PEORIA, Ariz. -- It was Tuesday, Feb. 23, and that meant that it was the day on which the Seattle Mariners conducted their first full-squad workout of the spring, and that meant that it was finally time for Franklin Gutierrez to once again do what he does best -- better than any other current major leaguer, and quite possibly better than anyone at any time: play the outfield.
I spied Guastavo in Kissimmee. The sighting was, given the clarity of a Florida morn, a glimpse out of the blue, like a Golden-crowned Warbler in the states. The proper name of this rare bird is Gustavo Adolpho Chacin, a left-handed pitcher last seen in parts around major league baseball in 2007, best known for winning 13 games at age 24 for the 2005 Blue Jays.
LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) -- To Johnny Damon, the Detroit Tigers were the right team.
FT. MYERS, Fla. -- The Red Sox badly wanted to re-balance their team, and they have done that in a big way, remaking the left side of their infield and outfield and turning their overall defense from a so-so one into a superb one.
TAMPA -- This is a new, more frugal Yankees team, one that kept their payroll to only $200 million, that declined to keep Johnny Damon and that spent more than $400 million less this year than last on new free agents.
Purists adore them for their commitment to pitching and defense. Numbers junkies revere them for their innovative use of math and technology. The rightness of the Seattle Mariners is the one thing on which everyone in baseball agrees. But there's more to this story than meets the eye.
One of the most hopeful sights of the year takes place this week: Pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Those in the northeast, still digging out from more than two feet of snow, are especially looking forward to seeing major leaguers don their caps and gloves and start tossing the ball around. And in a couple weeks they'll even begin playing games. But pretty soon the novelty will wear off. Exhibition games are boring, and of course the results don't have any impact on the regular season. Aside from the odd roster battle, spring training quickly gets old and the season can't come fast enough.
Here is what I remember about Jim Bibby: He was a giant. I don't mean that in some sort of literary sense. No, I really thought of him as the biggest man I had ever seen in my entire life.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Free-agent outfielder Johnny Damon shot down rumors that his wife Michelle so much prefers Chicago to Detroit that it could sway where he winds up playing.
Nothing is more inspirational this time of year than the pop of a well accelerated fastball into the cavern of a catcher's mitt -- so welcome after a long, cold winter that the fastball's usual antagonist, the hitter, is unnecessary to its drama. Such a sound is all the more inspiring when at its origin is a young arm, as full of promise as Chapter 1. The scene plays out this week in every camp in Florida and Arizona, at once prompting joy and fear from the club elders who watch them. For as they imagine young pitchers' success, they also must ask the question no one has yet truly cracked: How do we keep them healthy?
With players beginning to report to spring camps and all pitchers and catchers on their way within days, the wild winter is just about a wrap. Here are some snapshots of an offseason full of surprises.
Here we sit in the great gray middle of February, the dead zone on the annual professional sports calendar. The Super Bowl is in the rear view mirror, the NHL has taken a break for the Olympics, and all the big gyms are dark during the interminable NBA All-Star break.
The Angels' breakout star of 2009, Kendry Morales, has left Hendricks Sports Management and signed with Scott Boras.
Set aside the pragmatism he brought to the steroid debate; more below on how the simple act of speaking up at all set him apart. Today, upon the official announcement of his retirement, is about framing the more important place in baseball history occupied by Frank Thomas.
When Apple unveiled its fancy new iPad two weeks ago, it chose a select few partners, each dominant in its field, to help show off the gadget's possibilities. Among them were The New York Times, Electronic Arts and Major League Baseball, which produced a nifty-looking application that will allow owners of the giant iPhone to watch games live wherever broadband finds them.
Johnny Damon, with the matinee-idol looks and obvious love of the big stage, is starring in his very own soap opera this winter.
The Tigers have moved aggressively to try to land Johnny Damon, presenting him with one- and two-year offers. Both offers are believed to pay Damon at least $7 million a year, maybe a bit north of that. He is deliberating whether he wants to sign for one or two years and is also weighing offers from the Braves and White Sox.
The Braves appear to be moving aggressively to try to sign free agent outfielder Johnny Damon and are believed to be willing to make an offer comparable to the $6 million deal the Yankees floated to Damon, or perhaps even more than that, according to someone familiar with that team's situation. The Braves have made an offer for a one-year deal, but the exact amount of that initial bid isn't know.
