Buzz: Latest from spring training

BY foxsports • February 15, 2010

April 3 News and Notes

Lind is a bargain DH for the Jays — 9:45 p.m.

Adam Lind’s new deal with the Blue Jays is another example of the crashing market for designated hitters as teams place renewed emphasis on defense.

Lind, 26, ranked seventh in the American League with a .932 OPS last season — just below Alex Rodriguez and ahead of Kendry Morales and Jason Bay.

At first glance, his four-year, $18 million contract looks extremely club-friendly, particularly since Lind granted the Jays club options on each of his first three free-agent years.

Yet, when considering the harsh treatment of DH types in recent free-agent markets, the deal makes more sense.

In one year-deals last offseason, Hideki Matsui signed for $6.5 million, Vladimir Guerrero for $5 million, Aubrey Huff for $3 million, Russell Branyan for $2 million.

Hank Blalock hit 25 home runs in 462 at-bats for the Rangers last season, yet settled for a minor-league deal with the Rays and did not even make the team.

Lind batted .305 with 35 homers and 114 RBIs last season. He is unlikely to increase those numbers dramatically, and the Jays will use him as their primary DH.

So, rather than go year-to-year in arbitration on non-guaranteed deals, he agreed to a contract that ensures him lifetime security.

Lind will earn $15 million in his three arbitration years — more than the $11.5 million that the Mariners recently awarded over the same period to center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, who is an elite defender and a year ahead of Lind in service.

The club options on Lind’s free-agent years are valued at $7 million, $7.5 million and $8 million. If the Jays exercise each option, Lind will not hit the open market until he is 33.

The risk for Lind is that salaries will return to the point where top DHs command better money. The risk for the Jays is that Lind will get injured or decline.

Viewed strictly from the perspective of Lind’s 2009 performance, the contract looks like a bargain.

For a DH, it might not be that bad.

— Ken Rosenthal

Rockies not ready to activate Beimel — 5:10 p.m.

Left-handed reliever Joe Beimel took his time deciding where to sign for the 2010 season. And even though he felt he was ready to pitch in the big leagues when the Colorado Rockies open the season at Milwuakee on Monday, the Rockies didn't.

As a result, Esmil Rogers was recalled from Triple-A Colorado Springs on Saturday and will fill the long relief role in the Rockies bullpen. That job opened Friday when left-hander Greg Smith was moved into the rotation to replace Jeff Francis, who will go on the disabled list with soreness in his left arm pit.

Beimel did not sign with the Rockies until March 23. He had been working out on his own and said he was ready to pitch. While he did pitch a scoreless inning Monday, Thursday and Saturday, the Rockies decided he needed more time before being activated.

With the recall of Rogers, the Rockies returned right-hander Tim Redding to the minor-league camp, and granted right-hander Justin Speier his release so he can seek another big-league job.

— Tracy Ringolsby

Yankees have limited outfield options — 11:15 a.m.

On the eve of the season opener, some in the industry already are wondering how long the Yankees would tolerate sub-par production from outfielders Randy Winn and Marcus Thames.

The Yankees’ starting left fielder, Brett Gardner, is not yet established as a major-league hitter. An injury to center fielder Curtis Granderson or right fielder Nick Swisher would leave the Yankees further exposed.

Neither Winn, a switch-hitter, nor Thames, a right-handed hitter, had a good spring. Winn, 35, had a batting/on-base/slugging line of .224/.255/.265. Thames, 33, was even worse, hitting .135/.182/.269.  Both had about 50 at-bats.

The Yankees figure to be more patient with Winn, who is changing leagues. Thames, who owns a career .845 OPS against left-handed pitching, might need to get off to a quicker start.

Either way, the Yankees’ investment in the two amounts to a mere $2 million combined. If one or both struggle, and Gardner also starts slowly, the team could be in the market for outfield help quickly. --Ken Rosenthal

Smith is back in Rockies rotation — 8:02 a.m.

Left-hander Greg Smith, who was being considered as a bullpen stopgap until the Colorado Rockies were confident that lefty Joe Beimel was in shape to pitch in the big leagues, is headed for the No. 2 slot in the Rockies rotation.

Jeff Francis' comeback from last year's left shoulder surgery hit rough waters on Friday, according to reports out of Albuquerque, N.M., where the Rockies are playing their final games of the spring against Seattle. After working five impressive shutout innings against the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, Francis was unable to play catch on Friday because of a soreness under his arm pit.

Smith is experienced. He was a member of the Oakland rotation two years ago, and worked 190 1/3 innings. This spring, he had a 1.50 ERA with the Rockies, pitching 18 innings. He was considered the "sixth starter'' with the idea he would be pitching in the rotation at Triple-A Colorado Springs to stay ready if a big-league need arises.

In recent days, however, he was being considered to fill a bullpen opening created by closer Huston Street being placed on the disabled list.

After failing to sign as a free agent during the winter, he finally came to terms to return to the Rockies on March 23. He said he had been throwing 55 pitches every other day during workouts at South Torrance (Calif.) High School, but the Rockies were leery. That's when discussions developed about keeping Smith.

In his brief efforts the past week, however, Beimel began to convince club officials he really was ready. He worked two innings, throwing only 20 pitches, 16 of which were strikes, and had a hard slider that the Rockies did not see after he was acquired from Washington in August last year. -- Tracy Ringolsby

April 1 News and Notes

Brewers can't make successful match with Dye — 1:55 p.m.

The Brewers made a run at free-agent outfielder Jermaine Dye within the past week, but the talks failed to produce an agreement, major-league sources say.

If the Brewers had signed Dye, they would have traded another of their outfielders, most likely right fielder Corey Hart, to clear both money and playing time.

The Brewers and Nationals are believed to have discussed Hart. The Nats, who have been looking for a right fielder since releasing Elijah Dukes, also have been linked to Dye.

Dye, 36, said earlier this offseason that he turned down a one-year, $3 million offer from the Cubs, who instead signed another free-agent outfielder, Xavier Nady, for $3.3 million.

The reason for the impasse between Dye and the Brewers is not known. But the Brewers are not happy with Hart, 28, who will earn $4.8 million this season.

Manager Ken Macha told reporters Tuesday that Jim Edmonds, a left-handed hitter, could be his Opening Day right fielder against Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez.

Hart, a right-handed hitter, is batting only .127 this spring with a .158 on-base percentage and .291 slugging percentage.

His production has declined since his breakthrough 2007 season when he batted .295 with 24 homers and 81 RBIs.

Dye, meanwhile, remains a free agent after batting .250 with 27 home runs and 81 RBIs for the White Sox last season.

His numbers tailed off markedly after the All-Star Game, and executives cite his diminished skills in the outfield as another reason that he remains unsigned. — Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi

Phils looking for more pitching help — 1:08 p.m.

The Phillies are looking for pitching after losing right-hander Joe Blanton to a mild left oblique strain, but fully aware that they might not find help.

"You’ve seen some of these rotations,” one club source says. “Ugh.”

Blanton, the Phillies’ No. 3 starter, will be out 3 to 6 weeks. His replacement will be right-hander Kyle Kendrick, who was beaten out by lefty Jamie Moyer for the fifth starter’s job.

The Phillies were scouring the lists of out-of-options players for potential bullpen solutions even before losing Blanton. Kendrick had been set to open the season as a reliever. His move to the rotation opens another bullpen job.

Closer Brad Lidge, recovering from offseason surgeries on his right knee and right elbow, recently received a cortisone shot and will be out until at least mid-April.

Left-handed setup man J.C. Romero, who also is recovering from elbow surgery, will join Lidge on the disabled list to start the season. --Ken Rosenthal

Webb's return to D-backs still uncertain — 11:58 p.m.

When will Brandon Webb pitch again?

The answer remains unclear.

Barring a setback, the return of the Diamondbacks’ right-hander in May is “highly likely,” according to a major-league source.

However, Webb has yet to make a significant step in his recovery from shoulder surgery last August, and the Diamondbacks seem to be bracing for an extended absence.

“I have no idea how to establish a timeline,” Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes said Thursday morning. “We have to prepare to play with that unknown.” Full story...  -- Ken Rosenthal

March 31 News and Notes

Rockies closer to remain in Arizona for shoulder treatment — 5:11 p.m.

The Colorado Rockies shut down closer Huston Street for the third time this spring on Wednesday.

The team will break camp Thursday morning. However, Street — who will open the season on the disabled list — will remain in Tuscon, Ariz., for treatment.

A week ago, Street said he was going to try throw despite continued stiffness in his right shoulder in an attempt to loosen it up. But trainer Keith Dugger decided to shut him down after the stiffness continued to bother Street.

"We don't want to try to aggravate anything," Dugger said. "We need to get it right."

Lefty Franklin Morales will open the season as the Rockies' closer.

— Tracy Ringolsby

Latest on D-backs rotation race — 4:40 p.m.

TUCSON — For all the roster adjustments Arizona made during the offseason, the Diamondbacks will open the season with right-hander Rodrigo Lopez as the fourth starter, and Kris Benson, who started Wednesday against Colorado, is a candidate for the fifth spot.

Billy Buckner and Kevin Mulvey also are candidates, but both already have been optioned to Triple-A Reno.

Lopez appearance in seven games, five starts, with Philadelphia last year, his only big-league appearances since being sidelined July 26, 2007 with an elbow injury that required surgery.

Benson, who started Wednesday despite being in the Arizona minor league camp, signed a minor-league deal with Arizona on March 17. He pitched five innings for Arizona's Reno affiliate in a minor-league game against the Rockies Triple-A Colorado Springs affiliate on Friday, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks. Benson has made eight big-league appearances, two starts, in the last three seasons. —Tracy Ringolsby

Lee expected to begin season on DL — 4:23 p.m.

Left-hander Cliff Lee, the Mariners’ prized offseason pitching acquisition, is expected to begin the season on the disabled list because of an abdominal strain.

The team is hopeful that Lee will be ready to return relatively early in the season. But his delivery and health history could complicate matters.

This will mark Lee’s third disabled list stay because of an abdominal muscle injury. The most recent time it happened, in 2007, Lee struggled for the rest of the season. He had a 6.29 ERA for the Indians and was ultimately shipped to the minor leagues.

With that in mind, consider the words of a scout who has watched Lee pitch for years.

“He’s always had a tightly wound core and a lot of torque in his delivery,” the scout said Wednesday. “For a pitcher with that type of delivery, that injury is very tough to come back from quickly. There’s no way for him to get around using those muscles in his delivery.

“They have to make sure that the area’s completely healed, or he’s going to go back to straining it. It’s like a hamstring or groin for base stealers. You’ve got to handle it with kid gloves, or you’re going to be back to Square One.

“This injury might hold him out for longer than they think. He’s a lean guy to begin with — wiry strong — but he doesn’t have that workhorse-type body. Pound for pound, he’s a strong guy. But part of that strength almost works against him because of the way his delivery is.” -- Jon Paul Morosi

Despite high regard from players, Millar misses Cubs cut — 10:26 a.m.

Earlier this spring, I was chatting with Orioles right-hander Jeremy Guthrie when he asked, "Hey, is Millar going to make the Cubs?"

Millar is Kevin Millar, who was Guthrie's teammate with the Orioles in 2007 and '08. Few players are held in as high regard by their teammates, past and present. When the Cubs released Millar on Tuesday, several of the team's players had a strong, emotional reaction, according to major-league sources.

Right-hander Ryan Dempster, a close friend of Millar's, was visibly upset, one source said. Other players questioned Cubs officials about the decision. The players were not reacting negatively toward Chad Tracy, the player who beat out Millar. They merely were disappointed that Millar had not made the team.

Millar, 38, batted .242 with a .405 on-base percentage in 42 Cactus League plate appearances but had only three hits in his last 20 at-bats. The Cubs, whose lineup is heavily right-handed, preferred Tracy, a left-handed hitter who is more capable of spelling Aramis Ramirez at third base. Tracy, 29, is batting .263 with a .349 OBP this spring.

Millar's chances also diminished when rookie Tyler Colvin hit his way onto the team. Colvin will start frequently in the outfield. If the Cubs had kept Millar over Tracy, their bench would have been entirely right-handed on days that Colvin played, compromising manager Lou Piniella's ability to make moves. — Ken Rosenthal

March 30 News and Notes

Martin returns for Dodgers — 5:55 p.m.

TUCSON — Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, out since March 6 with a strained groin, will return to the lineup for Wednesday's exhibition game against the San Francisco Giants in Glendale, Ariz. The Dodgers wrap up the Arizona portion of their spring training with the Giants game, and also will have a team in Las Vegas playing Cincinnati on Wednesday. — Tracy Ringolsby

Rockies may move Smith to bullpen — 5:05 p.m.

TUCSON — Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy said initially Greg Smith was not a candidate for the bullpen. With only four more games in spring training, Tracy changed his mind. Smith is now a prime candidate for the final bullpen spot.

