Buster Olney: MLB

videoThe best part of Leon Roberts’ job happened again Tuesday night, when George Springer was summoned into the manager’s office in Colorado Springs. Springer probably had some idea of what was to come, said Roberts, the hitting coach of the Oklahoma City RedHawks.

The word passed down from the Houston Astros’ front office reached Oklahoma City manager Tom Lawless late in the game, and Springer was pulled out for the ninth inning. On Tuesday he was 3-for-4 with four RBIs and four runs scored -- in other words, just another day for Springer, who had batted .353 with an OPS of 1.106 for the RedHawks.

When players are told they’re going to the big leagues, Roberts said, they usually react in one of two ways: Either they break down and cry, or they are speechless. Springer, Roberts said, was “more shocked and subdued. But he was playing like his hair was on fire.”

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Kyle Lohse, Carlos Gomez, Khris Davis Getty ImagesKyle Lohse, Carlos Gomez and Khris Davis have all been major contributors this season.
Last September, Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin stood and watched the remnants of the 2013 Brewers take batting practice on a Saturday. No Ryan Braun. No Aramis Ramirez. No Jean Segura. But what Melvin conveyed, amid the tatters of a lost season, was hope.

He liked the projected lineup for 2014, he said, with Khris Davis probably moving into a starting role. He thought Yovani Gallardo -- who seemingly never really recovered from the WBC in 2013 -- would bounce back. Melvin seemed intrigued by what the Brewers could be, and so far, that vision has been borne out.

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Matt MooreAP Photo/Orlin WagnerRays starter Matt Moore left Monday's game early with elbow soreness.
The Rays aren’t sure whether starter Matt Moore will need surgery, as Marc Topkin writes. But given what we saw the other night, with Moore recoiling from a pitch the way that Braves starter Kris Medlen did in March, it would surprise no one if it turns out he faces Tommy John surgery, and an uncertain future.

Looking back, it’s a good thing Moore signed that $14 million deal back in 2011.

Many of baseball’s best young players have been taking deals that buy out their first or second years of free agency, with an option year or two attached. Chris Archer did this recently, locking himself into a six-year deal that could become an eight-year deal and guarantees him $25.5 million. So did the Pirates' Starling Marte, who signed a six-year, $31 million deal.

This has spurred a lot of debate within the industry if the players are conceding too much, if they are leaving money on the table.

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Bobby ParnellElsa/Getty ImagesMets closer Bobby Parnell is expected to miss considerable time with a torn elbow ligament.
The Pirates' Jameson Taillon, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, is the latest to go through the process of having his elbow checked. The Mets, who have been models of restraint in the handling of their young pitchers, announced that closer Bobby Parnell has a partially torn elbow ligament.

From Tim Rohan’s story:
The Mets are often asked what reasons they have to be optimistic. Lately, their unequivocal response has been starting pitching. It is their obvious strength, now and for the future. They consider Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero precious assets. The Mets plan to be cautious with them, bring them along at the right pace and eventually ride them to relevance.

Much depends on how the Mets develop these promising pitchers.

That was why it seemed particularly concerning when the Mets announced Tuesday that Bobby Parnell, their closer, had a partly torn ulnar collateral ligament. Parnell will try rehabilitation to avoid Tommy John surgery, but if he has the operation, he will be the third Mets pitcher to have it in about nine months, following Jeremy Hefner and Harvey. Jenrry Mejia had it in 2011.

Every case is different, but general manager Sandy Alderson indicated that the Mets would review how they handled pitchers and their rehabilitation programs. He called the pitching injuries an "industrywide problem." Several top-flight pitchers had the operation during spring training this year, including the Atlanta Braves' Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, who each had it for a second time.

"It's something we constantly look at," Alderson said Wednesday. "But I don't think we have -- or the industry has -- any solid answers. That’s for sure."


Alderson speaks the essential truth: The industry has been trying to find solid answers and they don’t have much to show for it. They’ve been constructing pitch counts and innings limits and adhering to them closely, doing everything they can to develop pitchers while protecting them at the same time, and pitchers continue to break down.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it's possible that the constricted pitch counts have made little to no difference. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s possible that the innings limits have made little to no difference.

