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12/28/2008 Entry: "WORLD BASEBALL TODAY (December 28, 2008)"

by Bruce Baskin
Radio Miami International

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The New York Yankees will have new players and a new ballpark in 2009, but the team will welcome Taiwanese pitcher Wang Chien-Ming back into the fold next season. The Yanks have signed the 28-year-old Wang to a one-year contract for $5 million, avoiding salary arbitration for the right-hander.
Wang was 8-2 with a 4.07 ERA in 15 starts for New York in 2008 before his season ended June 17 with injuries to his right foot. He began the year with six consecutive wins after starting the Yankees’ final opener in Yankee Stadium April 1 with a 3-2 win over Toronto. He was 5-0 in April, earning his 50th career win on April 22.
Signed by the Yanks as a non-drafted free agent in 2000, Wang won 19 games in both 2006 and 2007, and his .754 winning percentage since 2006 is second only to Boston’s Jon Lester among major league pitchers during that period. Wang has won more MLB games than any other Taiwanese-born pitcher, and ranks third all-time in wins by Asian-born hurlers, trailing only the 123 victories by Japan’s Hideo Nomo and 117 by Korean Park Chan-ho.
The Yankees have signed first baseman Mark Teixeira and pitchers C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett as free agents, and will move into their new billion-dollar stadium next season.

Outfielder Kevin Mench has signed a one-year contract with the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Central League for the 2009 season. The deal is reportedly worth $1.8 million.
The 30-year-old Mench hit .243 in 51 games for the Toronto Blue Jays last season. He has a career batting average of .269 with 89 homers and 330 RBIs in 702 MLB games with the Jays, Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers. He hit 51 homers and drove in 144 runs for the Rangers between 2004 and 2005.
Mench was named the America East Conference Player of the Year in both 1998 and 1999 while playing college ball for the University of Delaware, and earned Baseball America’s Class A Player of the Year honors in 2000 with the Rangers’ Florida State League affiliate in Port Charlotte after batting .334 and leading the league in six offensive categories. His brother-in-law is Colorado Rockies outfielder Scott Podsednik.
Mench is expected to replace import Lew Ford in the Hanshin lineup after Ford struggled to a .225 average with just three homers in 47 games for the Tigers in 2008.

Major League Baseball teams will play three games apiece against two national teams from Europe during spring training in Florida next March. The Italian National Team is scheduled to play the Washington Nationals, Florida Marlins and New York Mets; while the Dutch National Team is slated to face the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins after playing a contest against the University of South Florida.
The two three-game sets with big league teams are scheduled to take place between March 3 and 5 as both the Italian and Dutch teams prepare for the upcoming World Baseball Classic. While they are considered the two strongest baseball countries in Europe, neither is expected to contend for the WBC title.

According to both the Baseball de Cuba website and Cuban Ball Players blog, Holguin pitcher Aroldis Chapman registered a 102 MPH pitch during a recent Cuban National Series game with Las Tunas. The clocking is a record in Cuban ball, and a pretty good indicator as to why the lefty is off to a 4-0 start with a 1.65 ERA for Holguin. The 10-7 Perros are 2.5 games behind Villa Clara, who have finally lost games to both Santiago de Cuba and Ciego de Avila and are 14-2 for the season in the Oriental Division.
In the Occidental Division, La Habana leads with a 10-6 record, a half-game ahead of 10-7 Industriales and one game up on 11-9 Pinar del Rio.

Former New York Yankees star Bernie Williams, who never actually announced his retirement after becoming a free agent in 2006, has embarked on the comeback trail with the Carolina Gigantes of the Puerto Rico Winter League.
A 40-year-old native of San Juan, Williams hopes to play for Puerto Rico in next year’s World Baseball Classic. He took his first step last Monday by going 1-for-3 in Carolina’s 4-1 win over Mayaguez, stroking a line drive single up the middle off starter Jerome Williams in the first inning. Current Yankees catcher Jorge Posada is also on the Carolina roster, but has not played this winter.

Carolina will need a strong showing from Williams if they hope to break into the Puerto Rico League’s playoff picture. Currently, Ponce leads the league with a 23-11, giving the Leones a comfortable five-game cushion over 17-15 Arecibo. Ponce’s Andy Gonzalez leads Puerto Rico batters with a .385 average, while Arecibo’s Jorge Padilla continues his strong season with a .363 mark, 12 homers and 63 RBIs.

