Looking ahead to baseball in 2006

With Christmas and Hanukkah on the horizon, it’s a quiet time of year for baseball. The executives, agents and players all have the next few days off to unwind at home. While some minor signings occurred over the last few days, there was nothing groundbreaking that warrants much new discussion. So I thought I would do a list of stories that await baseball fans in 2006.

1. World Baseball Classic: Spring Training this year is more than just exhibition. For hundreds of players, the games in March will be all about national pride and global entertainment. While in the U.S., baseball fans view the WBC as a marketing ploy, many countries are taking this competition quite seriously. No matter what, it will be fun to see baseball games in March that don’t involve guys wearing number 72 playing first base and batting fourth.

2. A New Basic Agreement: It’s hard to believe that four years have gone by so fast but it’s that time again. This season, the owners and the players will once again work out a new Basic Agreement. The owners may push for contraction, a better revenue sharing system, and a strict drug testing program. The players will resist a salary cap and limits on spending. It’s the same old song and dance, but it’s entertaining.

3. Johnny Damon in the Bronx: A week ago, I would have been shocked at that title, but Johnny Damon is indeed on the Yankees. While many Yankee fans aren’t welcoming Damon with open arms, it’ll be hard for fans of the Bombers to resist the temptation of this star-studded lineup. Can the 2006 Yankees score 1000 runs?

4. The Roger Clemens Sweepstakes: As Clemens and the Astros are not heading to arbitration, the first major story of 2006 is bound to be Clemens’ destination. Will he wait until May to sign with Houston? Will Boston (a town Clemens seems to dislike) and New York (a town Clemens loves) engage in an all-out bidding will? Will the Rocket finally retire? We should know by the end of January.

5. Manny Being Manny Somewhere Else? On the heels of Damon’s departure, Ramirez, The New York Daily News reported, is pushing hard for a trade and would consider the Mets. It’s possible that the Red Sox could be without two-thirds of their World Series-winning outfielders and two important cogs in their lineup come Opening Day.

5a. Shaking Up the AL East: With turnover on the Sox and the new co-GMs struggling to assert their authority, is this the year the Red Sox finish third? Will age catch up to the Yankees and they fall out of first place? Can the B.J./A.J. tandem in Toronto lead the Blue Jays to the playoffs for the first time since 1992? Stay tuned. The uber-competitive AL East should provide great drama.

6. The Year of the Mets: The Mets have their closer in Billy Wagner, their catcher in Paul LoDuca, and their All Star first baseman in Carlos Delgado. They want Manny and another starting pitcher. They’re poised to be everyone’s pre-season favorites for the NL East. Can someone finally unseat the 14-time division champion Atlanta Braves?

7. The Los Angeles Red Sox: Since Ned Colletti replaced Paul DePodesta as the Dodgers’ General Manager, the team has become the Red Sox West. Colletti brought in Grady Little to manager, Bill Mueller to play third, and Nomar Garciaparra to play first. With Derek Lowe as their projected Opening Day starter, it seems that Colletti is trying to bring in proven winners. Add Rafael Furcal to the mix and this team has as good as shoot as any to win a division where 85 wins might just be enough to capture a division title.

8. A Bondsian Pursuit of Ruth: Barry Bonds is sitting pretty with 708 home runs. The Giants slugger, who claims to be healthy and ready to play, is just six home runs behind Babe Ruth and 47 behind the all-time leader Hank Aaron. I’m sure all eyes will be on Bonds every time he steps to the plate this season. As he says he’ll play in the World Baseball Classic, Bonds-mania should build to a fever pitch this summer.

9. Nationals, DC, MLB Working Out a Stadium Deal: Yesterday, I wrote about the failed stadium negotiations between MLB and the Washington, DC city council. As the MLB-imposed stadium deadline is fast approaching, the City Council will have to act. This off-field drama will be the last big story of 2005 and the first big one of 2006. Will MLB call in an arbitrator to mediate the case? Will a failed stadium deal drag baseball away from DC for the last time?

10. Breaking Curses: In 2004, the Red Sox broke years of bad luck. In 2005, the White Sox shed their losing ways. Is it time for the Cubs to reclaim a crown after 98 title-less seasons?

11. Two Books: Finally, as a bonus, there are two books coming out that should attract a lot of attention from the baseball blogging universe. On February 17, just as pitchers and catchers are heading south, Dayn Perry, a writer for FoxSports and Baseball Prospectus, is releasing his book Winners: How Good Baseball Teams Become Great Ones (and It’s Not How You Think). Then, on March 20, as we’ll begin to hear more about the collective bargaining negotiations, Bronx Banter writer Alex Belth will see his book Stepping Up: The Story of All-Star Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball Players’ Rights arrive in stores. It’ll be a good season for baseball literature.

As the holidays are upon, I want to wish all of my readers a Happy Hanukkah and a Merry Christmas. I hope this holiday season sees everyone enjoying time with family. See you on Monday.

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