MLBits: Spring Training Arrives, Baseball Popularity Wanes, Avoiding Extensions, More

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MLBits: Spring Training Arrives, Baseball Popularity Wanes, Avoiding Extensions, More

Chicago Cubs


Earlier today, pitchers and catchers reported for many teams throughout the league – including the Chicago Cubs! (including Yu Darvish!) – which means it’s really, finally here. We’ve made it.

And it feels so good.

  • At ESPN, David Schoenfield echoes that sentiment but adds a layer of weight to it, “This isn’t the usual ‘winter bad, baseball good’ attitude that creeps up this time of year, especially for those of us who live in areas of icy driveways and slush-filled sidewalks. This is about talking baseball and not the offseason mess of free agency. It’s talking about great plays instead of pace of play. It’s talking about who is in camp instead of who isn’t. It’s about watching Judge and Stanton break car windshields and seeing if Ronald Acuna can make the Braves and how Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria look in their new duds.” Well said, my man, I certainly feel a big sense of relief.
  • And to be sure, that’s not only because the players are actually reporting to camp and not holding out like some rumors said they might, but also because now that Yu Darvish has signed, it really feels like it’s all going to be okay. Sure, some guys may get less than expected, but one of the top (if not the top) free agents has made his deal … the rest will, too.
  • And not to gloss over it too quickly, Schoenfield gets into some of the best storylines of the Spring, including bits for the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Angels, and Chicago Cubs (Kyle Schwarber chief among them).
  • And now that you’re all pumped up and feeling good, here’s our own Brett Taylor to bring you down:

  • That is one shockingly scary – and yet wholly predictable, based on everything we know – poll. Brett goes on to add that the last thing this sport needs while it’s at its lowest point of popularity relative to the other major sports is a looming labor fight. This season might be safe, but there’s troubled waters ahead.
  • Juan Carlos Nunez, a former employee of the ACES baseball agency (where Jon Lester and Justin Wilson are clients, as well as many, many other stars), who went to prison for his part in the Melky Cabrera fake website/PED case, has filed suit against ACES owners Seth and Sam Levinson. Basically, Nunez is alleging that the Levinsons/ACES haven’t paid him a bunch of money he’s owed, and included some allegations that he was instructed to provide players with PEDs and under-the-table payments. [Brett: I’d caution you against anyone taking this too far for now, since most of the allegations appear connected to the Biogenesis scandal, which has already pretty much all already come out.]
  • I don’t want to get into it too deeply until this plays out a bit, but if you’re looking for more, Jon Heyman has the full story at FanRag Sports and Craig Calcaterra adds his take here at NBC Sports.
  • Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler was shut down after July 22 last season, so that he can begin preparing to come back fully healthy (he had a stress reaction in his right arm) and ready for 2018. But, boy, has it taken a lot of work: “It needed two full months of rest. I got that, and then I’ve been taking these shots every day for the past six months,” Wheeler told the New York Post. “You do a shot in your stomach every day for six months. It’s not fun, but you got to do it.” Wheeler has since taken the mound six times for bullpen sessions and is reportedly feeling great. And I have to say, I think his attitude is right on the money. Basically, he’s sick of being labeled “unreliable” and “always hurt,” so he’s worked his butt off and seems determined as ever. If health was based on effort alone – and not some combination of luck and genetics, too – Wheeler would be among the healthiest in the league this year.
  • Had they not signed extensions early on in their careers, Jose Altuve, Pauld Goldschmidt, and Mike Trout would’ve all been free agents this winter. Last season, Madison Bumgarner, Freddie Freeman, Buster Posey, Chris Sale, and Giancarlo Stanton were the same. Citing those and other players, Craig Edwards (FanGraphs) makes a case for guys to stop signing extensions before hitting free agency and forcing teams to pay full price. He makes the argument that while, on an individual level, players might not see the advantage to this approach, overall players would be much better off. He’s not wrong in the aggregate, but getting individual players to forego that security is a really tough ask. (He has some ideas on how the union could protect against that, though, by essentially providing players a kind of insurance.)
  • You know that free agent Spring Training camp? Well the players union is not allowing media inside the camp at all – and no one really seems to know why. Nick Cafardo takes some guesses, and if any of them are true, his conclusion is spot on:

  • With that said, Craig Calcaterra notes that when the media was allowed inside the last camp like this (back in 1995, just after the strike) the coverage was not flattering: “Most of it focused on the desperation of the unsigned players and was rather sad in tone. There was an element of hopelessness in lot of that coverage given that it focused on the reality that these were guys whose careers may be ending. And many careers did, in fact, end in the spring if 1995.” I get it. It’s a bummer, but I get it. Let those guys find their jobs without any MORE unnecessary distractions. In fact, the more the general public forgets about this camp’s (not the players) existence, the better.
  • Cardinals pitcher Alex Reyes has been throwing off the mound in Jupiter, Florida – he’s currently rehabbing his elbow after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year – and is starting to feel good. As of now, his return date is May 1, but he’ll probably start things off in the bullpen, if anything. My guess is he doesn’t start a game in the first half of 2018.
  • If you’re looking ahead to the 2018 MLB Draft – the Cubs will pick 24th overall, and then will have a couple bonus picks after the second round (assuming Jake Arrieta joins Wade Davis in signing elsewhere) – FanGraphs has an early look at the power rankings. At the top of the list is a right-handed pitcher by the name of Brady Singer. At 24th overall, the Cubs current spot, you’ll find Georgia Tech catcher Joey Bart, who has four average or better tools with the ability to stick behind the plate. A polished, well-rounded, college bat at a premium position? Sounds like a Cubs pick to me. But, well, you know. Predicting picks right now is fruitless – instead, it’s just nice to hear that the draft is considered deep in a year that the Cubs have four picks in the first two rounds.
  • This is absolutely unbelievable and I can’t believe I didn’t know it, but apparently Babe Ruth was the first cancer patient to receive chemotherapy (starting back in June of 1947). Before him, it had only been tested on mice and was extremely experimental. Wild.
  • The Athletic is absolutely exploding and has added Jayson Stark (formerly ESPN), Peter Gammons (Boston Globe, elsewhere), Jim Bowden (formerly a GM), Emma Span (formerly SI), and Eno Sarris (formerly FanGraphs) to their national staff that already includes Ken Rosenthal.
  • This is going to be the best thing you see today:

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami