Tony La Russa and the Rockies' groundskeeper

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Despite clinching the division, Tony La Russa was angry about something over the weekend:

Dissatisfaction over a seeming discrepancy between the visitors bullpen mound and the Coors Field main mound caused Cardinals manager Tony La Russa to seek an umpires’ review of the two following Friday night’s loss and led to an animated exchange with the Rockies grounds crew Saturday . . .

. . . The umpiring crew measured the two mounds Saturday and found no discrepancy. The finding didn’t prevent La Russa and Duncan from a testy back-and-forth nearly four hours before first pitch with Rockies head groundskeeper Mark Razum.

This may seem like your standard “Tony La Russa being difficult” kind of story (why argue with the groundskeeper even after the umps made the measurements?), but I think there’s more going on here than meets the eye.

For one thing, the article notes that Chris Carpenter — who lodged the mound complaint — said that the problem wasn’t the height of the bullpen mound, but the slope. It’s possible for the bullpen mound to be regulation height yet still have the wrong slope due to the whole mound havng a greater diameter or something. I’ve seen umpires measure a mound’s height before — it’s a fairly simple operation involving a stick, a level and a tape measure — but I’ve never seen them measure the slope. It’s not clear from the article, but it doesn’t seem likely that they could have done it, let alone accurately, before Saturday’s game (UPDATE: OK, I may be wrong about this). La Russa is a lawyer by training. Though this often makes him a jerk, it also makes him the detail-oriented guy that he is, and I’m guessing he still wasn’t satisfied on Saturday, maybe for good reason.

The much more interesting thing about this comes via the Baseball Think Factory message boards. It’s no secret that long time Rocky Mountain News writer Tracy Ringolsby posts over there from time to time under the name “ballfan.”  Ringolsby knows Rockies’ baseball of course, and in response to the mound dispute, “ballfan” posted this yesterday:

Interesting tid bit is that Mark Razum, groundskeeper at Coors Field, was hired from Oakland, where he developed a friendship with former A’s manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan. Now, here’s the real question. Could Duncan and La Russa be suspicious because of anything they might have been involved with in the past?

Nice catch, Tracy.  Could this be a situation in which La Russa and Duncan know damn well that Razum messes with the bullpen mounds based on personal history? If so, it might explain the argument on Saturday.

Mariners interested in free agent outfielder Nori Aoki

AP Photo/Ben Margot
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New Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has kept pretty busy in his short time on the job and Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that free agent outfielder Nori Aoki could be his next target. The club recently pursued a trade for Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna, but the asking price has them looking at alternatives.

Aoki, who turns 34 in January, has hit .287 with a .353 on-base percentage over four seasons since coming over from Japan. He was having a fine season with the Giants this year prior to being shut down in September with lingering concussion symptoms.

The Giants decided against picking up Aoki’s $5.5 million club option for 2016 earlier this month, but he should still do pretty well for himself this winter assuming he’s feeling good.

Report: Johnny Cueto is believed to be looking for a $140-160 million deal

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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It was reported Sunday that free agent right-hander Johnny Cueto had turned down a six-year, $120 million contract from the Diamondbacks. He’s hoping to land a bigger deal this winter and ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick has heard some chatter about what he’s looking for.

Jordan Zimmermann finalized a five-year, $110 million contract with the Tigers today, which works out to $22 million per season. Arizona’s offer to Cueto checked in at $20 million per season. A six-year offer to Cueto at the same AAV (average annual value) as Zimmermann would put him at $132 million, which is still a little shy of the figure stated by Crasnick. Of course, Cueto owns a 2.71 ERA (145 ERA+) over the last five seasons compared to a 3.14 ERA (123 ERA+) by Zimmermann during that same timespan, so there’s a case to be made that he should get more. Still, he’s the clear No. 3 starter on the market behind David Price and Zack Greinke.

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that the Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox, and Cubs are among the other teams who have interest in Cueto. One variable in his favor is that he is not attached to draft pick compensation, as he was traded from the Reds to the Royals during the 2015 season.

Report: Around 20 teams have contacted the Braves about Shelby Miller

AP Photo/John Bazemore
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The rebuilding Braves have already been active on the trade market and they might not be done, as CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that right-hander Shelby Miller has been a very popular name. In fact, around 20 teams have checked in.

Nothing is considered close and the Braves have set a very high asking price, mostly centered around offense. They asked for right-hander Luis Severino in talks with the Yankees and would expect outfielder Marcell Ozuna among other pieces from the Marlins. The Diamondbacks and Giants are among the other interested clubs.

Miller is under team control through 2018, so there’s not necessarily a sense of urgency to move him, but anything is possible with the way the Braves are doing things right now. The 25-year-old is coming off a year where he went 6-17, but that was about really rotten luck more than anything else, as he had a fine 3.02 ERA and 171/73 K/BB ratio over 205 1/3 innings. The Braves gave him the worst run support of any starter in the majors.

Mets expected to tender a contract to Jenrry Mejia

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 12:  Jenrry Mejia #58 of the New York Mets reacts as he walks off the field after getting the final out of the seventh inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citi Field on July 12, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Jenrry Mejia appeared in just seven games this past season due to a pair of suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs, but Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Mets are expected to tender him a contract for 2016.

While the Mets were vocal about their disappointment in Mejia’s actions, it makes sense to keep him around as an option. Had he played a full season in 2015, he would have earned $2.595 million. He’s arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter and figures to receive a contract similar to his 2015 figure, but he’ll only be paid for the games he plays. He still has 100 games to serve on his second PED suspension, which means that he’ll only be paid for 62 games in 2016. This likely puts his salary closer to $1 million, which is a small price to pay for someone who could prove useful during the second half and beyond. He also won’t count toward the team’s 40-man roster until he’s active.

Mejia, who turned 26 in October, owns a 3.68 ERA in the majors and saved 28 games for the Mets in 2014. He’s currently pitching as a starter in the Dominican Winter League.