Posted on: July 18, 2010 8:28 pm
Edited on: July 18, 2010 8:45 pm

3 to watch: The Do we care? edition

Yankee fans cared very much about George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard. Baseball fans everywhere have cared very much about Stephen Strasburg.

Now Alex Rodriguez is approaching 600 home runs.

Do you care?

There's been amazingly little A-Rod buzz, and from what I was told, there wasn't much reaction from the Yankee Stadium fans when Rodriguez hit his 598th home run Sunday against the Rays.

You'd think it would be a meaningful milestone. Only six players have hit 600 home runs, and A-Rod (who turns 35 on July 27) will be the youngest ever to get there -- unless it takes him more than a year to hit two more home runs.

So why is there no buzz?

Is it that Rodriguez admitted using steroids earlier in his career? Is it that the steroid era has made 600 home runs seem that much less significant? Are we waiting for him to approach Willie Mays (660 home runs), Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755) and Barry Bonds (762), the numbers that earn A-Rod $6 million bonuses in his most recent contract? Do we just not like A-Rod?

Or maybe the buzz is suddenly going to appear Tuesday night, when A-Rod gets his first legitimate chance at reaching 600. He needs two more home runs, and he has hit two or more in a game 55 times in his career.

Not only that, but he has hit 67 career home runs against the Angels, by far the most he has hit against any opponent.

For the record, none of the six guys with 600 home runs hit Nos. 599 and 600 in the same game. Ruth came closest, hitting them on back-to-back days in St. Louis, in 1931.

A-Rod took nearly two weeks between 498 and 500, and also between 398 and 400.

So this countdown could take a while. But unless the buzz builds, this may be the only time it appears in 3 to watch:

1. Two years ago, when Ken Griffey Jr. reached 600 before a sparse crowd in Miami -- maybe there wasn't that much buzz then, either -- Rodriguez told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times that it's always better to reach big milestones at home. Rodriguez has six chances to get to 600 on this homestand, starting with Angels at Yankees, Tuesday night (7:05 EDT) at Yankee Stadium . At least Rodriguez won't be facing Scott Kazmir, who has held him to four hits -- and no home runs -- in 29 career at-bats. Kazmir went on the disabled list Sunday, and the Angels told reporters that they plan to call up a starter from the minor leagues to pitch Tuesday. A-Rod is also homerless in 35 plate appearances against Wednesday starter Joel Pineiro. He has four homers in 19 at-bats against Jered Weaver, who won't pitch in this series.

2. The fans want to see Strasburg. The scouts, most likely, will instead head for Chicago, to watch potential trade targets Brett Myers and Ted Lilly face off, in Astros at Cubs, Wednesday afternoon (2:20 EDT) at Wrigley Field . In a pitching market that no longer includes Cliff Lee, Myers and Lilly could be two of the more attractive properties.

3. Nothing against Bronson Arroyo, who will be Strasburg's opponent in Nationals at Reds, Wednesday night (7:10 EDT) at Great American Ball Park , but wouldn't it have been more compelling if Strasburg was starting a day earlier, against fellow rookie Mike Leake, or a day later, against Edinson Volquez? Apparently ESPN didn't care, as yet another Strasburg start has been scheduled for national television. Can't say I blame them.

Posted on: July 11, 2010 7:37 pm

If you like Smoak, you like M's deal

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- You could call it the Summer Meetings.

Not the All-Star Game, because so few baseball executives show up for it anymore. But Sunday's All-Star Futures Game might be the biggest gathering of baseball people outside the Winter Meetings.

Here's what some of them were talking about Sunday:

-- How well did the Mariners do in Friday's Cliff Lee trade? That depends what you think of first baseman Justin Smoak, the acknowledged centerpiece of the package that the Rangers sent to the Mariners. And among a handful of baseball people surveyed Sunday, the reviews on Smoak are decidedly mixed. "He's not [Mark] Teixeira," one veteran scout said. "They think they're trading for a batting champion. I'm not sure he's that." Other scouts were much more positive, one going so far as to say he has no questions about Smoak's value. And this was a decidedly top-heavy package, in part because that's how the Mariners asked for offers to be made.

-- While New York newspapers quoted some Yankee officials as being upset with the way the Mariners handled the Lee talks, officials from other teams scoffed at the idea that the Yankees could be upset. "The Yankees?" one official asked. "How can they say anything. They held up [last winter's three-team trade] by insisting that Curtis Granderson first get his eyes checked and then insisting that [Granderson] agreed to wear contact lenses."

