Results tagged ‘ Spring Training ’
On the cusp of Monday’s traditional Opening Day fare, major
league teams have completed the process of paring down their rosters to the
requisite 25 men. Let’s take a tour of both leagues as we spotlight some of the
intriguing names who made Opening Day rosters–and some of those who didn’t:
In somewhat of a surprising move, the Braves sent utility outfielder Gregor
Blanco to their new Triple-A affiliate at Gwinnett. By clearing out Blanco, who
did well reaching base in 2008, the Braves made room for hotshot rookie Jordan
Schaefer, who responded by hitting a home run in his first major league at-bat
Former D-Back Micah Owings pitched well this spring, beating out Homer Bailey
in the battle for the fifth spot in Dusty Baker’s rotation. If Baker is smart,
he’ll use Owings as a pinch-hitter on the four days that he’s not scheduled to
start as part of Cincinnati’s
powerhouse rotation. The Reds also reassigned ex-Ray Jonny Gomes to their minor
league camp. Considering the Reds’ search for a left fielder with some pop this
spring, it’s a sad commentary on the state of Gomes’ once-promising career.
NY Mets: Rather than cut an extra outfielder to make room
for Gary Sheffield, the Mets will carry a startling seven flychasers on their
Opening Day roster, including Jeremy Reed and Marlon Anderson. With so many
outfielders available to Jerry Manuel, the Mets will carry 11 (instead of 12)
pitchers when they open the new season in Cincinnati.
The Padres, who will contend for baseball’s worst record this summer, added
ex-Met Duaner Sanchez and former Mexican League standout Walter Silva to their Opening
Day roster. Sanchez and Silva are two of the few pitchers of any name
recognition in San Diego,
outside of closer Heath Bell and Jake Peavy and Chris Young. Don’t expect Peavy
to last the season in Southern California,
with trade winds likely to swirl from day one.
Don’t be shocked when you see Bengie Molina listed as the only catcher on
Frisco’s Opening Day roster. In a move that is either innovative and daring, or
remarkably foolhardy, the Giants will not carry a fulltime backup catcher. Instead
they’ll use Pablo Sandoval, who happens to be their starting third baseman, in
that role. I can’t remember the last time a major league team tried using one
of their lineup regulars as a backup catcher, but the Giants will give this
Frankenstein-like experiment a whirl–at least in the early going.
Opting to carry a third catcher, the Nationals have signed Josh Bard to a major
league contract. He’ll back up Jesus Flores and Wil Nieves, but could move past
Nieves on the depth chart very soon.
The Orioles released utility infielder Chris Gomez, a mildly surprising move
given his ability to hit .260ish and play all four infield spots. He’ll
probably find work somewhere else. The Orioles also added Chad Moeller to their
Opening Day roster, giving Gregg Zaun a backup until super-prospect Matt
Wieters is deemed ready for Camden Yards delivery.
Josh Barfield made the Indians’ roster, continuing what has been one of the
spring’s nicest comebacks. At one time a top-flight rookie with the Padres, the
son of former major leaguer Jesse Barfield saw his career hit a wall in Cleveland. Rather than
pout over his fall from grace, Barfield did what a lot of other young players
should do: he made himself versatile, learning to play third base and the
outfield. The result? His new-made flexibility has earned him an important spot
on Eric Wedge’s bench.
The Twins added minor league veteran R.A. Dickey to the major league squad. He
becomes just the second current knuckleballer in the major leagues, joining Boston’s ageless Tim
NY Yankees: Rather than allow themselves to be fooled by
Angel Berroa’s .380 batting average this spring, the Yankees made the smart
move in choosing prospect Ramiro Pena as their new utility infielder. Pena’s bat
remains a question mark, but his Ozzie Smith-like movements at shortstop and
his superior speed to Berroa will make him a better utility infielder than his
veteran counterpart. Berroa will begin the season at Triple-A Scranton.
Mike Sweeney’s career lives on. The former Royal slugger made the Mariners’
roster, where he’ll probably do some DHing against left-handed pitching. That
is if his chronically bad back will hold up.
