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April 23, 2010
On the Beat
Baseball told Jim Edmonds to go away last year, as the eight-time Gold Glove winner and four-time All-Star did not get any offers as a free agent. That Edmonds was shunned by all 30 teams was hard to believe based on the events of Thursday afternoon. Edmonds played right field and went 4-for-6 with a home run and three RBI to help the Brewers roll to a 20-0 victory over the Pirates at PNC Park. It showed why Edmonds wasn't ready to retire last year, even when he couldn't find a job. He still believed he could play in the major leagues. Now, the 39-year-old veteran of 17 seasons is being vindicated.
"It just feels good to be playing again and helping a team win," Edmonds said. "I really missed the competition and being part of a team. When you've done that for so many years and you still enjoyed doing it, it was kind of tough to not have that anymore."
Edmonds did look like he was he was finished early in the 2008 season, as the Padres released him after he hit .178/.265/.233 with one home run in 103 plate appearances. However, the Cubs signed him as a free agent and he went on to hit .256/.369/.568 with 19 home runs in just 298 plate appearances.
"When you reach a certain age in this game and you might not be an everyday player anymore, it's tough to find a job, I guess," Edmonds said. "I knew I could still help a team, though. I was very confident I still had something left. It would have been easier to accept if I had hit .180 all year."
Edmonds kept taking batting practice through the end of May last year before finally stopping when it became apparent no one was going to sign him. He did not want to take the independent league route to keep playing. "I did stay in shape, though, in shape so I wouldn't look like a mess when I took the kids to the beach," he said with a smile.
Edmonds publicly lobbied manager Tony La Russa over the winter for a return to the Cardinals, the team he starred for from 2000-07, but they did not have interest. However, the lobbying did catch the attention of Brewers manager Ken Macha.
Macha had long admired Edmonds, going back to their days with the Angels in 1990s when Macha was a coach and Edmonds was breaking into the major leagues. Macha ran the idea by Brewers general manager Bob Melvin, and they decided to offer Edmonds a minor-league contract with no guarantee of making the club.
"I didn't know if he could still play or not," Macha said. "I knew he had really beaten his body up by playing so hard for so many years. I also didn't know what kind of bat speed he might have left, especially after sitting out a year. The one thing I did know, though, was that he would come to spring training in great shape, which he did and then he played well enough to make the team."
Edmonds is the Brewers' fourth outfielder, but he has been playing on a fairly regular basis while being spotted for Carlos Gomez in center field and Corey Hart in right field. Edmonds, who turns 40 on June 27, is hitting .341/.431/.568 in 51 plate appearances with a .346 TAv.
"I've never been a guy who has spent a lot of time trying to evaluate myself because I just worry about going out and playing as hard as I can," Edmonds said. "People have told me that I look like I haven't missed a beat from 2008. I take that as a real compliment and it makes me feel good. Not many guys age are out of the game for a year and get a chance to come back at my age. I'm just so thankful for the opportunity the Brewers have given me."
Then again, the Brewers have become the home for outfielders trying to make a comeback. They signed Gabe Kapler as a free agent prior to the 2008 season after he had spent the previous season managing in the Red Sox' farm. Trot Nixon was in camp on a minor-league contract last year during spring training after he had decided to retire after being released the Mets in 2008.
Kapler hit .301/.340/.498 in 2008 in helping the Brewers to their first post-season appearance in 26 years. Nixon, on the other hand, was released in spring training.
"You hit on some guys that and you miss on some others," Macha said. "In Jimmy Edmonds' case, it certainly seems like we've hit."
Regardless of owner Tom Hicks' statements to the contrary this week, a source with direct knowledge of the situation said the Rangers will eventually be sold to a group headed by Pittsburgh lawyer Chuck Greenberg and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan for an agreed-upon price of $550 million. "Come hell or high water, it's going to happen because (commissioner) Bud Selig knows this ownership group is the right one and he knows the franchise will be successful under Nolan Ryan," the source said.
Hicks suggested that the sale to the Greenberg/Ryan group would not be approved by he lenders holding most of the $525 million worth of defaulted loans by the Hicks Sports Group. Most observers of the sale process believe that Houston businessman Jim Crane would likely offer more money for the Rangers but Major League Baseball issued a sharply worded statement after Hicks' remarks that essentially said that it was in charge of the sale and Hicks' opinion did not matter.
