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Boston Red Sox Vow to Lock Up Adrian Gonzalez, but How Much Will It Take?

Spring is in the air, meaning baseball is on the horizon: the best sport there is and will ever be. Players are reporting to camp and rosters are all but set. Many teams have improved this offseason, including bottom-dwellers such as the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Boston Red Sox managed to have the best offseason of them all, signing speedy Carl Crawford out of the blue, bolstering their bullpen, and trading for Adrian Gonzalez, the power-hitting first baseman they have long coveted.

Gonzalez, whom they acquired for some of their best prospects, should destroy opposing pitching this upcoming season, especially at hitter-friendly Fenway Park. Barring injury, clubbing 40-plus homers and plating 100-plus runs is to be expected.

Still up in the air is whether he, who has a contract that expires following the season, will be signed long-term.

The 28-year-old is recovering from shoulder surgery he underwent in October. He was cleared to swing when team trainers determined he had “full range of motion, no tenderness and excellent strength”, according to NESN.

He isn’t expected to play in a spring training game until late March, but his health doesn’t seem to be of great concern.

What is really newsworthy surrounding him is his aforementioned contract situation.

There is nothing but good news on that front. He won’t take the disastrous approach Albert Pujols took with the St. Louis Cardinals, as he is confident an extension will be signed without setting a deadline.

He is three years younger than Pujols, who declined a contract offer from St. Louis believed to be worth $180-200 million over eight or nine years. Pujols is believed to want Alex Rodriguez money, meaning $275 million or more over 10 years.

What does this ridiculousness mean for Gonzalez? His asking price will be high, but Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said the team won’t let Gonzalez reach free agency.

We’re not going to let him get away,” he said on WEEI’s The Dennis and Callahan Show. “We’re going to get him signed for sure.”

Even after signing Crawford for $142 million Boston has the money to do what Lucchino says they will.

Signing a player to such a long-term deal is always risky, but Gonzalez has everything quality a team could ask for in a power-hitter. He hits the majority of his homers to the opposite field, hits switch, gets on base 40 percent of the time, bats in the .280-.300 range, and plays a Gold Glove caliber first base.

Even still, money in baseball is worrisome. Among those concerned is Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams. He lashed out at the possibility of a team paying Pujols $30 million annually.

”For the game’s health as a whole, when we’re talking about $30 million players, I think it’s asinine,” Williams said, as reported by ESPN Chicago. “We have gotten to the point of no return. Something has to happen. And if it means the game being shut down for the sake of bringing sanity to it, to franchises that aren’t going to stop the insanity, I’m all for it.”

For perspective, the payrolls of the Pirates and San Diego Padres were $35 and $38 million last season.

Williams is right in saying baseball’s at “the point of no return.” I’m glad someone—especially a person with as much power over his club as Williams—brings attention to the ludicrous demands of players.

Here’s what it has come to: either poor teams have had to trade their franchise players, knowing they wouldn’t stand a chance in a bidding war during free agency, or they sign them to long-term lucrative contracts, thereby handcuffing their chances to sufficiently build around them.

And then there’s the case of Pujols, who says he wants to remain with St. Louis but is greedy beyond belief—balking at a $200 million deal because it’s not enough.

Gonzalez won’t make baseball—a game—more of a business than it already is, and soon enough he will receive what he’s evidently worth to stay with his ideal team.

Nonetheless, a significant dent will be made in Boston’s wallet, which is sadly inevitable in this day and age.


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Andy Pettitte: Is the Yankees Pitcher a Hall of Famer? No

Andy Pettitte, who announced his retirement from baseball on Friday, pitched 15 seasons in the major leagues for the New York Yankees and Houston Astros. With New York, in stints spread from 1995 to 2003 and 2007 to 2010, he won five World Series championships.

He has 19 postseason wins, most all-time. He finished with 240 regular season wins, averaging 32 stars per season. But despite his rings, clutch postseason play and overall durability, he didn’t win a Cy Young award, was an All-Star only three times and, most importantly, admitted to steroid use.

In 2007, Pettitte admitted to using Human Growth Hormone to recover from an elbow injury in 2002, during the heart of his prime. His admission, albeit five years after the fact, is to be applauded, considering Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds continue to deny usage when there is solid evidence against.

But how long did Pettitte really take steroids? We may never know, but going from what is known, it is difficult to put him in the Hall of Fame.

