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Baseball Notes

DH topic continues to get batted around

By Nick Cafardo
May 30, 2010

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DH or no DH? It has been the question for some 37 years.

“I see it remaining status quo for the foreseeable future,’’ said commissioner Bud Selig from his Milwaukee office. “It would take a cataclysmic event for us to change it. Now, if we started looking at possibly realignment, which we haven’t discussed seriously to this point, there would be discussion. But I would anticipate the status quo long after I’m gone from this office.’’

The issue now is the relevancy of the position. For years, it was a haven for older players like Hall of Famers Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, Carl Yastrzemski, and George Brett, who were able to tack on numbers to their totals.

Yet there seems to be diminishing returns for DHs. Teams are beginning to use the spot as a place to rest position players now and again. The Red Sox still employ David Ortiz as a full-time DH, but this is likely his last season in Boston. After that, depending on what happens with Victor Martinez in free agency, the position will likely be occupied by multiple players.

Vladimir Guerrero is giving the DH spot a boost with his huge season in Texas, and last year’s World Series MVP was a DH (Hideki Matsui). But for the most part, you wonder whether the spot is running out of oomph and usefulness.

The debates continue.

Fans defend their league. The National League can claim that its brand of baseball is the way the game should be played. The DH also can turn players into one-dimensional pieces. Toronto’s Adam Lind and Minnesota’s Jason Kubel are two DHs who should be playing defensive positions.

Others support the DH.

“I love the DH,’’ said longtime baseball man Bill Lajoie, now a senior adviser with the Pirates. “I love offense. I love runners on base as opposed to the pitcher hitting and having a wasted out.

“I wish the National League had the DH because it really reduces your roster because you have to make more pitching changes and your bench is restricted because you have to save your backup catcher, and your utility infielder is usually someone who can’t hit, so your roster is suddenly, for practical purposes, 22 or 23.’’

There have been suggestions to give the DH a proper resting place. Use it for spring training, some say, so hitters can get their at-bats, or for the All-Star Game where fans come mostly to see offense (it will be used in All-Star Games starting this year).

Removing the DH could help the pace of games by eliminating older, base-clogging players who take a lot of pitches and prolong at-bats.

Of the owners who voted to adopt the DH, Selig is the only one remaining in the game. Back in 1973, attendance in the American League was sagging and the league needed something to create excitement. Selig, then the owner of the Brewers (who were then in the AL), remembers vividly former Red Sox general manager Dick O’Connell telling him, “We’ve got to get the DH!’’

“There are very few players who like to DH,’’ said Jim Rice, who made 2,256 plate appearances (of a total 9,058) from the DH spot. “If it went back to no DH, I don’t think anyone would be too unhappy about it. Players like to play in the field. When you can’t do it anymore, you retire. So many players just hang on and DH for a year or two.’’

According to Selig, in all of his years as commissioner — and even prior to that — the DH issue has been split right down league lines. The American League loves it, the National League doesn’t.

“I like the dialogue on it,’’ said Selig. “It’s good for the sport. I’m always trying to find ways to make the sport better, and enjoy the conversation and debate that goes with it. But I have heard no compelling reason to do away with it.’’

The New York Times did a story before the World Series last year examining the potential advantage AL teams had in using their regular DHs as opposed to the NL teams having to use one of their extra players to DH. In 86 games over 27 World Series, the NL DHs had a .254 average with 10 homers and 34 RBIs, while the AL DHs had a .237 average with 9 homers and 40 RBIs. The AL won 15 of the 27 Series.

Then Matsui stole the show.

Selig has a committee to study all baseball matters, and while the DH comes up once in a while, there will likely be no outrage about it until realignment jumbles the leagues together.

The Players Association endorses more jobs for the union, though the days of the $12 million DH like Ortiz are likely over. It would never support any measure to eliminate the DH in its entirety.

DH or no DH depends on your viewpoint and self-interest. Houston manager Brad Mills, whose offense has been pathetic, quipped, “You might be asking the wrong guy. I came from the AL East, with powerful lineups, and would I like to see a DH who can hit on our team right now? I like the game without the DH, but when you need hitting, it looks awfully good.’’

EYES ON A PRIZE
What will be next stop for this starter?
If the Nationals really want Roy Oswalt (left), the righthander has some thinking to do. With his contract running out after next season, would it be worth taking a chance that the Nats could become contenders soon, or should he maneuver this thing so that he goes to a team that’s more assured of making the playoffs the next couple of years?

