Players, GMs begin stressful final week of spring
With Opening Day fast approaching, roster moves will be plentiful for most teams
TAMPA, Fla.-- It was at this same point last Spring Training that Tigers manager Jim Leyland sat at his desk one morning and spoke about one of the most stressful weeks of the season.
"It's not easy," he kept saying.
Welcome to the final week of Spring Training. Rosters will be shuffled, players moved, injuries evaluated. General managers will burn those cell phone minutes. So will dozens of players, as their careers are debated.
As a veteran on the bubble said on Sunday morning, "I have no idea where I'm going to be living at the end of this week, and I've got a wife and two kids to think about. I've been through it before, but it's nerve wracking."
Do the Tigers keep Rick Porcello or use him to add an outfielder and/or bullpen depth? Can the Yankees find a first baseman? If the Red Sox release Lyle Overbay, do the Yankees make the call? For that matter, can the Yankees find a left fielder and a catcher?
When will Derek Jeter be ready? When will the Red Sox get David Ortiz back in the lineup? Where will Jon Garland land after opting out of his deal with the Mariners? Will the Rockies give him a call? They're again shopping for starting pitching.
Maybe they should call the Dodgers, who have more starting pitching depth than anyone and might be willing to listen to offers for Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano.
The Nationals could also have a starter available if Chris Young opts out of his contract. The Rays, typically, have a surplus as they attempt to choose between Jeff Niemann and Roberto Hernandez for their final spot in the rotation.
Get the picture? Virtually every team is wrestling with at least a couple of tough decisions as the end of Spring Training approaches.
Now back to Leyland last spring. He had a really good team, a team that would eventually get to the World Series. But as the Tigers wrestled with their final roster decisions, balancing needs and injuries and how the season might play out, Leyland seemed to carry the weight of those decisions in the lines on his face and the tension in his answers.
He hates those final cuts anyway, because he feels a personal connection to his players. And after watching guys bust their tails for six weeks, he dislikes having to tell them they're being sent to the Minor Leagues.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he can look every guy he sends back to the Minors in the eye and tell him to go take care of his work and they might get another chance.
"We have some credibility in that area," Showalter said. "We're going to leave here with 25 players, but we're going to need a lot more than that."
The Orioles used 52 players last season, shuffling players back and forth between Triple-A Norfolk and Double-A Bowie so often that Showalter became a frequent late-night caller to both teams' managers.
"I can't tell you how many times I woke [Norfolk manager] Ron Johnson up at 2:30 in the morning," Showalter said. "It got to the point that he'd answer, 'Hey, Buck, what do you need?'"
Yet the final cuts are painful because there's something special about being on an Opening Day roster, about having all that hadrd work pay off with a handshake from the manager. This is the week general managers scour the waiver wire and try to figure out where another team's extra player might be the answer to his need.
We may not look back six months from now and see any of these final-week moves as having decided a pennant race. On the other hand, good teams are relentless in attempting to get better.
And as stressed as Leyland seemed at this time last year, every general manager is feeling some of the same things. Every player on the waiver wire -- and every telephone call from a counterpart -- is a chance to get better.
Baseball has more parity than at any time in recent memory. Any debate about the game's best team would have to include 10 or more clubs. And beyond those 10 are clubs like the Padres, Royals, Pirates, Mariners, Twins and Indians, who believe they're really close to making a run.
Yes, they'll be sweating the small stuff in these final days.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.