CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Manager Ozzie Guillen says Paul Konerko will be the team captain for 2006, even though the first baseman shies away from the notion. "He is my captain," Guillen insisted last week. "I don't care what Paulie thinks. He's played for me for two years. He's my captain. He deserves it and earned it."
Guillen has his reasons for wanting to put the "C" on Konerko's uniform. Not only because Konerko is without argument the face of the Sox, but because the All-Star turned his back on more lucrative offers on the free agent market this offseason and re-signed with the Sox.
"One of the biggest things that happened in my career is when I saw Paul Konerko sign back with the White Sox, and I saw (pitcher Jon) Garland sign with the White Sox," Guillen said. "That was my biggest thrill in the winter. "I thought we would have a tough time to do it, but those two kids showed me -- maybe because of the city or the fans or the hitting or pitching coach -- whatever the reason was, they made that step to stay in Chicago. I know now people want to play for us. I know now people want to stay here. It's not just about the money."
Konerko said he would still like to discuss with Guillen the matter of being captain. "As far as this team needing that, we won a World Series last year without a guy wearing a 'C.' So it's obviously not the answer to winning a World Series," he said. "I just don't know if it's a baseball thing -- on any team. I mean, I'm flattered by it. I think it's the best compliment I've ever been paid."
NOTES, QUOTES: The White Sox will make the traditional champions' visit to the White House on Monday. ... INF/OF Rob Mackowiak had better bring a lot of gloves to spring training. Guillen said he plans to take full advantage of Mackowiak's defensive versatility, moving him around on a game-to-game basis to get him at-bats, as well as to keep the Sox's regular starters rested. "Where he's going to be, I will find out," Guillen said. "One day he'll be in the outfield and the next day at second or third. I'll try to get him moving around." The Sox believe Mackowiak can play anywhere other than pitcher and catcher. ... Jim Thome is penciled in as the everyday DH, but said he's also preparing to play first base. "I want to win," Thome said. "The bottom line is I'll do whatever the skipper wants me to do." ... GM Ken Williams was not pleased with comments coming from former Sox DH Frank Thomas after the veteran slugger signed with Oakland two weeks ago. Thomas said the Sox treated him with a lack of respect. "It surprised me, but it didn't," Williams said of Thomas' comments. ... RHP Dustin Hermanson said his back feels strong and he is ready for spring training. The closer suffered from back problems throughout the 2005 season.
The trade of outfielder Coco Crisp to Boston will result in some tinkering of the top of an Indians lineup that club officials spent much of the 2005 season trying to get right. For most of the first half of last season, manager Eric Wedge tried numerous configurations.
The Indians took off offensively when Wedge had Crisp batting second, behind leadoff man Grady Sizemore. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta batted third, DH Travis Hafner fourth and catcher Victor Martinez fifth.
So, who's No. 2 this year? According to GM Mark Shapiro and it will be Jason Michaels, who was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia for reliever Arthur Rhodes. As a part-time player for the Phillies last season, Michaels hit No. 2 more than anywhere else in the lineup. He hit .336 with two home runs and 11 RBIs when batting No. 2, but elsewhere in the order, his batting average was .277 with two home runs and 20 RBIs.
OF Todd Hollandsworth, signed to a minor-league deal, could platoon with Michaels in left field and the No. 2 spot in the order. 2B Ron Belliard, 3B Aaron Boone and RF Casey Blake could hit second on occasion, depending on the opposing pitcher.
NOTES, QUOTES: 3B Andy Marte, 22, one of the top-rated prospects in the minor leagues, was acquired in the seven-player trade with Boston. Cleveland sent Crisp, RHP David Riske and C Josh Bard for Marte, RHP Guillermo Mota, C Kelly Shoppach, a player to be named and $1 million. Marte was considered Atlanta's top prospect until he was traded to Boston for four-time All-Star shortstop Edgar Renteria. In 389 at-bats at Triple-A Richmond last year, Marte batted .275 with 20 home runs and 74 RBIs. He is clearly the Indians' third baseman-in-waiting. The wait may not be long, especially if incumbent Boone is hitting .190 in late May, as was the case last year. "If we didn't have a third baseman, Andy could play in the major leagues right now," Shapiro said. "Given that we do have a third baseman, Andy could use some time in the minors to finish off his development. Defensively he's major league ready right now. Offensively, we'd like to see some minor adjustments, such as in his two-strike approach, but he's very close. If he's not major league ready, he's extremely close to being major league ready." ... Shoppach, 25, hit 25 home runs at Pawtucket last year and was an International League All-Star the last two years. "He's one of the best catching prospects in the minor leagues," Shapiro said.
