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Tag:Albert Pujols
Posted on: March 7, 2012 9:02 pm
 

A glove story for Angels' Trumbo

TEMPE, Ariz. -- He's just a glove machine.

Which isn't exactly what you would expect for a guy whose bat did all the talking last summer.

But once the Angels signed Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo went from AL Rookie of the Year runner-up to Man Without a Position.

The plan is to employ Trumbo at third base, but that's contingent on him learning the position this spring. There's always left field if that doesn't work out.

Strange transition, moving from the 29 homers and 87 RBIs of 2011 to collecting leather in 2012.

How many gloves has Trumbo stockpiled?

He pauses. He glances at the two by his feet. He wheels around to take inventory in his locker. He crinkles his eyebrows. Finally, he thinks he has it.

"Over 10, easily," Trumbo says. "I have a first-base glove, third base, outfield. Some are shaped differently."

Such as: For now, he's playing third base with an outfielder's glove, instead of a smaller infielder's mitt. He likes the size.

"I'm a proponent of the bigger glove," Trumbo says. "A lot of plays at third base are reactionary. You knock the ball down. You're not turning a double play. Things happen super quick."

As such, Trumbo is more comfortable with the bigger glove.

But the outfielder's glove he uses at third is different from the glove he'll use when (if) he plays left. The one he's using in the infield is broken in so it's more round and wide. The tips of the fingers are pushed down toward the glove's heel.

The outfield glove, it's broken in so it's more slender and narrow (almost like folded in half). It looks larger.

Since the Angels signed Pujols in December, Trumbo estimates he's added five gloves to his collection for test-driving and experimenting with. Options are good.

"It's an art form," he says. "What's comfortable for you, nobody else can tell you."

Biggest danger now as he moves across the infield, it appears, is Trumbo pulling the wrong glove out of his locker.

"It's getting a little cluttered," he says, chuckling.

Sunblock day? Another windstorm took the temperatures down to 60 degrees Wednesday.

Likes: The baby back ribs at Don & Charlie's in Scottsdale. Hadn't been there in several years, but it's a classic old baseball hangout during spring training. Was there the other night and saw George Brett, Robin Yount, Bob Uecker, Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson, former agent Dennis Gilbert, Joe Randa. ... Maxine Nightingale's old hit Right Back Where We Started From. Heard it on the radio today, and can't help thinking of the great flick Slap Shot every time I do. ... Very enjoyable watching Yu Darvish in Peoria on Wednesday. Particularly enjoyable the way he attacks hitters and doesn't dink around.

Dislikes: A stiff wind really made for a chilly day in Arizona on Wednesday. I'll take Florida's early spring weather over Arizona's.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Well, I don't know, but I've been told
"You never slow down, you never grow old
"I'm tired of screwin' up, tired of going down
"Tired of myself, tired of this town
"Oh, my, my. Oh, hell, yes
"Honey, put on that party dress.
"Buy me a drink, sing me a song.
"Take me as I come 'cause I can't stay long"

-- Tom Petty, Mary Jane's Last Dance





Posted on: March 5, 2012 5:58 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 7:25 pm
 

Pujols: "That was fun"

PHOENIX -- Maybe Albert Pujols knew there was a designated hitter in the American League. But did anyone tell him you get to bat every inning in the Junior Circuit?

Forgive him if he begins to think that's the case after his first Cactus League game. He christened the Angels' portion of his career with a 2 for 3 afternoon against the beleaguered Athletics, including saying hello with an RBI double in the first.

"That was fun," Pujols said after being removed from the game in the fourth with the Angels leading 9-0. "Hopefully, we get to do a lot of that this year."

The Angels' two high-priced free agents each debuted on an overcast Monday afternoon. C.J. Wilson, who signed a five-year, $77.5 million deal during the offseason, worked two scoreless innings, facing eight batters.

Pujols chopped a hanging curve for the double in the first against Oakland starter Brad Peacock, scorched a line single to left in the second and flied to right in the third. He saw nine pitches.

"He comes up in the first inning and knocks in a runner," Wilson said of Pujols. "We all were looking at each other in the dugout like, 'Oh yeah. That's what Albert does.'"

Pujols admitted to some pre-game jitters. He said in a typical season, he gets nervous three times: Before his first spring training at-bat, before his first regular-season at-bat and before his first postseason at-bat.

