First pitch!

With the 2014 Major League Baseball season now underway, there are a myriad of storylines and teams to follow. One of the biggest storylines out of the Northwest is the Seattle Mariners and how their big off-season acquisition will pan out.

During the off season, the Mariners signed second baseman Robinson Cano from the New York Yankees for a 10-year, $240 million dollar deal. The Mariners have struggled during the past decade, failing to make the playoffs since 2001. Pitcher and 2010 Cy Young Award winner, “King” Felix Hernandez has been one of the only bright spots since the Mariners traded international super star Ichiro Suzuki to the Yankees partway through the 2012 season.

Though the pitching has shown promise, the lack of good hitters to provide run support has proven difficult for Seattle to overcome. By signing a bat like Cano, the Mariners are hoping to develop talent around him to help support the team get back into playoff contention.

According to Fox Sports’ Shawn Ramsey’s Power Rankings, the Mariners are the 19th best team in the league, with all but one fellow AL West team ranked higher (#6 Oakland A’s, #13 Texas Rangers, #17 Los Angeles Angels and #30 Houston Astros). If these preseason rankings are any indication of how the season will go, reaching the playoffs will definitely prove to be an uphill battle.

In other big news from around the league, the MLB has implemented some rule changes that are sure to have an impact on the game. While the list of reviewable plays is extensive, there are still plays that are not reviewable. According to Tim Kurkjian of ESPN, these unreviewable plays include “Balks, tag-up plays on fly balls, fair/foul trapped balls in the infield, the infield fly rule, obstruction, interference, check swings and the neighborhood play at second base (fielder’s touching of second-base on a double play).”

How will the replay rule be implemented? Each team’s manager gets two challenges per game and can only use the second one if the first one is successful. However, after the seventh inning the umpires can choose to review a play on their own accord, much like during the two-minute warning of an NFL game.

Unlike the NFL and NBA replay processes, the officials on the field will not be running to a replay screen and reviewing the play in question. Rather, similar to NCAA football, there will be a team of non-game officials in a replay command center who will be reviewing challenged calls. According to Craig Calcaterra from NBC Sports, “There will be a headset near home plate in all 30 parks. From there, the Crew Chief will be connected to the Replay Command Center at MLB Advanced Media headquarters in New York. There, major league umpires will be staffed as replay officials, viewing the video feeds. Replay officials will make the ultimate determination of whether to overturn the call on a ‘clear and convincing evidence’ standard. The hope is that the process will only take a minute or two.”

One important factor in Calcaterra’s explanation of the rule is “the hope is that the process will only take a minute or two.” This is important because one of the main concerns when deliberating the implementation of the new replay rules was that it would slow down an already slow game. However, during the trial run during spring training, the replay process ran as smoothly and as quickly as expected.

Another major rule change taking place this season—which will definitely have a direct impact on the outcome of some games—refers to collisions at home plate. According to the MLB press release summing up the legalese of the new rule, “unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score.” This new rule has been added to help promote player safety in one of the most dangerous situations of the game, and has been referred to as the “Buster Posey rule,” after the San Francisco Giants catcher whose leg was broken in a home plate collision in 2011.

Though this rule does not completely ban collisions, it attempts to circumvent unnecessary collisions at home plate in order to protect players. Even though eliminating unnecessary injuries at the plate will greatly benefit the safety of players, experimenting with a rule that can cancel or grant a run in a game often decided by close margins will definitely result in controversy at some point during this season.

With the Northwest’s only Major League Baseball team making moves by signing a huge star like Robinson Cano, new replay rules being implemented to get as many calls right as possible, and a new experimental home plate rule that can directly affect the outcome of a game, this season should prove to be a more exciting, better officiated and possibly more controversial than previous ones.