Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Nationals John Patterson May Miss Season's Start

The Washington Nationals had better start putting a contingency plan together to fill a potential hole in the pitching rotation because early indications are that the team's star hurler John Patterson may -- may -- not be ready for the start of the season.

Patterson, who had begun his winter workout regimen weeks ago, decided to go easy after experiencing discomfort similar to that he sustained as he came back from the disabled list after the end of last season. Initially he had hoped that several days rest would allow him to resume throwing, but a subsequent medical examination reportedly has revealed constriction, inflammation, agitation or tension that caused discomfort in the inner elbow within the past two or three weeks.

While Patterson has said he has no health issues coming back from rehab, and that his forearm has recovered and he feels fine and will be ready to report to spring training, his remarks are somewhat questionable -- or perhaps overly optimistic -- given that June or July ordinarily would be more realistic return dates for a pticher having undergone such surgery.

Unconfirmed indications are that -- barring an unexpectedly bright prognosis -- Patterson may possibly have difficulty not only throwing but even reaching full extension of his arm after he continues throwing on a daily basis.

Patterson's potential sidelining would result in an alarming shortage of arms for the Nationals, who had only two slots -- if that -- fixed in the rotation even if Patterson is available. His cheery demeanor, however, should do nothing to dampen ticket sales while fans await his first spring outing.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

GMs' Relations Strained Even Before Helton Talks

The collapse of Colorado's proposed deal to dump white elephant Todd Helton on Boston likely will add to mounting frustration between the two teams, if press reports coming out of Beantown are to be believed.

According to Rupert Murdoch's Boston Herald, Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd and Red Sox GM Theo Epstein had already strained their relationship in 2005, when Epstein backed out of a deal involving Rockies underperforming outfielder Larry Bigbie, who later was dumped on St. Louis; and promising Pawtucket backstop Kelly Shoppach, who ultimately went to Cleveland as part of the Coco Crisp deal. Boston outfield prospect Adam Stern was also reported as part of the negotiation, though it seemed other details were missing (

The Helton negotiations reportedly had been going on for months behind the scenes, with Helton originally going to the Red Sox in some sort of deal involving the heavily shopped Manny Ramirez.

But in the final analysis, the deal collapsed because of difficulties associated with a complicated formula in which the Rockies would have paid off significant portions of the $90.6 million remaining on Helton's $141 million contract. The final blow was O'Doud's inability to persuade the Red Sox to give up prospects from a list that included Manny Del Carmen, Craig Hansen, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz and Danny Bard.

Though multiple news outlets reported Boston agreeing to give up declining veteran Mike Lowell and tempestuous reliever Julian Tavarez, O'Dowd supposedly insisted on acquiring a potential impact player in exchange for Helton. Helton perhaps is more valued by Rockies fans than by the team, and his followers would not have been pleased to see him go cheaply .

Monday, January 29, 2007

Intestinal Distress or Fortitude for Todd Helton?

It was bad news, of course, when Rockies First Baseman Todd Helton was hospitalized last year with fever and a severe, lingering intestinal disorder. But now the good news is that -- perhaps -- the malady can be used to explain away Helton's declining production as a passing abberation rather than blame it on irreversible failure due to advancing age.

Helton suffered from what doctors labeled acute terminal ileitus -- an inflamation associated with Crohn's Disease -- that not only caused the 33-year-old slugger to lose more than 30 pounds of muscle but left him with acute cramping; and sapped his strength, endurance and likely his ability to concentrate throughout the season.

Whereas Helton hit .358 with 117 RBI and 33 homers as recently as 2003, his successive totals plummeted each year since until he hit just .302 with 81 RBI and 15 homers in his sickly season last year. Bouncing back next season to something closer to his career averages would tend to signal that Helton has escaped anything approaching diagnosable Crohn's, a chronic, potentially debilitating disorder for which there is no cure.

