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Baseball Notes

A-Rod back on good terms

With new contract in tow, he's at peace in New York

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / March 23, 2008

By next week, we'll know what Jose Canseco has written, if anything, about Alex Rodriguez in his new book, "Vindicated," but the Yankee star, when asked in a wide-ranging interview last week whether he was worried, said, "No, not at all."

Canseco expressed surprise that A-Rod was not mentioned in the Mitchell Report, but lately Canseco's credibility has taken a beating. There was the report that Canseco told Magglio Ordonez he would keep his name out of the book if Ordonez funded a movie project. There was the report of a picture showing Canseco's friend, Roger Clemens, at a barbecue at Canseco's home in 1998 that Clemens said he didn't attend. Brian McNamee contends the topic of steroids came up at that gathering, but Canseco, who is being asked for testimony by federal authorities about his relationship with Clemens, also told congressional lawyers that Clemens did not attend the barbecue.

If Rodriguez is not worried, it's because the reigning AL MVP is in a far different place than he was a year ago. When we spoke in Winter Haven, Fla., last March, Rodriguez had three years left on his contract but with an opt-out clause, and he said at that point he had no idea whether he would play beyond the three years because the 2006 season had been so trying on him mentally.

"At that moment, that's how I felt," recalled Rodriguez, who wound up re-signing with the Yankees for 10 years and $275 million. "I wanted to stay in the moment. I was going to take it a year at a time. It was a big year in my life and it wound up working out well for me."

Yankee fans were all over the guy in '06. Yeah, he had a horrible season (note sarcasm): .290 with 35 homers and 121 RBIs with a .392 on-base percentage. But A-Rod was perceived as a guy who couldn't get the job done in the clutch, and it gnawed at him.

"I always knew I was a great player," he said. "Some years are better than others. I'm sure you go through it, too. [Not really, Alex].

"2005 was an MVP year. '06 was a bit of a down year, and '07 was a pretty good year again. It's kind of like the stock market. Up and down.

"You wish you could have an MVP year every year - 20 years of great years - but it's not realistic. Sometimes, like in '06, I think you wind up learning the very most about yourself. You get a chance to look in the mirror and be honest with yourself and just figure out what you need to do to get back on top again."

He thought about whether he wanted to stay in New York.

"It happened sometime in the middle of the year last year - that I wanted to stay in New York," he said. "Probably prior to or right after the All-Star break. I decided then that I never wanted to put another uniform on. And then it was just a matter of, how do we get that done here?"

That led to another mess. As the Red Sox were about to eliminate the Colorado Rockies in Game 4 of the World Series in Denver, agent Scott Boras leaked a story to SI.com that A-Rod was opting out of his Yankee contract. The leak mortified Rodriguez, who had just undergone an image repair with an MVP season in which he hit .314 with 54 homers, 156 RBIs, and a .422 on-base percentage. (After reading this story Sunday morning, Boras called this reporter to take offense. He said that at no time did he or one of his staff people leak anything about opting out to the news media.)

Rodriguez was briefly free, but at the same time he was trying to mend his broken relationship with the Yankees. He worked on reversing the stance that general manager Brian Cashman, team president Randy Levine, and the Steinbrenners had publicly taken - that if A-Rod opted out, they wouldn't re-sign him.

At the winter meetings in December, Boras shopped Rodriguez for a while, but no intense interest materialized. If it wasn't going to be New York, A-Rod wanted it to be Boston. He had wanted it to be Boston in '03 when the Texas Rangers worked out a deal with the Red Sox, only to have it dissolve when the no-fun Players Association wouldn't allow A-Rod to take a pay cut.

"I personally didn't talk to them [the Red Sox], but I think Scott had preliminary talks, but nothing financial, nothing that got close to that point," said Rodriguez. "I've always had the utmost respect for Boston and their fan base."

In the end, A-Rod stayed with the Yankees, Mike Lowell with the Red Sox.

"I love New York," said Rodriguez. "I was born there. Look, New York is not an easy place, and it hasn't been easy for me. I've had my best times and my worst times. But I think at the end of the day - like Boston - it's a place that makes you look in the mirror and be honest with yourself and to be accountable for some of the stupid crap you do.

