Torii Hunter

The Dodgers are “aggressively pursuing” Torii Hunter…or not

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UPDATE: Hold your horses, everyone. According to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, the Dodgers’ interest in Hunter has been overstated.

Hernandez hears that Hunter’s agent approached the Dodgers, who agreed to take a meeting with him. You know how agents used to try to get the Yankees involved in order to get other teams to boost their offers? Perhaps that is what we are seeing with the free-spending Dodgers now.

It doesn’t matter much anyway, as Hunter told Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times that he isn’t too keen on the idea of accepting a lesser role. He also denied Mark Saxon’s report that the Dodgers approached him with a two-year deal.

We continue to see conflicting reports on this, but Hernandez was also told by a source that Ethier is not on the trade block.

2:34 PM: Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles reports that the Dodgers have approached Hunter about a two-year contract. Contrary to Ken Rosenthal’s report earlier this afternoon, Saxon is hearing that the Dodgers have made it clear to other teams that they would consider trading Andre Ethier.

1:23 PM: Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that the Dodgers will not trade Ethier and that Hunter would have to accept a lesser role if he signs with the team.

One would think that Hunter would rather look for a full-time role elsewhere, but since the Dodgers don’t appear to have a budget right now, they could compete and exceed other offers in terms of dollars. Kemp and Crawford are both coming off surgeries, so there’s a chance Hunter could play pretty regularly to begin 2013, but he would be some mighty expensive insurance.

8:55 AM: What do you do when you already have three outfielders under contract with long-term deals? You try to sign another outfielder, of course.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the Dodgers are “aggressively pursuing” free agent outfielder Torii Hunter. This must be part of Ned Colletti’s strategy of signing all of the free agents in order to keep them away from potential rivals.

Nothing appears imminent, but Nightengale hears that the Dodgers have some organizational meetings on tap for next week in which they’ll try to formulate a plan to make room for both Hunter and a front-line starting pitcher. They have already spoken with the agents for Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez, who many consider the best two starters available in free agency.

The Dodgers have Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier locked into expensive long-term deals, so something will have to give if they want to sign Hunter. We heard a rumor last month that Ethier was on the trade block and this would seem to give some credence to that notion. Yes, it appears the Dodgers may already have a case of buyer’s remorse after signing the 30-year-old to a five-year, $85 million contract extension in June.

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)
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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.