Monday, January 31, 2011

Garcia Goes To The Cashman

With still no word from Andy Pettitte, the Yankees signed Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal last week. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reports this evening that Freddy Garcia has been brought into the Yankees fold as well.

Garcia will make $1.5M if he makes the big club and can earn $3.6M in incentives. The 35-yr old was 12-6, 4.64 last year with the White Sox after throwing just 23 major league games the previous three seasons combined.

Orioles Get Their Duchs In A Row | Baseball Digest

Orioles Get Their Duchs In A Row | Baseball Digest

The off-season has not been kind to the Baltimore Orioles for a number of years. Over the last decade the team has finished last or next to last in the AL East the majority of the time. Major free agents haven’t wanted to sign with the Orioles and the team hasn’t been able to swing a significant trade. Prior to last season the Orioles re-acquired Miguel Tejada and signed free agent Garrett Atkins. Needless to say, no one in the “Town of the Big House” was bragging about those moves.

The highly respected Andy MacPhail was hired as president of baseball operations in mid-2007, but the going has been slow, though it is no fault of MacPhail’s. The grandson of Larry MacPhail and the son of Lee MacPhail, both in the Hall of Fame, has been trying to shake things up this hot stove season. The team has an offer out to Vladimir Guerrero and has been working hard to bring him into the fold. Earlier today they agreed to a deal with free agent pitcher Justin Duchscherer. According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick the deal will pay $750K even if Duchscherer never makes it to a major league mound. He’ll get $1.1M if he’s on the opening day roster and can earn up to $4.5M based on incentives.

This off-season the O’s also acquired shortstop J.J. Hardy and signed free 1st baseman Derek Lee to hopefully add some pop to the lineup and inked free agent pitcher Kevin Gregg in an attempt to strengthen their pen. All of the above aren’t “A-listers” at this point, but the Orioles stand to be at least a bit more competitive. Unfortunately, the AL East is not for the weak of roster.

Rumors, News, and Transactions

The Rangers signed pitcher David Bush (56-68, 4.66) to a minor league deal after the free agent played five seasons in Milwaukee.

One time feared slugger Troy Glaus hasn’t been able to find a situation he finds suitable so he’s decided to sit out the start of the season. There’s a strong possibility he may permanently retire.

The Orioles have added free agent left-hander Mark Hendrickson with a minor league deal. The 6’9″ southpaw pitched the last two seasons for the O’s.

Jason Grilli is attempting a comeback with the Phillies after signing a minor league deal. He missed all of the 2010 season due to a knee injury.

Pitcher Braden Looper signed a minor league deal with the Cubs that will give him a chance to earn up to $3M if he makes the big club.

The Rockies gave reliever Rafael Betancourt a one year, $3M extension.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Having A Granderson Old Time

I had the pleasure of talking to Curtis Granderson in the Yankees clubhosue for a few minutes this past Summer and it was quick to see why everyone says he's such a great guy. We talked about his revamped swing and the interview the YES Network'sKim Jones did with his parents when the team was on the road in Chicago last season.

Major League Baseball also knows what a great guy Granderson is and that's why he's on a trip as an ambassador for baseball in New Zealand. The centerfield told the Kiwi press that he's having a great time.

"Tourism New Zealand has shown us a really great time and if the people out there aren't excited about what I've been posting, there's gotta be something wrong with them," he said yesterday.
"We've just finished going up the Skyline gondola, done the Zip Trek flying fox tour and are about to do a jet boat trip. I've been tweeting, been doing Facebook updates and been blogging about the good times I've had down here, and I'm not done yet."

The Yankees have also been sending a TV crew along to document the trip for the YES Network and

Granderson has liked what he's seen in the New Zealand youngster's zeal for baseball.
"There's a lot of talent here, in both the boys and girls. There's a lot of natural athletes."
The Yankees are very lucky to have the talented Granderson in the fold.

BD Hot Stove: The Unemployed | Baseball Digest

BD Hot Stove: The Unemployed | Baseball Digest

You can never compare athletes to people out in the real world, but there are a number of major league caliber baseball players that haven’t been able to find a job this winter. Guys like Kevin Millwood, Freddy Garcia, and Justin Duchscherer. The three pitchers have to wonder when they see Bartolo Colon get a minor league deal after he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues in two years. Granted, in some cases injuries (Duchscherer), sub par seasons (Millwood), and wear and tear (Garcia) may be keeping teams away, as well as the possibility of the players and their agents wanting too much guaranteed money.

