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Welcome to the premiere edition of The Round Table. This month we present a baseball preview chat
featuring two TheMirl.com contributors and three special guests.

From The Writers:
--Ed Barnes
--Eric Mirlis

Special Guests:
--Ben Bouma, sideline producer, ESPN Sunday Night Baseball
--
Steve Gardner, baseball editor and columnist, USA Today
--
Matt Vasgersian, play-by-play announcer, Sand Diego Padres television

It was a pretty eventful off-season, especially once spring training got underway. At the top of the list
is the steroid issue. What, if any impact, will this story carry into the regular season?
Gardner:
I don't think we'll think too much about it until someone actually tests positive. And there
probably will be someone. As for the impact, I've seen and heard about a few guys who have dropped a
significant number of pounds in the off-season. I'll be interested to see how they perform.
Bouma: It will no doubt pervade into the day by day media and heat up when: 1 - Bonds comes back;
and 2 - when someone gets caught.  But it will be even more important at the end of the year and into the
next few seasons when we can measure any statistical differences.  
Vasgersian: As much as the MLBPA talks about creating an "even playing field" they will never come to
grips with having to enforce any policy that has the potential to alienate superstars - that's why I think this
will go away.
Bouma: What if someone hits 60 this year and next year and they are clean? Then what happens?
Gardner: It will be an impressive feat ... and you'll probably hear talk about how the ball is "livelier."
Vasgersian: We won't know if they're clean because the policy is weak - they'd have to submit
themselves to a test if they weren’t among those randomly tested
Bouma: We in the media are guilty too - it will be a story as long as we keep it a story…until the next big
story comes along.

Ben touched on Barry Bonds, which leads me to my next question. When, if at all, does he come
back? And how effective do you think he will be?
Vasgersian:
I say he returns sometime in August to help the Giants take the division. There is no
chance he's hanging it up .
Gardner: I wouldn't be surprised to see him back sometime in May. Out six weeks, on rehab
assignment for a week or two. My guess is he'll be the same Barry when he returns to the lineup.
Bouma: I think Barry comes back sooner than later - I think his little rant the other day came on the heels
of a bad day.  Rehab is a frustrating thing and he's had a long spring.  I bet he plays by May 1.
Vasgersian: And blames "us" on May 2.
Barnes: Based on no evidence, I think he will come back before the All-Star Break. He'll come back to
break Babe Ruth's record sooner rather than later just to spite people that want to see him fall short of it.
Bouma: I could easily envision him snapping at the media again by Mother’s Day. He thinks the media
has been tough so far...he ain’t seen nothing yet.
Vasgersian: By the way, I apologize for anything I may have done to him.  
Gardner: He's still got his knowledge of the strike zone. If pitchers think they can challenge him just
because he's been on the shelf for a while, he'll make them pay. If reporters think they'll be able to
challenge him, he'll make them pay too.
Barnes: Didn't he say that while he doesn't like the media sometimes, he feels lonely if people aren't
talking about him in his first Spring Training Rant/Press Conference? He'll do something to be talked
about.

OK. Enough with the negative stuff. On to the positive. The end of last season saw one of the great
stories baseball has ever seen. Will there be a "Red Sox hangover", either in Boston or in baseball in
general?
Bouma:
No hangover. The rivalry is just as heated, the Red Sox fans are out more so than ever before,
as evidenced by no spring training tickets available anywhere.
Barnes: I'm not sure about a hangover but Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore better stay off any MLB
field. Fever Pitch or no Fever Pitch.
Vasgersian: My issue with the Red Sox is that they've become every bit the big market conglomerate
team the Yankees have.  They paid an unreal price for Wells and if you look around that roster there
aren't too many homegrown kids or Rule 5ers.
Gardner: The lovable idiots got their ring last year. I don't know that they'll be as embraceable this year
as they were last year. The novelty has worn off. Now they're just another big market team looking to buy
a title.
Vasgersian: Quick. Name a homegrown Red Sox player outside Trot Nixon ... remember Jason Varitek
was originally Seattle property.  These aren't the Jim Rice/Rico Petrocelli days. And I don't think this Sox
team is as likeable.
Gardner: Renteria was a good signing for them. The jury's still out on Clement. He's been about a .500
pitcher his entire career.
Bouma: Larry Lucchino is not known for maintaining a franchise's viability, only for getting it to a certain
level and jumping ship. And Johnny Damon is in a contract year - he'll leave for more cash.

Time for the quick hits. I'm going to throw out a category - all the usuals, but a few others, too. Give
me your prediction…Best off-season acquisition.
Gardner:
Delgado by the Marlins, hands down.
Vasgersian: Ditto - Delgado is so underrated.
Barnes: Even in the spacious park the Marlins play in, Delgado is a big pickup for Florida.
Bouma: Baseball in DC is booming already. They’ve sold more than 1.6 million tix already, more than
any Senator team ever drew.
Gardner: There's another good off-season signing...the Expos, by the city of Washington, D.C.
Vasgersian: I also like the Giants picking up Benitez.  With a closer last year they win the West.
Bouma: Adrian Beltre, Seattle.

