Tag:Seattle Mariners
Posted on: March 7, 2012 7:06 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 7:17 pm
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Yu the man in Rangers debut

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Quick glimpse, small sample. Two innings, first impression:

Yu Darvish's Japanese legacy and World Baseball Classic dominance looked for one day Wednesday like they will translate beautifully into the major leagues.

Or, if you prefer, you could take it beyond one spring outing.

"They're going back to the postseason," Padres second baseman Orlando Hudson said of a Rangers team with Darvish in their rotation. "That's a no-brainer."

Darvish surrendered two hits -- doubles to Hudson and Will Venable -- no runs and whiffed three Padres in Texas' 6-3 Cactus League win on a cold, windy Arizona afternoon.

He rose to the occasion when needed, handcuffing the Padres to 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position. He backed off when the situation suggested, getting Carlos Quentin to swing out of his spikes with a 79 m.p.h. curve to end the first.

He threw first-pitch strikes to seven of eight batters faced, including each of the first six major league hitters he saw. He got nine swing-and-misses, and threw 26 strikes and just 10 balls.

He does not dawdle like Daisuke Matsuzaka, and he does not nibble like C.J. Wilson. He comes right at hitters, and he's got the stuff to do it.

"He's got some deception and he's got some velocity," Texas' Michael Young said. "If he commands the heater, he's going to get outs."

Scouts said he threw six different pitches: Two variations of his fastball, two types of curveballs, a slider and a change-up. Texas catcher Yorvit Torrealba says he throws seven pitches. In a game in which everything plays off of the fastball and changing speeds, though, who really can count?

"At one point, I was thinking about taking my glove off and using two hands" to flash signals while calling pitches, Torrealba joked.

With a fastball that hit 95 and an even slower curve than the one Quentin saw, clocked at 67 m.p.h. to Will Venable, Darvish possesses an exceptional ability to keep hitters off-balance. His fastball ranged from 92 to 95 m.p.h.

Though Hudson yanked a double between Young and second baseman Ian Kinsler in the first, it was Venable's booming double in the second that was the attention-getter. Venable blasted a 2 and 2 fastball some 420 feet off of the batter's eye in dead center.

Not only was it the hardest-hit ball against Darvish, the moment also later provided some pretty good insight into just how stubborn, determined and proud Darvish is.

"The dry air in Arizona and the wind blowing out carried the ball pretty far," Darvish said through an interpreter. "To me, it didn't seem that it was hit very squarely."

To which, a couple of Padres called bull. Mark Kotsay chortled that during his 16 years in the majors, he hasn't seen a ball blasted 400-and-some feet high off of a "50-foot wall" that wasn't exactly, um, smoked.

"Maybe his perception of reality isn't as right on as ... I don't know," Venable said. "No comment."

Translation: Yes, Venable thought, he not only squared that fastball up, he CRUSHED it.

So file that one away. If Darvish is as dismissive of other hitters who take a bite out of him as he was of Venable, well, some awfully entertaining rivalries are about to be born. Or, a bit of a humbling process is about to begin.

Mostly, Darvish said, he was happy to get his first Cactus League start out of the way. He said his teammates teased him a little about being nervous before the game, and "I told them, no, I'm not." He was very happy with the way his secondary pitches were working, though he acknowledged that throwing into the teeth of a strong wind aids the movement of his pitches.

He opened some eyes with two impressive defensive plays, showing some quickness while covering first base on one play and leaping high to grab a high chopper up the middle. He threw home, and Torrealba tagged the runner coming in from third.

Defense-loving Texas manager Ron Washington said those plays were the most impressive things he saw the 6-5 Darvish do.

"That's a big Asian dude," Hudson said. "What's that guy who played basketball for the Rockets? Yao Ming? I looked at him and thought, that dude is big. ...

"Watching him on TV I thought, he's big. Then when I saw him, I thought he's not as big as I thought. Then I got to the plate and I thought, damn."

Hudson had no qualms about admitting his excitement to face Darvish. He said he even had trouble sleeping Tuesday night.

Interestingly, the Rangers picked up on Hudson's eagerness.

