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The offseason is always about waiting … waiting for baseball to be back. But this offseason has had even more waiting than usual, as we waited more than three months for Manny Machado to sign, and we’re still waiting for Bryce Harper.

But now the wait is over (sort of). Games will be played throughout Florida and Arizona beginning Friday.

We know one of the big stories of spring: Machado is heading to Peoria, Arizona, suiting up for the suddenly much-more-interesting San Diego Padres. As teams kick into gear this weekend, here are some between-the-lines things to look for over the next 30 days.

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Corey Seager is back

Seager was one of the best all-around players in the league his first two seasons, finishing third in the MVP voting as a rookie in 2016 and following up with another All-Star season in 2017. He missed most of 2018 after Tommy John surgery and hip surgery that left him on crutches as he watched the Dodgers in the World Series. He’s showed up to camp slimmer, having cut dairy from his diet and spent the offseason in Los Angeles working on strength and agility.

What remains to be seen: Can he reclaim his position as one of the best players in the game? Until he cuts loose with the first throw from deep in the hole, we won’t really know for sure, and the Dodgers remain noncommittal about whether Seager will be ready for Opening Day. As one of the game’s young stars, let’s hope he’ll be back … and maybe even better.

Clayton Kershaw, left, and the rest of the Dodgers are happy to have Corey Seager, right, back on the field. Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports
Aside from Seager, the Dodgers will have a fascinating camp to watch. Yasiel Puig is gone and so is Matt Kemp. Walker Buehler appears ready to challenge Clayton Kershaw as staff ace. Kenley Jansen is coming off offseason heart surgery (and a season in which his usually lethal cutter sometimes abandoned him). Who will step up in the bullpen? Is Max Muncy the real deal after his 35-homer season from nowhere?

Getting to two consecutive World Series isn’t easy. Getting to a third straight will be even harder. As they say, however, it begins in spring.

Who wins the closer job for the Red Sox?

We might not actually get an answer to this in spring training. Manager Alex Cora said the other day that he’ll see who gets the ball March 28 — Opening Day — and hopes that will be the person who takes the job, end of discussion. On the other hand, it’s certainly possible that somebody could lose the job with a poor spring training. Matt Barnes would seem to be the leading candidate, but Ryan Brasier (dominant in 33⅔ innings last season) and Tyler Thornburg (who was great for the Brewers back in 2016 and is healthy again) also are candidates.

Who plays second base for the Brewers?

The Brewers re-signed Mike Moustakas, and after they acquired him last July, Moustakas played third and Travis Shaw shifted over to second base. Manager Craig Counsell said the other day, however, that they’ll try Moustakas at second to see if he can handle the position. It makes sense for two reasons:

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From watching stars take the field in new places to your first chance to see top prospects, it’s time to get ready for Opening Day. Watch on ESPN+

Upcoming schedule:

Sun, Feb. 24 at 1 p.m. ET: Washington Nationals at St. Louis Cardinals

Mon, Feb. 25 at 1 p.m. ET: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees

Tue, Feb. 26 at 1 p.m. ET: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Yankees

1. Shaw is the better defensive third baseman (plus-18 defensive runs saved the past two seasons compared to minus-5 for Moustakas). If you play Moustakas at third and Shaw at second, in one sense you’re making yourself worse at two positions: third base (downgrading from Shaw) and second base (likely downgrading from, say, Hernan Perez to Shaw).

2. With the shift, especially against left-handed pull hitters, teams increasingly feel they can hide somebody at second base.

That doesn’t mean Moustakas ends up there. The Brewers might decide the difference there between Shaw and Moustakas isn’t worth the risk (and it’s not as if Moustakas is terrible at third).

Other position battles

These used to be a rite of spring, but they are pretty rare these days as front offices prefer to have their starting positions locked in and have learned not to overrate spring-training performance. Still, there are a few things we might learn:

• Padres outfield. Wil Myers and Manny Margot appear to be locks — Myers because of the long-term contract commitment and Margot because of his ability to play center. That leaves Franmil Reyes and Hunter Renfroe, two right-handed power hitters, battling for right field. Reyes was the Padres’ best hitter in the second half last season as a rookie, while Renfroe hit 26 home runs in 403 at-bats (although with a .302 OBP). Renfroe is the better defender, but Reyes has intriguing upside. Then you have tooled-up Franchy Cordero and speedy backup Travis Jankowski. Look for a trade somewhere here.

