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Whoa! Opening Day hype video a must-see

Opening Day is nearly upon us. The 2018 season will officially get underway Thursday, March 29 with a full slate of games. Whether you're already excited for Opening Day or need a little nudge out of the winter doldrums, this video will have you pumped up for the 2018 season all the same:

Martinez open to Harper hitting leadoff for Nats

Club's top pitching prospect Fedde optioned to Triple-A @JamalCollier

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When first-year manager Dave Martinez arrived to the Nationals, he promised to be creative. On Thursday afternoon, he entertained an interesting potential lineup idea.

Would he ever consider Bryce Harper hitting leadoff?

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When first-year manager Dave Martinez arrived to the Nationals, he promised to be creative. On Thursday afternoon, he entertained an interesting potential lineup idea.

Would he ever consider Bryce Harper hitting leadoff?

"Maybe," Martinez said. "We'll talk about it. Play with it, but before I do, I'll definitely have a conversation with him.

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Martinez actually asked Harper how he would like leading off before a Grapefruit League game on Saturday against the Mets; Harper smiled and said yes. He did so then because Martinez wanted him to get his two at-bats quickly before he left the game, but perhaps on some occasions during the regular season, the 2015 National League Most Valuable Player Award winner could also serve as the Nats' table-setter.

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"I think he's all up for anything really," Martinez said. "He just wants to help the team win. … We'll preach a lot about scoring first. I think teams that score first put a lot of pressure on the other team, especially with the lineup that we have."

Harper hitting atop the Nats' lineup would not be an everyday occurrence, and it's not even a sure thing it will happen at all. Martinez has said Adam Eaton will be his primary leadoff hitter, but Martinez wants to manage Eaton's workload as he works his way back from a torn left ACL. Harper has started 16 career games in the leadoff spot, but none since 2013. In 76 plate appearances batting first, Harper owns a .413 on-base percentage with four home runs and a 1.007 OPS.

Martinez was explaining his reasoning behind having the pitcher potentially bat eighth at times this season, which brought up the possibility of Harper leading off. Having Michael A. Taylor or Wilmer Difo hit ninth in that lineup construction sets up Harper for potential RBI opportunities atop the lineup. Washington has two potential leadoff hitters in Eaton and Trea Turner, but perhaps there will be a situation where Martinez could change things up.

"For us, say you have a tough matchup. A guy that wears us out a little bit, maybe you want to try," Martinez said. "We're struggling a bit offensively, create something early, create some excitement. What better excitement than having Harper lead off with a homer?"

Video: DET@WSH: Harper rips a two-run home run in the 3rd

Fedde optioned to Triple-A
The Nationals were impressed this spring with right-hander Erick Fedde, their top pitching prospect according to MLB Pipeline, who provided a bounce-back showing from a disappointing Major League debut last season. In Grapefruit League play this year, Fedde pitched in six games (two starts) and posted a 2.45 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings.

• Nationals' Top 30 prospects

However, there is no room for Fedde, who just turned 25 in February, in Washington at the moment with A.J. Cole poised to start the season as the club's No. 5 starter, so the Nats optioned him to Triple-A Syracuse prior to Thursday's game against the Mets.

"I saw somebody who, to me, throughout the whole spring, gained confidence," Martinez said. "That last outing, you could tell he was confident. He knows his fastball's back. His two-seamer's really good, he can throw a four-seamer 97, his breaking ball was good, his changeup is really good. That's good to see. A player who gains confidence like that, the sky's the limit."

Video: WSH@HOU: Fedde strikes out three over three innings

Most encouraging to the Nationals was his returned and increased velocity, which climbed back into the mid-to-upper 90s this spring after it diminished last season when he made his Major League debut. He made three starts for the Nats last season and posted a 9.39 ERA, and his fastball averaged 93 mph, but it fell into the low 90s and high 80s before he was shut down in September.

Fedde bounced back nicely this spring to clear any lingering concerns. The Nats still view him as a potential mid-rotation starter and someone who will be a contributor in D.C. at some point this season.

"He had a really good Spring Training," Martinez said. "The velo is back, which is nice. The conversation was very honest. I told him, 'Hey, at some point you're going to help us. So just go down there, knock the door down and continue to develop and be good. Because you're good."

Up next
The Nationals are in split-squad action on Friday night with Cole starting at home against the Astros at 6:05 p.m. ET, while Jeremy Hellickson makes his Grapefruit League debut in Jupiter, Fla., at 7:05 p.m. ET against the Marlins. Both games can be viewed live on MLB.TV.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Erick Fedde, Bryce Harper

Finish him! Top closer option for all 30 teams

Opening Day is a little more than a week away, and all eyes are on the remaining position battles in big league camps. Among those battles are competitions for closer, a role that is still undefined for many clubs.

Following is a look at where things stand for all 30 teams.

Opening Day is a little more than a week away, and all eyes are on the remaining position battles in big league camps. Among those battles are competitions for closer, a role that is still undefined for many clubs.

Following is a look at where things stand for all 30 teams.

AL East

Blue Jays
Roberto Osuna is only 23 years old, but he is already entering his fourth full season as Toronto's closer. He remains one of the elite relievers in the game, but he's coming off a year in which he blew 10 saves. That was pretty uncharacteristic, and a bounceback season should be expected in 2018.

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Next man up: Ryan Tepera was a solid setup man in 2017, so he could get a look if needed, as could Seung Hwan Oh, who has big league closing experience.

While All-Star Zach Britton rehabs from offseason Achilles surgery, the Orioles are expected to use righty Brad Brach as their primary closer. Brach, an All-Star as well, has filled the role capably, and there's no reason to think that won't be the case in 2018.

Next man up: Mychal Givens could get some save opportunities early on.

Alex Colome will return as the Rays' closer, and he'll be a closer in the traditional sense of the word, which means logging the final three outs of a game and not coming in earlier in the game to snuff out hot situations. Colome, who led the Major Leagues in saves in 2017 with 47, knows about getting extra outs, too. He led the AL in 2017 with six saves of four outs or more.

Next man up: Sergio Romo is a veteran who has closed before, although up-and-coming flamethrower Ryne Stanek would be an intriguing option.

Video: Outlook: Colome is still solid closer option for Rays

Red Sox
Craig Kimbrel is back for his third season with the Red Sox, and he is in the elite category, considered the best in the game by some. His combination of upper-90s fastball and wicked knuckle-curve remains devastating. He is entering his free-agent year, but the Red Sox will try to keep him long-term.

Video: Kimbrel focused despite daughter's health concerns

The Yankees' elite bullpen features the hardest fastball in the sport's history, as Aroldis Chapman prepares for his second full season as a member of the club. Despite losing his ninth-inning role for a period in 2017, the flame-throwing lefty recorded 22 saves while striking out 69 in 50 1/3 innings. His 3.22 ERA was the second-highest of his career.

Next man up: The Yankees have no shortage of options, but Dellin Betances or David Robertson would likely get the first crack.

NL East

Arodys Vizcaino will open the season as the closer, but A.J. Minter is capable of taking the role if necessary. Vizcaino surrendered a career-high seven homers last year, but four came within two games. He produced career-best marks in hits per nine innings and walks per nine innings.

Next man up: If Vizcaino regresses, the ninth inning could belong to Minter, who has shown he can miss bats nearly as frequently as Kimbrel.

Brad Ziegler has 95 career saves, and the 38-year-old is in position to have a chance to reach 100. Still, his status in the role is subject to change. Ziegler is a finesse, ground-ball specialist. The organization views hard-throwing righties Drew Steckenrider and Kyle Barraclough as longer-term candidates.

Next man up: Steckenrider or Barraclough, who averaged 14.0 and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings last season, respectively.

