Posted on: August 19, 2011 6:33 pm

Berkman says retirement is possible after season


By Evan Brunell

Lance Berkman is having an impressive year, bouncing back from a dispiriting 2010 that saw him leave Houston, where he had spent his entire big-league career, and join the Yankees for a brief, forgettable stint.

Written off as a viable player, the surprise and scorn by the public was evident when the Cardinals inked Berkman to a one-year deal worth $8 million to play right field. Somehow, it's worked out so far. While Berkman's defense leaves much to be desired, he's hitting at a clip not seen since 2006, as he's bashed 28 home runs with a line of .294/.407/.583 over 435 plate appearances. Now, Berkman's going to be in demand as a free agent. Even being 35 won't faze teams who will be glad to hand him a one-year deal -- if not two years -- to contribute his thump in the middle of the order.

Except, to hear Berkman tell it to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he may not be around next season.

"At this stage of my career, it's safe to say that if I'm not thrilled with the opportunities out there for me after this season, this would be it," Berkman said.

The slugger won't need to be concerned about any job prospects this offseason, but the point Berkman is trying to make is clear.

"If I'm playing, I want to be playing for more than just numbers," he said. "I've accomplished pretty much everything I had hoped to accomplish in my career. I've made a lot of money. I've had personal success and been a part of some great teams. The one thing I haven't done is be part of a world championship. I'm going to be 36. I'm not going to play just to play."

St. Louis is tops among the places where Berkman hopes to play next season, and if by some shocker the team doesn't bring back Albert Pujols to play first, it's easy to envision the Cardinals turning to Berkman to fill the gap. Even if Pujols returns, Berkman's production would motivate St. Louis to stick him into right for another year, but the Berkman admitted that there were "three or four" destinations, St. Louis included, where the lefty would like to play next season in case St. Louis can't bring him back.

"I've absolutely loved it here" in St. Louis, Berkman said. "Everything about the city and the team has been what I had hoped. I'd love to come back but I also recognize they have some big decisions to make with some pretty big guys. Right now, I'm not assuming anything."

A return to Texas could be possible as the Rangers could be in need of a first baseman or DH. Berkman seems to have conceded that there is no longer a fit with the Astros, so the Rangers would represent his only chance to play in Texas. Other locations where he could start and be part of a competitive team include the Giants, Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Brewers and Rays.

GM John Mozeliak said he has yet to reach out to Berkman about a contract extension, but intends to do so before the end of October.
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Posted on: August 19, 2011 5:07 pm
Edited on: August 19, 2011 5:11 pm

On Deck: Tigers, Indians face off


By C. Trent Rosecrans

Follow all games live with CBSSports.com's GameTracker.

Big series: The Indians enter this weekend's three-game set in Detroit a game-and-a-half behind the American League Central-leading Tigers. As if that wasn't enough, Cleveland dodges Justin Verlander during the series, which is always a good thing if you're not the Tigers. The Indians took two of three in Cleveland earlier this month and the Tigers have lost six of their last 10, while the Indians have one four of their last five to tighten the race in the Central. However, the Tigers are 17-3 in their last 20 games against Cleveland at Comerica Park and won two of three against the Indians there in June. Indians at Tigers, 7:05 p.m. ET

Derek LoweLowe struggling: Braves right-hander Derek Lowe is 4-7 with a 6.30 ERA in his last 12 starts and 7-11 with a 4.89 ERA on the season. He's been even worse at home, going 2-3 with a 5.34 ERA in 10 starts at Turner Field this season. Arizona right-hander Daniel Hudson followed a disastrous start on Aug. 8 in Houston with an eight-inning outing against the Mets last Saturday, improving his record to 12-8 with a 3.76 ERA. Diamondbacks at Braves, 7:35 p.m.