Then there’s the case of a once fierce warrior that scared opposing pitchers so much that he became known as “Vlad the Impaler”. Or maybe it was just how pale pitcher’s faces went when they had to face Vladimir Guerrero. The man who would swing at anything looked like he might be finished with the Angels a couple of years ago, but despite a bad back and bad feet the Impaler returned in 2010. Guerrero produced 29 HR and 115 RBI and nearly slugged .500. But a .513 OPS with 6 RBI in 15 post-season games apparently sent up red flags. Offers have been few, partially because Guerrero reportedly wants $8M a season. Sources say the Orioles have made an offer, but it’s likely to be closer to the one year, $2M deal Manny Ramirez received from Tampa Bay than what Guerrero wants.

If you think Guerrero has it bad, look at the case of Jermaine Dye. The veteran outfielder didn’t play in 2010 after not finding an acceptable offer. Our own Simon Sharkey-Gotlieb talks about the issue in today’s Baseball Digest Birthday segment as Dye turns 37.

Among those still looking for jobs are catcher Bengie Molina, infielders Troy Glaus, Orlando Cabrera, Christian Guzman, Pedro Feliz, David Eckstein, Jorge Cantu (tentative deal with SD as of this writing), Felipe Lopez, Willy Aybar, Nick Johnson, Eric Chavez, pitchers Jeremy Bonderman, David Bush, Kelvim Escobar, Mark Hendrickson, John Maine, Lance Cormier, Manny Delcarmen, Chad Durbin, Doug Davis, slugger Russell Branyan, outfielders Jim EdmondsRyan Church, and Jose Guillen. Click here for a complete list and a summary of the winter signings.

Rumors, News, and Transactions

The Contra Costa Times heard that the A’s were trying to deal 3rd baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff to the Mariners for Chone Figgins. Buster Olney also reported that Toronto could be involved, but so far Figgins has not been asked to waive his limited no trade clause. The infielder was a bust in the first season of a four year, $36M contract.

Several sources have reported that the Mets are putting a portion of the team up for sale. The majority owner, Jeff Wilpon and family, lost a large amount of money in the Bernie Madoff “Ponzi” scheme.

Pitcher Joe Beimel has agreed to a minor league deal and an invitation to spring training with the Pirates.

Despite a number of rumors, Indians GM Chris Antonetti stated that Fausto Carmona and Grady Sizemore are not being dealt.

The Minnesota Twins have announced they will retire number 28 in honor of recent Hall of Fame electee Bert Blyleven.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

BD Hot Stove: Astros Tank Not Completely Empty | Baseball Digest

BD Hot Stove: Astros Tank Not Completely Empty | Baseball Digest

Times have been tough down in H-Town since the Astros reached the World Series in 2005. Gone are marquis players Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettitte. In their place is a group of youngsters with a few veterans, like Carlos Lee, sprinkled in. The team averaged just 75 wins the last two seasons and have had four managers in four years. But owner Drayton McLane gave second year manager Brad Mills something to happy about.

The Astros announced last evening they had given a three year extension to their top starter, Wandy Rodriguez. The deal is worth $34M and with an option for 2014 Rodriguez is guaranteed $44.5M. The 32-yr old left-hander is the number one man in the front of a rotation that features veteran Brett Myer and youngster J.A. Happ. Not a bad threesome to compete in the NL Central.

The extension means the two sides avoid the arbitration process and quells any rumors that the Astros were trying to trade their top guy. Rodriguez averaged 200 innings the last two seasons, but went just 25-24 despite a combined 3.30 ERA. 23 of Rodriguez’s 32 starts in 2010 were quality starts (6 or more IP 3 ER allowed or less) and he allowed more than three earned runs in a game just seven times.

Now if the Astros could only add some some pop to their punchless lineup.

Rumors, News, and Transactions

SI’s Jon Heyman and Hardball Talk’s Craig Calceterra both reported that their sources indicated Andy Pettitte will pitch in 2011. Still looking to fill the back end of the rotation, the Yankees signed veteran Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal and invited him to spring training. The 37-yr old hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2009.

The Twins claimed left-hander Dusty Hughes off waivers from KC.

Rather then have him compete for a starting spot in spring training, the Mets have decided to have Jenrry Mejia begin the season at Triple-A Buffalo to work on being a starter.

Pitchers coming off injuries – Brandon Webb (TEX) and Joe Nathan (MIN) will have no restrictions entering spring training, but Johan Santana (NYM) has yet to begin a throwing program.

The Rockies signed veteran catcher Chad Moeller to a minor league deal. Moeller split the 2010 season between the Orioles and Yankees.

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Bob Uecker | Baseball Digest

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Bob Uecker | Baseball Digest

Listen to the broadcast of any major, minor, or college league game and there’s a good chance you’re going to hear a reference to Bob Uecker. A pitcher’s delivery is well out of the strike zone and you’ll hear “Jussssst outside” said in a sarcastic tone. The announcer in question is paying homage to Uecker’s famous tag line from the “Major League” movie franchise in which he played announcer Harry Doyle.

