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Bobby Cox, Bryce Harper and the Braves Philharmonic

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LAKE BUENA VISTA — I’ve done a good job so far today not cheering in the press box. Kris Medlen struck a dude out looking. Evan Gattis just thew out a would-be base stealer. Both of those things are usually worth at least a fist-pump from me when watching a game but I’ve been totally cool today. Yay me.

I did have a fun time wandering around this morning, however. I resisted the urge to go all Chris Farley on my favorite Braves players. I asked Jason Heyward what it was like facing Noah Syndergaard yesterday. He said “rough stuff” but then quickly added “first time I saw him,” so as to suggest it was the unfamiliarity as opposed to the great stuff he throws that was the difference. I spoke with Ryan Doumit about the catching contingent in Atlanta:

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The mix between old guys like Gerald Laird, himself on the one hand and the greener types like Evan Gattis and Christian Bethancourt on the other. For what it’s worth, he thinks Gattis is going to make a great major league catcher based on makeup and all of that.

Alex Wood was fun to talk to as well. We talked about veteran presence, spurred by my question about Tim Hudson being gone and everyone else on the pitching staff being young. His view: what we consider to be a “veteran” for veteran presence purposes these days is very different than most people probably think. It’s about who can give good advice and keep people loose, not about how many miles players have on their odometer. Kris Medlen, Wood said, was only 28, but he’s great for that stuff. There is no sense that the lack of any gray hairs — or in Hudson’s case, no-hairs — is going to be a problem.

Onto the field and a cloudy morning of batting practice and infield drills. The equipment bags were few and far between, but someone with the Braves set this up. I assume for my photo-taking benefit:

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And someone put this in the Braves dugout for my benefit too:

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I asked a Braves employee if, hypothetically, someone were to kidnap Fredi Gonzalez whether Bobby Cox here would be pressed into service. He did not answer. He was probably smart not to. Incentives are kind of a pernicious thing sometimes. They help set unfortunate events into action.

My attention was then turned to the field, where the Braves’ shortstops were taking grounders. Watch, and you’ll something you’ll rarely see over the next couple of years. Andrelton Simmons stone-cold dropping a ball:

No, he wasn’t actually fielding it as much as just farting around, but still. It was jarring.

The Nats showed up around 10AM. The first guy off the bus and out to the dugout and then the field? This guy:

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When he came to bat for the first time today Braves fans booed him. Probably because they think he’s some punk who needs to learn his place and all of that baloney you hear about Harper and Puig and other players like them. The fact that there appears to be zero that this dude does that is, to use the baseball term, horses**t, appears to work hard and have a good attitude is sort of lost on them. I guess that’s what first impressions do, but our first impressions of Harper came several years ago now, when he was painfully young. People need to realize that this is a legit major leaguer and solid guy, by all accounts.

As for the park itself? It’s OK. Not great. Not bad. But OK. It’s smack in the middle of the greater Disney area so I suppose it’s convenient for people who are already here. If you want to come just to see the Braves, however, you have to put up with Disney things whether you like it or not. It’s not like the place is all Disneyfied with Mickey Mouse and stuff, but I was just here in December for both a vacation with the kids and the Winter Meetings so I’m a bit over it. All the way down to the fonts on the signs and the scanners for your Mickey bracelets.

It’s pretty compact. You can park in one place and walk to the ballpark, the back fields and the batting cages. The park itself is pleasant in that it has two full decks, the top one overhanging the bottom, so there are a lot of good seats close to the field:

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In most parks the grass berm, if there is one, is limited to the outfield. Here it wraps all the way around to third base which is a nice touch:

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And finally, the Braves’ Philharmonic — their actual name — played before and during the game. Here they are doing “Little Brown Jug.”

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Later they played “Tequila.” It was quite festive.

As of now it’s the top of the seventh inning and I haven’t cheered or anything. I’ve been on my best behavior.

