(AP Photo)

Matt Kemp has never lacked confidence. Now in San Diego as part of the Padres' major roster overhaul, his charm and bluster have certainly not gone anywhere.

Preparing to play in an outfield next to fellow offseason additions Justin Upton and Wil Myers, Kemp think his group deserves to be in the conversation for MLB's best outfields. In fact, according to MLB.com's Lyle Spencer, Kemp is putting himself, Upton, and Myers right at the top of the list:

"Who," [Kemp] said, "do you think has the best outfield in the game now?"

The visitor gave it some thought before nominating the American League champion Royals for defensive purposes and the Pirates or Marlins for all-around excellence.

Kemp shook his head. "No," he said, firmly. "It's right here. Right here in San Diego. You can write it down -- and print it."

You have to admire Kemp's conviction, but that statement is sure to ignite some debate.

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In a recent column for ESPN.com, Buster Olney ranked the Padres group as the ninth best outfield in baseball. Miami, Pittsburgh, and Washington made up Olney's top three.

There's no disputing the San Diego trio's offensive potential. Kemp and Upton have MVP-caliber seasons in their pasts while Myers is just a season removed from being the AL Rookie of the Year.

The issues, and reason for skepticism, are in the field. By most statistical measures Kemp, Upton, and Myers aren't very good defensive players and there isn't natural center fielder among them. Kemp used to play there but he's been moved to a corner position due to a number of injuries slowing him down. Myers is currently listed as the starter in center on the Padres' website.

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So is the game's best overall outfield in San Diego? Probably not, but that doesn't mean Kemp, Upton, and Myers aren't going to have a significant impact on the Padres' push to finish ahead of the Giants and Dodgers in the NL West.

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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: February 27, 2015, 4:00 am

(Getty Images)When you were once as good as Johan Santana was, it's a good bet some team will be there, waiting to offer you another chance. For 2015, that team is the Toronto Blue Jays.

Santana has agreed to join the Blue Jays on a minor-league deal with an invite to major-league spring training. It's the first step in either a feel-good comeback story or another stalled attempt by Santana to reclaim his MLB glory. 

Santana, 35, didn't pitch in the big leagues in 2013 and 2014, but not for lack of trying. Shoulder surgery prevented him from taking the field in 2013 with the New York Mets. He signed a one-year contract with the Baltimore Orioles last year, but tore his Achilles tendon in June when the O's assigned him to extended spring training. Santana also missed the 2011 season because of shoulder surgery. He returned to pitch with the Mets in 2012, throwing a no-hitter but posting a 4.85 ERA in 29 starts.

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This is a total gamble by the Blue Jays, since it's not remotely clear what kind of pitcher they're getting. His pedigree is well known — he's a two-time Cy Young winner who led the league in strikeouts for three straight years with the Minnesota Twins.

But coming off two shoulder surgeries and the Achilles injury, plus missing three of the past four seasons, he's a mystery. That's not to say he can't help the Jays, who have some wiggle room in their rotation, because he absolutely can. R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle are the veterans of the staff, with Marcus Stroman coming off an impressive rookie year. Youngsters Drew Hutchinson and Daniel Norris are hoping to find a place. The Jays also have Marco Estrada, who they got in return for Adam Lind.

What Santana contributes depends on his health and his stuff. He spent some of the winter pitching in the Venezuelan league, where he hit 90 mph and attracted scouts from MLB teams, before halting his efforts because of a sore shoulder

As you can see, there are a lot of stalled comebacks in the Johan Santana story. Time will tell if this is another one.

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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: February 26, 2015, 11:41 pm

(Getty Images)There are still many unknowns in the Josh Hamilton story. Reports say he relapsed and started using cocaine again. We don't know for certain that's true, nor do we know what action MLB will take against Hamilton, though it has been confirmed that he met with league officials Wednesday in New York City.

If the reports are true, then Roy Silver, a longtime friend of Hamilton's, says the Los Angeles Angels outfielder should just retire from baseball. Life is more important than baseball, as we'd all agree, and as Yahoo Sports' Tim Brown eloquently emphasized in his latest column.

So Silver, who helped Hamilton return to MLB after battling his addictions, told USA Today's Bob Nightengale that Hamilton's best move is to get off the baseball field.

"He needs to get his life back in order," Silver said. "Even three years ago, I told Josh that you might want to consider retirement. It seems like he's struggling with things. When you've been given three, four and five chances, and it's still not working, it's best to say, 'This is it.' His life isn't over, but his baseball career should be."

Silver was instrumental in piecing Hamilton's career — and life — back together after Hamilton missed the 2002-06 seasons while recovering from addiction. Hamilton, the top overall pick in the 1999 draft by the Tampa Bay Rays system, accepted a part-time job at Silver's baseball academy — mowing grass, pulling weeds, even cleaning toilets — in exchange for use of the facility.

"I'm not shocked or surprised,'' Silver says. "People don't understand that this hasn't been easy for him, I knew something was not right for the last couple of months. The fact that he's turning himself in is a sign that he got tired of the same old spin cycle. He's trying to get well. He needs to get down and dirty with himself."

Hamilton, circa 2010. (Getty Images)The Hamilton story is well documented: He's a former No. 1 overall pick whose addiction to drugs and alcohol crippled him. He was out of baseball, suspended for three seasons, then eventually allowed back into the league in 2006, as he got his life together.

The comeback story hit its apex when Hamilton won the AL MVP in 2010 with the Texas Rangers. He's in the third year of a five-year, $125 million deal with the Angels that has mostly been a disappointment. The 2015 season didn't start off well either, with Hamilton, 33, requiring shoulder surgery before spring training even started.

Hamilton's mostly been injured and unproductive since coming to Anaheim, and the way last year ended, with him going hitless in the ALDS, had to weigh on him going into the offseason. Silver told USA Today that he feared Hamilton had relapsed based on their most recent conversations: 

"This has nothing to do with baseball,'' Silver said. "This is affecting other parts of his life. His wife and children, and other relationships."

Silver says he last spoke with Hamilton around Christmas time, but had a sickening feeling during their lengthy conversation that something was amiss, fearing that Hamilton was struggling.

"People that are depressed are very selfish,'' said Silver, who teaches ministry and has shared Bible study classes with Hamilton. "I'm sure there is anxiety and depression that goes with it. You forget about all of your responsibilities elsewhere."

Like we said in the beginning, there are still many unknowns to be sorted out. But putting Josh Hamilton the person before Josh Hamilton the baseball player isn't one of them.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 26, 2015, 8:48 pm
(USA TODAY Sports)

You can't blame Giancarlo Stanton for going the extra step to protect his face with a one-of-a-kind helmet he plans to wear for the 2015 season. And not because he recently signed a $325 million contract or because he's getting the model treatment from Sports Illustrated.

In a scene that's still hard to shake, Stanton's 2014 season ended when he was hit in the face with a pitch. He sustained facial fractures, dental damage and was carted off the field. It was both gruesome and unfortunate, considering he was having an MVP-like season for the Miami Marlins.

So this year, Stanton will wear a new custom helmet that will prevent a sequel. Check it out:

As the Miami Herald explains, it was created specifically for Stanton with a carbon steel faceguard built to withstand 100-mph pitches. It's the product of Schutt Sports in Illinois, which usually makes football helmets. And it's even stylized with a G in the facemask, because that's how Stanton rolls.

Here's more on the process from Clark Spencer of The Herald:

Stanton flew up to the company's Litchfield, Ill., facility Monday on owner Jeffrey Loria's private jet to see the helmet for the first time and put it on for size.

"We were so impressed with him when he came up earlier this week," said Glenn Beckmann, director of marketing and communications for Schutt. "He was genuinely interested in working this whole batter's guard out."

Stanton wanted something that would not only protect the side of his face, but a helmet that would allow him open sight lines and freedom of movement.

"He gave us the final instructions on what he wanted, and we had a working prototype to go this morning," Beckmann said Wednesday. "He was intensely engaged in every step of the development process."

Other MLB players have worn helmets with faceguards, but never like this. Jason Heyward is a good example. He put an extension on his helmet to protect his face after suffering a broken jaw.

Stanton's helmet costs between $500-$1,000, Schutt Sports says, but that's not much when you're the player with baseball's richest contract and you know just how bad a pitch to the face feels.

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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: February 26, 2015, 6:07 pm

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Six weeks before the new baseball season even begins, the Toronto Blue Jays are dealing with a familiar issue: injuries to their outfielders.

New left fielder Michael Saunders is expected to be out until the All-Star break with a torn meniscus, suffered Wednesday at the team’s spring training complex when he tripped in a sprinkler hole while shagging fly balls in the outfield. The freak accident means Saunders, acquired in the offseason from the Seattle Mariners, will need surgery. Manager John Gibbons said the team will no longer use that particular field.

It’s a big loss for the Blue Jays and big blow personally to Saunders, a Victoria, B.C., native, who was looking forward to playing for Canada’s only big-league team.

“I’ve described this to a lot of people as nobody is more excited to be here than me," Saunders, standing with the help of crutches, told a group of reporters. "For me, I think the biggest thing I’m going to have to overcome is mentally rather than physically. I know I’m going to be in good hands. I know I’m going to be OK.

"My goal is to be back by the All-Star break,” he added. “I don’t see why there should be any hiccups in my rehab.”

The injury also highlights a lack of depth in the Blue Jays’ outfield. Jose Bautista is a perennial MVP candidate in right field and, when healthy, will play 150-plus games there. The team appeared set to give the center-field job to rookie Dalton Pompey, who soared through three levels of minor-league ball last year and didn’t look out of place in the big leagues as a September callup. With Saunders out, general manager Alex Anthopoulos said Thursday for the time being there will be an internal competition for the starting job in left field.

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The candidates for that job won’t inspire much confidence in Blue Jays fans. Kevin Pillar may be the early frontrunner despite his .239/.274/.367 slash line in 232 career plate appearances in the big leagues. The other outfielders in Blue Jays camp are non-roster invites Ezequiel Carrera, Chris Dickerson and Caleb Gindl. One-time Tigers outfielder Andy Dirks is in minor-league camp rehabbing his injured back.

Carrera, 27, has appeared in just 176 games over four seasons with three different teams. Dickerson, 32, is a career journeyman having spent parts of seven seasons with five different teams, never playing more than 97 games in a season. Gindl is only 26 and has just 178 big-league plate appearances. Dirks may be a darkhorse contender depending on how his rehab goes. He was an everyday player in 2013 with  Detroit but missed all of 2014 with a back injury. Gibbons later in the day said utility infielder Danny Valencia could see time in left field.

The Blue Jays have had a hard time keeping outfielders healthy over the last couple years. In 2014, Melky Cabrera missed the last 22 games with a finger injury, and Colby Rasmus missed 33 games with a hamstring injury. In 2013, Bautista missed 36 games with a hip injury, Cabrera missed 54 games with a knee injury, and Rasmus missed 29 games with an oblique injury.

Saunders has an injury history of his own. He appeared in only 78 games last year thanks to oblique and shoulder injuries. In 2013 he missed 20 games with shoulder and finger injuries.

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Ian Denomme is an editor for Yahoo Sports. Email him at denomme@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter.

Author: Ian Denomme
Posted: February 26, 2015, 3:55 pm

Adam Lind (left) and Colby Rasmus (right) during happier times. (USA TODAY Sports)Last week current broadcaster and former major league catcher Gregg Zaun weighed in on the atmosphere in the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse last season. In particular, Zaun was critical of Brett Lawrie, who appeared to be a future franchise player but fell short of expectations before being traded to Oakland last November. 

Unfortunately, that conversation took a turn toward hazing and other controversial opinions that caused a stir and ended up overshadowing the clubhouse issues. But now Adam Lind, who was traded from Toronto to Milwaukee in November, is weighing in as well to give us his perspective.

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Speaking to the media after a batting practice session on Tuesday, Lind opened up on the Blue Jays clubhouse and the perception that their offseason overhaul — which saw himself, Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, Melky Cabrera, Brandon Morrow and closer Casey Janssen all leave through one avenue or another — was done to change the culture. Lind says he doesn't see much changing in the clubhouse overall, but that the subtraction of Rasmus would go over very well.

“They haven’t changed the culture of the clubhouse,” Lind said. “They’re my friends, but the guys who still run it are still there. Jose Bautista is the voice among position players and Mark Buehrle runs the starting pitchers.
“There might be a few more smiles with Colby gone.”

The first takeaway here is that veterans Jose Batista and Mark Buehrle are the dominant voices in the Blue Jays clubhouse, although Lind didn't make it completely clear if that's a good thing or part of a bigger problem. What was clear though was his parting shot at Rasmus, who was known to rub teammates, coaches and even fans the wrong way during his time with the St. Louis Cardinals.

In fact, when Rasmus was traded to Toronto back on July 27, 2011, it was basically a final straw moment for the former first round draft pick after he elected to work out his hitting issues with his father rather than Cardinals batting instructor Mark McGwire. There were issues with manager Tony La Russa preceding that, which basically began the day he was called up to the big leagues. That led to a blowup in Sept. of 2010, with Rasmus expressing displeasure in how he was being used.

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With that said, it's not clear what the issues were in Toronto, but a piece from Bluebird Banter last September suggests Rasmus was burned out toward the end of the season and simply wasn't receptive to critiques. That he knows how to hit, but doesn't know how to adjust or deal with adversity on the field.

It's easy to see how that attitude could rub teammates the wrong way and create a negative perception, but it doesn't make him a bad person. It just makes him Colby Rasmus. Maybe this is something the Houston Astros, his new team, can help him work through. Maybe it's not. It'll take some patience on their side and some cooperation from Rasmus, but it's an effort worth making to help harness the talents of an undeniably skilled baseball player.

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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: February 26, 2015, 11:56 am

If you're a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers or Chicago White Sox and you're headed to spring training at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz over the next few weeks, you might want to take note of this story. Scorpions are invading the complex.

Scorpion invasion at the White Sox's spring training complex. So there's that. pic.twitter.com/y8WaTbagnw

— Doug Padilla (@ESPNChiSox) February 21, 2015

Not that this was a completely unexpected development when we first learned about it over the weekend. When you set up shop in the middle of the desert, you're bound to have some uninvited predatory arthropods show up. However, it needs to be pointed out that these scorpions aren't just there for the atmosphere, they mean business.

Dodgers official Jon Chapper can attest to that, as he was stung by a scorpion twice on Tuesday.

Scorpion that stung Dodgers official Jon Chapper. pic.twitter.com/of9Y2mdo8e

— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) February 24, 2015

That photo was apparently taken in an area outside the complex where fans often stand to watch batting practice or fielding drills or whatever else might be taking place on the nearest field. So fans will definitely want to be aware of where they're standing and what creepy crawlers might be around.

As for Chapper's condition. Well...

"We're gonna miss Chapper," manager Don Mattingly told the media on Tuesday.

Of course, he was only joking. Chapper emerged from the training room with an ice pack on his left arm and was back to work before the end of the day. He should be fine, but only if he can withstand the stinging reminders of his experience, which are sure to keep coming for the rest of spring training and well beyond.

