When pitchers and catchers get ready to report, I immediately wonder how many guys will be quoted as saying, “I’m in the best shape of my life.” I know I said it aloud at least once. My curiosity has already been confirmed with a recent article by Hardball Talk. http://www.prosportsdaily.com/Headlines/ExternalArticle?articleId=500622. Madison Bumgarner is ready for Spring Training. It’s so predictable that players league-wide will suggest that somehow this year and their off-season will be different than the others. After all, hope springs eternal. Signed players are headed to Florida and Arizona with bags packed with of dreams of World Series glory.
I’ve often lamented that Spring Training was a waste of time for someone in an analytical position. As an analyst, you should know plenty about the players you cover and it’s always been the same. 23 of the 25 jobs were actually already taken, or in other words, someone’s to lose. Most veteran players on multi-year contracts were often bullet proof and in no need of quality performance. They need only go through the motions and get their reps in. Teams invited way too many players to camp which made it last 7-10 days too long and of course, at least one guy on every team was in “the best shape of his career.” This year is gonna be different!!!!!!!
To be quite honest, I was always a bit cynical about Spring Training. Remember, I was a catcher and we get worked harder than anyone. All those extra pitchers in camp led to extra work in the bullpen with guys who had no chance to make the team. There were lots of ice baths on sore body parts. All of the extra position players in camp who had no chance to make a team led to long hours standing around shagging batting practice flies.
As an analyst, I always found it ridiculous when someone suggested I get a look at the kids. My response was why? They aren’t in shape yet and I never thought it was fair for me to formulate an opinion based on first impressions. They are the hardest to shake. Besides, teams are going to promote the kids they like most or have the biggest financial investment in. I can read a stat sheet and a biography. Typically, in today’s game, you needn’t look further than what round they were drafted in to know if they will make it.
This year might be different. The players who may have the biggest impact this Spring may actually be the players who AREN’T going to camp, the numerous free agents that remain unsigned. You might actually see some legitimate battle for jobs this year because so many veterans are holding out for the kinds of contracts that seem impossible to obtain under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. Teams are less willing to cough up contracts of longer terms than 6 years the way they did with guys like Alex Rodriguez. I think those days are over, unless of course you hit free agency in your mid-twenties the way Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will next year.
I, for one, will be watching this year with greater interest in Spring games than ever. The game is getting younger every year. Players are making significant contributions in their early twenties, a rarity in my day. This year the game may get even younger. Who doesn’t enjoy an epic battle or multiple for that matter. Pack your bags for warmer weather. This year’s Spring Training could prove to be the most interesting in decades, unless of course the damn breaks on the free agent market and normalcy is restored. Yu Darvish went to the Cubs. Let it begin. The Stove has been cold long enough.