Odds are against Tanaka in 2015.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
After an uncharacteristically rough outing from Masahiro Tanaka in Cleveland on July 8 -- 11 baserunners, five runs allowed, two homers -- New York Yankees fans received the worst news imaginable: Tanaka, who had made the All-Star team and appeared to be worth every penny of the $175 million the Yankees had laid out to import him from Japan prior to the season, had to be placed on the disabled list after an MRI revealed a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, also known as the injury that generally leads to Tommy John surgery.
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Should owners avoid Tanaka? Stephania Bell dicusses. Watch
Rather than undergo surgery, which would have cost him most of the 2015 season, as well, Tanaka chose the path of rest and rehab, including platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections. After missing more than two months, he made two appearances in September -- one positive (5 1/3 innings of one-run ball against Toronto on Sept. 21) and one much less so (seven runs in 1 2/3 innings in Boston on Sept. 27). He reportedly has had no problems with the elbow since, successfully completing several bullpen sessions at Yankees camp while hoping that the work he has done to strengthen the arm muscles around the ligament, along with changes in his delivery, will keep him whole.
For the Yankees, part of what appears to be a tightly packed AL East, there may be no player more vital to their success than a healthy Tanaka. That's not only because he's one of baseball's best pitchers when healthy; it's because with CC Sabathia's knee still acting up, Ivan Nova still recovering from elbow surgery, Shane Greene and Brandon McCarthy off to Detroit and Los Angeles, respectively, and Michael Pineda having thrown only 76 innings in the past three seasons combined, this rotation is more than a little risky. It's not a stretch to say that the Yankees are contenders with Tanaka and hopeless without him -- and unfortunately for both player and team, the odds aren't in his favor.
Not a good track record for rehabbing elbow injuries
Let's stipulate up front that every elbow injury is unique, both in the type and severity of the issue and in the player who's dealing with it. What ends one career may only sidetrack another. But what's indisputable is that elbow ligaments, once torn, don't heal themselves. For those who choose to forgo surgery, the best hope is they can manage to strengthen the area around the tear enough so that the ligament receives less stress and doesn't snap.
That's what Chad Billingsley hoped for anyway. Near the end of a successful 2012 season, he suffered a similar injury to Tanaka's. Not wanting to see his 2013 wiped away due to surgery, he attempted the rest/rehab/PRP path, as well, reporting great results all during the 2012-13 offseason. A mere 12 innings into that 2013 season, the elbow gave out. He missed the rest of the season, then all of 2014 after another arm injury. The Dodgers declined his 2015 option, and he's now in Phillies camp on a one-year deal, hoping to revive a career that had once seemed promising.
[+] EnlargeChad Billingsley
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Chad Billingsley opted for the non-surgical route on his UCL injury, and it derailed a promising career.
While Billingsley is just a single data point, that's the kind of risk Tanaka faces here, and the fact is that for pitchers with a partially torn UCL, attempting to skip surgery and remain on the mound is a risk that rarely works out. Take, for example, Lucas Giolito, who was the No. 8 prospect (and top pitcher) in Keith Law's recent top 100 prospects list. In March 2012, Giolito injured the UCL in his elbow, ending his high school career and pushing him from a probable No. 1 overall selection to the Washington Nationals at No. 16. He attempted to avoid surgery and lasted all of two innings into his pro career before the elbow blew, delaying his development for a year-plus.
The list of pitchers who tried and failed to avoid the zipper with rehab is seemingly endless. Toronto's Drew Hutchison, who had a quietly good season in 2014, felt pain on June 15, 2012, and spent nearly two months attempting to rehab before going under the knife in August. Tanaka's teammate, Chris Capuano, felt elbow pain in March 2009 while a member of the Brewers, and tried to avoid the procedure until May, when surgery became inevitable. In 2013, Matt Harvey spent nearly three months from August through October trying to get through his own torn UCL without surgery before accepting the inevitable.
It's the timing that's important here, really. In Harvey's case, getting the procedure when he did meant that he lost all of 2014, but it also allows him to come back in 2015 a full 17 months since the surgery. Had he waited and found himself more fully injured in early 2014, he'd have missed the remainder of that season and much of 2015, as well, a potentially fatal blow to a Mets team hoping to contend for the first time in years.
We could go on for hours with examples of pitchers who tried and failed to rehab elbow injuries -- Francisco Liriano, Pat Neshek, Cory Luebke, Bronson Arroyo, Eric Gagne and many others fall under this category -- but the numbers tell a clear story. Because the ligament won't heal itself, it's almost impossible to avoid the inevitable.
Can he be the next Adam Wainwright or Ervin Santana?
It's not entirely impossible to rehab, return and succeed following a UCL injury. In digging through years of injury data, we did manage to unearth a few known cases where trying to pitch through a partially torn UCL actually paid off, though two of them aren't relevant to Tanaka. The first two aren't, partially because Takashi Saito and Scott Atchison were one-inning relievers, and mostly because they were in their mid-to-late 30s, making surgery a potential career-ender. As a starter who turns 27 in November, Tanaka's case is much different.
If Tanaka is looking for inspiration, however, he can look to Adam Wainwright and Ervin Santana. Yes, that's the same Wainwright who lost the entire 2011 season to Tommy John surgery, but the difference is that he didn't suffer his initial injury the year before. He actually suffered it seven years earlier, while in the minors, and managed not only to survive but to thrive, proving himself among baseball's best both before and after. Santana, meanwhile, missed a chunk of 2009 with a sprained UCL, but didn't have surgery and has topped 200 innings three times since.
Those examples mean that it is possible, albeit not probable, and remember that not only did we not list every single example of a pitcher who tried and failed to pitch through the injury, there's certainly countless cases in which we learned only that lower-profile pitchers had undergone surgery, not that they'd attempted to rehab through it.
It's just too risky
There's no right or wrong decision here. No moral judgment intended, of course, because nothing is certain. Tanaka could pitch through the injury. He could stay healthy and help the Yankees to the playoffs, because again, every arm and injury is unique, and Tanaka is no doubt hoping to earn the $22 million the Yankees are paying him this year.
This can work. It just overwhelmingly doesn't work, and those are the odds he faces as he attempts to help the Yankees back into the playoff race in 2015. If it doesn't, and a good chunk of his 2016 evaporates, as well, the decision not to have surgery in 2014 is going to loom large.
Time for Phils to give youngsters a chance.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
TAMPA, Fla. -- Before the Phillies faced the Yankees in an exhibition here Wednesday, some folks within the Philadelphia organization had nice things to say about Rule 5 selection Odubel Herrera, who was plucked from the Texas Rangers after winning a Double-A batting title last season.
Then Herrera had another good day, reaching base four times and stealing three bases, as Matt Breen writes. Check out some video of his day's work here.
The Phillies are in for a very difficult season, and they play in a tough division that has at least three good teams in the Nationals, Marlins and Mets, so it's possible Philadelphia will at least flirt with 100 losses. But 2015 should be when the roster turnaround begins, the shift to get younger players to make the team better down the road, and the Phillies are in position to take a shot with somebody like Herrera.
If the Phillies think he could be someone who can help them in the years ahead, they should play him. They should make all their personnel decisions through that prism. In some respects, the lack of expectations for the team this year frees them as they make these types of choices.
If they believe Darin Ruf could be a guy who could help them for the next three or four years, what's the point of running out Ryan Howard into the regular season. If they think Ken Giles is their closer of the future, there isn't much point in keeping Jonathan Papelbon in the role.
They also should at least explore all of the ideas that could be on the table in possible trades of Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. To this point, rival executives believe the Phillies have been unrealistic in their trade proposals for Hamels in particular, because not only do they want a big-time package of prospects, but they also expect interested teams to absorb all or almost all of the money owed to Hamels.
If you are in Ruben Amaro's shoes, why not go deep into the discussions of various ideas? If the Red Sox want the Phillies to take on a quarter or a third of the money owed to Hamels, why not play out the conversation and ask, "OK, if we carry the responsibility of some of that salary, what do we get in return? What prospects would you give us?"
As written here before: The Phillies have money. Lots of it. What they lack is talent. And if the Phillies can essentially buy a better package of prospects from the Red Sox or some other team by paying down dollars owed to Hamels or Lee, why not do it? Because by the time the Phillies are competitive again, Lee will be gone and Hamels would likely be on the downslope of his career.
The Phillies were slow to recognize the team needed to be rebuilt, and so far they've been slow in the turnover. They need to push this, to move forward.
Around the league
• Josh Hamilton's situation is now in the hands of an arbitrator, writes Mike DiGiovanna. From his story:
Hamilton is scheduled to make $25 million this season. He is in the third year of a five-year, $125-million deal with the Angels. If he is sent into a rehabilitation program, he would be owed his full salary for 30 days, then half his salary for the next 30 days — a total of $6.2 million. If he is suspended and not in treatment, he would not be paid. However, it is unclear whether the Angels would have to pay Hamilton at all if he previously entered a rehabilitation program that lasted at least 60 days.
Hamilton is known to have failed at least six drug tests as a Tampa Bay Rays minor leaguer, and he was suspended from baseball from 2004 to 2006. It is unclear how many of his minor league offenses came when he was listed on the Rays' 40-man roster. MLB officials are considering whether to classify him as a fourth-time offender of its drug policy, the person with knowledge of the discussions said.
• On Wednesday's podcast, Tim Kurkjian talked about Miguel Cabrera, the Rangers and the Athletics; Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald addressed the question of whether Giancarlo Stanton might've been hit by a teammate's pitch on purpose and for a good reason; and Marc Carig broke down his report of what happened between David Wright and Noah Syndergaard in the Mets' clubhouse.
• This is something to watch: Brandon Crawford has a sore shoulder.
• On the last day of the "SportsCenter" bus tours in Arizona and Florida, here are some interviews with the Royals and Yankees:
1. Didi Gregorius talked about playing in a big market, and his baseball background.
2. Mike Schmidt discussed Alex Rodriguez's challenge.
3. Alex Gordon talked about the question he said he heard over and over in the offseason.
4. Ned Yost is impressed with the Royals' readiness.
• It's as if Alex Rodriguez faces miles of hurdles in front of him, in the form of his 526-day layoff between games in the major leagues, his age, the impact of his hip issues, and his own handling of playing baseball without the benefit -- we presume, for the sake of argument -- of performance-enhancing drugs.
So while the Yankees really won't start evaluating Rodriguez in earnest for weeks, it's probably good for him that he had some degree of success in his first game, collecting a cheap single on an 0-2 pitch and drawing a seven-pitch walk. After the game, Rodriguez wasn't fooling himself about the current state of his swing, joking about how it felt like he was swinging underwater.
But at least he got on base, which might be something he can still do. After all, that's something he always has been able to do; since 1996, Rodriguez has never posted an on-base percentage lower than .341.
Some reviews were blunt, as Ken Davidoff writes.
• Bryce Harper faced Stephen Strasburg in live batting practice.
• Noah Syndergaard apologized sheepishly.
• For the record: I never compared the Nationals to the '27 Yankees, and I haven't been on PTI. Any past outsized expectations haven't belonged to me.
The fight for jobs
1. Jesse Rogers writes about the roles that are up for grabs in Cubs camp. There was an interesting exchange with Javier Baez in Rogers' piece:
"For now, we are going to be working on making more contact and seeing the ball all the way through the zone," Baez said.
Baez was asked if he'll shorten up with two strikes, something he never did last year.
"You're probably going to see me doing it with one strike too so I can work on it," he responded.
2. The Yankees are going to go with Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner in the 1 and 2 spots in their lineup, it appears.
3. Hunter Morris wants to show that he's good enough to play for the Brewers.
4. Evan Longoria is embracing the No. 4 spot in the Rays' lineup.
5. The biggest competition in Padres camp is at third base.
6. Jered Weaver figures to get the ball Opening Day.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Orioles hired Ramon Martinez.
Dings and dents
1. Rusney Castillo suffered an oblique strain, which clears the way for Mookie Betts to play center field, writes Gordon Edes.