"I thought Hudson grinded out his at-bat," pitching coach Mike Maddux said of Hudson's first-inning double. "It looked like one of those emotional at-bats where it's like, 'I'm going to show this guy.'"

Bingo.

One other impression: Darvish worked both innings entirely from the stretch, not the wind-up. Even with nobody on base. He works both ways randomly, he said.

Maddux said he was given two DVDs, one from a game last July in which Darvish worked from the stretch, another from a game last October in which he worked entirely from the windup.

"The biggest pitches you make come from the stretch," Maddux said. "If you want to hone that craft, by all means, I'm all for it."

Hone it Darvish did, as his homeland studied through a microscope. Four different networks beamed Darvish's two innings back to Japan live, according to Rangers' PR guru John Blake. ESPN News showed the first four hitters live. Some 150 media members packed the press box in what had to be some sort of Cactus League record.

Yeah, you could see why Darvish and the Rangers were just as happy to get this one behind them.

As the Padres' Hudson said, that's a whole lot on the back of a 25-year-old who is moving to a new country to change jobs, no matter how talented he is. First time you surrender a home run, everyone wants to know what happened. First time you get knocked out of the box after three innings, everyone demands explanations.

Of course, that all comes with $111.7 million -- the $60 mil the Rangers are paying Darvish, and the $51.7 mil posting fee.

"Ichiro kind of set the bar high getting 900 hits a year," Hudson said. "[Darvish] has got to go win a Cy Young."



Posted on: February 21, 2012 6:56 pm
 

Mariners shuffle lineup, Ichiro out at leadoff

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The game's worst-kept secret finally was uttered publicly -- and definitively -- by the Mariners here on Tuesday: Ichiro Suzuki, leadoff man extraordinaire for most of the past decade, will be bumped down in the lineup in 2012.

Suzuki, at 38, is coming off of his worst season in the majors. That, combined with the Mariners' persistent failure to score runs over the past two seasons, made it impossible for Seattle to justify keeping Ichiro atop the lineup.

Eric Wedge will begin the season with Ichiro hitting third. The manager envisions Chone Figgins, who was an All-Star as the Angels' leadoff man in 2009, returning to the top of the lineup in what likely will be a last-ditch grab at past glories for Figgins. Though it is not cast in stone, Wedge said second baseman Dustin Ackley likely will hit second.

Wedge said he and Ichiro talked on Monday before the Mariners made their decision public a day later.

"I sat down and explained to him the whys and wherefores," Wedge said. "This wasn't out of left field.

"He's on board with this. I was very clear with him, and he was very clear with me. This is all about the team. ...

"You look at the impact he can have in the middle of the lineup, it's greater than the impact that he can have at leadoff. It's that simple."

Suzuki, a lifetime .326 hitter, batted a career-worst .272 in 2011. It was the first time in 11 seasons that his average dipped below .300. The 2001 AL MVP's .310 on-base percentage also was, by far, a career low.

"I came in prepared mentally because there was a possibility I'd be hitting elsewhere," Ichiro said through a translator following Seattle's workout Tuesday.

Asked if it will be strange to not hit atop the lineup, Suzuki said: "Anything can happen in this game. It's not just leading off. That's the fun part of the game. Like I fell you guys all the time, I'm ready to pitch."

That likely will not be happening anytime soon. Though some Mariners' fans might swear at this point that Ichiro will take the mound before Figgins will bounce back.

Part of Wedge's thinking, he said, is to get Figgins back into his comfort zone. A colossal disappointment after signing a four-year, $36 million deal before the 2010 season, Figgins bottomed out last season at .188/.241/243. He suffered while doing so, managing what was thought to be a sports hernia through much of the season's final four months but what turned out to be a torn labrum in his hip.

"I'm happy to be healthy," said Figgins, who was married in the offseason. "We talked about what might happen [with the lineup], but I'm just happy to be healthy."

It's no secret that Figgins has been a fish out of water during his two years in Seattle, from having to adjust to a different (non-leadoff) spot in the batting order because of Ichiro to failing to figure out a way to fit his offensive game into Safeco Field.

Clearly, the Mariners are hoping that no small part of this move will result in a boost to Figgins' confidence.

