Spring Training 2011: The CC Sabathia Opt Out Saga and Each Team’s Biggest Worry
With spring training right around the corner, a ton of speculation surrounding all 32 ball clubs still lingers in the balance.
Will the new guys in the clubhouse fit in? Will season-ending injuries from last year affect team's trying to rebound in a healthy way this year? Will superstars on teams opt out of their contracts or demand a trade if a contract extension isn't offered?
These are all questions that major league clubs are facing leading up to spring training.
Let's take a look each MLB team's biggest worry.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
We all remember the modern day baseball version of the "Bill Gramatica" that happened at Angel stadium last season. Kendry Morales hit a walk-off grand slam, rounded third and his season was over.
Now that their star first baseman is back and fully recovered, will he be able to maintain that health and will the Angels be back to the postseason?
If the Angels can remain healthy, they are my favorite in the AL West. The question is, can they avoid another slip-up?
The Oakland A's finally made an effort to improve their lineup this offseason with the addition of former Yankee and Angel, Hideki Matsui.
Matsui hit .274 last year with 21 homers and 84 RBI's. The A's are going to need the man deemed "Godzilla" in Japan to do a lot more than .274 and 21 homers if they look to make a playoff push.
Beane hates spending money...will this free-agent acquisition pay off for the Athletics?
The biggest issue with the Texas Rangers headed into spring training is the current situation at the three bagger. The Rangers picked up Adrian Beltre in the offseason, hoping that Michael Young would be okay with moving to DH, at least some of the time.
Not so much.
Young was almost offended when Ron Washington made the suggestion for the potential move. Now that they have two third baseman that both produce, the fate of the team chemistry is up in the air.
Will the Rangers sort this one out before spring training or let them battle it out like two quarterbacks hoping to be the starter?
We will see.
A lot went wrong for the M's last season. First off, their Cliff Lee investment went to shambles. Secondly, they lost an incredible amount of games.
Now that the Mariners have put last season behind them, will they be able to tackle this spring training with the right mindset?
Justin Smoak who came to Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal is the main attraction in Arizona this spring training.
Smoak who struggled all last year has tough expectations to live up to. Will the 24-year-old live up to the hype or will the M's lose another 100 games?
The Twins have had a monster last couple of regular seasons. Too bad that doesn't win you any trophies. Minnesota has made it back-to-back times to the playoffs but failed to win a game.
Minnesota is a team that plays excellent team ball, is well-coached and has a baseball city supporting them—-win or lose.
However, if they don't find a way to win a playoff game this year, I don't know what the city of Minnesota is going to do.
The biggest challenge going into this spring training is making sure the Twins can settle into the right mindset that they can beat any team in any series.
Kansas City Royals
I haven't seen the Royals over .500 since ever. They're a team that just can't seem to either generate enough offense or come through with a solid pitching rotation year in and year out.
However, this may be the year they put it all together.
The Royals went out and got Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur—two outfielders that could certainly spark a group of scrappy batters like Bill Butler and Jason Kendall.
Can the Royals offense carry the team heading into spring training?
Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox had a productive year last year but fell short of their goal of making the playoffs. They had a devastating injury to their ace Jake Peavy early in the year that put a lot of pressure on a pitching staff that couldn't get it done.
They've paid their long-time slugger Paul Konerko who's had six seasons of at least 30 homers and five of at least 100-plus RBI a hefty multi-year contract.
Now that Konerko's locked up, will be put this team on his back (hoping it doesn't break) and lead them to the promise land?
First stop: Working out the chemistry in spring training.
The Detroit Tigers have everything in place to win a division title. They have the pitching staff, the offense and the experienced manager to lay it out all out for them.
With that being said, the big addition of former Red Sox Victor Martinez will be the biggest worry Detroit has on their mind headed into spring training.
Martinez has shown productivity over the last couple seasons, but he's expected to be a big part of the middle of Detroit's lineup.
If he does, they're in the driver's seat in the AL Central.
The Indians have a lot to worry about headed into this spring training. They haven't had a successful season in a while, and the pressure is mounting.
No attention in the Indian clubhouse is focused more on any other player than young outfielder Michael Brantley.
Brantley was one of the players involved in the CC Sabathia trade between Milwaukee and Cleveland a couple seasons ago.
