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Spring Training Previews

Spring Training Previews

Spring Training Preview: AL East

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After shoveling snow for nearly three hours on Wednesday, there is not a better thing to hear than pitchers and catchers are reporting. However, the 20-degree temperatures and sub-zero wind chills here in the Northeast hardly make it feel as if spring is in the air.

But despite what your thermometer might read, spring really is right around the corner, as major league teams have begun to trickle into their training complexes.

Over the next couple of weeks we will break down each division. We will look at the additions, subtractions, and take a look at some of the questions that surround each team as they get ready for the 2007 campaign.

This week we start with the American League East.

For the better part of the last decade this division has been a two-team race between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, and things don't figure to change much this season.

The Yanks are blessed with one of the best lineups the sport has ever seen and if their pitching holds up, should cruise to an amazing 10th straight division title. Boston, as always, is nipping right at the Yanks' heels, though and bolstered its rotation with the addition of Japanese sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Both New York and Boston have some question marks and if either falters, Toronto will be there to pick up the pieces. The Blue Jays' biggest signing this offseason was locking up outfielder Vernon Wells. They also signed veteran Frank Thomas to compliment the burgeoning superstar Wells.

Tampa is loaded with young talent, but is still a few years away. The Devil Rays will likely battle the Baltimore Orioles for the bottom spot in the division.

NEW YORK YANKEES: Legends Field -- Tampa, FL

As is always the case with the Yankees, off the field issues seem to be the main story as the Bronx Bombers kick off camp. Bernie Williams is still a free agent and does not appear willing to accept the team's non-roster invite. Hopefully he will save everyone a lot of trouble and just retire. Mariano Rivera is in the final year of his contract and wants to be paid. Brian Cashman, though, is doing the right thing by waiting until after the year. As Derek Jeter said the other day, "Mo ain't going anywhere." Fact is, if Rivera is Rivera this season, he will get his deal. And of course, there is ongoing saga of Alex Rodriguez. Will he be accepted by Yankee fans this year? Will he opt-out after the season?

There is nothing wrong with this team offensively, but they will go only as far as their starting pitching will take them. Andy Pettitte's return should help take the load off of Mike Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang. With Pettitte in tow, the Roger Clemens watch has already begun. Most people assume it is a lock that he will join his buddy in the Bronx around the All-Star break. Carl Pavano could be the wild card here. After missing all of last season and much of the year before with injuries, he is apparently ready to go. However, it appears he has some amends to make with teammates, as Mussina has commented on his desire to be a Yankee a few times already.

In a related note, the Yankees plan to honor Cory Lidle this season by wearing a black armband. Umm...that is a nice gesture and all, but Lidle was a Yankee for about a minute and he ripped manager Joe Torre at the end of the season. Hank Bauer, who just recently died as well, played 11 years with the Yankees and was an integral part of seven World Series titles with the organization. Shouldn't they be honoring him instead?

BOSTON RED SOX: City of Palms Park -- Fort Meyers, FL

Dice-K mania has hit Florida. The Red Sox shocked the baseball world by bidding an incredible $50-plus million just to negotiate with Japanese sensation Matsuzaka. Those in the know say he is worth every penny and is every bit as good as has been advertised. He joins a rotation that already includes Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield and Jonathan Papelbon, who was the team's closer a year ago. Boston also added to their lineup with the signing of oft-injured outfielder J.D. Drew. The Drew signing was a curious one, as most feel he wilt under the pressure of constantly being under the microscope in baseball-crazy Boston. Red Sox fans are among the smartest in baseball, and will come to despise Drew's lack of passion and baseball smarts. Luckily for him, though, the Red Sox still have David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez to shoulder the offensive burden. The team also added shortstop Julio Lugo, who becomes the fourth different shortstop for the team since Nomar Garciaparra was traded at the 2004 deadline.

