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Archive for December, 2007

Reliever LaTroy Hawkins, Yankees Close $3.75M, 1-Year Deal

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

                                LaTroy Hawkins

Free Agent reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who filled a middle relief and set-up role for the Colorado Rockies in 2007, agreed to contract terms of $3.75 million, 1 year with the New York Yankees who solidified their bullpen behind future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera.  The trade helped the Yanks move closer to being in position to transfer youngster Joba Chamberlain to the starter rotation.

The AP report on the deal for Yahoo Sports provides background on the deal;

Hawkins, who turned 35 last Friday, was 2-5 with a 3.42 ERA last season for the Colorado Rockies. He made $3.25 million and Colorado declined a $3.75 million option, choosing to pay a $250,000 buyout.

New York’s middle relievers struggled last season, with Kyle Farnsworth and Luis Vizcaino pitching inconsistently for long stretches. The Yankees converted Joba Chamberlain, a starter in the minors, into a reliever for the final two months of the season. Chamberlain became Mariano Rivera’s primary setup man, but New York plans on including Chamberlain in its starting rotation next year.

Vizcaino agreed to a $7.5 million, two-year contract with the  NL champion Rockies this month.

Hawkins was consistent in both middle relief and set-up roles with the Rockies in 2007 posting a 25 mark with a 3.42 ERA.  A 12 year veteran who began his career as a starter and who posted a career mark of 56-76 with 75 saves and a 4.68 ERA, Hawkins posted his best years in 2002 (6-0, 80 1/3 inn., 2.13 ERA) and 2003 (9-3, 2 SV, 77 1/3 inn., 1.86 ERA) with the Minnesota Twins and with the Chicago Cubs in 2004 (5-4, 25 SV, 82 inn., 2.63 ERA).

Hawkins raised some eyebrows on New York talk radio while being questioned about the impact of steroids.  He responded to questions about allegations against Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens this way;

“It’s not any of my business. First of all the thing is I don’t care. Only person cared about that was [Commissioner Bud] Selig. I don’t care about it. That’s just my own personal opinion.”

Then when asked if he cared “if hitters are juicing up,” he responded;

“No, I don’t. That’s just my personal opinion. Still got to hit the ball, brother.”

Mark Prior, Padres Agree to $1 Million, 1 Year Deal

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

                              Mark Prior

The San Diego Padres announced a $1 million, 1 year deal with free agent  oft-injured former Chicago Cubs starter Mark Prior according to the team’s Wednesday press release.

Prior, who was a second year sensation going 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and striking out 245 batters while walking only 50 while leading the Cubs to the  NL Central Division title in 2003.    

But amidst a string of injuries at least as long as his righthanded pitching arm spanning from mid-season 2003 through the 2007 season, Prior saw abreviated service in 2004, came back in 2005 with a decent season recording an 11-7 mark with a 3.67 ERA and 188 strikeouts in 166 2/3 innings but his ERA mushroomed to 7.21 in 2006 with a 1-6 record.  Prior was out with for the entire 2007 season having had shoulder surgery in April and is only expected to return to the MLB in May, 2008.

Prior received many offers ranging from minor league contracts to lucrative multi-year offers but chose the Padres as Union-Tribune staff writer Bill Center reports;

Not that the Padres exactly outbid other clubs for the 27-year-old right-hander.

Over the past two weeks, 13 other clubs contacted Prior. The offers for what many teams viewed as damaged goods – remember, Prior missed the entire 2007 season – ranged from minor league contracts to multiseason deals.

Houston made a valiant attempt,” said Prior, who also said  St. Louis, the New York Mets and Texas Rangers made lucrative proposals.

But Prior opted to come home for a variety of reasons, including – in no particular order – San Diego (where he lives year-round); the pitcher-friendly dimensions of Petco Park; the Padres training staff; a chance to pitch with former teammate Greg Maddux, Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy and all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman, and the chance to pitch on a team managed by a former pitcher and former pitching coach.

“Bud Black was one of the reasons why San Diego was such a good fit,” said Prior. “Playing for someone who understands what a pitcher goes through . . . that was another aspect that was definitely appealing.”

The acquisition of San Diego hometown boy Prior makes the Padres starting rotation, which is rounded out by young Chris Young, one of the most imposing in the National League on paper.

ESPN’s Buster Olney records Padres’ management’s reactions to Prior’s acquisition and recollects Prior’s 2003 post-season with the Cubs;

“Mark Prior is a competitor and is working hard to regain the form that made him one of the great young pitchers in the game,” general manager Kevin Towers told The Associated Press. “We are confident he is going to help us in our rotation this season. It’s exciting that Mark is coming home to San Diego to pitch for the Padres.”

 ”I think it’s a great day for the Padres and for Mark,” manager Bud Black said. “It strengthens an already strong pitching staff. Whenever he’s able to take the mound, we feel we have an impact guy to step in and help our staff.”

