The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: January 10-16, 2011
Closing Time For Trevor Hoffman Who's Left in the Free Agent Market?
And Now For Frank McCourt, the Hard Part A Slim Chance For Pablo Sandoval

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Closing Out
Trevor Hoffman is a case of a player who, in the long term, played just the right amount of time—but in the short-term played one year too long. The 43-year old closer, who announced his retirement from baseball this past week, had what turned out to be a bittersweet final year closing for the Milwaukee Brewers. Hoffman easily had the worst numbers of his career, shelled for a 5.89 ERA while losing his ninth-inning role early in the year after a crippling start. But he also earned just enough saves to surpass 600 for his career, finishing up at 601 to solidify his standing as the game’s all-time saves leader—until the New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera catches up to him, which could occur as early as this coming season.

The last active original member of the Florida Marlins, Hoffman was traded to San Diego midway through 1993 as part of a multi-player deal that sent Gary Sheffield to the Marlins. It appeared at first to be yet another lopsided trade by the Padres, in the midst of a fire sale—but in the long run, the transaction paid off handsomely for Hoffman and the Padres. Year in and year out, Hoffman was always tough as nails, nine times recording over 40 saves—including a career-high 53 along with a 1.48 ERA in 1998, his best seasonal performance as he helped the Padres to their second (and last, to date) NL pennant. Hoffman was named to seven All-Star teams and, although he never won a Cy Young Award, was runner-up twice. Underscoring his consistent stinginess against opponents was a terrific 1.07 career WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning). Along with Rivera, Hoffman is one of two closers who deserve first-ballot acceptance into the Hall of Fame, in our opinion.

The Single Life
The post-divorce Dodger blues have begun for Los Angeles owner Frank McCourt, whose spending power has been greatly diminished in the aftermath of the court settlement with ex-wife Jamie. He recently met with commissioner Bud Selig at MLB Central to discuss his short- and long-term options—he apparently left with little or no vote of confidence from Selig—and the Los Angeles Times reported this past weekend that Fox, which owns the Dodgers’ local television rights, is willing to give McCourt an advance payment to help cover current expenses. That last bit raised eyebrows of those scratching their heads as to why McCourt needs the money now as opposed to the middle of the season. Meanwhile, another newspaper report was quashed when Oakland owner Lou Wolff, who lives in Los Angeles, denied that he was interested in buying the Dodgers as Plan B in case he can’t move the A’s to San Jose.

Is Bartman Finally Getting a Pass?
A Chicago-area web site published an interview with once-and-current Cub pitcher Kerry Wood, who still broods over the team’s failure to reach the World Series in 2003. What was interesting was the discipline taken by Wood and the article’s writer, Fred Mitchell, to go through the whole piece without once evoking the name of Steve Bartman, the fan whose ‘interference’ on a fly ball hit down the left field line is often blamed for the Cubs’ 8-3 loss in NLCS Game Six to Florida. (If there’s a real culprit, it’s shortstop Alex Gonzalez—whose botching of a double play ball opened the floodgates for the Marlins’ eight-run, eighth-inning rally.) Of course, in the blog that followed the article, the very first post took aim—though not with total damnation—at the 800-pound billy goat in the room: “Cub fandom conveniantly (sic) charged both losses and all the earned runs to Bartman.”

The Giants Take Hollywood
In the aftermath of winning their first World Series since moving west from New York, the San Francisco Giants are having cameras aimed at them for different reasons this offseason. Entertainment Weekly reported that the Giants are in talks with Showtime to do a reality show on the team’s upcoming season, much in the same way HBO’s “Hard Knocks” captures the triumphs and travails of a chosen NFL team. Likely more intellectual is a documentary being primed for a July release that looks at the life of Giant center fielder Andres Torres. Entitled Gigante, the film is said to be an inspirational profile on Torres’ immense challenges to succeed despite a poor Puerto Rican upbringing and his struggles with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

All in the Family
Patrick Leyland, the son of Detroit manager Jim Leyland, has been given an invitation to the Tigers’ spring camp. The younger Leyland, who just turned 19, played catcher and hit .219 in 41 games at the Rookie League level in 2010. And how does Dad feel? “I’m absolutely thrilled,” said the Tiger skipper, adding, “I hope people believe this, but I had nothing to with (Patrick’s invite).”

