This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: February 25-March 3, 2013
Loria Speaks The Teasers of 2012: Will They Thrive in 2013?
Michael Weiner Gets an Earful From his Constituents Mike Trout's 2013 Salary

From Jeffrey, With Venom
After hibernating from the media for the bulk of the winter, Miami owner Jeffrey Loria came out of his man cave this past week to face the angry music of fans irate over his offseason moves. His public campaign began with a full-page ad in the local papers explaining his moves and answering (sometimes attacking) his critics; the next day, he held a Q & A before hand-picked reporters at Marlins Park, and the next day after that held another before anyone who cared to listen at the Marlins’ spring training complex in Jupiter, Florida.

In his ad, Loria lamented a 2012 campaign that was “one of our worst”; no argument there. He self-righteously defended his highly controversial (and cost-slashing) trade with the Toronto Blue Jays by pointing out that commissioner Bud Selig approved it and, he claims, it was “universally celebrated by baseball experts outside of Miami for its value”; if that’s true, then we have real estate to sell you in Syria. And he mentioned that the burden for the massive monies owed to pay for Marlins Park will not come from locals but, rather, from hotel taxes paid by tourists; even if that’s a fact, I’m sure the Miami Chamber of Commerce is thrilled to publicize that to people looking to vacation in South Florida.

Reaction was swift and, as you might guess, hardly kind. “Loria keeps wanting to talk business,” wrote the Miami Hearld’s Greg Cote, “He doesn’t understand all anyone hears is betrayal…(he) would need a pickax and miner’s helmet to find his subterranean approval rating.” Then there was Yahoo! SportsJeff Passan, who for years has been a poison-penned thorn in Loria’s side. In citing Loria’s comment that “many of the things being said about us are simply not true,” Passan replied: “Calling the Marlins a major league team is one of those things.”

The fans will have the ultimate say on Loria, and what they’re saying through advance ticket sales is telling. Hardly anyone showed up when the ticket booth windows rolled open on the day the team held their Fan Fest, and the Marlins admitted that season ticket numbers have crashed from 12,000 last season to 5,000.

The Marlins will be stuck with a lousy team; the fans will be stuck with the bill.

Are the Teasers of 2012 Ready for 2013?
Every spring we look back at the end of the 2012 season and find some ten first-time major leaguers who came up late in the year and absolutely sparkled, albeit briefly. This is not to say this these players are the stars of tomorrow, but the impressive numbers they posted suggest that they certainly can be. We’ve been doing this for over five years and found the long-term success rate to be pretty good; among the Teasers who’ve prospered are David Price, Madison Bumgarner, Jason Motte, Pablo Sandoval, Craig Kimbrel, Chris Sale and Neftali Feliz. Will anyone from the following group join them as star-studded colleagues? Keep an eye on them.

Christian Garcia, Washington. A veteran of nine minor league campaigns and two Tommy John surgeries, Garcia was given a promotion to the Nationals late last year after authoring a superb 0.86 ERA in the minors—and continued to impress with the parent club, allowing three runs and striking out 13 in 12.2 innings spread among 13 relief appearances. Nationals manager Davey Johnson thinks highly enough of Garcia that he’s on record as comparing his stuff with that of Stephen Strasburg—and if that ain’t high praise, nothing is. The Nationals ultimately want to make him a starter, but there’s very little room within that stellar rotation.

Matt Harvey, New York Mets. Don’t let the 3-5 record fool you; the big right-hander shined for the Mets with a 2.73 ERA and 70 strikeouts over 59.1 innings in ten late starts, and along with Zack Wheeler represents a promising pitching future for the Mets at Citi Field. Projected as the fourth starter in the Mets’ rotation, Harvey recently told the New York Post: “Mediocre is not okay for me. It’s never been okay, and it never will be okay.” The rest of the Mets need to take note.

Darin Ruf, Philadelphia. In his fourth year at the minor league level, the Omaha native exploded—belting 38 homers for Double-A Reading, including 20 alone in one month. That, along with a career .305 minor league average, was too much for the Phillies to pass up as they brought him up for September—and he continued red-hot, hitting .333 and knocking out three homers with ten RBIs in just 33 at-bats. For 2013, the Phillies are trying to convert Ruf to an outfielder in order to give him a spot on the roster (if not the everyday lineup).

Pete Kozma, St. Louis. The best known of this year’s teasers thanks to his postseason heroics with the Cardinals, the Tulsa-born shortstop wasn’t too shabby in his limited time beforehand—batting .333 with ten extra-base hits and 14 RBIs spread among 72 at-bats. He only got the work because of an injury to regular shortstop Rafael Furcal, who’s still struggling to regain his health—and the Cardinals have added veteran Ronny Cedeno (career .290 on-base percentage) to back up Furcal, meaning Kozma in theory could be the odd man out on Opening Day. Very odd.