On paper the Mets' closer is Jeurys Familia. The actual answer is more complicated, with the team also planning to use AJ Ramos, Jerry Blevins and Anthony Swarzak in high-leverage situations. If Familia shows he's not totally recovered from shoulder surgery -- his velocity was down this spring -- he could cede even more save chances to the other three.

Next man up: Ramos, a closer in Miami, would probably get the first shot, with Swarzak potentially in the mix.

Video: Familia shares thoughts on Callaway, '18 expectations

For the first time in years, the Nationals are settled at closer. Left-hander Sean Doolittle has a firm grasp on the job after his impressive end of the 2017 season once the Nats acquired him from Oakland. Combine him with Brandon Kintzler and Ryan Madson, and the Nats are set at the back end of the bullpen.

Next man up: Kintzler or Madson, who are both proven closing options.

Video: Outlook: Doolittle can be elite closer if healthy

Hector Neris emerged out of a volatile Phillies bullpen to solidify the closer role down the stretch last season. The 28-year-old right-hander posted a 3.01 ERA and recorded 26 saves, with 86 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings. He ended the year converting his final 20 save opportunities, putting him in a good position to start 2018.

Next man up: Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, Philadelphia's key bullpen signings, were valuable setup men last season, and either could close.

AL Central

This season will mark Cody Allen's fifth in a row as the Tribe's primary closer. Over the past four years, the righty has turned in a 2.62 ERA with 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings and 120 saves in 282 appearances. The Indians may also give relief ace Andrew Miller save chances on occasion.

Next man up: Miller is one of the most valuable relievers in the game, and he's more than capable of closing if called upon.

Video: Allen on offseason program, being better in 2018

Right-hander Kelvin Herrera will return as the closer in 2018, even though he lost that role in September to left-hander Mike Minor, who signed a free-agent deal with the Rangers in the offseason. Herrera had a rocky 2017, with five blown saves and three losses. After losing his closer's job, he took on a setup role and had five scoreless appearances to end the season. But manager Ned Yost said Herrera should learn from his 2017 experience, which will make him stronger this season.

Next man up: The Royals don't have the deepest bullpen, but Yost said the recently signed Justin Grimm is in line for a setup role, so he might be called on if needed.

Shane Greene was the last of three Tiger closers last season, taking over once Justin Wilson was traded to the Cubs. Greene was quietly effective, racking up nine saves in 10 chances over the final two months while striking out 23 batters in 21 2/3 innings. His ability to work multiple innings as a converted starter provides the advantage of four-, five-, even six-out saves. A solid first half could put him on the block for contenders around July's non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Next man up: Alex Wilson has had some success in the Tigers bullpen and could be an option.

The Twins signed veteran Fernando Rodney to a one-year deal to be their closer after trading Kintzler and losing Matt Belisle to free agency. Rodney, 41, saved 39 games with the D-backs a year ago; the Twins also have Addison Reed waiting in the wings in case Rodney falters.

Next man up: Reed, who filled in as Mets closer in Familia's absence last season.

Video: Outlook: Rodney can still be effective as a closer

White Sox
Manager Rick Renteria has a number of options at the back end of his bullpen in Joakim Soria, Nate Jones and Juan Minaya. But he has not named an official closer, and he probably won't. Instead he will mix and match based on the highest-leverage late-inning situations, also employing numerous relievers who can work multiple innings.

Next man up: If one of those three emerges as closer, another will likely be next in line.

NL Central

Corey Knebel started last season as a setup man but ascended to closer duty in May and was so dominant he made the NL All-Star team. His fastball/curveball combo produces a ton of swings and misses, leading to 126 strikeouts in 76 innings, a Brewers relief record.

Next man up: That could be Josh Hader or new addition Matt Albers.

Video: TEX@MIL: Knebel strikes out Hood

The Cardinals still don't know. It'll be closer-by-committee at first, but the club hopes the late-inning chain of command solidifies before long. Luke Gregerson, Dominic Leone and Bud Norris were imported to battle it out, but no one had a better spring than Mike Mayers. Prospects Jordan Hicks and Ryan Helsley could spend time in St. Louis sooner rather than later. And then there is Alex Reyes, whom the club doesn't want to restrict to such an opportunity-based role. But his stuff certainly profiles for it in the short-term.

Next man up: That depends on who wins the closer job. Gregerson seems the most likely, in which case Leone or Norris could be next up.

Brandon Morrow set up Kenley Jansen in Los Angeles last season. This year he will be the Cubs' fourth closer in as many seasons, and it will be his first time in that role since 2008, when he was with the Mariners. He's been a starter and setup man since then. This year he can focus on getting the last out.

Next man up: Both Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. have excellent stuff and could close a game.

Felipe Rivero established himself as one of the Majors' best young late-inning arms last season, moving from a setup role into the ninth inning. After signing a long-term contract extension this offseason, the hard-throwing left-hander will be there from the start this season to lead an inexperienced bullpen.

Next man up: George Kontos seems the likeliest to get opportunities should something happen to Rivero, with Michael Feliz another option.

There's no question who will close games for the Reds in 2018: Raisel Iglesias. Last season he had 28 saves in 30 chances and led the Majors with eight saves of at least two innings. With a better bullpen assembled, the Reds hope they don't have to use Iglesias for more than three outs often, but if he's rested, it's something the right-hander could easily do.

Next man up: With Michael Lorenzen hurt, it could be Wandy Peralta, Jared Hughes or Kevin Shackelford.

Video: Outlook: Iglesias could be dominant closer for Reds

AL West

The Angels have been noncommittal about using a designated closer this season and seem more likely to use a committee that will include Blake Parker, Cam Bedrosian and Jim Johnson. The Angels were fluid with their bullpen roles in 2017, and that structure will likely carry over to this season.

Next man up: Any one of those three could fill in.

Ken Giles, who saved 34 of 38 games in the regular season and struck out 83 batters in 62 2/3 innings, enters the season as the closer despite his World Series woes. In seven playoff appearances last year, Giles gave up 10 runs and 12 hits in 7 2/3 innings.

Next man up: Chris Devenski might get the first shot, although newly added Joe Smith or Hector Rondon could be options.

Video: Ken Giles on rebounding from from 2017 playoffs

The A's gave up two of their former closers -- Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson -- in a deal for Blake Treinen last summer, also landing prospects Jesus Luzardo and Sheldon Neuse from Washington. Treinen quickly became their new closer, picking up 13 saves with a 2.13 ERA in 35 appearances.

Next man up: It could be either Chris Hatcher or Liam Hendriks.

Edwin Diaz is one of the youngest closers, as he turns 24 on Thursday, but the hard-throwing right-hander from Puerto Rico already has racked up 52 saves in his first year and a half in that role, with 177 strikeouts in 117 2/3 innings. He tied for fourth in the AL with 34 saves in 39 opportunities last season.

Next man up: Juan Nicasio had an impressive 2017 season in the NL and might be the first to get looks.

Alex Claudio finished last season as the Rangers' closer and has pitched well this spring, but the Rangers love his versatility and ability to pitch multiple innings in any situation. Tim Lincecum could become the closer once he gets some innings in the bank. The Rangers have not pursued Greg Holland, but he remains unsigned.

Next man up: Lincecum would be interesting, but Matt Bush or Keone Kela might get the first crack if Lincecum hasn't proven himself ready.

NL West

The D-backs have a three-man competition as Opening Day approaches. Brad Boxberger is the only contender with significant experience closing games at the Major League level, saving 41 games for the Rays in 2015. Yoshihisa Hirano has the most experience overall, with 156 saves over eight seasons in Japan. And Archie Bradley is the most familiar, emerging as a dominant reliever after being a top pitching prospect in the Arizona system.

Next man up: One of the above trio, depending on who wins the job.

Video: ARI@MIL: Boxberger retires Yelich to end the 4th

Jansen is a two-time All-Star and two-time Trevor Hoffman Award winner, with three consecutive 40-save seasons. He's the franchise all-time leader in saves and strikeouts by a reliever, and he leads active relievers with a 0.87 WHIP while averaging 13.98 strikeouts per nine innings.