Laboratory tests likely indicate Helton is out of danger, and that rumors of Crohn's are -- pardon the expression -- behind him. Only time will confirm that this is so, as Crohn's -- if it is indeed such -- can recur at any time, even years hence. But evidently an evaluation by the Boston Red Sox points to Helton's full recovery, even if a previous, perhaps less comprehensive analysis by the Los Angeles Angels reportedly is at variance.

Look for the Rockies to pick up only about half of the remaining $90.1 million of Helton's $141 million contract, and dump the rest on the Red Sox as Helton is sent to Boston in exchange for prospects such as pitchers Craig Hansen or Manny Del Carmen. Not only will the Rockies have saved money, space will have been created for outfielder Brad Hawpe to return to his natural position at first base, and the promising rookie Jeff Baker to replace Hawpe in right field.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

New Improved Pirates Lineup Still Has Ways to Go

Even with all the giddiness about the new, improved Pirates lineup -- with newly acquired slugger Adam LaRoche joining former top rookie Jason Bay and 2006 batting champ Freddy Sanchez -- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Bob Smizik warns not to start ordering World Series tickets quite yet.

Sure, Smizik likes the new lineup, but he points out that you don't have to go all the way back to the days of Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla to find a better one.

In 2003 the Pirates trotted out -- in order -- Kenny Lofton, fourth in the league in stolen bases; Jason Kendall, hitting .325 from the catcher's spot; Brian Giles, slugging .521 with four minimum 30-homer seasons under his belt; Aramis Ramirez, enroute to a second, consecutive 100-RBI season; and Reggie Sanders, homering 20 times in only 305 at-bats.

And what was the 2003 murderers' row record? Try 75-87.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Outfielder Glut Fails to Draw Pitchers for Brewers

With spring training less than a month away, the Brewers continued willingness to carry extra outfielders begins to become alarming. Unable to deal for pitching, the Brewers find it difficult to create room for Corey Hart in right field, Billy Hall in center and for Laynce Nix and Gabe Gross as effective but economical reserves.

As GM Doug Melvin looks around he still sees Geoff Jenkins, Kevin Mench and Brady Clark feeding at the trough -- this in a market where a number of teams need outfield help of every description.

Melvin's inability to find suitors during eight weeks of feverish Hot Stove League action bears witness to the grave shortage of pitching throughout the majors, and helps explain the extraordinary contracts handed out to mediocre performers.

The Brewers are carrying so many outfielders that Melvin won't be able to find enough at-bats in spring training games, let alone the season. Don't be surprised if the Brewers finally have to part with some for a song, maybe even dole out an unconditional release or two.

Kevin Slowey is Dark Horse to Make Twins Rotation

The signings of veterans Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson have created a something of a stir in Minnesota as the Twins seek to fill out a rotation that is wide open beyond the establishment of staff ace Johan Santana. With so much uncertainty, even extreme dark horse rookie Kevin Slowey has a shot at making the team if he can turn enough heads during spring training.

With Francisco Liriano on surgical leave, Carlos Silva and Boof Bonser are penciled in at the No. 2 and No. 3 spots respectively, but they're so shakey that nothing is guaranteed with Matt Garza, Glen Perkins and Scott Baker competing for spots.

Slowey, 22, who has yet to make the 40-man roster, is a former second round pick who owns a 4-2 record with a pristine 1.01 ERA in 14 starts for Class A Fort Myers, and a 4-3 record with a 3.19 ERA in nine starts for AA New Britain.

Somewhat like Radke, Slowey -- 6-foot-3, 195 pounds -- throws a tailing fastball in the high 80s and low 90s, then complements it with an off-speed ball so limp you could break your neck trying to slow down for it. Two years ago Slowey came within an out of a no-hitter at Fort Myers and once struck out 19 batters in a college game. Coaches see him capable of throwing 200 innings in a season.

Ordinarily a pitcher like Slowey would be passed over for a year or two, but in Minnesota need creates opportunity now.

