Buster Olney: Mark Teixeira

Stadium woes continue for Rays, A's 

April, 5, 2014
Tropicana FieldAP Photo/Chris O'MearaThe Rays have drawn big crowds to Tropicana Field for certain games, but that hasn't been the norm.
On one side of the country, the mayor of St. Petersburg, Fla., met with Tampa Bay Rays president Matt Silverman to discuss the team’s lingering unhappiness with the current ballpark situation, as detailed by Christopher O'Donnell. On the other side of the country, the Oakland Athletics postponed a game, despite the fact there was no rain falling and no rain in the forecast: The field had been left uncovered the night before and was deemed unplayable, as John Hickey writes.

The Athletics’ situation could have happened in just about every other park in the sport. In the time I covered the New York Yankees, I remember a similar situation developing at Legends Field before a spring training game, with the groundskeepers scrambling to prepare the dampened field early in the morning before George Steinbrenner arrived. They had left the tarp off the field overnight, and a passing shower had thoroughly drenched it.

But between this and the ongoing sewage issues, and the field conditions that develop when the NFL's Raiders start playing games, Oakland’s park situation continues to be an embarrassment for all of Major League Baseball, not just the Athletics. As Bill Shaikin noted on Twitter on Friday, it’s now been five years since commissioner Bud Selig formed a committee to study Oakland’s ballpark options, and nobody -- not the other owners, not the commissioner -- have deemed it important enough to make it a priority item for the industry.

Which is their prerogative. If baseball’s owners and Selig don’t feel the need to strong-arm the Giants into making the best possible territory deal they can make and carve out a home for the Athletics in San Jose, Calif., that’s their choice. Until Major League Baseball -- the teams and the central office -- places the Athletics’ status at the top of its to-do list and prepares all the necessary horse-trading, nothing will change.

But when stuff like this happens -- when sewage is running under the feet of players, coaches and umpires -- the fault lies with the whole of MLB, not just plumbers or groundskeepers. This is a glaring case of benign neglect.

The Rays’ situation with St. Petersburg is like a marriage that is all but over besides the legal union. After their Opening Day spread of 31,042 fans, the Rays have drawn crowds of 11,113, 10,808, 9,571 and 14,304 in keeping with the recent tradition of support. Some small-market and mid-market teams have seen their attendance rise and fall according to how much the fans believe in ownership's investment in the team -- the Padres are a perfect example of this -- but the Rays have been a model of consistency in their incredible and improbable success, and yet the attendance continues to drift downward.

The franchise vies with the St. Louis Cardinals for the title of best-run baseball operations department, having won at least 90 games in all but one of the past six seasons, despite working on a shoestring budget while maintaining residence in the hyper-competitive American League East. The team has tried to reboot the fan experience at Tropicana Field, repeatedly. The Rays have tried to make the marriage with St. Petersburg work, but it’s not working.

From O’Donnell’s story:

The Rays are under contract to play at the Trop through 2027 but say they need to explore sites for a new stadium because of low attendances at the city-owned facility. The city has so far refused, saying it has to protect the investment of taxpayers who paid millions of dollars to bring Major League Baseball to St. Petersburg.

“I think we made good progress today,” Kriseman said. “We’re having very open and honest dialogue with each other.”

The hourlong unannounced meeting, the second Kriseman has had with the team since taking office in January, was at the Trop ahead of the Rays’ game against the Texas Rangers.

Kriseman said both sides have agreed to keep talks confidential. Talks in 2013 between the Rays and former Mayor Bill Foster stalled after city leaders claimed that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig had instructed the Rays not to offer the city any compensation if it broke its contract.

“Both sides have agreed we are going to keep our conversations in confidence and private so we can continue to have a solid element of trust in each other, so we can make progress,” Kriseman said.

Despite a winning team in recent years, the Rays’ average attendance of just more than 18,000 was the lowest in the league in 2013.

Principal owner Stuart Sternberg has suggested several times in recent years that baseball’s other 29 owners were growing restless with the Rays’ lingering stadium problem. Richer teams such as the New York Yankees have to subsidize less profitable teams, including the Rays, through revenue-sharing payments.

