Biggest Winners and Losers of the First Week of Spring Training Games
It is still too early for panic and gloating to enter the picture, yet the first week of spring training games has certainly opened some eyes.
We've seen star players go down with injury, youngsters not expected to contribute this season look like they are ready for prime time and veterans thought to be past their primes make strong cases for their respective teams to include them on 25-man rosters at the end of the month.
Teams expected to be contenders have looked like anything but, while clubs expected to wallow in the basements of their respective divisions during the regular season have shown signs of life and given their fans hope—no matter how false that hope might be in reality.
Let's take a look at some of the bigger winners and losers through the first week of the exhibition season.
Winners: Kansas City Royals
Break up the Royals!
Undefeated through eight spring training games, no team has looked more formidable than Kansas City, a team that went out this winter and rebuilt its entire starting rotation.
Newcomers Wade Davis, Ervin Santana and James Shields have yet to allow an earned run through a combined five innings of work, scattering two hits while walking one and striking out three.
More importantly, first baseman Eric Hosmer, who looked absolutely lost at the plate in 2012, seems to have rediscovered his stroke, hitting .471 with four extra-base hits (two doubles, a triple and a home run) to go along with seven RBI and three walks, fanning only once.
After years of losing, any winning, even in the exhibition season, serves as a confidence-building exercise.
There's a long way to go before we can call the Royals legitimate playoff contenders, but things are off to about as good a start as you could have asked for.
Losers: New York Yankees
This is not how the New York Yankees expected to start spring training.
Not only has the team struggled to put runs on the board—its 40 runs scored rank 25th in all of baseball and are a big reason why the team sits with a 2-7 record in Grapefruit League action—but New York lost center fielder Curtis Granderson for 10 weeks with a fractured right forearm.
While Granderson is only expected to be out of action until early May and the Yankees' early-season schedule is rather light—only 15 of the team's first 41 opponents finished 2012 with a record of .500 or better—his absence makes an already shaky lineup far less potent.
While the team has yet to see captain Derek Jeter make his spring training debut and youngsters will get substantial playing time with Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira heading to the World Baseball Classic, spring training has not found the Yankees looking like the perennial contenders they have been for nearly 20 years.
Winners: Seattle Mariners
For a team that consistently ranks near the bottom of MLB in runs scored, that the Seattle Mariners have scored the fifth-most runs in baseball (60) through the first week of spring training is nothing short of miraculous.
Newcomers Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse have combined to provide Seattle with the power and run production that the team hoped they would, hitting .429 with four home runs and nine RBI.
Even beleaguered first baseman Justin Smoak is hitting .556 so far.
The biggest news to come out of Mariners camp, however, may be that the elbow issues that held up Felix Hernandez's contract extension appear to be much ado about nothing.
While he's yet to make his spring training debut, pitching coach Carl Willis told Larry Stone of the Seattle Times that King Felix is right where the team wants him to be:
Really, his timetable, everyone is under the impression he’s behind. We started games on Feb. 22. There’s no point; he didn’t need to start that soon. He’ll be 95 to 100 pitches by the time we get out of camp. We still have the time to make that happen. He’s basically on the same schedule he’s been on, not necessarily last year because of the Japan trip, but the previous two springs. It’s the same timetable.
Danny Hultzen, one of the team's top pitching prospects, has been outstanding in two appearances, giving up two walks and a hit in three innings of work, striking out six.
Although the Mariners still face an uphill climb to contend in a stacked AL West, things are looking up in Seattle for the first time in a long time.
Losers: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
When Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana all left the Angels clubhouse for greener pastures this winter, most assumed that the team would address those departures via the free-agent market.
Instead, the team opted to spend big on offense, signing slugger Josh Hamilton to a lucrative multi-year deal while opting for the bargain bin (Joe Blanton) to bolster a shaky starting staff.
That gamble hasn't paid off thus far.
In nine spring starts, Angels starting pitchers have gone 0-1 with an 8.62 ERA and 2.11 WHIP, allowing 27 hits and 15 earned runs in 15.2 innings of work.
While Jered Weaver remains a perennial Cy Young award contender, the rest of the staff has proven nothing.
C.J. Wilson, who underwent elbow surgery this past winter, has looked rusty.
Blanton, Barry Enright, Nick Maronde and Jerome Williams have looked awful, while Garrett Richards has had middling success, allowing only one earned run in five innings of work but surrendering seven hits and watching the opposition hit .333 against him.
No matter how potent an offense the Angels might have, the starting rotation will need to pitch considerably better over the next few weeks if the team hopes to get back into the playoffs in 2013.
Outings like what we've seen thus far simply won't get it done.
Winners: Fans of Clean Baseball
It's all talk right now, but both commissioner Bud Selig and MLBPA head Michael Weiner believe that a new look at how MLB penalizes those caught using performance-enhancing drugs is in order, which is a great thing for fans who care about the purity of the game.
Selig told reporters that he's been thinking about this for a while (via ESPN):
I have been interested in stiffer penalties for some time. We've made meaningful adjustments to our testing, and it is time to make meaningful adjustments to our penalties.
The players have been discussing whether changes in the penalties are warranted since the offseason.
As I've said throughout spring training, there's a variety of player views on this subject. In fact, during the offseason we suggested to the commissioner's office the possibility of differential penalties, namely advanced penalties for certain intentional violations but reduced penalties for negligent violations.
That format was not of interest to MLB at that time. We look forward to ongoing negotiations over the drug program, but any change in the penalties would be a 2014 issue. It would be unfair to change the drug-testing rules now that the 2013 program has begun to be implemented.
That's fair. With 2013 testing already under way, it would be unfair to change the rules of the game after it's already begun.
That said, there is no reason the two sides could not come to an agreement during the season that results in stiffer penalties for those who continue to think they can evade detection.
Whether it winds up being a two-strike rule, with an entire season lost for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a second (I'd vote for this if I had a say in the matter), or something more complex, as the union intimated, remains to be seen.
However, that both sides recognize change is needed is an excellent sign.