-- The Rangers were among the teams that scouted Dan Haren on Friday night in Arizona, although by the time that game began they had completed the Lee deal and no longer needed to trade for a pitcher. Could the cash-poor Rangers have afforded Haren, who makes $12.75 million each of the next two years? Only in the highly unlikely event that their long-delayed sale is completed by the end of this month. The Rangers were able to afford Lee because the Mariners kicked in $2.25 million to help pay his salary, but also because they spent less than usual on things like Latin American scouting, specifically so they could make a trade like this one.

-- As one scout said, the group watching Haren included all the usual suspects, the teams still in need of a top starting pitcher. The White Sox, Phillies, Reds, Cardinals and Angels were all represented. So were the Yankees, although it's unlikely they would be interested in trading for Haren.

-- The Twins never had a real chance to get Lee, because while they have depth in prospects, they didn't have anyone Seattle would accept as a centerpiece of the deal (as Smoak was with the Rangers, and as Jesus Montero would have been in the proposed deal with the Yankees).

-- One thought on Roy Oswalt, whose $16 million contract for 2011 is a big obstacle for teams thinking about trading for him: A team, such as the Twins, could acquire Oswalt with the idea of trading him away after the season. Oswalt has a full no-trade clause, though, so he still needs to approve any deal, now or in November.

-- While the Yankees are still the best bet to sign Lee as a free agent this winter, don't discount the possibility that the Rangers could try hard to keep him. Rangers officials believe their chances at retaining Lee would hinge on two necessities: First, obviously, the ownership situation would need to be resolved. Second, the team would need to win, which would generate both the revenue and good feelings needed to get a deal done.

-- On Friday morning, the Rangers had given up on the idea of getting Lee, because the Mariners told them they were moving on a deal with the Yankees. But while the Rangers were deciding what to do next, Zduriencik sent word that there was "a window" in which he would field other offers. That's when the Rangers decided to offer Smoak and the package that got the deal done, replacing a four-player package that didn't include Smoak (but which some Rangers people considered superior).

-- Cubs people say the Ricketts family, which took over ownership of the team last winter, are committed to spending money. But they also say that money may not show immediately in spending at the major-league level, because the new owners plan to concentrate first on upping the budgets for scouting and player development.
Posted on: July 5, 2010 6:12 pm

One more rehab start likely for Volquez

NEW YORK -- The Reds now expect Edinson Volquez to rejoin their rotation after the All-Star break.

Manager Dusty Baker and general manager Walt Jocketty said that Volquez will likely make a sixth minor-league rehabilitation start this week with Triple-A Louisville. The Reds had considered activating Volquez to pitch for them this weekend, but decided against it after he pitched just five innings and threw 87 pitches for Louisville on Sunday night.

"He wasn't as sharp as he had been," Baker said.

Volquez, a 17-game winner in 2008, had Tommy John elbow surgery last Aug. 3. He was suspended for 50 games under baseball's drug policy, but served that suspension while on the disabled list.
Category: MLB
Posted on: June 4, 2010 10:28 am
Edited on: June 4, 2010 10:30 am

3 to watch: The Nationals league edition

Next week we'll ask whether Stephen Strasburg can transform the Nationals.

Today we're asking whether Strasburg can help change the image of the National League. Because right now, when a guy is struggling (or just plain lousy) in the American League, the common thought is that he might be better in the NL.

Or didn't you read about this week's Dontrelle Willis trade?

Willis has a career National League ERA of 3.78. He has a career American League ERA of 6.86. And instead of saying that his career went downhill after the 2007 trade that sent him from the Marlins to the Tigers -- and, in reality, had started to go downhill in his last two seasons in Florida -- the story when he was traded to the Diamondbacks this week was that maybe a change back to the NL would help.

Nice thought, except the National League scouts we talked to wanted nothing to do with Willis, not at the major-league minimum (which is all the Diamondbacks will be paying).

"I was really surprised that Detroit was fortunate enough to trade him," said one scout who watched Willis this season. "That's a great deal for Detroit, because they get a player [Billy Buckner] back.

"We'd take a chance on a pitcher, but not him. If my general manager would have called, I'd have said no. If he can get you five innings, then he's had a heck of a night. His command and control are just not very good."

In 22 career starts for the Tigers -- that's all they got for their $29 million -- Willis had just two games where he got an out in the seventh inning, and none where he finished seven innings. He averaged 5 1/3 innings a start this season.

Sounds perfect for a team with the worst bullpen in the majors (7.51 ERA).

"Is he going to start for them?" the scout asked. "Well, good for him. Whatever."

With that kind of report, how can we do anything but feature Willis' Diamondback debut in this weekend's 3 to watch:

1. Roy Halladay ended May with a perfect game. But if you take the whole month, Halladay's May ERA of 2.15 ranked just fourth among National League starters, behind Ubaldo Jimenez (0.78), Mat Latos (1.54) and Matt Cain (1.81). And in his first start since the perfect game, Halladay goes up against Latos, in Padres at Phillies, Friday night (7:05 EDT) at Citizens Bank Park . This is probably as good a time as any to remind you that since his perfect game, Mark Buehrle has won just five of his 24 starts. And since his perfect game, Dallas Braden is 0-3 in four starts, with a 4.13 ERA. If Halladay starts slipping, then maybe Armando Galarraga should thank Jim Joyce, after all.

