Spring shuffling: Contenders work with wealth of roster options

The Braves and Mets are set to open Grapefruit League play today (1:10 p.m. ET, MLB Network), the first day of a stretch in which winning takes a back seat to figuring out batting orders and filling out rotations.

For several contenders, such maneuvering is a no-lose deal. Consider these situations:

Placido Polanco's arrival is setting off a chain reaction that could affect Jayson Werth (foreground).
Placido Polanco’s arrival is setting off a chain reaction that could affect Jayson Werth (foreground).

Phillies: Lining up All-Stars

Placido Polanco was signed to give the NL champions a contact hitter in the second spot of the order. His arrival drops Shane Victorino from the two-hole and presents Charlie Manuel with a problem any manager would take. Manuel must decide how to line up his All-Star outfield of Victorino, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez in the batting order after cleanup slugger Ryan Howard.

Rangers: Too many starting pitchers

To see how once slug-happy Texas has changed, consider manager Ron Washington’s plight. To fill out two spots in his rotation, he has a choice of at least six pitchers. The group includes a pair of 23-year-old hotshots who started last year, Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland, a 21-year-old who allowed one run in his first 22 innings last season in Neftali Feliz, and the club’s best reliever, C.J. Wilson.

"A very pleasant problem to have," Washington says. "We’ve got depth in the Texas Rangers organization. I’m pleased."

The Rays will play Ben Zobrist every day -- somewhere in the field.
The Rays will play Ben Zobrist every day — somewhere in the field.

Rays: Where to play an All-Star

Ben Zobrist played seven positions in 2009 and made his first All-Star team. The Rays plan to use him primarily at second or right this season. The determining factor: the spring play of three prospects deemed major league-ready by manager Joe Maddon. If Matt Joyce shines in right, Zobrist plays second. If Sean Rodriguez or Reid Brignac emerges at second, Zobrist takes right.

Braves: Deciding on a phenom

Jason Heyward already has left an impact in spring training—literally. His long home runs in batting practice damaged two vehicles and led to the installation of  safety nets at a practice field. Heyward, 20, is attempting to win the right-field job.

"We’re not going to give anybody the job," manager Bobby Cox says. "If he wins it, he wins it." 

This story appears in March 2’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today for free.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

The Braves and Mets are set to open Grapefruit League play today (1:10 p.m. ET, MLB Network), the first day of a stretch in which winning takes a back seat to figuring out batting orders and filling out rotations.

For several contenders, such maneuvering is a no-lose deal. Consider these situations:

Placido Polanco's arrival is setting off a chain reaction that could affect Jayson Werth (foreground).
Placido Polanco’s arrival is setting off a chain reaction that could affect Jayson Werth (foreground).

Phillies: Lining up All-Stars

Placido Polanco was signed to give the NL champions a contact hitter in the second spot of the order. His arrival drops Shane Victorino from the two-hole and presents Charlie Manuel with a problem any manager would take. Manuel must decide how to line up his All-Star outfield of Victorino, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez in the batting order after cleanup slugger Ryan Howard.

Rangers: Too many starting pitchers

To see how once slug-happy Texas has changed, consider manager Ron Washington’s plight. To fill out two spots in his rotation, he has a choice of at least six pitchers. The group includes a pair of 23-year-old hotshots who started last year, Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland, a 21-year-old who allowed one run in his first 22 innings last season in Neftali Feliz, and the club’s best reliever, C.J. Wilson.

"A very pleasant problem to have," Washington says. "We’ve got depth in the Texas Rangers organization. I’m pleased."

The Rays will play Ben Zobrist every day -- somewhere in the field.
The Rays will play Ben Zobrist every day — somewhere in the field.

Rays: Where to play an All-Star

Ben Zobrist played seven positions in 2009 and made his first All-Star team. The Rays plan to use him primarily at second or right this season. The determining factor: the spring play of three prospects deemed major league-ready by manager Joe Maddon. If Matt Joyce shines in right, Zobrist plays second. If Sean Rodriguez or Reid Brignac emerges at second, Zobrist takes right.

Braves: Deciding on a phenom

Jason Heyward already has left an impact in spring training—literally. His long home runs in batting practice damaged two vehicles and led to the installation of  safety nets at a practice field. Heyward, 20, is attempting to win the right-field job.

"We’re not going to give anybody the job," manager Bobby Cox says. "If he wins it, he wins it." 

This story appears in March 2’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today for free.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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