Julio Borbon looks to swipe the Rangers' starting center field position this spring.
If you've been paying attention to spring training games for the suspense of who wins or who loses, then you're either Bobby Valentine or just plain odd.
The games really don't matter, folks. In fact, spring training is when individual accomplishments actually do outweigh the results of the game.
Spring training is about a number of critical things, including:
1. Allowing baseball players time to get in shape.
2. Settling hotly contested positional battles for the upcoming regular season.
3. Serving as a backdrop for NFL hysteria surrounding Peyton Manning, the New Orleans Saints and Tim Tebow (this is more unique to 2012).
For baseball fans, No. 2 is actually No. 1. That's because who your favorite team's starting shortstop, catcher or outfielder are all are more important than who came out on top in that epic Pirates-Red Sox tilt.
What's going on down south in Florida and Arizona? There are some key positions on various baseball teams that are up for grabs.
Let's take a look at them.
Can Iglesias land the starting shortstop position?
There was no way that the Red Sox were going to have an uneventful spring training.
Not many expected the starting shortstop position to dominate the headlines though.
Well when it comes to the Boston Red Sox, since the end of last August it's worth expecting the unexpected.
You might have expected them to win the American League East last year—nope!
You definitely expected the Sox to make the playoffs right?—not so fast
Terry Francona, who won two World Series titles...he's a Sox manager for life?—wrong again.
Well Theo Epstein, Theo Epstein! He'll be back right? Yes, he's back, it's just that he's running the Cubs.
So with that in mind something like Mike Aviles not securing the starting shortstop position by late March might not be that big a deal.
It is, though.
That's because the guy chasing Aviles for the position isn't another journeyman utility type of player. Nope it's a rookie—a 22-year-old highly touted rookie named Jose Iglesias.
Can Iglesias snag the position from Aviles? He's got a real shot. For one he's got a spectacular glove. Not a "decent" glove or an "above average" glove but a real bonafide Gold-Glove caliber mitt.
He's also got the new manager on his side.
“He’s pretty close,’’ Valentine said. “We’ve seen a lot. Now it’s a determination of whether or not it’s his time.
“I think he’s played pretty well and showed some really good progress. We have to decide whether he’s had enough undergraduate credentials in order to take the next step forward.’’ —Bobby Valentine to The Boston Globe 3/22/12
The longer Iglesias sticks around the Red Sox, the better a chance of him claiming the starting position. The reason for that is that it's not tough to simply insert Aviles into a utility position. It's a position he's ideally suited for and has experience with.
Iglesias is young enough that if he doesn't win the starting job the Red Sox will probably opt to just send him to the minors to continue his development. They'd consider that preferable to sitting on the Sox bench waiting to enter games in the late innings or providing a spot start.
“He’s shown improvement in some areas this spring, and also has shown that there are still areas for him to work on,’’ Cherington said via e-mail. “We still believe Jose will be a very good major league shortstop. We don’t know yet when that will be."—Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington in The Boston Globe 3/22/12
Cherington is correct that we don't know when Iglesias will be ready. We're going to start to find out very soon though.
Craig Gentry hopes to win the Rangers' center field job outright.
Normally the two-time defending American League champions don't have a gaping hole in one of the most critical fielding positions.
Then again normally that team's most critical offensive player doesn't switch positions to insulate himself from injury. That's what's happened in Texas as Josh Hamilton, the 2010 MVP and now former starting center fielder, is going to permanently move to left field for the 2012 season.
It's a move that Hamilton and Rangers' manager Ron Washington made last year in the postseason so it's not a massive surprise.
Who will take the job is still up in the air.
Julio Borbon came on like gangbusters toward the end of the 2009 season and was going to be he starter back in 2010, but he slumped badly out of the gate and was sent back to the minors.
Last season Craig Gentry made only 153 plate appearances but managed to steal 18 bases in that limited time.
This season it's a battle between the two of them for the role as "starter"—or is it? This one might end up becoming a platoon; Borbon as the left-handed hitter would stand to benefit from that situation. Then again Borbon seems to have the upper hand in this battle and could end up claiming the job outright.
Back to the pen? Nothing is set in stone yet.
We've already established that the Red Sox are a team in flux.
Shortstop is up for grabs and so are the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the starting rotation. That's kind of a big deal.
There are three primary contenders for two spots.
Daniel Bard, Felix Doubront and Alfredo Aceves are three men battling for two positions.
In spite of some of the weaker spring numbers, Bard would seem to have the best shot at a position. He's got great stuff but has yet to translate it to the mound as a starter.
Then again he's also one of the crown jewels of the minor league system that new Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington helped to construct alongside former Sox GM Theo Epstein.
There are rumors of disagreement between new manager Bobby Valentine and new general manager Ben Cherington with regards to Bard's role this season.
Felix Doubront may win a spot due to a war of attrition. The Red Sox have used up their options on Doubront so sending him to the minors would require placing him on waivers.
That means he'll be on the roster one way or another. Will it be as a starter? Managers tend to like having left-handed starters, so Doubront could end up with a spot.
Then there's Alfredo Aceves, who may end up a victim of his own success. Aceves is coming off a season in which he was great both as a starter and coming out of the bullpen.
That's the type of track record that could cause a manager to see less potential risk in putting Aceves in the pen.
Ryan Madson will miss the entire 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
This wasn't supposed to be a positional battle. That's because the Reds had signed Ryan Madson to a one-year, $8.5 million contract to be their closer. It seemed like a good plan—but that all imploded last week when it was learned that Madson would require season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Many assumed that Sean Marshall would step in to claim the vacant closer position but the name Aroldis Chapman has surfaced as well. That could make for a muddy situation, or at the very least a closer-by-committee.
It could be Marshall as the primary closer with occasional assists by Chapman and also Nick Masset. With spring training winding down, it seems unlikely this will be totally settled in time for Opening Day.
Royals closer Joakim Soria will miss the 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery.
When the Royals inked former Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton to a contract this past offseason they envisioned him strengthening the bullpen.
Now he may have to be its anchor.
Then again perhaps Greg Holland or Aaron Crow, both of whom were effective out of the bullpen, will nab the job on a permanent basis.
Soria is definitely not going to be a part of the equation. The potential for one of the three pitchers listed above grabbing the closer role exclusively before the conclusion of spring training seems slim.