Thursday, January 31, 2008

Way to treat your umpires, MLB

So, Major League Baseball is going around asking odd questions to the neighbors of major-league umpires -- "Hey, is your neighbor in the KKK? Does he beat his wife? Does he do drugs?"

Isn't the time to ask such questions before they reach the major leagues? And don't you think such subjects would come up in their climb through the minor leagues? Umpires many times spend a decade in the minors and, only then, a lucky few get a chance at the majors ... if there's an opening.

Even Jesse Jackson weighs in with criticism of MLB.

Umpires union president John Hirschbeck, he of the Roberto Alomar spitting incident, saw the investigator in his neighborhood before Christmas. The background checks will come up in the next labor contract negotiations. "Once again, baseball's favorite way of doing things: Ready, fire, aim," Hirschbeck said. "It's not a good way to start the season."

Mets also win Lugo sweepstakes

OK, who also had the Mets in the Ruddy Lugo office pool? The Mets claimed the former Biscuits reliever off waivers from the Oakland A's on Wednesday. He's a native New Yorker, too.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Longoria to join Upton, Montoyo in giveaway shrine

Third baseman Evan Longoria will go where only B.J. Upton and Charlie Montoyo have gone in Biscuits lore this season. The team is giving out figurines with Longoria's likeness and graciously provided some snap shots today.

Above is a picture of a finished figurine -- one of Chase Utley given away two years ago at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre -- with a clay model of Longoria, with a picture of one of Longoria's swing last year (by the Advertiser's Mickey Welsh).

The Biscuits gave away Upton two years ago and Montoyo last season. (They initially chose Delmon Young two years ago but switched after his bat-throwing incident.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mets win Johan Santana sweepstakes

OK, who had the Mets in the office pool for Johan Santana? He fetched the Twins four prospects: pitchers Phil Humber, Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey and outfielder Carlos Gomez. Baseball America's list of top Mets prospects for 2008 has Guerra at No. 2, Gomes at 3, Mulvey at 4 and Humber at 7.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday notebook

A smattering of items I've found interesting on the 'net.

Montgomery Advertiser: Jeff Davis High graduate Craig Brazell heads to Japan today to prepare for the Seibu Lions' season. It's a 14-hour flight.

Tampa Tribune: With the offseason signings in the bullpen, Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said the staff should be "considerably better." Also, Evan Longoria's spring jersey number could attest to his chances of making the team. He'll wear No. 3, 62 digits lower than his 2007 attire.

St. Petersburg Times: If Jamie Shields can earn $44 million over the next seven years, think of the largesse that could be headed Scott Kazmir's way.

Boston Globe: Yeah, yeah, I know I link this notebook every week. I read it every week.

Dallas Morning News: The latest on newest Ranger and former Ray Josh Hamilton's fight against drugs.

Seattle Times: Former Nasty Boy Norm Charlton is back in the game as Seattle's bullpen coach and wants the Mariners to be more aggressive inside.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune: The Twins may have something special in former Biscuit Delmon Young.

Cincinnati Enquirer: Forget the stock market. Buy stock in minor-league pitcher Randy Newsom at $20 a share. "I don't think I'm a bad investment," Newsom said. "It's a high-risk deal. I mean, IBM isn't going to blow out an elbow."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Biscuits owners extend PDC ... with Blue Jays

The Lansing Lugnuts, owned by the same group as the Biscuits, have extended their player development contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Biscuits and Tampa Bay Rays both said last month that they hoped to start talks early on an extension of their relationship, but have announced nothing further. The PDCs run out after this season.

Miceli goes to Boston

Reliever Dan Miceli, who made a rehab stop with the Biscuits in 2006, has signed a minor-league contract with the Boston Red Sox.

Shields, Rays strike seven-year deal

Former Biscuits pitcher Jamie Shields and the Tampa Bay Rays announced a seven-year contract today that is potentially worth $44 million. The first four years are guaranteed and the team holds options for 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Rays: 'Major announcement' coming Wednesday

The Rays have sent out a release saying they'll have "a major announcement regarding a player signing" on Wednesday. The press conference is scheduled for 2 p.m. Eastern.

Both the Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times have recent blog entries saying the Rays are close to a long-term deal with former Biscuits pitcher Jamie Shields.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sunday notebooks

Here are a few stories I found interesting today.

St. Petersburg Times: The Rays want to revamp their image in baseball and make it a "destination spot where players want to play," said GM Andrew Friedman.