After a slow start to the spring, Andruw Jones’ bat warmed up sufficiently to
impress the Rangers’ brass. He’ll be a backup to Josh Hamilton in center and
Nelson Cruz in right field, while possibly taking some DH at-bats against
lefties. The Rangers are hoping that the influence of batting coach Rudy
Jaramillo will enable Jones to regain at least some of his former All-Star
There are those who believe that spring training performance
is too misleading to be useful in determining who should win spots on an
Opening Day roster. I would tend to agree with that, at least in the case of established
veteran players, but the Grapefruit and Cactus League seasons can be helpful in sorting out the best
and worst among younger players.
The 2009 Yankees provide a classic case in point. On Sunday,
Joe Girardi announced that Brett Gardner had won the center field battle, with
Melky Cabrera relegated to backup duties. Gardner
hit a leadoff home run in the Yankees’ first exhibition game this spring–and
has continued to hit all spring, even with surprising power. Cabrera, after a
slow start, has rebounded to lift his average into the .340 range, which is
very good, but still short of Gardner’s
In my mind, Girardi has made a perfectly reasonable and
rational decision in choosing Gardner.
Both players have their strengths, Gardner
his speed and range, and Cabrera his throwing arm, but neither has a huge edge
in talent over the other. Both are younger players still trying to establish
their levels of value in the major leaguers. Neither player hit well in 2008,
leaving question marks about their staying power as regular center fielders. If
Girardi can’t use spring training as a major factor, then what else can he rely
on? Tarot cards?
I believe that the pressure of spring training performance
can also tell us something about a player. If a player knows he has to hit well
in the spring in order to win a job, and then he goes out and does exactly
that, it may be an indication that he can handle the pressure that comes with
the major leagues. Similarly, I believe that competition should bring out the
best in good players. And based on the way that both Gardner and Cabrera have
responded to this spring’s competition, the Yankees may find center field to be
in far more capable hands than they originally planned…
The Mets nearly made a puzzling trade with the Tigers last
week. GM Omar Minaya was prepared to send reliever Brian Stokes to Detroit for
infielder-outfielder Ryan Raburn, but backed out after watching Stokes continue
to throw spring training smoke. I’m not sure why Minaya considered this trade
in the first place. Raburn is versatile–he can play third base, second base,
and all three outfield spots–and did slug .507 two years ago, but he slumped
badly in 2008 and basically duplicates Fernando Tatis as a super utilityman.
Raburn, 27, is really not the answer to the Mets’ second base problems either.
Second base is one of his worst positions defensively; he’s committed seven
errors in 37 career games playing the pivot.
The Mets are better off with the live-armed Stokes. Minaya
has done a good job of collecting hard-throwing right-handers, including
veterans Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz and phenom right-hander Bobby
Parnell. Stokes is a good supplement to that collection, someone capable of
giving the Mets a quality inning or two, especially on days when Livan
Hernandez is scheduled to start or Oliver Perez is doing the moonwalk. So let’s
put this one in the familiar category of “The best trades are the ones you
Speaking of categories, let’s put the following in the file
of the “strange and bizarre.” On Sunday, with the Orioles and Mets waiting out
a first-inning rain delay, Baltimore Assuming that Angel’s story is
true, I hope the Orioles call the radio station “decision-maker” on the carpet
for this one. He or she deserves to be publicly embarrassed for leaving the
broadcasters, the fans, and the listeners out to soak in the proverbial rain. Announcers Joe Angel and Fred Manfra, working the game on the team’s flagship
station, signed off and left the ballpark. The rains eventually stopped,
allowing the O’s and Mets to resume play, but the broadcast did not. Onlookers
immediately blamed Angel and Manfra for being lazy and impatient, but that may
not be the correct story. On Monday, Angel provided his version, explaining
that radio station management made the decision to pull the plug on the
broadcast in the midst of the rain delay. Angel says that he and Manfra wanted
to wait out the rain and call the game–it’s their job, after all–but radio
station “decision-makers” opted for Plan B. I tend to believe Angel, who is one
of the more professional play-by-play men in the game. I’ve worked for station
managers who treated broadcasts of games as “optional” programming, rather than
regular programming that is contractually bound–and that fans have every right
What a wonderful surprise to turn on the TV at about 7:30 on Wednesday evening and find a live baseball game being played between the Red Sox and Twins! Not only does the spring training broadcast signify the start of the exhibition season, but also the coming of age of the new MLB Network. The 24-hour baseball channel has picked up a large volume of steam since last Friday, when it unveiled its “30 Teams in 30 Days” series, consisting of comprehensive hour-long previews of each major league club. Then the MLB Network rolled out a fresh set of old-time games over the weekend, including Tom Seaver’s 300th win from 1985, Carlton Fisk’s triumphant 1981 return to Fenway Park, and Gaylord Perry’s 300th victory from 1982.
