SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – When new Rockies manager Bud Black was introduced to new Rockies first baseman Ian Desmond, Desmond told him, “I am a baseball player.”
Seems pretty simple, right? But Desmond is just the sort of veteran the perennially underachieving Rockies needed – an intense, no-nonsense guy who’s willing to do what it takes to win.
The point is, he is playing first base now (the Rockies weren’t kidding about that) but could move to play shortstop, third base, center field, or anywhere else should the need arise. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s right-handed; previously, the Rockies were a bit lefty heavy for a division with Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Rich Hill, Julio Urias and other southpaws.
With Desmond, the Rockies’ lineup is just about as good as any in baseball. Plus, they have an emerging young pitching staff that brings real hope for the first time (that’s always the question with the Rockies; when Black was asked how they’ll do, he flashed an abbreviated pitching motion, as if to say, they can do it if they pitch), and a suddenly stacked pen.
“I like our chances,” says Rockies veteran star Carlos Gonzalez.
If he’s said it before, there’s reason to mean it this time. The Rockies are one of seven teams that are cited here who could surprise this year. (The other six are below.)
Of course, as always for the Rockies, it will probably come down to the health (their’s has been notoriously iffy over the years) and the pitching. So it doesn’t hurt that veteran pitching expert Black is here to coax the most out of a very young staff.
Jon Gray looks like a potential star, Tyler Anderson, Chad Bettis and Tyler Chatwood seem pretty solid (and good enough to win with their stacked lineup), and there are a lot of real possibilities for the No. 5 job, and not just the usual fifth-spot flyers.
There’s Jeff Hoffman, the 99-mph-throwing right-hander who should be a star eventually, plus German Marquez, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela, a guy Black likes a lot.
The pen looks a lot better, too, with lefty Mike Dunn and ex-Royals closer Greg Holland signed to beef up the back end that already had Adam Ottavino and Jake McGee. Gonzalez suggests that should take pressure off all the guys. “That’ll make their jobs less stressful,” CarGo says. “The only stress they have now is fighting to see who closes.” (If healthy and at full strength, it’s probably Holland.)
Indeed, the whole team looks a lot better. The only quibble here is that by mapping out the plan early, and diving in early, they didn’t exactly get big bargains. Dunn was paid handsomely, at $19 million for three years. And Desmond was, too, at $70 million for five, although it did cost a draft pick. But that isn’t necessarily the way to look at it.
Desmond was a major bargain last year, signing a well-below-market $8 million, with the Rangers. But he doesn’t view it like that at all.
No regrets, Desmond says. “I enjoyed last year,” he said. “I got to play for a 95-win team.”
That’s the kind of attitude they need with the Rockies, and now have more of it.
The 7 teams that may surprise
1. Rockies: See above.
2. Oakland Athletics: Their young rotation and veteran bullpen is much better than you think. If Sonny Gray bounces back (he was shut down for three weeks with a lat strain) and Jharel Cotton pitches anything like he did after his trade there from the Dodgers, they could actually prove to be a contender (maybe). Ryon Healy could add a second major threat along with Khris Davis, and Rajai Davis and Trevor Plouffe should help.
3. New York Yankees: They may only have two-thirds of No Run DMC, but that still gives them one of the most dynamic bullpen combos in the game, and if Luis Severino takes the seventh inning, they might in effect shorten games to six. They don’t have the stars they used to, but by the same token they won’t have an aged black hole in the middle of the lineup as they had last year (and Greg Bird, off to a big spring start, looks like a possible star). They have solid/average players in most spots and a farm system that’s better than just about anyone else’s. The only real big question is the rotation, and you know they have the ability to spend if they need to.
4. Baltimore Orioles: This one really isn’t fair. They are consistently under-rated by the saber crew who somehow sees them as a 70-80 win team perennially. Not sure why that is, but they have a great everyday team and pen, and Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy could be on the verge of stardom.
