At long last, spring (training) is here!


2 Braveheart: In case you didn't notice, just two teams in baseball (the Red Sox and Cardinals) won more games last year than those Atlanta Braves (who won 96 of them). But not only have the Braves neglected to add a single Upton brother since last fall, they've barely disturbed any other family trees all winter. Ready for their only two big league additions? (1) A catcher/outfielder/DH whose DH skills won't come in real handy anymore ( Ryan Doumit) and (2) a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery ( Gavin Floyd). In other news, when they weren't escaping ice storms, the Braves also waved sayonara to two of the dominant personalities on their roster over the last nine years ( Brian McCann and Tim Hudson), and apparently never came close to keeping their unhittable closer ( Craig Kimbrel) from heading to an arbitration hearing. So while the Braves are still a young, really talented team, the feeling in other front offices is that they had an odd winter.


3 House Of Cards: How many World Series teams overturn the middle of their infield? Well, the Cardinals have. Matt Carpenter is their third baseman now. Pete Kozma is a utility man now. So the big questions are: Is Kolten Wong ready to start at second base, at age 23, for a team with win-it-all aspirations? And was Jhonny Peralta really the $53 million solution at short after a brush with Biogenesis fame, especially, as one exec mused, considering that "multiple teams thought he couldn't play shortstop every day?" Granted, every recipe the Cardinals pop in the oven seems to come out smelling like peach pie. But this is a spring where we'll start finding out if they were right about their latest up-the-middle renovation plans. And they need to be.

Other NL storylines:

• Is Billy Hamilton ready to lead off in Cincinnati? Is he ready to steal 175 bases? Is he ready to become the most exciting player alive? The Reds could really use all of that to happen.

• With A.J. Burnett moving across the state, with questions about first base, with the memories of an actual trip to October warming their souls, where do the Pirates go from here, now that there are no more Curse of Sid Bream anchors attached to their shoulders?

• Will Ryan Braun look straight into the cameras this spring and utter any words that restore his standing as a player whom anyone in the state of Wisconsin will want to root for?

• Two and a half years after blowing out his Achilles, four years after he last slugged .500 and five years after he last hit 40 homers, which direction is Ryan Howard headed this spring - Feared Cleanup Masher or Not So Feared Half of First Base Platoon with Darin Ruf?

• Can Bryce Harper make it through the spring without sending any outfield fences to the emergency room? If Harper stays on the field and has a special season, the Washington Nationals could have an even more special season.

• Which first-year manager has the best chance of (A) getting ejected from a spring training game and (B) making folks forget the legendary manager he's succeeding -- Matt Williams (Nationals), Ryne Sandberg ( Phillies) or Bryan Price (Reds)?

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