With the Grapefruit and Cactus League seasons kicking off on Wednesday, the MLB Network now has a real opportunity to shine. By providing local broadcasts of a variety of spring games, beginning with the Boston feed of the Red Sox-Twins matchup from Ft. Myers, the network has brought back terrific memories from the early 1980s. That’s when our local cable outfit in Yonkers used to air local broadcasts of the Braves (on SuperStation WTBS), the Red Sox (on Boston’s WSBK), the Cubs and White Sox (WGN), and the Pirates. By airing an array of exhibition games this spring, the MLB Network will not only show us a similarly wide range of teams, but also give us the local flavor of the hometown cable broadcasts. And that’s going to make this one of the more enjoyable spring trainings, even if I’m stranded in 20-degree Cooperstown…
The decline and fall of onetime premier prospect Andy Marte has reached stunning proportions. After being designated for assignment by the Indians earlier this spring, Marte cleared waivers on Wednesday, passed over by the 29 other clubs. Not even teams in need of an upgrade at third base–the A’s, Astros, and Giants come to mind–decided to put in a claim for Marte. That’s a shocking development, given that Marte is still only 25 and has ample talent. Only four years ago, Marte was generally regarded as one of the top ten prospects in the game, a complete package of power and fielding prowess at the hot corner. So what happened? Some scouts believe that Marte’s swing is too long, making him susceptible to any pitcher with an above-average fastball. Unless Marte can undergo a major overhaul of his hitting mechanics, he may be destined for a long career in Triple-A…
It will only be a matter of days before the Nationals officially fire general manager Jim Bowden, who has been implicated in a scandal involving the skimming of bonus money that was intended for a number of Dominican prospects. The developing scandal has already resulted in the dismissal of Jose Rijo, the former Reds’ ace who had become one of Bowden’s advisors. Even prior to the scandal, Bowden’s record as a GM has been mediocre to poor; his resume received another blow this spring when the Nats discovered that prospect Esmailyn “Smiley” Gonzalez had lied about his name, identity, and age (he’s four years older than what he told the Nats). In his 15 years as the prime decision maker for the Nationals and Reds, Bowden has overseen 11 losing seasons. Even with the off-season signing of Adam Dunn and recent trades that brought in multi-tiered talents like Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes, the Nats look like the “favorites” to finish last in the National League East. They have virtually no starting pitching, a paper-thin bullpen, a middle infield of journeymen, and a full supply of questionable attitudes in Dukes, Milledge, and Wily Mo Pena. What a mess.
