It makes sense for me, as a national baseball writer, to attend the start of spring training and then peel off as the games begin. After all, there is that increased attention as the players report to camp - and as Derek Jeter, for instance, checks in on his contract situation.

In March, college basketball takes over the yakosphere (trademark Neil Best) somewhat. And, ya know, we just can't afford to have me down there the whole time. You might have heard that newspapers aren't doing that well.

So I'm left for now, back home in New York, with first impressions from camp, thoughts gathered basically from spending time in the clubhouse, and speaking to players and team officials, and watching batting practice, bullpen sessions and other drills - and Monday's Mets intra-squad game and yesterday's Braves-Mets game.

Those first impressions have limited value, of course, but we naturally have them. So why not share them? And then I'll ask you to hold me to my usual, fair standard: If they prove visionary, I want full credit. If they prove absurd, I want you to wave them off, saying, "He told us they were only first impressions."

From my 14 days in Florida...

--I don't know if there's a more worthless exercise than "taking the Mets' temperature" during spring training. Given their disappointments of the past three seasons (I'm sorry, but I refuse to label 2006 as a disappointment), they've remade, reconfigured and re-marketed themselves so often that they're like The CW of baseball.

So yeah, they sure seem upbeat, and relaxed, and many notable players (Jose Reyes, David Wright, Jon Niese, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez, Johan Santana) appear to be in good condition. Jerry Manuel is doing the things he should be doing - bouncing around camp, offering his thoughts to players during workouts.

But you look around the clubhouse, and you realize they're once again a top-heavy roster, dependent upon way too many positive possibilities rather than probabilities. Add Manuel's humor about his tenuous job security, and that Omar Minaya walks around the clubhouse while his authority has been significantly restricted, and it contributes to the perception of an organization that is still on shaky footing.

I'm not sure how much the players feel or notice that. But all they need to do is see Carlos Beltran whenever he comes in for his rehabilitation, and think back to what transpired with Beltran back in January, to know that all is not well here.

--At Yankees camp, as we've noted, there's a tranquillity born not only of the fact that they're now the reigning World Series champs, but also because they're not recovering from any scandal. At least, not yet...

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--Sergio Mitre is the obvious candidate to be traded, if the rest of the Yankees' pitching staff stays healthy. I wonder if the Dodgers, absolutely desperate for pitching depth, would take Mitre in return for letting the Yankees keep Rule 5 pick Jamie Hoffman? Then the Yankees could option Hoffman to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barres (although I need to check on how that technically works. Not sure if Hoffman would have to clear waivers).

--I bet Cole Hamels puts up a career-best season. Of the six divisions, I'd say the Phillies are the strongest favorites to win.

--The weirdest part of Red Sox camp was seeing Jason Varitek, a personal (non-) favorite of Islander505, rendered invisible due to his fade and the acquisition of Victor Martinez. I'm not sure if a team has ever had a captain who had such little impact on a team's fortunes.

--Everyone's assuming that Boston will acquire Adrian Gonzalez at some point during the season. But what if Adrian Beltre puts up a season more characteristic of his history than his subpar 2009? Then you can't get Gonzalez to play first base and move Kevin Youkilis from first to third. I guess Gonzalez could be the DH if David Ortiz has nothing left, but isn't there a decent chance that Ortiz produces a rebound season in his walk year?

--Just standing in the Tigers' clubhouse the day that Johnny Damon arrived, I was taken by what an odd team it is. You've got the studs in front of the starting rotation, Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello, but then you've got huge question marks like Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman. Actually, "question mark" isn't strong enough a term for Willis. You've got Magglio Ordonez, trying to vest another option (scroll down).

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They shouldn't have a chance against the Twins, and a look at their run differential last year indicates they overachieved. But they have enough interesting pieces to hold our attention for a while.

--The key to the Braves' success could very well be rookie Jason Heyward, who hit third in yesterday's game against the Mets. I think Atlanta has many, many question marks, starting with the gap created by the trade of Javier Vazquez to the Yankees.

--For my final column from Florida, I addressed the Anthony Galea mess. As I mentioned yesterday, we need to stop pretending that there's so much at stake with this case. There very likely isn't.

--The Yankees tried another bonding event, just as they did last year. I'm not convinced that last year's bowling tournament had even .0001 percent to do with the team's eventual World Series crown, but what the heck. It at least helped Joe Girardi re-shape his image a little bit.

Bell of Cow, an occasional visitor to the blog, e-mailed me this story on the retreat, noted the line about Curtis Granderson "watching Kei Igawa repeatedly and hilariously struggle at Indy Car racing, and asked, "Is there anything with which Kei Igawa does not repeatedly and hilariously struggle?"
 

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--Tyler Kepner catches up with Hideki Matsui at Angels camp.

--From Twitter, I found Alex Speier's key Red Sox storylines.

--And, live chat at 1:00 today. Maybe you can help me unpack as we discuss baseball.

--Self-promotion update, 9:43 a.m.: I'll be on "The Herd," with Colin Cowherd, at 10:30 this morning on ESPN Radio.

 

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