2. Joel Hanrahan will have Tommy John surgery again, and Joakim Soria knows all about that.
1. Dillon Gee faltered in his first outing.
2. Cleveland's Carlos Moncrief had a nice day.
3. Jose Quintana was sharp.
4. The Rangers took a positive away from Colby Lewis' one-inning struggle.
5. Joc Pederson had a promising start to his spring.
6. Justin Upton just crushed this pitch.
7. Taijuan Walker had a solid first outing.
• The Orioles continue to be cautious with Kevin Gausman.
• Marcus Stroman is full of confidence.
• Bruce Rondon must clear a mental hurdle.
• Ian Krol threw a pitch that caught the eye of his manager.
• The Royals are hoping to add a missing dimension.
• Terry Ryan has boldly set a goal for the Twins.
• The Twins have a movie star in their midst.
• Billy Beane has earned the benefit of the doubt, writes Bruce Jenkins.
• Joey Gallo has a messy roommate.
• Dustin Ackley has a goal.
• Ken Giles is in fast company.
• Marlins GM Mike Hill discussed his team.
• There are still lots of reasons to love the Braves, writes David O'Brien.
• The Pirates are looking to run the bases better.
• Jordy Mercer hopes to build on last season.
• The Cardinals know they will face plenty of lefties.
The interesting part of this is that the Cards will have lefties throughout their lineup, not just in certain spots. They have so many that if an opposing manager wants to play matchups for a stretch of three hitters, eventually someone at the top of the lineup, such as Matt Carpenter or Jason Heyward, or in the lower half of the lineup, like Matt Adams or Kolten Wong, might be more apt to see a right-hander. Because over the course of a three-game series, eventually the well of left-handers for opponents will run dry.
• Bryan Price wants the Reds to run like Pete Rose.
• Rubby De La Rosa has the Diamondbacks' attention.
• Jorge De La Rosa has a plan to get better on the road.
• Jake Peavy and Matt Cain are ready to push each other.
• I was fortunate enough to cover Billy Bean in 1993 and '94 with the Padres, and he is one of the best people I've met in the sport. He wrote this Wednesday.
• The Wrigley Field renovation has left fans in the cold, writes David Haugh.
• Missed this in January: Hall of Fame voters reject PED users, and yet Adderall is a part of the game, writes Mark Whicker.
• A company is making a style statement with bat tape, writes Neil Davidson.
• The leg kick of this Murray State pitcher is unusual.
• Vanderbilt rallied.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Ranking the toughest early AL schedules.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Managers and players don’t really peruse schedules the way that general managers do, because for those in uniform, the season plays out like a baseball version of "Groundhog Day." There’s always a charter, or a bus to the ballpark, or a specified report time for home games, and always a ballgame. They worry only about the team in front of them.
But a GM must assess his club and players relative to the competition, so they’ll weigh the strength of schedule to see where the possible pitfalls and opportunities are over the months of games.
In 2015, it looks as though the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics will be candidates to start well, based on their early-season schedule -- the first quarter of their games or so -- and on the other hand, the Astros’ very difficult slate of games in the first weeks of the season might set them on a trajectory to be sellers before the trade deadline.
These early-season schedules are ranked from most difficult to least difficult, and today, we break down the American League. We’ll rank the National League schedules Sunday. Something worth remembering: There will always be scheduling quirks that make players and managers grumble, and creating an arrangement of games that will equally satisfy the interests of all 30 teams is impossible.
1. Houston Astros
Games against teams that had records over .500 in 2014: 39 of their first 48 games are against teams with records over .500.
Home/away: 22 of their first 38 games are at home.
Noteworthy: It’s hard to imagine the Astros having a more challenging start than what they face in 2014. Twenty-two of their first 41 games are against the Angels, Athletics and Mariners, who finished 1-2-3 in the AL West last year, and they also have out-of-division series against the Giants, Blue Jays, Indians and Tigers.
2. Boston Red Sox
Games against teams that had records over .500 in 2014: 29 of their first 38 games.
Home/away: 22 of their first 38 games are on the road.
Noteworthy: The Red Sox do not play a game outside of the Eastern time zone until May 11, largely because they have eight series against their AL East rivals in the first five weeks of the season. Incredibly, 25 of their first 31 games are against AL East teams, including 22 straight from April 16 to May 10.
3. Minnesota Twins
Games against teams that had records over .500 in 2014: 30 of their first 40.
Home/road: 20 of their first 40 are at home.
Noteworthy: Not only do the Twins have their share of in-division games against rivals from the AL Central early, but they also have a four-game series against Oakland and a two-game series against the Pirates. Before the All-Star break, the Twins will see the Tigers in 13 games and the Royals in 13 games. Good luck with that.
4. Chicago White Sox
Games against teams that had records over .500 in 2014: 27 of their first 40.
Home/away: 16 of their first 40 games are at home.
Noteworthy: The first 18 games of the White Sox season will be against AL Central rivals, including home-and-home series against the Royals and the Indians, as Chicago will play a whole lot on the road early in the season.
5. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Games against teams that had records over .500 in 2014: 26 of their first 42.
Home/away: 19 of their first 42 games are at home.
Noteworthy: The Angels will play the bulk of their games against two of their biggest rivals in the first half -- they have 13 games against Oakland and 13 against the Mariners before the All-Star break.
6. Texas Rangers
Games against teams that had records over .500 in 2014: 26 of their first 38 games.
Home/away: 19 of their first 38 are at home.
Noteworthy: The Rangers are coming off a disastrous season in which they were overrun by injuries, and they will be put to the test early in a big way, with 19 of their first 24 games against either the Angels, A’s or Mariners. We may know early if Texas will rebound in 2015.
7. New York Yankees
Games against teams that had records over .500 in 2014: 22 of their first 41 games.
Home/away: 16 of their first 41 games will at home.
Noteworthy: They will see a whole lot of elite pitching from mid-April through May 20, with series against the Tigers, Mets, Royals and Nationals, along with division rivals Tampa Bay and Baltimore. The Yankees and Rays will play 10 games by May 14 -- or 10 games in a 27-game span.
8. Kansas City Royals
Games against teams that had records over .500 in 2014: 22 of their first 39 games.
Home/away: 19 of their first 39 games are at home.
Noteworthy: The Royals will have a ton of games in the second half against the Tigers and White Sox-- 24 of their final 73 games.
9. Detroit Tigers
Games against teams that had records over .500 in 2014: 23 of their first 38.
Home/away: 19 of their first 38 games are at home.
Noteworthy: The Tigers will play only two series against the Royals before the All-Star break, which means that in the second half of the season, Detroit plays K.C. in four series.
10. Tampa Bay Rays
Games against teams that had records over .500 in 2014: 23 of their first 41.
Home/away: 20 of their first 41 games are at home.
Noteworthy: The Rays will see the Yankees a whole lot early, with 10 games against New York among their first 36. A lot of teams play April bundled against the frigid spring, but the Rays might not have too; before venturing to New York April 27th, the only typically cold-weather venue in which Tampa Bay will play is Toronto, where they can simply close the roof when it's cold.
11. Seattle Mariners
Games against teams that had records over .500 in 2014: 15 of their first 37 games.
Home/away: 21 of their first 37 games are at home.
Noteworthy: The Mariners have two relatively long homestands in the first part of the season, each of nine games. Which is good, because inevitably, the Mariners usually wind up traveling more than any other club given their location. Seattle will make four trips to the Eastern time zone during the season, or three more East/West trips than the Orioles. (According to BaseballSavant.com, the Mariners will travel more miles than any other team, 43,281).
And the Mariners will be tested right out of the gate, with their first nine games against the Angels, Athletics and Dodgers.
12. Toronto Blue Jays
Games against teams with records over .500 in 2014: 19 of their first 39 games.
Home/away: 16 of their first 39 games are at home.
Noteworthy: The Blue Jays will have a nice run in the Eastern time zone, not playing outside of it until May 14. Toronto has no trips to the West Coast in the first half of the season, but will have two early in the second half.
13. Oakland Athletics
Games against teams that had records over .500 in 2014: 16 of their first 42 games.
Home/away: 19 of their first 42 are at home.
Noteworthy: The Athletics have the sort of early-season schedule that could launch them, with nine games against Houston and four versus Minnesota by May 20.
14. Cleveland Indians
Games against teams that had records over .500 in 2014: 19 of their first 40.
Home/road: 18 of their first 40 games are at home.
Noteworthy: The Indians have an unusual number of off-days in the first weeks of the season -- April 7, April 13, April 16, and 23rd. From April 27 to May 14, the Indians will play 13 of 16 games at home. By June 24, the Indians will have played four series against the Detroit Tigers, with only one remaining thereafter.
15. Baltimore Orioles
Games against teams that had records over .500 in 2014: 20 of their first 40.
Home/away: 24 of their first 40 games are at home.
Noteworthy: Like Boston, the Orioles will stay close to home through the early part of their season, leaving the Eastern time zone for the first time on June 1. So the Orioles would appear to have an opportunity to get off to a great start given the combination of scheduling factors working for them -- relatively little travel and whole lot of home games. In fact, their slate seems to be so favorable for them with only one West Coast road trip, and it happens in August. That all MASN-lawsuit related conspiracy theories about how MLB sticks it to the Orioles will take a big hit.
The Giants’ major additions among positions players during the winter were third baseman Casey McGehee, who had four homers last year, and outfielder Nori Aoki, who hit one homer last season. Both ranked in the bottom eight among all hitters in home run ratio.
So yes, it’s hard to overstate the impact of Hunter Pence’s injury. He missed only 24 games in the last seven seasons, and San Francisco was counting on him to be one of its few sources of power. From ESPN Stats and Info: Pence's injury means that the Giants will open the season without three of their top four home run hitters from last season, with Pence hurt and Pablo Sandoval and Mike Morse playing elsewhere. Only Buster Posey will be there.
Since joining the Giants in August of 2012, Pence leads the Giants in games played, hits, runs, home runs, RBI and extra-base hits. He's second to Posey in WAR over that time, at 7.5.
As written here last week, there are a lot of outfielders available, but the range of options for the Giants are probably more limited than for other teams because their division rivals control some of the market -- Andre Ethier of the Dodgers, Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin of the Padres. It’s debatable whether the Giants would actually benefit from the acquisition of Ethier or Quentin or if, in a Manchurian Candidate way, moves like that might actually help L.A. and San Diego more, any in-division talks would be complicated.
But the Red Sox and Giants could find common ground with Boston’s many pieces of potential surplus, whether it be Allen Craig, who could theoretically give San Francisco some depth in left field, or right, or third base or first. Shane Victorino might be an interesting fit, given that he’s under contract for only one more year. Maybe the switch-hitting Daniel Nava could be interesting to the Giants.
Another option would be for San Francisco to devote itself to keeping Posey in the lineup -- playing him at first base more often and catching him less, with Brandon Belt moving to the outfield.
San Francisco’s need for power could be desperate in the first couple of months, depending on how long Pence is out, and history tells us that the recovery from wrist injuries can be problematic. Within this piece, Stephania Bell compares this injury to the one suffered by Curtis Granderson a couple of years ago.
Bruce Bochy doesn’t foresee any radical changes, writes Henry Schulman. More from Stats and Info: Pence is the only player in MLB to play in every game over the last two seasons. Bruce Bochy addresses the injury here, with a somber demeanor.
• Brian Cashman says, as he did last year, that the Yankees may not have another captain in the foreseeable future.
There may not be a more meaningless title than that of captain in professional baseball.
• The Red Sox pitchers, perhaps annoyed by the question of whether Boston has an ace, have broken out some T-shirts.
• On the Thursday podcast, Keith Law assessed Javier Baez as a hitter, and the Marlins; Corey Brock talked Padres; and some thoughts on a notable case of wife-swapping.
• Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are stepping up their treadmill work. We’re a month away from Opening Day and Cabrera is already taking batting practice.
