Five to Watch: Newly acquired impact guys
Adrian, Crawford among superstar faces in new places
Years ago, the signature slogan of a certain shipping company was, "What can brown do for you?" Not a reference to the delivery crew's new superstar driver; lower-case, it alluded to the color of that team's uniform.Several Major League Baseball teams are waiting for their new studs behind the wheel to deliver, and these subjects are all upper-case in flashing neon with arrows pointing at them from all directions. "What can (blank) do for you?" Fill in that blank with numerous players who were acquired after high-profile pursuits fueled by beliefs they were game-changers, and now their time has come to put those theories to the test.
"I know there is a lot of hype," said Cliff Lee, the left-handed icing on the Phillies' rotation. "Everyone expects this and expects that ... but if we're saying right now we're going to win the World Series, that's kind of getting the cart ahead of the horse.""Impact" is a tempered concept in a sport as democratic as baseball. On the way to winning the 2010 World Series, the Giants needed the contributions of 42 different players. Individual prominence can be diluted by team plight: While American League MVP Josh Hamilton was batting .418 last July, the Rangers still lost 13 of 27 games. That said, every season begins with players whose mandate is to be the ones who push their new teams over the top. So as MLB.com continues its Five To Watch series, in anticipation of Opening Day this week, we're taking a look at five guys who can "make an impact" in 2011. Carl Crawford, OF, Red Sox: Boston's first Carl in left field since Yastrzemski is a walking baseball tool chest with the ability to influence every game, in different ways. The first non-power $100 million man -- Crawford is the first player to ink nine figures without ever hitting 20 home runs in a season -- still is an extra-base machine whose speed atop the lineup will light the fuse. "He's a guy that impacts the game everywhere on the field, with his speed and his bat and his defense and his baserunning," said Boston manager Terry Francona, who is looking forward to fewer sleepless nights. "Every time Tampa would come, we would talk about what kind of a headache he was every time he got on base. Now the other teams can talk about it." Pass the Sominex. Adam Dunn, 1B-OF-DH, White Sox: The personification of Chicago's "all-in" mantra, Dunn will sabotage opponents' late-game pitching moves as the left-handed powder keg in the lineup. In 2010, the White Sox got a total of 24 homers from the left side of the plate. That will be a half-season output for the remarkably-consistent Dunn, who since 2005 has hit 40 homers four times and 38 the other two. In his 10-season career, the closest Dunn has come to being part of a winning team was the 44 games he played after being traded to the D-backs in August 2008. Arizona finished 82-80 that season and Dunn's clubs are a combined 164 games under .500 overall. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Red Sox: Green Monster, meet Adrian. Transferring to Fenway Park the left-center power swing he adopted in San Diego's spacious PETCO Park is expected to turn Gonzalez into a power-hitting version of Wade Boggs, a .381 hitter at The Fens for a decade (1982-91). "Everyone in baseball, when they think of Adrian Gonzalez and Fenway Park, they think it's a real good fit," said Theo Epstein, the general manager who satisfied a long-time quest by finally completing a deal for the slugger on Dec. 4. "There's a chance for some nice things to happen offensively." Zack Greinke, RHP, Brewers: We know he's competitive. Dissatisfaction with years of losing in Kansas City landed Greinke in Milwaukee, and going for a rebound in a pick-up basketball game landed him on the DL, with a broken rib. He can also be a difference-maker, the extent of which will be evidenced by the Brewers' standing when he is finally able to rejoin the rotation, which is not expected before late May. He wanted pennant-race responsibility, and now he'll have it. Cliff Lee, LHP, Phillies: The irony of Lee's growing postseason legend is, of course, that he does not yet have a ring, having been on the losing end of World Series in 2009 with the Phillies and last fall with the Rangers. His return to Philadelphia is all about finally winning that last game, since, even without him, this team clearly had the horses to reach October. "Obviously, that is the ultimate goal," Lee said. "The first thing you've got to do is get there. It's disappointing not to get a World Series ring, but that's what we're playing for." Others with a chance to impact: Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, Cubs right-hander Matt Garza, Tigers catcher-first baseman Victor Martinez, Braves second baseman Dan Uggla, Angels outfielder Vernon Wells, Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth.