The Biggest Winners and Losers of Spring Training
Spring training will officially be over in just three days. While several MLB teams are still making some last-minute tweaks, for better or worse, they are ready to start the 2013 season.
Let's face it, spring training is pretty much meaningless in terms of win-loss records. But it is the work that gets done during the month of March in order to get teams ready for the long haul of a 162-game season that truly matters. After all, the end goal for each team is the same: win a World Series title.
So, which teams came out on the winning end in terms of what they accomplished, and which teams came out on the losing end in terms of injuries and other minor catastrophes?
Which players gained the most by their experience over the past six weeks, and which players completely spit the bit in their efforts to come out of camp with a leg up?
Let's take a look.
Winner: Kansas City Royals
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
I know I just got through saying that winning records are totally meaningless in spring training, and for the most part, they are.
But in the case of the Kansas City Royals, it could have great meaning in the long run.
The Royals went to Surprise, Ariz., in mid-February with an almost entirely new starting rotation. Owner David Glass made a point of saying back in September that he would spend money to upgrade his rotation, and he did just that.
Now, the Royals have their best chance at a postseason berth in many moons. In fact, they haven't been in the playoffs at all since they won the World Series in 1985.
They gelled throughout camp, posting a 23-6 record through Tuesday with a team that hit .338 and posted the second-best ERA of any team in Arizona or Florida.
Each regular position player hit at least .278 or better, and the team also made it through camp without one significant injury.
Yes, the games in spring training don't count, but for the Royals, any silver lining comes as a step in the right direction.
Loser: New York Yankees
Rich Pilling/Getty Images
Things really couldn't have gone much worse for the New York Yankees this spring. In fact, their misfortunes started long before the spring even began.
First came the news in early December that third baseman Alex Rodriguez would need hip surgery (h/t ESPN New York)—again. The surgery will keep A-Rod out of the lineup until at least the All-Star break, if not longer.
The Yankees decided to replace Rodriguez with Kevin Youkilis, signing the latter to a one-year, $12 million contract. The Yankees will now be paying a total of $40 million to have third base covered for the 2013 season.
After the surgery came the ugly PED mess involving Rodriguez. The story, broken by the Miami New Times, named many different players and took off from there. It's anyone's guess as to how that story will continue to unfold.
Then spring training finally started, and center fielder Curtis Granderson—during his first at-bat of the spring—promptly got plunked by a wayward pitch from J.A. Happ. The errant delivery broke Granderson's forearm, putting him out of action for up to two months.
Not long after that, just hours before Team USA's first exhibition game with the Chicago White Sox in preparation for the World Baseball Classic, Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira hurt his wrist taking swings in the cage. Teixeira pulled out of the WBC and will be out for at least the first month of the season.
Now, depending on who you read or believe, Teixeira's wrist could be worse than expected, which could keep him out of action even longer.
But wait—the hits keep coming.
Derek Jeter, rehabbing from the fractured left ankle that he suffered in last year's ALCS, suffered a setback and will be put on the disabled list to start the season.
It could be that Jeter simply ran out of time and didn't give his ankle enough time to heal. It's a blow nonetheless, especially considering all of the above events.
Now the Yankees have added Vernon Wells, forking over another $14 million to replace Granderson in an attempt to add some veteran pop to their lineup.
It's been a painful and expensive winter and early spring for the Yankees.
Winner: Jackie Bradley, Jr.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
If anyone had told you last winter that Boston Red Sox prospect Jackie Bradley, Jr. had a legitimate shot at making the team this spring, you likely would have argued against what appeared to be a preposterous idea.
Yet Bradley could end up starting on Opening Day.
Manager John Farrell has yet to tip his hand, but it's entirely possible that the 22-year-old center fielder could beat out Ryan Sweeney for the final outfield spot.
Bradley saw action in left field last Friday for the first time this spring, and he didn't look uncomfortable at all. In fact, Bradley make a couple of stellar defensive plays in his short time there.