That last part is what the Angels are banking on: Pujols' Cardinals only missed the playoffs four times during his 11 seasons in St. Louis. Anything short of a run deep into October -- and, arguably, a World Series title -- will be a disappointment for the 2012 Angels.

Pujols, who signed a 10-year, $254 million deal with the Angels last winter, easily has been the focal point of the Angels during their first two weeks of camp. Not just from the fans' perspective, but from inside the clubhouse as well.

"It's cool, man," right fielder Torii Hunter said. "Pujols has been blending in just fine. Vernon Wells and I hit with him, and we're picking up a lot."

One thing that has impressed them early is that Pujols is as interested as learning from his new teammates as they are from him.

"He's not afraid to ask questions," Hunter said. "A guy like that, who has achieved so much, you'd think pride would set in and he wouldn't ask anybody for any advice. But he does. He's that humble.

"He has two World Series rings, three MVPs and he still wants to learn. I love that."

One thing Angels manager Mike Scioscia has learned about Pujols through various conversations up to and early in spring training is, Pujols likes to work in the spring, especially early.

"He historically feels like he wants his at-bats on the higher side in the spring rather than on the lower side," Scioscia said.

Pujols finished with 65 plate appearances last spring with the Cardinals (.288, three homers and 14 RBI). Look for a similar workload this spring (though for a time it appeared as if he might reach that total on Monday alone).

As for Wilson, he tinkered with his mechanics over the winter and is looking to incorporate a changeup as an important weapon this summer.

"For me, the changeup is a priority," said Wilson, who faced eight batters, walking one. "So I can add efficiency to my repertoire."

Though he worked a career-high 223 1/3 innings last season, he essentially was out of gas in October.

He figures if he can throw fewer pitches -- "you're looking at one more out a game, one less walk, one more ground ball" -- both he and the Angels will benefit.

The focus on that will come in time. But for now, the Angels remain giddy over the one-time St. Louis icon joining them. And for his part, Pujols senses the respect from even veterans like Hunter and Wells.

"It's what you have built," Pujols said. "It's something I learned in St. Louis 11 years ago. I had great teammates, and I took advantage of the veteran guys."

He ticked off a whole flurry of names, including Woody Williams, Matt Morris, Placido Polanco and Mark McGwire.

"They taught me how to play the game the right way."


Posted on: February 28, 2012 1:51 pm
Edited on: February 28, 2012 6:09 pm
 

Albert Belle tolls again in Indians' visit

Albert Belle, center, shares a laugh with former Indians teammates Carlos Baerga, left, and Kenny Lofton. (AP)


GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Spring training is one big reunion after everybody scatters for vacation. And the best part is, you never know who you'll run into.

Sometimes, it even draws recluses out of hiding.

"I wanted to see the guys," Albert Belle, 45, said as he surveyed Indians camp Tuesday morning. "We're rehashing old memories."

It's not quite that simple. But then, with a man as complicated as Belle, it never was.

Two stars from the classic Cleveland teams of the mid-1990s are in uniform for part of the spring as guest instructors. And Carlos Baerga and Kenny Lofton aren't alone: Their former manager, Mike Hargrove, is suiting up, too.

Anyway, Belle lives across the Valley in Scottsdale, and Baerga and Lofton were the driving forces behind the impromptu, unexpected and totally shocking reunion.

Belle has had zero contact with the Indians since leaving as a free agent following the 1996 season. Not even a trip back to Jacobs/Progressive Field for some ceremonial honor or first pitch.

"Carlos put in a couple of extra harsh words" to coax him to Cleveland's camp, Lofton said, grinning.

"I really miss Albert a lot," Baerga said. "And I wanted to see him."

His close-cropped hair almost all gray now, his trim beard containing far more salt than pepper, Belle smiled and laughed often Tuesday morning. He was clearly touched and happy to be back with some of the guys who helped him produce his greatest moments in the game.

"You know what?" Belle said. "I got hurt in 2000, and I couldn't play in 2001 and I was just devastated," said Belle, who was forced into retirement that spring with a hip injury. "I didn't watch any baseball until Game 7 of the World Series in '01 when the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees."

Those painful days having receded with the years, Belle said he now keeps up with baseball on television and usually attends one Diamondbacks game a year. Not long ago, he went to Arizona's new spring training complex and visited with old teammate and current D-backs pitching coach Charles Nagy.

