Posted on: March 5, 2012 9:34 pm

Pagan isn't Reyes, but he did learn from him

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- In a perfect world, where money was no issue, perhaps the Giants would have signed Jose Reyes to be their leadoff hitter.

But money is an issue, and the Giants are saving as much of it as they can to pay Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and the rest of their pitchers.

So Angel Pagan, who cost about $100 million less than Reyes after the Giants acquired him in a trade with the Mets, is the new leadoff man.

He's not Reyes, but he did learn from him. And he won't need to be Reyes to be a lot better than what the Giants had atop the order in 2010.

As much as the Giants' offense suffered from the loss of Buster Posey, another huge problem last year was that their leadoff men combined for a .292 on-base percentage. Only the Orioles and Nationals were worse.

Pagan has a .341 on-base percentage in 154 career games leading off for the Cubs and Mets.

"To me, Jose's one of the best leadoff hitters in the game," Pagan said Monday. "I've played with good leadoff hitters, Jose and Juan Pierre. I know what it's all about. My job is to set the table for the big boys, Pablo [Sandoval] and Buster."

But Pagan knows from playing with Reyes that a top leadoff man does more than just set the table. He knows how much the leadoff man can influence the game.

"When you have an energetic person at the top, you have that spark," Pagan said. "You want to bring that type of energy. [Reyes] injected that energy in the lineup.

"Hopefully, I can be that. I'm ready to help this team."

In the first couple of Cactus League games, manager Bruce Bochy has paired Pagan and Melky Cabrera (also acquired in a winter trade) atop the lineup. It's not clear whether they'll both stay there once Freddy Sanchez is healthy, but the plan has been for Pagan to lead off.

Bochy knows that getting the leadoff man on base is crucial if the Giants are to score more runs. They scored just 570 last year, a dropoff of 127 from the championship team of 2010.

"I think it played a critical part in our lack of run production," Bochy said. "We know we'll be more consistent with Angel and Melky.

"Plus, it's hard to imagine we won't do better with runners in scoring position."

The Giants figure they'll get the best effort possible out of Pagan and Cabrera, both of whom are entering their free-agent years.

Posted on: March 2, 2012 4:52 pm

Expanded playoffs, and what might have been

The other day, Terry Francona was saying that if the new double-wild-card playoff system had been in effect last year, he'd still be managing the Red Sox.

That may well be true. Not only that, but if the new system had been in effect the last two years, Francona's Red Sox would be on a five-year streak of making the playoffs, and would have missed out on October just once in his eight seasons in charge.

A few other what-might-have-beens:

-- The team that would have benefited the most if baseball had gone to two wild cards instead of one in 1995: The Giants. They would have made it to the play-in game in 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2009, which means they would have been in the postseason nine of the last 15 years, rather than just five.

-- The play-in game would have featured two teams from the same division a little less than a third of the time, but it would have given us an all-AL East matchup three times in the last four years. It would have been Yankees-Red Sox in both 2008 and 2010. Had that happened, would anyone have been claiming that the rivalry needed rejuvenating?

-- The second wild card wouldn't have saved the collapsing 2007 Mets, but the 2008 team would have had at least one more game.

-- The Phillies' string of consecutive postseason appearances would now be at seven years, rather than five. The Phillies would have been in the play-in game in both 2005 (against the Astros) and 2006 (against the Dodgers).

-- The Blue Jays, who haven't been to the postseason since their back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993, would have made it in 1998. And the Expos, who didn't make it to the postseason after 1981, would have been there in 1996. But even expanded playoffs wouldn't have helped the Pirates (still no playoff appearances since 1992) or the Royals (none since 1985).

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 3, 2012 1:58 pm

Harper would join short list of 19-year-olds

As CBSSports.com colleague Jon Heyman wrote, the Nationals plan to give 19-year-old Bryce Harper a real chance to make their team out of spring training.