Right-handers Juan Rincon, Tim Redding and Justin Speier have been inconsistent. Lefty Joe Beimel said he can be ready for Monday's season opener, but the Rockies don't want to rush Beimel, who signed a week ago and made his first exhibition game appearance on Monday. He will pitch against the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday.

The Rockies could keep Smith, and then option him out when Beimel is considered ready or they could keep Smith and make a move with another reliever. Right-handers Manuel Corpas and Matt Daley both have options, as does Smith.

Smith does fit the two needs the Rockies have — he can pitch multiple innings and he is left-handed. He allowed three runs in 15 2/3 innings this spring, and worked four shutout innings against the Dodgers on Tuesday.

“We were waiting for someone to take the ball and run and it hasn’t happened,’’ said Tracy. “I’m not saying we have made a decision, but is he a candidate? Yes.’’ — Tracy Ringolsby

Sources: Dodgers making moves to clear roster spots — 1:08 p.m.

The Dodgers, frantically trying to create spots on their 40-man roster, are selling left-hander Eric Stults to Japan’s Hiroshima Carp and making a move with outfielder Jason Repko, whom they have placed on waivers, according to major-league sources.

The moves would leave the Dodgers with four available spots on their 40-man roster. They created another opening by placing right-handed reliever Ron Belisario on the suspended list to start the season. Belisario only recently joined the club due to visa problems in his native Venezuela.

The Dodgers need the additional room because as many as four non-roster players could make their team – infielder Nick Green, outfielder Garrett Anderson, right-hander Jeff Weaver and either right- hander Russ Ortiz or Ramon Ortiz.

The expected inclusion of Green on the Opening Day roster would mean that the Dodgers would carry 11 pitchers to start the season, including right-hander Carlos Monasterios, a Rule 5 draft pick.

Going with such a thin staff could be problematic, particularly in April. The Dodgers open the season with a trip to Pittsburgh and Florida, then take another trip to Cincinnati, Washington and the New York Mets later in the month.

Most of their starters do not pitch deep into games, and rain delays and postponements could further complicate their pitching plans.  — Ken Rosenthal, Jon Paul Morosi

March 29 News and Notes

Lack of roster room is inhibiting trades — 6:25 p.m.

At this time of year, scores of trade possibilities bounce from cell phone to cell phone, blog to blog.

But as we separate the substantive from the speculative, keep this in mind: If you trade for someone, you need a place to put him.

And that’s where roster spots enter into play.

Teams can carry only 40 players on their major league rosters, although exceptions are granted for long-term injuries. (Hence the 60-day disabled list.) From that, teams must submit a 25-man active roster before Opening Day.

Right now, many of those 40-man rosters are at capacity. That can create uncomfortable decisions for teams, particularly if candidates to be bumped off rosters are prospects who were given $1 million signing bonuses.

In fact, one executive said Monday that a lack of 40-man roster space is inhibiting trades. As of Monday afternoon, there were only 28 open spots across the big leagues.

That might also explain why teams have been reluctant to sign notable free agents such as Jarrod Washburn, Braden Looper and Jermaine Dye.

The following teams are currently maxed out on roster space: A's, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, Indians, Mariners, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Pirates, Rangers, Red Sox, Reds, Rockies, Royals, Tigers and Twins.

(But the Twins, for example, can free up a spot by placing Joe Nathan on the 60-day disabled list. He’s out for the season after elbow surgery.)

The Cubs, Marlins, Mets, Rays and Yankees are the only clubs with three open spots.

The full list is as follows, according to rosters posted at

Angels – 38
Astros – 39
Athletics – 40 (1 player on 60-day DL)
Blue Jays – 40 (3 players on 60-day DL)
Braves – 39
Brewers – 39
Cardinals – 38
Cubs – 37
Diamondbacks – 40
Dodgers – 39
Giants – 38
Indians – 40 (1 player on 60-day DL)
Mariners – 40
Marlins – 37
Mets – 37
Nationals – 40 (1 player on 60-day DL)
Orioles – 40
Padres – 40
Phillies – 38
Pirates – 40
Rangers – 41 (2 players on 60-day DL)
Rays – 37
Red Sox – 40
Reds – 40 (1 player on 60-day DL)
Rockies – 40
Royals – 40 (1 player on 60-day DL)
Tigers – 40
Twins – 40
White Sox – 39
Yankees – 37

— Jon Paul Morosi and Ken Rosenthal

The meaning of Cain's new deal — 7:45 a.m.

The Giants’ signing of right-hander Matt Cain to a three-year, $27.25 million contract further weakens the free-agent class of 2011-12, at least when it comes to starting pitching.

White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle, who will be turning 33, now projects as the top free-agent starter in that group. Cain and Royals righty Zack Greinke will be eligible for free agency the following year, in 2012-13.

The lack of elite starting pitching in the next three free-agent classes is a major reason the Red Sox are trying to sign right-hander Josh Beckett to an extension before Opening Day.

If such a deal occurs, Mariners left-hander Cliff Lee and Yankees right-hander Javier Vazquez will be the top free agents next off-season. Beckett, too, would be part of this class. -- Ken Rosenthal

March 28 News and Notes

Rockies' Street hopes to be ready by end of April — 1:26 p.m.

TUCSON, Ariz. – Colorado Rockies closer Huston Street is on a throwing program he hopes will allow him to be available to pitch by the end of April, although he admits he still feels a stiffness in his right shoulder.

Street resumed throwing on Friday, and said after back-to-back sessions on Friday and Saturday, "It didn’t go any better, but we are going to stay with the throwing program, see if we work through it."

Street has already been shut down twice this spring because of the stiffness. The rest did not alleviate the problem either time. Street said the decision to try and throw through the stiffness was made because rest has not helped and because his latest MRI did not reveal any structural problems.

"I have had three MRIs since I have been here, when I was acquired, when I signed (a three-year contract during the off-season) and this spring," said Street. "The good sign is the MRI I just had actually looks better than the other two." — Tracy Ringolsby

Redding losing hope for major league start — 9:37 a.m.

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Right-hander Tim Redding is losing ground in his bid to make a big-league roster.

Redding has faded in the four-man battle for the final spot on the Colorado Rockies pitching staff and could be faced with an assignment to Triple-A Colorado Springs. He does have an April 3 opt out in his contract, but that is only if he is placed on a team's 25-man active roster for Opening Day.

Seattle had interest and sent a scout to watch Redding's performance for the Rockies against the Chicago White Sox on Saturday. He didn't see much.

Redding has his third rough outing in a row. He gave up five runs on seven hits in two innings of a 6-2 loss.

Right-hander Justin Speier would seem to have the current edge for the open pitching spot on the Rockies roster over Juan Rincon. Lefty Joe Biemel, however, is the slepeer. He signed last Tuesday, threw 20 pitches in a minor-league game on Saturday, and is scheduled to pitch on Monday, Wednesday and Friday this week in an effort to show the Rockies he is strong enough to open the season in the big leagues. — Tracy Ringolsby

March 27 News and Notes

With Lee ailing, M's ramp up search for starting pitcher — 11:48 p.m.

Absent any encouraging news on Cliff Lee’s abdominal strain, sources say the Mariners have intensified their pursuit of another starting pitcher.

With left-handers Lee and Erik Bedard likely to begin the season on the disabled list, the Mariners may prefer to add another left-hander. Nate Robertson (Detroit) and Brian Tallet (Toronto) are available and performed well in their spring starts on Saturday.

One major league source said the Tigers have contacted the Mariners to gauge their interest in Robertson, who is owed $10 million in the final year of his current contract.

The Mariners could also choose to sign a free agent, such as recently released right-hander Chad Gaudin or lefty Jarrod Washburn, who had a terrific first half for them last year.

Milwaukee left-hander Manny Parra is an intriguing possibility, although a separate source said the Brewers haven’t discussed him with other clubs.

The Brewers and Mariners are natural trade partners because Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik was a longtime scouting director for Milwaukee. He drafted Parra in 2001 and is still high on him now, despite a 6.36 ERA in the majors last year.

Parra, 27, is unlikely to make the Brewers’ rotation. Jeff Suppan, owed $12.5 million this year, performed well in his most recent spring outing and will be given every opportunity to become the No. 5 starter. Chris Narveson, another candidate, has had a great spring.

Parra could still make the club as a reliever, so there isn’t much incentive for Milwaukee to trade him.

The Brewers may be reluctant to give up on a young left-hander, remembering well that they traded Jorge de la Rosa for Tony Graffanino in 2006. De la Rosa blossomed into a 16-game winner with the Rockies last year. Rick Peterson, the new pitching coach, was hired for the purpose of getting value from quality arms such as Parra’s. — Jon Paul Morosi and Ken Rosenthal

ChiSox try out Opening Day lineup in Spring Training games — 5:46 p.m.

Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said he will put an Opening Day lineup on the field starting Monday.

Guillen said he plans on an outfield of Juan Pierre in left, Alex Rios in center field and Carlos Quentin in right field with Andruw Jones at DH. Jones, however, has impressed Guillen with his regained defensive ability and could see more than expected time in center field.

The Sox, meanwhile, scratched rookie second baseman Gordon Beckham from Saturday's plans because of a left abdominal soreness. The hope is Beckham will be able to play Sunday. — Tracy Ringolsby

March 26 News and Notes

Jays seeking to deal right-handed relievers — 10:46 p.m.

The Blue Jays are trying harder to trade one of their right-handed relievers, Jason Frasor or Jeremy Accardo, rather than left-hander Scott Downs, multiple sources said.

“Frasor is the guy they seem to be peddling,” one National League scout said.

There are several reasons for this:

    Downs and Frasor will become free agents at the end of this season, making them obvious trade candidates.

    Toronto may also be willing to deal left-hander Brian Tallet, who has experience as a starter and reliever. He is 2-1 with a 7.36 ERA in three starts this spring. He has a $2 million contract this year.

    The Cubs, Mets and Phillies are among the teams that could add relief help before Opening Day. — Jon Paul Morosi

    Big arm returns for Colorado — 6:45 p.m.

    The Rockies bullpen got a lift on Friday.

    Rafael Betancourt, the projected eighth-inning reliever, made his spring debut and worked a shutout inning, giving up one hit and striking out one. He threw 11 strikes and five balls.

    Betancourt had been slowed this spring by tightness in his right shoulder. He, however, has been adamant that he will be ready Opening Day. Friday's game gives him a chance to meet that goal.

    Closer Huston Street will, however, open the season on the disabled list because of right shoulder stiffness. He expects to be ready by May 1. In his absence, lefty Franklin Morales will be the closer. Morales worked in that role last September when Street was sidelined.

    The Rockies appear to have one spot open in the bullpen. The primary candidates are Tim Redding and Justin Speier, although lefty Joe Beimel, who will pitch a minor league game on Saturday after signing earlier in the week, said he can be ready to open the year on the active roster, too. — Tracy Ringolsby

    Second chance for Levis? — 3:56 p.m.

    People get second chances in baseball all the time -- and sometimes third, fourth and fifth chances, too.

    Jesse Levis never should have lost his first chance. And now, he wants the second chance he deserves.

    Levis, 41, was scouting for the Red Sox in spring training two years ago when he was charged with two felony counts of lewd and lascivious behavior for an incident that allegedly took place at a hotel in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

    The felony charges were quickly withdrawn, according to Levis' personal attorney, Robert Levant. Levis still faced a misdemeanor charge for indecent exposure, but on Jan. 27, the Circuit Court of St.
    Lucie dismissed that charge, too.

    "It is my belief that after the dust settled, the police and the district attorney looked at it and quickly realized there was no case there," Levant says.

    Levis, a former catcher who spent parts of nine seasons with the Indians and Brewers, passed a lie-detector test three days after the charges were brought against him, Levant says.

    Yet, Levis has not worked in baseball since the end of the 2008 season, when the Red Sox declined to renew his contract while his case was still pending.

    "The last two years have been stressful for me and my family," says Levis, who is married with three children. "These allegations follow me everywhere."

    But now his name is clear.

    Levis has sent a letter to all 30 general managers, explaining what happened and expressing his desire to get back into baseball.

    His letter includes endorsements from former major-league infielder Mark Loretta, who is now the special assistant in baseball operations with the Padres, and Tracey Leone, who recently was named head women's soccer coach at Northeastern after serving as an assistant at Harvard.

    "This would have been so far out of character for him," says Loretta, who is Levis' former teammate and roommate. "I didn't think for a second it could be true. I know it's not.

    "When I heard it, I was stunned to the core. I was like, 'Wait a minute, I know Jesse Levis as well as almost anyone. I've lived with the guy.' He's a very conservative guy. He's not a partier. He never went out chasing whatever people chase. I was just like, 'C'mon.'"

