MESA, Ariz. – Yes, there are things going on in spring training. Real things. The thrill-an-inning WBC and Mets “prospect” Tim Tebow and his stalker (who’s ever heard of a stalker for a minor leaguer?) are getting all the attention. But there are actual baseball goings on that may affect the pennant races and the fortunes of teams for years.
And so, here are 11 of the biggest questions that have nothing to do with the WBC or a certain former quarterback (with notes on all 30 teams below).
1. How is Jason Heyward’s progress?
If effort counts for anything, there’s no question he’ll regain the form that caused the Cubs to give him that $184-million, eight-year deal. Heyward soon after the World Series moved to Arizona without hesitation to work on his swing, and specifically recovering it. There are encouraging signs, and Cubs people don’t seem too concerned that his .138 spring average so far is lowest among qualifiers. It’s a work in progress, and they understand that. There definitely are strides. “In BP, it’s like the me of old,” he said. Heyward hit a home run that had back spin and looked like his old home runs. Cubs president Theo Epstein, who is batting about 1.000 in all his other moves (and doesn’t forget to credit Heyward for his best-in-baseball right field defense and exemplary leadership qualities), says Heyward is doing “great,” and others agree. “The last piece is the timing,” Epstein said. The Cubs have had success revamping the swings of others, most notably Anthony Rizzo, who completely re-did his swing after a rough start to his career. Heyward is getting plenty of help from others, such as hitting coaches John Mallee and Eric Hinske. But Heyward, a smart man, says “Mostly, it’s up to me.”
2. Will the Cubs extend Jake Arrieta?
It doesn’t look like anything will happen soon with the Cubs, if at all. If Arrieta does reach free agency, there’s one team rumored to possibly be interested.
3. Will the Rockies hold up?
The loss of top free agent signee Ian Desmond to a broken hand and subsequent surgery is a major blow to the Rockies, who were hoping to be a surprise team this year. And actually, Desmond is only the start of the unfortunate spring circumstances. The most worrisome is the news that Chad Bettis has to start a more aggressive fight against testicular cancer. He’s reportedly been given a 90 percent chance at a healthy recovery, but no young person should have to deal with that (aside: best of luck to Bettis, a fine young man I happened to meet last week at Rockies camp before the news came to light). In terms of the baseball-related ailments, the Rockies are having an amazingly rough spring; it’s not just Desmond, not by a long shot. There’s also talented young outfielder David Dahl, who’ll miss the start of the season with a back ailment, rotation hopeful Chris Rusin nursing an oblique injury, reliever Chad Qualls (who had been on the trade block) tending to an elbow, and catcher Tom Murphy suffering a hairline fracture in his forearm. Almost before the season starts, the Rockies look sunk. Bettis could be back for the second half, while Dahl is expected to miss a month or so and Murphy about six weeks. Desmond is likely to miss up to two months with the fractured left hand suffered when he was hit by a Rookie Davis pitch. In any case, they are fortunate to have Reynolds, who still appears to have something left. Other first base candidates include Jordan Patterson, Stephen Cardullo and veteran outfielder Gerardo Parra. Star Carlos Gonzalez is also a terrific first baseman, but the plan seems to be to keep him in the outfield. In any case, a team with a great promise looks greatly diminished.
4. Will Jose Quintana be traded?
The ChiSox made great trades involving Chris Sale and especially Adam Eaton, and have understandably set a high bar for Quintana. Word is that while the Astros garnered the most publicity for trying to pry away Quintana, an undisclosed rebuilding team actually made the better offer (though no one obviously made a good enough offer). Quintana obviously helped his value with a brilliant and efficient outing for Colombia in the WBC, and folks around White Sox camp were joking that interested clubs and media can now stop referring to Quintana as a No. 3 pitcher. They can joke, because that’s obviously absurd. By some measures, Quintana is actually better than Sale (though I’d still take Sale). The Pirates, Yankees and Rangers were among others known to be interested, and with what’s going on in Rangers camp, maybe they can reignite talks. The White Sox do understand they are partly through a rebuild. While they’ve received a haul of prospects, as one White Sox person put it, “We need more.” Quintana is a sure bet to go at this point. But the best guess here is that the man they call Q becomes a top deadline deal.
