D.C. logical spot for Expos
The Expos remain a team in limbo, but relocating the club to Washington D.C. seems more and more likely.
And more and more, according to several sources we've spoken with in the last week, signs point toward the relocation committee recommending that this club finally be allowed to move to the only city that makes sense in the short or long term -- Washington.
If baseball is as intent as it now seems on moving the team for next year, the fact is, there's no other destination on the short list that's even remotely logical.
Washington has an acceptable major-league ballpark in the short term (RFK Stadium) -- and it's believed that the relocation committee was told this month, by the mayor and two powerful city council members, that it can put a long-term ballpark deal together in 45 days if MLB just gives the thumbs up.
Las Vegas, on the other hand, has major short-term hang ups (namely, a Triple-A park with 9,500 seats). And the Las Vegas Sun's Rob Miech reported this week that in the long term, the financing for a new ballpark would be modeled after the heavily private funding of SBC Park in San Francisco -- a model commissioner Bud Selig often has told people is not acceptable.
Then there is Monterrey, Mexico, which has made impressive presentations. But the players' union is said to have doubts about its viability as a major-league market. And baseball doesn't appear to have any interest in a one-year experimental relocation that would be designed to prove otherwise.
So the only real obstacle to D.C. at this point is Orioles owner Peter Angelos. But keep in mind that since it would be a National League team moving down the beltway, Angelos has no legal right to block this move or ask for damages.
Selig undoubtedly would attempt to find a way to make Angelos happy -- or richer. But that's the commish's challenge -- not Washington's. And if you've observed Selig at all over the years, you know that any time he's determined to find a solution to a problem, he finds one.
And we're betting he'll find one here, too -- once he concludes Washington is not only his most logical option. It's really his only option.
Orlando Cabrera, on the other hand, is less certain to sign on than Vidro or Livan Hernandez, whom the Expos signed to a three-year extension a few weeks ago. There have been no serious negotiations between the team and Cabrera's agent, Dan Lozano. And Cabrera may choose to wait a while to see if the fate of the franchise comes into better focus before making any decisions.
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In fact, one baseball man who kidded NL manager Jack McKeon recently about all the pressure he'd be under to start Clemens says McKeon gets it.
"Jack said, 'Unless he loses every game he pitches from here on out, he'll get the ball,' " our source said. "This is one of those stories like the Sosa-McGwire home run race, or Ripken saving the game. That's as good as it gets -- 41 years old and starting the All-Star Game in his home town? That's a Disney movie."
Well, obviously, not even Clemens is on that page yet. But we've canvassed a couple of his buddies in baseball about what it would take for Clemens to come back for one more season. And they laid it out this way:
Reasons he won't: If the Astros win the World Series, no way he'd play again. Or if he has trouble staying healthy, or even feels the cumulative physical toll of the long season, he'd quit.
Reasons he will: But if he feels as good and keeps pitching as well as he is right now and the Astros get close but don't win it all, he could easily opt for one more year.
So ultimately, his future could well come down to just how far this team goes. As one friend put it, "My view is that October will tell."
Well, that might have caused problems if other guys had tried it. But Clemens was smart enough to call both Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio for their OK before agreeing to that time-off plan. And once they signed off, that was that.
So far, in fact, this has gone so well that Clemens even told ESPN Radio's Michael Kay in New York that the Astros' Kangaroo Court is now threatening to fine him for showing up when he isn't pitching.
"Maybe there's something to that," quipped one NL executive. "Maybe (the Astros) stumbled upon something everybody should try. All this rah-rah teammate stuff -- maybe it's overrated."
The completion of local funding depends on the city being able to sell the old Miami Arena, but all sides appear confident of that. So the remaining financial piece would be the $30 million the team has been seeking from the state, through a sales-tax rebate.
It now seems probable the Marlins will attempt to go back to the legislature in the fall, once all the other dots have been connected, and try one last time. But at this point, it's harder than ever to envision the community letting the team bolt Florida over an amount that represents such a small percentage of a $325-million package -- or the team even wanting to bolt in the first place.
"His bat is so much quicker than last year," said one scout. "And his swing is shorter. He's hitting fastballs now he wasn't catching up to before. The reason, I think, is, he has better mechanics at the plate. He's gotten away from that squish-the-bug leg lift, and it's really helped him."
"With that arm slot, he can't get the ball across his body and get it in on left-handed hitters," the executive said. "And that could be a major problem. Certain guys can't do that role. And I don't know if Dotel can do it."
One front-office man said he'd heard rumblings of a three-way deal among the Marlins, Reds and Yankees in which Jose Contreras would have been the centerpiece. But there doesn't appear to be any substance to that one.
"He's doing well in his rehab," said Twins GM Terry Ryan. "But I'm not going to do anything that could set him back in any way. We're looking at a potential major impact guy into the next decade. So I think we can get through two more weeks."