• Cardinals right field. A three-way battle with Dexter Fowler, Jose Martinez and Tyler O’Neill.

• Rockies second base. Ryan McMahon enters as the favorite, with Garrett Hampson perhaps settling into a utility role, but don’t underestimate the speedy Hampson. Of course, top prospect Brendan Rodgers waits in the wings.

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• Yankees first base. Don’t assume there will be a platoon with Greg Bird and Luke Voit. The way Voit mashed after coming over to the Yankees — .333/.405/.689 in 148 PAs — Bird might have to earn that platoon spot.

• Indians outfield. A cast of many, none of whom exactly inspires great confidence. Maybe they should trade for one of those Padres guys.

• Reds center field. The Reds are trying top prospect Nick Senzel in center field, betting on his athleticism even though he’s never played the outfield as a professional. The other options are Scott Schebler, who started 14 games there last season, or Puig, but you hate to move him out of right. Senzel probably starts the season in the minors regardless, but if he can handle center, he should be up quickly.

What’s left in the tank for Adam Wainwright and Felix Hernandez?

These two both reached the majors in 2005 and have been two of the best starting pitchers of their generation. Wainwright is 148-85 with a 3.32 ERA and 34.3 career WAR while King Felix is 168-128 with a 3.34 ERA and 51.0 career WAR. This could be the end of the line for both of them, however. Wainwright re-signed with St. Louis on a one-year deal but made just eight starts last season, and his last good season was back in 2014. Hernandez has been unable to adapt to his declining velocity. He went 8-14 with a 5.55 ERA last season and hasn’t made 30 starts since 2015.

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Not only could Manny Machado’s $300 million pact increase the price tag for Bryce Harper, it also could lead to even heftier free-agent hauls for Mookie Betts and Mike Trout in two years.

The Cardinals have backup options in the likes of Alex Reyes, Austin Gomber and Daniel Ponce de Leon, while the Mariners have prospects Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson and Justin Dunn waiting in the wings. Still, if the Cardinals are to return to the playoffs after missing the past three seasons or if the Mariners are to surprise, they’ll need production from the old warhorses.

Aside from that …

We will have baseball, in all its beautiful forms. Clayton Kershaw snapping off a curveball and Max Scherzer whipping off a 1-2 slider to make some opposing hitter look silly. Jose Altuve, all 5-foot-6 of him, barreling up a pitch. The phenoms will be in action — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto. We’ll see Ichiro Suzuki, 45 years young. Mookie Betts will show us some form of baseball perfection, his attention to detail and practice manifesting itself in games. We can get our first glimpse of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, and start projecting their home run totals, wondering if that 50-50 season that didn’t happen in 2018 could in 2019.

We’ll see players in new uniforms: Paul Goldschmidt with the Cardinals, A.J. Pollock with the Dodgers, Patrick Corbin with the Nationals. And those are just the ex-Diamondbacks. I’m excited to see the Rays, to see how their strong second half pushes them into 2019. I want to see Robinson Cano slashing line drives for the Mets and Jose Ramirez lining smashes for the Indians and Byron Buxton chasing down fly balls for the Twins and Mike Trout just being Mike Trout.

And, yes, I want to see Bryce Harper … somewhere, anywhere. Soon.

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MILWAUKEE — Opposing pitchers have tried everything, yet Milwaukee Brewers all-world right fielder Christian Yelich keeps hurting them no matter what they throw.

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Yelich’s first career playoff game went a lot like his month of September, as he homered off a changeup early, walked late — after getting down 0-2 — and eventually scored the winning run in the Brewers’ 3-2, 10-inning victory Thursday over the Colorado Rockies in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

“He’s such a difficult out,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said after the game. “He’s down 0-2 to [Adam] Ottavino and somehow manages to work his way back. And obviously the home run was huge.”

In between the third-inning home run and 10th-inning walk, Yelich added another free pass as well as another base hit. He also stole second, becoming just the second Brewers player to hit a home run and steal a base in a playoff game.

“That guy has been carrying us all year,” teammate Mike Moustakas said.

Moustakas drove in Yelich from third base for the winning run, which is a bit of a reversal, as Yelich has been the one inflicting the damage on the opposition during his huge tear. He drove in an eye-popping 34 runs in September, solidifying his status as the odds-on favorite to win the MVP.

