Posted on: March 3, 2012 2:06 pm

With free agency approaching, Hamels is popular

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The fans in Phillies red cheered Cole Hamels Saturday.

And . . .

"The Yankee fans were really nice to me, for some odd reason," Hamels said after his two-inning spring debut. "Maybe they were having fun in the Tiki Bar."

Or maybe they were aware that Hamels is eligible for free agency next winter.

If the Yankees stick to their talk about getting their payroll under $189 million, a big Hamels contract wouldn't fit. Besides, as CBSSports.com colleague Jon Heyman wrote a couple of weeks back, the smart money says that Hamels eventually signs a new deal to stay with the Phillies.

Until he signs, though, fans in other cities can dream. They can tell him how much they want him, too.

"Fans prepare," Hamels said. "They know when things are coming up. When I was playing with Cliff [Lee] in 2009, I saw it all the time."

Category: MLB
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 17, 2012 1:49 pm

$69.5 million for 1 win? Yankees will take it

Is $69.5 million too much to pay for one win?

Not necessarily.

What if without that one win, you don't win the World Series? And with it, you do?

I asked basically that question, boiled down to 140 characters, on Twitter Friday morning. And Yankee fans overwhelmingly answered that yes, the ridiculous amount of money they spent on A.J. Burnett was worth it.

And I agree.

The maddeningly inconsistent Burnett was more bad than good in his three years in the Bronx. His ERA for the three years (4.79) is the highest in Yankee history for anyone allowed to make 80 or more career starts.

And while I'll agree that win-loss records don't tell the entire story about starting pitchers, Burnett's 34-35 Yankee record (for a team that was 104 games over .500 during that span) tells a lot.

His postseason numbers (2-2, 5.08 in seven starts) are really no better, and the Yankees' reluctance to allow him to start in the playoffs is more telling than anything else.

But about that one win . . .

It came in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series, against the defending champ Phillies. Without it, the Yankees go down two games to none, heading to Citizens Bank Park for Games 3, 4 and 5.

Without it, you could easily argue that the Yankees don't win in 2009, and that they go into spring training this year still having won no World Series since 2000.

Burnett pitched well that night, and he had to. He allowed just one run on four hits in seven innings, with nine strikeouts, and handed the ball directly to Mariano Rivera, which is the formula for success for any Yankee starter. Here's the column I wrote on Burnett that night.

It was a shock to many, including the Phillies.

"He never got outside of himself," Jimmy Rollins said that night. "That's very untypical of A.J."

Burnett had other good games as a Yankee, but you could argue for the rest of his New York career, he was no better (and often worse) than any pitcher the Yankees could have signed for a lot less than $82.5 million for five years.

Or $69.5 million for three years, since the Pirates have agreed to pay Burnett $13 million in exchange for taking him off the Yankees' hands.

The Pirates originally hoped to do the deal for just $10 million, leaving the Yankees on the hook to Burnett for $72.5 million.

Apparently, they decided that was too much for one win. But $69.5 million wasn't.
Posted on: February 10, 2012 1:29 pm

Even if he's cheap, scouts don't want A.J.

In three years with the Yankees, A.J. Burnett has made $49.5 million and has put up the highest ERA (4.79) for any pitcher in franchise history with 80 or more starts.

Of the 41 big-league pitchers who have made 90 starts over the last three seasons, Burnett has the highest ERA.

It's not hard to figure out why the Yankees are desperate to dump him, especially after adding Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda to their rotation.

A.J. Burnett also had four starts last year where he went at least seven innings and allowed no more than three hits. The entire Pirates rotation had three, two of them by the since-departed Paul Maholm.

It's not crazy to think that Burnett could help them, is it, especially if the Yankees are paying most of the $33 million remaining on his contract?

That's what I thought, after reading CBSSports.com colleague Jon Heyman's Friday morning assessment of the Yankees-Pirates trade talks.

Then I talked to three scouts who follow the American League East closely.

Not one of the three was enthusiastic about getting Burnett, even at low cost.

"If this guy goes to a club that doesn't contend, he might really go in the tank," one said. "The Yankees might even be getting more out of him than another team would."

"No way," said another. "That personality does not fit in the [Pirates] organization. The stuff is good enough to take a chance on, but he is what he is."

