Spring training opens with turmoil, moves left to make
By Ronald Blum
AP Baseball Writer
The Boston Red Sox plan to print 5,000 copies of their media guide during the last week of February. Their opening-day roster could include several players who won’t make the deadline.
Perhaps 100 free agents still seek contracts as the start of spring training workouts on Feb. 14 draws near, a group that includes J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish.
In a historically slow market, players and management are feuding publicly about riches and rules, and teams seemingly are seeking bargains like shoppers awaiting a closeout.
“Some guys feel like they’re worth a little more than maybe what they’re being offered,” All-Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen said ahead of his first spring training since Pittsburgh traded him to San Francisco. “It’s just all about being fair.”
As soon as the Houston Astros won their first World Series title last November , attention turned toward 2018 and the start of stretching in Scottsdale, catching in Clearwater and bunting in Bradenton. But there will be two camps in Bradenton — in addition to the Pirates, based there for the 50th consecutive year, the Major League Baseball Players Association is setting up a free-agent workout facility at the nearby IMG Academy while players wait for the market to thaw.
Job-seekers include pitchers Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn; reliever Greg Holland; infielder Eduardo Nunez; outfielders Carlos Gomez and Carlos Gonzalez; and catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
“There are always going to be some big names available at the beginning of spring training, but there’s an exorbitant number this year,” New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said.
With Cincinnati, Detroit, Miami, Oakland, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay in the early stage of rebuild mode, and Atlanta, the Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia starting to emerge, it appears about one-third of the 30 teams have little chance for this year’s 10 playoff berths. For their fans, hope and faith are longer-term emotions going into opening day on March 29.
Union head Tony Clark labels this offseason a “race to the bottom.” Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto thinks more clubs may be competing for the top 2019 draft pick than for this year’s title.
“There is an element or a percentage of the league that’s not particularly into signing players that might help them win, but prefer to go the other route,” he said.
“You have a number of teams that have through the course of the last few years built up to what we have now referenced as super- team status. They may not need to fill those holes, which leaves a team in the middle, let’s call it eight to 12 teams, of which we are one, who are surfing through the markets.”
And many of the perennial big spenders are cutting back, too. The Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees want to get under the $197 million luxury tax threshold, putting them in better position for a free-agent class next fall that could include Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and Clayton Kershaw.
The Yankees did make the splashiest move of the offseason, acquiring big league home run champion Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins when former New York captain Derek Jeter took over as Miami’s chief executive and started a payroll purge.
After losing to the Astros in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series, New York fired manager Joe Girardi and replaced him with Aaron Boone, who has never managed or coached at any level. Other new managers include the Mets’ Mickey Callaway , Boston’s Alex Cora , Detroit’s Ron Gardenhire , Philadelphia’s Gabe Kapler and Washington’s Dave Martinez .
They may or may not have to maneuver pitch clocks and new limits on mound visits — negotiations with the players’ union continue. But a new generation drenched in analytics clearly is comfortable schmoozing about spin rates and launch angles, perfect for Ivy League-GMs and their ever-expanding staffs of programmers. A half-century after the Yankees were led by the M&M boys, the hot area of baseball is R&D.
“I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at video and finally spending time on some numbers, which I really enjoy,” Kapler said a week after he was hired. “I’ve always liked digging into what makes a player good at his job.”
Mike Scioscia, starting his 19th season with the Angels, is the only manager left hired by his team in the 20th century. But he may have to learn some new moves. Pitcher-outfielder Shohei Ohtani signed with Los Angeles , and Scioscia is considering a six-man rotation to accommodate the special skills of the Japanese star.
“Some guys have proven that they’re not as functional with too much rest,” Scioscia said, “and some guys thrive on the extra day.”
Seeking to follow the Astros’ example and win the World Series for the first time, Milwaukee realized its rebuild was ahead of schedule. The Brewers obtained Christian Yelich from the Marlins and signed Lorenzo Cain to an $80 million, five-year contract , thus far the largest free-agent deal of the offseason.
Milwaukee is an outlier this winter.
“Some teams would prefer to let young players get the reps and the opportunities,” Dipoto said. “Free agents by and large are players in their 30s, and if the expectation is for a long contract in your 30s, many clubs that are in that middle zone can’t afford to strike out on the multi-year deals in the 30s.”
If a free agent does sign with the Red Sox late, there’s always time for the next publication: The deadline for the press run of 10,000 yearbooks is in mid-March.
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley and AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this report.
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