With the season starting today, here are some early season things to keep an eye on.
Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Rafael Soriano is already raising eyebrows everywhere with his Madonna-like behaviors. The fans are wondering what to make of him, the media is searching for a juicy story and the club personnel appears perturbed at his demanding nature and reclusive tendencies.
What’s going to happen if he allows a big homer or blows a game or two early in the season and the fans and media smell blood? He’s sensitive and nervous and had better get off on the right foot or his time in New York could go sour very, very quickly.
The Twins are a bullpen-based club that lost the core of their bullpen; they have a group of mediocre starters behind Francisco Liriano and the up-the-middle defense is an unknown. If the replacements for Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Matt Guerrier aren’t able to handle the job, the Twins are in for a long year. And one can’t help but take a deep breath about Jeff Manship, Glen Perkins and Dusty Hughes.
The Braves have a two-headed rookie closer in Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters and the objective Braves observers have concerns about manager Fredi Gonzalez’s maneuverings with his relievers. These young pitchers have to perform.
Jobs on the line:
Edwin Rodriguez did an admirable job with the Marlins after taking over last season but owner Jeffrey Loria was already squawking about his team’s poor play…in spring training.
Expectations are high; the team is strangely constructed with a good pitching staff and awful defense; and they’re moving into a new ballpark in 2012.
The flirtation with Bobby Valentine went hot and cold; Loria had his eye on Valentine before and with Ozzie Guillen‘s option with the White Sox for 2012 having been exercised, he won’t be available. If the Marlins are struggling, Rodriguez will take the fall and, Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN gig or not, Valentine will be hovering.
The Mariners were an embarrassing train wreck on and off the field last season. GM Jack Zduriencik’s “genius” label has degenerated into something resembling a questionable human being for the Josh Lueke episode and the team is horrendous.
If anything—anything—that goes in the front of the newspaper rather than the back happens, ownership might want to bring in someone with historic competence and Mariners ties.
Pat Gillick still lives in Seattle and hasn’t officially retired.
The Athletics have very high expectations and Billy Beane isn’t going to take the fall if they get off to a bad start. Manager Bob Geren has survived for a variety of reasons—not the least of which he’s Beane’s “best friend”.
We’ll see how long that “friendship” factor lasts if Beane is under fire.
The Mets and Dodgers ownerships have legal issues—the Wilpons are being sued; the McCourts are divorcing—they’re the butt of endless jokes and may not have the money to run their clubs on a day-to-day basis.
Both teams could be on the market sooner rather than later.
When Hank and Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine overruled GM Brian Cashman on Soriano, they hearkened back to the days of George Steinbrenner jumping in and doing things that weren’t part of the planned agenda of their “full autonomy” GM.
If the Yankees are behind the Red Sox into the summer—and possibly out of playoff position entirely—will they insist on Cashman including young players he doesn’t want to trade to get a Chris Carpenter, Francisco Liriano or Ryan Dempster? And would that spur Cashman to want to leave at the end of the season?
Panic follows desperation and the pursuit of Carl Pavano and signing of Soriano exemplify desperation from both Cashman and the Steinbrnners.
I’ll be hosting a forum every day starting today on TheCopia.com. I’ll give the details on Twitter and Facebook. Click on the links at the top of the page for my Twitter/Facebook accounts.
Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.
I published a full excerpt of my book here.