"I'm going to give Figgins first shot at," the leadoff role, Wedge said. "I'm confident that Figgy can get back to his old self as a leadoff hitter. He got on base, scored runs, and really was a pain to opposing teams when he led off in Anaheim."

While the Mariners sort through the top two spots in their order and hope Figgins and Ackley can produce solid enough springs to solidify their roles, the heat will be on Suzuki, who has one year and $17 million left on his current Mariners' deal.

His slugging percentage has been below .400 in each of the past two seasons, and in three of the past four. His OPS has been below .800 in three of the past four seasons. He tweaked his batting stance over the winter, and now is utilizing a more wide-open stance this spring.

"I want to perform better," Suzuki said when asked why he made the changes. "We all make changes to perform better. That's one reason. That's the only reason."

He said he does not view the three-hole as requiring him to hit for more power, though that view likely will be at odds with other folks' expectations (starting with his employer). His career-high is 15 homers, in 2005. He had five last season. In his view, situations dictate some actions at the plate.

"I've always performed when wanting to hit a home run," he said. "Even when leading off, you want to hit a home run when it's the right time.

"That will not change."

His once jet-black hair now dotted with flecks of gray, Suzuki, according to Baseball Prospectus, saw his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) drop 100 points on line drives and 40 points on ground balls. Some of the former is attributable to luck (bad), while some of the latter likely is because of his age (getting old).

"I want him to make it his own," Wedge said of Ichiro and the three-hole in the lineup. "He's as smart a baseball player as we have in there. He wants to do what's best for the ballclub."

Said Ichiro: "I was always prepared to do what's best for the team."

Sunblock Day? Best day of the week so far. Temperature hanging in the mid-70s. Warm sun. Life is good.

Likes: Carlos Guillen, trying to stay in the game with the Mariners, intently watching the clubhouse television after practice. What was he watching? Footage of Prince Fielder joining his old Tigers teammates in Lakeland. ... Padres bullpen coach Darrell Akerfelds staying strong while batting pancreatic cancer. He underwent off-season surgery to determine whether his tumor could be removed, but doctors said it could not be because it was entwined with surrounding arteries. But the good news is, it hasn't grown since last year and Akerfelds is back in uniform for San Diego this spring. ... Mariners general manager Jack Zdurencik has put together quite a front office, including relatively new additions Ted Simmons, Joe McIlvaine and Chris Gwynn. ... Gwynn says his brother, Tony, is doing great after last week's surgery to remove a cancerous tumor inside his right cheek. The brothers spoke over the telephone, and Chris says Tony, who had a nerve removed from his cheek and another transplanted from his neck/shoulder area to replace it, sounds "normal." ... Best scene Tuesday: A father leaning over close to his young son while Felix Hernandez was throwing a bullpen session and telling the boy, "Listen to him pop that glove." ... One heck of a story from Thomas Lake in the current Sports Illustrated looking at Wes Leonard, the Michigan high schooler who made a winning basket and then died on the court last winter, and the Fennville community. ... The sesame swordfish with orange chile salsa at the newly opened Richardson's in Phoenix. Fabulous meal the other night.

Dislikes: Manny Ramirez signing with Oakland. More on that later in the week.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"I been stumbling on good hearts turned to stone
The road of good intentions has gone dry as a bone

-- We Take Care of Our Own, Bruce Springsteen
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 13, 2012 9:40 pm
 

Savvy Yankees hit home run with Pineda, Kuroda

Their winter hibernation just ended. And just like that, the New York Yankees made themselves into AL East favorites.

Adding Michael Pineda from Seattle has all the earmarks of acquiring a young CC Sabathia or, ahem, Felix Hernandez -- the ace the Mariners wouldn't trade.

Adding Hiroki Kuroda on a one-year, $10 million deal adds the kind of rotation depth they could only dream of last summer -- and, presumably, a right-hander with more staying power than Bartolo Colon had.

"Wow," one scout said Friday night. "They've been laying in the weeds. They hadn't done anything."

Yes. Hadn't.

