Scenes from Spring Training: A day with the Twins, Part 1

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Twins pitchers throwing.jpgI woke up bright and early, had the worst cup of coffee you’ll ever get
in the lobby of a major chain hotel, stopped at a 7-11 to get a better
cup of coffee and then headed to the ballpark. Why a 7-11? Because the
entire State of Florida appears to consist of densely-landscaped eight
lane thoroughfares lined with strip malls that are almost, but not
entirely impossible to enter after you realize that there might be
something worth entering them for. Like, say, a Starbucks.  When I
tried to get the GPS in my car to find me a better coffee place than
the 7-11 it wept and then committed suicide.

To the ballpark.  Allow me to say that the folks who work for the
Twins at Hammond Stadium are the nicest people on the planet.  I get
lost a lot whenever they let me out of my mother’s basement, and each
time I got lost, someone in a blue shirt kindly showed me where I
needed to be.  One of the guys working on the press level — Art — was
particularly nice. Turns out Art lived in Columbus for several years
where, among other things, he coached Paul O’Neill when he played high
school baseball.  Art and I chatted about Ohio a bit and then I was off to the Twins’
clubhouse, where Dustin the media guy told me I might want to be for A
Big Announcement.

“You signed Mauer?” I asked.

“Um, no,” Dustin replied.

“I think you should wait until Opening Day in the new park, then
announce you’ve signed him right after the National Anthem. The place
will go nuts!” I offered, quite proud of myself for thinking of
something so clever.

“Say, that’s . . . that’s an . . . interesting idea,” Dustin replied, scanning my eyes for signs of The Crazy. “I think I’ll mention it to Bill next time I talk to him.”

I sure hope he gives me credit!

I made it downstairs and, because I’m me, I couldn’t find the
clubhouse entrance.  A nice man in a blue shirt named Richard (the man, not the
shirt) pointed the way, telling me to “Look for Dominic. He’s working
the clubhouse door.” We had joked a bit when I first walked up to him,
so I left joking “I’ll tell Dominic you said it was OK if brought out a
couple of jerseys and bats and things for my kids.” Richard said “don’t do that, or
I’ll have to kiss the ring twice.”

I didn’t know what he meant until I met Dominic, the older, bespectacled
but undoubtedly formidable gentleman who signed me in to the clubhouse.
I made a similar joke with him about stealing stuff, and Dominic calmly,
but a tad too seriously for my tastes, said “You look like a nice boy. I’d hate to
have to break your legs.”  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say
that Dominic has lived a colorful life.

Once inside I waited with some other reporters in for The Big News
about Joe Nathan. In hindsight I wonder if the whole team knew it yet,
because the mood was pretty upbeat. Twins players had just been given a
copy of the team media guide. Jon Rauch — whose neck tattoos and sheer
height are much more impressive in person than on TV — was walking
around and bragging to everyone that he had two career hits (“says so
right here!”).  Gardenhire walked by at this point and Rauch said “hey
Ron, I have TWO career hits!” with a big dumb smile on his face.
Gardenhire — channeling Lou Brown — kept walking and grumbled “well, good for you.”

We’d soon learn that Gardenhire had other things on his mind.  I wonder
if one of those things was figuring out if Rauch’s hitting prowess was
worth wasting in the closer’s role.

Report: Tigers and J.D. Martinez agree to a two-year, $18.5 million deal

J.D. Martinez
Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images
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UPDATE: Jason Beck of MLB.com confirms that it’s a two-year, $18.5 million deal.

8:00 p.m. ET: Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reports that the Tigers have avoided arbitration with outfielder J.D. Martinez by agreeing to a two-year contract. No word yet on the terms involved, but Robert Murray of Baseball Essential reported earlier today that he was hearing rumblings about a two-year, $18.5 million deal.

Martinez filed for $8 million and was offered $6 million by the Tigers when arbitration figures were exchanged last month. There has been some talk about a long-term extension, but we heard last week that the two sides were discussing both one- and two-year deals. This new deal will buy out Martinez’s final two years of arbitration, so as of now, he’s still on track to go into free agency after 2017.

After a breakout 2014, Martinez batted .282 with 38 home runs and an .879 OPS over 158 games last season.

Free agent reliever Eric O’Flaherty weighing interest from four teams

New York Mets pitcher Eric O'Flaherty throws against the Miami Marlins during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Miami, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. The Mets defeated the Miami Marlins 8-6. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
AP Photo/Joe Skipper
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Veteran reliever Eric O'Flaherty is coming off the worst season of his career, but there’s still plenty of interest in a bounceback, as ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that he’s deciding between four teams and “should sign a deal by the weekend.”

You really can’t sugarcoat O’Flaherty’s 2015. The 31-year-old was flat-out bad, posting an 8.41 ERA and 21/18 K/BB ratio over 30 innings of work between the Athletics and Mets. Opposing batters hit .343/.427/.482 against him. I keep going back to check if that’s a misprint, but nope, it’s real. He also missed some time with shoulder inflammation. On the bright side, Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports reported last month that O’Flaherty feels healthy and believes that he has fixed his mechanics.

O’Flaherty’s career has veered off track since Tommy John surgery in 2013, but he has enjoyed plenty of success in the past and throws from the left side. He’s the kind of guy who will continue to get chances.

Mets sign outfielder Roger Bernadina

Cincinnati Reds v Arizona Diamondbacks
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Veteran outfielder Roger Bernadina has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Mets that includes an invitation to spring training.

Bernadina was a semi-regular for the Nationals from 2010-2012, but never developed as much as hoped offensively and didn’t play in the majors at all last season.

At age 32 he’s a career .236 hitter with a .661 OPS in 548 games as a big leaguer and given the Mets’ outfield depth–they already have Alejandro De Aza and Juan Lagares in bench/part-time roles–Bernadina seems likely to begin the season in the minors.

J.R. Graham is in The Best Shape of his Life

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher J.R. Graham celebrates after the final out as the Twins beat the Chicago White Sox 12-2 in  a baseball game, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Minneapolis. The Twins won 12-2. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
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Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports that Twins reliever J.R. Graham has lost “roughly 30-40 pounds this offseason.” It’s not a result of workouts, though. Just a change in diet. Bollinger says that Graham cut out sugar, alcohol and foods heavy in carbs and focused on a high-protein diet with lots of salads, meats and vegetables.

That’s an awful lot of weight to lose in four months, but the dude is only 26 and guys in their 20s lose weight just by thinking about it. Which is so very annoying to those of us who aren’t guys in their 20s.

The real test, of course, will come when he is working out far more strenuously once spring training starts and gets into the season. Normal schmos like me can keep up that kind of diet without much of a hitch as long as we have the willpower. An athlete’s energy requirements are far greater and far more specialized, so he’ll need more fuel than he’s probably been getting this offseason. Word is, however, that professional sports teams have people on staff that, you know, have made monitoring that kind of thing their life’s work.

In the meantime:

“I can just feel the change,” Graham said. “The energy. Everything. I feel great. I’m excited to see how it’ll translate into spring. I know I shouldn’t have any problems because I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m faster. All that. So it’s really exciting.”

It’s very exciting indeed. Because, with that, Graham becomes the latest baseball player to be . . . In The Best Shape of His Life.