The regular season is over in the Dominican League, with the 30-20 Ciboa Gigantes edging the 30-22 Este Azucareros for first place. The two teams will be joined by Licey and Cibaenas in the first round of the playoffs. After an 18-game round robin, the top two finishers will advance to the final series. Oriente’s Pablo Ozuna led Dominican batters with a .390 batting average, while Victor Diaz of Cibaenas set a record with 17 homers.

Caracas continues to sit pretty in the Venezuelan League standings with a 38-19 record, five games ahead of 33-24 Aragua. Pablo Sandoval of Magallenes leads Venezuelan batters with a .396 average, and Caracas’ Jesus Guzman continues his phenomenal campaign at the plate with a .363 average, 12 homers and 63 RBIs. David Austen of Zulia is 7-2 with a 1.87 ERA, leading the league in wins and ERA.

In the Mexican Pacific League, 19-8 Mazatlan is three games ahead of 17-12 Guasave in the second half standings with a week to go in the regular season. Augie Murillo of Obregon leads the MexPac with a .356 batting average, while Arturo Lopez of Los Mochis is 6-2 with a 2.89 ERA. Among relievers, Tim Lavigne of Guasave leads the league with 19 saves. Lavigne is 3-0 and has a 1.80 ERA.

Former major league player and manager Bobby Valentine may be out as skipper of Japan’s Chiba Lotte Marines after his four-year contract expires following the 2009 season. Valentine told the Associated Press last week that the Marines have decided not to offer him a contract extension, saying “they just wanted to go in a different direction.”
Valentine led the Marines to a Japan Series championship in 2005, but the team finished fourth in the Pacific League standings in 2008 and did not make the playoffs. Valentine managed the New York Mets to a National League pennant in 2000 before losing the World Series to the rival New York Yankees in five games that fall. He managed the Texas Rangers from 1985 to 1992 before running the Mets between 1996 and 2002, winning 1,117 major league games against 1,072 losses.
As a player, Valentine made his major league debut in 1969 as a 19-year-old infielder with the Los Angeles Dodgers. After a final season in the minors in 1970 (when he was the Pacific Coast League’s Most Valuable Player with the Spokane Indians), Valentine spent nine seasons in the majors, batting .260 with 12 homers and 157 RBI for five teams before retiring in 1979.

The search for a new Korea Baseball Organization commissioner is being postponed until early 2009. Seven KBO team presidents met last week and decided to put the selection process on hold, according to league secretary general Hal Il-sung, who is acting as commissioner while the search is underway.
Former commissioner Shin Sang-woo resigned earlier this month after less than three years on the job. Shin’s contract was due to expire in March of 2009. Originally, the KBO offered the commissioner’s post to Yoo Young-koo, who is vice chairman of the Korea Sports Council. However, Yoo pulled his name from consideration just prior to a meeting in which he was expected to be approved for the commissioner’s post. Two former political figures with Korea’s Grand National Party, Park Chong-ung and Kang Jae-sup, have been mentioned as possible candidates.
Since the KBO was established in 1982, the league has had ten commissioners, nine of whom were figures linked to politics and many involved in scandals.

The Confederation of European Baseball has selected twelve prominent teams from eight nations for two European Cup tournaments to be held in 2009.
At a meeting in Frankfurt, Germany last weekend, the CEB set the draw for a pair of six-team tournaments in Italy between March 30 and April 4. One group will include Danesi Nettuno of Italy, the Amsterdam Pirates of Holland, France’s Rouen Huskies, Spain’s Puerto Cruz Marlins, the Antwerp Greys of Belgium, and the Regensburg Buchbinder Legionaere of Germany. Games will be played in Nettuno.
The second group will feature T&A San Marino, Italy’s Fortitudo Bologna, FC Barcelona of Spain, AVG Draci Brno of the Czech Republic, Corendon Kinheim from The Netherlands and France’s Templiers Senart. The site for these teams has not been determined.
In addition, the CEB awarded four cities with Euro Cup Qualifying tournaments in mid-June: Trnava, Slovakia; Attnang-Puchheim, Austria; Antwerp, Belgium; and Ostrava, Czech Republic.

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