Posted on: February 23, 2012 11:22 pm

Will La Russa return to baseball as a GM?

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Just a few months back, Tony La Russa retired.

Now he's thinking about his next job.

La Russa's visit to the Tigers spring training camp this week gave him a chance to spend time with close friend Jim Leyland, the Tigers manager. But La Russa planned the trip just as much so he could learn from Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers general manager.

His next job, the 67-year-old La Russa figures, could be as a GM.

"I might get a shot," La Russa said Thursday.

If that shot comes, La Russa wants to be prepared. Thursday, when Dombrowski came off the field after the Tigers' workout, La Russa headed to the Tiger GM's office to talk.

La Russa and Dombrowski go way back together, back to when La Russa was the White Sox manager in the 1980s, when Dombrowski worked in the White Sox's front office in his first job in baseball.

La Russa said he also plans to talk to Reds GM Walt Jocketty, who he knows well from their time together with the Cardinals. But La Russa said that out of respect to the Cardinals, who play in the same division as the Reds, he won't be helping out the Reds this spring.

With the Tigers in the American League, there's no such conflict here. But La Russa's visit was based as much on allowing him to learn as it was on anything he could do for the Tigers.

"If I get a shot [as a GM], I want to be prepared," he said.
Posted on: February 23, 2012 6:31 pm

Don't believe Braun now? Sorry, can't help you

So you still don't believe Ryan Braun?

Sorry, I can't help you.

So you're now claiming that the process is rigged, or that baseball didn't really want Braun suspended?

Sorry, can't help you.

Go ahead and tell me that it's "corrupt," as one Twitter follower wrote after Thursday's decision was announced in Braun's favor. Go ahead and call him a "coward," as another tweeter said.

Sorry, can't help you, because in that case you're not interested in justice.

And as for the idea that one not-guilty verdict taints other positive tests, seriously? When one criminal trial ends with not-guilty, do we empty the jails because every other conviction must be wrong, too?

If baseball or any other sport is going to have a drug-testing system, there needs to be a way for a player to appeal a positive test. If there's going to be an appeal process, it needs to be fair enough that if the player makes a legitimate case that the test was flawed, he gets off.

Ryan Braun's people made that case, and an independent arbitrator agreed with them, with his vote swinging a 2-to-1 decision on a three-man panel that also included a representative from the commissioner's office and one from the players' union.

That's an independent arbitrator, independent enough that MLB quickly issued a statement saying it "vehemently disagrees" with the decision.

Braun's people made the case that the chain of custody was a problem, that the sample wasn't sent for 48 hours after Braun took the test. They made the case with the help, no doubt, from an abnormally-spiked testosterone level in the test in question, and in a clean test that Braun took after the first result came back positive.

It's a tough case to prove, and that's why when the news of Braun's failed test first surfaced in December, the strong assumption was that his appeal had little chance of success. No one had ever successfully overturned a suspension before.

But if there never was going to be a first one to succeed, why have the appeal process at all? And if you're not going to have an appeal process, well, you explain to me how that's fair.

What's unfair right now is that news of the Braun positive test got out in the first place, and that it unfairly taints his reputation. You see now why the players insisted on confidentiality, with a suspension only announced after the appeal process was complete.

In all cases before this one, the news never did get out before the appeal.

So how should we look at Ryan Braun now?

With sympathy, I'd say. A flawed test is useless as proof of anything, so unless he fails a test where there is no question about the method or the chain of custody, he's as innocent as any other player in the game today.

Does this mean that MLB is clean? No. Does it mean that MLB won't take on its biggest stars? Definitely not.

Does it mean that Ryan Braun is absolutely clean? There's absolutely no way to know that, just as there's no way to know it with certainty about any player.

But with this verdict, he gets as much the benefit of the doubt as anyone else.

So what does this mean, then?

It means that the system works.

If you can't accept an independent arbitrator ruling in Braun's favor, then what exactly would you accept?

If the answer is nothing, then I go back to the start.

Sorry, can't help you.

Category: MLB
Posted on: February 22, 2012 5:05 pm

Zambrano with Marlins: 'Happy to be here'

JUPITER, Fla. -- Carlos Zambrano kept coming back to the same thing.

"I'm just happy to be here," Zambrano said, on his first day of work with the Marlins. "I'm just happy."

Zambrano's first day of spring was certainly less eventful than it would have been had he remained with the Cubs, where he would have had to answer to teammates and to others about his troubled Cubs career, including his outburst and "retirement" last August. With the January trade that sent Zambrano to the Marlins, the Cubs became part of his past, although not a forgotten part.

"I do apologize for all the things, but in my head and in my heart, I wanted to do good," Zambrano said. "They're good fans there. They deserve a championship in Chicago."

Zambrano said he's happy with the Marlins because Miami is closer to his native Venezuela, and because of the city's large Latin American population.

