I believe that 2008 is going to be one of the best years in recent memory. Despite all of the distractions (read: PEDs and that will be the last time we speak of them) circulating around the game, the game itself is in remarkably great shape. There are intriguing stories around the entire league and incredibly exciting division battles waiting to happen. Along those lines, here are the top 10 storylines I can't wait to watch this year:
10) Young Pitching: Due to the skyrocketing cost of acquiring mid-level pitchers on the open market (more here), more teams are taking chances with young pitchers from their own systems. It's always great to see fresh blood (and less Jeff Weaver et al.) and the inherent volatility of young pitching lends itself to great stories. Will Clay Buchholz and John Lester outduel Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy in the AL East? Can Ubaldo Jimenez finally harness his stuff and stop walking everyone including my dead grandfather? Who will step up for the Twins(maybe these guys)? And that's just a small sampling of what awaits us.
9) The Big Trades (not named Johan): This offseason saw little happen in the free agent market (other than Carlos Silva making GMs across the game cringe with his 4 year/$48 million dollar deal) but lots of movement in the trade market. Big names like Miguel "I swear I didn't do steroids" Tejada, Nick Swisher, Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, and Dan Haren switched teams while hordes of prospects came back to their former owners. Now the big question is: who won these trades? While it may seem obvious in some instances (ahem.... why the hell do the Astros and White Sox think they have a chance to contend?), others are not so clear cut. Miguel Cabrera can rake, no doubt, but can Dontrelle provide enough value to soften the blow of losing young, affordable superstars-in-waiting like Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin? Will Dan Haren be more his first half self or second half self? I honestly can't wait to see how all these moves pan out.
8) The Big Trade Named Johan (sort of): So this may be the #1 storyline to watch for those who don't find the Mets' HR apple unbearably annoying, but I honestly think that the Mets' fate rests more in the hands of the other pitchers on the staff. Johan is a known quantity (his late season swoon last year will be ancient history by May) and he should destroy the junior varsity. But the health of Pedro Martinez's shoulder will decide their fate far more. They simply don't have the starting pitching depth to rebound from significant injuries unless they try to rewind the clock and turn Aaron Heilman back into a starter (good luck with your bullpen then). So even if Johan wins 22 games and saves an entire bus load of Catholic schoolchildren from Megatron, the Mets will be mush by September if Pedro's shoulder blows out, El Duque finally succumbs to the ravages of 147 years of life, and they are forced to rely upon (shudder) their farm system for help.
7) The Seattle Experiment: I know that while the Bedard trade (details here) has been brutally lambasted by pretty much every sportswriter in the Western hemisphere (myself included), we could all be surprised. Although some of you are probably chuckling to yourselves, I'm being serious. Vladimir Guerrero's bum knee could finally cry uncle and make one of his legs a LOT shorter than the other. Howie Kendrick might turn out to be a bust (or at least empty average). Juan Rivera's leg might break off again, completing the gimpy set with Vlad. K-Rod might take advantage the leg situation and put up a new sign for the "Club-house," leading to a hilarious, hopping showdown in the locker room.
Ok, I'm grasping for straws. Bill Bavasi is an idiot.
6) Mr. Met vs. the Phillie Phanatic: The war of words between the Mets and Phils reached new heights today with suggestions that a fight might be in order. While I like the idea of a real fight, Nolan Ryan style, on a baseball field, I think there is a far better match-up available here than Pedro vs. Jaime Moyer in a slow-tossing contest (and no, I'm not talking about Brett Myers in a rematch vs his wife). I'm talking about Mr. Met vs. the Phillie Phanatic. Both are idiotic, irritating cast-offs from some bizarro Muppets show. Both deserve to die. The solution? A winner-take-all deathmatch between the two mascots for the division title. Weapons are open to debate, though I personally prefer knives. Why? Because they hurt more and take longer to kill you.
The rest of the list will follow in the morning.