Spring training is the perfect time for sleep studies, outfield miscommunications, an endless string of meetings and big-league starters giving up multiple runs in minor-league games.
That was Thursday in a nutshell for the Texas Rangers, who lost 8-2 to the Chicago White Sox. Nick Martinez wasn’t great, but a first-inning miscommunication between new left fielder Ian Desmond and center fielder Delino DeShields aided a five-run rally.
Prince Fielder is expected to return to the Rangers’ lineup Saturday after returning to Texas in the hope of solving his sleep woes. Without him, the offense had its season-low for runs and hits (five).
Earlier, after the lengthy annual meeting with the players association, Cole Hamels allowed two runs in three innings and Martin Perez allowed three run in two innings of a minor-league game against San Diego.
It doesn’t get much more spring training than that.
Thoughts? Here are The Surprise Five.
1. Hamels looked far better in his second spring outing than his first last weekend against San Francisco. His command was better, though he did get touched for a homer and a triple in two-strike counts, and his mechanics seemed better.
He also plunked the kid who took him deep, though that was also on a two-strike off-speed pitch rather than a fastball to the ribs.
Hamels was happier, too, so that’s got to count for something. Not that he was shaken to his core Saturday by retiring only four Giants.
He warned the media in January that his springs can get a little bumpy. Bumpy for someone at his level is a relative term, but I’m curious nonetheless.
2. Union chief Tony Clark and a cast of thousands were part of the annual players association meeting. OK, Clark didn’t have that many associates from the union with him, but there was quite a crowd in the Rangers clubhouse.
Dave Winfield, Rick Helling, Phil Bradley and Bobby Bonilla were among the formers players joining Clark, a former player, in the meeting that lasted around 90 minutes.
It’s a big year in baseball. Labor peace is on the line with a new collective bargaining agreement due. Sure to be a huge topic is the draft pick compensation attached to free agents and the impact it can have on players and teams.
Desmond is this season’s poster boy, though former Rangers pitcher Yovani Gallardo was also affected. Teams didn’t want to surrender their first-round pick for Desmond, coming off a bad year, and Gallardo, who labored much of last season despite having good numbers.
“When you have a system or a structure that hamstrings clubs as well in decisions they may be looking to make to procure talent — both on an amateur end and on a professional and major-league side — it suggests that broader dialogue at the table makes sense to get a closer look at it,” Clark said. “I would expect that to happen.”
People have said that Desmond and Gallardo turned down a one-year offer for $15.8 million before settling for less, and that is 100 percent true. But the qualifying offer seems so disingenuous.
In many cases, the clubs don’t want that player back at that price, and feel very confident that the player will turn down their offer to strike it rich in free agency. My guess is that Houston, for instance, isn’t thrilled to be paying Colby Rasmus $15.8 million after he accepted their qualifying offer.
And the best deal Desmond could get was $8 million to play a completely different position.
That doesn’t feel right for either the Astros, if my hunch is accurate, or Desmond, and the system needs to be revamped.
I think it’s a bad story for the industry to tell when talent like Ian’s has a hard time finding an opportunity to play. I expect him to have a phenomenal year.
Union chief Tony Clark on Ian Desmond
3. Speaking of Desmond, he had his first putout as a left fielder — remarkably, in his fifth game out there — with a can of corn to start the fifth inning. The first play of the game, though, was far more challenging.
He and DeShields let a Jacob May fly ball land in left-center field. The sun might have been a factor, too, though after work Desmond said that he needs to realize that the center fielder is the captain of the outfield and he needs to back off.
As a shortstop his entire life, Desmond is used to taking charge. DeShields was a second baseman until a few years ago, and he’s still working to assert himself as a captain.
Manager Jeff Banister has said all along that the nuances in left field, starting with communication, would be Desmond’s biggest challenge, so DeShields needs to be the boss until Desmond gets more comfortable in the outfield.
4. The players association has made it a point to inform writers that stories alleging the union’s desire to get the media out of the clubhouse has been overblown, and here’s hoping that’s the case.
Media access to the clubhouse was limited as part of the last CBA. The media is spoiled by the access it has compared to other sports, especially the NFL, and baseball can benefit by it as it tries to make itself more popular.
The media isn’t innocent in the union’s reported desire to protect its players from reporters who might go too far. Indeed, there are those kinds of reporters out there, the ones who drop in every blue moon and reach for the moon.
The local writers chapters and club’s PR people can help clamp down on those types. The bottom line is that if a player doesn’t recognize a reporter, chances are he’s not going to be as willing an interview subject as he would to a beat writer or someone who is strongly recommended by the club PR.
That’s part of the answer to the union’s concerns, instead of painting with a wide brush and limiting access to everyone.
The purpose of the Baseball Writers Association of America is to ensure proper working conditions in press boxes and clubhouses, and to ensure its members have access to players and others in the game so members’ reporting can be accurate, fair and complete.
5. Henry and Molly Wilson made their spring debuts Thursday at Surprise Stadium and lasted nine outs before their mother, who happens to be my wife, and I decided they had had enough. We had definitely had enough.
The bag of popcorn we bought Henry was of far more importance to the kids, ages 3 and 1, than the baseball game, though Henry did take time to clap occasionally and after Shin-Soo Choo raced to the warning track to catch a Todd Frazier flyball, said, “I knew he could do it.”
For now, all Henry knows is that I work at “the baseball field.” He knows I’m not a player, though he did ask multiple times if we could go watch the game from the grass on the field.
Maybe they can handle 12 or 15 outs next year when they are 4 and 2.