What To Look For In The MLB Season
The offseason has been dominated by the Red Sox's big acquisitions, the Yankees failing to sign Cliff Lee, the Pujols' predicament in St. Louis, and the Mets' financial woes. Thanks to all that drama and turmoil the baseball world has almost forgotten that the San Francisco Giants are the defending world champs.
"Personally, I feel a lot more anxiety," explains Giants general manager Brian Sabean. "Have we kept enough of the group together, and have we had enough change?… These guys are pretty well poised to know how tough it's going to be to get back into the playoffs."
The Giants didn't do much in the offseason. Critics will say that's standing pat while proponents will argue they're sticking with a winning formula. The Giants did acquire veteran hurler Jeff Suppan. He'll be a "just-in-case" man for a pitching staff that led the majors in ERA, strikeouts, and saves. Shortstop Miguel Tejada is the team's lone addition to the lineup—and a good one. He replaces Juan Uribe.
The Giants offense got off to a slow start in 2010 but don't expect the same in 2011. Buster Posey, Pat Burrell, and Cody Ross weren't around for the start of last season, but they will be for the start of this season. Furthermore, second baseman Freddy Sanchez and super-sub Mark DeRosa missed major parts of 2010 with injuries. Both should start the 2011 campaign healthy.
The last time a team repeated as World Series champions was the 1999-2000 New York Yankees. The Giants have, with their stellar starting rotation and a formidable lineup, as good of a chance to repeat as any team since.
A franchise that did make a giant splash in the offseason was the Boston Red Sox. The Nation, which was second in the American League in runs scored, acquired all-stars Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. They also nabbed former Chicago White Sox closer Bobby Jenks. He'll act as a set-up man and an insurance policy in case current Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who is coming off his worst season, can't get it done.
The Red Sox's number one rivals, the New York Yankees, suffered greatly in the offseason thanks to their failure to sign ace Cliff Lee and the frustrating retirement of pitcher Andy Pettitte. Instead, the Bronx Bombers' main acquisition was catcher Russell Martin. If that wasn't bad enough, the former Dodgers backstop had surgery in December to fix his right meniscus.
For depth, the Yanks signed outfielder Andruw Jones and minor league free agent pitchers Bartolo Colon (out of baseball in 2010) and Freddy Garcia. The Yankees still have Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mariano Rivera but each future hall of famer is a year older.
About two-thirds of league would kill for the Yankees lineup, or their starting rotation, or their bullpen (who knows what those same teams would do for all three) but The Pinstripers have higher expectations than just being the envy of the league—they need to win championships.
Ultimately, the 18 meetings between the Yankees and Red Sox will probably decide the AL East. Baseball's two premiere teams clash for the first time in the 2011 regular season on April 8 at Fenway Park.
Cliff Lee shocked the world (especially the New York part of it) when he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for $28 million less than the Yankees were offering. Thanks to him, the Phills have a starting rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. Regardless of who they throw in at the fifth spot, the Phillies probably have the best starting rotation in the history of the game.
The team lost outfielder Jayson Werth to the Washington Nationals, but his replacement, Ben Francisco, has been the Phillies best player in spring training.
"I'm getting there—I still feel like I'm working out the kinks this early in spring training," explained the 29-year-old Francisco. "I'm getting good pitches, getting myself in good counts and getting pitches to hit. I feel good right now. Hopefully I can continue to get better."
The Phillies are a veteran club that knows how to win. However is their awesome starting rotation enough to overcome questions marks in their bullpen and a bunch of ageing bats?
Speaking of "awesome," what jersey will baseball's best player be wearing in 2012 and how will his lack of a contract affect his team's play in 2011?
I'm of course talking about Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals. The two sides failed to come to a contract agreement before the deadline and if you believe the so-called "sources close to the situation," Pujols is leaving St. Louis as soon as the last out is made in the 2011 World Series.
To put it succinctly, Pujols wants to be the highest paid player in baseball. The Cards want him to stay in the Show-Me-State, but they're cheap. They feel like Pujols, in the tradition of other Cardinals legends, should give the franchise a hometown discount.
If that wasn't enough turmoil for one of baseball's most beloved franchises, their ace, right hander Adam Wainwright, is out for the season after having Tommy John surgery in February. It could be a very long year in the Gateway City.
Remember when the overpaid New York Mets only had to worry about underachieving? Well, now they have to worry about a billion other things. As in the $1 billion it could cost owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz for their connection to convicted financier Bernie Madoff.
"The uncertainty of it makes it a very popular subject," says Mets third baseman David Wright. "But you control what you can control. Besides, except for Chris Young and Chris Capuano, there's nobody in here who even understands the language they're speaking."
Young graduated from Princeton while Capuano has an economics degree from Duke.
The reason this ordeal is such a huge distraction is it could cost Wilpon and Katz the team. Now, there's nothing the players can do to make it go away, but if Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and Jason Bay started playing as well as they are paid (combined the three will make $49.2 million in 2011) they will certainly make it easier for fans to forget that the Mets received a $25 million loan from the league last autumn.
Other things to look for in 2011…
How will the Los Angeles Dodgers do with first time manager Don Mattingly at the helm?
What will the Atlanta Braves do without long-time manager Bobby Cox (it will be weird watching the Bravos and not seeing him on the bench)?
Can the Washington Nationals improved by another 10 games like they did in 2011?
How will Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon fit in with the Tampa Bay Rays? Can they repeat as AL East champions? Will fans finally squeeze into Tropicana Field?
Can 37-year-old Bobby Abreu bounce back from one of the worst seasons of his career and lead the Los Angeles Angels to the postseason?
Did the Texas Rangers do right by not going after Cliff Lee or Zack Greinke? Will the signings of third baseman Adrian Beltre and former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb be enough to get the Rangers back to the Fall Classic?
And last but not least, will the Chicago Cubs make it 103 years without a World Series championship in year two of the ownership regime of Tom Ricketts? Remember the Wrigley Field boys cut about ten percent off their National League-high $146 million payroll.