He has been throwing on flat ground, and to date, has been free of pain since his surgery.

 In 2003, Prior nearly pitched the Cubs to their first World Series appearance since 1945. He took a 3-0 lead into the eighth inning against Florida in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series before the Marlins rallied for eight runs and an 8-3 victory at Wrigley Field.

Florida also won Game 7 in Chicago and went on to beat the  New York Yankees in the World Series.

OF So Taguchi, Phillies Sign 1 Year Deal With 2009 Option

Monday, December 24th, 2007

So Taguchi

The Phillies announced Sunday that they moved to consolidate and add flexibility to their outfield as well as to gain a pinch-hitting threat in signing a one year deal with former St. Louis Cardinal So Taguchi. The deal reportedly also includes an option for 2009.  

Not only does utilityman Taguchi bring a career batting average of .283 to the Phillies, AP’s report for Yahoo sports notes that “he led all National League pinch hitters with a .406 (13-32) batting average” and MLB.com’s Ken Mandel reports that right-handed-hitting Taguchi is a .284 hitter in 120 career pinch-hit appearances.

Last season, Taguchi hit .290 getting 89 hits in 307 at bats in 130 games for the Cardinals. 

Mandel further notes that;

Taguchi’s greatest value to manager Charlie Manuel is his ability to play all three outfield positions, and be a longer-term solution in center field should Shane Victorino suffer an injury such as the strained right calf that cost him most of the final two months of 2007.

Taguchi completes a five-man bench that also consists of  Jayson Werth, catcher Chris Coste, Eric Bruntlett and whoever doesn’t start at third between Greg Dobbs and Wes Helms.

The AP report also notes;

As a member of the World Series champion Cardinals in 2006, Taguchi hit .400 (6-15) with two home runs and four RBI in the playoffs. He started in three of the five World Series games.

“Taguchi gives our team more defensive versatility in the outfield,” Assistant General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said in a statement released by the team. “And he has proven over his career that he can get key hits in big situations.”

And so another Japanese ballplayer is acquired pre-emptively by the Phillies so as to not skip a beat should Victorino go down with injury, just as 2nd baseman Tadahito Iguchi was acquired by trade and performed after starting 2nd baseman Chase Utley went down.

‘Wild’ Tommy Byrne; Pivotal in Yanks’ 1955 AL Pennant Passes Away at 87

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

               Tommy Byrnes         Tommy Byrne

Former Yankees lefthanded pitcher Tommy Byrne, known for his slow-working on the mound and walking tons of hitters early in his career and for his anchoring the pennant winning Yankees pitching staff in 1955, passed away at age 87.

Byrne, who after his retirement from major league baseball served two terms as mayor of Wake Forest, died Thursday. According to an AP report for Yahoo sports, Byrne had congestive heart failure and was in declining health the last six weeks.

Byrne pitched in both the 1949 and 1955 World Series winning and completing the 2nd game in 1955 series.  He was awarded a World Series ring in 1950 (although he didn’t pitch in the Series against the Phillies) and was an All Star that season as well, although he didn’t pitch in the game. 

But his slow mound work and walking slews of hitters during hte 1948-1951 season drove Yankees ownership bonkers.  Byrne walked 179 batters in 196 innings 1949 and 160 in 203 1/3 innings in 1950 after walking 101 hitters in 133 1/3 innings in 1948, his first full season with the Yanks.

New York Daily News sports writer Bill Madden reports that Byrne himself admitted;

“I drove (Yankees co-owner) Dan Topping crazy. He hated the way I pitched because my games took too long and he always had a date waiting for him afterward.”

As a result, he ended up being discarded by the Yanks to the then-St. Louis Browns, the Chicago White Sox and the then-Washington Senators during the span of the 1951 through 1954 seasons.

Madden outlines how returned to the Yankees and his critical role in the Yankees’ 1955 Pennant;

At the end of ‘54, the Yankees, at the urging of Casey Stengel, purchased Byrne’s contract from Seattle [in the minors], and the next season he rewarded the manager’s faith in him by leading AL pitchers in winning percentage with a 16-5 record. In the ‘55 World Series, Byrne pitched a 4-2 complete-game victory in Game 2 against the Dodgers, then lost the seventh game, 2-0, to Johnny Podres.

“Tommy had a great curveball and after he came back from the minors, he had a slider,”   Yogi Berra said Friday. “He was a great guy, one of my first roommates, and loved to have fun. He used to yell at the hitters, telling them what pitch was coming and they never believed him. I remember the time he came into the game and was warming up when all of a sudden he hit Mickey Vernon in the on-deck circle with a pitch because he thought Mickey was watching his pitches.”

Byrne was on the 1955 Yankees staff which included Whitey Ford (18-7) and Bob Turley (17-13).

Byrne was pretty handy with the stick as a pitcher.  Baseball Library recounts that when Byrne first came to the big leagues;

Manager Joe McCarthy tried to talk him into converting to first base, Byrne amassed 14 homers and pinch hit 80 times.

