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Baseball Notes

Select few teams up in arms

Nos. 4 and 5 starters become trouble spots

By Nick Cafardo
March 29, 2009
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The ends of starting rotations are keeping managers and general managers up at night as they attempt to find a legitimate pitcher or two who can respectably fill the roles.

Which is why Pedro Martínez needs to come down to earth concerning his contract demands. Martínez is asking for ridiculous money - $5 million a year - at a time when most teams have exhausted their payrolls. If Martínez would lower his asking price to something along the lines of the Braves' Tom Glavine ($1 million plus $3.5 million in roster bonuses) or the Indians' Carl Pavano ($1.5 million with $5.3 million in performance incentives), he might get a job.

"It's definitely an issue that's common to a lot of teams," said Brewers manager Ken Macha. "There aren't many teams who have a solid five. Everybody is striving for that right about now."

Macha has the opposite problem. He's got decent fourth and fifth guys in Braden Looper and David Bush. His main problem will likely be his No. 1 - Jeff Suppan. Suppan is more of a No. 4 or 5 at this stage, but with CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets gone, the Brewers are trying to win with a big-time lineup and average pitching.

"We're concerned, of course, because Looper's coming back from a rib cage injury and if he's not ready, then we've got a problem," said Macha, who also is hoping youngsters Manny Parra and Yovani Gallardo can make the jump. The Royals were so desperate, they brought Sidney Ponson on board after his stint for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.

The Blue Jays are going with Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch, and David Purcey as their first three. After that? Yikes. Matt Clement, prospect Brett Cecil, and Mike Maroth were all demoted. Casey Janssen got one out in his last start against the Yankees before leaving with shoulder pain. That leaves lefthander Brad Mills, disappointing former first-rounder Ricky Romero, and ex-independent leaguer Scott Richmond battling for the final two spots.

"We're going to have to rely on our younger pitchers to step up," said general manager J.P. Ricciardi. "We knew going in we were going to be young, but hopefully we can build on something."

The Orioles have two spots sealed - Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara - but how do these five: Adam Eaton, Mark Hendrickson, Hayden Penn, Alfredo Simon, and Brian Bass, float your boat for the final three spots?

Which is why Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell feels fortunate to have Brad Penny, Clay Buchholz, John Smoltz, and Justin Masterson as possibilities for the fifth spot. Beyond their five starters, the Yankees have Phil Hughes, and according to GM Brian Cashman, "Even Kei Igawa has pitched well." The Rays are so deep, they sent phenom David Price to Triple A.

The lack of talent at the end of rotations is staggering. In most cases, teams simply ran out of money to devote to fourth and fifth starters. In some cases it's injuries.

The White Sox may go with former Red Sox Bartolo Colon as their No. 5. The Dodgers are trying to get a consistent No. 5 out of Claudio Vargas, Eric Milton, James McDonald, and Eric Stults. Martínez would fit in nicely with the Dodgers. Owner Frank McCourt said last week talk of Martínez joining the Dodgers was a media creation. McCourt loves Martínez but won't overpay after spending $45 million over two years for Manny Ramírez.

The Tigers' Jeremy Bonderman has a sore shoulder and will miss the first week of the season, improving the chances of Dontrelle Willis or Nate Robertson to land their fifth spot. If it's not them, Detroit might race former first-round pick Rick Porcello to the big leagues, because there's nobody else. The Astros may go with a blast from the past - nonroster invitee Russ Ortiz - as their fifth starter. After Roy Oswalt, the Astros have penciled in Wandy Rodriguez, Brian Moehler, and Mike Hampton as Nos. 2-4. And manager Cecil Cooper is thinking 90 wins? The Rockies, in the World Series just two years ago, have Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez, then four unattractive choices. The Indians are also stretching, going with Scott Lewis and Anthony Reyes as their fourth and fifth starters. The Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Reds, Giants, Cardinals, Marlins, Braves, and a few others are fortunate to have five.

"We have five competitive guys," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "But the economics are making it tougher for a lot of teams to come up with five. Now you're seeing veteran guys, who might be looking for a certain salary, getting shut out and so you're seeing a dropoff."

Lefty still has his hand in it

A few questions for Yankees lefthander Andy Pettitte:

Is this the best Yankee rotation you've been a part of?

