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King of spring


King of spring
Even in the black hole otherwise known as early January, Baseball still fills up the cosmos with news, rumors and gossip. It?s impossible to ignore the buzz; the industry has its tentacles wrapped tightly around you, from here to pitchers and catchers.

Already, we can see the developing story lines for 2009: Do the Yankees have the firepower to return to the postseason? (Almost certainly) Will the Mets get their revenge on the Phillies? (We like their chances). Will Roger Clemens weasel his way out of indictment? (Don?t hold your breath, even though he is).

Here are the people to watch in the coming months, on both sides of the who?s-hot, who?s-not list.

Francisco Rodriguez, Mets: He got out of the American League just in time, much to the Mets? delight. Between K-Rod and J.J. Putz, the Mets should be untouchable with a lead after the seventh inning. But Rodriguez had better hang on to that fastball, which has been in decline for the last two seasons. Better put, the new closer in Flushing had better back up that post-save celebrating.

Cole Hamels, Phillies: As if this rivalry needed higher-octane incendiary fuel, the World Series MVP went ahead and called the Mets choke artists. Not that Hamels was technically wrong. But circle May 1 on your calendar, the first time the Mets set foot in Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies will be at Citi Field five days later.

Mark Teixeira, Yankees: The world will be watching how the Bombers? new $180 million man reacts to big-market, big-contract pressure. Teixeira has all the tools for a long, successful reign in the Bronx, but a fast start in April would help matters greatly.

Manny Ramirez: The Giants supposedly are poised to make a four-year offer to the game?s most talented rebel, but it?s hard to believe Ramirez is headed anywhere except back to the Dodgers. He won?t get four years; he might not even get three. Ramirez?s tanking on the Red Sox, coupled with a deflating economic market, has destroyed much of his leverage.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox: He?s the Sox? best hope at Fenway for derailing the Yankees? nuclear starting rotation, especially if they don?t land Derek Lowe. The Japanese right-hander wasn?t as good as the 2006 hype, but not nearly as bad as he was in 2007. Matsuzaka?s numbers in 2008 ? 18-3, 2.90 ERA, .211 opponents? average ? would make a cult hero out of CC Sabathia in pinstripes.

Kerry Wood, Indians: There are a growing number of reasons to make the Tribe the early favorites in the AL Central, and Wood is at the top of the list. If he?s healthy, he?ll be a devastating effective closer. His two-year deal with the Indians will become a billboard of prescient genius for GM Mark Shapiro.

Joe Girardi, Yankees: OK, we?ve beaten to death the suggestion that the Yankee manager needs to lighten up. Everyone knows it; even the front office has suggested to Girardi that he lower the RPMs. We?ll see if the skipper is free thinking enough to bat Teixeira behind Alex Rodriguez instead of the other way around. It might hurt A-Rod?s feelings, being removed from the vaunted cleanup spot, but the switch would greatly bolster the Yankees? offense.

Rickey Henderson: Can?t wait for the acceptance speech at Cooperstown this summer.

Jim Leyland, Tigers: What?s the over-under before he takes a walk on his under-performing team? It was a miracle that Leyland finished out the 2008 season as the Tigers slogged to an 88-loss season.

J.J. Putz, Mets: Two predictions for Putz?s coming summer as K-Rod?s eighth-inning butler: He?ll be great. And he will hate it.

Phil Coke, Yankees: Just like the Mets? Sean Green, Coke is one of those off-the-radar talents who is poised to take the American League by surprise. He already gave the Yankees a hint of his middle-inning efficiency, striking out more than a batter an inning while keeping opponents to a .160 average after a September call-up.

Derek Lowe: The Mets are smart to stick to their current offer ? three years, $36 million. That?s because there?s not much else out there for Lowe. His best bet to leverage the Mets is to engage the Phillies, whose interest is somewhere between moderate and keen. But Lowe would be smart to stay away from the American League, despite his emotional attachment to the Red Sox. The last time Lowe pitched in the AL, 2004, he posted a 5.42 ERA.

Billy Beane, A?s GM: He?s got money to spend ? or at least did before the entire industry (except for the Yankees) started sweating the dollars. But the fact that Beane was chasing Rafael Furcal indicates he was willing to write a big check. That money may now go to Jason Giambi or Pat Burrell. And if it doesn?t work out, Beane will be dangling Matt Holliday by the trading deadline.

Andrew Friedman, Rays? GM: Would he be willing to move Carl Crawford next summer? Friedman has, to date, traded Crawford a million times in his mind; it might just happen in 2009.

David DeJesus, Royals: He?d be the perfect solution for the Yankees in center field, given his age (29), his 73 RBI and his contract (owed $8.3 million through 2010). Considering the Royals have acquired Coco Crisp, could the Yankees possibly pry DeJesus away? They?ve inquired; so far, the answer is no.

Carlos Delgado, Mets: Some talent evaluators believe the Mets would?ve been smart to move Delgado this winter ? that he?ll never again clone his second-half hot streak. Whether that?s true or not will go a long way in determining if the Mets can win the East.

Joba Chamberlain, Yankees: The DUI arrest in October was a crossroad moment for the Yankees? future star. Chamberlain has apologized and says he?s learned a hard lesson. A budding career hangs in the balance.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 6, 2009

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