With opening day upon us, we realize that not everybody who will be rooting for their favorite team followed every single move of baseball's busy offseason. And this season's was quite busy.
If you stopped paying attention to baseball after the Boston Red Sox clinched the World Series in October, here's everything you need to know to get up to speed for opening day.
There are new faces in new places, re-tooled teams, new rules, coming, goings and one player who is as big as a house. There's an adorable dog you need to meet, another big retirement tour on the way and more money being thrown at players than ever before. The Stew's David Brown and Mike Oz cataloged everything you need to know:
1. The Mariners sign Robinson Cano, try to be relevant: Seattle spent a ridiculous amount of money to nab the biggest free agent on the market, signing Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million contract. He'll be 40 by the time it's done, but will he have gone to the playoffs again? The M's also added Logan Morrison and Corey Hart to help Cano out, but it's still an uphill climb in the AL West.
2. Instant replay is finally here: The biggest change to the game in years will give managers the ability to challenge plays. An MLB command center in NYC will be stocked with umpires and TV screens, and final decisions will come from there. The new system has been getting a test run this spring, and the biggest hurdle will be getting plays reviewed quickly. MLB is hoping for 60-90 seconds.
3. There's a new rule about home-plate collisions: MLB's other big rule change of the winter outlaws home-plate collisions, kind of. The new rule says runners can't go out of their way to run over a catcher, while catchers can't block the plate unless they have the ball. The rule will be monitored and adjusted next season, if need be.
4. Dodgers and D-backs already started the season: In Australia! MLB opened its season outside of North America for the seventh time since 1999, this time Down Under, for two games at the Sydney Cricket Ground. L.A. won both games, but baseball won the hearts of local fans.
5. Masahiro Tanaka gets posted: His team in Japan, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, wanted to keep him after he went 27-0 in the regular season, and got a save in the championship game in the Japan Series. He wanted to try his hand in MLB, and the Yankees signed him for a total of $175 million, including a $20 million fee just to negotiate. His split-finger fastball has been dynamite this spring.
6. Yankees reload: For an outlay of nearly $500 million that includes Tanaka, the New York Yankees added several big-time free agents after going 85-77 in 2013 and losing Robinson Cano in free agency. Also coming to New York are Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. But can they make the playoffs with that infield and bullpen?
7. Rogue free agents still on market: Most free agents got paid and promptly so, but what some believe is a “bug” in the system led to several big names lingering on the market longer than usual. In fact, as of now Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales are still available in large part because they require draft-pick compensation. They, along with Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Nelson Cruz and others all were given qualifying offers by their former teams — which were rejected in favor of free agency — thus triggering the compensation. The rule and the unintended consequences won’t be addressed until new negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement begin sometime in 2016, presumably. The current CBA expires Dec. 1 of that year.
8. The Rangers were busy this offseason, and now their team doctor is busy: The Texas Rangers made a few of the biggest moves of the offseason, trading for Prince Fielder and shipping Ian Kinsler to Detroit. They signed coveted free agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo for $130 million, and in smaller moves, added J.P. Arencibia, Joe Saunders and Michael Choice. But things took a turn for the worse not long after all their buying. They lost pitcher Derek Holland for half the season, then the injuries started to pile up. Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto will also miss significant time, while Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison won't be ready for opening day.
9. Derek Jeter announces his retirement: He’s not done playing just yet, but the Yankees captain will not go beyond the 2014 season after struggling to recover from a broken ankle and other injuries related to it. Jeter, 40, says he wants to own a team one day and run it just like George Steinbrenner ran the Yankees. From the mid-90s on, presumably he means.
10. The best pitcher and best hitter in the game get new contracts: Between them, Miguel Cabrera and Clayton Kershaw agreed to almost $500 million of new contracts to play baseball. Cabrera signed an eight-year extension with the Detroit Tigers last week worth $248 million (he'll make $44 million through 2015 under his current contract, for a grand total of $292 million). Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw signed a seven-year, $215 million extension with the Dodgers in January.
