The Nub

A Hall of Fame Angell Hailed on Christmas Eve

(Posted: 12/24//13)

This holiday present is the result of political action – a vote – in which the Baseball Writers named New Yorker magazine’s Roger Angell to the Cooperstown corner honoring the sport’s literary standouts.  Angell, check reporting as fan rather than insider, sick is now 93, the dean-emeritus of his colleagues.  He writes rarely these days, but did describe a memorable moment in the 2013 season – Mariano Rivera’s last game, September 23d, against the Giants.  Here is an excerpt, an end-of-the-year gift for all of us:

“Mariano came on with one out in the eighth, and surrendered a single but no runs, and along the way gave us still again his eloquent entering run from deep center field; the leaning stare-in with upcocked mitt over his heart; the reposeful pre-pitch pause, with his hands at waist level; and then the burning, bending, famed-in-song-and-story cutter. All these, seen once again, have been as familiar to us as our dad’s light cough from the next room, or the dimples on the back of our once-three-year-old daughter’s hands, but, like those, must now only be recalled.

“The game ran down, then ran out, with the Yanks somehow failing to score anybody after putting runners on second and third base with no outs in the bottom of the eighth…Shattered by injuries and with their bullpen worn to a frazzle, the Yankees have lost six of their last nine games…They will be caught by the heels in the next day or two and gobbled up by the statistical werewolf.  Baseball, as Bart Giamatti told us, breaks your heart…”

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Happy Holiday until the start of the calendar’s third, and last, non-baseball month.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar@aol.com, as well as requests for e-mail updates, are welcome. Note that only e-mailed comments can be addressed by the skipper. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Pitching for the Country’s Most Booed Pariahs

(Posted: 12/21//13)

We asked a friend the other day what he thought of Alex Rodriguez. “He’s no Jeter” he quipped. Being compared to Derek Jeter connects to many of A-Rod’s image problems. Fans resent the disparity between his $275 million Yankee contract, generic doctor which pays him more for 10 years than the team’s icon shortstop received for 19. Intensifying their resentment is A-Rod’s injury-related lack of production in recent years while Jeter defied the aging process until he was hurt late in 2012. Rodriguez has had the added misfortune of not matching Jeter’s interview skills: Derek is smooth, discount order A-Rod edgy. Both made the tabloids with their dish-dating, thumb but Derek was unmarried, A-Rod had – still has – a wife and two children.

Yet, on the current issue of his use of performance-enhancing drugs, A-Rod deserves more fairness than he has received so far. Although his overplayed defensive maneuvering prior to an arbitrator’s decision suggests desperation, A-Rod has done nothing more than engage in what his adversaries consider suspicious behavior. Bud Selig and his busy team may have gotten the better of the PR game, but A-Rod stands a reasonable chance of being vindicated in the end. Until the decision on the disputed Biogenesis evidence and his possible suspension next month, fans and the media alike should be willing to cut him slack.

Rodriguez’s pariah counterpart in the political field – Edward Snowden – has earned similar reconsideration for his exposure of Team Obama’s massive wiretap program. A federal judge has helped rehabilitate Snowden’s standing with his fellow citizens by ruling that the O-team’s intelligence-gathering activities are likely unconstitutional. An unlikely supporter of Snowden has emerged in Forbes magazine. That self-described capitalist tool,” published results of an interview with an NSA colleague, who said, among other things, that Snowden “was a genius…in a class of his own.”

Other comments of the co-worker included in the Forbes report:

“Before coming to NSA Hawaii, Snowden had impressed NSA officials by developing a backup system that the NSA had widely implemented in its codebreaking operations. He also frequently reported security vulnerabilities in NSA software… Snowden’s managers decided that he was the most qualified candidate to build a new web front-end for one of its projects, despite his contractor status. As his coworker tells it, he was given full administrator privileges, with virtually unlimited access to NSA data. ‘Big mistake in hindsight,’ says Snowden’s former colleague. ‘But if you had a guy who could do things nobody else could…what would you do?’

