Wednesday, February 29, 2012

TOP 5: Questions Heading into the 2012 Season

Time to take baseball's biggest questions to my Crystal Ball.

There was no shortage of exciting moves this MLB off-season - rosters were filled with big names, organizations underwent major makeovers, and countless storylines were set for the 2012 season. Each team represents a series of plots that will unfold over the course of the next eight months - here are my TOP 5 questions heading into the season.

Can Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera co-exist in the field?

Serious question: the Tigers know they're in the American League, correct? I understand that neither of these sluggers wants the unappealing title of "Designated Hitter," but I have a hard time believing there aren't going to be some costly errors made at the corners of the Tiger infield this season. This isn't Gold Glove Kevin Youkilis moving to third to make way for Gold Glove Adrian Gonzalez - you may be able to hide one of these large bodies at first base, but both in the same infield may be trouble.

Everyone's happy with the arrangement now, but what happens when they hit that first defensive skid and the media starts pointing fingers? May get mighty awkward around that post-game spread.

Who will win the AL West?

The Texas Rangers have been the best team in the American League for the past two years, and honestly they may have gotten even better this off-season - so how is it possible that they may not even win their division? Well the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California baseball team - did I get that right? - were also busy this winter, adding two of baseball's biggest signings to their veteran-laden roster.

Pujols was obviously a huge sign - he will likely go down as one of the best to ever play the game (please be clean...) - but I'm more interested in the addition of C.J. Wilson as a number 3 (!) starter, cementing the Angels' rotation as the strongest in baseball, in my opinion. C.J.'s history in Arlington and the mystery that is Yu Darvish only adds to the drama within this rivalry, which could present an exciting race all the way through September. Oakland and Seattle are both a few years away from competing, but even they have to be excited about all the great baseball games they get to DVR this season.

Will Bryce Harper make his Big League debut this season?

Like him or hate him - if he plays, we'll watch. Nicknamed the "Chosen One" by Sports Illustrated and labeled The Lebron of Baseball, it's easy to forget that Bryce Harper is only 19 years old. Although it may appear he has a lot of growing up to do, none of us passing judgment have had to handle a spotlight with even a fraction of the glow as the one Harper has been under since his sophomore year of high school. He must keep his cool while seemingly the entire baseball community wishes him to fail - while, of course, playing a game of failure.

While sometimes it certainly seems that Bryce may only be looking out for Bryce, can we really blame him? I can't speak to his behavior as a teammate, but to his credit he appears to be great with fans and has managed to produce strong numbers on the field amidst the media storm that has been his career. And don't look for that attention to go away anytime soon - if the number one pick from the 2010 Draft makes it to the Bigs this year, the entire baseball world will be watching.

Is Bobby Valentine the answer in Boston?

The Red Sox have a lot of work to do. In addition to competing in the always competitive AL East, the team must find a way to put the 2011 season in the rear view while simultaneously making amends with their disappointed fans, who are much less willing to "let the past be the past." This team will be under the microscope all year, but regardless of how they play from April through August, they won't be able to fully restore their image until surviving September.

But is Bobby Valentine the man for the job? He just may be. During his previous stints as manager, his new teams all saw notable improvement during his first year as skipper. I believe Valentine has just enough ego to keep this roster grounded and focused. There was no doubt Francona was a players' manager, but that style is only effective when you have a driven bunch of guys with a strong core of veteran leaders. Having a players' manager is a privilege, and this group proved they aren't ready to handle the responsibility that comes with that situation. What they need is someone who won't be afraid to issue a firm kick in the ass when needed, and Valentine isn't afraid to answer that call - I'm just curious to see how he does it.

How good are the Marlins?

The team I'm most excited about seeing, however, is the Miami Marlins. Along with a new name, a flashy new set of uni's, and a beautiful new stadium, there is an abundance of new blood in that state of the art clubhouse. Mix Reyes, Bell, Zambrano, and Buehrle - by far the hardest name in baseball to spell, by the way - with the already impressive cast of Stanton, Ramirez and Johnson - not to mention a slew of other budding young talent - and you've got yourself a pretty impressive roster.

Oh yeah, and if this lineup wasn't already appealing, throw in Ozzie Guillen simply for entertainment value. When Showtime was discussing which team to follow for this year's season of The Franchise, were there even any other teams in the running? They should be fun to watch, but don't crown them yet, Miami - though I'm still waiting for Carlos Zambrano to predict how many championships they'll win: Not five...Not six...Not seven...

Honorable Mention: What will be the aftermath of the Ryan Braun case?

I like Ryan Braun. I think he's a great player and I'm glad we get to watch him play 50 more games than expected this season. That being said - he cheated. He got off on a technicality, and instead of thanking his lucky stars that he was essentially granted a miracle dispensation, he's suddenly going on the offensive and playing the victim. Now he's suing the man who handled his drug test, even though the way he handled that drug test is the exact loophole that got Braun's suspension overturned and will allow him to play a full 2012 season. The longer Braun carries on with this outrage act, the worse it's going to get for him in the court of public opinion.

He cheated and he got caught - but unlike those before him, he does not have to deal with any consequences. Well, except for his tarnished reputation, tainted numbers, and a nightly barrage of outraged fans, of course. It will be interesting to see if this becomes a Barry Bonds case - That cheater is everything that is wrong with baseball and society as a whole! - or an Andy Pettitte case - Wait, he used PED's? Only time will tell.

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  1. Ryan Braun HOF chances, nice knowin ya

  2. Very true, your reputation isn't ruined when you use PED's, it depends on how you handle it.

  3. Great Pettitte line, I always forget he got caught