As spring training nears, the question has to be asked: Would it be spring training without a performance-enhancing drugs controversy?
Major League Baseball and the federal government are investigating a clinic in South Florida that links several players, including the Nationals’ Gio Gonzalez and the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, to possible use of PEDs, but depending on the evidence, baseball could be in a difficult position. It would be difficult to suspend players without a positive drug test. Gonzalez has no failed tests and of the 40 players suspended since 2005 for violations of the program, only a few have been because of evidence developed by MLB’s investigation, court documents or medical records.
* Of the two local teams, it appears the Orioles got the toughest break with the new interleague schedule. In August, they have an eight-game trip to play National League teams in San Diego, San Francisco and Arizona, a long time to go without having a DH. The Nats’ American League road games are spread out: They play two in Baltimore in May, then visit Cleveland for three in June, Detroit for two in July and Kansas City for three in August.
* Justin Upton is saying that he’s pumped to be joining brother B.J. in the Braves outfield. This is a gamble for the Braves, who have added run production at the possible expense of team chemistry. If the two are happy, they could easily each do 30-30. But if not, the Braves have trouble on their roster, especially with leaders Martin Prado (traded) and Chipper Jones (retired) gone.
* With the Uptons and Jason Heyward, the Braves have the most athletic outfield in baseball, but offensively, the Dodgers still have the most potential, especially if left fielder Carl Crawford is healthy. Crawford could steal 60 bases with 20 home runs. Matt Kemp could go 40-40 and Andre Ethier could hit .300 with 30 home runs.
* Jair Jurrjens, the newest pitcher signed by the Orioles, has two things going for him: He’s 26, and he’s injury issues are with his right knee, not his arm. He’s a location pitcher who has lost velocity on his fastball. He’s got a chance to return to the form that helped him have the lowest ERA in the NL at the All-Star break in 2011.
* The Blue Jays’ roster has been revamped with All-Stars, but do they have a strong enough bullpen? Casey Janssen is the leading candidate to close, but their eighth-inning guy, Sergio Santos, is a question mark because he’s coming back from a shoulder injury. Compared to the Orioles, the Blue Jays’ ‘pen looks thin.
* Interesting stat: Oakland pitching held Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols to a combined five home runs in 152 at-bats last season while winning the AL West. Hamilton and Pujols are teammates this season with the Angels.
* Will the Yankees try to get out of paying A-Rod the $114 million left on his contract, given his hip injury and possible new allegations about steroids coming to the forefront with MLB and government investigations of a clinic in South Florida? The answer is yes. But remember, the Yankees couldn’t get out of Jason Giambi’s contract a few years back. The best chance for the Yankees to get their money back is by collecting insurance after proving that A-Rod’s hip injury marks the end of his career.