One of the reasons management believes the Tigers will improve this season won't play an inning in the field. The Tigers clearly think they will benefit from the transition at manager, from icon Alan Trammell to proven veteran skipper Jim Leyland.
While injuries played a big part in Detroit's losing one more game in 2005 than it did in 2004, many observers believe clubhouse divisions also played a significant role. Leyland and his ready-made credentials will go a long way toward healing some clubhouse rifts.
"You can tell he's a straight shooter," said OF Craig Monroe. "Everything seems to be very upbeat. A lot of people talk about whether he still has it, but you could tell he definitely is going to command respect."
Trammell had a 186-300 record in three seasons as Detroit's manager, the last two months going from one game under .500 to a 71-91 record that cost him his job. Leyland has a 1,069-1,131 record in 14 seasons managing Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado. His teams won three division titles (Pirates, 1990-92), and he was a two-time NL Manager of the Year (1990, 1992). He led the wild-card Marlins to the 1997 World Series title.
He brings an image as a stern disciplinarian who drives himself and his players hard. But while Leyland does have high standards, he's got a wry sense of humor that plays well when understood.
"Contrary to what a lot of people think, I'm not some grumpy old man," he said. "I like to have fun. I'm going to have fun with the players. "You'll never hear me rip the players publicly, but behind closed doors, they're going to be held accountable. There's no question about that. They have to be. And I'm going to be held accountable also. It's time for performance. We got good players, so let's perform." Getting everybody on the same page should help.
NOTES, QUOTES: Monroe, 28, agreed to a $2.8 million contract. He earned $400,000 last season when he led the team with 89 RBIs. He hit .277 with 20 home runs and had a major league-leading 12 sacrifice flies. "I felt I had a very good, solid season," he said. "I'm very proud of what I've done and I feel like I'm not going to do anything but get better." ... 2B Placido Polanco and SS Carlos Guillen started only 21 games together all last season. "He was hurt and then I was hurt," said Polanco. "Now we have a chance to really play together and really get better. It's going to be great for the team." ... New infield coach Rafael Belliard believes 1B Chris Shelton can become good on defense. "Wow, he's a good athlete," Belliard said. "I watched video of him. We have to work on his throwing. I can teach him more. I have a lot of secrets I think I can pass to him." ... RHP Justin Verlander thinks he has learned to pace himself. Verlander went from high Class A to Double-A to the majors and back to Double-A in his first pro season. It ended early when he felt stiffness in his right shoulder after three innings of an Aug. 2 start for Erie. "I was surprised my arm got tired, absolutely I was," he said. "Thank God nothing was hurt seriously. I'm ready to go now in spring training. Like a typical rookie, I was throwing way too much."
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Owner David Glass took a Hank Williams Jr. line and altered it just slightly with spring training nearing. "I'm ready for baseball," Glass said. "I'm tired of all the other sports. I'm ready for baseball."
The Royals were not ready for the 2005 season. They lost a franchise-record 106 games, went through three managers, fired their hitting coach, pitching coach and bench coach and reassigned their first base coach to the minors. "We had a year most of us don't want to remember," Glass said.
He said it was not from lack of effort that the Royals finished last, 43 games behind the Chicago White Sox. "We didn't give them enough bullets when we sent them into battles with other teams," Glass said. To amend that, Glass opted to raise the payroll, which permitted GM Allard Baird to sign seven free agents in the offseason. The previous winter, the Royals added just one free agent, RHP Jose Lima.
The pitching staff, which had the AL's worst ERA (5.49), was renovated by adding veterans Scott Elarton, Joe Mays, Mark Redman, Elmer Dessens and Joel Peralta. "I think we'll be a much better team," Glass said. "Our pitching will definitely be better. Our defense will be significantly better. Pitching and defense are two of the main reasons you win games, so logically we'll win a lot more games this year."
The addition of 2B Mark Grudzielanek and 1B Doug Mientkiewicz should improve the infield defense. The Royals' 125 errors led the majors last season.
