Posted on: March 5, 2009 12:40 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2009 7:24 pm

Now A-Rod is more than just a distraction

PHOENIX -- Back when the Alex Rodriguez steroid story first broke, there were questions in New York about whether A-Rod was really worth all the trouble.

There were suggestions that the Yankees would be better off without him, and one New York baseball columnist even suggested that the Yankees should release Rodriguez right then and there. There were plenty of questions about how the Yankees would deal with the A-Rod distraction, and I and others said that the Yankees ought to thank the World Baseball Classic for taking A-Rod away from them for a few weeks.

Well, now the Yankees are facing the possibility of life without A-Rod. Now they wish he was simply a distraction.

Here's guessing that if he does indeed need surgery -- and that's still possible, perhaps even probable -- the Yankees will miss him greatly. The Yankees said today that they first want Rodriguez to see if rest, exercise and treatment can solve his hip problem. But they also said if he needs surgery, he'll be out four months.

Four months?

In five years with the Yankees, Rodriguez has started all but 46 games. His only trip to the disabled list was early last year, when he missed nearly a month with a strained right quadriceps.

The '08 Yankees went 6-11 while Rodriguez was hurt, as opposed to 83-62 in all the other games they played last year. They finished six games out of a playoff spot, so you could almost say that not having Rodriguez for 17 games is what kept them out of the playoffs.

In five years, the Yankees are 146 games over .500 in games Rodriguez has started, and four games UNDER .500 in the games he hasn't started.

Some distraction.

Here's another way to look at it: If Rodriguez can't play third base, the next best option on the current Yankee roster is Cody Ransom (166 big-league games, 24 RBIs). If Jorge Posada's shoulder isn't healthy enough to let him catch, the bottom three batters in Joe Girardi's lineup could well be Ransom, Brett Gardner and Jose Molina.

Could the Yankees get a third baseman in a trade? Sure they could, but spring training is hardly the best time to land an impact hitter. Teams aren't ready to give up on a season before it even begins (not exactly a good way to sell tickets), so even teams that wouldn't mind dumping a salary aren't anxious to dump it now.


Manny. A-Rod. Manny. A-Rod.

Can't spring training be about more than just two players, one of whom hasn't yet played in a Cactus League game, and the other who might have already played his last Grapefruit League game?

Three weeks ago, on my first day in Arizona, I listened to Dodger manager Joe Torre talk about the Dodgers' need for Manny Ramirez, and about the A-Rod steroid story. Today, on my final day in Arizona this spring, I once again listened to Torre talk about Manny and A-Rod.

Yes, Manny and A-Rod have occupied our spring, and if you're one of the ones complaining that we should be talking about something else, note the number of comments attached to every Manny or A-Rod story or blog, compared to the number attached to every other baseball story.

That said, spring training has been more than just Manny and A-Rod, so here are a few other observations as I turn Arizona over to Scott Miller and head for Florida:

-- Empty seats are everywhere in Arizona this spring. The new Camelback Ranch ballpark that the Dodgers and White Sox are sharing is beautiful, but there was hardly anyone there today. The new Goodyear Ballpark that the Indians will eventually share with the Reds is beautiful, but there was hardly anyone there on either of my visits. Is it the economy? Very possible. Does this mean baseball attendance will be awful this summer? Not necessarily, because the people who aren't making spring training trips might also be looking for entertainment closer to home this year.

-- The Angels do a lot of things right. With spring training going longer than ever because of the World Baseball Classic, Mike Scioscia went away from the traditional reporting dates for pitchers and catchers. He staggered the reporting dates, and has been holding his regulars out of early-spring games, to give them as normal a spring schedule as possible. I know his players appreciate it, because they told me so. Incidentally, Scioscia plans to bat Bobby Abreu in the second spot, with Vladimir Guerrero hitting third and Torii Hunter hitting fourth. Abreu batted second 17 times for the Yankees over the last two years; before that, he hadn't hit second since 2000.

-- Maybe the best moment of the spring so far was Ken Griffey Jr.'s return to the Mariners. Believe me, other players noticed how nice it was for Griffey to go back to where it started. A few days later in Angels camp, Hunter said that as much as he loves playing for the Angels, he'd love to finish his career in Minnesota. Then he turned to ask Guerrero if he still had great feelings for Montreal -- and Guerrero said yes, he did.

-- After the first day of workouts at Camelback Ranch, I wrote that it didn't feel at all like Dodgertown in Vero Beach. After spending the last two days there, and seeing it on game days, I'll amend that. It still isn't Dodgertown, but you have to admire the way the Dodgers have tried to make their new spring home nearly as fan-friendly as Vero was. The contrast with the White Sox on the other side of the complex is striking. While fans are separated from the Dodger players only by ropes, allowing plenty of interaction, the White Sox fans are left standing on the other side of the fence. The White Sox side has a tunnel so the players can walk under (and avoid) the fans on the way to the workout fields. On the Dodger side, players have to pass right by the fans on the way to workouts.

