In calling around and casting about, I've learned that every person in baseball is optimistic right now. They're keen on the energy the new staff has generated. They admire how the veterans have set a great example through their hard work and attention to detail. They like what they see in the kid with the arm and the moppy hair.
The rest of us, of course, are more inclined to focus on the injuries and self-defeating personnel deployments. Thus I present the first annual MLB Optimism Index, in which I gauge the overall vibe around each of baseball's 30 teams 10 days before the start of the season. They're listed in descending order, from high enthusiasm (overarching belief that the team has a chance and/or a clue) to low (employer of Jason Kendall). Think of it as a Power Rankings for your feelings.
1. Boston Red Sox: Nomar is back in the emotional fold, which represents a huge boon for people who opt not to enunciate their R's. ... The hysterically inclined have realized that Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron will be allowed to hit as well as field, thus calming concerns about the offense -- which, for the record, plated 872 runs last year. ... Nick Green is mercifully AWOL.
2. Colorado Rockies: Todd Helton extended his contract for a few years and a few million bucks. In doing so, he freed up more cash for the team to spend. Only in professional sports can such an act be described as "selfless." ... Huston Street's physical issues put the bullpen in flux. ... Otherwise, it's all good, baby.
3. St. Louis Cardinals: They need only glimpse at the divisional competition to put a spring in their step. ... Relax, Albert Pujols is fine. Even if he's not, the guy will play through cholera if need be. ... There's neither a legit third baseman nor a shutdown reliever on the roster, but it won't matter until October.
4. New York Yankees: Thirty-eight-year-olds don't start to look tired until May. ... Phil Hughes and Ramiro Peña will be anointed as, respectively, the fifth starter and utility squirrel. ... There's totally nothing untoward about A-Rod being treated by a rogue Canadian doctor not licensed to practice medicine in the U.S. ... La la la la la.
5. Atlanta Braves: The Braves are "confident." Jason Heyward is "a beast." Bobby Cox is "retiring after the season." If you can sense any other newsy vibrations emanating from Camp Chipper, you're a better and more instinctive journalist-type person than I.
6. Cincinnati Reds: "Chapmania" is way too easy a catchphrase to encapsulate the excitement generated by young Aroldis C. and his dive-bombing Metallica slider of death. Instead, let's chatter about the "Aroldisticity" that's in the air. ... Dusty Baker's arm-shredding and OBP-neglecting tendencies, however, serve to keep the giddiness in check.
7. Philadelphia Phillies: Halladay! Celebrate! Halladay! Celebrate! ... So what happens to the rotation if Cole Hamels isn't as triumphantly retro-rejuvenated as many reports have suggested? And the bullpen?
8. Arizona Diamondbacks: They locked up the Upton/Reynolds middle-of-the-lineup core for the next few seasons and have located a perfect thrive-in-the-lesser-league candidate in Ian Kennedy. Now, if somebody could just fix Brandon Webb.
9. Houston Astros: See, this is what happens when you hire a manager who can fill out a lineup card without incident and communicate intelligibly with his charges. The team still sucks, sure, but the vibe is righteous. ... The catcher candidates have impressed. ... For all his sneaky-good baserunning, it's not like speed is a big part of Lance Berkman's game. He'll be as sluggy and giggly as ever when he returns from the minor knee surgery.
10. Milwaukee Brewers: The bottom-of-the-rotation candidates have performed acceptably, even all-head-case first-teamer Manny Parra. While one might suggest that "acceptably" isn't thrilling, most descriptions of last year's rotation included the phrase "bowel-vacating". ... The defense will be better, courtesy of Alcides Escobar and Carlos Gomez, and the lineup still boasts two Hercules. They're underrated and have the "nobody believes in us!" 'tude that comes with such regard.
11. Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays can't get started on a contract extension for Carl Crawford, creating one of those distractions that teams claim aren't a distraction even when beat writers repeatedly ask, "Is this a distraction?" ... J.P. Howell sinks both righty and lefty hitters; anyone who has watched the Rays for more than 12 innings over the past two seasons knows how crippling his injury is to the team's chances.
12. Detroit Tigers: Optimism over the collection of young pitchers -- file away the name Jacob Turner, if you're into that sort of thing -- is neatly counterbalanced by utter panic over the bottom of the modern-day rotation. ... Free Ryan Raburn! ... The Tigers lead baseball in dead money, courtesy of the Willis/Bonderman/Robertson/Ordoñez/Guillen bloated-contract five-pack. They would probably do back flips if two of the five prove marginally useful this season.
13. Los Angeles Dodgers: More than any other, this team needs the damn season to begin already. ... Joe Torre hasn't extended his contract, which spurred Don Mattingly to issue an Al Haig-ish "I'm next in line!" declaration. ... Ma and Pa McCourt are still fussin' over visitation rights and family keepsakes. ... Through all this, apparently the Dodgers have been playing games and performing other baseball-like tasks, such as stretching and spitting. Who knew?
14. Los Angeles Angels: Joel Piñeiro is not John Lackey and Torii Hunter is not Henry Louis Gates Jr. ... Mike Scioscia seems to have realized Jeff Mathis loses more runs with his bat than he gains with his glove and pitcher-whispering. Yoda catchers are the great game's greatest scourge.
