Spring training is just about over. That means it’s OK for me to start paying attention to baseball.

A lifetime ago (at least it seems like one) I used to pay attention to spring training. But over the past decade, spring training has lost its appeal. It used to be that plenty of roster spots were earned in spring training. Now most teams can tell you 23 of their 25 opening-day players by early February.

The only times I have paid attention to the NFL preseason over the past 20 years is when I’ve been covering an NFL team. Perhaps that is why I eventually lost the luster to follow the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues.

Sure, it’s fun to make a road trip to Arizona to catch a few games and enjoy the 90-degree March temperatures in the Phoenix and Tucson areas. But following every small detail or tracking the battle for the 11th pitching spot on a team is no longer worth the time.

I knew there were benefits associated with retiring from fantasy baseball.

Plus, soaking in every second of March Madness is a lot more fun and a lot better use of one’s time.

But with the first pitch occurring Sunday night, it’s time to think about rosin bags, delayed steals and bullpen catchers. And with the San Diego Padres getting things going Monday afternoon against the Arizona Diamondbacks, it’s time to start wondering how long it will be before All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez follows Jake Peavy out of town.

Gonzalez is the biggest bargain in baseball when using soaring salary levels as the measure. The Padres have him under contract for two more seasons – at $4.75 million this season and $5.5 million in 2011. He made a modest $3 million last season when he had 40 homers and 99 RBIs while playing half his games in pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

The Padres lost a lot of credibility in San Diego last season when they traded Peavy to the Chicago White Sox barely a year after signing Peavy to a big-money deal and declaring he was part of the team’s future. Trading their lone bona fide slugger would be another signal that winning isn’t the biggest priority in San Diego despite the change of ownership from John Moores to Jeff Moorad.

Since Moorad used to be a player agent in charge of obtaining the most dollars he could for baseball-player clients, he knows Gonzalez isn’t going to settle for below-market pay on his next deal. Particularly now that the small-market Minnesota Twins just gave catcher Joe Mauer a $184 million contract over eight seasons.

The Twins are moving into new Target Field this season so there’s sure to be an increase of revenues. Keeping their star attraction brings back reminders that the Padres repeatedly said they needed Petco Park to be built to increase their revenue streams so they could compete for better players and retain their own stars.

The evidence six years after Petco Park opened shows that the Padres haven’t lived up to their promise.

So if the Padres do what they do most seasons – reside closer to the bottom of the National League West than the top – you can count on those Gonzalez trade rumors heating up. New general manager Jed Hoyer undoubtedly knows there are a few teams who will be willing to put together a package that includes multiple top prospects for one of the top overall hitters in the game.

But if Gonzalez does get traded, it tells you two things – the Padres are about 20 games out of first place in July and ownership still isn’t committed to keeping star players.

See the stress involved with worrying over the Padres? There wasn’t any of that anxiety at the beginning of this month when baseball was on my radar about as much as the NBA regular season — as in not at all.

But once the umpire yells “Play Ball!” on April 4, count me in for following the 2010 baseball season.


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