Greetings from Tempe, Arizona

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I’d have a nice picture of an Arizona sunrise here for you, but as I am typing this it is 5AM local time and it’s still dark. Stupid body, thinking it’s still on Eastern Standard Time.  I’m guessing the sun will be up soon anyway. It’s the desert. The sun tends to shine here.

I got in to Phoenix late yesterday, somehow resisted the urge to immediately go to In-N-Out Burger, to get a gigantic plate of Mexican food or a Sonoran hot dog. I may fall off the wagon later this week, but I’m at least attempting to be healthy for now.  Of course given that the hotel gave me a smoking room for some reason and my lungs and nasal passages are already burning with the rich tobacco flavor of the furnishings of my room, I probably shouldn’t get too hung up on health. Heck, I should probably go buy a pack of smokes and just go with it, right? Then it’s settled.

Enough of that. I’m here for baseball.  And a little later this morning I’ll be heading to the other side of Tempe, to Tempe Diablo Stadium, spring training home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Which makes them the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Tempe for the next month or so. Stuff I hope to figure out:

  • How the big splashes this offseason by Jerry DiPoto are fitting in. You know, guys like LaTroy Hawkins and Chris Iannetta.  Wait, what? Why are you looking at me like that?
  • How good Kendrys Morales looks. I know he’s supposed to be good to go this year, but one of the most striking things of last spring was seeing Morales barley be able to walk around, all the while the team’s official position on him was that he was doing OK.  That changed pretty quickly after the games started. I’m sure he’s fine now — it’s been a year — but I do want to see the difference.
  • I also would like to anger all of my analytical friends and delve into the world of intangibles and mood-analysis and see if there’s a different feel around Angels camp this year. Last year there was a sense that the Angels were in for a dreary season. They overperformed spring expectations, but in early March it seemed a little quiet and almost dour at Tempe Diablo. Will things seem more upbeat, both among players and fans and the overall zeitgeist now that they have Pujols and Wilson and buckets and buckets of hope?  My normal left-brained self is not ashamed to admit that I care about such things.

Finally, it looks like I’m going to get a chance to interview Torii Hunter for NBC SportsTalk tonight.  If you have anything you’re dying to know from the man, leave it in the comments. And don’t worry: I already plan on asking him what kind of tree he’d be if, in fact, he were a tree.  This isn’t my first trip around the block with this Media Professional thing, you know.

I’ll check in with you from Angels camp later this morning.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.