Though the Yankees gave up a consensus future star in young slugger-to-be Jesus Montero, exactly the kind of young bat the Mariners need and a great move for them, Pineda and Kuroda join CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and maybe even Freddy Garcia in giving the Yankees the talent, depth and clout their rotation needs to take them deep into October.

Just a few days after meeting with the representatives for free agent Edwin Jackson, the Yankees became the talk of the industry on what had been a slow Friday night with their stealth move for Pineda, who, at 22, already is within sight of becoming an ace.

"He's got that kind of stuff," a scout who spent part of last summer focusing on AL West clubs said Friday night. "If you wanted to be conservative, he's a No. 2. He's got velocity, he came up with a slider that got better and better last year and he throws strikes. When he gives up a home run or a hard-hit ball, it does not chase him out of the strike zone.

"He's got that rare combination of stuff and control. He's young, he's not afraid, he's big, he's still growing and he's got makeup. He's a prize.

"And the Yankees will have, what, five years of control over him? He's the kind of guy you build around. Holy cow."

The Mariners were worried about rushing him too quickly last summer when they installed him into their rotation coming out of spring training. He pretty much immediately showed them, no sweat.

By season's end, over 28 starts, he struck out 173 hitters while walking just 55 over 171 innings. His average fastball was clocked at 94.7 m.p.h., according to FanGraphs.

What's notable about that? The fastballs of only three other AL starters checked in higher: Texas' Alexi Ogando, Detroit's Justin Verlander and Tampa Bay's David Price.

Kuroda? He turns 37 next month. But he gave the Dodgers 202 innings in 2011, going 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA. He's a competitor with fierce pride.

"Solid No. 3," the scout said. "He throws strikes, he's got good stuff, a crisp fastball that's deceptive and he throws harder than people think. He's at 90 to 94 with sink down in the zone, a crisp breaking ball and a good split.

"He's got out pitches. I'd love to have Kuroda."

Now the Yankees do. And Pineda. And Sabathia and Nova and Hughes and Burnett. ...

And as they search for a hitter, for now, they've still got 6-8 right-hander Dellin Betances and lefty Manny Banuelos, who opened many eyes last spring.

"Hanging onto Betances and Banuelos [and with Pineda on board], they've got three young-gun studs who should pitch for them for a long time," the scout said. "And Nova's not that old and Hughes isn't that old.

"They've got the makings of a young, under-control staff."

Yeah, sure, why not? On a night on which the Yankees proved they're not sleeping through the winter, why not add to their opponents' misery just a little bit more?
Posted on: January 11, 2012 5:10 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2012 7:07 pm
 

Prince Fielder intrigue continues to build

So why hasn't Prince Fielder signed yet while Albert Pujols has been sitting back and counting that 10-year, $254 million deal for weeks?

Plenty of reasons. Mostly, as Boras would tell you, because the market is still developing.

Start with the fact that the two clubs who in recent years have helped establish the ga-zillion dollar markets -- the Yankees and Red Sox -- are sitting this one out. New York has a long-term first baseman in Mark Teixeira, as Boston does with Adrian Gonzalez.

Beyond them, only a small handful of clubs can play ball at Fielder's asking price. Which, you can be sure, is a dollar or two more than Pujols is getting annually from the Angels.

From the start, barring a stunning early offer, Boras was in no hurry to sign Fielder. It was clear that Pujols would sign, the bar would be set, and then Boras/Fielder would look to exceed it.

Within that, as Boras has explained many times this winter, free agents at this level are ownership decisions. As he did when he represented Alex Rodriguez in 2000 and scored the 10-year, $252 million deal, Boras meets directly with owners (then-Rangers owner Tom Hicks, in that case).

That, too, takes time.

With the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels out, the Cubs, Mets and Dodgers are among the few who could afford Fielder.

The Cubs are under new management, and president Theo Epstein philosophically does not believe in awarding long-term contracts to the tune of seven, eight or more years to free agents. Consequently, they acquired Anthony Rizzo from the Padres this month, the idea being Rizzo will be Chicago's first baseman of the future.

The Mets and Dodgers, of course, have serious financial issues of their own. The Mets, who lost Jose Reyes to the Marlins this winter, are rebuilding and broke. The Dodgers are in the process of being sold.