    Levis says he would like to return to the game either as a coach or in his previous role as a professional scout. Teams generally fill such positions at the end of a season, not the start. But Levis did not control the timing of the trumped-up case against him.

    "Baseball has been my passion forever," he says. --Ken Rosenthal

    March 25 News and Notes

    Dodgers make Opening Day decision on pitcher — 2:05 p.m.

    What a country.

    Right-hander Vicente Padilla, released by the Rangers last Aug. 7 for being a poor teammate, will be the Opening Day starter for the defending National League West champion Dodgers.

    It’s almost as if manager Joe Torre is using the occasion to point out, “Look, I have no ace!” In fact, Torre made reference to his lack of a No. 1 starter when he announced his decision Wednesday.

    “We just had to pick somebody, and he was the one,” Torre told reporters at the team’s training complex in Glendale, Az. “Am I going to say he’s better than the other guys? I can’t do that. We just decided to line them up that way.”

    Actually, Torre had his reasons for starting with Padilla, then going with left-hander Clayton Kershaw, right-hander Chad Billingsley and right-hander Hiroki Kuroda.

    The Dodgers wanted Kershaw to pitch the home opener April 13. They preferred Billingsley to avoid the pressure of pitching Opening Day. And they saw Kuroda struggle for three starts before he rebounded with 5 1/3 scoreless innings Wednesday against the punchless A’s.

    So Padilla it is.

    Padilla, who was despised by the Rangers for plunking opposing hitters and exposing his teammates to retaliation.

    Padilla, who went 4-0 with a 3.20 ERA in eight appearances (seven starts) after joining the Dodgers last Aug. 20.

    One other Dodgers pitching note: The team, which still hasn’t chosen its fifth starter, is interested in right-hander Chad Gaudin, according to a major-league source. The Yankees released Gaudin on Wednesday. — Ken Rosenthal

    Right-hander agrees to minor league deal with White Sox — 9:29 a.m.

    Right-handed pitcher Scott Elarton, who sat out last year due to a bone fusion in his right foot, has agreed to terms for a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox. Elarton will be reunited with his former manager in Colorado and Kansas City, Buddy Bell, the current minor league director for the White Sox.

    A first-round draft pick out of the Houston Astros who turned down a scholarship to Stanford, Elarton has pitched in the big leagues with the Astros, Colorado, Cleveland and Kansas City. He has been working out for teams this spring, looking to extend his career.

    Elarton is in line to pitch for the White Sox's Triple-A affiliate but would be a big-league consideration if he shows he is healthy. — Tracy Ringolsby

    Yanks give up on Gaudin — 9:13 a.m.

    The Yankees took the first step toward resolving their fifth-starter competition on Thursday, releasing right-hander Chad Gaudin, according to a major-league source.

    Gaudin, who turned 27 on Wednesday, had a poor spring, allowing 24 baserunners in 9 1/3 innings and producing an 8.68 ERA. He cleared waivers and the Yankees owe him one-fourth of his $2.95 million salary -- $737,500 -- in termination pay.

    Right-hander Phil Hughes is expected to be named the Yankees’ fifth starter, with right-handers Alfredo Aceves and Sergio Mitre starting the season in the bullpen. -- Ken Rosenthal

    March 23 News and Notes

    Yankee scout has personal interest in St. Mary's run — 1:10 p.m.

    Entering the press box in Glendale, Az., last Saturday, I noticed a group of scouts sitting at a table, watching the St. Mary’s-Villanova NCAA men’s tournament game with particular interest.

    I walked past the group, looking at them sort of quizzically, when one scout turned to me and explained.

    “His son is the athletic director at St. Mary’s," the scout said, pointing to Yankees scout Greg Orr.

    Mark Orr, 33, took over at St. Mary’s in March 2006. He was 29 at the time, the youngest athletic director of a Division I program.

    Now, after Saturday’s 75-58 victory over No. 2 seed Villanova, No. 10 St. Mary’s is headed to the Sweet 16. It plays No. 5 Baylor on Friday night, and the survivor will meet the winner of Duke-Purdue on Sunday.

    “It was intense, because I knew the implications of the game, not only for the basketball program but the institution itself,” Greg says of St. Mary’s upset of Villanova.

    “A lot of good things happen for a school and the athletic program when they have the opportunity to go to the Sweet 16, which they had never been to before.”

    Greg joined the Yankees in 1984 and signed first baseman Nick Johnson as an amateur scout in ’96. He moved over to the professional side for the Yankees in 2006.

    Mark Orr was a defensive back at Cal, undergoing three reconstructive knee surgeries in four years. He earned a bachelor’s degree in social welfare and master’s in education and joined the St. Mary’s athletic department in 2000. But despite his rapid ascent, his father describes him as “a very humble guy.”

    The big question: Will Greg temporarily abandon his scouting duties to attend the St. Mary’s-Butler game in Houston?

    “I’m not going to go — he can handle it,” Greg says. “He knows my hearts and wishes are with the guys, but I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do here. Now, if they go to the Elite Eight or Final Four, that might be a different story.”

    Mark understands.

    “You know what? I think he’s kind of superstitious,” Mark says. “He’ll enjoy watching it on television in the comforts of home or in a press box. In his job, he’s always bouncing all over the place. Even when I was playing football at Cal, it was tough for him to get to games.

    “It’s funny — me now being a father, I can relate. I’ll be in Houston this weekend. My little boy has soccer practice, and my wife will have to take him.”

    Mark turned out all right even though Greg frequently was away. The two speak almost every day.

    “I bounce ideas off him,” Mark says. “Though I’m not a baseball scout, we’re both involved in professional careers in athletics.

    "We have a very close relationship.” — Ken Rosenthal

    March 22 News and Notes

    Source: Beimel close to minor-league deal with Rockies — 10:19 p.m.

    Free-agent left-hander Joe Beimel is on the verge of signing a minor- league contract with the Rockies, according to a major-league source.

    The deal is likely to be announced Tuesday morning, the source said.

    Beimel, who turns 33 on April 19, started last season with the Nationals, then was traded to the Rockies for two minor leaguers on July 31.

    He went a combined 1-6 with a 3.58 ERA in 55 1/3 innings with those two clubs.

    With Rockies closer Huston Street likely to open the season on the disabled list, lefty Franklin Morales is expected to be the Rockies’ closer.

    Beimel, who held left-handed hitters to a .297 on-base percentage last season, would give the team a second left-handed specialist to go with Randy Flores. — Ken Rosenthal

    Reds pitching phenom leaves game with back pain — 6:51 p.m.

    Cuban phenom Aroldis Chapman came out in the midst of his second inning of work against the Colorado Rockies because of lower back stiffness.

    Chapman's injury was diagnosed as muscle spasms. The Reds announced he will receive treatment for several days and then be re-evaluated.

    Before the diagnosis, Chapman — through interpreter Tony Fossas — said he didn't consider the injury serious, and said he never had back problems.

    "I tried to work it out and it didn't,'' said Chapman. "I came out of the came just in case.''

    Chapman had no problems in his first inning of work, retiring the Rockies in order on eight pitches, six strikes.

    He was charged with four unearned runs in the second inning he pitched, and threw 31 pitches, only 16 of them for strikes. He finished having thrown 39 pitches, allowing the four unearned runs on two walks, two hits and a wild pitch, and striking out two.

    Chapman, signed in January to a six-year deal that guarantees him $30.25 million, allowed one run on four hits in seven innings of his three previous appearances this spring, allowing two walks and striking out 10. — Tracy Ringolsby

    Will "out" clauses affect Indians' roster? — 8:16 a.m.

    Two players competing for spots on the Indians’ Opening Day roster have "out" clauses in their contracts, but one club official said those provisions "will not have an impact" on the makeup of the team.

    Right-hander Jamey Wright can ask for his release if he’s not on the major-league roster by April 2. Wright, who is competing for a bullpen spot, is 1-0 with a 1.17 ERA in five appearances this spring.

    Outfielder Austin Kearns can make a similar request if the Indians don't place him on their roster by April 3. Kearns has batted .250 in 11 games while making a bid for playing time in left field.

    The source added that there are "no trades on the horizon" for the Indians at this point. -- Jon Paul Morosi

    March 21 News and Notes

    M's Figgins targeted for second base  — 6 p.m.

    Frankly, Chone Figgins is the Mariners’ best option at both second and third base, but the team cannot use him in both spots at once.

    Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu confirmed to the Seattle Times on Sunday what had become increasingly obvious: Figgins will play second and Jose Lopez will play third.

    Wakamatsu spoke with both players on Friday, and each indicated he is comfortable with his change in positions. General manager Jack Zduriencik talked with each individually Saturday and heard the same message.

    Lopez played second last season for the M’s, and Figgins manned third for the Angels. Figgins has appeared in 113 career games at second but has not played more than 10 games in a season at the position since 2005.

    “Right now, both guys have really bought into it,” Zduriencik says. “Don had a conversation with both of them talking about maybe flipping  them back. Both guys said, ‘You know what? We really like it the way it is.’”

    Wakamatsu says: “That’s a critical point with the manager, obviously. You’ve got (to have) people behind what you do.”

    Figgins has far more range than Lopez, and he started a spectacular double play Friday, backhanding a ball up the middle and making a behind-the-back flip to shortstop Jack Wilson.

    Lopez has good hands and a good arm, and Zduriencik says the Mariners’ new third-base coach, former major-league infielder Mike Brumley, is a strong advocate of using Figgins at second and Lopez at third.

    “I thought it was worth looking at,” Zduriencik says. “Certainly, (Figgins) is a quicker, more agile guy at second base. When you look at third base, it’s such a reactionary position; balls get down the line, they’re going to be doubles. But in the middle of the infield, there are a lot of factors.

    “Take ground-ball range as one. But then range can be measured in a whole lot of other ways. Bloops over your head. Going out for relays. Covering first base on bunts. Covering second base. Turning double plays. The relationship between a second baseman and a shortstop. All of those things were things we talked about.

    “In the end, we want what’s best for the ballclub, whatever that is.” — Ken Rosenthal

    Mauer, Twins agree to 8-year deal — 5:45 p.m.

    The Minnesota Twins and catcher Joe Mauer have agreed to an eight-year, $184 million contract extension.

    The deal, which includes a full no-trade clause, will be made official at a 7 p.m. (ET) news conference on Monday.

    Mauer, 26, was the AL MVP last season. He batted .365 with 30 doubles, one triple, 28 home runs and 96 RBI in 138 games. He was named to his third career All-Star team, won his second career Gold Glove Award and his third career “Silver Slugger” Award. [More] — Ken Rosenthal

    March 19 News and Notes

    Beimel talks with Mets fail; reliever still on market — 9:49 p.m.

    On Thursday, one rival general manager predicted the Mets would sign free-agent lefthanded reliever Joe Beimel.

    Not so fast.

    "Negotiations with the Mets have fallen apart and Beimel is re-open to consider all clubs and willing to be flexible," Beimel's agent, Joe Sroba, said on Friday.

    The Mets offered Beimel a minor-league contract but Sroba told them Friday night that there would be no deal, according to a major-league source. The Rockies also have shown interest in Beimel, but only on a minor-league contract.

    Beimel, 33, waited until March 18 to sign last season, agreeing to a one-year, $2 million free-agent contract with the Nationals. He is seeking at least $1 million, according to a rival club.

    A nine-year veteran, Beimel went 1-6 with a 3.58 ERA for Washington and Colorado last season. — Ken Rosenthal

    March 18 News and Notes

    Smoltz TV deals leave door open for return — 10:38 a.m.

    While right-hander John Smoltz told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the odds of him pitching again were "50-1," his broadcast contracts include "outs" if he wishes to revive his baseball career, according to major-league sources.

    Smoltz, 42, has not officially announced his retirement, though his deals with TBS and the MLB Network seem to point him in that direction.

    The Phillies in particular have shown a strong interest in Smoltz as a possible midseason addition, one source said. Another veteran right-hander, Pedro Martinez, joined the Phillies last August and helped lead them to the World Series.

    March 16 News and Notes

    Yankees could keep Chamberlain, Hughes in 'pen — 8:11 p.m.

    Some in the Yankees’ organization advocate making right-hander Alfredo Aceves the fifth starter and using both Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen, according to major-league sources.

    Such a move would give the Yankees a powerhouse bullpen, one so strong that manager Joe Girardi actually might find it difficult to find work for all of his relievers.

    The arrangement likely would benefit the Yankees short-term. But general manager Brian Cashman still wants to develop at least one of his younger pitchers — most likely Hughes — as a starter.

    Left-hander Andy Pettitte could retire after this season. Right-hander Javier Vazquez is a free agent. The Yankees, in theory, could re-sign Vazquez and add another free agent, left-hander Cliff Lee. But doing that would require an enormous investment, one that could take the Yankees out of the bidding for free-agent left fielder Carl Crawford.

    And the team, even with Vazquez and Lee, still would need one more starter.

