Tag:Joe Maddon
Posted on: April 10, 2011 1:18 pm
 

Maddon to talk with Lopez about bat flip

By Matt Snyder

Early Saturday evening in Chicago, there was a heated exchange between Felipe Lopez and several members of the White Sox -- including manager Ozzie Guillen and catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

The issue started when White Sox pitcher Chris Sale threw an inside pitch to Lopez, who stared down Sale for apparently having the audacity to pitch inside -- seriously, it was not anywhere near his head, nor did Lopez have to dive out of the way. It was just an inside pitch. Lopez followed with a no-doubt home run. After the ball left his bat, he flipped his stick toward the mound. Yes, into the field of play. When Lopez arrived at home, Pierzynski greeted him with a simple question. You could read his lips, and the clean version is that he just wanted to know what that bat-flip was all about. Lopez and Pierzynski were separated by the umpire while several guys from the White Sox dugout, including Guillen, were screaming toward the field in anger as well. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and nothing further happened.

Sunday, Rays skipper Joe Maddon made it very clear that type of behavior will not be tolerated.

"That's not who we are. That's not how we play,'' Maddon said. "I'm not into the end zone demonstration that much. I think we've really morphed into this, I believe, very classy group over the last several years and I want to maintain that kind of thought about us. I don't even want to say image - you think about the Rays, you think these guys handle themselves in a certain way. So, we don't do that here.'' (TampaBay.com )

Good for Maddon, though it's hardly surprising. He's one of the most respected managers in the game for a reason.

To be fair to Lopez, he said he didn't flip the bat toward the mound on purpose and that he called Guillen to apologize. I definitely buy the apology, but you rarely, if ever, see a bat accidentally tossed that far into the field of play. And we know the staredown of Sale wasn't an accident. The smart money is on him realizing his error later and then calling Guillen, but all's well that ends well and the situation seems to have been put to bed.

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Posted on: April 6, 2011 2:44 pm
Edited on: April 6, 2011 5:11 pm
 

Ramirez scratched from Rays lineup

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Joe Maddon is giving Manny Ramirez a break. Ramirez will miss Thursday's game for personal reasons in addition to being scratched from Wednesday's lineup.

"I know it's early in the season, but I still think he's pressing a bit," Maddon told MLB.com . "I really think he's trying to carry too much of this load right now. I want him to understand that I'm seeing that, that I think he's trying way too hard. All I want him to do is his part, nobody else's part, that we all can take care of ourselves here."

Ramirez is 1 for 16 so far this season and was booed by the home fans in Tuesday night's loss to the Angels.

The designated hitter will join his teammates in Chicago on Friday, missing Thursday's game against the White Sox.

Johnny Damon is serving as the Rays' designated hitter today against Dan Haren. Damon's just 1 for 13 this season after two hitless at-bats so far today.

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Posted on: March 30, 2011 9:36 am
 

Pepper: Opening day eve a time for optimism



By Matt Snyder


It's palpable. The 2011 baseball season is finally (almost) upon us.

My favorite part about the beginning of the baseball season is how much of the unknown we're about to encounter. Go back to the predictions from last season from any professional publication, any team message board, anywhere. I challenge you to find one with the Giants against the Rangers in the World Series. Roy Halladay for Cy Young -- OK, nearly everyone had that one. So, yeah, there might be some things we know are going to happen. Still, not many had the Reds in the NL Central last year. I bet the same percentage of people who picked this season's NCAA basketball Final Four correctly had the Padres winning 90 games last season. Josh Hamilton for AL MVP? C'mon. The examples are seemingly endless.

So, yes, there are going to be many predictions heading into the season. It's fun to do them, in fact, it's one of my favorite things to do. That doesn't mean anyone knows what's going to happen, otherwise it would be pretty boring to actually watch the thing unfold.

So let loose with the fearless predictions. Are you a Nationals fan that who thinks your team is taking down the Phillies this year? Sing it, sister! No one can tell you you're wrong right now. Nothing has happened yet and it's a time for optimism.