5. Will David Robertson go?
There was some talk on the part of Nats people that the White Sox didn’t seem all that interested in trading Robertson. And, of course, on its face, that’s silly (I checked, just to be sure). The Nats probably just didn’t like the offers. For their part, ChiSox people don’t think the Nats have been very aggressive on this front, and if so, that could be a mistake. The Nats have a great team with no proven closer, a formula that’s helped them finish with 95-plus wins three of the past five seasons but fail to get out of the first round all three times. And this time, the Nats’ closer situation is dicier than ever. The White Sox have offered to pay down some of the $25 million remaining over two years on Robertson’s deal, and it would be best if the two teams worked something out.
6. For now, what are the Nats going to do about a closer?
The scouts seem to like Blake Treinen’s stuff while some Nats people seem intrigued by Koda Glover, who’s thought to have the right makeup for the job. In any case, this kind of closer roulette usually doesn’t work, and in the end they’ll probably need to pick up a bona fide closer. The late signing of Joe Blanton gives them nice depth, but with Shawn Kelley not considered a closer candidate due to two past Tommy John surgeries, there’s no easy choice here. Nice to see Joe Nathan doing well at age 42, but he is currently not one of many in that mix, despite the all-time best record for save percentage.
7. Will the Giants try to extend the best clutch pitcher of this generation (or perhaps any generation)?
There’s no evidence there are contract talks at the moment with the great Madison Bumgarner, and Giants people suggest that maybe this isn’t the right time, with three years still to go before free agency. Earlier, there had been some rumblings they’d try to have a conversation about it. And maybe they have. But at the very least, it doesn’t appear anything’s afoot now.
8. Will the Rangers find enough starting pitching?
The latest injury to the perennially disappointing Andrew Cashner looks like a tough potential loss to a team that was already biding its time waiting for Tyson Ross to join the rotation. They may need two starting pitchers for a while, and as was reported in this space last week, they are open to adding at least one. Nick Martinez and A.J. Griffin are No. 5 types in camp with a chance, but they do look thin at a time they’re missing many of their key pieces in the WBC. They don’t seem very interested in resurrecting the career of Colby Lewis, and Doug Fister may similarly be seen as an NL pitcher now. So, barring a trade for Quintana, there appear to be no easy answers. The good news is that at full strength their top three of Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels (though he was blasted in a spring game by the Dodgers Sunday) and Martin Perez is one of the better trios in the league.
9. Who will be the Tigers starting CF?
The impression early as that Mikie Mahtook and Tyler Collins would share the job. But JaCoby Jones and super utilityman Andrew Romine (he’s smart and fast, and they like him, though he’s mostly been an infielder) are still said to be in the mix. But with no taking the job yet, there’s always that possibility they could sign a free agent (Sam Fuld and Angel Pagan are still available) or trade for someone. Omar Infante is not currently part of the mix, which is probably good news.
10. Will Yadier Molina be extended by the Cardinals?
He’s certainly showing what a great player he is starring for Puerto Rico in the WBC, and one agent (not his own) says he’s such a star he should be a $20-million-a-year player despite his age (he’s 34). The sides met early in the spring, as was reported here first, but the Cardinals haven’t made a habit of overpaying even their biggest stars on the backside, so there are no guarantees here.
11. Will the Marlins sell?
The consensus is that, yes, owner Jeffrey Loria will find a buyer for his team, though some say he’d prefer to do it after he hosts the All-Star Game in Miami this year. As for the price, that’s where the real intrigue is. Some don’t believe the Kushners’ alleged $1.6 billion or $1.7 billion offer wasn’t real. But I’ve heard the Romneys (led by son Tagg) did offer $1.4 billion at one time, leading to the belief Loria seeks more than that. Someone I know who’s interested in a team swears the Marlins aren’t worth more than $1.25 billion, but these deals always seem to be bigger than you’d think, not smaller. Either way, Loria and Co. will look better at business than baseball by the time they do leave.
