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Posted on: March 7, 2012 5:17 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 6:56 pm
 

Cubs may be closing in on Jorge Soler

Theo Epstein

By Dayn Perry

Power-hitting Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler may eventually sign with the Cubs for $27 million, MLB Network's Peter Gammons reports via Twitter

Soler is inevitably compared to his countryman Yoenis Cespedes, who signed a four-year, $36-million pact with the A's earlier this offseason, but there's one key difference: age. At 26, Cespedes is more major-league ready than the 19-year-old Soler. However, Soler, obviously, will have the opportunity to spend his formative baseball years under the aegis of a major-league organization, and he also boasts the higher ceiling. It's generally acknowledged that Soler is ready for High-A right now, so it's conceivable he could reach the highest level for good by late 2013. 

As for Soler's baseball skills, Baseball America's Jim Callis likens him to Royals uber-prospect Bubba Starling and suggests that, had he been eligible, Soler may have gone in the top five of last year's draft.

More from Callis: "Six-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Soler has explosive bat speed and power potential. He also has plus speed and arm strength and profiles as a classic right fielder, though he runs well enough to play center. Because of his youth, he'll need some time to develop, but he should be worth the wait."

After signing left-hander Gerardo Concepcion earlier this winter, Theo Epstein and the Cubs are obviously undaunted by the difficulties in vetting and projecting Cuban talent. Indeed, if the Soler rumors come to be realized, then this would amount to Epstein's boldest move since assuming control of the Cubs' baseball operations.  

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Posted on: March 7, 2012 2:12 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 2:14 pm
 

Highly-ranked draft prospect sprains UCL

By Matt Snyder

According to various scouting outlets like Baseball America, high school pitcher Lucas Giolito (Harvard-Westlake High School in Studio City, California) was a possibility as the No. 1 overall pick in this coming June's MLB Draft. Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that the 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher has sprained his ulnar-collateral ligament and will be out six to 10 weeks.

If a UCL of the elbow is torn, that's what requires the famed Tommy John surgery, but Giolito hasn't torn it. Still, one has to tread carefully with an injury to that ligament, because it could cost over a year and possibly alter a career if torn.

Giolito has signed to play with UCLA, but if he was taken in the top few picks of the MLB Draft he'd likely be headed straight to the pros. Now, it's anyone's guess. Jim Callis of Baseball America said Giolito "could plummet" in the draft, in the wake of this news, but it "depends on asking price."

The LA Times reports Giolito hit 100 on the radar gun twice last week. He entered the season ranked second on Baseball America's top 100 draft prospects list, behind Mark Appel of Stanford.

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Posted on: March 7, 2012 1:53 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 3:59 pm
 

Orioles haven't ruled out signing Johnny Damon

By Matt Snyder

Free agent designated hitter (well, I guess he could play outfield, too, but that's probably a stretch) Johnny Damon is still looking for work. And the Orioles have not ruled out signing the 38-year-old, CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman has learned. Of course, Heyman also reports nothing is imminent.

It's a bit surprising Damon hasn't been signed by now. He hit .261/.326/.418 with 16 homers, 29 doubles and seven triples last season. Of course, previous Heyman reports have indicated Damon's asking price has been too high. If he's desperate enough to accept a meager fee like, say, $3 million just to hit for a full season, there might be more suitors.

The lingering storyline with Damon is his pursuit of 3,000 hits. He currently has gathered 2,723 in his career. For the past three seasons, he's averaged 151 hits, so he needs two more full seasons and then he probably gets there. It can't be a secret what that number might mean. The only players to ever have 3,000 hits are either: 1. In the Hall of Fame; 2. headed there (Craig Biggio, Derek Jeter); 3. Being held out (Pete Rose due to his ban and Rafael Palmeiro due to his failed drug test). So if Damon reached 3,000, it's reasonable to believe he'd have a shot at enshrinement. If not, he's not getting in.

As for the Orioles, they don't necessarily have a hole at DH, but Damon would be an upgrade. As things currently stand, some combination of Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis and Wilson Betemit are likely to fill 1B, 3B and the DH. Nolan Reimold -- if Endy Chavez plays left field -- could also be an option.