5. Detroit Tigers: At the end of the year, they had a rotation of Justin Verlander and four rookies, and were looking darned good. They made the right call to keep the old band together, as they just might pull it off. Their lineup remains ultra-dangerous, and third baseman Nick Castellanos could be putting it all together.
6. Los Angeles Angels: It helps to start with the best player in baseball. But let’s not forget the Angels were a lot better than their 74-88 record last year (they were only outscored by 10 runs) and were also decimated by injury. GM Bill Eppler also has put together an excellent defensive team, adding Danny Espinosa (who may benefit from a homecoming) and Cameron Maybin this winter and Andrelton Simmons last year. They need Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs (he suffered a setback and has been shelved for now with a shoulder weakness) to be healthy. But don’t count them out.
7. Pittsburgh Pirates: As one scout pointed out, if they just get the usual years out of Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen, that would make a huge difference. They could also see much more from Josh Harrison and Francisco Cervelli, so there is plenty of room for growth. And the move to install Starling Marte in center field should upgrade the defense by quite a bit.
Around the Camps …
Shelby Miller is said to have hit 99 on the gun. And no, he doesn’t have to hit 199 to justify that trade. However, he was hit hard in his most recent Cactus League start in a 21-13 defeat to the A’s (yes, you read that right – 21-13)… A.J. Pollock is 100 percent after missing last year with elbow surgery. “When you get back, you’re just pumped to play,” Pollock said … Josh Thole, the knuckleball specialist among catchers, shook his head “no” when asked if he misses R.A. Dickey. “Time for me to sink or swim on my own.” … As Thole knows, the D-backs are expected to go with Chris Iannetta and Jeff Mathis as their main catchers, as they are the ones on MLB deals. They also inquired about Miguel Montero at one point, but the Cubs apparently preferred to keep the veteran catcher, Tommy Stokke learned … The Dodgers were said to be willing to pay something close to $25 million a year last year when they inquired about Zack Greinke, but the talks died. At some point, owner Ken Kendrick got involved. Greinke, with a $34-million salary, is exactly $25 million above the team’s second-highest paid player, Yasmany Tomas at $9 million, so that’s quite a gap … Greinke was caught imparting his wisdom the other day in the D-backs clubhouse, to Pollock and some others. He’s also a good dad; he took his 22-month-old son to the zoo one day this week … Commenting to D-backs writers on some sub-90 velocity readings, Greinke said “It’s still early…but it’s not ideal, either.” … Robby Ray could be primed for a special year. Big talent.
They are looking for a right-handed hitting backup outfielder who can play center field … The Braves dwarf most teams in terms of number and quality of pitching prospects. It really is quite amazing how many they have.
There’s word they could still be open to adding an outfielder, even after inking Michael Bourn … There is still some admiration for free agent Pedro Alvarez’s hitting skills here. Alvarez is working out on his own, trying to improve his outfield skills.
Boston Red Sox
Big sigh of relief in Fort Myers upon learning David Price wouldn’t need elbow surgery. He’s been remarkably healthy in his career … If Pablo Sandoval doesn’t work out again this year, Mike Moustakas could make sense as a free agent … Good for the Red Sox paying Mookie Betts $950,000 when they didn’t have to. It’s the right thing to do.
