Daily Scoop (cont.)
Retaining Washington made sense for Rangers
Rangers bosses Nolan Ryan (the club president) and Jon Daniels (the GM) certainly showed their compassionate side in deciding to keep manager Ron Washington after he failed an MLB-administered test for cocaine following the All-Star break last year, as reported here first on Wednesday. They didn't want one mistake to ruin a man they liked and revered, which is admirable.
The revelation that Washington used cocaine -- which Washington admitted to MLB, Ryan and Daniels even before the test came back -- was as much a bombshell in the Rangers' office as one might imagine. There had been no inkling that he could do something like this, as his record was clean.
The Rangers are to be commended for showing so much compassion in this circumstance. Daniels said they kept Washington "for all the reasons they hired him in the first place,'' which included the fact that they believe he is a good man and would be a good manager. He didn't say whether there was any practical consideration to keeping him, but one can imagine that a revelation such as this with the team in the middle of a great season carried the potential to torpedo things.
Had Texas fired him with the team in the thick of the AL West race, Washington's transgression almost certainly would have been figured out, since reporters would have been forced to search hard for the reason for a seemingly out-of-the-blue firing. The team had just picked up Washington's option for 2010 only a month earlier, so a firing would have raised flags. By keeping Washington, there was a chance that his drug use would never become public due to the confidentiality of the testing program, which is what Rangers brass clearly hoped.
Washington handled it as well as could possibly be expected when informed that the story was about to be reported. In three conversations before we published the story, Washington never made one excuse about his transgression. Though he clearly preferred that the story not be published, he handled things as maturely and professionally as possible.
Though he demonstrated his leadership abilities throughout the ordeal, there's no getting around the fact that the pressure is great on Washington to win now. Ryan, who reportedly favored making a managerial change soon after he took over two years ago when the Rangers started 7-16, said publicly that he thinks Texas has a 92-win team, which would represent another step from the 87 they won last year. That would be a big increase considering that the team didn't markedly increase its payroll. They have terrific young talent but are still relatively inexperienced and in a tough division with the perennially strong Angels, the improved Mariners and up-and-coming A's.
Washington enters the season on the last year of a contract that was team-friendly to begin with -- two years and two club options. Realistically, the pressure is greater on him than on any other manager in baseball.
Around the camps
Aroldis Chapman hit 100 mph according to a scout who saw him. That scout was also very impressed by his slider. "It's not Randy Johnson, but it could be,'' that scout said. The issue with Chapman isn't going to be stuff but maturity. The Cuban defector was said to have been very disappointed to have received offers initially that were in the range of what Stephen Strasburg got ($15.67 million) when he was said too be pining for $60 million. Eventually, he got $30 million from the Reds, which was half his target figure.
That scout questioned any call to send either Chapman or Strasburg to the minors. "Why? What are they waiting for?'' the scout said. One source said that the current plan calls for Strasburg, who like Chapman has been brilliant this spring, to make "six to eight'' starts in the minors before promoting him.
The Rockies breathed a sigh of relief when their closer Huston Street's shoulder MRI came back clean. "He should be fine,'' GM Dan O'Dowd said by text, though O'Dowd also said they would proceed cautiously with Street. They are also monitoring the market for relief insurance. The best free-agent relievers still available are Joe Beimel and Ron Mahay.
There is a snag in the sale of the Rangers from Tom Hicks to Chuck Greenberg, as the banks, which are said to have grown distrustful of Hicks, are seeking somewhere between $25 million and $50 million more (one source said $25 million, another said it's closer to $50 million). One person familiar with the sale talks called it "a mess.'' But an MLB source said that they remain hopeful that something will be worked out and that the group of Greenberg, Texas oil man Ray Davis (the big money behind the deal), Rangers legend Nolan Ryan and others can be installed. Hicks also wants to remain on the board of the team, which complicates matters. MLB is working hard to try to facilitate the deal, as they want Hicks, who couldn't meet his payroll last year, out. But MLB also doesn't want to take over the team, and repeat what happened with the Expos.
New Astros manager Brad Mills is "running an excellent camp,'' according to one veteran baseball observer. So that's a positive development for a team in need of a turnaround.
Folks shouldn't put too much stock into bad springs by pitchers in Arizona, where the ball flies. Even the great Tim Lincecum has been dreadful this spring. Though Ben Sheets' 10-run, no-out outing is especially noticeable.
Late April seems to be a fair target date for Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb, who's coming along slowly after last year's shoulder surgery.
If anything, the $51.25 million deal for Justin Upton has made him even more focused. This guy looks like he could have a breakout year. He has three home runs, 13 RBIs and a .385 batting average.
The power of Marlins prospect Mike Stanton is wowing them all. But he is also impressing folks around the team with his studious nature. Like former Marlin Carlos Delgado, Stanton is keeping a book on opposing pitchers, which is something quite unusual for a 20-year-old. Scouts say he is still learning how to deal with a top breaking ball, which means he's still more likely than not to begin the year in the minors. But he should be with the Marlins at some point.
Gaby Sanchez (.370) is outhitting Logan Morrison (.161) in a spirited battle for first base in Marlins camp, so he should get the job. But some Marlins people love Morrison's potential even more.
Mike Lowell makes some sense for the Marlins. He is just getting started playing for the Red Sox. They can't expect the Marlins to pay the $3 million (of the $12 million on his contract) that Texas agreed to pay before he failed their physical. But he's working hard to try to get back and re-establish his value.
The Mets are intending to demote top first base prospect Ike Davis (hitting .500 this spring) and shortstop prospect Ruben Tejada (.385) to the minors (Daniel Murphy will start at first and Alex Cora at short if Jose Reyes isn't ready) despite great springs but appear to be leaning toward having top pitching prospect Jenrry Mejia (1.08 ERA, no walks, eight K's in 8 1/3 innings) join their bullpen. Fernando Martinez, who's also having a terrific spring (3, 11, .556), is an interesting question, as well.
Lackey has been everything as advertised in Red Sox camp. He has allowed no runs and no walks.
The Rays look superb this spring. One player who looks tremendous is Sean Rodriguez (5, 11, .394 this spring), who came from the Angels in the Scott Kazmir deal. He's in a battle with Reid Brignac, who's also having a great spring (.355). They have a few alternatives at second base and right field, as they have versatile star Ben Zobrist, who will play one of those two positions, and Rodriguez can also play either position, as well (he's said to be even more comfortable in right field). Brignac would have to play second if he wins a starting job. But they all look like good choices.
The Rays' believe that J.P. Howell's shoulder tweak is just that, and that he'll be all right. Assuming that's the case, their pen looks solid, with Rafael Soriano the new closer, Howell as the eighth-inning man and Grant Balfour manning the seventh inning. A major improvement.
The Diamondbacks always expected Mark Reynolds to sign a long-term deal, and he did, for $14.5 million over three years (including two arbitration years). Reynolds never made a big bonus as a rare low draft choice to become a star, and he had the misfortune to miss arbitration this year by one day. Characteristically, he handled that disappointment well.
I nominate the Twins as nicest team in baseball, with stars like Nathan, Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and Denard Span. Adding Orlando Hudson and alltime nice guy Jim Thome (he's in the category of Sean Casey of MLB Network) only enhances the best clubhouse in the game. Gardnehire said, "If you can't say hi, you won't be a Twin.'' He also said that he doesn't subscribe to Vince Lombardi's theory. He pointed out, "That's a different sport.''
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