Tag:Jim Thome
Posted on: April 18, 2011 4:46 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 4:57 pm
 

Hobbled Twins lack depth due to 'Twins way'

By Evan Brunell

TolbertThe last-place Minnesota Twins, sporting a 5-10 record that is tied with several other teams for least amount of victories thus far, are scrambling to find answers.

Of course, a major answer is currently on the disabled list, as star Joe Mauer has been felled by a debilitating viral infection. The Twins have also had to deal with a closer crisis, as Joe Nathan has already been demoted from the job after struggling in his return from Tommy John surgery. The team also has to withstand the loss of starting second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka is out over a month after breaking his leg. And then of course, Justin Morneau is still working his way back from a concussion that knocked out the last several months of 2010. Morneau is receiving his second straight day off Monday after playing in a doubleheader Saturday, so it's clear he isn't quite right yet.

That's a whole lot of bad luck for the Twinkies.

"We understand the importance of every game," GM Bill Smith said to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune. "You can lose a division in April just as easily as you can lose it in September. You can win it in April just as easily as you can win it in September. We've got to right the ship, and we're going to get our guys back on track."

The problem with this is that the Twins have a thoroughly unexciting squad, even when Mauer and Nishioka return. The cost of trying to acquire "Twins" players is that the club is often left with punchless players who get by on grittiness and defense. (Or in case of the outfield, no defense and a solid offensive game but with glaring deficiencies.) Nick Punto personified this aspect for years as he hit .248/.323/.324 in 2,707 plate appearances over seven years. That works out to 387 PA a year, which is a ton of at-bats to get, and he had two years with more than 500.

Punto's moved on to St. Louis, but his legacy lives on as the lineup Sunday indicates. Matt Tolbert led off the game, with Alexi Casilla following. Skip the power spots and you have Danny Valencia as the starting third baseman, and although he was out of the lineup, Denard Span is the team's starting center fielder.

And the career batting lines of those named?

Tolbert (pictured) is 29 years old with a career line of .246/.304/.349 in just 474 plate appearances. Casilla, 26, has a career .246/.302/.323 line in 1,108 plate appearances, while Valencia is 26 as well and has an impressive .294/.346/.426 mark in 381 plate appearances. However, Valencia had a hot 2010 in a 322-PA stint and his minor-league totals from his time in Triple-A are markedly less impressive. Out of the names mentioned thus far, Valencia has the most capability of sticking in the lineup, but the lack of power in his bat limits his value. Lastly, Span is 27 and is rather promising and a more than viable leadoff hitter as his .290/.367/.394 career line in 1,854 PA boasts.

And those players are actually valued by the team.

Granted, Tolbert probably exits the lineup once Nishioka returns and his ceiling is a bit higher, but that's still an awful lot to compromise on offense -- and the fact Tolbert led off the game tells you everything you need to know about both the team's struggles and the fact that Tolbert was their best option with Span out of the lineup.

While the club has Jim Thome as a power bat, he is merely a part-time player as the Twins try to milk all they can out of Delmon Young who has yet to justify his hype. Minnesota also has Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer for the middle of the order, but Cuddyer is slipping and Kubel is trying to shake off a poor 2010.

No one's saying these Twins can't contend. After all, they're coming off back-to-back division titles. That said, the Twins have made several curious moves the past few years, ranging from acquiring Matt Capps despite his exorbitant salary and demoting Kevin Slowey from the rotation to the bullpen to start Nick Blackburn, a worse pitcher who somehow lucked into a lucrative contract extension. Speaking of the Capps acquisition, it forced the Twins to go cheap on the rest of the relief squad given the dollars tied up in Capps and Nathan. Going cheap on middle relief is actually not a bad thing at all, but the pitchers Minnesota chose are hardly exciting, and the bullpen is now an Achilles' heel given Nathan's poor performance.

Although the Twins still have a good ballclub and will contend for the division before it's all said and done, this is a team thin on depth and power. For Minnesota to contend, the saving grace will have to come from the rotation which has an impressive blend of starters. In addition, Slowey could always return to the rotation and top prospect Kyle Gibson should make his debut by season's end.

Unfortunately, the rotation may not be enough to overcome the White Sox or Tigers in 2011.

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Posted on: April 18, 2011 10:11 am
Edited on: April 18, 2011 11:02 am
 

Pepper: Sizemore to continue leading off

Sizemore

By Evan Brunell

UP TOP: Grady Sizemore will remain at the top of the order and lead off for the Indians now that he's finally back from injury. To hear manager Manny Acta tell it, it was never a consideration to stick Sizemore into the middle of the order.

