With the baseball season just around the corner (really – it is!), here are some things to watch in 2010.  We’ll likely have a few articles on this topic.  The order for these articles will be the ever-popular “whatever happens to pop in my head today”.

The Nationals

All the hoopla was about the signing of Stephen Strasburg, but the Nationals also put a bit of money into the team during free agency.  They didn’t go crazy with the money (15M over 2 years for Jason Marquis being the costliest deal).  Nor did they cost themselves draft picks by signing any Type A free agents.  What they did do is make several low risk moves.  The deal I like best is Chien-Ming Wang signing a 2M deal for 2010.  Wang won’t be healthy enough to pitch until May, following recent surgery.  However, if he can return to the form that saw him go a combined 28-13 over 400+ innings during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, then it’s money well spent.

The gNats also picked up several other guys who could help them.  Ivan Rodriguez behind the dish, Matt Capps in the pen, and Adam Kennedy at 2B are among the guys who could help.  They also have some decent players already in the lineup.  Perhaps this is the year that people realize that Adam Dunn is a fine offensive player who just happen to be weak in the areas that critics like to jump on – strikeouts and batting average.  Seriously, folks, strikeouts just aren’t that big of a deal – and Dunn makes up for his batting average by walking a ton.  Oh, yeah, and he hits lots of homers.  (Let’s not talk about his defense.

Am I suggesting that the Nationals will make the playoffs?  Holy crap – of course not.  But they’ll no longer be the laughingstock of the league.  That honor will fall upon the Pirates some unknown team.

The Rockies

Hey, I’m a Rockies fan,  so of course I think the Rockies are a story to watch.  But, really, they ARE a story to watch this year.  Prior to 2007, the Rockies had made the playoffs exactly once – in 1995.  In the last three seasons, they have made the playoffs twice.  Many fans tend to write them off as a fluke because both seasons were characterized by very slow starts and red-hot second halves.  If the Rockies can put together a strong wire-to-wire season in 2010, more people may look at them as legitimate perennial playoffs contenders.

There are lots of young players to watch with the Rockies.  If Troy Tulowitzki can avoid the disastrously slow that plagued him last year, he may make a run at an MVP award.  Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez, and Ian Stewart should all take another step forward.  Youngster Jhoulys Chacin may also crack the rotation this year.  Starting pitcher Jeff Francis will be returning from injury.

The rise of the Rockies could be aided by the divorce of Frank and Jamie McCourt.  The McCourts own the Dodgers – and we all saw what happened to the Padres in the aftermath of the divorce of their owners, John and Becky Moores.

The Cardinals

Not only did re-signing Matt Holliday make the Cardinals a force to be reckoned with in the near future, but it also sent a strong message to Albert Pujols that management is truly interested in having a strong team around him (and thus making it more likely that they will be able to re-sign him).  I’ve been impressed with Pujols since seeing him during his brief stint with the Peoria Chiefs (low A).  Making Albert Pujols happy is a good idea.

On the field, Pujols and Holliday are a fearsome combination in the 3-4 spots in the lineup and Carpenter and Wainright similarly strike fear in opposing hitters at the top of the rotation.  I’m struggling to find a scenario that doesn’t have the Cardinals winning the NL Central, barring a major injury.  Sure, the Cubs might be capable of a run, but you know they’ll find some way to mess it up.