Report: Tigers and J.D. Martinez agree to a two-year, $18.5 million deal

J.D. Martinez
Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images
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UPDATE: Jason Beck of MLB.com confirms that it’s a two-year, $18.5 million deal.

8:00 p.m. ET: Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reports that the Tigers have avoided arbitration with outfielder J.D. Martinez by agreeing to a two-year contract. No word yet on the terms involved, but Robert Murray of Baseball Essential reported earlier today that he was hearing rumblings about a two-year, $18.5 million deal.

Martinez filed for $8 million and was offered $6 million by the Tigers when arbitration figures were exchanged last month. There has been some talk about a long-term extension, but we heard last week that the two sides were discussing both one- and two-year deals. This new deal will buy out Martinez’s final two years of arbitration, so as of now, he’s still on track to go into free agency after 2017.

After a breakout 2014, Martinez batted .282 with 38 home runs and an .879 OPS over 158 games last season.

Free agent reliever Eric O’Flaherty weighing interest from four teams

New York Mets pitcher Eric O'Flaherty throws against the Miami Marlins during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Miami, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. The Mets defeated the Miami Marlins 8-6. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
AP Photo/Joe Skipper
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Veteran reliever Eric O'Flaherty is coming off the worst season of his career, but there’s still plenty of interest in a bounceback, as ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that he’s deciding between four teams and “should sign a deal by the weekend.”

You really can’t sugarcoat O’Flaherty’s 2015. The 31-year-old was flat-out bad, posting an 8.41 ERA and 21/18 K/BB ratio over 30 innings of work between the Athletics and Mets. Opposing batters hit .343/.427/.482 against him. I keep going back to check if that’s a misprint, but nope, it’s real. He also missed some time with shoulder inflammation. On the bright side, Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports reported last month that O’Flaherty feels healthy and believes that he has fixed his mechanics.

O’Flaherty’s career has veered off track since Tommy John surgery in 2013, but he has enjoyed plenty of success in the past and throws from the left side. He’s the kind of guy who will continue to get chances.

Mets sign outfielder Roger Bernadina

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Veteran outfielder Roger Bernadina has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Mets that includes an invitation to spring training.

Bernadina was a semi-regular for the Nationals from 2010-2012, but never developed as much as hoped offensively and didn’t play in the majors at all last season.

At age 32 he’s a career .236 hitter with a .661 OPS in 548 games as a big leaguer and given the Mets’ outfield depth–they already have Alejandro De Aza and Juan Lagares in bench/part-time roles–Bernadina seems likely to begin the season in the minors.

J.R. Graham is in The Best Shape of his Life

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher J.R. Graham celebrates after the final out as the Twins beat the Chicago White Sox 12-2 in  a baseball game, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Minneapolis. The Twins won 12-2. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
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Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports that Twins reliever J.R. Graham has lost “roughly 30-40 pounds this offseason.” It’s not a result of workouts, though. Just a change in diet. Bollinger says that Graham cut out sugar, alcohol and foods heavy in carbs and focused on a high-protein diet with lots of salads, meats and vegetables.

That’s an awful lot of weight to lose in four months, but the dude is only 26 and guys in their 20s lose weight just by thinking about it. Which is so very annoying to those of us who aren’t guys in their 20s.

The real test, of course, will come when he is working out far more strenuously once spring training starts and gets into the season. Normal schmos like me can keep up that kind of diet without much of a hitch as long as we have the willpower. An athlete’s energy requirements are far greater and far more specialized, so he’ll need more fuel than he’s probably been getting this offseason. Word is, however, that professional sports teams have people on staff that, you know, have made monitoring that kind of thing their life’s work.

In the meantime:

“I can just feel the change,” Graham said. “The energy. Everything. I feel great. I’m excited to see how it’ll translate into spring. I know I shouldn’t have any problems because I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m faster. All that. So it’s really exciting.”

It’s very exciting indeed. Because, with that, Graham becomes the latest baseball player to be . . . In The Best Shape of His Life.