The offseason for Major League Baseball is one of the shortest in all of sports. Regular season games wrap up around October 1. If your team makes a playoff run, add a couple more weeks. Most players say they take about a month to recover from the 162-plus game grind, and then start hitting the gym in earnest in November. By the time February 1 rolls around, the break is almost over, as pitchers and catchers must report to Spring Training in Florida or Arizona within a day or two of Valentine's Day. That gives guys about 130 days to shake off the old season and begin building themselves up for the new year.
"There's no catching up once the season starts," says Tony Watson, 28, a Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher who appeared in 67 games last year. Most players' offseason routines don't match the extremes of Florida Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, last year's Rookie of the Year in the National League, or Jesus Montero of the Seattle Mariners. Fernandez lost about 25 lbs while cycling 600 miles some weeks with a peloton in Florida while Montero, a one-time top Yankees prospect, gained about 40 lbs in the offseason, something he blames on overeating. Guys want to be in good shape heading into camp, so they won't be sore in the early days, or get injured and miss out on valuable innings or at-bats when the General Manager is watching.
Players competing for a big-league roster spot literally can't afford to be tired in Spring Training, because if they are, it affects their bank accounts in a big way. The difference between a full-time MLB gig and the equivalent in Triple-A is about $500,000. Here are the offseason workout highlights of four ballplayers, just try to catch-up.
Erik Kratz, 33, catcher, Toronto Blue Jays
The Spring Training media guide says Kratz, who will turn 34 this year, is 6-foot 4-inches, 235 pounds. "Try 6' 5", 250," he says when shown his stats. Kratz, who towers over just about every big-league batter, owns every inch and every pound. Coming off perhaps his best season as a pro, smacking nine homers in just about 200 at-bats with the Philadelphia Phillies, he's trying out for the Blue Jays' back-up catcher gig, a role which might see him catch R.A. Dickey's famous knuckleball.
Instead of squatting for hours a day, Kratz puts himself through intense workouts all winter with the goal of being able to quickly shrug off or prevent the soreness that comes from catching bullpen sessions in the opening days of Spring Training.
"My work during the offseason allows me to stay healthy throughout the year," he says. "I haven't felt the age yet. I'm a young 33." After a warm-up, Kratz goes into a traditional weightlifting routine: squats, triceps extension, or bicep curls, depending on what day it is. But to cap it off, he grinds through an intense, 30 minute, interval routine when he's already gassed. Here's a look at one of his 30-minute circuits.
First, set an alarm to ring at 30 seconds, 30 seconds and one minute for a half hour.
Sledgehammer tire slams. "As many times as I can for 30 seconds."
TRX band pull-ups. "Feet on a block, back on the floor. Pull myself up for 30 seconds."
Plank sequence. "I'll start with a plank for a minute, then each time around, I'll switch sides."
Credit: Tony Firriolo / MLB / Getty Images
If you can accomplish 10-12 cycles of the sequence in 30 minutes, you might be as strong as a big-league catcher.