The one conclusion that a lot of general managers have reached is that there is no one-size-fits-all set of rules, no magic formula.

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Jurickson ProfarJoe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsJurickson Profar is expected to miss 10 to 12 weeks due to a muscle tear in his right shoulder.
The New York Yankees’ camp opened in 2013 with Derek Jeter still hobbling, despite a doctor’s projection that he would be ready to go at the start of the season, and Alex Rodriguez was sidelined, as well. Day by day, the team’s casualty list grew: Curtis Granderson got hurt, and so did Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis.

The Yankees’ front office scrambled to fill the spots in the last days of spring training, adding Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and others. Joe Girardi handled the adversity well, setting a strong tone for his players, who spent all summer maxing out in preparation and effort.

But in the end, the Yankees were overwhelmed by the impact of their injuries. There was nothing they could do to change the reality that losing their first baseman, shortstop, third baseman and left fielder -- as well as catcher Russell Martin, who had signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates -- crushed their production. The Yankees hadn’t finished out of the top 10 in runs scored since 1991, and last summer 15 teams scored more runs than they did. The club won 85 games, surprisingly, but failed to make the playoffs.

It’s as if a curse that hung over the Yankees’ camp last spring has now been attached to the Texas Rangers, given everything that has gone wrong in Surprise, Ariz., where the team trains. The day after the Rangers announced that second baseman Jurickson Profar will miss 10 to 12 weeks, they revealed that catcher Geovany Soto will also be gone 10 to 12 weeks -- following a wave of other injuries.

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Bryan PriceAP Photo/Paul SancyaNew Reds manager Bryan Price, a former pitching coach, has a unique plan for the bullpen.
This is very, very interesting: New Reds manager Bryan Price -- a longtime pitching coach -- is not going to adhere closely to lefty-righty matchups with his bullpen.

From John Fay’s piece:
“Perhaps the biggest difference between [Dusty] Baker and Price will be how the bullpen is used. Baker, like most other managers, was big on getting left-on-left and right-on-right matchups late in the game.

Price says he won't do that.

"You're going to get some criticism when they don't do the job," he said. "But you don't go out and get Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton so they can come in get one left-handed or right-handed hitter out. I feel very strongly about that."

Price knows that this goes against the current thinking.

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Ben WetzlerAP Photo/Greg Wahl-StephensBen Wetzler, a lefty from Oregon State, was drafted by the Phillies in the fifth round last year.
LAKELAND, Fla. -- For the third consecutive day, the Philadelphia Phillies did not comment on the decision to inform the NCAA that the college juniors they drafted in the fifth and sixth rounds last summer -- Oregon State pitcher Ben Wetzler and Washington State outfielder Ben Monda -- might have violated rules regarding agent contact.

Monda was cleared by the NCAA weeks ago, and, on Friday evening, the NCAA announced that Wetzler will become eligible to play again on March 2 after completing a suspension.

As time passes and the Phillies’ silence continues, the impression hardens within the industry -- particularly among agents and college coaches -- that the team acted out of vindictiveness, because neither Wetzler nor Monda accepted their offer. That will not have a chance to change unless the Phillies explain their side of the story.

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Ubaldo JimenezBrace Hemmelgarn/Getty ImagesUbaldo Jimenez had a 1.85 ERA in 13 starts after the All-Star break last season.
The concern within the Baltimore Orioles’ organization, as the negotiations with Ubaldo Jimenez began percolating over the last 48 hours, was that the Boston Red Sox or Toronto Blue Jays would snag the right-hander.

The Red Sox, after all, had known in recent weeks that Ryan Dempster would probably walk away from the last year of his contract, surrendering his $13.25 million salary for the upcoming season. Boston seemingly had the rotation spot open for Dempster, as well as the newfound financial flexibility.