But Niemann has been set back by health issues. And Drew has turned off a bunch of teams by displaying, in one scout's words, "no energy at all." So Weaver -- who spun a 17-strikeout one-hitter with Padres GM Kevin Towers in attendance -- looks like a near lock.
The Padres would know they were setting themselves up for the usual hardballing by Weaver's agent, Scott Boras. But it's hard to believe Weaver would give up a chance to play in Southern California over an extra million bucks. And that's a bet the Padres figure to safely make.
"His defense is disappointing, and his range isn't as advertised," said one scout. "And his bat should be a concern. He doesn't get his lower body stabilized. He chases way too many pitches out of the strike zone. And he's going to get eaten up until he makes adjustments. He's not even as fast as advertised. We heard he was as fast as Ichiro, but Ichiro is way faster. I've seen him be out by a step and a half on plays I thought would be bang-bang."
If this keeps up, you wonder how much hoopla there will be to move Jose Reyes back to shortstop when he finally gets healthy.
"This guy hits balls in every zone in the strike zone," the scout said of Guillen. "I can't find a weakness in him right now. To me, he's like Sammy Sosa when Sosa was young and striking out all the time. Even back then with Sammy, the tools were evident. And that's what's happened with this kid. He's got the tools, and they're finally coming out."
"That's not a good club," he said. "They have so many holes to fill, I don't know where I'd start. They've got to get younger. They might have to suffer for a couple of years. But they've got good young pitching in abundance, so that's one way they can go."
"That Meche -- there's an arm I'd love to have," the scout said. "I don't know when the light is going to go on. But his stuff is so good, he's going to be a big winner."
"I think, because of his thumb, he may have cut down his swing somewhat," said Phillies assistant GM Ruben Amaro. "But our overriding feeling was that Jim would make adjustments this year regardless. One thing about Jim: He really wants to live up to all his expectations, in every way. So I think last year, he probably tried to hit a lot more balls out of the ballpark, instead of just letting those home runs happen. I know (Phillies special assistant to the GM) Charlie Manuel truly believes this guy is going to hit .300. And he's well on his way to doing that."
And when La Russa bestowed that honor in the ninth inning of a one-run game on May 4, he even moved the winning run into scoring position to avoid Thome. That also meant the Cardinals had to face Pat Burrell, who had hit an upper-deck homer earlier in the same game.
"I don't think I've ever done that before," La Russa told Rumblings. "But sometimes you have to think, 'How is this club going to take it if we lose?' We know Pat Burrell can do it, because we saw him do it. But if Thome beats you, I think guys walk by this office and they think, 'What the heck is he doing?'
"Our normal thinking is, we want to compete. Well, you want to compete. But you don't want to lose the competition."
Thome's reaction: "I was like, 'Wow.' You say, 'Is this really happening?' I got down to first base, and (Albert) Pujols said, 'Man, that's respect.' I just took it as a compliment."
"He's got better velocity now than before the surgery," said Towers. "His velocity now is the best it's been in five years. He's at 88-89. He'd been more like 85-86 -- for years."
"I think he's Dave Righetti," the scout said. "He should be a power closer. His fastball is terrific. His breaking ball is fine when it's good. But it's a real hanger when it's bad. I'd put him out there in the bullpen and let him fire."
"That split has become a real weapon," said Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly. "Since his last couple of starts last season, and in spring training and this season, it's become a legitimate weapon. It's not just a novelty pitch anymore."
We don't recall Hebner doing much bunting afterward. But Sanchez came back the next day and laid down another bunt hit. Which gave him seven bunt hits at home this year -- versus only 13 non-bunt hits.
"We've got a good field to bunt, because the grass is thick," said GM Dave Dombrowski. "But the thing about Alex is, he's mastered it. Last year he laid down a lot of bunts along first base. But he kept working, and this year he's been laying them down toward third, too. He practices it often. And he's so precise with it that you can put him in situations where you have guys on first and third, and ordinarily you'd want a sacrifice fly. But he can lay a bunt down out toward second base to get the run in."
"God, what a bunter," A's manager Ken Macha told Booth Newspapers' Danny Knobler this week. "He's the best I've ever seen. I don't know what to do -- unless they let us play another fielder out there."
Stats of the Week
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One final word
Five months from now, when the regularly scheduled complaining begins about the baseball playoffs running past midnight in the east, can someone remember to bring up the NBA?
If baseball had a marquee series remotely resembling Lakers-Spurs -- and Game 6 was scheduled to start at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time -- we'd be reading columns from every TV critic in America about baseball turning its back on its fans. Not to mention 100 letters to the editor from fans saying they would never watch another baseball game.
But the NBA gets its usual pass. Just more proof of the double standard relentlessly applied to baseball, versus all those other sports. Got an explanation for that? We'd love to hear it.
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