-- Everywhere you go in the Cactus League, you hear that Arizona spring training is better than Florida spring training. You hear it from players, managers, club executives, scouts and writers. It's true that the facilities here are outstanding, and that the shorter distances make it easier for everyone. But you have to wonder if it's better for the fans of some of the Midwest teams that have moved or are moving here. You can drive from Cleveland to Winter Haven, and judging by the license plates seen at Chain of Lakes Park in recent years, many people did. Not too many will drive from Cleveland to Goodyear.

Posted on: March 4, 2009 11:35 am
Edited on: March 4, 2009 12:28 pm

Finally, the Manny deal is done

PHOENIX -- The Manny Ramirez deal is done.

The Dodgers won't announce it until they get the results of a physical, but Ramirez agreed to a two-year, $45 million deal at an early morning meeting in Los Angeles, and he could report to spring training as soon as Thursday.

The deal is thought to be on the same general terms proposed last week, with a $25 million salary for 2009 and an opt-out clause after the first year. There was a very public disagreement last week over deferred money, but even with that the two sides were only $1.5 million apart in real money. It's not yet clear exactly how much deferred money is in the contract.

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and manager Joe Torre flew to California for the meeting, which also included Dodger owner Frank McCourt and Scott Boras, Ramirez's agent. Colletti and Torre are flying back, and are expected at Camelback Ranch in time for today's game against the Giants.

The Dodger clubhouse was surprisingly quiet this morning, even as the deal was being finalized. The only change was that the open locker that the Dodgers have been holding for Ramirez now has a sign on it that says "Reserved."

Even when the clubhouse television ran a Manny update, few players bothered to look. The main reason, some players said, is that they always assumed a Manny deal would eventually get done.

"It was just a matter of time," first baseman James Loney said.

The players know how important Ramirez is to their chances of winning. He hit .396 for the Dodgers after last year's midseason trade, with 17 home runs and 53 RBI in 53 games. The Dodgers, who trailed in the division when they made the Ramirez trade, went on to win the National League West by two games over the Diamondbacks.

Despite those numbers, and despite that impact, Ramirez and Boras were never able to interest other teams in seriously bidding against the Dodgers. While the Dodgers needed Manny, no one else seemed to want him -- at least not at this price.


Category: MLB
Posted on: February 27, 2009 3:47 pm

Manny vs. Dodgers: Has anything really changed?

PHOENIX -- A couple of baseball executives were sitting around this morning, talking about the latest developments in the Manny Ramirez saga.

"I wish the Dodgers could just pull their offer and say they're done with him," one said. "Too bad they need him so bad."

They need him. He needs them.

They're not good enough without him. He doesn't appear to have a good enough offer without them.

Now we know that both sides believe a two-year, $45 million offer can work, with an opt-out after a $25 million first year. Yes, there's a big disagreement on deferred money. Yes, that's significant, because it changes the true value of the deal by as much as $3 million.

But after they spent so much of the winter disagreeing completely on the length of a deal, we know now the Dodgers and Ramirez have the same structure in mind.

There ought to be a deal in there that works for both sides.

Maybe they stop spitting at each other through the media and find that deal soon. Maybe it takes a while.

Could it still blow up, opening the door for Manny to sign for less money with the Giants or somebody else? Sure, until there's a deal, it could always blow up.

But let's remember, the basic facts haven't changed.

They need him. He needs them.

Category: MLB
Posted on: February 27, 2009 1:57 am

What now for Manny, Dodgers?

PHOENIX -- So apparently Manny Ramirez isn't going to sign with the Dodgers this week.

Oh well. There's always next week.

If you're still interested in how this Manny vs. McCourt standoff turns out -- and I know quite a few Dodger fans who are very interested -- there are two very important things to remember:

1. There's plenty of time left to get a deal done. It's still February. Opening day is still more than five weeks away. No one is approaching any real deadline yet.

2. The basic facts remains exactly the same. The Dodgers desperately need Manny. And he needs the Dodgers almost as badly as they need him. They're not good enough to win without him. And unless a mystery appears out of nowhere, no other team is willing to pay him as much as the Dodgers would.

Is the offer Ramirez rejected Thursday (one year at $25 million, with a player option for $20 million) the best deal he can get? There's absolutely no way for any of us to know that, because there's no way for any of us to know how Dodger owner Frank McCourt will react another week or two down the line.

If the Dodgers hold firm, won't Manny eventually take whatever their best offer is? There's no way to know that, either, because there's no way to know how Manny will react another week or two down the line.