The Blue Jays have had a quiet offseason, generally, and are positioned to take a starting pitcher … at the right price. The Orioles had at least some reason to guess that the Blue Jays or the Red Sox could jump in, so in order to land Jimenez -- to separate themselves from what they believed to be the pack -- Baltimore increased its offer from three years to four for Jimenez, and this is how the Orioles reached the agreement on Monday.

But behind the curtain, there is this: Sources say that neither the Red Sox nor the Blue Jays actually made any offer for Jimenez, and that the dialogue was not a matter of either team pursing the player, but of Jimenez’s representative pursuing the team.

No matter how we got here, however, the fact is that the Orioles felt they needed to do something.

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A-Rod runs out of people to blame 

February, 8, 2014
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Alex RodriguezElsa/Getty ImagesAlex Rodriguez dropped his lawsuits against MLB and the players' union this week.
Until Alex Rodriguez was willing to testify under oath, there was no reason to take any of his costly legal maneuverings seriously.

But along the way, before his abrupt capitulation Friday, we needed an abacus to keep track of the attempted diversions, from the gold-plated lawsuits to the beautifully scripted I’m-Not-Going-To-Take-It-Anymore exit from the arbitration hearing to the declaration of innocence on WFAN. This was like the wizard of Oz imploring you to ignore the man behind the curtain.

In the end, none of the machinations changed the essential truth: Rodriguez broke the rules and used performance-enhancing drugs, then tried to get away with it.

A dozen other players were caught in the same Biogenesis net, including Ryan Braun and Nelson Cruz, and, when presented with the evidence, they essentially threw up their hands and acknowledged: I surrender, you got me.

Not Rodriguez, who bypassed two windows of opportunity in which he could take responsibility and accept his punishment like the other players. If he had done so, his relationships with the Yankees and others would’ve been damaged but workable.

Instead, he started flame-throwing blame at just about everybody around him. This included the Yankees, commissioner Bud Selig and the arbitration system negotiated by his union, plus, in his last act of desperation, at the union itself. His lawsuit against the union specifically named Michael Weiner, the beloved former head of the union who passed away from cancer at the end of last year -- someone who spent far too many hours in the last year of his life working to defend Rodriguez, who had cheated and lied over and over.

What a complete waste, of time, of money, of good will, of grace.

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Rick RenteriaAndy Hayt/San Diego Padres/Getty ImagesRick Renteria, a former bench coach of the Padres, was named Cubs manager in November.
Rick Renteria dreams in two languages: Spanish and English. This is not unusual for folks who know more than one language. But when he speaks in his sleep loud enough to wake up his wife, there's one common denominator. He's talking about baseball.

Renteria is the new manager of the Chicago Cubs, bearing a reputation for having a personality that pushes players. "His personality is a big driver," said Josh Byrnes, general manager of the San Diego Padres, for whom Renteria worked as a coach before being hired by Chicago. "He's definitely got an infectious personality."

But Renteria's ability to speak two languages fluently has been viewed by potential employers as a major attribute, and he is thought to be especially good at connecting with young players, partly because of his understanding of language.

"The best managers connect to all players," Byrnes said.

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Toughest lineup quandaries in MLB 

February, 1, 2014
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Xander BogaertsRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesBoth Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia could see time leading off for the Red Sox in 2014.
When Joe Torre managed, he jotted down lineups in his time away from the park, mulling over various possibilities, internally debating certain combinations.

In other words: He was like a lot of baseball fans and reporters, who like to think through different lineup quandaries, especially in the cold of winter.

Around baseball, there are interesting lineup quandaries.

For the defending champion Red Sox: Who hits leadoff?

Boston’s leadoff hitters ranked first in on-base percentage last season and third in runs scored, but the guy primarily responsible for that is gone. So now John Farrell has to decide who will replace Jacoby Ellsbury in the No. 1 spot in his batting order.

He’s got a few imperfect candidates such as Dustin Pedroia, who actually has done some of his worst work when he’s hit leadoff, or Jackie Bradley, who doesn’t have a lot of experience, or maybe Xander Bogaerts, who may ultimately be needed to hit in the middle of the Boston order.

But the Red Sox are likely to open the year with Bradley at or near the bottom of their lineup to help ease his transition into the big leagues.