The fight for jobs
1. Jeff Locke is competing against Vance Worley for the fifth spot in the Pittsburgh rotation.
2. Brendan Kennedy breaks down the competition in the unsettled Toronto bullpen.
3. Carlos Martinez had a great first outing, in his fight for a spot in the Cardinals’ rotation.
Moves, deals and decisions
*Phil Coke agreed to a deal with the Cubs.
Dings and dents
1. For Matt Harvey, it’s full speed ahead.
2. The Royals are going slow with Omar Infante and Alex Gordon.
3. Mike Minor will have his shoulder examined Monday.
4. The Rangers say Yu Darvish’s triceps tightness is not serious.
5. Garrett Richards is almost ready for his next step.
1. Max Scherzer had fun in his Nationals debut, writes James Wagner.
2. Giancarlo Stanton felt good in the box.
3. Chris Davis clubbed a home run. Spring training results mean almost nothing, but he could use a good exhibition season following his ugly 2014.
4. The Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber made a strong first impression.
5. Trevor Bauer had three strong innings. He’s getting into the flow of things, writes Bud Shaw.
6. Christian Bethancourt showed off his arm, as David O’Brien writes.
7. Mark Appel had a rough first outing.
8. Barry Zito’s first outing was mostly positive.
9. Clayton Kershaw was perfect, writes Mark Saxon.
10. Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy pitched.
11. The middle of the Seattle order is off to a good start.
• Xander Bogaerts can take heart from Hanley Ramirez’s example, writes Alex Speier.
• Jackie Bradley, Jr. put in a lot of work this winter.
• Esmil Rogers learned from Mariano Rivera.
• Jose Reyes is ready to rebound.
• All eyes are on Kevin Cash.
• Eduardo Escobar is a work in progress.
• Mere improvement is not good enough, says Twins GM Terry Ryan.
• David Price and Justin Verlander are bonding.
• Adam LaRoche welcomes the transition to DH.
• Roberto Hernandez arrived in the Astros’ camp.
• Mike Trout intends to adjust his approach at the plate.
• The Astros provide a cautionary tale for the Phillies, writes David Murphy. David makes good points here about the potential pitfalls in rebuilding, but it’s not as if the Phillies’ current trajectory can be recommended. Rather than shaking things up with an aggressive makeover last year, the Phillies kept all of their veterans, including Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon, and were one of baseball’s worst teams.
Really, what do they have to lose? They desperately need a course correction.
• All is good for Cliff Lee so far.
• Terry Collins says the Mets’ rotation stacks up against that of the Nationals.
• The Marlins’ spending spree has extended to all facets of the team.
• Perry Hill is working to get the Marlins’ infield meshing.
• Pedro Alvarez’s switch from third base to first is going well so far, writes Bill Brink.
• Aroldis Chapman has stretched the Reds’ budget, as Tyler Kepner writes.
• The comfort level has climbed for Matt Garza.
• Joey Votto is a curious hitter, as Paul Daugherty writes.
• Charlie Blackmon is looking for a full season of stardom.
• Yasmany Tomas is having some ups and downs at third base.
• The D-Backs are counting on punch from Mark Trumbo, writes Nick Piecoro.
• Michael Young feels badly for Josh Hamilton.
• This runner posted a 4:04 in the 1,500 meters. And she’s 18 years old.
• A manager’s value is hard to quantify, writes Pedro Moura.
• The Players Association issued a statement of concern about the leaks in the Josh Hamilton case, writes Jerry Crasnick.
Call it a hunch, but I’m guessing Major League Baseball won’t be issuing a document retention order to all 30 teams and investigating the sources of the reporters it employs. If there is legitimate concern about protecting the integrity of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the expectation of privacy built within the Joint Drug Agreement, MLB will follow the precedent it set last spring in exploring the e-mails, phone and text records of a reporter (detailed within this piece) and follow up with interrogations of employees.
But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Miguel Cabrera ready to resume greatness.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
LAKELAND, Fla. -- After sitting down with Karl Ravech and John Kruk on Tuesday, Miguel Cabrera downplayed the notion that his physical condition has changed, making fun of himself, joking how he looks without any clothes. He is a large person, and he will never stop being a large person.
But others in the Tigers' organization do see a change in him, after what was probably the greatest conditioning challenge of his career. Cabrera had complicated surgery on his right ankle after the 2014 season, which meant that he basically had to stay off his feet and was limited in his aerobic activity. Other athletes in similar situations have had difficulty keeping weight off, because they can't run or walk and they struggle to adjust entrenched eating habits.
Cabrera didn't get pudgy through a winter of activity; in fact, he looks stronger, as manager Brad Ausmus noted, having spent the winter working on his upper body because he couldn't do other types of exercise, and he is more defined in the middle part of his body, in his waist. He looks more fit than he has since his days with the Marlins.
There is a perception within the Tigers' camp that for Cabrera, the change in his conditioning was more than just killing time until he can get back on the field again. Cabrera is thinking more and more about the arc of his entire career in the choices he makes.
Cabrera turns 32 in April and is devoting himself to being a great player for years to come, at least while he can still control that. Some other players don't start thinking this way until they've reached their mid-30s, and for some, that shift in thought comes too late.
As Cabrera begins to turn the corner of his career, he could retire today and know that he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He became the first hitter in almost a half-century to achieve a Triple Crown in 2013, he has two MVP awards, and he has finished in the top 10 in voting in nine seasons.
But depending on how long Cabrera plays, he appears to have a chance to be an all-time great player, and be in the same conversation with Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Ted Williams.
Cabrera is not really a prolific home run hitter; like Aaron, who never hit more than 47 in a season, Cabrera's home run production is more about consistency, and he will start the 2015 season with 390. Rival pitchers talk about his extraordinary ability to use his hands and anticipate pitches, which should enable him to age well as a hitter. If you estimate conservatively that Cabrera might hit about 30 homers a year over the next six seasons -- he has failed to reach 30 only twice since becoming a full-time player -- it's clear that he has a real shot at 600 homers.
Cabrera played his first major league game at age 19, and already has 2,186 hits in his career. He never has had fewer than 177 in any full season, so for the sake of argument, imagine that he averages 180 hits a year for the next six seasons -- again, a conservative number. This would put him in the range of 3,200 hits by the time he is 38 or 39 years old.
[+] EnlargeHank Aaron
Mark Rucker/Getty Images
As his numbers accumulate, Miguel Cabrera is putting himself in pretty good company, including the great Hank Aaron.
He has had at least 103 RBIs in each of the past 11 seasons, and has 1,369 in his career. If he drives in 100 runs this season, he will pass Joe Medwick, Juan Gonzalez, Robin Yount and Todd Helton by the end of the year. If he were to average 100 RBIs per season over the next six seasons -- a very reasonable estimate if he stays healthy and in good shape -- then he will be closing in on 2,000 RBIs. The only players in the modern era who have reached that number: Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth.
Cabrera has many, many reasons to stay on the field and stay productive, and is apparently doing what he can now, in his early 30s, to make that happen.
J.D. Martinez, the Tigers' No. 5 hitter, smiled as he talked about Cabrera's participation in the Tigers' scouting meetings. Before games, Victor Martinez likes to watch videotape of himself having success, J.D. Martinez noted, to reaffirm that mental image of himself doing well, and he will watch the opposing pitchers as well. Cabrera will sit in meetings and listen respectfully, but will only glance at the video presentation of opposing pitchers; he really doesn't want to overcomplicate his thought process.
Cabrera once explained that the crucial information he needs can be gleaned as the first and second batters of the game are hitting. From the on-deck circle, Cabrera will see how hard the opposing pitcher is throwing, and then after he gets in the batter's box, Cabrera said, he will learn what he needs to know from the first pitch thrown to him. If it's a breaking ball or something hard low and away, then Cabrera knows the pitcher is probably going to be more passive. If the first pitch is a fastball inside, then Cabrera knows the pitcher is probably going to be aggressive.
His acumen has been constructed over 12 years, 1,819 games and 7,811 plate appearances, not including 55 games and 235 plate appearances in the postseason. His physical skills -- his eye-hand coordination, his strength, and ability to control the bat -- are extraordinary.
The only question about Cabrera has been how long he can last as an elite player, and he seems to be doing all he can to be as great as he can for as long as possible.
Speaking of the Tigers, they have more depth in terms of speed and defense, writes Jeff Seidel. The Tigers like their catching options, writes Lynn Henning.
Victor Martinez talked about how concerned he was when he hurt his knee.
At ESPN …
• On Tuesday's podcast, James Wagner of the Washington Post discussed the Nationals, and it turns out that Jayson Stark and I are thinking the exact same way with our picks in the NL, which is really scary.
• Interviews from the "SportsCenter" buses in Florida and Arizona:
1. David Price discussed his contract situation with Karl Ravech.
2. Justin Verlander is ready to go.
3. Rangers manager Jeff Banister is ready to help the Rangers.
4. Prince Fielder talked about his health.
Around the league
• Jung Ho Kang, the Korean infielder who was signed by the Pirates over the winter, has serious power, unusual power for a middle infielder; the ball jumps off his bat from pitch to pitch. During batting practice in Bradenton the other day, Kang, a right-handed hitter, drove pitch after pitch well over the fence in left field and left-center field -- before mashing pitches deep to right-center, with the ball skipping off the fence.
[+] EnlargeJung Ho Kang
Rick Madonik/Toronto Star/Getty Images
Jung Ho Kang is already impressing at Pirates camp.
He has a significant leg kick, lifting and dropping his left foot at the outset of his swing, and a hitter who does that can sometimes struggle to adapt to breaking balls and pitches low and away, as pitchers aim to disrupt the timing of hitter with that kind of mechanism. What the Pirates have seen is that Kang will vary the timing of his leg kick so that he will be less predictable to opposing pitchers and catchers, and they believe he'll be able to hit different types of pitches.
The best hitter who does that sort of thing, varying the timing of his leg kick, is the aforementioned Miguel Cabrera, who will sometimes use a bigger leg kick or sometimes go with a quicker kick and use mostly his hands in his swing, depending on whether he thinks the opposing pitcher is going to throw a fastball or a breaking ball. (And no, this is not to suggest that Kang is anything close to Cabrera as a hitter, only to note the thought process.)
Kang clubbed a homer in the Pirates' exhibition game Tuesday.
• Jimmy Rollins will hit leadoff for the Dodgers.
• A scout from the Phillies is hovering over the Red Sox. On paper, the Phillies and Red Sox are the most logical partners in any Cole Hamels trade, but what the industry has signaled to Philadelphia through its lack of deals is that the Phils must get more realistic about how much money they should eat in any deal involving Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and Cliff Lee.
• David Wright confronted a young teammate who was eating a sandwich during an intrasquad drill, as Marc Carig writes.
• Madison Bumgarner was roughed up in his spring debut, and Billy Butler noted the irony. He took it in stride, says Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
• Oakland's switch-pitcher got the job done from both sides.
• A-Rod is nervous about his return, writes Wallace Matthews. Forget the PED stuff for a minute and focus only on the baseball: What Rodriguez is trying to do, returning to the game after 526 days since his last at-bat in a major league game -- at age 39, no less -- is basically unprecedented, unless you count the examples of Minnie Minoso and others who came out of retirement for brief comebacks.
Ken Davidoff writes that it's time to embrace A-Rod. Rodriguez has handled the first steps of his comeback well, writes Ian O'Connor.
• The Braves are getting to know each other, writes Jayson Stark.
• Adam Jones believes he deserves a little respect from the front office.
Dings and dents
1. Joey Votto's absence from the Cincinnati lineup should be brief, says Reds manager Bryan Price. Votto is behind in his baseball work, writes Hal McCoy.
2. Ryan Braun hopes to move on from his thumb injury, writes Tom Haudricourt.
3. For the Rangers, there is mostly good news on the injury front.
4. Josh Johnson is ready to progress in his rehab.
5. Danny Hultzen is all business in his return.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Cardinals are getting a day off before kicking off their exhibition schedule.
