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It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and besides telling us that there’s a game to be played today between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals for supremacy in professional football, it also signals that spring training is just around the corner. Pitchers and catchers will begin reporting to camps in Arizona and Florida on February 13 this year, a week earlier than usual because of the impending World Baseball Classic.

With spring training so close, let’s take a look at the key questions for each of the 14 American League teams. We’ll take a look at the National League next Sunday.

  • Angels:
    Will Kendry Morales and Brandon Wood be able to fill the voids in this lineup? Morales, who posted a .225 EqA last season, will take over at first base for Mark Teixeira. Wood (.196) is likely to get a fair share of at-bats at designated hitter now that Garret Anderson is gone.

  • Athletics:
    Will Daric Barton retain his first baseman’s job? Barton, whose EqA was just .250 last year, could easily lose playing time with the off-season addition of free agent Jason Giambi. Giambi (.301) can play first or serve as the designated hitter, Jack Cust (.303) can play first base or an outfield corner, and Aaron Cunningham (.258) and Travis Buck (.257) will also be in the mix for left.

  • Blue Jays:
    Who will be in the starting rotation? Roy Halladay (7.6 SNLVAR last season), Jesse Litsch (4.7), and David Purcey (0.9) are the top three starters, while Scott Richmond (0.6), Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Matt Clement, and Mike Maroth will battle it out for the final two spots. Romero and Cecil have yet to pitch in the major leagues, while Clement and Maroth both spent last season in the minors.

  • Indians:
    Will Carl Pavano be able to stay healthy? The right-hander made just 26 starts during the past four seasons with the Yankees, but the Indians are hopeful he can slot in as a third starter behind Cliff Lee (7.7 SNLVAR last season) and Fausto Carmona (1.4). Pavano’s SNLVAR was 0.2 in 2008.

  • Mariners:
    Who will emerge as the closer? Brandon Morrow, who had 1.49 WXRL last season, would seem to be the best option, but he’s coming to camp as a starter. That leaves Mark Lowe (-1.64), Roy Corcoran (2.04), Miguel Batista (-1.46), Tyler Walker (1.01), and David Aardsma (-0.14)all competing for the role.

  • Orioles:
    What becomes of second baseman Brian Roberts? The Orioles are offering the 31-year-old a three-year contract extension, but he wants a four-year deal and says he will cut off negotiations if an accord isn’t reached by Opening Day. Roberts is still productive; he had a .295 EqA last season, but he might have more value as a trade chip in the rebuilding of this franchise than he does as a cornerstone.

  • Rangers:
    Is 20-year-old rookie Elvis Andrus ready to be the starting shortstop? Michael Young, fresh off of winning a Gold Glove, will move to third base to make room for Andrus, who has yet to play a major league game. Omar Vizquel was signed as a free agent for insurance, but his EqA was .197 last season.

  • Rays:
    Will Troy Percival be able to close? Percival is a 39-year-old who had off-season back surgery and is coming off of a year in which his WXRL was 1.68. That does not inspire confidence. The Rays do have a few intriguing options, such as J.P. Howell (4.70), Grant Balfour (3.46), and Dan Wheeler (2.28).

  • Red Sox:
    Who will be the shortstop? Rookie Jed Lowrie (.263 EqA) took over for Julio Lugo and finished last season as the starter, but Lugo has added 10 pounds of muscle this winter which he hopes will bulk up his .255 EqA from 2008.

  • Royals:
    Will Kyle Davies step up? The right-hander had 2.4 SNLVAR last season, and the Royals are hoping that he can become a good third starter behind Zack Greinke (5.3) and Gil Meche (4.6).

  • Tigers:
    Who will be the closer? Brandon Lyon was signed as a free agent from the Diamondbacks and is the favorite after having a 1.29 SNLVAR last season. Fernando Rodney (-0.13) finished the year as the closer, and flame-throwing Joel Zumaya (-0.51) is the dark horse after having had shoulder surgery last season.

