Last week -- when I took a look at the big questions, position battles and top prospects facing all 30 teams as they arrived in spring training -- I discussed a number of players whose health, position or even just their declining skills made them question marks heading into camp. That list of players included big names such as Johan Santana, Adam Dunn, Justin Morneau, Grady Sizemore, Josh Johnson, Adam Wainwright and Hanley Ramirez. Yet those were far from the only players in that situation. The following are five of the biggest names with something to prove this spring that I didn't address in detail in my previews.
When the Boston Red Sox signed Daisuke Matsuzaka to a six-year contract beginning in 2007 -- a $103 million investment including a $51 million posting fee to acquire his rights -- they worried about the Third-Year Wall. Research by the Boston quantitative analysts showed that most pitchers from Nippon Pro Ball suffered a sharp decline in performance about three years into their transition to Major League Baseball.
The baseball All-Star Game is still the best all-star show in sports. What sets it apart from other sports is its rich history, something about the pageantry of players wearing their regular jerseys rather than a gimmicky league jersey and, most of all, it's the only one in which the players play the same kind of defense they would play in a "real" game. And given the depressed run-scoring environment of today's game, run prevention might be the star of the show tonight.
Derek Jeter hasn't done it. Alex Rodriguez hasn't done it. Even Albert Pujols hasn't done it. In fact, only one man has appeared in each of the past 10 major league All-Star Games. But barring a serious surge at the ballot box or with his batting average, that man -- Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki -- will be absent when baseball's galaxy of stars gathers in Phoenix on July 12 for this year's Midsummer Classic.
This much we can count on in the 2011 baseball season -- the passing of a few good milestones, the further elevation of a few good men. Sometime in early June, if his past is any kind of prologue, shortstop Derek Jeter will stroke his 3,000th career hit, and become (and this is pretty crazy when you think about it) the first player in the gilded, 100-plus-year history of the Yankees to reach that figure. In September, Jeter's teammate, Mariano Rivera, could save his 43rd game of the season (why not? he had 44 saves in 2009) and pass Trevor Hoffman as the major leagues' all-time saves leader.
Every so often life assigns you a family: First at birth (when you meet the bozos who share your surname), again in college (when you're forcibly bunked with a stranger from Cincinnati) and again at marriage (when annexed by in-laws who suddenly call you "son"). In each case, you didn't choose these people, they certainly didn't choose you, but chance -- that sadistic matchmaker -- has thrown you together for life.
MARYVALE, Ariz. -- There's a certain weariness that follows the adrenaline and stress of an emergency, and that fatigue was evident in the eyes of Brewers reliever Takashi Saito as he sat in front of his locker Sunday afternoon and addressed the English-speaking media. He had just pitched his first inning since an 8.9-Richter Scale earthquake and an ensuing tsunami rocked Japan's coast near Sendai, the city of one million people where he grew up.
We usually wait for milestones to salute excellence, but every now and then it's worth just pausing to admire some athlete who is sui generis, who does something spectacular, but does it day after week after year. So, like that, may we now sing the praises of Ichiro Suzuki as he completes his tenth season in American baseball.
We usually wait for milestones to salute excellence, but every now and then it's worth pausing to admire some athlete who is sui generis, who does something spectacular, but does it day after day, year after year. So may we now sing the praises of Ichiro Suzuki as he completes his 10th season in American baseball.
Let's suppose that you're a normal baseball fan with normal interests and an understanding that smart writers and operators think fancy defensive statistics are important.
Now that the Pirates have sailed into the annals of ignominy with their record-breaking 17th straight losing season, this space would like to take a little stroll down memory lane. Having been through a pair of fallow eras with our own rooting interest -- hence this space's rueful fondness for such pinstriped, ahem, luminaries as Stump Merrill, Andy Stankiewicz, Eric Plunk, Porky Reniff, Thad Tillotson, Celerino Sanchez, Horace Clarke and Jake Gibbs -- we know sometime before the sun burns out that Pirates fans will look back on this miserable stretch and chuckle over names such as these that have graced their team's roster since its last winning campaign in 1992:
As a continuation of the Derek Jeter/hit record post, I thought it might be fun to spark a little conversation and make a few predictions about players and their magic numbers. I wrote in that Jeter post that I don't think Jeter will quite get to 3,500 hits.