Heading into the 2009-10 free-agent market, the conventional wisdom was that the three big stars in their prime would get big bucks, and that the vast majority of players in the middle and lower ranks would mostly struggle to land a decent contract. And while it has been as rough as predicted for many players -- several good ones are still looking for work (see below) -- the market also yielded some surprising success stories.
The Yankees have signed outfielder Marcus Thames to a non-roster contract, league sources tell SI.com. Thames should compete with Randy Winn and Brett Gardner for playing time.
With the Super Bowl behind us and pitchers and catchers due to report to camp two weeks from Thursday, now seems like a good time to look back at some of the biggest moves of this past offseason to figure out whether or not they actually represent meaningful upgrades for their teams. How much a player cost (be it by trade or free agency), his long-term impact, or how the player(s) he's replacing are likely to perform in the coming season are not factors. This is simply a comparison of the 2009 production each player is replacing to the 2010 production he's likely to contribute. Also, note that the statistics used below (VORP, SNLVAR, UZR) are all adjusted for context, rendering park and league effects largely moot for our purposes here.
Erik Bedard has agreed to return to the Mariners on a one-year deal, sources have confirmed to SI.com.
Three makes a trend, so if you haven't yet you're surely going to soon read articles going on at length about the glory that is teams in small or poor cities keeping young ace pitchers. Be skeptical -- you may see Justin Verlander whipping curves in pinstripes yet.
The now-former home of the NFL's Giants and Jets is taken apart.
What do the New York Giants and Jets have in common with Jimmy Hoffa? Not much, unless you buy into the long-festering urban legend that they all shared the same residence in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Making a big starting pitching acquisition is always a risky proposition. Starting pitchers are tough to predict. Oftentimes they get hurt, they break down, they lose their stuff, or they just plain stink. At other times they'll surprise you with a great year or a great performance. Given the unpredictable nature of hurlers, especially a few years down the road, making a big splash to acquire a pitcher is a risk. For every successful Greg Maddux or Andy Pettitte signing, there are several Mike Hamptons, Jason Schmidts, Chan Ho Parks, or Barry Zitos that have the potential to hamper a franchise long-term. The impossible trick is figuring out which will be which. Here I'll attempt to present the best and worst starting pitching gambles in the 2010 offseason.
Not every team can be a winner in winter. These eight clubs have been losers, at least for the months of November through February, and while a couple of them may have had a slight problem or two with execution, the real common denominator is that they didn't spend enough money to fill their holes. Some of them are still very good teams (Cubs, Dodgers and Giants for instance), but they should all be better.
Kevin Gregg, who had 84 saves over the last three seasons but ran into trouble pitching or the Cubs last year, has an agreement to sign with the Blue Jays.
Imagine that Major League Baseball instituted a new rule for the postseason. Only the home team may use signals to put on plays, such as from the third-base coach or dugout. What about the road team? Too bad. Just chalk it up to home-field advantage.
CINCINNATI (AP) -- A trade that saved some money made the Cincinnati Reds' next shortstop affordable.
How can a club compete when it has the misfortune of playing in a division that also includes the two highest-revenue clubs in Major League Baseball? The answer for the Baltimore Orioles, for the past dozen seasons anyway, has been: It can't. Since 1997, when the Orioles won the American League East before losing a six game ALCS to the Cleveland Indians, they have endured 12 consecutive sub-.500 seasons, and have just once finished better than fourth in the division -- never once winning more games in a year than did the Yankees or the Red Sox.
Here are some random facts about Ben Sheets: He's 31 years old. His fastball runs like it's hung on a clothesline. He's pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title once in the last five years. He just signed with the A's for $10 million plus incentives. If the last of these seems a bit off to you given the first three, you may think you're missing something. You aren't.
Free agent Johnny Damon isn't upset about being unemployed. Not at all. He is spending time with his four kids and he is staying in playing shape, waiting for the right call to come, from a team with a deal he likes.
With the 2003 publishing of Michael Lewis' Moneyball, the baseball establishment was turned on its head. Lewis' book chronicled Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane and his organization's successful attempts to outwit teams with far more resources by using the power of advanced statistical analysis. By scooping up undervalued players on the cheap, Oakland was able to compete with the big-market clubs despite suffering major monetary disadvantages. The centerpiece of Beane's strategy, of course, was its emphasis on on-base percentage and drawing walks. Beane was willing to accumulate slower, poor-fielding, unimpressive looking players that other teams had discarded as long as they could get on base. Drawing walks wasn't pretty, but it won ball games, making Oakland one of the premier AL teams during the first decade of the 21st century.
