Reigning NL MVP and former Lee County star Buster Posey, center, reports to spring training today along with the rest of the pitchers and catchers for the World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Posey returns after hitting an NL-best .336 last season with 24 HRs and 103 RBI.
Pitchers and catchers report in Arizona and Florida to kick off MLB spring training
The calendar may still read February, but for restless baseball fans spring has arrived with pitchers and catchers reporting to diamonds in Arizona and Florida to begin spring training.
The slap of the hardball into leather mitts was heard in Florida when the American League pennant winning Detroit Tigers joined nine other teams — including the Braves — who opened Monday, while the World Series champion San Francisco Giants highlight another 15 clubs getting down to business today.
“I’m really excited about the team,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “I’m more excited than I’ve ever been about a team going to spring training.”
By Wednesday, players on all 30 MLB teams will be loosening up their arms and strengthening their legs to prepare for a 162-game, six-month season that kicks off March 31.
With an MLB probe into possible doping infractions pegged to an anti-aging clinic in Florida hanging over the sport, lovers of the game could not be blamed for looking forward to focusing on the action between the lines.
The wait will not be long as spring training games start Feb. 22 in both the Cactus (Arizona) and Grapefruit (Florida) leagues, a week earlier than usual to accommodate the March 2-19 World Baseball Classic in which Japan will aim for a third successive triumph.
The opening game of MLB’s regular season will feature an intra-state rivalry as the Texas Rangers head to Houston to play the Astros on March 31 in their first game as a fellow member of the American League West division.
The Cincinnati Reds, last year’s winners of the NL Central, will host the Los Angeles Angels on April 1, becoming the first teams to start their seasons with an interleague match-up.
The Angels, who added Albert Pujols to their lineup last season, imported another top slugger in former Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton in their drive to win the AL West.
RADICAL REVISION: The Toronto Blue Jays engineered the most radical revision thanks to the budget-minded Miami Marlins, who traded them pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, and dynamic shortstop Jose Reyes in a package for young prospects.
Toronto, who finished 22 games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East, are now rated as favorites after also adding NL Cy Young winning knuckleballer R.A. Dickey from the Mets, and Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera, who was leading the NL in batting average before a 50-game doping ban last August.
“We’ve certainly added a lot of talent, we’ve spent a lot of money,” said Toronto General Manager Alex Anthopoulos. “We haven’t done anything yet. We like our chances, we like the talent, but there is still a lot of work to do.”
In the National League, the Atlanta Braves beefed up their attack by acquiring brothers B.J. Upton (formerly of the Rays) and Justin Upton (of the Diamondbacks) via free agency in hopes of improving on the wildcard berth they claimed last season.
SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants have been down this road before, trying to repeat a World Series championship.
They won it all in 2010 and had high hopes for 2011, but Buster Posey’s home-plate collision in late May ended his season and, for all practical purposes, the Giants’ hopes of returning to the playoffs.
Now they’re coming off another title and looking similar.
Like last time, general manager Brian Sabean brought virtually the entire team back, re-signing free agents Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Jeremy Affeldt for a combined $78 million and retaining arbitration-eligible Hunter Pence, who’ll make $13.8 million.
So the lineup is intact, featuring Posey, the reigning National League MVP and former Lee County star, and Pablo Sandoval, the World Series MVP.
The rotation is the same with Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner coming off solid seasons, and Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito doing their best work in the postseason.
And the back end of the bullpen is back: Sergio Romo, Affeldt, Javier Lopez and Santiago Casilla.
The only missing players from the playoff roster are Ryan Theriot, Xavier Nady, Aubrey Huff and Guillermo Mota, none of whom were core players.
So the primary pieces remain in place. Now it’s a question of whether they can duplicate their success.
Players to watch in spring training include Lincecum (A spectacular postseason out of the bullpen salvaged his year), Zito (Is he finally living up to that contract?), Romo (How will he handle the pressure of entering a season as a closer for the first time?), Vogelsong (Will pitching in the World Baseball Classic affect his preparation?), Pence (He says he’s going to be quicker on the field and more selective at the plate), Sandoval (His weight is always a hot topic) and Scutaro (Will the momentum carry over for the prince of the postseason?).
The Giants were hoping to add a right-handed outfielder with pop but didn’t, so Gregor Blanco is the left fielder for now, though Andres Torres — who re-signed after a year with the Mets — will compete for playing time.
No NL team has won back-to-back World Series since the 1975-76 Reds, so manager Bruce Bochy is battling history, not to mention an upgraded (and very expensive) Dodgers team. Two years ago, the Giants failed to reach the playoffs in the wake of their World Series title, and now they’re making another run.
This time, they’re banking on Posey staying healthy.
BOBBLEHEAD DAY FOR POSEY: Posey will be the first Giant honored in 2013 with a bobblehead day on April 6 when San Francisco hosts the St. Louis Cardinals.
Zito gets a bobblehead day on May 26, and Vogelsong on June 22. Unlike last year, when the Giants gave out limited bobbleheads (20,000), they plan to give out 40,000 on each of the three days, keeping more fans happy and limiting the long lines seen hours before bobblehead days in the past.