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Archive for January, 2007

Around Baseball: 16 Days to Start of Spring Training

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

After the blog post about Barry Bonds and all of his issues, it’s good
to get back to blogging about real baseball, hustling, don’t let up kind of baseball — the way Curt Schilling or Chase Utley or even Aaron Rowand (and his collision with the Citizens Bank Stadium centerfield wall) play the game.

                      Aaron Rowand       Aaron Rowand

Paul Hagen of Philly.com relates this story about Utley which exemplifies the spirit described above;

                 Chase Utley       Ryan Howard

Chase Utley was on first base when Ryan Howard singled to right. Utley raced around second and, barely hesitating, dug for third. When he arrived, he threw himself at the base in a headfirst sprawl.

The ball bounced off his back. Utley scrambled to his feet and headed for the plate, running into the catcher as he scored.

This all-out brand of play is standard operating procedure for Utley, one of the reasons the Phillies recently lavished a 7-year, $85 million contract extension on their 28-year-old second baseman.

Oh, by the way, this scene wasn’t played out during an important stretch-run game against the Mets, or even humdrum midseason game against, say, the Brewers.

It came during a meaningless exhibition game last November in Japan.

And that is the sort of relentless will to win, no matter what, that gave the team comfort that sudden lifetime security won’t change the way he plays the game.

Great story, eh?  Looking for great things in 2007 from Utley and for his infectious effect to drive the Philliesto the top! 

                              Curt Schilling

In Boston, Curt Schilling has announced that he is ditching his plan to retire after the 2007 season and now plans to be around through the 2008 season.

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe provides background on Schilling’s current thinking;

“We’d been talking about it for a while,” said Schilling last night. “But until recently, we didn’t get down to the point we did these past few weeks. It was a very personal, private decision made by my wife and kids and I, and I wanted zero outside influences on it.”

Schilling, 40, whose original plan was to retire after the 2007 season, announced on WEEI radio yesterday morning that he had changed his mind and wants to pitch again in 2008. The Red Sox righthander, who will earn $13 million this season, said he would likely be looking for a similar contract for 2008.

“I’m in discussions with the Red Sox,” he said. “We had talked last week, and there’s a lot going on, obviously, right now, but where I’m going to play beyond 2007 . . . I hope it’s Boston.

“This is where I want to play, and in the days leading up to spring training, we’ll figure it out one way or the other. If I go into this season without a contract from the Red Sox, then I will go out and find a home for 2008.”

While Red Sox management has not formally discussed Schilling’s future, owner John Henry seemed excited by Schilling’s decision, saying in an e-mail, “He’s such a competitor, you had to figure that if he is healthy, pitching well, and still has that fire, it would make sense for him to continue. He’s still one of the elite pitchers in all of baseball.”

While Schilling is hoping that talks on an extension won’t get into spring training, Sox general manager Theo Epstein is taking some time off before camp begins, which might preclude a quick resolution.

The news of Schilling playing through ‘08 was music to the ears of Sox manager Terry Francona.

“I’ve known for a while,” Francona said. “We talked about it. I can’t remember when, but I knew what he was thinking.

“The older you get, the bigger the price you pay for playing. You have children to consider and now Curt has a business and all of those things come into play.

“But a year is a long time. A lot can change, and the way he feels right now, he feels he can keep pitching. I don’t doubt that Curt can pitch at a high level as long as he wants to.”

Schilling went 15-7 with a 3.97 ERA last season, and figures he could win another championship with a loaded Red Sox lineup and starting rotation. A couple more good seasons would also enhance his Hall of Fame credentials. He currently compares favorably to Jim Hunter and Don Drysdale, but add about 30 more wins and more postseason appearances, and Schilling could be a shoo-in for Cooperstown.

If he remains healthy, Schilling figures with wisdom and talent he can continue to excel and perhaps rub off on the twentysomethings in Boston’s rotation — Jonathan Papelbon, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Josh Beckett.

If the Schill’s winning outlook rubs off on the rest of the pitching staff, he brings an intangible that the Yanks would be hard-pressed to match – a veteran star and role-model with an insatiable hunger and will to win which has not diminished with time. 

And finally, there is renewed trade talk regarding Phillies centerfielder  Aaron Rowand.  This time, the talk centers around a possible Rowand to the San Diego Padres for late inning reliever Scott Linebrink.  Official trade talks have apparently been shelved for now until both teams evaluate their positions during Spring Training.

The Trade Rumors blog makes this observation on a possible Rowand for Linebrink deal;

Kevin Towers would like to see how Terrmel Sledge looks in left and how the loss of Linebrink would affect San Diego’s bullpen.

