Fifteen questions for 2007

Fifteen questions for 2007

Players and managers are golfing, hunting, collecting Bentleys, quilting, getting haircuts, diving for black pearls off Tahiti or doing whatever it is they do at this time of year. They're gone like a Ryan Howard homer. So this is the annual opportunity to ask questions of ourselves instead, and here are 15 of them for 2007:

1. What is the biggest sight to behold in 2007?
It should be visible right off the bat, in the second week of the season. Boston opens its home schedule with an April 10-12 series against Seattle, and that means that the first pitch in one of those games will be from Daisuke Matsuzaka ($51 million posting fee) to Ichiro Suzuki (No. 51). With an overflow media contingent from Japan expected, it will be a mega-matchup of the two stars who led Japan to the World Baseball Classic title in 2005. The Matsuzaka scrutiny will be well under way by that point, because the Red Sox, who invested a total of $103.1 million in a player who never has thrown a Major League pitch, actually begin the season at Kansas City and Texas.

2. Have the Yankees had enough of this spreading-the-wealth thing yet?
The strange thing about this assembly line of new champions since the Yankees' 1998-2000 three-peat is that New York is loaded every year with by far the biggest payroll, has won the American League East every year since 1998, and has a Murderers Row II lineup with a Hall of Fame closer and a marquee rotation. The Boss' edict came down after the Yankees' American League Division Series collapse against Detroit, Joe Torre was allowed to say he is returning as manager, Alex Rodriguez isn't going anywhere, and right now it feels a little like Donald Trump giving Tara Conner a second chance. Where's Rosie?

3. What are the latest fashion styles for 2007?
The only revolutionary change is in the National League West, which no longer will be the only division without the color red. The Diamondbacks will be wearing Sedona red as the primary color of their new look, and there's a logo change on their unis as well. In that same division, the Dodgers will have names on the back of their jerseys again for the first time since 2004. And in the NL Central, the Reds (who would be kind of crazy to ever drop the color red) have a new uniform and logo look. All around Major League Baseball, Cool Base jerseys again will be a hot look.

4. Is it a good thing to have brothers on the same team?
Marcus Giles has left Atlanta to join brother Brian in the Padres' lineup. Sometimes that's a good thing in baseball, sometimes it doesn't help anything. Probably the best example of two brothers leading their team to the promised land was the case of Dizzy and Paul Dean. They won all four decisions as the Cardinals' Gashouse Gang beat the Tigers in a seven-game 1934 World Series. There are plenty of examples among position players, but the best that these brothers could hope for is to be like Hall of Famers Paul and Lloyd Waner, who were together with the Pirates during careers that spanned from the mid-1920s to 1945.

5. What will Busch Stadium do for an encore?
In 2006, the Cardinals played their first season at "new Busch." It became the first Major League facility since Yankee Stadium in 1923 to be home to a World Series champion in its first year. As if that were not enough, the clinching celebration happened right there at Busch while fireworks exploded overhead, and then it became the first rookie stadium in Major League history to be filled to capacity for its own parade celebration event. It was just too perfect. How can you possibly top that? Will this be the first time since 2000 that a world champion repeats?

6. Was Atlanta's absence from the last postseason a freak of nature or is it really one of those many clubs now that have to struggle to get into the field of eight?
The Braves' professional sports record achievement of 14 consecutive division titles ended when the Mets ran away with the NL East. But ask manager Bobby Cox about 2007 and he says, "I really like our team. If we can stay healthy, we've got a chance to win a lot of games." He has three former 20-game winners returning in Tim Hudson, John Smoltz and Mike Hampton, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery. Bob Wickman returns to help a key bullpen need. It could be the last year as a Brave for Andruw Jones. The road won't be easy, but the Braves could start a new streak.

7. What will Roger Clemens do?
He probably will pitch for the rest of his natural life. Would you retire if you knew you were still one of the best starters in the best sport, capable of commanding a seven-figure salary? This actually is feeling a lot like the final years of Nolan Ryan's wondrous career -- only with drama and negotiations each winter.

