This time of year in baseball it’s all about the Hot Stove, which may not be as hot this winter, but there will be movement. In reading reports’ tweets and stories as clubs maneuver for roster and payroll flexibility there are nuggets everywhere.

Here’s what I’ve seen so far since the end of the World Series that rang up some intrigue, though most of it came with any level of surprise.

The Pittsburgh Pirates declined their option on right-hander Chris Archer, which would have paid out $11 million. The 32-year-old had surgery in June to repair neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). As a result, he missed all of 2020 but is expected to be ready for 2021.

Archer made 23 starts for Pittsburgh in 2019, covering just under 120 innings and posting a FIP over five and a career high home run rate. He peaked in 2015 and 2017 posting fWARs of 5.1 and 4.5 with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Archer represents a potential reclamation project for a club in search of relatively inexpensive help on the mound. The Seattle Mariners may be in a position to discuss such a player, but Archer may represent one of those starter converts we’ve discussed on Baseball Things recently.

Archer is likely to get offers to start, but if he doesn’t get starter money — and guaranteed money at that — he may be willing to start thinking about a career coming out of the bullpen. His stuff plays anywhere, including a 93-96 mph fastball and a plus slider. His changeup, however, has been below-average most of his career, putting a lot of pressure on his ability to locate and vary the breaking ball.

In relief, the questionable durability — he’s made 50 starts since the end of the 2017 season — goes away, his two-pitch arsenal plays up and the lack of a consistent, quality changeup becomes pretty much irrelevant.

Archer the closer? Just a thought.


The Minnesota Twins will not spend big dollars. They went to a prorated $158.2 million in 2020 and two seasons hovering around the $140 million range. The 2021 club needs a bat or two, plus some additional pitching to complement Jose Berrios and likely replace Jake Odorizzi in the rotation. They’d like to bring back 123-year-old wonder Nelson Cruz. But in order to do all that they may need to say goodbye to more than free agents. One of those possibilities? Eddie Rosario, per Lavelle E. Neal III.

Rosario, 29, had a solid 2020, batting .257/.316/.476 with 13 home runs, resulting in a 110 wRC+. The left-handed batting outfielder is a former infielder due a raise via arbitration. He made a prorated $7.75 million this past season and would be due around $10 million for next season. So the Twins are almost certain to move on from Rosario.

Rosario isn’t likely a fit for Seattle, but any club looking for an outfield bat that doesn’t want to splurge for George Springer might wait for the Twins to make this move. But the move could vary from non-tender to trade, and in the current climate it appears the non-tender route is the most likely path.


The New York Mets have a new owner, Steve Cohen, and are expected to make a change at GM, a role in which former agent Brodie Van Wagenen has flailed the past two years. What’s apparent just about everywhere else is not in Queens; the Mets aren’t looking to go cheap. Right-hander Marcus Stroman, who opted out of the 2020 season, will receive a qualifying offer from the club, tweets Anthony DiComo.

Of course, this report comes while Van Wagenen remains atop the baseball operations totem and Cohen has yet to officially take over, but Cohen has all but given indications he’s going to spend. After all, he is the game’s richest owner and didn’t take ay revenue hits from the pandemic-laden season that just ended.

Stroman isn’t likely to accept the QO, but the fact the Mets are willing to dangle it in what is certain to be the dumbest winter ever in terms of free agency says a lot. Which prompts thoughts about how good the Mets could be in 2021, and how aggressive the new GM might be in reshaping that roster.

It’s already a good roster led by Jacob deGrom, Michael Conforto, Dominic Smith, Brandon Nimmo, Pete Alonso and Robinson Cano, but it’s imbalanced and has been running with a lot of what-ifs scenarios when it comes to injury-prone players.

What might a re-shaping of that club look like? If you’re thinking your favorite team might be able to rob the new GM the way Jerry Dipoto did Van Wagenen 24 months ago, don’t count on it. But some good players might become available, and if I’m betting, the Mets turn their sights toward adding more reliable starting pitching depth — including another frontline arm and at least two more relievers.

They could spend money and get a lot of that done with, say, Trevor Bauer, Liam Hendriks and Blake Treinen. But if Bauer signs elsewhere, there are some position players the Mets may want to use as trade bait in order to better align their roster.

