Royals like way they are trending

Time to figure it out: The Tigers' lack of an established closer was one of the major stories of the spring, with the volume getting cranked up when Bruce Rondon was sent to the minors. Manager Jim Leyland threw out the dreaded term "closer by committee,'' but the Detroit Free Press' John Lowe was not among the alarmists.

Lowe points how the closers for the three National League division champs in 2012 had a total of five career saves before last season. The Nationals got 32 saves from set-up man Tyler Clippard after Drew Storen underwent elbow surgery; the Reds got 38 saves, including 27 conversions in a row in one stretch, from Aroldis Chapman after Ryan Madson was sidelined in spring training and the Giants got 21 saves by midseason from Santiago Casilla, then turned to Sergio Romo as the replacement for Brian Wilson.

Does Leyland have guys like Clippard, Chapman, Casilla and Romo on his opening day roster?

"Look for anything, because that's the way it's going to be,'' he said. "This is going to be tough. It'll be a second-guesser's delight.''

Don't be surprised if Rondon is the closer in the second-half of the season.

"We got something special," Leyland said. "(He's) not quite ready yet to close games at the major league level."

Proceed with caution: The Phillies have $64.5 million invested in the idea of winning behind Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay this season but Halladay was throwing batting practice all spring, including in his final tuneup. He gave up eight hits in 41/3 innings against the Blue Jays on Thursday, and in the outing before that Jays' minor leaguers banged him around.

Velocity has been an issue all spring, with his fastball parking in the high 80s. Yet Halladay insists that physically he feels as good as he has in "probably five years.'' Scouts see the 36-year-old regressing quickly, as his 4.49 ERA last season suggested.

Halladay expects to prove them wrong.

"It's not a boxing match,'' he said about pitching. "It's not strength vs. strength. It's a chess match. It's a competition of the mind and execution and being smarter and being more prepared."

Hands off: The Cubs and other rebuilding teams may have a harder time getting over the top than they had planned. Teams are now signing elite players to longer extensions than ever, which will hurt the supply of players in future free-agent classes.

The $180- and $167-million deals for Justin Verlander and Buster Posey, respectively, on Friday came on the heels of nine-figure extensions for Felix Hernandez, David Wright and Evan Longoria, with the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright settling for $97.5 million.

It was stunning when the Tigers signed Miguel Cabrera to a $152.3-million contract in 2008. But since then Dave Dombrowski has locked up Prince Fielder, Verlander and Anibal Sanchez to mega-contracts, giving Detroit a foursome signed for $626.3 million over 29 combined seasons. Al Kaline's head must be spinning.

Twitter @ChiTribRogers