The stadium lights are on, the outfield is mowed, and the beer taps are primed for their first pour. The Major League Baseball regular season is about to begin.
We often talk about players who are unique. Derek Jeter is unique. Albert Pujols is unique. Chase Utley is unique. And so on.
This spring, SI.com is filing postcards from all 30 camps. To read all the postcards, click here.
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.
Forget for a moment that Chris Coghlan and Andrew Bailey sound more like Irish rugby players than major league baseball's newest Rookies of the Year. Forget that they toiled in relative anonymity all season long for two non-playoff teams whose payrolls combined are less than half that of the Yankees. Forget that neither produced a statistical season of great historical importance or that a compelling case could be made for several other players to have won the award in both leagues. And forget, too, that despite their impressive debut campaigns, it seems likely that this year's winners will one day more closely resemble those from 1989 (when forgettables like Gregg Olson and Jerome Walton were the AL and NL winners, respectively) than 2001 (when future Hall of Famers Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols took home the hardware).
The baseball is compelling, the umpiring dreadful.
The team of the aughts will be decided this postseason. The Yankees have the most wins this decade and the most World Series appearances, but the Red Sox have the most world championships and are looking for a third when no one else has two. The Cardinals could get into the mix with their second world championship this decade.
The season is in its twilight, but the stars of Diamond Digits shine on. This week an all-time great hurler continues his improbable comeback run, a young star shortstop is unprecedentedly good in the field. At the plate, we have a Royal who puts up triple-doubles like Oscar Robertson, and for the second consecutive week, Ichiro hits a huge milestone.
As the regular season enters its final month, the pennant races have started to shake out with the cream rising to the top. This week's Diamond Digits takes a look at two players who have shown that they're just about the best that anyone has ever been at their respective jobs and much more.
The human brain's powers of perception, analysis, memory and recall are amazing, but they nonetheless rely on a series of shortcuts. In order to process information faster, the mind fills in familiar information from memory rather than processing it anew. That's how we're able to avoid being overwhelmed with visual information at every turn, how we're able to recognize faces and voices, and why stereotypes are created on a subconscious level. It's also why the brain places undue emphasis on exceptions.
Things seemed to be going so well. Alex Rodriguez was in virtual seclusion in Colorado, then Florida. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were neither seen nor heard, and Zack Greinke and Ryan Zimmerman were reminding everyone that baseball still held the power to surprise and amaze for all the right reasons. And then came news that Manny Ramirez had failed a drug test, instantly calling into question the legitimacy of his statistics and of the Dodgers' red-hot start that had been fueled by a player who was fueled, at least in part, by a female fertility drug. Perhaps worst of all, it turned the focus of this week's mailbag back to the dreaded topic of performance-enhancing drugs.
Ichiro Suzuki was lying on his back in the corner of the visitor's clubhouse at Yankee Stadium last week doing his usual pregame stretching when a large, muscular man suddenly jumped on top of him and began ... tickling him? Yes, Ken Griffey Jr. was tickling his fellow outfielder, both players acting like schoolchildren and wearing smiles as broad as the room they were playing in.
1) The Seattle Mariners broke loose with six runs on 12 hits on Thursday against the Orioles, which only means the odds of them putting up such an output on Friday night are not very good. (Editor's note: The Mariners lost to the Rockies 6-4 on Friday.) Only once this year have the Mariners scored six runs in back-to-back games. Indeed, the Mariners are a fascinatingly bad offensive team, especially for a team that is playing .500 ball. It's hard to construct a team in this era, in a league with the DH, that has this much trouble scoring runs. They are last in the majors in runs; yes, worse than the Giants and Padres. How bad is it?
It's time to separate the wheat from the sheet, the cream from the crud and the contenders from the pretenders. Well, you get the idea. There's a whole lot of supposed surprise teams (or at least five of 'em) a month into this season. A couple of these teams may continue to surprise. But others will sink to their predicted level, which is a lot lower than where they are now.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Carlos Pena grabbed attention for all those balls he hit. Now the Tampa Bay first baseman is getting noticed for the ones he caught.
The second-to-last week of the regular season was punctuated by Diamond Digits' final trip to the big ballyard in the Bronx, the place that provided the original inspiration for much of what you read here week after week. The Yankees swept Baltimore in the final three games on the hallowed ground, a series played largely for pride. Like the Yankees who are on the cusp of missing a postseason for the first time since 1993, the other subjects of this week's look into the numbers will all just be footnotes once the 2008 postseason begins. So here's a final look at the good, the bad and the ugly from teams that fell just short this season.
Sometime soon, Francisco Rodriguez will get a signal from the dugout, make one last toss to his bullpen catcher, have a door opened for him and stroll into history. He'll step onto the rubber, assume the awkward set position he's grown comfortable in and deliver a pitch -- maybe a 95-mph fastball, maybe a sharp breaking ball, maybe a deceptive changeup -- and with that pitch, break a record that has stood for nearly 20 years: the record for save opportunities in a season.
NEW YORK -- Before he was let go as Mariners general manager, Bill Bavasi was telling his bosses that the team's problem was the players, not manager John McLaren.
Regarding the decline in older free-agent players' productivity and the upsurge in young players across both leagues, is it just a coincidence that drug testing has some real teeth for the first time in MLB, or am I just paranoid? -- Jim Atkins, Twentynine Palms, Calif.
He had agreed to the contract. He had put on the jersey. He had taken his seat inside the stadium club, at the table draped in bunting, and he had begun that final rite of free agency, the introductory press conference. Only then did the magnitude of what he'd signed on for become clear.
The hardest part of this whole Steroids Period in baseball -- sounds much less ominous than Steroids Era, doesn't it? -- is figuring out who and what to believe. I'm not talking Roger Clemens vs. Brian McNamee here, though that's the sub-prime example of the day. I'm talking, on any given day, about the difficulty in trying to determine who has been messing around with the stuff and who hasn't. Or, in any glance through the record book, what is legitimate and what is not.
Kosuke Fukudome may be, depending on who you talk to, the best player in Japan. He is, almost certainly, the best player in Japan who is pondering a move to America. Almost without a doubt, he's the best one that is actually free to make that leap.
2007 Record: 94-68, first place 2007 Attendance: 3.4 million, second in the AL 2007 Payroll: $109 million, fourth in baseball Key Free Agents (2007) RHP Bartolo Colon Key Free Agents (2008) RHPs John Lackey (club option) and Francisco Rodriguez SS-R Orlando Cabrera RF-R Vlad Guerrero (club option) LF-L Garret Anderson (club option) OF-R Juan Rivera LHP Darren Oliver Key Long-Term Commitments CF-S Gary Matthews, $10.5M/year through 2011 RHP Kelvim Escobar, $9.25M/year through 2009 RHP Scot Shields, $4.9M/year through 2010 RHP Justin Speier, $4.75M/year through 2010 Key Ready-Now Youngsters 3B-R Brandon Wood MI-S Erick Aybar 1B-S Kendry Morales RHP Nick Adenhart LHP Joe Saunders Needs: 1. LF; 2. DH
Where do you think all this babying of young arms is going? I watched the Yanks bring in Luis Vizcaino on Monday night against the Angels when, like you said, they had Joba Chamberlain watching. I am still beyond ticked off that the Yanks still play as if they have all the time in the world. Nine pitches and the kid can't pitch the next day?! More than the 'roids problem, this "pitch count" worship is driving me away from the game. -- John Balistreri, Brooklyn, N.Y.
What is MLB doing to ensure there are no Tim Donaghys among its umpires? -- Rick, River Vale, N.J.
Maybe Dayton Moore, the still-new general manager of the suddenly surprising Royals, makes a stunner of a deal in the next week and a half before the trade deadline. Maybe he quietly swaps one minor part of his team for an unknown part of someone else's. Maybe he just sits and does nothing.
Here's the very difficult choice that many baseball executives face these days: Pay a lot for the up-and-comers and soon-to-be free agents in their organization now, or pay more for somebody else's stars later. That is, fork out huge money for a known quantity maybe a little earlier than you'd like to, or need to, or be prepared to shell out just as much -- and, yeah, very possibly more -- for a free agent you don't know nearly as well.
Someone should have told Fox Sports' Jeanne Zelasko she was playing a cruel joke on San Francisco. As the 2007 All-Star Game MVP award was being presented to Ichiro Suzuki, she mused to the crowd that the Japanese star who tattooed the National League on Tuesday night could wind up being a Giant next season.