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Early picks for every division 

January, 28, 2014
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David PriceAP Photo/Chris O'MearaWith David Price remaining in Tampa Bay, the Rays boast one of MLB's best rotations.
There are still some front-line free agents who will sign before the start of the regular season, and the inevitable spring training injuries to come, so it's too early to lock in predictions for 2014.

But right now, this is what I'm looking at:

Division winners for the AL -- Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics
Wild-card teams -- Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees
Division winners for the NL -- Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers
Wild-card teams -- Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres

With David Price still in Tampa Bay, the Rays could have an extraordinary rotation. The Tigers may lack thump in the middle of their lineup, but they should be significantly better defensively with more speed and Joe Nathan will stabilize their bullpen. Oakland loses Bartolo Colon, but the Athletics will have Sonny Gray at the outset of the season with what could be an overpowering bullpen. Xander Bogaerts should help the Red Sox get back to the playoffs.

Washington added Doug Fister to an already strong rotation, and I bet the Nationals will be fueled by what they didn’t accomplish last year. Atlanta has growing money concerns with its young core, but has enough depth to get back to the playoffs. St. Louis looks capable of running away with the NL Central if its young pitching continues to manifest.

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Clayton KershawAP Photo/Jeff RobersonThe Dodgers used some of their new TV money to give Clayton Kershaw his huge contract.
The Los Angeles Dodgers played by the rules in signing Clayton Kershaw to a record-setting contract last week, for an average salary for $30.7 million. Their new ownership saw the potential for financial might in the franchise, bought the team for more than $2 billion two years ago, and immediately began investing in talent. The Dodgers' new owners have run the team so differently than Frank McCourt, who drew on the team's value for himself, rather than spend to improve the club.

But Kershaw's contract incrementally widened the cracks developing between the big-market teams and everyone else.

The emerging question is not really whether the Dodgers are running their team appropriately, because clearly they are, within the context of the current collective bargaining agreement and revenue sharing. The question is not whether teams such as the Braves, Rays, Reds, Indians and others are operating effectively, because no matter what choices they make, their stack of chips is going to be smaller than the mountain of money available to the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and others.

No, the question is whether the two camps -- the Haves and Have-Nots, to borrow a phrase from the 1994-95 labor war -- can continue on their current trajectory without a fight that stops the sport developing.

Salaries are continuing to climb and the small- and mid-market teams are struggling, more and more, to keep up with the inflation.

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A-Rod missed chance to cut a deal 

January, 13, 2014
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videoThe best deal that Alex Rodriguez might have made with Major League Baseball would have happened last spring, before Tony Bosch came in from the cold and agreed to be a witness for Major League Baseball. There were talks about a negotiated plea bargain then, deals put on the table.

If Rodriguez had agreed to something last spring, before MLB investigators had all the Biogenesis details from Bosch, Rodriguez might've been able to barter for a suspension for something close to 50 games, or what a first-time offender gets for a first positive PED test.

If he had taken responsibility then, owned up and made his best possible deal, then A-Rod probably would've been back on the field late in the 2013 season, with the whole matter behind him.

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Clayton KershawDenis Poroy/Getty ImagesWill left-hander Clayton Kershaw sign a long-term deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers?
It was sometime in the middle months of last season that the Los Angeles Dodgers dangled the idea of what would essentially be a lifetime deal in front of Clayton Kershaw -- a whopper contract for something in the range of $300 million. At that time, Kershaw, pitching in the middle of a season with high stakes for the Dodgers, deferred the conversation.

So here we are in early January, and it could be that, as with the Don Mattingly talks, Kershaw and the Dodgers will soon finish dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s and close the deal they started discussing a long time ago.

But Kershaw is now just 10 months from free agency, and for many players and agents, getting this close would almost certainly mean testing the open market. If there is, in fact, an impasse in the Dodgers-Kershaw negotiations -- if, in fact, he wants to explore his options -- this will shape Los Angeles’ aggressiveness in its pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka.

By now, the ambition of the Dodgers’ ownership is apparent: They want to rule the baseball world.

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