The marathon that is the Major League Baseball season is about to begin, with spring training camps opening up across Florida and Arizona. This is no different from every other season. However, what is different this season is the installment of year-round inter-league play. With the Houston Astros switching leagues, there are now 15 teams in each league, thus creating the need for an inter-league matchup to occur at all times. Since its inception in 2007, inter-league play normally occurred over the course of a two-week period in June or July. Now, it will occur from April to September. Many oppose this scheduling change, as teams will be playing fewer games between divisional and league rivals, which in many cases have playoff implications. Inter-league play has always been about the fans, though. Attendance is always higher during the games and it allows fans to see teams and players that they otherwise wouldn’t get to see. Then again, a Yankee fan would much rather see Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder and the Tigers come to town than Chase Headley and the Padres.
With a new season comes a new hope for all 30 teams. In particular, the two Los Angeles teams, the Dodgers and Angels, have high expectations for the 2013 season. The Angels spent big last off-season, acquiring Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson. However, landing two of the best available free agents was not enough to get the Angels into the playoffs. The Moneyball-esque Oakland Athletics and the Texas Rangers each finished above the Angels and both made the playoffs. So the Angels once again landed the top free agent prize in signing former Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton. Despite struggling at the end of the 2012 campaign, the Angels still shelled out $125 million dollars over five years for Hamilton. With an estimated payroll well over $200 million, missing the playoffs is not an option for the Halos.
The Dodgers have also been racking up the high-price stars over the last few months. On the trade deadline in 2012, the Dodgers traded for several key Red Sox stars, including Carl Crawford, Josh Becket and Adrian Gonzalez. The Dodgers also traded for Miami Marlins star Hanley Ramirez. However, like the Angels, the Dodgers also failed to make the playoffs in 2012. In 2013, the Dodgers have shelled out big money once again; however, this time not on star players. The Dodgers gave reliever Brandon Lyons $22.5 million and gave $36 million to Hyun-jin Ryu, who signed from Japan. The Dodgers’ opening day payroll will also exceed the $200 million mark, coming in at around $233 million.
A team north of the border has also made a splash during the winter. The Toronto Blue Jays traded for last season’s National League CY Award winner, RA Dickey. Toronto also completed a trade with the Miami Marlins, acquiring pitchers Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck, outfielder Emilio Bonifacio and shortstop Jose Reyes.
With all of the hype around the Angels, Dodgers and Blue Jays, it’s easy to forget about the two teams that were actually in the World Series last year: the Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants. The defending champion Giants have done very little to build on their championship roster. Instead, the Giants looked to resign key members of their 2012 team, including infielder Marco Scutaro, center fielder Angel Pagan and relief pitcher Jeremy Affeldt to a combined 10 years, $78 million. The Dodgers may have gone for broke in 2013, but the Giants are still the champions and will compete for another divisional title and perhaps a third World Series in four years.
The Tigers have made little noise in the offseason. They signed veteran outfielder Tori Hunter and allowed Delmon Young to depart for Philadelphia. However, one of the biggest additions to the Tigers comes from a player who has already been on the roster. Catcher Victor Martinez missed all of last season injured; however, the catcher/designated hitter/first baseman is poised for a return in 2013. Martinez, in his first season with Detroit in 2011, had 103 RBIs and hit .330. It is difficult to expect that Martinez will pick up where he left off two seasons ago; however, his presence on and off the field will be a huge boost for the Tigers.
The New York Yankees have been extremely quiet during this offseason. The Yankees signed Kevin Youkilis to fill the third base spot while Alex Rodriguez is out recovering from surgery. They also resigned pitcher Andy Pettite and outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. However, the puzzling part is how the Yankees allowed so many players to leave for free agency. Veterans Rafael Soriano, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez, Russell Martin and post-season hero Raul Ibanez have all signed elsewhere. The Yankees, who are notoriously big spenders, were unwilling to spend big money to resign any of these players. As hard as it is to believe, the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates were willing to spend more on Russell Martin than the Yankees. And the Washington Nationals outbid the Yankees on reliever Rafael Soriano. The Yankees are getting old fast. And when players like Mark Texiera come out and say they are overpaid, there is definitely a cause for concern. An old roster and a lack of a starting catcher can be a real problem, especially in the extremely competitive American League East.
Elsewhere around the MLB, there are a few more interesting storylines. The Kansas City Royals are trying to post a winning record for the first time in quite some time. The Royals traded for Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields, who came off an impressive season of 15 wins and an ERA of 3.52. Also in the trade, the Royals picked up Wade Davis. The Royals’ quest for starting pitching continued with the acquisition of Ervin Santana from the Angels. Considering the Royals are playing in the meek American League Central, the Royals should be able to compete with the Tigers well into the summer.