"We talked to him about it in spring training. He's leading off, because we have Carlos Santana in the lineup," Acta said. "If he had to hit second, third or fourth, he's not the kind of guy who's going to pout. He's a coach's dream. He'll do whatever you want him to do."

Sizemore's return is much welcome for a surging 11-4 Indians club who now have a potential elite bat back in the lineup, although he won't play all 148 remaining games. The Indians plan to be cautious with Sizemore and will rest him fairly regularly in the early going which will open up the leadoff spot for new left-fielder Michael Brantley.

Although Sizemore has had a pair of 100-RBI seasons (and runs scored), Santana's presence allows Acta to lead Sizemore off and increase the chances the club can get something going at the top of the order instead of batting Sizemore and Santana back-to-back  in the 3-4 spots. One other consideration could have Sizemore batting second and Brantley leading off, but it appears as if Acta is completely committed to leading Sizemore off. It's certainly a better idea than knocking Sizemore or Santana down to cleanup, but long-term, the team may benefit batting Sizemore second. Until Brantley proves himself with a modicum of long-term success, however, Sizemore is the man leading off. (Akron Beacon Journal)

BASEBALL TODAY: Can the Rockies keep up their hot start all season long? Will the Dodgers be a player in the National League West? Troy Renck of the Denver Post joins Lauren Shehadi with the latest.

FINALLY, SUCCESS: It's been a good start to the year for Alex Gordon, who is already considered a bust this early into his career. But as he says, regular playing time at one position is the whole reason why he's hitting .365/.394/.540 in 66 plate appearances, leading the AL with 14 runs scored. It's still very early, but it's great to see Gordon get off to a hot start and revitalize his career. (Kansas City Star)

BLUE OX: The Twins have made some of the most creative commercials the last few years and the newest installment is no exception. Jim Thome dons his cap to Paul Bunyan by doing a skit with a blue ox and sporting a double-breasted flannel shirt with his name and number on the back. The best part of the commercial, though, is Michael Cuddyer's spit take. (Big League Stew)

NO, REALLY, I LIKE IT: New BoSox outfielder Carl Crawford is keeping a season diary and in it, speaks to his early struggles and the fact that he actually likes to lead off, contrary to reports.

"It's actually fun to bat leadoff," he says. "I get to do everything I like to do on a baseball field. I get to be exciting and run and set the table. There's nothing wrong with batting leadoff at all. People that say I hate batting leadoff don't know me that well." (ESPN Boston)

BARD'S THE MAN: Skipper Terry Francona has made no secret of the fact that Daniel Bard is his go-to guy in the bullpen and loves being able to deploy him at any time instead of having to use strict guidelines as he has to do for the closer's spot. All the more reason why closers in this day and age are overrated. Bard entered Sunday's game against Toronto at a pivotal point in the seventh inning with two men on and calmly engineered a double play and strikeout. (Providence Journal)

SETBACK: Bryan Stow, the Giants fan severely beat by two scumbags who happen to root for the Dodgers, was placed back into a medically-induced coma as he suffered seizures when doctors tried to draw him out. There's still no timetable for recovery or knowledge how much brain damage, if any, Stow suffered. (FOX Sports)

COLON'S BACK: When we last saw Bartolo Colon, he appeared to have pitched (and eaten) his way out of baseball in 2009. Except now the newly pinstriped reliever will return to the rotation and start Wednesday. (MLB.com)

DOMINATION: Colon will have to keep an eye on Kevin Millwood, another veteran pitcher the Yankees picked up on a lark. Despite poor reviews of his preseason work, Millwood flat out dominated Double-A hitters on Sunday, tossing a one-hitter in a seven-inning complete game. Millwood can opt out of his deal on May 1 if he's not called up to the majors. If his outing is any indication, he won't have any trouble finding a job. (MiLB.com)

FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING: In the second game of the doubleheader Sunday, Jayson Werth sat out his first game as a National due to "aches and pains." With 14 games under his belt, Werth will return to the lineup on Tuesday. With the move, Rick Ankiel is now the only player to have started every game for Washington. (Washington Post)