“I think the biggest thing is just focusing on the day-to-day, your routine, not getting caught up in the future or the past and just being right there and focusing on what you have to do that day or that night to help your team win,” Yelich said nonchalantly.

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Moustakas rips walk-off single in 10thMike Moustakas rips a single to right, driving in Christian Yelich to send Brewers fans home happy in Game 1 of the NLDS.
Yelich hit a changeup for a home run, singled on a sinker, took ball four on another sinker, then fought back from 0-2 to take another walk on a cutter. His plate coverage is otherworldly right now, leading to fits in the other dugout.

“His timing looks like he’s impeccable,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “He’s on everything. Even his takes are good.

“He had the walk, hit the ball back up the middle against [Chris] Rusin. Even the at-bat against Ottavino, Otto had him 0-2 and made some good pitches, couldn’t put him away. But yeah, obviously he’s in a good spot.”

So what can the Rockies do with Yelich the rest of this best-of-five series, which might be short-lived if he keeps this up? Pitchers seem damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Walking the leadoff man in a tie game in the 10th inning isn’t exactly sound thinking, but Yelich has the ability to end the game with one swing, or at least put himself in scoring position. Even though it didn’t work out for the Rockies on Thursday, it’s hard to come down on Ottavino, who kept making good pitches. Yelich just keeps having better at-bats.

“Well, I think it’s tough to walk a leadoff hitter, right?” Black asked no one in particular. “It’s not ideal. But when you’ve got a guy like that, you’ve got to really pitch him tough.”

Colorado found that out the hard way. Just like the rest of the National League has all season.

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — Carlos Carrasco pitched three scoreless innings, and the Cleveland Indians played brilliant defense, but the visiting Milwaukee Brewers rallied for three runs in the ninth inning to win, 5-4, in a Sunday split-squad game at Goodyear Ballpark.

Carrasco, making his third appearance of the spring, pitched three shutout innings, allowing one hit and striking out six Milwaukee batters on 62 pitches.

Center fielder Tyler Naquin kept Carrasco’s ledger clear with a leaping catch against the wall in the first inning on a ball hit by Brewers leadoff batter Christian Yelich.

Francisco Lindor hit a leadoff home run for the Indians against Milwaukee starter Wade Miley. It was Lindor’s third spring training home run and second in his last three games. Yonder Alonso added an RBI single in the fourth inning and Jose Ramirez plated a run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth.

Jason Kipnis, with two hits in three at-bats, upped his spring batting average to .520 with a 1.898 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

Cleveland’s defense turned a rare triple play with the bases loaded in the top of the sixth inning.

Brewers third baseman Travis Shaw sent a looping liner to third base that Jose Ramirez fielded on a short hop. Ramirez tagged Stephen Vogt running back to third, then stepped on the bag to retire Yelich and threw to Kipnis at second for the force on Jonathan Villar.
Milwaukee got on the board in the seventh inning when Brett Phillips tripled home Keon Broxton and came around to score on a throwing error by Indians second baseman Tyler Kreiger.

Cleveland added a run in the eighth inning when Bobby Bradley doubled home Mitch Longo, who had reached base on an error. But Milwaukee pulled ahead with three runs in the ninth inning on RBI singles by Shane Opitz, Kyle Wren and Keston Hiura.

Cleveland’s spring training record is now 10-7-2, while the Brewers are 10-6-2.

Next: Trevor Bauer takes the mound at Goodyear Ballpark to face the Texas Rangers (split squad) at 4:05 p.m. (EST). The game will be available on webcast only.

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The 2017 Milwaukee Brewers season was one of exceeding expectations. Most major projections had the team winning around 75 games, give or take, and even the more optimistic fans on BCB were looking for a .500 season. Instead, the team won 86 games, leading the NL Central Division at the All-Star break by five games, and competed for a Wild Card spot to the bitter end before ultimately coming up just short of the postseason.

The season wasn’t really a fluke. Bill James’ Pythagorean Theorem for baseball projects that the Brewers should have won 85 games. Interestingly, the theorem projects that the Yankees should have won 102 games. So does that make Joe Girardi the worst manager in baseball, as they only won 91? In that case, Andy Green would be the best – the San Diego Padres should have won 57 games, but came in with 71!