2. The Diamondbacks sent out a mass e-mail on Thursday, filled with positive notes about how well their team is doing. That's a team that just finished an 0-9 road trip, a team that has lost 10 in a row, a team that got walked-off each of the last four games, a team that hasn't scored a run in 31 innings. Sounds like the kind of team that can turn Willis into a winner -- or at least pretend that he's winning. We'll see, when he faces Jhoulys Chacin, in Rockies at Diamondbacks, Saturday night (8:10 ET) at Chase Field .

3. It really is too bad that the Nationals didn't have Strasburg debut this weekend, perhaps on Saturday night against fellow San Diego native Mike Leake (who already has four major-league wins and has helped his team into first place). Instead, they chose to hold him back for Tuesday, against a Pirates offense that might more closely resemble the International League lineups he has been carving up in Syracuse. Oh well. We'll make do with Luis Atilano on Saturday, and Craig Stammen, in Reds at Nationals, Sunday afternoon (1:35 EDT) at Nationals Park . Remember, it's the last game the Nationals will ever play (at least for now) without Strasburg on their roster.

Posted on: May 30, 2010 5:48 pm
Edited on: May 31, 2010 8:57 am

3 to watch: The Are you serious? edition

After 52 games a year ago, the Blue Jays were 29-23, and just 1 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East. Their early schedule had been favorable, the upcoming schedule looked tougher, and by year's end the Jays had a 75-87 record that helped get general manager J.P. Ricciardi fired and helped get Roy Halladay traded to Philadelphia.

So if you want to get excited about the Jays' current 30-22 record, go right ahead. We'll look at a favorable early schedule, and an upcoming schedule that looks much tougher, and we'll say that until proven otherwise, the Jays of 2010 aren't noticeably better than the Jays of 2009.

The Jays are 2-7 against the Big 3 in the American League East, and that's bad news in two ways. One, it says they're probably not nearly as good as their overall record. Two, it means that 45 of their remaining 110 games (41 percent) are against the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox.

In fact, of Toronto's remaining 37 games before the All-Star break, only four will be against a team currently under .500. They start that stretch this week, with three against the Rays, then their first three of the season with the Yankees.

And that's why the Blue Jays have a spot in this week's 3 to watch:

1. The Braves were basically in first place for 15 straight years, from 1991-2005 (yes, we know they were in second when the strike hit in 1994). The Braves basically haven't been in first place since 2005 (yes, we know that they were in first as late as May 15 in 2007). The Braves were in last place, 6 1/2 games out of first, just two weeks ago. Now they could take over first, in a series that includes Phillies at Braves, Tuesday night (7:10 EDT) at Turner Field . The Braves (15-4 since May 10) could actually take over first place on Monday, but Tuesday's pitching matchup is Tim Hudson (4-0, 1.59 this month) against Cole Hamels (3-1, 2.45 this month).

2. The Blue Jays have scored more runs than any American League team but the Yankees. That didn't help them the first time they faced David Price; he threw a four-hitter for his first career shutout. The Jays get another chance at Price, in Rays at Blue Jays, Wednesday night (7:07 EDT) at Rogers Centre . Price's opponent: Shaun Marcum, who hasn't faced the Rays since 2008 but is 2-0 against them in his career, with an 0.75 ERA.

3. Could the Braves pass the Phillies? Could the Blue Jays threaten the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox? Here's one more: Are the Reds a serious threat to the Cardinals in the National League Central. Cincinnati leads the division by one game heading into this week's series, which concludes with Reds at Cardinals, Wednesday night (8:15 EDT) at Busch Stadium . The Cardinals have three rookies in their rotation, but Chris Carpenter is their Wednesday starter. The Reds have two rookies in their rotation, and one of them is Wednesday starter Sam LeCure, who took Homer Bailey's spot when Bailey went on the disabled list.

And one more to watch: No, we didn't overlook Monday's Rockies-Giants game, which features a matchup of the guy who won the last two National League Cy Young Awards (Tim Lincecum) and the guy who has made himself a front-runner for the 2010 Cy Young (Ubaldo Jimenez). We left it out, only because first pitch is 4:05 EDT on Memorial Day Monday, and we worried that by the time you read this, you may already have missed it.

Posted on: May 21, 2010 10:21 am

3 to watch: The Mind the gap edition

Since this time a year ago, the National League has added Roy Halladay, Matt Holliday, Jason Bay and Jason Heyward, with Stephen Strasburg on the way.