Younger fans may think that Uecker has always been a baseball announcer or actor. Particularly after he starred as George Owens on the ABC comedy “Mr. Belvedere” and was part of a long running beer campaign (which led to another tag line “I must be in the front roooow”.). But first and foremost, Bob Uecker was a baseball player. Not a very good player, but a major league player nonetheless.

Robert George Uecker is Wisconsin through and through. Born in Milwaukee in 1935, he watched the then minor league Milwaukee Brewers in his formative years, played for the Milwaukee Braves (1962-1963), and began broadcasting in Milwaukee in 1971. He’s even promoted the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League.

Uecker spent six seasons in the minors, toiling in far flung spots like Boise, ID, Eau Claire, WI, and Evansville, IL. He showed some power, epitomized by a 22 home run season in 1958. But Uecker’s minor league success never translated to the major leagues. He would spent six seasons as a back up catcher with the Braves, St. Louis Cardinals (with which he won a World Series ring in 1964), Philadelphia Phillies, and the Braves again when they moved to Atlanta. He would play in just 297 games in “The Show”.

Neal Russo of the St. Louis Dispatch spoke with Uecker for Baseball Digest in 1964 about his shaky baseball career. Click here to read all about it!

Uecker batted just .200 lifetime with 14 home runs, half of them coming in his best offensive season with the Phillies in 1966. He drove in 30 runs that year in 78 games. But baseball was more than just games played for “Uke”. He forged a number of relationships, was in on a number of comical situations, and was building his post-baseball career as he played. Many of his antics and stories can be found in his two books, “Catcher in the Wry” (An autobiography that I highly recommend.) and “Catch 222″.

“The cops picked me up at 3 a.m. once and fined me $200 for being slightly inebriated and $100 for being with the Phillies.”

Four years after his playing career ended, Uecker returned to Milwaukee as an announcer for the Brewers, who were in just their third season of existence after beginning as the Seattle Pilots in 1969. He also worked semi-regularly on national broadcasts, made numerous personal appearances, such as guesting on “The Tonight Show”, and was part of a series of television ad campaigns. It would all lead to his television and theatrical acting careers. Popular in any venue, he’s even in the World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) Hall of Fame for his time as an in-ring announcer in the late 1980′s.

But first and foremost, Bob Uecker has always been about baseball. In 2003, he was awarded the Ford C. Frick Award by the Baseball Hall of Fame in recognition for his major contributions to baseball. He’s also in the Radio and Wisconsin Sports Hall of Fames, and in recognition of his 50 years in baseball, the Brewers placed a number 50 in their “Ring of Honor” in 2005.

Uecker gave all of his fans a scare last April when he had to undergo aortic valve replacement surgery. He returned to his broadcasting duties in July, but needed additional surgery in October to repair a tear from his original surgery. He’s expected to be in fine fettle when the 2011 season starts. Milwaukee Brewers baseball wouldn’t be the same with out him.

Happy 76th birthday and many more to come to Bob Uecker!

Also celebrating birthdays today:

Brian Doyle in Glasgow, KY, 1955: Doyle’s career was even shorter than Uecker’s, just 110 games over four seasons (1977-1981) with the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics. In 1978 Doyle caught lightning in a bottle, helping the Yankees to the second of back to back world championships. Starting 2nd baseman Willie Randolph went down with an injury, but Doyle stepped in and stepped up, hitting .438 with two RBI and four runs scored against the Dodgers as the Yankees rallied from a 2-0 deficit in games to capture the title. Today, Doyle, along with brothers Denny and Blake, runs one of the most highly respected baseball schools (Doyle Baseball Academy) in the country.

Ryland Rowland-Smith: The left-hander who really does come from down under- New South Wales, Australia- was born in 1983. Rowland-Smith recently signed with the Houston Astros, hoping to rebound from a less than stellar 2010 campaign with the Seattle Mariners. He emerged as a solid starter, in his third season in the bigs, in 2009 with a 5-4, 3.74 mark and a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Baseball Digest: Washington Hopes For Nationals Holiday | Baseball Digest

Baseball Digest: Washington Hopes For Nationals Holiday | Baseball Digest

If you are among the growing number of Washington Nationals fans, you have to be pleased with the direction the team is taking. Yes, they did overpay for free agent Jayson Werth (7 yrs, $126M), but they landed a marquis star to help bring along the youngsters.

And what a group of youngsters the Nationals have. Though he’ll sit out this season after last year’s Tommy John surgery, Stephen Strasburg is the number one pitching prospect in all of baseball. Teenage phenom Bryce Harper signed with the team after skipping out of high school early and playing JUCO ball. Drew Storen is another top pitching prospect that may be one of the dominant closers of the future. Catcher Derek Norris could have a big impact in the majors very soon. Speedy infielder Danny Espinosa has some of the best hands in baseball. The Nats also drafted and signed one of the most highly toutEd High school pitchers in the country, A.J. Cole, this past Summer.

