Posted on: February 25, 2012 5:20 pm
Edited on: February 26, 2012 8:21 am

Healthy Mauer seeks 4th title but not like Reyes

Ft. Myers, Fla. -- Joe Mauer praised Jose Reyes for his great season and National League batting title, but Mauer, the three-time batting titleist, said he wouldn't sit on a lead to win a fourth title, as Reyes did.

"I don't think (personal) awards like that should take the place of playing the games,'' Mauer said. "You should play the game the right away, and let the chips fall where they may.''

Back in 2006, when Mauer was trying for his first batting title and holding a slim lead over Yankees Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano going into the final day of the regular season, in 2006, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire came to Mauer and said to him something along the lines of "What do you think?'' Gardenhire appeared to be opening the door to Mauer possibly sitting the game out.

The Twins already had wrapped up a playoff spot, but the idea of sitting out was so far from Mauer's mind he didn't even know what Gardenhire meant at first. Once explained to him, Mauer said he wanted to play. He DH'ed, went 2 for 4 and won with a .347 batting average, to .343 for Jeter and .342 for Cano. Mauer has since won second and third titles in 2008 and '09, with averages of .328 and .365 for the unprecedented three titles for a catcher. Before Mauer won even one, the last catcher to win one was Ernie Lombardi with the Reds eons ago.

Of course, Mauer would love a fourth batting title. But first he has to show he's back to being a star. To have a chance do that, he has to be heatlhy. He knows he tried to come back too soon last year, starting the season with the Twins after his winter knee surgery wasn't all healed. Some team doctor really should have stepped in, but Mauer took the blame. "You want to be in there and play the game,'' he said. "It's easy to look back on it now and I say I definitely wasn't ready. You learn from it and move on.''

Mauer said he's feeling much better now. "Night and day,'' he said.

He wouldn't guess at how many games he'll catch, though. "I'm going to be in the lineup as much as I can. When I'm in the lineup, we're a better team. And when I'm catching we're a better team,'' he said. "If it's up to me, I'd be out there for 162.''

Most of the Twins teams failed to come close to the 162-game mark last year, as disaster befell them. Mauer wound up having only three home runs, 30 RBIs and a .287 batting average. Justin Morneau never fully recovered from concussion symptoms and other ailments.

"Last year everything that could go wrong went wrong,'' Mauer said. "I don't want to say it was a fluke. We still want to get after it.''

He's thrilled to see Morneau putting in the long days without hesitation now. Morneau accidentally made a stir the day before when, responding to a hypothetical question about what would happen if he had another concussion, honestly mentioned he might not have a career under that circumstance. But Morneau said today he has remained symptom-free for more than a month and seemed pleased by how he'd held up here. "So far, so good,'' he said.

The others have noticed, too. "He's smiling and out there moving around,'' Mauer noted of Morneau.

That's a positive sign, because as Mauer and Morneau go, so go the Twins.

Posted on: February 25, 2012 4:39 pm

Valentine bans beer in clubhouse; he's no chicken

Ft. Myers, Fla. -- Say this for the new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine: when he gets an 80-mph fastball right down the middle of the plate, he knocks it out of the park. Yes, of course Valentine told Red Sox players h was banning beer on the last leg of charter flights and also in the clubhouse. (He didn't say anything about chicken, but we'll assume that's still OK.)

Of course Valentine had to ban beer. You can't have two straight beer-stained seasons.

Red Sox veteran pitchers Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey spoiled the party after it was revealed they sometimes had their beer in the clubhouse while the game was going on (and their 2011 collapse was still going on). Beckett and Lester have admitted they erred in doing so. That's nice, but Valentine can't take the chance they'd do it again.

Valentine banned beer in the Mets clubhouse when he was there, so this isn't only a reaction to last year's shenanigans in Boston. He always worried about things that could happen to ballplayers who drank too much.

Valentine once got ripped by the New York press (me, included) for suggesting Mets star Todd Hundley "needed more sleep,'' which was actually a kind way of saying that he stayed out too late, which is a kind way of saying he should maybe drink a bit less. Hundley was a really nice man, but Valentine was right (yes, I was wrong). Hundley still is a great guy, but everyone around that team knew he should have drank less.

Valentine was lambasted at the time by Hundley's enabling agents, the Levinson brothers, who should have realized Valentine was right and gotten their client to sleep more. The agents should have thanked Valentine for caring about Hundley but instead to this day carry on a behind-the-scenes campaign against Valentine over his kind euphemisms. Not nice.

