2012 MLB Spring Training: Previewing the 10 Biggest Storylines

Christopher Czar@@detsportsczarContributor IJanuary 20, 2012

2012 MLB Spring Training: Previewing the 10 Biggest Storylines

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    In baseball, things seldom end up in October the way we expect them to in February and March.

    As the days slowly get longer and longer, and the temperature creeps back up toward freezing in much of the U.S., it's a sure sign that we're getting closer to the start of MLB Spring Training—a time when number of unanswered questions regarding some of the biggest names in the sport will soon be addressed.

    The 2011 season saw a lot of unexpected things—an end of an era in St. Louis, early postseason exits in New York and Philadelphia and a collapse in Boston.

    With the 2012 season nearly upon, there's sure to be just as many headlines this year.  Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes are key figures in rebuilt rosters in LA and Miami, respectively, Ryan Braun has a suspension looming and the Yankees still need a DH.

    Here's ten stories to keep track of this spring.

Who Will Be the Yankees DH?

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    The Yankees were quiet until recently this offseason.  However, within the past week they've stirred up things in New York.

    In a surprising move, the Yankees dealt mega-prospect Jesus Montero to the Mariners for starter Michael Pineda and signed underrated starter Hiroki Kuroda to finish their rotation upheaval.

    While the rotation stands to benefit, the move leaves major questions as to who will DH in New York with Montero and former mainstay, Jorge Posada, moving on.

    Could a reunion with Johnny Damon be around the corner?

Who Are the Real Boston Red Sox?

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    Theo Epstein—gone.

    Terry Francona—gone.

    Jonathan Papelbon—gone.

    In one offseason, thanks to an epic late season collapse, the Red Sox lost three of their mainstays.  It would appear the Sox are going into a rebuild mode—but Boston never rebuilds.

    The Sox added Bobby Valentine to spice up the dugout and they of course still have Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester and Josh Becket. So there's not really too much to be worried about—yet.

    The Red Sox will likely still be good—they're likely re-signing David Ortiz and have picked up just about every closer available—but it remains to be seen how much affect their 2011 failure will have on the team going forward.

    With an aging lineup, this might be do or die in Boston.  Another failure and perhaps we really do see a rebuild in Bean Town.

Might the Cardinals Be Even Better Even Without Albert Pujols?

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    It's crazy to say, but despite losing perhaps the best hitter in past few decades in baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals might not skip a beat.

    True they had a significant loss in Albert Pujols.  He's a type of player whose loss would crush lesser franchises—the Cardinals aren't one of those organizations though.

    The Cardinals might have offset their massive loss with two monumental gains.  The acquisition of Carlos Beltran and the return of ace Adam Wainwright to a roster that already included stars like Lance Berkman and Chris Carpenter.

    The NL Central is extremely winnable this year and the Cardinals, despite Pujols move to SoCal, are probably still the prohibitive favorite.

How Does the Ryan Braun Suspension Affect the Brewers?

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    The Milwaukee Brewers are facing two monster losses.

    Prince Fielder is still trying to find his greener pasture and NL MVP Ryan Braun is staring at a daunting 50-game suspension for elevated testosterone levels.

    Those are two of the most feared bats in the NL immediately gone from the lineup. 

    It would appear newly signed Aramis Ramirez will be the man for quite awhile in Milwaukee.  The Brewers best hope is that they find someone this spring who can help offset the loss and that the pitching staff hits the gate running. 

    If not, they might dig themselves a hole they can't get out of this year.

Will It Be a Three Ring Circus in Miami?

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    There are a ton of intangibles at play in Miami.

    A new coach in the highly conversational Ozzie Guillen, a couple of stud free agents in Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, a new stadium that's already upset PETA, a reality show and a "not too" disgruntled current superstar in Hanley Ramirez.

    The never shy Ozzie Guillen might have met his match in the highly opinionated Hanley Ramirez. 

    Asking Ramirez right out of the gate to move to third base for Reyes might not be the perfect greeting for the Marlins' former shortstop.

    While they should no doubt be improved, it's going to take an All-World managerial job by Guillen to keep it all together in Miami if they want to make it to the World Series.

Will Yoennis Cespedes Ever Become Elligible and Is He Worth It?

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    How many times have you seen this picture of Yoennis Cespedes?

    While many have crowned Cespedes an All-Star before facing a MLB pitch, there's still a ton of questions facing him. 

    First and foremost, when can he sign with a team?

    The date seems to have been continually pushed back and it appears that there really never was a known timeline—not surprising when dealing with government entities.

    Once he is available he'll have plenty of suitors, whether they're offering close to what Cespedes will be asking for is another question entirely.

Where Will Prince Fielder Play?

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    With his most promising suitor bowing out, the Texas Rangers, Prince Fielder still has no clue where he'll play next year.

    Are the Washington Nationals now the leaders for signing Fielder?  Are the Cubs and Marlins still possibilities?

    If Fielder doesn't get the 8 years, $200 Million plus deal he's looking for, will he sign with a contender like the Yankees or Tigers for a year to play DH?

    While we have no clue where he'll end up, with agent Scott Boras representing Fielder we know it'll be an interesting decision.

Who Replaces Victor Martinez in Detroit?

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    When Victor Martinez suffered a torn ACL in offseason workouts, the Detroit Tigers World Series hopes took a major hit.

    Martinez was the glue that kept together the fourth best offense in baseball last year.  He protected Miguel Cabrera and made everyone around him better.

    Now Jim Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski have the undesirable task of trying to replace him.

    There's plenty of name out there, and the late season trade for Delmon Young buffers the loss a little, but the Tigers will need help if they want to make a serious run at a Championship.

    If they don't shoot for the moon with Prince Fielder, they might just bring back a familiar name such as Johnny Damon, Carlos Pena or Magglio Ordonez.

Was Yu Darvish Worth It?

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    Outside of Pujols, Fielder and Cespedes, Japanese import Yu Darvish might have been the most hyped free agent.

    A legend in Japan, Darvish is going to be counted on the replace CJ Wilson in Texas but for every Ichiro Suzuki there are two Daisuke Matsuzakas or Hideki Irabus.

    Shelling out $112 Million on an unknown is a major risk especially with some proven pitchers like Roy Oswalt and Matt Garza available in free agency or through trades.

    The Rangers seem to think they got it right—and they better be with the moves this next team has made.

Are the Angels the Favorite?

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    Quietly, the Los Angeles Angels stole the offseason thunder from the Marlins and the rest of baseball.

    While remaining silent initially, the Angels made a tidal wave size splash with the signings of Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson.

    Wilson is added to a loaded rotation that already featured Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana and Albert Pujols will be the centerpiece for an improved offense.

    While it's easy to declare the Angels World Series Champs now, ask the Red Sox and Phillies how that turned out for them last season.

    There's a long way to go, but this spring we'll get our first chance to see if the Angels are for real.