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December 17, 2008

On the Beat

Degree of Difficulties

by John Perrotto

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The speed at which baseball news travels and creates the potential for controversy never ceases to amaze. Even comments made at an agricultural trade show in North Dakota can generate headlines in a matter of moments.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was making a public appearance at a show in Fargo earlier this month when he was asked how he planned to fit four outfielders into three starting spots next season. He gave a typically candid answer, saying that he would prefer to have a starting outfield of Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Gomez, and Denard Span, which would leave Delmon Young as the odd man out. "Those three guys need to play every day," Gardenhire said. "Delmon is in the mix. He's a helluva player, a helluva talent, but to me, those three guys should be your outfield, and you go from there." The remarks were dutifully reported by the Fargo Forum, and off they went.

It was no surprise that Gardenhire tried to do a little damage control when he met with reporters last week during the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. "I'm not going to say it was taken out of context because I said what I said, but it was kind of left off there," Gardenhire said. "It wasn't a shot at anybody; I wouldn't do that. I have a lot of respect for Delmon, because there is a guy who played the last two months of last season with a bad ankle and came to the ballpark every day. He was one of the reasons we got into a one-game playoff." (The Twins lost the tie-breaker game for the American League Central title to the White Sox.)

Twins general manager Bill Smith called Young's agent and was told that there were no hard feelings. While Young has been temperamental in the past, having been suspended for 50 games in 2006 for throwing a bat at an umpire while at Triple-A Durham in the Rays' farm system, Gardenhire doesn't foresee any problems when the Twins report to spring training in Fort Myers, Florida in two months. There is also a chance Young won't be with the Twins when spring training begins; they've let other teams know he is available in trade as they pursue a third baseman. "I would call him in a heartbeat and tell him 'my bad,' because you shouldn't have to answer those questions and shouldn't have to deal with that," Gardenhire said. "That was me screwing everything up, more than anything else."

Smith suggested that perhaps Gardenhire was trying to light a fire under Young by making the comment. "It was a fire I lit, all right," Gardenhire said with a smile before turning serious. "I don't light fires under players. All my guys play. It was just winter conversation with my farmer friends, and the next thing I know I'm hunting and I was in the Aberdeen (SD) newspaper, and I went, 'Whoa, Chrysler.' I had a gun with me, though. Just kidding. That was a joke, OK? I don't want to start another fight."

Young's .269 EqA was actually better than than two of the three outfielders Gardenhire mentioned as his starters: Cuddyer's was .257, Gomez finished at .242, while Span put up a .298 EqA in his rookie season. Young, though, has yet to achieve the stardom so many had predicted for him when the Rays made him the first overall pick in the 2003 first-year player draft, and there are those in the Twins' organization who believe that part of the problem is that Young eschews the instruction he receives from their coaching staff, only accepting advice from his brother Dmitri, a first baseman with the Nationals, and his father.

Gardenhire acknowledges often being frustrated when dealing with Young in his first season with the Twins after being acquired from the Rays in an off-season trade. "Like with every player, we want him to flow into our program and understand what we are all about," Gardenhire said. "He's a little more stubborn than some of the guys. You have to understand that Delmon is one of these kids who has been the best player from when he was probably little all the way up until now, and the two biggest people in his life are pretty knowledgeable baseball people. That's who he listened to, and our goal was to try to break into that and get him to understand what we are about. Delmon was not a problem though, and I would not want for anyone to think he was. Delmon and I got along fine all year. I like the heck out of the young man. He is a very talented young player, along with all of our other outfielders."

The question of how to fit four outfielders into three spots remains. "We can make it work," Gardenhire said. "The problem is when you don't have enough good players. When you have too many, you have good problems."

---

It seemed inevitable that Padres owner John Moores would put the team up for sale; he is going through a complicated divorce that includes the division of assets, and which has become quite rancorous. Moores acknowledged last weekend that he has hired Goldman Sachs to try and identify buyers for the franchise, and the sale process could be a lengthy one; there's the collapsing economy, and commissioner Bud Selig does not want Moores to try unloading the franchise at a reduced price. Forbes magazine had valued the Padres at $385 million in April.

Moores has owned the club since 1995, and during his tenure the Padres have opened Petco Park and made the postseason four times, including the franchise's second trip to the World Series in 1998. This year, however, the Padres are coming off of a 99-loss season, and they plan to cut last year's $73 million payroll in half because of Moores' expected losses once the divorce becomes final.

Moores told MLB.com that he would like to be involved with the team in some capacity after the sale, and Padres chief executive officer Sandy Alderson hopes it plays out that way. "I think his comments reiterate his desire to stay involved," Alderson told Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune. "I just expect to be supportive of the process. I am sure that we on the staff will be involved to some extent, but that's to be determined."

---

Even though Mets owner Fred Wilpon's Sterling Equities real-estate firm lost a reported $300 million in Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme, GM Omar Minaya says that it's business as usual in Flushing Meadows. "Based upon what we've been told, they're separate entities," Minaya told Ken Davidoff of Newsday, referring to the Mets and Sterling Equities. "My understanding is the baseball team is totally separate from the other business. I'm expecting to proceed the way we were before."

The Mets have already made major moves to strengthen their bullpen this winter, signing free-agent closer Francisco Rodriguez to a three-year, $37 million contract as a free agent, and acquiring Mariners closer J.J. Putz to be their set-up man in a three-team, 12-player trade that also involved the Indians.

Minaya is now focused on adding starting pitching, and he is trying to re-sign left-hander Oliver Perez while pursuing other free agents, including Derek Lowe and Tim Redding. "We're talking to other clubs and agents right now," Minaya said.

---

Major League Rumors and Rumblings: The Yankees are considering making a late bid on free-agent first baseman Mark Teixeira, and if that fails, they may go after outfielder Manny Ramirez on the open market. ... Right-hander Daniel Cabrera, non-tendered by the Orioles last week, has a host of suitors topped by the Pirates, but also including the Brewers, Padres, Rangers, Blue Jays, and Nationals. ... Non-tendered third baseman Ty Wigginton, who was cut loose by the Astros, is drawing interest from the Indians, Reds, Twins, Pirates, and Giants. ... While the Reds are trying to sign free-agent outfielder Pat Burrell, they are also looking at more affordable right-handed hitting options, such as Rocco Baldelli and Juan Rivera. ... The Tigers are trying to sign catcher Matt Treanor, who was released by the Marlins last week.

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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