For example, Dominic Smith is playing out of position in the outfield and whoever takes over the personnel reins may prefer not to have a regular DH so the spot can be used more efficiently.  Might this mean Alonso is dangled? Maybe Smith himself is trade bait.

More likely, a J.D. Davis or Jeff McNeil is available for pitching, and/or the logjam at shortstop is used to acquired a controllable arm.

Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez each can play the position, though Rosario has the better defensive projection. Neither may last long at short with the imminent arrival of prospect Ronny Mauricio, but one of the two incumbents could slide to second and take over for Cano in a year or two. Cano’s contract runs through 2023, but he could serve as DH if the middle infielders force the club’s hand.

The most likely scenario for the Mets right now has expected-president Sandy Alderson hiring a baseball-first GM and fills the front office with varied skills and experiences on all sides of the evaluation equation. This strongly suggests an experienced GM or an executive with a unique blend of scouting, market evaluation, and how analytics fit best into the picture. Tampa Bay Rays special assistant Bobby Heck fits this description better than anyone mentioned in various reports.

If you’re unfamiliar, Heck drafted Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr., George Springer, Dallas Keuchel, Kike Hernandez, J.D. Martinez, Jason Castro, Jordan Lyles, Delino DeShields, Jr., Adrian Houser, Mike Foltynewicz, and Brett Phillips over a five-year span, laying the foundation for the recent run by the Houston Astros which included a World Series title and two appearances. Heck has spent the last six seasons with the Rays, gaining first-hand knowledge how that fascinating front office wins games with the most efficient roster approach in the game.

The Mets are one good offseason from being as dangerous as any club in baseball and I expect significant player movement, in name or quantity, once the new GM is named.


Speaking of the Rays, they’ve been busy since falling in Game 6 of the World Series, declining the options on right-hander Charlie Morton and catcher Mike Zunino. The 37-year-old Morton is likely to retire or return to Tampa, and it’s plausible the Rays look to bring back Zunino at a lower price than his $4.5 million option, but for the first time in years the Seattle Mariners have no need for a veteran major-league catcher.

With the trade acquisition of Luis Torrens and the expected return of Tom Murphy, Seattle has no need for a veteran due guaranteed dollars of any kind. They could, however, use another tweener to serve with Joseph Odom as a backup plan should injuries occur. Last year, Joe Hudson, who was recently outrighted and hit free agency, served in this role. Hudson could be brought back, but there are numerous veterans that could fit the mold, too.

More Notes

Catchers John Ryan Murphy and Luke Maile, recently outrighted by the Pirates, could be among the backstops Seattle looks into this winter to bolster their depth for spring training and perhaps Triple-A…

Another low-risk option on the mound is Jimmy Nelson, who has yet to pitch well since having Tommy John surgery in 2018. Nelson struggled in 2019, walking 16.4% of the batters he faced in 22 innings, and didn’t see the big leagues this past season thanks to the depth on the Dodgers roster and a back issue…

He’s 31 and last season showed a dip in velocity from 94 in 2017 to 92, but in March was touching 95 in bullpen sessions. Back in 2017 Nelson was the Brewers’ ace, posting a 3.05 FIP and 4.8 fWAR in 29 starts. The right-hander could be an interesting relief option or rotation project for a club that has the room, and Seattle has the room.

The Los Angeles Angels don’t have a GM and free agency is wide open. The Philadelphia Phillies don’t have a GM, either, but I’m picking on the Angels because of who the favorites for that job are.

From what I’ve been told, the favorites are Michael Hill and Dan Jennings in tandem, who represent an upgrade to Billy Eppler is allowed to run the baseball operations autonomously, but as I said to a friend in the industry over the weekend, I could serve as an upgrade to Eppler simply by emphasizing pitching this winter, rather than continuing to insist the lineup needs work…

Foltynewicz should interest the Mariners in some capacity this winter. He’s 29, made just one appearance in 2020 due to what can only be categorized as ineffectiveness. No injury was reported, but the right-hander’s velocity was down three and half ticks — 95 to 91.5 — and he never saw the majors again.  In his 3.1 innings, Folty walked four and served up three homers.

