2016 MLB Preview: 5 Stories to Watch

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According to some, the MLB is in some major danger right now as they are in the midst of the second dead-ball era.

MLB scoring has been at its lowest for a generation after coming out of one of the best offensive era in the league’s history.

Of course, that great offence that used to average hovering around 5 runs per game had a lot to do with one of the worst periods in the history of the league.

The average has dropped to closer to 4 runs per game in the last few seasons and on average it seems like the offence is drying up.

There are plenty of reasons for this with a reduced amount of players using PEDs thanks to a greater risk of being caught and the number of great pitchers increasing every year.

It is getting tougher and tougher for offences to regularly stand up as velocity continues to rise and the variety of pitches seems to continue to develop.

It is having an effect on the game itself and for many it is having a very negative effect.

They are seeing the dip in offence and seeing the younger viewers run away from a game that already has a reputation for being slow and boring.

Although that seems to be the reputation for so many analysts and sports reporters the fact is that the MLB has never been in a better spot.

Like many other sports, they have only grown even through this second dead-ball era making more money than they have ever made before.

New TV deals are coming every year and the sport itself seems to be only gaining popularity.

Not to mention that older teams are not failing under the new era but rather beginning to show exactly how big the sport is becoming.

There may be no place that this is truer than in the only city with an MLB team outside of the USA.baseball-sidebar

Toronto exploded last year with baseball fever after the Blue Jays began fighting for a postseason spot and then when the postseason began baseball fever was in full swing.

For a city that was often considered to be a joke in the baseball world, Toronto is showing what can be done in any market.

Despite the calls for the MLB to do something to increase offence, the league seems to be in good shape and although offence is always popular it doesn’t make up all of baseball.

The fact that great pitchers continue to rise through the league while offence remains a focal point for a number of teams.

All the while the league is becoming more unpredictable with strong teams emerging but unexpected teams finding their way to the top of the league.

The Blue Jays were one of those teams last year but far from the only team as most expected the Royals to fall short of repeating their performance from 2014.

Then they went on to not only win their division but take the World Series title breaking one of the longer World Series droughts.

Meanwhile, the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs surprised everyone with their quick rise while the old standards were left on the sidelines.

Whether that continues or not is up for debate as another season begins and everyone starts over.

There will be some great rebound seasons from big teams and some unexpected falls while at least one surprise team will make an appearance.

Baseball may be going through a bit of a drought lately but that means nothing when the baseball is getting better and more even every year with more teams in the fight than ever before.

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It was an interesting first year for Rob Manfred as the Commissioner of Baseball as he toured the league and found out that the sport is in a great place. There were always going to be some problem areas and there was certainly some surprises throughout the year, both good and bad but, in the end, the season was fairly uneventful. He was handed a league in a very good spot because of Bud Selig and his long time at the head of baseball. The league was in the best position it had been in for years and Manfred was able to take a year and figure out where the league was going. He made some good moves in creating a domestic violence policy before any major issues came about in the league and also took a clear stand on welcoming openly gay players into the league. In a time where it seems that leagues need to deal with new things all the time Manfred was a bit ahead of the game and has Selig to thank for the freedom to take those steps. That safety net is about to be taken away though as this will be the year that Manfred truly gets his first major test as the Commissioner. At the end of 2016, the MLB and MLBPA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement will expire and bring an end to the longest labour peace in sports. Of course, Manfred will look to stop that from happening as he spends the majority of the year looking to sign a new deal. For his first year, Manfred was largely in the shadow of Selig but this is what will separate him because the deal will be done by him much like it has in the past. Despite the fact that Selig was the Commissioner when the 1994-95 MLB strike happened he was also the Commissioner that ended the strike. By his side was Manfred who was a major part of the negotiations and since then has been able to keep the league running with other CBA negotiations. He will be at home with the negotiations and it shouldn’t be a major issue but any time that the CBA is about to expire the danger is still there. It will be the chance for Manfred to step out of the shadow of Selig and put his first mark on the league, whether positive or negative.

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The CBA will be a major test for Manfred but another one has already started when Al Jazeera USA aired a documentary about steroids in professional sports. The report itself seemed to be mainly focused on some big names in the NFL including Peyton Manning but the MLB is not exempt. It is rare that the MLB isn’t the focus of a steroid scandal as they have been dealing with the issue for years. Beneath the biggest offensive boom in MLB history was the dirty little secret that many of the biggest batters were using steroids to get those big numbers. There have been accusations that have gone unproven so far and others who have admitted their use. While the offence was getting better the pitchers were trying to keep up and began taking steroids themselves. It was a plague on the league and in 2005, a book by Jose Conseco exposed the breadth of steroid use in the league launching an MLB investigation. The Mitchell Report was the first official look at that side of the sport while also creating a new set of rules to deter that scale of cheating from happening again. It was the report that cracked everything open but it was not the last time the league had to deal with the cheating. That includes this year when the report surfaced with a number of names that had reportedly received steroids from an anti-aging clinic. The report named Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Howard, and Taylor Teagarden as clients of the clinic who received steroidal drugs from the clinic. The report has been widely denied with many claiming that it was simply an attempt by Al Jazeera to get attention. After all, they are not a major news organization in North America and more often than not were ignored among the bigger networks. After the story was released the majority of players named refuted the accusations and the rest of them didn’t give the story the time of day. As for the MLB players both Zimmerman and Howard are set to sue the network, who is shutting down their US operations due to financial issues, while the league looks into the accusations. It may not be as big as the other reports that have surfaced but this will be the first big investigation into PEDs that Manfred will deal with and it will go a long way to determining what his tenure will look like.

