Chicago Cubs v San Francisco Giants

Pablo Sandoval is turning heads

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Back in Scottsdale I was truly surprised at just how good Pablo Sandoval looked in the locker room, and during his first game of spring training I was surprised at just how sprightly he seemed on the field.  At the same time, I also wondered if the sprightliness was merely a function of first game adrenaline and if, smaller or not, he’d revert to his lumbering ways once he got back into the routine of playing baseball.

Seems there’s nothing to worry about:

“My first step,” [Sandoval] said after being asked about the biggest benefit to losing almost 40 pounds this winter. “Especially at third base, you have to be quick. That’s why I worked so hard on it every day” …

“He’s moving around so much better now — left, right, coming in on balls,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s feeling good about that first step. He’s bouncing around out there.”

Indeed, not a day goes by when someone watching a Giants game doesn’t tweet something about how quick Sandoval looks at third base.  This transformation does in fact seem to be more than merely cosmetic.

Which will be hugely important for the Giants, because I’m a bit dubious about their chances to repeat as NL West champs.

I don’t like Miguel Tejada at short and I don’t have a ton of confidence that Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell will contribute anything close to what they contributed last year.  As such, a return to 2009 form for Sandoval is essential to make up for those places where I think they’ll regress.

Orioles plotting late-offseason push? Gallardo, Fowler, Alvarez, Bruce in consideration

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Baltimore’s front office appears to be lining up a run of potential roster additions leading into the beginning of spring training.

We’ve already passed along the reports suggesting they are close to a three-year deal with free agent starter Yovani Gallardo, but now FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal adds that free agent outfielder Dexter Fowler could be next on the Orioles’ target list. It they get those two deals done, the O’s could then chase free agent slugger Pedro Alvarez.

Rosenthal says the Orioles are even eyeing Jay Bruce of the Reds, though the FOX reporter hears the O’s might not have the prospects to pull off that kind of trade.

The focus for the Orioles out of the gate this winter was re-signing Matt Wieters and Chris Davis. Wieters accepted his one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer in November and Davis was locked up to a seven-year, $161 million contract in mid-January.

Now the O’s are spending a little leftover cash on late-offseason additions to improve their position in what should be a tight 2016 American League East race.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.