The biggest question the Red Sox have this spring is who will close games. Papelbon was sensational as a rookie last year, but for some reason he is being moved to an already stacked rotation. Joel Pineiro will probably get the first crack, but if he falters, Julian Tavarez, Craig Hansen and Brendan Donnelly will all get a shot. My guess is that either Papelbon is moved back to the pen or Theo Epstein makes a move right before the start of the season.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS: Dunedin Stadium -- Dunedin, FL

The Blue Jays made great strides last season, but may have taken a step back this offseason. They tried their best to keep starter Ted Lilly, but he bolted for a mega-deal in Chicago and they have not really replaced him. The Blue Jays enter the year with a huge hole after Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett at the top of the rotation. Gustavo Chacin will likely be penciled in as the third starter with some combination of John Thomson, Tomo Ohka and Victor Zambrano filling out the back end of the staff. Youngsters like Shaun Marcum, Casey Janssen and Dustin McGowan could all play a part as well.

Toronto's biggest move this offseason was locking up centerfielder Wells to a long-term $126 million deal. Wells had a monster 2006 and could have commanded a huge salary if he ever hit the free agent market. The Blue Jays brought in some protection for Wells by signing Thomas to a two-year deal. Thomas, despite having a terrific season with the Oakland Athletics last season, is an injury waiting to happen and will probably watch more games than he plays this season.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES: Ft. Lauderdale Stadium -- Ft. Lauderdale, FL

The Orioles received some horrific news as they began camp, when it was learned that starter Kris Benson would be lost for the season with a torn rotator cuff. What makes the news even worse is the fact that Baltimore dealt Rodrigo Lopez earlier in the offseason, leaving the O's mighty thin in the starting pitching department. The team quickly signed Steve Trachsel, who joins a rotation that will be headed by Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera, Jaret Wright and young Adam Loewen. Cabrera and Loewen could be the key to the O's season. Both have big-time major league stuff, but both have also struggled to do it consistently. Top prospect Hayden Penn could also figure into the mix, but he will likely start the year in Triple-A. The good news is that team stacked its bullpen this winter, adding lefty Jamie Walker, righty Chad Bradford and former closer Danys Baez.

Offensively the team added Aubrey Huff and Jay Payton and the O's still have Miguel Tejada, so they should be able to score some runs. If Brian Roberts and Jay Gibbons stay healthy, that would also obviously help. The big question for Baltimore, though, is will it stay in the race long enough to keep Tejada happy? It seems to me that it is just a matter of time before they deal him off.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS: Al Lang Field -- St. Petersburg, FL

Tampa enters the 2007 campaign with the odds-on-favorite for American League Rookie of the Year in Delmon Young. Young was sensational for the Rays in September and should be even better this year. The big question for the Devil Rays this spring will be the condition of staff ace Scott Kazmir, who was forced to cut his 2006 campaign short because of a left shoulder injury. Tampa has big hopes for Japanese import Akinori Iwamura, who was a five-time All- Star and six-time Gold Glove recipient at third base with the Yakult Swallows of the Japanese Central League.

Bottom line is Tampa is loaded with young talent (Young, Rocco Baldelli, Kazmir, Carl Crawford), but their pitching outside of Kazmir is atrocious, leaving the Devil Rays still a few years away. Funny thing is, I seem to say that every year about the Devil Rays.

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Re: Spring Training Previews

Spring Training Preview: AL Central

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The American League Central was one of the best divisions in baseball last season. This year it has the potential to be even better.

The Detroit Tigers shocked the baseball world a year ago, as it represented the AL as a wild card in the World Series, only to fall in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Tigers were one of three teams in the division to win at least 90 games, but were by far the most surprising.

With help from AL Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander, first-year manager Jim Leyland transformed the Tigers into an instant contender after they had been a doormat for the better part of the last decade.

Minnesota is the defending division champion and boasts the reigning Cy Young and MVP award winners, but this year the Twins could have their work cut out for them. With phenom Francisco Liriano done for the season with an elbow injury and Brad Radke lost to retirement, the Twins have two mighty big holes to fill in their rotation.

Chicago curiously overhauled its starting rotation this offseason, shipping Freddy Garcia to Philadelphia and dealing Brandon McCarthy to Texas. While the White Sox got a lot younger for the future, they may have taken a step back in the present.

Cleveland could be the wild card of this division. Picked by many to win the Central or at least compete for a postseason spot in 2006, the Indians were one of the biggest disappointments in the league. Injuries, as well as a horrific bullpen, sealed the Tribe's fate early on, but the team still had one of the best offenses in the league.

If some of his young pitchers pan out and the bullpen holds up, Eric Wedge's Indians could be the surprise team in the division this season.

