2012 Season Forecast: Washington Nationals

2011 Season: 80 – 81 (3rd, NL East)
Runs Scored: 624 (12th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 643 (7th, NL)

A rain out prevented the team from having a chance at getting all the way back to .500.  Davey Johnson’s task is to find at least ten more wins, telling reporters at one point that if this team doesn’t make the playoffs he should be fired.  Let’s see if that can happen.

2011 Season Recap:

Without their ace, Stephen Strasburg, who was out following elbow surgery, the Nationals started adding even more pieces to the roster, building a team that remained competitive all season long – just in the wrong division.  What was odd was that the team played over .500 with Jim Riggleman, who then quit because he couldn’t get an extension to his contract.  Johnson took over – it took a month to figure things out, but he was 38 – 43 in his time with the team.

Just looking at the statistical breakdown, the team really just needed someone who could bat first or second.  Leadoff hitters batted  .226 with a .285 OBP and the number two hitters were worse – .222 with a .283 OBP, and the lowest slugging percentage other than the pitcher’s spot in the order.  Give them 70 extra runs out of those spots, and you have a team on the brink of a 90 win season.

Starting Pitching:

Last year, the Nationals opened with a rotation of John Lannan, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Tom Gorzelanny, and gave test drives to Ross Detwiler, Chien-Ming Wang and others before giving five starts to Strasburg when he came back in September.  The problem here is that Hernandez is really just eating innings but not that effective, costing his team some 24 runs against the league average.  Even Lannan, who has been their best pitcher prior to the arrival of Strasburg is below average now – -11 runs, and Wang, despite the winning record, cost the team almost nine runs.

Looking ahead, the Nationals now hope to get 30 starts from Strasburg, which could be worth 50 runs by replacing Hernandez – a huge change.  The Nationals also added Gio Gonzalez to the rotation – a solid starter for Oakland, who if he can take over for Lannan (who, surprisingly, found his way to AAA to start this season) and pitch close to what he did last year will save the team another 25 runs.  The rest of the rotation will include Edwin Jackson – and he has the potential to save another ten to fifteen runs over Marquis.  The last two spots go to Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmermann, both of whom showed promise last year.  Having Lannan as an alternate isn’t a bad thing – worst case he’s a bargaining chip for help later.  This could be a very tough rotation in 2012.

Relief Pitching:

At the back end, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard are solid – a net 30 runs better than average pitching, though Storen’s ERA (2.75) is a touch high for a closer.  Sean Burnett and Todd Coffey are tolerable long men, and being able to move Tom Gorzelanny to the pen will be a help.  Another addition that could prove to be valuable is former stopper Brad Lidge and fireballer Henry Rodriguez.  It’s a reasonably deep staff with at least three solid options.  I think this team will be a shade better than last year – but not much.  The bullpen was pretty good as it was.

Catching:

Wilson Ramos took over the job – defensively, he’s pretty good.  As a hitter, he wasn’t bad either…  He has a little power, batted .267, and would take a walk if offered.  Backed up by Ivan Rodriguez, who can’t hit but can still work the plate and threw out more runners than were successful stealing, it wasn’t a bad combination.  However, former starter Jesus Flores is back and healthy, so Pudge was sent packing for 2012.  This remains a solid duo.

Infield:

This is a group with a little pop and solid defensively all around.  Adam LaRoche didn’t hit well last year, but Michael Morse was solid when he played there.  The problem is that they need TWO Michael Morse types.  Morse also played left, and moved to first only because LaRoche didn’t hit at all (3 – 15 – .172).  Danny Espinosa has power (21 homers, 55 extra base hits), but only hit .236, and Ian Desmond has a bit better batting average but less power.  Neither guy gets on base and each were hitting too frequently at the top of the order.  At third, Ryan Zimmerman missed two months with injuries – he needs to play a full season.  If he did, he’d be an MVP candidate.

These guys have room to grow, but it would help if Adam LaRoche found his hitting stroke.  Steve Lombardozzi and Mark DeRosa are around for insurance, but Lombardozzi isn’t as good a hitter as these guys and DeRosa hasn’t been healthy in three years.  I think Washington is going to miss Laynce Nix, who played a variety of positions and put a few runs on the board.

Outfield:

Last year, Michael Morse was the dominant hitter in the outfield.  Jayson Werth had signed the big contract to come to Washington and struggled, finishing with a .232 batting average, but he still helped to put runs on the board.  He drew 74 walks, was 19/22 on the bases, and had 47 extra base hits.  Granted – he didn’t hit to his contract, so there is room for improvement.  Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina will battle for playing time in center – and neither are even league average hitters anymore.

