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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Signed RF-R Richard Hidalgo to a minor league contract with
a spring training NRI. [2/26]

I suppose the next order of business is for the city of Baltimore to erect a
statue in the harbor, perhaps of Gary Roenicke, with the
motto “Give us your aging, tired right-handed bats, yearning to be
politely compensated in the absence of more lucrative opportunities.”
Don’t get me wrong; I’d much rather take a roll of the dice with Hidalgo
than wishcast Sammy Sosa into someone who might ever again
be marginally useful. Hidalgo’s deal is simple enough: $1 million if he
makes it, and the right to walk away on March 26 if things aren’t shaping up
to his liking. He won’t be 31 until the end of June, and if he’s not going
to be the star we all thought he might be after his 2000 season, he can
still play a solid right field and has the arm for it. Last year’s bad year
in Texas was, to a great extent, weighted down by his flailing against LHPs:
.157/.231/.301 against them, versus .244/.310/.458 against the normal
people. If Hidalgo can keep doing even that well against right-handers, while
starting to put some hurt on lefties, he might even mount a run at Comeback
Player of the Year, and possibly even become a valuable commodity for the
Orioles to swap away at the end of July. Whatever the outcome, this is a
good risk and a worthwhile expense, so from beancounters to common fans,
everybody should be satisfied.

With those considerations in mind, and especially in light of his likely
good glovework in right, I’d certainly be happier to have Hidalgo around
than try to get by playing both Jeff Conine and
Kevin Millar in the outfield. With Javy
Lopez
crowding the DH situation, Hidalgo, Conine and Millar are
going to have to square off against Jay Gibbons for PAs at
first base or either outfield corner, but if Gibbons sits against most
lefties, and allowing for some injury time for everybody concerned, this
could work out adequately enough as a temporary solution. The challenge,
both for GM Mike Flanagan and for manager Sam Perlozzo, will be to make room
for Nick Markakis and Val Majewski when
the time is right. This is not the crew of alternatives, nor the team, nor
the division, with which to get carried away with the present.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Signed 1B-R Bucky Jacobsen to a minor league contract.
[2/25]

As a Buckybacker would be quick to tell
you
, their greatest hero ever missed all of last season to a knee
injury, so he might yet get back into his tights and rescue cats, fight
crime, and bop the occasional home run. While he isn’t going to endanger the
playing time of either Paul Konerko or Jim
Thome
any time soon, given that Thome’s fragile, and the White
Sox’s main alternative might be Ross Gload, Jacobsen has
chosen a great place to be. Chicago’s Triple-A affiliate is Charlotte, a
great place to paste a few home runs, so he not only has an opportunity to
get what’s left of his career back on track, he might even have an outside
shot at some playing time should somebody famous get hurt.

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Signed OF/1B-L Raul Ibanez to a two-year, $11 million
contract extension. [2/23]

That locks Ibanez up through… 2008, in case anyone was really worried
about that. What a move like this really cinches is any doubt of whether or
not Bill Bavasi was a victim of unhappy circumstance in 2001, or whether he
isn’t simply the descendant of the designers of the White Ship, the Mary
Rose
the
Vasa
, the
Titanic
, or the
S.S. Minnow
. Hey, at least the theme’s aquatic, so in the course
of resurrecting the Mariners, I suppose it makes perfect sense to go out and
find a great … um, mariner.

Locking up the old and marginal might be this country’s future, but it
should not have to be Seattle’s lot in the immediate future, not when the
division doesn’t look like one where this team will be contending over the
remainder of Ibanez’s career. If Beattie is really convinced that all he can
attract from the open market are the likes of Carl Everett,
then you have a problem that being able to count on having Ibanez on the
cover of the team’s media guide will not solve. Among the 275 players who had 300 or more PAs in either league last
year, Ibanez ranked 99th in MLVr. That’s counting shortstops, catchers, and Cristian
Guzman
. Think Ibanez is going to get better after this year, when
he’ll be 35 and 36? Think that’s going to be worth $11 million? Wanna buy a bridge? The Mariners need flexibility to help them in
their future, not mediocrity in the lineup or senescence in the front
office.

CHICAGO CUBS
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Signed RHP Brian Boehringer to a minor league contract with
a spring training NRI. [2/25]

Ball-Four-inger is four years removed from his last useful season (2002).
While I know you can never have too much pitching, when guys like
Todd Wellemeyer are out of options, why tease Dusty Baker
with another bit of bullpen beef jerky (aged, tough, and unappetizing)?
Because if there’s one thing the Cubs have to have sorted out about Baker by
now, it’s that he’s a man who loves his beef jerky. While this is probably
just a chance for Boehringer to go out on his feet, on this club, there’s
always a danger of more than that being at stake.

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Signed OF-R Ernie Young to a minor league contract. [2/23]

No, he’s not getting a taste of big league camp, and yes, after more than
1400 minor league games and almost 6000 minor league at-bats, you might
think Ernie deserves more than this. As is, Young’s the subject of one of my
favorite nights at the ballpark formerly named for Charles Comiskey, when I
had to explain to an eight year-old girl sitting with her Sox fan parents
directly in front of me that rooting for another team, or another player,
wasn’t fundamentally evil. It was 1996, grim times for A’s fans, but the kid
seemed to learn something, and it was one of those nights when all sorts of
fun stuff happened. Young made a couple of great plays in center,
John Wasdin got smacked around, and our entire section
booed quiet a group of bikers who had been spending the game asking
Rickey Henderson about his sexual preferences. Except for
that bit about Wasdin, it was a nice example of good folks doing good
things.

