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Hackin’ Jose Reyes

With a healthy, productive season, Jose Reyes will become a very wealthy man next winter. The switch-hitter, eligible for free agency following 2011, could hit the market as a 28-year-old at a premium position with at least three 5.5+ WAR seasons to his name.

That’s not to say that Reyes’ game is without question marks, however. Hamstring issues that haunted him early in his big league career crept back up in 2009, costing him most of the season, and he missed time last year getting treatment for an overactive thyroid as well as nursing an oblique injury. Reyes didn’t play poorly in 2010, but a 2.8 WAR campaign was disappointing nonetheless. One of the biggest reasons that Reyes fell short of being the championship-caliber player we’ve come to expect was a downturn in his plate discipline.

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Astros Lose Castro to Torn ACL

The Houston Astros’ 2011 season figures to go about as well as NASA’s recent Glory satellite launch — it’s going to end with disappointment and a thud. CAIRO, Oliver and PECOTA all project the ‘Stros for fewer than 70 wins, and considering that Marc Hulet dubbed Houston’s farm system second-worst in the game, it could be years before Houston has the talent to compete once again. The Astros’ plight got even bleaker today, as it was announced that one of the club’s precious few long-term talents, Jason Castro, will likely miss the entire year with a torn right ACL.

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Milledgeville Sputters To The South Side

In naming Lastings Milledge the ninth-best prospect in the game prior the 2006 season, Baseball America said that the precocious outfielder figured to be part of a Queens offensive core including Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and David Wright. BA also threw out this quirky nugget of information about the would-be stud: Milledge’s family “has followed [his] career throughout the minors in a recreational vehicle affectionately dubbed ‘Milledgeville.’ ”

That rec vehicle was supposed to roll into Queens for good. But half a decade and three teams later, Milledgeville has bald tires, scratched paint and the horse power of a single burro. Rather than becoming a star in baseball’s biggest media market, Milledge is just hoping to avoid a summer spent taking the International League tour through places like Toledo, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Durham. Having washed out of New York, Washington and Pittsburgh, Milledge will try to carve out a bench role with the White Sox after agreeing to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite. Can Milledgeville get back on track, or is it destined for the scrap yard?

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Angels Acquire Vernon Wells for Napoli, Rivera

The Angels entered the offseason with money to spend and designs on nabbing a primo free agent position player, like Carl Crawford or Adrian Beltre, to invigorate a team that ranked 13th in the American League in wOBA and toward the middle of the pack in UZR. After Crawford inked with the Red Sox and Beltre joined the division rival Rangers, it looked as though L.A.’s most prominent winter move would be adding lefty relief pitching.

That changed Friday, as the Angels acquired Vernon Wells from the Toronto Blue Jays for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera. In picking up Wells, the Angels added name value and spent the cash that was sitting in the club’s coffers. Unfortunately, they didn’t get any better in the process. The team is now saddled with a cumbersome contract for a player who is almost assuredly going to regress next season, and who is entering the typical decline phase of a player’s career. The Jays, meanwhile, get out from under the baseball equivalent of a subprime mortgage and pick up the trade’s best player to boot.

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Andruw Jones Fitted For Pinstripes

The first memory most fans have of Andruw Jones is witnessing the then-teenager terrorize the New York Yankees in Game One of the 1996 World Series. While Jones’ Braves ultimately came up short in that Fall Classic, the Curacao native announced his presence as a future star by belting two home runs (replacing Mickey Mantle as the youngest ever to go deep in the World Series) and striding swiftly to fly balls that mere mortals would have to dive for, or miss altogether.

Now, Jones’ career has come full circle. He has reportedly signed a one-year, $2 million deal to serve as the Yankees’ fourth outfielder, with an additional $1.2 million in performance incentives possible. Thirty-four in April, Jones has the secondary skills to start for some teams, and he may now be the best reserve fly catcher in the game.
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O’s Add Derrek Lee

The Baltimore Orioles have continued their Extreme Makeover: Infield Edition by agreeing to terms on a one-year contract with free agent first baseman Derrek Lee. The exact terms of the deal aren’t yet known. But Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman suggests that Lee’s base salary figures to be in the $7-8 million range, and Yahoo’s Tim Brown adds that the deal includes a couple million bucks in possible incentives.

