Sunday baseball notes

A judgment call when it comes to the managers

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / February 20, 2011

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Our annual spring training manager rankings:

1. Bruce Bochy, Giants — He has been a top 10 guy on this list for some time, but he moves to the top after a flawless postseason, leading the overachieving Giants to a World Series championship. Bochy, who did a nice job in San Diego for many years, had a pretty dynamite pitching staff in San Francisco but basically took a team of vagabonds to the highest peak.

2. Terry Francona, Red Sox — He is always around the top spot. He took an injury-riddled team and won 89 games last season. Two World Series titles go a long way. He is one of the best managers of people in the game and delegates responsibility to his coaches as well as anyone.

3. Tony La Russa, Cardinals — This future Hall of Famer is very much the commander of his ship and has the complete respect of his players. He invented modern-day managing and continues to get the most out of his roster. The current challenge is the distraction of the Albert Pujols contract situation.

4. Jim Leyland, Tigers — Some of his years haven’t been easy, but Leyland, who has great baseball instincts, always seems to do the right thing by his team and his organization. His greatest challenge may lie ahead after superstar Miguel Cabrera was arrested for DUI.

5. Joe Maddon, Rays — “The little team that could’’ always finds itself stuck between the monsters in Boston and New York, but two out of the last three seasons, Maddon has won the division. One of the game’s most intelligent managers, he is dealing now with a decimated team, but he is adept at maximizing his roster.

6. Joe Girardi, Yankees — The easiest target in baseball is the manager of the Yankees, but Girardi is very strong in his convictions. And he has a Manager of the Year award with the small-market Marlins and a World Series title with the largest-market Yankees to justify doing things his way.

7. Mike Scioscia, Angels — As steady a manager as there is in the game, Scioscia has a method and sticks with it. He can be demanding, but there’s no doubt who’s in charge.

8. Charlie Manuel, Phillies — Old school all the way, but it works for Manuel and the Phillies. He keeps things simple, using plenty of common sense.

9. Ozzie Guillen, White Sox — Entertaining and unflappable, love him or hate him, his success speaks for itself. He makes it fun, and his fiery nature can make a difference in a team’s energy.

10. Buck Showalter, Orioles — Extremely prepared, organized, and experienced, he has changed the losing culture in Baltimore pretty swiftly and has been able to get the players and organization on the same page.

11. Dusty Baker, Reds — Baker, who has been around for a long time, jump-started his career last season when he led the Reds to an NL Central title. While he has had a rap for sometimes burning out a pitching staff, that was far from the case last season.

12. Bud Black, Padres — He has disproved the “pitching coaches can’t manage’’ stereotype. Black readily acknowledges that he knows pitching more than anything else, but he has learned to deal with the mind-set of the everyday player very well.

13. Ron Gardenhire, Twins — Always gets the most out of his roster, but his lack of postseason success is getting noticed.

14. Ron Washington, Rangers — Has come a long way, getting his team into the World Series last season. He did a fine job with his pitching staff and his roster, especially folding extra players into the lineup and giving regulars rest. His in-game managing is improving.

15. Jim Tracy, Rockies — Solid all-around, he saved the day in 2009 when he took over in midseason.

16. Fredi Gonzalez, Braves — Did a good job in Florida, but steps into more pressure.

17. Clint Hurdle, Pirates — He proved himself a respectable manager in Colorado, leading the Rockies to the 2007 World Series. Is he a miracle worker? We’ll find out in Pittsburgh.

18. Eric Wedge, Mariners — The 2007 American League Manager of the Year was out of the game for a year. Has a tough roster to handle in Seattle.

19. Brad Mills, Houston — His rookie season was thumbs-up, as he brought a new energy and organized manner to the Astros after they traded mainstays Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt.

20. Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks — New general manager Kevin Towers was so impressed he kept Gibson on after taking the job.

21. Mike Quade, Cubs — He brought so much order to the Cubs after Lou Piniella left, GM Jim Hendry had no choice but to make him permanent.

22. Jim Riggleman, Nationals — Very experienced and competent, he has the challenge of shaping an emerging roster.

23. Ned Yost, Royals — Another branch of the Bobby Cox tree. He was slightly under .500 in Milwaukee. In Kansas City, a few good prospects could make him look good the next few years.

24. Bob Geren, A’s — Geren has a chance to significantly raise his rank with a team capable of winning the AL West.

25. Terry Collins, Mets — It has been 11 years since he last managed, but he’s experienced, with gigs in Houston and LA (Angels). This may be his biggest challenge.