Hey, it’s a new look at MLBlogs, so let’s hit the ground running with an in-depth post about the most recent trade and waiver wire rumors. On the eve of baseball’s true Opening Day, here is the latest scuttlebutt…
In reality, few trades of any substance are made during spring training. This year has been no different. There were two trades made this week, but both involved back-of-the-roster pitchers lacking in brand names, former D-Back Dustin Nippert and ex-Brave Tyler Yates. The Rangers are hoping that Nippert can contribute to their bullpen depth before eventually moving into the rotation, while the Pirates would like Yates to emerge as a prime set up man to Matt Capps. In both cases, the Rangers and Pirates gave up little, so their gambles are reasonable ones. Yates, in particular, has the kind of live arm that could catch lightning in a bottle for the sad-sack Bucs…
While there figures to be little trading between now and tomorrow’s openers, there has been plenty of roster shapeshifting as teams try to lower their rosters to the 25-man limit. Along these lines, we might continue to see some players hit the waiver wire, while others will be claimed from that same place that occupies baseball limbo. So let’s takes a look at what has happened–and what might still be to come…
To say the least, the sage of Ruben Gotay has been bewildering. For some reason, the Mets decided to waive the valuable switch-hitting infielder, who was one of their best second-half hitters in 2007. Given Gotay’s youth (he’s only 25), smooth swing from the left side, and ability to fill in at third base, no one expected him to clear waivers. He didn’t, but then again, few would have predicted that the Braves would have placed a claim, especially with Kelly Johnson entrenched at second base and Chipper Jones still manning third. Several other teams, picking before the Braves, decided to pass on Gotay. They include the Dodgers, who need infield depth, and the Pirates, who will be opening the new season with waiver wire material like Luis Rivas at second base. Go figure…
The release of Gotay has cleared the way for Fernando Tatis to make the Mets’ roster as a backup first baseman, third baseman, and outfielder. Given their resources, one wonders if that is the best the Mets could have done. Matt Murton, who is even more available than usual these days after the signing of Reed Johnson, would make a lot of sense as a platoon partner for either Angel Pagan or Endy Chavez. There’s been so0me talk of an Aaron Heilman-for-Murton swap, but that’s a hefty price to pay from the Mets’ perspective. Heilman, who is an integral part of the Mets’ shaky bullpen, is far more valuable than a platoon partner like Murton…
Other teams that look like good fits for Murton include the Orioles, who need outfield depth in the worst way, especially after the Brian Roberts talks fell apart. Even with Roberts out of the equation, the Orioles and Cubs could still do a smaller deal involving Murton and a minor league prospect or two. One team that can be crossed off the Murton wish list is the Rays, who filled a need for a backup outfielder by claiming Nathan Haynes off waivers from the Angels. Haynes will fill a role as a backup center fielder and late-inning pinch-runner…
David Wells and Jeff Weaver now have company on the unemployment line for starting pitchers, after the Astros surprisingly released Woody Williams. Since the Astros are already on the hook for most of Williams’ salary, someone might have been willing to sign the veteran right-hander for the major league minimum, but Williams has already indicated that he will retire. A pitcher of limited physical talents, Williams’ ability to maintain a major league career through his 41st birthday is a testament to both his own perseverance and the continuous lack of quality starting pitching in the contemporary game…
The Reds continue to shop jack-of-all-trades Ryan Freel, who figures to be no more than a platoon center fielder with Corey Patterson. Freel’s versatility, never-ending hustle, speed, and decent bat will make him attractive to a number of teams. He’d look good wearing the pinstripes of either of the New York teams. The Mets, with their need for right-handed hitting, and the Yankees, who lack right-handed hitting outfielders, should both be interested in Freel. Freel would also be a perfect fit for the White Sox, who need help at both second base and center field, Freel’s two primary positions.
Earlier this week, Internet baseball writer Maury Brown took some shots at Major League Baseball for its handling of the Civil Rights Game, which takes place this Saturday in Memphis and will be accompanied by a discussion panel about baseball’s history of integration. Brown has questioned the composition of the panel, which features current general managers Omar Minaya and Kenny Williams, but doesn’t include the relatives of any former Negro Leagues players. More to the point, Brown feels that MLB is patting itself on the back for its efforts in diversifying the game, while ignoring its own shameful history of segregation.
I have to admit I’m disturbed by Brown’s pessimistic reaction. Can’t we let the panel take place before condemning it? How does Brown know exactly what will be discussed? Does he have a copy of the agenda? Also, I wonder how many immediate family members of Cool Papa Bell, Rube Foster, or Josh Gibson are even alive; sadly, very few relatives of Negro Leagues players come here to Cooperstown for the annual induction ceremonies. I’m not sure if there is much of a relatives pool to draw from in putting together a baseball-and-race panel.
I know this won’t be a popular sentiment with some readers, but hey, when has that stopped me before? It’s fine to be angry about baseball’s past segregation, but at what point do we stop wallowing in bitterness? One of the joys of Buck O’Neill was listening to him speak without bitterness about his experiences in baseball. He acknowledged the wrong that baseball did, but didn’t allow it to make him miserable. He had every right to be angry and resentful, but chose not to be. If O’Neill wasn’t bitter (at least not publicly), then why are some young white guys (now Internet writers) who never experienced Jim Crow first-hand so bitter about it?
