Even in short spring, MLB teams go easy in buildup

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The big league spring training games begin in just two days.

The actual big league players who usually compete in those games might not be around for a little while longer.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are among eight teams that have their first game Thursday when they play the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields. If their approach to Thursday’s game is a bellwether for other organizations, it’s unlikely the Vladimir Guerrero Jrs, Max Scherzers, Mike Trouts and Clayton Kershaws of the baseball world will be getting live at-bats or throwing fastballs over the next few days.

“I’m not going to ask any of the players who got here (Monday) to be ready on the 17th,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said this week. “All those players who are going to be playing Game 1 on that field against the Rockies are in minor league camp.”

Lovullo said Monday was the first time he got the chance to really see his big league players perform on the field. The fifth-year manager said he’s been impressed with how his players prepared during the lockout’s uncertainty, and that knowledge will figure into his calculus for when he’ll insert his starters into spring training games.

“We’ll throw that all into the search engine and see when they’ll step back on the field and get back in that arena,” Lovullo said. “But it won’t be Day 1. It won’t be Day 2.”

All 30 teams should have plenty of backup options available for the first few games. Even during the lockout, minor league camp progressed as scheduled, meaning players not on MLB 40-man rosters have been working out for weeks.

The big leaguers – even those working out on their own – are trying to catch up.

“You’ve got to be able to give and take, to give your body rest and recovery, while also, you’ve got to be turning it on to get ready for the start of the season,” Nationals reliever Kyle Finnegan said. “It’s kind of a balance of really listening to your body — if you don’t feel great that day, don’t push it, and days you feel good, kind of keep building those good days together.”

OLSON GETS PAID

Atlanta’s newest first baseman now has plenty of financial security.

One day after cutting ties with Freddie Freeman, the Braves signed Matt Olson to a $168 million, eight-year contract.

Olson wasn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2023 season, but the defending World Series champions quickly locked down the 27-year-old slugger through at least 2029. The deal also includes a $20 million club option for 2030 with no buyout.

The Braves dealt four top prospects to the Oakland Athletics for Olson, a 2021 All-Star coming off a season in which he had 39 homers and 111 RBIs while batting .271. The move means Freeman – a cornerstone for the franchise for a decade – is likely headed elsewhere.

Olson will make $15 million this year, $21 million in 2023 and $22 million in each of the following six seasons.

It was the 10th contract of at least $100 million agreed to since the end of the World Series and the first since Major League Baseball’s 99-day lockout ended last week.

PHILS BOLSTER BULLPEN

Right-handed reliever Jeurys Familia and left-handed reliever Brad Hand have finalized one-year contracts with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Hand was a three-time All-Star between 2017-20 when he totaled 103 saves with a 2.63 ERA. He struggled last season in Washington and Toronto but finished strong with the Mets. Overall, he was 6-7 with a 3.90 ERA and 21 saves in 2021.

A 2016 NL All-Star with the Mets, Familia led the majors that year with 51 saves. He has only 43 saves since 2016.

CUBS, SIMMONS REACH DEAL

The Chicago Cubs finalized a $4 million, one-year contract with slick-fielding shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

Selected by the Atlanta Braves in the second round of the 2010 amateur draft, Simmons had his best season in 2017 when he hit .278 with 14 home runs, 69 RBIs, 38 doubles and 19 stolen bases. His .981 career fielding percentage ranks third best among active shortstops, and his range at a vital position makes him an analytics favorite.

The 32-year-old Simmons won the most recent of his four Gold Gloves in 2018. He batted just .223 with three homers for Minnesota last year.