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February 11, 2013

The San Francisco Giants won the World Series, the low payroll Oakland A's actually won their division. Washington and Baltimore got good, Toronto could win the AL East, the Yankees and Red Sox are down, the Los Angeles Dodgers have money to burn, and Tim Lincecum cut his hair. As John Lennon once sang, “Strange days indeed (most peculiar, Mama!).” If you're feeling a little gloomy, I have five words to cheer you up—pitchers and catchers report tomorrow.

So if you like rankings, and you haven't been following all of the hot stove action, it may surprise you that the Washington Nationals are picked number one by Yahoo! Sports. They have Bryce Harper, a rested Stephen Strasburg, a formidable pitching staff, and hopefully (for them), a healthy Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth.

If you are surprised by the Nats being ranked number one, you will be shocked that the Toronto Blue Jays are second. You must have forgotten that they got Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Jose Reyes from Miami, and National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets. While the Yankees and Red Sox will get all of the (American) media attention, Toronto-Tampa Bay may prove to be the best matchup in the American League East.

I won't do a paragraph on all of the rankings, but the Dodgers, with their 200+ million dollar payroll, are third, followed by Cincinnati, and the Angels. The Giants are listed eighth, and the A's thirteenth. (To avoid the accusation of a west coast bias, I should also mention the Yankees are ranked 11th and the Red Sox 19th). The Houston Astros are last, preceded by Miami, the Mets, Colorado, and Minnesota. There is no reason I can think of to attend a Houston Astros game. Maybe Opening Night to see their first-ever designated hitter?

While it is pretty much agreed that money does not necessarily buy championships, it will be fun as a native southern Californian to see what happens with the two L.A. teams. The Angels now have Josh Hamilton to go with Albert Pujols, and the Dodgers signed Zack Grienke to mix in with all those former Red Sox. As Casey Kasem would say, “Let's start the countdown.” Pitchers and catchers now, the first spring game in a week and a half, then let's have it for real in seven weeks.

Minutia: Actually, pitchers and catchers reported today for ten teams—including the Oakland A's. Three teams even opened the camp gates Sunday, but fans of the Phillies will have to wait until Wednesday. Batteries for the other 16 teams report tomorrow.

This just in: The Cleveland Indians have signed free agent outfielder Michael Bourn to a reported four-year, 48 million dollar contract. Bourn was the biggest free agent name still available, and among the top in this year's free agent class. It appears the biggest name remaining now is pitcher (and Chico native) Kyle Lohse.

Giants: “The Beard” and the hair are both gone. Brian Wilson is a free agent and still is unsigned. Sergio Romo has gotten the closer assignment. The team held their annual fanfest last week, and pitcher Tim Lincecum apparently stopped at the barber shop on the way. The pitching is still good, but I don't think Marco Scutaro can carry the offense for a full season.

A's: Last year it was Yoenis Cespedes. This year it's Hiroyuki Nakajima. The Japanese shortstop joins the Cuban outfielder. The A's also traded for outfielder Chris Young and catcher John Jaso. All of the rookie pitchers they had last year are now sophomores, joining Bartolo Colon and maybe even Dallas Braden.

World Baseball Classic: The WBC begins March 2, but this time all of the games will be televised on the MLB Network. The list of the names on the USA, Dominican Republic, and Venezuela rosters is pretty impressive, but more and more major leaguers seem to be withdrawing every day. It should still be a good tournament, though, and if you get the MLB Network, there will be plenty to watch including games in the middle of the night from Tokyo and Taiwan. The finals are March 17-19 at San Francisco's A-T-and-T Park.

WBC-Gold Sox connection: Former Gold Sox catcher Tyler LaTorre is listed as one of the catchers on the Team Italy roster. Yankee backstop Francisco Cervelli is probably number one on the depth chart behind the plate. LaTorre played for the Gold Sox in 2003, and was the backup Triple-A catcher in Fresno for the San Francisco Giants last year.

Stassi traded: Yuba City native, former Gold Sox catcher, and high prospect Max Stassi was part of a deal last week that brought infielder Jed Lowrie from Houston to Oakland. Stassi goes the other way, but now could have a faster track to the big leagues. Max will likely start the season at Double-A Corpus Christi, but has received an invitation to the Astros' major league camp in Kissimmee.

More top prospects: Outfielder Joc Pederson is listed as one of the top three prospects in the Dodgers farm system, according to Pederson played against the Gold Sox for the Norcal Longhorns in 2010, and was held to just 1-for-11 with an RBI single in the four-game series. Joc (real name)'s brother Tyger (real name) also played for the Longhorns.

College ball: If your idea of the sounds of spring include the doink of an aluminum bat, college baseball starts Friday (February 15).The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association has Arkansas ranked number one in their preseason poll.

On TV: ESPN has announced its Opening Day lineup, which will feature four games. Monday April 1, the network will lead off with Red Sox-Yankees at 10am Pacific Time, followed by Giants-Dodgers at 1 (which will be blacked out in most of California, but you'll be able to watch either the San Francisco or Los Angeles local broadcast). At 4pm, coverage switches to ESPN2 with Philadelphia at Atlanta, followed by St. Louis-Arizona at 7pm. The season begins on Sunday March 31 with Texas at Houston at 5pm on ESPN. Not exactly a marquee game, but it is the debut of the Astros in the American League.

More ESPN: The Worldwide Leader will televise eight spring training games—all from Florida. The first broadcast will be Monday March 11 with Cardinals-Yankees. The following week will feature three games, with Phillies-Braves on March 18, Yankees-Phillies on March 19, and Red Sox-Yankees on the 20th. Monday through Thursday March 25-28, there will be four games: Boston-Baltimore, St. Louis-NY Mets, Philadelphia-Detroit, and St. Louis-Washington. All games are on ESPN at 10am Pacific.

Still more ESPN: The network and Major League Baseball agreed to an eight-year, 5.6 billion dollar contract Tuesday, reportedly the largest sports deal in television history. The contract starts in 2014, and will include one postseason wild card game each year, alternating between the American and National Leagues. ESPN will also televise any necessary tiebreaker games. Regular season games will continue to be shown on Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday nights, but each team will have to appear on at least one national broadcast per season. Games will also return on holidays (Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day). The deal also includes more Baseball Tonight programming. Expect MLB to get another influx of cash soon—deals with Fox and TBS expire after this season.

Oh yeah: Tomorrow (Tuesday) marks 100 days until the Gold Sox begin their 2013 campaign.

Photo from Yahoo!

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