Posted on: January 13, 2012 5:01 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 10:49 am

Prince starts new team tour; Texas is first stop

Top free agent slugger Prince Fielder has embarked on a second tour of teams today, and is expected to meet with multiple teams, perhaps four or more, on this excursion as he narrows his expansive field of free-agent options.

Fielder is in Texas today meeting with the Rangers, as @BNightengale reported. But that shouldn't be seen as prove they are about to sign Fielder. The Rangers are expecting to spend $100 million or so on Japanese pitching import Yu Darvish, and there have been mixed signals as to whether they might be able to sign both Darvish and Fielder.

The Orioles, Nationals, Mariners, Marlins and incumbent Brewers ave been seen as the other main players, but there may be more. The Cubs and Blue Jays are among others to have shown interest.

The other teams on the tour aren't known as of yet.

Posted on: January 13, 2012 4:11 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 10:50 am

Red Sox invite Varitek to camp; he's weighing it

Respected longtime Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek has been invited by the team to come to camp as a non-roster player with only an outside chance to make the team, and Varitek seems likely to decide between accepting that invitation or retiring, people familiar with his situation said. Mostly out of respect for the iconic Varitek, they let him know the door is open, and they are giving him time to decide. Varitek, 39, who's played his entire big-league career in Boston starting with one at-bat in 1997 and helped them win two World Series, does not appear to be considering looking for a job elsewhere.

The Red Sox fairly have made clear to him that if he did come to camp, he'd serve mostly as "protection'' in the event one of their two catchers, Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Kelly Shoppach, is hurt. Ryan Lavarnway is seen as Boston's catcher of the future but is expected to start the year in Triple-A Pawtucket.

This is probably a tough call for Varitek, a great Red Sox who didn't have a bad year last year when he hit .221 with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs. Interestingly, the team was 42-22 in games started by Varitek, and 48-50 in games started by their other catchers, predominantly Saltalamacchia. The staff ERA was 3.57 with Varitek, and 4.62 with Saltlamacchia. But Varitek's throwing isn't what it was, and the Red Sox chose to sign Shoppach.

The respect for Varitek is such that Red Sox people would love him to work for the team in a non-playing capacity once his career is over. He just isn't sure it is just yet.

Category: MLB
Posted on: January 12, 2012 9:47 am
Edited on: January 24, 2012 10:50 am

Why Selig's extension is great thing for baseball

The news that Bud Selig's extension had been approved by baseball's owners and will be announced Thursday was met with the predictable fan groans via twitter and email. No surprise there. The big guy always takes the hits.
But here is why it's a good thing Selig is staying in the job he took on an "interim'' basis (chuckle, chuckle) nearly two decades ago, from 1 to 10.

1. Nobody can pull together disparate and often cranky multimillionaire and billionaire owners like Selig. Sure, a few of these guys are normal, grounded people (i.e. Stu Sternberg, Mark Attanasio). But a large number of them are either egomanical, entitled, or both (or frankly, just plain nutty). To get them to come together and form a consensus as often as he does is just plain amazing. As one management person said, "He gets things done.''

2. A lot of what he gets done is worthwhile. Interleague play, the wild card and the originally expanded playoffs are a hit (which is why he's pushing to expand the original expansion now). The races have been just as exciting, and more teams have at least gotten themsleves into playoff contention. The final day of the 2011 regular season is possibly the most exciting non-playoff day in team sports history.

3. The other two reasons more teams have gotten into the September and October acts are the revenue sharing and luxury tax elements he pushed through. The Yankees payroll is still the highest in baseball but it's remained steady the past few years, and now the Yankees are aiming to move it down below $189 million by 2014, which would have been unthinkable until the new CBA. The NFL talks about its parity, but that league rigs the schedules to aid that goal (and still doesn't completely succeed, as New England and Pittsburgh are great every year). Baseball's only multiple World Series winners over the past 11 years are the Red Sox and Cardinals, with two titles apiece. Small-market teams like Tampa Bay have become powers. Minnesota was good before it started spending big. And a movie was made about Oakland's great success before it turned down, too. Arizona, Florida, Colorado, Cincinnati and Milwaukee have had their moments, as well. Nineteen clubs have made the postseason the last five years.

3. Of course the 1994 work stoppage and cancelation of the World Series was a bad thing. But with the new CBA, there will be 21 straight years of labor peace through 2016, an amazing achievement, especially when you consider what's going on in the other major sports.   

