And by ten things to get excited about, I naturally mean ten baseball things to get excited by 2013. Otherwise the list would be full of things like "surviving the winter without contracting the black death" and "awaiting Fast and Furious 6."
That said, with winter still gripping us and baseball season still oh so far away, what are the things that will keep us getting out of the bed in the morning?
1. Mike Trout's Continued Improvement
Sure, some people say that Mike Trout is due for a decline. Not because he'll be a worse player, but because baseball is, like, really, really hard. And now that the book is out on him, pitchers will adjust and Trout, no matter how gifted he may be, will need some time to formulate a response. And also, all that good luck Trout had in 2012 will turn into bad luck. I think this is known as Casino Rules.
But we all know that's not true. One, because there is no scouting report that can beat Trout. I mean, have you seen that smile and those forearms? Do you see any weakness there? Also, many of the scientific journals I subscribe to are fairly certain that Trout is not even a carbon-based creature, but rather an advanced species, possibly from another planet, who took on the mantle of a baseball player to gain our trust. In five years time, after he's won three MVP awards and hit 250 home runs, he'll let us know that his people are coming to colonize earth and there is nothing we can do about it.
2. A Surprising Finish That We Can't Even Guess At
In 2012, the A's came back from a mid-summer 12 game deficit to win the AL West with nothing more than gumption, rookies, and Yoenis Cespedes' core strength. And the Orioles, made of much flimsier stock, nearly took the AL East and then, had they been able to score some runs, nearly bounced the Yankees in the division series. This all coming after a 2011 that we said could never be replicated when the Red Sox and Braves shared in the shame of legendary collapses.
The point is, we have no idea what's going to happen. Just look at SI.com's preseason predictions from last year
: only two people predicted the Giants would win the World Series and that seems pretty ballsy in retrospect. And only the Tigers were the consensus choice that even made the playoffs.
While the second wild card was supposed to create artificial excitement, it turns out that in every season, there is enough legitimate craziness that we don't need to do anything. Next year, maybe the Mariners will start the season with a winless April before the spirit of Ken Griffey Jr returns, leading the team to postseason glory. Maybe the Pirates will go into the All Star break over .500 and not collapse in the second half. And maybe Jeffrey Loria will doing something decent for once.
For all of PECOTA's strength, natural chaos is just too much.
3. Instant Replay
Despite Bud Selig's argument that no one in the game wants more replay (and boy, they sure are a silent majority), it's going to happen this year. No, trapped balls, fair/foul, and safe/out may not be ready to go by day one because Major League Baseball is never in a hurry to accomplish anything, but once a few more games are impacted and the cry of "Robot Umps Now" reaches its peak, something will have to give. It won't be perfect and it won't be complete, but it will be something.
Hopefully in the form of a fifth umpire or a few guys in a missile silo watching on TV instead of the inane challenge system, but the future is coming. All hail SkyNet.
4. The West Coast Power Struggle
Red Sox -Yankees matchups are just so pedestrian now, especially as the Red Sox buy up every mid-level free agent and the Yankees look to scale back on payroll. No, the exciting rivalries are coming from the other coast now.
With the Dodgers being handed mountains of cash from their new TV deal, totaling enough to lure in Zack Greinke and every other expensive bauble on the market, we have an upset in the power structure with LA's spending finally being commensurate with their media and population size. Add in new TV deals for the Angels and Rangers, who are currently in the midst of their own two-team poaching war that harkens back to the Federal League and their AL West showdowns should be good fun.
Let's also not forget about the A's Weekend at Bernie's-ing into the playoffs last year and the Giants World Series victory or about King Felix or Justin Upton or Troy Tulowitzki or Yu Darvish or Albert Pujols etc etc and what are you going to do, not stay awake until 1 am every night? However, if you have a significant other in your life who doesn't like listening to Vin Scully at midnight (though I don't know how that's possible), you may want to do like I did and invest in a pillow speaker.
