We interrupt the Hot Stove season for a teensy look down the road and around the corner. Here's hoping you love Spring Training as much as those of us here at MLB.com love it. Sure, there's that whole thing about sunshine and warm weather. Dreaming about that at this time of the year is no small thing -- even in Houston, where it reached a teeth-chattering 49 degrees on Tuesday.
We really love Spring Training because it's the start of another baseball season. It's the sweet sound of batting practice and baseballs slapping into gloves. It's watching young pitchers take the mound for the first time and listening to Orioles skipper Buck Showalter say, "See the left-hander there? Just watch. He's got a chance."
It's seeing familiar faces in new uniforms getting adjusted to new teammates. That means you, Evan Longoria. You, too, Giancarlo Stanton. To see these two players wearing Giants and Yankees gear is going to be some mix of confusing and thrilling.
Yes, there's work to be done with the best free agents unsigned; with the Pirates listening to offers for Gerrit Cole, the Rays for Chris Archer. With a full tip of the hat to unfinished business, there's still plenty to be excited about with Spring Training drawing closer every day. Ready, set, go:
1. Shohei Ohtani
It hasn't been done in 99 years. Plenty are skeptical it can be done. That's exactly why Ohtani is the most interesting story of Spring Training and beyond. If he can, say, pitch once a week and slot in at designated hitter or play the field two, three or four times a week, the impact will be enormous. Thanks to some great work by Angels general manager Billy Eppler, this won't just be about Ohtani. The Halos are good enough to play in October.
How about they sell tickets to batting practice? There has to be enough interest in watching Aaron Judge and Stanton take their pregame swings. But the larger story will be watching this club come together -- not just with Stanton, but a full season of Greg Bird and to watch Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Chance Adams and the other kids during the Yanks' Grapefruit League games.
This is going to take some getting used to. The Giants are determined to have a bounce-back season, and so far, Longoria is the biggest acquisition. If you drew up a prototype of what a Major League player should be in terms of production, winning and being a good citizen of the community, Longoria's 10 seasons with the Rays might just be it.
Manager A.J. Hinch will deliver this message to the defending World Series champions in his first full team meeting: Time to turn the page. Well, there always has to be one guy to spoil everyone's fun. His challenge will be to fight human nature -- that is, keeping complacency out of a clubhouse that had a magical vibe and energy last season.
5. Six new managers
Not just six new managers, but five rookies. The Tigers' new skipper, Ron Gardenhire, has 2,107 games of Major League managerial experience thanks to 13 seasons with the Twins. That happens to be exactly 2,107 games more than Aaron Boone (Yankees), Alex Cora (Red Sox), Davey Martinez (Nationals), Mickey Calloway (Mets) and Gabe Kapler (Phillies) have worked. All of them are smart. All of them have played for or worked with great managers. But being the man in charge is different than anything they've experienced.
Speaking of interesting dynamics, we have the Birds of Baltimore hoping for one more October run for the O's before there are, gulp, changes. Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Zach Britton will be free agents after the season. So will Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette. These men are part of a group that led a baseball revival in Baltimore (three postseason appearances in six seasons after none in the previous 14). How about one more season of roaring crowds and September craziness at Camden Yards?
7. Clayton Kershaw and Michael Trout
They are the best players of their generation and represent virtually everything we love about this sport. Both are headed to the Hall of Fame somewhere down the road. What they haven't done is win a championship. Kershaw has been to the playoffs five times, Trout once. At some point, they seem destined to break through.