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Reasons MLB Spring Training Is the Best Preseason in Sports

Spring training is two weeks away. 

With the calendar turning to February, you can feel the palpable excitement among baseball fans. Maybe you can hear their hands rubbing together with anticipation. Winter is that much closer to being over. 

Pitchers and catchers will be reporting very soon. Baseballs will be popping into leather mitts. Groups of players will be jogging together, almost like a flock of birds flying in formation. Close your eyes and you can feel the warmth of the sun, smell the scent of sunscreen in the heat. 

Do fans of other sports have such feelings about the preseason beginning? In August, do football fans daydream about roasting under summer heat, watching their favorite players run around without pads while coaches scream and blow whistles at them? 

Perhaps a few do. But I’ve never heard or read them eagerly anticipating practices or driving off to training camp locations with any sort of affection. 

That is among the many reasons why spring training is the best preseason in sports. Here are a few others.


Location, Location, Location

Spring training allows baseball fans to travel Florida or Arizona in February and March, when it’s still frigid in most parts of the country. 

While your friends and family are back home bundled up in sweaters and jeans, scraping ice off their windshields and hearing the crack of rock salt underneath their shoes wherever they walk, spring training observers are thawing underneath the sun.  

Instead of looking at yellowed grass underneath grey chunks of snow that just won’t go away, Grapefruit and Cactus League play allows fans to see lush green fields, while letting sunlight warm the arms and legs exposed by t-shirts and shorts. 

The point is that spring training offers baseball fans a vacation. It’s an escape from your daily routine, a break from the grind of work and home. These workouts and games are destinations.

In Florida, baseball teams hold their preseason camps in places like Kissimmee, Clearwater, Sarasota and Port St. Lucie. Those towns just sound warm and tropical. 

In Arizona, the spring training complexes have names like Surprise Stadium, Camelback Ranch and Salt River Fields. It sounds as if it’s possible to do so much more than watch a ballgame and drink a beer in those places. Maybe you can play golf or get a spa treatment while you’re at the game!

(OK, you can’t. But it sounds like you could.) 

With no offense and all apologies intended to the residents and municipalities of Owings Mills, Md., Allen Park, Mich., Anderson, Ind. and Renton, Wash., but do those places offer much for fans after they’re done watching NFL linebackers hit tackling sleds and wide receivers run rope ladder drills in scorching 95-degree heat with humidity? 

(I will admit that my perception of Spartanburg, S.C., where the Carolina Panthers hold their training camp, is heavily influenced by encountering the worst gas station bathroom I have ever seen in all my years on this planet earth while passing through on the way to Charleston.) 

Some NFL teams don’t even try to give their fans something different, holding their training camps in the same cities where they play. Yes, I’m talking about you, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars. 


Ballpark Crawl

Going to spring training doesn’t necessarily mean just seeing your favorite team in action. With all 30 MLB teams in either Florida or Arizona, each complex is within driving distance of another. (In some cases, that could be a full day’s drive, but it’s still a possibility.) 

Set up residence in Lakeland to see the Tigers, then drive to Tampa to watch the Yankees. Go over to the Phillies’ camp in Clearwater and you’re already on the way to Dunedin, where the Blue Jays train. Some other day, you could drive east to watch the Braves and Astros in Kissimmee.

In Arizona, you can see more than one team in the same complex.

The Rangers and Royals train at Surprise Stadium. The Dodgers and White Sox share Camelback Ranch. Check out the Padres and Mariners in Peoria. Go to Goodyear, and see the Indians and Reds work out and play. Make a stop at Salt River Fields too, where the Diamondbacks and Rockies will be.

If you’re a hockey fan, you have to go to Traverse City, Mich. to watch the Detroit Red Wings train. Driving to Toronto to see the Maple Leafs next is quite a hike. Chicago and Columbus aren’t very close by either. 

For football, no one is driving to different training camps unless you’re Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King. At least he can say he’s getting paid for it. King gets to write about the various coffee shops he’s stopped in along the way too.

That’s a pretty good gig. Watching the Eagles train in Bethlehem, Pa., then driving to see the Steelers in Latrobe isn’t as nice of a gig for fans. 


Meet the Players

I realize that fans can meet players, get autographs and pose for pictures at virtually every training camp in all of the professional team sports.

Teams might also hold fan events near their training areas, giving people an opportunity to see players, coaches and executives. You can probably meet some cheerleaders too. It’s all fun and can help develop permanent bonds with fans—especially young ones. 

But I think it’s different in baseball.

There are fewer barriers between players and fans. As a slower game, everyone is more relaxed and willing to chat during spring training. You can stand at a fence and talk to your favorite player while he’s warming up or stretching. 