Now that he's waited his turn, he'll have an opportunity to prove he's the five-tool player everything in the Indian Clubhouse thinks he can be.
The Orioles have made some strides in trying to become competitive in the best division in baseball—the AL East.
They have a descent pitching staff and an offense that could put up five to 10 runs on any given night if they believe in themselves.
I believe a team's true character starts with the skipper that leads them. In this case, for the Orioles, it's newly acquired Buck Showalter.
Buck is the key ingredient in the success of the O's this year. Will he guide this team on a remarkable run?
Only time will tell.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays have an interesting situation. They have an incredibly potent offense, but sometimes it doesn't always click.
Now that the Jays gave their 50-homer man Batista a contract extension, will he become the leader that everyone on Toronto is searching for?
If he is, they have a shot against any team on any night.
Tampa Bay Rays
What's life going to be like with the addition of the two elderly gentlemen that didn't retire to Florida, but instead, joined the Tampa Bay Rays?
The names: Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. With some new ex-Red Sox on the roster, Damon and Ramirez look to lead a team that love to give the Yankees and Red Sox a run for their money.
There is so much irony here with these two playing together again, but this time for a different team. For Damon, it's his third team in the AL East. For Manny, it's his shot at redemption against the Red Sox.
It's going to be an exhilarating year with these two at the helm for Tampa Bay.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox made some serious moves this offseason with the additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.
Now the question is, how will these two players who performed at a high level but on small market teams do in the one of the biggest baseball towns known to man.
Gonzalez said if there's one team he wanted to play for other than the Padres, it was the Red Sox. Let's see if that passion rides out...
New York Yankees
The Yanks have a lot of controversy surrounding them right now. With Jeter and some of the offseason issues that upper management had to deal with, the shut up-and-play baseball mentality has rarely taken effect.
However, no one can seem to shake the possible situation surrounding CC Sabathia. Sabathia has the power to opt out of his contract at the end of the season. If he does, the Yanks are in trouble.
The problem with this situation now is that if CC does want to leave the Yanks, they might as well try and get something for him.
Who knows what's going to happen. All I can say is things are fishy out in the Bronx...
The Marlins are a team that is used to change. They seem to let go of anyone that ends up finding any kind of success for them.
The question with this year's Marlin team, who's mostly new, is that of leadership—specifically surrounding Hanley Ramirez.
Can Hanley be the glue that holds it all together in Florida who certainly can make a run in the NL East.
The Nationals are back on the map with a couple of big-time moves in the last year. Stephen Strasburg, is obviously the future of the franchise.
On the offensive side, Washington threw a heck of a lot of money towards the ex-Phillie Jayson Werth. Werth who was nothing more than a clutch role player on the Phillies is now the leader of this National team.
Can he live up to the humongous seven-year contract he just signed for over $130 million?
The Braves flip the page on the Bobby Cox chapter that lasted about as long as my life up until this point (knock on wood).
Now it's time to move forward without the veteran leadership of Mr. Cox. Thank goodness Chipper is still there to provide some support to the guys who remain in this very odd transition for the Braves franchise.
The uniform is the same and so is the tomahawk chop. Can the Braves move on after their relationship with Bobby Cox died of natural causes?
New York Mets
The Mets have one of the highest payrolls in all of sports. Yet, they haven't been to the postseason in years.
Why might you ask? It's probably chemistry issues. The team is so impressive on paper you'd think they would be in the running for a World Series year in and year out.
The roster is relatively the same in New York, and now that Citi Field is no longer in its rookie season, maybe the Mets can finally get down to business.
It's certainly a feeling things out kind of thing in the Big Apple, and if the issue is addressed, it could be one happy family in NY, NY.
It's the fab four in Philly. Everyone is talking about the pitching rotation in Philadelphia and why wouldn't they be?
After all, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels were all aces on different teams just a couple short seasons ago. Now, they've all teamed up thanks to no salary cap, and the Phillies have basically bought themselves into the running of a World Series.
Now that the team is set, and it's time to play ball, can these ridiculous craftsmen come through for a third World Series berth in four seasons for Philly?
The Brewers made some offseason moves hoping to make a push in the NL Central. Particularly, the former Kansas City Royal Zack Greinke.
Now that Greinke is pitching with a purpose, and a purpose meaning a potential playoff run, we'll see if he lives up to the expectations in Milwaukee.
