Sunday, March 31, 2024

The 'Never a Dull Moment' Opening Series


I think it speaks to the people that make the schedules that I've been so enthralled by this Rangers-Cubs series. You look at it one way, you go 'oh yeah, the team that just won the World Series is cleaning up', but the games are anything but simple. These are two very well-built teams that are already playing playoff-caliber matches with playoff-style stakes. 

It's primarily been wild solely because I didn't think Wyatt Langford would see the majors this soon. The 22-year-old was drafted just last year, zoomed through the minors and was killing it in Spring Training. I just assumed he wouldn't make it because he's only had a half-year in the minors, but him making it to the show [and Jackson Holliday still 'not being ready yet'] was a late Spring Training shocker. And even now, with the outfield still being reserved for Adolis Garcia, Evan Carter and Leody Taveras, Langford has been the starting DH for this team, meaning they're not sure where to play him in the field yet.

It certainly seemed like a puzzling move until Langford started hitting like hell and driving in runs. So I guess he was ready.

That's been an interesting parallel to the Cubs because while both Evan Carter and Wyatt Langford have factored into the Rangers' 2024 plans, Pete Crow Armstrong, who was brought up last year and even dyed his hair blue this spring, is back in Iowa. The Cubs' dependence on young stars is more out of convenience, as Ben Brown was brought up as a seat-filler for Justin Steele, who injured his hamstring after some excellent work in the opener. Brown promptly got the snot kicked out of him yesterday in a long-relief role after Hendricks similarly got rocked. So even if he is probably gonna start in a few days, the fact that the Rangers can already get to him is telling. Maybe a 'first start hazing' kinda thing, like 'hey, welcome to the bigs, over there are the World Champions, go get 'em kid', but...hopefully he comes into his own over time.

But yeah, already you've seen, like, playoff-quality highs and lows from this matchup. Jonah Heim getting absolutely screwed by an ump into letting a runner go by, then redeeming himself with a walkoff moment. Jared Walsh and Adolis Garcia raining on Kyle Hendricks' parade. Travis Jankowski still finding ways to be the hero a couple years after most of the league gave up on him. Cody Bellinger and Dansby Swanson having heroic moments when the team needs them. Even if the Cubs aren't showing it in the win column yet, they are hanging in there with one of the best teams in baseball, and making for entertaining, dramatic games.

If both of these teams are preparing for playoff stakes in the first series of the year, it's gonna be a huge, wild season for both of them.

Coming Tomorrow- The Giants added a few new pitchers this year, yet this guy might still be the most important piece in town.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Rounding the Next Bar


For the first time in over 20 years, the Minnesota Twins won a playoff series last year, solely because it'd be funnier if a matchup between a team that never wins playoff games and the Toronto Blue Jays would end their way. The 2023 Twins team had so many great pieces, solidified heroes and great performances, and was much more varied and versatile than the 2019 Bomba team. Granted, they didn't last long before falling in battle to those damned Astros, but the playoff win was something the Minnesota fans had been waiting for ages for, and I'm glad they finally got it.

That said it's interesting to see the Twins' improved approach in 2024, because to me a lot is different. Sonny Gray, Jorge Polanco, Michael Taylor, Kenta Maeda and Joey Gallo are all gone, there goes the team's home run leaders and ace from last year. This year, people like Alex Kirilloff, Willi Castro, Louie Varland, Chris Paddack and Matt Wallner are playing larger, crucial roles, while newcomers like Carlos Santana, Steven Okert and Manuel Margot look to factor in prominently. And while the big pieces like Pablo Lopez, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Joe Ryan and Carlos Correa are still intact, you're already seeing pieces like Jhoan Duran and, just recently, Royce Lewis land on the IL. 

The Twins team I glimpsed in 2023 was the type that could come back from setbacks, and had enough depth options to withstand things like this. I'm not immediately seeing this depth, as the fourth and fifth starting options are now Chris Paddack and Louie Varland, which is a far cry from Ober and Maeda being positioned there last year. I look at teams like the Guardians and even, kinda, the Tigers, and there might arguably be more depth there than in Minnesota, which is wild.

That said, the Twins just brought up Austin Martin, another recent draft pick, sort of the Junior Caminero in this situation, although Royce Lewis isn't a creep. Martin was the other piece of the Jose Berrios trade [aside from Simeon Woods-Richardson, who, typeface constricting aside hasn't affected the majors much at all], he was heating up triple-A last year, made the roster to start the season, I feel like he'll be a cool corner infield pick for this stretch. Worse comes to worse, if he and Lewis are fighting for reps, deal him for a starter. Ya never know when you're gonna need a better choice for 4 and 5 [again, I'd love for Paddack to prove me wrong this year]. 

The other thing in the Twins' favor? I wasn't sure about their 2023 approach either. I was worried the lower-budget mentality and focus on newer kids in big positions would make them too forgettable. Then Pablo Lopez showed up and started owning everybody. Lopez is already looking for a trophy case year, his first start went super well and this is still prime material for the hurler. If it had been anybody else in the Marlins' rotation, the Arraez deal would have been a mistake, but Lopez has provided this team consistency and so many perks. Plus, they love Pablo Lopez. The fans love this guy. I'm here for it.

The Twins may look different, and may be working on different things, but I think they still have a chance for the division this year. It won't be easy, but these guys could pull away pretty quickly.

Coming Tomorrow- One of many Chicago Cubs looking for a big year.

Friday, March 29, 2024

So Where Does That Leave the Mets?


Future baseball historians are going to look at the period of Mets baseball between 2021 and 2023 as the first Cohen gambit. There will be more, we know there will be more, but this was the first wave. Where Steve Cohen brought Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Francisco Lindor, Chris Bassitt, Carlos Carrasco, Kodai Senga and very nearly Carlos Correa to Queens for the purposes of bulking up the roster, and it didn't work. How would he learn from this? How much time would it take? All of this is important to the degree and refinement of the next Cohen gambit, which we all know is coming as soon as the non-Lindor pieces of the first wave have subsided.

But going into 2024, which is a year where the Mets cooled down a great deal and only nabbed J.D. Martinez as a gain, is an odd look after three years of trying hard and coming up short. Most of the figures Cohen signed in the last few years are gone. Senga is hurt. Marte at the very least can still hit but he's rounding his last few years. Lindor is really the only piece that's stayed constant, and even he's not 100% as volatile at the plate as he was back in 2021 [despite, at this rate, being almost definitely a future Hall of Famer with just how good he's been since coming up]. 

And so this year, you see a lot of smaller gambles in terms of bolstering the roster. Harrison Bader is on as an outfielder after a down year in 2023, and he's primed for a slight improvement, even if the Mets assume he'll be a lower-key player in this lineup. Luis Severino is a crucial rotation piece, and seems to have found his rhythm again after some dire years in the Bronx. Zack Short and Joey Wendle are both on the roster as infield substitutions, with Wendle having an excellent spring showing. 

