Finally football is over, which means I can take the pins out of my Peyton Manning doll and start sticking them in my Derek Jeter one. Yes, baseball is coming back, or is actually in thaw mode right now. The important thing is that my favorite pastime is slowly coming back to the center stage.

Players are already heading south to report for spring training and, in less than a month, exhibition games will be underway, giving us fantasy competitors a chance to write and compile our scouting notes before the draft.

In the meantime, a fair amount has gone on since Adam Wainwright fanned Brandon Inge. Barry Bonds still remains a Giant in more ways than one, except for his testicles. And then there’s his new teammate Barry Zito, brought in to complement Jason Schmidt’s ace performances.

The Yankees looked to start some nostalgia by signing Andy Pettitte to a one-year deal, hoping it might also lure Roger Clemens back to the Bronx. Then there’s the extension of Mike Mussina’s contract for another two years.

The Twins avoided a lot of arbitration routes with their players, getting America League MVP Justin Morneau’s bat back, as well as Nick Punto and Lew Ford. They also splurged on batting champ Joe Mauer with a four-year deal to continue playing at the Metrodome.

The Cubs dug in deep with Alfonso Soriano, giving the converted outfielder a deal, which pretty much puts $17 million into his pocket each year. The team also had a religious awakening by no longer vesting their trust in Dusty and instead turning to Lou Piniella, a man who may wind up putting the Cubs mascot out on the street with his wild gesticulations. I just hope no one tells him there’s a brick wall behind the ivy in case he gets really incensed. The team also got to keep Mark Prior on their disabled list for another year by signing him to avoid arbitration.

The only thing I can say to the Red Sox front office is “cut back on the blow.” These guys have completely gone off the reservation, signing their souls to the devil who happens to have taken the form of Scott Boras.

First there was the signing of Matsuzaka, which cost over $100 million, and we only get him for six years. Following the Matsuzaka bonzai, the Sox sprung for another potential summer blockbuster hit with the superman J.D. Drew. Boras got Theo to shell out $70 million for an outfielder who’s going to need that money for a bionic arm come early July. And the crowning achievement was getting Julio Lugo to sign a four-year $36 million dollar contract.

Outfielders got major deals during this offseason, not including Soriano. Gary Matthews Jr. recently inked a $50 million dollar contract with the Angels, a team that tries to prove year in and year out that mediocrity can occasionally amount to, well, slightly more than mediocrity. Juan Pierre roped in $40 million from the Dodgers and Carlos Lee recently cashed his $100 million contract from the Astros. Vernon Wells was able to bust the Blue Jays cash cow for a seven-year $126 million contract.

Detroit really got slapped in the face last year with its 4-1 series loss to the Cardinals. I can’t believe Jim Leyland kept his composure after watching his team get mopped up by Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver two nights in a row. Well, the Tigers will have more teeth to bite with this year, after Gary Sheffield ditched the Yankees and signed with the AL pennant winners. They also wheeled out 40-year-old veteran Jose Mesa, hoping he can still bring stuff to the table in the late innings.

Some pitchers you will see returning in the spring are David Wells to the Padres and Victor Zambrano to the Blue Jays. And, if those two names aren’t galvanizing enough, how about Joe Mays signing with the Dodgers or Tony Armas agreeing to a contract with the Pirates.

Those deemed busted before the season even begins include Pedro Martinez, Kris Benson and Francisco Liriano. Whether or not they’ll even play the 2007 season remains a big question mark.

In its infancy, the 2007 season is setting up to be a real nail bitter. Pretty much every team is in contention for a World Series ring and everyone has a fair shot at a spot in the All-Star game. Even the batting title and Triple Crown are up for grabs this year.

But if I had to pick one team to win it all, I’d probably go with Detroit.

Serafini is a member of the class of 2008.

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