We're now less than a month from opening day and we're starting to get a clearer picture of what each team looks like as we enter 2011.
Obviously, there's still a lot of time as we're just getting underway with the Grapefruit and Cactus League games. But already we're starting to get a clearer picture of the story lines that either are or will be surrounding each team as we inch closer and closer to the 2011 season.
And with story lines come distractions. Every team has them and they all can create some kind of damage.
Now publicly, every player and every team will say the same thing: That whatever hot topic of the day by the local or national mainstream media is not a distraction. But that doesn't mean there can't still be unrest because of a situation.
So with the regular season not that far off, here's a look at what is each team's biggest distraction.
The Royals have amassed some of the best prospects in the game. Mike Moustakas is one of a few prospects who are near the top of many top prospects lists as the 2011 season gets ready to go.
But with the Royals not expected to do much in 2011, the question will be: How much longer until players like Moustakas get the call to the show? Considering the Royals don't have a lot going for them, how much longer until the Royals are pressured to call some of them up?
The Pirates have been very public in courting teams about Ryan Doumit's availability. They've made it clear he can be available for the right price, but they could very well fit Doumit into the plans for this season as a utility player or a backup catcher.
The reports have been the Pirates will only trade Doumit if they get the right package. But it's still a cloud over Doumit's head, who doesn't know where he'll be come opening day.
It's no secret that Grady Sizemore has the potential and the talent to be one of the game's best hidden secrets when he's healthy.
The problem has been staying healthy.
Sizemore's coming back this season from shoulder surgery and he's already doing some drills, according to the Associated Press. But the report says the team doesn't think Sizemore will be ready for April 1 and opening day. That's a bad sign for the Indians, who need Sizemore healthy because of his ability and just as importantly for his trade value.
So expect the questions about Sizemore's health to hover over the franchise.
It was something watching the Marlins side with star shortstop Hanley Ramirez instead of former manager Fredi Gonzalez when Ramirez didn't hustle after a ball last season. Specifically because it was one of the first stands the Marlins' ownership ever took.
Now Ramirez has a new manager in Edwin Rodriguez, and one has to wonder if it will end the same way with Edwin that it did with Fredi. If Ramirez has problems with his manager and publicly calls him out again, then it will be more of the same.
That could derail another Marlins' season.
Stephen Strasburg won't be available to the Nationals this season after his Tommy John surgery, so the Nationals will need someone other than Jayson Werth to try and fill seats in Washington.
That's where the Nats' other uber-prospect Bryce Harper, he who is batting .182 in 11 spring training at-bats, comes in. Odds are that unless he makes a huge charge in the last couple of weeks, he won't make the opening day roster. But as the season goes on, the pressure will be on to get Harper called up the same way Strasburg was, especially if he tears up the minors.
The questions and the rumors will constantly be asked. The question will be if the Nationals give in.
Brian Roberts might be one of the most underrated leadoff men around for his bat, defense and speed. As woeful as the Orioles have been for most of this century, Roberts has continued to be one of the bright spots.
But he missed a large chunk of the 2010 season with back problems and he's already had some health issues during this spring training. In an offseason where there might finally be hope for improvement in Baltimore because of the moves they made in the offseason, the health of Roberts might derail any hopes before the season even starts.
He'll be a prime subject of discussion, especially if he misses time.
In signing Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki to long-term deals, the Rockies made a financial commitment in locking up two of their young stars to lucrative deals. But with big deals, now come big expectations to produce and be team leaders. The question remains whether or not they can do that consistently.
Either way, the spotlight has now been put on them. And if they struggle, the focus will turn to them.
The other albatross of a contract for the Blue Jays is now in Orange County as the Angels' lone prize during a disappointing offseason.
A lot of expectations will be placed on Vernon Wells now as the middle-of-the-order bat the Angels desperately need, especially since they missed out on Carl Crawford and their other free agency targets in the offseason, save for Scott Downs.
The Angels have been panned for letting the Blue Jays off the hook without making them liable for any portion of his contract, but if he performs as he is capable of, then it looks a lot better. But the questions surrounding him will definitely be a distraction.
It's perhaps interesting that in his time as owner of the Astros, Drayton McLane has seen the highs and the lows.
At one point during his ownership, the Astros were one of the best-run organizations in baseball, consistently competitive with one of the deepest farm systems around. Now as he's getting ready to step out and looking for a buyer, the Astros have been consistently mediocre for the last five years, stuck with one albatross contract and a basically barren farm system.
A sale hasn't happened yet, so McLane continues to have control. But if a possible sale hinders any player movement, it could become a distraction to a team looking to improve.
Considering his numbers from last season, it's safe to say Jose Bautista had a career year in 2010.
As such, he was compensated handsomely, with a five-year, $64 million extension. According to MLBTradeRumors.com, Bautista will earn $8 million this season and $14 million from 2012-2015 with an option for 2016.
