The Discreet Charm of the Cactus League: Cubs at Mariners
Garland vs. Samardzija, 7:05pm
I’m a hypocrite. I complained about the lack of baseball during the off-season, and now that it’s back, I complain that it’s a sort of weird hybrid of baseball and practice. But part of what we miss (or at least I miss) in the offseason isn’t the regular season – we’ll all be bored by a random Tuesday night 7-2 loss in June – it’s the discussion of how the team and players are evolving. It’s, to borrow an over-used, under-defined word, the narratives that I miss. All of the players are working on something, tweaking a delivery, messing around with a grip, learning a new pitch. The optimism, the sense of possibility, extends even to ex-players who find that the everyday aches and pains have vanished and that their arm feels the way it did when they were 20 and their sense of possibility was lauded and not mocked as wishcasting.
What has this Cactus League done but throw us more interesting stories than Hollywood cranks out in a decade, and what have I done but worry about how the stories end? Dave’s even told us, in no uncertain terms, that the ending doesn’t matter, but I’m so caught up with keeping up with the Angels that I lost sight of the multifaceted richness that the Cactus League offers. Jon Garland hasn’t pitched in years, but he’s suddenly the favorite for the #5 job. Jeremy Bonderman pitched in a minor-league game after his career appeared to end in 2011. That’s fascinating! Scott Kazmir looks likely to make the Indians rotation and my mind’s blown by that, but we have a very similar situation here (X2), and I’m worried about getting more upside, in April, from the fifth freaking rotation spot. Their career was over, because their arms didn’t work anymore, and now they do! Maybe only for a little while, but who cares?
Meanwhile, the baseball decisions are harder because Brandon Maurer is suddenly an elite prospect who is making it damned difficult for the Mariners to send him down. What do we watch the Cactus League *for* if not to see difficult situations develop? If they’re not resolved the way we want, well, it sure beats easy decisions (or those dreadful “flip a coin and hold your nose” decisions). Spring training is all about seeing Carter Capps, the intriguing starter/reliever drafted out of Division II, is not a guy who racked up Ks by throwing 90 with a decent change-up, he’s throwing 99 from a freakish arm angle. It’s about seeing Taijuan Walker throw a cutter, because he’s Taijuan Walker, that’s why. It’s seeing Brandon Maurer command four pitches, react to what’s working and what isn’t, and pitch intelligently and successfully through a (sort of) major league line-up. In the Cactus League, the Mariners – the Seattle Mariners – cannot stop hitting home runs.
It’s not a kids’ movie. Not all of the stories are happy ones. Stefen Romero’s oblique injury was a tough break, especially given its timing. Whatever Hector Noesi did in the off-season should be systematically studied by the Mariners player development staff and then banned organization wide. Erasmo Ramirez has exceeded all expectations and finds himself “in a battle” for a rotation spot anyway. There are inconveniences, obstacles, seeming injustices, etc., but in the end, these have made the story more interesting, and in the end, the wicked received their just desserts. Then there’s the tension that these roster battles create: Jon Garland can opt of his contract tomorrow, and as Geoff Baker says, is essentially pitching for his job tonight. So to you, Cactus League, Today’s line-up – whoa, hey, I’m writing a post 1: Saunders, RF here, we’ll get to the 2: Andino, 3B line-up in a minute 3: Ibanez, DH
1: Saunders, RF
2: Andino, 3B
3: Ibanez, DH
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Montero, C
6: Bay, “CF”
7: Wells, LF
8: Ackley, 2B
9: Ryan, SS