Rocky Mountain News: Let's face it, Bud Selig will be baseball's commissioner for as long as he wants. Owners gave him a three-year contract extension through 2012 on Thursday.

Chicago Tribune: The annual Cubs Convention is this weekend and the team is heading toward a milestone -- 100 years since that last World Series title. And the Trib breaks down the trade between St. Louis and Toronto that swapped third basemen Scott Rolen and Troy Glaus. The notebook also says that the Braves plan to have newly acquired Mark Kotsay for just one season.

New York Times: Baseball has changed how it gives "therapeutic-use exemptions for attention deficit disorder" among major-leaguers after an abnormal rise in applications. Amphetamines, such as ADD drugs Ritalin and Adderall, are banned unless a player has such an exemption. And please forgive me for a football dalliance and sharing this story about the Lambeau Leap and its history.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Cardinals have rid themselves of their former "core" this offseason and are moving to the next generation.

Boston Globe: Can't pass up first-hand stories of Babe Ruth getting "shot" or of Hall of Famer Lefty Grove's right-handed squirrel hunting, told by the oldest former major-leaguer. Bill Werber turns 100 in June. Don't forget the weekly notebook.

San Francisco Chronicle: Maybe baseball will take San Jose away from the Giants' "territory" and give the A's a lucrative option for a new stadium. The Giants are in Selig's doghouse because of how they allowed Barry Bonds' trainer, Greg Anderson, too much access.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Annual Raleigh banquet to donate to Montoyos

The Raleigh (N.C.) Hot Stove League, which will have its 58th annual banquet Tuesday, will donate proceeds from that night's silent auction to the Durham Bulls' Montoyo Fund.

The Hot Stove League will add $1,000 to the final haul for Alex Montoyo, the infant son of former Biscuits manager and current Durham manager Charlie. Alex was born in October with a heart defect and remains at the UCLA Medical Center.

The banquet regularly draws between 350-400 people, said Durham announcer Neil Solondz, a member of the Hot Stove League's board. The Bulls are accepting donations through Feb. 14 and are matching the first $10,000 raised for the Montoyo family.

Rays, Kazmir settle at $3.785 million

Pitcher Scott Kazmir and the Rays also came to terms today on a $3.785 million contract for 2008 and avoided arbitration. Kazmir was the last potential arbitration case for the team.

Rays, Pena find common ground, avoid arbitration

The Rays and first baseman Carlos Pena finalized a one-year contract and will avoid arbitration, the Rays announced today. There are two option years to the contract, which could reach a total worth of $24.125 million.

UPDATE, re: "option years" -- St. Petersburg Times: "Officially, Pena agreed to a one-year deal for $6 million that becomes a three-year deal once he passes a physical next week ..."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Former Biscuit traded to Braves

Former Biscuits pitcher Jeff Ridgway has been traded by the Rays to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for infielders Willy Aybar and Chase Fontaine.

Ridgway made 16 appearances with the Biscuits in 2006 and was 1-0 with a 2.33 ERA. The 27-year-old made his major-league debut last season.

Aybar, 24, missed all of last season because of a right wrist injury and treatment for substance abuse. He hurt the wrist in spring training and had surgery for it in August. Aybar has a .292 average in 105 career major-league games with the Los Angeles Dodgers (2005-06) and Braves (2006).

Since Aybar's major-league time includes 81 games at third base and just 21 at second, Tampa Bay may consider him an insurance policy if Evan Longoria doesn't make the major leagues out of spring training.

Fontaine, 22, played at low-Class A Rome and high-A Myrtle Beach. He played mainly second, but also was a shortstop, third baseman and left fielder.

Rays' average salary lowest from '01-'07

The Associated Press sent out a baseball salary comparison by club today ... and who ranks last isn't a surprise. The chart lists average salaries for each year between 2001 and 2007, as compiled by the players' union, and "included prorated signing bonuses and discounts salaries deferred without interest."

I dropped the chart into an Excel spreadsheet and programmed it to compute the average of the averages -- geek-speak at its best.

The Rays averaged $985,249 per player the last seven years, while Pittsburgh ranks 29th at $1,235,961.

The Marlins had the cheapest team in the survey, averaging $594,722 per player in 2002, but Tampa Bay took Nos. 2, 3 and 4. The Yankees -- who else? -- have spent the most, more than $5.9 million per player per year.

