It's the Surreal Thing
Losing One Month to Gain a Year
Ron Washington proved this past week that he’s a throwback. While today’s players are being nabbed for taking steroids, it was revealed this past week that, in 2009, the Texas manager went to the performance enhancement drug of choice from his playing days in the 1980s: Cocaine. None of this would have been made public had it not been for an allegedly disgruntled ex-employee of the Rangers who first ratted Washington out to the organization last season, and just recently to the media. Washington quickly admitted that the story was true, a one-time use taken under the pressures of managing; when confronted with the information last summer, he went to the Rangers’ top brass and offered his resignation, expecting that he’d be fired anyway. The Rangers, who publicly denied that blackmail had anything to do with this, rebuffed Washington’s offer and kept him on board. In an attempt to go full disclosure, Washington also admitted taking marijuana and amphetamines when he was a player.
Stephen Strasburg, the pitching wunderkind for the Washington Nationals, struck out eight batters in another effective outing this past Fridayand found out a day later that he’ll start the year at Double-A. The Nationals may feel he needs lower-level work before reaching the bigs, but the move was likely orchestrated so they can wrench another full year of ownership out of him. Like Tampa Bay’s David Price and Baltimore’s Matt Wieters in 2009and the Rays’ Evan Longoria the year beforeStrasburg’s absence from the Opening Day roster (and a few weeks beyond) will push future free agency for him back a year.
It's Interesting to Note...
Of the 27 outs Strasburg has recorded this spring, none of them have come on fly balls.
The Shape of Things to Come?
Last week we relayed the report by Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci of Major League Baseball’s wild idea for a radical, “flexible” divisional realignment as whipped up by its exclusive, 14-member panel that met and discussed what needs fixing in baseball. This week, we found out some of the other ideas the committee thought of before the Mad Hatter’s tea took effect: Loosening the restrictions of when a pitcher can go to his mouth to help his fingers grip the ball better; expanding video replay to include fair and foul calls down the lines; scrapping home field advantage in the World Series based on which league wins the All-Star Game; and a direct edict to the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers to speed things up, after each team played their average game in 2009 over three hoursas compared to the two hours and 52 minutes for the average length of all major league contests.
Twit of the Week
Outspokenness appears to run in the Guillen family. Last week, we heard that the Chicago White Sox were saying no to manager Ozzie Guillen’s idea of his own web site, but allowed him to keep use of his Facebook and Twitter accounts. They may rethink that after this week. Guillen’s son, Oneyemployed in the White Sox’ scouting departmentused his own Twitter account to criticize the team. After the White Sox got wind of the statements, he only got more upset that the team was monitoring his account. Looking at the big picture, Ozzie asked Oney to resign from the team.
Spring Meltdown Milton
Milton Bradley appears to be in midseason form. Twice this past week, the new Seattle Mariner was ejected from consecutive spring training games for protesting balls-and-strikes calls. Both ejections came courtesy of umpires who will begin the year at the Triple-A level. Mariner manager Don Wakamatsu understands that Bradley’s angry reputation precedes him, but nevertheless criticized the ejections as a “witch hunt.” According to retrosheet.org, Bradley has been ejected 17 times in 941 regular season games.
The Kansas City Royals led the Arizona Diamondbacks 21-0 after just four and a half innings on Friday. They eventually won, 24-9.
The Imperfect Ten
Pitcher Ben Sheets, employed by the Oakland A’s after sitting idle for all of 2009 (mostly due to injury), faced ten batters this past Monday against Cincinnati; all ten Reds reached base and scored. Eight reached by base hit, one by a walk, and the other on an errorcommitted by Sheets. What was Sheets’ public postgame analysis? “I felt great,” he said.
He Could Have Been the Wahoo Freak
Every time the Cleveland Indians face the San Francisco Giants in spring training, fans of the Tribe can’t help but use the occasion to rip into the team for not signing Tim Lincecum after selecting him in the 42nd round of the 2005 draft. The Indians offered the pitching phenom $700,000 to sign, but Lincecum rejected the offer and returned to college. It became a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario for the Indians; fans berated the Indians for not offering more, and MLBhorrified that anyone taken so late in the draft would have commanded so much money, and the domino effect it would have createdberated the team for offering too much.
Our Billboard's Bigger Than Yours
Last year, the Chicago Cubs were so peeved to see a billboard for an Indian casino atop one of the buildings across the street (and in clear view of Wrigley Field patrons and WGN viewers) that they erected barriers behind the left field bleachers to obscure it. Apparently, the Cubs have decided to fight the ad at its own game by replacing the barriers with their own ada much bigger one. Toyota has paid to place its ad on the billboard, which will rise 75 feet into the airbut it still has to meet with approval of local politicians and the Commission on Historical Landmarks, which has the power to decide on whether the new billboard violates Wrigley’s landmark designation.
Grounded, But Safe
All we can say about the breakdown of a bus carrying the Cubs from Phoenix to a spring training game in Tucson this past week is this: Would you rather that it had been an airplane that broke down in mid-flight?
This Week's Episode of Divorce McCourt
Dodger owner Frank McCourt filed documents this past week saying that his estranged wife Jamie, attempting to legally wrestle away ownership of the team, was considering launching a political career that would ultimately find her in the White House. We’re not sure why this would be considered negative fodder upon Mrs. Dodger; after all, we’ve seen one major leaguer owner (George W. Bush) leverage his way to the presidency. If Jamie is considering the same path, she needs to know: First, you have to own a major league team. You’re not there yet.
