With camp comes hope for every team
Now that the NFL season is over, it's time to turn our attention to the true sport of parity. You know, the one that has had seven different...
Seattle Times baseball reporter
Now that the NFL season is over, it's time to turn our attention to the true sport of parity.
You know, the one that has had seven different champions in the past seven years.
The one in which a team that had just 83 victories in the 2006 regular season — and almost threw away its division title by losing 9 of 11 in late September — could rebound to win the World Series. And did so by defeating a team that lost 91 games the year before and hadn't had a winning season since 1993.
It's spring-training time, and after a winter in which a whopping $1.5 billion was spent on free agents, just about every team in baseball is busy making its case as a serious pennant contender. And believing it.
Even the Mariners, who have finished last three years in a row. Even the Pirates, whose streak of losing seasons goes back practically to the dead-ball era. Even the Cubs, who responded to their 96-loss season by committing $317.55 million to new players, much to the sheer delight of new manager Lou Piniella.
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry had the executive high-five moment of the offseason when he signed pitcher Ted Lilly — while hooked up to an EKG machine.
1. The Barry Bonds soap opera. Will his Giants contract ever get signed? Will he be indicted, or suspended, or both? Will he stay healthy? Will he break Hank Aaron's home-run record (Bonds starts the year with 734, 21 shy of Aaron). And if he does, will Bud Selig be there to shake his hand?
2. For whom will Roger Clemens pitch, and when? Once again, the Astros, Red Sox and Yankees will vie for the Rocket's services. The smart money is on a return to New York; four years after he "retired" from baseball following his 2003 season with the Yankees.
3. Alex Rodriguez's opt-out clause. A-Rod can choose to dump the final three years of his $252 million contract and become a free agent again after the season. That looming possibility guarantees year-long scrutiny of his place in the Yankees cosmos — as if that's something new.
That barely trumped Boston GM Theo Epstein, who must have enjoyed reading in the Boston Globe about how he got married in January at a Coney Island hot-dog stand. Epstein got married, all right, but it turns out his father — who heads the creative writing department at Boston University — had made up the part about the couple exchanging vows at Nathan's Famous. It was a joke — sort of like the five-year, $70 million contract Theo gave to J.D. Drew.
"Not a word of it was meant to be taken seriously," Leslie Epstein told the Globe in an e-mail.
As opposed to this story, which is meant to be taken dead seriously. For baseball fans still listless after our dark and stormy Northwest winter, here's an incentive-laden cornucopia of lists to herald the brightest day of the year: Pitchers and catchers report on Wednesday.
Five comebacks to watch
1. Eric Gagne, Rangers. After pitching just 15 innings the past two seasons (Tommy John elbow surgery, back surgery), Gagne is going to get a chance to close for the Rangers.
2. Mike Hampton, Braves. Has anyone had more career resuscitations than this guy? Nearly 18 months after Tommy John surgery, the Braves are counting on him returning to the rotation.
3. Jason Isringhausen, Cardinals. Hip surgery in September knocked him out of action in the playoffs. His able replacement, Adam Wainwright, moves into the rotation.
4. Scott Kazmir, Devil Rays. Their young left-handed pitching star missed the final six weeks with a shoulder injury, but says he is 100 percent headed into spring training.
5. Bartolo Colon, Angels. The 2005 Cy Young Award winner didn't pitch after August, choosing to rehab his torn rotator cuff rather than undergo surgery. The Angels need him back in their rotation.
Three comebacks still to come
1. Pedro Martinez, Mets. He's likely out until August following rotator cuff surgery.
2. Eddie Guardado, Reds. The former Mariners closer hopes to be ready in June or July after undergoing elbow surgery last September.
3. Mark Lowe, Mariners. After a blazing start to his career, Lowe underwent elbow surgery. The best-case scenario calls for a return in May. Worst case, the injury is career-threatening.
And two special comebacks to root for
1. Jon Lester, Red Sox. The Tacoma left-hander's impressive rookie season (7-2, 4.76 earned-run average in 15 starts) was halted in September when he was diagnosed with anaplastic large-cell lymphoma. Following chemotherapy, Lester has been given a clean bill of health and cleared to compete in spring training.
2. Bobby Murcer. The popular ex-Yankees star and current broadcaster had surgery in December to remove a malignant brain tumor. He is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. Murcer's goal is to be back in the booth to call opening day.
Five outlandish contracts
1. Gil Meche, Royals. Five years, $55 million. Mariners fans need no guidance to see the lunacy of this deal.
2. Barry Zito, Giants. Seven years, $126 million. That the Giants will come to regret this deal is virtually guaranteed. The only question is how soon.
3. Gary Matthews, Angels. Five years, $50 million. Matthews is a nice player, but that's putting a lot of faith in one great season.
4. Danys Baez, Orioles. Three years, $19 million. We're talking about a setup reliever, folks.
5. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox. Six years, $52 million, plus $51.1 million posting fee for negotiating rights with the Seibu Lions. He may well be worth it, but it's an expensive gamble by the Red Sox.
Most surprising practitioner of fiscal sanity
New York Yankees. They traded away two big contracts in Gary Sheffield and Randy Johnson, stocking up on minor-league arms in return. And their only big-ticket free agent — besides re-signing Mike Mussina (two years, $23 million) was Andy Pettitte, signed to a relatively modest contract (one year, $16 million).
