Tag:Ivan Rodriguez
Posted on: April 20, 2011 10:42 pm
Edited on: April 20, 2011 10:45 pm
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Red Sox have two-week leash on Saltalamacchia

Saltalamacchia

By Evan Brunell

The Red Sox could make a change at catcher in the coming weeks, as Peter Gammons reports on WEEI, noting that "this is an issue that in the next two weeks is going to be addressed, and I don't know which direction it's going."

Incumbent Jarrod Saltalamacchia, once thought to have a leash until June, instead could be on the way out after a thoroughly uninspiring start to the year. Salty has an inaccurate arm and has looked lost at the plate by striking out 13 times in 39 plate appearances with a low .194/.256/.222 line. That's simply awful, and while it's only 39 plate appearances, he's looked so far away from the pedigree that made him a former first-round pick that he's already started losing copious amounts of playing time to Jason Varitek. The captain has started five of the last nine games -- this after Salty kicked the year off with seven of eight appearances.

"He’s such a good guy. He cares so much. He tries so hard," Gammons said. "[But] you just can’t have this on a championship team, especially when a big part of that championship team is built around power pitchers who are in a couple of cases struggling for their identity. I would be shocked now if Varitek doesn’t catch [Josh] Beckett all the time now. Clearly, they’ve made the decision that he’s going to catch [Daisuke] Matsuzaka, whose earned run average is massively different with Varitek catching. But I don’t think they can afford to let Jason go out and try to catch 120, 130 games."

Part of the problem is that the performances of pitchers with Salty starting are terrible, with a 7.16 ERA for pitchers with the 26-year-old behind the plate. 'Tek, meanwhile, is at 2.40. It's far too early to consider whether that's an actual issue or dumb luck as the sample size is simply too small. But the fact that Varitek has already become the personal catcher for two starting pitchers is not promising. That said, it remains in Boston's best interest to develop Saltalamacchia. With the Red Sox finally winning and the pressure off searching for quick fix solutions, Salty will get a fair number of at-bats in the next couple of weeks to prove Boston's adamant belief that he can be an impact hitter.

What happens if he can't, though? What happens if Boston decides to move on from Salty? Who can replace him?

It can't be Varitek, who has proven at this point in his career he is no longer capable of starting full-time. But who else is out there?

Internally, Luis Exposito and Michael McKenry (acquired from the Rockies in late March) are splitting time at Triple-A. While McKenry is an intriguing name, he is off to a slow start and in a new organization. Exposito, meanwhile, could end up a starting catcher in the majors but the 24-year-old is struggling himself in his first crack at Triple-A.

Gammons names Tim Federowicz as a possibility, as the Double-A catcher is "the best catch-and-throw guy in the organization." Certainly, if a move was to be made, the Sox would go defense over offense so Federowicz is a real possibility -- a better one than Ryan Lavarnway, a catcher in name only who is DHing as Federowciz's teammate.

How about externally? Boston certainly has the trade pieces to strike for a catcher, as they could dangle outfielder Mike Cameron, infielders Jed Lowrie or Marco Scutaro (likely the latter) and prospects such as Yamaico Navarro, Oscar Tejeda, Kyle Weiland, Lars Anderson ... no, finding chips to deal won't be an issue. Finding someone to deal for is. The best available name is Ivan Rodriguez, who is frozen out in Washington. But there's a reason I-Rod is available: he's no longer a legitimate starter as his bat has abandoned him in his chase for 3,000 hits. Gammons also believes Rodriguez would struggle with the pitching staff in Boston even if he has an impeccable defensive reputation.

Other than that ... umm ...

"If there was somebody available who they thought was really good defensively, I think they would immediately jump and do something. I don’t see that catcher," said Gammons. "I’ve gone through lists everywhere trying to figure out who could possibly be available. I just don’t see anybody good. There are guys out there who are OK backups."

And "OK backups" won't fly for the Red Sox. Oh, sure, the Red Sox could entice Bengie Molina out of retirement, but Molina's an aging catcher whose lost all value in his bat and would need a few weeks, at minimum, to get into playing shape.

Bottom line: there isn't much out there.

When push comes to shove, even if the Red Sox believe Salty's leash is only there for two more weeks, they may not have much choice in extending that leash.

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Posted on: April 16, 2011 1:14 pm
 

Pepper: Harper in the spotlight

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Bryce HarperWhat did you do with your days off?

Me, I did what many of you probably did, went to a baseball game. I drove about an hour to go see Bryce Harper play. I was planning on going Monday, but the game was rained out and then I had an off day on Thursday, the last of a four-game series against the Lexington Legends.

On Wednesday, I got a text from a friend that said he just saw Harper's first professional home run. I did not. I did see a double and nearly saw his first fight.

After walking in the third inning, Harper was picked off third and with no chance to score or get out of it, he decided his best chance was to bowl over the catcher, Chris Wallace.

Wallace barely budged, and then got up in Harper's face. Harper, though, just walked away as soon as the umpire got between them. Both benches were warned and nothing further happened.

Harper's going to be a marked man every place he goes this year, that's part of the minor leagues. In the minor leagues you have someone very close yelling very loudly while very drunk. Harper didn't react, and that's for the best. He'll be the target for fans and players. Every pitcher will be giving him their best, every catcher will welcome a play at the plate, and everything Harper does will be magnified.

On Thursday, Harper did the smart thing and walked away. That's not to say he didn't get yelled at by drunk frat boys in the stands, but he was smart. He gains nothing by getting in a fight there, while Wallace could make his name by taking on the millionaire and most famous player in the minor leagues.

