We know it's early.
We know there are people who think it's too early to rank the teams about to begin the 2008 Major League Baseball season. One hundred and sixty-two games left to be played, they say. Everything still up for grabs, they insist.
But these are the same people who say B12 sounds like a plausible explanation, and LiLo's nudey New York Mag shoot looks like the beginning of a real turnaround.
These people are innocents.
We know better.
Aren't you thrilled by the prospect of the Bensons returning to the majors? We sure are.
All hail the classic punking of young pitcher Kyle Kendrick. And why are things so loose and optimistic in PhillieLand, you ask? Could it be the Valentine's Day signing of Anna Benson's husband to a minor league deal with Philadelphia? Yeah, he's a long shot to make it all the way back from last season's rotator cuff surgery, but you've got to love his, er, her, uh, clubhouse potential.
2. New York Mets
"I dominated that era and I did it clean," Pedro Martinez said upon his arrival at Mets camp Thursday. "I can stand by my numbers and I can be proud of them. I have a small frame and when I hurt all I could do was take a couple of Aleve or Advil, a cup of coffee and a little mango and an egg -- and let it go!" I did it clean. Not since Ian McCullough's Bunnymen wail has a squeaky profession sounded so counterculture and true. And while we're at it, major bonus points for the mango and egg.
3. Chicago White Sox
Ozzie Guillen usually saves his bleep-ladened riffs for midsummer, but he's ----ing fired up early this year, promising to fill reporters' notebooks, and threatening to run naked in the streets of Chicago should the Sox win it all. We can't say we're rooting for that, but we can definitely say we respect the &@#$ out of it.
4. Detroit Tigers
Miguel Cabrera reported to camp 15 pounds lighter than he was at the end of last season. Jim Leyland and the Tigers' training staff have to feel very good about that. Meanwhile, we feel very, very good about Leyland cautioning Miggy against going too light by saying, "I don't want him to turn into Twiggy." Miggy and Twiggy. It's our Uma/Oprah moment, but with even more stunning mind's-eye visuals.
5. Minnesota Twins
We're hearing very good things about this hot prospect, this Caple kid.
6. New York Yankees
In the opening moments of Andy Pettitte's press conference Monday, Yankees media relations director Jason Zillo mentioned that the team's spring training stadium in Tampa, known for the past 13 years as Legends Field, will soon be renamed for George Steinbrenner. We want to feel snarky about this, want to make some joke at the old man's expense, but truth be told (and no one is more surprised by this than we are), we think it's kind of nice.
7. Colorado Rockies
Talking about his team's resolve to get back to the postseason and make another run at the World Series, manager Clint Hurdle said, according to Milo Bryant of the Colorado Springs Gazette, "We know we left some things on the blackboard. We did accomplish a lot, a lot of huge strides in a lot of areas. We do feel good about those, but we've raised the bar. Now the plan is to keep the bar and push it forward a little bit. The script that we wrote last year, I don't think any man could've written it. We'd like to try to do it a little bit different so we don't have to have a run at the end of the season. The next step for us is more of the same and to find a way to win four more games." Count the metaphors, ladies and gentlemen: blackboard, strides, raised bar and script. Four metaphors, six sentences. They're obviously bringing their A-game.
8. San Diego Padres
Did your newly acquired 38-year-old center fielder spend the winter going through SWAT training with a sadistic former L.A. county sheriff? No? Advantage: Jim Edmonds and the Padres.
AP Photo/Donna McWilliam
Can Nolan Ryan turn around the Texas Rangers? We'll see.
We like the Nolan Ryan hire. He's a figurehead, but figureheads are important. They set a tone, echo a history. The place is what it is because he's in it -- overseeing, strolling the grounds, chatting up the youngsters. He doesn't have to teach anyone anything (though he probably will), or talk to anyone about anything (though he certainly will). He just has to be Nolan Ryan.
