Results tagged ‘ MLB ’

Enough With The A-Rod Drama

It’s no secret that a lot of people are upset with Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, but the truth is that he’s not going away any time soon…

Rodriguez, 40 in July, made his spring training debut on Wednesday against the Phillies and went 1-2 with a walk (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Rodriguez, 40 in July, made his spring training debut on Wednesday against the Phillies and went 1-2 with a walk (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Written by Jake Elman

The prodigal son has returned, but things are still the same in Yankees camp. Then again, did you really expect anything else?

As I pointed out in my ten storylines from spring training piece, the return of New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez from a suspension that cost him all of last year was something that all baseball fans should definitely be keeping an eye on; it’s something that you should try to ignore, but it’s something that you can’t, just because of how interesting it is. How would Rodriguez adjust to seeing big league pitching again? Is he going to have a starting job this year? Will the Yankees consider cutting him loose, even with all of the money that he’s still owed?

Well, those questions and more have begun to be answered, as Rodriguez made his spring training debut in a 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. Batting second and starting at the DH position, Rodriguez went 1-2, his lone hit being a single, and the three-time American League MVP also walked before being pinch run for in the fifth inning. All things considered, Rodriguez’s spring training debut was a success, and it’s the first step in his journey back to the Major Leagues.

Yet, some people aren’t in the mood to act optimistic, or even try to pretend like Rodriguez is any other player. Take the New York Post, for example:

Man, that’s rough. That’s some real hometown support from the New York Post, but I get it. Rodriguez has cheated, he’s become one of the most tainted players — if not the most tainted player in history — and helped the steroid era go on for far longer than it should have.

Rodriguez may have brought home a World Series title in 2009, but what about all of the times he couldn’t hit anything in the postseason? There’s a lot of words that can describe Alex Rodriguez, and after all he’s done over all these years, I think all of those words would be fair to describe him. At the same time, though, I think that it may be time to start forgiving Rodriguez and moving on from the past.

That may sound contradictory, but look at where we are in Rodriguez’s career. The man turns 40 in July, and might not even play after this year. Rodriguez has done a lot of bad in his career, yes, but I think at some point, you need to just let it all go, especially if A-Rod is actually clean this year. Is it good for yourself to harbor feelings of hatred towards someone, or something, that likely isn’t going away anytime soon.

I don’t want this to seem like a full, blind, defense of Alex Rodriguez, but I don’t see why it’s worth it for all of the drama at this point to keep going. Rodriguez has apologized, he has no playing time fully guaranteed, and he’s trying to come back from a suspension that can be viewed as excessive. Even Yankees manager Joe Girardi, one of Rodriguez’s biggest supporters over the years, said recently that Rodriguez has to earn his spot like any other player. It’s not like Rodriguez came to camp and immediately started talking big; this is someone who, from what I’ve seen so far, just wants to focus on the game of baseball.

Did Alex Rodriguez make mistakes? Yes, of course, but we all have made mistakes. Delia Enriquez of Bronx Baseball Daily seems to understand this, as she said last month, “After Rodriguez apologized, immediately there were mixed reactions. Some were willing to forgive Rodriguez right away. Some weren’t as willing considering this was the second (known to the public) offense. Some were indifferent, simply believing it was a PR stunt and some felt Rodriguez should save the apologies altogether. I’m quite the forgiving person, so I forgave A-Rod–but it doesn’t mean I’m ever going to forget or be okay with what he did.”

Enriquez would then add, “The fact is we’re all human. We’re bound to make a huge error in judgement at least once in our lifetime. The steroid scandal just happened to be Rodriguez’s error in judgement.”

It’s not even about forgiving, it’s more about letting it go; there’s a difference, and a big one at that. We’re not talking about a player who beat his girlfrend inside of an elevator, physically hurt his kid, sexually abused anyone, murdered someone…this is a player who made several mistakes relating to his own body, so the people putting him in the same class as Ray Rice or Aaron Hernandez are being silly. Rodriguez messed up big time, but is he really as bad as a murderer or a woman abuser?

