Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

2013 Grapefruit League story lines

The old(er) guard

Some call them old. They call them "experienced." The Yankees and Phillies are loaded with aging veterans who boast World Series rings and hope there's at least one more left in their future. A lot will depend on the health of recovering core players, including SS Derek Jeter and closer Mariano Rivera (Yankees) as well as 1B Ryan Howard, 2B Chase Utley and RHP Roy Halladay (Phillies). "If people want to call us old, that's fine," Howard said. "But I think going out this year we're going to show people we're not old."

Chemistry experiment

With the Bobby Valentine era a disaster on and off the field, the Red Sox turned to a familiar face, former pitching coach John Farrell, to change the culture. Additions, including ex-Ray DH Jonny Gomes, C Mike Napoli and CF Shane Victorino, should add grit and color to a clubhouse that already includes a championship core of DH David Ortiz, 2B Dustin Pedroia and LHP Jon Lester.

Blending Blue Jays

The Blue Jays' extreme makeover in the offseason resulted in great expectations, some pegging them as World Series favorites. But while Toronto's talent is clearly upgraded with the likes RHP R.A. Dickey, the 2012 NL Cy Young winner, All-Star LHP Mark Buehrle and SS Jose Reyes, new mana­ger John Gibbons must get them to mesh. "There's all these personalities, a lot of new faces that are kind of thrown into the Petri dish together," Dickey said. "So we're trying to figure out what's our identity. And that's exciting."

Brave new world

With the retirement of Chipper Jones, the longtime face of the franchise and future Hall of Famer, the Braves hope to start a new championship era with the Upton brothers, B.J., 28 and Justin, 25, leading the way. They have, arguably, the "Dream Team" outfield with the Uptons and All-Star RF Jason Heyward as well as a rotation and bullpen that could help them challenge the Nationals in the NL East.

No limit

Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg's rocket right arm was rested down the stretch last year, including the postseason, a precautionary move to protect the prized pitcher. But with no innings limit, Strasburg — and LF Bryce Harper, the reigning NL rookie of the year — hope to deliver manager Davey Johnson a championship in his final year.

PED controversy

It seems like every other day there's another player linked to Biogenesis, the Miami clinic under investigation for selling performance-enhancing drugs. Like the biggest name, Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez, most have denied a connection. But we wouldn't be surprised if there were more coming.

Closing time

RHP Bruce Rondon, 22, has pitched just eight innings above Double A and hasn't sniffed the major leagues. But the Tigers might be entrusting the hard-throwing Venezuelan with the closer role. RHP Jose Valverde held that job for the past three seasons, making two All-Star teams in a colorful way before struggling during the playoffs last year. Rondon, who says he has thrown 104 mph, will be the most scrutinized arm in Tiger Town.

For the Birds

The Orioles were one of last season's feel-good stories, making the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. But they defied the odds in how they did so, recording a .763 win percentage (29-9) in one-run games, a major-league record, and going 16-2 in extra-inning games. Lucky or resilient? Baltimore didn't make too many changes in the offseason, betting on the latter.

Move-over Marlins

Even when RHP Jose Fernandez (left) a former Alonso High star, is not plunking star RF Giancarlo Stanton with a pitch, the prized prospect will be one of the Marlins' most-watched players in camp. Stanton, upset at the team's fire sale that included the offseason blockbuster trade with the Blue Jays, is in for a long season under first-year manager Mike Redmond, especially in the NL East.

The new (who?) kids

The Astros make their debut in the American League this season, and excuse their new rivals in the West for their unfamiliarity. The rebuilding club boasts a rather anonymous roster filled with youngsters, and a league-low payroll of about $25 million makes it likely it will lose 100 games for the third straight season. The Astros' first full-time DH is a familiar face, former Rays 1B Carlos Peña, who is their second-highest paid player at $2.9 million.

     
 
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