Slimmed-down Panda-monium
Two years ago, Pablo Sandoval became a breakout star for the San Francisco Giants, hitting .330 with 25 homers. Those numbers diminished last year as his already-large frame expanded, and by the time the Giants made the postseason, Sandoval had regressed from star hitter to, barely, a part-time infielder; he only appeared in one of five World Series games—the one the Giants lost. The team has given Sandoval an offseason offer he can’t refuse: Slim down, shape up or be shipped out to Fresno to start 2011. The San Francisco Chronicle got a third-person update on Sandoval’s progress this past week, told by former Giant Rich Aurilia (in turn told by Sandoval himself) that Kung Fu Panda has lost 17 pounds with offseason training and dieting. Whether that translates to a better season remains to be seen—it would help if Sandoval stopped swinging at pitches a foot or more out of the strike zone—but if it doesn’t, look for a close-out sale of Panda memorabilia at AT&T Park.

The Best of Who's Left
Baseball’s last A-list free agent signing of the winter took place this past week when former Tampa Bay closer Rafael Soriano signed with the New York Yankees to set up—and perhaps succeed, sooner if not later—41-year old Mariano Rivera, who has yet to show any sign of slowing.

That leaves, at upload time, a number of name players still available who’ve seen better days or could be considered sleepers for a roster in need of a surprise bump or two. Among them:

Andy Pettitte. The incumbent Yankees were keen on resigning the 38-year old southpaw until they got wind that he’s leaning towards retirement. Everyone else appears to be feeling that same breeze. Rumored home: Home.

Carl Pavano. Following a renaissance campaign with Minnesota, there’s recent talk that he’ll resign with the Twins. The Yankees were looking at him as well, but they completely wasted $40 million on him before and, with all of their riches, even the Yankees shy away from second dates. Rumored home: Minnesota.

Manny Ramirez. There’s likely plenty of pop left in his bat, but there’s plenty of baggage as well. We earlier recommended that he sign with Toronto to give the Blue Jays some buzz in a difficult AL East, but reports this weekend say that the Jays aren’t interested. Rumored home: Texas, Tampa Bay or Los Angeles of Anaheim.

Vladimir Guerrero. Another likely future Hall-of-Famer looking for a late-career DH gig. Brings a big bat but no baggage—but lots of band-aids. A reunion with the Angels is not out of the question. Rumored home: Los Angeles of Anaheim, Tampa Bay or Baltimore.

Chris Young. A good pitcher when he’s healthy; and that’s the problem. Young has started just 36 games over the last three years, but he was exceptional in very limited action last season; he’ll hook on somewhere, it’s just a matter of whether it’ll be under the dreaded minor league deal. Rumored home: New York Mets.

Brian Fuentes. The best closer left out there, his stock having risen (or so we thought) with a terrific late-season role as set-up man with the Twins after a trade from the Angels. Rumored home: Toronto or Oakland. (Update: The A's signed him to a two-year deal on Sunday.)

Johnny Damon. Too expensive of an everyday player for small-market (or small-minded) teams—and too expensive a bench player for big-pocket franchises. Don’t be surprised if he’s without a club on Opening Day. Rumored home: Tampa Bay or New York Yankees.

Russell Branyan. He only seems to work out well for Seattle, so long as the chair doesn’t go out from under him at the pizzeria. But the Mariners appear ready to move on. Rumored home: San Diego.

David Eckstein. A reliable supporting player who’s the game’s current version of the Little Engine That Can—but at age 36, teams are wondering just how much longer. Rumored home: Washington or Seattle.

Jorge Cantu. Could be the Aubrey Huff of 2011. Given the right situation, he could be the bargain of the year. Added plus: He’s still just 29. Rumored home: None (!).

Bengie Molina. If anyone’s in need of a catcher with power and can tolerate the extreme lack of speed, Molina’s the guy. Rumored home: St. Louis (as back-up to brother Yadier Molina).

Kevin Millwood. After a disastrous (4-16, 5.10 ERA) year in Baltimore, the 36-year old veteran right-hander is likely willing to go out of his way to restore faith in whoever his employer will be. Rumored home: Kansas City or Cleveland.

Felipe Lopez. A solid talent so long as he keeps his head in the game, which has been the challenge. Red flag warning: He’s played for five teams over the past three years. Rumored home: None.

Hospitalized of the Week
Baseball legend Frank Robinson, attending the owners’ meetings in Arizona this past week, was sent to a local hospital after his heart rate jumped to 190—more than double that of what is considered healthy. It quickly jumped back down and doctors were not able to figure our why it spiked in the first place, so Robinson was released. Robinson is currently MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations.

Meanwhile, in Texas, Ranger star Josh Hamilton came down with a case of pneumonia so serious that it hospitalized him for the bulk of this past week. Despite the unexpectedly long stay in the hospital—especially for a 29-year old in great physical shape—the illness is not said to be life-threatening and Hamilton should be at 100% in time for spring training to begin next month.

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