The use of the word narrative seemed to rise sharply last season, at least in the press box and on blogs. It usually referred to a preconceived story arc and the tendency of reporters to shape articles through that frame. One player, R.A. Dickey of the Mets, used the word often, but Dickey was a writer, too; he released his autobiography before the season.
Then came the unexpected. Becoming a reliable major leaguer was only the beginning of his story. Dickey rose to stardom, winning the National League Cy Young Award and a $25 million contract extension — with the Toronto Blue Jays, not the Mets.
Narratives, even those published between hardbound covers, are changing all the time. That is why we care. We match up the actual performances of teams and players to our expectations for them. Nobody really knows whether they will align or go wildly off course.
With spring training camps starting this week in Arizona and Florida, here are the prevailing narratives for each of the 30 teams. Just remember: chances are, every team will force a rewrite.
Arizona: Only two years removed from a division title, manager Kirk Gibson has the team of gritty grinders he always wanted. But did the Diamondbacks sacrifice too much high-end talent (Trevor Bauer, Justin Upton) to get it?
Atlanta: The Upton brothers, B.J. and Justin, join the outfield as the Braves play their first season without Chipper Jones in the organization since 1989 — the year their other outfielder, Jason Heyward, was born.
Baltimore: After reaching the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, the Orioles pretty much sat out the offseason, seeming much more confident than the rest of the industry that they can repeat their success.
Boston: It is three years and three managers for the Red Sox, as John Farrell, a former Terry Francona lieutenant, replaces Bobby Valentine. But four new everyday players, a new starter and a new closer should have much more effect on the field.
Chicago Cubs: The grace period continues for general manager Theo Epstein, formerly of the Red Sox, who last year presided over the Cubs’ first 100-loss season since 1966. The Cubs picked up some solid veterans in the offseason, but if the club does not contend, expect a flurry of midseason trades to accelerate the rebuilding.
Chicago White Sox: After holding first place every day from July 24 through Sept. 25, the White Sox crumbled at the end. They return nearly everybody, with one loud exception. The feisty A.J. Pierzynski, their catcher since 2005, now plays for Texas.
Cincinnati: With a rented leadoff man (Shin-Soo Choo) and more talk of a new role for Aroldis Chapman (this time he will start — no, really), the Reds try to move past the sting of their division series collapse.
Cleveland: The focus will be on the champion manager (Terry Francona), the intriguing pitching prospect (Trevor Bauer) and the former Yankee with a smile as wide as Chief Wahoo’s (Nick Swisher). But the team’s best asset is the dynamic double-play combo of Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis.
Colorado: Walt Weiss, a rookie manager, becomes the latest to confront the conundrum of trying to win at Coors Field. He will try to do it with a shaky rotation in which no pitcher threw more than 113 innings last season.
Detroit: The Tigers are good at winning pennants (2006, 2012). They are good at collecting Most Valuable Player trophies (Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera). They are not so good in the World Series. The veteran Torii Hunter, the repaired Victor Martinez and the new rookie closer Bruce Rondon will try to give them another chance.
Houston: Only one team, the Mets from 1962 through ’65, has ever lost at least 106 games in three consecutive seasons. The threadbare Astros could be the next, as they move to the rugged American League West. Like Walt Weiss in Colorado, Bo Porter faces a monumental challenge in his first year as the manager.
Kansas City: The official team slogan, “Come to Play," is surprisingly generic for a team that has positioned itself to contend. With veteran starters to go with a talented young lineup, a spot in the pennant race seems plausible.
Los Angeles Angels: In the past two winters, owner Arte Moreno has committed $437.5 million to three stars from the 2011 World Series between St. Louis and Texas: Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton. Maybe he can pry Tony La Russa out of retirement if manager Mike Scioscia stumbles.
Los Angeles Dodgers: While the rival Giants are champions, the ritzy Dodgers are the league’s new behemoth. They have scrambled to acquire as many television stars as possible, renovated Chavez Ravine and aggressively spread good will around town. Now they just have to win, which has not been easy. Eleven other teams have represented the National League in the World Series since the Dodgers last made it in 1988.
Miami: Homer Simpson was not talking about the Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria, but he could have been when he said: “I guess some people never change. Or they quickly change and then quickly change back." Loria cashed out after one year as a big-market bully, trading veterans for prospects and reverting to his default mode as a welfare case — only this time, in a taxpayer-financed stadium. Have fun, Giancarlo Stanton.
Milwaukee: The Brewers led the league in runs last season, largely because of the embattled Ryan Braun, but little buzz surrounds them after a quiet offseason. Even die-hard fans would be challenged to name a starting pitcher besides Yovani Gallardo.
Minnesota: After 195 losses over the past two years, the Twins traded two starting outfielders, mostly to deepen a shallow reservoir of pitching talent. They will be better eventually (the farm system is thriving), but this should be another trying season.
New York Mets: Fans have little patience for rebuilding, as evidenced by the Mets’ steadily declining attendance. The payoff will not come this year, but the seeds for a better future may finally be in place.
New York Yankees: There is no truth to the rumor that the aging Yankees will meet at 5 p.m. every night for the early-bird special at the IHOP near Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. It only seems that way.
Oakland: The AL West champion Athletics made several subtle moves, obtaining outfielder Chris Young, catcher John Jaso and infielders Jed Lowrie and Hiroyuki Nakajima. They are not big names, but as general manager Billy Beane showed again last year, he really, really knows what he is doing.
Philadelphia: The Phillies added two players with the last name Young, yet age stalks the roster. As long as they have three ace starters, they have a chance. But the steady corrosion of their lineup is a real problem, and declining newcomers like the Youngs, Delmon and Michael, might not offer much help.
Pittsburgh: The big story will not happen here until late summer. Over the past two seasons combined, the Pirates have gone 17 games over .500 through July 31, but 39 games under .500 thereafter. They are haunted by a record streak of losing seasons that has reached 20.
St. Louis: The organization does almost everything the right way, like a Midwest version of the Giants. The Cardinals will contend again as a new wave of young pitching asserts itself and top outfield prospect Oscar Taveras develops.
San Diego: The Padres made no major moves but will try to build off their .560 winning percentage in the second half. The future of Chase Headley, their breakout star at third base, shadows the franchise.
San Francisco: Popular, homegrown stars; stability in the front office and the dugout; sold-out crowds at the game’s best ballpark. These are glory days for the Giants.
Seattle: The Mariners, who have a four-year streak of finishing last in the AL in runs scored, added Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay to their lineup. They will not be contenders, but they should have more punch.
Tampa Bay: The Rays are determined to stay competitive much longer than anyone could have expected. They traded a top starter, James Shields, to Kansas City for outfielder Wil Myers, Baseball America’s minor league player of the year, but have enough pitching depth to contend again.
Texas: The Rangers could experience a palpable sense of loss since Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Mike Napoli, Mike Adams and Ryan Dempster departed after they fell in the wild-card game in October. But this shrewd organization, which now avoids crippling long-term deals, will recover.
Toronto: Sensing that their AL East rivals could be vulnerable, the Blue Jays raided the NL East for R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, and also signed the disgraced Melky Cabrera. A lot must go right for them, but the Blue Jays seem poised for their first postseason run in two decades.
Washington: No innings limits, no first-time jitters, no excuses. Davey Johnson, the 70-year-old dugout wizard, is retiring as manager after this season. The Nationals have the same goal as every other team, but only Johnson has been brash enough to say it out loud: “World Series or bust."