Infante Lights Up Marlins Stadium and Happy Birthday, Ed Winceniak!

The Dodgers are 9 – 1 after ten games and Matt Kemp leads the majors in every batting category except one – and that’s stolen bases.  However, Dodger shortstop Dee Gordon leads the majors in that category…

Speaking of the Dodgers…  Welcome back Vin Scully, whose horrible cold kept him from the Dodgers home opener and didn’t call a home game until Sunday.  Vin has been on the mic since 1950 and this was just the second time he missed the home opener.  [ESPN]

Who had Omar Infante in the pool?  Infante hit the first Marlins homer in the new stadium, setting off that funky art piece in centerfield.  [MLB]

Welcome Back!

Phillies reliever Jose Contreras returned from the 15-Day DL, meaning that Joe Savery is back in AAA.
Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cake, cards, and remembrances include:

(1892) Hubert “Dutch” Leonard
(1925) Alton Brown – not the cooking guy, though…
(1929) Ed Winceniak (see below)
(1939) Bernie Allen
(1942) Doctor Jim Lonborg (see below)
(1944) Bob Montgomery – Fisk’s backup and long-time Sox broadcaster.
(1955) Bruce Bochy – backup catcher turned pretty good manager
(1969) Fernando Vina – not a bad little infielder, but was listed in the Mitchell Report for his connection to Mets clubhouse attendants tied to steroids and HGH distribution.  Vina later admitted that he had used HGH in 2003 to recover from injuries.
(1972) Antonio Alfonseca – six fingered reliever for the Marlins
(1983) Tommy Manzella – former prospect…

Jim Lonborg was the pitching hero of the 1967 Red Sox, much the way Carl Yasztremski was the batting hero of that team.  Yaz was the MVP that season, while Lonborg won the Cy Young.  That winter, though, he tore up his knee skiing, and his career, while still good, was never quite as sterling.  I have several of his baseball cards – he was a great pitcher.  He’s a dentist now…  If you ever watch old episodes of Cheers and see that picture of Sam Malone over the bar, it’s really that of Jim Lonborg.

I don’t know if my friend Angela Kolb will be visiting today, but please note that – per her comments the other night – I included a Boston Red Sox reference.
Ed Winceniak

Ed Winceniak was a quick and agile defensive shortstop who lost three years of his prime to the Korean War, and as a middle infielder in the Cubs chain in the 1950s, was destined to watch as Ernie Banks and Gene Baker got all the playing time.

Winceniak, like many a good man of Polish descent, grew up in Chicago and graduated from Bowen High School.  The Cubs signed him in 1948 and dispatched him to the low minors – teams like Hutchinson/Springfield, Visalia, and Rock Hill.  There, Winceniak showed good range, was quick on the double play, but wasn’t necessarily a top notch hitter.  He did hob-nob with some decent coaches and ball players.  His manager at Visalia was Claude Passeau, former Cubs pitcher, and he moved through the farm system with future major leaguers Dusty Rhodes and Jim Fanning, among others.  In addition to his fielding skills, Winceniak was known for his dependability.  In both Visalia and Rock Hill, he played every inning of every game.

In 1950, however, the United States was getting involved in another war – this one in Korea – and Winceniak joined the military, missing three years.  When he returned after the 1953 season, the Cubs gave him a second chance and dispatched Winceniak to Des Moines in the Western League for 1954.  Something clicked there, Wenceniak continued to play good defense, especially turning two, and for three months his batting average hovered around the .330 mark (good for a top five batting average) before falling back to .280 when the season ended.

Still, it was a fine season.  Winceniak was voted by the managers of the Western League to a spot on the all-star team, and on the night he was notified of his award, he showed he earned the spot.  Per a blurb in The Sporting News,  “Shortstop Ed Winceniak of the Bruins backed the judgment of his supporters that evening when, with his team trailing, 2 to 1, he blasted a two-run homer in the ninth inning to defeat Omaha, 3 to 2.  The blow enabled Hy Cohen, who was also named to the star team, to notch his fifteenth victory.”  When the season was done, Winceniak was voted Most Valuable Player by his teammates, earning 16 of the 21 votes cast.