NOTES, QUOTES: RHP Mark Gubicza, a two-time All-Star who won 20 games in 1988 and Game 6 of the 1985 AL playoffs at Toronto, was elected to the Royals Hall of Fame. His 1,366 strikeouts rank second on the Royals' All-Time list. He will be inducted this summer at a date to be determined. Gubicza will become the 22th member of the Royals' Hall of Fame. ... OF Emil Brown beat the Royals in arbitration, earning a $1,775,000 contract for 2006. The team had offered $1.4 million. Brown led the club last season with 86 RBIs and 10 stolen bases while hitting .286 with 17 homers. He also led major league outfielders with a dozen errors. Brown made $365,000 last year. ... The Royals' new uniforms have a more traditional look. The road tops will read Kansas City in script. The Royals will return to their crown logo patch. They did keep the black uniforms as an alternate road uniform. ... LHP Jeremy Affeldt will enter spring training as a rotation candidate, but could go back to the bullpen. There is also the possibility that Affeldt, who has a mid-90s fastball and a knee-buckling curve, could be traded.
Manager Ron Gardenhire unveiled his batting order for 2006, at least through five places, and it looks decidedly different. Of course, that was the plan after the Twins finished 2005 as one of the worst-hitting teams in the majors. Gardenhire's top five: left fielder Shannon Stewart, second baseman Luis Castillo, catcher Joe Mauer, designated hitter Rondell White and center fielder Torii Hunter.
The 2-3-4 spots represent the biggest difference over last year -- when the Twins opened with rookie shortstop Jason Bartlett in the No. 2 spot, Mauer at No. 3 and first baseman Justin Morneau at cleanup. Both Mauer and Morneau were spending their first full year in the majors. The threesome had 157 combined games of big-league experience. This year's 2-3-4? They not have 2,631 games of experience, four All-Star appearances and 11 .300 seasons between them.
Morneau, who struggled through much of a .239, 22-homer season last year, remains potentially the biggest power threat in the lineup, but after falling short of expectations last year, he enters 2006 with something to prove. If the season opened tomorrow, he likely would bat sixth with third baseman Tony Batista and right fielder Michael Cuddyer taking the 7-8 spots in some order, and, according to Gardenhire, "whoever's our shortstop" batting ninth.
"Hopefully, I can change things," Morneau said. "I think I'll hit where I deserve to hit in the lineup if I'm swinging the bat well. You know, it doesn't matter that much. Hopefully it's somewhere in the middle, where I think I can help us win games."
NOTES, QUOTES: The Oscar-nominated movie "Brokeback Mountain" was co-produced by Bill Pohlad, son of Twins owner Carl Pohlad, who said he was surprised by the success of the venture. "I was against him going into it," the Twins owner told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I said, 'You can never make it (win an Oscar).' I've been in and out of the pictures business for a number of years, and you don't just make one picture and hope you can get anything done with it. But that's quite an achievement. He fooled me." ... The Twins signed 40-year-old DH/OF Ruben Sierra to serve as their veteran left-handed pinch hitter. Sierra, a switch hitter who hit .229 for the Yankees in duty limited by injury last year, signed as a minor league free agent but is considered a lock to make the roster, barring injury. ... Gardenhire is making one detour before heading south for spring training: to Minnesota's North Shore for a 370-mile snowmobile ride to help raise money for research into a cure for Lou Gehrig's disease. ... Former Twins greats Rod Carew, Paul Molitor, Tony Oliva and Terry Steinbach all are expected to be in uniform for parts of spring training as special instructors, along with former Twins manager Tom Kelly. The Twins also have asked Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew to join that group. ... The Twins had 23 players on provisional rosters for the inaugural WBC, more than from any other club.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
The Angels hope some of their well-touted prospects force their way into the lineup and bolster a sagging offense. Kendry Morales will have an opportunity to emerge as the everyday DH, but for Brandon Wood or Erick Aybar to get an everyday job, the Angels would need to trade veterans, meaning SS Orlando Cabrera or 2B Adam Kennedy could wind up on the block.
