Baseball’s back!

It’s been a long Minnesota winter. Really long. And cold. And snowy. And cold. Baseball is one of the most rewarding-feeling sports to see start up… it just conjures up so many pleasant images and sensations – the smell of the grass, the feeling of the sun on your skin, a crisp breeze, a cold beer, the crack of the bat, the thunk of the ball in the mitt. The color of baseball is green, for me… the vivid green of center field grass; the color of spring and revitalization. Yes, I am happy to see baseball back.

Personally, I’m a Tigers fan, as previous posts indicate. That’s my hometown team, you see. As a displaced Detroiter, I feel even closer to them that I would at home… they’re one of my connections. At any rate, I think this year’s Tigers – in Year 1 of the Ausmus Era – will look a lot different than last year’s Tigers. Comerica’s not a hitter-friendly park; one of my concerns with the Fielder signing was that we’d lose games in which we didn’t mash, and sure enough, the plodding Tigers team of the last couple years had trouble “manufacturing” runs in tight games. The Fielder trade is good for the team’s economic flexibility, but also a boon for lineup flexibility. Cabrera will probably get an extension and remain the central power threat in the lineup, but otherwise, Dombrowski seems to have realized that a small-ball squad might yield better results than the softball team he fielded previously. The new lineup seems designed to take advantage of Comerica’s spacious outfield to produce doubles and triples and cause more havoc on the basepaths. Both Boston and St. Louis fielded similar-looking teams last year, so I can’t lament the loss of power as a result. My bigger concern remains the bullpen, just as it was last year. I didn’t like the Tigers going out after Joe Nathan; there were plenty of reliable relievers on the market that could have been had at smaller prices, with that $10M/year easily being spread out among 3-4 guys. But Dombrowski is very obviously enthralled by the closer tag, based on the Valverde reclamation project last year and the Nathan signing this year. That’s a shame; if you look at Boston and St. Louis, neither team finished the season with their season-opening closer. Both teams, rather, had incredibly deep bullpens. The Tigers might have a top-flight closer, but age concerns aside, what happens when their shaky middle-innings guys can’t carry the lead? Both set-up guys – Al Alburquerque and Bruce Rondon – are essentially unproven in consistent roles. The best player in the bullpen last season is starting this year (Smyly) after the mind-boggling Fister trade. Joe Nathan’s been a great pitcher, but wouldn’t that $10M/year been better spent spread across a combination of guys like Jose Veras, Jesse Crain, Chris Perez, or Scott Downs? Maybe even throw in a trade for a guy like Luke Gregerson, especially given how little Oakland dealt to obtain him? That’s a lot of money in one guy that doesn’t help an already thin area. Nevermind the Joba Chamberlain deal, which I think is a reasonable risk at a reasonable price – but I’d feel better about it if the bullpen was deeper.

I live in Minneapolis, though, so I’m inundated with the Twins. As such, I can expect another year of very boring local baseball – it’s hard to get excited about the Twins right now. They’re waiting on their mega-prospects, to be fair, but they’ve also demonstrated an inability to make critical moves at critical times and/or acquire reliable starting pitching. The Twins have seen valuable expiring contracts walk away as free agents when they should have been traded; among these are Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel. More recently, they’ve failed to capitalize on peak trade values of Josh Willingham and Glen Perkins; I appreciate the desire to keep your good players, especially when you want to fill up a new stadium, but let’s face it – Willingham isn’t part of the bigger plan, and Perkins is a closer… by the time the TWins are relevant, they could develop a new closer and/or Perkins could be less effective, as the shelf life on closers is so short. The White Sox made a daring deal this winter by dealing their young closer – Addison Reed – for help in other areas; that’s the kind of move the Twins should have made last year. So, at any rate, I feel like it’ll be another year of vaguely boring Twins baseball.

One thing that always intrigues me is how my pre-draft fantasy baseball plans look in my keeper league (more on that in another post). Without realizing it, I’ll end up keying in on several guys from a team that wasn’t successful the year previous, making me wonder if this year will be their year. Last year, for example, that team was Kansas City – I was really looking hard at Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, Greg Holland, and stuck with Mike Moustakas as a one-year keeper. I asked myself, last March, “wait a sec, do I expect this team to be good?” I kinda did. And they kinda were. This year? I’m keying in on the White Sox. Avisail Garcia, Jose Abreu, Nate Jones, Matt Davidson… I feel like the White Sox have sleeper potential written all over them. In fact, I think the whole AL Central (other than the Twins) looks to be more competitive than it’s been in years. Cleveland and Kansas City are legitimate threats to Detroit’s reign, and again, I think the White Sox have serious dark horse potential.

Otherwise, I have no other predictions to give voice to at this time. I have them, yes, but that’s not what this post is for. I’m just happy to see baseball coming back. Expect to see occasional fantasy baseball-related posts, as I discuss the custom-format keeper league I’m in (and love being a part of), as well as general baseball observations. What matters most right now is that Opening Day is less than a month away and with it, hopefully, all the joys of spring.

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