“A hint of his whistleblower conscience… Snowden kept a copy of the Constitution on his desk to cite when arguing against NSA activities he thought might violate it… Snowden’s former colleague says that he or she has slowly come to understand Snowden’s decision to leak the NSA’s files. ’I was shocked and betrayed when I first learned the news, but as more time passes I’m inclined to believe he really is trying to do the right thing and it’s not out of character for him. I don’t agree with his methods, but I understand why he did it. I won’t call him a hero, but he’s sure as hell no traitor’.”

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Cher-ishable: Turns out GM Ben Cherington had a triple-crown year in 2013. His Red Sox, we know, went from woeful in 2012 to World Series winner. Two weeks later, he was named MLB’s Executive of the Year. Now, we learn, he managed to keep the champion Sox payroll almost a quarter of a million below the $178 million luxury tax limit. The Yankees and Dodgers went beyond the limit, and must pay taxes of $28 and $11.4 million, respectively. The Yanks’ chances of staying under the limit next season hinge on whether an arbitrator ratifies A-Rod’s possible 211-game suspension.

Credit where it’s due: the informally acknowledged baseball-writing dean Peter Gammons predicted on MLB-TV at Winter Meetings two weeks ago that the Rakuten Golden Eagles would not make Japan’s coveted pitcher Masahiro Tanaka available to a U.S. team this coming season. Gammons based the prediction on conversations with a key executive of Tanaka’s team. The outcome – still not official – looks to leave the Yankees, in particular, with a rotation hole they were anxious to fill with the Japanese star. The Dodgers could have outbid them but LA’s impressive starting alignment – Kershaw, Greinke, etc., made it unlikely.

Wounded Orioles: Baltimore, which has done next-to-nothing on the hot stove trading market, has now been forced to cancel the one major deal it did make – that of signing former Oakland closer Grant Balfour to a two-year, $15 million contract. Shoulder problems were detected in Balfour’s physical exam, so the deal is off.. Thus, it could be the Orioles will have less than next-to-nothing to show their fans by year’s end. They need to find someone urgently to replace former closer Jim Johnson, whom they traded to Oakland.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments to dickstar@aol.com, as well as requests for e-mail updates, are welcome. Note that only e-mailed comments can be addressed by the skipper. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Unbelievable: That Changes in Either Field Occur Right Away

(Posted: 12/17//13)

“Baseball Acts to Eliminate Collisions at Home Plate” – the big non-free agent story at the Winter Meetings last week – is still to be played out.  And for good reason: we’re talking about “eradicating a thrilling but dangerous staple of the game, best and ” in the words of the Times’ Tyler Kepner. Changes in any field seldom come easy.  The effort to eliminate concussion-risking impacts at home and on the bases will be extra-hard.  Why? Rules-makers must deal with ingrained player instincts to go all-out to score or stop runs.  Curbing those instincts won’t happen overnight.  Penalizing lack of restraint next season, buy unhealthy or whenever, is sure to cause outcries from players and fans.

Conclusion: Baseball misleads us by suggesting the new anti-collision arrangement is about to be an accomplished fact.

A more stunning exaggeration in the financial field was caught the other day by a member of ProPublica, the independent, public interest-serving newsroom . Skipper Obama’s new Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced in a speech that the Dodd-Frank banking-reform bill, has ended “too big to fail as a matter of law.”  ProPub’s Jesse Eisinger slammed that pitch in the NY Times: “It is empty of meaning,” he wrote. “’Too big to fail was never literally the law of the land.  Therefore, it wasn’t something that Dodd-Frank excised.”

Eisinger notes that Lew’s “faith-based argument…requires expecting that government officials will have the stomach to unwind a failing bank with a multitrillion-dollar balance sheet and impose losses on shareholders, and, if required, bondholders and other creditors.”  When further steps entail ending the bank’s international operations and watching an inevitable impact on other giant institutions, like JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Eisinger adds “It’s at this point that (the government’s) straight face becomes a look of terror.”