  • Twins:
    Will Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris form an effective platoon at third base? Neither has the prototypical power of a corner infielder, but the Twins are hopeful both can improve after Buscher had a .266 EqA in ’08 and Harris finished at .262.

  • White Sox:
    Who will fill out the back end of the rotation? John Danks (6.1 SNLVAR last season), Mark Buehrle (4.8), and Gavin Floyd (3.4) are set in the first three spots, while Bartolo Colon (0.3), Clayton Richard (0.0), Aaron Poreda, and Jeff Marquez will compete for the other two jobs. Poreda and Marquez have yet to pitch in the major leagues.

  • Yankees:
    Will Jorge Posada be able to handle a regular catcher’s workload? Posada had shoulder surgery late last season and says he’ll be ready come opening day. While he did have a .276 EqA in 2008, he is also 37 years old. The Yankees’ alternatives behind the plate are Jose Molina (.206) and Kevin Cash (.231).

Former Yankees manager Joe Torre‘s latest book, the The Yankee Years (with Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci), has created quite a stir by disclosing that Alex Rodriguez was referred to by teammates as “A-Fraud.” It comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed the New York tabloids’ coverage of the team in recent seasons that the third baseman is not revered by his teammates, but Torre’s admission of such in print has brought up the question of whether he may have violated one of baseball’s main tenets: What goes on in the clubhouse, stays in the clubhouse.

Jim Bouton, the originator of the baseball tell-all, detailed his life with the 1969 Pilots and Astros in Ball Four. Among Bouton’s revelations were that some major leaguers used amphetamines and that many were womanizers-shocking at the time, but tame by today’s standards.

Bouton laughed this past week when the New York Daily News asked him about The Yankee Years, and he had a bit of advice for professional athletes in general. “Books are written,” Bouton said. “Therefore, don’t act like a jerk.”

Bouton scoffs at the idea of sanctity in the clubhouse, and at the belief that his book betrayed some kind of sacred trust. He also thinks that the Yankees should embrace the buzz being created by Torre’s book. “It is almost 40 years later,” Bouton said. “Why in the world anyone is still talking about the sanctity of the clubhouse is beyond me. Baseball and the Yankees should feel lucky that this book is generating so much attention [in the offseason]. There is no job hitting a ball with a stick, unless a lot of people are convinced it’s important.”

Torre is now prepearing for his second season as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, raising questions as to whether Dodgers players can feel comfortable talking to Torre without fearing that their conversations may eventually make it into print. Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa, who followed Torre to LA from the Yankees, told Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times that he does not see any potential problems. “Maybe I’m being naïve, but I don’t think it’s an issue,” said Bowa. “How many times do you have a team meeting-one that’s supposed to be the manager, the coaches, and the players-and you have the unnamed source that says, ‘Here’s what the manager got on us about.’ Is it a double standard?”

Coming off of an AL Central championship and entering his eighth season on the job, and now wrapping up a winter in which he has shed a number of veterans from the roster, White Sox general manager Ken Williams says he is extremely optimistic. “I might feel better about this team than any we’ve put together,” Williams told Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune.

Among the departed veterans are right-hander Javier Vazquez, catcher Toby Hall, third baseman Joe Crede, shortstop Orlando Cabrera, infielder Juan Uribe, and outfielders Ken Griffey Jr. and Nick Swisher. Williams has no qualms about his team getting younger. “At some point, if you don’t show confidence in your scouting system and player development and major league staff to develop major league players, and always get the veteran for your answer, it’s going to catch up to you,” Williams said. “And when it catches up to you, you are hurt because the spiral down is quicker.”

In addition to Poreda and Marquez having chances to win spots in the starting rotation, second baseman Chris Getz and third baseman Josh Fields are likely to be in the Opening Day lineup “Another thing that’s interesting is, it wasn’t so long ago that people were calling us old,” said Williams. “Now some of the complaints I’m getting are we’re too young going into the season. But the key is to be neither old or young, but to be good.”

With their projected payroll already higher than last year’s $80 million, the Brewers say they are likely done making roster moves, and they’ll be going to spring training with an extremely thin starting rotation following an offseason in which they lost left-hander CC Sabathia (9.3 SNLVAR last season) and right-hander Ben Sheets (5.6) as free agents.