If the Orioles do sign Damon, hopefully they'll flip him to Toronto eventually. It would be a shame to come so close to the AL East grand slam without completing it.

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Posted on: March 7, 2012 1:37 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 4:01 pm
 

Jeter weighs in on Peyton Manning leaving Indy



By Matt Snyder


In case you haven't heard -- and over here at Eye on Baseball we'll forgive you if you missed it -- long-time Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is parting ways with the only professional franchise he's ever known. [Head over to Eye on Football for full coverage]

Anyway, Manning has lots of things in common with Derek Jeter of the Yankees. In addition to having been the face of each's particular sport for a long period of time, and evidently being clones in how they watch NBA games (see above, from a 2006 Miami Heat game), the two became poster children for spending a long career with the same team. Jeter's still locked up with the Yankees for the next few years, but no more for Manning. And Jeter has weighed in:

"It's just weird. You know, it always seems like some guys should be with one team their entire career," he said of Manning's departure from Indy. (via Sweeny Murti of WFAN)

Jeter does have a good perspective on this. He's entering his 18th season with the Yankees. Jorge Posada retired this offseason after 17 years in pinstripes and Mariano Rivera is beginning his 18th campaign for the Yankees. Such a trio staying together on one team these days is very rare. It probably could only happen on the Yankees and in baseball, considering the lack of a salary cap, but it's still pretty cool those three stuck together for all those years.

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Posted on: March 7, 2012 1:01 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 1:03 pm
 

A's release statement about relocation talks



By Matt Snyder


Earlier this week, some talk surfaced that the A's would not be able to move to San Jose due to a territorial rights issue. The reports were summed up quite nicely by my new colleague Dayn Perry in this blog entry.

Wednesday, the Oakland Athletics released the following statement:
“Recent articles claiming that Major League Baseball has decided that the A’s cannot share the two-team Bay Area market were denied by baseball Commissioner Bud Selig last weekend.

Currently the Giants and A's share the two-team Bay Area market in terms of television, radio, sponsors and fans. Last year, the Giants opened a specialty store in the middle of the A's market (Walnut Creek). At the time, Lew Wolff commented that he was ‘fine with the Giants store and wished there was an A's store in San Francisco.’

Of the four two-team markets in MLB, only the Giants and A's do not share the exact same geographic boundaries. MLB-recorded minutes clearly indicate that the Giants were granted Santa Clara, subject to relocating to the city of Santa Clara. The granting of Santa Clara to the Giants was by agreement with the A’s late owner Walter Haas, who approved the request without compensation. The Giants were unable to obtain a vote to move and the return of Santa Clara to its original status was not formally accomplished.

We are not seeking a move that seeks to alter or in any manner disturb MLB territorial rights. We simply seek an approval to create a new venue that our organization and MLB fully recognizes is needed to eliminate our dependence on revenue sharing, to offer our fans and players a modern ballpark, to move over 35 miles further away from the Giants’ great venue and to establish an exciting competition between the Giants and A's.

We are hopeful that the Commissioner, the committee appointed by the Commissioner, and a vote of the MLB ownership, will enable us to join the fine array of modern and fun baseball parks that are now commonplace in Major League Baseball.”
Without coming out and specifically mentioning San Jose, the A's seem to have come out guns blazing here. They even bolded the part where they talk about moving more than 35 miles further away from the Giants, compared to where they now play. It's the lawyer way of saying, "you seriously won't let me move further away from a team because of their territorial rights?"

The A's also make great points on some of the concessions they've granted the Giants over the years. The entire release seems to be an impassioned plea to let the club move to San Jose, without coming out and saying it specifically.

It will be interesting to see how this develops, because in matters like these, we can never be sure common sense will prevail.