4. Sure, Selig was slow to react to the steroid problem in baseball (as we all were). But now MLB has the best and toughest steroid program, one that is blind to a player's name and ability (see 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun). Fifty games for a first offense is a tough penalty that provides real deterrent. MLB is also the first U.S. sport to institute blood testing for hGH. And unlike the NFL, baseball provides due process in the form of an arbitration process that gives players who fail tests a chance to clear their names and slates.

5. Baseball players have guaranteed contracts, an extraordinary pension plan and no concussion scandal.

6. Selig has generally made the right calls weeding out bad ownership candidates in his meticulous process of vetting new ownera. The one obvious mistake of allowing Frank McCourt to buy the storied Dodgers franchise has been erased by Selig's ability to be rid the sport of the carpetbagging creep (he is a goner April 30).  
7. Baseball has built 20 new stadiums on his watch, and about 17 or 18 of them are beautiful shining lights, including PNC Park, Safeco, AT&T, Citi Field, Camden Yards and Comerica. The Marlins' new park looks amazing, even if it's yet to be seen whether South Florida can support a major-league team. Only Oakland and Tampa Bay have had continuing trouble getting new digs, and there appears to be some new hope for the A's.

8. The WBC is the most extensive international baseball event here, and 2013 will feature its third installment.

9. Even though Selig can barely log on, is the model internet site for all leagues. 

10. Baseball attendance and revenues keep rising in an awful economy, to the point where the attendance has been the hghest the past eight years and receipts have surpassed $7 billion a year two years running (double what they were a decade ago). Nine teams drew at least three million fans in 2011, led for the first time by the Philadelphia Phillies, and only one failed to draw 1.5 million (the A's). It truly is the golden age of baseball, even if Bud frequently has to remind us.    



Category: MLB
Tags: Bud Selig
Posted on: January 11, 2012 9:54 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 10:51 am

Hal Steinbrenner meets about E-Jax in Phoenix

Edwin Jackson's agent Scott Boras spent Wednesday in Phoenix, site of the baseball owners meeting, and met with Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner to discuss a potential deal for the free agent righthander.

Yankees people seem to like Jackson but want to keep deals short because one of their greatest goals is to somehow get their payroll below the luxury tax threshold of $189 million by 2014. That isn't going to be easy for a team that's had a payroll in the $200-million range for years and is committed to $125 million for 10 players in '14, but the reward is that their tax would go from 50 percent on dollars above the cap to a much more manageable 17 percent.

The Yankees are also in contact with Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Oswalt, two more free agents, but they seem concerned about Kuroda's appetite to pitch in New York and Oswalt's soundness following an injury-plagued year. Jackson has the advantages of youth (he's 28) and durability on his side. While Jackson is 47-41 over the past four years, the Yankees may envision an improvement pitching for them. Jackson is a hard thrower who's had success pitching against the other A.L. East teams (he's 7-1 with a 3.10 ERA vs. the other four AL East teams over the past three years).

Jackson has drawn interest elsewhere (the Orioles and Blue Jays are others thought to have interest) but seems to have a particular interest in playing for the Yankees.

Posted on: January 11, 2012 7:16 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 10:51 am

Loyal Cub Wood almost sure to remain loyal Cub

Kerry Wood and the Chicago Cubs belong together. And unless something weird happens, he will remain a Cub.

"If we can't figure this out, there's something wrong,'' Cubs president Theo Epstein said to Cubs writers Wednesday.

Which, if you think about it, is a pretty good tipoff Wood's staying home. Otherwise, Epstein is opening himself up to having admitted something's wrong. And other than Starlin Castro's legal troubles, Alfonso Soriano's untradeable contract, a minor-league system practically bereft of talent, and yes a few more things, what could be wrong?

One thing the Cubs can count on, though, is Wood, their former phenom turned reliable reliever and employee. Last winter, Wood forged his own to deal to return at Ron Santo's funeral, telling then GM Jim Hendry that day that he was inspired to remain a Cub, that he wanted to be a Cub. So Hendry found $1.5 million for Wood, and thus signed him to the one bargain contract of his tenure.

How much did Wood want to remain a Cub? Well, he passed on a chance to sign with the Yankees, allegedly for $6 million, or four times more than he took with the Cubs. The rumor of that day was that there was an informal agreement for Wood to remain a Cub employee forever.

Well, that's being tested now. Maybe just a little, anyway.

Category: MLB
Tags: Cubs, Kerry Wood
Posted on: January 11, 2012 2:21 pm
Edited on: January 25, 2012 6:41 am

Making sense of the free-agent infield logjam

There are a ton of free agents still left unsigned on the market. And many of them are very viable utility infielders, making for quite a logjam.