I wanted to talk to Harper about that and what it's liked being a marked man -- something he's definitely going to because of the money, his fame and the perceived arrogance (and it'd be fair to say I heard that word used several times on Thursday from folks around the ballpark). But despite the Nationals asking visiting teams to set up a press conference-type table with backdrop for Harper to deal with every night, he declined on Thursday. I'm not upset, I've been stood up by better, but I wish he would have told me earlier. Instead, I waited an hour to be blown off.

That said, I've got to give him some serious credit, as I waited for his whim, he signed autographs and posed for pictures for each of the nearly 50 people waiting by the team's bus. It's certainly going to be an interesting year for a kid who just turned 18 -- I can say I saw him when… Just like I knew I could when I went to see Gregg Jefferies back in the day when he was the top prospect in baseball.

Also, Evan posted this the other day, but here's some video I took (and the picture is from my hipster iPhone app, Instagram -- I'm ctrosecrans, if you're into that kind of thing):

Harper made his home debut on Friday, and the Washington Post's Dave Sheinin was there to see him go 0 for 3. He's now hitting .226 and I was there for his first pro double, if not the homer.

ANOTHER DOUBLEHEADER -- The Brewers and Nationals have already been rained out today and will play a doubleheader tomorrow. [MLB.com]

YOUNG TO DL -- Chris Young is headed back to the disabled list. The Mets placed the right-hander on the 15-day DL, retroactive to April 11, with right biceps tendonitis. The Mets called up lefty Pat Misch. Misch has started one game for Triple-A Buffalo. The team needs a starter for Sunday.

CATCHER NEEDED -- Could Bengie Molina be a fit for the Twins with Joe Mauer on the DL? Another possibility would be Ivan Rodriguez. [St. Paul Pioneer Press]

LUDWICK STRUGGLING -- Many people -- myself included -- killed John Mozeliak for trading away Ryan Ludwick last season to get Jake Westbrook. So far, Mozeliak has looked good as Ludwick has looked bad. Ludwick is hitting .194/.296/.325 since joining the Padres. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

CHAPMAN OK -- Aroldis Chapman says he's feeling fine. His lack of velocity was just from throwing a couple of days in a row. When I talked to Walt Jocketty on Thursday, he said Chapman should be fine to pitch on Sunday. [Cincinnati Enquirer]

SMALL CROWDS -- There are plenty of good seats available at Houston's Minute Maid Parik. [Houston Chronicle]

NO APOLOGY NEEDED -- Cubs manager Mike Quade said he appreciated Carlos Zambrano's apology, but it wasn't needed. Zambrano left the mound before Quade got there when he went to the mound to take him out of Wednesday's game in Houston. [Chicago Sun-Times]

GROUNDSKEEPER OK -- We all saw the YouTube video of the groundskeeper at Kauffman Stadium get run over last week. Yahoo!'s Jeff Passan caught up with Trevor Hogan, who said he wouldn't recommend getting caught under a rolling tarp, but he's fine.

MASCOT INJURY -- In Japan, Carrrasco, the mascot for the Rakuten Eagles injured his leg during a game and had to be rushed to the hospital where he needed surgery. He could miss the entire season. [Yakyu Baka]

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed. 

Posted on: April 12, 2011 12:11 pm
 

Nats calling up Flores

Jesus FloresBy C. Trent Rosecrans

With Ryan Zimmerman headed to the disabled list, the Nationals will call up catcher Jesus Flores from Triple-A Syracuse, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post writes.

The move is a surprise because Flores is another right-handed bat on the bench and he will be the team's third catcher.

Washington has already said Wilson Ramos has moved ahead of Ivan Rodriguez as the team's starting catchers, could this move mean the end of Pudge's time with the Nationals?

Flores, 26, started 2009 as the team's everyday catcher but a string of injuries has kept him from returning to the big leagues since then.

Flores is a career .260/.313/.406 hitter at the big league level.

The team also has a top prospect in Derek Norris, who the team hopes is its long-term answer at the position, making Rodriguez and possible Flores expendable. If Flores shows he's back to where he was in 2009 before his injuries (.301/.371/.505 in 29 games), either he or Ramos could bring back more in trade. 

Rodriguez, 39, is a free agent after the season.

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Posted on: April 9, 2011 12:50 pm
 

Pepper: Appreciating Manny's talent

Ramirez

By Evan Brunell

MORE MANNY: Stop me if you've heard this before, but Joe Posnanski has written a great story. And as you may have gathered by now, it's about Manny Ramirez. Here's Poz:

In my own romantic view of baseball and the world, I tended to see Manny as baseball’s Mozart — an often vile personality who did one thing so beautifully that you could not turn away. ... [I]t was clear that these tough old baseball men who had no respect at all for the way Ramirez treated the game were almost absurdly awed by his talent. They talked of games he would play with pitchers during spring training to set them up later in the year. They talked of adjustments he would make pitch-to-pitch that were so remarkable they could only compare it to chess grandmasters. Bill James ... insisted that Manny Ramirez would purposely get into 3-2 counts with a runner on first so that the runner would be on the move with the pitch and could then score on the double MannyBManny planned to hit.