Winceniak was invited to spring training in 1955 but was sent to Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League instead, showing the same fielding skills – adept at the double play – and a little power, if not a high batting average.  Winceniak earned another spring training invitation and made the Cubs out of camp as a backup infielder.

Wearing number 12, Winceniak got in a few contests in 1956, but was dispatched to Havana briefly at the roster cutting deadline.  The Cubs actually were planning to keep Winceniak around a little longer, but found out that Owen Friend needed another ten days of major league service to qualify for a pension.  So, the Cubs sent Winceniak to Cuba until Friend had enough days on the roster.  Then they swapped Friend for Winceniak thirteen days later.

His days with the Cubs wouldn’t last much longer, though – he was sent to St. Paul in the American Association where he had a fine season, hitting .273 with a little pop.  Once again, Winceniak earned a trip to spring training and stayed with the Cubs in April and early May while Ernie Banks nursed a small injury.  Playing in a doubleheader on May 12th, Winceniak hit his first major league homer off of Hal Jeffcoat, then singled in the nightcap – giving him three hits in six trips for the two games.

They were his last two games of his major league career.

Instead, the Cubs got Banks back and gave the next shot to other younger infielders.  Winceniak was dispatched to Portland for the remainder of the season.  Winceniak kept playing in the PCL, staying in Portland in 1958, then being bought by Denver for the 1959 season.  Half-way through that season, Winceniak found himself in Seattle.  When the 1959 season ended, so did Winceniak’s baseball career.

According to the book “Baseball Players of the 1950s”, which has biographical sketches of every player who played during that decade, Winceniak returned home with his wife and took a position with the Republic Steel Corporation for the next 25 years.  In his summers, he would scout some for the Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos.  After a stint with Dekker Electric company, he retired in 1993 and still lives in Chicago today.

Sources:

The Sporting News:

Hoffman, John C. “Bruin Bosses Have Fall Preview of Spring-Daisy Chain Prospects.” The Sporting News, September 29, 1954, Page 24.

Western League Notes – The Sporting News, September 15, 1954, Page 37.

Hoffman, John C. “Bring-‘Em-Up Wid Giving Cubs Different Look for Next Season.” The Sporting News, October 20, 1954, Page 16.

“A Friend-ly Gesture.” The Sporting News, June 6, 1956, Page 17.

Books Containing Biographical Information include:

1949 California League Gold Book
Baseball Players of the 1950s

Baseball Digest Scouting Reports:

March, 1956, Page 34
March, 1957, Page 33

Websites:

Retrosheet.org
Baseball-Reference.com

2010 Season Forecast: Philadelphia Phillies

Last Five Years:
2009:  93 – 69 (1st, NL East, Lost World Series)
2008:  92 – 70
2007:  89 – 73
2006:  85 – 77
2005:  88 – 74

Runs Scored: 820 (1st NL)
Runs Allowed: 709 (6th NL)

Season Recap:

The best offense in the NL – despite an off season from shortstop and lead off man, Jimmy Rollins.

A solid pitching performance – despite problems with Cole Hamels not pitching like an ace, Jamie Moyer starting to look his age, and a bullpen that couldn’t close the door – namely the oft injured and ineffective Brad Lidge.

The Phillies had one bad month, but one GREAT month, and nobody in the league was really as good – top to bottom – as Philadelphia.  And yet, there were a couple of holes.  The defense at a couple of positions were off – namely center, left, and short – and the starting pitching so degenerated down the stretch that the aged Pedro Martinez was brought in and seen as sort of a Godsend.  No worries – there were enough runs scored on a regular basis that it didn’t really matter.

Pitching:

As mentioned earlier, Cole Hamels was the staff ace who lost his mojo along the way – giving up a few too many homers and hits.  Still – he wasn’t horrible; just league average.  Joe Blanton actually led the Phils in innings pitched and saved his team about seven more runs over the same amount of time.

What helped the Phillies was the surprise performance of J.A. Happ, who moved from the pen to the rotation and went 12 – 4 (one of three 12 game winners), and saving his team nearly 30 runs over league average pitching.  Cliff Lee arrived at the trading deadline and won seven of eleven decisions and looked great the longer he hung around (including the postseason).  Pedro Martinez made nine good enough starts, taking Jamie Moyer‘s spot.  Moyer had served up 27 homers in just 162 innings, though his offensive support kept his record on the positive side (12 – 10).

