Imagine my surprise when I found out that my travel plans for the 2009 Winter Meetings were already taken care of. Bud Selig and MLB saw fit to give me a little gift yesterday, dropping the Meetings right in my backyard a few years from now.

  • When you hear reports that Mark Mulder had gone back to St. Louis for an exam, that’s not good. This isn’t as bad as if it had been Albert Pujols doing it, but it’s still not good. Mulder got a quick check-up on his muscular problem and was cleared to return. Knowing that it’s not a structural problem is a plus, yet leaves Dave Duncan to do the hard part. Does Mulder miss a start to try and heal up, maybe even head to the DL to make sure, or does he go out and pitch through it, hoping that the training staff has a good enough handle on him to not let it get back into the pain/spasm cycle? There’s no depth to work from if Mulder’s lost for any significant period. Cards fans want to believe.
  • The Royals are saying all the right things in public about Mike Sweeney. Behind the scenes, they’re pushing for Sweeney to call it a career. With another $20m plus still left on the contract and no insurance to cover it, the Royals are looking for a cheap exit if they can find one that works for everyone. Sweeney’s cervical disc problems are getting to the stage where he’s talking about retirement, knowing that the money he has in the bank is enough to let him lead a nice lifestyle and that being relatively pain-free for the rest of his life would be a plus. Don’t expect much movement on this front soon. Sweeney’s disc problems aren’t predictable at all, so a quick resolution to the injury would move all this to the “no harm, no foul” box in Kauffmann Stadium.
  • The one problem that the Twins faced with Luis Castillo was not talent, fit, or money; it was the ground beneath his feet. The surface of the Metrodome is better than it has been, yet according to several players I’ve spoken with, it remains the hardest surface in baseball. Castillo’s history of leg problems–especially his chronic hip condition–made the idea of playing half his games on this surface problematic. His latest injury is his leg, but actually has nothing to do with the turf, as he took a cleating on a double play. The cut wasn’t significant and he’ll return to the struggling Twins lineup shortly.
  • I’ll skip talking about Jerry Narron’s decision to leave Aaron Harang in for the ninth despite a high pitch count and a six run lead. The only thing worse than beating a dead horse is trying to reason with it. The Reds put Rich Aurilia on the DL after he strained his groin on Wednesday. His 782 OPS plus positional flexibility have made him a valuable part of the Reds’ early run, but they have other, better options that can be just as flexible. The team will survive this injury without worry and Aurilia should be able to come back near the minimum.
  • The Mets have been winning without Billy Wagner being Billy Wagner. Many are wondering if Wagner’s previous problems with his finger are affecting him; the answer is yes. Wagner has been seen several times on video needing extra time between pitches and, at one point during a SNY telecast, he was apparently telling Paul Lo Duca that it hurt if he kept his finger on the ball. The next few pitches were wild and it did appear as if Wagner had changed his grip. Wagner pitched through pain during his Houston days before having Tommy John, so there’s certainly pattern to him trying to “cowboy up,” in one source’s words. Wagner looks like a time bomb right now.
  • David Wells is getting closer to a trip to Pawtucket. While no one besides Wells knows just how the knee feels after the Synvisc, everyone knows that Wells has big per-appearance bonuses that seem like big motivation. Wells can pitch with pain and has done so regularly. The question to be answered with the rehab start is whether he can do so effectively. Wells is one of those guys that has to be given every chance to succeed since he’s done it this way for so long.
  • Brandon Backe is coming back from a sprained elbow ligament. A report in the Houston Chronicle says he’s using a “two pound baseball.” I’ve never seen one of those, but I’ll assume that what is being described is a two-pound medicine ball that Backe is using to strengthen his throwing muscles. If the muscles can take more of the load, the ligament is protected, or so the theory goes. The rehab for Tommy John–or in this case, trying to keep him from having Tommy John–can look very odd, even barbaric at times. Making it to this stage–assuming I’ve read the reports right–has Backe at an optimistic mid-June return date.
  • Mike Lieberthal has been injury-prone during his Phillies career. He’s also been very effective when he’s been on the field. In a walk year, Lieberthal’s health is even more significant. The Phils and new GM Pat Gillick are trying to figure out if this team is a contender, and Lieberthal is a part that might return something in a thin trade market. His health is key whether he’s staying or going, so leaving Thursday night’s game with an undisclosed knee injury is no good for anyone. The Phillies have been discussing some trades, including one with the Pirates, though Dave Littlefield has been focused on a deal with Jim Bowden for much of the last week.
  • While Kerry Wood gets ready for his return rehab tour, the other two rehabbing Cubs aren’t doing as well. Mark Prior will miss a couple days after food poisoning hit him hard. We can only hope this doesn’t do what the flu did to him in the off-season. Wade Miller left Arizona to consult his physician about a problem at the back of his shoulder. Reports from Arizona sources indicate some surprise, saying that Miller looked good in his last outing and gave no sign that he was having pain. Miller’s been frustrated with the long rehab processes he’s had over the past three seasons, so any setback may seem a bit worse than it actually is to him. Look for both to be back on their programs soon.
  • Darin Erstad took a cortisone injection in his problematic right ankle. This is his second round of shots, the first coming back in spring training. There’s a bone spur there that Erstad and the Angels hope can hold on until the offseason, but two series of injections by early May isn’t a good sign. Erstad missed about a week last time, so using that as a guide, he should be back sometime this weekend. This will be chronic until fixed surgically and only will get worse as it goes along. The Angels will have to think about surgery if it continues to be a problem. Chone Figgins would be the likely CF, leaving an infield slot open for Howie Kendrick, Dallas McPherson, or another of the Angels’ million prospects to grab a slot.
  • Todd Greene was trying to play the part of immovable object. Prince Fielder? He’s an irresistible force–a big, strong man who’s faster than you’d expect, but just as heavy. I’d love to know what Greene was thinking in the split second between catching the ball and catching Fielder’s shoulder in his face. Greene went down, eventually lost the ball in a controversial call, and has a nice black eye to show for his effort. Greene, who knows Prince from his days playing with Cecil Fielder, said it was a clean play. He shouldn’t miss significant time.
  • Carlos Silva had a nice start last night. The control freak has actually pitched poorly, leading some to wonder if fixing his knee in the offseason had thrown off his mechanics. Instead, the underrated Rick Anderson found a flaw–Silva was tilting his head to the first base side–and Silva suddenly looked like he did in 2005. Granted, his strat card is screwed up but that’s just selfish on my part. The Twins need Silva and several others to turn it around quickly, so this is a very good sign.
  • Quick Cuts: Let me get this straight–Chris Bootcheck strained his hammy running in from the pen to join the push and shove action? The Angels’ bad luck is on … Richie Sexson missed Thursday’s game with a moderate sprain of his right ankle. He’ll miss at least one more game, though the injury is not considered serious … Brian Wilson is progressing well and should be back for the Giants. Make your own sandbox joke … Nice to see Doug Brocail back. I’m glad I have no comps for his return from angioplasty and happier that he has the chance to be the first. He’s at least six weeks from a return … Is this a good sign or a bad sign? … Dioner Navarro left Thursday’s game after being hit by a pitch on his wrist.

Be sure to check in on BP Radio this week. Everyone’s loving our new opening sequence and the BPR Extras on iTunes. This week we’re talking with Marvin Goldklang, Mike Veeck, and Linda McNabb from the Goldklang Group, one of the most successful owners in the minors and independent leagues. We’ll also take a look at the big story of the week, the sale of the Nationals. Upcoming guests include David Maraniss–author of the epic biography Clemente–and Steve Blass.

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