Prior to 2020, Foltynewicz had a plus fastball and posted 3.8 fWAR in 2019 before fading in 2019. This might be another potential convert option…

Free agent Hector Neris is another potential target for the Mariners in their attempt to stabilize the bullpen. The Phillies declined their $7 million option on Neris, who posted a 2.50 FIP and 26% strikeout rate in 24 games this past season. He also walked 12.6% of the batters he faced and has a career swinging strike rate of 16.6%, among the highest in baseball. Philadelphia holds the righty for another year via arbitration, but there’s a chance he’s traded or non-tendered, since his arb number is likely to get to $6 million or beyond after he made a prorated $4.6 million in 2020. If he’s non-tendered and hits the market, Seattle could have legitimate interest in making him their closer for 2021…

No team should give J.T. Realmuto anywhere near $200 million. That’s it, that’s the note.…

So, the 2020 MLB season has come to an end. The expanded playoffs are about to start. In a month we’ll learn the results of the official voting, but let’s talk about MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year.

But first, a couple of notes about the way I look these awards.

The MVP, for me, is the best player in the league that year. If, after studying the players’ performances, it’s really close between two or more, his place and value to his team’s winning, or lack thereof, can be a deciding factor, but isn’t part of it until and unless.

Not unlike MVP, the Cy Young is more of a Pitcher of the Year for me, and has nothing to do with value to a winning team unless the race is so close I can use that as a tiebreaker.

It’s not that when these players perform and how much it means in general aren’t part of my process, but looking at team win-loss to quantify it is shallow and close to meaningless.

Rookie of the Year is no different than MVP or Cy Young, but I tend to add a little extra credit if the player is especially young and inexperienced. That, however, isn’t the case in 2020 in either league.

And for the record, I don’t do Manager of the Year. It’s a ridiculous award that shouldn’t be voted on by media. How can a reporter possibly have enough info to vote on such an award? Too many of the things one would need to know are intentionally kept secret, and even if one had all the info it would be impossible to quantify it in comparison to the rest of the league’s skippers and their own secret info.

Anyway, here are my picks for both leagues.

National League MVP: Freddie Freeman, 1B — Atlanta Braves

Freeman is a solid defensive first baseman, but a first baseman nonetheless, meaning to be the MVP he’d have to produce special offensive numbers.

He did just that in 2020.

Freeman finished No. 2 in all of baseball in on-base percentage (.465), slugging percentage (.648), and wRC+ (190), finishing behind Juan Soto in all three categories.

Freeman batted .343, No. 3 in MLB and No. 2 in the NL, again behind Soto, and finished No. 1 in runs scored and No. 3 in RBI — No. 2 in the NL behind teammate Marcell Ozuna.

Freeman, who posted a 225 wRC+ in high-leverage situations, played all 60 games and led all of baseball with a 3.4 fWAR.

So why not Soto?

The phenom played in 13 fewer games, which is 21.6% of the season — than did Freeman and wasn’t as valuable with the glove. Had he played a full slate, Soto might very well be the pick here, despite the Washington Nationals sleeping until noon this season.

2. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS — San Diego
3. Mookie Betts, RF — Los Angeles
4. Manny Machado, 3B — San Diego
5. Yu Darvish, RHP — Chicago Cubs


American League MVP: Jose Ramirez, 3B — Cleveland Indians

Ramirez won this award in September by batting .354/.440/.823 with 10 home runs and a 229 wRC+. He was helped by the struggles of others, but his underrated all-around game and red-hot final month was overwhelming in the end.

Ramirez batted .287/.380/.597 for the season, posting 10 stolen bases and another great year on the bases, not to mention the above-average defense at third base.

Ramirez’s 158 wRC+ was No. 5 in the AL and he led the circuit with 3.2 fWAR.

2. Shane Bieber, RHP — Cleveland Indians
3. Jose Abreu, 1B — Chicago White Sox
4. Mike Trout, CF — Los Angeles Angels
5. DJ Lemahieu, 2B — New York Yankees


National League Cy Young:  Jacob deGrom, RHP — New York Mets

Darvish got the nod as the top pitcher in my MVP rankings but deGrom edges the Cubs’ ace and Reds right-hander Trevor Bauer because, well, he had a better year.

The Mets star led the NL in xFIP (2.46) and K/9 (13.76), and was second in FIP (2.26 to Darvish’s 2.23). DeGrom struck out 10 or more in five of 12 starts, and beat Atlanta twice, the Rays once, and Philadelphia twice. All three opponents ranked in the Top 10 in wRC+.

Darvish faced just one of the Top 15 offenses in baseball (White Sox twice). Bauer, who  won the Nl ERA title, finished No. 5 in both FIP (2.88) and xFIP (3.26), and while he’d use the total number of playoff teams he faced to boost his candidacy, let’s top off the argument against Bauer with a closer look at how he put up the great numbers.

Bauer faced Detroit twice — No. 24 offense in MLB — Pittsburgh twice (No. 29), Milwaukee (No. 25) three times, and both Kansas City (No. 20)  and Chicago-NL (No. 21) once.  Bauer faced one team with a top-19 lineup, the 6th-ranked White Sox.

2. Yu Darvish, RHP — Chicago Cubs
3. Trevor Bauer, RHP – Cincinnati Reds
4. Corbin Burnes, RHP — Milwaukee Brewers
5. Dinelson Lamet, RHP — San Diego Padres


American League Cy Young: Shane Bieber, RHP — Cleveland Indians

Bieber had this wrapped up before September. The ace led all starting pitchers in K/9 (14.2), fWAR (3.2), ERA (1.63), FIP (2.07), xFIP (2.07), K% (41.1), SIERA (2.52), and he did it against the White Sox (No. 6) twice,  and the No. 16 Minnesota Twins three times.

He fanned 10 or more eight times in 12 starts and allowed more than two runs in a game just three times.

2. Kenta Maeda, RHP — Minnesota Twins
3. Lucas Giolito, RHP — Chicago White Sox
4. Zack Greinke, RHP — Houston Astros
5. Framber Valdez, LHP — Houston Astros


National League Rookie of the Year: Jake Cronenworth, 2B — San Diego Padres

There’s a lot of beat-reporter chatter about Brewers reliever Devin Williams, but Cronenworth was the best NL rookie in 2020, despite a late fade at the plate.

His .285/.354/.477 triple-slash says a lot, but he was also versatile defensively, playing 47 adequate innings at shortstop as well as 78 very good innings at first base and the bulk of his time as an above-average second base glove.

He hit just four home runs, but tripled three times and logged 15 doubles in 54 games.

2. Tony Gonsolin, RHP — Los Angeles Dodgers
3. Devin Williams, RHP — Milwaukee Brewers
4. Ian Anderson, RHP — Atlanta Braves
5. Sixto Sanchez, RHP — Miami Marlins


American League Rookie of the Year: Kyle Lewis, CF — Seattle Mariners

Lewis struggled in September, but finished the year a .262/.364/.437 with 11 home runs and a rookie-best 1.7 fWAR. He played a more-than-adequate center field and is an above-average baserunner.

Furthermore, Lewis served as an anchor in the Mariners lineup with as little ‘protection’ as any ROY contender in either league.

2. Luis Robert, CF — Chicago White Sox
3. Willi Castro, SS — Detroit Tigers
4. Sean Murphy, C — Oakland Athletics
5. Justus Sheffield, LHP — Seattle Mariners


2020 All-MLB Team

 

POSITION PLAYER TEAM STATS
1B Freddie Freeman Atlanta Braves 187 wRC+, 3.3 fWAR
2B DJ LeMahieu New York Yankees 177 wRC+, 2.7 fWAR
3B Jose Ramirez Cleveland Indians 163 wRC+, 3.4 fWAR
SS Fernando Tatis Jr. San Diego Padres 149 wRC+, 3.0 fWAR
 C J.T. Realmuto Philadelphia Phillies 125 WRC+, 1.5 fWAR
OF Mookie Betts Los Angeles Dodgers 149 wRC+, 2.9 fWAR
OF Mike Trout Los Angeles Angels 164 wRC+, 2.6 fWAR
OF Juan Soto Washington Nationals 200 wRC+, 2.4 fWAR
DH Marcell Ozuna Atlanta Braves 179 wRC+, 2.5 fWAR
SP Shane Bieber Cleveland Indians 2.04 xFIP, 3.2 fWAR
SP Jacob deGrom New York Mets 2.46 xFIP, 2.6 fWAR
SP Yu Darvish Chicago Cubs 2.82 xFIP, 3.0 fWAR
SP Trevor Bauer Cincinnati Reds 3.26 xFIP, 2.5 fWAR
SP Dinelson Lamet San Diego Padres 3.30 xFIP, 2.4 fWAR
RP Devin Williams Milwaukee Brewers 1.09 xFIP, 1.4 fWAR
RP Liam Hendriks Oakland Athletics 207 xFIP, 1.4 fWAR

Deciding postseason berths after just 60 games feels so wrong. It’s akin to deciding medal winners 10 miles into an Olympic Marathon. Then again, we all know why MLB shortened the regular season to about 35-percent of its normal length. There are far more important things than baseball going on in our world.