Five 2007 breakout stars
1. Rich Harden, RHP, A's. I'm nothing if not stubborn: Harden makes this list for the fourth year in a row. If the dude ever stays healthy for a full season, I'll be proven right.
2. Howie Kendrick, 2B, Angels. Once he learns a little more patience (nine walks in 267 at-bats), Kendrick should take off.
3. Nick Markakis, OF, Orioles. Smooth-looking lefty seemed to figure things out in the second half.
4. Chuck James, Braves. The Braves think James is their next pitching star, and last year's partial season (11-4, 3.78) was a promising start.
5. Dayton Moore, Royals. Put down your Baseball Register — he's not a player, but rather the general manager of the Royals. Despite the dubious Meche signing, Moore seems to have the pedigree, energy and smarts to turn around a moribund franchise.
Four milestones to savor in 2007
1. Craig Biggio of the Astros needs 70 hits to become the 26th member of the 3,000-hit club. Better get used to this notion: Craig Biggio, first-ballot Hall of Famer.
2. The Mets' Tom Glavine starts the season with 290 wins, 10 shy of the magical 300 mark. (Johnson, with 280 victories, has an outside shot if he can stay healthy in Arizona.)
3. Four players stand poised to join the 500-homer club, a glaring indication of power inflation in this generation. They are: Frank Thomas (487), Jim Thome (472), Manny Ramirez (470) and Alex Rodriguez (464). Gary Sheffield (455), newly of the Tigers, is a longshot. But if not this year, he'll get there in 2008.
Oh, and now that Sammy Sosa has a job in Texas, remember that he's just 12 shy of following Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays into the 600 Club.
4. San Diego's Trevor Hoffman, having surpassed Lee Smith for the all-time saves lead last year, needs just 18 more to reach 500.
Five free agents still looking for a team
1. Bernie Williams, outfielder
2. David Bell, infielder
3. Ronnie Belliard, second base
4. Eduardo Perez, first base
5. Steve Trachsel, starting pitcher
Five players who still could be traded
1. Armando Benitez, Giants (the Marlins are still looking for a closer)
2. Lastings Milledge, Mets (the A's have long coveted him)
3. Ben Broussard, Mariners (not much playing time to be had in Seattle)
4. Geoff Jenkins, Brewers (they've been trying since last August)
5. Todd Helton, Rockies (some in baseball believe the talks with Boston could be revived in spring training)
Five 2006 stats to amaze your friends
1. The Mets won the National League East by 12 games despite getting a combined six victories from Martinez (2) and Glavine (4) after July 1.
2. The Devil Rays lost 60 games in which they led, an American League record.
3. Decimated by injuries and hopelessly out of contention, the Cubs used rookie starters in 80 games. Piniella wouldn't mind if the number dropped to zero.
4. The Pirates, trying for their first winning season since 1992, went 37-35 after the All-Star break (compared to 30-60 in the first half).
5. The Twins were 71-33 after June 8 — a period that included the loss of hotshot rookie Francisco Liriano, who pitched just two innings after Aug. 7.
Five new roles, player division
1. Kerry Wood, Cubs. After a series of injury-plagued seasons, Wood is moving to the bullpen full-time. The Cubs envision him as an overpowering one-inning pitcher, possibly even a closer.
2. Jonathon Papelbon, Red Sox. Papelbon, an All-Star closer as a rookie, switches the opposite direction by taking a spot in the Boston rotation.
3. Mike Piazza, A's. The move to full-time DH should suit Piazza, who can no longer stand the rigors of catching and never could figure out how to play first base very well.
4. Mark Teahen, Royals. On his way to a big season in '06 before shoulder surgery, Teahen moves from third to the outfield to make room for rookie phenom Alex Gordon.
5. Salomon Torres, Pirates. The one-time Mariner takes over as closer after the Pirates traded Mike Gonzalez (24 for 24 in save opportunities) to Atlanta.
Four new roles, non-player division
1. Tom Hicks, co-owner of the Liverpool soccer franchise in the English Premier League. Hicks paid $225 million for his share — $27 million less than he gave Alex Rodriguez in 2001 to play for his Texas Rangers.
2. Jeff Bagwell, special assistant to Houston general manager Tim Purpura.
3. Tino Martinez, assistant baseball coach, University of South Florida.
4. Mel Stottlemyre, special assignment instructor, Arizona Diamondbacks.
Five rookies to watch
1. Alex Gordon, 3B, Royals
2. Delmon Young, OF, Devil Rays
3. Homer Bailey, RHP, Reds
4. Philip Hughes, RHP, Yankees
5. Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, Padres
Five rookies to watch, Japanese division
1. Matsuzaka, RHP, Red Sox
2. Kei Igawa, RHP, Yankees
3. Akinori Iwamura, 3B, Devil Rays
4. Masumi Kuwata, RHP, Pirates
5. Hideki Okajima, LHP, Red Sox
Winter trade that could make the most noise (pun intended)
The Padres acquired pitchers (Royce) Ring and (Heath) Bell from the Mets for outfielder Ben Johnson and pitcher Jon Adkins.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.