Posted on: February 22, 2012 7:28 pm
 

Mets create practice field to mirror Citi Field

By Matt Snyder

In an effort to make the park a little less extreme -- in favor of the pitchers -- the Mets have moved in and lowered the fences in the Citi Field outfield for this upcoming season. The changes are below, with the orange line being the old wall and the blue line being the new one (also note that the left field wall was 16 feet tall and it's now only eight feet tall, among several other alterations).

And just to make things a bit more familiar for the next six weeks, the Mets have a chain-link replica of Citi Field in Port St. Lucie, Fla. for spring training.



The replica field isn't one they'll use for spring games, as it's merely a practice field (Field 7). Still, they can get in some work on the field and become more comfortable with the new dimensions. Three players -- David Wright, Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda -- took batting practice on Field 7 Wednesday and there's already an excitement. Here are some quotes on the first day:

• "Today shows you that there's a big difference," Mets manager Terry Collins said (MLB.com). "It's going to change the way these guys think when they're at home plate."

• "I saw David [Wright] hit like four or five balls that last year wouldn't have been over the fence and now they're homers," Duda said (MLB.com). "I saw Murph hit one out the other day. It's the first day and the wind was blowing out a little bit, so you've got to factor it in. But it was a good day."

• “You could tell. And if you couldn’t tell, [Mets COO] Jeff [Wilpon] was there to remind you,” Wright said (ESPN New York).

• “The wind was blowing out to left pretty good, so that felt pretty good," said Murphy (ESPN New York). "I saw David hit some balls out. I think he hit one out to right-center. I think Jeff came up and said something to him. He was like, ‘See, I told you we brought them in.’ And then Duda hit a couple out to left. And there was one ball, the last swing I took, to 358 in left-center that ran out of real estate that I was like, ‘All right, I kind of like that a little bit.’”

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Posted on: February 22, 2012 5:38 pm
 

If no Varitek, there'll be no 'C' in Boston

Jason Varitek

By C. Trent Rosecrans


Jason Varitek has served as the team's captain since 2005, but if he doesn't return -- and it doesn't look like he will -- the Red Sox will go sans an official captain.

"If Varitek doesn't show up? I hadn't planned on [a captain]," new manager Bobby Valentine told reporters (via MLB.com). "If the team thinks a captain's a cool thing, I think that could be considered. It's not that I don't think a captain's necessary. Then again, I don't know that it's so necessary you can't live without it. Who was the captain last year in St. Louis? They didn't have one. So you can win a world championship without a captain."

With Tim Wakefield and (probably) Varitek gone, David Ortiz will be the longest tenured Red Sox, but it doesn't sound like he has any interest in donning the C.

"It's not my job to walk on anyone," Ortiz said Wednesday (via MLB.com). "I'm just an employee, just like anyone else. I'm not a babysitter or anything like that. I'm talking to another man just like me. There's a difference between being a team leader and being a babysitter."

Valentine and Ortiz are probably right, there's no real need for a captain in baseball. The only place it's mentioned in the official rules says an error in a team's lineup should be brought to the attention of the team's manager or captain.

The only two official captains in baseball are the Yankees' Derek Jeter and Paul Konerko of the White Sox, neither of whom wear a "C" patch on their uniform.

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Posted on: February 22, 2012 4:52 pm
Edited on: February 24, 2012 3:34 pm
 

Yu Darvish has an odd way of staying 'balanced'

Yu Darvish

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Notice anything odd about the photo of Yu Darvish above?

How about now that you look at these two photos?



Yep, the right-handed Darvish was throwing left-handed. According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, Darvish occasionally plays catch left-handed to keep both arms strong and balanced.

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Posted on: February 22, 2012 2:59 pm
 

Pujols still objects to nickname 'El Hombre'

Albert Pujols

By C. Trent Rosecrans


When Albert Pujols was in St. Louis, he made it clear he didn't like being called by the nickname "El Hombre," even asking fans not to call him by the monicker in 2010.

Pujols said he felt it was a disrespect -- not a clever play -- of Stan Musial's nickname, "The Man." That's why it was a surprise, in St. Louis especially, when the Angels put up billboards in Southern California with Pujols' picture next to the words "El Hombre."

On Wednesday, Pujols made it clear he still doesn't like the name and didn't authorize the billboards.

"Like I say, I haven't talked to them, but I prefer not to use [El Hombre]," Pujols told Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com. "I still have the same respect for [Musial] as I had, not just waht he's done in baseball, but for what he did for his country. That's something you have to appreciate."

Musial served in the Navy during World War II and last season was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama.

According to the Angels, there are 20 such billboards in Southern California.

Hat-tip: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Posted on: February 22, 2012 2:38 pm
 

Report: Edgar Renteria leaning toward retirement

Edgar Renteria

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Former World Series MVP Edgar Renteria is leaning toward retirement, although his agent, Barry Meister told FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal that the 35-year-old shortstop probably won't file official retirement papers anytime soon, leaving the door open for a return.

