(AP Photo)

Longtime MLB front-office executive Omar Minaya is making a move to the MLB Players Association.

Best known for being the general manager of the New York Mets from 2005 to 2010, Minaya had spent the last three seasons with the Padres serving as their senior vice president. His official position with the MLBPA is as a special adviser to union head Tony Clark.

Minaya had been linked with a job in the Yankees' front office but ultimately decided to try something new.

"I have long considered myself a players’ administrator with a complete belief that the players are not only the face of the game, but they provide the sport with its heart and soul," Minaya said in a statement released by the union.

The first Hispanic GM in the big leagues when he was hired by the Expos in 2002, he'll be looked upon to work with the player's association on international affairs, as well as domestic game development.

With talk of an international draft potentially coming in 2017, Minaya could play a big part in helping integrate players from the Dominican Republic and Cuba into the process. Currently MLB's amateur draft only includes players residing in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

Given his experience in basebal operations and extensive background working with Latin American players, it sounds like a role Minaya is eminently qualified to fill and it appears he's in it for the long haul.

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Israel Fehr is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: January 30, 2015, 6:30 am
(Getty Images)

Philadelphia is the place where Chad Billingsley will get his opportunity to show he can still pitch in the big leagues.

According to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, the former Dodger signed a one-year deal with the Phillies that guarantees him $1.5 million and includes a number of performance-related bonuses.

The last two seasons haven't been kind to the 30-year-old right-hander. Billingsley hasn't appeared on a major league mound since April 2013. He's battled elbow issues, undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2013 and then requiring an additional surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his pitching elbow in 2014 after experiencing discomfort in a rehab assignment.

Between 2008 and 2012, Billingsley was a very reliable starting pitcher for the Dodgers. He averaged 185 innings per season over that span and posted a 3.70 ERA. With trade rumors constantly swirling around Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, the Phillies were looking for a veteran arm that could provide some cheap innings in the case that either Hamels or Lee is dealt.

"He's a bounce-back candidate. We're cautiously optimistic that it's a good risk," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told MLB.com. "We're hopeful that by late April or early May he's ready to pitch for us."

Considering his recent injury history, Billingsley is no sure thing but at $1.5 million for one year, it's certainly a worthwhile gamble for a guy that isn't that far removed from major league success.

At worst, if Billingsley can stay healthy and string together a few quality starts, maybe Philadelphia can flip him to a contender down the stretch and collect an asset or two for the future.

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Israel Fehr is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: January 30, 2015, 2:00 am
Nolan Ryan, circa 1980. (Getty Images)

Baseball teams are romancing the past this week. Consider the Seattle Mariners' nice-looking new alternate jerseys and the San Diego Padres' announcement that they'll go retro with late '80s brown pinstriped uniforms for five games. 

One of the other more iconic retro jerseys is coming back for 2015 too — and it's one people either seem to love or hate. The "Tequila Sunrise" Houston Astros jerseys are getting a modern spin, though not by the Astros, instead from their new Triple-A team, the Fresno Grizzlies.

Have a look:

A tequila sunrise is coming to Chukchansi Park on July 18. One of many theme jerseys planned for 2015. #Growlifornia pic.twitter.com/WpKgKNv8te

— Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) January 27, 2015

These are some of the most colorful jerseys of the past 30 years, along with the Tucson Toros. The Astros wore these in the late '70s and early '80s, with lots of people just calling them "rainbow" jerseys. The Grizzlies, who are beginning their first year as an Astros affiliate, are going for the team's most famous look right away.

Other Astros minor league teams have used these as inspiration. The Single-A Lancaster JetHawks wore striped jerseys in the same fashion last year for select games, but with different colors. The Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks wore them in 2011.

Some people, understandably, think these are too bright of a baseball uniform. But The Stew thinks they're righteous. 

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 30, 2015, 12:17 am

(Getty Images)Jayson Werth went to court Thursday in Virginia, pleaded guilty to a reckless driving charge and was sentenced to an already-agreed-upon five days in jail. The good news for Werth: He'll be able to serve his jail time when it best fits his schedule, on the weekends.

Werth, the Washington Nationals' starting left fielder, was clocked driving 105 mph in a 55-mph zone last July on the Beltway. A judge originally sentenced him to 10 days in jail for that, but Werth appealed and then struck this plea bargain.

One of the benefits, according to Justin Jouvenal of the Washington Post, is that it allows Werth to visit jail on his terms:

Werth will serve his sentence on weekends, so he can continue rehabilitation following shoulder surgery during the week and training for the upcoming season. Circuit Court Judge Randy L. Bellows said such latitude was unusual for someone caught driving more than 100 mph on the Beltway, but ultimately agreed to it.

“He is very involved in community,” Werth’s attorney, Michael Pritchard, told the judge. “This was an aberration.”

If you must go to jail, it might as well be jail with in-and-out privileges. A little bit of jail, a little bit of rehab and freedom, then a little more jail, then some more rehab and freedom. (He's expected to turn himself in Friday for jail stint No. 1)

Other lawbreakers only wish they could go to jail when it's most convenient for them and their $21-million-per-year jobs.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 29, 2015, 6:40 pm
(USA Today)

Things continue to look up for the once sad-sack Chicago Cubs. After a successful offseason of revamping in which they acquired big names like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero, the club and its fans have something else to look forward to – the No. 1 prospect, and top farm system, in all of baseball.

That’s according to ESPN baseball analyst Keith Law, who on Thursday revealed his annual ranking of the top prospects in baseball (content is behind a paywall). Atop that list is 23-year-old Kris Bryant, a Cubs third baseman who led all of professional baseball in home runs last year with 43. Bryant is obviously major-league ready after slashing .325/.438/.661 between Double-and-Triple-A last year, but general manager Jed Hoyer hinted last week that Bryant may not be on the opening day roster. Bryant was ranked No. 15 in the 2014 edition of the rankings but his great season moved him to the top of list. He will no doubt be in a Cubs uniform at some point in 2015.

There’s even more good news for the Cubs. Closely behind Bryant in the Top 100 rankings is shortstop prospect Addison Russell, who checked in at No. 4. The 21-year-old was the key piece in the July trade that sent Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland Athletics. After reaching Triple-A for three games in 2013, Russell spent almost all of 2014 in Double-A with the Athletics and Cubs organizations.

Also in the top 15 for the Cubs is Cuban right fielder Jorge Soler, who was a late August callup for the Cubs. He batted .292/.330/.573 in 97 plate appearances down the stretch and should be the everyday right fielder for the Cubs in 2015.

Add those pieces to up-and-coming stars already in the majors like Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez and it makes the Cubs the envy of baseball, according to Law.

“The hype around their system is justified by the talent in it, with the strongest collection of top-shelf hitting prospects I can remember since I started working in baseball. They have someone coming at just about every position other than catcher and first base, and most of them fare well both in traditional evaluation and in analysis of their performance to date.”

Followed closely behind the Cubs in the rankings are two more perennial last place teams: the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros. The Twins have the No. 2-ranked farm system and No. 2 prospect in Byron Buxton. Buxton was No. 1 in 2014 but slipped after getting only 181 at-bats last year due to injury. Astros shortstop Carlos Correa is No. 3 in the 2015 rankings as is their farm system, though Law notes it has been depleted after the big Evan Gattis trade with the Atlanta Braves.

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Author: Ian Denomme
Posted: January 29, 2015, 6:10 pm

With the hope of a new season also comes renewed excitement about the future of baseball and those who could become the game's next household names. That will be the focus of MLB Network this Friday night when it airs a one-hour special revealing MLB.com's Top 50 prospects for the 2015 season.

MLB.com’s annual ranking of the best young prospects in baseball will be revealed on Top 50 Prospects on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com this Friday, Jan. 30, at 9:00 p.m. ET. Using information from scouting directors, professional scouts and industry sources, the complete list, which includes the top 100 prospects, is based on a combination of factors to evaluate a player's potential, from physical skills and tools to statistical track record.

To qualify for the list, a prospect must have rookie status for the 2015 season. That eliminates a player like Javier Baez, who broke the 130 at-bat threshold in 2014 despite only joining the Chicago Cubs in August. With that guideline in mind, here are a couple of things to ponder going in that will undoubtedly become the source of debates following the announcement.

(USA TODAY Sports)Who's No. 1?
Theres no shortage of candidates, beginning with the man who occupied that position last season, Minnesota Twins outfielder Bryon Buxton. Rarely healthy in 2014 after suffering a wrist injury in the spring and later two separate injuries playing the outfield, Buxton hit just .240/.313/.405 with four home runs in 121 at-bats for High-A Fort Myers. He was still promoted to Double-A later and had a stint in the Arizona Fall League, but his durability issues and drop in production may be enough to open the door.

If so, the man most likely to walk through would be Chicago Cubs third base prospect Kris Bryant, who lit up the minors with 43 homers between Double and Triple A. He entered last season as MLB.com's third-ranked prospect.

Others in contention will be Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who ranked second last year but missed significant time with a broken leg, and Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor. Overall it's a talented group at the top that could go 10-12 deep when discussing who belongs in the top five.

How many Cubs make the list?
Even with Baez and Jorge Soler no longer qualifying, Cubs prospects still figure to show up a few times at least in the top 100. Shortstop Addison Russell is a virtual lock to be in the top 10 along with Bryant, but will there be room for catcher Kyle Schwarber, right-hander C.J. Edwards or outfielder Albert Almora in the Top 50? Cubs fans may be turning their attention to the here and now, but that pipeline is still loaded.

Just how deep is shortstop?
According to Baseball America's prospect rankings, shortstops represent the No. 1 prospect in seven out of 30 organizations. That's far and away more than any fielding position. Another four rank No. 2 on their team respective rankings, with the Oakland A's having a shortstop — Daniel Robertson and Franklin Barreto — in each of their top two spots.

It's a deep position at the very top, with Correa, Lindor and Russell all likely in the top 10. But it will be most interesting to see where Corey Seager of the Dodgers, Philadelephia's J. P. Crawford, Minnesota's Nick Gordon and Toronto's Raul Mondesi Jr. slot in, and whether there's room for a Robertson or Trea Turner in the top 50.

What about Mark Appel?

(Getty Images)
The Houston Astros' No. 1 overall pick in 2013 never got on track during the 2014 minor league season after undergoing an appendectomy in January. Pitching at Class A Advanced Lancaster and later Double-A Corpus Christi, Appel went 3-7 with a 6.91 ERA in 83.1 innings. Ugly numbers, but most scouts agreed that his stuff was still as good as it was at Stanford, which seemed to bear out a little more during a stint in the Arizona Fall League.

Needless to say, he's going to be an interesting guy to rank. He started last season as MLB's No. 17 prospect, but fell to 41 by season's end. Will its latest evaluation lean more toward upside, or are there enough questions about his consistency to keep him in that 40-50 range. We shall see. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 29, 2015, 5:03 am

Being a relief pitcher in Major League Baseball is a tough job with an even tougher reality. Sooner or later, every fan will be able to place your face to your name, and more times than not it will be something negative that creates that connection. 

Despite sharing a name with one of the world's most popular actors and appearing in 78 games during the 2014 seasons, that hasn't happened yet to Milwaukee Brewers reliever Will Smith. He still manages to fly mostly under the radar in his home city, and he recently used that temporary lack of recognition to his advantage to provide some comic relief.

At the Brewers On Deck event over the weekend, Smith traded in his uniform and went undercover as newscaster Bill Schmidt to interview fans about, you guessed it, Will Smith.  

The results were predictably entertaining. Here's a look. 

Your browser does not support iframes.

Not surprisingly, Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez and Hank the Dog were among the most popular Brewers, but it seemed like most recognized Smith's contributions, despite not having a clue they were actually talking to him. We'll consider that a plus under the circumstances.

He also did well on the hotness scale, which is interesting considering the fans were trying to picture what Smith looked like in their minds while he held a microphone to their face. 

The biggest takeaway though is that Smith appears to have a good sense of humor. That's a good thing, because Brewers fans will definitely know who he is now. Also, with Zach Duke jumping to the Chicago White Sox in free agency, he now becomes manager Ron Roenicke's primary left-handed reliever. That means bigger spots, tougher matchups and more opportunities to be the goat. It's a challenge he'll obviously relish, or else he wouldn't be in the big leagues, but here's hoping he has the thick skin to match his humor. 

BLS H/N: Cut 4

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 29, 2015, 3:35 am

Despite a series of high impact moves this offseason, Chicago White general manager Rick Hahn isn't ready to set his opening day roster just yet. On Wednesday, he was back to work, signing free agent second baseman Gordon Beckham to a one-year, $2 million deal.

The somewhat surprising signing comes less than six months after Hahn traded Beckham to the Los Angeles Angels in a post deadline trade. To make room on the 40-man roster, outfielder Dayan Viciedo has been designated for assignment. That decision comes two weeks after Viciedo avoided arbitration with a one-year, $4.4 million deal.

Indeed, that's some notable maneuvering.

In re-signing Beckham, the White Sox at least know what they're getting, which makes him a more comfortable addition than similar free agents still available. Chicago drafted Beckham eighth overall in the 2008 amateur draft and oversaw a relatively quick development. Beckham debuted in the big leagues one year later and spent his first five plus seasons on Chicago's big league roster, hitting .245/.307/.375 in 765 games.

Obviously, those numbers didn't live up to the lofty expectations attached to a top 10 pick, but that's not the concern at this point. Hahn needs an infielder who can play multiple positions and be competent against left-handed pitching, and those are roles he feels Beckham can fill. In his early career, Beckham has logged time at second base, third base and even shortstop, so that's a definite plus. Against left-handers, he's hitting .244/.314/.373 across the board. Not quite as encouraging, but consistent with his overall numbers. It's just who Beckham is at the plate, and that's fine for an extra infielder.

As for Beckham's obviously more optimistic take.

Beckham on being a utility player: "That’s kind of a loaded question, and I don’t view myself like that and...

— Scott Merkin (@scottmerkin) January 28, 2015

More Beckham: "... I don’t think the White Sox do either. I think they think I’m a good player, a winning player that can help them win."

— Scott Merkin (@scottmerkin) January 28, 2015

We'll see. For now, it's expected that Beckham will split time between second and third base initially, with the possibility to expand his role if Emilio Bonifacio or Conor Gillaspie struggle in more regular roles.

As for Viciedo, the soon-to-be 26-year-old outfielder has been on the trade block all winter, even before Chicago added Melky Cabrera in free agency. So far, Hahn has been unable to gain traction on a deal, but there's an increased sense it could happen now that he's been designated. Fox Sports Paul Morosi sees the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners as potential fits, but it's possible both will wait to see if Viciedo is outright released.

