SweetSpot: Miguel Tejada

Tejada latest bittersweet news in fandom

August, 17, 2013
Miguel Tejada’s 105-game suspension might seem like just the latest sad chapter in one man’s fall from grace. This wasn’t his first time running afoul of the game, after all: He admitted to lying to Congress and to buying HGH. He’s provided alibis every time, all of which might be reasonable. The first time he was protecting a teammate, and though he bought HGH, he says he couldn’t bring himself to use the stuff. In his latest travail, he might appear the victim of MLB’s nonrenewal in April of his medical waiver for using Adderall for attention deficit disorder. Maybe he’s in the right in each and every instance, maybe not, but in each of these scenarios, he comes off badly, and the explanations seem sure to fall on the increasingly deaf ears of all but the most faithful fans.

Because that’s the thing with Tejada. As with so many players who have fallen afoul of baseball’s performance-enhancing drug or amphetamine policies, there was love, respect, fandom, whatever you want to call it, because he’d long since earned it on the field. The 2002 American League MVP was a six-time All-Star and the 2004 Home Run Derby winner. Perhaps even more important, he was one of the homegrown goodies who made the non-Hollywood edition of Moneyball something more than a story about drafting a college-trained rotation or an assemblage of misfit toys. If you were an A’s fan, Tejada was the player you found easy to love, a guy who seemed to be visibly having fun on the field, a top prospect who had lived up to expectations and become the best shortstop in franchise history since Bert Campaneris. If you were an A’s fan, you were glad you had Tejada for as long as you had him, enough to forgive Tejada for all sorts of things, certainly his inevitable departure as a free agent and perhaps even his costly baserunning error in Game 3 of the 2003 ALDS against the Red Sox.
[+] EnlargeMiguel Tejada
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesBack in the day, Miguel Tejada's expressive style helped inspire love and loyalty among fans.

And then, after all that history, after all that earned adulation, you have to decide whether you feel cheated by today’s news and his suspension.

This isn’t a singular experience for fans. You know it, and I know it: We’re a generation of baseball fans who have been lied to, and perhaps unavoidably, we end up having to decide how we feel about that. “Say it ain’t so, Joe” might be worse when talking about the severity of the crime -- there should never be room to forgive throwing the World Series -- but our on-field heroes haven’t just proved willing to take performance-enhancing substances while breaking laws and baseball’s belatedly added rules against them; they’re the generation that, much like Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of the Black Sox, have had to reap the bitter fruit of their legacy of cheating during the course of their careers.

That’s different from the make-believe being played by fans and sportswriters about players from baseball’s so-called Golden Age -- a label bestowed on the ’50s and ’60s for little reason beyond a generation’s conceit of itself. But as Jim Bouton taught us toward the end of his career and as we learned about Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays after their playing days were over, players were using amphetamines to boost their performance long before sports pages were dialing up their tardy outrage over PEDs.

There will be no retroactive punishments for that generation of cheaters, any more than there was for Alex Rodriguez, because there were no rules on the books and because baseball’s PED policy is about the present and the future. Catching the leftovers from the boom years of the PED era, men like A-Rod and Tejada, might fulfill some desire for vengeance.

But as a fan, I don’t feel that need for retribution, even as I feel sorry for what this means for Tejada’s place in history. I feel sorry for him even as I acknowledge the inflexible necessity for meting out this kind of punishment for anyone who runs afoul of baseball's needed policies on PEDs and amphetamines. It will not alter my already bittersweet memories as an A’s fan of the Moneyball teams of old, and I will not pretend that I did not root for Tejada. It’s an unwanted but inescapable feature of the present that all of us wind up having to come to terms with, as fans, as commentators or as analysts.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
Albert Pujols was placed on the disabled list on Sunday, sort of the exclamation point to the Los Angeles Angels' debacle of a season. Sunday was Hall of Fame induction day -- you may have missed it, considering the lone player elected played his final game in 1890 -- and Pujols' injury and the ceremony in Cooperstown got me wondering: Which of today's players will be future Hall of Famers?

There are probably more than you realize. Pujols, of course, is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, even factoring in the somewhat disappointing results of his first two seasons with the Angels. With three MVP Awards, 492 home runs, 1,491 RBIs, a .321 average and a career WAR of 92.9 (27th all time among position players) his legacy is ensured, even if his Angels career never lives up to the expectations of his contract.

Based on historical trends, I estimate about 40 current players are future Hall of Famers -- possibly more, although Hall of Fame standards have been growing tougher in recent years, both by the Baseball Writers Association, which pitched a shutout this year, and the Veterans Committee, which has voted in just one post-1950 player since 2001. The steroids era fallout is also affecting voting results.

Anyway, if we look back at 10-year increments we can see how many Hall of Famers were active that season:

1953: 28 players
1963: 36 players
1973: 37 players
1983: 34 players
1993: 19 players

There are fewer players in 1953 because there were fewer teams, just 16 compared to 30 now. Compared to 1983, when there were 26 teams, 1953 still has a higher percentage of players inducted (1.75 per team versus 1.30). Still, 1983 already has 34 players who active that season already in the Hall of Fame, plus potential enshrinees like Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Dale Murphy, Lou Whitaker, Keith Hernandez, Ted Simmons and others (some of whom are off the BBWAA ballot but could be Veterans Committee selections).

OK, to our little list. Here are 40 active players who will be Hall of Famers -- listed in order of most likely to make it. We're at a moment when there are very few sure-thing Hall of Famers -- I count only five -- so the list thus involves a lot speculation. I considered only players who have played in the majors this year, so no Andruw Jones, Manny Ramirez or Scott Rolen.

1. Derek Jeter: Would anyone find reason not to vote for Jeter? Well, he did date Mariah Carey. Jeter may seem like a lock as a unanimous selection, but keep in mind that eight voters somehow found reason not to vote for Cal Ripken Jr.

2. Mariano Rivera: No matter what you think of closers, Rivera will be a slam-dunk selection, with his "greatest closer ever" label, World Series rings, universal respect among opponents and writers, and 0.70 postseason ERA in 141 innings. While writers have generally become very generous to relievers -- Dennis Eckersley made it in his first year on the ballot -- I suspect a few won't vote for Rivera out of an anti-reliever stand.

3. Albert Pujols: If his career continues to peter out, that more recent perception may cast a shadow over his dominant run from 2001 to 2010, when he averaged 8.1 WAR per season. Many Hall of Famers never achieved that in one season.

4. Miguel Cabrera: Cabrera is now in his age-30 season, with 53.2 WAR. Through age 30, Pujols had 81.1 WAR. That's how good Pujols was -- nearly 30 wins better than a sure Hall of Famer who arrived in the majors at a younger age. Much of that advantage comes on defense and the basepaths, but Baseball-Reference estimates Pujols created 590 runs more than the average batter through 30, with Cabrera at 447 (and counting).

5. Ichiro Suzuki: He may not get to 3,000 hits in the majors -- he's at 2,706 after Sunday's four-hit game -- but with 1,278 hits in Japan, voters should factor that he didn't arrive in Seattle until he was 27. With his all-around brilliance, he should sail in on the first ballot.

6. Robinson Cano: He has done a lot of things MVP voters like -- hit for average, drive in runs, win a World Series -- and done it with exceptional durability. He's already at 42.4 WAR and needs three to four more peak seasons to ensure lock status, but he's just 30 and still at the top of his game. Considering his durability and age, 3,000 hits isn't out of the question either.

7. Clayton Kershaw: Obviously, he could get hurt, and a lot of pitchers who were dominant through age 25 couldn't carry that success into their 30s. But Kershaw has been handled carefully, is on his way to a third straight ERA title and second Cy Young Award. He's the Koufax of this decade … minus the World Series heroics. But maybe he'll get that shot this year.

8. Felix Hernandez: He's 27 and has won 109 games, despite playing for some of the worst offenses in the history of the game. He has earned 38.8 WAR, which puts him about halfway to Hall of Fame lock status. As with Kershaw, barring injury he'll get there.