In this case, no one could argue with Valentine, unless not publicly. Red Sox star David Ortiz told Dan Roche of WBZ-FM, "We're not here to drink. We're here to play baseball. It ain't a bar.''

Anyway, Valentine isn't afraid to do what's unpopular. Asked how his decision was received at today's team meeting, Valentine said, "Do you mean was it a standing ovation or booing.''

He said it somewhere in between. It should have been the standing ovation.

Posted on: February 25, 2012 4:01 pm
Edited on: February 25, 2012 4:01 pm

Mature Matt Moore ready to become a big-time star

Port Charlotte, Fla. -- The Rays' young lefthander Matt Moore became a rare player to attend his first major league spring training camp after already having started (and won) a Game 1 in a postseason series.

So, could he become a rare player to be sent to the minors right after signing a guaranteed five-year contract?

Crazy as it sounds, the Rays are not yet guaranteeing him a rotation spot. The official word is, they have five spots for six starters. Yet, it seems quite a stretch to think they'd send down the pitcher who shut down the Texas Rangers in Game 1 of the ALCS, the pitcher who some are saying is already as good or better than James Shields and David Price. Scouts talk about his great stuff, but they also love his mound presence. He just looks ready to be a huge star.

For my money, he's got to be in the rotation, no matter what they said. The rotation is precisely what makes this team special. Beyond Shields and Price, there's 2011 American league Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson. With Moore, that's about as good as any top four in either league (the Phillies and Angels also come to mind), and Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis aren't too bad, either.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon is sticking with the party line about the "six guys for five spots,'' but Maddon did also say about Moore, "What he did last year speaks very loudly.'' What he did last year, even if it was only two relief appearances and two starts (including the playoff beat-down), makes the Rays a favorite, if not the favorite, in the American League, a characterization Maddon actually loves. 'I don't want people to run from it, to cower from it,'' he said. "We like it! Now let's go out and meet those expectations.''

For Moore to meet the expectations of scouts, he's going to have to become a star. On currebnt prospect lists, he is basically interchangeable with the two positional wunderkinds, the Nationals slugging outfielder Bryce Harper and the Angels speedy outfielder Mike Trout. And it seems like he came out of nowehre.

To hear Moore tell it, he just about did. He recalls that two Rays scouts, Fred Repke and Jack Powell, came down to see him "on a windy day in Moriarity'' N.M. before adding, "most days in Moriarity are windy.'' It's not the wind so much as the out-of-the-way locale that generally kept scouts away from New Mexico, but Rays scouting director J.R. Harrison, the beneficiary of the hard work of Repke and Powell, made Moore an eighth-round pick in 2007, No. 245 overall. Harper was a slam-dunk No. 1 pick of the Nats and Trout is seen as an incredible steal as a late first rounder.

But in many ways Moore may be the biggest bargain of all. Moore, who signed for $115,000 according to Cots Baseball Contracts, said it's not all the other scouts' mistakes, and that while he threw hard he hadn't much of a clue where it was going while in high school. "I definitely was a late bloomer,'' he admitted.

Well, no matter, now that he's here, the Rays know what they have, even if they aren't guaranteeing him that spot just yet. "What's special about him is hisa dvanced maturity. He's 22 going on 28,'' Maddon said. "His delivery is so good. he has a plus-plus fastball, a great changeup and a very good breaking ball.'' Moore said a key for him was that rather than trying for an alltime great breaking ball every time, and throwing a strike "two out of ten times,'' he sets his sights a bit lower.

Moore did a little bit of the same thing with his contract; he got a lot but took quite a bit less than he might get if he fulfills everyone's expectations for him. He received $14 million guaranteed over five years with a chance to make another $26 million over the three after that for a total of $40. While that has to be the about most money every paid to anyone with two lifetime starts, it carries the potential to undersell him if he reaches greatness, as many predict.

Moore, in his typical mature manner, explained the call this way: "I wouldn't say it was an easy decision. I thought about it quite a bit. But it got to the point where I couldn't say no. At 22 years old, Im going to have a lifetime of wealth ... As a pitcher and a competitor, I believe I'm going to pitch well and stay healthy. But that's not completely in my control. Well, this was in my control.''