I think it’s far healthier to acknowledge the past sins, note the improvement, and then try to move forward with additional progress…
Former major league outfielder Roy Foster died last week. A relatively young man, he was only 62. Though certainly not a household name, Foster will always enliven memories of my youthful card collecting days. I’ll forever remember Roy Foster as a Texas Ranger—even though he never played a regular season game for the Rangers. I started collecting cards in 1972; that set features Foster as a Ranger. They had acquired him during the winter from the Indians, only to send him back to Cleveland before the start of the season. After playing in 73 games for the Indians in 1972, he never again appeared in a major league game.
Foster had one big season, his first, when he won The Sporting News’ American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1970. It was a strange selection, as The Sporting News bypassed the Yankees’ Thurman Munson, who was the top rookie choice of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. I don’t think that TSN’s eligibility rules were any different from the BBWAA, but maybe they were swayed by Foster’s HR/RBI numbers (23 and 60, in less than a full season’s worth of games); those kinds of statistics were given bigger play in 1970 than they are today. (By the way, Foster finished second on the Indians in home runs to Graig Nettles, giving him another tie-in to a former Yankee.)
After giving the Indians every indication they had found their left fielder for the next decade, Foster fell off the map. Never again a productive player, he was out of the game just two years later. So what happened? I asked Steve Treder of The Hardball Times if he knew. “I must admit I’ve always been as mystified as everyone else as to what happened to him. At the time, there were no reports of an injury issue; he just kind of quickly and quietly flamed out.”
Foster’s lack of all-around talent may have played a part. “It is true that he was a one-dimensional talent (all bat, no glove, no speed) who was almost certainly hitting over his head in 1970,” says Steve. “He wasn’t really that good. But even at the reduced rate of offense he was producing in 1970-71, he would seem to have been a useful commodity, as a platoon corner outfielder/DH type. But for whatever reason, he just disappeared from the majors.” As with so many players, Foster’s decline and fall remain a mystery…
Finally, I’m not surprised to hear about Dale Petroskey’s resignation under fire from the Hall of Fame, though I have to admit that I don’t know the specifics about his failures to exercise “judiciary responsibility.” I do know that morale at the Hall of Fame has been poor, and that may have been a factor in his ouster. Encouraging an upbeat and passionate attitude at 25 Main Street will be one of the new president’s primary tasks.
One of the central themes to spring training this year has involved the cutting of the super-prospect. Several teams have decided to demote–or at least they’re leaning in that direction– prized prospects that seem ready to make the jump to the major leagues. In some cases, the team’s motivation is to delay the so-called arbitration and free agent “clocks;” that way, a young player will have to wait longer before he can start to reap a financial windfall. In other cases, teams are committed to veteran players, even if they are inferior to their youthful competition.
Two National League teams demoted top young center fielders last week. The Reds announced that they had sent Jay Bruce, arguably the top prospect in either league, to Triple-A Louisville, thereby clearing the way for Corey Patterson to start the season in center field. There’s no doubt that Dusty Baker’s penchant for veterans played a hand in this; he likes his players proven and experienced. Some have defended Baker’s decision, citing Bruce’s age (21) and his lack of time at Triple-A. But most scouts agree that even a raw, unrefined Bruce is already a better hitter than the swing-and-miss Patterson. If the Reds end up losing a wildcard spot because they insisted that Bruce spend the first six weeks of the season at Louisville, they will rue that decision for months. Then there are the Braves, who informed Jordan Schafer that he would begin the season at Triple-A Richmond. Unlike Bruce, no one expected the 21-year-old Schafer to make the Opening Day roster, largely because he has never played a game above Class-A ball. But some scouts who watched Schafer play this spring say he’s ready to hold his own at the major league level and is already a better player than injury-plagued journeyman Mark Kotsay. That’s why we shouldn’t be surprised to see Schafer playing center for Atlanta by July, as the Braves try to push the Mets and Phillies for the NL East title. Hopefully, for the Braves’ sake, it won’t be too late.
