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Doug Wolter: New MLB season is already on the flashy side

Major league baseball in 2022 promises to be full of surprises. But when has there not been surprises in store?

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Minnesota Twins fans have, for years, experienced frustration at the team’s perceived stinginess. After so many years of penny-pinching when a frontline starting pitcher would do wonders for a staff in need of such new energy, die-hards had typically been left to wonder what might have been if, say, the front office would just splurge a little bit.

Not that they had to spread money around like the Yankees, mind you, but just get knee-deep into the water and splash around.

Doug Wolter
Doug Wolter

Well, your wishes have come true just as the 2022 regular season is about to begin on April 7.

So they made a deal with the Reds for two-time All-Star pitcher Sonny Gray. They also got catcher Gary Sanchez in a deal that sent slugging third baseman Josh Donaldson (26 homers) to the Yanks. Most important of all, they agreed to pay this year’s top free agent, the Astros’ Carlos Correa, the biggest infielder contract in baseball.

But the Twins had to do something, right? They flopped into last place in the AL Central in 2021 after they were seen as a legitimate challenger. They had a choice: Admit that 2022 is to be a rebuilding year, or re-tool.

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Some other thoughts:

The AL Central Division race:

Almost everyone still favors the White Sox, who didn’t make any big changes. Does this mean the Sox are getting complacent? Probably not. They won the division last season by 13 games over (in order) Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City and Minnesota, and though all four of those also-rans improved themselves in the offseason, Chicago is still the team to beat on paper.

Yes, I know. You don’t play baseball on paper, do you.

I see that according to at least one odds-making site, it’s Chicago first, then Detroit and Minnesota tied for second, followed by Cleveland and KC. Another place says the race is “wide open.”

One thing I think we can expect: There will be surprises. There always are surprises.

What’s with the wild spending?

If major league baseball’s future is as precarious as some people claim (and I’ve been one of those), what are we to make of the fact that after a 99-day lockout this has been the most money-spreading free agent off-season in history? The skeptic in me believes that the sport’s problems -- its pedestrian pace, its failure to successfully compete for younger fans -- still remain. But you gotta admit that owners are still determined to win at all costs, literally.

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Just how far can this overspending go? We’ll worry about that later. For now, we’ll enjoy the ride.

Rule changes

Yeah, the way money is being spent on free agents makes us believe that everything is hunky-dory with the future of the sport, but the way MLB continues tinkering with the rules tells us a different story.

In 2022, the playoffs will expand to 12 teams. That’s nice to see after the regular season is done, but it makes the regular season seem less important. Think about it. If this keeps up, the regular season will feel like nothing more than a very long exhibition season.

The designated hitter will be implemented in both leagues. Yes, it has always felt weird for the AL to have it and for the NL not to have it, but the DH rule eliminates some of the strategy that has always been a part of the game (at least in the NL, that is). Besides that, I’ve never felt it was fair that you have career designated hitters who never need to learn how to carry a glove.

Other changes

In 2023, there could be more significant rule changes.

For example: in selected Triple-A and low A games this year, they’ll experiment with “robo umps” for the calling of balls and strikes. Personally, I have mixed feelings. I’ve always been a critic of the way plate umpires call the pitches (and you can ask any of my old fast-pitch softball buddies for proof of that), but I don’t like taking the human element out of the game. In my mind, human umpires must stay.

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There may be pitch clocks in the MLB ranks next year, too. I’m not a fan of that. I’d rather see umpires call balls and strikes accurately (see above).

And it seems to be destiny that defensive shifts are going to be banned, or at least legislated. Again, I hate that. As a proud American who cherishes his God-given rights, I say it’s just plain wrong to tell any fielder that he’s not allowed to stand anywhere he wants to between the foul lines.

Oh, and one more thing: The league is thinking about allowing advertising on player jerseys and caps.

For some reason, that doesn’t make me feel confident about the sport’s future.

Oh, well, let the season begin.

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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