If you’re a fan of The West Wing, maybe you remember a scene from the episode “The Stackhouse Filibuster,” in which one of the characters, Josh Lyman, talks about wanting to get away so he can watch the Mets in spring training:

I'm going to Port Saint Lucie, which may not mean anything to you, but happens to be the
spring training home of the...

New York Jets. Yes, you've told me. Josh, you can watch basketball on T.V.

Yes, except the New York Knicks are a basketball team, the New York Jets
are a football team, and Port Saint Lucie is the spring training home of the New York...

(exasperated) Mets! Yes. Dammit, I'm inadequate.


A weekend at spring training. Mike Piazza is going to be standing in the
batting cage.
(strikes a batting pose) He's going to turn and see me. He's going to say,

Well, I wouldn't want you to miss a legitimate 'dude' sighting.

(excited) So I can take off?


Would such a scene be written with a character eager to escape from work so he can watch an NFL or NBA training camp? No, because spring training is a destination. And Lyman knows he’ll be able to meet one of his sporting heroes while he’s there. 

That one scene sums up every reason why MLB spring training has the best preseason of all the professional team sports.


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Who Will Be This Year’s Yu Darvish at the 2013 World Baseball Classic?

Yu Darvish announced his presence to the baseball world at-large during the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

Those who follow Japanese baseball or just take a global view of the sport may have been aware of Darvish prior to the 2009 WBC. Pitching for the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2008, Darvish compiled a 16-4 record and 1.88 ERA in 24 starts (25 appearances). He struck out 208 batters in 200.2 innings.

Though Darvish struggled at the 2008 Beijing Olympics (5.14 ERA in seven innings), he carried his success from the Japan Pacific League into the 2009 WBC. Darvish went 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA, striking out 20 batters in 13 innings, helping Japan to its second consecutive WBC championship.

Over the next four years, Darvish became the highest-paid player in Japan (500 million Japanese yen or $6.4 million U.S. dollars) and became the prize of a bidding war among several MLB teams including the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays.

The Rangers, of course, won the auction and signed Darvish to a six-year, $90 million contract last year. As a 25-year-old rookie, the right-hander went 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA in 29 starts for Texas. He struck out 221 batters—the fourth-best total in the American League—in 191.1 innings. 

Could anyone participating in the 2013 WBC replicate Darvish‘s success in the tournament and parlay that into a big MLB contract? 

First, let’s consider that most of the 32 countries participating in the WBC have rosters made up of talent currently playing in the major and minor leagues. To stock their rosters, the rules allow players with particular ancestries to play for certain countries. 

For instance, Team Italy has the Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, New York Yankees’ Francisco Cervelli, Los Angeles Dodgers’ Nick Punto and Pittsburgh Pirates’ Jason Grilli on its squad. None of those players are actually from Italy.

But all of them are of Italian descent in one form or another, even if the connection has to be stretched out to a great-grandmother’s sister’s first cousin. 

That sort of profile didn’t apply to Darvish when he pitched for Team Japan in 2009.

He had never pitched in the major leagues prior to participating in the WBC tournament. To most of the fans watching that year, Darvish was a largely unknown figure almost mythological—since few had seen him pitch outside of Japan. 

After the WBC, however, Darvish was the player most baseball fans wanted to talk about. His performance significantly boosted anticipation for whether or not he would go to the United States and pitch in the major leagues.

How might Darvish do compared to a Hideo Nomo, Hiroki Kuroda or Daisuke Matsuzaka, especially if he began his MLB career at a younger age than his predecessors? 

The 2013 version of Darvish would have to be relatively young as well. Not necessarily as young as Darvish was in the 2009 WBC, when he was 22 years old. But he can’t be a 30-year-old veteran who already had his prime years pitching in the Japanese or Korean leagues.

That would rule out someone like Tadashi Settsu, for example. Settsu is a 30-year-old right-hander who made his Japanese Pacific League debut for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in 2009. He pitched his first two seasons as a reliever before becoming a starter.

Settsu had an outstanding 2012 season. In 27 starts, he finished with a 17-5 record and 1.91 ERA. But Settsu isn’t the strikeout pitcher Darvish is, averaging 7.1 K’s per nine innings last year.

The breakout star of the 2013 WBC could still be on Team Japan, however.

Though it might seem like a copout to pick another Japanese pitcher to be this year’s Darvish, Japan does have the best team—considered a contender to win the tournament yet again—not made up of several major leaguers

Perhaps the best candidate to emerge from relative obscurity and make the baseball world take notice is 24-year-old right-hander Masahiro Tanaka

Tanaka has pitched six seasons in Japan for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, compiling a 75-35 record with a 2.50 ERA. He has a career average of 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings, while issuing only two walks per nine frames. 

