2014 MLB Preview: 5 Things to Watch

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The summer is approaching, although in some places it is taking its sweet time, and with the warmer weather comes the new baseball season. The 2013 baseball season was full of great stories and a championship run for the ages. The Boston Red Sox would be seen as a team in transition and a team that was not going to get back to the World Series a year after a terrible season. Changes to management and a reworked roster would leave a lot of doubt for the Red Sox while a division full of new rising teams like the Baltimore Orioles and the overhauled Toronto Blue Jays would make many think that the time of the Yankees-Red Sox battle for the East was over. The Red Sox would put that to bed quickly though as they would show that their reworked roster was much more than a bunch of reclamation project. Add that to the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings at the beginning of the season and the Red Sox would become the most motivated team in the MLB and would take that motivation all the way to another World Series Championship. Now they return for another season looking to repeat but they will have to wade through the MLB season full of 162 games that can change everything at any time for the season. The MLB season is a long one and many times is more about who can outlast the rest of the teams rather than who has the best team on paper. If that were true last year the Toronto Blue Jays would have run away with it and played the Washington Nationals in the World Series. Instead both of those much hyped teams would falter as neither would make the postseason and both would have extremely disappointing seasons. These teams had great offseasons but championships are never won in the winter and the Red Sox would prove that to be true. There are many teams this year looking to do exactly what the Red Sox did as they hoped to add players to their team but ensure that they keep a good chemistry to win the World Series. As with every year the beginning of the season marks a new chance for every team as all 30 teams start at 0-0 and go from there. There are the teams that are looking at the 0-0 record hoping to get off to a great start and quickly get ahead to show that they are ready to challenge. Then there are teams hoping that they can improve on a 0-0 record instead of falling behind early. There are plenty of stories to watch this year and there will be even more as the season moves on. Everyone is looking to be the Red Sox of 2014 but only one will get there and they are sure to meet some obstacles on their way to the title. Before the season starts and the stories pile up here are five of the biggest stories that are sure to be talked about all year as another baseball season is just about here and the boys of summer are ready to start the marathon to the World Series.

 

The Next Japanese Sensation

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The MLB has seen a pattern forming for the last few years as the sport becomes a much more global activity. That is expressed in a new pattern for the MLB as it seems that at least one player from the NPB makes the trip to the MLB and becomes one of the most sought after players in baseball. There had been a steady stream of Japanese players to make it and be very good in the MLB but in the last few years there have been a lot more hype to a number of Japanese players. These players have grown a legend in the NPB and choose to come to the MLB with that legend surrounding them. That means teams begin a bidding battle paying these players big money and paying a lot of money just to talk to them. It would start with Daisuke Matsuzaka when the Boston red Sox paid over $51 million for the right to talk to him and signed a 6-year $52 million contract with the pitcher in 2007. Matsuzaka would play as advertised for the Red Sox at the beginning of his career and would begin the watch towards Japan for the next star. That start would be Yu Darvish who would sign a 6-year $60 million contract after the Rangers paid a reported $51.7 million to talk to him. So far Darvish has also come as advertised as he is one of the best pitchers in the game. The trend continues this year as Masahiro Tanaka is that new sensation from Japan trying to make the transition to the MLB. The New York Yankees would sign the Japanese pitcher to a 7-year $155 million contract this offseason. It is a lot of money to pay a pitcher that has not played a game in the MLB but with the success of Yu Darvish the Yankees would take a chance on a pitcher with a perfect record and a 1.27 ERA in 2013 in the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in the NPB. There will be a lot of focus on the new sensation from Japan as the pattern continues and the new big name on the block will be Masahiro Tanaka.

 

Moving into a New Age

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The MLB has never been known as a league that likes to live in the 21st century as they continue to be stuck in the old days. The league has been notoriously slow in updated rules and regulations that help the league move into a new era. One of the biggest expressions of this has been the snail’s pace at which the MLB has adopted replay. It wasn’t until 2008 when replay would first enter the MLB but it would be an extremely limited adoption. Replay would only be used to rule if a home run had been hit when the ball was close to the foul pole or was close to the home run line at the wall. It had been that way for years with many wanted it to be expanded. The increased mistakes, or at least the mistakes that are now seen more than ever, would lead a lot of people to want replay to be used for much more than just home runs. They would get their wish for the 2014 season as there is brand new replay rules going into effect this season. Replays will be used for more than just home runs as it will now be used for ground rule doubles, fan interference, boundary calls, force plays, tag plays, fair/foul calls, catch/trap calls, time plays, runners passing each other, and scorekeeping issues. The new rules will allow every manager a maximum of two challenges although they must win the first challenge to receive a second challenge. The head umpire will also be allowed to review a call from the 7th inning and on, they are allowed to review a home run at any point in the game. The new replay rules will be joined by a new baserunning rule that states that a baserunner cannot run over the catcher and the catcher cannot block the plate without the ball. These new rules will be an attempt for the MLB to move into the new century in a world where the human element is not a good enough excuse for a missed call and although it may have taken some time for the MLB to do it they are moving into a new era.