Next man up: Josh Fields or Tony Cingrani would appear to be first in line.

Mark Melancon's the guy. Whether that's good news for the Giants, nobody knows for sure yet. The Giants believed in Melancon enough to give him a four-year, $62 million contract before the 2017 season. He responded by converting 11 of 16 save chances and developing a sore forearm that required surgery. He has basically recovered but acknowledged that he still feels vague discomfort in the affected area.

Next man up: If injuries or ineffectiveness impede Melancon again, Sam Dyson, who has struggled through most of this spring, or Tony Watson, who has never closed full-time, would be summoned to preserve ninth-inning leads.

Video: Outlook: Melancon has something to prove in 2018

Brad Hand has become one of the game's most effective and durable relievers since he was claimed off waivers by San Diego in 2016. For the most part, he will serve as closer in 2018, but the Padres have said they'd be open to using him before the ninth if the matchups call for it.

Next man up: Kirby Yates, Craig Stammen or newly signed submariner Kazuhisa Makita might all be options.

Wade Davis begins a three-year, $52 million contract with the Rockies after converting 32 of his 33 save chances last season for the Cubs. Davis dealt with elbow issues in 2016 while with the Royals, so Cubs manager Joe Maddon used him carefully. He went three straight days just three times. Rockies manager Bud Black helped keep Holland -- who had missed 2016 because of Tommy John surgery -- fresh through a mostly successful 2017. So while there isn't a huge concern about Davis, Black has proven he can help keep a reliever healthy.

Next man up: Jake McGee or new signee Bryan Shaw would both be strong candidates, as both are proven setup men.

Holland seeks destination as opener nears

Among the high-profile Major Leaguers still unsigned is reliever Greg Holland, who's coming off a successful 2017 campaign as the Rockies' closer.

Holland seeking destination as Opening Day nears
The Orioles' four-year deal with right-hander Alex Cobb leaves Holland as the highest-profile free agent remaining on the market, and as Opening Day rapidly approaches, it remains unclear whose uniform the closer will don in 2018.

Among the high-profile Major Leaguers still unsigned is reliever Greg Holland, who's coming off a successful 2017 campaign as the Rockies' closer.

Holland seeking destination as Opening Day nears
The Orioles' four-year deal with right-hander Alex Cobb leaves Holland as the highest-profile free agent remaining on the market, and as Opening Day rapidly approaches, it remains unclear whose uniform the closer will don in 2018.

MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported on Thursday that the Braves, Cardinals and D-backs are among the teams that have contacted Holland and his agent, Scott Boras, at some point this offseason. But none of those three clubs appears to be a lock to sign the former All-Star.

A source with the Braves told Heyman that Holland is "a long shot" for the club, and the multiyear contract he seeks does not mesh with Atlanta's recent spending patterns. The Cardinals and D-backs, meanwhile, are two postseason contenders without a fully-established closer. Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told on Thursday that his club may roll into Opening Day without a single pitcher tabbed as the closer, and St. Louis hasn't expressed any serious interest in Holland publicly to this point. The D-backs also seem content to try Archie Bradley or Yoshihisa Hirano at closer and fill in the gaps as necessary.

Heyman noted the Angels and Rangers as two other clubs without a set closer for 2018, though neither team has expressed public interest in Holland.

It's possible that all of these teams are waiting to see if Holland's asking price will come down, particularly with the start of the season so close. Signing Holland would also cost a team compensation in the form of either a Draft pick or international bonus pool money, as Holland rejected the Rockies' $17.4 million qualifying offer in November. Holland earned $15 million with the Rockies in 2017, his first season back from Tommy John surgery, tying for the National League lead with 41 saves. -- This report was first posted on March 22

Feinsand predicts Holland will sign with Rangers
The Rangers have been holding tryouts for closer, with newly signed Tim Lincecum vying for the role. However, Holland would be a proven ninth-inning arm and relieve Lincecum, who has come out of the bullpen in just eight of his 278 career appearances, of the pressures to close. For this,'s Mark Feinsand predicts Texas to be his best guess landing spot for Holland.

It may be in the realistic realm of possibility, as MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported last week that the Rangers have considered Holland. Texas was one of the few suitors for Holland last year, when the right-hander was more of a question mark coming off Tommy John surgery.

But after speaking to reporters on Thursday, general manager Jon Daniels said he doesn't expect any significant additions and believes the closer is in camp.

Once thought to potentially pursue a free-agent starter, the Rangers have quietly put together a veteran rotation that includes Cole Hamels, Martin Perez, Doug Fister, Matt Moore and Mike Minor. That likely will move Matt Bush to the bullpen.

Left-hander Jake Diekman has impressed this spring, making a case to be the closer, which would likely move incumbent closer Alex Claudio into a multi-inning setup role. Keone Kela has also been competing for the role. -- This report was first posted on March 15.

Braves have checked in on Holland
Though the Braves may not have initially been seen as a logistical fit to land Holland -- they're still on the back end of a multiyear rebuild and perhaps a year or two away from pursuing high-profile free agents -- the club is nonetheless doing its due diligence on the top remaining reliever.

The Braves have at least checked in on Holland, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, but it's unclear if that dialogue has moved much at this point. The Braves are projected to have a payroll of $109.8 million, per Spotrac, but according to Heyman, the club doesn't have much financial bandwidth to reach Holland's asking price (for context, Holland turned down both a $15 million club option for 2018 and a $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Rockies).

Holland also comes with Draft pick compensation, and the retooling Braves, who have MLB Pipeline's No. 2 farm system and are expected to graduate a few more prospects in 2018, may view their Draft picks as more coveted. Signing Holland would cost them their third-highest pick, per revenue-sharing regulations as part of the new CBA.

Moreover, the Braves cleared the $43 million still owed Matt Kemp when they traded him to the Dodgers, in part to free up money for next year, per Heyman.

Closer Arodys Vizcaino has looked strong this spring, other than his most recent outing against the Phillies. He's been the club's closer over parts of the past three seasons.

Holland hails from North Carolina, which loosely falls within the Braves' wide geographical audience net, but that doesn't necessarily indicate he's more likely to sign with Atlanta. -- This report was first posted on March 15.

Holland remaining in touch with Angels
The Angels might be one of the few remaining clubs in the market for a closer. And Holland, one of the top free agents at the position, is still available.'s Jon Paul Morosi reported the club has been in touch with Holland's agent, Scott Boras, recently -- this after reporting in late February that Holland and the Halos were in discussions, and that the club was interested "if the price is right."

Holland's case with the Halos could be more complicated than a pricey, multi-year deal for a pitcher entering his age-32 season. Holland comes with a rejected qualifying offer attached, which for the Halos would mean forfeiting their second-highest Draft pick and $500,000 in international bonus pool money as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Depending on the average annual value of a Holland deal, the Angels don't appear to be in line of exceeding the luxury tax for 2018, which is $197 million. According to Spotrac, they are at $171.3 million in total payroll currently. -- This report was first posted on March 7.

Angels could be in play for Holland
The Angels, who upgraded their pitching staff when they signed Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani in December, aren't seriously considering any other free-agent starters. However,'s Jon Paul Morosi reports the club would consider Holland "at the right price."

Los Angeles currently has Blake Parker, owner of 10 career Major League saves, projected as its closer. Holland, coming off a year in which he locked down a National League-best 41 saves, would likely be a significant improvement.

Holland, 32, flourished after signing a one-year deal with the Rockies prior to 2017, striking out 70 batters in 57 1/3 innings for Colorado in his return from Tommy John surgery. He was selected to the All-Star Game for the first time since making back-to-back appearances as a member of the Royals in '13-14.

Holland would be a welcomed addition to a bullpen that ranked 11th in the Majors last season with a 3.92 ERA. -- This report was first posted on Feb. 25.

