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Baseball notes

On the Coast, it's very clear

Dodgers, Angels need to keep their sluggers

MARK TEIXEIRAWants to settle down MARK TEIXEIRAWants to settle down
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / November 23, 2008
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The Los Angeles teams can't afford to lose the best hitters on the free agent market: Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramírez. And deep down, they know it.

Question is, can either afford to keep them?

A lot of green (as in money) dust has to settle before all is said and done, but when it does, the prominent color for Ramírez should be blue - as in Dodger blue - and Teixeira should be an Angel for the next 8-10 years.

"Think about it," said an American League general manager. "The Angels have been waiting how long to have a hitter like this to protect Vlad Guerrero in the lineup, and they'd let him escape?"

Also think about the fact that Guerrero is entering his option year. He has played the game so hard for so long, his body is banged up. The Angels almost have to keep Teixeira, who is the one player on the market, as a National League GM said, "that if you give him an eight- to 10-year deal at $20 million or so, you won't feel horrible about it."

What if the Dodgers don't keep Ramírez and Angels owner Arte Moreno can't keep Teixeira? It would stand to reason that Moreno, who recently had some nice things to say about Ramírez, would make a bid for him.

We know that Ramírez is a rock star who puts fans in the seats, and he was the reason, much like Eric Gagne was several years ago, that Dodger fans actually stayed until the end of the game.

The Dodgers have already extended a two-year, $45 million offer, with an option for $15 million, knowing full well it wasn't going to be accepted. But it's a starting point. Nowhere does Ramírez fit better than LA.

"There are pros and cons," said Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa. "If he gets four years and is playing left field, I don't know if he can do it. He might, but for that length, is the American League a better fit because of the DH?

"I know what I saw after he got here. He was going first to third and running hard and hustling. He made a great impression on our young kids. He was a leader in the clubhouse.

"To be honest, when I first heard we were going to trade for him, I said, 'Oh, OK, this ought to be fun.' I had seen it from the other side when Joe [Torre] and I were in New York. I saw Manny being Manny and it upset me."

And when Ramírez came to LA?

"It was 180 degrees different," said Bowa. "He took a lot of heat off the kids. If there's one team out there who needs him for that reason, it's us.

"Don't get me wrong, we have some kids who are really good hitters, but Manny just came in here and took everything upon himself. Everyone around him in the lineup relaxed. He put everything on his shoulders and the kids around him were able to relax."

I can't believe I'm writing this, but Bowa thought Ramírez taught the younger players how to approach the game. That was a big issue when Torre took over the team, because he had younger guys who weren't going all out and Bowa was in charge of setting them straight. So when Ramírez came aboard, it was logical to assume Bowa and Ramírez might conflict. But not even close.

Weighing all the pros and cons, Bowa would vote for Ramírez to come back.

"Of course, the length of the contract, the money, that will be the biggest determination as to whether Manny comes back here," he said. "I think we all hope it works out."

While there will be the great unknown with Ramírez in terms of whether he lapses into Manny Being Manny, there are no such issues with Teixeira, a two-time Gold Glove first baseman who plays hard on every play. Like Ramírez, Teixeira is a patient hitter who gets on base. He's a switch hitter and a true impact hitter.

Teixeira hails from the Baltimore area, and there is talk that both Baltimore and Washington could make major bids to make him the face of their franchise. The Red Sox and Yankees will also likely get in their offers before all is said and done.

Most major leaguers love to come home, but in the times I spoke to him toward the end of the season, Teixeira expressed a great fondness for playing with the Angels. His main goal was to stop living out of a suitcase, because in his young career, he has already gone from Texas to Atlanta to Anaheim.

As one Angels player said last week, "We'd be crazy not to re-sign Mark Teixeira."

