Some wild rumors out of the Windy City, apparently unrelated to the team’s search for a first baseman, have the Cubs shopping Greg Maddux, who has emerged as an early-season candidate for Cy Young honors. There are several contenders supposedly interested in "Mad Dog," including both the Mets and Yankees, the slow-starting Phillies, and the Central Division favorites, the Cardinals. While it’s true that trading a player at the peak of his value is usually a smart strategy, I don’t believe this set of rumors regarding Maddux. Playing in a very mediocre National League Central, the Cubs have played well enough to indicate they have a chance of staying in contention this summer. Buttressed by a vastly improved bullpen, those chances will only get better if either Kerry Wood or Mark Prior can return to health and make 20 to 25 starts. As with the A’s and Barry Zito, it simply doesn’t make sense for contending teams to trade quality veteran pitching for future commodities…
The Mets’ signing of journeyman outfielder Michael Tucker doesn’t bode well for the future of Jose Valentin. Once Tucker finds his batting stroke at Triple-A Norfolk, he’ll likely be called up to Queens to play a role as a left-handed pinch-hitter and backup outfielder. Unless an injury creates roster space, Tucker will take the roster place of Valentin, who has looked overmatched (and over-the-hill) in limited duty with the Mets…
Former Met Edgardo Alfonzo could be looking for another team shortly. Unhappy with a lack of playing time, Alfonzo says the Angels have not fulfilled their promise to allow him to compete for the team’s third base job. (Alfonzo may be using Tony Womack’s playbook here. Womack recently expressed discontent with his playing time in Cincinnati, which resulted in him being designated for assignment.) Unfortunately, Alfonzo’s $7 million salary makes him extremely difficult—if not entirely impossible—to trade. As Steve Treder of The Hardball Times recently pointed out, Alfonzo is probably older than he says, which might partially explain his rapid decline over the past half-decade. To make matters worse, few contending teams are currently searching for help at the hot corner. The Phillies, who are fed up with David Bell’s lack of hitting, might be willing to take a flyer on Alfonzo, but they’d probably want the Angels to take back Bell’s salary. In other words, I’ll give you my flat tire for your busted radiator…
Another unhappy player can be found in Oakland, where Jay Payton wants to play left field every day and wants a chance at accumulating 500 at-bats. With the team off to a surprisingly slow start, the A’s may accommodate him. The A’s might find trading partners in Atlanta, where the Braves are concerned by Jeff Francouer’s unwillingness to draw walks, or in St. Louis, where the Cardinals are searching for Reggie Sanders’ fulltime replacement…
Finally, the Red Sox are still hunting for a backup catcher who can handle Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball. Josh Bard has committed 10 passed balls in less than a month, compared to the grand total of six allowed by Doug Mirabelli all of last season. The problem the Red Sox face is this: there are so few knuckleballers around these days that very few catchers have any experience handling the pitch that Billy Martin used to hate so passionately. And the Red Sox can’t assume that a catcher with a good defensive reputation will be able to catch the knuckleball; after all, Jason Varitek is an excellent receiver who simply can’t handle the unpredictable nature of the pitch. The Red Sox may end up talking to the Rangers about Rod Barajas, who caught R.A. Dickey during the spring and in his lone regular season start. Another possible trade partner for the Red Sox could be the Brewers, where Damian Miller and Chad Moeller have had some experience working with journeyman Jared Fernandez.
Thirty years ago to the day, baseball met the Bicentennial head on. It became one of the most memorable events in the sport’s history, marking a collision between patriotism and the National Pastime.
In 1976, the United States celebrated its Bicentennial with a number of carefully planned ceremonial events throughout the spring and summer, highlighted by the much-publicized parade of Bicentennial ships that made their way into the New York Harbor. Yet, it was an unexpected and unrehearsed event on April 25, 1976, that stirred the patriotic feelings of many Americans searching for something positive to believe in after the bitterness of the Vietnam War and the scandal of Watergate.
On that late April afternoon, the Dodgers hosted the Cubs at Chavez Ravine—100 years to the day after the Chicago franchise played its first game ever. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Dodgers second baseman Ted Sizemore stood in the batter’s box awaiting the next delivery of Cubs left-hander Ken Crosby. Without warning, a man and his 11-year old son jumped out of the left-field stands and raced toward left-center field, stopping only after running past Cubs left fielder Jose Cardenal.
