Scenes from Spring Training: Random observations from Salt River Fields


Earlier updates from today’s doings can be found here and here.  And now here are some other random observations from my day at Salt River Fields:

I watched the Dbacks’ catching drills.  I caught a little when I was a teenager and I found it to be very difficult. These guys get their butts beat simply training.  But they also seem to be enjoying it.  I’ve never watched a defensive drill that was louder and more lively than this one. Each ball in the dirt was met with whoops and cheers and taunting by the other guys.  If it wasn’t for all the bruises they were getting, I’d guess that they didn’t do anything more fun in their lives.

Miguel Montero, Henry Blanco, Kirk Gibson, Kevin Towers and a bunch of other guys were hanging around the batting cage. Montero was complaining that he never “gets the green light” to swing away when it’s 3-0.  Towers said “don’t complain to me about it.”  Montero went on, naming other guys who got the green light, acting as though he was disrespected.  When he was done, Gibson said “Hank gets it too. I even give the green light to Hank,” referring to Blanco.  I get the impression that picking on Miguel Montero is a major pastime in the Dbacks’ clubhouse.

Speaking of Blanco: he was doing a drill in which he got out of his crouch and ran down to first base.  He’s probably one of the slowest guys in baseball, but when you’re right next to him you realize that even the slowest guys in baseball are way faster than you are. Remind me of that next time I make jokes about the Molinas and Blanco and others who are not so swift-of-foot.

The big white buckets full of baseballs during BP and fielding drills had “Dbacks” written on them with a marker.  I got a mental image of someone having to do that after the Rockies stole their baseballs.  Really, this place is wonderfully designed and I’m sure they’ve thought of everything, but I wonder if there are any territorial issues that crop up between teams who share facilities.  I asked one of the ballpark workers about it. These guys know absolutely everything about this place and made it a point all day to tell me about its features, even when I wasn’t asking — did you know that at all times, at least 85% of the seats are in the shade? It’s true! — but this guy claimed to not know anything about problems arising over equipment and stuff.  Not sure if I believe him. My skeptical side is skeptical.

Matt Williams was hitting grounders during infield practice.  This is not newsworthy, but I like to point out that bald guys are awesome.

It was kind of hard to find the Colorado Rockies out here today.  The Dbacks had access to the main stadium field today — their first workout in the stadium itself — so it’s understandable that they were easier to find.  Sorry if I gave your team short shrift here, Rockies fans, but one thing I’m finding about these shared spring training facilities is that it still takes a full day to capture any one team’s zeitgeist.

As I write this the Diamondbacks have left to go to a team-wide golf tournament. The Rockies are slowly leaving as well, off to enjoy one of the last few afternoons on which they won’t have a ballgame in a while.  Tomorrow I go to the Giants’ joint in Scottsdale to hang around the World Champions and then to enjoy a real live game between these Dbacks and those World Champs.  In the meantime, I’m going to do a lot of this:

Stay thirsty, my friends.

Marlins hire Juan Nieves as pitching coach

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This is not a terribly big deal compared to the rumors of who the Marlins want to hire as their hitting coach, but it’s news all the same: Miami has hired Juan Nieves as their pitching coach.

Nieves replaces Chuck Hernandez who was let go immediately after the season ended. Under Hernandez Marlins pitchers allowed 4.19 runs a game and had an ERA of 4.02, striking out 1152 batters and walking 508 in 1,427 innings. As far as runs per game go, that was around middle of the pack in the National League, just a hair better than league average. The strikeout/walk ratio, however, was third to last in the NL.

Nieves, a former Brewers hurler who once tossed a no-hitter, was most recently the Red Sox’ pitching coach, serving from the beginning of the 2013 season until his dismissal in May of this year.

In baseball, if you lose the World Series you still get a ring

ST. LOUIS - APRIL 3:  Detail view of the St. Louis Cardinals 2006 World Series Ring at Busch Stadium on April 3, 2007 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Scott Rovak/Getty Images)
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“Second place is first loser” — some jerk, probably.

The funny thing about “winning is everything” culture in sports is that it’s revered, primarily, by people with the least amount of skin in the game. Self-proclaimed “Super Fans” and talk radio hosts and guys like that. People who may claim to live and breathe sports but who, for the most part, have other things in their lives. Jobs and families and hobbies and stuff. Winning is everything for them on the weekend at, like, Buffalo Wild Wings or in their man cave.

Athletes — whose actual job is to play sports — like to win too. They’re certainly more focused and committed to winning than Joe Super Fan is, what with it being their actual lives and such. But you see far less “winning is everything” sentiment from them. In interviews they talk about how they hate to lose but, with a little bit of distance, they almost always talk about appreciating efforts in a well-played loss. They rarely talk about big losses — even championship losses — as failures or choke jobs or disgraces of one stripe or another.

All of which makes this story by Tim Rohan in the New York Times fun and interesting. It’s about championship rings for the non-championship winners. The 2014 Royals — winners of the A.L. pennant but losers of the World Series — are featured, and the story of rings for World Series losers is told. Mike Stanton, who played on a ton of pennant and World Series-winning teams with the Yankees and Braves, talks about his various rings and how, even though the Braves lost in the World Series that year, 1991 is his favorite.

Also mentioned: George Steinbrenner’s thoughts about rings for World Series losers. You will likely not be surprised about his sentiments on the matter.

Wait, what is the non-tender deadline again?

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For the next day and a half you’ll hear a lot about the non-tender deadline and/or players being tendered or not tendered a contract. Here, in case you’re unaware, is what that means.

By midnight on Wednesday teams have to decide whether to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. If they do, the team retains control over the player. Now, to be clear, the team is not simply “tendering” the player the actual contract specifying what he’ll be paid. Think of it as more of a token gesture — a placeholder contract — at that point the team and the player can negotiate salary for 2016 and, if they can’t come to an agreement over that (i.e. an agreement avoiding arbitration) they will proceed to submit proposed salaries to one another and have a salary arbitration early in the spring.

If the team non-tenders a player, however, that player immediately becomes a free agent, eligible to sign anywhere with no strings attached.

Basically, the calculus is whether or not the team thinks the player in question is worth the low end of what he might receive in arbitration. Or, put differently, if the guy isn’t worth what he made in 2015, he’s probably going to be non-tendered.

MLB Trade Rumors has a handy “Non-Tender Tracker” which lists the status of the couple hundred arbitration eligible players and whether or not they’ve been tendered a contract. We’ll, of course, make mention of notable non-tender guys as their status for 2016 becomes known over the next day or two.

Mariners interested in free agent outfielder Nori Aoki

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New Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has kept pretty busy in his short time on the job and Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that free agent outfielder Nori Aoki could be his next target. The club recently pursued a trade for Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna, but the asking price has them looking at alternatives.

Aoki, who turns 34 in January, has hit .287 with a .353 on-base percentage over four seasons since coming over from Japan. He was having a fine season with the Giants this year prior to being shut down in September with lingering concussion symptoms.

The Giants decided against picking up Aoki’s $5.5 million club option for 2016 earlier this month, but he should still do pretty well for himself this winter assuming he’s feeling good.