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Big-spending Dodgers, Padres among favorites as MLB launches spring training

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MIAMI, Feb. 19 (UPI) — Pitchers and catchers have reported to MLB training camps to start baseball’s preseason. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres — who made the most high-profile off-season moves — are among the title favorites.

The 2021 MLB season, like the 2020 campaign, will include the challenge of teams battling COVID-19, in addition to opponents on the baseball diamond. This year’s season will encompass several adjustments amid the pandemic.

Some MLB players arrived Wednesday to Cactus League training sites in the Phoenix area. Pitchers and catchers also are set to arrive at respective camps Thursday and Friday.

Half of MLB’s 30 teams have their preseason in Arizona. The other 15 teams participate in the Grapefruit League on the east and west coasts of Florida.

Full rosters of players will arrive for spring training next week, with exhibition games scheduled to start Feb. 28. The New York Yankees will host the Toronto Blue Jays in the first game of the regular season at 1:05 p.m. EDT April 1 at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees, who have a tradition of major off-season spending, spent big again this winter. Because of that, and the talent they already had in place, the Yankees remain title favorites in 2021. Several other teams also made major off-season moves and have vaulted into contender status.

Biggest off-season moves

All-Stars Trevor Bauer, Francisco Lindor, Blake Snell, Nolan Arenado, George Springer, Corey Kluber and Yu Darvish were among the top players to change teams this off-season. The major movements swayed the odds for several teams from modest projected finishes to title contention.

The reigning World Series champion Dodgers remain the overall favorite to claim the Commissioner’s Trophy again in 2021. The Dodgers had the second-highest payroll in MLB in 2020. They already have spent $34 million more than the Yankees on players in 2021 and now have MLB’s most-expensive team.

Bauer, who won the 2020 National League Cy Young award, signed a three-year, $102 million deal with the Dodgers on Feb. 11 in free agency. He joins a rotation that already featured three-time Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw, 2012 Cy Young award winner David Price, All-Star Walker Buehler and Julio Urias.

“I’m excited to be part of the group,” Bauer said at his introductory news conference. “The talent on the field speaks for itself. It’s an extremely good group of guys. I’m excited to be in the fold and to try and win another World Series.”

The abundance of pitching talent, paired with former MVPs Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts and the Dodgers’ other big bats, makes the team a heavy favorite to repeat as champions.

Just south of Los Angeles, another MLB team also was busy with free agency and player acquisitions. The Padres finished the 37-23 last year behind emerging star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and a solid pitching staff.

San Diego hopes to build on its 2020 momentum and made major moves to do so. Like the Dodgers, the Padres also added a former Cy Young award winner in Snell. They also traded for former Chicago Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish and catcher Victor Caratini.

They even locked down the emerging Tatis with a record-breaking 14-year extension.

The Yankees also made several off-season transactions, but didn’t make as big of a splash as other projected contenders. They retained several of their current starters, including D.J. LeMahieu. They also signed two-time Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber and traded for fellow pitcher Jameson Taillon, and last week signed outfielder Jay Bruce.

Other significant additions:

Cardinals: Traded for 3B Nolan Arenado; re-signed C Yadier Molina

Mets: Traded for IF Francisco Lindor and P Carlos Carrasco; signed P Trevor May, C James McCann and 2B Jonathan Villar

Blue Jays: Traded for P Steven Matz; signed OF George Springer, IF Marcus Semien, P Kirby Yates and P Tyler Chatwood; re-signed P Robbie Ray

Nationals: Signed OF Kyle Schwarber, P Brad Hand and P Jon Lester; traded for 1B Josh Bell

Rangers: Traded for DH Khris Davis

Athletics: Traded for SS Elvis Andrus

Braves: Re-signed OF Marcell Ozuna; signed P Charlie Morton and P Drew Smyly

Angels: Traded for OF Dexter Fowler, P Alex Cobb and SS Jose Iglesias; signed P Jose Quintana

Brewers: Signed 2B Kolten Wong

Twins: Re-signed DH Nelson Cruz; signed SS Andrelton Simmons

Rays: Signed P Chris Archer and P Michael Wacha

Phillies: Re-signed SS Didi Gregorius and C J.T. Realmuto

Cubs: Signed OF Joc Pederson

Giants: Signed IF Tommy La Stella

Red Sox: Signed UT Enrique Hernandez, OF Hunter Renfroe and P Garrett Richards; traded for P Adam Ottavino

Top early games

Spring training

March 2

Rays vs. Red Sox at 1 p.m. EST on ESPN

March 3

Mariners vs. Cubs at 3 p.m. EST on ESPN

March 4

Nationals vs. Mets at 1 p.m. EST on ESPN

March 5

Dodgers vs. Royals at 3 p.m. EST on ESPN

Regular season

April 1

Blue Jays at Yankees at 1:05 p.m. EDT on ESPN

Dodgers at Rockies at 4:10 p.m. EDT on ESPN

Mets at Nationals at 7:10 p.m. EDT on ESPN

Astros at Athletics at 10:05 p.m. EDT on ESPN

April 3

Braves at Phillies at 4:05 p.m. EDT on FS1

Dodgers at Rockies at 8:10 p.m. EDT on FS1

April 4

Braves at Phillies at 1:05 p.m. EDT on ESPN

White Sox at Angels at 8:37 p.m. EDT on ESPN

April 5

Twins at Tigers at 1:05 p.m. EDT on ESPN

Royals at Indians at 4:10 p.m. EDT on ESPN

Rays at Red Sox at 7:05 p.m. EDT on ESPN

White Sox at Mariners at 10:10 p.m. EDT on ESPN

April 6

Mets at Phillies at 7:05 p.m. EDT on ESPN

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