9. Roy Halladay: He leads all active pitchers with 65.6 WAR, a total higher than Hall of Famers Bob Feller (65.2), Eckersley (62.5), Juan Marichal (61.9), Don Drysdale (61.2) and Whitey Ford (53.2), to name a few. But what if he never pitches again? Is he in? He has 201 wins and voters still fixate on wins for pitchers. To Halladay's advantage is the general consensus that he was the best pitcher in baseball at his peak, his two Cy Young Awards and two runner-up finishes, three 20-win seasons and the second no-hitter in postseason history.

10. Adrian Beltre: Voters have never been kind to the good-glove third basemen -- excepting Brooks Robinson -- so I may be overrating Beltre's chances. But he also has the chance to reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. If he gets to those milestones, that combined with his defensive reputation should get him in.

11. CC Sabathia: He has 200 wins and looked like a possible 300-game winner entering this season, but that 4.65 ERA has everyone wondering how much he has left in the tank at age 33.

12. David Wright: Similar in a lot of ways to Cano -- same age, similar career WAR (Wright is actually a little higher at 45.9) -- so if he plays well into his 30s like Beltre has, he'll get in. But a lot of players have looked like Hall of Famers at 30.

13. Justin Verlander: He still has a lot of work to do, with 134 career wins and just two seasons with an ERA under 3.00.

14. Carlos Beltran: I suspect he'll have a long, slow trek to Hall of Fame status, as his all-around game may be difficult for voters to properly assess. His having just two top-10 MVP finishes will work against him, but he has eight 100-RBI seasons, should reach 400 home runs, is one of the great percentage basestealers of all time and should reach 1,500 runs and 1,500 RBIs.

15. Mike Trout: Well, of course this is premature; he's only 21. He could be Willie Mays, he could be Cesar Cedeno. I'm betting on Mays.

16. Evan Longoria" Beloved in sabermetric circles, he could use that one monster MVP season to create more of a Hall of Fame aura around him.

17. Joey Votto: Will voters appreciate the on-base percentage in 20 years?

18. Joe Mauer: Like Votto, Mauer has an MVP award that helps his case; any time you can argue "he was the best player in the game" about a guy, his candidacy shoots up in the minds of voters. He's not going to end up with the big home run and RBI totals but his .323 career average, .405 OBP and solid defense (three Gold Gloves) will garner support. He has to stay healthy and probably needs to stay behind the plate a few more years.

19. Andy Pettitte: See Jack Morris. Probably a slow crawl on the BBWAA ballot, perhaps hurt by admitting he tried PEDs (although he seems to have escaped the stain), with eventual election by the Veterans Committee. With 252 wins, five World Series rings and 19 postseason wins, it's difficult to ignore his fame and constant presence in October.

20. Bryce Harper: Most home runs before turning 21: Mel Ott 61, Tony Conigliaro 56, Ken Griffey Jr. 38, Harper 37, Mickey Mantle 36, Frank Robinson 34.

21. Buster Posey: Yadier Molina may be the most valuable catcher right now, but Posey is the better Hall of Fame candidate.

22. David Price: Pitchers become Hall of Famers in their 30s, not their 20s, but Price is already 66-36 with a Cy Young award.

23. Dustin Pedroia: I'm a little skeptical how he'll age into 30s, but Pedroia seems like the kind of player voters would love to put in if he becomes a borderline candidate. He does have an MVP award and recognition for his all-around play, but since he's not a big home run or RBI guy, he'll have to remain durability and approach 3,000 career hits.

24. Manny Machado: He's in a big slump right now but we have to remember he's still just 20 years old. But few players have shown this kind of ability at his age and his defense -- Jim Palmer said recently he makes plays at third base that Brooks Robinson could not have made -- is already Hall-of-Fame caliber.

25. Todd Helton: We can just about close the book on him. The .318/.417/.541 career line is impressive, although voters will have to adjust for Coors Field. The 361 home runs and 1,378 RBIs are short of Hall of Fame standards for recent first base inductees. Considering Larry Walker's poor support so far, Helton will probably have to get in through the back door.

26. Andrew McCutchen: How about an MVP Award for 2013?

27. Giancarlo Stanton: Injuries are an issue, but I'm still betting on him (or Harper) to be the premier power hitter of his generation.

28. Troy Tulowitzki: He has to stay healthy, of course, but he has 30.5 WAR so far, in his age-28 season. Jeter had 36.8 and Ripken 50.1 through age 28, but you don't have to be Derek Jeter or Cal Ripken to make the Hall of Fame. Recent inductee Barry Larkin had 30.9 WAR through age 28 and only played 140 games three seasons after that (although did play until he was 40).

29. Miguel Tejada: Tough one here. He has the PED rumors, but he also has six 100-RBI seasons as a shortstop, an MVP award, more than 300 home runs and he will top 2,400 hits. Perhaps a Veterans Committee choice?

30. Prince Fielder: He hasn't hit 40 home runs since 2009 and is going through the worst season of his career. Still, he's just 29 and has 277 home runs and 838 RBIs. He has been the most durable player in the game since his rookie season, but his body type certainly raises questions about how he'll do as he gets into his mid-30s. If he does remain healthy and reaches some of the big milestones he's going to be a Morris-like controversial candidate, because his career WAR (currently 22.4) isn't going to reach Hall of Fame standards.

31. Madison Bumgarner: He turns 24 on Aug. 1 and already has 46 career wins, two World Series rings and is in the midst of his best season. Check back in 10 years.

32. Yasiel Puig: Is he not in already?

33. Andrelton Simmons: We're starting to get into the area of crazy projections. Hey, a lot of Hall of Famers didn't look like Hall of Famers their first few seasons in the league. Anyway, the Braves have four young players you could reasonably project long-shot HOF status onto -- Simmons, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel. I like Simmons; he'll have to have an Omar Vizquel-type career with most of his value coming from his glove, but what a glove it is.

34. Chase Utley: He basically has no chance to get in via the BBWAA because his career counting totals will be well short of Hall standards. His five-year peak from 2005 to 2009 was among the best ever for a second baseman -- in fact, since 1950, from ages 26 to 30, the only players with a higher WAR were seven guys named Mays, Pujols, Yastrzemski, Aaron, Bonds, Boggs and Schmidt. If he can stay healthy for a few more years -- a bit of a dubious proposition -- he enters Veterans Committee territory.

35. Jose Fernandez: This could be Chris Sale or Stephen Strasburg or some other hotshot young pitcher.

36. Tim Hudson: I believe pitching standards will have to change, as the idea that you need 300 wins eventually subsides in this day where starters just don't as many decisions as they once did. Hudson is out for the year after breaking his ankle and, at the age of 38, you have to worry about his future. But he does have 205 wins and one of the best winning percentages of all time at .649. He sounds like a Veterans Committee choice in 2044.

37. Nick Franklin: The point isn't that I think Franklin is a Hall of Fame player, but that somebody like Franklin will turn into a Hall of Famer. It could BE Franklin, it could be Wil Myers, it could be Marcell Ozuna, it could be Jurickson Profar. As for Franklin, he has reached the majors at 22, has flashed power (10 home runs and 12 doubles in 52 games) and shown a good approach at the plate. You never know.

38. September call-up to be named: Xander Bogaerts? Oscar Taveras? Miguel Sano?

39. David Ortiz: There's no denying the fame and the peak value -- he finished in the top five in MVP voting five consecutive seasons -- but he has several strikes against him, notably the PED allegations (Ortiz was mentioned in the Mitchell report) and the fact that he may not be the best DH eligible (that would be Edgar Martinez, with a career WAR of 68.3 to Ortiz's 42.7). Papi is at 420 home runs; if he gets to 500 (round number!), his chances go up, but like all the guys tied to steroids, he'll be a controversial candidate.

40. Alex Rodriguez: He hasn't actually suited up in the majors yet this season, but let's assume he does to be eligible for this list. I also assume, at some point in the future -- 20 years? 25 years? 75 years? -- the moral outrage against the steroids users eventually subsides. Maybe, like Deacon White, A-Rod makes it some 130 years after he plays his final game.

You have to love August baseball. This is when the grind of the long season settles in, when depth becomes even more important, when pitchers have to pitch through fatigue and soreness and maybe a little pain. It's when we find out if the pretenders are contenders and whether the favorites really do have the firepower.

