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Scenes from Spring Training: My favorite thing to happen yet this spring

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That’s Hideki Matsui taking strike two on what turned out to be a strikeout in the fifth inning.  In spite of this — and in spite of him grounding into a double play with the bases loaded in the first — I still liked Hideki Matsui’s performance and I would like to have a player like Hideki Matsui on my team. In other news:

  • As soon as the game got going the following public service announcement came over the PA system: “Fans, the Oakland A’s say that a winner always uses a designated driver. Keep our roads safe …”  Between today’s Coco Crisp news and this week’s Charlie Sheenian redefinition of what constitutes “winning,” the A’s probably need to change that announcement.
  • Justin Masterson got the start for the Indians. I’m not a pitching mechanics expert, but watching him throw makes my shoulder hurt. It’s like his arm goes slack and then snaps back into tension before he pitches. Just, ow.
  • A’s pitcher Bobby Cramer, on the other hand, was pretty sweet to watch. He pitched two innings giving up one hit and no runs and striking out a guy. He doesn’t seem poised to be anything approaching an important part of the A’s staff this year, but given how tortured a path he’s taken in his career — time off, Tommy John surgery and all of that kind of thing — it’s cool to see him pitch well.
  • The A’s fans here in Phoenix are easily the sassiest I’ve encountered this spring. They taunted the Indians. They taunted other fans who couldn’t catch foul balls. They yelled at umps making fair/foul calls way the hell on the other side of the ballpark from them.  My kind of people!
  • Favorite bits of chatter: “C’mon, strike him out.”  Which, amazingly and quite rudely, the A’s pitcher refused to do.  I also liked it when a young couple stood up to get their picture taken with the field in the background.  An old guy right below the press box yelled “now take one of ’em swappin’ spit!”
  • An Athletics employee handed out lapel pins to the assembled sporting press during the game. Here’s mine.  I don’t wear jackets with lapels very often, but it was a nice gesture. Perhaps I’ll pin it to my fedora, right next to the little card that says “press.”

All in all this game was a major snoozer.  I think the parade of anonymous players after the third inning is starting to get to me. But that’s OK because — in keeping with my little Metafandom riff from a couple of weeks ago — a lot of what we’re here for isn’t the actual baseball game itself.  Rather, it’s the bright mornings, the stretching, the crack of the bat in BP and the guys shagging flies and taking infield. You know, the general vibe of it all.

And speaking of vibe, my absolute most favoritest thing to happen in spring training so far just happened as I was typing this up: the seventh inning stretch began and two of the Japanese reporters next to me here in the auxiliary press box sang along with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Baseball: it’s faaaaantastic.

Shohei Otani may come to the United States after 2017

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Last week it was widely speculated that Shohei Otani, the highly-touted Japanese pitcher/designated hitter who stars for the Nippon Ham Fighters, would not come to the United States to play due to changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The upshot: the new CBA caps money available to international free agents under age 25 at $5-6 million and Otani, 22, would be worth way more than that, so why take the pay cut?

Now, however, Jeff Passan of Yahoo reports that the Fighters are set to post Shotei Otani following the 2017 season. Passan says that his sources have told him that there are potential ways around the limit on spending for under-25 players like Shohei Otani and he links a Japanese article from Sponichi which says the Fighters would post him after the 2017 season.

It’d be interesting to see what that loophole is. Without knowing the exact terms of the CBA on this score it’s impossible to know, but one possibility is that there are different rules applicable to those with professional experience in other countries as opposed to amateur free agents.

Whatever the case, the notion that we could see Otani in the U.S. at age 23 or 24 is pretty exciting.

Report: Phillies close to signing Joaquin Benoit

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Joaquin Benoit #53 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the seventh inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 15, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly reports that the Phillies are close to signing free agent reliever Joaquin Benoit. An announcement is expected before the winter meetings end on Thursday.

Benoit, 39, has quietly been among the better relievers in baseball over the past seven years. This past season with the Mariners and Blue Jays, the right-hander put up an aggregate 2.81 ERA with a 52/24 K/BB ratio in 48 innings. That included a 0.38 ERA in 23 2/3 innings after the Jays acquired him from the Mariners.

Benoit suffered a torn calf muscle during a benches-clearing brawl with the Yankees near the end of the regular season. He’s expected to be healthy for spring training.

The Phillies have now added three relievers this offseason with Benoit, Pat Neshek, and David Rollins.