Just what the doctor ordered: San Francisco may be struggling, but the Giants get a nice shot of the lowly Houston Astros, facing the game's worst team for the first time this season tonight. Houston could be the gift that keeps on giving, as the Giants will face the AStros in seven of their next 10 games. The Giants have won just six of their last 20 games while putting Carlos Beltran, Andres Torres, Sergio Romo, Eli Whiteside and Barry Zito on the disabled list, while dealing with injuries to Brian Wilson and Jeff Keppinger. The Giants, though, hit the easy part of their schedule before starting a series with the first-place Diamondbacks on Sept 2. In addition to the Astros, the defending champs also face the Cubs and Padres before their three-game series against Arizona at AT&T Park. Giants at Astros, 8:05 p.m. ET

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Posted on: August 19, 2011 4:00 pm
Edited on: August 19, 2011 4:21 pm

Which other GMs could be on the way out?

Ed WadeBy C. Trent Rosecrans

Jim Hendry is the first general manager out heading into this offseason, but it's unlikely he'll be the last. What other GMs could be on the move?

Here's five possibilities ranked from most likely to least likely:

1. Ed Wade, Astros: A new owner often means a new general manager, and if the sale to Jim Crane ever goes through, Wade can expect to find himself on the way out with current owner Drayton McLane. Not only do the Astros have a shot at a historically bad season, there's little hope on the way. That said, Wade did get a nice haul for Hunter Pence, but Pence was still under team control for two more years. The trade of the team's best player wasn't a popular one. 

2. Andy MacPhail, Orioles: Hendry's predecessor with Cubs hasn't had much success in Baltimore, either. MacPhail has the title of "President of Baseball Operations" but is in effect the general manager… for now. MacPhail was hired in June of 2007 and since he's taken over the team has gone 285-413 and lost at least 90 games in each of his three full seasons at the helm and the team is on track to reach that mark again.

3. Jack Zduriencik, Mariners: Zduriencik made a splash in his first season as Mariners general manager, putting together a team that surprised everyone by going 85-77. As good as 2009 was, 2010 was a disaster. Zduriencik was praised by many (myself included) for his offseason moves leading up to the 2010 season, but the Midas touch was gone. The signing of Chone Figgins and trade for Milton Bradley turned out to be disasters, while Ken Griffey Jr. clashed with manager Don Wakamatsu and retired mid-season. The Mariners started 2011 off well, but since their last day at .500 on July 5, the Mariners have gone 10-16 and went from 2 1/2 games out to 18 games behind the Rangers in the American League West. Furthermore, Zduriencik angered many in the organization after denying knowledge of the criminal past of reliever Josh Lueke, who was part of the Cliff Lee deal last year.

4. Neal Huntington, Pittsburgh: Speaking of former darlings, Huntington was the toast of baseball at the All-Star break. The Pirates appeared to be on track to end their string of 18 consecutive losing seasons. Since sitting alone in first place atop the NL Central on July 19, the Pirates have gone 7-20 and sit 14 games back just a month later. There were rumors that Huntington was close to an extension earlier in the season, but recent events could mean instead of a raise for 2012, Huntington is looking for a new job.

5. Brian Cashman, Yankees: While the others on this list may be getting pink slips, Cashman could decide to leave on his own. Former owner George Steinbrenner was infamous for his quick temper and firing employees, but his sons' signature move so far was the undermining of Cashman by signing reliever Rafael Soriano after Cashman said the team had no interest in the former Rays' closer as a setup man for Mariano Rivera. Cashman had a rough offseason with the negotiations with Derek Jeter and Rivera, and could also look for a new challenge to show that he's not been successful only because of the Yankees' deep pockets. Basically, he could be sick of being the GM of the Yankees and decide to move on.

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Posted on: August 18, 2011 4:49 pm
Edited on: August 18, 2011 5:06 pm

Ausmus talks about catching on NPR

Brad AusmusBy C. Trent Rosecrans

I'll admit it -- when I'm in my car listening to the radio, there's a much better chance I'm listening to NPR than any type of sports talk radio. I enjoy sports, but not so much the sports talk genre -- heck, even when I worked in the medium, I didn't listen to it much.