This scorpion won't bite Chapper thanks to @redturn2 pic.twitter.com/JTvRm2IYCT

— David Vassegh (@THEREAL_DV) February 25, 2015

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: February 26, 2015, 5:47 am

As obsessed baseball fans, we can't hide our anticipation for the beginning of spring training. It's something that consumes our thoughts all winter, and although we know baseball games that count are still too far away, we drive others crazy reminding them when spring training begins. It's just in our nature, and we feel no shame.

Well, apparently this also describes the newborn son of Seattle Mariners outfielder Dustin Ackley, because he simply couldn't wait for spring training to make his first official appearance.

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According to MLB.com's Greg Johns, Ackley and his wife, Justine, weren't anticipating the arrival of their first-born child until early April, so they went ahead and started their yearly trek from Lapeer, Mich., to Arizona for the open of spring training early last week. However, two days into their four-day journey, the unexpected happened. Justine went into labor, forcing them to detour to the closest hospital.

Fortunately, the couple was able to race to a hospital in Oklahoma City, which worked out very well considering they easily could have been in the middle of nowhere as opposed to near a major city. It's also somewhat ironic given the sports connection between Seattle and Oklahoma City and a certain NBA franchise that moved. But regardless of that, Parson Bennett Ackley was born Thursday, Feb. 19, without any complications. 

From MLB.com:

It was crazy, to say the least," said Ackley, whose wife and newborn son remained behind when he finally completed his journey to Spring Training and arrived just in time for Wednesday's reporting day at Peoria. "We were thinking he'd probably be late and would come right about when the season was starting."

Ackley said Parson is still in the NICU due to his premature arrival, but is doing fine and could be released in the next few days.

Here's a good shot of Parson.

Congrats to the Ackleys! @Mariners' Dustin Ackley and wife welcome baby boy Parson a month early, via @ChrisEgan5 pic.twitter.com/0jlxNGwET8

— KING 5 Sports (@KING5Sports) February 26, 2015

As Ackley would also say, this isn't how they drew it up, but such is life when one delves into parenthood. Expect the unexpected, and always be prepared to adjust. That's the lesson, but here's the question: Will Parson be able to negotiate his way to the Mariners' season opener?

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If so, he'll be our new hero. 

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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: February 26, 2015, 5:02 am

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According to Las Vegas oddmakers, the Washington Nationals immediately became World Series favorites after signing free-agent pitcher Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract in January. But they certainly weren't alone in that belief. We here at Big League Stew agreed as well, and so does Las Vegas native — and current Nationals outfielder — Bryce Harper, who not surprisingly wasn't shy about expressing his confidence. 

After reporting to camp Wednesday, Bryce Harper was greeted by the expected throng of national and local media, and he wasted no time expressing his belief in the Nationals starting rotation and their chances of bringing home a World Series championship

"I mean, that's unbelievable. So to be able to have a guy like Scherzer come in, I just started laughing. I was like: 'Where's my ring?' Cause it's just stupid," he said to CSN's Mark Zuckerman and other reporters.

"It's absolutely stupid how good our staff is. To add a Cy Young, to add a guy that is unbelievable in the postseason. If you have to go into a five-game set in the postseason — looking ahead, like I told you I wouldn't — you have to go into a five-game set with a team, you're going to have to face [Jordan] Zimmermann, [Doug] Fister, Scherzer and Stras [Stephen Strasburg]. Good luck. That's just insane."

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Harper, who missed time last season with a torn ligament in his thumb and has been prone to DL stints over his first three seasons, knows that he'll be needed too for Washington to go all the way. If that means slowing down a pace or two, he sounds more willing to make that effort to stay healthy. Basically he's really happy, really focused, and he's ready to ... wait, apparently he wasn't done gushing about the Nationals' pitching staff. We'll standby here. 

"Going into that, I'm just crying. It's hilarious to me, having to go in there and face them. It's absolutely stupid. We have the best staff in baseball, I don't care what anybody says. And the thing about our guys: They work. It's not like it's just: 'Let's just go out there and play.' They work, and they work hard. And to add a guy like Scherzer, who's a bulldog out there, who's unbelievable in the postseason and shows that fire and that emotion, is something I'm going to enjoy watching this year. And I think our team in the outfield is going to do a lot of watching, because they're going to be carving it. We're excited."

Excited seems like an understatement following these comments, but we'll go along with that.

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It's also clear that Harper has moved well beyond his disagreement with the Nationals over his arbitration eligibility after signing a two-year, $7.5 million deal on Dec. 15

“I absolutely love this organization,” Harper said. “I love the city that I play for. And I’m not done here. Like I said before, five years ago when I first signed here: I’m going to bring back a title to D.C., no matter what. I’m getting chills thinking about it. I mean, I absolutely want to do that for this city, this town, and I don’t care how long it takes me. I’m going to stick and do what I need to do to help this organization win."

Big words to match big expectations, but it does feel like Washington has finally covered every base going into the 2015 season. Now, it's a matter of good health, which can be unpredictable, and playing its best when it matters most, which the team has been unable to do in the postseason. If there's anything the success of the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals has taught us, it's that execution always trumps expectations. 

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 26, 2015, 3:38 am

We're learning some new information about the circumstances surrounding Josh Hamilton's visit to MLB headquarters Wednesday regarding a "disciplinary issue" that was reportedly worse than a possible "PED" violation.

According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, the circumstances are what we feared most, as he's hearing that Hamilton willingly confessed to suffering a relapse in his battle with drug addiction.

Hear hamilton had relapse. Believe occurred a couple months back. Involved at least cocaine. Honorably, he confessed.

— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) February 26, 2015

There's no word of a failed test. Word is, Hamilton told mlb about relapse. He'd be put in program as 1st time offender.

— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) February 26, 2015

Forbes writer Maury Brown tweeted a similar report just prior to Heyman's, citing Hamilton's father-in-law.

Josh Hamilton has "hit a bump in the road" according to father-in-law. Hearing this is (yet again) drug of abuse. Prior prob w/coke, alcohol

— Maury Brown (@BizballMaury) February 26, 2015

All signs are pointing to this being the story, which is obviously an unfortunate turn for a man who has worked hard to get his life back on track.

Hamilton was previously suspended from 2003-2005, but recovered from his drug and alcohol addiction to win the American League MVP award in 2010, play in two World Series for the Texas Rangers, and sign a $125 million free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels following the 2012 season. As a part of that contract, Hamilton was required to take three drug tests a week, so it's interesting to note that Heyman hasn't heard of a failed test.

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Heyman also believes Hamilton would be considered a first-time offender, presumably because his past suspension occurred before he was on the major league roster. As such, Hamilton would not be subject to a suspension as long he complies with the league's program. He could still face a 15- to 25- game ban however if he doesn't comply, but his coming forward suggests he's trying to do the right thing by himself and by the league's standards.

For what it's worth, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times disagrees with Heyman's take. 

Hearing it's unlikely Josh Hamilton would be treated as a first-time offender if -- and this is not confirmed -- he had drug relapse.

— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) February 26, 2015

Obviously, the details surrounding Hamilton's status are not set in stone. We've yet to hear anything official from the league, the Angels or anyone from Hamilton's camp. These are just dots being connected based on information from sources close to the situation. But regardless of the details, here's hoping the next step Hamilton takes brings him one step closer to being happy and healthy. 

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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: February 26, 2015, 1:49 am

Coming off three consecutive injury-plagued seasons in which he missed a total of 225 games, New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira made some drastic changes to his diet and his overall preparation in hopes to stay healthy moving forward.

According to Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York, Teixeira is now on a "gluten free, sugar free and dairy free" diet, which he hopes will keep him injury free. So far, Teixeria says the results of his self-described "no fun" diet are encouraging and will hopefully lead to a more fun season.

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During the offseason, Teixeira says he lost 13 pounds of fat and added 15 pounds of muscle, which he believes will give him added strength, durability, and above all, confidence.

“Last year was really, really difficult, physically and mentally,’’ said Teixeira. “I felt like garbage all season. When you are feeling like that and trying to perform, you get beaten down and you wonder, ‘Am I ever going to be the same?’ This offseason I asked my body to do a lot of things, and it responded. That’s the exciting thing, everything I wanted to accomplish I did, and I feel great going into the season.’’

Teixeira decided to apply the diet after consulting with trainer Ben Prentiss, who's closely associated with several NHL players. As for what the diet consists of. According to Teixeira, bread is a no-no, but he will be consuming a lot of buffalo meat between now and the end of his career. 

"I have to go all-in," Teixeira said.

Yeah, he's definitely made the commitment. Now it  will be interesting to see how much impact it has actually on his health and performance. It should be noted that despite battling a nagging right wrist injury last season, Teixeira still hit .216 with 22 home runs and 62 RBIs in 123 games. Sure, that's a lousy average, but it's easy to see that a healthy Teixeira can still provide a boost in the power department, and would likely be much improved all around. 

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Speaking along those lines, Teixeira also weighed in on another tppic that's garnered some attention in recent months thanks to new commissioner Rob Manfred. That would be defensive shifts, which Teixeira says have contributed to his drop in production. However, unlike Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis, who says he'll be more willing to bunt to beat shifts this season, Teixeira simply wants to hit the ball over the defense for extra bases and also draw more walks.  

"We have talked about it ad nauseam," Teixeira said. "Every time I try to talk about it and slap the ball the other way, it just doesn't go well for anybody. That's exactly what the other team wants, to take a middle-of-the-order power hitter and turn him into a slap hitter."

Hey, he's already changed his body. One can't expect him to alter his approach along with it.

Really though, all the Yankees care about going into the 2015 season is keeping Mark Teixeira healthy and on the field. And if that does indeed happen, perhaps we should expect the menu to change in their clubhouse. 

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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: February 26, 2015, 12:40 am

If you need more proof that California is the most interesting state in baseball these days, consider this: The top five merchandise movers in all of MLB play for California-based teams, according to new data from Fanatics.com, the top online retailer for sports merchandise.

Couple that with the fact that four out of the five California MLB teams made the playoffs in 2014, and the sunny West Coast is doing quite well on the diamond these days. Even the San Diego Padres bumped up their Q rating this offseason.

Fanatics' list isn't limited to just jersey sales, but all MLB licensed merchandise. Here's the top five:

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Mike Trout
3. Buster Posey
4. Clayton Kershaw
5. Yasiel Puig

That's the two reigning MVPs, the World Series MVP, a former MVP and arguably the most interesting new player of the past two seasons. Not a bad collection of talent playing up and down the state, even if it has the highest income-tax rate in the land.

You can check out the rest of the top 10 list in the slideshow above. Spoiler alert: There are no additional California stars to be found.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 25, 2015, 10:53 pm

(USA TODAY Sports)It sounds like trouble and Josh Hamilton might have found each other again.

The Los Angeles Angels acknowledged Wednesday that their injured outfielder has been summoned to meet with MLB officials at the league office in New York City. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports Hamilton's trip is regarding a "disciplinary issue."

From The Times' Mike DiGiovanna:

“I can say that Josh is going to meet with league officials in New York,” [GM Jerry] Dipoto said. “At this point I have no other information to offer.” The Los Angeles Times learned the meeting involved a disciplinary issue through a person with knowledge of the situation.

Hamilton has an injured shoulder, and he doesn’t have a locker in the Angels’ spring training clubhouse at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Hamilton’s agent, Michael Moye, did not return several messages, and MLB spokesman Pat Courtney declined to comment.

The Angels are allowing Hamilton to remain in Houston — at a friend’s ranch — to rehabilitate from Feb. 4 surgery on his right shoulder, an odd arrangement considering most players remain with their teams while recovering from injuries during spring training or the regular season.

Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal adds:

Asked a baseball executive if Hamilton’s discipline was for PEDs. His response: “Worse.” The executive declined to elaborate.

— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 25, 2015

The situation sounds bad. And Hamilton's troubled past doesn't help matters. He's a former No. 1 pick who was suspended from the game after bouts with drug and alcohol abuse. He cleaned himself up and became an MVP with the Texas Rangers, but has struggled in Anaheim since signing a $125 million deal with the Angels before the 2013 season.

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Hamilton's been either injured or unproductive for much of his time with the team, including a 0-for-the-ALDS performance when he was last on the field, as the Angels were booted out of the 2014 playoffs early. 

It's both too early and unfair to assume that Hamilton's meeting has anything to do with his past problems, but the fact that he's being called to New York City by the league doesn't bode well. The Angels are reportedly bracing themselves for Hamilton to be punished by MLB, and given what we know, that seems like a prudent move.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 25, 2015, 9:16 pm

Giancarlo Stanton became the first MLB player to sign a $300 million contract last November, and now he's following that up with another history-making feat: He's the first male athlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated in body paint.

Him and his muscles, that is. Here's the newest SI cover in which Stanton gets anointed the "model slugger," a reference to both his hunky 6-foot-6 frame and his 37 homers last year. 

This week's national cover: @Marlins slugger @Giancarlo818 is no paint-by-numbers star http://t.co/amCQTykcbw pic.twitter.com/RP7zt5DGep

— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) February 25, 2015

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If a body-painted Stanton is your thing (and we don't judge you if it is), then check out this behind-the-scenes image and more like it on the Marlins' On Cloud Conine blog.

(MLB.com)

We're just happy no one at SI pushed to have Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria body painted too.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 25, 2015, 8:18 pm

(USA TODAY Sports)Coming off an unspectacular offseason in the player-acquisition department, San Francisco Giants GM Brian Sabean identified a culprit you might not expect: the state of California and its taxes.

The Giants failed to re-sign Pablo Sandoval, who left for Boston. They were runners-up for Jon Lester. They were rumored to be interested in James Shields and Yoan Moncada at various times of the winter, but landed neither.

The Giants did sign Nori Aoki, traded for Casey McGehee and brought back pitchers Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong, but that wasn't exactly a top-flight offseason for the defending World Series champs.

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Sabean explained to the San Francisco Chronicle how he feels like the Giants — even after three World Series wins in five years — have to "overpay" free agents to come to the Giants, because California's top income rate of 13.3 percent is highest in the nation:

"To entice a free agent to come to San Francisco, we're almost in an overpay situation, so why get involved in all those battles where you're not going to be able to go up the totem pole money-wise?" Sabean said.

When asked to elaborate on why the Giants have to overpay, Sabean said, "You've got the state of California taxes. (San Francisco) is a long way from where some of these guys live in the offseason. It's not a hitters' ballpark, so you can scratch that side of the fence. It takes the right pitcher to consider wanting to come there for a number of different reasons, some of them I just mentioned, even if it's a pitchers' ballpark in a pitchers' division."

Asked if the high California income tax has been a problem for a while, Sabean said, "To a certain extent. Things now are getting more and more about the signing bonus, more and more about your take-home. Exponentially, when you get involved in some of those numbers, it makes a sizable difference to some."

(USA TODAY Sports)Sabean's right that the bottom-line is very much a factor these days. We saw it with Max Scherzer and his tax-saving, back-loaded contract with the Washington Nationals. Yes, the $210 million figure is big, but that's never the take-home. And we saw the other side of it, when James Shields signed with the San Diego Padres and experts expected that he'd actually make less than $40 million from his $75 million deal.

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Of course, this isn't a new problem, nor are the Giants the only team that have to deal with it. The Padres, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers have to consider taxes too. It certainly hasn't stopped the Angels from signing high-priced free agents, nor has it precluded the Dodgers from luring stars to L.A. and keeping them there.

