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05/28/2008 Archived Entry: "WORLD BASEBALL TODAY: Vol. 2, No. 20"

Sunday, May 11, 2008
by Bruce Baskin
Radio Miami International

The Florida Marlins may be taking their first step toward becoming a team taking the future seriously after signing star shortstop Hanley Ramirez to a six-year, $70 million contract. For some time, the Marlins have avoided long-term commitments to their top players, choosing instead to trade them for prospects from other teams willing to pay what the market dictates. This season, the Fish have the lowest payroll in the majors at just over $17 million.
However, the Ramirez signing may be a break from what could be charitably termed a frugal approach to player salaries. With a new 37,000-seat, retractable-roof stadium scheduled to open in 2011, the Marlins appear to be taking the long-term approach for the first time in recent franchise history.
Voted National League Rookie of the Year in 2006, Ramirez becomes the first Florida player since 2005 to sign a multi-year contract. His contract for 2008 with the Marlins was renewed for $439,000, a bargain-basement price tag for a player hitting .336 with eight homers, 13 steals and 21 RBIs after 35 games this year. The 24-year-old Dominican came to the Marlins on Thanksgiving 2005 in a trade that sent pitcher Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell to the Boston Red Sox.
The 23-17 Marlins continue to be the surprise team of the National League, winning seven of ten games to hold the lead the East Division by a game-and–a-half margin ahead of 22-19 Philadelphia. The Chicago Cubs lead the NL Central at 24-16, ahead of 24-18 St. Louis and 23-16 Houston. The Arizona Diamondbacks are 25-15 and in first in the West, four-and-a-half games up on the 20-19 Los Angeles Dodgers.

Don’t blame the Tampa Bay Rays if they want the month of May to last forever. The current 31-day stretch between April and June been pretty good for a team that has never approached either a winning season or a division title in their existence.
Tampa Bay took over sole possession of first place in the American League East Division Wednesday night with a win over the New York Yankees. That win was the seventh in ten games for the Rays, whose 23-17 mark snuck them a half-game ahead of the defending World Champion Boston Red Sox, who are 24-19. The Rays have teased their fans over the years with sporadic stretches of good baseball, but this spring may be the first time ever when Tampa Bay wins games more often because they’re good rather than lucky.
Another feather in the Rays’ cap is the signing of pitching ace Scott Kazmir to a three-year contract extension with a club option for a fourth-year. The deal is worth $28.5 million to Kazmir, with a maximum value of about $39.5 million. The 24-year-old lefty will donate up to $350,000 to the Rays Baseball Foundation over the life of the contract.
In the AL’s Central Division, the 21-19 Cleveland Indians are clinging to a half-game lead over the 20-19 Minnesota Twins, while the 24-18 Los Angeles Angels are on top of the West, also only a half-game ahead of the 23-18 Oakland Athletics.

The Hanshin Tigers and Chunichi Dragons are firmly in the driver’s seat in Japan’s Central League standings. In fact, they’re the only teams in the CL with winning records thus far in 2008.
Hanshin leads Chunichi on the table with a Japanese-best 25-12-1 record, good enough to give the Tigers a two-and-a-half-game lead over the 22-14-3 Dragons. Yakult is third at 17-19, followed in the Central standings by second tier teams Yomiuri, Hiroshima and Yokohama.
In the Pacific League, Seibu is all alone in first place with a 27-14-1 mark, six games in front of second place Nippon Ham. The Fighters are 22-21-1, just ahead of 22-22 Softbank. Rakuten, Lotte and Orix make up the second divison.
Interleague play in Japan begins Tuesday

A pitcher working in Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League has signed a minor league contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. Jeremy Cummings has spent the past couple months pitching for the Sinon Bulls of the CPBL, but a Rays scout saw him in a recent game in Taiwan and signed the 6’2” 215-pounder to a contract.
Cummings made his debut for Tampa Bay’s AAA affiliate in Durham last week, holding the Toledo Mud Hens scoreless on two hits over six innings, striking out four and walking another four batsmen.
Things are going better for Cummings than for another former CPBL import pitcher. Last September, Nelson Figueroa was pitching the Uni-President Lions to a league championship and an appearance in last winter’s tournament in Toyko against pennant-winning teams from Japan and South Korea and an all-star team from China. His work led him to an invitation to the New York Mets training camp this spring and a spot in the Mets’ rotation.
After getting off to a decent start, Figueroa was released by New York last Tuesday after getting lit up in a 10-4 loss to the last-place Washington Nationals. He didn’t exactly help himself after the game by accusing the Nats of “cheerleading like a bunch of softball girls…that’s why they are who they are.”
Figueroa was 2-3 with a 5.12 ERA when the Mets let him go.

