The MLB Ten in Fourteen: 10 Questions That Will Define the 2014 Baseball Season– And Beyond!

What's that you say? Starting to feel overwhelmed about the biggest questions in the upcoming 2014 Major League Baseball season? While at the same time trying to schedule your daily 10 hours of reality TV?

I know, I know… if you try to do both then inevitably one will suffer. Kinda like your family, your friends and your employer.

But no worries, I am here to help. At no additional cost here are ten simple questions to focus on during the 2014 baseball season (and beyond) that will do three very important things for you:

1) Keep everything simple while you continue your quest to explore the extreme boundaries of alcohol and potato chip consumption.

2) Provide cogent talking points to bring up at your work place or your Federal work release project.

3) Give the impression that you have the knowledge, intelligence and perception that has eluded both you and your gene pool for decades.

Well all right, let's get to it!

And at any time please feel free to jot down some notes. Or, for a better eye-to-brain connection, have the following information tattooed on your preferred hand for best-result self-abuse. It certainly worked for me when I took the SATs.

Here are the Top Ten Questions that Will Define the 2014 MLB Season (with a brief look into MLB's future)

1. Did the Yankees pull enough cash out of their rear end to become relevant again?
Answer: Oh my yes. They most certainly did.

The 2013 New York Yankees were a squishy mess and yet they still won 85 baseball games in the extremely tough American League East Division.

You have to believe the addition of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and especially starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and returning first baseman Mark Teixeira have a great chance of making up the mere seven games the Yankees need to have a shot at the 2014 playoffs.

And remember this: New York is a team that is not afraid to make the big trade in July that just might make all the trains run on time.

2. Will we have a colony on the planet Mars at about the same time that the Chicago Cubs complete their multi-millennium rebuilding project?
Answer: When the Cubs become actual National League contenders I expect much of the known universe will be populated with fast food chains and dollar stores. And, hopefully, intelligent life.

3. Can you name the five teams that will make the 2014 National League postseason?
Answer: Of course I can. The Atlanta Braves, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Washington Nationals, and the Cincinnati Reds. You may substitute either the Arizona Diamondbacks or the Pittsburgh Pirates for the Reds.

4. OK big shot, can you also name the five teams that will make the 2014 American League postseason?
Answer: Allow me. The Detroit Tigers, the Boston Red Sox, the Oakland A's, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Texas Rangers. You may substitute either the Kansas City Royals or the New York Yankees for the Texas Rangers.

5. What field position in the game is changing the most right now?
Answer: Shortstop.

There was a time very recently when the shortstop position was morphing into a monster offensive component of every team's attack. The "Mark Belanger hits .235 but it's OK he has a great glove" model is truly gone forever (Belanger had a lifetime .580 OPS!). But as defensive metrics become more and more measurable, the value of having at least an average offensive shortstop who has above average defense is looking more important each season.

There are only so many Troy Tulowitzki-type shortstops. Wait. Turns out there's only one. Tulowitzki had a .931 OPS in 2013. After that the offensive drop-off is deep: Jed Lowrie at .791 OPS, Ian Desmond at .784, Jean Segura at .752, and J. J. Hardy at .738 round out all shortstops who had a +.700 OPS last season.

(Hanley Ramirez and his half year sample [304 ABs] of a 1.040 OPS is a good indication of his worth– if he's healthy all season Ramirez is one of the top two or three shortstops in the game.)

6. Are there any "small market" teams left in baseball?
Answer:
Absolutely not.
Major League Baseball circa 2014 makes Karl Marx look like a fat, sloppy capitalist pig. There is revenue sharing among all MLB teams, local media contract sharing among all MLB teams, MLB luxury tax sharing among teams, and multi-millions in national media contract-sharing among all MLB teams.

The only difference between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees is smart, savvy business acumen. Sure, there are more people in the greater New York media pool than there are within 200 miles of Kansas City.  But that only means that Kansas City needs to get better at maximizing their media prospective.

Hell, the Seattle Mariners get $115 million dollars a year just in local TV revenue.

7.  Will baseball's new instant replay rules and the new home plate collision rules hurt baseball? I mean, won't the games be even longer?
Answer: No they won't, and no they will not.

Here's a question for you: is there anyone defending an umpire's right to make a bad call? Can you think of any other bad stuff that went on in baseball for decades, that was accepted as OK, but turns out wasn't a good idea afterall?

As far as instant replay, it already needs to be expanded. Right now. Do you love the "vicinity play"? Where the second baseman didn't actually touch second base during a double play but for some reason the runner is still called out? You know, because the fielder was "in the vicinity"?

Now that's real baseball!!

As for allowing catchers to be seriously injured in home plate collisions–  two quick things. First, if you love watching people body-slamming each other and actually fighting then hockey is your game. If that's not enough, and you also want to see player concussions and career-ending tendon and bone damage, just watch the NFL on any Sunday.

Maybe, just maybe, Major League Baseball can be all about athletic ability without gratuitous brute force.

8. Will there ever be an International First Year Player Draft?
Answer:
Absolutely– probably by 2016.

We're all familiar with the annual First Year Player Draft in which MLB teams are individually ranked to draft amateur American players. The dramatic increase in international player signings over the past five years will soon end up in the creation of a "second" annual draft– for international players.

Which will provide all MLB teams with an even playing field to access talented international players, as well as providing international players, their teams and their agents with a template to enter the Major Leagues. This is already overdue and it will bring American baseball into the economic arena for athletes around the world.

One impact? Soccer players with talent from South America and Europe may choose to test the MLB waters, which could also end up changing the blueprint of America's past time.

9. What are the next "revolutionary" changes that might happen in Major League Baseball in the near future?
Answer:
At some point the final two "immovable" traditions of how professional baseball games are played will be tinkered with, tested, and changed. I'm talking about the traditional batting line-up and the traditional use of a 12 or 13 man pitching staff.

Statistical analysis has been done on how to set up a more effective batting order, from batting the pitcher 8th to any number of innovative line-up schemes. In a previous "The Giants Cove" piece, I discussed my "Mobius Theory" which totally reinvented how a batting line-up should be constructed to create more runs per game and per season.

Sabermetric analysts have proposed radical changes to how a team's pitching staff should be used. Specifically, using the entire staff as opposed to separating the staff into starters, mid-relievers, set-up relievers, and closers.

Several ideas propose starting each game with a relief pitcher for the first two or three innings. The concept is that when the "starter" enters the game in the third or fourth inning, batters face a new set of pitches to deal with which potentially throws the offense off.

There's little doubt that the idea of a "closer" is slowly losing ground (although these traditions die very hard). As Brian Kenny of MLBTV often says, there is no statistical evidence that the 9th inning of a baseball game is any more critical than any other inning. If the most strategic time for a team to use its best reliever is the 7th inning, then why wait?

10. Currently one third of all 30 baseball teams qualify for the playoffs each year (six Division winners and four Wild Card winners). Will baseball expand the postseason playoffs?
Answer:
Yes, but not by expanding the number of teams making the playoffs.

Eventually, the Wild Card games will go to a best of three from their current single game format, and the Division Series will go from a best of five format to a seven game series.

There is no doubt that will mean a change in the basic schedule of the MLB season. Look for a shortened Spring Training with the start of the baseball season moved up to the third week of March each year. The alternative is reverting to a 158 game season, but that would create havoc with the statistical monolith that defines baseball history.

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