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Cactus League preview: Baseball money flows downhill, to the West

In a winter when the Dodgers became baseball's leading spenders, most of the big contracts were handed out by teams that conduct spring training in Arizona.

February 12, 2013|By Bill Shaikin, Los Angeles Times
  • A view of the pitchers mound at the Dodgers' spring training facility in Glendale, Arizona.
A view of the pitchers mound at the Dodgers' spring training facility… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

The young men have gone west, for the money.

The New York Yankees are no longer baseball's financial powerhouse. The Dodgers are. But Dodger dollars are not the only dollars flowing west.

The richest free-agent contracts this winter came from L.A.: Zack Greinke got $147 million from the Dodgers; Josh Hamilton got $125 million from the Angels.

Add the extensions for two stars — the pending $175-million deal between Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners, and the completed $138-million deal between David Wright and the New York Mets — and three of the winter's four $100-million contracts came from the west.

Not from the Yankees. Not from the Boston Red Sox. Not from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Of the six free-agent signings worth at least $50 million, four came from teams that train in the Cactus League — including the Cleveland Indians, with $56 million for outfielder Nick Swisher. Of the 10 free-agent signings worth at least $30 million, seven came from teams that train in Arizona — again including the Indians, who bestowed $48 million on outfielder Michael Bourn on Monday.

As the Angels and Dodgers break out the bats and gloves, a quick look around the Cactus League:

ANGELS, Tempe Diablo Stadium

Ervin Santana gave up the most home runs in the majors last season, and he's no longer an Angel. But Jason Vargas, a new Angel, ranked right behind Santana. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are back, but the new starters — Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton — gave up more home runs than the old starters — Santana, Dan Haren and Greinke. If the pitchers can keep the fly balls to the warning track, Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos should be able to run down just about all of them.

DODGERS, Camelback Ranch, Glendale, Ariz.

For a team projected to have the highest payroll in baseball history, there are a startlingly high number of questions this spring: Can the Dodgers really play Hanley Ramirez at shortstop? How do Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford look coming off injuries? Did Adrian Gonzalez really leave his power in San Diego? Should the Dodgers platoon Andre Ethier, and with whom?

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS, Salt River Fields, Scottsdale

This could be defining ground in the eternal debate on the importance of chemistry and intangibles. The Diamondbacks traded wonderfully talented but perennially disappointing outfielder Justin Upton and promising but quirky pitching prospect Trevor Bauer primarily for two infielders, neither with star quality. Manager Kirk Gibson knows something about chemistry; the sabermetric community is apoplectic.

CHICAGO CUBS, Hohokam Stadium, Mesa

The Cubs lost 101 games last year, their worst season since Leo Durocher was their manager, and they no longer have the Houston Astros to finish behind them in the National League Central. The better pitcher Matt Garza and outfielder Alfonso Soriano perform, the better their chance at a trade escape. Garza ($10 million) is eligible for free agency in the fall; Soriano's once-prohibitive eight-year contract is down to two years and $36 million.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX, Camelback Ranch, Glendale

In 2009, when the San Diego Padres could no longer afford ace Jake Peavy, the White Sox happily took him, injury and all. In 2010 and '11, Peavy gave the White Sox a total of 2182/3 innings . But he gave them 219 innings last year, with 194 strikeouts, so they gave him another two years and $29 million. If Peavy can deliver an encore — and he has to if the Sox are to contend — he and Chris Sale might rival any duo atop an American League rotation.

CINCINNATI REDS, Goodyear Ballpark, Goodyear

The Reds have won the NL Central twice in the last three years, but they have not won a postseason series since sweeping the Dodgers in the 1995 NL division series. The most fascinating spring story line is an encore: What to do with Cuban fireballer Aroldis Chapman? He arrived as a starter last spring, but injuries left an opening at closer — and Chapman struck out 122 in 72 innings, with a 1.51 earned-run average and 38 saves. For now, Chapman starts, and Jonathan Broxton closes.

CLEVELAND INDIANS, Goodyear Ballpark, Goodyear

Swisher is a career .169 postseason hitter. That shouldn't be an immediate issue with the Indians, who lost 94 games last season and have made one playoff appearance in the last decade. Swisher is an Ohio native, and he, Bourn and Manager Terry Francona are the new faces of the Indians. The departed ones: oft-injured designated hitter Travis Hafner and oft-injured outfielder Grady Sizemore, Cleveland mainstays since 2004.

COLORADO ROCKIES, Salt River Fields, Scottsdale

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