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Sunday baseball notes

From the All-Star Dodgers to the sad state of the Athletics, there are many story lines to watch in spring training

The eyes of the baseball world will be on the Dodgers and prize acquisition Shohei Ohtani this season.Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

The Dodgers and Padres, who open the season March 20 in Seoul, have already started spring training. The Los Angeles pitchers and catchers got going Friday. The Padres are to report Saturday and have their first workout Sunday.

The other 28 teams open later this week. Here are a few story lines to follow in Arizona and Florida:

▪ Avengers assemble — The Dodgers somehow have Mookie Betts, Walker Buehler, Freddie Freeman, Tyler Glasnow, Clayton Kershaw, Shohei Ohtani, Will Smith, and Yoshinobu Yamamoto on the same team after what may well have been the best offseason in history.

But the 2023 Padres offer ample proof that a star-laden team is not necessarily a winning one. How this plays out will be the story of the season.

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▪ Free agents still to be had — As the weekend arrived, Tim Anderson, Cody Bellinger, Brandon Belt, Matt Chapman, Adam Duvall, J.D. Martinez, Whit Merrifield, Jordan Montgomery, Tommy Pham, Hyun Jin Ryu, Blake Snell, Jorge Soler, and Michael Taylor were still free agents.

That could be the core of a very good team.

The players still have ample time to prepare for the season once they sign. But at some point, baseball should reach agreement on rules to expedite the process in such a way that’s fair to all involved. Other sports have deadlines or transfer windows. Baseball solved its pace-of-game issues, it can fix this, too.

▪ New managers — Eight teams have new managers and all face challenges to different degrees. None more than Stephen Vogt of the Guardians.

He’s 39, only a year removed from playing and replacing a legend in Terry Francona. And the Guardians didn’t do much to improve the roster.

That Vogt retained pitching coach Carl Willis and first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. was smart. They were trusted by Francona and their presence will help in the transition.

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Byron Buxton returns to center field — After being limited to 85 games as a DH and pinch hitter last season, Buxton has been cleared to return to center field. He was a game-changer defensively from 2017-22, amassing 61 defensive runs saved. If Buxton can stay healthy, the Twins are a different team.

Xander Bogaerts changing positions — The Padres are discussing whether to push Bogaerts to second base or even first base.

“Right now he’s playing shortstop,” manager Mike Shildt told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Padres seem to prefer Ha-Seong Kim at shortstop and could want Jake Cronenworth at second base. Bogaerts has played only shortstop since Aug, 1, 2014, when the Sox traded Stephen Drew.

Bogaerts is signed through 2033, which should salve any bruised ego. But a switch won’t be easy for him.

▪ Diamondbacks reload — Arizona was not content to reach the World Series and energize a fan base told when to cheer at Chase Field. General manager Mike Hazen went out and added Eduardo Rodriguez, Joc Pederson, and Eugenio Suarez, and retained Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

That may not be enough to overtake the Dodgers, but it doesn’t have to be. Arizona finished second last season and swept Los Angeles in the division series.

▪ The return of Oneil Cruz — Pittsburgh’s outrageously athletic shortstop was lost for the season last April 9 with a fractured fibula that came on a collision at the plate.

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He was sixth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2022. Cruz’s return is a major boost for the Pirates. It also will be exciting to see him on the same field as Cincinnati’s Elly De La Cruz, another tall infielder with eye-popping abilities.

▪ The return of Edwin Diaz — The Mets’ closer ruptured his right patellar tendon while celebrating a victory in the World Baseball Classic last March and missed the season.

His rehabilitation has progressed as expected and Diaz should be ready for Opening Day. His first trip to the mound at Citi Field with his now famed walk-out song “Narco” playing will be a big moment.

Diaz had a 1.31 ERA and 32 saves in an All-Star season for the Mets in 2022.

▪ Tampa Bay’s rotation — The Rays lost Shane McClanahan to Tommy John surgery last August and traded Glasnow to the Dodgers in December. Now they’ll build the rotation around Zach Elfin and have Shane Baz coming back from Tommy John surgery. Ryan Pepiot, acquired in the Glasnow trade, should fill a spot.

Northeastern’s Aaron Civale didn’t pitch well after being acquired from Cleveland last season but is expected to stay in the rotation. They also need 22-year-old Taj Bradley to live up to his considerable promise.

The Rays extended the contracts of president of baseball operations Erik Neander and manager Kevin Cash this past week because they always find a way.

Wander Franco on hold — This is a problem out of Tampa Bay’s hands. The Rays’ 22-year-old shortstop, who is signed through 2032, is being investigated in the Dominican Republic for an alleged relationship with an underage girl.

