Camp notes: Manny, Dodgers closer to deal
When word got out that general manager Ned Colletti was nowhere to be found yesterday as the Dodgers prepared for their first spring training game in Arizona, the buzz began. Could Manny Ramirez be ready to return? The buzz grew louder as sources began to report that Colletti and team owner Frank McCourt were in Los Angeles, preparing to meet with Ramirez' agent, Scott Boras, to try to get a deal done. But as ESPN.com's Jayson Stark reports, all that buzz has yet to produce any honey: While an offer remains on the table, the two sides have yet to come to an agreement. However, for fantasy owners, while there may not actually be a signature on a dotted line yet, the writing is clearly on the wall. Eventually, a deal will be struck, possibly as soon as today, and Manny will once again be sporting Dodger blue come Opening Day. Even if these talks drag out for another week or two, there's no need to worry about the type of production you'll get from Manny in 2009. He'll hit around .310, with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, even with only a limited amount of work this spring.
Hitters simply do not require all that much work to get ready for the start of the season -- a point echoed by the manager of the other Los Angeles franchise, Mike Scioscia. After watching Vladimir Guerrero take batting practice for the first time all week, the Angels' skipper was confident that his slugger would make a full recovery from his offseason knee surgery. As he told the Orange County Register, "We have a lot of time with Vlad. We're going to keep him involved with baseball activities as much as we can. ... He should have no problem at all getting ready for the season and the time he needs to put in down there." Scioscia added that even though Guerrero may not play in live games until the middle of March, it should only take 10 games for him to be all set to go for the 2009 season. If that's all the work a rehabbing player needs to get going, then surely a healthy player like Manny Ramirez wouldn't need more time than that to get back into the swing of things.
In other news from around spring training camps ...
• Forget all the off-the-field issues, the press conferences and the talk of a "mystery cousin." None of that matters for people thinking about drafting Alex Rodriguez for their fantasy team as long as he can keep those distractions from affecting his on-field play. Despite getting booed by some fans in Dunedin at the start of yesterday's spring training opener, A-Rod hit a two-run homer and walked twice in his first action of the spring. It's only one game, but barring any new, unforeseen revelations, things should only get easier for the Yankees' third baseman as time marches on.
Dusty Baker is still Dusty Baker. The Reds shut out the Rays 7-0 on Wednesday, and both Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto pitched three innings in the contest. To be fair to Baker, both Reds hurlers are prepping to throw for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, and consequently are further along in the process of getting their arms ready for the level required for "real competition." However, Baker's decision to have his staff throwing that much this early in the spring is in stark contrast to the philosophy of most pitching caretakers. Case in point: Tim Lincecum threw one inning for the Giants on Wednesday and called it a day. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that pitching coach Dave Righetti had Lincecum on a 25-pitch limit, and after throwing 18 pitches in the first inning, the team had seen enough. That kind of caution seems to make sense to us, but apparently, not so in Cincinnati.
• St. Louis prospect Colby Rasmus played the entire game, going 2-for-5 with a double and a walk for the Cardinals. Tony La Russa has gone on record as saying he'd like to continue his practice of batting his pitcher in the eighth spot in the lineup, with a "second leadoff hitter" in the nine-hole, and he considers Rasmus as a real candidate for that job. "He's going to get prime consideration to hit there if he's in the lineup," La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week. "If you accept the premise that your No. 9 hitter is your second leadoff hitter, then anybody you'd consider to hit leadoff is going to also be considered to bat ninth. That's where he fits."
• The Giants' Travis Ishikawa hit two home runs against the Indians on Wednesday, making a huge statement that San Francisco might want to stop shopping around for a better first-base option. That statement seemed to be heard. "He's our first baseman right now," manager Bruce Bochy told the San Jose Mercury News. "Ishi's got a great look about him right now. He's confident. He looks like he wants to take this job and run with it." After the club passed on Joe Crede, Ishikawa's only real competition for the job is John Bowker, but because Bowker still has minor league options and Ishikawa does not, Ishikawa has a huge leg up in this competition.
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• In Astros' camp, Chris Johnson is attempting to make a name for himself. The third-base prospect homered off the bench in Houston's 6-3 win over the Nationals on Wednesday. Third base for the Astros is far from locked down, with the current plan seeming to be a ragtag platoon of Geoff Blum and Aaron Boone. While our own Jason Grey rates Johnson No. 61 in his list of the Top 100 Prospects for 2009 and pointed out that he wasn't all that impressed with Johnson in the Arizona Fall League, perhaps Jason wasn't there the same day manager Cecil Cooper was. "I saw him in the Fall League," Cooper told the Houston Chronicle, "and he hit two of the longest home runs I've ever seen. I'm not going to rule him out. The kid has tremendous ability."
• Brandon Moss started in right field for the Pirates, apparently suffering no lingering effects from the surgery he needed on his left knee, which ended up being far less invasive than the team feared. Right field is where he'll likely be on Opening Day, and with Nate McLouth in center field, only one outfield spot is up for grabs in Pittsburgh. The competition for it seems to be between Nyjer Morgan, Eric Hinske, Steve Pearce and Andrew McCutchen. However, odds are that spot will go to young speedster Morgan. This week, manager John Russell told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he's looking to go forward with speed. "We've given ourselves an opportunity to have a more dynamic lineup, as far as getting guys on base, getting them moving and bringing them in." The Pirates finished 29th in the majors in steals last season, so having Morgan -- who has stolen 190 bases in the minors -- in the lineup every day would seem to be a large step in the direction Russell wants his team to run.