MLB preview: Five questions facing Major League Baseball this season

Staff writerMarch 29, 2014 

The Detroit Tigers rewarded slugger Miguel Cabrera by adding eight years onto his contract, which had two seasons remaining. The extension means Cabrera, the American League Most Valuable Player the past two seasons, will receive $292 million over the next 10 seasons from the Tigers, making him baseball’s highest-paid player.

KIM KLEMENT — USA Today Sports

The five most pressing questions entering the 2014 Major League Baseball season.

Will replay system be under microscope?

Almost three decades after the NFL implemented video-booth reviews of officials’ calls in 1986, Major League Baseball has accepted the premise that technology can be more a help than a hindrance.

The replay system is similar to the NFL: Through the end of the seventh inning, a manager will be given one opportunity to challenge a call; if the challenge is upheld, he’ll get one more opportunity. After the seventh inning, reviews will be at the discretion of the umpires, monitored from a command center in New York.

Ball-strike judgments can’t be disputed, nor can check swings, foul tips, balks, infield catches, base runners advancing on a catch and the “neighborhood play,” when the middle infielders receive the ball on a force out at second.

Confusing? Sort of, but we’ll learn to live with it, and tweaks will be afoot in 2015.

Did Tigers overpay for Cabrera’s insane stats?

Tigers star Miguel Cabrera, who turns 31 on April 18, agreed to an eight-year contract extension on Friday, guaranteeing him $292 million through 2023. Cabrera’s deal – the extension pays him an average of $31 million per season over the eight years of the extension – makes the first baseman as the highest-paid player in baseball history.

Insane? Possibly, but also insane was his .344 batting average in 2011, which led the majors, and his .330 batting average in 2012, which led the American League, and his .348 batting average in 2013, which led the majors.

Edgar Martinez is fondly recalled by Mariners fans as the best right-handed hitter of the 1990s. Cabrera, who won his second consecutive AL MVP award last season, belongs in the discussion of best right-handed hitter of all time.

Will Tanaka fill void left by Rivera, Jeter exits?

While Derek Jeter figures to bask in the longest ceremonious retirement season since, well, former teammate Mariano Rivera called it quits in 2013, the Yankees’ postseason hopes hinge on Masahiro Tanaka, a 25-year old right-handed starter who was a pitcher of record 24 times last season in Japan’s Pacific League.

Tanaka’s record: 24-0.

Tanaka might be daunted by the bright lights of New York, but under the sunshine of the Grapefruit League, he was a force to behold: Five runs allowed in 21 innings, with 26 strikeouts.

Can a 5-2 formation be in future for baseball?

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon didn’t pioneer the concept of positioning infielders to one side or the other when challenged by an extreme pull-hitter – Cleveland skipper Lou Boudreau was doing this stuff against the left-handed Ted Williams in the 1940s – but Maddon’s success with shifting has provided a template for copycats.

Relocating the third baseman to shortstop, and the shortstop to second base – in an alignment that relegates the second basemen into a hybrid infielder-outfielder – has become an almost commonplace ploy to distract left-handed pull hitters.

Coming soon to a big-league ballpark near you: Five infielders backed up by two swift outfielders occupying the gaps.

Can ex-Cascade High star revive his career?

Grady Sizemore, a former quarterback from Everett’s Cascade High who turned down a University of Washington scholarship offer to play football and baseball, was a three-time All-Star at the age of 26.

“Without a doubt,” Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro said of Sizemore, once regarded as the jewel of the Indians’ organization, “he’s one of the greatest players of his generation.”

And then Sizemore got hurt. He got hurt here, there, and everywhere: seven surgeries since 2009.

Sizemore hasn’t played a game, at any level, in two years. But Friday, Boston manager John Farrell announced Sizemore would start the season as the Red Sox regular center fielder.

If Sizemore stays healthy and comes close to resembling the All-Star he was with the Indians, the comeback player of the year award should be renamed “The Grady Sizemore Award.”

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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