New faces, replay rules highlight MLB season

Published 12:25 am Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Associated Press


There’s a Hall of Famer in the Minnesota dugout and plenty of Cuban talent all over the diamond.

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New stars in different places, plenty of shifts and the lingering effects from performance-enhancing drugs are part of the lineup going into opening day, too.

A quick look at Major League Baseball in 2015:

SWITCHING SIDES: Jon Lester and Jason Hammel joined the Cubs while Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson and Melky Cabrera moved to the White Sox in a Windy City whirlwind. Max Scherzer signed with Washington, Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez went to Boston. James Shields, Matt Kemp and Justin Upton wound up in San Diego and newcomers Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson try to boost Toronto, the only team that hasn’t made the playoffs this century. Home run leader Nelson Cruz, Yoenis Cespedes, A.J. Burnett, Jason Heyward, Jimmy Rollins and Ben Zobrist also changed uniforms.

PED HAZE: Any chance MLB emerges from the drug cloud this year? Nope. Baltimore slugger Chris Davis will miss opening day, completing a 25-game amphetamine suspension imposed last season. Angels star Josh Hamilton should hear soon whether he’ll be penalized for his latest off-the-field trouble.

ROOKIE WATCH: Cuban prospects proliferate, with Boston’s Rusney Castillo and Yoan Moncada, Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler, Arizona bopper Yasmany Tomas and Dodgers infielder Hector Olivera all getting rich deals. Also on deck: Power-packed Cubs prospect Kris Bryant, who will start the season in the minors. And remember, someone could emerge from nowhere — Brandon Finnegan was in college at this time last year, and wound up getting key outs in the World Series.

REPLAY DANCE: No more of that strange on-field waltz between managers and umpires, waiting for someone on the bench to signal whether to challenge a call. Now, that decision can come from the dugout.

SHIFTY: Look for teams to collect more data and employ more shifts. The Tigers put all four infielders on the right side vs. Bryce Harper when they played the Nationals in spring training.

JUST CALL HIM SKIP: Paul Molitor takes over the Twins, trying to prove a Hall of Fame player can also excel in the dugout. Along with Joe Maddon of the Cubs, the first-year managers are Kevin Cash in Tampa Bay, Chip Hale in Arizona, A.J. Hinch in Houston and Jeff Banister in Texas.

SWING, BATTER: Power and scoring is down across the majors, batting average is the lowest in four decades, strikeouts are at record levels. A quick-fix idea? Jump on the first-pitch, get-it-over fastball — Jose Altuve loves to do it, and he led the majors in hitting last year.

PACE YOURSELF: Games took over 3 hours last year despite decreased offense, and baseball wants to chop time. Fans will see clocks counting down so pitchers and hitters are ready when commercial breaks end. Straying from the batter’s box can result in a fine, but Boston star David Ortiz vows he’d rather get docked than alter his routine.

WHAT ABOUT ROSE? Shortly after commissioner Rob Manfred took over in January, 73-year-old Pete Rose applied for reinstatement. The career hits leader signed a lifetime ban in 1989 and later admitted he bet on Cincinnati games while managing the Reds. If allowed back, Rose would be eligible for the Hall of Fame. But he’d need to get voted in by a Hall committee, and that wouldn’t be easy. A last thought: If Rose is reinstated, could Shoeless Joe Jackson be far behind?