The Nationals have been very active this winter as well looking into every free agent available and talking with a number of other teams about trades. The latest rumors had them communicating with the Cleveland Indians as to the availability of pitcher Fausto Carmona and outfielder Grady Sizemore. In additon to signing Werth the team also acquired steady left-hander Tom Gorzelanny from the Cubs, dealt Josh Willingham for hard throwing prospect Henry Rodriguez and outfielder Corey Brown, signed 1st baseman Adam LaRoche, outfielder Rick Ankiel and utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. The team also brought back former two time 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang in the hopes he can return to his pre-shoulder surgery form.

With the powerhouse Phillies well ahead of everyone in the NL East, the Nationals aren’t expected to win a division title any time soon, but they have the talent to compete much quicker than anyone expected.

Rumors, News, and Transactions

Mike Napoli didn’t stay with the Toronto Blue Jays for very long. Acquired as part of a deal that sent Vernon Wells to the Los Angeles Angels, Napoli was dealt today to the Texas Rangers for reliever Frank Francisco. With the Blue Jays wanting rookie J.P. Arencibia to see a lot of playing time, I can understand why the team would not want a minus defender like Napoli as his backup. However dealing him for an average reliever, something Toronto seemingly likes to accumulate, doesn’t make a lot of sense. With Yorvit Torrealba starting in Texas and Matt Treanor as his back up, the power hitting Napoli should see time at DH, which means Vladimiar Guerrero won’t be returning to Texas.

ESPN contributor Amanda Rykoff tweeted from a WFAN/Mike Francesa-Brian Cashman breakfast interview that Cashman said he could see Derek Jeter playing centerfield in the future ( ala Robin Yount). Jeter had earlier mentioned that positional change was never discussed during the negotations of his new contract.

Teams continue to add depth in their minor league systems; two of the latest additions- the Rangers signed catcher Robinson Diaz and the Yankees added former Rangers’ pitcher Warren Madrigal.

The Cubs signed pitcher Todd Wellmeyer after he was non-tendered by the Giants.

ESPN’s Jayson Stark spoke with several baseball execs who are confident that the Cards will be able to re-sign Albert Pujols.

Detroit News beat writer Tom Gage reported that the Tigers are willing to bring back Jeremy Bonderman with a minor league deal.

Monday, January 24, 2011

BD Hot Stove: Galarraga’s Strange Journey Continues | Baseball Digest

BD Hot Stove: Galarraga’s Strange Journey Continues | Baseball Digest

The hot stove is coming to you a little later today and a hot stove is really needed since it was below zero in the northeast today. It’s been a strange stretch of time for Armando Galarraga over the last seven months. On June 2 last year Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game by the very imperfect call of umpire Jim Joyce. Hugs, tearfests, ovations followed…yada yada yada.

One week ago Galarraga and the Tigers avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one year, $2.3M contract. The very next day the Tigers designated Galarraga for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Brad Penny. Today, Galarraga was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks for right-hander Kevin Eichhorn and lefty Ryan Robowski.

Galaragga will probably get a chance to compete for the Diamondbacks final spot in the rotation with second year man Barry Enright and Aaron “I want to be a starter again” Heilman. Eichorn was a third round pick by the Dbacks in 2008 and played primarily in rookie ball last season. He averaged nearly a strikeout per inning, but surrendered 12 home runs and gave up more hits than innings pitched. Robowski put up similar numbers for High Single-A Visalia last season after being selected in the 16th round out of Ohio Dominican University in 2009.

The Diamondbacks also brought back pitcher Micah Owings, who some feel would be better as a full time hitter at this point. Owings showed promise a rookie in 2007, posting an 8-8, 4.30 mark in 27 starts and a pair of relief appearances. But his command got worse the following season, so the Dbacks shipped him to the Reds in September as the PTBNL in the Adam Dunn deal. This past October he was granted free agency after two poor seasons with the Reds. As for his hitting, Owings had 4 HR and 15 RBI as a rookie and has a .293 lifetime batting average and an .861 OPS. Perhaps it’s time to pick up a fielder’s glove or become an AL DH.

One more Diamondbacks note – Rafael Rodriguez acquired in July’s trade deadline Dan Haren deal, was DFA’ed to make room for Galarraga on the Arizona 40-man roster.

The Rockies signed outfielder Willy Taveras to a minor league deal. Taveras played for Colorado from 2007-2008.

The Nationals have added pitcher Todd Coffey with a one year deal. Coffey was non-tendered by the Brewers in December.

Per Jon Heyman, the Rangers have re-opened talks with Vlad Guerrero.

