- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2012

Tim Lincecum thought about the seismic shifts of baseball’s offseason, the ones that saw Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder migrate to the American League.

“I think it’s great,” San Francisco’s two-time Cy Young Award winner joked. “I won’t have to pitch to them anymore.”

There’s been a lot of change since the Texas Rangers’ David Murphy flied out to the St. Louis Cardinals’ Allen Craig for the final out of the seven-game World Series thriller.

Tony La Russa is gone. Bobby Valentine is back.

And no switch was bigger than Pujols‘ decision to split St. Louis for a $240 million, 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Add Fielder’s move from Milwaukee for a $214 million, nine-year deal with Detroit, and the lives of AL pitchers just got 75 homers and 219 RBI tougher.

“You have offenses that are going to let you know if your pitching is not up to par,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “There’s certainly been a sway to some extraordinarily deep lineups in the American League.”

The 14 AL teams have spent $776.8 million on major league contracts for players who became free agents after the World Series, and the NL’s 16 clubs have committed $597.3 million. That NL lineup looks a lot less fearsome heading into the All-Star Game at Kansas City’s Kaufmann Stadium on July 10.

And despite a 71-91 record last year, even the Royals are hopeful before the first pitch has been thrown — even with the AL’ additions.

“They make it more exciting and more challenging for all of us,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “I’m a fan, too, and like watching them play. It’s exciting.”

Seattle on Sunday became the first to open camp because the Mariners start the season in Tokyo with a two-game series against Oakland on March 28-29.

Other teams start reporting Saturday ahead of the stateside opener, which features the Cardinals at the renamed and now rainbow-colored Miami Marlins on April 4 in the first official game at $515 million Marlins Park. The Marlins were among the offseason’s big spenders, reeling in All-Stars Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell for a combined $191 million while failing to hook Pujols.

“I want our team to be important,” said Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who has a World Series ring from Florida’s 2003 championship season.

While the Marlins and Angels stocked up, with Los Angeles spending a combined $317.5 million on Pujols and left-hander C.J. Wilson, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox acted like small-market savers. Perhaps it was the lack of star starting pitchers on the free agent market. Or maybe it was the new labor contract, announced in November, that adds incentives in coming years for reigning in the urge to splurge.

No such issues for the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets, big-market teams tumbling from turmoil. Put in bankruptcy by owner Frank McCourt last summer, the Dodgers are to be sold by April 30 for what figures to be the biggest price in baseball history. While waiting, the Dodgers didn’t lure any splashy stars to Hollywood’s bright lights.

Coming off three straight losing seasons, the Mets have cut the dimensions of Citi Field along with their payroll, from $120 million at the start of last season to about $95 million. This while the Wilpon-Katz family that owns the team prepares for a March trial where the trustee for victims of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme will seek to recover $386 million for investors. On the field, New York has downgraded from Gucci-level free agents to Gap-priced players such as Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch.

In an increasingly stronger NL East, Washington upgraded by adding Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson, and Philadelphia added closer Jonathan Papelbon.

As spring training approached, there still were plenty of big names available on the market, including Roy Oswalt, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Vladimir Guerrero, Magglio Ordonez and Raul Ibanez.

Another uncertainty heading into spring training was the status of NL MVP Ryan Braun. Facing a possible 50-game suspension for a positive drug test, the Milwaukee Brewers left fielder was awaiting a decision from arbitrator Shyam Das on his appeal, and the absence of both Fielder and Braun might be too much for Milwaukee to overcome.

“Oh yeah, that will be tough,” Brewers outfielder Nyjer Morgan said.



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