15. Minnesota Twins: Finally, an overpaid superstar to call their very own! Joe Mauer will remain a Twin through his mid-30s, which is great for the Twins, baseball, the state of Minnesota, the Central Time Zone, America and freedom. ... I just want to give Joe Nathan's elbow a big hug and tell it that everything will be all right.
16. Chicago White Sox: After all the text messages and Skype chats and re-re-re-re-tweets, Ozzie Guillen and Ken Williams have changed their Facebook relationship status from "married" to "communicating passive-aggressively through social-media channels." ... Bobby Jenks got hurt as soon as he got skinny (well, skinnier). Some people, like David Wells and Santa Claus, were just born to be fat.
17. Florida Marlins: Fresh out of ultimatums after blackmailing Florida into building him a new ballpark, Jeffrey Loria has taken to shaking his fist menacingly at approaching storm clouds. ... I'm not sure if the light bulb has gone on for Cameron Maybin just yet, but it's certainly flickering above his head this spring: Only three strikeouts so far.
18. Baltimore Orioles: Divisional realignment, like hovercrafts and nacho pizza, remains an elusive dream. ... If second baseman/upstanding member of the community Brian Roberts has a disc problem already, what happens when the guy actually starts to participate in baseball-related activities? ... Brian Matusz is looking like a circa-2008 Cole Hamels, minus all the preening.
19. Cleveland Indians: Finally, a spring-training injury that actually helps a team: With Kerry Wood down for a few weeks, there's no chance he'll close out 55 games in 2010, which means there's no chance his $11 million option for next season will kick in. ... Fausto Carmona has reacquainted himself with the strike zone, but the reunited couple wants to take it slow and see where that leads them.
20. Oakland A's: That one inning where Ben Sheets allowed 10 runs without getting anyone out doesn't mean anything -- he could've been experimenting with a new grip or a knuckle-curve for all we know -- but he's no longer being hailed as a wise veteran swami to the young rotation ducklings. ... One shortstop can't hit lefties, the other can't hit righties. I smell an unprecedented shortstop platoon, which would merit another mark in the "Billy Beane, Genius of Smart Men" ledger. Keep doing things your own way, you endearing iconoclast you.
21. Washington Nationals: In the small chance he isn't already one of the NL's 15 best starters, the Nats have sent Stephen Strasburg down for minor league seasoning. This is akin to microwaving a bag of popcorn for 25 minutes, just to make sure that every last kernel has been kissed by the sweet, sweet radiation. ... The official, totally believable reason for the release of Elijah Dukes: "It just wasn't working out. He totally didn't impregnate Clubhouse Joe's grandniece or ask the manager to valet-park his car. There's nothing to see here. Please disperse."
22. Texas Rangers: The star acquisition can't dial up his fastball, the owner is broke and the manager recently tested positive for pine tar. At least the circus atmosphere has allowed the promising kids not only to fly beneath the radar, but also to get a good read on the crisis-communications pros who could come in handy down the road.
23. Chicago Cubs: There's actual excitement about Carlos Silva as a fifth-starter candidate, based on the little miracle that is his 88 mph fastball. No, really, there is. ... Far too many the-window-has-closed eulogies have been written, and the players haven't exactly disputed the logic within them. ... They should be able to get 28 starts out of Ted Lilly following his late-April return, at least.
24. San Diego Padres: As of this writing, Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell remain on the active roster. ... Kyle Blanks might traumatize the young starters with his defense, but he has been in thump-smash mode since midway through last season.
25. Toronto Blue Jays: They inked young Cubano sensationalé Adeiny Hechevarria, who has promptly been added to Blue Jay Nation's OMG-CRUSH roll alongside Brett Wallace, Kyle Drabek and Zach Stewart. ... After several harrowing weeks, the search for viable rotation candidates has been narrowed down to a mere 14. ... No longer can they tout awesome socialized medicine as key differentiator in their pitch to prospective free-agent signees.
26. Seattle Mariners: The team didn't conclude its pointless game of infield musical chairs until March 20. ... Cliff Lee is achy, Milton Bradley Jr. is spewing conspiracy theories ("the Chicago media planted a transceiver in my tomato garden") and Casey Kotchman -- a career .406 slugger -- might bat third. ... I'm calling it now: This is a sub-.500 team.
27. San Francisco Giants: They can't field and the offense looks soggy; Aubrey Huff doesn't bring much besides vowels to the table at this point. ... Madison Bumgarner's fastball is on an unplanned hiatus, shaking up the rotation. ... The Lincecum/Cain pairing deserves a better supporting cast.
28. Pittsburgh Pirates: So plucky. So devoid of talent. At least they'll see Pedro Alvarez before the season is out.
29. Kansas City Royals: Hope? What is this "hope" of which you speak?
30. New York Mets: Jenrry Mejia looks awesome and should make the team at the tender age of 20. Four words of advice to the kid: Hire your own physician. ... On the bright side, the Mets have stopped issuing injury guesstimations. Why, they haven't lost a player for 2-to-8 weeks in at least 2-to-8 weeks. Rim shot!