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December 4, 2012

On the Beat

Rumblings from Nashville

by John Perrotto

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Brian Cashman is either the eternal optimist or a pretty good fibber. Either way, the Yankees general manager downplayed the idea that his team could be without the game's highest-paid player for as much as half of next season.

The Yankees announced Monday, during the first day of the Winter Meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, that Rodriguez will undergo surgery on his left hip to repair a torn labrum. The operation will take place on a date to be determined in January, and Rodriguez will need four to six months of recovery time, which will cause him to miss Opening Day and could keep him out through the All-Star break.

Yet Cashman insisted that finding someone to fill the hole at third base has not necessarily been his top off-season priority. That would be a little easier to believe if the only other third baseman on the Yankees' roster was someone other than David Adams, who has yet to play above Double-A Trenton. Furthermore, Kevin Youkilis is the lone third baseman on the free-agent market that had as many as 400 plate appearances last season.

"My sole interest is just improving the entire club," Cashman said. "Whether we solve any issue specifically at that position of third base, I can't really answer. What are we going to do about that? Remains to be seen. Just not going to overreact. It's a significant circumstance; I understand that. But I've been engaging with the trade and free-agent market and listening, and we will act accordingly. Just no different than we've done in the past when we've had guys injured."

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The United States will begin play in the World Baseball Classic on March 8, against Mexico, in Pool D play at Chase Field in Phoenix. Major League Baseball Vice President of Baseball Operations, Joe Torre, will manage Team USA, his first time in the dugout since retiring as the Los Angeles Dodgers' manager following the 2011 season. Torre, though, says he has no desire to return to managing on a full-time basis after spending a total of 29 seasons as a big-league skipper.

"I've been asked many times since I've retired if I miss it, and I really can't say that I have," Torre said. "I mean, I enjoy watching it. And when we saw all the (division) series go five games, I didn't want to be in either dugout for Game Five, just because of the stress factor. The whole thing about it, it's exciting when you win, it's devastating when you lose, and the devastation got a little bit too much. With this, our first game is March 8, and our last game is hopefully March 19 (in the championship game at AT&T Park in San Francisco). So that's like a three-week period where it's sort of like, at my age, I can say this: having your grandchildren, and then at the end of three weeks you turn them back over to their parents. It's nice. You're going to enjoy them, you're going to love them, and hopefully we all have a good time."

Twins catcher Joe Mauer and Mets third baseman David Wright will play for the United States. The rest of the 28-man roster will be announced January 16.

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The Royals have made strengthening the starting rotation their top off-season priority and feel they have already taken steps toward accomplishing that goal by re-signing right-hander Jeremy Guthrie as a free agent and acquiring righty Ervin Santana from the Angels. There are rumors their next targets could be Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, the National League Cy Young Award winner, Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester, and Rays right-hander James Shields.

Royals manager Ned Yost, though, would like to see the Royals upgrade their offense, too, after finishing 12th in the American League and 20th in the majors with 4.17 runs scored a game last season. Yost, would also like to see the Royals improve just by the young players they already have in their lineup getting better and trying to hit for more power.

"Our philosophy last year, a little bit, was more the middle, the opposite way," Yost said. "I want to start opening it up a little bit. I want to start pulling the ball a little bit more. I don't want a ton of strikeouts, but I would rather strike out than hit the ball deep to the right-center field wall and have it caught unless there's a man on third base or a man on second base. I'd rather start taking some good swipes at the ball and trying to put the ball in the stands because I think we've got guys that can do it. I think Salvador Perez can hit 20-25 home runs. I think Eric Hosmer can hit 30. I think Mike Moustakas can hit 30. I think Alex Gordon can hit 30. I think Lorenzo Cain can hit 20. I think, eventually, Wil Myers can hit 20. I think Billy Butler can hit 40 home runs. He's got that kind of pop."

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Re-signing right-hander Jonathon Broxton to a three-year, $21-million contract last week gave the Reds someone with closing experience for the ninth-inning role. That, in turn, would allow them to move left-hander Aroldis Chapman, who became the closer last season when Ryan Madson blew out his elbow in spring training, a chance to move into the starting rotation.

Reds manager Dusty Baker admits he has mixed feelings about Chapman's role. On one hand, he knows that Chapman can handle closing. On the other hand, it would be intriguing to see what Chapman could do while pitching in longer stints.