But with the exception of Wendle, many of these guys are 'it'd be nice if they did something for us' cases. Severino is the perfect example of someone who could have an excellent season on this small 1-year deal, boost his free agency case, have somebody [maybe even the Mets] overpay to keep him around and then pitch 100 innings in 3 years. He did that for the Yanks loads of times, and we really cooked his throwing arm. Martinez, who isn't ready for MLB play yet given how late his offseason lasted, is in his late 30s and may be a waste of a contract, as many teams figured during Boras' long winded sales processes. 

It also just points to how diluted the Mets' core is. The rotation is astonishingly simple, with only one real homegrown hurler [Tylor Megill], a lot of veterans coming off poor seasons [Sean Manaea, Jose Quintana, Sevvy, Adrian Houser] and...whatever the hell Jose Butto is supposed to be. It's really been like 12 or so years since the Mets had a rotation consisting entirely of shrugs. Even in the early 2010s they had Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey and the beginnings of Matt Harvey, now they have 'well I guess this could work' x5. The lineup still has the core of Lindor, McNeil, Nimmo and Alonso, and Francisco Alvarez being a perennial guy helps, but there's a drop-off after that, and it's palpable. 

There is a chance the Mets throw something together with this team now that the pressure's off, but with two, possibly three NL East squads that are probably better this year, it's a tall order to ask for. Maybe they want these kind of underdog odds. Maybe it's a sign that they needed this last period to fail in order to succeed. 

Or, uh...maybe the rotation being defined by Jose Butto and not De Grom or Scherzer is a sign that things won't go well at all.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

2024: Don't Believe the Hype


With everything that's elapsed this offseason, all the big contracts, contract deferring, contract holdouts, super-teaming, massive overspending, will the 2024 season come down to two teams that outspent the competition?

I say....don't bet on it. 

...lord that's like a Crypt Keeper line. Especially with context. Lordy this season.

Okay. Today is Opening Day. And that usually means that I should probably predict some things. But we know how that goes. I'm famously terrible at predicting things. I think in the mid-2010s I said the White Sox were a World Series team. What the hell happened there? And recently, when I have made predictions that have turned out to be correct, they've done so at the expense of a better outcome. Like saying that Corbin Burnes should win the Cy Young in 2021, and he did...but over Zack Wheeler, who I still think deserved it that year. 

So I think it's a little easier for all involved parties if I go general this year. Cause if I just outright say, oh the World Series is gonna be Orioles-Phillies or something, then it's just not gonna happen and it'll be Astros-Dodgers for me even wanting a fun outcome. 

The key thing that I think is going to happen in 2024 is that the trend of small teams overtaking the big teams thanks to momentum is going to continue. With this playoff schematic being what it is, this will keep happening, because Rob Manfred doesn't see anything wrong with it. So any of you expecting the Braves, Dodgers, Yankees and Giants to factor heavily into this season's endgame, I don't think it'll happen. If the Dodgers make it to the World Series, it will likely be for the same reason the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl this year; because people seem to like watching when it happens. 

But odds are the playoffs won't work that day. So it'll be someone we're not expecting dominating the narrative this year. Does that mean the Rays, a team that nobody is talking about despite making a lot of really smart moves this offseason, might have a chance? Possibly. The Rays brought on Jose Caballero, Richie Palacios, Amed Rosario, Jake Mangum and Ryan Pepiot this winter, and if you're wondering how these small pieces are going to affect this team, you do not know Rays baseball. The Rays currently have Isaac Paredes, Yandy Diaz, Jose Siri and Harold Ramirez playing major roles, and playing well. This team takes the guy your organization has no idea what to do with, makes him a star and then trades him away before he gets what he's earned. The Rays machine just works, and even if people are pegging them to come fourth this year due to a banged up infield, it will still work this year. They might outdo the Yankees. Who knows?

Does that also mean the Diamondbacks have a shot at repeating in the NL? It's more complicated, because they're not even guaranteed a Wild Card spot this year due to the number of people in this league that might aim to compete this year. And yes, bringing on Jordan Montgomery is a big deal, but the D-Backs made a lot of smaller, rudimentary moves to keep the core power intact, and I know they wanna get back to September and build from there but I don't know if it'll be a lot to get there. A lot of the Diamondbacks' plan for 2024 involves lightning striking twice, which at least happened to the Phillies because they built on their 2022 team, signed huge pieces and became a great team. The Diamondbacks had a great season but need to figure out if it makes them a great perennial team, and I'm not convinced yet.

Does this mean that a middle of the road team, like the Tigers, Reds, Pirates or Marlins, could spring into action and claim the narrative? Perhaps. It's happened before. And this is a league that's fit to be surprised, with every narrative about the season being about 'will Ohtani hit 40' or 'will Soto be a Yankee legend' or 'will it be Houston or Texas'. What if we're looking in the wrong place? We usually are.

I'm still excited for this season, there's a lot that could happen and a lot that I'm hoping does. I'd love to see the Yankees or Phillies do well this year, I'd love to see the Orioles go deep, and I'd love to see the Astros miss the playoffs. But if I left every season happy it'd be a different vibe all around, I think. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Anything is an Improvement


I talked about the Chicago White Sox being in this position the other day, but there's a few teams out there where the eventual last place finish is a likely outcome, at least according to a lot of different pundits. I'm still not certain who'll finish in last in the NL Central, or even the NL West, but you can definitely make a guess that the A's or Red Sox will have a last place year this year. 1, because how can they compare to the rest of the division, and 2, because they're not working with a lot right now.

Notably, the Red Sox do still have some large pieces that will at least keep them from losing 100 games. Rafael Devers, Brayan Bello, Trevor Story and Masataka Yoshida are still integral pieces of this team, and they all had great showings in Spring Training. There's even some lower-key pieces that are looking impressive, like Garrett Whitlock, who looks healthy enough to start a ton of great games for the Sox this year. In 6 preseason starts he sported a 2.49 ERA, 22 Ks and a .877 WHIP. Those would be excellent April stats, and hopefully his power carries over to the regular season. 

The issue with the Sox's rotation is that they don't have a ton of big names anymore, not since Chris Sale got traded. So it is a largely anonymous group, with people like Bello, Whitlock, Kutter Crawford, Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck. And there are great pitchers here, with many likely to have an excellent season. But they're not names people have heard of, even with someone like Bello getting an extension. Comparatively, the Yankees have Stroman, Rodon and Cole in their rotation, the Jays have Gausman, Berrios and Bassitt, the Orioles have Corbin Burnes and Kyle Bradish, and even the Rays have Zach Eflin and Aaron Civale, who are at least lower-tier favorites. The Sox just don't have many trustworthy starters anymore, and after their legendary postseason rotation in 2018, that's just disappointing.

The Sox may still have a decent enough season, especially with Story prime for a comeback and so many young pieces hoping to factor in, but with the other four AL East teams all competing, and all excellent, even if they do well they're not expected to go for first place. So even if they exceed standards, they may still have to pawn people off in July and continue to rebuild. It's upsetting that it needs to happen, but that's how good the AL East has been.

Similarly, the AL West has three excellent teams, an alright team, and the Oakland Athletics, who are probably heading to Vegas next year, despite the hesitancy on many accounts to actually bring them there. Unlike the Red Sox, who still aim to be a decent team trapped by four better ones, the A's...are just hoping to finish the season, honestly. 