Holland's landing spot may be guessing game, but Cubs seem a strong fit
With the Rockies well out of Holland's picture, having signed free agent Wade Davis, could Davis' former team -- now seemingly in need of a closer -- be the most logical fit for Holland? MLB Network insider Jon Heyman believes so.

In a post for FanRag Sports, Heyman admits that Holland's market remains a "guessing game" given the multitude of clubs with needs at closer. The Cubs' plan, for now, is to have Brandon Morrow handle the ninth inning for the revamped bullpen, which also includes new additions Steve Cishek, Dario Alvarez, Cory Mazzoni and Randy Rosario. However,'s Carrie Muskat reported in January that the Cubs were likely done adding relievers, particularly with young pitchers in the system that could contribute such as Dillon Maples and Rob Zastryzny. Chicago also signed the market's top starter, Yu Darvish, to a $126 million deal last weekend, thus potentially limiting their financial flexibility.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein shouldn't be counted out, though, when it comes to creative ways to land pieces he believes are essential. Davis delivered 32 saves last year, and Holland led the National League with 41. Morrow enjoyed a nice bounce-back year with the Dodgers, and pitched in all but one of their 15 postseason games. But he did so as a setup man to Kenley Jansen -- not as the closer.

For a Cubs club that has reached the NL Championship Series three straight years and showing no signs or plans of regression, fortifying the ninth inning may be a chief objective, as Heyman notes.

Other clubs Heyman predicts as possibilities include the Cardinals (to whom Holland has been strongly linked), Phillies (widely viewed as a potential dark horse in the NL), Angels (who have re-tooled their roster but still have a void at closer) and Astros (who retained Ken Giles, their 34-save closer from '17). -- This report was first posted on Feb. 15.

Cardinals a fit for Holland?
The premier free-agent reliever on the market is still looking for a new home, and the Cardinals are still in the market for bullpen help.

It's possible Holland's resurgence in 2017 could help him land the closer role in St. Louis were the two sides to link up,'s Richard Justice speculates.

The Cardinals brought in right-hander Luke Gregerson this offseason on a two-year deal, and while he has closed games for the Astros in 2015 and 2016, Holland racked up 41 saves for Colorado last year.

St. Louis is trying to replace former flamethrower Trevor Rosenthal, and Holland's 11 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.61 ERA last season bested Gregerson's numbers (10.3 K/9, 4.57 ERA).

Holland reportedly turned down a three-year offer to return to the Rockies before they signed Wade Davis. The 32-year-old is two years removed from Tommy John surgery, so he comes with some risk, but he -- paired with Gregerson and young fireballer Alex Reyes, who is recovering from Tommy John himself -- could form a formidable trio in the back end of the Cardinals' bullpen. -- This report was first posted on Feb. 14.

Return to Rockies not in cards for Holland
A return to Colorado seemed to be a logical fit for Holland this offseason, but earlier this month, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that Holland rejected the Rockies' offer of three years and $52 million. That's the same offer that Wade Davis eventually accepted to become Colorado's new closer, which gives him the highest average annual value of any reliever.

The free-agent landscape continues to move at a glacial pace, particularly at the top with marquee players like Holland. The Rockies represented the most obvious fit, given Holland's close relationship with pitching coach Steve Foster and the level of comfort he felt with the club in his return from Tommy John surgery. With Colorado seemingly out of the picture, there is no clear alternate front-runner for the former All-Star -- particularly one who would offer the historic deal Holland is looking for. The Cardinals could be a fit as they look to fill out the back end of their bullpen, while the rival Cubs could look to replace Davis with his former Royals teammate.

Employing his effective fastball-slider combination, the 31-year-old Holland paced the National League with 41 saves in 2017 while posting a 3.61 ERA over 57 1/3 innings. The righty was an integral part of Kansas City's back-to-back American League pennant winners in 2014-15, teaming with Davis and Kelvin Herrera to form one of the most dominant bullpens in recent memory. -- This report was first posted on Feb. 7.

Greg Holland

Lincecum's 1st Cactus appearance set for Fri. @Sullivan_Ranger

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Tim Lincecum will make his first appearance in a Cactus League game when he pitches an inning against the Padres on Friday in Peoria.

Manager Jeff Banister said it will still be a "challenge" for Lincecum to be ready for Opening Day on March 29. The Rangers signed Lincecum on March 7, and he has thrown two batting practices in camp in addition to his bullpen sessions.

View Full Game Coverage

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Tim Lincecum will make his first appearance in a Cactus League game when he pitches an inning against the Padres on Friday in Peoria.

Manager Jeff Banister said it will still be a "challenge" for Lincecum to be ready for Opening Day on March 29. The Rangers signed Lincecum on March 7, and he has thrown two batting practices in camp in addition to his bullpen sessions.

View Full Game Coverage

"He's made enough progress to get in a game," Banister said. "It's part of the process of getting ready."

Spring info | Tickets | Schedule

After Thursday's split-squad doubleheader, the Rangers will have three games left in Arizona and two exhibition games against the Reds on Monday and Tuesday in Arlington. The Rangers are off on Wednesday before opening the season next Thursday against the Astros at Globe Life Park.

"I think it would be a challenge for anybody who is starting at this point to be ready [for Opening Day]," Banister said.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Banister will be watching for the same things from Lincecum that he does from all of his pitchers when they make their first start of the spring.

"Do they come out of it healthy, the sharpness of their stuff, holding their delivery together," Banister said. "I think the experience of who he is, he'll let us know how everything is. There are no huge evaluations on the first Spring Training outing."

The Rangers are also getting concerned that reliever Tony Barnette won't be ready for Opening Day, as he has tightness in his lower back and hasn't pitched in a game since March 13.

"As we sit right now, it would be challenging for him to start the season," Banister said.

Barnette's injury could pave the way for veteran right-hander Kevin Jepsen to make the team as a reliever. Jepsen is in camp on a Minor League contract and has allowed just one run in 9 1/3 innings.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

Texas Rangers, Tim Lincecum

Arrieta fans 2, allows Cabrera HR in debut

Velocity encouraging sign as new Phillies pitcher fires 31 pitches in two-inning start @ToddZolecki

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Jake Arrieta came out firing Thursday in his first start for the Phillies.

His fastball touched 95 mph in a 6-2 loss to the Tigers in a Grapefruit League game at Spectrum Field. Philadelphia's newest starter struck out the first two batters he faced before he allowed an opposite-field home run to Miguel Cabrera. Arrieta scattered two more hits and one more run in the second inning, and finished the afternoon with 31 pitches.

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Jake Arrieta came out firing Thursday in his first start for the Phillies.

His fastball touched 95 mph in a 6-2 loss to the Tigers in a Grapefruit League game at Spectrum Field. Philadelphia's newest starter struck out the first two batters he faced before he allowed an opposite-field home run to Miguel Cabrera. Arrieta scattered two more hits and one more run in the second inning, and finished the afternoon with 31 pitches.

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Arrieta considered the start a success, although it seems unlikely he will be ready to pitch within the regular season's first five games or so. Arrieta signed a three-year, $75 million contract on March 12, so he missed nearly a month of camp. And while he had been throwing before he joined the Phillies, the club wants to make sure he's stretched properly.

Video: DET@PHI: Arrieta breaks down spring debut with Phils

Philadelphia has Arrieta for three years. The first week, while important, isn't everything.

"I don't think it's completely out of the question," Arrieta said about the first week. "It might not be very likely. But it could happen. [Pitching coach Rick Kranitz] and [manager Gabe Kapler] have just continued to reiterate that longevity is obviously most important vs. trying to jump out there a little premature.