So that leaves the next tier of suitors. And one other key component: With the Yankees and Red Sox on the sidelines, there is nobody to help drive up the price up via a bidding war.

Boras met with the Nationals several weeks ago. Those two have done several multi-million dollar deals in recent years, including the $126 million Jayson Werth contract last winter, and deals with recent top draft picks Stephen Strasburg (four-years, $15 million) and Bryce Harper (five years, $9.9 million).

The Mariners desperately need a middle-of-the-lineup bat. But whether the M's would spend that kind of dough remains to be seen ... as does whether Fielder would want to play in Safeco Field, notorious for diluting offensive numbers.

Asked at the winter meetings last month whether his client had a geographical presence, Boras quipped, "I just think he likes fences that are close to home plate. That's the geographics he likes."

Baltimore is another city that continues to be linked with Fielder. The Orioles are desperate for a clean-up hitter, not to mention a winner. Owner Peter Angelos has the money, though he is notoriously slow in wading through the free agent market.

Texas? The Rangers' deadline for signing pitcher Yu Darvish is next week. Some industry sources think the Rangers are holding off on Fielder while they negotiate with the Japanese free agent. Then, they'll either go full bore after Fielder if they don't sign Darvish (unlikely, they're expected to sign the pitcher) or see if there's a way to fit Fielder in after signing the pitcher.

The Blue Jays? Hmmm ... interesting thought, and lots of speculation surrounding them. Maybe the exchange rate is slowing those talks down.

Milwaukee remains in on the fringes, but only if the price falls.

Always, with Boras, there is the threat of a "mystery team" stepping up. No other agent in the game is as skilled at luring suitors down the path ... and then obtaining a pot of gold ... as Boras.

But now, as it gets deeper into January and an industry awaits Fielder's decision, it may take Boras' biggest play yet to get what he and his client want.
Posted on: January 9, 2012 7:13 pm
Edited on: January 9, 2012 7:19 pm
 

Riffs from the Hall of Fame voting

The 2012 Hall of Fame election -- by the numbers, and with the skinny. ...

Elected

Barry Larkin, 495 votes, 86.4 percent: Many numbers tell the tale, such as Larkin becoming the first 30/30 (homers/steals) shortstop in history. But how about in 1988, when he led the majors with only 24 strikeouts in 588 at-bats?

Maybe next year (or the year after)

Jack Morris, 382 votes, 66.7 percent: Great chance next year (which will cause massive coronaries in Sabermetric community), but he could run smack into wall via overloaded ballot that includes Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa.

Jeff Bagwell, 321 votes, 56 percent: Start forging plaque after big jump from 41.7 percent last year.

In need of GPS

Lee Smith, 290 votes, 50.6 percent: A decade on the ballot and it's like he's trapped in a Republican debate. No traction.

Tim Raines, 279 votes, 48.7 percent: Criminally unsupported for guy who ranks second all-time in stolen base percentage (300 minimum attepts), though up 11 percentage points over last year.

Edgar Martinez, 209 votes, 36.5 percent: Fighting the designated hitter uphill battle. If you don't have 3,000 hits, it helps to have worn a glove at some point during your career.

Alan Trammell, 211 votes, 36.8 percent: Heading in the right direction after 24.3 percent last year, but still undeservedly playing the "bye" to the voters' "good."

Fred McGriff, 137 votes, 23.9 percent: CSI investigators -- or are those PETA reps? -- checking for pulse as Crime Dog's 493 career homers get no love.

Larry Walker, 131 votes, 22.9 percent: Even the Canadian exchange rate doesn't favor Cooperstown.

Mark McGwire, 112 votes, 19.5 percent: Big Mac Fan Club not allowing new members. Remarkably consistent from last year's 115 votes, 19.8 percent.

Don Mattingly, 102 votes, 17.8 percent: Just three more years left on the ballot. Hope Donnie Baseball's managerial stint with Dodgers outlasts that.

Dale Murphy, 83 votes, 14.5 percent: A Hall of Fame man, and even if he can't be in Cooperstown, I hope baseball somehow involves him more.

