Posted on: June 16, 2008 7:51 pm

Avila could give M's overhaul they need

The Mariners chose Bill Bavasi over Al Avila in 2003, and less than five years later, they're again looking for a new general manager.

Maybe this time they should hire Avila, who as Dave Dombrowski's assistant has helped revive the Tigers.

Dombrowski and Avila overhauled the Tigers when they took over, and the same type of overhaul is needed now in Seattle. There isn't a quick fix. Listen to what M's pitcher Jarrod Washburn told reporters Sunday: "There's no sign of turning it around. We're not good."

The thing is, the Mariners were in need of an overhaul in 2003, too, and they didn't get one. They were an aging team, and yet they kept trying to convince themselves they were a move away. That's how you end up with a $117 million payroll and the worst record in baseball.

It's strange to look back at the Mariners-Orioles trade from the winter, the one that sent Erik Bedard to Seattle. Now the M's are a mess, and could well trade Bedard. Meanwhile, the Orioles -- who finally themselves realized an overhaul was in order -- are respectable at 34-34.

I'm in Philadelphia tonight, and the Phillies honored Orioles third-base coach Juan Samuel by inducting him into their Wall of Fame. Samuel said the thing about the young Orioles is that "they think they can win, and they talk about winning." He also said that they've turned things around because there's been a focus on playing the game right, starting with manager Dave Trembley, and the players have bought into it.

Why have they bought into it?

"Because they see the results," Samuel said.

They see results in Seattle, too -- negative results.

Posted on: June 15, 2008 5:50 pm
Edited on: June 15, 2008 11:02 pm

Tigers, Padres still have a chance

Last Tuesday, the Tigers were 11 games out, and already thinking they might have to be July sellers. Six days later, they're six games out, and looking dangerous.

"Everybody was burying us, and they should have," manager Jim Leyland said after today's 5-4 win over the Dodgers.

They're not buried, and neither are the Padres, who despite losing two of three over the weekend in Cleveland, have had a similar revival in the NL West. Once 12 1/2 games out, the Padres have already cut it to 6 1/2.

The Tigers added Fernando Rodney to the rotation Sunday, should add Joel Zumaya on Thursday and could add Gary Sheffield next week. The Padres just got Jake Peavy back from the disabled list and brought top prospect Chase Headley to the majors. They should eventually get Chris Young back from the disabled list, too.

Just another reminder of how long the season is, and how quickly things can change. For another reminder, check out something Joel Sherman pointed out in his New York Post column today: A year ago today, the National League division leaders were the Mets, Brewers and Dodgers, and the Padres led the wild-card race. Not one of those four teams made the playoffs.

Posted on: June 13, 2008 9:21 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2008 9:23 pm

Russell Martin: 'I still miss the infield'

Everyone in baseball talks about the game's catching shortage. Teams are always looking for players who might be converted to catcher. So why would the Dodgers think about moving Russell Martin to another spot?

The answer is they're not -- not yet. But Dodger people will tell you that it's entirely possible that Martin could become their second baseman or third baseman in two or three years, particularly if catching prospect Lucas May (now at Double-A Jacksonville) develops into a big-league player.

Martin is so good behind the plate that he won the National League's gold glove in 2007 (and the silver slugger, too). But he was a third baseman in junior college, and when he was growing up in Montreal, he was a shortstop.

"You've got to realize, I idolized Ozzie Smith," Martin said. "If I saw something he did, I'd go out the next day and try to do it myself. I had to learn to love to catch. I enjoy everything about it now, but I still miss the infield."

Martin has started four games at third base this year, as Joe Torre has tried to get his bat in the lineup on days when he doesn't catch. Torre said he thinks Martin is quick enough (and hits enough) to play in the middle of the infield.

Martin says he'll do whatever the organization asks. But when I asked him what he'd say if they suggested a permanent move to the infield, his eyes lit up.

"I'd change in a heartbeat," he said. "I'd jump at it, for sure."


