Spring training starts with sluggers in new places

Tim Lincecum thought about the seismic shifts of baseball’s

offseason, the ones that saw Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder

migrate to the American League.

”I think it’s great,” San Francisco’s two-time Cy Young Award

winner joked. ”I won’t have to pitch to them anymore.”

Just 106 days after the surprising St. Louis Cardinals won the

World Series, baseball returns this weekend when pitchers and

catchers for the Seattle Mariners report to spring training in

Peoria, Ariz.

There’s been a whole lot of change since the Texas Rangers’

David Murphy flied out to Allen Craig for the final out of the

seven-game Series thriller.

Tony La Russa is gone. Bobby Valentine is back.

And no switch was bigger than Pujols’ decision to split St.

Louis for a $240 million, 10-year contract with the Los Angeles

Angels. Add Fielder’s move from Milwaukee for a $214 million,

nine-year deal with Detroit, and the lives of AL pitchers just got

75 homers and 219 RBIs tougher.

”You have offenses that are going to let you know if your

pitching is not up to par,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

”There’s certainly been a sway to some extraordinarily deep

lineups in the American League.”

The 14 AL teams have spent $776.8 million on major league

contracts for players who became free agents after the World Series

and the NL’s 16 clubs have committed $597.3 million. That NL lineup

looks a lot less fearsome heading into the All-Star game at Kansas

City’s Kaufmann Stadium on July 10.

And despite a 71-91 record last year, even the Royals are

hopeful before the first pitch has been thrown – even with the AL’s

new additions.

”They make it more exciting and more challenging for all of

us,” general manager Dayton Moore said. ”I’m a fan, too, and like

watching them play. It’s exciting.”

Seattle is first to open because the Mariners start the season

in Tokyo with a two-game series against Oakland on March 28-29.

”We have to make decisions a little bit earlier because we have

to have a club together when we go there, and then you come back

and readjust and then have a week of spring training for everyone

to get their bearings back,” Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said.

”It’s almost like going away to football camp in high

school.”

The cost-conscious Athletics, who dealt All-Stars Gio Gonzalez

and Andrew Bailey and starter Trevor Cahill, opted not to use the

extra week.

”There’s only so much you can do in the days before games, and

players tend to go a little nuts after too many days of PFPs and

live BP,” Oakland assistant GM David Forst said, referring to

pitchers’ fielding practice and batting practice.

Other teams start reporting Feb. 18 ahead of the stateside

opener, which features the Cardinals at the renamed and now

rainbow-colored Miami Marlins on April 4 in the first official game

at $515 million Marlins Park. The Fish were among the offseason’s

big spenders, reeling in All-Stars Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and

Heath Bell for a combined $191 million while failing to hook

Pujols.

”I want our team to be important,” Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria

said, his gaudy 2003 World Series ring sparkling as he spoke.

While the Marlins and Angels stocked up, with Los Angeles

spending a combined $317.5 million on Pujols and left-hander C.J.

Wilson, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox acted like

small-market savers. Perhaps it was the lack of star starting

pitchers on the free-agent market. Or maybe it was the new labor

contract, announced in November, that adds incentives in coming

years for reigning in the urge to splurge.

No such issues for the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets,

big-market teams tumbling from turmoil. Put in bankruptcy by owner

Frank McCourt last summer, the Dodgers are to be sold by April 30

for what figures to be the biggest price in baseball history. While

waiting, the Dodgers didn’t lure any splashy stars to Hollywood’s

bright lights.

Coming off three straight losing seasons, the Mets have cut the

dimensions of Citi Field along with their payroll, from $120

million at the start of last season to about $95 million. This

while the Wilpon-Katz family that owns the team prepares for a

March trial where the trustee for victims of the Bernard Madoff

Ponzi scheme will seek to recover $386 million for investors. On

the field, New York has downgraded from Gucci-level free agents to

Gap-priced players such as Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch.

In an increasingly stronger NL East, Washington upgraded by

adding Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson, and Philadelphia added closer

Jonathan Papelbon.

As spring training approached, there still were plenty of big

names available of the market, including Roy Oswalt, Johnny Damon,

Hideki Matsui, Vladimir Guerrero, Magglio Ordonez and Raul

Ibanez.

Another uncertainty heading into spring training was the status

of NL MVP Ryan Braun. Facing a possible 50-game suspension for a

positive drug test, the Milwaukee Brewers left fielder was awaiting

a decision from arbitrator Shyam Das on his appeal, and the absence

of both Fielder and Braun might be too much for Milwaukee to

overcome.

”Oh, yeah, that will be tough,” Brewers outfielder Nyjer

Morgan said.

As teams head to spring training across Florida and Arizona,

they’ll find new managers in charge of Boston (Valentine), the

Chicago Cubs (Dale Sveum), the Chicago White Sox (Robin Ventura),

the Marlins (Ozzie Guillen) and the Cardinals (Mike Matheny).

And nearly a quarter of the clubs have switched GMs, with new

baseball bosses running Baltimore (Dan Duquette), Boston (Ben

Cherington), the Cubs (Jed Hoyer), Houston (Jeff Luhnow), the

Angels (Jerry Dipoto), Minnesota (Terry Ryan) and San Diego (Josh

Byrnes).

La Russa, the first manager to retire immediately after leading

his team to a World Series title, won’t be in uniform for spring

training for the first time since 1962 – when he was in high

school. While he’s had discussions with Commissioner Bud Selig, he

said filling Joe Torre’s old job as executive vice president of

baseball operations wouldn’t make sense for him.

”I’m going to show up at spring training, just because I want

to stay current,” La Russa said. ”So I’m not totally away, but it

is different. I plan to go to the ballpark and stay current and

watch teams, and especially get familiar with Arizona again. I’m

sure I’m going to be busy enough.”

Boston and Atlanta each will face questions about their

September collapses that cost them what had seemed to be

near-certain playoff spots.

Valentine also will find the Red Sox in a new spring training

stadium, 11,000-capacity JetBluePark at Fenway South, not far from

their old home in Fort Myers, Fla.

Coming off a major league-worst 56-106 record, and under new

owner Jim Crane, Houston will prepare for its 51st and final season

in the NL before switching to the AL for 2013.

Having twice fallen a strike shy of its first World Series title

in the still-hard-to-comprehend Game 6, Texas starts the quest for

its third straight AL pennant after adding Japanese pitcher Yu

Darvish ($56 million over six years plus a $51,703,411 fee) and

with new questions about 2010 MVP Josh Hamilton, who is eligible

for free agency after the season and admitted he had a recent

relapse with alcohol. The wounds of October are still fresh.

”There are times I still think about it and it burns,” Michael

Young said.

When it comes to spring training games, Philadelphia will be

first on the field, hosting Florida State at Clearwater on Feb. 29.

Out in Arizona, Oakland plays Seattle at Phoenix in a March 2

opener.

They’ll be lots of players with numbers in the 70s, 80s and 90s,

and by the late innings in the early going, veteran players may be

more numerous on fairways than fair territory.

Early morning workouts are the best time to catch players for

autographs on the back fields.

Scioscia looks ahead to his time in Tempe as a moment of

teaching, renewal and hope.

”The season’s a grind,” he said.

One he wouldn’t trade.

—(equals)

AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley, and AP Sports Writers Tim

Booth, Antonio Gonzalez, Stephen Hawkins and Dave Skretta

contributed to this report.