The other fifth slot starters, Brett Myers, Chan Ho Park, Antonio Bastardo, Kyle Kendrick, and Rodrigo Lopez, weren’t much help – which necessitated Lee’s arrival.

The bullpen was nowhere near as supportive.  In 2008, there were five guys who were well above league average and Brad Lidge converted every save opportunity.  In 2009, Lidge was 22 runs worse than the average pitcher in just 58.2 innings – and ERA of 7.21 proof of the pain.

Ryan Madson was still solid, and Chan Ho Park was decent in long relief.  Chad Durbin, however, fell off while Clay Condrey, Tyler Walker, and Scott Eyre were decent in smaller roles.

Looking ahead to 2010, Cliff Lee was traded to Seattle as part of a three-team deal that brought Roy Halliday to town.  Halliday will be an immediate improvement over just about anyone.  I think Hamels will figure it out and gain about 10 runs against the league.  That will make up for Happ’s falling back a little.  Blanton is what he is – a middle of the rotation guy.  Martinez isn’t back – suddenly Moyer is #5 again – and I’m not convinced that this is going to be a good thing.  Moyer was ten runs worse than the league – probably will be again – so he cuts into the gains of having Halliday at the top.  Maybe Kyle Kendrick will fool enough people long enough to help out – or be a long reliever.

If Lidge gets his act together, if Jose Contreras helps the way Park did, if Danys Baez is tolerable…  Lots of ifs in the bullpen.  I don’t see the bullpen getting better soon.  Even if Lidge comes back and is league average, the rest of the bullpen isn’t all that impressive anymore.  Scott Eyre retired.

The net change is relatively flat.  No matter how good Halliday will be, and even with Hamels returning to form, the rest of the staff isn’t very good and may slip by 10 runs.

Catching:

Carlos Ruiz isn’t horrible and his bat came back last year.  Backups Chris Coste and Paul Bako have some skills – Bako defensively, Coste offensively, though he fell back last year in limited opportunities.

Moving forward, Ruiz keeps his job, to be backed up by former Met Brian Schneider.  No change.

Infield:

Ryan Howard is a FORCE, even if he doesn’t always hit lefties as well as you might want.  And, his glove isn’t a problem.

Chase Utley is an offensive marvel and a defensive wizard.

Jimmy Rollins is NOT – but he still helps out a little bit.  He hit 21 homers, had 40+ doubles, 31 stolen bases – but made a LOT of outs at the top of the order.  And, his range was abysmal – 12 plays per 800 balls in play less than his shortstop brethren, costing his team 26 runs.

Not that you want Eric Bruntlett out there either.

Pedro Feliz didn’t provide too much offense (despite 30 doubles and a dozen homers), but his glove was worthy of gold glove consideration.

Looking ahead, you have three of the four back and former Phillie (and Tiger) Placido Polanco becomes the new third baseman.  I don’t think Polanco will match Feliz in the field (though he won’t be bad), but he might add a few runs offensively.

Eric Bruntlett, Greg Dobbs, and Juan Castro back these guys up but won’t get much playing time.  Ross Gload was added as a pinch hitter.

Outfield:

Raul Ibanez hit for power, falling off after a remarkably fast start, but his defensive leaves a lot to be desired.  (Still – he’s better than, say, Pat Burrell.)

In center, Shane Victorino improved as a hitter, but didn’t look totally comfortable in center.  With a range factor of -9 (nine plays worse than average for every 800 balls in play), he cost his team 26 runs.  Add in Ibanez, and you’ve cost your pitchers 40 runs – way too many.

However, rightfielder Jayson Werth was AWESOME defensively – making more putouts than Victorino (very rare for RF to catch more balls than CF) and added 36 homers (four Phillies cleared 30) and 20 steals.

John Mayberry, Greg Dobbs, Ben Francisco, and Eric Bruntlett provide backup innings – but only Francisco can really play the outfield.

Prospects:

The best player in AAA was Lou Marson, a catcher who is now in Cleveland.  Otherwise, this is a team of 30 somethings.  Andrew Carpenter can pitch a little – he fared better in Lehigh than Kyle Kendrick, but doesn’t have ACE material.  Carlos Carrasco is just 23 and has the K/W ratio you like but a 6 – 9, 5.18 mark won’t put you high on prospect lists.