We seem to be at the beginning of the stage where they build a team of young phenoms. Now they have Zach Gelof and Lawrence Butler starting in the majors with the team, they confirmed that Joe Boyle will start games from the jump, Darrell Hernaiz made the team as a backup infielder that could start and Esteury Ruiz, Shea Langeliers and J.J. Bleday are still populating the roster. People will only continue to keep coming up, and they could build a passable core with these guys. The issue is that I doubt it'll be enough to catch the Rangers, Astros or Mariners as they continue to build around their ever-growing youth movements, but it's a start.

You also see the A's employing more veterans this year to provide structure. Alex Wood, Ross Stripling and J.D. Davis are all expected to play big roles in this team, and with the exception of possibly Davis they're all expected to be building blocks to get the team to the next stage. The Orioles had a season where they got low-rent veterans to help out before they could rely fully on the youth, and the A's may need a few more years of that but they're definitely bringing up the right people.

The expectation is still for the A's to come in last, and while the Angels could potentially have another disaster of a season, I don't see the A's outrunning them. It's awful that the organization has gotten to this point, and it's hard to see a team hung out to dry like this. I definitely think they'll be better than last year, and there'll be more specific heroes and promising developments for the future. But they definitely don't have as much as Boston, and will take longer to get back to a competitive form.

Someone needs to come in last in both these tight divisions. Time will tell if it does end up being these two.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Oneil Deal


At the close of the Spring Training period in Bradenton, Oneil Cruz had cracked 14 RBIs, 7 home runs and 12 hits in 44 at-bats. Logic would dictate that Cruz is on track for a breakthrough, star-making season. His career hasn't been so simple, however.

Oneil Cruz is still searching for a full season of MLB play, and while he was once a 22-year-old young phenom, he is now 25 and still handled like a rookie. Not everything has been his fault; the Pirates keeping Cruz in Indy for half the 2022 season felt cruel and meaningless if he was ready for MLB play, and if anything it bruised his ego. Then last year, as he was ready to go, Cruz immediately has a massive injury and misses the entire 2023 season. Cruz altogether has played 98 games, which is less than Jordan Walker, who is 22, played all of last season. 

And while in 2021, the novelty of a 6'7 shortstop was enough to set Cruz apart from his peers, he's not even the only above-average-height shortstop with the name Cruz anymore. The new hip thing in that department is Elly de la Cruz, who looks to factor heavily into the rival Reds' season, and has already shown versatility and flair in his, heh, NINETY-EIGHT MLB GAMES TO THIS POINT. 

I didn't even prepare that when going into this argument. Oneil Cruz isn't even the only tall shortstop named Cruz from the NL Central who's played 98 MLB games anymore! The tide really HAS turned...

The bottom line is that with more unusually tall shortstops popping up, it's more important that the Oneil Cruz story begins fully, without any further delay or mishaps. The Pirates are ready for him to go ahead and start performing consistently. I genuinely think this will be his year, and though there is the chance of another horrifically-timed injury or setback, I think he has the momentum and numbers to power this team through it.

The good news, though, is that it's not entirely on Cruz to help the Pirates succeed, because this is a much more well-rounded team this year. Henry Davis and Jared Triolo factor heavily into the Opening Day picture, and given their Spring Training stats they're looking at excellent full seasons. The bullpen, which was already excellent last year, has been improved by the additions of Aroldis Chapman and Josh Fleming. Having Martin Perez and Marco Gonzales has properly bolstered this rotation, and Perez especially will be helpful for this team, even with Mitch Keller, Luis Ortiz and Quinn Priester looking at great seasons. Ke'Bryan Hayes, Bryan Reynolds and Andrew McCutchen are all still here, and most of them look really good heading into the year. 

And with the Cardinals and Brewers not guaranteed competitive positions, the Pirates could definitely sneak into the mix with a good enough effort. It's not guaranteed, with the Cubs and Reds also looking to compete this year, but I feel better about this Pirates team than I have about the last few, and that doesn't mean nothing.

It would genuinely help if Oneil Cruz has a great season, though. And I think he wants it just as much as the rest of us.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Bottom-Feeding in the AL Central


The last several years, the AL Central has been more competitive staying out of last than staying in first. Even in the years with an overwhelming favorite like the 2020 White Sox or the 2019 Twins, everyone else has sort of shrugged on by without making much of an effort. The 2022 season famously consisted of a showdown between two teams that kept tripping over their shoelaces.

And seeing this happen while the east and west divisions are both loaded with competitive teams is kind of fascinating. It's not that the AL Central is wholly terrible, it's just that the majority of the teams there are in downswing form. It's also not coincidental that all the money's on the east and west and the central teams are mostly lower-budget teams waiting to build something up. 

I will say that things do look better for a majority of the teams in this division. The Tigers have a lot of more confident, composed pieces on their roster, and I think they'll genuinely compete this year. The Guardians and Twins will continue to chase first given their big pieces and emphasis on contact and excellent rotations. And while that normally would leave a definite outcome for the last two may not be that simple.

The Royals would thereby be pinned at fourth, and I really don't think they look like a team compared to do that. This season has been primed for even more of a breakout year for Bobby Witt, a rebound year for Brady Singer and Daniel Lynch, and the arrival of pieces like Nick Loftin who are just waiting for a breakout moment. I also see a more confident stocking of the roster in how people like Seth Lugo, Will Smith, Adam Frazier and Garrett Hampson are being used. Finding some roster flexibility from within isn't completely working yet, let's see if we can stock this thing with trusted veterans and see if that works. It's still a not-too-flashy low budget contact strategy, but I see a lot in this team that could work, especially if some of the injury prone guys from 2023 [Pasquantino, Lynch, Garcia] can be reliable this year.

I do not see the Royals being a first place team this year, solely because they're a few OMG pieces away from that. I thought they were ready last year, and then Brady Singer turned out to not be as consistent as I thought. And look, on one hand, I really don't want to amount Brady Singer to one decent year around a few mediocre ones, but unless he figures this out in 2024, that might be what we're looking at. And if that's the case, and being that they're without Kris Bubic and now probably Michael Wacha for a bit, the Royals need to hope that a homegrown ace is coming relatively soon. Because it was supposed to be Singer, and now I'm not sure if it is anymore.

As for the Chicago White Sox, logic would dictate that they're a last place team this year. They have little to no pitching, their Opening Day starter is Garrett Crochet [and say what you will about Alex Wood getting Opening Day for the A's, but at least Alex Wood is known for starting games well], the rest of the rotation is just guys that didn't work in other markets and they're starting renters at major positions. 

But...they still have Luis Robert. So unless they're really listless aside from him, you can't completely count them out.