The top prospect on the team, Bryce Harper, has to play here.  Yes – he’s still a teen, but Werth or Harper has enough gas to cover centerfield and having Harper could be a step up over either Ankiel or Bernadina.  Mark DeRosa and Xavier Nady are around and will get at bats.  Neither has been a productive enough hitter since about 2008.

Morse can hit – he’s done it everywhere he has played.  Werth should be better – it’s all about getting someone else in the outfield (or first base) who can contribute.  I think if the Nationals get off to a slow start, Harper will be here quickly.

Prospects:

Let’s start with the obvious – Bryce Harper hit .318 with power and patience at A level Hagerstown and earned a trip to Harrisburg in AA where he wasn’t overmatched.  He may need a full season at AA or AAA, but I don’t know if the Nationals can wait for that.

AAA Syracuse features outfielder Chris Marrero, who has a decent bat and eye, but I don’t think he’s got enough power to merit a job at first base.  He’d be better than Adam LaRoche was last year, but not a game changer.  Pitcher Tommy Milone has an interesting line – only 16 walks and 155 Ks in 148.1 innings.  He got a look in 2011; he might get some long relief innings in 2012.  Ross Detwiler made 16 starts here before joining the rotation with the major league team.

AA Harrisburg had Harper for a little while, but featured the 31 homers of Tyler Moore.  Unfortunately, Moore’s power comes with a lot of strikeouts and little patience at the plate.  Catcher Derek Norris hit for power, but his batting average doesn’t make you long for his arrival yet.  Brad Peacock had a great run in AA – 129 Ks and 23 walks in 14 starts.  Something clicked for him – it was, by far, the best season he’d had in the minors in five seasons.

David Freitas, a catcher at Hagerstown, might have a future – he hit .288, drew 82 walks, and had mid-range power.  He could make the Nationals roster in a couple of years.  Infielder Blake Kelso also had a nice season, stole some bases, and will get a shot at AA soon.  Pitcher A.J. Cole fanned 108 in 89 innings, showed good control and kept the ball in the park.  He may have a nice future here.

2012 Forecast:

With the upgrade to the rotation, the Nationals look to save at least 80 runs when compared to the 2011 model – which would be a huge step forward.  The issue remains with the offense, which isn’t really good enough.  The lineup can be better.  Desmond or Espinosa could move forward ten runs each.  Werth could improve by twenty runs.  Zimmerman could play a full season – another twenty run impact.  On the other hand, Ankiel and Morse could fall back a similar amount.  The Nationals really need a leadoff hitter – and they don’t have one.

I see them scoring about twenty runs more than last year, and saving 80 more runs.  That puts them around 640 runs scored and 560 runs allowed – or 92 wins.  You might temper that total based on the competition in the division – the Phillies, Marlins, and Braves are all very good teams.  Realistically, the Nationals could win 90 games – I just don’t know if 90 will be enough to win the division.  It could be enough to get that second wild card slot.

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Of Fathers and Sons and Opening Day

Even with all the opening day baseball games, the coolest story of the day was the unveiling of a statue in Arlington created in memory of Shannon Stone, the firefighter who was at the game with his son when he reached out to catch a souvenir baseball thrown to him by Josh Hamilton, stumbled, and fell 20 feet to his death.  The Rangers had a local artist create a statue of Shannon and his son, Cooper, that was created in Shannon’s memory, but dedicated to all fans – especially the fathers who bring their kids out to the ballgame.  [ESPN and others…  The MLB site had video of the unveiling.]

Opening Day Notes:

The first full slate of opening day games included a number of fine pitching performances.  Johan Santana went five scoreless in his first outing since shoulder surgery, Roy Halliday threw eight scoreless, as did Justin Verlander, in wins, and Johnny Cueto looked like Luis Tiant in dominating the Marlins (the Reds Opener, but the second game for the run-scarce Miami Marlins).  Ryan Dempster and Stephen Strasburg pitched well without getting a decision, and Erik Bedard faced the wrong team in losing, 1 – 0.

One new record was set – the Toronto Blue Jays needed 16 innings before a J.P. Arencibia homer topped the Indians, 7 – 4.

For a complete scoreboard, I’m partial to the MLB.com scoreboard – especially the MLB.com application on the iPad.  Seriously – it’s awesome.