Shelby Miller, St. Louis. Like Kozma, the 22-year-old Miller was able to leverage late-season success (1-0, 1.32 ERA in six appearances) into a postseason role, but unlike Kozma his chances of making the Opening Day roster (likely as a fifth starter) look more promising, especially now that Chris Carpenter is out for the year and Kyle Lohse sits on Scott Boras’ 11th-hour free agent ice.

Steve Johnson, Baltimore. After putting together a fine 2.86 ERA despite a 4-8 record for Triple-A Norfolk, Johnson was brought up to the Orioles and won four more games—without a loss—his first coming 23 years to the day that his father, former Oriole Dave Johnson, won his first major league game. With a 2.11 ERA and 23 hits allowed in 38.1 innings (to say nothing of 46 strikeouts), Johnson was critical to the Orioles’ stretch run to the playoffs—but was left off the postseason roster and, as spring training commences, is considered a 50-50 proposition for making the team’s Opening Day roster.

Donnie Veal, Chicago White Sox. Following his most accomplished campaign (7-3, 2.08 ERA) in eight minor league campaigns, the big lefty continued to be “Veally good” with the White Sox, allowing two runs on five hits with 19 strikeouts in 13 innings; it certainly was better than his first major league audition with the 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates, when he walked 20 batters in 16 innings. Veal should make the Opening Day roster for the White Sox, but it won’t be a free ride.

Irving Falu, Kansas City. The Puerto Rican native finally broke through to the Royals at age 29 late last year and put together a nice .341 average in 85 at-bats—highlighted by a triple in his first at-bat against the Yankees. No disrespect to Omaha, but it’s the last place Falu wants to see after spending the last four years there for the Royals’ Triple-A club; the switch-hitter could make the parent team as a back-up utility infielder.

Francisley Bueno, Kansas City. He’s gone from Cuba to Atlanta to Mexico to Korea to Omaha and, finally last season, the 32-year-old southpaw got to K.C. and lived up to his last name in Spanish (good) by allowing a 1.56 ERA in 18 relief appearances. He’s anticipated to make the Royals’ bullpen for 2013.

And What of the Teasers for 2012?
Last year’s group of Teasers include some familiar names, with some promising budding talent in the works while others…well, it must have felt really good to perform at a high level if even for a moment. Here’s the early (but certainly not final) verdict on the list from last year.

After a booming call-up (.330 average, five homers in 88 at-bats) to end 2011, Yonder Alonso was eagerly snapped up by San Diego in a trade that sent Mat Latos the other way to Cincinnati and got everyday play for the Padres in 2012, hitting .273 with nine homers and 62 RBIs; he also led the team with 39 doubles—and led NL first baseman with 12 errors. But the job remains his until the brought-in fences at Petco Park seduce a big free agent hitter to take his spot.

Matt Angle didn’t hit well in his brief time up with the Orioles to end 2011, but he sure could run—stealing 11 bases among 79 at-bats. Not good enough for the Orioles, who sent him to the Los Angeles Dodgers—who in turn stuck him in Triple-A Albuquerque for the entire 2012 season, where he hit a respectable .303 with—get this—just 13 steals in 115 games. There’s little buzz regarding his chances for making the parent club in 2013.

With practically the entire Toronto rotation undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, Joel Carreno had a golden opportunity to make his mark as a follow-up to his stellar call-up effort in 2011. But Carreno failed to capitalize; he was 0-2 with a 6.14 ERA in 11 appearances (including two starts) for the Jays and, worse, was otherwise no better bouncing around between Double-A and Triple-A. With R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle added to the Toronto rotation, the best Carreno can hope for in 2013 is to latch on in the bullpen.

Randall Delgado struggled in half-season’s work in the Atlanta rotation, furnishing a rough 4-9 record to go with a blasé 4.37 ERA. With many other solid arms on the Braves’ staff, the 23-year-old Panamanian was dealt to Arizona in the Justin Upton trade; he’s projected to be on the bubble for landing a spot on the Diamondbacks’ Opening Day roster.

The New York Yankees probably wish they had Jesus Montero back; they traded him one-up for once-aspiring pitcher Michael Pineda, who’s gone through long-term post-surgery rehab and DUI, among other things. Montero, connected to the Biogenesis scandal, hasn’t exactly avoided the tabloids as well, but at least he performed for Seattle in 2012, batting .260 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs in 135 games. Likely evolving at age 23 and with the fences brought in at Safeco Field, look for Montero’s numbers to uptick this year.