As it pertains to the Giants, though, the Sandoval saga shows just what Sabean is talking about. Even though, San Francisco offered Sandoval more money, he opted for Boston. Because of the income-tax rate in Massachusetts, experts estimate that he saved $7.6 million by taking the lesser deal with the Red Sox. 

Of course, if you're the the Giants, it's hard to be too upset about this, considering all those diamonds on your fingers.

BLS H/N: Hardball Talk

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 25, 2015, 6:56 pm
(Getty Images)

Yasiel Puig is going outside of baseball when it comes to the athletes he wants to emulate.

In an interview with Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times from Dodgers camp, Puig pointed to two NBA superstars as his inspiration:

Puig said he would like to be to baseball what Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are to basketball.

"I want to be like them one day," he said in Spanish.

He went on to talk about the baseball players he considers worthy of replacing the now-retired Derek Jeter as the face of their sport: Clayton Kershaw, Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Mike Trout.

"I want to be there," he said.

Both LeBron and Kobe have won multiple championships and been recognized as the MVP of their league. Those are certainly the kind of accolades the 24-year-old outfielder is chasing as he enters his third season with the Dodgers.

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There's no disputing Puig's great talent, but he does face a few obstacles to reach that level of stardom, some out of his control.

Basketball stars tend to be more recognizable than baseball stars because their faces aren't shielded by a helmet or a ball cap during games.

LeBron and Kobe play 40 minutes per game and have the ball in their hands for the majority of the time. Puig is limited to three or four at-bats and might be lucky to make a couple plays in the field. Puig also has a language barrier that he has yet to conquer, which affects his marketability in the United States.

One thing we can all agree on though is that Puig is the undisputed king of the bat flip. Even though he's come under some criticism for his exuberant celebrations, don't expect that part of his game to go away.

"If I change that, I'm not me," Puig told Hernandez.

We await his first bat flip of 2015 with great anticipation.

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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: February 25, 2015, 6:00 am

New commissioner Rob Manfred isn't the only person with ideas that would radically change the culture of MLB. Tony Thurmond, a state assembly member in California, introduced a bill Tuesday that would ban the use of chewing tobacco at MLB games in his state — even among players.

Forget a pitch clock, you want something that would force MLB players to change their routine? This is it. 

Chewing tobacco is plentiful all over the league, with many players carrying a canister in their back pocket or dipping into a bag in the dugout. Having to stop that for California games? That would take some getting used to. Here's the explanation of the bill, via Reuters:

The bill targets baseball's ubiquitous habit less than a year after retired San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn died of cancer of the salivary glands, believed related to chewing tobacco or "dipping" it by lodging it between the lip and the gum.

Tony Gwynn was somebody I thought was a spokesman for baseball, a great role model as a person," said Assembly member Tony Thurmond, a Democrat who represents Richmond and other suburbs east of San Francisco and the bill's author.

"I'm hopeful that this bill will lend to his legacy, that it will help to prevent illness for young people and young athletes."

Smoking is already banned in Major League Baseball, and the minor leagues have prohibited dipping and chewing, although some say the minor league rules are not strictly enforced. Major League Baseball strongly discourages the use of smokeless tobacco, but has not banned it.

David Ortiz reaches for chewing tobacco. (Getty Images)After Gwynn's death, a few players around the league announced they were quitting tobacco — Addison Reed and Stephen Strasburg, two players who Gwynn coached at San Diego State, were among them.

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Around that time, there were new rumblings about MLB enacting a league-wide ban, but instead the league and the player's union stayed the course: continuing to educate players on the dangers of using tobacco, but letting them make their own decisions.

MLB didn't take a stance on the bill, as proposed by Thurmond, but did release this statement to the L.A. Times:

“We ardently believe that children should not use or be exposed to smokeless tobacco, and we support the spirit of this initiative in California and any others that would help achieve this important goal.”

Players have said in the past, that chewing tobacco is part of their routine and, in some cases, part of their focus. Last season, David Ortiz told the Boston Globe:

“I use it as a stimulator when I go to hit,” Ortiz said. “But the minute I finish my at-bat I spit it out. It keeps me smooth and puts me in a good mood. I don’t do it in the offseason. I don’t really like it that much, to be honest with you.”

Even if it's a guy such as Oritz who doesn't really like chewing tobacco, it's hard to imagine MLB players being thrilled to hear that some lawmaker in California, a guy who has nothing to do with their sport, is out to change the way they play their game.

If MLB wanted to regulate the issue, fine. It's a valid concern and that's their turf. But Thurmond's bill would make it so MLB games in different states essentially have different rules. That doesn't make sense.

And, frankly, we don't see how it serves his constituents. 

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 24, 2015, 11:23 pm

(Getty Images)The ever-beloved Hank Aaron is backing the ever-hated Alex Rodriguez, as A-Rod returns from his year-long PED suspension. More specifically, Aaron told Newsday's Steven Marcus that he's rooting for A-Rod to make a strong comeback in 2015.

This might fly in the face of popular baseball narratives, which paint A-Rod as a villainous cheater out to steal the home-run records of the greats before him, like Aaron, who "played the game the right away."

If that's how you feel, by all means don't fight the feelin', but know that Aaron has no ill will toward A-Rod:

"I am rooting for him," Aaron said. "Despite all of the things that people say he had been involved in, I'm rooting for him to come back and have a great year. I am very much anxious to see what he's going to do. I wish him well, but I just don't know. When you're [away] from playing the game the whole year and go out and then have to face kids that are throwing 90 miles an hour, it's a tough thing."

No rational fan thinks A-Rod has a chance to catch Aaron in the home-run ranks. A-Rod currently has 654, which puts him six behind Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time list. But A-Rod needs 101 homers to catch Aaron, who hit 755 homers. Since 2010, A-Rod has hit 70 homers, only playing more than 100 games twice in those four seasons. Since he's approaching 40 and working with two surgically repaired hips, even the staunchest A-Rod supporters have to admit, 755 is not happening.

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Catching Aaron, and for that matter, Barry Bonds' mark of 762, would bring a whole new level of A-Rod controversy, one that we'll be thankful to avoid. Aaron, however, says it's not his place to judge Bonds, A-Rod and the other sluggers tied to PEDs. Again, from Newsday:

"I've always said this: Records are made to be broken," he said. "And I'm not sitting here saying the reason that a lot of these guys are breaking records are because of steroids. I can't say that because I'm not God. I don't know [if] they've been on steroids, I can't say that. The only thing I can say is I wish them well and that they do the best they can. They have to live and meet their own maker, not me."

Don't worry, Hank, the Internet is full of people who will happily judge A-Rod.

BLS H/N: @DrewGROF

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 24, 2015, 7:49 pm

(AP)Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. says the recently made public tales of him as an abusive clubhouse hazer are completely false, a stance corroborated by other Orioles of the era.

Journeyman catcher Gregg Zaun, who played with the Orioles in 1995 and 1996, portrayed Ripken as a clubhouse bully who destroyed Zaun's suit because he crossed an imaginary line on a team plane, who held him down on a training table and who punched him repeatedly in the ribcage. Zaun, strangely, revealed all this, then said he appreciated what Ripken did because it "kept him in line."

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Maybe it did, but it set off a not-at-all-surprising firestorm for the baseball legend, because the idea of hazing is frowned upon much more in 2015 than it was 20 years ago. So Ripken, hoping to save his pristine reputation, grabbed his fire hose and calmed the flames, telling Roch Kubatko of MASN that he was not a bully at all:

"I talked to [Zaun] because he's a friend of mine. I consider him a good friend," Ripken said today. "I don't know how it got all out of whack. He apologized and said he used the wrong words. There was no abuse, there was no hazing. It doesn't do anything for team unity. He knows that and everybody who knows me knows that."

I spoke to other veterans on those teams who stated that rookie hazing never took place and Ripken never drew an imaginary line at the back of the plane to prevent young players from entering. In fact, he would invite them to the rear of the charter to learn how to clean blue crabs, which he'd occasionally provide on flights.

Brady Anderson was described as part of Ripken's posse, but he denies ever hazing anyone. (USA TODAY Sports)Furthermore, Brady Anderson, a member of Ripken's "posse" in Zaun's hazing accounts, backed up the Iron Man. Anderson even doubled-down, saying he thinks rookie hazing is an absurd tradition. Also from MASN:

"I never did that to anyone," Anderson said. "I don't believe in rookie hazing or status based on tenure and that nonsense. Hated it then and wouldn't put up with it as a rookie, and certainly didn't carry on a tradition I thought was absurd.

"I didn't do it and wouldn't allow it done to me. I've always felt that it's hard enough to feel comfortable as a rookie and a veteran's job was to include them and make them feel a part of the team. We want them to perform and help us win games and I never understood how being dismissive of them or dressing them up in silly costumes was a logical path to that desired outcome."

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Zaun, who works these days as an analyst for the Toronto Blue Jays, has since reframed the hazing stories as "a little horseplay, a little tomfoolery" but hasn't denied they happened. That's not a surprise, considering we know all too well that MLB rookies routinely have to do dumb things like carry equipment and dress in silly costumes. And those are only what the public sees, so you have to figure there's more. The line between hazing and horseplay, though, is hard to define, and that's always the problem when an issue like this is made public.

The rule everyone involved in this hazing-or-horseplay saga is probably repeating this week: Clubhouse stuff stays in the clubhouse, because when it gets tossed out in the Internet news machine, everybody gets a black eye. Figuratively, of course.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 24, 2015, 7:04 pm

(AP)It seems like, for now at least, Manny Ramirez is ready to put aside his dreams of playing in the big leagues again and slide into coaching.

Ramirez, who spent part of 2014 as a Triple-A player/coach in the Chicago Cubs organization, has been hired by the Cubs as a hitting consultant. It's a "significant" role, says Cubs president Theo Epstein. 

Ramirez got rave reviews last year in his Triple-A role. The Cubs wanted his at-the-plate know-how, and let him indulge in playing some too. Now, there's no part-time playing. Just teaching the young Cubs hitters. It's worth a mention, however, that Ramirez hasn't officially announced his retirement as a player.

From Mark Gonzales at the Chicago Tribune:

Ramirez will continue to work with the club’s major and minor league hitters on the fundamental and mental aspects of hitting.

— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) February 24, 2015

It seems especially important for the Cubs to have someone with Latin American roots to help their crop of talented youngsters — including Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara — as they progress from prospects to full-time big leaguers.

Ramirez in 2009 with the Dodgers. (AP)One of the reasons the Cubs praised Rick Renteria when they hired him as manager prior to the 2014 season was his ability to speak Spanish and help along younger Latin players. With Renteria now out and Joe Maddon in as manager, having Ramirez will probably help that mission. 

Manny hit 555 homers with 1,831 RBIs in his 19-year career as a player, with a .312 career batting average and a .996 OPS, which is eighth best all-time. Sure, his career is clouded by PEDs so those numbers can't be looked at as "clean," but there's no question that Ramirez knows how to hit.

He hasn't been in the big leagues since a five-game stint with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011, but Ramirez, 42, just played in the Dominican Republic winter league, where he hit .313 with six homers in 41 games.

Two more noteworthy Cubs announcements from Tuesday: 

• They hired Kevin Youkilis as a scouting and player development consultant, specifically scouting hitters in Northern California. Count him and Ramirez as two more ex-Red Sox with the Cubs.

• The Cubs also announced the creation of a "mental skills program," which is not run by Manny Ramirez, but rather noted sports psychologist Dr. Ken Ravizza, who has worked with Maddon since the 1980s.

If you're looking at this development and wondering why the Cubs are so keen on keeping Manny Ramirez around but haven't made amends with Sammy Sosa yet, you're not the only one. Epstein told reporters Tuesday, the fractured relationship between Sosa and the Cubs is being dealt with in "other circles."

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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: February 24, 2015, 5:56 pm

It doesn't matter what he does at this point, lightning rod extraordinaire Alex Rodriguez will always find himself on the receiving end of some sort of criticism.

The A-Rod news of the day Monday was that the 39-year-old arrived at the New York Yankees' facility in Tampa Bay a few days early. It would seem like a good idea for a player that didn't play at all last season and doesn't have a guaranteed role within his team to get some work in before everyone else shows up, but it's A-Rod so someone isn't happy.

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Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News writes that Yankees officials did not expect to see Rodriguez at camp so soon and weren't pleased they didn't get a heads-up he was coming:

A-Rod’s early arrival was a bit of a surprise, as many had pegged him for a Wednesday appearance when position players are slated to report to Steinbrenner Field.

Roughly 20 reporters and a handful of cameras were on hand at the minor-league complex to greet A-Rod, a fraction of what had been expected for his arrival.

The Yankees had no issues with A-Rod arriving on Monday, but team officials were fuming that he hadn’t alerted them to his plans.

“He’s learned nothing,” said one baseball executive. “He’s the same old guy. He just did what he wanted to do.”

On the A-Rod offenses scale this one barely registers. This report just highlights the fact that Rodriguez and the Yankees aren't on the same page, which isn't exactly breaking news.

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As our Jeff Passan wrote in his column from Monday's scene: "There will be more, so much more, because one thing Rodriguez can't do is stay quiet for long. The next show is later in the week, when Rodriguez's teammates opine on his return. For now, obligations satisfied, he gets back into his truck and takes a right on Himes Avenue and a left on Columbus Drive, past Ballers Barber Shop and the 7-Eleven, off into the afternoon, his first dance complete, too many more to come."

The lightning rod extraordinaire will strike again soon.

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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: February 24, 2015, 8:30 am
(Getty Images)

Mat Latos is known just as much for his fiery personality as he is for his fire-balling right arm on the mound, so the following shouldn't come as any suprise.

The 27-year-old starting pitcher was dealt to his hometown Miami Marlins in December after three seasons with the Cincinnati Reds and in a lengthy one-on-one interview with Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, Latos touched on a number of subjects about his time in Cincinnati.

He said he was happy with the trade to the Marlins, he questioned the way the organization handled his knee injury last season, and also cited a general lack of leadership in the clubhouse.

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Latos did praise many of his former teammates as well as the team's ownership but of course those weren't the comments that became a topic of conversation back in Cincinnati.

The criticisms launched by Latos were obviously not well received by the Reds. Manager Bryan Price and general manager Walt Jocketty were among those who responded.

Price accused Latos of casting "A negative light on our organization. We've done nothing to deserve it," while Jocketty added "It is something that is not true. There were more than a couple of things that were exaggerated."

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The latest from this story, according to Miami Herald, is that Latos plans to take a break from talking with the media for a few days. From here it appears that both sides have said their piece about the past and that everyone involved is now back to focusing on the upcoming season. Latos is looking to put together a big year in Miami with his free agency looming next offseason. The Reds have their eye on getting back to the postseason after finishing in fourth place in the NL Central in 2014.

Expect this war of words to be short-lived: the next showdown between Latos and his former club will take place on the field.

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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: February 24, 2015, 6:45 am
Luis Tiant (Getty Images)

Cuban phenom Yoan Moncada, born over 15 years after Luis Tiant made his final appearance for the Boston Red Sox, finalized a monster deal with the team on Monday, and the Red Sox apparently have Tiant to thank for helping sway the 19-year-old infielder to sign with them and not with the New York Yankees.

