MESA, Ariz. -- The weather's been ideal during spring training, especially in the Cactus League. But there have been several unsettling issues, including three DUIs, several injuries to prominent players and one big dugout scuffle between teammates.
Here's a snapshot of the teams with problem-laden camps, beginning with the battling Cubs ...
Struggling and paunchy pitcher Carlos Silva instigated an early intramural tussle by blurting, "Let's make some plays,'' upon retuning to the dugout after an inning in which he allowed two home runs. Silva's struggles continued in his next start, as he is threatened to pitch himself out of the rotation, despite his $12 million salary.
And while things have settled down for the moment, early fisticuffs raise serious questions about the beloved team on a 102-year losing streak. "It was Game 4!'' one competing executive bellowed, suggesting it was hard to believe, even for the Cubs.
Of course, there is a reason Lou Piniella was driven out of the managing business, and some of it had to do with an explosive clubhouse, even for Piniella's tastes. While the human powder keg Milton Bradley is long gone, Silva, the man acquired for him, is no pantheon of stability either as he demonstrated by taking on third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Then there's Carlos Zambrano, who allegedly graduated from anger management classes and greeted queries about the fight with a curt two-word response: "Next question.''
Manager Mike Quade, who carries the enthusiasm you'd expect from a man who spent 17 years in the minors and probably never expected to be a major league coach, much less the manager of his hometown Cubs (he's from northwest suburban Arlington Heights), called an early meeting to diffuse the fireworks that was followed by a players-only meeting in which they resolved to stick together. "If I was getting players-only meetings every three days, that probably wouldn't be good,'' Quade said. "Everyone's a little happier when we're talking about the game.''
The situation seems to have settled down since the meetings, with the players-only one being called by Carlos Pena and Marlon Byrd. That's a good sign. Although, it may not be a great sign that Pena, a player who had been a Cub for less than a week, was one of the players who felt compelled to call the meeting. "We just mutually recognized the importance of keeping the team nice and tight and together,'' Pena said. Even so, it would have been nice to see one of the long-standing Cubs recognize that before a recent arrival did so.
The loss of ace pitcher Adam Wainwright, who underwent Tommy John surgery after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, is devastating to a team primed for contention in the final year of superstar Albert Pujols' contract. Three competing executives say the Cardinals will pick up Wainwright's $21-million, two-year option after the season despite the injury -- even if they first try to renegotiate it.
But the main issue in Cardinals camp now is, what do they do without Wainwright, who finished second in the Cy Young voting last year and had become a horse in the rotation after closing things out for St. Louis' 2006 World Series championship? Kyle McClellan, a talented reliever, gets first crack. And while the Cardinals' otherworldly pitching coach Dave Duncan has performed miracles before, this is no certainty to work. If McClellan, and swing-type guys Ian Snell and Miguel Batista can't do it, the Cardinals may have to go outside the clubhouse for a fifth starter (Kevin Millwood?), though there are no equitable replacements for Wainwright out there.
Cardinals GM John Mozeliak, perhaps trying to look on the bright side, opined in an upset that the player they could least afford to lose was Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina -- of course with Wainwright out and Pujols' negotiations still ongoing, it was probably the smart answer at the time. Molina, Mozeliak reasoned, alters the entire rotation, which was expected to be among the strongest in baseball. But now with Wainwright gone, and former Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter sidelined with a hamstring injury, the Cardinals are left at least temporarily with a shell of a rotation. Carpenter hasn't pitched since he went down and had to be scratched from his Friday start, though the team is hoping he makes his next start.
And to think, the failure to come to an agreement with Pujols at the start of camp was expected to be the bad news. (Several competing execs said they believe he will still wind up back with the Cardinals. Though it will likely be for much more than the slightly better than $200 million offered over nine years.)
The focus was on their four great starters to begin camp (plus the fifth Beatle, Joe Blanton, who got to tag along for all the press gatherings for the vaunted front four of the rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels). But unfortunately, the promise of one of the greatest rotations in history has been overshadowed by injuries, particular the knee pain star second baseman Chase Utley is enduring.
The Phillies went to the extent of issuing a statement regarding Utley's frustrating knee the other day, suggesting they would be taking outside opinions (we don't think they mean from fans) regarding Utley's patellar tendinitis, which has prevented him from playing in a single game this spring. Utley is known as a particularly tough player, and the hope was that a cortisone shot would calm the knee enough to allow him to play. But there has been no report of even an iota of progress, as concerns grow.