WRIGHT IS RIGHT: It's tough to imagine Jamey Wright still pitching effectively as he personifies the average journeyman bouncing around from team to team to fill in. Yet, the 36-year-old has actually cobbled together a nice string of seasons as reliever and impressed in his two-inning stint for the M's Sunday. Wright appears to be Seattle's most trusted reliever outside of closer. (Seattle Times)

TAX-FREE: When an Astros fan won 315 coupons to net a free cup of coffee and/or a doughnut or a dozen doughnut holes, he had no idea that he would be issued a Form 1099 that would strip him of $237 worth in tax refunds. The Astros refused to pay the difference, but Shipley's Do'Nuts agreed to make up the balance. The Astros also got back into the fan's good graces by giving him four tickets to opening day as well as a Jeff Bagwell signed baseball. (Houston Chronicle)

STREAK SNAPPED: In what is believed to be the longest streak in college baseball but unverifiable, Kansas State's Nick Martini went 0 for 5 on Sunday to snap his streak of 93 straight games reaching base. He registered a hit in 76 of these games. (Washington Post)

LEFTY MOVES: The Blue Jays are trading left-handed pitcher David Purcey to Oakland for reliever Danny Farquhar. Farquhar is an ex-Blue Jay, having been shipped west in the Rajai Davis deal during the winter. (FOX Sports) Meanwhile, the Red Sox optioned lefty Felix Doubront to the minors and welcomed back Hideki Okajima, who will take another crack at this whole relieving business.

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Posted on: April 4, 2011 10:01 am
Edited on: April 18, 2011 12:12 pm
 

Pepper: Closer concerns in NL Central

Brandon Lyon

By C. Trent Rosecrans

The National League Central appears to be one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, with up to four legit contenders for the crown, so every little difference is going to be magnified when it comes to the end of the season.

While we're a long way from magic numbers, but the division's closer could be cause for concern.

In the first weekend of games, NL Central closers blew four of eight save chances -- including the first three -- and had an ERA of 12.91. Only Pittsburgh's Joel Hanrahan (who is 2 for 2 on save opportunities) hasn't allowed an earned run among the division's six closers.

All six closers have had save opportunities, and half of them are save-less. Milwaukee's John Axford has allowed four earned runs and hasn't finished an inning in two appearances, allowing a walk-off three-run homer to Cincinnati's Ramon Hernandez on Thursday and allowing two hits on Sunday before being replaced.

St. Louis closer Ryan Franklin gave up a game-tying homer in an eventual opening-day loss to the Padres and Houston's Brandon Lyon allowed six hits and three runs, picking up the loss against the Phillies on Friday.

The Cubs' Carlos Marmol struck out the side on Saturday for his first save, but Sunday he walked one and allowed two hits to cough up a lead, sending the Cubs to a 5-4 loss to the Pirates (and setting up Hanrahan's second save).

And then there's Cincinnati's Francisco Cordero, who picked up a save, but didn't instill much confidence in anyone, allowing two hits and a run in Saturday's Reds victory against the Brewers.

It could be a wild ride this year in the NL Central this season, and that's just the ninth inning.

HOMETOWN BOY -- Padres manager Bud Black said part of his reason for setting his rotation as he did was to allow San Diego native Aaron Harang make the start for the Padres' home-opener at Petco Park on Tuesday.

Black said it also helped that Harang has a history of opening day starts. Harang started five consecutive opening days in Cincinnati. He is in his first season with the Padres. [San Diego Union-Tribune]

PRETTY MUCH -- Dustin Pedroia on the Rangers' sweep of the Red Sox: "They kicked our ass, that's it." [Boston Herald]

RAY OF HOPE -- On opening day, the Rays announced a long-term deal with Wade Davis. The team's No. 1 starter, David Price, said he'd be interested in a long-term deal as well.

"Everybody here knows that I feel very comfortable here with the Rays," Price told MLB.com. "And I feel like I fit in very well with this organization and how they do stuff. If it's something we're able to get done, it's definitely something I'd like to do."

TURF CALF? -- Johnny Damon said Tropicana Field's artificial surface may have contributed to his right calf tightness that forced him to be scratched from Sunday's lineup. [St. Petersburg Times]

ANGEL TOURISTS -- Howie Kendrick and Torii Hunter talk about how special the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City is to them. [Orange County Register]

BASEBALL ART -- Aubrey Huff made a diving catch in Los Angeles on Saturday and before Sunday's game, Pat Burrell, Dan Runzler and Brandon Belt taped a body outline in the outfield where Huff made his catch. Here's a picture of their art.

