Spring training is in full swing for all 30 MLB teams, and games start next week in preparation for the 2013 season. Every spring brings new beginnings and renewed hope of playing baseball next October.
These first few weeks carry more importance for the players on the following slides as they are either trying to make a good first impression with their new teams or coming back from serious injuries. Here are 12 stories over the next week to which fans should pay attention as the first games of spring start up.
Entering the 2012 season, the Detroit Tigers were expected to have one of the best middle of the lineups with Miguel Cabrera, newly signed Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez. Catcher/first baseman Martinez was coming off one of the best years of his career, when he hit .330 and had 103 RBI.
That plan was derailed very quickly when Martinez went down with a knee injury before the start of last season. This injury should be a thing of the past as all indications from Florida is this potent trifecta should finally come to fruition this year.
Still, it is very different swinging in a cage compared to live pitching, and it will be interesting to see how Martinez performs early on this spring.
The Angels may be the only team in baseball with a better middle of the lineup than the Tigers, with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and now Josh Hamilton. The Angels signed the outfielder to a five-year, $125-million contract this winter and hope the added offense can offset the lose of Zack Greinke.
Josh Hamilton seemed to get a lot of the blame for the manner in which the Rangers finished down the stretch last year, raising questions if he can live up to the big contract in LA. Over the final eleven games of last season, including the one playoff game, he hit only .239, had one home run and struck out 20 times.
Since the concern with Hamilton is not necessarily how he starts but how he finishes, worries that may not be completely erased until October. Still, a strong start in spring should put any qualms on the back burner.
The LA Dodgers invested over $200 million this winter into their pitching rotation with the additions of Zack Greinke and Korean star Hyun-Jin Ryu. The Dodgers were able to take Greinke away from their cross-town rival, the Angels, with a six-year deal worth $147 million dollars and shelled out an additional $62 million for Ryu. This number included a $25.2 million fee to negotiate a contract with Ryu, and the six-year, $36-million deal that was eventually signed.
Greinke has already proven he can be a top-tier pitcher, so I would imagine Ryu will be the bigger attraction in the first part of spring training. Fans want to see if he can put together the same performance in the MLB as he did in the Korean Baseball Organization.
Atlanta wasted no time trying to replace a Braves' legend in Chipper Jones with the additions of the Upton Brothers. The team quickly locked up B.J. Upton with a five-year, $75-million deal in the early stages of free agency and within 60 days pulled off a trade for his brother, Justin, with Arizona.
The Uptons create an outfield with a ton of potential as they join Jason Heyward; the trio could develop into a strong group for years to come. It is rare to see siblings playing on the same professional team, so they will most likely see a lot of attention this year. It should be interesting to see how they respond.
James Shields and Wade Davis are calling Kansas City home after Tampa traded them away this winter for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and two other prospects. The Royals were willing to mortgage their future because they believe they can win now.
Shields has been up and down for much of his career but has shown steady improvement since the 2010 season when he went 13-15 with a 5.18 ERA. Since that season he has won 31 games, with 448 strikeouts and an ERA around three.
This trend should continue as he won't have to face as tough divisional opponents in the AL Central as he did in the AL East.
It is rare to see a team trade a reigning Cy Young award winner, but that is exactly what the Mets did this winter. The Blue Jays will get their first look at R.A. Dickey, one of a number of players the organization brought in this offseason.
Even though Dickey won the NL Cy Young award, there is still a number of question marks surrounding the knuckleballer. He pitched seven seasons in the American League prior to joining the Mets where he struggled, finishing with an ERA of 5.43 and a record below .500.
But those years were before he developed the knuckleball, making him a much different pitcher. The American League is tougher, as he will have to face a designated hitter instead of the opposing pitcher. The Blue Jays have high expectations entering the 2013 season, also uncharted territory for Dickey as he has spent the majority of his career on losing teams. Time will tell if Dickey's success last year will carry over to 2013.
Carl Crawford hopes to make his debut for the Dodgers in next week's spring training game, but it is more likely to be closer to Opening Day. The outfielder has yet to play an inning for Los Angeles due to Tommy John surgery he had last year, two days before he was traded to the Dodgers.
The early reports out of camp is that Crawford has started throwing up to 90 feet, and if everything continues to progress well, he should face live pitching in the next few days. The Dodgers and their fans are anxious to see which Carl Crawford they traded for.
The Tampa Bay Ray version hit .296 while averaging 45 stolen bases a season, compared to his one full season in Boston, when he hit .260 and had only 18 stolen bases.
This winter did not go as Michael Bourn would have expected, but he finally got his multi-year deal thanks to the Cleveland Indians stepping up. The Indians signed Bourn to a four-year, $48-million contract but also had to forfeit the third overall pick in June's MLB draft.
This seems like a lot to give up for a player, and many will have high expectations for him entering this year. Some will point to the fact that he has a career batting average of .272 and very little power. However, he does make up for his lack of power with unbelievable speed, averaging 51 stolen bases a season and great defense.
There aren't many certainties in sports, but it is a safe bet that Mariano Rivera will not be shagging fly balls at any point this season. The 43-year-old pitcher only appeared in nine games last season before tearing his right ACL during batting practice before a game against Kansas City.
Rivera has already said that he feels great, but there is a big difference between feeling great in March compared to October. With him getting up there in age, questions arise about how much he has left in the tank.
It will be interesting to see how strong he is this first week throwing the ball, and how much rust he has to knock off after missing nearly an entire season.
Melky Cabrera had one roller-coaster of a year last season as a member of the San Francisco Giants. The high points consisted of hitting .346, being elected to his first All-Star game and winning the MVP award in that game.
Then everything came crashing down in August when he tested positive for a banned substance and was suspended for 50 games. He could have returned in time for the NLCS, but the Giants decided to leave him off the roster, which ended his season. Cabrera was left to watch as his team won the World Series without him.
He has a new beginning with the Toronto Blue Jays, who signed him to a two-year deal worth $16 million this winter. This will be the fifth different team Cabrera has played on over the past five seasons, and he will be on a mission this season to put his suspension behind him. He could be a key piece in a potent offense for Toronto with Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Reyes.
Last season was cut short for Matt Garza as he was shut down right before the trade deadline from arm problems eventually identified as a stress reaction in his elbow. The right-hander is looking to rebound, as he will be a free agent after this season and wants to prove he's worth a big pay day.
Garza has already starting throwing bullpen sessions with no pain and seems to be over his elbow injury. The Cubs hope that Garza can have a fast start, as he will most likely be made available once again at the trade deadline because of his free agency. A healthy Garza should bring in a number of prospects who could help the Cubs in the future.
Dan Haren was hoping for a big contract this offseason, but injuries last year scared some teams away before the Nationals offered him a one-year deal worth $13 million. The Nationals brought him in as a veteran presence for a young rotation, and if Haren can prove to be healthy, he should be in line for a big pay day next winter.
The Nationals hope he can be the workhorse that he has shown to be in his career, throwing over 200 innings seven out of the past eight seasons. But he will first have to prove that he is over the back and hip injuries that plagued him last season.