Here's the story from ESPN.com's Gordon Edes:

Luis Tiant, the Red Sox Hall of Famer and Cuban legend, said he found out countryman Yoan Moncada was signing with the Red Sox on Sunday night, when he received a call from Ray Negron, his friend and special consultant to the Yankees, another team that went hard after the 19-year-old infielder. 

"Ray said, ‘He’s going to sign with you guys because of you,'" Tiant said. “I guess they talked to the kid."

When Moncada was at JetBlue Park for a private workout a couple of weeks ago, the Red Sox made sure Tiant was there. Tiant had breakfast with Moncada, said David Hastings, a Florida-based certified public accountant who handled negotiations for the player.

"Luis Tiant is a great ambassador for the Red Sox," Hastings said Monday. "I don't speak Spanish, so I don't have a clue what they were talking about, but they struck up a pretty good friendship. And Luis stayed in the dugout almost the whole time, even though it was a cold and windy day."

Tiant, 74, pitched for Boston in eight of his 19 years in the majors, going to two All-Star games and helping the Red Sox win the AL pennant in 1975.

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If Moncada is as good as the scouts say he is, a switch-hitting five-tool talent who can play second or third base, Tiant can say he helped the Red Sox win long after throwing his final pitch for the franchise.

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Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: February 24, 2015, 4:45 am
(Norm Hall/Getty Images)

There were rumblings a few days ago that the Baltimore Orioles were close to a deal with free agent infielder Everth Cabrera. On Monday, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports confirmed that the two sides had come to terms on a one-year contract for $2.4 million.

Cabrera's issues are no secret. He received a 50-game suspension in 2013 for his involvement with Biogenesis and he has a trial date in April for resisting arrest. The 28-year-old was non-tendered by the Padres in December and while carrying some risk, instantly became an interesting option for teams looking to improve their infield depth.

In the end it was that Orioles that took the bait, hoping Cabrera might be able to regain the All-Star form he flashed in 2013. He's coming off a rough year where he hit just .232 and was plagued by a hamstring injury, but for just a one-year commitment it's worth seeing what he can bring to the team.

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The left side of Baltimore's infield is set with J.J. Hardy at shortstop and a healthy Manny Machado at third base. Jonathan Schoop provided strong defense at second base in his first full major league season but wasn't quite as successful at the plate, slashing .209/.244/.354 in 137 games.

At worst, Cabrera can be a solid backup at both middle infield spots and a great pinch-runnner (99 stolen bases since 2012) off the bench. If he looks good, he could force a competition with Schoop and utility man Ryan Flaherty for playing time at second and maybe even snag the starting job.

After losing Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz in the offseason, the Orioles are in tough to defend their AL East title from the reloaded Red Sox, intriguing Blue Jays, and Yankees.

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Adding Cabrera won't be the move that sets Baltimore apart from their rivals, but the potential is there for him to contribute to the cause.

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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: February 24, 2015, 3:30 am

(AP)If we've gleaned anything about Rob Manfred as he approaches two months in Bud Selig's commissioner's chair, it's that almost any idea is a possibility. He's wide open to change, it seems, whether that's the notion of banning defensive shifts that he brought up in January or shortening the MLB season.

Manfred addressed the latter Monday, saying it's certainly a possibility that MLB could shorten its season, but it's not a priority to him at the moment.

He told ESPN's Darren Rovell:

"I don't think length of season is a topic that can't ever be discussed," Manfred said. "I don't think it would be impossible to go back to 154 [games].

"We already have some of our record books which reflect a 154-game season and obviously some of it reflects a 162-game season," Manfred said. "So there's some natural flexibility there. But if anyone suggests to go to something like 110 games, then there's a real problem. That will throw all our numbers out of whack."

MLB moved from 154-game seasons to its current 162-game format in the early 1960s. Shortening the season might be beneficial to players, considering baseball's grueling schedule. But the more games a team plays, the more money it stands to make from tickets, concessions and advertising. 

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At least for the time being, Manfred's focus isn't the length of the season but the length of games. The league introduced a number of pace-of-play rule changes Friday in hopes of reducing the average length of a game, which crept above three hours for the first time in 2014.

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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: February 24, 2015, 1:37 am

If you thought Madison Bumgarner dressed in suspenders and carried an ax every day before he puts on his baseball gear, we wouldn't exactly blame you. His legend is a bit larger-than-life these days. And, as we know, he's definitely a good ol' country boy. 

But we promise you, this is not typical MadBum garb:

(@SFGiants)

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The San Francisco Giants dressed Bumgarner up in Paul Bunyan attire for an issue of their magazine (and probably because they knew people would absolutely love it). 

You think MadBum gets to keep the ox? He could probably give it to his wife as a birthday present.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 23, 2015, 11:42 pm

When word trickled out Sunday that B.J. Upton had decided to play this season as Melvin Upton Jr., his given name, the obvious assumption was an attempt at reinvention.

Upton has struggled mightily the past two seasons since signing a five-year, $72.25 million contract with the Atlanta Braves. He hit .208 last season and .184 in 2013. Frankly, reinvention seems like a necessity. But that's not what the name change is about, according to Upton, 30, who reported to Braves spring training camp early and addressed the issue Monday.

(AP)He told reporters, including Mark Bowman of MLB.com:

"This has nothing to do with starting a new chapter," Upton said. "I just wanted to. My father thought enough to give me his name, so why not?"

Though the baseball world has recognized him as B.J. dating back to the days before he was the second overall selection in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, Upton said many of his friends and family members have often referred to him by the birth name -- Melvin -- that he shares with his father.

"It was the name that was given to me as a kid," Upton said. "So I felt I wanted to go by my real name."

B.J. was short for Bossman Junior, a nickname that the elder Upton son picked up from his dad, the original Bossman. Dad's name is Melvin Emmanuel Upton, though as first names go, he went by Manny and not Melvin. 

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The outfielder formerly known as B.J. Upton says he consulted with family before announcing the decision — including his younger brother Justin Upton, traded recently from the Braves to the San Diego Padres. Only baseball people called him by the Bossman Junior abbreviation, Upton decided, so it was time for a change:

"Most of my friends call me Mel or Melvin," Upton said. "Nobody really calls me B.J., except at the stadium" ...

"Call me what you want, it doesn't matter to me," Upton said. "Obviously, the people I've known my whole life and the people I've grown to know, I don't care [which name they use]. But for the general public, my real name is Melvin and that is [how] I want to be referred to." 

Braves fans will tell you they don't care what Upton wants to be called. He could call himself Chipper Upton, if it meant he would start hitting.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 23, 2015, 9:48 pm

The circus came to town early.

Alex Rodriguez walked into New York Yankees spring camp Monday, somewhat announced, decked out in University of Miami gear, turning baseball writers into would-be paparazzi with their "Look! A-Rod-is-here pictures."

Rodriguez did what a guy who hasn't played professional baseball in a year should have done: showed up three days early, reported to the field with the Yankees minor leaguers, worked out, took grounders, took batting practice and even hit a few over the fence.

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Our man Jeff Passan was on the scene and keeping tally:

Alex Rodriguez took 71 swings and hit six home runs. BP over.

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 23, 2015

All of baseball is watching every moment of The A-Rod Show this season: every homer, every strikeout, every grimace, every smile and every goofy A-Rod Face. (Sidenote: A-Rod Faces are the best, nobody does unintentionally funny faces better than our man Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez).

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Monday's workout was quite a show — the A-Rod faces, we mean, not the BP session. But they'll all be a show, because with A-Rod, there is no other option. So while you can debate whether he should retire already, after only his first workout session of 2015, we'll happily enjoy this collection of weird A-Rod faces from his first day in camp.

(USA TODAY Sports)
(AP)
(AP)
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(AP)
(USA TODAY Sports)
(USA TODAY Sports)

That last one's not goofy. It's just a good ol' A-Rod smile — a nice reminder that he IS human. At least, we think he is.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 23, 2015, 8:42 pm

(Facebook)Make no mistake, there was an abundance of risk in signing Yoan Moncada, the 19-year-old Cuban phenom who reportedly agreed Monday to the join the Boston Red Sox.

He's not major-league ready, he comes with a huge tax bill and, like any 19-year-old prospect, there's no guarantee he'll turn into a star.

Still, when you're the New York Yankees, you don't have a legacy built on prudence and being risk-averse. When you're the Yankees, history dictates that you spend big, get the best players and win the World Series. But that's not what happened with Moncada, a five-tool switch-hitting infielder.

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The Yankees, viewed as the favorites in the race for Yoan were outbid by their biggest rivals, as Boston reportedly is giving Moncada $31.5 million and paying a dollar-for-dollar tax because it has overspent its international amateur bonus pool. The Yankees would have been charged the same tax.

Boston didn't have a problem essentially tossing another $31.5 million into the air and letting it burn to get Moncada, but the Yankees did. The free-spending Yanks we've grown accustomed to over the past two decades had a ceiling with Moncada and wouldn't go past it.

Some insight on the Yankees' thought process from Joel Sherman of the New York Post and Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York:

#Yankees offered $25M with willingness to go to $27M which is same offered Jorge Soler who went to #Cubs for $30M

— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) February 23, 2015

Yanks offered $25M, which is $50M with tax, probably would've gone a bit higher, but Sox valued Moncada more

— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) February 23, 2015

Yanks feeling was they can buy a proven MLBer for $60M or $70M

— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) February 23, 2015

As our Jeff Passan notes, the Yankees bowed out because of $13 million, which is a lot to you and me, but isn't much in baseball currency. Remember that they paid a $20 million posting fee last year to sign Masahiro Tanaka, which is in addition to his contract.

Yankees' final offer was $25M, per @Joelsherman1, meaning they lost Moncada for $13M. A lot of time put in for a trivial amount to them.

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 23, 2015
(MLB.com)

When you're the Yankees, being cost-conscious often doesn't compute, especially with the fans, who care more about counting World Series rings than counting how many millions are on the payroll. The Red Sox getting Moncada stung too — much more than if the Bombers had been outbid by, say, the San Diego Padres.

There was plenty of outrage to be found on Yankees Twitter after the news hit, some people using it to impugn the current leadership or play the "This would never happen under George Steinbrenner" card — since word trickled out that it was ownership not GM Brian Cashman who pumped the brakes on the Yankees' pursuit of Moncada.

I want to walk up to Hal Steinbrenner & Cashman & punch them in the face..why the hell didn't the Yankees sign Moncada for that money?

— Kevin Barden (@K_Bardz) February 23, 2015

George Steinbrenner probably just rolled over in his grave, thanks to the Yankees losing out on Moncada to the Red Sox.

— Jared Moore (@MrJaredMoore) February 23, 2015

Dear @Yankees OG Steinbrenner would've never let this happen. His sons' and Cashman are soft for not getting Moncada.

— Coeur De Lion (@RichyProfit401) February 23, 2015

Hal Steinbrenner is the worst thing to happen to the Yankees in a long, long time. How do you not sign Moncada for that money?

— Sean Patrick O'Leary (@SPoRealy606) February 23, 2015

Yankees blog Pinstripe Alley even drew up a list of other things the Yankees can spend $30 million on since they're not getting Moncada, such as: "Food for CC Sabathia, so he can maintain his new hefty figure." Yep, it's that kind of day in Yankeeland.

If Moncada turns into the star that many scouts and pundits are expecting, Yankees fans will be feeling the sting for years to come, because they'll be seeing him quite often in a Red Sox uniform.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 23, 2015, 7:42 pm

If you're looking for the most startling reminder of just how quickly things can change in baseball, we may have found it at Rays Fest in St. Petersburg. Joe Maddon merchandise has officially hit the clearance table.

Bobbleheads, the infamous Mr. Joe-tato Head and whatever else is included in the picture below can be yours for only $5.

Sign of the (new) times at #Rays Fan Fest - a Maddon markdown pic.twitter.com/M6V7Z6tAps

— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) February 21, 2015

Indeed a new era is set to begin for the Rays after their long time manager opted out of his contract last November and later bolted for the Chicago Cubs

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In his nine seasons with the Rays, Maddon accumulated a 754-705 record, while leading them to four postseason appearances and six winning seasons. Feats that seemed unlikely during the franchise's first eight years in existence. He was also easily as popular as players like Evan Longoria, David Price and Ben Zobrist, but the faces are definitely a-changing throughout the clubhouse, as only Longoria remains from that group.

To replace Maddon, the Rays hired first-time manager Kevin Cash on Dec. 5. Obviously, he'll have some work to do to match Maddon's accomplishments and earn that level of respect, but he's already showing he's not afraid to put his own stamp on the franchise. 

You know how Maddon's lineup cards were often as unpredictable as the winning lottery numbers? For example, his 8-6-7-5-3-0-9 Tommy Tutone special from last July. Cash is looking to go away from that and establish an everyday lineup, which he believes will give the players a clear feeling of their roles. 

From MLB.com: 

Among the pluses of such a measure would be a comfort level extended to those players who arrive at the ballpark every day knowing that they will be in the lineup, and perhaps even in the same slot.

"I think my thoughts on that is to give [the players] something early on in spring," Cash said. "We're not going to be able to do that with everybody. There will be changes. Certain guys aren't going to play every day in Spring Training."

Such a philosophy should at least give Cash and the players a chance to gain a feel for what might be once the regular season begins.

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So that's Cash's philosophy. And again, here's Maddon's.

Basically Maddon says lineups come to him during bike rides in the morning before games or while having tea

— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) February 21, 2015

Seriously, Rays fans may have to be retrained on how to watch baseball now that Maddon's gone. Of course, that's not to say one approach is more effective than the other. It's just going to be different. A lot different.

And maybe not as fun.

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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: February 22, 2015, 9:18 pm

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Earlier this week we learned that the glove Jeffrey Maier used to reach over the wall and pull in Derek Jeter's controversial home run during the 1996 American League Championship Series would be going up for auction this weekend. According to the Associated Press, the glove ended up selling for $22,705 to an anonymous collector on Saturday night

Heritage Auctions says the glove was purchased by an anonymous collector Saturday night, with no mention of what the buyer plans to do with it. When Heritage announced the auction on Monday, it didn't identify the owner, who it said had purchased the glove from Maier.

The way we figure it, there are three groups of people who would likely be most interested in owning this controversial piece of baseball memorabilia.

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Of course, seasoned sports memorabilia collectors would be most eager to follow the auction and see what type of deal they might get. Diehard fans of the New York Yankees probably wouldn't mind adding it to their collection as well because of it's unique place in franchise history. Then, there are Baltimore Orioles fans, who if given the opportunity might want to follow the Chicago Cubs example by destroying the evidence.

"Even to this day, almost 20 years after the fact, this glove still continues to elicit smiles from Yankees fans and curses from Orioles fans," said Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Auctions at Heritage. "It's an innocuous enough little black leather Mizuno glove, but it still inspires big emotions and commanded a big-time auction price."

It's definitely one of those moments that will live forever in baseball lore. If Maier doesn't reach over the wall on Jeter's eighth inning fly ball and literally steal it from Baltimore Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco, the Yankees may have never tied Game 1 or gone on to win in extra innings.

It might be a reach to say it completely changed the series — New York won the series 4-1 before defeating the Atlanta Braves 4-2 in the World Series — but it definitely made the road more difficult for Baltimore. For that reason alone, it will never be forgiven or forgotten.