If the White Sox do release Viciedo, they'll only be on the hook for one-sixth of his salary, which amounts to $733K. A team could also claim the entirety of Viciedo’s $4.4MM salary on waivers, but that seems unlikely with Viciedo coming off a disappointing .231/.281/.405 line in 2014. Given his downside defensively, he's likely viewed as more of a low-risk, high-reward target who can provide some pop off the bench or as a part-time designated hitter.

Sometimes that's a risk well worth taking though. Just look at the difference-making success J.D. Martinez found with the Detroit Tigers last season,

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 29, 2015, 12:08 am
(Getty Images)

There's a legion of baseball fans out there who've campaigned for years to get the San Diego Padres to bring back their brown uniforms. On Wednesday, their wish came true — sort of.

The Padres announced that they'll wear their brown pinstriped uniforms from the late '80s for five games during the 2015 season. Five games are better than no games, right? If you're a baseball fan of a certain age, you know these jerseys well. You've probably seen Tony Gwynn get a few hundred hits in them.

New in 2015: Way Back Wednesdays! For 5 Wednesday day games, team will wear home brown pinstripe uniforms ('85-'90) pic.twitter.com/w2QrZr0a0H

— San Diego Padres (@Padres) January 28, 2015

The "Bring Back the Browns" movement got a viral boost recently when John Brubaker, a Padres fan and designer, mocked up some nice-looking brown uniforms inspired by the team's late '70s/early '80s look. 

Here are Brubaker's mock-ups:

New-Look Padres, Back in Brown. http://t.co/7GZVRYMZil @Padres @PadresMikeDee @gaslampball @LobShots pic.twitter.com/zEuYJmR78F

— John Brubaker (@johnbrubaker) January 8, 2015

The Padres aren't going that deep into their jersey archives just yet, but these late '80s jerseys are a step toward Brubaker's vision and toward appeasing the fans who want the Padres brown full-time. 

The Seattle Mariners also recently unveiled alternative uniforms straight out of their past. Those were a hit with the public, which seems to love retro jerseys nowadays. 

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 28, 2015, 11:40 pm

When Pablo Sandoval chose to leave the San Francisco Giants for the Boston Red Sox in free agency, he talked about wanting "new challenges." Maybe that meant hitting homers over the Green Monster.

But maybe it also meant hitting half-court basketball shots from his butt:

This appears to be part of his offseason training regimen, and apparently it's repeatable, because Sandoval did it again the very next day:

Yes, the Kung Fu Panda has apparently become some sort of basketball trick-shot master since the Red Sox made him a $100 million man. Maybe he's spent his need-new-challenges winter watching Dude Perfect videos. You know, their slogan is "five best friends and a panda."

BLS H/N: Cut4

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 28, 2015, 7:14 pm

(USA TODAY Sports)After spending big to net the biggest free agent on the market this offseason — you know, that Max Scherzer guy — the Washington Nationals made a savvy move to address the other end of their pitching staff.

They've reportedly signed ex-Toronto Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen to a one-year deal, a move they hope will strengthen their bullpen and add some insurance should closer Drew Storen meltdown.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports was first to report Janssen's deal with the Nats. Barry Svrluga at The Washington Post writes Janssen is guaranteed $5 million — a $3.5 million base salary for 2015 plus a $1.5 buyout for 2016. Or the Nats could keep Janssen for 2016 and pay him $7 million.

Janssen spent three seasons as Toronto's closer, converting on 81 of 91 save opportunities. He was effective, but not exactly lights out. Still, his 2.94 ERA over those three seasons was admirable and consistent, considering the up-and-down lives of MLB closers. 

In Washington, though, he figures to be a setup man. The Nats traded Tyler Clippard to the Oakland Athletics recently, so Janssen should slide into his role. Storen finished 2014 as the Nats' closer — a role he thrived in during the 2011 season — but he's not a sure thing. An advantage of signing Janssen is having someone else with closer experience in case things go awry. 

The Nats' offseason will be marked by excess, since they signed Scherzer for $210 million, but they were able to save a little bit of money here. They got Yunel Escobar, who will fill a hole at second base, in return for Clippard. Now they've signed Janssen to replace Clippard, who was going to make about $9 million this season in arbitration.

Another way to think of Janssen: Nats will spend $8.5M this year on their eighth-inning guy AND starting 2B, less than Clippard will make.

— Barry Svrluga (@barrysvrluga) January 28, 2015

When you're dishing out $15 million annually for 14 years to Scherzer, you take the savings where you can, right?

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 28, 2015, 5:57 pm
(WTMJ-Milwaukee)

When Ryan Braun set off for Milwaukee to attend the Brewers Fan Fest over the weekend, he couldn't have expected to make an appearance in any wedding photos.

However, that's exactly what happened Saturday when a member of a local couple's wedding party spotted the Brewers star. He was walking down the street while they were outside their reception at a downtown hotel taking pictures.

"We heard my friend yell 'Hey Ryan!'" the groom, Jesse Anderson, told WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee. "We didn't know what he was doing. We figured he saw somebody he knows from back home or something."

Braun made his way over to join the group and stood in for a few shots. For the couple, well at least for the bride, it was the highlight of the night.

"It was a really fun and memorable moment," said the bride, Janice Anderson. "I'd like to say thank you to Ryan Braun. He definitely has the hearts of everybody who was at our wedding. But don't worry, my new husband has my heart!"

The Brewers hope to recapture the hearts of their fans after a late season swoon saw them miss the playoffs last year. Braun, who had offseason thumb surgery, is on track to be good to go for the start of spring training and surely looks forward to delivering more memorable moments for the people of Wisconsin this summer just like he did for the Andersons this past weekend.

BLS H/N: Hall of Very Good

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Israel Fehr is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: January 28, 2015, 7:45 am
(Getty Images)

Having lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis in free agency, the Orioles swung a trade with the Pirates on Tuesday to help fill that void.

Source: Travis Snider deal to Baltimore believed to be done. Class A pitcher Stephen Tarpley one of the prospects going to the Pirates.

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 28, 2015

The lovely and talented @danconnollysun first reported rekindled Travis Snider talks. Deal is indeed done: Snider for Tarpley and PTBNL.

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 28, 2015

For Snider it's a return to the division where he got his start in the big leagues. A first round draft pick of the Blue Jays in 2006, he played 242 games for Toronto before being traded to the Pirates during the 2012 season. Snider was the odd man out in Pittsburgh, with the team ready to hand the starting right field job to young stud Gregory Polanco.

The absence of Cruz, who signed with Seattle, and Markakis, who signed with Atlanta, looms large for Baltimore. Their hope is that Snider, who's turning 27 next week, can play solid defence in both corner outfield spots and provide some power at the plate. He'll be in the mix for at-bats in left and right field alongside Alejandro de Aza, David Lough, Steve Pearce, and Delmon Young, with All-Star Adam Jones entrenched in center field. With a salary of $2.1 million for 2015 and another year of arbitration to come, it's a reasonable financial gamble for the Orioles. Plus they didn't have to deal a key piece or a promising prospect to get him.

Snider hit .264 with a .338 OBP in 140 games in 2014 but really stepped up in the second half, putting up a slash line of .288/.356/.524 after the All-Star break and helping the Pirates get into the NL wild-card game. If that's the kind of production the Orioles can get from Snider, they'll be thrilled. They're entering the 2015 season as the defending division champions for the first time since 1998 and they know it will be a challenge to hold onto the AL East crown.

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Israel Fehr is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: January 28, 2015, 3:30 am
(AP)

The Kansas City Royals had a handful of memorable postseason moments on their way to the 2014 World Series, but one of the absolute best was third baseman Mike Moustakas tumbling over a rail to make a catch in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Baltimore Orioles.

You've probably seen the highlight a dozen times at this point, but now Moustakas' amazing catch is getting the bobblehead treatment. The Royals are giving away this beauty on June 20:

(@Royals)

How could a Royals fan NOT want this? The team has also captured Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain at their postseason best for bobbleheads. Check out Perez's game-winning hit from the AL wild-card game and one of Cain's many phenomenal playoff catches in bobblehead form:

Yesterday’s #RoyalsTweetPeek revealed Lorenzo Cain will be repped in bobblehead form on 6/6 courtesy of Farmland. pic.twitter.com/wYCrLqEUcj

— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) January 24, 2015

ICYMI, yesterday’s #RoyalsTweetPeek revealed 5/2’s Commemorative #Postseason @SalvadorPerez15 Bobble giveaway! pic.twitter.com/MfUYTg2HwS

— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) January 23, 2015

Mark your calendars, Kansas City fans.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 27, 2015, 11:41 pm

Good news, rational-thinking baseball fans — it doesn't sound like your new supreme overlord, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, has any plans to ban defensive shifts tomorrow, by opening day or anytime soon, actually.

Manfred, on his first day as commish, dropped the much-sneered-at idea that eliminating defensive shifts could bolster offense around the league. Many people didn't care for this, because it's essentially dumbing down the game, telling teams not to prepare the best game plans defensively. The Stew is among those who mocked the ban-the-shift idea.

So we're happy to report that Manfred has back-pedaled a little in a new interview with Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. In the clip above (a teaser for a full-length sit-down airing Tuesday night on Fox Sports 1), Manfred makes the shift ban sound more like a worst-case scenario than an eminent rule change. He says:

"You never know whether people are going to adjust, maybe a lot of hitters went home this winter and they figured out how to go the other way against the shift and it's going to self correct and we're not going to need to make a change. But we look at these things. We think it's smart to pay attention. We think it's important to think about possible solutions, even if it turns out we don't have a problem."

Self-adjusting was one of the main arguments against any radical rule change against the shift, so it's encouraging to hear that Manfred isn't sitting at his fancy new desk, saying "We need more offense" over and over again, Marshawn Lynch style.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 27, 2015, 8:43 pm
A fan waves a Cuban flag at a World Baseball Classic game. (Getty Images)

Given the influx of exciting Cuban players we've seen take baseball by storm in recent years, you'd think MLB would be eager to see more in big-league uniforms —especially considering the U.S.'s recent steps toward smoothing out relations with Cuba.

In fact, the opposite has happened in recent years. MLB has reportedly made it tougher for Cuban players to sign contracts with its teams and enter the league. Most recently, that's slowed the signing of Yoan Moncada, the much-hyped 19-year-old infielder who is the top Cuban free agent on the market right now. He could be better than Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Abreu, some scouts say, and has already worked out for the Yankees, Dodgers, Giants and others.

Why hasn't he signed? Well, MLB quietly changed the process by which Cuban players get OK'd to join the league, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America, and that has left Moncada in limbo. Hector Olivera and Andy Ibanez are among the other Cuban players who might otherwise be trying on an MLB cap right about now instead of trying to get permission to play in the U.S.

Things could be changing soon, though, as Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan reports MLB is in the process of re-evaluating it rules based on the Obama administration's recent shift in policy regarding Cuba. Passan writes that Moncada could be a free agent within weeks and the complicated process explained below could be wiped out thanks to more lenient government policies.

Yoan Moncada, 19, is a switch-hitting shortstop who seemingly can do it all. (Facebook)Many in the baseball world thought Moncada simply couldn't sign because he wasn't yet cleared by the United States' Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), a necessary step because of our trade embargo with Cuba. Getting OFAC clearance is why Cuban players have to first establish residency in a country other than Cuba before signing with an MLB team.

But OFAC was only part of the problem. MLB made a confusing process a step harder by upping the level of government approval Cuban players need, as Badler reports:

Moncada, though, has already met the government’s requirements to be able to begin his career. Moncada has permanent residence in Guatemala. Any Cuban national who presents documents showing permanent residence in a country outside of Cuba qualifies for OFAC’s “general license,” which is not a written document. As far as OFAC is concerned, that should make him unblocked, and that’s good enough for the government to allow him to sign.

The holdup is that MLB won’t let Moncada—or any Cuban player, for that matter—use the general license any more. That wasn’t always the case. Yasiel Puig, for example, signed using the general license. It’s not clear what exactly changed, but at some point in 2012 after Puig signed in June that year, MLB no longer allowed Cuban players to sign using the general license and instead required them to apply for the specific license, which is a written document from OFAC. That goes beyond what the government requires from Cuban players to be able to begin their careers, and with some players waiting six months to receive their licenses, MLB’s policy has added a significant bottleneck for those players.

MLB issued the following statement to Baseball America on Sunday: “MLB is confident with the current plan we have in place regarding signing foreign born players and will abide by the guidelines of the OFAC requirements.” ...

While MLB didn’t elaborate, the league’s stance appears to be a conservative one to limit its own liability in the event that a player uses false residency papers. Under the general license, the player doesn’t have to formally submit anything to OFAC. But through the specific license, if a player uses false residency papers and OFAC were able to discover that, those who submitted false documents to the government could face federal felony charges.

Boiled down: While everybody thought the U.S. government was the delay in getting Moncada cleared, it turns out it's also a result of MLB changing the level of clearance needed. Other Cubans have signed recently, so it's not impossible. It just takes longer.

This isn't the only thing slowing down the market for Moncada, either. As our own Jeff Passan wrote in November, Moncada's age and MLB's international bonus pool rules make it so whichever team signs him will likely pay a 100 percent tax on the contract. So if the Dodgers sign Moncada for $40 million (not out of the question), they'll be taxed another $40 million. 

Moncada's market will come down to this: Who can most afford a giant cash payout for the bonus penalty? It is due a month after he signs.

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 26, 2015

Moncada has already worked out for the Dodgers, Yankees, Giants and others. (MLB.com)Here's where things get even more complicated. Some teams — like the Yankees and Red Sox — won't be able to sign Moncada after June 15, which is when they'll be zapped with an international bonus pool penalty because they've already spent too much. Once that takes effect, they can't spend more than $300,000 on a player for the next two years. So if the Yankees want to sign Moncada, and it seems like they might, they have to hope he's cleared before June 15. 

If you're reading all this thinking, "Holy wow, what a complicated mess!" rest assured that MLB is actively trying to change things. MLB was drafting a letter Tuesday, Passan reports, in hopes of sorting out how Cuban free agency will work under the United States' new policy.

That, however, isn't a reality yet. So the process may be more confusing in the short term, but hopefully will become easier to navigate in the long term. What exactly that means for Moncada and his suitors remains to be seen.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 27, 2015, 8:06 pm
(AP Photo)

So Paul Beeston will remain the president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays after all. The team announced on Monday that Beeston had signed a one-year contract extension, ending months of speculation about his future.

Beeston had been without a contract since October and it sure seems like Toronto's ownership, Rogers Communications, was happy to keep it that way. As Beeston stood out in the cold, report after report emerged linking the Blue Jays with a number of highly-regarded front office executives they hoped would take his job.

