It was through travel that I got a chance to meet an Angels fan in Fargo, N.D., (a holdover from the Darin Erstad era), a Padres fan in Aberdeen, S.D., a Mariners fan in Nashville, Tenn., many Rays fans in Orlando, Fla., and a whole bunch of Red Sox and Phillies fans. And each of them posed a variation of the line made noteworthy in the series "The West Wing": "What's next?"
How about 37 possible storylines for the next 52 weeks, with many more to emerge.
1. Another major baseball makeover. We don't know exactly what form it will take, but significant change seems inevitable at this point, as Major League Baseball and the Players Association draw closer to the expiration of the current labor agreement at the end of this year. The playoff field probably will be expanded from eight teams to 10, and undoubtedly the issue of realignment will be raised -- and perhaps tabled. But baseball's basic format for 2011 will probably change for 2012.
2. More instant replay. Commissioner Bud Selig has sounded more and more open to the idea of providing umpires with more expansive use of 21st century technology. At the very least, this will be a topic collectively bargained for the next labor agreement -- perhaps to extend to fair ball/foul ball calls and some safe and out calls on the bases. We'll see.
3. The Albert Pujols negotiations. The slugger has become to the Cardinals what Cal Ripken once meant to the Baltimore Orioles, and he is set to enter the last year of his contract in a year in which he turns 31. Inevitably, the question will be asked: If not the Cardinals, then what team would be willing to pay Pujols what he will seek, at a time when the big-money powers in the Bronx and Boston have already filled first base? The Cubs? The Dodgers? The Angels? Other teams presume that Pujols will remain in St. Louis, after an extended game of chicken.
4. The Phillies' fantastic four. Charlie Manuel has a nice problem: How should he align his rotation? The guess here is that out of deference to the pitcher who won the 2008 World Series for him, Cole Hamels will be placed in line behind Roy Halladay and ahead of Roy Oswalt; Cliff Lee, who will be getting the highest salary for any pitcher in any full season, could be lined up at No. 4. The possibilities of what they could accomplish, if they all stay healthy, could be extraordinary. "The problem they've created for themselves," said one longtime veteran recently, "is that only one result will satisfy the expectations -- they need to win the World Series. That's not going to be easy."
Twenty-eight managers not named Charlie Manuel -- or Bruce Bochy -- would love to have that kind of rotation quandary.
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