Jim Henneman’s Spring Training Notebook: The Orioles’ Non-Issue, Shohei Ohtani And More

SARASOTA, Fla. — Random thoughts after random glimpses of spring training, from both near and far … and losing two more Hall of Famers …

First thing first for Orioles fans: It’s time for the question that won’t seem to go away — what are they going to do with Chris Davis? — to just go away. They aren’t going to do anything — not now, not any time this season and at least not before we know how much of a season there will be in 2022.

The collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association expires at the end of this year, and in case you haven’t paid attention (and kudos if you haven’t), there is unrest among the troops. That being the case, the Orioles are not going to think about buying out Davis’ contract, which has two years remaining, anytime soon.

Davis, who figures to open this year on the 60-day disabled list (which means he won’t count against the 26- or 40-man rosters until he’s removed), is going to cost the Orioles a lot of money but he’s not going to block a budding prospect. The O’s have plenty of first basemen/designated hitter types in the organization, but there are no budding superstars who will be held back, even if Davis eventually makes it onto the 26-man active list.

It’s a non-issue and should be considered as such.

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I’m not in the position to be making comparisons, but … I’m still trying to gauge the difference between the abilities, and contracts, of Jackie Bradley Jr. and George Springer. The Toronto Blue Jays gave Springer a six-year, $150 million contract in free agency, while JBJ managed a “paltry” two-year, $24 million deal from the Milwaukee Brewers.

Springer is the better all-around player, while Bradley is probably the best defensive outfielder in the game, which I guess makes the difference between offense and defense roughly $125 million and four years.

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Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez wasn’t the only one to have a year to forget in 2020, but by any measuring device it was pretty putrid. But indications after early weeks of spring training were that a big turnaround was in order, so much so in fact there was actually (too much) MVP chatter.

Manager Aaron Boone even indicated that Yankees ace Gerrit Cole wouldn’t have Kyle Higashioka as a personal catcher, saying he expected Sanchez to be behind the plate on Opening Day. The MVP chatter subsided when Sanchez went through a 6-for-34 streak that included a 1-for-21 stretch with 10 strikeouts. He’s still expected to catch Cole on Opening Day, however, but you might want to stay tuned.

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I don’t think it was an accident that Adley Rutschman was in the lineup for the Orioles’ first TV appearance of the spring. I’m pretty sure the club wanted to tease the audience with a glimpse of their prized catching prospect, and the kid didn’t disappoint with a double in his first at-bat and showing nice poise and presentation behind the plate.

There could be another showcase in September, but I think it’s too early to think the No. 1 overall selection in the 2019 draft will be ready for his first full MLB season before 2023. Rutschman was one of many to suffer big time from last year’s lost season.

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Leave it to Joe Maddon to find a way to showcase his second-most famous player, Shohei Ohtani, in a preseason game. The Angels’ skipper is at the head of the class when it comes to innovative ways to entertain his team — and the fans.

Mike Trout still remains the face of the Angels, but Ohtani, with Maddon’s help, did something that most likely hasn’t been done very often, if ever in an exhibition game, against the San Diego Padres last week. Since it was an away game against a National League team and Ohtani was the starting pitcher, Maddon had his home run hitting designated hitter/101 mph-throwing pitcher listed as the game’s leadoff hitter — meaning he had an at-bat before he threw a pitch.

He got a hit, of course, one of two on the day, and followed it up by intimidating the Padres with a triple-digit fastball. It figures to be a treat this year only for National League fans during interleague play, thanks to the universal designated hitter having been rejected for this season.

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I have only some vague memories of covering Elgin Baylor during the Bullets’ first years back in the NBA in the 1960s, so I don’t have any personal stories about the Naismith Hall of Famer, who passed away March 22. But I do have one story, told by Bobby Leonard, a former teammate and the Bullets’ coach during the 1963-64 season, that can relate to Baylor’s calm demeanor under pressure.

Leonard and Baylor were among 23 people on the Minneapolis Lakers’ chartered plane that had to make a forced landing in a cornfield in Carroll, Iowa, in 1960. Because of weather and mechanical issues, the plane went off course. Leonard described Baylor’s reaction to the impending landing that promised to be, shall we say, an adventure, as the pilot sorted through landing possibilities.

“Elgin went to the back of the plane and stretched out on the floor,” Leonard recalled. “He said [there] wasn’t anything he could do about it, so he might as well try to relax.”

Baylor was kind of like that on the court, too, as I recall — except there he could do a lot about it. Suffice it to say they did coax Elgin back into a seat before the unusual “corn cropping” touchdown.

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I don’t have any personal stories about Joe Boylan, either, but he was another Hall of Famer who passed away last week. He led Loyola University’s Athletic Department through its Division I infancy from 1991-2010 and is a member of the Greyhounds’ Hall of Fame.

Boylan, a longtime associate head basketball coach for Tom Young’s teams at Rutgers, was instrumental in many key coaching hires for the Greyhounds.

Photo Credit: Ed Sheahin/Gary Sousa/PressBox