Friday, March 18, 2011

Two Weeks To Go

Editor's Note: I thought I'd break up the Moyle monotony around here, the constant bad news out of the Idaho Statehouse, and my own personal frustrations with a completely unrelated baseball post. When all else fails, turn to baseball.

During the off-season, I watched the hot stove closely and wondered about a few teams that made some big moves. Now that spring training has arrived, most of those teams are still grabbing attention.

The teams that caught my interest especially were teams that really had nothing to show for their last few seasons other than a losing record. The Oakland A's, Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals made big, expensive moves that seem to set them up for a few more wins. Big bats joined all three--Vlad Guerrero with the Orioles, Hideki Matsui with the A's and Jayson Werth with the Nats. The pitching staff of each team was shaken up a bit and all three teams have managers who haven't been with them for too many seasons, the newest being Buck Showalter in Baltimore. All three teams seem to be continuing in their attempts to make something of the 2011 season. They're off to a good start at spring training, their bats coming through for them and their pitchers living up to expectations (with the exception of the Orioles' Duchscherer who can't, once again, stay healthy). The Orioles are in a tough division where I don't anticipate they'll make huge waves right away, but we have to assume that at some point the Orioles and Blue Jays will be able to compete against the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. The Nats have their work cut out for them in a division that includes the Braves and Phillies, two teams that have taken turns dominating the division in the last two decades. The one team that has a chance to really impact their division is the A's. Go figure.

The team that may stand in the way of the A's (other than the always competitive Angels) is the Rangers. However, recent shakeups in Texas have a lot of people scratching their heads. What appeared to be a leadership team made in baseball heaven is no longer. Chuck Greenberg resigned as the Ranger CEO and hall-of-famer Nolan Ryan was named President & CEO (he previously held just the role of president of the franchise). Greenberg cited disagreements among the front office as his reason for leaving after less than a year since he and Ryan bought the Rangers and brought the franchise back from bankruptcy. Greenberg didn't say exactly what caused the rift between the co-chairmen of the board, himself and Nolan Ryan, but there is one place to look for the writing on the wall--Michael Young.

Yes, Young plays on the field and has nothing to do with decisions in the front office, but over the off-season, Young requested a trade from the team he's spent his entire career with after a rocky few months of speculation about his future with the club. Though Young was originally drafted by the Blue Jays, he has spent his entire big league career with the Rangers. He began his career at 2nd base and was asked to play for the Rangers at shortstop when the Rangers traded away Alex Rodriguez. Young was asked to move to shortstop to make room for Alfonso Soriano and then he moved (without complaining) to 3rd base so a young, talented shortstop named Elvis Andrus could have the position. All of this happened to Young despite his stellar defensive numbers at each position. However, in the off-season, the 34 year-old Young was told by the Rangers that he would be moved to the full-time designated hitter slot since the team had bought Adrian Beltre from the Red Sox and would be using his high-paid services at 3rd. Understandably, Young was livid and requested the Rangers trade him rather than force him into a non-fielding position on the roster. Though Young wasn't traded, you have to think his situation has a lot to do with the departure of Greenberg.

If the Rangers can get it together in the front office and their off-season trades pan out, they could easily defend their 2010 American League Championship title.

With only two weeks until the season begins and knowing that around here no baseball post would be complete without mentioning my Atlanta Braves, I thought I would note a few things happening with Braves franchise. For those of you who know about Luis Salazar's freak injury during spring training, everything I've read seems to indicate he will fully recover. Salazar, a former MLB player, coaches a minor league Braves team. In a recent spring training game, he was in the dugout with the major league team when catcher Brian McCann pulled a pitch into the dugout where it hit Salazar in the face. Salazar was knocked out and fell from his perch at the dugout rail to the dugout floor below. His face was fractured in several places and eventually one of his eyes had to be removed. All seems to be well with him now and he seems much less shaken up about the injury than Brian McCann who used his power swing to hook the ball at Salazar.

In other Braves news, Chipper Jones is having a very successful spring training. Chipper, who seriously considered retirement at the end of last season and in the off-season after requiring surgery to fix a torn ACL, seems to have found his stroke. He hit a homer yesterday's spring training game and is hitting .386 in the Grapefruit League. If Chipper can stay healthy all season, it may be a repeat of the great numbers he put up before the injury last season. Even if his production isn't as great as it was last season, just having Chipper on the field and in the clubhouse is a plus for the Braves. His bat may not be as dangerous as it once was, but his leadership is very much needed in this the first season without Bobby Cox in the dugout since 1989. Fingers crossed.

Just two more weeks 'til the Braves & Nats kick off the season!

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