Nothing is going to change the past: Alex Rodriguez cheated, he used performance-enhancing drugs, and he’s one of the most tainted players of all time. We can’t change that, he can’t change that, and the history books can’t change that, even if Major League Baseball were to wipe away all of his numbers. If you’re a fan of the game of baseball and you’re truly offended by what Alex Rodriguez did, then that’s fine, no one’s asking you to go online and buy an Alex Rodriguez t-shirt and signed picture. If you’re a fan and you want to boo him like you would any other player on the Yankees, that’s fine too.

All I’m asking for fans to do is think of Alex Rodriguez, right now, as just a baseball player, not a baseball player with a troubled past involving performance-enhancing drugs. That may be too much to ask for, and as someone who has begun to forgive Alex Rodriguez, it may sound like I’m preaching nonsense, but what’s the point in hating and wishing bad on someone when that person is ready to just focus on the task at hand? If Alex Rodriguez can focus solely on baseball, then I don’t see why us as fans can’t either. It may sound difficult, but how much longer is Rodriguez really going to be in the big leagues for?

This falls on the media too, especially the ones taking time out of their day to criticize Rodriguez for every single thing that he does. Alex Rodriguez came early to camp, probably as a way of telling the Yankees that he was serious about making things right and having a good season, and the Daily News’ Mike Lupica writes a scorching hot take about how Rodriguez is wrong and really hasn’t learned anything.

There are so many more interesting stories in baseball this year, and we want to focus all of it on A-Rod? You know what, maybe it’s not just Alex Rodriguez that needs to learn something. All of us need to learn something, and that’s learning to focus on the game of baseball. I don’t know about you guys, but I’d like to just move on from the Alex Rodriguez drama and think about more interesting things, like stirrup socks, throwback uniforms, and seeing if anyone can top Cito Culver’s play from yesterday.

Will you be able to move past the Alex Rodriguez drama this year? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by voting on the poll below, and you can also tweet me your thoughts at @JakeElman

Ten Interesting 2015 Spring Training Stories

Baseball’s spring training is set to have plenty of stories to watch this year, but which are the most interesting?

Rodriguez, 40 in July, is making his return to the Yankees after a one year suspension.

Alex Rodriguez, 40 in July, is making his return to the Yankees after a one year suspension. (USA Today)

Written by Jake Elman

For a baseball fan, the two magic words of “spring training” is enough to create hope, optimism, and if you’re a fan of the New York Mets, more demanding for a shortstop. Spring training is in session, the games ‘officially’ start this week, and baseball is back. As a fan of the game, I could not be more stoked for spring training, as it’s a great time to see not only if your team is a contender or a pretender, but who might be in line for a big season ahead.

As with every spring training, there are some interesting storylines to watch, but which are going to be the most intriguing? Out of at least twenty five that I counted, I’ve decided to pick ten and talk about what makes them so interesting to watch. This list is not necessarily ranked in any order, and if you think I left a storyline off, you can leave a comment or tweet me.

Without further waiting, let’s dive right into the top ten storylines to watch in 2015’s spring training.

10. Welcome back

Though we’re welcomed back to baseball (thankfully), the first post on this list refers to players that we either haven’t seen since early last year or 2013. Other than he-who-shall-not-be-named-until-later-on-this-list, Major League Baseball is set to welcome back Athletics pitcher Jarrod Parker, Mets pitcher Matt Harvey, Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder, Athletics non-roster invitee Barry Zito, and so on.

With MLB Network airing daily spring training games, as well as the regional sports networks airing more and more of their team’s spring training games, you should be able to see these players making their returns; it’s a fairly obvious storyline, sure, but watching them bounce back and seeing how they fare against competition is one of the more interesting things to watch in the spring.

