2014 MLB season preview–Part 1 (storylines)

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Ah, the smell of fresh cut grass.  The crack of a bat making contact with the ball.  A hotdog in your hand.  Baseball season is finally here.  One of a handful of unofficial holidays is upon us.  It’s Opening Day of 2014 MLB season.  It’s ime to talk about it all: complete with story lines, division previews, Cy Young and MVP winners, plus a World Series prediction: so let’s get right to a 2014 baseball preview that you hopefully demand right now.

Storylines entering the 2014 season

As with every sport starting a new season, there are plenty of story lines to discuss.  We’ll point out a few of them right now…

Boston Red Sox 2013 World SeriesThe Boston Red Sox are the defending World Series champions and they are going to shave the beards that helped them win it all last year!  Yes, the team will be clean shaven, or so they say.  Maybe if they start losing, they’ll grow them back.  It was something last year that helped bring the team closer together in their quest to win the World Series.  We’ll see how they come back this year to defend their title.  They will be without one of their stars as they seek to repeat.

That would be outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who pulled a Johnny Damon and left the Red Sox for the rival New York Yankees, signing a seven-year $153 million deal.  Ellsbury is a good MLB player, but is he worth that much money?  The Yankees may have overspent on Ellsbury, but if they make the Red Sox weaker as a result, it may all be worth it.

TanakaEllsbury isn’t the only MLB player the Yankees gave a mega contract too.  The team also signed Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year $155 million deal.  Tanaka was a star in Japan and plenty of folks think he’ll be able to do it in MLB.   He’s going to be a very interesting player to watch this season.  He can throw some mean pitches.  Watch out.  All told, the Yankees have nine guys on their roster making at least $9 million this season.  That is a lot of cash.  More on that payroll in just a second.

The Yankees won’t have to deal with any Alex Rodriguez issues this year.  The third baseman dropped his lawsuit against MLB and will take his season long suspension and prepare for next year.  Another player the Yankees won’t have this year is Robinson Cano, who signed a ten-year contract for a whopping $240 million with the Seattle Mariners.  The Mariners had to make a splash in free agency and they doled out the cash for Cano.  Can they get other players around him though to round the team out?  Hmmm.

derek jeterGoing back to the Yankees, they won’t be without at least a little drama this year as shortstop, the captain, #2 Derek Jeter is preparing for his swan song on a brilliant career.  Like closer Mariano Rivera did last year, Jeter announced that this would be his final season playing professional baseball.  Rivera was given standing ovations, tributes and gifts at nearly every stadium he went to last year.  Jeter should expect the same this year, though there may be a few more boos sprinkled in as it seems that more people dislike Jeter than the Sandman, Rivera.

That payroll item I mentioned a moment ago?  Yeah, the Yankees have had the highest payroll in baseball the last fifteen years.  Not anymore.  That honor belongs to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Since a new ownership group including Magic Johnson purchased the Dodgers, all they do is spend money and they hope it leads to a World Series title, maybe even this year.  They backed up a bank truck to give pitcher Clayton Kershaw a nice $210 million payday over seven years.  Unfortunately, he is starting the year on the 15-day DL.  Just look at some of the salaries that the Dodgers are paying this year:

  • Pitcher Zack Greinke: $21 million
  • Pitcher Dan Haren: $13 million
  • Pitcher Josh Beckett: $17 million (currently on DL)
  • First baseman Adrian Gonzalez: over $21 million
  • Shortstop Hanley Ramirez: $15.5 million
  • Outfielder Carl Crawford: over $20 million
  • Outfielder Andre Ethier: $13.5 million
  • Outfielder Matt Kemp: $20.25 million (currently on the DL)

That is a lot of salary that the Dodgers are eating up this season.  The only thing that can make it all worth it is the a World Series championship.  We talk about the Yankees and their spending, but this is unbelievable.

Continuing on the Dodgers: what are the expectations going to be for Yasiel Puig this year?  No doubt that once he got to the majors and was in the starting lineup that that helped propel the Dodgers from their miserable start and turned them into the hottest team in baseball over a stretch.  His talent is unmatched by most, especially at the plate and his speed.  His decision making and some of his antics, aka maturity, can wear on this team as we saw last year.  He’s a star in Cuba and is a star already in the states.  If he gets out of control how will the Dodgers handle it?  All questions and things that will be asked during this long season that we hope we find the answers to.

Andrew McCutchenThe Pittsburgh Pirates finally ended their consecutive seasons of under .500 baseball last year and also made it to the playoffs: pushing the St. Louis Cardinals to five games in the NLDS.  Do they have a repeat in them this year?  Andrew McCutchen is one of the best players in baseball.  He does well at the plate and he plays tremendous defense in the field.  They have other complimentary hitters like Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte.  They have pretty good pitching.  I’m looking for the Pirates to make it back to the postseason again this year.

Is there a team this year that will be last year’s Pittsburgh Pirates?  If there is, it could be the Kansas City Royals.  They finished above .500 last year and haven’t made the postseason since 1985 when they won the World Series.  James Shields leads a fairly young pitching staff.  He is their ace.  First baseman Eric Hosmer may be the best bat in the lineup.  Do they have enough bats to generate offense and help that pitching staff?  Last year they struggled with that.  I think they are one year away from being a legit threat to the Detroit Tigers, but in the weak AL Central, they have a chance to get a good record and earn a wild card berth.

Finally, instant replay.  Baseball has expanded instant replay so that managers can challenge a play.  There good articles on MLB.com that explain it all.  Baseball got it right to expand replay.  There are just so many bang-bang plays in baseball that it can be difficult for the umpires to get the call right all of the time.  At the end of the day, you want to get the call right.  Home runs, ground rule doubles, trap plays, tag plays and more can all be debated.  I’m looking forward to seeing how replay works this year and if it could lead to shorter games.  Managers may not argue as much, and hopefully reviewing a call will take only a couple more minutes.  Expanded replay in baseball.  Hopefully it works out for everyone involved.

There are of course many other story lines.  These are just a few of the many out there.  Every team has multiple story lines.  We’ll find out more as the season unfolds and discuss them when applicable.  Now let’s take a look at the divisions and see how they all play out…

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