The Cubs carefully and wisely left a few dollars in their budget should they have to make a mid-year pickup, as they did last year with Aroldis Chapman. They don’t say anything, but the Cubs are cognizant of staying below the luxury-tax threshold if they can. If they ever go over, it will be just by pennies … While Gleyber Torres has the chance to become a big star, of course the Cubs absolutely did the right thing to trade him and others for Chapman. “I don’t think we win the World Series without Chapman,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said. Of course, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon both had injuries in the second half. They also would have nowhere to put Torres, as Addison Russell is just 23. And the Cubs’ World Series win was absolutely historic. “No regrets,” Epstein said … Epstein is one of six who’ll get rings for breaking both historic jinxes (with the 2004 Red Sox also). The others are GM Jed Hoyer, top exec Jason McLeod, P.R. director Peter Chase, consultant Kevin Youkilis and part-time instructor Manny Ramirez … Joe Maddon gets a raise in his contract for the next three seasons after winning the World Series, tying him for the highest-paid manager in baseball … Maddon’s new slogan is D-Peat. He thinks repeating their defense from a year ago is a great goal. The Cubs’ defense in 2016 was all-time great, but Maddon sees defense as a repeatable skill … Maddon also made a great hire by tabbing former Rays P.R. director Rick Vaughn to run his Respect 90 Foundation … Jason Heyward moved to Arizona shortly after the World Series so he could concentrate on improving his hitting. Arizona is a wonderful place, but that’s true dedication. While he’s off to a slow start, Cubs people all say he is doing “great” and are very pleased by his progress. He hit a home run Monday that had backspin and was the type they didn’t see all last year … With Russell agreeing for 2017 at $644,000, it’ll be interesting to see what the Cubs decide to pay Kris Bryant, off an MVP and World Series win. Derek Jeter and Ryan Howard are potential comps. Epstein has generally been good about not squeezing star 0-3 players. He believes in the motto that just because you can hurt someone, by rules, that doesn’t mean you have to do it. Good for him. “We’ll get it done,” Epstein said, confidently of Bryant’s deal … Meantime, Bryant remains a rare 25-year-old (living in Las Vegas, no less) who’s never had a drink, even after celebrating the incredible title. Teammates poured champagne all over him, But he resisted. “I am who I am,” said Bryant, who is almost too good to be true … Kyle Schwarber is the left fielder, and only an emergency catcher. He’s looking fine in left field so far, and got the same ill-fated play out of the way early. “It was the same bleeping play,” Schwarber said, good-naturedly. He’s just another terrific young man on a team full of them … Good for the Cubs to bring back Miguel Montero, the needed veteran backup. The Cubs even get Montero’s occasional outspokenness … Montero, 33, says his goal is “to outlast Joe West.” West has been an umpire since 1976 but he’s 63. “That’s my goal, “ Montero said. “I want to play one year past Joe West.” … The fifth starter job is between Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery but there aren’t many big decisions for this World Champion team. They also have a little more Triple-A depth, with Eddie Butler, Alec Mills, Aaron Brooks, etc. … Ryan Dempster, the former Cub pitcher and Cubs exec pitching for Team Canada, predicted his team would “shock the world.”
Chicago White Sox
Rivals execs believe David Robertson and Todd Frazier can still be had, if they find the right partner. But at least in Frazier’s case, he’s almost surely here at least until the deadline thanks to a dead third-base market. The Nats remain most logical for Robertson (depending on how Washington’s closer tryouts go) while the third base market remains tough, barring injury … Frazier doesn’t mind being here, though. “With what they’ve got coming up here, I’d love to be here the rest of my career,” he said … They still, understandably feel no need to immediately trade Jose Quintana. A couple teams were somewhat aggressive for Quintana (though obviously not aggressive enough), including teams not necessarily playing for 2017. However, the Astros’ alleged aggressiveness was said to have been overstated. Since Quintana has four years to go on his contract, there is no urgency to trade him … This is Matt Davidson’s chance, perhaps his final one. He is expected to be DH who plays some first and third for the South Siders this year … The defensively strong Tyler Saladino seems to have the inside track at second base. Brett Lawrie was probably a hedge against a Frazier trade and Saladino’s health (he’s returning from back surgery) … Manager Rick Renteria is said to love Yoan Moncada, who will play second base and begin in the minors … Michael Kopech excites folks with the 100-mph heater but the ChiSox are working with him on his changeup and slider, and thinking of introducing a fourth pitch (curveball or cutter) … The arms are spectacular here. But Kopech is tentatively tabbed for Double-A while Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez will likely start at Triple-A. Those two are likely to join Carson Fulmer at the top of a very strong Triple-A rotation … Chicago has five set starters, unusual for a rebuilding team … Outfield prospect Luis Basabe has impressed folks on the minors side. He was the second Luis A. Basabe the Red Sox traded in a year, with the first one (his twin brother – their names are differentiated by their middle names) going to the D-backs in the Brad Ziegler trade. The one that came to the White Sox is said to have the higher ceiling, leading to folks criticizing Arizona last summer for getting the wrong one. Before the Chris Sale trade was consummated, a White Sox person double checked, as a joke. “We are getting the good one, right?”
