Sexson comforts himself with the knowledge that even the best of players can have off years. Misery loves company.

"Mark McGwire had one...Look at Andrew Jones. He's having one now," Sexson told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "They just happen. Who knows why?"

Always seen as a potential 50-homer hitter, that threshold continues to elude him, though he has a respectable 49 RBI so far this season. But Sexson has only 15 homers, less than half that of former Mariners shortstop and current league leader Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees.

Worse, Sexson has barely been able to keep his average over .200, with little hope of matching his .264 career average by the end of the year.

Hot-and-Cold Periods Typical for Pirates Jason Bay

Pirates outfielder Jason Bay -- in the worst slump of his career -- continued to struggle over the past week, hitting just 2-17 for an average of .118.

That's even worse than the .150 clip Bay has hit over the past six weeks, as opposing batteries continue to exploit his inability to recognize off-speed offerings. The trend has exacerbated Bay's troubles, as he has come to anticipate a steady diet of breaking pitches and change-ups, thus causing him to miss fastballs when they zoom in unexpectedly.

Still, there is no cause for alarm over the long term, as Bay historically has experienced hot-and-cold periods, though none nearly as long as this one, according to former major league pitcher and Pirates broadcaster Bob Walk.

Walk -- commenting during a recent broadcast -- suggested that sooner or later Bay once again will hit his stride, and reclaim his No. 3 or No. 4 spot in the batting order after being dropped as low as No. 6. Walk said Bay will have better results if he stops trying to pull too many pitchers down the line, and uses more of the entire field.

Bay has been one of the most feared young hitters in the National League, hitting 35 homers last year with a consistent .280-.290 average. Hopefully for the Pirates, he will not devolve into a streak hitter along the profile of Houston's Jason Lane, Philadelphia's Pat Burrell or Baltimore's Jay Gibbons, all of whose production lapses are so severe that their status as full-time players is threatened.

Reds Josh Hamilton's Outlook Peculiar, Troubling

As Reds outfielder Josh Hamilton enters his third week of inactivity following a peculiar, unexplained wrist injury, his muscles are becoming weaker and weaker, with the prospects for his immediate return more and more remote.

Assuming the injury is no more than a difficult sprain -- an open question at best -- Hamilton will need at least two weeks of rehabilitation, and even then might need more time to recover his swing.

That means that even if Hamilton were to come back within the next 10 days, it would be well into August before he could resume patrolling center field at Great American Ballpark, and even then would be challenged to recover his timing at the plate.

Missing time into September would not appear to be out of the question, although that would be a worst case scenario.

More troubling are reports out of the trainer's room that doctors are puzzled as to what exactly is wrong with Hamilton, as various tests and examinations have proved inconclusive. The most peculiar aspect is the nature of trauma that precipitated the injury, supposedly merely swinging a bat. That could prove to be a red flag, indicating a fundamental or even congenital structural failure or weakness.

Major media outlets have incorrectly reported that Hamilton has had his wrist in a cast, but in fact he is wearing his third splint, indicating doctors are uncertain exactly what position would be best to immobilize the injury for accelerated healing.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Top 10 Reasons Bud Selig to Miss Homer Record

Top 10 reasons Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig will miss Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron's home run record:

10. TV Land broadcasting month-long marathon of "Diff'rent Strokes" reruns.

9. Pet cat Fluffy suffered separation anxiety during last trip out of town.

8. Staying up late every night to write foreward to final volume of Pete Rose's autobiographical trilogy entitled: "My Secret Life as Bart Giamatti's Bookie."

7. Can't break previous lube bay appointment at Oil Can Boyd's.

6. Once-and-for-all going to stay home and sort those mismatched socks.

5. Initiating drug enhancement regimen to hit "home run" with Mrs. Selig.

4. Dog ate my plane ticket.

3. Bingo night at the lodge.

2. Doing my bit to conserve precious natural resources.

1. Checking to see if true Astros playing a woman named Loretta in middle infield.

Royals Let Bygones Be Bygones for Roman Colon

First of all, understand that the Roman Colon altercation has nothing to do with hemorrhoid surgery -- and, no, it was not a gay toga party gone wrong.

Roman Colon is the former Detroit Tigers relief pitcher who -- while taking off his uniform after a minor league rehab appearance -- threw a tantrum because a teammate was supposed to play a recording of composer David Rose's "The Stripper," but mistakenly played the flipside: "Holiday for Strings."

The ensuing melee resulted in a number of cuts, scrapes, bumps and bruises among the players in the Triple A Toledo Mud Hens locker room, with one pitcher hospitalized with injuries so serious as to likely keep him out until at least September, maybe for his career.

Other than that, he's fine, as long as he doesn't mind going by his new nickname, "Marty Feldman," the result of nearly having his eye poked out and literally having had his face broken in four places and put back together with bailing twine, duck tape and Crazy Glue.

The Mud Hens have since banned music in the clubhouse (no, really).

Naturally the Tigers -- even though in need of middle relief help -- had to find someplace to get rid of Colon. And the Royals -- in need of anybody who can walk and chew gum at the same time -- were only too happy to oblige, taking Colon in exchange for a player to be named, a bag of practice balls and a Freddy Patek rookie card.

The bad news is that Kansas City is not the only place Colon is wanted. He remains under a felony assault indictment in Ohio (no, really).