Around the camps …
The shortstop situation garners a lot of intrigue, with Chris Owings, Ketel Marte and Nick Ahmed battling it out. The best guess might be Owings against righties, and Ahmed vs. lefties, with Owings playing elsewhere in those games. He’s getting reps in the outfield every three days … Taijuan Walker looks very good, scouts say. He threw nine scoreless innings, with 13 strikeouts to start the year. He gave up three runs against the Cubs on Wednesday, but struck out eight in four innings … Robbie Ray is also throwing well … Jake Lamb is having an excellent spring. Star potential … Archie Bradley received $554,100 for 2017.
The Braves have made a couple different attempts to sign free agent Angel Pagan (currently playing for Puerto Rico in the WBC) as a backup, but he has yet to accept. Pagan is looking for an MLB deal, and had been seeking close to $5 million … Kelly Johnson also is still looking for a major-league deal … Mike Foltynewicz will be the No. 5 starter. Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair have potential but probably need more seasoning … A look at Andruw Jones’ career and stats shows he might make a pretty decent Hall of Fame candidate, despite the quick drop off. The Braves’ great pitchers swear by him … Meanwhile, Chipper Jones is a threat to be the first unanimous Hall of Famer next year. That doesn’t mean he’s more deserving than Tom Seaver or Ken Griffey Jr. or certainly Greg Maddux. But next year is the year when all ballots become public, even the dumbest ones … Adonis Garcia received $547,50 for 2017 … They are planning their spring site to move to North Port (north of Port Charlotte) for 2019. Right now, their travel situation is a nightmare. Odd how short-lived a seemingly great idea like spring training at Disney was. Same for The Ted.
Orioles people love Pedro Alvarez and really hope he can make it as an outfielder. He’s been working on it for the past three to four months … Top hitting prospect Trey Mancini is in the big outfield mix, too, now … Chris Tillman’s progress with his shoulder appears to be a bit slower than expected, and it looks like the original plan for him start the 10th game of the season is in doubt … They have to be encouraged by what they see in the WBC. Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Welington Castillo all had big hits, and Jonathan Schoop has played well for the Netherlands … Machado (Dominican Republic) has been absolutely amazing, especially in the field. One rival GM: “I never saw Brooks Robinson, but (Machado) may be the greatest third baseman in history.” I did. And he’s right up there with Robinson (it’s the age of the third baseman; Nolan Arenado and Adrian Beltre are fantastic as well) … Buck Showalter, who thinks of almost everything, had them install fake ivy to block out the glare on the nice Jim Palmer pitching mounds. They’ve really done a nice job with the grounds in Sarasota, which only a few years ago was a dump.
Boston Red Sox
It was a bonus to see Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz get on the mound this week. (Wright is probably a bit ahead of Pomeranz since he’s a knuckleballer) … There’s still no timetable for David Price … Andrew Benintendi has not disappointed this spring one bit … Pablo Sandoval has increased range since decreasing his girth. He’s also hit well in Fort Myers, so that’s a big plus.
Kyle Schwarber will bat lead-off partly because of his superior on-base skills, and partly because of this: “He’s scary,” Joe Maddon said. Indeed, he is … Eloy Jimenez looks like he’s going to be a monster star. He’s just part of the next wave. Ian Happ is also in their upper echelon prospect group … Maddon cited the less-known Chesney Young as another up and comer, too. Needless to say, they have many of those kind … It’s OK they have so many great position prospects, as they may have to make a trade for a starter next year, with Arrieta and Lackey free agents, and Jon Lester a year older … Joe Maddon opined that Mike Montgomery has one of the three best curveballs in the NL (he named Clayton Kershaw as one of the other two). Montgomery and Brett Anderson are battling for the No. 5 starters’ slot. So far Maddon likes both … The Cubs gave Montgomery $570,500 for 2017. They continue to be more generous than most teams. Good for them … One thing about the Cubs: they treat their employees well. Kris Bryant got $1.05M though he had no leverage as a 0-3 player. Obviously, the first two years could not have been better. But the Cubs were not obligated to give him such a substantial raise from $650,000, which was fair in itself. Theo Epstein predicted in this space last week that it would get done, and it did … Willson Contreras, whose arm is ridiculous, got $554,500 … Maddon said he didn’t know he’d get a $1-million salary bump for the final three years of his deal for winning the World Series, which was reported here first, but was told later. Good job by his agent Alan Nero. Cubs people don’t seem to mind one bit, though … Anthony Rizzo is a great hitter, a terrific leader, wonderful citizen and solid first baseman, but it makes no sense he won the Platinum Glove, which goes to the top defensive player in each league. On the Cubs infield, he is the fourth most valuable defender out of four (behind Javier Baez, Addison Russell and Kris Bryant) and probably also the fourth best. Baez probably deserved the award, but by rules, you have to qualify at one position. In that case, Russell, the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado, the Cardinals Yadier Molina, and Heyward, too, would have made fine choices … Give Cubs exec Ryan Dempster an A for effort. Tough assignments though, between the D.R. and Team USA.