Jose Peraza, who will be the second baseman, and Eugenio Suarez are off to hot starts … Former St. John’s basketball player Amir Garrett is bidding to make the rotation. His ball is said to be very hard to pick up … Reds Hall of Famer Joe Morgan recently received a bone marrow transplant from a family member and is said to be doing “much better” after what was said to be a “perfect match” improved his condition significantly. Morgan has been suffering with an undisclosed ailment in recent years. Morgan, very private, won’t say what the ailment is, and won’t confirm the donor (he declined to do so through the Hall of Fame). But all around the Reds family, they are heartened by his comeback. Former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Tony Perez says he hears Morgan is now “doing great.”
Carlos Santana, who’s going to be a big-time free agent, has hired Octagon, as was reported here. Few players can match his versatility in the field or with the bat. He can play first base or left field and fill in at third or even catch in an emergency. At bat, his two best sports are probably cleanup and lead-off. He also was fifth in the AL at first base in UZR. A lot to like here … Jason Kipnis (shoulder) is playing his first game on Thursday … Michael Brantley has played in simulated games two of the last three days.
With the significantly strengthened pen, Jason Motte and Chad Qualls are said to be available … David Dahl (back) would seem to be a long shot to make it back for Opening Day, but they are hoping he doesn’t miss too much time … Some scouts love young catcher Tony Wolters, from both an offensive and defensive standpoint. It does seem to be a bit of a gamble to go with two kids behind the plate, though (Tom Murphy is the other catcher) … There’s a spirited competition for the No. 5 starter’s job. Hoffman, Freeland, Marquez and Senzatela are the main candidates … Ian Desmond expressed no regrets about last year’s free agency, which ended a lot less successfully to this year’s ($8 million compared to $70 million). Despite the shockingly low contract of a year ago, Desmond said of that free-agent period, “I enjoyed it.” This winter, it went much better. He heard from the Cardinals, Giants and Orioles in addition to the Rockies, but the key was probably signing early, at the Winter Meetings … Mark Reynolds is on a minor-league deal, but is expected to make the team.
The Tigers are still weighing center field options. Mikie Mahtook and Tyler Collins were the leading candidates heading into camp. If anyone’s watching the WBC, Sam Fuld has looked good. Angel Pagan is still out there as well … Detroit people are happy they kept the whole gang together but would still be willing to trade Anibal Sanchez, if there are takers. They’d have to offset most of the money remaining.
The Astros saved a couple hundred grand with delightful young star shortstop Carlos Correa and renewing him at the MLB minimum after two fine seasons. But in the long run it’s hard to imagine this kind of tactic pays off. Correa’s agent Greg Genske said Correa will do whatever he can to help the team. But he has to see other teams treat their young players much better than this (even though it isn’t necessitated by the rules). Meantime, the Astros overpay for free agents and on trades … Hard to believe Doug Fister doesn’t have a deal yet.
