Time To Get Your Fantasy Cleats Out Of The Closet

RECENT FANTASY PLAYER NOTES-  CATCHERS

Recent Player Notes

(Oak – SP)NAPlayer notes
  • Thu, Feb 9
    • Harden will miss the entire 2012 season after undergoing shoulder surgery last week, Peter Gammons of MLB Network reports.
      Recommendation: The procedure will repair a torn capsule in Harden’s shoulder and hopefully put an end to the injury issues that have plagued him for the last five seasons. Harden is determined to make it back to the majors, but he will have to wait until 2013 to have another chance, and it remains to be seen what type of pitcher he will be after several years of injury issues and a full season away.

      (Rotowire.com)

(Bal – RP)Player notes
  • Fri, Feb 10
    • The Orioles signed Ayala to a one-year deal Friday, Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com reports.
      Recommendation: The 34-year-old right hander had a strong 2.09 ERA in 56.0 innings with the Yankees last season. He struck out 39, but walked 20, so control is a bit of an issue. He has a career ERA of 3.47, so expect something closer to that this season with the Orioles.

      (Rotowire.com)

    • RHP Luis Ayala agreed to a major league contract with the Orioles, according to MASNsports.com. The veteran is likely to appear in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings in Baltimore. Ayala, 34, appeared in 52 games with the Yankees in 2011, posting a 2.09 ERA. The Baltimore Sun reported that Ayala will make $925,000 with a $100,000 buyout on a 2013 club option for $1 million. He has a career ERA of 3.47 with six teams.

      (Yahoo! Sports)

(StL – C)Player notes
  • Fri, Feb 10
    • C Yadier Molina said he loved St. Louis but the Albert Pujols off-season departure showed him a different side of baseball. “We’ve been through a lot of the same things together,” said Molina, an early reportee at Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Fla. “When you see a guy like Albert leave the club, you have to know this is business.” The Cardinals picked up the $7 million option on the 2012 contract for the 29-year-old Molina, a four-time Gold Glover.

      (Yahoo! Sports)

FANTASY PLAYER NOTES-  STARTING PITCHERS

(Sea – SP)Player notes
  • Mon, Feb 13
    • Iwakuma, who’s expected to be the third starter in the rotation this year, won’t pitch in the Mariners’ two-game season-opening series in Japan against the A’s, the Seattle Times reports.
      Recommendation: There had been some speculation the Mariners would start Iwakuma in the second game in Japan after Felix Hernandez opens the season. But manager Eric Wedge told Iwakuma on the first day of camp Sunday that No. 2 starter Jason Vargas would indeed make the start. In addition to adjusting to major-league ball, Iawkuma needs to show in spring training that the arm troubles he experienced last season are no longer an issue.

      (Rotowire.com)

(Min – SP)Player notes
  • Fri, Feb 10
    • RHP Scott Baker said the Twins’ woeful performance last season allowed him to get entirely healthy before the offseason. The Twins’ best starter last season — he had a 3.14 ERA in 21 starts — was limited to 134.1 innings by elbow problems. He was shut down for much of August and September before coming back to pitch twice in relief. “I think I would probably have treated it a little bit differently if we would have been playing competitive baseball at the time, shooting for the playoffs,” Baker said. “I think that second time, I really attempted to let it go properly, really do a proper rehab as far as one, letting it calm down completely and then building back up. It was kind of a long process to throw two or three innings, but it was something that I probably didn’t have to do — that I wanted to do just for the peace of mind going into the offseason.”

      (Yahoo! Sports)

(Det – SP)Player notes
  • Fri, Feb 10
    • RHP Justin Verlander wants to open Spring Training at 235 pounds, some 10-15 more than he typically begins a spring. He’s loading up on high-calorie foods to do so. “I don’t eat healthy, but I’m not worried about it,” Verlander said. “I’m trying to put on weight.” Verlander wants the extra weight because he typically drops that amount between the first day of camp and the opening of the season. “During spring training, I usually drop 10-15 pounds,” Verlander said, “and I’d like to play around 220-225.”

      (Yahoo! Sports)

FANTASY PLAYER NOTES-  RELIEF PITCHERS

(KC – RP)Player notes
  • Fri, Feb 10
    • RHP Jeremy Jeffress opened the 2011 season in the Royals’ bullpen, but was demoted May 19 after walking 11 in 15 1/3 innings. While Jeffress has a 100 mph fastball, he needs to throw more strikes to make the team out of spring training this year.

      (Yahoo! Sports)

(Was – RP)Player notes
  • Fri, Feb 10
    • RHP Henry Rodriguez could help a deep Nationals’ bullpen be even better if he continues to pitch well. The hard-throwing right-hander struck out 70 in 65 2/3 innings last year and was very effective at times. This could be a break-out year for him.

      (Yahoo! Sports)

(Cin – RP)New player notes
  • Tue, Feb 14Recent News
    • Chapman (arm) is already in Arizona and has started throwing, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.
      Recommendation: The Reds still plan to stretch Chapman out as a starter. “He’s healthy and feels good,” GM Walt Jocketty said.

