This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: March 18-24, 2013
Who's Ready—And Who's Not—For 2013 A Dominican Sleepwalk, er, Cakewalk
Welcome to Rosemont—Home of the Cubs? Two Fans' Revenge on the Marlins

Spring Trained? Who’s Ready and Who’s Not for 2013
As Opening Day looms, it’s time for us to take our annual look at the hottest and coldest players this exhibition season. As always, spring training performance is not an indicator of regular season performance; we’ve seen time and time again how players who appear to be the Second Coming of Ted Williams will immediately flop when the games start to count—while conversely, pitchers who look so lost at camp quickly discover their A-game when April comes around. But often as well, you will see a continuation of one’s greatness or utter failure from spring to regular season. So let’s see who’s ready—and who’s not. (Statistics shown below are as of Saturday, March 23.)

Ready: Dominic Brown, Philadelphia. And not a moment too soon for Phillies, who’ve patiently been waiting for this dude to erupt; a .389 average, seven homers, 16 RBIs and a spring-leading 22 runs scored bode well for a breakout campaign.

Not Ready: Ty Wigginton, St. Louis. And not Ty Cobb either, at least not this spring. Playing for his fourth team in four years, the 35-year-old left-handed slugger is a mere 4-for-43 with no homers and a single RBI—but because he signed a two-year deal with the Cardinals to back up Allen Craig at first, he won’t feel the pressure of not making the Opening Day roster.

Ready: Brandon Belt, San Francisco. The lanky slugger has always looked good in the spring and this year is no different, hitting .433 with seven homers and 17 RBIs; the trick is to get him to (no pun intended) belt opponents equally silly after April 1. That has been the bigger challenge over his first two seasons.

Not Ready: Dan Johnson, New York Yankees. The nomadic first baseman, who only seems to play at his best on the last day of the season—he hit three homers for Cleveland in last year’s regular season finale and, a year before, hit the critical game-tying blast in Tampa Bay’s comeback win over the Yankees to help send the Rays to the playoffs—is trying to take advantage of Mark Teixeira’s wrist ailments and snag a roster spot in pinstripes. But two hits in 32 at-bats with no RBIs do not make for a good audition.

Ready: Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles of Anaheim. It’s bad enough for opponents that they’ll have to face an Angel team with Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols, but they may also have to think twice about Kendrick, the 29-year-old second sacker who’s smacking the ball at a .481 clip in Arizona with 11 extra base hits, including four home runs.

Not Ready: Kelly Johnson, Tampa Bay. From Jays to Rays…to decay? The former Toronto second baseman was plucked away by Tampa in hopes of reviving its offense, but five hits in 42 at-bats with two RBIs and 13 strikeouts is not what the Rays envision from the 31-year old for the regular season.

Ready: Mike Trout, Los Angeles of Anaheim. If last year’s mega-breakout star is to suffer a sophomore jinx, there’s no sign of it in the exhibition season; he’s hitting nearly .400, reaching base at a .519 rate and slugging nearly .700.

Not Ready: Brad Hawpe, Pittsburgh. The former All-Star lost it in 2010 and has been desperately seeking to find it back since; there have been failed comeback attempts in San Diego (2011), Texas (2012) and now the Pirates, who released him this past weekend after hitting .139 with no power and tons of strikeouts (18 in 36 at-bats).

Ready: Mike Morse, Seattle. But of course. The player who always impressed in spring training but bombed in regular season play (until breaking out in 2011 for Washington) is back with the Mariners and again casting little doubt that he’ll be ready for Opening Day. Whether he actually will is another story.

Not Ready: Elmer Reyes, Atlanta. No one expected the 22-year-old Nicaraguan, who’s never played above the Single-A level, to make the Braves’ Opening Day roster—but jeez, couldn’t you at least get one hit in 20 spring at-bats? Elmer Fudd would have done better.

Ready: Jose Reyes, Toronto/Dominican Republic. No relation to Elmer above either in terms of numbers or bloodline, the dynamic shortstop has played exceptionally well (.370 average) whether it’s warm-up games for the Blue Jays or WBC action for the tourney-winning Dominicans.