Renteria played for the Reds last season, but Cincinnati instead chose to go with rookie Zach Cozart as its starter at shortstop, along with backup Paul Janish. Renteria received two offers of minor-league contracts from National League teams, but he chose not go that route.

"It had nothing to do with the team," Meister told Rosenthal. "It just had to do with the feeling that this might be the right time."

Renteria won two Gold Gloves and was a five-time All-Star, as well as two World Series titles and another appearance. Although, the highlight of his career came early, when at 20 he hit the game-winning RBI single in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series with the Marlins. He then won the World Series MVP with the Giants in 2010. He also appeared in the 2004 World Series with the Cardinals.

In an interesting twist, he could be hanging up his glove in the same offseason season that countryman and fellow Gold Glove shortstop Orlando Cabrera retired. Cabrera, 37, played for the Giants and Indians last season -- and coincidentally, was the shortstop for the Reds in 2010. He was also the shortstop for the Red Sox when Boston beat Renteria's Cardinals in the 2004 World Series.

What makes it really interesting is that the two, who are probably the greatest players to ever hail from Columbia, had a rivalry and didn't like each other. Here's a story from 2008 written by Jorge Arangure in ESPN The Magazine that examines and explains the feud. It's a fascinating read, but the crux is this -- Renteria felt Cabrera was jealous of him and then there's a money aspect to the entire deal.

In Cincinnati, I've dealt with both and found it odd. Teammates liked -- and even loved -- both players, they were well-respected and were also good with the media. Renteria, whom I was around less, seemed more quiet, while Cabrera is outgoing, loud and hilarious.

Renteria and his brother founded the Columbian Professional Baseball League and he is seen as a hero in Columbia, while last season Cabrera became a U.S. citizen.

If Renteria retires, he'll end his career with a .286/.343/.398 slash line, 140 home runs and 2,327 hits to go along with five All-Star appearances, two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers. He also played on seven playoff teams with four different franchises. Cabrera finished his career with a .272/.317/.390 slash line, 123 home runs and 2,055 hits. He never made an All-Star team, but did win two Gold Gloves and played on six playoff teams. From 2004-2010, he appeared in the playoffs in all but one of those seven seasons, making six playoff appearances with five different teams.

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Posted on: February 22, 2012 1:22 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 2:35 pm
 

Spring primer: Seattle Mariners


By Matt Snyder


The Mariners are coming off a 67-95 season, when they finished 29 games out in the AL West -- seven behind the third-place A's. It was the sixth time in the past eight years Seattle came in last and they haven't seen the postseason since 2001. One big trade headlined the offseason as they attempt to turn the tide.

Scott Miller's Camp Report: With Jesus, Seattle seeks resurrection | Likes, Dislikes

Major additions: C/DH Jesus Montero, RHP Kevin Millwood, C John Jaso, RHP Hisashi Iwakuma
Major departures: RHP Michael Pineda, UT Adam Kennedy

Probable lineup
1. Chone Figgins, 3B
2. Dustin Ackley, 2B
3. Ichiro Suzuki, RF
4. Justin Smoak, 1B
5. Jesus Montero, DH
6. Mike Carp, LF
7. Franklin Gutierrez, CF
8. Miguel Olivo, C
9. Brendan Ryan, SS

Probable rotation
1. Felix Hernandez
2. Jason Vargas
3. Hisashi Iwakuma
4. Kevin Millwood
5. Hector Noesi

Blake Beavan and Charlie Furbush are also in the mix.

Back-end bullpen
Closer: Brandon League
Set-up: RHP Shawn Kelley, LHP George Sherrill

Important bench players
C John Jaso, IF Kyle Seager, OF Casper Wells, OF Trayvon Robinson

Prospect to watch
With the second overall pick in the 2011 draft, the Mariners pegged left-handed starting pitcher Danny Hultzen from the University of Virginia. It's likely his presence -- in addition to Furbush, Beaven and prospects Taijuan Walker and James Paxton -- made it easier to deal Pineda for some offensive help. Hultzen appeared in the top 30 overall in most prospect rankings this spring and is said to be close to big-league ready. The M's likely don't have a reason to rush him, but if he's ready come June or July, it wouldn't be surprising to see him make an impact this season.