Over the weekend the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo reported that the Red Sox will be willing to deal Jonathan Papelbon at any point before or during the season. Papelbon will earn $12M in 2011.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

NFL Championship Weekend

We're down to the AFC and NFC title games. Before getting to the specifics, a big middle finger to the NFL and TV. 3 pm and 6:30 pm EST starts? In a word, or two words.."that sucks". Seriously, 1 and 4. Neither of these games are on the west coast and we don't care if it helps to keep people tuned into your crappy prime time lineups. Okay, back to civility.

Packers vs. Bears

Two of the oldest and most historical teams out of the black and blue division. The two met twice during the regular season. The Bears won at Soldier Field, site of today's game in week 3, 20-17. Rob Gould's 19 yard FG was the game winner. Aaron Rodgers threw the ball 45 times (34 comp.) that day for 316 yards, 1 score and 1 pick. The Pack had no running game with big fullback John Kuhn leading the team with a mere 31 yards. Jay Cutler was 16-27, 221, with 1 TD and 1 INT. He also led the team in rushing with 37 yards after Matt Forte was held to 29 yards on 11 carries.

The teams met again in week 17 (on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field) with the Packers needing a win to reach the playoffs. The Bears had nothing to play for, but coach Lovie Smith played his regulars to be fair to the other teams vying for a playoff spot.

A defensive battle ensued with Cutler displaying what frustrates Bears fans at times. He was 21-39, 168 and threw two very bad interceptions. On the bright side, Forte rushed for 91 yards and the Bears had a 3-0 lead at halftime. Aaron Rodgers was 19-28, 229 with a pick, and possibly the biggest TD pass he threw all year. His 4th quarter one yard pass to Donald Lee snapped a 3-3 tie and put the Pack into the post-season. Still no running game for the Packers though, with Rodgers having a team high 21 yards.

Today - Game time temperature will be 19, but with a wind chill of just 8 degrees. Winds will be from the SSE at 9 mph. Weather is no factor for these two teams. To put it simply, they're used to freezing their asses off.

The bigger problem is the lack of a Packers running game. Yes, James Starks had a huge wildcard game with 23 carries for 123 yards. But against the Eagles, Starks managed just 66 yards on 25 carries - a poor 2.6 average. And the Bears aren't the team to run against. So this should be another Aaron Rodgers-centric game. Scrambling, running, throwing.

Forte had 25 carries for 80 yards in last week's divisional game against Seattle and will be looking to repeat his second game success against the Pack. Green Bay's defense stepped up down the stretch and will be a key today. So will the play of Cutler. He was very good against the 'Hawks, throwing for 274 yards and 2 TDs, and put up a passer rating of 111.8.

The two teams combined for 83 points last week, but that's not happening this week. Black and blue indeed. With a late Mason Crosby field goal the difference, Packers 19 Bears 17

Jets vs. Steelers

The Jets have had two huge road wins already, beating Peyton Manning and the Colts and Tom Brady and the Patriots. Now they go up against Ben Rothliesberger, who has won two Super Bowl titles with the Steelers.

Last week's game plan by Rex Ryan was arguably the best he has ever laid out in his two years with the Jets. He'll need it again today as he goes into a tough place to play. It's especially tough on kickers and the Jets kicker, Nick Folk, has had a tough year (despite nailing the game winner in Indy).

The Steelers had a bye in round one then went up against their divisional hated rivals the Ravens. Baltimore dominated the first half and the Steelers looked dead in the water. But the second half was a new game and Pittsburgh dominated it completely, making Joe Flacco look like a junior high quarterback.

These two teams played in week on the very same spot in week 15. Down 17-10 in the 3rd qtr, Mark Sanchez ran for a score to tie it up and then Folk, who was 2-2 in FGs on the day, put the Jets ahead for good in the 4th with a 3-pointer. The Jets defense then put things away with a safety with just 2:38 left in regulation.

Sanchez has been a winner in the post-season, going 4-1 in two years. He looked very good against the Pats last week and has a compliment of talented receivers. Santonio Holmes, acquired from the Steelers will be especially revved up for this one. The Jets need to get some production from LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene to help set up the passing game.

The Steelers will be trying to pound the ball with Rashard Mendenhall and Rothliesberger will be mixing things up to a host of receivers. The Steelers defense needs to step it up too; they've not been consistently shut down since the latter part of the season.

Today - Game time temperature will be 15, but with a wind chill of just 5 degrees. Winds will be from the WNW at 5 mph.

Okay Jets fans you won't like this. I picked the Colts and Pats the last two weeks and the Jets won. This week? Jets 24 Steelers 20

As I always say, do NOT bet based on my picks

Friday, January 21, 2011

BD Hot Stove Breaking News: Manny, Damon Sign; Angels-Jays Trade | Baseball Digest

BD Hot Stove Breaking News: Manny, Damon Sign; Angels-Jays Trade | Baseball Digest

A very dormant period in the hot stove heated up Friday evening. The Tampa Bay Rays announced they had agreed on one year deals with both Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon.

