As the 2014 MLB season draws nearer and nearer, it may be too early to crown a World Series champion but it’s never too early to speculate about teams, players and managers on the path to success or doomed for a falling out. What follows are a few of the things I’m going to be keeping my eye on as the 2014 MLB season progresses
In lieu of a complete ban, the MLB has announced that it will be undergoing a one-year experiment that allows collisions only if the catcher has the ball and is blocking the runner’s path to home plate, and if the catcher goes in to the basepath to field a throw to the plate.
The rule reflects a compromise between the league and the player’s union; the league wanted a rule that prevented any sort of collisions at the plate, citing player safety as the number one concern. The player’s union, however, refused to accept the rule, feeling that there wasn’t enough time to train runners and catchers to adjust their behavior before the beginning of the season.
Concern stems from the vast increase in plate collisions since 2011, when Buster Posey broke his leg and tore three ligaments in his ankle after a hit from the Marlins’ Scott Cousins.
Reaction is mixed around the league (one of the more vocal dissenters of the rule includes Hall of Famer George Brett), though the addition of the rule is almost certain to ignite some controversy and gripe across the league this year.
I believe Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter on the planet right now. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. When you’re coming off a .348, 44 HR, 137 RBI year and have a .321 career average with 365 home runs over 11 fruitful seasons, it’s hard to argue otherwise. But I think Miggy is going to miss Prince Fielder.
In the two years in which Prince hit behind Cabrera, Cabrera won back-to-back MVPs and batting titles, watched his OBP increase 14 points to .417 and his slugging percentage hop from .571 to .620, and hit an average of nine home runs and 23 RBIs more per year. I think it’s safe to say Fielder was doing something right up there.
Victor Martinez is a solid replacement for Prince in the lineup, and should not be scoffed at by any means. But there’s something about having a Prince Fielder, a Miguel Cabrera hit behind you, that does something entirely psychological to a hitter.
“When I’m hitting in front of Miggy,” Torii Hunter said to ESPN, “it gives me so much confidence that these guys have got to pitch to me, that I’m going to be able to hit. There’s a mental side of the game. And me hitting second [with Cabrera third] is more mental than anything.”
Much how Torii feels about Cabrera, I’m sure Cabrera felt about Prince. Will he still win the batting crown? Probably. Will he post another .300+ average? The numbers say absolutely yes. But will he miss Prince? Almost undoubtedly.
Robinson Cano made perhaps the most major splash in the 2013 offseason, ending a nine-year career with the New York Yankees for a monster 10-year, $240 million deal in Seattle. Cano has received some heat from New York Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, who criticized Cano for not hustling to first base over the course of his career in the Bronx. Cano and his new manager Lloyd McClendon largely sidestepped the issue, and rightly so.
“To me, the most important thing is that the guy goes out there for nearly 160 games a year, he hits .330, he drives in over 100 runs and he hits 25 to 30 home runs. I just need Robinson to be Robinson,” McClendon said to ESPN. “Like all the rest of my guys know, just don’t dog it. Am I expecting you to give me 110 percent down the baseline every single night? No. I’m expecting you to give me a good effort.”
Cano had a career year last year that led him to the big money, and is looking to prove he’s earned it, adding experience to a young Seattle team. Cano has played no fewer than 159 games since 2007, which will hopefully aid in anchoring Seattle.
The Mariners are going to make a trip to the Bronx from April 29 until the first of May, and the series is sure to be full of drama both on the field and in Yankee Stadium.
Moving right along with the New York theme, Derek Jeter recently announced that this upcoming season would be his last in an MLB jersey, following in the fading footsteps of former Yankee great Mariano Rivera.
Jeter addressed some big topics in his news conference, setting the table for what could be a monumental year in New York if he follows through. He said he believed he could play as well as he did in 2012 (when he hit .316 and lead the MLB with 216 hits), that he was in the best shape of his life despite his 40th birthday creeping closer and without even mentioning the words, that he expects another World Series victory for the Yanks.
His loftiest goal, however, centers back in on the man we’ve all adored since 1996: Jeter himself. He’s acknowledged multiple times over the years that he’s had difficulty appreciating what he’s accomplished as time passed, appreciating what we’ve all had a chance to marvel at every day. This year, however, Jeter vows to be different.
“I want to enjoy each and every day throughout the course of the year, which has been difficult for me to do that over the course of my career because I always try to focus on what can you can do next getting to the next goal, and the next goal,” he said. “[But] it goes by quickly. You almost blink and it’s 20 years later.”
I’ve been on this journey with Jeter since I was able to read. While I’ve never been a Yankees fan, I’ve always been a Jeter fan. I’ve always admired what he’s done for the sport, ever since I read his Sports Illustrated biography for kids when I was five. I just hope this year is as beautiful for him as it can possibly be. No one deserves it more than him.