Scenes from Spring Training: Red Sox Nation South Part 1

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City of Palms Park.jpgI haven’t been to Steinbrenner Field yet so this may be a bit
premature, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a Red Sox
spring training game is about as close to a major league experience as
you’re going to get in the Grapefruit League. For better and for worse.

of Palms Park is really just a ballpark and not part of a larger spring
training facility. The Sox actually do their training at a player
development complex a couple of miles away, thus depriving the visitor
of that campus-like setting most places have.  If you’re parking at the
ballpark you’re there for a game, not to gawk at a lot of pitcher
fielding practice and shuttle runs and stuff.

The park is also
more squarely in the city than either the Mets or Twins parks are, so
you’re basically just parking your car, walking up a sidewalk and
heading on in to the stadium. No Mike Greenwell Drive or Troy O’Leary
Street. Just a meat and potatoes ballpark. Oh, and if you’re visiting
media you have to pay to park just like the fans do.  I love the smell
of democracy in the morning.

I’ve not been inside a real big
league press box, but I’m guessing City of Palms’ press box is a lot
closer to what one looks like than either Hammond Stadium’s or
Tradition Field’s. It’s huge, and rather than being set apart in some
narrow booth, it’s part of a giant suite of offices, kitchens and
conference rooms.  There are two really, really long rows of seats for
the reporters, but rather than a wall and a hallway behind the seats,
the room opens up to a large area of tables and counters where the
pregame lunch was going to be laid out and where reporters and
photographers sit, drank coffee and futz with their equipment.

else was set up in there too: a press conference table.  No one knew
what it was for when I arrived there early yesterday morning, but word
soon spread that it was about Nomar’s retirement.  I’ll admit my first
thought upon learning that wasn’t about Garciaparra’s career. It was
about how interesting it was that, when big news hits the Red Sox, they
bring the news up to where the reporters are rather than make the
reporters go down to where the news is.

But it makes sense given
the sheer number of reporters covering this particular beat.  The Sox’
press corps. dwarfs that of the Mets. There are multiple newspapers and
multiple radio stations with credentials, and each has multiple writers
on assignment. Add in the smattering of Japanese media, the visiting
contingent of Rays’ reporters and a handful of interlopers like me and
you’ve got quite a party.

I don’t like being in the middle of a
room, so I made my way down to the far end of the box and set up shop
at one of the handful of spaces marked “visiting media.”  As I set up
my laptop, an older gentleman came over and started setting up in the
only seat closer to the wall. Turns out it was Jonny Miller of WBZ
radio, who I ended up talking with all game long.

As I sat down he asked me where I was from. When I told him Columbus,
Ohio he rattled off a half dozen sportswriters he knew from Columbus at
one time or the other, most of which had moved on to that great press
box in the sky. Then he asked me if I knew who Dorothy Kilgallen was.
When I said I didn’t know, he explained to me her role in the JFK assassination coverup
When I asked him who he thought shot Kennedy he said he didn’t know who
pulled the trigger, but that he was pretty sure LBJ was behind it all. 
“Who became president?” Miller asked me rhetorically.  I’m 97% certain
he was messing with me to see if I’d tell him he was full of it. Not
that I cared. He’s a fun guy and I enjoyed sitting next to him during
the game.

Not sure he’d say the same about me given something that happened
during the game, however, but I’ll save that for a bit later.  In the
meantime, I had to get down to the field and walk around a bit.

Orioles interested in Denard Span

Denard Span
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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MASN’s Roch Kubatko is reporting that the Orioles have “some level” of interest in free agent outfielder Denard Span. The Nationals did not make a $15.8 million qualifying offer to Span, which means he doesn’t come attached with draft pick compensation unlike other free agents such as Alex Gordon and Dexter Fowler.

Span, who turns 32 in February, hit a solid .301/.365/.431 with five home runs, 22 RBI, 38 runs scored, and 11 stolen bases, but took only 275 plate appearances due to back and hip injuries. He underwent season-ending hip surgery in September but is expected to be ready to participate in spring training.

The Mets and Royals have also reportedly shown interest in Span’s services.

Blue Jays showing interest in Ryan Madson

Ryan Madson
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Blue Jays are on the prowl for relievers with closing experience. Ryan Madson is one of the names on their list.

Madson, 35, had a career rebirth with the Royals in 2015. He signed a minor league deal with the club that paid him a salary of $850,000 if he made it back to the majors. Due to a plethora of arm injuries, Madson hadn’t pitched in the majors since Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals as a member of the Phillies. For the Royals, he wound up becoming a crucial member of the bullpen, finishing with a 2.13 ERA and a 58/14 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.

While Madson allowed five runs in 8 1/3 post-season innings, he pitched well when it mattered most, as he hurled three scoreless frames in three appearances in the World Series against the Mets.

Madson has closing experience, with 55 career saves. 32 of them came in 2011 when he took over the closer’s role from Brad Lidge.

After signing Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ, and trading for Jesse Chavez, the Jays have bolstered their rotation but it was reported on Saturday that interim GM Tony LaCava is still focused on upgrading the pitching staff.

Trevor Cahill considering the Pirates as a potential destination

Trevor Cahill
AP Photo/Paul Beaty

ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that free agent pitcher Trevor Cahill is looking for a one-year, bounce-back deal. The Pirates are one of the potential teams he is considering.

It’s no surprise that the Pirates are on Cahill’s list. Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has garnered a reputation as a miracle worker after turning around the careers of a handful of pitchers, including Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano, and J.A. Happ. Volquez parlayed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Pirates into a two-year, $20 million deal with the Royals last December. Liriano signed with the Pirates on a one-year, $1 million contract and turned that into a three-year, $39 million deal. Happ, dealt to the Pirates from the Mariners at the most recent trade deadline, just signed a three-year, $39 million contract with the Blue Jays.

Cahill, once a highly-regarded pitching prospect, has scuffled over parts of seven seasons in the majors. The 27-year-old owns a career 4.13 ERA with a 754/427 K/BB ratio in 1,083 2/3 innings. Cahill had some brief success after signing with the Cubs as a free agent in mid-August, compiling a 2.12 ERA in 11 appearances out of the bullpen.

Blue Jays narrow GM search to two candidates: Tony LaCava and Ross Atkins

Tony LaCava
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Blue Jays have narrowed their search for a new general manager down to two candidates: current interim GM Tony LaCava, and Indians vice president of player personnel Ross Atkins. Former Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos resigned last month.

LaCava was promoted to interim GM on November 2 and has already made a handful of moves along with new president Mark Shapiro. The club acquired Jesse Chavez in a trade and signed pitchers Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ to multi-year deals.

Atkins worked under Shapiro in the Indians organization for 15 seasons, so it is no surprise that he is a finalist for the open GM position.