The best player in AA Reading was pitcher Kyle Drabek, who is now in Toronto.  Reliever Sergio Escalona may make the roster – he has okay control and some Ks, but keeps the ball in the park.  At best, a seventh inning guy.  Antonio Bastardo got a shot with the parent club – he looked really good in limited AA time, so he probably needs a full season in AAA to prove he’s worth a roster spot full time.  Outfielders Domonic Brown and Michael Taylor showed bat speed and power – but Taylor is the real prospect after hitting .333 with 15 homers in 86 games.  Taylor, however, is now with the Oakland As – after heading to Toronto, the Blue Jays moved him to Oakland for prospect Brett Wallace.

I mentioned Domonic Brown, who also demolished the Florida State League, but another prospect at A+ Clearwater was Tim Kennelly, a kid from Perth, Australia who is finally coming into his own.  He’s a catcher, third baseman, outfielder – which means they don’t think he can catch.  Yet.  Pitcher Michael Schwimer fanned 82 in 60 innings and at that rate would be a future closer.

Forecast:

You have pretty much the same team as last year, a team that might allow fifteen more runs because of the weaker bullpen. but might not need the bullpen as often with Halliday out there.  If Hamels and Blanton and Halliday eat 675 innings and Happ and Moyer eat 350 more, that leaves only 350 – 400 innings for the bullpen, a very small number.  I don’t like that the team is a year older all over the field, but then again – you don’t mess with a team that has been in back-to-back World Series.  I might have looked for a young outfielder who could fly in center and moved Victorino to left, though.  Can you trade Jimmy Rollins?  I just don’t see anyone to replace him on the farm, though.

Still, I see the team with 820 runs scored and 725 runs allowed, and the system says 91 wins.  My hunch says another division crown, but there are reasons to think it might not happen.  If Atlanta is as good as advertised, the Philles might not win the division and will be hard pressed to hold off the Marlins.  There’s a lot of pride and experience here – but the system says that the Braves will be slightly better.

Matthews a Met; Ankiel a Royal – and Other Hot Stove Happenings

With the prospects of missing centerfielder Carlos Beltran for at least a month, the Mets acquired outfielder Gary Matthews, Jr. from the Angels for middle reliever Brian Stokes.  The Angels, who overpaid for Matthews having a good year back in 2006, sent more than $20 million back to the Mets to cover the bulk of Matthews’ salary.  For Matthews, who wants to play every day but hasn’t been more than a fourth outfielder since 2007, this is a chance to earn full-time status – in center for now, and possibly in right field once Beltran returns – assuming Beltran is healthy.  [SI]

I’m not sure why the Mets want him.

Matthews used to hit for power – a little bit.  In 2006, he stunned everyone by hitting 19 homers and batting .313 for Texas – and making a highlight reel catch off Mike Lamb where he climbed a wall and reached over it to steal away a homer.  He hit 18 more in his first season in Anaheim, though his other numbers fell off.  Then, Matthews was named in a steroid ring that ended Jason Grimsley’s career.  Since then, Matthews’ power has fell off the map – eight homers in 2008 and just four last year – 12 in more than 700 at bats.  While he will take a walk and can still run the bases smartly, he strikes out more than ever.

His defense is slipping.  He was okay in 2006 and 2007, but fell off in 2008 and was below average in 2009.  Matthews isn’t getting any younger, either, having turned 35 in August.  So, the likelihood is that neither his bat or wheels are suddenly going to improve.  With the Angels picking up the tab, he’s cheap help and if he has a good six weeks and Beltran is healthy, I guess that’s worth $1 million in New York.

Good luck with that.

The Angels get a righty reliever who has been marginally better than average despite not having a consistent command of the strike zone.  Brian Stokes came up with Tampa, moved to New York in 2008, and has been decent despite not having a big strikeout pitch.  He’s not really a long term prospect, but he helps fill out the bullpen by providing an experienced arm for the ninth or tenth spot on the staff.

