Daily Dose: All's Wells for Vernon Again?

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Vernon Wells went 3-for-4 with a homer on Opening Day and followed that up with two more homers Wednesday, showing some serious signs of life after a terrible 2009. Last year was either the worst or second-worst of Wells’ career, with the other forgettable campaign being 2007, and he bounced back from that to hit .300 with an .840 OPS in 2008. Too early to expect a similar story in 2010, but so far so good.
While the $107 million left on Wells’ contract looks slightly less horrific for the Blue Jays, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Billy Wagner looked excellent Wednesday nailing down his first Braves save, clocking in at 96-99 miles per hour with his fastball and breaking off several unhittable sliders to strike out the side. Wagner has come back amazingly well from Tommy John surgery given that he went under the knife at age 36. Since returning late last season he’s thrown 17.2 innings, racking up 31 strikeouts compared to just nine hits.
* Rich Harden’s lack of peak velocity during spring training carried over to his Rangers debut Wednesday, as he worked mostly in the high-80s and topped 91-92 miles per hour on just a couple pitches. Harden has always managed to remain dominant despite a never-ending string of injuries, but his velocity has crept downward for several years now and he was anything but overpowering against the Blue Jays.
* After a cortisone shot and having his surgically repaired knee drained, Lance Berkman said Wednesday that he’s hoping to come off the disabled list during the six-game road trip that begins Monday. Geoff Blum and Pedro Feliz have batted fifth while replacing Berkman at first base, so the Astros desperately need him back in the lineup, but some of his comments suggest that the knee is still far from full strength.
* Kelly Johnson moved into the leadoff spot Wednesday with Conor Jackson getting the night off and responded by going 3-for-3 with two homers and a walk. With his value at an all-time low following a poor, injury wrecked season Johnson was one of my favorite sleeper targets in part because Arizona is a great place to hit and in part because he batted .282/.362/.451 in 297 games for the Braves in the previous two seasons.
* Milwaukee faced a right-handed pitcher for the second time Wednesday and for the second time Jim Edmonds started over Corey Hart in right field, going 2-for-4 with a double. Edmonds is 40 years old and sat out last season when the job market proved lacking, but looked good this spring and posted an .882 OPS against righties in 2008. He’s unlikely to hit for much of a batting average, but the power and patience remain.
AL Quick Hits: John Lackey tossed six shutout innings in his Red Sox debut Wednesday, but Curtis Granderson won it with an extra-inning homer off Jonathan Papelbon … Ian Kinsler (ankle) is hoping to join the Rangers during an 11-game road trip that begins Monday … Russell Branyan (back) is slated to begin a rehab assignment Thursday at Triple-A … Max Scherzer and Luke Hochevar combined for 13.2 shutout innings Wednesday in a game that went into extra frames … Nolan Reimold got his first start Wednesday when Felix Pie was scratched from the lineup with a sore shoulder … Fausto Carmona handed out six walks Wednesday, but also held the White Sox to one hit in six innings … Hideki Matsui is scheduled to play the outfield Thursday for the first time since June of 2008 … Jim Thome got his first start Wednesday, but Ron Gardenhire oddly chose to bench Jason Kubel rather than Delmon Young versus a right-hander … Matt Joyce (elbow) is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment Thursday at Triple-A … Jake Fox replaced Eric Chavez at designated hitter Wednesday against a left-hander.
NL Quick Hits: Edgar Renteria reached safely in all six plate appearances Wednesday, collecting five hits and a walk in a blowout win … Brad Lidge (elbow, knee) is slated to throw a bullpen session Thursday, but there’s no timetable yet for his return … Jose Reyes went 1-for-5 with a double in an extended spring training game Wednesday … Jason Giambi started Wednesday as part of the Rockies’ plan to give Todd Helton more rest … Brett Myers escaped with a no-decision Wednesday despite giving up a dozen hits in six innings … Jason Marquis lasted just four innings in his Nationals debut, coughing up six runs … Jeff Keppinger started at shortstop Wednesday after Tommy Manzella was plunked on the wrist … Joe Blanton (oblique) made 60 throws from 60 feet Wednesday, but isn’t close to rejoining the rotation yet … After batting .373 with 18 RBIs in 20 games this spring, Hunter Pence is 0-for-12 … With his path to Cincinnati blocked by Joey Votto, the Reds have moved prospect Yonder Alonso to left field.