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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: February 22, 2015, 7:39 pm

Where does Max Scherzer go from here after winning the American League Cy Young award in 2013 and signing a seven-year, $210 million contract with the Washington Nationals in January?

Upwards and onwards, according to the man himself. With an emphasis on upwards. 

Scherzer arrived to Nationals camp on Friday not knowing where to park his car or carry his bags, but he knows exactly what he wants to do this spring and all throughout the new season. He wants to get better, and he wants to help get Washington over the hump in the National League playoffs.

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"I'm always trying to find a way to get better," Scherzer said. "In sports, you never stay the same. You either get better or you get worse. I'm focused on getting better. There are things I can do this year that I haven't been able to do in the past. I'm looking to continue to get better every time I'm on the mound."

There is a third option, actually. Sometimes pitchers simply level off, which is what Scherzer appeared to do last season. After going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 144 ERA+ in his award-winning season, Scherzer's numbers were slightly down in all three categories in 2014 (18-5 with a 3.15 ERA and 127 ERA+), but certainly not enough to fret over.

Is there room for more improvement though at age 30? Undoubtedly, and moving back to the National League can only help. But it's about more than dressing up already terrific numbers. Those will sustain on their own if he's doing his job. It's about staying ahead of the curve and evolving, as Scherzer put it.

"[I want to] have my pitches evolve, keep getting more consistent with everything I do. That's the most I can tell you."

That's all we need to know for now.

As for team expectations, Scherzer further emphasized what was already said. As good as their starting pitching looks on paper with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez, it will take all five of them continuing to evolve and continuing to improve to take another step forward. The games aren't played on paper, otherwise Scherzer and his former Tigers teammates may have already faced these Nationals in a World Series.

"Obviously, we are as talented as anybody in the league right now. On paper, we look great. That doesn't mean anything when you go out there during the season, because everybody would be gunning for us and everybody wants to take their best shot at us. It's a matter of what we do in response to that -- how much hard work we have to put in to be at our best."

A lot of what Scherzer said during his first days at Nationals camp can be dismissed as cliched, but there's truth to all of it. The San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals have proven year after year that there's a difference between expectation and execution, and now the Nationals must collectively figure out how to cross that line.

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 22, 2015, 6:12 pm

Former catcher Gregg Zaun carved out a pretty solid 16-year career in Major League Baseball. Granted, he moved around a lot, playing for nine different teams, and was mostly relegated to backup duties, but 16 years in MLB is a run to be proud of.

Apparently, though, Zaun feels the longevity he achieved and the respect he earned along the way wouldn't have been possible without the physical abuse and public humiliation he claims veteran teammates put on him as he was breaking in with the Baltimore Orioles. 

This troubling revelation came while Zaun was speaking with hosts Bob McCown and Ken Reid on Prime Time Sports on Wednesday. Zaun described how it was when he first arrived to Orioles camp looking a bit too comfortable for the liking of veterans like Cal Ripken Jr. and fellow catcher Chris Hoiles, how those players took liberties physically to keep him in check, and how he feels that treatment benefited his career.

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From AndrewStoeten.com:

I’ll never forget it: I was out in the stretch circle, I played catch with Chris Hoiles every single day, and I lobbed the ball to him — and he was paying attention, but he pretended like he wasn’t. He head-butted the ball and all of a sudden I had what was called “the posse” all over me. Cal Ripken, Ben McDonald, Brady Anderson, Chris Hoiles, all of the above. They beat me on my ribcage, physically abused me on my way to the training table. They taped me spread-eagle to the training table, they wrote “rookie” on my forehead with pink methylate, and they shoved a bucket of ice down my shorts. I missed the entire batting practice, and you know what? Phil Regan, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, he did not care, because he knew that what those guys were doing was ‘educating me."

(USA TODAY Sports)The education didn't end there though. When Zaun overstepped other boundaries in the opinion of his veteran teammates, the abuse continued. He says Ripken not only led the charge, but goaded him in.

If I had a dollar for every time Cal worked me over, physically, I’d be a pretty wealthy guy. He still owes me a suit! He told me flat out, he said, ‘You are never to come past this point into the back of the plane, under no circumstances.’ So, I’m in my first suit that I paid for myself as a Major League player, feelin’ real frisky, and Cal says, ‘I need you to come here.’ And all of a sudden I crossed over that imaginary barrier line. He tackled me, wrestled me to the ground. They had just got done eating a bunch of blue crabs in the back of the plane, so there was nothing but mud and Old Bay seasoning everywhere. He throws me to the ground and he tears my suit off of me, and I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ And he goes, ‘Remember when I said that under no circumstances do you come back here?’ I’m like, ‘Well you just told me to!’ ‘I said under no circumstances, and that includes when I ask you to come back here.’

Cringeworthy accounts from Zaun. However, the most troubling part isn't the actions themselves, or even that Zaun accepted that type of treatment. It's that Zaun, who currently serves as a broadcaster for the Toronto Blue Jays, encouraged more of that behavior in today's game.

So, these kind of things don’t happen anymore, but they need to happen more often. And they need to happen with the backing of the management, all the way up to the front office, down to the field manager. You have to allow your veteran players to create the atmosphere that they want in the clubhouse, because at the end of the day, when guys get along and they know their pecking order, and they know the hierarchy, everything seems to work out just fine.

The conversation was born from Zaun's disappointment in Brett Lawrie's development during his time in Toronto. Zaun believes Lawrie, who was traded to Oakland in November, didn't live up to expectations in part because he wasn't taught respect in the clubhouse. He suggests Lawrie felt a sense of entitlement young players haven't earned, and by not sending a message, Jays veterans allowed his ego to run amok.

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While there may be some truth to what Zaun is saying about Lawrie, there are obviously better ways to handle it than what he experienced in Baltimore. As many have pointed out, those actions outside a baseball environment are considered bullying and potentially criminal. The destruction of property just for the sake of doing it? That doesn't fly, and it shouldn't be tolerated.

Thankfully, it seems as though Zaun's old school mentality is where it belongs — in the past. While we're sure some hazing goes on, it would be difficult to keep this degree of abuse out of the media. Still, it's disappointing to hear someone as connected to the game as Zaun still is floating these ideas out there as acceptable. The game doesn't need it, and it's something children and impressionable young adults simply don't need to hear. 

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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: February 22, 2015, 8:24 am

The college baseball season has been serving as a nice appetizer ahead of MLB's return. That continued on Saturday with a thrilling finish in Tucson, Ariz, as the unranked Arizona Wildcats upset the Rice Owls, 7-6, on a walkoff steal of home plate.

Yes, you read that correctly. A walkoff steal of home. And not one of those steals where a bunch of runners are out there attempting to trick the defense into throwing the ball around. It was a straight up steal of home by Arizona junior Kevin Newman, and it was glorious.

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With the game obviously tied, two outs and two runners on base in the ninth inning, Newman zoned in on Rice closer Matt Ditman and realized he wasn't even on the pitcher's radar. As Ditman worked from the windup, Newman started down the line and kept going. His path to the plate was clear with a left-handed batter at the plate, and the steal was a success as catcher Hunter Kopycinski failed to adjust and mishandled the low and outside delivery.

Of course, if Kopycinski catches it clean, Nemwan would have been out. But the results are all that matter here, and the results were exhilarating for Arizona.

From Rice's perspective, it was a total disaster inning, and the steal of home was just the exclamation point. Leading 6-5 when the inning began, Rice committed four errors that led to the finish, including a collision at first base that knocked the baseball from covering second baseman Ford Stainback's glove and allowed the tying run to score. 

If they eliminate any of those errors, chances are the finish is different, and Newman never even has the chance to race home.  

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As for the frequency of walkoff steals, Grant Van Putten of Calvin College was able to pull one off last April, but it's still a rarity at the higher levels of baseball. In fact, the last time it happened in MLB was all the way back on Aug 22. 1982, when Glenn Brummer of the St. Louis Cardinals swiped home on Gary Lavelle of the San Francisco Giants. That would make it more rare than other unusual endings like walkoff wild pitches and even the dreaded walkoff balk.

Needless to  say, it's a low percentage play regardless of the situation, but Newman's instincts and courage won out this time around.

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: February 22, 2015, 4:16 am

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Rather than proceed through the 2015 season with a degree of uncertainty surrounding its leadership, the Boston Red Sox have guaranteed stability by agreeing to contract extensions with manager John Farrell and general manager Ben Cherington.

The extensions were both learned on Saturday, though it's reported Cherington's new deal was finalized last season. As for Farrell, his extension comes on the heels of a disappointing 71-91 season that saw Boston finish last in the AL East, 25 games behind the Baltimore Orioles. Of course, in Farrell's first season in Boston in 2013, the Red Sox were crowned World Series champions, so a reprieve was in order. 

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As you might recall, Farrell was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays, where he accumulated a 154-170 over two seasons as manager, in a trade for infielder Mike Aviles. He replaced Bobby Valentine, who was an unmitigated disaster during his one season with Boston. The Red Sox finished 69-93 in 2012, a full 26 games behind the New York Yankees. Under Farrell, they jumped to 97 wins and then dispatched the Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals during the postseason.

Farrell was to have one guaranteed year remaining on his contract entering 2015, with a club option for 2016. According to Alex Speier of the Boston Globe, Farrell is now locked up through the 2017 season, with an option for 2018.

Financial details were not revealed on Saturday, but the press conference did take an interesting turn when Cherington's pre-existing extension was casually revealed.  

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington holds the World Series championship trophy. (USA TODAY Sports)“I’m under contract. I have a contract,” said Cherington. “We understand that contracts for people in uniform are important and need to be discussed. We feel, I think I’m speaking for ownership, for the leadership of the organization, I feel fortunate to be a part of, we’re all working together to try and do the same thing, that’s be successful. I have a contract. I’m in good shape. There’s no issue. Glad to be working with [principal owner John Henry] and the rest of the group."

There were no additional details provided on Cherington's deal, but he did receive heaps of praise from COO Sam Kennedy. 

“I don’t know all the general managers personally in baseball but I know a lot of them. Ben ranks right up there if not as the best then as one of the very best in the game. He’s got the full confidence and support of John and Tom and Larry and Mike and everyone in ownership. He’s extremely well-regarded internally and externally,” said Kennedy. “We’re colleagues, so I’m obviously biased, but he’s an amazing colleague.

Cherington has been very busy since inking his new deal. After trading Jon Lester last season, he's added several key pieces through trades and free agency, including Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Justin Masterson and Rick Porcello. 

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As we now know, those moves had the full support of Red Sox brass, as Cherington had obviously already earned their trust. Moving forward though, it will be all about results for both of Boston's leaders. 

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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: February 22, 2015, 1:32 am

It's a shame Cincinnati Reds star Joey Votto can't be appreciated for what he is — a former MVP who has reached base a remarkable 42 percent of the time during his career — and has to constantly answer questions about what certain people expect him to be — Babe Ruth in his prime, apparently — but that's the routine that has been established over the years.

This spring, it will clearly be no different. In fact, Hall of Famer Reds' broadcaster Marty Brennaman already got the ball rolling with his usual criticism of Votto.

"if this guy comes back and is content to lead the lead in OBP again, then this team is in deep trouble,"-Marty on Votto #Reds @700wl

— Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) February 13, 2015

Last we checked, leading the league in on-base percentage is pretty good, and Votto has done that four out of eight big league seasons. It's also helpful to the team's cause, because — and you have to follow this closely — it's easier to score runs when a batter reaches base as opposed to walking back to the dugout. That one was proven even before sabermetrics came into play. 

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But from Votto, who signed a 10-year, $225 million extension prior to the 2012 season, people have always wanted more as a means to justify the money he's owed. More home runs. More RBIs. More stats that look pretty when flashed across the scoreboard. And, of course, a more aggressive approach, because you can't do those things if you're walking all the time.

It has to be an exhausting process for Votto to go through, knowing he doesn't need the career advice. To Votto's credit though, he never shies away from it and he always keeps an open mind, but one also can't blame him for throwing a couple subtle jabs at those critics, which is what he did while speaking to the media at Reds camp. 

Here are the quotes, courtesy of MLB.com's Mark Sheldon:

“I think that’s to be expected because I am the guy who has the big contract. There are times where it can be a bit of a nuisance because I have to answer a question. Most of it is noise. I think that I’ve proven, when healthy, that I’m a helpful part of the team. I do my part.

“I have to be careful with what I say. In terms of being in the middle of it, sometimes I think it’s really, really silly. I’m not going to use the word ‘ignorant,’ but ignorant. I also think there’s some validity to it because it’s coming from a perspective that is being nostalgic. … Ultimately, it’s entertainment. I’m part of the entertainment industry. If there weren’t debates like this then, what the hell are we doing? I think this is great.

“I’m the big money guy. I’m the guy that is supposed to do certain things and has done certain things in the past and it’s expected in the future. I’m not doing it so let’s talk about it, let’s get after it and I think that it’s great. I’m glad I can be a lightning rod, as long as I’m a lightning rod while performing one way or the other. Whether it’s the 2010 version or the 2013 version, you cannot deny that I haven’t performed and been able to provide value for the team and able to help the team get to the playoffs. Both examples, I was part of a playoff team. I’m not saying the main part or anything like that, but I was a part of it. As long as I’m part of it, it’s the most important thing. I think it’s fun. No one is getting hurt. I should expect it.”

Like we said, subtle jabs, because Votto isn't one to swing wildly on or off the field. His approach actually translates to his everyday life, which no doubt annoys his critics even more.

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In the process, Votto offered excellent perspective on his contributions, while acknowledging where his critics are coming from. He obviously understands what the big money contract means to certain people, but he can't let that change who he is. It's more important to understand what works for him, and to embrace how being that player most helps the Reds. 

Honestly, a player with that mindset should be celebrated, not criticized. It would be easy for Votto to go into business for himself now that he's secured his future, but he wants to win, and it's clear he'll do what's necessary to make it happen.    

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 21, 2015, 10:00 pm

(AP)
As the Chicago Cubs open training camp in Mesa, Ariz, there's a mixed feeling of optimism and emptiness.

For the first time in nearly a decade, the franchise enters a season with real hope. Hope that 2015 will mark the beginning of a new era marked by on field successes. An era that keeps optimism flowing, and allows Cubs fans to lock in on the present and future, and move beyond past disappointments that haunt them.

Unfortunately, for the first time since 1954, the Cubs also enter the season without their heart, their soul, and their biggest supporter. Ernie Banks, the Hall of Famer and icon who remained the face of the franchise throughout his 19-year career and for 41 years after, died on Jan. 24, leaving a hole in their hearts that can't possibly be filled.

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It's truly a shame Banks won't be around to enjoy the roller coaster ride that is sure to unfold this season. But even though he won't be present, the team will make sure his presence is still felt. On Friday, they unveiled a special patch bearing Banks' No. 14 that will be on their right sleeves all season.

Our #14 jersey patch to be worn all season in honor of #MrCub. http://t.co/EC8j3gnQln pic.twitter.com/FVMItdjN2v

— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) February 20, 2015

The patch is the first official honor for Banks. Here's a good look at it on the jersey.