HALLOWED GROUND -- Volunteers cleaned up at the old Tiger Stadium and finished off with a pickup game of baseball. The Navin Field Grounds Crew will be doing this every week during the summer in Detroit, hoping to allow everyone to use the field. [Detroit Free Press]

JAPANESE HERITAGE DAY -- The best highlight of Sunday's Japanese Heritage Day in Oakland was when Ichiro Suzuki caught Kurt Suzuki's fly in right and threw out Hideki Matsui at third base. The A's and their fans also raised more than $65,000 for earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan. [San Francisco Chronicle]

HUMIDOR SECURITY -- MLB has tightened its security procedures concerning the humidor at Coors Field, an "authenticator" will keep an eye on all the baseballs from when they're taken out of the humidor to the umpire's room where they're rubbed down to the Rockies dugout, where they're kept. During the game, he'll watch the bag. [Denver Post]

CARDS OWNER CONFIDENT -- Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. is happy with his team and confident, but added the team does have playroom flexibility of "several million dollars" if the team needs something later in the season. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

COPYING BAGWELL -- Astros shortstop Clint Barmes will wear a protective pad on his left batting glove when he returns to action. Barmes suffered a fractured bone in his hand late in spring training when he was hit by a pitch. Barmes said it's the exact same pad attached by velcro that former Astro Jeff Bagwell used to wear. Barmes said he wore a similar pad after breaking his hand in 2002, but will make it a permanent addition this time. [MLB.com]

VLAD THE ENIGMA -- Vladimir Guerrero has wowed us on the field for years, but not much is known about him off the field. But the Baltimore Sun's Kevin Van Valkenburg and Jeff Zrebiec have managed to write a really interesting feature on the new Oriole. For instance, before every home series, Guerrero writes down the name of all the Spanish-speaking players and coaches coming to town, and will then have his mom cook food for all the Latin players and bring it to the park. Guerrero's mom has lived with him since he was in Montreal. [Baltimore Sun]

REALLY? -- Wearing a guy's jersey to a game is one thing, but a whole uniform, catching gear and all? This Philadelphia fan was at Sunday's game wearing complete catcher's gear, a glove, mask and even taped wrists. I wonder if security allowed him through the gate with metal spikes? [Philadelphia Daily News]

OAKLAND'S 'DUMP' -- Apparently the field at the Oakland Coliseum smells like sewage. And that's not all that's wrong with the Coliseum. [San Francisco Chronicle]

GREINKE PROGRESSING -- The Brewers expect Zack Greinke to throw off the mound at some point during the team's week-long homestead starting today. Greinke still isn't expected to return this month, but throwing off the mound is the first step to determining when he can return. He played long toss and threw from 60 feet before Sunday's game in Cincinnati. [MLB.com]

BLAKE BETTER -- Casey Blake is eligible to come off the disabled list on Wednesday and hopes to be ready when he is eligible. The Dodgers are in Denver on Wednesday. [Los Angeles Times]

REWARD OFFERED -- A $10,000 reward has been offered for information leading to an arrest in the case of Dodger fans beating Giants fan Bryan Stow, 42, a Santa Cruz paramedic and father of two. Stow is currently in a medically induced coma. [Los Angeles Times]

SIGNS YOU'RE OLD -- When Jim Thome faced Blue Jays rookie Kyle Drabek on Saturday, the TV folks accidentally put up Thome's career numbers against Doug Drabek, Kyle's father. [UniWatch Blog]

IZZY SHELVED -- Jason Isringhausen, attempting a comeback with the Mets, left an extended spring training game on Saturday after feeling a "twinge" in his back. [New York Daily News]

DIFFERENT SWING -- John Smoltz talks about his attempt at a golf career. [Detroit Free Press]

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Posted on: March 30, 2011 12:21 am
Edited on: March 30, 2011 1:58 pm
 

Jeter's 3,000th hit among milestones for 2011

Derek Jeter

By C. Trent Rosecrans

It's hard to believe that in the long, storied history of the New York Yankees, no player has reached 3,000 hits while wearing the pinstripes. Well, until this year.

With 2,926 hits, Derek Jeter is 74 hits from becoming the 28th player in baseball with 3,000 hits, passing such greats as Rogers Hornsby (2,930), Barry Bonds (2,935) and Frank Robinson (2,943) along the way.

Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson and Wade Boggs all wore the uniform on their way to 3,000, but no Yankee has ever reached the mark. Jeter already holds the record for most hits in a Yankee career, passing Lou Gehrig (2,721) in 2009.

Jeter also has a chance not only to become the first Yankee with 3,000 hits, but also to do it at home. Last year Jeter rapped his 74th hit on June 6. The year before, it was June 12, and in 2008 it came on June 19. This season the Yankees have a homestead against the Red Sox, Indians and Rangers from June 7-16.

While Jeter's run to 3,000 hits will get the most attention of any milestone in 2011, it's not the only one.

Jim Thome Jim Thome enters the season with 589 home runs and is just 11 from becoming the eighth player in history to reach 600. From there, he can move up the all-time list as Sammy Sosa is seventh with 609.

At 613 home runs, Alex Rodriguez needs 18 homers to pass his one-time teammate Ken Griffey Jr. (630) and 48 to pass Willie Mays (660).

Manny Ramirez has 555 home runs, but after a nine-homer 2010 and 19 in 2009, 45 homers this season doesn't seem likely. His career-high is 45, hitting that many in 1998 and 2005.

The 400 home run list isn't quite the feat it once was, but three players -- Paul Konerko (365), Adam Dunn (354) and David Ortiz (349) -- are knocking on the door.

Speaking of 400, Johnny Damon is 15 stolen bases from reach 400 for his career. He had 11 last season. Ichiro Suzuki is 17 stolen bases shy of 400 -- he had 42 last season.

Jimmy Rollins needs two triples for 100 in his career. 

While it won't get much attention, Hideki Matsui has 493 career homers combined between Japan and the United States, putting 500 within reach.

Rounding the Bases

How unlikely is it we see another 300-game winner anytime soon? The career leader in wins among active pitchers (besides the inured Jamie Moyer and his 267 victories) is Tim Wakefield, who has 193. Not only does he need seven wins to get to 200, he only needs to yield 11 hits to have surrendered 3,000 in his career (interestingly, 124 pitchers in baseball history have allowed 3,000 hits).

Javier Vazquez has 2,374 career strikeouts, leaving him 126 strikeouts short of becoming the 30th pitcher to strike out 2,500. Vazquez had 121 last season with the Yankees, so if he's healthy for the Marlins this season he should be close.

And, of course, there's the other great Yankee, Mariano Rivera, who is 41 saves from becoming just the second pitcher in history to record 600 saves.  He's 43 saves away from taking over the all-time lead from Trevor Hoffman, who retired after last season with 601. 

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Posted on: March 29, 2011 9:05 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 12:28 pm
 

Who will play their final game in 2011?

Chipper Jones

By C. Trent Rosecrans

As we look forward to the 2011 season, we look at some of the players that might be entering their final season in big-league baseball. Few of these players are likely thinking about retirement now -- and some may not be thinking about calling it a career when the season ends.

Players can choose retirement and others will find retirement chooses them. Here's a look at some of the bigger names that could be entering their final season.

Carlos Beltran
Age: 34 on April 24
2010 stats: .255/.341/.427, 7 HR, 27 RBI, 3 SB
2011 role: Since playing 161 games in 2008, Beltran played 145 combined the last two seasons. 
Contract status: Final year of a seven-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: Low. Beltran still wants to play and still thinks he can. He's the type who will play until he's physically unable to continue. That's probably not as far away as he thinks, and he may not get to make his own decision to retire. Injuries have slowed him the last couple of years and it's tough to see him returning to his former heights. 

Lance BerkmanLance Berkman
Age: 35
2010 stats: .248/.368/.413, 14 HR, 58 RBI
2011 role: Not only will Berkman be a regular, but he's going to be the Cardinals' regular right fielder. He hasn't played a full season in the outfield since 2004. He played 49 games in the outfield in 2005, 44 in '06 and 31 in '07, but none in the past three seasons. He was limited to 17 games this spring and hit .189/.204/.264 with one homer.
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: Iffy. He's one of those guys who will get another chance no matter how 2011 goes, but would his pride keep him from being just another guy or could he welcome a reduced role somewhere?

Mark Buehrle
Age: 32
2010 stats: 13-13, 4.28 ERA, 99 K, 210 1/3 IP
2011 role: For the ninth consecutive year, Buehrle will start for the White Sox on opening day. He's expected to anchor the rotation and help lead Chicago into the playoffs.
Contract status: Final year of a four-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: 50/50. Buehrle seems to have plenty left in the tank, but has talked openly -- and often -- about retiring after this season. He's also mentioned wanting to be closer to home and may compromise by signing with the Cardinals.