Kansas City is still Kansas City. However, there is some excitement swirling around Royals' camp, as rookie third baseman Alex Gordon has all the makings of a special player.

MINNESOTA TWINS: Hammond Stadium -- Ft Myers, FL

The Twins' hopes for 2007 probably went up in smoke on September 13, when Liriano left after two innings with elbow pain. Not too long after, it was determined that he would need the dreaded Tommy John surgery and would be lost for all of the coming season. Add in Radke's retirement, and the Twins have some holes to fill. So instead of one of the most lethal 1-2 punches in the game, the great Johan Santana will now be followed by a cast of characters that will/could include Ramon Ortiz, Boof Bonser, Carlos Silva, Scott Baker or Sidney Ponson. I am sure manager Ron Gardenhire would love to pencil in youngsters Matt Garza and Glen Perkins, but they will likely not come north with the team. Luckily the bullpen is one of the best in baseball.

Offensively, there are not many teams better than the Twins. Led by MVP Justin Morneau and batting champion Joe Mauer, Minnesota has perhaps its best lineup since the glory days of Kent Hrbek-Gary Gaetti-Kirby Puckett. Every single position player will be back, and that is what will keep Minnesota afloat this season.

DETROIT TIGERS: Joker Marchant Stadium -- Lakeland, FL

Leyland's Tigers were one of the true feel-good stories of the 2006 campaign. This year they will not be sneaking up on anyone, though. Just three years removed from losing an AL-record 119 games, Detroit won 95 games last year and stayed in first place for the better part of the regular season before giving way to Minnesota on the final day.

This year the Tigers should be even better. If there was one hole in their lineup, you could make the argument that it was missing a true bopper. Well, they addressed that need right after the end of the season by acquiring Gary Sheffield from the New York Yankees for a handful of prospects. Sheff comes with some baggage, but he will be a monster in the middle of that lineup.

Pitching wise, it does not get much better than Verlander-Jeremy Bonderman- Kenny Rogers at the top. Bonderman is poised to have a breakout season like Verlander did a year ago and having Rogers there to lean on has done wonders for the young arms. Mike Maroth is also healthy heading into the year. The bullpen should again be solid, but maybe not quite as strong as last season with the departure of lefty Jamie Walker. Detroit hopes that Wilfredo Ledezma will fill Walker's role.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX: Tucson Electric Park -- Tucson, AZ

Chicago dealt Freddy Garcia at the Winter Meetings, seemingly to make room in the rotation for young Brandon McCarthy. Then Kenny Williams curiously shipped McCarthy to Texas for a handful of prospects. Chicago is trying to rebuild, while at the same time keep on winning. Not an easy task, but its farm system is now stacked enough where it can go out and make another deal if need be in July. In Williams' defense, the White Sox are still going to be throwing Jose Contreras, Jon Garland, Mark Buehrle and Javier Vazquez out there. Gavin Floyd, who was acquired from Philly in the Garcia deal, will likely start the year as the team's fifth starter. If he falters early, manager Ozzie Guillen has a plethora of young arms (John Danks, Nick Masset, Gio Gonzalez) to choose from at the minor league level.

Another intriguing storyline to watch in White Sox camp will be what transpires with shortstop Juan Uribe, who was involved in some sort of shooting in the Dominican Republic in the offseason. Uribe initially stated he will sit out the season, then has said he will be around and fly back-and- forth to the DR. Stay tuned. If Uribe goes missing or is incarcerated, Alex Cintron will step into his spot.

CLEVELAND INDIANS: Chain of Lakes Park -- Winter Haven, FL

The Indians competed for a division title as well as the wild card in 2005. So when the predictions for 2006 came out, they were at the top of everyone's list. Cleveland, though, stumbled out of the gate and never really got it going, as it finished 18 games behind the Twins.

Injuries played a big part in Cleveland's demise, but a faulty bullpen was probably more to blame. Bob Wickman was anything but reliable, and after he was dealt to Atlanta, Fausto Carmona was simply atrocious. So this offseason GM Mark Shapiro made it priority No. 1 to bolster his relief corps, and that is exactly what he did. The Tribe signed Joe Borowski, Aaron Fultz and Roberto Hernandez. Keith Foulke also agreed to a deal, but retired after just one day of camp, leaving Borowski as the team's closer.