Pitching appears to be of little concern to the Angels, who had the league's third-best staff in 2005. In fact, the staff might be improved with left-hander J.C. Romero in the bullpen. The Angels are also sniffing around to see if they can sign Jeff Weaver to a short-term deal. If they land Weaver, they would have five proven inning-eaters, something few teams can claim. But the Angels aren't interested in signing Weaver to a deal beyond one season, fearing it will block the progress of their younger pitchers -- including Weaver's younger brother, Jered.
"I've stated pretty clearly that we've got some real good young players coming up, and I'd like to be in position to give each and every one of them an opportunity," GM Bill Stoneman said. "I'll leave it at that."
NOTES, QUOTES: RHP Bartolo Colon reportedly looks thinner than he has in several years. Angels trainers worked with the AL Cy Young Award winner periodically over the winter on strengthening his right shoulder, which gave out in the playoffs last fall. ... SS Erick Aybar could force his way into the Angels' plans this season, even though other prospects are often mentioned above him. Aybar played well in the Dominican winter league. ... RHP Kelvim Escobar will be permitted to pitch for the Venezuelan team in the World Baseball Classic next month as long as he has no pain in his surgically repaired right elbow. Stoneman said he will leave it up to the players whether they will compete. ... C Jeff Mathis so impressed Angels talent evaluators last season that the club made no attempt to re-sign veteran Bengie Molina, who ultimately agreed to a one-year, $5 million deal with Toronto. ... CF Darin Erstad was fitted for a new, less bulky knee brace. Erstad said his stolen base ability was seriously curtailed by the brace he has worn the past two seasons.
Mark Ellis' return from a potential career-ending injury was one of the best comeback stories of 2005, even if most of the national media gave it little attention. The A's were well aware of what a story it was and rewarded Ellis with a two-year contract for $5.75 million with a $5 million option (or $250,000 buyout) for 2008.
Chances are Ellis will be the leadoff hitter on Opening Day. "I love the top of the order," Ellis said. "You're pretty much guaranteed four at-bats. The more times you can come up, the better. At the same time, just being out there every day is the main thing. Wherever they put me is fine."
Ellis hit .344 with 38 RBIs and 57 runs after the All-Star break. He led the club in slugging (.477) and on-base percentage (.384), and his .316 average ranked fifth in the AL (based on 400 plate appearances).
NOTES, QUOTES: RHP Esteban Loaiza will represent Mexico in the WBC. ... 3B Eric Chavez and RHP Huston Street could play for the U.S. team. ... RHP Dan Haren and RHP Kirk Saarloos were listed on the preliminary WBC roster for The Netherlands, but turned down the chance. ... LHP Barry Zito, a stickler on routine and preparation, doesn't want his spring training schedule to be compromised by the WBC, either. ... 1B Dan Johnson said he put on 17 pounds in the offseason. ... RHP Jairo Garcia is now Santiago Casilla and is two years and 10 months older, the latest in the fake birth certificate fiascos from the Dominican Republic. ... Saarloos, the fifth starter last year who will be moved to a swingman role out of the bullpen, said he'd do anything to help the team win.
The word on the street was that 19-year-old Seattle starting pitcher Felix Hernandez got a call from the Big Guy. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez reportedly called Hernandez, asking him to play in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
The Mariners, however, didn't want Hernandez going anywhere near the WBC. They figure he's still growing, and his magic arm has only so many innings in it entering what will be his first full season. The Mariners petitioned to have Hernandez excluded from the tournament, though he wanted to pitch for his country.
After the WBC's technical committee sided with the Mariners, Hernandez wasn't all that bothered. "I'm really not ready physically to compete," he said, "so I don't want to embarrass myself that way." And he said the presidential call was just a wild rumor. "Rafael Chaves called me," he said of the Mariners' pitching coach, "but not Hugo Chavez."
NOTES, QUOTES: New pitching coach Rafael Chaves has a very clear vision of what he wants from his pitchers: aggression. "I want a pitching staff that works fast, works ahead and works aggressively," Chaves said. ... CF Jeremy Reed was the subject of trade rumors, with Boston particularly interested. "My agent loved it because my name was flying around everywhere," Reed said. "My dad was looking at the Internet every day. But I didn't pay attention. I was busy trying to become the player I know I can be. I was always setting myself up (mentally) to be a Mariner. I was never setting myself up to be traded." ... 3B Greg Dobbs will come to camp as a non-roster player and will have a tough time earning a spot. At 27, his future could be with another organization. "I've got to go out and prove myself to the Mariners, as well as other clubs," Dobbs said. "Would I love to stay with the Mariners? Yes. But I've also got to think about myself." ... LHP Jamie Moyer threw 1,169 pitches timed under 80 mph last season.
