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Other Grapefruit League story lines in 2012

The changing champs

So long, Tony La Russa. Farewell, Albert Pujols. The Cardinals' longtime manager and likely Hall of Fame first basemen, respectively, are gone, highlighting a spring training of change for the World Series champions. Former Gold Glove catcher Mike Matheny, left, steps into La Russa's role, having to replace pitching coach Dave Duncan and fill a huge void at first after Pujols signed a 10-year, $254 million deal with the Angels.

Brave new world

If it weren't for Boston blowing a nine-game AL wild-card lead, the Braves' devastating drop might have gotten more attention. Atlanta lost 17 of its last 25 to lose the NL wild card on the final day to the eventual champion Cardinals. One of the team's strengths is its pitching staff, which is why the Braves will keep a close eye on the recovery of Tommy Hanson (concussion) and Tim Hudson (back).

Ace in the hole

While the departure of All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes left a huge hole, the Mets' hopes partly lie on the left arm of Johan Santana, above, a two-time Cy Young winner who has missed the past 18 months due to shoulder surgery. Santana, who signed a six-year, $137.5 million deal in 2008, is scheduled to make his first start Tuesday, and his recovery will be covered heavily in Port St. Lucie.

Pirate ship

The Pirates took a significant step last season under manager Clint Hurdle, left, winning more than 70 games for the first time since 2004. But with the 20th anniversary of its last playoff berth looming, spring started with bad news as starting pitcher A.J. Burnett is out 8-12 weeks with a broken orbital bone.

Dan's direction

The Orioles, who haven't made the playoffs since 1997, are under new leadership in executive vice president Dan Duquette. Plenty of personnel decisions will have to be made, especially sorting out a rotation that has to replace No. 1 Jeremy Guthrie (traded to Rockies) and has several arms competing for a spot, including former Rays righty Jason Hammel.

The Bobby V Show

They've banned beer and put the fried chicken jokes in the past. The Red Sox, fresh off their historic September collapse, are trying to turn the page in camp, rejuvenated by the intense, outspoken and hands-on Bobby Valentine as manager. Expectations are as high as ever with a loaded lineup and hopes former Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford will bounce back from a frustrating first season at Fenway. It will be interesting to see how Daniel Bard makes the transition from setup man to starter and how closer Andrew Bailey replaces the departed Jonathan Papelbon (Phillies).

Bryce's Hype

Outfielder Bryce Harper, 19, has deleted his Twitter account. But he will continue to create headlines as the Nationals have to decide whether to grant the much-hyped 2010 top overall pick a spot on the roster. Harper hit .297 combined at Class A and Double A last year with 17 homers, and team officials say they're keeping an open mind on keeping him in the big leagues.

Marlins mania

In a full-scale Miami makeover, the Marlins have a new stadium, new logo and new colorful manager in Ozzie Guillen to lead a bunch of new faces — and an old face in a new place, Hanley Ramirez moving from shortstop to third. With more than $100 million in free agent signings — including shortstop Jose Reyes, lefty starter Mark Buehrle and righty closer Heath Bell — there's a lot more interest and expectations in the Marlins, who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated under the headline "Marlinsanity."

The new Prince in Tigertown

The fact star first baseman Prince Fielder, above, one of the game's best sluggers and No. 2 free agent prize in the offseason, joined the team his father, Cecil, used to hit homers for was big enough. But Fielder signing for nine years and $214 million gives the defending AL Central champions a dangerous one-two punch in the middle of the order with Miguel Cabrera. But a key will be how Cabrera handles the transition back to third base to make room for Fielder at first.

Other Grapefruit League story lines in 2012 03/01/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 2, 2012 9:01pm]
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