National / Sports / April 6, 2011

Plenty of baseball intrigue in April and May

Opening Day snuck up on me a bit this year. Maybe I was too preoccupied with my looming graduation (and subsequent depression). It could be that Major League Baseball’s (MLB) decision to hold the first games on a Thursday caught me off guard. Or, perhaps, the White Sox just look so good on paper that I didn’t find much to get worked up about.

Well, whatever: it’s here. And there’s a lot to pay attention to this year. Here are four stories worth watching in April and May.

How long will Tony Reagins last in Anaheim?

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim owner Arte Moreno is notoriously aggressive. In 2005, Moreno changed the title of the team from Anaheim Angels to the abomination uttered in the previous sentence. It was all part of a grand plan, Moreno insisted, to rebrand the team—which had just won a championship, by the way, and had stellar attendance, but no matter—and market it to the entire Los Angeles area.

It is worth wondering, then, how long Moreno will stick with Tony Reagins as the team’s general manager. In Reagins’ three seasons (he was named to the position in October 2007), the Angels have had two playoff appearances. But after the team won only 80 games in 2010, and an offseason highlighted by the puzzling acquisition of the drastically overpaid Vernon Wells, it stands to reason that Reagins may soon be relieved.

The Angels are off to a slow start, and will need serious contributions from the front end of their rotation to contend in a dismal American League West division. If they fail to contend, look for Reagins to be sent packing sometime before the trade deadline.

Will Pujols stay in St. Louis?

One would think that the St. Louis Cardinals, of all franchises, would understand the relative significance of Albert Pujols. Cardinals’ fans are renowned for their rather grandiose opinions about the franchise, and themselves—they are the self-proclaimed “best baseball fans” in the country.

So it seems likely that St. Louis fans, at some point, will acknowledge that the organization will go on without Pujols, should the first baseman decide to declare free agency and receive astronomical offers.

One thing is working in the Cardinals’ favor, however. Baseball’s most prolific spending teams—the Red Sox and the Yankees—are set at first base, and would most likely pass on making Pujols a permanent designated hitter. The Cubs seem like a more likely destination—terrifying as that may be for Cardinals fans.

Can the Royals manage to screw up the future?

Detractors of the Tampa Bay Rays—and, specifically, their general manager Andrew Friedman—have often said that the Rays’ eleven-year building process that culminated in a pennant in 2008 was little more than the inevitable result of years and years of having prime position in the MLB draft. In response, any intelligent person would point to the two sorriest franchises of the last twenty years: the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Kansas City Royals.

Though the Royals’ recent history is not as galling as the Pirates (thanks to a winning season in the last decade), the organization has proved time and again that number one picks can, and will, fail.

But the Royals currently boast the best minor league system in baseball, and perhaps ever. Baseball Prospectus writer Kevin Goldstein put 10 Royals youngsters in his top 100—four in the top 13.

Royals’ management seems to understand that time is on their side, and hurrying the prospects along will help no one.

Should the Royals play their cards right, it’s unlikely that their division title drought will last much longer.

Is Starlin Castro special?

Yes. Very much so. He’s not a once-in-a-generation player. More like a once-in-a-good-while sort of guy.

Still, though the media hype machine—in Chicago especially—may overstate his potential, the shortstop has unbelievable talent. At age twenty-one, he’s projected (by projection systems run by Baseball Prospectus, Bill James, Dave Szymbroski etc.) to put up something in the neighborhood of an .800 OPS with respectable plate discipline in 2011. For a middle infielder at his age, that’s mind-boggling.

In short, he’s exactly what the Cubs have been waiting for in a young, talented position player (Sorry Geovany Soto, your peak will be short, though sweet). He will be the face of the organization for years to come.

The only question, then, is whether or not Castro will stick at shortstop. His decision-making already cost the Cubs a game against the Pirates (I’m sure Castro’s bat will win the Cubs a lot of games this season), and at this stage in his career, there’s no reason to expect he will remain svelte or athletic enough to hold down the position in the long term.

Kevin Morris

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