Ranking the Biggest Storylines from Week 1 of MLB Spring Camp
The sports doldrums known as the month of February can drag. There's regular season NHL and NBA games, the college basketball season is approaching conference playoffs and the golf season is underway.
But we as sports fans consistently crave new and exciting stimulation.
Thank heavens for spring training!
After the first full week of camp in Florida and Arizona, baseball fans can grasp a sense of how their favorite team is going to shape up, and we are given a glimpse of just how hard key players have worked during the offseason.
Important headlines have cropped up, so let's take a look.
7. A Trio of Angels Arrive
There are a handful of teams that have generated a special amount of hype this offseason, one being the Los Angeles Angels.
The new Big Three of MLB have reported for duty: Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. With the trio comprising one-third of the Angels' fearsome offensive lineup, pitchers will be gasping for air by the time they've moved past the cleanup spot (only to find Mark Trumbo waiting in the five-hole).
Manager Mike Scioscia has some flexibility when it comes to the order of the lineup. For instance, it's quite appealing to stick Hamilton second behind Trout to get him more at-bats and to have three of the best hitters in the game in consecutive order.
However, no team is perfect, and a couple question marks will hover over Angels camp in the early going.
Though he insists he'll lose 10 pounds this spring, Trout showed up to camp 10 to 15 pounds heavier than he was last season. How will this affect his sophomore year?
Despite an especially potent lineup, can the Angels' unproven back-of-the-rotation starters win enough games to make the AL West contender a viable World Series candidate? And how will Ryan Madson bounce back from missing all of 2012?
We should have a better sense in a few weeks.
6. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for the Yankees
Let's start with the good. Mariano Rivera is throwing from the mound again.
After suffering a season-ending torn ACL last May, Rivera has accelerated his throwing schedule, already tossing two bullpen sessions in the first week of camp.
The 43-year-old all-time saves leader has self-confidence, Joe Girardi has confidence in him and Rivera should be ready for Opening Day.
More good news for the Yankees: Derek Jeter is in his third week of baseball drills, including playing long toss, fielding grounders and hitting in the batting cage. After breaking his left ankle in Game 1 of the ALCS last year, Jeter told reporters he ran on a treadmill on Monday for the first time since the injury.
The bad news for the 27-time World Series champions is that the team will feature seven active players over the age of 33 during the 2013 season. Father Time is not a friend of baseball players.
The ugly: Team parasite Alex Rodriguez will not report to spring training in Tampa, Fla., but will remain in New York to rehab his surgically-repaired hip. Why, you ask? Another link to PED retailer Anthony Bosch and Biogenesis might be the cause.
Plus, who knows if he'll even step on the field in 2013?
5. A Spice of Drama at Blue Jays Camp
New Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes recently spoke out against Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.
After signing a six-year, $106 million contract with the Marlins last season, Reyes has had to accept a drastic change in climate due to the blockbuster deal that also sent Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle to Toronto.
Reyes said, via ESPN's Jayson Stark, he was shocked when he heard about the trade because Loria "always told me he's never going to trade me. He always called my agent and said, 'Tell Jose to get a good place here to live,' and stuff like that."
The star shortstop even claims that Loria was still telling him to find a house just a few days before the trade was finalized.
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been asked about another addition, Melky Cabrera. He cited the known risk in signing a player recently suspended for PED use, but called the signing an "educated guess."
Hopefully, his hypothesis works out.
4. Michael Bourn to the Indians
One of the last big free-agent names, Michael Bourn, has finally found a landing spot in Cleveland. He signed a four-year, $48 million contract to become the fourth significant offseason signing for the Indians.
The team that finished with the second-worst record in the American League last season, at 68-94, spent a combined $117 million on free-agent signings over the winter, including contracts for Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds and Brett Myers.
According to Jordan Bastian of MLB.com, the Indians only shoveled out a combined $8.3 million on free-agent contracts over the past two offseasons.
Bourn brings a nice element of speed to Cleveland's lineup and secures a solid outfield presence along with Swisher and youngster Michael Brantley.
New manager Terry Francona and his squad still have some hurdles to climb, particularly the reigning American League champion Detroit Tigers, but the future is bright for a team that hasn't had a season over .500 since 2007.
3. The Dodgers' Payroll
It's the World Series or bust for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
With an Opening Day payroll of $230 million, expectations have never been higher for the Hollywood franchise.
A startling total, over $850 million is owed in future contracts to eight players on the Dodgers roster: Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Hanley Ramirez, Andre Ethier and Ted Lilly (h/t Baseball Prospectus).
There's no excuse for failure for Stan Kasten, Magic Johnson and the owners group, general manager Ned Colletti or manager Don Mattingly.
The team has attempted to buy success. How will it pay off on the field?
2. Braun and Biogenesis
In the eyes of baseball fans, it's an unfortunate connection between Ryan Braun and Biogenesis of America, a now-defunct clinic in Coral Gables, Fla. known for selling PEDs to professional athletes.
Before the allegations concerning a positive drug test last year, which Braun successfully appealed, he was the picture-perfect MLB role model: a Rookie of the Year, an All-Star, an NL MVP and a team leader responsible for turning a struggling franchise in the right direction.
In recent weeks, however, Braun has twice been linked to Anthony Bosch, the founder of Biogenesis.
First, Yahoo! Sports uncovered a document from Biogenesis with Braun's name on it, but the Brewers outfielder dismissed the evidence, stating that he used Bosch as a consultant during his appeal last year.
Now, ESPN's Outside the Lines has discovered another document featuring Braun's name and the amount "$1,500" written next to it, supposedly an amount of money owed to Bosch.
The names of other MLB players linked to PEDs, such as Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera and Francisco Cervelli, are also on the list.
Whether Braun used or received PEDs is unknown, but both are suspendable offenses.
For now, the fifth overall pick in 2005 is focusing on spring training and the 2013 season and hoping for the best.
1. Felix Hernandez
By now, you've heard of Felix Hernandez's historic seven-year, $175 million contract, the largest contract given to a pitcher in MLB history—eclipsing CC Sabathia's seven-year, $161 million contract with the New York Yankees.
It was the obvious move for general manager Jack Zduriencik and his ballclub, which hasn't made the playoffs since its 116-win season in 2001.
Some concern arose surrounding Hernandez's throwing elbow last week when he notified Venezuelan officials that he would not be participating in the World Baseball Classic. However, the Mariners training staff has dismissed any worry, and Hernandez reported to spring training in Peoria, Ariz., on time.
Seattle is still a far cry from a playoff team, especially with the revamped Angels and dark-horse Oakland Athletics in the AL West, but King Felix leaves the door wide open for a playoff run in the coming years.