"And at the same time, when you do well, you can match up against some of the greatest in history. Whether it's a Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle or the numerous Hall of Fame players that have put on this uniform.

"To be in this Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is a gift. I think anyone who played in New York or Boston and then goes somewhere else, at least for me, it would be quite a drop-off."

A-Rod is also getting a kick out of Hank Steinbrenner.

"I think it's good for baseball," he said. "When you have a great, passionate owner, it's great. It's great for you [media] guys."

He spoke about his affection for Manny Ramírez and responded to a story that he had advised Ramírez to hire Boras.

"I talk a lot with Manny, but I really don't want to talk about any promotion for anyone," he said. "Definitely don't want to promote that.

"When all is said and done, Manny will be the greatest righthanded hitter ever. I'm very biased because he's one of my best friends. I just love Manny.

"A lot of times we see greatness right in front of us and we don't appreciate it, but we are watching something really special. If he is gone, you'd really appreciate what he did. If he is gone, how do you replace him? He makes things look so easy and he's so gifted."

As a student of the game and someone always interested in rising players, A-Rod spoke about a few of his current favorites.

"I love your center fielder [Jacoby Ellsbury]," he said. "I like his attitude. I like his energy. He looks to be a bright, bright star. I like that kid that went from Detroit to Florida [Cameron Maybin]. I think the kid in Detroit [Curtis Granderson] is about to take off. He's an MVP-type player.

"I'll also say I've never seen a guy do what Big Papi did. That I haven't seen. He went from platoon player to great player. And he did it in his mid-20s. To be an average-to-good player, platoon player, to be an absolute All-World. Granderson has that chance."

After a trying '06 and a great '07, A-Rod has been vindicated, too.

A little shop talk around spring camps

Trade winds:

Oakland righthander Rich Harden, once a Red Sox target, is healthy again, and teams are scouting him heavily. The Yankees appear to have the greatest interest. Harden, who is scheduled to oppose Jon Lester in Game 2 in Japan, could bring Billy Beane even more young talent. But Beane won't tip his hand, even to the reporter who calls him at 7 a.m. just to chat.

The Giants are trying to find some pop for their lineup, at third or first base. Brandon Inge and Joe Crede remain on their radar. They could use both - have one play third, the other first.

An American League Central scout raved about Kyle Snyder: "Of the five teams I cover, Kyle Snyder is the most attractive pitcher of all the pitchers on the bubble on those five teams," the scout remarked.

The Mets have scouted Tigers first baseman/outfielder Marcus Thames so much this spring that they could be accused of stalking. The Mets seem to have some bullpen help (Scott Schoeneweis?) they could send to the desperate Tigers, who start the season with Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney on the disabled list. The Tigers are also discussing a deal with the Cubs, who have some depth in their bullpen.

Joining Coco Crisp and Baltimore's Jay Payton as available center-field trade bait is the Dodgers' Juan Pierre. Displaced by Andruw Jones in center, Pierre moved to left, had a bad spring training, and may be supplanted by Andre Ethier.

Yes, the Cubs could send pitcher Sean Gallagher, shortstop Ronny Cedeno, prospects Donald Veal and Jose Ceda, and another prospect to the Orioles for Brian Roberts and possibly Payton. A Baltimore official assured me a couple of days ago, "It's still alive."

The Padres are always looking for a hitter, but they've gotten enough good vibes from Chase Headley that they can be a little more patient. If Jim Edmonds keeps breaking down, Crisp would be on their radar.

The Giants have been poking the Angels about first baseman Casey Kotchman, and the name of Bengie Molina, a former Angel and someone Mike Scioscia really respects, has come up. But the Giants presumably need Molina to handle their young pitching staff. Maybe there's hope for ex-Red Sox Doug Mirabelli showing up on someone's roster soon.

Etc.

Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. Wilfred Pichardo (33 steals in 68 games of rookie league ball last season) is the fastest Red Sox player; 2. Houston's Kaz Matsui is starting the season on the disabled list after having surgery for an anal fissure. Nuf ced; 3. Boy, did I love watching Tony Oliva hit; 4. Why are Ken Macha, Don Baylor, and Jerry Narron out of baseball?; 5. Here's what I like about Curt Schilling: He does incredible work on behalf of ALS and he really takes care of his employees.

