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Russell Martin: Dropoff in Training Led to Dropoff in Performance

Russell Martin signed with the Yankees in the off-season after being let go by the Dodgers heading into his sixth major league season. Martin started off his career in LA looking like he was the next Paul Lo Duca, showing off plenty of pop behind the plate. Unfortunately for Dodgers fans, he continued to follow the Lo Duca career path by falling off in production not only as the season went on, but also as his career went on.

Martin was an All-Star in ’07 and ’08, hitting for power, drawing walks, and stealing bases as a catcher. He caught in 151 and then 155 games those years, burning himself out. On top of injuries and burn outs, Martin now tells the National Post in Canada that his work ethic weakened the last two seasons.

“I had some distractions that maybe led me not to have that same drive that I’ve had in the past,” he said. “Really, that’s all it is, honestly. I didn’t train quite as–I trained hard, but before, nobody trained as hard as I did.”

It’s not the first time we’ve heard from Martin that personal issues began to interfere with his preparation, and Yankee fans certainly won’t like hearing that. LA is a night out with grandma compared to the media scrutiny in New York. Martin says he selected the Yanks because they were going to give him the chance to catch more than Toronto would have.

Let me say that I don’t believe preparation is the only reason Martin dropped off the last two years. Let me also say that if distractions were bothering him in LA, he’ll be sucked in even worse in NYC. The Yanks better hope Jesus Montero is the goods because Martin isn’t the answer at catcher.

No Way Albert Pujols Leaves St. Louis Despite Contract Extension Deadline

St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols reportedly has set a Spring Training deadline for contract extension negotiations, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Without an extension, Pujols will become a free agent after this season. In either case, Pujols has the chance to become one of the highest paid players in baseball history — right up there with Alex Rodriguez.

Even if a deal isn’t done by the time Spring Training starts and Pujols ends up becoming a free agent, it seems likely that he will stay in St. Louis after this year. The most obvious teams — those willing to spend that kind of money — already have talented, high-paid first baseman. The Yankees and Red Sox have Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez respectively; the Phillies have Ryan Howard, and the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera. Just a few years ago the Mets would have been a possibility, but their owners lost money in the Bernie Madoff scandal and have tried to cut spending as a result.

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Chicago Cubs Warn they Will Likely Throw at Ryan Theriot After Criticism

For the first nine and a half years of his professional career, infielder Ryan Theriot only knew one organization — the Chicago Cubs, who drafted him in the third round in 2001. Despite his small stature and lack of power, he played himself into a starting role for three straight years until being traded at the deadline this past year.

Theriot went along with Ted Lilly to the Dodgers in late July and played full-time for them, but he was dealt again in the off-season. The Dodgers traded Theriot to the St. Louis Cardinals — the Cubs’ greatest rival — late in November. He wasted little time trashing his former team, saying he was finally on the right side of the rivalry.

The comments circulated around Chicago and upset his former team and teammates. During the Cub Convention Saturday, it was evident that Theriot had become a target. Catcher Koyie Hill was asked if the pitchers would be throwing at Theriot when they faced each other, and Hill answered with a politically correct response:

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Frank McCourt Needed Cash Advance from FOX to Continue Running Dodgers?

When the McCourts bought the Dodgers in 2004, they were approved unanimously by their fellow owners. The reason was simple: MLB wanted cheap owners in a major market to help keep player salaries down (imagine an owner that spends like the Yanks or Mets in LA). The McCourts fit that bill perfectly; they did not have enough money to purchase the franchise, so they had to use Frank’s parking lot in Boston as collateral for the loan. Naturally, one of their first items of business was to fire at least one employee per department throughout the franchise.

Seven years later, not much has changed. Frank and Jamie McCourt raised prices for tickets, concessions, and parking almost every single year despite not increasing the payroll correspondingly. We found out they kept team revenue to finance their personal lifestyle instead of reinvesting in the product on the field, that they paid employees hundreds of thousands from charities, and well, we could go on and on and on. The latest charge is the most laughable since the Vladimir Shpunt story.

