Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage … The Amazing Jack Z!

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I’m now fairly convinced that Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik is some sort of magician.
In his first year on the job he overhauled Seattle’s defense, cut dead weight from the previous regime, brought in nice low-cost pickups, and watched the team go from 61-101 to 85-77.
Not satisfied with that 24-game improvement Zduriencik began his second offseason in Seattle by swinging a blockbuster for Cliff Lee, adding one of the elite pitchers in baseball to a rotation that was already headed by Felix Hernandez.
And now he’s somehow talked the Cubs into taking Carlos Silva in exchange for Milton Bradley.
To be clear, at this point Bradley ranks somewhere between “massive headache” and “team-wrecking insanity.” That and the $21 million he’s owed over the next two seasons obviously gave him negative trade value. In order to get rid of him the Cubs had to not only accept zero value in return for Bradley, but absorb a similarly horrible contract. And boy did they! Silva is owed $25 million over the next two seasons, of which the Mariners will reportedly cover only $9 million, and unlike Bradley he has close to zero on-field value.
Whatever you think about Bradley as a person and teammate he remains a talented player, and even in a career-worst mess of a season hit .257/.378/.397. The year prior he hit .321/.436/.563 to lead the AL in on-base percentage and OPS. Silva, on the other hand, logged a grand total of 30 innings (with a nifty 8.60 ERA) in 2009 after going 4-15 with a 6.46 ERA in 2008. At best Silva is a fifth starter and at worst he should be at Triple-A. At best Bradley is among MLB’s better hitters and at worst he’s still a switch-hitting OBP threat.
Assuming that Bradley’s mere presence in Seattle won’t ruin everything that Zduriencik has accomplished in his first year-plus on the job the Mariners’ boss has just pulled off another brilliant move. Zduriencik ditched a nearly useless player owed $25 million for a perfectly useful player owed $22 million. And if Bradley proves too much of a hassle, the Mariners can always simply release him and get zero value for the money, which is exactly where they would’ve been with Silva anyway.
What will The Amazing Jack Z do for his next trick? It sounds like he’ll sign Franklin Gutierrez to a multi-year contract, keeping one of his finest pickups and one of MLB’s most underrated players in Seattle long term. And after that perhaps he’ll swap Brandon Morrow for another hitter, further boosting a lineup that ranked dead last in scoring despite the team’s overall success. At this point every fan should hope their favorite team isn’t on the other end of the phone calls shopping Morrow. Jack Z is pulling bunnies out of hats like crazy.

The Chicago Cubs: Spring training games, regular season prices

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Craig Calcaterra
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MESA, AZ — I’ve been covering spring training for eight years, and in just those eight years a lot has changed in the Cactus and Grapefruit League experiences. The parks are bigger and fancier and the vibe is far more akin to a regular season major league one than the intimate and laid back atmosphere most people think of when they picture February and March baseball.

Just imagine, however, how much has changed if you’ve been coming to Florida or Arizona for a really long time.

“When we first started coming, you could bring your own beer in,” says Don Harper, a lifelong Cubs fan from Kennewick, Washington who spends his winters in Arizona. “You couldn’t bring a cooler, but you could bring a case of beer and a bag of ice and you just set it down in between you and you just put the ice on it and keep it cold.”

I asked Don if the beer vendors complained.

“They didn’t sell beer,” he said.

That was three decades and two ballparks ago. They certainly sell beer at the Cubs’ gleaming new facility, Sloan Park. Cups of the stuff cost more than a couple of cases did back when Don first started coming to spring training.

The price of beer is not the only thing that has changed, of course. The price of tickets is not what it used to be either. Don told me that when he started coming to Cubs spring training games tickets ran about seven dollars. If that. It’s a bit pricer now. Face value for a single lawn ticket, where you’ll be sitting on a blanker on the outfield berm — can be as high as $47 depending on the day of the week and the opponent. Infield box seats run as high as $85.

The thing is, though, you’re not getting face value seats for Cubs spring training games. Half of the home games sold out within a week of tickets going on sale in January. Since then just about every other game has sold out or soon will. That will force you to get tickets on the secondary market. According to TickPick, the average — average! — Cubs spring training ticket on the secondary market is $106.30. For a single ticket. It’s easily the highest price for spring training tickets in all of baseball, and is $26 higher than secondary market tickets for the next highest team, the Red Sox:

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That may be shocking or even appalling to some, but as the automatic sellouts at Sloan Park and those high secondary market prices suggest, there are at least 15,000 people or so for each Cubs home game who don’t seem to mind. Supply meet demand meet the defending World Series champions.

I spoke with two younger Cubs fans, Corey Hayden and Eleanor Meloul, who traveled here from Salt Lake City. On Sunday they lucked out and got a couple of lawn seats for $28. On Saturday, however, they paid $100 a piece on StubHub to get some seats just beyond third base. I asked them if there is some price point that would keep them from coming.

“There isn’t one,” Hayden said. “I paid $4,500 for a World Series ticket, so . . .”

Don Harper wouldn’t do that, but he doesn’t really mind the higher prices he’s paying for his spring tickets. Of course, he’s a longtime season ticket holder so he gets access to the face value seats. I asked him whether his spring training habit would end if those prices got jacked up higher, as the market would seem to bear, or if he had to resort to the secondary market.

Don paused and sighed, suggesting it was a tough question. As he considered it, I put a hard number on it, asking him if he’d still go if he had to pay $50 per ticket. “Yeah, probably,” he said. “$75?” I asked. He paused again.

“As long as I got enough money.”

Don is a diehard who, one senses, will always find a way to make it work. Corey spent a wad of cash on that once-in-a-lifetime World Series ticket, but he and Eleanor seem content to bargain hunt for the most part and splurge strategically. If you’re a Cubs fan — and if you’re not rich — that’s what you’ll have to do. The ticket it just too hot.

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.