(The Times may have felt trepidation, if not terror, about the story: it was buried in the bullpen of page B5)

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Trade-Off: The White Sox, badly offense-challenged last season, decided to sacrifice pitching to beef up their batting order.  The Sox sent lefty reliever Hector Santiago (137 SOs in 149 innings) to the Angels last week, in a three-team deal with the D-backs, in exchange for Arizona outfielder Adam Eaton.  And yesterday, the Sox gave up closer Addison Reed, 24, who saved 40 in 48 chances last season, for 22-year-old D-back third baseman Mark Davidson.  In 31 games for Arizona last year, Davidson hit .237, with three home runs.  He had a total of 20 HRs in 2013, between triple-A and the D-backs.

The challenge for the Sox now: succeeding in a serious scavenger hunt for pitching replacements.

Add-on Signings:  John Axford by Cleveland, Mark Ellis by St.Louis, Gavin Floyd by Atlanta. Brandon Beachy back with Atlanta, Mike Pelfrey back with Minnesota. Over the weekend: Omar Infante, a four-year deal with Kansas City.

Skeptic:  Bruce Bochy, on the future of expanded video replay:  “We should finally get it right in about five years.”

Truth-teller: John Hart (on MLB-TV), on the outlook for the somewhat upgraded Mets in 2014: “They are clearly not in a ‘win-now’ mode.”

Hard Look:  SI’s Cliff Corcoran’s surprising take on the Rays’ re-signing of James Loney for three years and $21 million: “A year ago, Loney was coming off a brutal 2012 season and a free agent for the first time. The Rays signed him to a one-year contract worth just $2 million and Loney went on to have something of a career year in 2013. That was a tremendous bit of fortune for the Rays, but their decision to double-down on a longshot that paid off is unlikely to result in similar bounty… The Rays’ first base outlook might be a tad rosier if they provide Loney with a right-handed platoon partner, but that would just be throwing more money at a problem they just created by giving too much to Loney in the first place.”

See No Evil?  “I can’t wait to see who’s going to be in the crowd at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony for new members Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre.

Maybe Mark McGwire will show up? It might be as close as he’ll ever get. La Russa managed him for 15 seasons in both Oakland and St. Louis and says he never saw McGwire do a single steroid. Imagine that.  Maybe Alex Rodriguez will attend? He probably won’t get in, either. Former New York Yankees skipper Torre says he didn’t even notice A-Roid’s alleged PED use in the four years he managed him. A-Roid’s got plenty of time to go to Cooperstown. He’s appealing a 211-game suspension for PEDs. Torre? No ban for him…

“Maybe former Atlanta Braves manager Cox will look out in the crowd to see his old star Gary Sheffield. Probably not. Cox says he never saw all the PEDs Sheffield was taking when he had him right under his nose in the Atlanta clubhouse. In all, the three managers being inducted oversaw at least 34 players who’ve been implicated as PED users and never noticed a thing wrong.”  – Rick Reilly, ESPN.com

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar@aol.com, as well as requests for e-mail updates, are welcome.Note that only e-mailed comments can be addressed by the skipper. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Detroit’s Troubles Seemed to Begin with David Ortiz’s Slam

(Posted: 12/10//13)

Detroit’s financial troubles remind us of the morale setback the city suffered in game 2 of the ALCS. Everybody could feel that David Ortiz’s grand slam then shifted the series momentum; it not only helped overcome a five-run, usa troche one-game Tigers lead, discount buy it propelled the Red Sox to a World Championship. What we don’t fully appreciate is the aftermath experienced by Detroit fans and the Motor City generally: they lost Jim Leyland, who retired as Tigers manager, saw Prince Fielder traded to the Rangers and Doug Fister sent to the Nationals for a journeyman infielder and a couple of prospects.

All of that set the stage for the true disaster that befell the Detroit’s pensioners last week: a federal bankruptcy judge said the deeply-in-red city could disregard the state constitution and cut the pensions of already retired public sector workers. “The result,” says Newsweek’s David Cay John Johnston: Public worker pensions averaging $19,000 a year will be cut to the bone…”This is nothing short of theft, as pensions are simply deferred wages, that is, money that workers could have taken as cash in their regular paychecks had they not opted to set it aside.”

