Storylines to watch in 2009

Travel deals

Man in the mirror

Yes, Alex Rodriguez gets his own item, separate from his team. Sorry, but he requested it. As A-Rod rehabilitates his hip in Colorado, the new Selena Roberts book will come out April 14 -- and surely, we'll have more surprises following. Can the Yankees' human Mount Vesuvius put aside his bevy of distractions?

Follow the money

Baseball most definitely is not immune from our country's hard times, and the bad economy will influence so much of what we see. Will New York's new ballparks feature empty seats if either club gets off to a poor start? How many teams will make a transition to "sell mode" quicker than usual?

Opening the vault might cost

The Yankees, after missing the playoffs for the first time in a full-season schedule since 1993, spent $423.5 million to pick up CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. Their manager, Joe Girardi, probably will be dismissed if he can't find a way to lead his upgraded roster back to the postseason.

The heartbreak kids

Coming off two straight collapses, the Mets went out and acquired Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz -- but didn't work on their offense at all. Between the Wilpons' losses in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and the Citigroup naming-rights fiasco, the Mets must overcome not only their opponents but a very angry fan base.

After the glory

The initial World Baseball Classic in 2006 excited international audiences, but many participants wound up experiencing subpar seasons and regretting their involvement. Which pitchers and players this time around will register below-average numbers and wonder if their games suffered from their decision to compete in the WBC?

Defending the crown

The Phillies were a classic World Series champion, a great mix of clutch hitting and strong relief pitching with an ace starting pitcher in Cole Hamels. Can they duplicate their efforts? Can Hamels and Chase Utley overcome their health concerns? Can the older, lefty-hitting Raul IbaƱez make up for the departure of righty slugger Pat Burrell?

The miracle Rays

Speaking of Burrell, he's now with Tampa Bay, which put together a nice offseason in the wake of its remarkable 2008. The Rays are stocked with young talent, but they'll be sneaking up on no one this year. Can their pitchers duplicate their efforts? How big a factor will (still) rookie David Price be? (He'll start the season in the minors.)

Buying low in Boston

The Red Sox were disappointed to miss out on their top target, Teixeira. So instead of giving nine figures to one player, they bet their assets on injury comebacks by Rocco Baldelli, Brad Penny, Takashi Saito and John Smoltz. Theo Epstein and his crew might look like geniuses -- or like overly optimistic saps.

Manny being a Dodger

Manny Ramirez is in a place where he's both beloved and given some space. Will that make him happy at least through this season, or will he hit the same road bumps with the Dodgers that he always did with the Red Sox? We'll see how Joe Torre, who's trying to redeem his own name after his book greatly upset the Yankees, manages this high-maintenance superstar.

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