There's no question that Manny's legacy is stained beyond repair. He's effectively failed three drug tests now, and we're all left to wonder just how long this has been going on. But despite steroids, Manny was a revelation. After all, how many people took steroids to get ahead and how many turned out like Manny? While there's no excuse for Ramirez's actions, it's always been clear that he had an incredible, uncanny ability to hit, both mentally and physically. Those talents come along once in a generation and while Ramirez deserves every ounce of blame for sullying his magical talent, you can't help but marvel at what he's done in the game. (Sports Illustrated)

OWNERS NARROWED: The Mets have narrowed their search for a new minority owner to eight candidates. "They are very happy with the numbers they're seeing. There's a range - the low end is marginally acceptable and the high end is very acceptable," a source said of the Wilpons, who are expected to bring in the new owner by July. (New York Daily News)

ROTATION QUESTIONS: Shaun Marcum seems as if he will be able to make his next start on Tuesday, so Marco Estrada appears ticketed for the bullpen. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

LOVING BASEBALL: The president of Harvard University takes to the newspaper pages to write about why she loves baseball. (Philly.com)

UP, UP AND AWAY: For the first time in his life, Brandon Belt's father stepped onto a plane, all to watch his son play a game in San Francisco. Darrell and wife live in Texas. (San Jose Mercury News)

PLANE SCARE: Tony La Russa and four players were flying to a charity event for La Russa when their plane's cabin failed to pressurize. The plane returned to the airport and did not climb above 10,000 feet. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

ESCOBAR IMPROVING: Yunel Escobar is taking encouraging steps back from a mild concussion suffered Wednesday. He could be back in the lineup as early as Sunday, but new concussion guidelines means he must undergo a final round of testing Saturday before he can take the field. (MLB.com)

RAMOS WINS JOB: Wilson Ramos will become the full-time starting catcher in Washington as Ivan Rodriguez's role is phased back. Don't be surprised to see Pudge eventually traded. (MLB.com)

ALZHEIMER'S: No matter who you are or what you did, no one deserves the agony of Alzheimer's. Yet, that's what Stan Musial is battling as a new biography of Stan the Man details. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

NO MORE HAT FOR LONGORIA: The New Era commercial with Evan Longoria losing his hat was rather popular last season, but this year New Era is going forward with Alec Baldwin from 30 Rock and John Krasinski from The Office, creating another solid commercial. (Big League Stew)

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Posted on: April 5, 2011 10:49 am
Edited on: April 5, 2011 1:05 pm
 

Pepper: Kazmir struggling, future in doubt

Kazmir

By Evan Brunell

Scott Kazmir's job could be in danger.

After going through what Kaz termed "boot camp" in the offseason, the hope was that the former top left-hander would move on from his 5.94 ERA from 2010, the highest among pitchers who tossed at least 140 innings. However, the former Rays ace had an awful spring training and imploded in his first start of the season on Sunday against the Royals.

Manager Mike Scioscia was already unhappy with Kazmir's progress, and his outing Sunday only made things worse. One has to seriously wonder if Los Angeles is considering releasing Kazmir and the $14.5 million left on his contract. It's certainly been a long fall from grace for Kazmir and unfortunately it appears as if whatever made him great in the past is gone for good.

The skipper had no easy answers for Kaz's slow start, saying that he has no velocity or command. "Kaz is a little more complicated, a little more baffling," he said. The Angels do have starting pitcher Joel Pineiro on the way back from injury along with reliever Scott Downs, so Kazmir could lose his rotation spot in quick order. 

The only question is: is he moved to the bullpen or do the Angels cut ties entirely? (Los Angeles Times)

GOING YARD: Will Texas' Nelson Cruz go yard again on Tuesday to have homered in five consecutive games? That's a question Eye on Baseball blogger C. Trent Rosecrans attempts to answer in MLB Today. (CBS Sports)

PETE ROSE MANAGING: That's Junior, not the Hit King. The son of Pete Rose is now managing the White Sox's rookie-level squad after long stints as a minor-league and indy-ball player. (Chicago Sun-Times)

KID REPLACING IDOL: Over in Washington, Wilson Ramos has the tough task of replacing his idol behind the plate in Ivan Rodriguez. Pudge has graciously accepted a reduced role, while the Nats are excited about the potential Ramos has. (Washington Times)

TAKING NO LIP: The judge in the upcoming perjury trial for Roger Clemens has had enough of the Rocket and his accuser, Brian MacNamee, taking to the media to spread their own opinions of the trial. Judge Reggie Walton has since reminded the two that they are not allowed to talk about the case. (New York Times)

STEROIDS OUT: Brian Giles' potential use of steroids has been disallowed in a pending palimony trial against his ex-fiance, who is accusing him of owing her over $10 million as well as abusing her. His links to steroids would have been used to attempt to establish that he did, in fact, abuse her. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

BEER VIA TWITTER: A Mariners beer vendor may be onto something here as he will take beer orders via Twitter for the Mariners' home opener on Friday. Seems like it could be abused, but it's hard to imagine anyone sitting at home sending a beer vendor fake orders from fake seats, even in this day and age. This is definitely a service that could end up becoming common in all stadiums depending how well it is executed. (CNBC)

MORE RESTRICTIONS: In light of the abominable beating two Dodgers fans put on a Giants fan, the L.A. County supervisor is calling for additional security at Dodger Stadium as well as more restrictive limits on sales of booze. (Los Angeles Times)

THERE'S ALWAYS HOPE: Austin Kearns' son was diagnosed with autism at 14 months back in 2009. His son is doing well, however, receiving treatment at a Cleveland hospital that was also the main reason why the outfielder returned to the Indians after signing with the team for 2010 and being traded halfway through the year to the Yankees. (MLB.com)

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Of the potential bidders to become minority owner of the Mets, one has the executive producer of Entourage footing the bill. If Doug Ellin ended up with the team, it could mean a jolt of starpower as quite a few of the actors on the show are Mets fans and could show up to games. (New York Daily News)

FREEZE! A rather interesting story that Stan Musial actually froze his appendix inside his body back in 1947. This allowed Stan the Man to stay on the field and finish out the year before having an appendectomy after the year. You don't usually hear about frozen appendixes, so it's quite a fascinating story. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

SEVENTH INNING FOR JOBA: Joba Chamberlain appears to have a lock on the seventh-inning relief gig. 'We love the way he threw the ball in spring training," manager Joe Girardi said. Interesting given GM Brian Cashman and other Yankee brass were displeased with how out-of-shape Chamberlain was in spring training. (MLB.com)