Johnny Damon
Age: 37
2010 stats: .271/.355/.401, 8 HR, 51 RBI, 11 SB
2011 role: He'll be the team's everyday left fielder, replacing Carl Crawford. That'll be a definite step down offensively and defensively, but he could  still help the Rays score some runs.
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: Low. Damon has 2,571 hits and would likely need two more years past this season to get to 3,000. The desire is there, but will anyone take him? His chances hinge on how he performs this season.

Vladimir Guerrero
Age: 36
2010 stats: .300/.345/.496, 29 HR, 115 RBI
2011 role: Guerrero will be the Orioles' everyday designated hitter.
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: Low. Guerrero certainly looked old and his bat looked slow last fall, but he was a big reason the Rangers were in the playoffs. His spring numbers have done nothing to dismiss the notion that he can still compete. He hit .365/.358/.635 with five homers for his new team. Guerrero was the one aging designated hitter that received a contract close to his last one.  

Derrek Lee
Age: 35
2010 stats: .260/.347/.428, 19 HR, 80 RBI
2011 role: He's expected to be the Orioles' first baseman, but injury concerns may throw a wrench in those plans.
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: 50/50. Lee didn't play in an exhibition game until March 19 because of his wrist. Then he fouled a ball off his foot in his first game back, which limited his play. He managed to get in just eight games this spring. If healthy, Lee can still play. But if he's not, he may just decide it's not worth it and return home to California to be with his family. 

Chipper Jones
Age: 39 on April 24
2010 stats: .265/.381/.426, 10 HR, 46 RBI
2011 role: Braves' everyday third baseman. He had a great spring, hitting .407/.453/.746 with four home runs in 20 games, a good sign for his comeback from knee surgery.
Contract status: Signed through the 2012 season, with a club option for 2013.
Probability he hangs 'em up: High. Jones talked about retiring last season, but came back when he couldn't finish under his own terms. 

Hideki MatsuiHideki Matsui
Age: 36
2010 stats: .274/.361/.459, 21 HR, 84 RBI
2011 role: A's everyday DH. The A's will be happy if Matsui can replicate his 2010 numbers with the Angels, but he's hitting in a worse park with fewer offensive weapons around him. Matsui had a rough spring -- .125/.246/.179 with one homer through Monday -- and if that continues through the season, it could by sayonara.
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal. Probability he hangs 'em up: Good. Matsui's been playing professionally since 1993 when he debuted at age 19 with the Yomiuri Giants. Matsui is now limited to DH and the market wasn't too hot for him this offseason, so a down year could mean there may be nowhere to go but home.

Roy Oswalt
Age: 33
2010 stats: 13-13, 2.76 ERA, 193 K, 211 2/3 IP
2011 role: Oswalt will take the ball every fifth day in what could be the best rotation since the advent of the five-man rotation -- or at least since the Braves of the early-to-mid 90s. Oswalt seemed energized by his trade out of Houston to Philadelphia before last year's deadline, going 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA in the regular season with the Phillies. He also pitched well in two starts and a relief appearance in the NLDS against the Giants.
Contract status: Final year of a five-year deal, but the Phillies have a $16 million option with a $2 million buyout.
Probability he hangs 'em up: Low. Oswalt's talked about retirement, but he's still very much a good pitcher and seems to have several good years ahead of him and a lot of money to be made.

Manny Ramirez
Age: 39 on May 30
2010 stats: .298/.409/.460, 9 HR, 42 RBI
2011 role: Ramirez will be the team's everyday DH. Ramirez and Damon are being counted on to help make up for the loss of Crawford and Carlos Pena
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: 50/50. Ramirez seems like he'll keep taking his show on the road until nobody wants him anymore. The fact that he's getting just $2 million this season tells you he wasn't wanted by many. His act has worn thin, but if he bounces back and hits like he can, someone will want him.

Mariano Rivera
Age: 41
2010 stats: 3-3, 1.80 ERA, 33 saves
2011 role: Rivera is expected to still be the best reliever in baseball history.
Contract status: First year of a two-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: Low. He's 41, and that seems old. But tell that to any of the batters who face him. If he had signed a one-year deal this offseason, I could see him retiring after this season, but the two-year deal makes sense for both him and the team. He's 41 saves shy of 600 and 43 from overtaking Trevor Hoffman as the all-time leader.