Chicago White Sox
They should have the best Triple-A rotation with Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer at the top … Michael Kopech will start at Double-A and has been told not to try to over-impress. Tools aren’t bad though: 100 mph fastball and matinee idol looks … Could still see them picking up a veteran catcher.
Zack Cozart remains available. He isn’t drawing big offers, though, considering most teams have a shortstop. Trade may need to wait for an injury … Anthony DeSclafani’s UCL injury means the Reds are yet another short in the rotation. Should be a long year.
It isn’t known whether the Indians have tried yet to extend Carlos Santana, but they are expected to try to cite the deals for Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales and other top hitters this winter, which could keep it in the range of $40 million. Santana is more versatile, though, as someone who can bat lead-off as well as cleanup. His first base metrics are good, too. However, the Indians saw Edwin Encarnacion as a $60-million player, so it’s illogical to think they will be in that range for Santana …Indians people admit Chase Utley wouldn’t have been a perfect fit, but they wanted him on their team enough to offer a deal (though they hadn’t gotten to figures, so weren’t above the Dodgers’ $2m deal). As it turns out they could have used him at the start, as Jason Kipnis’ shoulder issue will cause him to miss the start of the season … The Indians made a nice play for Jose Bautista, offering around the same guarantee he got from Toronto ($18.5 million). There was a possibility they might have made it a multi-year deal, but Bautista wanted to go back to Toronto so he cut off talks. Though Indians people say the Jays’ offer he signed was actually better than the one they did offer, which was a creative idea, including a buyout … The Indians look very strong, with the only real question remaining the timetable for Michael Brantley … Outfield prospect Brad Zimmer looks good … Roberto Perez, who had that big World Series game, got $542,300.
Jake McGee is throwing bullets for Team USA . The Rockies hope for a big bounce-back year … Also on the plus side, Trevor Story looks like he’s back raking it … The Rockies wound up renewing five young players: Jonathan Gray, David Dahl, Trevor Story, Chad Bettis and Tom Murphy. Gray and Story both got $540K, only $5,000 above the MLB minimum … Desmond seemed to be a very nice addition to the team and clubhouse, though rival GMs did not get that deal, which looked worse as the winter progressed. I do think Desmond is a terrific player, but as it turned out, all these actual first basemen signed for less COMBINED than Desmond (Mark Trumbo, Eric Thames, Mike Napoli, Chris Carter, Logan Morrison, Pedro Alvarez, Mark Reynolds). The first base market was dead, so to others it seemed funny to pay big bucks to a shortstop/center fielder and convert him. Hard to disagree, but it wasn’t easy to guess where the first base market would go … Manager Bud Black has brought fun games to spring training in the style of fellow former Angels coach Joe Maddon. They say they got it from Mike Scioscia, who seems serious once the season starts but according to Maddon “was so funny he couldn’t stop laughing” back in Angels camp a decade and a half ago … Black let Desmond have No. 20 and took No. 10, to honor the late Dick Howser, his manager when he was a Royals pitcher. Very nice … Best wishes to pitcher Chad Bettis, a fine young man who announced he’d have to undergo more aggressive treatment for his testicular cancer after they found it spread to a lymph node.
