Big names still seek­ing work

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NBA/MLB -

Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Craig Kim­brel and for­mer Arkansas Ra­zor­back Dal­las Keuchel won’t be around when the bat and ball bags are opened at spring train­ing through­out Florida and Ari­zona this week.

They are among the dozens of free agents still look­ing for jobs, joined by Mike Mous­takas, Mar­win Gon­za­lez, Car­los Gon­za­lez and Gio Gon­za­lez.

For the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive win­ter, camps are open­ing with many rosters in ex­cep­tional flux.

“The mar­ket will sort it­self out,” St. Louis Car­di­nals chair­man Bill DeWitt Jr. said at last week’s own­ers’ meet­ings. “There is a long time be­tween the end of the sea­son and spring train­ing, and there’s maybe not so much a sense of ur­gency on which­ever side it hap­pens to be.”

Among the 164 play­ers who ex­er­cised free agency rights at the end of last year’s World Series, 84 had an­nounced agree­ments on the eve of spring train­ing. That is up from 65 of 166 at roughly the same point last sea­son but down from 105 of 158 two years ago.

Bos­ton added J.D. Martinez last Feb. 26 and Philadel­phia brought in Jake Ar­ri­eta on March 12. All but 26 of the free agents last off­sea­son even­tu­ally reached deals, but some with big-money con­tracts flopped af­ter late starts: Yu Darvish joined the Chicago Cubs on Feb. 13, went 1-3 and didn’t pitch af­ter May 20 be­cause of arm prob­lems. Eric Hos­mer fi­nal­ized his agree­ment with San Diego on Feb. 19 and hit a ca­reer-worst .253 with 69 RBI. Alex Cobb signed with Bal­ti­more on March 26 and went 5-16.

A drawn-out ne­go­ti­at­ing process means clubs have lost time in mar­ket­ing new ac­qui­si­tions, which seems es­pe­cially sig­nif­i­cant to a sport com­ing off three con­sec­u­tive years of at­ten­dance de­clines. Av­er­age at­ten­dance dropped be­low 30,000 last year for the first time since 2003.

“We want play­ers signed, par­tic­u­larly star play­ers. I wish they were signed and ready to go,” base­ball Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred said Fri­day. “We got an­other week be­fore they have to re­port. I’m re­ally hope­ful that it’s go­ing to get re­solved dur­ing that pe­riod of time.”

Oak­land takes the field first, start­ing work­outs to­day in Mesa, Ariz. Seat­tle fol­lows Tues­day in Peo­ria, Ariz., with both teams getting early starts be­cause they open the sea­son in Tokyo on March 20-21, a week be­fore other teams get un­der­way. Ev­ery other club launches prac­tice Wed­nes­day or Thurs­day ex­cept for At­lanta, which waits un­til Satur­day.

Six new man­agers are in charge for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive spring train­ing and five of them are big league rookie skip­pers for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year. Rocco Baldelli (Min­nesota), David Bell (Cincin­nati), Bran­don Hyde (Bal­ti­more), Char­lie Mon­toyo (Toronto) and Chris Wood­ward (Texas) are first-timers run­ning a big league dugout, joined by the Los An­ge­les An­gels’ Brad Aus­mus, Detroit’s man­ager from 2014-2017.

One of last year’s rookie man­agers was Alex Cora, who led Bos­ton to its fourth World Series ti­tle in 15 sea­sons. The Red Sox hope to be­come the first team to win con­sec­u­tive ti­tles since the 1998-2000 New York Yan­kees.

“Re­peat­ing is tough,” Cora said. “It starts with the play­ers. Peo­ple are go­ing to talk about hang­overs and all that and the ban­quet cir­cuit. It’s part of it. But they’ve been dis­ci­plined enough.”

New base­ball op­er­a­tions heads are in charge of three teams: Mike Elias (Bal­ti­more), Farhan Zaidi (San Fran­cisco) and Brodie Van Wa­ge­nen (New York Mets).

Among the ma­jor trades of the off­sea­son, Philadel­phia ob­tained catcher J.T. Real­muto from Mi­ami, St. Louis got first base­man Paul Gold­schmidt from Ari­zona and the New York Mets got sec­ond base­man Robin­son Cano and closer Ed­win Diaz from Seat­tle. In the free-agent mar­ket thus far, Washington added left­hander Pa­trick Corbin and the Los An­ge­les Dodgers out­fielder A.J. Pol­lock, At­lanta got third base­man Josh Don­ald­son and Colorado picked up sec­ond base­man Daniel Mur­phy.

By March 28, when most teams open, many rosters will look sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent. The Mets and Phillies have no­tice­ably bol­stered theirs.

Oth­ers chose re­build­ing and ap­pear to have lit­tle chance to reach the post­sea­son: Bal­ti­more, Cincin­nati, Kansas City, Mi­ami, Seat­tle and Toronto.

“There’s al­ways been play­ers avail­able in Fe­bru­ary or March,” Van Wa­ge­nen said. “I think there’s been a higher vol­ume of more-rec­og­niz­able names than in the past.”

AP file photo

For­mer Arkansas Ra­zor­back Dal­las Keuchel is among sev­eral big name ma­jor lea­guers still look­ing for jobs as spring train­ing be­gins this week.

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