Posted on: March 2, 2012 10:09 am
Edited on: March 2, 2012 10:20 am
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Dodgers batboy gets big-league opportunity

By C. Trent Rosecrans

This story has a Hollywood dateline, and that's only fitting. Francisco "Chico" Herrera's story could be the next great baseball movie.

On Thursday, Herrera had a tryout with the Dodgers. What's the hook? Herrera is a Dodgers batboy and he was "discovered" by Los Angeles pitcher Jon Garland, who recommended the shortstop from Valley College in North Hollywood.

"Jon Garland and I were playing catch in the outfield," Herrera told ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne. "He was hurting at the time, but he could still play catch and he's like, 'You really do have a good arm. When are you going to try out?'"

Garland told Herrera that he'd talk to assistant GM De Jon Watson and get him a tryout -- the only catch was that if Herrera signed, Garland wanted to be his agent.

"I thought he was kidding," Herrera told Shelburne.

Garland wasn't. Watson got in touch with Herrera and lined up his tryout. That tryout happened on Thursday. It's improbable that Herrera will get signed, but if he does? It could be one of the greatest baseball stories of all time, up there with former Devil Rays pitcher Jim Morris, who got a movie and stint in the big leagues out of his open tryout.

The 22-year-old Herrera has been a batboy the last four years and it's not just Garland who has noticed he has some legitimate baseball skills. Here's a catch he made last year while working:



Hat-tip: Big League Stew

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Posted on: March 2, 2012 9:36 am
 

Cubs players say they trust Braun's collector

Jeff BakerBy C. Trent Rosecrans

During his press conference following his successful appeal of a 50-game suspension, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun tried to cast doubt on specimen collector Dino Laurenzi Jr. Laurenzi later released a statement defending himself, then Thursday, Braun's lawyer shot back.

Laurenzi, though, doesn't just collect samples from the Brewers, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Laurenzi also collects samples from the Cubs. And while Braun has called Laurenzi's motives into doubt, several Cubs told the Sun-Times that they trust Laurenzi.

"Just from knowing Dino the three years I've been here, he's been nothing but professional," Cubs infielder Jeff Baker told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Sun-Times. "He's been very, very thorough. I have no concerns and no qualms."

Alfonso Soriano also gave his thumbs up to Laurenzi.

"I'm not worried that it's the same guy," Soriano told the newspaper. "I'm not worried because I know what I take. It doesn't matter who takes the sample. If you don't take nothing, he can take [the specimen] home for a week, and nothing will come out."

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 10:33 pm
 

Spring primer: Miami Marlins



By Matt Snyder


All of a sudden, in just one offseason, the Miami Marlins have undergone a complete makeover. They have a new name, logo and stadium. New, more colorful uniforms are part of the deal as well. Still, that's all window-dressing if the on-field product resembles the 72-90 one from 2011. And it doesn't. Not only did the Marlins bring in three highly-coveted and high-priced free agents, but they traded for fiery Carlos Zambrano and brought in one of the most outspoken -- and, at times, effective -- managers in baseball. How Ozzie Guillen's new-look troops fare in the 2012 season remains to be seen, but two things are certain: More people will be in attendance to find out and it's not going to be boring.

Major additions: SS Jose Reyes, LHP Mark Buehrle, RHP Carlos Zambrano, RHP Heath Bell, LHP Wade LeBlanc
Major departures: RHP Javier Vazquez, C John Baker, RHP Burke Badenhop, RHP Chris Volstad

Probable lineup
1. Jose Reyes, SS
2. Emilio Bonifacio, CF
3. Hanley Ramirez, 3B
4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF (a.k.a. Mike Stanton)
5. Logan Morrison, LF
6. Gaby Sanchez, 1B
7. John Buck, C
8. Omar Infante, 2B

Probable rotation
1. Josh Johnson
2. Mark Buehrle
3. Anibal Sanchez
4. Ricky Nolasco
5. Carlos Zambrano

Wade LeBlanc is the injury replacement.

Back-end bullpen
Closer: Heath Bell
Set-up: Edward Mujica, Mike Dunn

Important bench players

C Brett Hayes, IF Greg Dobbs, OF Scott Cousins, OF Bryan Petersen

Prospect to watch
For this year, there really aren't many guys on the radar ready to jump in and immediately help. Third base prospect Matt Dominguez is in Triple-A, but he's now blocked by one of the team leaders in Hanley Ramirez. All the other highly-ranked Marlins prospects are in the lower-levels of the minors. So we'll go with Dominguez here for this reason: Should he have a big first three months in Triple-A while the Marlins are in the thick of the pennant race, he makes for good trade bait at the deadline. Maybe they could use him to upgrade the bridge to Heath Bell or even as part of a package to landing a really good center fielder.