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Cubs Derrek Lee Looks to Recover Power Stroke

Whatever the explanation Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee has for his loss of power, it certainly isn't that homers are cheaper by the half dozen.

Though his homer output for the year has been held to just six, his .330 batting average, 26 doubles and 46 RBI suggest Lee is doing something right, so Lee refuses to change his swing to try to put more loft into his hits. His reasoning seems to be not to fix what ain't broke.

"The great thing about our club is we're winning and I haven't hit my stride yet," Lee told "At some point I'm going to start hitting the ball out of the ballpark and we're going to be in the thick of it."

Analysts last year pointed out that often players coming back from wrist injuries -- as is Lee -- usually take about a half a season to recover their home run stroke. So far, that forecast has held true. If he fully recovers during the second half, look out.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Mariners Raul Ibanez to Push Jose Vidro to Bench

Mariners outfielder Raul Ibanez likely will take his tender hamstring to the designated hitter slot, pushing Jose Vidro to the bench. The move will help keep both veterans healthy with the team looking to stay in contention as the long season wears on.

Vidro -- who has a history of nagging problems with his lower extremities as well -- looks to be the key bat in reserve.

The move will be made possible by the emergence of 21-year-old rookie Adam Jones, a 2003, No. 37 overall pick who is hitting at better than a .300 clip with power at Triple A Tacoma. He has been compared to former Mariners center fielder Mike Cameron.

Jones' long anticipated arrival is imminent, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Jones has a cannon for an arm and has won high marks for his defensive play in center field at Tacoma. Opposing hitters will not enjoy seeing Jones side by side in the outfield with Ichiro Suzuki.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Reds Josh Hamilton Likely to Miss Time Day-to-Day

The All-Star break has imposed a defacto news embargo on the medical condition of Reds outfielder Josh Hamilton, but it appears trainers will give his sore wrist a couple of days to "cool down" before being examined by medical director Dr. Tim Kremchek.

By immobilizing the wrist through the week with a small cast or splint, and putting Hamilton on an anti-inflammatory drug regimen, Kremchek will be able to discern a more accurate reading from an anticipated MRI exam and X-rays, as the rest will help reduce hot spots that tend to obscure the magnetic resonance image analysis at the point of the sprain.

In any event, additional rest most likely will be the treatment, unless it turns out that Hamilton is more seriously hurt than anticipated. Hopefully for the Reds, Hamilton will be able to avoid a recurrence, perhaps the most serious potential consequence.

Hamilton came out of Saturday's game in the third inning after reporting he was unable to swing a bat in the on-deck circle. Ryan Freel moved from third to to center to take Hamilton's place. Edwin Encarnacion came off the bench to replace Freel at third.

Meanwhile, even Hamilton likely will not know what to expect, although preliminary indications are that he will miss time merely on a day-to-day basis, rather than be relegated to the disabled list. Wait and see.

Reds Demote Homer Bailey to Keep Him Fresh

The Reds have told young pitching phenom Homer Bailey that he is being demoted to the Triple A Louisville Bats to enable him to stay fresh by pitching a minor league game on Thursday, as the All-Star break will delay his major league turn until July 15.

The Thursday start will help keep Bailey fresh.

Though his ERA has balooned to more than 6.00, Bailey had a decent game in his last outing, giving up just one run on two hits over five innings. Bailey's early hook was seen as an attempt to build his confidence by limiting his exposure before batters might have begun to figure him out.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Cubs Derrek Lee Hopes for Suspension Mitigation

Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee has yet to hear from the commissioner's office regarding his appeal of a five-game suspension for fighting, but hopes to have the penalty reduced.

As it looks now, not much will happen until after the All-Star break.

Lee had initially planned to have his appeal heard July 2, but backed out and now stands to serve only two or three days by complaining that Padres pitcher Chris Young -- who started the rhubarb by hitting Lee with a pitch -- will not miss a single start because he timed the withdrawal of his appeal to coincide with his appearance in the All-Star game.

''This is a situation where you hope Derrek might get a little more reduction because Chris is not going to miss a start,'' general manager Jim Hendry told the Chicago Sun-Times. ''I'm sure he'll still get some, but maybe we can be hopeful it's less than five."

3-34 Slump Bodes Poorly for Braves Scott Thorman

With Braves first baseman Scott Thorman in a 3-34 slump -- and barely keeping his season's average above the Mendoza line -- it's easy to extrapolate manager Bobby Cox providing more and more opportunities for catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to play first base.

Saltalamacchia -- whose 14-letter name means "jump the mark" in Italian -- might already have completely jumped over Thorman except that first-string catcher Brian McCann has been struggling with a knee injury and has frequently needed Saltalamacchia to play behind the plate.

While the left-handed Thorman has been unable to hit better than .240 even against righties, the right-hitting Saltalamacchia is hitting some 100 points higher against both lefties and righties, hitting in the .330 range overall.

With a recent MRI indicating McCann's knee is on the mend, don't be surprised if Thorman all but disappears after the All-Star break. Thorman already spends an inordinate amount of time on the bench.

White Sox Reject Mark Buehrle's Peace Offering

White Sox ace Mark Buehrle's offer to drop his demand for a no-trade clause in exchange for remaining with the team has been rejected by the Chicago front office -- startling fans and critics.

