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


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.

Mets expected to tender a contract to Jenrry Mejia

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 12:  Jenrry Mejia #58 of the New York Mets reacts as he walks off the field after getting the final out of the seventh inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citi Field on July 12, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
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Jenrry Mejia appeared in just seven games this past season due to a pair of suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs, but Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Mets are expected to tender him a contract for 2016.

While the Mets were vocal about their disappointment in Mejia’s actions, it makes sense to keep him around as an option. Had he played a full season in 2015, he would have earned $2.595 million. He’s arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter and figures to receive a contract similar to his 2015 figure, but he’ll only be paid for the games he plays. He still has 100 games to serve on his second PED suspension, which means that he’ll only be paid for 62 games in 2016. This likely puts his salary closer to $1 million, which is a small price to pay for someone who could prove useful during the second half and beyond. He also won’t count toward the team’s 40-man roster until he’s active.

Mejia, who turned 26 in October, owns a 3.68 ERA in the majors and saved 28 games for the Mets in 2014. He’s currently pitching as a starter in the Dominican Winter League.

Braves and Jim Johnson reunite on a one-year contract

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 17: Jim Johnson #53 of the Atlanta Braves throws a ninth inning pitch against the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field on July 17, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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UPDATE: The deal is official. Bowman adds that Johnson will make $2.5 million in 2016.

6:11 p.m. ET: Jim Johnson enjoyed some success out of the Braves’ bullpen in 2015 until a midseason trade to the Dodgers and Mark Bowman of reports that he has returned to Atlanta on a one-year contract. No word yet on the terms involved.

After an awful 2014 between the Athletics and Tigers, Johnson signed a one-year deal with the Braves last winter and bounced back to the tune of a 2.25 ERA and 33/14 K/BB ratio over 48 innings. He also saved nine games. However, things went south for him after a trade to the Dodgers in late July, as he put up an ugly 10.13 ERA in 23 appearances. He was left off the team’s roster for the NLDS against the Mets.

It’s unclear what role the Braves have in mind for Johnson, as Arodys Vizcaino finished the season as the closer, but they have made upgrading their bullpen a priority this winter.

Report: Barry Bonds under consideration to be the Marlins hitting coach

Barry Bonds

This shouldn’t cause any controversy, lead to a lot of people saying dumb things or provide fodder for jokes at all. Nope, none whatsoever:

In what promises to be a bombshell move, if executed, all-time great slugger Barry Bonds is under consideration to become Marlins hitting coach.

Team higherups have quietly been discussing this possibility for weeks.

That’s Jon Heyman, who reminds us that Bonds has worked with the Giants in the spring in recent years. And who, no matter what else you can say about him, was one of the greatest hitters the game has ever seen. Also worth remembering that despite his controversial past, that greatness came not just from physical gifts, naturally or artificially bestowed. It came from his approach, preparation and strategy at the plate. No one can teach a hitter to hit like Barry Bonds, but you’d think that hitters could be taught to try to approach an at bat the way Barry Bonds would. And who better to do it than Barry Bonds?

That is, if Bonds is willing to drop his seemingly ideal retired life in San Francisco, move to Miami and work for Jeff Loria for nine months a year. Which, eh, who knows? But the possibility of it is pretty fascinating to think about.

Yadier Molina’s new backup: Cardinals sign Brayan Pena to two-year deal

Brayan Pena Reds

Veteran catcher Brayan Pena has agreed to a two-year, $5 million contract with the Cardinals, who’re investing much more than usual in their backup for Yadier Molina.

After bouncing around for a decade without getting even 250 plate appearances in a season Pena signed with the Reds and topped 350 plate appearances in both 2014 and 2015. His production didn’t improve any, as Pena hit .263 with five homers and a .652 OPS in 223 games as a regular.

Pena’s best skill is rarely striking out, which enables him to hit for a decent batting average, but he has very little power and swings at everything. He struggled to control the running game this season at age 33, but has a decent throw-out rate for his career.

Making a multi-year commitment to Pena suggests the Cardinals are no longer counting on Molina being the same type of workhorse behind the plate, which certainly makes sense given his age and injury history. Pena will replace Tony Cruz, who’s been Molina’s understudy since 2011 while hitting just .220 with five homers and a .572 OPS in 259 games.