Valuable input from Ethier
A few questions for Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier:

Dustin Pedroia is one of your best friends, a teammate at Arizona State. How did you feel when he won MVP?
AE: "Proud. He called me after he found out and we actually went out to dinner that night here in Chandler, Ariz., because we live really close to one another. You talk about a guy who just keeps proving everyone wrong and beating the odds. I've learned so much from him in terms of preparing for games and to compete and what it takes to be that good. We work out here at a local gym together and we have a blast. We're taking aerobic classes and lifting weights. We vacation together. He's been a fun guy to be around."

Was he always beating the odds in college, too?
AE: "Oh yeah, even more so. He was always being told he was too small and all that. From Day One, he was proving that he belonged and that he could play at a high level. And he just kept showing it, kept getting better and better. He always had that swagger and confidence about him. When he called me to tell me, though, he said, 'Can you believe this?' And really, I guess I could. He worked for everything he's got. Rookie of the Year, MVP, World Series ring, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger. I mean, he's just carving out a great career for himself."

You had a breakout year yourself (.305, 20 homers, 77 RBIs). It seemed you got better when Manny Ramirez arrived.
AE: "There's no doubt that what I got from Manny was learning patience at the plate. He taught me to just focus on every at-bat and to really stay back and not be too jumpy. He really taught me to relax and just let my natural talents come out. He's just the greatest hitter, and the way he prepares in the cage, it's amazing to watch him. I think it really helped to hit in front of him and I think my confidence at the plate grew and I started hitting better."

R.I.'s Baldelli could play a role with Red Sox
The Red Sox are doing due diligence on free agent Rocco Baldelli, who could be in the mix as a fourth outfielder after the team dealt Coco Crisp to the Kansas City Royals last week for reliever Ramon Ramírez. According to major league sources, Baldelli, from Cumberland, R.I., met with the Red Sox at Fenway late last week to discuss his future and the effects of the mitochondrial disorder that limited him to 80 at-bats with the Rays last season.

Baldelli, who has toured the country visiting doctors trying to learn the cause of his premature muscle fatigue, hit .263 for Tampa Bay but never played back-to-back games in the field during the regular season. He appeared in 22 games as DH, five in right field, and one in left field. In the postseason, Baldelli batted .200 over eight games.

Baldelli said during the World Series that he didn't want to talk about his future because he was trying to soak in the moment with the Rays, the team he'd struggled with for so long, playing in just 155 games the past three years because of various ailments. Tampa Bay elected not to pick up the $6 million option on his contract for 2009 and bought him out for $4 million. But when pressed about his future then, Baldelli said, "I do know this: I want to play next year. I feel I can play."

The Sox also have talked to free agent starting pitcher A.J. Burnett, but those talks have been preliminary in nature. The Sox would have to take a long look at the medical records of Burnett, who has had only two seasons in which he's made 30 or more starts, but all indications are the Sox have not yet reached that point.

Etc.
Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. Derek Lowe over A.J. Burnett; 2. Chicago Tribune owner Sam Zell has to be upset that insider trading charges against Mark Cuban could keep him out of the bidding for the Cubs; 3. A's owner Lew Wolf's idea of a one-game first-round playoff is creative, but I'd rather go the other way: seven games; 4. Mike Mussina will become the new Bert Blyleven/Jack Morris dilemma for Hall of Fame voters; 5. No rain-shortened games in the postseason. Glad we finally have a written rule.

A 10-spot
Sizing up the offseason activity so far for 10 teams:

1. Cubs. An A-plus to Jim Hendry for re-signing 17-game winner Ryan Dempster to a "reasonable" four-year, $52 million deal. That puts Hendry in a position of strength in talks on Jake Peavy. He has to find himself a right fielder, which could be anyone from Raul Ibanez to Bobby Abreu to Mark Teahen.

2. Red Sox. Theo Epstein did a nice job trading Coco Crisp for a top-of-the-line set-up man in Ramon Ramirez. He shed some $5.8 million in the process, which sets him up for a big free agent signing or two (Mark Teixeira, Burnett, Lowe?). It also eases the burden of Julio Lugo's big contract. Whereas he could trade Lugo for another bad contract like Dontrelle Willis or (less likely) Nate Robertson, he also could eat some of Lugo's money and perhaps make a different deal for the shortstop.