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Dotel Signs With Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays entered the offseason knowing that the team’s bullpen would look drastically different on Opening Day 2011 than it did last October. While Jason Frasor decided to accept Toronto’s arbitration offer rather than testing the market as a Type A free agent, fellow Type A Scott Downs signed a three-year deal with the Angels, and Type B free agent Kevin Gregg is expected to pitch out of someone else’s ‘pen next year. Attempting to compensate for those relief losses, the Jays have reportedly signed Octavio Dotel to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. Dotel’s pact pays him $2.75 million in 2011, with a $3.75 million club option for 2012 that includes a $750K buyout.

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Rockies Acquire Matt Lindstrom

The Colorado Rockies have acquired right-handed reliever Matt Lindstrom from the Houston Astros for a pair of minor league pitchers, Wes Musick and Jonnathan Aristil. Lindstrom, swapped from the Florida Marlins to Houston last December, will join Huston Street, Rafael Betancourt, Matt Belisle, Franklin Morales and others in a Colorado bullpen that placed third in the National League in reliever xFIP in 2010.

Turning 31 next month, Lindstrom’s ERA has jumped significantly since he made his debut with the Fish in 2007. He had a 3.09 ERA in ’07 and a 3.14 mark in 2008, but that figure rose to 5.89 in 2009 and 4.39 this past season. However, his underlying performance hasn’t degraded that much — he’s not as bad as those past two totals suggest, but he was never really a relief ace in the first place.

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Kansas City’s Current Rotation

The Kansas City Royals possess one of the most fertile farm systems in recent memory. In addition to top position prospects Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Will Myers, K.C. has unparalleled pitching talent — Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Danny Duffy and Christopher Dwyer are potential top-of-the-rotation lefties. From the right, there’s Aaron Crow and two of the four youngsters acquired in the Zack Greinke deal, Jeremy Jeffress (likely headed to the ‘pen) and Jacob Odorizzi. Pitching prospects are more volatile than their position player counterparts, so some of the arms listed above will almost assuredly flame out due to injury or attrition. But by sheer volume, Dayton Moore should soon be able to fill out the front of the Royals’ rotation with talented, cost-controlled pitchers.

Before the prospect cavalry arrives, though, things could get ugly. Post-Greinke, Kansas City’s Opening Day rotation figures to include Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies, Vin Mazzaro and Sean O’Sullivan, with Gil Meche a long shot to log significant innings due to a damaged shoulder (he may just stay in the bullpen). Chances are, the team adds a low-level free agent starter or two to compete for the fifth spot.

Dan Szymborski has released 2011 ZiPS projections for K.C. Here are the forecasts for the four guys currently penciled into the rotation, as well as Meche. I’d recommend that fans keep their noses buried in Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook this season, because Royals games might look like Charlie Brown’s All-Stars running on a loop until those celebrated arms arrive:

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Buck, Fields Find New Clubs

Heading into the 2007 season, outfielder Travis Buck and third baseman Josh Fields were primo prospects. Baseball America ranked Buck, the Oakland Athletics’ supplemental first-round pick in the 2005 draft, as the 50th best farm talent in the game. A standout quarterback at Oklahoma State, Fields gave up throwing spirals to sign with the Chicago White Sox for $1.55 million as the 18th pick in the 2004 draft. He entered 2007 as BA’s #45 prospect.

By now, Buck and Fields were supposed to be franchise bulwarks. Instead, they’re merely looking to land bench jobs and avoid the trainer’s table in new cities. A Super Two player non-tendered by the A’s, Buck inked a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians. Fields was similarly humbled; Kansas City non-tendered him, and the Pirates extended him a minor league contract with small incentives based on major league plate appearances.

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