August is time for scoreboard-watching. August is time for your ace to go on a five-win hot streak. August is time for the MVP candidates to shine. August is time for big wins, like the one the Giants had on Sunday at home, when they scored five runs in the bottom of the eighth to defeat the Colorado Rockies. Trade-deadline acquisition Hunter Pence had the decisive blow, a three-run home run, his first since joining the Giants. Pence is hitting just .137 with the Giants, but his homer off Rafael Betancourt capped a rally started when Brandon Crawford's leadoff pop fly fell for a single.

Beginning with the Giants, here are 10 important things you need to know as August rolls on.

1. The Giants have an offense.

Since the All-Star break, the Giants are second in the National League in runs scored to the Nationals, hitting .270 with a .339 on-base percentage, also second in the league. Buster Posey, of course, has been on fire, hitting .443 with nine home runs and 32 RBIs since the break. Only Boston's Adrian Gonzalez has more post-break RBIs (35). Melky Cabrera hasn't slowed down either; his .918 second-half OPS matches his .910 of the first half. If Pence can get going to provide another power threat, the Giants' offense looks even better.

2. Remember Jayson Werth.

Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Mike Morse have combined for 23 home runs since the break to power the Nationals, who had their eight-game winning streak snapped Sunday, but Werth provides something the offense has needed all season: A leadoff hitter. Since his return from a broken wrist, Werth has hit .400 with a .500 OBP. On the season, Nationals leadoff hitters rank just 13th in the National League in OBP. "I am totally surprised how my wrist is doing, how I’ve recovered," Werth told the Washington Post a couple days ago. "When I look down at my wrist and I see that scar, it almost reminds me. Like, 'Oh, yeah.' I almost forget about it until I see the hatchet wound." Werth won't ever live up to the $126 million contract, but he's a a huge key as the Nats push for a division title.

3. Who will step up for the Angels behind Jered Weaver?

Can we stop declaring that the Angels are guaranteed to secure one of the AL wild cards? They're 3-8 over the past 11 games after Jason Vargas outdueled Weaver on Sunday and have slipped 8 games behind the Rangers in the West, and to fifth in the wild-card race behind the Rays, Orioles, A's and Tigers. Dan Haren has allowed at least one home run in nine consecutive starts, Ervin Santana continues to pitch like a ticking time bomb and has allowed the most home runs in the majors, Zack Greinke has been terrible in two of his three starts with the Angels, including the fifth five-plus walk game of his career, and even C.J. Wilson has allowed 27 runs in 29.2 innings over his past five starts. With the starters getting knocked early, the overtaxed Angels bullpen has also been an issue. For all the Mike Trout love, the Angels have a good chance of becoming the season's most disappointing -- yes, even more disappointing than the Red Sox.

4. The Rays are scorching hot on the mound.

If pitchers feed off each other, the Rays are like a pack of hungry wolves right now. Tampa Bay owns a 2.33 ERA since the All-Star break and has held opponents to a .200 average in going 17-11. The Rays swept the Twins by scoring four runs in the top of the 10th and have won eight of 11 to surge into the wild-card lead with the Orioles. Next up on this road: Trips to Seattle and Anaheim. That four-game series against the Angels looms large and David Price and James Shields will start the first two games.

5. Jim Leyland is right ... sort of.

The Tigers manager started a minor firestorm when he referred to Mike Trout as "Wonderboy" in suggesting his own Miguel Cabrera is deserving of the AL MVP Award so far. Leyland's comments really weren't derogatory, as he was simply referring to the potential of voters getting caught up in Trout's storyline. Hey, he's right in that regard; voters do love a good storyline. It's why Ichiro Suzuki won in 2001 over Jason Giambi and teammate Bret Boone. Or why Miguel Tejada won over Alex Rodriguez in 2002. Interestingly, the last "Wonderboy" to challenge for an MVP trophy was A-Rod in 1996, and he finished second to Juan Gonzalez in one of the worst MVP votes of all time.

That's because what MVP voters really like is a player who makes the playoffs. It's why Ryan Braun beat out Matt Kemp in 2011 or why Joey Votto collected 31 of 32 first-place over Albert Pujols in 2010 despite basically identical numbers. Of the 34 MVP trophies handed out during the wild-card era, only six have gone to players whose teams didn't reach the playoffs: Pujols (2008), Ryan Howard (2006), Barry Bonds (2004 and 2001), A-Rod (2003) and Larry Walker (1997). So maybe Trout is the MVP favorite right now, but that all changes if the Angels don't reach the playoffs (the same, of course, can be said for Cabrera).

6. The Cardinals have the same record through 115 games as 2011.

Just like a season ago, the Cardinals are 62-53. However, in 2011 they were just 3 games behind the Brewers and 4 behind wild-card leader Atlanta. While they're 7 behind the Reds in the National League Central, they trail the Braves and Pirates by just 2.5. Like a year ago, the bullpen is struggling -- on Sunday, St. Louis blew a three-run lead in the eighth to the Phillies and lost in 11 innings. Of course, we know the bullpen buttoned down last year.

7. The best trade deadline pickup may have been ... Paul Maholm?

Maybe the Braves got the best Cubs pitcher being shopped around. Maholm's record since June 29: Eight starts, eight runs allowed. He's pitched in obscurity for years in Pittsburgh, often with some terrible defensive teams behind him. He doesn't light up the radar gun but his strikeout rate has ticked up a notch this year, perhaps because he's throwing his slider with greater frequency. Oh, another note: Mike Minor, much-maligned by Braves fans in the first half, has a 1.99 ERA over his past five starts.

8. Manny Machado is here to stay.

Can a rookie lead the Orioles to the first playoff berth since 1997? In four games since his surprise call-up from Double-A, all the 20-year-old rookie has done is hit three home runs, a double and a triple, scored five runs and knocked in seven. Maybe we have a second Wonderboy.

9. The Yankees are 26-22 since June 18. A-Rod is on the DL. CC Sabathia is again on the DL ...

Since reeling off that 10-game winning streak in mid-June, the Yankees have played just above .500 baseball. They're actually 14-14 over the past 28 games. Phil Hughes, having looked better, has returned to being Phil Hughes his past two starts. Ivan Nova lives and dies on whether his curveball and slider have enough bite on any given start. Sabathia has a tender elbow. Andy Pettitte had a setback. And then there's the offense. Curtis Granderson is turning into an extreme all-or-nothing hitter. He has seven homers since the break, but is hitting .218 with a 39/9 SO/BB ratio. Ichiro Suzuki has a sub-.300 OBP since joining the Yankees. And ... the Yankees are still up 5 games in the East.

10. We don't know anything.

Nine teams in the AL are within 5.5 games of a playoff spot. Seven teams are within 5 games of a playoff spot in the NL. That means more than half the teams have legitimate playoff hopes. There is no clear-cut No. 1 team in baseball. We have parity, we have excitement, we have fans filling ballparks (well, at least some of them) and we have a crazy, unpredictable finish ahead of us. Why is that important? Because it gives all of us reason to do plenty of scoreboard-watching.

Tatis, Gomez power Escogido in D.R. finals

January, 15, 2012
Led by home runs from Fernando Tatis, Mauro Gomez and Dennis Phipps and triple by Andy Dirks, the Escogido Lions pounded Edinson Volquez and the Cibao Gigantes to clinch a spot in the Dominican League finals.

The Leones got off to a 5-0 start in the 18-game, four-team semifinal round-robin tournament. They have enjoyed plenty of offense from Tatis, Gomez and Dirks, who have combined for 33 RBIs in 16 games while the pitching, anchored by Fernando Rodney, Nelson Figueroa and Boston Red Sox pitching prospect Kris Johnson, have recorded 118 strikeouts in a 16-game span.

The second spot in the finals is up for grabs between the Gigantes, Licey Tigres and Aguilas Cibaenas who are all within one game of each other with only two to play.

The Aguilas have added some firepower to their roster with the activation of Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes while Hector Luna, Miguel Tejada and Oakland Athletics outfielder Brandon Moss continue to contribute on offense. For its part, Licey added Angels shortstop Erick Aybar for the final stages of the round robin while the Gigantes continue to count on Erick Almonte, Alexi Casilla and Wilson Betemit to carry them into the finals.