Maybe there’s a more tenable site in the Tampa area. Maybe Montreal could be an option. Maybe Portland, or Nashville.
TeixeiraJohn Munson/USA TODAY SportsThere have been plenty of reasons for frustration in the Bronx this season.

Nobody will ever feel sorry for the New York Yankees because of their payroll, their bank account, and all of those championship flags flapping above their home ballpark. Think about this: The small handful of players who are unavailable to the Yankees because of injury today -- Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Kevin Youkilis -- earn more than the entire payrolls of about a third of the teams in the majors.

But the challenges the Yankees face are tangible, may cause them to stand down before the trade deadline, and may eventually prevent them from making the playoffs for just the second time since 1994. The front office made frugal moves late in spring training, and those players helped to buy time, yet there is a lot of murkiness ahead for the decision-makers, created partly by the past investments in the stars.

Granderson could get the pins removed from his fractured pinkie this week, and he is on course to come back in mid-to-late July. But the simple fact is that the Yankees have no idea -- absolutely none -- what they’ll get out of Teixeira, Jeter and Rodriguez in the second half of this season.

Teixeira received a cortisone shot Sunday and the Yankees are hopeful that this will help and he’ll bounce back. But Teixeira’s latest issue is all part of a larger problem with his wrist, and it remains possible that he’ll need season-ending surgery.

Rodriguez will take live batting practice today, and in the Yankees’ perfect world, he would come back for the last couple of months and be an above-average player at his position, which is what he was for much of last year. Jeter led the majors in hits last season, and maybe he’ll return and play that well again.

But they don’t know if any of that can happen, especially in light of the advanced age of all three of those players. If the Yankees didn’t have so many dollars invested in that trio, they would be better positioned to aggressively pursue solutions in the trade market before the July 31 deadline.

Like owners of a mansion in a bad real estate market, the practical reality is that the Yankees will have to wait. They will be blocked from making aggressive moves at first, shortstop or third base, because they can’t really acquire a player who quickly would become redundant if/when Teixeira, Jeter or Rodriguez returns.

It’s more likely the Yankees will have to be patient until the last days and hours leading up to the deadline before making their best-guess assessment of how much Rodriguez, Jeter and Teixeira can contribute.

"They’re going to be in a box,” one rival evaluator said.

Kevin Youkilis has been regressing. The Yankees are a lot like the 2012 Red Sox, writes Joel Sherman.

Around the league

• The Padres climbed over the Giants in the NL West standings by beating them in their own ballpark, and the win was created by this Will Venable catch.

Max Scherzer is the first Tiger in more than 100 years to start a season 10-0, as George Sipple writes. He overcame ancient history, as Torii Hunter said.

From ESPN Stats and Info: Scherzer is the first starting pitcher to open 10-0 (all wins coming in starts) since Roger Clemens began the 1997 season 11-0.

How Scherzer beat the Orioles:

A) Scherzer brought his best fastball when he needed it, throwing 10 at 96 mph or higher. He had averaged fewer than four such fastballs per start entering Monday.
B) Three of Scherzer's four fastball strikeouts came on pitches of more than 96 mph. He threw five fastballs at 96-plus mph to Chris Davis with the bases loaded and two out in the fifth inning, eventually striking him out swinging on a 97 mph fastball.
C) Scherzer kept the ball away, throwing a season-high 66 percent of his pitches in the outer third of the strike zone or further outside. Seven of Scherzer's 10 strikeouts came on outside pitches.
D) All six of Scherzer's strikeouts with his off-speed pitches came the pitch directly after a fastball.
E) Scherzer held the Orioles to 0-for-16 with two strikes (although they were 7-for-9 before two strikes). Scherzer's .091 opponent batting average with two strikes is the best in the league.

Scherzer has struck out at least six in all 14 of his starts; only Pedro Martinez had longer streaks to begin a season, doing it in 15 straight games in 1999 and 29 straight in 2000.