Meanwhile, Ken Rosenthal is reporting that, pending physicals, the Los Angeles Angels are set to send catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera to the Toronto Blue Jays for long time centerfielder Vernon Wells.

The Wells became an immediate candidate to be traded once the larger portion of the seven year contract extension he signed in 2006 kicked in. Whereas Wells made $12.5M in 2010, his salary jumps to $23M for 2011. He’s then set to receive $21M in each of the next three seasons (2012-2014) of the contract. In a bit of stunning move, the Angels are going to pick up the remaining $86M owed the outfielder.

Wells was a four tool player that provided All-Star type seasons from 2002-2006 with major offensive output and Gold Glove defense. But injuries took their toll, leading to missed games, a loss of power, and a drop off in his overall offensive game. He bounced back last season with 31 home runs and the Blue Jays had to have realized there would never be a better time to try to deal him.

Napoli, 29, is one of the best power hitting catchers in baseball, having averaged 22 home runs the last three seasons. However, he is ranked at the bottom of major league catchers in defense. He will provide a veteran presence for the Jays and help stud catching prospect J.P. Arencibia break into the majors. Napoli made $3.6M last season and is arbitration eligible this season.

Rivera has been with the Angels since 2005 and is a ten year veteran. The 32-yr old will provide the Jays with depth in the outfield, 1st base and DH, and as well as some additional power. He’s in the final year of a three year deal that will pay him $5.25M.

After spending over 14 seasons in Cleveland (7) and Boston (7+) combined, Ramirez is with his fourth team in the last four years. He’s coming off a season in which, due to mounting injuries, he appeared in just 66 games with the Dodgers and 24 with the White Sox. He was productive (.915 OPS) in LA, but the organization grew weary of him and put him on waivers in late August. Chicago claimed him and the LA said, “you can have him”. He was basically useless with the White Sox and was having trouble finding a taker this off-season. Ramirez will reportedly on receive $2M from the Rays to be their primary designated hitter for a year. Ramirez, who will turn 39 in May, will enter the season with 555 career home runs.

Damon will be playing with his third team in the AL East (Boston, NYY) and signed a one year, $5.25M deal. There’s another $700K in incentives included. Damon should see some time in left field due to the departure of Carl Crawford and will get some ABs at DH as he reunites with Ramirez. Damon, 37, started out like a house afire with the Tigers last April, hitting .329 with 12 RBI, nine doubles, and a triple. But he slumped for much of the remainder of the season, finishing with the second lowest OPS (.756) of his last seven seasons.

BD Hot Stove: The Phab Phour | Baseball Digest

BD Hot Stove: The Phab Phour | Baseball Digest

You could hear GMs around baseball shudder when they heard that Cliff Lee had signed a new free agent deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. Suddenly the team that gone to back to back World Series in 2008-2009 and had won four straight NL East titles had put together a new top of the line rotation. 2010 CY Young winner Roy Halladay, 2008 CY Young winner Lee, career 150 game winner Roy Oswalt, and the still on the rise Cole Hamels forn the “City of Brotherly Love” invastion. Number five for the moment is flabby, but not too shabby, Joe Blanton.

I will be the first to to tell you “that’s why the games are played”, “it doesn’t matter how a team looks on paper” and so on. But that’s a pretty intimidating rotation to go up against. With a very productive lineup and a bullpen that has the potential to be capable, the Phillies could go far in 2011. But that’s not why we’re gathered here today. It’s time to take a look at what each team’s rotation will look like entering spring training.

AL East

Baltimore – Since the departure of Mike Mussina after the 2000 season, the Orioles have been searching for a new number one. They thought possibly they had found one in Erik Bedard, Adam Loewen, Matt Riley…all prospects that did not pan out for one reason or another. But the O’s do have some bright spots in their current set of prospects. Left-hander Brian Matusz will be joined by veteran Jeremy Guthrie, and fellow youngsters Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, and Chris Tillman. Top prospect Zach Britton could battle for the number five spot in the rotation.

Boston – The Red Sox have a formidable group of pitchers. The question will be whether or not some of them remain healthy and/or bounce back from a sub-par 2010. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and Daisuke Matsuzaka are the five for now with knuckleballer Tim Wakefield plugging in here and there. If they’re on, this could be one of the nastiest rotations in baseball.

New York – The Yankees are in a bit of a quandary right now as they await Andy Pettitte’s decision to retire or continue playing baseball. CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and A.J. Burnett are set. The final two spots are completely up in the air, with Sergio Mitre and prospect Ivan Nova pencilled in for now. If Pettitte returns and no other pitchers are brought in, the final spit will come down to Mitre, Nova, and any prospect who steps up.