Astros Unable to Pull Trigger to Trade Brad Lidge

Astros GM Tim Purpura appears to be willing -- for now -- to go into spring training with Luke Scott as the potential starting right fielder, as he cannot bring himself to part with closer Brad Lidge in an exchange for offense, most notably a standing offer for Red Sox slugger Wily Mo Pena.

Richard Hidalgo, 31, whom the Astros originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of Venezuela in 1991, will provide competition for the job, along with the hot and cold (mostly cold) Jason Lane, 29. But Scott, 28, clearly has the inside track, having hit .336 with 10 homers in 214 at-bats last year.

Until a more attractive offer comes along, Lidge remains the closer, though he could get an early hook in favor of Dan Wheeler or Chad Qualls. The availability of Wheeler and Qualls continue to make Lidge -- whose ERA ballooned to 5.28 last year -- tradeable. But the club has yet to receive an offer deemed worthy of Lidge's value.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mike Hampton Must Face Down Loss of Confidence

Braves starting pitcher Mike Hampton -- trying to come back from a year's layoff due to injury -- faces confidence issues related to a rehabilitative throwing program that has caused bleeding and breaking of fibrous tissue beneath the skin in his surgically repaired elbow.

By the opening of the season, Hampton theoretically should be ready to let 'er rip -- uh, better rephrase that -- be ready to face major league hitters. But Hampton remains an unknown until proved otherwise. Though Tommy John surgery has a purported success rate exceeding 90 percent, numerous pitchers such as former Colorado hurler Pete Harnisch have lost their careers after the procedure.

A common manifestation of the operation is pain, fiber failure and straining as scar tissue breaks. The condition seems to have at least temporarily caused Hampton to doubt his durability, according to word out of Florida where he is training. But the former 20-game winner should be far enough along that his capability can be plainly evaluated when he appears in exhibition contests during spring training.

Manager Bobby Cox has penciled Hampton in the No. 3 spot in the rotation behind John Smoltz and Tim Hudson. If health issues continue to affect Hampton's game, expect youngster Chuck James to slide into his spot for the first few months of the season.

Vicente Padilla Presents Challenge to New Catcher

The worth of Rangers new starting catcher Gerald Laird will quickly become evident not so much because of his bat or defensive skills as his ability to call games -- with underachieving No. 2 starter Vicente Padilla providing the acid test.

It was not so long ago that former Rangers first baseman Rafael Palmiero -- after facing Padilla in spring training -- dubbed the 6-foot-2 fireballer as the best in the Phillies rotation, with consecutive winning seasons of 14 wins and a combined 3.46 ERA in 2002 and '03.

But while Padilla at 29 continues to wield a heavy, 96-mph fastball and potentially effective slider he has been unable to shake off the reputation that he defeats himself by overruling catchers and being overly fearful of contact and trying to be too fine.

If the Rangers are to receive their money's worth after inking Padilla to a $33.75 million, three-year contract, Laird must win Padilla's confidence, take charge of his pitch selection and teach him to trust his stuff and the defense behind him. Padilla's 15-10 record with Texas last year was good, but he has far more talent than his 4.50 ERA would suggest.

Dontrelle Willis Inked Yet Still Could Be Traded

Marlins ace Dontrelle Willis' new $6.45 million contract allows Florida to keep him for at least another year, but still the team has issued no guarantees that Willis' hefty price can continue to be absorbed by the cash-strapped team.

Willis' new rate of compensation represents a 45 percent increase, with raises for third baseman Miguel Cabrera and other players promising to bust the team's $15 million 2006 team budget. Even though Willis would be an ideal draw once the team builds a new ballpark, the temptation will be great to deal him for prospects if the team falls from contention by late July.

Cliff Floyd Signing May Crimp Matt Murton's Time

Newly signed outfielder Cliff Floyd has hinted that the quality of his spring training play likely will put him in a position to win a full time role for the Cubs, but NBC Sports at in Chicago sees him sitting against left-handed pitching in favor of youngster Matt Murton, with neither player having more than 400 at-bats for the season, perhaps considerably fewer.

