World champion Rangers among 18 teams that get going with pitchers and catchers on the field

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The new sign outside the Texas Rangers’ training facility in Surprise, Arizona, became a favorite photo opportunity on Wednesday.

“World Series Champions. 2023.”

“I’ve gotten even a deeper appreciation of what these guys did. It was just incredible year with a lot of ups and downs,” Texas manager Bruce Bochy said. “I mean, yeah, got some pretty big hits on the injury side with some tough losses. But how these guys just focused forward the whole time. But what they did at the end, you know, throughout the postseason, it was just amazing.”

Texas was among 18 teams that got workouts underway for pitchers and catchers, with 10 more scheduled to get started on Thursday.

But the Rangers were the only team to open with the hopes of matching what the Kansas City Chiefs just did in winning back-to-back titles. Bochy noted the challenges in winning one World Series, but also made reference to what the Chiefs accomplished last Sunday.

General manager Chris Young said his sense is the Rangers are still hungry.

“As I said it last year, this is the most professional group I’ve ever been around. They’re extremely focused, they’re extremely motivated. And my sense is they’re not satisfied,” Young said. “And while I think they deserve to be celebrated for what they accomplished last year. I think this group has expectations and ambitions beyond reaching the top one time.”

While it was the start day for most of the league’s pitchers and catchers, it was also the first full squad workout for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who open the season in Seoul, South Korea, against the San Diego Padres on March 20-21. That included Shohei Ohtani with his first official on-field day in Dodger Blue.

And many position players were already showing up camps and starting their prep for the season. Seattle’s Julio Rodríguez, for instance, was hitting in the batting cages at the Mariners facility in Peoria, Arizona, just a couple of days after being in Las Vegas for the Super Bowl.

Young Cincinnati star Elly De La Cruz was taking grounders over in Goodyear, Arizona.

Cubs outfielder Ian Happ was another early camp arrival.

“It’s nice to get out here,” Happ said. “Weather’s perfect, it’s beautiful out here. We have a great facility that we get to work in. So to be able to get out here a week early and get a full week under your belt of being on the field, hitting, going through the process before we actually start up is really nice.

FREE AGENTS WAIT

While the pop of the glove started to be heard in both Florida and Arizona, there were still a large number of big names without a home. NL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, slugger Cody Bellinger and Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman headlined the group of remaining free agents.

Of the 169 players who became free agents after the World Series, more than half were still without a team when the week began. That number finally hit the 50% mark on Wednesday when Yasmani Grandal (Pittsburgh), Shintaro Fujinami (New York Mets) , Phil Maton (Tampa Bay) and Scott Alexander (Oakland) all had their signings announced.

Philadelphia also signed right-hander Spencer Turnbull, who threw a no-hitter in 2021 before Tommy John surgery limited him to seven starts over the past two seasons.

Last year, half the available free agents had signed by the first week of January.

MANAGER DEBUTS

The first day of workouts also brought a mix of new managers – and some experienced managers in new places.

Most notable was the move of Craig Counsell from Milwaukee to NL Central rival Chicago and taking over the Cubs. Bob Melvin is now in San Francisco, leaving San Diego. Pat Murphy took over for Counsell with the Brewers. Mike Shildt returned to managing as the replacement for Melvin with the Padres. And Carlos Mendoza oversaw the first workout as the manager of the New York Mets.

That’s just the National League.

The American League was a little less volatile this offseason with only three changes – Stephen Vogt taking over for Terry Francona in Cleveland; Ron Washington replacing Phil Nevin with the Angels; and Joe Espada stepping into Dusty Baker’s spot with Houston.

“I’m super excited. Emotions are high. I’m really looking forward to getting on the field and working with this group,” Espada said. “It’s joy, absolutely. I’m humbled by this opportunity. Not everyone gets this opportunity to manage in the big leagues. I’m one of the lucky 30. And what makes it more special is it’s with this team.”

MOLINA DELAYED

Yadier Molina’s return to the St. Louis Cardinals’ spring training complex will have to wait a few more days. Molina managed Criollos de Caguas in winter ball and Puerto Rico in the recently completed Caribbean World Series.

“Given the fact that his season at Puerto Rico just ended, we’re going to give him a few weeks before he actually reports, so that’ll be more of a TBD,” Cardinals President of Baseball Operation John Mozeliak said. “It will probably parallel when the minor leagues are going as well so he can double dip.”

The Cardinals announced in December that Molina, who retired following the 2022 season after 19 years with St. Louis, would return to the club as a special assistant.

ON THE MOVE

Baltimore added a little outfield depth acquiring Peyton Burdick from Miami in exchange for cash. Burdick appeared in 14 games for the Marlins last season after spending most of the year at Triple-A Jacksonville.

The Yankees and Brewers swapped relievers with left-hander Clayton Andrews going to New York and right-hander Johan Quezada going to Milwaukee.

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AP Baseball Writers Jay Cohen and Stephen Hawkins, and AP freelance writers Marc Berman and Chuck King contributed.

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb

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