Fantasy sleeper: Kyle Seager
"Seager isn't much of a home-run threat, and playing home games at Safeco Field won't help matters, but his gap power and keen batting eye could help him to an average in the .290 to .300 range, if not higher. Owners may look at last season's .258 mark, his lack of prospect hype and his place in a less-than-imposing Mariners lineup and discount him. However, Seager's ability to get on base and rack up doubles makes him worth a late-round flier in mixed league formats." - Al Melchior [Full Mariners team fantasy preview]

Fantasy "head-to-head hero:" Dustin Ackley
"Ackley's in-the-park extra-base hits will make him one of the seven or eight best second basemen in Head-to-Head, but the potential for mediocre homer and run production makes him a later-round option for mixed league Roto owners." - Al Melchior [Full Mariners team fantasy preview]

Optimistic outlook
Ackley and Montero become stars, Figgins returns to form, a finally-healthy Gutierrez returns to form as well and Ichiro thrives in the 3-hole, finally giving the Mariners a viable offense. Iwakuma adjusts to America impressively while Hultzen storms onto the scene in early June to provide an additional pitching boost. The Rangers and Angels suffer major injury and underachievement issues, and the Mariners shock everyone by winning the AL West.

Pessimistic outlook
Heading into this season, expect the Mariners to be picked third by pretty much everyone. Thus, the pessimistic outlook would be that the Mariners find a way to finish below the A's. If the offense sputters, younger players stall in their development and the rotation behind King Felix proves thin -- which is possible -- that last place finish could repeat.

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Posted on: February 22, 2012 12:39 pm
 

Yankees sign former Mariners closer David Aardsma

David AardsmaBy C. Trent Rosecrans

The Yankees have signed former Mariners closer David Aardsma.

The right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery last July and has signed a one-year deal worth $500,000 with a club option for 2013.

"The move could help us in 2012, but it has a lot more eyes toward 2013," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told MLB.com.

Aardsma, 30, didn't pitch at all last season, but recorded 31 saves in 2010 and 38 in 2009. He is 13-15 with a 4.20 ERA and 69 career saves. He's averaged roughly a strikeout an inning throughout his career.

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Posted on: February 21, 2012 9:11 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 10:43 am
 

Spring primer: New York Yankees



By C. Trent Rosecrans

After a one-year stint as an underdog, the Yankees are back to being the clear favorite in the American League East. New York fortified its rotation with Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, upgrading what appeared to be its one weak link.

Yankees spring training
Major additions: RHP Michael Pineda, RHP Hiroki Kuroda, DH Raul Ibanez
Major departures: RHP A.J. Burnett, DH Jesus Montero, RHP Bartolo Colon, DH Jorge Posada

Probable lineup:
1. Derek Jeter SS
2. Curtis Granderson CF
3. Robinson Cano 2B
4. Alex Rodriguez 3B
5. Mark Teixeira 1B
6. Nick Swisher RF
7. Russell Martin C
8. Raul Ibanez DH
9. Brett Gardner LF

Probable rotation:
1. CC Sabathia
2. Hiroki Kuroda
3. Michael Pineda
4. Ivan Nova
5. Phil Hughes

Back-end bullpen
Closer: Mariano Rivera
Set-up: RHP David Robertson, RHP Rafael Soriano

Important bench players
C Francisco Cervelli, IF Eduardo Nunez, OF Andruw Jones, IF Eric Chavez

Prospect to watch: With the additions of Kuroda and Pineda, there's not quite the pressure on left-hander Manny Banuelos that there was last spring. Banuelos doesn't turn 21 until March 13, so he can develop without the pressure of being the savior of the Yankees. His results last season at Double-A and Triple-A didn't live up to the hype, but he's still a quality young pitcher than can contribute to the rotation in the future.

Fantasy breakout: Michael Pineda

"With a year of experience, he'll be better equipped to handle a full workload, which could lead to 15-plus victories with the Yankees' stellar lineup backing him. And most likely, any rise in ERA will be in relation to the early 2.58 mark, not the final 3.74 mark." - Scott White

Fantasy sleeper: Phil Hughes

"With an improved workout program this offseason, he should be able to pick up where he left off late last year, when he was throwing in the low-to-mid 90s. True, Hughes wasn't exactly an ace then, but just by holding a regular rotation spot for the high-scoring Yankees, he's a sleeper in Fantasy. And if he can recapture the form he showed in the first half of 2010, when he was an All-Star, he's a late-round steal." - Scott White

Optimistic outlook: Pineda lives up to expectations, Kuroda is solid, Nova takes a step forward, Hughes makes 30 starts and Sabathia wins the Cy Young. That pitching, with a healthy A-Rod, Granderson repeating his 2011 output and Teixeira lives up to his contract and the Yankees win the AL East easily and go on to win the World Series.

Pessimistic outlook: Anything less than a World Series title is the end of the world in New York, so it doesn't have to be too bad for Yankees fans to overreact. But the worst-case scenario is the team's older stars continue to age, with injuries taking away A-Rod, Jeter, Teixeira and Martin for long periods of times. Pineda struggles in New York and his lack of a third pitch comes back to bite him, Kuroda is mediocre and Nova takes a step back. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays take a step forward and New York finishes behind Tampa Bay, Boston and Toronto.

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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