Toronto wanted Orioles general manager Dan Duquette but the Jays backed away because Baltimore's asking price of multiple top prospects as compensation to let Duquette out of his contract was too rich for their taste. They also wanted White Sox vice president of baseball operations Kenny Williams, but according to the Toronto Sun their request to interview Williams was rejected by chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Twins GM Terry Ryan was mentioned as a possible candidate as well.

Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, Beeston and Reinsdorf are best friends. After taking the call from Toronto, Reinsdorf placed his own call to Beeston. According to Reinsdorf, Beeston was shocked to hear that Rogers was seeking to replace him. Talk about total mismanagement.

Now the Orioles are reportedly thinking of filing tampering charges against the Blue Jays. Reinsdorf also accused the Jays of tampering but has said he won't pursue the matter with MLB.

All this drama and Beeston ends up back as the boss for one more year. The plan is for him to retire following the 2015 season. Talk about awkward.

"There were many rumors flying about, but it would have been inappropriate to comment on such matters publicly,'' Blue Jays chairman Ed Rogers said in a statement. ''Make no mistake - we are elated to have Paul continue to lead the team for this season."

Their actions over the last three months suggest they're not quite as elated as they'd like us to believe.

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Israel Fehr is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: January 27, 2015, 5:40 am
(USA TODAY Sports)

It's been over a decade since the Expos took off for Washington, D.C., and became the Nationals, but the desire for major league baseball still lingers in Montreal.

New commissioner Rob Manfred has been doing a lot of talking since he officially stepped in for Bud Selig last Saturday. He's touched on many subjects over the last few days, but there's one comment in particular that will excite those longing to see a team back in Canada's second largest city. Manfred told the New York Times he sees Montreal as a viable destination for a big league ball club:

"Look, I think Montreal helped itself as a candidate for Major League Baseball with the Toronto games that they had up there last year. It’s hard to miss how many people showed up for those exhibition games. It was a strong showing. Montreal’s a great city. I think with the right set of circumstances and the right facility, it’s possible."

Before baseball lovers in Montreal start lining up to buy season tickets, Manfred also noted that he doesn't see expansion in the "immediate future" and there are no current plans to build a replacement for old Olympic Stadium.

The Tampa Bay Rays were recently linked with a possible move north and Canadian telecommunications powerhouse Bell would be an ideal owner for a potential Montreal franchise, yet even then it's hard to imagine the reincarnation of the Expos happening anytime soon.

For the time being, fans in Quebec will have to make do with a pair of upcoming exhibition games.

After drawing over 95,000 over two nights last year when they played the Mets, the Blue Jays return to the Expos' former home on April 3 and 4 for spring training games against the Cincinnati Reds. It will be the first time Toronto's marquee offseason signing and Montreal native Russell Martin plays in his hometown as a professional.

"It's going to be awesome," said Martin. "There's going to be a ton of people, from friends to family to old teachers of mine at the games. I know how loud the fans can get so that's what I'm looking forward to."

Montreal has MLB's attention and another strong showing at the Big O in April would help solidify their case that they deserve a second chance.

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Israel Fehr is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: January 27, 2015, 3:00 am
(AP)

It's only new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's second day on the job, and he already has people rolling their eyes. On Sunday, the day he took over for Bud Selig, Manfred made diehard baseball fans facepalm when he talked about banning defensive shifts as a way to boost offense in games.

It's a strange idea that basically says: Hey, MLB team, I know you've invested time and resources into scouting your opponents' tendencies, but in the interest of getting more kids to turn off their video games and watch baseball, we're not going to let you do that anymore. Yeah, yeah, strategy is cool, but let's make more money. 

The NFL changed its rules to add more offense, and that's been met with both objection and record viewership. So baseball, which is trying to appeal to new fans, particularly of the younger variety, could be following that lead. But, to be clear here, Manfred just floated the idea. There's no indication a ban on defensive shifts is actually going to happen. Yet.

Getting rid of the shift, though, is pretty bland. Good luck getting a 13-year-old to turn off his PS4 because the shortstop isn't allowed to play behind second base anymore. He's yawning already!

If the object is to produce more offense, then let's think bigger. Let's consider other parts of the game that aren't a problem right now, but that we can ban just for the sake of chaos and (*crossing our fingers*) better ratings:

(USA TODAY Sports)

1. Outfielders
Here's how you score more runs: Just get rid of a bunch of defenders. Sorry, outfielders, you're gone. The four infielders now have to cover the whole field. Run and get those balls, dudes.

2. Make all the outfielders DHs
I know this isn't a "banning," but it needs to be addressed. If we want more offense, we can't just get rid of the outfielders altogether. That's one-third of a team's lineup. All those outfielders we just took away, they're all designated hitters now. All their focus should be on making offense happen, every second of the game.

(USA TODAY Sports)

3. Double plays
It just seems unfair that the defense can get two outs in one play. Obviously, we need not be rewarding teams for playing defense anymore. You get one out, play stops there. Gotta keep these runners on base so they can score runs.

4. Pitchers throwing with their dominant hand the entire time
Sorry, pitchers, you have to use both hands now. If you're a righty, you're throwing as a lefty in the second, fourth, sixth and (ha-ha, yeah right) eighth innings. And vice verse. Let's see what your ERA looks like now, Clayton Kershaw. 

5. Gloves
A long time ago in baseball history, players started using gloves to help them catch the ball. It's a trend that remarkably continues to this day. Gloves sound like preparedness and preparedness is something that doesn't create offense. Bare hands forever, like Kevin Mitchell.

Here's another good thing about banning gloves: If people are still mad about banning defensive shifts, just reinstate those and say "good luck without your glove, suckers."

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 26, 2015, 11:11 pm
(Getty Image)

If you've been too tied up in the latest deflate-gate whatever-whatever to notice, the Alex Rodriguez circus has strolled back into town. We're still a month away from spring training, but the sideshow is already gearing up for what ought to be another wacky A-Rod spectacle.

And we know how it will start — with an apology for PED-using, MLB-fighting ways.

Alex Rodriguez is expected to address the media and publicly apologize when he he reports to the #Yankees spring training camp in a month.

— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) January 26, 2015

A-Rod already tried to apologize to New York Yankees brass, but they stiff-armed him. They're also reportedly trying to stiff A-Rod on his home-run bonuses, so it sounds like the Yanks aren't singing "Forgive and Forget" around the office these days.

Yankees position players report to Tampa on Feb. 25, so go ahead and set a reminder in your smartphone right now for A-Rodapologypalooza. Rest assured, however, you have plenty of time to attend the virtual A-Rod outrage tailgate party, happening in an Internet comments section near you.

We know exactly what's going to happen at A-Rodapologypalooza too. He'll stand there all robot-like and hit every point outlined by his PR people, trying his hardest to show an ounce of human emotion. Expect him to include a lot about how he loves the game of baseball and he's devoted his life to it. Then we'll all spend the next four days arguing about whether A-Rod deserves our forgiveness or whether he's the same ol' A-Rod and should never be allowed to play again.

It's going to be the best.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 26, 2015, 10:18 pm
(Getty Images)

The legend of Wade Boggs continues to grow — and we're not talking about his skills with a baseball bat.

Boggs, the Hall of Famer who collected 3,010 hits in his day, is also famous for his beer-guzzling ways. A couple weeks ago, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" used Boggs' most famous beer story as a plot point. Boggs had supposedly drunk 64 beers on a cross-country flight when he was playing for the Boston Red Sox.

But "It's Always Sunny" actor Charlie Day claimed in a "Tonight Show" interview, that Boggs told him an even bigger number — that he actually downed 107 beers in a day once. It seems extreme and Boggs still hasn't admitted to that, so we're still not sure. But there's another story about Boggs' beer-drinking prowess making the rounds now that at least adds credence to the idea.

For that, we turn to David Laurila's Sunday notes column at Fangraphs. He talked to ex-big league pitcher Brian Rose, who shared the following story about playing for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2001 when Boggs was the hitting coach there:

Rose soon learned that Boggs could put away cold ones like nobody else.

“I was sitting next to him on a plane and a flight attendant came by and gave him a case of beer,” said Rose. “He slid it under the seat and I was like, ‘What’s up with that? We only have an hour flight.’ He said, ‘That’s mine.’

“The whole flight, we were just shooting the [expletive], and he went one beer after the other. I said to him, ‘I’m impressed with the way you hit, but I’m more impressed right now.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, beer doesn’t affect me. I don’t get drunk unless I’ve had at least a case and a half.’ I don’t think he even went to the bathroom.”

Well then!

If you've ever seen Wade Boggs with a case of beer on an plane, feel free to contact me at the address below, because I would love to hear your story ... and hear the empty-can count.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 26, 2015, 9:18 pm

(USA TODAY Sports)The New York Yankees certainly imagined a different future when they signed then-superstar Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $272 million contract in 2007.

They weren't thinking about PED suspensions and tabloid turmoil. They were thinking of the ultimate long-ball spectacle — A-Rod chasing the all-time home run record in Yankees pinstripes, and how much attention it would bring them.

This is proven by the "milestone" incentives in A-Rod's contract, which pay $6 million with every MLB home-run titan he passes on the all-time list.

He gets $6 million when he passes Willie Mays, another $6 million each if he passes Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds. The last three likely aren't in A-Rod's target, as he sits at 654 homers, but Mays certainly is. A-Rod needs seven homers to move past Mays, become fourth on the all-time list and collect $6 million.

Only, the Yankees don't intend to pay A-Rod those bonuses if they come to pass. According to a report from the New York Daily News, the Yankees "intend to fight" A-Rod on the milestone bonuses, basically because he cheated to reach these home-run heights and everybody knows it. From the Daily News:

The Yankees, however, now view the marketing bonuses as worthless and invalid, according to sources, the result of Rodriguez’s suspension for violating the game’s collectively bargained drug policy and his scorched-earth attack on baseball and the Yankees. The club plans to do battle with its onetime superstar over paying the bonuses, and is prepared to fight Rodriguez if he files a grievance with the Players’ Association ...

The deal was considered unique for the Yankees and was tied to Rodriguez making public relations and promotional appearances as he pursued the milestones. These kinds of marketing bonuses are not allowed in the standard player contract, according to the game’s Basic Agreement, which is why there was a separate contract.

Now, the Yankees will argue that Rodriguez signed the agreement under false pretenses and has rendered the marketing opportunities worthless based on years of lies, deception and, finally, admission to DEA agents last year that he had paid $12,000 a month to Anthony Bosch for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

(Getty Images)

The Yankees, you have to figure, hope that A-Rod just shuts up and goes along with their plan — that he's so happy to be owed $61 million over the next three and that he's learned his lesson from trying to fight the Yankees and MLB. Otherwise, it's hard to imagine their "nope, we're just not going to pay you" stance holding up in front of a judge — unless there's specific language in his milestone contract that requires him to be clean and not get suspended.

There's a bigger issue here, though: What sort of relationship are the Yankees hoping to have with A-Rod? There was another story over the weekend about how the Yankees blew off A-Rod's attempt to apologize for his antics. The Yankees aren't planning for a ton of contributions from him on the field, either. At best, he's going to be their designated hitter this year, but nobody outside from A-Rod thinks he's going to play third base.

Is he worth it? Is having an aging, hip-replaced, hasn't-played-in-a-year circus sideshow named Alex Rodriguez going to help the Yankees more than it hurts them? Maybe if the Yankees themselves showed any faith in A-Rod, things might feel different. But right now, if this latest piece of A-Rod gossip is indeed true, it seems like the Yankees just want to make things worse.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 26, 2015, 7:10 pm

After finalizing a seven-year, $210 million contract with free agent Max Scherzer, it appears the rest of the NL East will need nothing short of a miracle or perhaps even some magic to overcome the Washington Nationals. With that in mind, it's probably a good thing the New York Mets had already gone out and hired a magician this offseason, signing outfielder Michael Cuddyer to a two-year, $21 million deal in November.

And no, we're not exclusively referring to Cuddyer's baseball skills, though many times he has looked like a magician at the plate. Especially 2013, when he took home the NL batting crown. He's actually a magician with a wide range of card tricks. It's a unique talent, but it's a talent he's used for years in the clubhouse to keep teammates loose and entertained.

On Thursday, Cuddyer spent part of his afternoon sharpening his skills in the Mets clubhouse. Only this time, he had a different audience. The Mets brought in students from PS 92 in Queens, and as you might expect, the kids were quite impressed with Cuddyer's slight of hand.

Your browser does not support iframes.

As you also might expect, because this is New York after all, the topic of the day eventually turned to the Mets outlook this season. In this case, Cuddyer didn't attempt to pull the wool over anyone's eyes. He acknowledged the Nationals are the team to beat, but made it known that the Mets will also compete for that position.

From MLB.com:

"I don't see why we couldn't. Obviously, they're going to have a great staff, there's no question about it. They've got All-Stars on the staff. They've got ERA champions on the staff, strikeout champions on the staff. But at the same time, we've got guys that can compete with that as well. I think the 'Baseball Almanac' would be written a lot differently if you donned a champion in February every year."

Admittedly, Cuddyer can't see the future, but he does make good points. Often times the favorites in February are afterthoughts by August. However, the Nationals are a different animal. Their starting rotation is as loaded as we've ever seen in recent years, and should they elect to not immediately trade from that depth, will be equipped to handle absorb some adversity.

Where the Mets should make some noise is in the wild-card race, and we don't think that will require magic. Just good health should do the trick. If Cuddyer, David Wright and returning ace Matt Harvey can hold up for 162 games, the Mets will have staying power and an opportunity to reappear in the postseason following an eight-year absence.

Actually believing they can do it won't hurt either.

BLS H/N: Cut 4

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 25, 2015, 9:44 pm

After five seasons with the Detroit Tigers, which included four straight postseason appearances and one Cy Young award, Max Scherzer is headed east for the next seven seasons after signing a new seven-year, $210 million contract with the Washington Nationals.

It's the end of one chapter and the beginning of another for Scherzer, but before he offcially flips the page and dons his new uniform, he wanted to say a proper good-bye to Detroit. On Sunday, Scherzer did just that, taking out a full-page ad in the Detroit Free Press that thanked the Tigers organization and the fans in Detroit for their support over the years.

Max Scherzer thanks the #Tigers and their fans in a full-page ad in today's @freep. pic.twitter.com/5qj1H9gI4G

— Freep Sports (@freepsports) January 25, 2015

Scherzer's departure from Detroit had been anticipated since he turned down a substantial extension last March. It was mostly a matter of would Detroit look to trade him during the season for a large return, or let him walk following the season knowing a return was unlikely. General manager Dave Dombrowski opted for the latter, and now both parties will move forward.

