Ed Smith

There aren’t many spring training complexes like the Orioles’ complex

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SARASOTA — Dear lord, this place is a palace. Really, it’s probably the nicest spring training park I’ve been to in either Arizona or Florida. But before I get to that, I need to tell you something important: rattlesnakes can swim 20 miles out to sea.

At least that’s what I was told this morning by two men in a McDonald’s somewhere off of I-75 on my way to Sarasota. The men were easily in their late 80s or older and were wearing WWII veteran caps. They were drinking coffee, newspapers in front of them and were engaged in deep conversation. I listened in:

Man 1: Those rattlesnakes or what you call ’em. Nasty, I tell ya what. They can swim real well, too.
Man 2: I heard they can swim.
Man 1: We saw one out on the boat one day. We were 20 miles out. He was just swimmin’ along.
Man 2: Hoo, boy.
Man 1: 20 miles.

I couldn’t decide if I should thank them for stopping Hitler or if I should yell at them for giving me swimming rattlesnake nightmares. Either way, it was an emotionally-affecting few moments.

Into Sarasota and to Ed Smith stadium which, as I said, is a palace:

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It has the amenities of the newest Arizona complexes such as a separate building with offices, clubhouses and training facilities. The clubhouse itself has a ping pong table, cornhole setup and a bumper pool table for the players. Flat-screen TVs everywhere. Tons of room and nice plush carpeting. The larger complex provides close access to all of the back fields with well-marked directions and walkways for fans — but, like a lot of Florida places, is situated in a neighborhood and feels more human-scaled. And the actual stadium may be the nicest I’ve seen. A feeling of permanence and luxury and major league quality, but unlike Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, is still on the scale of a minor league or spring training park.

There are all kinds of nods to history here, such as this cool banner/bat thing hanging in the area behind the home plate seats.

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Also, signs and posters detailing Orioles history. Blown-up copies of tickets from the 1979 World Series, programs from 1966. Stuff like that. And history lessons too, like this poster. Which is in the press box bathroom of all places:

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One always thinks of the O’s just having the cartoon bird and the ornithologically-correct bird, but there are a ton of different cartoon birds. Like these two psycho birds:

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A closeup of the top one — the  “cuckoo bird” — above each of the players’ lockers in the clubhouse beside their name. I feel like we should see more of that one than the smiling bird. It’s pleasantly unsettling.

But not quite as unsettling as this:

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That’s wonderful for the sake of conservation, but I really would like to meet the person who was going to drink out of the toilets and urinals but for this warning about reclaimed water. The person who says “well, if it was fresh toilet water, fine, I might’ve been in business. But I really don’t care for the reclaimed stuff.”

Oh well. Down to the field to watch the O’s work out and listen to Buck Showalter hold court in a little while.

Rays and Braves reportedly interested in Welington Castillo

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Welington Castillo #7 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits an RBI double in the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on September 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
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Catcher Welington Castillo was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks on Friday, making him one of 35 additional players to enter the free agent pool. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported that Castillo was drawing interest from the Rays, among a bevy of major league clubs, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien added that the Braves have “some interest” as well.

The Rays’ trifecta of catchers — Curt Casali, Luke Maile, and Bobby Wilson — did little to inspire confidence behind the plate in 2016, and with top free agent Wilson Ramos sidelined after suffering a torn ACL in September, it makes sense that they’d explore more affordable options. Castillo profiled well at the plate during his first full season with the Diamondbacks, slashing .264/.322/.423 with 14 home runs in 457 PA. Behind the dish, he placed third among all qualified major league catchers with seven DRS (Defensive Runs Saved), though his league-leading 10 passed balls weren’t anything to write home about.

Unlike the Rays, the Braves have a serviceable catching platoon in Tyler Flowers and Anthony Recker. Beyond that, their catching depth is fairly shallow despite the recent addition of former Mariners’ outfield prospect Alex Jackson. Jackson, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mark Bradley, has not played behind the plate since high school, though GM John Coppolella is reportedly interested in trying him there again. A.J. Pierzynski is also rumored to be seeking a deal elsewhere in free agency, which could open the door for a multi-year deal with Castillo.

Marc Rzepczynski signs two-year, $11 million contract with Mariners

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 9: Marc Rzepczynski #23 of the Washington Nationals looks on before pitching against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the sixth inning during game two of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 9, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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After rumors of the deal surfaced on Thursday, the Mariners officially signed veteran reliever Marc Rzepczynski to a two-year, $11 million deal on Friday night. Per a report by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the lefty is due $5.5 million in 2017 and 2018.

The signing marks the left-hander’s fourth trade since July 2015. He bounced from the Indians to the Padres at the 2015 trade deadline, then to the Athletics in the offseason, then to the Nationals in late August of 2016. Last season, he pitched to a career-best 2.64 ERA during 47 2/3 innings with the Athletics and Nationals, but hit an all-time low with 5.5 BB/9 that fed into a 1.59 K/BB rate. While the 31-year-old’s split against right-handed batters are underwhelming (a career .277/.377/.431 line with 123 walks and 24 home runs), he’s held lefties to a respectable .222/.291/.298 line with just 52 walks and eight homers.

Adding Rzepczynski to the bullpen should check off another to-do item for Mariners’ GM Jerry Dipoto, though FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman notes that the club is still likely to pursue an additional reliever and a No. 4 starter before the offseason comes to a close.