Aches and Pains…

Mets outfielder Andres Torres reinjured his calf on opening day, so he is likely going on the DL and returning to Port St. Lucie to rehab.  [FoxSports]

San Diego placed pitcher Tim Stauffer on the 15-Day DL with a strained right elbow.

The Transaction Wire…

A few teams were making final moves, sending various players to the minors or bringing them up to the bigs.  Those that caught my attention:

The Yankees assigned Jack Cust to their AAA affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Baltimore outrighted one-time prospect Dana Eveland to AAA Norfolk

Happy Birthday!

Players celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include:

(1903) Mickey Cochrane, Hall of Fame catcher
(1908) Ernie Lombardi, Hall of Fame catcher (and schnozz)
(1937) Phil Regan, the Vulture, so named for stealing wins in relief…
(1943) Marty Pattin
(1951) Bert Blyleven, Hall of Fame Curveball
(1964) Kenny Williams, outfielder and White Sox GM
(1969) Bret Boone, alleged steroid user
(1971) Lou Merloni, who alleged that the Red Sox trainers taught people safe steroid practices without necessarily encouraging players to use them…

I’ve probably written this before – and if so, I apologize – but Marty Pattin is just one of those guys who makes me think of my grandfather and baseball cards.  My parents both lived in a three-flat home on Sacremento near Addison in Chicago.  Mom lived upstairs, the owners lived on the main floor, and my dad lived downstairs.  After my parents married and moved out, we would regularly go down to that same three-flat to visit my grandparents and invariably I would watch baseball games with my grandfather, Sverre Kramer.  He lived and died with the Cubs, used to yell out “Oh, for the love of Mike…” whenever something bad happened (which was often enough) and one of my first baseball memories is watching a game with him where Roberto Clemente hit two homers to top the Cubs and Fergie Jenkins some 40 years ago.

Anyway, down the street at the end of the block was a corner store.  My brother and I walked down there one day – I was seven years old – and we were given 50 cents to buy something by Grandpa Kramer.  Mike bought candy.  I, of course, bought baseball cards.  Opening the pack, the one player who stood out to me was Marty Pattin.  I can still picture the card and reading the stats on the back.

Anyway, Pattin has kind of hung around in my baseball brain.  A few years before I got to the University of Kansas, Pattin was a coach there – so I would see his name in the media guide.  Pattin comes up in trivia questions from time to time, and no matter what I always end up thinking about that pack of cards.  It wasn’t my first pack of cards – dad used to leave one under my cereal bowl as a kid from time to time – but it might have been the first pack that I chose to buy by myself.  And it’s Marty Pattin’s card that I think about.

Stephen Strasburg was no Karl Spooner

Perhaps you caught his first major league start – the one where Stephen Strasburg launched his career with a masterful fourteen strikeout performance against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Strasburg fanned the last six batters he faced and eight of the last nine – an amazing performance.

Perhaps you caught his second start on Sunday – where Strasburg seemed a bit flustered by his lack of comfort on the Cleveland Indians mound but still only allowed a run on two hits over five-plus innings.  If you did, you may know that Strasburg now has 22 strikeouts in his first two major league starts.

It’s the second best start, in terms of strikeouts, in the history of major league baseball.  However, unless you are a long-time fan, someone who remembers games played in old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, you’ve probably never heard of the guy who set the record by striking out 27 batters in his first two major league starts.  Both complete games.  Both shutouts.

His name is Karl Spooner, and like Strasburg he was an easy throwing fireballer with a very professional demeanor and a hard fastball that captivated baseball fans immediately upon arrival.

Unlike Strasburg, Spooner was NOT a first round pick.  Rather, Karl Benjamin Spooner was a scrawny high schooler growing up in Oriskany Falls, New York, a tiny community made even smaller when the Erie Canal was relocated and no longer flowed through the upstate New York hamlet.  He was dominating local amateur and semi-pro games after graduation, so a local newspaper man sent a tip to a Brooklyn scout named Greg Mulleavy, who went out and met with the kid.  Prepared to offer $500 to Spooner to join the Dodgers, Spooner told Mulleavy he needed to pay a $98 dental bill – upon reaching the majors, Spooner only had seven of his own teeth remaining – so Mulleavy upped the signing bonus to $600 and got Spooner’s name on a contract.