"I'm seeing the guys one at a time," Belle said.

The early-morning scene outside, just behind the Indians' clubhouse, was touching, funny and, for those who remember how a baseball team turned a city on with its fire, utterly nostalgic. Those Indians won five consecutive AL Central titles from 1995-1999 (Belle left via free agency for the White Sox after the '96 season). They played in front of a sellout streak in Jacobs Field that would reach 455 consecutive games.

Baerga, Lofton, Belle and Hargrove swapped stories, asked each other questions and, for a short time, were joined by former catcher -- and current Indians coach -- Sandy Alomar Jr.

The men clearly hadn't seen each other in quite awhile and were thoroughly enjoying the reunion. Belle said he hadn't seen Baerga since the former infielder was playing for the Diamondbacks in 2004. Said he hadn't seen Hargrove since 2000, when Hargrove was managing the Orioles. Hargrove asked Belle where he's living now.

"I think our '95 team was pretty incredible," Belle said. "The Yankees had a pretty good team in '98, but I think our lineup was way better than theirs. It all started with Kenny Lofton at the top. As soon as he'd get on base, he wreaked havoc and we started licking our chops. ...

"I think everybody in Cleveland had some kind of Indians jersey or cap."

Talk about glory days.

"We got to the World Series, and it was incredible for the fans. ... We had a great time," Belle said. "I thought we could have pulled it out.

"I wish we could have stayed together as a team for a few more years. It just didn't work out."

Those cheers now faint echoes, Belle is a "stay-at-home dad", a father to four girls ranging in age from 11 to "almost two." Still guarded, he said he preferred not to reveal their names.

He smiled when asked which was tougher, facing David Cone and Roger Clemens back in the day or being a dad.

"Facing Cone and Clemens was easy," he joked. "Seems like all the kids get tired and cranky at the same time."

The kids know their pop was a baseball player, he said, via the random baseball cards that still arrive in the mail with autograph requests, or when he periodically pops DVDs of the old days into his system.

Had his hip allowed, he would have liked to have played longer. He had resurfacing surgery on his right hip in 2001, he said, and he'll have surgery on his left hip this winter.

He plays a lot of golf these days, watches baseball (Albert Pujols is his favorite hitter) and he sometimes thinks he'd like to return to baseball in some capacity.

"I've thought about it," he said. "Maybe one day I will. I like to stay at home and raise my kids. Maybe someday it will be different.

"Before I got married, I interviewed with a couple of teams and it didn't work out."

He remembers his first major-league hit, against Nolan Ryan in old Municipal Stadium, to help spark a three-run first on July 15, 1989. He remembers "all of those incredible come-from-behind games at the Jake, the city in an uproar."

Lofton and Baerga reveled in the scene as Belle talked, sprinkling comments into the conversation when they felt something needed to be said or to help spark another memory.

Someone asked a question about Progressive Field, and Lofton interjected.

"It's The Jake," Lofton said. "It's forever The Jake. Sorry."

Belle talked about how intimidating those old Indians were, still appreciating how pitchers like Dennis Martinez and Jose Mesa protected their hitters.

"The game's different now," Belle said. "

Asked about mending fences in Cleveland, Belle said, "I thought the fences were already mended. That was a long time ago."

That's the thing about free agency, he said wistfully, and it is. Players come and players go. The great times can be fleeting, and sometimes you don't realize how great they were until they're gone.

Who can forget Game 1 of the 1995 playoffs against Boston when, after then-Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy asked the umpires to check his bat for cork after his 11th-inning homer tied the game at 4-4, Belle looked into the television camera near the Indians dugout and pointed to his biceps?

"That was a fun time," Belle said. "We were a great team. We had a lot of come-from-behind-stories."

He was always on edge, usually surly and often froze out the media. In a classic moment a few years ago, Indians beat man Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer asked him during a conversation whether he ever used steroids. No, Belle told Hoynes, "I was just an angry black man."

Tuesday, smiling, he said, "I talked to the media. They just didn't like the words I was saying."

Yes, he said, he enjoyed himself immensely throughout his career, even if it did not always appear like it to those on the outside.

"I look back, and there are some great memories," said Belle, who finished with 381 homers, 1,239 RBI and 1,726 hits over 12 seasons. "I had a nice career."