9. Old faces, new places

Baseball is a game of change, and this past offseason demonstrated that perfectly. The San Diego Padres, Oakland Athletics, and Atlanta Braves completely re-tooled their teams, while the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Chicago White Sox all added pieces to help them contend for World Series championships. You have the obvious changes, like Pablo Sandoval, Rick Porcello, and Hanley Ramirez going to Beantown. Max Scherzer is now hanging out in our nation’s capitol, the White Sox brought in Melky Cabrera, Jeff Samardzija, Adam LaRoche, and David Robertson, Jon Lester is now a Chicago Cub, and then you have everything that the Padres did and more.

Even with that being the case, there were still some interesting, low-key signings and trades this offseason. Ichiro Suzuki takes his pursuit of 3,000 hits to Miami, Nathan Evoladi and Didi Grigorious look to be key members of the New York Yankees for years to come, Texas thinks they have a new ace in Yovani Gallardo, and there are plenty of other interesting moves made this past winter. Seeing how these guys do in their new homes will be fun to watch…unless they get injured, which leads me to…

8. Who else gets hit by the injury bug?

Well, we’ve done the obligatory first two ones on this list, so it’s time to get into some of the stuff you likely haven’t thought about…or, in the case of one on this list, you’ve tried not to think about. So, let’s talk injuries. Chris Sale, I hope your foot gets better. Ronald Belisario, I’m sorry about your swimming related injury. Michael Saunders, your Mickey Mantle imitation could have gone a bit better. Spring Training has been described by Deadspin as having the tradition of players suffering injuries in weird ways, and this spring has been no exception.

Already, a Cy Young candidate, a solid outfielder who was on the verge of a breakout season, and a middle reliever who isn’t bad in the bullpen have all suffered injuries, and fans all over are crossing their fingers to make sure that their star player isn’t next. Predicting player injuries is near impossible, but this is definitely an interesting storyline to watch as the spring goes on, especially if we see more of the crazy, unbelievable injuries. We’ve seen All-Star relievers fall down the steps moving boxes, position players miss time thanks to tattoo injuries, and even the occasional knee injury thanks to the dog.

Regardless of what team you root for, you just might want to pray to the baseball gods that no one on your team sustains a serious injury. Besides, even if you do that, a player or two is still likely to get hurt.

7. How will players, coaches adjust to pace of play?

I’ve always thought of spring training as a time to test things out, whether it be lineup order, certain shifts, or what flavor Gatorade there is in the dugout (blue, please), but this spring will be a time of testing the new pace of play rules. Those commercial breaks you loathe so much will be shorter, managers will be leaving the field for non-pitching change reasons much less, and the games will hopefully go at a faster pace. I’m someone who enjoys the three hour, 3-2 game, but I’m always up for change.

I’ve heard some people express concern about the early adjustment to pace of play, but that’s exactly what spring training is for: adjusting to new things. The preseason is a time to work the kinks out, and because Major League Baseball has promised that people won’t be fined for making mistakes relating to pace of play, I think everything will work itself out. You may have a veteran player like a David Ortiz be somewhat skeptical — or even slightly defiant — of the new rules, but it’s a learning experience for everyone.

6. Will Rob Manfred do anything noteworthy?

The short answer, no. The more in-depth answer is that because he’s done so much already, it may be best for Manfred to just sit back, relax, and watch his first spring training as commissioner. People will expect Manfred to do something, but think back to the NBA preseason this past fall. Did Adam Silver really do anything in the preseason other than conduct an interview or two and do his normal job? Besides, Manfred is entitled to a little bit of sunshine, baseball, and doing his best not to speak about he-who-shall-not-be-named.

 

Pablo Sandoval, after a successful ride with the San Francisco Giants that won him three championships, is now a member of the Boston Red Sox (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

5. Hello there, international people

For the past decade or so, it feels like more and more teams are coming into spring training with a new player from the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Japan, China, etc; they’re the shiny, brand new toys that they hope will make them the most popular kid in the class…or the winners of the World Series. It all depends on which point of view you look at it from, though I’m choosing to look at the second because, well, this is baseball.