Remember, as our friend Andy Dufresne once tried to teach his good buddy Red, hope is not a dangerous thing -- it's a good thing.

MADDON'S WINE LINEUP: Joe Maddon is awesome. This should be accepted as fact. In the latest example, Maddon sets a batting order of his favorite wines. (TBO.com )

ETHIER UNSURE? This was a bit puzzling to come out just a few days before the season started, but it could very well be much ado about nothing. All-Star outfielder Andre Ethier said he wasn't sure about his future with the Dodgers after this season. "You don't know if this is your last [year] or not, but you want to enjoy it to its fullest extent and make the most out of it." (LA Times ) What's weird about this is Ethier isn't a free agent until after 2012. It doesn't seem he's a likely trade candidate, as he's a young member of the team's nucleus. So you could dig deep and think he knows something ... or you could take this for what it probably was -- a guy just talking about every possibility as he heads into an uncertain season. Let's not make a mountain out of a molehill here.

DISGRUNTLED DODGER FAN:
Here's a beauty. A fan of the Dodgers had been attending games for 23 years and was a season ticket holder for the past eight. He declined to renew his season tickets for 2011 and when offered lunch with owner Frank McCourt -- likely to try and smooth things over -- the fan refused. "My friends all asked me if I was crazy," Brian Gadinsky said. "I told them, no, I am just tired. … I am tired of being loyal to a man who has not returned that loyalty." Gadinsky later said he hopes the Dodgers go 162-0 but he "can no longer support a man who has taken this great foundation and allowed it to rot." Awesome. (LA Times )

BITTERSWEET DAY FOR PEAVY: Jake Peavy had a good day Tuesday, though he was feeling down about things. "It was a tough day, but a motivating day as well," he said (Chicago Sun-Times ). Peavy would be speaking about seeing his team break camp without him, as well as his simulated game against White Sox hitters going well. He threw 45 pitches, retiring all 13 hitters he faced -- including Carlos Quentin four times. But since he's still building his way back from tendinitis in his rotator cuff, he's staying behind as the White Sox head north for the season. If everything goes as planned, Peavy will make a second rehab stint April 13 and could join his teammates at the big-league level after that.

DOWN GOES HAPP: Astros starting pitcher J.A. Happ went down with the seemingly trendy oblique injury. As we've seen with Brian Wilson and a few others this spring, this is an injury that takes several weeks to overcome, though Happ is still "optimistic" he can be ready for his first start. He must have read my intro above. (Ultimate Astros )

IZZY CONTEMPLATES RETIREMENT? The Mets have chosen Blaine Boyer as their final bullpen arm to enter the season, which meant veteran Jason Isringhausen was designated for assignment. Though Izzy did only allow one run in seven spring innings, the Mets are concerned about his durability -- and who can blame them, with his three Tommy John surgeries and age (38). Manager Terry Collins is reportedly trying to convince Isringhausen to stay with the team, though he may retire to spend more time with his family. Also, give credit to general manager Sandy Alderson, who reportedly "promised" Isringhausen the Mets would release him if another team wanted to sign him. (New York Times baseball blog)

OGANDO READY: We found out earlier in the week Alexi Ogando would take the rotation spot vacated by Tommy Hunter. Tuesday, he had a nice outing to prepare for the transition. He worked six innings, giving up one run on three hits while walking four and striking out five. He faced Coastal Carolina, but the main thing was showing he could throw six innings and he appears ready to take the temporary plunge into the rotation. (Star-Telegram )

JURRJENS PROGRESSING:
Braves starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens left his start last Thursday with "discomfort" in his ribcage (oblique muscle, anyone?) and hasn't thrown off a mound since. He did play catch in the outfield Tuesday, so that's something. "He's progressing well. We're just not there yet," general manager Frank Wren said. "We're not pushing it, because we don't want to set him back." The only thing the Braves have revealed on the next step is that Jurrjens will throw a side session "soon."  Fortunately the Braves have four other very capable starters in Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson and Brandon Beachy. They could even dip into the minors and grab Mike Minor if Jurrjens is out for an extended amount of time. (MLB.com )

DREW DAY-TO-DAY: Stephen Drew had an MRI on his stomach Tuesday and was diagnosed with a strained abdomen. He's listed as day-to-day and might miss opening day, but he is not going to be placed on the disabled list. This is where we remind everyone that missing opening day is not a huge deal. It's 0.6 percent of the season. (MLB.com )

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Posted on: March 29, 2011 10:42 pm
 

Rays don't have a closer

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Joe MaddonIt's less than 48 hours until the 2011 Major League Baseball season kicks off, do you know who your closer is? 