In the American League, the Rays expect to be so improved that they will have a chance to play .500 ball for the first time in franchise history. They also need a third baseman. Given these two situations, it would seem inevitable that Evan Longoria, enjoying a terrific spring in the Grapefruit League, would be a cinch to make the Opening Day roster. Well, not so fast. The Rays are dropping hints that they will have Longoria start the season at Triple-A before giving him a chance to make his major league debut. The Rays won’t admit the real reason they’re contemplating such an option; by sending him to the Durham Bulls, Longoria might have to wait until 2011 before becoming eligible for arbitration. If the Rays do bury Longoria for half a season at Triple-A, they’ll have to rely on Willy Aybar, who has a history of off-the-field problems. They might cost themselves that shot at .500, and who knows, perhaps even an outside shot at contending for the wild card.
The Rangers have a different motivation with Jarrod Saltalamacchia who has already made his big league debut, but has not spent a full season in the majors. With Gerald Laird enjoying a terrific camp, the Rangers are committing to him as their starting catcher. They’re reluctant to keep Saltalamacchia as the backup, since that might stunt his development, and they have reservations about using him as a DH, too. So even though Saltalamacchia has shown that he can handle major league pitching, he will probably be wasting the early part of the season with some unnecessary time at Triple-A Oklahoma. Saltalamacchia won’t make a difference in the Rangers’ pennant chances, since they really don’t have any in ‘08, but their fans will surely be frustrated if the team’s rebuilding goes on without a prized piece of the future in place.
It’s really a shame that some of the game’s most talented young players won’t be showcased on Opening Day. After all, the primary objective of spring training is to assemble the finest possible team within a span of six weeks. Barring injury, teams should emerge from Florida and Arizona with their best 25-man rosters. In the cases of the Reds, Braves, Rays, and Rangers, they don’t appear to be achieving that goal…
Finally, a few quick hits from the weekend:
The Blue Jays released Reed Johnson, one of J.P. Ricciardi’s favorites but no longer the same player he was before undergoing back surgery. The Mets should jump on Johnson as a platoon left field partner for Endy Chavez, filling the void until Moises Alou comes back from hernia surgery…
In one of the more interesting roster battles this spring, Jason Botts appears to have won a backup outfield spot on the Rangers’ roster, beating out Nelson Cruz. The switch-hitting Botts can play the outfield, first base, or DH. Cruz, who will likely be designated for assignment, could end up being traded to a team like the Cardinals or the Giants…
The Orioles announced that Kevin Millar will be their cleanup hitter. The O’s, a proud franchise that has boasted cleanup men like Boog Powell, Frank Robinson, and Cal Ripken, Jr. in better years, might just have hit rock bottom with that proclamation.
The Reds think they can contend this summer, but they believe that their catching situation will prove a hindrance to any legitimate pennant hopes. Cincinnati has two veteran catchers—David Ross and Javier Valentin—both of whom are serviceable players, but are best suited to reserve duty. The Reds feel they need a frontline catcher, which explains their recent conversations with the Rangers about Gerald Laird. (Laird, having a terrific spring, has become a hot commodity. The Brewers and Rays have also checked in about his availability.) The Reds are willing to offer one of their young pitchers—perhaps right-hander Matt Belisle as part of a larger package—but the Rangers seem reluctant to part with Laird. The Rangers’ reasoning is a bit hard to figure; they need pitching badly, and have a surplus of catching, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a superior player, stuck behind Laird on the depth chart. Having some depth behind the plate is fine, but not at the expense of failing to address Texas’ massive pitching problems…
The Reds’ concerns about their catching is understandable, but fears that Dusty Baker’s obsession with veterans will cost this team loom just as large. The Reds have already sent Jay Bruce back to Triple-A, even though he is a far better hitter than newly minted starting center fielder Corey Patterson. Now there are whispers that Scott Hatteberg will hold onto his first base job, successfully staving off a challenge from Joey Votto. While Bruce has relatively little minor league experience, Votto has already played 133 games at Triple-A. He seems to be ready for major league duty, and with his combination of power and speed (22 home runs and 17 steals at Louisville last year), would represent a large improvement over Hatteberg…
The Mets have already decided to take a pass on John Patterson, who was released by the Nationals earlier this week. Patterson’s inability to raise his fastball above 87 miles per hour sent up red flags for the Nats, who found no interest in the comebacking right-hander on the trade market. Not to worry; Patterson will surely find a new employer soon. The Astros, who need starting pitching in the worst way, have already expressed interest. The Phillies and Reds may also take a long look at the talented but injury-plagued veteran, who underwent experimental nerve surgery last summer…
The Mets are legitimately worried about their lack of right-handed hitting depth, but don’t appear to be ready to make a trade. Barring any deals, they’ll start the season with Angel Pagan in left field, backed up by Endy Chavez. Non-roster invite Brady Clark, an underrated ballplayer, might make the team as a spare outfielder, but that will depend on whether the Mets carry 11 or 12 pitchers to start the season…
In hot pursuit of quality relief pitching, the Tigers have talked to the Braves about a variety of pitchers (including Royce Ring) and the Cubs concerning Michael Wuertz. With Joel Zumaya out until at least mid-season, the Tigers realize they will need help to get them through the first half of the season. It’s uncertain what the Braves would want for Ring, but the Cubs will almost surely ask for Brandon Inge in their quest to add a right-handed hitting outfielder. Inge could also provide a backup for Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee on the infield corners.