The 28-year-old lefty said he would drop his demand in exchange for a one-year, $17 million buyout in the event he is traded in the future, and offered to sign an under-market, four-year, $56 million pact to stay in Chicago, according to ESPN senior writer Buster Olney.

Observers are puzzled and fans likely will balk, as Buehrle is walking away from an additional $17 million to $44 million on the open market, Olney told radio host Bob Valvano in a Sunday broadcast.

"It's a real head scratcher," Olney said.

Rejecting the accomplished veteran would seem to indicate that the team has a favorable deal on the table, a deal that will be consummated before the end of the month.

Blue Jays Lyle Overbay Finding His Stroke Again

Time in the batting cage is paying off for injured Blue Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay, who woke up from a slow start with Double A New Hampshire by hitting an RBI double and a grand slam Saturday.

Overbay -- who had missed a month after being hit on the hand by a pitch -- began a rehabilitation assignment with extended batting practice at New York State Electric & Gas Stadium in Binghamton, N.Y., on Friday, hitting a series of pitches into the stands before New Hampshire took the field against the Mets Double A affiliate.

But Overbay went 0-5 with two strikeouts in game action, expressing concern that he needed more time to recover his timing and work on pitch recognition. Overbay was seeing the ball much better Saturday, indicating he will be ready to return to Toronto after the All-Star break.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Mets Lastings Milledge Sets Sights on New York

Mets outfield prospect Lastings Milledge -- coming back from a two-month layoff due to a foot injury -- has been complaining about being rusty but continues to hit during minor league play.

Millege is hitting .285 in 14 at-bats with Double A Binghamton, and hit an RBI triple and scored against Connecticut Saturday. Milledge was scheduled to play again Sunday, but likely will remain in Binghamton through the major league All-Star break.

With four outfielders missing time with various ailments in New York, however, it likely will not be long before Milledge is called up.

Milledge, 22, 12th overall pick in the 2003 draft, hit .337 in 193 at-bats for Binghamton two years ago.

Reds Josh Hamilton to See Specialist in New York

Reds rookie outfielder Josh Hamilton will visit a medical specialist in New York after sustaining a wrist injury of undetermined seriousness while swinging a bat in the on-deck circle during the third inning of Saturday's 5-4 victory over the Diamondbacks at All-American Ballpark in Cincinnati.

Hamilton came out of the game immediately and was replaced in center field by third base starter Ryan Freel. Edwin Encarnacion came off the bench to replace Freel at third.

Initial team reports indicated Hamilton had sustained a sprain and would have his arm put in a cast, but it appeared more likely that his wrist would merely be immobilized with a splint as a precaution. Clearly the team was not going to take any chances with Hamilton, but the injury likely is not severe given the circumstances.

Knowledgeable observers generally familiar with Hamilton's type of injury foresee him returning to action shortly after the All-Star break without visiting the disabled list, but conflicting reports could not be confirmed.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Reds Owner Robert Castellini Will Play Italian Card

What's all this talk about Reds owner Robert Castellini hiring Cardinals field manager Tony La Russa to replace interim manager Pete Mackanin? Sure, it's in the cards, but does Castellini already have La Russa up his sleeve?

Even if he wanted, Castellini could not admit he already has talked to La Russa. That would be tampering, as La Russa remains under contract with the Cardinals through this year.

But Castellini and La Russa are more than just friends. They go way back, Castellini having hired La Russa to manage the Cardinals in 1996 when Castellini was part owner of that team.

Castellini's decision paid big dividends in St. Louis, as La Russa not only was named manager of the year for the seventh time in his career, but won the World Series in 2006, a division in 2005, a pennant in 2004, a division in 2002, playoff berth in 2001, and divisions in 2000 and 1996.

But the key here is that Castellini and La Russa are like kinfolk, nominal blood relations, figurative godbrothers -- a couple of Italian wise guys of Sicilian extraction whose burning desire to win and their knowledge of how to do it is their dominant commonality.

Novelist and screenwriter Vincent Patrick explained it best in the widely acclaimed book and motion picture "The Pope of Greenwich Village," wherein understanding, loyalty and devotion shared between two distantly related Italian cousins is like that between two Irish, inseparable identical twins.

Blood is thicker than water, and Castellini and La Russa are joined at the hip. The more things change the more they stay the same.

La Russa's contract is up this year. He needs a change of scenery. In a matter of months what already is virtually a done deal will be plain for all to see: La Russa is coming to Cincinnati not for the money, not to win the World Series, not to establish a new address. La Russa is coming to Cincinnati to be with his goombah.

Lastings Milledge Escapes from Mets Doghouse

Top Mets prospect Lastings Milledge -- in the doghouse after committing a number of gaffs earlier this season -- will return to action soon after the All-Star break, maybe even sooner.

Milledge had earned the enmity not only of the front office but his teammates after recording a misogynistic rap song in addition to committing other no-no's, but finds himself back in good graces now because four of the team's outfielders are on the disabled list and he is needed.

General manager Omar Minaya dodged a bullet by not trading him, as had been contemplated.

Milledge had played only three games with New York this year before being sent down to Triple A New Orleans, where he promptly strained ligaments in his right foot and was forced to sit out for two months.

But doctors believe Milledge is ready to return to the field now, and the Mets are only too happy to have him if he can stay out of trouble. Milledge has already begun a rehabilitative assignment with Double A Binghamton, going 2-5 with a home run in his first outing.