With a solid lineup and plenty of depth in not only the rotation, but now the bullpen, there is no reason why the Indians should not be competing for at the very least a wild card spot this offseason.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS: Surprise Stadium -- Surprise, AZ

For the first time in recent memory, there is some excitement swirling around Royals camp. However, the buzz is not on the Royals putting a championship- caliber team on the field, but on a pair of uber-prospects, starting with third baseman Alex Gordon.

Gordon has drawn comparisons to Hall of Famer George Brett, but has yet to play at the Triple-A level. He was sensational at Double-A Wichita last year, but GM Dayton Moore would prefer to get him some time in Triple-A. Gordon, though, could just overwhelm the team this spring and force their hand. If that happens, look for Mark Teahen to move to the outfield.

KC also has another youngster on the rise in outfielder Billy Butler, but he is apparently not as close to joining the big league club as Gordon is.

Oh by the way, the Royals spent some money this offseason, as they gave a ridiculous $55 million deal to starter Gil Meche. The team also inked closer Octavio Dotel to a deal and traded for starter Brian Bannister.

The pitching staff should be better, but this Royals season will be all about the arrival of Gordon and possibly Butler in Kansas City.

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Re: Spring Training Previews

Spring Training Preview: AL West

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If I had one word to describe the American League West, it would be uncertainty.

Every single team in the division has some huge question marks. I can see all four teams winning the division. On the other hand, I can see all four teams finishing last in the division as well.

Oakland lost Barry Zito and Frank Thomas this offseason. Mike Piazza was brought into replace the Big Hurt, but his best days are well behind him. Can Rich Harden step up and be an ace? The answer to that seems to point to yes, but he is a Tommy John surgery waiting to happen. Every year general manager Billy Beane seems to lose some big players, but always finds a way to make things work. However, this could be the year his magic runs out.

The Los Angeles Angels had a miserable offseason. The Halos missed out on Alfonso Soriano, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez, but did sign one-year wonder Gary Matthews Jr. to a five-year, $50 million deal that was criticized by just about everyone in baseball. Bartolo Colon will probably not be ready for the start of the season, leaving a 24-year-old second-year player related to Jeff Weaver as the team's ace.

Texas fired its manager, lost just about every free agent it had and signed Eric Gagne, who has missed most of the past two seasons due to injuries. Don't forget they have also brought Sammy Sosa to camp, as well. New manager Ron Washington certainly has his work cut out for him, but he may have the best team from top-to-bottom in the division.

Nobody is talking about the Seattle Mariners and manager Mike Hargrove likes it that way. The team traded for Jose Vidro and signed Jose Guillen to help compliment Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson. Phenom Felix Hernandez endured a bit of a sophomore slump last year, but he is only 20 and if he pitches the way the organization and the baseball world thinks he can, you also have to put Seattle in the discussion for a division title.

Should be an interesting year out West.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS: Phoenix Municipal Stadium -- Phoenix, AZ

Rich Harden
With Barry Zito now in San Francisco, Rich Harden assumes the role as the A's ace.
Well the Big Three-era of the A's pitching staff is officially over now that the last remaining member, Barry Zito, is gone. With Zito now in San Francisco, Rich Harden assumes the role as the team ace. His talent has never been questioned, but his ability to stay on the field has. Something always seems to pop up with him. However, if he can stay healthy, Oakland should not miss a beat without Zito. Danny Haren and Joe Blanton must also continue to progress if the A's are going to continue to have success.

Last year Billy Beane caught lightning in a bottle with a low-risk high reward contract to Frank Thomas. This year the team is hoping Mike Piazza will have that same kind of success, as he embarks on his first season as a designated hitter.

New manager Bob Geren has a solid team, provided they stay healthy. If the A's remain on the field, especially Harden, they will be contenders. If not it could be a long year.

LA ANGELS: Tempe Diablo Stadium -- Tempe, AZ

The Angels were a bitter disappointment a year ago, missing out on the postseason for the first time in three years and just the second time in the last five. Their struggles continued into the offseason, as the team once again failed to land a big-time bat to compliment superstar Vladimir Guerrero.

LA faced a lot of criticism this winter when it signed outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. to a $50 million deal. Matthews, an outstanding defensive centerfielder, hit over .300 for the first time in his career last season and also set career highs in homers, RBI, doubles, hits, runs scored and at-bats. While he probably won't be as good offensively as he was a year ago, he will help the lineup.