5. Pitching Depth
We may never have another Maddux/Smoltz/Glavine, but we've got quite a few teams vying for the title of best pitching staff in baseball. There's the old guard Phillies, made up of roughnecked pitchers with a three day beards and a belly full of venom, like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee (even though Cole Hamels could use some lessons in the Western cowboy department).
Or there's the boys out in San Francisco, loaded up with firepower in the form of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and the still amazing story that is Ryan Vogelsong. And that's without Tim Lincecum finding his command again.
Head south, and you've got the LA Dodgers with Clayton Kershaw who is only 25 years old and is coming off of two ERA titles, now sharing space with Zack Greinke and the paunchy Josh Beckett.
And if you still can't decide, we have the Washington Nationals, stocked to the brim with young talent like god's gift to baseball, Stephen Strasburg, the other Zimmerman (Jordan Zimmermann), and Gio Gonzalez. Add in the possibility of a return to form for Dan Haren and there is a team with four potential #1s.
And I haven't even mentioned the Rays young arms or Toronto's new look rotation complete with the game's greatest knuckleballer. All I'm saying, chances are good that if you're sitting down to a watch a game this year, you'll see one hell of a matchup.
6. Which Blue Jay Is Going to Hit A Metric Ton of Dingers?
Three years ago, Jose Bautista became the new home run champ of the Greater North, blasting 54 home runs in 2010 and 43 in 2011. And then last year, perennial disappointment Edwin Encarnacion woke up from his age old slumber, knocking out 42. Not only is the Rogers Centre a great place to smash some dingers, but there is apparently some kind of PowerSphere or Titan energy bracelet that can only be held by one player at a time, being passed down like those racist salt and pepper shakers that make you wonder why they were never thrown away.
Who will possess it in 2013? Perhaps Colby Rasmus' Dad, Tony, will let Colby touch it, if just for a few weeks? Or maybe Adam Lind will grab it and find his way back to the guy he was in 2009? My guess: RA Dickey. Sure, he's a pitcher, but given all of the other unexpected feats that Dickey's managed to pull off and I can only imagine that he would be the best hitter in the Majors if only someone would give him a chance. Maybe that team could be the 2013 Blue Jays.
7. Billy Hamilton Comes to the Major Leagues, Steals Every Base Ever
Somehow, because the Reds hate us and want us to be unhappy, Cincinnati never called up Billy Hamilton last September. They robbed us of the opportunity to watch the 40th man on the roster come in as a pinch-runner in the 8th inning and embarrass the other team, scampering around the bases and making faces behind the pitcher's back as he did. It doesn't matter how fast the pitcher's time to the plate is or if the catcher has a strong arm: Billy Hamilton will defeat you.
With speed being so fleeting, assuming that Hamilton's bat doesn't collapse in AA this year, I have to hope that the Reds will call him up, if just for a few weeks, and just to show off that they have this secret weapon whose molecules vibrate so quickly he can move through time. Last year Hamilton stole 155 in only 132 games. Just imagine if he's given 162 to play with.
8. The Return of Stirrup Socks
Every winter, I go months without seeing my favorite sartorial accessory. Come spring training, while everyone will be looking at the abs and arms of those who claim to be in the best shape of their lives, I'll be looking down at their calves, hoping to see socks pulled high with a sprinkling of white around the ankle. Yes, this is as sexual as it sounds.
9. New Gifs
The baseball internet machine has been spinning its wheels the last two months, showing the same Buster Posey getting snubbed on a high five, Buck Showalter getting snubbed on a handshake (wow, people love gifs of people getting snubbed), and Spider-Man flying out of CC Sabathia's butt gifs on repeat. But in 2013, who knows what the year may hold? Maybe Jeff Francouer will get snubbed on a high-five effort after throwing some slabs of bacon to the crowd? Or a different superhero will fly out of CC Sabathia's backside? Or maybe, just maybe, if you slow the gif down enough and take a look at it frame by frame, it will reveal that not only was Lance Berkman the second shooter, but that he was also being snubbed on a high five. And that's gif gold.
10. The A's Get a New Home.
Hahahahahahah. I'm kidding. We'll never see this. At least while we're alive.