    Hughes, 23, has made only 45 starts in the majors and minors the past three seasons, missing three months with a strained left hamstring in 2007 and three months with a stress fracture in his right ribcage in ’08. He pitched mostly in relief last season.

    If the Yankees want to establish Hughes as a starter, the time is now.

    Spending another season in the bullpen would make it that much more difficult for Hughes to re-condition his arm; he could not jump from say, 75 innings to 175 the following year. Hughes’ service clock also is ticking. He will be arbitration-eligible after this season, as will Chamberlain.

    Aceves, according to George King of the New York Post, was treated for a “balky” back during the offseason, a condition that might be easier to manage if he pitched every fifth day.

    The Yankees, though, value Aceves’ versatility. Their bullpen, if Hughes started, likely would include four right-handers (Aceves, Chamberlain, Chan Ho Park and David Robertson), two lefties (Damaso Marte and Boone Logan/Royce Ring) and right-handed closer Mariano Rivera.

    Pretty formidable, even without Hughes. — Ken Rosenthal

    Worries about O's closer Gonzalez? — 8:11 p.m.

    It’s often difficult to judge veterans on spring training performance, but one scout in Florida is concerned about the Orioles’ new closer, Mike Gonzalez.

    “He’s throwing like B.J. Ryan did (last spring) — and nothing was wrong with him, either,” the scout says, sarcastically, referring to Ryan’s weak performance with the Blue Jays, which led to his release last July.

    “I’m hoping he’s just taking it slow. But normally when a guy takes it slow and gets into trouble, he’ll show (arm strength) to you, that it’s still there. He hasn’t done that yet.”

    Gonzalez, signed to a two-year, $12 million free-agent contract last winter, told reporters that while he is suffering from lower-back soreness, his arm is fine.

    Some pitchers simply proceed at their own pace. The scout says Gonzalez is throwing 85-86 mph, down from his usual 92-93. — Ken Rosenthal

    Moyer not a lock for Phils' rotation — 8:11 p.m.

    The future suddenly is uncertain for Phillies left-hander Jamie Moyer.

    Right-hander Kyle Kendrick rates a clear edge over Moyer for the Phillies’ fifth-starter job, according to scouts following the team.

    Moyer, 47, could end up in the bullpen, or perhaps even traded. He is unlikely to be released.

    The Phillies owe Moyer $6.5 million this season, and perhaps another team would be willing to absorb a portion of that salary if he showed improvement later this spring.

    Moyer, however, is coming off surgery to repair three torn tendons in his groin and lower abdomen, and his contract includes a limited no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to six clubs, no more than four in one league. — Ken Rosenthal

    Rockies' Buchholz ahead of schedule — 8:11 p.m.

    Rockies right-hander Taylor Buchholz is ahead of schedule in his recovery from Tommy John surgery last June. But the team, facing other injury concerns, is reluctant to accelerate Buchholz’s rehabilitation and risk a significant setback.

    The Rockies still are not certain whether their closer, Huston Street, or setup man, Rafael Betancourt, will be ready for Opening Day. Both were set back by shoulder tightness and inflammation, and have yet to make their Cactus League debuts. Betancourt is about a week behind Street. — Ken Rosenthal

    March 15 News and Notes

    Mariners still interested in Washburn — 6:41 p.m.

    The Mariners are still showing interest in bringing Jarrod Washburn back to Seattle, two major league sources said Monday.

    Washburn said last week in an e-mail to that the odds of him returning to Seattle “are probably not great.”

    But at this point, the Mariners don’t have five established starters in their Opening Day rotation. Erik Bedard, who is coming off shoulder surgery, is expected to contribute this year but won’t be ready for the start of the season.

    Washburn went 8-6 with a 2.64 ERA in 20 starts for Seattle last year, before a deadline trade to Detroit. He struggled for the Tigers, largely because of a knee injury that required surgery. He has said since that the knee is healthy.

    Washburn, 35, would prefer to pitch for the Mariners or a team (such as the Twins) who play close to his home in Wisconsin.

    Minnesota is an intriguing possibility, although it's unclear if ownership will authorize the additional expense.

    Francisco Liriano has had something of a mid-career rebirth this spring, fanning 12 batters in seven innings with a 3.86 ERA. If the Twins view Liriano as a contingency at closer — with Joe Nathan possibly facing surgery — then they could sign Washburn rather than trade for a reliever.

    Without Liriano, the top four spots in the Minnesota rotation would belong to Scott Baker, Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn. Brian Duensing would then be among the No. 5 starter candidates. — Jon Paul Morosi

    Tampa Bay has a surplus of starters — 5:53 p.m.

    There will probably be plenty of trade rumors surrounding Rays right-hander Andy Sonnanstine over the final few weeks of spring training.

    But no one has made a formal inquiry yet, one major league source said Monday afternoon.

    Among the teams that could use another starter: the Diamondbacks, Mariners, Mets, Twins, Dodgers and Nationals.

    Sonnanstine has pitched well this spring but may be Tampa Bay’s No. 7 starter, behind rookies Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson.

    Davis, 24, has more experience in the upper minors than Hellickson, who turns 23 in April. But Baseball America rated Hellickson (No. 2) ahead of Davis (No. 3) in their annual prospect rankings.

    If Davis makes the team, as appears likely, the Rays’ rotation will include these five pitchers, in no particular order: James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Jeff Niemann and Davis.

    Hellickson will probably begin the season at Class AAA and would probably be the first pitcher summoned when rotation help is needed.

    The Rays could keep Sonnanstine as a long reliever/swingman and use him in the rotation if needed.

    Sonnanstine has minor league options remaining, so the Rays could send him to Class AAA without exposing him to waivers.

    — Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi

    Benson agrees to minor-league deal with Arizona — 5 p.m.

    Pitcher Kris Benson has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The deal contains no "out," but the team will not stand in his way if he does not make club and has other options.

    The 35-year-old right-hander pitched in eight games last season for the Texas Rangers, going 1-1 with an 8.46 ERA.

    Benson missed the 2007 and 2008 seasons with arm issues. — Ken Rosenthal

    March 14 News and Notes

    Will money influence Nats' decision for SS? — 10:46 p.m.

    On Sunday morning, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore, “Money has nothing to do with who’s going to play.”

    But later that day, Rizzo balked when I asked him about the possibility of releasing Cristian Guzman if Ian Desmond won the shortstop job.

    Guzman is guaranteed $8 million this season.

    “He’s still a long way from that type of discussion,” Rizzo said. “He’s a .300 hitter. He can still play short. He’s not an old player by any means.”

    Guzman, who turns 32 on Sunday, is not a .300 hitter — his career batting/on-base/slugging line is .271/.307/.386. He also is coming off arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder.

    Desmond, 24, batted .280-.318-.561 last September in 89 plate appearances. While that sample is small, he has resumed his standout play this spring.

    Would the Nationals make Guzman an $8 million backup? Possibly. More likely, they would give Guzman one more chance and return Desmond to Triple A. If Guzman faltered, the Nats then could release him.

    Rizzo is lukewarm to the idea of making Desmond a super-utility player, even though Desmond plays second base, short, center and right field.

    “I don’t think so,” Rizzo said. “To me, he’s an everyday shortstop. He’ll play every day at shortstop wherever he’s playing.”

    Added manager Jim Riggleman, “We would have to project a lot of work for him to be on the ballclub as a utility player.

    “If we looked at it and said there are 350 to 400 at-bats there for him, that would be an option. But that’s kind of on the back burner. Right now, he’s competing to be the shortstop.”

    Desmond has minor-league options remaining. If the Nationals kept him but could not find him enough at-bats, they could send him to Triple A without fear of losing him to another club. — Ken Rosenthal

    Source: Mauer talks still progressing — 4:23 p.m.

    The absence of news in the Twins’ negotiations with catcher Joe Mauer should not be misinterpreted.

    The talks, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions, “are not stalled by any means.”

    The sides continue to talk and negotiate, the source said. Opening Day — the likely deadline for Mauer, who is a free agent at the end of the season — is still three weeks away.

    Expectations rose that a deal might be near when Mauer’s agent, Ron Shapiro, recently spent two days meeting with Twins officials at the team’s spring-training complex.

    More than a week has passed since those discussions, fueling speculation that the sides are at an impasse. But negotiations are a process, and much is at stake for both Mauer and the Twins.

    Mauer, who turns 27 on April 19, is still expected to sign an extension of at least seven years and $20 million per season. — Ken Rosenthal

    Bruney 'loves it' with Nats, even with the challenges — 10:23 a.m.

    Major leaguers often are merciless when riding each other. So, it was right-hander Brian Bruney’s misfortune last December to hear that he had been traded from the Yankees to the Nationals while getting off a plane for a hunting trip with Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner.

    “He was all over me — ‘You’re going to Washington! You’re going to lose 100 games!” Bruney recalls, laughing.

    Bruney said Gardner would let not up the entire week, but the reliever gained ammunition when he learned days later that the Yankees had traded him for outfielder Jamie Hoffman, the Nationals’ first pick in the Rule 5 draft.

    “Buddy, you’re going to be in Triple A!” Bruney recalls telling Gardner.

    Bruney’s agent, Terry Bross, had informed the pitcher of the trade, sending him a text message saying that he had been traded to Washington.

    “State or D.C.?” Bruney replied.

    Seriously, Bruney says he “loves it” with the Nats, even though he went from the World Series champions to a team that lost 103 games last season — and its first nine games of the spring.

    The Nats, he says, are full of talented players with heart — hungry types, many of whom were discarded by other clubs.

    “I always wanted to be the new kid in school anyway,” Bruney says. “If a team trades for you, they want you.”

    “I’m getting paid to play baseball, man, you know what I’m saying?”  — Ken Rosenthal

    March 13 News and Notes

    Granderson likely to beat out Gardner as NYY center fielder — 10:11 p.m.

    The Yankees consider Brett Gardner one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball.

    The Royals, Reds, Padres and White Sox all tried to trade for Gardner over the winter, intending to make him their regular center fielder, according to a major-league source.

    So, why does Curtis Granderson remain more likely than Gardner to be in center field for the Yankees on Opening Day?

    A few reasons:

    • Granderson is no slouch defensively.

    The Yankees are convinced that Granderson’s defensive struggles in the final weeks of last season stemmed from the difficulty of playing center in Detroit’s Comerica Park.

    For all of Granderson’s troubles, he still ranked fourth among center fielders in the plus-minus ratings according to Bill James online.

    He was plus-16, meaning that he made 16 plays above what an average fielder would make. The Mariners’ Franklin Gutierrez led all center fielders at plus-45.

    Granderson fared less well in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), but was still above-average.

    • Gardner likely will sit against left-handers.

    Randy Winn, a switch-hitter, and Marcus Thames, a right-handed hitter, offer platoon options for Gardner in left. Neither, though, is a realistic alternative in center.

    Granderson, then, would need to switch positions against lefties — too much to ask when improving his hitting against lefties is one of his primary goals.

    • The Yankees don’t know if Gardner can hit.

    What if Gardner opens in center, then is batting .230 on June 1?

    It would not be fair to ask Granderson to return to center in the middle of the season, his first as a Yankee and first adjusting to Yankee Stadium.

    • Hey, he’s Curtis Granderson.

    Lest anyone forget Granderson played center field for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic last season and also made his first All-Star team.

    Gardner, on the other hand, is not yet an established player.

    — Ken Rosenthal

    March 12 News and Notes

    Sources: D-backs' Webb likely to open season on DL — 11:11 p.m.

    Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb is almost certain to open the season on the disabled list, multiple sources said Friday, and the team is now examining at least one way to increase its rotation depth.

    Veteran right-hander Kris Benson threw for team officials on Friday and reached 90 miles per hour with his fastball, one person in the industry said. But it’s not clear if the Diamondbacks will offer a major-league contract.

    The Diamondbacks will probably make a decision in the next 24 hours on what sort of deal to offer the 35-year-old Benson, one source indicated.

    Benson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft, has one major-league win over the past three years. He hasn’t pitched in the big leagues over a full season since 2006, when he went 11-12 with a 4.82 ERA in 30 starts for the Orioles.

    Webb, 30, missed almost all of last season because of a right shoulder injury that required surgery. His progress this spring has been slow at times, and there isn’t enough time left in spring training for him to build up his arm strength before Opening Day.

    But team officials are encouraged by how Webb has felt over the past week. They believe a season-opening stay on the DL would be “brief,” according to one source.

    Webb’s status is particularly worrisome for Arizona because the club has little depth at the other end of its rotation. If Webb is out, Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy will probably occupy the top three spots, followed by some combination of Kevin Mulvey, Billy Buckner and Rodrigo Lopez.

    Buckner, Lopez and Mulvey combined to win seven games in the majors last year. — Jon Paul Morosi and Ken Rosenthal

    March 10 News and Notes

    BoSox P prospect earning rave reviews — 7:09 p.m.

