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Baseball Stars, a peak in many ways…

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Merry Christmas.

It’s nice to be able to write that and know that a few thousand people might read it.  Or at least glance over it.  I hope you all had a safe and fun holiday.

I used to love Christmas.  I guess I still do, but I used to really love it. Presents. Presents. Presents.  It was all about waking up early and tearing into presents.

My family has never been overly wealthy.  My mother and stepfather are both educators and the most elaborate gift I received as a child was an original Nintendo Entertainment System with 12 games, including Tecmo Superbowl, Duck Hunt, Contra and the almighty Baseball Stars.  That was in 1998, 15 years after the NES came out and close 10 years after most of those games were first released.

But I didn’t care.  I was 11 years old and it was my first video game system.  I absolutely loved it.

You could create teams from scratch in Baseball Stars and run an entire club just like a real-life general manager, hiring and firing at will.  My older brothers Ryan and Evan kind of ran things back then and usually hogged the two controllers that we had with little fight from me.  They created the ’97 Braves, the ’97 Indians, the ’97 Orioles and the ’97 Mariners.  We had just moved to St. Louis, Missouri, so they probably made the ’97 Cardinals as well.  I don’t know, I don’t really remember.

What I do remember is playing game after game until our parents demanded that it was time for bed.  Then I remember sneaking out of bed and continuing the fun.  It wasn’t PlayStation, or Nintendo 64 or any of those other modern systems that my friends at school were playing, but it was a blast.

Now it’s 2010, almost 2011.  I still play video games all the time with friends and I love few things more than my PlayStation 3.  The graphics are stunning, Sony’s MLB: The Show features 120-year dynasties and you no longer have to spend a whole day creating accurate rosters.  The 2010 Cardinals are provided — with spot-on batting stances, stunningly lifelike pitching deliveries and even a deep farm system.

It’s great.  But it’s not the same.

My brother Evan lives in Chicago now (he writes for ProFootballTalk and Rotoworld) and my brother Ryan has called Kansas City home for the last few years.  We talk regularly and get together plenty, but I can’t remember the last time we all crammed on a two-man couch and beat the piss out of the Ninja Blacksox.

I heard Bobby Bowden suggest recently that ‘the good old days’ probably weren’t all that good.  Maybe he’s right.  Maybe this nostalgia nonsense is, well, nonsense.

Whatever the case, I’m glad I’ll always have those memories and I’m glad that the holidays force us to reunite at least once a year.  Now if I could just find that old NES…

Angels ink Javy Guerra to minor league deal

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Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Angels have agreed to terms on a minor league contract with right-handed reliever Javy Guerra. The deal includes an invitation to major league spring training.

Guerra was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball last July after testing positive for a drug of abuse. That suspension is now over, though Guerra is probably ticketed for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate to begin the 2016 season.

The 30-year-old made just three major league appearances in 2015 for the White Sox before getting outrighted off Chicago’s 40-man roster. He does own a 2.87 ERA in 150 1/3 career innings, but it has come with bouts of inconsistency and unreliability.

Maybe he can get everything going in the right direction with Anaheim.

Braves sign reliever Carlos Torres

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As first reported by Bill Shanks of Fox Sports 1670, the Braves have signed right-handed reliever Carlos Torres to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Torres was waived by the Mets in January, somewhat surprisingly, and elected to become a free agent. The 33-year-old ultimately chose Atlanta, where he should have a good shot at an Opening Day roster out of spring training with the rapidly-rebuilding Braves.

Torres posted an ugly 4.68 ERA in 57 2/3 innings last season for the Mets, but he registered a gorgeous 3.06 ERA and 96 strikeouts across 97 innings in 2014.

If he gets off to a good start in 2016, he could become valuable trade bait.

Blue Jays will have a closer competition this spring

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Roberto Osuna became the youngest pitcher to ever play for the Blue Jays last season at age 20 and he rose to the challenge with a 2.58 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 75/16 K/BB ratio in 69 2/3 frames. Osuna eventually took over as Toronto’s closer, earning 20 regular-season saves and one in the American League Division Series — a five-out effort in Game 5 to close out the visiting Rangers.

But the Jays upgraded the back end of their bullpen this winter, acquiring Drew Storen from the Nationals in early January for speedy outfielder Ben Revere. Jesse Chavez was also brought to Toronto in a trade with the A’s.

Storen has more experience at closer than Osuna, and Storen struggled when the Nationals tried to put him in a setup role. Storen, in his final year of salary arbitration, also gets paid much more. He’s probably going to enter spring training as the favorite for the Jays’ ninth-inning gig, but there will be a competition …

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins told Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca on Wednesday that he doesn’t expect the team to choose between Osuna or Storen until midway through spring training, if not later.

There’s been talk of making Osuna a starter, so add that wrinkle.

Storen, 28, boasts 95 career major league saves.

Orioles plotting late-offseason push? Gallardo, Fowler, Alvarez, Bruce in consideration

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Baltimore’s front office appears to be lining up a run of potential roster additions leading into the beginning of spring training.

We’ve already passed along the reports suggesting they are close to a three-year deal with free agent starter Yovani Gallardo, but now FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal adds that free agent outfielder Dexter Fowler could be next on the Orioles’ target list. It they get those two deals done, the O’s could then chase free agent slugger Pedro Alvarez.

Rosenthal says the Orioles are even eyeing Jay Bruce of the Reds, though the FOX reporter hears the O’s might not have the prospects to pull off that kind of trade.

The focus for the Orioles out of the gate this winter was re-signing Matt Wieters and Chris Davis. Wieters accepted his one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer in November and Davis was locked up to a seven-year, $161 million contract in mid-January.

Now the O’s are spending a little leftover cash on late-offseason additions to improve their position in what should be a tight 2016 American League East race.