The Brewers’ starters will be Dave Bush (3.7), Manny Parra (3.0), Jeff Suppan (2.5), Seth McClung (1.5), and Yovani Gallardo (1.0). The sixth starter is left-hander Chris Capuano, who won’t be ready to pitch until May after missing all of last season while recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery. “The major thing is we’ve got to have Manny Parra and Gallardo develop,” Brewers manager Ken Macha told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Our depth right now is of some concern. The guys we have out there don’t have that 34-start, 35-start history.”

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin had considered trading for a starting pitcher this winter, but his efforts were fruitless. “Teams just aren’t going to give up pitching,” Melvin said. “There have been times I have talked about it [with other teams]. As soon as you talk about the number one, two, or three starter with another club, you don’t get anywhere.”

NL Rumors and Rumblings:
It’s becoming apparent that Tom Glavine will wind up re-signing with the Braves. … The Diamondbacks are considering signing free-agent reliever Tom Gordon. … The Mets and Padres are interested in Ken Takahashi, a free-agent pitcher from Japan. … Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz will play for Panama in the World Baseball Classic, after initially declining an invitation. … Free-agent pitcher Pedro Martinez, who spent the past four seasons with the Mets, plans to pitch in the WBC for the Dominican Republic as a way of auditioning for major league teams. … Newly acquired right-hander Aaron Heilman will compete with left-hander Sean Marshall for the Cubs‘ fifth-starter’s spot. … Top prospect Colby Rasmus will be given a chance to compete for center fielder Skip Schumaker‘s starting job in spring training. … Dexter Fowler, another top prospect, will compete for the Rockies‘ center-field job with Ryan Spilborghs, Carlos Gonzalez, and Scott Podsednik.

AL Rumors and Rumblings:
The White Sox have mild interest in signing free agent Ivan Rodriguez to serve as the backup to catcher A.J. Pierzynski. … The Orioles and Mariners are both interested in trading for Cubs left-hander Rich Hill, who is out of minor league options. … The Mariners also have interest in free-agent outfielder Bobby Abreu, and the Mets might be in the running as well. … The Orioles remain hopeful of signing free-agent starter Braden Looper, and the Pirates have also been in contact. … The Tigers would consider trading left-hander Dontrelle Willis or right-hander Zach Miner. … The Twins are pursuing free-agent reliever Luis Ayala. … Free-agent pitcher Sidney Ponson, who was with the Yankees last season, will pitch for The Netherlands in the WBC.

Thank you for reading

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it is interesting to catch myself during the act of judging a personal story by impressions created in the sports scene. when the story first broke, the reflexive reaction was just \"aha! torre really does suck! blowhard!\"

i still don\'t know what the calm and intelligent response is. guy trying to sell a book amidst a charged media circus?
Asking who is going to close for the Mariners is like asking how an elephant\'s going to ring the bell on his bicycle without any thumbs.

It\'s moot: there won\'t be any leads to protect.

The key question is, how in God\'s name are they going to score runs?
Ichiro base hit, followed by Endy drag bunt, Clement double and Branyan homer. They\'ve also been linked to Abreu, so that would help the runs come along.
Sidney Ponson is from Aruba, a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Who\'da thunk?
He\'s even been knighted. Of course, that was before his celebrated legal run-ins of a few years past.
Jack Cust can play first base? My DMB team wishes that were true, but he\'s never done it in 340+ major league games.
There\'s basically no one in Boston who thinks Lugo will start, so unless you have a direct line to Theo or Francona I don\'t see it as much of a question. Lowrie outhit and out-fielded Lugo in his rookie season with a broken wrist.
John, I love your stuff, but I think you might want to reconsider suggesting that Cunningham, Buck, or Cust will be spending much time in left-field for the Athletics. I\'m pretty sure Billy Beane is going to stick with this Matt Holiday kid in left, and see how he does.
Holiday? Is he some type of rookie or something?? LOL JK