There are at least eight infielders who look to be utilitymen, backups or perhaps part-time starters somewhere, and it's like a game of musical chairs. At least a half-dozen teams, and perhaps one or two more than that, are looking for such types of infielders in the slowest-moving free-agent market in history.

Ryan Theriot, Eric Chavez, Aaron Miles, Jack Wilson, Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Alex Cora and Craig Counsell are the eight infielders remaining on the market, and former MVP Miguel Tejada is playing in winter ball and hoping for a comeback. All offer something different.

Theriot, a versatile player with a good stick, is being looked at by the Reds and Rays after hitting .271 and earning a ring with the Cardinals. Chavez, the former A's star, is talking to the Yankees about a return after being a plus on the field and in the clubhouse for them last year, but the Rays, Nats and hometown Padres are also interested. Wilson, the defensive specialist at shortstop, makes sense for the Braves and others.

Miles hit .275 with the Dodgers and had 45 RBIs in a very productive year. Renteria has played a key role for two World Series winners. Cabrera has been something of a good-luck charm. Cora is being looked at by a couple teams as a player, and a couple others as a coach. Counsell suffered through a rough slump last year and like Cora is seen as a potential future big-league manager.

Posted on: January 11, 2012 1:18 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 10:53 am

Boras: Ryan OK'd $44M bid; Phils backed off

The Reds got an excellent closer on a reasonable contract when they agreed to an $8.5-million, one-year contract with ex-Phillie Ryan Madson. What did Madson get? He received the opportunity to close for a very good young team where he has the chance to rack up saves before hitting the free-agent market again next year.

Madson came close to doing a $44-million, four-year deal with the Phillies earlier this winter, as everyone knows by now. But Madson's agent Scott Boras wanted to make it clear that Madson did not reject that proposal, as has been suggested in some places on the blogosphere, and in fact informed the Phillies he was ready to sign back with the Phillies for that $44-million deal he said was proposed. "He told the Phillies he would accept it, and the Phillies decided not to execute it,'' Boras said by phone.

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has denied that the deal fell apart because club president Dave Montgomery wouldn't approve it but declined to get into the specifics of how it blew up. Word was, the sides were discussing relatively minor items such as incentives when Amaro raised the idea of needing to go to Montgomery, though Amaro has since said that Montgomery knew all along where things stood and was not the reason the deal didn't go down. The Phillies ultimately signed Jonathan Papelbon for $50 million over four years shortly after the deal with Madson blew up.

The Phillies at some point tried to re-engage Madson about returning on a much lower deal, but after being under the impression he had a deal with his old team for $44 million Madson never re-entered serious talks with his old team.

In any case, the Reds were the beneficiary of the deal that blew up, getting the improving reliever who saved 30 of 32 chances in his first year with the bulk of the closing time. He went 4-2 with 62 strikeouts in 60 2/3 inings.

Category: MLB
Posted on: January 11, 2012 12:21 am
Edited on: January 24, 2012 10:53 am

Stunning Madson move is Reds best this winter

The Cincinnati Reds have turned themselves into a major player in a competitive division with three big moves this winter.

Their surprise signing of closer Ryan Madson was perhaps the best of the trio of impactful acquisitions, following the four-for-one-trade for starter Mat Latos and the pitching swap of starter Travis Wood for lefthanded reliever Sean Marshall. Madson comes on a one-year deal, giving himself a chance to rack up a lot of saves on a very good team while giving the Reds a reasonable deal for the righthander who established his closing credentials just last year with his very nice season in Philadelphia.

The Madson agreement, first reported by, shores up a solid bullpen that was already enhanced with the importing of Marshall, one of the game's better lefty relievers. The rotation is probably still the Reds' biggest area of concern, but Latos brings another big young arm. Latos went to Cincinnati in a risky trade of four top prospects, but he is the No. 2 pitcher they had been seeking. He earned a rep for immaturity in San Diego, but perhaps a fresh start with a contender will help.

The Cardinals still look solid even after losing superstar Albert Pujols, thanks to the return of Adam Wainwright and free-agent pickup of Carlos Beltran, but the Brewers may take a step back unless they can somehow find a way to keep Prince Fielder. Meanwhile, the Reds, who badly underachieved last year following a playoff season in 2010, definitely look like a team to be reckoned with.

Category: MLB
Tags: Reds, Ryan Madson
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