Rafael Palmeiro, 72 votes, 12.6 percent: Did this guy or his career really exist? Outside of wagging a finger at Congress, I mean?

Bernie Williams, 55 votes, 9.6: To those who support Bernie and Jorge Posada: How about we just put every Yankee who played between, say, 1996 and 2001, into the Hall?

No soup -- or future ballots -- for you

Juan Gonzalez, 23 votes, 4 percent: The Rangers had a homecoming ... and no Hall of Fame supporters showed up for Juan-Gone.

Vinny Castilla, 6 votes, 1 percent: Six votes?!?! Vinny had one Hall of Fame moment. That came near the end of his career when he walked into the stadium past me as I was arguing with a security guard who wasn't buying my press pass, stopped, grinned, then approached me in the clubhouse wanting the scoop ... and complimenting me for getting in the guy's face so spiritedly.

Tim Salmon, 5 votes, 0.9 percent: Not Cooperstown worthy, but easily could join Dale Murphy in the all-time good guys' Hall.

Bill Mueller, 4 votes, 0.5 percent: The guy won a batting title (AL, 2003), but I think somebody mis-read Mueller's moving receipts for Hall votes.

Brad Radke, 2 votes, 0.3 percent: I'm assuming the two who voted for Bad Brad are refugees who watched him, incredibly, win 12 consecutive starts while going 20-10 for an absolutely miserable Twins team in 1997.

Javy Lopez, 1 vote, 0.2 percent: Had the Braves allowed him to catch on nights when Greg Maddux started, he may have earned two votes.

Eric Young, 1 vote, 0.2 percent: Very cool. Had no idea Eric Young's mother was in the Baseball Writers' Assn. of America.

Jeromy Burnitz, 0 votes: Yeah, but he'll always have that starting berth for the NL in the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston on his resume.

Brian Jordan, 0 votes: Coincidentally, no votes for the NFL Hall of Fame, either.

Terry Mulholland, 0 votes: No votes, but gets points for being part-owner of the Dirty Dogg Saloon in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Phil Nevin, 0 votes: On the other hand, his managerial career (Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens) is taking off.

Ruben Sierra, 0 votes: Whatever happened to the Village Idiot?

Tony Womack, 0 votes: The New York precinct refused to consider him following that game-tying, Game 7 double against Mariano Rivera to set up Luis Gonzalez's game-winner in the 2001 World Series.
Posted on: December 8, 2011 6:42 pm
 

Angels lineup will change "100%" with Pujols

Shortly after the Angels won a bidding war against the Miami Marlins and secured free agent left-hander C.J. Wilson in the early morning hours Thursday, the pitcher spoke with the general manager of his old team, the Texas Rangers, in a farewell conversation.

"Is there any way," Texas GM Jon Daniels joked, "that I can convince you to go to the Marlins?"

And that was before Albert Pujols committed to the Angels.

Yes, the landscape changed rapidly in the AL West this week and, as things go on paper in the winter-time, the Angels positioned themselves as the potential division favorites heading into 2012.

That's as of today, and who knows what happens tomorrow. The ultra-aggressive Rangers surely will answer the Angels moves -- Prince Fielder? -- and the earth could yet shift again before spring training.

"It's crazy," Wilson said. "With Albert going, there's a big swing on the balance of power in the West.

"I thought I would make a difference, but he makes a huge difference. Nobody saw that coming."

Indeed.

"I'm shocked about Anaheim swooping into it," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.

As if it wasn't stunning enough that the Angels hauled in Pujols (10 years, $254 million), Wilson (five years, $77.5 million) and reliever LaTroy Hawkins (one year, $3 million) during the final 12 hours of the winter meetings, the suits in the organization say they will not look to trade anyone.

Mark Trumbo, who played first last year and will be replaced by Pujols? He's taking ground balls at third base, a position of weakness.

Kendrys Morales, who played first two years ago? Unlike last year, the Angels are proceeding with caution after a second ankle surgery caused him to miss all of 2011.

Veterans outfielders Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu and Vernon Wells and young speedsters Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout also will fit in, somewhere, somehow.