I know, I’m being goofily sentimental about this particular fifth
outfielder. Welcome to my fandom, but it’s spring training, and a bit of
nostalgia can catch up with any of us. I don’t know if I’ll have the chance
to make it to a PCL game this summer, let alone make it to Colorado Springs,
but here’s hoping Ernie bops for the Sky Sox as he has for Tucson, Portland,
Memphis, Omaha, Edmonton, and Tacoma. For those of you keeping score, he
only has to play for Nashville, Iowa, Oklahoma, Albuquerque, New Orleans,
Round Rock, Salt Lake, Sacramento, Fresno, and Las Vegas to fill out his
affiliation swing through the entire league. Bet that has him regretting
spending the last three years with Toledo and Buffalo over in the
International League, doncha think? Okay, so maybe not, but the
guy has to have dreams of getting back, and considering that the Rockies
have an outfield that includes two former first basemen (Ryan
Shealy
and Brad Hawpe), a make-believe starting
center fielder (Cory Sullivan), and Matt
Holliday
, it isn’t a bad place to take your chances when you’re a
guy like Young. On the other hand, keeping in mind that this is the
organization that may well drive Jorge Piedra to tattoo “He Hate Me” on
his forehead, maybe where those chances for Young are concerned… ? Not so
much.

FLORIDA MARLINS
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Signed C-R Tom Wilson to a minor league contract with a
spring training NRI. [2/25]

Not that Wilson is much of a catcher, and keeping in mind that he’s already
35, the Fish don’t have a great set of options beyond starter Miguel
Olivo
. Setting aside his uselessness, notional top reserve
Matt Treanor has a shoulder injury (to his non-throwing
shoulder) to recover from. “Alternatives” like Brad
Davis
or Ryan Jorgensen don’t really merit the
term. While you or I might be gung-ho for Josh Willingham,
we have no idea whether or not he’ll strike new manager Joe Girardi’s fancy,
or if Girardi’s self-perception of his own value as a defensive catcher
won’t make him think that Willingham hits too well to catch, or too well to
be one of his catchers. I’m not saying that’s a logical way to think about
Willingham, but with Girardi, we have no idea what his preconceived notions
on players are. What we do know is that Girardi’s made some loud comments
about leaving Mike Jacobs at first base, so at least
initially, that idea is off the tactical menu. So, given Treanor’s
performance and health, it’s pretty easy to see where Wilson might not just
make for a nice bit of insurance, but actually challenge for the job of
backing up Olivo.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Had the announcement that RHP Darren Dreifort has retired
show up in the organization ‘In’ box. [2/23]

This is one of those things, like getting back a holiday card that you sent
to what you’d thought was a previously famously happy couple, only to find
out they’re divorced. The fact of the event itself has to be conveyed at
some point, but that doesn’t make anyone feel good about it, and if, in the
end, everyone’s appreciation of how sunny things seemed to be were
completely wrong, that’s what happens when you let elaborate fantasies of
how good somebody else must be get the better of you. Dreifort
“retires” a wealthy man, more famous for that than for his
pitching, and if his performance wasn’t really much more than Jason
Jennings
at sea level (complete with the ability to hit; spare arm
not included), it wasn’t his fault that Kevin Malone was nuts in offering
him the sun, the moon, the skies, and several stars to be named later. When
he was on, Dreifort was fun to watch, a power pitcher who could amuse with
the occasional home run hit to help himself, and if we’ve all missed that
player for a long time, here’s hoping that he can find a happier way to
spend his days in the future.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
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Signed OF-R Jason Romano to a minor league contract;
announced the retirement of UT-R Brian Dallimore. [2/24]

Not that it’s a huge move, but relative to last season, the Brewers seem to
be getting better in all sorts of ways, even in their choices for fifth
outfielder. Where last year’s squad had to get by with Chris
Magruder
, this year’s Brewers squad has Romano only vying for the
role. On this year’s team, Romano has to take a number and wait behind
Gabe Gross and possibly Corey Hart,
players who would be getting bigger prospect billing if they were in
somebody else’s camp. Romano’s lost a good chunk of his career to some of
the most seriously screwed-up franchises in the game, but for an outfield
reserve, he has a few of the preferred skills: he makes consistent contact
with some line-drive sock, and he can run and catch and bunt well enough to
help, or at the very least well enough to impress Ned Yost, who generally
seems to like to stock his benches with polished pros and not project
players.

Some people got worked up about Dallimore a couple of years ago, which is
what seems to happen to a lot of guys who might seem to have that
Keith Lockhart or Rex Hudler vibe going for
them, the overlooked minor-leaguer who finally caught a break and made
something of it. Needless to say, it didn’t really work out that way for
Dallimore. Some people let his
Fresno numbers
get the better of them, so it really wasn’t Dallimore’s
fault that he was being pasted up as somebody’s latest favorite scrappy
white dude.