As spring training starts, baseball ready to begin anew
Before heading to Florida for his 50th season in professional baseball, Jim Leyland thought about all the deals that were made since he walked off the field as the World Series ended last October.
“Toronto probably was the big boy in the offseason as far as the moves they made,” the Detroit Tigers manager said. “That's going to be just one heck of a division, obviously. Toronto, they actually were my sleeper team last year until they had all those injuries to the pitching staff.”
From Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla., to HoHoKam Park in Mesa, Ariz., bats and balls will be broken out this week when teams report for spring training — extra early because of the third World Baseball Classic. For an offseason with a lackluster free-agent market, a whole lot of movement took place.
While the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels flashed their cash, putting Zack Greinke in Dodger blue and Josh Hamilton in Orange County red, Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos flipped players in the trade market as if they were baseball cards.
NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey was acquired from the Mets, and 2011 NL batting champion Jose Reyes arrived with pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson from Miami, which seemed to jettison virtually every veteran other than mascot Billy the Marlin.
“There's pressure to win for everybody,” said manager John Gibbons, back running the Blue Jays' dugout for the first time since 2008. “It's survival of franchises. They've got to win sooner or later. ”
Players and fans are looking forward to sun in Florida and Arizona over the next 1½ months, with the exhibition schedule starting Feb. 21 when the Boston Red Sox host Northeastern University at Fort Myers, Fla.
But the cloud of drugs remains over the game. Alex Rodriguez, Gio Gonzalez and others were alleged to have obtained substances on baseball's banned list from a Florida clinic, charges the players denied.
Who did what will take months to sort out, perhaps years.
The Atlanta Braves, minus retired star Chipper Jones, brought in brothers B.J. and Justin Upton to play alongside each other in a stacked outfield.
The Washington Nationals, who brought postseason baseball to the nation's capital last year for the first time since 1933, look primed for a run at the World Series. They re-signed Adam LaRoche and added Dan Haren, Denard Span and Rafael Soriano to a deep and talented roster highlighted by young phenoms Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
At the other end of the spectrum, Houston, which hosts Texas in the March 31 major league opener, stripped down as it moved into the American League and left itself with just five players on the big league roster who have three seasons or more in the majors.
With a payroll in the $25 million range — less than Rodriguez alone will earn — the Astros could become the first team to get the top draft pick for three straight years.
“I'm optimistic. I think we're going to have a much better year than people think, and I don't think it has anything to do with payroll,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “I think it has to do with the coaching staff that we have and the young players that have a tremendous amount of upside.”
The Giants had the most convivial offseason after sweeping Detroit to win their second World Series title in three seasons. San Francisco kept its core together, re-signing outfielder Angel Pagan, infielder Marco Scutaro and left-hander Jeremy Affeldt for a combined $78 million.