If he produces close to what he was doing last season, it'll be well worth the money. If he regresses and falls back to his career averages, then it becomes another gargantuan contract handcuffing the Blue Jays. Either way, he's the focus of the club now.
Fredi Gonzalez will go down in history as the man who replaced a legend in Atlanta. He'll have time to develop his own legacy in Atlanta, but one has to think it'll be tough for him to try and get out of the shadow of Bobby Cox.
It'll be tougher this season because of the expectations these young Braves have as contenders in the National League and even as challengers to the Phillies in the N.L. East. But how long until he's compared to what Bobby Cox did in his first season?
It should only make sense that when something goes screwy or awry in Arizona sports recently, the pending sale of the Phoenix Coyotes is somehow involved.
The latest news on that front is that the City of Glendale is set to sue the Goldwater Institute (the group blocking the sale of the Coyotes to an owner who will keep the team in Glendale) and it's board of directors individually as early as today, according to an ESPN report. Now, of course, this doesn't concern the D-Backs at all.
That is unless Randy Kendricks, the wife of owner Ken Kendricks, is on the Goldwater Institute board and named in the suit, that is.
This has the potential to be another PR nightmare for the D-Backs, who will still have to deal with the All-Star game and more backlash against Arizona's immigration law. It's also the type of thing that can weigh on a team trying to get out of the NL West basement.
The Red Sox weren't exactly sending mixed signals when they made an offer at the great Mariano Rivera and went out and signed a former closer in Bobby Jenks.
They weren't thrilled with he 2010 campaign of Jonathan Papelbon, especially considering this is his contract year. The Red Sox will love it if he reverts back to the Papelbon of old with that dominating fastball. But they got Jenks as insurance for a reason, so don't be surprised to see the questions come up if Papelbon struggles.
The defending AL Central champions will have their own injury watch as Justin Morneau continues to battle his way back from a concussion. But the discussion, at least around Twins camp, has centered around lefty pitcher Francisco Liriano and the rumored interest from the Yankees.
Some feel the Twins and Yankees will eventually get a deal done, but until then the questions will continue to circle around Minnesota's ace and why the Twins haven't locked him up to an extension yet. Or if they even will, considering his injury history.
If you paid attention to the Reds last year, you found out that Brandon Phillips hasn't been one to hold back his opinions, especially when he's talking about the St. Louis Cardinals.
So now that the second baseman, who is looking for a new contract, is on Twitter, it could make for some very interesting conversation around the Reds' organization. One has to wonder now if the Reds might keep an eye on his Twitter, especially considering it was his words last year that ultimately led to Johnny Cueto karate kicking Chris Carpenter.
A note to the Tampa Bay Rays:
You signed Manny Ramirez because you still feel he can be a productive bat in the lineup and be one of the more feared right-handed hitters in the game (you also got him to sell seats, but that's a different story).
When he's motivated, he can still be that player. But signing Manny means getting Manny and all that comes with it. The moodiness, the sometimes lack of hustle, possibly shoving team employees down to the ground.
It's all a part of Manny being Manny. If you want him, you have to deal with it.
The Padres finally cut ties with Adrian Gonzalez in the offseason, as they turned their best hitter into a flood of prospects as the organization cuts costs and tries to rebuild despite an extremely successful season.
But with Adrian Gonzalez gone, the spotlight now turns to Heath Bell as the Padres' best player and most attractive trade asset. For now, he's not going anywhere, especially if the Padres are competitive again in the NL West. But like with Fielder, if the Padres fall out of it or regress from their 2010 season, then the Bell talks will be going once again.
For everything that went wrong for the Mariners in 2010, the only thing that didn't happen was the usual Milton Bradley meltdown and/or walkout on the team (Chone Figgins filled that role instead). But Bradley struggled during the season, as did the rest of the Mariners. And one had to think it was only a matter of time before he became a distraction to the team.
But then news broke a couple of days ago that Bradley's wife is filing for divorce, which included claims that Bradley abused her, according to MSNBC. Now the Mariners will have to deal with this while figuring out what to do with Bradley, who has serious anger management issues.
It's World Series or bust. When was the last time you heard that phrase next to the Phillies?
In the midst of arguably the most successful stretch in franchise history, the Phillies have made themselves perennial contenders by going out and getting Cliff Lee to add to a fantastic rotation. But with that move, the statement has been made for the players and the fan base: The World Series is the expectation and anything less is a disappointment.
It's a lot of pressure, and while it's rarely gotten to this group before, one wonders if they can afford to fall behind like they did last year.
It's becoming a volatile situation in Oakland.
The Athletics can't continue playing in the aging Oakland Coliseum, which is not a baseball-friendly facility by any means. The Athletics have a new stadium site picked out—in San Jose, that is. But the Giants hold the territorial rights to the city, which is blocking the A's from moving in.
All of this bickering involving A's owner Lew Wolff can't be good for his players, from whom he expects a lot this season.
The Giants finally have their ring.