With that said though, it's often a bittersweet moment when an athlete leaves behind the city where their career took off. That was clearly true for Scherzer as well.

Scherzer, who was traded to Detroit from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a major three-team that was headlined by Curtis Granderson going to the New York Yankees, finished his time in Detroit with an 82-35 record and a 3.52 ERA. He earned the Cy Young in 2013 after going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA.

Overall, Scherzer is 91-50 with a 3.58 ERA in 207 major league appearances. He'll turn 31 on July 27.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

 

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 25, 2015, 8:59 pm

Before Tanner Griggs embarks on his first full season in professional baseball, the 20-year-old Chicago Cubs pitching prospect reunited with teammates of a different kind.

On Thursday, Griggs met with the medical staff at Clear Lake Regional Medical Center in Webster, Texas and the 911 operators who helped him save the life of his neighbor Richard Gengler.

Back in September, Griggs and Gengler, who's 61, were playing catch out in front their homes when Gengler suddenly collapsed. Griggs, who wasn't trained to perform CPR, immediately raced home to grab his phone and call for help. When he returned, Griggs realized that in order to keep his neighbor alive, he'd have to begin resuscitation efforts and learn CPR on the fly.

With the calm voice of a stranger guiding him and poise he may not have realized he possessed keeping him steady, Griggs was able to administer the care Gengler needed. When the EMS crew arrived about three minutes later, they immediately took over and were able to regain a pulse nearly 30 minutes later. An outcome that may not have been possible had Griggs not taken charge.

From KHOU in Houston:

The EMS crew worked on Gengler for more than a half hour, regained a pulse, and transported him to Clear Lake Regional Medical Center. Gengler woke up seven days later. With a combination of medications, cold IV fluids as part of hypothermia protocol, angioplasty and the insertion of two stints, they saved him from a 100% blockage in one artery and a +90% blockage in another.

"I've been in EMS for 24 years and this is the most impressive cardiac arrest save I've been a part of. So it's pretty remarkable," said League City EMS Assistant Chief Kevin Frieze.

Frieze also says that statistically, only 15-20% of cardiac arrest victims survive, and those odds obviously decrease rapidly the longer a patient goes without oxygen. One of the paramedics involved was quoted as saying that bystander CPR is the best chance of survival in these cases because every second lost is critical. In this case, even though Griggs wasn't trained, his quick thinking and calm demeanor made up for lost time.

"Paramedics, Tanner, I mean by God I'm a lucky man. Very lucky," Gengler said to the assembled group.

Very lucky indeed.

On one hand, Griggs' efforts under were amazing under the circumstances. On the other, it's a truly powerful reminder that any of us could be caught in his position and may not be as poised under pressure. There's a happy ending to this remarkable story, but that underlining reminder is something we should all take seriously. If you have no CPR training or certification, it's worth adding to the to-do list.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 25, 2015, 8:09 pm

New baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has been in office a little more than 12 hours and he's already making some interesting waves. In an interview that aired on ESPN on Sunday morning, Manfred made it clear that examining the pace of the game is first on his list of priorities, but not far behind will be finding ways to "inject additional offense into the game."

Without being prompted for an example, Manfred specifically mentioned he'd be open to pursuing the elimination of defensive shifts, which he says give the defensive team a competitive advantage.

Rob Manfred on eliminating shifts. http://t.co/MJ8LSCOuqC

— Joe Lucia (@Joe_TOC) January 25, 2015

Defensive shifting is something we've seen implemented more and more in recent years as teams begin to shift — pun most certainly intended — to more sabermetric based research. It's more regularly reserved for strict pull hitters, which in most cases could be identified without a ton of research, but we're also seeing more creative — and even extreme — uses of defensive positioning that go beyond such tendencies. In some ways, it has become as important as pitch selection, which is sometimes influenced by positioning.

Now, this is a shift. pic.twitter.com/55I1lXERop

— Dylan Hernandez (@dylanohernandez) August 30, 2014

How Manfred would go about proposing the change and what his suggested guidelines would be are unclear. He'd almost have to create a specific zone that each defender has to stay within when each pitch is delivered. If that's the case, does that mean we'd see more lines drawn on the field, or is it up to umpire discretion? Can a defender creep in anticipating a bunt, or is that unfair? We'd be opening up a whole new can of worms here.  

Those questions aside, Yahoo's Jeff Passan has learned that key figures within the game, including general managers who believe in sabermetrics, are actually open to such changes. 

This is very telling: I ran Rob Manfred's idea to limit defensive shifts by two sabermetrically inclined GMs -- and both said they agree.

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 25, 2015

Both essentially said same thing: The game is better when the casual fans gets the product they want. Big concern baseball isn't delivering.

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 25, 2015

To paraphrase: Who do casual fans want to see compete, Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout or Andrew Friedman and Jerry Dipoto?

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 25, 2015

So perhaps the potential change has traction, but we're not entirely sure it's a change fans would get behind. Would more offense be great? Of course it would. Most would agree to that. But fans also enjoy the strategy that goes into the game, and eliminating something like the shift takes away one layer of discussion and second-guessing that we all like to engage in.

Which side of the argument are you on? Do you think the shift belongs in baseball, or would you like to see it banned?

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 25, 2015, 5:50 pm

As Ken Davidoff of the New York Post reported early Saturday, embattled Yankees star Alex Rodriguez took his "rehabilitation tour" directly to MLB headquarters on Wednesday for a "clear the air" meeting with new baseball commissioner Rob Manfred. Details of how that meeting played out were scarce at the time, but it immediately led to speculation about when a similar meeting might take place with New York Yankees executives.

Well, according to a New York Daily News report late Saturday night, A-Rod had taken that step with some urging from Manfred, but apparently that ship has already sailed. The Yankees not only rejected Rodriguez's request according to the report, they essentially slammed the door in his face, telling him it can wait until spring training.

The Yankees have answered Alex Rodriguez’s attempts to apologize for his season-long steroid suspension and the scorched-earth tactics he used to fight the ban with a Bronx cheer.

The disgraced superstar offered to meet face-to-face with team executives to apologize for his role in the Biogenesis scandal and clear the air before players report to Tampa next month, the Daily News has learned, but the Yankee brass declined the invitation, telling Rodriguez, “We’ll see you in spring training.”

Away we go.

Rodriguez, who's set to return from his year-long suspension when spring training opens in three weeks, cut a path of destruction so wide and so deep before accepting his ban that he had to realize some wounds wouldn't heal with one phone call or one extension of the olive branch. Perhaps it's an effort he should have made sooner. Perhaps it wouldn't have mattered given how deep the wounds are, but with such a short time left to clear the air, it's obvious those wounds will still be open in Tampa.

On the plus side for A-Rod, it appears he's made significant progress with Manfred thanks to a series of meetings that predated Wednesday's encounter.

(USA TODAY Sports)Here's more from the Daily News: 

The first face-to-face meeting, however, occurred about six months later when Rodriguez and Manfred met in late summer last year at MLB’s Park Avenue offices. About a week after his DEA confession, which was spurred by his agreement to cooperate with the U.S. Attorneys prosecuting Bosch and other Biogenesis defendants, Rodriguez also abandoned lawsuits against MLB, then-commissioner Bud Selig and the Players Association.

Rodriguez met Manfred again on Wednesday of last week. The meetings were at MLB’s offices and were attended by Manfred and other MLB executives.

According to a source, Manfred told Rodriguez in the final meeting that he will now have to deal with the Yankees. “You’re done here,” A-Rod was told regarding their meetings, according to the source. “You’re a Yankee and you have to work things out now with them.”

That's not a five-star endorsement, but it's obviously Manfred's way of telling Rodriguez he's heard all he needs to hear and he's ready to move on. That's a notable and perhaps even noble stance given their history. In fact, the Daily News story provides extensive details of the havoc A-Rod and his people created for Manfred not only behind closed doors, but even as he attempted to enjoy leisure time.

In one incident at a charity event at the Manhattan Woods Golf Club in Pearl River, N.Y., Manfred’s caddy was approached by an investigator allegedly working for Rodriguez demanding to know what Manfred had been discussing during his golf round.

Yeah, those are the lengths A-Rod and his team were willing to go to muddy the waters. Now we might find out the lengths he's willing and capable of going on his way to mend fences. It appears he has one hurdle behind him with the league. Now comes the battle with the Yankees, which could remain ugly. Then comes the battle he'll never win, and that's winning back the majority of baseball's fans. There are some who forgive and others who will forget, but not many willing to do both. 

Lots of luck, Mr. Rodriguez. 

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 25, 2015, 8:15 am

Earlier this week we learned that Topps is set to release a special set of baseball cards featuring 15 celebrities, personalities or otherwise notable humans who threw out memorable first pitches in 2014. We also learned that among those featured will be rapper 50 Cent, who unfortunately achieved that status by unleashing perhaps the worst first pitch in the history of organized baseball.

Yes, it was really that bad.

Bad enough, it turns out, that the new card wasn't the only "honor" the southpaw from Queens earned. He was also the runner-up in MLB Network's Social Media Award for most Memorable First Pitch, which was voted on exclusively by the fans and actually netted him a pretty nice trophy.

Observe, via 50 Cent's personal Instagram.

(50 Cent on Instagram)
He looks grateful, right?

Maybe?

Not so much?

To the attached (and censored) caption we go for clarification.

“These people sent me the most [expletive] up pitch award. Ain’t this a [expletive]. Lmao But it ain’t funny – 50 Cent

Yeah, we're still not sure if we're laughing with him or at him, so we'll go with the smiley face emoji instead of the uncomfortable 'lol' acronym just to be safe.

By the way, Agnes McKee, the 105-year-old Padres fan, took first place in the voting. We couldn't be happier about that, because we know without any doubt that she'll appreciate her new piece of hardware. Congrats, Agnes.

BLS H/N: For The Win 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 25, 2015, 3:21 am

The path Ernie Banks took to the big leagues might be just as amazing as any of his career accomplishments. His high school, Booker T. Washington in Dallas, did not have a baseball team while he attended, so he was forced to go elsewhere to develop his skills. Banks actually played fast-pitch softball during the summer in a local church league, and later played semipro baseball for the Amarillo Colts.

Despite scouts having very little to go on, Banks was eventually spotted and recruited by a Negro League scout named Bill Blair. At age 19, Banks signed with the Kansas City Monarchs, earning $7.00 a game. The money wasn't much, but the opportunity proved priceless because it finally allowed Banks to be seen and scouted.

From there, Banks went on to serve two years in the U.S. Army. When he returned to baseball, he found the doors were now wide open. His name had drawn some attention, and scouts like Hugh Wise, who filed this most interesting scouting report on July 28, 1953, were quickly on his trail.

(Dan Okrent on Twitter)
If there's such a thing as a perfect scouting report in baseball, this might be it. All of the baseball skills that would make Banks a Hall of Famer were on display, as were the qualities that endeared him to baseball fans for generations to come. He was the same person we all grew to know, even as a 22-year-old.

Not long after this report was filed, the Monarchs sold Banks’ contract to the Chicago Cubs for the recommended $10,000. As Wise noted, Banks was ready to play right away, so he was immediately placed on the major league squad, debuting on Sept. 17, 1953.

The rest, as they say, was baseball history.

BLS H/N: Eye on Baseball

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 25, 2015, 12:04 am

Somewhere, somebody is counting down the days until the Alex Rodriguez circus arrives at New York Yankees camp in Tampa. In the meantime — and in between workouts with Barry Bonds, of course — A-Rod is continuing what's been tabbed his "rehabilitation tour," most recently heading to MLB's midtown Manhattan headquarters for a meeting with commissioner-elect Rob Manfred.

Kevin Davidoff of the New York Post provides the details:

Earlier this past week, the Yankees’ disgraced, returning slugger convened with commissioner-elect Rob Manfred at Major League Baseball’s midtown Manhattan headquarters, multiple sources confirmed. In an attempted signal of goodwill, A-Rod came unaccompanied by any Players Association representatives or personal attorneys.

And goodwill, according to one source, was A-Rod’s intention when he initiated this get-together. He wanted to clear the air with Manfred and get on the same page with central baseball as he prepares for his reentry.

The last time A-Rod had visited the building, on Nov. 20, 2013, he had exited in fury (or at least pretend fury) after independent arbitrator Fredric Horowitz didn’t allow Rodriguez’s legal team to interrogate commissioner Bud Selig for his 211-game suspension of A-Rod. Rodriguez stood up in the hearing room, looked at Manfred and shouted an expletive — whether it was directed at Manfred specifically or commenting about the situation in general eternally will be open to interpretation, depending on your witness — and left the room and the building.

Certainly not the worst idea for A-Rod to touch base and make sure Manfred's focus is looking forward, not backward. That said, we're guessing the whole scene was a bit awkward regardless of any progress that may or may not have been made.

After all, it was Manfred who took the lead on the Biogenesis investigation, which eventually led to A-Rod's suspension for the entire 2014 season. Manfred willingly put himself directly in the eye of Hurricane A-Rod, and he felt its wrath time and time again. At one point during the arbitration hearing, Manfred was clearly worn down by the back and forth, so he lashed out with the following scathing statement

“This latest, sad chapter in Mr. Rodriguez’s tarnished career is yet another example of this player trying to avoid taking responsibility for his poor choices,” Manfred said. “Given the disappointing acts that Mr. Rodriguez has repeatedly made throughout his career, his expressed concern for young people rings very hollow. Mr. Rodriguez’s use of PEDs was longer and more pervasive than any other player, and when this process is complete, the facts will prove it is Mr. Rodriguez and his representatives who have engaged in ongoing, gross misconduct.”

Yeah, it got pretty ugly for awhile.

The war of words only ceased when Rodriguez decided to accept his punishment and await his next opportunity. An opportunity that begins in just about three weeks time. And though it's easy to question A-Rod's sincerity in meeting with Manfred, and perhaps even Manfred's in meeting with A-Rod, it's notable that both sides were willing to take the first step.

Now, as Davidoff points out, we await A-Rod's first "ice breaking session" with higher-ups in the New York Yankees organization. They too were in A-Rod's path of deconstruction as he desperately fought the sanctions against him. It's a bit surprising that meeting hasn't already taken place, but Davidoff suspects A-Rod will be reaching out soon. 

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 24, 2015, 8:56 pm

Former major league pitcher Ted Lilly is in hot legal water in San Luis Obispo County California.

According to KSBY.com, Lilly pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to three separate felony charges filed by the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's Office, all of which pertain to vehicle insurance fraud.