IS BASEBALL DYING? Sobering news -- 43 percent of MLB fans are age 50 or older in a 2009 survey, tops among all big four sports plus MLS and NASCAR, while a low 28 percent of the coveted age 18-34 demographic prefer baseball. Plus, children are leaving baseball in droves. (BizofBaseball.com)

NAME THAT TEAM: The Cincinnati Reds' Double-A affiliate is moving into a new stadium in Pensacola, Fla. next season. There's a contest being held to determine the nickname of the club, and you must also include why you think it's a good name. (Pensacola News Journal)

NICKNAMIN': Ever wonder how each baseball team got its nickname? All set. (Delaware County Daily Times)

ON THE WAY BACK: Mat Latos tossed a simulated game on Monday and came through it with flying colors. He will be re-evaluated Tuesday, and it's possible the right-hander could be activated as soon as Friday. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Posted on: April 2, 2011 1:25 pm
 

Ivan Rodriguez willing to accept backup role

Rodriguez

By Evan Brunell

Although Ivan Rodriguez drew the start on Opening Day, manager Jim Riggleman admitted that the eventual Hall of Famer would split time evenly with Wilson Ramos to start.

"I think we literally kind of have two No. 1's there," Riggleman told CSNWashington.com. "Right now, I think we're going to move towards that."

At I-Rod's stage in his career, he best profiles as a platoon or part-time catcher, as he can't really justify a full-time role anymore with a disappearing bat. However, the 39 year old still hopes to play three or four more years in his quest for 3,000 hits (he is 183 hits away). And in what is a mild surprise, Pudge is completely accepting of a transition to a backup role and is willing to step aside for Ramos, the future behind the dish for Washington.

"He's the future of our ballclub," Rodriguez said, who figures to lose more and more playing time to Ramos as the season goes on. "I'm here to work with him. I don't have no problem with that. ... The most important thing for me is to help the ballclub."

Riggleman noted that his conversation with Rodriguez about the new situation was "one of the best conversations I've ever had with a ballplayer since I've been managing."

Although Rodriguez is willing to give way to Ramos behind the plate and serve as a mentor, he feels he still has plenty to offer.

"There's still a lot of baseball in me," he noted. "I feel like I can help this team in so many ways: in the field, off the field, with my teammates. ... I would like to finish here. That's my goal, to stay here and accomplish my goals I want to accomplish: be in another playoffs, another World Series and reach 3,000 hits."

It's unclear whether Washington has interest in bringing Rodriguez back after the season given Jesus Flores and Derek Norris are in the minors and will be knocking on the door fairly shortly. Even if Rodriguez doesn't return in Washington, however, he shouldn't have much difficulty finding a backup spot now that he's indicated a willingness to play in that role.

Don't be surprised to see him on the move this summer, though. The Nationals aren't going anywhere and can benefit from trading Rodriguez. The Houston Astros, who are desperate for a catcher, could be a fit later this season. First things first, Ramos needs to show he can produce.

"I'm very excited for this opportunity," Ramos said. "I was waiting for this. I will learn with Pudge, he's going to teach me a lot. I want to learn with him so I will try to do the best I can."

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Posted on: March 29, 2011 5:02 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 11:51 am
 

Top 20 things to expect from 2011 season

Jeter

By Evan Brunell

The 2011 season is slated to start Thursday, and with it comes no shortage of storylines to watch. Last year brought the advent of Stephen Strasburg, yet another Cliff Lee trade, and of course, the Giants being crowned champions. What's on deck?

1. East Coast hype

An all-too easy criticism of mainstream media or any sports journalist is the dreaded "East Coast bias" label. However, this season, most of the intriguing teams and races will come from both the AL and NL East.

In the senior circuit, the Phillies have a vaunted rotation, but injuries to Domonic Brown and Chase Utley have left the door ajar for the Braves to sneak in. Many seem to be overlooking Atlanta, but the club won 91 games and will add Dan Uggla to the lineup while improving production out of left field. The Marlins, meanwhile, have a strong rotation and enough offensive potential loaded in their young players that they can't be discounted. Add in the mess that is the Mets along with some nice storylines in Washington (Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Jayson Werth to name three), and there's plenty of topics to go around.

Likewise, in the league with the DH, the Red Sox were the darlings of the offseason after importing Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, while adding Bobby Jenks to the bullpen, and appear to be the team to beat, as Yankees GM Brian Cashman has admitted. But you can't count out New York, and Cashman has a quality club ready to push for the division. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, underwent quite a remake but can't be counted out, as this is a club that could crack 90 wins with only a smidgen of luck. The Jays are fresh off a surprising year and have Jose Bautista to draw national interest, while the Orioles are hopeful the middling veterans imported will push the team toward the .500 barrier.

That's not to say that other teams don't have compelling storylines, but the concentration of quality and ease of finding compelling storylines for each team means that the East Coast will dominate the news.

2. Breaking records

It will be a banner year for three players set to hit significant milestones, and there are plenty of other players nearing milestones that, while not Hall of Fame caliber, will put emphasis on the productive careers they have had.

Rounding the Bases

Perhaps the most revered milestone for a hitter to reach, 3,000 hits will come into play for Derek Jeter, who is just 74 hits away. He will probably reach the mark in late May or early June, depending on if he's the .270 batting average Jeter of 2010 or the .314-average Jeter of his career.

Jeter isn't the only Yankee poised for a milestone, however. Mariano Rivera is closing in on 600 saves, as he currently has 559. Given that the major-league record for saves is 601 by Trevor Hoffman, Rivera could also make it to the top of the mountain. That said, Mo will need a good year to reach 600 saves as he has not cracked the 40-save barrier in four out of the past five years.