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Posted on: March 7, 2012 12:19 am
Edited on: March 7, 2012 4:27 pm
 

Spring primer: Los Angeles Angels

Angels
By Dayn Perry

Perhaps no team in 2012 will shoulder greater expectations than the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim). This offseason, new GM Jerry DiPoto and owner Arte Moreno shelled out more than $300 million in guaranteed monies to sign the luminous Albert Pujols and pluck C.J. Wilson from the division-rival Rangers. Add them to a team that won 86 games last season, and the Angels are certifiable pennant contenders. Anything less than a playoff berth -- especially now that there's a second wild-card berth in play -- will be a serious disappointment. 

Major additions: 1B Albert Pujols, LHP C.J. Wilson, C Chris Iannetta, RHP LaTroy Hawkins
Major departures: C Jeff Mathis, RHP Joel Pineiro

Probable lineup
1. Erick Aybar, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, 2B 
3. Albert Pujols, 1B 
4. Torii Hunter, RF 
5. Vernon Wells, LF 
6. Bobby Abreu, DH
7. Alberto Callaspo, 3B 
8. Chris Iannetta, C 
9. Peter Bourjos, CF 

Probable rotation
1. Jered Weaver
2. Dan Haren 
3. C.J. Wilson 
4. Ervin Santana 
5. Jerome Williams 

Back-end bullpen
Closer: Jordan Walden
Set-up: LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Downs, Jason Isringhausen

Important bench players
IF Maicer Izturis, 1B Kendrys Morales, 1B/OF Mark Trumbo, C Bobby Wilson

Prospect to watch: Mike Trout
To hear some analysts tell it, Trout edges out Bryce Harper and Matt Moore for the honor of top prospect in all of baseball. It's easy to understand why: Trout has more tools than a frat house. He's one of the fastest runners you'll ever see, he boasts Gold Glove-caliber skills in the outfield, and his smooth swing and pitch-recognition skills should yield high OBPs and plus  power at the​ highest level. It's no surprise, then, that Trout has thrived at almost every stop despite being much younger than his peer group. There's nothing he can't do on the diamond. 


Fantasy Sleeper: Kendrys Morales
"As if Morales' season-ending ankle fracture early in 2010 wasn't bad enough, the 28-year-old slugger then kept Fantasy owners on the hook right up until the end of spring training last year, burning some of the early drafting types for a second straight season. Needless to say, nobody is counting on Morales for much now, which means he's likely to go for next to nothing on Draft Day. So far, his work in batting practice has the Angels cautiously optimistic that he'll be ready for the start of the season. Of course, we were hearing reports just as favorable this time last year only to find out he needed a second surgery, but what are the chances of that happening again? A second surgery was surprising enough. A third would be grounds for a lawsuit. Granted, a healthy Morales would face the same playing time obstacles as Mark Trumbo, but considering Morales is the better all-around hitter, he's a better gamble in the late rounds than Trumbo is in the middle rounds." - Scott White [Full Angels team fantasy preview

Fantasy Bust: Mark Trumbo​
"It's not that Trumbo can't repeat last year's 29 homers. It's just that, given his lack of plate discipline, everything has to go just right for it to happen. And already things are going wrong. The biggest blow came when the Angels signedAlbert Pujols, leaving Trumbo without a position. He was supposed to learn third base this offseason as a creative way to keep his bat in the lineup, but a stress fracture in his foot kept him off the practice field. The Angels still might try to rotate him between DH, third base and possibly left field, but such instability often has an adverse effect on a player's batting average, which in Trumbo's case, could lead to an on-base percentage lower than any number of homers could justify. Besides, if Kendrys Morales is healthy, it's all moot anyway. Trumbo will get drafted in mixed leagues given his potential for 30-plus homers, but consdiering all the variables at work here, he could easily be a waste of a pick." - Scott White [Full Angels team fantasy preview]  

Optimistic outlook
The rotation turns out to be baseball's best. Albert Pujols rebounds from last year's "disappointing" campaign. Chris Iannetta constitutes a substantial upgrade over the mercifully departed Jeff Mathis. Mike Trout lives up to the press clippings, and what figures to be one of the top benches around helps push the Angels to the top of the AL West. Oh, and then they win the World Series. 