Anyways, let’s welcome Jung-Ho Kang, the Korean shortstop that smashed 40 home runs last year, to Pittsburgh’s camp and give a warm hello there to Cuban imports Yasmany Tomas and Yoan Moncada; Tomas is in Arizona with the Diamondbacks, while Moncada is hanging out with fellow Cuban import Rusney Castillo in Red Sox camp. There are also other minor league prospects who are attending their first spring training camps in America, but these three are the cream of the crop; they’re our Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu of this year, so to speak.

How will they fare in the big leagues? Will they even play in the big leagues this season? Those are questions that will be answered throughout the season, and that’s why you should probably pay attention to this.

4. Will teams learn to beat the shift?

One of the hotter debates this offseason (besides if the dress was blue and black, or if it was gold and white) concerned the defensive shifts, or as I like to call it, the three-one shift. The whole idea of the ‘three-one shift’ is that the second baseman will move to shallow right field and the third baseman or shortstop will be on the right side of the infield; teams use it to combat pull hitters, and it’s worked to perfection, preventing players like Ryan Howard and Brian McCann from getting easy hits to right field in the process.

But, the fact that it’s worked so well is why many people are trying to make it illegal and cause Major League Baseball to rule the shift an illegal defense. Though I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon, I do think more and more teams are going to find ways to beat the shift. Whether it’s bunting to the third base side or finding ways to put the ball in a place that is not covered by the shift, there has to be something these teams can do; in a time of devoting your time to PFP and the cone drills, learning to hit the shift should be up there in the necessary spring training drills.

3. Will Hamels last whole spring with Phillies?

The relationship between Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies is deteriorating faster than you can say cheese steak, and the former World Series MVP has made it clear that he wants out of the City of Brotherly Love; with the Phillies stuck somewhere between rebuilding and trying to field a team that could’ve won the NL East five years, Hamels wants to pitch for a contender, and it’s hard to blame him. Now, spring training trades are rare (unless you’re a player on the waiver wire), but I’m interested to see if the Phillies might send Hamels packing before the season starts.

Realistically, Cole Hamels is going to start for the Philadelphia Phillies on opening day against the Boston Red Sox in a matchup of teams with rosters that could contend for the World Series four years ago. Logically, it makes sense for the Phillies to trade Hamels soon, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. I still think the earliest we’ll see a Cole Hamels trade is late June to early July, but with this team, you never know. At this point, I can’t say it’d be truly shocking to see Hamels and closer Jonathan Papelbon both dealt for a bag of magic beans, an egg that you cannot cook, and a Jar Jar Binks toy. Who knows, maybe Jar Jar Binks can help the Phillies be contenders once again.

2. The Alex Rodriguez circus

If you clicked on this article and weren’t expecting to see Alex Rodriguez on here, come on. Now to some, this may not be interesting because they just want Rodriguez to play (I’m in that crowd), but you have to admit that the circus that surrounds him and the Yankees — not to mention how he’ll play this spring after not playing since September 2013 — is pretty interesting. I’ve already talked about the Alex Rodriguez drama a lot on SportsMix, so I don’t really have much to say about it that hasn’t been said, but this is the storyline that you want to ignore, and you probably should ignore, but you just can’t ignore.

1. Who is this year’s Yangervis Solarte?

One of 2014’s biggest breakout players, former minor league lifer Yangervis Solarte won a spot with the Yankees out of spring training and parlayed that not only into a starting spot with the Yankees, but also was the main piece that the Padres acquired in last July’s Chase Headley trade. Though Solarte trailed off after a hot first two months that saw him hit .299/6/26 with 11 doubles, he still finished with a .260/10/48 statline and is slotted in as the Padres’ starting third baseman barring a hot spring by Will Middlebrooks; Solarte went from a fringe player on the verge of being cut to a starting third baseman in the pros thanks to a .429/.489/.571 statline in spring training, and it makes you wonder who will be this year’s player that benefits from a strong preseason showing.

Of course, part of this question is not knowing who the breakout player will be; it could be a young prospect, or a little-known guy who, like Solarte, is able to use spring training to avoid yet another year of rotting in the minor leagues. If I had to pick three players who I can see using spring training to break out and secure a spot in their team’s future, it’d be Detroit Tigers outfielder Anthony Gose, New York Mets infielder Gavin Cecchini, and Giants lefty Ty Blach. But, part of the fun is that you don’t know who will break out, so I could be one hundred percent wrong.