I say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  I think a Sledge/Cruz platoon could outhit Rowand for a lesser cost.  And is the difference in defense in left field that crucial?  David Wells and Chris Young typically don’t go six innings; I’d rather retain one of the league’s better eighth-inning guys.  

Barry Bonds and Giants; Together for Another Year

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

This blog has tried hard to stick to pure baseball and to stay away from those areas which besmirch and discredit the game and the inate talents of those who play it.

I abhor free agent mega-bucks, the huge dough breeds arrogance, complacency and slacking off rather than continued honing one’s own talent in many players.  And these attributes are destructive to the game and to its athletes. 

Where mega-bucks are concerned, Blogging Baseball reports the facts non-judgmentally because as abhorent as I see free agent mega-bucks as being, I also see this era as the pendulum swinging in the other direction from the decades in the 20th century where players were relatively underpaid, often to the degree of indentured servants — similarly destructive to the game in it’s time.  (Boy, would I have loved to have a  $3.2 million, 5 year deal like Pete Rose got from the Phillies early in the free agent era.)  But, in all fairness, when players like Alex Rodriguez ink multi-year deals for $250+ Million, then Chase Utley’s 7 year, $85 million deal seems comparatively economic and a win/win for player and team and seemingly economically representative of the player’s comparative value in today’s bloated, hyper-inflated market.  But now, back to the game and it’s purity — the strikes, balls, base hits, stolen bases, double plays, strikeouts, homers and highlight film plays.

And drugs or steroids are similarly abhorent to me as unnaturally bloating a player’s inate talents in ways destructive to both the player using them and to the game. 

Sure it’s been exciting to watch Mark McGwire, and as previously written, I believe that McGwire belongs in the Hall by virtue of having broken  the season homerun record by a mile.  And Sammy Sosa was great to watch — trying to keep pace with McGwire in 1998 and as the only player in MLB history with three 60+ homer seasons.  And yes, the same holds true for Barry Bonds and his 73 homers in 2001 although the steroids hystrionics that came after it in subsequent years have been distasteful.

But let’s get back to baseball and to the exciting 2007 season as it unfolds.  Therefore, on the Bonds’, Giants one year deal — as they’d say on the old Dragnet: “The facts, ma’am, just the facts!”

FoxSports reports on the Bonds deal;

Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants completed a $15.8 million, one-year contract Monday night after the slugger spent hours at the ballpark being examined by team doctors.

A baseball official confirmed the deal, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Giants had not yet announced it.

The contract was finalized nearly two months after the sides reached agreement on financial terms Dec. 7, the final day of baseball’s winter meetings. Bonds had to pass a physical, and the parties had to work out complicated language regarding Bonds’ behavior and what would happen if the slugger were to be indicted.

A federal grand jury is investigating whether Bonds perjured himself when he testified in 2003 in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroid distribution case that he hadn’t knowingly taken any performance-enhancing drugs.

Two baseball officials said the slugger’s trainers — Harvey Shields and Greg Oliver — would no longer be on the Giants’ payroll. That means neither will be allowed in the clubhouse, where they previously had their own lockers next to Bonds’ space, or any other restricted area in any big league ballpark, the officials said. If they were to make road trips, it would be on Bonds’ dime.

The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of such details in Bonds’ contract.

Bonds, who traveled to the Bay Area from his offseason home in Southern California, underwent X-rays and many other tests from multiple team doctors.

The seven-time NL MVP waved, yelled “hello, hello” and smiled as he left the stadium Monday and then quickly drove away, with agent Jeff Borris in the passenger seat. Borris did not immediately return messages from The Associated Press.

The 42-year-old Bonds begins the 2007 season with 734 home runs, 22 from breaking Hank Aaron’s career record of 755.

Bonds can earn another $4.2 million in performance bonuses based on how much he plays. If he matches last year’s effort — 493 plate appearances, 130 games — he would receive the whole amount.

After missing all but 14 games in 2005 following three operations on his right knee, Bonds batted .270 with 26 homers and 77 RBIs and drew 115 walks last year. He passed Babe Ruth to move into second place on the career home run list May 28.

But the Giants missed the playoffs for the third straight year, leaving Bonds no closer to the World Series ring he has always coveted.

Bonds, who is coming off surgery on his troublesome left elbow, has been deemed healthier by the team than last year at this time. And he wound up playing regularly in 2006.

Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports adds additional insight into the numbers behind the deal with Bonds;

Barry Bonds will earn the full value of his 2007 contract – $20 million, a slight raise over last year – with his 525th plate appearance for the San Francisco Giants.