Arcenio Leon, a 30-year-old right-handed pitcher, has been a revelation. He throws 95. Just joined Team Venezuela, which is Tigers heavy (Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, manager Omar Vizquel) … Justin Upton (four homers) is showing signs he’ll be the second-half Upton, not the first-half guy. With $88 million and four years to go after this one, the likelihood he opts out remains nil, however.
Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers recently made their first spring appearances and did well. Still think Houston could use another starter, though … New Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell is in camp to work with Yulieski Gurriel at first base … The Puerto Rico infield – wow. Carlos Correa at third, Francisco Lindor at short and Baez at second. Can’t do any better than that! … Ken Giles signed for $550,100 for 2017.
Kansas City Royals
Big sigh of relief in Royals camp when Salvador Perez’s two MRIs revealed no structural damage, giving hope he could even be ready for the season after his Royals backup Drew Butera stumbled into him in an unfortunate WBC home-plate collision … Word going around is they’d love for top infield prospect Raul Mondesi Jr. to take the second base job. He is very likely to be the shortstop next year, assuming Alcides Escobar isn’t re-signed. He’s doing fine so far and has a shot in a battle of four … Peter O’Brien (five homers) has impressed … Danny Duffy did a great job against Team Canada in the WBC, spinning four scoreless with seven strikeouts. Smart by Jim Leyland to start the lefty vs. Canada, whose hitters are almost all lefties, including Freddie Freeman, Justin Morneau, etc. Freeman grew up in California but was honoring his late mother by playing for Canada. By the way, there’s a reason Canadian baseball players are often lefty swingers. Has something to do with swinging lefty in hockey.
Los Angeles Angels
Tyler Skaggs was back on the mound Wednesday, so that’s a plus. And there have been no hiccups for Garret Richards. If healthy, this could be a surprise team … There’s no timetable yet for the return of Huston Street, a key man in the pen … Ben Revere is having a very nice camp. Perfect fit for Mike Scioscia’s running style. This team should fit him better than recent teams, with Cameron Maybin, who can run, too … Martin Maldonado has been impressing with his arm … As it turns out, 2016 could be the last year for Josh Hamilton, Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, Carl Crawford, Ryan Howard and Justin Morneau. Quite a purging of salaries and talent (though Hamilton, A-Rod and Crawford are still being paid this year) … With Hamilton, still rehabbing with Texas off the books, the Angels should be a major free agent player next winter.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Yasiel Puig is showing some signs, and it appears right field is his to lose (and it will take a lot for him to lose it). Dodgers people have also lowered the bar. Considering his very good defense (not counting the proclivity to throw to the wrong base), they see him as valuable with a .259 batting average and 20 home runs … The left field platoon as likely to be Andre Ethier and Franklin Gutierrez. Which means Andrew Toles, who was very good for them last year, would begin the year in the minors … Kenley Jansen is eligible to pitch in the WBC and he plans to join the Netherlands. I’d be something if he saved for the Netherlands at Dodger Stadium. Clayton Kershaw is not eligible for the WBC, as he was coming off a back injury and isn’t on the USA list … Cody Bellinger’s star keeps rising despite a slow start at the plate (6 for 33). What a brilliant pick and signing by ex scouting director Logan White, who got Bellinger in the fourth round and signed him for $700K. I am sure there were many a saber guy who didn’t get picking Bellinger that high after hitting just one home run as a high school senior first baseman. Bellinger could throw 88-92 off the mound and run a little, too, which is why it’s quite possible you see him in the outfield in L.A. at some point this year … The Dodgers have a ton of injuries, but they all appear to be minor. The one that sounded a little worrisome is Justin Turner’s arthritic knee but Dodgers people don’t seem too concerned. He played through some pain early last year, then thrived the last several months … Adrian Gonzalez’s bashing of the WBC surely isn’t making the home office too happy (though is there was a miscommunication about what Mexico needed to do to advance, that is indeed a mistake). The WBC is here to stay, and commissioner Rob Manfred is a fan of the event … Eric Gagne hit 95 in a game for Team Canada. And agent Scott Leventhal said, “Words are irrelevant at this point. Clubs are seeing it with their own eyes.” …. Undrafted Shea Spitzbarth is one of several kids who’s impressed on the mound … Former Pirates No. 1 draft choice Stetson Allie is in camp as an outfielder. He was originally a pitcher.