2. Shane Victorino must do a selling (of himself) this spring, writes Nick Cafardo.
3. The Pirates did all they could to sign Russell Martin, says the catcher.
4. The Angels made a strong pitch to get a reliever, writes Jeff Fletcher.
The fight for jobs
1. Paul Molitor intends to carry 12 pitchers.
1. Ubaldo Jimenez was awful in his first outing. From Roch Kubatko's piece:
Jimenez was charged with five earned runs, six total, and recorded only four outs. He walked two batters, hit two and threw a wild pitch, but he felt as though he had good command of the fastball and a repeatable delivery.
"I don't want to say I lost control because I had pretty good command of the fastball," he said. "I let a couple slip, two-seam fastballs to hitters, and then I made a mistake with a slider, probably the only one that I threw. I felt good.
"What I was looking for was to command the fastball. I know I walked two guys, but all of the pitches were really close, all of them were close. The only thing I can tell you is I did what I wanted to do and that was commanding the fastball. I threw a lot of fastballs. I only threw three or four breaking balls, mostly fastballs. I wanted to command the fastball and I feel good."
Asked what he would want to change beyond the score, Jimenez replied, "I don't have to change anything. I feel like I felt really good with the fastball, I had good command. Things just got out of control. There was a play I was supposed to make, made an error. A couple hits with two strikes, but I felt really good."
2. Ryan Howard had a productive spring debut.
3. Wilin Rosario turned in a solid effort defensively.
• Chili Davis has a lot to work with as Boston's new hitting coach.
• Yankees prospect Aaron Judge made an impression.
• Another Yankees prospect, Luis Severino, wowed some scouts, writes Erik Boland.
• John Jaso is working on his defense.
• Rocco Baldelli is back on a ballfield, as Roger Mooney writes.
• Ernesto Frieri seeks a revival, writes Marc Topkin.
• R.A. Dickey is not tipping pitches anymore.
• Jose Reyes is excited about the talent around him.
• Dalton Pompey is getting a helping hand from Vernon Wells.
• Luke Hochevar stepped on the gas.
• So that 10-0 Indians loss is not a big deal.
• This season will go as Jason Kipnis goes, writes Bud Shaw. It's not quite that simple, but I tend to agree.
• Jeff Samardzija got his first taste of game action.
• Minnie Minoso meant a lot to Jose Abreu.
• Mike Zunino has changed his approach.
• Erick Aybar is breaking in some new second basemen.
• Evan Drellich writes about the Astros' bullpen options.
• Houston pitchers are aiming to cut down on the steals allowed.
• A lot of decisions will go into picking the Rangers' roster, writes Evan Grant.
• Russell Wilson is going to be in Rangers camp March 28.
• Andrew Heaney insists he's not as funny as we think.
• Mike Trout will have to adjust to pace-of-play rules.
• The Nationals seek better habits at the plate.
• The Marlins aren't going to rush some minor league prospects, writes Manny Navarro.
• The Marlins' new double-play combo is turning heads, writes Dave George.
• The rebuilt Braves will play their first game today, as David O'Brien notes.
• Trevor Rosenthal wants to avoid getting into jams, writes Derrick Goold.
• Gerardo Parra has a golden attitude about his situation, writes Todd Rosiak.
• Tim Lincecum was encouraged by his first outing, writes Henry Schulman.
• The Diamondbacks have a big opportunity in the draft.
• One D-backs player wants to prove last year was not a fluke.
• Julio Urias is getting advice from Clayton Kershaw.
• Brian Butterfield, one of the smartest guys in uniform, bristles at the idea of banning shifts.
• Daniel Murphy was honest about his belief about sexuality, after Billy Bean spoke to the Mets.
• The Cubs have struck out twice in trying to extend construction hours, as we begin to near the end of what has been a brutally cold winter.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Drew Storen receives praise from Rivera.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Drew Storen, closer of the Washington Nationals, grew up as a huge fan of sport, and given his current vocation, he’s had an opportunity to meet some legends, which he relates enthusiastically.
Storen has a picture of longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully from 1957, and so Storen used the power of the Internet to acquire the exact model of microphone that appears in that picture. During one of the Nationals’ trips into Dodger Stadium, Storen took the microphone upstairs to the booth where Scully works and asked him to autograph it -- and, as Storen recalls, he got to sit and listen to 30 minutes of incredible stories from Scully.
Another time, Storen visited the same physical therapist as future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, and Storen’s appointment happened to be just before Rivera’s appointment. As his time with the therapist ended, he got to meet Rivera, but then a moment later, the therapist summoned him back into the room, and over the next 45 minutes or so, Storen got to chat with the greatest closer of all time.
“Of course I asked the one question that anyone [in baseball] would ask him,” Storen said. “How do you throw a cutter?”
Storen will play in the big leagues for many more years, and will likely have extraordinary moments of achievement and honor, but what Rivera said in response to that question will probably be the greatest compliment he will ever receive.
“You don’t need it,” Rivera said. “You had 43 saves last year.”
In telling the story, Storen said, “I figured he had no idea who I was.”
Instead, Rivera not only knew Storen, but could recite his numbers and knew his repertoire.
For a young pitcher, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Notes from around the league
• It was a busy offseason for Matt Adams, a Pennsylvania native who remained in his home state throughout the cold of the winter. He attended Penn State football games, and the number he wore at Slippery Rock University, 25, was retired in a ceremony. Adams looks different -- stronger, with some of his past pudginess replaced by increased muscularity in his upper body.
He also worked on hitting left-handed pitching, which stands as the most challenging hurdle in his career now. Last year, the left-handed hitting Adams batted .190 against lefties, with a .231 on-base percentage, and it’s not a coincidence that the Cardinals signed the right-handed hitting Mark Reynolds during the winter, in case they need an alternative to Adams against lefties.
Adams has hit well at every level, and as he mentioned the other day, he’s hit lefties in the past, so he knows a solution is possible. But for now, nothing could be more meaningful to him in his work than his brief moments of work against some pretty good lefties last October. In the National League Championship Series, he slugged a homer off Madison Bumgarner, and in the Division Series against the Dodgers, he bashed a three-run homer off Clayton Kershaw. Knowing that he had done damage in that way against great left-handed pitching, he said, can only help.
During the winter, Adams did a ton of work in his effort to hit lefties with a flip drill: Over and over, he had balls flipped at him at the same angle that the ball comes into him from a left-hander, moving away from him, and he aimed to drive the ball through the middle or to left-center field.
• Jose Fernandez was born in Cuba and came to the United States when he was in high school, about a half-dozen years ago, and his command of English is excellent. It was not always that way, of course. He recalled that when he first enrolled in an English class in high school, the teacher insisted that he always speak English rather than Spanish, to the point where she would not acknowledge anything he said in Spanish.
One day in that class, he recalled, he had to go the bathroom badly, and tried to ask for permission. “Bano,” he said desperately, saying the Spanish word for toilet.
The teacher waited for him to give the English equivalent, and asked him for it. He couldn’t remember.
“Bano, bano,” he said, with increasing urgency.
She asked him for the English. He wasn’t sure if she understood exactly what he meant, so he gestured to describe his need to urinate. “And it was off to the principal’s office,” he said the other day, laughing.
A little while later, with rain crushing the Marlins’ camp, Fernandez splashed across the warning track on an otherwise empty practice field, moving closer to his return from Tommy John surgery, which should happen sometime in the first half of the season.
• Minnie Minoso helped to integrate baseball.
• Pedro Gomez talks about Minoso’s legacy.
• Minoso played with unbridled joy and passion, writes Rick Telander.
• His love for baseball never waned, writes Paul Sullivan.
• Here’s a conversation with Minoso.
• Minoso left a huge legacy, the White Sox say.
• The White Sox are now saying it’s unlikely Chris Sale will start on Opening Day, writes Doug Padilla.
• In talking with some players over the weekend, they thought it was a good idea if Giancarlo Stanton was sort of hit on purpose as he faced a pitcher for the first time since being hit last September. “Just to get it over with,” said one.
• It means nothing, but it means something: The Phillies lost to the University of Tampa. Check out the number of comments on that story, the funniest of which might’ve been LI PhilPhan’s: “Hope we don’t have any D1 teams on the schedule.”
• A Dodgers prospect says he isn’t going to the minors. Secretly, I’d bet the Dodgers would be thrilled if Guerrero actually means that in the way it reads -- rather than a simple assertion of confidence -- so they could get out of his contract.
• Over the past couple of days, "SportsCenter" buses have rolled into the camps of the Cardinals, Padres, Nationals and Dodgers; you can find a lot of interviews and segments we have done here.
Here’s Clayton Kershaw’s interview with Sara Walsh and Mark Mulder. I thought Bryce Harper had some interesting things to say about working to make better decisions and stay on the field in his interview with Bram Weinstein and John Kruk.
• Everything continues to look great in the work of Justin Verlander.
• The Red Sox like what they see so far in Allen Craig.
Dings and dents
1. The Twins are dealing with a flu bug.
2. Peter Bourjos is ready to play, and Jon Jay is getting close, writes Derrick Goold.
3. The Reds see Brandon Phillips as 100 percent healthy.
4. Jose Fernandez looked great in a trial run.
5. Derek Holland has spring training soreness.
The fight for jobs
1. Phillippe Aumont has one more chance to make the Phillies.
2. Vance Worley is ready to compete in his second spring with the Pirates.
3. The Braves can now look at center-field options.
4. The Mariners have two guys competing for the shortstop job.
5. Grant Green wants to be the Angels’ second baseman.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Rockies have added John Axford to their 40-man roster.
2. The Dodgers continue to stockpile bullpen options.
• Gio Gonzalez is aiming to keep his emotions in check, writes James Wagner.
• Max Scherzer threw live batting practice.
• David Wright stays confident.
• Michael Cuddyer will be at home in right field.
• The Mets have an intangible that has their manager predicting a playoff run, writes Kevin Kernan.
• Ichiro gives his bats tender loving care.
• Fitting in will be Jung Ho Kang’s biggest challenge.
• Mike Leake is a lot like Bronson Arroyo.
• Experience will slowly give way to youth at third for the Brewers, writes Tom Haudricourt.
• Jim Henderson has taken another positive step forward.
• David Ross and Jon Lester figure to be quite a pair for the Cubs.
• Five areas of focus for the Diamondbacks.
• Rene Lachemann is the Rockies’ loudspeaker.
• Brandon Belt’s intention was not to be a poster boy for the bunt, as Andrew Baggarly writes.
• Julio Urias impressed.
• Rivals noticed when A.J. Preller went to work this winter.
• Alex Rodriguez’s question-and-answer time with reporters gets shorter and shorter. And you know what -- there isn’t a lot more he can say at this point.
• The Rays’ Bobby Wilson would like to play for his hometown team.
• Ken Fidlin sizes up the Blue Jays position by position.
• When Michael Pineda is healthy, he brings hope, writes Chad Jennings.
• Bob Klapisch wonders: Are the Bronx newcomers ready for New York?
• Matt Wieters is set to begin catch-and-throw drills Monday.
• Dylan Bundy is finally healthy.
• Justin Masterson is eager to prove himself again, writes Dan Shaughnessy.
• There is a lot to like about Mookie Betts.
• Drew Smyly welcomes an enhanced role.
• Yoenis Cespedes would like to stay with the Tigers.
• So far, so good for Jose Iglesias.
• Christian Colon looks to stay in the majors.
• Alex Meyer remembers his late grandfather.
• Carlos Carrasco’s slider looked great.
• Corey Kluber is a good bet, writes Bud Shaw.
• Yu Darvish was impressive in an intrasquad scrimmage, writes Jerry Crasnick.
• Evan Grant writes about how Darvish bought into Jeff Banister.
• Evan Gattis is going to get a lot of work in left field, writes Jesus Ortiz.
• John Baker has a story worth knowing, writes Larry Stone.
• The A’s bonds will be tested with so many new faces, writes Ann Killion. In recent years, a cynicism developed among the team’s veterans about some of the club's moves, because there was a belief in the clubhouse that it was all very impersonal. And based on the team’s success, it’s safe to say that the cynicism didn’t manifest in wins and losses.