      (Rotowire.com)

FANTASY PLAYER NOTES-  PITCHERS

(Phi – SP)Player notes
  • Fri, Feb 10
    • RHP Joe Blanton will have a spot in the Phillies’ rotation, as long as his right arm doesn’t hold up his ability to pitch. Blanton, who missed the majority of the 2011 season because of a right elbow ailment, pitched in five games last September, sporting a 2.57 ERA. “I guess you have to consider (Blanton’s health) a question mark because he pitched so little last year, but at the same time, he threw at the end of the year last year, and that was a good sign,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “We expect him to be in our rotation this year. Hopefully he can get through it in a healthy way.”

      (Yahoo! Sports)

(KC – RP)Player notes
  • Fri, Feb 10
    • RHP Blake Wood was good at Kauffman Stadium, going 2-0 with a 1.82 ERA in 27 relief appearances. On the road Wood struggled, going 3-3 with a 5.66 ERA in 28 outings.

      (Yahoo! Sports)

(Bos – SP,RP)NAPlayer notes
  • Sat, Feb 11
    • RHP Tim Wakefield has a decision to make. Still available on the free agent market, the 45-year-old knuckleballer is close to a verdict on whether he will pitch this season, his agent told the Boston Herald. “We’re discussing the options — and he has some options — and over the next few days, we’re going to try to figure it out,” agent Barry Meister said. “These next few days is just a period of introspection, where he’s trying to decide what to do, whether to play, who to play for.” Wakefield has stated his preference for pitching one more season for the Red Sox, but the team hasn’t reciprocated with as much enthusiasm. He has 200 career wins, 186 with the Red Sox. The club record of 192 wins is shared by Cy Young and Roger Clemens. A few months ago, Meister said Wakefield might benefit from pitching in the National League if an opportunity with the Red Sox doesn’t present itself. Last week, he told the Herald that Wakefield hasn’t ruled anything out, including possibly coming to camp with a team as a non-roster invitee.

      (Yahoo! Sports)

FANTASY PLAYER NOTES-  1st BASEMAN


(LAA – 1B,OF)Player notes
  • Wed, Feb 8
    • Trumbo (right foot) was cleared for baseball activities by his doctor, the Angels’ official site reports.
      Recommendation: Trumbo is recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot. He was left without a position after Albert Pujols signed with the Angels and likely will play the corner spots and DH this season as a utility man.

      (Rotowire.com)

(NYY – 1B)NAPlayer notes
  • Fri, Feb 10
    • 1B/DH Russell Branyan was signed to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training and figures to compete for a bench role if he can shake off a poor 2011. Branyan has shown remarkable power at the new Yankee Stadium, hitting eight home runs in 14 games there, including the first ball to reach the fourth deck in right field and the first one to hit the glass of a sports bar beyond center field.

      (Yahoo! Sports)

(Cle – 1B)NAPlayer notes
  • Fri, Feb 10
    • 1B Nick Johnson signed a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training, according to MASNsports.com. Johnson, 33, didn’t play in the majors in 2011, but could contend for playing time at first base and designated hitter, or provide depth for the Orioles at Class-AAA Norfolk.

      (Yahoo! Sports)

  • Thu, Feb 9
    • The Orioles have signed Johnson to a minor league deal, Orioles.com reports.
      Recommendation: The oft-injured first baseman will get a Spring Training invite, but is a long-shot to make any significant contribution at the big league level in 2012.

      (Rotowire.com)

FANTASY PLAYER NOTES- 2nd BASEMEN

(StL – 2B,3B,SS)Player notes
  • Thu, Feb 9
    • The Cardinals plan for Descalso, Skip Schumaker, and Tyler Greene to battle for the second base job this spring, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
      Recommendation: Descalso might be needed to back up oft-injured David Freese at third base, but in the meantime, he probably has the edge over Schumaker and Greene for the starting job at second.

      (Rotowire.com)

(Min – 2B,SS,OF)Player notes
  • Fri, Feb 10
    • OF Trevor Plouffe is in the mix as the Twins fourth outfielder, but his ability to play in the infield will no doubt help. As the Twins proved last season, a major league team can never have too much flexibility. In 81 games last season, Plouffe hit .238 with eight homers and 38 RBI. At Rochester, he hit 15 homers and drove in 33 runs.

      (Yahoo! Sports)

(Min – 1B,2B,3B)Player notes
  • Fri, Feb 10
    • Hughes will be sidelined three to four weeks after an MRI showed he has a strained shoulder, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. He hurt his shoulder in a home-plate collision while playing for the Perth Heat in the Australian winter league semifinals.
      Recommendation: Hughes may be limited at the start of spring training, which won’t help him try to win a utility job. Still, it doesn’t sound like a major injury concern.

      (Rotowire.com)

    • IF Luke Hughes has a minor strain in his right shoulder but should be able to participate in most of spring training. Hughes on Feb. 10 had a magnetic resonance imaging test taken of the shoulder, injured during an Australian Winter League game earlier this week. He was trying to avoid a tag at home plate when he was hurt. The Twins immediately flew him to the Twin Cities to be examined by a team doctor. General manager Terry Ryan said Hughes will fly to the team’s training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., Saturday and is expected to rehab the shoulder through the rest of February.

