Posted on: March 9, 2012 6:55 pm
Edited on: March 9, 2012 6:57 pm
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Category: MLB
Tags: Jon Heyman
 
Posted on: March 8, 2012 5:13 pm
 

Bar is lower for Braves wunderkind, but need huge


SARASOTA, Fla. -- Jason Heyward, the Braves' would-be wunderkind, has heard the word potential before. The kid called the best prospect in baseball two years ago has heard it enough, it seems.

"That's just potential, one day what you might be,'' Heyward said. "I'm 22 years old. I'm going into the season feeling good and healthy. It's not going to come any earlier because of what someone says.''

People are going to talk about him, though. By now he knows this. The focus remains on him at Braves camp, and it will be on him, maybe forever.

Heyward said, "I'm my biggest critic,'' and those are nice words. But the critics will add up if he repeats his .227 performance of a year ago.

Heyward is a homegrown kid from the Atlanta area, a first-round pick who has it all, including the perfect physique and enviable upbringing, the guy who scouts picked out immediately as the game's next big star. No flaws, they said.

But only a select few can handle being the man. Heyward mentioned how the best players, players like Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Josh Hamilton, are all team-first players and how "it's never one person.'' With him, though, it might be, and he may need to get used to that. The Braves, whose strict budget allowed them to do nothing more than add utilityman Jack Wilson this winter, need Heyward to be special.

The Braves need Heyward to come close to the potential that was cited that spring of 2010 and most of his rookie year, before nagging injuries and other things caught up to him. His average dropped 50 points from .277 in his sophomore season, and the Braves have to have him hitting .277 again, or better. "They absolutely need him to be good,'' one competing GM said.

The Braves have pitching that may be as deep as anyone ("one to 12, we're pretty good,'' manager Fredi Gonzalez allowed), but their offense has considerable questions, with Heyward at the top of the list. People around the team often mention that "sophomore seasons'' can be tough on players. They hope that's all it was. "The league has a way of catching up,'' one competing GM said. "Video can be a cruel tool.''

So can expectations, which can be a funny thing, as he knows. No one expected him to hit 50 points lower last year. For his part, Heyward attributes much of it to an injury that cost him three weeks. "I wasn't healthy with the shoulder. That was a lot of it,'' he said. "I had an eight-game hitting streak going into May, then I had the injury and it was never the same from that point on. It's hard enough to play the game when you're healthy.''

Braves people will readily admit how vital Heyward is for them (there's no way around that), but at the same time they don't want him obsessing about someone else's expectations. He denies he is. But at the same time, as he pointed out, he's still only 22. "We're not asking him to win the Triple Crown,'' Gonzalez said. "He can do it. But we don't want him worrying about the 0-for-3s or 0-for-4s. Some of these young kids worry about producing. Just worry about adjusting, and those 0-for-3s will turn into 3-for-3s.''

Heyward knows this is one of the issues. "Adjustments are the name of the game,'' he said.

The book on him is that he can be tied up inside. New hitting coach Greg Walker says that's an oversimplification but Walker also said, "We're trying to get the right path to that ball in.'' Walker and Scott Fletcher went to meet and work with Heyward in January, and they've all been working ever since.

"The biggest thing is, we are not trying to change who Jason Heyward is,'' Walker said. 'We're just trying to get him in position to hit like he did in 2010. We're still working.''

Heyward lined a hard single in three at-bats and is now at .143 (2 for 14) this spring, with four strikeouts. As Walker said, they are still working.



Category: MLB
Posted on: March 8, 2012 1:57 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2012 3:06 pm
 

Roberts has stopped guessing when he'll return

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles' Brian Roberts is on his own program, taking his own time. There is no other way when you have had multiple concussions and aren't yet ready to play a Major League game. He seemed as upbeat as could possibly be imagined, but he's given up guessing when he may be back playing.

Roberts said, "I've looked down the road too long.''

Doctors have told him it just isn't wise to play the guessing game, to worry about the return. By not thinking about when he may be back, Roberts said, it "takes the stress away ... stress doesn't help.'' All that matters is health now. Pondering whether he has a baseball future at age 34 isn't going to help him. So he takes it day to day, he said. "You want to put yourself into an environment to get well.''