With David Ortiz hitting the disabled list to start the season, Farrell could opt to use Jonny Gomes as his designated hitter while putting Bradley in left next to Jacoby Ellsbury.
Bradley is already the heir apparent to Ellsbury, who many expect won't be with Boston at the end of this season. But considering how Bradley has performed this spring—a .444 average with two home runs and 11 RBI—his time might be now.
In a piece published on ESPNBoston.com, writer Gordon Edes spoke with former Red Sox center fielder Fred Lynn, who firmly believes the Red Sox need Bradley now, not later.
"There's no erring on the side of caution,'' Lynn told Edes. "The kid's got some ability. Throw him in there.''
The time is now.
Winner: Yasiel Puig
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Cuban-born outfielder Yasiel Puig is having an even better spring than Jackie Bradley, Jr. The Los Angeles Dodgers could be enjoying the fruits of his labor soon as well.
The Dodgers optioned Puig to Double-A on Tuesday, but not before Puig impressed just about everyone connected with the Dodgers.
Puig hit .526 with three home runs, 11 RBI and four stolen bases this spring. It's hard to argue that he's not one of the 25 best players for the Dodgers, but he simply wasn't going to leapfrog the Dodgers' stellar outfield trio of Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.
Puig will play every day in the minors in order to continue his development, but he left an impression this spring that was nothing short of eye-popping.
Loser: Daniel Schlereth
J. Meric/Getty Images
At one time, Daniel Schlereth showed tremendous promise as a reliever for the Detroit Tigers.
Now, Schlereth can't even win a job with the Baltimore Orioles.
Schlereth enjoyed a solid 2011 campaign with the Tigers, compiling a 3.49 ERA in 49 appearances, but he also walked 31 batters in 49 innings of work.
Last year, Schlereth battled through shoulder tendinitis for much of the season and never got back on track, posting a 10.29 ERA in six appearances. He struggled mightily at the minor league level as well.
Schlereth then posted an ugly 12.00 ERA for the Orioles during spring training this year, giving up nine runs on 10 hits in six innings. For the once-highly regarded reliever, it's a flop that hasn't been pretty. The flop hit a bottom when Schlereth was optioned to the minors last week.
At best, Schlereth will compete for a bullpen spot at Triple-A Norfolk this season. It's probably not quite what he had imagined he'd be doing two years ago.
Winner: Juan Rivera
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Juan Rivera signed a minor league contract with the New York Yankees in late January. At best, he was looking at trying to secure the fourth outfielder's spot on the roster. Now, he's likely to be the Opening Day first baseman.
It was ascent by attrition, but for Rivera, it works.
Mark Teixeira's wrist injury paved the way for Rivera's good fortune. While the Yankees did sign Lyle Overbay on Monday to help form a potential platoon in Teixeira's absence, Rivera gets new life nonetheless.
Loser: San Diego Padres
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
The San Diego Padres started spring training knowing that promising catcher Yasmani Grandal was going to be lost to the team for the first 50 games of the season due to his suspension for PED use (h/t USA Today).
Also, left fielder Carlos Quentin has yet to play in an official spring training because of his surgically repaired right knee. Quentin had a second surgery in seven months on the same knee last October, and he simply hasn't bounced back as fast as the team would have hoped.
Quentin is playing in minor league games, but his availability for Opening Day is still in question.
Last week, the Padres also lost Chase Headley for what could be up to six weeks with a fractured thumb.
After spending next to nothing this offseason to make any upgrades, the news simply couldn't have been much worse for a team that will be challenged to keep up with the Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Giants in the NL West.
Winner: Julio Teheran
Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports
The Atlanta Braves had a slot open in their starting rotation heading into spring, and prospect Julio Teheran turned it into a no-contest race.
Teheran has simply been terrific all spring, sporting a 1.04 ERA in six starts and striking out 35 batters against just nine walks in 26 innings.