      (Yahoo! Sports)

FANTASY PLAYER NOTES- 3rd BASEMEN

(StL – 2B,3B,SS)Player notes
  • Thu, Feb 9
    • The Cardinals plan for Descalso, Skip Schumaker, and Tyler Greene to battle for the second base job this spring, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
      Recommendation: Descalso might be needed to back up oft-injured David Freese at third base, but in the meantime, he probably has the edge over Schumaker and Greene for the starting job at second.

      (Rotowire.com)

(TB – 3B)Player notes
  • Sun, Feb 12
    • Longoria underwent foot surgery this offseason to fix a painful condition called “Morton’s neuroma,” The Tampa Bay Times reports.
      Recommendation: The surgery is not expected to significantly alter Longoria’s offseason plans, and he should be 100% by spring training. Longoria hit 31 home runs in just 133 games last season, and could be primed for a huge year in 2012. This might also explain his lack of stolen bases last year.

      (Rotowire.com)

  • Fri, Feb 10
    • 3B Evan Longoria feels he best serves his team when he’s on the field every day. So in an effort to avoid muscle injuries (hamstring, quadriceps, oblique) that knocked him out of the lineup the last two seasons, Longoria changed his offseason routine to put more of an emphasis on being flexible than being bulked up. He will come into camp 10-15 pounds lighter than last spring, and feeling good about it. “I feel great, so I hope it pays off,” he said.

      (Yahoo! Sports)

(Was – 3B)New player notes
  • Tue, Feb 14Recent News
    • Zimmerman maintains that he will not negotiate a contract extension once spring training has begun, the Washington Post reports.
      Recommendation: His current deal expires at the end of 2013, and while both he and the Nats have expressed the desire to keep him in a Washington uniform there’s been little apparent progress so far on an extension. The drafting of Anthony Rendon also gives the organization some leverage in terms of a ready replacement at third base if Zimmerman leaves when his contract is up. If nothing gets done before spring training, this could become a big distraction going forward.

      (Rotowire.com)

FANTASY PLAYER NOTES- SHORTSTOP

(Ari – SS)Player notes
  • Mon, Feb 13
    • Drew (ankle) has been jogging, hitting, throwing and performing agility drills in his workouts to this point in the offseason, the Arizona Republic reports.
      Recommendation: “I’m optimistic,” Drew said. “Hopefully I will start Opening Day, but I don’t know. I’m not going to sit here and lie to your face and be like, ‘I’ll be ready for Opening Day.’ I can’t tell you that right now. It takes time. How much time? I don’t know. I know one thing, I’ll be playing this year at some point. I wish I knew that answer. I can’t see the future.” His biggest hurdles will almost certainly be lateral movement in the field and running the bases and full speed. Keep an eye on him to see where he’s at when spring training begins as it sounds like his rehab could take a bit longer than previously anticipated despite Drew’s optimism and recent progress.

      (Rotowire.com)

  • Fri, Feb 10
    • SS Stephen Drew (fractured right ankle, ligament damage) is working out in the Phoenix area but is not expected to report to spring training when the pitchers and catchers report Feb. 20. Major league Baseball permits injured position players to report early if they so choose.

      (Yahoo! Sports)

(Hou – 3B,SS)Player notes
  • Wed, Feb 8
    • Lowrie and the Astros have agreed to terms on a one-year, $1.15 million contract, avoiding arbitration, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com reports.
      Recommendation: Lowrie, acquired in the Mark Melancon trade this winter, is expected to take over at shortstop for the Astros. Although the Astros are taking a bit of a gamble given Lowrie’s questionable glove and injury history, if he pans out as his hot prospect potential and impressive 2010 season (.907 OPS in 197 plate appearances) indicated, he’ll be a huge bargain for the Astros in their rebuilding process.

      (Rotowire.com)

(Phi – SS)Player notes
  • Fri, Feb 10
    • SS Jimmy Rollins signed a three-year, $33 million contract with the Phillies earlier this offseason that includes an $8 million club option for a fourth season. If that club option is not exercised, Rollins has a player option to return for $5 million. But more details of that fourth year emerged this week. According to MLB.com, a club option for $11 million for the fourth season automatically kicks in if Rollins has 600 plate appearances in 2014 or a total of 1,100 plate appearances in 2013-14 (as long as he’s not on the disabled list at the end of the ’14 season). If he does happen to be on the disabled list at that time, the option can still kick in if a doctor gives both sides the OK that Rollins would be ready for Opening Day 2015.

      (Yahoo! Sports)

FANTASY PLAYER NOTES- OUTFIELDER

(Was – OF)Player notes
  • Fri, Feb 10
    • RF Bryce Harper’s situation will be one of the most interesting in spring training. He’s only 19 and has but 452 at-bats over about 1 1/2 seasons in the minors, but some of the powers that be want him to start the season with the Nationals. However, many questions remain about Harper, starting with his maturity.

      (Yahoo! Sports)

(StL – 2B,OF)Player notes
  • Thu, Feb 9
    • The Cardinals plan for Schumaker, Daniel Descalso, and Tyler Greene to battle for the second base job this spring, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
      Recommendation: Schumaker signed a big deal in December and is the incumbent, but with manager Tony La Russa no longer the skipper, he may have lost his champion. So far Descalso probably has the edge, but obviously a lot can happen in camp.

