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Here are nine odd Spring Training storylines

From Lester's bounce pass to Ichiro's return to M's, interesting camp angles abound @castrovince

Spring Training is strange. That's what we love about it.

It's "Day Game Season." It's "Make Too Much out of Meaningless Stats Season." It's "Get Scratched From the Lineup Because of Soreness From Your New Tattoo Season" (that really did happen to Elvis Andrus a few years back).

Spring Training is strange. That's what we love about it.

It's "Day Game Season." It's "Make Too Much out of Meaningless Stats Season." It's "Get Scratched From the Lineup Because of Soreness From Your New Tattoo Season" (that really did happen to Elvis Andrus a few years back).

If Spring Training came and went without anything unusual happening, they'd have to postpone Opening Day until somebody finally hit a home run that broke the windshield of his general manager's rental car. Them's the rules.

This 2018 Spring Training is far from over, but already some odd storylines have developed. Here are nine (an odd number):

Jon Lester is bouncing throws to first base … like, on purpose
Lester's inability to throw to first base went from fairly-well-kept secret to widely known weakness pretty much overnight thanks to the 2014 American League Wild Card Game. The fact that Lester's outings haven't become total track meets for opposing teams is a testament both to the catcher-first baseman communication the Cubs have created to pick up on runners' plans and the state of the running game (or lack thereof) in the modern Major Leagues. Sometimes it feels like Lester is in the head of those runners taking unusually long leads as much as they are in his.

Video: CHC@ARI: Peralta reaches second on Lester's throw

But every spring, Lester looks for ways to adjust to his yips. He's practiced what he calls the "Jordan-to-Pippen" one-hop to first in the past, but on Sunday he broke it out in a ballgame … and it led to a two-base throwing error. Who knows if Lester will feel comfortable enough with his ability to rack up Jordan-like assist totals to actually employ this approach in a regular-season game, but for now there's nothing more Spring Training-y than a dude doing bounce passes to first base.

Tim Lincecum could be the Rangers' closer
Raise your hand if you thought Lincecum would get a closing opportunity this offseason before Greg Holland.


Lincecum has appeared in just 24 games since the start of 2015, and none since '16, when he had a 9.16 ERA in 38 1/3 innings for the Angels. He hasn't had an adjusted ERA better than league average since '11. So the thought of Lincecum rescuing the Rangers' shaky late-inning relief situation is either fascinating or foolish, depending on your mood. But scouts walked away from his showcase in Seattle last month legitimately impressed with his physique and raw stuff (his fastball was reportedly between 90-93 mph), so here goes nothing (and in Major League baseball, a one-year, $1 million gamble legitimately qualifies as "nothing," anyway).

Video: Expectations for Tim Lincecum in Texas

"The Freak" already has a closer-ready nickname, and we've long wondered what he'd look like in a high-leverage relief scenario. We got just a small taste of it during the Giants' 2012 and '14 World Series runs, and now it's Timmy Time in Texas -- a capital-S Surprise that lives up to the name of the Rangers' Arizona home.

The Tim Tebow story is not going away
Speaking of unusual Tims in unusual times, when Tebow first signed with the Mets, it was looked at as a lark that was almost certain to fade once the reality of bad batting averages and Minor League buses set in. But even after posting a .226/.309/.347 slash line between Class A Columbia and Class A Advanced St. Lucie, Tebow got an invite to the Mets' big league camp, where general manager Sandy Alderson has said his "modest expectation" is for Tebow to actually play in the Majors. Tebow even got his textbook "weird Spring Training injury" out of the way when he sprained his left ankle stepping on a sprinkler.

Video: WSH@NYM: Tebow singles to center field in the 4th

Ankle issue aside, the Mets say Tebow looks far more comfortable this spring than last, and it's possible he will open the season at Double-A Binghamton. Like it or not, they're giving the 30-year-old Tebow every opportunity to make this work, even if there was very little evidence last year that this would work as anything other than a gimmick. Max Scherzer needed all of three pitches and 40 seconds to strike out Tebow the other day, but we won't judge the Heisman Trophy winner by his best or worst moments in these meaningless exhibitions, and instead just wish Tim well, because he's clearly not Te-bowing out just yet.

The D-backs announced they're bringing back the bullpen cart
Actually, that's more awesome than odd.