The 2024 Sox looks like a lot of 'well, that's be interesting if it worked' type of guys. You know, if Benintendi actually performed to 2019-caliber, that'd be interesting. Or if Nicky Lopez, Paul DeJong and Dominic Fletcher can prove they can start admirably, that'd be interesting. Or if Michael Soroka or Erick Fedde are for real after all of that, it'd really be something. But there's not a lot, other than Robert, to really rest one's weight on. Even Yoan Moncada, who at one point was the can't-miss guy that would help lead the Sox to the playoffs, can't even be trusted when he's actually hitting well in Spring Training. 

It's genuinely depressing, even with the knowledge that this is the first year of a new regime, and that they're moving on from Kenny Williams' meddling. Pedro Grifol may be a decent choice to lead this team through an era like this, though I don't think he'll stick around to see them compete. It's not like the Oli Marmol thing where the club likes him more than the players, fans or anyone else watching does. They're waiting and seeing with Grifol just like the rest of us, and I think they're relieved it's not LaRussa anymore.

The plan for the White Sox is just to let this current regime sort of fade off and see what young guys can inherit the team next. Meaning 2024 might be a slog, and it's not even certain that Robert will be there by the end of it. Still, it'll be interesting to see how exactly it rolls out them.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Going for Three


When a team goes from a low wild card seed to an NLCS once, it's charming. Twice it's concerning. And now here we are, the Phillies in 2024. They...can't seriously be thinking of making as third NLCS, right? The Dodgers and Braves look insane. There's no way....right?

I think that's what the Phillies want you to think. Because of first round playoff byes, the big teams don't really win much anymore, save the Astros I suppose. Having a big regular season is no longer a guarantee of a championship, and as much as I loathe this development and wish it was different, the Phillies have, at the very least, figured out the way of hacking the system. They don't need to finish in first, as long as they get hot in September and ride the momentum as long as they can, they'll be fine. That's how people win rings now, September momentum. 

So when it came out recently that both Taijuan Walker and Orion Kerkering, two big parts of their 2023 playoff squad, would begin the year on the IL, it must not have been especially worrying. Will they be back in September? Most likely. So it's not a big deal. It also means that the Phillies will be going with an Opening Day rotation of Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez, Cristopher Sanchez and Spencer Turnbull, and with Spencer Turnbull looking as good as he has this spring, that's not at all a downgrade for a fifth starting position. 

I also want to address the fact that recently, MLB's twitter account unveiled a list of the top bullpens in the major leagues, and right at the top, right at #1, the Philadelphia Phillies. This still feels odd to me. In the mid-2010s we were notorious for our terrible bullpens. In a lot of cases they cost us playoff spots. Years of people like Mark Leiter Jr. and Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Neris floundering in big moments, it was ghastly to sit through. And now the Phillies have a bullpen consisting of Jose Alvarado, Gregory Soto, Matt Strahm, Jeff Hoffman, Seranthony Dominguez, Connor Brogdon and Yunior Marte, to name...most of them. And that is just so much better. So I'm not even worried about losing Kerkering for a while. That's still a really sturdy bunch.

There are obviously still concerns about Bryce Harper's back, or Kyle Schwarber's average, but the versatility of this team still has me optimistic. Johan Rojas apparently bulked up during the offseason, so the goal is for him to not only excel as a defensive outfielder but give us contact numbers as well. I'd really like him to do well for us, he seems like a fun homegrown piece. Whit Merrifield is another fun piece for us because we can play him a number of places and he can still hit for average. Edmundo Sosa has also looked more well rounded this year, with some big power moments in camp. Just so many pieces of this team seem more intriguing this year, and could lead to a fun ride as they head to another playoff run [hopefully].

I want 2024 to be the season that establishes the Phillies as less of a fluke and more of a perennial great team. Hopefully they follow through with that.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

The New Unwinnables


Remember how for a good decade or so there was all this hubbub about the Mariners and Phillies not making the playoffs, and then they expanded the playoffs and they did and now the next nearest playoff drought is, like...the Reds, who're probably gonna be in this year anyhow?

Yeah. It's less exciting now, I guess. It's not like the NFL where even if they keep expanding the playoffs there'll still be teams who've never won an NFC Championship or haven't won a playoff game since Clinton was in office or whatever. The MLB playoff format has made it easier for a mediocre team to not only make the playoffs, but go all the way. At the same time, though, the new playoff environment has still left behind a lot of teams that could be off to a promising competitive career had the expansion not happened. 

The Toronto Blue Jays, who everybody got really excited for in 2019 when they brought up Vlad Jr. and Bo Bichette, have been to the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, and have yet to even win a playoff game. With everything they've built, and every great young player that's established themselves in Toronto, they have less playoff wins in that stretch than Minnesota, Seattle and Philadelphia. Ain't that something?

And you can point to several different factors when talking about this, because the Jays have only now reached a solid, winning manager in John Schneider, but until he gets them past the wild card round he's gonna just be that grey area type guy. He's better at it than Montoyo, it seems, but we won't know whether or not he's the answer until something happens. There's also the injury factor: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has struggled not only with injuries but the beginnings of bottoming out. Bo Bichette has missed time pretty regularly. George Springer has missed time every year pretty much. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Alek Manoah famously had maintenance issues for them in the past few years.

Yet one factor that has to be said about the modern incarnation of the Jays? Last year they had 4 guys start 31+ games with a sub-4 ERA. You know how rare that it nowadays? Most people get to, like, 20 and get hurt. All of Jose Berrios, Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt and Yusei Kikuchi had solid, consistent seasons of 150 or more innings last year, with each throwing over 180 strikeouts as well. Gausman famously had a Cy Young caliber campaign, and would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those meddling Yanks. All four of those guys are back this year, and though Gausman, for some reason, is having shoulder issues after pitching 32 games of the best material of his career, all of the rest of them look good this spring, especially Berrios.

Chris Bassitt, for the record, may be one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball right now, solely because he's consistent, makes all his starts and eats innings. The last two seasons he's won 15+ games, which, again, is rare in an era where most starters only go til the 5th. Last year he led the league in wins with 16, again, a sign of where we are in baseball history. I really hope he keeps it up, he's been a refreshingly strong presence in an era of overthrowing. 

The Jays do technically have enough to compete this year, with Bo looking to lead again, the core looking healthy and strong, and enough new pieces like IKF, Turner and possibly Votto to sweeten the deal. It's still a very tough division, and a very tough Wild Card picture, so it's not a done deal yet. But if this can be the team that not only makes the playoffs but gets to the next round, that'd be pretty cool.

10 years after they pissed me off, the Jays are a team I can root for again. How about that?

Friday, March 22, 2024

2024's Biggest Ifs


I associate Pablo Sandoval with strong spring showings. In 2017 I caught a few Spring Training games, caught the Sox a few times and Pablo Sandoval looked incredible in those games, nailing home runs and looking better than he has in years. I thought it'd be the sign of a strong season, and even if it wasn't, seeing him looking confident again was a great feeling. He really fell off after his early 2010s run with the Giants, but he was able to drum up some magic in spurts during the rest of his career.

Imagine my surprise when I start hearing about the comeback attempt Sandoval was putting together. It was inexplicable. I thought Panda's career wrapped up after the Braves traded him to Cleveland and Cleveland promptly released him [which is just a thing they do now apparently]. But evidently Sandoval was not done, and was doing his damnedest to make the team with his old club, San Francisco, despite years of inactivity. To Sandoval's credit he's lost a lot of weight, and his slimmer and more conditioned frame does make for a more powerful overall ballplayer. 