Ivan Rodriguez is also close to 3,000 hits, needing 183. However, given he has not reached that mark since 1999, you can bet I-Rod will need until at least 2012 to reach the milestone. Heck, depending on how much he plays and produces, he may need until 2013, even though that is quite unlikely.

Jim Thome is 11 home runs away from becoming the eighth member of the 600-club. Paul Konerko needs 35 homers to reach 400, while Adam Dunn (354) and David Ortiz (349) would need big seasons to hit the 400 mark.

Closing in on 2,000 hits are Carlos Lee (1,967), Orlando Cabrera (1,948), Scott Rolen (1,944), Jason Giambi (1,914), Albert Pujols (1,900), Adrian Beltre (1,889), Luis Castillo (1,889), Konerko (1,861), Michael Young (1,848), Derrek Lee (1,843), Juan Pierre (1,842), Andruw Jones (1,840) and Placido Polanco (1,836).

3. A new labor agreement

Baseball's collective bargaining agreement is due to expire after the season, but both baseball and the players union are already beginning work on coming to an accord. In a year where the NFL has locked out its players and the NBA appears headed down that path, it's important for baseball to work together with players and come to an agreement in short order.

Fortunately, after years of rancor, both sides have a harmonious working relationship and it should not be difficult to come to an arrangement even with sensitive topics such as revenue sharing and draft slotting among what will be discussed. The last agreement was finalized and announced on Oct. 25, 2006, so any announcement may not come until the conclusion of the playoffs.

However, recent word comes from the Boston Globe that any hint of a work stoppage would be a shocker, even with delicate issues such as revamping the revenue-sharing agreement. Also on deck is adding wild cards, an international draft and draft slotting.

4. Giants doing just fine

There are a lot of people wondering if the Giants can possibly repeat their World Series run of last year, doing so with a suboptimal offense and squeaking into the playoffs by the skin of their nose.

However, the offense should be much improved with Buster Posey behind the dish for a full year, Aaron Rowand squarely on the bench and Miguel Tejada replacing Edgar Renteria. While Tejada may have his issues, especially on defense, he should be able to improve on what Renteria gave the Giants last season. In addition, prospect Brandon Belt should be in the majors by June at the latest and will add another dimension to the club.

The rotation is one of concern, even if it's ridiculously deep given how young everyone is sans Barry Zito and the load they shouldered last year to win a ring. Fortunately, the Giants are cognizant of this and plan to give starters a lighter load to start the year. Plus, even if one or two starting pitchers fall flat on their face, there's still plenty of quality starters. One concern is the depth behind the front five, which is extremely thin.

5. Yankees trade for starting pitcher

There's simply no way the Yankees don't strike for a starting pitcher this season, but it may not be Francisco Liriano. The lefty is the hot name in trade circles and while Liriano still stands a good chance of being dealt, it probably won't be until after the year.

But the Yankees need help now. They had enough trouble filling the Nos. 4 and 5 spots in the rotation, so imagine what the depth behind them is like once injuries strike -- and they will. Fortunately for the Yankees, they have a solid farm system and a top prospect in Jesus Montero they can dangle for the right pitcher.

Even if the right pitcher doesn't come along to whisk Montero away, there will be no shortage of candidates as the year goes on for the Yankees to grab. What bears watching is who they grab. While acquiring a No. 4 starter would certainly deepen the rotation, it's more important for New York to get a frontline pitcher. Does anyone feel confident with A.J. Burnett following CC Sabathia in the playoffs? Didn't think so, and it would be presumptuous to project Phil Hughes' emergence into that pitcher even if the talent is there.

6. Strasburg recovering from Tommy John surgery

StrasburgStrasburg underwent Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow on September 9, and recovery from such surgeries these days tends to take 9-12 months. Edinson Volquez returned to the majors 11 months after such a surgery. While the Nationals may play it cautious, Strasburg is right on schedule, and given his tremendous work ethic and young age, should have no problem meeting the conservative 12-month estimate.

That means Strasmas could be back just in time to close the season out, where he'll certainly dominate headlines once more. Strasburg would certainly need minor-league rehab starts first, but his timeline should assure him of the ability to get into games before the minor-league regular season ends in early September. Given the club will have expanded to 40 players at that point and will likely be out of the division race, it won't be difficult to get Strasburg back on the roster and in a major-league game.

Could the Nationals play it conservative and hold him back until 2012? Sure, it all depends how Strasburg progresses. But even if they hold him back, Strasburg certainly would play Winterball to get his footing under him. Most pitchers returning from T.J. surgery tend to struggle with command upon return, and the only way to address that is to get on a mound and pitch.

7. Bonds, Rocket dominate headlines

BondsThe trial of Barry Bonds has already started, but is still ongoing. It should be wrapped up before long, but that doesn't mean that Bonds will exit the headlines -- whatever the ruling on Bonds' perjury trial, it will have long-lasting ramifications on the game.

If Bonds is found guilty, many ink will be spilled on how this cements Bonds' exclusion from the Hall of Fame, plus articles on how Bonds is finally getting his comeuppance.

In addition, Roger Clemens will be put on high alert, given the Rocket will be undergoing his own perjury trial in the summer. If Bonds is found innocent, there will be a hot debate once more on whether to vote Bonds into the Hall. You will find those writers who believe that, despite the acquittal of Bonds, he knowingly abused steroids. There will be those who concede that while Bonds likely knew exactly what was going on, the law has deemed him innocent, and thus should be elected. And of course, a broad spectrum of opinions therein.

The Clemens trial, meanwhile, will dominate headlines even more than Bonds given the salacious details that have leaked out about Clemens' career, plus the off-putting way in how Clemens has fought the rumors he used steroids.

