Sunday, February 20, 2011

Former AL MVP looking for a job in Japan


One of baseball's most colorful and controversial figures is looking to make a comeback as a player at age 46, and his agent thinks Japan might be the place where Jose Canseco can resume his checkered career.

Nello Gamberdino, based in Chicago, represents the former major league superstar, and he has recently contacted all 12 Central and Pacific League teams, asking for a tryout for the one-time big league home run king and American League MVP.

Though it is obviously a long shot, Gamberdino thinks there is a chance some club will realize the potential of having the Canseco name in its lineup, despite the age factor, his history of using performance-enhancing substances and other off-the-field problems.

What has the agent excited is the fact Canseco played a stint last season in independent league ball with the Laredo Broncos (where he hit .385 with four homers and 13 RBIs in just 39 at-bats) and, according to Gamberdino, he went into the league out of shape but still looked good and hit some monster shots as he did regularly 15 or 20 years ago in the majors.

"He's been working out and is in great shape now," said Gamberdino, who added, "I know age is definitely an issue trying to land him somewhere, but I see where Japanese teams last season listed 16 players over the age of 40, including one (pitcher Kimiyasu Kudo of the Seibu Lions) who was 47.

"A second obstacle (in trying to get him a contract) is that people think it's a joke or publicity stunt; that he's only in it for the money, but Jose would play for free."

Gamberdino adds he wouldn't let his client play for nothing but would not be asking for a huge amount either.

Regarding the slugger's revelation of having used the banned substances and authoring a tell-all book, naming others who cheated, Gamberdino had this to say: "He took steroids and admitted so, but it's not so much what he did; rather the way he disclosed it by writing a book. Others who took steroids still enjoy playing and coaching (at a high level).

"I was not involved with him at that time and, as far as I am concerned, that is all water under the bridge. He is not taking steroids now and has not taken them in several years.

"Before deciding to take him as a client, I checked on him, and everyone with whom I talked who knew Jose said he was a great teammate; the first person to pick up a bill at a restaurant . . ."

Gamberdino has never been to Japan and never placed a player in Japan, so he does not have the contacts as do agents who have been regularly doing business with the Japanese teams. Canseco has experience playing in Japan as a member of the Major League Baseball's 1986 postseason All-Star touring team. That's when he was just breaking in with the Oakland Athletics at age 22 and was named the American League Rookie of the Year.

Gamberdino said he has sent a faxed letter to all 12 Japanese pro teams, trying to attract some interest. He had the message translated into Japanese and also sent it by regular post.

He confided that seven teams have responded, and four — Hanshin, Hiroshima, Softbank and Rakuten — said politely their foreign player rosters are full and they have no interest.

However, he said, as of Thursday, three clubs have left open the door for a possible connection, though he declined to name them. The other five teams have not responded.

Should a Central or Pacific League team decide to take a chance on Canseco, a contract would presumably have to be approved by the NPB, and there is precedent for a commissioner stepping in to dissuade a Japanese club from hiring an American player with a questionable background.

The late Steve Howe, in March of 1987, was invited to spring training by the Seibu Lions, but the former Los Angeles Dodgers star pitcher left the country after then-Japanese Commissioner Juhei Takeuchi said he would prefer Howe, suspended by Major League Baseball seven times for drug use, not play in Japan.

"There is no way we can know for sure (if Canseco can still play) unless some team gives him a chance. He would definitely put people in the seats, as attendance would skyrocket," said Gamberdino.

"He can still crush the ball and hit home runs, and it would not be a bad business decision. Work him out, and see if you don't think he can contribute as a first baseman or DH."

They are also trying the Korea Baseball Organization.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rangers Sign Brett Tomko

Veteran starting pitcher Brett Tomko has signed a minor league contract with the Rangers and has been invited to Spring Training.

Tomko, who has played for 10 teams over 13 years, has a career record of 100 wins against 102 loses with a 4.65 ERA. After determining that Scott Feldman, who is still recovering from micro-fracture surgery, won't be ready until possibly mid-season, Tomko represents added depth for the Rangers.

Tomko is the second veteran starter the Rangers have added to their roster via minor league deal, the first being 7-year vet Dave Bush.

