If you are a baseball seamhead like myself, tomorrow is a big deal for you as well. Teams in Arizona and Florida begin playing actual baseball games.
Well, Spring Training games, but you get the point.
This means Opening Day is right around the corner (36 days, not that I’m counting), but there’s still plenty of things that can happen between now and then that will help shape the 2013 season. Here are a few key spring training storylines to keep an eye on during the next month or so.
Shift in Power
There has been a perceived notion around Major League Baseball that the American League is vastly superior to the National League, despite the fact the Senior Circuit has one three straight World Series and five of the last seven.
This is largely due to the big name free agents that end up on AL teams nearly every winter (Pujols, Fielder, Hamilton, etc.). Sure, some big names still ended up in the AL, but for the first time in a few years, the National League made the biggest splashes in the offseason.
The Los Angeles Dodgers continued their splurge by backing up the Brinks trucks in front of the homes of Zack Greinke and Matt Kemp. The Washington Nationals beefed up their roster with the additions of Rafael Soriano, Dan Haren and Denard Span. The Atlanta Braves made the biggest noise of all, signing BJ Upton to the largest contract in franchise history and acquiring his brother Justin from the Diamondbacks.
This all happened while the AL took a backseat this winter. Yes, the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Orange County, Southern California, this joke never gets old continued their spending battles. However, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are retooling. Tampa Bay remains cash strapped, Detroit made minor additions and the A’s and Orioles are hoping for similar results from their younger stars.
For the first time in what feels like forever, the NL has more legitimate World Series contender than the AL. At least on paper.
One team I purposely did not include before is the Toronto Blue Jays, who deserve a much closer look.
The Blue Jays are the one team in the AL that contradicts everything I just wrote. Toronto went for broke in the offseason, sensing the AL East is up for grabs. They fleeced Miami and the Mets, reshaping themselves as the favorite not only in their division, but in all of baseball.
The key will be how quickly this team adjusts to each other and if the questionable additions (Melky Cabrera) will pay off. The biggest question mark is the bullpen and if Sergio Santos or Casey Janseen will be able to shut things down in the 9th.
But there is plenty to like about the Jays, starting with a formidable lineup. Jose Bautista must be drooling at the idea of Jose Reyes and Cabrera batting in front of him. Then there’s the rotation. Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey join what was an already decent starting five.
Whether the Jays live up to their hype or get crushed by their new expectations will be one of the biggest storylines all year long.
The Gambling Gunslinger
After being on the block since Kevin Towers arrived in Arizona (or at least it seemed), the Diamondbacks finally dealt Justin Upton this offseason. This was several weeks after Towers gave up on highly touted prospect Trevor Bauer for damaged goods.
The gist of these moves were to acquire gritty players that buy into Gibbyball. However, these trade will ultimately define the Towers Era in the desert.
Martin Prado is a solid player and will fit in well, but the DBacks will be banking on small ball, pitching and defense to contend in the NL West. I have never been an advocate of trading Upton, something I discussed in the debut of The Control Room here on FanSided Radio.
Don’t get me wrong, I have loved how Towers as turned things around. The Diamondbacks have a solid bullpen and a very good rotation. Will make Arizona contenders in the a top-heavy NL West. I have my concerns.
PEDs Aren’t Going Away
Major League Baseball has been saying all the right things since testing for performance enhancing drugs began. In fact, MLB became the first sport in the US to begin testing for HGH.
Yet, players are still getting caught.
Ryan Braun beat the MLB on a technicality. Cabrera was popped and disowned by the Giants. Now, several players a tied to Anthony Bosch and a reverse aging clinic in South Florida. Braun, Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez and more have been linked to this scandal.
Why does this keep happening, you ask? Well, the rewards certainly outweigh the risks. Cabrera was well on his way to an MVP season before he got caught. Braun won the MVP before he won his appeal. A-Rod is the richest player in all of baseball.
And its not like players don’t know the rules. These headlines will not completely go away until MLB comes up with stiffer penalties, something players actually want. The 50-game bans are not enough. Bud Selig and the MLBPA need to agree on something soon.