Initially, Cardenal though the fans were merely typical pranksters who had interrupted the game in an effort to fulfill a cheap thrill—or perhaps to gain some "television time." A few moments later, Cardenal realized that a "situation" was developing. He saw the two intruders spreading an American flag onto the outfield grass.
In the meantime, Cubs center fielder Rick Monday noticed something else about the two interlopers. He realized that the man and boy possessed a can of lighter fluid and some matches, and were preparing to set the flag on fire. Monday then bolted into a full sprint. Putting his glove into his left hand, Monday approached the two intruders, who were kneeling on the ground and had managed to stir up a momentary flame, only to see it flicker and die almost immediately. Just as the two readied the flag for full ignition, Monday bent over and scooped up the flag with his right hand and began running toward the infield. The man hurled the can of lighter fluid at Monday, but the Cubs’ center fielder continued to run toward the home team dugout, where he handed the flag to Dodgers pitcher Doug Rau.
As Dodger Stadium security led the two protesters off the field, the crowd of 25,167 fans collectively booed the protesters. Shortly thereafter, the boos changed almost instantly to cheers, as the fans thanked Monday with a rousing ovation. In one fell swoop, Monday’s dash had succeeded in mobilizing feelings of patriotism in the arena of the country’s National Pastime.
Shortly after Monday snatched the flag, the Dodger Stadium message board flashed the following thankful words: "Rick Monday…You Made A Great Play." The appreciation continued the following inning, when Monday came to bat. Taking his place in the batter’s box in the top of the fifth, Monday received another standing ovation from the Dodger Stadium faithful. No one realized it at the time, but Monday would soon become a fixture at Dodger Stadium; after the ’76 season, the Dodgers would trade for Monday, who would play eight seasons in Los Angeles before calling it quits in 1984. (Today, at the age of 60, Monday does color commentary for the Dodgers, for whom he has been employed since retirement, save for a four-year stint as an announcer with the San Diego Padres.)
After the game, Monday replayed his thought process for the media, recounting his reactions to seeing the protesters on the playing field. "I saw the clowns come on the field," said Monday, not mincing his words, "and I thought they were out there just to prance around. But they began spreading out this flag like it was a picnic blanket." At first, Monday considered running over the intruders with the sheer force of his body, but when he saw them holding lighter fluid, he decided to make a grab for the flag instead. "I don’t know what I was thinking running at them," Monday told The Sporting News years later. "All I know, then and now, is what I was witnessing them attempting to do was wrong, as far as my upbringing."
The day after the incident, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley asked Monday to serve as Grand Marshall for the city’s "Annual Salute to the American Flag" parade, which was scheduled for June 12. On the same day, the Illinois House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution declaring May 4 to be "Rick Monday Day" throughout the state.
Baseball also made plans to honor Monday. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn awarded Monday with an official commendation, and the Cubs held their own "Rick Monday Day" at Wrigley Field. During the ceremony, Monday received the actual flag he had rescued from the protesters, thanks in part to the efforts of Dodgers vice president and general manager Al Campanis, who extracted the flag (legally, I might add) from the LAPD evidence room. Monday still has the flag today, displaying it in the den of his home in Vero Beach, Florida.
Honors for Monday continued to pour in throughout the remainder of the 1976 season. Commendations came from the Washington, D.C., where President Gerald Ford wired Monday a congratulatory note and former President Richard Nixon expressed his thanks in a formal letter. Ford wrote the following in his note: "Your actions in Los Angeles made Sunday, April 25, an even more special day for every patriotic American. We are inspired by the respect you have shown and proud of the good you have done."
Monday patiently handled the barrage of media attention that accompanied the many methods of congratulation. He also offered some insight into his thoughts on flag-burning, which had not yet become a hot-button issue on the nation’s political agenda. "If you’re going to burn the flag, don’t do it in front of me," said Monday, a veteran of six years in the Marine Reserves. "I’ve been to too many veterans’ hospitals and seen too many broken bodies of guys who tried to protect it." During his early major league days with the Kansas City and Oakland A’s, with the country in the midst of the Vietnam War, Monday had visited a veterans’ hospital for the first time.
By June of 1976, Monday had received thousands of letters from fans and dignitaries expressing their appreciation for his actions. "It’s refreshing to find out how many people love their flag," said Monday, who expressed no sympathy for the adult protester who had led the charge onto the playing field in Los Angeles. "I don’t know what those clowns were trying to demonstrate and frankly I don’t care. All I know is if they don’t like it here, there’s nobody standing there at the border telling them they can’t leave. Take a hike."