The expectation is that after their success in 2017, the Brewers will escalate their time table for their rebuild and add veteran help for the upcoming season in a quest to compete for the division title and/or a Wild Card spot. My thought, after reflection and a few weeks removal from the end of the season, is that GM David Stearns should toss this season’s results out the window and proceed with the re-structuring of the team as if the Brewers had come in with their projected 75 win season.

I don’t know what David Stearns’ overall plan for the rebuild is. For all I know, this past season may have not been a shock to him at all, although his on-air comments during Brewer games this year sound as if he and principal owner Mark Attanasio were pleasantly surprised by their success. The Brewers were reportedly active in attempting to acquire a starting pitcher for the stretch drive, making sincere efforts to bring aboard both Sonny Gray from Oakland and Jose Quintana from the White Sox. Gray eventually went to the Yankees, while Quintana joined the Cubs. The sticking point was reportedly that Stearns wouldn’t part with top hitting prospect Lewis Brinson for Gray or top pitching prospect Josh Hader for Quintana.

Those two decisions lead me to believe that Stearns is building for the long-term success of the team. He has set prices that he will pay (at this point) to improve the squad over the short term, and will not step beyond that. The acquisitions the team made – reliever Anthony Swarzak from the White Sox, infielder Neil Walker from the Mets, and Jeremy Jeffress from Texas – didn’t cost the team much in the grand scheme of things. Ryan Cordell, a 25 year old AAA outfielder who had two same-level players ahead of him on the team’s prospect list and several lower-level outfielders projected as better prospects, went to Chicago for Swarzak. A player to be named went to New York for Walker and cash, and that player wound up being 23 year old high-A reliever Eric Hanhold. For Jeffress, Milwaukee sent Tayler Scott to Texas, a 25 year old AA reliever that they signed out of independent ball last summer.

Two of those acquisitions were for players that would be free agents after the 2017 season, and both trades were successful – Swarzak solidified the Brewers’ seventh and eighth inning relief corps, and Walker made solid contributions at second base and at the plate. It is reasonable to believe that the Brewers would have been out of the Wild Card race a week sooner if those moves hadn’t been made.

That’s a responsible cost for a run at the Wild Card. Perhaps they would have won the Wild Card with the addition of Gray or Quintana – there is no guarantee of that, of course – but they would have lost either their top hitting prospect or top pitching prospect. Indeed, the loss of Hader would have probably kept the Brewers out of the spot all by itself. His second half performance out of the pen was a huge piece of their run for the playoffs.

Both Walker and Swarzak could be targets for the team in free agency. Jaymes gave us a good rundown on the projected costs and contract details to re-sign Walker. Swarzak had a very good season and this may be the best chance he ever has to score a multiyear free agent deal, but teams are often leery of 32 year old relievers who just had their best season ever (and by a lot). It isn’t that the Brewers couldn’t afford either one – or both.

Their payroll is such that there is room for addition. Payroll will rise due to arbitration estimates, but that won’t be significant, let alone crippling. Taking the outgoing free agent into consideration, Milwaukee’s payroll projects to be around $60 mil in 2018 if they simply bring back the players they have under control. But given Stearns’ conservative approach to high-dollar, long-term free agents so far, my guess is that another team will offer more money and/or years than the Brewers are willing to spend at this time on either player. If I were to pick one as more likely to be back, it would be Swarzak.

I imagine the Brewers had a win range expectancy for 2017, and already had one in place for 2018 and beyond, as part of their plan. The final record for 2017 was more than likely at the top end of that projection, but I don’t believe that it will change their projection for 2018. Indeed, the end of the season might actually give the team cause to be a bit negative in their projections for next season – mainly because of the injury to Jimmy Nelson.

Nelson was in the midst of his break-out season when he injured his pitching shoulder diving back into first base on Sept. 8th, and surgery in mid-September was on the more extensive side of the “hope” spectrum. Nelson will miss “a chunk” of the 2018 season while he recovers and rehabs. This is a huge blow to the construction of the rotation for (at least) next season. His return to full effectiveness from the surgery is by no means a guarantee.

There are two solid starters on the roster for next season. One, Zach Davies, seems to have shown over the last two seasons exactly what he will be – he seems to be a solid third starter that will keep the team in games most of the time. He fields his position well, is adept at the plate, and has very good baseball instincts. Chase Anderson also had a break-out season as a starter for the Brewers despite missing nearly two months with an oblique injury. Anderson finished the season with a 2.74 ERA (with an FIP of 3.58) and 1.09 WHIP in 25 starts.

