This week, the Cubs learned Carlos Marmol was pitching in the Dominican Republic, working feverishly to ready himself to pitch for his country in the World Baseball Classic.
Wonderful. Here's a 26-year-old with dazzling talent, a kid who fanned a third of the batters he faced last year, and with Kerry Wood gone to Cleveland and Ryan Dempster an All-Star in the Cubs' rotation is supposed to be the closer for a Cubs team whose expectations are to go farther than the first round of the 2009 playoffs. Marmol is heating up in January while pitching in the Dominican League playoffs, then he's going to go to spring training and slow it down, then turn it up again in the WBC, return to spring training and slow it down, then head north and be expected to be a shutdown closer beginning on Opening Day.
Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. And there is a full season ahead.
Davey Johnson was always a terrific pitchers' manager, and there have been fewer more diligent and responsible pitching coaches than Marcel Lachemann, and anyone who pitches for Team USA knows they will be in trusted hands. General managers and club officials have been warned not to complain about the dangers of this tournament, but virtually everyone in the industry is afraid of it.
"We've tried to discourage pitchers as much as we can," one general manager says. "But Major League Baseball wants this to succeed. The Players Association has worked very hard with MLB to make this work and has exerted pressure on the players. But we're trying to build a pitching staff that wins in September and October, and having pitchers get ready to compete a month early may lead to some issues that determine the winning and losing of the pennant."
"What worries me is that some of these physical problems will show up in May, June or July," one pitching coach says.
The Mets are most concerned about J.J. Putz.
Look, the WBC is a great event -- the cooperation and creativity of the Commissioner's Office and Players Association, the passion, and the contrast in baseball cultures are fascinating. Some of us have spent 20 years trying to figure out the right time for the event to take place and have never come up with an answer.
So there are risks, and if a Jake Peavy or John Lackey or Francisco Rodriguez or Carlos Marmol is hurting in May or September, then there may have to be a lot more thought that goes into the next time the event is held.
A reminder of each division's winning percentage outside its division in 2008. Then listed are the major names that have been added this winter:
American League East: .568
Mark Teixeira (Yankees), CC Sabathia (Yankees), A.J. Burnett (Yankees), John Smoltz (Red Sox), Ramon Ramirez (Red Sox), Brad Penny (Red Sox), Rocco Baldelli (Red Sox), Takashi Saito (Red Sox), Junichi Tazawa (Red Sox), Pat Burrell (Rays), Joe Nelson (Rays), Matt Joyce (Rays), Felix Pie (Orioles), Koji Uehara (Orioles), Cesar Izturis (Orioles).
National League East: .482
Francisco Rodriguez (Mets), J.J. Putz (Mets), Freddy Garcia (Mets), Raul Ibanez (Phillies), Derek Lowe (Braves), Javier Vazquez (Braves), Kenshin Kawakami (Braves), Leo Nunez (Marlins), Jose Ceda (Marlins), Josh Willingham (Nationals), Scott Olsen (Nationals).
American League Central: .502
Kerry Wood (Indians), Joe Smith (Indians), Mark DeRosa (Indians), Carl Pavano (Indians), Coco Crisp (Royals), Kyle Farnsworth (Royals), Mike Jacobs (Royals), Brandon Lyon (Tigers), Edwin Jackson (Tigers), Adam Everett (Tigers), Bartolo Colon (White Sox).
National League West: .437
Felipe Lopez (Diamondbacks), Jason Marquis (Rockies), Mark Loretta (Dodgers), Edgar Renteria (Giants), Bobby Howry (Giants), Jeremy Affeldt (Giants), David Eckstein (Padres).
• Essentially Randy Wolf, Jon Garland and Braden Looper are getting similar offers in the range of $5 million per year (plus options and incentives). As of Friday, Wolf was not close to reaching a deal with any team.
• This week's comedy shows: First, Jay McGwire's book proposal was treated as news, when, in reality, no publishing house had signed off on it. Second, Scott Boras demonstrated his genius by actually getting his spokesmen to report that he couldn't take arbitration for Jason Varitek because the Red Sox might have released him, which would never have happened. Period. Yes, Varitek will be 37 in April, and only six catchers have ever caught 100 games in a season at the age of 37, but he's a huge part of the Red Sox's pitching staff, can platoon with and mentor whomever the Red Sox acquire, and the last time he was a free agent asked Boras to give the Red Sox every opportunity to re-sign him out of loyalty to the organization. His declining $10 million-$12 million in arbitration meant that the market establishes the price, and that is just what has happened.
• Even Rangers team president Nolan Ryan was blown away by 20-year-old right-hander Neftali Perez in the Rangers' pitching camp this week. "When Nolan is blown away by arm speed," said Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, "we may be on to something."
Other good news in Texas: Brandon McCarthy has added 20-25 pounds this winter, which should help his durability. Putting Elvis Andrus and Michael Young together on the left side of the infield is a start toward rebuilding a defense that led the majors in errors (132) last season, and if by Labor Day Chris Davis, Justin Smoak and Julio Borbon are all in the lineup, the light will be at the end of the tunnel for the Rangers.
• Derek Lowe's deal with the Braves re-emphasizes the value teams place on reliability. Which makes one wonder if the Cubs won't miss Jason Marquis, who pitched a combined 358 2/3 innings in the past two seasons, more than they realize right now.
• Brian McNamee's lawyer Richard Emery tried to throw out the idea that George Bush would pardon Roger Clemens, which was not going to happen. The former president is a purist, and the Bush family was embarrassed by Clemens. The only pardons that Bush gave were to those people Bush believed had been over-sentenced.
• Memo to Twins CEO Jim Pohlad: Get Joe Mauer's contract extension completed, because he will be the next great Yankees-Red Sox war if he hits the free-agent market in November 2010.
• Rich Harden had two choices at the end of last season because of the shoulder issues he's fought through: Either have surgery or try to rehab. Harden chose the rehab. He has worked really hard all winter, and if the Cubs can get 15-20 starts from him in 2009, they will be happy. And with new ownership in place, we know the possibility of trading for Jake Peavy will be re-addressed.
• The Rays think B.J. Upton could be ready for Opening Day after having offseason surgery on his left shoulder, but manager Joe Maddon won't rush him to return because Fernando Perez and Gabe Kapler can both play center field if Upton isn't ready. Maddon also thinks former No. 1 draft pick Jeff Niemann, a right-hander, could end up being the Rays' seventh- or eighth-inning guy out of the bullpen.
"He has the velocity, the angle," Maddon said of Niemann. "He could be very good in that role."