TAMPA, Fla. – No more counterproposals. No quarreling over the CBT.
From Clearwater, Florida, to Goodyear, Arizona, it’s time for curveballs, Cracker Jack and the perpetually inspiring clean slate in the standings that comes at the start of each season.
It’s time to play ball – or at least practice it. After a longer, darker winter than normal, that’s reason enough to celebrate.
Shohei Ohtani, Aaron Judge and the rest of baseball’s biggest stars are due at spring training Sunday for the first official day of preseason training following the end of Major League Baseball’s 99-day labor lockout.
Pitchers and catchers were supposed to report a month ago, but camps across the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues remained closed while players and owners squabbled over the sport’s economics.
A deal was reached Thursday, and now pitchers and hitters are ramping up for four weeks of mad-dash preparations ahead of a 162-game season that starts April 7.
Jacob deGrom‘s fastball whiz-popping in the bullpen, Fernando Tatis Jr. taking aim in BP, and Yadier Molina mentoring one last pitching staff – just the sights and sounds needed for a sport stuck in neutral since December.
“Fans have been through quite a bit lately,” Texas Rangers president Jon Daniels said.
Here’s what to watch for when everyone shows up:
THE NEW GUYS
Rangers fans are getting quite the reward for their lockout patience – the spring debuts of big-money free agents Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, signed for a combined $500 million before rosters froze Dec. 2.
Might be hard to remember all that happened back then, when clubs dropped a one-day record $1.4 billion on free agents before all went quiet.
Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray left Toronto for Seattle, and the Blue Jays replaced him with former Giant Kevin Gausman. The Tigers ponied up for shortstop Javier Baez and starter Eduardo Rodriguez. Even the Marlins tried making a splash, dropping $53 million on Avisail Garcia.
Another new face in the NL West: San Diego Padres manager Bob Melvin, who left the rebuilding A’s after 11 years in Oakland.
Melvin’s old job went to Mark Kotsay, getting his first crack at managing after a 17-year playing career. The Cardinals are under new direction, too, promoting 35-year-old Oliver Marmol after Mike Shildt was stunningly fired despite being a finalist for NL Manager of the Year.
Of course, no team changed more than the Mets. Max Scherzer came in as part of owner Steve Cohen’s $254.5 million spending spree, while new general manger Billy Eppler hired veteran skipper Buck Showalter to replace Luis Rojas.
The interruption of baseball’s offseason left several stars in free agency limbo.
The Yankees are expected to be at the center of much of that action, eyeing Correa or Trevor Story with a clear hole at shortstop. And just like they did with Brian McCann eight years ago, they could pry Freeman away from Atlanta, spoiling hopes that the fan favorite might be a career-long Brave.
ABOUT THE SCHEDULE
Spring exhibitions will start March 17 – Red Sox-Twins and Diamondbacks-Rockies begin the schedule. With so little time left before opening day, big leaguers figure to see more action in those games than fans might be accustomed to in the early days of spring training.
Rafael Devers, J.T. Realmuto and many others players have been staying sharp at high school and college fields across the country, and it’s expected that most starting pitchers will arrive Sunday already prepared to go a few innings at a time.
Of course, injuries remain a concern. The whiplash of a coronavirus-shortened 2020 season giving way to a full slate in 2021 spurred rampant use of the injured list. Another disruption to players’ routines was hardly ideal. That’s especially true for players coming off injuries who were forced to rehab this offseason amid rules barring communication with team officials – a regulation that MLB thought necessary for legal protection amid the lockout.
The designated hitter was permanently added to the National League as part of baseball’s new labor contract. More rule changes – like banning the shift, larger bases and a pitch clock – aren’t likely to be on the books until 2023 at least. The Cleveland Guardians are breaking in new gear and uniforms after unveiling their new name in December. Sunday marks the beginning of the end for Molina, who plans to retire after the 2022 season, his 19th with the Cardinals.