Forget about Punxsutawney Phil. Forget about the whole “six more weeks of winter” nonsense.
Spring is here, heralded by the arrival of the first batch of pitchers and catchers.
With these players comes the first wave of new baseball rumors, speculation, injury reports, and unnecessary votes of confidence.
Fantasy baseball roars back to life, and friends/bitter rivals begin to ponder their keepers and tinker with draft lists.
What more could a baseball fan want?
Personally, I look forward to this day just as much as the season opener. Players are eager to talk about the season, even those who ended theirs in a flaming-car-wreck fashion. It seems as though they, along with the general staff, are still loose and not yet in “season mode.”
The AL East alone provides its own cacophony of topics. Here is a mere smattering of the stories that will unfold during spring training.
The saga that is the Red Sox rotation
Boston already had the potential for the next Big Three (Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, and Jon Lester). The addition of John Lackey serves to make the rotation even more imposing and versatile. The issue is not with these aces, but with who is going to lock up the fifth spot.
One option is the ever-present Tim Wakefield, who is eternally underrated. Though he has stated he is happy with the Sox, he has also been clear about his animosity towards a backup role.
The other candidate, Daisuke Matsuzaka, is a story unto himself. He recently revealed his battle with “upper back soreness” to the media, furthering his reputation as a less-than-forthcoming player.
The youth movement in the Tampa Bay camp
Like the other teams in the AL East, the Rays rely on young, skilled players to succeed. Their average age of 27.6 may not be the lowest, but they have no players over the age of 35. Their young pitching staff needs to prove it can handle the rigors of a full season (especially David Price and James Shields, the latter of whom faltered slightly in his ‘09 campaign).
Another issue is who to place at second base and right field. Locking down Ben Zobrist at second would help him focus on his batting but would also decrease his incredible contributions at other positions.
Life after Halladay for the Blue Jays
Even with Roy Halladay, who was arguably the best pitcher in baseball last season, the Jays had no chance of hanging with the heavy hitters in the AL East.
Ricky Romero logged some impressive performances early in the year but faltered later in the season with ERAs over five in both August and September. Scott Richmond recently came down with a shoulder injury, setting him behind in his training.
The bullpen is shaky as well, with Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg showing some inconsistency last season.
Of course, many analysts have pegged the Yankees as the team to beat (surprise, surprise). Their success, though, depends on the ability of their superior offense to overcome two tough pitching staffs in Boston and Tampa Bay.
So much can change during the course of spring training, which is exactly why this time of year is so exciting. So let the (exhibition) games begin, and may we forget about Phil’s shadowy prediction.