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Catching up: Yankees pitching, Mets second base, Rangers closer, the NL Central and Barry Bonds

Good to be back, and just about ready for the start of a new season. Love this time of year.

First, let's look forward and see what you can expect from the blog this week:

1) Giveaway contests later today and tomorrow afternoon.

2) Our annual preseason predictions contest will kick off tomorrow morning and run until the first regulation pitch on Thursday.

3) Perhaps a movie review?

4) The Yankees will work out Wednesday, in preparation for Thursday's Opening Day, so I'll be in the Bronx for that.

5) I'll be at the Stadium Thursday for the opener, weather permitting.

6) I'll be in Miami, as the Mets open their season, for the weekend.

Who could ask for anything more

--As it turns out, baseball checked in with a pretty quiet week as I pounded out my preview material from a super-secret location. So, a quick look back:

--Some of the biggest news, IMO, linked back to my "best guesses" from St. Patrick's Day. I guessed correctly on the Yankees going with Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia to fill out their starting rotation, while it looks like the Mets will tab Brad Emaus as their starting second baseman. I whiffed on the Rangers' usage of Neftali Feliz. He'll close, while the Rangers continue to try to fill out their starting rotation.

The Emaus move makes sense. Might as well see what this guy can give you. Luis Castillo might have a .350 OBP season left in him, as he tries to fill in for Chase Utley with the Phillies, but that would come in with an extremely low slugging percentage, very limited range and bad will from Mets fans. It was time to move on, as we discussed here.

The Yankees' pitching? A harder call. I understand the rationale in starting Nova and Garcia, slotting Bartolo Colon as the long reliever and trading Sergio Mitre to Milwaukee. I just wonder whether Colon is going to provide anything at all from that long relief role, to which he isn't at all accustomed.

With Colon throwing as well as he has been, would it have made more sense to throw caution to the wind and let him start, even if he got hurt after, say, eight starts? Maybe the totality of those eight starts would have helped the Yankees win a few games. Freddy Garcia could've been the long reliever and then transitioned over to starting once Colon got injured.

(Yes, I realize Garcia would be equally unaccustomed to relieving as Colon. But I think Colon, in the short term, might provide more upside as a starter than Garcia would.)

 Tough decision. And maybe, given the characters involved, the consequences aren't great. Maybe neither Garcia nor Colon - nor Kevin Millwood, for that matter - will be much better than replacement-level. Yes, Garcia pitched respectably for the White Sox last year, but he'll have far more challenging assignments now that he's in the AL East.

As for the Feliz move, it goes back to what we discussed here. Sure, Feliz could provide far more value as a frontline starter than as a closer. But for the reigning AL pennant winner, you just can't say, "Ah, we'll roll the dice at closer" when your old, successful closer is still around. It's an extremely difficult move to execute, and one the Rangers ultimately weren't comfortable doing.

--The Reds, defending NL Central champs, had enjoyed a non-eventful spring as their rivals suffered setbacks (like the Cardinals with Adam Wainwright and Milwaukee with Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum). But now Homer Bailey is out, and Bronson Arroyo is ill, and Johnny Cueto is also on the disabled list.

I wonder if the Yankees, and other teams in need of starting pitching, will be impacted significantly by these developments. With all of the contenders hurting, will the NL Central be a competition among .500-ish teams? Will all of the teams, in other words, stay in the race, thereby keeping all of them off the sell side? Chris Carpenter seemed like a natural trade fit, if the Cardinals fell out.

--The Barry Bonds trial. Love this kind of stuff, although not quite as much as I love Opening Day. I'm not there, and I don't have a law degree, so this take comes from a peanut-gallery perspective: I was surprised that Bonds' attorneys didn't try to rough up federal agent Jeff Novitzky more with some of the allegations concerning Novitzky's behavior, detailed by Jonathan Littman of Yahoo. Any perspective out there would be appreciated.

As much as I'm into this, however, I wonder how much the verdict will impact Bonds' "legacy." If he's acquitted, pretty much everyone is still going to believe that he used illegal performance-enhancing drugs to become baseball's all-time home run king.

And if he's convicted...sure, it'll be incredibly damning, and he'll probably spend some time in prison. But I can't see baseball taking any sort of actions like the proverbial asterisk. Alex Rodriguez and Mark McGwire already are on record that they used illegal PEDs, and their numbers carry so much markings.

--Rounding back around to the local teams, Pedro Feliciano will likely start the year on the disabled list for the Yankees. Call it the Jerry Manuel Tax.

--In Mets camp, Matt Harvey impressed. I spoke with one baseball person over the winter who projected Harvey as, essentially, almost as good as Mike Pelfrey. 

--Tough decision for the Mets' final bullpen spot, between Jason Isringhausen and Blaine Boyer. My best guess is Isringhausen gets the job, because he has largely pitched well and because he has a history with Mets officials Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi.

--Funny response by Terry Francona to Buck Showalter's inflammatory words in a Men's Journal story. Look, the stuff that Showalter said - that Theo Epstein has room for error because of Boston's payroll and that Derek Jeter gets some help from umpires - isn't outrageously untrue. But I think we all recognize that Epstein and Jeter would still rank among the best at what they do even without such protection.

It's for stuff like this that makes Showalter largely disliked, in addition to respected. It's why he needed a perfect storm of sorts - a Baltimore team absolutely desperate for respectability, willing to overlook Showalter's career-long tendency of wearing out his players after a few years - to get another managing job.

--See you shortly for the first giveaway of the week.

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