What makes more sense is the Dodgers, if they can take on payroll — and it appears they may be able to. Owner Frank McCourt, embroiled in a divorce, tightened the purse springs this offseason, but the Dodgers need a head-of-the-rotation guy and have made inquiries on Oswalt and Cliff Lee. They have a young staff, which includes four starters (Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, John Ely, and Carlos Monasterios) who are 25 or younger. Vicente Padilla will be back at some point to replace Monasterios, but he isn’t exactly someone who can be depended on.

One team Oswalt would want to play for is St. Louis, but the feeling is the Astros wouldn’t deal him within the division. The Cardinals’ rotation has broken down, with Brad Penny on the disabled list and Kyle Lohse’s forearm problems requiring surgery.

Astros organizational people feel Oswalt would not want to go to an American League team, but the chance to be reunited with best friend Jake Peavy in Chicago could change that.

Concerns that Oswalt may be wearing down have been alleviated. He remains one of the best, as evidenced by his shutout of the Brewers Tuesday night, when his velocity was in the mid 90s and his drop-dead curveball was very effective. He is 3-6 but with a minuscule ERA of 2.35.

In a pitching market limited to Kevin Millwood and Lee (and the Mariners may hold out dealing him for quite some time), Oswalt appears to be the prize for teams needing a front-of-the-rotation starter.

MILLS HAS HANDS FULL
He’s managing the challenges as best he can
When Brad Mills left Terry Francona’s bench to become the Astros manager, it was a dream come true. Nobody thought Houston was going to be a contender, but what’s happened has been an eye-opener for the rookie manager.

“Any time you take a job, it’s going to be challenging, and we’re up for those challenges,’’ said Mills, whose team was 16-32 going into last night. “There were a few challenges that maybe we didn’t expect and that we didn’t see coming. We definitely didn’t see the offense being a challenge, especially from the people who are struggling.’’

Namely, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee. Those middle-of-the-order guys are batting .239 and .205. Each has 5 homers, and Lee has driven in 20 runs to Berkman’s 15.

Free agent pickup Pedro Feliz was hitting only .200 with 2 homers and 16 RBIs entering last night’s game. His one-year deal at third base seems to be keeping Chris Johnson — son of Red Sox first base coach Ron Johnson — in Triple A, though if Feliz continues to struggle, the Astros may decide to eat the contract and move on. Earlier in the month, they parted ways with second baseman Kaz Matsui, who had struggled at the plate for a solid year.

And two big-name players — Roy Oswalt and Berkman — have indicated they would be receptive to waiving their no-trade clauses.

“Obviously it’s there and we’re dealing with it,’’ Mills said. “When I heard the comments, I went to both players and asked, ‘Is it the city, the manager, the team? What is it?’

“Both guys indicated they’re getting older and they’d like a chance to win soon and they’d like to help the organization out by bringing back some good young players. So I understand where they’re coming from.’’

In addition to Johnson coming at third, the Astros expect Jason Castro to be their catcher of the future. In the meantime, veteran Kevin Cash, who used to be Tim Wakefield’s personal catcher, has helped stabilize the position.

“Cash has been great because he’s a guy who can lead by example,’’ said Mills. “He’s been around [Jason] Varitek and [Jorge] Posada and he knows what it takes to prepare the right way for a game. He’s been a nice addition, not only because he’s a very good receiver but just the way he conducts himself.’’

It hasn’t all been bad. Mills loves the way Oswalt has gone about his business and the way Brett Myers has competed. While rookie shortstop Tommy Manzella isn’t hitting (.207), Mills likes the way he carries himself, and outfielder Hunter Pence has begun to hit.

“We just want to win some games and give the people here something to root for,’’ Mills said. “It’s a beautiful city, a great ballpark. We just need to play better.’’

ETC.
Apropos of nothing
1. All players should run out ground balls like Adrian Beltre (left); 2. DeMarlo Hale should be the next Terry Francona coach to become a manager; 3. The average game time has been reduced by 2 minutes and 20 seconds from last season; 4. The Diamondbacks allowed 84 homers through 56 games and may threaten the all-time record of 241 by the 1996 Tigers and the NL record of 239 by the 2001 Rockies; 5. Target Field: The Twins were outhomered, 21-12, in their first 24 home games.

