Here is a link to my Sunday column. The full text runs below:
With the baseball season about to start, let’s talk trends. We’ve been inundated with information about the A’s and Giants. Now it’s time to widen the lens. What are the five key trends in Baseball 2014?
Derek Jeter: It’s hard to call a person a trend, but Derek Jeter is a trend. Always has been. He’s also an institution. And he’s the face of baseball.
Baseball is about to lose its face. Jeter is 39 and was injured most of last season — he played only 17 games — and although he wants to be an everyday player in 2014, it’s not clear he can be. This is his final season, his farewell season. Think of it as his farewell tour, and everywhere he goes, fans will honor him. He deserves to be honored.
He will be a sure-thing, first-ballot Hall of Famer when his turn comes. He has worn Yankees pinstripes with dignity — compare him to his sleazy teammate Alex Rodriguez and you get the point. He is a great clutch player, a great postseason player. His lifetime batting average is .312.
He comes to Oakland June 13, 14 and 15. Be there or be square.
Instant Replay: This most certainly is a trend. It’s more than a trend. It’s a revolution. Baseball has used limited instant replay in the past — like verifying that a home run is a home run. In 2014, baseball is going all in with technology.
A whole lot more gets reviewed in 2014. Like force plays and tags at bases, traps in the outfield and hit batters. Managers get one challenge a game and if their challenge is successful they get another. Hey, is this beginning to sound like football? Umpires can call for replays starting in the seventh inning. All reviews take place in a giant control room in Manhattan that must resemble headquarters for a space shuttle launch.
No one knows how well expanded replay will work. Hopefully, it will not slow down games the way football gets slowed down. Stay tuned.
Guys coming back from PED suspensions. Some big-time cheaters return to the big leagues this season. Nelson Cruz, now with the Orioles, got nailed with a 50-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs in 2013. Jhonny Peralta, now with the Cardinals, got his own 50-game suspension. Cruz signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles. Peralta signed a four-year deal with the Cardinals for $53 million. All of which proves taking PEDs may be morally wrong but definitely pays off in the end.
But the big fish in this group is Ryan Braun, although fish may be the wrong animal. How about weasel? How about skunk? Not that there is anything inherently bad about weasels and skunks, so please don’t write me letters defending them.
Braun got suspended 65 games and for the entire postseason in 2013. That was very bad.
But things were worse for him, much worse. He had failed a urine test in 2011 but, as you probably remember, he got off on a technicality. Something about improper handling and delivery of Braun’s urine sample. He swore his innocence and was so sincere it made you weep for the poor beleaguered guy. Braun, who is Jewish, launched a campaign against the urine collector Dino Laurenzi, calling him an anti-Semite. Braun tried to ruin Laurenzi’s reputation.
So, when Braun was suspended and publicly brought down last season, he got what he deserved. It will be interesting to see how fans around the major leagues respond to his presence on the field. It will be interesting to see how well he plays when he’s playing it straight — no PEDs.
At one time, he could have been the next face of baseball (see Jeter).
Now, he is entirely another part of baseball’s anatomy.
Robinson Cano left the Yankees to become a Seattle Mariner. An unusual move — going from the No.1 media market to “just another” media market. He signed a 10-year contract for $240 million which is a lot of millions and will keep him in Rolls Royces through age 41. He is represented by Jay Z. He is a megastar. He is a five-time All Star and the best second baseman in the majors.
Last season, he played all but two games, batted .314 with 27 home runs and 107 RBIs. He has batted higher than .300 five years in a row and missed only nine games. We’re talking superstar. That means the Mariners now have two superstars, Cano and Felix Hernandez.
It is exciting to welcome a player of Cano’s pedigree to the American League West. One question remains: Will his presence make the mediocre Mariners a potent force in a division that includes the Oakland A’s and the Texas Rangers? Probably not.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are the new Yankees — in the spending department. In fact, they have out-Yankeed the Yankees. In 2014, the Yankees’ payroll is just under $200 million. The Dodgers’s payroll is about $230 million, and at that number they make the generous Giants — $146 million payroll — seem like cheapskates.
Here are some Dodgers’ salaries for 2014. Zack Greinke, $26 million; Adrian Gonzalez, $21 million; Matt Kemp, $21 million; Carl Crawford, $21 million, Josh Beckett, $17 million; Hanley Ramirez, $16 million; Andre Ethier, $15 million, and Ethier isn’t even a starter.
The Dodgers’ ownership is on a spending spree. Big spenders are good for baseball. They add pizzazz and drama. Opposing fans hate them because of all their dough, but hatred fuels rivalries and rivalries are good for business.
Does the Dodgers’ payroll guarantee them anything?
Well, you have to figure they’ll win the National League West, unless they don’t. They are more talented than the Giants. They are more talented than just about anyone. On paper. It’s just that paper doesn’t play ballgames. People do.
The Dodgers’ rising superstar is Yasiel Puig. The man is a freak of nature in all the good ways. But he’s 23 with all the immaturity of a typical 23-year-old. He annoys opponents. He annoys teammates. He annoys his manager. He came to camp overweight. Which means he has issues.
Center fielder Kemp has a grouchy ankle that inhibits his ability to run. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the National League, but the Dodgers’ fourth and fifth starters, Dan Haren and Beckett, are only so-so. They will depend on Brian Wilson ($10 million in 2014), the bearded one, as a mainstay in their bullpen. Wilson has had two Tommy John surgeries.
The Dodgers have loads of questions. We’ll find out if money buys answers.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.