Another confusing move…

The Phillies signed Jose Contreras to a one-year deal.  The last Cuban player who was a teammate of Fidel Castro, Contreras has moved back and forth with the White Sox; two of the last three years he was costing the team about 20 runs more than the average pitcher – and his control is slipping, as if he’s trying to be more careful with his pitches.  Maybe Contreras can fill a long relief, spot starting role.  For sure, even at this stage, he’s probably more dependable than trying Adam Eaton or Chan Ho Park again.  [SI]

What are the Royals Thinking?

The Kansas City Royals signed outfielder Rick Ankiel to a one year deal worth $3.25 million, with bonuses and an option for 2011.  It’s not a HORRIBLE deal – but another signing of a 30 year old guy whose career isn’t moving in the right direction.  Having switched from his pitching days, Ankiel is getting more comfortable in centerfield; his range and runs saved rankings have gone from a negative to a positive in the last three years.  However, his power – Ankiel is another guy caught in the PED scandal – has fallen off.  In 2007, Ankiel slugged .500, but last year it was under .400.  The Royals COULD benefit from picking up a guy who is on the cheap after an off-season, but I’d rather have Chris Gomez coming off an off season than a 30 year old centerfielder.  I think Ankiel could help the Royals in right – so, if you see him there the Royals may do okay provided he stays healthy (an oufield of DeJesus, Podsednik, and Ankiel would be a step up, though I’d rather see Mitch Maier in center if his bat steps forward…).

Milwaukee Addresses Rotation…

In my “Worst NL Pitchers” list, you couldn’t help but notice that the Brewers were loaded with guys who weren’t helping the cause in the rotation.  Earlier, the Brewers added Randy Wolf and now Milwaukee adds lefty (and former Brew Crew) Doug Davis. Each of the last three years, Davis has been an above average pitcher, a dependable lefty capable of six good innings and ten wins.  I like this move because it continues to lower the predicted runs allowed number for Milwaukee – and I think makes them a contender in the NL Central this year.  [MLB]

Quick Hits…

So Taguchi is retiring from US baseball and heading back to Onix in Japan.  [MLB]

Despite an ailing shoulder, the Giants are happy with the Freddy Sanchez deal and signing.  [MLB]

Javier Vasquez may call it a career after 2010?  [ESPN]

Is Jason Giambi coming back to Colorado for 2010?  [ESPN]

Afterthoughts…

A’s prospect Grant Desme, recently named the most valuable player in the Arizona Fall League is retiring – to pursue the pulpit.  “I love the game, but I aspire to higher things,” Desme said.  [SI]

Best and Worst Pitchers in the AL for 2009; And Other Notes…

Earlier this week, I posted my list of the top pitchers in the NL and explained my methods.  Just as a recap, here’s what I am trying to do:

1) I start with the number of runs allowed by each pitcher, and the number of innings that guy pitched.

2) I modify the number of runs allowed to account for any bias based on the pitcher’s home park.

3) I modify the number of runs allowed based on my defensive rating system for teams and players because if you have Seattle’s team defense behind you, you are less likely to allow a run than if you had the Royals defense behind you.  We’ll get into this in more detail when we hand out defensive awards next week.

Then, I compare what an average pitcher would have done with what that pitcher did – and come up with a “runs saved” or “extra runs allowed” ranking.  Nobody saved his team more runs than did Zack Greinke last year.  Zack Greinke had a really low ERA over more than 220 innings despite pitching in a park that helps hitters a little bit and having a rather poor defense behind him.  As such, his season is the best season I have tracked since I started doing this in 2005.

Top Pitchers (by Runs Saved)

65.61 – Zack Greinke (KC)
47.11 – Roy Halliday (TOR)
33.22 – Jon Lester (BOS)
32.14 – Felix Hernandez (SEA)
27.55 – Andrew Bailey (OAK)
26.51 – Cliff Lee (CLE)
25.74 – C.C. Sabathia (NYY)
25.73 – Justin Verlander (DET)
22.21 – Jonathan Papelbon (BOS)
21.30 – Mariano Rivera (NYY)
21.13 – Joe Nathan (MIN)
20.80 – Jered Weaver (LAA)
20.57 – Kevin Millwood (TEX)
20.09 – Josh Beckett (BOS)

21.61 – Jarrod Washburn (SEA) – but -13.29 in DET

In fact, it’s not even close – Greinke had as good a season as we’ve seen by a pitcher in a long, long time.  Imagine if he had done this for 40 starts instead of 33, with a team like Seattle.  He MIGHT have had an ERA around 1.70 and a won-loss record of something like 27 – 4.  From this, you can see that Halliday instead of Cliff Lee will be a slight step up for Philadelphia and would have been a more serious contender for the Cy Young Award (in my book) had not Greinke been more dominating.

