Players with the Most to Gain, Lose in 2015 Spring Training's Final Week
Heading into spring training's final week, most teams around baseball have a pretty good idea which 25 players will comprise their Opening Day rosters. The next seven days are more about players rounding into shape—and hopefully avoiding injury—than anything else.
But those 25-man rosters have yet to be etched in stone, and if history has taught us anything, it's that crazy things can—and will—happen when we least expect them.
From top prospects holding out hope that they'll get a chance to experience Opening Day in a major league park to veterans praying to the baseball gods that they'll be traded somewhere they can play regularly, a handful of players still in camp have much to gain—or lose—over the next seven days.
Let's take a look at five of the more notable names whose immediate futures remain in flux.
C Dioner Navarro, Toronto Blue Jays
Since Toronto signed Russell Martin to be its starting catcher, it's been assumed that the man he replaced behind the plate, Dioner Navarro—who hasn't hidden his desire to be traded—would serve as the team's designated hitter.
But as the Toronto Sun's Mike Rutsey points out, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. "Under that scenario, the Jays would have to play Edwin Encarnacion at first, which would be insane given his back woes. They need to keep him off the field as much as possible to protect his back."
Although Navarro could shift to first base, a position he's never played in a regular-season game or this spring, that role is likely to be filled by Justin Smoak, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman. That leaves Navarro as the odd man out in Toronto's starting lineup.
Really, the only way Navarro can avoid being one of the spring's big losers is to be traded, something that Heyman says isn't in the works, even with Boston's catching situation now in flux.
That's a losing situation for a 31-year-old that, with a strong showing and regular playing time in 2015, might have been able to land a multi-year deal after the season.
SP Nick Tropeano, Los Angeles Angels
When Nick Tropeano takes the mound against the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday for his second start of the spring against major league talent, it'll be his last chance to make an impression.
"We haven't made any decisions yet," Angels manager Mike Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times' Kevin Baxter when asked about the competition between Tropeano and Andrew Heaney for the final spot in the team's rotation.
What is for sure, though, is that the box score won't determine the winner.
"We're not looking at just ERA or hits," Scioscia told Baxter. "We're evaluating on commanding their outing, their stuff, hitting their spots. Just rating their pitches."
After throwing only 57 of 91 pitches for strikes against Texas on March 24, Heaney exhibited better command in his most recent outing versus Cincinnati this past Sunday, with only six of his 40 pitches going for balls.
But he's been hit hard—really hard—allowing a combined 10 earned runs and 16 hits over those two outings, and the opposition is hitting a robust .358 against him this spring. Tropeano, while not facing a full major league lineup, has held opponents to a .231 batting average.
With no need for a fifth starter until April 14, neither pitcher is expected to break camp with the club. And with ace Garrett Richards, who is working his way back from season-ending knee surgery, potentially ready to rejoin the club right around then, there may not be a spot available for either one.
But eventually, the Angels are going to need additional reinforcements for the rotation. Tropeano sits in position to ensure that he's the one to get that call.
C Blake Swihart, Boston Red Sox
With Christian Vazquez's immediate future unknown as Boston's incumbent catcher heads for a meeting with renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews, speculation has run rampant that the team's top prospect, Blake Swihart, will break camp with the club.
At the very least, he's going to get an extended look over the spring's final week. The 22-year-old switch-hitter has held his own at the plate during the exhibition season, hitting .296/.345/.444 with a pair of extra-base hits (one home run) and five RBI over 27 at-bats.
But nothing Swihart does is going to push him ahead of veteran Ryan Hanigan on the team's depth chart, and it would stand to reason that Boston would rather Swihart get consistent playing time at Triple-A than play sparingly in the majors.
Yet even with Boston's acquisition of Sandy Leon from Washington, there's a case to be made for keeping Swihart around.
Learning from and watching Hanigan, who has been one of the game's premier pitch-framers since Baseball Prospectus began tracking such things in 2008, could be more valuable to his development than anything he could pick up down on the farm.
Ultimately, Swihart is likely heading back to Triple-A Pawtucket to begin the regular season. But odds are he won't be down on the farm for long, especially if he has a strong showing in the last week of camp.
SP Chien-Ming Wang, Atlanta Braves
It's been a long time since Chien-Ming Wang was considered one of the better starters in baseball, and six years since he was part of an Opening Day rotation—but the 34-year-old heads into spring training's final week with a chance to be named Atlanta's fifth starter.
“I think No. 5 is still up in the air,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Michael Cunningham. “Obviously we can’t give it too much more time. I think here in the next three or four days we will come up with what the plan is. “
That plan appears to include getting one more look at each of the four pitchers in the running for that final rotation spot—Wang, fellow veteran Eric Stults and a pair of youngsters, Mike Foltynewicz and Cody Martin.
Based on spring numbers alone, Stults would seem to have the advantage over the rest of the field:
Both Foltynewicz and Martin have minor league options remaining, and it's safe to say both will start the year honing their craft down on the farm.
That would leave Stults and Wang as the team's final options, but when you consider that Wang has thrown only 121.2 major league innings since 2009—Stults eclipsed that total last year alone with 176 innings for San Diego—the Korean-born righty would seem to be the odd man out.
While he appears to be healthy, Wang has never been a flamethrower or a pitcher who makes a living missing bats, evidenced by a fairly mediocre 4.1 K/9 rate for his career. Should he and the Braves part ways over the next week or so, it could be the end of the line for his major league career.
OF Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers
Like Toronto's Dioner Navarro, all Los Angeles' Andre Ethier wants to do is play the game he's being paid to play—and he let it be known early in the offseason that he's ready to change uniforms if that's what it takes to make that a reality.
"I want the opportunity to play every day. My mind hasn't changed from when I told you guys that a couple months ago," Ethier told ESPN Los Angeles' Mark Saxon back in February. "You're not wishing for it ever to end, but sometimes that opportunity takes you somewhere else. I'm not going to do anything to sit here and force it. Hopefully it works itself out."
The Dodgers would love nothing more than to accommodate Ethier, as his presence on the Opening Day roster will likely force the club to send Chris Heisey to the minors, and the team is willing to eat half of the $56 million left on his deal to facilitate a trade, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman.
But even that hasn't been enough to get another team to bite on the two-time All-Star, who has been productive this spring, hitting .313/.389/.458 with five extra-base hits (one home run) and 10 RBI over 48 at-bats.
Unless president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi can work their magic over the next few days, it seems Ethier is destined to serve in the same reserve role that he filled a year ago. That's a losing situation for everyone involved.
All contract information courtesy of Cot's Contracts.
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