Carlos Zambrano has a nutso player option . . . that could be serious trouble for baseball

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We passed along word this morning that Carlos Zambrano is leaning towards retirement after 2012.  But as Buster Olney notes in his column today, Zambrano may have $19 million reasons to stick around for 2013:

He has an interesting player option that should be a heck of a big
carrot for him in the next couple of years. If Zambrano were to finish
in the top two in the Cy Young voting in 2011, or in the top four in
2012, then he has a $19 million player option that vests automatically.
Zambrano would have to hold his emotions and focus together for an
entire summer to make that happen, but he has great incentive to try, at
a time when a $19 million salary for a pitcher is something that has
become more and more difficult to obtain.

Longshot, I realize it. But as Olney also notes, Zambrano is 6-0 with a 1.59 ERA over his last eight starts. The skills are still there. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could throw together a really nice season.

And it wouldn’t have to be that nice. Sure, top two in the Cy Young voting in 2011 is a stretch, but top four in 2012 isn’t. Consider: Javier Vazquez was fourth in the 2009 Cy Young voting results. He got there on the power of ONE SECOND PLACE VOTE. You telling me that there isn’t one writer out there who if, say, Zambrano won 16 games by virtue of health and some good run support, wouldn’t throw him a vote if there is no clear pecking order (as was the case last year)?

Which, now that I think about it, is troubling as all hell.  One writer. One guy could be the difference between Zambrano retiring or the Cubs being on the hook for $19 million in 2013.  Yes, the whole point of the clause is reward good-but-not-necessarily-great pitching, but given some of the outlandish down-ballot awards voting we’ve seen in recent years, it’s possible that something fluky could happen and Zambrano could get his option even with a blah year.

I’ve mostly dismissed the arguments writers have made about not wanting to vote on awards for such reasons because I’ve never really thought it was likely for a vote or two to make such an impact (and because if the teams want to be stupid enough to let players make millions based on crazy baseball writer votes, God help them).

But then again, we’ve never had a team place such a large amount of money on a contract incentive that could be so easily attainable before either, and frankly, it gives me the willies.

Joe Mauer reveals he’s had blurred vision since 2013 concussion

Joe Mauer
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After a decade as the best all-around catcher in baseball Joe Mauer suffered a concussion in August of 2013 that forced him to change positions and marked the end of his time as a great hitter.

Mauer was doing his usual thing at the time of the concussion, hitting .324 with a .404 on-base percentage and .880 OPS. Since returning from the brain injury he’s hit .270 with a .348 on-base percentage and .725 OPS while seeing his numbers decline across the board.

Mauer revealed today to Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that “lingering symptoms occasionally blurred his vision at the plate the past two seasons” and “he will experiment hitting with sunglasses for the first time to improve his pitch tracking” this season.

Here’s more from Murphy:

Bright sunshine sometimes triggered blurred vision that Mauer links to the concussion with which he was diagnosed in August 2013 after absorbing at least “two significant blows” from foul tips while he was still catching.

“I don’t want that to be kind of an excuse. If I’m out there, I’m out there. That’s just the way I am,” Mauer said. “There are times I’ve gone up to the plate and I just couldn’t pick up the ball. That’s part of the frustration because I’m trying to do everything I can to get back. It just takes time.”

There are more quotes along those same lines and Mauer’s numbers in night games were much better than his numbers in day games last season.

I live in Minnesota and it has been incredibly frustrating to see such a large (or at least vocal) segment of the Twins fan base treat Mauer’s steep decline as if it has nothing to do with the significant brain trauma he suffered. I’m hopeful that Mauer going public about literally struggling to see the baseball while at the plate will convince fans to treat him more humanely, but that’s probably wishful thinking at this point.

What a shame, on every level.

Masahiro Tanaka can’t say for sure if he’ll be ready by Opening Day

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Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka said today that he “can’t say for sure” whether he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

Tanaka underwent arthroscopic surgery in late November to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. Tanaka threw off a bullpen mound Tuesday for the first time since undergoing a cleanup procedure on his right elbow last October and, while healthy, may be behind other pitchers.

Tanaka posted a 3.51 ERA and a 139/27 K/BB ratio across 154 innings last season. He also has a partially torn UCL he’s been pitching through for some time which is always something the Yankees have on their mind when it comes to schedules and workouts for their ace.

Denard Span, not Angel Pagan, will be Giants’ center fielder and leadoff hitter

Denard Span
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Making official what was assumed when the Giants signed Denard Span to a three-year, $31 million contract last month, manager Bruce Bochy announced that Span will start in center field and bat leadoff.

That means 34-year-old Angel Pagan, who’s been the Giants’ starting center fielder and primary leadoff hitter for the past four seasons, will slide to left field and bat further down in the lineup. About a month before the Span signing Bochy said Pagan would remain in the center fielder/leadoff role, but the situation obviously changed.

It’s a move that makes sense, because Span–if healthy following hip surgery–is a superior defensive center fielder with better on-base skills. And if Pagan doesn’t bounce back following a rough 2015 season then having him in left field will make it easier for the Giants to platoon him or bench him in favor of, say, Gregor Blanco or a bigger bat.

Pitchers to receive new visor-like protective headgear

Headgear
MLB/MLBPA
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For the past few years MLB, the MLBPA and cap and helmet manufacturers have been working on various models of protective headgear for pitchers. Some of the models have been unworkable, some of them have not met the satisfaction of pitchers and others have, well, looked a little odd. At present the only pitcher who routinely wears any headgear is Alex Torres, who wears the bulky isoBLOX helmet.

Now, however, there is a new option. And, as you can see above it’s a bit different than what we’ve seen before. It’s more or less like a visor, which will have a nylon top on them to give a full cap-like appearance. The ear flaps will be lefty and righty-specific, given that righties are more likely to be hit on the right and lefties on the left given their follow-throughs.

The new caps will be given out to players this spring and, like the old ones, will be used or not used at the choice of the players. You can read more about the new helmet at ESPN’s Outside the Lines report.