MLB’S SPRING STORY LINES
1. Labor pains. With more than 100 free agents still unsigned before the start of spring training, the Players Association plans to set up its own camp in Bradenton, Fla., for those trying to stay in shape while seeking deals. That will do nothing, however, to cool the fiery rhetoric between both sides over a free-agent system that badly needs to be updated.
2. Shohei’s stage. Much of the attention, especially from Japan, will be focused on the spring performance of Shohei Ohtani, who has the unenviable task of constantly explaining why every hit he surrenders doesn’t mean a heck of a lot before Opening Day. Collecting a few hits of his own should help, as the two-way threat will be given the unique chance to DH for the Angels in his rookie season.
3. About pace. Yes, we know. The pace-of-game debate can’t end quickly enough. But it isn’t going away, and commissioner Rob Manfred extended an early olive branch to the union by saying he’d shelve the pitch clock until 2019 — and maybe later — if players can help him get the games under two hours, 55 minutes this year. Instead, look for fewer mound visits and tighter commercial breaks.
4. Beginner’s luck? Five teams will roll out first-time managers this spring, with only the Tigers choosing a Twins retread, Ron Gardenhire, for their 2018 vacancy. The Yankees’ Aaron Boone seems like the greatest risk coming straight from the TV booth, but the Phillies’ Gabe Kapler’s unorthodox stylings could create choppy waters in Clearwater.
5. Fish fry. That burning smell coming from Jupiter, Fla., is the result of the smoldering Marlins’ fire sale, orchestrated by new CEO Derek Jeter. The Miami franchise traded their entire starting outfield this winter — Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton — with more deals still possible as Jeter focuses on slashing payroll. Should be plenty of good seats available for the Marlins’ Grapefruit games.