"Well, that's a very interesting question, because Chapman very well could be like when I had Billy Swift in San Francisco," Baker said. "He could very well be my best starter and my best leader. So I'm sure that he'll do whatever you ask him to do. He would probably prefer to start, but last year we were preparing him as a starter, and there was much debate about whether to send him to the minor leagues to start or not. Emphatically, some of us wanted him in the big leagues, and he ended up being a closer. So we'll have to see. Right now we have six starters, and Chapman could possibly be one of them or could be our best closer. It's a pretty good problem to have."

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There is a big difference from when John Gibbons first managed the Blue Jays from 2004-08 and now that he getting a second chance to manage them after being hired last month to replace John Farrell, who was dealt to the Red Sox. Many pundits believes the Blue Jays are ready to make a run for the postseason—a place they haven't been since 1993—after acquiring shortstop Jose Reyes, left-hander Mark Buehrle, right-hander Josh Johnson, and catcher John Buck in a trade from the Marlins and signing free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera.

Gibbons, though, says he is happy there are expectations for his club. He is also thrilled baseball might become relevant in Canada next season.

"There's always pressure, no doubt about it, because a lot is expected in the baseball world and the country of Canada, and Toronto specifically," Gibbons said. "But yeah, that's a good thing.  That means you've got a good team. But there's always pressure in this business to perform. We're feeling good right now, there's no question about it. They've done a nice job of bringing in some players. Now it's the job of the manager and the coaching staff to pull it all together and get the most out of these guys. But it's a good position to be in."

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There is increasing speculation that Dickey, who was born, raised, and still lives in Nashville, could be traded before the meetings end Thursday morning. Dickey is signed for next year at $5.05 million but can become a free agent at the end of the season, and the sides can't come to an agreement on the length of a contract extension. Dickey is looking for three years, while the Mets prefer to go just two years with the 37-year-old. Mets manager Terry Collins would hate for the reigning Cy Young winner to leave but also said he will not complain if general manager Sandy Alderson deals Dickey.

"I support Sandy, and I support whatever we think is best for the organization," Collins said. "When we go to spring training, I'm going to look at the names on those lockers, and I'm going to figure out what we've got to do to be successful with the names on the lockers, depending on who they are. Anybody, anything, can happen any time. I've been in the game long enough to understand that. I don't think, as managers, we can sit here and get caught up on one move or another move and say. We can't worry about that. We've got to worry about what we have and how we're going to get better."

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All the Athletics have to do to realize the importance of pitching and defense is looking across the bay. The Giants have won two World Series in the last three years primarily because of outstanding run prevention. Athletics manager Bob Melvin feels that that is the formula for his team to build on its surprising success in running down the Rangers to win the AL West on the last day of the regular season this year. The Athletics then lost in five games to the Tigers in an American League Division Series.

"Well, that's the way we envision doing things," said Melvin, who was the AL Manager of the Year. "And we felt like last year if we were going to have success it would be based on that dynamic. We felt like we were better defensively. We felt like we had pitching depth. How far along these guys were was probably the question in spring training. Now we start to get some offensive performance in the second half and things all started to click. But it's going to come down to pitching and defense, and it always does in the postseason on top of that. That's how you win games. Good pitching usually will keep the hitting down. We feel like as far as that goes we're ahead of the game, and that's where our strength is, in our pitching."

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The Rays agreed to terms with free-agent first baseman James Loney on Monday on a one-year, $2-million contract, pending him passing a physical. Loney had a down year in 2012, hitting a combined .249/.293/.336 with six home runs in 465 plate appearances with the Dodgers and Red Sox. However. Rays manager Joe Maddon is confident that Loney is a solid reclamation project at a good price for his low-budget club.

"I really got my best look at him at the end of the season when he was with the Red Sox, and I was really impressed with his at-bats, the quality of the at-bat," Maddon said. "Saw pitches well, looked over the bat well, great defender. There's a real calmness about his approach to the game. A lot of things I liked about all of that. I've been liking him for several years. He's a very nice player. I know there's probably something, some chicken left on the bone there yet, according to Dave Wells, but he's also at that optimal age, like 28 years of age, right in that sweet spot, where we like to get guys, and maybe possibly what you would consider have underachieved to a point and, all of a sudden, they come to us, and this is like the perfect time to get them."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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