Today is the first day of the 2013 Major League Baseball season. Baseball is constantly put down as a “lower-class sport”. People say the attendance is dropping, compare the lack of money generated to that of the NFL, talk about the lack of intensity as compared to basketball. But in my opinion the start of the baseball season brings about something that no other sports offers as much….the amount of hope in each baseball season. Each spring fans and teams dreams begin with the warmth of a sunny spring day and hope their dream continues until the chilly autumn nights. Sure fans in other sports have hope at the start of each season, well much less hope in the NBA where you need a superstar or two or three. But the hope between baseball and football is different. The NFL has a rotating list of teams that make the playoffs. But baseball does not lack in this area either, with teams battling for supremacy and the wild card spots which now have become a precursor to deep playoff runs. Whether it is the fact that spring, a season of re-birth and newness, is attached to the start of baseball season that differentiates the hope I am not sure. All I know that is today, this week, fans across the country from New York to San Francisco, St. Louis to Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh to Anaheim; fans everywhere are dreaming of a summer filled of wins and chilly nights watching their team chasing a title.
Now for the top storylines for the 2013 MLB season
- Moneyball. So much for trying to win with small, smart money based budgets. Teams have thrown caution to the wind and are dropping cash from the sky to lure players to their team or keep them. Just last week we saw several large-contract deals. Who would have thought the Adam Wainwright (5-year, $97 million) contract would be the bargain of the week. He was quickly pushed down the bank roll list by a Justin Verlander deal worth nearly $180 million and Buster Posey deal for almost $160 million. These deals come after an off-season that saw Josh Hamilton move to Anaheim to continue their development into the Yankees of the West Coast. Now we hear a Clayton Kershaw deal is in the works with the Dodgers, who of course have to counter the region rival Angels. All I know is that baseball can not be hurting in money or fans if this kind of money is being shelled out. Forbes reports that MLB teams have an increased value of 23% over just last season. A couple of years ago owners complained about player salaries, they were part of the blame. I know the newly developed TV contracts are spurring these contracts but I hope the owners realize they are on a dangerous slope with these salaries.
- The separation of teams. While money is being thrown around in baseball it is not being done by all teams. The Houston Astros have a total payroll of just $19 million. That means that there are 19 players, individual players, that will make more than the Astros team as a whole this season. Almost half of the league will have a payroll of over $100 million this year. What does it all mean? Well for one this season will have more separation of division teams than ever before. Should anyone other than the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves even try in the NL East? What about the NL Central with the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds. Should the Cubs, Brewers or Pirates even suit up? Anyone think the Padres or Rockies have a shot to get past the Giants or Dodgers in the NL West? How about the AL West where the Rangers and Angels continue to outbid each other? This season should create plenty of drama and playoff races but it will be between the top two teams in each division and likely not from anywhere below those spots.
- The Natural, Part Two. No I am not talking about Robert Redford reprising his role as Roy Hobbs. I am of course talking about two phenoms in Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. What will the second season be like for these two impressive young athletes. Everyone is predicting the continued development and instant success. While I think these two are headed for great things let’s not be so quick to assure them of their spot. Baseball is a tough sport, probably the hardest of all professional sports, to secure success. We have seen plenty of one-year standouts. While I am not saying these two will be flashes. I am saying do not be surprised if they have a slight drop-off.
- The Marlins of the North. The Toronto Blue Jays certainly had an impressive off-season, living on the talk shows and becoming the darlings of everyone to be the favorites in the AL East. But correct me if I am wrong but didn’t we see this exact same thing, with many of the same players, occur last off-season in Miami? The big money signings didn’t quite workout for them last year so why are we expecting it to be a sure thing in Toronto? Lets take a quick look at the players the aquired. A 38-year old pitcher (R.A. Dickey) that had only two winning seasons in his previous nine years, another mid-30 pitcher (Mark Buerhle) that while is very consistent is beyond his dominant years, another pitcher (Josh Johnson) that once had loads of potential but after a shoulder in injury in 2011 has not looked the same. Hitters? Well they are counting on a player that has shown to be a me-first player before (Jose Reyes) as well as a hitter that went from a career .270 hitter into an All-Star after performance enhancing drugs. This seems to me like a mixture of a lot of things based in hope but you know baseball is all about hope, especially at the start of the season.
- Follow the money. We already talked about the money earlier but let’s follow the money. The two teams largely responsible for generating the headlines this off-season both reside in Los Angeles, the Angels and Dodgers. It seemed like this past off-season was about each team trying to one up each other. Last last season the Dodgers traded for Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. This after the Angels had signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson in the 2012 off-season. So the Dodgers follow up this off-season with signing Zach Greinke and Brandon League. The Angels added Josh Hamilton while addressing voids they had last season. The two teams, with their large new TV contracts, will surely be battling each other off the field for years to come and hoping for a battle on the field in the post-season.
- The Senior Tour. How the mighty have fallen. What will the East Coast media do with the fading east teams such as New York Yankees, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies? The Mets and Red Sox are in re-building modes already. The Yankees are continuing to try and hold on to their core players by extending their contracts with AARP cards while the Phillies appear to have their window of opportunity to be sealed shut for the winter.