PALM BEACH, Fla. — Jeff McNeil thinks he’ll adapt quickly to baseball’s big shift — really, an anti-shift.
“I’m playing a normal second base now instead of in short right field. I’ve been playing second base my whole life so it shouldn’t be too hard to adjust to,” the New York Mets All-Star infielder and big league batting champion said.
Spring training opens Monday in Florida and Arizona for players reporting early ahead of the World Baseball Classic, and the rest of pitchers and catchers will start workouts two days later.
Following an offseason of record spending in which the New York Mets approached a $370 million payroll, opening day on March 30 will feature three of the biggest changes since the pitcher’s mound was lowered for the 1969 season:
- Two infielders will be required on either side of second base and all infielders must be within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber.
- Base size will increase to 18-inch squares from 15 inches, causing a decreased distance of 4 1/2 inches.
- A pitch clock will be used, set at 15 seconds with no runners on base and 20 seconds with runners.
Darvish reaches deal with Padres
SAN DIEGO — After Yu Darvish finished answering a question about his new $108 million, six-year contract, the 36-year-old San Diego Padres ace turned to his interpreter, Shingo Horie, and added a thought.
“He still doesn’t believe if this is true or not; if it’s a prank,” Horie said.
It’s true, all right. Neither Darvish nor the Padres think the tall right-hander is anywhere close to being finished. He’s coming off one of his better seasons, when he helped lead the Padres on a stirring run to the NL Championship Series, and said he’ll do what it takes to still be pitching at a high level when he turns 42 late in the 2028 season, the last year of his deal.
“I just want to go as far as I can go and just kind of push myself as hard as I can,” Darvish said at a news conference Friday. “One thing I can say is the preparation will always be there; the hard work is always going to be there. We’ll see how far we can go.”
Darvish, who has a baffling array of pitches, is set to make $108 million over six years, including the $18 million he was already due in 2023 before he was to become a free agent.
Bichette, Jays finalize contract
TORONTO — Infielder Bo Bichette and the Toronto Blue Jays avoided a salary arbitration by finalizing a $33.6 million, three-year contract on Thursday.
Bichette gets a $3.25 million signing bonus payable within 30 days of the contract’s approval by the commissioner’s office and salaries of $2.85 million this year, $11 million in 2024 and $16.5 million in 2025.
His salary would escalate in all following seasons by $2.25 million for winning an MVP award, by $1.25 million for finishing second or third in the voting and by $250,000 for finishing fourth or fifth.
The 24-year-old, a son of former All-Star Dante Bichette, hit .290 with 43 doubles, 24 home runs, and 93 RBIs last year. He was an All-Star in 2021, when he batted .298 with 29 homers and 102 RBIs.
He had asked for a raise from $723,500 to $7.5 million and had been offered $5 million, matching the largest gap among 33 players and teams who swapped proposed salaries last month.
Twins seek healthier season
MINNEAPOLIS — When Kenta Maeda first takes the mound for Minnesota in the 2023 season, his wait between appearances will have passed 19 months.
The Twins are more than eager to return the right-hander to their rotation, part of a welcome-back theme surrounding this team entering spring training after an injury-wrecked 2022.
“The time flew by relatively quickly,” Maeda said recently through a translator, reflecting on his rehabilitation from Tommy John elbow surgery. “But you never know. The first pitch that I throw on the big league mound, I might get so nervous I might drill someone. So watch out.”
Maeda flashed his dry sense of humor as he spoke in Japanese to reporters at the team’s annual fan festival at Target Field on Jan. 28. He declared his arm “100% ready” for camp, which formally begins for Twins pitchers and catchers on Thursday morning in Fort Myers, Florida.
Maeda last pitched on Aug. 21, 2021. He had the ligament replacement procedure 11 days later. He could’ve been back in game action last September, but once the Twins faded down the stretch they decided to be cautious and keep him sidelined until 2023.