The Rundown: Cactus League Commences Today, Counsell Move Not About Personal Gain, MLB Front Offices Much More Frugal This Year

Cubs baseball returned today, but a lot of the excitement that is usually attached to the first Cactus League game is missing. Things have been a little off since Chicago’s North Side Baseballers broke for camp.

Yes, all of that has stripped the spring training opener of its traditional pomp and circumstance. The saving grace of today’s game is that there will be fewer reruns on MLB Network and that the hot stove season has officially ended for anybody not repped by Boras Corp.

The Cubs will debut their new digs in today’s game against the White Sox. Perhaps live baseball is the distraction this fanbase needs, though I’m not sure I want to witness those see-through dungarees on my 4K television. Still, there are several compelling reasons to follow the Cubs this spring. I’ll pick three today and add to the discussion in future columns.

  1. Is Pete Crow-Armstrong ready to be an everyday center fielder? The rookie struggled last September and he enters the 2024 season without a hit, but there’s no denying his glove. It’s important to remember that Crow-Armstrong briefly struggled each time he advanced a level through the farm system. He had just 19 PAs last season and, though he looked overmatched, you can bet he’ll use that as a developmental catalyst this season.
  2. What will life be without Bellinger if it comes to that? 2024 marks the year Chicago’s highly-rated farm system begins to bear fruit. Crow-Armstrong, Miguel Amaya, Jordan Wicks, Daniel Palencia, and Alexander Canario gave us a small taste at the end of last year of what’s to come. We’re likely to see Cade Horton, Matt Shaw, Brennen Davis, and possibly Kevin Alcántara this season. Shōta Imanaga is considered a rookie, too. The Cubs also acquired the organization’s No. 3 prospect, Michael Busch, from the Dodgers and he has already been penciled in as the team’s Opening Day first baseman. The Cubs will miss Bellinger, but at least he’s not blocking the first wave of Chicago’s prospects.
  3. How will Craig Counsell differ from David Ross? Chicago’s new manager is known as the bullpen whisperer, and poor ‘pen management arguably cost the Cubs a playoff spot in 2023. Ross also made some questionable lineup decisions and benched Canario and Nelson Velázquez after each hit game-impacting grand slams. Some analysts believe Counsell alone is worth eight wins to this club. Is that enough to compensate for the potential loss of Bellinger? We’ll see.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

My headlines are never this good and my name feels kind of ordinary now.

Central Intelligence

Spring Training News & Notes

MLB front offices are being much more frugal this year, spending $2.6 billion on 118 free agents, so far. Last year teams spent $3.9 billion on 151 players.

The Marlins and free agent shortstop Tim Anderson are in agreement on a one-year, $5 million contract.

The Tigers added to their infield on Thursday, announcing the signing of Gio Urshela to a one-year, $1.5 million guarantee.

The Yankees’ interest in Blake Snell has seen a slight softening according to a report from John Heyman.

A photo of Casey Schmitt took the MLB pants issue to an astounding new low.

MLBPA president Tony Clark wants the league to fix the issue before the start of the regular season.

The league says the uniforms were designed with performance in mind. Feel free to make your own jokes.

Clark also said the union will fight to protect the right to heavily-deferred deals like the one Ohtani signed.

Major League Baseball wants Arizona lawmakers to exempt minor league players from the state’s minimum wage during spring training.

Dylan Cease would like teams to stop tanking.

The A’s, who have perfected tanking, have the league’s lowest over/under win projection since 1990.

MLB Network released its full 30 Clubs/15 Days schedule. The segment featuring the Cubs airs on March 6.

Eric Hosmer has officially retired.

Extra Innings

Imanaga always has a grin on his face like he knows something we don’t.

They Said It

  • “It’s important to remember how quickly [Morel] moved through the higher levels of the minor leagues. He’s a player who is still developing in a lot of ways, but also producing at a high level in the big leagues, which is a pretty great place to be.” – Hoerner
  • “It’s kind of thinking about Pete [Crow-Armstrong] as a player and situations that he could get put into this year. When you have a defender like Pete when you get into the game, you’re not taking him out of games, right? So, you just think about situations that could come up late in the games where we’re always looking for the best offensive matchup, but there’s matchups where you’re not going to take. So, the bunt against tough matchups could be a real thing and a play that we — although I would tell you, I don’t love giving up an out — maybe this is the best situation for us to advance a base here on a difficult matchup for Pete.” – Counsell

Friday Walk-Up Song

This is incredible, though the video quality is subpar. I’m predicting a Talking Heads reunion and tour in 2025.

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