Grady Sizemore now a free agent

Cleveland Indians Grady Sizemore connects for an RBI double against the Toronto Blue Jays during the second inning of their American League MLB baseball game in Toronto, May 31, 2011. REUTERS/Mark Blinch (CANADA – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

The Cleveland Indians announced today that they have decline to pick up the $9 million option on Grady Sizemore for the 2012 season. The Tribe was hoping to negotiate an incentive-laden deal for the often injured Sizemore, but that didn’t happen so they let him go.

Sizemore was a rising star and an excellent all-around player before he injured his knee. In 2008, Sizemore clubbed 33 home runs and stole 38 bases. But in the last three seasons, he’s only played in 210 games with 28 home runs and 17 steals. This year he didn’t steal a single base, and with all the injuries nobody knows if he can return to his previous form.

The Indians couldn’t afford to take that chance. They desperately need to add some reliable bats to go with their solid pitching staff and Sizemore was too big a risk, particularly since they are stuck with the brittle Travis Hafner for one more season at $13 million.

Sizemore will get plenty of interests from other teams, and the upside is there if he can stay healthy. The big-money teams can more easily absorb the risk.

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Report: Indians acquire Derek Lowe from Braves

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Derek Lowe. REUTERS/Tami Chappell (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

ESPN’s Buster Olney is reporting that the Atlanta Braves have traded Derek Lowe to the Cleveland Indians. WKNR in Cleveland is reporting that the Indians parted with minor-league pitcher Chris Jones.

This is a salary dump by the Braves. Olney reports that the Braves will cover $10 million of Lowe’s 2012 salary of $15 million. So the Indians get an experienced starter for the bargain price of $5 million for next season.

Lowe didn’t have a great 2011 season in Atlanta as he went 9-17 with a 5.05 ERA. He’s also 38 years old. Yet Lowe eats up innings and his stats from 2005-2010 we excellent and then solid. The Indians have a strong pitching staff led by Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, with Josh Tomlin and Fausto Carmona as well (the Tribe picked up Carmona’s 2012 option today for $7 million). But injuries have hurt their depth in the rotation, and Lowe gives them an experienced starter to add to the mix.

Tony La Russa announces retirement

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa hugs batting coach Mark McGwire after the Cardinals won the 2011 World Series in St. Louis on October 28, 2011. The Cardinals defeated the Texas Rangers 6-2 winning game 7 of the World Series. The Cardinals won their 11th World Series after defeating the Texans 4 game to 3. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

What a way to go. The St. Louis Cardinals had an incredible season topped off by one of the most exciting World Series comebacks in baseball history. 67-year-old Tony La Russa apparently has decided that this was the perfect way to end his career, as he announced today that he will retire as manager of the Cardinals.

Already the talking heads on ESPN are speculating that this really won’t be the end for La Russa. Who knows. But he’s had a great career with three World Series titles.

One criticism of La Russa is that he should have won more championships, as he had an incredible team in Oakland that managed to lose two of of three times in the World Series. But baseball is a funny sport. The best team doesn’t always win – the hottest team wins. Baseball history is littered with examples of how a dominant pitcher and a hot team can defeat the more dominant teams. Orel Hershiser and the Dodgers were one example against La Russa’s A’s.

La Russa was hailed as a genius at times, and that happened again after Game 1 of this World Series after all of his moves seemed to work out. Then he was the goat of Game 5 as the Cardinals ran the wrong relief pitcher out to the mound after what La Russa described as a communication problem.

None of those details really matter now. La Russa is leaving the game in the way players and managers can only dream about.

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa ponders his thoughts after announcing he has decided to retire during a press conference at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on October 31, 2011. La Russa, (67) who managed the Cardinals for 16 seasons guided his club to the franchise’s 11th World Championship just days ago. La Russa has 2,728 career wins. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Genius La Russa has a rough night

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter cant get control of a ground ball against the Texas Rangers during the fifth inning of game five of the World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas on October 25, 2011. The Rangers defeated the Cardinals 4-2 and lead the series 3-2. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

The fiasco with the bullpen was bad enough, but Tony La Russa really blew it in the ninth inning. Tom Verducci explains:

In the seventh inning, either Pujols called his own hit-and-run play and didn’t swing, or Craig saw a sign that wasn’t there, or the moon was in the phase of Aquarius, but somehow the Cardinals gave up a runner at first (Craig was thrown out), which immediately allowed Washington to intentionally walk Pujols. It gets worse. In the ninth, trailing 4-2, Craig was on first base with no outs while Rangers closer Neftali Feliz had a full count on Pujols, who represented the tying run. La Russa ordered Craig to run on the pitch. Pujols, after two foul balls, chased ball four — a 99 mph fastball off the plate — swung through it and Craig was thrown out for double play.

Here is La Russa’s explanation in full:

“Yeah, I trusted Albert could put the ball in play. In fact, the two swings that he fouled the ball off with the second baseman going over, the hole was there and all of a sudden it was first and third and nobody out and the last pitch, the guy has a very live arm and it sailed on him and he missed. I liked sending him and having a chance to open that inning up, and it didn’t work.”

Think about what La Russa is saying here. Pujols represents the tying run, and yet La Russa is talking about him as if he is Nick Punto. He is thinking about Pujols — who two days earlier joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only men ever to hit three homers in a game — hitting a groundball through the right side of the infield with Kinsler covering second base. A groundball to second base with Pujols finally getting a chance to swing the bat as the potential tying run! Do you know how many opposite field singles Pujols had this year in 651 plate appearances? Eleven. Less than two percent of his plate appearances. And that counts all opposite field singles of any kind, including line drives, not just seeing-eye ground balls through the vacated second base hole.

Do you know how many times Pujols hit a homer this year? Thirty-seven — or more than three times more often than he hit opposite field singles.

Really, my head hurts trying to figure out what La Russa did to this game but mostly how he tried to explain it away. It was like being stuck in a gigantic corn maze. Blindfolded. At midnight. After getting spun around 38 times. Every explanation led to another turn that led to another dead end or false exit. The bottom line is he lost the game having a matchup he didn’t want — a left-hander pitching to red-hot Napoli — and he lost his last opportunity by getting a runner thrown out who, while down two runs, didn’t mean anything. I’ve never seen a game even close to this one and I hope never again to have to try to explain one like it.

Watching the game, I was stunned to see Pujols swinging at that last pitch, trying to protect the runner. One swing and the game would have been tied. This is a classic case of a manager over-thinking a situation. Earl Weaver would have sat back and let his horse take his swings.

Cardinals take game 1 over Rangers

St. Louis Cardinals’ Matt Holliday (7) hands relief pitcher Jason Motte (30) the ball he caught to make the final out after game 1 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers at Busch Stadium on October 19, 2011 in St. Louis. The Cardinals won 3-2. UPI/Brian Kersey

The St. Louis Cardinals won game one of the World Series 3-2 over the Texas Rangers. Tony La Russa seemed to have the magic touch as each of his moves worked perfectly in a tight game. In the sixth inning, La Russa sent out pinch hitter Allen Craig to hit for starter Chris Carpenter, and Craig got the game-winning RBI single.

From there, the Cards’ bullpen took over, and now they have game one.

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