Free agent outfielder Randy Winn and the New York Yankees have agreed to a one-year, $2 million contract for 2010, SI.com has confirmed.
The sale price of the Texas Rangers was about $570 million, several sources tell SI.com.
Jim Thome, who formerly starred for two division rivals, is going to the Twins on a one-year deal, sources confirm.
Charlie Simpson He's no Wyclef Jean or George Clooney, but that hasn't stopped the British 7-year-old from raising more than £136,000 ($220,000) for victims of the Haiti earthquake.
I thought I had gone through all the stages of Royals grief. Denial? Well, of course. I LOVE denial. That has been my default stage as a sports fan most of my life. Hey, maybe Denny Bautista WILL become a star. Hey, maybe this is the year for Dee Brown. Hey, maybe Jose Guillen's performance will not fall off a cliff. Hey, maybe Mike Jacobs will not play every day against lefties. And so on.
If we were to create a "no-tool player" -- a Frankenstein's monster crudely stitched together using only the worst individual skills possessed by active major leaguers -- we might give him the foot speed of one of the senior Molina brothers. We might give him the glove of Adam Dunn. We might give him the power of Luis Castillo, and the ability to hit for average of Jack Cust. (We could name this dreadful player, my colleague Joe Posnanski would probably tell you, "Yuniesky Betancourt.")
Johnny Damon and the Yankees spoke again within the past few days, and Damon now has been given the weekend to decide whether he wants to come back on a bargain deal.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Unable to find regular playing time for Gary Matthews Jr., the Los Angeles Angels traded the outfielder to the New York Mets on Friday and agreed to pay $21.5 million as part of the deal.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Rick Ankiel will try to boost his resurrected career in Kansas City's crowded outfield.
The Mariners have been one of this Hot Stove season's most compelling teams, but whatever you make of their acquisitions of Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, and Casey Kotchman, or their trading of Brandon Morrow, there's no denying that their most important move was the one finalized Thursday night: a five-year deal that buys out staff ace Felix Hernandez's two remaining arbitration years and his first three free agent seasons. The total value of the deal is $78 million, which works out to a $15.6 million annual average, a more-than-fair price for a heralded young pitcher who deservedly finished second in the AL Cy Young award voting this past season. As a legitimate ace who won't turn 24 until April, Hernandez is far and away the Mariners' most valuable commodity, and they now have him locked up for the first half of the new decade for less than the Red Sox will pay 31-year-old John Lackey over the same period.
Are you ready for the 2014 World Series between the Pirates and Royals? It could happen. I'll admit that it sounds insane. Aren't the Pirates and Royals two small-market teams that just spent the last decade or two in the cellar? Can I really be talking about the same two inept franchises who don't spend much money and whose farm systems are just so-so? Aren't these two teams the same clubs that just lost 99 and 97 games respectively? Even the most optimistic fans in Pittsburgh or Kansas City might concede that there's little hope for contention any time soon. So why on earth would I be predicting a World Series involving these two clubs in just five short years?
Right-hander Joel Pineiro, one of the top free-agent pitchers remaining on the market, has reached an agreement with the Los Angeles Angels, sources told SI.com
ST. LOUIS -- Don Denkinger is a nice man. Only a nice man would come to the St. Louis Baseball Writers dinner to be the resident villain at a night that honors the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals. You will note that the 1985 Cardinals did not win the World Series. Many people in St. Louis will tell you that Don Denkinger is the reason they did not.
"But this is the point I want to make: When you talk about steroids and you talk about what it means to the game, the three greatest home run hitters of all time -- Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays, right? When they were 39 years old, how many home runs do you think they averaged? The three greatest home run hitters of all time averaged 18 home runs at age 39. Now, how many home runs did Barry Bonds hit when he was 39? He hit 73!"
The Yankees left little doubt that they were the team of the last decade, but what team was the most efficient from 2000 through 2009? Did the Yankees get the most bang for their 1.6 billion bucks or did someone else win more efficiently? And which team wasted enough money to claim the title of the least efficient team of the decade? The answers might surprise you -- and that means you at the players association, too -- especially because the most and least efficient teams are not determined solely by market size.
