Craig Calcaterra

Little League

MLB announces project to renovate ballfields all across US

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NEW YORK (AP) Major League Baseball is launching a new community program to refurbish ballfields all across the country over the next three years.

MLB announced Tuesday it will work with The Scotts Co. to identify and renovate diamonds in need of upgrades or repair. New grass will be planted and grown, fences will be built, and other enhancements will be added such as scoreboards and dugouts.

Big league teams also will participate in choosing which local fields receive makeovers.

It’s all part of the Play Ball initiative introduced by Commissioner Rob Manfred and USA Baseball last year, designed to attract more young people to baseball and softball while giving them additional opportunities to play.

New projects this year include the Junior Home Run Derby, a kids-focused show on MLB Network and Play Ball Weekend (May 14-15), which will feature special activities and events for youngsters around major league ballparks.

MLB says participation in baseball was up 4.3 percent last year over 2014, and 11.8 percent among casual participants, according to Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

Shane Victorino released by the Cubs but signs back on a minor league deal

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As expected, the Cubs cut Shane Victorino today. He could’ve just left to find a job elsewhere but he quickly agreed to a minor league deal with Chicago. He’ll likely stay in Mesa as the team goes north to get healthy again and then report to Iowa for his first Triple-A action outside of an injury rehab stint in over a decade.

Victorino was a long shot to make the team to begin with, but then he suffered a calf injury during spring training and hasn’t appeared in a game since March 8. Last year he played in only 71 games between the Red Sox and Angels, and 30 in 2014 with the Red Sox.

2016 Preview: Seattle Mariners

Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais watches batting practice during spring training baseball practice Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Associated Press
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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2016 season. Next up: The Seattle Mariners.

There was certainly a lot of activity at Mariners HQ this offseason. New GM Jerry Dipoto added a new manager in Scott Servais and all sorts of new players including Adam Lind, Nori Aoki, Wade Miley, Joaquin Benoit, Steve Cishek, Leonys Martin, Luis Sardinas, Chris Iannetta, Steve Clevenger and Nate Karns. In a shocking turn he also brought back Hisashi Iwakuma after he was presumed lost to the Dodgers.

Does it amount to a better team than the 2015 model which went 76-84 despite some high(ish) expectations? Possibly. First base has been improved with Lind. Chris Iannetta is a major improvement behind the plate. Aoki is a solid add but Franklin Gutierrez will probably not be as good as he was in limited play last year. Robinson Cano was hampered by injuries last year and seems healthy now but second baseman of his age and caliber have had a somewhat disturbing history of rapid decline, so Mariners fans will understandably hold their breath a bit in the early going. Meanwhile, it’d be unreasonable to expect anything other than at least some decline from Nelson Cruz who was astoundingly good last year. Indeed, people have been predicting a decline from him for a few years now. Leonys Martin was a disaster at the plate last year but his defense is excellent and will allow Cruz to play his natural position of DH this season. In all, it’s a good offense with the chance to be a very good offense, but there is risk.

The rotation starts off wonderfully, at least if you believe that Felix Hernandez‘s second half last year (4.48 ERA in 13 starts) was an aberration. Iwakuma has been a solid number two for a good while now, but the issue between him and the Dodgers regarding his physical sticks in one’s mind. Assuming that was all in the Dodgers’ heads that leaves a rather uncertain back end of the rotation, solidified somewhat by Wade Miley and boosted to the extent you believe that Taijuan Walker will finally emerge as the star he is expected to be. But it’s also full of a lot of question marks from the four and five slots (as well as the three or four guys who may rotate through them via a drive up from Tacoma). The bullpen, meanwhile, has trended sharply downward over the past couple of years and there isn’t a lot of confidence to be had that it’ll be a good crew this year.

Overall, I have a bad feeling here. I worry about the mileage on Cano and Hernandez and I think it’s time for Cruz to fall back a bit. That puts a lot of pressure on the guys who should be the core of the Mariners for some time — Kyle Seager, Walker, and shortstop Ketel Marte. Seager is legit, but if Cano and Cruz fall back, he may need to find another gear to be the offensive star on a playoff-caliber team. Marte is excellent — a candidate to be the new “best guy you haven’t heard of” — but he’s painfully young and may need a bit more time to fully emerge. Maybe Walker makes the leap. But even if that happens there’s that mess of a bullpen and a tough division.

Prediction: I could see them surprising some people and, finishing third. I could more easily see them passing the Athletics into fourth. But I also could see a couple of not-shocking bad things happen and have them wind up in Fifth Place, AL West. Which is the prediction I’m the most uneasy about making of all of the ones I’ve done, but I’m gonna make anyway.