Rangers off season in review

Major League Signings:
Arthur Rhodes, RP (1-year, $3.9 million + option year)
Brandon Webb, SP (1-year, $3 million + incentives)
Yorvit Torrealba, C (2-year, $6.25 million)
Adrian Beltre, 3B (5-year, $80 million + option year)

Minor League Signings:
Seth McClung, RP
Dave Bush, SP
Brian Barden, 2B
Endy Chavez, OF
Yhency Brazoban, RP
Zach Jackson, SP
Omar Quintanilla, UTL
Barret Loux, SP ($312K)
Kevin Cash, C

International Signings
Yoshinori Tateyama, RP (1-year + 2 option years)
Hirotoshi Onaka, OF (minor league contract)
Rougned Odor, SS ($450K, Venezuela)
Alberto Triunfel, SS ($300K, Dominican Republic)

Trades and Claims:
Mike Napoli, C/1B (acquired from Toronto)
Ryan Kelly, RHP (acquired from Oakland, assigned to Hickory)
Mason Tobin, RHP (acquired from Chicago Cubs)

Notable Losses:
Cliff Lee, SP (signed w/ Philadelphia)
Vladimir Guerrero, DH (signed w/ Baltimore)
Frank Francisco , RP (traded to Toronto)
Bengie Molina, C (free agency)
Jeff Francoeur, OF (signed w/ Kansas City)
Max Ramirez, C (designated for assignment)
Clay Rapada, RP (designated for assignment, signed by Baltimore)
Brandon McCarthy (signed w/ Oakland)
Guillermo Moscoso (traded to Oakland)
Dustin Nippert (free agency)
Warner Madrigal (signed w/ New York Yankees)
Cristian Guzman (free agency)
Rich Harden (signed w/ Oakland)
Jorge Cantu (signed w/San Diego)
Nathan Haynes (outright release)
Doug Mathis, SP (signed w/ Cleveland)
Willie Eyre, RP (signed w/ Oakland)

Summary: After making their first ever World Series appearance, Texas now goes from being the hunter to the hunted. However, despite the losses of All-Stars Cliff Lee and Vladimir Guerrero, and reliever Frank Francisco, the Rangers will begin 2011 an improved roster over what they had Opening Day 2010.

'Depth' seems to be the key word for this off season as Texas has made several moves to give themselves greater flexibility with both their lineup and their pitching staff. The acquisition of multi-dimensional player Mike Napoli (C/1B/DH) and the free agent signing of All-Star 3B Adrian Beltre allows Texas to make All-Star (and current unhappy camper) Michael Young their primary DH and 'Super-Sub' player. Assuming Young isn't traded (which has gone from being imminent to unlikely) Texas is hoping to give him time at every position around the infield. Underrated player Andres Blanco adds to the depth as he not only plays 2B & SS, but spent some time at both Catcher and OF during Winter League play.

Also of note is the loss of hitting instructor Clint Hurdle, who helped steer the offense to a league leading .276 batting average. Hurdle left after just one season to fill the vacant managerial job in Pittsburgh. He was replaced by former big leaguer Thad Bosley. Despite the change, Texas is going to hit the ball, that's a given. There's far too much talent on the roster to expect otherwise. What is in question is what the change in philosophy, if any, will mean for the offense overall.

Cliff Lee going back to Philadelphia definitely hurt the Rangers rotation but it was far from a surprise. Texas wasted no time in at least trying to rebuild their rotation, signing former NL Cy Young winner Brandon Webb. Webb is an unknown quantity, coming off two years of arm troubles but Texas is hopeful a 1-year deal coupled with a healthy arm will produce a good year from the former ace. The Rangers also signed righty Dave Bush to a minor league deal with the belief that he can provide some back of the rotation depth should young guys like Derek Holland and Michael Kirkman come up short.

Texas is also counting on yet another 40-year old reliever to stabilize their bullpen. Last season, old man Darren Oliver had a nice season, posting a 2.48 ERA in 64 appearances. However, Oliver wore down as the season went on and was largely ineffective throughout most of the playoffs. The signing of fellow 40+ left-hander Arthur Rhodes is expected to take some of the pressure off Oliver and keep him fresh for the entire season. Rhodes, who made the All-Star team last season for the Reds, is a 19-year veteran and has extensive playoff experience. Texas also added sidewinding Japanese pitcher Yoshinori Tateyama and traded for a live arm in Mason Tobin. Both pitchers are expected to at least make a push for a spot in the bullpen.