The job is Ian Kinsler's to lose. The Rangers aren't handing the second-base job to the 23-year-old rookie, but are giving him every chance to win the position.
The Rangers created the opportunity when they traded Alfonso Soriano to Washington in December. "I've been pretty anxious to get to spring training since they made the trade," said Kinsler, who moved from shortstop to second base last season. "You can't help but be excited by the opportunity. I know I've got competition, but I'm ready to go."
The competition is veterans Mark DeRosa and D'Angelo Jimenez, but even DeRosa acknowledged that Kinsler is the frontrunner. Nonetheless, DeRosa passed up a chance to join Team Italy at the WBC in order to spend more time at spring training.
Kinsler won the organization's Minor League Player of the Year award in his first full pro season in 2004, by hitting .345 at Class A and Double-A. He also had 51 doubles and 20 homers. The Rangers moved him to second because they have more depth at short. Kinsler spent the first half of last year struggling at the plate at Triple-A Oklahoma while learning the basics of second base defense.
He figures defense will be where the job is won or lost this spring. "I just have to be consistent on defense," Kinsler said. "I have to make the plays behind the (pitchers) they've brought in. I can't press too much. I don't think this lineup needs a lot of help offensively, so if I'm going to win this position, I've got to do it by being a good defensive player."
NOTES, QUOTES: OF Kevin Mench signed a new contract for $2.8 million. The salary could grow by as much as $50,000 if he gets 600 plate appearances. The Rangers also signed RHP Vicente Padilla ($4.41 million) and OF Gary Matthews Jr. ($2.38 million). The team's payroll, including benefits, should cross $75 million, up about $20 million over 2005. ... The Rangers hired former big league pitcher Terry Clark as pitching coach at Double-A Frisco. Clark had been a coach in the Cleveland organization from 2000 until 2004 and had recently been hired by Washington to coach at Class A Savannah. ... Former pitching coach Orel Hershiser left the organization and is expected to join ESPN as an analyst. ... RHP R.A. Dickey, trying to convert to being a knuckleball pitcher, met several times with Charlie Hough. ... Free agent RHP Antonio Alfonseca signed a minor league deal. His 2005 season with the Marlins was interrupted by a stress fracture in his right elbow.
Brian Roberts' recovery from injury and his negotiations for a contract extension are crucial to the Orioles' infield plans. Roberts is rehabbing from offseason surgery on his left elbow and faring well in that respect. He also is talking with the club about a contract extension.
If those things work out as the Orioles hope, Roberts would be in an infield with Miguel Tejada at shortstop, Melvin Mora at third base and veterans Jeff Conine and Kevin Millar, both signed in the offseason as free agents, sharing first base. The club also is trying to work out a contract extension for Mora. That would put the Orioles in a good spot with three of their top four statistical leaders in the fold.
Right fielder Jay Gibbons signed a four-year extension and is excited about getting deals done for Roberts and Mora so they could all stay together. "It's a good feeling to stick around and know you're going to be with these guys for a while. I'm excited about seeing the young guys coming up and growing with you," Gibbons said.
The signing of catcher Ramon Hernandez also gives the club flexibility behind the plate. Orioles vice presidents Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette said that while they are happy about the team's current state, they would not rule out additional moves. Flanagan implied that he is still on the lookout for help with the starting rotation even though he likes the young staff already on hand. "We're kind of anxious to get our feet on the grass this spring and see what everybody looks like," Flanagan said.
NOTES, QUOTES: Wigned to minor-league contracts were RHPs Jim Brower and Ryan Jensen, LHPs John Halama and Vic Darensbourg and INFs Luis Lopez and Desi Relaford. ... Roberts, coming off elbow surgery, said he sees no reason why he shouldn't be ready to play full time by the time the season starts. ... 3B Melvin Mora said he wants to get a contract extension signed before he reports to spring training. ... OF Luis Matos signed a one-year deal worth $1,625,000 with another $150,000 in performance incentives. ... INF Chris Gomez, who played 42 games at first base last season, has been designated as the middle infield reserve. ... RHP LaTroy Hawkins will open the season as a setup man, but knows he could be called on to be the closer if young RHP Chris Ray falters. ... "This division (AL East) is where you want to be as a baseball player," said Millar when asked why he signed with the Orioles.