The arrangement would be especially detrimental to the development of Murton, who at 25 needs regular play. The oft-injured Floyd at 34 would seem more ideally suited as an outfield and first base backup and pinch hitter. Floyd would stand a better chance of staying healthy as a reserve.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Scott Podsednik Health Prompts Darin Erstad Deal

Former Angels first baseman/outfielder Darin Erstad was reported by WGN TV in Chicago to be on the verge of finalizing a deal with the White Sox to back up outfielder Scott Podsednik, who may miss up to eight weeks because of unexpected hernia surgery.

Erstad has been on the market since last fall, but potential suitors had been slow to pursue him due to concerns over a myriad of injuries Erstad has sustained in recent years, including to the hand, legs and ankle that caused doubts about his ability to stop, start and turn quickly.

Erstad's agent, however, claimed the 32-year-old Jamestown, N.D. native has been on the mend, and will be virtually 100 percent by the start of the season. In an injury-shortened season last year, Erstad hit just .221, a tremendous comedown since his 2000 campaign, when he batted .355 with 25 homers and 100 RBI.

Earth to Adam LaRoche...Earth to Adam LaRoche...

Adam? Adam???? HEY, ADAMMM!!! It might sound funny but it's no joke. Pirates newly acquired first baseman Adam LaRoche must take a specially formulated, legal stimulant manufactured from amphetamines or methylphenidates to help protect him from the manifestations of a debilitating neurological disorder known as ADD -- attention deficit disorder.

Whether ADD was the cause, only he can say -- but upon being acquired by Pittsburgh from Atlanta, LaRoche recently missed his first extended coast-to-coast broadcast interview with XM Radio's Ronnie Lane. LaRoche not only failed to check in with Lane's show at the appointed time, he was nowhere to be found when he was repeatedly telephoned on his sprawling Fort Scott, Kan., ranch.

LaRoche, 27, is among perhaps 15 million Americans suffering from the incurable malady which causes distraction, inattentiveness and forgetfulness so severe that the slender, 6-foot-two slugger even drifts off during games. In Atlanta, the task of repeatedly prodding LaRoche to pay attention while playing first base primarily fell to second baseman Marcus Giles, lest a speedy, routine grounder roll down the right field line for a single.

LaRoche was greeted with a chorus of boos in Atlanta last May when he came to the plate after allowing Washington's Nick Johnson to reach base during the previous inning on a little roller about 12 feet from the bag. It should have been an automatic out, but as LaRoche dreamily floated toward the bag Johnson hustled down the line safely.

The job of keeping LaRoche alert may wind up with 2006 National League batting champion Freddy Sanchez, possibly the Pirates prospective new, full-time second baseman, who played third base last year. Though LaRoche's handicap is a nuisance, the potential of LaRoche hitting nearly .300 with perhaps 30 homers or more entirely redeems him as far as the Pirates are concerned.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Reds New No.1 Catcher David Ross Heads for Fall

Reds catcher David Ross -- mired behind such players as Paul LaDuca in Los Angeles -- had been held to just 419 major league at-bats -- total -- in the first eight years of his professional career. The book on him was short, but as soon as he began hitting homers and bidding for more playing time in Cincinnati, pitchers finally took notice.

Sure, in limited action Ross hit .320 in May, .316 in June and .286 in July. But by August opposing batteries began to fully appreaciate not only that Ross' power stroke was generated from a big, sweeping swing, but that his bat passed through the zone at an angle and had a hole or two high and inside.

Thus Ross began swinging through breaking stuff and hit just .222 in August and a mere .167 in September. Ross wound up hitting .255 for the season with 52 RBI and an astonishing 21 homers in 247 at-bats.

Even though Ross is coming into his prime at 29, major league pitching likely will not allow him to reach that stratosphere again. Until Ross learns to compensate for the pitches he'll be seeing from now on, expect him to connect for an occasional longball but remain little better than a bottom-of-the-order slugger.