With a few bucks in his pocket, Spooner was dispatched to D Level Hornell in the Pony League where he immediately made in impact in more ways than one.  On May 15, 1951 in Bradford, PA, Spooner fanned a dozen and threw a no-hitter – though four of his eight walks came in the seventh inning, so the final score was 15 – 1.  In his next start, he fanned 17 and allowed just two hits – but his fastball landed in the face of Olean first baseman Bud Dowling, who left with a broken jaw.  When the season was over, Spooner led the league in strikeouts and had met his future wife, Carol.

Moving up to the Cotton States League in 1952, he tied a league record by fanning 19 batters in a two-hit, 10 – 0 white washing of Greenville, and when 1953 came along, the Dodgers prospect was in A ball throwing for Elmira in the Eastern League.  He threw a one-hitter, allowing a lone single to Bill Boyce – but it was his only win against six losses and he was getting frustrated.  In one start, he was throwing a shutout in the fourth inning when he was tossed by the umpire for arguing balls and strikes.  The Dodgers shipped him to a different A-Level league, sending Spooner to Pueblo in the Western League.

Spooner’s talent came through – setting a league record by fanning 18 Wichita batters on June 22, 1953 in his second start with Pueblo.  Two starts later, he fanned 15 Lincoln batters, making it 45 Ks in just three consecutive starts.  In August, he threw his second professional no-hitter, blanking Denver and striking out thirteen batters.  After winning another league strikeout crown, Spooner was moved up to AA Fort Worth for 1954.

Again, Spooner was the ace of his staff, leading the league in strikeouts and wins, finishing with 21 wins against just 9 losses, and 262 strikeouts in 238 innings.  In one outing, Spooner dueled Ryne Duren of Houston, striking out 14 in 12 innings and gaining the win when Duren finally tired and served up a homer.  Duren lost the game, but finished with 15 strikeouts.  Spooner’s 262 Ks was the most in the Texas League since Houston’s Dizzy Dean fanned 303 batters two generations earlier.

The 1954 Dodgers were a veteran crew that had fallen behind the Giants in the National League race.  As September came around, a number of prospects were being considered for cups of coffee, including a rubber armed left-hander pitching in AAA Montreal named Tom Lasorda.  However, Lasorda injured his leg in a home plate collision with Wally Moon, so the Dodgers gave that coffee cup to Karl Spooner.  And, with the Giants having clinched the pennant, Walter Alston needed someone to start when both Don Newcombe and Billy Loes came up lame.  Alston asked Spooner if it mattered that he faced the Giants  for his maiden start.  When Spooner said, “Doesn’t matter to me – I just want to play,” Smokey Alston put Spooner’s name on the lineup card.

Spooner struggled in the first inning – walking Whitey Lockman and allowing Alvin Dark to reach on a bunt in front of the mound.  However, he retired the next batter, got Willie Mays to fly to right and looked safe – that is, until he walked Monte Irvin to fill the bases.  Roy Campanella talked to his pitcher to calm his nerves.  Though still nervous, Spooner got a third strike past Bobby Hofman and went to the dugout.  Spooner said he might not have survived the first inning had not Hofman gone down swinging.

From that point, however, the Dodgers helped by scoring a run in the first, and the tired Giants, who had clinched the pennant two days earlier, started swapping out players.  Spooner got hot – he mowed down the side after allowing a single in the fifth and struck out the side in each of the seventh and eighth innings.  When it was over, the Dodgers had a shutout win and Spooner had 15 strikeouts.

Spooner also started against Pittsburgh five days later and was equally effective with Rube Walker as his catcher, blanking the Pirates on four hits and striking out 12.  Spooner was the fifth major leaguer since 1901 to have opened his career with back-to-back shutouts, and his 27Ks set a National League record for the most Ks in consecutive games.

Let’s see if we can’t give you an idea of what Spooner was like as a pitcher.  He had very flat feet – so much so that he would buy special cleats with extra arch supports and high ankles; more like football cleats than baseball cleats.  In Fort Worth, he was playing pepper and wrenched his knee pretty badly, so he began pitching with a rather large leather knee brace which helped shorten his stride and improved his control.  He didn’t seem to smile a lot – perhaps because even as a young adult, he was wearing mostly false teeth.

What he had was a very smooth delivery that resulted in a powerful fastball.  After his first start, Campanella said his fastball was as quick as any he had seen – which was probably the excitement of that first game – and Rube Walker said his fastball had a late explosion on hitters.  15 years later, Gil Hodges was managing the Mets when he was asked to compare Nolan Ryan to the great fastball pitchers he had seen in his past.  Hodges listed Karl Spooner.  I’m not suggesting that Spooner hit 100 MPH, but he probably got to the mid-to-high 90s, wouldn’t you think?