Kansas City Royals
Execs around the league envision the Royals being big deadline sellers if they aren’t in the race. With four big free agents and no chance to win a first-round draft choice via the qualifying offer, it doesn’t make sense to hold all of Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar if they aren’t in it. They aren’t believed close to re-signing any of the four … One issue with their four free agents all being position players is that, as one agent said, “it is difficult for the Royals to recruit free agent hitters” with that ballpark … There’s little chance they keep Cain long-term, though there’s no obvious alternative. Royals people say, depending on how things go, they may give former No. 1 pick Bubba Starling a shot in center field next year … Here’s exhibit A why players shouldn’t switch agents in the middle of the winter. Jason Hammel wound up with a $12-million, two-year deal with the Royals. That sounds OK except the Mariners were offering a $10-million, one-year deal when Hammel switched agents, going to ACES, according to sources. You don’t have to be a poker player to know that the switch was a tell that things aren’t going as you hoped, it eliminates the team most interested (as the new agent obviously isn’t taking the same deal as the previous one) and calls for starting over. So ACES didn’t do him any favors … KC went with Brandon Moss over Pedro Alvarez because they want a “floating” DH, to give Alex Gordon and other vets a chance to rest … Some have noticed that Mike Moustakas looks a little tentative upon his return. That’s probably to be expected coming off his injury, and agent Scott Boras said he’ll be fine by the middle of camp . On the suggestion Brandon Belt is as good a player as Eric Hosmer, as some metrics suggest, one scout said, “Get a grip.” The Royals do seem to agree and will very likely offer Hosmer more (if they haven’t already) … This could be the end of an era in KC as we wrote this week. If so they all deserve a tip of the cap, as does GM Dayton Moore, for what they’ve been able to accomplish, in a place “people didn’t think was possible,” Boras said … Royals people do not expect Ian Kennedy to opt out … Chris Young, a Princeton man and one of the smartest guys in the game, was asked what he might do when he finally retires. And by the way, at 37, he’s still hoping to play ‘til he’s 40. He wasn’t sure. “I feel like I have a masters in baseball,” he said … The Royals have four competing for the second base job, but Lawrie could possibly make sense there.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels will have the opportunity to spend big next winter, once Josh Hamilton is finally off the books … Moustakas might make sense for them … Mike Trout looks good. (I didn’t have to go to Arizona to say that!)
Los Angeles Dodgers
Justin Turner said free agency “sucked,’’ and that’s understandable, with a very limited market for a third baseman, even an exceptional one. He said there were three other teams interested, but all needed to do something else first before they could make him a bona fide offer. None of them was the Giants apparently. “I don’t want to go through that again,” he said … Turner is being treated for an arthritic knee. He and Corey Seager (out with a back, due back Friday, manager Dave Roberts said) are indispensable to the Dodgers, Dodgers expert David Vassegh says … Turner was credited with convincing Kenley Jansen to return to the Dodgers at Jansen’s wedding, but Jansen said it was “Turner, Scott Van Slyke and knucklehead (Yasiel) Puig.” (Knucklehead Puig was within earshot when he said it.) The bigger reality was that Jansen has a daughter in L.A., so it was going to take a lot to get him to leave. It came down to L.A. and the Nats, which offered $85 million (with some deferrals). Jansen said he was so impressed by Nats GM Mike Rizzo that he called him personally to tell him he was staying with the Dodgers. The Marlins offered their patented backloaded deal; it was said to have begun with something like $7 million, $9 million and $11 million, leaving salaries in the $25 million range the final two years (when new ownership will presumably be there) … Adrian Gonzalez has just started playing before going to Team Mexico with limited at-bats … The plan seems to be for Puig to be the right fielder in what could/should be his last chance in L.A. In left field (and for backups) they also have Franklin Gutierrez, Scott Van Slyke, Andre Ethier, Trayce Thompson and Andrew Toles. Depending on injuries, Toles could start in the minors … Hyun-Jin Ryu gets his first start Friday in a big mix for the Dodgers’ final rotation spot or two. “Improved,” a Dodgers person says … Walker Buehler is wowing them in minors camp. Dodgers execs trek over there to see him when he throws. Best stuff among all Dodgers, with the exception of Clayton Kershaw, says Orel Hershiser … Rich Hill credits his turnaround to the well-respected coach Brian Bannister, who’s working for the Red Sox. It’s his own persistence that’s really the biggest key, of course. “Why not me?” was a thought Hill said occurred to him while he was working on it … Hill also sees the value in manager Dave Roberts removing him after seven innings in his perfect game bid. “Greater good,’’ Hill said, maturely … Good Dodger name: Ralston Cash … Andrew Istler, an eighth-round pitcher from Duke, has gained a few mph and is throwing 96 in camp … Josh Sborz, the former University of Virginia closer, has been impressive, as well … The team of Clayton Kershaw and Scott Van Slyke won a narrow victory in Kershaw’s celebrity ping pong tournament held at the Arizona Biltmore. The team of Greinke and Robby Ray finished second … Eric Gagne, who hit 93 mph for Team Canada, held six private workout for teams before leaving for the WBC.