AP: "Yeah, definitely. Obviously, with CC [Sabathia] and A.J. [Burnett], it's looking like a rotation that's a huge improvement over last year. If we all stay healthy and our bullpen stays healthy, we look strong on paper, but you have to play the games. Boston is so strong. Tampa is so strong. Baltimore is getting better. It's a tough division."

Do you remember the last time you were a No. 4 starter?

AP: (Laugh) "Maybe early on. It was, I think, when I got plugged in in '95 down the stretch. But even then, in the playoffs I was the No. 3. But, yeah, I'll be the fourth guy to pitch, but I plan on having a big year and win a lot of ballgames. I'm excited about having a lot of help."

Does the age of this team bother you?

AP: "Well, I mean, if I go down or if Jorge [Posada] goes down, there are concerns. If everything goes horrible, you could have issues. We hope we all stay healthy. Jorge is a big deal for us behind the plate and with his bat. If I go down, we've got guys who have thrown the ball well and we could get by. I think if Mo [Rivera] goes down, that could create some problems for us."

Can you still be a top pitcher in this league?

AP: "Well, yeah. I don't know if I've ever been a dominant pitcher. My ERA is usually around 4, though a few years I had it in the 2s. Everything for me has always come tough. I never struck out over 200. I felt last year like I could win 20, but after I started strong, threw a couple of shutouts, and then my shoulder started bothering me and I came out of the [All-Star] break and after that I went south. If I'm healthy, I'm going to win 15-20 games. That's not setting goals or anything . . . that's just what I can do."

Rangers receiving positive signs from Saltalamacchia

The Rangers are excited about Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who will be their primary catcher, with the possibility he'll be backed up by Taylor Teagarden, another fine prospect. Saltalamacchia, a 6-foot-4-inch, 235-pound switch-hitter, has a chance to put up big offensive numbers.

Saltalamacchia, 23, has made strides defensively, including throwing and blocking the plate. He was hitting .350 through Thursday, while Teagarden had struggled at the plate, as well as with minor injuries. Right now, the Rangers envision Saltalamacchia catching five days a week and Teagarden two. They could also send Teagarden back to Triple A and go with veteran Adam Melhuse, who has had a hot spring with the bat, as the backup.

The Red Sox and Rangers have not discussed a Saltalamacchia-for-Clay Buchholz swap since the winter meetings, and it now appears each team is inclined to keep its young player.

We asked an American League scout who has been assigned to study some of the young catchers this spring what he thought of the ones he's seen.

"Salty is going to be a force," said the scout. "He reminds me defensively of Jason Varitek at a similar age, but it remains to be seen whether he ever gets to Jason's level defensively when he's matured. But he'll go way beyond Jason as a hitter. Teagarden has had kind of a disjointed camp, but we know he can receive and he's shown some power."

The Mariners are debating over Jeff Clement and Rob Johnson to back up Kenji Johjima. Johnson is the better receiver, while Clement has struggled both with the bat, which was supposed to be a strength, and behind the plate.

"Clement's footwork isn't very good and he really has a ways to go before you can say he's a major league catcher," said the scout. "Not sure what the Mariners would do there, but Johnson can really catch."

While Clement has raised doubts about his future behind the plate, the Giants are convinced their future backstop, Buster Posey, is the real deal. With Bengie Molina around, there's no need to rush Posey, but the Giants wouldn't be afraid to recall him if something happened to Molina.

"He's a very impressive kid," said the scout. "He's got some things to work on, but you'll take where he's at at 22 years old."

Etc.

Touching the bases
Thoughts while shaving (in memory of former Globe sports editor Ernie Roberts): 1. I'd take Chris Carter over Brad Wilkerson; 2. Dennis Eckersley was going to throw batting practice for the Cardinals, but according to manager Tony La Russa, "He couldn't reach the back of the wall with that fastball." Ouch; 3. Everyone made a big deal of Jorge Posada throwing out Jacoby Ellsbury, but Posada's throw faded toward Ellsbury's head on his feet-first slide; 4. Sox prospect Mike Jones reminds me of David Ortiz; 5. Scouts are noticing Nick Green.