Unfortunately for the Reds, Ross' numbers have prompted the team to send No. 1 catcher Jason LaRue to Kansas City, giving Ross the starting job and a two-year $4.5 million contract worth up to $4.5 million, or a potentail $7.6 million if extended over three years. Don't be surprised if the team buys him out in 2009.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Fallen Angels Dallas McPherson, Kendry Morales and Casey Kotchman Appear to Lose Time to the Benefit of Timely New Acquisition Shea Hillenbrand

The signing of veteran 1B/3B Shea Hillenbrand by the Angels looks better and better with the team's continued problems with its promising young corps of corner infield prospects.

Dallas McPherson, who had won the starting third base job with the departure of Troy Glaus to Arizona in 2004, has been continually set back by various injuries since his arrival, and is now scheduled to be seen by spinal specialist Dr. Andrew Dossett of the Carroell Memorial clinic in Dallas after failing to respond favorably to a rest and rehabilitation propram.

At the same time, top corner infield prospect and Cuban defector Kendry Morales, who had been hitting at a more than .400 clip in the Dominican playoffs and leading his team with 11 homers in limited playing time, aggravated a chronic right knee injury Jan. 9 and is scheduled for examination by Dr. Lewis Yocum of the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in Los Angeles.

With highly regarded prospect Casey Kotchman, the three represent one of the deepest fields of corner prospects in the American League. But even Kotchman continues to struggle after being sidelined for much of last season with debilitating mononucleosis. Though Kotchman has resumed play in Puerto Rico, he appears to have lost strength, muscle and body mass and has been unable to raise his batting average much above the .260 mark, though he's projected as a better than .300 hitter.

Don't be surprised if Kotchman finds himself among the first to return to the soon to be star-studded Pacific Coast League's Salt Lake City Bees, the Angels AAA farm club, to rebuild his strength.

Whatever critics may think of Hillenbrand, he has always been healthy and productive if nothing else. Hillenbrand is virtually assured of significant playing time at designated hitter, third base or first as variables shake out during spring training.

Exactly who will make the cut and who will need to return to Salt Lake for further development likely won't be known until the Angels-Dodgers exhibition series to be played in Los Angeles immediately before the season officially opens in April. In any case, it should make for an especially interesting season in the Utah desert.

In Washington, Travis Lee is Resurrected Yet Again

Now approaches the 10th anniversary of that magical season when former No. 2 overall pick Travis Lee -- armed with an unprecidented $10 million signing bonus -- looked as though he was about to fullfill the extraordinary promise foreseen for him by scouts and coaches.

But though Lee hit a combined .302 with 32 homers in his first two minor league stops that year, it has been downhill ever since, with the 6-foot-3, 230-pound first baseman collecting a paycheck while seemingly sleepwalking for most of his career. After reaching the major leagues at the tender age of 22, within two years Lee was benched by Arizona in favor of rookie Erubiel Durazo.

Lee, still vital at 31, has been given yet another chance to play, not so much because of his once unlimited abilities but due to circumstances that have forced the Washington Nationals to desperate measures. Oft-injured first baseman Nick Johnson is out with a broken leg, and his oft-injured rookie backup Larry Broadway seems unable to hit even mediocre, minor league pitching in winter ball.

Someone must fill the void. At $500,000, at least Lee comes cheap.

Blessed with enormous gifts, Lee has brilliant moves and footwork and a great arm at first base. Defense has come easily for him. But rather than hone his offensive skills, he has been content to coast, always confident that someone, somewhere would give him a job because of his glove.

Lee's peformance deficiencies -- he hit an all-time low .224 with 11 homers and 31 RBI for Tampa Bay last year -- have never been blamed on lack of ability so much as his poor work habits, indifference, lack of motivation and shamelessness at being such a poor value to those who invested in him. Just exactly where Lee finds pride is not certain, but it must be somewhere far from the maddening crowd.

Jason Michaels Experiment at an End in Cleveland

Sure, OF Jason Michaels hit .304 for the Phillies in 2005 and was regarded by many as a potential everyday player. But the grim reality of Michaels' limitations became abundantly clear once he arrived in Cleveland, when he was given a chance to play fulll-time but hit just .267 with nine homers.