The Greenberg/Ryan group was selected as the chosen bidder on Dec. 15 and the negotiations have been tremendously slow. MLB, which also loaned Hicks approximately $15 million, has twice had to push HSG through negotiating deadlines toward the next step in the process. However, a definitive sales agreement failed to be reached in January and again on April 9, and it now looks as though MLB will soon take over control of the franchise until a deal is done.
Greenberg has been down this road before, as he helped hockey legend Mario Lemieux buy the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins basically out of bankruptcy. "Chuck knows how to pull these deals off and everyone in the commissioner's office has the utmost confidence that he will get this done," the source said.
Selig and MLB won't do Hicks any favors in this mess. Hicks has been out of favor with the sport's hierarchy for nearly a decade since the Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $252-million contract as a free agent in December, 2000.
Things haven't been much better on the field for the Rangers lately, as they had lost six games in a row before beating the Red Sox 3-0 on Thursday night at Fenway Park. One of the first things Greenberg and Ryan are likely to do when they gain control of the franchise is fire manager Ron Washington.
Washington did not have much job security coming into the season, particularly after the story broke in the spring training that he admitted to using cocaine last season when he was faced with an annual random drug test from MLB. His curious handling of the bullpen in the early part of the season isn't helping, as the Rangers are just 4-4 when leading after seven innings and 2-3 in games in which they've had either a three- or four-run lead. There were also reports last year that Ryan wanted to fire Washington, but Hicks instead extended his contract by a year.
On the surface, it would seem that there is a conflict of interest with Hall of Famer Joe Morgan joining the Reds as a special adviser while continuing to serve as an analyst on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. However, MLB approved the move because Morgan's role as part of the Reds' decision-making process will be minimal. Instead, Morgan's focus will be on trying to find ways to get more African-American youth interested in playing baseball. While Morgan lives in California, he is building a Honda dealership in the Cincinnati area and could not resist the emotional tug of working for the franchise for which he starred from 1972-79.
"I've met a couple of times with African-American leaders," Morgan said. "That was great. I felt like I was making a difference. That's what I'm here for. I hope I can make this a better community. Some of the greatest times of my life were here. Bench, Rose, Perez, Foster, Griffey, Concepcion. That's the main reason."
Morgan called Reds chief executive officer Phil Castellini to initiate the process of him joining the organization and trying to get more African-Americans to participate in the sport. "I want to be part of the solution, not just a guy on TV talking about what's going down," Morgan said.
Scouts' takes on various major leaguers:
Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton: "I know he's struggled a little early in the season, but the kid just oozes talent. The sky truly is the limit because he hasn't come to close to fully maturing either physically or from a knowing the game standpoint."
Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz: "It's been a while since I've seen a young pitcher come to the major leagues with this kind of feel for pitching. His stuff is good, not great, but it plays up because he throws every single pitch with a purpose behind it."
Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton: "He's an enigma because he has great stuff. He just looks a mess right now. He's overstriding in his delivery, guiding the ball instead of throwing it, and you can tell by his body language that he has no confidence."
Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia: "His changeup has been better than ever, as if he needed another pitch to dominate, but it gives him one more weapon."
Indians right-hander Fausto Carmona: "His sinker isn't quite as good as it was when he won 19 games (in 2007), but he's throwing the ball a lot better than the last couple of years. He is also more in control on the mound and I attribute that to working with a good veteran catcher in Mike Redmond."
Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano: "Everyone knows the slider is a devastating pitch for him, but his fastball and changeup are better this year because he is commanding them better. That's made a huge difference for him."
Braves right fielder Jason Heyward: "I know there isn't much more to say about him that hasn't been said but what really impresses me is how smart of a hitter he is. I've never seen a 20-year-old make adjustments from at-bat to at-bat the way he does."
Marlins second baseman Jorge Cantu: "He is hitting the ball hard every time up. Any time he gets a pitch to hit, he doesn't miss it."
Mets first baseman Ike Davis: "Everyone compares him to John Olerud because of his gap power, but I think he will eventually hit a few more home runs than Olerud because he is a little stronger."
Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder: "Everyone's game plan this season has been to jam him, jam him, and jam him. He's been slow to adjust to that, but he will because he's a good hitter."
MLB Rumors and Rumblings: After saying the job was still open when the season began, Yankees manager Joe Girardi now acknowledges that Joba Chamberlain is the primary set-up man for Mariano Rivera. … Rookie Jenrry Mejia is close to taking eighth-inning duties for the Mets. … The Mets plan to use Daniel Murphy as a super-utility player when he returns from the disabled list as Davis, the rookie, has taken over as the starting first baseman. … Talk continues to persist that the White Sox will trade catcher A.J. Pierzynski.