Hughes likely to be named fifth starter today. Here's why it doesn't matter

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UPDATE: It’s Hughes.

8:29 A.M. The Yankees fifth start competition has been the most celebrated race for a meaningless job since the last vice presidential search. It’s enough to make me wish for a giant scandal in Yankees camp. I mean, at least it would be fun to talk about, say, a fistfight between Nick Swisher and Mick Kelleher over a card game or a big Marcus Thames steroids beef or something.

But no, we’ve been stuck with Joba and Phil. It’ll likely be resolved today with Joe Girardi naming Phil Hughes his starter and sending Chamberlain to the pen to set up for Mariano Rivera.  Joba fans will complain. The people who think he was born with a bullpen phone stuck to his ear will rejoice. The tabloid writers will spend far too much time talking about how Girardi’s choice reveals important truths about each man’s character and destiny. It’ll be a gas, man. But one tabloid writer makes a pretty wise point. It’s Joel Sherman of the Post, who notes today that the stakes of this fifth starter race aren’t all that high.

Why? Because the Yankees have every Monday in April off and won’t need a fifth starter until the 17th at the earliest, and even later if it rains. Also because Phil Hughes, like Joba before him, will be subject to an innings limit, probably around 170. When you figure that the Yankees are far more likely to make the playoffs than miss them, that means Hughes will need to be pretty severely limited in the early going if they want him to be available for the playoffs (where he’ll likely be a reliever again anyway).

Sherman thinks that the Hughes rules will require that he either start the season in Scranton, where he can be yanked after three or four innings without anyone making a federal case out of it, or split his starts, with him taking the first few innings and having either Alfredo Aceves or Sergio Mitre as scheduled relievers to take, say, the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

The upshot: the conclusion of The Great Fifth Starters Race of 2010 is going to be pretty anticlimactic.  As it should be.

Michael Bourn opts out of his minor league deal with the Orioles

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Outfielder Michael Bourn was traded by the Diamondbacks to the Orioles late last season and hit a solid .283/.358/.435 in 55 plate appearances with them through the end of the season. While that’s not enough to outweigh the miserable season he had in Arizona, it was enough to get the O’s to give him a look in spring training with a minor league deal. They signed him to one in late February.

Then, a couple of days later, Bourn broke his finger while playing catch with a football. Unable to play, the O’s cut him. In early April, once Bourn healed, the O’s signed him again. He played 11 games for their Triple-A affiliate and went 9-for-41 with ten walks in 51 plate appearances. While that makes for a decent OBP, his lack of any sort of pop or good contact suggests that if someone throws him strikes, he can’t do much with the ball.

As such, the O’s had not called him up to Baltimore. And as a result of that, Bourn exercised his opt-out rights and became a free agent.

Someone may take a look at him given that his batting eye seems to be intact and given that, in an admittedly small sample size, he still performed last season. But if he does get a look, it’ll likely be back at the minor league level.

Rob Manfred talks about playing regular season games in Mexico

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The new Collective Bargaining Agreement commits the players and the league to regular season games on foreign soil. Most of the focus of this has been on games in London, for which there has been a lot of activity and discussion.

Yesterday before the Astros-Tigers game in Houston, however, Commissioner Rob Manfred talked about playing games in Mexico. And not as just a one-off, but as a foot-in-the-water towards possible expansion:

Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that the time had come to play regular-season games in Mexico City as Major League Baseball weighs international expansion.

“We think it’s time to move past exhibition games and play real live ‘they-count’ games in Mexico,” Manfred said. “That is the kind of experiment that puts you in better position to make a judgement as to whether you have a market that could sustain an 81-game season and a Major League team.”

A team in Mexico could make some geographic sense and some marketing sense, though it’s not clear if there is a city that would be appropriate for that right now. Mexico City is huge but it has plenty of its own sports teams and is far away from the parts of the country where baseball is popular (mostly the border states and areas along the Pacific coast). At 7,382 feet, its elevation would make games at Coors Field look like the Deadball Era.

Monterrey has been talked about — games have been played there and it’s certainly closer — but it’s somewhat unknown territory demographically speaking. It’s not as big as Mexico City, obviously. Income stratification is greater there and most of the rest of Mexico than it is in the United States too, making projections of how much discretionary income people may spend on an expensive entertainment product like Major League Baseball uncertain. Especially when they have other sports they’ve been following for decades.

Interesting, though. It’s something Manfred has talked about many times over the years, so unlike so many other things he says he’s “considering” or “hasn’t ruled out,” Major League Baseball in Mexico is something worth keeping our eyes on.