Now, whether or not he makes the team is another thing entirely, as the Giants have Matt Chapman at third base and a lot of younger infield options. But there's always a chance he makes the team in a DH role. It's one of many interesting stories that have continued to perplex me as Spring Training winds down.

Here, I'll try and pick one player from the other 29 teams [or as many that I can] that has a fascinating story, and could find his way to the bigs this year.

Angels: Miguel Sano, who was a home run machine for the Twins then completely fell apart due to injuries and striking out too much. He's in camp with the Angels, and it's not likely that he'll make the team, but with the changing infield gameplan the Angels have it can't quite be counted out.

A's: More of a shoo-in than anything, but J.D. Davis won his arbitration hearing with the Giants and was suddenly cut. This is an issue that owes itself to the continued disparity between the owners and players, and is a bubbling issue that could lead to an even more volatile strike in the future. Davis was lucky to find a job on the other end of the bay, and now seeks to make his old team jealous with a great season in a small market.

Blue Jays: Well if I don't say Joey Votto here I guess I'm a terrible person. Guy spent his whole offseason waiting for someone to let him play, his hometown team picks him up. I really hope he makes the squad, Joey Votto needs Blue Jays cards.

Braves: Up until last year, David Fletcher was an infield standout for the Angels, but a cross between injuries and general inefficiency left him off the Angels' new gameplay. He's a long shot for playing time in Atlanta, but considering the Braves spent the whole offseason trading away in-house backup infielders, he still has a shot.

Brewers: Joe Ross is one of the unluckiest pitchers in baseball. He's been on the cusp of great seasons and gotten injured for long periods of time. He was having an incredible year for Washington a few years back and immediately got hurt. Now somehow he's figuring well enough into the Brewers' depth chart to potentially make the rotation over DL Hall and Jakob Junis. I hope it goes well for him.

Diamondbacks: Elvis Andrus has been in the league since 2009, and has been a sturdy infielder for all this time. His numbers have fallen off in recent years with Oakland and Chicago, but he has an outside chance of making camp with the D-Backs, a team that he'd look extremely weird representing. 

Guardians: Gotta be Deyvison De Los Santos, a former Arizona farmhand claimed by Cleveland, who's been annihilating the ball this spring. It's unclear whether he'll crack the club initially, as Will Brennan might have the last spot, but it's likely he'll make the team at some point this year. And when he does, look out.

Marlins: Despite a rough go of things in Chicago last year, Trey Mancini is still hanging on, and is gunning for a corner spot out of camp. With Josh Bell having 1st, it's not clear how likely Mancini is to get it, but if this is the end for the fan-favorite, at least it happened in a club he looks strange on.

Mets: I had no idea Jose Iglesias was still kicking around, but he's one of many odd NRI guys in Mets camp, alongside Ji-Man Choi, Luke Voit, Ben Gamel and Yolmer Sanchez. I know the infield is open in Ronny Mauricio's absence, but who knows if it'll be open enough to allow for Iglesias.

Nationals: Eddie Rosario spent the past few years on the pennant-contending Braves, and now he's not even much of a favorite to make the last-place Nats. Kind of insane. He still could crack the roster just because they need veterans, but does he still have his best material?

Orioles: Ronald Guzman is trying to make the Orioles, but not as a corner infield a relief pitcher! Granted, Charlie Culberson's switch to pitching hasn't gone very well, but Guzman could very well factor into things for Baltimore, especially if the bullpen is as flea-bitten as it seems.

Phillies: Spencer Turnbull really has an outside chance of being our fifth starter this year. Wild. Hope he stays healthy.

Pirates: Domingo German, if only because him making an MLB roster and Trevor Bauer not making one would be the funniest thing ever. 

Rangers: It probably won't lead to anything, but Danny Duffy, who hasn't pitched since the Dodgers traded for him midway through 2021, is in camp with the Rangers. It'd be kinda cool if he finds his way back to the bigs, even if the roster's pretty crowded in Arlington right now.

Red Sox: I would absolutely love Liam Hendriks to make this team, solely because the postscript 'he was never the same after the cancer treatments' is 100% not how I wanna tell this guy's story going forward.

Royals: Austin Nola, after being cut by the Padres, needs to prove he can actually hit at the MLB level again, and I can't believe this is the bar for him. 

Twins: Randy Dobnak is still in camp with the Twins. I don't think the intention is to ever promote him again, they just like having him in the organization. And that's a good enough story in itself. I just love that he got to start a playoff game.

White Sox; Mike Moustakas might make the team solely because of the lack of backup infield options, however if the Sox wanna carry more pitchers solely because none of them are trusted, that'll be his job sorted.

We'll see how some of these turn out. There's a lot of cool stories I'd love to see play out this year. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Seoul Searching


Without much fanfare, and with a completely topsy-turvy late-morning broadcast, the 2024 MLB season began today. While I like these international series that lead off the year, and they've been doing them for like 15 years or so, it's always weird when they do an official start to the season that's weeks before the actual predetermined 'Opening Day'. Like you get to Opening Day and there's just regular season stats just sitting there, and the people on TV are ignoring them. 'How will the 2024 season kick off?', well you know how it kicked off, you were just there in Seoul. 

And so now, in the midst of Spring Training and with several storylines yet to completely elapse before the start of the season, the 2024 season is...starting, simultaneously. I mean I'm fine with it if it produces games like the one we just witnessed,'s like watching a movie on your phone as you're waiting for the trailers to end for another movie in the movie theater. 

Right, anyway. Seoul series. They picked 2 great teams to do the Seoul series this year. It's not like the Brazil game the NFL is trying to do where they were able to get one good team and then had to wrangle the Browns to do it cause Dallas couldn't be bothered. They got not only 2 great, competitive teams, but teams with ties to asian culture. The Dodgers obviously have the storyline of Shohei Ohtani joining the club and bringing fellow Team Japan standout Yoshinobu Yamamoto along with him, and the Padres not only have Yu Darvish and newcomer Yuki Matsui from Japan, but former KBO star Ha-Seong Kim in a prominent role.

It's fascinating the stage of 2020s Padres baseball this Seoul series has landed on, because this is a moment where, ironically, Ha-Seong Kim is one of the most valuable players on the Padres. In the last two seasons, regardless of the Padres' recent struggles, Kim has been solid throughout, with a combined 10.7 WAR in that period. For comparison's sake, Manny Machado has a 9.6 combined WAR in this period. Nobody on these Padres teams has been more impressive in a multiple-tool way than Ha-Seong Kim, and this is the guy the Padres brought on with the tone of 'ehh, don't know if we'll start him, he'll mostly back up Tatis, who knows'. And now he's the starting shortstop and nobody's touching him.

