Opening Day is still two months away, but this offseason will already go down as one of the strangest in league history.
Somehow, we’re still two months away from Opening Day, 2015. While fans are getting antsy for real games, or at least Spring Training, to begin, you have to admit; this offseason hasn’t disappointed. In fact, I’d go as far as to say this has been amongst the best – or at least most shocking – offseasons in baseball history. Don’t believe me? Consider the following:
Let’s start with the actual players, first. We’ve had nearly-unprecedented talent movement, and not just in terms of amount. The biggest players this offseason have been exactly who everyone expected – the Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres. Let that sink in. This time last year, the Marlins had the league’s second-lowest payroll; the Padres had the 10th-lowest. In fact, the deal James Shields just signed with San Diego is worth about 80 percent of their 2014 Opening Day payroll.
Miami didn’t just open their wallets for new players; they also awarded one of their own the richest contract in North American sports history, at $325 million over 13 years. That $325 million is equal to nearly seven times their 2014 Opening Day lineup.
Ho hum, you’re thinking. So we’ve had a couple teams spend money who normally don’t and yet another record-breaking contract. What else ya got? Plenty.
Which two teams are getting perhaps the most hype in baseball right now? That would be the Chicago Cubs and White Sox, two teams who A) have combined to win one World Series since WWII, and B) have spent much of the last half-century being terrible. Now, heading into 2015, the White Sox are a legit AL Central contender, and the Cubs have their best postseason shot in a decade after landing one of the top pitchers and the top manager available this offseason.
It hasn’t just been about who is getting better, either. The normally-loud Yankees have been uncharacteristically quiet this offseason, signing only a handful of players to small deals. Oh, and they’re preparing for the return of the most polarizing player in the league, a guy who will pass Willie Mays on the all-time home run list and will record his 3000th career hit this season, and no one cares. Or I should say, no one cares about Alex Rodriguez’s accomplishments; plenty of people, including the Yankees themselves, care that he’s coming back – and wish they could stop it.
So we’ve got small-market San Diego and Miami making huge splashes and spending exorbitant amounts of money. We’ve got hope – real, legitimate hope – on both sides of Chicago. We’ve got the New York Yankees pinching pennies and whiffing on every big-name free agent available, and preparing for the return of Alex Rodriguez. And we’re only getting started.
What other craziness has happened this offseason? The sport changed commissioners for the first time in 20 years. Out with Bud Selig, in with Rob Manfred. With the new commissioner came actual changes (like the All-Star Game bidding) and proposed ones (like banning the infield shift). So now, not only are the players around the league changing, so is the league itself. Am I forgetting anything? Ah, right, only fifty years worth of international history.
This offseason saw – or, at least, is in the process of seeing – major changes to the way Cuban free agents are treated. A process that once took months, with miles of red tape, is being made easier after relaxed regulations with the Island. Players like Yoan Moncada, the latest Cuban mega-star waiting to sign, can now make their impact that much more quickly and easily.
But wait, there’s more.
You want more off-the-field issues? We’ve got ‘em this year. Major League Baseball is currently involved in not one, but two, legal battles. On one side, baseball is fighting cable providers and fans alike when it comes to blackout regulations, which I won’t even pretend to know enough about to have an opinion on. On the other side, they’re battling the city of San Jose regarding a possible move of the Athletics. So there’s that.
Offseasons are always a little weird, and there are always surprises when it comes to trades, free agency, and the general movement of players around the league. That said, I don’t think Major League Baseball has ever had an offseason quite like this one. Two small-market teams spent the most money and improved the most dramatically. The biggest of the big-market teams, the Yankees, did next to nothing. The new center of the baseball world isn’t New York or Los Angeles, but rather Chicago, which has seen next to no success the last fifty years. The league got a new commissioner, who somehow found time from his league’s legal battles to change the way All-Star Games are awarded and try to fundamentally change the way managers handle the game. Alex Rodriguez is playing again, and the fact that he’s approaching 3000 hits and the top-four all-time in home runs isn’t even what people are excited about.
To say the 2014-15 offseason has been unexpected would be an understatement. It’s been crazy, and wonky, and unlike anything baseball has ever seen or could have been expected to see. Here’s hoping the actual season can live up to the hype.