His postseason play, rings and steroid usage aside, Pettitte’s numbers warrant a good look from the voters but he is by no means a shoo-in statistically. His 240 wins are nice, but he posted an ERA over four eight times and has a career-mark of 3.88.

Still, he was always a pitcher who could be counted on. When he was on the hill in a big game, no matter if it took place deep into October or in the heart of summer, he tended to deliver. The 6’5″ lefthander, who covered his face with his glove as he looked in for the sign and who started his windup with a deceptive leg-kick, was good.

But great? No.

The era in which he pitched is tainted. The only clean players worthy of being named to the Hall of Fame over the past 20 years are Chipper Jones, Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr., Vladimir Guerrero and, I would argue, Curt Schilling.

That’s a solid list, but it could be a lot longer. Everyone else who would be enshrined based on statistical achievements have either admitted to steroid use or are under suspicion and deny resolving to the syringe.

There is so much surrounding Roger Clemens currently regarding his alleged steroid use that Pettitte’s can’t be overlooked. Just because he admitted using HGH doesn’t mean he should be forgiven.

He looked for an unfair advantage. He didn’t play the game the right way. He says he only took it for two days.

If this is the truth, that’s sad. But, even still, it attaches an asterisk next to accolades not good enough to get him in on their own merit.

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New York Yankees Are Treating 2011 Like 2003: Team Forced to Be Thrifty

In 2003, Mark Prior won 18 games with the Chicago Cubs.

That same year, Freddy Garcia won 12 games for the Seattle Mariners, while Bartolo Colon won 15 for the Chicago White Sox.

Andruw Jones was also in his prime, smacking 36 homers and driving in 116 runs for the Atlanta Braves.

Eight years later, these four players are New York Yankees.

Jones, on his fourth team in four years, has seen his batting average and playing time sharply decrease after a successful career with the Braves. Prior, who hasn’t appeared in the major leagues since 2006, is trying to work his way back from multiple arm injuries.

Colon, who didn’t pitch in the majors in 2010, and Garcia, who made 28 starts for the White Sox after throwing 129 innings over the previous three seasons, are on their last legs.

All four are trying to extend their careers on a winner, but while they may have something left to give, I can’t help but find their signings humorous.

Out of this group, I especially want Prior and Jones to succeed. Given where his baseball journey has taken him, Prior making 30-plus starts and winning 18-plus games would make me happy. Jones hitting 30-plus homers as an everyday player would also bring a smile to my face. But the likelihood of this happening isn’t great. Yet New York may have to rely heavily on them, along with Colon and Garcia.

Jones fills a hole left by Marcus Thames, but signing these three pitchers is a hint that the Yankees believe Andy Pettitte is retiring. The durable left-hander is well behind his usual schedule, so if he was to return, it would most likely be midseason. Without him, they have CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett. This means the back end of their rotation is wide-open.

Prior may return to his old form. Colon may, too. And Garcia might build upon his respectable 2010. But they can’t be counted on. Prior is young in major league experience, but who knows how he will respond coming off a flurry of injuries? Garcia and Colon are veterans of 13 and 11 years respectively.

So what can the Yankees expect, especially considering the American League is powered by offense and Yankees Stadium is hitter-friendly? In 2009, over-the-hill veterans John Smoltz, Paul Byrd and Brad Penny made a substantial number of appearances for the Boston Red Sox. They didn’t pan out, and their signings mirror New York’s.

The reason the Yankees looked in the direction of Prior, Colon and Garcia is because they missed out on their main targets this offseason. Cliff Lee spurned them, they missed Jorge De La Rosa and Jake Westbrook and they didn’t upgrade their offense significantly, with the likes of Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford going elsewhere.

For once, a big splash wasn’t made, though reliever Rafael Soriano should be tremendous setting up closer Mariano Rivera.

Waiting for Pettitte has hurt them. They had hoped he would sign on to return a couple of months ago. Then they could have given the fifth spot of the rotation to either Ivan Nova or Sergio Mitre and turned their attention away from starting pitching. Yet he’s remained at home thinking it over.

Knowing this, New York had to go on under the impression he would remain with his family in Houston altogether, declining their invitation for one more go-around. The crop of pitchers starting pitchers wasn’t deep in the first place, so by this time the pickings on the free-agent market had slimmed greatly. There wasn’t much left on the market besides Prior, Colon and Garcia.