If you take two good starting pitchers away from any major league team, the result would be significantly damaging. So it’s not surprising that already much has been made of the fact that the Angels will have to endure the entire month of April without the services of Kelvim Escobar, who has a sore elbow, and John Lackey, who is struggling with a strained triceps. The Angels’ hope is that both will be able to return sometime in May, but even that is uncertain.
While the losses of Lackey and Escobar have made the prospects for teams like the Mariners that much better, the fact of the matter is this: no team is better equipped to handle injuries to their starting rotation than the Angels. With the off-season addition of Jon Garland and a cache of ready-made prospects that includes Dustin Moseley and Nick Adenhart, the Angels have the kind of depth that can sustain them through a temporary wave of injuries. The key word here is temporary. If Lackey has to miss the entire season, that’s an enormous loss that may cost the Angels the AL West. But if Lackey can return to the rotation by mid-May and regain full strength by June, the Angels will remain the favorites in the West. Now they still might need another bigtime hitter to protect Vladimir Guerrero, but that’s a story for another day…
I’m always on the lookout for good baseball web sites. With that in mind, Mets fans should become aware of a new site featuring the work of devoted Mets diehard Matt Silverman. Matt has launched a worthwhile site called www.metsilverman.com. An avid follower of both the current-day Mets and the team’s entire history, especially from the 1970s on, Matt is a prolific author of books and articles about New York’s National League franchise. By the way, I love the name of the web site. Anytime you can creatively and seamlessly combine your name with the name of your favorite topic, you’ve done a good thing. Best of luck with the new venture, Matt…
Peter Clark is a name with whom fans of baseball history should become acquainted. Peter, who serves as the Hall of Fame’s curator of collections, has been with the institution for 38 years, making him the longest tenured employee at 25 Main Street. The gentlemanly Clark is the feature of a nice article that’s just been posted at the home page of the Hall of Fame’s web site. Never one to seek attention for himself, Peter is one of baseball’s essential “quiet” guys.
It’s amazing how drastically player evaluations can change in the span of 12 months. One year ago, the Reds regarded Homer Bailey as their best pitching prospect–and one of the top five in the entire game. Meanwhile, scouts regarded Johnny Cueto as an undersized right-hander, often the kiss of death for a pitching prospect.