What do you think are the most interesting storylines surrounding Spring Training 2015? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman.

Getting The Youth Back Into Baseball

New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred entered office with the challenge of getting the youth back into baseball, but what are the best ways to do that?

MLB: World Series-Kansas City Royals at San Francisco Giants

Written by Jake Elman

The sun has set on the Major League Baseball offseason, and despite snow and cold still plaguing a good majority of the country, the fever for baseball’s return is warming up. 2015 will be the first big league season since 1992 that the league has a new commissioner, and Rob Manfred has made his presence heard already, especially with the recent changes to pace of play.

But, that’s not all that baseball’s new head man wants to fix. In fact, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has made it clear that he wants to get the youth back into America’s Game, but how exactly will he accomplish that? After evaluating what currently works fine and what needs a bit of improvement, not to mention desires that seem to be shared by many baseball fans, I think I’ve come up with some realistic additions that can help baseball improve on its popularity relating to our youth.

Keep in mind, these are based on realism, so as much as I’d like to see Rob Manfred implement certain things (more day games during the playoffs), I understand that some things are less likely to happen than others. So, without waiting any longer, let’s get into some things I think Rob Manfred can do to make the game of baseball a bit more interesting to the youth and casual fans.

1. More individuality/player recognition

I feel like in a time where everything one does is scrutinized under a massive microscope, a lot of players have shut themselves out and prevented (either purposely or indirectly) fans from getting to know them; that, believe it or not, is also hurting the recognition of these players from a fan’s point of view. If you handed someone who isn’t a hardcore baseball fan — or even a casual fan who really only roots for their team — a piece of paper that consisted of 30 player faces, each being arguably their team’s star player, and asked them to name all 30, I don’t know how many would even get half. There are the obvious ones like the C.C. Sabathias, the David Ortizs, the Andrew McCutchens, but what about guys like Buster Posey in San Francisco or Yadier Molina in St. Louis?

Part of that, admittedly, does have to do with the lack of major commercial deals that MLB players have with companies; there are local commercials, yes, but how many players can you name that are in national commercials that aren’t for sports? The young faces of the game have a major endorsement or two — Mike Trout has Subway, while Bryce Harper is with Under Armour — but what about Miguel Cabrera or Clayton Kershaw? Wouldn’t you think that a player like Adam Jones or Jon Lester, two stars in their own right, would have some kind of big time deal?

Now, I can’t pin all of that on MLB, but I’d like to see them try to ‘brand their company’ a bit more through their players. This is the era of social media, and innovations like the #FaceOfMLB definitely help, but I don’t know if it’s enough. I get that not every baseball fan is a hardcore one, but there has to be a way to help brand players in a way that can make them more, for lack of a better term, more recognizable. If Major League Baseball can figure this out, then I think it would do wonders in getting young fans back into baseball, because it then means that they know more and more players besides the ones on their team.

2. Less primetime focus on the big-name teams

Now, this one may sound the most unrealistic because it does away with so much focus on teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, etc; and for a company that is coming off a year in which they had a revenue of nine billion dollars, that means less money, but hear me out. As it stands right now, the first five Sunday Night Baseball games this year feature either the St. Louis Cardinals, the Boston Red Sox, or the New York Yankees, and two of those first five games actually are Yankees-Red Sox. Last season, the first eight Sunday Night Baseball games featured either the Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox, or Los Angeles Dodgers, and it wasn’t until June 15th’s Angels-Braves game that we saw a game without one of the big four. Doesn’t that sound a little crazy?

Now, I get why those are the games that ESPN picks: they stand out the most, and those are the games that are going to draw the most fans in the ballpark or watching at home on ESPN, listening on ESPN radio, etc. The truth is, I’m going to be watching these games because I’m a fan of the game, but there are plenty of baseball fans who will see that it’s yet another big-market game and be turned off from it. This is also factoring that the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast and its 8:00 ET prompt starting time (barring delays due to weather or ceremonies) are what works best for the casual fan; a Saturday game at 7:00 on Fox or MLB Network might not be the game that a college student who is out is going to be watching.