The Orioles can't do anything but wait along with him. Robert Andino will take Roberts' spot at second base for now. Nolan Reimold is expected to be the leadoff hitter. Roberts is a big loss for the team.

Once one of the game's better leadoff hitters, Roberts was limited to 39 games and a .221 batting average last year. He has had multiple concussions, one coming when he struck himself in the head after a bad at-bat. If that was a frustrating plate appearance, this has to be infinitely more frustrating. He says he's "progressing'' and "has more good days than bad days'' but doctors can't tell him when he'll be ready for the rigors of the majors. It could be weeks, or months, if ever.

"Your brain has to be ready to heal,'' he said. 'It's different than a shoulder.''

Even more frustrating, there isn't much to do, except wait and heal. He says there's some physical therapy with the eyes he's tried. He's able to run with the team and play long toss, and he occasionally gets into the batting cage. But that's about it. In the meantime, he's taken some encouragement from the improvement in his health. He said he's doing a lot better than he was four months ago.

"I wake up every day with a positive attitude, go back to work and try to get back to doing what I love to do.''


Posted on: March 7, 2012 1:59 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 2:32 pm
 

FA guesses for Phils lefty Hamels: $150M-$175M


The Phillies better lock up Cole Hamels, and they better do it before he becomes a free agent after this season. A quick survey of three agents, none with ties to Hamels, revealed that they believe Hamels would garner between $150 million and $175 million as a free agent.

Here are the guesses of the three agents (of course, keep in mind these are not management guesses):

--$168 million, seven years

--$150 million to $175 million

--$150 million to $160 million

Hamels professed his love for Philadelphia and keen interest in remaining a Phillie earlier this spring, and his words aren't the usual hollow tripe, as he resides in Philly year-round even though he hails from beautific San Diego.

Hamels' longtime agent, John Boggs, is visiting Clearwater and talking to Phillies management, and there seems to be some hope for a deal even if nothing appears imminent. Not too much is being said by the Phillies, but it is hard to imagine Philly, a team that is quite generous with its core players, letting him slip away.

If he does go, some figure the new Dodgers owner, whoever that may be, might want to make a splash by luring the Southern California product.

This deal is not going to be cheap either way. One of the agents surveyed said that as a free agent Hamels is sure to use as comps the past deals from the elite left-handed pitching market, meaning CC Sabathia's $161-million, seven-year deal (Sabathia added one year and $30 million this winter, thanks to his opt-out clause), Cliff Lee's $148-million, seven-year Yankees offer (he took $120 million over five from the Phillies instead) and to a degree Johan Santana's $137.5-million, six-year deal, though that deal is a few years old.

The Phillies should be able to get a bit of a discount on a Hamels deal since he wants to stay to play for a perennially winning team that sells out and has created buzz around the city. But the Phillies shouldn't mess around here. The key to their team are the three ace pitchers, and the other two are on the wrong side of 33. Lee is 33 and Roy Halladay will be 35 in May.

Hamels, only 28, is practically a necessity for Philly.  


Posted on: March 6, 2012 2:51 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 7:17 am
 

Owners should prevail, unless jury has Mets fans


PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Mets suffered their first loss of what could be a very long season when bankruptcy court Judge Rakoff ruled Monday that team owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz must pay back up to $83 million in Madoff profits. Further, he ruled that they must stand trial for another $303 million. So the drama and unrest continues, into the baseball season.

Madoff overreaching trustee, Irving Picard, originally sought $1 billion from the Mets owners, so from that standpoint, Wilpon and Katz are already ahead of the game. But to no one's surprise, people close to the case suggest a loss of even $386 million could put their ownership in peril.

Beyond the immediate loss of up to $83 million and upcoming trial, the other bad part for Wilpon and Katz is that the case of their baseball lives is going before a jury. One thing they say about jury trials, they are unpredictable. The other thing about this jury trial, the jury could be made up of angry Mets fans.

Seeing what's happening on the field, Mets backers aren't in a very good mood these days. Wilpon contended when the Madoff story broke that their investment in him wouldn't affect their beloved team, but Mets fans know by now that most of their money is going to the owners' lawyers, not their outfielders, infielders, pitchers and catchers.

Wilpon and Katz have taken the payroll down an unprecedented $50 million. What's left on the hole-filled roster are veterans who have been disappointments in recent years and a whole bunch of kids with varying degrees of promise. Their $90-million payroll and limited talent doesn't become any major market, much less New York.

