Jose Reyes

Previewing this week’s winter meetings

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Expect the rumors to come fast and furious as the league’s top executives converge on Dallas. The winter meetings officially start Monday, but the general managers will arrive and start talking among themselves this afternoon. With so much of the free-agent talent congregated at a few select positions, there could well be more trades than usual, and chances are we’ll see at least a couple of significant signings over the next few days. Some potential highlights:

– Starting pitching trades – Since the pitching market beyond C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle is pretty barren, many familiar names will be tossed around this week. There has been plenty of talk about Oakland’s Gio Gonzalez, Atlanta’s Jair Jurrjens and Houston’s Wandy Rodriguez already. The White Sox may be open to moving either John Danks or Gavin Floyd. There’s also the Rays’ James Shields, the Cubs’ Matt Garza and the Twins’ Francisco Liriano, none of whom are certain to be available but who would generate plenty of conversation.

– A Buehrle signing – Just two of this winter’s top 20 free agents are currently off the board and those two are closers (Jonathan Papelbon and Heath Bell). One gets the impression that the top two starters might be the next to go. Buehrle doesn’t seem like the type who will want the free agency process to drag on, and he already has a handful of offers to choose from. Wilson is also a candidate to sign in the next few days, though that process may take a bit longer to play out.

– Closer trades – The Rockies’ Huston Street appears to be pretty much free for the taking, as Colorado would prefer to reinvest his $7.5 million salary elsewhere. Oakland’s Andrew Bailey and Pittsburgh’s Joel Hanrahan would be considerably more expensive, but both could be had by a team not wanting to commit $10 million per year to Ryan Madson or Francisco Rodriguez.

– Mystery teams! – The big three of Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes aren’t making nearly enough noise at the moment, so it’s definitely time for some mystery suitors to become involved. Of the trio, only Reyes looks like any sort of candidate to get a deal done this week. The Marlins, though, would likely have to step up their offer to make that happen. Possible mystery teams for him include the Red Sox and Tigers.

– A Michael Cuddyer signing – The Twins want Cuddyer back, and the market is quiet enough that they may not have to go to three years to make it happen. Only the Phillies have made much noise regarding Cuddyer. The Red Sox are unlikely to chase him, and the Indians’ interest ended when Grady Sizemore chose to re-sign.

The Chicago Cubs: Spring training games, regular season prices

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Craig Calcaterra
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MESA, AZ — I’ve been covering spring training for eight years, and in just those eight years a lot has changed in the Cactus and Grapefruit League experiences. The parks are bigger and fancier and the vibe is far more akin to a regular season major league one than the intimate and laid back atmosphere most people think of when they picture February and March baseball.

Just imagine, however, how much has changed if you’ve been coming to Florida or Arizona for a really long time.

“When we first started coming, you could bring your own beer in,” says Don Harper, a lifelong Cubs fan from Kennewick, Washington who spends his winters in Arizona. “You couldn’t bring a cooler, but you could bring a case of beer and a bag of ice and you just set it down in between you and you just put the ice on it and keep it cold.”

I asked Don if the beer vendors complained.

“They didn’t sell beer,” he said.

That was three decades and two ballparks ago. They certainly sell beer at the Cubs’ gleaming new facility, Sloan Park. Cups of the stuff cost more than a couple of cases did back when Don first started coming to spring training.

The price of beer is not the only thing that has changed, of course. The price of tickets is not what it used to be either. Don told me that when he started coming to Cubs spring training games tickets ran about seven dollars. If that. It’s a bit pricer now. Face value for a single lawn ticket, where you’ll be sitting on a blanker on the outfield berm — can be as high as $47 depending on the day of the week and the opponent. Infield box seats run as high as $85.

The thing is, though, you’re not getting face value seats for Cubs spring training games. Half of the home games sold out within a week of tickets going on sale in January. Since then just about every other game has sold out or soon will. That will force you to get tickets on the secondary market. According to TickPick, the average — average! — Cubs spring training ticket on the secondary market is $106.30. For a single ticket. It’s easily the highest price for spring training tickets in all of baseball, and is $26 higher than secondary market tickets for the next highest team, the Red Sox:

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That may be shocking or even appalling to some, but as the automatic sellouts at Sloan Park and those high secondary market prices suggest, there are at least 15,000 people or so for each Cubs home game who don’t seem to mind. Supply meet demand meet the defending World Series champions.

I spoke with two younger Cubs fans, Corey Hayden and Eleanor Meloul, who traveled here from Salt Lake City. On Sunday they lucked out and got a couple of lawn seats for $28. On Saturday, however, they paid $100 a piece on StubHub to get some seats just beyond third base. I asked them if there is some price point that would keep them from coming.

“There isn’t one,” Hayden said. “I paid $4,500 for a World Series ticket, so . . .”

Don Harper wouldn’t do that, but he doesn’t really mind the higher prices he’s paying for his spring tickets. Of course, he’s a longtime season ticket holder so he gets access to the face value seats. I asked him whether his spring training habit would end if those prices got jacked up higher, as the market would seem to bear, or if he had to resort to the secondary market.

Don paused and sighed, suggesting it was a tough question. As he considered it, I put a hard number on it, asking him if he’d still go if he had to pay $50 per ticket. “Yeah, probably,” he said. “$75?” I asked. He paused again.

“As long as I got enough money.”

Don is a diehard who, one senses, will always find a way to make it work. Corey spent a wad of cash on that once-in-a-lifetime World Series ticket, but he and Eleanor seem content to bargain hunt for the most part and splurge strategically. If you’re a Cubs fan — and if you’re not rich — that’s what you’ll have to do. The ticket it just too hot.

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.