It's a whole new ballgame
Jayson Stark [ARCHIVE]
March 28, 2012
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What's new?

Once upon a time in baseball, that used to be a harmless little question, kinda like: Who's pitching tonight? But not anymore. Not this year, as the 2012 season comes roaring at us.

If you ask, "What's new?" this year, the answer you get back might be something along the lines of: "Sheez, ya got an hour so I can fill you in?"

What's new, huh?

Wow. Where do we start? New ballpark in Miami. New owners (soon) in L.A. New managers in four of the most high-profile cities in America.

New labor deal. New wild-card teams. New homes for two of baseball's most world-famous mashers. And that's just the half of it.

So what's new, you ask? Holy cow. It feels like just about everything.

"Nothing," said the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins, "can stay the same forever. That's just the way it is."

But that's not merely just the way it is. It's what makes baseball great. Its axis is constantly spinning.

So what's new? If you really want to know, you've come to the right place. Sit back, grab a refreshing beverage and let us fill you in on exactly what's new in baseball in 2012.

New faces in new zip codes: Albert and Prince

It cost more than 460 million bucks just to sign them up -- which comes to $200 million more than their new owners once paid to buy their respective teams. So Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder can't be only baseball players anymore.

They have to be franchise changers.

With Albert heading from St. Louis to Orange County and with Prince relocating from Milwaukee to Detroit, we asked a bunch of scouts and executives these two burning questions:

(A) Which of these two men will make the bigger impact on his new franchise? And (B) which of their two former franchises will feel their absence more?

Now … the envelopes, please:

Who will make the bigger impact? Prince got some votes -- but not as many as Sir Albert, a guy whose arrival on the Angels' scene should really be measured on the Richter scale.

"He's really given them a lift this spring," said one NL executive. "It's not just their team. Their whole organization is fired up. This is huge for them."

"Prince's team was better to begin with," said another NL exec. "So Albert's presence on that [Angels] team will take them to another level. If this was strictly about numbers, obviously Prince is going to put up numbers and help protect [Miguel] Cabrera. But from the whole team's standpoint, it's got to be Albert. That guy just has a presence about him."

But one scout issued this word of caution: "There's more of a burden on Albert, because Albert's club doesn't really have the same history or the same foothold that the Tigers have. They're both impact players. But I think Albert is supposed to have a greater impact. And that isn't always easy."

Meanwhile, Pujols used to be the clear face of the franchise on the Cardinals team he left behind. But surprisingly, Prince was a unanimous choice as the player his old club would miss more.

"When I've watched the Cardinals this spring," said one scout, "they're doing exactly the same things I've always seen them do in spring training, even without Albert and Tony [La Russa]. It's like they haven't missed a beat. But I can't say that about the Brewers. If [Mat] Gamel can't cut it at first base and [Ryan] Braun gets off to a bad start after an awful spring, or people start pitching around him, all of a sudden that team is really going to feel Prince's absence in a big way."

"Both teams will feel it," said an NL exec. "But strange as it may sound, Prince looks now like a bigger part of [the Brewers'] dynamic than Albert was of the Cardinals' dynamic. I feel like St. Louis is still going to be a similar kind of team. But in Milwaukee, between the Braun cloud and Prince's departure, there's a whole different feel to that team now."

How these two deals look five years from now -- or nine years from now -- is a whole different question. But for the 2012 season, no newcomers in baseball will rewrite their teams' scripts more than these two guys.

Next five most important additions

1. Yu Darvish, Rangers

2. Andrew Bailey, Red Sox

3. Jose Reyes, Marlins

4. Mat Latos, Reds

5. Michael Pineda, Yankees

New guys in the dugout: Ozzie and Bobby V

They're not just familiar faces. They're familiar voices. You don't just see Ozzie Guillen and Bobby Valentine coming. You hear them coming.

So which of these two high-profile, high-volume managers will be the better fit on his new team (Ozzie in Miami, Bobby V in Boston)? We went into this spring thinking it would be Valentine. We're not so sure anymore.

The Ozzie Show seems to have worked in South Florida exactly the way it was supposed to. He has run a fun, upbeat camp. He has connected with Hanley Ramirez, who told us recently Ozzie is "a great man." And from all appearances, this journey from Chicago to Miami hasn't only been good for his team. It's been good for Oswaldo Guillen.

"After the things that happened in Chicago," said one longtime friend, "I think this is what he needed. A clean break was the best thing that could have happened for him."

"If they just let him be Ozzie, everything will be good," said another old friend. "If you just let him do his thing, you get the energy and guys feed off it. If you try and rein him in, he loses what makes him great. And so far at least, it seems like it's a great fit."

We should remember, of course, that it started out this way on the South Side, too. And then, well, stuff happened. So who knows how this act will play over the long haul in Miami? But over Guillen's first month and a half in this gig, "it looks like his honesty has been appreciated," said one baseball man who has seen the Marlins a lot. And we're not sure you can say that about Bobby Valentine and his new team.

This felt like a tremendous marriage the day an emotional Bobby V was introduced to the media and the masses in Boston back on Dec. 1. But that day "seems like eight years ago now," Valentine said this spring.

"It was a good feeling," the manager reminisced. "I haven't had that feeling in a long time. So you enjoy it for a couple of minutes. Then reality sets in."

And that reality, it turns out, hasn't been quite so euphoric -- to the point that scouts covering the Red Sox are already worried about Valentine's fit for this job. Listen to the words of one scout who once worked with Bobby V in a prior incarnation:

"He's a brilliant baseball guy," the scout said. "It's just, the other stuff gets in the way of the brilliance so easily. … His intellect gets in the way. He's always trying to win that chess match. Everything has to be a tug o' war."

Valentine is...
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