All the time-honored signs of an impending baseball season are upon us – the hint of warmth in the air, Valentine’s Day around the corner, a freshly blooming steroids scandal.
Yes, spring training is nearly here, and you have to feel for those poor teams with budget-conscious owners who sat on their wallets all winter. But enough about the New York Yankees.
Stepping nimbly into the Yankees’ role as MLB’s wildly spending behemoths were the Los Angeles Dodgers, masterminded by that sage baseball savant, Magic Johnson, who continued to demonstrate that for his ownership group, money is no object.
The Dodgers made it their mission to steal away free agent Zack Greinke from the crosstown Angels by bestowing upon him a $147 million contract (or as Felix Hernandez calls it, “chump change”). That’s on top of the huge contracts of Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez they picked up last summer. With a payroll upwards of $200 million, rest assured Dodgers manager Don Mattingly will be afforded every bit as much patience as was given to the coach of Johnson’s former team, Mike Brown.
We haven’t even had the ceremonial first visa problem of spring, and already the proverbial hot seat is getting warmed up. You can add Mattingly’s SoCal counterpart, Mike Scioscia, to that list. After spending $331 million in one day the previous season to land free agents Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, the Angels did another cannonball into the free-agent pool, yanking Josh Hamilton away from the Mariners with a five-year, $125 million deal.
Angels owner Arte Moreno wants a little more bang for his buck than he got last year, when his team watched the A’s, with a measly $55 million payroll, win the A.L. West despite predictions of doom and gloom. It was such an audacious triumph of team-building by Oakland general manager Billy Beane, they ought to make a movie about it.
The Angels finished four games out of a playoff spot and had to be content with watching the emergence of the most exciting 20-year-old in anyone’s memory, the prodigiously talented Mike Trout. And Trout had to be content with being named the unanimous Rookie of the Year while Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera broke the hearts of sabermetricians everywhere by taking home the Most Valuable Player award.
Trout’s attempt to avoid a sophomore slump – which for him will take place if he doesn’t remain the most complete player in the game – will be a major story line to watch this season. So will the second season of his young partner in prime time, Washington’s Bryce Harper.
And MLB will have to figure out what to do, if anything, with the players mentioned in the records of the South Florida anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis.
The Houston Astros are starting a new life in the American League, joining the Mariners in the Western Division to serve the important function of keeping Seattle out of a fourth straight last-place finish.
It all starts Tuesday when pitchers and catchers report, the always-exciting spectacle of players dropping off their duffel bag.
It will also be the Mariners’ first camp since 2000 without Ichiro on their roster. He’s a Yankee now. Fortunately, he’s used to making do with less.