Since we were limited to a small sample size of baseball, I wanted to find a way to contrast what we saw in 2020 to last year. I decided to use a straightforward approach – compare team’s 2019 records through 60 games to this season’s final standings.

Will this exercise prove anything? Not really, but we may be able to add a smidge of perspective to the weirdest MLB season ever.

To simplify the process, I segregated the 30 clubs into three basic categories: improved; relatively the same; fell on their sword.

Movin’ On Up

Leading the way in our first section are four teams heading to the playoffs after being a rebuild project just a year ago. Perhaps the success of these organizations will be a source of encouragement for Mariners fans anxiously awaiting Seattle’s long overdue return to the MLB postseason.

Much of the success enjoyed by the Blue Jays, Padres, Marlins, and White Sox is attributable to emerging young stars, who were either homegrown or acquired via trade. Despite a return to the postseason, all four clubs will require upgrades in the offseason to continue their ascent. Still, how satisfying must it be for fans of these teams to see positive results?

It’s worth noting Toronto didn’t languish in mediocrity as long as the other cities did. The Blue Jays played in consecutive ALCS in 2015-16, although the team went into a tailspin afterwards. That said; the others waited over a decade prior to returning to the postseason in 2020.

The White Sox last made a playoff appearance in the 2008 ALDS against the subsequent AL Champion Rays. Similarly, the Padres last saw postseason action in the 2006 NLDS in a losing effort to the eventual World Series champion Cardinals. Then, there’s Miami.

The Marlins last played meaningful October baseball in 2003 when they beat the Yankees in the World Series. Before reaching the Fall Classic, the Fish had to get past the Cubs in an NLCS best remembered for the infamous “Steve Bartman incident” at Wrigley Field. Ironically, the two teams square off against each other in the Windy City this week.

Although the Orioles and Royals were once again bottom-feeders, each team showed signs of improvement over their atrocious 19-41 records in 2019. That’s good, right?

Same Ole Story

Next up, our largest subset. Teams posting similar records in 2019 and 2020. Doing so was a good thing for some clubs – not so much for others.

The Dodgers remain the model of consistency after winning an eighth consecutive NL West division title. Whether you love or hate them, there’s no denying the Yankees epitomize sustained superior performance. The last time the Bronx Bombers posted a losing record was 1992 – George H.W. Bush was in the White House.

The remaining 2019 postseason clubs made the cut again with the exception of the Nationals. As most of you know, Washington scuffled out of the gate last year before going on to win the World Series. At one point, manager Dave Martinez seemed destined to lose his job before his club rebounded.

The Cubs were the lone club with an identical record in both years. Ironically, Chicago didn’t get into the playoffs last year. Yet, the North Siders are the 2020 NL Central division champions. Staying in the division, the Reds were comparable to their 2019 record. That said; Cincinnati looked like a team that would’ve flourished over a full regular season – their pitching was that good.

Two teams entered the season with playoff aspirations but fell on their faces – the Mets and Angels. Last year, the Amazin’s started slowly, but were 46-26 after the All-Star break and remained relevant into September. Conversely, the Halos were mediocre early and only worsened as the season progressed – much like 2020.

Three rebuilding clubs – the Giants, Tigers, and Mariners – took noticeably different approaches in 2020 despite posting similar records to last year. San Francisco’s roster remained laden with veterans this year, which kept them in the hunt for a postseason berth until the final day. Realistically, this team probably wins 75 games and finishes well out of contention in a full 162-game season.

The Tigers took an aggressive approach with their roster opting to debut several of their top prospects during the truncated season without regard to the impact doing so would have on player service time. Conversely, the Mariners were conservative choosing to delay the MLB debuts of their best and brightest youngsters at least until 2021. Time will tell which team had the better strategy – my money is on Seattle.