As you can imagine, after two amazing starts, the Dodgers saw “superstar” and started predicting silly things like 25 win seasons for 1955 and beyond.  Oriskany Falls and Hornell called Spooner back and had festivals and parades and “Karl Spooner Day” events.  He hit the post-season speaking tour and even hired an agent to deal with these requests.  After a few of these engagements, the Dodgers sent him to Puerto Rico for additional seasoning.  Spooner signed a contract for $7,500 to pitch with Brooklyn in 1955.

When Ponce (P.R.) finished its season, Spooner tried to play golf and found his knee had never really healed.  So, after a review by the Dodgers, the team decided he needed surgery to repair his knee.  When spring training came around in Vero Beach the next spring, the team declared his knee sound and let him start pitching.  Spooner couldn’t have been totally comfortable, though – even he admitted that he was short-arming pitches early on and as the spring continued, Spooner developed a problem with his throwing shoulder.

Instead of winning 25 games, Spooner spent most of the 1955 season on the bench with another young lefty – bonus baby Sandy Koufax.  Spooner found some success pitching in relief – an inning here and another inning there and built up a little tolerance for his sore shoulder.  He had two complete games and a shutout down the stretch as the Dodgers made it to the World Series, and with some confidence, Walter Alston let Spooner pitch in the Series against the Yankees.  Spooner threw three innings of one-hit relief in game two, a loss, striking out five batters.  When the Dodgers came back to win three straight games, taking a 3 – 2 lead into game six, Spooner was given the start.

Unfortunately, Spooner’s shoulder wasn’t right and the Yankees bats were – and Spooner only got one batter out.  Billy Martin struck out as Phil Rizzuto stole second after he had walked to open the inning.  After a walk to Gil McDougald, both Yogi Berra and Hank Bauer singled home a run, and Moose Skowron hit a three-run homer.  Spooner’s day was over.  Fortunately, the Dodgers won game seven to finally beat their cross city rivals.

Instead of rest, Spooner was sent to the Dominican Republic to pitch there, but came home to sell cars in Brooklyn soon after.  When spring training came around in Vero Beach for the 1956 season, Spooner’s shoulder was in even worse shape than the previous year.  In fact, Spooner’s inability to pitch gave an opportunity to another young Dodger prospect, teenaged sensation Don Drysdale, who wound up making the club.  Staying in Vero Beach to recover his form, he was shipped to Brooklyn in May where he pitched batting practice.  When that seemed to go well enough, he was dispatched to St. Paul to test his flapper against minor league hitters.

As a member of the Saints, Spooner pitched fewer than 12 innings, losing one decision, and allowing 7 earned runs.  If the experience didn’t knock him out, a Joe Pignatano toss did.  The young catcher threw the ball as Spooner looked away, catching Spooner squarely on the nose.  As Spooner walked to the clubhouse, he collapsed in right field.  With his shoulder dead, he was placed on the disabled list in late June and sent back to Vero Beach to coach a youth program there and earn his salary.  The team told him to rest and be ready for the 1957 season.

In the spring of 1957, he was told he had calcium deposits in his shoulder, but before he could make the Dodgers, Spooner was loaned to Macon in the Sally League to find his fastball.  While his first outing was encouraging and he won his first two decisions, Spooner lost the next four and wound up sitting out more than he pitched.  In November of 1957, the Dodgers tried surgery, where a team doctor found frayed tendons lying in a groove in his shoulder socket that was jagged and causing pain.  Today, that pitcher would get a year before he might toss a ball – but Spooner was trying to throw in the spring.

However, he wouldn’t be in Vero Beach.  Spooner was drafted out of the minor leagues by Houston in the Texas League, an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, in December of 1957.  Spooner went to the Cardinals’ spring training camp, was sent to Houston, and spent time on their disabled list before being given a chance to pitch in late June.  He made his first start but lasted only four innings.  After a second outing, Spooner realized he would get limited work, so he asked to be sent to a lower level team where he could pitch more frequently.  The Houston team obliged and shipped Spooner to Dothan, Alabama.  Pitching mostly in relief, Spooner got his lone win on the last game of the season, and won a complete game over Selma in a minor league playoff game.

However, his arm was shot the following spring and at the end of the 1959 spring training season, the Cardinals released him outright; the Sporting News writing that “…he couldn’t throw hard enough to scare a little leaguer.”