Spring training is where it all begins for a Brewers team that has high expectations in the NL Central.
The Pirates haven't been very good the last several seasons, and I think I know why. Offensive production.
Pittsburgh has had some successful pitching, but the offense has been consistently stagnant. Headed into this spring training, the Pirates look to build a lineup that can play together.
They have speed in Tabata and McCutchen, power in Overbay and Garret Jones and a consistent bat in Cedeno.
The question is, can they put it all together?
The Astros are ready to be taken seriously. With the addition of Barmes at shortstop, they may have an opportunity to prove their seriousness in this league.
Barmes has been an extremely productive offensive weapon and is excited for his new role on his new team in Houston.
Everyone knows the Astros can pull it together...maybe it's up to the new guy to carry the load in Texas. We'll see how he holds up in spring training with his new squad.
The Reds had a Cinderella-like season last year winning the NL Central. It was remarkable for a city that hasn't seen baseball success since the mid-'90s.
Unfortunately, they got swept rather quickly and only hosted one home game for the hopeful Reds fans. Now that Votto is here to stay, can the Reds play the out-of-their-mind kind of baseball like last year to lead them back to the playoffs?
It all starts in spring training...
The city of Chicago is ready for some postseason action. I believe this to be the year for the Cubbies to be playing baseball in October.
We're only in February, and there's a lot Chicago needs to do in order to get there. Most importantly, they need the new edition of Matt Garza at starting pitcher to continue his productive career.
Everyone says the AL is a better hitting division. Since Garza pitched in one of the most competitive divisions in the MLB, he should find no problem finding success on the Cubs.
If Garza can win 15-20 games, I suspect these guys to go as far as he wants to take them.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have some serious issues. They all stem around their superstar slugger Albert Pujols. Pujols who's in the last year of his contract is demanding a 10-year deal from the Cards.
It's not that the Cards don't want to give it to him; he deserves it. However, a number has not been reached, and there is a lot of tension in St. Louis.
If Pujols is let go because they can't figure it out contractually, I don't know what the city of St. Louis is going to do...root for the Rams? Get out of here.
The Rockies had a solid year last year, but it wasn't enough. The Giants got the best of the division, and Colorado looks to prevent that from happening again.
This is a team that thrives off their offense. Carlos Gonzalez had an MVP-like year last year, and the expectations surrounding his play has risen.
Todd Helton is the anchor to this team, and the Rockies are ready to make a playoff push for the former Tennessee Volunteer.
It starts with their offense...do they have it or do they not?
The D-backs have been out of the playoff talk for quite some time. They made some changes last year, letting go of Dan Haren and have moved on without him.
Joe Saunders is now the ace of this staff. For some people, that's a tough pill to swallow. However, Saunders is a crafty left-hander and can certainly help this team get back on the map.
I believe if the D-backs are to be competitive this year, it's going to start with their pitching.
The nuts and bolts of the pitching staff will be worked out this spring training, and we'll see what's what in the state of Arizona.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have a player on their roster that they've stolen from pretty much every team in baseball. This year's acquisition: The ex-San Francisco Giant Juan Uribe.
Uribe was a huge add to this offensive lineup for a Los Angeles team that is willing to do anything they can to get back into the postseason.
Most of the team has remained the same, but if Uribe can have a career year, I see no reason why the Dodgers aren't the front runner in the staggering NL West.
San Diego Padres
The Padres begin life without hometown first basemen Adrian Gonzalez. It's going to be a transitional year for a San Diego team that already has issues with putting a dent in the runs column.
However, they did make some moves offensively, and the new center-fielder Cameron Maybin is a ray of hope for the Friar faithfuls.
Maybin is certainly a guy that can hit the long ball, drive in runs and steal bases which is exactly what the Padres need offensively.
We'll see if the ex-Marlin lives up to the hype come spring training...
San Francisco Giants
You save the champs for last and it's only fair...the San Francisco Giants are the defending World Series champs headed into this year's spring training.
The biggest test for this team is can they do it again?
With most of the team back, the Giants look to have another successful year led by Bruce Bochy. The thing I like about the Giants is they're all about a team effort.
I think the team is something they are going to need to continue to focus on as I'm sure other clubs will be gunning for them.
It's a long road back to the promise land, but if they keep their head on straight, they just might get there again.