Nationals (re-)build their roster
Earlier this month, the Nationals reached a two-year deal first baseman Adam LaRoche, who will get paid about $16 million. He has played with the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks in recent years, and has hit at least 20 home runs in each of the last six seasons, one of only six first baseman in the majors to do so. See MLB.com. It's not that much less than Adam Dunn would have been paid, and given that LaRoche's strength is on the defensive side, he has a lot to prove.
In a rare moment of hope that their pitching staff may finally rise to major league levels, the Washington Nationals acquired Tom Gorzelanny traded the Chicago Cubs for three minor leaguer players. (The Cubs had just obtained ace pitcher Matt Garza from the Rays, making Gorzelanny superfluous.) His record was only 7-9 last year, so he is not guaranteed a spot in the rotation. See MLB.com. Nats pitchers Jason Marquis and Jordan Zimmermann are expected to be healthy this year, while the phenomenal Stephen Strasburg slowly recovers from Tommy John surgery. There is an outside chance that he may be healed by late in the summer, but there is no reason to rush his return, after the awful setback of this past year. Today the Nats signed right-hand relief pitcher Todd Coffey to a one-year contract.
Veteran Livan Hernandez is expected to take the mound on Opening Day, which is only 66 days away. (Note the corrected countdown near the top of the baseball blog page.) Chien-Ming Wang is expected to be ready to pitch full time this year, and if he does as well as he did with the Yankees in 2009, it may help the Nationals win several more games.
Nats Pitcher John Lannan signed a one-year contract worth $2.75 million, thus avoiding arbitration. I had thought he might get a longer-term offer from the Nats, but there are still questions about his reliability. Lannan was among the team's best pitchers in 2009, but had a terrible record early last year. After being sent back to the minors, he returned to the starting rotation in August, and showed great improvement. The Nats also agreed to terms with two other arbitration-eligible players: pitcher Doug Slaten and with outfielder/infielder Mike Morse, who showed promising signs at the plate this past year.
Rays sign two ex-Red Sox
I didn't see this one coming: The Tampa Bay Rays signed two former Red Sox stars: Johnny Damon (with the Tigers last year, and with the Yankees before that) and Manny Ramirez (who spent a sullen year with the Dodgers), apparently hoping to rekindle the spark that sent Boston to the World Series. Damon may have a few good years left in him, but I have grave doubts that Manny will "get with the program," no matter what team he's with. Are the Rays desperate or what? See MLB.com.
Alomar, Blyleven into HOF
Congratulations to retired infielder Roberto Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven, who were chosen by the Baseball Hall of Fame. They will be inducted this summer. Alomar chose to don the cap of the Blue Jays for the induction ceremony, and will become the first player to enter Cooperstown identified with the Toronto ball club. He played there for five of his 15 years in the majors, during which time he attained a .300 career batting average. Blyleven, who was born in the Netherlands, will wear a Twins cap, having played nine of his 20 years in Minnesota. He threw an amazing 3,701 strikeouts during his career, ranking fifth all time. See MLB.com.
I am officially back
To quote Mark Twain (a.k.a. Samuel Clemens!), rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Holiday travels and spring semester teaching duties have severely cut into my available time, but I have made much more progress on a variety of diagrams. Being a perfectionist, however, I hesitate to release them until I am very confident of their accuracy.