Carl Pavano avoided arbitration on Tuesday by reaching agreement with the Twins on a guaranteed one-year, $7 million deal for 2010. It is the first time the Twins have ever guaranteed an arbitation-eligible one-year deal.
Ace Felix Hernandez has agreed to a five-year contract extension with the Mariners worth about $78 million, sources say.
The group headed by prospective buyer Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan is said to be making "consistent progress'' in talks to buy the Texas Rangers from longtime owner Tom Hicks and sources indicate an agreement is expected to be reached by Tuesday or Wednesday.
While nearly 100 free agents remain available, it's probably too late for any team to transform its team or winter with what's left. So it's time to assess the winters of the 30 teams -- or at least the top 10 of them.
The Oakland A's reached an agreement Friday to acquire third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff from the San Diego Padres in a four-player trade, SI.com has confirmed.
Jose Valverde is close to an agreement on a two-year, $14 miillion contract with the Detroit Tigers, SI.com has confirmed.
Forty years ago this Saturday, Curt Flood set in motion events which would alter the landscape of professional sports forever, filing a lawsuit against commissioner Bowie Kuhn and Major League Baseball over violations of anti-trust law. At the crux of the lawsuit was MLB's long-standing reserve clause, which allowed teams to perpetually keep players under contract.
There appears to be little to see yet in what promises to be two of the most widely watched player negotiations in recent memory. Talks involving Albert Pujols, who is signed through 2010 with a club option for 2011, and the Cardinals early this winter appear to have been extremely brief, and indications are that discussions between Joe Mauer, a free agent after the 2010 season, and the Twins have been even briefer.
Is that it? Has the curtain officially been drawn on the golden era of New England sports?
BOSTON -- A Zamboni at Fenway? You sure that wasn't Yastrzemski? Merloni perhaps?
The Blue Jays are showing keen interest in Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman, and sources indicate their offer of about $20 million could make them the leader in about a six-team scramble for the left-handed pitcher with a decision possibly only a few days away. The Nationals, Marlins, Red Sox, A's and Angels are among other teams with some level of interest, though it isn't known whether any of them can top the Jays' bid, which was actually pegged at $23 million Friday by El Nuevo Herald and could even grow to $25 million.
Matt Holliday is a big, line drive hitter with a sweet, even swing, a good batting eye and deceptive speed that shows in the outfield and on the bases, the kind of player who isn't great at any one thing but does everything well. Dwight Evans and Paul O'Neill in his Yankees days come to mind. So does Billy Williams, maybe the best of this class.
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- The Oakland Athletics added some much-needed power to their lineup with someone they already know swings a reliable bat: free agent Jack Cust.
Funny free-agent market. At its top, it's very good.
After weeks of seemingly bidding against themselves for his services, the Cardinals have finally reached an agreement to keep Matt Holliday in St. Louis. The contract, which according to Jon Heyman is worth $120 million over seven years, will lock up Holliday until he's 36, with an average annual salary of just over $17 million. Though the money involved is well short of the $180 over eight years fellow Scott Boras client Mark Teixeira received from the Yankees a year ago, it is a much larger portion of the Cardinals' payroll, which has averaged just over $90 million a year over the last five seasons, and the largest contract ever handed out by the team.
Third baseman Adrian Beltre have agreed to terms on a deal with the Red Sox, SI.com has learned.
Baseball's 2010 Hall of Fame class will be announced on Wednesday, and I'm betting that Edgar Martinez comes up short in his first year of eligibility for Cooperstown.
Baseball rarely disappoints. Every season brings its share of milestones, rare feats, dominating performances, and thrilling finishes and this year was no different. Gary Sheffield hit his 500th home run, Randy Johnson earned his 300th win and Mariano Rivera recorded his 500th save. Jonathan Sanchez pitched a no-hitter and was one error away from having a perfect game. Eight players hit for the cycle (the most in a single season since 1933). And Eric Bruntlett turned just the second game-ending unassisted triple play in major league history, which appropriately came against the Mets, thereby condensing their disastrous season into a single, historic play. Yet none of them were as noteworthy as the stories below. Here, in chronological order, are the ten biggest baseball stories of 2009.
