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April 30, 2010

On the Beat

Friday Update

by John Perrotto

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When Ryan Howard signed his five-year, $125-million contract extension with the Phillies on Monday, Albert Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez had to be silently celebrating. Pujols and Gonzalez are both eligible to become free agents after the 2011 season, just as Howard would have been before re-upping. Certainly, Pujols will seek more than $25 million a year in his next contract by using Howard as a comparison, as both are slugging first basemen. Gonzalez, another power-hitting first baseman, could also use an average annual value of $25 million as a potential starting point.

Pujols and the Cardinals have tabled negotiations on an extension until the end of the season. Considering their Opening Day payroll was just $37 million, it seems unlikely the Padres will be able to retain Gonzalez, though he is hugely popular as a bilingual hometown product.

Pujols didn't get into specifics about his contact when asked about Howard. The two have become friends from occasionally working out in the offseason, as Howard is a native St. Louisan.

"Good things happen to good people like Ryan," Pujols said. "He's worth everything he gets because he's proved it."

Pujols might want to hire Braves manager Bobby Cox as his agent if he wants to get a record-setting contract. When Cox was asked how much Pujols was worth, his response was: "Fifty million dollars a year, at least. He's the best. Let's put it that way."

Pujols might also consider bringing Braves third baseman Chipper Jones along to the negotiations. "Albert's got a couple of more MVPs, a batting title and put all the same numbers that Howard has, maybe a little better," Jones said. "I'd say that Albert is going to make a little more than ($25 million a year). It depends on if St. Louis has deep pockets. I'm sure if do, for someone such as Albert, it's a pretty good gamble to take."

John Boggs, Gonzalez's agent, took note of the Howard deal.

"Obviously this bodes well for Adrian Gonzalez because it validates the fact that he's worth that kind of money or more," Boggs said.

Gonzalez has been consistently mentioned in trade rumors for more than a year and the chatter will likely increase as the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline approaches. Boggs, though, says Gonzalez is uniquely equipped to handle those distractions.

"One of Adrian's abilities is he concentrates," Boggs said. "He talks less about contractual and business situations as the season is in session than any other player I've represented. With him, it's about winning. What can I do to make the San Diego Padres a better ballclub today? He has that ability to compartmentalize."

---

The Rays must feel like the proverbial tree that falls in the forest. You know, if they have the best record in the major leagues and nobody is there to bear witness, do they really have the best record in the majors? The Rays are 17-5 yet drawing nearly 6,000 fans less a game than at this time last season. They drew just under 11,000 for games against the Athletics on Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Tropicana Field, then the "crowd" swelled to 12,766 for Thursday night's game against the Royals.

Tropicana Field is the last domed facility in the major leagues and the Rays are trying to get a retractable-roof stadium built in either St. Petersburg or Tampa. Because it does not want to alienate the taxpayers, Rays officials aren't publicly complaining about the attendance. However, those in uniform admit that it is disappointing to be playing so well but in front of so few fans.

"We really do appreciate those that are loyal and come out all the time, but I’d like to see that we’re getting to the point now where they don’t come to see the opposition, they come out to see us," manager Joe Maddon said. "That’s the part I think is missing. You always talk about who we’re playing, and we get a good crowd for Boston, we get a good crowd for New York, whatever, that’s wonderful. But at some point, come see the Rays.”

Added right-hander James Shields: "To be honest with you, it's a little bit disappointing to us players, because we're really working our butts off out here. We definitely do thank the fans that are coming out. Hopefully, the city of St. Pete and Tampa and everywhere else, they want to come out. We're in it to win it. That's what we're all about."

---

The Orioles have struggled to close out games since Opening Day, blowing five of eight save opportunities, and the situations has only grown worse with closer Mike Gonzalez on the disabled list with a shoulder problem. However, manager Dave Trembley has abandoned closer-by-committee for an entirely new approach. Call it closer-by-open-tryout.

It is a unique solution to the situation, to be sure. Then again, some of the history's greatest ideas were born from desperation.

"What we have been trying in the bullpen has not worked," Trembley said. "I have been giving it to just about everybody and, until we find the right combination, we are probably going to continue to make moves. And if I have to try something different, don’t blame me for trying it. Because at this particular point in time, I think it is open for the best man to step forward and say he wants it. There is no closer right now for me. Who wants it? Somebody take it. There is no set-up guy. Who wants it? Somebody take it."

The Orioles have had only one save situation since Trembley's proclamation and he certainly went off the board with his first choice to close out a lead. Alfredo Simon was called on to start the ninth inning with the Orioles on top 5-2 against the Yankees on Tuesday night, just hours after he was called up from Triple-A Norfolk and 11 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Simon gave up two runs by held on for his first career save.

"Whoever can get outs is going to get the chance," Trembley said. "I don't think there (are) any roles. I don't think you can define roles."

---

Scouts' views on various major-leaguers:

White Sox right-hander Jake Peavy: "He just doesn't look right. He's not getting his legs into his delivery. He's just kind of slinging the ball. It would seem to me he is favoring the ankle that he hurt last year."

Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson: "He's raw and he's going to strike out a lot and make a few mistakes. But he's also very talented and I think he has a chance to turn into a star."

Royals right-hander Gil Meche: "There is no doubt in my mind that his shoulder is bothering him more than he's letting on. His fastball doesn't have any movement. His breaking pitches aren't sharp. He's going to war without any weapons right now."

Mariners designated hitter Ken Griffey Jr.: "It's tough to watch right now, knowing the player he once was and what he has meant to the game. His bat speed is gone. His ability to drive the ball is gone. He just doesn't have anything left."

Rangers closer Neftali Feliz: "I don't know if he's cut out to be the closer. I saw him in back-to-back games. He was throwing 100 mph the first night but was down to 92-94 mph the second night. A closer has to bounce back quicker than that."

Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman: "His problem now is that the changeup is no longer a devastating pitch because it's not much slower than the fastball now and hitters can time it. As great as he's been for so many years, it's hard to pitch in the major leagues with an 83-mph fastball."

Diamondbacks right-hander Ian Kennedy: "I never really liked him with the Yankees but I'm changing my opinion. He knows how to pitch. He's not going to overpower you, but if he keeps the ball down in the strike zone, then he's got a chance to beat you."

Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp: "I think the guy is distracted about something. He's getting late jumps on some balls and just misplaying others in the outfield. He looks completely lost."

Athletics infielder Adam Rosales: "I like this guy. He's a good utility player. You can play him all over the infield and he'll catch the ball, and he also has a little pop in his bat. He's really helping that team."

---

MLB Rumors and Rumblings: The tentative plan for Nationals pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg, now at Double-A Harrisburg, is to make his major-league debut sometime during a homestand from June 4-10 against the Reds and Pirates. … Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, optioned by the Rangers to Triple-A Oklahoma this week, might not be back in the major leagues for a while, as he has developed a case of the yips when trying to throw the ball back to the pitcher. … The Brewers will likely turn to LaTroy Hawkins or Todd Coffey to serve as the closer if they take Hoffman out of that role. … Resurgent Austin Kearns has essentially supplanted Matt LaPorta as the Indians' regular left fielder.

Personal interviews and information from other sources are used in On The Beat.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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