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Originally published February 12, 2011 at 10:03 PM | Page modified February 12, 2011 at 10:06 PM

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Larry Stone

Surveying the spring-training landscape

It must be baseball season: pitchers and catchers are reporting to camps in Arizona and Florida.

Seattle Times baseball reporter

Let's examine the baseball landscape as the glorious first pickoff drill of spring awaits us on Monday.

Albert Pujols is in limbo, vowing to pursue free agency next winter if the Cardinals have not signed him to an extension by the time he reports to camp, reportedly on Wednesday. Expect feverish second-by-second Twitter updates next week.

Texas' Michael Young is in his own state of flux, saying he's sick of being "misled and manipulated" by the Rangers, and asking for a trade that does not appear forthcoming. Awk-ward.

Speaking of awkward, take the Mets and Dodgers. (Their fans just instinctively responded, in unison: "Please.") Both have ownerships in a state of dire confusion, thanks to the fallout from the Madoff scandal (in the Mets' case) and the detritus from the ugliest divorce since Lee Marvin (in the case of the Dodgers). How each situation gets resolved will be an ongoing drama in 2011.

What won't be an ongoing drama, thankfully, will be labor angst. While the NFL and NBA sweat out possible lockouts, baseball is in a state of relative collective-bargaining bliss, even as the Dec. 11 expiration of the basic agreement looms. No one foresees a work stoppage, so all the focus can be on the game on the field, as it should be.

On Monday, that focus will be fixated on Clearwater, Fla., for the first summit of the Big Four: Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. Meanwhile, the Phillies' fifth starter, Joe Blanton, may be the first starter to go on the DL because of self-esteem issues.

When it comes to rotations, the Yankees are finding yet again that $185 million doesn't buy what it used to. When camp opens, they'll find themselves scrounging for starters to follow CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, as Yankees fans peek jealously at a Red Sox offseason that netted not just Carl Crawford, the No. 1 position player on the free-agent market, but Adrian Gonzalez, the No. 1 slugger on the trade market.

The Yankees will be auditioning the likes of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia in part because Andy Pettitte, one of their fabled "Core Four" (now reduced to the "Key Three" of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada), decided last week to retire.

Also conspicuously absent from diamonds across Florida and Arizona will be Joe Torre, Lou Piniella, Bobby Cox and Cito Gaston, a quartet that accounted for 12 pennants and eight World Series titles among them.

In their place will be Don Mattingly (Dodgers), Mike Quade (Cubs, his interim status removed), Fredi Gonzalez (Braves) and John Farrell (Blue Jays). Other new managers breaking in this week will be Terry Collins (Mets), Ron Roenicke (Brewers) and Clint Hurdle (Pirates), in addition to Edwin Rodriguez (Marlins) and Kirk Gibson (Diamondbacks) having transitioned from interim to permanent.

Oh, yeah — Eric Wedge takes over the hot dugout seat in Seattle, inheriting the 101-loss mess that was relayed from Don Wakamatsu to Daren Brown last year.

At least Wedge doesn't have to deal with the pressure of high expectations. The Mariners have passed the mantle of offseason darlings to teams like the Brewers, A's and Orioles, who had a winter of brisk dealings. Just for starters, Zack Greinke is now in Milwaukee, Hideki Matsui in Oakland and Vlad Guerrero in Baltimore. How well those and other moves pan out is subject to a 162-game grind, as the Mariners can attest.

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One AL West team that most assuredly does not fall into the "darling" category is the Angels, who endured the most universally panned winter in the majors. After failing to land Crawford or Adrian Beltre — free agents who made perfect sense in Anaheim — they inexplicably traded for the whopping contract of outfielder Vernon Wells, a move that had panic (not to mention disaster) written all over it.

The Rays are another team that endured some slings and arrows this winter, losing not only Crawford but also Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Rafael Soriano, among others. It's not quite the sort of fire sale periodically executed down the road in Miami; they did add Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, and still have a lot of talent left, led by Evan Longoria and augmented by one of the most productive farm systems in baseball.

Nevertheless, the Rays figure to struggle to excite the Tampa Bay fans — just as they did, come to think of it, when they were winning the AL pennant in 2008 and the AL East title last year.

No one will roll into action this week any more satisfied than the Giants, happily lugging the baggage of defending champion for the first time since 1955. There seems to be some concern that all the extra innings of postseason play will tax their vibrant young arms, led by native son Tim Lincecum.

Come Monday, every team in baseball will be striving with the goal of having such problems next spring.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

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About Larry Stone

Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

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