Star-studded stories abound in baseball
By Peter Barzilai and Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY
After a baseball offseason marked by stars on the mend, wounded free-agent egos and hurt front-office feelings, the eternal theme of renewal resonates this spring. Certainly, after pitchers and catchers report to spring training this week, much of the next six weeks will be occupied by the drudgery of cutoffs and relays, bunting and baserunning and pitchers' fielding practice, also known as PFP.
But there will be plenty of intrigue and conflict, too. Here, in five-item lists, are some names to consider as camps start to open.
Five clubs with issues
1. San Francisco Giants: Fourteen games. That's what the Giants got out of Barry Bonds last year, yet they still pushed the San Diego Padres to the last week of the season before dropping from contention. This spring, his right knee again figures to be the difference between mediocrity and prosperity and will be the most-watched limb in Arizona. The distraction of catching Babe Ruth looms just six home runs away.
2. Boston Red Sox: To win it all in 2004, Keith Foulke and Curt Schilling essentially had to sacrifice 2005. Now, the Sox hope Foulke's knee is sound to take the heat off young relievers like Craig Hansen and Jonathan Papelbon. And if Schilling's celebrated right ankle is OK, a deep rotation becomes imposing with Schilling and newly acquired Josh Beckett at the forefront.
3. Chicago Cubs: After a 79-83 season, the Cubs shuffled the top of their lineup, dealing away Corey Patterson and acquiring Juan Pierre to jump-start things. But Pierre's batting average fell 50 points and his on-base percentage dipped 48 in '05, and he'll be flanked in the outfield by a first-year starter (Matt Murton) and an NL newcomer (Jacque Jones).
4. Los Angeles Dodgers: What should be a feel-good story —Nomar Garciaparra returning to his hometown — is clouded by the fact that Garciaparra has played at least 140 games just twice in five years and has never played first base. The boost provided when infielder Cesar Izturis and reliever Eric Gagne return from injury could create friction when Jeff Kent, Garciaparra and Danys Baez are forced to shift roles in the middle of a season.
5. Minnesota Twins: The cash-strapped Twins have been bleeding talent for years and now, Gold Glove center fielder Torii Hunter will be a free agent after this season. His future — and that of the team, which can vacate the Metrodome after 2006 — figure to be a talking point from Day 1 of camp.
Five who will be missed
1. Roger Clemens, Houston Astros: The Astros didn't offer him arbitration in December and now the 341-game winner is preparing for the World Baseball Classic and trying to determine whether he can make it through another season. Depending on how much they miss Clemens (did the Lakers miss Shaq?), the Astros could bring him back after May 1.
2. Bob Howry, Chicago Cubs: The right-hander was third in the American League with 29 holds for the Cleveland Indians and then signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Cubs. That may be too rich for the Indians, but they also must replace David Riske and Arthur Rhodes, both of whom were traded.
3. Bengie Molina, Toronto Blue Jays: The former Gold Glove catcher was the Los Angeles Angels' best clutch hitter down the stretch last season but was set free to sign with the Blue Jays (one-year, $5.8 million). Now the Angels will try to replace him with brother Jose and rookie Jeff Mathis; can they afford the offensive drop-off?
4. Aaron Rowand, Philadelphia Phillies: OK, so Rowand's modest offensive contributions won't be missed by the White Sox, particularly if slugger Jim Thome is healthy. But Rowand brought defense and good chemistry to the Sox and epitomized their "Grinder" mentality. Remove that from a championship team, and it can be hard to recapture.
5. Reggie Sanders, Kansas City Royals: The St. Louis Cardinals let him go across state to the Kansas City Royals, taking with him his leadership, attitude and the ability to still get it done at age 38. With 292 home runs and 297 stolen bases, Sanders is about to become the fifth member of the 300-300 club. In addition, his teams have reached the playoffs in five of the past six seasons.
Five coming back from injury
1. Brian Roberts, Baltimore Orioles: The second baseman hit 18 home runs and slugged .515 before tearing a ligament and tendon in his non-throwing elbow Sept. 20. He has said he'll be ready by opening day, but will the injury cause a backslide from his breakout year?