Joe Maddon doesn't.

"Well, there isn't one," the Rays manager told Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune "and I'm not going to declare one, because I think if you are not absolutely certain, then you shouldn't do that, because you're only setting yourself up for problems later on."

Maddon said he was happy with his rebuilt bullpen with just one holdover from last season, Andy Sonnanstine. He'll be joined by Jake McGee, a September call-up a year ago, along with Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Juan Cruz, Cesar Cabral and Adam Russell. The team will also add J.P. Howell in May.

It appears Farnsworth is as close as the team will have to a conventional closer, but Maddon may not save his closer for the ninth inning and obvious save situations.

"What I've learned over the last couple of years is that it's really about the leverage of the moment," Maddon said. "Why permit the game to get away in the seventh or eighth inning and have no chance to win it in the ninth and then you're using somebody entirely different anyway. I'm going to do my best to parcel out the work nightly and match them up as well as we can, try not to abuse anyone by warming them up and not putting them in the game."

Just the use of the word "leverage," Maddon is going to get a lot more fans in the sabermetric world. In hypothetical baseball, the prevailing theory is that a closer isn't needed, but no team has really tested that since the 2003 Red Sox, and that was abandoned during the season. Maddon doesn't have much of a choice, there's no lights-out closer sitting in the Rays' pen -- there may not even been a dimmer switch -- but he's got to try something. It will at least be something interesting to watch as the season goes along.

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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.

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

Posted on: March 23, 2011 10:30 am
Edited on: March 23, 2011 11:42 am
 

Pepper: Greinke explains why Nationals were nixed

Greinke

By Evan Brunell

JUST WIN, BABY: Zack Greinke spoke about rejecting a trade to the Nationals in favor of the Brewers, turning down an extension that would have been worth over $100 million.

The reason for the deal, Greinke says, has nothing to do with having anything against Washington. In fact, Greinke wouldn't rule out going to the Nationals once he hits free agency, but Milwaukee is where he wanted to be.

"The one thing I couldn’t get over was the fact that, here I was trying to get out of Kansas City because the team wasn’t good," Greinke said. "Not saying [the Nationals] don’t have a chance, but I was trying to get to a team that was looking really good at the moment. And I believe [the Nationals] will be good eventually."

In addition, Greinke cited the fact that Washington would have given up too much of its building blocks that could take the team into contention, including Jordan Zimmermann, Danny Espinosa and others. Milwaukee, meanwhile, coughed up players that weren't crucial to the contending process.

But for now, Greinke is with the Brew Crew and rehabilitating a cracked rib. While everyone involved would prefer Greinke was healthy, the extra time has allowed those in the organization to get to know Greinke. (Washington Post)

STICK TO THE MALL: Tommy Hilfiger came out with some redesigns of iconic sports uniforms with his take on the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Lakers, Montreal Canadiens and New York Yankees. Umm, Tommy... stick with what's gotten you here, 'kay? (San Antonio Express News)

WELCOME TO THE JOB: In Joe Garagiola, Jr.'s first ruling, baseball's new disciplinarian is expected to hand down a ruling on the Cardinals-Nationals fracas from Tuesday in which Livan Hernandez admitted plunking Colby Rasmus on purpose. It's unclear how hard Garagiola will come down, but expect fines at the very least. (Washington Post)

POLE POSITION: “MLB wants to play in Europe and the Netherlands have conquered pole position," says MLB's director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The Netherlands are on track to build a baseball stadium for 2014 to host baseball's first European games in Hoofddorp, a 30-minute drive from Amsterdam. Germany (Regensburg) and Italy (Rome) are also in contention. (Mister Baseball