Fallin’ Down

Our last group is a collection of rebuilding organizations and several that should seriously consider initiating a roster makeover.

The once mighty Astros were mediocre at best this year. The only reason they’re playing in October for a fourth consecutive year is the expanded eight-team postseason field in effect for 2020. Another key factor favoring Houston – playing in the awful AL West division. With a normal 162-game slate, the ‘Stros would’ve been fortunate to finish with a .500 record.

Another team benefiting from the larger playoff field is Milwaukee. Sure, it’s possible the Brewers would’ve rebounded over a full season. On the other hand, they didn’t look like a sustainable contender this year.

While the Pirates and Red Sox committed to rebuilding, the remaining organizations outwardly appeared intent on competing this year – they all fizzled.

It’s plausible we’ll see several of these teams make changes at the general manager and field manager positions – perhaps both. Unlike Martinez with the Nationals last year, these folks will be losing their respective jobs based on their record after 60 games. Seems a bit harsh.

Then again, it’s 2020 – what else would you expect?

My Oh My……

The MLB playoff brackets are finally set. So, I decided to have fun by compiling power rankings for the 16 teams with a shot at winning the World Series. These aren’t predictions – just assessments of how I view these clubs heading into the oddest postseason of all time.

Realistically, it’s conceivable a Cinderella gets hot and goes deep into October or even wins the Fall Classic. This is particularly true for a playoff tourney with teams playing 3-game series in the first round – we’re bound to see a few upsets along the way.

First up, the prohibitive favorite to win it all.


1. Los Angeles Dodgers

The winner of eight straight NL West titles finished the regular season with the best record in MLB thanks to being top-3 in both run production and run prevention. Heading into October, the Dodgers’ talented and deep pitching staff should be a difference-maker during early postseason rounds with no off-days. Perhaps this year is the first time since 1988 the World Series trophy returns to Los Angeles. The roster certainly favors such an outcome.


2. Tampa Bay Rays

The organization with one of the lowest payrolls is primed to be a disruptive force. The Rays aren’t great at any one thing, but the team is top-10 in hitting, pitching, and defense. That’s a good blend heading into postseason, especially with an innovative tactician like Kevin Cash at the helm. To a degree, Cash and his crews are already battle-tested after going 21-9 against teams with winning records this season.


3. Minnesota Twins

Run production fell off after the Twins set the MLB record for most home runs last season, although ageless Nelson Cruz continued destroying baseballs as did Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, and Miguel Sano. Offsetting the downturn in offense, a solid starting staff led by probable Cy Young finalist Kenta Maeda and a deep bullpen relying on Taylor Rogers, Matt Wisler, Tyler Clippard, Tyler Duffey, Trevor May, and Sergio Romo. Minnesota certainly has a strong chance of representing the AL in the World Series.


4. Cleveland Indians

If pitching is truly key to going deep into the postseason, Cleveland is also be a strong contender for the AL pennant. The offense ranked in the bottom-third of MLB, but the team has one of the best and deepest rotations in baseball headlined by AL Cy Young front runner Shane Bieber. Again, starting staffs with length should be vital during compressed playoff series – the Tribe certainly has that box checked.


5. San Diego Padres

Recent injuries to starters Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet are concerning, especially if one or both pitchers aren’t available for the playoffs. Then again, San Diego’s super-charged offense and strong relief pitching could help keep the club competitive. Will that be enough to propel the Friars back to the Fall Classic for the first time since 1998? Tough to envision it without an effective Clevinger and/or Lamet rejoining the team.


6. Oakland Athletics

The A’s are tough to gauge. They were dominant within the dreadful AL West, but a pedestrian 10-10 against the more competitive NL West. Oakland’s offense and starting rotation were average, but the bullpen stood out as one of baseball’s best. An added edge for the team – veteran skipper Bob Melvin making the most of his roster. Assuming Melvin’s squad generates enough run production to the get the ball to the bullpen with a lead, the AL West division champions are championship material.


7. Chicago Cubs

The Cubs pack a powerful one-two punch with Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks atop the rotation. Joining in on the fun with strong Septembers were veteran Jon Lester and Alec Mills, who tossed a no-hitter. Even a bullpen that struggled early has been reliable during the stretch run. Still, the lineup is below average in every significant offensive category, including the most important of all – runs scored.


