I don't know about you, but after about a month of bitter cold here in St. Louis I finally got a taste of the upper 50s, and we might just hit the 60s this week. Yes, spring is right around the corner. The snow is melting, even some of that ridiculous 10+ feet of snow in upstate New York.
But there's no snow in Arizona or Florida. And before you know it, the guys will be playing split squad games. Many players decided to join their new clubs early this season. Perhaps the Cards’ improbable run and championship crown got folks thinking, "Hey, that could be us next October. See, you don't need to win 100 games and have a $200 million dollar payroll to get there."
And so the workouts begin. Here's the latest and greatest news from around the Senior Circuit’s camps of the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues.
New York Mets - Carlos Delgado reported to camp and is reportedly going to be 100% for Opening Day following off-season surgery. That's good news for the Mets. And though their pitching staff is anchored by a seemingly ageless leader in Tom Glavine, it should be noted that the potential Hall of Famer is just 10 wins away from number 300. In his 19 years as a regular starter, he's missed double digit wins just twice, his first full season back in 1988 and his first season with the Mets in 2003. And by the way, he's made at least 25 starts in each of those 19 years. Talk about durability.
Philadelphia Phillies - Jon Lieber was the Opening Day starter for the Phils the past two seasons. With the signings of Adam Eaton, Freddy Garcia, and Jaime Moyer combined with the steady arm of Brett Myers and emergence of Cole Hamels, Lieber might just struggle to make the rotation in 2007. But don't count the veteran out, and keep a close eye on him this spring. On the hitting front, Ryan Howard might be the feature story this spring and whether he can repeat that remarkable 2006 season, but second-year Phil Aaron Rowand will definitely be an intriguing sideshow. He's a fan favorite, but the center fielder has never driven in more than 69 runs, hit more than 20 home runs just once, and has a career .279 batting average. Remember, this isn't St. Louis. It's the loving city of Philadelphia.
Florida Marlins - Chalk one up for the, um, good guys? Miguel Cabrera won an arbitration hearing earning him $7.4 million for the 2007 season when the no-salary Marlins were offering $6.7 million. Sounds like a steal to me when you compare him to other players around the league. What's ridiculous is that come Opening Day, the slugger will still just be 23 years old. And they say hitters find their prime around age 27. If that holds true for Cabrera, yikes!
Atlanta Braves - Andruw Jones reported to camp around 10 pounds lighter, and the word on the street is that he's looking to play for his big payday in 2007. You've got to love how money can motivate players in their contract years. Though former teammate Greg Maddux won number 300 and Tom Glavine has his eyes set on the same feat in 2007, John Smoltz is zeroing in on his own milestone. He's a mere seven wins away from number 200. Add that in with the 144 dominating saves he racked up through three seasons (154 in all), and you've got one impressive body of work.
Washington Nationals - Last October he was playing in the World Series and helping the Cardinals win it all. This week second baseman Ronnie Belliard signed a minor league contract with the Nationals. He's expected to make the Opening Day roster and compete with Felipe Lopez for time at second base, but go ahead and shake your head at this one. Tony Batista and former All-Star Dmitri Young also signed minor league contracts but were not invited to camp. Not that the Nationals should be too surprised by this, but it's not looking too good for one of their best hitters, Nick Johnson, who is still recovering from that broken leg he suffered at the end of last season. Their not putting a timetable on his return, but the AP is reporting he could be out until June.
St. Louis Cardinals - After being sidelined with that freakish post-concussion syndrome for awhile last season and dealing with shoulder and toe surgery this off-season, Cardinals Gold Glove center fielder Jim Edmonds will be easing into spring training like an old man dipping his toe into the swimming pool. After abusing his body flying around the outfield for so many years, getting more than 115 games out of Jimmy Edmo might just be a bonus from here on out. It'll be fun to see, though, how Edmonds ranks against the likes of Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey Jr., who will all be up for Rawlings All-Time Gold Glove team. Teammate Scott Rolen will be up for that honor, as well, and he will be taking on Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt. As for slugger Albert Pujols, the big guy reported to camp early and is apparently eager to get to work once again. He's a machine, folks.
Cincinnati Reds - Ken Griffey, Jr. finally owned up to how he broke his hand this past December: wrestling with his kids on his yacht in the Bahamas. Rough life, eh? Bottomline, Griffey is expected to be ready to go this spring. He's 37 home runs from number 600. If he could play 150 games he could reach that, but with his potential for injury, it's not likely.