It's alledged by the California Department of Insurance that Lilly damaged his RV, which is valued at around $200,000, but did not file a claim until after he purchased insurance on the vehicle. The department’s investigation revealed that Lilly's RV was damaged in a collision sometime last spring. Lilly then sought and received a $4,600 estimate from a local body shop on March 19, but did not purchase insurance until March 24. According to agency spokeswoman Nancy Kincaid, Lilly then filed an insurance claim worth $210,000 on March 28.

“What a lot of people may not realize is that body shops often enter estimates into a database that insurance companies can check to verify claims,” Kincaid said. “They can see what the damage was and whether a false claim may have been filed.”

Scheme or otherwise, the San Luis Obispo Tribune adds that Lilly was caught rather easily during a routine sweep conducted by the Department of Insurance. Charges were filed on Oct. 24. 

"I can tell you that he's charged with three different felony counts. The first is filing a false insurance claim. The second one is a false statement in support of a claim and the third one has to do with failing to disclose a material fact in connection with an insurance claim," Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham said.

Lilly, who earned around $80 million during his 15-year MLB career, faces a maximum penalty of five years in San Luis Obispo County Jail if he’s convicted. He’s scheduled for arraignment on Feb. 5

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 24, 2015, 6:49 pm

The news of Ernie Banks' death on Friday evening has been a punch in the gut to baseball fans form all over the world, but perhaps no baseball fan felt the blow stronger than the leader of the United States, President Barack Obama.

Having spent a significant portion of his adult life in Chicago, President Obama became a fan of Ernie Banks, just like everyone else who had the pleasure of knowing him or meeting him. And though the president is never shy about sharing his allegiance to the Chicago White Sox, his respect and admiration for Mr. Cub was always clear. Perhaps never more so than Nov. 20, 2013, when he awarded Ernie Banks the Presidential Medal of Freedom

On Saturday, the president and his wife, Michelle, joined the rest world in paying tribute and saying goodbye to the American sports icon by releasing the following statement: 

Michelle and I send our condolences to the family of Ernie Banks, and to every Chicagoan and baseball fan who loved him.

Ernie came up through the Negro Leagues, making $7 a day. He became the first African-American to play for the Chicago Cubs, and the first number the team retired. Along the way, he became known as much for his 512 home runs and back-to-back National League MVPs as for his cheer, his optimism, and his love of the game. As a Hall-of-Famer, Ernie was an incredible ambassador for baseball, and for the city of Chicago. He was beloved by baseball fans everywhere, including Michelle, who, when she was a girl, used to sit with her dad and watch him play on TV. And in 2013, it was my honor to present Ernie with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Somewhere, the sun is shining, the air is fresh, his team's behind him, and Mr. Class -- "Mr. Cub" -- is ready to play two.

Also on Saturday morning, Cubs have started a makeshift memorial to Ernie Banks outside Wrigley Field.

Fans are leaving flowers and beer cans at Wrigley at Addison and Sheffield. #Cubs pic.twitter.com/rwlbX4bxly

— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) January 24, 2015

The beer cans are said to be a toast to Mr. Cub's legacy.

Continuing construction at Wrigley Field has made it difficult for fans to get close to the ballpark, but that hasn't deterred them so far. Unfortunately, though, those hoping to leave a tribute at the Ernie Banks statue will have to wait until opening day. According to the Chicago Tribune, it's currently being restored

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 24, 2015, 5:41 pm

(AP Photo)

VANCOUVER — While Russell Martin has said he's prepared to catch R.A. Dickey's knuckleball, the work he puts in with the Blue Jays' promising young arms will be the 31-year-old's most rewarding challenge in his first year in Toronto.

Drew Hutchison, 24, made 32 starts in 2014 after missing all of the 2013 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. His ERA was an underwhelming 4.48, but his 3.85 FIP indicates that he's edging closer to a breakthrough. Marcus Stroman, 23, had a 3.29 ERA and an even more impressive 2.79 FIP in 20 starts with the Jays. He's small in stature, 5-foot-9, but makes up for it with wicked stuff and a bulldog mentality. Aaron Sanchez, 22, made his major league debut as a reliever in late July, posted a 1.09 ERA in 33 innings out of the bullpen and now he's poised to join the rotation. According to past prospect rankings, Sanchez might have the highest upside of the three.

Add left-hander Daniel Norris, 21, into the mix and Toronto's future on the mound appears exceedingly bright. A big part of Martin's $82 million job over the next five years is to do what he can to translate that raw talent into wins for the ballclub.

“I don’t know a ton about them," admitted Martin. “I want to talk to them and get to know them a little bit. Talk about the basics of the game, what they like to do on the mound. My job is to really know all the characters of the guys that are on the team. All I know is that they seem like good people. On the field, [they're] incredible talents. Power arms [with] electric stuff."

The process of getting familiar with one another got underway at dinner on Thursday night in Vancouver - and yes, Martin picked up the tab - as the Blue Jays passed through beautiful British Columbia as part of their winter tour. It's just the first step for Martin as he begins to build relationships with every member of the pitching staff. More conversations are to come, and will be followed by the important video sessions and bullpens that will take place at spring training once the team descends on Dunedin, Fla. in less than a month.

In Pittsburgh Martin handled a relatively experienced staff, but the Blue Jays have to be encouraged by Gerrit Cole's appraisal of his former catcher. Cole made his debut with the Pirates as a 22-year-old in 2013 and speaks of Martin in reverential tones.

"Russ is the heartbeat of the team," Cole said back in October. "He controls the pitching staff. He really is the leader on all sides of the baseball, defensively, offensively. He’s on the same page with everybody obviously on the staff."

With that kind of praise for Martin's work behind the plate, it's no wonder Hutchison, Stroman, and Sanchez are counting the days until they have to report to camp.

"When you have someone back there who’s been around the league so long, who knows hitters, who knows your pitches — I’m looking to put my trust in him," said Stroman. "If he calls [a certain] pitch and he’s got confidence in it, I’m going to throw it. I’m looking forward to learning everything I can from him and him teaching me all the knowledge he has."

“I think that’s important for everyone. If you have a guy like that behind the plate, regardless of who’s on the mound, I think it will help," added Hutchison. "Hopefully we can learn from him and help take this team to where we want to be."

They have good reason to believe they're heading in the right direction. Of all his on-field accomplishments, Martin's new teammates are most impressed by his track record of being an integral part of winning teams.

"He’s been in the big leagues nine years and seven of those nine years he’s made it to the playoffs," said Sanchez. "His leadership and what he’s about, bringing his game to Toronto is going to be phenomenal."

It shouldn't take too long before Martin makes an impact either. He takes immense pride in his defense because "it only takes one situation where you take a pitcher out of a count, he has to throw a ball over the plate, it gets hit and they score a couple runs or start a rally."

That sharp focus is why he's regarded as one of baseball's best pitch-framing catchers. His expertise in that aspect of the game is something the Jays' pitchers stand to benefit from when Martin is on the field.

"My goal is to get as many quality pitches into strikes as possible and that way the pitcher is in a better spot. The key is to give a good clean target," said Martin. "Early in my career I [caught] Greg Maddux. He told me ‘I want you to look like a painting’ behind the plate and that really stuck with me. When I give a target I make sure I’m consistent with my target, just like Maddux told me back in the day."

At the time he just wanted to earn the approval of a Hall of Famer. Now close to a decade later, with multiple All-Star game appearances under his belt and a monster contract in hand, Martin is the one in the position to dole out wisdom.

The veteran backstop is ready to take on the role, and his influence on Hutchison, Stroman, Sanchez, and soon Norris is going to be crucial to the Blue Jays' postseason hopes in 2015 and beyond.

"The younger guys are still at the stage where they’re figuring out their craft and I can help them, give them ideas, help them shape the mental preparation," said Martin. "I definitely look forward to working with them."

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Israel Fehr is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: January 24, 2015, 1:00 pm

The legacy left behind by Chicago Cubs legend and baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks goes well beyond his accomplishments on the playing field. Sure, the game of baseball was his passion and his driving force, but it wasn't what defined him. When you think of Ernie Banks, you think of the person he was, the energy and enthusiasm he possessed and the kindness and loyalty he showed every day of his life.

With news of his death on Friday evening, you can't help but feel like some of the world's optimism and happiness died along with him. He was so filled with both that it always rubbed off on those who met him. That's the man we'll remember and honor, and that's exactly how it should be.

However, we'd be doing his legacy a disservice if we didn't take a step back and marvel at all that he did accomplish while carving out a Hall of Fame career on the diamond. 

With that being said, here's a look at 14 remarkable facts about No. 14 in your Wrigley Field program, Mr. Cub himself, Ernie Banks:

1. Banks played in 1,285 regular-season games over 19 seasons at Wrigley Field. That makes up 16.48 percent of the 7,797 games that have been played at Chicago's baseball landmark.

2. Unfortunately, Banks never played in a single postseason game and holds the record for most career games without a playoff appearance. 

3. Mr. Cub's rare national showcases were reserved for All-Star games. Selected to 14 All-Star games, he hit .303 with one homer, three doubles and three RBIs. The home run came at Municipal Stadium in 1960. 

(AP)

4. Banks' high school, Booker T. Washington in Dallas, did not have a baseball team while he attended. Instead, Banks played summer softball in a local church league, and later played for the Amarillo Colts. He was eventually spotted and recruited by a Negro League scout named Bill Blair. 

5. As a 19-year-old, Banks signed with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues in 1950. After serving two years in the U.S. Army and spending time with the Harlem Globetrotters, Banks would come back to baseball. When he debuted with the Cubs in 1953, he was the first black player in franchise history. 

6. Banks had five seasons of 40 or more homers from 1955-60, all of which came as a shortstop. No other National League shortstop has had one season of 40-plus homers. 

7. Banks is also the first shortstop to reach 250 career homers. Cal Ripken Jr. (346), Alex Rodriguez (344),  Miguel Tejada (292) and Derek Jeter (255) have all followed suit, but it was Banks who revolutionized the position and changed the way it was viewed by players and scouts. 

8. Continuing the home run theme, Banks had four consecutive 40 or more home run seasons from 1957-60. As Aceball Stats notes, neither Hank Aaron nor Willie Mays ever had three straight seasons with 40 homers. 

(AP)

9. In 1962, Banks made the full-time move to first base. He went on to hit another 215 home runs, becoming one of only four major leaguers with 200 or more home runs at two different defensive positions.

10. Oh, and Banks could pick it in the field, too. In 1960, he topped three-time defending Gold Glove shortstop Roy McMillan to win that award for the only time in his career. Maury Wills took over the following season, winning two in a row.

11. Banks won back-to-back MVPs in 1958 and 1959 despite the Cubs finishing a combined 64 games out of first place. A feat made even more impressive by the presence of Aaron, Mays, Eddie Mathews and even Warren Spahn in the NL. 

12. Speaking of Spahn, Banks is the only player to have a multi-HR game against both Spahn and Sandy Koufax. Seriously, if he could square up those two Hall of Famers, it's no wonder he never wanted to leave the field.

(Getty)

13. Ernie Banks is the Cubs all-time leader in games played (2,528) and extra-base hits (1,009), and ranks second in HRs (512), RBIs (1,636) and hits (2,583).

14. Banks was a first ballot Hall of Famer and the only BBWAA inductee in 1977. He earned 83.8 of the vote, but never once had to ponder which cap to wear.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 24, 2015, 9:45 am

(AP)
The marquee outside Wrigley Field in Chicago is among the most recognizable features attached to baseball's iconic landmark. It's not just a sign that welcomes Cubs fans to the ballpark 81 times every season. In many ways, that marquee serves as the gateway to baseball's past, present and future. The entrance to a small part of baseball heaven, if you will.

Rest assured, though, of all the legends who roamed the field that sits behind it, none were more beloved or respected than 'Mr. Cub' Ernie Banks.

That marquee, in all its historic yet simplistic glory, now pays tribute to the Cubs legend and baseball Hall of Famer, who died on Friday at age 83.

The Wrigley Field marquee pays tribute to Mr. Cub on this somber night. pic.twitter.com/OxwtXxkHt4

— MLB (@MLB) January 24, 2015

We can't imagine a visual that could strike up more raw emotion in Chicago. Ernie Banks was a hero for multple generations of Cubs fans, not just those who had the pleasure of watching him. That ballpark was his second home. The place where he rewrote history and reignited the passion of a long-suffering fanbase. It's just impossible to picture an opening day at Wrigley Field without him there to welcome fans or sing the seventh inning stretch.

That was just one of many touching tributes that came in late Friday evening, many of which you can read here.  

The Cubs also released a statement on Friday from chairman Tom Ricketts. 

“Words cannot express how important Ernie Banks will always be to the Chicago Cubs, the city of Chicago and Major League Baseball. He was one of the greatest players of all time. He was a pioneer in the major leagues. And more importantly, he was the warmest and most sincere person I’ve ever known. Approachable, ever optimistic and kind hearted, Ernie Banks is and always will be Mr. Cub. My family and I grieve the loss of such a great and good-hearted man, but we look forward to celebrating Ernie’s life in the days ahead.”

Some have suggested that the Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Major League Baseball should move to bring in the new season with a doubleheader on Sunday April 5. Others have suggested holding a doubleheader on Sept, 17, to mark his major league debut in 1953. Both are terrific ideas, but we're guessing the Cubs will have plenty of other great tributes lined up for their standard bearer of excellence both on and off the field. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 24, 2015, 6:28 am

Ernie Banks, the man whose Hall of Fame baseball career was defined by his passion and energy – and was only surpassed by his kindness and loyalty, died on Friday. He was 83.

A family spokesman confirmed the news late Friday evening. Few details were made available, but it was announced that a news conference will be held at noon CST on Sunday in Chicago.

Known the world over as "Mr. Cub," Banks broke in on Chicago's North Side in 1953 and never left. Not only would Chicago be the only stop in a baseball career that spanned 19 seasons, it's where his heart remained for 43 years after his retirement. He loved the city, he loved Cubs fans and he loved being their ambassador to points all over the world. That love was returned tenfold, and will no doubt continue to be expressed to his family as it grieves. The sports world immediately took to Twitter to react to his passing

On the field, Banks was simply one of the best to ever play the game. Over those 19 seasons, he hit .274/.330/.500 with 2,583 hits, 512 homers, 1,636 RBI and 1,305 runs scored. Those numbers earned Banks 14 All-Star Game selections and two MVP awards, in addition to baseball's ultimate honor, induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Banks was inducted in his first ballot, receiving 83.8 percent of the vote in 1977.

Banks was the anchor in a lineup that also featured Hall of Famers Billy Williams and Ron Santo. For a time, he was an anchor on the field as well, spending many of his early days manning shortstop, baseball's most important defensive position. Most importantly, though, Banks was an anchor in the clubhouse and in the community, always offering an optimistic take or inspirational word to brighten the team's outlook or the day of a fan he'd only met moments before.

