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Owens: Hot stove headlines in a winter of football (Jan. 18)

Andrew Owens | Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Each winter, once college football’s bowl season finishes, I get restless for baseball season to start.

Sure, the NFL playoffs are entertaining, but, for me, it can’t compete with baseball or college football. It doesn’t help that my Lions are always preparing for the NFL Draft come mid-January.

For those looking for a mid-winter baseball appetizer, here are some of the most compelling stories a month before pitchers and catchers report.

A unique world champion

Despite winning the World Series in dramatic fashion last October, the Cardinals enter 2012 after the franchise was shaken up like few champions before them.

Legendary manager Tony LaRussa has retired and the ink has yet to dry on first baseman Albert Pujols’s mega-contract with the Angels. Their replacements? Mike Matheny is the new skipper and Lance Berkman, at age 36 on Opening Day, replaces Pujols at first base.

One positive for the Red Birds, though, is the return of ace Adam Wainwright, who missed the entire 2011 season with an injury.

As slim as the odds were that the Cardinals would win the World Series when they were 10.5 games behind the Braves in late August, they are even slimmer that they will repeat.

New park, new look

The Florida Marlins — I mean, the Miami Marlins — are moving into their state-of-the-art ballpark, but that’s not the only makeover the team will experience in 2012.

After eight seasons at the helm of the White Sox, a stint that included a 2005 World Series victory, controversial manager Ozzie Guillen is back in Miami, a perfect choice for a franchise desperate to attract fans to its new palace, the cost of which exceeded $500 million.

Hiring Guillen was not the only splash the Marlins made during the offseason, as Miami nabbed shortstop Jose Reyes from the Mets, a rival in the NL East. Starting pitcher Mark Buehrle followed Guillen from the White Sox to South Beach and reliever Heath Bell was added to bolster the Marlins’ bullpen as well.

While the Marlins hope to compete in 2012, they promise to entertain. I’m waiting for Las Vegas to come out with the over/under on the amount of Twitter bombs dropped by Guillen and outfielder Logan Morrison this summer.

Battle Los Angeles

Now that Frank McCourt, everyone’s favorite villain in Los Angeles, has agreed to sell the Dodgers, the once-proud franchise can finally move forward from a tumultuous stretch in which the team was known more for its off-the-field drama than on-field play. With a Cy Young winner in Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp earning a second-place finish in the NL MVP voting, that’s saying a lot.

Just down the freeway, the Angels signed the aforementioned Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million contract and landed pitcher C.J. Wilson for five years at a cost of $77.5 million. In other words, the team committed to $317.5 million for two players in one day.

The Evil Empire strikes again

For much of the offseason, the Yankees and Red Sox sat on their hands and watched teams like the Marlins and Angels land the game’s prized free agents. In a proverbial stare-off, the Yankees blinked first, signing former Dodger Hiroki Kuroda and trading for Michael Pineda to give a once-shaky rotation two immense upgrades.

With Pineda and Kuroda joining C.C. Sabathia and Ivan Nova in the rotation, the Bronx Bombers are once again a favorite to reach the postseason for the 17th time in 18 years.

Boston, it’s your move.

As intriguing as a potential matchup of Harbaugh brothers in the Super Bowl would be, it’s time for the boys of summer to report to spring training.

Contact Andrew Owens at [email protected]


The views expressed in this Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.