The signings of these three pitchers and Jones are humorous because for once New York has to settle. They have one of the highest payrolls in the game, and despite handing out lucrative contracts every offseason, they always seem to have enough left over to keep doling out more and more cash. Therefore they are unaccustomed to signing this many players to minor league contracts.

Still, what has remained the same this offseason is the age. New York continues to get older. That can’t sit well with their fan base, the thousands upon thousands of demanding New Yorkers who didn’t expect this offseason to be built around signings that would have been extraordinary in 2003.

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Boston Red Sox: If Stars Can Bounce Back, Team Should be Lethal in 2011

On paper, the Boston Red Sox have the best and most complete team in the American League. To back up such a declaration, however, many of their prime talents must bounce back from a slew of injuries.

Last season, the team was held back as baseball’s version of the Portland Trail Blazers, a power built to seriously contend yet decimated by broken bones, surgeries and sickness.

Speedy outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury broke four ribs, sidelining him for most of the season. Former league MVP Dustin Pedroia underwent foot surgery, shortening his season. First baseman and now current third baseman Kevin Youkilis missed his fair share of games with a thumb injury that ultimately required surgery.

Utility infielder Jed Lowrie suffered from mononucleosis. Catcher and captain Jason Varitek broke his foot. Shortstop Marco Scutaro hurt his neck and right shoulder.

Two players they brought in this offseason, slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and offensive-minded catcher Jared Saltalamacchia, also dealt with injuries in 2010. Gonzalez’s shoulder was in such bad shape it needed surgery, while Saltalamacchia needed his thumb stitched up.

All eight are expected to be ready for spring training. Lowrie has recovered and could compete for the starting shortstop job, but question marks surround the other seven. They are all certainly gifted, but the injuries sustained could linger. Rotating, diving, and stealing bases could be troublesome for Ellsbury, whose ribs were battered so badly colliding with Adrian Beltre that he missed 144 games.

Throwing and gripping the bat could force grimaces out of Youkilis, while Gonzalez could sport the same expressions following through at the plate. Similarly, Varitek and Saltalamacchia may have difficulty pushing off their repaired feet in attempts to cut down potential base-stealers.

Putting this pessimistic outlook aside, if these eight return to full health by season’s start, look out. Boston would have everything necessary to compete: speed, power, a solid bench, the right mix of veterans and youth, a talented rotation and a bullpen stocked with relievers who have experience pitching in big games.

Their offense has the potential to be particularly frightening. Boston could construct its lineup in many ways. No matter how they do so they will feature the speed of Carl Crawford and Ellsbury, the brilliant all-around hitting of Pedroia, and the pop of Gonzalez, Youkilis, David Ortiz, and J.D. Drew.

Pedroia could hit fifth, with Ellsbury and Crawford being the table-setters. Or Pedroia could lead off with Ellsbury hitting ninth. The possibilities are endless—as long as Crawford doesn’t end up leading off, something he admittedly hates.

Their starting rotation is perhaps their biggest question mark. Still, many teams would undoubtedly love to have their staff. It is headlined by young arms Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, a duo that combined to win 36 games last season. What the other three pitchers have to offer is a bit hazy. Jon Lackey was up and down. Daisuke Matsuzaka was as well, while former Cy Young award winner Josh Beckett was awful and oft-injured.

Pitching wins championships, as the saying goes. This saying has rung true over the years, exemplified in the San Francisco Giants winning of the World Series this past season. Boston would definitely love to see their starting five excel, with the latter three finding their grooves after disappointing campaigns.

Yet, with so many offensive weapons at the Red Sox’s disposal, it can be presumed, perhaps dangerously, that not much pitching will be needed if the bats are at full strength.

“Once we can get all those guys out there at the same time…that will be a pleasant sight,” General Manager Theo Epstein said to Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald. Remaining out there together for the duration of the season could mean big things in 2011 for the Red Sox.

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Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon Together Again, This Time with Tampa Bay Rays

I knew the Tampa Bay Rays were interested in both Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, but I was stunned upon learning that the team signed the duo for a combined $7.25 million. Ramirez, 38, played with Damon, 37, on the Boston Red Sox from 2002 to 2005. Now the stars meet up again on another American League East power.

These one-year contracts may be the last deals these two sign, so they can’t be expected to produce as they did in their prime, but the Rays certainly need their presence. This offseason has been a tough one for Tampa Bay.