Lastly, Texas made a couple of moves with an eye towards the future, signing former 1st round draft pick Barrett Loux along with a pair of athletic shortstops, Rougned Odor and Alberto Triunfel. Pitching, defense and speed continue to be the focus not only at the Major League level, but in the Minor League and Developmental levels as well.

Most people will point to the loss of Cliff Lee as something that pushes Texas out of the upper echelon in the AL, but this sort of thinking is short-sighted and exactly the sort of thing the Rangers can use to make yet another run to the World Series. Losing Lee hurts. He was unquestionably 'the man' in the playoffs, and without him Texas never would have made it to the World Series. However, Texas was far was inept prior to Lee's arrival. Fact is, Texas had a better regular season record without Lee (50-36), than with him (40-36). Moving forward, there's no reason to believe 2010 breakout stars C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis can't continue to make strides and carry the rotation, at least until Jon Daniels and Co. are able to make a deal for another arm. If they pitch as expected, and if players like Tommy Hunter can continue to grow, the Rangers should once again find themselves in the hunt for another AL West title with an eye towards another run at the World Series.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Taking A Look At The Competition, Pt. 1

Despite financial limitations, the Oakland A's have been one of the busiest teams this off season. After finishing 81-81 (2nd in the AL West), Oakland set out to improve the one area where they have had a glaring weakness: their offense.

However, after missing out on the big name free agent bats of Lance Berkman (signed w/ St. Louis) and Adrian Beltre (signed w/ Texas), Oakland decided to make their areas of strength, stronger. Over the last couple of days, Oakland has added two legitimate arms, signing a pair of relievers in Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes.

Balfour, a 7-year veteran, was outstanding two of the last three years in Tampa, compiling a 1.54 ERA in 2008 and 2.28 ERA in 2010. The righty also has playoff experience, having pitched in 5 different series and registering an ERA of 3.60.

Fuentes (4-time All-Star) could be an even bigger signing for Oakland. Since 2005, the left-hander has recorded 183 saves while putting up a 3.14 ERA. While he will not be the primary closer in Oakland, he will no doubt get his chances to close out a good many of their games.

The addition of Fuentes and Balfour to a bullpen which already includes the likes of Brad Ziegler (2.51 ERA in 3 seasons), Craig Breslow (2.87 ERA in 5 seasons), Michael Wuertz (9.7 K/9 over 7 seasons), and Andrew Bailey (2-time All-Star, 51 saves, 1.70 ERA in 2 seasons) means, that at least on paper, Oakland will go into the season with the strongest bullpen in baseball.
Their starting pitching appears to be every bit as talented as the bullpen. Oakland goes into Spring Training with 4 of their 5 rotation spots all but locked up, all by pitchers 26 years old or younger. The staff will be led by Gio Gonzalez (15 wins, 3.23 ERA) and Trevor Cahill (18 wins, 2.97 ERA), followed by Brett Anderson (2.80 ERA) and Dallas Braden (3.50 ERA). The 5th spot in the rotation could go to one of two former Rangers, Brandon McCarthy or Rich Harden. McCarthy, a pitcher with tons of talent, has yet to remain healthy enough to ever realize his full potential. Harden had a couple of nice seasons with Oakland in '04 and '05, but has spent much of the last 5 years on the disabled list.

Offensively, there remains several question marks. While Oakland was able to add David DeJesus (.289 BA in 8 seasons w/ Kansas City), Josh Willingham (102 HR in 5 seasons) and Hideki Matsui (21 HR, 84 RBI in 2010 w/ L.A. Angels), they traded away Rajai Davis (50 steals in 2010) and lost Jack Cust (97 HR, 300 RBI in 4 seasons) to free agency. To me, I don't see where much of any improvement was made with these additions when you factor in what they lost. No doubt the A's are hoping young players like Shortstop Cliff Pennington (.250 BA, 29 steals) and Chris Carter (123 HR, 406 RBI in 4 Minor League seasons) take the next step in their progression. They will also need veterans like Coco Crisp (32 steals) and Kurt Suzuki (13 HR, 71 RBI) to continue to produce if they are have any chance in the AL West. As it stands, Oakland may well show slight improvement offensively but will likely be looking to add another bat at some point during the season.