      (Rotowire.com)

(CWS – OF)New player notes
  • Tue, Feb 14Recent News
    • Fukudome has to come to a one-year, $1 million deal with a 2013 club option with the White Sox, the Chicago Tribune reports.
      Recommendation: Fukudome will most likely serve as the backup at all three outfield positions. He could chance into more playing time if either Alejandro De Aza or Dayan Viciedo, both first-time starters, struggles.

      (Rotowire.com)

    • OF Kosuke Fukudome returned to Chicago on Tuesday, signing a one-year deal with the White Sox. Fukudome, who spent the first 3 1/2 years of his career with the Cubs, will earn $500,000 in 2012, and the White Sox have a $3.5 million option for 2013, or a $500,000 buyout. “Kosuke adds to our outfield depth and gives Robin (Ventura) another left-handed bat to mix into the lineup based on matchups,” said Rick Hahn, White Sox vice president/assistant general manager, in a statement. “He can play center field and right and provides flexibility to our roster.”

      (Yahoo! Sports)

FANTASY PLAYER NOTES- UTILITY

(Tex – C,1B)Player notes
  • Mon, Feb 13
    • C Mike Napoli avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal, according to a report. Napoli will make $9.4 million, sources told ESPNDallas.com. The Rangers, who re-signed Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus earlier in the week, have not had a player go to arbitration since 2000. Napoli, 30, posted career highs with a .320 average, 30 homers and 75 RBI in 2011.

      (Yahoo! Sports)

  • Sat, Feb 11
    • Napoli and the Rangers avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $9.4 million deal Saturday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.
      Recommendation: Napoli hit .320 with 30 home runs in just 369 at-bats in 2011. It’ll be interesting to see if the Rangers commit to getting him more at-bats in 2012.

      (Rotowire.com)

(NYY – 1B)NAPlayer notes
  • Fri, Feb 10
    • 1B/DH Russell Branyan was signed to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training and figures to compete for a bench role if he can shake off a poor 2011. Branyan has shown remarkable power at the new Yankee Stadium, hitting eight home runs in 14 games there, including the first ball to reach the fourth deck in right field and the first one to hit the glass of a sports bar beyond center field.

      (Yahoo! Sports)

(Phi – SS)Player notes
  • Fri, Feb 10
    • SS Jimmy Rollins signed a three-year, $33 million contract with the Phillies earlier this offseason that includes an $8 million club option for a fourth season. If that club option is not exercised, Rollins has a player option to return for $5 million. But more details of that fourth year emerged this week. According to MLB.com, a club option for $11 million for the fourth season automatically kicks in if Rollins has 600 plate appearances in 2014 or a total of 1,100 plate appearances in 2013-14 (as long as he’s not on the disabled list at the end of the ’14 season). If he does happen to be on the disabled list at that time, the option can still kick in if a doctor gives both sides the OK that Rollins would be ready for Opening Day 2015.

      (Yahoo! Sports)

MLB Roster Changes

ACTIVE

Date
Player
Change
Feb 10
(Min – OF)Player notes
Activated
Feb 10
(Bal – OF)NAPlayer notes
Deactivated
Feb 10
(Min – RP)NANew player notes
Deactivated
Feb 8
(Cin – RP)NANo new player Notes
Deactivated
Feb 8
(SF – OF)NANo new player Notes
Deactivated
Feb 7
(LAD – 1B,3B)NAPlayer notes
Deactivated
Feb 6
(ChC – 2B,SS)No new player Notes
Activated
Feb 6
(Sea – C)NANew player notes
Deactivated
Feb 6
(Sea – OF)NANo new player Notes
Deactivated
Feb 6
(ChC – 2B,3B,OF)NANo new player Notes
Deactivated

ADDED

Date
Player
Change
Feb 14
(Oak – OF)No new player Notes
Added
Feb 9
(Bal – SP)No new player Notes
Added
Feb 9
(StL – 2B)NANo new player Notes
Added
Feb 9
(Bal – SS)NANo new player Notes
Added
Feb 9
(Sea – SS)NANo new player Notes
Added
Feb 9
(Tor – OF)NANo new player Notes
Added
Feb 9
(Was – 3B)No new player Notes
Added
Feb 9
(KC – OF)NANo new player Notes
Added
Feb 9
(Bal – SS)NANo new player Notes
Added
Feb 9
(SD – 3B)NANo new player Notes
Added
Date
Player
Change
Feb 14
(CWS – OF)New player notes
Cle to CWS
Feb 14
(Cle – SP)NAPlayer notes
NL to AL
Feb 14
(Oak – OF)No new player Notes
to AL
Feb 14
(Cle – SP)NAPlayer notes
LAD to Cle
Feb 10
(Bal – RP)Player notes
NYY to Bal
Feb 10
(Min – OF)Player notes
Tor to Min
Feb 9
(Bal – SP)No new player Notes
to AL
Feb 9
(StL – 2B)NANo new player Notes
to NL
Feb 9
(Bal – SS)NANo new player Notes
to AL
Feb 9
(Sea – SS)NANo new player Notes
to AL
Date
Player
Change
Feb 14
(Oak – OF)No new player Notes
Added CF
Feb 9
(Bal – SP)No new player Notes
Added SP
Feb 9
(StL – 2B)NANo new player Notes
Added 2B
Feb 9
(Bal – SS)NANo new player Notes
Added SS
Feb 9
(Sea – SS)NANo new player Notes
Added SS
Feb 9
(Tor – OF)NANo new player Notes
Added CF
Feb 9
(Was – 3B)No new player Notes
Added 3B
Feb 9
(KC – OF)NANo new player Notes
Added LF
Feb 9
(Bal – SS)NANo new player Notes
Added SS
Feb 9
(SD – 3B)NANo new player Notes
Added 3B

Time To Break Out The Bats and Balls!