I tried all the usual arguments, that Burnett would be going from the American League East to the National League Central, that he would be going from the high-pressure Yankees to the low-pressure Pirates, that the Pirates' current rotation doesn't exactly include world-beaters, and that you have to take Burnett's $16.5 million a year salary out of the equation, because the Pirates would only be paying a fraction of it.

The consensus was still no, don't want him.

Would you?

Category: MLB
Posted on: January 25, 2012 4:49 pm

Cespedes is a free agent, and bidding can begin

The bidding for Yoenis Cespedes can finally begin.

The 26-year-old Cuban outfielder has established residency in the Dominican Republic, and Major League Baseball told teams on Wednesday that he is now officially a free agent.

But where will he go, how much will he cost, and how fast could he make an impact?

First, the where: Cespedes himself told reporters in the Dominican that the Cubs have shown the most interest in him, with the Marlins, Tigers, White Sox and Orioles also involved. The Nationals have also shown interest in Cespedes, and the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies scouted him, although it's believed that none of the three will be among the top bidders.

The Marlins have made no secret of their interest, but according to sources, Cespedes has told other teams that he would prefer not to play in Miami. He plans to make his home in the Dominican, rather than in Florida, and may believe that the huge Cuban community in South Florida would add too much pressure and too many distractions.

The Tigers have long been interested, with general manager Dave Dombrowski making a surprising trip to the Dominican Republic to see Cespedes for himself. But Detroit's resources for signing Cespedes could be more limited after signing Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million contract.

How much will Cespedes cost? No one seems to know for sure, but many teams have been in contact with agent Adam Katz, and it seems clear that he'll get more than the $30 million that the Reds paid for Aroldis Chapman.

How fast does he make an impact? Several of the teams that have scouted Cespedes heavily believe that he would be best served by beginning 2012 in the minor leagues. Given his age and the amount of money he'll likely cost, there will be pressure to move him to the big leagues fast, however.

Cespedes is described by those who like him as a Bo Jackson type, with an unusual combination of speed and power.

Cespedes may not have helped his value by playing briefly and ineffectively in the Dominican winter league, but he may have had other motives for playing for Aguilas. It's believed that people involved with the team also have ties to the Dominican government, and that Cespedes' decision to play may have sped up the process of establishing residency.

In any case, that process is complete, and Cespedes is a free agent.

And the bidding can begin.
Posted on: January 23, 2012 12:22 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2012 12:30 pm

Posada's Yankee career defined by wins and rings

The Yankees sent out a whole bunch of lists and numbers Monday, ahead of Tuesday's Jorge Posada retirement press conference.

The numbers are impressive (more doubles than Mickey Mantle, more home runs than Don Mattingly), and I'm sure we'll spend more time dissecting them in five years, when Posada shows up on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time.

I'm more impressed by the wins and the rings.

I'm more impressed that through the better part of 17 years, Posada was catching regularly for a team that won championships. The Yankees won four World Series with him behind the plate, and they went 65-41 in postseason games that he started (a .613 winning percentage that would translate to 99 wins over 162 games).

Posada was rarely if ever considered the best catcher in the game. He started just two All-Star Games. Scouts (and some pitchers, writers and club executives) complained regularly about his defense, especially in his later years.

But somehow, the Yankees kept deciding he was their best option. Somehow, with Posada behind the plate, they kept winning.

His final season was a strange one, with the Yankees' never-fully-explained insistence that he could not catch under any circumstances, to the odd night when he removed himself from the lineup before a game against the Red Sox.

Then there was this winter, when the Yankees let him know they had no room for him, and Posada briefly entertained the idea of trying to play for another team.

And now he'll make his retirement official, at age 40, leaving the Yankees without ever playing for anyone else.

Fans complain often that players move around too much in modern baseball, that "you'll never see" stars staying with the same team for an entire career. But the fact is that you do see it, and the fact is that many players do end up feeling a sense of loyalty that makes it tough to ever leave the one organization they've known.

I remember Alan Trammell wrestling with it in his final years with the Tigers, and finally deciding that he couldn't see himself playing elsewhere.

Now we have Posada, who is sure to be joined by Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera as lifetime Yankees who never wore another uniform.

Posada will be defined by that, by his part in one of the best eras in the history of baseball's most successful franchise. He'll be defined by his part in it, by the championships he helped win.

I'm not ready to decide yet whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame. I am ready to say that he leaves with a distinguished place in Yankee history.

