Baseball's favorite headlines going into 2014
I don’t remember the exact quote, but some five o'clock news anchor was desperate for whimsical banter during the Tanaka signing.
“Something just feels right about the Yankees beating everybody out for a free agent," he said.
Well, sir, to those of us with souls, that’s actually still quite boring. All winter long we heard about this Tanaka kid with the crazy stats from his 2013 season in Japan. 25 years old, they said, with a splitter that’ll make you go cross-eyed. Hell, he’s even got a traditional “baseball” name, and a pop star wife destined to help them become the next New York power couple.
And it only cost $20 million to talk to him!
The Yankees aren't the only free-spending team anymore, but they will always be in the conversation. The international posting system was recalibrated, and $20 mil was low enough that teams like the Cubs and Astros were able to get a word in. Chicago was considered the runner-up to the Bombers, and the Astros wouldn’t go higher than $100 million, but hey, at least they wanted to be involved. There was always the possibility that Tanaka could latch onto a low market team and change the landscape entirely.
But no, Tanaka went with the boring old Yankees for seven years and $155 million, and now they’re hawking nameless jerseys with the #19 on the back.
Well, fine. The AL East has to deal with Tanaka now, and though he was highly coveted and highly priced, there’s still the matter of his assimilation into Major League Baseball. The league’s history is full of tragedies in this regard, both in baseball and in real life, which stemmed from big signings to international players. As promising as it seems, there are still more times when it just doesn’t take.
Not to mention that the Yankees have needs at almost every other position to be filled, and did not succeed in doing so. Tanaka can’t play second or short or third or come out of the bullpen to relieve himself, so New York still has some well-deserved challenges ahead of them.
…will not be one of them. Somehow, though, he will dominate headlines at least weekly.
It doesn’t help that he doesn’t worry about coming across as pompous. He’s cavalier and he’s smart, but honestly, none of that matters, because he can be however he wants. Alex Rodriguez is under no obligation to get you to like him. He is obligated to adhere to the rules set by the league in which he plays.
Which is the other thing; Bud Selig’s fist-shaking at A-Rod turned into a torch-waving witch hunt that started with Biogenesis and ended with a victory lap on 60 Minutes. MLB’s flawed PED testing system and subsequent punishments allowed for the loopholes through which A-Rod slipped to continue playing in 2013. It’s become painfully obvious that Selig just doesn’t care for the guy and wants him gone, even if it ends with neitehr side looking good.
Eventually, A-Rod’s ban will be lifted and it seems probable that he’ll be back in a lineup. He doesn’t want to go away.
Bud Selig’s victory lap
Then there’s Selig, who found Marino Rivera, Chipper Jones, and Bobby Cox’s farewell tours across baseball, during which they received endless gifts from teams and fans, to be so endearing, he couldn’t wait to embark on one himself.
Seriously, the Bud Selig Farewell Tour will happen in 2014, as the beleaguered commissioner tries to drum up some fan-love on his way out the door. This is after being awarded the first annual Commissioner Bud Selig Award, remember. The flurry of activity in the twilight of his tenure indicated that in the end, he did wanted to be remembered for something, and now we all get to celebrate him for his contributions to the game.
Personally, I prefer the Todd Helton Good-bye: One portrait of the departing, beloved player as a centaur. The end.
Dodgers all in on everything
The team of the year may be the Dodgers, who at the moment seemed primed for the post season run, national exposure, and endless ESPN coverage that will have them completely over-saturating the market by mid-May.
- Extended Clayton Kershaw for seven years and $215 million
- Signed Dan Haren for one year, $10 million
- Deepened the overflowing bullpen with Jamey Wright, Chris Perez, J.P. Howell, and Brian Wilson
- Will play the first game of the year in Australia, against the Diamondbacks, who are full of bitter vengeance
- Still have Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Hanley Ramirez, and Adrian Gonzalez in their lineup, with Matt Kemp set to return from injury later on
- Have endless money
The Dodgers have a flare for the dramatic, and with Puig in the lineup have an instant seat at the table for any inane “plays the game the right way” arguments surfacing in the middle of the year.
They will never be far from the conversation in 2014, regardless of whether they’re winning (“The Dodgers are unstoppable”), losing (“The Dodgers are disappointing”), playing, (“Kirk Gibson says the Dodgers need to stop having so much fun or baseball will die”), or not playing (“Yasiel Puig has been arrested for riding a jet-cycle at 900 mph”).
Matt Harvey in recovery
This was former cool baby Matt Harvey last year with his catcher John Buck, after finding out his season was over and all that awaited him was the cold embrace of Tommy John surgery.
Now, he’s hoping to be back by September and is re-entering the fantasies of Mets fans who see him and Zack Wheeler as the 1-2 punch that could make their rotation and team relevant in the near future. At 24 years old, the right-hander has plenty of time left, and has a far better chance of rebounding from TJ. His 2.27 ERA and 0.931 WHIP in 2013 give plenty of reason for the fans to rejoice, before they even get a glimpse of his NL-leading 0.4 HR/9.
He’ll spend most of the season cheerleading in the dugout, but when that windbreaker comes off as potentially early as September, Harvey could have a month of remembering how to pitch before roaring back in 2015.