Saturday, March 17, 2012

The dog days of spring training

Every teams’ camp is in full swing now, with lineups starting to gel, pitching rotations rounding into shape, and managers and GMs with a much better idea of what they’ve got and where they’re going.

Players who have been around for a while at the major league level know how spring training is supposed to work. They have their routines established, and know how long it will take them to get ready. Managers and their coaching staffs know what is expected of them to. For the coaches, it’s handling drills, teaching the finer points of playing the positions for which they have responsibility, and the managers spend their time seeing what they’ve got and what they can do with it. Part of that is overseeing the minor league players deemed to be almost ready for The Show. Management has definitely got to have a good idea of what their spare parts can do. A big player goes on the disabled list, what’s the best way to handle it? Give the kid who impressed you at spring training an audition in the majors, or go out and try to get a replacement player from another team? These are all things that are part of any club’s spring training regimen.

The commonly acknowledged truism is that “spring training games don’t mean anything once the season starts. It’s true, and it isn’t. To my mind, the most important thing is for management to get the best read possible on their squad during spring training.

But what about the spanners that are always chucked in the works when you least expect it? The media has had little of any dramatic value to report on this spring, and with the halfway mark, probably nothing much more to report. Then, yesterday, they received a gift, courtesy of the New York Yankees.

Andy Pettitte has decided to come out of retirement after a year and compete for a starting job with his old team. I have to admit that one caught me a little off guard. And I don’t think I’m alone in the baseball world.

In a way, I have to feel bad for the club’s manager, Joe Girardi. He’s been working with a group of guys all spring, and basically the only job up for grabs was the fifth starter’s position. Was it going to be Phil Hughes or Freddy Garcia who got the job?

Now that’s all out the window. Pettitte’s got the credentials, sure. He’s the winningest pitcher in the post season ever (19). But he’s 39 and has been out of the game for a year. At the very least, you’ve got to feel bad for Garcia and Hughes. How must they feel?

Bottom line is, even when you’re moving along on the trajectory you want to be on, life can throw you a curve. What could the Yankees say when Pettitte told them he wanted to attempt a return? “No, sorry Andy boy, there ain’t a chance.” Pettitte could well round into form and what pitching staff wouldn’t benefit from his skill and experience? At the agreed upon $2.5 million salary, it could turn out to be the steal of the century.

I wouldn’t count Pettitte out. He left the game not because he couldn’t do it, but because he didn’t want to do it anymore.

Joe Girardi and the Yankees will just have to wait until August for the real dog days to begin. It ain’t happening this spring.

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