View from Spring Training: 2011 Toronto Blue Jays

2011 Toronto Blue Jays

NFL Equivalent – Cincinnati Bengals: Are OF Vernon Wells and OF Alex Rios Carson Palmer?  On the heels of very productive offensive seasons, the Toronto front office not only gave Wells and Rios the keys to the franchise, to the tune of more than $200 million, they also served them with a roadmap to nowhere.  Now Wells (Anaheim) and Rios (Chicago AL) are roaming the outfields elsewhere in the AL, and the only thing the Jays have to show for it are a string of 4th place finishes in the ruthless AL East.  In a similar case of misread production, the Bengals and their franchise QB Palmer definitely need counseling, with Carson recently threatening retirement.

Google Search: New Manager, former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, had a fairly busy offseason.  Early on, he shipped rising SP Shawn Marcum to the Brewers for highly-touted INF Brett Lawrie.  Toronto also added three veteran RPs in Octavio Dotel, John Rauch, and Frank Francisco, who is unfortunately best known for throwing a folding chair at a group of fans in Arlington.  Under the radar during this tumultuous AL East winter, the Jays also brought in speedy OF Rajai Davis to lead off and veteran slugging LF Juan Rivera to protect last year’s AL home run champ, OF Jose Bautista.

Famous Movie Quote: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.Chief Martin Doyle, Jaws.

DH Adam Lind and 2B Aaron Hill had career years in 2009.  Ridiculous numbers.  Bautista hit 54 home runs last year.  Out of nowhere.  If the three of them each have career years in 2011, the Blue Jays will still be the Orca to the Yankees’ and Red Sox’s Jaws.  The AL East is simply contested on two planes: the penthouse, cohabited by the Yanks and Sox, and the super’s apartment, shared by the Jays, Rays, and Orioles.  To equate this disparity to one of my favorite NBA stories, we have to look back to All-Star Weekend, 1988.   Larry Bird, perhaps the most confident shooter of all time and two-time defending 3-point contest champ, walked into the locker room at the old Chicago Stadium and, without even really looking at any of his shootout competitors, asked to the ether: “Hiya, fellas!  Which one of you is finishing second?!”  At the risk of underlining the obvious, Basketball Jesus made it 3-in-a-row that night.  2011 prediction: 77 – 85; 5th Place AL East

view from Bright House Stadium courtesy of @michelleerin

View from Spring Training: 2011 Colorado Rockies

2011 Colorado Rockies

NFL Equivalent – Miami Dolphins: My favorite NFL player growing up was Dan Marino. He was the consummate fantasy football quarterback before fantasy football ever existed. If the Dolphins had any a semblance of a defense I am convinced Marino would have won at least two Super Bowls in the 80s/90s. He also had great hair! I mention this only because Troy Tulowitzki, the star SS for the Colorado Rockies, pursued a similar look this past season. Call it the “crullet” – curly haired mullet. Another similarity between these two franchises…their home climates can, and often do, affect the outcome of a game.  Between the humidity/heat of South Florida and the altitude of the Rocky Mts, opposing teams need to prepare, both physically and psychologically, days in advance before playing in Miami or Colorado.

Google Search: Speaking of Tulowitzki, the Rockies inked their franchise player to a seven year $134 million extension in November, which means he’ll be making an average of $20 million until he’s 35 years old.  That equates to nearly a quarter of Colorado’s mid market payroll. I haven’t watched “Tulo” play on a regular basis but it seems like a lot of money to tie up in a single player these days. If Tulowitzki is worth $20 million to Colorado, than Albert Pujols has got to be worth at least $30 million to the Cardinals, Cubs, or Yomiuri Giants.

Famous Movie Quote: That John Denver’s full of shit, man. – Jim Carrey from Dumb and Dumber

Dumb and Dumber and Anchorman may be the two most quotable movies of my lifetime. (All apologies to Wedding Crashers, Blazing Saddles, and Dazed and Confused.) As far as I am concerned, Dumb and Dumber II never happened, kind of like Godfather III and the last 3 Star Wars movies. (Thanks for ruining my childhood George Lucas!) The Colorado Rockies are hoping for a strong follow up to their 83-79 campaign in 2010. With Tulo, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Carlos Gonzalez, this team is built to win now. 2011 prediction: 90-72, 1st place NL West

view from Corbett Field courtesy of @desertsamurai31

View from Spring Training: 2011 Detroit Tigers

2011 Detroit Tigers

NFL Equivalent – Oakland Raiders: I can remember a time back in the early to mid 90’s, when the LA/Oakland Raiders were the epitome of urban/gangsta rap brashness. After all, a prerequisite for membership in NWA was whether or not you could pull off the Raiders cap. Al Davis may be the face of the franchise today, but back then, Ice Cube represented Raider nation best. For some reason I feel like at one time or another the Tigers hat carried a similar street cred. Call it the Eminem effect. Or maybe it chalk it up to one Magnum P.I.

