We are now one week on from the new Collective Bargaining Agreement being finalized. The players have arrived at the spring training facilities for their respective ballclubs. There is far less discussion about luxury tax thresholds and much more about the latest free agent signings. The teams have started playing spring training games in Arizona and Florida. Even with the delayed start, there are some things I look for every season.
An obvious one is to see how rosters across Major League Baseball are being reshaped; some of these are for positive reasons, such as teams like the Dodgers’ addition of Freddie Freeman, while others are made for less sporting reasons like the sell-offs by the Cincinnati Reds and Oakland A’s. As a well-establish New York Mets fan, it has brought a smile to my face more than once to know Max Scherzer is actually on the team. The first appearance of Kris Bryant in a Colorado Rockies uniform will be another reminder that things are always changing. The late ratification of the CBA has also caused a rare phenomenon where all-stars like Trevor Story and Carlos Correa are joining the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins after St. Patrick’s Day. Chris Carpenter signing a minor league deal as he hopes to catch on with the Texas Rangers is the perfect example of a guy trying to show he has some gas left in the tank. Spring training is also our first opportunity to see the year’s foreign imports, with Seiya Suzuki being the highlighted player this season.
It can be easy to forget about players who miss large portions to end the previous season. I had a mental note that it has been quite a long time since I had the chance to see Mike Trout play for the Los Angeles Angels. His base hit off of Dan Straily (14 for 27 in his career) was a reminder the legend has returned. I am looking forward to the first time Jacob deGrom is back on the mound for the Mets. Their World Series hopes likely hinge upon his ability to remain healthy. St. Louis Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks will be important for them and he is fun to watch, especially if he is still throwing the 100 MPH fastballs. Future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw will be anxious to show he is healthy after a murky end to his 2021. The one-year deal he signed with the Dodgers indicates to me he is healthy, but we will have to see. Justin Verlander is back for the Houston Astros, and he will hope to lead the line for the rotation as his veteran presence will be valuable in front of their young arms.
Each spring training marks the beginning of big-league careers. The new CBA will mean it is more likely the top minor league players for each team to be on the opening day roster. There will be less incentive to engage in service time manipulation. I want to see Hunter Greene and what might be the fastest fastball in the history of the sport (no exaggeration) on the mound in Arizona. I saw him last spring touching 103. Adley Rutschman has no real reason to be in the minors with the Baltimore Orioles. The Seattle Mariners are right to be excited about Julio Rodriguez, a potential 30/30 outfielder. I still have hopes for post-hype prospects of Jo Adell, Jared Kelenic, and MacKenzie Gore. Spencer Torkelson should start at first base for the Detroit Tigers, and Riley Greene (No relation to Hunter) has a shot to being their outfield. With the DH coming to the National League, Nolan Gorman might make some noise in St. Louis. Bobby Witt Jr. could rightly force his way onto the roster for the Kansas City Royals. Nearly every club has a young guy looking to break camp with the big boys.
One of the less talked about aspects of spring training is the new managers in new locations. A good manager might not win a team the pennant, but a bad one can definitely cost a club one. It is always interesting to see how a new manager runs their spring training in order to develop a culture and establish how the club will be run. Bob Melvin taking over as the skipper for the San Diego Padres will halp shift the culture in the clubhouse as they look to make the leap from contenders to actual championship threats. Buck Showalter will look to be the grown-up in the room for the Mets, as the culture in New York needs an adjustment from the top down. It is hard to know what happened in St. Louis, but Oliver Marmol will have his work cut out for him as he is taking over a playoff team that had an abrupt separation from a manager who orchestrated a 17-game win streak in September in order to get the team into the playoffs. Mark Kotsay will have to lead the A’s through a transition from a playoff team to a team looking to rebuild. It isn’t easy for a first-time manager.
Spring training will be the first opportunity to see the changes to rules from the off-season. This is made even more important as part of the new CBA. This season will finally have the designated hitter for both leagues. The spring training rosters and roster invites. A team like the Philadelphia Phillies can field what and be described as an elevated softball team with the lack of defense the roster portends. The limit on player options will be interesting as camp battles resolve themselves. The teams now know they can only send a guy down five times during the season, so they have to be more careful about the depth guys in the organization. This is also complicated by the fact the waiver order will be changed so teams go to the back of the line when attempting to re-sign their own guys they previously placed on waivers.
One good thing about modern spring training is the lack of guys showing up claiming to be in the “best shape of their lives”. Guys show up to camp ready to go these days. I also miss the days of the guys in rubber suits to lose the winter weight. Hope springs eternal as the saying goes, so let’s enjoy the games until it starts to count on April 7th.