The American League has added Javier Vazquez, Milton Bradley and Juan Pierre, with Mike Cameron on the way back from the disabled list.

You'd think the NL would finally be catching up, except that everything you see on the field tells you it isn't. Or, at least, that despite all the catching up the NL seems to have done, there's still a massive gap in talent between the two leagues.

"This league stinks," seems to be the most common refrain from scouts who cover the NL.

Which should be good news for the 14 American League teams that plunge into interleague play this weekend, at least until they realize that all their rivals get to face NL teams, too.

On to 3 to watch for the weekend:

1. The Yankees did everything they could to avoid having the struggling and unpopular Vazquez start against one of their rivals (the Red Sox). But they seem to have no problem having him open the Subway Series against their other rival, as he'll do in Yankees at Mets, Friday night (7:10 EDT) at Citi Field . The other pitching matchups in this series are much better, with the improved Mike Pelfrey against the even more improved Phil Hughes on Saturday, and the aces CC Sabathia and Johan Santana colliding on Sunday night. But with the Yankees losing key players by the day, and the Mets self-destructing, even the Vazquez-Hisanori Takahashi matchup in the opener is tough to skip. One question: If Vazquez gets booed at Citi Field, will the Mets fans or Yankees fans be doing the booing? Or both?

2. The Rays are the best team in the better league, or at least they have been so far. The Astros are the worst team in the worse league, or at least they have been so far. So naturally, they get matched up on the first weekend of interleague play. At least it should provide a nice homecoming for Houston native Andrew Friedman, the Rays general manager, and for Houston natives Carl Crawford and Jeff Niemann, who is the scheduled starter in Rays at Astros, Saturday night (7:05 EDT) at Minute Maid Park .

3. The Reds were the NL's hottest team, at least until they stumbled badly the last two days in Atlanta. The Indians may well be the American League's worst team, and they proved it by losing two straight at home to the Royals. So if the NL truly is getting better, maybe it will show by the time we get to Reds at Indians, Sunday afternoon (1:05 EDT) at Progressive Field .
Posted on: May 16, 2010 8:27 pm

3 to watch: The Ignoring the rivalry edition

The Yankees are playing the Red Sox, and you couldn't care less.

The Yankees are playing the Red Sox, and you can't believe that other network is showing them again.

The Yankees are playing the Red Sox, and just as a favor to you, we're not including them in this week's 3 to watch (although, if you must know, the second-place Yankees host the fourth-place Red Sox Monday and Tuesday, before hosting the first-place Rays Wednesday and Thursday):

1. One last Yankee-Red Sox reference: The Yankees lost their first eight meetings with the Red Sox last year, and in the end it meant nothing. So perhaps it means nothing that the Giants have lost their first six meetings with the Padres this year, scoring just eight runs in those six games. They haven't scored in two games against Tuesday night starter Mat Latos, and they've also lost twice to Clayton Richard, who starts in Giants at Padres, Monday night (10:05 EDT) at Petco Park .

2. For all their early-season troubles, the Angels are 2 1/2 games out of first place in the American League West. They just swept three games from one of the teams ahead of them (the A's), and now they get a chance at the other one, in Angels at Rangers, Tuesday night (8:05 EDT) at Rangers Ballpark . Vladimir Guerrero always looked forward to these Angels-Rangers series when he played for the Angels. Now he gets a chance from the other side.

3. Jason Heyward was everyone's preseason pick for National League Rookie of the Year. Mike Leake was nobody's. Heyward has eight home runs and 28 RBIs, so he's got a real chance. Leake is 4-0 with a 3.09 ERA for the first-place Reds, so you've got to say he has a chance, too. All of which should make Reds at Braves, Thursday afternoon (1:05 EDT) at Turner Field interesting.

At least as interesting as Yankees-Red Sox.

Posted on: April 20, 2010 3:04 pm
Edited on: April 20, 2010 3:31 pm

Reds' Volquez suspended for 50 games

Reds pitcher Edinson Volquez has been suspended for 50 games for violating baseball's drug policy.

Volquez is on the disabled list, after Tommy John surgery last Aug. 3, and wasn't expected to be able to pitch until the middle of this season, at the earliest. Since his suspension begins tomorrow, he will serve most or all of it while he remains on the DL. While it will cost him money (about $130,000), as drug suspensions are without pay, it won't actually cost the Reds a player.

The 26-year-old Volquez was a 17-game winner in 2008, after coming to the Reds from the Rangers in a trade for Josh Hamilton. He's talented enough that one scout said this spring that the Reds would have been the favorites to win the National League Central, had Volquez been healthy.

Volquez is the first major league player suspended under the drug policy this season.

Category: MLB
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