That said, I do enjoy talk about baseball on the radio, if just not how it's usually done. So today I was pretty excited when Danny Knobler IMed me this story -- former big league catcher Brad Ausmus is on NPR's Fresh Air today.

The audio from the story is available on the website, but here are some highlights from Ausmus, who retired after 18 seasons last year:

• "I remember walking up the stairs one season when I had a newborn and I'd walk halfway up the landing and I'd have to rest," he says. "There is a physical demand, mostly on your legs."

• "As a base runner, if you're running towards home and the catcher is about to catch the ball or already has the ball, that's when you want to hit him," he says. "That's when you want to jostle him — just before he hits it or hit him hard enough so he drops it. That's ... the time when the contact comes into play at home plate."

• "[I'm thinking] what's the score, what inning are we in, how many outs, what's this hitter's weakness, what's this pitcher's strengths, who's on deck, who could pinch hit, who is up after the hitter on deck — and you kind of go through all of these things in an instant," says Ausmus. "And then you make a decision and put down the next signal. [You're also thinking] how did we get this guy out last time, what pitches did he see, what pitches did we just throw — so there's about 10 to a dozen things that you go through in your mind before you put that signal down."

• "Generally you try to accommodate the umpire — this guy's making decisions on balls and strikes and the last thing you want to do is make him angry," says Ausmus. "And you get to know these guys. ... You have a rapport with them and you know who you can joke around with — so there is a relationship there that goes beyond business."

Anyway, it should go up on the NPR website later today and be an interesting listen. Catchers are usually among the most intelligent, thoughtful players on the field (despite the "tools of ignorance" lesson) and there's a reason so many managers are former catchers.

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Posted on: August 17, 2011 1:37 am

3 Up, 3 Down: All late inning heroics

By Matt Snyder

Six teams won Tuesday after scoring in their final at-bat, so let's stick with those as the theme of 3 Up, 3 Down.

Lyle Overbay, Diamondbacks. Amazing how things work out sometimes. Heading to the trade deadline, the Pirates were actually in the race for once and looked to upgrade at first base. They ended up trading for Derrek Lee, which made Overbay expendible. He was set free and ended up with Arizona. Now the Pirates have completely fallen out of the race after a miserable stretch and the Diamondbacks are in first place. Tuesday night, Overbay went 3-4 with all three of the D-Backs' RBIs, including a two-RBI double in the ninth off Roy Halladay. The Snakes beat the Phillies 3-2 and are now 3 1/2 games in front of the Giants.

Mark Kotsay, Brewers. He only got one at-bat, but that's all he needed. Kotsay came to bat in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and the score tied 1-1. He planted a Mike MacDougal offering into center field for a line drive, walk-off single. The Brewers extended their lead to seven games in the NL Central and have won 17 of their last 19.

Brian Bogusevic, Astros. Like Kotsay, all Bogusevic needed was one bases-loaded at-bat to produce a walk-off win, but unlike Kotsay, Bogusevic drove home four, not just one. Cubs closer Carlos Marmol allowed two singles and a walk before Bogusevic stepped to the plate with his team trailing by three. He went ahead and hit a walk-off grand slam to save the Astros from an eighth consecutive loss.

Arthur Rhodes/Tony La Russa, Cardinals. Rhodes was signed by the Cardinals to get left-handers out, yet he yielded a walk-off homer to the Pirates' Garrett Jones -- who is, yes, left-handed -- Tuesday night. Of course, members of the media who cover the Cardinals pointed out after the game it was the third straight night La Russa used the 41 year old and that Rhodes is best served in short doses. Tuesday, he got two outs to end the 10th and La Russa trotted him back out there for the 11th. Jones was the first batter Rhodes faced in the 11th. So who was at fault? You make the call. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have fallen seven games back of the Brewers and that race looks like it will be a mere formality quite soon.