As a few current Indians trickled out of the clubhouse to begin their day, they couldn't help but notice the spectacle they were passing. Laughter, jokes and, for the longest time, the pulse of a team that produced some of the greatest hardball moments Cleveland has ever witnessed.

"What we should do is get a uniform and scrimmage those guys," Lofton joked.

And they all laughed like it was 1995 all over again.



Posted on: February 27, 2012 5:40 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 5:50 pm
 

Angels, Pujols take first steps toward 2012

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Was it the Angels, or were their halos actually glowing a little brighter in the Arizona sun as they convened for their first full-squad workout with Albert Pujols on Monday?

"Absolutely, you can feel his presence," ace Jered Weaver said.

"There's a sense of excitement, with all the big names," second baseman Howard Kendrick said.

There wasn't any real drama to Monday's workout, unless you count the crush of fans down the right-field line near the team's clubhouse entrance that surged forward so intensely when Pujols stopped to sign that a couple of those in the front row were pinned dangerously against the fence. One cried out in pain.

Maybe that's why Pujols didn't stick around very long to sign.

But though there was nothing to write home about on the field, not even Pujols' live batting practice session against journeyman reliever Brad Mills, the Angels were marking this day on their calendars anyway.

And from Pujols' perspective, he didn't appear to lose his bearings at all.

"He was everywhere," veteran outfielder Torii Hunter said. "He was where he was supposed to be.

"He ran with us. He stretched with us. He hit in the right group.

"He was following Erick Aybar. Aybar knows where he's going. As long as he wasn't following Howie Kendrick. ..."

Kendrick chuckled when he heard that.

"Torii might be right," Kendrick said.

Following more than a decade of spring training with the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla., Pujols said there really isn't a dramatic difference in the way St. Louis and the Angels conduct things. It's not like, say, there's a secret entrance to the infield at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

"Camps are the same," Pujols said. "There's nothing different."

The nuances will come later.

"It's going to be fun once we start right-side defense," said Kendrick, who will play next to Pujols on that side of the infield. "That's when we'll start interacting.

"I've got to figure out what his range is, how he likes to play. I think with the Cardinals, it looked like he went to his right pretty well. It didn't look like he was afraid to go to his right.

"If he does that, then that allows me to play up the middle more. And we can cover a lot more ground."

Weaver said he got to know Pujols some during the 2006 World Series, when Jered's brother, Jeff, pitched for the Cardinals.

"He's a great guy," Weaver said. "He's always been nice to me and my family. Plus, not only can he hit, but he's a Gold Glove first baseman [winning in 2006 and 2010].

"It's not going to take him long to fit in, I know that. It's exciting. This is my seventh spring here, and there's always been talk in the offseason of us going and getting some people, and we haven't always done it. But with him and C.J. Wilson and LaTroy Hawkins. ..."

The Angels did it this winter, and now they can't wait to get going.

And that scene with the fans as Pujols was leaving the field for the day?

"It also helps with the autograph hounds," Weaver said, chuckling. "They all run to him.

"It takes a little pressure off the rest of us."

Sunblock Day? Sure was, for now, at 78 degrees. But by the time the Angels were wrapping things up around 12:30 p.m., the wind gusts were already starting to howl. Strong winds are predicted to sweep through the desert tonight and knock the temperature down to a high of 62 Tuesday.

Likes: Looking forward to being a panelist this evening at the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State in a forum discussing spring training coverage. Other panelists: Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Janie McCauley, the AP writer in San Francisco. ... Not only is Bobby Valentine going to be great as a manager in Boston, it's going to be great fun with him at the helm. Ex-Red Sox manager Terry Francona had barely finished calling Boston's clubhouse beer ban a "PR move" on the radio Monday morning when Valentine fired back after the Sox workout. "Remember, you're getting paid over there for saying stuff," Valentine said. "You get paid over here for doing stuff. I've done both." Nice. ... Love Craig Counsell moving from the field to being a special assistant to Brewers general manager Doug Melvin. And how about this: The other day, Counsell and Brewers pitcher Zack Greinke went together to scout a pitcher during a game at Arizona State University. ... Dodgers GM Ned Colletti in the crowd at the Oscars on Sunday night, with great seats not far behind Michelle Williams, who was up for Best Actress for My Week With Marilyn. ... Man, with Colletti and Athletics GM Billy Beane both attending the Academy Awards (Beane to support Moneyball, of course), next thing you know, Cubs GM Theo Epstein will become a regular at the Grammys. ... Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band on Jimmy Fallon's show Monday and Friday nights this week. ... Love what I've heard of Wrecking Ball, the new Springsteen record out March 6. Some rock, some Seeger Sessions-style stuff, some gospel, some folk ... great mix.

