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Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Camp notes: Braves close to signing two legends


Wednesday might be Atlanta's day to grab the headlines.

Tom Glavine
It appears Tom Glavine will stay in Atlanta on an incentive-laden deal.
All indications are the Atlanta Braves will ink two certain Hall of Famers, 600-homer slugger Ken Griffey Jr. and 300-game winner Tom Glavine, to contracts sometime Wednesday. News late Tuesday night had Griffey mulling a decision between the Braves and the Seattle Mariners, his first team, although the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported early Wednesday morning that he has told friends he has already decided he'll join the Braves. Glavine and the Braves, meanwhile, were hammering out incentive clauses in a one-year deal expected to be worth $1 million with $3-4 million in bonuses for time spent on the active roster, the Journal-Constitution reported early Wednesday.

Unfortunately, for all the real-world headlines such deals might generate, neither of these signings would amount to much for fantasy purposes (especially in Glavine's case).

For Griffey, signing with Atlanta would present two benefits for him. First, the Braves train only 20 minutes from his home in Orlando, Fla., and play regular-season home games one state away. Second, they have a wide-open outfield picture in which Jeff Francoeur, whose OPS in 2008 was .653, is about the only sure thing. A place to play regularly would seem to be no issue for Griffey Jr.

But even this favorable scenario can't help Griffey return to his old 40 homers-per-season production. He probably won't hit 30 home runs, either. His at-bats-per-home run ratio has declined in each of the past three seasons and dipped to 27.2:1 in 2008, his worst ratio since his rookie year of 1989. Plus, Turner Field represents a worse hitting environment than Great American Ball Park, where he played from 2003 to 2008, or U.S. Cellular Field, where he finished 2008. A .260 hitter with 23 home runs and 79 RBIs in 141 road games the past two seasons combined, Griffey, who's 39, doesn't figure to produce much better numbers than that in his new digs … and even those might represent generous projections.

One thing Griffey can still do is mash right-handed pitchers, against whom he had an .841 OPS in 2008. Matchups seekers, especially those of you in NL-only formats, should take note. Griffey might be an ideal platoon mate for Matt Diaz, whose career OPS against left-handers is .869, and both might be able to help you in daily transaction formats.

Glavine will turn 43 next month. What's troubling about him is that his ERA and WHIP have increased by noticeable margins in each of the past two seasons. A finesse pitcher, Glavine has little room for error, making him a weak bet even as a matchups choice. Allowing him to finish his career in Atlanta might be a heartwarming story for the fans, but there's a reason he'll be inking a deal loaded with incentives. Simply put, he's not all that likely to meet them.

Frankly, I'd rather have seen Jorge Campillo remain the Braves' fifth starter. At least he offers the chance at some NL-only value. He might have to settle for a middle-relief role, in spite of an impressive 3.91 ERA and 1.24 WHIP last season.

In other news from around spring training camps:

• Good news for you Chase Utley fans: The Phillies' official Web site reports he joined the team for its first full-squad workout Tuesday, participating in fielding drills and hitting off the practice tee. That would seemingly put him ahead of schedule in his recovery from Nov. 24 hip surgery, an operation expected to require a four-to-six-month rehabilitation. We'll surely get frequent updates on Utley's status throughout the spring, but at his current rate of recovery, there's no reason to draft him as anything less than a player who might miss two to four weeks of regular-season time.

• What a difference a year makes. Eric Gagne, who earned $10 million with the Brewers last season, agreed Tuesday to return to the team, but this time on a non-guaranteed minor league deal. What a trying year he endured: He was implicated in the Mitchell report three days after signing his big free-agent contract in December 2007, lost his closer's job in May thanks to injury and poor performance and wound up registering the highest ERA of his career (5.44).

Gagne, the Brewers' closer on Opening Day 2008, won't stand a chance to start this season at that status. Trevor Hoffman will assume that role for as long as his 41-year-old arm will allow him to pitch, and David Riske, Jorge Julio and perhaps even Carlos Villanueva should initially rank higher in the bullpen pecking order. But Gagne, if he makes the team and starts off hot, might wind up a useful in-season pickup if the worst happens with Hoffman. On draft day, though, don't bother, and that's speaking even to those of you in deep NL-only leagues.

Vladimir Guerrero
The Angels' Vladimir Guerrero says he's feeling great following October knee surgery.
Vladimir Guerrero, who had surgery Oct. 10 to repair his right medial meniscus, reported to camp Tuesday and declared all is well with the knee, according to the Angels' official Web site. Manager Mike Scioscia, though, said the team is planning a cautious approach with the slugger, holding him out of Cactus League games until "early to mid-March."

Guerrero apparently also prefers to start in right field more than the 99 times he did last season and be the designated hitter fewer than the 44 times he did in 2008. He said that although his 30 home run/30 stolen-base days are a thing of the past, he should be able to improve upon the seven stolen bases he totaled in 2007 and 2008. His optimism might seem refreshing, but fact remains the Angels probably would be better off with Guerrero running sparsely and playing as a DH more often than not. Continued good health might help stave off a statistical collapse from him in 2009, though, so don't be too hasty to push him down your draft board.

• We're edging ever closer to the point where Jeff Francis can be scratched off 2009 draft boards entirely. He apparently had no problems with his shoulder during a 25-pitch bullpen session Tuesday but continues to consider season-ending surgery, the Rockies' official Web site reports. Francis, who is still experiencing pain in the joint, a problem that dates back well into 2008, has no timetable but hopes to throw again Thursday. Even if he avoids the knife, Francis has a long way to go to restore faith in prospective owners after he had a 5.01 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 24 starts last season.

• Looking to add depth, the Rays signed Adam Kennedy to a minor league contract on Tuesday, according to the Tampa Tribune. Unfortunately, he stands little chance at making the team, with Akinori Iwamura entrenched at second base and in the leadoff spot, and Willy Aybar and Ben Zobrist likely to serve as the team's backup infielders. Kennedy might have had minimal appeal in AL- or NL-only leagues in the right circumstance, but this in no way is it. He'd probably need Iwamura to get hurt just to break camp with the team.

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• Meanwhile, in the camp of Kennedy's former team, the Cardinals, Troy Glaus reported to camp Tuesday fresh off Jan. 21 surgery to clean out the labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder. There remains no timetable for his recovery, initially estimated at 12 weeks, but the team's official Web site reports he has not yet begun any baseball activities. Glaus is a virtual lock to begin the season on the disabled list, missing perhaps a month or more, opening the door for prospect David Freese to step up and claim the job. One significant development regarding the Cardinals' third-base vacancy: Brett Wallace, the team's first-round pick in the 2008 MLB draft, apparently won't get nearly as long a look as Freese and is expected to begin the season in the minors. We might see Wallace in St. Louis before 2009 ends, but don't expect him to be worth a selection on draft day.

• The grand Michael Young-to-third-base experiment is officially a reality. Nearly five weeks after the Rangers confirmed their intent to shift the 2008 Gold Glove winner from shortstop, Young appeared at the position for the first time in camp Tuesday. Top prospect Elvis Andrus, who batted .295 and stole 54 bases as a 19-year-old in Double-A ball last season to force the Rangers' hand, is expected to get a long look for the Opening Day shortstop role this spring. With only Omar Vizquel standing in his way, Andrus is looking very much a good bet to break camp with the team, meaning he'll warrant late-round consideration in most fantasy leagues.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.