Yes, Yogi, you can observe a lot just by watching. Herewith some of my observations over the early weeks of spring training:
* WRIGHT’S PLIGHT David Wright looks very likely to join Tony Oliva, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, and Carlos Delgado in the club of certain Hall of Famers whose tracks were torpedoed by injuries. He’s played a mere 75 games in the past two seasons, missed two thirds of last season plus the wild card game recuperating from spinal stenosis, and now he’s dealing with a shoulder impingement that makes it difficult to impossible for him to throw a ball.
For a third baseman, that’s certain doom. Nobody’s willing just yet to count Wright out entirely in terms of whether he can play again at all, but but he has a few years to go on his Mets contract, he doesn’t play in the DH league, and unless there’s a miracle in the offing it looks like his days on the Hall of Fame track really did begin to expire in earnest three years ago.
And even though Wright has always been a modest team-first type, it has to sting only slightly less than stung such as his possible loss of an MVP thanks to the Mets’ 2007 collapse (not his fault: he hit .352 with twenty steaks and ended that fateful September with a seventeen-game hitting streak) and followup disaster. (September 2008: Wright had a .340/.416/.577 slash line for the month.)
Remember: Neck issues finally put paid to Prince Fielder’s career prematurely last year. If his assorted physical issues do likewise to Wright soon, he’ll be remembered as one of the classiest as well as one of the best Mets.
* TROUT FISHING Mike Trout looks poised to pick up where he left off last season. Meanwhile, thought you’d like to know he has more wins above a replacement level player (48.5) over his first five seasons than 32 Hall of Famers earned in their entire careers, and he’s only the twelfth position player to earn 10+ WAR in a season twice in his career.
What does it mean for the Angels? They went all-in starting last year to bolster their defense, their pitching looks improved particularly with the departures of fading Jered Weaver (signed with the Padres) and C.J. Wilson (retired to pursue auto racing), and they could prove to have a sleeper shot at the post season. Could.
* THE PRICE MAY BE WRONG The Red Sox stepped into spring training feeling very good about their 2017 chances. Two weeks in, they’re feeling very edgy with David Price experiencing forearm issues enough to send him to Dr. James Andrews and Dr. Neal ElAttrache—two of the nation’s top orthopedic surgeons—this week.
Price missed his first spring start due to the problem, but he says he’s feeling somewhat better since. Seeing orthopedic surgeons for opinions isn’t guaranteed ominous, but it isn’t guaranteed that you’ll come away without a date for surgery, either.
* ELLSBURY SAYS IT WORST? It’s looking more as though signing Jacoby Ellsbury will prove one of the bigger Yankee mistakes, albeit one neither Ellsbury nor the Yankees could have seen coming when he signed up after the Red Sox’s 2013 World Series run. The Yankees are considering dropping Ellsbury to the bottom of the order in a bid to coax his former ability back.
In Boston, Ellsbury played hard and paid with more than his share of injuries. He also earned an unfair reputation for softness because he was prudent about recovery. It’s not impossible that his hard play with the Red Sox took a premature toll on him.
The Yankees think there’s something left in the tank—with four years to go on his deal you can understand why—but Ellsbury is pushing 34, and his signing now looks like a panic signing. The Yankees were about to lose Robinson Cano and hunted an early-in-the-order man who could get on base and had some power to boot. Hence Ellsbury, who tries not to let any frustration overflow.
* EVERYTHING’S JAKE? Jake Arrieta is said to be looking for Max Scherzer money in his next contract. The Cubs wanted to talk extension but got nowhere so far; Arrieta is said to be seeking at least equal to Scherzer’s seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nationals.
FanRag’s Steven Goldman, author of the splendid Forging Genius (an analysis of Casey Stengel’s managerial career), makes a splendid argument against Arrieta getting that kind of money, without suggesting he doesn’t deserve a big payday at all assuming he has a solid 2017.
* YOU CAN LEARN A LOT JUST BY WATCHING THIS MAN You could excuse Cardinals pitcher Ryan Sherriff for thinking he was being pranked. How often does your team’s ace see you walking back and forth from camp because you rented an apartment ten minutes away after you couldn’t afford to ship your car to camp?
That’s exactly what happened to Sherriff, courtesy of Adam Wainwright. Wainwright paid for a rental car for Sherriff. For Wainwright, it was a case of paying it forward: when he was a young pitcher, his wardrobe was so threadbare that veteran Mark Mulder took pity on him and bought him “a whole box of collared shirts.”
Sherriff sent Wainwright a thank-you, too: knowing Wainwright has a thing for Chick-Fil-A plus sweet tea and barbeque sauce, Sherriff put a plentiful stock of the stuff in Wainwright’s locker. “He nailed it,” Wainwright said. “That’s the best thank-you gift I’ve ever had.”
Almost (underline that) better than the one Wainwright got for looking at his own instructional video and discovering how and why his vaunted curve ball went south last year: he’d inadvertently changed his grip. Now he’s using the old one again. And loving it.
* HARPER’S BIZARRE Bryce Harper, bent on proving last year’s down year was a(n injury-compromised) fluke, opened spring training with a bang, hitting the second pitch he saw this spring (from the Mets’ Sean Gilmartin) over the right field fence, and piling up a clinically insane 1.806 OPS through Thursday’s spring play.
Naturally, the whispers about who’s liable to take him out of Washington have kicked off. Joe Giglio of NJ.com (tied to the Newark Star-Ledger and other major Jersey papers) says the Yankees and the Phillies—both rebuilding, and both hunting established youth—are liable to get into a bidding war for Harper after his current deal expires after the 2018 season.
Jon Heyman (FanRag) says the Yankees are still steaming over having missed out on taking Mike Trout before the Angels snatched him with the 25th pick in 2009, while the Phillies could be primed financially to start loading up after Harper becomes a free agent. (The Phillies now have only one player, Odubel Herrera, signed past 2017.)
And that’s before admitting that if Harper returns to form in Washington the Nationals may have big incentives to keep him, even if they end up having to go rebuild but around him down the road apiece.