In 2012, Tanaka finished with a 10-4 record and 1.87 ERA, with 169 strikeouts in 173 innings. 

At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Tanaka isn’t the imposing physical presence on the mound that Darvish presents at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds. That surely plays a role in Darvish‘s ability to dominate batters and strike them out—especially at the major league level of play. 

According to Baseball-Reference, Tanaka features four pitches in his repertoire. He averages in the low-90s with a four-seam fastball, while also mixing in a hard slider, split-finger and two-seam fastball.

As impressive as that sounds, it doesn’t match the supposed—surely exaggerated—seven-pitch arsenal that Darvish could throw at opposing batters. During spring training last year, according to ESPN Dallas’ Richard Durrett, Darvish showed a four-seam and two-seam fastball, changeup, split-finger, curveball, slider and cut fastball. 

Mythology? Maybe a little bit. 

Tanaka‘s reputation might not precede him, as Darvish‘s did. But he could be the pitcher to keep an eye on during the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Maybe we’ll see him give the major leagues a try soon after that. 


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Is Ruben Amaro Jr. Optimistic or Delusional to Think 2013 Phillies Will Compete?

Have the Philadelphia Phillies made enough improvements to their roster to compete with the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves in the NL East? 

General manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. thinks so, according to comments he made to’s Phillies beat reporter Todd Zolecki

“I think we have a good enough team to contend for the division, yes,” Amaro told Zolecki. “Absolutely. It’s up to the players to prove me right, I guess.”

To be fair to Amaro, what else is he supposed to say?

Look, everyone else sees what the Nats and Braves have done. We’re thinking of forfeiting the season. Atlanta traded for Justin Upton, and we signed Delmon Young. When that deal hit the news, I hid under my desk and cried for six hours. Contend? Yeah, right! 

With those remarks, however, Amaro comes off a bit like Kevin Bacon in Animal House, trying to keep a frenzied crowd under control. “Remain calm!” he yells. “All is well!” 

But will Amaro eventually be stampeded by Phillies fans who expect much more from a team that won five straight division titles from 2007 to 2011 and contended for most of the past 12 seasons?

The Nationals compiled the best record in MLB last year at 98-64, finishing 17 games ahead of the Phillies in the NL East. During the offseason, Nats GM Mike Rizzo added Dan Haren to the team’s starting rotation, traded for center fielder Denard Span and signed free-agent closer Rafael Soriano. 

As mentioned above, the Braves acquired Justin Upton, a player one season removed from an MVP-caliber season of 31 home runs, 88 RBI, 39 doubles and 21 stolen bases. Prior to that, Atlanta signed B.J. Upton to be their center fielder and added Jordan Walden to an already outstanding bullpen. 

Meanwhile, the Phillies also got a center fielder, trading for Ben Revere. That fulfilled Amaro‘s primary offseason objective. Michael Young was acquired to fill the hole at third base. Philadelphia also signed Delmon Young to provide a right-handed power bat in the outfield. 

On the pitching side, Amaro signed one of MLB’s best setup relievers in Mike Adams. John Lannan was added to the back end of the starting rotation. Reliever Chad Durbin and Yuniesky Betancourt were also signed for roster depth. 

Yet, those additions aren’t joining a squad full of replacement-level players.

The Phillies still have the best trio of starting pitchers atop their rotation with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.

Philadelphia should also have Chase Utley and Ryan Howard back at full health after both players missed significant time with injuries last season. And after he returns from a 25-game suspension, Carlos Ruiz gives the Phillies one of the best catchers in MLB. 

However, are the Phillies better than the team that finished 81-81 last season?

Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino are gone. Vance Worley is no longer in the starting rotation. Though Ruiz’s suspension accounts for only 15 percent of the season, that could limit him to approximately 100 games in 2013. 

It should be noted that after looking like a potential last-place team early in the season, the Phillies played far better in the second half. The team played itself into the NL wild-card playoff race by going 44-31.

But nearly all of the additions Amaro made to the Phillies roster have rather significant question marks going into the upcoming season. 

Revere will be a stolen-base threat at the top of the batting order. But his OPS was only .675 last season. His .333 on-base percentage would have ranked fifth among the Phillies’ regular starters. He also mostly batted in the No. 2 spot for the Minnesota Twins last year. 

Michael Young is coming off the worst season of his career at age 36. He batted .277 with a .682 OPS, nine home runs and 67 RBI.