2. Eric Gagne, Los Angeles Dodgers: He avoided Tommy John surgery last summer, but the injury was significant enough to keep him off a mound until recently. The key for Gagne will be regaining enough zip on his fastball to make his changeup as deadly as it was in his 2003 Cy Young season.
3. Scott Rolen, St. Louis Cardinals: Like others in this group, Rolen expects setbacks this spring, saying recently, "My point is, April 3 is my date." If he comes all the way back from right shoulder surgery, the Cardinals will be very difficult to beat in the NL Central.
4. Rocco Baldelli, Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Baldelli is coming back from both a torn ACL in his left knee and reconstructive right elbow surgery. The Devil Rays gave him a long-term contract, anyway, but much of it is incentive-laden after he sat out all of 2005. "I just want to play a whole season and get my confidence back," he told the St. Petersburg Times this month.
5. Kerry Wood, Chicago Cubs: Starter? Reliever? Last year as a Cub? We'll find out as Wood bounces back from arthroscopic surgery on his throwing shoulder. It's a key year for him: the Cubs hold $13.5 million option for 2007.
Five faces in new places
1. Johnny Damon, New York Yankees : How drastically can one shaggy-haired leadoff dynamo swing the balance of power in the Most Chronicled Rivalry in Sports? Better yet, can he lead the Yankees past the first round of the playoffs?
2. Kenji Johjima, Seattle Mariners: The Japanese import signed a three-year, $16.5 million deal, and now all he has to do is learn to speak English and continue to average 30 home runs per season.
3. Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers: He's managing for the first time since 1999, when he suffered a Rocky Mountain low and retired after a 72-90 season with Colorado. Leyland will have to prove he still has the touch that helped him lead teams to four playoff berths and one World Series crown in the 1990s.
4. Kevin Millwood, Texas Rangers: Will right-hander defy the odds and become a top-notch starter in the red-hot Arlington wind tunnel? Or is he Exhibit B, behind Chan Ho Park, for why the Rangers generally avoid big free agent pitching expenditures?
5. Billy Wagner, New York Mets: The Mets paid top dollar (four-year, $43 million) for this top-flight closer, and now he has to deliver, or he'll be the one paying a steep price.
Five changing positions
1. Miguel Cabrera, Florida Marlins: He goes back to where he started, moving from the outfield to third base. Oh, and he'll also be counted on to carry the team's offense.
2. Adam Dunn, Cincinnati Reds: Since he walks so much (106 per season since 2002), Dunn should know his way around his new position: first base. However, outfielders Austin Kearns, Ken Griffey Jr. and Wily Mo Pena are susceptible to injury and Dunn shouldn't get too comfortable.
3. Darin Erstad: Los Angeles Angels: Erstad won two Gold Gloves in the outfield before winning one at first base. Now he returns to center field. It will be an upset if he can make it through the spring without running into something or pulling a hamstring.
4. Ryan Madson, Philadelphia Phillies: The right-hander has been a reliable middle reliever for two seasons, but now he joins a rotation looking for a true No. 1.
5. Alfonso Soriano, Washington Nationals: Soriano has never played left field and doesn't want to try, but as long as Jose Vidro is healthy, the Nationals are expecting him to make the move. Sit back and watch Soriano butt heads with manager Frank Robinson.
1. Josh Barfield, San Diego Padres: The son of former big leaguer Jesse Barfield will compete for the second base job with Mark Bellhorn and Bobby Hill. Barfield had 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases at Class AAA in 2005.
2. Jeremy Hermida, Florida Marlins: In a spring training full of questions for the Marlins, Hermida is a certainty after hitting .293 with four homers in 41 at-bats last season. The right fielder also has been rated by Baseball America and other experts as one of the game's top hitting prospects.
3. Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers: The rookie goes against veterans Mark DeRosa and D'Angelo Jimenez for the right to take over for Alfonso Soriano at second base.
4. Casey Kotchman, Los Angeles Angels: He hit .302 with seven homers after getting called up in August and now has the first base job after two seasons split between Class AAA and the Angels.
5. Chad Orvella, Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The right-hander will compete with a cast of thousands for the closer job. He had a 4.32 ERA in 50 innings last season.