• The sewage overflow at Oakland Coliseum that flooded the clubhouses and forced players to use the Raiders’ dressing room Sunday has been national news. But Athletics general manager Billy Beane says the smell of sewage is something the club’s employees cope with regularly, because of the nearly half-century-old infrastructure of the ballpark. "We have to live with it every day,” he said.

The commissioner’s committee to study the Athletics’ desire for a new ballpark was formed just after the inauguration of President Barack Obama -- his first term, more than four years ago.

This ballpark situation stinks, writes Mark Purdy.

• On Monday’s podcast, Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti was really good in talking about the mix of tough love and empathy he employs in his job, and Freddie Freeman discussed how he refined his approach at the plate, which worked for him Monday night, when he clubbed a walk-off homer.

Giancarlo Stanton continues to just wreck the baseball, as Juan Rodriguez writes, and Stanton ended the streak that Patrick Corbin had built.

Stanton hasn’t wasted any time since coming off the disabled list. His second home run Monday was the 100th of his career in his 400th career game. He’s the ninth player to hit at least 100 home runs by his 400th career game.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Jim Leyland says he’s going to go with a mix-and-match closer plan.

2. Tyler Lyons will get at least one more start.

3. Alex Wood is getting the ball for the Braves today, in his first major league start, writes Carroll Rogers.

4. Bo Porter is putting his faith in Trevor Crowe. Justin Maxwell is coming back.

5. You could really argue both sides of the Jurickson Profar debate, says Nolan Ryan.

6. Ian Kennedy dropped the appeal of his suspension, which means that he can participate in the Diamondbacks’ next series against the Dodgers, in early July.

7. Bruce Bochy admitted that he botched a double-switch.

8. The Reds are going to use Tony Cingrani out of the bullpen.

9. Ruben Amaro says he doesn’t do five-year plans, as David Murphy writes.

10. Jordy Mercer is going to be getting more playing time.

11. The Pirates are expected to sign their No. 1 pick today, writes Travis Sawchik.

12. Lucas Duda is getting a shot at first base.

Dings and dents

1. Anibal Sanchez and Alex Avila landed on the disabled list.

2. Jose Reyes and Brandon Morrow have started their injury rehabilitation assignments.

3. Asdrubal Cabrera hopes to be back soon.

4. Jake Peavy is having difficulty breathing.

Monday’s games

1. The Royals are back at .500.

2. The Rangers busted their slump with one of their biggest moments of the season, as Evan Grant writes.

3. Wrote here the other day how impressed the Giants were with Josh Johnson, and the Rockies got a similar view of Johnson on Monday -- at the wrong end of a lot of zeroes. The Jays won with small ball, writes Ken Fidlin.

From ESPN Stats and Info, how Johnson dominated the Rockies:

A) Johnson had a season-high five strikeouts with his fastball, all on pitches up in the zone or above. The Rockies missed on nine of 14 swings against Johnson's high fastball.
B) All five of Johnson's strikeouts with his off-speed pitches came on pitches down in the zone or below; all five pitches were low and to Johnson's glove side.
C) He went to his slider a season-high 34 percent of the time, getting eight outs and four strikeouts with the pitch.
D) All 10 of Johnson's strikeouts were swinging.

4. Oakland blew a lead, and gave ground.

5. The Angels had a really good day at the plate.

6. Mike Leake was The Man for the Reds.

7. Domonic Brown and the Phillies got to frolic.

AL East

Wil Myers is thrilled to get the big-league call-up. Many top prospects will have minimal time in the big leagues, some skipping Triple-A altogether, but as Myers joins the Rays, he will have had more than 1,296 plate appearances in Double- and Triple-A.

• The upcoming road trip will test the Rays’ pitching depth.

Alfredo Aceves has been up to the task, as Michael Silverman writes.

Daniel Nava’s return was keyed by defense, writes Peter Abraham.

• Chris Davis now leads the AL with 24 homers (five more than Miguel Cabrera), and is second to Miggy in batting (.337 to .358) and RBIs (61 to 71). We could have quite a Triple Crown race.

AL Central

• The Royals climbed into second place on a luckless night for Carlos Carrasco.

• The White Sox played some '80s tunes after breaking a losing streak, as Mark Gonzales writes.