If he becomes the star folks are predicting, he's probably cost himself several million dollars, but he isn't focusing on that or second-guessing himself. One competing agent said it has a chance to be the most undervalued deal, even ahead of teammate Evan Longoria's contract, in "three to four years.'' But as Moore put it, "If this works out bad, it'lll be good for me.'' What he means is that if he's a star, he'll get that monster deal, anyway, he'll just have to wait until he's 30.
Whatever anyone thinks about his play-it-safe contract, Moore isn't any kind of dummy. He is, like Maddon said, very mature. If some don't love his conservative contract, there is a side benefit to it: it means service time can't possibly be an issue as the Rays decide how to fill out their roster.

This guy is so good, and so ready, nothing like that should matter, anyway. If the Rays aren't officially saying it, I will. They are crazy if he isn't in the rotation.

Category: MLB
Tags: Matt Moore, Rays
Posted on: February 24, 2012 2:58 pm
Edited on: February 25, 2012 12:37 pm

Braun should be considered innocent, not lucky

Ryan Braun did not get off on a technicality. He should not be presumed guilty, especially now that he has proved he is not guilty. And he should not be seen as lucky, either.

If anything, Braun is unfortunate that the failed test result ever leaked. This system is supposed to secure confidentiality, but unfortunately, someone has loose lips. Surely not anyone with MLB nor certainly Braun's camp, but someone.

Braun was unfairly tagged a steroid cheat to start, and even now, after he won his case and proved there was no good, winning case against him, some are still calling it a "technicality'' that won the day, or even calling him lucky. Well, if having an unfair, unfortunate scarlet letter hanging over your normal-sized head is lucky, then that's him. Braun surely was elated to have prevailed. But he was said by friends to have felt "drained'' after spending his winter vacation gearing up for a fight and probably occasionally imagining the worst.

Well, the worst didn't happen. As it turns out, the system works. The Brewers' star was not guilty, and he should be considered not guilty. The independent arbitrator Shyam Das weighed the evidence for seven weeks and found the case against Braun stunk. Or at the very least, it wasn't proved.

Braun said he is innocent, and fairly, he should be seen that way.

This is actually that rare example of justice where the defendant is presumed guilty and has to prove one of two things, either 1) he's innocent, or 2) the test wasn't fair or proper. Since it's near to impossible to prove one's innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt (he passed a test of his own taking a couple weeks after the October test, but that has little to no value), this case obviously had issues, big issues.

The independent test taker held the sample for 48 hours, which makes no sense. While it's technically allowed by baseball for the fellow to refrigerate for two days as he did, or even keep it in his kid's room if he so desires, there is no good reason he couldn't find a FedEx open in Milwaukee. Baseball would say it's safer with him than on some shelf at a FedEx. But why does it have to be on a shelf at all? Baseball would also say other tests have sat on a shelf at FedEx, though it isn't known whether any of those samples came up positives. There are 24-hour FedExes all across the country, and certainly one in Milwaukee. There is also no reason the test taker would wait until 1:30 p.m. Monday to send it off. Did he have a lunch date? Did he bring it with him to his lunch date?

The question has to be asked now: Was it even Braun's sample? After a two-day lapse, who can be absolutely sure?

And if it was, is it possible the sample was somehow contaminated? Baseball would argue that the jar was triple sealed, but the doubt wasn't sealed out. Someone close to Braun said there was evidence of deterioration in Braun's sample but not the other five samples taken that playoff weekend. MLB people deny that is the case, though even if that's not the case, there is still plenty of room for doubt either, here way.

Oddly, the test sample came up with a result that was not only the highest for testosterone among the 40,000 or so tests administered on thousands of major league players, it was actually three times higher than anyone else's ever. Is it possible as one WADA person suggested, that perhaps someone with this sort of result was just heavily juicing? Or perhaps is it possible there was something wrong with his sample ... if it even was his sample?

There is no claim here the sample keeper did anything seriously wrong, or even that he didn't abide by the rules laid out by MLB and the players' union. But is it enough? Doesn't this have to be 100 percent?

There isn't one iota or a smidgen of a scintilla of any other evidence against Braun, from his high school days in Southern California to the University of Miami (where one of his first-day hosts was Alex Rodriguez) to the Brewers. There isn't any evidence of extraordinary muscles, unusual head size or any back acne. There isn't one person who's come forward from his past to suggest he was a druggie, not even from one unnamed person. There isn't anything in Braun's statistics to suggest something weird was going on. He came into the league one of the best handful of hitters in the game and has remained at that level.