Johnston believes the Detroit order will influence similar “thefts” – private as well as public – around the country. What’s happening, he says, is that: Courts, legislatures, and corporations are all working in concert not to pay the full benefits owed. For decades, political and business leaders failed to set aside the right amount of money each payday to cover the pensions workers earned and, in some cases, covered up the mismanagement of pension fund investments.”

This is another issue in which the players association could intervene publicly in support of fellow union members. It won’t because of an aversion to activism outside its own interests, and because its own pension plan is so generous: players on MLB rosters for 43 games are paid $34,000 a year in benefits. After 10 years, their pensions go up to $100,000 annually.

They’ve got theirs, Jack. Far from begrudging them their earned benefits, people who pay in to pension plans must rally to receive similar fair treatment.

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The View from Seattle: “The Mariners have the resources, and apparently the desire, to make more impact moves this offseason. The hope is that Cano’s presence will help lure other free agents by convincing them that Seattle isn’t a vast wasteland after all. It’s a gamble, but a valiant one. With each passing year, the 31-year-old Cano will move away from his prime, and those dollars will become increasingly daunting. Teams that try to spend their way out of trouble and into prominence often find the road much bumpier than anticipated. But the old Mariners way clearly wasn’t working. I salute the Mariners for going big and bold. They’ve won the winter. Let’s see if the summer is next.”  – Larry Stone, Seattle Times

The View from New York: “Cano didn’t hustle.” “He didn’t like playing for Girardi.” “He wasn’t the kind of draw that Jeter is,” etc. All the predictable bad-mouthing that accompanies prominent players leaving town.

Yo, Yu: Over the past decade-and-a-half, A.J. Pierzynski has caught a covey of standout pitchers on the Twins, Giants, White Sox and Rangers. He tells MLB Radio that he found one who had more stuff than any of the others last season in Texas: Yu Darvish.

Happy Landing, Eric: We hope Eric Wedge hasn’t burned his managerial bridges by walking away from his job as Seattle Mariners skipper, then blasting the M’s front office for meddling in the way he ran the team. GM Jack Zdurniencik took the “high road” in defending his intervention last September, ordering Wedge to schedule more workouts. Wedge interviewed for the vacant Cubs job that went to Rick Renteria. Otherwise, he’s been in limbo. We’re always grateful for people with speaking-out chutzpah in what is, by and large, a sealed-tight sport. We’ll be happy if and when Wedge lands somewhere.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments to dickstar@aol.com, as well as requests for e-mail updates, are welcome.Note that only e-mailed comments can be addressed by the skipper. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

 

 

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Different Player Drafts Impact on Both Fields

(Posted: 12/7/13)

Snap Quiz: Which franchise is sitting prettiest in its division as the off-season midpoint approaches? Our, buy remedy perhaps surprising, advice choice: the Blue Jays. Why? In addition to retaining most of the stars acquired by trade in the last post-season: R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, etc. plus standout holdovers – Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie – Toronto has not one, but two high draft picks. Choosing ninth and 11th in the first round (earning the second selection for not signing its top pick last year), the Jays will be in a position to add two blue-chip prospects to an already solid farm system.

The tentative aspect of Jays’ current standing is obvious: the Red Sox have only begun upgrading, and the Yankees have already added the most coveted free agent in Jacoby Ellsbury plus the most sought-after free-agent catcher in Brian McCann. But the Yanks’ pitching is soft and those two new players have had injury problems. Offering expensive, long-term contracts (seven years to Ellsbury, five to McCann) to two 30-year-olds goes against the growing MLB-wide consensus that such deals will bite you at some later point. That, in turn, suggests that, unlike stand-pat Toronto, there’s an element of playing-catch-up panic on the part of the Yankee front office.