Dislikes: Aw, Johnny Cash would have been 80 on Sunday. Happy birthday anyway to the Man in Black. Got a chance to walk through his tour bus a couple of years back when it was on exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Very, very cool. Reading daughter Rosanne Cash's memoir, Composed, now. In turns, a very thoughtful, emotional and introspective work.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"I go out on a party
"And look for a little fun
"But I find a darkened corner
"Because I still miss someone"

-- Johnny Cash, I Still Miss Someone
Posted on: February 20, 2012 5:33 pm
 

When Pujols met Yu Darvish

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Truth be told, the biggest news on Albert Pujols' first day as an Angel on Monday probably was something that actually occurred last Thursday, when he went mano y mano with Japanese sensation Yu Darvish.

Texas signed the Japanese sensation not long after the Angels signed Pujols, escalating the AL West arms race.

Pujols said the two met last Thursday while he was working out in Los Angeles.

"He walked in and introduced himself," Pujols said. "He's a really nice guy, really humble.

"He said he's looking forward to the battle, working in the same division. It's going to be fun."

The Angels and Rangers meet for the first time in 2012 on Friday, May 11, in Arlington.

Sunblock Day? Yep. Getting warmer. In the 40s at 7 am, but high 60s and warm sun by late morning.

Likes: Pujols admitting Monday he already received his first fine as an Angel on his first day in camp. "My phone rang in the clubhouse," he said, chuckling. ... Talking late Hall of Famer Gary Carter with Felipe Alou the other day. Alou managed Carter in Montreal, and the two lived about 20 minutes apart in the Palm Beach Gardens area of Florida. "He was the kind of guy who brought light into a room when he walked in," Alou said. Great description. ... Alou also was chuckling reminiscing about Carter's rookie year, when the Expos still had Barry Foote catching and sometimes played Carter in the outfield. "Gary about killed himself running into a wall one time," Alou said. "That was the last time he played outfield. Barry Foote was good, but he was not a Hall of Famer." ... The thin-crust pizza at Oregano's. Went sausage and mushroom the other night. Abstolutely delicious. Plus, cool T-shirts the wait staff was wearing: "Legalize Marinara" read their backs. ... Loved The Help. Definitely worth seeing, if you haven't. ... Indestructible Machine, fantastic disc from Lydia Loveless.

Dislikes: Netflixed The Tree of Life and either I'm not smart enough (very possible), or this is one miserable movie. Oh ... my ... Lord.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"I hear that there's a party tonight
"I probably won't go, but thanks for the invite
"'Cause I'd rather stay home and drink gallons of wine
"And that must be why nobody stops by"

-- More Like Them, Lydia Loveless


Posted on: February 17, 2012 2:09 pm
Edited on: February 17, 2012 5:47 pm
 

Burnett needs to be more steely in Steel City

The Pirates, spurned by free agents Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt this winter, need pitching. The Yankees, bastion for tabloid headlines run amok, need less chaos and fewer knuckleheads.

Call the deal sending A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh a win-win for both clubs.

Talks for this trade have been so interminable that they've made Best Picture Oscar nominee Tree of Life seem rapid-fire. But the deal finally is moving from the on-deck circle to completion: Colleague Jon Heyman reports that the Pirates have agreed to pay $13 million of the remaining $33 million on Burnett's deal, and that two low-level minor-leaguers will move from Pittsburgh to New York: right-hander Diego Moreno, 25, and outfielder Exicardo Cayones, 20.

Only losers in this trade are the New York tabloids ("After Yankees ace flops, here comes joker" read one classic headline as Burnett followed CC Sabathia in the playoffs against the Tigers last October).

It wasn't official, but Burnett's departure papers from the Yanks' rotation were punched on that dramatic Friday evening last month when general manager Brian Cashman deftly moved to acquire Michael Pineda from Seattle and sign free agent Hiroki Kuroda. The moves were stellar and stealth, immediately adding depth and talent that has been lacking from Joe Girardi's rotation for at least the past couple of years.