Then again, Kim being one of the stars of this team does indicate the direction the Padres have been going in the last year or so. Soto, Grisham, Hader, Snell and Sanchez are all gone. The free agents aren't exactly flocking to San Diego anymore because they don't have a deadline to win now anymore. Some of the starters in this game earlier today included Luis Campusano, former third string catcher, Tyler Wade, former backup infielder for the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Railriders, and genuine right-out-of-camp rookie Jackson Merrill, who proceeded to not get any hits. Both the hold and the loss went to former Yankees. Jurickson Profar's return is less of a 'return to greatness' move and more of a 'please come back so we can remind people of how good we were a year and a half ago' move. 

Even if Kim was hitless in Game 1, he will be relied upon this year more than ever, because there are less surefire standouts on this Padres team, and because he's been one of the only sources of consistency in the past two seasons. If Kim, still in the midst of his peak years, can't keep producing, it'll be a grim sign for this team. 

Still, these Seoul games are really exciting, and it's a nice way to whet the appetite for more games that count. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2024



The last time a team won the World Series two years in a row was 2000. The landscape was a lot different for the Yankees at that point: a smaller playoff pool, less relievers per roster, completely different free agency expectations, more modest conditioning for pitchers and more opportunity for roster carry-over. Since then, there have been dynasties, like the 2010s Giants, and there have been perennial great teams, like the Red Sox and Cardinals, but no team has won two in a row. In a year where the NFL is proclaiming a dynasty of its own, it seems like the MLB expectation is that whoever wins one year probably won't the following year.

And that is definitely on the minds of the Rangers during spring training camp this year. They did it, they won the franchise's first ever World Series title, and they did it with enough young players [Evan Carter, Josh Jung, Cody Bradford, the yet-to-arrive Wyatt Langford] that there still exists the possibility for more. Bruce Bochy is still in the manager's chair, the big pieces [Adolis Garcia, Corey Seager, Nate Eovaldi, Marcus Semien] have stuck around, there seems to be no worry for lessening returns or going back to bottom feeding. And yet...the division still isn't theirs. The Astros will perpetually be the favorites as long as the previous regime is somewhat intact, the Mariners can't be completely counted out, and the Rangers now have the pressure of not only repeating, but taking the division this time, on their shoulders.

That's why it's, at the very least, reassuring knowing going in that they'll be missing Max Scherzer, Nate Lowe and, most likely, Seager and Jung, for some time. The current infield schematic the Rangers have been going with has utilized Ezequiel Duran, who's hot enough to be a trusted starter, Jared Walsh, whose power bat seems to be returning, and Matt Duffy, who's been durable enough in several spring reps. It's not an A+ infield, even with Marcus Semien remaining intact, but it's trustworthy enough to go with for less than a month. The idea is that Seager could slide in at some point in April, and potentially Jung along the same timetable. 

The idea also exists for a Carter-Taveras-Garcia outfield, which is essentially what they went with in the playoffs last year. The other factor that must be kept in mind is Wyatt Langford. I'm not sure if he's making the majors out of camp, but the way he's hitting, and the playing time he's had, it's definitely a possibility. If they let Garcia DH a bit this year and give Langford a permanent OF position, that's definitely a winning strategy, but that only works if they're absolutely sure Langford's gonna hit the ground running. They got lucky with Evan Carter last year, and hopefully he legs it out longterm as well.

And then the rotation without Scherzer is just...Eovaldi-Heaney-Gray-Dunning-Bradford. Which isn't bad at all. Jon Gray especially has been excellent this spring, not letting any runs by so far. Eovaldi, Heaney and Bradford have also looked strong. So honestly there's enough there to not completely scare me til Scherzer eventually shows up. You also have non-roster guys like Jose Urena and Danny Duffy that could factor into things, and the potential for Jack Leiter to eventually make his way up. So I think they'll be alright for a while.

The Rangers, I think it's safe to say, will still be very good in 2024, and have enough contingency plans to stay afloat until some injured pieces return. Whether this will be enough to finally conquer the West...we'll have to see.

Monday, March 18, 2024

The 'So Close' Response

Two of the most inexplicably exciting stories heading into the 2023 postseason concerned the Miami Marlins and the Cincinnati Reds. The Marlins had just lost their marquee players and were starting over with a mixture of homegrown guys and contracts, including recently-traded-for Josh Bell and Jake Burger. The Reds were once the butt of the league and were slowly coming back, thanks to their incredible youth movement and players like Elly de la Cruz, Andrew Abbott and Christian Encarnacion-Strand. Both seemed like fun playoff spoilers in a field of potential juggernauts. In all actuality, the Reds petered off before the end of September and the Marlins were faced with a three game series against the unstoppable Phillies home crowd. 

So going into 2024, with the scales sort of refreshed and both clubs wiser, we get the rebuttal. 

The Marlins technically have the most to draw from, as they actually did make the playoffs, and finished with the same record as the eventual NL Champion Diamondbacks. They also suffered the most immediate loss, with not only key players like Jorge Soler, Dylan Floro, Joey Wendle and Garrett Hampson leaving in transactions, but Sandy Alcantara, the staff ace, looking to skip the season entirely. 

As a result, the Marlins' rotation is a bit shakier than it has any reason to be. The team seems to be set with Jesus Luzardo, Trevor Rogers and the newly-promoted A.J. Puk at the head of the rotation, but with Edward Cabrera and Eury Perez struggling with injuries, the back half seems murky at best. The idea is to go with organizational options like Ryan Weathers and Max Meyer, but those two especially have struggled at the MLB level recently. You also have to remember that Sixto Sanchez is actually healthy this year, and has been ramping up to return to the majors again, but the plan with him right now seems to use him as a bullpen piece, which...fine, be anticlimactic. The bottom line is that the Marlins' rotation is concerningly uneven, and with the team lacking the sufficient funds to go out and grab somebody like, at the very least, Michael Lorenzen, this is gonna be what they go with for a bit.

The good news is that the lineup itself could be enough to not completely bottom out in April. Josh Bell, Luis Arraez, Jazz Chisholm and Jesus Sanchez are looking at great years. Nick Gordon, Dane Myers and Jon Berti have looked hot out of camp. And the new additions like Tim Anderson, Christian Bethancourt and Vidal Brujan do point towards some intriguing developments this year. I'm not wholly convinced on them til something entirely clicks with this version of the team, but they could definitely do some damage.

On the other hand, the Reds seem to have solved their biggest problem from 2023: pitching. Last year their pitching options were so unreliable that they were dipping into the back shelves of their starting development. Everybody got hurt, the people they brought up to replace them got hurt, and that factor doomed them towards the stretch. So it's the opposite of the Marlins: they're going from injury disasters to durability. Which is a nice look for them.

The Reds' potential rotation seems to be Greene-Lodolo-Ashcraft-Montas-Abbott. There's still other names floating around the outsides, like Brandon Williamson and Nick Martinez, but those five seem to be the answers this year. And if all of them stay healthy? Damn. 

Granted, it seems to be a lot to ask for a lot of these guys, especially Montas, who appeared in New York so sparingly since the 2022 trade from Oakland that I don't think I ever really got used to him in pinstripes. If Montas somehow strings together a great campaign for the Reds...well good for him. Ashcraft is coming off an injury-plagued campaign, but he seems to have his stuff again; same with Lodolo, who's ramping back up. Greene and Abbott hopefully will provide some stability this year, and I really don't want to see them hit the IL with how hard they're throwing.

