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
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
”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
The cost-conscious Athletics, who dealt All-Stars Gio Gonzalez
and Andrew Bailey and starter Trevor Cahill, opted not to use the
”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
”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
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
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
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
”Oh, yeah, that will be tough,” Brewers outfielder Nyjer
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
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
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
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.
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley, and AP Sports Writers Tim
Booth, Antonio Gonzalez, Stephen Hawkins and Dave Skretta
contributed to this report.