The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: January 31-February 6, 2011
Andy Pettitte Closes Shop The Most—and Least—Improved Teams for 2011
Desert Deadball in Phoenix? The Passing of Woodie Fryman

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This Yankee Rests
Andy Pettitte, saying he’s lost the hunger to pitch at age 38, spoke up this past week and confirmed what many expected by announcing his retirement. The Louisiana native is the first of the long-time core of Yankees from the championship years of the late 1990s to step down, leaving active teammates from that era in Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada.

A quiet and religious man, Pettitte pitched 16 seasons and accumulated a terrific 240-138 record and finished 2010 with an 11-3 mark and 3.28 ERA in 21 starts. He twice won over 20 games, was named to three All-Star Games (including last year in Anaheim), and was masterful at picking off opposing baserunners. Performing during the heart of the steroid era—a time in which he would later painfully admit he was not entirely clean—Pettitte’s ERA figures were never overly wowing, usually finishing with marks above 4.00; his most stifling campaign came outside of the Yankees, during the 2005 pennant-winning run for the Houston Astros, where he joined former Yankee teammate, friend—and current legal foe—Roger Clemens to produce a personal-best 2.39 ERA to go with a 17-9 record.

Because of the increased postseason format after 1994 and the Yankees’ annual ability to make the playoffs, Pettitte holds numerous postseason records including wins (19, against ten losses), innings pitched (263) and starts (42). But does he belong in the Hall of Fame? That’s a tough call. Pettitte’s knack for winning undoubtedly stands out, but as he never suffered from a losing record, neither did any team that he played for. Who made it possible for the other to win? Does Pettitte get supported with 5.3 runs per start if he plays the majority of his career with Toronto or Seattle or the Chicago White Sox? We may not agree, but Pettitte’s case for Cooperstown will likely be one where affiliation trumps true efficiency.

Hold the Humidor
The Arizona Diamondbacks have been kicking around the idea of following in the footsteps of the Colorado Rockies and employing a humidor to help deaden the baseballs that seem to be quite lively at Phoenix’ Chase Field. But for now, the idea is on ice. The Arizona Republic reports that the team’s top brass has not made the humidor a major topic of discussion and will likely hold off on using it for at least a year. The humidor appeared to put an end to the nonstop offensive warfare at Denver’s mile-high Coors Field, giving much-needed equilibrium to the Rockies’ pitching staff while being possibly responsible for the team’s increased success over the last four seasons. Scientists have said that the use of a humidor at Chase Field could reduce home run production by as much as 38%.

Forbes Poll of the Week
Never one to run out of top ten lists, Forbes this past week released its list of the most disliked figures in sports. Manny Ramirez, whose tank is close to running on empty, nevertheless is the top baseball player on the list at number five. Three spots after him is Mark McGwire, a somewhat surprising fact given that it’s been a year since he’s come clean on taking steroids. Topping the list is Oakland Raider owner Al Davis.

Hope Springs Eternal—Even in Pittsburgh
The Pittsburgh Pirates were excited to learn that they drew a record crowd for their wintertime FanFest event at the end of January, with 16,839 attending over a three-day period. (By contrast, the world champion San Francisco Giants drew over 40,000—with thousands of others turned away at the gate—for a similar one-day event this past Saturday.) Of course, here’s likely the reason that Pirate fans showed up: They knew their team wouldn’t lose.

The Last Shot?
We never thought that the Yankees would resort to throwing anything at the wall to see what sticks, but their recent player transactions seem to smack exactly of that tactic. After signing has-been pitchers Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, the Yankees gave a minor league contract this past week to former Oakland infielder Eric Chavez, who’s numerous injuries cut his playing time to 64 games over the last three years—which surprised us in that he actually played as much as 64 games during that time. For Chavez, who looked ready to call it a career after neck issues last year, just making the roster will be a major achievement.

Blowin' in the Wind
Baseball wasn’t spared of damage during the brutal storm that hit the bulk of the nation this past week. At Chicago’s Wrigley Field, a panel of the roof that sat right atop the press box blew off as ferocious winds and snow hit. It should be repaired in time for the regular season.

Online headline from the Baltimore Sun: “With Duchscherer and Hendrickson, Orioles have gotten just about everything on their wish list.” If that’s the Orioles’ idea of a wish list, God help them. Seriously: A fragile 33-year old pitcher (Justin Duchscherer) who’s played in 44 games over the last four years? A 36-year old lefty reliever (Mark Hendrickson) with a career 5.02 ERA? The story claims that the two signings will fill a gaping hole in the Orioles’ roster. Unless the team gets incredibly lucky, the moves are more likely to dig it deeper. The rest of the AL East is laughing at the Orioles’ plight these days.

Woodie Fryman, 1940-2011
This past week saw the passing of Woodie Fryman, a serviceable and enduring southpaw who pitched 18 years for six teams and two All-Star Games through the age of 43. He made a splash as a rookie in 1966 for Pittsburgh, tossing three shutouts in a row—including a one-hitter in which the first batter reached safely and was erased on a stolen base attempt before Fryamn retired the remaining 26 batters. Fryman’s most memorable season came in 1972, when he started for a lousy Philadelphia team (the one a Cy Young Award-winning Steve Carlton kept from becoming the 1962 Mets) and ended with Detroit, rising to the occasion with a 10-3 record and 2.06 ERA for the Tigers after a midseason trade.