Young was also mostly a designated hitter last year, playing just 25 games at third base. When he was in the field, he allowed five runs more than the average third baseman, according to FanGraphs‘ ultimate zone rating (UZR).

Delmon Young hit .267 with a .707 OPS, 18 home runs and 74 RBI last season. He was more impressive during the playoffs, batting .313 with a .907 OPS, three homers and nine RBI. The Phillies wanted a right-handed bat and Young hits left-handed pitching well, compiling a .308 average, .833 OPS, seven homers and 26 RBI versus southpaws last year.

The big concern with Young, however, is that the Phillies apparently intend to make him their starting right fielder. He hasn’t played that position since 2007 with the Tampa Bay Rays. But since then, he’s been a left fielder and designated hitter. 

FanGraphsUZR measured Young as a good defensive right fielder, saving eight runs more than an average player during the two seasons he played the position. But we’re only talking about 133 games to judge. Young will also be recovering from microfracture surgery on his ankle, which could prevent him from opening the season on the Phillies’ active roster. 

Comparing the Phillies to the Nationals and Braves—especially taking each team’s offseason moves into consideration—doesn’t look very favorable. For Amaro to say he expects his team to compete with two clubs that could be the best in the NL seems optimistic at best. 

However, Philadelphia could influence who does eventually win the NL East or a wild-card playoff spot. The Phillies won’t be a pushover for the Nats or Braves in the division.

But for Amaro to think his team can ultimately be anything more than a spoiler by the end of the upcoming season might be borderline delusional. This just doesn’t look like their year. 


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Alex Rodriguez is the Poster Child in MLB for Why Drug Testing Will Never Work

If Alex Rodriguez ends up missing all of the 2013 season following hip surgery, it might end up being a fortunate development for him. That is, in terms of avoiding the media. 

Otherwise, the New York Yankees third baseman will likely be answering frequent questions about a report in the Miami New Times linking him to an “anti-aging” clinic run by Anthony Bosch. 

According to the story, Rodriguez was one of several athletes supplied with human growth hormone (HGH), testosterone and other performance-enhancing substances by Biogenesis, Bosch’s clinic located near the University of Miami. His name or nickname (given as “Cacique”) was listed repeatedly in Bosch’s notes going back to 2009. 

What’s interesting about mentions of Rodriguez as far back as 2009 is that it coincides with when he admitted his steroid use to ESPN’s Peter Gammons. During that interview, Rodriguez confessed to using steroids from 2001 to 2003, but claimed not to have used any PEDs since joining the Yankees in 2004. 

Perhaps not coincidentally, 2004 is when MLB first instituted its mandatory testing policy for steroids

While this evidence seems compelling and Rodriguez has very little to no benefit of the doubt, what it amounts to is his name—and nickname—along with drug regimens and payment for services rendered scrawled in some notebooks. Rodriguez’s cousin, Yuri Sucart, is also named on a client list.

Judging from the New Times report, there are no phone numbers or addresses, no credit card or bank information that serve as the smoking gun confirming that Rodriguez did indeed do business with Bosch and Biogenesis or that he took the substances listed in the notebooks. 

Thus, Rodriguez is still innocent until proven guilty—regardless of whether or not this report convicts him in the court of public opinion. 

As you might expect, Rodriguez has denied the accusations in the New Times report and claims to have never done any business with Bosch. The New York Post‘s Joel Sherman quoted Rodriguez’s statement on Twitter.

Having said that, if these allegations are true, Alex Rodriguez becomes the poster child for why MLB’s drug-testing policy is never going to be effective as the commissioner’s office imagines it will be.

As I wrote in a previous article, athletes and the people who provide them with PEDs are always going to be a step ahead of the tests that are created to detect HGH, synthetic testosterone or whatever turns out to be the next trendy substance used to boost performance. 

Rodriguez’s timeline—going by the notes mentioned in the New Times report—is an example of how the testing procedures could be avoided. By the time MLB began testing for steroids, he and other players apparently moved on to other PEDs that couldn’t be detected. 

That appears to have continued in 2009 when Rodriguez was allegedly getting substances like IGF-1, commonly found in deer-antler sprays, that are banned by the NFL and MLB yet are undetectable in urine testing. 

Now that MLB has added random blood tests meant to detect HGH to its drug-testing program, perhaps some players will be caught using such substances. Steroid testing seems to have phased widespread use out of the sport, so maybe these new tests will have a similar effect.

But as the New Times story demonstrates, PED use has hardly been cleaned out of baseball. Players are always going to be looking for an edge to get them through the grind of a 162-game season played within 180 days. 