So if you care enough that you're still paying attention, just hold on.

There's always next week.


Category: MLB
Posted on: February 23, 2009 5:43 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2009 7:47 pm

Manny: No Giant sense of anticipation

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Across town at Camelback Ranch, the Dodgers have an open locker that might as well have Manny Ramirez's name on it. He's a constant presence in their camp, even though he's not actually here.

Over here at Scottsdale Stadium, home of the only other team with acknowledged interest in Ramirez, it's as if he barely exists. His name rarely comes up, and when it does, Giants officials do anything and everything to play down that interest.

General manager Brian Sabean says Ramirez is "back burner" for his team, and other Giants people suggest that unless negotiations break down with the Dodgers and Ramirez is willing to go to San Francisco for something like a one-year, $20 million deal, they're not getting him.

Remember, the Dodgers have already offered $25 million for one year.

The Giants don't seem inclined to beat that, and from all indications so far they haven't tried. The Giants don't seem overly concerned that Ramirez will sign with their division rival, presumably because they've expected that to happen and because they're not willing to outbid the Dodgers.

Could the Giants be bluffing? Sure, although as their other winter moves suggest, they're more a strike-fast team when they really want a player.

Why wouldn't the Giants, 29th in baseball in runs scored in 2008 and dead-last in home runs, jump at adding Ramirez? Good question, but Giants people insist that they don't want to tie their hands long-term, because they like their young players coming up. They also suggest that they'll have the financial flexibility to add a bat at midseason, and that they think some teams will have enough financial difficulty that a big bat could be available.

Without referring to Ramirez directly, Sabean also said that the Giants would prefer to add a bat at a corner infield spot, rather than in the outfield. The Giants have a starting outfield of Fred Lewis, Aaron Rowand and Randy Winn, and they're looking for ways to get at-bats for Nate Schierholtz. Meanwhile, they're committed to Pablo Sandoval at one corner infield spot. Right now he's the third baseman, but he could shift to first if a third baseman became available.

Oh, and by the way, there's no obvious Manny locker waiting in the Giants clubhouse.

Incidentally, Ramirez apparently never showed any interest in playing for the Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic. Giants executive Felipe Alou, who will manage the Dominican team, said Ramirez's name never came up, and that Manny has had no contact with those who run the team.

Three years ago, Ramirez was on the provisional Dominican Republic roster for the first WBC, but he elected not to play. That year, when he was under contract to the Red Sox, Ramirez didn't report to spring training until March 1.

Alou's roster seems to be changing daily. He said yesterday that Carlos Marmol would be playing, but Marmol announced today at Cubs camp that he won't be.


Category: MLB
Posted on: February 14, 2009 7:23 pm
Edited on: February 15, 2009 1:44 pm

Winter Haven? Where's Winter Haven?

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Right around the time the Dodgers left Vero Beach, the Indians left Winter Haven. And today, just before the Dodgers had their first workout as Cactus Leaguers at Camelback Ranch, the Indians held their first-ever spring training workout down the road in Goodyear.

Funny, because while the Dodgers' move seemed so dramatic and so emotional, the Indians' move seemed so matter-of-fact.

The Indians spent 16 springs in Central Florida, long enough that they were there through their only two World Series appearances in the last half-century. But they were never wedded to Witner Haven, and they never had great feelings for the place.

Even today, when someone tried to compare the Indians' old spring home with their new one, an Indians official shook his head and said: "Different planet."

Unlike the Dodgers, the Indians aren't just now moving in to their new home. They held instructional league here last October, and quite a few Indians players have been working out here all winter. Kelly Shoppach, Shin-Soo Choo, Josh Barfield and Ryan Garko all bought houses in the area, and Grady Sizemore has lived around here for a while.

Eventually, the Goodyear complex will also house the Reds, who are training in Sarasota for one final spring before moving west in 2010. The ballpark already shows Indians players on one side and Reds players on the other.

One problem: One of the Reds players pictured is Brandon Phillips, an ex-Indian who the Tribe traded away. Probably not the player that Indian officials want to look at every day.


A few other observations from the first day of workouts:

-- In the Dodgers' new clubhouse at Camelback Ranch, every locker except one has a nameplate above it. Hmm. Can you think of anyone the Dodgers might want to save that locker for? Maybe someone named Manny?

-- The Indians/Reds complex is nice, but it's nowhere near as fancy as the Dodgers/White Sox complex. Also, the Indians clubhouse and offices are in the middle of their minor-league complex, about half a mile from the Goodyear Stadium where they'll play their spring training games. While there is a clubhouse at the stadium, the Indians plan to base everything out of the minor-league clubhouse, shuttling over to the stadium just for the games. We'll see how it works, but it doesn't sound all that convenient.