Those are excellent numbers for Anderson. I would expect some regression from him next year, but still look for a #2 or #3 level starter. Beyond those two, the Brewers will have Brent Suter, Junior Guerra, Brandon Woodruff, Aaron Wilkerson, and some minor league arms available to fill out the remaining spots. It is possible that they can build a contending rotation from that group if a couple of those arms pitch at their ceilings, but in reality that seems unlikely to me.

That leaves trading for starting pitching or signing a free agent. Given the asking prices at the trade deadline for pitchers that would be upgrades, and the Brewers’ reluctance to send off top prospects for them, an upgrade via trade is unlikely. Free agent pitchers that might help will draw expensive multiyear deals that could weigh down the Brewers’ efforts to contend in future seasons. It is more likely that the team will sign pitchers looking to come back from injury, or formerly successful pitchers available on “prove it” deals, than go the sign-an-ace route at this juncture of the rebuild.

The bullpen has a few reliable arms, but beyond that there are several average pitchers that may need to be augmented. It would be hard to see improvement from Corey Knebel at closer, but a similar season would be just fine. It seems that Hader will be back out in the pen, and he could contribute a lot in his unique role as multi-inning fireman. Jared Hughes, Jeremy Jeffress, and Jacob Barnes will likely reprise their relief roles next season.

There could be some expectation of improvement at the plate next year, but it may be minimal. Milwaukee scored the tenth-most runs in the NL last season, and most of their success came in the first half. The top opportunities for growth come from centerfield and second base. If the team elects to go with Brinson and Brett Phillips instead of Keon Broxton, they could see improvement both at the plate and defensively. Second base remains an issue. As I don’t expect Walker to return, the job would seem to be Jonathan Villar’s to lose. He has shown that he can hit at various points in his career, and despite his poor numbers on the whole last season his second half was at least mildly encouraging. He will be a reasonably affordable player for the next several seasons – so long as he can produce anywhere close to his 2016 season at the plate.

Elsewhere, I don’t see much improvement coming offensively. Domingo Santana could continue his growth as a budding force at the plate against major league pitchers, but even just a repeat of his 2017 numbers would be quite welcome. Ryan Braun will be another year older. Travis Shaw had a fine season at the plate, but it is quite likely that this is his ceiling. There could be regression at the plate from Orlando Arcia after an up-and-down first full season in the big leagues. Should the Brewers return with Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar at first I’d expect more or less the same results there. I enjoyed Manny Pina’s season (a breakout in it’s own right), but I don’t see opportunity for growth there.

Perhaps the Brewers view this differently than I do. They may expect more growth from their hitters, and have higher grades on their minor league starters. There is room to grow the payroll to augment the roster. But another season of developing the youngsters, giving them room to grow into major league players, and maybe dealing away some players to continue stocking the system with talen looks like the way to go to me.

Who knows, maybe that growth that comes from playing the kids might be enough for a playoff spot without giving up anything from the future.

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The Milwaukee Brewers made a roster move late last night to get back down to 25 players after their twin-bill with the Cardinals, optioning Brent Suter to Colorado Springs after his game 1 loss. The team still needed to make another move in order to clear space for the activation of tonight’s starter, Matt Garza, from the 10 day DL, and this afternoon it was announced that reliever Neftali Feliz had been designated for assignment:

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RHP Matt Garza has been reinstated from the 10-day disabled list. RHP Neftalí Feliz designated for assignment.
3:16 AM – 15 Jun 2017 · St Louis, MO
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Feliz was supposed to be Milwaukee’s key free agent pitching addition after signing a 1-year, $5.35 mil contract to serve as Milwaukee’s closer. He’s struggled mightily all season, however, and quickly ceded the 9th inning to Corey Knebel. Feliz appeared in 29 games for the Brewers, compiling a 6.00 ERA/7.08 FIP with 21 strikeouts, 15 walks, and 8 home runs allowed. If he clears waivers, he has enough service time to be able to elect free agency and still receive his full salary.

Garza has missed time this season in a couple separate DL stints this year, but while he has been on the field he has been serviceable. The 33 year old has authored a 3.83 ERA/4.19 FIP in 44.2 innings covering 8 starts.