MLB Spring Training: Power Ranking the Top 20 Intriguing Storylines to Follow
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Spring training is near, and once again, so is baseball season. Hope springs eternal in the spring and for the next month and a half, every team has statistically the same chance of winning the World Series.
2011 is shaping up to be a major season for MLB.
Dozens of storylines will play out this season that will impact both this season and beyond. Here is a list of the top 20 storylines for 2011:
20. Where Does Manny Ramirez Land?
Manny being Manny...
One team is going to take a chance on Manny being Manny one last time. He was great once, but steroids scandals, lackadaisical defense and the fact he is a clubhouse cancer has eroded his standing to many teams.
If Texas trades Michael Young, Manny would be a good fit as the everyday DH. He’d be in a hitter’s park, and will be far away from the media’s scrutinizing eye compared to Boston and Los Angeles.
Most likely, Manny will just take the highest offer.
19. Which Sellers Will Impact The Trade Market?
Josh Johnson could be a major player on the trade market if the Marlins become sellers.
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The Royals, Marlins, Padres etc. We all know they are perennial losers and always look to build for next year.
Each team has at least one player to offer contenders like the Yankees, and most contenders have at least one weakness that needs attending.
The question is: When will the selling begin and how many teams will take part in it?
18. Are the Reds Still For Real?
The Reds were a deep sleeper team in 2010 and won the NL Central. They are a solid team, but the Reds made no moves this offseason to improve, outside of signing World Series MVP Edgar Renteria.
If the Reds’ young core of Votto and Bruce continue to improve they could repeat as division champs, but they must overpower an improved Cardinals and Brewers squads in order to pull off the repeat.
17. Buck Showalter's Second Year in Baltimore
Buck discusses the new philosiphy in Baltimore.
Buck Showalter took over the Orioles mid-season last year, and the club immediately improved.
The O’s had a good offseason, acquiring Mark Reynolds and will hope to contend in a division that includes a weakened Yankees and Rays.
Buck is possibly the best manager in the game and if he continues to work his magic, the AL Wild Card spot is not completely far-fetched for Baltimore.
16. Which Perrenial Bottom Dweller Moves Into Contention?
Beane and Matsui could make for a winning combination in 2011.
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Last year it was the Reds. Who will it be this year?
My money is on the A’s. They made some good signings, headed by Hideki Matsui, and are in a weak division. However, the Brewers are the obvious choice, as they are loaded. However, they play in a tougher division.
Only time will tell…
15. How Will Donnie Baseball Stack Up As a Manager
Will Don Mattingly enforce a grooming rule like his mentor Joe Torre?
Baseball minds have been raving about Don Mattingly as a great manager in waiting and he gets his first shot as a manager in 2011 with the Dodgers. He gets a decent roster, headed by Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp.
He doesn’t have a great team, but Mattingly’s Dodgers could win the NL West if the Giants are hung-over from their 2010 championship run.
14. The Dodgers Divorce Saga Continues...
Ted Lilly was the last meaningful addition to the Dodgers.
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The divorce of Jamie and Frank McCourt is ravaging the Dodger organization. As a result, they failed to make the playoffs in 2010 and didn’t make any significant moves this offseason.
The divorce may force the McCourts to sell the team and if so, a period of lackluster play and frugal organizational moves are soon to follow. The new owner could be a positive or negative to the team.
A frugal businessman could buy the team, or maybe the free-spending Mark Cuban?
13. Jim Thome Joins the 600 Home Run Club
Jim Thome will join the 600 HR club this season.
He needs only 11 and he should reach that plateau by the All Star break if he can get everyday at-bats. He just agreed to re-sign with the Twins and they should provide him with the at-bats needed for a splendid sendoff to one of the game’s best players and people.
12. Is the Yankees' Rotation Deep Enough?
CC needs some help in 2011.
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In a short answer: probably not.
There are too many question marks and the trade market for pitchers is officially shallow. IF the Yanks made a play for Josh Johnson or King Felix, it would be a different story, but until then, AJ Burnett, Ivan Nova and others not named CC Sabathia cannot be counted on to hold down the fort.
Only continued progress from Phil Hughes will give the Yankees a chance in 2011.
11. Can the Twins Ever Get Past the Yankees?
Joe Mauer is sick of losing to the Yankees
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Every year the Twins make the playoffs, and every year they are knocked-out by the Yankees. The Twins are a great team and organization, but the Yanks seem to be the bane of the Twins’ existence.
This year could be different though.
Justin Morneau should be 100 percent ready for spring training and Carl Pavano is close to re-signing. Morneau was a key reason the Twins lost the previous two ALDS matchups to the Yankees, as he was compromised in 2009 and out in 2010 due to injuries.
If Morneau can stay healthy the Twins might finally make it past the Yankees, or they could lose again in four games in the ALDS.