He's also close with manager Ozzie Guillen.

"If there was anybody who could keep him on the right track, I think it would be Ozzie," new teammate Mark Buehrle said Wednesday.

For now, there's no work to do.

For now, Zambrano is just happy to be here.
Category: MLB
Posted on: February 22, 2012 4:48 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 4:19 pm

Interest in Marlins is up, and ticket sales . . .

JUPITER, Fla. -- The new Marlins attracted a big media turnout for their first workout Wednesday . . . and only a few fans.

Will the regular season be the same?

Club president David Samson said Wednesday that the team expects to have sold around 15,000 season tickets by the time they officially open their new ballpark on April 4 against the Cardinals.

"That's a record for us," Samson said. "That's what we've been budgeting."

Is it enough to prove that fans will show up, now that the Marlins are in a ballpark that is built for baseball, has a roof to guard against the rain and the heat and is, by all reports, beautiful? While 15,000 season tickets isn't bad, executives from other teams say it would only put the Marlins in the middle of the pack among major-league teams, and probably translates to about 2.6 million or so in full-season attendance -- and that's assuming they have a good year.

The fact is that there's still plenty of skepticism around the game, skepticism that will be erased only if the Marlins draw well this year and into the future in the new park.

As Samson rightly pointed out, even 15,000 season tickets represent nearly half the seats in the new park, which has a capacity of around 36,000. It could be enough to push demand, while also leaving enough seats available for single-game sales.

But other executives say that 15,000 is a lower number than they expected to hear, given the Marlins' offseason push, and factoring in the new park.

Interest in the team is obviously up, and up significantly.

Is it up enough? Later this summer, maybe we'll know.

Category: MLB
Tags: Marlins
Posted on: February 21, 2012 1:50 pm

With 30 pitches, Santana hands Mets some hope

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- We still have no idea at all what Johan Santana can mean to the Mets this season.

But it sure is easy to see what he means to them this spring.

Simply by taking the mound, even for a 30-pitch bullpen session, Santana provides a hint of hope to a team that so often seems hopeless. Every day he shows up and his left shoulder doesn't hurt, the Mets can point to him and say, "See, here's something that could go right."

Because the perception of the Mets right now is that everything goes wrong.

So when manager Terry Collins opened camp Tuesday morning by declaring, "We're better than people think we are," it sure helped that the next thing we saw was Santana making his second bullpen appearance of the spring.

In case anyone missed it, Collins helped with emphasis, turning to say, "That's filthy," after one Santana changeup.

"That's not bad," he told the left-hander when it over. "That's not a bad day."

For the Mets, that qualifies as a major success.

For a manager trying to sell hope, there's no better evidence than a two-time Cy Young winner who missed all of last season taking the mound and giving a hint that this year he'll be able to pitch.

You can't blame Collins for getting perhaps a little over-optimistic, declaring Tuesday that he believes Santana will be ready for opening day, and that "I don't think there's any question."

You can't blame Collins for saying that he's hopeful Santana can make at least 25 starts this season.

"If he gives us 25-28 starts, we'll be a lot better."

Honestly, the Mets would settle now for an assurance that Santana will be able to take the mound for one regular-season start, and go from there. Honestly, even if and when he does start a game, they don't know if he'll be the same pitcher who has a 3.10 career ERA over 11 big-league seasons.

This isn't Adam Wainwright, who also missed all of 2011 but had the relatively predictable Tommy John elbow surgery. Santana, who turns 33 next month, is coming back from surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his shoulder. History provides few examples of pitchers making successful returns.

For now, Santana says he's able to do all his work with no trouble.

"The ball was coming out of my hand pretty good," he said after Tuesday's session.

But even he knows that 30 pitches in February tell you little about where he'll be in April and beyond.

"The key is how I recover, from one game to another," he said. "I'm approaching everything one day at a time."

Told that Collins mentioned 25-28 starts, Santana said simply: "It would be great if that happened. I've got to get my first out of the way."

It's worth remembering that Santana did get on the mound last summer, and even made two minor-league starts. What he's doing now is only a big deal if he can carry it through to when spring training games begin in two weeks, and then to real games in April.

And what if he does?

The Mets would still face an uphill battle in an ever-improving National League East. Even a totally healthy Santana wouldn't turn the Mets into favorites, or even into contenders.

But for an organization that desperately needs to change the story, Santana is the guy with the best chance to help do it.

Collins is trying.

"I don't want people to think for one second that there are no expectations," he said. "There are expectations. We're going to compete. . . . We're going to play to play in the postseason."

Realistic or not, it's better to say that in February than to state the obvious, which is that they sure look overmatched.

Any day Santana gets to the mound, even for a 30-pitch bullpen session, Collins and the Mets can sell a little hope.

And even if Santana on the mound in February doesn't tell us whether Santana will be on the mound in April, it's better than the alternative.