Aside from public ridicule, the older of the two protesters incurred some legal punishment. Thirty seven-year-old William Errol Thomas, an unemployed man from Eldon, Missouri, was fined $60 for trespassing and placed on probation for a year. No formal charges were placed against the boy, who was treated as a juvenile offender.
While most diehard baseball fans remember Monday for his pennant-winning home run in the 1981 playoffs or for his standing as the first player taken in major league baseball’s first amateur draft in 1965, casual observers are more likely to recall Monday as "the guy who saved the flag." That may not be a fully fitting legacy for a quality major league outfielder who played 19 seasons and hit 241 career home runs, but it ensures that Monday will be long remembered in Bicentennial lore.
Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield has absorbed a lot of heat for his decision to release Chris Shelton, who has made himself an unlikely early-season candidate for Triple Crown honors. Yet, another Littlefield castoff has also emerged as a spring sensation, albeit without the fanfare of Shelton. Ty Wigginton, who was released by the Pirates last December, has hit eight home runs for the Devil Rays, as he battles Jonny Gomes for the team lead and Shelton for the league lead in the all-important power category. Wigginton has emerged as Tampa Bay’s regular third baseman, giving them acceptable defense at the hot corner, while also giving manager Joe Madden a flexible backup to Jorge Cantu at second base and Travis Lee at first base.
Originally acquired from the Mets as part of the trade package for Kris Benson, Wigginton upset the Pirates with his attitude last summer. After struggling to hit as the team’s regular third baseman, the Bucs benched him, a move that upset Wigginton, whose attitude turned sour as a utility man. During the offseason, the Pirates released Wigginton to make room for free agent signing Joe "The Joker" Randa, who is now Pittsburgh’s starting third baseman.
Who would Pirates fans rather have now, the aging Randa or the still youthful—and productive—Wigginton? Pirates management would probably argue that Wigginton left them no choice, but it doesn’t look good when a player you released has hit eight home runs before April has come and gone. If Wigginton keeps up the production for the Devil Rays, he’s liable to become as popular as Ty Pennington—at least in Tampa Bay. And that’s only going to make Dave Littlefield even less popular in Pittsburgh.
And here is this week’s trivia question on the 1971 Pirates, who are the subject of my new book, The Team That Changed Baseball. Which member of the ’71 Pirates sang the National Anthem during the 1973 World Series?
The Cubs will put up a brave public front and claim that they can patch their newfound first base hole by using an amalgam of converted second baseman Todd Walker, backup John Mabry, and minor league recall Michael Restovich, but they know realistically that they need to make a move for a corner infielder with power. Triple-A first baseman Brandon Sing is not an option at this point; he’s off to a slow start in Iowa and would also require clearance on the 40-man roster. Even with Derrek Lee in the lineup, the Cubs had a questionable offense; without him, it becomes downright putrid. Expect the Cubs to talk to the Pirates about Craig Wilson, who is still available despite Sean Casey’s back injury. Jim Hendry will also talk to the Blue Jays about Shea Hillenbrand, who’s not happy about his sporadic playing time in Toronto. The Cubs also might approach the Rangers about Phil Nevin, who has hit for power in the early weeks of the season. Wilson, Hillenbrand, and Nevin are also versatile enough to play other positions, which would make them useful to the Cubs when Lee returns from a fractured risk in eight to ten weeks… The Angels have begun efforts to clear space on their roster for top second base prospect Howie Kendrick, who’s as close to a “can’t miss” proposition as you can find in baseball. With Kendrick smoking opposing pitchers in the Pacific Coast League, the Angels have considered the possibility of releasing Edgardo Alfonzo, whose back problems prevented him from becoming the star the Mets had once foreseen. The Angels have also started to shop light-hitting backup infielder Maicer Izturis, whose smooth fielding may make him attractive to other clubs. Two teams that may be interested in Izturis? The Cardinals, who are not satisfied with their current merry-go-round of second basemen, and the Mets, who are concerned about the bulging disk in Anderson Hernandez’ back, will likely talk to the Angels about Izturis. The 22-year-old Hernandez gave the Mets little reason for confidence in a speedy return when he told Mets beat reporters that he was not a “quick healer.” Wonderful… The Red Sox are probably regretting their decision not to trade David Wells over the winter. Wells is now saying that he will retire if the pain in his right knee does not get better, or if doctors determine that he could do serious damage to the knee if he continues to pitch. The Red Sox wanted to wait and see about Wells’ trade value, hoping that it would increase after he returned from knee surgery, but “Boomer” never proved himself healthy. Now it appears that they’ll receive nothing in return for Wells—other than an official retirement notice.
