The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: January 17-23, 2011
Curtis Granderson, International Man of Baseball Gil Meche, $43 Million Later
Milton Bradley's Cover of "L.A. Woman" Vernon Wells Goes to Disneyland

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Meltdown Milton Strikes Again
Alas, Milton Bradley couldn’t wait for the season to start to get mixed up in his game of trouble. This past week, the temperamental, physically fragile Seattle slugger was arrested in Los Angeles for making a criminal threat against a woman. There are few details beyond this, and the Mariners are trying to figure out what their options are—with the likely goal of finding a way to get rid of him, given his paltry contribution to the team last season. To make bail after his arrest, Bradley ponied up $50,000—or roughly a day’s pay for outfielder who’ll make $12 million in 2011.

Best of the Rest: Update
Last week we gave our list of the best free agents still available for the 2011 season; of the 13 names we mentioned, five of them signed this week, all with teams we had anticipated would grab them. Carl Pavano re-upped with Minnesota, Chris Young ended up in New York with the Mets, Brian Fuentes went to Oakland to bolster an already tough bullpen, and—in the most sensational move of the week—the Tampa Bay Rays offset heavy defections by signing on veterans Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon.

The Rays got Ramirez cheap at $2 million, but don’t cry for Manny; he’s also getting an additional $3.3 million from the Los Angeles Dodgers, part of an earlier deal that included deferred wages. For Tampa manager Joe Maddon, the challenge with Ramirez will have nothing to do with money; the trick is to tolerate Ramirez’s off-putting theatrics and keep him happy and interested. Damon, meanwhile, gets a one-year deal at $5.25 million and, for the moment, is the Rays’ highest paid player.

Well, Well, Wells
We had advocated that Ramirez’s best move would have been to go to Toronto, which would have given the Blue Jays some relevance in the AL East. Instead, they’ve become less relevant not just because of their failure to get Ramirez but, also, their decision to trade outfielder Vernon Wells to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. (In return, Toronto received catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera.) In a sense, it’s a trade that has no winners—except for Wells himself, who’ll still collect $86 million over the next four years per the eye-raising contract Toronto signed him to back in 2008.

Goin' Kiwi
Some major leaguers spend the offseason resting up and playing golf. Some play winter ball to stay sharp. Some, like Alfredo Simon, shoot people. And then there’s Curtis Granderson, who goes places—we mean, really goes places. Granderson, a genuinely nice guy with a colorful personality, is the perfect man for the job of ambassador for Major League Baseball. (Would you rather that Milton Bradley be given the gig?) This week, the New York Yankee outfielder is visiting New Zealand, where the sport is enjoying some momentum in popularity. In previous years, Granderson has visited England, the Netherlands, Italy, China and South Africa on behalf of MLB. In New Zealand, he’ll chat with and teach up-and-coming players, and get himself into pre-spring training shape. Oh and another thing: “I want to see the sharks,” Granderson says, “if they can throw me in a cage.”

On Second Thought...
So you’re the Detroit Tigers and you sign pitcher Armando Galarraga for the 2011 season—and then quickly designate him for assignment. Huh? Galarraga, who earned 8.2 innings of fame last season when he came within one out and a blown call of achieving a perfect game, avoided arbitration with the Tigers and signed a one-year deal for $2.3 million. But just six hours later, Detroit signed free agent veteran pitcher Brad Penny, making Galarraga expendable. Thus, the Tigers are actively seeking a deal to send the 29-year old Venezuelan elsewhere.

I'll Take Performance Incentives to Go, Please
Folks ordering at the drive-thru at a Detroit McDonalds this past week were startled to see the man at the window handing the food out to be Tiger slugger Magglio Ordonez, who along with closer Jose Valverde were doing their bit behind the counter as part of a day-long public relations agenda in which they showed up and/or participated at various local establishments. Ordonez, who hit .303 in 84 games last year, is returning for his seventh season with the Tigers for one year and $10 million.

New Among the Cacti
Finishing touches are being put on the new spring training facility east of Scottsdale that will be shared by the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, who left Tucson last year and, as a result, now leaves all 15 Cactus League teams performing within the Phoenix area. The complex, entitled Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, is being built for $100 million and will seat 11,000. The new facility is not quite on TGG’s agenda when we head to spring training in mid-March for a weekend, but if we end up there, we’ll let you know about it. In the meantime, here’s a photo review of how Salt River Fields is looking now.