Beyond his base salary of $15.8 million, Bonds will receive $500,000 at 250 plate appearances, $1 million each at 300, 375 and 450 plate appearances, and $700,000 at 525 plate appearances. When healthy, Bonds routinely had well more than 600 plate appearances.

Jack Curry of The New York Times reported Barry Bonds’ reaction to the deal;

Bonds, who has been a Giant for the past 14 seasons, and the Giants, who have embraced and endured Bonds’s exploits, have consistently proved that they are meant for one another.

“I’m just happy that it’s all over with and I’m happy that I can get back and I’m excited to get into spring training,” Bonds said.

Now that Bonds is officially a Giant, Commissioner Bud Selig can resume sweating about what is bound to be an awkward season. As long as Bonds does not get injured or go to jail, he will most likely eclipse Aaron’s record. Selig and Aaron are close friends.

Phillies: Team to Beat in NL East in 2007? (Part 4)

Monday, January 29th, 2007

                     Dontrelle Willis        Miguel Cabrera

As written in part 1, Florida’s ace lefthander Dontrelle Willis, who despite an off-year, is recognized as one of the best pitchers in baseball.  Behind him are, a 2nd year starter (I erred in part by callling him a 3rd year man — he only pitched in 4 games in 2005 with no decisions) who had a fine rookie season Josh Johnson (reportedly now sidelined with arm soreness) and 2nd year starter Scott Olsen and not much else tried and proven. There is also starter, reliever Ricky Nolasco and his near 5 ERA as well as reliever Taylor Tankersley who excelled, but the Marlins must find a closer to replace Joe Borowski in addition to at least two more quality starters to contend and become competetive with the Phils, Mets and Braves.

Offensively, outside of 3rd baseman, leftfielder Miguel Cabrera, shortstop Hanley Ramirez, 2nd baseman Dan Uggla and emerging catcher Miguel Olivo who had a relative breakout season offensively after a number of seasons of sparing duty, the Marlins are lacking power and the ability to score runs as of this reading.  As things currently stand, if the pitching shows behind Willis, they could give Atlanta a run for it’s money for 3rd place.  If not, they could have a problem with the Washington Nationals.

NL East Fearless Predictions @ January 29, 2007:

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Phillies: Team to Beat in NL East in 2007? (Part 3)

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

                John Smoltz       Andruw Jones

The Atlanta Braves acquired lefthanded closer Mike Gonzalez in a trade sending first baseman Adam LaRouche to the Pittsburgh Pirates, further depleting their offense by LaRouche’s 32 HRs, 90 RBIs and .285 BA.

Gonzalez gives the Braves a quality closer to go along with lefthander  Macay McBride who pitched in 71 games last season, Oscar Villarreal with his 9-1 mark with a 3.61 ERA in 92 innings over 58 games last season, Rafael Soriano obtained from the Seattle Mariners with a 2.25 ERA in 53 games last season, Chad Paronto with his 3.18 ERA in 65 games last season in set up roles and 37 year old veteran Bob Wickman closing from the right side.  Gonzalez’s 3 year stats are impressive, both as a set-up man and last season as a closer, but whether this was a deal for the Braves or a steal for the Bucs remains for the season to tell.  But it seems apparent that the Braves bullpen is the strongest in the NL East, maybe among the strongest in the NL despite the recent AP report on Yahoo Sports.

As I wrote previously about the Braves starting pitching, once one gets by 41 year old Jon Smoltz who had his second straight fine year as a starter after 3 great years in a closer role, Tim Hudson with his ERA uncomfortably close to 5.00 and Mike Hampton who saw limited action in 2005 and sat out 2006, their staff effectiveness is highly suspect.  Their big hope seems to lefthanded starter Chuck Jones who finished last season with an 11-4 record and 3.98 ERA in pitching 119 innings in 25 games started.  Beyond these 3 starters, there is nothing more than inexperience and exploding ERAs.

In terms of offense however, after centerfielder Andruw Jones and his 41 HRs and 129 RBIs, 3rd baseman Chipper Jones with his 26 HRs, 86 RBIs and .324 BA, rightfielder Jeff Francoeur’s 29 HRs, 103 RBIs and .262 BA, shortstop Edgar Renteria’s 14 HRs and .270 BA and catcher Brian McCann’s 24 HRs, 93 RBIs and .333 BA there is no other support, noone else of note.

Sports Illustrated, in it’s recent Weakest Links post sums up the Braves this way; “The Braves have a bullpen now — a year too late, as it works out — but the right side of the infield has at least as many holes as Jeff Francoeur’s swing.”

 In short, the Braves will have all that they can handle battling with the Florida Marlins over 3rd place in the division.