Companies such as Biogenesis—and BALCO back in the early to mid-2000s—are always going to claim that they have something new that yields better results and can beat any drug test. 

Interestingly, a look at Rodriguez’s career numbers indicate a decline in his performance beginning in 2009. Perhaps that’s what could have compelled him to consult Bosch and his clinic.

But 2009 was something of a career renaissance for him with the Yankees, when he helped lead the team to a World Series championship. That season, Rodriguez batted .286 with a .933 OPS, 30 home runs and 100 RBI.

In the postseason, he had a .365 batting average and 1.308 OPS, along with five doubles, six home runs and 18 RBI. That was the “Mr. October” type of performance the Yankees and their fans had been waiting for from their highly-paid superstar. 

Rodriguez had another strong season in 2010, hitting .270 with an .847 OPS, 30 home runs and 125 RBI. But his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all dropped noticeably. 

Over the past two seasons, the Yankees third baseman has suffered a notable decline due in large part to knee and hip injuries.

Rodriguez was an embarrassment in last year’s playoffs, getting replaced by pinch-hitters and benched by manager Joe Girardi because of his poor performance. The hip injury that required surgery was surely the cause of that decrease in production.

But is this happening because Rodriguez’s alleged PED use is catching up with him? Is his body simply breaking down because it’s being pushed beyond its capabilities at this point? 

As ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand points out, if the allegations in the New Times prove to be true, Rodriguez could draw a suspension—even if he didn’t fail a test under MLB’s drug policy. The Yankees could also try to void the remainder of his contract—five years and $114 million—if he violated the terms of the deal. 

That would be a heavy penalty for Rodriguez to pay. Not only could this cost him financially, but it would destroy what credibility he may have left in the view of MLB, its fans and those who cover the game. Perhaps he’s already disgraced beyond redemption.

Yet Rodriguez has already made hundreds of millions of dollars in his major league career. He has been a star for baseball’s most famous team and on the sport’s biggest stage. Augmenting his performance with PEDs has unquestionably paid off for him, even if it destroys his legacy.

How many players will look at Rodriguez’s example and accept those consequences if it means a gigantic payday and lifelong financial security? 


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The Chicago Cubs’ 5 Most Expendable Players Heading into 2013

Chicago Cubs team president Theo Epstein may say that the 2013 season will be considered a failure if the team doesn’t qualify for the playoffs.

“Postseason or bust” is the sort of ambition every fanbase wants to hear from its favorite team’s front office. As Epstein himself said to reporters, including the Chicago Tribune‘s Paul Sullivan, there’s no reason to bother building a team without setting that kind of goal. Every team aims to play in the postseason.

But realistically, the Cubs aren’t going to be one of the National League’s five playoff teams this season. The team might avoid 100 losses but will likely finish last in the NL Central now that the Houston Astros have moved to the American League. 

That means Epstein will probably try to deal some players away in exchange for prospects the Cubs can continue to build with.

Alfonso Soriano is someone Epstein would surely love to trade, but another team isn’t likely to take on the $36 million he’s owed over the next two years. But it’s more likely that the Cubs will trade off lesser players on the roster.

Here are five players that will probably be deemed expendable by Epstein and the Cubs as the 2013 season progresses. 

Begin Slideshow

Did Bud Selig Punish the Marlins for Offseason Fire Sale in 2015 ASG Decision?

The Miami Marlins and owner Jeffrey Loria ticked off a lot of people by gutting their roster and trading five of their best players to the Toronto Blue Jays in one of the blockbuster deals of the offseason.

The Marlins sent shortstop Jose Reyes, starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, catcher John Buck and utilityman Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto, pulling the plug on a team that was expected to contend in the NL East and bringing an abrupt end to what was supposed to be a new era of baseball in South Beach. 

Fans, commentators and fellow baseball executives were outraged at Miami for selling off talent to save money again—especially after their new ballpark was funded largely with taxpayer money. This wasn’t supposed to be how the Marlins did business anymore. No more fire sales.

The outrage and uproar over the Marlins reverting to another salary dump was loud enough that MLB commissioner Bud Selig felt compelled to review the trade and the various factors that contributed to it.  

Perhaps that was just a public relations gesture to placate furious Marlins fans (and baseball fans, in general). But there may also have been some genuine displeasure at the way Loria runs his team or at least general irritation at the Marlins embarrassing MLB. 

If it’s the latter, Selig may be enacting some indirect punishment on the Marlins by depriving them of a very big prize that any MLB team would covet.

As reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s John Fay, the Cincinnati Reds and Great American Ball Park will be awarded the 2015 MLB All-Star Game. The formal announcement is expected to be made on Wednesday (Jan. 23). 

However, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald explains that the Marlins stated their intention to apply for the showcase event last March, shortly before the new Marlins Park opened to begin the 2012 season. 

With Citi Field getting the 2013 All-Star Game and Target Field being awarded the 2014 Midsummer Classic, it seemed like a natural progression to go with another of MLB’s newest ballparks for the 2015 event. 

To be fair, the Reds also have a relatively new ballpark. Great American Ball Park opened in 2003. But Cincinnati hosted the All-Star Game in 1988. Yes, that was 25 years ago, but the Marlins have never hosted the event. 

(Spencer reports that Miami was supposed to get the 2000 All-Star Game, but there was doubt over the long-term future of the franchise after the fire sale of the 1997 World Series championship team.) 

Holding the All-Star Game amidst the glitz, glamour and star power of South Beach is exactly the sort of setting MLB should seek—especially when the popularity of the sport is on shaky ground with a community that feels spurned. 

Perhaps MLB didn’t want to risk holding its showcase event in an area holding a grudge against its local team.

Even if it’s two years from now, holding the All-Star Game in Miami could bring attention to how the Marlins have conducted their business in recent years. Why rip off a scab and focus a spotlight on an embarrassing situation MLB would prefer to ignore? 

But this certainly has the appearance of a statement from Selig and MLB. Building a new ballpark is usually awarded with an All-Star Game. But if a team’s ownership brings shame to the sport, it’s not going to be allowed to profit from an event that’s supposed to be a celebration. 

Ultimately, Selig approved the Marlins trade with the Blue Jays because he didn’t really have any choice. As unseemly as shipping all of their expensive players to Toronto may have been, Miami was hardly the only team to have ever traded high-priced talent for prospects. 

From a baseball standpoint, the Marlins arguably made a good trade. Miami received two of the Blue Jays’ top 10 prospects, as rated by Baseball America, in outfielder Jake Marisnick and pitcher Justin Nicolino. Infielder Adeiny Hechavarria and pitcher Henderson Alvarez were also highly regarded young players. 

Though the trade took the Marlins out of contention for the near-future, Loria and team president David Samson could argue that they were making the best moves for their baseball team. Ownership and the front office just had no benefit of the doubt with fans, reporters and analysts because of their previous salary-dump transactions. 

But if Selig were to veto the Marlins-Blue Jays trade, who’s to say that he shouldn’t have also overturned the deal between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers? Boston unloaded $260 million from its payroll to a team whose payroll appeared to be unlimited under new ownership.

How could the Red Sox be allowed to overhaul their roster and payroll while the Marlins doing something similar was prohibited?

Yet Selig may have found a different way to penalize the Marlins. Depriving Miami of the 2015 All-Star Game doesn’t compromise the competitive integrity of baseball, nor does it dictate how owners should run their respective franchises. 

This decision does, however, stick it to Loria. If there’s any MLB owner who deserves some sort of reprimand, it’s him.

Selig apparently found a way to put Loria in a corner. Maybe when the Marlins owner gives Miami the team it deserves—the team the city was promised—he can yield the benefits of his new ballpark. 


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How Signing Delmon Young Impacts the Philadelphia Phillies’ Roster

Getting a right-handed bat for the outfield was one of the offseason priorities for the Philadelphia Phillies.

General manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. finally got his man by signing Delmon Young to a one-year, $750,000 contract on Tuesday (Jan. 22), as announced by the team and reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Matt Gelb.

Last year for the Detroit Tigers, Young hit .267 with a .707 OPS, 18 home runs and 74 RBI in 608 plate appearances. He was especially impressive in the postseason, however. As the Tigers made a run to the World Series, Young batted .313 with a .907 OPS, three homers and nine RBI. 

The initial guess is that Young will be a platoon outfielder with the Phillies. That role should suit him well since he hit .308 with an .833 OPS, seven homers and 26 RBI versus left-handed pitching last season. For his career, Young has a .307 average and .824 OPS against lefties. 

However, with the right-handed Darin Ruf originally slated to play left field, platooning Young there makes no sense. As’s Todd Zolecki tweeted, that could mean Ruf will begin the season in Triple-A Lehigh Valley. 

Ruf actually jumped from Double-A Reading to the majors last season as a September call-up for the Phillies. He finished his minor league season with a .317 average, a 1.028 OPS, 38 home runs and 104 RBI.

In 12 games with Philadelphia, Ruf batted .333 with a 1.079 OPS, three home runs and 10 RBI. CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury reported in late December that the Phillies wanted to give him a shot in left field and preferred to get a right fielder through free agency or trade.