Whatever your state of mind or current location, there is probably a remix of the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys ode to New York City "Empire State of Mind" available for your listening pleasure and localized for your hometown.
The St. Louis Cardinals have offered free agent outfielder Matt Holliday a contract for at least six years and presumably $100 million or more in hopes of retaining the 29-year-old outfielder.
Stop right there. Before we allow you to read any further, we'll need to see some ID. A review of the year in sleaze -- oops, we mean sports -- in 2009 is a tale for mature audiences only. Some of the randy goings-on were mildly amusing: NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley got a traffic ticket last New Year's Eve in his haste to find a place for a little one-on-one time with a female friend. Others were deeply disturbing: retired NFL quarterback Steve McNair, a husband and father, was shot dead by a paramour in a murder-suicide.
The Mets have reached a deal to bring All-Star outfielder Jason Bay to New York pending a physical, SI.com confirmed.
The NHL rarely gets it right. Professional hockey is a consensus Number Four (and we don't mean Bobby Orr 4) whenever we get around to ranking sports that grip the American mind. Like Ringo, hockey is always the caboose, rarely taken seriously and unable to compete with John, Paul and George.
It has been a quiet holiday week in baseball. Of course, sometimes nothing happening is almost as significant as something happening. Take the Mets, a rich, lousy team that has made an ostentatious show of being willing to spend a lot to improve. With more than $90 million committed for next year before figuring arbitration awards for several young players, the team lacks a catcher, a first baseman, two outfielders and the semblance of dignity. Every one of their starters is inexperienced, terrible, coming off an injury or some combination of the three. They might be able to get better by signing the owners of Shea Stadium, the Brooklyn recording studio named after their erstwhile, much-mourned ballpark.
Jason Bay reportedly has a mystery team bidding on him. But beyond the Mets, who remain keenly interested and in touch with his agent Joe Urbon, nearly all of Bay's market remains mystery at this point.
Fernando Rodney has reached an agreement with the Angels, SI.com has confirmed.
Baseball America's Prospect Handbook is going to press, and it's hard to describe the book to my non-baseball friends (a short list, but I have had a few such discussions). It's a book of 900 scouting reports on the game's top minor league players: 30 for each of the 30 major league organizations. To give you a taste of the Handbook, I presented my own ranking of the farm systems earlier this month, and that proved prescient, as the Phillies showed their system's strength by using it (and Cliff Lee) to deal for Roy Halladay. The Phils won't be in our top five when the book comes out, not after dealing one of the game's top 20 prospects. In another example of what you'll find in the Handbook, here are my personal top 20 prospects in baseball.
As major league GM's awake on Christmas morning, they'll anxiously check their stockings to see what Santa has brought them. If they've been nice, maybe they'll get a new flat-screen TV; if they've been naughty, perhaps a lump of coal awaits them. However, no lump of coal is more burdensome than these: The 10 biggest franchise-killing contracts in baseball.
NEW YORK (AP) -- When Javier Vazquez last threw a pitch for the New York Yankees, it was a nadir in the team's storied history. He gave up two homers to Johnny Damon, including a key grand slam, as the Yankees lost Game 7 of the 2004 AL championship series to Boston.
A New Hampshire jury on Monday found a Nashua woman guilty of second-degree murder for running over a man who had heckled her for being a New York Yankees fan.
If you took just the players that the Yankees have acquired this winter more because they could than because they needed them, you would have the beginnings of a pretty good team. In Nick Johnson, they've added one of baseball's great on-base threats; in Curtis Granderson, they've added one of the game's best center fielders and now, with Javier Vazquez, they've added one of baseball's better pitchers. This is fair enough -- the sport has rules and the Yankees play within them. Still, you can understand the groans rising in 27 other cities right now.
Gradually and inexorably, baseball's best players make their ways north and east, chasing in this latter day gold rush-in-reverse not a pail full of gleaming nuggets panned from some murky California stream but the multi-year, above-market-value contracts that it now seems can only be dangled by franchises who play in cities served by Amtrak's Acela line.
How can a three-team trade involving two of the five best pitchers in baseball leave so many questions about who won and who lost? It's a mystery, but Philadelphia, Seattle and Toronto managed it this week in the most convoluted and entertaining trade of the decade.
