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10 Most Compelling MLB Story Lines

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, Bobby Valentine and Jose Reyes, and more will make this one compelling season.

10 Most Compelling MLB Story Lines

America's greatest pastime "returns" today with the start of the MLB regular season.  It does not really feel like the start of the regular season for a couple of reasons.  First, Seattle and Oakland actually played two regular season games over in Japan last week, then returned to the States to resume their spring training schedule.  Second, even though there are major league games being played today, more spring training games are still taking place.  Bud Selig may have done his best to completely fudge up the start of the season, but my interest is still very high in what could be one of the crazier seasons in recent memory.

A lot happened in the offseason.  Several key players left their teams and went elsewhere, changing the dynamics of both leagues.  New managers, including some old friends, are back in the fold.  Some storied players are singing their swan songs during their farewell seasons.  Oh, and an extra wild card team got added to the playoffs.  Yes, this will be an unusual and compelling season.  Let's sort through the most compelling story lines in both leagues.

American League

1. Albert Pujols to the Angels and Prince Fielder to the Tigers - The two biggest, figuratively and literally, free agents on the market both switched leagues.  Fielder stayed in the central, moving from Milwaukee to Detroit, while Pujols headed out west to Los Angeles.  Both have made smooth transitions to the American League.  Pujols hit .373 this spring with 6 home runs, 19 RBI, and an absurd 1.225 OPS.  Fielder batted .288 with 4 home runs and 11 RBI.  While the addition of Fielder almost guarantees the Tigers the AL Central, Pujols and the Angels still have to deal with the Texas Rangers and their own revamped roster.  It will be fun to see both of these guys rake in the AL for years to come.

2. The Return of Bobby Valentine - Bobby Valentine hasn't managed in the major leagues since 2002, and since that time he's taken his antics to Japan and to the ESPN broadcast booth.  Now he returns to manage the Boston Red Sox, who fired Terry Francona after their late-season collapse and all of the aftermath of the team's clubhouse behavior.  Bringing a manager like Valentine into a hornets nest like that doesn't seem like the most conventional move, but maybe his style is just what the Red Sox need.  Boston has enough to worry about with the Yankees, Rays, and upstart Blue Jays.  Valentine should be the least of their worries, even though he can cause headaches.

3. Yu Darvish, Josh Hamilton, and the Rangers - The Rangers made a lot of big splashes in the offseason, some for good and some for bad.  The Rangers signed highly coveted Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish.  The 25-year-old has shown flashes of brilliance early one, striking out 11 against Colorado (inlcuding three K's of both Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez) and sporting a .225 average against.  If he can continue pitching like that, Rangers fans will forget all about C.J. Wilson.  Josh Hamilton had a slight but very public relapse with his alcoholism.  For better or worse (and worse, in this case), his affliction is out in the open.  He's really struggled this spring, and although it surely isn't because of that, you know the questions will be asked.  Hamilton needs to stay healthy this year if the Rangers want to compete with the Angels.

4. Who gets the second wild card? - MLB's decision to add a second wild card in both leagues immediately made me think that the league just wanted the top three AL East teams in the playoffs every season.  13 of the 16 Wild Card teams in the AL have been from the AL East, and in most years the AL East has three out of the five best teams in the league.  This year, though, there will be many more suitors for the wild card.  The Angels and Rangers are both going to challenge in the West.  The AL East might have four playoff-caliber teams this year with the Rays, Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays.  A young team like the Royals might surprise.  There are plenty of teams who will by vying for that extra playoff spot.

5. Mariano Rivera's last season? - Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in the history of the sport, has made very strong hints that this will be his final season in baseball.  It seems hard to believe that Rivera will be 43 at the end of the season, and it seems even harder to believe that he would consider retiring with the way he's aged.  Rivera's production hasn't wavered as he's aged, and in some respects it has improved. The last four seasons, Rivera has posted sub-2.00 ERAs and sub-1.000 WHIPs, which is absolutely amazing.  But Rivera has experienced a long and fulfilling career, and he might just be ready to move on to the next stage of his life even if he could pitch until he's 50.  I'll be paying close attention to Rivera all year long just because this might be my final opportunity to do so.

National League

1. Ozzie Guillen, Jose Reyes, and the Miami Marlins - The Florida Marlins made big splashes (pun intended) this offseason when they a) moved to their new ballpark; b) signed Jose Reyes, Mark Beurhle and Heath Bell; c) hired Ozzie Guillen to be their new manager; d) unveiled some wild new uniforms.  There were so many big changes for the Marlins franchise this year.  The new stadium and infusion of new personalities has to be the most captivating story line in the National League.  How will the new left side of the infield (Reyes and Hanley Ramirez, shifted to third base) coexist?  How good of a job will Ozzie Guillen do as manager?  Can Josh Johnson stay healthy at the top of the rotation?  

2. Life without Prince and Albert.  The Brewers and Cardinals both have to adjust to life without their franchise first basemen while at the same time competing with a Cincinnati Reds team that seems ready to pounce on all of the turnover.  The Cardinals brought in Carlos Beltran and will use Lance Berkman at first base.  It's not Albert Pujols, but it's a nice stopgap.  The Brewers signed Aramis Ramirez to play third base, but their solution at first base is Mat Gamel.  

3. Arizona vs. San Francisco in the West - The Diamondbacks surprised us last year under first-year manager Kirk Gibson by improving from 65-97 in 2010 to 94-68 last year.  They won the N.L. West and nearly beat the Brewers in the NLDS.  They've kept the same core intact while also adding talented pitcher Trevor Cahill in a trade with Oakland.  San Francisco missed the playoffs after winning the World Series in 2010.  Injuries to Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval and down years from key contributors like Aubrey Huff derailed their playoff hopes.  They are looking to get back this year, but Justin Upton and the Diamondbacks are going to be tough to dethrone from top of the NL West.

4. Jamie Moyer's comeback - Jamie Moyer didn't pitch last year because he was recovering from Tommy John surgery.  He was 48-years-old.  Now, at age 49, Moyer has secured a spot in the Colorado Rockies' rotation.  At 49 years of age.  In the major leagues.  To put this in perspective, Jamie Moyer made his MLB debut three years before I was born.  Moyer's comeback and resiliency are pretty remarkable.  Moyer posted a 2.50 ERA in during spring training, and will be starting Colorado's second game of the year.  Keep doing your thing, Jamie.

5. Chipper Jones making one last run - Chipper Jones has been one of the cornerstones of the Atlanta Braves since his breakout rookie year of 1995.  Since then, he's won an MVP, been an All-Star seven times, posted a batting average of .304, hit over 450 home runs, and remain on of the classier players in the game.  Chipper is retiring after the season, and hopefully he ends his career on a high note.

Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to see the Yankees home opener against the Angels.

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