Is spring training too long? Some big leaguers think so. Others wouldn’t change a thing

In the first full-length spring training since 2019, some are wondering whether all that time in Florida and Arizona is necessary or even a good idea

Right now, all across sun-kissed diamonds in Florida and Arizona are very rich and talented men who wish they were somewhere else.

To many around the game, spring training is too long — four weeks of purposeful work stretched into a seven-week trudge, a marathon before the marathon. While the regular season is lengthy, it has ups and downs, peaks and valleys, changes in the weather. Spring training, on the other hand, is a drive across Kansas — each mile, each day, identical to the last until, suddenly, Opening Day arrives.

“I wish,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora jokingly responded when asked if he thinks camp should be shorter.

Once upon a time, spring training was a more significant, more indispensable enterprise. Many ballplayers of yesteryear would show up out of shape, out of baseball rhythm, and use the low-pressure environment to wind themselves back into form. But the game has changed.

“The years of coming here to get ready? That’s in the past,” Cora said.

These days, the overwhelming majority of big leaguers, motivated by the continued increase in salaries, arrive in prime physical condition. Very few touch down in Arizona or Florida feeling rusty, let alone with beer bellies. Most healthy hurlers have faced hitters before pitchers and catchers report. Most hitters have been seeing live pitching for months. By the middle of March, everyone is antsy and desperately trying to avoid injury.

“Game speed is different, but we don’t need three lives [live pitching sessions] before games,” a veteran starter told Yahoo Sports. “It’s too long by about 10 days on the front end.”

“Spring is mostly for the pitchers to get ready,” one catcher said. “But most guys are built up coming in, and almost everybody is built up by, like, Week 3 or 4. Could easily be two weeks shorter.”

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‘People aren’t used to the normal length’

That a conversation about shortening spring training has developed during the first “normal” spring training in a half-decade is no accident. Spring training was impacted by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. The 2022 lockout pushed camp back a full month and cut it to three weeks. Last spring overlapped with the World Baseball Classic. That means a player who first attended big-league camp in 2020 is currently experiencing his first typical spring training. So it’s not necessarily about whether longer is better; it’s that many players today know only a shorter spring training.

“It’s a post-COVID, post-lockout take,” a different AL coach replied when presented with the notion of a shorter camp. “People aren’t used to the normal length.”

Compared to preseasons in other major American sports, MLB’s seven-week schedule is by far the longest. The NFL’s training camp and preseason last around five weeks; NHL and NBA preseason camps are about three. Spring training makes for the longest chunk of time that most of the baseball world, so used to a nomadic lifestyle, spends in one place, in one house, in one bed, all year.

And while some think a shorter spring would (and did) suffice, there are those who enjoy the consistency and comfort of the full-length experience. Some players even arrive at team complexes weeks ahead of their report dates.

“I love spring training. I think it’s fun,” a veteran AL pitcher said. “It’s great for team-building and is the perfect amount of time for a starter to ramp up. The only thing I would change is to put it on a night schedule like the regular season.”

Offered one sleep-deprived NL hurler: “It’s not too long — it’s just too early.”

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A necessary ramp-up or more opportunity for injury?

One experienced baseball person pointed to the increase in hamstring injuries that followed the 2022 lockout spring training and the truncated 2020 NFL preseason as evidence that shorter preseasons have negative consequences. The MLB regular season, as the thinking goes, is gradual, a slow burn. Proper preparation requires methodical buildup. Others see injuries as inevitable and more spring games as more chances for them to occur in meaningless exhibitions.

In the past few weeks alone, both Gerrit Cole and Lucas Giolito have suffered significant elbow injuries. In 2023, spring ACL tears kept Gavin Lux and Rhys Hoskins out for the entire regular season. Maybe bad things are always going to happen, but there’s nothing teams hate more than losing important pieces in games that don’t matter.

In response, some voices championed more seven-inning games interspersed within the current spring schedule. Others pushed back, noting that even though most starters are showered and home-bound by the later innings, many back-end roster players use spring training garbage time to make a lasting impact. Those players, many of whom are non-roster invitees or waiver-wire vets, aren’t trying out for only their clubs; they’re auditioning for 29 others, too.

“There are guys getting ready for the season,” Cora explained. “Then there are guys fighting for a spot, guys that are trying to open our eyes for them to come during the season.

As one 10-year vet opined: “It’s important to give the young kids a chance to show who they are.”

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‘While Cactus League games may not count, their economic impact certainly does’

A few shrewd characters were also quick to point out the financial component of this debate. Spring training has become a destination vacation for many cold-weather ball fans. Teams don’t pay player salaries during camp, only meal money, which makes the entire endeavor quite profitable for teams and presents a difficult situation for younger players on smaller salaries. But nobody stands to lose more from a shorter spring training than the local communities in which they’re based.

An August 2023 press release from the Cactus League claimed that that year’s spring training brought more than $710.2 million in business to Arizona. The Florida Sports Foundation claimed in a 2018 economic impact report that the Grapefruit League generated around $687.1 million.

“While Cactus League games may not count, their economic impact certainly does,” Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs said in the league’s 2023 release. “I am laser-focused on creating jobs and building businesses right here in Arizona, and the Cactus League is a critical partner in doing just that.”

Because of this overwhelming financial benefit, it's unlikely that anything will change anytime soon. Besides, nothing resembling a consensus exists that would lead to any large-scale alterations to the current layout of spring training. This is far from a cause célèbre of the MLBPA. Even the players who would prefer a shorter camp aren’t that angry about it. The 3 million or so fans who attend spring games each year have nothing to worry about.

So while the Dodgers and Padres prepare for their Opening Day showdown on March 20 in South Korea, the rest of the league will continue the slow march toward the regular season under the ever-stronger heat of the southern sun.