• The Twins are struggling in their own division, as Brian Murphy writes.

AL West

• The Angels’ defense has been terrible this season.

• DJ Peterson has begun a new path, in the Seattle farm system.

NL East

• A struggling Marlins rookie got a day off.

Mike Zunino is enrolled in Baseball U, writes Ryan Divish.

• Washington continues to drift. But there is this: Bryce Harper is making progress.

Denard Span’s swing is a problem, writes Adam Kilgore.

• For the Mets, a new face has arrived. This could be the start of something big, writes John Harper.

NL Central

• Here’s yet another gem taken late in the draft developing in the St. Louis farm system.

Shelby Miller took care of business.

• The Cubs’ frustration continues to build.

• Dale Sveum isn’t worried about the perception of fans.

NL West

Carlos Gonzalez is good enough to carry the Rockies in Troy Tulowitzki’s absence, writes Troy Renck.

• The son of a former Giant haunted the Giants.

• For a couple of days, Don Mattingly will be king again.

Good works

The Rays’ Sam Fuld has had Type 1 diabetes since he was 10. The past two years, he has partnered with the University of South Florida Diabetes Center to host a two-day clinic in February for kids with juvenile diabetes. Sam runs the camp and recruits the instructors, all of whom are Type 1 diabetics. Also for the past two years, he has been the keynote speaker at Juvenile Diabetes Day at All Children’s Hospital. In April, he also spoke to 100 nursing students from the USF nursing program.

Other stuff

• The Angels thought about drafting Tim Tebow.

• The phone-book incident is part of Steve Sparks’ legacy, writes Tom Haudricourt.

• The Dodgers’ Stan Kasten is shaped by his father’s lessons, writes Bill Plaschke.

And today will be better than yesterday.

How Yankees can replace Teixeira 

March, 7, 2013

The New York Yankees know as well as any team that wrist and hand injuries -- like the one suffered by Mark Teixeira -- come with enormous uncertainty. The doctors are saying the first baseman will miss eight to 10 weeks, but that's assuming there are no setbacks, as there were time and again for former Yankee Nick Johnson, who wound up missing months and months because of wrist problems.

The Yankees officials who gathered at Legends Field to talk Wednesday evening also know that even if the doctors' projected timeline for Teixeira is 100 percent accurate and he's back and ready to play sometime in late May, there is no guarantee that he'll swing with full power or efficiency. Wrist injuries to hitters can be really tricky, because that last needed snap in the swing of a bat can be elusive. The strength might not be there entirely, or maybe the hitter is subconsciously protecting against reinjury, or maybe the swing mechanics aren't fully recovered.

The Yankees officials know from experience that it's within the realm of possibility that Teixeira could be back and banging balls into the upper deck by late spring, or that his wrist problem could essentially wash out his season. Everything else can be working great for a hitter, but if there's a problem with the wrists or hands, that's a game-changer. Michael Bourn was a candidate for a top-10 MVP vote in the first half of the 2012 season, hitting .311, and in the second half, he batted .225 while fighting through a wrist injury.

But for planning purposes, the Yankees cannot worry about that. They listen to the projections from their doctors, and the timeline that has been presented to them is that Curtis Granderson will be back sometime early in the season, after a month, and Teixeira will be back soon after that. Given that information, they almost certainly won't go out and make some hyperaggressive move; they're much more likely to scan the list of guys who are losing job battles in other camps, players who are cut free.

As they do their due diligence, they might at least talk about someone like a Scott Rolen. Don Kelly could be a fit (total speculation), if he doesn't win a spot with the Detroit Tigers. Maybe Russ Canzler, one of the kings of the waiver wire in the winter and claimed and then lost by the Yankees in the offseason, will pass through again (although he put on a show for the Orioles Wednesday). On paper, the Mariners might have some surplus as they sort through their DH-1B options.

There are some silver linings around the edges, obscured by the disastrous injuries. Brett Gardner looks really good and is having a good spring training, and Travis Hafner seems to be settling in and enjoying his first experience in the Yankees' camp.