Blue Jays Lyle Overbay Set for Rehab Assignment

Blue Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay has completed batting drills and is ready for a minor league rehabilitation assignment, and if all goes well will return from his hand injury in a matter of days.

Since Overbay went down June 15, infielder-outfielder Matt Stairs has performed splendidly, hitting in the .300 range with consistent power. But the team anticipates returning Stairs to a reserve role after the All-Star break.

From then on Stairs will mostly pinch hit, occasionally relieve Frank Thomas at designated hitter and spot start in the outfield. The plan will keep Stairs fresh should he be needed in the event of another injury during the second half.

Rookie Adam Lind, meanwhile, will benefit from continued play in left field, though he has been something of a disappointment at the plate. So far, Lind has been paying his way with his arm and glove. Lind has five assists and has yet to make an error.

Overbay already has reported to Double A New Hampshire and has been penciled in to start over the weekend.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Pirates Cast, Not Knee Faulted in Jason Bay Slump

Pirates slugger Jason Bay -- having just broken an 0-14 slump with an RBI single in a 6-3 win over Milwaukee -- is experiencing no lingering effects from last January's knee surgery, though he acknowledges losing explosiveness on the basepaths.

Still, Bay has not blamed his surgery for his batting average plumeting 60 points to the .250s over the past month. Presumably, Bay can still swing the bat.

More likely at fault Bay's decline are the team's supporting cast members, who have been struggling much of the year, especially first baseman Adam La Roche. La Roche was brought over from the Braves expressly to protect Bay in the lineup, but until recently had struggled just to keep his batting average over .200.

Having hit .455 with two home runs last week, however, and having continued to hit the ball hard since, La Roche at last will help Bay see a lot more decent pitches. In his most recent outing, La Roche hit still another homer and just missed one that went for a double.

Thanks to La Roche, look for Bay to break out of the doldrums after the All-Star break, though he may not steal 25 baes again.

Tigers Embattled Roman Colon Earns a Save

Tigers reliever Roman Colon -- under indictment on a charge of felony assault as the result of a recent clubhouse brawl at Triple A Toledo -- earned his first Eastern League save in Double A Erie's 5-3 victory over Akron.

Colon, 27, has completed a five-game team-imposed suspension, but has been has been demoted to Erie to finish a rehabilitation assignment. Colon earned the save despite giving up three hits and two runs in two innings, though he struck out three.

If there are any takers, the Tigers are likely to roll Colon into a deal to acquire additional bullpen help, perhaps a closer to replace struggling Todd Jones.

Sox Trading Chip Clay Buchholz is Player of Week

Hard-throwing Red Sox pitching prospect Clay Buchholz -- a speculative chip in White Sox negotiations to deal rotation ace Mark Buehrle -- has been named Eastern League Player of the Week.

Buchholz's ERA fell to 1.69 as he gave up only one run over 11.33 innings for Double A Portland in two starts during team's most recent seven-day period. The 22-year-old former first round pick struck out 11 in just 6.33 innings in his most recent game, raising his record to 6-2 in 15 starts. Buchholz has struck out a total of 115 in 85.33 innings on the season.

The White Sox, meanwhile, continue to try to re-sign Buehrle but the team is envisioned trading him if no accord is reached by the end of the month. Numerous teams are reportedly following the negotiations, having tendered offers.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Reds Slugger Adam Dunn is Now New Scapegoat

With ex-manager Jerry Narron and bench coach Bucky Dent packed and gone, outfielder Adam Dunn now emerges as the newest scapegoat in the effort to right the unright ship that is the 31-51 Reds.

Dunn -- almost assured of being traded before August -- is being depicted as a selfish, swing-for-the-fences, Dave Kingman-like slugger who failed to use his speed to run efficient routes in the outfield, had no ability to jump when balls narrowly reached the stands, was constricted with debilitating caution on the warning track and often was unable to find the cutoff man or throw to correct bases.

That Dunn was able to keep his errors to no more than a dozen or so has been seen not so much a result of his fielding ability but his refusal to extend himself to try for difficult flies at the edge of his range.

Dunn's strikeout proclivity and inability to sacrifice runners has also been assailed, as has his overall productivity at the plate, despite his annual 40 homers.

All right. All right. Dunn was less than perfect. But why was Dunn being hounded to cut down on those 100 walks per season? What did the Reds want? More whiffs? More Groundouts into doubleplays? Plenty of signs are evident that in Cincinnati, the problems went far beyond Adam Dunn.

As indicated by last year's trade of Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner to the Nationals for some broken down relievers, a bag of practice balls and a Pete Rose rookie card, there's plenty of reason to think the inmates have been running the asylum.

Unflattering Portrait Emerges of Jerry Narron's Reds

An unflattering portrait of the Reds has emerged following Jerry Narron's dismissal as manager, with reporters contrasting Narron's operation with those observed elsewhere in the league.

OK, so Narron was a good person. But his team has been variously described as lax, indifferent, unfocused, distracted and even lazy, with players notably lounging around the clubhouse or drinking beer when they should be honing their skills. Some were described as overly concerned with occupations that took them away from the game, such as golf, fishing or imprudent, late-night cruising.

Hall of Fame writer Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News, for one, reportedly confided to colleagues that the team was the worst he had seen in a career spanning 35 years.