Google Search: After Detroit won a bidding war for the services of prized free agent catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez, all was well in Tigertown, that was until Miguel Cabrera was arrested for DUI in February.  Will the arrest affect Cabrera’s 2011 performance? Can his Tiger teammates trust him when it counts? Is anyone else worried that Cabrera has to deal with some bigger issues than just baseball?

Famous Movie Quote: I love poetry, and a glass of scotch, and, of course, my friend Baxter here. – Ron Burgundy Anchorman

Scotch is one of those drinks that I say I enjoy but really don’t. It seems like most of my friends enjoy a nice glass after dinner, but me? Unless you load it up with a bundle of ice cubes I simply can’t stomach the raw masculinity. Miguel Cabrera doesn’t seem to have the same problem. What was most alarming to me about his DUI arrest is not that he was inebriated but that he was drinking scotch. Doesn’t Florida seem a little warm for scotch? I feel like scotch is a winter drink reserved for the ski lodges of British Columbia. 2011 prediction: 93-69, 1st place AL Central

view from Space Coast Stadium courtesy of @davextreme

View from Spring Training: 2011 Oakland Athletics

2011 Oakland Athletics

NFL Equivalent – Kansas City Chiefs: Back when I played college baseball, I loathed opposing teams and players that wore white spikes. To me, there was always something pompous about the look, like that player was trying to say that they thought they’re better than you. And you know what, players that wear white spikes are usually all flash and no substance. As far as I can tell, the Oakland A’s are the only MLB team whose players all wear white spikes.  The Kansas City Chiefs wear white cleats as well, but in the NFL it is not as much of an anomaly.

Google Search: The bay was brimming with activity this winter. The A’s signed/traded for solid MLB outfielders Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham, and David DeJesus. They also added relievers Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour to their bullpen. On a completely serious note, the club recently announced a fundraiser to take place during their season opening series against Seattle where all proceeds will go towards supporting relief efforts in Japan after the devastating earthquake rocked the country this past weekend.

Famous Movie Quote: Pollution. Crime. Drugs, poverty, disease, hunger, despair – we throw GOBS of money at them and problems only get worse. Why is that? Because money’s most powerful ability is to allow bad people to continue doing bad things at the expense of those who don’t have it. – Ben Kingsley from Sneakers

The Oakland A’s and GM Billy Beane pride themselves on finding innovative ways to stretch the almighty dollar. When you’re a small market team, like the A’s, you must learn to be creative in order to keep up with the big spenders. I never read Moneyball by Michael Lewis – sacrilegious I know – nor do I have any interest in seeing Brad Pitt strut around as Beane in the movie version this summer. My only hope is that the producers found someone like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to play the role of the Kevin “The Greek God of Walks” Youkilis. Only then would I pay to see this film. 2011 prediction: 84-78, 2nd place in AL West

view from Phoenix Municipal Stadium courtesy of @djmccormack3

View from Spring Training: 2011 Florida Marlins

2011 Florida Marlins

NFL Equivalent – Minnesota Vikings: This comparison would work perfectly if the Minnesota taxpayers would finally pony up and agree to finance a new stadium.  As it is, both of these teams currently play in antiquated, potentially-hazardous football stadiums.  South Florida’s daily late afternoon rain squalls have nothing on Minneapolis’s roof collapses and falling debris.  The Marlins will finally be moving into a new building in 2012, right smack dab in the middle of Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.  Both the Marlins and Vikings are young, with very exciting. combustible players where it matters most.

Google Search: Gone is franchise leader in home runs, 2B Dan Uggla, who was traded to division rival Atlanta after last season.  In his place, the Marlins have brought in 2010 All-Star 2B Omar Infante.  Slotted into the third slot in the rotation is SP Javier Vasquez, who has performed in every city he’s played that doesn’t rhyme with Blue Pork.  C John Buck will call the pitches for a very promising young staff, who will rely on his veteran leadership to keep an even keel.

Famous Movie Quote: I am a star. I’m a star, I’m a star, I’m a star. I am a big, bright, shining star. That’s right. Dirk Diggler, Boogie Nights.

When a perennial all-star is left to put up huge numbers in anonymity, it falls to him to remind himself that he really is the goods.  Standing in front of a mirror, Dirk Diggler, an up-and-comer in the adult film business, affirms that he has what it takes.  If his fan base and the media have already written him off, Hanley Ramirez needs to enter this season with the self-confidence required of someone who can carry a franchise.  You ARE a star, Hanley!  Ramirez will be looking to his bat to mend the strained relationships that developed with then-manager Fredi Gonzalez and Marlin fans.  Young players OF Mike Stanton, OF Logan Morrison, and 1B Gaby Sanchez will take their cues from Ramirez.  As these four go, so will go the Fish.  SP Josh Johnson will continue to be one of the best young arms in the National League, and will challenge the 20-win threshold yet again. 2011 prediction: 82-80; 3rd Place NL East