How about the worst?
Gardner:
Russ Ortiz.
Barnes: Wally Backman. Seriously, I think the Diamondbacks signings of Russ Ortiz and Troy Glaus
gave them better talent but the contracts were far too rich for players with too many questions marks.
Gardner: Who knows how Ortiz fares in Arizona without Leo Mazzone looking over his shoulder. Plus
they overpaid considerably.
Mirlis: Jaret Wright.
Vasgersian: While we're on the subject of the Giants I believe this is the last year of Rennie Stennet's
contract.
Gardner: It was great when Rennie went 7-for-7.
Bouma: Jon Lieber.

What will be the biggest surprise of the coming season?
Vasgersian:
Detroit wins the Comedy Central. I mean the AL Central.
Mirlis: The Detroit Tigers will contend.
Gardner: You guys beat me to the punch. I think two teams to watch are the Indians and Tigers. Both
have made significant strides offensively and in the bullpen.
Vasgersian: And after they clinch the division only 3 cars will be set on fire downtown.
Gardner: The Padres aren't too bad either. I think they'll give the NL West foes a run for their money.
Barnes: Offensive numbers will stay constant.

National League Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP.
Gardner:
MVP - Pujols (he deserves to get one sometime), Cy Young - Tim Hudson.  Rookie - Shoot me
now for taking a Rockies pitcher, but I like Jeff Francis.
Mirlis: Clint Barmes (by a hair over Jeff Francis), Ben Sheets and Aramis Ramirez.
Vasgersian: Cy goes to Tim Hudson, MVP to Delgado, ROY is Clint Barmes.
Barnes: Garrett Atkins for Rookie, Jason Schmidt for Cy Young. And it’s time for Albert Pujols to win an
MVP award.
Bouma: Cy Young- Jason Schmidt, MVP - Andruw Jones, Rookie, ask me in June.

AL individual awards.
Gardner:
MVP- Hard to pick against Vlad, but watch out for Ichiro. Cy Young - Santana repeats, but by a
slim margin over Big Unit. Rookie - Jeremy Reed in Seattle, who is in a perfect spot to succeed.
Barnes: The AL Rookie of the Year will come from the AL West. Joe Blanton, Jeremy Reed, Nick Swisher
and Dallas McPherson all have a great chance to win it. My pick is McPherson. The other awards will be
repeats – Santana for Cy, Vlad for MVP.
Mirlis: Nick Swisher, Randy Johnson, Manny Ramirez.
Bouma: Cy Young - Bartolo Colon, MVP - Guerrero, Rookie – Brandon McCarthy (White Sox).

NL Division Winners, Wild Card, World Series rep.
Gardner:
NL East - Atlanta, NL Central - St. Louis, NL West - San Diego, wild card – Florida. Pennant
winner: Florida.
Mirlis: The Phillies, who will phinally end the Braves streak, Cubs and Padres, wild card will be Braves.
Cubs to the Series.
Bouma: East - Braves by 15 games, Cent - STL, West - Giants, Wild – Phillies.
Vasgersian: Atlanta/St. Louis/ and I plead the 5th in the west. Wild card to NY. Atlanta to the series.
Barnes: West – Padres, Central – Cardinals, East – Braves, Wild Card – Marlins.

AL winners
Mirlis:
East - Yankees, Central - Minnesota, West - Anaheim, Wild Card - Boston. Yankees back in the
series.
Gardner: AL East - New York, AL Central - Minnesota, AL West - Angels, wild card - Boston ... pennant
winner: Yankees.
Vasgersian: Yankees/Tigers/Angels. Wild card to Minnesota. Minnesota to the series in a 1991 rematch
Bouma: East - NYY, Central - CWS, West - Angels, Wild – Seattle.
Barnes: West – Angels, Central – Twins, East – Yankees, Wild Card - Red Sox.

Series?
Vasgersian:
Atlanta over Minnesota.
Mirlis: Yankees over Cubs. Chicago’s heartbreak continues for yet another year.
Barnes: Yankees over Cardinals.
Gardner: Tough call. I'd have to say Yanks get their revenge on the Marlins.
Bouma: Braves over Angels.

And the final question........When we look back at the 2005 season in December, what will we say
was the biggest story of the season?
Bouma:
1. Ichiro hits .402. 2. Pirates to move to Montreal. 3. Mets finish 4th.
Vasgersian: That the Angels will have successfully petitioned MLB to be known as the Orange County-
North-To-Santa Barbara Angels of Southern California of the Western US.
Barnes: Steroids. I hate to say it but steroids will be a constant topic of discussion this season. When
we come to the end of the season, unless the Cubs win the World Series, I can't think of a story that will
overshadow steroids. Especially after Bonds comes back and passes Babe Ruth on the all-time home
run list.
Gardner: I'll try not to be negative and say someone testing positive for steroids. Bonds passing the
Babe is too obvious. So I'll say the emergence of Miguel Cabrera as a full-fledged star and the
disappointing season of the New York Mets. And Washington returning to last in the standings.
Mirlis: Wow. Some people are not too high on the Mets this year. I don't blame you. They will be a huge
disappointment because their bullpen is just atrocious – the rest of the team actually is pretty good. But
to me, the big thing will be the race to 40 homers and only one or two guys getting there, not 12. Which,
of course, will lead to another off-season of steroid questions or, in this case, who ISN'T using them.
Gardner: That will be something to watch. I think we'll see more than five 40-homer guys though.
Bouma: There are still a lot of big league hitters out there. Adam Dunn could easily hit 50+. Plenty will hit
40.