A Fine Meche
There’s a time that comes along every few years or so where baseball execs will cower their heads in painful disgust upon news that one of their colleagues has signed a deal with a major leaguer that screams, “overpaid.” One of those moments took place before the 2007 season when the Kansas City Royals decided to fork out $55 million over five years to Gil Meche, whose previous six seasons in Seattle gave no justification for commanding such wages. In his first two years with the Royals, Meche somewhat silenced the critics, pitching over 210 innings with sub-4.00 ERAs to sweeten an otherwise mediocre 23-24 record, compounded by poor run support from the woebegone Royal offense. Then a shoulder failed him; he was a collective 6-15 with a 5.29 ERA over the next two years.

Still struggling to return to form, Meche this past week decided to retire—skipping out on the final year of his contract, from which he was due $12.4 million. “I’m not really fulfilling what I thought I needed to do when I signed this contract,” Meche says. “The Royals have done enough for me.” We’ll say.

Why Don't You Stay Home, Bill Butler
It was thumbs up all around in the Kansas City front office this week. Not only did they see the Royals' payroll drop $12 million thanks to Meche's departure, but they also made the smart move of the week by locking up first baseman Billy Butler for four years and $30 million (there's a club option for a fifth year). Butler, who turns 25 this April, has already developed into the Royals' most potent hitter and, with plenty of time to evolve, can develop into an elite ballplayer of the likes not seen in K.C. since George Brett. Last year, Butler hit .318 with 15 home runs, 78 RBIs and 45 doubles (after knocking out 51 in 2009).

I'm Cashman, But It's Not My Cash, Man
George Steinbrenner may be gone, but his hands-on spirit apparently lives on in his sons, Hank and Hal. This past week, the Yankees introduced former Tampa Bay closer Rafael Soriano, who they signed for three years and $35 million. Yes, a shade under $12 million paid annually to a guy who’ll set up Mariano Rivera until he drops—which, even at age 40, the veteran Yankee closer has shown zilch signs of doing. Turns out that Yankee general manager Brian Cashman was unhappy with the signing, advising against it—but admitting that it’s not his money or his final say. Curiously, Cashman is in the final year of his contract with New York.

Field Dimensions 101
Outfielder Jeff Francoeur, now calling Kansas City his current home, spoke out against the relatively large playing expanse of New York’s Citi Field—where he toiled for parts of two years—calling it a “damn joke.” On paper. Francoeur’s power numbers didn’t seem to suffer much with the Mets—nine of his 21 home runs were hit at Citi Field—but he complained of how other long balls died at the wall when they might have gone out of the yard in other parks.

Players of yesteryear will shed no tears for Francoeur’s frustrations with a field that measures 415 feet to dead center. Back in the day, old Yankee Stadium’s power alley in left ended 457 feet from home; the deepest part of Chicago’s Wrigley Field at one time ran all the way out to 446 feet; Boston’s Fenway Park, now considered a hitter’s paradise, once had its center field dimensions at 488 feet; and don’t forget the Polo Grounds in New York, a cemetery for long balls in the outfield unless you hit it down the lines. Did players back then complain? You sure don’t read much bitchin’ about it in the biographies.

So Long, Gus
Gus Zernial, a prominent power hitter of the early 1950s, passed away this week at the age of 87. When healthy, Zernial constantly bashed around 30 knocks a year (topping out with 42 for the 1953 Philadelphia A’s); only Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra hit more homers in the AL during the 1950s. After his playing days, he settled in Fresno, California and ultimately provided color radio commentary for the Triple-A Grizzlies, the top affiliate for the San Francisco Giants. TGG’s Ed Attanasio interviewed Zernial a few years back and recalled that Zernial was a gentleman, and his wife a sweetheart.

So Long, Roy
Also leaving us this past week was Roy Hartsfield, a second baseman who played three years with the Boston Braves in the early 1950s, and is better known as the first manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. Handicapped with an expansion team, Hartsfield was unable to get the Jays on a fast track to respectability—in three years, in fact, he never got them there at all, losing a yearly average of 106 games before getting a termination notice. Hartsfield was 85.

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