Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dead Men Walking---for the Most Part

By Ross Newhan

--It has received little media attention aside from Torii Hunter's move from center field to right, but the Angels have three outfielders who have become virtually useless on defense. The Angels, at least, owe Hideki Matsui nothing beyond his $6 million contract this year, but they are obligated for $14.25 million to Bobby Abreau and Juan Rivera through 2011, and actually $15.25 million counting Abreau's 2012 buyout. In addition to what should be a troubling financial aspect to whoever is calling the shots in Anaheim--Mike Scioscia or Tony Reagins--the young player who influenced the move of Hunter to right and Abreau to left, Peter Bourgos, is off to a 5 for 41start at the plate with no guarantee he is nothing more than the second coming of Brandon Wood with more speed and a better glove. The Angels, behind the scenes, are counting heavily on Hunter's friendship with outfielder Carl Crawford to influence the potential Tampa Bay free agent to sign in Anaheim, but Crawford will be widely pursued, and Arte Moreno will be challenged to match the New York Yankees checkbook.

--On Sunday, Albert Pujols extended his own remarkable and record streak of 30 homers at the start of a career. With seven weeks to go in Pujols' 10th season, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said, "Of his three things he's most famous for, which are 30 homers, 100 RBIs and (batting) .300, (the home run total) is the least remarkable thing about Albert. He's a line drive hitter who hits 30 home runs. He hits 30 line drives that go out of the park. The most remarkable thing about him is that over 162 games, he hits .300 and drives in over 100 runs--and he does it every year." St. Louis has a $16 million option on Pujols for next year or he would shatter all free agent records. As it is, the Cardinals will be trying to extend the contract before he tests the market.

--The divorce proceedings between would-be Dodger owners Frank and Jamie McCourt have become so bizarre that Amazon is missing a bet by not offering the court filings for internet sale. As Commissioner Bud Selig watches with an incredulous eye from his Milwaukee office, the latest development, as revealed by Bill Shaikin in the L.A. Times, is that the team has been charging itself rent--$14 million this year--on Dodger Stadium property it owns. That amount is far greater than what has been paid by teams with an independent landlord. The situation--and motive--is too complicated to cover in depth here, but by deducting the rental amounts from team revenue, according to court documents, the team has amassed a surplus pool of about $24 million, and that pool has remained untapped even as the Dodgers, undermanned on the field due to the money the McCourts have been spending on lawyers, debt service and a lavish lifestyle, have reduced their opening day player payroll by about $23 million since 2008.

--As popular as it may be among New York Mets fans and other owners, the announcement by the Mets that they will not pay closer Francisco Rodriguez over the remainder or this season and not guarantee the remainder of his guaranteed three year contract has little chance of surviving an arbitrator's ruling on a grievance soon to be filed by the players union. Rodriguez had surgery Tuesday for a torn thumb ligament apparently suffered last week in an altercation with the father of his common law wife. The Mets allege Rodriguez admitted to their trainers that he suffered the season ending injury during the altercation. K-Rod is owed $11.5 million next year and $17.5 million in a 2012 option. The Mets announced that the remainder of his contract will become guaranteed again only if he makes the 25 man season opening roster next spring. There is virtually no precedent for the Mets action, and it seems inconceivable that an arbitrator would rule against the union's grievance.

--As infuriating as it may be to swallow, as much as he has blown the hold he had on the city and his team's fans, Manny Ramirez's long delayed return to the Dodgers lineup is critical if they are to make any kind of division or wild card stretch run. In 186 at bats, Ramirez is batting .317 with a .409 on base percentage, a .516 slugging percentage and a .457 on base percentage with runners in scoring position. The guy can hit--fertility drugs or not--and his intermittent appearances this season may have as much to do with Matt Kemp's statistical falloff as all of the benchings, the analysis (by coaches and media), the defense by agent Dave Stewart suggesting he may be better off with another team and his relationship with  Rhiana. The sour fact is that a healthy and focused Manny being Manny improves the whole lineup and everybody in it.          

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