Manager Don Mattingly believes Christian Yelich is just hitting his stride and could become a big star. … While Marlins people are happy to have given Yelich a long deal, no word on what they think about the $325-million Giancarlo Stanton contract. It’s still way early in the deal, but one rival exec opined, “there’s no way he opts out” after six years, as the contract allows. The de-valuation of sluggers plus Stanton’s injury misfortunes make that deal look a bit high at the moment. Though one monster year could change things … The Marlins once again have a terrific everyday team but will have to worry about staying healthy since they are notoriously thin, with few minor-league reinforcements ready.
It’s shocking there hasn’t been more action on Ryan Braun. Maddon called him “one of the best players in the game.” One thing about Braun: he doesn’t need much spring training. He’d be good just playing the last week, but to be safe, the Brewers started getting him in games late last week … Braun kept the Dodgers on his six-team list of teams he can be traded to. That remains the one team he wouldn’t mind being traded to, whereas it is believed he’d prefer to stay in Milwaukee than go to any of the other five … Scooter Gennett is trying to make the team as a backup. They like his bat, but he isn’t cheap ($2.4 million) for a Brewers backup … Outfield prospect Lewis Brinson looks terrific in the Cactus League … Folks marvel at the athletic ability of Ryan Cordell … Check out journeyman pitcher Tim Dillard’s diary on mlbtraderumors.com. Funny stuff.
Byron Buxton was renewed at the MLB minimum $535,000 … Danny Santana agreed at $545,000.
New York Mets
Jeurys Familia will receive a ban for his spousal abuse episode, but it is not expected to be a very long one. Familia’s wife originally called the police, but has not been very forthcoming in the MLB investigation. But that doesn’t mean he will escape a ban. Currently, he is closing for the D.R. team, which doesn’t make for the greatest optic. It won’t feel right if he records the last out of the tourney, and it’s clearly not impossible that will happen considering his Dominican team is the favorite. But overall, MLB has been appropriately tough on the handful of players who’ve had spousal abuse issues. Good for them … The way he’s pitching, Jacob deGrom looks like a potential Cy Young winner … Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman give the Mets enviable depth. They are exhibit A and B as to why you count trust pitchers’ numbers in Las Vegas … The signing of Tebow for $100,000 is a marketing plus for the Mets, and he’s a terrific guy, well worth the positive attention he gets on many levels, but there remains no evidence yet that he can play. The best guess here is: decent DH at the Class A level.
New York Yankees
Gleyber Torres, 20 but a prodigy, could make it to the majors this year. The Yankees certainly aren’t going to stand in his way. In answer to a question about that possibility, GM Brian Cashman said, “Can you deny someone the chance to climb Everest quicker than the normal time frame?” Torres could be the answer if the Yankees do trade Chase Headley (unlikely) or Starlin Castro (more possible) … Aaron Hicks seems to have the upper hand so far in his battle with big power prospect Aaron Judge in the right field battle.
Andrew Triggs, Frankie Montas, Jharel Cotton and Jesse Hahn are among those throwing well in A’s camp … Shortstop Marcus Semien was renewed at $545,000 for 2017.
Max’s Stassi’s brother Brock might have been nearing his last chance at age 27. And if he was, wow is he ever making the most of it. Stassi, an OF/1B, leads MLB with a 1.486 spring OPS and is changing his story … Daniel Nava is having a nice spring, giving him a chance, as well … There’s some concern about the stuff of Clay Buchholz (7.56 ERA this spring) … Have heard speculation Philly could be a landing spot for Zach Britton as a free agent in two years. Several former Orioles execs, including the folks who drafted him, are in the Phils’ front office now … South Jersey’s own Mike Trout (and Bryce Harper) also make for good speculation. Harper is a free agent after 2018, Trout 2019 … Shane Victorino still hasn’t decided if he will try to keep playing, and is at home with his kids right now, his friend Jimmy Rollins said.