The team won the American League East in 2010, winning 96 games before falling to the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series, but that success could not keep them from losing star outfielder Carl Crawford and closer Rafael Soriano through free agency to division rivals Boston and New York, while watching slugger Carlos Pena sign with the Chicago Cubs.

They also traded one of their top starting pitchers, Matt Garza, to the Cubs, receiving prospects in return.

Losing four key players who brought different skill sets to the table hurts. Those three “sprinted out of Tropicana Field for the nearest ATM,” as bitter St. Petersburg Times columnist John Romano put it, but they have found short-term solutions for both Crawford and Pena.

There’s no mistaking that, despite their old age, Damon and Ramirez can still rake. Their signings at least give Tampa Bay some confidence that they can compete with the Red Sox and New York Yankees.

Damon, a borderline Hall of Famer who has 2,571 hits to his name and a career .287 batting average, was very productive for the Detroit Tigers last season, hitting eight homers, driving in 51 and mashing 36 doubles while hitting a respectable .271. A slap-hitter from the left side with power to all fields, he should hit his fair share of gap-doubles and line-drive home runs in hitter-friendly Tropicana Field.

Ramirez, who battled injuries but hit .298 and posted a .409 on-base percentage with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox in 2010, should do the same. Given his usage of steroids in the early portion of this past decade writers may be hesitant to vote him into the Hall of Fame, but going solely by the numbers he has put up over the past 17 years he would without question be a first-ballot nomination.

Whether these two will be in Cooperstown is up in the air. For now, they are focused on putting the finishing touches to remarkable careers, to prove to the skeptics that they do have something left in the tank. And the Rays will need them to produce as they are still capable if they want to contend in the division.

Apparently, they were a package deal. Tampa Bay wouldn’t have signed Damon without Ramirez tagging along for the ride, and vice-versa.

Reacting to the deal in a text message sent to the St. Petersburg Times, Damon was excited to be joining another winner: “I am very excited to join an organization that has a very good chance to keep winning. And I love the opportunity to win in my home state, the team I will root for when my playing days are over. My family and I have been hoping for this for a while.”

Reaction was similarly positive throughout the baseball world.

Steve Slowinski of DRaysBay writes: “I’m still in shock. This feels like something out of a dream. This is probably the Rays’ biggest splash on the free agent market, and they managed to pull in two above-average players for less than Derrek Lee is making with the Orioles. This is the definition of a coup.”

Jonah Keri of FanGraphs chimes in: “They’ll win more games than they would have before these two moves. And even in perhaps the most fickle market in all of Major League Baseball, they may well draw more fans with Sideshow Manny in town, even after stripping out the effects of a higher win total. The Rays might still be a third-place team in 2011. But they’ll have plenty to YIPYIPYIP about.”

And finally, given both played for Boston, Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald can’t help but mention when they return: “Mark your calendars: The Rays visit Fenway on April 11-13, Aug. 16-17 and Sept. 15-18.” Tampa Bay certainly hopes the latter series will carry more meaning than just that.

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Andruw Jones: New York Yankees Looking to Revitalize His Career

Pitchers and catchers report in 23 days and, to be expected, the pickings on the free-agent market are slim. The biggest news in the past few weeks has been reliever Rafael Soriano signing with the New York Yankees.

The 31-year-old who previously closed for the Tampa Bay Rays was given $35 million over three years to be Mariano Rivera’s set-up man—money the Yankees always seem to have at their disposal no matter how much they spend.

New York remained busy, adding outfielder Andruw Jones on a one-year pact worth $2 million. He will fill the role left by Marcus Thames, who recently signed a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers after providing some pop with the Yankees last season as their fourth outfielder.

The last few years of Jones’ career have not gone the way he would have liked. He was one of the two Jones Boys on the Atlanta Braves from 1996-2007—teaming up with Chipper—but his final year with the organization was the start of his downturn.

Coming off a 2006 season in which he clubbed 41 homers, drove in 129 and batted his usual .262, he hit 15 fewer homers, drove in 35 fewer RBI and batted 40 points lower while appearing in only two fewer games. That sudden decline in production made him a platoon player in suitors’ eyes.

He was just that for the next three seasons. And not a very good one, either.

Over those seasons spent with the Dodgers, Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox, Jones hit rock-bottom. With Los Angeles he hit .158 in 72 games. With Texas he batted .214. And with the White Sox he mustered a .230 average.