Boston Ponders Clay Buchholz for Mark Buehrle

If he has not already, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein must decide whether to include pitching prospect Clay Buchholz as part of a package for White Sox ace Mark Buehrle.

Conversely, White Sox general manager Ken Williams must weigh whether Buchholz is a big enough chip in a deal that would likely include at least two other Boston prospects. Williams also must consider competing deals from Red Sox rivals, such as the Mets.

The deal is especially difficult for Epstein, who drove 100 miles to Double A Portland recently as if to give Buchholz one last, longing look. Buchholz did not disappoint, pitching five innings without surrendering a hit.

Buchholz, 22, owns a 6-2 record with a 1.69 ERA with 115 strikeouts in just over 85 innings, and projects as a future ace that would take Boston well into the next decade.

Buehrle, however, would be an ideal loaner for this year's pennant run, providing insurance should Curt Schilling continue to deal with injuries. Buehrle could also push Tim Wakefield to the longman, mop-up, spot starter spot in which he has previously excelled.

Boston invested a first round supplemental pick to acquire the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Buchholz, who compliments his 97-mph fastball with variety of off-speed offerings, most notably a sweeping curve that has batters backing away when umpires call a strike. But to mine gold, one must invest gold.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Pete Mackanin Sets Stage for Adam Dunn's Trade

The Reds decision to appoint Pete Mackanin interim manager helps set the stage for the trade of power hitting outfielder Adam Dunn and other players by putting one of the club's most experienced talent evaluators at elbow's length to the walnut conference table off the offices of chief executive Robert Castellini and general manager Wayne Krivsky.

Mackanin -- a former minor league manager who has scoured the hustings as an advance scout for nearly two years -- will help evaluate prospects over the next 30 days as the trade deadline approaches, helping to assure the team receives the maximum value for Dunn.

Expect Dunn's trade to be hastened by the return from the disabled list of Ryan Freel, who is seen by some observers moving to center field while rookie slugger Josh Hamilton replaces Dunn in left. Right fielder Ken Griffey Jr. likely will stay where he is despite rumors to the contrary.

The Reds can stick with an effective righty-lefty platoon of Jeff Conine and Scott Hatteburg at first base, or may call up first base prospect Joey Votto from Louisville if no one in the front office objects to accelerating Votto's service clock and hastening his rendezvous with contract renewal.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Reds to Name Pete Mackanin as Interim Manager

The Reds will name scouting executive Pete Mackanin to temporarily replace Jerry Narron as field manager, according to a broadcast late last night by the 50,000-watt WLW radio station in Cincinnati. Narron has been fired.

The radio station said an official announcement will come during a press conference scheduled for noon at Great American Ball Park. Though sudden, the decision was not unexpected as the Reds have performed poorly with a 31-51 record and virtually no shot at the playoffs.

Mackanin will hold the title of interim manager while another candidate is sought for next season, according to sources on the ground at Cincinnati. It was not clear whether Mackanin would be considered to keep the job permanently.

An advance scout for the team since last year, Mackanin, 55, managed the Reds Triple A club in Nashville in 1990-92, and briefly served as interim manager in Pittsburgh in 2005 when Pirates skipper Lloyd McClendon was fired. Mackanin also has managed minor league clubs in Ottawa, Ont., Lynchburg, Va., and in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

Mackanin formerly served as a utility infielder for the Rangers, Expos, Phillies and Twins.

Royals Await Mark Teahen's Second Half Push

If any doubt had remained whether Royals slugger Mark Teahen would be able to make the conversion from third base to the outfield, he has certainly erased it by going 42 games without an error until Sunday's 3-1 loss to the White Sox. It was just his second on the season.

Teahen is hitting solidly in the .290 range with a handful of homers, but as his fielding becomes less and less of a concern look for him to turn it up a notch or two at the plate after the All-Star break. Teahen, 26, is just coming into his prime and has benefitted recently by hitting in front of rising rookie Alex Gordon, who is beginning to find his stroke.

Last-half acceleration is nothing new to Teahen, as he bounced back from a slow start to hit better than .300 with nearly an RBI per game after the All-Star break last year, finishing his season at .290 with 18 homers and a .540 slugging percentage. Those numbers and better should be well within his grasp.

Farm Club Bans Music After Roman Colon Brawl

The Mud Hens -- the Tigers Triple A affiliate in nearby Toledo -- has banned the playing of music in the clubhouse before, during and after games due to an incident allegedly triggered by Tigers reliever Roman Colon.

Players wishing to listen to music must wear headphones or not listen to music at all. The ruling mirrors that already adopted in the Tigers clubhouse in Detroit, and was precipitated by a vicious clubhouse brawl between Mud Hens farmhands and Colon, who has since been indicted on a count of felony assault and faces imprisonment for up to five years if convicted.

The 27-year-old Dominican had been on a rehabilitation assignment with the Mud Hens when he incurred the enmity of his teammates by repeatedly playing Carmen Miranda's rendition of "Mi Mama Quiero" at high volume on June 12.

When a scuffle broke out, veteran minor league pitcher Jason Karnuth, 31, attempted to break up the fight only to have Colon turn on him, punching him in the face and breaking Karnuth's orbit and other facial bones, according to investigators. The injuries were so severe that Karnuth required surgery and may be out until September or longer.

Colon has served a team suspension and has been transferred to the Tigers Double A affiliate in Erie, Pa., and currently awaits a criminal arraignment before an Ohio magistrate, the date of which has not been set.

