Season preview: Plenty of storylines have to play out before book is closed on 2010

April 02, 2010|By Phil Rogers | Tribune Newspapers

Electronic readers don't come with traditional pages or the familiar numbering system. They show you a percentage of the book that you have read.

Sometimes, while looking forward to the ending, the book just ends. Who knew that the last 23 percent would be footnotes and acknowledgments?

Managerial careers can be like that too - over unexpectedly, without the ending that we wanted. The 2010 season brings with it an unusual, perhaps unprecedented, sense of foretelling.

Bobby Cox and six others who have been the best managers of their generation enter what could be their farewell season. A lot of people are hoping at least a few of them author fitting endings.

Among them, the Braves' Cox - who has announced that 2010 will be his final season - the Cardinals' Tony La Russa, the Dodgers' Joe Torre, the Cubs' Lou Piniella, the Tigers' Jim Leyland, the Reds' Dusty Baker and the Blue Jays' Cito Gaston have compiled 12,330 victories over 154 seasons. But here's the kicker:

One of these seven got his team into every World Series from 1988 through 2004, including four years when one managed against another.

That's amazing.

"It has been a wonderful experience to be in the game at the same time as those other guys," La Russa said this spring. "I've enjoyed every year, and I'm going to enjoy this year. You never know how a season is going to turn out. You know where you start, and that's all you know. The fun is in the journey."

Is it telling that the 2006 World Series, when the Cardinals beat the Tigers, marks the only time in the last five years that one of the legendary managers still was standing for the last dance?

The baton seems to have been passed quietly to men such as Terry Francona, Mike Scioscia, Charlie Manuel, Bruce Bochy and Ron Gardenhire. Will they and others among their contemporaries (say, the Yankees' Joe Girardi, the Rays' Joe Maddon, and the White Sox's Ozzie Guillen) allow the future Hall of Famers to come out for bows after an encore or two?

progers@tribune.com

Brawn, brainpower
There's nothing like the first day of full workouts at Yankee camp to understand the mission facing 29 other teams. The quick look around the clubhouse reveals all the familiar faces - the Jeters, the A-Rods and for the last two years also the CCs and Texes - but the truly frightening thing in 2010 involves less familiar ones.

Curtis Granderson was there. But so were Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, along with top prospects Jesus Montero and Austin Romine. Young outfielder Brett Gardner not only was there, he apparently was in manager Joe Girardi's plans.

Not so long ago, the Yankees would have used the winter to sacrifice a Hughes or a Chamberlain to add a pitcher on the verge of free agency. But the next Yankee dynasty is being built as much through traditional player development means as with money from the Steinbrenner vaults. General manager Brian Cashman runs an organization that is valuing its human assets as much as its financial resources, beginning with scouting director Damon Oppenheimer.

"That's a really scary organization now," a rival GM said this spring. "They've always had the money, but the only thing they thought about was the next season. Now they're looking down the road, like smart teams do, and they have more money to spend than the rest of us."

Surprise, surprise
Anyone can pick the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox and Cardinals to win, and just about everyone is. But which teams are the most likely to surprise us in 2010? In order:

1. Rays: Sports Illustrated is picking them to win the World Series, which shouldn't be such a shock because they went there in 2008, losing to the Phillies. But in this era, anyone other than the Yankees or Red Sox getting out of the AL East has to qualify as a surprise.

An amazing fact about the Rays is they are investing only $9.47 million in their 2010 rotation. That ranks 29th in spending for starters, ahead of only the Blue Jays, according to Tim Dierkes' study on mlbtraderumors.com.

But Joe Maddon nevertheless has a group full of potential front-of-the-rotation guys in James Shields, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, David Price and rookie Wade Davis. Andy Sonnanstine, a key to the '08 pennant, is an excellent No. 6 starter who opens the season in the bullpen. It's a strong lineup too, with newcomers Sean Rodriguez and Kelly Shoppach giving Maddon more good options. Shortstop Jason Bartlett is better than most people realize.

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