There is the misnomer that spring training doesn’t count. The notion persists that players saunter through six weeks of meaningless at-bats, pitchers take their time getting their arms in shape and that baseball makes some bucks from the retirees and tourists who come to the quirky parks that dot the sunshine state.
For those who have the team made, some or all of the above may hold true. But it is not the case for many players looking to impress the organization, fend off age, or just make the team.
On the Yankees, exhibit A could be A.J. Burnett. He will be under a microscope with every inning he throws. After a 10-15 season, he does not have the luxury of taking his time to get ready. He has a job, he doesn’t have it made in the manner of, say, CC Sabathia who can get hit hard in his outings without feeling the negative vibes all around him.
Free agent catcher Russell Martin has a guaranteed $4 million contract, but that does not mean he can relax. Rookie Jesus Montero was bold enough to say he wants the starting job before he’s even had a major league at-bat. Yankee GM Brian Cashman has said Martin could be traded if he does not win the job in spring training.
Curtis Granderson was one of the stars down the stretch last year, but there is no guarantee that he will play the majority of games in centerfield. Andruw Jones, who used to have super star status, could push Granderson. And the corner outfielders, Brett Gardner in left and Nick Swisher in right, cannot rest on their laurels, either.
Derek Jeter doesn’t have to hit in spring training, but he will find his way into the headlines if he’s at .188 a few days before the season starts. Mark Teixeira will hear about his notorious slow starts if he has a slow bat in March.
And we may not care much if Edwin Nunez beats out Ramiro Pena for a utility job, but they certainly do.
Who can relax in spring training? One would think the fans, who can soak in the sunshine and not worry about the standings. But the fans worry about their players more than the players worry about themselves.