His most famous saying – "Let's play two!" – speaks to the seemingly endless enthusiasm with which he played and lived. If he could have, he would have played two every day, and  maybe even three if someone asked. That never changed, even as the organization he loved moved further and further from a World Series victory. It's such a shame, too, that Banks won't live to see a Cubs world championship. But there's no doubt he'd simply smile and say he'll be more happy for the fans who eventually will enjoy that moment. 

He was a one-of-a-kind baseball player and a one-of-a-kind person that defined everything that's good about sports. But it's the entire world that was better off for having known him. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 24, 2015, 4:38 am

Chicago Cubs legend and Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, also known as "Mr. Cub" died Friday at age 83. The sports world immediately took to Twitter to remember the baseball icon.

We mourn the passing of Cubs icon and Hall of Famer Ernie Banks. pic.twitter.com/rFMtVQC4J1

— MLB (@MLB) January 24, 2015

"@ABC7Chicago: BREAKING: Cubs legend Ernie Banks, "Mr. Cub," has died." GOD bless the Banks family,friends and loved ones. Much Love.

— Deion Sanders (@DeionSanders) January 24, 2015

I'm so sorry to hear the passing of Mr. Ernie Banks!!! What a Special Man!! Always put a smile on my face when seeing him!! #GodBlessYou

— Frank Thomas (@TheBigHurt_35) January 24, 2015

Mr. Lets Play 2!! You will be in our Hearts Forever!!

— Frank Thomas (@TheBigHurt_35) January 24, 2015

Mr Cub. What you have done for the game of baseball the city of Chicago and everyone you have ever touched will never be forgotten. RIP

— Anthony Rizzo (@ARizzo44) January 24, 2015

RIP Mr. Cub

— Brett Anderson (@BAnderson_30) January 24, 2015

Let's play two. RIP, Mr. Cub. The game will miss you, Ernie Banks. pic.twitter.com/PRHThc0m0d

— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) January 24, 2015

Crushed to learn of passing of MR Cub -ERNIE BANKS - loved his spirit / smile & man could he play / Let's play 2 /thnx 4 the memories RIP

— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) January 24, 2015

#Bears send deepest condolences to Chicago Cubs on passing of legendary Hall of Famer Ernie Banks. #MrCub

— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) January 24, 2015

RIP Mr. Cub Ernie Banks......thank you for all of your contributions to the game we both love! 🙏

— Jimmy Rollins (@JimmyRollins11) January 24, 2015

Oh man......I just heard the news, @BaseballHall Ernie Banks passed away. He was only 83. One of a kind. True friend and a gentleman @Cubs

— Dave Winfield (@DaveWinfieldHOF) January 24, 2015

Ernie Banks... We are going to all miss you. #Legend

— Russell Wilson (@DangeRussWilson) January 24, 2015

So saddened to hear about the passing of Ernie Banks, one of the nicest most eternally optimistic men I was fortunate to meet.

— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) January 24, 2015

 

Author: Yahoo Sports Staff
Posted: January 24, 2015, 4:34 am

Veteran right-hander Ryan Vogelsong was reportedly near an agreement with the Houston Astros at a couple different points this week, even flying to Houston to take a physical, which is often the final step in finalizing a contract. However, he abruptly and somewhat surprisingly reversed course to re-sign with the San Francisco Giants on Friday, which left many wondering what may or may not have happened in Houston to change Vogelsong's mind.

We didn't have to wait long to receive some indication. During a conference call on Friday re-introducing him as a Giant, Vogelsong was asked about his free agency experience and made it pretty clear that something about his visit to Houston made him uncomfortable, but wouldn't elaborate much beyond that point.

From Ultimate Astros:

Well, I’m assuming you’re talking about Houston right? I made a visit to Houston and met with A.J. Hinch the manager and the staff, the training staff, and I took a physical — just as the process went along here, really wasn’t comfortable with what was going on. Ultimately, made a decision to come back with the Giants and I’m really just really happy to be back and glad things worked out the way they have.

Vogelsong later added:

You know how things are in life sometimes. You just have weird inclinations about things and things show themselves to you in weird ways and that’s kind of the way it was here. Like I said before, I made a trip to Houston but ultimately it just wasn’t comfortable and I wasn’t comfortable there. It’s crazy: as soon as I re-engaged with the Giants, it was like a big weight was lifted off my shoulders, and that was where I was supposed to be, and it kind of hit the ground running from there. Like I said, it’s just kind of weird how things work themselves out.

Some are speculating that Vogelsong used the Astros for leverage. Others have suggested he simply got cold feet and wanted to pitch somewhere he's familiar with, even if it means moving to the bullpen. Others still are pointing at Houston's poor handling of negotiations with past draft picks Brady Aiken and Jacob Nix as proof that they simply can't close a deal, though that seems like a reach given the dfferent circumstances.  

Without any further details, it's impossible to determine if any of those have merit. But we can confidently say this is weird, with the potential to get weirder, it would seem.

Vogelsong said to the radio hosts 10 years from now over beer he’d tell them all about his offseason, and they’ll go “No way that happened"

— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) January 24, 2015

Come on, Vogey! We live in a need to know world and this is a need to know now business. Can't you at least give us a hint?

Apparently not, but his agent Dave Meier went ahead and added to the confusion by suggesting it was nothing the Astros did that steered his client away.

When the negotiations broke down, the Astros were told Vogelsong needed 48 hours to think and re-engage other teams.

— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) January 24, 2015

Meier said Vogelsong had a "fantastic experience with everybody on staff that he met that day" in Houston.

— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) January 24, 2015

Well, we give up trying to figure this one out. But rest assured, when Vogelsong is ready to talk, we'll be ready to listen.  

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 24, 2015, 3:18 am

General managers aren't kidding when they insist teams can never have enough pitching. It's not even February yet, and we've already learned the Oakland A's will be without a key member in their bullpen for the foreseeable future.

On Friday, the team announced that All-Star closer Sean Doolittle has a slight tear of the rotator cuff is his left shoulder. Doolittle is also experiencing considerable inflammation in the area, according to MLB.com's Jane Lee, and the team is already preparing to be without him for opening day. 

The A's say Doolittle will be reevaluated at a later date before determining the next step. Not expected to be ready by start of season.

— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) January 23, 2015

With that, Billy Beane's recent acquisition of Tyler Clippard takes on new significance. The soon-to-be 30-year-old right-hander has closing experience, notching 32 saves for the Washington Nationals in 2012. And though he's excelled over the past two seasons as a set up man, posting a 2.29 ERA over 147 appearances, he's a natural fit to assume the closer's role again.

The timing also suggests Oakland acquired Clippard as insurance, knowing full well that Doolittle may be sidelined. Joe Stiglich of Comcast Sports Net reported that Doolittle pitched through similar discomfort last season and aggravated it again when he started his offseason throwing program, which lends more credence to that thought. However, A's assistant general manager David Frost insists that trade was made independent of Doolittle's condition. 

Forst says Clippard trade was made independent of Doolittle's condition. But no doubt, adding him bolsters depth given this news #Athletics

— Joe Stiglich (@JoeStiglichCSN) January 24, 2015

Either way, it really does set up well for Oakland in the short term, and there remains plenty of optimism that's all the arrangement will need to be. 

Doolittle has a small rotator cuff tear, inflammation. He had a platelet-rich plasma injection and will be re-evaluated.

— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) January 23, 2015

Asst GM David Forst tells me that doctors do not believe that Doolittle will need surgery; rest and treatment should resolve the issue.

— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) January 23, 2015

With question marks all over the starting rotation, a deeper bullpen will be essential in Oakland's bid for a fourth straight postseason appearance. The A's also have experienced arms in Ryan Cook and Dan Otero to pick up some of the slack, but having a healthy and effective Cliipard-Doolittle combo in the late innings is the set up they obviously desire. And with good reason. 

Now, it's a waiting game as the healing process begins, but don't be surprised if an aggressive Billy Beane reemerges should the waiting go on too long. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 24, 2015, 1:26 am

As you surely know by now, the clock is ticking on the final hours of the Bud Selig era. Come Sunday, new commissioner Rob Manfred will take over and Selig will officially retire with those $6 million annual pension payments. Not bad, Bud.

There's been a lot of talk this week about Selig's legacy — both good and bad — and how MLB has changed in the 22 years he served as baseball's biggest boss. Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan did a fine job of digesting Selig's legacy, so we recommend giving that a read.

We'll remember the PED scandals and the All-Star game tie, but we'll also remember the record profits and labor peace. Oh, and we'll definitely remember the times Selig looked like a goofball doing this:

(Getty Images)

We'll remember when he looked very, very disappointed in all of us ...

(Getty Images)

... but mostly we'll remember when he couldn't hear what people were saying to him.

(Getty Images)

We're remember how he sometimes looked confused, like he just got out of a time machine, transported from 30 years in the past ...

(Getty Images)

And we'll remember when he was like, "Yeah, well what do you want ME to do about it?"

(Getty Images)

... but mostly we'll remember when he was like, "huh?"

(Getty Images)

We'll remember when he knew MLB was his kingdom and he proudly ruled over it ...

(Getty Images)

... but mostly we'll remember when he couldn't hear us.

(Getty Images)

We'll remember that time he showed us his sexy knees (almost NSFW) ...

(Getty Images)

... but mostly the hand-to-the-ear thing again.

(Getty Images)

We'll remember when he flipped the A's the double bird ... oh wait, wrong finger.

(USA TODAY Sports)

We'll remember when he held his chin high despite all his critics ...

(Getty Images)

... and just acted like he couldn't hear us. 

(Getty Images)

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 23, 2015, 11:06 pm
(USA TODAY Sports)

There's no Super Duper Burger in Houston, so maybe that made free-agent pitcher Ryan Vogelsong's decision easier. 

Vogelsong — pitcher and noted superstitious eater — has reportedly decided to re-sign with the San Francisco Giants instead of jumping to the AL West to pitch for the Houston Astros. It sounded earlier in the week like a deal with the Astros was close, but then Vogelsong was pulled back to S.F.

Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle and Jon Heyman of CBS Sports had the news first, reporting that Vogelsong is getting $4 million for 2015, which buys plenty of his lucky burgers:

Vogelsong deal with #sfgiants is done pending physical, as @Jon HeymanCBS reported. It'll be $4 million plus performance bonuses. #sfgiants

— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) January 23, 2015

Vogy is one loyal cat. Second year in a row he's taken a guaranteed pay cut to return, tho he made considerable incentive $ last year.

— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) January 23, 2015

It was the Giants who brought Vogelsong back to the big leagues in 2011 after three seasons in Japan. He pitched on two World Series teams and became an All-Star. He wasn't at his best in 2014 (8-13 with a 4.00 ERA), but he gave the Giants 182 innings and an important performance in their NLDS clincher against the Washington Nationals.

With the Giants rotation riddled with question marks — Matt Cain's elbow and ankle, Tim Hudson's ankle, Tim Lincecum's entire being — bringing back Vogelsong, 37, makes sense, even if it's not as exciting as going out and spending big on James Shields.

(Super Duper Burger)Let's also not understate the fact that Giants fans love Vogelsong. They've treated a castaway claimed from Japan like a star — eating the same meal he did the night before his starts. He's superstitious like that. 

Rally enchiladas were a thing in 2012, but by the end of last season, Vogelsong had turned S.F. chain Super Duper Burger into his go-to good-luck meal

Four million bucks buys a lot of burgers. Heck, Vogelsong could probably open up his own franchise, if he wanted.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 23, 2015, 8:48 pm
(@Mariners)

Looking good, Seattle Mariners.

The M's have unveiled new alternate uniforms that they'll wear this season for Sunday home games and they're deliciously retro, adding elements of their late 1980s uniforms to their current look. Enough words, we know what you want, so onto the pictures.

Introducing the #Mariners Sunday Home Alternate Uniform. pic.twitter.com/nNS8qofwYD

— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) January 23, 2015

We dig the return to the royal blue and gold, particularly on the cream jersey.

WANT pic.twitter.com/HDHpF8YX3q

— Jose Rivera (@Jose8BS) January 23, 2015

LOVE pic.twitter.com/HMjp22HwL2

— Nathan Bishop (@NathanHBishop) January 23, 2015

Notice the stirrups? Most excellent.

The stirrups. Ah yes, the stirrups. pic.twitter.com/NNPuUsKyqY

— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) January 23, 2015

Check out the infographic and GIF below that better illustrate the transformation:

The past meets the present. pic.twitter.com/AVNSPNuNN4

— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) January 23, 2015

New meets old. pic.twitter.com/3kCAhKn5d3

— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) January 23, 2015

Well played, Mariners. You know what we need next, right? The retro logo that looks like Poseidon's trident. Next year is fine.

Oh, and San Diego Padres, are you listening yet?

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 23, 2015, 7:37 pm
(Getty Images)

The fascinating offseason of the Miami Marlins continues, as they've reportedly signed Ichiro to a one-year deal that's worth about $2 million. He's a shell of his former self and will be a fourth outfielder in Miami, but Ichiro is still a recognizable name whose skill with a bat can't be denied.

Here are the details, as first reported by Miami radio dude Craig Mish:

Hearing Ichiro Suzuki and @Marlins have agreed to terms.

— Craig Mish (@CraigMish) January 23, 2015

Source: #Marlins indeed closing in on Ichiro, as @craigmish reported. Deal expected to be one year in $2M range.

— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 23, 2015

For the Marlins, Ichiro, 41, is a veteran that can help an otherwise young outfield, which includes megastar Giancarlo Stanton plus Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. Ichiro hit .284/.324/.340 last season in 143 games with the Yankees.

He's one of a bevy of moves for the Marlins this offseason, which could very well propel them toward the playoffs in 2015. The Washington Nationals are the team to beat in the NL East, but it's not out of the question for the Marlins to finish second. They've added Mat Latos, Martin Prado, Dee Gordon and Michael Morse already, and could be a destination for free-agent James Shields.

(Getty Images)It'll be fun to watch how many hits Ichiro can pile up in Miami. He's approaching the magic number of 3,000 for his MLB career. Ichiro's hit count sits at 2,844. (He's already eclipsed 4,000 for his combined career in the U.S. and Japan. He had 1,278 in Japan). 

Ichiro won't get to 3,000 this season in a part-time role, and probably wouldn't even if he had a full-time role. He'll need another season. The last time he topped 156 hits in a season was 2012, when he had 178 for the Yankees and Mariners. In 2013, his total was 136 and last year it was 102.