3. Giants. Brian Sabean has a long way to go, but he moved quickly in tying up a decent lefty reliever in Jeremy Affeldt to a two-year, $8 million deal. Sabean is probably kicking the tires on bigger things, such as Bay Area native CC Sabathia, free agent outfielder Pat Burrell, Seattle third baseman Adrian Beltre, and free agent shortstop Rafael Furcal.

4. Mariners. New general manager Jack Zduriencik hired the well-respected Don Wakamatsu to manage. Wakamatsu has been a coach in Texas and Oakland. While it's not a sexy pick, Zduriencik went with the guy who has divisional knowledge and who will be in lockstep with the Mariners' new emphasis on statistical analysis. Now all they need is players.

5. Royals. Dayton Moore has acquired power and speed in former Marlins first baseman Mike Jacobs and Crisp. Having added nearly $10 million to the payroll and still in need of rebuilding his bullpen, Moore will likely have to start deleting. Ross Gload, Ryan Shealy, and Teahen could be on the block. SI.com's Jon Heyman reports that they are shopping Jose Guillen.

6. Marlins. Larry Beinfest does wonders breaking down teams and rebuilding them. So now he's breaking down, trading Jacobs to KC, closer Kevin Gregg to the Cubs for promising pitcher Jose Ceda, and then Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham to Washington.

7. Nationals. GM Jim Bowden has been very aggressive, acquiring Olsen and Willingham, and making a push for Teixeira - and if that doesn't work out, Adam Dunn. A major league source indicated that Bowden has called numerous teams asking about the availability of their best hitters.

8. White Sox: One of GM Kenny Williams's top priorities this winter? Get younger. So what does he do? Signs a premier power-hitting 19-year-old third baseman/right fielder from Cuba, Dayan Viciedo (his contract is estimated at four years, $5 million). He was immediately placed on the 40-man roster, but early indications are that he's earmarked for Double A. While teams like the Red Sox were looking at Viciedo - who is described as having "light-tower" power but with a Miguel Cabrera appetite - he was destined to go to Chicago because of his relationship with Cuban infielder Alexei Ramirez. Williams also took veteran reliever Mike MacDougal off the 40-man roster, traded Nick Swisher to the Yankees, and is shopping Javier Vazquez for a package of younger players.

9. Athletics. The Matt Holliday deal was as big as it gets, but the A's are doing more, looking closely at Furcal.

10. Yankees: They re-signed lefty reliever Damaso Marte to a four-year deal, have made Sabathia a six-year, $140 million offer, and are ready to strike on Burnett and Lowe. Don't rule them out with Teixeira, even after obtaining Swisher.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: "The one-man battery: The Reds have signed 31-year old righty catcher Ben Davis to a minor league contract - as a pitcher. Davis hit .205 in the minors last season, then pitched in independent ball, and last played in the majors in 2004 with the Mariners and White Sox. He has a career .237 average with 38 homers and 204 RBIs. He'll probably start his pitching career at Double A ball. He is best known for breaking up Curt Schilling's perfect game with a controversial eighth-inning bunt. Now, maybe he'll see how that feels." Also, "Jamie Moyer turned 46 this week and is like a fine wine improving with age. Moyer has a 246-185 career record. On his 26th birthday, his record was 28-34. On his 36th birthday, his career record was 104-93." . . . The Boston Baseball Writers Dinner is Jan. 8 at the Westin Waterfront Hotel. Dustin Pedroia will be presented with the Yawkey Award as Sox MVP, while Kevin Youkilis will receive the Jackie Jensen Award for hustle and determination. Tickets ($150 apiece): PO Box 7346, Nashua NH, 03060 . . . If you see them walking down the street, wish a happy birthday to Jonathan Papelbon, 28; Ryan McGuire, 37; Dave McCarty, 39; Dale Sveum, 45; and Luis Tiant, 68.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com

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