On Saturday, Teheran breezed through his outing, striking out 10 Houston Astros batters without giving up a hit. It was the third appearance this spring in which opposing hitters walked away hitless against Teheran.
Atlanta always seems to come up with young arms to keep it well-stocked, year after year. Teheran will clearly continue that tradition.
Loser: Ricky Romero
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Just 18 months ago, Ricky Romero was considered to be the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays staff. He was coming off a 15-11 season in which he posted a 2.92 ERA.
Now, Romero is headed to Single-A ball, where he will try to figure out what went wrong.
The warning signs were there last year, as Romero struggled mightily with his command, leading the entire majors with 105 walks to go along with a 5.77 ERA.
The struggles continued throughout the spring. Romero walked 10 batters and struck out eight in just 13 innings, and now, he'll spend time in Dunedin trying to rediscover that lost command.
Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos made the decision after consulting with his staff, and it was clear that all of those involved were in agreement.
Via Mike Rutsey of the Toronto Sun, Anthopoulos said:
It’s not the Ricky that we know that he can be. When you’re at the big-league level it’s hard to continue to work on things so we’re going to take a little more time to get him back to where he can be.
J.A. Happ is the winner in this scenario. He will take over the final No. 5 spot in the rotation after posting a 1.89 ERA in six appearances this spring.
Winner: Domonic Brown
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Philadelphia Phillies have been waiting for what seems like years for the emergence of young outfielder Domonic Brown.
The wait may now be over.
Brown has locked down a corner outfield spot in the starting lineup for the Phillies after a sizzling spring. Brown is hitting .373 with seven home runs and 17 RBI as of Tuesday night.
Brown will likely start in right field for now, in place of the injured Delmon Young. If he carries his hot spring into the regular season, Brown could shift over to left field when Young returns.
Brown made an all-important adjustment in his hitting mechanics, shortening his swing and moving his hands in closer to his body. That change could be the key to finally realizing his potential.
Loser: World Baseball Classic
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The World Baseball Classic, by all accounts, was a big success, especially for the players representing the Dominican Republic and the country's fans.
However, not everyone is totally on board with it, and for good reason.
Consider the words of Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland (h/t CBS Sports):
The only thing I enjoyed [about the World Baseball Classic] was that when the game was over, none of my guys had gotten hurt. [The WBC] served its purpose. I know the commissioner believes in it, and I support that 100 percent. But I can't sit and lie and say I got excited about it.
Hanley Ramirez, David Wright and Mark Teixeira did in fact get hurt, unlike Leyland's players. While Wright could be ready for Opening Day, the same can't be said for Teixeira and Ramirez.
Proponents of the WBC will say that their injuries could have just as easily happened in spring training. And they're absolutely right, they could have.
But I can just about guarantee that every single manager in MLB feels the same way as Leyland.
They're simply not excited about the WBC, and they never will be. Leyland just happened to have the guts to say it.
Winner: Milwaukee Brewers Fanbase
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
For much of the offseason, many—including myself—raised concerns about the quality of the Milwaukee Brewers' starting rotation.
They had Yovani Gallardo at the top, which is certainly not a bad weapon to have, but he was supported by a staff that, while they pitched well at times in the second half of last season, was largely inexperienced.
The Brewers can score runs—they finished at the top in the National League last year in that category—but the questions surrounding the rotation soured their chances for a postseason berth last season.
Owner Mark Attanasio came to the rescue on Monday.
That is because the Brewers signed free-agent right-hander Kyle Lohse to a three-year, $33 million contract. He was 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA last year for the St. Louis Cardinals, throwing 211 innings and showing complete consistency throughout the season.
Now, if the Brewers can continue producing offensively like last year, their chances for the playoffs no longer look so bleak.
Lohse has been throwing simulated games in Arizona, so it won't take him long to be ready. In addition, he has a wealth of experience that can be of great benefit to the rest of the inexperienced staff.
This is a win-win for the Brewers and their fans.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.