Scenes from Spring Training: A day with the Twins, Part 4

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La Russa closeup.jpgSeeing as though I spent some time in the Twins’ clubhouse that morning, I figured I’d spend the postgame with St. Louis.  Helping me make this decision was the fact that’s Matthew Leach and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold are two of my favorite writers going, and I wanted to tag along and them do what they do.  Finally, given how much ink I’ve spilled over Tony La Russa in the past, I figured he might be fun to watch do the little postgame thing, so it was off to the visitors clubhouse.

La Russa was showering, so we were kept out of his office for a few minutes, and instead waited in the main area of the clubhouse. Same basic scene as the Nats the other day: boxes of pizza and lots of dudes in their underwear. A little less morose than the Nats’ clubhouse, probably because the Cardinals are a generally successful team and, unlike the Nats, realize that they will, in fact, win a game at some point soon.  Biggest takeaway while we waited: Colby Rasmus has the same laptop bag I have.

After a few minutes we were ushered into LaRussaLand. La Russa was asked what he thought about Adam Wainwright’s tough outing. He wasn’t worried, he said, stuff happens.  On a followup, one of the reporters informed La Russa that Wainwright had said earlier that his problems weren’t physical. Rather, he just wasn’t mentally prepared for the game. This got La Russa a bit pissed. He said that was “not acceptable,” and that “Adam knows better than that.”  I think he was really mad. And poor old Wainwright was gonna skate on it until the sporting press ratted him out.  Tough break.

More interesting than anything La Russa said, however, was how he said it. He’s a lawyer by training, and it shows.  He parses every word of every question to make narrow distinctions between what is being asked and what he wants to answer. If someone premises or qualifies a question, he pounces on the premise or qualification to, again, answer what he wants to answer instead of what was asked or, in some cases, to deflect the question entirely.

And it doesn’t matter if everyone knows what the reporter is truly wanting to know, which I’m sure a man as smart as La Russa can tell. It’s not some Socratic exercise in which he’s trying to get the reporter to ask the right question in as specific terms as possible. It’s a word game, not unlike the kind of stuff I used to see — and do — in depositions where the defending attorney will try anything he can to thwart the purpose of the exercise — the extraction of information — and instead just try to vamp until it’s over.

It’s not so clumsy and transparent in La Russa’s case as it is in some normal lawyer’s case. He’s a much more seasoned pro with much more experience in his particular arena — postgame interviews — than any lawyer has experience defending depositions. Indeed, his tactics are quite subtle and maybe even invisible to La Russa himself. After all, law school changes the way a person thinks, more so than he realizes, and I’m sure La Russa’s interview m.o. is so ingrained in him that, to the extent there was ever any calculation involved, it’s long been replaced by reflexes alone.

But this lawyer recognizes it. And though La Russa’s particular brand of circumlocution may ultimately have the same deflecting effect of “we just gotta take ’em one game at a time”-style cliches, it’s decidedly more hostile and, in my personal opinion, distasteful.  Though he’s probably the best manager in my lifetime, I’ve never thought that highly of Tony La Russa the man, and after observing what I observed today, I am less impressed with him than I ever was before.

The gang bang broke up and I left the clubhouse and sat by the dancing waters outside of Hammond Stadium for a spell. As I watched the traffic dissipate, I wondered about the whole process of reporters collecting ballplayer and manager quotes, whether they matter and whether there isn’t a better way to present the game of baseball to readers who thirst for information about their favorite sport, their favorite players and their favorite teams.

I have a few ideas along those lines, but they’re only half-baked at the moment.  It’s something I’m going to think about a lot in the near future, however.  By midseason the ideas will have either ceased to interest me or will have coalesced into a scathing manifesto.  I don’t think there will be any middle ground.

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.