BOSTON RED SOX
When GM Theo Epstein returned to his post, the Red Sox proclaimed that his arrival heralded a new direction. The team would attempt to rely more on its farm system for reinforcements rather than turning to high-priced veterans who were past their primes.
Yet less than a week after Epstein reclaimed his old job, he signed off on a deal that sent third baseman Andy Marte, 22, and catcher Kelly Shoppach, 25, to Cleveland as part of the exchange that netted center fielder Coco Crisp. Earlier this offseason, the Sox dealt pitcher Anibal Sanchez and shortstop Hanley Ramirez to the Marlins as part of the deal for starter Josh Beckett. All four of those players ranked among the top 10 prospects in the organization, according to Baseball America.
The club sees Crisp, 26, and Beckett, 25, as centerpieces of the effort to get younger and better. In 2005, Crisp set career highs for batting average (.300), on-base percentage (.345), homers (16) and slugging (.465). Beckett established career standards in wins (15), innings (177 2/3) and strikeouts (162).
"We're not in the habit of giving up prospects for short-term gain," assistant GM Jed Hoyer said. "We traded a couple of really good 21-year-olds but got some established big-leaguers who are 25, 26." Moreover, the team acquired players who remain years away from free agency. The team holds the rights to Crisp through the 2009 season and Beckett is under contractual control for two more years. "What we're trying to do is have controllable players in their primes," Epstein said. "We were not going to give up Marte, probably not in any deal with a player who we'd have under our control for only one to two years. To get a player like Coco, with four years, softens the blow of giving up six years of Andy Marte."
NOTES, QUOTES: SS Alex Gonzalez signed a one-year, $3 million deal, which is not guaranteed. If the Sox cut ties with the former Marlin by March 15, he will be paid $500,000; if he is cut by Opening Day, he'll get $750,000. Though Gonzalez owns just a .245 career average and .291 on-base percentage, his spectacular defense would help to complete an infield remake in which the Red Sox focused heavily on improved glovework. ... 1B Roberto Petagine was designated for assignment. ... Crisp agreed to a one-year, $2.75 million deal and Beckett agreed to a one-year, $4,325,000 deal. ... LHP David Wells continues to hope for a trade to a team on the West Coast, but his agent said the 43-year-old will not hold out of spring training. ... OF Gabe Kapler signed a minor league deal. Kapler, who ruptured his left Achilles tendon last season, likely won't be ready to play until at least May. ... INF Enrique Wilson received a non-roster invitation to major league camp. ... Lefties hit only .205 off newly acquired RHP David Riske in 2005.
NEW YORK YANKEES
Any thoughts Johnny Damon would somehow feel compelled to change his personality now that he's a member of the Yankees appear to be unfounded. The new center fielder made a whirlwind visit to New York, doing a variety of personal appearances that included accepting a new $450,000 Ferrari from Puma.
"Now that I'm here, the city has opened its arms to me," he said. Though the Yankees often seem to exist in a sterile environment, Damon is determined not to conform entirely. New teammate Alex Rodriguez counseled him against letting the change of venue shape his outlook. "He'll told me I'll fit in if I stay the same person I am," Damon said. "I'll be a tame idiot."
Once rivals, Damon and Rodriguez have struck up a friendship. Damon has even promised to revise a chapter in his book that was critical of Rodriguez. The amended version will soon be out in paperback. "I apologized to Alex last Opening Day," Damon said. "I told him it came out the wrong way. We were just trying to sell books."
Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and manager Joe Torre placed recruiting calls to Damon last fall. Their interest, he said, was a factor in his signing a four-year, $52 million deal in December.
A ringleader in the raucous Red Sox clubhouse and Boston's offensive catalyst, Damon criticized his former team for how it handled his free agency. "We parted ways in a bad situation," he said. "The respect wasn't there."
The Yankees play at Fenway Park for the first time on May 1. Damon expects a mixture of cheers and boos. Given how the Yankees are viewed in Boston, that may be expecting too much. "I hope the fans understand what went wrong in terms of signing with the Red Sox," Damon said. "Nothing will take away from my memories and the love affair I had with the city. But I really don't care, I just want to help the Yankees win."