Baseball is obviously quite upset about the result of this case, but baseball's policy remains a strong one. Baseball people showed their justice is blind. Their people tried hard to enforce the result they had even though it was the National League MVP. Baseball is right, too, to provide the players with their day in court, because the procedure isn't perfect, even if the policy is vastly improved.

The perception out there now is that there is something seriously wrong with baseball's program. But all that's been shown is that it isn't perfect (MLB is now 12-1 in arbitration rulings), and who ever thought it was? We already know it's imprecise. The very fellow with the sample is said to have called his boss to see if the refrigerator strange plan would work, so even wasn't so sure. Just like no one is perfect, no policy or procedure is, either.

The arbitration process itself isn't perfect, either. How else to explain why there is only one independent arbitrator alongside two ringers? Rob Manfred, the executive VP for labor and human relations at MLB, has a perfect 13-0 record voting on the side of MLB/process while players union chief Michael Weiner and his other reps also have a combined 13-0 record voting for the players. So the onus was all on Das in this case. Does it make any sense to have three arbitrators for a relatively insignificant salary arbitration hearing and only one for a hearing that will determine a man's good name? Shouldn't baseball be sure?

Braun is said by people close to him to have offered to take a DNA test. Meanwhile, one other person involved in the case claimed he first offered, then withdrew. There is bound to be some back and forth over exactly what was offered, what was done, and perhaps even what was leaked -- though in this case there isn't a claim by one side or the other that anyone closely involved in the case leaked the news of the positive test. It wouldn't make sense for either side to leak this info.

MLB has never leaked anything like that before. It understands the unfairness of such a leak, and more practically, they know they'd be sued if they ever did such a thing. Their whole program would be toast. And it goes without saying that Braun's side would never think of leaking such negative information about their own client. The leak is the one thing that ultimately damaged Braun here.

What surely happened is that word got into the hands of a third party that had no stake in the case, some fellow who was anxious to tell someone what he knew. Braun's side may have talked to a lawyer or to before hiring David Cornwell. Maybe one of the unhired lawyers has a friend at ESPN and thought this might make an interesting story.Well, it certainly did. But it's a story with a surprise -- albeit fair -- ending.
Category: MLB
Posted on: February 23, 2012 3:31 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 3:44 pm

The Winter Standings, from 1 through 30

The Angels and Marlins spent plenty, the Astros stood pat, and the Mets did worse than that. Here they, one through 30, from most improved team to least improved.

1. Angels. Anytime you add Albert Pujols when you don't really need a first baseman, that's quite a luxury buy. Maybe 10 years are too many, but he'll obviously make a major impact in the first years of that deal. C.J. Wilson gives them as good a first four as just about anyone. Plus, he comes directly from the main competitor.

2. Marlins. Jose Reyes is a monster get, when healthy, Mark Buehrle fits as the perfect veteran lefthander to pitch behind Josh Johnson and Heath Bell is a very good closer. Ozzie Guillen spices things up. Much more interesting team as they move to their new park.

3. Diamondbacks. Loved that they didn't rest on their laurels. Trevor Cahill bolsters their rotation and Jason Kubel their lineup. Also tried hard for Hiroki Kuroda, offering him $13 million, $3 million more than he got from the Yankees. Terrific effort by a team in an area hit hard by the economic downturn.

4. Nationals. I don't love Gio Gonzalez's 1.48 lifetime road WHIP, but he's a talented, young lefthanded starter who's exactly what they needed. Of course, they still could use a center fielder.

5. Yankees. Hiroki Kuroda is the solid starter they needed, and Michael Pineda has a chance to be better than that, especially if he masters his changeup. Jesus Montero will be a mega star but they needed the pitching, so it was a worthwhile gamble. A.J. Burnett is addition by subtraction.

6. Rockies. Michael Cuddyer is a huge get, even if he did cost $31.5 million over three years. Jeremy Guthrie steps in as the Opening Day starter and Tyler Chatwood has a chance, though rotation questions still remain. Casey Blake might not have a lot left at third base, but super prospect Nolan Arenado looks to be close.

7. Rangers. Yu Darvish is going to be better than Wilson. They flirted with Prince Fielder, but came up a few years short. Had they pulled that one off, too, they would have easily topped this list. A lefthander in the pen wouldn't have hurt, either.

8. Rays. Carlos Pena will bring a lot more punch than Casey Kotchman, and if healthy, Luke Scott brings more still. Somehow, they find a way.

