Cue the Boys of Summer, 2014 Edition

by Jason Epstein
Here’s a cheat sheet for everyone who wasn’t paying attention during MLB’s offseason.

Some baseball fans kept tabs on the Arizona Fall League, winter meetings, free-agent signings, and trades.

Some skipped a week of work to watch Cactus or Grapefruit League action.

Some took a brief hiatus from March Madness to watch the first regular-season games taking place Down Under.

Some tuned into last night’s stateside season opener featuring the 2–0 Dodgers — thanks to their sweep of the Diamondbacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground — against the Padres in Petco Park.

And then there’s everybody else, folks who are only now awakening from an offseason slumber and are therefore unprepared for today’s slate of 13 games.

If that describes you, this article is for you.

Below is a quick-and-dirty overview of what happened in MLB since the Red Sox claimed their third world championship in ten seasons:

November
Everyone seemed convinced that the Rays would trade David Price. (Hint: They didn’t.) An implosion felled the Astrodome, and the Topps baseball-card company unveiled a “30 Days of November, 30 Days of Moustaches” promotion. A Yankee second baseman from another era urged Robinson Cano to forgo the lure of Seattle’s riches and remain in the Bronx, while Alex Rodriguez stormed out of his performance-enhancing-drug arbitration hearing Animal House–style.

Major League Baseball Players Association leader Michael Weiner succumbed to brain cancer after a long battle. Rick Renteria was hired to pilot the Cubs, and Brad Ausmus replaced Jim Leyland in Detroit. Later, the Tigers sent marshmallowy Prince Fielder and $30 million to the Rangers in exchange for Ian Kinsler in a deal that was humorously foreshadowed in an ESPN commercial from 2010. (Months later, Kinsler went off on his former club for parting ways with president Nolan Ryan.) The Cardinals and Angels worked out a trade in which David Freese moved west to Orange County and Peter Bourjos headed to Busch.

Award hardware was distributed to Wil Myers and Jose Fernandez for being named Rookies of the Year, and to Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw for the Cy Young. Miguel Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen took home Most Valuable Player honors.

Yup, someone wuz robbed for a second year in a row:

In both 2012 and 2013, Cabrera trailed the overall Total Runs leader, Mike Trout. Last year, Trout outpaced Cabrera by 23 runs. This season, the gap was 17 runs. We typically estimate that 10 extra runs is worth an extra win, so Trout has added about four wins more for the Angels than Cabrera has for the Tigers over the last two seasons.

Chris Carpenter announced his retirement, the Cardinals inked PED-user Jhonny Peralta to a four-year contract, and the Yankees signed Brian McCann for five years.

December
After years of hoarding capital as a big-league slugger, Magglio Ordonez got elected mayor of a small city in Venezuela, as a Chavista socialist. Keith Olbermann delivered a classic “We Need a New Hall of Fame” monologue, the Steinbrenners got socked with a $28 million luxury-tax penalty, and Paul Blair, one of the greatest defensive outfielders to play the game, died.

After Jacoby Ellsbury agreed to roam center field in the Bronx for the next seven seasons, Cano and Curtis Granderson split, upon which the Yankees added another free-agent outfielder, Carlos Beltran.

The Orioles agreed to terms with Grant Balfour and then backed away, supposedly after not liking what they saw in an X-ray of his throwing shoulder (the Australian closer would eventually reunite with the Rays), Shin Soo-Choo signed a seven-year contract with the Rangers, and the Angels, D-backs, and White Sox consummated a six-player deal involving Mark Trumbo, Adam Eaton, Tyler Skaggs, and Hector Santiago.

January
Olbermann delivered another magnificent rant, this one responding to a Baseball Writers Association of America member’s inane thought process guiding his Hall of Fame vote. NBC Sports’ Joe Posnanski did his own takedown of another writer’s idea of Cooperstown justice, albeit in print.

The BBWAA announced that three first-year Hall of Fame candidates — Greg Maddux (97.2 percent), Frank Thomas (91.9 percent), and Tom Glavine (83.7 percent) — had crossed the 75 percent threshold for entry into Cooperstown. Craig Biggio (74.8 percent) missed getting in by two votes out of 571 ballots cast. One day later, ESPN’s Dan LeBatard announced that he had let Deadspin readers help determine his ballot; the BBWAA wasted no time in permanently revoking his Hall voting privileges.

A 60 Minutes hit piece on A-Rod, attempting to portray PED peddler Anthony Bosch in a favorable light, said way more about the show than the segment’s target, according to Posnanski. Bud Selig insisted that he was stepping down as commissioner following the 2014 season and after he gets honored with the “Bud Selig Leadership Award.” (Sports Illustrated’s Joe Sheehan wryly wondered if the trophy was a “bronzed strip of 1994 World Series tickets.”) Former Yankees infielder and Padres broadcaster Jerry Coleman died. Michael Young and Lance Berkman said they had played their last games.

Clayton Kershaw signed a mega-extension with the Dodgers, making the southpaw ace, for the time being, anyway, the highest-paid player per average annual value, while former Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander was so ticked off watching Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s NFC Championship Game antics that he suggested someone doing that in baseball deserved a 100-mph pitch thrown at his ear. In return for a $155 million, seven-year contract (with a player opt-out after year four), this year’s Japanese phenom, Masahiro Tanaka, elected to pitch for the Yankees.