8. Is this the Mets' year, and is David Wright dating anyone?
Maybe and no. The Mets had the best regular season in baseball last year and swept the Dodgers in the NLDS, but they could have used Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez in the NL Championship Series. Then again, the Cards didn't have Mark Mulder so health was a lame excuse for not going to the World Series. All Mets fans wanted to know at the end of 2006 was whether they were adding an ace pitcher to the fold. And whether their third baseman has a girlfriend.

9. Dodgers fans are used to heavy turnover lately, but how does this latest team look?
Very different, again. Gone are Eric Gagne and Kenny Lofton (Texas), J.D. Drew (Boston), Greg Maddux (San Diego), Jayson Werth (Philadelphia) and others. Bill Mueller retired. Joining the club are Jason Schmidt, Luis Gonzalez, Juan Pierre, Mike Lieberthal and Randy Wolf. The 2006 Dodgers were 17 games better than the year before and they made the playoffs as the club set a season attendance record; we'll see if GM Ned Colletti's latest moves pay off.

10. Who is the lucky 100 millionth person in Major League Baseball to say "pitching wins championships"?
That would be Angels general manager Bill Stoneman. OK, there is not really a running tally, but that seems to have been said before. In Stoneman's case, he saw a departed Angel named Jeff Weaver pitch a magnificent clinching Game 5 for the Cardinals in the last World Series. But Stoneman has Weaver's kid brother, Jered, back after a phenomenal partial rookie season. They are hopeful about Bartolo Colon's successful return from a partially torn right rotator cuff, but if he is slow on the comeback trail, they also have John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders. The Angels have held onto young pitching despite considerable interest by other clubs, and they beefed up the bullpen with additions of Justin Speier and Darren Oliver.

11. How will Andy Pettitte fare in his second go-round with the Yankees?
The odds are stacked against him being the same Andy Pettitte he was all those years before leaving for the Astros after the 2003 World Series. Just look at past records of elite Major Leaguers who joined The Show with one team, stayed there most of their career, and then tried to come back to that team late in that career and recapture the magic. Tom Seaver couldn't do it with the Mets, Pete Rose and Tony Perez were shadows of their old selves as returning Reds, and Hank Aaron wasn't the same Hammer when he finished up in Milwaukee as a Brewer instead of the former Milwaukee Braves. It usually sounds good and draws people, but it's an uphill battle for a familiar No. 46 in the Bronx.

12. How will fans react to Barry Bonds passing Hank Aaron?
Bonds was largely under siege at ballparks that were not located in San Francisco last season, and then his passing of Babe Ruth's 714 home runs for No. 2 on the all-time list was mostly notable for mass ennui. The big question is what happens this summer. Aaron holds the most hallowed individual record in sports. He went through hell to get it, passing Ruth in 1974 and then finishing with 755 homers. Bonds, now 42, has 734. Indifference might have worked with passing someone for No. 2, but not with this one.

13. What will Major League Baseball's new TV deal mean to fans in 2007?
As part of a seven-year deal with both FOX and Turner Broadcasting System announced during 2006, there will be some notable changes. Starting this year, TBS will become the regular broadcaster of any regular-season tiebreaker games, all Division Series games, and the All-Star Selection Show. As for the League Championship Series, FOX and TBS will alternate each year starting with the ALCS on FOX in 2007 and the NLCS on TBS. FOX will continue to carry the All-Star Game and World Series each year through 2013. And the Fall Classic will start on weeknights instead of weekends.

14. Can the Cardinals repeat?
This question will be asked every year until someone finally does what the Yanks last did in 2000. St. Louis is definitely better than an 83-win team on paper, that's for sure. That record was misleading last year because of injuries to Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and David Eckstein. There are some key changes and this club is getting older in areas, but it's certainly possible. Then again, anything's possible.

15. How about Texas vs. Philadelphia in the next Fall Classic?
Hey, it could happen and it doesn't matter what you've done before. The AL West is more wide-open this year. The hiring of Washington, the former A's coach, as manager in Texas was seen as a coup by many. The Rangers have grown up, and they have postseason staple Lofton as their leadoff man and Gagne as their closer. In Philly, there's a bona fide starting rotation, and a tough offense built around reigning NL MVP Ryan Howard. They are two clubs that haven't joined the playoff party in the 2000s. So right away the odds are with them as big wheel keep on turnin' and the average preseason predictions are pretty much worthless.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.