The incident has put additional pressure on the Tigers, whose bullpen is short of help. Relievers Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya are out indefinitely with injuries and closer Todd Jones has been pitching poorly, despite his 18 saves.

Meanwhile, Karnuth suffers from blurry vision and is awaiting for doctors to determine the full extent of his injuries so that he can consider a civil suit to recover his medical expenses and be compensated for his suffering and potential loss of income hence forth.

Rangers Eric Gagne Likely Favors Detroit in Trade

As Eric Gagne notched his 10th save in 10 chances in the Rangers 2-1 victory over the Red Sox Sunday, Sox GM Theo Epstein also looked like a probable loser in an effort to add Gagne to his bullpen.

With a 30-day countdown to the trading deadline now under way, Gagne holds veto power over a number of potential suitors, and to the extent that he can control it would tend to steer his trade to Detroit rather than Boston because he would gain save opportunites by supplanting struggling Tigers closer Todd Jones.

Gagne owns a sparkling 1.29 ERA but has been unable to rack up saves in part because the lowly 33-47 Rangers have not presented him with enough opporunities. Jones meanwhile has 18 saves, tied for third most in the American League despite his bloated 5.50 ERA.

The Red Sox have room for Gagne, but Gagne would balk at being the set-up man for established closer Jonathan Papelbon, who can be expected to claim almost all of Boston's save opportunities for the remainder of the season.

Such opportunities are critical for Gagne, as he has an incentive-laden, $6-million renewable one-year contract that kicks in bonus money if he reaches specified saves threshholds. The saves could be worth an extra $500,000 to $1 million to the 31-year-old, 2003 Cy Young Award winner.

John Buck Begins to Hit Like Royals Had Expected

It seems now like it was another player in another life, but Royals catcher John Buck was once the prized piece in Kansas City's trade of superstar Carlos Beltran.

After two years of disappointment at the plate, Buck, now finds himself with 14 home runs, enough to rank second among American League catchers behind Cleveland's Victor Martinez. At the same time, the right-handed hitting, former seventh round pick is hitting a passable .260 against right-handed pitchers with a more than .500 slugging percentage overall.

Buck may never reach Cooperstown but it's a start.

When the Royals traded Beltran to Houston in a 2004 three-team deal (also acquiring third baseman Mark Teahen from Oakland), Buck was hitting .300 with a .507 slugging mark for Triple A New Orleans. That won the attention of former Royals manager and All Star catcher Tony Pena, who immediately dubbed Buck the team's catcher of the future.

Buck, who will celebrate his 27th birthday when he returns from the All-Star break, is finally living up to it. Look for continued improvement as Buck traditionally has shown tendencies to hit better as the season progresses.

Something of a sleeper, Buck could develop into a top-10 player at his position over the next two or three years, especially if veteran catcher Jason LaRue, who has laid claim to much of Buck's playing time, steps aside in the near future.

Demotion Cuts Braves Kelly Johnson's Production

Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson has accepted his demotion from leadoff to No. 7 in the batting order, though the move will cut into his production for the remainder of the season.

Worse, reserve middle infielder Yunel Escobar is staking a claim to Johnson's appearances vs. lefties.

Even if Johnson can eventually reclaim full-time playing status -- which remains questionable -- a statistical analysis shows that the number of Johnson's hits can be expected to fall by up to 20 percent and his home run total up to five percent due to his demotion due to his lineup demotion alone.

Johnson's decline may be anticipated not only because the move will cost him some 50 at-bats, but because he no longer will be followed in the batting order by such productive players as Edgar Renteria and Chipper Jones.

Manager Bobby Cox demoted Johnson after the promising lefty fell into a slump, most notably a 2-17 spell during the week of June 18-24. The move also enabled Cox to exploit the hot bat of outfielder Willie Harris, hitting at a better than .300 clip with a .500 slugging percentage in limited appearances.

On days when facing a left-handed batter, Johnson will be backed up by right-hitting catcher Jerrod Saltalamacchia, who for the time being has settled into a lefty-righty first base platoon with disappointing rookie first Scott Thorman, who has had difficutly keeping his average much above .200 for most of the year.

Saltalamacchia may gain more and more playing time as he improves his play at first base, but Cox is being cautious so as not to leave himself without a backup catcher late in games. Thorman is struggling against left-handed pitchers, but so far Saltalamacchia has shown proficiency against both lefties and righties.

Derrek Lee Drops Plan to Appeal Suspension July 2

Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee -- with a five-game suspension hanging over him -- has dropped plans for his appeal hearing Monday. The hearing will be moved to sometime after the All-Star break.

The July 2 date would have allowed him to begin serving the suspension immediately, missing the series with Washington and Pittsburgh, both weaker teams. Evidently, the team believes it has a shot to reduce the penalty to three games, depending on whom will be available to weigh the evidence in New York at some given point in July.

A chance remains, however, that Lee could still drop the appeal immediately, allowing him to serve the suspension immediately. Lee was issued the suspension for taking a swing at San Diego pitcher Chris Young on June 16.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Ex-Cubs Skipper Dusty Baker Waits for Opening

As nearly a dozen MLB managerial jobs hang in the balance, former Cubs manager and now broadcast analyst Dusty Baker will take advantage of a loophole in his two-year contract with ESPN to terminate his deal should any team choose him as its next skipper.