9. Blue Jays. Sergio Santos, Francisco Cordero and Darren Oliver represent a nice bullpen upgrade over Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch. Never made the huge deal folks were expecting, though.

10. Reds. They gave up a lot for Matt Latos, a talented pitcher who'll have to adjust going from pitching-firendly PETCO Park to Great American Ballpark. The pen is better with Ryan Madson in as the closer and strong lefty Sean Marshall over from Chicago. Looks like a contender.

11. Tigers. Owner Mike Ilitch gets props for the $214-million, nine-year band-aid he bought in Fielder after Victor Martinez's brutal knee injury.

12. Phillies. They imported Jonathan Papelbon, who has a longer track record, to replace Ryan Madson. Jim Thome fills the resident nice guy role left vacated by Brad Lidge's departure (and Juan Pierre won't hurt in that dept. either, assuming he makes the team). They have more versatility with Ty Wigginton adding to their bench strength.

13. Pirates. The new killer B's are here -- Rod Barajas, Erik Bedard, Clint Barmes and A.J. Burnett. The Bucs certainly should be better.

14. Mariners. Hong-Chih Kuo, Shawn Camp and Hisashi Iwakuma have a chance to help. But their offseason will turn on whether Montero becomes a bigger star than Pineda. The guess here is, he does.

15. Padres. They maximized the Latos trade. Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal could become stars, and Brad Boxberger may be the closer of the future. Huston Street ably replaces Bell. And Carlos Quentin may thrive back in his hometown.

16. Cubs. David DeJesus is a solid outfielder, and Paul Maholm will help. But their winter will turn on whether slugging first baseman Anthony Rizzo is the player they think he is. The real loss for them was the new rule limiting bonus pools for drafted players.

17. Royals. Jonathan Sanchez is just the type of high-ceiling pitcher who fits, Bruce Chen was needed back and Jonathan Broxton is worth a flyer.

18. Dodgers. They managed to cut to below $90 million as cash-strapped Frank McCourt sells the team, but they pieced it together pretty well. Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang are solid starters but most of the other imports are extras. They also made an exciting secret grab at Fielder but were outbid by the Tigers. Their best move, though, was signing Matt Kemp for eight years at $160 million,

19. Indians. Given the restrictions of the budget, not terrible. Casey Kotchman looks to be on the upswing, and Derek Lowe is a veteran presence needed especially now that Fausto Carmona is better known as Limbo Carmona.

20. Giants. Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan are late bloomers, and they might do as well as the combo of Caros Beltran, Andres Torres and Cody Ross. The comeback of Buster Posey is probably the biggest key. Also like the smaller pickups of Clay Hensley and Ryan Theriot.

21. Cardinals. It's hard to lose Pujols (not to mention Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan) and not feel it. But somehow, the Cardinals seem to find a way. Beltran replaces some of Pujols' lost offense, if not his presence. Adam Wainwright's return is the biggest addition, though.

22. Orioles. Nobody did more different things, but it's tough to evaluate or guess what Wei-Yin Chen or Tsuyoshi Wada will become. Wilson Betemit was an odd signing in that no one saw a two-year deal coming.

23. White Sox. Love the Robin Ventura move (though I suspect they should have made him take a more-experienced staff). The team will be a lot younger, too, with all the kids acquired for Santos and Quentin. Buehrle is tough to replace, though.

24. Braves. Their big deal was for utlityman Jack Wilson, which says a lot. Never found the right deal for Jair Jurrjens or Martin Prado.

25. Twins. Josh Willingham has a lot of pressure on him to make up for the loss of Cuddyer and Kubel. Joe Nathan preferred to go to a contender. Not sure how much Jason Marquis has left.

26. Red Sox. I like the way they recovered from the loss of Papelbon by adding Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey. Cody Ross and Nick Punto are nice complementary pieces. But I think they'll miss Jason Varitek more than think. And they still don't have a No. 4 or 5 starter or starting shortstop after trading Marco Scutaro in exchange for "flexibility.'' Bobby Valentine was a great call for manager, and he does his best work when there are issues, so maybe he pulls it all together.

27. A's. They did a nice job collecting prospects (Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole could be stars) but will be hard-pressed to avoid 90 defeats this year after trading Cahill, Gonzalez and Bailey. Big Talent Yoenis Cespedes and Mannyball spice things up. Interesting offseason.