A former Texas League and International League Most Valuable Player is heading back to Asia, where he enjoyed some of the greatest success of his professional career. First baseman Roberto Petagine, a Venezuelan who will turn 37 next month, signed a contract last week with the Korea Baseball Organization’s LG Twins after starting the 2008 campaign with the Mexican League’s Mexico City Diablos Rojos.
Petagine was the Texas League MVP in 1993, and won the same award in both 1997 and 1998 in the International League. He played in Japan between 1999 and 2004, belting 224 homers in six seasons. Petagine has had short stints in Major League Baseball, most recently batting .186 in 27 at bats with Seattle in 2006. He was batting .372 with six homers and 27 RBIs in 37 games for Mexico City. The Twins released pitcher Jamie Brown to make room for Petagine. Major league veteran playing in the KBO include Petagine, Karim Garcia, Jose Lima and Wilson Valdez.

Former big league pitcher Mac Suzuki didn’t find himself out of work for long. Suzuki, who turns 33 at the end of May, signed a deal with the Mexican League’s Chihuahua Dorados a week after being released by his team in Taiwan. The native of Kobe, Japan made his debut appearance for Chihuahua last Tuesday, throwing two shutout innings with two strikeouts against the Monclova Acereros.
Suzuki pitched for Seattle from 1996 to 1999 before spending three summers with Kansas City. He’s also pitched in Milwaukee and Colorado, and is 16-21 with a 5.72 ERA over his major league career. He’s also spent time the last two summers in Mexico with Tijuana and Tabasco for a combined 9-9 record over two seasons.

The Italian League Series A season is underway for 2008, and two teams have pulled in front of the rest of the eight-team league. Fortitudo 1953 lost their opening game before winning eleven straight games to take the top slot on the leaderboard. Fortituda is leading Italian teams with over seven runs per game, but it’s their pitching that’s most responsible for their 11-1 record, with a superb 1.83 team ERA. The Grosseto Orioles are right behind with a 10-2 mark. However, one team is quietly making a move on the leaders.
Danesi Caffe Nettuno has won five straight games to pull into third place at 8-4. Nettuno swept a decent Parma team last weekend, including a doubleheader sweep on May 10. Right fielder Carlos Duran hit for the cycle in Nettuno’s 7-3 win in the opener as former major leaguer Giovanni Carrara pitched a scoreless ninth to seal the victory. Another ex-big leaguer, second baseman Frank Menechino, went 3-for-5 with two RBI’s to lead Nettuno to a 6-1 win in the nightcap.
Bringing up the bottom are a pair of winless teams. Both De Angelis Godo and Potocco Rangers Redipuglia are 0-12, although Godo has played a little better than Redipuglia, who’ve been simply awful. The Rangers have lost all their games by an average of nearly seven runs.

The first round sites and pool countries of the 2009 World Baseball Classic have been announced. All four opening round series will be played outside the United States.
Pool A will be played next March in Tokyo, with teams from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China meeting at the Tokyo Dome. In Pool B, Mexico, Cuba, Australia and South Africa will converge on Mexico City’s Foro Sol. The domed Rogers Center in Toronto will host Pool C play between Canada, Venezuela, Italy and the United States, and San Juan, Puerto Rico’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium will be the scene of Pool D action featuring Panama, Holland, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Sites for the 2009 WBC second round, semifinals and finals will be announced later.
There will be two format changes from the initial WBC in 2006: Next year, there will be double-elimination play during the first two rounds of play, and bracket crossover semifinal games will be introduced.

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