Tampa Bay – With the departure of Matt Garza, the Rays have one less reliable starter they can count on. But this is still a highly competitive rotation anchored by stud David Price, who is in the midst of a meteoric rise in stature. James Shields, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, and rookie Jeremy Hellickson round out the starting staff.

Toronto – The Blue Jays dealt their most reliable starter, Shaun Marcum, but have one of the top prospects in all of baseball in Kyle Drabek. With limited time spent in Triple-A though, Drabek may not yet be ready for prime time. He’ll have a chance to win a spot in a rotation that has Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, and Brett Cecil as the only sure things to start the season. Jesse Litsch, coming back from hip surgery and Mike Rzepcynski will fight for spots as well.

AL Central

ClevelandFausto Carmona trade rumors have been heard often during this hot stove, but for now he’ll open as the number one man in the Indians rotation. He’ll be joined by fellow veteran Justin Masterson and kid Carlos Carrasco. The final two spots will between Mitch Talbot, Jeanmar Gomez, Josh Tomlin, and anyone else who will toss their hat in the ring.

ChicagoMark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Edwin Jackson. Manager Ozzie Guillen has a solid four he can count on in 2011. Then there’s Jake Peavy coming back from a detatched latissmus dorsi muscle that cost him the second half of the season. It’s unsure when he’ll be ready to go, so for now highly touted Chris Sale will probably get a look in the staff’s final opening.

Detroit – When you’ve got a stud like Justin Verlander at the top of your rotation it can set the tone for the rest of the staff. Manager Jim Leyland is counting on continued growth from youngsters Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, and they’ll benefit from some words of wisdom from recently signed veteran Brad Penny. One time starter, Phil Coke gets a chance to leave the bullpen and pitch every fifth day again.

Kansas City – It wasn’t that long ago that the Royals looked like they were building a nice starting staff. Now, Zack Greinke has been dealt away and Gil Meche suffered shoulder injuries and retired. That leaves one time prospects Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies, and Jeff Francis to bolster the rotation. Recently re-signed Bruce Chen has a spot locked up, which leaves Sean O’Sullivan and Vin Mazzaro to vie for the final spot.

Minnesota – The Twins brought back Carl Pavano, who along with Francisco Liriano, and Scott Baker form a nice triumvirate. Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, and Brian Duensing will pitch for the final two spots. No matter how it shakes out you know that this Ron Gardenhire led team will compete for the division crown.

AL West

Los Angeles – The Angels should be highly competitve in the west again now they have Dan Haren for a full season. He struggled for the Diamondbacks last year, but looked like his old self once he was sent northwest at the trade deadline. Jeff Weaver, Ervin Santana, and Joel Pineiro give the Halos a solid four to start the season. The Angels need to do something about the fifth spot though as Scott Kazmir has become unreliable. Hasinori Takahashi could be the guy to step up and take Kamzir’s spot in the rotation.

Oakland – The A’s have been about developing pitching under Billy Beane’s reign and the team has a nice collection of youngsters once again. Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, and Trevor Cahill will be joined by veteran Rich Harden. With Harden’s propensity to be injured, the A’s could look to Brandon McCarthy and others to fill in.

Seattle – The Mariners have the “King” of all baseball. Well, Felix “The King” Hernandez will be the incumbent AL CY Young winner entering the 2011 season. Unfortunately, after Hernandez the rest of the Mariners starting staff is a crap shoot. Jason Vargos and Doug Fister had decent seasons in 2010. The Mariners hope to finally get something out of Erik Bedard other than medical bills. Top prospect Michael Pineda, and journeymen David Pauley and Luke French will all get a shot at a starting spot.

Texas – They Rangers gave up a top hitting prospect in Justin Smoak to get Cliff Lee at the trade deadline and now have neither. What they do have is a rotation that manager Ron Washington hopes can replicate or better their 2010 performance. C.J. Wilson steps up to the number one spot with Lee gone, followed by Colby Lewis, Tommy Hunter, and Derek Holland. Also in there? One time NL CY Young winner Brandon Webb, whom the Rangers hope is healthy and can recapture (most of) his glory.

NL East

You’ve heard enough about the Phillies already. Time to look at the competition.

Atlanta – The Braves are a team that have been developing top pitchers since the early 1990s. Times have changed and so have the Braves. Their top three – Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, and Jair Jurrjens all came from other organizations. Youngster Tommy Hanson has a spot and top 10 prospects Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, and Bobby Beachy should all get a shot at the final opening.

Florida – The Marlins have a bonafide stud in Josh Johnson, but the rest of the staff is patchwork. The team brought back Ricky Nolasco and signed free agent Javier Vazquez to join Anabel Sanchez, who had a career high 13 wins last year. Chris Volstad is the number five guy.