• Josh Reddick gave up his number to a teammate.
• Hector Santiago has focused on damage control.
• A Rays prospect received forgiveness from the widow of a man killed in a car accident.
• Baseball is resurgent in Cuba, writes Melissa Renwick.
• Hope about phenoms is a rite of spring, writes Dan O’Neill.
• Jimmy Rollins had nice things to say about the Mets.
• The Yankees will soon have 23 numbers unavailable, as Billy Witz writes.
• Vanderbilt came back from a 10-run deficit.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Martin Prado brings versatility, experience.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
JUPITER, Fla. – The memory is clear in Martin Prado’s mind, and as he spoke about it Friday in the Marlins’ indoor batting cages, the rain falling outside, Prado wasn’t so much describing as he was reliving. He used his hands and gestures to replicate and convey the sheer horror of the moment.
This was about the instance in which Prado manned third base and Giancarlo Stanton used the full force of his 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame and blistered a baseball right at Prado’s soul and body, although not necessarily in that order.
Prado smiled slightly as he began to relate the story, but he is a dead-serious professional, which is part of the reason the Marlins traded for him during the offseason. Stanton is 25 years old, center fielder Marcell Ozuna is 24 and left fielder Christian Yelich is 23. Prado is 31, a veteran of almost 1,000 games in the big leagues.
He has been told he will be the third baseman for the Marlins -- and he may well serve in the cleanup role behind Stanton, as manager Mike Redmond mused in conversation Friday. But Prado still intends to prepare at positions other than third base on a day-to-day basis. Just in case. He’ll take fly balls in the outfield, grounders at second, and grounders at first base -- the position he finds to be the most challenging.
Nobody has to asked Prado to do this, mind you. He’ll just do it on his own. Nobody has to coax Prado through rounds of batting practice because he’ll always apply his own standards. This is late February, when almost all hitters are fighting to regain their timing, but Prado seemed to flip his bat down in disgust Friday after some apparently unsatisfying execution against a pitching machine.
He’ll never be one to back down from work, or the challenge of standing just 95 to 100 feet away from Stanton at third base and anticipating a rocket smoked right at him, by a player who may hit the ball harder than anybody else in the universe.
Yelich got to bat in front of Stanton in the Marlins’ lineup last season and Yelich noticed that opposing pitchers were more aggressive against him with fastballs in certain counts because they didn’t want to walk him before Stanton came to the plate.
But the downside of hitting in front of Stanton, Yelich added, is that he often found himself leading off down the third-base line with Stanton at the plate. “I’d look around and realize that I was by myself,” Yelich said.
The third-base coach? Way out of the coach’s box, backed up far enough from the plate and close enough to the stands that he probably could’ve helped out the vendors. The third-base umpires? Recessed. The third baseman? Positioned very deep, far enough away to protect the chances of future procreation, in the event of a Stanton line drive.
But Prado always stood his ground whenever Stanton was at the plate, because that’s what the third baseman is supposed to do.
“Did he ever hit a ball at you, though?” I asked Prado.
“Oh, yes,” Prado said, before vividly recounting the event the way Neil Armstrong might’ve talked about landing on the moon. The instant is seared into Prado’s mind.
Stanton swung and mashed the top half of the ball right at Prado, and in a flash, the third baseman saw the ball moving at him. It wasn’t so much that Prado was frozen; rather, it just got to him so quickly that Prado really didn’t have time to react. He may not have actually been at the mercy of the rocketing baseball, but it felt that way.
It skipped in front of him. Prado’s reflexes kicked in. His left hand was blasted, and he glanced over. The ball was in his glove. Somehow, someway, it found his mitt. “It was there,” Prado recalled, with some amazement.
Now Prado is Stanton’s teammate, thankfully.
Defending at third base with the monster at the plate is going to be somebody else’s problem.
Notes from around the league
• Dee Gordon talked about leading off third with Stanton at the plate.
• The Marlins hope to add Nick Masset to their list of reliever comebacks. Masset threw in the bullpen Friday and spoke afterward about feeling healthy, and how much depth in quality arms that Miami has. He’s right: The Marlins have a lot more pitching than a lot of fans probably realize, especially with Jose Fernandez on track to return sometime in the first half of the season.
• Michael Morse is excited about his Florida homecoming.
• On Friday’s podcast, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution assessed the chances that Craig Kimbrel could be traded, and Karl Ravech and Justin Havens offered spring training observations of the Mets, Red Sox and the Josh Hamilton situation.
• Josh Hamilton could serve a suspension and not miss a game, writes Bill Shaikin. The Angels may be waiting weeks for a decision.
• Our crews were at the camps of the Marlins and Mariners Friday.
1. The key guys for the Mariners.
2. Felix Hernandez has some plans for this season.
3. Some players to watch for the Marlins.
• Here are the Orioles practicing with pumped-in crowd noise.
• Juan Pierre retired, officially, after 1,994 games, 2,217 hits, 614 stolen bases and a championship with the Florida Marlins in 2003. Nobody outworked him, and Pierre will be among those who reached the end of his career without having to wonder if he could’ve squeezed more out of his talent. Pierre did everything possible to be as good of a player as he could be.
• The Blue Jays got good news about Michael Saunders: He’ll miss weeks rather than months, as Richard Griffin writes.
• The Mets are strongly considering using Bartolo Colon as their Opening Day starter.
• This is going to go well or go badly: Twins manager Paul Molitor has established rules on cell phone use, writes Mike Berardino.
• The Reds should’ve handled Jay Bruce differently last year, says Bryan Price.
The fight for jobs
1. It appears Clay Buchholz will start the opener for the Red Sox.
2. Visa issues may delay the arrival of a Rays pitcher.
3. Alexi Amarista is embracing the challenge of being the Padres’ shortstop.
4. Roberto Hernandez’s delay in reporting may put him behind in the competition for an Astros job.
5. Taijuan Walker is eager to prove he belongs in the Seattle rotation, writes Larry Stone.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Mets have a contractual conundrum with Daniel Murphy, writes Marc Carig.
2. The Tigers signed Ryan Perry.
3. The Brewers signed Francisco Rodriguez after the Jonathan Papelbon talks fizzled. Other teams find Philly unrealistic about how much money the Phillies should eat in deals involving these big-money options that are attached to their players.
4. Oakland is interested in Dayan Viciedo.
Dings and dents
1. Alex Gordon has been cleared to hit off a tee.
2. Everything is sunshine and rainbows, says Homer Bailey.
3. Melvin Upton will miss spring training.
It’s as if his time with the Braves is drifting past.
• The Red Sox leadoff spot is up in the air.
• Kevin Gausman will start the Orioles’ exhibition opener.
• CC Sabathia is preparing for his return to the mound. The Yankees are bracing for the worst from Sabathia, writes Bob Klapisch.
• Alex Rodriguez fielded ground balls at first base. Rodriguez’s history hints at success at first base.
I’d bet he’ll be OK catching the ball and mastering the mechanics of the position, but his defense is mostly irrelevant; Garrett Jones has over 1,000 games at first as a professional, 751 in the minors and 468 games in the big leagues, and on most days in a division in which 16 of the 20 projected starters are right-handed, he’ll be the better option.
The only thing that really matters about Rodriguez is whether he can still hit.
• Success has helped build the confidence of a Rays reliever, writes Matt Baker.
• The Rays will put their rotation up against that of anybody, writes Martin Fennelly. Rightly so; on paper, it’s the best in the division.
• Terry Francona has a lineup quandary.
• Joe Mauer is off to a good start in spring training.
• Alan Trammell continues to be active with the Tigers.
• There is a way to simplify things for Trevor Bauer in the first inning.
• The White Sox are excited about a developing shortstop.
• For Adam LaRoche, it’s about family.
• Billy Butler is adjusting to life away from the Royals.
• The Rangers will try to improve their bullpen.
• The Astros want more than power from their lineup.
• Oakland’s season could hinge on pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery.
• The Mariners are not looking for a Joe Beimel type.
• The Braves hope to build a dominant bullpen.
• Matt Harvey threw to hitters.
• Jose Reyes fired some criticism at the guy who replaced him as the Mets’ shortstop.
• Jeff Francoeur is becoming a fan of Ryan Howard. Classic Francoeur, with his positive messages probably aimed to help a beleaguered teammate.
• Dan Uggla hopes to stick with the Nats.
• Tyler Moore hopes to show improvement off the bench.
• Jose Tabata is rediscovering his power.
• The Cardinals could be great, depending on some ifs.
• Billy Hamilton got a refresher course, writes John Fay.
• This is the year for Starlin Castro to prove himself, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.
• Justin Morneau learned to hit with two strikes, writes Bob Elliott.
• Nolan Arenado grew up last season, writes Patrick Saunders.
• Tim Lincecum has gotten good reviews early in camp.
• Brandon Belt has taken a healthy approach this year, writes Ann Killion.
• Adrian Gonzalez hopes that conditioning keeps him in the game.
• The Diamondbacks believe Jake Lamb oozes talent.
• The Dodgers are using analytics to assess injury risk.
• A.J. Preller is settling in.
• There is sad news about a former Yankee.
• The fall of Ron Washington and Josh Hamilton has been precipitous, writes Tim Cowlishaw.
• Sandy Koufax expects Clayton Kershaw to have better days in October.
And today will be better than yesterday.
A Hamilton absence won't hurt Angels.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Angels are bracing themselves for the possibility that Josh Hamilton will be disciplined by Major League Baseball, as Mike DiGiovanna reported. Hamilton’s father-in-law told Steven Marcus that he has hit a bump in the road.
Hamilton is a big name, and for his past achievements and stardom, the Angels committed a five-year, $125 million deal to him after the 2012 season. But whether his absence from the Angels is brief or extended, the actual impact on the team is probably negligible.
Last year, Mike Scioscia’s team led the majors in runs with almost no help from Hamilton in the second half of the year. He started well in 2014, swinging with more discipline; he said in a conversation early in the year that he was doing a better job of anticipating what opposing pitchers intended to do on the first pitch.
But then Hamilton tore a thumb ligament in April and essentially disappeared after that, struggling through a late-season shoulder issue. Take a look at what Hamilton produced month-to-month last season in OBP and runs (in parentheses):
March/April: .545 (7)
June: .330 (
July: .322 (14)
August: .286 (13)
September: .267 (1)
Hamilton finished the season with a .263 batting average and 10 homers in 89 games, and over the winter, the Angels announced that Hamilton’s shoulder issues would keep him out for the beginning of the season. We don't know what Angels executives knew about Hamilton’s current issue and when they knew about it, but on Dec. 16, they made a move for veteran outfielder Matt Joyce, who was being dangled by the Tampa Bay Rays. Joyce, like Hamilton, is a left-handed-hitting outfielder who can play the corners, and last season, he had a .349 on-base percentage with nine homers in 140 games. The veteran, who will make $4.75 million, is a perfect safety net.
Mike Trout is the Angels' center fielder, Kole Calhoun is the right fielder, and Collin Cowgill is a nice right-handed complement to either Joyce or Calhoun.
[+] EnlargeMatt Joyce
Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports
Matt Joyce was added this offseason, perhaps with Josh Hamilton's struggles in mind.
Hamilton turns 34 in May and is entering Year 3 of a heavily back-loaded five-year contract. After making $17 million in 2013 and $17 million in 2014, he is set to receive $25.4 million this year, and a whopping $32.4 million in 2016 and $32.4 million in 2017. Some production projections -- made before the news broke about the possibility of suspension -- had Hamilton hitting something in the range of 15 homers, with a .320ish on-base percentage. (Fangraphs has two such projections listed here.)
It’s been almost three years since Hamilton was a great player, an impact player. He got off to an incredible start in Texas in 2012, with 21 homers and 57 RBIs by the end of May before fading. While no one would ever wish personal problems for him, the fact is that if Hamilton misses time and the Angels don’t have to pay him, the team will be saving a lot of money on a player who hasn’t been very good for them.