The Angels' lineup will have to be better than it was last season because the strength of the team in years past - its pitching staff - has some huge question marks surrounding it. Bartolo Colon will probably start the year on the DL and last year's sensation Jered Weaver is already dealing with some tendinitis in his shoulder. Luckily though, Ervin Santana is healthy.

TEXAS RANGERS: Surprise Stadium -- Surprise, AZ

The Texas Rangers certainly have history on their side. The last two times Buck Showalter has been fired, the team that let him go went on to win the World Series the following season.

Eric Gagne, who has missed most of the past two seasons with injuries, was brought in to be the team's closer and appears to be ready to go, but he can go down at any time. Sammy Sosa was also given a minor league deal, but who knows how much he has left in the tank.

On the bright side the starting staff is solid, but young after you get past the top of the rotation. I loved the Brandon McCarthy deal. He will slot in nicely as the team's third starter behind Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla. Robinson Tejada will likely be the fourth starter with Josh Rupe, John Koronka and Edinson Volquez among others fighting for the final spot.

New skipper Ron Washington has 36 years of baseball experience on his side and has made a good impression on just about everyone in the organization. He will make an even better impression on the fans if he wins right away. The Rangers probably have the best lineup in the division and if McCarthy and Gagne pan out, they could easily snare a division title.

SEATTLE MARINERS: Peoria Sports Complex -- Peoria, AZ

If there is a team in this division that enters the year with the underdog hat it is certainly the Mariners. However, if some things fall the right way it is not out of the question that they could surprise some people.

Felix Hernandez struggled last year, but at 20 years of age his best years are certainly in front of him. He won't be counted on nearly as much as he was last year either, as the team brought in veterans Miguel Batista and Jeff Weaver, as well as Horacio Ramirez, to shore up the staff.

Offensively Seattle is pretty solid. The ongoing "Will Ichiro become a free agent after the season?" storyline will fester all season, but should not affect his play any. The team tried to move Richie Sexson and his bloated contract all offseason to no avail. I suspect they will still try and move him. Maybe the Los Angeles Dodgers will come calling late in the spring with plenty of pitching to offer.

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Re: Spring Training Previews

Spring Training Preview: NL East

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The National League East could be a very interesting division this coming season.

Most people feel that it is going to be a two-team race between the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, but if certain things break the right way, there is no reason why the Atlanta Braves won't in the mix as well.

Both the Mets and Phillies come into the spring with glaring question marks.

The Mets' starting staff is horrendous. While it was pretty-much a make-shift unit all of last season, the Mets relied on a tremendous lineup that was for the most part injury-free all season. With the makeup of the rotation this year, the lineup is again going to have to carry the load.

Philadelphia seems to be the trendy pick thanks to a tremendous starting staff. Unless their starters are going to go seven-plus innings on a nightly basis though, the Phillies are going to be in some trouble. Of the three teams that will be fighting for the top spot in the division, the Phils' bullpen is by far the worst, and by a lot. The lineup is a bit overrated too. Outside of burgeoning superstars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, there are an awful lot of holes. A dominant Pat Burrell would change that, though.

Atlanta has its own concerns, as well, as Mike Hampton returns to the mound after a nearly two-year layoff because of elbow problems. The Braves are young, but manager Bobby Cox knows how to push the right buttons and should have his team competitive all season.

A young Florida team had a surprising season under first-year skipper Joe Girardi, but he is gone and the Marlins likely won't match last year's success.

Washington, meanwhile, has a chance to be the worst team in the league.

NEW YORK METS: Tradition Field -- Port St. Lucie, FL

The Mets rode an incredible lineup to 97 wins and a division title last year. If they plan on having that same kind of success this season, they will need even more from that star-studded lineup, because the pitching is a train wreck.

Pedro Martinez likely won't be back until after the All-Star break. So, the rotation is headed up by 40-year-old left-hander Tom Glavine and righty Orlando Hernandez, who is listed as 37, but could be closer to 50. After those two you have Oliver Perez and John Maine, then a slew of characters that includes veterans Aaron Sele and Chan Ho Park, as well as youngsters Phillip Humber and Mike Pelfrey. Luckily the Mets' bullpen is as solid a group as there is in the NL, but working four-plus innings a night will take its toll eventually.