Much like the Bonds trial, the verdict will spark debate amid wide-ranging opinions. If both are convicted, there will be those who consider the steroid mess closed thanks to triumphing over perhaps the best hitter and pitcher of the steroid era. If both are innocent, it may open the door for those to wonder openly if they are not truly innocent, that the problem may lie with the system itself if it allows Bonds and Clemens to walk free.

Either way, the Bonds and Clemens trial will spark plenty of discussion that will last for years as they attempt to get into the Hall of Fame.

8. Questioning if Mets stay solvent

WilponsThe Mets are hoping to close a deal to bring in a new investor by the close of July. While it is not yet known what percentage of the team these investors will hold, it is expected to be in the 20-25 percent range, although the Wilpons are focused on acquiring a certain price over selling a certain percentage.

Why? 

They need the money. The Mets have debt to pay off, a $1 billion lawsuit staring them in the face (thanks, Irving Picard) and a ticking clock in which to stay solvent. If the Mets aren't able to bring in a new investor by that time, they will likely need a loan from MLB. At that point commissioner Bud Selig would likely have free rein to do what he wants with the Mets, including telling the Wilpons to sell the entire club.

That's incredibly unlikely, especially since the Wilpons (Jeff pictured on the left, Fred right) and Selig have a long, good relationship, but it bears mentioning.

Most investors are requesting majority control of the Mets -- which won't happen, unless the Wilpons' hands are forced -- or right of first refusal if the Wilpons eventually have to cough up the team. This should be an acceptable compromise to the Wilpons, who need to worry about money more than they do any possible future owner of the club.

9. New wave of prospects arriving

At the beginning of March, CBS Sports revealed its top 100 prospects, and along with the list came information on which prospects could make an impact this season.

Topping the list was No. 3 prospect Domonic Brown, who was expected to start in right field for the Phillies and attempt to replace Werth. Unfortunately, the team is now left scrambling after Brown fractured the hamate bone in his hand. He shouldn't be out terribly long, but may struggle with his power stroke upon returning. Philly may have to wait until 2012 to extract real value from the kid.

Meanwhile. No. 6's Jeremy Hellickson will open the season as a member of Tampa Bay's rotation and could easily replace the statistics Matt Garza tossed up. He's that good, that ready for the major leagues and has to be considered the front-runner for the AL Rookie of the Year award.

A fellow pitcher in Kyle Drabek (No. 16) appears on the verge of cracking Toronto's rotation after a successful late-season stint with the Blue Jays. Across the border in Ohio, Aroldis Chapman (No. 9) is readying for a full year in the bullpen and could wrest the closer's job away from Francisco Cordero by year's end.

The prospects keep on coming, as the Braves boast three in No. 19's Freddie Freeman, No. 29 Mike Minor and No. 85 Craig Kimbrel. Freeman should provide a steady presence at first base even if he lacks high-end ceiling. Minor figures to open the year in Triple-A, but should make an appearance before long and have a nice career in the middle of the rotation. Kimbrel is considered by many to be the Braves closer of the future.

There are plenty of other projected starters who will infuse baseball with youth, such as No. 33's Chris Sale, who will relieve for the White Sox; No. 66's Matt Dominguez who is on pace to play third for Florida -- ditto the same for No. 96's Brent Morel for the White Sox; No. 71's J.P. Arencibia is readying for a season as Toronto's backstop; No. 86's Danny Espinosa rocketing through two years of the minors to open the year as the starting second baseman for Washington; and No. 95 Jake McGee's apparent future as Tampa Bay's closer. You also can't discount No. 18 Brandon Belt, who could easily take home the NL Rookie of the Year honors provided he logs enough time for the Giants. Starting pitchers Zach Britton (No. 14, Orioles), Simon Castro (No. 52, Padres) and Kyle Gibson (No. 37, Twins) are on the verge of the bigs as well.

10. Philly thankful Blanton stayed

When the Phillies signed Cliff Lee, the consensus was that Philadelphia would trade Joe Blanton. After all, who needs a No. 5 starter due $17 miliion over the next two years when you have Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels?

Philly couldn't find a fit, however, and will now head into the season with Blanton on the roster. This is a good thing. Just because Blanton is the No. 5 starter doesn't mean he doesn't hold value, and being able to trot Blanton out against the back of the rotation for other teams will give Philadelphia an edge -- one it needs after losing Brown and Chase Utley.

Will Blanton stay with the team for the remainder of the year? Who can say, but even trading Blanton in July for pieces Philly knows it needs for a World Series run -- and to teams who will be increasingly desperate for pitchers once injuries and attrition hit -- is far more valuable than any deal of Blanton in January would have accomplished.

11. Firings

There's no question some managers and GMs will be shown the door in 2011. But who?

Skippers on the hot seat are covered here, so let's take a look at some GMs that could get the axe.

CollettiNed Colletti, Dodgers: Granted, Colletti has been hamstrung by the financial woes of owner Frank McCourt, but Colletti hasn't exactly done a good job with what he's been given. He appears to have learned from his mistakes in signing disasters like Jason Schmidt and Andruw Jones and giving away Carlos Santana, but he also hasn't improved the team significantly. This team is simply muddling along, and Colletti looks like the classic "change for change's sake" for McCourt to try to improve morale. Of course, nothing will improve morale more than McCourt taking a hike.

Jim Hendry, Cubs: Hendry has been an up-and-down GM with the Cubs. While he made a bold gamble in trading for Garza and the Cubs may be a mild sleeper, if the team missteps yet again it's difficult to fathom the Ricketts family holding still. Hendry is a holdover from the previous ownership regime and is signed through 2012, but that wouldn't give the ownership pause in firing him. If the Cubs slip, Hendry is highly likely to be given his walking papers, especially since he stuck his neck out by hiring Mike Quade.