Updates on nine
1. Zach Kapstein, C, Tiverton, R.I. — He led New England high school players (and ranked 57th in the country) with a .603 average (according to MaxPreps.com). He also had 5 homers and was 24 of 24 stealing bases. The 6-foot-2-inch, 190-pound righthanded-hitting senior has drawn late draft interest from major league teams. “Phenomenal mechanics, tremendous bat speed,’’ said former ESPN and Reds broadcaster George Grande. “He reminds me of a righthanded version of Jay Bruce in his senior year in high school.’’ Kapstein ended his high school career by going 6 for 10 in three tournament games.

2. Justin Masterson, RHP, Indians — He’s in danger of being ousted from the rotation. Masterson, who is scheduled to start today vs. New York, is 0-11 in his last 16 starts. He’s 0-5 with a 6.13 ERA this season, and opponents are hitting .321 against him. In his last start, a 7-2 loss to the White Sox, he needed 44 pitches to get out of the first inning. Masterson went to the Indians in the Victor Martinez deal last July 31, along with Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price. Hagadone, a 6-5 lefty, is 1-3 with a 2.39 ERA in 10 starts for Single A Kinston (N.C.), but has not been allowed to pitch more than five innings. Price, a righthander, is being used in relief at Double A Akron and is 0-2 with a 4.24 ERA.

3. Akinori Iwamura, 2B, Pirates — The stats-conscious Bucs have quite a leadoff man here. Iwamura was hitting .170 with a .273 OBP entering last night’s game. And he’s their highest-paid player ($4.25 million).

4. Mel Rojas Jr., OF, Wabash (Ill.) Valley College — The son of the former major league pitcher by the same name is a switch-hitting outfielder being eyed by the Red Sox, who may be able to nab him with one of their sandwich picks (36 or 39). Rojas is 6-3, 200, with above-average speed. He needs some refinement but is considered a very good athlete.

5. Brian Bruney, RHP, free agent — The former Yankees and Nationals reliever is drawing interest from a handful of teams. He had control issues with the Nats, but when he has his command, he can still light up the radar guns and baffle hitters. Not a bad project for a team that needs a late reliever/set-up type.

6. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Washington — His debut is likely to come June 8 against the Pirates — not a minute too soon for Nats fans. Strasburg is not only an enormous talent, but a huge draw. In his last start for Syracuse, the Triple A team reportedly netted $100,000 more than it usually does in concessions, tickets, and other purchases at the stadium. The Nationals are expected to receive quite a bump every time he pitches, much like the Sox used to when Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez pitched in the pre-sellout years.

7. Michael Weiner, executive director, Players Association — Weiner has received many complaints from players this season over scheduling issues, though nothing has violated the basic agreement. Scheduling is something that may come up this offseason when talks are likely to begin on extending the basic agreement beyond December 2011.

8. Jason Heyward, OF, Braves — Could he be the first non-Japanese rookie outfielder to make the All-Star team since Ben Grieve in 1998? Good chance. Heyward has been Atlanta’s best player, with 9 homers and 35 RBIs entering last night’s game.

9. Pedro Martinez, RHP, free agent — He’s staying in shape and considering whether to make another comeback, according to a source with knowledge of Martinez’s thinking. He enjoyed his stint with the Phillies last season and is open to a return. It appears, however, that he has one foot under the mango tree.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: “Through his first 40 games of the season, Todd Helton had just 1 homer and 9 RBIs.’’ Also, “A 5-1 record with a 3.00 ERA is not bad, except if you are Tim Lincecum. Part of Tim’s troubles is walking five batters in each of his last three starts. It brings to mind the oft-maligned Carlos Silva, who in 2005 walked only 9 batters in 188 1/3 innings.’’ . . . Former Red Sox CEO John Harrington received an honorary degree from his alma mater, Boston College, at commencement exercises. Harrington, a 1957 grad, also earned an MBA from BC in 1966 and taught at its Carroll School of Management before joining the Red Sox front office in 1973 . . . Baseball honorees for the Sports Museum’s Tradition event (June 14 at TD Garden) are Jerry Remy and Dwight Evans. For tickets, call 617-624-1237 or log on to tdgarden.com . . . Stars-and-Stripes caps will be worn by major leaguers on Memorial Day, over the July 4 weekend, and on Sept. 11 to support MLB’s Welcome Back Veterans initiative . . . Happy 38th birthday, Manny Ramirez. Tomorrow you can wish happy birthday to Dave Roberts (38), Jose Malave (39), and Tim Van Egmond (41).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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