Gerrit Cole is healthy, which is huge. After Cole, Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova and Chad Kuhl there’s a battle for the No. 5 job in the rotation, between Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault, Drew Hutchison and Trevor Williams … With five starters away at the WBC there are chances galore for the kids, and Austin Meadows – no surprise – is playing well … Jung-ho Kang is appealing his DUI case in Korea and hoping to get a visa to play. If not, he’s a loss. The David Freese signing helps there … The bullpen has looked terrific, especially Felipe Rivero. Tony Watson will close, and with Daniel Hudson, it could be better than folks figure … Pagan has been on their radar, as well … Taillon signed for $555,500 for 2017.
St. Louis Cardinals
Matt Adams hit homers in consecutive games this week. If he earns more playing time, Matt Carpenter could play more second or third … Jordan Schafer’s attempt to make the team as a reliever took a hit; he has a forearm issue, and according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch needs surgery. He was bidding to be a pitcher/pinch runner combo, maybe the first ever … Outfield prospect Jose Martinez looks very like he’ll hit for average and power, and he has a very high baseball IQ (his father played for the Tribe; the late Carlos Martinez, not related to the Cards’ star by the same name) … Righty Sandy Alcantara, only 20, has been opening eyes with big stuff … Ace Carlos Martinez was throwing 100 mph in the WBC, and while that was impressive, you wonder if Cardinals people are a little nervous he’s already hitting triple figures. He was down to around 96 for his game vs. Puerto Rico.
San Diego Padres
One of the reasons A.J. Preller brought in Jered Weaver was the “edge” he brings. This is a guy who is clearly focused on winning, and doesn’t like losing. He’s also focused on his own team. When it was suggested to him that he’d probably follow how the Angels were doing, he disagreed, saying, “I don’t … care.” He had a wry smile when he said it, but not sure if he was kidding … Weaver is seen as a mentor to all the kids here, but as he pointed out, “I am here to perform, too.” … Weaver said there were times last year he figured he might retire after the year – “I definitely contemplated giving up pitching last year” — but he started to feel better the last month or so. And this spring, Weaver said, “I am 10 steps above last year. Everything feels better physically.” … Ex-catcher Christian Bethancourt is trying out mainly as a pitcher. He’s throwing 95-97, and Logan White (and De Jon Watson and other execs) had success converting Kenley Jansen from catcher to pitcher years ago. Bethancourt is still seen as a possible emergency catcher but it seems like any plans to use him in the outfield or elsewhere have been scuttled. He has no options left, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can make it as a reliever … Jabari Blash (five home runs already) is having a big spring, and Mark McGwire’s tutelage is getting a lot of the credit … Brad Hand is “one of the better lefties” in the league, one scout said … Ryan Schimpf is thought to have the inside track at second base … Padres people are raving about Austin Hedges. Wil Myers said, “I got to see Salvy Perez in the minors, and they’re very comparable.” High praise … Myers’ contract talks started quietly during last season. “We made great progress. There was no bad blood on either side,” Myers said. He settled at $83 million. And it could help him relax. “I don’t gotta worry about nothin’” is the colorful way the very colorful Myers put it … They are still seeking a shortstop. They’ve had talks with the Reds about Cozart but don’t want to give up a top prospect for a rental … Fernando Tatis Jr. is wowing them in Padres camp. He’s hitting bomb, and is a shortstop for now. He draws comparisons to Starlin Castro and may wind up being a better prospect than anyone thought … Manny Margot, an impressive kid, will likely start in center field but could play some left field. Hunter Renfroe will likely start in right, with Alex Dickerson and Travis Jankowski in the mix … The Padres were going to non-tender Derek Norris before sending him to the Nats. They like pitcher Pedro Avila who came for him.