Updates on nine . . .
1. J.P. Ricciardi, GM, Blue Jays: His response to industry talk that Roy Halladay might be available at midseason: "We're still the same on that topic. If our ownership says, 'Hey, listen, our payroll next year can't be what it can be this year,' we'd have to exhaust every possible avenue before we go down that road. That's not what we're looking to do." Halladay has a full no-trade clause, but that likely won't be a hindrance in dealing him because he wants to pitch for a winner.

2. Jeff Baker, INF, Rockies: Baker is a righthanded hitter who is out of options but could provide insurance at second and third base and the corner outfield positions. He hit 12 home runs in 299 at-bats last season. Teams that have been poking around on Baker include the Red Sox, Phillies, Marlins, and Astros.

3. Josh Willingham, OF, Nationals: An interesting corner outfielder who is available because the Nationals have too many outfielders and first basemen. Willingham, who has hit 20 or more homers twice, was acquired by former general manager Jim Bowden from the Marlins this offseason. The Nationals have a logjam in the outfield with Austin Kearns, Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge, and Adam Dunn. They waived OF Wily Mo Peña and are shopping first baseman Nick Johnson.

4. Melky Cabrera, OF, Yankees: While he's really the Yankees' only outfielder with a solid arm, he's the most available in a deal. The Astros thought about it, but they're committed - though shakily - to Michael Bourn. The White Sox could bite because of their need for a center fielder, and the relationship between GM Ken Williams and Yankees counterpart Brian Cashman.

5. Kevin Millar, 1B/DH, Blue Jays: Millar might be in the best shape of his career and appears to have made the team. "I think this has been the most fun I've had in any camp I've ever been in," said Millar. "I guess they haven't seen anyone quite like me here. I think there's been quieter guys in this room, so I'm probably considered a little different." Millar also revealed he's another player who has had his assets frozen in the Richard Allen Stanford scam.

6. Paul Beeston, CEO, Blue Jays: Beeston's interim status might be extended. Stan Kasten was Beeston's choice to take over, according to major league sources, but now it looks as if Kasten will stay with the Nationals and run that mess. Commissioner Bud Selig will be pushing Sandy Alderson, the Padres' outgoing president who had a tough go of it in his final few years in San Diego, for another job, but sources indicate Alderson might not be Beeston's top choice.

7. Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees: Interesting that manager Joe Girardi is considering Jeter to be his leadoff man, with Johnny Damon batting second. Damon has wanted to relinquish the leadoff role for a while because his base stealing has diminished as he's gotten older, while his power appears to be increasing. Damon has believed that Brett Gardner could replace him as the leadoff man.

8. Mark Mulder, LHP, free agent: Mulder has reached the final stage of his rotator cuff surgery rehab with former Michigan State pitching coach Greg Gunderson and will likely throw for teams next week. Mulder has had to get over a psychological hump after such a surgery, which limited him to six appearances over the last two years with the Cardinals. When healthy, Mulder, 103-60 over his career, has been one of the top lefties in the game. Only 31, the 6-foot-6-inch, 200-pounder will likely sign a Triple A deal. The Dodgers have been the most interested team, while the Brewers might also be in the mix. Mulder's agent, Gregg Clifton, expects six or seven teams to send scouts to watch his client throw.

9. Frank Catalanotto, 1B/OF, Rangers: What a nice lefthanded bat for a contending team. The Rangers, who want to keep Andruw Jones as a backup, need to move Catalanotto, but his $4 million salary (and $2 million buyout of a $7 million option) appears to be a major obstacle. The Red Sox always have liked Catalanotto's bat and may have bit had J.D. Drew's hand injury been more severe.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: "Over the last five seasons, Mark Teixeira has hit 177 homers, the same number as Ryan Howard." Also, "Last season, Adrian Gonzalez struck out 71 times at home and 71 away. He grounded into 12 double plays at home and 12 away. And he received nine intentional walks at home and nine away." . . . We mourn the losses of two wonderful men - Arthur Richman, the longtime Yankee publicist who recommended George Steinbrenner hire Joe Torre, and Sherwin Kapstein, one of Rhode Island's greatest athletes, coaches, educators, and servants, and father of Red Sox senior adviser Jeremy Kapstein . . . Happy birthdays to Alex Ochoa (37), Juan Bell (41), and Eric Gunderson (43).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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