This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: December 16-22, 2013
Ten Players Who'd Like to Forget 2013 A-Rod's Fictional Book Tale
So Sorry, Masahiro Tanaka Shin-Soo Choo's Texas Tea Party

Don't You Forget About Me
The following ten players took a forced vacation in 2013, familiar faces who all but sat out the entire season with major injury problems. If you’re looking for sleepers in your upcoming draft to the 2014 fantasy leagues, this might not be such a bad place to start.

Rafael Furcal. A rarity in that he was a non-pitcher undergoing Tommy John surgery, the veteran shortstop underwent the procedure early last year and missed the entire campaign for the NL champion St. Louis Cardinals—who could have used his presence given that rookie replacement Pete Kozma hit just .217 with a .273 slugging percentage. The Miami Marlins will take a chance with the 37-year-old by signing him to a one-year deal.

Corey Hart. The Milwaukee slugger had surgeries performed on not one but both knees last season, forcing him out for the season. (Adding insult and injury to injury, his replacement at first—Mat Gamel—also went down for the year after tearing his ACL in spring training.) With a .270 average, 30 homers and 83 RBIs in his last action in 2012, Hart was bound to find takers as a free agent this winter—and has found a new home in Seattle. The question now becomes whether the knees will hold up.

Daniel Hudson. A rising star over his first three big league years, Hudson went down with a torn elbow ligament early in 2012 and hasn’t thrown a major league pitch since, as his rehab got sidetracked by yet another elbow tear this past year, leading to a second reconstructive surgery in as many seasons. The Arizona Diamondbacks have re-signed him to a minor league contract, meaning they’re not sold on a comeback.

Jason Motte. The St. Louis closer’s absence initiated a routine of musical chairs that led to a bad replacement (Mitchell Boggs) followed by a good replacement (Edward Mujica) followed by a potentially brilliant replacement (Trevor Rosenthal). Because Rosenthal pitched so well at the end of 2013, Motte is projected to be a set-up man for 2014.

Jeff Niemann. The young right-hander, 36-21 in 2009-11 for Tampa Bay before ceding to shoulder surgery early in 2012, has dealt with a slow rehab that will not make him game-ready until mid-2014. Understandably impatient, the Rays have let him go. He’s in the conversation with many teams seeking a safety valve rotation option.

Juan Carlos Oviedo. The reliever formerly known as Leo Nunez has not pitched since 2011—first because of legal problems connected to his identity masquerade, and later due to Tommy John surgery after tearing an elbow muscle during a minor league assignment. He’s been Tampa Bay property for a year and will remain so after signing a deal for an undisclosed amount last month.

Michael Pineda. A few years ago, the Dominican native was considered the Next Big Thing after a breakout fling with Seattle, but after a lousy second half to that season he was traded to the New York Yankees—where things only got worse. He developed tendinitis in his shoulder, and later tore a muscle during rehab; a drunken driving arrest and slow recovery has made him all but forgotten. The Yankees are crossing their fingers that Pineda, now assumed to be healthy, can recall many fans’ attention in a good way this upcoming season.

Johan Santana. The two-time Cy Young Award winner has fallen on hard times ever since he threw the first no-hitter in New York Mets history in 2012; he missed all of 2013 after undergoing major shoulder surgery last April, and the Mets bought him out for $5.5 million rather than pay him $25 million in 2014. He’s 35 and looking for a new home, with the Yankee, Kansas City, Baltimore…and the Mets all among the curious.

Scott Sizemore. The young infielder may be as hard luck as they come; after a promising 2011 campaign with Oakland, he tore an ACL in spring training 2012—and just two games into the 2013 season, he tore it again. The A’s have given up on him; as of posting time, he’s still available as a free agent.

Jonny Venters. A superb bullpen compliment to sterling closer Craig Kimbrel, the Atlanta southpaw underwent Tommy John early in 2013 and does not expect to return until June 2014. The Braves are doubtlessly hanging onto him, hoping he can pick up where he left off before the injury.

A Tell-All That Smells of Fantasy
We thought it was weird when the New York Post reported early in the week that Alex Rodriguez was looking to pedal a book in which he was going to dish out everything bad about MLB and commissioner Bud Selig. Why, with everything you say, write or breathe subject to cross-examination in an upcoming lawsuit against baseball, would you want to pen something that could potentially get you into a deep mess under oath?

That Random House and HarperCollins were named as the two publishers bidding on the book for $5 million came as a surprise to those houses; neither had heard of the project, nor would they be willing to pay anything near the reported sum. It would be interesting to see who’s behind the “sources” that gave the initial information to the Post.

Bushers Book

MLB and its Japanese counterpart, Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), ended weeks of intense negotiations with a new pact between the two establishing the rules under which NPB players can apply for a move to America. The key component of the three-year deal is that NPB teams will receive no more than $20 million in posting fees from MLB teams bidding on NPB players—and that multiple teams can now bid for the player and pay that fee. Previously, there was no posting cap and only the team that offered the highest bid could negotiate with the NPB player.

This is a major victory for MLB, whose teams had been paying exorbitant posting fees for star NPB players such as the $51 million the Texas Rangers had to shell out to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters for pitcher Yu Darvish. That seems amazing considering that MLB didn’t seem to be negotiating from a position of strength—but then again, NPB teams were facing a potential revolt from its players union if they were not given more freedom to migrate to MLB.