There was a silver lining in Chicago, though, which helped land him the contract with New York: He hit 19 homers. The Yankees have always looked to add power, and given Yankee Stadium’s hitter-friendly dimensions, there is a chance he can expand upon that total, albeit in a limited role.

He is a low-risk, high-reward signing. If he performs well, good for the Yankees. If he doesn’t, they have the money to find someone else to fill his role. As a fan of Jones, I want him to do well.

He does have 407 homers in his career—51 coming in 2005—and is closing in on 2,000 hits. These statistics complement his five All-Star selections and 10 Gold Gloves. What he did during his prime makes his downfall painful to digest. Chipper was my favorite, but Andruw made the Braves especially enjoyable to watch as a kid.

Five years ago, it appeared Jones would be a serious candidate for the Hall of Fame once he hung up his spikes, despite hitting in the .260s over the course of his prime. But, in hitting a measly .212 over the next four seasons, any chance of being enshrined washed away.

Now, suiting up in pinstripes, he won’t be the player he was long ago, and he probably will not hit .280 as Thames did. But he will bring an excellent glove, an ability to play all three outfield positions and power from the right side of the plate.

His agent, the infamous Scott Boras, has touted him as an everyday player. But I’m sure Jones is just looking to improve the disappointing numbers put up over the past three seasons and help the Yankees contend with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.

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Cubs Busy, But Will Have Tough Time Contending In Stacked NL Central

The Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908, a painful 102 years ago.

Their fans have thought “this will be the year” year after year and their front office has been aggressive enough through free agency and trades in recent offseasons to keep expectations high.

But while they have failed to measure up to those expectations, a division that was once between them and the St. Louis Cardinals is now a four-horse race.

Cincinnati emerged this past season as a contender, winning 91 games to take the division over St. Louis by a comfortable spread. They will continue to give opponents fits this upcoming season, as will the Milwaukee Brewers, who made an aggressive trade for ace Zack Greinke, to show how serious they are about 2011.

The Cardinals, with their pitching staff, won’t be chopped liver either and the middle of their lineup is as dangerous as any in baseball.

Where do the Cubs stand? They are coming off a fifth-place finish behind the aforementioned three and the Houston Astros, which have since regressed.

Seventy-five wins were all they mustered. One would think this would propel Hendry to go after the prime free agents, of which there were many.

This was not so, surprisingly enough.

They needed a bat, but they did not target the likes of Adam Dunn, Victor Martinez, Jayson Werth or Adrian Beltre. Instead, they focused on the free-agents a few levels down, ultimately signing slugger Carlos Pena.

Pena, 32, was signed to a one-year deal worth $10.2 million early this offseason. Surely, a solid line at the plate would warrant such an annual salary, right? Hitting .196, no matter that he smacked 24 homers and drove in 84, does not qualify; well below the Mendoza-Line, a putrid average that illustrates his inability to make contact, let alone take advantage of heavy shifts to the right side.

It’s a tremendous amount of money for him, but despite his awful 2010, the signing is a smart one. He walks, strikes out and hits homers—that’s him in a nutshell.

Given this, if he can hit .250, I’m sure the Cubs would be thrilled. First, that average would mean he reaching base at a solid clip, since his walk-rate has been consistently solid; his on-base percentage was .325 last season, which would equate to .414 if he manages the aforementioned batting average.

Second, the increase in average would mean an increase in home runs, of which he hit 116 from 2007-2009.

Hoping he snaps out of his funk and reverses his career trend, Chicago moved onto equally important business. Hendry’s team needed a reliever and they looked no further than Kerry Wood.

As when Ken Griffey Jr. reunited with the Seattle Mariners, Wood’s return to Chicago has a sentimental factor. He was a promising fireballer in the late 1990′s and early 2000′s, and infamously struck out 20 Astros in 1998—a rookie season, during which he whiffed an astonishing 233 batters in only 166 2/3 innings—before suffering a string of elbow injuries that ultimately plagued his career.

Wood, remarkably still only 33, hasn’t made a start since 2006 but has made something of his career nonetheless, saving 62 games since then. Thirty-four of those came in 2008, his final season with Chicago, and knowing his velocity still sits in the mid-90′s, the team intelligently thought a second stint would energize the team.

Matched up with closer Carlos Marmol, the young strike-throwing machine Wood once was, the Cubs have a formidable if not potentially dangerous back end of their bullpen.

But do the Cubs have enough starting pitching to get these two leads to work with? That is up for debate, even with the acquisition of 27-year-old 15-game winner Matt Garza from the Tampa Bay Rays.