The Mariners and Cubs reached agreement on a deal that would send outfielder Milton Bradley to Seattle in exchange for pitcher Carlos Silva and $6 million, SI.com has learned.
The Yankees are getting closer to an agreement with free-agent first baseman Nick Johnson for a one-year contract worth about $5.5 million. If the deal is consummated, Johnny Damon's chances to return to the Yankees would be diminished, according to Yankees people.
It seems cold to write about football and the Cincinnati Bengals, what with just one day passing since the death of wide receiver Chris Henry. Three children will grow up without a father. A life on the way to being better-lived was ended.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Alex Rodriguez is all set to start his winter workouts.
As the decade comes to a close, it's interesting to look back on what was considered one of the baseball's largest problems coming into the 21st century: competitive balance. In the year 2000, commissioner Bud Selig's Blue Ribbon Panel released highly publicized findings on this very subject. The panel's most important conclusion was that revenue disparities were causing "chronic competitive imbalance," which "seems likely to remain severe unless Major League Baseball undertakes remedial actions proportional to the problem."
It could have been any other night at the Aspen Social Club in midtown Manhattan, except on this evening more than 100 New Yorkers mixed, mingled and sipped free booze for the worthy cause of providing toys for kids in need.
Free agent reliever Mike Gonzalez has agreed to a two-year, $12 million contract with the Orioles, SI.com has learned.
A flurry of big-ticket activity in the last few days could spark a very interesting next few weeks after the hands and fortunes of several teams changed dramatically in a few-day span.
On a late fall day that could resonate for many falls to come, two contenders were fortified, one was crippled and another was born. An ace looked to be going from west to east (John Lackey), east to west (Cliff Lee) and fourth place to first (Roy Halladay). If baseball teams are truly defined by their best pitchers, the ones who snap long losing streaks and dominate short playoff series, then Monday was as significant as a Game 7.
The Red Sox are reportedly close to finalizing a deal with free agent Angels ace John Lackey said to be comparable to A.J. Burnett's contract with the Yankees, in the neighborhood of $85 million over five years. The deal could help restore balance to both the American League East, which the Yankees won handily this past season, as well as the AL West, where the Angels would feel the loss of Lackey acutely.
The final landing spots for free-agent hitting stars Jason Bay and Matt Holliday aren't known yet, but one thing seems true about both star players: Neither appears any closer today to remaining with his old team than when the offseason began.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Rays have completed a trade with the Atlanta Braves, acquiring right-handed pitcher Rafael Soriano and signing the reliever to a $7.25 million, one-year contract.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It's a funny winter meetings when one of the biggest acquisitions is Peter Gammons going to MLB Network. Although, a few other significant baseball people were on the move, a lot of groundwork was laid, many offers made and some very big things started to become much clearer.
SI.com's Jon Heyman reports from baseball's winter meetings in Indianapolis, which wrapped up Thursday ...
Each major league front office came to this week's winter meetings armed with different needs and goals for the 2010 season. Predictably, the teams in the best position for playoff runs have been the most likely to acquire high-priced free agents. Thus far the big signings and re-signings have come from the Mariners (Chone Figgins), Angels (Bobby Abreu), Braves (Tim Hudson and Billy Wagner), Phillies (Placido Polanco), Cardinals (Brady Penny) and Red Sox (Marco Scutaro), all of whom finished above .500 in 2009 and all of whom figure to be playoff contenders next year.
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Curtis Granderson is all set to put on the pinstripes. Only one thing to settle: What number does he wear for the New York Yankees?
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Andy Pettitte asked himself all the important questions: Was he ready to prepare for another long year? Could he top last season? Was his family on board?
PLAYER OF THE DECADE: Albert Pujols, Cardinals Look at these numbers: .314 batting average, 40 doubles, 34 homers, 127 RBIs, 118 runs. Those numbers make up Pujols' worst season this decade. Pujols' story is already legend. He was a 13th-round pick of the Cardinals in 1999 ... meaning he was even passed over 17 times by his hometown Kansas City Royals. Eighteen months later, he began one of the great rookie seasons in baseball history (.329, 37 homers, 130 RBIs, 129 runs). He has found something to improve every season -- he cut down his strikeouts, he honed his home run swing, he improved his defense, he worked on his baserunning. In 2009 Pujols stole 16 bases, walked 115 times and hit 47 homers -- all career highs. It seems impossible, but he's getting better.