"NOW PLAYING CENTER FIELD -- WAIT, WHAT?" Jason Bay took a turn in center field for the Mets on Tuesday, and it could be something you see again. Skipper Terry Collins says Bay could play center in a pinch as he will not allow Carlos Beltran to return to center at any point. (New York Times)

Josh Hamilton v.2: Everyone knows Josh Hamilton's story, but have you heard of Jeff Allison? The Marlins grabbed him with their first-round pick in 2003 after Hamilton was named Baseball America's High School Player of the Year. Two heroin overdoses and an Oxycontin addiction later, Allison seemed on the verge of leaving baseball -- and life. But he's been clean for over four years now and got his first taste of the majors Tuesday. (Miami Herald)

ROTATING LINEUP: Joe Maddon would love to have a set lineup for the Rays, but that's not going to happen. There's too much good information, he says, that comes from within the organization regarding production against certain pitchers and especially this year, Maddon plans to take advantage of it. (MLB.com)

TALKING CONTRACT: Adrian Gonzalez's agent, John Boggs, was in town on Tuesday to talk contract with the Red Sox. Both sides came away optimistic, and -- stop me if you haven't heard this before -- expect an extension to be consummated in April. (Boston Globe)

IZZY'S FINE: One of the more intriguing stories of spring training was Jason Isringhausen's return to the majors with the Mets. An injury appeared to have perhaps changed that, but Isringhausen says the injury won't knock him out for a while and he should still be ready for Opening Day. (New York Post)

STILL NO NO. 5: The Cubs still haven't made any decisions on who the No. 5 starter will be, so Carlos Silva gets another chance to turn his spring training around when he draws the start in Wednesday's spring-training game. (Chicago Tribune)

RIDE THE PONY: A classic restaurant that was the staple of baseball people in Scottsdale, Ariz. for a decade has reopened under new ownership and has drawn rave reviews for ... keeping things exactly the same, which is how patrons of the restaurant like it. (Washington Post)

ORGAN MUSIC: A nice little story on the White Sox's new organist, replacing one who retired after 40 years on the job. (Chicago Tribune)

REMEMBERING STEVE OLIN AND TIM CREWS: Tuesday was the 18th anniversary of the tragedy that took the lives of Indians pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews. A look back... (Cleveland Plain-Dealer)

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: March 22, 2011 4:03 pm
 

New look for Rays' Maddon

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Joe MaddonWhat do you get for the Rays fan with everything?

The official eyeglasses of Joe Maddon, of course!

And, I must admit I'm odd enough to have noticed last night while watching the Yankees and Rays that Maddon had different glasses (the picture to the right is his old pair) -- when you wear glasses, you notice these things. It's tough to find the right frames and when you get them, you're stuck with them for a while.

Anyway, Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times has the details of Joe's new specs.

"I'd been wanting to do something different," Maddon said. "The people I got the last ones from offered up some new stuff, and when she pulled these out of the box, it was exactly what I was looking for. So I went with it."

I was thinking Maddon noticed my glasses at the winter meetings and wanted to look more like me, but I guess not.

Topkin's story has a photo of the new frames, but because most of the spring games are played during the day, none of the photos I could find on our photo servers had the new glasses, just Maddon in sunglasses. But hey, I'm here to help, if you want to check them out, he's wearing Polo model PH2057, available here (and many other places on the web, just search for PH2057 and you'll get 'em).

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Category: MLB
Posted on: March 21, 2011 10:40 am
Edited on: March 21, 2011 10:42 am
 

Pepper: Barry Bonds' trial begins

Bonds

By Evan Brunell

BONDS ON TRIAL: Monday marks the first day of the long-awaited trial in which Barry Bonds is charged with lying to a grand jury about his usage of steroids.

Bonds, who has adamantly stated that he never used steroids -- at least knowingly -- has had several legal victories leading up to the trial and it is anyone's guess whether Bonds will be convicted. If he is found innocent, former commissioner Fay Vincent believes his chances of making the Hall go up, but any conviction is "the end of the discussion for at least 30 years."