The team already was missing Jayson Werth, who left for $126 million and the division rival Nationals. And without Utley, one competing star opined, "Ryan Howard won't get a single pitch to hit.'' The Phillies were said to be scouting Michael Young, but the odds to make a deal with Texas and fit Young's $16-million salary onto the payroll seem very long, possibly leaving the Phillies with the prospect of having to win lots of 2-1 and 3-2 games, even in their hitters paradise of a ballpark.
The offense took another hit when top outfield prospect Domonic Brown, who still looks overmatched at times, was lost for weeks with a broken hamate bone. The team now looks like it will need to depend on Raul Ibanez, the aging former star, and longtime backup Ben Francisco, unless reinforcements can be found.
It's hard to know what was the worst part about Miguel Cabrera's DUI in Ft. Pierce, halfway on his ride from his Boca Raton home in South Florida to the team's training site across Florida. Was it the swigging of the scotch as the arresting officer approached Cabrera's Land Rover? Was it Cabrera telling the officer, "Do you know who the (bleep) I am?'' Or was it perhaps Cabrera telling two patrons at the Cowboys Bar-B-Q and Steak Co., "I know all of you and I will kill you and blow the place up.'' OK no, it was that.
Cabrera reported to camp, seemingly contrite but still unable to admit he's an alcoholic even after GM Dave Dombrowski used that term in public and also contending that it was "unfortunate'' his Land Rover broke down en route to camp when it was clearly fortunate Cabrera was not behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. Cabrera was told to report to camp a few days late and is under the care of baseball doctors, who have allowed him to remain with the team rather than put him in a rehab facility.
Of a more mundane nature, reliever Joel Zumaya is suffering from elbow pain again. While an MRI revealed no structural damage, he won't be ready for the start of the season, and considering his history of elbow trouble it's hard to guess what he'll be able to contribute this year. It's fortunate for the Tigers they signed talented reliever Joaquin Benoit over the winter as insurance.
The whole Detroit roster seems laden with ability. But Cabrera's bizarre behavior has cast a pall over the camp.
Zack Greinke will miss at least the first couple starts of the season after suffering a broken rib playing pickup basketball, a major blow to the small-market team that spent big to win this year, especially on Greinke, for whom they surrendered four talented young players and $27 million over the next two seasons. Greinke said of his fledgling hoops career, "I've been doing this for a couple of years now, and people are always saying, "You're going to get hurt.' It finally caught up to me.''
The Brewers are undeserving victims here after providing Greinke with a home where he has a chance to win. Those chances have diminished not only by Greinke's foolishnesses but also by a more mundane rib cage injury to star outfielder Corey Hart, who has been frustrated by his slow progress with his own ailment.
With the Madoff scandal as a backdrop, the Mets will enter the 2011 season with the lowest expectations since the Art Howe era. Johan Santana is realistically out for most of the season with a shoulder ailment that was originally called a "pectoral'' injury by the club, but even with Santana, it's hard to imagine them having the pieces to compete a tough N.L. East.
Carlos Beltran suffered a setback in his attempt to return from knee surgery shortly after spring started, and while the Mets claim it was unrelated to him sliding home in his first game, it is very bad news for the team hoping to get a fast start from Beltran to put them into position to trade him. Jose Reyes looks healthy this spring, which is huge, but it also has become clear Reyes very likely isn't in the team's long-term plans due to an on-base percentage that dipped to .321 in 2010 but mostly due to the team's finances, which probably won't support big outlays for individual players. The major market team operated as a bare-bones franchise this winter, spending a total of $8.8 million on 11 players, none of whom received as much as a $2-million annual salary, though their $140-million payroll still ranks among the top five in baseball.
The Ollie Perez and Luis Castillo sagas continue to garner headlines, as the players with albatross contracts hang by a thread. Perez has been pretty dreadful in his long-shot effort to make the club as a lefty reliever. Castillo hasn't been too great, either, but by some accounts he might be better than the other second-base options (Daniel Murphy, Brad Emaus and Justin Turner). Hanging over the whole thing is the Madoff mess, which produces a slow dribble of negative news, including the recent revelation that the Wilpons borrowed $25 million from MLB a few months back. To contend, they'd probably need a lot more than that.