These last few weeks before spring training are rough. January is not a nice month in most of the baseball-watching world and exciting news slows to a near halt once the hot stove season has passed. "Did you hear, Brad Penny is in the best shape of his life!"
So is everybody.
Let's dissect some of baseball's worthwhile storylines...Gone Is Vernon ... Toronto Is Having A Great Week
The weather up north might not be all that pleasant at the moment, but the Toronto front office is smoking hot. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos somehow convinced the Angels, who had been dormant and reserved through the first three months of the offseason, to suddenly take on outfielder Vernon Wells
and the $80-plus million remaining on his eyesore of a contract.
But the Angels didn't simply acquire Wells. They traded for him, and gave up two productive players in Mike Napoli
and Juan Rivera
in order to land him.
On a roll, Anthopoulos flipped Napoli to the Rangers just yesterday for reliever Frank Francisco
, who proved capable of saving games in Texas and is likely to beat out Octavio Dotel
, Jon Rauch
and Jason Frasor
for Toronto's ninth inning role this spring. Napoli might have done well in a flexible role for the Blue Jays, slugging homers at catcher, first base and designated hitter, but pushing him out of town should help expedite the development of young and powerful catcher J.P. Arencibia
In the last five days, the Blue Jays have rid themselves of a massive and overbearing contract commitment, filled a need in their bullpen and
acquired a quality backup outfielder. I taught my dog to flip a treat off his nose and catch it in his mouth.The Cardinals Are Certain To Sign Pujols
It's going to happen. At least, everybody thinks it's going to.
On Tuesday, Jayson Stark of ESPN.com
published quotes from a healthy batch of baseball agents, owners and front-office executives who believe that the Cardinals will indeed reach a long-term contract extension with Albert Pujols
before the slugger's personally set deadline -- the start of spring training.
"It's hard for me to believe he's going anywhere," said an unidentified official of one big-market team.
"C'mon, where's he going?" asked an agent. "The only problem they're going to have is figuring out all the deferrals."
There are more of those in the article, some carrying even greater optimism.
I spent a little time on the topic over at NBC Sports' HardballTalk
earlier this month. As a Cardinals fan both in awe of Albert's Hall of Fame production level and concerned about what kind of payroll the club can realistically support, these are strange times.
It's all about the money. If you're his agent, you are asking for the moon.
Now it's up to Cardinals GM John Mozeliak to either talk Pujols' agent down or else it's up to Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt -- a billionaire -- to open the purse strings. The National League's most successful franchise will have to move its payroll to a different height to not only re-up with Albert, but also to stay competitive in the eight or nine years that the first baseman's new mega-deal will run. It'll be a big one. An ugly, ugly thing.Locking Up Wandy...
The Astros are in the middle of a ton of changes. They've cut payroll, begun relying on what's available in their farm system and done what any aging team in their position would do -- try to get younger. It's a strategy that is likely to take Houston down a path of several consecutive seasons of frustration, but a focus on the draft and international free agent market should eventually lead to improvement. A good and stable improvement, not one fueled by high-risk veteran contracts.
Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that the Astros are completely committed to their own cost-effective plan.
On Tuesday evening, a report from Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes
revealed that the club had signed left-handed starter Wandy Rodriguez
to a three-year, $34 million contract extension that will take care of his final arbitration season and his first two years of free agency.
Wandy finished the 2010 season with a string of dominant starts, but he's 32 years old and, by all accounts, regressing. He should do fine over the course of the contract, but the Dominican-born southpaw can't lift the 'Stros past the Reds, Brewers, Cubs and Cardinals all on his own. Brett Myers
can't do it, either.