"Do I think I could handle going out there? Of course. But, again, is it the smartest thing to do? Maybe not. I'm on board with what these guys intend to do. I know they have my health and the team's success over the long haul in mind. That's the most important thing moving forward. We'll probably have a better understanding of where we're going to go in three or four days."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Arrieta struck out JaCoby Jones on three pitches to start the game, then rang up Jeimer Candelario for the second out. Arrieta's 2-1 fastball to Cabrera, though, landed over the right-field fence for a home run.

"[Cabrera]'s one of the best in the game," Arrieta said. "With the wind flying to right and a guy who can really hit the ball well to right field, it's not the best combination. It was just a slightly elevated ball, away. He put a good swing on it. Other than that, I located the ball pretty well."

Arrieta retired the first two batters he faced in the second before Christin Stewart singled and Jose Iglesias doubled to score a run.

"Iglesias fought off some really nice sinkers in," Arrieta said. "I tried to go front-door cutter close to him. It leaked back a little bit, too much of the plate. He was able to get that run in. I'm not too worried about the end result. From a feel standpoint and mechanical aspects, everything was nice."

Video: DET@PHI: Arrieta collects his first K of the spring

Arrieta's fastball sat in the 92-95 range, encouraging as his velocity was a focus last season with the Cubs and before he signed with the Phillies. His fastball velocity dropped from 95.2 mph to 92.2 mph from 2015-17, according to Statcast™.

"What I'm focused on is being compact and explosive, but not putting max effort out there right now," Arrieta said. "So to have the ball coming out like that my first time out it's a good sign."

Arrieta's next start could come Tuesday in the Grapefruit League finale against the Pirates. He speculated he could throw 50 pitches in that start, then jump to 70 pitches after that. So while it is possible he could throw those 70 pitches in a big league start the first week of the season, it seems more likely the Phillies will take their time with him.

"Now that [the first start is] over," Arrieta said, "I take a deep breath and I remember what it feels like to be in a game situation. Umpires, crowd. And it felt great. I'm healthy. The ball is coming out good. To get the first one out of the way -- even though it is a little bit later -- it's a good sign."

"We were asked what we were expecting from him," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "We weren't looking for a perfect line. We were looking for health and strength and we saw that."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Philadelphia Phillies, Jake Arrieta

Best prospect bets for Opening Day rosters @JonathanMayo

Over the course of the Grapefruit and Cactus League schedules, countless prospects get the chance to show what they can do on a larger stage. At the very least, they can make a positive impression on the big league staff. At most, they can nab a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Some of the best prospects in the game have been recently sent down. There is no doubt Braves phenom Ronald Acuna, MLB Pipeline's No. 2 overall prospect, will be in Atlanta sooner rather than later, with his reassignment more about service time than anything else. No. 6 prospect Victor Robles was also just optioned, though he struggled while Acuna soared this spring, and his move to Minor League camp had more to do with a lack of an outfield opening with the Nationals. Keep in mind that both are just 20 years old.

Over the course of the Grapefruit and Cactus League schedules, countless prospects get the chance to show what they can do on a larger stage. At the very least, they can make a positive impression on the big league staff. At most, they can nab a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Some of the best prospects in the game have been recently sent down. There is no doubt Braves phenom Ronald Acuna, MLB Pipeline's No. 2 overall prospect, will be in Atlanta sooner rather than later, with his reassignment more about service time than anything else. No. 6 prospect Victor Robles was also just optioned, though he struggled while Acuna soared this spring, and his move to Minor League camp had more to do with a lack of an outfield opening with the Nationals. Keep in mind that both are just 20 years old.

Video: McMahon could join Crawford, Alfaro on Opening Day

The top two active pitching prospects, No. 10 Michael Kopech of the White Sox and No. 12 Walker Buehler of the Dodgers, will also begin the year in the Minors. Kopech wasn't ever considered a candidate to break camp with Chicago and Buehler needs time to get stretched out after getting just four innings of work.

Of course, it's not how you start, but how you finish. Last year's American League Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge may have made the Yankees out of Spring Training, but the NL winner, Cody Bellinger, did not.

Here's a look at baseball's top prospects who are vying to win Opening Day roster spots, and whether they're locks, contenders or long shots.

Video: MLB Tonight analyzes Ohtani's rough Spring Training


Top 100
Shohei Ohtani, RHP/DH (LAA No. 1, MLB No. 1) -- Yes, he's struggled. Could some time in the Minors be beneficial? Perhaps. But he wasn't brought in to be a Minor Leaguer. It would be a shock if he didn't start the year on the 25-man roster.

J.P. Crawford, SS (PHI No. 3, MLB No. 37) -- The Phillies traded Freddy Galvis to make room for Crawford, who has had an OK-but-not-spectacular spring. Look for him to hold his own at the plate while playing excellent defense.

Jesse Winker, OF (CIN No. 4, MLB No. 82) -- The guy has a pretty good track record of hitting and he's done it this spring (.378/.442/.595) in 16 games. He'll be part of the Reds outfield with Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and Billy Hamilton and it's not difficult to see him hitting his way to an everyday role.

Non-Top 100
Chance Sisco, C (BAL No. 3) -- Austin Wynns was optioned to the Minors, leaving Sisco to battle Andrew Susac for Baltimore's backup catcher spot behind Caleb Joseph. Sisco is doing more than his fair share at the plate (.714 slugging percentage, 1.166 OPS through Tuesday) to try to tip the scales in his favor.

Jorge Alfaro, C (PHI No. 7) -- The Phillies' primary catcher for the final two months of 2017, Alfaro is entrenched as the team's No. 1 backstop and has had a strong spring (.281/.378/.531) to boot.

Video: TB@PHI: Alfaro catches Kiermaier at second

Brian Anderson, 3B (MIA No. 9) -- Anderson was already knocking on the door, which was swung wide open when the Marlins announced that Martin Prado would start the season on the disabled list, and his .286/.388/.667 Spring Training slash line and four homers certainly haven't hurt.

Mitch Garver, C (MIN No. 19) -- Garver has struggled somewhat this spring, batting .154 (4-for-26) through Tuesday, but he remains a lock to back up Jason Castro behind the plate for Minnesota.

A.J. Minter, LHP (ATL No. 15) -- Minter's somewhat historic debut last year have led many in Atlanta to drum up comparisons to a young Craig Kimbrel. Minter has only stoked that hype this spring, striking out nine batters while walking just one over 6 1/3 scoreless frames through Tuesday. He's a lock for the Braves' Opening Day roster, barring injury, and should attract plenty of eyes when he takes the mound.

Colin Moran, 3B (PIT No. 8) -- The Pirates saw Moran as their starting third baseman when they acquired him from Houston in the Gerrit Cole trade, and Moran (.302 average through Tuesday) hasn't done anything this spring to dispel that notion.

Video: STL@MIA: Mattingly reacts to Brinson's adjustments


Top 100
Lewis Brinson, OF (MIA No. 1, MLB No. 27) -- He's edging closer to being a lock, given the spring he's had (.333/.365/.583) in 19 games. There's a pretty good chance he's the Opening Day center fielder. Hitting leadoff may not be a great fit, but we'll have to wait and see.

Ryan McMahon, 1B/2B/3B (COL No. 2, MLB No. 41) -- The bat is really going now (.350/.391/.583 in 25 games) and he's helped by the fact he can play three infield spots. But there isn't a clear roster spot for him and it might be better for him to play every day in Triple-A.

Tyler Mahle, RHP (CIN No. 5, MLB No. 84) -- Injuries to other starters have opened the door for Mahle a bit, and he's pitched well in Arizona (2.45 ERA, .146 BAA in 14 2/3 IP). It might be temporary until the hurt guys return, but Mahle could very well start the year in the big league rotation.

Brandon Woodruff, RHP (MIL No, 3, MLB No. 96) -- His 7.04 ERA this spring doesn't look great as he competes for a spot in the back end of the Brewers rotation. But he did give up just one run over four innings in his last outing, which was also his first Cactus League start.