Fantasy breakout: Logan Morrison
"Morrison's track record suggests both his walk rate and BABIP should rebound, and in fact, his .268 BABIP from a year ago looks like the result of some horrendously bad luck. He is a strong bet to improve on his OBP and, at worst, maintain the home run power he displayed in 2011. Add in some improvement and subtract out his minor league demotion and DL time from last season, and Morrison suddenly profiles as a No. 3 mixed league OF." - Al Melchior [Full Marlins team fantasy preview]

Fantasy bounce-back: Hanley Ramirez
"Ramirez had a miserable first half last season, and just when he started to get untracked, he suffered a shoulder injury that led to season-ending surgery. As the season progressed, Ramirez adjusted and started hitting more line drives and flyballs, and his batting average and power numbers rose accordingly. Even though his overall stats were pale compared to his norms, a good sign for Ramirez was that his home run per flyball rate was not much lower than usual." - Al Melchior [Full Marlins team fantasy preview]

Optimistic outlook
Everyone behaves, Ramirez and Johnson stay healthy and have big seasons while the youngsters (Stanton, Morrison) develop into stars. Especially now that there are two wild cards, the Marlins have a great shot at the playoffs with this group. And once you get there, anything can happen, so I'd say an optimistic outlook has them winning the third World Series in franchise history. If you look at the upside in the offense and rotation in particular, it's hard to argue against a best-case scenario being a championship. Then again ...

Pessimistic outlook
Utter disaster. The club doesn't respond to Guillen, Johnson injures his arm again, Zambrano melts down, Morrison quibbles with management over Twitter, Ramirez starts slow and demands a trade due to wanting to play shortstop again ... you get it. I can't think of another club with such high-peak and low-valley potential entering the 2012 season. This group of personalities could be the new Bronx Zoo champion or a catastrophic mix on the field that finishes last. Almost literally, anything could happen. As I said in the intro, it certainly won't be boring. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 9:30 pm
 

Injury roundup: Johan, Longoria and more



By Matt Snyder


Johan Santana's progress in spring training is going to continue to be a huge storyline because he was once the best pitcher in baseball and if he's able to return to form, the Mets will enter the season with a huge boost in psyche. Thursday, he took another big step forward. The left-handed ace faced hitters for the first time since September.

“I felt pretty good,” Santana said (Associated Press). “I was able to throw for the first time having hitters standing up at the plate and swinging the bat. It was pretty good.

“I was told I was going to be challenged from those guys and I had to step up and do my thing. I was able to come in and throw my fastballs inside and see how they react and to be able to throw my changeup. Overall, it was good.” (AP)

Santana will next start against the Cardinals in a split-squad game Tuesday. He's scheduled to throw either two innings or 40 pitches, whatever he hits first.

Other minor injury news and updates -- major news like back surgery would be covered in its own post -- from Thursday in spring training:

• Star Rays third baseman Evan Longoria was hit in the hand with a pitch during an intrasquad game. That's scary, because hand bones are routinely broken when hitters are struck with a pitched ball in baseball. Longoria and the Rays dodged a bullet, though, as X-rays were negative and it's merely a bruise. Longoria is listed as day-to-day. (TampaBay.com)

Marlins ace Josh Johnson missed the majority of last season with shoulder issues. He threw 37 pitches in a bullpen session Thursday and reports that he feels "good" and is "tired of the screen in front of" him. He'll get his chance to throw without the L-screen Monday, when he starts Miami's spring opener against the Cardinals. (Fish Tank blog)

Brewers starting pitcher Shaun Marcum has some "tenderness" in his right (throwing) shoulder and will back off his throwing program a bit. Worry not, though, the Brewers say because Marcum was already going to dial it back this spring after having such a big workload last season -- only two years removed from Tommy John surgery.

"We don't need throw 20 innings in Spring Training," Marcum said (MLB.com). "That's pointless. Spring Training is so long for everybody, by the end of it you're wasting pitches and wasting time."

Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche was kept out of workouts Thursday with a mild left ankle sprain, but it sounds like a precautionary measure.

"I don't want to flare it up any more than it is," said LaRoche (MASNSports.com). "There's no point right now risking dragging this thing out for another week if we can knock it out in a couple days. I would rather get some throwing in, get some swings and just try to stay off of it as far as running."

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 5:30 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 5:31 pm
 

Braun's attorney responds to sample collector

By Matt Snyder

Since the sample collector released a statement Wednesday about the decision that Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun won't face suspension for his positive drug test, it was only a matter of time before the Braun camp replied.

Braun wins appeal
And it has. Here is a statement released by Braun's attorney, David Cornwell:

“Ryan Braun presented a winning defense in the forum that counted. The landmark decision in Ryan's favor was based on the evidence and the plain meaning of the words in baseball’s Joint Drug Program. The collector’s attempt to re-litigate his conduct is inappropriate, and his efforts will only be persuasive to those who do not understand the evidence or the rules. Ryan Braun was properly vindicated. Both Major League Baseball and Major League Baseball Players Association should be applauded because their Joint Program worked.”

Now that everyone has said his piece, hopefully it's time to get past everything and start looking forward to the 2012 season. Braun won his appeal, he won't be suspended and that's final.

