Grapefruit League Storylines
A look at some of the key storylines facing the major league teams that hold spring training in Florida.
The St. Louis blues
Could this spring have started any worse for Cardinals fans? First, the deadline for contract negotiations set by superstar 1B Albert Pujols passed without an extension, meaning the future Hall of Famer could test free agency after this season. Then ace RHP Adam Wainwright's elbow troubles will force him to have Tommy John surgery, putting a big hole atop of the rotation. The Cardinals still have a playoff-caliber club, but overcoming the Reds in the NL Central just got that much tougher.
You ready, Fredi?
For the first spring in, well, forever, legendary manager Bobby Cox will not be leading the Braves. Though it'll undoubtedly be some big shoes to fill for Fredi Gonzalez, the former Marlins manager (and Braves coach), Cox has not left the cupboard bare. There's still a lot of young talent, with OF Jason Heyward and RHP Tommy Hanson, along with veterans like 3B Chipper Jones and RHP Tim Hudson, as well as their biggest offseason acquisition, 2B Dan Uggla.
Reloading Red Sox
Boston was among the big winners in the offseason — acquiring ex-Rays All-Star LF Carl Crawford and slugging 1B Adrian Gonzalez — to emerge as arguably the team to beat in the American League. The new faces, including bullpen arms like Bobby Jenks and ex-Ray Dan Wheeler, will join an already talented club which was ravaged by injuries (Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis) last season. They're healthy now, and with a bounce-back year from RHP Josh Beckett, look out.
Twins All-Star 1B Justin Morneau's status remains a bit murky. Morneau missed the entire second half of last season due to a concussion he suffered in July. General manager Bill Smith has labeled Morneau as a "work in progress," and it appears he's feeling better, but it's still a question mark whether he'll be ready for Opening Day.
Tigers MVP candidate 1B Miguel Cabrera returned to camp this week remorseful over his latest alcohol-related arrest, getting charged with driving under the influence and resisting an officer without violence on his way to Lakeland. Though Cabrera is expected to undergo treatment, he was cleared to join the team and resume workouts. Whether Cabrera can get his life in order and play the Tigers this spring remains to be seen.
Big bats for the Nats
RF Jayson Werth was one of the top offensive players available in free agency, and the Nationals hope that by signing the former Phillies star to a 7-year, $126-million deal, he could provide some pop in the middle of the lineup. But just like mega RHP prospect Steven Strasburg got plenty of attention in his first spring training, 2010 top pick, slugging RF Bryce Harper will likely garner hype in his first big-league exhibitions.
Buzz in Baltimore
Manager Buck Showalter's will have plenty of new tools in his first spring in Sarasota. After leading the Orioles to a 34-23 record following his mid-season takeover, Showalter & Co. revamped their lineup, acquiring DH Vladimir Guerrero, 3B Mark Reynolds and 1B Derrek Lee. Combined with incumbent standouts like RF Nick Markakis, 2B Brian Roberts and CF Adam Jones, and the Orioles are holding out hope they're closer to ending the streak of 13 consecutive losing seasons.
Center of attention
Marlins LF Chris Coghlan, an East Lake product, has made his splash in the big leagues, winning the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year Award. But with Florida trading CF Cameron Maybin in the offseason, Coghlan will have to adjust to moving to center, a new position for him. Coghlan, who is recovering from offseason surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, should have an interesting spring ahead of him.
Another tough hurdle
The hiring of Clint Hurdle to manage the Pirates brought some optimism in Pittsburgh. Well, as optimistic as you can get for a team that lost 105 games last year and have posted 18 consecutive losing seasons. Hurdle has been part of World Series coaching staffs with the Rockies and, most recently, the Rangers, but will have his hands full in this Pirates project.