Daily News writer Madden recounts Yogi Berra’s comments on Byrne’s hitting;

Berra noted, Stengel often used the lefthanded-hitting Byrne as a pinch-hitter, and in many interviews, Byrne cited May 16, 1953 as one of his most satisfying days in baseball, when with the White Sox, he was called in from the bullpen to pinch-hit against Yankee sidearmer Ewell Blackwell and hit line-drive a grand slam [the 2nd of his career], 20 rows back in Yankee Stadium’s right-field stands.

Byrne retired after the 1957 season, finishing with a career mark 85-69 and a lifetime 4.11 ERA.

OF Geoff Jenkins, Pitcher Chad Durbin Acquired by Phillies

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

              Geoff Jenkins       Chad Durbin

The Phillies announced on Wednesday that they have acquired both former Milwaukee Brewers free agent outfielder Geoff Jenkins and veteran journeyman pitcher Chad Durbin.

With the signing of Jenkins, the Phillies moved to compensate for the loss of centerfielder Aaron Rowand who recently signed a 4 year, $60 million deal with the San Francisco Giants.

Ticker reports on the probable Jenkins contract terms and backgound for Yahoo sports;

According to the report, the contract is believed to be worth $13 million. The deal also includes a third year vesting option on plate appearances that could increase the total package to $20 million.

Jenkins, 33, has spent his entire 10-year career with the Milwaukee Brewers. He became a free agent after this past season when the team declined his $9 million contract option.

After losing center fielder Aaron Rowand in free agency and trading speedy outfielder Michael Bourn to the Houston Astros…, the Phillies have been looking for a lefthanded bat to share time with Jayson Werth in right field.

A career .277 hitter with 212 home runs, Jenkins could be a fit for the Phillies, who play their home games at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.

In 132 games last season, Jenkins batted .255 with 21 homers and 64 RBI.

Associated Press Writer Randy Pennell reports on how the Phillies project Jenkins’ role;

“He can play right or left field and will give Charlie lineup options on an everyday basis,” general manager Pat Gillick said, referring to manager Charlie Manuel.

ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick adds;

By signing Jenkins, the Phillies are now committing to Shane Victorino as their regular center fielder.

Also signed was veteran righthanded pitcher Chad Durbin, who finished 8-7 with a 4.72 ERA in both starter and relief rolls for the Detroit Tigers last season.   He started 19 games, had 17 relief appearances recording his one career save.

AP’s Randy Pennell reports;

In eight major league seasons, Durbin is 25-37 with a 5.75 ERA in 114 games.

With brother J.D. Durbin already on the roster from last season, the team now has a corner, a monopoly on all of the Durbins in MLB.

Phillies Nation’s Tim Malcolm reports that there are already pundits penciling in this Durbin as the Phils’ No. 5 starter.  Heaven help us all!

Tadahito Iguchi, Padres Make 1 Year Deal

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

                 Tadahito Iguchi        Tadahito Iguchi

Remember Tad Iguchi?  Remember the guy acquired in the end of July trade with the Chicago White Sox who hit .304 with three homers and 12 RBI in 45 games with the Phillies, including holding down the 2nd base fort during the month that All Star regular 2nd baseman Chase Utley was down.   

Well, now we can remember that the guy who stepped in so capably to spell Utley and who thus enabled the Phillies’ late season run to overtake the Mets for the NL East title was acquired Tuesday by the San Diego Padres in a 1 year, $4 million deal.  We had him and now we lost him due to a contract snafu in the front office which MLB’s Jim Molony reported in mid-November;

“His contract contains a clause that gives him the right to reject a waiver claim, so even though he has to clear waivers, teams understand he can’t be claimed,” said [Rocky ]Hall [Iguchi’s agent]… “He’s technically on waivers, but… he is a free agent.”

The Phillies approached Iguchi about playing third base, but the player told the Phillies he’d prefer to stay at second.

Iguchi, who signed a two-year, $4.95 million contract before the 2005 season that also included a $3.25 million option for 2007…. also batted .320 as a pinch-hitter with Philadelphia.

In other words, there was a November 15th deadline clause in Iguchi’s contract with the White Sox which the Phils took over upon his acquisition by trade.  The Phillies, it seems, could have acted before November 15th to retain him, but instead waived him enabling his free agency.

Iguchi, as noted in this blog’s earlier post, later expressed through his agent the desire to play 3rd base and that the Phillies were frontrunners to re-sign him.  However, the clause in his previous contract prevented him from signing with the Phillies before May 15 unless they could obtain a waiver from the commissioners office to override the clause.  The waiver was not forthcoming and Iguchi was grabbed up by the Padres.

Therefore, all that we Phillies fans can do is appreciate what Iguchi did for the team last season and hope that we won’t later regret the front office snafu with the division or league pennant hanging in the balance.