The best thing you can say about the Reds this year is that they've overprepared. They have multiple valid answers at most positions, and have a flexible lineup where they can succeed in multiple different ways. The key example concerns Matt McLain, who's not definite for Opening Day. If he's out for a bit, the Reds have Jonathan India and Elly de la Cruz at both his positions. You're still great there. It honestly surprised me, by the way, that the Reds re-signed India, as it seemed like the young infield was evolving without the need for him, but they've used India and Jeimer Candelario as ways to buttress the infield while filling things in over time with the kids. They're also phasing Spencer Steer into an outfield role if CES wants to play 1st, which could be the way. 

The other issue is T.J. Friedl, who could be out for a bit with a recently-surfaced injury. Alright, then the outfield's Will Benson-Jake Fraley-Steer. That's still pretty good. Maybe a little lacking in versatility but still very good. There are enough backups that are still A options that the Reds don't entirely worry me this year. They've prepared for so many outcomes, and have enough young guys to still look intimidating for a while after this year. Heck, even Noelvi Marte getting busted for PEDs didn't worry me, as that...takes out a 3rd base option, and he'd have been, like, 3rd in line anyhow.

The Reds are looking to make the leap, like the Orioles did last year, and I think they will in 2024. Hopefully they have better luck, and a stronger second half, this time around.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Keeping the Youth Tag


Last year, in the absence of veteran arms, the Cleveland Guardians developed an all-rookie rotation that somehow worked out better than the initial one did. Tanner Bibee, Gavin Williams, Logan Allen and Xzavion Curry, with occasional assistance from a healthy Shane Bieber or a visiting Lucas Giolito or Noah Syndergaard, held things down for the Tribe last year, and instilled confidence that once the veteran arms would leave, things would be alright. Though only Quantrill left in the offseason, despite a plot to deal Bieber occasionally surfacing, the Guardians' rotation options looked vast and mighty heading into the season.

So far there's only been one rotation setback, as Gavin Williams will be missing time this year, alongside some bullpen members who also got hurt. The silver lining of that is that before Williams was scratched, he was honestly looking really good, striking out 9 in 4.2 innings, and it looks to only be elbow soreness. Everybody else seems to be themselves, though Tanner Bibee's early starts have been worrying. All of Curry, Allen and Bieber have looked sharp so far. 

Most impressively, after a pair of injury-plagued seasons, Triston McKenzie's looking like his old self. So far he hasn't given up any runs, and is striking out batters like he did during his rookie year. Triston McKenzie I see as the Mike Clevinger type in this situation; he's not the youngest piece in this rotation anymore, but if he succeeds he could be the most crucial piece. He's the bridge between Bieber's vet status and Allen and Williams' greenness, and if he has a good season that's definitely something the team can build on. 

But McKenzie's strong starts do raise some questions, youth-based is this rotation going to be this year? Not only will Bieber and McKenzie be back, but Carlos Carrasco, in camp on a NRI contract, has an outside chance of making the team. It's not...a 100% guarantee, especially considering that it's a 7 man race for 5 spots at the moment, but there is a chance that Stephen Vogt goes with a veteran emphasis rather than leading with Logan Allen, Tanner Bibee and Xzavion Curry right off the bat. It's not exactly unheard of for Curry to start in the 'pen, do long-man work and eventually work his way up to starting. And while Allen [and Williams] has been excellent out of camp, you never know if that'll be the deciding factor for Vogt to start the year. There's also Ben Lively kicking around after his decent 2023 numbers with Cincinnati, and while he's a long shot for the rotation, like Carrasco he's not exactly out of the race. 

So now the Guardians have to figure out what tactic they want to go with, or with lining the kids up behind Bieber is still a winning tactic. I think they should be fine this year if they let the kids play, especially considering they'll be getting Williams back eventually, but there's more factors at play than you might think given last year's success.

Still, I expect Cleveland to do better this year, and possibly contend. I do expect the Twins and Tigers to be tough to manage down the stretch, and it's not exactly a certainty as it has been in the past. But hey, this is the exact kind of Guardians team that could overperform. 

Friday, March 15, 2024

0 Starting Options


Already there are five starting pitchers on this Yankees team who have, at one point or another, suffered from pitch-the-best-season-of-your-life-and-immediately-need-surgery-on-that-arm-itis. Two of them, Nestor Cortes and Carlos Rodon, are trying to recover from shaky 2023 campaigns. Both have been incredible in the past, and both used 2023 to recover from...well, doing so well in 2022. Rodon already has complained about not quite reaching his fastball this spring, and Cortes has responded similarly to early starts. But they seem to be doing better and hitting good numbers otherwise.

Then you have Marcus Stroman, who's a few years removed from the tactic of having an excellent season and then getting injured. Last year with Chicago he was strong, if imperfect in parts. Signing with the Yankees meant he was willing to bury the hatchet after criticizing the team in the past, and seeing that the last guy who made an enemy of the team before joining it went so well [enjoy retirement, Josh], it's understandable to be somewhat worried about Stroman's material. I watched an early spring start of his, he wasn't as sharp as I would have liked. He has been better in follow-up starts, and looks to factor favorably into the rotation going into the year. I think he might be our most reliable arm this year, though I'd love to be proven wrong.

And then you have Luis Gil, who made headlines by winning his first 5 starts, then proceeded to do nothing of note again and battled injuries in the minors the last 2 years. A clearer rotation, without Vazquez, Brito and King ahead of him, means Gil might actually have a shot at a roster spot this year, and he has admittedly looked good this spring, with 2 wins, 14 Ks and only 3 runs in 8 innings of Tampa play. Unfortunately the other guy he's facing for the last rotation spot, Clayton Beeter, has been having a better spring, with more starting opportunities and more overall dominance. Gil will likely get some starts in the majors this year, and with the rate of veteran injuries it's more of a foregone conclusion than anything, but he might not get the spot out of camp.

The Yanks looking to go with a Cortes-Rodon-Stroman-Schmidt-Beeter rotation to start the season points out two very interesting things. 1- the Snell deal is probably not gonna go our way. 2. For a Yankee rotation without Gerrit Cole, this could honestly be worse.

The thing we need to remember is that we're only supposed to be without Cole for a month or so. If these guys can get the job done for a month and a half, and with the number of veterans here that is definitely possible, there shouldn't be much bleeding. This isn't exactly the Sixers without Embiid, I trust Stroman, Nestor and Rodon to keep things together, even if Nestor's looked a bit scary at times this spring. Also, I'd be more scared about missing Cole if we didn't have a jacked lineup and an improved bullpen. We will probably fine.

It's not missed starts and April that scares me. Missed starts in September is gonna be what does this team in, and I am really hoping this rotation doesn't lead us to that point. 