Matt Moore is the unusual case of a player who got a long-term contract based on his tease, impressing over five appearances (including two in the postseason) late in 2011 for Tampa Bay. His first full campaign (11-11, 3.81 ERA) was effective enough for the Rays to feel that the five-year, $14 million deal he received is, so far, worth it.

Chris Parmalee hit a wowing .355 in 21 late games for Minnesota in 2011, but that brief success didn’t initially translate well to 2012—struggling to stay above .200 before being sent to Triple-A, where he rediscovered healthy numbers in advance of a return to the bigs and another strong September performance. He gets a second shot with the Twins this year, projected to start in right field.

Brett Pill was a victim of being one of too many first basemen on the San Francisco roster in 2012 after showing great promise the September before; a rough start only sealed his fate back to Triple-A Fresno. He’s hoping he can clinch a spot on the Giant roster this season as the team needs right-handed power, which he’s got.

Pedro Strop excelled for Baltimore late in 2011 after a trade from the Texas organization (where he had been floundering) and maintained a crisp edge in a suddenly-sharp Oriole bullpen in 2012, compiling a 5-2 record, 2.44 ERA and 24 holds in 70 appearances; opponents hit just .217 against him. The job is his to lose.

Constituent Confidential
Baseball union boss Michael Weiner is making the customary rounds through each of the 30 major league spring camps, in part to listen to what the players have to say. He’s getting an earful on steroids; clean players are fed up with the repercussions of the latest PED scandal involving Biogenesis in Florida, as they once again feel unfairly targeted by skeptical fans and media. This has led Weiner to state that he’s open to increasing penalties yet again for players caught taking illegal PEDs. (Commissioner Bud Selig, to no one’s surprise, publicly echoed those sentiments late in the week.) He also said this to the New York Daily News: “The best way to deter conduct is to make it more likely that you’re going to get caught. Increasing the severity of the penalties has limited usefulness if people think they’re going to get away with something.”

We have a solution to that, Mike: Zero tolerance. Get caught once, you’re out for life. If that doesn’t work, nothing will.

It’s Taiwan or Bust
Manny Ramirez, still thinking he has game, has told major league teams: Sign me, or I’ll go to Taiwan. The majors will likely shrug. He does have an interested party in the EDA Rhinos of Taiwan’s China Professional Baseball League, which falls outside the jurisdiction of MLB—meaning Ramirez won’t have to serve out a 100-day suspension for his second PED positive before he can become active. Because of that suspension and his age (he turns 41 on May 30), he likely won’t get a sniff from a MLB team. Should we bet on the date when Ramirez quits the Rhinos and goes home?

You’ll Get a Half-Million and Like It
Mike Trout will get filthy rich one of these days. After last year’s stunning breakout performance that nearly had him swiping the AL MVP from a guy (Miguel Cabrera) who won the triple crown, Trout immediately put himself on a par path with the game’s greats. But his eye-opening campaign came so early as a 21-year-old rookie, he will not instantly see the financial fruits of his labor. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim decided to pay Trout $510,000 for the coming season, a figure barely over the league minimum—and Trout’s agent is a little upset. “In my opinion, this contract falls well short of a ‘fair’ contract,” spoke Craig Landis, “and I have voiced this to the Angels throughout the process.”

For now, all Landis can do is pound sand. Any player with less than three years of major league service has to live the bad ol’ days of the reserve clause, where they are basically paid whatever his team wants above the minimum; negotiation only kicks in when players become arbitration-eligible. Perhaps Landis was hoping the Angels would be gaga enough over Trout’s 2012 effort to give him a contract extension as Tampa Bay did with Evan Longoria and Matt Moore, but if he sits tight and Trout continues to channel Mickey Mantle, his client will surely break the bank—sooner than later. The question is: Will Landis remember this when he does get negotiating power and look elsewhere?

Cal Yawns
Baltimore outfielder Adam Jones, who played every game for the Orioles last year and has been in the lineup for 172 straight contests, says he’s after Cal Ripken Jr.’s all-time record of 2,632 consecutive games played. “I’m going to break Cal’s record,” he told, “I’m going after Cal. Cal is in my sights. Sixteen more years.” Jones wasn’t likely serious, but here’s the truth of such a pursuit, should he accept it: Assuming 162 games a year, Jones would reach the mark early in the 2028 season at the age of 42.

Jones’ streak is currently not the longest in baseball; that honor goes to Detroit’s Prince Fielder, who’s at 343 and counting—and had it not been for a day off late in the 2010 season, it would be at 670.