Overall, Oakland should be able to best their 81 wins of 2010. Their pitching should be top notch, they have a lineup filled with guys who know how to do the little things, and the additions of Matsui and Willingham should provide the team a little more pop in the middle of the order.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hall of Fame Votes Are In

Former Rangers pitcher Bert Blyleven, after 14 years spent on the ballot, has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Blyleven, who played parts of 2 seasons in Texas is a two-time World Champion and winner of 287 games, received 79.7% of the vote. Over the years, much has been made of Blyleven's 250 losses but one has to take into account the fact that nearly 30% of those were by one run. During the pitcher's 22 seasons, Blyleven played for the Twins, Pirates, Rangers, Indians & Angels.

Rafael Palmeiro made his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot and was greatly affected by his failing of a steroid test during his final season in 2005. Palmeiro famously pointed his finger at members of Congress during that same season and denied using steroids. The 20-year veteran retired with 569 homers and 3,020 hits, only the fourth player in history to amass more than 500 homers and 3,000 hits. The others are Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray, all of whom are in the Hall of Fame. Palmeiro received just 11% of the vote.

Juan Gonzalez is perhaps the hardest pill to swallow for Rangers fans with regards to the steroid era. Gonzo never failed a drug test but has long been suspected of such dealings. This is truly sad as he put up some unbelievable numbers over the course of his injury-plagued career. Gonzalez retired with 434 home runs and 1404 runs batted in, hitting a lifetime .295. His numbers are truncated by the fact he missed almost 4 full seasons during his 17 year career. Gonzalez, a 2-time MVP and 6-time Silver Slugger received just 5.2% of the vote.

Other former Rangers on the HoF ballot were DH Harold Baines and pitcher Kevin Brown. Baines, a 6-time All-star played parts of 2 seasons in Texas and retired with 2,866 hits. He received 4.8% of the vote. Kevin Brown, also a 6-time All-star, won 211 career games (78 wins in Texas) and won a World Title with Florida in 1997. Brown received 2.1% of the vote. With less than 5% of the vote, neither player will be included on future HoF ballots.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Beltre deal is done

The great T.R. Sullivan is reporting that it's all over but the shouting in regards to the Adrian Beltre deal. The latest is that Beltre arrived in Texas late this afternoon to undergo his physical in preparation for an announcement of his signing tomorrow evening.

Beltre's agent and baseball anti-Christ, Scott Boras, also arrived in Texas and will hammer out the final details of the contract on Wednesday.

Welcome to Texas, Adrian. You've got your money, now don't go disappearing on us like you did in Seattle.

Michael Young open to change

One of the biggest hurdles facing Texas with regards to any deal concerning Adrian Beltre is, what do you do with Michael Young?

In 2004, Young was asked to move from second base to short stop to make way for Alfonso Soriano. He did so without complaint, even winning a Gold Glove at the position. However in 2009, after his range dwindled to nothing, Young was asked to move to third base to make room for Elvis Andrus. At that time, Young demanded a trade. Texas explored those possibilities at that time, determining that Young's contract was such that his trade value was virtually nonexistent. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and Young remained a Ranger.

Now, Young is again being asked to make a move, but this time there's a little more gray area involved. Young is apparently being asked to become a super-sub player, meaning he would apparently become the team's primary DH, while spelling Moreland, Kinsler, Beltre & Andrus around the infield. Honestly, this is the perfect fit for Young and something I've been begging for since the end of the 2009 season. As a super-sub, Young's deficiencies with the glove can be better hidden, allowing him to make his hay with his bat. In an earlier post I noted that Yong is a lifetime .388 hitter when hitting as the Designated Hitter.

Young, initially skeptical of the move, has apparently come around on the idea (or, is at the very least saying all the right things) and has said he'll do whatever most helps the team win.

"Obviously, I know my first preference," Young told T.R. Sullivan of "If I have to take on a certain role to make the team better and I still get my 700 at-bats, be a productive player and play in a place I want to play, I'd be willing to do that."

Assuming this deal with Beltre gets done (rumored to be either a 5 or 6 year deal), it becomes highly likely that Vlad Guerrero's days in a Rangers uniform would end after just one season. Texas has been trying to sign the slugger but are not willing to go beyond a 1-year offer. Vlad is rumored to be seeking at least a 2-year deal.