NORMAN — Before heading to Florida for his 50th season in professional baseball, Jim Leyland thought about all the deals that were made since he walked off the field as the World Series ended last October.
“Toronto probably was the big boy in the offseason as far as the moves they made,” the Detroit Tigers manager said. “That’s going to be just one heck of a division, obviously. Toronto, they actually were my sleeper team last year until they had all those injuries to the pitching staff.”
From Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla., to HoHoKam Park in Mesa, Ariz., bats and balls will be broken out next week when teams report for spring training — extra early because of the third World Baseball Classic. For an offseason with a lackluster free-agent market, a whole lot of movement took place.
While the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels flashed their cash, putting Zack Greinke in Dodger blue and Josh Hamilton in Orange County red, Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos flipped players in the trade market as if they were baseball cards.
NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey was acquired from the Mets, and 2011 NL batting champion Jose Reyes arrived with pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson from Miami, which seemed to jettison virtually every veteran other than mascot Billy the Marlin.
“There’s pressure to win for everybody,” said manager John Gibbons, back running the Blue Jays’ dugout for the first time since 2008. “It’s survival of franchises. They’ve got to win sooner or later. That forces some teams to do some things if you’re going to keep up.”
Players and fans are looking forward to sun in Florida and Arizona over the next 1 1/2 months, with the exhibition schedule starting Feb. 21 when the Boston Red Sox host Northeastern University at Fort Myers, Fla. But the cloud of drugs remains over the game. Alex Rodriguez, Gio Gonzalez and others were alleged to have obtained substances on baseball’s banned list from a Florida clinic, charges the players denied.
Who did what will take months to sort out, perhaps years. Teams are more focused on the now.
The Atlanta Braves, minus retired star Chipper Jones, were busy this winter bringing in brothers B.J. and Justin Upton to play alongside each other in a stacked outfield.
The Washington Nationals, who brought postseason baseball to the nation’s capital last year for the first time since 1933, look primed for a run at the World Series. They re-signed Adam LaRoche and added Dan Haren, Denard Span and Rafael Soriano to a deep and talented roster highlighted by young phenoms Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.