We’ve officially reached the point of spring training where there’s more news being made off the field than on it. From transactions to playing time to injury, Thursday covered every base of the big news diamond.
Twisting in the wind since the Angels’ stealth acquisition of Albert Pujols, Bobby Abreu learned there’s a 50-50 chance he'll be dealt to the Indians, who have been scouring high-and-low for help in the outfield. Although Abreu would be of use to a team currently set to go with Aaron Cunningham and Shelley Duncan in left field, it wouldn’t be with his defense, where he hasn’t been an asset since George W. Bush’s first term.
The move may not even be a boon for the Tribe at the dish. Abreu has been in methodical decline as a hitter, seeing his OPS drop precipitously each of the past three years, falling all the way to .717 (across 585 plate appearances) in 2011. That’s better than what Cunningham mustered in 101 plate appearances for the Padres (.624), but nowhere near the pop Duncan provided in 247 trips to the plate (.808).
Of course, Duncan’s numbers came as a part-time player (a righty, he was oddly much more effective against right-handers than southpaws), but it’s arguable that’s what Abreu should be after hitting .238/.319/.279 in 167 plate appearances against lefties last season. Throw in that Abreu turned 38 on March 11 and is hitting .087/.160/.130 this spring (200th out of 200 qualifying players), and you have a move that would be anything but a slam dunk.
Let’s Make (It Hard to Make) a Deal
That appears to be the mindset of Miguel Montero and Matt Cain, both of whom made it clear Thursday they will be operating on their own negotiating terms during their walk seasons.
Montero’s are far more, shall we say, “optimistic” than Cain’s. The soon-to-be 29-year-old backstop — who’s appeared in more than 85 games just twice in five major-league campaigns — is reportedly seeking “Victor Martinez money,” or roughly $50 million over four seasons.
Holding out for such a big deal would be shrewd if Montero could replicate his .282/.351/.469 line from 2011, but not if he accomplishes it playing only 85 games. Seeing as there is almost no chance the cost-conscious Diamondbacks would meet such an asking price, it’s possible the first casualty of Yadier Molina’s eye-popping extension won’t be a team that capitulates into overpaying, but a player emboldened to overplay his hand.
Cain, on the other hand, is simply doing what any durable 27-year-old with a career 3.35 ERA and 7.4 K/9 should do: playing hardball.
San Francisco’s Bobby Hill lookalike has let it be known he’ll cease talking contract on Opening Day, and recently refused to answer “yes” when asked if "all things being equal” he’d like to re-up with the Giants. As long as Cain stays healthy — something he’s likely to do after making at least 31 starts each of the past six years — he should have little trouble landing in excess of $100 million next winter.
A New Start?
Jeff Samardzija scored his first touchdown since 2006 on Thursday. A frequent punchline since passing up the NFL for the Cubs, Samardzija has finally made his way from the fringes of the league to the starting rotation after posting a 4.50 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 16/1 K/BB ratio in 20 spring innings.
The owner of a career 4.40 ERA and 1.30 WHIP across 169 2/3 big-league frames, Samardzija is likely only getting the chance because he’s a former bonus baby pitching for a rebuilding team. However, he took a big-enough step forward in the bullpen in 2011 that it’s not total folly to gamble that his mid-90s fastball might translate to going six innings every fifth day.
Samardzija’s traditionally poor command makes it unlikely that he’ll run with what could be his last chance to earn a starting job, but he has just enough promise to make it worth him monitoring him in NL-only leagues.
Miggy, Grandy Good to Go
On Wednesday, we learned Miguel Cabrera (eye) and Curtis Granderson (elbow) were close to returning. On Thursday, Granderson did, while Cabrera was cleared to play today against the Orioles.
Granderson’s injury was never considered serious, while Cabrera is expected to suit up for the entirety of Detroit’s remaining Grapefruit League slate. Both will be ready to anchor fantasy lineups come Opening Day.
A Yu Beginning
The Rangers announced Wednesday that Yu Darvish’s regular-season debut will come on April 9 against the Mariners in Texas.
It means Darvish is slotted fourth in the Rangers’ rotation, and will be matched up with countryman Ichiro Suzuki in his big-league christening. We get the feeling many in East Asia will be keenly interested in the proceedings.
In line to make one-more spring start, Darvish has turned in a 3.00 ERA and 1.44 WHIP across nine Cactus League innings, issuing seven free passes to go along with 10 strikeouts. There is every reason to believe he’ll be an above-average fantasy pitcher this season, but it could take 4-5 outings for him to settle into his comfort zone. Don’t panic if Darvish’s April is less than stellar.
Out of Context, Likely Insignificant, Yet Undeniably Interesting Spring Numbers
Ryan Raburn and Brennan Boesch are two of five players with an MLB-leading six home runs.
Andre Ethier has more triples (three) than home runs (two).
Albert Pujols is third in spring OPS. Lorenzo Cain and Alex Liddi are first and second, respectively.
Eric Hosmer across 75 plate appearances: .418/.468/.746. He has driven in a league-leading 26 runs in the process.
Raul Ibanez across 51 plate appearances: .125/.176/.271
Adam Dunn across 56 plate appearances: .252/.380/.501
Carlos Santana across 62 plate appearances: .164/.254/.364
Zack Greinke and Josh Beckett are second and third in spring ERA. Luis Mendoza is first.
Bruce Chen’s 11.50 ERA is 80th out of 80 qualifiers.
The Royals are “leaning toward” installing Jonathan Broxton over Greg Holland at closer. If you had the misfortune of selecting Joakim Soria in an early-spring draft, you’d still be wise to stash both. … Brad Hawpe was released after hitting .261/.370/.478 this spring and refusing a minor-league assignment. He’s near the end. … Kevin Kouzmanoff will begin the year in the minors. The odds are low he becomes a factor in AL-only leagues. … Juan Pierre cracked the Phillies’ 40-man roster, an indication he’ll begin the year in the bigs. Weep for Domonic Brown. … Yoenis Cespedes will have none of what Shawn Kelley is cooking. … Jed Lowrie is awaiting MRI results on his sprained right thumb after X-rays came back negative Wednesday. As we’ve learned the hard way with Lowrie, the news is far too often not good. … Carl Crawford (wrist) could return as early as late April after his original timeline had him sidelined into mid-May. Coming off a year in which everything went wrong for their $142 million left fielder, the Red Sox would be wise not to rush him. … As expected, Freddy Sanchez (shoulder) will begin the year on the disabled list. Keep your expectations low in NL-only leagues.