11. Mike Trout gets paid $144.5 million: The arguing on the internet over Trout’s deal — “It’s not enough for what he produces!” vs. “How much money does a 22-year-old need?” vs. “He’s giving away free-agent years!” vs. “What do the Angels get out of this?!” — have been kind of funny. He does sacrifice being a free agent at age 26, which would have been fun to watch if you’re into that stuff. And arbitration already was going to escalate his salary. But another bite at free agency will happen at age 29 instead, when he might just become a billionaire.
12. Watch out for Bryce Harper: Because he’s as big as a house. Harper worked out like an animal, figuratively, this winter and put on weight to help him hit more home runs and to get through the grind of a long season. Crashing into fences and living to tell the tale requires padding, both for the fence and the player. Harper has been dropping some of the weight as spring training has gone along, but he’s still bulkier than in past seasons. His physical transformation, along with better understanding of the strike zone and how it’s his friend, are signs that a monster season might be coming. And he’s already done pretty well at age 19 and 20.
13. Jose Abreu might be better than countrymen Puig or Cespedes: Jose Abreu has looked good in spring training for the White Sox, who needed to add offense in the worst way after being one of the weakest run-scoring teams in the majors. Following Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes, Abreu continues the line of big-time ballplayers from Cuba. Puig generates attention everywhere he goes; Cespedes, while coming off a disappointing season, did win the Home Run Derby at the All-Star game in 2013. What will Abreu do?
14. MLB’s PED agreement gets sharper teeth: Players and owners revised the performance-enhancing drug agreement to allow for stiffer penalties for first-time offenders, more frequent and accurate tests and banning from the playoffs for anyone having tested positive. More random tests and tougher blood tests for HGH also are agreed upon. Some players had been vocal when Jhonny Peralta, for example, was allowed to return to the Detroit Tigers for the playoffs after having served a 50-game suspension during the season. Peralta also drew ire after signing a $53 million deal as a free agent with the Cardinals — but there’s nothing in the revised drug agreement that would effect a future contract.
15. Ryan Braun is back: The Milwaukee Brewers star served a 65-game suspension for PEDs, ending his 2013 season. He's back for 2014, trying to move forward and not look back and all those other things disgraced athletes say. He was good this spring, hitting .412 with three homers.
16. A-Rod is not back: The other big fish in the Biogenesis scandal, Alex Rodriguez, took his 211-game suspension to arbitration and came back with 162 games, or the entire 2014 season. A-Rod had been appealing that, but out of nowhere dropped the suit in February and agreed to take the suspension. He would have made $25 million this season.
17. Hank the Dog becomes Brewers fan favorite: He’s a little shih tzu mix of puppy love, Hank is, a former stray who wandered into Brewers spring camp at Maryvale, Ariz. while also wandering into our hearts. Now he’s won himself a new home and a job for a franchise that’s already stocked with beloved mascots. Will Ryan Braun have a better year? The bar has been set pretty high.
18. Barry Bonds returns: In his first functional appearance for MLB since being forced to retire after the 2007 season, Bonds became a spring training instructor for the San Francisco Giants. The early returns were raves by the players, though Bonds isn’t sure what’s next for him. Other than more biking, probably. He continues to serve a sentence for obstruction of justice while also appealing it.
19. Nolan Ryan switches Texas teams: Ryan "retired" as CEO of the Rangers at the end of last season, which is the nice way of saying he and president/GM Jon Daniels were done working together and Daniels was sticking around. So now Nolan is back with the Houston Astros, serving as a special assistant to owner Jim Crane. Reid Ryan, Nolan's son, is the team president. The running joke is that the Astros actually need Nolan Ryan as a pitcher. Heck, we'd watch.
20. Pitchers safety addressed — maybe: MLB announced that padded caps will be available for 2014 season after spate of incidences where pitchers are hit in the head with line drives. Most MLB pitchers probably won’t wear the caps for reasons of comfort, but they’re also not a prevention for all line drives, such as the one that befell Aroldis Chapman.