Pitchers and catchers ready to get spring rolling

 By Doug Miller / MLB.com

The Mariners already set up camp over the weekend. This week, everyone else joins them, with their tent stakes, sleeping bags and World Series dreams in tow.

On the sun-dappled diamonds of Arizona and Florida, Spring Training has arrived, with pitchers and catchers on their way to fill the complexes of the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues for the next six weeks prior to every baseball fan’s favorite two-word event: Opening Day.

Albert Pujols

For Seattle, this week’s jump on things was a necessity. The team will travel to Japan on March 22 for the regular-season Opening Series against the Oakland A’s on March 28-29, and with almost another week in between those games and their first regular-season game back in the U.S., it will give them the chance to start their ace, Felix Hernandez, in the first game on both continents, which means Games 1 and 3 of the 2012 campaign.

“Obviously that’s why we’re here early,” Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis said on Saturday from the team’s spring complex in Peoria, Ariz. “I don’t think it’s a secret we’re expecting Felix to start the first day, and I don’t want to leave here and have a game that counts on the 28th of March and not have him able to throw 75 pitches. We need to get him stretched out. So coming early kind of eliminates any pressure.”

As for the rest of the teams in the Major Leagues, the road to a championship starts this week, and there are plenty of questions to answer.

One of the big ones is whether last year’s World Series winners, the St. Louis Cardinals, can forge a new, victorious identity without their best player — Albert Pujols, who signed with the Angels in early December — and legendary manager, Tony La Russa.

The Redbirds will, however, see their staff ace, Adam Wainwright, return when pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter, Fla., on Saturday. Wainwright spent last year on the shelf thanks to Tommy John surgery. They’ll also have to see how they jell under the watch of new manager and former player Mike Matheny. Plus, veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran, fresh off a rejuvenated 2011 season, joins the effort to replace Pujols’ bat in what became a very potent lineup by last October.

The runners-up in last year’s big dance, the Texas Rangers, face a similar spring of change. Gone is C.J. Wilson, who, like Pujols, jumped ship to the loaded-on-paper Angels. Now with the club is Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish, a gamble for Texas of well over $100 million. When the Rangers’ pitchers and catchers show up in Surprise, Ariz., on Feb. 22, they’ll do so with Darvish and another new starter, who happens to be their former closer — Neftali Feliz. They’ll also have veteran Joe Nathan to pitch the ninth inning.

About an hour from Surprise, the Angels will carry that glittering new roster and some weighty expectations into their digs at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Pujols, Wilson, LaTroy Hawkins, Chris Iannetta and a core of younger players, including top prospect Mike Trout, plus an on-the-mend Kendrys Morales, will take the first steps, along with new general manager Jerry Dipoto, toward re-annexing the American League West for the first time 2009. Their pitchers and catchers will first filter in Sunday.

Spring training - A Cactus League game between...

Meanwhile, across the country, the annual high-intensity battle for the AL East will begin in earnest, with the Red Sox and Yankees doing their best to forget about how their 2011 seasons ended. The Red Sox will file into their new complex in Fort Myers, Fla., on Sunday with a new manager (Bobby Valentine), a new general manager (Ben Cherington) and new players (Andrew Bailey, Mark Melancon, Cody Ross and others). The Yankees, meanwhile, will check into Tampa on Sunday with a beefed-up pitching staff, having added Hiroki Kuroda via free agency and Michael Pineda via trade.

The Tampa Bay Rays — playoff participants in each of the past two seasons and three of the past four — have seen some turnover, too. They’ll hit their spring camp Feb. 20 with Carlos Pena, Luke Scott and Jose Molina in the fold, and they’ll see what their top pitching prospect, Matt Moore, can do after stunning the world with his Game 1 gem in last year’s AL Division Series.

The Detroit Tigers won’t be far away, either. Reigning AL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander will headline the defending AL Central champion Tigers’ pitchers and catchers, who will arrive in Lakeland, Fla., on Sunday, and the Tigers’ new $200 million man, Prince Fielder, will check in soon after to buoy an already-imposing lineup featuring Miguel Cabrera, who has slimmed down and will take on the challenge of switching back to third base.

In Clearwater, the Phillies will be back at it, boasting their fantastic rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels (plus Joe Blanton and Vance Worley) and their veteran lineup. They’ll be hoping for a quick recovery for first baseman Ryan Howard and a return to a full season of health for second baseman Chase Utley, and they’ll be hoping that an influx of new veterans — Ty Wigginton, Jim Thome and Laynce Nix on the offensive end, Chad Qualls in the bullpen — will make the puzzle pieces fit alongside the club’s huge offseason prize, closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Ryan Howard (left) and Albert Pujols

The Phillies, however, have an intriguing competitor right in their own division. The Miami Marlins have a new name, sort of, plus a new ballpark, new uniforms, and a new attitude, proven by their stunning winter haul of shortstop Jose Reyes, starter Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell to the tune of almost $200 million. They also traded for starter Carlos Zambrano, will be counting on a healthy season for ace Josh Johnson, and will hope that Hanley Ramirez’s transition to third base not only goes smoothly but results in a better season for their star infielder. It all begins Feb. 22 in Jupiter for the Marlins and their new skipper, Ozzie Guillen.