After that, the only time you would hear about Karl Spooner was when some young phenom came along.  In fact, one article noted that those pitchers who entered the league with a pair of shutout victories had short and rather less-distinguished careers.  The next pitcher to match the double shutout record was Tom Phoebus of Baltimore – case in point.

Not only was Spooner’s baseball career unfairly short, his life was, too.  Staying in Vero Beach where he tended bar and would pitch in old timer games for an inning if he could, among other jobs, Spooner died in 1984 at age 52.

WOW!

It’s rare that the event lives up to the hype, but the first start of Stephen Strasburg was simply awesome.

He blew batters away with a fastball that reached 101, broke off a number of wicked curveballs, and kept hitters off stride with a killer change up.  Strasburg struck out eight of the last nine batters he faced – including the last seven in a row before leaving after seven innings.  His 14 strikeout performance was the most Ks in a debut since J.R. Richard (who had Strasburg’s stuff), who fanned 15 on September 5, 1971.  However, Richard allowed three runs, walked three batters, and pitched all nine innings.  At the rate Strasburg was going, he’d have made a run at 18 Ks.

Look – you can’t project a career on one game, but if you didn’t come away from the game without feeling like you have seen the future and the future is the ace of the Nationals, you had to have been asleep.  Yes – when he comes to Florida, I will be there.

Wow!

Uecker On DL With Heart Surgery

Longtime Milwaukee Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker, whose sense of humor – especially when poking fun at himself – and colorful commentary and story telling has earned him legions of fans across the upper midwest, is scheduled for surgery to replace an aortic valve on Friday.  Uecker has known of the problem for a few months but was hoping to finish the season before needing surgery.  Instead, when the problems worsened quicker than planned, doctors told him not to wait.  [SI]

I used to listen to Uecker on a transistor radio (I know, Kelli – what’s that?), and also on occasion in the Columbia Pipe warehouse in Gurnee on afternoons when Cubs games weren’t on.  In my mind, I can hear him tell stories about Mark Brouhard, the heroes of Harvey’s Wallbangers, and even recall a handful of Lite Beer pitches.  He was the perfect voice for the Major League movies – “He throws a K-Y ball in there for a strike.”

Hurry back!

Do the Nationals Bring Strasburg Up?

Stephen Strasburg tossed five innings of no-hit ball last night – the only player reaching base actually struck out but got to first on a passed ball.  I am ADMITTING my impatience, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the ace of the AA Harrisburg Senators either got the call to join the major league club, or at least got a move to AAA soon.  [ESPN]

Rough Day Yesterday?

Justin Morneau left last night’s game against Detroit early.  According to manager Ron Gardenhire, the Minnesota first baseman felt stiffness in his upper back because, facing Justin Verlander, “…he was swinging and missing a lot…” and it was messing with his back.  [ESPN]

Oakland placed pitcher Brett Anderson on the DL with stiffness in his left forearm and swelling in his elbow.  [SI]

Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz heads to the DL with a strained hamstring.  Cruz tweaked his hammy running the bases on Monday night, and wasn’t very mobile on Tuesday.  Look for David Murphy to get a few more starts… [FoxSports]

Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal left the first game of yesterday’s doubleheader with tightness in his hamstring – though Torre wasn’t sure which leg it was.  Details.  [ESPN]

News From Behind the Mask…

Tampa’s Dioner Navarro will be suspended for two games as a result of his bumping an umpire in a game Friday night.  [FoxSports]

Chris Ianetta, once a starter for your Colorado Rockies, heads to AAA to find his batting eye.  [SI]

I can’t remember where I saw this, but I heard that Texas is giving the starting catcher job to Matt Treanor.  Both Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden were dispatched to AAA, and Max Ramirez will back up Treanor.

Oh Yeah – I forgot…

Brad Lidge also pitched in that AA game featuring Stephen Strasburg.  The erstwhile Phillies closer logged two innings, striking out four, in a rehab stint for Reading.  Lidge feels he’s just about ready to return to the parent club.  [MLB]

So How Much is Albert Pujols Worth?

Seeing that Ryan Howard inked a five year extension worth $125 million with Philadelphia, Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox suggested that Albert Pujols is worth TWICE that.  I dunno…  Howard hits about 50 homers a year, has improved at the plate and in the field, and seems committed to the Phillies.  It was an expensive contract, but there aren’t a whole lot of players who produce as many runs as Howard does.  The fact that he strikes out a lot probably gives him more chances to bat with runners on base because pitchers feel like they have a shot at getting him out.  NOBODY wants to face Pujols, though, and by my count he’s been 30 to 70 runs better than any other offensive player for each of the last five years.  If anybody is worth $30 million, it might be Albert.