Video: STL@WSH: Bader makes a nice diving catch in center

Non-Top 100
Harrison Bader, OF (STL No. 5) -- The fourth outfield spot has been the Cardinals' fiercest camp battle this spring. Bader has held his own in camp, batting .273 with six extra-base hits through Tuesday, and appears to have the inside track over fellow youngsters Adolis Garcia, Yairo Munoz and Luke Voit.

Luke Bard, RHP (LAA No. 21) -- The Rule 5 pick's attempt to win a bullpen spot might not seem to be going well, given his 6.10 ERA, but if you take out one outing that saw him yield five runs in one-third of an inning, it goes down to 1.74 in his other eight outings.

Alex Blandino, INF (CIN No. 19) -- Cincinnati's starting infield looks locked in, leaving Blandino to battle for a bench spot. Dilson Herrera's slow recovery from shoulder surgery opened up a spot, but Blandino still faces competition in veterans Phil Gosselin and Cliff Pennington. Blandino has been one of the Reds' best hitters this spring, compiling an .871 OPS through Tuesday's action.

Victor Caratini, C (CHC No. 8) -- The Cubs brought in veteran Chris Gimenez to provide comfortability to aces Jon Lester and Yu Darvish, but Caratini has made a compelling case to back up Willson Contreras. The 24-year old backstop was batting a respectable .265 through Tuesday, and manager Joe Maddon has praised his work behind the plate, too.

Franchy Cordero, OF (SD No. 10) --'s AJ Cassavell predicts the Padres will carry five outfielders, but Wil Myers' move to right field means Cordero is still in a tight battle with Travis Jankowski, Hunter Renfroe and Matt Szczur. Cordero's mix of power and speed will be hard for manager Andy Green to deny, and his spring numbers (eight extra-base hits and a 1.179 OPS through Tuesday) speak for themselves.

Video: CHC@SD: Cordero rips an RBI triple to the gap

J.D. Davis, 1B (HOU No. 9) -- Yuli Gurriel's hand injury has opened the door at the Astros' first base position, with Davis locked in a three-way battle with A.J. Reed and Tyler White. White's versatility will likely win out, though Davis' spring performance (three home runs and a 1.019 OPS through Tuesday) is giving manager AJ Hinch a lot to ponder.

Phillip Ervin, OF (CIN No. 23) -- Like Blandino, Ervin faces roadblocks as Cincinnati's starting outfield (Duvall, Hamilton and Schebler) appears to be set while, Winker and veteran Ben Revere appear closer to locking up a backup role. Contact has been an issue this spring for Ervin, who had struck out 14 times in 38 at-bats through Tuesday.

Kyle Farmer, C/3B (LAD No. 25) -- Farmer was already a viable third catcher for the Dodgers behind Austin Barnes and Yasmani Grandal, but Justin Turner's broken wrist has truly put him in contention for a final roster spot at third base. Farmer has submitted his own case as an improved hitter, posting a sterling 1.293 OPS and hitting three homers over 33 at-bats through Tuesday.

David Fletcher, SS/2B (LAA No. 23) -- The Angels' sixth-round pick out of Loyola Marymount in 2015, Fletcher has had a terrific spring (.333/.388/.444 in 45 ABs) while playing short and second in an effort to land a utility role.

Dustin Fowler, OF (OAK No. 5) -- Fowler hasn't overwhelmed at the plate this spring, struggling to a .439 OPS in 35 at-bats through Tuesday's games, but manager Bob Melvin said he's looking more comfortable as he returns from major knee surgery. Fowler has an excellent shot to be Oakland's starting center fielder and finally get his first Major League plate appearance on Opening Day.

Video: Fowler on his first spring game back after surgery

Domingo German, RHP (NYY No. 18) -- The right-hander has certainly made a case to stick around, with a 2.84 ERA and 15 K's in 12 2/3 innings in Florida.

Zack Granite, OF (MIN No. 27) -- It will likely come down to Granite and Robbie Grossman for the Twins' fourth outfield spot, and Granite's ability to play all three spots figures to give him an edge. But Grossman is a more established big league hitter and is also out of Minor League options, and those two facts could be the ultimate factors in the Twins' decision.

Jordan Luplow, OF (PIT No. 23) -- Luplow made his Major League debut last year, batting .205 in 87 plate appearances for the Pirates in the second half. While Pittsburgh's outfield remains crowded, the 24-year-old has hit four Spring Training homers in an attempt to mash his way onto the roster.

Ryan Merritt, LHP (CLE No. 22) -- After posting a 1.71 ERA in nine appearances for the Indians in the past two seasons -- as well as 4 1/3 scoreless frames in an ALCS Game 5 start last October -- Merritt is seeking a spot in Cleveland's deep rotation. The 26-year-old lefty has not sparkled in his most recent audition, however, as he has a 9.31 ERA in 9 2/3 spring innings. 

Yairo Munoz, UTIL (STL No. 12) --  Munoz has forced Mike Matheny and the Cardinals' coaching staff to take notice this spring, slugging over .600 and clubbing two home runs in the same inning against the Orioles last month. He's giving Bader a run for what will likely be the Cardinals' final roster spot in the outfield.

Video: STL@BAL: Munoz hits two homers in the same inning

Tanner Rainey, RHP (CIN No. 30) -- Rainey has impressed this spring, allowing two runs and striking out 11 batters over 6 1/3 innings through Tuesday, but he still appears to be on the outside looking in as a non-roster invitee among Cincinnati's crowded competition for bullpen spots.

Jacob Rhame, RHP (NYM No. 30) -- New York's bullpen mix is crowded, with a handful of starters like Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo likely moving back there to join mainstays like Jeurys Familia and Hansel Robles. The 25-year-old Rhame (4.00 ERA over nine appearances through Tuesday) is on the outside looking in, and will likely begin the year with Triple-A Las Vegas.

Edgar Santana, RHP (PIT No. 27) -- The Pirates have a wide-open competition for their bullpen spots behind Felipe Rivero this spring. Santana has done his fair share to keep his name in that mix, compiling a 0.86 WHIP and holding hitters to a .206 average over eight appearances through Tuesday.

Burch Smith, RHP (KC No. 17) -- Smith has struggled with his command this spring (nine walks and 10 earned runs allowed in 10 innings through Tuesday), but the Royals are in a transition period and Smith's high ceiling should be enough to push him into one of the clubs' last bullpen slots.

Taylor Williams, RHP (MIL No. 18) -- The Brewers handled Williams carefully in 2017 following two years of injury, and so the thought here is they will begin the talented righty in the Minors to further manage his workload. Williams has impressed manager Craig Counsell and his staff while pairing 10 strikeouts with just one walk and permitting two earned runs over 8 2/3 innings.

Video: Hays, Scott discuss improving during Spring Training

Long shots

Top 100
Austin Hays, OF (BAL No. 1, MLB No. 23) -- He's hit a little better of late, but he's still just hitting .219 with a .507 OPS in 32 spring ABs. Missing time early with a back issue certainly did not help him make his case to land a spot. Having him play every day in the upper levels seems a better bet.

Scott Kingery, 2B (PHI No. 2, MLB No. 35) -- He's done all he can to show he belongs, hitting .375/.405/.650 with three homers and four steals while playing second, third and even some short. It's more likely he starts the year in Triple-A and waits for an opening.

Franklin Barreto, SS/2B (OAK No. 3, MLB No. 66) -- He's making a strong impression in Cactus League action, with three homers and a .614 SLG in 16 games. Like with McMahon, there isn't a clear path for Barreto, even though he can play on either side of second.

Non-Top 100
Cody Carroll, RHP (NYY No. 17) -- He's likely on the outside looking in for a relief spot, but he has thrown well, with 10 K's in nine innings of work.