Did the team change its mind, preferring to get Ruf more time in left field at Triple-A? He’s played most of his career in the minors at first base. 

But if the Phillies want to give Ruf a shot in left field, that means signing Young puts Domonic Brown’s spot on the active major league roster in jeopardy. 

Brown looked like the favorite to be Philadelphia’s starting right fielder, if for no other reason than the team didn’t have another true right fielder on the roster. He has played most of his career at that position.

FanGraphs‘ Ultimate Zone Rating measures Brown as a below-average defender. Over his career, he’s allowed 14 more runs than the average right fielder. But that might still be preferable to going with someone who hasn’t played much right field at all. 

The Phillies likely question whether Brown will hit well enough to justify a starting position. Last year, he batted .235 with a .712 OPS, five home runs and 26 RBI in 212 plate appearances with Philadelphia. Against lefties, he hit .196 with a .621 OPS, which pretty much demands a right-handed hitting-platoon partner.

However, according to the Philadelphia Daily News‘ Ryan Lawrence, Amaro and the Phillies may have already decided where Young will play before the team even reports to spring training in Clearwater, Fla. 



Well, then.

Young hasn’t played right field since 2007, since he was with the Tampa Bay Rays. He did play 133 games at the position that season, but only played left field or designated hitter while with the Minnesota Twins and Tigers. 

FanGraphsUZR says Young was actually a good defensive right fielder, saving eight runs more than the average defender at that position in the two seasons he played there. But 133 games isn’t really a representative sample size of a player’s ability in the field. 

Additionally, Young will also be working his way back from microfracture surgery performed on his ankle in mid-November. (Nov. 10, to be exact.)

According to a tweet by Gelb, the projected recovery for Young could be up to 16 weeks. That will likely keep him out for all of spring training and could put him on the disabled list when the Phillies open the season. That’s not ideal for a guy who’s moving to a new position. 

Under those circumstances, Brown should presumably still have a chance to win a job in spring training, whether it’s in right field or left. At the very least, he could earn a platoon. As a left-handed hitter, that would give him the majority of plate appearances at his position. 

Though Amaro surely didn’t sign Young to sit on the bench, his salary won’t be so high that he has to be in the lineup. As mentioned, he only signed for $750,000—nearly one-tenth of the $6.75 million he earned last year with Detroit. 

According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, roster and performance bonuses in the contract could raise its value up to $3.25 million.

But if Ruf and Brown are playing well enough to warrant starting spots in the outfield, Young isn’t going to see enough playing time to trigger the incentive clauses in his deal. The financial risk is low for the Phillies. 

Young signing for such a low salary might indicate how poorly he was regarded as a hitter—as well as being a poor defensive player who didn’t appear to play in ideal physical condition. 

But signing in late January for under $1 million could also show that Young became a relatively toxic player around MLB after his arrest for hate-crime harassment in New York last April. The incident resulted in a seven-game suspension by MLB.

Young also had to eventually perform community service. As Young shared with the Philadelphia media, according to Lawrence, that included picking up dog poop in New York dog parks (h/t 

Amaro has been criticized for being too patient—or put more harshly, dragging his feet—this offseason, watching B.J. Upton sign with the Atlanta Braves and Nick Swisher go to the Cleveland Indians. Some believed the Phillies would make a run at Josh Hamilton or trade for Justin Upton as well. 

But staying under 2013’s $178 million luxury tax threshold was a concern for Amaro dating back to last season. Taking that into consideration, waiting for prices to come down and signing a risky player like Young makes sense.

The question now is whether Young will make Amaro look smart or foolish. 


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MLB’s Best Penny-for-Penny Values Still Available on the Winter Markets

Spring training is three weeks away, yet there are still several players who could help MLB clubs available on the free-agent market.

Perhaps teams want to go through drills and a couple of weeks of exhibition games to see what they have on their rosters before bringing outside help in. Maybe a few of these players are still holding out hope for a starting position that doesn’t currently exist.

Obviously, the numerous players still waiting to be signed aren’t perfect. They’re certainly not stars. But even those who are coming off injury or just can’t contribute on a full-time basis anymore can still help out most major league teams. Better yet, these guys won’t cost very much. 

Here are eight players who have played well during the past couple of seasons that should find employment within the next three weeks or shortly after spring training camps open. 

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Big MLB Names Who Still Won’t Have a Home When Spring Training Begins

With approximately four weeks remaining until MLB teams report to spring training, there are a surprising number of familiar names still available on the free-agent market. 

Some of these players have had impressive seasons in the majors, both in the regular season and postseason, and could surely make a meaningful contribution to any club that signed them to a contract.