One piece of positive news for the Mets owners is that Judge Rakoff, a brilliant veteran jurist, signaled that he doesn't believe Picard has much of a case here for the next $303 million. Rakoff even tweaked Picard for producing more "bombast'' than "bombshells'' (Rakoff apparently has a writing touch), and indeed it appears Picard's case for "willfull bilndness'' by the Mets owners appears woefully weak.

There is no smoking gun, no e-mail from Wilpon or Katz suggesting they knew a thing about what Madoff was up to. That Picard found one or two or even three employees who suggested they thought (but don't know) Madoff might not be on the up-and-up isn't nearly enough. The former employee Noreen Harrington, who said she warned Katz, appears to have been prescient. But even she said she admitted to Katz she couldn't prove what Madoff was up to. (Katz claims not to recall the conversation.)

Picard may think Wilpon and Katz were knowledgeable investors, but there is no evidence they were. Real estate (and baseball) is their game. They obviously know real estate. (As for baseball, I'll leave that up to you).

There is not a scintilla of evidence they knew more about securities than all the 4,000-plus folks who foolishly invested their money with an epic scam artist. Madoff was obviously a very good con man. He fooled all this people plus the banks plus the SEC. Obviously a few folks knew. The crook who wound up dead in his pool in Palm Beach obviously knew; he got a 900-percent return from Madoff one year. His widow fairly turned over several billion dollars to Picard.

The Wilpon-Katz gains were generally in the 10-to-15 percent range per year, which is exactly what the rest of the rubes got. There is no evidence Madoff was paying them extra to be silent partners. And just because they saw each other at the country club or on the Long Island Railroad doesn't mean anything. Neither does it if the Wilpon and Madoff families vacationed togethers. As Rakoff said, where's the bombshell?

There is nothing to prove Wilpon and Katz were any different from the rest of the 4,000-plus dupes who knew nothing about stocks, bonds or investing. As many people should know, there is ZERO chance a securities investor can make 10-15 percent every year for decades without a single down year or even very much variation. It just isn't possible, as Harrington told them. Even Warren Buffett has down years. Even if he averages a whopping 20-percent a year for decades, that includes significant variation and some down years.

To say Wilpon and Katz should have known is silly, and a waste of breath. They ALL should have known. The SEC should have known. They are paid to know such things. But they, too, were duped by Madoff, who was seen as a pillar of the community.

Wilpon and Katz made their money by being aggressive and tough. Katz has big stones. (In his famous quote in the New Yorker article by Jeffrey Toobin, he boasted of having "big balls," something he didn't dispute when I questioned him about that quote earlier this spring. Though he did say that this is why he doesn't talk much to the media, and the smoother Wilpon does). I have known these guys for years, and I find it easy to believe that they knew next to nothing about investing in stocks. Like the others, they were fools (though perhaps fools with bigger balls in one case). They probably got a bit greedy, like when they gave Bobby Bonilla deferred payments for decades because they saw Madoff as a sure thing. But being greedy and crooked are two different things.

There is nothing to suggest Wilpon and Katz are crooks. But unfortunately for them, a jury of Mets fans may not see it exactly that way.








Posted on: March 6, 2012 1:55 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 4:28 pm
 

McCutchen is a great kid, but is he worth $51.5M?


BRADENTON, Fla -- Pirates owner Bob Nutting declared, "This is an exciting day for the Pittsburgh Pirates.'' And so it was. While the newly cost-conscious New York Yankees were practicing on the field behind them, the Pirates, dreadfully low in the spending and winning departments almost all of the past two decades, were announcing their $51.5-million contract for star outfielder Andrew McCutchen in a neat little area by their clubhouse beyond right field.

The Pirates are starting to show they mean business, doing things in recent months they hadn't done in a while, including spending serious money. They acquired semi-pricey veterans Derek Lee and Ryan Ludwick at the trade deadline last July, imported A.J. Burnett and $13 million of his bloated contract (from said Yankees) on the eve of spring training, and now have signed off on the seceont largest contract in their history for the multitalented McCutchen. The Pirates, it is said, just could not chance losing McCutchen, who is their best player and also a very good player as well (one doesn't necessarily ensure the other).