Aragua making a charge in the semis

The Aragua Tigres, led by former major leaguer Edgardo Alfonzo, have won five straight games -- including a two-game sweep of the defending champion Anzoategui Caribes -- to move to within a half-game of the lead in the five-team Venezuelan League semifinal round robin.

The 38-year-old Alfonzo is batting .417 with an on-base percentage of .512 through 10 games in the semifinals and has paired well with Hector Gimenez (who signed a minor-league deal with the Chicago White Sox last week) and New York Mets utilityman Luis Hernandez to power the Tigres’ offense.

Meanwhile, the Magallanes Navegantes have kept themselves in contention despite losing the services of Chicago Cubs first baseman Brian LaHair, who was recalled by the Cubs. The Navegantes have won of their last four games and are caught in a fight for survival with the La Guaira Tiburones, who have enjoyed a surprisingly strong performance from imports Brian Sweeney (2-0, 0.71 ERA) and Les Walrond (2-0, 2.60 ERA) as they seek their first Venezuelan League title in 26 years.

However, the Caribes still look strong atop the round-robin standings, as Alexi Amarista, Gustavo Molina and Jose Castillo continue to pound opposing pitchers as they have combined to bat .377 with eight homers and 33 RBIs in their last 11 games.

The Zulia Aguilas have already been eliminated as they began the round robin with a nine-game losing streak.

Obregon, Guasave lead in semifinal series

The defending champion Ciudad Obregon Yaquis took a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven Mexican Pacific League semifinal series against the Mexicali Aguilas with an eighth-inning home run from minor-league veteran Iker Franco, who has carried the Yaquis in the series.

A one-time touted prospect in the Atlanta Braves organization, Franco has combined with import Doug Clark and newly-acquired veteran Karim Garcia to lead the offense to the series lead. The Yaquis have also relied on solid performances from starter Marlon Arias and relievers Mario Mendoza and Luis Ayala to gain an edge over underdog Aguilas.

In the other semifinal, the Guasave Algodoneros hold a 2-1 series lead over the Culiacan Tomateros, but Culiacan, after being down 0-2 in the series, exploded for a 17-4 victory behind three homers by import Cory Aldridge, who became the seventh player to hit three homers in a playoff game in MPL history and the first import to do it since Willie Aikens in 1987. Javier Robles and Humberto Cota equaled the feat in 2005 and 2010, respectively.

Aldridge, a free agent since 2010 when he played in five games for the Los Angeles Angels, led the attack which also included a rare home run from shortstop Ramiro Pena and another from outfielder Refugio Cervantes, who has played the last 12 seasons in the Mexican League.

Starter Rodrigo Lopez got the win as the series resumes in Guasave as regular-season ERA champ Francisco Campos takes the mound for Culiacan against Cincinnati Reds prospect James Avery for Guasave.

Mayaguez pounds Caguas in final series opener

The Mayaguez Indios’ bench came alive in the Puerto Rico Baseball League final series opener as last-minute replacements Danny Ortiz and Danny Gonzalez -- starting for the injured Randy Ruiz and Mickey Negron -- combined to go 5-for-8 with four RBIs to give the Indios a 10-1 victory over the Caguas Criollos.

Fresh off a semifinal series win over the Ponce Leones, the Indios took advantage of the rusty Criollos, who by winning the four-team regular season title had a 10-day layoff to await their opponent in the finals. Mayaguez pounded Criollos starter Matt DeSalvo, who lasted only three innings as Jesus Feliciano, Jeffrey Dominguez and Ruben Gotay all contributed to the attack.

Indios starter Bobby Livingston, a Mexican Summer League standout who most recently pitched in the minors in 2010 for the Tampa Bay Rays organization, pitched five scoreless innings yielding only a double to Criollos second baseman Alex Cora.

Big-leaguers enter Dominican semis

December, 31, 2011
Liga Dominicana de BéisoblVictor PerezMiguel Tejada lets it rip for Aguilas.

The stakes have risen in the Dominican League’s semi-final round-robin tournament between the Aguilas Cibaeñas, Escogido Leones, Licey Tigres and Cibao Gigantes. Several veteran major leaguers have entered the fray, led by Miguel Tejada, who hit two doubles in his debut with the Aguilas.

The Aguilas also reinforced their outfield with newly signed Oakland Athletics outfielder Brandon Moss, whom Aguilas manager Felix Fermin is hoping will bring the left-handed power the team has lacked all season, as well as Edwin Encarnacion, who played the past five regular-season games, but has only seen action in one of the first four round-robin games. Starting pitcher Fausto Carmona has also joined the Aguilas for the postseason.

Tejada’s two doubles led to a 6-0 win against Licey to keep pace with Escogido, which reinforced its rotation by welcoming Francisco Liriano and shored up the bullpen with Fernando Rodney, who saved the game in his Leones debut. Led by Pedro Florimon, Fernando Tatis, Julio Lugo and Andy Dirks, the Leones are batting a collective .350 through the first three games of the semifinal round robin.

Ugueto steals home, helping Caribes earn playoff berth

Luis Ugueto stole home in the bottom of the 12th inning against the Lara Cardinals, sending the Anzoategui Caribes into the postseason to join the Aragua Tigres, La Guaira Tiburones, Zulia Aguilas and Magallanes Navegantes in the five-team round robin. Ugueto last played in the major leagues in 2003 with the Seattle Mariners, and was predominantly used a pinch-runner all season. But his late-inning feat gave the Caribes their second consecutive postseason berth.

Elsewhere in Venezuela, Houston Astros infielder Jose Altuve completed an impressive regular season for Magallanes, finishing among the league’s leaders in batting average (.339), at-bats (242), runs scored (32), hits (82), doubles (18), total bases (110) and RBIs (35), making him one of the leading candidates for MVP along with teammate Jesus Flores and La Guaira’s Gregor Blanco.

Among the pitchers, Zulia’s Austin Bibens-Dirkx led the league in victories with a 7-3 mark with an ERA of 2.19, and Renyel Pinto finished at 6-1 with a 2.43 ERA and led the league in strikeouts with 73 in 77.2 innings pitched. Magallanes’ Eric Junge led the league in ERA with a 1.53, putting together a 4-1 mark in 10 starts.

Madera, Canizares lead hitters in the Mexican League

Former Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles farmhand Sandy Madera was crowned the batting champion in the Mexican Pacific League after batting .366 in 49 games with the Los Mochis Cañeros to edge out Navojoa Mayos outfielder Kraig Binick in the last three days of play.

Madera’s impressive offensive year did not help Los Mochis as the Cañeros missed the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker against the Navojoa Mayos, who had won their particular regular-season series. The Mazatlan Venados, who had made the playoffs each of the past 11 seasons, were the other team eliminated from semifinal play, which begins on Jan. 1 with Navojoa facing Culiacan, Hermosillo at Mexicali and Guasave at Ciudad Obregon. Former Cuban national team player Barbaro Canizares, Obregon's first baseman, finished as the regular season home run king with 20 in 65 games.

In another MPL note, several veteran free agent pitchers finished the regular season with respectable showings as they seek spring training invitations. Former New York Mets pitcher Oliver Perez has 23 relief appearances with the Culiacan Tomateros and had an ERA of 0.63 in 14 1/3 innings pitched. Former Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers prospect Francisco Campos, now 38, led the MPL in strikeouts with 74 over 82 innings while putting together an 8-2 record for Culiacan.

Feliciano leads Mayaguez’s charge into the playoffs

Jesus Feliciano was one home run shy from the hitting for the cycle, leading the Mayaguez Indios to a 6-4 win against the Carolina Gigantes on Friday and clinching the second of the three playoffs spots in the Puerto Rican league.

The defending champion Caguas Criollos had clinched a berth last week while Carolina’s loss to Mayaguez placed it in a tough spot of having to sweep its last three games to edge the Ponce Leones for the final playoff berth.

Feliciano, a free agent who spent part of eight seasons with the New York Mets, has teamed up with Milwaukee Brewers prospect Martin Maldonado and former Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Randy Ruiz to lead the charge for Mayaguez, which is looking for its first title since the 2009-10 season.

Meanwhile, the fledgling Puerto Rican league received a bit of good news this week as news spread about the possible return of the San Juan Senadores, who did not play this season after negotiations with the City of San Juan for the lease of San Juan’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium were unsuccessful.
Baseball lesson No. 3,247: The trade deadline rarely is the cure for a team’s ailments.