The Marlins will probably be a rare team to go with eight relievers. Down in spring “the starters have been mediocre,” says a scout … Some see a big year for Christian Yelich … Jose Urena has to make the team as he is out of options and would be plucked quickly if put on waivers … Billy Butler would make sense for the Marlins as a free agent, but the Fish are planning to go with 13 pitchers and an obviously limited bench.
Ryan Braun becomes a 10-and-5 player with trade veto power in May, but until then he can be traded to one of six teams (he had five West Coast teams plus the Marlins, but made a change or two this year on the list). One person familiar with the situation said he thought it was 99 percent Braun would remain with the Brewers or go to the Dodgers. Either would be fine with Braun, who loves the Brewers and grew up in the Valley section of L.A. The Dodgers remain one of the six teams to whom Braun can be traded, even after he made an adjustment or two … The trade talk last July with the Dodgers “went down to the last minute,” according to one person familiar with the talks, but two people said it wasn’t necessarily all that close, never mind that Brewers owner Mark Attanasio was on his way back from overseas that day (the deal would have sent Yasiel Puig, Brandon McCarthy and more to Milwaukee) … The Brewers do seem to think Puig has a chance to get back to what he was, or get close … One big plus for Braun is he had his first entirely healthy offseason in awhile. He is due to play his first game Friday or Saturday (he needs less spring training than almost anyone) … They did have a late meeting on Matt Wieters, right before he signed with the Nats, but will choose two among Jett Bandy, Andrew Susac and Manny Pina for their catching tandem. Pina’s out of options so he’s a favorite to grab one of the spots, with a tough call between the other two … There had been a bit of interest in Miguel Montero, as well … Zach Davies and Junior Guerra will man the first two spots in the rotation, with a battle among several for the final three spots (including Jimmy Nelson, Wily Peralta, Tommy Milone, Chase Anderson and Matt Garza for spots. Nelson would seem like a favorite for one of the spots. Garza is diligently working on figuring out how to succeed without the 95-mph fastball — he did hit 93 the other day). Garza is also a surprisingly good mentor for the kids … Lucas Erceg, a third baseman out of Menlo College who was picked 46th overall in the last draft, had a two-homer game at Camelback Field. Not a bad sign … Keon Broxton will take the center field job this year, but they seem stacked with outfield potential, with also Lewis Brinson, Brett Phillips and Domingo Santana, who’s looked good in the Cactus League … Lithe lefty Josh Hader (with Tim Lincecum hair, too) looks like a star in the making.
Rivals execs believe Brian Dozier and Ervin Santana could still be had in trade. Though there isn’t really an obvious match for Dozier at this point … Some stat site picks the Twins for 82 wins. Which only shows that some stat sites should stay out of the prediction business. Picking out of a hat would work better.