That wasn't supposed to be the case with Burnett, who donated his arm to the Bronx cause (and, apparently, his brain to science) when he signed the six-year $82.5 million deal before the 2009 season. For that, the Yankees got 34 victories from him over three seasons, and a clutch (and pivotal) Game 2 win in the 2009 World Series against Philadelphia.

But more often than not, it was the Land of 1,000 Headaches with A.J. as the Yankees spend inordinate amounts of time over the past two seasons trying to fix him like a broken-down sports car on the side of the road. Who knows how many man-hours pitching coach Larry Rothschild invested in him alone last season? And just think how much quality time Rothschild now will have available for Sabathia, Kuroda, Pineda, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and others.

And for his part there's a good chance that, away from the New York spotlight and howling masses, Burnett can put some of the pieces back together again and help the Pirates. For one thing, he won't be freaking out about whether yet another potent AL East lineup will bash his brains in every fifth day. Facing St. Louis without Albert Pujols, Milwaukee without Prince Fielder and the Astros without anybody in the NL Central might be just what the shrink, er, doctor ordered.

Look, Burnett is a nice guy, a well-meaning guy and a hard-worker. But there historically has been a disconnect between his million-dollar arm and his brain. He was great at times, but always inconsistent, in Florida. He was at his best in Toronto when he was trying to emulate Roy Halladay and Doc's incredible work habits. He's a classic second-fiddle guy, needing to play Robin to someone else's Batman, even he's had the arm of Superman.

Pittsburgh, which has now suffered losing seasons dating back to Pie Traynor (or something like that), happily showed some signs of bounceback last year, especially early. At the All-Star break, the Bucs were in the thick of the NL Central race. But a pitching staff that owned a 3.17 ERA on July 25 fell apart thereafter. Not enough stamina or talent to last. No staying power.

Manager Clint Hurdle has some pieces in James McDonald, Jeff Karstens and Charlie Morton. GM Neal Huntington acquired Erik Bedard over the winter, which is worth a shot. Problem for the Pirates is, in their current state, their most folks' 10th or 11th choice on the free agent market. Jackson signed with the Nationals. Oswalt remains unsigned, scouring high and low for another landing spot.

Which is why focusing on a trade, and Burnett specifically, maybe isn't the first choice for the contenders out there but is the perfect move right now for Huntington. As maddeningly inconsistent as he's been, Burnett did throw 190 1/3 innings for the Yanks last summer, 186 2/3 before that and 207 innings in 2009.

Pittsburgh can use that. And Burnett can use a low-key place -- at least, a place lower key than Yankee Stadium -- as he reaches out to recapture lost glory for a team doing the same.

Here's hoping he does. Pittsburgh can really use it. And, from Burnett, the Yankees no longer need it.
Posted on: January 18, 2012 5:35 pm
 

Yu Darvish, Texas Ranger

That the Rangers got the Yu Darvish deal done is no surprise.

Neither is it a surprise that the talks pretty much extended all the way to Tuesday's 5 p.m. EDT deadline.

Now ... will it be a surprise if Darvish immediately becomes the Rangers' ace?

Hmmm. ...

The airspace from Japan to the major leagues has been turbulent for pitchers, but so many scouts say Darvish is no Daisuke Matsuzaka or Hideki Irabu (or Kei Igawa). Across the board, that's a good thing for Texas.

Most importantly, the Rangers themselves are betting that there will be no surprises, that Darvish is ace material. They got exactly what they wanted in essentially exchanging Darvish for C.J. Wilson, and they got exactly what they wanted in getting it done with a six-year deal instead of a five. (Thus keeping him out of the free agent market for an extra year).

Texas' total commitment is $111 million, given the $60 million plus the $51 million posting price, and who knows, maybe there even will be money left over for Prince Fielder. The Rangers steadfastly have downplayed that possibility, but they do have the money and the potential for a monster winter remains.

A good day overall for the Rangers, who have watched AL West rival Los Angeles sign Albert Pujols and Wilson this winter while waiting patiently to put their own plans in motion.

But despite his credentials in Japan, Darvish still comes to Texas as less of a proven commodity than, say, Cliff Lee when the Rangers acquired him at midseason in 2010. Darvish must prove that he can adjust to a longer schedule, pitching every five days, a different culture, a different baseball, the Texas heat and living away from his family. Among other things.

