Jeff Samardzija heats up Cubs rotation competition

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It looked like six pitchers for five spots initially, but with Jeff Samardzija having made a strong early impression on new manager Dale Sveum, there are currently seven pitchers in the mix for the Cubs rotation.

The givens are Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster, though Garza’s name has been a very popular one in trade rumors. After those two were expected to be Paul Maholm and Randy Wells, leaving newcomers Chris Volstad and Travis Wood competing for one spot. Samardzija’s emergence, though, has broadened the competition and perhaps left Wells vulernable to being replaced.

Volstad, for what it’s worth, has answered the bell early on. He pitched three scoreless innings in a win against the Giants on Tuesday, bringing his spring total to six scoreless frames. Samardzija has allowed two runs in his six innings and boasts a nice 6/0 K/BB ratio. Wells has pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings, while Wood has allowed one run in 2 1/3 innings.

Since Wood, who came over in the Sean Marshall deal, has options left, he seems the most likely candidate to be bumped now. Samardzija then could take the spot of either Volstad or Wells if he’s promoted from the bullpen. Wells has seen his ERA jump from 3.05 in 2009 to 4.26 in 2010 and 4.99 last season, so there’s no reason he should be promised anything.

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.