The MLB does a remarkable job of making us believe that Spring Training is a lot more important than it actually is. We are peppered with mostly inconsequential news and most rabid baseball fans, myself included, eat it up. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait any longer for real baseball. Gear up, fans. It’s gonna be a long season. Here are nine things of note as the fresh season gets underway.
1) The young, exciting Cubs roster isn’t quite there yet
We have all heard enough about Kris Bryant and his imminent arrival to the MLB. The Cubs made a business decision to keep him in the minors, knowing Bryant’s contract would be in the Cubs’ control for a year longer if he stays down for roughly two weeks. Look for him to be wearing pinstripes soon. There is news aside from that, thankfully. Lester did not look to be the ace the Cubs paid for. That he gave up runs is fine; he was never supposed to be a shut down pitcher. He was, however, expected to last longer than four and 1/3 innings. In terms of the anemic offense, look for that to change. Manager Joe Maddon was very candid in saying that he’d need a month or so to get used to the lineup and his players. Lester and Arrieta need to stay strong for fans to have any faith in waiting for the roster to develop.
2) Some people apparently do not hate Alex Rodriguez
Of all the Yankees who stepped to the plate, Rodriguez received by far the loudest ovation, with cheers overwhelming the boos from fans still angry at Rodriguez. After missing the entirety of 2014 following a suspension for PED use, Rodriguez went one-for-two with a walk. In a humble moment, Rodriguez said, “Let’s make it clear — the fans don’t owe me anything. I’ve said all along during spring training, the part of feeling like a rookie is I have to earn their cheers and their respect.” I’m not sure I buy the new A-Rod, but only time will tell.
3) Ticket prices rose the most they have in six years
A 3.3 percent increase in ticket price, the largest increase since 2009, brought the average ticket price to nearly $30/game. The Red Sox ticket prices average out at $52.34, good enough for highest in the league. Inflation, I guess?
4) A league-record 115 players started the season on the DL
All that good money being paid for tickets is going to see an awful lot of good players (Justin Verlander, Josh Hamilton, Yu Darvish, Cliff Lee, Matt Wieters. The list goes on) in their sweatpants. Whether this is a sign of increased game demands, another steroid era or something else is unclear, but it is a staggering increase from 46 players on the DL to start the 1995 season, when the league starting taking records of players on the DL.
5) High profile Cuban signings persist as numbers dwindle
Many of the high profile offseason deals this year went to Cuban players ($72.5 million for Rusney Castillo, $68.5 million for Yasmany Tomas), but the number of Cuban-born players who made the opening day roster declined from 19 to 18. This is far from a concerning trend, however, as the overall number of foreign-born MLB players as well as minor league players increased.
6) Houston shall dwell in the basement no longer
A 2-0 win in your opening day start is hardly something that will make breaking news on ESPN, but given that it was against 2014 AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and that they limited the Indians to three hits, it’s a nice way to start the season. Let it be known that the Houston Astros are no longer pushovers.
7) Has the pace of games changed forever??
No. The opening day games were indeed 22 minutes shorter than the 2014 average of three hours and eight minutes. But opening day showcases the best pitchers, and there were no extra inning games to be found. Don’t count on shorter games, as much as some people may want it.
8) Potential suitors may have dodged a Cole Hamels bullet
Hamels had a lot to play for; after his name circulated in every trade rumor across the continent, he got the opportunity to face arguably his biggest suitor in the Boston Red Sox. Well, the Sox showcased why Hamels is not a number one starter, knocking him around for four solo home runs, two of which were at the hands of Dustin Pedroia, en route to an 8-0 loss. Hamels now has a 4.61 ERA in 30 interleague starts. When compared to his 3.13 ERA against the NL, much of which has come at the hands of the anemic NL East, AL teams who were hot on Hamels got another reminder of why they should, in fact, consider themselves quite lucky to not have him on their roster.
9) There will be good baseball in California
The Padres are revamped. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw. The Angels have more talent than they know what to do with. Nobody doubts Billy Beane anymore, even though his 2014 plan fell flat on its face. And the Giants, well, yeah. Don’t be surprised if California gains a few more baseball fans as the summer drags on.
Truly, this is the most wonderful time of the year. Baseball may wear on as we near game 162, but for now, the games are fresh and exciting, players have a lot to prove and a lot of roster spots to earn, and every team, regardless of their position last season, has reason to look forward with unbridled optimism. Unless you’re a Phillies fan. Yikes.