And if the Angels start to believe they need more offense, there figures to be plenty of corner outfield and DH options available at the right price in the market, including Andre Ethier, Ryan Howard, Allen Craig, Carlos Quentin and maybe Shane Victorino.
New video and audio
• Wednesday’s podcast was packed, with Tim Kurkjian on the White Sox, Giants and other teams; Jayson Stark discussed the Pirates and pace of play; Kansas City Star beat writer Andy McCullough talked about the play that has stuck in the minds of Royals fans all winter; and Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph on the pitching staff and development of Kevin Gausman.
• We have blanketed Florida and Arizona in coverage this week, and on Wednesday, we talked about the Blue Jays, Red Sox, Cubs and other teams. Some of the "SportsCenter" segments:
1. Joe Kelly is one player to watch for the Red Sox this spring.
2. Dustin Pedroia and Curt Schilling look back on the time they spent together with the Red Sox.
3. Red Sox DH David Ortiz talks about working hard, being mentally tough and expectations for the season.
4. Pablo Sandoval is excited to be with Boston.
5. The rotation behind Jon Lester, young players key to the Cubs’ season.
6. Kris Bryant, Kyle Hendricks are the Cubs’ players to watch.
7. The Blue Jays have the talent to win AL East in 2015.
8. Tim Kurkjian reports on Mike Trout’s desire to run more, strike out less and win a championship.
• The Pirates’ willingness to discuss a record-setting contract extension for Andrew McCutchen, reported by Rob Biertempfel, makes sense. McCutchen is to the Pittsburgh franchise in 2015 what Roberto Clemente was in 1961.
• Cliff Lee, another player who will be trade bait this spring, had a good throwing session Wednesday. His trade value is greatly mitigated by a vesting option attached to him: He will make $25 million this year, and if he throws 200 innings, he’ll make $27.5 million in 2016, with a staggering buyout of $12.5 million if he doesn’t.
There aren’t going to be a lot of teams lining up to take a 36-year-old pitcher coming off an injury with that buyout attached to him if he breaks down; it’s hard to imagine the Phillies being able to trade Lee without being asked to absorb at least that $12.5 million or lose an equivalent in prospect return.
Among the many lessons for the Phillies to have learned from this slow regression: The contractual option years and full or partial no-trade clauses can crush market value. Time after time after time, these theoretical extras have hurt the perception of their players in the eyes of rival execs.
• Bryce Harper talked about championships with James Wagner.
• Mark Teixeira’s new diet is sort of gross. Rodriguez is willing to do anything, he tells Joe Girardi.
• Ortiz doesn’t like the pace-of-play rules. Ortiz also told Gordon Edes that things are not good anymore between him and Alex Rodriguez.
• Drew Smyly says he has no problem with Yoan Moncada, just the system. He can ask his union about how it adopted the current rules.
The fight for jobs
• Bryan Holaday hopes his energy wins him a spot on the Tigers’ roster.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Mark Ellis is retiring. The pride of South Dakota racked up 12 seasons, 1,435 games and 387 extra-base hits, including 105 homers.
2. Larry Lucchino says there is no palace intrigue.
Dings and dents
1. Kyle Zimmer hopes to be in games by May.
2. Homer Bailey is close to throwing off a mound, writes C. Trent Rosecrans.
3. Gavin Floyd is back on the mound for the Indians.
• David Murphy writes that the Phillies have joined the analytics era.
• A Mets prospect is looking to bounce back, writes Tim Rohan.
• The Braves’ first full squad workout will be busy, writes David O’Brien.
• Mike Redmond is working to keep it fresh with his guys.
• The Cardinals held a meeting with a message. The death of Oscar Taveras will have a lasting impact on the Cardinals’ lineup, writes Bernie Miklasz.
• Paul Daugherty addresses the question of whether Joey Votto can be a leader.
• The Brewers are being rewarded for their faith in Carlos Gomez.
• Matt Kemp thinks the Padres have the best outfield in baseball.
• Yasmany Tomas is working at third base.
• The Rockies have a bullpen filled with hard throwers.
• Nori Aoki could’ve been a World Series hero.
• Yasmani Grandal steals strikes, writes Mark Saxon.
• Russell Martin got his first shot at R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball.
• A Blue Jays prospect brings some heat, writes John Lott.
• The Orioles are taking another gamble with Everth Cabrera, writes Peter Schmuck.
• Alex Speier addresses the question of why the Red Sox paid Yoan Moncada instead of Jon Lester.
• Hal Steinbrenner says no one is on the hot seat.
• Mariano Rivera provided some comic relief.
• The Yankees should closely monitor Masahiro Tanaka’s arm, writes Bob Klapisch.
• Chris Davis is taking a more sophisticated form of Adderall, he says.
• Kevin Cash isn’t going to coach the Rays’ hitters.
• Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway talks about the Cleveland staff.
• Alfredo Simon showed some nasty stuff.
• Alex Avila prefers to call it pitch "presenting," not pitch framing.
• The Royals are eager to defend their crown.
• Carlos Santana was helped by his switch to first base, writes Terry Pluto.
• Melky Cabrera is all-in with the White Sox.
• Ricky Nolasco plans to shut some people up. As if the criticism was unwarranted.
• Jim Souhan has some observations from Twins camp.
• Yu Darvish was dazzling in his spring debut.
• A Rangers catcher likes to read.
• Jose Altuve is not focused on repeating as a batting champion, writes Evan Drellich.
• Brett Lawrie is a bundle of energy.
• Nelson Cruz is making a strong impression with the Mariners.
• Rickie Weeks has a new look, writes Ryan Divish.
• Brad Ausmus has joined Twitter.
• The Cubs are raising a lot of money through limited partnerships.
• Bob Nutting is embracing his new role with MLB.
• Former commissioner Fay Vincent rendered some strong opinions aimed at Bud Selig and others.
• Grant Balfour rushed home to Australia to be with his ailing father.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Players who could be traded this spring.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Spring training is supposed to present a time of optimism, when players look around and think about what can be accomplished with the group in the room. But for a small handful, this can be a time of frustration because they know they just don’t fit in.
Andre Ethier is among those, as Mark Saxon writes; the veteran outfielder wants to be traded. From his piece:
Ethier is the longest-tenured Dodgers player, having broken in with the team in 2006. The Dodgers' tentative Opening Day plans are for Carl Crawford to start in left field, rookie Joc Pederson in center and Yasiel Puig in right, with Ethier the fourth outfielder.
"You're not wishing for it ever to end, but sometimes that opportunity takes you somewhere else," Ethier said. "I'm not going to do anything to sit here and force it. Hopefully it works itself out." [More…]
"I want the opportunity to play every day. My mind hasn't changed from when I told you guys that a couple months ago," Ethier said. "I felt like when I get a chance to play every day, I put up the numbers they ask of me. For some strange reason, it just happened that coming off a good 2012 season, in 2013 they took games away. You start to wonder why that happened. I feel like if I get a good full year in and get the at-bats, it starts to add up. It's tough when you get 300 at-bats and you're expected to hit 15 or 20 home runs."
Every time another team loses an outfielder or a designated hitter in the inevitable wave of injuries, Ethier will be an option. But he isn’t the only one who will probably spend this spring wondering if his playing time is going to happen in a different uniform.
Here are some others.
Allen Craig, Red Sox
In 2012 and 2013, nobody else was a better hitter with runners in scoring position, with Craig posting numbers unseen since George Brett. He was an All-Star, the cleanup hitter for a team that won the National League championship in 2013.
But with exhibitions set to start next week, it’s hard to see how he’s going to fit into the Boston lineup. David Ortiz will be the Red Sox designated hitter, Mike Napoli is the first baseman, Pablo Sandoval is entrenched at third, and Boston already has Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts and Shane Victorino as outfield candidates -- plus on-base percentage machine Daniel Nava. Craig’s situation is complicated by his ugly 2014 performance, which followed his late-season foot injury of 2013, and his contract; he’s owed $5.5 million for this year, $9 million for next year and $11 million for 2017, with a $1 million buyout on an option for 2018.
The Red Sox don’t have to solve this today, and they are wise in waiting. If Napoli, who has just one year left on his contract, gets hurt this spring, Craig could be a perfect fix at first. If Ortiz gets hurt, or Ramirez, Craig could be part of the solution. He’d even be an option at third if Sandoval went down.
And the perception of Craig in the marketplace will change dramatically if he demonstrates early in camp that he has regained his balance -- which rival scouts thought he never had last year -- and his old swing. He will be among the players most closely monitored in exhibitions this year.
Carlos Quentin, Padres
He is trying first base, in his effort to squeeze onto the San Diego roster. From Corey Brock’s story:
"This is the last year of my contract, so, I'm treating this year as if I don't know what's going to happen. So I want to enjoy myself and stay with that mindframe," Quentin said.
"I feel good. There will be a lot of eyes on me, evaluating if I can stand the endurance of a long season. I'm ready to go out there and show that I can."
Earlier Tuesday, Padres general manager A.J. Preller said Quentin will take ground balls during camp this spring with hopes that he might be able to play first base moving forward.
"Just looking for ways to get Carlos in the lineup," Preller said. "I think it's something we've talked about with [manager Bud Black] and [third-base coach Glenn Hoffman]. He's open to it."
Hoffman works with the team's infielders and figures to spend time on the back field in Peoria working with Quentin starting Wednesday.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge. Being an outfielder your entire career, you do the same thing over and over," Quentin said. "I'm excited to do something different. I think it's going to be fun."
Given his injury history, Quentin’s best lineup spot is probably at designated hitter; rival evaluators view his outfield defense as problematic at best. When he’s in the lineup, he’ll hit his share of homers -- he’s got 33 homers in 690 at-bats over the past three seasons -- and his best opportunity might be created by an injury on an AL team.
Shane Victorino, Red Sox
[+] EnlargeShane Victorino
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Shane Victorino could be coveted outside of Boston for his defensive versatility.
Boston manager John Farrell stated flatly the other day that Victorino will be his right fielder, which is exactly what he should say in this situation. Victorino was a shutdown defender in 2013 and played Fenway’s challenging right field as well or better than anyone since Dwight Evans, and given Victorino’s high-intensity nature, Farrell would have been impolitic if he had said anything else.
But there will probably be as many scouts circling the Red Sox games in spring training as there are turkey buzzards that hover over Interstate 75 here, and they will be watching Victorino as closely as Boston will be. GM Ben Cherington always has the option of going with Castillo in center and Betts in right field and moving Victorino, depending on the offers he receives. Or he could keep Victorino, knowing that he probably won’t be able to match in trade value for the veteran outfielder what Victorino could mean to Boston’s defense and depth.
This is worth remembering: Cherington has very high regard for Victorino, and has seen how he can be a difference-maker.
Brock Holt, Red Sox
Farrell said in the middle of the 2014 season that the 26-year-old Holt had earned the right to be in the lineup every day, to hit leadoff. But after hitting .327 in the first half, he batted .219 in the second half, a late-season slide that reinforced the perception of Holt as a player better suited for a role of versatility in which he can moved around to different spots and fill in. Maybe that’ll be for the Red Sox. Maybe it’ll be for some other team.
Dioner Navarro, Blue Jays
Following the signing of Russell Martin, GM Alex Anthopoulos believes Navarro will get his wish and be traded. Toronto’s three-catcher crisis can’t last, writes Richard Griffin.
• In the second half of last season, the Orioles had the lowest ERA in baseball (2.88), with a young staff that has returned mostly intact, with the exception of Andrew Miller. And remember, this is a team that ran away from the rest of the AL East, winning by 12 games. Baltimore has a lot of questions hovering over its position players -- will Chris Davis hit, and can Manny Machado stay healthy, for example -- but the backbone of the team is back, and there is a belief in the clubhouse that the pitching will get better. Kevin Gausman’s innings count will increase this year, from 164 last year to something closer to 200, and there is confidence that, at age 24, he could climb into an upper tier of starting pitchers. Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph talked about the movement on Gausman’s fastball and his splitter, and Gausman’s exceptional mound presence.
