Johnson said recently that he would rather leave before the start of the season because he doesn't want to spend 1998 under a cloud. Look for the issue to remain open -- like a wound -- throughout training camp, perhaps forcing the Mariners to make a decision before Opening Day.
2. Best team money can buy
The New York Yankees already were expected to be one of the front-runners in the American League East, but they have emerged as the division favorite with the acquisition of impact second baseman Chuck Knoblauch.
Knoblauch and fellow newcomer Chili Davis should balance a Yankees lineup that already was one of the most productive in baseball.
Now, the big question is whether the starting rotation is deep enough to outdistance the defending division champion Orioles. The durability of starters David Cone and David Wells, will be an issue this spring. So will the viability of Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu, who floundered after joining the club in-season last year.
3. New kids on the block
The Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays are breaking out the bats and balls for their first major-league spring training, but expansion was never like this before.
The Diamondbacks have spent liberally to acquire veteran standouts Matt Williams, Jay Bell, Devon White, Andy Benes and Willie Blair, hoping to have an immediate impact in the National League West. The Devil Rays will field a team that includes likely Hall of Famer Wade Boggs and big-swinging first baseman Fred McGriff, as well as big-name free-agent pitchers Wilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandez, but they are not expected to compete their first year in the tough AL East.
4. Old kids on the spot
The Orioles will open spring training tomorrow with 25 players already penciled in for the regular season, but that stability belies the organizational uncertainty that lies only a few months ahead.
Several top-name players -- including first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, second baseman Roberto Alomar and No. 2 starter Scott Erickson -- could be playing their final seasons with the Orioles, and eight more -- Joe Carter, Jimmy Key, Harold Baines, Norm Charlton, Eric Davis, Doug Drabek, Jesse Orosco and Cal Ripken -- are at least 35 years old. This could be the last roundup for the club in any semblance of its current configuration.
Palmeiro already has said he won't settle for a below-market contract and speculation persists that Alomar will join brother Sandy in Cleveland after the 1998 season, but owner Peter Angelos has vowed to try to re-sign both.
5. Defenseless world champions
The world champion Florida Marlins spent the off-season trying to sell off their high-priced players, and they may not be done dismantling the club. Pitcher Kevin Brown was traded to the San Diego Padres, outfielder Moises Alou was dealt to the Houston Astros and center fielder Devon White went to the Diamondbacks, but several high-profile, big-money players remain for a seemingly hopeless attempt to defend the world title.
Don't be surprised if trade speculation continues throughout spring training, though manager Jim Leyland insists that the franchise will field a representative team.
... and other items of interest
Best peripheral reasons to go to spring training
City Team(s) Top nearby attraction
Kissimmee Braves Disney World/Epcot Center
Melbourne Marlins Kennedy Space Center
Sarasota Reds Ringling Brothers Museum
Fort Myers Twins/Red Sox Thomas Edison Home/Marco Island
Phoenix Seven teams Grand Canyon
4( Fort Lauderdale Orioles Florida Keys
Existing facilities with new tenants
Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg, Fla. (Devil Rays)
Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota, Fla. (Reds)
New stops on the spring training trail
Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Fla. (Cardinals, Expos)
Disney Wide World of Sports Stadium, Kissimmee, Fla. (Braves)
Tucson Electric Park, Tucson, Ariz. (White Sox, Diamondbacks)
Maryvale Baseball Park, Maryvale, Ariz. (Brewers)
Players sure to stoke the rumor mill
Players on the comeback trail
David Cone (arm surgery)
Jack McDowell (arm surgery)
Mark Langston (arm surgery)
Cecil Fielder (hand injury)
3' Kenny Rogers (escape from New York)
Orioles with something to prove
Armando Benitez -- Can he close?
Brady Anderson -- Is power outage permanent?
Norm Charlton -- Is there anything left?
Roberto Alomar -- Can he stay healthy?
/# Jimmy Key -- First-half wonder?
Players who might make history
Tony Gwynn: needs 220 hits for 3,000
Wade Boggs: needs 200 hits for 3,000
Mark McGwire: could challenge Maris record
Ken Griffey: could challenge Maris record
I= Randy Johnson: could strike out 21 batters in single game
Players who might be history
Jack McDowell -- Career threatened by elbow problem
Norm Charlton -- Boeing 7.27 ERA last year
Fernando Valenzuela -- 2-12 in 1997
Ruben Sierra -- 3 HRs, 12 RBIs last season
Pub Date: 2/15/98