Obviously, Michaels' nifty batting average in Philadelphia was achieved through cherry picking left-handed pitchers, as he put up his numbers in just 289 at-bats. Now the 30-year-old former 49th round pick must at last resign himself to platooning in left field with the Indians newly acquired left-handed hitting David Dellucci, another Philadelphia castoff and career part-time player.

Splitting time, neither player can be ticketed for anything remotely like stardom. Still, Michaels can draw considerable satisfaction from his new contract for just over $4 million over the next two years, plus a $100,000 signing bonus and a club option for 2009.

Craig Wilson's Playing Time to be Limited for Braves

The Braves signing of 1B/OF Craig Wilson to help make up for the loss of 1B Adam LaRoche effectively puts an end for now to Wilson's status as a full-time player, as manager Bobby Cox will use him as little more than a spot starter against lefties, a pinch hitter and bench player.

As reported earlier by, LaRoche's trade to Pittsburgh opened a spot for a veteran bat on the Braves 25-man roster. But Wilson's sluggishness in the field, poor footwork and other limited defensive skills preclude him from winning a great deal of playing time.

Wilson, 30, has punished left-handed hitting during his six-year major league career, but the fact he was passed over by New York, Boston, Baltimore, Los Angeles and other American League teams needing help at first base or designated hitter betrays his reputation as a defensive liability. Worse, his lifetime batting average against right-handed pitching is a mere .262, and when given an opportunity to prove himself in New York he hit just .212 in 40 games. No wonder the Yankees didn't want him.

That leaves left-handed rookie 1B Scott Thorman as the primary candidate to play first base and hit in the lower third of the lineup on a near everyday basis, barring his complete collapse at the plate.

Wilson's career year was 2004, when he hit .264 with 29 homers in 561 at-bats. The Braves had been scouting Wilson since last year, when his glove cost him his starting job with the Pirates.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Brian Lawrence Soon To Be Back Among the Living

It wasn't so long ago that Brian Lawrence's sinker and cerebral approach to pitching had him winning 15 games for San Diego, where he was envisioned as a long-term staple at the back of the Padres rotation.

But a couple of down years and an injury or two, and the poor man's Greg Maddux all but found his picture on the side of milk cartons after being out for the entirety of last season with shoulder surgery while under contract with Washington.

Still, in a tight market where such mediocreties as Gil Meche and Ted Lilly command some $10 million a year, Lawrence, 31, finds himself back in demand. The former 17th round pick has whittled down a half dozen offers to a choice between the Rockies and -- according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer -- the Mariners.

Seattle's rotation is among the weakest in the majors, with little to bank on beyond promising youngster Felix Hernandez, and not so promosing oldster Jarrod Washburn. Look for Lawrence to give a run for his money to Cha Seung Baek, who is penciled in at the No. 5 spot.

Sammy Sosa Seen as Less than the Sosa of Old

The inside perspective from those who watched Sammy Sosa practice during the time of his workout for the Rangers is that while he may be in decent shape for a 38-year-old, Sosa still has a way to go to cut down on his big swing, which with lost bat speed leaves him slow to turn on a fastball.

Sosa -- fifth all-time with 588 career homers -- put up decent numbers as recently as 2003, when he hit .279 with 40 longballs for the Cubs. But age, a couple of stints on the disabled list and a general loss of confidence had left him a shadow of his former self when he last played for Baltimore in 2005, hitting just .221 with 14 homers in less than 400 plate appearances.

Still, at a mere $500,000, Sosa appears to be worth a flyer, especially considering that all he must do is hit left-handed pitching as the Rangers primary right-handed designated hitter. Anything more would be gravy.

Adam LaRoche Trade Sets Stage for Braves Faceoff

Atlanta Braves GM John Schuerholz waited patiently for two months while the Pirates tied up closer Mike Gonzalez with a one-year, $2.35 million contract, then pulled the trigger to trade first baseman Adam LaRoche for him and set the stage for a potential battle between two of Atlanta's top prospects.