10. Cincinnati Reds
Ryan Freel is healthy. For the moment. Ryan Freel is to the Reds as John Belushi was to the world of '70s American comedy: all-out, reckless, entertaining as hell, and sadly, poetically, undeniably doomed. He will get hurt. He will go down. He will go Rodney McCray on some outfield wall, or Derek Jeter on some unsuspecting bystander, and he will end up wounded. It will be sad when it happens, as it is every year, but it will be noble and inspiring too. And we will comfort ourselves, as we do every year, with the memory of his style and spirit. (There are rumors, by the way, that Dusty Baker is contemplating someone other than Freel in his everyday lineup, and is still trolling for some rickety replacement like Kenny Lofton. Mark our words: If Baker goes this route, the baseball gods, who admire the Icarusian gusto with which young Freel so much as ties his shoes and administers his eye black, will make him pay dearly for his own temerity.)
11. Kansas City Royals
New manager Trey Hillman comes over from Japan, where he managed the Nippon Ham Fighters to a Japan Series title in 2006. In addition to the prospect of throwback handling of the pitching staff (more complete games, etc.), we're seriously rooting for infield practice.
12. Florida Marlins
Outfielder Cody Ross, who missed much of last season with a lingering hamstring injury, comes into 2008 strong, thanks to a new procedure in which blood cells are drawn from his arm, treated by what he calls a "high-tech machine" that isolates cells thought to contribute to healing, and later injected into his hamstring. You take part in injections of any sort and fly beneath the radar in this day and age, and forget high-tech, you're working some magic.
13. Arizona Diamondbacks
When we heard Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin had named reliever Brandon Lyon as his closer, in the second week of February, we thought he might be jumping the gun just a little bit. But when we heard Lyon had no plans to enter the stadium to any fancy music, or to do any clever handshakes, or to mess in any way with his shoelaces while pacing behind the rubber (to essentially be the anti-Jose Valverde) we were down with the decision. And when we read about Lyon's plainspoken declaration of stylelessness -- "I'm not going to have no act" -- we were printing up bumper stickers.
14. St. Louis Cardinals
Maybe we're hung over from last year. Maybe we'll change our minds as the season starts to unfold. Maybe we'll wake up one morning and suddenly decide we care about whether or not he used HGH. But for now, in the first full blush of spring, with memories of his stripe-legged struggles on the mound still in our minds, and visions of him roaming center field at Busch Stadium dancing before our eyes, we're still suckers for the Rick Ankiel story.
15. Los Angeles Dodgers
One more time, with feeling.
16. Boston Red Sox
No news is good news. And whether an aging possible fifth starter, who will likely be replaced by young stud Clay Buchholz and ride off into the sunset even when he's healthy, is going to have surgery or rehab his injured right shoulder without it, is not news.
17. Pittsburgh Pirates
You don't measure the salubrious and inspiring effect of spring baseball in Boston or New York or Los Angeles. Hope comes cheaply there. You measure baseball's psychic power -- against all odds, against the tide of history -- in places like Pittsburgh, where the prospect of Jason Bay turning it around, or Ronnie Paulino turning it on, makes DJ Gallo get up in the morning, and maybe put on a shirt like this.
AP Photo/Al Behrman
New uniforms, new name ... same mediocre roster.
As you may remember (though you probably don't), the Tampa Bay American League franchise changed its name late last fall. No longer the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, they are now simply the Rays. Gone is the fish. In its place is a sunburst. Gone are the green hues. In their place are deep blue somethings. We appreciate the Clippers of MLB trying to shake things up, turn a page, start anew. We understand some histories aren't worth honoring and must simply be left in the dust. But here's what else we understand: You don't trade an animal mascot for a shaft of light. For the whole sun? Maybe. For the heat the sun produces? Could be. For a sliver, a finger, a shimmer of light? No sir.
19. Toronto Blue Jays
Hey J.P. Ricciardi, we noticed you're thinking about having Gustavo Chacin begin the season in the minor leagues, and we have to ask you: Sure, you're wary of his recovery from injury, and you have your doubts about his command of the fastball, but can you really afford, for even the first few weeks of the season, to be without his blades, style, and scent? We think not.
20. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Beware the increasingly tense contract negotiations between the Angels and closer Francisco Rodriguez (the two sides can't agree on a long-term deal, and are headed to arbitration later this week). This happens; players and clubs sweat their way through offers and counters, and players often perform at a very high level despite potential distractions and frustrations. But Rodriguez's finely calibrated, mechanically incomprehensible delivery -- part Morris Day doing "the jerk," part boys shooting dice out back behind the kitchen -- is unusually vulnerable to tremors and currents. Rodriguez's delivery, wicked as it is, is a delicate, fragile thing. And if he ain't right in his head and his heart, it will break.
21. Baltimore Orioles
Way down the page in a recent story on Adam Jones' arrival in Orioles camp, after being traded from Seattle for pitcher Erik Bedard, we came across a paragraph describing Jones wistfully running his fingers over his goatee. It seems the Orioles have a facial hair policy which bans, no joke, "any hair below the upper lip." Now, sometimes the reasons for a team's struggles are mysterious and complicated. And sometimes they're right beneath your nose.
22. Cleveland Indians
We weren't planning to bring up the logo and mascot issue. We figured there wasn't much new to say, and the position they're holding is pretty clearly indefensible, and the longer they hold onto it, the sillier they look. We were planning to leave it alone, really. But then they went and did the one thing they shouldn't have done if they want the rest of us to quit pointing out how indefensible their position is: they introduced a new logo.
23. Atlanta Braves
Bobby Cox said this week he believes former Brave Mike Hampton, coming off a one-inning stint in the Mexican baseball league in 2007, can be a front-of-the-rotation starter for this season's Braves. In a related story, Hillary Clinton pointed to former Minnesota senator Fritz Mondale as a potential running mate in November.
24. Seattle Mariners
Richie Sexson said in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer this week that he didn't think fans should boo his performance. Fair enough, but for what it's worth, we're not too keen on his hitting .205 either. Just saying.
25. Washington Nationals
Dear Jim Bowden: If you find yourself asking later -- When was it that I gave up hope on the 2008 season? When was it that things slipped away? -- it was the moment at which you signed your third Boone, and more particularly, the moment at which you articulated for yourself why it was a good idea to bring in Bret, who hasn't played in two years, for anything more than a supportive, keep-your-head-up type meeting.
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
Might wanna pipe down, Ryan, before you get yourself in trouble.
You could make the case that Ryan Dempster's brash prediction that the Cubs will win the World Series signals a new era in Chicago. You could say it's refreshing to hear a guy so unafraid of curses and media backlash. You could claim this kind of unapologetic confidence is just what the Cubs require to make good on the promise of their bulging payroll. You could. But you'd be a sucker if you did.
27. San Francisco Giants
The 2008 Giants are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the team's arrival in San Francisco in 1958. In those 50 years the Giants have not won a World Series -- making them, along with the Cubs and Indians, one of the longest-suffering franchises in the major leagues. As part of the season-long celebration, Giants players will wear patches on their uniforms commemorating the team's 50 years by the Bay. We admire the pluck in these patches, and we appreciate the respect they show to the many excellent players and teams who've called San Francisco home. But seriously, only by deciding to wear team pocket protectors could the Giants declare themselves as losers any more forcefully.
28. Oakland Athletics
The A's signed Keith Foulke and Mike Sweeney last week. It's turn-back-the-clock year in Oakland.
29. Milwaukee Brewers
Eric Gagne apologized to his Brewers teammates for the "distraction" he caused them. The ritual (see Paul Lo Duca earlier this week as well) of these vague, no-questions-asked pressers has become so standardized, so utterly without content, that it made no difference whatsoever that Gagne had only just reported to camp that day.
30. Houston Astros
Owner Drayton McLane suggested Monday that he'd welcome Roger Clemens to come to the Astros' spring training facility to work with some of the young players there. Seems like a bad idea, though. We can just hear the youngsters looking for advice: "Tell me what to do, Roger. Tell me what to do."
Eric Neel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. You can reach him here.