"You have the opportunity from an offensive perspective to plug one of the great hitters of all time into the middle of your lineup," Angels GM Jerry Dipoto said. "And we feel like you can never have too much depth.

"As it pertains to Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales, we still have the benefit of playing in the American League, where we have first base at-bats, we have DH at-bats, corner outfielders at-bats.

"And we've discussed as we've gone through and into this season to date, Mark Trumbo is particularly athletic for his size. The power leads you to believe first base, but he's got a little bit of history at third base and in the outfield. We know those DH bats are there.

"We are still unaware of exactly the timetable for Kendrys Morales. But if we have all three healthy and clicking on all cylinders, we're going to be in a really good position."

One of Dipoto's most important early goals is to improve an Angels' lineup that was 11th in the American League in on-base percentage last year. Pujols' career .420 OBP ranks second in the majors among active players.

"One-hundred percent he'll change our lineup," Hunter said. "The way pitchers approach us, he's one guy who can change the whole lineup. You put Pujols in any lineup, any lineup, and it will be better."

The Angels could not have stunned the baseball industry more. Word of Pujols' signing broke just before 9 a.m. local time, just as executives from every club were gathering for the annual Rule V draft.

Even inside their organization, there was a sense of disbelief.

"This is crazy," Hunter said. "I'm so excited right now it's unbelievable. I'm just happy we have this chance. We've got a legitimate chance."

Hunter was working out at the Dallas branch of the Athletes' Performance Institute with pitchers LaTroy Hawkins (who signed with the Angels on Wednesday night, less than 24 hours ahead of Pujols and C.J. Wilson), Joel Hanrahan (Pirates closer), Jamey Wright (Mariners) and several young prospects when he learned the news.

"Everyone went crazy when it came up on the phone," Hunter said. "I am trippin' right now."
Posted on: December 8, 2011 2:13 am
 

Fielder talks inch along in Dallas

DALLAS -- Waiting for some juice in the Prince Fielder talks?

Keep waiting.

"We've spent the past three days stuck in hotel rooms going through the flurry of teams that have come in and made their presentations, listening to teams talk about their interest levels, what they see and how Prince can fit into their organization as a player and contractually," Scott Boras, the agent for Fielder, said late Wednesday night. "We're taking all of this information, and I'm heading out to meet with Prince and discuss it and get an approach.

"And then we're going to begin furthering the process with teams."

Translation: Fielder isn't close to finding a landing spot.

The big first baseman declined the Milwaukee Brewers' offer of arbitration Wednesday, confident that there is a long-term deal awaiting him in the market. With all of the attention so far devoted to another slugging first baseman, Albert Pujols, Fielder's status has remained under the radar since the free agent signing period started last month.

The Brewers are maintaining contact with Boras, but they are not confident in their financial ability to retain him. Texas remains interested but on the periphery (for now), according to sources familiar with the Rangers' plans. So, too, does Seattle, whose general manager, Jack Zduriencik, was Milwaukee's scouting director when the Brewers made Fielder their No. 1 pick in the first round (seventh overall) of the 2002 draft.

There are those who believe the Cubs will enter the bidding, but all appears quiet on the North Side of Chicago for now (besides, the Cubs have been involved with Pujols so far). Some people think the Blue Jays will turn aggressive in Fielder's direction.

Boras maintains that the Pujols talks are not impacting those of Fielder, and that whatever decision Pujols ultimately makes will not affect Fielder.

"I just don't see teams other than the team that signs Albert -- that would be the only team I would think that would be impacted," Boras said. "The real issue is, does a team need a young, franchise core player? These players have so much value to them because they have value from the media content, they increase your RSN [Regional Sports Network] value tremendously, they also increase your attendance and they also allow ownership to retain ancillary players at a greater rate because those players want to stay on a winning team with a core player like that.

"It's very nice to hit in front of those kinds of players, and that attracts players. We saw in Milwaukee a great pitcher, Zack Greinke, let his original team know he wanted to go there and play. And that's because they had players like Prince Fielder there. And I think players sign long term to stay with those teams.

"There's an attraction value that comes with those players that help clubs retain the players they have or attract other ones.

"I just think there are few of them."
 
 
 
 
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