New York – The Mets staff is in disarray with Johan Santana not ready for opening day and Oliver Perez’s career in near complete demise. Mike Pelfrey reached his potential last year and will be the ace of the staff on opening day. The Mets also have plenty of promise in Jon Niese and hope that R.A. Dickey can repeat his remarkable 2010 season. Newly signed Chris Young, if healthy will get a spot with Jenrry Mejia, Chris Capuano, and Dillon Gee all getting long looks for the final spot out of spring training.

Washington – The prospect’s prospect Stephen Strasburg will be spending 2011 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Until then the Nationals will count on Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, and Jordan Zimmerman to hold down the fort. The Nats hope Chien-Ming Wang has fully recovered from shoulder surgery that made him miss all of last year. Luis Atilano, John Lannan, and Yunesky Maya are among those who will vie for the back of the rotation.

NL Central

Chicago – The city of big shoulders needs to control the big shoulders of Carlos Zambrano. The man who may be certifiable settled down late in the season and the Cubbies need that trend to continue. Ryan Dempster and newly acquired Matt Garza are the two most consistent starters on the roster. Randy Wells and Carlos Silva will have the final spots for now with recently acquired prospect Chris Archer possibly having a second half impact.

Cincinnati – The Reds won’t surprise anyone this year, but with a staff of Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez, Homer Bailey, Travis Wood, and Mike Leake they’ll do just fine. The latter three will compete for the final two openings.

Houston – The days of Oswalt, Clemens, and Pettitte are now long gone. Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, and J.A. Happ are a competitive top three on a team that won’t be too competitive. Bud Norris, Nelson Figueroa, Aneury Rodriguez, and Lance Pendleton will all get a look for the final two spots available.

Milwaukee - The Brewers have their best pitching rotation since CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets teamed for a short time in 2008. Holdover Yovani Gallardo is joined by trade acquisitions Shaun Marcum (TOR) and Zack Greinke (MIL) to form a super top three. Veteran Randy Wolf and journeyman Chris Narveson round things out. Top pitching prospect Mark Rogers could have an impact if his shoulder is healthy enough.

Pittsburgh – The Pirates have to get by on the cheap and 2011 is no different. James McDonald, Paul Maholm, Kevin Correia, Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton, and Scott Olsen are the six pitchers for five spots.

St. LouisAdam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. Not a bad way to kick off a season. They’ll be joined by second year man Jaime Garcia and veterans Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse. It’s the rotation that will compete with the Brewers and Reds for the tops in the division.

NL West

Arizona – The Diamondbacks are in a rebuilding phase and it shows looking in their selection of starters. Their top pitcher is veteran Joe Saunders, acquired in last season’s Dan Haren deal. Youngsters Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson were both acquired over the past two seasons in deals for veterans as well. Barry Enright, who had a suprise rookie season, and one time Pirates prospect Zach Duke complete the party of five.

Colorado - Ubaldo Jiminez and Jorge de la Rosa gives the team a rocky mountain high to face opponents. After that things aren’t quite so clear. Aaron Cook hopes to recapture his 2008 form while Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Hammel, Felipe Paulino, and Esmil Rogers try to figure the rest out.

Los Angeles – The Dodgers have assembled a six man rotation that can compete with the majority of teams in baseball. Who will be the odd man out among Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, John Garland, Hiroki Kuroda, and Vincente Padilla remains to be seen.

San Diego – The Padres pitching staff helped carry them for most of the season and they came oh so close to a division title. Mat Latos was the clear top gun last year, but can he repeat his success? Clayton Richard, Tim Stauffer, Wade LeBlanc, and newly acquired Aaron Harang fill out the rest of the squad.

San Francisco – Pitching wins and the Giants pitching won the World Series last year. Ace Tim Lincecum hit some bumps in the road, but Matt Cain was as steady as can be. Lefty Jonathan Sanchez still has plenty of potential to achieve and second year man Madison Bumgarner comes in with a rotation spot sewn up for the first time. Even Barry Zito, much maligned since signing with the Giants prior to the 2007 season, showed glimpses last year of his prior greatness.

So there you have it. With veterans Freddy Garcia, Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Duchscherer, Mark Hendrickson, and Shawn Hill all still available things could still change. And every year one or two prospects busts out of spring training and heads north as a member of a 25-man squad. Who will it be this year? Stay tuned.

Rumors, News, and Transactions

The Reds and Johnny Cueto agreed to a four year, $27M extension. The team is said to be now discussing an extension with Edinson Volquez.

The Cardinals signed utility man Nick Punto to a one year deal.

Johnny Damon and the Rays are in talks, but the two sides are reportedly not close to a deal.

Texas Rangers beat man T.R. Sullivan hears the team is going after Manny Ramirez to be their new DH.

Dirk Hayhurst is popular on Twitter and has a best selling book. Now he’s employed again, signed by the Rays to a minor league deal.

The Mets signed pitcher Tim Byrdak to a minor league deal.