Not Ready: Ruben Tejada, New York Mets. Reyes’ replacement in New York had a fine year in 2012 and even had his predecessor tutor him during the offseason in Panama. It worked in his first at-bat—he hit a towering homer against Stephen Strasburg—but it’s since been all downhill this spring, hitting a paltry .100

Ready: Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles. The bulky 22-year-old Cuban émigré has become the talk of the Cactus League with his phenomenal play, hitting .547 with three homers, 11 RBIs, four steals (and curiously no walks) in 53 at-bats while attracting comparisons to Bo Jackson. The Dodgers want to send him to Triple-A to start the year, but he’s so good and there’s injury concerns elsewhere on the roster, they may have no choice but to let him see Opening Day at Chavez Ravine.

Still Not Ready: Engel Beltre, Texas. The 23-year-old Dominican outfielder wasn’t ready two springs ago when he went hitless in 17 at-bats, and he showed no progress this spring by nearly repeating the effort (1-for-15). Between that and his temperament—in 2011 he got suspended for duking it out with fans—Beltre’s long-term prospects remain suspect.

Ready: The Kansas City Royals’ offense. What’s up with the Royals and spring training, besides an unbelievable .333 team average? Every spring they rack up the runs and hits, and this year is no different—with six everyday players hitting near or over the .400 mark. You’d think their Cactus League home at Surprise is on steroids, but the Rangers play there as well—and they’re hitting a relatively timid .285.

Not Ready: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s pitching staff. We know the Cactus League is the more lively of the two spring training entities in terms of hitting, but the Angels can do a lot better than a 7.04 team earned run average and a .321 opposing batting mark. If this team is to truly compete for the American League pennant as many people think, they’re going to have to get over this springtime shellshock.

Ready: Jon Lester, Boston. After a disappointing 2012 campaign (9-14, 4.82 ERA), Lester needs a big turnaround—and his spring numbers (3-0, 0.90 ERA in 20 innings) are good signs of things to come.

Not Ready: John Danks, Chicago White Sox. There’s only one thing worse then being on the “not ready” list, and that’s being on it for a second straight year. Such is the case for the beleaguered southpaw whose game has gone way south—proven by a 16.36 ERA in 11 spring innings as he struggles to return from shoulder surgery last August.

Ready: Jeff Francis, Colorado. With a 2-1 record and 1.96 ERA in five spring appearances (four of them as a starter), Francis has likely been all but deified by a Rockie front office desperate for even an ounce of good news on the pitching front this coming season.

Not Ready: Jordan Lyles, Houston. The 22-year-old right-hander threw a four-hit shutout in his last appearance for the Astros in 2012, but what has he done lately? Try a 17.74 ERA and 36 hits allowed in just 11.2 innings this spring. That’s too scary even for an Astro ballclub trying to start its pitching staff from scratch, so Lyles has been optioned to Triple-A to start the new year.

Ready: Julio Teheran, Atlanta. After a rough 2012 spring best remembered for a harrowing start in which he gave up six home runs in two innings, The 22-year-old righty has been mighty in his latest go-around, allowing just seven hits in 20 innings while authoring a fine 1.35 ERA.

Not Ready: Pedro Villarreal, Cincinnati. No one had it easier hitting against major league pitching than when Villarreal was on the mound; in 33 at-bats, opponents gathered up 21 hits against him. That’s a .636 average, folks. Needless to say, Villarreal is headed to the minors.

Ready: Rick Porcello, Detroit. The young right-hander whose ERA has always been just a few shades south of 5.00 entered camp fighting for a rotation spot while trade rumors abounded; but with a 3-1 spring record, 2.50 ERA and not one walk to go with 18 strikeouts in 18 innings, the Tigers may want to rethink about shipping him away.

Not Ready: Matt Palmer, Los Angeles. He only pitched five innings and gave up two earned runs, but he also let in seven unearned tallies thanks to his defense; he fielded the ball three times and made errors on all of them. Even Little Leaguers would be embarrassed.

Yawn Job
The World Baseball Classic came to a rather boring conclusion this week before half-filled crowds at AT&T Park, a venue constantly filled for the San Francisco Giants. The Dominican Republic, after past disappointments, made it look all too easy by running the table and defeating Puerto Rico in the Tuesday final after Japan had won it the first times out.