#Cubs mgr @CubsJoeMadd sports an Ernie Banks memorial patch and chats with reliever Pedro Strop. pic.twitter.com/ceAef77Lq8

— Billy Krumb (@ClubhouseCancer) February 20, 2015

The Cubs have also announced they'll wear No. 14 hats during both of their split-squad spring training games on March 5. Prior to the MLB regular season opener on April 5, the Cubs will hold a pregame ceremony in memory of Banks. Fans attending will also receive a commemorative pin.

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We're sure other honors will follow throughout the season, but as chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement on Friday, it will never truly be enough.

"There is no level of recognition that can properly acknowledge how much Ernie Banks meant to this franchise and fan base," Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement. "Collectively, we must ensure Mr. Cub's legacy rightfully lives on at the Friendly Confines and with future generations of baseball fans."

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 21, 2015, 7:47 pm

The Los Angeles Dodgers insist there's no reason for alarm, but it's difficult to have any other reaction after the team announced that starter Zack Greinke received a lubricating injection in his elbow earlier in the week. As a result, Greinke will not throw off a mound this weekend, but is expected to resume a regular routine in the coming days, since apparently the injection itself is also a part of his normal spring training routine. 

"It's pretty much been a common spring thing since we've had him," manager Don Mattingly said early Saturday concerning the injection.

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How common? According to Mattingly, Greinke has received the injection in each of his three seasons with the Dodgers. So far, it hasn't been an issue though. Aside from Greinke missing a month early in the 2013 season with a broken collarbone suffered in an on-field altercation with Carlos Quentin of the San Diego Padres, Greinke has made all of his starts and posted a sub-2.71 ERA each year. 

As the Dodgers suggest, it probably really is nothing to be concerned about. But just the fact he's needed the injection three straight seasons to get started makes it at least worth monitoring. Besides, anytime you hear something related to a pitcher's elbow or shoulder, it's worth watching until the all clear sign is given. That sounds like it should come in relatively short order for Greinke. 

All things considered though, this is definitely a big season for the 31-year-old right-hander on a personal level. After signing a six-year, $147 million contract before the 2013 season, Greinke has the option to void the deal following the season and re-enter the free-agent market. With a Dodgers' extension highly unlikely, Greinke says he's content holding off on that decision until after the season. Obviously though, health could prove to be a factor in that decision, so that's yet another angle to this potentially developing story.

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If Greinke proves healthy, then it might just come down to how the Dodgers perform. If you recall, about this time three weeks ago Greinke sounded far less than impressed by the offseason authored by Andrew Freidman and the revamped front office. With winning also apparently a big part of Greinke's equation, the Dodgers might need another deep postseason run just to keep his interest. 

It's also worth noting that the Dodgers signed free agent starter Brandon Beachy to a one-year deal on Saturday with an option for 2016. Beachy will begin on the season the disabled list after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014, so while the signing is in no way related to Greinke's health now, Beachy could be an option for Los Angeles if Greinke leaves down the road. 

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 21, 2015, 5:54 pm

Tim McClelland, MLB's second-longest tenured umpire and pehaps its most respected, has announced his immediately following 32 seasons of service. The 63-year-old veteran hasn't actually umpired a game since September of 2013. A back injury kept him off the field for the entire 2014 season, but he remained on staff throughout. Now he's stepping aside in advance of 2015, no doubt in part due to that ailment..  

It's probably not the exit he envisioned, but it was still terrific run for McClelland, However, If you know the name, it might not necessarily be for the aforementioned accolades. McClelland, who umpired over 4,200 games, including 94 in the postseason, happened to be directly or indirectly involved in several moments that will live forever in baseball lore, including one of its most infamous. 

Of course, we're referencing the infamous "Pine Tar Game" played at Yankee Stadium on July 24, 1983.

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After George Brett of the Kansas City Royals hit a two-run homer to give them a 5-4 lead in the ninth inning, Yankees manager Billy Martin complained there was too much pine tar on Brett’s bat. McClelland, who was serving as the home plate umpire, investigated and called Brett out, which led to Brett's memorable explosion out of the dugout to confront him. McClelland’s decision was later overturned after the Royals filed a protest, and the game was restarted from the point after Brett's home run. Kansas City won the game 5-4.

That season also happened to be McClelland's first as a full-time umpire. Clearly, it didn't take the spotlight long to find him, but that moment helped establish McClelland as an umpire who was willing to take charge. 

Another of those moment that involved McClelland but has kind of been forgotten about in recent years is the Sammy Sosa corked bat incident from June 4, 2003. This time McClelland's investigation proved fruitful. Sosa was immediately called out and ejected from the game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Sosa later served a seven-game suspension as a result, even though it was discovered the rest of his bat supply was clean.

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McClelland's other notable moment came during the 2007 National League tiebreaker game when he ruled Matt Holliday of the Colorado Rockies safe at home despite serious questions about whether Holliday ever touched the plate. San Diego Padres catcher Michael Barrett had the plate blocked, but was unable to corral the ball, which McClelland says allowed Holliday to get his hand in. To this day, it remains impossible to confirm McClelland's call based on replays.

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Of course, McClelland's career wasn't based around controversies exclusively. It's just, when you've established a three-decade career in his line of work, those moments will find you. His just registered on a grander scale due to the circumstances and individuals involved.

Tim McClelland wasn't right all of time. No umpire is.

His strike call may have been a little slow.

OK, maybe a lot slow.

But he was always professional.

Our best to you, Tim McClelland.

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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: February 21, 2015, 5:54 am

Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer arrived at spring training with a couple goals in mind this year. First and most obvious, he's looking to prepare for a new season, which the Indians hope will include a run to the postseason. Aside from that though, it's apparent that Bauer was hoping to provide fans with a unique perspective of spring training by flying a drone he personally built around the facility and snapping pictures. 

Take a look. 

Home for the next 6 weeks @Indians camp. Thanks to these fans for coming out and supporting us already! pic.twitter.com/n52fLgTKPU

— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) February 18, 2015

We're all about sweet shots of spring training — check out our tumblr page dedicated to them — but not surprisingly MLB has already stepped in and asked Bauer to cease flying his drone at spring training for safety and security reasons. 

MLB has grounded Trevor Bauer's drone. They don't want him to be flying it over the Tribe's spring-training complex.

— paul hoynes (@hoynsie) February 20, 2015

Well, it was fun while it lasted. 

As we learned a few weeks ago though, MLB has grown concerned about the possibility of drones creating issues at the ballpark. In fact, they even tested a drone detection system at last year's All-Star game in Minnesota. The concerns range from drones being modified to carry small explosives or other materials that pose a serious threat to public safety, to interrupting play and simply being a nuisance to fans.  

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Though Bauer's drone obviously didn't pose a major security threat, understandably the league wants to nip any such activity in the bud. Also, there is a degree of danger in simply flying it around a crowded area. As Bauer noted in an article for MLB.com — which has been removed since MLB's ruling — his drone had already crashed twice before coming to Arizona. 

Crash No. 1: "I was flying it at night and I kind of lost sight of it. It went above the light that I was flying it by. It started to kind of drift, so I tried to maneuver it and it spun. [It was upside down], so all the controls were reversed. I have a video of it. On the video you hear, 'Oh no!,' and then you see this thing just plummet down."

Crash No. 2: "I was just hovering it and trying to tune it a little bit and I hear a pop. And all of a sudden, it flies into a wall. I was like, 'What happened?' I go over there and I was like, 'What is that orange? Oh, that's on fire.' The whole thing just erupted."

That's not a risk the league is willing to take for a cool view.

For his part, Bauer is taking the ruling in stride. In fact, he wouldn't mind being tied to it forever.

Hey @MLB if my drone is really banned, can I at least have that rule named in my honor?

— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) February 20, 2015

Baseball players, man. They'll take the attention anyway they can get it. 

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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: February 21, 2015, 3:36 am

One of Major League Baseball's primary focuses during the offseason was finding ways to speed up the game. On Friday, the league moved forward with that initiative, announcing its first batch of pace-of-play adjustments in conjunction with the MLBPA and Pace of Game Instant Replay Committee.

In one instance, that meant reemphasizing a preexisting rule that requires batters to keep one foot in the box unless there's a timeout, wild pitch or passed ball. That will undoubtedly annoy a few hitters. On the other side, the league also ruled that play must resume promptly once a broadcast returns from a commercial break, which means pitchers will have to work fast to get loose between innings. 

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Obviously, this isn't going over well with the creatures of habit known as pitchers. In fact, many are already speaking out. Among them is Miami Marlins right-hander Mat Latos, who apparently doesn't like feeling rushed on the baseball field or while operating his grill. On Friday, he went on record expressing his displeasure with the announced changes, and he drove his point home by comparing it to his prefered method of cooking hamburgers. 

Marlins pitcher Mat Latos, on MLB's new pace-of-play rules: "Terrible. You rush a hamburger, it's not going to be completely done." Huh?

— Brian Costa (@BrianCostaWSJ) February 20, 2015

If MLB Network ever decides to change its format and involve major league players in their own shows, allow us to be the first to shoot down a Mat Latos' cooking show. Granted, we all know it's important to make sure the burger is cooked well, but slow and steady doesn't always win the race, especially when it's time to eat. You can get that desired burger by picking up the pace, just as MLB can get its desired results by doing the same. 

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We understand Latos' point though. When you're used to one pace and have been preparing one way for so long, it will be an uncomfortable feeling those first few times he sees the clock ticking down. The biggest adjustment will come after he's done batting or running the bases, where it's possible he'll be trying to catch his breath and still get his work in. But, as in grilling or anything else in life, we're sure he'll be able the make the necessary adjustments with repetition.

Alright, with that out of the way, what time is dinner? All this burger talk has us craving a burger, even at Latos speed.   

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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: February 21, 2015, 2:02 am

When people from Boston to San Francisco started criticizing Pablo Sandoval this week because of his belly, his new Red Sox teammates proved they have his back.

Hanley Ramirez, another Red Sox offseason acquisition, posted a picture Friday showing himself, Sandoval and pitcher Joe Kelly all in a "Panda pose" — leaning back like Sandoval was in the infamous infield-practice pic that restarted all the "Fat Panda" talk.

Joe Kelly and I, perfecting our #PandaPose LOL @RedSox @RedSoxBeisbol #RedSoxNation #2015GonnaBeFun pic.twitter.com/b8IM3HPXtB

— Hanley Ramirez (@HanleyRamirez) February 20, 2015

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Here's the original photo that caused people to trash Sandoval. He said Thursday the photo caught him at a "bad angle" and he vowed, "I will prove who I am on the field ."

Safe to say Pablo Sandoval didn't miss too many meals this offseason [cough] #redsox #worst2firstround2 pic.twitter.com/zN0ZHUYEXG

— Steve Silva (@stevesilva) February 17, 2015

We've already seen at-home pundits proclaiming that Sandoval and his $95 million contract are going to be a bust, even though his weight has been an issue throughout his career. Even in the spring. Keep in mind that Red Sox position players haven't even officially reported for spring training yet, so Sandoval's in camp early putting in extra work.

But the lesson remains: New city, new fans, new expectations.

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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: February 20, 2015, 10:42 pm

Blue Jays pitching prospect Daniel Norris at training camp in Dudedin, Fla. (AP)Toronto Blue Jays top prospect Daniel Norris has become famous this offseason for being something of a baseball hippie — he lived in his van during a slow trek to spring training, stopping and surfing along the way, cooking his food and brewing his coffee at rest stops.

Van life, he calls it, as he turned the drive from his home in Johnson City, Tenn., to Dunedin, Fla., where the Blue Jays train, into a several-week jaunt. Norris and his van — a 1978 Volkswagen — arrived at Blue Jays spring training camp earlier this week, but that wasn't the end of his adventures.

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The 21-year-old lefty, the No. 18 overall prospect on Baseball America's Top 100 list, says he was mistaken for a homeless man by a stranger who spotted him sleeping in his van. He was outside of a Whole Foods in Florida after his day at Blue Jays camp.

Napping in my van at whole foods. Dude comes up to me with cash saying his brother was homeless for a bit & he's praying for me........... 😳

— Daniel Norris (@DanielNorris18) February 19, 2015

The beard, the van — we understand how someone might jump to the conclusion that Norris is homeless. But in fact, he got a $2 million signing bonus when the Blue Jays drafted him in the second round in 2011. He's not flashy, nor is he particularly conventional by 2015 norms, but he is himself.

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This tweet, sent by Norris a few hours after the Whole Foods incident, sums up his ethos pretty well:

All is well with my soul. #jklivin pic.twitter.com/kmxIeLpKA6

— Daniel Norris (@DanielNorris18) February 20, 2015

Just keep living, man.

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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: February 20, 2015, 8:07 pm

Homer at the Bat.The legendary baseball episode of "The Simpsons" titled "Homer at the Bat" turns 23 on Friday. This third-season classic was named the 15th best "Simpsons" episode ever by Rolling Stone and was one of the first with truly mainstream appeal, thanks to the guest cast of nine baseball superstars.

For the uninitiated, the episode’s premise is Mr. Burns bets $1 million on a company softball game and replaces the regular team of power-plant workers with professional ringers. Mr. Burns brings in Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Ken Griffey, Jr., Steve Sax, Don Mattingly, Ozzie Smith, Darryl Strawberry, Jose Canseco, and Mike Scioscia. Long story short, eight of the players suffer “misfortunes” that prevent them from playing in the game. It’s truly a must-see that can’t be briefly summarized, so go get an education.

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But 23 years is a long time and all of those players have since retired. So here’s a look at what the 2015 version of the Springfield Nine might look like, and what misfortunes they suffer.

1. Dustin Pedroia, 2B – Lost forever in a Boston snowdrift that was taller than his head.

2. Mike Trout, CF – He's the Darryl Strawberry character who actually makes it to the game; because he's perfect in every way.

3. Giancarlo Stanton, RFGigantism.

4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B – Stuck, like a hamster in a wheel, on a special gravity-defying treadmill.

5. Adrian Beltre, 3B – Death by a thousand taps on the head.

6. Bryce Harper, LF – Kidnapped by a jealous Krusty after being inundated with endless clown questions, bro.

7. Troy Tulowitzki, SS – Kicked off the team for not shaving his sideburns.

8. Jonathan Lucroy, C – Breaks another hand in search for missing socks.

9. Madison Bumgarner, P – Hypnosis goes wrong and he's made to think he's the female Madison Bumgarner he once dated.

Note that Harper was not yet born, and Trout was just 197 days old when the episode originally aired. Thankfully, Trout is a righty so Mr. Burns wouldn’t be forced to pinch-hit for him in the ninth to play the percentages. But not even Mr. Burns would pinch-hit for Mike Trout, right?

Happy birthday, "Homer at the Bat."

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Ian Denomme is an editor for Yahoo Sports. Email him at denomme@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter.

Author: Ian Denomme
Posted: February 20, 2015, 7:06 pm

Major League Baseball games are sometimes too long, there’s no doubt about it. In 2014, for the first time, the average game exceeded three hours. On Friday, MLB took its first steps in speeding up the game by announcing new pace-of-play initiatives. The new rules, announced by MLB, the MLBPA, and Pace of Game Instant Replay Committees, focus primarily on batters and non-game action.

The batter’s box rule will now actually be enforced, requiring batters to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box at all times unless exceptions, such as timeouts or wild pitches and passed balls, occur. If the batter leaves the box the umpire can award a strike. The rule was in place and enforced in the minor leagues in 2014.

