The start of any baseball season is fascinating in and of itself. The teams all start off with identical records and despite a thousand predictions from hundreds of sites around the world, nobody really knows what will happen once the season starts. Teams will surprise us like the Arizona Diamondbacks did in 2011 and like the San Diego Padres did in 2010. Formerly contending teams will fall by the wayside such as the Minnesota Twins did last year. Players will surprise us and disappoint us. Dramatic stories lie ahead of us. Never in our wildest dreams could we predict how the last day of the regular season played out last year.
But just like every season, there are some fascinating questions that are ahead based on what happened this off season. These questions will be answered in the coming months. Each one has us drooling in anticipation. Here are the top ten most fascinating stories we are watching for the upcoming 2012 baseball season:
10. Jesus Montero and Michael Pineda. When was the last time a more hyped swap of prospects like this has happened? Will Jesus Montero be the next Edgar Martinez in Seattle? Will Michael Pineda survive the hype in New York and his balky shoulder to be the right-handed C.C. Sabathia? We are dying to find out.
9. Chicago baseball. The two major league teams in Chicago are in transition. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer provide direction and fresh thinking to what has been a moribund franchise in the Cubs. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the White Sox are perceived to have little direction and a confusing course of action. Can Kenny Williams survive? Will Epstein and company give Cubs’ fans any optimism this season?
8. The Los Angeles Dodgers. It might take a month or two for the new owners to be approved and put in place. How will the landscape change? Will some big deals be made to reverse the trend of recent seasons? Will new optimism filter into the players this season? One thing is for sure, the new owners have not spent $2 billion dollars to sit on a .500 baseball team.
7. The Miami Marlins. Nothing will be boring about baseball in south Florida this season. Ozzie Guillen is at the helm and will bring his fine line of genius/lunatic to the Marlins’ dugout. They have a new stadium, some new stars but the same old owner. How will it all go? Will Jose Reyes stay healthy? Will Hanley Ramirez return to his heroic form? Can Josh Johnson start 30 games? We can’t wait to find out.
6. Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg remains one of those once-in-a-generation talents who, when healthy, can throw endless strikes that few batters can hit. Such a combination of power and precision makes him unique. Can he stay healthy? How will the Nationals control his innings? How good can he be if he makes 25 starts?
5. Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Two of the biggest bombs of the off season. How will they perform with their new teams? Was Pujols’ season a year ago a sign of regression? How many extra wins will he provide the Angels? Fielder takes his act to the Tigers, already an impressive team that knocked off the Yankees without him in last year’s playoffs. He hits in a big ballpark. Will his numbers match what he did in Milwaukee?
4. Yoenis Cespedes. Little else will be interesting in Oakland Athletics baseball in 2012. Cespedes comes into the season with projections based on thin air. Frankly, we have no idea how things will go for him in the major leagues. If ever there was a wild card of a player, this is one.
3. The Philadelphia Phillies. Never in the last four years have the Phillies looked this vulnerable. Their infield is a mess of age and injury. Can that starting rotation be enough to keep this ship afloat? Teams in their division are improved enough to cause even more concern.
2. Yu Darvish. Can the tall right-hander from Japan continue to be a rock star? Can he save the plight of Japanese players that have taken some hits in recent seasons? Like Cespedes, anything can happen. Not since Ichiro Suzuki arrived in Seattle has such hype been given to an import. Ichiro didn’t disappoint. Will Darvish? We can’t wait to find out.
And the number one delicious story for 2012?
1. Bobby Valentine in Boston. Valentine has not managed in the majors for a decade. Red Sox Nation is already dazed and confused by last year’s September. The Red Sox have a dozen questions in the rotation and bullpen. Curt Schilling has already thrown Valentine under the bus. Valentine’s debut season in the Red Sox’ dugout is fascinating. There will be no middle ground. Either he’ll triumph and look like a genius, or it will crash and burn and he will be given all the blame. Both are not fair, but that is what happens when a manager is larger than life.
Happy baseball season, everyone!
Filed under: Digging Deep - Analysis Tagged: | Albert Pujols, Bobby Valentine, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Jesus Montero, Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami Marlins, Michael Pineda, Philadelphia Phillies, Prince Fielder, Stephen Strasburg, Yoenis Cespedes, Yu Darvish