That freedom may actually be tougher to come by, as Masahiro Tanaka found out this past week. After an incredible 2013 campaign in which he finished 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA, Tanaka was considered the highest sought-after pitcher among MLB teams this winter—that is, if he was available. And the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Tanaka’s NPB team, might have allowed him access to seek MLB employment under the old rules given that Rakuten would have commanded a king’s ransom in posting fees. But with the $20 million cap now in place, the Eagles this past week decided not to put Tanaka on the MLB market. So, as another outfit called the Eagles once said, “You can check in anytime you want, but you can never leave.” At least until the end of 2014, when Tanaka’s contract in Japan expires. (Christmas update: The Eagles have changed their mind and will post Tanaka.)

What’s Japanese For “Sweat”?
Joining Tanaka with the Eagles for 2014 with be Kevin Youkilis, who hit hard times back in the States after a run of success in Boston. Youkilis’ deal will be for one year and $4 million including an extra million in potential bonuses. Besides Tanaka, Youkilis will become a teammate of former MLB slugger Andruw Jones and will likely take the spot of Casey McGahee, who hit .292 with 28 homers and 93 RBIs for Rakuten last season and just signed a deal to return to MLB and the Miami Marlins.

Choo on This, New York
Shin-Soo Choo, the best available hitter left on the free agent market, signed a seven-year, $130 million deal with the Texas Rangers this past Saturday. The agreement was $10 million less than what the New York Yankees offered, but in the end, Choo will actually profit more thanks to generous tax breaks given to employees who live in Texas as opposed to the oppressive tax environment of New York state.

Among experts starting to do their homework on their 2014 predictions, the Choo signing will likely tip the scale in favor of the Rangers as AL West frontrunners—even with a pitching staff that is vulnerable to collapse. And as for Cincinnati, the team that lost Choo? No worries, they’re chomping at the bit to get speedy Billy Hamilton, who’s easily capable of stealing 100 bases, into Choo’s spot in the outfield.

Because Bubble Wrap Wasn’t Available
has given up. A brilliant pitching talent whose promising career was devastated by shoulder injuries, Prior announced this Arizona pitcher Brandon McCarthy, an advocate for specialized protective head gear for pitchers—and for good reason, since he suffered a fractured skull on a line shot returned to his head in 2012 while throwing for Oakland—believes that an acceptable form of headgear is all but ready to be put into use for pitchers in 2014. It’s possible McCarthy is jumping the gun, because MLB hasn’t announced anything and no headgear has been officially presented, but it’s possible that the oversized nature of any new hats will leave fans and teammates trying hard to keep from cracking up. (Remember David Wright’s giant helmet from 2009 after sustaining a concussion? Something like that.)

Buyer Beware
And the Baltimore Orioles did just that this past week when they cancelled their agreement with former Oakland closer Grant Balfour when they said he failed his physical, usually a formality in finalizing a free agent deal (although, as Mike Napoli found out last year, it doesn’t always work out that way).

It was said that the Orioles shied away because they had an issue with Balfour’s shoulder, which has undergone surgery in the past—but that was, like, eight years ago; he’s been fairly healthy since. Balfour was mystified by the diagnosis of the Orioles’ team doctors, as were two other respected doctors with MLB experience who checked out Balfour and determined nothing was wrong.

Speculation grew that the one who threw the wrench into the works was Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who came down with buyer’s remorse and put the brakes on the two-year, $15 million deal with Balfour. The players’ union is investigating.

Luxury Can be Taxing
The Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers were nicked this past week for being the only two teams to cross the $178 million luxury tax threshold and thus must pay the MLB piper. The Dodgers’ penalties added up to $11 million, but their fine is substantially lower than the Yankees’ $28 million despite a higher payroll ($243 million vs. the Yankees’ $234 million). That’s because the Yankees, by being assessed above the threshold for the fourth straight year, were further taxed for the assumption of being oblivious to fiscal responsibility. For the Dodgers, this was their first-ever luxury tax payment.

Where Art Thou, Those Promised Riches?
For those in Cobb County who believe the new Atlanta Braves ballpark will bring in copious amounts of revenue and make every citizen rich, heed this warning from Bloomberg, which this past week dissected the fiscal benefits—or lack thereof—from the presence of publicly-financed sports facilities in Cincinnati, including the Reds’ Great American Ballpark.

Meanwhile, back in Cobb County, the Tea Party filed a lawsuit demanding the stoppage of funding for the Braves’ new ballpark. It’s a first: Liberals and environmentalists are jumping on the Tea Party’s wagon for this cause.

Enter Stage Left Field
When notorious Boston Red Sox owner
Harry Frazee plundered his team in the 1920s to strike it rich on Broadway—which he rarely did—maybe he should have thought about creating a play based on the team he indirectly fueled into a baseball superpower: The New York Yankees.

Ninety years later, someone’s finally gotten around to it. On January 10, the curtains will rise for the first time on Bronx Bombers, a tale of the Yankees from the time of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to the modern-day heroics of Derek Jeter. For the audience, the lobby will be just as magical as what they hope to put on stage; it will be decorated to look like Yankee Stadium’s Great Hall and museum. The cast includes Peter Scolari (who played opposite Tom Hanks on the TV show Bosom Buddies) as Yogi Berra, the central character as one who’s seen it all more than any other Yankee legend; also appearing, as Ruth, will be C.J. Wilson—no, not that C.J. Wilson.

Coming Soon to TGG
Over the next few weeks, look out for: The 2013 Yearly Reader page, featuring the story of the world champion Boston Red Sox; additions to our growing list of interviews with ex-ballplayers in our They Were There section; and next week, look out for the Best of the Comebacker, our traditional look back at the wild and wacky from 2013.

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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