Giants offense. In sticking with the theme, the Giants lost in walk-off fashion Tuesday night. Still, it's hard to blame the pitchers. The Giants got no-hit by a rookie -- with big upside, but it was still only his second career start -- for six innings before getting a solo home run from Cody Ross. In 11 innings, that would be their only run. They only had five hits. They've fallen 3 1/2 back of the red-hot Diamondbacks and are threatening to fall behind the Mariners for the least amount of runs scored in the majors. Something better change, fast.

Indians vs. White Sox. Are these two teams seriously in the race? This marathon game was a comedy of misplayed balls, stranded runners, poor baserunning, blown leads and pretty much everything else under the sun. Of course there was good from each side -- some timely hitting and good pitching performances -- but it was predominantly bad and I'd guess most fans of either team would agree. On the Indians side, Shin-Soo Choo was awful in right field, playing two balls into triples and misplaying a few others. They left 11 men on base -- including leaving them loaded in the 13th -- and got a bad outing from Ubaldo Jimenez. On the White Sox end, Will Ohman came in and walked two straight batters -- the second one forced in the tying run -- before recording his lone out of the game. A leadoff triple was wasted in extra innings when Brent Lillibridge was doubled off first on a lineout. Sergio Santos blew a save prior to that to send it to extras. Oh, and they left 15 men on base. But hey, the White Sox won and crept to within a half-game of the Indians for second place in the AL Central. So all is well that ends well for them. (Note: LOB numbers were by my unofficial count. I could be off by one or two. Regardless, it was bad).

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Posted on: August 15, 2011 3:55 pm

Approval of Crane as new Astros owner delayed

CraneBy Evan Brunell

Jim Crane's ownership of the Astros has been delayed, as MLB owners will not vote on Crane's takeover this week as planned, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Commissioner Bud Selig still isn't comfortable with recommending Crane to the rest of the owners for approval despite three months of research.

“The standard due diligence that must be completed before any transaction of this magnitude can close remains ongoing,” MLB said in a statement. “Because that procedure is continuing, it is not expected that the proposed sale of the Astros will go to the approval process at this week’s owners meetings. Major League Baseball will continue to work as expeditiously as possible to complete the process.”

A source said he believed that Crane would eventually be approved, but "just [doesn't] know" if he will in actuality be approved, which has to be sobering news for current owner Drayton McLane, who has been trying to sell the 'Stros for some time now. The source did caution that the delay has nothing to do with a possible rejection of Crane; simply that the process has been delayed.

McLane was caught by surprise at the news, it has been said, as he was so certain Crane would be approved that McLane sought the hopeful owner's opinion on recent moves the Astros made, such as dealing outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn as well as firing pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.

The holdup doesn't appear to be due to financing the sale, but rather Crane's history of discriminatory practices with one of his companies in 1997, with thousands of complaints against Eagle USA Airfreight dealing with minority and female hiring practices. A judge found 203 of 2,073 claims to have merit, and Eagle was also sued 11 times in federal employment discrimination cases. Crane dismissed the issue back in May, but clearly MLB is taking it seriously. Commissioner Bud Selig is especially sensitive to the issues of minority and female hiring. Crane is also linked to war profiteering, with Eagle Global Logistics alleged to have inflated the cost of military shipments to Iraq. Eagle Global Logistics paid $4 million to settle the issue.

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Posted on: August 15, 2011 2:01 pm
Edited on: August 15, 2011 2:04 pm

Astros complete Pence deal, acquire Santana

By Evan Brunell

SantanaThe Astros announced on Monday that Domingo Santana was chosen as the player to be named in the Hunter Pence deal, closing the books on the blockbuster trade that saw Philadelphia fix its right-field hole with the adding of Pence.

The completed deal saw Pence head to the Phillies in exchange for Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Josh Zeid and Santana, continuing Houston's trend of going after players in the lower level, as any chance of Houston contending will rest on players in the low minors. Santana, who was selected over one other unknown player as the player to be named later, is a strong addition as he was ranked No. 9 in the Phillies' system by Baseball America in the offseason. Santana has drawn Vladimir Guerrero comparisons, but he still has to develop quite a ways to reach those lofty expectations.