My contract expert rates this as "a fair deal for both sides,'' though he did note that McCutchen hit .216 in the second half last season and has only one 20-homer season (also last year). It's a very similar deal to those given to two other young star outfielders, Justin Upton and Jay Bruce, and I'd rate McCutchen third in that group, with Upton first and Bruce second. But still a strong third.

As everyone in Pittsburgh knows, the Pirates haven't had a winning season since another young outfielder, Barry Bonds, left town following the 1992 season. So for all they've done the past few years in the way of draft and international signings (draftees Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie are the team's pitching future), and they spent a whopping $50 million in amateur talent since starting with No. 2 overall pick Pedro Alvarez in 2008, everyone understands they had to seal the deal with McCutchen.

The move is rightly being applauded throughout the Pittsburgh area because it is another reminder the team is trying hard. Yet, even after all the good feeling here over the big deal, there are two questions: 1) Did the need to make a statement play a role in signing him? and 2) Was he signed because he's a great ballplayer or a great kid?

As for the first question, Nutting says no. "This signing is not done to make a statement,'' Nutting said. Pirates president Frank Coonelly said that statement signings may only be good for a day, and pointed out that spending this kind of money only for the intention of positive pub carries a great risk. Though of course, if they failed to lock up McCutchen, what would that say? This says they are committed to winning, so whether they intended it or not, a statement was made.

As for whether they signed a person or ballplayer, the main message seemed to be about what kind of young man McCutchen is. "This commitment is one we're willing to make because of the person he is,'' Nutting said in one of multiple statements made along those lines. Here's another, from GM Neal Huntington, "I'd like to thank Andrew's parents for raising such an outstanding person.''

All indications are that McCutchen is just an absolutely terrific kid (he even made a special trip over to say hello to the Pirates beat writers). But there is a danger if a team is paying for persona. There is a reason personality is sometimes cited as a consolation compliment.

Of course, for this deal to work he's going to have to do more than be pleasant to the fans and great in the community; he's going to have to perform on the field. McCutchen wound up hitting only .259 last year with 126 strikeouts, but he has posted consistent OPS marks in his career -- .836, .814 and then .820 last year. He's a very good player who's not yet great. The key is, he is only 25.

Pirates people talked about the type of player they hope he becomes. The reality is, he isn't a $51.5-million player yet. But they think he will be one day.

As we all know, previous Pirates regimes had a knack for giving big deals when they weren't warranted, including one infamous one to journeyman infielder Pat Meares. Their biggest contract ever was a $60 million six-year deal. That one went to Jason Kendall, a catcher who could hit for a high batting average at one time.

Pirates people figure this deal will pay off much better for them. On the day they signed Kendall, they also made a very big statement. And he didn't even have such a great personality.






Posted on: March 5, 2012 3:48 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 3:54 pm
 

V-Mart's loss, Tigers' U-turn & Prince's dream


LAKELAND -- If it's possible, Prince Fielder seems even more boisterous and more animated than ever before now that his new $214-million, nine-year contract is behind him and the Tigers are his future. You've never seen anyone so thrilled to be in Detroit.

"This is a blessing,'' Fielder said. "It's a dream come true, even though I didn't even dream about it.''

Fielder, who resided in Detroit while his father Cecil starred for the Tigers, added that "it really hasn't sunk in yet'' that he's a Tiger.

Fielder is already starting on his own legend. He hit a home run in batting practice that veteran Detroit News Tigers beat writer Tom Gage measured as 611 feet (including the roll). he hit a home run in the opener here at Joker Marchant, crashing one about 25-feet up off the light tower in right field, and after he said, "I'm just getting loose.'' 

Folks around the Tigers remember when Prince came to hit for them as a draft-eligible player a decade ago and more consistently hit the ball over the fence than most of their real players. But alas, the Tigers had the eighth pick that year, and Fielder went to the Brewers one pick ahead. (With Fielder gone, the Tigers picked first baseman Scott Moore, who has seven lifetime homers and is in Astros camp after signing a minor-league contract this winter).

Technically, Fielder is here not because of his dream but because of Tigers owner Mike Ilitch's dream. Ilitch, 83, has yet to win a World Series as Tigers owner, and he has shown he will do whatever it may take to rectify that. The loss of Victor Martinez after what is described as a freak training injury that wrecked his knee when his front foot gave out while shuffling is all it took to put Fielder on Ilitch's radar.