48 Years Ago Today: Dodger’s Catcher Roy Campanella Paralyzed in Auto Accident

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

                        Roy Capanella              Roy Campanella

MLB reports on it’s “History of the Game” page that on January 28, 1958, Brooklyn Dodgers catching star Roy Campanella suffered a broken neck and a damaged spinal chord in an early morning car accident.  Baseball Library shows a one day descrepancy, reporting that the accident occured on January 29th.

Campanella played 10 years for the Brooklyn Dodgers, having made the team after 2 years in the minors.  Campy’s debut with the Dodgers was on April 20, 1948.  He went on to play 83 games for the Dodgers in 1948 before becoming the Dodgers starting catcher in 1949 where he starred for the next 9 years, being an important cog in 4 Dodger pennants and Brooklyn’s lone World Championship in 1955, until the paralyzing injuries he sustained in the accident ended his baseball career.

Baseball Library writes this about Campanella;

For the next nine years, he caught for outstanding Brooklyn teams whose members have been lionized as “The Boys of Summer.” They won National League pennants in 1949,  1952, 1953, 1955, and 1956, narrowly missed two others, and climaxed Brooklyn’s baseball history with its only World Series triumph in 1955. Campanella’s contributions to the Dodgers were remarkable. He won the MVP award three times in five years. In 1953, his best season, he batted .312, and scored 103 runs. Also, his 142 RBI (which led the league) and 41 HR set ML records for catchers (plus one HR as a pinch-hitter). He fielded with grace that belied his physique and handled with distinction a predominantly white pitching staff.

Like those of many catchers, Campanella’s career was punctuated by injuries. In spring training of 1954, he chipped a bone in the heel of his left hand and damaged a nerve. It affected his hitting and limited him to 111 games. Surgery helped in 1955, but the problem returned the next year.

           Roy Campanella                Roy Campanella

In January 1958, Campanella was permanently disabled in an automobile accident. Returning home from his liquor store, which he ran in the off-season, he lost control of his car on an icy street. The car slammed into a telephone pole and flipped over, pinning him behind the steering wheel. The crash fractured his fifth cervical vertebra and damaged his spinal cord. He survived and endured years of therapy, living far beyond the normal span for quadriplegics, but his career was over. He committed himself to decades of work in community relations for the Dodgers.  (SG)

Highlights of Roy Campanella’s career can be viewed here.

Drew, Red Sox Reach Agreement — With BoSox Escape Clause

Friday, January 26th, 2007

                           JD Drew          JD Drew

For those following the J.D. Drew, Red Sox saga since early December when preliminary agreement was announced and then subsequent results of Drew’s physical were revealed.  

Both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe are reporting that the sides have reached agreement regarding Drew’s “surgically repaired right shoulder” and it’s possible impact on Drew’s contract should he reinjure the shoulder.

Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald reports on the apparent outcome of subsequent negotiations;

The word from the two camps for some time now is that a resolution to the J.D. Drew [stats]-Red Sox [team stats] saga is just a few days away.
   
It appears the sides really mean it this time.
   
According to sources familiar with the contract talks from both sides, the deal could be announced by tomorrow (Friday).
   
Lawyers on both sides are still reviewing documents but final approval is expected in the very near future.
   
The deal will grant the Red Sox an out from the five-year contract after three or four years, in case Drew sustains an injury to his surgically repaired right shoulder. If there is no injury, the deal will remain guaranteed for five years,paying Drew a total of $70 million. It is not yet known what the worth of the package would be after just three or four years.

What exactly would cause the final year or two to be voided is exactly what has consumed Drew’s agent, Scott Boras, and the Red Sox ever since news of the preliminary agreement was announced on Dec. 5. The club has been concerned that an existing condition in Drew’s shoulder could cause a problem, or that playing baseball would exacerbate the injury, in the latter half of the contract.
   
Rather than sign the five-year deal anyway and cross their fingers that Drew stays healthy, the Sox have protected their investment with the voidable clause. The clause gives the Sox the option to void the contract if Drew lands on the disabled list with a shoulder problem for an extended period of time. The exact amount of days that would trigger that option is not known, but it’s somewhere between 15 and 40.

The Sox cannot void the contract if a shoulder problem occurs in the first two years. If the DL stint occurs in the third year (2009), the Red Sox can void the final two years. If the DL stint occurs in the fourth year (2010), the fifth year can be voided.
   
It is believed that the clause is general enough that a broad range of baseball-related activities - a throw, a swing -could trigger it, while an independent cause would not.
   
Voidable contracts, common in football, are quite rare in baseball.

J.D. Drew, suspect right shoulder and all, finally seems to be in the Red Sox fold.