Pessimistic outlook
As good as the Angels are, it's not hard to envision struggles. That could happen if Pujols declines further, and they struggle to find a reliable fifth starter. The other starters are then undermined by a potentially thin setup corps. Vernon Wells struggles, and the team refuses to treat him as a sunk cost, which leaves Trout languishing in Triple-A. What else could go wrong? Kendrys Morales can't get healthy, and Mark Trumbo fails to repeat his 2011 power performance, which means the aging, worsening Bobby Abreu is without a steady platoon partner at DH. Meanwhile, the Rangers cruise to a third-straight division title. 

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Posted on: March 6, 2012 10:29 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 10:52 pm
 

Injury roundup: Hart, Longoria, Utley and more

Corey HartBy Dayn Perry

Notes on some maladies and afflictions from around baseball on Tuesday ... 

  • Rays third sacker and AL MVP candidate Evan Longoria has no idea when his injured right hand will allow him to join the lineup. He might, however, begin hitting off a tee on Wednesday. [Tampa Tribune]
  • Brewers right fielder Corey Hart was recently diagnosed with torn cartilage in his knee and on Tuesday underwent successful arthroscopic surgery this week. He'll miss three to four weeks almost certainly open the season on the DL, just as he did in 2011. [MLB.com]

  • Phillies second baseman Chase Utley still has no clear timetable for his return from chronic knee problems. 

    “We talked about him not playing for the first week or two weeks,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “We’re going to ease him into it. We know he’ll be ready when the bell rings. We just want to make sure he’s as fresh and as healthy as he can possibly be on Opening Day.” [The Zo Zone]

  • David Wright of the Mets is hampered by a ribcage injury, and he won't be able to see any Grapefruit League action until at least next week, manager Terry Collins told reporters. Wright is lifting weights and not experiencing any discomfort, but the Mets are taking a conservative approach with their third baseman. [Newark Star-Ledger]
  • Good news for the wondrously named Freddie Freeman, who was in the lineup on Tuesday well ahead of schedule. Freeman dislocated his left kneecap early in camp and was initially expected to be out for up to two weeks. 

    “I felt good,” Freeman said afterward. “I had no problems. I wasn’t even thinking about it. I’m not going to go out there if I didn’t feel like I could do it. It felt good swinging. It felt good fielding. I was able to come off the bag when holding on runners and go back just in case there was a throw back." [Atlanta Journal Constitution]

  • Nationals outfielder Michael Morse, fresh off his 31-homer breakout campaign of 2011, was a late scratch today because of a strained lat muscle. He's listed as day-to-day. [Washington Post]

  • Astros catcher Humberto Quintero will receive a cortisone shot on Wednesday and then head back to Houston to have his injured back examined. He hopes to be in the lineup on Friday against Toronto. [MLB.com]

​​​​For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feed and "like" us on Facebook.



Posted on: March 6, 2012 8:59 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 9:00 pm
 

Will the Phillies pay Cole Hamels?


Cole Hamels
By Dayn Perry

The Phillies might be progressing toward a contract extension for lefty Cole Hamels. Or both sides might be locked in a holding pattern. The Sporting News takes the former position, while Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com tweets that the latter is the case.  

Hamels, who's entering his walk year, will make $9.5 million for 2012, and, given his performance history and age (he won't turn 29 until December), he'll command a hefty contract on the market. The challenge for the Phillies is to lock him up before he gets there. 

On the other hand, while the Phillies are flush with revenues these days, they're also committed to more than $112 million in payroll spread across just 12 players for next season. As well, they're also faced with losing Shane Victorino after this season, and following the 2013 season Chase Utley and Hunter Pence are both eligible for free agency. In a related matter, it's quite possible that the Phillies are going to run up against the luxury tax threshold in the near future. That's surely going to be part of their calculus. 

Hamels's profile means he's likely going to command a contract of at least six years and at something north of $20 million per, unless, of course, the nebulous "hometown discount" comes into play. Are the Phillies willing to pay those rates and pony up for Victorino and take care of business with Utley and Pence when the time comes and perhaps pay the (luxury) tax man? Those are the difficult questions GM Ruben Amaro will soon be forced to answer. In all likelihood, everything starts with Hamels.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com