Baseball: Review of all the latest happenings

By Paul Hurst

Examining the Hot Stove so far baseball - Photo by Keith Allison

A quick rundown of the latest happenings in Major League Baseball.

In an unexpected move, the Oakland Athletics signed free-agent pitcher Ben Sheets. Sheets, who missed the entire 2009 recovering from elbow surgery, had been linked with a number of clubs in the last few weeks. He impressed scouts in a throwing session, leading A’s GM Billy Beane to offer him a $10m one-year contract, with another $2m in incentives. If he is pitching well by the All Star Break, it would be a reasonable expectation that the A’s would look to trade him to a contender for some young prospects.

Johnny Damon is now being shopped around interested clubs by agent Scott Boras. Any chance that Damon would stay in New York seemed to evaporate after the Yankees signed Randy Winn. Damon had previously hinted at possible retirement, if he couldn’t get a multi-year deal that he liked, but now appears to have had a change of heart, and is said to be considering a one-year deal. He has been linked with a number of clubs, but the latest indication is that he may stay in the AL East, after the Toronto Blue Jays expressed an interest.

Whilst Joe Mauer and the Minnesota Twins have entered into discussions over a contract extension, both sides are remaining coy over the progress of the talks. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was quoted as saying he thinks a deal will be completed before Spring Training, but at a fan event on Friday night, Mauer refused to be drawn on those comments. The 2009 American League MVP is eligible for free-agency at the end of the 2010 season. In the meantime, the Twins have signed veteran slugger Jim Thome to a one-year $1.5m deal for 2010.

The Phillies signed outfielder Shane Victorino to a three-year contract worth $22m. ‘The Flyin’ Hawaiian’ has become a fan favourite in Philadelphia over the last few seasons, and his signing in the latest show of intent from the Phillies that they intend to cement their place as a powerhouse in the National League over the next few seasons, after the acquisition of Roy Halladay. The contract buys out Victorino’s final two years of salary arbitration, and his first year of free agency eligibility.

MLB.com released their Top 50 Prospects list last week. Whilst many consider Stephen Strasburg, the First Overall Pick in the 2009 Draft, the top prospect in America, he was beaten to 1st place on the list by Atlanta’s Jason Heyward. Heyward stepped up to the AA level last season at the age of 19 and crushed Southern League pitching, posting a 1.057 OPS in 47 games. Some rumours suggest that Strasburg himself could be vying for a place in the Nationals’ rotation out of Spring Training, essentially skipping the entire minor-league system, bar his short cameo in the Arizona Fall League in November.

The Hall Of Fame confirmed Andre Dawson will go into the Hall in Cooperstown with a Montreal Expos cap on his plaque. Most people expected this to be the case, however Dawson has since stoked controversy by saying he wanted to go in as a Chicago Cub, and described the Hall’s decision as ‘gut-wrenching’. Many Canadian baseball fans have seen this as a slap in the face; Dawson spent more than half of his career with the Expos, after being drafted by them. He will be the last player to enter Cooperstown wearing the cap of the now-defunct Montreal club.

Finally, MLB and its players continued their efforts to help the aid effort in Haiti. Last week the MLB Players Trust donated $1m to the cause, following an earlier donation of $1m from the league.

Red Sox slugger David Ortiz has been leading the appeal, the disaster particularly close to his heart as he hails from the neighbouring Dominican Republic.

A huge number of players have made individual donations, and many Major League clubs have been making efforts to help the cause, through special auctions of memorabilia and once-in-a-lifetime experiences to meet players and join in pre-game warm-ups.

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