In fact, one Nationals official told me he believes that Harper should make it, and that even though he is still learning, "he can help you win while he learns."

Besides, it's not unheard of for a 19-year-old to play in the big leagues. Mike Trout did it for 14 games with the Angels last summer. Both Uptons (B.J. and Justin) did it.

Alex Rodriguez played in the big leagues when he was still 18 years old.

But according to research through baseball-reference.com, Harper would be the first 19-year-old to break camp with a team since Felix Hernandez with the 2006 Mariners, and the first position player to do it since Andruw Jones with the 1997 Braves.

Harper will be 19 years, 172 days old when the Nationals open their season on April 5 in Chicago. King Felix (19.118 when he debuted in August 2005) was the last big leaguer that young, and Adrian Beltre (19.078 when he debuted in June 1998) was the last position player that young.

A look the 19-year-olds who have played in the big leagues since 2000:

-- Trout played 14 games with the Angels last July, hitting just .163 with a .492 OPS.

-- Justin Upton was 23 days shy of his 20th birthday when the Diamondbacks called him up in 2007.

-- Hernandez came to the big leagues to stay at age 19.

-- B.J. Upton was 18 days shy of his 20th birthday when he debuted with the Rays in August 2004.

-- Jose Reyes debuted with the Mets the day before he turned 20 in June 2003.

-- Wilson Betemit came up with the Braves as a 19-year-old in September 2001.
Posted on: January 17, 2012 12:54 pm
Edited on: January 17, 2012 2:23 pm

Hamels avoids arbitration, Lincecum doesn't

Cole Hamels signed a new contract Tuesday. Tim Lincecum didn't.

Hamels will get $15 million plus performance bonuses from the Phillies. Lincecum will exchange arbitration numbers with the Giants.

And none of that changes the big picture, because neither Hamels nor Lincecum has a new long-term contract yet.

As of now, Hamels is still eligible for free agency after the 2012 season. Lincecum is eligible after 2013.

And both can (and certainly will) continue to discuss long-term deals that will keep them off the market.

Hamels, who made $9.5 million in 2011, agreed to 2012 contract just before the deadline for arbitration-eligible players to exchange contract figures with their teams. Lincecum will go through the arbitration process, although he and the Giants can continue to work on a deal while awaiting a hearing.

According to CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman, Hamels' new deal also would pay him $100,000 if he's named the Most Valuable Player, $250,000 if he wins the Cy Young Award, $100,000 for World Series MVP and $50,000 each for LCS MVP, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger or an All-Star appearance.

Tuesday was a deadline day for some teams that have a policy of not continuing negotiations after arbitration numbers are exchanged.

Posted on: December 21, 2011 1:30 pm
Edited on: December 23, 2011 12:52 pm

Darvish is gone, but plenty of starters available

Among teams and agents with starting pitching for sale, there was some hope that the Yu Darvish decision would spur movement in a market that has been slow to develop.

That could still happen. But for now, there is still so much pitching available that it's hard to understand why any team would feel the need to panic.

The free-agent market still offers Hiroki Kuroda, Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt, among others.

On the trade market, Jair Jurrjens, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Wandy Rodriguez, Matt Garza and more are all believed by other teams to be available, albeit at what buyers still consider to be inflated prices. Even with Mat Latos already having gone to the Reds, John Danks signing an extension with the White Sox and Gio Gonzalez gone to the Nationals, it's a long list (and others such as the Mets' Jon Niese are also out there, along with longer-shot names like James Shields).

Compare that to last July 31, when the Tigers were able to trade for Doug Fister and the Indians got Ubaldo Jimenez, but many teams trying to deal for pitching found no one of real value available.

Now, the question is the high cost in prospects, at least based on what the Padres and A's got for Latos and Gonzalez. Meanwhile, the Red Sox, Marlins, Blue Jays, Royals, Tigers, Mariners, Yankees, Rockies, Orioles and others are hoping to add at least one more starter this winter.