Another thing of interest – four relievers were good enough to sneak onto the list of pitcher saving his team more than 20 runs, led by Andrew Bailey.  Let’s use that to show the list of the top relievers in the AL last year.

Top Relievers

27.55 – Andrew Bailey (OAK)
22.21 – Jonathan Papelbon (BOS)
21.30 – Mariano Rivera (NYY)
21.13 – Joe Nathan (MIN)
18.41 – Matt Guerrier (MIN)
18.09 – Darren O’Day (TEX)
17.04 – Matt Thornton (CHW)
17.04 – Michael Wuertz (OAK)
16.79 – Darren Oliver (LAA)
16.41 – Jose Mijares (MIN)
16.16 – Brandon Lyon (DET)
15.87 – Joakim Soria (KC)

A couple of things – usually the top guys are middle relievers or set up men with great ERAs in 70 innings.  There are a couple here – Thorton, Wuertz, and Oliver for example.  Still – the top four guys were KILLER closers in 2009.

Worst Pitchers

-37.04 – Andy Sonnestine (TB)
-33.26 – Fausto Carmona (CLE)
-24.16 – Chien-Ming Wang (NYY)
-22.81 – Jason Berken (BAL)
-21.45 – Derek Holland (TEX)
-20.71 – Luke Hochevar (KC)
-21.02 – Chris Jakubauskas (SEA)
-20.38 – Jose Contreras (CHW)
-19.59 – Armando Galarraga (DET)
-19.17 – Rich Hill (BAL)
-18.36 – Garrett Olson (SEA)

-23.47 – Scott Kazmir (TB) – but positive 11.34 in LAA

If you had Andy Sonnestine on your fantasy team last year, you didn’t read my Tampa Rays Team Profile that pointed out that many of the Rays pitchers weren’t as good as you thought because the team defense in 2008 was amazingly good.  In 2009, Bartlett was hurt, and Upton struggled, and Aki Iwamura went down, and Carlos Pena looked a little older (and then left to an injury).  Sonnestine may throw strikes, but they sure do get hit a lot.

Hopefully, Fausto Carmona and Chien-Ming Wang can figure things out.  Two years ago, these guys won nearly 40 games combined – and now they are #2 and #3 on the wrong list.

And, if you are scrolling down to the NL List, note that the list contained a bunch of Brewer and Padre pitchers.  In the AL, only Seattle doubled up by having two guys get pounded around – bad pitching was more evenly distributed…

Free Agents Filing at Torrid Pace…

‘Tis the season for teams to decide on what members will remain on the 40-man roster, and which players will not get tendered offers based on existing options, and for other players to test the market.  So, for the next several days, the list of players on the MLB Free Agent list will grow and the number of players officially on the 40-man rosters will likely shrink for a little while.

The Rumor Mill

FoxSports reports that the Cubs are considering a three-way deal to move Milton Bradley.  The Cubs would get Luis Castillo from the Mets, the Mets would get Lyle Overbay from the Toronto Blue Jays, and Toronto would get Bradley.  Other deals suggest the Rays getting involved and offering Pat Burrell for Bradley.  [FoxSports]

The Mariners are looking to keep Felix Hernandez around (which means starting the process of a long-term deal now), but understand that there are many, many suitors for the AL Cy Young candidate.  [SI]

Thanks for Playing!