A year later, Fryman won a career-high 14 games for the Tigers but soon found himself in Montreal, where he would spend most of the rest of his career, including an effective stint after turning 40 as a part-time closer. Fryman is so well remembered by Expo fans that he is in the team’s Hall of Fame (if one actually, physically exists); despite what some think, he was not the father of 1990s infielder Travis Fryman, who was also born in Kentucky and played as well for the Tigers.

The Winners and Losers of Winter
With Andy Pettitte’s retirement and Vladimir Guerrero’s signing with Baltimore, baseball’s free agent season essentially came to an end this past week, with only relative stragglers left available for minor league deals. So with rosters for spring training set in almost-dried cement, we felt it was a good time to dissect the winter moves and come up with our list of five teams who did well to improve—and five who fell behind.

The Most Improved:

The Boston Red Sox. The additions of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (via trade) and outfielder Carl Crawford (via free agency) give the Red Sox a powerful lineup that’s almost an embarrassment of riches. They also shored up the bullpen when it appeared it would evolve into a weakness. All this, while the other AL East teams have slipped a notch or worse. Boston was something of an afterthought last season; this is now their division to lose.

The Oakland A’s. Sensing that the AL West is ripe for the taking, general manager Billy Beane has gone somewhat for broke with the limited funds given to him by owner Lou Wolff. The A’s have added Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus and Josh Willingham to the lineup and added Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes to an already strong bullpen. But perhaps the most important addition of all will be the new trainer, who will try to keep the habitually beat-up A’s healthy.

The Milwaukee Brewers. With Prince Fielder contracted for one more year, the Brewers have bulked up in a roll of the dice to take the NL Central. The major moment in the offseason came when the Brewers traded for former AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke, and the shrewd addition of Shaun Marcum from Toronto gives the team further strength in the rotation and provides solid balance for an offense that’s already postseason-ready.

The Detroit Tigers. The Tigers felt they needed an extra kick to keep up with the Joneses of the AL Central, and so they snatched catcher Victor Martinez and shortstop Jhonny Peralta off the free agent market to beef up an already sound offense. They also acquired set-up reliever Joaquin Benoit, so good for Tampa Bay last year, and made a cross-your-fingers move by replacing the departed Armando Galarraga with veteran starter Brad Penny.

The Los Angeles Dodgers. Yes, the Dodgers—the dysfunctional, divorce-ridden Dodgers. There were no major moves made here, but the Dodgers did accomplish mid-level upgrades at second base (Juan Uribe), with the rotation (Jon Garland) and the bullpen (Matt Guerrier, from Minnesota). More important is that they didn’t suffer any major departures, outside of Manny Ramirez—who was mentally gone for most of 2010, anyway.

The Least Improved:

The Tampa Bay Rays. An expected exodus took place with the payroll-challenged Rays, as the team bid farewell to Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Matt Garza and Joaquin Benoit. Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon have signed on as veteran replacements, and that’s great if this was 2001, not 2011. With much talent left over, the new season will not be a first-to-worst campaign in St. Petersburg, but the drop-off threatens to be telling.

The New York Yankees. Almost nothing was done to improve on a team that’s aging before everyone’s eyes. Yes, closer Rafael Soriano was added from Tampa Bay—as a set-up man—but that’s a move that won’t make a major impact unless Mariano Rivera goes AWOL. The biggest headache for the Yankees was their utter failure to land a solid starting pitcher, so there’s extra pressure on Ivan Nova and Andrew Brackman to grow up fast.

The New York Mets. Here’s one thing the Yankees won’t have to worry about: Limelight theft from their crosstown rivals. The best the Mets could do this winter was to land former San Diego pitcher Chris Young, who could break down again at any moment. Beyond that, the Mets threaten to become an even bigger horror show than last season, with overpaid talent, an ownership in financial crisis and the return of (yikes!) Francisco Rodriguez and Oliver Perez.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels did snag Vernon Wells from Toronto, but Wells and his annual $20 million price tag do not come off as an agreeable offset for the loss of catcher Mike Napoli (last year’s team leader in home runs), outfielder Juan Rivera and designated hitter Hideki Matsui; the team also did not seriously address replacing closer Brian Fuentes, given away late last year. This is still a talented team, but on paper it hasn’t advanced from last year’s dismal showing.

The Toronto Blue Jays. Not too many tears were shed north of the border when Wells was dealt on to the Angels since it relieved the Blue Jays of that daunting contract, but a lighter wallet means trouble in the beast known as the AL East. Futhermore, the Jays let go of catcher John Buck (who had a mild breakout last season), pitcher Shaun Marcum, outfielder Fred Lewis and closer Kevin Gregg. They’ve bulked up their bullpen with Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, but the gains hardly outweigh the pains of loss within the roster.

There's Warmth at the End of the Tunnel
With most of the nation lately shivering under unusually cold and snowy (or worse, icy) conditions, it’s comforting to know that pitchers and catchers report for spring training in a week.

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