And the market is still so fluid that one person who talked to the Red Sox this week reported back that they are "in on everybody."

In part because so many pitchers are still available, many rival officials continue to think that the Padres did very well in what they got from the Reds for Latos, who is young (24), cheap (not even arbitration-eligible yet), controllable (can't be a free agent until 2016) and talented, but also is regarded as having questionable makeup.

The Reds would no doubt argue that the price for any top pitching remains high, and for now it does.

The question is where the market goes from here, particularly with so many pitchers available.

Posted on: October 28, 2011 4:51 pm

In Game 7, home team has edge (or not)

ST. LOUIS -- You've no doubt heard by now that no road team has won a World Series Game 7 in 32 years.

The Cardinals won at home in 1982, the Royals did it in 1985, the Mets in 1986, the Twins in both 1987 and 1991, the Marlins in 1997, the Diamondbacks in 2001 and the Angels in 2002.

It's tough to win the decisive game on the road . . . except when it isn't.

There were three decisive Game 5's in the Division Series this month. Two of the three were won by the road team (Cardinals over Phillies, Tigers over Yankees).

The Rangers won a decisive Game 5 last year at Tampa Bay.

The Cardinals won Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series on the road.

In fact, over the last 10 years, there have been 18 decisive games in the postseason (Game 5 in the Division Series, Game 7 in the LCS or World Series), and the visiting team has won 11 of them.

After Game 5 three weeks ago at Yankee Stadium, Tigers manager Jim Leyland made the argument that it can actually be an advantage to be on the road, because there's more pressure on the home team (certainly true in the cases of the Yankees and Phillies), and because there are more distractions at home.

Oh, and about those eight straight road-team wins in Game 7 of the World Series?

Go back through eight more Game 7's, and it basically evens out. From 1965-79, the road team won seven out of eight Game 7's.

Posted on: September 13, 2011 3:49 pm
Edited on: September 15, 2011 2:08 pm

Baseball needs common sense on Tiger TV issue

UPDATE: On Wednesday, according to MLB, Fox TV has decided to add the Tigers-A's game to its Saturday Game of the Week lineup. The game will not be shown nationally (Rays-Red Sox and Braves-Mets are the other two games), but it will be available throughout Michigan, and also in Toledo, Ohio.

What if the Tigers clinch their first division title in 24 years and nobody can watch it?

Welcome to baseball's next possible PR headache. Let's hope it's handled better than the Mets and their hats.

Here's the issue: The Tigers enter play Tuesday with magic numbers of five (to eliminate the White Sox) and six (to eliminate the Indians). They could clinch as soon as Thursday, if they keep winning and both rivals keep losing.

But they could also clinch on Saturday, when they'll be in Oakland for a 4 p.m. ET game against the A's -- a game that falls within the Fox exclusive national window, and thus can't be televised locally.

There is precedent for baseball and the national networks allowing teams to break the exclusivity window, in special circumstances. This would seem to fit.

Fox is showing two other games (Braves-Mets, Rays-Red Sox) at 4 p.m. Saturday. They could either add the Tigers game for the Detroit market, or simply allow their Fox Sports Detroit affiliate to show it.

As of Tuesday afternoon, nothing had been worked out, but you'd think it will be by Saturday, if the game matters.

Baseball doesn't need more bad PR. It was bad enough that the Mets weren't allowed to wear the 9/11 first responders' caps, for their Sunday night game against the Cubs.

The spin since Sunday has been that this was all about uniformity, and not about marketing (baseball is selling the American flag caps that all teams wore on 9/11, with a portion of the proceeds going to the 9/11 Memorial).

Uniformity is fine, but common sense is better. And common sense says baseball erred badly on this one.

Common sense says baseball will find a way to get Saturday's game on TV in Michigan, if the Tigers have a chance to clinch that day.

This time, baseball needs common sense to prevail.

Category: MLB
Tags: Mets, Tigers
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com