Ryan Dempster is steady; Carlos Silva can eat innings if healthy; Randy Wells is fairly durable; but who knows which Carlos Zambrano will show up.

They need the quiet, business-like one who finished last season strong, not the crazy clubhouse cancer who has periodically tried to earn a one-way ticket out of the The North Side. Garza also has let a temper get the best of him, but he they can keep their emotions in check and pitch as they are capable of, Chicago’s pitching staff can match up well against the Reds, Cardinals and Brewers.

They have plenty of competition in their division, let alone the rest of the National League, but with good mixture of youth and veterans in their lineup, a solid bullpen, and a rotation with high upside, Chicago may have reason to dream big yet again.

One of these years has to be their year, right?

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MLB: Some Teams Are Cautious With Young Arms, But Why?

Perusing the internet as I do, I came across the latest piece by Sports Illustrated‘s Tom Verducci, which was a very interesting read.

The best-selling author discussed young pitchers in the major leagues and claimed many have been overworked by their teams.

The game of baseball has changed drastically since the early 1900′s. Instant replay is part of the game, albeit minimally, steroids have been injected and the average salary is over a million dollars.

But pitchers haven’t changed. Way back when, if starters didn’t throw 200-plus innings they must have missed time due to injury. Rotations have expanded since the days two pitchers pitched a majority of the games, as five now make up every staff, but there are still 200 innings out there for young pitchers especially to throw.

Verducci notes that “Last year … 29-and-younger pitchers made 3,497 starts, the second most in the 13 seasons with 30 teams and a 21 percent increase from 1999.”

There is nothing wrong with this. Pitchers are paid to pitch, pitch effectively, and pitch deep into ballgames. Yet, only eight pitchers 25 or younger threw over 200 innings, while only 31 made 25 or more starts. So, despite the vast increase in the amount of starts made by pitchers considered young by baseball’s standards, overprotection is a big part of the game.

Despite giving many examples of young pitchers who increased their workload from the previous season and succeeded, Verducci “developed a rule of thumb that pitchers 25 and younger should not increase their workload by more than 30 innings.”

Why not? Building upon the previous season is called progress. Pitching more means they can handle more—that they are ready for an increased role. There were finesse pitchers and power pitchers in the early to mid-20th century, just as is the case now.

Pitchers are throwing the same speeds they did back then, twirling the same curveballs and baffling opposing hitters with the same changeups.

A pitcher’s goal every time he takes the mound should be to finish what he started. If it isn’t, why pitch? The emergence of the bullpen in the last 30 years has shortened the game drastically to the point that some pitchers may go into an outing thinking six or seven innings would be sufficient.

Nine would be better though, and even a solid bullpen shouldn’t keep this from happening at a prolific rate.

Young pitchers want to show what they are made of. They all want to be aces. They all want to make the Hall of Fame. How can they do that if they are held back?

The way they are treated by team’s is the same reason why some MLB-ready prospects are kept on the farm to control their future salaries and keep them under team control longer.

MLB Trade Rumors’ Ben Nicholson Smith wrote about this in April of 2010:

“If teams wait until late April to call on a player without major league service time, they can save considerably. Players who make their big league debuts after April 19th (that’s Monday) this year won’t spend enough time on a major league roster to earn a full year’s service time, so their free agency will be pushed back a year.”

Some teams abide by this, and some don’t. Top prospects excelling in the minors have been called up prior to April 19th before, with Atlanta’s slugging outfielder Jayson Heyward being a prime example.

Those teams chose not to wait, just like some teams let their young pitchers pitch without any restrictions. Split between the minor leagues and San Francisco Giants, 21 year old Madison Bumgarner increased his inning total by 73 this past season.

Verducci noted ten other pitchers 25 and younger who had increases of 38 innings or more.

Just as there is the hope that prospects will be promoted based on their readiness, I hope more teams let their young arms loose. After all, it was the norm in the 1920s.

There’s no reason it shouldn’t be again, no matter how much the game has transformed since then.

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MLB Hall of Fame: Analyzing the Inductees and Those Who Fell Short of Hall Call


Members of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America vote on who is inducted into the Hall of Fame. This year, pitcher Bert Blyleven and shortstop Roberto Alomar had their name called and are now enshrined in Cooperstown. Others deserving of being chosen were not, and most of those were snubbed primarily due to the suspicion surrounding their potential use of steroids.

