The Grapefruit League vs. the Cactus League

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Cactus League.jpgThis spring there will be 15 teams training in Arizona and 15 training in Florida. As many teams outside of Florida as in is a first, and Florida politicians don’t like it:

It’s a trend that concerns Florida tourism officials and lawmakers, who
are determined to keep the Grapefruit League’s 15 teams, if not entice
others to join. Earlier this month, Gov. Charlie Crist met with owners
of the Chicago Cubs and promised to “do whatever it takes” to lure them
to the Naples area for spring training . . . Legislation being drafted would create a pool of money the state can
use to award matching grants to communities and teams that want to
build stadiums or renovate existing facilities.

I don’t want to launch a giant political debate, but can I ask why government intervention in business is almost always viciously attacked, but no one ever cries “socialism” when they give money to billionaires to build ballparks?

Anyway, I don’t know that there’s much of anything that can be done to stop the movement west. Yes, I suppose there’s some baseline that we won’t go under in Florida due to eastern seaboard teams wanting to cater to retirees and vacationers who overwhelmingly choose to go to Florida over other places, but by all accounts Arizona has Florida beat as far as spring training experiences go.

Why? Because the facilities are all clustered around Phoenix, thereby cutting down on travel time and expense while concentrating the teams in a more densely-populated area.  The weather is more predictable.  I’ve heard Floridians say that Grapefruit Leaguers get in better shape because they sweat more there, but that sounds like a bogus reach to my untrained ears. I’m guessing an exercise physiologist could debunk it on the back of a napkin. Exertion is exertion.

But the biggest thing keeping the tide from turning is that public money. According to a pretty nifty book I read last spring, through early 2009, Arizona had spent roughly $250 million in public money building and improving
spring training facilities for major league baseball teams (they no doubt spent more this year to finish off the Reds’ portion of the new Arizona facility they share with the Indians). Florida has
spent too, but probably $100 million less than Arizona has.

So, my recession and housing-market-bust-crippled Floridian readers: You want your state to spend another $100 million — and likely much more — to lure the major leaguers back for a couple months each year?  I wouldn’t. Let ’em go to Arizona. If you want to see them so bad, hop a flight to Phoenix. They’re pretty cheap, actually. 

Pirates sign reliever Eric O’Flaherty

Eric O'Flaherty
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Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.

O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.

It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.

Mariano Rivera to get his plaque in Monument Park on August 14

Mariano Rivera
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The greatest closer in history is going to get the ultimate honor the New York Yankees bestow on August 14. That’s when Mariano Rivera will get his plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium before a game against the Rays.

There was some chatter in the last year or two about whether the Yankees were somehow lowering their standards out there, what with guys like Tino Martinez getting honored. But if that’s something you care about it won’t matter in this instance. Rivera would’ve been worthy even if the old snobby ways had held and only inner-circle types got a plaque, what with him being a key member of five World Series-winning teams and his status as the all-time saves leader in the regular season and the postseason.

The Yankees retired Rivera’s No. 42 in 2013. He’ll get his plaque in August. Then, on the first ballot for which he is eligible, he’ll be voted into the Hall of Fame, likely with a percentage in the mid-to-high 90s.

Dodgers “trying to trade” Alex Guerrero

Alex Guerrero
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Alex Guerrero is a potentially good right-handed bat without a position to play in Los Angeles, so Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reporting that the Dodgers are “trying to trade” him makes sense.

Guerrero, who signed with the Dodgers out of Cuba for $28 million in October of 2013, spent last season in the majors hitting .233 with 11 homers and a .695 OPS in a part-time role that generated 230 plate appearances. He logged a total of just 355 innings defensively, mostly as a left fielder and third baseman.

Guerrero could be intriguing–particularly to an American League team for whom his defense isn’t much of an issue–because he hit .329 with 15 homers and a 1.113 OPS in 65 games at Triple-A in 2014 and was consistently a .300 hitter with an OPS around 1.000 in Cuba. He’s also 29 years old, so Guerrero is no doubt looking to play regularly.

The New Zealand World Baseball Classic team performs the Haka

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It’s World Baseball Classic time again. Just the qualifying rounds. The actual tournament happens in 2017. Qualifiers will happen in Sydney, Australia, Mexicali, Mexico, Panama City, Panama and Brooklyn, N.Y., periodically, between now and September.

The Sydney round just got underway yesterday, so yes, some actual baseball is going on. As I’ve written and ranted before, the WBC is not my favorite thing that happens in baseball and certainly not the most important thing, but it’s pretty fun. Especially when there are displays of enthusiasm and pageantry and the like.

Such as the Haka, which basically every New Zealand sports team does and which never gets old:

 

Down in Sydney, the Australia, New Zealand, Philippines and South Africa teams are competing in a six-game, modified double-elimination format. In the other three qualifying rounds, Mexico, Czech Republic, Germany, Nicaragua, Colombia, France, Panama, Spain, Brazil, Great Britain, Israel and Pakistan will compete. Each qualifying round puts one representative in the WBC.

Those four qualifiers will compete in the WBC itself against countries that performed well enough in the past that they need not submit to qualifying: Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, Japan, Korea, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, United States and Venezuela.

Someone make sure Jon Morosi is well-hyrdrated. It’s gonna be a long year.