Oh, sure, sometimes you find the right Band-Aid.

And sometimes you trade for Carlos Beltran or Ubaldo Jimenez and the cut turns into a bleeding wound.

The Giants entered Wednesday six games behind the Diamondbacks. While the offense “burst” out with four runs and 12 hits to avoid being swept by the Cubs, Beltran went 0-for-3 with a walk, dropping his numbers with the Giants to .260 with one home run in 77 at-bats and an on-base percentage less than .300.

Meanwhile, Jimenez had one of his better starts since joining the Indians, allowing three runs in six innings. But in six starts with Cleveland, he has been homer-prone (six home runs, just four fewer than he allowed all of 2010) and has allowed 25 runs for a 5.56 ERA.

Both trades drew their share of criticism at the time: namely, that Zack Wheeler was too much of a price for the Giants to pay for a two-month rental, and that the Indians were unlikely to win the American League Central, even if Jimenez delivered down the stretch.

Truth is, the Giants’ woes began long before the Beltran trade. He’s not the only reason the team has hit .231 in August while averaging fewer than three runs per game. As the team saw its division lead slip away this month, GM Brian Sabean finally found a couple of fall guys Wednesday when veterans Miguel Tejada and Aaron Rowand were designated for assignment.

"We're at a spot in the season where we have to do some damage control with the roster. A couple things played into it. In both cases, there was diminished playing time, diminished roles,” Sabean said.

A couple things? Like the fact that Tejada and Rowand were predictably awful? What took so long for Sabean to realize damage control was needed?

Here’s what I wrote about Tejada on Opening Day, after he made a critical error: “He’s 36 now, his bat is slowing and many people don’t think he has the range to play shortstop anymore. The Giants took a chance, signing him to replace the departed Juan Uribe. Reports from spring training weren’t good. ... Is he too old? His legs might not have Chipper’s scars, but they’re still the legs of somebody who has played more than 2,000 major league games, clocking in 150-plus games year after year.”

On April 28, I wrote, “Considering Tejada isn’t hitting either, how long will the Giants stick with him?” On May 25, I wrote, “What can I say that everybody else hasn’t already said? With Pablo Sandoval back in maybe two weeks, I’m guessing Tejada’s Giants career will end in two weeks.”

It only took just more than three months from that point for Sabean to finally cut loose Tejada, despite a .239/.270/.326 (BA/OBP/SLG) batting line that essentially left him below replacement level.

Rowand was signed to a five-year, $60 million contract after a career-best 2007 season with the Phillies. The signing was roundly criticized at the time, and it got more disastrous with each season. In 2008, he posted a .749 OPS, below the league average hitter. In 2009, he posted a .738 OPS, barely acceptable for a starting outfielder. In 2010, he posted a .281 on-base percentage and .659 OPS, but the Giants won the World Series anyway. With Rowand making $13.6 million in 2011, the club brought him back, which is like your friends who keep acting surprised when their dog pees on the carpet. Rowand’s OBP this season: .274.

Yes, the Giants got ravaged by injuries. I don’t think Sabean and Bruce Bochy entered the season believing they’d give 351 plate appearances to Aaron Rowand. But here’s how you make sure that doesn’t happen: Don’t have Aaron Rowand on your roster.

As for Jimenez, I had hopes he’d pitch better. He had been the only starter in Rockies history to have consistent success in Coors Field but had struggled there in 2011 with a 5.55 ERA. Maybe a change of scenery would be a good thing. He’s had some positive results, like a 38/11 SO/BB ratio in 34 innings, and his season strikeout total of 156 in 157 innings is a good sign that his stuff is still fooling major league hitters, but the bottom line is he hasn’t kept enough runs off the scoreboard.

Hey, some of this is second guessing, I admit. It’s hard to fault either team for making the moves it did. The Indians were 1.5 games out of first place when they acquired Jimenez on July 30 for a package of prospects that included pitchers Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, Cleveland’s No. 1 picks in 2009 and 2010. The Giants were actually four games up on the Diamondbacks when they acquired Beltran on July 28.

So it’s another lesson for all of us: The trade deadline is fun.

But its impact often irrelevant.

Pablo SandovalKyle Terada/US PresswireAnd you thought Pandas couldn't fly. Well, now we know that this one can.
It seems like a good time to check in with the defending champs. Other than our devotion to Tim Lincecum and our Opening Day ode to Brandon Belt and a mention or two about an infield that includes Miguel Tejada playing third and Mike Fontenot playing shortstop, we haven’t written much about the San Francisco Giants.

So, to please our West Coast readers, I put the remote on the Giants game and settled in with a glass of Napa Valley wine and some cheese from Cowgirl Creamery. Here are some random observations ...

1. The Giants kind of snuck up on us, didn’t they? They were 13-15 on May 2, five games out of first place, and everybody was yapping up the Colorado Rockies or Cleveland Indians. Since then, the Giants have gone 14-5 while the Rockies have gone 7-14.

2. Matt Cain didn’t have his best stuff Tuesday night. In the third inning, he just couldn’t put batters away. After giving up a leadoff single to Omar Infante, he got two outs and had an 0-2 count on Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez fouled off two fastballs but eventually drew a walk on a 3-2 curveball that was outside. He had two strikes on Logan Morrison, but the 2-2 fastball was just high (or not) and a 3-2 fastball was in off the plate. With the bases loaded against Gaby Sanchez, he was clearly laboring, taking off his hat a couple times, rubbing up the baseball. Cain got to a 2-2 count, but Sanchez fouled off a high fastball and then drilled a fastball that caught too much of the plate in front of the Pop-Secret sign in right-center for a bases-clearing double.

3. When you hear about baseball’s attendance "problems," strange that nobody mentions the Giants. They’ve sold out every home game this season and I wish I’d been at every one of them. Is there a more perfect place to watch a ballgame?

4. With offensive levels back to what we saw in the late 1980s and early '90s, the Giants remind me of the best teams of that era, using a mix-and-match lineup approach with platoons over multiple positions. The Pirates won three straight NL East titles doing this: Sid Bream and Gary Redus and then Orlando Merced and Redus platooned at first base; Jeff King and Wally Backman platooned one year at third base; King moved between first, second and third another year; Mike LaValliere and Don Slaught were an effective platoon at catcher. The early '90s Braves had the great pitching, but also had a Bream/Brian Hunter platoon at first, Deion Sanders sharing time as the fourth outfielder behind Ron Gant, David Justice and Otis Nixon, Rafael Belliard and Jeff Blauser sharing time at shortstop, and Jeff Treadway sharing time at second with Mark Lemke.

Anyway, most teams don’t do much of this anymore, because they can’t -- not when you carry 12 or 13 pitchers. Once you cover your backup catcher and backup infielder, there isn’t much room left on the bench. Bruce Bochy at least recognizes this isn’t a team where you can play the same eight guys every night.

That said ... it isn’t really working. The Giants entered the night 14th in the NL in runs scored per game, incrementally ahead of the Padres and Dodgers. What they lack, of course, is a big bopper: The Pirates had a bunch of platoons, but they also had Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla. The Braves had Gant, Justice and Terry Pendleton. Last year’s Giants had Buster Posey, Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell all slugging over .500, plus Andres Torres slugging .479 and Juan Uribe hitting 24 home runs. The offense still wasn’t that great -- ninth in the NL in runs -- but it was much better than what we’re seeing this year.

5. As bad as the offense is, Ricky Nolasco was really good. His slider and slow curve kept the Giants off-balance and he didn’t go to a three-ball count until the seventh inning. But the Giants also helped him out by swinging early in the count. In the second inning, for example, Nolasco threw a first-pitch ball to all four hitters, but all four swung at the next pitch.

6. Tejada. What can I say that everybody else hasn’t already said? With Pablo Sandoval back in maybe two weeks, I’m guessing Tejada’s Giants career will end in two weeks.

7. Is it possible to have too many good relievers? Maybe so. The Giants have seven good ones (not including Santiago Casilla, currently on the DL), but Bochy can’t find enough spots to use them all. Sergio Romo is one of the best middle relievers in the game, but has pitched only 12 2/3 innings all season, leading him to complain the other day about not being used enough. I don’t blame him; he has a 20/1 SO/BB ratio and he’s pitched 3 2/3 innings in May. With offense on the decline, starters will be going deeper into games. Seven relievers is a luxury. The first team to figure this out -- and add an extra bench player -- will gain a small advantage.