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Re-Sale Value


It has become all too familiar to hear of a pitcher that wowed the league by throwing hard and striking everyone out that, after his peak, cannot for the life of him stay healthy. Just this season we've had Lucas Giolito potentially be out for the season with whatever screwed up his arm in the second half of 2023, Kodai Senga potentially missing a ton of time after pitching beautifully last year, and Carlos Rodon continuing to worry Yankee fans by not quite reaching his fastball velocity. Pitchers are blowing their arms out at an accelerated rate and everyone's acting like it's not a problem. It is. I don't think it's possible for a starting pitcher to have a 20 year career anymore because now it's more like a 15 year career with 4 of those years being injury-prone half seasons. 

And so here we are. Chris Sale has one year with the Braves to prove himself. At one point he was a surefire future Hall of Famer. Then in 2019 his arm got fatigued, he had a ton of arm surgeries and hasn't stayed healthy since. Does he have anything left?

I think about some of the other guys who've turned out like this. Corey Kluber famously struggled with injuries after his peak, and recently called it quits. Luis Severino had an excellent start but he's more careful than he's ever been now. James Paxton only showed up in Boston for a portion of his two year deal, but the stuff that appeared was excellent. And similarly, Sale's 2023 material was pretty solid, striking out 125 in 100 innings. But, ultimately, he got injured and was out in most of the second half. 

I find it very funny that Sale is using a Spring Training stint to prove he's got it, because that's exactly what he was up to last year. I saw him start a game last spring, he looked pretty damn good actually, could still strike people out. But we don't know at what point Sale's arm is gonna tell him to stop. He's actually looked even better this spring, proving that the Braves knew something in snatching him for some small pieces. 

People, at the time of the deal, called Sale a killswitch piece for the Braves, as he provided back rotation security behind Morton, Fried, Elder and Strider. But not only is Sale something of an injury liability, you have to think about Morton, who is 40, and Fried, who fought injuries through most of last season. And then you have to think about the next Chris Sale; Spencer Strider started 32 games last season, won 20 of them and struck out a league-leading 281. He will be 25 this season, and the hope is that he's able to replicate this without getting injured. But is this too much to ask, even for someone as talented as Strider? 

I mean, if nobody gets injured, this rotation could bring them to October. But that's a big if, especially in 2024-era MLB, where everyone has to throw hard. Hell, the Braves have already seen two organizational phenom pitchers, Michael Soroka and Ian Anderson, completely lose their footing due to throwing out their arms. And that's the plan they seem to be going with for this year, just have everybody keep throwing really hard and hope it works. There needs to be some sort of whistleblowing thing that proves to clubs that this isn't a sustainable practice, though I doubt that'd even happen.

For now, we just have to hope that Chris Sale can have a solid comeback season without getting injured yet again. Though if the uniforms stay this troublesome, maybe he'll want to miss time...

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Prolonging the Inevitable


The theme of this MLB offseason was clearly money. How to spend it, when to spend it, how to flex how much of it you have. The most intriguing developments of the offseason involved either the Dodgers spending hundreds of millions on Ohtani and Yamamoto and deferring contract payment, or the Orioles being bought by someone willing to spend money and secure players, or the Brewers signing Jackson Chourio to an extension before he even plays a game in Milwaukee. A year after the biggest development of the offseason was...well, the owners refusing to move an inch on concessions to the players' union, it's definitely a change of pace that some of the most talented players in the game are getting their money's worth, and then some [at the expense of the quality of uniforms, perhaps, but still..]

And yet here we are, less than a month before the season is to begin, and three of the biggest free agents on the table still haven't signed. Coincidentally, they're all represented by the same agent, the ever-slick and ever-infuriating Scott Boras, who has spent the offseason pumping Blake Snell, Matt Chapman, Cody Bellinger and J.D. Martinez up to believe they deserve hundreds of millions and long term deals, all while the teams they are negotiating with aren't at all willing to fork over that kind of money for these kinds of players. The stalemates are even more infuriating when you consider that one of these players, Snell, just won a Cy Young and is considered one of the most valuable pitchers in the game, and another, Bellinger, is coming off an excellent comeback season and deserves a higher payday. 

Like the strike, there can be criticisms of both sides. You know, 'how dare the owners be conservative and not want to win', of course people will say something like that. But Boras is, at the end of the day, a salesman, and there's this belief that his years of overselling and overpoaching has infuriated the owners, and they've all become more stubborn, and more deliberate, in dealing with him specifically. Some of this has nothing to do with the players; as we found out last night, the Giants were going to sign Matt Chapman regardless of how long it'd take. It was just the price that Boras and Chapman were asking for wasn't at all what the Giants were planning on, especially considering that they'd just taken on Jung Ho Lee AND Jorge Soler. The same thing happened with Cody Bellinger; everybody knew that Bellinger would re-sign with the Cubs, and the fact that it took three extra months for the two parties to agree on a dollar amount is kind of sad. Yes, they got a deal together, even if it was less than Bellinger arguably deserves, but now Bellinger is in camp and catching up to be ready by Opening Day.

And that's the main problem I have with Boras' holdouts. Yes, you can condition all you want in your own training facilities and do whatever conditioning and individual prep you want but there is a direct correlation between arriving late to Spring Training and underwhelming regular season statistics. I think of the two holdouts of the 2019 season- Josh Donaldson eventually caved and signed with Atlanta, and his numbers, while fine, were the beginning of a career downturn for the former MVP. Craig Kimbrel waited until the season had already begun to sign with Chicago, and by that point he was looking at a truncated season anyway, the quality of which was, understandably, shaky. Even last year Carlos Correa was a later addition to the Twins' roster, and while he had some cool moments, you could tell he was still a bit thrown off for a lot of the year. 

That is what worries me about all four of these guys. Their offseason limbo has spread to spring training, and the clock is ticking on how much actual prep time they're gonna get before somebody hands them the ball. Blake Snell clearly wants to pitch in the Bronx, and there's clearly space for him in the rotation, but he's gonna have to accept a smaller, shorter deal if he wants to cut to the chase and sign where everyone is expecting him to sign [I suppose he could sign with the Angels as well but I have no idea why he'd want to do that]. J.D. Martinez is either gonna sign with the Mets or the Tigers I think, and I don't think he's willing to accept that it's wiser to go with a 2 year, inexpensive deal, seeing as he's turning 37 this year and exiting his prime period. I assume there's at least one more week of stubbornness that all parties will allow Boras before this becomes a problem, though the recent signings of Bellinger and Chapman do point to something happening very soon with both players.

There's always going to be something inherently wrong with the structure of baseball. Scott Boras is thankfully a 'something wrong' that can be helped, I think. It's just gonna take players realizing that he's not the answer. 

As for Yamamoto and Ohtani in LA? I really hope both of them pan out the way the Dodgers want them to. I look at last season, and how there was an entire pitching rotation that cratered because none of them stayed healthy, and I worry it could happen again, especially considering that Yoshinobu Yamamoto is a Japanese pitcher acclimating to US hitters. I know it's easy to root against the Dodgers, but I kinda want this to work solely because a team with Ohtani, Freeman and Betts would be cool if it won everything. Not sure if it will, but it'd be cool.