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MLB is likely to again place Franco on administrative leave. That would take him off the 40-man roster. Franco also will face suspension from the league once his legal issues are decided.

There’s a chance his major league career is over.

▪ Oakland’s cloudy future — The Athletics have needed a new ballpark for at least 20 years and now their plans to move to Las Vegas appear in danger.

Owner John Fisher was granted unanimous approval from his fellow owners to move but isn’t close to putting a shovel in the ground on what would be a $1.7 billion stadium.

It’s starting to resemble the series of ballpark deals Fisher couldn’t close to stay in Oakland. Even Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman recently suggested there was little excitement in town for the Athletics.

Meanwhile, the Athletics don’t have a home beyond this season with their lease on the decrepit Oakland Coliseum due to expire. That situation is held up by determining which locations will allow them to continue collecting local television revenue.

The team could land in Sacramento or Salt Lake City. Both have Triple A ballparks that could accommodate the team. There’s also a chance they wind up at the Triple A park in Las Vegas.

What could be the final season at the Coliseum figures to be a disaster. Oakland lost 112 games last season and is set to field a team with a luxury tax payroll of only $66.3 million.

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▪ Rangers in relief — The defending World Series champions had bullpen issues last season, blowing 33 saves. José Leclerc became the closer in the postseason after recording only four saves during the regular season. He pitched well but has never been a full-season closer.

Aroldis Chapman was effective after being acquired from Kansas City at the trade deadline but has since signed with the Pirates.

This year, veterans David Robertson and Kirby Yates were signed to set up Leclerc. Texas also brings back Josh Sborz, who allowed one earned run over 12 postseason innings after a rocky regular season.

Is that enough? There is a large group of candidates competing for the other spots.

Texas Rangers relief pitcher Jose Leclerc throws against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the ninth inning in Game 4 of the baseball World Series Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)Godofredo A. Vásquez/Associated Press
REALITY BITES?

Netflix show adds to Red Sox drama

It’s great for Major League Baseball that Netflix wanted to do a documentary series on one of its teams with behind-the-scenes access.

The Red Sox were certainly enthused, avidly pursuing the project going back to last season. A better team would make more sense, but executive producer and director Greg Whiteley has shown a deft hand with underdog stories “Cheer” and “Last Chance U.”

The Sox certainly fit that mold given the state of the franchise. Whiteley met with some players last season to gain their support and was successful. As an organization, the Sox have embraced the idea.

But there is a potential downside. Alex Cora is in the final year of his contract and Craig Breslow is in his first as chief baseball officer. The Sox also have a lot of players who aren’t established big leaguers.

Tossing a seasonlong documentary on their plate doesn’t seem ideal. But that tension will probably generate good television. It will be interesting to what degree the show touches on the dissatisfaction of the fan base with ownership.

Prediction: Triston Casas becomes a big deal. He’s a character waiting for a show.

A few other observations on the Red Sox:

Garrett Whitlock has yet to become the pitcher the Sox hoped he would when they signed him to an extension before the 2022 season. He’s just over league average since and had five stints on the injured list.

But when you see the righthander face hitters on Field 1 at Fenway South on Friday morning, five days before camp officially opens, you know the work ethic is there. That’s driven home when Whitlock is the last player on the field because he wants to run another series of sprints.

It’s a results business, but the work comes first and he does the work.

Ángel Padrón, a lefthander who was a Red Sox minor leaguer from 2014-19, threw a no-hitter for Venezuela against Nicaragua in the Caribbean World Series on Wednesday in Miami.

It was only the second no-hitter in the 75-year history of the tournament. The first was in 1952.

Padrón topped out at Single A Greenville in 2019, where he was teammates with Brayan Bello. He was one of the many players who lost their spots because of the pandemic and baseball’s decision to contract the minor leagues.

Padrón has since played professionally in Venezuela and for an independent team in Mexico.

Righthander Jonathan Aro, who had a brief stay with the Red Sox in 2015, pitched for the Dominican Republic in the Series.

▪ Baseball Prospectus revealed its PECOTA statistical projections for the season. It has the Sox with 79.8 victories. In the American League, only the Tigers (75.6), Angels (74.3), Royals (69.9), White Sox (65.7), and Athletics (64.0) were lower.

▪ Old friend Rich Hill told Buster Olney’s podcast that he plans to remain a free agent through the end of the Milton Little League season so he can watch his son Bryce play his final year and help coach the team. He’s open to pitching after that by taking the Roger Clemens route of choosing a team in June or July and ramping up from there.

Hill turns 44 in March and could still help a team. It also would be nice to carve his 4.01 career earned run average down a bit.