    Let’s just say Red Sox right-hander Casey Kelly is making a strong impression.

    Kelly, 19, is the Sox’s latest pitching phenom, drawing raves both inside and outside the organization.

    “Given his limited pitching experience, he has great feel for three pitches, mound presence well beyond 19,” a Red Sox official says.

    “He loves to learn and maybe most important is very comfortable in his own skin. He is genuinely confident.”

    Kelly, the 30th overall pick in the 2008 draft, threw two hitless innings Sunday in his spring debut against the Orioles in his hometown of Sarasota, Fla.

    “The ball comes out of his hand really nice,” a rival scout says. “It looks like he has poise on the mound.

    “He controls his body well. His delivery works well. Everything works well for him. You know he has a good head on his shoulders, just because of who his dad is.”

    Kelly’s father, Pat Kelly, was a longtime minor-league catcher who appeared in three games with the Blue Jays in 1980.

    Casey, projected to open the season at Double A, is expected to enjoy a much longer major-league career. — Ken Rosenthal

    Sweeney makes his case to Seattle — 6:30 p.m.

    On this day, Mariners veteran Mike Sweeney certainly looked like a major leaguer.

    Whether he will be one on Opening Day is still in doubt.

    Sweeney went 2-for-3, with two doubles against Rangers stud Neftali Feliz Wednesday afternoon. For a right-handed batter against the right-handed Feliz, that’s a tough task.

    “The old saying: Even a broken clock’s right twice a day,” Sweeney quipped afterward. “It’s definitely a good indicator, facing a guy like Feliz who’s throwing close to 100 (mph), being able to square the ball up a couple times against him.”

    This is a crucial spring for the 36-year-old Sweeney. He batted .281 for the Mariners last year but is in camp this time on a minor league contract.

    And if he isn’t in the majors when the regular season begins, he will retire. A coaching position or playing in the minor leagues “aren’t options for me,” Sweeney said Wednesday.

    “Come Easter Sunday, my first option would be to be here as a Seattle Mariner,” he said. “My second option would be with another big league team, in a big league clubhouse.

    “My third option — and it truly is my only other option, which would be wonderful — is being home in San Diego with my wife, Shara, and three kids, going to Mass on Easter Sunday.

    “I’m in a win-win-win (situation). We’ll see how the good Lord unfolds these next four weeks.”

    It won’t be easy for Sweeney to make the Mariners’ 25-man roster. He’s viewed primarily as a designated hitter, although he played five games at first base last year, and he has continued taking grounders at spring training.

    Seattle has Ken Griffey Jr. and potentially newly-signed Milton Bradley at DH, with Casey Kotchman and Ryan Garko at first base.

    If Sweeney has to look elsewhere for work, he indicated that he would give priority to West Coast teams. — Jon Paul Morosi

    Liriano a chance as Nathan replacement — 5:35 p.m.

    Twins general manager Bill Smith declined to say Wednesday that the team would consider left-hander Francisco Liriano as a replacement for injured closer Joe Nathan.

    But the GM did not rule out the possibility.

    “We are going to take two weeks to evaluate what our options are with Joe Nathan,” Smith said, referring to Nathan’s decision about whether to rehabilitate his torn elbow ligament, or undergo Tommy John surgery.

    “We’ll start to build some contingencies and go from there. Among those contingencies, we’re going to look at a few different options within the organization. I don’t want to characterize any of them as more viable than others.”

    One of those contingencies may be Liriano, 26. He was dominant in the Dominican winter league, revisiting his form of 2006, when he went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA in 28 games, including 16 starts.

    One question about Liriano is whether the Twins are confident that he could stay healthy as a reliever. Liriano underwent Tommy John surgery in November 2006, and was on the disabled list from Aug. 18 to Sept. 9 last season with left arm fatigue.

    Asked directly if Liriano could hold up physically as a closer, Smith would say only that the the Twins are considering a number of contingencies.Ken Rosenthal

    Street recovery on schedule — 4:45 p.m.

    Rockies closer Huston Street, coming off two solid bullpen sessions, is ready to throw batting practice on Friday. Street had bullpen sessions on Sunday and Tuesday and said the right shoulder inflammation that sidelined him has settled.

    Street threw 15 pitches in the bullpen at 80 percent Sunday, and at full speed for 20 pitches Tuesday.

    “Sunday went extremely well, probably better than expected as far as my location,” Street said. “Tuesday was even better. There was actually some jump to the ball, which is just a sign everything’s kind of letting loose and the body’s taking back over.

    "Today played out as a best-case scenario for what we expected. We wanted to push the envelope effort-wise.”  Tracy Ringolsby

    VandenHurk could be Marlins' No. 3 starter — 3:22 p.m.

    A few Marlins notes:

    * If the season started today, right-hander Rick VandenHurk likely would be the team’s No. 3 starter behind righties Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco.

    VandenHurk, 24, finished last season in the Marlins’ rotation. He has added a cut fastball to his repertoire, which also includes a low-to-mid 90 mph fastball, curveball and changeup.

    * Jorge Jimenez, a Rule 5 pick from the Red Sox, stands an outside chance of winning the third-base job. He also could stick as a left- handed bat off the bench.

    Jimenez, 25, batted .289/.366/.422 for Double A Portland last season. The Marlins could play him at third and move Jorge Cantu to first.

    The team’s other option is to keep Cantu at third and go with Gaby Sanchez or Logan Morrison. Sanchez, in particular, has been hot offensively.

    * Right-hander Jose Veras has been the biggest standout among the team’s non-roster relievers, a group that also includes righties Mike MacDougal, Derrick Turnbow and Seth McClung.

    One of those pitchers could emerge as a low-priced option for the Twins, who likely will seek bullpen help if closer Joe Nathan is lost for the season with a torn elbow ligament. — Ken Rosenthal

    Twins GM declines to talk about Liriano as closer — 2:28 p.m.

    Twins general manager Bill Smith declined to say Wednesday that the team would consider left-hander Francisco Liriano as a replacement for injured closer Joe Nathan.

    But the GM did not rule out the possibility.

    “We are going to take two weeks to evaluate what our options are with Joe Nathan,” Smith said, referring to Nathan’s decision about whether to rehabilitate his torn elbow ligament or undergo Tommy John surgery.

    “We’ll start to build some contingencies and go from there. Among those contingencies, we’re going to look at a few different options within the organization. I don’t want to characterize any of them as more viable than others.”

    Liriano, 26, was dominant in the Dominican winter league, raising the possibility that he could regain his form from 2006, when he went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA in 28 games, including 16 starts.

    One question about Liriano is whether the Twins are confident that he could stay healthy as a reliever. Liriano underwent Tommy John surgery in Nov. 2006 and was on the disabled list from Aug. 18 to Sept. 9 last
    season with left arm fatigue.

    Asked directly if Liriano could hold up physically as a closer, Smith essentially repeated his initial answer, saying the Twins are considering a number of contingencies. —Ken Rosenthal

    Scout impressed by Nats' Morse — 2:27 p.m.

    Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth is 6-foot-5, 225 pounds. Nationals utility man Mike Morse is 6-5, 230.

    “I can close my eyes, look quickly and think I’m watching Werth,” says a rival scout who recently volunteered how impressed he was by Morse this spring.

    Werth, 30, was a late bloomer. He performed well in a limited role for the Dodgers in 2004, then suffered a series of injuries, only to re-emerge with the Phillies in ’08.

    Morse, who turns 28 on March 22, is less experienced than Werth was then — he has appeared in only 139 major-league games and missed the entire ‘08 season with an injured left shoulder.

    However, Morse’s career batting line is .293/.355/.409, and he also batted .322/.383/.511 for Triple A Tacoma and Syracuse last season; the Mariners traded him to the Nationals for outfielder Ryan Langerhans on June 28.

    While Morse originally was a shortstop, the Nationals are using him at both corner and infield spots and even looking at him as an emergency catcher.

    Morse, a right-handed hitter, seemingly stands a good chance of making the club as an all-purpose reserve. --Ken Rosenthal

    March 9 News and Notes

    Scout: Strasburg 'very poised' in debut — 4:46 p.m.

    This from a rival scout who attended the spring training debut of Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg against the Tigers on Tuesday:

    “He was very poised, threw strikes, was throwing 93 to 98 mph. The ball really jumps out of his hand. He had great finish through the zone. His changeup was 90.

    “He buckled (Miguel) Cabrera on two breaking balls at 81, made him look like a child, then blew him away with a fastball over the plate — the kind that Cabrera usually smokes.

    “He needs to go to the minor leagues, pitch every fifth day for the first time, have some stiffness, have some adversity. But it was pretty special.”

    The scout went on to speak excitedly about the Nationals’ future rotation, particularly after right-hander Jordan Zimmermann returns from Tommy John surgery next season.

    The team’s 2011 rotation could be Strasburg, Zimmermann, left-hander John Lannan and right-handers Chien-Ming Wang and right-hander Jason Marquis — assuming Wang is healthy and re-signs with the Nats. --Ken Rosenthal

    March 8 News and Notes

    Smoltz, Pedro still on NL teams' radars — 9 p.m.

    Something to keep in mind when projecting the relative strengths of potential National League contenders:

    One of them is likely to sign Pedro Martinez, 38. Another of them is likely to sign John Smoltz, 42.

    Both right-handers remain free agents. Both intend to pitch this season. And both almost certainly will stay in the NL.

    Martinez, of course, is a starter, one who helped the Phillies reach the World Series last season after joining the team on Aug. 12.

    Smoltz prefers to start, but is open to relieving. He, too, contributed to a postseason club last season, joining the Cardinals on Aug. 23 after getting released by the Red Sox.

    The Cardinals maintain interest in Smoltz, but do not presently have a spot for him and cannot offer him a salary he would deem appropriate, according to a source with knowledge of the club's thinking.

    The Phillies maintain interest in Martinez, but first might need to add a reliever if closer Brad Lidge and left-hander J.C. Romero are slow to recover from their respective elbow surgeries.

    The Cubs, who currently are scouting the Cactus and Graperfruit Leagues for a setup man, would be interested in both Martinez and Smoltz “down the line,” according to a major-league source.

    The Dodgers, in need of a starter, also could emerge as a possibility for both pitchers. — Ken Rosenthal

    Peralta heading off into uncertain future — 12:01 p.m.

    When Jhonny Peralta reported to spring training last year, he was still the Indians’ shortstop. Now, he is their everyday third baseman.

    As for 2011? It’s impossible to know which position Peralta will play — and for which team.

    Peralta, 27, will become a free agent after this season if the Indians decline their $7 million option. On Sunday, Peralta indicated that he won’t necessarily give preference to playing one position over the other if he hits the open market.

    “Everything depends,” he said. “The more time I play third base, I’m going to feel more comfortable. I don’t know yet.”

    Peralta said it was “kind of hard” to learn about the position switch early last season, but added, “I’m going to be ready to go. I’m not upset. They need me, and I’m here for that.”

    Peralta will earn $4.6 million this year, a salary that would probably enable the Indians to trade him at midseason if they fall out of the American League Central race. The Indians haven’t been shy about trading veterans (CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Casey Blake, et al) in recent seasons.

    Peralta said he isn’t thinking about where he will play beyond this year but acknowledged that he would like to remain in Cleveland.

    “This is where I played my whole career,” he said. “For sure, I want to stay.”

    Peralta, a very streaky hitter, batted .254 with 11 home runs in 151 games last year. The 83 RBIs were the second most in his career. — Jon Paul Morosi

    March 7 News and Notes

    Rockies closer returns to mound — 4:57 p.m.

    The Rockies received good news on the bullpen front Sunday.

    Closer Huston Street had a short session in the bullpen, the first time he had been on the mound since Feb. 26, and will have a more intense bullpen session Tueseday. Street had some shoulder tightness that forced him to slow down his spring activity.

    Streets expects to make nine relief appearances this spring, which is in line with his past springs.

    Setup man Rafael Betancourt was given anti-inflammatory medication to help ease tightness in his right shoulder. — Tracy Ringolsby

    Dodgers don't plan to trade for catcher — 3:18 p.m.

    The Dodgers do not plan to seek outside help after losing catcher Russell Martin for four to six weeks with a pulled groin.

    Frankly, there is not much catching help available, at least at this early stage of the spring. Paul Bako, 37, is probably the top remaining free agent.

    While Martin’s injury is not major, his absence exposes the Dodgers’ lack of depth at his position. It also raises questions about Martin’s offseason conditioning.

    Martin, 27, reported to camp 25 pounds heavier than he was last spring, but didn’t simply add muscle; his body fat also increased, according to one source, and the weight gain might have contributed to his injury.

    Dodgers manager Joe Torre told reporters that A.J. Ellis will do the bulk of the catching while Martin is sidelined, with Brad Ausmus serving as the backup.