Tweet from @Dbacks: This is actually happening.Introducing the OnTrac Bullpen Cart! #GenerationDbacks

Free agents have their own training camp
Because it has been closed to the media and scouts, save for exhibitions against a Japanese amateur team, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that the Major League Baseball Players Association continues to hold its own camp -- the so-called "Camp Jobless" -- for remaining free agents.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

The unusual nature of this 31st camp merits mention here, because the most recent time baseball had seen such an arrangement was after the 1994-95 players strike. To the best of our knowledge, some of the biggest remaining names in the market -- such as Jake Arrieta, Mike Moustakas, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn -- have not attended Camp Jobless, which is located at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. But second baseman Neil Walker is known to have turned up there, as well as Lucas Duda, before he signed a one-year deal with the Royals.

Mostly, this has been a place for 30-somethings looking to latch on with a club even via a Minor League deal to stay sharp, with the union covering travel, housing, insurance and, of course, the generic black uniforms emblazoned with the MLBPA logo.

The Indians signed Mike Napoli … hoping he can sign with someone else
Napoli was another attendee at Camp Jobless before his old friends with the Indians extended a Minor League invitation to their camp. And of course, it is not at all unusual for a veteran player like Napoli to sign such a deal in hopes of winning a spot on the big league roster.

Video: Napoli rejoins Tribe on Spring Training invite

But in this particular arrangement, Napoli is hoping to win a spot on another big league roster altogether. Cleveland thinks so highly of Napoli (and vice versa) from their 2016 experience together that it wanted to give him a proper place to play and be seen. Barring injury to Yonder Alonso and/or Edwin Encarnacion, the Indians simply don't have a spot for the 36-year-old Napoli, but that's not stopping them from giving him at-bats in the Cactus League. This weird free-agent period was testament to the idea that, now more than ever, teams view players as quantifiable commodities, but the relationship between the Tribe and Napoli proves the human element still exists in some places.

Ronald Acuna's crooked cap created controversy
Acuna is rated by MLB Pipeline as the game's No. 2 prospect, behind Shohei Ohtani. In his age-19 season, he hit .325 with 21 homers and 31 doubles across three Minor League levels, including Triple-A. Acuna is a five-tool talent and could be the centerpiece of the next great Braves team (maybe even this year, for all we know). He's also got a reputation, fair or not, among some evaluators for being a bit of a hot dog.

Video: ATL@NYY: Acuna Jr. notches three hits, stolen base

In an interview early in camp, Acuna wore his Atlanta hat askew. He was asked by the Braves to straighten it out and was reportedly receptive. But when word of this leaked, social media stirred (as it tends to do), in many cases blasting the Braves. Indeed, one would think, some 25-30 years after Ken Griffey Jr. popularized the backward cap, that we'd be past the point of such silly sartorial scrutiny, but each club has its own code of conduct, I suppose. Let's just hope Acuna comes as advertised on the field -- at which point, perhaps, needlessly strict rules can be bent like a brim.

The Rays DFA'd a reigning All-Star
Granted, the Rays designating Corey Dickerson after his strong 2017 would have rated as unusual at any point in the offseason, but the late nature of the decision, which came down early in camp, only added to the oddity of it all. On the surface, Dickerson's 120 OPS+, 27 homers and 33 doubles in 150 games made him one of Tampa Bay's best players last season. But on a team with a player payroll that demands proper value be extracted in every facet, the Rays noted Dickerson's severe statistical regression in the second half of '17 (.241/.282/.408 slash line), the high (and perhaps unrepeatable) batting average on balls in play that fueled his All-Star bid, and the lack of defensive value he brought in left field and decided they'd be better off allocating their resources elsewhere.

Video: PHI@PIT: Dickerson talks first game with Bucs, Marte

Rather than paying Dickerson roughly $6 million, the Rays dealt him to the Pirates for reliever Daniel Hudson (who they will pay $4.5 million) and infield prospect Tristan Gray. It was a controversial decision, especially in their own clubhouse. And the timing was strange. But in pure baseball and economic terms, Tampa Bay definitely made a defensible move.

Ichiro Suzuki is back with the Mariners
A 25-year-old outfielder (Ben Gamel) coming off an encouraging rookie campaign strains his oblique one day, and the next his ready-made roster replacement arrives in the form of a 44-year-old future Hall of Famer and franchise icon whose career was presumed to be effectively finished.

Video: Ichiro set records and thrived with the Mariners

The only thing that would make this a perfectly ironic Spring Training sequence of events would be if Gamel injured himself while unpacking his Ichiro Suzuki bobblehead collection at his spring condo. Alas, it was just from swinging in the batting cages, which is kind of boring.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcasts and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays, Kansas City Royals