The recently accepted wisdom, we know, is that short-term contracts for free agents or trade targets that fit are two of three ways to firm up a franchise. Recruiting well from the amateur draft is the third and most effective way in the long term. A different kind of draft, a military one, gets power-pitch support from the WashPost’s Dana Millbank. He contends that the country needs a return to selective service – the draft’s formal name – to deal with governmental dysfunction. The fact that fewer than a fifth of Congressional members have served in the military, Millbank says, is a clue to what’s gone wrong:

“Because so few serving in politics have worn their country’s uniform, they have collectively forgotten how to put country before party and self-interest. They have forgotten a ‘cause greater than self,’ and they have lost the knowledge of how to make compromises for the good of the country. Without a history of sacrifice and service, they’ve turned politics into war.”

Players in the Congressional league, and presidents, have shown over the past half-century that going to bat for war is a sure, “patriotic” way to stay in office. It’s an easy vote to cast without a draft; the young people sent into battle are, mostly, without clout – low-income volunteers instead of activist dissenting college students or post-grad players.

Millbank makes an equally important point – that the draft enables all types of young people to learn about each together. He quotes Switzerland’s approach to its conscription policy: military service teaches people, “how to live and work with compatriots from all regions, all linguistic groups and all social strata.”

It’s a long-shot idea that could gain traction as our anti-terrorism adventures abroad drag on.

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How About That! The badmouthed winner of the Robinson Cano sweepstakes? Neither Robby nor the Mariners (although no one took the M’s seriously, not even hometown observers – see below). No, new sports agent Jay-Z and his Roc Nation outfit were derided by media for being out of their depth: Imagine they’re negotiating a 10-year, $240 million deal for their client. Friday morning, the Daily News reported that on the brink of winning the contract, they had overreached. The joke is on all the press-boxers who displayed a sudden affection for Scott Boros, suggesting to Cano that he had made a mistake. Jay-Z/Roc Nation: you are now in Boros’s league.

Cano’s Game (Before Played to the Finish): “I would be stunned, flabbergasted and flummoxed if the Mariners land Cano, no matter the magnitude of their offer. I jokingly tweeted last week that I was eagerly awaiting two milestones this winter: the Yankees announcing they were cutting off their negotiations with Cano, and the Yankees announcing they had signed Cano. Only I don’t think it’s a joke. All these leaks about the Mariners’ all-out blitz for Cano reek of a negotiating ploy. In the end, the Yankees need Cano, and Cano needs the Yankees. Will his new agent, Jay-Z, really want his first major sports client to land in the relative obscurity of the Pacific Northwest? Do the Yankees, coming off their second non-playoff season in the past 18 years, really want to let their marquee player get away?” – Larry Stone, Seattle Times columnist

Power Shift: Lots of other hot stove transactions – Carlos Beltran signed by the Yankees, and Hiroki Kuroda returning to them. Curtis Granderson signing with the Mets, Scott Feldman with the Astros, Brian Wilson the Dodgers, Rafael Furcal and Jarrod Saltalamacchia the Marlins, and Nate McLouth the Nationals. Which brings us to the only game-changing deal in our view: the trade of Detroit’s Doug Fister to the Nationals shifts the balance of power in the NL East – from the Braves to the Nats. We’ll go further: the Nats have to be linked to the Dodgers and Cardinals as most likely NL teams to reach the World Series.

Tainted Legacy: Baseball owes soon-to-retire Bud Selig thanks for a bunch of good stuff: expanded video replay (however belated), a system of greater team financial equality (however imperfect), a second playoff wild card, an All Star game with something at stake. He has earned NL fan resentment in NY, however, for helping cash-strapped owner Fred Wilpon hold on to the Mets while giving beleaguered Dodgers owner Frank McCourt the bum’s rush. The Granderson deal notwithstanding, Wilpon persists in keeping GM Sandy Alderson on short rations despite promises that, after five losing seasons, the team’s budgetary problems were coming to an end. It is clearer every day that Wilpon should not be a major market owner. Surely, Selig knows that friend Fred’s continued ownership will be a blot on his legacy. Do something about it, Bud, for your sake and that of Baseball.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Commentsto dickstar@aol.com, as well as requests for e-mail updates, are welcome.Note that only e-mailed comments can be addressed by the skipper. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