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The committee also wants play to resume shortly after television broadcasts return from between-inning commercials. Timers will be installed in two locations in every ballpark to measure non-game action and the breaks between innings. From the MLB release:

“Immediately following the third out of each half-inning, the timer will count down from 2:25 for locally televised games and from 2:45 for nationally televised games. An MLB representative attending each game will operate the timers from the ballpark and will track the following events:

Time Remaining

Activity

40 Seconds

PA announces batter and begins to play walk-up music

30 Seconds

Pitcher throws final warm-up pitch

25 Seconds

Batter’s walk-up music ends

20 Seconds-5 Seconds

Batter enters the batter's box

20 Seconds-0 Seconds

Pitcher begins motion to deliver pitch

 Broadcasters will return from commercial with 20 seconds left on the clock, with the idea being the batter is already in the box and play about to resume.

All the rule changes will be enforced through a warning and fine system, though that won’t begin until May this season to give players all of spring training and the first month of the season to adjust.

Notably absent from the new rules, for now at least, is the proposed pitch clocks. MLB will continue to test the idea of a 20-second pitch clock in Double-A and Triple-A games this season.

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Also, as part of the initiative, slight changes were also made to the MLB replay system, itself new in 2014. The modifications include:

• Managers can now call for a replay from the dugout and will not be required to go on the field. The exception to that rule is if the manager is challenging a play that ended an inning.

• Whether a runner left a base early, or tagged-up properly is now reviewable.

• Managers retain their challenge after every overturned call.

• Managers will now have two challenges during all playoff games, tiebreakers, and the All-Star Game.

New baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has come out swinging in his first month on the job and these changes may just be the beginning of big changes to come in the next few years. Here’s hoping they work for the better.

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Ian Denomme is an editor for Yahoo Sports. Email him at denomme@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter.

Author: Ian Denomme
Posted: February 20, 2015, 5:26 pm

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San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy was hospitalized Thursday after experiencing some heart discomfort during a routine physical. He underwent a procedure to insert two stents, which is done to  increase blood flow through arteries to the heart, and is said to be resting comfortably at Scottsdale Heathcare Medical Center, not far from the spring training home of the defending World Series champions.

According to longtime Giants beat writer Andrew Baggarly, Bochy, 59, believes he won't be off the field for long:

Bochy responded to a get-well-soon text, saying he expected to be released on Friday and back with the team after a few more days.

Bench coach Ron Wotus will likely run the team until Bochy returns. Giants pitchers and catchers reported to camp on Wednesday and went through their first workouts on Thursday.

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From all indications Bochy's situation shouldn't linger and he should be back in the dugout to chase ring No. 4 soon.

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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: February 20, 2015, 7:15 am
(Getty Images)

MLB established a committee toward the end of the 2014 season to come up with creative ways to speed up the game and it appears they've done their job.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports is reporting that the league will announce changes to the pace of play rules on Friday. According to Rosenthal here are the three points of emphasis:

1. Managers must challenge replays from dugout. 2. Batters must keep one foot in box unless an established exception occurs . . .

— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 20, 2015

3. Play to resume promptly once broadcast returns from commercial break.

— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 20, 2015

With average game times last season reaching three hours and eight minutes the first time an average game in a season exceeded three hours these reasonable tweaks should help shave off a few minutes from each game.

MLB experimented with these initiatives in the Arizona Fall League and was successful in shortening games.

Absent from the list is the 20-second pitch-clock that will be tested in Double-A and Triple-A this season. We know new Chicago Cubs ace Jon Lester will be happy to hear that.

The timing of the announcement is nice too. Now the players, managers and umpires will have all of spring training to adjust to the changes at hand.

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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: February 20, 2015, 4:00 am
The new Red Sox: Hanley Ramirez (left) and Pablo Sandoval. (Getty Images)

People criticizing Pablo Sandoval's weight isn't new. But the discussion about the Panda's physique amplified earlier this week when he reported to Boston Red Sox spring training camp. New team, new contract, new fan base, East Coast media — you know how these things go.

In particular, the photo below sparked a minor firestorm about Sandoval's belly. He's always been portly, so this wasn't exactly a surprise to anybody who'd watch him play with the San Francisco Giants the past seven seasons. It was still enough, however, for a new round of fat-shaming aimed at Sandoval.

Safe to say Pablo Sandoval didn't miss too many meals this offseason [cough] #redsox #worst2firstround2 pic.twitter.com/zN0ZHUYEXG

— Steve Silva (@stevesilva) February 17, 2015

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Well, Sandoval fired back at his critics Thursday, asserting first that the photo caught him at a bad moment and second that he'll show people what he can do on the field, not in Twitter pictures. From ESPN Boston:

"Let them talk, talk and criticize,'' Sandoval, speaking in Spanish, told Marly Rivera of ESPNDeportes.com. "No matter what they say, it will never change me or the player that I am.'

"We live surrounded by critics, so let them talk, let them criticize me as much as they want. Ultimately that makes me a better player,'' Sandoval said. "What really matters is who you are when you step on the field, and I will let my bat and my glove speak for themselves. That's the only way you can shut them up.

"Critics have said that I am lazy, that I am not working hard; that picture caught me at a bad angle. But once again, let them say whatever they want to say. I will prove who I am on the field and show Boston fans how hard I am working to be a champion with this team, too."

The thing about Sandoval is, despite his size, he's always proven himself on the field. The Red Sox wouldn't have given him $95 million if he hadn't. And the Giants probably wouldn't have a couple of their World Series rings if he hadn't.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 20, 2015, 1:10 am

Your browser does not support iframes. On Day 1 of Philadelphia Phillies training camp, Cole Hamels was direct about the team's most lingering question: He wants to be traded. On Day 2 of Phillies camp, Cliff Lee opted to answer his tough questions indirectly, using a magic 8-ball. 

You needn't consult with the fates — real or imaginary — to know the Phillies are a team in a bad place. They're aging and overpaid, and looked destined for another year in the NL East cellar. They traded Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd in the offseason, but haven't pulled the trigger on a Hamels deal and haven't been able to find a taker for Ryan Howard.  

But Lee came to the interview podium Thursday with his magic 8-ball, which he said "showed up" in his locker. "I’m kind of glad it did," Lee said. "It takes a lot of pressure off me."

(AP)Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News recounts the bout with the 8-ball and the questions Lee used it to answer:

So, your team president (Pat Gillick) said this team isn't likely to contend in the next 2-3 seasons. And Cole Hamels basically said the same thing yesterday. 

So what's your take, Cliff?

"Hold on a second," Lee said, picking up the 8-ball and giving it a shake.

"Most likely," he said, relaying the 8-ball's message.

What do you think about Hamels' comments? You signed here to win.

"Yes, definitely," Lee said, again relying on his new toy.

Yes, definitely as in you want to be traded?"

"Let me see. That’s another tough one," Lee said. "I don’t know if I want to answer that. [Lifts up magic eight-ball] Very doubtful."

You don't need a magic 8-ball to tell you that trading Lee is doubtful right now. His age, contract and injury status make him hard to move. He's 36 and he's due $25 million this season and $27.5 million next. He only pitched in 13 games last year because of an injured elbow, going 4-5 with a 3.65 ERA.

If Lee comes out strong in 2015, though, pitching as well as he did in 2011 or 2013, and if the Phillies are willing to eat some of his contract, the magic 8-ball could be wrong. Come July, Lee could very well be traded out of town.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 20, 2015, 12:19 am

(USA TODAY Sports)Two years ago at this time, Jurickson Profar was the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball, something that seems so far off in the distance now.

It will seem even more ancient by the time Profar is ready to play for the Texas Rangers again.

The club announced Thursday that Profar will have shoulder surgery next week to repair a long-standing injury that he hasn't been able to beat with rest and rehabilitation.

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The Rangers haven't announced a timetable for his return, but there's a good chance he misses the entire 2015 season as a result.

Best-case scenario for Jurickson Profar's return from shoulder surgery is late summer. Likelihood: Out all of 2015 after missing 2014, too.

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 19, 2015

Profar was part of the Rangers' nightmare season of injuries a year ago. He tore a shoulder muscle in a spring training game last March. Profar was expected to be out three months, but re-aggravated the injury by rolling over in bed. In December, Profar rejected the notion of surgery to fix his shoulder, opting for more rest and rehab.

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That turned out to be a bad move, because now it's February and an MRI is showing that his shoulder is getting worse again. From the Dallas Morning News:

According to the Rangers, Profar had been throwing out to 105 feet with no major discomfort. He has been having MRIs every 3 weeks to monitor his situation. The Rangers report that an MRI taken on Tuesday in Arlington showed increased strain on the subscapularis muscle in his right shoulder from a previous MRI.

Profar wasn't necessarily in the Rangers' major-league plans to start the season. Because he'd missed so much time, he was likely to start in the minors. The team has Rougned Odor penciled in as their starting second baseman. They can probably put that in ink now. 

If there's anything hopeful to take away from the Profar saga: He turns 22 on Thursday. If surgery can help him finally get right, he has plenty of time in which to live up to that No. 1-prospect billing.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 19, 2015, 9:30 pm

Danny Espinosa may not win the Washington Nationals' starting second base job, that's why they traded for Yunel Escobar, but Espinosa probably has the offseason mustache-growing contest on lock. Look how he reported to Nats training camp Thursday:

Danny Espinosa was one of the first position players in camp. His Fu Manchu has also reported. And it is glorious. pic.twitter.com/8K9EwJDQd6

— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) February 19, 2015

Danny Espinosa was one of the first position players in camp. His Fu Manchu has also reported. And it is glorious. pic.twitter.com/8K9EwJDQd6

— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) February 19, 2015

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The Nats reporters have compared it to Yosemite Sam or Hulk Hogan. But The Stew prefers the assertion that it's more like Clu Haywood, the slugger in "Major League" played by ex-big leaguer and MLB facial hair Hall of Famer Pete Vuckovich.

He really does. Like Elliott & Clu Haywood had a baby. "@bigticketshow: @Shakabrodie looks like a young Sam Elliott" pic.twitter.com/u33dyfMJDO

— Benjamin Christensen (@Shakabrodie) February 19, 2015

Before you get used to the idea of Espinosa sporting that thing on the field, you might recall that he reported to spring training in 2013 with a wild beard too and then proceeded to shave the thing off. The process was documented in the video below.

Your browser does not support iframes. It's not up to us, but we implore you, Danny: Keep the 'stache. Maybe it's the mojo you need to hit above .220.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 19, 2015, 7:57 pm

The elder Odor was a rookie last year with the Rangers. (USA TODAY Sports)You know how the old saying goes: Two Rougned Odors are better than one. What? That's not a saying?

Well, it ought to be one in Arlington soon, because the Texas Rangers just signed the younger brother of their 21-year-old second baseman Rougned Odor. And get this, his name is also Rougned Odor.

He's 17 and, like big bro, is a middle infielder. He's expected to begin playing in the Venezuela summer league, while the older Odor hopes to be the starting second baseman for the Rangers this year after playing 114 games as a rookie in 2014.

The name Rougned Odor (pronounced ROOG-ned o-DOOR) is great enough as it is, but the fact that are two of them and they're playing on the same team is just beautiful. In fact, it's pretty much the best baseball name news since we found out Madison Bumgarner dated Madison Bumgarner.

The Rangers have signed Rougned Odor's younger brother. He is also an infielder, and he is also named Rougned Odor. pic.twitter.com/GRX7JvRRz2

— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) February 19, 2015

We can only hope that one day the Rangers will be able to sub in Rougned Odor for Rougned Odor. Or turn an Odor-Odor-3 double play. There is a third Odor in baseball too. Their uncle Rouglas Jose Odor is a long-time minor-league hitting coach with the Cleveland Indians. And as The Classical noted last year, there are also multiple Rouglas Odors:

Uncle Rouglas, for instance, just completed his 26th season with the Indians organization. There’s older cousin Rouglas who once walked on to West Virginia’s football team, then did the same thing with Fordham’s. There’s also younger cousin Rouglas, a promising high school baseball player in Florida.

As far as we know, none of the Odors stink. 

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 19, 2015, 6:40 pm

The SNL 40th anniversary special — which naturally aired Sunday night on NBC — was what you'd call an all-worlds-collide event, with music, sports, comedy and basically all forms of entertainment not only co-existing under one roof, but interacting on the same stage. It made for three-plus hours of humorous, bizarre, but above all else intriguing television. But apparently it paled in comparison to the humorous, bizarre, and, well, we can probably leave it at bizarre, happenings at the post-party.

One post-show story that emerged this week confirms the wackiness, and it also involves baseball. More specifically, it involved a pair of the game's most recognizable pitchers over the past three decades — one who was in attendance and another who was not — the king of hip hop, Jay Z, and a case of mistaken identity.

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A bad case.

Perhaps even an insulting case for the pitchers involved.

Former Yankee David Cone was not one of the pitchers in question, but he was a witness, and he's the man who got the ball rolling on this story. Here's his initial tweet.

Funniest story of the afterparty was when Jay Z thought @BoomerWells33 was Curt Shilling and asked him about bloody sock

— David Cone (@dcone36) February 19, 2015

The Boomer Wells in question is, of course, David Wells, who like Cone pitched a perfect game with the Yankees. In other words, he's famous around those parts. Curt Schilling is Curt Schilling. We've mentioned him a time or two before, and you've probably heard his bloody sock story.

Well, apparently so has Jay Z, but it seems the former part-owner of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets never watched Schilling long enough to realize he looks nothing like Wells. If he had, this confusion would never have taken place. Of course, if he had watched Schilling, neither of these outstanding reactions would have hit social media either.

First, from Schilling.

@TylerDNorton @dcone36 @BoomerWells33 Ouch....

— Curt Schilling (@gehrig38) February 19, 2015

And now, Wells.

@dcone36 im still in shock.

— david wells (@BoomerWells33) February 19, 2015

We're sure Jay Z is a man of few mistakes, but we're kinda glad he made this one. If only we could have seen the look on Wells' face. Then it would be perfect.  

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It's not clear if Wells or Cone ultimately called him out on it or went along, only to be exposed now. But it seems like the conversation carried on nicely. 

Even tho he thought I was schilling he's still one cool dude. And schilling must be one good looking dude. (NOT)!!!!!!!!

— david wells (@BoomerWells33) February 19, 2015

Parting shot. Advantage, Wells.

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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: February 19, 2015, 11:49 am

If you love baseball and you love fashion, chances are this is your favorite week of the year.

On one hand, it officially marks the beginning of a new season, as all 30 baseball teams are scheduled to begin training camp by Sunday. On the other, it's a grand finale of sorts, as fashion designers and the biggest stars in Hollywood come together to create the most memorable ensemble possible for their close up at the Oscars, which take place on Sunday night.

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One person who would seemingly fall into the category of baseball and fashion lover is St. Lucie-based artist Jennifer Hitchner, and although her latest creation won't be featured at the Oscars, she's already set the bar pretty high in terms of fashion design.

And she did it exclusively by using baseballs.

@TODAYshow @CarsonDaly if anyone wears the #MetsDress they would definitely be the #BestDressed at the #Oscars2015 pic.twitter.com/7hnczXvbZo

— HitchnerArt (@HitchnerArt) February 18, 2015

That's 130 baseballs to be exact. All of which were donated by the New York Mets, and all of which are game-used.