Santana was signed to a contract as an international free agent in 2008, when he inked for $330,000 and performed well down the stretch for the rookie club. In 2010, however, Santana stumbled in low-Class A, as well as in Class A following a promotion. Repeating Class A in 2011, the 19-year-old has come through with a .269/.345/.434 mark. For someone so young to be holding his own in Class A with the potential he has, it's a promising step forward and will give Houston another projectable, raw bat in the system to do damage with.

All told, the Astros walked away with the No. 2 (Singleton), 4 (Cosart) and 9th best prospects in the Phillies system according to Baseball America, as well as Zeid, who was ranked as having the best slider in Philadelphia's system and could blossom as a solid reliever.

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Headshot thanks to MiLB.com.
Posted on: August 14, 2011 11:49 pm

3 Up, 3 Down: Belt belts two home runs


By Evan Brunell

Jack McKeon, Marlins:  Giants first baseman Brandon Belt showed the Giants (and opponent Florida) that if Aubrey Huff's recent resurgence isn't for real, the Giants will be just fine. Belt... well, "belted" two solo home runs on Sunday to pace San Francisco over the Marlins. Ryan Vogelsong won his 10th, trimming his ERA to 2.47. But neither of them get the prize -- that goes to Marlins manager Jack McKeon, who told the Associated Press that there was no bad blood between the two teams as a result of the Buster Posey broken leg suffered at the hands of Scott Cousins earlier in the year. "Guys get carried away," McKeon said. "Vogel ... Volkswagen ... whatever his name is -- he's lucky he didn't have to face Drysdale or Gibson or one of those guys. You would get a shave and a haircut real quick."

Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays: Boy, is Toronto sure glad it finally called up Brett Lawrie. The rookie has been hot so far in his early career, and delivered a game-tying double in the ninth inning that the Blue Jays would go on to win the next inning. It was his only hit in four trips to the plate, but Lawrie's already shown a knack for getting pivotal hits and is hitting .355 on the year. He's rallied the troops by wearing his heart on his sleeve and is quickly becoming a fan favorite.

Nick Markakis, Orioles: Markakis has been a major disappointment not just this season, but for a few years now. Markakis followed up two strong years with his best season yet in 2008 as a 24-year-old, raking 48 doubles and 20 home runs with a .306/.406/.491 mark, but he tumbled off by close to 100 points in OPS over the next two seasons. This year's been even worse, as he came into Sunday's game against Detroit with a .280/.333/.391 mark. He exacted some measure of help Sunday by going 3 for 5 with a home run, two runs scored and four RBI. It's something.

Jason Marquis, Diamondbacks: Marquis' first two starts for the Diamondbacks didn't go too well, giving up eight runs (seven earned) in four innings two starts ago, following that up with another four-inning stint, coughing up seven runs (four earned). That made Sunday promising, as Marquis had given up one run through 3 1/3, but a line drive off his shin the inning previous flared up all of a sudden and he tumbled to the ground in a heap -- as did batter Josh Thole, who was plunked by Marquis' errant pitch when he took a dive. The diagnosis? Broken shin. Ouch.

Jordan Lyles, Astros: Lyles had a tough opponent in Hiroki Kuroda, who hurled seven scoreless, but Lyles didn't help matters by blowing up for seven runs in 5 1/3 innings. It's the second straight time that Lyles has given up seven runs, and he drops to an unsightly 1-7 on the year and his career. His 5.32 ERA belies a pitcher that might need some more seasoning in the minors, but he's also just 20, and there's plenty better things on the horizon for the right-hander.

Jeff Francis, Royals: Leading up to the trade deadline, Francis was looking like a nice left-hander to slot in the middle of the rotation, especially in the NL. Alas, since then he's been anything but and turned in a six-run outing in just 3 2/3 innings, balls rifling all over the park with 10 hits. Francis also walked two and struck out just one in what was just an overall bad day at the park. His ERA is all the way up to 4.76 now and that luster? It's gone.

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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