28. Brewers. Tough to make up for the loss of Fielder. Aramis Ramirez is a nice middle-of-the-order bat, Alex Gonzalez is an upgrade at shortstop and Nori Aoki may work. Also lost some bullpen depth with Takashi Saito and Hawkins gone.

29. Astros. They took a flyer on the oft-injured Fernando Martinez but after failing to unload Wandy Rodriguez, Carlos Lee or Brett Myers, they basically return the same team. Which is not necessarily good news when you lost 106 games.

30. Mets. They lost the heart of the team (though an of-injured one), and Andres Torres wouldn't be my first choice to replace the dynamic Reyes. Actually, Pagan would have been better. But that's nitpicky. Let's face it, no one that cuts an unprecedented $50 million can do well.
Posted on: February 22, 2012 3:45 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 8:31 pm

Ryan Howard takes BP, won't predict return date

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies star Ryan Howard fields grounders occasionally here at Phillies camp, and today he took batting practice at Bright House Field. Afterward, he was all smiles. His spirits were obviously high, but he made no predictions about when he'd be able to play in games.

"I feel good about where I am right now ... I guess I'm right where I'm supposed to be,'' is how Howard characterized things at a press conference to talk about all things related to the dramatic finish to his season and his lengthy recovery (it's at four months and counting) from his surgery to repair his torn left Achilles suffered on the season's final at-bat.

Howard said he felt very good while hitting and saw no reason for any dropoff in productivity once he's back on the field for real. In fact, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel actually predicted Howard's best years were ahead of him. The shift has surely taken a bite of his batting average which has been in decline, but there is no reason to think the Achilles injury will affect him longer than the time it takes to heal.

The hope is that he's in the Phillies lineup by sometime in May, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro said. "He's got a lot of strength to gain. We're going to be very cautious with it,'' Amaro said.

Howard said he's heard he's not going to be at full strength until the All-Star break. He didn't say whether he heard that from one of the Phillies doctors or one of the many lay people who chatted him up at the grocery store and other spots this winter. Howard referred to the injury as "a blessing in disguise'' because it gave him time to think. It was quite a disguise, as intense pain on top of making the final out of the season is no highlight. He said he saw the replay once. No reason to view it more than that.

Referring to making the final out two years running (although last year it was more hobbling than running), Howard joked that this could be his year to come through. "I'm about due,'' he said.

He may be a giddy to be here after all the inactivity. He said his winter consisted a lot of "housewives'' shows, the result of being immobile and unable to wrest the clicker away from his fiancee.

So understandably, just being in camp is a welcome step for him.

Posted on: February 22, 2012 2:55 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 4:52 pm

Smart money says Hamels gets his wish and stays

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Man, what is it about Philly?

Long the butt of jokes, major league ballplayers can't get enough of that town. One day, it's the Phillies' star lefthander Cole Hamels, the class of the 2012-13 free-agent market, pining to stay in Philadelphia, going so far as to say there is no deadline for a new deal. The next it was Shane Victorino, the sparkplug and heart of the team, who joined the small chorus.

"I'd like to stay here, too,'' Victorino, another free-agent-to-be, said. Victorino cited the very same things Hamels cited abut Philly: the victories, the expectations, the fans, the guys. Believe it or not, the guys are a big part of it.

"I don't want to go anywhere else. this is the place that gave me my start, the place that made me who I am today,'' Victorino said. "This is a great place to play.''

Victorino couldn't think of a bad thing to say. He wasn't even upset that Hamels gets a press conference to say how much he likes Philadelphia, whereas he has to do it one-on-one. "I'm not at that level,'' Victorino said.

Perhaps not, but he is one of the gang, part of the nucleus that makes the guys at the top want to stay a Phillie. Hamels credited the organization for finding the right core, the "six or seven'' players who have formed the personality of the most popular team in the game (to the players, anyway). It may just look like a very talented group to outsiders, but Hamels insisted that the organization has found "the right type of guys'' to form the core.

"We generally have very good makeup guys,'' GM Ruben Amaro said. "These are guys that want to win. I think they all have egos, but these are egos that allow them to perform at the level they need to perform at.''
Hamels' words were so glowing at his press gathering folks wondered whether they were actually scripted by the Phillies public relations staff. Alas, they were not. Yet, the organization was duly pleased by what they heard.