    Ellis, 28, has 13 at-bats — and one hit — in the major leagues. Ausmus, who turns 41 on April 14, is strictly a part-time player at this stage of his career.

    Dodgers officials, though, are excited about Ellis, a take-charge receiver who could emerge as a positive influence on their young pitchers. Ellis actually might even be better than Martin at catching and throwing and handling a pitching staff, some in the industry say.

    “I feel awful for him,” Ellis said Sunday, when asked about Martin. “I know how hard he worked this offseason, how excited he was for the season. Knowing Russ, he’ll back soon. He’ll work his tail off to get back and come back strong.

    “There’s no guarantee that I’m going to be on this team Opening Day. I’ve got to continue to work hard, just make sure that I’m doing everything I need to get the pitchers ready and myself ready.”

    Ellis caught a number of the team’s pitchers in the minor leagues, which he said should help him feel more comfortable with the new responsibilities.

    The Dodgers traded one of the game’s top catching prospects, Carlos Santana, to acquire third baseman Casey Blake from the Indians at the trade deadline in 2008.

    Blake has helped the Dodgers reach the National League Championship Series in each of the past two seasons. Santana is expected to make his major-league debut this season.

    Ken Rosenthaland Jon Paul Morosi

    Another setback for Gordon, Royals — 2:51 p.m.

    The Royals have made their share of mistakes in evaluating talent, but by almost every account, third baseman Alex Gordon was not one of them.

    Gordon, the second overall pick in the 2005 draft, was heralded by many as another George Brett. His failure to meet expectations is due, at least in part, to poor luck.

    The news that Gordon will be sidelined 3 to 4 weeks with a broken right thumb is the latest setback for a player who underwent hip surgery last April and appeared in only 49 games.

    Gordon, 26, still might fulfill his potential -- the No. 7 pick in the ’05 draft, Blue Jays left-hander Ricky Romero, finally broke through last season.

    But the Royals, who selected right-hander Luke Hochevar with the No. 1 overall choice in ’06 after picking Gordon second in ’05, have not gotten the desired impact out of either choice.

    Consider some of the players taken after Gordon in ’05:

    4. Ryan Zimmerman.
    5. Ryan Braun.
    7. Troy Tulowitzki.
    12. Jay Bruce.
    23. Jacoby Ellsbury.
    42. Clay Buchholz.

    Now consider some of the players taken after Hochevar in ’06:

    3. Evan Longoria.
    7. Clayton Kershaw.
    10. Tim Lincecum.
    11. Max Scherzer.

    The Rays also had a series of top three picks this decade, selecting B.J. Upton second in ’02, Delmon Young first overall in ’03 and Longoria third in ’06. They later traded Young for right-hander Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett and reached the World Series in ’08.

    The Royals have not made the playoffs since winning the World Series in 1985.

    -- Ken Rosenthal

    March 5 News and Notes

    Mauer, Twins talks gaining momentum? — 4:16 p.m.

    The Twins’ negotiations with Joe Mauer appear to be gaining momentum.

    Mauer’s agent, Ron Shapiro, visited the Twins’ spring-training home in Ft. Myers, Fl., for the second straight day Friday, the strongest indication yet that constructive talks are talking place. Full story...-- Ken Rosenthal

    Slow start by 2 P's doesn't worry Rockies skip — 3:39 p.m.

    Rockies right-handed relievers Huston Street and Rafael Betancourt both have had their starts to the spring slowed by right-shoulder tightness. Manager Jim Tracy, however, said he is not concerned.

    "They are veteran pitchers and know what they need to do to get ready for the season,’’ said Tracy. "They have both been through these things.’’

    Street is the Rockies' closer, acquired a year ago as part of a package from Oakland for Matt Holliday, and signed a three-year contract in the offseason. Betancourt was an in-season addition last year from Cleveland, and filled the need for a setup reliever. He signed a two-year contract in the offseason. — Tracy Ringolsby

    Basketball legends make surprise appearance — 3:35 p.m.

    Credit Angels manager Mike Scioscia with a slam dunk.

    Angels outfielder Bobby Abreu is involved in ownership of a basketball team in his native Venezuela. The team is struggling.

    "Bobby, what you need are some ballhandlers,’’ Scioscia said at the end of the morning team meeting. "`We have some guys who want to try out.’’

    With that, the clubhouse door opened and in walked the Harlem Globetrotters, who put on a clubhouse display of ballhandling. The Globetrotters, who are based in Phoenix, will include Angels outfielder Torii Hunter and Milwaukee reliever LaTroy Hawkins in their public appearances Friday and Saturday nights in Phoenix. — Tracy Ringolsby

    March 3 News and Notes

    Hurdle in for difficult transition — 7:27 p.m.

    Clint Hurdle, the Rangers’ new hitting coach, faces a difficult transition on two levels.

    One, he is replacing Rudy Jaramillo, who was immensely popular with the Rangers’ hitters.

    Two, after managing the Rockies from April 26, 2002 to May 29, 2009, he is moving to a less prominent role.

    Hurdle, 52, seems undaunted by both challenges.

    “One of our questions was, ‘Is this what you want to do coming right off managing?’” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels recalls.

    “He was very sincere, very clear in saying this is where his passion is right now.”

    Hurdle inherits an offense with room to grow — the Rangers were seventh in the American League last season in runs, 12th in on-base percentage and first in strikeout rate.

    Yet, rather than try to separate himself immediately from Jaramillo, Hurdle is taking a measured, respectful approach.

    The two hitting coaches worked together in the Rockies’ organization, when Hurdle was the team’s roving minor-league hitting instructor and Jaramillo the manager at Class A Bend.

    They maintain a strong relationship, and have spoken at length since Hurdle took the Rangers’ job.

    “Clint has been great,” Rangers third baseman Michael Young says. “He tried to get to know everybody on a personal level first, which was very cool.

    “I think he knew how much the guys loved Rudy and he respected that.
    He’s a very good guy and he knows hitting, too. He’s got some great ideas for us.”

    — Ken Rosenthal

    March 2 News and Notes

    Baldelli back with Rays -- in front office — 11:52 a.m.

    Free-agent outfielder Rocco Baldelli has a tattoo of a Major League Baseball logo just above his left ankle.

    He is not going to leave the game easily.

    Baldelli, dealing with a shoulder problem, has accepted a special assistant’s job in the Rays’ front office.

    At age 28, he says he is not retiring; he plans to rehabilitate his shoulder to reduce the pain, then re-evaluate his future.

    “It’s very nice of (Rays general manager) Andrew (Friedman) and the organization to do this for me,” Baldelli said in a text message.

    Baldelli was the Rays’ first-round pick and sixth overall selection of the 2000 draft, but injuries and other medical issues repeatedly have disrupted his career.

    He spent last season with the Red Sox, batting .253 with seven homers and 23 RBIs in 62 games. -- Ken Rosenthal

    March 1 News and Notes

    Mets bullpen already in trouble? — 11:27 p.m.

    Grapefruit League play has yet to begin, and the Mets’ bullpen already is in semi-crisis.

    There is no setup man. Nor are there backup plans if either of the team’s best relievers, right-handed closer Francisco Rodriguez and left-handed specialist Pedro Feliciano, gets injured.

    The Mets want to sign Joe Beimel as a left-handed complement to Feliciano, but have yet to make an acceptable financial offer to the free agent, who waited until March 18 to sign last season and still received a $2 million deal from the Nationals.

    The rest of the market for Beimel and fellow free-agent left-hander Ron Mahay is unclear. Several teams that seemingly could use another lefty reliever — including the Angels, Astros, Phillies, Diamondbacks and Royals — are not seeking upgrades, major-league sources say.

    For the Mets, the setup void is a bigger issue.

    Right-hander Kelvim Escobar, perhaps the leading eighth-inning option, is unlikely to recover from shoulder weakness by Opening Day. Japanese right-hander Ryota Igarashi, another possibility, has yet to face a major-league hitter.

    Maybe a younger righty such as Bobby Parnell or Fernando Nieve will grab the setup role, but even then the questions about the Mets’ overall bullpen depth would persist.

    Heaven forbid that Rodriguez — who had a 6.68 ERA after June 27 last season — is lost for any length of time. None of the Mets’ other relievers would be a suitable replacement, and the bullpen almost certainly would collapse.

    Righty Jenrry Mejia? He is the team’s No. 1 prospect according to Baseball America and the talk of early camp.

    The Mets, however, would be foolish to consider him for their Opening Day bullpen.

    Mejia is only 20. The Mets are grooming him as a starter. And he has pitched only 44 innings at Double-A, posting a 4.47 ERA.

    At the moment, Mejia is expected to open the season in the Double-A rotation. Until he develops better command and control, he will not be a serious candidate for the majors.

    — Ken Rosenthal

    Sizemore switch a sign of Acta's new tact -- 1:31 p.m.

    One of the best things about a managerial change is the fresh insight that a new regime often brings.

    Case in point: Manny Acta’s move of Grady Sizemore from first to second in the Indians’ batting order.

    The Indians’ previous manager, Eric Wedge, actually used Sizemore in the No. 2 spot for 109 at-bats last season while the center fielder was dealing with elbow and groin injuries.

    Wedge, out of respect for Sizemore, probably would not have made the move permanent. Acta, on the other hand, sees the obvious: It would be a waste to continue batting Sizemore, one of the team’s best run producers, in the leadoff spot.

    The decision, according to one Indians official, was “all Manny” -- the front office welcomed the move, but did not suggest it.

    Acta treated with Sizemore with the proper deference, meeting with him before spring training began, giving him time to embrace the idea. Sizemore has said he is fine with the decision.

    Asdrubal Cabrera, a switch-hitter with a .355 career on-base percentage, will be the Indians’ new leadoff hitter. Sizemore will hit more often with men on base, and as a left-handed hitter, should get ample opportunities to pull the ball through the first-base hole. -- Ken Rosenthal

    Astros focused on getting younger — 12:10 p.m.

    The Astros had the oldest Opening Day roster in baseball last year.

    General manager Ed Wade isn’t interested in a repeat.

    “We’re going to be younger,” Wade said in an interview over the weekend. “We need to turn those types of corners.”

    The Astros could have young starters at two key positions: Tommy Manzella at shortstop and J.R. Towles or Jason Castro behind the plate.

    “Tommy Manzella knows, coming into spring training, that he’s certainly the guy we want to be our everyday shortstop,” Wade said. “Our everyday catcher is, in all likelihood, going to be young.”

    Wade stressed that new manager Brad Mills has the freedom to change the lineup where he sees fit.

    For example: Kazuo Matsui is the incumbent second baseman, but Wade acknowledged that there is some competition for that job this spring.

    “We have alternatives,” said Wade, whose team finished fifth in the National League Central at 74-88. “Geoff Blum can play second. (Jeff) Keppinger can play second. Edwin Maysonet can play second.

    “But we would love to have Kaz be our guy. His defensive range is very solid. He’s got a real good arm. He’s accurate. And when he’s healthy, he’s done a pretty good job offensively.”

    Also, two rotation spots should belong to younger pitchers. Wade mentioned right-handers Bud Norris and Felipe Paulino as candidates for the No. 4 and No. 5 starting jobs, along with Brian Moehler and Yorman Bazardo.

    Norris turns 25 on Tuesday. Paulino is 26.

    The Astros are set with their first three rotation spots -- Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers.

    “We think we’ve got the ability to put a good staff together,” Wade said. “The two kids particularly -- Norris and Paulino -- have outstanding arms.”

    -- Jon Paul Morosi

    New plan to keep Cubs in Cactus League — 8:04 a.m.

    There is a proposal being considered by Arizona lawamakers in which the Cactus League teams would all chip in and help the city of Mesa finance a new faciilty for the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs are threatening a move to Naples, Fla., if they don't get the deal they want.

    Under the proposal being considered by Arizona lawmakers, each spring training ticket sold for a Cactus League spring training game would include an eight percent tax that would underwrite the Cubs' new facility.

    There is, however, one potential hitch in the deal.

    Arizona and Colorado, which will move into a new facility on an Indian reservation northeast of Scottsdale next year, could be excused from collecting the tax. That could lead to a situation in which the tribe handles all ticket sales, and then pays the two teams for playing their spring games in the new facility.

    That would create questions about whether the tickets sold for the games could be taxed.

    The State of Arizona does not tax Indian lands and Indian-owned property on reservations. American Indians in Arizona are also exempt from state and local sales taxes on consumer goods purchased on the reservation, unless such taxes are imposed by the tribal government. However, the state of Arizona collects taxes from reservation residents on sales of gasoline, electricity, natural gas and telephone service.  -- Tracy Ringolsby

    Feb. 28 News and Notes

    Reds impressed with Chapman's progress — 8:30 p.m.

    Aroldis Chapman has yet to throw a pitch in a spring-training game, but one Reds official uses the word “ridiculous” to describe him — as in, ridiculously good.