Jim ThomeJim Thome
Age: 40
2010 stats: .283/.412/.627, 25 HR, 59 RBI
2011 role: A platoon/reserve DH for the Twins with Jason Kubel. Thome had the same type of role at the beginning of 2010 and became more of a regular after Justin Morneau's concussion. Thome is still dangerous against right-handed pitchers, but struggles against lefties.
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: Good. By the end of the season, Thome will be 41 and will likely hit all the milestones -- he has 589 homers -- he can before the end of his career.

Chase Utley
Age: 32
2010 stats: .275/.387/.445, 16 HR, 65 RBI
2011 role: Ideally he'd be playing second base every day for the Phillies, but who knows when he'll be ready?
Contract status: Signed through 2013.
Probability he hangs 'em up: Low. But injuries haven't been kind to Utley. He doesn't want to retire anytime soon, but it may not end up being his decision.

Omar Vizquel
Age: 44 on April 24
2010 stats: .276/.341/.331, 2 HR, 30 RBI, 11 SB
2011 role: He will once again be a utility infielder for the White Sox. He received more playing time than expected last season due to others' injuries, playing in 108 games for Chicago.
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: High. Although, with another year he has an outside shot at 3,000 hits. He enters 2011 with 2,799 hits, but it has taken him three seasons to get his last 201 hits. It seems difficult to believe he could play until he's 46 and keep that level of production. However, if he did get to the magic 3,000, it would cement his Hall of Fame candidacy.

Tim WakefieldTim Wakefield
Age: 44
2010 stats: 4-10, 5.34 ERA, 84 K, 140 IP
2011 role: Long reliever/emergency starter. It's the same role Wakefield was asked to play last season when he bristled at being taken out of the rotation. A knuckleballer is a tough pitcher to manage out of the 'pen, there's too much uncertainty in the pitch to use him as a late-inning reliever, but he doesn't fit into the rotation anymore and the team can still use him.
Contract status: Final year of a two-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: High. Wakefield will be 45 at the end of the season and his role as a reliever isn't well-suited for the knuckleballer.

Kerry Wood
Age: 33
2010 stats: 3-4, 3.13 ERA, 8 saves
2011 role: Wood will be the main set-up man to closer Carlos Marmol. He thrived as a set-up man with the Yankees last season. 
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: 50/50. Wood still has plenty in the tank, especially if he doesn't have to be a closer anymore. He's seemed to embrace the elder statesman role with the Cubs and could still be an effective reliever for several years. He's considered retirement in the past and has already been told he has a job with the Cubs whenever he does hang them up.

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Posted on: March 29, 2011 9:05 pm
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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: February 21, 2011 10:38 am
Edited on: February 21, 2011 10:39 am
 

Morning Pepper: The next indy-ball major leaguer?

De La Rosa

NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP: Dane De La Rosa's eventual destination of Port Charlotte took years to accomlpish, but the 28-year-old finally arrived after flaming out of the Yankees organization, selling real estate and playing independent baseball for four seasons.

"It's a great feel-good story," Rays director of minor-league operations Mitch Lukevics said of De La Rosa and his path back to relevancy that has him poised to follow in the footsteps of Scott Richmond and Robert Coello as ex-indy players who fight their way to the majors. But first, De La Rosa had some growing up to do.

"I felt like I belonged there, which is not the mindset you need to have when you're there," De La Rosa said of his time in New York in which he appeared in just 20 games over the 2003-04 season. "You need to be humbled. Going through all this has made me a humble person, so I don't regret it at all."

De La Rosa headed to independent baseball after the Yankees cut him, but he struggled to adjust and then took a year off to sell real estate. However, his dream wouldn't die and he couldn't handle knowing his baseball career was over, so he returned to the independent leagues.  His play in 2007 got him a late-season pickup by the Brewers, but all he got was one two-inning stint at the rookie level before being released.

But after two more years in the independent leagues, De La Rosa finally caught the attention of the Rays, who brought him in for a workout. Tampa witnessed a 6-foot-5 righty with a fastball reaching 97-mph and immediately signed him.

"He was pounding fastballs, and we were thinking this is too good to be true," Lukevics said. De La Rosa would go on to split the year between high-Class A and Double-A, posting a 2.01 ERA in 76 innings and whiffing 80 while coughing up 26 walks. Now, he has a chance to win a bullpen spot in the major leagues after being placed on the 40-man roster, news that came just weeks after becoming engaged. That's a lesson in the art of perseverance.

