Photography by Leslie Barbaro

Major League Baseball analyst and former player Harold Reynolds talks teams, players and the 2014 season of our national pastime.

During Harold Reynolds’ 12-season playing career in Major League Baseball, he spent the offseasons being active in the local community and recuperating from the six-month grind that is a big-league campaign. Deep into his second decade as an on-air pundit, however, he has spent recent offseasons engaged in other pursuits — like working.

“There’s no such thing as an offseason anymore, which is great for fans,” says Reynolds, a studio analyst for MLB Network since its ­debut in 2009. This month, in addition to his work for MLB Network, he joins the broadcast booth for Fox Sports’ MLB coverage. With the 2014 season just underway, the baseball veteran weighs in on the state of the game and tells American Way what he expects to see in the months ahead.

AMERICAN WAY: Give us your State of the Union speech.
It’s an unprecedented time. The finances in the game, the amount of money that each team has — we’ve never seen that before. We’re in a transitional ­period for players too. Last year, you saw [legendary New York Yankees closer] Mariano Rivera [retire], and [Yankees shortstop] Derek Jeter will go soon. But man, there’s a lot of amazing young talent — [Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder] Mike Trout, [Washington Nationals outfielder] Bryce Harper. The old guard is starting to move out, and the new guard is already here.

AW: What do you make of the expanded instant replay and the ban on home-plate collisions?
I was never a proponent of replay, but I’m leaning in favor of it now. What everyone’s going to have to remember is that it’s not going to be perfect right away. For the collisions at the plate, I’m torn. You can’t come out and say, “No more collisions,” because throws up the line are going to run the catcher into the base runner’s path. But the essence of what the league is trying to do — ­protect catchers from that blindside shot — is good.

AW: How much change do you think we’ll see atop the American League?
In the AL East, you’ve got the New York Yankees being the Yankees again, but [the Tampa Bay Rays have] the pitching, and the Boston Red Sox are still the champions. In the Central, the gap between the Detroit Tigers and everybody else has closed. The Kansas City Royals have some of the great young talent in the game. In the West, the Oakland A’s have won the division two times in a row, and most people wouldn’t know it. The Texas Rangers will hit. The L.A. Angels of Anaheim look a pitcher short to me.

AW: And the National League?
The Washington Nationals are the best team in the East, but the Philadelphia Phillies are the wild card in my mind: If Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee pitch like they’re capable of, they’ll be in this thing. The St. Louis Cardinals were the class of the NL last year, and they have all those young pitchers. The L.A. Dodgers should win the West. They might run away with it.

AW: Who are your surprise teams?
Seattle is my sleeper because of the hitters [the Mariners] added [Robinson Cano, Logan ­Morrison, Corey Hart] and what they’ve been able to do with the pitching staff. In the National League, the Chicago Cubbies are going to be better than most people think. I’m not saying they’ll be good, but they won’t be awful.

AW: Give us a few potential breakout players.
The first name that comes to mind is [the Pittsburgh Pirates’] Starling Marte. When you see him in person, you’re like, “Wow!” I don’t react that way to a lot of players. In the AL, [Boston’s] Xander Bogaerts is special. He’ll be the AL Rookie of the Year.

AW: It’s early, but what’s your World Series prediction?
: In the National League, it’s the Dodgers. They’ve got great starting pitching, but they also have four guys in the bullpen who can shut a game down. The American League? It might be the Yankees. Are they going to hold up physically? I don’t know. Dodgers/Yankees is what I want to see. Call it my wish World Series.

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