    Good enough for the Cuban left-hander to crack the Reds’ Opening Day rotation or perhaps emerge as a setup man for closer Francisco Cordero?

    The Reds don’t know that yet. But a rival general manager predicts that manager Dusty Baker, entering the final year of his contract, will want Chapman on his Opening Day staff.

    Chapman, 22, has faced hitters twice in game-like conditions — no protective screen in front of the mound, no advance warning to hitters on what types of pitches are coming.

    “It’s been something,” says Bryan Price, the Reds’ new pitching coach. “He’s executing at a high rate. And his stuff is phenomenal.”

    Price says the only reference points that he had on Chapman came from tapes of the pitcher’s outings in the World Baseball Classic last spring.

    In those games, Price says, Chapman showed an electric fastball, but also a “rolling” breaking ball. He rarely threw his changeup.

    Different guy now.

    “He showed up and his delivery was clean,” Price says. “His breaking ball is better. His changeup is showing signs. You couldn’t have anticipated (his stuff) would be as crisp as it’s been.”

    So, how quickly can Chapman come?

    “Good question, one that’s hard to answer,” Price says. “There are more circumstances than simply being able to get hitters out.

    “Maybe it will be that simple; I can’t speak for the organization. But we all have concerns about whether he will acclimate well enough to be comfortable with the environment in Cincinnati.

    “I don’t think we’re trying to put barriers around him, protect him from everything. But we want to be somewhat cautious. In the next month, we’ll know more about him as a pitcher and how he adjusts to a major-league environment. That will help with the decision-making.” — Ken Rosenthal

    Feb. 27 News and Notes

    MLB saying goodbye to Tucson — 7:30 p.m.

    Tucson’s 64-year run as the home to major-league spring training ends this March.

    The Chicago White Sox moved to Glendale, Ariz., where they are sharing a facility with the Los Angeles Dodgers, last year.

    After this spring, the remaining major-league teams, Arizona and Colorado, will move their spring training base to Scottsdale, Ariz., where they will share a facility beginning in 2011.

    And it’s apparent that Tucson is no longer a priority for Major League Baseball. Since the White Sox and Diamondbacks moved into Tucson along with the Rockies in 1998, there has been at least one major-league game played in the Old Pueblo every day of spring training.

    This year, there are six dates when both the Rockies and Arizona are out of town — March 5, March 9, March 18, March 24, March 29 and April 1.

    Cleveland began the run in Tucson, moving its training there in 1947, and calling Tucson home through 1992. The Rockies, who came into existence in 1993, replaced Cleveland as Tucson’s spring team, and then came the addition of the White Sox and Arizona.

    Tucson officials are now trying to lure several teams from Japan to train in the southern Arizona city. It won’t, however, be the same. Major-league team won’t be making the bus trips to Tucson to play the Japanese teams. — Tracy Ringolsby

    Feb. 26 News and Notes

    Sources: INF Lopez agrees to deal with Cards — 10:25 p.m.

    Free-agent infielder Felipe Lopez finally has struck a deal with the Cardinals, according to major-league sources — pending his passing of a physical.

    The deal is for $1 million guaranteed with another $1.2 million in easily reached incentives.

    The fit is a good one for Lopez, and not simply because he was successful with the Cardinals in the final two months of the 2008 season.

    Lopez’s biggest drawback as a free agent, one rival executive says, was not his oft-cited questionable makeup, but his poor defense, particularly at shortstop.

    The Cardinals, though, will not need Lopez to play short – they’ve got Julio Lugo to replace Brendan Ryan, who is recovering from surgery on his right wrist.

    Lopez, who turns 30 on May 12, represents insurance for rookie third baseman David Freese and a better option than Skip Schumaker at second base against left-handers.

    Schumaker batted .220 with a .518 OPS in 100 at-bats against lefties last season. Lopez, a switch-hitter, batted .320 against them with an .835 OPS.

    Manager Tony La Russa likely will maximize Lopez’s versatility, just as he did in ’08. Lopez played 23 games at second base in his previous stint with the Cardinals, 13 at third, five at short, eight in left field and one in right. — Ken Rosenthal

    Feb. 25 News and Notes

    D-backs' Webb making progress from shoulder surgery — 4:35 p.m.

    Arizona right-hander Brandon Webb has moved forward in his attempt to come back from shoulder surgery. The former NL Cy Young Award winner ``pushed toward a normal bullpen’’ with a strong throwing session on Thursday, according to Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch.

    ``It was a positive step forward,’’ said Hinch. ``He threw 45 pitches. He threw changes. He threw out of the stretch. ... To be able to throw the change-up you have to have arm speed. You have to have hand speed. If you are tentative it will show up with that pitch.’’

    Hinch said Webb would have another bullpen session Sunday. He said the Diamondbacks are pacing Webb’s workouts right now, but there is confidence that the spring is long enough to get a true reading on Webb’s status before the regular season starts.

    ``His volume of pitches is more than the rest of the pitchers in camp,’’ said Hinch. ``Intensity is where we are monitoring him. It is more a matter of mechanics, of finding his arm slot, than a matter of arm strength.’’ — Tracy Ringolsby

    Rockies encouraged by rotation — 4:30 p.m.

    The Rockies' rotation was a strength last year.

    And there is a feeling it could be better this year.

    Left-handers Jorge De La Rosa, who became the only pitcher since 1900 to win 16 games in a season in which he started 0-6, and Jeff Francis, sidelined last season after undergoing shoulder surgery, both have made early impressions this spring. The Rockies also are encouraged by what they have seen from right-hander Aaron Cook, who revamped his off-season diet and lost 28 pounds.

    DeLaRosa’s bullpen sessions have been marked by an impressive command, something that has been a problem for him in the past. In bullpen sessions last spring, he was as likely to throw a ball past a catcher as he was to throw a strike. This year everything is in the strike zone.

    Francis was given medical clearance before he arrived in spring training, and said he felt he had his mechanics refined. He has thrown three full bullpen sessions without any problems. His return is critical because he will take the spot of right-hander Jason Marquis.

    Marquis, an All-Star a year ago, was acquired by the Rockies prior to 2009 as a one-year fix while Francis was sidelined. He signed with Washington as a free agent this offseason. In 2007, when the Rockies won the NL pennant, Francis equaled a franchise record with 17 wins.

    Cook said he feels stronger with the weight loss, which he hopes will allow him to avoid nagging injuries that have sidelined him periodically.

    A year ago, when the Rockies were the NL wild card, their rotation tied St. Louis for the NL lead in wins with 68, ranked second in the NL with 94 quality starts (13 more than the club record) and set a franchise record with a 4.10 ERA. The old record was 4.58 in 2007.
    Five starting pitchers won at least 10 games, the first NL team to accomplish that since Houston and St. Louis in 2005. — Tracy Ringolsby

    Sources: D-backs assistant has heart attack — 1:37 p.m.

    Arizona Diamondbacks special assistant Bob Gebhard suffered what is described as a mild heart attack, according to major league sources.

    He is hospitalized in Tucaon, Ariz., where the team holds spring training.

    Gebhard, who pitched briefly in the big leagues with Minnesota, was the original general manager of the Colorado Rockies. He held that position through 1999, the Rockies' seventh year of competition.

    He began his non-playing career in the Montreal and Minnesota organizatipons. After Colorado he scouted for St. Louis before joining Arizona. --Tracy Ringolsby

    Feb. 24 News and Notes

    M's GM sheds light on infield experiment — 3:15 p.m.

    Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik classifies his team’s experiment with Chone Figgins at second base and Jose Lopez at third as little more than a “look-see.”

    The M’s flipped Figgins and Lopez in infield drills Tuesday. The moves, however, might not even last into the exhibition season. Late February is the perfect time to test different ideas.

    While Zduriencik is one of the game’s more open-minded executives – as Brewers scouting director, he drafted first baseman Matt LaPorta to play left field – the best guess is that the M’s will keep Figgins at third.

    Here’s why:

    *Figgins is an outstanding defensive third baseman, but nothing special at second, according to both scouting reports and advanced defensive metrics.

    *Dustin Ackley, the Mariners’ No. 1 pick in 2009, is converting from the outfield to second base, trying to become a rare left-handed hitting middle infielder.

    If Ackley was ready by next season, Figgins would need to return to third.

    “That’s absolutely something that has to be considered, no question,” Zduriencik said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

    “But we have a season to play right now. We have to do what’s best for this season at this time and let the pieces fall where they may.”

    Figgins, before signing his four-year, $36 million free-agent contract, told the Mariners he would play anywhere in the infield as long as he remained in one spot.

    At the time, the Mariners were trying to re-sign free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre, a move that might have resulted in Figgins moving to second and Lopez to first.

    Why try Figgins at second and Lopez at third?

    Zduriencik said the M’s want to create versatility, protect themselves against injury and well, you never know.

    Lopez was originally a shortstop who moved to third and then second after the Mariners signed Beltre. His strong arm is well-suited for third.

    “To me, it’s important to look at different things,” Zduriencik said. “I don’t know if it’s going to happen this way. But let’s look at it and see.” -- Ken Rosenthal

    Oh, what could have been in Chicago — 1:37 p.m.

    Without mentioning Roy Halladay by name, White Sox general manager Ken Williams indicated this week that he had made a strong attempt to trade for the ace right-hander.

    Williams, speaking with Comcast’s Chuck Garfien, said that he had been close to a deal that “may have given us a chance to have the best rotation maybe in the history of the game.”

    That rotation would have been Halladay, Jake Peavy, Mark Buerhle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd. But Halladay had a full no-trade clause, and sources indicated that his wish list included only the Phillies, Red Sox, Yankees and Angels – and at the end, perhaps only the Phillies.

    The Blue Jays wound up trading Halladay and $6 million to the Phillies for right-hander Kyle Drabek, catcher Travis D’Arnaud and outfielder Michael Taylor, then flipped Taylor to the A’s for infielder Brett  Wallace.

    Williams’ revelation, however, again illustrates that the Jays possibly could have made a better deal if they had not been restricted by Halladay’s no-trade rights.

    The White Sox’s exact offer is not known, but right-hander Dan Hudson and catcher Tyler Flowers were two of the players discussed, according to sources. The Jays, seeking young, affordable talent, surely  inquired about second baseman Gordon Beckham as well.

    There is no chance the White Sox would have parted with a budding star such as Beckham unless they were able to sign Halladay to a contract  extension -- something that might have been out of reach, given the team’s payroll limitations. Then again, a one-year rental of Halladay would have made little sense.

    Williams, endlessly creative, surely had it all figured out. In the end, though, he never had a chance of assembling his dream rotation. Halladay only would go to certain teams, and the White Sox were not on his list. -Ken Rosenthal

    Ex-teammate goes to bat for unsigned Lopez — 10:31 a.m.

    He played six positions for the Cardinals in 2008, so it isn’t a lack of versatility.

    He’s a switch hitter who batted .310 last season, so it isn’t his offense.

    He won’t turn 30 until May, so it isn’t his age.

    Still, Felipe Lopez doesn’t have a job.

    The most plausible explanation is that teams are turned off by something in Lopez’s makeup. Some people in the game believe that Lopez has a tendency to get lazy.

    But Mike Rivera, who played with Lopez in Milwaukee last year, believes such criticisms of Lopez are completely unfounded.

    “I don’t think he has any issues outside the field, like people are talking,” said Rivera, who is competing for the Yankees’ backup catcher job this spring. “There are a lot of rumors, but I don’t think so.

    “He’s great to have in your clubhouse, in your lineup. Off the field, he’s not complaining. He’s done nothing wrong. I don’t know why people are talking like that. They don’t know him. … If people don’t play with him, or spend time with him, how do they know he has trouble outside the field?”

    Lopez recently fired agent Scott Boras and is now represented by the Beverly Hills Sports Council. The Cardinals and Padres are among the teams that have shown interest in Lopez recently.

    “Hopefully, he signs soon,” Rivera said. “He’s a great player. He’s a great guy.”  -- Jon Paul Morosi

    Feb. 23 News and Notes

    Wilkerson accepts minor-league deal with Phillies — 3:40 p.m.

    Last April, after Class AAA Pawtucket’s second game of the season, outfielder Brad Wilkerson told manager Ron Johnson that he was retiring.

    Ten months later, Wilkerson is so eager to play again, he accepted a minor-league contract with the Phillies Tuesday without receiving an invitation to spring training.

    Wilkerson, 32, is willing to start over at Class AAA, confident that he can get back to the majors. His contract includes an escape clause if he is not promoted by June 15.

    “He’s like a kid in candy store right now, chomping at the bit for an opportunity,” a friend of Wilkerson’s said. “He feels he can be as good if not better than what he has been at the major-league level.”

    Wilkerson hit 32 homers for the Expos in 2004 and 20 for the Rangers in ’07, but he struggled with the Mariners and Jays in ’08 before signing a minor-league deal with the Red Sox in ’09.

