We all know the Yankees' 5 major areas of concern: juggling the kids' innings limits; Mike Mussina's effectiveness; sorting out the bullpen; sorting out 1B; finding playing time for Damon, Matsui, and Giambi.
Here's the five non-Yankee story lines I'll be keeping my eye on:
1) The Detroit Tigers: No Whammy!
Injuries to Kenny Rogers and down years from Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman (both posted their highest WHIPS in the last 4 seasons) kept the Tigers just short of the playoffs. The Tigers made the big offseason acquisition in the AL when they netted Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.
Will this be enough to overtake the Indians? Not on its own, but a healthy return for Rogers would help a lot. And if Robertson and Bonderman rebound the Tigers have the potential to win their division by 5 games.
2) The Indians: Can Fausto Carmona beat the odds?
The Indians are returning nearly an identical team to the one that couldn't close out the pennant. Last season, Fausto Carmona threw 215 innings after throwing only 74.2 in 2006. All the talk about the Trinity has revolved around the +30 rules, to add more than 30 innings per year greatly increases the risk of injury.
The Indians need Carmona to be just as good or better than last year to keep up with the Tigers. An injury starts football season early (and if you've ever tried to follow the Browns, you know that's not a good thing).
3) Dream West: Are Bedard and Silva enough of an improvement for the Mariners to overtake the Angels?
In a word, no. The Mariners were lucky to perform as well as they did last season, using the best bullpen in baseball to out performing their Pythag by 9 games. The Angels still won their division by 6 games and have added Torri Hunter. Knock it long term, but I expect the Angels to have the only double digit division in MLB.
4) The Reigning Champs: Young Pitchers in Beantown
With Schilling down (and maybe out), the Red Sox are going to do the same pitching prospect dance the Yanks are preparing for. Neither Buchholz and Lester have pitched more than 100 MLB innings, and are open to the same injury risks as the Trinity. Will Julian Tavarez be enough to bridge the gap.
5) Still in the East: Japanese pitchers
Irabu, Ishii, and Park all had their best years in their first or second full seasons. Opponents hit Matsuzaka for .242/.310/.383 before the All Star break and .252/.348/.435 after. Okajima's splits are even more severe: .161/.224/.195 before, .263/.302/.475 after.
The American season is longer than the Japanese season, so better preparation could help, but hitters know what they're facing this year. If the Red Sox want to repeat as division champs (they won't) they'll need big performances from the $200 million dollar man and his caddy.