Baker had the clause woven into the pact expressly for this purpose when he signed with ESPN five months ago.

Baker is eager to return to field management as he feels his disappointing tenure in Chicago was more the result of bad circumstances than ineffective leadership. Baker was all but tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail after his final two injury-plagued seasons in Chicago, but still has legion fans, apologists and defenders.

The 57-year-old Baker has a 1,162-1,041 career record with nine winning seasons in 14 years with the Giants and the Cubs.

Baker guided the Cubs to the National League Central Division title in 2003 and was named manager of the year three times.

Baker's resume makes him a top candidate for virtually any managerial vacancy, Cubs notwithstanding. In a game in which only some eight percent of players are black, he is a something of a rarity as an African American. Baker would be regarded as a prized icon of racial diversity by most major league GMs.

Astros Chad Qualls May Hold Key to AL Pennant

Look for Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein to compete to win the Chad Qualls sweepstakes, not because the hard-throwing Astros reliever is so desperately needed in Boston, but because he may be needed in Detroit.

Pressure continues to mount for the Tigers to find bullpen help, perhaps even replacing closer Todd Jones, who has allowed baserunners like fleas on a dog. Because the road to the pennant runs through the Motor City, it's critical not to find bullpen help but to block teams like the Tigers from acquiring it.

The more obvious it becomes that the Astros are going no place, look for Qualls to be traded for prospects or up-and-coming youngsters. Whomever loses out on Qualls will be under even greater pressure to acquire his teammate, Brad Lidge, or perhaps Rangers closer Eric Gagne.

Qualls is the cheapest of the three, and to get him the Tigers will not hesitate to flip one of several unnamed player possibilities recently acquired from St. Louis in the Mike Maroth deal. Established hitters such as Craig Monroe or Marcus Thames also are expendable in Detroit.

Craig Biggio: You've Come a Long Way, Baby

As Astros veteran Craig Biggio, 41, continues on his Hall of Fame trajectory -- now having crossed the 3,000-hit plataeu -- it seems hard to believe that it was 19 years ago when he arrived in Houston as a rookie catcher -- with his top priority to have his picture taken in uniform with staff ace Nolan Ryan.

Biggio, then 21, wanted irrefutable photographic evidence to prove to everyone he had actually been a major leaguer once he was sent back to Tucson -- in all probability never to return.

That said, it's no secret now that Biggio -- whose late season meltdown last year saw his season batting average fall to a near career low of .246 -- will morph more and more into a part-time reserve and pinch hitter. Chris Burke, 26, stands to pick up a lot of the slack if only he can get on base.

Meanwhile, Biggio is playing cagey as to when he will retire. The sooner he does, the more likely he will go to Cooperstown at the same time as career-long teammate Jeff Bagwell, 39.

Ex-Cubs Skipper Dusty Baker Waits for Opening

As nearly a dozen MLB managerial jobs hang in the balance, former Cubs manager and now broadcast analyst Dusty Baker will take advantage of a loophole in his two-year contract with ESPN to terminate his deal should any team choose him as its next skipper.

Baker had the clause woven into the pact expressly for this purpose when he signed with ESPN five months ago.

Baker is eager to return to field management as he feels his disappointing tenure in Chicago was more the result of bad circumstances than ineffective leadership. He was all but tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail after his final two injury-plagued season with the Cubs.

Baker, 57, has a 1,162-1,041 record with nine winning seasons in 14 years with the Giants and the Cubs. Baker guided the Cubs to the National League Central Division title in 2003 and was named manager of the year three times, a resume that makes him a top candidate for virtually any managerial vacancy, Cubs notwithstanding.

In a game in which only some eight percent of players are black, he is a something of a rarity as an African American and a prized icon of racial diversity.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Justin Morneau's 'Lung Contusion' an Exaggeration

Forget most of what major news outlets have published recently about Twins first baseman Justin Morneau's chest injury. It appears its seriousness has been greatly exaggerated.

Morneau was carried off on a stretcher last Friday after a homeplate collision with Marlins catcher Miguel Olivo. But though he was spitting blood and was reported as having sustained a potentially serious lung contusion, the diagnosis now appears to have been either utterly mistaken or a result of doctors or trainers deliberately erring on the side of caution, though don't expect anyone to admit it.

Morneau has now completed yet another round of tedious medical tests and examinations at University Medical Center in Minneapolis, where he is an outpatient. Knowledgable sources in Minnesota and elsewhere are openly scoffing at the original injury analysis, noting that lung contusions as a result of homeplate collisions are extremely unlikely.

Repeated tomographical examinations of Morneau's chest injury have shown almost beyond a doubt that Morneau was not seriously harmed, with his brief bleeding episode perhaps attributable to minor trauma to the tongue, mouth, throat or post-nasal passage.

Lung contusions can be very serious, resulting in various pulmonary complications and even death in rare instances. But they usually are associated with high-speed automobile collisions, air crashes or a falls from great heights. They are most often colateral to violent fractures, and X-Rays show conclusively that Morneau has no broken bones.

Normally lung contusions would require a month or more of rest and rehabilitation. If such injuries were so common as to result from everyday homeplate contact, half the skill position players in the NFL would likely finish each football season on the disabled list.

Morneau has been protesting for days that he is well and able to return to the field. He is right. Morneau will be in uniform well before the end of the week.