The Indians have known for a while that Victor Martinez was playing with a bad elbow, which is why they weren't alarmed by his complete loss of power (no home runs in 198 at-bats). But when Martinez joined Travis Hafner, Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona on Cleveland's disabled list this week, it almost ensured that C.C. Sabathia will be traded next month.

Indians officials would love to see a bidding war for Sabathia between the Yankees and Red Sox, but one other team they're keeping their eye on is Philadelphia.


With their sweep of the White Sox this week, the Tigers aren't in sell mode yet. But if they ever get there, it'll be interesting to see what happens with Kenny Rogers.

Rogers has a 1.24 ERA in his last four starts, and he would be one of the most marketable Tigers. He's also on record as saying he wants to end his career as a Tiger, a sentiment he repeated today.

"I don't want to pitch anywhere but here," Rogers said.

Rogers has partial no-trade protection in his contract, but as a 43-year-old who strongly considered retirement last fall, he has the ultimate no-trade clause: he could tell teams he would retire rather than accept a deal.

"I don't envision it being a possibility, because I expect we're going to be in this (race) for the long haul," Rogers said.


Posted on: June 10, 2008 4:10 pm
Edited on: June 10, 2008 4:21 pm

Dontrelle sent to Class A

The Tigers had to do something with Dontrelle Willis, that much was clear. They couldn't keep starting him, not after Willis showed again Monday night that he just can't throw the ball over the plate. So today, with Willis' permission, the Tigers optioned their struggling left-hander to Class A Lakeland.

"We don't want to put a time frame on it," general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We just want to get him right."

 Willis has been so bad (a 10.32 ERA and 21 walks in 11 1/3 innings) that releasing him might have been a possibility, except that the Tigers just signed him to a three-year, $29 million contract after acquiring him from Florida last December. With that kind of money invested in him, they had little choice but to do whatever it takes to turn him around.

It's not clear whether Willis will pitch for the Class A Flying Tigers right away. Dombrowski said they want their minor-league pitching coaches (Jon Matlack and Joe Coleman) to work with Willis on his mechanics.

As recently as 2005, Willis was a 22-game winner who finished second in the National League Cy Young voting. His numbers have progressively gotten worse since then, but this year's fall-off has been even more dramatic. Willis had trouble throwing strikes in the latter part of spring training, and he didn't get better when the season began. In an 8-2 Tiger loss to Cleveland Monday night, Willis walked five and allowed eight runs in just 1 1/3 innings.

Willis is still just 25 years old.

The Tigers didn't decide on who will replace Willis in the rotation. They're considering several options, but manager Jim Leyland said Eddie Bonine (9-2 with a 4.48 ERA at Triple-A Toledo) is a strong possibility.

Category: MLB
Posted on: June 9, 2008 6:10 pm
Edited on: June 9, 2008 6:12 pm

Pudge nears the end in Detroit

Pudge Rodriguez seemed done with the Tigers last year, but owner Mike Ilitch went against the advice of many of his baseball people and picked up Rodriguez's $13 million option, explaining to them that Rodriguez meant too much to the team to let him go.

Now it seems safe to say that Rodriguez really is on the way out.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland announced today that he'll start alternating Rodriguez and Brandon Inge behind the plate. The reason is obvious: Rodriguez is 4-for-35 (.114) with no extra-base hits in his last 11 games. Leyland said that he wants to "keep (Rodriguez) fresher," and also that he wants to find out how Inge will do with more regular work behind the plate.

Rodriguez's reaction?

"I still think I can do it," he said. "I don't know if they think I can. I believe in myself."

Rodriguez is 36, but believes he can catch until he's 40. Had the Tigers not picked up his contract option last fall, he believed he would get at least a three-year contract, possibly with the Mets. Now it seems clearer than ever that he'll be headed elsewhere this fall -- if not before then.

If the Tigers fall completely out of the race in the American League Central, it's safe to assume that they would look to trade Rodriguez next month. It's harder to imagine the Tigers trading Rodriguez if they don't fall out of the race, because it would leave them with Inge as their only catcher with significant big-league experience.

