Rosters anything but set as Spring Training lets loose
Spring Training, and the living is easy?
It might have been that way in the 1960s, or even the ’90s, but in today’s world of unsigned free agents and teams casually giving their fans a ragamuffin mix of not-ready-for-prime-time players, there’s no more easy living in Florida or Arizona.
Very few teams have their lineups set. Some need starting pitchers. Others are without much help in the bullpen. Still others can’t find enough hitters to scare the Washington Senators of the ill-fated 1950s.
In Baltimore, little is settled, except that the Orioles of manager Buck Showalter and general manager Dan Duquette are prime candidates for another last-place finish, the same as last season.
In Washington, the Nationals have a corps of players in the final season of their contracts. Steven Strasburg, Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper and Gio Gonzalez will be free agents after this year.
Free agents litter the baseball landscape like hot dog wrappers and popcorn boxes following a windy March Spring Training game. Reliable free agents whose only serious questions are their salary requests can be found under every rock.
Starting pitchers, relief pitchers, a closer or two, slugging outfielders, quality infielders and even players associated with World Series championships are available.
However, some teams don’t seem to care if they’re competitive or not.
Those take-fan-money-and-run teams don’t care whether or not they fleece their followers. They won’t lower ticket prices or concession costs. There won’t be any free parking or refunds if the team loses 15 of its first 20 games.
Any team with a productive minor league system of actual player development may be able to thumb its nose when free agents ask for five-year contracts that bring them a total of $100 million. Those teams, like Baltimore, with the most ordinary of Class AAA players and few players who might perform adequately in the major leagues, will have to rely on propaganda and not starting pitching.
In Florida’s training camps, marketing types will bring out the company line and tell the disbelieving public about “camp-wide competition for nearly every position” and “open spots in the five-man starting rotation.” In reality, the team has holes everywhere except in the outfield fences.
The bad teams will have no depth. When injury strikes, they’ll dip into their farm system for a “young prospect who’ll be getting his shot to show us how far he has progressed.” Actually, he has progressed enough to bat .127 and strikeout in wholesale bunches.
The palm trees will sway. The games will see people crazy for any kind of baseball come out and be dazzled by the 70-degree temperatures and not care about the 85-mph fastballs from a 32-year-old pitcher the team can pay $1.5 million to occupy a spot on the roster.
Spring Training is an illusion for some. General managers scramble for the right public relations move. The sun-filled afternoons might bring losses, but this is a team that needs to “become like family” and “develop its own chemistry.”
Chemistry never struck out Aaron Judge with the bases loaded in the ninth inning of a one-run game.
Smoke screens. Players incapable of producing under the schism of an 162-game schedule.
But let the Spring Training customers take off their shoes, wiggle their toes in the friendly sun, buy the souvenirs, ponder whether to purchase a mini season-ticket package and then beg for football by Aug. 1 of the season.
As Spring Training moves toward Opening Day, the ranks of the free agents will thin. Teams will even make trades as late March approaches. Near the ceremonial first pitch of the season, some lineups will still be in transition .
But there are at least 10 teams out of the 30 in the major leagues that won’t be able to disguise their shortcomings for long. And they won’t be able to hide their teams’ faults and failings with pronouncements about Spring Training in sunny Florida or tranquil Arizona and its dry heat.
They won’t win often enough. And they won’t be fun to watch for a family of four out for an outing at the old ball park – chewing through $175 on an afternoon when the home side loses (again) 9-2 and shows the feisty nature and competitive zest of an aged dairy cow chewing its cud.