Foul Policy?
MLB’s legal eagles might want to take note of this: The Idaho Supreme Court ruled this past week that a fan who lost an eye after being hit by a foul ball during a minor league game in 2008 can seek damages from the host baseball team, in this case the Boise Hawks of the Northwest League. This does not mean that
Bud Roundtree has won a case; it simply means that a case can go forward, with a jury ultimately to decide. If he wins, it may set a precedent and empower other fans who get smacked—usually those who are given prime seats for free and don’t pay attention to the game—to sue the home team. We’ll keep an eye—or in Roundtree’s case, his only eye—out for progress on this story.

It Runs in the Family
In many circles, Alex Rodriguez has been branded a fraud. And now, even some of his memorabilia can be labeled the same. A-Rod’s notorious cousin and PED bag man Yuri Sucrat is putting up for auction a World Series ring he was given by Rodriguez in 2009, but it’s since been revealed that the ring is actually a “replica” of the actual gems given out by the New York Yankees after defeating the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. Turns out, the ring and several others was reproduced by Rodriguez to be given to family members. Nevertheless, Sucrat is aiming to net some moolah through, an online auction site listing the opening bid for the ring at $5,000; the last bids will be taken on April 5.

That’s the Strike Zone in the Middle, Son
It was a rough line in the box score for 20-year-old Cody Buckel, the Texas Rangers’ top minor league prospect, during Tuesday’s 14-8 exhibition loss to the Chicago White Sox. He officially logged one-third of an inning but gave up six runs on five walks—no hits—and a Mike Olt error.

Lost Sausage
There was an all-points bulletin out in Milwaukee for Guido, one of the four racing sausages that entertain Brewer fans at Miller Park during the seventh-inning stretch. Hours after the costume went suspiciously missing, the owner of a bar in Cedarburg, Wisconsin witnessed two men walking in with the costume, plopping it to the ground and telling him, “You did not see anything.” Guido is said to be okay from the ordeal.

American Idle
It’s not just spring training for the players, but for national anthem singers as well. It doesn’t look like Jeff Fuller is going to make the final cut. Before an exhibition between the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays, Fuller mangled O Canada so badly that he literally stopped singing halfway through. He got through the Star Spangled Banner but turned it into the Star Mangled Bummer by messing up many of its lyrics. He was both booed and cheered—sarcastically, we assume—by the crowd of 2,691 in Dunedin, Florida.

Sorry Folks, the End of the World is Not Nigh
A loud and persistent alarm shattered the calm of a Cactus League game between Seattle and Cleveland in Goodyear on Wednesday, leading to a five-minute delay in the eighth inning. The crowd of 2,252 evacuated their seats, only to return went it became obvious that the alarm was rung by mistake.

It Said What?
Headline: “Minor Leaguer Hamburger Suspended 50 Games.” Apparently he had some illegal condiments spread on the buns.

Wounded of the Week
wounded of the weekWe’re still at that sensitive point of spring training where a mere sneeze might table a player for a few days, but there were some other, more serious developments to report on. Javier Vazquez, who sat out the entire 2012 season, will likely be forced to sit out 2013 as well after his surgically repaired knee failed him at Miami Marlins camp. It’ll be interesting to see if Vazquez, who turns 37 in July, will be afforded another comeback shot in 2014.

In Cleveland camp, bad news came for the Indians and closer Chris Perez, who will miss almost all of spring training with a shoulder sprain. Those injuries have a nagging tendency to stick around, so the Indians will do all they can to get Perez healthy and pain-free for Opening Day—because on a team badly lacking in pitching, Perez is badly needed.

Bad news also came late in the weekend for Chicago Cub pitcher Matt Garza, who is expected to miss the first month of the season with oblique issues; Texas starting pitcher Martin Perez, out four weeks with a broken arm after being struck by a comeback line drive; and St. Louis shortstop Rafael Furcal, whose recovery from an elbow injury suffered last season hit a setback, forcing the Cardinals to indefinitely shut him down.

Finally, we have the curious case of Elvis Andrus. The Texas shortstop had to sit out a few games this past week because…of a tattoo. Apparently, he had the likeness of his late father etched on his left arm, but the burning sensation that followed became so great, he couldn’t focus on playing ball.

TGG Goes to Arizona
For the second time in three years, This Great Game correspondent Eric Gouldsberry will be tromping and stomping the Cactus League grounds, reporting and picturing the odds, ends, sights and sounds of the Phoenix area for the TGG Facebook page—this time likely concentrating on the west end of the area where new spring complexes have sprung up in places like Glendale, Surprise and Goodyear. It’ll be a short but sweet visit, so become a fan and get updates on the hour from March 12-13.

The Comebacker's Greatest Hits: Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2008 season.

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