Chris Tillman, Bud Norris, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez are all established big league starters, and Ubaldo Jimenez is embracing mechanical change this spring, simplifying his delivery by keeping his hands in front of him. The Orioles’ rotation might not have the ceiling of the Rays’ five starters, and the Yankees might have the best bullpen in the division, but no AL East team has a deeper pitching staff overall.
Catcher Matt Wieters threw the ball free and easy Tuesday morning as he continues to progress from Tommy John surgery. Davis seeks redemption, writes Bob Nightengale.
• On Tuesday’s podcast, Roch Kubatko discussed the Orioles’ winter moves, and Karl Ravech discussed the pace-of-play changes.
• The Orioles’ signing of Everth Cabrera may have been inspired at least partly by what Baltimore experienced in its series against the Royals, who wielded late-inning pinch runners over and over in crucial situations. Other teams shied away from Cabrera as a full-time player because of his personal history, but the Orioles like Cabrera’s potential for damage against left-handed pitchers, and they know Cabrera has an ability to steal a base even against pitchers who are good at holding runners on.
Cabrera will have to earn a spot on the roster, says Buck Showalter.
• Adam Wainwright is headed back to St. Louis to have his abdomen checked.
• Jayson Stark details the pace-of-play rules implemented by baseball, and more important, the suggested application of those rules. It’s good that MLB is asking the umpires to defuse, rather than incite, in the application of new pace-of-play rules. Baseball doesn’t need time rules, writes Drew Sharp. Bruce Jenkins likes the idea of punishing baseball’s stallers.
• Giancarlo Stanton says he has no fear of fastballs. He arrived with a lot of hope.
• Barry Svrluga writes about the 2106 class of free-agent pitchers.
• In this Matt Ehalt piece, Michael Cuddyer makes a pitch for Troy Tulowitzki as a Met.
• John Henry says the Red Sox organization has never been better, writes Rob Bradford.
The fight for jobs
1. With the re-signing of Joba Chamberlain, Detroit’s fight for the bullpen jobs might be over.
2. There is a favorite in the race for the Reds’ No. 5 spot in the rotation.
3. A crowd of candidates is competing for bullpen spots with the Rangers.
4. The Red Sox haven’t had any contract talks with David Ortiz yet. Ortiz arrived in camp.
Dings and dents
1. Lucas Duda trained too hard.
2. Shaun Marcum is finally healthy.
3. Michael Brantley’s lower back is bothering him, as mentioned within this piece.
4. Angel Pagan’s back is feeling great, writes Ann Killion.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Jose Molina is in the Cardinals’ camp as an instructor.
2. The Cubs have installed Manny Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis in roles.
• Tyler Clippard leaves big innings to fill.
• The Phillies are better off without Yoan Moncada, writes David Murphy.
• A healthy Miguel Gonzalez is impressing in Phillies camp, writes Jake Kaplan.
• Cody Asche has a healthy diet and attitude, writes Jim Salisbury.
• Wandy Rodriguez has looked impressive so far in Braves camp.
• Dilson Herrera left more than a favorable impression last year, writes Adam Rubin.
• Ichiro is glad to be away from Joe Girardi, writes Kevin Kernan.
• Corey Hart is looking for better health, writes Stephen Nesbitt.
• The Pirates are looking at ways to make Andrew McCutchen’s off days more productive.
• Jordy Mercer has gained some fame in South Korea.
• The Reds’ clubhouse is full of leaders, says Joey Votto.
• Bryan Price is looking for leaders, not appointing them.
• Jean Segura is excited about his new start.
• Adam Lind is the next man up for the Brewers at first base.
• Gordon Wittenmyer addresses the question of whether the Cubs’ situation will nudge Starlin Castro’s play.
• David Hernandez hopes to regain form, writes Nick Piecoro.
• LaTroy Hawkins will make this his last season, writes Patrick Saunders.
Hawkins has pitched in 1,000 games in his career, 16th most in history, and this year, he could easily climb into the top 10 before walking away.
• Hunter Strickland is learning to compose himself, writes Carl Steward.
• For Andrew Friedman, numbers are only part of the equation.
• The Dodgers’ bullpen will require some patience, writes Jeff Miller.
• The Jays welcome Josh Donaldson’s level-headed approach to playing.
• Alex Rodriguez worked alongside Chase Headley. Rodriguez should’ve followed CC Sabathia’s lead, writes Ian O’Connor.
• So far A-Rod has stuck to the same script, writes Joel Sherman.
• Hank Aaron is rooting for A-Rod.
• Larry Lucchino is still in charge, says John Henry. Tuck this one away for future reference. Wrote here in December about the expectation within the Boston organization that Lucchino’s role in the organization will shift.
• Evan Longoria is excited by the Rays’ changes. He likes the hiring of Kevin Cash. From Marc Topkin’s piece:
With much the same graceful balance he shows at third base, Evan Longoria reported to camp Tuesday saying he didn't want manager Joe Maddon to leave the Rays but the team will be better for it.
"I just think there comes a time when it's just the right time for somebody new," Longoria said.
"I think everybody here is looking forward to a new year and just a fresh start and something that's different. I think sometimes things are needed and necessary to kind of keep you on track. That's no knock on Joe. Obviously he did so many great things for the franchise and so many great things for me as a player. But I guess all good things come to an end at some point."
• Royals third-base coach Mike Jirschele is a baseball man’s baseball man.
• Alcides Escobar’s workload didn’t end after the World Series.
• Former stars still shine for the Tigers.
• The Tigers will have a strong rotation, as Tyler Kepner writes.
• Brandon Moss is mending fast.
• Terry Ryan is happy to be back in Florida.
• The Minnesota rotation is aiming for 1,000 innings.
• Adam LaRoche will fill a variety of needs for the White Sox.
• Robinson Cano welcomes higher expectations.
• Tanner Scheppers' return to the bullpen is a relief for him, writes Gerry Fraley.
• Jonathan Singleton is refocusing on progress.
• Sean Nolin is eager to help his new team.
• Joe Smith and Huston Street are artful relievers, writes Mike DiGiovanna.
• The Angels could hit the jackpot with Matt Lindstrom, writes Jeff Fletcher.
• After the Oscar Taveras tragedy, the Cardinals are working on an education program.
• Ernie Banks' estate was worth $16,000, a lawyer says.
• The Nationals are doing the right thing by finally honoring Frank Robinson, writes Thom Loverro.
• Stanford experts say the Supreme Court should reconsider Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Rangers, Beltre committed for near future.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Adrian Beltre is at the heart of the Rangers, writes Gerry Fraley.
From his story:
The Rangers want him to stay a while. At least two years.
General manager Jon Daniels indicated the club could soon pick up an option on Beltre for 2016, at a salary of $16 million. Beltre could guarantee the option with 586 plate appearances this year, but Daniels hopes by acting now to avoid creating a subplot that would hang over the club all season.
“We’ll address that relatively soon,” Daniels said. “We don’t want that to be a distraction nor even a story as we go through the year.”
The Rangers’ 2014 season disintegrated quickly in an avalanche of injuries, from Derek Holland to Yu Darvish to Prince Fielder to Shin-Soo Choo, and it made sense for them to at least consider some trades of players not tethered to their future. For example, they spoke with other teams during the summer about Alex Rios, who became eligible for free agency last fall.
But when I’d ask various sources about the possibility of Beltre being marketed, I’d be shooed away from the idea. The Rangers view Beltre as a legacy player, an all-time great third baseman who could finish his career with Texas and perhaps have the Rangers’ cap on his Hall of Fame plaque.
If that sounds ridiculous to you, keep in mind that Beltre’s production is almost overwhelmingly Hall of Fame-worthy. He has 2,604 career hits, or just 244 less than another third baseman of some stature, Brooks Robinson; Beltre seems to have a good chance at getting 3,000 hits. The fifth homer that Beltre hits this year will make him the 52nd player in history with 400 homers in his career, and one of the very few third basemen to reach that mark.
The Rangers have valued Beltre for his dedication to getting on the field, for the way he does his work, as well as the quality of his play. It would be a surprise at this point if the nomadic Beltre -- who played in his first game at age 19 with the Dodgers, went to the Mariners when he was a free agent at 26, then moved on to the Red Sox for a year before landing with Texas -- plays another game in a uniform other than that of the Rangers.
Around the league
• Bruce Bochy was back at work.
From Andrew Baggarly's story:
Bochy will be able to hit fungoes, throw batting practice and do all his other usual activities this season. He hasn't even received any dietary guidelines yet, but he said he is usually a healthy eater.
"It's not like I'm crushing barbecue every day," he said.
Bochy sneaked into camp Saturday afternoon to meet with right-hander Sergio Romo, who assured him that his tender shoulder would be a minor issue.
"He's been getting after it, and he says he's going to be ready," Bochy said of Romo, who is playing catch and participating in all drills. "He's confident this is a small thing and that he'll be on the mound pretty soon."
• Jonathan Broxton is taking his best shot as he waits for the closer decision.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Reliever Joba Chamberlain is still deciding which MLB club to join for this season.
There are still a handful of high-end relievers unsigned. Joba Chamberlain is expected to pick his next employer this week, after drawing interest from the Dodgers and other teams. Francisco Rodriguez is still a potential fit for the Brewers, who need a closer, and his agent keeps calling Milwaukee owner Mark Attanasio. Rafael Soriano was the Nationals’ closer into late last season, before scouts felt his stuff evaporated and he lost his role.
• Some rival officials are dubious about the combination of hitters the Astros have put together because of their high strikeout tendencies. Now there is word from Evan Drellich that Chris Carter will play first this spring, to allow Evan Gattis to be the designated hitter and take pressure off Gattis' troublesome knee.
• B.J. Upton prefers to be referred to by a different first name.
• The Pirates are drawing upon the work of the Golden State Warriors, writes Jayson Stark.
• Miguel Cabrera reported no soreness after taking his first swings.
• Ruben Amaro apologized to Ryan Howard, writes Ryan Lawrence.
• The Phillies continue to scout for a deal that matches Cole Hamels’ talent, writes Tyler Kepner.
• Masahiro Tanaka turned it up a notch. Brian Cashman says he’s not worried about him.
• The Yankees hope to harness Nathan Eovaldi’s talent, writes Bob Klapisch.
The Fight for Jobs
1. Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada will fight for the shortstop job, says Terry Collins.
2. Dylan Bundy could pitch in the big leagues this year, says Buck Showalter.
3. Travis Wood is going to have to earn a spot in the Chicago rotation. He turned down a four-year offer from the Cubs last year.
4. Zach McAllister is a two-way threat to make the Cleveland pitching staff.
Dings and dents
1. Mike Rizzo expects Jayson Werth to be ready for the Nationals’ first game.
2. The Brewers’ Johnny Hellweg is progressing from Tommy John surgery.
3. Nick Swisher and Brandon Moss are in walk-don’t-sprint mode this spring. The same is true for manager Terry Francona.
From Paul Hoynes’ piece:
Ouch: Francona served as a baserunner during bunt drills Sunday morning. When he met with reporters later in the day, he was sore.
"I stood out there (at second base) for an hour and I'm hurting," said Francona, who lost 20 pounds over the winter. "Isn't that a shame?"
Francona, with two artificial knees, has had surgery of his knees at least 19 times.
"I came up with the bunt plays and I wanted to make sure we ran through them like I wanted," said Francona. "But I think I'll let somebody else be the runner from now on."
4. The Rangers have their first injury of camp.
Moves, deals and decisions
• Leave Pablo Sandoval alone about his weight, says Dan Shaughnessy.
• Brad Brach set himself up nicely with a strong 2014.
• Alejandro de Aza arrived.
• Allen Craig wants to prove his worth to the Red Sox. He is not concerning himself with trade rumors.
From John Tomase’s piece:
“I think that everybody knows where things are at,” Craig said. “I’m going to come in and compete for playing time and just play my game. That’s all I can do. If my name is in the lineup card, I’m going to go out and play as hard as I can, be a good teammate, and do the best I can.”
