albert pujols (angels)

Albert Pujols

*Sure, we’re all in a bit of a lull after football season ends. February and March is kind of a transition period in America sport, coming down from the all-out craziness that is the NFL playoffs to the youthful, boisterous spectacle of March Madness.

Luckily, we do have another thing to look forward to – the opening of spring training camps all across Florida and Arizona. It’s the return of baseball. What should you be expecting for Major League Baseball’s 2012 season?

·         New faces, new places. Like most off-seasons, it was one of enormous turnover. Albert Pujols left the Midwest to head to Anaheim, joined by reliable starter C.J. Wilson; Prince Fielder left Milwaukee for his father’s franchise in Detroit; Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle joined the new “Miami” Marlins. Which free agent will make the most impact? Pujols will deliver punch to an already-loaded Anaheim lineup, but Fielder will combine with Miguel Cabrera to present an absolutely terrifying 3-4 to the Tigers. American League pitchers haven’t seen this kind of combo since David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez were at Fenway.

·         The declining number of African-American players in the game. Salon.com did an excellent article on this troubling problem last year; and Sabernomics broke it down in more detail a few years ago. It’s a real shame to see the small number of African-American players in the most American of sports, 65 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. We should cherish the established African-American stars in the game – Matt Kemp in Los Angeles, Torii Hunter with the Angels, Carl Crawford with the Red Sox – and keep an eye out for new ones, like David Price in Tampa Bay, Jason Heyward in Atlanta and Domonic Brown in Philadelphia.

·         Turmoil in Boston and Los Angeles. Two of baseball’s greatest markets were in complete chaos this winter – Boston, with the messy departure of manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein in the wake of last season’s collapse, and Los Angeles, with its ownership debacle. Is there hope for a rebound? Yes, in both places. L.A. has enough talent (in MVP candidate Matt Kemp and Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw) to bounce back; Boston still has heavyweights Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury and charismatic new manager Bobby Valentine.

·         The once and future champions? Sure, St. Louis lost manager Tony LaRussa and Pujols from their Cinderella-like championship team from 2011; but with the addition of Carlos Beltran, the return of Adam Wainwright and a solid lineup, the Cardinals should end up as NL Central champions (at least).