Steven Duggar, OF (SF No. 3) -- Duggar's competition with veteran Austin Jackson for the Giants' starting center field job is San Francisco's headlining battle heading into the homestretch. Limited roster spots and Duggar's remaining options mean he'll likely be the runner-up, and he could benefit from a little more seasoning in the Minors after striking out in nearly one-third of his Cactus League at-bats.

Video: LAD@SF: Duggar dives and makes catch

Tom Eshelman, RHP (PHI No. 16) -- Incoming ace Jake Arrieta has some catching up to do, meaning there's still a chance Eshelman could sneak into a final swing rotation spot. The trouble is the same could be said for a host of other Phillies pitchers -- including Zach Eflin, Ben Lively, Mark Leiter Jr. and Jake Thompson -- and Eshelman's 4.76 ERA through Tuesday didn't stand out.

Joey Lucchesi, LHP (SD No. 9) -- San Diego figures to have one left-handed spot open after bullpen locks Brad Hand, Jordan Lyles, Kazuhisa Makita, Craig Stammen, Kirby Yates and Chris Young. Lucchesi hadn't allowed an earned run through Thursday, but that southpaw spot figures to go to either Buddy Baumann or Kyle McGrath.

Renato Nunez, 3B/OF (OAK No. 20) -- Reports surfaced Tuesday that Nunez will start 2018 on the disabled list -- as had been expected -- as he nurses a strained left hamstring back to health. Nunez suffered the injury in the A's second Cactus League game this spring, giving him little opportunity to strut his stuff.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. Matt Kelly is a reporter for based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

McCann playing for right club at right time @MikeLupica

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- You can start here with Brian McCann: He is younger than you think and much better than you think.

McCann, whose current job is catcher of the defending champion Astros, just turned 34 in February. So there's that. Then there's this: He has been an All-Star seven times already in his career and across the 12 full seasons he has played in the big leagues, he has hit more than 20 home runs ten times, and never hit fewer than the 18 he hit last season for the Astros.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- You can start here with Brian McCann: He is younger than you think and much better than you think.

McCann, whose current job is catcher of the defending champion Astros, just turned 34 in February. So there's that. Then there's this: He has been an All-Star seven times already in his career and across the 12 full seasons he has played in the big leagues, he has hit more than 20 home runs ten times, and never hit fewer than the 18 he hit last season for the Astros.

He has been that good, built that kind of resume and is also built to last. Brian McCann was having a great career with the Braves and the Yankees before he even got to Houston. But with all that, with what is a long, classy and honorable career, there were never any guarantees, because there never are in sports, that he would ever win it all; that he would ever play on a team as good and deep and talented as the one on which he is playing right now.

There was never any guarantee for someone like McCann, a catcher who has hit as many home runs as he has and caught as many games as he had, that he would ever be in the right place at the right time, until he finally was. Until all the champagne had been sprayed in Los Angeles after Game 7 of the World Series, the trophies had been presented, Carlos Correa had proposed to his fiancée on the field and on television, he sat in front of his locker in the visitors' clubhouse at Dodger Stadium and it sunk in that it hadn't just happened to his teammates.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

It had finally happened to him.

McCann smiled on Thursday afternoon, sitting at his locker right before the shower room in the Astros' clubhouse at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, an hour or so before one of the last games his team would play there in the spring.

"We were all so exhausted by the time Game 7 was over," he said, "I honestly think it took a while to take a step back, or two, or three, and fully appreciate what we'd done."

Then, McCann said, "But we did appreciate it in the moment. I know I did. I know how many players in this game might play their whole careers and never even make it to the postseason, much less play in a World Series and win one."

He shook his head. He was still smiling.

Video: Outlook: McCann looks to be stable presence

"There's thirty teams," McCann said. "That's as good a place to start as any. And then out of those thirty, you have to end up on the right team. And then even after you end up on the right team, you still need to have all phases of the game covered. I mean, I look back on everything that happened to us in the playoffs, a Game 7 against the Yankees and then another one against the Dodgers. And when I do look back, then I start thinking about how this hit went our way, or that play went our way, but how they could have gone the other way. All it does is make you appreciate and understand just how hard it is to win in this game."

Say it again: He is better than you think, and putting up awfully big, borderline Hall of Fame numbers, for a catcher. McCann has now averaged 22 home runs a season for the past 12 seasons. But even with everything he's done, even on a team last season that had Jose Altuve, Correa, George Springer, Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers, Jr., he saw how fragile October and November can so often be in baseball. The Astros were behind the Yankees three games to two in the American League Championship Series. McCann had just played for the Yankees after leaving Atlanta. So maybe he was going to be in the right place -- Houston, with a team loaded the way the '17 Astros were -- at the wrong time.

"But then it turned out," he said on Thursday, "that we really were the ones having a magic season."

The ALCS went back to Minute Maid Park, and the Yankees, riding high after sweeping the three games at Yankee Stadium, were only able to score a single run in Games 6 and 7. Then came the World Series, one of the best and most memorable and, yes, most magical in all of baseball history. The Astros and Dodgers finally played a Game 5 that will be remembered as long as the World Series was played, coming from 4-0 behind against Clayton Kershaw and finally winning 15-14 in the bottom of the 10th.

Video: Hot Stove: McCann on improving despite winning WS

Going into that game, McCann was only hitting .181 for the postseason. It meant he hadn't been doing a whole lot with any kind of pitching, particularly left-handed pitching. But in the bottom of the eighth, with left-hander Tony Cingrani pitching for the Dodgers, McCann hit a home run that made it 12-9 for the Astros, before the Dodgers tied them again in the top of the ninth.

And before that, of course, in Game 7 against his old team in the Yankees, it was McCann who knocked in the last two runs for the Astros, his double scoring Correa and Yuri Gurriel and making it 4-0 for the Astros that night.

"It was as if everybody did something," he said Thursday. "Everybody had at least one moment, and sometimes more than that. And now I actually think that we've gotten better. I think we have to be better for the experience that we had in the postseason, for going through the fire the way we did. It's not just the talent in here, and the chemistry we so obviously have. It's also the fun we all have being a part of something like this."

He smiled again. He does that a lot.

"In ten years, I really think that people will look back on this team, guys like Jose [Altuve] and Carlos [Correa] and George [Springer] and Alex [Bregman] and say, 'Wait a second, those guys were all on the same team at the same time?'" McCann said.

Those guys are right here in this room. But so is Brian McCann. Right place, right time. Right guy behind the plate, too.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for and the New York Daily News, and is a best-selling author.

Houston Astros, Brian McCann

Injury updates: Carrasco, Montero, Phelps, more

Here's a roundup of the latest injury news around the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues:

Carlos Carrasco, Indians
The right-hander left his start against the Royals in the fifth inning Wednesday with a left foot contusion after he was struck by a comebacker from Cheslor Cuthbert. Manager Terry Francona did not seem overly concerned with Carrasco's exit, noting he was nearing the end out his outing anyway.

Here's a roundup of the latest injury news around the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues:

Carlos Carrasco, Indians
The right-hander left his start against the Royals in the fifth inning Wednesday with a left foot contusion after he was struck by a comebacker from Cheslor Cuthbert. Manager Terry Francona did not seem overly concerned with Carrasco's exit, noting he was nearing the end out his outing anyway.

"He got hit with a ball kind of on the top side of his foot," Francona said. "He was already at 71 [pitches]. ... We couldn't let him walk him off. [We'd] rather let him go back and ice it, because he wasn't going to go much more anyway."

Carrasco is coming off a career year in which he paired with AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber to form one of the Majors' best 1-2 starting combos. The righty went 18-6 with a 3.29 ERA and struck out 226 hitters over 200 innings. Should he recover in time, Carrasco will in all likelihood start the Indians' second game of the season March 31 against the Mariners in Seattle.

Rafael Montero, Mets
The Mets will be without Montero for the foreseeable future, as the team announced Thursday that Montero has a complete tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of his pitching elbow. Montero will likely undergo Tommy John surgery.