Scott Thorman, 24, a surprisingly agile, 6-foot-3, 235-pound rookie, will be given the first shot to replace LaRoche this spring after impressing the front office with a .298 batting average and 15 homers in limited time with AAA Richmond. But Thorman took a step back in 128 atbats with the Braves, hitting a tepid .234 with five homers, and is hardly a sure thing.

In consideration of a Thorman shortcoming, look for Schuerholz to pick up a backup veteran corner infielder in the mold of former Brave Robert Fick, contemplate moving third baseman Chipper Jones to first base to be replaced by Willy Aybar at third, and all the while keep an eye on 21-year-old prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia over the long term.

Saltalamacchia, a switchhitting former No. 1 pick, has come up as a catcher, but with budding star Brian McCann solidified behind the plate with the parent club, Saltalamacchia stands to be converted to first or third base and be given a shot to compete at the major league level perhaps by 2008, maybe even when rosters are expanded in September of 2007.

With his backstop skills still not ready for prime time, a corner infield spot likely is a better fit for Saltalamacchia, who brings good footwork, decent leather and a unique, Sicilian-style tenacity to the game.

Fit, Jovial Barry Bonds Appears Without Giants Cap

Barry Bonds appeared with Baseball Hall-of-Famer Juan Marichal in the Dominican Republic Wednesday and predicted he would hit the 22 homers he needs to pass Hank Aaron's 755 all-time career mark -- though it was not altogether clear he would do it as a Giant.

Bonds -- looking relaxed, jovial and fit -- was greeted by the ex-pitcher with Giants logos noticeably absent from Bonds' blue athletic suit and plain white baseball cap. Bonds will play in the 69-year-old Marichal's annual charity golf tournament Friday to raise funds for research for a cure of diabetes, a disease that especially afflicts Dominicans.

Bonds on Dec. 7 agreed to a proposed $16 million annual contract to play for the Giants but has been unable to consumate the deal. Thus Bonds has been left off the team's roster.

Observers have pointed out suspicions that the team and Bonds are at loggerheads over unresolved issues commonly thought to be related to pending legal difficulties with the U.S. attorney in San Francisco. The justice and treasury departments are investigating steroid abuse and possible perjury and income tax issues.

Bonds did not specifically mention contract talks, though his agent has claimed other teams are willing to sign Bonds if the Giants back out of the negotiations, an assertion that has critics scoffing.

Bonds' look of vitality and good cheer Wednesday suggested that health issues related to his 2005 knee surgery are finally behind him. In remarks quoted by sports reporter Kennedy Vargas of the El Siglo Spanish-language newspaper, Bonds confidently suggested that his impending passing of Aaron should assure that he will eventually go into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Bonds said former players Pete Rose and Mark McGwire also have accomplished enough in the game that they too should be voted in.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Justin Morneau Tips His Hand in Talks with Twins

As expected, American League MVP Justin Morneau and the Twins are 20 percent apart in salary arbitration, with Morneau asking for $1 million year more than the team's $4 million counter offer.

Negotiations will be completed by next month at the latest, with the team's front office determined to reach an amicable accord with the star first baseman without resorting to potentially recriminating talks before an arbitrator under provisions of baseball's collective bargaining agreement.

The team has a distinct advantage in contract talks as the 25-year-old Morneau, a former hockey player, has already allowed that he has no intention of leaving town even in the long term as he has nearly completed a palatial new home in the St. Paul area. Morneau will share those digs with Rory McDade, 25, who plays lacrosse for the Twin Cities-based Minnesota Swarm, and with whom Morneau played hockey when the two grew up together in their hometown of New Westminster in the frigid Canadian outback.