8. New York Yankees

The offense is potent thanks to the bats of DJ LeMahieu, Luke Voit, Clint Frazier, Gio Urshela, Aaron Hicks, Gleyber Torres and 36-year-old Brett Gardner. Plus, Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, and J.A. Happ form a very respectable top-of-the-rotation. Nevertheless, the Yankees’ once-formidable bullpen has been less-than-ordinary lately. A troubling development for an organization that believes there is only one acceptable outcome for any season – a World Series win.


9. Cincinnati Reds

The Reds barely made the tournament, but they’re the type of opponent high seeds probably prefer avoiding. Why?  A dynamic rotation with a top-three of NL Cy Young front-runner Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, and Sonny Gray. Shoring up the rear – a versatile bullpen with closer Raisel Iglesias, Archie Bradley, Lucas Sims, Amir Garrett, Tejay Antone, and Michael Lorenzen. The issue most likely to slow Cincinnati’s roll in October – an underachieving offense averaging just 4.05 runs/game.


10. Atlanta Braves

The Braves led the majors in runs scored with Freddie Freeman having an MVP-worthy season, but the team’s success moving forward hinges on an injury-decimated rotation. Max Fried is a Cy Young candidate and rookie Ian Anderson has been superb. After that, it gets squishy. Atlanta does have a solid bullpen headed by veteran closer Mark Melancon, although it may not be enough to drive deep into the postseason.


11. Chicago White Sox

The White Sox were top-5 in offense and run prevention with a fun roster featuring both youth and experience. The rotation was solid with Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, and Dylan Cease, while the bullpen led by closer Alex Colome was a strength. The most fascinating Chicago reliever – 2020 first round pick Garrett Crochet, who typically tops 100-MPH on the radar gun. One concern – the Sox finished the season 2-8, which includes a 4-game sweep by Cleveland.


12. Toronto Blue Jays

Deadline pickup Taijuan Walker performed well along with staff ace Hyun Jin Ryu, but the rest of the Blue Jays’ rotation struggled in September. Moreover, the bullpen wasn’t particular good down the stretch. This doesn’t bode well for a club that backed into a postseason berth that wouldn’t normally be available.


13. St. Louis Cardinals

A COVID-19 outbreak wreaked havoc on the Cardinals’ schedule, but the team powered through to reach the postseason. St. Louis defenders were among the best in MLB with the most defensive runs saved (DRS). But the offense ranked in the bottom-third of MLB and the pitching staff doesn’t rate much better. That’s not going to work in a frenetic postseason tourney.


14. Miami Marlins

The surprising Marlins overcame an even more disastrous COVID outbreak than the Redbirds to earn a playoff berth for the first time since they won the 2003 World Series. The Fish don’t appear to be built for a deep postseason run, but their stable of young rotation arms that includes Sixto Sanchez, Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez could make them a difficult early round opponent. The future is bright in Miami.


15. Houston Astros

Oh, how far the defending AL champions have fallen. Houston limps into the postseason thanks to a second place finish in the underwhelming AL West. Give manager Dusty Baker credit for keeping the club moving forward, but the end is looming for a once-formidable franchise.


16. Milwaukee Brewers

Pitching has been a strength with Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes at the top of the rotation and Josh Hader, Brent Suter, and rookie Devin Williams the marquee arms in a power bullpen. Unfortunately, Burnes just went down with an oblique strain and likely misses the postseason. Adding to the Brewers’ woes – well below-average run production. This eleventh hour qualifier appears destined for an early exit.


Looking Ahead

In a few weeks, my power rankings will probably look awful with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Then again, who cares?

We were lucky to have an MLB season to watch or debate about. I’m okay with being roasted for my rankings.

Bring on the postseason.

 …

The Seattle Mariners had two separate leads on Justin Verlander in Friday night’s opener; 1-0 and 2-1, and both came on the strength of the home run ball. Kyle Lewis hit a 1-0 fastball (95 mph) 438 feet from home plate to get things going in the second inning. Kyle Seager gave the Mariners the lead back in the fourth on a 2-0 fastball clocked at 94.4 mph.

Verlander never really was rattled, however, and the Houston Astros rallied to beat Seattle 8-2 to open the 2020 schedule.  

The world knows Verlander has nasty stuff. He’s up to 99 mph deep into games, features plus curveball, plus slider and an above-average changeup. