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Insider

Atlanta's costly payroll problem

Brian McCann figures to be next in the line of highly priced catchers. Howard Smith-US/Presswire

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.)

2011: 15th

2010: 15th

2009: 11th

2008: 10th

2007: 15th

2006: 9th

2005: 10th

2004: 8th

2003: 3rd

2002: 7th

2001: 6th

2000: 4th

1999: 3rd

1998: 3rd

1997: 5th

1996: 3rd

1995: 3rd

1994: 3rd

1993: 7th

1992: 11th

1991: 20th

1990: 23rd

1989: 22nd

1988: 18th

Notables

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.

The San Francisco Giants issued a statement, too, as John Shea writes.

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

6. (tie) Drew Stubbs, Jayson Werth: 40.2

8. (tie) Adam Jones, Howie Kendrick, Kelly Johnson: 40.0

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

5. (tie) Jose Reyes, Ben Zobrist: 14.1

7. (tie) Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Aubrey Huff, Chipper Jones: 14.5

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.

• Spring training stats don't really mean much, but they are sure interesting to look at. Starling Marte of the Pittsburgh Pirates is 8-for-11 so far, with an OPS of 1.818.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Texas GM Jon Daniels was initially irked by something that Josh Hamilton said.

2. A bankruptcy judge is urging a settlement in the Dodgers' Bryan Stow case, as Bill Shaikin writes.

3. The Nationals' COO all but guaranteed that Bryce Harper will make his debut in 2012.

4. Sandy Alderson may not have the clout to fix the New York Mets, writes Bob Klapisch.

5. Dusty Baker hasn't decided who his leadoff hitter will be.

6. The Chicago Cubs seem interested in rebuilding a foundation.

Dings and dents

1. Freddie Freeman says his knee feels great.

2. Josh Collmenter was scratched because of forearm tightness.

3. Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez could play on Friday.

4. Adam LaRoche is just about ready to go.

5. Andrew Miller was scratched because of elbow stiffness.

6. Dontrelle Willis' struggles continue. The Phillies' pitching coach seemed perturbed, writes Jim Salisbury.

7. Bill Bray was told to rest.

8. Corey Hart is feeling good after his knee surgery.

The battle for jobs

1. An ex-catcher is vying to be part of the Houston bullpen, as Zachary Levine writes.

2. It appears Kris Medlen will be back in the bullpen, writes David O'Brien.

3. Nolan Arenado wants to make the Colorado Rockies' roster at the start of the season.

4. Kyle Blanks is getting a fresh start with the Padres, writes Bill Center.

5. Mike Aviles is prepping at shortstop. It seems like a done deal that Aviles will open the season as Boston's primary shortstop.

6. Aroldis Chapman remains a mystery, writes Paul Daugherty.

7. Yonder Alonso is starting over with the Padres, as Hal McCoy writes.

8. Mat Gamel has a measured approached in his effort to be the Milwaukee first baseman.

9. A bunch of guys are competing for the Chicago White Sox closer job.

10. Chone Figgins is proud to be able to play all over the field.

11. The Pirates will have to decide whether to keep a big, hard thrower.

Wednesday's games

1. Jamie Moyer, months away from qualifying for his AARP card, lit up the radar guns on Wednesday.

2. Yoenis Cespedes had a good day.

3. Shelby Miller's first spring start went well, as Derrick Goold writes.

4. Some sloppy defense did not help the Royals' Jonathan Sanchez, as Bob Dutton writes.

5. Jordan Zimmermann was excellent in three innings, as Amanda Comak writes.

6. Hiroki Kuroda had some modest results.

7. Jon Lester got his work in.

8. An Orioles pitcher looked good.

9. A Mets pitcher looked good.

10. A Minnesota Twins reliever was hit hard.

11. Jake Peavy pitched and was happy to be healthy.

Other stuff

• 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 new Boston Red Sox fit together nicely, writes Peter Abraham.

Jim Edmonds is hanging out in the Cardinals' camp.

• The Giants will face some bright lights in the NL West, writes Bruce Jenkins.

• Hard-working A.J. Ellis embodies the spirit of the Los Angeles Dodgers, writes Bill Dwyre.

George Sherrill is slowly working his way back in Mariners camp, writes Geoff Baker.

• Two deceased friends are always on the mind of an Orioles catcher.

Casey Kotchman is making an impression with the Cleveland Indians.

Jered Weaver isn't going to mess with a good thing, writes Bill Plunkett.

Jeff Francoeur is a fantasy football god.

• The New York Yankees were amazed by the power of a preacher.

• Vanderbilt has high expectations in the SEC tournament.

And today will be better than yesterday.