Tony Reagins, Angels: Reagins has done nothing but take steps back since taking over for Bill Stoneman, all the more curious given Stoneman was promoted and oversees Reagins. But the moves Reagins has made, such as (obviously) Vernon Wells are head scratching. Similar moves for Scott Kazmir and insisting on playing Jeff Mathis have followed. Manager Mike Scioscia loves Mathis, but it's up to Reagins to tell Scioscia no and take Mathis away if need be. Unfortunately, this team looks lined up to disappoint again and hover around .500. Will that fly for a second consecutive year in L.A.? Doubt it, and Scioscia won't be the first candidate on the chopping block.

Ed Wade, Astros: It's possible Wade could be on the chopping block in his third season with Houston. The Astros are widely expected to slide back and simply aren't successful at the major- or minor-league level when it comes tom talent. That may speak more to the owner than GM, but the owner doesn't get fired. Also, McLane is thought to be interested in selling the team and is reportedly close to selling to Jim Crane, who previously attempted to buy Houston and lost out on the Rangers last season. Should that happen, new ownership would absolutely want to bring in its own leader.

Jack Zduriencik, Mariners: Jack Z's leash is likely long enough to give him at least one more year, but in Year 3, the Mariners simply don't seem to have improved from his tenure. Yes, they surprised many in 2009, and part of it was probably flukish, but Zduriencik took a historically anemic lineup from 2010 and added ... Jack Cust. If he can get a strong season from Justin Smoak and impressive debuts from Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda, he should be safe.

12. Surprise teams

It happens every year. There's always that one team that takes a big step forward and contends for the postseason. Last year was especially notable in this regard, with the Reds, Padres, Giants and Blue Jays all performing better than expected. The one team to keep an eye on for 2011 is Colorado.

The Rockies finished with 83 wins last year, which is a surprise given the talent. Everyone knows the name Ubaldo Jimenez, Troy Tulowitzki (pictured) and Carlos Gonzalez, but the rest of the team aren't scrubs either. Colorado has been in the national consciousness the last few years given its Rocktober run in 2007 and another postseason appearance in 2009, but it hasn't been able to sustain that excellence.

TulowitzkiThat could be changing now that Gonzalez has fully matured into a middle-of-the-order hitter and have built out a rotation that should keep Colorado in the game. The Rockies are counting a bit on production from Ian Stewart at third and Chris Iannetta at catcher, but when you look at this team, it's a playoff-caliber club that should challenge the Giants in the NL West.

Unlike Colorado, however, there will also be those teams that crash and burn despite expectations. San Diego is widely expected to slide back, but expectations have also been adjusted due to trading Adrian Gonzalez. The one team that may not be able to live up to its billing is the Brewers.

Like Colorado, the star players are obvious -- Zack Greinke and Prince Fielder are the star names, but Ryan Braun and Shaun Marcum are no lightweights, either. The one area of concern in Milwaukee is the utter lack of depth which will end up a real problem if and when injuries strike. Look at what's happened to the rotation -- without Greinke to start the season, the club is going to have to trot out what will effectively be slop in the No. 5 spot. There's similar stories on offense with little help ready to step in and a complete punting of shortstop defense and center field offense.

The Brewers should finish .500, but they are a popular pick to win the World Series and it's difficult to envision them even making the playoffs unless everything goes right. The odds of that happening are as slim as Greinke accepting a trade back to the Royals.

13. Suffering in K.C ... plus optimism

"The day is darkest before dawn," or so goes the saying. That's certainly true in Kansas City, which will throw out a team capable of losing 100 games. But boasting the game's best farm system in a very long time is just the salve to ease the pain Royals fans will enjoy  watching Luke Hochevar function as the team's "ace."

The Royals have pared payroll, knowing it's pointless to try to pretend they can contend, plus the necessity to keep certain positions open for prospects that are nearing the majors. While Alcides Escobar will start the season in the majors, that won't be enough to excite the masses until the first wave of prospects hit, with Mike Moustakas likely to join the club in June or July.

Fans are going to have to sit through Jeff Francoeur flailing at pitches, Alex Gordon trying desperately to reverse his "bust" label and Jason Kendall struggling to take corporeal form ... but the picture only gets rosier, starting with 2012 where it's possible three of the most heralded prospects could break the year with the club, then an additional three hitting the majors at some point over the summer.

While watching the Royals, at least in the outset, will be an exercise in futility, by September, they may become the hot team to watch for the baseball fanatic.

14. Pirates finish last -- or will they?

The Pirates are poised to register their 19th consecutive losing season, but there is some optimism in Pittsburgh. The first wave of position player prospects have hit, and the club can point to Andrew McCutchen in center field, Jose Tabata in left, Neil Walker at second and Pedro Alvarez at third as reasons to be optimistic with the offense. There are some other intriguing pieces down on the farm offensively that could make an impact such as catcher Tony Sanchez, and with a strong year, outfielder Starling Marte could be knocking on the door.

The club is also building solid pitching depth, with Rudy Owens and Bryan Morris perhaps making their big-league debuts this season, although the cream of the crop in Jameson Taillon (the No. 2 overall pick behind Harper in last season's draft) and Stetson Allie are further away. While the team waits for Taillon and Allie, however, it could pluck Gerrit Cole with the No. 1 pick in June. Cole has been called by some as the "next Stephen Strasburg." Lofty expectations to be sure, but if Cole is picked and advances quickly, the Pirates could start doing some damage in several years.

In 2011, finishing under .500 is a virtual certainty. But will the Bucs finish in last place? It's possible they could pull out a fourth-place finish. It all depends how well the rotation performs and Alvarez, Tabata and Walker all adjust to a full year in the majors. The Astros may just have enough solid major-league talent to grab a fourth-place finish, but that's in doubt. Hey, any type of progress will be welcome in Pittsburgh.