If nothing else, we can at least hope we can get some funny moments of Ichiro speaking Spanish in Miami.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 23, 2015, 6:15 pm
(Getty Images)

Veteran outfielder Jonny Gomes has a new home according to our own Tim Brown:

Source: Jonny Gomes has a deal with the Atlanta Braves.

— Tim Brown (@TBrownYahoo) January 23, 2015

Gomes has a one-year deal with Braves with a vesting option, according to source.

— Tim Brown (@TBrownYahoo) January 23, 2015

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com adds that the Braves will pay Gomes $4 million in 2015.

Atlanta is undergoing a bit of makeover with John Hart taking over as general manager for Frank Wren, who was fired after the Braves finished below .500 for the first time since 2008. Gone are Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, and Tommy La Stella. The trades have netted the Braves mostly prospects but Hart did get well-regarded right-hander Shelby Miller in exchange for Heyward and also signed outfielder Nick Markakis to a four-year pact.

Gomes, 34, split last season between Boston and Oakland and he wasn't particularly productive, he hit just .234 with six home runs in 112 games, but he's still useful against left-handed pitching. He has a career slash line of .277/.376/.485 when facing southpaws and will likely form a platoon in left field with Zoilo Almonte.

FanGraphs projects Atlanta to have the second-worst record in the big leagues next season, besting only Philadelphia. Adding Gomes certainly won't do much to change that, his reputation as a strong leader and beloved teammate notwithstanding. At the very least we're quite sure he'll be welcomed in the clubhouse with open arms by first baseman Freddie Freeman.

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Israel Fehr is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: January 23, 2015, 4:15 am

So Pete Rose is only banned from Major League Baseball when it's convenient?

That seems to be the takeaway from the latest news about the 2015 MLB All-Star game, which is going to be held this July at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park. Reds owner Bob Castellini told fans Thursday at a Q & A that Pete Rose, baseball's embattled hit king, will be a part of the All-Star game.

Here's the exact quote, via Mark Sheldon of MLB.com:

Answering a fan question at Q&A, Castellini said "You'll definitely see Pete Rose at the All-Star Game this year."#reds

— Mark Sheldon (@m_sheldon) January 22, 2015

We knew this was a possibility, because Commissioner Bud Selig left the door open for it at last year's All-Star game in Minnesota. But it's still a can of worms for MLB, particularly for new commish Rob Manfred, who takes over for Selig on Sunday. 

So, Hall of Fame? Nope, sorry, Pete, you're banned. Buuuuuuuut you can totally come help us celebrate the All-Star game and get people to buy hats and T-shirts and stuff. Seems a little backward. If baseball recognizes that Rose is important to the game and can be an ambassador when one of its largest events comes to Cincinnati, then maybe they should reconsider his banning in a larger scope?

Rose was a guest on Yahoo Sports Radio earlier this week (clip up top) and said he didn't know anything specific about his involvement in the All-Star game, but he was certainly open to it.

"If I am, it's news to me," Rose said. "To be part of the All-Star game would be great for me."

Don't take the words of the Reds owner as an indication that MLB is thinking one way or another about reinstating Rose. They've brought him back before, including in 1999 for the All-Century Team. It's pretty simple: They know Rose will show up, trying to make nice —and fans will love it. But that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be getting another call soon.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 23, 2015, 12:52 am
(AP)

You don't need us to rattle off the things that were wrong with the Philadelphia Phillies last year, we all know the major one — underperforming veterans who were getting paid way too much.

Well, manager Ryne Sandberg, speaking at a Phillies event Wednesday night in New Jersey, shed a little more light on the team's disappointing 2014 season. The Phillies finished last in the NL East, 73-89, in Sandberg's first full season at the helm. And he said the clubhouse wasn't "conducive to winning,"

From Ryan Lawrence at the Philadelphia Daily News:

"I didn't think we had a good clubhouse last year," Sandberg said bluntly, before the Phillies' 21st annual winter banquet in Lakewood, home of the organization's Low-A BlueClaws. More than once, Sandberg was asked just what he meant concerning possible clubhouse issues.

"I don't think it was conducive to winning," Sandberg said. "I don't think it was about winning a baseball game that day, in some regards. I think there were some distractions there. So [we have to] be on top of that, have a better atmosphere."

Even though it makes sense logically, the Phillies haven't gone through a radical overhaul of their roster. They traded Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd, while A.J. Burnett and Antonio Bastardo left in free agency. Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are among the veterans still on the Phillies' roster, though they've been trying to trade Howard and many teams hope they'll trade Hamels

Jimmy Rollins was traded to the Dodgers in December. (AP)Though he didn't name names, Sandberg pointed to the Phillies' veterans as part of the problem, citing a lack of leadership and telling the crowd:

"I think it was an atmosphere where maybe some of the younger players and some of the players with a few years in, they just couldn't be themselves," Sandberg said. "I don't know. It was really a hard thing to put my finger on as it went along. That's why it went a while without getting fixed until realizing it, after the season, I'd say."

So, the younger players were intimidated in an atmosphere where a lot of veterans carried a lot of clout? Is that what you're getting at, in saying they "couldn't be themselves?"

"That's kind of what I sensed, that young players couldn't be themselves," Sandberg said. "I don't know. It was just a lack of leadership as far as winning a baseball game everyday."

It sounds like a mess, all right, but that's not entirely surprising given the current state of the Phillies. We don't know who Sandberg thinks was the problem — since he can't or won't talk about specifics — but the most obvious guess is Rollins. The two of them clashed early last season and now Rollins is gone, traded to the Dodgers

You have to wonder if this is going to help at all, though. The organization is floundering. The players, even though they're well paid, can't exactly be happy. Now their manager is talking in non-specifics about a lack of leadership?

Unless Sandberg shows his players a little more vigor than he's showing the public, this has all the makings of another year of dysfunction in the Phillies clubhouse. 

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 22, 2015, 11:32 pm
(USA TODAY Sports)

How much do the San Diego Padres love Bud Selig? More than a lot of people, it would seem.

The Padres, you might remember, recently renamed a plaza after Selig at Petco Park. Many people thought that was part of an elbowing up to Selig so they could get the Midsummer Classic. Whether that was the motive or not, the game is theirs.

And now, as we countdown Selig's final days (new commish Rob Manfred takes over Sunday), lots of eyes have been alerted to the portrait of Selig the Padres have hanging in their offices at Petco Park. It's, ummmm, something.

Portrait of Bud that overlooks lobby of Padres offices at Petco Park. pic.twitter.com/E8m3SxIFy7

— Tom Krasovic (@UTkrasovic) January 21, 2015

Granted, a Twitter picture isn't the best way to show off a piece of art, but from what we see, it's not the most flattering picture of good ol' Bud. It's creepy even. His eyes are a bit close together, his nose seems big and his hands are extra veiny.

It's almost like the artist started to paint Selig then switched to Emperor Palpatine from "Star Wars" instead. No Dark Side jokes from us. You can do that yourself, and we're sure you will down there in that comment section.

UPDATE: So it turns out, as Gaslamp Ball tells us, the Selig portrait isn't new. It's been in the lobby for a bit. But it's still creepy.

BLS H/N: Gaslamp Ball

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 22, 2015, 7:20 pm
(AP)

The Baseball Hall of Fame announced Thursday which caps the rest of the 2015 class of inductees would wear on their plaques, and there was little surprise — unless you were holding on to hope that Pedro Martinez would somehow wear a Montreal Expos cap.

That, admittedly, would have been cool. (Apologies to Boston).

The biggest decision, if you had missed it, had already come down, with the Hall deciding that Randy Johnson would be enshrined as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks and not the Seattle Mariners. That, too, was expected.

(AP)

His 2015 peers:

• Pedro Martinez — Boston Red Sox
• John Smoltz — Atlanta Braves
• Craig Biggio — Houston Astros

A couple of no-duh choices there with Smoltz and Biggio (particular Biggio, who only played for the Astros). Martinez seemed like a good bet to wear the Red Sox cap, but it's Pedro, so who knows. He's such a character, he could have campaigned to have Don Zimmer on his plaque and we wouldn't be surprised. 

Just as long as the Hall of Fame doesn't forget to include his Jheri curl. Got that, guys? It's a must.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 22, 2015, 6:29 pm

In an interesting development that could alter the future of baseball's first-year player draft, MLB Network's Peter Gammons is reporting that officials from MLB and coaches representing the NCAA met on Monday to discuss the possibility of pushing the draft back until after the College World Series, which usually wraps up in mid-June. Gammons adds that the two sides were able reach a "general" agreement that July 1 will be their target date.

NCAA Coaches and MLB officials met Monday, general agreement on a July 1 draft and July 15 signing deadline

— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) January 21, 2015

That's only one step, but it could prove to be a big one if both sides stick to their guns. They would also have to gain the approval of the MLBPA and add it to the collective bargaining agreement. That's a potentially bigger hurdle, but at least they would form a united front should that battle take place.

At this point, there's no indication MLB or the NCAA plan to pursue a change in the near future. There are likely more details both sides would like to iron out before finalizing such an agreement or moving forth with a proposal, but it's clear that the NCAA coaches are looking to eliminate the ill-timed distraction players face with the early June draft coinciding with regionals and the College World Series.

We're guessing the players wouldn't mind either, as it would give them another showcase with which to impress scouts and improve their stock. By the same token, MLB teams would have another chance to evaluate top college prospects, but as many have already noted, it would create logistical issues, such as constructing short-season rookie teams that are often filled by new draft picks.

It would also seemingly decrease the already small odds of new draft picks reaching the big leagues the same season, which Kansas City Royals reliever Brandon Finnegan proved could be valuable just last season.

Again, this is only in the early stages. If some of those lower lying issues are approached and not resolved, this could fade away pretty quickly. But the fact it has been approached and there's mutual interest in having it moved makes the next development in this story a big one. We'll be watching.

BLS H/N: Eye on Baseball

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 22, 2015, 6:17 am

A massive fire that blazed through a luxury apartment complex in Edgewater, New Jersey on Wednesday has left New York Yankees radio voice John Sterling without a home, reports the New York Daily News

Sterling was one of around 400 residents to be evacuated when the fire broke out at the four-story building around 4:20 p.m. local time. No injuries to civilians or firefighters have been reported, and officials confirmed Wednesday evening that all residents and pets have been accounted for.

That's the best news, honestly. Unfortunately, is has been reported that at least 50-percent of the complex is a total loss, meaning that residents will be without a home, in addition to facing the possibility that many, if not all of their possessions, will not be recovered.

“I don’t know what to expect. Now, I have nowhere to go. And I need a toothbrush," Sterling said late Wednesday night.

“I was wondering what I was going to do for clothes. But then I started thinking about all the stuff, all the memories, whether it be music, books, and a lot of other stuff,” he said. “You know I was planning on moving to a new apartment complex and felt I was going to throw a lot of that stuff out. Now I hope I haven’t lost it.”

(Getty)The report notes that Sterling will be staying at a nearby hotel, but still plans to fulfill his assignment as the play-by-play voice of the Hallmark Kitten Super Bowl, which will be recorded this Saturday. Many of the other displaced residents have been moved to the Eleanor Van Gelder School and the Boys and Girls Club.

It's times like these when you learn who your real friends are in life. Sterling says that so far, many from within the baseball world, including radio partner Suzyn Waldman, have reached out, which has given him some comfort.

“One positive is, if there can be any, is all the people that have called me up asking how I’m doing. Like Willie Randolph, a secretary from the Yankees. Suzyn— another friend from Los Angeles. It must be a big fire because she heard about it on Ch. 7 L.A.,” he said.

Still, there are going to be some painful days ahead as reality sets in and the damages add up. We certainly extend our best wishes to John Sterling and all others effected by this fire, and encourage those who can to lend a helping hand.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 22, 2015, 5:40 am

Hours after a New York Yankees minor league affiliate weighed in on the NFL's "deflategate" scandal, a Chicago Cubs minor league affiliate has taken it to the next level, announcing a deflategate-themed promotion that will double as a fundraiser in the battle against cancer.

The Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Chicago's brand new Class A-Advanced team in the Carolina League, will hold Deflate Cancer Night on April 15, which will be the first of six games in the team's Strike Out Cancer Series. According to the press release, this promotion will focus on raising awareness and funds for testicular cancer. The fundraising will include a 50/50 raffle, with proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society.

Additionally, the team will give away inflatable baseballs to the first 1200 fans, but only one of 12 will be properly inflated, because these folks aren't glossing over any details.

Oh, and the opponents on that evening? You better believe it's the Salem Red Sox, which is the Boston Red Sox Class A-Advanced squad.

"In honor of the New England sports tradition, the choice of a night in which the Boston Red Sox affiliate was in town was the obvious choice for this night," explained Pelicans Vice President and General Manager Andy Milovich. "To be able to promote awareness of such a serious disease so early in the season, while having some fun in the process is what we are all about."

Indeed, the Pelicans are having all kinds of fun with this promotion. This is trolling in its purest form, but you haven't heard anything yet. Here's more from the press release.

Important to note for concerned parents, the Pelicans have opted not to invite the New England Patriots equipment manager to run the Kids Zone. The bounce house, speed-pitch, and obstacle course will, as always, be inflated to the specified safety levels outlined in their respective manuals.

Finally, the Pelicans plan to formally invite Walt Anderson and his officiating crew from the AFC Championship Game to inspect the game balls prior to first pitch.

Word from Splash, the Pelicans mascot, is that Mugsy, the Salem Red Sox mascot, has been hatching plans to film the Pelicans practices prior the three-game series, which begins on April 13 at TicketReturn.Com Field at Pelicans Ballpark.

Relentless, but hilarious.

Well played, Pelicans. And good luck!

BLS H/N: Extra Mustard 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 22, 2015, 3:51 am

The already bright future of the Seattle Mariners just got a little brighter with the installation of a brand new, ahead-of-the-curve lighting system at Safeco Field.

According to MLB.com, the Mariners will become the first MLB franchise to illuminate their stadium with LED (light emitting diode), which they say will reduce glare and shadows on the field and create a better all-around experience for everybody concerned, including home viewers.

"Thus far, our experience has indicated that the Mariners new LED technology at Safeco Field will be better for our players, fans in the ballpark and viewers watching at home," said Joe Garagiola, Jr., senior vice president of standards and on-field operations for Major League Baseball. "We applaud the Mariners for an innovative step that promises to improve efficiency and the fan experience in numerous ways, all while serving as a welcome addition to our overall greening efforts."

The Mariners and MLB lighting experts have spent the past 48 hours testing the new lighting and measuring its impact on the field. Obviously, the results have been satisfying, with the league adding that the LED system meets or exceeds all league standards. In other words, it's a full go for the 2015 season, which could provide a glimmer of hope for batters trying to read the spin on Felix Hernandez's curveball.