26. Manny Acta, Indians — Hard to judge Acta given the situations he’s been put in, but generally he does a good job.

27. Edwin Rodriguez, Marlins — Owner Jeffrey Loria told him he deserved another chance after going 46-46. Players like to play for him.

28-30. Don Mattingly, Dodgers; Ron Roenicke, Brewers; John Farrell, Blue Jays — Three rookies.

Acquisition of Aceves comes with questions The Red Sox really like their signing of righthander Alfredo Aceves and the fact they got him so late in the free agent process. A big reason general manager Theo Epstein wanted him was to add depth to the starting pitching while also having a reliever who can pitch extended innings.

Aceves can do both — and this is the big caveat — if healthy.

The Sox hope Aceves can survive the entire year, but they’re not banking on it. One reason he was out there so long, even with a 14-1 career record, is that he had a disk problem in his lower back that was never operated on after the Yankees shut him down last May 8.

Aceves also had radiating pains in his pelvic area, and in November he broke his collarbone in a bike accident. Amazingly, he says he feels fine after the long rest, well enough to go through his normal spring training routine.

Aceves does the same thing as Tim Wakefield, so is there room on the staff? The set bullpen spots are Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler, and Wakefield. For Aceves to make the roster, there may have to be an injury, unless one of the “set’’ relievers is not so set.

Aceves said he opted for the Sox over the Mets because “they offered the best deal.’’ He gets a $650,000 base if he makes the major league team and a $200,000 salary if he pitches in the minors.

While the opportunity seemed better with the Mets, Aceves feels his experience in the division and what he did for the Yankees will get him innings in Boston.

He wasn’t pleased that the Yankees, who need starting pitching, didn’t express more interest. He signed with Boston the day before the Yankees had scheduled a workout for him.

Asked why he thought the Yankees didn’t act quicker on him, he said, “It’s a business.’’

When pressed, he said, “I wish you would ask Brian Cashman that question.’’

Cashman said he offered Aceves only a minor league deal because “we couldn’t get him back on the mound. All rehab attempts failed. He would always hit a wall.’’

Hopeful Nathan says he’s right on scheduleRehab, a success. First bullpen, tremendous.

Less than 11 months after having Tommy John surgery, Twins closer Joe Nathan feels he is on the right course for a full recovery after missing the 2010 season.

“It feels great to be on the field again with my teammates,’’ said the 36-year-old righthander. “I feel like a rookie again. It’s been a long process and I still have a long road ahead of me.’’

Nathan is optimistic about being ready when the bell rings, and Twins management feels the same way, which is why they didn’t bring in another closer or add much to their bullpen even after losing Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, and Jon Rauch in free agency.

The Twins still have Matt Capps, who has closer experience, but they’re counting on Nathan, who had a 1.87 ERA in 246 games over a six-year stretch, better numbers than Mariano Rivera.

But in these Tommy John cases, the last phase can often be the toughest.

“It could be,’’ said Nathan. “It might be.

“So far, I don’t want to say it’s been smooth, because it’s been tough, but it’s going according to plan. I’m only 10 1/2 months in, so I’m thinking these next six weeks we’re going to make big strides.

“As far as velocity, I can’t even gauge that because even when I was healthy, I was throwing 88 m.p.h. at this time in spring training. Right now, nothing feels different to me.’’

When healthy, Nathan runs it up in the 93-94 range. He was throwing in the high 80s Thursday.

At present, Nathan said, he is not being held back, and the Twins haven’t been cautious. But he added, “We’re going to continue to have discussions. Communication is going to be important for us.

“As the games start, we’ll have to play it by ear. You start getting the adrenaline mixed in with throwing.

“It’s one thing to go out and throw a pen and give it a bounce-back. But it’s another thing to be in a game with adrenaline and you really start to reach for that something extra. We’ll see how I bounce back that next day.’’

Apropos of nothing 1. Please get real. Albert Pujols isn’t walking through that (Red Sox) door; 2. What part of Joba Chamberlain’s brain tells him it’s OK to show up to Yankee camp out of shape?; 3. Love the fact that new Rays teammates Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon are separated by just two hits (2,573-2,571, in Manny’s favor); 4. It’s a shame that Jim Edmonds, who retired after 17 seasons, never played for the Red Sox. Another nice fit for Fenway; 5. This exemplifies what a great fundamental baseball man Ron Gardenhire is: I never saw anyone have so much fun running catcher popup drills.