Happy Birthday, MLBlogs!
In honor of the first birthday of weblogs here at MLB.com, we present this cascade of news and notes from around the major leagues…
The Yankees announced two player moves over the weekend that hardly created a splash of ink in the New York City newspapers. Well, those papers may have missed an important developing story because those players could be playing key roles in the Bronx very soon.
In signing former Tigers first baseman Carlos Pena and onetime Devil Rays reliever Jesus Colome, the Yankees announced that both players would begin workouts at the team’s minor league facility in Tampa before being assigned to Triple-A Columbus. The Yankees didn’t lay out the next step for the two players, but the plan is to eventually bring both of them to the Bronx. In some ways, they could become this year’s version of Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang.
Let’s take Pena first. Jason Giambi’s continued deterioration as a defensive player has convinced the Yankee brass that he can no longer be relied upon to play 130 to 140 games at first base. Giambi will move to DH, clearing space for Pena to platoon at first base with either Miguel Cairo or Andy Phillips. An above average defender who looks stylish in the field, Pena will represent a major upgrade over Giambi. And the Yankees hope that Pena, an overall disappointment in Detroit, can replicate his power from 2005, when he hit 18 home runs in only 260 at-bats, for a ratio of one home run every 14 at-bats. If so, Pena could become a Jim Spencer/Oscar Gamble type of role player for Joe Torre.
When healthy, Colome is capable of reaching 98 miles per hour on the radar gun, putting him in the same lofty territory as Kyle Farnsworth. While with Tampa Bay, some observers debated whether Colome was healthy, given a drop in velocity and worries about a tired arm. If Colome’s problems were merely just a dead-arm phase and he can regain his power fastball at Columbus, the Yankees will take a look at him as part of their ever-changing bullpen, which they continue to remake with power arms. That would put the inconsistent Tanyon Sturtze, who hasn’t been able to repeat the six-week stretch of success that he had two years ago, in jeopardy of losing his roster spot. The Yankees might end up trading Sturtze, or failing that, might just release him and pay off the balance of his $1 million salary…
Just how unpopular has Jorge Julio become with Mets fans in only two weeks time? On Saturday, some angry fans at Shea Stadium serenaded the struggling middle reliever with chants of "We Want Benson," an obvious reference to the former Mets’ right-hander who was traded to Baltimore in exchange for Julio. That chant says loads about the level of discontent with the trade, given that Kris Benson was hardly a fan favorite during his season and a half in Queens. Yes, it almost makes Mets fans long for the days of Anna Benson and her big city escapades. Still, as badly as Lugo has pitched, the Mets would be foolish to release him this early in the season, as some have suggested. He has talent (a fastball in the low 90s) and youth (he’s only 27) on his side…
Problems with Julio aside, the Mets have shown few weaknesses in compiling the major leagues’ best record over the first two weeks of the season. The pitching and hitting have overshadowed the work of a much improved defense, which has undergone serious upgrades at catcher and second base with the additions of Paul Lo Duca and Anderson Hernandez, respectively. David Wright also seems to have settled down defensively at third base, shoring up what has been the only flaw in his otherwise all-around game…
The debate in Boston has just begun. While the Red Sox are playing terrific early season ball in their quest to return to the World Series, fans and media are arguing over the best way to use heat-seeking right-hander Jonathan Papelbon. Equipped with a 96 mile-per-hour fastball and the poise of an accomplished veteran, Papelbon is six-for-six in save situations and has completely shut down the opposition in the ninth inning. Yet, some writers think the Red Sox would be better served using the talented right-hander in the starting rotation, assuming that Keith Foulke can locate his 2004 form and reestablish himself as a dominant closer. That’s a big assumption, though. Foulke has struggled to regain his upper 80s fastball, a pitch that provides some much needed contrast to his potentially devastating change-up.
They are calling it The Disappearance of Keith Hernandez. The former Mets’ first baseman and current lead color announcer for the Mets’ highly publicized new network, Sportsnet New York (SNY), has not been seen or heard on a Mets broadcast since early last week. Similarly, no on-air mention or explanation for his absence has been made by the network’s current broadcast duo of Gary Cohen and Ron Darling. That has led to speculation that Hernandez has been either suspended or fired by SNY, apparently for remarks that were deemed critical of former Met and future Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza.
