Ed Smith

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


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:


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.


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:


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:

source:  source:

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:


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.

A’s reacquire Jed Lowrie in trade with Astros

Jed Lowrie
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Jed Lowrie, who was traded from the Astros to the A’s in 2013 and then re-signed with the Astros as a free agent last offseason, has now been traded back to the A’s.

Lowrie got a three-year, $23 million deal from the Astros with the idea that he’d play shortstop in the first season and then move to another position whenever stud prospect Carlos Correa arrived. Instead he got hurt right away, Correa became an immediate star, and the Astros weren’t so keen on paying him $15 million over the next two seasons.

He could resume playing shortstop for the A’s, who watched rookie Marcus Semien make an absurd number of errors there this year. Lowrie hit .271 with a .738 OPS in two seasons in Oakland, which is similar to his career totals and makes him a solidly above-average offensive shortstop. There’s a decent chance the A’s will have a Lowrie-Lawrie double-play duo in 2016.

In return the Astros get minor leaguer Brendan McCurry, a 24-year-old right-hander who split 2015 between high Single-A and Double-A with a 1.86 ERA and 82/17 K/BB ratio in 63 relief innings. He was a 22nd-round draft pick in 2014 and doesn’t have exceptional raw stuff, but McCurry’s numbers are incredible so far.

White Sox sign catcher Alex Avila to a one-year deal

Detroit Tigers' Alex Avila, right, is congratulated by third base coach Dave Clark after his solo home run in the third inning in the second game of a baseball doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
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There have been a lot of articles published in the past few days about how to navigate awkward Thanksgiving conversations with your relatives. Heck, we even wrote one.

But there’s always room for more! Such as “How to talk to your father at Thanksgiving dinner about the fact that he let you walk away from the only team you’ve ever known to sign with a division rival.” Which is what Alex Avila will likely be talking about with his father, Tigers GM Al Avila:

The older Avila can’t even say he did it because he’s opposed to nepotism. After all, he just hired his other son — who has had his law degree for just over a year — as the Tigers assistant legal counsel for baseball operations. Though I’m sure that wasn’t nepotism. He probably just aced the interview and impressed everyone more than the other candidates did.

OK, those are jokes. In all seriousness, this is a good move for Alex and Al and, probably, the White Sox. With the emergence of James McCann, there really is not space for Alex Avila in Detroit in anything other than a backup capacity. In Chicago, he’ll get more playing time. At least if he can (a) stay healthy; and (b) not hit .191/.339/.287 again like he did in 2015.

Pirates sign outfielder/first baseman Jake Goebbert

Jake Goebbert

The best thing about minor Thanksgiving week transactions is that they are almost certainly done by GMs frantically looking for some work to do rather than go pick up their in-laws at the airport. I mean, sure, the player in question could very easily be an important player who fills a key role in the organization, but it’s not like it couldn’t have waited until Monday, right? This is the GM equivalent of you pretending you have to run into the office on Wednesday afternoon and, in reality, driving around in your car, listening to Neil Young and promising that NEXT YEAR you’re just doing a small Thanksgiving dinner with no family and, maybe, might even go on a little trip, just you and the wife.

Or is that just me? OK, maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, that’s how I’m choosing to view the Pirates activity today. First they traded for Allen Webster and now they’re signing minor league free agent first baseman/outfielder Jake Goebbert, according to Adam Berry of MLB.com.

Goebbert, 28, hit .294 with an .844 OPS and 10 homers for Triple-A El Paso last season. He has 115 plate appearances in the bigs, all for San Diego in 2014. Overall he has a line of .282/.386/.465 with 30 homers in 997 Triple-A plate appearances in the Astros, Athletics and Padres organizations.

Not a bad depth move, especially given that the Pirates are looking to trade Pedro Alvarez and otherwise re-jigger their first base situation.

Blue Jays sell Triple-A MVP Matt Hague to Japanese team

Matt Hague Blue Jays

Matt Hague got a cup of coffee in Toronto this year after winning the International League MVP, but the 30-year-old first baseman/third baseman found a better opportunity in Japan and the Blue Jays have sold him to the Hanshin Tigers.

Hague hit .338 in 136 games at Triple-A this past season and is a career .301 hitter in eight minor-league seasons overall, but his lack of power limits his opportunities in the majors and he’s received a grand total of 91 plate appearances as a big leaguer.

Ben Nicholson-Smith of Toronto Sportnet reports that the sale price for Hague is $300,000, which goes to the Blue Jays. And then Hague will no doubt sign a deal for a lot more than he could have earned at Triple-A and perhaps more than the MLB minimum salary.