San Francisco finally has a World Series champion and the Giants now can gloat as the rival Dodgers are in disarray. But as the defending champions, the Giants now have a giant bulls-eye on their backs. All of the attention will be on them, and for a team that plays very loose, one has to wonder what kind of distraction going from being the hunter to being the hunted will be.
Always something to watch with a defending champion.
One thing you can say about the Cubs, they're an intense bunch.
Everyone remembers the scene last year when Carlos Zambrano and Derrek Lee got into it in the visiting dugout at U.S. Cellular Field. Everyone also remembers a couple of years ago at Wrigley when Zambrano and Michael Barrett had some words.
On second thought, maybe it's not the Cubs, maybe it's just Zambrano.
Then again, after Cubs pitcher Carlos Silva fought Aramis Ramirez in the dugout last week, maybe it is the Cubs. Either way, the volatility of that clubhouse could end up costing the Cubs down the road.
With the moves they made in the offseason, the Brewers are considered one of the favorites in the NL Central. With that in mind, understandably they made the decision to hold on to Prince Fielder and take a shot at a division crown and a postseason run.
But if the Brewers should falter, the questions about Fielder being in his contract year will start up again. And if the Brew Crew's out of the race by July, then the questions about Fielder being trade bait will hit overdrive. Anytime a star could be traded, it can be a distraction. Fielder won't be any different.
To be honest, this could've been a whole laundry list of issues: Brian Cashman's power struggle with Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, Jorge Posada still wanting to catch, whatever's going on in A.J. Burnett's head.
But not in recent memory can I recall a more contentious contract negotiation involving the Yankees then there was with their captain and the modern face of the franchise. And whether it's about Jeter's future in the lineup, his future at shortstop and his future with the club, the questions will be asked about him all season long.
Remember the good old days when Ozzie Guillen signaled for Bobby Jenks by spreading his arms apart, saying "I want the big guy"?
That was back in the 2005 World Series, and apparently all is not well. Jenks has moved on to Boston but not before the White Sox didn't offer him a tender. That led to Jenks saying, among other things, it was nice to play for a manager who knows how to run a bullpen, according to ESPN.
Guillen responded, in a way that only Ozzie could: "I wish I was mad about it because I will rip his throat out," according to the ESPN report. Such warm memories.
The two teams meet in Boston May 30-June 1 and July 29-31 in Chicago. Get the popcorn ready.
If you read the quotes from manager Jim Leyland about Miguel Cabrera's drunk driving arrest last month from Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, it basically was the type of soundbite you'd expect out of Jim Leyland. The only thing missing was a cigarette.
Leyland was adamant then that Cabrera's problems won't be a distraction to the clubhouse, but how can it not be at least a little bit? This is one of your most important position players and he's out making bad decisions and still having the same trouble he was previously.
Cabrera has personal demons that he has to deal with, and Leyland is doing what he should in defending his player. But to say it won't be a distraction? That's a little out there.
Albert Pujols is trying to move on.
He's already said publicly he won't discuss the contract, he'll just enjoy the season. Regardless, the Cardinals and Pujols will have to work something out after the 2011 season.
But as possibly the most attractive free agent ever to be on the market goes into his walk year, one has to wonder what effect that will have on his performance. At this point, Pujols can have a contract year like Adrian Beltre or a contract year like Andruw Jones.
And even if he doesn't want to talk about it, the fact is the questions will still come.
Like Pujols, Michael Young is trying to just bury the offseason story in spring training.
After Young blasted the Texas Rangers organization and demanded a trade, the Rangers weren't able to make a trade to move Young. So there he was in camp, saying his trade demand wouldn't be a distraction and that he would basically go out and do his job.
But unfortunately, Pandora's Box can't be closed now. Nor can Young pull back his trade rumor when he hasn't talked to GM Jon Daniels yet, according to reports. Young can say it won't be a distraction as much as he wants.
It won't make it true, and it won't make it any less awkward.
Is there no mess the Mets can't seem to get into these days.
If the turmoil on the field hasn't been enough, there's been the news about the Wilpons looking to sell part of the franchise and the team being linked to incarcerated pyramid-schemer Bernie Madoff.
Now with the impending lawsuit from the victims of Madoff, claiming the owners used phony profits to run the franchise, the Mets are in complete and utter disarray off the field. Not surprisingly, the players are saying all the right things off of it ( David Wright told USA Today "you control what you can control"), but it's hard to focus with the mess off the field.
Then again, it could be worse. Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya could be around.
The divorce saga and, for all intents and purposes, the Dodgers' custody battle between Frank and Jamie McCourt continues to play out as the baseball team hangs in the balance.
The Los Angeles Times reported last week that both sides have resumed settlement proceedings after a judge threw out a sole ownership to Frank agreement. The report also stated Frank would go after a second trial to try and gain sole ownership of the Dodgers, stating he bought the club with a company formed before the marriage.
Either way, it seems like the battle is nowhere close to being over and the Dodgers are the ones suffering, as the team went from back-to-back NLCS trips in 2008 and 2009 to missing the playoffs last season.