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For Yankees, Jays and Phillies, time for questions needing answers
By Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer
Published February 24, 2008
New Yankees manager Joe Girardi, right, with pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras, will no doubt have his own style.
Other than the Rays' rising optimism, there are three other big-league teams playing spring ball in the bay area that boast big dreams. The Yankees, Phillies and Blue Jays all have eyes on making the postseason, but that might well depend on getting answers to some key questions this spring.
New York Yankees
Spring story lines
HGH: The HGH theme likely will reverberate. And, no, it's not just LHP Andy Pettitte's recent admission of using human growth hormone. There's How Girardi Handles replacing one of the storied franchise's legendary leaders, Joe Torre, who unceremoniously left and took over the Dodgers. Joe Girardi, a former Yankees catcher, turned around a young Marlins team a few years ago. Setting the tone in spring will be crucial to successfully making the transition from the broadcast booth to a clubhouse filled with stars.
YOUNG GUNS: Which of the young pitchers will steal a spot in what has become a rotation riddled with uncertainty? Besides steady RHP Chien-Ming Wang back-to-back 19-win seasons, RHP Mike Mussina is coming off his highest ERA (5.15) in his 17-year career, and Pettitte will likely be haunted by HGH questions. That leaves the door open for RHPs Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy to make their mark.
BULLPEN QUESTIONS: Depending on young starters means more work for a thin bullpen, likely turning this spring into a free-for-all competition for the middle relief and setup spots. There are minor-league starters Daniel McCutchen, Alan Horne and Mark Melancon, or newly acquired right-hander Jonathan Albaladejo. Besides proven RHP LaTroy Hawkins and RHP Kyle Farnsworth, the road to closer Mariano Rivera could be paved in the next month.
KEY ADDITIONS: Hawkins (free agent), Albaladejo (trade/Nationals). The Yankees whiffed on a deal for star lefty Johan Santana but got bullpen help in Hawkins and Albaladejo, who will make for a daily tongue-twister for the Legends Field's public address announcer.
KEY DEPARTURES: Torre, RHP Roger Clemens, RHP Tyler Clippard (trade/Nationals). With Clemens' inclusion in the Mitchell report, his absence is addition by subtraction (of distractions). Unless, of course, he decides to make yet another comeback.
MUST-SEE PROSPECT: Chamberlain. The power pitcher made national waves during his first professional season with some dominant performances in the second half. Could he crack the rotation?
Spring story lines
LIDGE OFF THE LEDGE? The Phillies' biggest offseason acquisition was former Astros closer Brad Lidge. The question is, which Lidge will show up? The overpowering right-hander who once made saves as guaranteed as the seventh-inning stretch? Or the pitcher who struggled with consistency the past two years? One key will be health. Lidge is coming off offseason surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. He had a scare Saturday when he limped off the field after hurting the same knee while throwing batting practice. The extent of the injury could be known today. Phillies fans will hold their collective breath.
THE HOT CORNER: With former MVP Ryan Howard having a stranglehold on first, the big offseason question was, "Who's on third?" The Phillies couldn't win the Mike Lowell sweepstakes but picked up Pedro Feliz, left. Watch Feliz's bat this spring. Why does it matter? Phillies third basemen last year had an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .688, lowest in the National League.
THE FIFTH SPOT: The top four in the rotation are likely set, with many ready to compete for the fifth spot. Will Adam Eaton rebound from a tough year that ended with him battling shoulder inflammation? He will have to beat out Chad Durbin, J.D. Durbin, Travis Blackley, with recently added veteran Kris Benson in the mix.
KEY ADDITIONS: Lidge (trade/Astros), INF Eric Bruntlett (trade/Astros), OF Geoff Jenkins (free agent), RHP Chad Durbin (free agent). Getting Lidge was huge - it not only gives the Phillies a quality closer (remember Mitch Williams?), but it also helps move talented RHP Brett Myers to the rotation. Jenkins' bat will be one to watch in right.
KEY DEPARTURES: RHP Freddy Garcia (declined to offer arbitration), OF Aaron Rowand (free agent/Giants), C Rod Barajas (released), INF Abraham Nunez (released). Rowand's departure affects the Phillies the most, forcing shuffling all over the outfield. But the hot dog vendors at Bright House Networks Field are still smarting from the deal that got away - the RHP Matt Kendrick trade to Japan for Kobayashi (moniker for onetime hot dog-eating champ) Iwamura turned out to be a practical joke and a YouTube hit.
MUST-SEE PROSPECT: RHP Carlos Carrasco. Although he showed inexperience in the minors last year, he has three solid pitches, including a sparkling changeup, that could make him a potential frontline starter for years to come.
Toronto Blue Jays
Spring story lines
FIRST THINGS FIRST: 1B Lyle Overbay, a huge part of the lineup, is working his way back after breaking a bone in his right hand last season. Early signs are good, but Toronto needs him to return to his 2006 form (.312, 22 HR, 92 RBI). How the slugger responds this spring could give fans an indication on whether he's back to normal.
CLOSING IT OUT: Closer B.J. Ryan is attempting a quick return from Tommy John surgery (he hopes to be back for opening day, 12 months after the procedure). Until then, it gives the other relievers (Jeremy Accardo) a chance to work on a contingency plan. Watch out for RHP Brian Wolfe to take advantage of Ryan's absence, as he did last year.
CAN LOCAL BOY MAKE GOOD? Jesse Litsch was one of the feel-good stories of last year - the Pinellas Park grad and former Rays bat boy making the big leagues. Now he has a chance to make the Blue Jays rotation, in the mix with Casey Janssen and Gustavo Chacin for the fifth starter's job.
KEY ADDITIONS: SS David Eckstein (free agent), 3B Scott Rolen (trade/Cardinals), infielder Marco Scutaro (trade/Athletics). The acquisitions of Rolen, a seven-time Gold Glove winner, and Eckstein, a former World Series MVP, make for an overhaul of the infield.
KEY DEPARTURE: 3B Troy Glaus (trade/Cardinals). Glaus hit .353 despite playing in just 115 games last year because of plantar fasciitis. Will the swap of Glaus for Rolen work out?
MUST-SEE PROSPECT: OF Travis Snider. Versatile at the plate, Snider was Baseball America's top hitting prospect in the Midwest League last year. He can play each outfield corner spot.