Transaction Wire:

Boston dispatched infielder Kevin Frandsen (his career pretty much ended when he blew out his achilles a couple of years back), and recalled pitcher Alan Embree.

Washington recalled outfielder Roger Bernadina from AAA Syracuse.  The guy can fly.  Bernadina’s stint should be longer this time – last year he got maybe two games into his major league career when he broke his ankle leaping against the wall.

The Rockies placed two pitchers on the DL yesterday.  Jason Hammel leaves with a strained groin (hopefully his own), while Jorge De La Rosa tore a tendon in his middle finger.

Catcher Jason LaRue returns to the Cardinals after a brief DL stint.

Oakland recalled Steve Tolleson from AAA.  You might remember his dad, Wayne, was an infielder a few years back.    He’s not REALLY a prospect – he actually looks like he has the same skill set as his father, only a little faster.

Happy Birthday!

1902 – Red Lucas
1934 – Jackie Brandt
1935 – Pedro Ramos
1960 – John Cerrutti, Tom Browning
1964 – Barry Larkin
1981 – Shawn Hill

Mauer Wins AL MVP; Other News

Getting all but one first place vote, Joe Mauer became the fifth Minnesota Twin to win the AL MVP.  Hitting .365, playing gold glove worthy defense behind the plate.  It’s hard to argue with the selection – I can’t, he was my pick, too – because there just aren’t that many players like this guy.  Mauer decided to take advantage of the count when he it was in his favor and added power, enough to lead the AL in batting, on base percentage, and slugging percentage.  Amazing, really…  [ESPN and others…]

Tom Verducci had a vote and explains it for Sports Illustrated

Ken Rosenthal discusses his vote for Fox Sports

The real challenge will be this offseason or next when the Twins have to try and keep Mauer around, especially since Mauer has to be worth about $20 million per season on the open market.

And in Other News…

Omar Vizquel signed a one -year deal with the Chicago White Sox.  Vizquel expects to be a mentor to infielders Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham.  [ESPN]

The Nationals say that Stephen Strasburg, who missed his last start in the Arizona Fall League, won’t need surgery on his twisted knee.  Dcctors say it’s a dislocation of the joint and he just needs some rest.  [SI]

The Associated Press released notes suggesting that Ken Griffey Jr. could earn as much as $3.9 million after incentives for the 2010 season.  [ESPN]

The Cubs signed lefty reliever John Grabow to a $7.5 million, two-year deal.  Grabow is a solid eighth-inning guy (though he can pitch in any inning from 5 through 9) who earned the contract after a year with 70 appearances for both Pittsburgh and Chicago.  However, personally I’d be leery of anyone coming off a career high in appearances and a career ERA over 4.00…  [SI]

Cuban Aroldis Chapman has fired his agent, signing with the Hendricks Brothers, agents who represent players such as Andy Pettitte.  Edwin Mejia, of Athletes Premier International, had helped Chapman escape from Cuba, setting up residency in Andorra so that Chapman couldn’t be drafted and would be signed as a free agent.  One expects a lawsuit for tampering in the very near future.  [ESPN]

Look for Roy Halliday to play out the string for Toronto, knowing that he will either be traded or become a free agent after the 2010 season.  Toronto brass fully expect Halliday to hit the road.  [ESPN]

The Marlins and pitcher Josh Johnson couldn’t iron out a deal, and per ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, it’s because Johnson wants a fourth year if he signs a long-term contract.  The Marlins are prepared to deal with arbitration, but tried to get Johnson to sign a three-year deal.  Johnson was trying to get a deal similar to the four-year, $38 million deal the Royals gave Zack Greinke.  [ESPN]

Speaking of Marlins named Johnson, the ESPN rumor mill has Nick Johnson getting plenty of interest in the free agency market.  Johnson had a .477 OBA after arriving in Florida in a late season trade with Washington.  Among the suitors?  Boston, Washington, the Mets, Giants and Orioles.  [ESPN]

Let’s stick with stories about my fish…  Former Angels prospect and Marlins minor leaguer, Dallas McPherson, signed a minor league deal with the Oakland A’s.  At 29, McPherson is past his prospect days and has missed two of three seasons with back problems.  [ESPN]

Finally, Peter Gammons compliments the management of the Marlins for winning with a payroll that, over four years, has spent less money – nearly a third less – than the Mets spent in 2009.  [ESPN]

Quick Hits…

Jermaine Dye says he is open to playing first base.  I’d be more worried about how his production fell apart after the all-star break, so this is just something to make him seem more valuable on the free agent market. [MLB]

After signing Chris Capuano and John Halama, two pitchers who have missed time due to injury and really haven’t been on the MLB radar in two or three years, the Milwaukee Brewers are showing interest in Carl Pavano.  There just aren’t enough 4.50 ERA guys with bad backs and shoulders to go around, I guess…  [MLB]

Happy Birthday!

