MLB Spring Training: 10 Top Stories to Watch
Major League Baseball is back in full swing as teams have their full squads on the field. Spring training has kicked off with practices and games starting this weekend.
MLB saw multiple superstars go into free agency this year, with many players looking for real estate in other cities.
Stars such as Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes will all be wearing new uniforms this season. Overseas sensation Yu Darvish was signed by the Texas Rangers and a few trades occurred this offseason.
With the Grapefruit League and the Cactus League about to begin, here is a list of 10 stories to watch during spring training.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox had one of the worst meltdowns in MLB history last season. The Red Sox went a dismal 7-20 in the month of September, losing hold of the top spot in the AL East, and eventually losing a wild-card playoff berth to the Tampa Bay Rays.
With accusations involving beer and fried chicken in the clubhouse during games, the loss of GM Theo Epstein as well as two-time World Series Champion manager Terry Francona, the Red Sox have a new look this season.
The Sox hired Bobby Valentine as their manager and lost their All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon, who signed with the Phillies.
Playing in one of the most competitive divisions in all of baseball, it should be interesting to see where the Red Sox finish in the AL East this season.
The Miami Marlins made a splash this offseason, signing All-Star shortstop and last year's National League batting champion, Jose Reyes, as well as one of the best closers in recent years, Heath Bell.
The Marlins also snagged left-handed starter Mark Buehrle from the Chicago White Sox.
With a new stadium, new uniforms, new logo, and new manager in Ozzie Guillen, the Marlins look to be a completely new team heading into 2012.
Recent years have shown the Philadelphia Phillies to be the front runner in the NL East. The Marlins are looking to change that around this year with their new additions.
It should be interesting to see Reyes at short and Hanley Ramirez playing his new position at third base. Either way, the Marlins look like a team who can compete with Philadelphia for the NL East crown.
New York Yankees
The baseball juggernaut kept fairly quiet this offseason when it came to free agency.
However, the New York Yankees made some noise when they sent Jorge Posada's replacement catcher, Jesus Montero, to the Seattle Mariners for 23-year-old right-handed pitcher Michael Pineda.
The Yankees also locked down their No. 1 pitcher, C.C. Sabathia, for another five years.
They grabbed the left-handed Japanese pitcher, Hiroki Kuroda, and dealt away the struggling A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Although the Yankees didn't do much this offseason to benefit their offense, their pitching rotation runs deep and contains young talent.
In recent years, the Yankees signed multi-million dollar deals for a bat in the lineup. It should be interesting to see how their business transactions deliver on the mound in this upcoming season.
The Philadelphia Phillies grabbed Boston's Jonathan Papelbon and signed him to a four-year contract.
Last season, Papelbon had a 2.93 earned runs average and threw for 31 saves, which finished seventh in the American League.
The Phillies also locked down their All-Star shortstop, Jimmy Rollins, with a three-year contract.
The Phillies parted ways with veteran outfielder Raul Ibanez, who was picked up by the Yankees.
With the duo of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, the Phillies possess possibly the best one-two combination when it comes to pitching. Adding a top closer in Papelbon adds to the pitching depth that the Phillies currently own.
However, with the Marlins and Braves competing in their division, this year should be an interesting race for the NL East title.
The Chicago Cubs signed Theo Epstein to a five-year contract and named him their new President of Baseball Operations.
Soon after the Cubs signed Epstein, they fired manager Mike Quade and began a nationwide search for their next manager. Epstein found Dale Sveum to be his replacement.
The Cubs are in a century-long World Series drought and many fans are excited about the hiring of Theo Epstein.
Although Epstein isn't out on the field batting or fielding the baseball, he is a proven winner who had provided the Boston Red Sox with two World Series rings, ending their 86-year drought and the curse of the Bambino.
If Epstein can have the success with Chicago he had in Boston, the Cubs could be another team finally getting on the winning side.
The Texas Rangers acquired one of the top free agents on the market, and he didn't play in Major League Baseball last season.
The Rangers locked down Japanese sensation Yu Darvish for the next six years.
Last season, Darvish was practically untouchable in Japan. He posted a 1.44 ERA and had a record of 18 wins and six losses. He struck out 276 batters in only 232 innings.
A stat that is probably the most impressive about Darvish is that he has posted an ERA of below 2.00 for five consecutive years.
After losing C.J. Wilson to the Angels, the Rangers have filled his void with the signing of Darvish.
It should be interesting to watch how Darvish does against major league batters.
The Oakland Athletics probably made the most out of their past season by having a movie about them, but so far in the offseason, the ballclub has signed some fairly big names.
The A's signed outfielder and celebrity personality Manny Ramirez to a minor league contract.
They also gave contract extensions to the star of the film Moneyball in Billy Beane and their president Michael Crowley. Beane is the general manager of the A's, where he recently signed an extension through 2019.
The A's also picked up veteran right-handed pitcher Bartolo Colon from the New York Yankees.
With the A's locked up with the businessmen who make the decisions for the next few years, it should be interesting to see what they do differently to make this into a championship-caliber team.
San Francisco Giants
Although the San Francisco Giants didn't catch the public's eye with major offseason moves, they get back a key piece to their organization in Buster Posey.
The young catching phenom had his 2011 season come to an end when he was involved in a collision at home plate last May.
After breaking a bone and three ankle ligaments, Posey plans to return in full swing come spring training.
Posey was a key factor in the 2010 World Series run the Giants made, and they plan on returning to their winning ways in upcoming seasons.
With their star catcher back behind the plate and in the lineup, the Giants will look to compete for the NL West title.
Prince Fielder was one of two superstar first basemen to enter free agency at the end of the season.
Fielder ended up signing the second-largest contract this offseason, a whopping nine-year, $214 million deal that landed the lefty slugger in Detroit.
Last year with Milwaukee, Fielder batted for a .299 average, 38 home runs and 120 runs batted in.
Fielder joins another All-Star in Miguel Cabrera, who is moving to third base with the addition of Fielder. Cabrera batted an American League best .344 and connected for 30 home runs and 105 RBI.
Detroit contains a fierce lineup that is going to be tough for any pitcher to get through, as well as one of the league's best pitchers in Justin Verlander. I would expect Detroit to run away with the AL Central crown.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels made the most noise this postseason. They signed a three-time MVP and six-time Silver Slugger in first baseman Albert Pujols.
Pujols signed a ridiculous 10-year, $254 million contract.
Pujols has been one of the top first basemen in the league for multiple years and possesses a .328 career batting average with 445 home runs in his 11 years of experience.
By the time Pujols' contract expires he will be in his 40s, which fares well for the slugger, since he can bat in the DH position in the American League.
The Angels also added pitching to their free-agent spending. The Angels signed left-handed pitcher C.J. Wilson to a five-year contract.
The Angels have been second behind the Texas Rangers for the AL West crown in recent years. This season, the Angels look to reverse that order and finish atop their division.