-P- The Pirates have computer simulations of their new Dominican academy. I don't have a lot of specific knowledge about what other teams' academies are like, but this one looks cool, and it sounds like it's going to be an enormous improvement over the awful one they have now:
The current one has a single batting cage with an uneven mound and weeds surrounding it, cement floors in a tiny clubhouse and a single field. There is no headquarters building, no exercise room, and all residences are in another part of town.
It's obviously very early, but it sounds like Bob Nutting, Frank Coonelly and the Pirates really are taking this problem seriously.
-P- The Cards have signed catcher Yadier Molina to a four-year, $15.5 million deal with an option for 2012. The deal potentially buys out two of Molina's free agent years. I think I like this deal for the Cardinals. Yes, Molina's only one year removed from a .595 OPS, but he's only 25, and he showed real progress in 2007, improving his walk rate enough that he's likely to continue to be an asset as long as he hits .260 or so and continues to play outstanding defense. The Cards' only real catching prospect is Bryan Anderson, who could potentially platoon when he's ready, so this deal doesn't really get in anyone's way. Normally, I'd say that Molina is the sort of player who should be taken to arbitration rather than signed long-term, but starting catchers aren't easy to come by.
-P- The White Sox have signed Octavio Dotel to a two-year, $11 million deal. Dotel is 34 and he's not nearly as good as he was when he and Billy Wagner were dominating the late innings for the Astros. And more importantly, I have no idea what planet Kenny Williams' head is on. His big moves this offseason have been to deal Jon Garland for Orlando Cabrera, trade his entire farm system for Nick Swisher, and drop $30 million on a pair of aging relievers (Dotel and Scott Linebrink). If the Sox were in the NL Central, Williams' plan to sneak into the playoffs by crapping all over the Sox' future might just work, but they aren't. They're in one of the best divisions in baseball, and the Sox won 72 games last year - signing Alex Rodriguez wouldn't have gotten them into the playoffs. Acquiring Dotel isn't the worst move that's been made this offseason, but it doesn't make any sense, and it's not going to make the Sox better in 2009.
UPDATE: It occurs to me that the "crapping all over the Sox' future" might be a little unfair. Christina Kahrl has argued very passionately (subscription only) that acquiring Swisher was a future-oriented move for the Sox, but I don't agree. The Sox gave up a high-upside arm in Faustino de los Santos and another good one in Gio Gonzalez for Swisher. While Swisher is signed to a very favorable contract, I don't see his skill set - lots of strikeouts, lots of walks, low batting average, power - as one that's likely to age all that well, particularly in a few years when Swisher slows down and has to move to first or DH. If he hits .255, he's an asset, but if he dips to .235, he's a problem. And in the meantime, if the Sox don't have anything in their farm system, how are they going to contend against the Indians or Tigers before 2011 or so?
-P- Speaking of 72-win teams, Dayn Perry sees the Reds as a team that could surprise people this year, and I have to say that, in spite of Wayne Krivsky's moronic general managing, I agree. There's a lot of upside in the rotation and in the lineup, and I could easily see a scenario in which Homer Bailey, Edinson Volquez, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion all have good years and the Reds suddenly wind up at the top of the standings. I don't think it will happen, but the Reds will definitely be worth watching this year.