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Dynasties in any league are becoming tougher to find lately as the definition has to be skewed for the new environment. There are not more dynasties that win back-to-back-to-back titles because it is simply too hard to win two years in a row with free agency the way it is in the new environment. So a dynasty instead has to be a team that can win multiple titles in a short amount of time. The San Francisco Giants have been that team in the 2010s after taking three World Series titles since 2010. They were the team to beat and still might be as their pattern of winning every even year could come into play this year, they have made some moves to do just that. The Kansas City Royals are looking to do the same thing in the American League after their meteoric rise in 2014 led to domination in 2015. The Royals were an afterthought when the 2014 season began as they were expected to be better but not to do a lot. Then they made it into the postseason with the wild card and stormed through the postseason to face the Giants in the World Series. They lost that series and most thought that they were going to take a step back in 2015 after they played above their head. The season was anything but what those expected it to be as they dominated the AL Central and never let the first place go. They went through the postseason fairly easy even until the World Series where they beat the New York Mets in five games. The Royals are not close to being a dynasty right now but the way they went through the season in 2015 was what seemed to be the start of something special. They are a team built to last as well with a great system behind them and no need for big name free agents to keep them sharp. They have the pitching they need and a batting strategy that doesn’t rely on big hitters which can last a long time. They are a team that could be starting something special after years of failing to bring excitement to the midwest. If the Royals can continue to dominate in the central they may find themselves on another deep run to the postseason and potentially a World Series. This season will be the test as everyone watches to see just how good they can be and if they can remain among the top teams in the league.

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It seems like every year another legend is set to retire walking off of the field for the last time and leaving a hole in their place. This year that hole is going to almost impossible to fill as the man known as “Big Papi” is set to walk away from the game. David Ortiz is one of the biggest personalities that the game has ever seen with his deep laugh and constant smile. He is a player that simply loves to play and doesn’t take the fact that he gets to play baseball for a living. Without his personality, the league will be worse off but that is far from his biggest contribution to the game. His biggest distribution comes in the batter’s box because that is the only place that it could come from. Ortiz is a product of baseball in the 1970s when the MLB was trying to increase the offence in the league, a now constant struggle. In 1973, the American League adopted the designated hitter taking the pitcher out of the batter’s box in what was essentially a wasted at bat. So rose the players that used their bat and only their bat to make it into the league. Of course, it wasn’t until the 1990s when the position really took off and the DH became one of the most important positions where big hitters were looked to thanks to their bat. It wasn’t a wasted spot if a player couldn’t field because they could provide the offence that everyone was looking. That position has changed in recent years as it has become more of a wasted spot if the player can’t field. Nobody is looking for a hitter that can’t do anything else and often the DH is rotated between players. Ortiz is the exception and is one of the last exceptions throughout a league that is trying to find more well-rounded players than ever before. The reason that Ortiz is the exception is that he is so good at what he does and his offence is too much to waste sitting on the bench. There will likely never be another DH at the level of Ortiz and throughout the season heading into his retirement, the debate over his hall of fame electability will be one of the big focuses. For now, though fans will just get the chance to watch one of the best and most consistent power bats in the MLB.

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It is no secret that the Chicago Cubs are the keepers of one of the worst records in all of sports as their last championship came in 1908. For over 100 years the Cubs have been failing to meet expectations and providing no expectations, depending on the season. Something feels a little different right no though as the Cubs are a team on the rise and that is not usually the case for the Cubbies. Last year the rebuild took on a new life when the team seemed to announce that they were ready to finally compete. It all started in 2011 when Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were hired to head up the baseball operations of the team. Nobody seemed to notice the work that they were doing as the Cubs were sitting at the bottom of the league with no signs of getting better. Then slowly the young players that both executives had brought in started to show their promise. In 2015 the Cubs’ plans seemed to take that next step towards the World Series when they essentially announced that they were going to step up. They hired Jon Maddon as their manager and saw the emergence of a top hitter who dominated Spring Training in Kris Bryant. He seemed to be the last piece to the puzzle for the Cubs and Maddon had long had a reputation for getting teams to play above themselves. The season began with World Series hopes for the team but the young group didn’t seem quite ready to take on that responsibility. Those hopes didn’t come through in total but they still found their way back to the postseason and continue to show promise. Another year under the belt of the young players and another year for Maddon to get to know his teams has a lot of promise for the loveable losers. There are few fans who don’t want the Cubs to win as they seem to be everyone’s second team. In the long history of baseball, the Cubs are the team and the fan base that has been suffering more than anyone else. It isn’t even close when it comes to heartbreak as a fan of a team but the future is bright and according to some this year could be the year when it all finishes with more than just one group of fans cheering.

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