 

The Power Game vs. Small Ball Tension in Our Ballpark

(Posted: 12/3//13)

“Spread the Wealth, sales advice ” a tabloid’s sports headline glimpsed the other day, mind could only refer to one story:  Robinson Cano’s next contract.  Cano’s Roc Nation agents had set a 10-year, $310 million asking price, which Cano helped scale down to $272 million.  The Yankees and a Roc Nation partner were exploring revised years and numbers to keep him in pinstripes.  The Yanks are now reportedly talking about a close-to-$200 million neighborhood deal.  It’s a neighborhood in which they’re expected to confront little competition.

It’s doubtful super-agent Scott Boras expected to lose Cano as a client to Roc Nation, a new kid on the sports block.  The media, never a fan of Boras, seemed to rally to his side when Roc Nation nudged him off the field as Cano’s rep.  Stories suggesting that the star second baseman had made a mistake became commonplace once Roc Nation’s contract demands for him became public knowledge.  Press box people wondered if the newcomers had the necessary savvy to replace Boras.  At the same time, they begrudged Cano the money his handlers were asking for him.

There’s a lot of begrudging going on in parts of the national ballpark.  The idea of American democracy – at least, as seen from everywhere but right field – is based on caring: people caring about the well-being of one another.  Most of us believe in making it possible for government to provide public resources for all – roads, bridges, parks, schools, hospitals, social security, law enforcement, fire prevention, etc.  Putting that lineup in place, plus what’s central to the current rhubarb – accessible, affordable health care.

Fans in right, however, are expressing their opposition through a single word they repeat with disciplined regularity: redistribution.  They use it to boo a national game plan that discourages players from swinging for the fences – a plan that asks instead for them to take one for the team to help fill the bases and set up a high-scoring rally.  The righties see that big-government strategy as taking money out of the pockets of powerful hitters and spreading it – redistributing it – among small-ball teammates.  The scoreboard in right flashes a word like “som”; elsewhere, the electronic message is “social democracy.”  The tension between the two approaches is evident in political-game accounts daily.

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 Activist:  The Oakland Athletics were the most active team on arbitration-eligible deadline day. The A’s let Bartolo Colon, arguably their 2013 ace, become a free agent by declining to go to arbitration with him.  At the same time, Oakland signed free agent Scott Kazmir to a two-year, $22 million deal, and traded second baseman Jamile Weeks to Baltimore for standout reliever Jim Johnson, who is likely to become the A’s closer, replacing Grant Balfour.

Formidable Four: How’s this for a top-four starting rotation: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister?  The Washington Nationals have added Fister to the spot vacated by Dan Haren, trading infielder Steve Lombardozzi and two prospects to the Tigers to get the 6’8” righthander.  Fister went 14-9 while Haren went 10-14, a projected gain of four-plus wins for the Nationals, who are expected to challenge the Braves for the NL East title.

Yankee Do-ings: The Yankees were minimally active yesterday, sending catcher Chris Stewart to the Pirates, where he’ll back up Russell Martin.  The Yanks declined to go to arbitration with infielder Jayson Nix.

Quick Responses:  Not long ago, we suggested two fairly valued free agents worth signing: catcher A.J Pierzynski (Rangers) and Scott Feldman (Orioles).  Now reports say the Twins are prepared to sign A.J. and Baltimore to re-sign Feldman.  Not clear yet for how much or how long in either case.  Pierzynski, who will be 37 this season, was making $7.5 million with Texas, Feldman, who will be 31, $6 million with Baltimore.  Pierzynski’s signing, if the Twins follow through, will confirm the move of Joe Mauer to first base.

Off-Balance:  We’re happy for Phil Hughes that, despite a miserable (4-14) 2013, he’s getting a three-year, $24 million contract from the Twins.  But the deal, we know, is more  evidence of a stronger seller’s market for less-than-stellar players than most of us could have anticipated.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Commentsto dickstar@aol.com, as well as requests for e-mail updates, are welcome.Note that only e-mailed comments can be addressed by the skipper. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)