Spring training dreams (cont.)
The door is open for the next version of the Giants. So what clues can you look for this spring to find that team? These are the spring training stories to watch to see what team presents the best challenge to The Corridor:
1. Lather, rinse . . . repeat?
The Giants will be hard-pressed to put together a second straight year in which nobody in the rotation misses a start, particularly after the extra month of work last season. Keep an eye on how they treat their arms this spring. San Francisco's World Series opponent, Texas, is wildly spending its future television money while trying to maintain momentum, but needs to make Michael Young a happy camper again.
2. Culture Clubs
Remember when erstwhile manager Don Wakamatsu was hailed for "changing the culture" of the Mariners? Prepare for an overdose of such exaggerated pop psychology this spring. Twelve managers will be running their first camp with their current team, an enormous turnover.
Gone are such managerial legends as Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Lou Piniella and Cito Gaston. In are never-managed-a-day guys Don Mattingly (Dodgers), John Farrell (Blue Jays) and Ron Roenicke (Brewers).
The biggest spotlight falls on turnaround specialist Buck Showalter, who went 34-23 after he took over the Orioles last year and now gets spring training to really put his imprint on the organization.
3. Comeback Players
Health always is an important quotient of success, but several contenders start out with key players coming back from injuries: the Twins, with Joe Nathan and Justin Morneau; the Braves, with Chipper Jones; the Angels, with Kendry Morales; and the White Sox, with Peavy.
4. Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?
Centerfield, glamour position for Willie, Mickey, the Duke and John Fogerty, is in transition. Even good teams are unsettled in center. The Rangers need Julio Borbon to hit enough to keep 245-pound Josh Hamilton in lighter duty in leftfield, the Dodgers need Tony Gwynn Jr. to hit enough to get Matt Kemp and his wandering concentration to a corner spot, the Angels need Peter Bourjos to hit enough to keep elders Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter on the corners and Bobby Abreu off the field, the Mets need to find out if Carlos Beltran and his creaky knees can handle the job any more, the Red Sox need to find out if Jacoby Ellsbury can stay healthy and the Marlins need to find out if Chris Coghlan can play the position.
5. Coming Attractions
Domonic Brown of the Phillies, Aroldis Chapman of the Reds, Jeremy Hellickson and Desmond Jennings of the Rays, Freddie Freeman of the Braves and Kyle Drabek of the Blue Jays are rookies worth watching this spring. All saw some time in the big leagues last year. But the biggest buzz might come from a pair of teenagers who have no shot of making the big club but can give a sneak preview of star power: outfielders Mike Trout, 19, of the Angels and Bryce Harper, 18, of the Nationals.
The Rays, a team previously built on athleticism as one of the last two turf teams, found it too tempting to pass up spending $7.5 million on Johnny Damon, 37, and Manny Ramirez, 38. In spring training, at least, it will look like a great idea.
7. The Pujols Problem
Barring a last-minute deal or a waiving of his self-imposed deadline -- still possibilities -- Albert Pujols will begin the walk year of his contract this week. Be prepared for tons of stories about the "distraction" for the Cardinals. Bunk. That walk year for Crawford really held back the Rays last year, huh? Okay, Pujols is on a different level and St. Louis is way more ga-ga over baseball than St. Pete. But Pujols is the surest thing in baseball, and he won't be whining about his contract. Play on.
8. Which Comes First?
Barry Bonds actually goes to trial (scheduled for March after three years of delays), Bud Selig's special committee actually hands in its report on whether the Athletics can explore a move to San Jose (Dean Smith never ran a four corners this well) or Oliver Perez goes seven innings (not seen in three years and $24 million ago)?
9. Baseball Heaven
That would be the Phoenix area. With the Diamondbacks and Rockies moving to Scottsdale, there are no teams in Tucson for the first time since 1945. That means the greatest concentration of major league talent ever assembled in a 40-mile radius: 15 teams will train in the metro Phoenix area.
10. Baseball Hell
Kansas City, Baltimore, Washington and Pittsburgh aren't just bad. They are bad beyond logic. It's remarkable how these teams can stay so far down for so long with revenue sharing, draft advantages, the faster flow of information, front office turnover, etc. -- essentially remaining outside this period of parity.
Over the past seven years, the Royals, Orioles, Nationals and Pirates are 0-for-28 when it comes to winning seasons. Moreover, they have lost 91 games or more 22 times in those 28 seasons, including 93-plus losses for all four in each of the past two years.
But hey, today all of them are a most beautiful 0-0, and baseball in February is not important for how well it is played but simply for having returned. So go ahead, whether your team is in The Corridor or not: dream on.
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