"If Dane De La Rosa has taken this journey and now he's on the 40-man major-league roster and a heartbeat away from pitching in the big leagues," Lukevics said, "it tells every young man, every player they have a chance if they keep working." (Tampa Tribune, also source of photo)

PARTY TIME: Brian Wilson is sure one lucky guy. He was picked up in Arizona by none other than Charlie Sheen on a private jet and ferried to Sheen's house, where he hosted yet another party. This one was full of ballplayers watching movies and kicking back. (And yes, Sheen's iconic Major League was played, capping off the night.) Sources said the party was only "R-rated" instead of the debauchery that usually happens at the Sheen estate.

No word on whether Wilson's virtual doppleganger attended the festivities. (TMZ)

A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME: Pete Rose joined a fundraiser for a Legion team and had plenty of jokes to crack even as there was the requisite talk about Rose's gambling and Hall of Fame chances. "This is America. You're supposed to get second chances," Rose said. "I chose the wrong vice." Or maybe his second chance was frittered away when he lied about gambling? Anyways, cool anecdote: Rose would always leave four tickets per game for his father, who would move seats every time Rose didn't get a hit. One day when Rose went 0-for-4 and didn't hustle (imagine that) on a grounder to second, his father castigated him.

"He asked me, 'Did you run hard in your third at-bat with the runner on third?'" Rose relayed. "I thought about it and I realized I hadn't because I thought I should've gotten a hit, and I grounded out to second."

His father's response: "'Don't embarrass me in this town. You run until the umpire says safe or out.'" (Oroville Mercury-Register)

LONG TIME NO SEE: When the Pirates traded Jason Schmidt back in 2001, they were hoping the return would put them on the path to respectability. Instead, Armando Rios got hurt and Ryan Vogelsong posted a 6.00 ERA from 2001-06 after rocketing through the Giants' system. But now, Vogelsong is finally back in San Francisco after stints in Japan and Triple-A for the Phillies and Angels last season. 

Before Vogelsong picked the Giants, the Dodgers came calling, but the righty stayed true to his roots. "I was like, I just can't wear Dodger blue," he said. (MLB.com)

PRIDE COMES BEFORE A FALL: Edgar Renteria isn't upset that the Giants declined his $10.5 miliion option (an obvious move, he says) but the resulting $1 million offer was disrespectful, he says. "I'm not going to play for anybody for $1 million," Renteria said. "I'd rather retire. That is why I say it [was disrespectful]. It's because I know what I can do in this game."

Renteria eventually signed for $2.1 million with the Reds. Meanwhile, if being offered $1 million is disrespectful, sign me up. (San Jose Mercury News)

REST IN PEACE: Cardinals co-owner Andrew Baur has passed away at the tender age of 66. He was a part of the 1996 purchase of the Cardinals by majority owner Bill DeWitt and was a member of the board of directors since the ownership change. Cause of death is not yet known. (FOX Sports Midwest)

LITERARY GENIUS: In Sunday's Morning Pepper, R.A. Dickey revealed he was writing a book about his major-league career. It's not often you hear of ballplayers who can write -- nevermind even read -- but add Burke Badenhop to that list. The Marlin relayed a story of the judge recognizing him when he served jury duty, but that was only the start of his offseason. He also got married, assisted a friend in writing a book about financial planning and is co-writing a movie script with his agent. But now, all he's concerned about is winning a bullpen spot. (Palm Beach Post)

DHING AIN'T EASY: DHs don't get a lot of respect in the league. Not only is it virtually impossible for them to get Hall of Fame or All-Star consideration, but many believe it's pretty easy to walk up to the plate four times a game, take your hacks and then warm the bench without having to play defense. Not so, and Adam Dunn is trying to figure out how to transition to a DH role. Fortunately, ex-White Sox players in Jim Thome and Harold Baines have some advice. (Chicago Tribune)

LESSON LEARNED: It couldn't have been easy for Mike Quade to step into Lou Piniella's shoes and then make the move of benching Starlin Castro for one game, but there you have it. The budding shortstop rode the pine for a mental lapse, and the Rookie of the Year candidate has said he learned his lesson from it. Quade, however, refuses to call it discipline, rather preferring to term it a "teaching moment" to get Castro a breather after breaking into the bigs amid much hoopla and starting on a regular basis. (Chicago Tribune)

-- Evan Brunell

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