The idea of Craig being expendable would’ve been unthinkable just two years ago. He was coming off a season that saw him smash a career-high 22 homers with 92 RBIs with the Cardinals. He then went out and made the 2013 All-Star team before left foot/ankle injuries derailed his career.
He hit just .128 with the Red Sox last year and is no better than sixth on the outfield depth chart, behind Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, and Daniel Nava.
“I believe I’m an everyday player, but I’m here to compete and be a good teammate, and just play the game whenever my name is in the lineup card,” Craig said. “That’s all I can do. I know I have a lot to prove. I’m looking forward to doing that.”
• Henry Owens is confident.
• The Rays’ Rene Rivera is a study in perseverance, writes Marc Topkin.
• Mark Buehrle loves the makeup of the Jays, with the addition of Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson.
One rival executive said: “Those are two guys that you win with.”
• Daniel Norris is ready for spring training.
• Tom Kelly says Paul Molitor is ready, writes Mike Berardino.
• Ryan Madson is excited for his opportunity with the Royals.
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports
Yoenis Cespedes is primed for a big season with the Tigers.
• Kansas City’s optimism in spring training is finally justified, writes Sam Mellinger.
• There is an easy rivalry between David Price and Justin Verlander, writes Drew Sharp.
• Yoenis Cespedes arrived.
• The Tigers’ revamped rotation makes financial sense, writes Lynn Henning.
• The Tigers are likely to have a light bench again.
• A White Sox prospect is inspired by his brother, an NBA star.
• A Cuban defector is looking forward to trips to his old home.
• Hisashi Iwakuma is healthy and ready to go, writes Ryan Divish.
• Garrett Richards gives more than he has to, writes Jeff Miller.
• Jeff Banister is picking up the pace in the Rangers’ camp.
• Hector Santiago hopes for a spot on the Angels’ roster.
• Albert Pujols hopes his daughter can be in the Olympics, as Alden Gonzalez writes.
• Entering his walk year, Denard Span talked with James Wagner.
• David Wright wants to play in more games, writes Tim Rohan.
• Steven Matz just keeps getting better.
• Reed Johnson is taking it year to year with the Marlins.
• The Braves should be more interesting and enjoyable, writes David O’Brien.
• Mike Minor’s early work is encouraging.
• Jung Ho Kang is getting cranked up with the Pirates, as Bill Brink writes.
• Reds pitchers pick their throwing partners carefully, writes C. Trent Rosecrans.
• Mat Latos felt he was rushed back from surgery, and made mention of the same issue that Jay Bruce did in Sunday’s column -- a clubhouse culture that Bruce would like to see get better.
• Bryan Price did some name-dropping.
• Yasiel Puig says he has more respect for the game.
• Wilin Rosario has value to the Rockies, writes Patrick Saunders.
• Jeremy Hellickson is hoping for a fresh start, writes Zach Buchanan.
• Madison Bumgarner has a new contract.
• Versatility could help a member of the Padres.
• Rays owner Stuart Sternberg intends to eventually start a stadium search, with or without the permission of St. Petersburg.
• Jeff Samardzija is not a big fan of analytics.
From the story:
“Sabermetrics, nyeh. Sounds like a lot of hot air,’’ Samardzija said, smiling. “I think there are definitely positive aspects to it. I think there is some information you can take from it that’s important. But ultimately from a player’s point of view, you want a coach that can relate to you. Can help you with adjustments mid-game.
“I think preparation with numbers and stats and all that’s great, but when the bullets are flying, you need a guy that knows your personality, can relate to you and get you to change or fix what’s going wrong. If you don’t respect the guy that’s telling you that information, you’re not going to listen to him.’’
• A company is working on mapping hitters, as Travis Sawchik writes.
• Darren Daulton got encouraging news about his fight against cancer.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Reds' Bruce, Votto ready to bounce back.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Near the end of the Reds' lost season of 2014, Jay Bruce asked general manager Walt Jocketty if he could stop by his office for a conversation. By then, Bruce was already deep into the process of mentally preparing for 2015, having formulated his loose plans for the offseason.
He and Jocketty talked about what had gone wrong for Bruce, and for a team that opened 2014 with expectations of making the postseason. He told Jocketty that he intended to quickly resume the rehabilitation work on his surgically repaired left knee and then start his drills for the season sooner than he normally does.
Bruce followed through with everything he told Jocketty that day, and he burns for his next chance. "He is highly motivated to come back and have a good season," Jocketty said recently.
The GM senses the same about first baseman Joey Votto, who missed 100 games last season. Sean Marohn, the Reds' strength and conditioning coordinator, visited Votto several times in Toronto during the winter and reported that Votto is doing well. "I feel very good about both guys coming into camp healthy," Jocketty said.
That's crucial, because given the structure of the Reds' roster and the improvements of other teams within the National League Central, Cincinnati almost certainly cannot win without more from Bruce (who batted .217 last season with 18 homers) and Votto. "I'm doing great, ready to go," Bruce said over the phone. "The knee is a nonissue. Everything is going great."
The Cubs have added Jon Lester and manager Joe Maddon and re-signed Jason Hammel. The Pirates get deeper by the year. The Cardinals seem to reside in the postseason, with 11 trips in the past 15 years, and the Brewers led the NL Central for much of last season.
The Reds need a lot to go right, and in Bruce's eyes, they need to create some of this themselves.
Bruce made reference to the spring training cliché about players reporting to camp in the best shape of their life: "Are you in the greatest shape ever? I say, 'No, that was when I was 17 years old.' That'll always be a no."
But Bruce feels outstanding. He took three weeks off after the regular season, and then began the rehabilitation portion of his offseason Oct. 20. In November, he started running, strengthening his legs, getting in a lot of plyometrics, focusing on explosive movements, and at Christmas, he started his baseball work.
At the time of his knee surgery in May 2014, Bruce was told that he would eventually get back to feeling 100 percent. And that's exactly how he feels now, he said.
It's possible the Reds could have a strong offense this year, with Bruce and Votto healthy, and with the addition of Marlon Byrd in left field. In the shadow of Cincinnati's disappointing 2014 campaign, third baseman Todd Frazier and catcher Devin Mesoraco each evolved into All-Star-caliber players. Leadoff hitter Billy Hamilton will need to develop some consistency at the top of the lineup, and if that happens, Cincinnati could have a deep lineup.
[+] EnlargeWalt Jocketty
Frank Victores/USA TODAY Sports
Reds GM Walt Jocketty wants his team to raise its expectation level.
But Jocketty and Bruce also talked about the Reds' state of mind, about getting back to expecting more. During the offseason, something repeated by Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt stuck with him: Success isn't owned, it's leased.
As Bruce went through his offseason workout one day, he and his trainer talked about how people are born relentless. Babies cry and they will continue crying until they get what they want, and then, over the course of your life, you become less relentless, because you are given more and because you begin to assume you will get what you want.
Bruce recalled that in the context of the Cincinnati Reds. He wants to see the team regain some relentlessness. He wants to see a shift in the Reds' clubhouse culture. "Everybody takes a vested interest in this," he said. "If you don't hold each other accountable, you won't wind up where you want to get to. You always have to expect more, and that goes from being on time to running first to third. So many little things create this big picture, and when you have that, that's the best team.
"Another thing we need to get better at: guys taking better at-bats. Grinding out at-bats, making it harder for pitchers on the other team. You take a team like the Cardinals. They have a team full of guys who take good at-bats. [Matt] Holliday does that, and they have a team who are tough outs, and we didn't do that very well last year."
In 2010, Bruce recalled, the Reds were great at baserunning, going first to third, forcing mistakes, and he believes this happened because Scott Rolen pushed them to ratchet up their attention to detail.
Bruce wants the Reds' clubhouse culture to work this way again, to be a force in making the team better.
Votto feels the debate about his approach at the plate is silly. The Reds have a clutter of candidates for the Nos. 4 and 5 spots in the rotation, writes Hal McCoy.
Around the league
• The Angels are nowhere in their negotiations for a new lease, says Arte Moreno.
• Zack Greinke received a lubricating injection in his elbow. Heard this same line from a number of rival officials: So much for the possibility that Greinke could opt out of his contract after this season.
In a development that's probably not unrelated, the Dodgers signed Brandon Beachy.
• CC Sabathia put on weight for this season, writes Wallace Matthews.
• Alex Gordon has changed his stance on his 2016 option. He's not sure whether he'll pick it up, writes Andy McCullough.
• The Cardinals are going to pull back the reins on Adam Wainwright, who dealt with arm discomfort for a lot of last season.
• What a strange situation the Phillies have, and Cole Hamels' conversation with reporters Saturday reflected that, Jayson Stark writes.
• For the Nationals, early exits from the postseason are no longer enough, writes Thomas Boswell.
One rival official said this about the Nats: "The Scherzer deal was to win the World Series this year."
Jordan Zimmermann is happy he wasn't traded, and infielder Danny Espinosa is going to focus on his right-handed swing.
• Yoan Moncada could be worth the $100 million the Yankees might have to spend to get him.
The fight for jobs
1. The Blue Jays will have some position battles to sort out.
2. The Cardinals won't use Jason Heyward in the leadoff spot.
3. Hector Rondon will be the Cubs' closer.
4. A couple of Marlins are preparing as starting pitchers.
Moves, deals and decisions
[+] EnlargeJohn Farrell
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
The Red Sox extended a few contracts last week.
1. The Red Sox added two years to manager John Farrell's deal. Boston extended the contract of GM Ben Cherington, too.
2. The Nationals picked up Matt Williams' option for 2016.
3. The Orioles are still working to finalize the Everth Cabrera deal.
• Adam Rubin writes about what the Mets could expect from Matt Harvey this season.
• The Braves have a lefty who throws really hard, David O'Brien writes.
• The Marlins are excited by the attention they are getting, writes Clark Spencer.
• Pedro Alvarez must hit, writes Gene Collier.
• Antonio Bastardo is excited about his new start.
• Yadier Molina is still a kid, writes Rick Hummel.
• Burke Badenhop has some statistical savvy.
• The Brewers have no room for errors with their rotation, writes Tom Haudricourt.
• The Cubs are taking a hands-on approach with Javier Baez.
• Diamondbacks prospect Archie Bradley is looking to have a bounce-back year.
• LaTroy Hawkins is taking his final spring training in stride, writes Thomas Harding.
• The Padres' Casey Kelly is ready to prove himself.
• Marc Topkin writes about which Rays departures will hurt the most.
• Matt Silverman engineered a seamless transition, writes Roger Mooney.
• R.A. Dickey won't get caught up in expectations, writes Ken Fidlin.
• Chris Tillman produces like an ace, writes Peter Schmuck.
• The Yankees would be happy if Nathan Eovaldi can provide some durability.
• The Yankees will need all their arms to pitch in, writes John Harper. They are facing a mound of issues, writes Bob Klapisch.
• Brian McCann expects to have a big year.
• Pablo Sandoval challenged a reporter to a workout challenge.
• David Price is gearing up for 2015.
• Jose Iglesias made a loud entrance.
• Michael Bourn is looking to revive his speed game, writes Paul Hoynes.
• Paul Molitor hopes his baseball IQ translates to managing.
• White Sox prospect Carlos Rodon takes great expectations in stride.
• Bob Dutton writes about what needs to happen next for the Mariners.
• David Freese has changed his body, writes Mike DiGiovanna.
• For Astros manager A.J. Hinch, Saturday was like Christmas morning.
• It was important for the Rangers to get Derek Holland on the mound last September, writes Gerry Fraley.
• Yu Darvish threw on Saturday.
• Barry Zito has revamped his delivery.
• The Mariners went through their first workout.
• The Buster Hug has become a phenomenon, writes Henry Schulman.
• Jeffrey Maier's glove sold at auction for a lot of money.
• Trevor Bauer understands why his drone was grounded.
• The Commodores rolled.
And today will be better than yesterday.