By Ross Newhan
Opening Day Mind Benders:
--MLB needs to get back to a traditional opener, whether it's Presidential in D.C. or a day or night opener in Cincinnati. I get spreading the game internationally, but that doesn't need to include league games in Australia or Japan or anywhere else, games that are played with probably 90% of baseball fans paying no attention and which are followed, for the two participating teams, by two or three games that DON'T count before they reopen the season with games that DO. How does that make sense? Also, there's this: While the two participating teams get a few days to recover from the jet lag, those 17 hours take a toll. Whether that toll played a role in Clayton Kershaw opening the season (oh, that's right, the Dodgers already opened the season) on the disabled list is uncertain, but I know how this 76 year old athlete felt returning from Africa last summer.
--While Mike Trout's six year, $144.5 million extension fits the security and business needs of player and team, the 10 year, $292 million contract that the Tigers gave Miguel Cabrera is another high wire risk of the Albert Pujols variety considering Cabrera will be 41 in the final year, Cabrera, like Pujols, has already established himself as one of the best right handed hitters (a shrinking commodity in today's game) ever with a chance to advance among the elites, but the chance is also there that he could be done in mid-contract. The Tigers unloaded another large contract and larger body by trading Prince Fielder to Texas, but economists and skeptics (who are those people?) will be watching to see how the Cabrera deal plays out.
--The Tigers announced Cabrera only a couple days after releasing a sharply worded statement revealing that Max Scherzer, their Cy Young Award winner, had rejected a longterm contract that would have made him one of baseball's highest salaried pitchers and that there would be no more negotiations until the season is over. The offer was believed to be for six years with an average annual value of more than $24 million. Agent Scott Boras quickly announced that it was the Tigers who had rejected the proposal but that the club was right in saying there would be no additional talks until the season ended. Typically, Boras does not like clients in their walk years to sign extentions before testing free agency (and with Scherzer there is a chance he could eclipse the Kerhaw contract record for pitchers), but no matter who did the rejecting, any pitcher who puts shoulder and elbow on the line with every start would seem foolish in not jumping at an AAV of $24 million.
--As the cost of your cable contracts continue to rise, major league teams have spent in the neighborhood of one billion dollars (I thought it best to spell that out) since the end of last season on extensions and free agent signings, a measure of baseball's TV bankroll. In some ways it's a case of TV robbing Peter (you) to pay Paul (the 30 owners), and, yes, there is still no deal between Time-Warner and the major cable providers, leaving most Dodger fans in the SoCal dark after ESPN's converage of tonight's semi-opener with the Padres.
--MLB and the players union should be applauded for not waiting until the current bargaining agreement expires after the 2016 season before toughening the Joint Drug Agreement in several ways (stronger penalties, more tests, disallowing suspended players from participating in the post-season). However, 22 years of labor peace could still be threatened in the post '16 negotiations.The union alone wants to a) remove some of the current limitations on what clubs can spend in the June amateur draft under management's slotting system, b) seek changes in how clubs use the arbitration and free agency clock to delay advancement by deserving young players and c) spell out and streamline exactly what investigative tactics MLB can use in potential drug or other cases, a reaction to what the union--and many legal experts--believed to be the league's over the top tactics in the Alex Rodriguez investigation.
--So, as the season opens for a second time, and I remain perplexed as to why, with so much already invested (i.e. Pujols and Josh Hamilton) and about to invested (i.e.Trout), would Arte Moreno choose this offseason to put a luxury tax limit on his Angel payroll and leave his starting pitching so vulnerable from a quality and depth standpoint, here is how I see it:
Division Winners: Dodgers, Cardinals, Nationals. Wild Cards: Reds, D-Backs. Champion: Cardinals.
Division Winners: A's, Tigers, Rays. Wild Cards: Royals, Red Sox. Champion: Rays.
World Series: Cardinals over Rays in six.