Tim Lincecum thought about the seismic shifts of baseball’s offseason, the ones that saw Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder migrate to the American League.
“I think it’s great,” San Francisco’s two-time Cy Young Award winner joked. “I won’t have to pitch to them anymore.”
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Just 106 days after the surprising St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series, baseball returns this weekend when pitchers and catchers for the Seattle Mariners report to spring training in Peoria, Ariz.
There’s been a whole lot of change since the Texas Rangers’ David Murphy flied out to Allen Craig for the final out of the seven-game Series thriller.
Tony La Russa is gone. Bobby Valentine is back.
And no switch was bigger than Pujols’ decision to split St. Louis for a $240 million, 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Add Fielder’s move from Milwaukee for a $214 million, nine-year deal with Detroit, and the lives of AL pitchers just got 75 homers and 219 RBIs tougher.
“You have offenses that are going to let you know if your pitching is not up to par,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “There’s certainly been a sway to some extraordinarily deep lineups in the American League.”
The 14 AL teams have spent $776.8 million on major league contracts for players who became free agents after the World Series and the NL’s 16 clubs have committed $597.3 million. That NL lineup looks a lot less fearsome heading into the All-Star game at Kansas City’s Kaufmann Stadium on July 10.
And despite a 71-91 record last year, even the Royals are hopeful before the first pitch has been thrown -- even with the AL’s new additions.
“They make it more exciting and more challenging for all of us,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “I’m a fan, too, and like watching them play. It’s exciting.”
Seattle is first to open because the Mariners start the season in Tokyo with a two-game series against Oakland on March 28-29.
“We have to make decisions a little bit earlier because we have to have a club together when we go there, and then you come back and readjust and then have a week of spring training for everyone to get their bearings back,” Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said. “It’s almost like going away to football camp in high school.”
The cost-conscious Athletics, who dealt All-Stars Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey and starter Trevor Cahill, opted not to use the extra week.
“There’s only so much you can do in the days before games, and players tend to go a little nuts after too many days of PFPs and live BP,” Oakland assistant GM David Forst said, referring to pitchers’ fielding practice and batting practice.
Other teams start reporting Feb. 18 ahead of the stateside opener, which features the Cardinals at the renamed and now rainbow-colored Miami Marlins on April 4 in the first official game at $515 million Marlins Park. The Fish were among the offseason’s big spenders, reeling in All-Stars Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell for a combined $191 million while failing to hook Pujols.
“I want our team to be important,” Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said, his gaudy 2003 World Series ring sparkling as he spoke.
While the Marlins and Angels stocked up, with Los Angeles spending a combined $317.5 million on Pujols and left-hander C.J. Wilson, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox acted like small-market savers. Perhaps it was the lack of star starting pitchers on the free-agent market. Or maybe it was the new labor contract, announced in November, that adds incentives in coming years for reigning in the urge to splurge.
As spring training approached, there still were plenty of big names available of the market, including Roy Oswalt, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Vladimir Guerrero, Magglio Ordonez and Raul Ibanez.
Another uncertainty heading into spring training was the status of NL MVP Ryan Braun. Facing a possible 50-game suspension for a positive drug test, the Milwaukee Brewers left fielder was awaiting a decision from arbitrator Shyam Das on his appeal, and the absence of both Fielder and Braun might be too much for Milwaukee to overcome.
“Oh, yeah, that will be tough,” Brewers outfielder Nyjer Morgan said.
As teams head to spring training across Florida and Arizona, they’ll find new managers in charge of Boston (Valentine), the Chicago Cubs (Dale Sveum), the Chicago White Sox (Robin Ventura), the Marlins (Ozzie Guillen) and the Cardinals (Mike Matheny).
And nearly a quarter of the clubs have switched GMs, with new baseball bosses running Baltimore (Dan Duquette), Boston (Ben Cherington), the Cubs (Jed Hoyer), Houston (Jeff Luhnow), the Angels (Jerry Dipoto), Minnesota (Terry Ryan) and San Diego (Josh Byrnes).
La Russa, the first manager to retire immediately after leading his team to a World Series title, won’t be in uniform for spring training for the first time since 1962 -- when he was in high school. While he’s had discussions with Commissioner Bud Selig, he said filling Joe Torre’s old job as executive vice president of baseball operations wouldn’t make sense for him.
“I’m going to show up at spring training, just because I want to stay current,” La Russa said. “So I’m not totally away, but it is different. I plan to go to the ballpark and stay current and watch teams, and especially get familiar with Arizona again. I’m sure I’m going to be busy enough.”
Boston and Atlanta each will face questions about their September collapses that cost them what had seemed to be near-certain playoff spots.
Valentine also will find the Red Sox in a new spring training stadium, 11,000-capacity JetBluePark at Fenway South, not far from their old home in Fort Myers, Fla.
Coming off a major league-worst 56-106 record, and under new owner Jim Crane, Houston will prepare for its 51st and final season in the NL before switching to the AL for 2013.
Having twice fallen a strike shy of its first World Series title in the still-hard-to-comprehend Game 6, Texas starts the quest for its third straight AL pennant after adding Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish ($56 million over six years plus a $51,703,411 fee) and with new questions about 2010 MVP Josh Hamilton, who is eligible for free agency after the season and admitted he had a recent relapse with alcohol. The wounds of October are still fresh.
“There are times I still think about it and it burns,” Michael Young said.
When it comes to spring training games, Philadelphia will be first on the field, hosting Florida State at Clearwater on Feb. 29. Out in Arizona, Oakland plays Seattle at Phoenix in a March 2 opener.
They’ll be lots of players with numbers in the 70s, 80s and 90s, and by the late innings in the early going, veteran players may be more numerous on fairways than fair territory.
Early morning workouts are the best time to catch players for autographs on the back fields.
Scioscia looks ahead to his time in Tempe as a moment of teaching, renewal and hope.
“The season’s a grind,” he said.
One he wouldn’t trade.
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley, and AP Sports Writers Tim Booth, Antonio Gonzalez, Stephen Hawkins and Dave Skretta contributed to this report.