The loss of Martinez meant weakened lineup protection for incumbent superstar Miguel Cabrera. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said V-Mart's absence conjured up images of a steady stream of intentional walks for Cabrera. So to Dombrowski it was really like the loss of "one a half hitters.'' Ilitch could not stand to see his team weakened, so he made sure to make it better.

"He is in a situation where he wants to win,'' Dombrowski said about Ilitch. "He is also very cognizant he has a good club, so he's in a situation where he's aggressive.''

Aggressive? Some other teams may claim $214 million over nine years is foolhardy for the productive and jubilant yet stocky Fielder. However, Ilitch has been aggressive before, and it has ususally paid off. It did with Magglio Ordonez, and before that with Pudge Rodriguez.

For Fielder, before V-Mart hurt himself, there was no thought about retruning to Detroit. The leaders for him appeared to be the Dodgers, who offered $160-million plus over seven years and might have gone to an eighth year, and the Orioles, who have a hard time attracting GMs or players. The Nationals and Rangers were among many more interested teams but some of those other teams were reluctant to go eight years, much less nine.

Fielder said of Ilitch, "He wanted to get it done. He was the only guy to really show that.''

The Ordonez and Rodriguez signings came in the years before big stars dreamed of coming to Detroit. Fielder figures Detroit is perfect, and not just because he spent his formative years there (from age 5 to 11). He wants to win, and the Tigers have as good a chance as anyone these days. Also, it probably doesn't hurt that the American League team will give him a chance to DH in the final years of his nine-year deal.

"I remember the years (in Detroit). It was awesome,'' Fielder declared of the time he spent there (the Fielders lived in Grosse Pointe). "Hopefully, I can make some new memories.''

The negotiation, though it took well into January, is the first positive memory for Prince. There were definitely some anxious moments, but Fielder is better equipped than most to handle those. Speaking of his agent Scott Boras, Fielder said, "One thing Scott doesn't do is lie. He said at (age) 19 what would happen if I stayed focused. He was right.''

Perhaps, but no one could have predicted he'd back in Detroit.

Posted on: March 5, 2012 10:26 am
Edited on: March 5, 2012 4:54 pm
 

Molina deal a bargain? Was $140M realistic as FA?


JUPITER, Fla. -- A lot of numbers folks and fans are suggesting that $75 million for five years is high for defense-first Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. But Molina's people were actually prepared to aim for nearly double that, $140 million over seven years, had he consented to test free agency after the year, according to people familiar with their thinking.

Molina's agents might not have gotten quite such a lofty contract for the catcher whose first double-digit home run total came last year when he hit 14. However, baseball executives absolutely love Molina and it's reasonable to assume Molina could have easily matched or beaten the $75-million deal he got with a reasonable year in 2012. Molina heard about the $140-million goal but told his agents that he wanted to do everything he can to stay in St. Louis, so we'll never know if that's right. This is that rare case where both sides seem jubilant with the deal that was done.

Competing executives don't let Molina's good-but-not-great overall offensive numbers sway them from the belief he is invaluable. "He's a shut-down catcher. He's like the Deion Sanders of catchers,'' one competing executive said. That's apparently about how the Cardinals view him, as well.

As such a unique player, Molina's $75-million deal might not have the impact one might think on Yankees catcher Russell Martin, who's a free agent after 2012, or even even Braves catcher Brian McCann, who will be a free agent after 2013 once Atlanta picks up his $12-million option for '13 (word is, they plan to do so). Molina is considered the best defensive catcher in the National League by a wide margin, and even Cardinals people say that defensive metrics haven't quite caught up.

The Cardinals weighed several things in making their assessment of Molina, including the recommendation of manager Mike Matheny, a former catcher who's told folks he had one of his best years at age 35 (Molina's new contract runs through age 35). Even more pertinent for the Cardinals, they noticed Molina's older brothers Bengie and Jose both performed into their mid 30s. Bengie had 20 home runs, 80 RBIs and a .265 at age 35 in 2009, and Jose hit .281 last year at age 35.

Molina's $75-million contract trails only Joe Mauer's $184-million contract and Mike Piazza's $91-million contract alltime for catchers. But it's clear his handlers thought he could have at least beaten Piazza had he been willing to test the free-agent market.

 
 
 
 
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