Too often in recent days, the Mets have seen the alternative.
Category: MLB
Posted on: February 20, 2012 3:04 pm
Edited on: February 20, 2012 3:13 pm

How Albert Pujols can help the 2012 Cardinals

JUPITER, Fla. -- In the oddest of ways, perhaps Albert Pujols is helping the Cardinals this spring.

His presence is felt . . . because of his absence.

Let me explain.

Because Pujols is gone -- and because Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan are also gone -- the Cardinals have a strong sense that they're now being doubted. And a strong sense that they're the rare defending champions who come to camp with something to prove.

Instead of listening to everyone tell them how good they are, the Cardinals have listened to everyone ask about what they've lost.

If they win this year, it won't be because they had Albert or Tony.

"They want to make their own statement," general manager John Mozeliak said Monday.

"I see a lot of chips on shoulders that I didn't think I'd see," new manager Mike Matheny said. "And that's a beautiful thing."

Matheny said later that he didn't equate those chips simply to Pujols' departure, but it's easy to see that it plays into it.

Just in the first two days of camp, it seems that half the Cardinals players have felt compelled to say, "We have a good team," something that is normally just accepted with a defending champion.

"Not that they take offense, but they think they're not chopped liver," Matheny said.

The Cardinals certainly appreciate what Pujols meant to them, and they say they wish him well with the Angels. A few said they have kept in touch with Pujols.

"We're still good friends," pitcher Kyle McClellan said. "We've exchanged texts. I hope he goes there and has as good a next 10 years as he had here."

If Cardinals fans have come to resent Pujols for his decision to leave, that sentiment seems absent (or at least unspoken) within the Cardinal clubhouse.

"We know what he meant to this team, this organization," Skip Schumaker said. "But we have to move on. I'll keep up with him, because he's a friend. But we've still got a pretty darned good chance to win."

They do have a good chance to win. It feels funny that we even need to say that about a team that won the World Series, then lost one big star but added in Carlos Beltran and has added back Adam Wainwright, who missed 2011 after Tommy John surgery.

But that's what Pujols has given the 2012 Cardinals. He's given them a defense against complacency.

"There is none," Mozeliak said.

No complacency here. And the Cardinals can thank Albert (and Tony) for that.

Posted on: February 19, 2012 6:05 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2012 11:42 pm

Anniversary approaching, Wainwright feels great

JUPITER, Fla. -- Tuesday is the anniversary of the day Adam Wainwright's 2011 season ended with an elbow injury.

"I'll celebrate it," Wainwright said Sunday. "Maybe strike out a few guys."

If the rest of Wainwright's 2012 spring is as smooth and happy as the start of it was, the Cardinals will celebrate, because the guy who finished second in the 2010 National League Cy Young voting (after finishing third in 2009) now says that Tommy John surgery was only "a speed bump in my career."

Wainwright has been throwing every third day for more than a month now, so his bullpen session on the first official day of spring training wasn't exactly a revelation. It was, however, a reminder of how far he has come, and how quickly it has all happened.

He was hurt on Feb. 21. He had surgery a week later.

Now, when you ask how good he feels, he says, "I'm reluctant to talk about it, because it feels so good."

Now, he says, "I go home at night not thinking about icing. I'm thinking about what time American Idol's coming on."

The Cardinals have suggested that they may need to limit Wainwright's innings this year. He said Sunday that he doesn't believe in that.

"I refuse to put a limit on innings," he said. "What if I have 185-190 innings going into September? I can't pitch the rest of the season?"

The first step, though, is to get past Feb. 21.

Category: MLB
Posted on: February 19, 2012 5:43 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2012 11:42 pm

Cardinals, Molina stop talking deal -- "for now"

JUPITER, Fla. -- When Albert Pujols arrived at spring training last year, negotiations on a new contract were over. And, as it turned out, Pujols was on the way out of town.

Sunday, Yadier Molina opened Cardinals camp by saying his contract negotiations with the team had ended.

For now, the free-agent-to-be catcher then added.

For now.

Unlike his good friend Pujols, Molina has not ruled out reopening negotiations, during the spring or possibly during the season.

"They know I'm open to talk," Molina said Sunday, after confirming that this month's talks ended with no agreement.

It's hard to know for sure how likely the Cardinals and Molina are to get a deal done. The catcher, who turns 30 in July, will make $7 million this year, on the option year of a contract signed in 2008.

Molina says he loves St. Louis and the Cardinals organization, but he wouldn't say that he'd be willing to take less money to do it.

"I'd like to work something out to try to stay," he said. "At the same time, this is a business."

Likewise, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak didn't exactly say that re-signing Molina was on his must-do list.

"Our desire would be to find a way to sign him," Mozeliak said.

That way will have to wait. How long? It's hard to say.

"We've stopped talking," Molina said. "For now, we've stopped talking."

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