Pirates Top Prospect Bryan Bullington Hammered

Former top pick Bryan Bullington of Triple A Indianapolis -- passed over for a callup to the Pirates rotation in favor of fellow prospect John Van Benschoten -- confirmed the coaching staff's doubts about him in his most recent outing as he was hammered once again -- this time for six earned runs while giving up four hits and four walks in a 2.33-inning outing against Triple A Toledo.

Though the Pirates took the 6-foot-5 Bullington with the No. 1 overall pick in 2002 -- ahead of budding Tampa Bay star B.J. Upton -- he has failed to live up to expectations following shoulder surgery nearly two years ago. It seems doubtful whether the Pirates will ever realize a decent return after investing a $4 million signing bonus on Bullington, whose time for development begins to dwindle as he approaches his 27th birthday.

When pitching at nearby Ball State more than five years ago, Bullington had a lively mid-90s fastball. But these days Bullington has all he can do just to top the high 80s. He now must depend heavily on a variety of effective but often predictable off-speed pitches.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Twins Physicians Await Return of Justin Morneau

A team of four physicians headed by Dr. John A. Steubs are awaiting first baseman Justin Morneau's return flight to Minneapolis-St Paul, where the injured slugger's progress will continue to be monitored through the week to determine when he can retake the field.

Potentially inconclusive medical tests at Memorial Hospital in Miami so far point to Morneau's lung contusion as being minor -- at least in relative terms. However, doctors will take no chances with the budding slugger, who may be vulnerable to pulmonory complications as a result of his violent homeplate collision with Marlins catcher Miguel Olivo last week.

The doctors' charge has been complicated by Morneau's stubbornly positive attitude, which perhaps could be characterized as too much of a good thing. The scrappy former hockey player would want to play even if he had an arrow through his head, so doctors must do his thinking for him.

Though various examinations indicated unmistakable symptoms of a lung contusion -- including internal bleeding -- computerized tomographical scans indicated no severe trauma. Whether the findings tell the whole story likely will become clear in three or four days.

If Morneau is healthy he can be expected to return to action by the weekend. But if his condition is serious enough to warrant a trip to the disabled list, he will likely miss the better part of month or perhaps more, according to sources familiar with the nature of his injury.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Cardinals Biding Time Calling Up OF Rick Ankiel

Former pitcher Rick Ankiel appears to have successfully bridged his conversion to outfielder, demonstrating a powerful arm while hitting in the .270-.280 range with 20 homers at Triple A Memphis. However, due to practical considerations the Cardinals are biding time calling him to St. Louis.

It appears that the Cardinals are being cautious with Ankiel because he has no remaining options, meaning that once Ankiel is called up he must be called up to stay, lest another team claim him when he is sent down again, according to an opinion ventured by ESPN baseball radio analyst Dave "Soup" Campbell.

Until such time as the team clarifies its outfield situation, Ankiel's bidding for major league time is on hold. In the worst case, Ankiel will be activated for September roster expansion, though he is more than ready for St. Louis now, as a reserve if nothing else. Much will depend on the return of injured center fielder Jim Edmunds and the performances and health of outfielders Juan Encarnacion, Ryan Ludwick and Skip Shumaker.

Encarnacion has had injury issues all season and Ludwick and Shumaker appear to have less potential than Ankiel.

Early Indications Dubious for Twins Justin Morneau

Though initial X-Rays of injured Twins first baseman Justin Morneau's lungs came back normal, a decision to keep him hospitalized in Florida over the weekend raises a red flag.

That Morneau suffered a bruised lung in a homeplate collision Friday is of little doubt, considering he was raising blood and experiencing other symptoms when he was taken to the hospital on a stretcher. The question is, how serious is the bruise?

Tissue scans point to perhaps a mild injury relatively, as these injuries go. But normal test results and normal health are not necessarily the same thing, and further examinations seem to have indicated Morneau was unready to return to the dugout.

If he continues to improve, Morneau may miss as few as three or four days. The unfortunate thing for the team is that normally a bruised lung would be expected to keep him out three or four weeks. If Morneau goes on the disabled list, experts familiar with his type of injury warn that it's likely he won't return much before August.

Expect Yovani Gallardo to Join Brewers Rotation

Given the Brewers tendencies to favor up-and-coming players over those more established, it's hard to imagine manager Ned Yost keeping both Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan in the rotation at the expense of top prospect Yovani Gallardo. One or the other has got to go.

Expect Gallardo to advance from the bullpen soon after starter Chris Capuano returns from injury, as Bush and Suppan are struggling to keep their ERAs under 5.00.

Gallardo, 21, who has compared favorably with Cincinnati's Homer Bailey and other top minor league hurlers, made an indelible impression when he struck out 188 batters in 155 innings with a 1.86 ERA in two minor league stops last year.

Gallardo (pronounced Guy-yar-doh) throws consistently in the low 90s and can top 95-96 mph when needed, and keeps batters guessing with biting curves and changeups he throws anywhere in the count.

Yost has shown little hesitancy to play such eager younger players ahead of established veterans like Jeff Jenkins, Kevin Mench and Brady Clark to name a few, nor to throw rookies into the heart of the fray, as with young third baseman Ryan Braun moving immediately into the No. 3 hole in the batting order as soon as he was brought up.

Despite Gallardo's youth,, expect more of the same as soon as an opportunity arises, which will be soon.