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.
Tony Watson, 28, relief pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates
Lefty reliever Tony Watson posted his best-ever season in 2013 as the team made the playoffs for the first time since the early 1990s. He struck out 54 batters, a career high, while holding opponents to a .198 batting average over 71 innings. "I try to push [my workouts] as hard as I can," says Watson. "With cardio, it's interval-type things. We'll do 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for four minutes. Relievers need to work in short bursts."
At 7:30 a.m. in the midst of Spring Training, it's hard for Watson to remember exact workouts from his big lifting days back in December, "but I did heavy legs Mondays and Thursdays, a heavy push on Mondays and a heavy pull on Thursdays, then the upper, same type of thing – push on Tuesdays, pull on Fridays, with Wednesday as a recovery day."
He gets six or seven lifts done in an hour, and leg presses will include "six or seven plates on each side," so it's probably around 500 pounds when he goes big. Lunges come next, and Watson can't remember holding dumbbells lighter than 45 pounds in each hand. He'll follow through during the week with deadlifts, hamstring curls, reverse lunges, squats and TRX cables.
No workout is complete, however, without a hard cardio push. Watson uses a Wattbike so he and his trainer near Sarasota, Fla. can track his progress workout-by-workout. "Right around the holidays when my eating starts going south and I still get through my workouts, that's when I know I've been doing something right. In January when you start throwing, and the volume increases, you can tell you've got your legs under you," says Watson. "I try to push it as hard as I can because I know that there will be a time in June, July, or August when you won't have the fresh legs."
Credit: Elsa / Getty Images