New York Mets
Hindering MLB’s investigation into the Jeurys Familia’s case, his wife has apparently given inconsistent statements. Team officials believe that the likelihood is that he gets a short ban but doesn’t get off completely … Considering a ban is expected, perhaps Familia should have canceled his WBC plans. Seems like the way he should have gone … Matt Harvey was hit pretty hard in his first game, but 93 mph was OK, and his changeup was good. He also had a stiff neck, which may not have helped … Scout who saw Jacob deGrom’s last outing: “He looked better than at any time last year.” … There was some point during the winter that the Mets could have traded Jay Bruce’s contract, though gotten little in return (probably with the Orioles or Jays, the two main pursuers), but the Mets decided they didn’t want to do that … Michael Conforto could still hit his way onto the team, though it seems he isn’t the perfect fit for their current roster … The Mets should have given the extra eight grand for Noah Syndergaard, who’s probably worth $5 million in marketing alone, rather than renewing him for $605,500. I get it that the Mets want to be consistent, but come on, $8K … Tim Tebow certainly is popular. Great guy, and as a player, he’s better than Garth Brooks, who at least was playing for charity the spring he joined the Mets.
New York Yankees
Nobody’s said yet what the Yankees are paying Gary Sanchez, but he did agree. Their formula is generally $100 per plate appearance on top of the minimum, so that’d be $557,900, or thereabouts … Greg Bird is raking in spring. Also was impressive was when he requested that Yankees great Andy Pettitte throw him on a back field. Bird wanted to get used to facing a tough lefty (and unless he wants to deal with Aroldis Chapman, Pettitte’s one of the tougher one’s he’s going to find on lefty batters).
Sonny Gray (19.29 ERA) had a rough spring outing. But that kind of thing happens in Arizona … Sean Doolittle could pitch in a game by next week, reports Jane Lee of MLB.com.
Scott Kingery, a second base prospect who will start the year in the minors, has opened some eyes … Brock Stassi keeps hitting home runs as he competes for a bench job … Most folks don’t seem shocked Ryan Howard hasn’t gotten a job (though he did rake vs. righties in the second half). There just isn’t much call for DHs these days.
Austin Meadows homered Tuesday and looks like a star … The stud kid Jose Osuna (.471 in the Grapefruit League) has three home runs this spring … Felipe Rivero’s repertoire is drawing raves.St. Louis Cardinals
One prominent player agent (not his own) says Yadier Molina should certainly get more than Brian McCann and Russell Martin. He meant per year. Anyway, that agent sees Molina as a $20-million a year player. “He’s a star.” Hard to argue there … Folks continue to worry about the Cardinals’ defense in other areas … Andrew Poncedelon is a good name to watch. In my exclusive with him, he told me, “Age is just a number.” (The joke didn’t get much response on Twitter, either, but I’m obviously not giving up.). Ponce de Leon, by the way, is from not far from St. Augustine … Jordan Schafer hit 95 with his pitching. He also makes a decent pinch runner. Would be fun to see him make the team.
San Diego Padres
San Diego is still perusing the market for shortstops. Erick Aybar seems the likely starter, for now. They may be looking more for a longer-term solution. Aybar is a free agent after the year … A scout said Padres ace Luis Perdomo looks good but is concerned — not a surprise here — about the rest of the rotation … Scouts like outfield prospect Manny Margot.
San Francisco Giants
Mac Williamson is showing some spring power. Maybe he works out in left field … Hard to believe Angel Pagan doesn’t have a job. Pagan is said to be looking for an MLB deal with hopes of getting close to $5 million.
Jarrod Dyson, off to a nice start with his new team, will have plenty of chances to score runs with this lineup as the lead-off hitter … They are missing 12 players at the WBC, including two (or three) of their starters, their Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters and a middle infielder, reports Shannon Drayer, noted Mariners expert … Drew Smyly hadn’t allowed a run as he went off to the WBC. The Mariners got him after thinking they were close to signing Hammel before that deal fell through. It may work out.
Tampa Bay Rays
They are said to be looking at Brett Lawrie, who was just released by the White Sox. However, that potential move may be dependent on whether Brad Miller takes to second base. As a former shortstop, you’d think he would … They’ve got a big TV deal coming soon, so it’s hard to see Montreal as a viable alternative right now. Tampa Bay is the 11th top TV market in the U.S.