-- The Indians plan to have Jhonny Peralta work out some at third base in the spring, and they plan to have Asdrubal Cabrera do some work at shortstop. The plan for the season is still that Cabrera will play second and Peralta will play short (with newly acquired Mark DeRosa at third), but the Indians want to give themselves some flexibility.

-- Joe Torre went to Australia and New Zealand over the winter, hoping to get away from it all. Sure enough, just as he checked into a remote hotel in Australia, he was recognized by a guy from New York. "You couldn't miss the accent," Torre said.

-- It's easy to forget Jason Schmidt, but he's in Dodger camp and planning to pitch this year. "I've got a 5-year-old son who hasn't seen his dad throw," said Schmidt, who last appeared in a game in June 2007. "If he has, he can't remember."

-- You go to suburban Glendale to find Camelback Ranch, and the official name of the complex is Camelback Ranch - Glendale. It's not far from the Arizona Cardinals stadium, which is in Glendale. But technically, the Camelback Ranch complex is in Phoenix, and it has a Phoenix mailing address.


Posted on: February 13, 2009 8:57 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2009 9:03 pm

Manny, come home

PHOENIX -- Joe Torre won't hide it.

The Dodger manager admits that he badly wants to see the team get Manny Ramirez signed. Torre said today that he phoned Ramirez on Tuesday, and then he repeated what he has said all along.

"We're all in agreement that we want him," Torre said.

When someone tried to suggest that the Dodgers could have spread the Manny money around and signed several players, Torre didn't agree.

"His presence made the guys around him better," Torre said. "Manny showed the kids. He can't teach them his ability, but he can show them how to prepare for a game."

Torre said he would be "very surprised" if Ramirez doesn't eventually sign with the Dodgers. But he also said that feeling was based more on what he wants to see done than on anything he heard from Ramirez, or from general manager Ned Colletti or owner Frank McCourt.

Other notes from reporting day visits to the Cubs and Dodgers:

-- Torre said of Alex Rodriguez's stats and records: "Now they're going to be tainted. People don't forget." Torre said he hasn't spoken with Rodriguez, but he said Rodriguez will have a tough time with the reaction to his admission of steroid use. "I think it's going to be very difficult. Alex has a knack to block things out when he's on the field. (But) it's going to be very, very difficult, especially early on."

-- Carlos Zambrano said that he won't play for Venezuela in the WBC. He also said that he has been taking drops for an eye infection, and that he still may have Lasik surgery this spring. Zambrano said he's been told that his right eyeball "is shaped like a football, rather than like a baseball."

-- Carlos Marmol does plan to play in the WBC, but he doesn't see any problem with it. "I'd be pitching in spring training anyway. The innings I'd pitch in spring training would be the same innings I'll pitch there."

-- Zambrano said he had tears in his eyes when he received a text message from Kerry Wood after Wood left the Cubs to sign with the Indians.

-- Apparently everyone in baseball is going to be asked this spring whether the other 103 names of players who tested positive for steroids in 2003 (other than Alex Rodriguez, that is) should be made public. Tough question, because on the one hand the players were guaranteed that the tests were anonymous, but on the other the existence of the list (and the possibility that it will eventually become public) is helping to keep the steroid issue alive. Torre's perspective: "Do we need more names to know we have a problem? At this point I think we've heard enough names."

-- Torre still says he stands by everything that's in his book, but he said today that he didn't feel comfortable changing any of the parts of the book that were written by co-author Tom Verducci. I've now read the whole book, and the strangest thing about it is how Torre seems to disappear from it for pages at a time, while Verducci discusses steroids, Moneyball, etc.

Posted on: February 3, 2009 10:13 am
Edited on: February 3, 2009 10:14 am

More Manny maneuverings

So the Dodgers, knowing that Manny Ramirez thought a two-year deal was too short, went and offered him a one-year deal. And then publicly admitted that they had made the offer and that it was turned down.

What's next, a three-month deal with a club option for July?

The Dodgers would tell you that their one-year offer, for a reported $25 million, would have made Ramirez the second highest-paid player in baseball in 2009, behind only Alex Rodriguez. They're basically telling their fans: "See, we're not cheap. If Manny leaves, it's because he's being unreasonable."

The better question is whether the events of the last two days bring the Ramirez-Dodgers standoff any closer to a resolution. It's hard to see how that's true.

Maybe the Dodgers simply believe that there's no other serious bidder for Ramirez, and that eventually he'll have no choice but to come back to them on a short-term deal (maybe back to the original two years). Or maybe they don't care that much about whether Ramirez stays or goes, as long as they don't seem to be the ones pushing him out the door.

In any case, with a little more than a week to go before spring training, the winter's biggest drama goes on.

Category: MLB
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