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants had regrets about not getting Mark Melancon at the trade deadline, but it’s uncertain whether they could have realistically gotten him as well as Matt Moore and Eduardo Nunez. Derek Law was one of the players the Pirates wanted in a package for Melancon. The Giants are way more willing than most to part with kids, but this is the one time they didn’t. No surprise, they went out and got Melancon this winter … It was Joe Panik the Yankees wanted for Andrew Miller. But it was Panik and others, which is why they didn’t do that one, either … Once they signed Melancon, they were basically at budget. Otherwise they would have considered bringing back Santiago Casilla, who went across the Bay … Angel Pagan recently spoke with his old manager Bruce Bochy. Pagan has told folks he doesn’t want to sign a non-guaranteed minor-league deal off a decent age-34 season, or even a low-base MLB deal (he has received some guaranteed offers). In any case, Bochy is said to have advised him that sometimes it’s OK to swallow your pride, especially if he still wants to play, as it appears he does with his play for Puerto Rico in the WBC. Bochy is believed to have pointed out that Jimmy Rollins is in Giants camp on a non-guaranteed minors deal. He didn’t have to say it, but Rollins has had a much greater career than Pagan. The implication is obvious: If Rollins will do it, why not you? … Rollins still seems to have his great enthusiasm for the game, and has been working hard at learning second base. Still, no spot is guaranteed … Jarrett Parker, who is out of options, is a strong left field favorite and having a good spring. The Giants see him as a 15-60 guy, easy. Chris Marrero has been a revelation in left, Mac Williamson has shown his power and even Michael Morse has had some big moments. So it looks like it may work out in left field … It’s a long shot Morse makes the team, but he’s hit some very long shots, including one liner to dead center at Scottsdale Stadium they are still gushing about. Morse told me he’s never had more fun and feels like he has nothing to lose. “If I don’t make it, I go home,” Morse, from Plantation Acres, said. “I’m good either way.” … There are some who believe Tim Lincecum might be willing to relieve now. But first he needs to consent to a showcase. He’s still working hard in Seattle on his own.
Drew Smyly was unscored upon in Arizona. Could turn out to be a key pickup for a team with a dynamic lineup … Seattle lost a Cactus League game to the Brewers 24-3. Not sure if it had anything to do with the WBC, but Seattle has 12 players away, including its Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Kevin Kiermaier deal looks like a fine idea, and gives the impression the Rays are more serious. Not all the details are in but $53.55 million for six years (Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times was first, with the final number via Bob Nightengale) seems fair for Kiermaier, too … Star closer Alex Colome was renewed at $547,900.
If the Rangers were to trade Jurickson Profar they’d want a MLB-ready starting pitcher back. Obviously, Padres people like him. But, for instance, they wouldn’t give up Luis Perdomo for him … Matt Bush received $554,920 for 2017.
Toronto Blue Jays
Aaron Sanchez’s contract was renewed by the Jays at the MLB minimum $535,000 after he won the ERA title. The Jays are said to have offered close to $550,000, but when Sanchez didn’t accept it, the team gave him the minimum. Sanchez’s agent Scott Boras pointed out that other young stars with his experience level like Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez and others got $600,000 plus in the same circumstance. Beyond the ERA title, Sanchez’s 15-2 record was also good for the best winning percentage in the AL, and he won a playoff game. Any way you look at it, he was easily one of the top 10 starting pitchers in the AL last year, and finished seventh in Cy Young voting in a tie with Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees. So the minimum seems harsh … The moves of Ben Cherington, now a Jays exec, as Red Sox GM look better almost by the day. Rick Porcello won the Cy Young, Hanley Ramirez looks good and the draft picks keep getting better, Benintendi included. He did not deserve his fate … Anthony Alford is a player.
Derek Norris may have had some value to the Nats as a hedge and negotiating tool before they signed Matt Wieters. But it’s no surprise the Nats released him. His fate was sealed with the Wieters signing. It will cost them $700K termination pay (one-sixth his $4.2-million salary). He originally sought more than $5 million before they agreed on a much smaller raise off his .186 season … Bryce Harper is killing it in West Palm Beach, with five early dingers. Look for a big year from him.