Houston Astros - There are a plethora of young kids and veterans duking it out for those number four and number five spots in the Astros rotation. Two lesser-known names to keep an eye on this spring, if not later into the season, should a spot open up are Matt Albers and Paul Estrada. They're a little raw, but Albers went 10-2 with a 2.17 ERA in Double-A ball last season, and his teammate Estrada racked up 134 punchouts in just 88.2 innings.
Milwaukee Brewers - With a full season under his belt, Prince Fielder could look to have a monster year in 2007. He'll turn just 23 years of age in May, but the kid has proven he's got the goods to hit the long ball in the bigs. And if you're wondering about the closer situation in Milwaukee, that job figures to be Francisco Cordero's to lose. Derrick Turnbow will be his setup man.
Pittsburgh Pirates - The Pirates didn't really do all too much this off-season as far as pitching goes. They added Tony Armas and Shawn Chacon, who don't exactly bolster a young and still unproven rotation. And their top pitching prospect, Brad Lincoln, had to pass on workouts at camp due to elbow irritation, which is never a good sign for a pitcher.
Chicago Cubs - At first the storyline seemed like an early April Fool's joke on Cubs fans. Nope. Kerry Wood did injure himself and had to miss the first day of workouts. How? He managed to fall getting out of his hot tub and bruised his ribs. It's nothing serious, supposedly, but the saga continues. But Alfonso Soriano gave fans a boost by showing up to camp early and eager to say and do all the right things. A $136 million dollar contract will do that for a player. And Carlos Zambrano signed a nice $12.4 million contract for 2007 avoiding arbitration. The Cubs’ durable anchor and animated staff ace wanted a big contract. Considering all the cash the Tribune Company has tossed around to .500-ish pitchers Jason Marquis and Ted Lilly, can you blame him? Ah, but we all get to feel the pain of the Tribune Company's spending habits. You see, the sacred, pure ivy on the walls at the shrine known as Wrigley Field will now be desecrated with embedded Under Armour advertisements. How fitting.
Los Angeles Dodgers - Pencil him in. Derek Lowe will be starting Opening Day for year number three in a row. And much like his center field replacement in Chicago, speedster Juan Pierre reported to camp early and eager to join his new team for the 2007 season. So the battle with Rafael Furcal for that elusive leadoff spot begins. I'll take either one of them, I don't know about you.
San Diego Padres - The Bud Black era begins in San Diego. And his shortstop Khalil Greene is eager to get past his finger injury from last season and perhaps boost his career .255 batting average. On a side note, catcher Josh Bard finished the season on a nine-game hitting streak. Considering the Jimmy Rollins debate last season, what if Bard lights it up to start the 2007 season and has a chance to break Joe DiMaggio's record? Do those games count?
San Francisco Giants - Barry Bonds signed his contract after working through those all-important items like the size of his entourage that's allowed in the locker room. He even reported to camp already and is retorting to the grand jury to go ahead and investigate him. Don't worry, Barry. They will. But the big news out of the Giants camp isn't Barry Bonds, it's the other Barry. Yes, Barry Zito decided to say hello to his new teammates on the first day of workouts with a new delivery. Considering pitching is an art of refining and maintaining good mechanics, you better believe it's worth following the big money pitcher this spring.
Arizona Diamondbacks - Randy Johnson slammed the press, literally, when he got to New York, and he made sure to slam them once again when he began his second stint with the Diamondbacks. Though nothing is set in stone, it is likely Brandon Webb will be the starting pitcher come Opening Day. But will Randy Johnson be ready to go if he gets the call, or even on day two for that matter? I guess we'll find out.
Colorado Rockies - Todd Helton was the backup quarterback to Peyton Manning at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Now that Peyton Manning got his winner, could this be the season that Helton plays for one? Well, he thought he would be traded to the Boston Red Sox this off-season, but that fell through and he's unexpectedly back with Colorado. Coming off his 2006 season with a, dare I say, sub-par .302 batting average, Helton could be in line for a big comeback year, if only with a different team. But if the Rockies don't move him, it'll be interesting to see if he can bounce back to that offensive juggernaut we've come to know and love.
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