2001: $906,041
2002: $747,536
2003: $1,107,040
2004: $1,097,548
2005: $776,775
2006: $1,131,474
2007: $1,130,330

UPDATE: The Dallas Morning News was able to put the AP chart online.

Signing signals shortstop for Biscuits?

Shortstop Ronnie Merrill has signed with the Rays and I suspect will be Montgomery's primary shortstop this year.

Merrill has been in with the Padres, A's and Diamondbacks the last three years, primarily as a Class AA shortstop. He's played only 57 games at Class AAA in his eight-year career. Reid Brignac is set to go to Durham and there's no apparent candidate ready to step up from Vero Beach. (Neil Walton hit just .232 last year and Aaron Sisk is more of a utility guy. Jairo De La Rosa mustered a .211 average at low-A Columbus.)

That leaves Merrill, who was the MVP of the 1998 NCAA Division II series for the University of Tampa here in Montgomery, to return to the city.

Gomes, Rays strike one-year deal

The Rays and outfielder Jonny Gomes avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal today.

Left-handed pitcher Scott Kazmir and first baseman Carlos Pena remain on Tampa Bay's arbitration list.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Former pro plots class-action suit over steroids

Former minor-league pitcher Rich Hartmann has wanted to sue baseball for tolerating steroids for years, but didn't find much interest until the Mitchell Report's release. "No one's picked up that there's a real genuine loser in this, and it's the minor-league ballplayer who decided not to cheat," he said in an story.

Biscuits to receive rings March 12

The Biscuits have their date set for their second annual championship ring ceremony. The team will give the 2007 championship team its rings March 12 at the Rays' minor-league complex in St. Petersburg, Fla., Biscuits GM Greg Rauch said today.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Wheeler, Rays reach terms, avoid arbitration

Relief pitcher Dan Wheeler and the Tampa Bay Rays have reached terms on a one-year contract and won't go to an arbitration hearing, the Rays announced today. Wheeler came to Tampa Bay from the Astros last July and had a 5.76 ERA in 25 innings.

Gwinnett stadium will fall short on seats

Gwinnett County stadium is official. Stadium to cost $38 million.

The stadium will have 5,500 permanent seats and grass seating for another 1,500. However, the minimum seating requirement for a Class AAA team is 10,000.

Stadium address: 2500 Buford Drive, Lawrenceville, Ga. Same I-85 exit as the Mall of Georgia.

UPDATE: We were unsuccessful in our attempt to find an official link for that minimum seating requirement. However, we ran across some unofficial links here, here and here that all say 10,000. Search for the word "minimum."

There's a Web site hoping to save the R-Braves.

Braves moving Class AAA team to Atlanta suburbs

The Atlanta Braves are scheduled to announce today that they're moving their Class AAA Richmond franchise to Gwinnett County, Ga.

The Braves, who own their higher-level affiliates, have an out clause in their contract in Richmond after the 2008 season.

Such a move would give Biscuits fans a short drive for a few Durham Bulls games per year, but it could mean a longer haul for the Biscuits. lists West Tenn and Huntsville as potential candidates to move to Richmond.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Coleman's baseball facility hits Web

Former Biscuit Michael Coleman has started a Web site devoted to M3, his baseball training facility in Nashville, Tenn.

Coleman retired after the Biscuits' 2006 Southern League championship -- he was the series MVP -- and a 13-year professional career. He opened the academy last fall. Here's my story from Dec. 21 about him.

Sunday notebooks

Here's the weekly Sunday baseball reading.

Tampa Tribune: The Rays will focus on fundamentals in spring training, while a columnist says the team is "dangerously close to being competitive."

St. Petersburg Times: The Rays will "most likely" have a payroll past the $40 million mark this year. Last year, the team spent $24 million on payroll.

Houston Chronicle: Goshen High's Wesley Wright is headed to the Astros' annual mini-camp late this month, but will Roger Clemens be among the instructors?

Rocky Mountain News: No, no, no, a thousand times no -- Jim Rice does not belong in the Hall of Fame. Rice will be on the ballot next year for the final time.

Boston Globe: Before Bo, Deion and MJ, there was Gene Conley , the only athlete to win world titles in basketball and baseball. And the weekly baseball notebook is a regular read.

New York Daily News: Now that Clemens is suing former trainer Brian McNamee, "stuff is pouring out of" McNamee about Clemens.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

My list of top Rays prospects

Baseball America released its list of Tampa Bay's top 10 prospects this week. I was caught unprepared and didn't have my own list ready, so I had to ignore it for a few days to come up with my own and show how little I really know.

