The practice games which mean nothing to anyone except the economies of small towns in Florida and Arizona are starting. Which means the real thing is not far behind. I don’t know if it’s me forming a perception that doesn’t exist or if it really is the case, but it seems there are more major questions about personnel and player health this March than in a long time.
During the off-season teams invested zillions of man-hours and zillions of dollars building rosters and before a single game has been played, they’ve got guys hurt and guys recovering from hurts piled up like cordwood near the fireplace.
Will Carl Crawford be able to go full-time in left-field for the Red Sox? Who knows? Bobby Valentine would like to be first on the list to be informed.
The lowly Pirates obtained A.J. Burnett from the Yankees for the regular rotation and now he’s out maybe 10 weeks. There’s a Major League Baseball commentary. Burnett wasn’t good enough for the Yankees’ rotation, but was going to be a top-three guy for Pittsburgh.
Ryan Howard injured his Achilles tendon on the last play of the Phillies’ season in the playoffs and it’s difficult to predict when he will be a regular again. No matter how much Philadelphia has beefed up–and the Phillies on paper seem to be a savvy pick for the World Series–the team will not be nearly as good if Howard isn’t in top form.
A year ago at this time I thought the St. Louis Cardinals’ season was doomed because pitcher Adam Wainwright went down for the year. They fooled us all by winning the World Series even without one of their top twirlers. Now we are all keeping an eye on Wainwright to see how he fares in his comeback from injury.
Meanwhile, for some unknown reason (and probably far removed from the principles of Moneyball), the Oakland A’s signed Manny Ramirez. Ramirez will miss 50 games for MLB drug policy violations and he is coming off a mini-retirement. It used to be said of Ramirez that he could hit falling out of bed. Well, I think we’re going to test that theory. Can he still hit at the advanced age of 40, which he will reach on May 30?
Speaking of unknowns…will the richest kids on the block produce at a level worthy of their new contracts? That would be Albert Pujols not only switching teams to the Los Angeles Angels from the Cardinals, but leagues from the National to the American. And that would be Prince Fielder, switching to the Detroit Tigers from the Milwaukee Brewers and from the National League to the American.
We may also learn this season if Stephen Strasburg is the second coming of Sandy Koufax as an awesome starter, or is the second coming of Don Gullett, a pitching star with perpetual arm problems. The Washington Nationals need him to be great and so does baseball.
The Yankees, their fans, and baseball fans in general, would like to know if Alex Rodriguez will ever be Alex Rodriguez again, or if he has begun a steady decline. Not so long ago Rodriguez was heralded as the man who would break Barry Bonds‘ home run record and become the all-time champ of swat. Now we wonder if Rodriguez will ever play a full season again without injury and if he can still hit 35 dingers in a year with 100 RBIs, or if his fadeout is the new state of the nation.
On another front, just how serious and how much of a long-term impact will Josh Hamilton‘s fall from grace, his overwhelming addiction to bad substances, have on his playing ability. Was Hamilton succumbing to the lure of alcohol akin to an injury? The Texas Rangers want to reach the World Series for a third year in a row and win it this time. Without a top-form Hamilton, no can do.
This all comes off as a litany of gloom. Every single one of these players could be temporarily or permanently diminished. Every single one of these players could flash the gifts that propelled them to the majors in the first place. Chances are it will be a mixed bag of good news for some teams and bad news for others.