In sweeping through to muted glory, the Dominicans finished 8-0 with a terrific pitching staff ERA of 1.75; Fernando Rodney, so sensational in the closer’s role for Tampa Bay last season, picked up where he left off for the D.R. team with seven saves in eight appearances, allowing just one hit in 7.1 innings of work.

Major League Baseball championed the WBC and called the third tournament an “unqualified success,” but it also had a lot of defending to do against criticism ranging from apathetic participation and incredibly loose eligibility requirements. The reticence of its own teams to allow its best players to perform in the WBC was justified in the championship game when the D.R.’s Hanley Ramirez tore a ligament in his thumb—costing him two months of service to the team paying him $15.5 million, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president for business, shot down the idea of moving the WBC to mid-July when MLB players are in better playing shape, saying: “Business arrangements of the 30 clubs are not set out to take a two-week break in the middle of the summertime every four years.” In essence, his comment defeats his own argument and is more in line with the philosophy of players who balked at participating in the WBC: Where the money is coming from is more important.

The Rosemont Cubs?
In the 1950s, Walter O’Malley tried to make a go of it with a new ballpark in Brooklyn to replace the overly intimate, aging Ebbets Field; he wanted more room, more parking, etc., like the Milwaukee Braves had with their acres and acres of real estate at County Stadium following their departure from Boston. When Brooklyn politicos stiff-armed O’Malley on his wishes, he packed everything up and moved the Dodgers cross-country to Los Angeles.

The above is prologue for news this week from Chicago, where Cub owner Tom Ricketts is facing the same dilemma with Wrigley Field. He wants to heavily renovate the 99-year-old ballpark and is willing to pay for it all—but in return, he wants neighborhood restrictions relaxed to allow him more mixed-use development within the ballpark territory, more night games, etc. If things don’t work out, he’s already received a call from Brad Stephens, who resides as mayor of the Chicago suburb of Rosemont. What Stephens is offering is a 25-acre plot of land that would house a modern version of Wrigley, without the neighborhood and excessive taxes; nestled in between industry, freeways and O’Hare International Airport, the Cubs would have more breathing room to allow for modern-day ballpark vanities—such as a simple parking lot. (They might also get a lot of overhead plane noise from O’Hare; one of the airport’s major runways ends literally a half-mile away, angled straight at the proposed ballpark site.)

The Cubs publicly responded by stating they “appreciate” Stephens’ overtures but insisted their main focus is trying to make a rejuvenated Wrigley work. At least they know they have leverage, just in case. Ask Mr. O’Malley how that worked out.

As the Biogenesis World Turns
Unable to obtain records (read: dirt) related to major leaguers who were clients of Florida’s notorious PED outlet Biogenesis, Baseball is trying a novel approach: Sue ex-employees of the closed-down firm in an attempt to coerce information in its intensive attempts to nail those who may have been taking steroids from the clinic. In its suit, baseball is claiming that the defendants are being sued because they damaged the game and its players by providing PEDs (in other words, they were pimps). Legal experts said this new tactic is rather novel and could possibly work in a court of law…possibly.

Don’t Lower the Billboard, Raise the Seats!
A week doesn’t seem to go by where we’re reminded of just how out-of-bounds Jeffrey Loria and his Miami Marlins are—and on the surface, this past week’s story of the team threatening to sue a pair of season ticket holders seemed to make the cut for more Loria insanity. The potential defendants bought first-row seats down the left-field line at Marlins Park as part of a two-year contract, but they’re refusing to pay for the second year because, they claim, a billboard was placed in front of their seats midway through the 2012 season that rose seven inches above the railing and “obstructed” their view. But a before-and-after set of photos shown on Yahoo!—which shows the raised billboard to actually be more like four inches higher—suggest that the fans’ claim is a little over the top, unless their last names are Barty. An additional comment from the fans—whose actual names are Bill and Jan Leon—suggest a more palpable reason for their refusal to abide by their two-year deal, with Jan stating: “(The Marlins) are a Double-A team now. It went down the toilet when they sold off all the players.”