10. Will the Mariners Trade Felix Hernandez?
Up close and personal with King Felix
Every few months, King Felix becomes the center of trade rumors, and just as quickly as they form, the Mariners deny he is on the block. However, the intrigue is too much to ignore and the Mariners are years away form being good anytime soon.
Every contender would be in on King Felix, including the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers. It would make for an interesting summer if the Mariners put him on the block, as his asking price would easily exceed Roy Halladay’s, Cliff Lee’s and Johan Santana’s.
9. Will the Rangers Continue To Succeed Under Nolan Ryan?
The old man can still bring it...
The revitalization Nolan Ryan has brought to the Rangers’ organization is nothing short of remarkable. Once a laughing stock, the Rangers are now the reigning American League Champions.
While losing Cliff Lee, the Rangers gained Adrian Beltre and Brandon Webb, and are in a great position to win the AL West, which is a weak division. If Webb can regain his pre-injury form, there is no reason the Rangers can’t go deep into the playoffs once again.
8. Can a Loaded Brewers Team Win the Pennant?
Greinke will be a huge addition in the pitcher-friendly National League.
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The Brewers did more to help their staff this offseason than even the Phillies by adding both Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. They will form a trio with Yovani Gallardo that can go punch for punch with the vaunted Phillies' staff.
However, they must play in what could be the toughest division in baseball this year, the NL Central.
They must get past both the Reds and Cardinals if they want to make the playoffs and get a shot at the Phillies. But with an offense headed by Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, the Brew Crew should have enough to win the Central.
7. Can Boston Reign Supreme in the American League Again?
Red Sox fans should look forward to seeing this plenty of times this season.
Boston had probably the best offseason, acquiring both Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Their now loaded lineup should help a rebounding pitching staff that was responsible for missing the playoffs in 2010.
If the Red Sox’s offense can kick into high gear, and the pitching staff can re-establish itself as one of the best in baseball, there is no reason they can’t win the pennant.
Taking it one-step further, the Sawx are the team best built to beat the Phillies in October.
6. Can the Giants Repeat?
Will the champs repeat?
The Giants defied the odds and became champs in 2010. They have returning stars Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, and essentially the same team as last year minus World Series MVP Edgar Renteria.
The NL West is perpetually weak, and they should win their division, but they still must get past the super-powered Phillies to win the pennant. Either way, it should be interesting to see how the champs can perform in 2011 with everyone gunning for them.
5. The Albert Pujols Extension Talks
The Cards need Albert Pujols like Pujols needs his Wheaties Fuel...
Pujols is the best player in the game, and he’s looking to be paid like the best. That means he will most likely join the $30 million per year club.
The Cardinals know he is the franchise and if Pujols were to leave, it would be similar to LeBron James leaving Cleveland.
So a game of intrigue is set to last through the season. The Cardinals must re-sign Pujols because if he were to hit the open market, the price would drastically increase. There is even a possibility he leaves and goes to a team like the Mets, who will have plenty of free money at the end of the season.
4. Will Mariano Rivera Break the All Time Saves Record This Year?
Mo is as reliable as they come. His easy delivery makes his arm hold up over the course of seasons and decades. He was great in 2010 and, with Trevor Hoffman now retired, needs only 42 saves to break the record.
42 saves is about Rivera’s average per season, so it should be close. If the Yankees can win 85-90 games, he should break the record, if not; we’ll have to wait until 2012.
3. Is the Evil Empire Falling?
Will the glory of the Yankee Empire Survive?
A few days ago, this storyline seemed a lot more realistic. The Yankees didn’t make any major move until they signed Rafael Soriano to help shore up the bullpen. Still, their rotation is thin and Brian Cashman’s new “frugal” approach has many wondering if he is as smart as the mainstream media makes him out to be.
If the Yankees get complacent, it could mean the end of the dominance the franchise has endured for over a century. This season, the first without George Steinbrenner in almost 40 years, is easily the most important season under the Steinbrenner banner since the first.
2. The Phillies Attempt To Break the Yankees 125-Win Record
THe Phillies are primed for dominance because the prodigal son has returned.
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A loaded pitching staff, great offense and a weak division: All the stars are aligning for the Phillies to make a run at the 1998 Yankees’ 125-win record.
If the Phillies can stay healthy, they should easily best the all time regular season 116-win plateau, but only winning the World Series can legitimize their moves.
1. The Phillies Four Horsemen
The Four Horsemen are ready to ride in 2011.
The Phillies have a foursome at the front of the rotation that on paper could be the best ever.
Headed by Roy Halladay and the newly acquired Cliff Lee, the Phillies’ staff has a legitimate chance to produce FOUR 20 game winners. Much like the Miami Heat, everything this foursome does will be analyzed and scrutinized.
While Cole Hamels is inconsistent and Roy Oswalt is past his prime, they would still be an ace on many other staffs. However, if you had to pick a weakness on the staff the aforementioned two would be it.