Greetings from the Cactus League


I write to you from a strange place, my friends.

  • For one thing, my hotel is carved into the side of a mountain. Really. Picture a fortress built by a 1960s Bond villain, add some down comforters and complimentary toiletries and you’ve got the idea.  Once I’m acclimated to my new environment I intend to search the premises for the room with the giant map where Dr. X will reveal to me his secret plans prior to strapping me into some complicated killing device and then leaving me unattended.
  • Even stranger is the Mountain time zone. The East sets the tone and the Central hangs back ever so slightly, almost apace. Those Californians are so far behind that they may as well be their own country and we all ignore them anyway as they complain of our biases. But the Mountain time zone: too close to what we’re used to to ignore but not quite close enough to communicate seamlessly. And likely not to be trusted because of it.
  • For example, I have no idea what time this post is going live for you people back east. The clock in my mountain bunker reads “$G:4#” and it’s blinking, blinking, blinking.  I may be in the future. I can’t be sure. My posts for the next nine days may appear at the most random and ludicrous of hours.
  • Finally, it’s beautiful here — mid-60s and sunny — yet commercials on the radio ask listeners if they’d like “a cure for the winter blahs.” I’ll study these Arizonans all week and I may make contact with some of them, but I don’t know if I’ll truly understand them.

Environment aside I’m happy to be here. My trip yesterday went relatively smoothly, with the most unusual thing about it being that, sometime en route, Jonny Gomes became the most hated man in America.  I processed that news over a fine meal, and I believe I understand it all now.

But enough of that: it’s all about baseball going forward.  The games start tomorrow and I’ll be at Scottsdale Stadium that afternoon as the Diamondbacks take on the Giants. Today, however, has been set aside for loitering. As I hit “post” at whatever ungodly Mountain time zone hour this is, I still don’t know which complex I’m headed to.

I may go to Surprise and see what the AL Champion Rangers and the Royals and their best-farm-system-in-the-game are up to. I may go up to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick and see baseball’s newest, most grandiose and most ridiculously-named spring training complex, home to the Rockies and Diamondbacks.  I’ll let the car make it up to the freeway interchange and see what it wants to do.

No matter where I go, I think my primary mission for the day will be to grok the differences between spring training in Florida — where I loitered last year — and spring training in Arizona. I’ll tell you what I learn in subsequent posts, but to get real-time observations follow me on Twitter.

And now, onward into spring training.

Tigers in discussions with Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.

Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.

Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.