The anecdotal evidence against Bonds is overwhelming, and even if he's found innocent, it will be difficult to find a person who truly believes Bonds did not knowingly use steroids. It's unclear how much impact this trial will have on Bonds' Hall of Fame hopes. There will be plenty of writers who vote for Bonds if he cleared all the legal hurdles, but there will be just as many who pursue their own brand of vigilante justice, and there are plenty of supporting arguments for each party.

While the government has been limited by Bonds' victories in pre-trial hearings, they do hold a positive steroid test in which Bonds tested positive for the clear and the cream. That will force the trial to devolve into a "he said-she said" argument, with the government prepared to call 52 witnesses -- but none among them will be Bonds' close friend and trainer Greg Anderson, who has already served over a year in prison for contempt of court and could serve more.

While the lurid trial figures to get plenty of ink in the coming weeks, don't forget that Roger Clemens lands on trial in July, and that has the promise to be an even more salacious affair. (San Francisco Chronicle)

TO PLAY OR NOT TO PLAY?: While Japan struggles to deal with the devastation that the earthquake and tsunami wrought, there's a hot debate on whether the Japanese baseball league should begin play. Some look at how baseball was the salve for America's heartbreak after 9/11, some think the comparison is ridiculous. Either way, the Central League will open four days late and play only day games the first week to save power. The Pacific League will start up April 12. (New York Times)

STICKING WITH J.P.: Projected starting catcher J.P. Arencibia has had an awful start to spring training for the Jays, this after finishing last season 1 for his last 30. Even with the news that backup Jose Molina will catch Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek, that's still almost 100 games lined up for Arencibia, and the team is prepared to let the slugger play his way through any struggles. (Canoe.ca)

HUSTLIN': Mark Teixeira wasn't pleased with Ben Francisco Sunday, as the Phillies outfielder bumped into Teixeira on a groundball to first. "That's not a hustle play," Tex sniffed. "He could hurt me or hurt himself." Teixeira has a fair point, as most players will allow themselves to be tagged out on a play in front of them, but it's hard to blame Francisco for this one, who is battling for the starting right field job. (New York Post)

SAME OLD: The disabled list for Jake Peavy? What a surprise. After Peavy suffered a setback and admitted he has been pitching with rotator-cuff discomfort since March 4, manager Ozzie Guillen didn't mince words, saying Peavy is likely to start the season on the DL and will not make his next start Thursday. Peavy needed that start to stay on track to be the club's No. 5 starter on April 6, but Phil Humber will take his place instead. As for when Peavy can pitch again? He'll have to get past Ozzie first. (ChicagoBreakingSports.com)

WANTED: BACKUP INFIELDER: The Padres are on the hunt for a backup infielder, but may wait until next week for prices to drop on available players. Robert Andino of the Orioles and Alberto Gonzalez of the Nationals have caught San Diego's attention, and each should be available for a reasonable cost. (MLB.com via Twitter)

MORE POWER TO SCOTT: Scott Boras has a host of players under contract with the Nationals, including their three faces of the franchise in Jayson Werth, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. That will wield a lot of influence with the Nats, but contrary to popular perception, Boras may actually be able to exert a positive influence. (Washington Post)

WATCH YOUR MOUTH: Joe Maddon heard an Orioles fan yell something racist to Rays center fielder B.J. Upton, so Maddon had the fan removed from the game. (St. Petersburg Times) Upton and other coaches confirmed hearing the comment, but the O's fan has since created a Twitter account to defend himself, saying he did not make racist comments. (Twitter: @AssClownOsFan)

REED WANTS SPOT: Jeremy Reed has a bit of a reputation of having an over-inflated sense of self and the ego to match. However, in camp to fight for a backup outfield spot alongside Chris Dickerson and Brandon Boggs, Reed has done near everything right in the hopes it's enough to land on the 40-man roster and make the team. He has stiff competition in Dickerson, but manager Ron Roenicke is impressed with Reed's work ethic. (MLB.com)

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