15. Wild (card) about the postseason?

There seems to be overwhelming momentum toward expanding the playoffs with another wild card likely being added to the fray to battle the other wild-card winner in a best-of-3 series. That means that for the first time since 1995, the postseason would take on an entirely different complexion.

In 2010, the Yankees would have taken on the Chicago White Sox, while the Braves would have had to stave off the San Diego Padres, who lost the division by one game to the Giants.

The year prior, the Red Sox would battle the Rangers, giving the national audience a hint of what was to come in Texas while the NL would have pitted Colorado against the division-rival Giants. Assuming two wild cards can't come out of the same division, the Marlins would have drawn the honor.

Sounds like fun, right? Except that there would be no Game 163s anymore, so knock out the epic Tigers/Twins battle for the division in 2009. Likewise, the Rockies and Padres would never have played Game 163 in 2007.

Should the second wild card be added to the game, an NFL-style tiebreaker will most likely be used to determine outcomes when two teams tie for the wild card or division. On one hand, that's a bit disappointing, because Game 163s are tremendous fun. But on the other hand, that fun would simply be extended to the new wild-card playoff format and happen every year instead of having to wait for the occasional Game 163 scenario to roll around.

Either way, it would be a shocker if there wasn't a new playoff system in place for 2012.

And here's five more things that could happen this season ... 

Ramirez1. In the first game between the Red Sox and Rays, Manny Ramirez forgets he's on the Tampa Bay squad and runs on the field with the Red Sox to begin the game. He asks Crawford what he's doing in left field and why they are wearing opposite uniforms. Crawford tries to explain the situation, but ManRam simply shrugs and heads into the Green Monster.

2. Ozzie Guillen surprisingly releases a book about Jenks (remember when he said he could "write a book on the kid" in the offseason?), full of salacious details about Jenks' time in Chicago, including the revelation that Jenks ate a middle reliever during one game. In his first game against the White Sox in 2011, an enraged Jenks throws at the head of the first two batters, hitting them before Guillen comes out on the field to complain. Jenks then beans Guillen and the two brawl on the field, which leads to a multi-million dollar match between the two in UFC in which Jenks, who hired Mike Tyson as trainer, attempts to bite Guillen's ear off.

3. During one particularly heated Cincinnati-St. Louis matchup, the benches clear, and Johnny Gomes comes face to face with Adam Wainwright. Without a word exchanged, Gomes promptly delivers a crane kick to Waino. "First learn stand, then learn fly," Dusty Baker sagely observes.

4. Joe Maddon, who is already known for using uncommon words, takes things to a whole new level. Witness this quote: "David Price can unequivocally bung. How dexterous is the swain? He's as recherché as Sandy Koufax in his diurnal course." Good luck deciphering that.

5. Pujols announces the team he has chosen to sign with during the last homestand of the season -- against the Cubs on Sept. 25. In the bottom of the ninth inning, with the bases loaded, down three runs with a full count and the division title in the balance for the Cardinals, Pujols watches strike three right down the middle. As the crowd groans, Pujols rips open his jersey, revealing a Cubs home jersey underneath and dropkicks Tony La Russa as the announcers scream "NOOOOOOO!" And fade to black.

OK, so these five things won't happen, but one can dream. The rest you can expect.

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Posted on: March 22, 2011 4:56 pm
 

Nats looking to deal Ivan Rodriguez

By Evan Brunell

RodriguezThe Nationals are committed to making Wilson Ramos the primary starter, as FOX Sports reports. This is the case even as the Nats intend to start Ivan Rodriguez behind the dish on opening day simply because Rodriguez is a powerful name in the history of catching -- even if Ramos is the better option.

Despite Washington's intention to start I-Rod behind the plate on March 31, Ramos is expected to draw the bulk of playing time and that is a concern for the Nats, who feel Rodriguez won't adjust well to a backup role primarily because I-Rod feels he can still contribute, intends to play multiple years and is chasing 3,000 hits of which he is 183 hits away.

Washington contacted the Red Sox about trading for Rodriguez, but Boston declined the opportunity and is going full steam ahead with the Jarrod Saltalamacchia-Jason Varitek pairing. While Boston could option Salty to the minors, it doesn't make much sense to import an aging catcher with no offensive upside. Boston also received a call from the Angels about catcher Bobby Wilson, but similarly declined the opportunity.

So what teams could fit for I-Rod? The Astros are one, who had Rodriguez to start the 2009 season before trading him to Texas for the stretch drive. Houston is dealing with the loss of Jason Castro and its current options in Humberto Quintero and J.R. Towles are weak. Rodriguez would stand to get the bulk of playing time, which would appease his apparent desire to start.

The Yankees could also bring back Rodriguez for a second stint following 33 games in 2008. Although GM Brian Cashman is adamant that the backup role will fall to Austin Romine or Jesus Montero, it's not clear that it's the prudent decision. Further working against a return to New York is the fact that Rodriguez would not start in addition to the fact that Francisco Cervelli is expected to be healthy by May in order to return to his backup role.

The Royals are one other option, but given they already have one aging catcher on the team in Jason Kendall who will be ready to return to the team by mid-April, K.C. is likely not a fit either. What they may be able to do that would appease both catchers is split playing duties, but the Royals have given no indication they're interested in adding another catcher.

In fact, there are no other teams with as good a fit as Houston when it comes to the most playing time available. If Rodriguez was willing to be a backup catcher, he would likely have a whole list of suitors -- or the Nats would simply keep him. Unless Houston comes calling, the Nationals will likely be stuck with Pudge and have to figure out a way to keep him happy but play Wilson Ramos the majority of the time.

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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