Just prior to his absence on the team’s broadcasts, Hernandez made a point of praising the Mets’ new No. 1 catcher, Paul Lo Duca, for making a fine defensive play. Hernandez added, and I’m paraphrasing here, that "it’s been awhile since the Mets had someone capable of doing that catcher." The remark was clearly a swipe at Piazza, who for all of his heavyweight hitting abilities had deteriorated into a gross defensive liability behind the plate. Piazza’s pitch-calling, plate-blocking abilities, and throwing arm had all come under severe criticism in recent years in New York.
If Hernandez was indeed fined or suspended for making the comment (and hopefully we’ll find out soon exactly what’s going on), I have to say I’m a bit surprised. Hernandez’ remark seemed like it was intended to be more praiseworthy of LoDuca than it was meant to be derogatory of Piazza. The comment was hardly scathing, and even if it were, it was an accurate assessment of an aging catcher whose defensive play had become a running joke among major league scouts. Besides, Piazza doesn’t even play for the Mets. Why would the Mets’ owners or the network’s executives care so much about negative remarks aimed at a former Mets player? What’s next, a moratorium on all critical comments about Cleon Jones?
Whatever the reason, the mysterious disappearance of Keith Hernandez continues.
It’s time now for this week’s trivia question about the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, the subject of my new book, The Team That Changed Baseball, due out in May. The first person to post the correct answer wins two 1972 Topps Pirates baseball cards. Here it is:
Which 1971 Pirate was born in Utica, New York, located just 40 miles from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown?
Nothing will happen until we get close to the July 31st trading deadline, but it’s not too early to take the "D-Train" to the land of rumors, where Dontrelle Willis can be found at the nearest market. There appear to be four teams that have jumped to the top of the want list—the Braves, Cubs, Red Sox, and Yankees. As the best pitcher who will realistically become available in this summer’s swap meet, Willis will command a two to three-player package featuring one of those organizations’ No. 1 prospects… Whispers out of Boston indicate the Red Sox have already begun formulating a return gift box for Willis that would include two of their top minor leaguers, both of whom are in Triple-A: left-hander Jon Lester and middle infielder Dustin Pedroia, both of whom are on the cusp of major league readiness. Such a trade would give the Sox a double-play combination made up of onetime Red Sox minor leaguers, with Pedroia at second and Rookie of the Year candidate Hanley Ramirez at shortstop… The Marlins will almost certainly ask the Yankees for hard-throwing right-hander Phillip Hughes, but it’s debatable whether New York will pay that price. Some members of the Yankees’ front office think Hughes could help the Yankees by August or September, which would make the acquisition of someone like Willis a non-necessity… As for the Cubs, they both have top-notch prospects who would be highly attractive to Florida. The Cubs can headline a package with young center fielder Felix Pie, while the Braves might be willing to do the same with switch-hitting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, assuming that their starting rotation continues to do an early-season breakdown…
After initially showing little interest in him because of a perceived attitude problem, the Yankees have switched gears on the unemployed Carlos Pena, who was let go by the Tigers toward the end of spring training. Concerned by Jason Giambi’s continued regression at first base and seemingly convinced that Andy Phillips can’t play every day, Joe Torre has told Brian Cashman to go full boar in trying to sign Pena. The lefty-swinging Pena would platoon with Phillips at first base, while Giambi would collect most of his at-bats as a DH. That would render Bernie Williams a bench player, which is the role he should fill in what may be his last season before retirement… Torre has done a complete 360 on Giambi only 10 days into the season. During the final week of spring training, Torre said he hoped that Giambi could play 140 games at first base this season. That plan may meet a similar fate as the plan to turn second base over to Tony Womack…
We haven’t reached the middle of April, but that fact hasn’t prevented the first round of rumors regarding a possible managerial firing. Phillies fans, whose patience with an underachieving team has become fully exhausted, are clamoring for general manager Pat Gillick to part ways with Charlie Manuel. The Phillies would probably turn to someone within the organization, but it wouldn’t be that far-fetched for Gillick to look into the possibility of hiring Lou Piniella. Although most insiders believe Piniella will sit out this season before returning to someone’s dugout in 2006, keep in mind that Piniella worked under Gillick for part of his successful tenure in Seattle. Piniella’s temperament might be too close to that of Larry Bowa for the liking of some Phillies players, but his achievements in Seattle and Cincinnati would give him instant street credibility in Philadelphia.