The Tigers do need to find out whether Inge can be their everyday catcher next year. He has gone back and forth on his willingness to catch, but recently he has said he wants to do it.

Posted on: June 6, 2008 5:23 pm
Edited on: June 6, 2008 9:59 pm

Tigers could lose Bonderman

As if the Tigers didn't have enough problems, they begin a 10-game homestand tonight with new concerns about right-hander Jeremy Bonderman.

After reporting some discomfort around his right shoulder, Bonderman went to see a doctor this afternoon. The Tigers weren't sure what's wrong, but two club sources said he would be checked for a possible circulation problem in the shoulder. The Tigers made no announcement before or after tonight's game against Cleveland, but Bonderman isn't expected to make his scheduled start Sunday, and will likely be placed on the disabled list.

Bonderman is 3-4 with a 4.29 ERA in 12 starts, but his velocity has been down, and his slider hasn't had its usual bite.

If Bonderman has to go on the DL, the Tigers would be forced to rely on Dontrelle Willis, who would remain in the rotation along with Armando Galarraga.



Posted on: June 4, 2008 8:44 pm

Could Soria be the next Joba?

When Joba Chamberlain makes his second Yankees start Sunday, the Royals will be the opponent. That's interesting, because the Royals have faced their own Joba question with outstanding young closer Joakim Soria.

For now, those that matter in Kansas City say they have no intention of turning Soria into a starter. But because he has started before, and because he throws four pitches, there are those in the organization who believe it should happen.

Even pitching coach Bob McClure, who loves Soria as a closer, wonders how good the 24-year-old right-hander could be as a starter.

"I just think you need to find out," McClure said. "You could always move him back. But it's going to depend on our needs."

There's no question how good Soria is as a closer. He's 29-for-33 in save situations, including a perfect 12-for-12 this year. His career ERA in 2.14, and this year the league has hit .127 against him.

On the other hand, the Royals have been so bad that Soria has just one save opportunity in almost three weeks.

The Royals say it would be hard to move Soria because they don't have anyone to replace him. They'll remind you that the one time Soria wasn't available to pitch, the guys who took his place couldn't hold a five-run ninth-inning lead.

But you have to wonder if that's the right question. If the Yankees could move Chamberlain to the rotation without having anyone to take his place in the eighth inning, couldn't the Royals try out Soria without being sure who would replace him in the ninth? The Yankees are certainly under more pressure to win right away than the Royals are.

"I just think he's such a strong part of what has a chance to be a strong bullpen," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "I think you'd really take a chance of dismantling that."

Hillman said Chamberlain's situation is different, because he was pitching the eighth, not the ninth. That's true, but if the Yankees miss the playoffs because they blow games in the eighth, there are a lot more consequences than if the Royals lose a few games in the ninth.

For his part, Soria said he's fine with whatever the Royals want to do with him.

"Right now, I feel good in the spot they've given me," he said. "If they want me to be a starter (sometime), that's fine with me, too."

One sidenote on Soria: Even when he started, he pitched solely out of the stretch.

"He told me that he threw his perfect game in Mexico all out of the stretch," McClure said.

Category: MLB
Posted on: June 4, 2008 12:27 pm

Braves knew not to count on Smoltz

It's too bad about John Smoltz, who announced today that he'll need season-ending shoulder surgery. Too bad for the Braves, too, because they could have used the lift that Smoltz's full return would have provided.

But the Smoltz news didn't catch the Braves by surprise. Not hardly.

Even last weekend in Cincinnati, when Smoltz was going through what seemed like a successful minor-league rehabilitation assignment, manager Bobby Cox never sounded overly optimistic. When I asked about Smoltz, Cox kind of shook his head and said: "I don't know. That shoulder, it's pretty bad."

He was right. That shoulder was pretty bad. Smoltz tried to pitch through the pain, but it just didn't work. Now he'll have surgery, and the Braves will move on.

Category: MLB
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