Fantasy Camp Notes: Furcal set to rebound
Here's the latest news from around spring training, and what it means from a fantasy point of view:
• Since the Twins rid their payroll of high-salary players like Torii Hunter and Johan Santana, there's been a lot of talk about Joe Nathan being the next on the list to go. According to the Twins' Web site, that would not sit well with manager Ron Gardenhire, who says, "I think we're going to sign him. I think we're close. I think there are good offers on the table, and I'm not even thinking about him not being here."
Nathan, for his part, is glad to have his manager's support, but adds he hasn't spoken with team officials about a contract extension in nearly two weeks. For owners in AL-only leagues who may have been shying away from Nathan for fears that talks might deteriorate enough for a trade to the NL to be a real possibility, this is a step toward putting those fears to rest once and for all, though obviously those fears will remain until the ink is dry on a new deal.
• Talk of contract extensions and arbitration battles have a possibility of affecting a player's on-field performance. Sometimes it can result in a career year, as the player converts his disappointment or uncertainty into determined focus. Other times, it simply becomes a lingering distraction, resulting in a slump, which leads to more questions and scrutiny from the media, and an even more-prolonged slump. Only time will tell which players fall into which category, but it's at least a good sign when players in this situation are saying the right things.
According to the Philadelphia Daily News, Ryan Howard is certainly taking his pending arbitration in stride, at least for now. "Maybe people are worried that I'm not all flipping out and that kind of stuff," Howard said, "I'm just staying calm right now. I can't predict the future." His positive attitude should continue after Howard won his arbitration hearing on Thursday and will receive $10 million this season, the most awarded to a victorious player in arbitration.
Mark Teixeira is also taking a wait-and-see approach to his looming free agency. "If you're worrying about contracts, you're not going to take care of business on the field," he said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Twenty-four other guys on this team don't care about my contract." Of course, that's far from true. Veteran players such as Chipper Jones and John Smoltz would love to see Teixeira in a Braves uniform for years to come. However, we can imagine that Scott Thorman would not shed a tear if Teixeira was sent packing, allowing him to take over first base for the Braves.
• Rafael Furcal is also headed into the final year of his contract, but he's incredibly optimistic that he's due for a great season. According to the Dodgers' official Web site, Furcal blames his troubles last season on an ankle injury he suffered in spring training. He said he had a lot of trouble while batting left-handed and running the bases, which could go a long way in explaining his .254 batting average against right-handed pitching. Now, with Furcal "feeling good, feeling 100 percent," he may well put up top-5 shortstop numbers.
• Are they or aren't they? The White Sox are neither denying nor confirming a report that they have signed Bartolo Colon. Their own Web site had reported that the team was searching for Colon, but that they had been unable to locate the pitcher to offer him an incentive-based contract, with no guarantee that he would make the team's rotation. Even if this ultimately comes to fruition, it's hard to put much confidence in Colon, who turns 35 in May, and has only managed a 7-13 record with a 5.90 ERA in limited action with the Angels in the past two seasons.
• The Astros are not as shy in talking about their recent pitcher acquisition. According to the team's official Web site, the team has signed right-hander Shawn Chacon to a one-year deal worth $2 million, plus incentives. Although Chacon does have the ability to work out of the bullpen, he will most likely compete for a spot in the rotation. And there's a really good chance the former Pirates hurler will win a spot. His chief competition will be the ancient Woody Williams, who went 8-15 with a 5.27 ERA last season, and Chris Sampson, who did only marginally better, at 7-8 with a 4.59 ERA in 2007.
• The Baltimore Sun reports that Brian Roberts was not in camp Wednesday, which immediately led to all sorts of speculation that the rumored trade with the Chicago Cubs was about to go down. That did not prove to be the case, as Roberts merely had a stomach ailment, but it's safe to say that all this hoopla didn't help the Orioles second baseman feel any better. According to the Orioles' Web site, he is trying his best to be diplomatic when reporters continue to ask him about the possibility of playing for the Cubs, "It's a great organization. I've never played there, but it looks like a fun place to play. And they've certainly made an effort to put themselves in a situation to win. Yeah, I think the bottom line is, I do want to win. Would I like it to be here? Of course."
Since the teams have waited this long before pulling the trigger, a trade won't likely be consummated until after Cubs' scouts have seen Roberts play a few spring training games. Assuming there's no fallout from being named in The Mitchell Report, Roberts certainly provides the Cubs with a better option at second base than Mark DeRosa, so we wouldn't be surprised if something gets worked out, no matter how much love Orioles owner Peter Angelos professes for Roberts.
• Speaking of the Cubs, the Associated Press reports that Lou Piniella ran into Ryan Dempster at a shopping mall as the Chicago Cubs pitcher was getting ready to go for a run, up one of the biggest mountain ranges in the Phoenix area. Piniella took this as a good sign that the former closer is serious about making the Cubs' rotation, and Lou apparently is quite all right with the concept.
"Dempster wants to start. We're going to let him compete. If he shows us midway through spring training that he can do it, then we'll figure out the back end of it [the rotation]," Piniella said.
With Carlos Zambrano, Rich Hill and Ted Lilly already firmly in place, that certainly sounds like a wake-up call for Jason Marquis and Jon Lieber. They better step up their game, because it's real hard to catch up with someone who has already reached the top of the mountain.
• You've heard of Occam's razor? It says essentially that, all other things being equal, the simplest solution is usually right. So when reports started coming in that free-agent pitcher Freddy Garcia was visiting Mets camp, there was a great impulse to look for reasons as to why the Mets would be interested in signing him to a contract. Was somebody secretly hurt? Was manager Willie Randolph unhappy with somebody in his bullpen? Could there be a trade looming? Fact of the matter is, as the New York Post reports, the answer was far less mysterious and required very little investigating to uncover: Garcia is friends with Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez, and stopped by to say hello. To put the final nail in that rumor's coffin, Mets GM Omar Minaya added, "We're not interested in him.''
A.J. Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.