However, with many MLB clubs looking to save money where they can or determine whether younger players can make an impact, veteran players who have had previous success are still looking for employment and could still be waiting once spring training begins.

Obviously, outfielder Michael Bourn and starting pitcher Kyle Lohse are big-name free agents still looking to sign with a team. But players of their caliber will likely get a contract from someone before spring training begins—especially since their asking prices will surely come down. 

But who are some recognizable names that could still be working out on their own and frequently checking in with their agents once camps open in Florida and Arizona? Here are some players that might be waiting well into March before finding employment. 

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How Corey Hart’s Knee Injury Impacts the Milwaukee Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers salvaged what was a disappointing 2012 season by playing themselves into the NL wild-card race by the end of the season. 

The Brew Crew went 18-10 in September. That surge pushed Milwaukee to within 1.5 games of the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL’s second wild-card spot, as of Sept. 21. 

However, that’s as close as the Brewers got before falling back and eventually finishing five games behind in the wild-card race and 14 games out of first place in the NL Central.

Part of the Brewers’ late-season success can be attributed to Corey Hart‘s second-half performance.

After the All-Star break, Milwaukee’s first baseman hit .292 with an .875 OPS, 14 home runs and 45 RBI. Along with Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez, the Brewers had a formidable offensive trio in the middle of their batting order. 

Unfortunately, Milwaukee learned on Friday (Jan. 18) that it will be without Hart for at least the first six weeks of the 2013 season. As reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Tom Haudricourt, Hart will undergo surgery on his right knee to repair what was described as “a defect in the joint surface.”

Hart required surgery on the same knee a year ago to repair cartilage damage, but was able to recover soon enough to play 149 games last season. 

Overall, he hit .270 with an .841 OPS, 35 doubles, 30 home runs and 83 RBI. His home run total was second on the Brewers’ roster to Braun, who led the NL with 47 homers. 

Hart experienced swelling in the right knee during his offseason workouts. An MRI exam revealed what Brewers team doctors compared to “a pothole in a road that must be filled in.”

Further description of the work that has to be done on Hart’s knee includes debriding the joint surface (removing dead, damaged or infected tissue) “to make it bleed and heal in,” along with repairing a small meniscal tear that was also discovered. 

That sounds like a pretty significant repair to his knee. While Hart considers himself a fast healer—and showed himself to be one last year—this procedure might take longer to recover from. He won’t be able to put weight on the knee for six weeks. Hart will need three to four months to recover from the surgery and is expected to be out until at least May. 

While that means the Brewers could still have Hart contributing to their lineup for four months, not having a player for one to two months is a rather significant loss.

Some might argue that missing games in April—and possibly May—is better than missing them in August and September, but losing games that the Brewers could have won with Hart in the lineup could affect their place in the standings, regardless of when they’re played. 

How will the Brewers fill first base until Hart returns? The first option will likely be Mat Gamel, who was slated to replace Prince Fielder at the position last year. Gamel played in only 21 games, however, before tearing the ACL in his right knee and missing the rest of the 2012 season. 

Gamel‘s injury forced the Brewers to move Hart from right field to first base. 

While Gamel hasn’t had sustained success in the majors yet, he’s been productive in the minor leagues. His career average in the minors is .304 with a .376 on-base percentage and .873 OPS. He’s also slugged 105 home runs with 503 RBI in seven seasons. 

Gamel, 27, would also provide a left-handed bat to a lineup that’s almost exclusively right-handed, except for right fielder Norichika Aoki.

Of course, until Gamel proves he can be productive, the Brewers are a better team with Hart in the lineup, regardless of which side of the plate he hits from. 

Another option the Brewers could explore—though perhaps not so early in the season—is first-base prospect Hunter Morris. Morris is Milwaukee’s No. 4 prospect, as ranked by Baseball America.  Last year with Double-A Huntsville, he hit .303 with a .920 OPS, 40 doubles, 28 home runs and 113 RBI in 571 plate appearances. 

However, the consensus on Morris as explained by experts—such as Minor League Ball’s John Sickelsis that Morris still needs to work on his batting skills and cut down on his strikeouts. He would very likely benefit from a full season in Triple-A. 

With those two players, the Brewers will likely be able to get by at first base without Hart for a couple of months. The team needs to find out whether Gamel can be a major league hitter anyway. 

But Hart’s injury could hurt the Brewers in another fashion—if the team isn’t able to contend this season. Hart is in the final year of his contract and could be an appealing trade candidate for any team looking for power from first base or a corner outfield spot.

That is, if those teams aren’t concerned about a player who’s suffered two serious knee injuries in two years. 


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