In recent years, MLB Network has occasionally traveled to a Cleveland or an Atlanta to broadcast the game, and I’d be all for ESPN doing something along those lines too. Over the past few seasons, The Worldwide Leader in Sports has been much more diverse with their primetime games on Wednesdays and Fridays, and instead of just seeing Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, etc, we’re seeing a lot more of Washington, New Orleans, Atlanta, Toronto, Memphis, and other teams that don’t play in the major markets. I know that the Yankees-Red Sox and Dodgers-Giants games are what will bring in the ratings, but fans get tired of those games rather quickly; if ESPN were to start doing more Sunday Night Games — or even Monday games — from the non-big market places like Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Detroit, and Seattle, I think the fans would really like that and it’d show in the ratings. There’s only so many games between the same teams that people can watch, after all.

3. Make the All-Star Break longer and with more events

I actually talked about this in an August article on SportsMix that was titled Rob Manfred’s Agenda, and the ideas I suggested then remain the same here. The Home Run Derby is fun, and I don’t mind watching the Celebrity Game, but there needs to be more. These players are so talented, and I feel like only having a contest that specializes in home runs — as sexy as they may be — does the rest of the league disservice. It’d be like if the NBA only had a three point contest; what about the guys who can’t really shoot a three, but have amazing dunking skills?

If there were two events in mind that I’d like to see, the first would be a skills challenge similar to how the NBA does the Skills Challenge that mixes hitting, speed, and arm strength. The other wouldn’t necessarily be an event, but I’d like to see Major League Baseball have some more players from the past involved in some way shape or form. How would that happen? I don’t know, but it would be a good idea because it allows younger fans — or not-as-hardcore-fans — to learn about the game’s past.

As for making the All-Star Break longer, this may not be too much of an issue just yet. The league has extended the break by an additional day, and that may be more than enough.

3B. Fix the All-Star Game itself

Now, believe it or not, I don’t mind the current format of the MLB All-Star Game. Since the players have something to play for (home field advantage in the World Series), they play hard and the games, more often than not, are entertaining and turn out to be good watches. However, if the past four years have been anything to go off of on social media, I seem to be in the minority, and I know that there are a lot of young baseball fans who really don’t like the idea of the All-Star Game meaning so much.

If I was going to fix the All-Star Game, I’d consider doing away with the American League team vs. the National League team, ergo the home-field advantage in the World Series. We are eventually going to get to a point where a team with 85 or 86 wins, who makes a miracle run to the World Series a la the 2006 Cardinals, ends up with home-field advantage and comes away victorious against a team with, say, 103 victories. That may sound interesting to some people, but for the casual fan, what happened in an exhibition three to four months prior should mean nothing as to who has home field in the World Series.

Honestly, with how diverse Major League Baseball is, I’d love to see an All-Star Game consisting of a U.S. team vs. the World team, similar to how the NBA did it with their Rising Stars Game. There are so many international stars, and I think a lineup that featured Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Robinson Cano, Edwin Encarnacion, Nelson Cruz, Yadier Molina, and a pitching rotation that included Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, and Jose Fernandez would be pretty fun to see. Not only would this help on the national aspect (meaning more $$$), but I think fans would definitely be interested in seeing the uniqueness of a World vs. US game. Would it lose its luster after a few years? Maybe, but it’s still an idea I’d want to see MLB implement.

Sure, there are countless other ways that the game of baseball can be improved, but these are the ones that stand out most to me in terms of a realistic fix. If you’d like to see other fixes I came up with last summer, check out the linked post earlier in the article. That has some on there that Manfred has already done, like pace of game, but there are also others that might seem a bit unrealistic.

How would you fix the game of baseball to appeal to the youth? Make sure to comment with your suggestions, or you can chime in on the conversation on social media by tweeting me at @JakeElman.