The replacements
Derryl Cousins and Gary Cederstrom were recently elevated to crew chiefs by Mike Port, baseball's vice president of umpiring. Cousins's promotion is noteworthy because he was a replacement umpire in 1979, one of seven to stick and the only one remaining. Asked whether Cousins's past was ever a factor in his thinking, Port said, "That happened in the last century. He's become crew chief after 29 years of excellent performance." Speaking of replacements, the last of the replacement players are Kevin Millar, Trever Miller, Ron Mahay, Matt Herges, and Brendan Donnelly, none of whom has been allowed to join the union. How petty.

Judgment calls
Commissioner Bud Selig said he is formulating judgments on potential punishments concerning those mentioned in the Mitchell Report. While Selig has acknowledged speaking to Giants president Peter Magowan, and MLB lawyers have spoken to Giants GM Brian Sabean concerning what he knew about trainer Greg Anderson distributing steroids, Selig said, "I have to be very careful not to say anything. I am the judge in this case." Selig would not say whether he spoke to Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who was mentioned in the report for his conversations with his staff about possible steroid use by Donnelly and Eric Gagné.

The mechanical man
If I were running an organization, Mike Pagliarulo would be one of my highest-ranking officials. The former Yankee third baseman has done an exhaustive study of the medical risks associated with pitchers and come up with a Proper Pitching Mechanics formula, which identifies and measures 30 reference points in six stages of the pitching motion. Based on his formula, he considers Manny Delcarmen a "high risk" for injury. "Delcarmen's third stage out of the six pitching stages is most out of whack," Pagliarulo concluded. "The third stage has to do with arm extension in the back, otherwise known as the timing of taking the ball out of the glove properly. Delcarmen does two things wrong here. First, he takes the ball out of his glove too late. Second, he 'short-arms' his arm circle in the back."

A shortstop assist
Former Sox shortstop Adam Everett, now starting for the Twins, and former Sox manager Jimy Williams, now the Phillies' bench coach, were reunited at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla., Friday. Everett, considered by some the best defensive shortstop in the game, said of Williams, "Not only did he give me a chance, but he's a great teacher. He helped clean up a lot of things fundamentally defensively. He also taught me how to bunt. I think God puts certain people in your life for a reason, and I'm so glad for Jimy. He helped me stay in the big leagues." Said Williams, "The kid had talent."

Hello, Norma Jean?
Twins outfielder Craig Monroe, on his mother, Marilyn: "She's received crap about her name all her life. She'll be on a phone call and she'll say, 'This is Marilyn Monroe . . .,' and people will say, 'No way!' She's had a lot of fun with it over the years."

On the rise with his sinker
As it turns out, Kason Gabbard might not be the best pitcher the Rangers got from the Red Sox. Righty Luis Mendoza, traded by the Sox for Bryan Corey in 2006, has been one of the best pitchers in Arizona in spring training. The sinkerballer is getting a rotation spot because he's a ground-ball machine. "Throws strikes and has an idea what he's doing out there," said an AL scout. The Sox didn't get snookered, because Corey is also a very good reliever, and he'll work in the majors if the Sox don't keep him on the 25-man roster.

Big leaguers on campus
The Yankees did a nice thing by going to Blacksburg, Va., to play an exhibition at Virginia Tech, site of the horrifying massacre last April. Hokies head coach Pete Hughes, who coached at Boston College for eight years, got a text message from Red Sox manager Terry Francona the morning of the game: "Good luck. Pound Jeter inside. Go get 'em."

See you soon
A Dodgers official said Friday he didn't expect Nomar Garciaparra to miss a lot of action because of the chipped bone in his right hand. "It wouldn't shock me if he was available for Opening Day, or maybe a week into the season," said the official. "It isn't a bad injury." Garciaparra had been hitting the ball well before the injury happened.

You can say that again
Every time I see Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, I hear, "Nobody mentions the Braves. That's one solid team right there." I've heard that four times from Charlie. He's right; the Braves could be very good if their veteran pitching stays upright. "This is going to be a heck of a race this year," Manuel said . . . Happy 64th birthday, George "Boomer" Scott.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com

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