Grand Slams

Grand Slams: Now in 3D!

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Hello all!  Welcome to another year of celebrating baseball and being a baseball fanboy.  Now that Spring Training is under way it’s time to shake yourself out of your hibernation suit and stretch out for a new season!

Baseball fans have a lot to be excited about this year.  The renewed rivalry of the Trout/Miggy MVP debate should enjoy another turn this year.  Although, as the baseball world slowly catches up to advanced metrics, I feel like Trout is gonna start winning this debate in the minds of voters and fans alike.  Barring injury, we should be in for another thrill-ride this year as we watch Miggy bat without Prince in the lineup behind him and Trout display his blazing speed and all-around other-worldly talent.

This year the MLB is introducing instant replay, so now you can get five hours of baseball out of your ticket rather than the all-too-quick four-hour game we’ve grown accustomed to.  For those with nothing else to do, this is a great development.  For everyone else, this could be tedious for the first couple months.  It honestly feels kinda like a couple years ago when the NFL had the replacement refs.  But if progress is gonna happen it’s gonna be painful for at least a little while.  So buckle up and enjoy the ride, because why not?

Speaking of rides, I think we’ll experience an extension of the injury roller-coaster this year and see a lot of bounceback stories.  Quite a lot of players either underperformed or suffered significant injuries or received bans last year, severely stunting their year-end numbers.  I expect there to be some serious bouncebacks from loads of players, but to name a few: Ryan Braun, Albert Pujols, Giancarlo Stanton, Prince Fielder, BJ Upton, Troy Tulowitzki, Tim Lincecum, Corey Hart, Jason Heyward, Curtis Granderson, Bryce Harper, and more.  I could be crazy, but I think if your team underperformed last year due to injury or just flat out incompetence, there’s reason to hope for a rebound this year.

In other news, Robinson Cano switched coasts, trading in his clean-shaven look and pinstripes for facial hair and whatever you call the Mariners uniforms.  People may say he was overpaid and given too many years, but I think it just illustrates the power that Hova has over the feeble-minded GMs in the league (here’s looking at you, Jack Z.).  The signing is looking to be more than just the on-field talent that Cano provides, however.  Cano is meant to be the face of the franchise, is a safe bet at staying on the field (no major injuries for a few years) and is helping create a good culture in the Mariners clubhouse.  Reports are that he has already helped Justin Smoak with his swing and has shown him a technique he used in NY to keep his hands inside on certain pitches.  If Cano produces at his usual level and helps elevate the game of those around him, he will have proven himself to be worth the money thrown at him.  The whole situation also makes me wonder what would happen if other notable musical artists started negotiating player contracts.  Just imagine Henry Rollins in Ruben Amaro’s office, demanding (and doing other unspeakable things) that Amaro give his client the contract he’s asking for.  I’d pay good money for that.

So those are some of the bigger stories heading into the 2014 MLB season, but certainly not all of them.  This isn’t, after all, ESPN.

As for the outlook this year, I think a lot about the claims I hear that MLB has the most parity of any major American sport.  Boston going from horrendous to World Series champions in just one year certainly supports that claim, but in lots of places I see terrible teams continue to be terrible.  Rebuilding takes a long time in the majors, as evidenced by the Astros, Marlins, and Cubs.  Sometimes it works to rebuild through good draft picks (see: Washington Nationals) and sometimes it works to rebuild through a mixture of drafting and trading (see: Pittsburgh Pirates), but sometimes your GM just flushes the organization down the toilet for years at a time (as in the Blue Jays, Phillies, and probably the Mariners) and other times it just seems impossible to win because of your environment (see: Colorado Rockies).  But there is fluctuation, as some teams rise and others fall, and that’s a good thing.  No one wants the Yankees to buy the World Series every year (except Yankees fans, of course, and are we really sure they count as people?).

I see the Cardinals going a long way again this year.  I think the Braves do at least as good as last year, considering their two highest paid players can’t do any worse than they did last year.  The Tigers should be at the top of the AL Central again this year, although I’m curious to see just how good Nick Castellanos is and how much losing Prince Fielder hurts them.  That leaves three divisions that I think will all be kinda tight.  The AL East is always full of stiff competition, and this year will be no different.  Will the Yankees’ big free agent acquisitions put them back in the playoffs?  Will the Orioles get another season full of daily home runs out of Chris Davis?  Will Papi still be the jovial Santa Claus off the field and mean-muggin slugger at the plate?  Who knows.  The AL West has been competitive for years, producing ALCS champions and Wild Card teams regularly.  Will this be the year that either the Angels or Mariners step into that Wild Card race at the end?  Who knows.  And in the NL West, I have a feeling the Dodgers won’t be as good as last year.  I think Matt Kemp is still battling injuries, I think they rely too heavily on the mild head-case that is Zack Greinke and I just feel they might finish with less wins than last year.  I’m sure all the experts reading this column will disagree, because of course they have their crystal balls and I forgot mine at home.  But it’s just a hunch and when I’m right, no one will go back and check, so it won’t matter anyway.

So here’s to another year of baseball and all the conflicting views we get to voice as a result!

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