8. Is Posey having a disappointing sophomore season? I don’t think so. Remember that he had one monster month last season -- he hit .417 in July. His power is down a bit, but he’s walking more. And with Huff not hitting, he’s not going to be seeing too many good pitches to hit. He’s seeing fewer first-pitch strikes than last season -- a pitch he obliterated, hitting .422 with four home runs in 45 at-bats.

9. Brian Wilson overkill?

10. Belt is hitting .351/.484/.553 at Triple-A. Just sayin’.

11. Barry Zito threw a simulated game Tuesday afternoon as he rehabs from a foot sprain. With Ryan Vogelsong pitching well as a starter, the Giants will have an extra arm for the rotation. Hmm.

12. Yes, I nearly made it through this post without mentioning Jose Reyes. Almost.

(For more on the Giants, check out out SweetSpot blog, Bay City Ball.)

Dexter Fowler, Joe SaundersChris Humphreys/US PresswireSeriously, does anyone in this picture look remotely happy? No, didn't think so.
News broke about the death of Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew just before we taped Tuesday's Baseball Today podcast . In addition to a well-done tribute by Tim Kurkjian, here are other reasons you should listen to the show, co-hosted by myself and Keith Law, or KLaw to his pals:

1. Kansas City Royals pitcher Vin Mazzaro had a really bad Monday, for more than the 14 reasons (the runs he allowed) than you might think. We each feel bad for the kid, but why?

2. The David Wright back injury doesn't only mean the New York Mets will be missing their best player for awhile, but also impacts the moves they might make down the road.

3. I watched Albert Pujols play third base Monday night, and while I know Tony La Russa's flawed reasoning behind it, I still don't really buy it. Luckily, neither does KLaw. We explain.

4. Who really is the top pitching prospect for the Atlanta Braves, and is this really reflected in who they promoted for Wednesday's start?

5. Is Miguel Tejada the reason why Tim Lincecum stunk up the Coors Field joint Monday night? We delve into the Miggy matter.

Plus: Excellent emails, more discussion about rivalries, which Cleveland Indian might be "pulling a Posada" and keeping a close eye on Francisco Liriano and Ubaldo Jimenez. All this and more on Tuesday's Baseball Today!

CastroDustin Bradford/Icon SMICubs shortstop Starlin Castro hit .300 as a rookie and is hitting .322 so far this season.
Baseball is the only sport in which the defense has possession of the ball. They might have written songs called "Centerfield" or about the three men who played that position in New York City in the 1950s, but shortstop has always been the glamour position for baseball's most dynamic glove men. There is simply something special about the way the word "shortstop" sounds, especially when pronounced by the late Bob Sheppard in his recorded Derek Jeter Yankee Stadium introduction.

Between them, Barry Larkin and Nomar Garciaparra started exactly 3,100 major league games at shortstop through careers that included batting titles and Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and MVP awards. Larkin hit .295 over 19 big league seasons in Cincinnati, from 1986 through 2004. In 2009, Garciaparra retired with a .313 career batting average after 14 years in the majors, nine of them in Boston. Over the course of their careers and now into retirement, they've watched their position evolve.

"I think my era was more of a transition to Nomar's time," said Larkin, who played until he was 40 years old, when he still hit .289. "There was more of an emphasis on defense when I came up as opposed to, I think, than when Nomar came up."

Garciaparra, who hit a staggering .372 in 2000, said the position prototype didn't change from Mark Belanger to Troy Tulowitzki overnight. "Shortstop has always been about defense first," he said. "That's what made the transition you talked about, why our eras connected, because the guys still played defense. That was first and foremost. When I was playing it was still about defense. The Jeters, the A-Rods, the Tejadas, it was all about defense first. They just happened to be able to hit as well."

Larkin and Garciaparra were both much more than shortstops; both were organizational icons, the face of a franchise. Jeter is such a player in New York, as is Jimmy Rollins in Philadelphia. That list, however, is shorter now than it's been in decades, so I asked both former shortstops about the evolution of the position and the players they watch play shortstop today.

Shortstop you most enjoy watching right now

Larkin -- Starlin Castro, Cubs: "This guy has all kinds of ability. Offensively. Defensively, you can see the plays he makes with flashes of brilliance here and there. He's gonna be successful in Chicago for many, many years. I love watching guys and see them develop in the big leagues."

Garciaparra -- Hanley Ramirez, Marlins: "I just love watching Hanley Ramirez play. First and foremost as a shortstop, he plays great defense. He makes the plays behind his pitcher. But he can run, steal bases and he can hit third and fourth in any lineup in the major leagues. He supplies that power, supplies that leadership on the offensive side."

Shortstop who might outgrow the position based on offensive production

Larkin -- Ian Desmond, Nationals: "I got a chance after I retired in 2005 to go work with the Washington Nationals and I saw this guy as an 18-year old kid just develop. He's put on over two inches and probably 20 pounds of maturation and has unbelievable ability. My question is, he's growing so quickly, is he gonna ever stop?"

Garciaparra -- Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies: "He can play a Gold Glove shortstop but he's also a very big guy. I don't think people realize how big he is, probably because he played shortstop so well as a little guy with a great glove. He's a max-effort guy over there at shortstop so I can see him moving over maybe to third base (eventually), maybe to first base if they have somebody up and coming, to give him kind of a blow and last longer, especially with what his bat does in that lineup."

The best pure glove man

Larkin -- Alex Gonzalez, Braves: "I just marvel at this guy. When we'd play against him, I would come out and watch him take ground balls at shortstop and you could see him turn the double play. Strong arm. His thing has been health. A great, great glove man."

Garciaparra -- Alcides Escobar, Royals. "This guy has range. He covers everything. You think it's a base hit? Nope, he's got it. And he's got a hose to go with it. He can go to the backhand and still have enough on it to whip it over there. When he does throw that ball? I know I had a lot of movement on my ball and I felt bad for the first baseman. But he throws the ball and it stays straight and on a line and it hits him right in the chest."

Most unheralded shortstop you played with or against

Larkin -- Jack Wilson, Mariners: "He's now playing second base for Seattle, but when he was in Pittsburgh and playing shortstop he was just absolutely unbelievable. Jack Wilson is a guy that no one really talks about; unbelievable defensive shortstop."

Garciaparra -- John McDonald, Blue Jays: "This guy has been kind of a utility guy. I can just have a video of all his Web Gems. His range and the plays he makes are just truly unbelievable and I can just sit there and watch him over and over again. He makes plays at shortstop, he makes them down at second, he makes them at third. He's just a great glove."

Shortstop lifetime achievement award

Larkin -- Dave Concepcion: "Growing up in Cincinnati I used to imitate and emulate Davey Concepcion. He actually taught me the bounce throw to first base, but he was my guy. If you weren't a Reds fan growing up in Cincinnati there was something wrong with you and I was a huge Davey Concepcion fan. He got it done defensively and he could swing the bat a little bit as well."

Garciaparra -- Omar Vizquel: "I don't think he's ever got a bad hop in his career. We talked about going out there early and watching somebody take infield? He was one of them. I just wanted to know one day ... one day, even for maybe just three ground balls, to feel what his hands really feel like. It's incredible."

It's long been expected that a shortstop provide his team with a sense of leadership, or at least dependability. Even with a greater emphasis on offensive production the men who spent professional careers playing shortstop still go back to defense as the very nature of the position. "The standard is making the routine play," Larkin says. The days of an Ed Brinkman playing 15 seasons at shortstop while hitting .224 are almost certainly over. After all, the infamous "Mendoza Line" is named after a man who made 420 of his 424 career starts at shortstop. However, even the relatively recent arrival of the slugging shortstop -- guys like Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada -- still has its link to the past. "The offense was so good that people overlooked that they were also great defensive shortstops," said Garciaparra. "That's why they played shortstop and I think now we see these new up-and-coming guys are continuing that trend."

Follow Steve on Twitter: @SBerthiaumeESPN.