Just don't expect miracles, non-Mariners fans.

Here are a few more details on the system courtesy of KING5 in Seattle:

The Mariners benched some 600 high intensity discharge (HID) lights in favor of an LED system designed by the Federal Way-based company Planled, which has already converted several buildings for Boeing and other companies.

Founder and CEO John Hwang uses human studies and economics to convince companies that LED can improve their productivity and control costs.

Studies show LED can incorporate a fuller spectrum of light and mimic the blue and red components of natural light. It can improve energy levels, moods and performance of athletes and other workers.

Better lighting in addition to controlled costs? That works.

Of course, the Mariners were one of the first MLB teams to go green at the ballpark and bring awareness to the process of conserving energy and recycling. It should come as no surprise that they're continuing those efforts on this level. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how many other teams follow suit, and whether or not the league becomes active in encouraging the change.  

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 22, 2015, 2:59 am

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The beautiful thing about professional baseball players is that no two of them are wired the same way. Though they all obviously share the same goal, which is to reach the major leagues and stay there for as long as possible, each has a distinct personality and a different approach to physically and mentally prepare for baseball's grind.

Often times, those differences are subtle. However, there are a few extreme cases. As we learned on Wednesday, among those on the extreme side is top Toronto Blue Jays prospect Daniel Norris, who's offseason preparation consists of spending several weeks living in a van down by the ocean.

Dinner during the golden hour. 5 star restaurant. #getwhatupayfor #vanlife #jklivin pic.twitter.com/G7zgy57uiv

— Daniel Norris (@DanielNorris18) January 17, 2015

No, this isn't a Saturday Night Live skit coming to life, but that's the first thought that comes to mind. While Norris' 1978 Volkswagen van isn't his permanent residence, for the third straight year it's serving as his transportation to spring training in Dunedin, Florida and his gateway to finding peace of mind before a new season begins.

According to MiLB.com's Josh Jackson, the 21-year-old left-hander makes the trek from his home in Johnson City, Tennessee, to Dunedin, but goes out of his way to make frequent stops to surf or go on other adventures that appeal to his outdoorsy nature. He's equipped to cook his own meals and make his own morning coffee, so the Blue Jays don't have to worry about frequent trips to nearby fast food restaurants. With that said though, the team is fully aware of his adventures and aren't keen on them.  

"[The Blue Jays] have expressed concern as far as living in the van. For them, it's just, 'Why?' They've kind of said, 'Well, we don't think that's a very good idea.' I said, 'You've got to understand, I've been doing stuff like this my whole life,'" explained Norris. 

"They've kind of said, 'Well, OK, but we don't get it,' and I'm kind of like, 'I don't expect you to get it -- that's OK.'"

The Blue Jays may not understand or like Norris' approach, but it's working for him. He'll enter camp next month as the No. 25 prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, which indicates he has the physical tools to pitch in the big leagues. For him, though, there's obviously a balance that needs to be achieved to uphold the mental side, and being in the outdoors gives him that balance.  

"Being outdoors and in the outdoor world -- all the activities out there -- the action sports are a workout by themselves," he said. "Obviously, I am getting my [baseball] work in. I am in the gym a lot during the offseason, but I really want to make sure I get out and do something in the mountains or go on a surfing trip as much as I can.

"I went on a number of hikes this year, just because I live in the mountains. I took a couple [shorter] surf trips down in South Carolina. It's important to take a few days and enjoy some peace and quiet. I'm always going on journeys and hoping to find a little adventure. The offseason, I try to be surrounded by journeys, camping out and stuff."

In case you're wondering..... #vanlife pic.twitter.com/iF9GNLactv

— Daniel Norris (@DanielNorris18) January 21, 2015

As Norris adds, his teammates generally think he's weird, but the ones he's been able to connect with quickly gain an appreciation for his approach.

And that's part of what's so impressive about Norris. He obvously has a unique perspective, but he's willing to be unique to continue being himself and do what makes him most comfortable. It's impossible not to respect that, and it's clear that success won't alter his mindset, even as his employers push for change. 

There's a lot more to Norris' story at MiLB.com, including how his approach evolves throughout the season. It's a most fascinating read that's worthy of your time.  

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 22, 2015, 1:31 am

Pete Rose was making the media rounds this week, talking about everything from the Hall of Fame to the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati. We're heard him talk about those things before and aside from him endorsing Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds for Cooperstown (birds of a feather, right?), there wasn't much new from Hit King on those topics.

He was asked by Anthony Pepe of Yahoo Sports Radio about baseball's new pace-of-play rules and Rose let his everyman attitude shine, as you hear in the clip above. If you've missed the recent pace-of-play headlines: Minor leaguers in Double-A and Triple-A will have a 20-second pitch clock this season, while big leaguers will reportedly have to be ready to return from commercial breaks quicker.

Cue Mr. Rose:

"What's the big deal? Who's in a hurry? A baseball game is going to take from two and a half hours to three hours. A football game is going to take the same. I don't know why everybody's a in a hurry."

That's neither an uncommon sentiment or, frankly, an incorrect one. Fans seem far more patient about football, even though there's just as much downtime. But the fact remains: Baseball is in a hurry to speed up the game. Perhaps this is not so much about the time-of-game figure we see in boxscores as it is getting rid of the idea that baseball is slow and boring. (Though, the average length of a game is 3:08, up 30 minutes in the past 30 years). 

MLB wants to emphasize its action and not its meandering, because it feels like the next generation of fans demands immediacy. Old-school types, of which Rose is certainly one, are never going to be a fan of baseball catering to kids and their smartphone-conditioned attention spans. 

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 21, 2015, 11:10 pm
(Getty Images)

Topps, in its continuing effort to pop culture-ize the baseball-card game, is making cards of 15 "celebrities" who threw out first pitches at MLB parks in 2014. Considering Topps created cards with the cast of "Major League" last year, this isn't entirely surprising. 

The news comes via baseball-card bible Beckett, which tells us the first-pitch cards will be part of Topps' 2015 Series 1, out Feb. 6. Among the celebrities getting the Topps treatment: rock 'n' rollers Eddie Vedder, Tom Morello and Jack White, rapper/horrible first thrower 50 Cent, thrift-store shopper Macklemore, gymnast McKayla Maroney and actor/"The Dude" Jeff Bridges.

The cards look like this, again, via Beckett:

(Topps via Beckett)

Also included in the set are a few non-celebrities who first-pitch stories caught the nation's attention — such as Agnes McKee, the 105-year-old who threw out a first pitch at a Padres game last summer, and Tom Willis, a motivational speaker who was born without arms.

Here's the entire checklist:

2015 TOPPS FIRST PITCH CHECKLIST

FP-01 Jeff Bridges, Los Angeles Dodgers
FP-02 Jack White, Detroit Tigers
FP-03 McKayla Maroney, Chicago White Sox
FP-04 Eddie Vedder, Chicago Cubs
FP-05 Biz Markie, Oakland Athletics
FP-06 Agnes McKee, San Diego Padres
FP-07 Austin Mahone, Atlanta Braves
FP-08 Jermaine Jones, Los Angeles Dodgers
FP-09 Tom Willis, Kansas City Royals
FP-10 Graham Elliot, Chicago Cubs
FP-11 Tom Morello, Chicago Cubs
FP-12 Macklemore, Seattle Mariners
FP-13 Suzy, Los Angeles Dodgers
FP-14 50 Cent, New York Mets
FP-15 Meb Keflezighi, Boston Red Sox

Common sense says 50 Cent is the card you gotta have. The question is what you'd trade to get it. One Macklemore and one Austin Mahone, for sure. But probably not a Biz Markie or Jack White.

BLS H/N: @CardboardIcons

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 21, 2015, 7:12 pm

With the sports world oozing hot air about the NFL's so-called Deflate-gate scandal, the person behind the Twitter account of the Single-A Staten Island Yankees used the controversy to publish one of those "neiner, neiner, baseball is better than football" proclamations. 

Warning, stunning observation ahead about balls that aren't full of air:

Never deflated. Always 5-5 1/4 ounces. #DeflateGate pic.twitter.com/SpjGwmP1L2

— StatenIslandYankees (@SIYanks) January 21, 2015

We're all for propping up the greatness of baseball. There's just one problem. You could make the argument that a football team (allegedly) deflating its footballs to help its players get a better grip is pretty much the same as pitchers using foreign substances like rosin, sunscreen and pine tar to get a better grip.

And who's the pitcher most recently in the national spotlight for doing that? Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda, who was spotted twice last season using what looked like pine tar. The second time, he was ejected from the game and suspended. And we mentioned he played for the Yankees, right?

Perhaps given a Yankees pitcher's recent history with this, it wasn't wise for the crew from Staten Island — who fashion themselves the "Baby Bombers" — to jump into the fray this time. But then again, anytime New Yorkers can get a shot in against Boston, we know it's hard to resist.

BLS H/N: Extra Mustard

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 21, 2015, 5:54 pm

As he gears up to return to the Yankees for the 2015 season after his yearlong suspension for PED use, Alex Rodriguez has turned to another controversial steroid-tainted superstar to help him get ready.

According to John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle Rodriguez has spent time working out with Barry Bonds in the Bay Area at the Future Prospects facility, which is owned and operated by Bonds' friend and former college teammate Charles Scott:

Bonds’ latest pupil has been out of the game since 2013, has hip issues and turns 40 in July, but Rodriguez is gung ho about returning to the Yankees and is all ears around Bonds. For A-Rod, it’s obviously about the present and getting the best tutoring available, his and Bonds’ association with the steroid era notwithstanding.

You can't make it up. Two of baseball's most vilified figures, with 1,416 career home runs between them, getting together for a few swings in the batting cage. You have to wonder what they talked about.

All jokes aside, Bonds has actually carved out a great reputation as a hitting instructor. He's been a mentor to Giants past and present like Pablo Sandoval, Michael Morse, and Brandon Crawford. Dexter Fowler, who was traded to the Cubs on Monday, is another Bonds disciple.

Rodriguez will report to spring training in less than a month, reportedly intent on being the Yankees' everyday third baseman next season. While that seems a little unrealistic, knowing he's heading in with some words of wisdom from Bonds makes his comeback attempt even more compelling than it already is.

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Israel Fehr is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: January 21, 2015, 7:15 am
(Getty Images)

Last week the news broke that baseball was planning to implement a pitch clock in Double-A and Triple-A next season. Now MLB has come up with another proposal to consider as they continue to look for ways to speed up the game

Here's the report from Jayson Stark of ESPN.com:

Under a new proposal by Major League Baseball, pitchers would be required to finish their warm-up pitches and be ready to make their first pitch of an inning 30 seconds before the end of all between-inning commercial breaks. Similarly, hitters would have to be in the batter's box, ready to start their at-bats, 20 seconds before the end of each break.

League officials estimate that a swift return from commercial breaks — supposed to last no more than 2 minutes, 5 seconds for games that aren't nationally televised — would shorten game times by 10 to 15 minutes.

The pitch clock, a potential change that doesn't sit well with established players like Jon Lester, was used in 17 games in the Arizona Fall League and games were on average 10 minutes shorter than AFL games from the year before.

With average game lengths reaching a record three hours and eight minutes in 2014, these two ideas are just a starting point for MLB and its "Pace of Game" committee.

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Israel Fehr is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: January 21, 2015, 5:00 am

The contentious relationship between the Chicago Cubs and owners of the rooftop bleachers that overlook Wrigley Field has finally resulted in a federal court case.

The rooftop operators of two buildings on N. Sheffield Ave. are suing the team and owner Tom Ricketts accusing them of "breaching the terms of its revenue-sharing contract, engaging in deceptive business practices and acting in violation of anti-trust laws."

A 58-page lawsuit was filed on Tuesday and can be read in its entirity here. Here's a portion of the allegations made by the plaintiffs, via the Chicago Tribune:

"Although the Rooftop License Agreement expressly permitted the Cubs to expand the Wrigley Field bleachers, under no circumstances were the Cubs permitted to erect windscreens or other barriers to obstruct the views from the Rooftop Business during the 20-year Agreement."

The Cubs are currently renovating their historic ballpark, which they announced won't be completed by opening day, and have plans to install signs and new electronic scoreboards that would block off the view from the rooftop bleachers. In 2004, five years before Rickets bought the team, a 20-year revenue-sharing contract was signed by the rooftop businesses and the organization.

The complaint elicited this response from Cubs attorney Andrew Kassof:

"The Cubs will vigorously contest this lawsuit and move forward confidently with the Wrigley Field expansion construction project, which is well underway. Wrigley Field's expansion and renovation is in the best interest of the team, its fans, Major League Baseball and the city of Chicago."

After the Ricketts family purchased three of the buildings that house rooftop bleachers during the baseball season last week, this is just going to get more messy.

From Big League Stew's Mark Townsend:

As has been well documented, the Cubs have been in a battle with rooftop owners in recent years as it relates to Wrigley Field's renovations and the additions of new signs and the two new scoreboards. Cubs ownership has been working to buy them out as a way to settle the feud while gaining more control of the money Cubs fans spend during the season.

The vibes for the ballclub on the North Side of Chicago haven't been this positive in years. The additions of Jon Lester and Joe Maddon led first baseman Anthony Rizzo to proclaim that the Cubs were "going to win the NL Central." Unfortunately it appears this case could hang over the fun for quite awhile.

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Israel Fehr is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: January 21, 2015, 2:45 am
(Getty Images)

Nori Aoki was introduced Tuesday as an official member of the San Francisco Giants, and the hoopla of joining the defending World Series champs had the outfielder feeling like a giant.

So much so, that he had a rather interesting idea about how he could introduce himself to teammate/Giants ace/World Series savior Madison Bumgarner. Are you ready for this?

Aoki: I heard MadBum likes to wrestle, so I think I'm going to initiate the wrestling [when we first meet in the clubhouse.]

— KNBR (@KNBR) January 20, 2015
(Getty Images)

How about a tale of the tape for this never-gonna-happen wrestling match?

• Bumgarner is 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds of beer-chugging, good ol' country boy.

• Aoki is 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, adept at slap-hitting and running odd routes in the outfield.

This doesn't quite seem like a fair fight just based on that. Madison Bumgarner also once dated a girl named Madison Bumgarner with seemingly no fear of getting laughed at. Obviously because everybody knew he'd mess them up. Or blow snot rockets at them.

But, hey, we respect Aoki's first-day-in-prison type approach of wanting to take on the baddest dude in the clubhouse. 

No need to squabble, though. If Aoki slaps his fair share of hits around AT&T Park this year, he's likely to find himself chugging beers with MadBum in no time.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: January 20, 2015, 11:40 pm

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