It is the kind of story that makes baseball so appealing to the common man, giving us hope that perseverance can pay off. During the offseason, the Atlanta Braves extended a spring training non-roster invitation to minor league veteran Ken Ray, who hadn’t pitched in the major leagues since 1999. The Braves had no real plans for Ray; they merely wanted him to serve as spring training "filler," able to pitch some innings during the month-long exhibition season.
Ray gave the Braves much more than filler. Equipped with an above-average fastball and a highly effective change-up, the obscure right-hander proved so impressive in Grapefruit League play that the Braves included him on their Opening Day roster. And with Atlanta’s starting pitching struggling so mightily over the first week of the season, the Braves gave him three chances to pitch in games against the Dodgers and Giants. Ray pitched scoreless baseball in each of those games, and then added another shutout performance in a Monday night relief stint against the Phillies.
It’s been seven years since Ray made his major league debut, when he pitched poorly in 13 relief appearances for the Kansas City Royals. He’s now 31—putting him well past the age limit for what might be called a "prospect." But with the newfound poise and maturity he displayed over the first few days of the new season, and with a place on a team crying for help out of the bullpen, Ray might just be able to call himself something else in the coming weeks—and that’s a "closer."
And that would make this appealing story just a little bit better.
Most authors eagerly anticipate the first reviews of their books, in much the way that young children nervously act as they prepare to open up their first presents on Christmas morning. In some cases, the anticipation turns to horror, as they realize the first review is something akin to the kind of Christmas gift that younger kids dread–clothes. Thankfully, that was not the case for me as I read the first review of The Team That Changed Baseball, which will be released to the general public in early May. Allen Barra, a respected writer for the New York Sun (a daily newspaper in the city), had some nice things to say about The Team That Changed Baseball in his preview of this season’s baseball books.
With the first review safely tucked away, it’s time for this week’s trivia question regarding the 1971 Pirates. The first person to post the correct answer wins a pair of Pirates cards from the 1972 Topps set. Here’s the question:
What was the nickname of 1971 Pirate Al Oliver?
The trade rumor involving Barry Zito, Lastings Milledge, and Brian Bannister didn’t have much life to begin with; it was given complete rest when Mets GM Omar Minaya told reporters that he had no interest in trading his top prospect for the Oakland left-hander. It was a rumor that really seemed to make little sense for either team, given Minaya’s desire to retain Milledge and Oakland’s standing as a legitimate title contender. If the A’s were to surprisingly fall out of the AL West race by July, then Billy Beane might have cause to trade his No. 2 starter for a package of prospects. But with the A’s cast as favorites to win the West, and with a stronghold of pitching and defense that could send them deep into the postseason, they’d be foolish to surrender their best left-handed pitcher without receiving some major league-ready help in return…
When the Phillies acquired David Dellucci from the Rangers last weekend, reporters asked if the deal might be a precursor to a larger trade involving one of his other outfielders. Gillick said no, temporarily putting to rest thoughts of a Bobby Abreu blockbuster that might bring in a third baseman and/or some pitching. Although I’ve actually not heard a specific rumor, I wonder if the Orioles might offer a package headlined by the underrated Melvin Mora, whose contract runs out at the end of the season…
In an era when most major league teams are carrying two catchers, the Yankees now have an eye-popping four after claiming switch-hitting Koyie Hill on waivers from the Diamondbacks. The Yankees snatched Hill for two reasons: they have an organizational dearth of catching and also wanted to block the Red Sox, who are looking for a backup catcher capable of handling Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball, from putting in a claim. The four-catcher arrangement won’t last too long in New York, however. The Yankees are expected to cut Wil Nieves, whom they hope can clear waivers so that he can be sent to Triple-A Columbus…
Teams looking for middle infield help might be wise to give Indians GM Mark Shapiro a call about Brandon Phillips. At one time the franchise’s top prospect, Phillips proved a disappointment and found himself buried behind Ronnie Belliard and Jhonny Peralta on the organizational depth chart. Last weekend, the Indians designated Phillips for assignment, essentially dooming his future in the organization. While Phillips will never become the All-Star player that talent evaluators once predicted, he has speed and power and can play either second base or shortstop, making him attractive as a backup infielder. And even though Phillips has seemingly been a prospect for years now, he’s still only 24. For teams like the Cubs, Mets, or Cardinals—all of whom could use help at either second base or shortstop—he’d be worth a mid to low-level prospect in a trade.