Hot corner woes for Giants and Nats

April, 30, 2011
The San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals got to share a bit of bad news today -- they will both be without their third basemen for a lot longer than they would have liked. The Giants will be without Pablo Sandoval for four to six weeks. The Nationals will be without Ryan Zimmerman for about the same length of time.

The Nationals got an unhappy update on Zimmerman’s status. The attempt to solve his abdominal issue via rehab came up short, and he needs surgery after all. There will inevitably be a rehab stint and he may not be back until late June.

Either way, it’s a significant setback for a Nationals team struggling to score four runs per game, ranking 13th in the league with 3.9 R/G. Dialing up a whole lot of Jerry Hairston Jr. at the hot corner is hardly the antidote. How bad does that hurt the Nats’ flagging attack? Let’s use the rates derived from David Tate’s Marginal Lineup Value (or MLVr), a metric further developed by Keith Woolner, the Indians’ Manager of Baseball Research and Analytics.

If you use the 2010 performances of these two players as a placeholder, the difference between Zimmerman and Hairston per game is a fifth of a run. That may not sound like much, but that’s more than a run per week, and Zimmerman could miss as many as 10 weeks. One of the generally accepted constants of sabermetrics is that 10 runs equals a win. Zimmerman’s absence in the lineup alone could cost the Nats at least one victory, perhaps something slightly more.

In a world where the best hitters might be worth eight or nine wins, that’s a huge hit for the Nationals. That’s part of the incentive they had in trying to avoid surgery for Zimmerman -- they understandably wanted to avoid taking that kind of hit.

The Giants’ situation isn’t much better, but that’s because they’re stuck with what we might refer to as an injury stack, a term coined by my former colleague Will Carroll. Losing Sandoval for four to six weeks after a hot April hurts. He had hit .313/.374/.530 in the early going. But it gets worse because the obvious replacement for him, super-utility infielder Mark DeRosa, is already on the DL. DeRosa is still dealing with issues associated with last year’s repair to a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist.

They’re left with an unappetizing series of “solutions” in the meantime. One obvious one is the one Bruce Bochy has already turned to -- moving 37-year-old shortstop Miguel Tejada to third base.

That might be just as well for the defending champs -- as Steven Goldman determined two years ago, the track record of teams with shortstops 37 and older making the postseason (let alone the World Series) is fairly poor. Just 40 teams have even employed someone that old at short, and two made the postseason -- the 1956 Dodgers with Pee Wee Reese, and the 1984 Cubs with Larry Bowa.

We’ll get to see if Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees make it three. The way Tejada was playing (already valued at minus-5 runs via Plus/Minus), he wasn’t helping to propel the Giants to the postseason with his play in the field.

The problem is the Giants’ initial options at short. Mike Fontenot isn’t seen as a great second baseman, let alone a shortstop, but spotted effectively, he could provide a useful bat. Speedster Emmanuel Burriss was called up when DeRosa went to the DL. Once seen as a shortstop prospect, Burriss hasn’t played the position regularly since 2007, and logged just seven spring training innings there before getting sent to Fresno.

Either way, you’re talking about accepting a lot less than what Sandoval was doing and what he might have continued to do. Happily for the Giants, the distinction is smaller than what the Nats are dealing with, and Bochy’s willingness to play matchups should serve the skipper well in the meantime. But whatever they get, it won’t be something as spectacular as Sandoval’s April.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
Carl Crawford isn't going to hit .156 all season. Adrian Gonzalez will hit home runs. But here are five legitimate issues that teams predicted to be contenders are facing right now.

1. Cardinals closer. Ryan Franklin lost the job with two losses, four blown saves and four home runs allowed in eight innings. The Cardinals lost all four of those games, so they could easily be 17-7 now instead of 13-11. Mitchell Boggs became the closer, saved three games, and then picked up a blown save and a loss Tuesday night in Houston. Eduardo Sanchez, a 22-year-old rookie, picked up the save Wednesday night, although in dubious fashion by allowing two runs. Despite all this, the Cardinals are in first place with the second-best run differential in the majors, thanks to an offense that leads the NL in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. In the end, I actually think Tony La Russa will sort things out. Boggs has a 15/3 SO/BB ratio in 12 2/3 innings, Sanchez has a 14/1 ratio and Fernando Salas and Jason Motte are also pitching well.

2. Francisco Liriano. As bad as Minnesota's offense has been (only the Padres have scored fewer runs), I'm just as worried about Liriano, so good a year ago but struggling with his control in 2011 (18 walks in 23 2/3 innings). There were trade rumors surrounding Liriano in spring training, which makes you wonder if the Twins had concerns about his health. His average fastball velocity is down from 93.7 to 92.1, which isn't a major concern ... for now. Considering the state of their offense, the Twins need Liriano to return to ace-like production.

3. Miguel Tejada and the Giants defense. Make what you want of defensive metrics, but logic tells you the Giants have issues on defense: old man Tejada at shortstop, pondering Pat Burrell in left, Andres Torres on the DL, not-exactly-Brooks Robinson Pablo Sandoval at third, and Aubrey Huff, who was moved back to first base after his adventures in right field. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) has the Giants as the third-worst defensive team so far (although it grades Sandoval well at third). Considering Tejada isn't hitting either, how long will the Giants stick with him?

4. The Rangers bullpen. Darren O'Day just landed on the 60-day DL with a torn labrum in his hip. Even when Neftali Feliz returns from the DL, there could be issues. The pen has compiled a 4.02 ERA, 24th in the majors so far, but I point to a mediocre 44/30 SO/BB ratio as a sign that this pen is treading a fine line. Throw in the ages of Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes and you have another red flag. And while much has been made about Nolan Ryan urging Rangers starters to work deeper into games, the reality was Texas starters were just 11th in the AL in innings pitched in 2010. They'll need a deep and effective bullpen.

5. White Sox on-base percentage. Everybody has been focused on the Sox' bullpen problems, but I'm wondering if the Chicago offense is overrated. Yes, the Sox will hit plenty of long balls, but how many of those will be solo home runs? Juan Pierre, A.J. Pierzynski and Alexei Ramirez are notorious non-walkers and rookie third baseman Brent Morel has yet to draw a free pass. Oddly, Alex Rios isn't hitting (.163, no homers), but has 10 walks.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.
As Yogi Berra didn't actually say but should have, "I'm not worried, but this slow start has me nervous."

In baseball, it's never too soon to panic. Just ask fans of these fans teams:

Boston Red Sox: The consensus World Series favorite, the Rangers hammered the Sox for 11 home runs and 26 runs in a three-game sweep.

Los Angeles Angels: The Angels lost three of four to the Royals, with the bullpen looking shaky and Scott Kazmir getting knocked out in the second inning of his start.

Milwaukee Brewers: Swept by division rival Cincinnati while getting outscored 23-11, Zack Greinke is on the DL and the hitters produced a 26/5 SO/BB ratio.

San Francisco Giants: They lost three of four to the Dodgers with right fielder Aubrey Huff and shortstop Miguel Tejada looking shaky in the field.

Tampa Bay Rays: Swept at home by the Orioles while hitting just .132 and now Evan Longoria is on the DL.
Only 2,424 games left in the regular season ... (and, yes, I mean that in a good way).

A quick tour of stuff to pay attention to today:

1. You couldn't ask for an easier opponent for Roy Halladay to set the tone for Philly's fab rotation than the Astros, a team that finished 15th in the NL in runs in 2010. Halladay allowed four runs in two starts against Houston last season. I predict fewer than that today.

2. Terry Francona isn't messing around. He's starting Mike Cameron in right field instead of J.D. Drew. Why? Because Rangers starter C.J. Wilson destroyed lefties a year ago (.144/.224/.176).

3. Speaking of Wilson, he has as much on him as any pitcher in the majors. Can he prove his transition from the bullpen in 2010 wasn't a fluke?

4. Ubaldo Jimenez takes on the Diamondbacks. Will he start out again like he's Bob Gibson circa 1968?

5. Mets-Marlins should be fun with Josh Johnson going for Florida. He spent spring training trying to refine his changeup. Hard to believe he can get any better than last season. (Oh, former Mets GM Omar Minaya believes the Mets will be better than people think. Of course, he has no idea how bad I think they'll be.)