Category: MLB
Posted on: December 23, 2011 5:40 pm
Edited on: December 23, 2011 5:41 pm

Yankees, Red Sox may not bid high on Cespedes

While the market for Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is unpredictable, the word this week is that neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox plan to be heavily involved.

The two baseball superpowers have both followed Cespedes carefully, and some in the Yankee front office want him badly. But the decision this week, according to sources, was that Cespedes is too raw a talent to justify the price, and may not be suited to playing in a big market, anyway. While the Yankees are not out on Cespedes, the plan as of now is to treat him the way they treated Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, making a modest bid that is unlikely to be successful.

The Red Sox are said to have similar concerns.

People familiar with the international market say that there is also a divide on Cespedes in the Marlins' front office, and that it's not a given that the team will go after him hard. Also, Cespedes has told people that he plans to make his permanent home in the Dominican Republic, rather than in Miami, and may prefer to go to a team other than the Marlins.

The interest in Cespedes remains strong, and the market could change by the time he becomes a free agent, which should happen in January. The Cubs, Tigers, Nationals, White Sox and Rays, among other teams, are still expected to pursue him.

Because of the strong interest, the belief is that Cespedes will still get as much as $40 million, even if the Yankees and Red Sox hold back from heavy bidding. One possible issue is that Cespedes' agents apparently want him to go straight to the major leagues, while many if not most scouts believe that he should spend time in the minor leagues first.

The Cubs, Nationals, Braves and Red Sox, among others, are also said to be interested in Jorge Soler, a 19-year-old Cuban who is also expected to become a free agent this winter. Soler is further from the big leagues, but talented enough that some predict it could take $15 million to sign him.

Because of new limits on bonuses that will go into effect next winter, teams may feel free to bid higher on Cespedes and/or Soler this winter.

Posted on: December 20, 2011 4:33 pm

From Yu to Yoenis

If not Yu, maybe Yoenis.

It's time to move from one international man of mystery to another. It's time to move from one player fans crave without really knowing much about him to another.

Yu Darvish is off the market, his rights awarded to the Rangers late Monday night for a cool $51.7 million.

Next up, Yoenis Cespedes.

The 26-year-old Cuban outfield (and YouTube) sensation isn't technically available yet. His agent told ESPNDeportes.com that Cespedes should be able to establish residency in the Dominican Republic this week. There's another step after that before he can become a free agent, but the expectation in baseball is that he'll officially go on the market sometime in January.

And the expectation in baseball is that the bidding for him could get crazy.

Unlike Darvish, the Japanese pitcher who had to go through the blind-bid posting system, Cespedes will be a true free agent, meaning that competing teams can bid up the price.

Rival teams say that the market is still hard to call, but some regard the Marlins as the early favorite. In the latest Cespedes video to hit the internet, Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen and owner Jeffrey Loria are featured prominently.

The video also shows Cespedes with Willie Horton of the Tigers, with Pat Gillick of the Phillies, with Theo Epstein of the Cubs and with Dave Magadan of the Red Sox. The Yankees are also expected to be involved, although their interest has been described as moderate.

Also, word in the international scouting community is that the White Sox watched Cespedes in a private workout recently. The White Sox have had recent success with Cuban players, having signed Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo.

There is also some talk that the Orioles will bid. There could be more. When Cespedes had an open workout last month, 150 scouts showed up.

An official of one team involved said that Cespedes' agents expect him to land a contract of between $25-45 million, but some in baseball have even speculated that the final price will be higher.

As with Darvish, there's no doubting Cespedes' natural ability. Many scouts have compared him to Bo Jackson, with a combination of speed and power that is rarely seen.

"He can beat out an infield hit to beat you, or he can come up the next time and hit it 500 feet to beat you," said one scout who has watched Cespedes. "He has a compact swing, with power. The swing plays, and the speed plays."

So what's the risk?

As with Darvish, Cespedes has never faced anything close to major-league competition day-in, day-out. No one knows how quickly he'll make the cultural adjustment.

Scouts from two teams said that they would feel more comfortable starting him off in the minor leagues first, to ease the adjustment.

As with Darvish, fans around baseball dream of Cespedes in their favorite team's uniform. On Twitter, I get more Cespedes questions than Prince Fielder questions.

With Darvish off the market, and with Cespedes about to enter it, let the madness begin.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com