▪ The University of Northwestern Ohio retired the No. 40 worn by John Schreiber from 2014-16. Schreiber is the only big leaguer to come from the NAIA program. UNOH offers six men’s sports, seven for women, and co-ed teams for stock car racing and drag racing.

Garrett Whitlock has yet to become the pitcher the Sox hoped he would when they signed him to an extension before the 2022 season.Jim Davis/Globe Staff
ETC.

Bobby Witt Jr. commits to Royals

A large group of team employees were waiting in the main lobby to greet him when Bobby Witt Jr. arrived at Kauffman Stadium last week to officially accept his 11-year contract extension from the Royals.

It spoke to the impact the 23-year-old shortstop has had on the organization since being the second pick of the 2019 draft.

Witt had 69 extra-base hits, 49 stolen bases, and 97 runs for a 106-loss team last season. His presence emboldened the Royals to sign a series of veteran free agents to fuel what they hope is steady improvement and a new stadium deal over time.

Witt was impressed enough by that commitment to agree to the extension.

“It’s a sign of hope,” he said. “I felt like it was the right time. It’s an exciting time for sure.”

Witt’s father is a Canton native who went on to pitch 16 years in the majors. He grew up a Red Sox fan and admired that Dustin Pedroia spent his entire career with the team. That also was motivation to stay with Kansas City.

Witt’s deal guarantees him $288.8 million with Kansas City holding a three-year option worth $89 million. Witt has opt-out rights for four years starting in 2030 and no-trade rights.

Extra bases

Hall of Fame voters have the option of making their ballots public. This year, 303 of 385 voters did that. That so many stood behind their vote is great, but it should be 100 percent. Baseball writers ask players, managers, coaches, and executives to go on the record with their comments every day over the course of the season. The very least we can do is to go on the record ourselves when voting for the Hall of Fame. Might you get criticized on social media? Sure. But it won’t be nearly as virulent as the abuse players receive almost daily and you always have the option to ignore the comments. Based on the numbers, voters who go the anonymous route tend to make fewer selections. That’s fine. There is not any one correct way to vote. But it’s incorrect to be a journalist who doesn’t embrace transparency … Pedroia will be on the Hall ballot next season. His one-time rival, Robinson Cano, believes Pedroia belongs in Cooperstown. “He deserves it,” Cano said. “He’s a guy who got out of bed every day and played hard. All the things that he did for Boston, even if they had Manny [Ramirez] and all those guys, you had to think about Pedroia in the lineup. For me, I think he deserves it.” Pedroia and Cano were contemporaries at second base. Pedroia initially set the record for the highest contract at that position in 2013 before Cano broke it when he signed with Seattle a few months later. Pedroia’s career was stunted by injuries and Cano’s by a pair of PED suspensions. At 41, Cano hasn’t played in the majors since 2022 but remains a viable player in the Dominican winter league, leading Estrellas to the Caribbean World Series … Newcomers Corbin Burnes ($15.6 million) and Craig Kimbrel ($12 million) are Baltimore’s highest-paid players, which makes sense considering the Orioles needed an ace and a closer. Burnes will be the highest-paid Oriole since Chris Davis made $23 million a year from 2016-22 … Veteran utility player Charlie Culberson (Braves), first baseman Ronald Guzman (Orioles), and outfielder DJ Peters (Rangers) will go to spring training as non-roster pitchers. Peters converted to the mound last season. Guzman, a lefty, pitched in spring training with the Giants last year. Culberson, who turns 35 in April, will be in minor league camp with the Braves … A huge complex named after Henry Aaron has been proposed for a parcel of land near Atlanta’s Truist Park. The Henry would have 650 apartments, 54 condos, and a 250-room Marriott Hotel … You surely know Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the son of former major league pitcher Pat Mahomes. But did you know that 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy also is the son of a professional pitcher? Shawn Purdy played at the University of Miami and was in the minors from 1991-98 with the Angels, Giants, and Braves. He reached Triple A in 1997 and pitched well but was never called up … Condolences to the family and many friends of Dr. Christopher Geary, who passed away this month at the age of 52. Geary was a fixture at Fenway Park alongside his son, Kellan, and a frequent source of wisdom — and good humor — on orthopedic questions for both the Globe and the larger baseball community … Happy birthday to Ben Oglivie, who is 75. A native of Panama who attended high school in New York City, Oglivie was a 1968 draft pick by the Red Sox, made his debut in 1971, and was traded to Detroit after the 1973 season for infielder Dick McAuliffe. It was not a good deal. McAuliffe hit .206 over two seasons and retired. Oglivie went on to play 13 more seasons and was a three-time All-Star with 235 home runs.


Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him @PeteAbe.