Spring into a new season
Jayson Stark [ARCHIVE]
February 11, 2013
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Yessir, it's that time again. Time to say so long to the Harbaugh brothers and say hello to the Upton brothers. Time to tune out the sequester and tune in Jon Lester. Time to stop tweeting about Kyle Lohse's never-ending quest for employment and start worrying about the Cubs' never-ending quest for a decent center fielder.

In other words, it's time once again to unlock the gates to Tempe Diablo Stadium, Camelback Ranch and good old McKechnie Field. Time to resume typing those exotic Port Charlotte, Maryvale and Lake Buena Vista datelines. And especially, time to start dreaming those always-uplifting spring training dreams.

Because winter -- or at least the nonbaseball portion of it -- is over. Finally. And spring training is upon us. Luckily.

So allow us to shine a heat lamp on the arctic frigidity that is no doubt bearing down on your household, by previewing the sun, the fun and all the hot storylines of Spring Training 2013 -- with the help of 16 all-knowing baseball men who so graciously took part in our annual spring-preview survey.

Most Intriguing National League Spring Stories

1. Hooray For Hollywood: For the first time in this millennium (and what seems like the first time in any millennium), there's a baseball team in our midst that will outspend the Yankees. That team, of course, is the Marlins. And ... OK, no it's not. It's actually the National League's first $217 million single-season budget baseball franchise ever, those Los Angeles/Guggenheim Dodgers. And this is their time. Or at least it had better be, considering that their part owner/part inspirational Jedi, Magic Johnson, just laid out one of those dreaded win-it-all mission statements. This will be the first spring in which Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez all assemble on the same field at the same time in the same uniforms. And if their trusty manager, Don Mattingly, can't make those pieces fit together harmoniously, it might not matter that this team appears to have more money in its checking account than Bill Gates.


2. Nationals' Treasure: So when was the last time a team from Washington headed for spring training expected to be the best team in baseball? During the Calvin Coolidge administration maybe? Aw, whenever. Doesn't matter now. What matters is, the 2013 edition of the Washington Nationals is loaded. So loaded that the Nationals made a $28 million impulse buy on a closer (Rafael Soriano) this winter, even though they already had two guys on the roster (Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard) who had combined for 79 saves in 2011 and '12. So loaded that they didn't have room for a man who had led their team in slugging over the past two years (Michael Morse). So loaded that they voluntarily pulled the plug on their best pitcher (Stephen Strasburg) last summer so they could look ahead to more health and good times this summer. Should be a fun and mesmerizing spring in the wilds of Viera, Fla.

3. What's Upton: From the producers who once brought us Chipper-palooza, The Greatest Rotation Show on Earth and 14 Peachtree Octobers, those ever-inventive Atlanta Braves have done it again. This spring, they're rolling out "Oh, Brother," a rollicking tale of two Upton brothers (B.J. and Justin) hanging out side by side in the very same outfield. Their assignments: (1) to put their enigmatic past reputations behind them and lift each other to stupendous new heights; (2) to turn themselves into the best brother act ever to work for the same team at the same time; and (3) to lead their new team to glory in Year 1 of the Post-Chipper era. That Braves-Nationals rivalry could be about as good as it gets in the National League this year.



4. Diamondback Jubilee: So many people in our survey brought up this team, it's clear that people across this sport are fascinated by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Out the door went Justin Upton, Chris Young and Trevor Bauer (among others) this winter. In came Martin Prado, Cody Ross, Eric Chavez, Eric Hinske, Brandon McCarthy, Heath Bell, Cliff Pennington and Didi Gregorius, in a series of moves that one AL executive described as not just a roster remake, but a "personality cleanse." So is there still a place in modern, 21st-century baseball for a team constructed around the blood-and-dirtball image of throwback manager Kirk Gibson and his coaching staff? We're about to find out.

5. Cuban Missile Crisis: So let's see now. Those Cincinnati Reds looked out into their bullpen last season, saw a guy who piled up nearly 90 more strikeouts (122) than hits (35), turned the finest batsmiths on earth into .141 hitters and could reach like 175 mph on the radar gun -- and now they want to mess with that? Yup. That's about the size of it, all right. As Jerry Crasnick detailed in depth, the Reds are about to embark this spring on a quest to convert their intimidating bullpen monster man, Aroldis Chapman, into a starter, even though Joba Chamberlain and Daniel Bard might be willing to offer several alternative thoughts. The Reds say they're not locked into this plan yet, so train your eyes on Goodyear Ballpark this spring: The fate of this team's extremely promising season might be riding on every journey its favorite Cuban smokeball-launcher makes to the mound.

Most Intriguing American League Spring Stories

1. Yanks For The Memories: Every spring is a soap opera in Yankee Land. So why should this spring be any exception? Will Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera perform their standard miraculous healing act? Will a proven catcher (not counting Yogi Berra) stop by one of these days? Will the Yankees figure out a way to replace those 101 home runs that just vanished off the roster over the winter? Will Robinson Cano's walk year before free agency erupt into crisis-hood? And will the artist formerly known as A-Rod appear in this camp at any point? That's about 1/87th of the plotlines hovering over Steinbrenner Field this spring. But again, what else is new?


2. Angel Eyes: Is anyone else out there still trying to get used to the idea that Josh Hamilton is an Angel now? One minute, he was getting booed out of Texas. The next, the Angels were making their annual free-agent stealth strike -- and dropping Hamilton into the middle of a lineup that already included gentlemen named Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. So they've set the stage for a spring that figures to be loaded with Hamilton-ian intrigue, but that's not all. Is their other big free-agent acquisition, Ryan Madson, healthy enough to close? Is their rebuilt rotation dependable enough to propel them toward a rendezvous with October? And if not, is there reason for a manager who for years was the face of this franchise, Mike Scioscia, to start worrying about his future employment plans? Lots of action in this camp.

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