ORLANDO, Fla. — No more counter-proposals. No bickering over CBT.
From Clearwater, Florida to Goodyear, Arizona, it’s time for curve balls, Cracker Jack and the perpetually inspiring leaderboard clean slate that comes at the start of every season.
It’s time to play ball – or at least practice. After a longer and darker winter than normal, that’s reason enough to celebrate.
Shohei Ohtani, Aaron Judge and the rest of baseball’s biggest stars are expected at spring training on Sunday for the first official day of preseason practice after Major League Baseball’s 99-day labor lockdown ends. .
Pitchers and catchers were supposed to report a month ago, but camps in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues remained closed as players and owners wrangled over the economics of the sport.
A deal was reached Thursday, and now pitchers and batters are gearing up for four weeks of crazy preparations ahead of a 162-game season that begins April 7.
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Jacob deGrom’s fastball into the bullpen, Fernando Tatis Jr. aiming for BP and Yadier Molina framing a final pitching staff — just the sights and sounds needed for a sport stuck in neutral since December.
“The fans have been through a lot lately,” Texas Rangers president Jon Daniels said.
Here’s what to look out for when everyone shows up:
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THE NEW GUYS
Rangers fans are well rewarded for their patience with the lockdown – the spring debut of big-money free agents Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, signed for a combined $500 million before rosters freeze on Dec. 2.
It can be hard to remember all that happened back then, when clubs lost a one-day high of $1.4 billion on free agents before it all died down.
Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray left Toronto for Seattle, and the Blue Jays replaced him with former giant Kevin Gausman. The Tigers replaced shortstop Javier Báez and starter Eduardo Rodriguez. Even the Marlins tried to make a splash, dropping $53 million to Avisaíl García.
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A few other players have also signed since the rosters were released on Thursday. Clayton Kershaw is back with the Dodgers, while the rival Giants have locked up left-hander Carlos Rodón to replace Gausman.
Another new face in western Newfoundland and Labrador: San Diego Padres manager Bob Melvin, who left the rebuilding A’s after 11 years in Oakland.
Melvin’s former job went to Mark Kotsay, who got his first chance to manage after a 17-year playing career. The Cardinals are also under new management, promoting 35-year-old Oliver Marmol after Mike Shildt was surprisingly fired as a finalist for NL Manager of the Year.
Of course, no team has changed more than the Mets. Max Scherzer has entered as part of owner Steve Cohen’s $254.5 million spending spree, while new general manager Billy Eppler has hired veteran skipper Buck Showalter to replace Luis Rojas.
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WHO IS MISSING ?
Baseball’s offseason hiatus has left several stars in free agency limbo.
The contest is back for Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, Kris Bryant and well over 100 other free agents. Trade market numbers are also warming.
The Yankees should be the focus of much of this action, eyeing Correa or Trevor Story with a clear hole at shortstop. And just like they did with Brian McCann eight years ago, they could kick Freeman out of Atlanta, spoiling hopes that the fan favorite is a longtime Brave.
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ABOUT THE SCHEDULE
Spring exhibitions begin March 17 – Red Sox-Twins and Diamondbacks-Rockies start the schedule. With so little time until Opening Day, the big leaguers believe there will be more action in these games than fans might be used to in the early days of spring training.
Rafael Devers, JT Realmuto and many other players have been staying sharp at high schools and colleges across the country, and most starting pitchers are expected to arrive Sunday ready to pitch a few innings at a time.
Of course, injuries remain a concern. The boost of a coronavirus-shortened 2020 season making way for a full roster in 2021 has spurred widespread use of the injured list. Another disruption to player routines was less than ideal. This is especially true for injured players who have been forced to rehabilitate this offseason amid rules prohibiting communication with team officials — a regulation MLB deemed necessary for legal protection amid the lockdown.
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The designated hitter was added permanently to the National League as part of baseball’s new labor contract. More rule changes — like banning lag, taller chainstays and a pitch clock — likely won’t be on the books until at least 2023. The Cleveland Guardians are making an appearance in new gear and uniforms after unveiling their new name in December. Sunday marks the beginning of the end for Molina, who plans to retire after the 2022 season, his 19th with the Cardinals.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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