Albert Pujols, CC Sabathia and Quick Hits From Around MLB Spring Training
A majority of MLB position players will be at the site of their teams' Spring Training camps by the end of the day Wednesday, and that certainly includes Albert Pujols. The St. Louis Cardinals and Pujols remain far apart on a potential contract extension, meaning a Jamesean (LeBronian?) season of media hoopla lies ahead.
In the meantime, though, there will be real live baseball, with bats and balls and gloves and (hopefully) other things to talk and think about than Albert Pujols' contract. Read on for some fun and fascinating tidbits from around baseball.
1. The Pujols Dilemma
The deadline for St. Louis and its superstar slugger to get together on a deal will come and go today, and no one in the know seems to think a deal will be struck. That means Pujols will be a free agent at season's end, and that, in turn, means that it will become a massive distraction. As though it weren't already.
Hopefully, once Pujols dons the workout gear and finds a batting cage, things can settle down a bit. Seeing the big man back in his element will be a welcome sight, even for a beat-down Cubs fan like me.
2. Five Teams Who Could Be Circling
If Pujols is really headed for open water, these sharks might smell him a mile off:
1. Chicago Cubs: Carlos Pena, Carlos Silva, Kosuke Fukudome, Jeff Samardzija, John Grabow and Aramis Ramirez all could come off their books after this season.
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Three convergent factors could stand in the way: Kendry Morales is already installed at first base; Vernon Wells brought a heavy, bad contract with him to LA this January; and Jered Weaver is steaming toward free agency. Still, missing out on Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre may have been a blessing in disguise.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles: James Loney was a trade candidate early this winter, and he could be again if the team thinks it can afford Pujols. Much depends on the resolution of the McCourt divorce.
4. St. Louis Cardinals: They will not be top bidders, but Pujols may give them a discount... if the gathering tension does not sour relations between the two sides by season's end.
5. New York Mets: New York's entire fiscal future ties into the resolution of the Wilpon family's entanglement with Bernie Madoff. If all goes the way it should, as the family seems far from complicit in the scam, then no potential bidder has deeper pockets.
3. Quote of The Day
The professor warmed the hearts of reporters and cartoon enthusiasts everywhere Tuesday with a quote that will ring around all the contract talks between Pujols and the Cardinals from here on.
Tony La Russa, the only big-league manager Pujols has ever known, accused the union of compelling Pujols to chase more money, and to make clear his point: It was "not just arm-twisting. It's dropping an anvil on your back through the roof of your house."
Michael Weiner, bearing only passing resemblance to Road Runner or Bugs Bunny, denied that the MLBPA had even talked to Pujols' camp. Of course, that is not to say that the team's union representative or some other lesser agent did not get inside Albert's ear, but La Russa will not have much luck proving any of this and it may really snowball on him and the Cardinals if Pujols feels the quote was a media negotiation ploy.
4. Previewing The 2012 First-Base Crop
Every passing hour of Pujols-mania makes the Red Sox look more shrewd for not having yet committed to Adrian Gonzalez beyond 2011. They have a strong incumbent, but if they feel Gonzalez wants more than his market value, they may elect to play out the year with him and go after Pujols themselves next winter.
Assuming that admittedly unlikely scenario, let us look at a truly historic potential first-base bumper crop for the 2011-12 free-agenct pool:
1. Albert Pujols
2. Adrian Gonzalez
3. Prince Fielder
4. Carlos Pena
5. Derrek Lee
5. CC Sabathia Ponders Opt-Out
As beefy as the first-base pool looks for next winter, the pitching package is paper-thin, so it is not hard to see why CC Sabathia believes he can make more than $92 million next winter. Reportedly, he is strongly considering opting out of the final four years of his current deal with New York to seek more money.
After watching Cliff Lee sign for $24 million annually this winter, Sabathia surely believes he, too, can grab at least nine figures of total value on a new contract, whether it be with the Yankees or elsewhere. New York will have to pay to keep him, or face falling far, far behind their competition in the AL East.
Sabathia could make $30 million before Pujols does.
6. The Mets and Dodgers: Linked In Time
Do you remember when the Dodgers played in Brooklyn?
Of course you don't, but you should know that they did play there until some 54 years ago. That the Mets, who essentially replaced the Dodgers as the outer-borough losers in New York, would find themselves in a financial bind stemming from off-field issues is only fitting: The Dodgers faced this same outer-ring circus last season, and it undoubtedly affected them all season.
The Mets might end up trading Jose Reyes just out of fiscal necessity.
In case you were curious, here is an All-Star team of guys who played for both the Mets and Dodgers. Some real world-beaters here. This list is not exhaustive, but here it is:
C- Mike Piazza (Honorable Mention to Rod Barajas for playing for both last season)
1B- Gil Hodges
2B- Willie Randolph
3B- Robin Ventura
SS- Alex Cora
LF- Gary Sheffield
CF- Duke Snider
RF- Shawn Green
SP1- Pedro Martinez
SP2- Orel Hershiser
SP3- Sid Fernandez
SP4- Bob Ojeda
Bench: Jeromy Burnitz (who also played for both in one year), Todd Hundley, Bobby Bonilla, Paul Lo Duca (this team is catcher-rich), Jose Valentin
7. The Cubs' Rotation Is CROWDED
For a team with eighty percent of its starting rotation very much set, the Cubs have a lot of sorting out to do before Opening Day. Here's the situation:
- Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Carlos Zambrano and Randy Wells are all locked into their rotation slots.