Wilson helped pitch the Rangers to consecutive World Series in 2010 and 2011. He worked 223 1/3 innings last year and 204 innings two summers ago. He made 77 starts over those two seasons and won 31 decisions. He was not nails in the postseason, however, and he had run his course.

There was absolutely no way the Rangers were going to re-sign him, certainly not at anything remotely close to the $77.5 million he got over five years from the Angels.

They did not like the prospect of their return on that investment, and they have not liked how the past two seasons have turned out despite the World Series appearances.

"We've had some success the last two years, but we haven't been able to close it out," general manager Jon Daniels said last month on the night it was revealed that the Rangers won the right to negotiate exclusively with Darvish. "That's our goal. Put the best possible club out there and win a championship."

That goal only gets harder, never easier, as players age and opponents adjust. The Angels have stolen all the headlines this winter and there is no question -- on paper -- they are better post-Pujols.

Baseball men who have watched Darvish pitch, both in Japan and on video, swear that he is by far the best pitcher to come out of Japan. Best stuff, strongest, most developed, most confident.

They Rangers right now have $111 million saying that's right.

As for the rest, well, across the AL West, the Angels are feeling pretty, pretty good about themselves right now. But with Darvish -- and with Fielder still free -- it would be a colossal mistake to curb your enthusiasm where the Rangers are concerned.

Posted on: December 22, 2011 9:21 pm
 

Pujols gone, but Cards can win with Beltran

File this under the Life Goes On Dept.:

The St. Louis Cardinals lost three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols ... and still may enter 2012 as NL Central favorites.

Yes, you read that right.

That's what two years and $26 million -- oh, and a full no-trade clause -- to free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran does for the Redbirds. No guarantees of course, because his knees have more mileage on them than Don Rickles. But if Beltran, at 34, can produce as he did as an All-Star last summer, look out.

Defending division champion Milwaukee is on the brink of losing Prince Fielder, and the Brewers could be without NL MVP Ryan Braun for the first third of 2012 if his suspension for a testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug is upheld. The Reds are coming off of a highly disappointing season and have young starters surrounded by lots of questions (Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Travis Wood, Mike Leake). The Cubs have miles to go. The Pirates fell off in the second half last season. Houston? Please.

In St. Louis, this isn't about the Beltran of 2006, when he played in 140 games and blasted 41 homers and collected 116 RBIs. That Beltran but a memory -- just as is the image of him standing there frozen at home plate, gawking at Adam Wainwright's knee-bending, Game 7 curve for strike three that sent the Cardinals, and not Beltran's Mets, to the World Series.

No, this is about how today's Beltran fits in with, yep, Wainwright and the rest of the post-Pujols Cardinals.

Wainwright should be sufficiently recovered from Tommy John ligament transfer surgery to start the season in the rotation. Add him to Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Kyle Lohse and that's a winning rotation. Always, you start with pitching.

Beltran alone would not solve St. Louis' issues, pre- or post-Pujols. But with Matt Holliday (left field) and Lance Berkman (first base) in place, and with promising outfielders Jon Jay (center field) and Allen Craig (right field), now you've got something. Beltran fits well into that rotation. Veteran Rafael Furcal back at shortstop, World Series hero David Freese at third base ... mm-hmmm, the Cardinals will miss Pujols, but they're still versatile and potent.

With all that, first-year manager Mike Matheny shouldn't need to ride Beltran into the ground. But with Craig probably set to open the season on the disabled list following November knee surgery, Beltran can plug into right field early, stabilize the outfield and add depth and power to the lineup.

When Craig returns, Matheny surely will have no problem finding enough at-bats for Beltran in center and right field.

If he's got his legs under him, his bat is still there: His .525 slugging percentage in 2011 for the Mets and Giants ranked eighth among NL outfielders. Overall, he batted .300 with 22 homers and 84 RBI in 142 games.

You can argue that St. Louis overpaid for a guy who turns 35 in late April. But Colorado gave Michael Cuddyer $31.5 million over three years. It's a lot of money, but it's also a short-term commitment for St. Louis.

In that short-term, especially when measured against the rest of the NL Central right now, it looks like smart money. Yes, Pujols is gone. But that doesn't necessarily mean turn out the lights in St. Louis.
 
 
 
 
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