- Gene Wojciechowski, Senior Writer
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So many questions about the 2011 MLB season. And not one single answer.
What if the Pittsburgh Pirates had $50 million more in payroll? (Their 2010 payroll of $44 million was only $26 million more than what the Yankees paid in luxury tax!)
What if Ichiro tried to hit home runs?
What if Bud Selig pardoned Pete Rose?
What if MLB owners thought way outside the box and made a run at, say, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to succeed Selig?
What if Mark Buehrle taught every other starter in baseball how to pitch a game in two hours or less?
What if Phillies second baseman Chase Utley's knee won't let him be Chase Utley anymore?
What if Phillies closer Brad Lidge's shoulder is worse than expected?
What if somebody could explain why players can't smoke in the dugout or on the field, but they're allowed to chew tobacco?
What if Frank McCourt had never bought the Los Angeles Dodgers?
What if his lawyers had given his wife, Jamie McCourt, the correct papers to sign?
What if the Ricketts family doesn't have enough money to fix Wrigley Field?
What if the cash-strapped state of Illinois won't help?
What if Albert Pujols changes his mind and waives his no-trade clause before the trade deadline?
What if one of the great baseball franchises of all time, the St. Louis Cardinals, lets one of the great ballplayers of all time leave because of money?
What if he plays 22 years, like Stan "The Man" Musial?
What if he becomes a free agent and all the Cardinals get out of it are two draft picks?
What if Mark Cuban owned an MLB team?
What if the Giants are actually better than last season, thanks to Zito being Zito, catcher Buster Posey getting 200 more at-bats than in his rookie year, third baseman Pablo Sandoval not looking like the MetLife blimp and rookie of the year candidate Brandon Belt living up to the hype?
What if that still isn't good enough to beat the Phillies?
What if we see another World Series in which the total payroll of the two teams is less than the Yankees'? (Last year, the Giants and Rangers had a combined payroll of about $176 million. The Yankees were at $215 million.)
What if the sports gods have decided that Chicago Bulls/White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf can have NBA MVP-to-be Derrick Rose but not a healthy Jake Peavy? (Since joining the Sox in July 2009, Peavy has made just 20 starts. Now he's recovering from rotator cuff tendinitis and will miss, at minimum, the first three or four starts of 2011.)
What if Los Angeles Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton reverts to his gruesome form of August and September, when he converted just two of seven save opportunities? (Opponents hit .414 against him in September.)
What if Mark Reynolds, who hit a combined .181 in any stadium not named Chase Field last year, is also allergic to his new American League home, Camden Yards? (Reynolds is the not-so-proud owner of the three highest single-season strikeout totals in big league history; of his 32 dingers in 2010, only 11 of them came on the road.)
What if the Brothers Upton -- Justin of the Arizona Diamondbacks and B.J. of the Tampa Bay Rays -- have bounce-back seasons? (It won't make a huge difference with the D-backs -- they're in rebuild mode -- but it could matter to the Rays.)
What if Kendrys Morales' return date from his bizarre 2010 left-leg injury (he broke it after jumping on home plate during a post-grand slam celebration in May) is delayed into May or beyond?
What if Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein and Orioles manager Buck Showalter have to share a taxi?
What if Red Sox reliever Bobby Jenks and White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen have to share a taxi?
What if the Green Monster turns black and blue from the opposite-field hits by newly acquired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez?
What if Red Sox starter Josh Beckett resembles 2010 Josh (bad) instead of 2009 Josh (very good)?
What if Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano no longer suffers from a career-long case of knuckleheaditis?
What if the Oakland Athletics' starting lineup can match the heavy lifting done by the A's starting rotation?
What if somebody actually attends a Rays game? (For a team of that quality to play to a 52 percent capacity home crowd in 2010 is an embarrassment to the Tampa-St. Petersburg area. The Rays didn't crack the 1.9 million attendance mark last season.)
What if a certain Toronto Blue Jays minor league pitcher and former first-round pick reaches the big leagues and becomes only the second Wojciechowski in baseball history to do so? (Yeah, we're monitoring your progress, Asher.)
What if yet another revolving Opening Day infield lineup for the Twins doesn't work this season? (Fifth different second baseman in five years, eighth different shortstop in eight years, ninth different third baseman in nine years.)
What if Alex Rodriguez can't reach his goal of playing in 150 games this season? (His past three seasons: 137 games, 124 and 138. He last played 162 games in 2005 and 150-plus in 2007.)
What if you had to choose between His Pitching Highness (King Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners), His Freakiness (Tim Lincecum of the Giants), His Initialness (CC Sabathia of the Yankees) and Roy Halladay of the Phillies? (Sorry, ran out of titles.) And you know what? Throw in the Angels' Dan Haren and Detroit's Justin Verlander. (By the way, there's no wrong answer on this one.)
What if a certain ESPN.com columnist is picking Boston to win the AL East, the White Sox to win the Central, the Rangers to win the West and the Tigers to win the wild card?
What if that same columnist is picking Philly (despite the Utley/Lidge questions) to win the NL East, the Cubs (think of them as the VCU of the 2011 MLB season) to win the Central, the Rockies to win the West and the Giants to win the wild card?
What if I said we're going to have a Red Sox-Phillies World Series, with Boston-San Francisco as my fall-back position?
What if, for a change, I'm right?
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.
8hBy Jackie MacMullan