LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Cardinals' signing of Yadier Molina to a $75 million deal changes the landscape for the Atlanta Braves, as the possible free agency of Brian McCann looms at the end of 2013. The cost of high-priced catching just went up dramatically.
Atlanta holds a $12 million option on McCann for next season, and then the Braves must decide whether to invest an annual salary in the catcher that might absorb somewhere between 15 percent and 22 percent of their entire budget.
And keep in mind: The Braves' payroll is not growing. All around baseball, new TV contracts are filling the bankrolls of the Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres, etc. But Atlanta's television contract is locked into place for the next generation, and its payroll has remained stagnant.
2001: $92 million
2002: $94 million
2003: $106 million
2004: $90 million
2005: $86 million
2006: $90 million
2007: $87 million
2008: $102 million
2009: $97 million
2010: $84 million
2011: $91 million
Payrolls are growing all over baseball, but not in Atlanta. Salaries are climbing, but the Braves' budget is not.
Another way to look at the Braves' glacial drift is to consider their payroll standing relative to the rest of the majors.
In the late '90s, Atlanta typically had one of the highest payrolls in baseball ... but that's no longer the case. Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats & Information dug out the Braves' annual payroll ranking among all the teams in baseball (source: USA Today.)
• Oakland Athletics owner Lew Wolff is compliant by nature, so the statement the Athletics issued Wednesday seems to signal the start of an aggressive new chapter in the team's effort to move to San Jose. And hey, why not -- today is the 1,078th day since MLB announced the formation of a blue-ribbon committee to study the Athletics/Giants/San Jose situation, which is 776 days longer than it took the Warren Commission to issue its report about the Kennedy assassination to President Lyndon B. Johnson.
From the perspective of the Athletics' current regime, there is probably a feeling that they have nothing to lose, and they could consider all options, from calling for votes to encouraging the city of San Jose to file lawsuits. After all, is it really baseball's place to tell the 10th-largest city in the U.S. -- a wealthy place that is basically home to Apple and Google and other large companies -- that it can't have a big league team?
You could call it a changeup pitch that has a purpose, writes Mark Purdy.
• Yu Darvish was The Man on Wednesday, dominating San Diego hitters for two innings, throwing all seven of his pitches for strikes, as Jeff Wilson writes. Padres manager Bud Black was impressed but warned of the hurdles ahead, as Gerry Fraley writes. Darvish tweeted to those who watched him in Japan, writes Evan Grant.
Richard Durrett has a complete breakdown of his start.
• There is early debate on whether Marlins Park -- which should always be known as The Fish Tank -- is more of a pitcher's park or a hitter's park, but Giancarlo Stanton can hit the ball out of any park. He killed the ball in batting practice, as Joe Capozzi writes.
By the way: The Miami Marlins have had talks in formulating an offer to Stanton, and at some point soon -- sometime this spring, perhaps -- they are expected to present a large crooked number in a contract for the outfielder, to gauge his interest.
• On Feb. 16, just before the start of the Tigers' camp, Miguel Cabrera looked like he was in significantly better condition, having dropped close to 30 pounds.
About 10 days later, he seemed to have lost even more weight, as he went deeper into his preparation for third base.
On Wednesday, Cabrera walked into the Detroit clubhouse at 8 a.m., again looking as if he has continued to improve his condition. At 8:15, he was on the field, taking ground balls at third base from Rafael Belliard. Cabrera looks completely different than he did during the playoffs last year when he appeared to be something close to about 290 pounds, and he is working like crazy to make his shift to third base work. "He is a really proud guy," said one member of the Tigers' organization.
He made a tough play in Wednesday's game, as Tom Gage writes.
• Word in Tigers' camp is that center fielder Austin Jackson is making more and better contact after affecting some adjustments with his swing. This is a good thing, because only one hitter in all of the major leagues fell into a higher percentage of counts of no balls and two strikes or 1-2 in 2011.
From Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats & Information, the highest percentage of plate appearances that went to 0-2 or 1-2:
1. Miguel Olivo: 44.0
2. Jackson: 43.4
3. Mark Reynolds: 42.9
4. Curtis Granderson: 42.1
5. Alfonso Soriano: 40.7
The lowest percentage of plate appearances that veered into 0-2, 1-2 counts:
1. Jimmy Rollins: 12.7
2. Vladimir Guerrero: 12.9
3. Ian Kinsler: 13.4
4. Victor Martinez: 13.8
Jackson is also learning how to bunt, writes George Sipple.
• Brandon Morrow is working on a lot of soft stuff this spring, as Bob Elliott writes. Incredibly, Morrow generated a total of one double-play grounder in 179.1 innings -- by far the fewest for any pitcher with at least 160 innings in the big leagues last year -- and he is looking for ways to develop an off-speed pitch. The changeup is a difficult pitch for him to throw because of the way his hand pronates, so he is focusing on developing a curveball this spring.
• Watched Jacob Turner's rough outing Wednesday, in which he threw 19 strikes among 47 pitches, and a couple of things jumped out. First, he really struggled to make an adjustment in his delivery, which he acknowledged afterward. And second, the explosive fastball that other teams saw in his first spring is just not there yet -- Turner was throwing mostly 91-92 mph.
The Tigers have a bunch of young pitchers vying for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, and given how solid the rest of the starters are -- from Justin Verlander to Doug Fister to Max Scherzer to Rick Porcello -- the most important thing for the last spot might be predictability. What the Tigers cannot have is somebody who struggles to throw strikes, who lasts 3 2/3 innings and crushes the Detroit bullpen.
And this might mean that Drew Smyly is the front-runner, because he throws strikes.
Turner is still in the running, of course, as Tom Gage writes.
• An Angels scout was chased out of the park at the request of a manager, but the two sides are saying it was a miscommunication.
Moves, deals and decisions
2. A bankruptcy judge is urging a settlement in the Dodgers' Bryan Stow case, as Bill Shaikin writes.
5. Dusty Baker hasn't decided who his leadoff hitter will be.
Dings and dents
The battle for jobs
1. An ex-catcher is vying to be part of the Houston bullpen, as Zachary Levine writes.
11. The Pirates will have to decide whether to keep a big, hard thrower.
3. Shelby Miller's first spring start went well, as Derrick Goold writes.
8. An Orioles pitcher looked good.
9. A Mets pitcher looked good.
• David Samson did or didn't insult the good people of Miami, and some folks are upset about it.
• The Padres' new network is ready to launch.
• The Giants will face some bright lights in the NL West, writes Bruce Jenkins.
• Two deceased friends are always on the mind of an Orioles catcher.
• Vanderbilt has high expectations in the SEC tournament.
And today will be better than yesterday.