But manager Joe Girardi should probably refrain from invoking his inner Rick Pitino, who once famously noted who was not going to walk through the door. Babe Ruth is not walking through the door for the Yankees, and neither is Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Paul O'Neill or Tino Martinez. Heck, they may not even see the real Mark Teixeira come through the door all year, given the nature of his injury.

Girardi said on the first day of spring training that the Yankees will probably have to figure out other ways to manufacture runs, and when you look at their projected lineup, well, he spoke the truth more than he realized.

CF Brett Gardner

SS Derek Jeter

2B Robinson Cano

3B Kevin Youkilis

DH Travis Hafner

1B Juan Rivera

LF Somebody

RF Ichiro Suzuki

C Francisco Cervelli

Girardi speaks a glass-half-full kind of language, and so today what he can feel good about is that if the Yankees' aging rotation stays healthy, it should be pretty good. CC Sabathia looks good. Andy Pettitte looks really good. Hiroki Kuroda was really good last year. It may be, too, that no team is really poised to sprint away with the AL East, a division that appears to be filled with clubs that all could be good but not great.

But it won't be easy for the Yankees, and it could be really difficult. Under a different context, Girardi said on that first day that he viewed the Yankees as a team capable of winning 95 games. Now the hope for them is that they hang in, in a mud-bog division race, until somebody comes through the door to help carry the load, at least a little.

Brian Cashman delivered the news from a wheelchair.

From ESPN Stats & Information, some more on what the Teixeira injury means.

Hal Steinbrenner did a Q&A with Mark Feinsand. Slowly, the youngest Steinbrenner son is becoming more comfortable doing media stuff -- which will be incredibly important this summer if the team struggles, because he's going to be needed front and center, embracing the proverbial The Buck Stops Here thing. Within the Q&A, Steinbrenner notes that the team has won one championship with a decade of $200 million payrolls.

These Bombers may get bad reviews, writes Ken Davidoff.

Derek Jeter has yet to run the bases at full speed.

Ryan and the Rangers

The drama over whether or not Nolan Ryan is going to stay with the Rangers is not going to end until he speaks and puts it to rest, and he declined to talk to reporters Wednesday.

Now Josh Hamilton says that Ryan was unhappy that the team dragged its feet on Hamilton's negotiations. Jon Daniels has the power and Nolan Ryan has the love, writes Randy Galloway.

As I wrote the other day: There has been a sense of unrest with Ryan for a while, and he rates high on the Stubborn Meter. He is in position to be both directly aggressive and passive aggressive, or either, if he chooses.

Speaking of the Rangers, a team source tells T.R. Sullivan: The team is not signing Kyle Lohse.

Detroit closer drama

Dave Dombrowski remains coy on the closer issue, writes Lynn Henning. From the piece:

    Even as the Tigers scramble to find a bullpen closer in the wake of rookie Bruce Rondon's struggles, Dombrowski was calm and upbeat, portraying concerns about Rondon as more of a public and media fixation than anything that has the Tigers worried.

    "Let's see how he does," Dombrowski said during a conversation in his office overlooking Marchant Stadium. "I realize it (the closer issue) will get a lot of attention. But the reality is, it (camp) still has a long haul to go."

    Dombrowski was referring to Rondon's early Grapefruit League work that has seen the right-handed pitcher rack up a 7.36 ERA in four outings.

    Rondon never was officially named closer heading into the 2013 season as the Tigers sought to replace the departed Jose Valverde. But he was plainly considered by Dombrowski and the front office to be a blessed candidate who would win the job during camp despite not having thrown a big league pitch.
    That scenario could yet play out, even as Rondon has this week been confined to the bullpen. Pitching coach Jeff Jones has been smoothing mechanical problems the Tigers believe are at the heart of Rondon's twisted numbers: 3-2/3 innings, five hits, and five walks. On the plus side are Rondon's six strikeouts, the product of a lightning fastball and a power package the Tigers have loved since his breakthrough season in 2012.

    "Before spring training, I said we'd be asked about our closer every single day," Dombrowski said after the Tigers beat the Blue Jays, 4-1, in Lakeland. "This is not anything that we didn't anticipate."

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