The LA Times reports that FOX advanced McCourt money to continue financing the team. Frank is trying to maintain ownership of the Dodgers despite divorcing his wife, Jamie. Many figured the team would have to be sold in order for the financial terms of the divorce to be settled, but it appears as if Frank is trying to work his way around things.

This is one of the most embarrassing tenures for an ownership group and the fans deserve much better. MLB should force a sale of the Dodgers to restore order, and most importantly, respect. When the fans are booing the owner, it’s time for a change. And if Frank is really that desperate for money, I think I can find five bucks in my pocket for him.

Pablo Sandoval Reportedly in Good Shape, Down 17 Pounds

I’m not sure what is more surprising: the San Francisco Giants actually winning the World Series last season, or the Giants having a successful season despite a major dropoff from Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval, who hit .345 in only 41 games in 2008, broke out with 25 home runs and a .943 OPS while becoming San Francisco’s best hitter in 2009. The “Kung Fu Panda” movement was born that year, and Sandoval became an instant fan-favorite.

A year after bursting onto the scene, Sandoval stumbled and became one of the biggest disappointments in baseball. He had a torrid April, but followed that up by batting .234 the next two months. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Sandoval found himself on the bench, replaced by Juan Uribe at third base. Uribe’s now a Dodger, meaning the Giants will need Sandoval to regain his 2009 form. They’ve even talked about the possibility of demoting him to the minor leagues if he doesn’t turn things around.

Many critics blamed Sandoval’s struggles on him being overweight and out of shape. True, Sandoval is 5’11” and easily over 250 pounds, but that didn’t stop him from tearing it up in 2009. Regardless, people look for reasons and the weight issue is an easy target. Sandoval has been trying to get in shape for some time and it appears as if he’s finally done so this off-season.

Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle spoke to former Giant Rich Aurilia whose sister’s boyfriend saw Sandoval pass out at 31 Flavors last night who saw Sandoval in Phoenix and said Pablo had slimmed down. Sandoval told Aurilia he has lost 17 pounds this winter, with the goal of losing seven more. I’ll believe it when I see it, but the good news for Pablo and Giants fans is that the Panda seems serious about regaining his top form.

Rays Trade Matt Garza to Cubs

As expected, the fire sale continued on Friday for the Tampa Bay Rays.  In an offseason where the Red Sox have made enormous strides and the Yankees are essentially the same team that won a championship two seasons ago, Tampa Bay has all but given up on contending in the AL East.  The Rays fell further behind for the immediate future on Friday when they agreed to trade ace Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs for a package of minor league prospects.  If you recall, Garza tossed a no-hitter back in July and finished the 2010 season 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA.

Tampa Bay has already let Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena walk and closer Rafael Soriano won’t be returning either.  They traded shortstop Jason Barlett — who had become a fan favorite amongst the handful of loyal Rays fans — to the Padres.  Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton remain with the team, but we can only wonder how long it will be before the Rays start fielding trade offers for the two young studs.

The bottom line is the Rays have become a franchise that needs to either change locations or accept their position as perennial bottom-feeders in the AL East.  Sure, a three-year span where their prospects have an impact and are still under team control could arise again, but unless they find a way to fill the stands they’ll never be able to sustain a talented roster.  Pending a few more trades before the season begins, Tampa Bay will likely revert to the form we grew used to before 2008 came along.

Adrian Beltre Talking with Texas Rangers, Remains Risky Signing

The Rangers and free agent Adrian Beltre are reportedly close to finalizing a deal to bring the All-Star third baseman to Texas. The deal is said to be worth between $90 and $96 million over six years.

Adrian Beltre first broke into the league with the Dodgers as a teenager. He developed into one of the best young players in the game and peaked in 2004 when he hit .334 with 48 home runs, 32 doubles, and 121 RBIs. It just so happened that that was the final year of his contract with the Dodgers, and he used the monster year to cash in as a free agent.

Beltre headed to the Pacific Northwest to join the Mariners on a five-year $64 million deal. He dropped off in most offensive categories averaging 21 home runs, 34 doubles 79 RBI, and a .261 average with Seattle. The numbers were not bad, but not worth the kind of money he was given. However, you can’t knock his defense — Beltre was in the discussion for the Gold Glove every year and won it in 2007 and 2008.

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