Hall of Famer Joe Medwick was born on this day in 1911.  Joe never liked his nickname “Ducky”, which was shorted from “Ducky Wucky”, which might help explain his surliness…

Others celebrating with cards, cake, or rememberances include:  George Burns (1889) – a fine lead off hitter with the Tigers back in the day…, Billy Rogell (1904), Danny Ozark (1923), Jim Northrup (1939), Fred Beene (1942), Steve Yeager (1948), Randy Velarde (1962), Cal Eldred (1967), Ben McDonald (1967), Al Martin (1967), Dave Hansen (1968) – who could probably STILL lace a single pinch hitting for the Dodgers right now…, and Joel Guzman (1984).

Lincecum Takes Second Cy in Close Vote; Free Agency Bidding Starts Today!

Tim Lincecum won the NL Cy Young in one of the closest votes yet, just seven points over Chris Carpenter – and the guy with the most first place votes, Adam Wainwright, finished third.

Not a whole lot of difference between the three (and even Danny Haren, who deserved consideration).  I’ll be honest, I don’t know how I would have voted if given a shot.  Lincecum is awesome, really, so it’s hard to vote against him.  From what I have read, Carpenter’s finishing second had to do with his missing time during the season.  Even Lincecum missed two starts, but he was there pretty much all year.

SI’s Ted Keith argues that Lincecum is worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.  He makes a valid point.

Quick Hits…

The last two players to file for free agency, with bidding on players starting today, were Andy Pettitte and Fernando Tatis.  In case you were keeping score, the number of major leaguers eligible who filed for free agency is 171.  [ESPN]

Stephen Strasburg will miss the championship game of the Arizona Fall League to nurse a twisted knee.  No way the Nationals will jeopardize his future, huh?  [ESPN]

The Royals have reached terms with free agent pitcher Brad Thompson, formerly in the St. Louis Cardinals chain.  Thompson isn’t close to being a long term fix – he doesn’t strike people out (180Ks in 385 innings), though he has decent control.  With a team that struggles defensively, Thompson will give up a lot of hits.  Though his career record is 21 – 17, most of that is being fortunate to be on the Cardinals.  At best he is a long reliever who can eat up innings in losing causes.  [FoxSports]

The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired Aaron Heilman from the Cubs for two prospects.  Heilman isn’t a bad seventh inning, long reliever type, but he’s never really taken that next step forward.  The Cubs get first baseman Ryne White.  (He’s a Chicago native, born in 1986 – hence that familiar first name…)  White is a Purdue grad, a little power and a good eye, but his batting average needs to get north of .300 to be a serious prospect.  We’ll see if he can take a step forward at A+ Daytona or AA next year.  The other prospect is a pitcher, Scott Maine.  Maine went to the University of Miami and was moved quickly up the ladder in the D-Backs chain because he strikes people out and has decent control.  He pitched well at AA and AAA in 2009,  but my guess is that he’ll start 2010 in Iowa and wait for a chance.  He’ll be on the roster soon, though – and could be a potential eighth inning guy.

Torii Hunter will have surgery to repair a sports hernia, but should be ready for Angels spring training in February.  [MLB]

Could Kansas City host the 2012 All-Star Game?  We down here in Florida, would prefer it to be at our new stadium (if it’s done by then), but we can wait until 2013 and let the good people of Kansas City enjoy a party at the refurbished “K”…  [MLB]

Happy Birthday!

Kenesaw Mountain Landis was born on this date in 1866.  He either saved the game or held it back, depending on the issue…  Landis helped get gambling out of the game following the scandals of the 1910s, but he helped prevent blacks from integrating the sport at the same time.

Others celebrating with cake, cards or rememberances:  Andy Coakley (1882), whose shove injured Rube Waddell’s shoulder prior to the 1905 World Series, Rick Monday (1945) – my brother’s first favorite ballplayer – and his teammate Jay Johnstone (1945), Alex Arias (1967), Gabe White (1971), J.D. Drew (1975), and Cub outfielder Sam Fuld (1981).