21. Tommy John surgeries everywhere: The Tommy John bug got passed around MLB this spring, as a number of pitchers were lost for the season after elbow issues. Among them: Jarrod Parker, Kris Medlen, Patrick Corbin, Brandon Beachy, Luke Hochevar and Bruce Rondon. Even exciting Twins prospect Miguel Sano, who is a third baseman, needed Tommy John surgery.
22. Closers move near and far: Nobody moved around this offseason like closers — it's a particularly fickle position to begin with, but there was a full-on closer carousel. Here's a rundown:
• Free agent Joe Nathan signed with the Tigers.
• Jim Johnson was traded from Baltimore to Oakland.
• Baltimore signed Grant Balfour, then nixed the deal when he failed his physical. They gave the job to Tommy Hunter instead.
• Balfour eventually signed with the Rays.
• Previous Rays closer Fernando Rodney signed with the Mariners in free agency.
• Addison Reed was traded from the White Sox to the Diamondbacks.
• John Axford signed with the Indians.
• LaTroy Hawkins signed with the Rockies.
• Jose Veras signed with the Cubs.
23. Braves leaving Atlanta: After living in downtown Atlanta since 1966, the Braves are partnering with Cobb County to move the team there into a $672 million facility by 2017. Turner Field, their home since 1997, probably will be demolished. Former owner Ted Turner says he wouldn’t be moving anything to the ‘burbs.
24. Harold Reynolds replaces Tim McCarver: Fox Sports made a change in the booth, pushing out McCarver and teaming play-by-play guy Joe Buck with Reynolds and reporter Tom Verducci. Reynolds also works for the MLB Network and used to be an analyst for ESPN. Like McCarver, he’s something of a divisive character, but most people watching the broadcast probably won’t have a complaint about Reynolds’ analysis.
25. Batkid tugs at heartstrings: The city of San Francisco, aided by the Giants, arranges for blocks of the city to be turned into the playground of a leukemia-stricken 5-year-old boy who loves Batman. Batkid even rescued Lou Seal, the Giants mascot, from the bad guys.
26. Michael Weiner dies at 51: The director of the Major League Baseball Players association had brain cancer. A universally liked figure, seemingly, Weiner had been head of the union since 2009 when he replaced Don Fehr. He was working for the players right up to the end. Alex Rodriguez was the only active player, reportedly, to attend Weiner’s funeral. Of course, A-Rod also ripped Weiner for not being more helpful — in A-Rod’s opinion — in fighting his Biogenesis suspension.
27. Deadspin buys Hall of Fame vote: The often irreverent sports-related website got Dan LeBatard of the Miami Herald and ESPN to give up his vote for Cooperstown. Deadspin crowd-sourced its readership, asking it to pick who should be voted for the Hall, and LeBatard secretly filled out his ballot to reflect the people’s views. When Deadspin revealed it was LeBatard’s vote, the BBWAA revoked it and punished him.
28. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas honored with HOF induction: Craig Biggio missed by two votes, and Maddux’s election wasn’t unanimous (none ever is) but the dais will be popping this summer at Cooperstown, when managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre also will be inducted.
29. Dodgers move to new TV station: Which hardly anyone in Los Angeles (or the rest of the world) can see yet. Sportsnet LA is the new exclusive home of Vin Scully and the Dodgers, except that it doesn’t have an agreement with many carriers yet — such as DirecTV — so many fans of the team are simply out of luck to see the team until the arrangements change. Which they will, by the laws of supply and demand. But when?!
30. MLBAM’s new tracking system is a game-changer: Player evaluations, particularly on defense, won’t be the same after we start getting data returns from a computer system that will completely and reliably measure everything that happens on a baseball field. Did a guy get a great jump on a fly ball that helped him run it down and make a diving great catch — or did he need to dive because the jump he got was lousy? This new system put in place by MLB Advanced Media will inform us about the game like never before.
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