NOTES, QUOTES: 2B Robinson Cano won't be playing for the Dominican Republic in the WBC. ... SS Derek Jeter has already started working out at the team facility in Tampa, Fla. He reiterated his willingness to play for the United States in the WBC. ... RHP Shawn Chacon signed for $3.6 million. The Yankees originally offered $3.1 million; Chacon asked for $4.15 million. The Yankees haven't gone to arbitration with a player since RHP Mariano Rivera six years ago. ... OF Melky Cabrera was 6-for-27 and scored four runs in the Dominican Winter League playoffs. Cabrera, who is on the Yankees' 40-man roster, played for Aguilas Del Cibao, which lost to Licey in the final.
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
New ownership has been making bold, fan-friendly and somewhat expensive moves on various off-field issues. They've offered free parking for all home games, restructured and lowered some ticket prices, started a $10 million renovation of Tropicana Field, re-launched scouting and player development operations in Latin America, committed to change the team name for next season, restocked the front office and upgraded everything from the computer system to the working environment.
One thing they haven't done much to improve is the quality of the product on the field. They traded away All-Star closer Danys Baez for two pitching prospects and signed marginal major-leaguers such as Sean Burroughs, Josh Paul, Ty Wigginton, Dan Miceli and Russell Branyan.
New principal owner Stuart Sternberg maintains the team is heading in the right direction. The payroll, which was a major league-low $29 million last season, is expected to be about $34 million and Sternberg has committed to a 10 to 15 percent increase each year.
NOTES, QUOTES: What was clear after Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith's two-day instructional session with top prospect B.J. Upton is that the youngster wants to play shortstop, the Rays are committed to keeping him there and Smith is confident Upton has the ability to succeed there. "He's never really been taught good, sound fundamentals," Smith said of Upton, who has 144 errors in 350 minor-league games and was rumored to be moved to third base. "He's made it a long way, but it's just on raw talent. Unfortunately, he has to go through this process of learning good, sound fundamentals." ... The Rays seem set at first base with Travis Lee and third base with newly acquired Burroughs and Wigginton, but Branyan thinks he can fit in, too. "I have a pretty decent chance to make the ballclub," he said. "It all comes down to how I come in and play." Branyan hit .257 with 12 homers and 31 RBIs in 85 games for Milwaukee last season. ... The Rays extended the player development agreement to keep their Triple-A team in Durham, N.C., through 2008. ... CF Joey Gathright, the subject of trade rumors all winter, doesn't want to go back to Durham. "I don't want to go back to Triple-A," said Gathright, who hit .276 and stole 20 bases in 76 games for the Rays in '05. "I know I can play up here."
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
The Blue Jays' outfield heading into spring training is one crowded place. The only sure thing heading into camp is that Vernon Wells, barring injury, will be the Jays' everyday center fielder. Left and right field could very well end up in platoon situations.
That's not a new scenario for left field, where Reed Johnson and Frank Catalanotto split time last year, Catalanotto hitting against right-handers and Johnson starting when the Jays faced a left-hander. This year, Catalanotto could move to right field and platoon with Alex Rios as Eric Hinske moves from the infield to platoon with Johnson in left.
The thinking is the Jays can maximize their offensive potential by having all four players hitting against pitchers they have had the most success against. The downside to the theory is it may stunt the development of Rios in right. While his hitting was significantly better when he faced left-handers, Rios did bump his home run total from a measly one in 2004 to 10 last season.
Hinske says he's fine with the move, although he points out he hasn't played the outfield since he was in the minors. Spring training should be interesting from the standpoint of whether Hinske can make the move to the outfield, or for that matter, whether Catalanotto can give the team enough defense in right.
NOTES, QUOTES: DH Shea Hillenbrand agreed to a one-year, $5.8 million deal. ... Former Angels catcher Bengie Molina reached agreement on a one-year, $5 million deal. Earlier this winter, Molina turned down a three-year, $18 million offer from the Mets. Molina got a $1.5 million signing bonus and will make $3 million in salary. The contract includes a $7.5 million mutual option for 2007, which the Jays can buy out for $500,000. ... LHP Brian Tallet was designated for assignment. Tallet, 28, was acquired from Cleveland last month in a trade for RHP Bubbie Buzachero.