The Rich Get Richer…
You would think MLB, so awash in money these days, would be the last business to be discussing pension reform. But after an initial denial this past week, it acknowledged that there has been ongoing talk about allowing teams to have more “flexibility” in redesigning their employee benefit programs for all non-player employees including front office staff and scouts. (Players have their own, very generous pension program courtesy of the powerful players’ union.) As NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra noted, “flexibility” is common Human Resources-speak for an overall reduction in benefits. So never mind the massive flow of TV money, the endless sponsorship revenue and the white palaces mostly paid for by the public; there just isn’t enough money to be found to feed the kitty of those who work behind the scenes and give their employers solid backbone.

Hey Ump, Get Out of Our Way!
We often wonder if umpires would get a better perspective of the strike zone by seeing what we commonly see from the camera looking in from behind center field and over the pitcher’s shoulder. That’s what Tim McClelland was forced to do during this past Tuesday’s Cactus League matchup between the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim when fellow umpire Seth Buckminster’s hand was broken after the ball ricocheted off the Angels’ Albert Pujols—himself hit by the Brewers’ Wily Perlata. As Buckminster left, so did Anthony Johnson—who needed time to put on the home plate umpire’s gear—leaving just two umpires on the field to call the action. Taking a page out of the Little League notebook, McClelland went behind the mound and started calling balls and strikes, using the view that we often see. The unusual setup lasted four batters before Johnson re-emerged in his gear.

Now That’s Run Support
This past Monday, Atlanta’s
Kris Medlen had this stinker line: Five innings pitched, nine runs allowed on 14 hits. All that, and he got the win. The Braves piled up 14 runs on Philadelphia for Medlen by the time he departed and was given credit for the 17-10 victory. For your information, Medlen gave up nine runs over the last 91.2 regular season innings he pitched last season.

Zeets Suit
Someone scammed $3 million from pitcher
Barry Zito—and many Giant fans will think that’s the ultimate irony given how they feel he’s stolen from their team for nearly six years. (Yes, that view has been softened since Zito’s outstanding postseason performance last October.) Here’s the story: Zito claims he invested $3 million in dotFIT, a fitness company run by a friend of his and two others, who said they were raising a total of $20 million in equity as a startup. But beyond Zito’s investment, very less else actually came into the coffers of dotFIT, which never successfully got off the ground—and still they paid what Zito’s lawsuit claims was “unreasonably high salaries” and bonuses to employees. No response yet from dotFIT.

The Return of the Art of Baseball
George Krevsky baseball artFor the second straight year, TGG’s Ed Attanasio will be featured as one of the artists for the popular San Francisco exhibition “Out of the Park: The Art of Baseball,” held at the George Krevsky Gallery located catty-corner from historic Union Square. Ed will be among 40 artists showing off their best (as shown here) with an opening reception on Thursday, April 4 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.; the exhibit will run through May 25. For more information, go to the George Krevsky Gallery website.

Wounded of the Week
wounded of the weekThe MLB Medical Ward crowded up in a hurry this past week as Opening Day appeared around the bend. The NL West was particularly hit hard; besides Hanley Ramirez’s WBC-related thumb injury that will keep him out of the Dodgers’ lineup through May, there were significant losses in San Diego with All-Star third baseman Chase Headley out a month with a broken thumb and starting pitcher Casey Kelly done for the year with Tommy John surgery; and in Arizona, rookie outfielder Adam Eaton will miss nearly two months with a bad elbow (and TGG’s Eric Gouldsberry says thanks to that—he had Eaton listed as his choice for NL Rookie of the Year in our just-release preseason picks).

Outside the West, those unlikely to see action on Opening Day include St. Louis closer Jason Motte (elbow), Chicago Cub pitcher Matt Garza (elbow), Miami outfielder Justin Ruggiano (back), New York Mets pitcher Johan Santana (shoulder), the Yankees’ Phil Hughes (back) and Derek Jeter (leg) and Minnesota pitchers Scott Diamond and Sam Deduno, the latter yet another WBC casualty as the Puerto Rico star struggles with recent groin issues.

It’s Here! TGG’s 2013 Season Preview
Lock the doors, batten down the hatches and head for the hills, because TGG’s Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio are stormin’ through with their picks for the coming baseball season. Check it out now in our Opinion section!

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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