This spring, Bailey’s stock has fallen so much that he’s no longer a mortal lock to join Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo in the Reds’ revamped rotation. Once mentioned in the same breath with the Phil Hughes and Clay Buchholzes of the world, Bailey has fallen out of the ranks of even the top ten pitching prospects in the game. In the meantime, Cueto has made scouts revise their reports on him with his brilliant pitching this spring. They’re no longer focused on his 5’10″ frame and chunky build, but on his climbing strikeout rates and shrinking walk numbers. Barring a collapse over the final two weeks of the spring, Cueto will be a part of Cincinnati’s season-opening starting rotation…
The Cardinals are undergoing some serious internal debates over who should be their starting right fielder: Rule Five draftee Brian Barton or ancient veteran Juan Gonzalez, who is now battling an abdominal strain. Who are the Cardinals kidding here? They don’t figure to contend in the improving NL Central, so why not go with Barton, a young player with tools who was the top prospect taken in Rule Five? (Hey, maybe they don’t like Barton’s long dreadlocks, which have made him a candidate for worst hair in the major leagues.) Within a year, Barton has a chance of becoming a productive starting outfielder on a team that needs outfield help like most teams need pitching. Within a year, Gonzalez has a chance of being retired–yet again…
Two non-roster players have moved closer to making the Yankees’ Opening Day roster. Left-hander Billy Traber, who has been just about unhittable against left-handed bats, has now been added to the 40-man roster, filling the spot vacated by disabled right-hander Andrew Brackman. Traber’s ability to handle left-handed bats, like that of the Red Sox’ David Ortiz and the Rays’ Carlos Pena, would be a welcome addition to the Yankees, who watched Mike Myers and Ron Villone flounder in that capacity last summer. And then there’s Morgan Ensberg, who has been pounding out doubles on a daily basis and hitting over .300 while learning the subtleties of first base. Ensberg appears to be the favorite to win a spot as a platoon first baseman with either Jason Giambi or Wilson Betemit. If he does make the team (and it will take a monumental two-week collapse for him not to), Ensberg will wear No. 21, last worn by Yankee favorite and near-legend Paul O’Neill.
The Brian Roberts deal may now come to fruition, now that the Cubs have decided to include top relief prospect Jose Ceda as part of the return package. The latest rumors have the Cubs surrendering Ceda, right-hander Gallagher, lefty Donald Veal, and infielder Ronny Cedeno for Roberts, who would immediately become Chicago’s new second baseman and leadoff man. (Or at least he should be the leadoff man if Lou Piniella can lose his obsession with Alfonso Soriano.) If those rumors are accurate, the Orioles should jump at the offer. That’s a haul of three serviceable young pitchers and a competent middle infielder for Roberts, who is a very good player but one who has reached the peak of his value. As with the earlier trades that purged Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard from the roster in exchanged for boatloads of good prospects, this is just the kind of deal that Andy MacPhail should be making… The Orioles and Cubs might expand the deal further, with Baltimore throwing in Jay Payton and Chicago including Jason Marquis. The prospect of seeing Marquis facing the batting orders of the American League East is scary, while Payton would give the Cubs a hedge against Felix Pie not being ready to play center field every day… Along those latter lines, the Cubs continue to show interest in the Rangers’ Marlon Byrd, but their offer of Matt Murton hasn’t drawn much of a response…
The Red Sox’ decision to release Doug Mirabelli surprised a few Boston observers, but given the state of backup catching in the game, he won’t be out of work for long. The 37-year-old Mirabelli’s lack of conditioning and his .202 batting average raised some red flags in Red Sox Nation, but he’s still a competent defender who has hit 11 home runs in his last 275 at-bats. Several teams looking for an Andy Etchebarren type backup could use Mirabelli’s services. They include the White Sox, who need a right-handed hitting complement to A.J. Pierzynski, and the Dodgers, who desperately need to reduce Russell Martin’s workload. Then there are the Rays, who could use a veteran backup to Dioner Navarro, and perhaps even the Yankees, who have little catching depth available to them at Triple-A. Assuming Mirabelli wants to keep playing, he’ll find work quickly…
White Sox general manager Ken Williams hasn’t been impressed by the offers he’s been receiving for Joe Crede, who is batting under .100 this spring and hasn’t looked smooth in the field in his comeback from back surgery. Earlier this spring, the Giants offered Scott Williamson, whom they later released. Another offer featured Dave Roberts; the White Sox said no to that. Williams would be best served by waiting for the start of the regular season and hoping that Crede starts out quickly, thereby rebuilding his trade value. Trading Crede for fringe journeymen makes no sense at this point…
The Mets appear to be backing off potential trades for outfielders, where names like Payton and Reed Johnson have been running through the rumor mill. Angel Pagan’s play this spring has been so impressive that the Mets are giving serious thought to making him their Opening Day left fielder. The Mets have also been pleased by the performance of former Brewer flyhawk Brady Clark, who has an outside chance of sticking as a fifth outfielder behind Pagan and Endy Chavez.