Springing forward to Florida and Arizona for baseball training camps

Winter rest is over, it's time for MLB spring training

Before the San Francisco Giants enjoyed their third parade in five years, before a Chevrolet executive memorably advised World Series most valuable player Madison Bumgarner he had won a truck equipped with "technology and stuff," before the "Mad Bum" underwear hit the stores, the Giants' ace won the World Series by throwing 185 pitches in four days.

"I can't lie to you anymore," Bumgarner said after Game 7. "I'm a little tired now."

The winter of rest is over, for Bumgarner and for baseball. Spring training camps open this week, with story lines from all over the Cactus League — and an old friend making news in the Grapefruit League:

Mesa, Ariz.

Joe Maddon could not lose in Tampa Bay. If the Rays won, he was a genius. If they lost, well, who could blame him when the Rays did not spend the money to win? Those days are gone, since the Chicago Cubs dumped their manager to hire Maddon, then threw $155 million at pitcher Jon Lester. The game's finest power-hitting prospect, third baseman Kris Bryant, could make his Cubs debut this season. The Cubs have not finished above fifth place since 2009 and have not won a playoff game since 2003. No pressure, Joe.

Glendale, Ariz.

In his first few months running the Dodgers, Andrew Friedman so dramatically revamped the roster that fans could be forgiven for believing the owners gave Friedman carte blanche. However, he was restricted from trading Yasiel Puig. That is not to say Friedman would have done it, but he did upgrade pitching and defense at the expense of offense. That makes the bat of the mercurial Puig all the more important, and the Dodgers need more consistency from him than two months with an OPS over 1.100 and two with an OPS under .700.

Fort Myers, Fla.

Hanley Ramirez could not play shortstop anymore, so the Boston Red Sox signed him — for $88 million — to play left field at Fenway Park, one of the more challenging positions in any major league park. As the Red Sox try to go worst-to-first-to-worst-to-first, Ramirez should become their eighth Opening Day left fielder in eight years, following Manny Ramirez in 2008, Jason Bay in 2009, Jacoby Ellsbury in 2010, Carl Crawford in 2011, Cody Ross in 2012, Jackie Bradley Jr. in 2013 and Mike Carp in 2014.

Tempe, Ariz.

The Angels had a clear and present need for Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields. They passed on the big-ticket free agents, opting to develop pitching depth and avoid the luxury tax. That puts the burden on Garrett Richards, coming off knee surgery, and Matt Shoemaker, coming off a stunningly strong rookie season, to repeat their 2014 success. The rest of the starters — Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Hector Santiago and rookies Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano — would look much better behind a dominant Richards and Shoemaker.

Scottsdale, Ariz.

The most pivotal player in baseball this season could be Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants. This year's team is even more dependent on pitching than usual, with third baseman Pablo Sandoval and left fielder Mike Morse (32 home runs combined last year) replaced by Casey McGehee and Nori Aoki, respectively (five home runs combined). Cain's comeback from elbow surgery appears critical to a team whose other starters are Bumgarner, who threw 270 innings last season, and 30-somethings Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong, who combined for 19 innings in the World Series — two fewer than Bumgarner.

Mesa, Ariz.

The Oakland Athletics have a renovated spring home (HoHoKam Park, the old Cubs' stadium) and a renovated roster. General Manager Billy Beane made nine trades, involving 27 players. Of the five players to hit at least 10 home runs last season, four are gone. Of the seven players to make the All-Star team, five — including third baseman Josh Donaldson and pitcher Jeff Samardzija — are gone. The highly paid newcomers include second baseman Ben Zobrist, designated hitter Billy Butler and reliever Tyler Clippard. The A's have made the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, and Beane concedes nothing. "I'm too old to be on a five-year rebuild," he said.

Peoria, Ariz.

The countdown is on to opening day at Dodger Stadium, when the loudest cheers for position players could be for each right fielder — Puig for the Dodgers, Matt Kemp for the visiting San Diego Padres. The Padres won the winter — come October, that and a couple bucks gets you a fish taco. Now they have six weeks to settle an impressive but ill-fitting collection of talent, including a heavily right-handed lineup, an all-righty rotation, and a utility infielder posing as a starting shortstop. Still, it will be nice for the Padres to have something to promote besides "Beat L.A." T-shirts.


Twitter: @BillShaikin

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