Bob Uecker got honored with a primo seat at Miller Park, the Cubs’ new mascot was almost universally mocked, and Albert Pujols and “Athlete Grover” mixed it up on Sesame Street while, to the annoyance of 99 percent of America, Red Sox and Yankee brass got in each other’s grills for the umpteenth time. Chipper Jones is no longer hitting a baseball in anger, but he showed off his superhuman skills during Atlanta’s massive ice storm, using his activity vehicle to rescue stranded Braves frist baseman Freddie Freeman.

An expanded, NFL-style replay system was announced. A-Rod’s arbitrator largely upheld MLB’s yearlong suspension, which in turn may have increased the likelihood of managementlabor strife when the current collective-bargaining agreement expires in 2016.

February
MLB instituted a rule prohibiting home-plate collisions. Pirates slugger and Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner died, followed shortly afterward by Jim Fregosi, the Angels’ first star player and later their manager. A painting of Hank Aaron was unveiled at the Smithsonian’s Portrait Gallery, Carl Pavano called it quits, and Derek Jeter announced that the upcoming season would be his last. (I subsequently asked readers to remember Jeter for his more quantifiable accomplishments and eschew the supposedly off-the-chart intangibles.

Every believer in hot dogs and apple pie cracks a smile when pitchers, catchers, and Jason Giambi report, but so does much of Floridas wildlife. Heads turned as JetBlue Park at Fenway South opened its doors for the first time, the Rays and A’s sported rosters featuring higher-priced relievers, the Tigers who hail from Venezuela showed support for their countrymen and countrywomen who chafe under left-wing, authoritarian rule, and the Braves smartly locked up several of their young homegrown stars. Ubaldo Jimenez signed a four-year deal with the Orioles. In contrast, PED-user Nelson Cruz’s dream of a big payday didn’t materialize and the outfielder settled for a one-year contract with Baltimore.

March
ESPN the Magazine claimed to have found a way to quantify “clubhouse chemistry,” 1925 Movietone game footage of Babe Ruth surfaced (interestingly, it also appears to include a shot of a young Lou Gehrig making a call on his iPhone 5), the Federal Aviation Administration grounded a Nationals drone, a dad beyond Tradition Field’s outfield wall was caught on video choosing to make a grab at a souvenir rather than keep an eye on his young son, the Hallmark Channel announced alternative programming during the 2015 All-Star Game, MLB released cool footage of the Sydney Cricket Ground getting fitted for baseball activities and announced a marketing agreement with dating site Match.com, and Wrigley’s faithful were “relieved” to learn that Old Style beer would still be sold at select kiosks.

Tommy John–surgery pioneer Frank Jobe died, MLB and the MLBPA strengthened the penalties for PED violations, Barry Bonds was back in uniform at the Giants’ facility in Scottsdale, Jimmy Rollins’s aloof behavior no longer appears appreciated, Yasiel Puig’s occasional boneheaded on-field behavior will be tolerated as long as he continues putting up awesome numbers, Brandon Phillips made his feelings about Cincinnati sportswriters known, and, as spring training progressed, a batted ball nearly caused catastrophic harm to Aroldis Chapman’s cranium. Injuries started taking their toll on top prospects in the Twins organization, as well as the starting rotations of the A’s, Braves, and Rangers.

Even though Cabrera still had two years remaining on his current contract, the Tigers inexplicably opted to tack on an additional eight at $30.5 million per season, eclipsing Kershaw’s AAV record. One day later, the Angels and Trout worked out a mutually beneficial deal worth $144.5 million, a record-shattering number for a player with less than three years of big-league service time, that will keep the best player in the game in a Halos uniform through 2019.

Baseball Prospectus ran 50,000 regular-season simulations and discovered that the Astros, who have lost 106, 107, and 111 games over the past three years, finished first in the AL West 0.4 percent of the time.

In one of the more bizarre scenarios, Sam Miller relates:

Astros win 99 games, the second-best season in franchise history, with a roster that enters the season with three total All-Star appearances ([Jason] Castro, [Jose] Altuve, and [Jesse] Crain, one apiece), a combined $35 million in salary, and a combined one Jesus Guzman starting at first base. Fifty-three years of Astros baseball, and this is the roster that wins 99.

* * *

Consider yourself all caught up, more or less. Now get your sorry backside to the ballpark, shell out $9.50 for domestic swill, $8 for a jalapeño sausage (or kosher shawarma, if you prefer), and $12 for veggie nachos, and have a heckuva summer watching your favorite players perform.

And after the Cardinals return to the World Series to upend the Rays in seven games, try not to let your love of that pigskin thing tune out baseball altogether. (Note: Click over to Right Field to see the rest of my predictions.)

But yeah, I’ll be back this time next year, just in case, once again, you didn’t pay enough attention during the offseason.

Play ball!

— Jason Epstein, a bruised Mets fan and Nationals season-ticket holder, is president of Southfive Strategies, LLC, and a contributor to Right Field.