By Norm Elrod

(CBS Philadelphia/CBS Local) — Spring Training means regular-season baseball is just around the corner. A lot will happen before opening day. Indeed, a lot needs to happen, from free agent signings to potential rule changes. We welcome the return of Spring Training Report, reviewing the big stories bubbling up in baseball. Look for weekly updates in this space, as teams prepare for the 2019 season.

Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals gets ready to bat in the sixth inning against the Cincinnati Reds during game one of a doubleheader at Nationals Park on August 4, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Bryce Harper (Photo Credit: Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Free Agency Gets Moving

Free agency has been the big story for much of the winter, as another signing period started off slowly. Marquee free agents like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were both expected to garner significant interest, and they did. Yet both lingered on the market far longer than expected, even after last year’s slow start.

And then the checkbooks opened. Last week, the San Diego Padres signed Machado for $300 million over 10 years. The 26-year-old infielder’s contract is among the biggest in MLB history, both in terms of annual salary and total value. Harper, who was expected to make even more than Machado, had been linked to the Phillies, Dodgers and Giants. The former MVP outfielder just accepted a 13-year $300 million deal with the Phillies, making him the highest paid player in MLB history.

Nolan Arenado Stays Put

Nolan Arenado, the Colorado Rockies third-baseman, opted to avoid free agency entirely, and he did it a year early. His extension with the Rockies is reportedly worth $260 million over eight years. But he claims the biggest factor was his teammates. “I think we have a good group,” he says. “In my heart I really think we can win the division…” Arenado hit .297 last season, with 38 home runs and 110 RBIs last season, a slight drop off from the previous season, when he hit .309 with 37 home runs and 130 RBIs.

Pitch Clock Counts Down

With the average game length over three hours, MLB continues its efforts to speed things up. The proposed pitch clock would certainly help keep games moving. Spring Training has become the laboratory for testing out the concept, with pitchers given 20 seconds to deliver the ball. The clock starts once they’re in the mound’s dirt circle and the catcher is in the box and does not run after foul balls and mound visits. No agreement has been reached on implementation in the regular season, through MLB has reportedly offered to delay implementation until at least 2022.