Updates on nine 1. Stuart Sternberg, owner, Rays — He told me he could not envision it (and what else could this Mets season ticket-holder say?), but you can see where he would be the perfect owner of the Mets if the Wilpon family had to sell. Bud Selig is good at matching owners and teams, and such a move would not be unprecedented. John Henry sold the Marlins to Jeffrey Loria, who had to leave Montreal, and Henry then bought the Red Sox.

2. Gary Sheffield, OF, retired — Sheffield told the New York Post he’s retired — after 509 homers (24th all time), a .292 average, 1,676 RBIs (25th), and 2,689 hits. He had a .907 OPS with eight teams, made nine All-Star teams, and won the 1992 National League batting title. The stats say he’s a Hall of Famer, but will his mention in the Mitchell Report for using “the clear’’ sabotage his candidacy?

3. Rich Harden, RHP, A’s — Just a few days into camp, he felt pain in his right side and will shut it down for two weeks. Harden, who has been on the disabled list nine times, is trying to resurrect his career under new A’s pitching coach Ron Romanick, who worked with Harden in the team’s minor league system. Harden, still only 29, is hoping to be a No. 5 starter or long reliever. He has made 30 starts only once in his career, yet sports a .618 winning percentage (55-34).

4. Mike Cameron, OF, Red Sox — If healthy, Cameron will likely wind up playing a lot, between right field, where J.D. Drew will get time off against lefties, and occasionally in center, when Jacoby Ellsbury will sit against particularly tough lefties. But don’t discount Cameron becoming trade bait between now and the end of spring training. “Cameron is a guy who fits well on a team,’’ said a National League scout, “because he’s versatile, plays excellent defense, and can hit lefthanded pitching. A team like the Phillies would have to be interested, but he’s a guy who could help a lot of teams. If he’s OK, he can still be a starter.’’

5. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers — What a tragedy it would be if he can’t work out his alcohol issues. He’s one of the elite players in the game, with a legitimate chance to win a Triple Crown. He’s also one of the nicest, most courteous players you’ll ever meet. “He’s a big kid,’’ said one of Cabrera’s former coaches. “He’s really a puppy dog. You’d hate to see a Hall of Fame career derailed, because that’s where he’s heading if he’s right. I think anyone who knows him is rooting for him.’’

6. Kevin Millwood, RHP, free agent — A pretty good name still out there in free agency. Scott Boras may be playing this one right. Rather than sign with just any team for small money, why not wait until there’s a need and then be in position to ask for more? Millwood is a veteran who won’t need a lot of time to get ready. He could be that nice mentor type on a younger staff or an end-of-the-rotation starter for a contender. He will pitch somewhere. It may be for the Yankees.

7. Tony Thomas, 2B, Red Sox — The infielder acquired in the Robert Coello deal may wind up being a pretty good get. Thomas, 24, has a chance to make it in the majors at least as a utility player. A scout who has watched Thomas a lot said, “Nothing he does wows you, but collectively he has skills. He runs well. Very aggressive, hard-nosed player who can drive the ball to the gaps. He doesn’t have blazing speed but he can steal some bases and plays a decent second base.’’ Thomas has played the last two seasons at Double A Tennessee in the Cubs organization and may be in the mix at Pawtucket.

8. Bengie Molina, C, free agent — At 36, he has gone back and forth on whether he’d like to play again, but he’s precisely the type of insurance a team like the Red Sox wouldn’t mind having. The problem is, he’d need playing time, a semi-starting job, and that isn’t in the cards with Boston. At least not at this time.

9. Francisco Liriano, LHP, Twins — He showed up at Twins camp with a little soreness in his shoulder, but it’s not considered serious. There have been reports of the Twins entertaining a deal for their top starter, but that doesn’t seem to make sense right now. He could be trade deadline material if the Twins get off to a poor start.

Short hops From the Bill Chuck files: “For the Rays last season, Jason Bartlett hit .254 with four homers. For the Brewers last season, Yovani Gallardo hit .254 with four homers and went 14-7 with a 3.84 ERA.’’ Also, “Through the first four years of his career, Tim Lincecum is 56-27 (.675) with a 3.04 ERA, pretty darn close to Giants Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, who was 62-31 (.667) with a 3.05 ERA in his first four seasons.’’ . . . Happy 45th birthday, Derek Lilliquist.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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