Out West, the D-backs will settle into their second spring at Salt River Fields (pitchers and catchers show up on Feb. 20) with an unexpected NL West crown under their belts and what they hope will be improvements in the form of starter Trevor Cahill, slugger Jason Kubel, and a full season of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

The Giants, winners of the World Series in 2010 and victims of injuries last year, hit Scottsdale Stadium on Saturday with the comforting knowledge that catcher Buster Posey should be ready to go soon, along with closer Brian Wilson, and that new additions in the outfield (Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan) provide offensive spark to a lineup that needs plenty of it.

Other stories waiting to be written abound. Which teams that came this close last year have the goods to turn it around this spring? Will it be the Atlanta Braves, who need better health and production from the youthful trio of Jason Heyward, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson? The Brewers, who lost Fielder but gained Aramis Ramirez? Or will it be the Dodgers, who added veteran tweaks (including Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston and Adam Kennedy) to a roster that played impressive baseball in the final month of 2011?

And which teams will the real shockers of the season, possibly poised for greatness on the back fields and in the hitting cages of the quiet spring mornings to come?

Will it be the Kansas City Royals, with Eric Hosmer leading a corps of young, exciting players? Will it be the Washington Nationals, who boast a pitching rotation led by phenom Stephen Strasburg and new acquisition Gio Gonzalez and also have Jayson Werth, Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman in their lineup? And how about the Cleveland Indians, who got off to such a hot start last year, fell victim to a lack of depth, but worked all winter — adding Casey Kotchman and Derek Lowe to a large group of newcomers — to shore up their deficiencies?

And what about the guys who haven’t signed yet or might be traded in the days to come? The names Roy Oswalt, Yoenis Cespedes, Johnny Damon, Vladimir Guerrero, Magglio Ordonez, Kosuke Fukudome, Jon Garland, Mike Gonzalez, Michael Wuertz, Raul Ibanez, Hideki Matsui, Derrek Lee, Miguel Tejada, Jason Varitek, Javier Vazquez, and, yes, Manny Ramirez are still out there, waiting to figure out where they’ll spend the spring … or at least part of it. And they’re not the only ones still on the board.

But as the week kicks off and the Mariners pitchers run through their fielding drills and pop gloves in early bullpen sessions in Peoria, it’s clear that baseball has arrived once again.

The answers to all these questions should, too.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB and read his MLBlog,Youneverknow. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Playing The Field- Where Will Fielder Land?

Fielder leads list of players in limbo

The Sports Xchange

By now, Prince Fielder surely expected his own celebratory press conference, when he would join the flurry of activity for baseball’s offseason elite players. He would flash a big grin, don a jersey and cap, and prepare for a season as a poster child for his franchise, the way Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Jose Reyes had before him.

But, with just a month to go before spring training, Fielder—despite his .299 average, 38 home runs and 120 RBI last season for the Milwaukee Brewers—remained a man with no cap or jersey to wear and no contract to celebrate Friday.

Instead, Yu Darvish, the Japanese pitching sensation, was expected to be feted by the Texas Rangers—his own lavish deal potentially damaging Fielder’s ability to sign with Texas.

Prince Fielder (left) and Derrek Lee

 

Fielder, who at 27 has 230 career home runs, topped the list of a few high-profile names who remained unsigned at that point, including Roy Oswalt, Edwin
Jackson, Johnny Damon and Cuban power hitter Yoennis Cespedes.

None were as surprising to see still listed as free agents as Fielder, who was the most talented slugger available this side of Pujols. He could become the first player to sign a $100 million or more contract this late in the offseason, according to SI.com.

Or he could continue to be surprised at his lack of activity.

While it made sense to think teams were initially waiting out the fellow first baseman Pujols before committing to Fielder, it’s now been more than a month since he signed with the Angels, leaving Fielder alone atop the free agent class.

But while there are reports of interest from the Rangers (even after the Darvish signing) and Washington Nationals and a few other rumors, Fielder has remained in limbo. Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum has already ruled out Fielder as a possibility because the club recently acquired young, power-hitting first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

The usual big-spending New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are set at first base.

So, Fielder’s choices have been limited.

“I think everybody thought he would have signed by now,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “In that regard, I’d have to say it’s a little surprising.”

Despite missing all but one game in the past three seasons, though, there have been reports that Fielder’s 5-foot-11, 275-pound frame have caused some suitors to fret over the prospect of a long-term deal.

Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks at Spring Trai...

With Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, notorious for working out mega-contracts for his biggest clients, the Brewers never made a formal long-term offer to retain the first baseman who had not played for another team, according to the Journal Sentinel.

Instead, the team early in the offseason attempted to get Fielder to sign for one year and the chance to hit the free-agent market again next year, but he didn’t bite, according to the paper.

