* ASTRO-NOMICAL RESURRECTION?— Murray Chass has an interesting analysis of the Houston Astros’ collapse from 2005 World Series team to the worst season in franchise history in 2011, with a little help from former Astros manager (and now Oakland Athletics special advisor) Phil Garner (We lost our leaders in the clubhouse. They were also star players.) and freshly-minted general manager Jeff Luhnow. Not to mention the shenanigans that delayed Jim Crane’s original bid to buy the Astros, before anyone thought of strong-arming him into accepting the Astros as the team to have been named later in, figuratively speaking, the deal that made a National League team out of the Milwaukee Brewers.
* SHE WON’T SAY SHE DIDN’T WARN THEM—The plots thicken a bit involving the New York Mess—er, Mets’s—financial straits: a former higher-up in the hedge fund the Mets’ owners launched, reportedly, tried to warn the Wilpons that there was something fishy about Bernie Madoff’s high returns . . . and if a jury is impressed enough with Noreen Harrington’s testimony during the coming trial, according to ESPN’s Adam Rubin, it could mean big trouble for the Wilpons’ defence, since she says, in filings submitted by Madoff recovery trustee Irving Picard, that she told Wilpon brother-in-law Saul Katz in 2003 that Madoff fund returns were doing one of two things: front running (trading in advance when knowing large trades are on the horizon) or fictitious. Harrington bolted the hedge fund in protest, Rubin says.
* WALKING THE PLANK?—Across town, the Empire Emeritus may have a trading partner willing to take A.J. Burnett off their hands. Actually, say ESPN’s Buster Olney and Andrew Marchand, the Pittsburgh Pirates are the leaders among four teams thought to be interested in Burnett, but the snags may include the Pirates taking Garrett Jones—a lefthanded hitter with whom the Yankees were highly impressed in their hunt for a viable DH—off the trading table, not to mention just how much of Burnett’s remaining $33 million in salary (for the next two seasons) the Yankees are willing to eat. The Pirates like Burnett’s inning-eating ability, and the Yankees have no more rotation room for the veteran.
* LOCKING DOWN—Mike Napoli won’t be going anywhere for a year at least: the Texas Rangers ducked arbitration by signing their breakout catcher to $9.4 million for 2012. That’s not too far off the absolute middle between the $11.5 million Napoli originally sought and the $8.3 million the Rangers originally offered. Napoli had lifetime highs in bombs (30), ribs (75), and WAR (5.5) in 2011, not to mention driving in 19 runs in the 2011 postseason including ten in the World Series. The Napoli deal keeps alive the Ranger streak of no cases going to arbitration since Jon Daniels became the club’s general manager.
* CAN OF COKE—This could be the single least shocking retrospective revelation in baseball this winter: former Red Sox pitching star Dennis (Oil Can) Boyd revealing, in advance of his forthcoming memoir, that he pitched maybe two-thirds of his major league games while wired up the kazoo on cocaine. Boyd says that between the coke and issues of bigotry his career ended up short of what his potential was, but he trips on one banana peel: If I wasn’t outspoken and a so-called proud black man, maybe I would have gotten the empathy and sympathy like other ballplayers got that I didn’t get — like Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Steve Howe. I can name 50 people that got third and fourth chances all because they weren’t outspoken black individuals. Actually, you don’t have to suggest bigotry doesn’t still exist in professional sports when you remind Boyd, who always could be an engaging character, that Strawberry was probably a lot more outspoken in his way than Boyd ever was, and God only knew how many third and fourth chances Strawberry got. Which tells you just how little Boyd had his head in the game when he predicted, “I will master the Mets,” before starting Game Three of the 1986 World Series, but got his head handed to him by the Mets in that game . . .
* TALE OF THE TAPE?—Bad enough: Josh Hamilton having a second relapse in three years and having a few drinks in a Dallas bar, a relapse for which he was contrite and unflinching when he apologised publicly. Worse: Deadspin reporting someone claiming to have and peddle a tape of Hamilton and a woman having sex in a men’s room stall at the same bar on the same night.
* STILL THE CAPTAIN—More than a week before position players were supposed to report, Derek Jeter showed up at the Yankees’ spring complex, as he has since 1993. And one potential beneficiary is minor league shortstop Cito Culver, who’s been picking Jeter’s brains and taking grounders astrice the veteran and impressing the daylights out of Jeter in the bargain, according to the New York Post: “He’s very interested in learning, which is always good. When I was a young player coming up, I wanted to learn as much as I could. He asks a lot of questions, works hard. He’s got a bright future. What is he, nineteen? I’ve been playing as long as he [has been] alive.”
* CANCER WARD—Jeter’s always been considered one of the Yankees’ clubhouse godsends, even if he’s also considered one of the most overrated players of his time at his position. Bleacher Report has a list of the thirty worst clubhouse cancers in baseball history for your reading pleasure. Among those whose malignancies will withstand the detest of time, according to BR: antiquities such as Marty Bergen (1800s catcher, whose mental illness had teammates praying he wouldn’t return after 1899), Hal Chase (maybe the single most corrupt player in major league history), Ty Cobb, Charlie Comiskey (who was as much of a pain in the ass as a player/manager as he’d prove as an owner), and Rogers Hornsby, to such contemporary tumours as Albert Belle, Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla (he whom the Mets will be paying mucho millions through 2035), Milton Bradley, Carl Crawford, Jose Guillen, Rickey Henderson, Shea Hillenbrand, Billy Martin, Vicente Padilla, Oliver Perez, John Rocker, and Carlos Zambrano. Surprise omission: Babe Ruth (who acted as a law unto himself in Boston and New York).
*THIS DOESN’T HAVE A DAMN THING TO DO WITH BASEBALL; OR, DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DID—Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law tells the London Sunday Times the mastermind behind 9/11 urged his children and grandchildren to reject his jihadist path, get an education in Europe, America, or both, and live peacefully in the West. Take it as you will.