Next Week: TGG's Predictions for 2010
Yes, folks, it’s almost here. Our annual preview of all major league teams will be released this coming week with our predictions of who will rise, fall, stabilize and collapse in 2010. Stay connected to the TGG Facebook page for udpates.
Are the Teasers of 2009 Ready for 2010?
A year ago, we spotlighted a handful of up-and-coming players who sparkled in late call-up situations the year before and tracked their progress throughout 2009 to see how they did for an encore. Among those from last year’s batch who made the grade or better were San Francisco’s Pablo Sandoval, Tampa Bay’s David Price and the New York Mets’ Daniel Murphy. So here’s this year’s collection of players who played beyond expectations at the end of 2009, and where they stand for 2010:
Michael Aubrey, Baltimore. The 28-year old, left-handed slugger actually experienced his second late call-up in two years in 2009, but his numbers with the Oriolesa .289 average, four homers and 14 RBIs in 90 at-batssuggests that a more permanent roster spot to start the season is likely.
Alex Avila, Detroit. He’s considered the catcher of the Tigers’ future, but the way he played late in 2009and as solid as his performance has been this springthe future may have to be now. The 23-year old Avila hit five home runs and knocked in 14 runs in just 61 at-bats and drew ten walks during his late summer audition.
Justin Berg, Chicago Cubs. The 25-year old right-hander from Wisconsin produced a 0.75 ERA in 11 late appearances in 2009 and looks to have a roster spot sewn up for Opening Day. If anything else, Berg will leave spring training armed with pride for being the co-winner of the “Cubs Idol” competition.
Josh Thole, New York Mets. Thole made a wondrous debut for the Mets late last year, hitting .321 in 17 games after impressing at Double-A; he also nailed two of six would-be basestealers behind the plate. Although the catcher position is a weak spot for the Mets, they’ll nevertheless start Thole at Triple-A in 2010.
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco. Born just a few months before the 1989 Earthquake Series between San Francisco and Oakland, the highly-prized lefty got the call from the Giants in September and looked solid, sporting a 1.80 ERA and striking out ten batters in ten innings. Bumgarner is being looked at as the number five starter for a rich Giant rotation that will grow even richer if he evolves as many predict.
Brad Kilby, Oakland. Just what the A’s need: Another sharp young reliever. The 27-year old from nearby Modesto made his major league debut late in 2009 and was terrific, putting up a 0.53 ERA in 11 appearances while striking out 20 (with just four walks) in 17 innings. Kilby has had it rough this spring, and some believe he may start the year at Triple-A.
Neftali Feliz, Texas. The 21-year old Dominican blazed onto the scene for the Rangers late last summer, displaying an electric 100-MPH fastball that helped him strikeout 39 batterswhile allowing just 13 hitsin 31 innings. The big debate this spring is whether he’ll be placed on the Opening Day roster in the rotation or the bullpen; it’s likely it’ll be the latter.
Randy Ruiz, Toronto. Given the undernourished state of the Blue Jays, the late-arriving (age 32) Bronx native will likely be given a very good look by the Jaysand so far, he’s given them an eyeful. In 33 games late last year, he hit .313 with ten homers; he’s continued to knock the socks off the ball this spring. With the team beset by hitting weaknesses throughout its lineup, the brawny, defensive-deficient Ruiz could very well be given the DH spot.
Rusty Ryal, Arizona. After bashing opponents about when brought up last Augusthe hit an okay .271, but 11 of his 16 hits were for extra basesthe 27-year old infielder is going to be hard to keep off the Diamondbacks’ roster for Opening Day, especially given that he’s continued to hammer away this spring.
Wounded of the Week
More aches and pains took place this past week as injuries continued to pile up at major league clubhouses everywhere. More than anyone else, closers seem to be the ones getting picked on.
Minnesota’s Joe Nathan finally had his bullpen session on Saturday to determine whether he could make a go at it for the near term with a bad elbowand he found out he couldn’t. He’ll have Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2010 season.
Beyond Nathan, a host of other closers will not be ready for Opening Day and beyond: Colorado’s Huston Street, out with an ailing shoulder; Cleveland’s Kerry Wood, out up to eight weeks with a bad back; Philadelphia’ Brad Lidge, still struggling to regain full strength after being hobbled by knee and shoulder problems last season; and Tampa Bay’s J.P. Howell, who’ll miss April with shoulder problems.
Elsewhere, Seattle pitcher Cliff Lee will miss at least a week with abdominal problems (he’ll also miss the first five games of the season thanks to being suspended for throwing towards the head of Arizona’s Chris Snyder this past week); and Milwaukee third baseman Mat Gamel, who all but had an everyday spot locked up, is out at least six weeks with a torn muscle in his right shoulder.
Going for the Green
It’s become a widespread tradition in baseball: Every St. Patrick’s Day, baseball teams take the field in green variations of their uniforms. A good number of teams displayed the color of the Irish this past Wednesday, and if you think they were doing it for the fun of it, you’re naïve; the profit motive will be apparent the next time you visit the online MLB shop. As for where all of this began, mlb.com tells the story of the Cincinnati Reds going out as wearing green uniforms in 1978. But if you really want to do your research, you might discover that the Brooklyn Dodgers wore Dodger Green for an entire season in 1937 in a move that might not have been St. Patty’s-Day related.
Now Playing at TGG
Ed Attanasio chats with Tom O'Doul, the cousin of the late, great Lefty O'Doul in a new installment of the They Were There section. Check it out now.
New at TGG: The 2009 Yearly Reader PageThe Salvation of Alex Rodriguez
Our Yearly Reader page covering the 2009 season is now live, including the "It Happened In..." section, final standings and the Leaders and Numbers page breaking down the best hitters and pitchers from each league.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.