The Nationals could make a push, according to SI.com, as they have built a star-studded young rotation and would like to supplement it with Fielder’s bat.

The Rangers are not quite out of the running. Multiple reports have indicated Texas could still try to pull off their own version of the 1-2 punch the division rival Angels did in landing Pujols and Wilson, by pairing Fielder with Darvish. Rangers GM Jon Daniels told reporters signing Fielder was “very unlikely” after the huge financial commitment Texas made in acquiring Darvish from Japan—nearly $120 million in posting fees and a six-year contract.

But reports persisted that Texas, after reaching the World Series, but losing two years in a row, could still land Fielder.

Oswalt, 34, owns a 159-93 career record, but struggled with back pain last season for the Philadelphia Phillies. That has likely scared off teams. Reports indicated there could be some interest by the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox, but that neither team was likely to commit.

Damon has reportedly drawn the interest of his old team, the Yankees, who are looking for a cost-effective DH. With Carlos Pena re-signing with the Tampa Bay Rays, that gives the Yankees one less option, though they were also reportedly talking to another ex-DH, Hideki Matsui.

Jackson, another Boras client, went 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA last year, and reports have indicated his price tag has scared teams off. The Yankees had deemed him too expensive for their budget, and they added two big names to the rotation in Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda.

The Cubs, Chicago White Sox and Florida Marlins have reportedly been interested in Cespedes, with the Cubs reportedly leading the race for the slugging outfielder’s services.

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Coronation Delayed For Unknown Kingdom, Thy Prince Shall Be No Pauper

Prince stretching free agency into new territory

Prized first baseman heading toward ‘latest’ big signing ever

By Tom Singer / MLB.com | 01/11/12 10:00 AM EST

Agent Scott Boras continues to pound the market for his prime client, Prince Fielder, and he may yet achieve his goal of a record deal for the free-agent first baseman.

English: Prince Fielder doing pre-game stretch...

Perhaps not financially, although there is a very good reason for believing that Boras is angling for a deal worth something like $24.7 million annually: Albert Pujols’ recent 10-year agreement with the Angels breaks down to about $24.6 million a year.

Fielder may not get there, but with the meticulous way it’s going, he remains likely to sign the latest mega-deal in baseball history.

Elite players and their bounties normally do not take this long to find each other. The clock is ticking, and with each gong, Fielder slides past someone else on this timeline.

On Tuesday, Fielder passed Carlos Beltran, who agreed to his seven-year, $119 million contract with the Mets on Jan. 10, 2005.

If he remains unsigned through Wednesday, Fielder would jump Vladimir Guerrero, who struck his five-year, $70 million deal with the Angels on Jan. 11, 2004.

Beyond that, there would be only one more remaining target date: Jan. 26, the day in 2005 on which Carlos Delgado ended a long free agency by signing a four-year, $52 million pact with the Marlins.

Certainly, free-agent signings regularly occur up to and even through Spring Training. But the leading men are usually all accounted for long before the trucks head to Arizona and Florida.

Cropped version of Prince Fielder (929557698).jpg

A year ago, the latest prominent free-agent agreement occurred on Jan. 5, between the Rangers and Adrian Beltre, also a Boras client (another of his guys, Jayson Werth, was first out of the gate on Dec. 6, when he signed with the Nationals).

Here are timelines of the top free-agent deals of the previous eight offseasons.

• 2010-11: Werth (Dec. 6), Carl Crawford, Red Sox (Dec. 11); Cliff Lee, Phillies (Dec. 14); Beltre (Jan. 5).

• 2009-10: John Lackey, Red Sox (Dec. 16); Matt Holliday, Cardinals (Jan. 5); Jason Bay, Mets (Jan. 5).

• 2008-09: CC Sabathia, Yankees (Dec. 11); A.J. Burnett, Yankees (Dec. 12); Mark Teixeira, Yankees (Dec. 23).

• 2007-08: Torii Hunter, Angels (Nov. 23); Alex Rodriguez, Yankees (Dec. 13); Aaron Rowand, Giants (Dec. 13).

• 2006-07: Alfonso Soriano, Cubs (Nov. 21); Carlos Lee, Astros (Nov. 27); Barry Zito, Giants (Dec. 29).

• 2005-06: B.J. Ryan, Blue Jays (Nov. 26); Rafael Furcal, Dodgers (Dec. 7); Burnett, Blue Jays (Dec. 7); Johnny Damon, Yankees (Dec. 21).

• 2004-05: Beltran (Jan. 10); Pedro Martinez, Mets (Dec. 14); Delgado.

• 2003-04: Gary Sheffield, Yankees (Dec. 1); Bartolo Colon, Angels (Dec. 9); Miguel Tejada, Orioles (Dec. 16); Guerrero (Jan. 11).

Of the other nine-figure deals in history, none were struck beyond December. They range from Dec. 9 (Mike Hampton, with the Rockies in 2000) to Dec. 21 (Kevin Brown, with the Dodgers in 1998).

Tom Singer is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow @Tom_Singer on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Big moves by Nats, Marlins put heat on Phillies

Free-agent deals could reshape balance of power in NL East

By Mark Bowman  / MLB.com

When Cliff Lee returned to Philadelphia, there was a sense the Phillies’ reign at the top of the National League East standings might last as long as he, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels stayed together in the same starting rotation.

