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COLUMN: MLB flaunts different look heading into 2019


The Los Angeles Dodgers' Justin Turner is out at second in a failed bid to break up a double play as Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Boegaerts tumbles over him Oct. 26, 2018 during Game 3 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Tribune News Service

With pitchers and catchers from all 30 MLB teams reporting for Spring Training this week, baseball is officially back.

There will be some notable roster differences this year as teams begin to prepare for Opening Day, slated this year for March 28. Excluding season openers in foreign countries, this will be the earliest start to the season in MLB history. The earlier start means the clock is already ticking for some of baseball’s biggest stars to get back into the swing of things, no pun intended.

MLB free agency has been a hot topic since Boston brought home its fourth World Series title since the turn of the century last October. With some of the biggest names in the sport still unsigned, the question of just how productive Spring Training will be this year will be answered soon enough.

The coveted Bryce Harper and Manny Machado sweepstakes have left organizations in a quandary. 

Machado was offered a seven-year, $175 million deal by the Chicago White Sox early in the offseason that was promptly shut down by his agent. Harper has reportedly been offered a five-year deal with the San Francisco Giants worth enough money to justify an early retirement — still it's not enough to convince the 26-year-old franchise player to head west.

As a handful of teams scramble to negotiate with the two stars, there is no need to hit the panic button quite yet. Last season provides enough evidence that late offseason signings can translate to success. 

Eric Hosmer (Padres), Yu Darvish (Cubs) and J.D. Martinez (Red Sox) each signed with their new teams in February 2018 and Jake Arrieta (Phillies) did not ink his contract until as late as March 12. Lorenzo Cain (Brewers) signed in January. 

Two of these five players, Martinez and Cain, joined rosters that eventually went on impressive postseason runs — Cain making it to the NLCS and Martinez eventually becoming a World Series champion. Martinez was also the RBI leader in the American League and recipient of the Silver Slugger Award and AL Hank Aaron Award in 2018.

Multiple teams will also have key players returning from injury just in time for Opening Day. 

The Cubs will see the return of Darvish, who has finally recovered from elbow issues that took him out of the rotation in May last year. 

Giants catcher Buster Posey will make his long-awaited return behind the plate after receiving hip surgery in August. 

Trevor Rosenthal, who has not played since August 2017, will return to the Nationals after receiving Tommy John surgery. 

Look for these players, among many others returning to rosters this year, to make a big difference with the 2019 regular season on the horizon.

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