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 5:13 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 5:40 pm
 

Yankees aim to get payroll under $189M by '14



By Matt Snyder


The New York Yankees are going to be doing a little tightening of the belt. Thursday, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner told reporters that the "goal" is to have the payroll below $189 million before the 2014 season. That's not an arbitrary placement or year and monetary figure, either, as baseball's new collective bargaining agreement has set the luxury tax threshold at $189 million and it goes into effect starting in 2014. Also, goal may not be the correct word here.

"I'm looking at it as a goal, but my goals are normally considered requirements," Steinbrenner said (Associated Press). "Is it a requirement with baseball that we be at 189? No, it's not a requirement. But that is going to be the luxury-tax threshold, and that's where I want to be."

The Yankees were hit with a $13.9 million luxury tax last season.

The Yankees are heading for opening day with a payroll of around $210 million this season, according to Steinbrenner. Here's what the opening day payrolls have looked like since 2004, the last time the Yankees weren't over $189 million, via Baseball Prospectus' Cot's Contracts:

2004: $184,193,950
2005: $208,306,817
2006: $194,663,079
2007: $189,639,045
2008: $209,081,577
2009: $201,449,189
2010: $213,359,389
2011: $207,047,964

Steinbrenner sounds like he wants to -- at least mildly -- shift focus, too.

"I'm a finance geek. I guess I always have been. That's my background," he said (MLB.com). "Budgets matter, and balance sheets matter. I just feel that if you do well on the player development side and you have a good farm system, you don't need a $220 million payroll. You don't. You can field every bit as good a team with young talent."

It's going to be interesting to see how they squeeze down under the threshold, because Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez are due to make over $70 million combined in 2014. Derek Jeter has an $8 million player option, too. You also have to assume Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson are going to command huge paydays (both have club options in 2013 but are free agents after that). Brett Gardner and David Robertson will be in their final year of arbitration while Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda are also still under club control. Otherwise, the roster will have to be filled out from the farm system, trades or free agency.

The Yankees do have some promising young prospects like pitchers Dellin Betances and Manuel Banuelos.

"We'll see how these young kids perform towards the end of this year and into next year," Steinbrenner said (AP). "The young kids are going to play a big part of being able to lower this payroll. I am going to need some of these young pitchers to step up."

Still, the bottom line is we might be seeing a lot more offseasons like this one -- where the Yankees take a backseat on the huge free agent signings.

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 4:02 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 4:41 pm
 

Sizemore has surgery, out 8-12 weeks

By Matt Snyder

Just last week, it was revealed that oft-injured Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore had been shut down due to a lower-back injury. Unforunately the news got worse Thursday. The Indians have announced that he underwent a micro discectomy Thursday morning. The procedure was done by Dr. Barth Green in Miami. The timetable for recovery is eight to 12 weeks.

[Knobler: More bad news for Tribe]

For Sizemore, 29, it's just more of the same. He once appeared on the verge of superstardom, but hasn't been able to stay healthy.

From 2005-2008, he averaged 160 games played per season. Since then, he's only played in 210 total (an average of 70 per season). His performance has suffered when he's been on the field, too, as Sizemore's OPS from 2009-11 was .728. From 2005-08, it was .868.

Sizemore hit free agency this past offseason, but the Indians brought him back on a one-year, $5 million deal that could have grown to $9 million if he hit a certain number of plate appearances. That's going to be really tough now, as eight weeks from right now is April 26. Even if he's ready to go by then, he'd need a minor-league rehab assignment before being able to join the Indians. And if there are any setbacks, we're looking at a June return.

With Sizemore out of the lineup, the Indians can slide Michael Brantley to center and go with Shelley Duncan, Aaron Cunningham or even Matt LaPorta in left field.

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 2:52 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 2:53 pm
 

Molina extension official, contains option year

By Matt Snyder

The Cardinals officially announced the five-year, $75 million contract extension for catcher Yadier Molina Thursday afternoon. We reported the dollar amount Wednesday morning on CBSSports.com, but didn't yet know that the contract also contained an option year.

CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman is now reporting that there is a mutual option for a sixth season worth another $15 million. With it being mutual, obviously both sides have to agree for it to be exercised. So it's possible this contract is worth $90 million to Molina. The Cardinals have also included a full no-trade clause in the contract for Molina.

"This is a great day for the Cardinals," said owner Bill DeWitt (via Heyman). "When we have a franchise-type player, we always try (to re-sign him)."

The contract won't take effect until the 2013 season, since Molina had a one-year option picked up for the 2012 season. That means the 29-year-old veteran is under contract through the 2017 season and could be locked up through the 2018 season if the option is exercised. It's a safe bet to consider him a lifelong Cardinal.

Molina hit .305/.349/.465 with 14 homers, 65 RBI and 55 runs last season for the Cardinals. He also won his fourth straight Gold Glove and his second World Series championship. Yadier, the youngest of three major-league Molina brothers, was integral to the offense in the playoffs, too, hitting .333 in both the NLCS and World Series with a whopping nine RBI in the World Series.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com