 

A Season Lost

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The New York Yankees would make a lot of news over the offseason and not all of it would be positive. One of the negative stories to come out of New York this offseason was the continuing saga of Alex Rodriguez. It has been a major issue for years as Rodriguez has continued to battle controversy throughout his career. The most prevalent of controversies have been the accusations of A-Rod using steroids. There have been reports of him using steroids since he started his career and in 2008 he would be a part of the long list of positive tests during the BALCO scandal. The positive test would not lead to any punishment for A-Rod because the test results were supposed to remain anonymous and they were revealed illegally. That would keep A-Rod in the league for more years but in 2013 the Biogenesis Scandal would reveal that A-Rod had once again been using steroids. A number of stars would be suspended but when it came to A-Rod the punishment was extreme as they would suspend him for the remainder of the 2013 season and the entire 2014 season. Rodriguez would claim that he was not guilty and that the MLB was just out to get him and he would continue his fight the suspension. The appeal would be successful as the 211 game suspension was reduced but it would remain one of the largest suspensions in the history of the MLB as he would receive a 162 game suspension. The suspension will keep him out of the entire 2014 season and includes any playoff games that the New York Yankees may play. The suspension is a big one and will keep Rodriguez out for a long time but that might not be the biggest story with this suspension. With so many issues A-Rod has become far and beyond the most hated MLB player ever and this suspension and his fight has made it worse. The question now becomes about the plans for Rodriguez as the Yankees may not want him back and most of baseball might not want him back. As the 2014 season moves on A-Rod will be the most talked about player to never step on the field as his season but his return may be an even bigger debate.

 

Selig’s Last Ride

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Commissioners are many times the most hated members of the sports world as the fans rarely look upon them favourably. They can make decisions that a lot of people disagree with but for them the decisions are all based on the “greater good.” For them the decisions they make are all to try to help the league grow and to help make the league better. Bud Selig would look to do this for the past 23 years in the MLB but his time to make an impact will end at the end of 2014. He would become the acting commissioner when Fay Vincent was voted out of office by the owners. It was among plenty of controversy that Selig would take the reins on a temporary basis but the owners would take a liking to someone who had been a part of their group for years as the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. In 1998 the owners would vote to give Selig the title on a permanent basis and he would become the 9th Commissioner of Baseball. Since that time Selig has presided over some of the most difficult times for baseball and has come out on top to help baseball recover and become a major league in the ultra-competitive North American market. When Selig took over the league the MLB was in serious trouble as they were dealing with multiple work stoppages including the 1990 lockout and the 1994 strike that made a lot of fans lose interest. Selig would change that as he would oversee an extremely successful period of the league that would see an increase in revenues that would put the MLB back among the top leagues in North America. He would oversee the introduction of revenue sharing to keep all franchises viable and would manage the league that is currently seeing the biggest television deals in the history of the league. He would introduce interleague play, a new all-star game format, the wild card, and would be instrumental in creating the World Baseball Classic. He has had an extremely successful time as the head of the MLB but his time will finish after the 2014 season.

 

Another Pinstripe Walks Away

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The Yankees continued to make news this offseason and this time it was the announcement of yet another living legend who will leave at the end of the year. In 2013 Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in the history of the game, would announce that the season would be his last. Now it is the other legend on the roster that will hang his cleats up at the end of the 2014 season. Derek Jeter has been the player for the Yankees since he began his MLB career in 1995. He has been the constant shortstop for the Yankees and would take over as the face of the franchise. He was almost built for the Yankees as he was a great hitter that always stayed out of the limelight and most importantly for the Yankees was always clean-cut. He would be the guy that his entire team looked at through his 5 World Series Championships. He was the epitome of a Yankee player and would gain the respect of the fans and the disrespect of the rest of the league. It is not that people hated him in the rest of the league but more that they knew that when Jeter was coming up and the game was on the line it seemed like a safe bet that he would take away the hopes of everyone except Yankees fans. He has inserted himself solidly in the folklore of the pinstripes, which is one of the toughest things to do for a franchise that prides itself on being the most successful in the history of the MLB. He is known as Mr. November and the new Yankee Stadium is known as the House that Jeter Built. He will be remembered as a legendary player and is sure to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot. This will be his last season on an MLB diamond and he is sure to get the same treatment as Mariano Rivera did as Jeter’s farewell tour will be one to be remembered because even if you are not a Yankee fan watching Derek Jeter do things the right way since 1995 has been a pleasure and it will come to an end after this season.

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