Roy Halladay

One year later, Philadelphia still proudly possesses its Big Three. But with the Marlins and Nationals making significant improvements over the past couple months, the Phillies will enter 2012 knowing the Braves are not the only legitimate threat between them and their sixth consecutive NL East crown.

“Day in and day out, you have to say it’s the best division in baseball,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel told MLB.com. “The consistent play within the division is amazing. Atlanta should be better. The Marlins definitely have gotten better with [Jose] Reyes and Josh Johnson will be back. Washington will be very competitive.”

The Phillies made one significant decision in retaining veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins, but that move alone may not be enough to keep Philadelphia atop the division given the new look the Marlins have committed to this offseason.

As they prepare to move into their new stadium with their new, always-entertaining manager, Ozzie Guillen, the Marlins further enhanced the excitement surrounding their club with the signings of shortstop Jose Reyes, closer Heath Bell and veteran starting pitcher Mark Buehrle.

To further bolster their pitching staff, the Marlins opened 2012 by acquiring Carlos Zambrano from the Cubs. Along with making the clubhouse even more interesting, Zambrano has the potential to significantly improve a starting rotation that will once again be anchored by Johnson.

Ozzie Guillén managed the White Sox from 2004 ...

While proving aggressive on both the trade and free-agent markets, the once “low-revenue” Marlins were also in pursuit of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. The club’s efforts appear to demonstrate that it is committed to the kind of successful product necessary to avoid the attendance issues that existed in their previous stadium.

“Ozzie and [president of baseball operations] Larry [Beinfest] think this team is a playoff team today,” said Marlins president David Samson. “All sorts of stuff has to happen to win it. We just have to make it.”

With the assets gained from this year’s free-agent market, the Marlins provided themselves reason to believe they can immediately compete against the Phillies, and against the improvements the Braves and Nationals both expect to make over the next few years with their prized young players and prospects.

The core of the Nationals’ future is centered around Bryce Harper, one of the most highly touted prospects in the game’s history, and Stephen Strasburg. Now more than a year removed from Tommy John surgery, the right-handed Strasburg is prepared to legitimize himself as one of the game’s elite starters.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson finished 2011 excited about the contributions Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann could provide the club’s rotation for many years to come. Two days before Christmas, the Nats’ skipper received yet another gift in the form of talented 26-year-old left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who was acquired from the A’s to further solidify Washington’s starting rotation.

Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmerman

“Gonzalez brings a presence in our rotation,” Nationals general manger Mike Rizzo said. “He has had success. He has been a workhorse. He is very young; he just turned 26. He has accomplished a lot of things before his 26th birthday. It gives us a young core of starting pitchers at the Major League level that is in the realm of something that we never had here before.”With the acquisition of Gonzalez and the healthy return of Adam LaRoche, the Nationals are seemingly on the path they envisioned when they signed outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract last winter.

The Braves have thus far chosen to essentially stay on the same path that led them to game’s fourth-best record through this past August. An epic September collapse prevented the club from reaching the playoffs for a second straight year but also gave general manager Frank Wren some motivation entering this offseason.

But instead of trading Julio Teheran or any of his other highly regarded pitching prospects, Wren has remained patient in his attempt to upgrade his lineup with a power-hitting outfielder. There is a chance he could still cross this item off his wish list by trading Jair Jurrjens or Martin Prado.

Yet as of Jan. 1, the Braves still had not received the kind of offer they had hoped for in exchange for Jurrjens or Prado. Wren’s only significant move this offseason was to create $5 million of payroll flexibility by trading Derek Lowe and a portion of his burdensome contract.

“We have a good club,” Wren said.  “I keep going back, and I’ll stand by this, on Aug. 26, we had the fourth-best record in all of baseball. Our team didn’t get bad in 30 days. Our team went through a bad streak in 30 days. We have a good team.”

Baseball, Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies...

The Phillies also believe they can build on their 2011 success by staying active in the marketplace.  The defending NL East champs signed closer Jonathan Papelbon away from the Red Sox to account for Ryan Madson’s departure via free agency. In addition, Philadelphia signed Ty Wigginton and Jim Thome to strengthen its bench and compensate for the absence of Ryan Howard, who will likely miss at least all of April recovering from a ruptured left Achilles’ tendon.

When Howard returns, he’ll be reunited with Rollins, his longtime teammate who tested the free-agent market before re-signing with the Phillies in December. They’ll once again be part of a strong lineup assigned to support Halladay, Lee and Hamels.

“I like our club a lot,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “I think we’re one of the best clubs in the National League. And that’s our job, to make sure we’re contenders every year. And I think with the club we have now, barring injury, we’ll be there.”

Though Roy Oswalt is poised to depart the heralded Philadelphia rotation via free agency this winter, the Phillies still seem to be the favorites to win the NL East. However, they certainly do not appear to be the overwhelming favorites they were at this point last year.

“Everybody is getting better in that division,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “The Phillies are the Phillies. The Marlins are getting better. Washington is getting … dangerous. They’re getting close. They’ve got some good players. Your expectations are we should be in the playoffs. It’s a tough division.”

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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