One area where there is no concern is the lineup. Jose Reyes and David Wright are two of the best young players in the game and should only be better this season. Carlos Beltran was a legitimate MVP candidate a year ago and Carlos Delgado was probably the team's most consistent player from start to finish. Moises Alou's addition will add some veteran leadership, as well. As long as the Mets stay healthy there is no reason to believe they can't win another division title.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: Bright House Networks Field -- Clearwater, FL

There has been an awful lot of talk coming from Phillies camp, as shortstop Jimmy Rollins has already declared them as the team to beat this season. He may be right. The Phils did a tremendous job this offseason upgrading their starting staff, as they brought in right-hander Adam Eaton and traded for a top-of-the-rotation guy in Freddy Garcia.

Of course, Philadelphia's lineup is powered by reigning MVP Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, who was just locked up long-term by the club. The team tried hard this offseason to get a bat to protect Howard, but came up empty. So, that job again falls to Pat Burrell, who - in the understatement of the year - will have to be better if the Phils don't want to see Howard walk three times a game. That above everything else could be the key to the Phillies season.

Another thing that could hinder the Phils' chances is the bullpen. Closer Tom Gordon is always a pitch away from the disabled list and set-up men Ryan Madson and Geoff Geary leave little to be desired. Antonio Alfonseca has experience as a closer, but he is not a reliable eighth-inning option anymore. Look for GM Pat Gillick to deal one his starters - Jon Lieber - for some bullpen help as the regular season draws near.

ATLANTA BRAVES: Cracker Jack Stadium - Orlando, FL

Everyone is talking about the Mets and the Phillies in the NL East and teams are paying little attention to the Braves. That could prove to be very dangerous. Atlanta immensely upgraded its bullpen this winter, as it stole right-hander Rafael Soriano from Seattle for under-achieving Horacio Ramirez and acquired lefty Mike Gonzalez from Pittsburgh for Adam LaRoche. They will be used to set up Bob Wickman, but if he struggles, both can step right into the closer's role.

One big question the Braves have this spring is who is going to play second base? The team is hoping Kelly Johnson wins the job, but he is coming off Tommy John surgery and is shifting from the outfield. If Johnson falters Martin Prado is more than capable to get the job done. He would probably be better utilized as a utility player, though.

Mike Hampton will also be back in the rotation for the first time since 2005. Hampton missed all of last season because of Tommy John surgery, but is ready to go. Luckily the Braves' deep bullpen will allow him to ease his way back. If he is healthy and if Tim Hudson bounces back to pitch the way he did in Oakland, the Braves could be the surprise team in the East.

FLORIDA MARLINS: Roger Dean Stadium -- Jupiter, FL

What a weird situation it was in Florida last season. The Marlins were one of the feel-good stories, as first-year skipper Joe Girardi had his young team in the postseason mix right up until the end of the season. So how was he rewarded? He was fired because of a rift with owner Jeffrey Loria.

So out with the reigning NL Manager of the Year and in with Fredi Gonzalez. Gonzalez has a tremendous young pitching staff at his disposal, but the workload a year ago may have already started to take its toll. Josh Johnson complained of soreness in his elbow all offseason and has already shut it down. Just a prediction here, but a Tommy John surgery is probably right around the corner.

Florida is not going anywhere this season so come trade deadline time you will once again hear the trade rumors surrounding Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. I suspect one of them will be dealt and it will probably be Willis.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS: Spacecoast Stadium -- Viera, FL

Things are not going to go well this season for first-year skipper Manny Acta. The Nationals could be the worst team in the league. Alfonso Soriano is gone and the team's best hitter, Nick Johnson, probably won't be back for a while, as he continues to recover from a horrific leg injury suffered at the end of last season.

When Johnson returns the lineup is not all that bad. Ryan Zimmerman is one of the best young players in the NL and Austin Kearns will provide some pop.

The pitching staff, though, is a mess. Other than John Patterson, your guess is as good as mine as to who will be in the Nationals' rotation. Tim Redding, Jerome Williams, Joel Hanrahan and Shawn Hill are the favorites to round out the staff, but youngsters Emiliano Fruto and Matt Chico could crack the staff with impressive springs.

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