I fully admit my list includes lots of guys who have already reached the upper levels of the organization. Feel free to point out where I'm wrong.

Rays Index has also cross-referenced all the major rankings for a composite list.

1. 3B Evan Longoria -- automatic No. 1
2. LHP Jake McGee -- steamer adjusted quickly with Biscuits
3. RHP Wade Davis -- looked tired at end of last year
4. LHP David Price -- will he be in bigs by end of 2008?
5. CF Fernando Perez -- still needs work on stealing (just 32-of-50 last year)

6. RHP Jeremy Hellickson -- 13-3 last year, though Rays treat him with kid gloves
7. CF Desmond Jennings -- late knee injury cost him final month
8. RHP Jeff Niemann -- health questions still linger
9. SS Reid Brignac -- May-June slump led to mediocre year
10. C John Jaso -- I'm still not sure he'll stick at catcher

11. RHP Chris Mason -- easily the biggest character to play for Biscuits
12. LHP Eduardo Morlan -- traded from Twins, might deserve higher ranking
13. OF Ryan Royster -- won Tampa Bay minor-league triple crown
14. RHP Heath Rollins -- 22-year-old won 19 games at Columbus
15. C Nevin Ashley -- a catcher with 20 steals, but tons of strikeouts

16. RHP Mitch Talbot -- has to rebound from rough year with Durham
17. ?? Joel Guzman -- was a SS, then 3B, plus 1B; maybe he'll stick somewhere
18. LHP James Houser -- vicious against left-handed hitters
19. OF Reid Fronk -- moved from College World Series to nice pro debut
20. RHP Nick Barnese -- attitude issues in high school didn't show in Princeton

21. LHP Brian Henderson -- maybe, one day, he'll see the bright lights of Durham
22. RHP Matt Walker -- major control issues at Vero (82 walks in 95.2 IP)
23. RHP Josh Butler -- struggled at Vero after last year's promotion
24. OF Justin Ruggiano -- made majors last September
25. RHP Tyree Hayes -- needs to improve, move up from Princeton

26. RHP Dale Thayer -- continues to pile up numbers, but he's now 27
27. CF Emeel Salem -- could rise quickly following solid debut
28. LHP Mike Wlodarczyk -- Vero workhorse had three CGs, team-high 138 IP
29. 1B Rhyne Hughes -- will being hit in face in August affect him in '08?
30. 2B Elliot Johnson -- his '07: putrid, awful, ghastly, etc.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Major-minor matchups coming in spring

While perusing the full spring training schedule, I happened upon a few matchups of interest. Remember, the Chicago White Sox played the Barons at the (park formerly known as the) Hoover Met last year.

Wednesday, March 26
San Francisco at Fresno (AAA)
Friday, March 28
St. Louis at Springfield, Mo. (AA-Texas)
Saturday, March 29
Texas at Frisco (AA-Texas)
St. Louis at Springfield, Mo. (AA-Texas)
Sunday, March 30
Philadelphia at Lehigh Valley (AAA-IL)

Biscuits ownership has a standing challenge with the Rays, but the Rays have resisted.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Mason, McGee, Davis also headed to big-league camp

Pitchers Chris Mason, Jake McGee and Wade Davis, all members of the 2007 Southern League champion Biscuits, will be in major-league camp with the Rays this spring, according to the Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times.

Shortstop Reid Brignac said early this week that he was also a non-roster invitee. In a surprising choice, third baseman Evan Longoria will also go to big-league camp. Can you detect the sarcasm? Both went last year, while Mason, McGee and Davis will be first-timers.

No word yet on Mason's hair choice for the first day of spring. Let me again propose a look for him.

Rangers waive Alex City's White

I missed this Wednesday. The Rangers have put Alexander City native Bill White, a left-handed pitcher, on waivers for the purpose of giving him his release. White reached the big leagues at the end of last season, posting a 4.82 ERA in nine appearances.

Also, Skipperville's J.D. Pruitt led a story about statistical oddities. The Oakland A's drafted Pruitt last year and sent him to the short-season Northwest League. He hit just .211 ... but had a .460 on-base percentage, thanks to drawing 50 walks and getting hit 34 times in 61 games.

Former Biscuit Carlos Hines has signed a minor-league contract with the Houston Astros. Hines was with San Francisco last year at Class AAA Fresno.