Don't forgot to vote for #DavidWright DavidWright for the #FaceOfMLB then follow me for how to win the #MetsDress. pic.twitter.com/fv1QOb31hO

— HitchnerArt (@HitchnerArt) February 18, 2015

Alright, so it might not be the cleanest dress in town, but it's definitely the coolest. And the most valuable, too, especially after Matt Harvey and other Mets players added their signatures.

(Hitchner Art on Facebook)

The added value will be nice, because Hitchner, who has also created dresses out of plastic soda and water bottles, and even electrical sockets, won't be adding this dress to her regular wardrobe. Eventually, this unique wearable art dress will be auctioned off with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Port St. Lucie American Little League Association.  

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So in addition to being creative, fashionable and memorable, it's going to help make a difference and provide aspiring baseball players with uniforms and the necessary equipment to pursue their dream.

Indeed, Jennifer Hitchner has raised the bar, and we applaud her efforts. 

BLS H/N: Cut 4

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 19, 2015, 6:06 am

Despite spring training opening for a handful of teams on Wednesday, we're still several days away from Cactus and Grapefruit League games getting underway. However, as most baseball starved fans know, the college season has been in full swing since the weekend, and with that comes the possibility of seeing those special defensive plays we all longed for during the winter break.  

On Wednesday, we saw one of those plays. 

During the seventh inning of Central Florida's 10-2 victory over Bethune-Cookman. UCF center fielder JoMarcos Woods made a diving grab that quite honestly could hold up as a Catch of the Year contender.

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For comparison's sake, we're going to call it a full-scale Jim Edmonds. The former eight-time Gold Glove center fielder — most notably for the Angels, Cardinals and Cubs — made a career of sacrificing his body to make unlikely, sometimes impossible looking diving grabs. Woods showed the necessary lack of regard for his own personal health to qualify, and he also added the full-extension dive, which is the cherry on top of a webgem sundae.

Here's another look.  

Simply ridiculous.

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There's actually another layer of greatness to this catch as well, and that's the forward thinking of UCF head coach Terry Rooney. Just one inning earlier, Rooney inserted Woods as a defensive replacement with his team holding a big lead. It was a strategic move, obviously, and though his team was not likely to be threatened, the switch paid off quite nicely. 

BLS: Eye on Baseball 

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 19, 2015, 5:09 am

In a world where everything that's said, written or otherwise expressed publicly is overanalyzed to the point where you wish we were stuck with stone-age technology, you knew it was only a matter of time before Alex Rodriguez's handwritten apology to baseball fans was taken to a handwriting expert.

Daniel Barbarisi of the Wall Street Journal called upon Paula Sassi, a certified master graphologist for the past 35 years, to examine A-Rod's cursive handwriting less than 24 hours after it was released, and her findings were, well, interesting, for the lack of a better term.

“He writes like a girl,” Sassi said. “Feminine writing is more rounded, with a lot of connections, which he has throughout this. And a right slant. Masculine writing tends to be more angled, straight up and down, maybe printed.”

First of all, this is real life. Just feel like we need to drive that point home. 

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Second, that paragraph will be taken and spun a million different directions, but it's far from the most telling analysis offered by Stassi.   

“The capital ‘I’s’—that’s where you see the personal ego,” she said. “This is probably what gets him into trouble. He has a very strong-willed, independent ego. They’re so large, and printed. That’s the kind of capital ‘I’ where you say they’re very independent, and strong-willed.”

For a reference point, here's an excerpt of A-Rod's letter. 

Alex Rodriguez issues hand-written letter of apology to fans: http://t.co/oNkSUZeFC5 pic.twitter.com/ThI7AvGDqG

— MLB (@MLB) February 17, 2015

Indeed, that capital "I" is the most egotistical and selfish looking capital "I" we've ever seen. It's as if A-Rod is subconsciously separating it from everything else, all the while thinking he's above and beyond all that will be written after. 

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There's more though. 

“In the second line, when he writes ‘mistakes,’ it’s interesting what occurs in that word, it has a cover on the ‘a,’ and it also happens in the fourth line, when he writes the word ‘situation,’ and both have to do with what happened,” Sassi said. “Which is being very protective of personal information.

Those are called "covering strokes," according to Stassi, who was really just getting warmed up at this point. We're spare most of the details and jump right to the end, where she concludes with this gem. 

"In his signature itself, where he writes ‘Alex,’ the circle around it, we call that a ‘magic circle of protection.’ So he’s covering his tush. You see it a lot in signatures,” she said.

(MLB.com)

Now that we know about the "magic circle of protection," it changes everything. He was just being evil A-Rod without knowing he was exposing his true, selfish intentions. 

Man, we're so lucky to have people out there who can interpret the true meaning of every written word, just as those people who do the interpreting are lucky to have people who actually buy in. 

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 19, 2015, 4:06 am

With the first batch of pitchers and catchers officially reporting on Wednesday, we can officially declare that baseball is back. And now that we've declared baseball is back, it's time for players to officially declare their optimism for the upcoming season, and in some cases flat out mark their territory.

Such was the case for Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander, who made it clear on Wednesday that Detroit is still the team to beat in the AL Central after winning it each of the last four seasons.

That's all well and good, say the Cleveland Indians, but their sights are set a bit higher than the division title. Like the Kansas City Royals in 2014, the Indians are looking to bypass Detroit and the rest of the division when it matters most, and ultimately they'd like to go one step further than Kansas City by bringing home a World Series championship.

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According to MLB.com's Jordan Bastian, catcher Yan Gomes feels a similar run is well within reach. 

"Absolutely, especially seeing the Royals go all the way to the World Series," Gomes said. "That was almost bittersweet. It's bitter because they're there, but it's sweet because you know you can be there. We've got 23 guys back from the team last year. I think we're in a good spot."

The optimism isn't misguided. In fact, the Indians have been on the cusp of reaching that level in each of the past two seasons. In 2013, they won 92 games in the regular season before losing to the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL wild card game. Last season, they got out of the blocks slowly, finishing April at 11-17, but still finished just three games behind the Oakland A's for the second wild card position at 85-77.

The Indians haven't been far off, and though projections may point to Cleveland taking a step back in 2014, those same projections suggest they'll be aided by the Tigers and Royals taking steps back as well.

According to PECOTA projections, Detroit will win 82 games this season, Cleveland 81 and Kansas City 72. The Chicago White Sox check in at 78 wins. The oddmakers have it a little closer, with Bovada setting Detroit's over/under win total at 84 1/2, Cleveland's at 83 1/2, Chicago's at 81 1/2 and Kansas City's at 79 1/2.

These projections obviously don't tell the whole story, because the story consistently changes in baseball, but they paint a pretty good picture of expectations. Now the question is, can Cleveland surpass the somewhat lowered expectations. 

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Obviously, one guy they can't count on to raise his game is Corey Kluber. He was already among the game's best in 2014, coming from nowhere to win the AL Cy Young. But will there be a dropoff, and if so, can others pick up that slack? Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer are pretty much locked in behind him. Both have good upside and complete a very capable top three. But then come questions about Gavin Floyd's health and Danny Salazar's consistency.

(Getty Images)
Offensively, Cleveland added Brandon Moss to the lineup, which will definitely give them additional pop in the middle of their order. Michael Brantley was an All-Star in 2014 too, but there are still questions about what they can reasonably expect from guys like Gomes, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall. It's a lineup that if it clicks, will be very difficult to slow down, but also seems prone to long droughts. 

Honestly, when you look at how the lineups in the division set up, the AL Central could resemble the AFC North. A slugfest to the end. and we don't mean to expect high scoring games. We mean games where every pitch counts, and every small victory within the game is earned.

Will the Indians be prepared for that type of battle for six months?  And if so, will there be enough left in the tank come October to make a push? Time will tell, but we certainly can't question their confidence. 

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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: February 19, 2015, 1:52 am

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Cole Hamels rolled into Philadelphia Phillies spring training Wednesday and made it abundantly clear that he doesn't expect to stick around too much longer.

Hamels, the subject of many a trade rumor since the end of the 2014 season, said he welcomes a trade out of Philadelphia. The ace lefty says he wants to win and he knows for sure that's not happening soon in a Phillies uniform.

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USA Today's Bob Nightengale got the goods from Hamels, who says he'll do his job until he's shipped out. But he obviously hopes that happens soon.

The words flow out of Cole Hamels' mouth without hesitation, equivocation, or the slightest tinge of remorse. He wants to be traded from the Philadelphia Phillies. This is not a threat. He is not demanding a trade.

He's not about to insult the Phillies, or say anything derogatory that would alienate himself from the only team that's employed him.

"I just want to win,'' Hamels told USA TODAY Sports in his first interview since the end of the 2014 season. "That's all. That's all any competitor wants. And I know it's not going to happen here. This isn't what I expected. It's not what the Phillies expected, either. But it's reality.''

Plenty of teams would take Hamels — he threw 204 innings last season, striking out 198 and carrying a 2.46 ERA. The Boston Red Sox have been linked to him most frequently, but the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers were reportedly interested at one point or another during the offseason. Hamels is owed $22.5 million annually for the next four years, which is a hefty paycheck, but in line with what an ace costs right now.

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The problem will be coming up with a trade package that satisfies Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr., who has made no secret that the price for Hamels is high. The Red Sox reportedly made an offer for Hamels already. Their need for an ace would seem to make them the favorite to land him.

Hamels was specifically asked Wednesday whether he'd like to join the Red Sox and he said:

"Of course, I would," Hamels says. "It's a fun city. There's no better feeling than to have a chance to win every year, and they give you that chance. I'm all ears."

And now every Red Sox fan is all ears too.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 18, 2015, 10:48 pm

Tim Lincecum, left, and his father Chris, who taught him how to pitch. (AP)Tim Lincecum is rewinding himself, which is what you should do if you're a two-time Cy Young winner who has lost his way.

Lincecum reported to spring training Wednesday, along with the other San Francisco Giants pitchers and catchers. His long hair was back. And, on a pitching level, he had a bit of news to share: He'd started taking pitching cues from his father again.

It was Chris Lincecum who made his son into "The Freak." He taught him the unconventional delivery. He went against common beliefs and told Tim not to ice his arm after he pitched. Back when Tim shot to stardom in 2008 and 2009, his second and third seasons in the big leagues, Chris was looked at like something of a guru.

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As Lincecum's career declined, so did his relationship with his father. "Estranged" was the word Tim used Wednesday, though that's more on a pitching level than a personal level. Tim didn't turn to his dad for pitching help anymore. He was a World Series-winning big leaguer with all the modern amenities available to him, not a high-school kid playing catch with his dad

But now, after Lincecum had a less than stellar 2014 (12-9 with a 4.74 ERA) and found himself mostly in postseason exile, he sought refuge with the man who taught him how to throw. Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle tells us more:

In the biggest winter of his professional life, Tim Lincecum swallowed his pride, apologized to his father, Chris for a stubborn refusal to listen to his dad and went to work trying to fix the broken mechanics that have threatened Lincecum’s career. ...

The 30-year-old right-hander said he spent the offseason going over “bullet points” regarding his delivery with his father after years of a professional estrangement. As Lincecum continued to struggle year after year, he admitted, he got tired of having to answer to Chris about what was going wrong. Until he realized that his dad was the best choice to try to get him back on track.

“It’s kind of like a kid with a bad report card,” Lincecum said. “You can’t hide it from (your parents) all summer, can you?”

(USA TODAY Sports)

Lincecum is entering his age-31 season, with free agency looming again. This isn't just about getting another big contract for Lincecum, it's about proving he's still worthwhile to MLB teams. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said after last season that Lincecum would get a chance to start in 2015, and he reiterated that Wednesday. 

His leash as No. 5 starter won't be too long, though. The Giants will, for now, pencil in Yusmeiro Petit and Ryan Vogelsong as relievers, but either could easily replace Lincecum if he has another rocky start. That has to be part of the reason Lincecum went back to his dad. As he's struggled to find himself in recent years, he's tried different things. Last winter, he rented out a warehouse in Washington and put in more offseason work than ever before. That didn't quite work, but maybe Dad will.

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Tim reports that he and Chris had more than 50 throwing sessions between the end of the Giants' postseason run and the start of spring training. So this wasn't just playing catch with Dad and nodding at some pointers during the holidays. This was fully going back to his maker.

“I feel more confidence in myself," Lincecum told reporters Wednesday. "I feel I deserve the reward you can find from doing the right kind of work.”

This is a familiar scene for anybody who has followed the Giants the past few years: Lincecum tries to find his mojo and fans hope — probably against their better judgment — that this will finally be the year he does. They're used to being disappointed by now. 

This time, though, may actually be Lincecum's final chance to show the Giants he has something left. Seems like the right time to ask Dad for help.

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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: February 18, 2015, 9:17 pm

(Getty Images)The AL Central figures to be one of the most interesting divisions in baseball for 2015: The Chicago White Sox made a number of top-flight additions this offseason, the Kansas City Royals are coming off a World Series trip, the Cleveland Indians are a popular "sleeper" pick and the Minnesota Twins, ummmmm, they've got cool new wall art.

Then there's the Detroit Tigers, a team that's finished atop the division the last four years and has been one of the most feared in the American League all that time. Gone are Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. But Yoenis Cespedes has arrived and David Price still has another year in Detroit. Miguel Cabrera, of course, is still around and always dangerous. Victor Martinez is back, though hurt right now.

There are two common opinions about the Tigers this season: They're old and losing their grip on the AL Central, or they're still potent and the team to beat until someone knocks them off.

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Justin Verlander, as you might expect, lands fully in the latter category. He held court with reporters Wednesday at Tigers training camp, talking for 15 minutes about various topics, but the one he spoke on in the greatest detail was why the Tigers are still the team to beat. 

From Chris Iott at MLive.com:

"I talked to Alex (Avila) about this and he said he kind of likes being in a position where everybody's not picking us to win the division. ... I said, 'Yeah, you know, I think people just like to talk.' ESPN and MLB Network, all the moves in the AL Central, it's something to talk about. It's cool. 'Look what the Sox did. The Indians are always good. The Royals were the pennant winners last year. What did the Tigers do? They're aging.'

"But if you had them put a bunch of money on somebody in the division, who do you think they're taking? It's easy to talk about, easy to say, 'Yeah, I will take the White Sox.' But if you had to put a bunch of money on it, mortgage the future, I think you have to take us. I still believe we are the team to beat. You look around this (clubhouse), I would take us. Obviously I am a bit biased. But look around this locker room. There is a wealth of talent. I think we have just as good a chance as we've had in the past. Is the division better? Yeah. But I still think we're the best team."

Once again, he's very much expected to think that. But he's not alone either. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projects have the Tigers finishing 82-80, ahead of the Indians by one game in the AL Central. Oddsmaker Bovada put the Tigers' over/under-mark for wins at 84.5, which is best in the AL Central and, again, ahead of the Indians by one.

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If Verlander's looking for one of the keys for Detroit in 2015, he only needs to look in the mirror. After going 15-12 with a 4.54 ERA last season, many people are wondering if Verlander has used up all his ace stuff. He arrived in camp this year bulked up, healthier and reports that "everything seems crisper."

The fans in Detroit sure hope so.

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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: February 18, 2015, 7:06 pm

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