Jonathan Lucroy and the Rangers are expected to talk about a multi-year extension at some point. And Lucroy, who loves it in Texas, wouldn’t be opposed to getting something done. “I would absolutely love to stay,” Lucroy said, “but that isn’t up to me.” Lucroy is loving Texas after spending his whole career in the Brewers organization. “I like everything here,” Lucroy said. “I like the culture, the coaching staff, the players, the people. I really can’t complain.” Lucroy, in the last year of an extension he signed early with the Brewers (Texas picked up the $5.25-million option without giving it a thought), said his early contract, which turned out to be under market since he outperformed it, gave him “leeway to do my thing.” However, he soon understood he had outplayed the contract. “Hindsight is always 20-20” but he recalled that he “regretted it” soon after signing it, perhaps not too long after the ink was dry … Mike Napoli could have had $11 million for one year or $16 million for two years with the Twins, but came back to Texas for an $8.5-million guarantee (counting a $2.5 million buyout for next year) and chance to match what he could have had in Minnesota if all goes well. He has zero regrets though. “I’ve made a lot of money. I came back here for the chance to win,” Napoli said. “It’s the perfect fit.” Napoli looks and feels like a new man following surgery to correct sleep issues. “It’s just a new way of life,” Napioli said of being able to sleep now. “Believe me, it was a drag.” … If the agents for Yu Darvish try to use the Stephen Strasburg deal as a fair comp, as they likely will, that isn’t expected to move the Rangers. Texas is said to love Darvish (and the feeling is believed mutual), and the sides are planning to speak to see if anything can get done before he hits free agency, but Rangers people are not intending to go quite to that length to keep Darvish. The number will be well into nine figures, but Texas people wonder if the Nats are already regretting Strasburg, who’s probably a pretty fair comp for Darvish. Both are extraordinarily talented pitchers who have had Tommy John surgeries. The Rangers and Darvish’s reps, the Wasserman agency,have a history of doing deals, so that brings hope. Not only did they do the Darvish deal but they also did one for Tyson Ross this winter … Some see a new maturity in Joey Gallo. But there’s still a likelihood he starts the year in the minors. While he’s still only 23, it feels like he’s taking awhile to develop. But that’s probably because he got a very early call … The Rangers lost three everyday players (Carlos Beltran, Mitch Moreland and Desmond). But as GM Jon Daniels said, “Where would we have played them all?” With Jurickson Profar and Ryan Rua due for playing time and Gallo on the doorstep, there’s limited room … Nick Martinez is said to be throwing well in Rangers camp. And Andrew Cashner has told folks his arm pain is nothing serious, but he’s been shut down a second time. The Rangers are nonetheless are thought to be looking for some rotation depth … Colby Lewis had 10 minor-league offers but he decided he’d rather spend time with his family … Adrian Beltre is only 58 hits from 3,000. Either way, he’s a Hall of Famer. He badly wanted to play for the D.R,. team in the WBC after missing out on the championship four years ago, and he once again showed his miraculous recuperative powers.
Toronto Blue Jays
Josh Donaldson (calf) is doing better … If Devon Travis can ever get and stay healthy, he’ll be a big star … Young shortstop Richard Urena is impressing folks. Realistically, he’s at least a year away.
Joe Nathan has looked “fantastic,” according to one Nats person. He’s throwing 90-92 with a nasty slider. The hope is that he can make the team, though, and no one expects him to close … They could be interested in a spare outfielder … While Orioles ownership has suggested it may not invite President Donald Trump to throw out the first ball, it is believed the Nats wouldn’t buck what’s for Washington a century-old trend (missing many years where there was no baseball). It wouldn’t be a political statement, but they are believed to look at throwing out the first ball as a presidential right. (Trump also claims to have been a pretty fair ballplayer in his day.)