Carl Crawford remains in Tampa as the Rays honored his $10 million option.  Meanwhile, Brian Shouse and Greg Zaun were both bought out and will become free agents.  [ESPN]

Boston picked up the option for catcher Victor Martinez ($7.1 million), signed Tim Wakefield to a two-year deal loaded with incentives, but declined an option on Jason Varitek.  Varitek has the option to sign for $3 million to be a backup next year, else join the free agent market.  For Wakefield, he’ll have a chance to break the team record for pitching victories (Young/Clemens have 192) and win his 200th career game.  [ESPN]

Free Agent Filings…

The most interesting story is that a Japanese fireballer, Ryota Igarashi of the Yakult Swallows, owner of a 98-mph fastball, wants to play here.  Japanese players have to wait nine seasons before they can come to the states and Igarashi is already 30 but could be a viable late inning pitcher for somebody.  [ESPN]

The Dodgers declined a $2.2 million option on reliever Will Ohman, while Mark Loretta and Juan Castro also filed.  [ESPN/MLB]

Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, Yankee World Series heroes, joined the current list of 151 free agents.  Other Yankees on the list now include Eric Hinske, Jose Molina, and Xavier Nady.  [MLB]

Houston’s Jose Valverde, as good a reliever on the market, filed for free agency yesterday.  At least five Astros players (Erstad, Tejada, Brocail) are on the list now.  [MLB]

Octavio Dotel not only filed, but learned he was a Type A free agent, which means the Sox have to offer arbitation if they hope to get compensation should someone else sign Dotel.  [MLB]

Rockies pitchers Joe Beimel and Jose Contreras filed for free agency.  If Beimel is healthy, he’s a good pickup, but I’d be surprised if Contreras gets a lot of interest from teams.  [MLB]

Cubs closer (well, former closer) Kevin Gregg filed for free agency, and – like Dotel – was graded as a Type A free agent, meaning the Cubs have to offer Gregg arbitration to get the compensation draft pick.  [MLB]

Twins infielder Orlando Cabrera joined the list of free agents, alongside Mike Redmond, Ron Mahay, Carl Pavano, and Joe Crede on the list.  [MLB]

Toronto catcher Rod Barajas is a free agent, though he noted that he’d love to stay a Blue Jay.  [MLB]

You know who has a lot of free agents?  St. Louis.  Todd Wellemeyer became the ninth player (Holliday, Ankiel, Pineiro, Smoltz, Glaus, Greene, DeRosa, LaRue) to file.  [MLB]

Gary Sheffield also filed for free agency, trying to find ANYONE who might give him a chance to play.  He’s at eight teams and counting…  [MLB]

Free Agent Discussions

Jerry Crasnick met with a number of executives and put eight questions before them.  Want to see the answers?  [ESPN]

SI’s Ted Keith identifies his list of the ten riskiest free agents.  Well, nine + Rich Harden!!!  [SI]

Old News…

Something else I missed last week…  With several infielders on the horizon (Reid Brignac, Tim Beckham) and Ben Zobrist having blasted his way into the starting lineup, the Rays had less need for Akinori Iwamura.  So, the Rays shipped Iwamura to Pittsburgh for reliever Jesse Chavez.  Chavez probably appreciates the change of scenery, joining a contender, but he’ll need to step up his game to be a contributor.  I like this move for Pittsburgh.

Happy Birthday!

His 1961 season put him on the map, and for much of the 1960s, he was a great Tiger slugger – Norm Cash would be 75 today…

Also celebrating with cards and cake (or rememberances):  Jimmy Dykes (1896), Birdie Tebbetts (1912), Gene Conley (1930), Mike Vail (1951), Larry Christenson (1953), Larry Parrish (1953), Bob Stanley (1954), Jack Clark (1955), Kenny Rogers (1964), Keith Lockhart (1964), and Shawn Green (1972)…

Afterthoughts…

For the first time in nearly 30 years, it looks like all 27 members of the U.S. Appeals court will review the “drug list” case, determining the fate of the list of 104 players who allegedly failed the 2003 anonymous steroid survey.  [MLB]

Baseball Notes on NFL’s Opening Sunday…

It was a quiet weekend in baseball – overshadowed on Saturday by a handful of interesting football games (Michigan vs. Notre Dame and USC vs. Ohio State) and a solid compliment of professional football games finishing with Chicago at Green Bay on Sunday night.  In fact, it was the type of weekend that doesn’t bode well for baseball getting many headlines between now and the playoffs…

There’s really only one division race (NL West), and really only two teams competing for the wild cards in each league (Colorado and either SF or Florida, each with holes, or Boston and Texas).  While a couple of career or season milestones are nice for a day or two (Jeter passing Gehrig, for example), there just won’t be enough day-to-day elements to carry MLB for three more weeks.

