Are You Ready For Some Baseball?
Ready or not, baseball is about to come bursting through the winter blahs, like Lady Gaga in her latest wild Grammys attire.
Spring training opens this week in Arizona and Florida, so it seems only fitting to offer a quick primer as you begin scouring the daily bulletins amid all the early calisthenics and fundamental drills.
BEST TEAM: Make it the Red Sox, who have added two big offensive guns to an already impressive arsenal to go along with one of the better starting rotations in the game. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford give the already loaded Sox the deepest lineup in the bigs. All these guys need is a mini-comeback by closer Jonathan Papelbon, and they can begin booking World Series hotel reservations now.
BEST PITCHING STAFF: Are you kidding? The Phillies might own the finest rotation since, oh, maybe all the way back to the mid-1950s staff in Cleveland, the one that featured three Hall of Famers, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and Bob Feller, along with Mike Garcia. (Yes, I’m old enough to remember them.) With Cliff Lee joining Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, the Phils, who already had a solid offense, are the clear cut favorites in the National League. It’s been a while, in fact, since there have been two such obvious picks — the Red Sox and Phillies — to meet in October.
BEST PLAYER: Ask any Fantasy League participant. Albert Pujols is a unanimous No. 1. The intrigue this season surrounds the fact that the future Hall of Fame first baseman and the Cardinals are locked into a serious contract negotiation that Pujols wants settled in the next week or so. If it isn’t, his free agent speculation will be as riveting as any of those Pujols long drives throughout the season.
MOST IMPROVED TEAM: The Brewers have added All-Star caliber pitchers Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to a team that already had some excellent components. Throw in the big bats of Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart and Casey McGehee, and you have a club that, at the very least, should be the runaway favorite in the NL Central.
MOST DYSFUNCTIONAL FRONT OFFICE: Don’t have to think too hard about this one, do you? Until the McCourts get something settled in their messy divorce, no one is sure what is going on with the Dodgers, and that’s too bad. Because the talent is there to not only contend, but even to win the NL West. If these guys did somehow make it to the World Series, who would they have throw out the first pitch, one of their expensive lawyers?
MOST CRITICIZED OFF-SEASON DEAL: Every baseball writer in America seems to think the Angels were guilty of the dumbest move by picking up Vernon Wells’ $86 million contract. Well, they did screw up by not making the Blue Jays pay more than $5 million of that total. And they certainly wound up overpaying for Wells. But anyone who thinks this isn’t an upgrade in Anaheim wasn’t watching a year ago. Wells isn’t a superstar, but he’ll deliver Torii Hunter-like numbers, while improving an outfield defense that was among the worst in baseball. Giving up Mike Napoli, who never was going to be the regular catcher for Mike Scioscia, and lumbering Juan Rivera was hardly damaging. Yes, Scioscia tends to exaggerate at times, but he is right about one thing these days. If Kendry Morales comes all the way back, the Angels, with Wells, are better right now than they were at any point in 2010.
FANTASY SLEEPER PICK: Everyone has to have one. Mine is Mike Stanton, the young right fielder for the Marlins. He delivered 22 homers and 59 RBIs in 359 at-bats last year. Project that out over 550 ABs and you get some bigtime numbers. This kid has jaw-dropping power, and if he ever learns to lay off breaking pitches outside the strike zone, there is no telling how many home runs he might hit.
— STEVE BISHEFF