With the MLB season approaching faster than Jacoby Ellsbury stealing second, let’s look at some of the impact players from around the league, division by division. Players primed to have big years, or players who have enormous, Vince Wilfork sized question marks hanging over their heads. Starting with the NL East.

Florida Marlins
Javier Vasquez

If ever a pitcher was going to benefit from a move from the hitter friendly AL to the pitcher friendly NL, its Javier Vasquez. You could say he is the poster child for the theory that the NL is basically Quadruple-A in terms of batting lineups. Vasquez sports a career 4.65 earned run average. You can probably guess where we are going with this. His ERA in the NL? 4.05. That may not be an astounding figure, but projected over the course of a season, that’s a lot of runs in the difference. Vasquez instantly gives the Marlins a top of the rotation horse who will eat innings and gobble up wins. A very under-the-radar but potentially rewarding pickup for the Marlins.

NY Mets
Francisco Rodriguez

The Mets took an interesting and progressive step forward with a drastic change in upper management in the offseason, it will be interesting to see how things play out under new rule. Closer Francisco Rodriguez, aka K-Rod, will be a good test patient. K-Rod is currently undergoing anger management treatment after attacking his girlfriend’s father last season. No, seriously. True or not, the old regime was perceived to go soft on unruly player behaviour. K-Rod has been held out of any game action, and in fact hasn’t even thrown a warm-up pitch. It will be interesting to see how the Mets handle this situation in the early days. Who will close in spring training? Will K-Rod be ready come season start? Is Jack Nicholson involved in any shape or form in his anger management sessions?

Philadelphia Phillies
Cliff Lee

If you are playing fantasy baseball this season, and you are lucky enough to land the first pick in your league’s draft, you have to at least consider Cliff Lee as your top pick, right? Lee has a chance to do something special statistically in ’11, finding himself in the National League, pitching to pitchers and the kind of lower order hitters you just don’t find in the meatier-by-necessity American League lineups. Is it really any shock Lee chose the NL over the AL? With notable exceptions such as the Phillies, Marlins and Reds, the NL is basically Quadruple-A in terms of batting order strength. The lineups simply aren’t as deep as their AL counterparts. How many NL pitchers, when up at the plate, are going to even put the ball in play against Lee? 23/24 wins, 300 strikeouts and a CY Young are all potentially in play for Lee.

Atlanta Braves
Fredi Gonzalez

We’re cheating a little here, Gonzalez is the Braves new manager for ’11, the first person other than Bobby Cox to manage Atlanta in fourteen long years. Gonzalez was sacked by Florida only last season, and you have to wonder, how will Atlanta fans react to a poor start to the season by the Braves? Gonzalez, if you recall, was brutally called out by Marlins starlet Hanley Ramirez, a disastrous back-and-forth that no doubt led somewhat to Gonzalez’s eventual firing. If he couldn’t handle Hanley, how is he going to handle the veteran egos of the Braves locker room? You can bet there are plenty of casual fans who will tune into the first Braves game of the new season and ask, ‘Fredi who?’ It’s a basic but important question, is Fredi Gonzalez ‘big’ enough to run the Atlanta Braves?



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