SAN FRANCISCO -- This was supposed to be the Barry Bonds All-Star Game. Everything was perfectly in place for it. The lights. The setting. The annoying, overwrought, over-orchestrated soundtrack. The fawning audience just waiting for the "Applause!" sign. At the start of the game, there was even a touching tribute to Bonds' godfather, Willie Mays, to get the old tear ducts working. This one was supposed to count for Bonds and for all his Bay Area supporters. And for the National League, too.
1. Which free-agent-to-be has done the most to bolster his stock in the first half?
It's a good thing to have a free-agent-to-be on your fantasy team. At least that's the conventional wisdom. Guys in their walk years have a lot of incentive to play hard, to play through pain and to compile statistics. Think about Alfonso Soriano hitting 46 homers in a pitcher's park in Washington last year. Think about Carlos Beltran three years ago parlaying a playoff surge into major bucks. Not everyone has a great season in a walk year, however. The pressure can get to you. Also, free agents are always veterans, so age and nature can take its course at a financially inconvenient time. Let's examine the hitters this week and see which free-agents-to-be are performing above their career levels.
In order to get a better idea of which players have been the most productive in all of Fantasyland, let's turn to the PROTRADE.com Sports Stock Market and see who's been earning their keep ...
I. A-Rod since Strippergate: After putting together one of the most dominant Aprils in baseball history, Alex Rodriguez struggled through May, hitting .235 with an underwhelming .422 slugging percentage. At the tail end of the forgettable month the New York Post dropped a bombshell by printing pictures of A-Rod cavorting through Toronto with a mystery blonde that was most definitely not his wife. The woman turned out to be Joslyn Noel Morse, a stripper and former Playboy model. This is the type of scandal New York tabloids salivate over, and they jumped at the opportunity to bury A-Rod, a whipping boy since he first set foot in the Big Apple.
The Braves have been trying for years to pound a little common-sense plate discipline into Andruw Jones. It's never been easy. In fact, there are times like these, right now, when Jones shows so little discipline in his at-bats -- or, worse yet, so little desire to alter his hitting approach at all -- that many around the organization want to take their hard-headed superstar and just strangle him.
The subject in Seattle baseball circles is Ichiro, as it so often is these days, and whether the Mariners can keep their terrifically enigmatic star happy and in the green beyond this season. Or even beyond July.
TOKYO -- The last time two heroes from Japan clashed in a much-anticipated head-to-head match-up in the major leagues, Hideo Nomo plunked Ichiro Suzuki in the back. The Seattle Mariners right-fielder fell to his knees in pain, and Tokyo gasped.
Several dozen Japanese TV reporters -- minicams shouldered and boom mikes at the ready -- waited for Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka to emerge for his 4 p.m. stretch at Fenway Park on Wednesday afternoon. Dice-K climbed the dugout steps. He saw the assembled scrum. He paused ... and bowed and doffed his cap.
BOSTON -- Here at this sacred baseball cathedral that lies more than 6,700 miles from Tokyo, there is a Dunkin' Donuts sign above the outfield bleachers with the words "Welcome to Fenway" written in Japanese, sushi being served in the media dining room, and 150 giddy members of the Japanese press crammed into the media quarters.
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- You can't have a good comeback story in baseball without a little controversy. So it is that Sammy Sosa, in his return from major league purgatory, is being accused of cheating.
The arrival of three veteran starting pitchers plus a couple of former Nationals regulars will have things in the Pacific Northwest looking a bit brighter than the previous three years and the Mariners' corresponding last-place finishes.
Unless Jeff Weaver is your idea of a big-time free agent, we're sliding into the New Year plum out of them. Unless, that is, you want to wait around for Roger Clemens to make up his mind about playing. Again.
Robert Whiting jokes that there should be a statue of Japanese pitcher Hideo Nomo at Tokyo's Narita Airport.
No messing around this month. I'm tackling the single biggest conundrum facing investors: When will technology stocks rebound? Financial puzzles don't get any bigger than that. The worldwide techno...
HIDDEN AMONG rice fields on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, Toyota's Shibetsu test track has been off limits to outsiders since construction started in 1982. Recently, Toyota Chairman Eij...