Reds prospect Juan Duran suspended 80 games

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Juan Duran, a minor-league outfielder in the Reds’ farm system, has been suspended 80 games following positive tests for the performance-enhancing drugs Drostanolone, Stanozolol, and Nandrolone.

Duran is 6-foot-7 with big-time power, averaging 23 homers per 150 games since 2011, but he also strikes out a ton and struggles to control the strike zone. He spent last season at Double-A, missing a lot of time with injuries and hitting .256 with six homers and a .728 OPS in 59 games as a 23-year-old.

Duran is on the 40-man roster and is considered a quasi-prospect, but he’ll be ineligible to play until July and figures to head back to Double-A once reinstated.

The Blue Jays will talk long term deals with Jose Bautistia and Edwin Encarnacion

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Ever since Alex Anthopoulos resigned as Blue Jays’ GM and Mark Shapiro took over as team president, a distinct air of frugality has set in over Rogers Centre. The go-for-broke attitude that fueled Toronto’s fantastic second half last year was repudiated and long-term, sustainable building has seemed to be the order of the day.

But the Jays aren’t going to go crazy with that: ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports that the Blue Jays plan to have long-term extension talks with the agents of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion during spring training. This, combined with the still-remaining possibility that they can avoid arbitration with MVP Josh Donaldson and hammer out a long-term deal could mean some serious spending by the Jays before Opening Day.

Or this could just be talk from the front office designed to buoy the spirits of fans. Locking up all three of them to long-term deals may be hella expensive and may not be possible. It’s also the case that, given their ages — Bautista is 35 and Encarnacion is 33 — it may not be advisable to lock the both up. As always, it depends on the terms and how generous Rogers Communications plans on being with the Jays’ budget.

But the chatter is now out there and expectations are poised to be set.

The Rays are REALLY ready to get to work on that new ballpark

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Last month St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays reached an agreement that would allow the Rays to seek a new ballpark outside of the St. Pete city limits, anywhere in the Bay Area. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports¬†today that the Rays have submitted a required report to that end which “describes how they plan to evaluate potential ballpark sites across the Tampa Bay area” and serves as a rough outline of the sort of facility they’re looking to build.

They submitted it 39 days before deadline. Ya think they’re eager to get moving?

As for the specifics, it sounds like they’re shooting for a Braves or Cardinals style destination place with surrounding entertainment, retail and the like. The Braves are achieving that by basically building the park at a mall and plan to surround it with other mall/entertainment district-type development. The Cardinals built a downtown park, but have developed Ballpark Village after the fact. This is to be contrasted with downtown parks which either counted on existing city businesses or spurred separate development.

All of which makes sense given that there isn’t one dominant location in Tampa which all but demands development there. Tampa has a few different areas that might make sense and the place is generally more spread out than older cities. It also makes sense for the Rays’ owners who are likely well aware that being in the real estate business is just as good for them as being in the baseball business.

Will anyone EVER break that record that was broken nine years ago?

Hank Aaron
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In 2007, Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run. He would go on to hit six more, finishing his career with 762. That was nine years ago and, at present, the active home run leader is nearly 80 homers behind him and no sure bet to come close. The next closest guy is over 200 homers back and clearly entering a period of decline.

All of which raises the question: will anyone EVER pass the home run total of Hank Aaron, who is in second place on that list?

Maybe you think that’s not really a pertinent question. We tend not to ask whether people who do not, by any objective measure, hold a record will have their records surpassed. But you’d be wrong. Why, just today, on Hank Aaron’s 82nd birthday, at least two journalists speculated whether anyone would ever become the all-time second place home run king:

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That’s from Cliff Corcoran at Sports Illustrated. As always, it’s excellent work from Cliff. Right up there with his seminal “will anyone ever catch Lou Brock in stolen bases?” and “who can catch Trevor Hoffman in career saves?” pieces.

Then there’s Dave O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who approves of the question posed and has his own response:

You can imagine how those tweets were received by those parts of Twitter who are all about PED apologia, math, objective standards, noting that Aaron admitted that he took a PED that would have him banned today too and stuff like that. As always, these things get ugly.

Not that they have to be. It’s almost as if, if one were to try, one could celebrate the amazing inner-circle Hall of Fame career of Hank Aaron, full as it is with nearly unsurpassed accomplishment, without applying a revisionist gloss to the one accomplishment that, according to all objective measures and the accounting of Major League Baseball, has been surpassed. That one could talk about Aaron without slagging on Bonds.