Of course, I’ll still be watching baseball, preparing for the fantasy playoffs and wondering why it took 50 years of The Tonight Show’s success to decide to try it an hour earlier…  And, I spent a few hours with a spreadsheet and the 1930 NL pitching and fielding data sheets.  I’ll write about that tomorrow, I guess.

So what’s news?

Tim Lincecum is about ready to test his tweaked lower back.  He’ll open for the Giants against the Rockies Monday night in a last gasp shot at closing the gap.  The Giants sweep, and we’ll have something to watch for the next several days.  [ESPN]

Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton’s back received two more shots, and the hope is that Hamilton will be able to play next weekend.  The Rangers are chasing Boston and the Angels and need all the available bodies on hand as possible.  [SI]

Meanwhile, teammate Kevin Millwood is doing extra work with his mechanics trying to get out of a slump.  He MAY miss a turn, as the Rangers open a series against the Angels (another good series to watch if you are a baseball fan).  [MLB]

Colorado may get two pitchers back soon.  Both Aaron Cook and Jose Contreras made bullpen sessions, and are a simulated game or so away from making a major league appearance. Cook has a sore shoulder, while Contreras has a quad injury – he can throw, but not field.  [MLB]

Finally, John Smoltz will miss a turn to rest a sore shoulder.  Smoltz expects to miss only the one start, then make his start against Chicago next week.  He added that if the playoffs were going on, he’d have figured out a way not to miss his turn.  [FoxSports]

Welcome Back! Sort of…  John Maine made a start Sunday for the Mets – but the Phillies pounded him around a piece…

Nearly Annual White (Sox) Sale in Chicago; Dodgers get Thome

The Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t make any earth shattering deals, but did get slugger Jim Thome from the White Sox and Jon Garland from the Diamondbacks for the low price of a player to be named later.  Thome is expected to come off the bench as a left-handed power hitter, and Garland is a fourth or fifth starter and long relief insurance in the playoffs.  For Thome, the White Sox get minor leaguer Justin Fuller – who, to be honest, doesn’t look like much of a prospect.  He’s a scrappy infielder type, but not an impact player.  From a contract standpoint, Thome is a free agent at the end of the year, while Garland has an option for 2010.  Unless he finishes strong, he’ll likely get the buyout from LA.  [FoxSports]

Another White Sox player on the move was 52-year-0ld Jose Contreras, who joins the Rockies.  In exchange for Contreras, the Sox get Brandon Hynick – who might actually be a decent prospect.  He has a history of success, has command of the strike zone, but isn’t a huge strikeout guy.  At best, he’s Jon Garland – who used to pitch for the Sox.  Contreras looks done to me, but he might do well for a month facing guys who haven’t seen him before.  [SI/FoxSports]

Brad Penny found a new home in San Francisco, where he can compete for that fifth starter role.  [FoxSports]

A couple of guys who DIDN’T move?  Rich Harden and Aaron Heilman of the Cubs.  Some reports say a deal couldn’t be reached, but Ken Rosenthal suggests that the Cubs didn’t want to give up the race.  [FoxSports]

Continued numbness in his arm forced the Rangers to shut down the rehab of Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  Surgery might be next.  [SI]

Meanwhile, Brandon Phillips is playing through an injury – a broken left wrist.  Phillips played through a broken thumb earlier in the year, and now doesn’t want to quit for a hairline fracture in his wrist.  Phillips says he doesn’t like not playing, wants revenge against the guy who hit him with a pitch (Washington’s J.D. Martin, back on August 15th) – but by hitting homers.  [MLB]

Mets centerfielder Carlos Beltran begins a minor league rehab assignment, as he has been cleared to play without his knee brace.  [SI]

Buster Olney puts his Cy Young vote in – and picks Zack Greinke.  [ESPN]

Keith Law says that the Angels didn’t get an ace in Scott Kazmir, and that the three prospects received in return will be a much better deal for Tampa.  [ESPN]

Get Ready for September Call Ups!

Hurry Back! Guillermo Mota (LA) goes on the DL with an ingrown toenail.  That’s what it says!  Laynce Nix (CIN) heads to the DL with a bulging cervical disc.

Welcome Back! Other than the call ups, Johnny Cueto came off the DL for Cincinnati.