"I think he genuinely enjoys it here,'' Amaro said. "And I think he realized he made some comments in the past without thinking, and he thought about what he was going to say. He's also matured.''

This is a little different from the way the Cliff Lee negotiations went. That time, they were all done in secret, with the small coterie of Philly organization people who knew about them all swearing to keep the secrecy. The only hint of Philly's immense popularity at the time was Roy Halladay's overt effort to get to Philadelphia when his time was up in Toronto. Then Lee left at least $28 million on the table when he spurned the Yankees and went to Philly for $120 million over five years. "It's just the talent level and the expectations,'' Lee said. "There are sellouts every game. Good team, good enviornment ...  everything about it is positive.''

Phillies CEO David Montogomery, who helps set the excellent tone and the high payroll (it is bordering on luxury tax territory), appreciates the kind words from Hamels. "We certainly have the door open, and it seems like he does, too,'' Montgomery said. "He's been with us a long time. You never know where it leads. But the interest is there for us to retain him, and it seems like he'd very much like to stay.''

The vibe seems perfect for a deal here. In fact, it would be a shock if the Phillies and Hamels don't figure it out.

The early word is that the Phillies might be thinking about a contract in the range of $100-120 million. That is an estimate, but it makes sense because Lee is a bit more dominant. No matter, negotiations can get intense no matter how wonderful the public rhetoric. "(Hamels) still has (agent) John Boggs, doesn't he?'' Montgomery said. The CEO did say he thinks it's great there's deadline no restrict the talks. And Amaro said luxury tax considerations won't inhibit them either. "It'll come down to years and dollars, just like it does with every contract.''

Hamels certainly has made no secret of his desires. It would be hard to hide them, anyway, as he lives year-round in Philly. He may love it more than any solitary native San Diegan. The idea of playing back in his idyllic hometown, for instance, has no appeal for Hamels, who recalls going to an empty Qualcomm Stadium as a kid. "Nobody goes to Padres games,'' Hamels said. "Why would I want to go where fans only support the team from the third inning to the sixth inning? I'd rather play where fans are excited about the games.''

He is certainly playing no games when it comes to negotiations. Everyone knows where he stands. And where he wants to end up.



Posted on: February 22, 2012 10:45 am
Edited on: February 22, 2012 1:58 pm

Thome back in Philly 1 final year with 1 goal

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- All-time good guy Jim Thome and the Phillies made a deal that made both sides happy.

Thome was home pondering retirement when in a quick switch he became the first free agent to sign this winter, taking the Phillies' fair $1.25 million, one-year offer a scant three days after the free-agent period began. It's far from a windfall for the player who signed what was once the richest deal in Phillies history ($85 million, six years before the 2003 season), but it surely doesn't look like a terrible monetary arrangement for him now, not with several DH types still looking for work. No matter, Thome isn't here to enhance his bank account.

"I told my wife I was content to go home and retire, but when they called and made an offer as early as they did, they made the decision easy to play for one more year,'' Thome said. "If it is going to be my last year, what a way to go out.''

When Thome says it wasn't about the money, you believe him. It's also not about the stats. He has his 600 home runs now (604, to be exact) but it is easy to believe it was never about that for him, either. For all he has accomplished, Thome has never been part of a World Series winner -- he came the closest with the 1997 Indians -- and he sees an excellent chance here with the team that has to be considered the prohibitive favorite in the National League, especially with the nemesis Cardinals having lost the great Albert Pujols.

And despite no DH with Philly, Thome has a decent chance to play, at least early. Indications are that the team enters camp with a decent chance for Thome and Ty Wigginton to platoon at first base until star first baseman Ryan Howard returns from his Achilles injury.

"It's not about the at-bats, it's not about the home runs. I want to win,'' Thome said. "If I get 10 at-bats or 100 at-bats, it doesn't matter if we win. That's what it's all about.''

He's going to get a lot more than 10 at-bats, at least early when he has a chance to man the majority of games at first base before Howard gets back, probably sometime in May. Thome admitted he had "to get through the ups and downs of not playing (first base) in six or seven years.''

Thome isn't expected to win any Gold Glove awards out there now, but he still provides quite a bit, namely power and personality in abundance. He hit 15 home runs in just 324 at-bats with the Twins and Indians last year while batting .256. But he is more to a team than that. He brings a rare vitality for someone who at 41 is one of the oldest players in baseball. Beyond that, he is also that rare human reminder of someone who has his priorities straight.

Category: MLB
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