After a whirlwind blitz of new teams and stadiums in recent years, Arizona's Cactus League will pause this spring and take a deep breath.
The biggest visible addition for purveyors of spring training, in fact, will be a player--superstar Albert Pujols, joining the Angels in Tempe after a decade training with the Cardinals in Florida. Yu Darvish will cause a stir in Surprise, where the Rangers train.
For the first time since 2008, no teams have changed locations. And the run of glittering new facilities--which has seen ballparks rise up in Surprise, Glendale, Goodyear and Scottsdale in the past nine years, with another one on the way for the Cubs in Mesa in 2014 -- may finally have reached an end.
But that doesn't mean change isn't in the wind. In the volatile world of spring training, where the dueling leagues in Arizona and Florida have been jockeying for teams for decades, the potential for movement is always present.
That volatility, it appears, won't affect the Mariners, whose lease in Peoria, Ariz., is up after the 2013 spring, as is that of the Padres, with whom they share the facility. But as the M's prepare to open their 20th season in Peoria when pitchers and catchers report Feb. 11, all signs point toward smooth negotiations on an extension.
"Those teams have a very good relationship with their city," said Cactus League president Brad Curtis in a recent phone interview with The Seattle Times. "Peoria knows the value of those teams. The relationship has been great both ways.
"They're currently negotiating their contracts, and I anticipate those being done in the very near future. They won't go to the last minute. I know they're very close, and they've been working on it awhile."
A Mariners spokesman characterized their relationship with the City of Peoria as "very strong" and said, "We are working well toward an extension of our lease there."
Right now, the Cactus League and Florida's Grapefruit League each have 15 teams. Arizona would love to lure one more from Florida to ease the scheduling headaches that come with an odd number of teams. The Indians, White Sox, Reds, Royals, Dodgers and Rangers have all bolted Florida for Arizona since 1998, with no corresponding defections.
"Once we hit 16 teams here, the brakes will be put on ," said Curtis, who added: "There are always teams to be had. It depends on what you're using for a lure. It depends on the bait."
For many years, the bait was tax money earmarked by the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority for new stadium projects. But that fund is mostly tapped out, meaning that any new facility would likely have to be privately funded.
The Salt River field in Scottsdale, where the Diamondbacks and Rockies opened play last year, was built with tribal money. There is tribal land in Gila River and Fort McDowell that has been contemplated in the past as a spring venue.
Among the teams in Florida that are considered possibilities for a move, according to The Arizona Republic, are the Astros, Twins, Nationals, Blue Jays and Cardinals. But all have leases through at least 2016.
One possibility being kicked around is adding a third team to an existing two-team facility. That is being considered more seriously in Surprise and Salt River than in Peoria, where the city manager said recently in the Republic, "(A third team) is not in the cards right now. What we're focusing on is renewing the agreements with the two teams that are here."
Adding a third team would require doubleheaders on most days.
Meanwhile, the A's, after 30 years at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, have begun exclusive negotiations with the city of Mesa to use HoHoKam Stadium -- spring home of the Cubs--as early as 2015. That's one year after the Cubs are scheduled to move into their new $84 million baseball complex in Mesa.
The A's lease with Phoenix is up in 2014. Another potential headache for the Cactus League is the Milwaukee Brewers, whose lease in Maryvale is up after this year. The team is said to be considering other options.
Meanwhile, Curtis is expecting another banner year for the Cactus League in 2012 after drawing a record 1.59 million in 2011. He said ticket sales at Salt River are going "really well--stupid well." And ticket sales "are through the roof" in Tempe after the Pujols acquisition.
"I think this will be a good year," he said. "The economy is turning in most places in the country. People are getting used to the new economy. They're making room in their budgets, and spring training is part of that."
Feb. 11: Pitchers and catchers report.
Feb. 12: First workout for pitchers and catchers.
Feb. 17: Position players report.
Feb. 18: First workout for full squad.
March 2: First Cactus League game.