Blyleven won 287 games from 1970-1992, posting a 3.31 ERA while throwing an astronomical 4,970 innings and compiling an astounding 3,701 strikeouts, a total that ranks him fifth all-time. He also threw 242 complete games and 60 shutouts, the latter amount ranking ninth in history.

He only made two All-Star teams and never won a Cy Young, but he was a dominant and durable pitcher. Among the pitches that made up his repertoire, his curveball gained the most notoriety, confusing hitters throughout his illustrious and long stay in the major leagues.

It was his bread and butter, used nearly as frequently as Tim Wakefield used his knuckleball. Playing for six teams, Blyleven is the owner of two World Series rings, as the 1977 Pittsburgh Pirates and 1987 Minnesota Twins stood atop the baseball world.

His first year on the Hall of Fame ballot was way back in 1998. That year he received a measly 17 percent of the vote. The following year he saw it drop to 14 percent. No player who has debuted on the ballot since 1970 had ever recovered from such a putrid percentage to garner the 75 percent necessary for election.

This being his next-to-last year of eligibility, he was relieved to finally hear his name called: “It’s been 14 years of praying and waiting. And thank the baseball writers of America for, I’m going to say, finally getting it right.”

Whereas Blyleven needed more than a decade to be enshrined, Alomar needed just three years. He narrowly missed in 2009 and 2010, receiving 73 percent of the vote both times. But he was named this year in convincing fashion, acquiring a whopping 90 percent of the vote. The shortstop was amazing throughout his 17-year career. He collected 10 gold gloves, appeared in 12 All-Star games, hit an even .300, and compiled over 2,700 hits, including 504 doubles, while swiping 474 bags. His election was a no-brainer. Gifted both in the field and at the plate, Alomar was a magician as one of the baseball’s most all-around players.

Many others were on the ballot, and many of those happened to play in the Steroid Era. The time of the syringe continues to hang a cloud over the players, especially hitters, who are either known to have used steroids or are simply suspected of usage. Rafael Palmeiro used steroids; there is proof of that. He continues to deny it, but his continued denial hurt him on the ballot, as his paltry percentage dropped.

The chances of others, like Fred McGriff and Jeff Bagwell, are hurt solely because writers are under the dangerous assumption that since many were using performance-enhancing drugs throughout the 1990′s everyone was.

Even without suspicion attached, McGriff, who nicknamed the “Crime Dog” during his playing career, is a borderline candidate. But receiving only 17 percent of the vote after hitting 493 homers, collecting 2,490 hits and batting .284 with a .377 on-base percentage in 19 years is unacceptable. Never has the Crime Dog been linked to steroids. But he is punished because he hit for power and played during a tainted era. Considering his vote total dropped from 114 to 106, writers are increasingly suspicious despite no evidence to back it up.

Bagwell has numbers worthy of being selected on his first-ballot. For someone with lesser statistics, like McGriff, acquiring 41 percent of the vote would be a good starting point. But this percentage associated with Bagwell is hard to fathom. Bagwell had 44 less homers than McGriff, but amassed his run and double totals while nearly surpassing his hit and RBI marks despite playing four fewer seasons. Bagwell spent his entire career with Houston and was a feared power-hitter throughout. Yet, power is ultimately linked with steroids, and, as in McGriff’s case, without a shred of evidence against him.

ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick writes in relation to the unquestionable bias against him:

“Bagwell never failed a drug test, wagged his finger before Congress or popped up in one of Jose Canseco’s books. But he made himself into a slugger after hitting six homers in the minor leagues, and he’s credited obsessive weightlifting for his bulked-up physique. That’s all it takes these days to make someone a target of suspicion—or, if you prefer, character assassination.”

Barry Larkin, who received a respectable 62 percent of the vote, may get in next year. So may Jack Morris, who won 254 games but is being held back because of a 3.90 ERA spanning 18 seasons and 3,824 innings. Both Larkin and Morris are certainly deserving. Palmeiro and Mark McGwire aren’t. They did steroids, with the former denying so while the latter admitted his guilt. But, sadly, writers fail to separate fact from speculation. As a result, Bagwell and McGriff continue to wait.

Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones played during the Steroid Era, hit a bunch of homers, and have Hall of Fame worthy statistics. Does the inexplicable logic of the voting body mean they will be on the outside looking in when they are up for consideration? Fact and speculation must be separated. Clean statistics need to be recognized. If they aren’t, a rule needs to be instituted that, unless there is definitive evidence of steroid use or an admission of guilt, writers have to base their vote solely on the numbers and awards accumulated.

(Photo: AP/Jim Mone, File, through Daylife)

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Desire To be in Colorado Outweighs Pocketbook for Gonzalez and Tulowitzki

Carlos Gonzalez, one of the best hitters in the game, is reportedly close to signing a $80 million deal with the Colorado Rockies.

It is interesting how many players in their early 30′s are receiving long-term contracts. Relievers in their mid-30′s are getting two year deals, and in some cases three.

Thirty-one-year-old outfielder Jayson Werth signed a seven-year deal worth $126 million with the Nationals, shocking the baseball world.

Thirty-two-year-old Cliff Lee was looking for a seven-year deal this offseason before choosing to sign a five-year pact with the Philadephia Phillies.

Adrian Beltre, who 31 and 32 in early April, is about to sign a contract with the Texas Rangers worth $96 million over six years.

Players thought to be nearing the edge of their prime are being signed as if they are 25, the age of baby-faced Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez.

Gonzalez’s teammate Troy Tulowitzki, 26, inked a seven-year contract worth $134 million earlier this offseason, keeping him under team control through the 2020 season. Tulowitzki is one of the best shortstops in baseball and hit .315 with 27 homers and 95 RBIs in only 122 games this past season.

He was especially remarkable during the Rockies playoff push that fell short, but Colorado wouldn’t have been in the position they were in mid-September had CarGo not teamed up with Tulo.

Tulowitzki’s deal may seem like a bit much, but when factoring his age it’s far less risky than some.

And the organization was especially smart signing him longterm for two reasons: first, it keeps him off the market, thereby keeping big spenders like the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees from snagging him for a cool $200 million, and second he will remain at high-altitude, so it’s a relative guarantee, barring injury, that he will produce at a high level given his skill-set.

Colorado smartly kept this reasoning in mind when it came to Gonzalez’s situation. Gonzalez was under team control through 2014, but the Rockies wanted to make sure they had him for longer. Gonzalez, with a powerful stroke from the left side, was their best player in 2010, his first full season.

He hit .336 with 34 homers and 117 RBIs to finish third in the National League MVP voting. The organization, anchored by General Manager Dan O’Dowd, was wowed by his sensational season and knew he could get even better with the Rockies if locked up throughout his prime.

Reports are Gonzalez is close to signing a deal worth $80 million over seven years. Given his agent is Scott Boras, this is a steal. And to think Beltre received $16 more million being nearly seven years older.

Reaction, as can be imagined, was all positive from the Rockies side as documented in the Denver Post by Troy E. Renck.

Tulowitzki: “CarGo’s a five-tool talent and brings it every day he steps on the field. Winning is his No. 1 priority. We complement each other well. If this deal gets done, it just shows the organization and his teammates he’s in this for the long haul. That’s all you can ask for.”

Closer Huston Street:  “I don’t believe it. I’m so pumped. I’m driving right now attempting to do cartwheels. Sometimes as a player, you have to follow your heart and do what’s best for you. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Tulo just signed and CarGo decided, ‘This is where I want to be.’ “

Considering Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez will cost the Boston Red Sox approximately $280 million, the Rockies ability to sign Gonzalez and Tulowitzki for a combined $214 million is a coup, especially when taking into account how much they could have commanded on the open market following their previous deals.

Some players don’t need to wait for the biggest bucks, though Tulowitzki’s and Gonzalez’s new contracts are by no means paltry.

In leaving money on the table their motivations were clear. Colorado is where they want to be; to play with enjoyable teammates, to perform for an appreciative front office, to excite faithful fan-base and to take full advantage of hitter-friendly Coors Field.

“Eight years ago, this wouldn’t have happened. Guys would come to Colorado but just use it to go somewhere else after a rebound year,” career-long Rockie Todd Helton said in Renck’s piece. “We have some really good young players. It’s exciting to know they are going to be around for a long time.”

Even after his contract is over, money will still undoubtedly be out there for Gonzalez in particular. With the way deals have been handed out of late to players in their 30′s—like Beltre, for instance—he may be in line for another seven-year deal.

And given his team-first, unselfish attitude and how much he enjoys Colorado, re-signing with the Rockies would be his goal–for a discount, too, of course.


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