    The Red Sox thought Wilkerson might replace Mark Kotsay, who was coming off back surgery, but after Wilkerson had a poor spring, they demoted him to Class AAA.

    Wilkerson plays all three outfield positions and first base. His career batting/on-base/slugging line is .247-.350-.440. -Ken Rosenthal

    Smoltz waits for team to make a move — 11:30 a.m.

    Right-hander John Smoltz, like so many other unsigned free agents, is simply going to wait.

    Some clubs are telling Smoltz that they might want him in mid-March, according to major-league sources. Others are urging him to hold off until June or July.

    For now, Smoltz’s preference is to start, one source says. If he joins a team in mid-season, he will be more open to relieving.

    The Cardinals, Smoltz’s last team, lack the payroll flexibility to make an appropriate deal with Smoltz, one club official says. At the moment, right-hander Kyle McClellan is the leading candidate to be the team’s fifth starter.

    Several Cardinals players have fond memories of Smoltz, noting that he struck out seven in a row in his debut for the team against the Padres, and five in two innings in his sole playoff appearance against the Dodgers.

    Smoltz, 42, went 1-3 with a 4.26 ERA in seven regular-season starts for the Cardinals, striking out 40 and walking only nine in 38 innings. He began last season with the Red Sox, who released him after he went 2-5 with an 8.32 ERA. -Ken Rosenthal

    Feb. 22 News and Notes

    Gomes enhances talent-laden Reds — 3:20 p.m.

    Talking with a National League executive the other day, I was surprised to hear him mention the Reds as a possible breakout team.

    The reason, the executive said, was simple.


    The re-signing of outfielder Jonny Gomes on Monday to a one-year contract with a club option for 2011 only enhances that talent.

    Gomes, 29, hit 20 home runs in 281 at-bats last season. He mashes left- handed pitching, and likely will platoon with Chris Dickerson, a left-handed hitter, in left field.

    So, how good are the Reds?

    Maybe good enough to threaten the Cardinals in the Central and produce the team’s first winning season since 2000.

    The Reds’ infield will be Joey Votto at first, Brandon Phillips at second, Orlando Cabrera at short, Scott Rolen at third. Ramon Hernandez will catch, and the outfield will consist of Jay Bruce in right, Drew Stubbs in center and Dickerson and Gomes in left.

    Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey are the top four starters under new pitching coach Bryan Price. The bullpen, which ranked third in the NL last season in ERA, remains intact.

    — Ken Rosenthal

    What will Park signing mean for Yanks? — 1:09 p.m.

    If you think that the Yankees' pending signing of Chan Ho Park eliminates the possibility that both Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain will be relievers, think again.

    The Yankees still could make Alfredo Aceves, Chad Gaudin or Sergio Mitre their fifth starter, enabling them to assemble a powerhouse setup corps that includes Park, Hughes and Chamberlain, all of whom are right-handed.

    Such a bullpen, which also is expected to feature righty David Robertson and lefty Damaso Marte, almost certainly would be among the best in the American League.

    Another option, as noted by Joel Sherman of the New York Post, would be for the Yankees to trade either Gaudin, who will earn $2.95 million or Mitre, who will earn $850,000.

    Park, 36, had a 2.52 ERA and .576 opponents’ OPS in 50 innings of relief for the Phillies last season. He was less effective as a starter, producing a 7.29 ERA in seven outings, but the Yankees plan to use him solely for relief.

    The Yankees, according to reports, signed Park for $1.2 million plus $300,000 incentives. The Cubs’ financial offer was “in the same ballpark,” according to a major-league source, and the Cubs offered two things that the Yankees did not -- the chance to compete for their fifth starter’s job and to remain in the National League.

    Park, according to, told reporters in Korea that he was swayed by the Yankees’ “history and championship contention.” -- Ken Rosenthal

    Rays plan to address Crawford deal — 9:10 a.m.

    The Rays’ chances of re-signing Carl Crawford took a major hit last week, when owner Stuart Sternberg told WDAE-AM in Tampa Bay that the team’s payroll would be under $60 million next year.

    It’s difficult for teams to have one player take up a quarter of their payroll, but that’s probably what it would take for the Rays to keep Crawford beyond this year.

    Still, the team is going to try.

    Rays general manager Andrew Friedman said in an interview with on Sunday that he will likely address Crawford’s status with the outfielder and/or his representatives next week.

    “It’ll be something that we’ll address more, probably next week,” Friedman said. “I don’t want to get into it too much. I’d imagine it’s something people want to know more about, and rightfully so. We’ll kind of give a brief update of where things are and leave it at that. My guess is Carl won’t want to talk about it much beyond that, and neither will we.”

    It’s doubtful that the team or Crawford will say that any significant progress has been made toward a deal. Now that Crawford is this close to free agency, he will want to hit the open market (and possible overtures from the Red Sox, Yankees and Angels) unless he is completely overwhelmed by an offer. That is very unlikely to happen with the small-market Rays.

    Either way, Friedman said he’s “very confident” that Crawford’s contractual situation won’t be a distraction to him or the team this year. -- Jon Paul Morosi

    Feb. 21 News and Notes

    Did Boras end up costing Damon? — 11:15 a.m.

    Did Scott Boras sacrifice Johnny Damon for Matt Holliday?

    Some rival agents and club executives say the answer is, "yes."

    Their theory is this: Boras wanted to leave open the possibility that the Yankees might sign Holliday, his most prominent free-agent client.

    Therefore, he declined to engage in serious early negotiations with the Yankees over Damon, who plays the same position as Holliday - left field.

    Boras scoffed at the theory when I asked him about it recently, saying the Yankees never showed interest in Holliday.

    True enough.

    But the Cardinals did not know that, and could not trust that the Yankees would remain out of the bidding.

    The Yankees previously had signed two other Boras clients - Damon in Dec. 2005 and first baseman Mark Teixeira last off-season - with virtually no advance warning.

    Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, meanwhile, has said that one reason he went to seven years, $120 million on Holliday was his fear that Boras would accept a one-year contract from another club.

    Such a contract likely would have come from only one of two teams - the Yankees or Red Sox.

    Sending Holliday back on the market next off-season would not necessarily have been a wise strategy - he would have been a year older and competing with a better class of free agents.

    But again, the Cardinals could not be concerned with the logic - or flawed logic - of such a strategy.

    They knew that Boras had a history of accepting short-term, high-dollar deals in certain circumstances - he had done it with third baseman Adrian Beltre this off-season and previously with left fielder Manny Ramirez and center fielder Andruw Jones.

    So, with Damon unsigned, the Yankees remained a threat to sign Holliday - a threat that the Cardinals could not simply dismiss, considering how badly they wanted Holliday back.

    Boras is not the first or only agent to represent clients who play the same position. Conflicts can be difficult to avoid if the players become part of the same free-agent class.

    Yet the end result, in the view of Boras' detractors, spoke volumes.

    Damon signed with the Tigers for one year, $8 million - considerably less than the two-year, $19 million deal the Angels awarded a comparable player, right fielder Bobby Abreu, before he became a free agent.

    Holliday received by far the biggest contract of any player on the market. -- Ken Rosenthal

    Feb. 20 News and Notes

    Source: Mets, Barajas agree on 1-year, $1M deal — 3:30 p.m.

    Free-agent catcher Rod Barajas reached agreement Saturday on a one-year, $1 million contract with the Mets, according to a major-league source.

    The deal also includes $1 million in easily attainable incentives, the source said.

    Both the Mets and Rangers had extended minor-league proposals to Barajas, and the Rangers’ initial bid was $1.5 million, according to sources.

    The Mets, however, upgraded their bid to a major-league offer on Friday, ensuring that Barajas’ money would be guaranteed.

    Barajas, 34, figures to emerge as the Mets’ starting catcher. The team’s other catchers – Henry Blanco, Omir Santos, Chris Coste and Josh Thole – are all either backups or unproven.

    The Blue Jays will directly benefit from Barajas signing a major- league deal, receiving a supplemental draft choice between the first and second rounds.

    The Jays offered salary arbitration to Barajas, a Type B free agent, and he declined. The team would not have received a pick as compensation if he had signed a minor-league deal.

    The Mets, meanwhile, will need to designate a player for assignment to make room for Barajas on their 40-man roster.

    Barajas had 19 home runs and 71 RBIs last season in 460 plate appearances with the Jays last season. However, he batted only .226 with a .258 on-base percentage. — Ken Rosenthal

    Feb. 19 News and Notes

    Up next, batting left, Hank Blalock — 11:37 p.m.

    Now that Russell Branyan has reached agreement with the Indians, Hank Blalock is the next left-handed hitter on the free-agent pecking order.

    Interested clubs, however, find Blalock less appealing.

    While Branyan commanded a one-year, $2 million contract, Blalock is unlikely to receive a similar deal.

    Blalock, 29, hit 25 home runs last season, but with a .277 on-base percentage. His best years were his first two full seasons, 2003 and ’04.

    The Rays pushed hard for Branyan, but to squeeze him onto their roster, they would have needed to carry 11 pitchers or one less utility man.

    They are unlikely to make the same sacrifice for Blalock. — Ken Rosenthal

    ChiSox, Tigers still in Damon sweepstakes — 7:42 p.m.

    The Johnny Damon sweepstakes will not be over until Scott Boras sings.

    White Sox general manager Ken Williams told reporters Friday that he had withdrawn the team’s offer, but later allowed that Damon still has time to accept it.

    Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski told that Williams’ declarations will have no impact on his team’s approach.

    Meanwhile, the exact nature of the Tigers’ offer remains unknown, though one source suggests it might be as high as $7.5 million for one year, with some deferred.

    Sources say Damon and his wife, Michelle, prefer Chicago to Detroit, but there are other considerations. Damon could commute to the Tigers’ spring-training camp in Lakeland from his home in Orlando. The White Sox train in Arizona.

    So, the wait continues.

    Who knows?

    Maybe the Rays and Braves will sneak back in yet. — Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi

    Feb. 18 News and Notes

    Reliever chooses Marlins, even for less money — 8:38 p.m.

    Name the last free agent who turned down more money from other clubs to sign with the Marlins.

    Reliever Mike MacDougal just did.

    MacDougal, who went 20-for-21 in save opportunities for the Nationals last season, agreed to a minor-league contract with the Marlins on Thursday.

    “He chose Florida because he pitched against them last year and really believes they have a great chance to win,” said MacDougal’s agent, Rex Gary.

    “That was a huge part in his thinking. Candidly, he turned down more lucrative deals elsewhere to go to Florida.”

    MacDougal, who turns 33 on March 5, will receive $700,000 if he makes the club, with a chance to earn another $75,000 in performance bonuses, according to a major-league source. He can ask for his release if he does not make the team.

    The Marlins will use MacDougal to set up for closer Leo Nunez. The team also has signed right-handers Seth McClung and Jose Veras to minor-league deals. — Ken Rosenthal

    Feb. 17 News and Notes

    New details emerge in Wang-Nats deal — 1:04 a.m.

    Chien-Ming Wang’s contract includes a clause that will pay him a $250,000 bonus once he is added to the active roster, a major league source told's Jon Paul Morosi. Full story

    Feb. 16 News and Notes

    Utley hopes new fitness program yields Jeter-like results — 4:45 p.m.

    Derek Jeter became a quicker, more athletic player after spending two offseasons with a new fitness trainer.

    Chase Utley is trying to do the same thing.

    Utley, the Phillies’ All-Star second baseman, recently completed more than two months of work with his new trainer, Dr. Phil Wagner, director of Sparta Performance Science in Menlo Park, Calif.

    Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., after watching video of Utley, said, “it looks like his speed has increased.” Wagner confirmed Amaro’s perception, saying that Utley will be “much more athletic” than in the past.

    Utley, 31, is two years younger than Jeter was when the Yankees’ shortstop, seeking to increase his range, adopted a new training regimen in January 2008.

    Wagner sought to increase Utley’s flexibility — and thus his longevity. The more flexible a player is, the more resistant he is to injury – and the more “elastic” and “whippy” his body becomes, Wagner

    For Utley, the effect could be stronger throws, faster running times and less strain on his surgically repaired right hip when he swings.

    One of Wagner’s techniques is a weight-training exercise in which a player squats until his rear end hits the floor. Utley more than doubled the weight he could handle, from 110 pounds to 253, during his time at Sparta. He also cut two-tenths of a second off his 10-yard sprint time – a drop that could mean the difference between safe and out when he is attempting to steal a base.

    “We had over 20 (professional) baseball players here, and that increase was the largest we saw,” Wagner said. “For a guy who was almost the World Series MVP to show the biggest improvement says a lot. It’s a testament to Chase. He was open-minded, coachable.

    “It will be fun to see how he test-drives this new car in spring training.” — Ken Rosenthal

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