With that frame of reference, Morneau should be willing to work out a sweetheart deal with the Twins. After all, the British Columbia native has never lost interest in hockey and Minneapolis is the U.S. capital of the sport.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Bill James Influence Evident in Joel Piniero Signing

Stat guru Bill James' controversial theories -- according to former Phillies manager Larry Bowa --sometimes might best just be read and then immediately torn up and thrown away. But like him or not, James still continues to exert his influence with over the Red Sox with the team's surprisingly iconoclastic choice of free agent Joel Piniero as leading candidate to be Boston's new closer.

It was James -- Red Sox senior adviser for baseball operations -- who not so long ago put forward a theory that the team could get by with a four-headed closer by committee -- with disasterous results. Even more dubious was James' opinion that based on statistics, any successful pitcher -- regardless of skills type -- can be a closer.

With a high 90s fastball Piniero seems to meet some of the typical closer criteria. But though the 28-year-old former Mariner went 14-7 with a 3.24 ERA as a starter in 2002, and 16-11 with a 3.78 ERA as a starter in 2003, his career mark settled at a relatively mediocre 58-55 with a 4.48 ERA after his stats were dragged down by an 8-13 performance last year and an ERA of more than 6.00. The performance resulted in Piniero's demotion to the bullpen and his being heavily shopped in trade negotiations -- with no takers.

What has caught Boston's attention, however, is that Pineiro held opponents to a .213 batting average in his 15 relief appearances last season, perhaps benefitting from his letting loose with his high '90s fastball without having to worry about pacing himself for a six or seven inning outing. It was a small sample, so the question is, can he do it over the long haul?

Friday, January 05, 2007

J.D. Drew's Locker, Storage Items Returned to LA

When oft-injured outfielder J.D. "Nancy" Drew left the Dodgers more than two months ago, he left instructions that his locker be cleaned out and its contents and other items be shipped to him in care of the Red Sox at 4 Yawkey Way, Boston.

But with Drew's contract talks with the Sox stalled due to ongoing concern about Drew's health, the shipment has been refused, thus causing to be returned to Los Angeles Drew's shoulder and knee braces, splints, bandage rolls, traction harness, IV bag, cane, crutches, wheelchair, iron lung, 14-karat gold pillbox and favorite porcelain-lined stainless steel bedpan.

U.S. Supreme Court Looms Over Barry Bonds Case

It's not difficult to foresee the U.S. Supreme Court weighing in on the Barry Bonds investigation before the end of the 2007 season.

With Eugene Orza, associate general counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association, poised to seek injunctive relief from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as soon as the end of the month if not sooner, the stage is being set for a Supreme Court appeal should the lower court refuse to rule in Orza's favor.

At stake are results of more than 100 supposedly confidential urine samples from players in 2003, which the San Francisco lower court's three-judge panel has ruled admissible in an ongoing grand jury investigation into suspected steroid use by Bonds and other players. Orza will argue before the full court that the samples should remain private and ultimately destroyed.

Once turned down by the lower court, Orza will assemble a team of attorneys to file a writ of certiorari before the Supreme Court, likely positioning the nine U.S. justices to intervene after determining that the matter is of national importance.

Yankees Acquire Princeton Grad in Johnson Deal

The Diamondbacks drew the line when Yankees GM Brian Cashman asked for prized pitching prospects Dustin Nippert and Micah Owens in exchange for aging ace Randy Johnson. But Cashman was mollified to acquire as part of the deal 6-foot-4, 230-pound Ross Ohlendorf, a brainy, right-handed, 24-year-old Princeton grad with a mid-90s fastball who strikes out a batter an inning. Ohlendorf went 10-8 with a 3.25 ERA at AA Tennessee last season and is the setpiece of the deal.

Cashman also dumped $14 million of Johnson's annual pay, helping clear the budget to sign free agent Roger Clemens, whom Ohlendorf theoretically could replace in the rotation if and when Clemens retires after 2007.

Johnson, meanwhile, at 43 is coming off back surgery in October and may not be ready to pitch by spring. Grieved by the death of his brother last month, Johnson was in a state of mind that placed a premium on increased family time. He pushed Cashman for a return to Phoenix, where he resides just eight miles from the ballpark.