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Sunday, March 1, 2009
Three Strikes: Manny's Groundhog Day Edition


STRIKE ONE -- STUCK IN A MOMENT DEPT.: When you're mixed up in a major free-agent negotiation with Scott Boras, you know it's going to take a really … really … really … long … time. So you know you're going to need patience, patience, more patience and also, well, patience. But on this Manny Ramirez front, Boras has outdone himself, even by his own slow-mo standards. Think about this. On Wednesday, it will be exactly four months since the Dodgers offered Manny a two-year, $45 million contract.

And now, FOUR MONTHS LATER, what are these two sides still talking about? A two-year, $45 million contract. Is this the theater of the absurd, or what? How many weeks ago, how many months ago, would an agent who was a deal-maker have gotten this done? But not this agent. He's so obsessed with squeezing every last non-deferred penny out of this contract that he has somehow allowed the offseason, for this player, to extend into March.

Ridiculous. Just to give you an example of how easy it ought to be to finish off this deal at this point, I got a phone call from a veteran agent this weekend. He has no connection to this negotiation at all, on any level. Yet even he found himself thinking about one possible way to pull the plug on this marathon. Here's his idea: • The guaranteed portion of the contract would exactly match the Dodgers' last proposal -- $25 million in the first year, a $20 million player option in the second.

• But in order to sweeten the deal for Manny, there would also be a clause that could vest the player option -- at $25 million. If Manny were to win a Silver Slugger, lead the league in any triple-crown category, finish in the top three in the MVP race or lead the team to a World Series this year, he could choose to stay for $25 million, or walk and become a free agent again.

• And if he vests the option and stays, a player option for a third year would be automatically added to the deal, at the same terms -- $20 million under all circumstances, $25 million if he vests it via any of the feats listed above. Now don't misunderstand this proposal. It might not be what the Dodgers have in mind, or what Manny has in mind. The agent wasn't trying to solve this impasse himself. He was just laying it out there to demonstrate how easy it would be to find a solution to this mess. This deal should have gotten done weeks ago. Instead, it's taken four months.

Insane.

STRIKE TWO -- EXTRA MONTH BLUES DEPT.: The two World Series teams -- the Phillies and Rays -- met in a spring training game Saturday. Ten pitchers pitched in that game. Exactly two of them -- J.P. Howell and Scott Eyre -- were guys who also pitched in that World Series.

That's not entirely a coincidence.

The Phillies and Rays are both looking this spring for ways to cure those Extra Month Blues -- an affliction that has taken its toll on a bunch of World Series pitching staffs in recent years.

Think about The Year After for the rotations of the 2005-06 White Sox, the 2006-07 Tigers and 2007-08 Red Sox. Among the starters who weren't the same the next year, after having to grind through an extra month: Mark Buehrle, Jose Contreras, Kenny Rogers, Jeremy Bonderman, Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling.

No one can say for sure if those issues were a direct result of playing until nearly Halloween. But the Rays, in particular, think it's worth a major spring adjustment. Many of the pitchers who formed the core of this past year's staff -- Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Andy Sonnanstine, Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour, to name five -- aren't scheduled to pitch in a Grapefruit League game until the second week of March.

"We're just looking at April 6 [Opening Day] and working backwards to get them ready," Rays GM Andrew Friedman said, "and not spending too many bullets right now, because our hope and expectation is to play in October …

"It's something we actually started talking about in October, how we might do things differently in spring training. [Pitching coach] Jim Hickey did a great job putting together a program, communicating it to our pitchers over this winter and pushing everything back."

The Phillies, on the other hand, aren't going to those lengths. But they're letting Cole Hamels (262 2/3 innings this past year, counting the postseason) and Brad Lidge (80 appearances, counting the postseason and All-Star Game) take their time this spring. And especially early on, they're planning to give all their primary pitchers -- starters and relievers -- an occasional extra day between appearances.

But pitching coach Rich Dubee said he's decided that reducing spring workloads too much could actually do more harm than good.

"You look at Detroit a couple of years ago," Dubee said. "And I talked to some of the guys over there about what they did. They really backed off a lot in spring training. And a lot of people think it caused them to be slow coming out of the gate. … That when the bell rang the following year, they weren't ready to start that season."

So what's the right approach? These are two teams with very different ideas. It will be fascinating to see which staff stays healthiest this year, because the teams with the healthiest pitching staffs sure do tend to win more than the teams with the most overcrowded training rooms. Ever notice that?

STRIKE THREE -- SPRING FEVER DEPT.: In other news …

• INJURY OF THE DAY -- Padres manager Bud Black managed hurt Saturday, after getting nailed in the wrist by Eliezer Alfonzo's flying bat. Alfonzo was in the batter's box, and Black was in the dugout at the time. So you don't see that much. But here's Black's blow-by-blow of his goofy mishap:

"2-0 swing, good finish, came through, let go of the bat, the old whirlybird toward the dugout, right at me, zeroing in. Go into the protective mode, ow, start to turn, contact, bat down, glasses off."

We're awarding extra points for use of the terms, "the old whirlybird," and "bat down, glasses off," and, of course, "ow."

Eloquently done.

• BOX SCORE LINE OF THE DAY -- The White Sox's Adam Russell had One of Those Innings on Saturday against the Cubs: 0 IP, 5 H, 8 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 HBP, 1 HR and the terrifying tag line: "Russell pitched to eight batters in 7th."

Just so you understand how tough it is for a pitcher to allow eight runs in a game in which he forgets to record an out, it's happened only one time in the past six regular seasons combined -- to the Reds' Paul Wilson, on May 6, 2005 (0-5-8-8-1-0, with 2 HBP).

• QUOTE OF THE DAY -- From Rays managerial quotesmith Joe Maddon, after the powers that be removed the 414 sign in dead center field in their new spring home in Port Charlotte -- and replaced it with a 413 sign: "I just hope people don't start muscling up now." Reader alert: If you run across a classic spring training injury, box score line, quip or hilarious tale of any nature, be sure to send it along to uselessinfodept@yahoo.com. We depend on you this time of year -- and all other times of year.