Signs Of Spring: What to Watch For During Spring Training

Kimie BunyasaranandContributor IFebruary 13, 2011

PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 15: Pitcher Cliff Lee #33 of the Philadelphia Phillies talks with the media while general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. watches during a press conference at Citizens Bank Park on December 15, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow, and so begins the first day of Spring Training. 

After a long winter of lackluster storylines about so-and-so’s training regimen or off-the-field idiosyncrasies that were occasionally sparked by concerns about where Cliff Lee would end up and whether Andy Pettitte would retire, we can finally shift gears to more headline-worthy topics.

Maybe you’ve been too distracted by Melo trade rumors or Aaron Rodgers’ postseason dominance.

Or, maybe you were just so depressed the season was over that you boycotted SportsCenter and used the time to finally take those handball classes you’ve been meaning to try.

In any case, here are the hot topics you missed out on during the offseason:

  1. Cliff Lee snubs the Big Apple for Brotherly Love: The Rangers’ and Yankees courtship of the two-time All Star and 2008 Cy Young winner proved to be in vain as Lee signed a five-year, $120 million deal with dark-horse candidate Philadelphia. Between Lee, Oswalt, Halladay and Hamels, the Phillies’ starting rotation boasts three Cy Youngs, six 20-win seasons, and 13 All-Star appearances.
  2. Red Sox wheeling and dealing: Looking to make a push for it in the AL East this season, the Sox stacked their lineup by trading for Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Kind of makes the Yankees’ biggest move ($35 million over three years for an eighth-inning setup man in Soriano—seem a little underwhelming.
  3. Andy Pettitte chooses retirement: After toying with the Yankees’ emotions throughout the winter, the big debate no longer centers on whether Pettitte will be in the starting rotation, but rather if the 200-plus game winner is Hall of Fame worthy.
  4. Mets owners under fire: It wouldn’t be a pro sport without a little fraud. Fred Wilpon, principle owner of the Mets, was recently accused of profiting from Bernie Madoff’s elaborate Ponzi scheme. Wilpon and his business partners, including Mets minority owner Saul Katz, made $322 million from the scam. Wilpon is looking for investors to buy between 20 percent and 25 percent, likely to cover his liabilities.

And what about some of the under-the-radar topics that didn’t get quite as much media? A few more teams and players to keep an eye on during this year’s Cactus and Grapefruit League play:

  1. The Nationals: The Nats said goodbye to their slugging first baseman, Adam Dunn, and signed outfielder Jayson Werth. But the big questions really lie in their two No. 1 draft picks, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
  2. The Braves: Atlanta finds itself Bobby Cox-less for the first time in 20 years with an ailing Chipper Jones on the fringe of retirement. The team’s success this season hinges on the ability of manager Fredi Gonzalez to lead a team of familiar faces (Brian McCann, Jason Heyward), newcomers (Dan Uggla, Scott Linebrink), and promising-but-precarious players (Freddie Freeman, Nate McLouth).
  3. The Rays: Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon are reunited once again, both signing one-year deals with the Rays. But it’s somewhat doubtful that these two aging outfielders can make up for club’s big losses in Crawford and Soriano.
  4. The Brewers: How far will the addition of Zack Greinke to the rotation take Milwaukee this season? Brewers fans are hoping is pretty far, with Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks up for free agency at the end of 2011.

Hypotheticals turn into reality as we finally begin to find answers to all of the speculation and over analyzing of statistics.

Will Rafael Soriano really be worth the $35 million the Yankees shelled out for him? (No.) How will Adam Dunn fare with the White Sox? (He was made to be a DH.)

Will the Phillies’ additions to their starting rotation make up for their slightly weakened lineup? (Probably.)

I could go on about these and plenty of other topics. But that’s what the winter was for. Now it’s time to play ball.