The 27-year old Montero had struggled this spring, recording a 9.00 ERA over seven appearances (one start) and allowing a .316 average to opponents. Montero was a candidate for the Mets bullpen to begin the 2018 season but will now likely be shelved until at least next season.

Montero owns a career 5.38 ERA over 58 appearances (including 30 starts) across four big-league seasons in Queens.

Paul Blackburn, Athletics
Already hit with major injuries to Jharel Cotton and A.J. Puk, the A's 2018 rotation mix took another hit Thursday as's Jane Lee reported that Blackburn felt tightness in his forearm that will likely sideline him at the start of the season.

Blackburn, 24, was a strong contender for Oakland's rotation after compiling a 3.22 ERA over 10 starts as a rookie last year. Lee reported that free-agent acquisition Trevor Cahill will also not be ready to start the season. That leaves just five healthy options for Oakland's five starting spots: Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Andrew Triggs, Daniel Mengden and Daniel Gossett.

David Phelps, Mariners
Seattle's bullpen suffered a big blow Wednesday, as the club announced right-hander David Phelps needs Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2018 season.

Phelps tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow on the final delivery of his outing Sunday against the Angels. The typical timetable for recovery from Tommy John surgery is 12-15 months.

"There's no way to sugarcoat it," general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "He's a big piece of what we're doing here, and it's a big loss for us. He will feel it, his teammates will feel it and we'll feel it." More >

Johan Camargo, Braves
Braves manager Brian Snitker confirmed Wednesday night that Atlanta's starting third baseman has run out of time to rehab in time for Opening Day.

Camargo will most likely miss the first week of the 2018 regular season with back and right side discomfort, per Snitker, though the Braves have not officially placed him on the 10-day disabled list. Atlanta can place Camargo on the DL retroactively for up to three days of Spring Training, meaning he could be activated as soon as the Braves' April 6 matchup against the Rockies in Denver.

"After we evaluated it, what we ended up looking at was [Camargo] probably will only have one game to play and that will not be enough," Snitker said. "We'll just make sure he is good. That's the important thing." More >

Brandon Guyer, Indians
Guyer is recovering well from left wrist surgery in October, but it's not yet clear whether he will be ready for Opening Day. The 32-year-old outfielder went 3-for-3 at the plate in a Minor League game on Saturday, but Indians manager Terry Francona wants to make sure he gets enough at-bats under his belt before re-joining the big-league club.

It's possible Guyer could be placed on the 10-day disabled list to begin the season as he plays in rehab games to regain his timing in the batter's box, according to's Jordan Bastian.

"I don't think we have to slow him down, but I think we want to be aware that we are trying to get him ready for the long haul," Francona said earlier in the week. "I know [Opening Day] is a big day and guys shoot for it, but we like to get him back and keep him back healthy. We have talked to him about that a little bit. We don't want to slow guys down just to slow them down."

Guyer agreed, noting he'd rather play it safe than risk re-aggravating the ailment.

"Ever since my surgery in October, [Opening Day] has been my target," Guyer said. "Is it going to happen or not? I don't know. It's been my goal. But at the same time, I don't want to risk missing the majority of my season rushing to get back to Opening Day."

Guyer has batted .268/.364/.374 with four home runs and 34 RBIs in 70 games with Cleveland over part of the past two seasons.

Tim Beckham, Orioles
Beckham crushed a two-run home run off Boston starter Hector Velazquez in Thursday's Spring Training contest, but then disappeared into the Orioles' clubhouse with the team trainer after heading into the dugout.

It's unclear what caused Beckham to leave the contest, but he was replaced by Danny Valencia at third base to begin the third inning.

Beckham, 28, is hitting .273 with four homers this spring after slashing .306/.348/.523 with 10 homers and 26 RBIs in 50 games with Baltimore in 2017 after being dealt from Tampa Bay at the Trade Deadline.

Boone Logan/Wade Miley, Brewers
Logan and Miley, both originally expected to be options for the Brewers to begin the season, will begin the year on the disabled list. Miley has been diagnosed with a slight groin tear while Logan has a slight triceps strain, the team announced. However, there is some concern Logan's injury is in the same area of the lat tear he suffered last season. He is undergoing more tests.

Milwaukee general manager David Stearns told reporters Thursday morning it's "more likely" the pitchers who replace the pair of southpaws will be internal.

Miley was a non-roster invitee to Brewers camp, and was possibly going to earn a spot in Milwaukee's rotation if not for the injury. He has an "out" clause in his Minor League contract that allows him to request his release from the organization if he is not informed Thursday he'll make the Major League roster.

But Stearns said he'd like to keep Miley within the organization, if possible.

"We have to try to work through it and see if we can find a fit that makes sense for both sides," Stearns said. "I'm optimistic we can. I know Wade wants to continue with the organization; we want Wade to continue with the organization."

It's unclear how much time both players are expected to miss.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Steven Souza Jr., D-backs
The right fielder left Wednesday's loss to the Giants in the top of the fourth inning with a strained right shoulder after a diving attempt at a double to right-center field.

Souza appeared to land poorly on his arm and shoulder and walked off the field holding his right arm. He will undergo an MRI on Thursday morning.

Robinson Cano, Mariners
Cano, who was sidelined nine days with a strained left hamstring, returned at designated hitter Wednesday and went 1-for-2 with a walk and run scored against the Brewers. He's expected to play second base Thursday night against the Rangers, which will allow Nelson Cruz -- out eight days with a right quad strain -- to return at DH for that game.

Michael Brantley, Indians
Brantley made his long-awaited Cactus League debut Wednesday night against the Royals and homered in his first of three at-bats. It was his first game action since undergoing right ankle surgery last October. The Indians have yet to rule him out for Opening Day.

Brantley, the third-place finisher in the 2014 American League MVP race, hit .299/.357/.444 with nine home runs, 52 RBIs and 11 stolen bases over 90 games in 2017.

Jose Abreu, White Sox
The White Sox appear to have dodged a bullet with their top hitter, as Abreu is hoping to return to Chicago's lineup by Friday after he was forced to exit Tuesday's game with tightness in his left hamstring.

Manager Rick Renteria downplayed Abreu's injury following Tuesday's 10-0 win, noting that Abreu was smiling when he left the game.

Abreu, 31, is bidding for his fifth straight season of at least 25 home runs and 100 runs batted in.

Dan Straily, Marlins
Straily was shut down Tuesday for five to six days of action after experiencing some mild tightness in his pitching forearm during his Minor League outing on Monday.'s Joe Frisaro reported that Straily's velocity was unaffected in that appearance, and the team is not concerned about Straily's health in the long-term.

The veteran righty was scheduled to start the Marlins' second game of the season March 30 against the Cubs, but there's now a chance that Straily's season debut could be pushed back.

Daniel Murphy, Nationals
Murphy is amping up his baseball activity, but is unlikely to be in the lineup when the Nationals open the season next Thursday against the Reds in Cincinnati. Recovering from microfracture surgery on his right knee, Murphy's running is limited to a treadmill but he's progressed to moving laterally when fielding grounders and has added new strength exercises.

"I think the nature of our sport is that once you start, the games come fast and furious," Murphy said. "I don't want to break [camp] and get into the lineup and then have to have [manager Dave Martinez] manage me. You don't want to play with a 24-man roster."

Michael Conforto, Mets
Conforto homered twice and went 3-for-10 in a Minor League scrimmage on Wednesday. Batting twice an inning for five frames, the 25-year-old outfielder struck out and homered off David Peterson, the Mets' top pick in last year's Draft, in his first two plate appearances. He added another homer off left-hander Daniel Zamora. Originally with a return target date of May 1, Conforto is now hoping to get back to the big leagues sometime in April.

"I'm pretty close," Conforto said. "I'm starting to feel my legs a little bit and starting to feel like I'm in rhythm with everything. So I'm getting close."