6. David Price faces the Orioles, which gives us a chance to check out Tampa's revamped bullpen and Baltimore's new lineup with Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee. Price allowed one run in two starts against the O's last season.

7. Chad Billingsley starts for the Dodgers after signing his big contract extension. Other than Clayton Kershaw's dominant outing, the good news for the Dodgers on Opening Day was Matt Kemp drawing three walks. He'd never done that before. Considering plate discipline has been an issue, let's see if this is a sudden improvement in his approach.

8. Miguel Tejada. After a shaky spring training and a crucial error on Opening Day, Giants fans are already worried about shortstop. The backups are Mike Fontenot and Mark DeRosa, so there isn't really a good in-house option if Tejada falters.

9. Cubs manager Mike Quade. Apparently he rode the train to Wrigley the past couple of days and went unrecognized. Something tells me Lou or Dusty never did that.

10. Justin Morneau. He's in the starting lineup and let's hope he's fully recovered and as good as ever.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.

A game for young and old

April, 1, 2011

Baseball can be a game for the young.

Jason Heyward, so impressive as a 20-year-old rookie last year, is now a year older and maybe a year scarier. Like in 2010, he homered in his first at-bat of the season, and there’s no denying his flair for the dramatic.

Baseball can be a game for the old.

Chipper Jones is 38, turns 39 later in April and is coming off knee surgery. He looked great in spring training and went 2-for-4 on Opening Day with a hustle double, and we see that the skills of the 23-year-old rookie who helped the Braves win a World Series so many years ago are still hanging around despite the scars and the cruelties of age.

Ask Miguel Tejada about that.

He’s been a terrific player, an All-Star, a five-time .300 hitter and an MVP. But he’s 36 now, his bat is slowing and many people don’t think he has the range to play shortstop anymore. The Giants took a chance, signing him to replace the departed Juan Uribe. Reports from spring training weren’t good. He threw away a ground ball in the sixth inning Thursday, leading to an unearned run that helped the Dodgers win 2-1. Was it just one bad throw? Is he too old? His legs might not have Chipper’s scars, but they’re still the legs of somebody who has played more than 2,000 major league games, clocking in 150-plus games year after year.

Brandon Belt has played one major league game. He hopes for 2,000 more.

Belt hit .352 in the minor leagues last year, but many believed he should have begun this year in Triple-A, service time and future salary savings and whatnot. The Giants figured, “Hey, this is one of our best 25 guys; let’s play the kid.” He got an infield single his first time up and then came up in the ninth inning, two outs, down one run, a chance to maybe pull off a little Jason Heyward flair.

Jonathan Broxton, he of the 99 mph fastball, was on the mound. My notes went like this:

Breaking ball for strike
90 mph slider, just outside, 1-1
Fouls off slider on outside corner, tough pitch, 1-2
(Orel Hershiser, on TV, says throw fastball out of the zone, see if he chases)
Fastball just away ... Belt takes it (good eye)
Slider at knees, fouls it away
Slider, down and in, barely fouls off, just in front
(Hershiser says the kid has timed the breaking ball)
97 mph fastball, fouled off
Broxton then saws him off, soft liner to third for final out

As the saying goes, it was a good at-bat. Except in the major leagues, good isn’t always good enough.

Opening Day is always a reminder of the churning clock in baseball. Do the old guys have anything left? Do the new guys have what it takes?

Tim Lincecum was once one of the young phenoms. He’s now a grizzled veteran of 26, with two Cy Young awards and now a World Series title under his belt.

Clayton Kershaw just turned 23; he’s ready to bust out and become the next great Dodgers pitcher, following in a long line of storied starters.

And Brandon Belt? The Giants think he can play. I think he can play. Last year, everything the Giants did worked out, a perfect blend of youth, experience and luck (always a little luck in baseball). They called up Buster Posey, and he became an instant star. They picked up veteran Pat Burrell, and he had two great months. They think he has something left and brought him back. They brought in Tejada. We’ll see.

Belt will undoubtedly be thinking of that final at-bat more than that first base hit. Tejada would probably tell the rook to shake it off.

After all, we have 161 more games to play.

Opening Day basesKirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireSeriously, sometimes the picture does tell the story. This is one of those times.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.
Derek JeterMatt Stamey/US PresswireDerek Jeter hit a career-low .270 in 2010, 64 points below his 2009 mark of .334.
Give Joe Girardi credit: With his suggestion that Derek Jeter may no longer serve as the Yankees' full-time leadoff hitter, he's making a public acknowledgment that Jeter is no longer a star hitter. Now he should make the next move, which is to acknowledge that Jeter doesn't belong in the No. 2 slot in the order.

Jeter entered the 2010 season with a career batting average of .317. He started off fine, hitting .330 with four home runs in April, but then his bat turned colder than a home opener in Greenland. He hit .242 from June through August and an empty .287 in September. He finished with a .270 average, 22 points below his previous worst season, and his .710 OPS was 61 points below his previous low. Jeter was effective against left-handers (.321 AVG/.393 OBP/.483 SLG) but helpless against right-handers (.246/.315/.317) and on the road (.246/.317/.317).

Jeter turned 36 during the season. Since 1960, 125 major leaguers qualified for the batting title (502 plate appearances) during their age 36 season. Only five suffered a bigger drop from their career average than Jeter’s 47-point tumble. Only four suffered a bigger drop from their career adjusted OPS (OPS+).

Following somewhat contentious negotiations, Jeter re-signed with the Yankees for three years and $51 million. The organization publicly raised questions about his age and diminishing range in the field. The Yankees are no doubt aware that no team has won a World Series with a 37-year-old shortstop since the Dodgers in 1955 with Pee Wee Reese. Many fans and analysts have asserted that Brett Gardner, with his higher on-base percentage and better base stealing abilities, should hit leadoff, with Jeter moved lower in the order … and they don’t mean second.

Yes, the eyes of the baseball world are always on Derek Jeter. But as he approaches his 3,000th career hit, he’ll face more scrutiny than ever. Jeter has been tweaking his swing during spring training, working with hitting coach Kevin Long to fix the stride on his front foot, which too often was moving toward the plate instead of the pitcher. Jeter says all this has been overanalyzed, and that making adjustments is something he’s done throughout his career.

You may not be a Yankees fan, but I’m guessing all this means you’re paying attention to Derek Jeter in 2011.

The big question, of course: What the heck is he going to do? Most of the projection systems predict a small bounce back from his .270/.340/.370 line:

Pecota: .282/.348/.386
ZiPS: .280/.347/.393
Bill James: .295/.365/.410
Marcel: .283/.350/.397

I wanted to go one step further, however. With the help of Baseball-Reference.com, I checked all 125 of those post-1960 age 36 regulars. Here are the 20 who suffered the largest drops in OPS+ at 36 from their career total through 35, and how they fared at 37. (We used OPS+ since it factors in changes in ballparks or offensive eras and the player’s overall hitting production, not just his batting average.)

Here’s the bad news for Jeter and Yankees fans: Of the 19 other players on the list, eight of them played their final season at 37, two retired and three played as a regular for the final time. I’m not saying Jeter will hit the wall like a lot of these guys did, but I believe it’s a strong indicator that 2010 was the beginning of the decline and not just a bad season that can be fixed by tweaking a batting stance.

The most similar players on the list are Biggio, Ripken and Tejada, middle infielders with excellent durability. We don’t know how Tejada will do, but Biggio and Ripken provided about the same level of production at 37 as 36 (although Ripken had moved to third base and Biggio to the outfield).

I predict a similar result for Jeter -- a 2011 that matches his 2010. The evidence seems clear that his bat speed has slowed. His ground-ball percentage was up nearly 9 percent from 2009; he swung at pitches out of the strike zone more than ever (a potential sign of somebody trying to “cheat” on fastballs); his production on fastballs also declined from previous years.

Can he play better? Sure, Willie Mays was one of the best hitters in the league at 37. Fred McGriff rebounded with a strong season. But nobody should be expecting another .300, 200-hit season from the Yankees captain. This is a Hall of Famer on the wrong side of the aging curve. The Yankees should consider sitting Jeter 20-25 games and, if they want to maximize their run scoring, move him to eighth or ninth in the lineup, especially against right-handers.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.