- Carlos Silva, Jeff Samardzija, Todd Wellemeyer and Braden Looper all could be out of the organization altogether if they do not find their way into the rotation, although one or two bullpen spots will be open.
- James Russell and Andrew Cashner have been stretched out as potential starters, but were key relievers last season and will likely be back there in 2011.
- The X-factors are Robert Coello, whom the team acquired Tuesday from Boston, and Jay Jackson, a long-touted starter who went 11-8 at Triple-A in 2010.
8. Never Ever Make a Deal With Theo Epstein
The Red Sox are scary.
Forget, for a moment, that they have coaxed Jason Varitek, Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro and Bobby Jenks into accepting less money and less playing time than they might have had elsewhere to play for the Sox in 2010 and 2011. Forget, too, that the team's farm system seems generally unfazed by the loss of those whom they traded to acquire super-slugger Adrian Gonzalez. This story is better.
According to a pair of reports, the Red Sox (having just missed out on left-handed specialist and side-arm hurler Brian Fuentes) approached fringe reliever Rich Hill early this winter to suggest he ramp up the experiment he had been performing with a side-arm delivery of his own.
Hill had already resisted efforts by now-departed pitching coach John Farrell to make him a lefty relief specialist, so the team framed it this way: Drop down, get your (tepid) fastball inside to right-handed hitters more, and you can be a full-service reliever.
It occurs to me—although not to Hill, it seems—that dropping down also pushes those fastballs off the middle of the plate away from left-handed hitters. Hill used to rely on a very platoon-friendly twelve-to-six curve, which has now transformed into a side-arm Frisbee pitch. Rather transparently, the Red Sox have convinced Rich Hill that the very mechanism that will make him a one-out guy only was, in fact, his idea.No word as yet on whether Hill will also pay the team for the privilege of painting the Green Monster.
9. The 10 Worst Proposed Deals For Michael Young So Far
Jon Daniels: Hey, [GM X], I've got an idea: I'll give you a 34-year-old owed $48 million through 2013, who no longer has a viable defensive position but does not hit enough to be a DH, and I'll throw in some cash, too. All I want in return is a big-league player who is probably (or certainly) better than mine and a prospect. You know, to even things out.
GM X: Sure, Jon. But listen, could you also keep open a lower-level consultation job? I just feel I might need it soon.
Michael Young is not a good player. He used to be. But that was long ago. Whoever eventually trades for him--and my gut says someone will, at least by July 31--will immediately regret the decision. Here are ten whispered trade proposals that are too dumb to believe... and thank goodness.
1. Young for Minnesota Twins ace Francisco Liriano.
2. Young for Jake Peavy and Dayan Viciedo of the White Sox (both sides lose that one).
3. Young for Marlon Byrd or Alfonso Soriano.
4. Young to the Yankees in any scenario. Not sure where that one started. Probably Jon Heyman.
5. Young to Colorado for Dexter Fowler.
6. Young for Chris Coghlan or a comparably superior member of the Florida Marlins.
7. Young to the Angels—what does Texas get out of that? They give away a semi-useful player to their division rival for ostensibly nothing.
8. Young to Oakland—because as we all know, the A's are just itching to spend some of their extra dough.
9. Young to the Cardinals—Is Albert Pujols going to get involved in this deal? Maybe Tony La Russa can drop an anvil on somebody.
10. Young to Arizona—this one almost makes sense. If the D'Backs were a little less poor, or could afford to give up a bit more, maybe.
10. Position Battles and Money
Position battles are always a fun thing on which to keep an eye during spring training, and some have real drama to them. Most of the time, though, if you wonder who will start at a given position for your favorite team come Opening Day, there is a more prudent way than streaming Cactus League games online or obsessively poring over stats.
Instead, ask yourself: Who's making more money?
Here are five position battles that really aren't battles, because the money involved tells the intelligent viewer who will win.
1. Marco Scutaro vs. Jed Lowrie: Scutaro will literally make ten times Lowrie's salary in 2011. He'll start the season at shortstop.
2. Carlos Silva vs. Andrew Cashner and Co.: Silva will make $7,25 million from the Cubs this year, or roughly double the combined salaries of his competitors for the job. The Cubs will not waste that much money on a long reliever incapable of appearing more than twice a week. Silva will get hurt fast, but until then, he will be a starter for this team.
3. Ryan Doumit vs. Garrett Jones: These two are battling for the right-field job in Pittsburgh, even though really, it's half a job: Matt Diaz will platoon with the winner. Most people think Jones will win this one, but the Pirates will want to showcase Doumit for a possible trade so he will get every chance to play in the early going.
4. Xavier Nady vs. Gerardo Parra: Nady will get the bulk of the playing time in left field for the Diamondbacks, though Parra is much younger, more athletic and demonstrably more worthy of developing at this stage.
Nady is a new acquisition, though, and therefore a good faith gesture to a frustrated fan base. His $1.75 million for 2011 weighs heavier because of that dual purpose, especially because Parra makes the league minimum and played for the disappointing teams of 2009 and 2010.
5. Fernando Rodney vs. Kevin Jepsen: Should Francisco Rodney be used as the best relief pitcher the Angels have in 2011? Of course not. Kevin Jepsen is a much better all-around pitcher. But Jepsen is still a league-minimum guy, while Rodney will make nearly $6 million this season. You do the math.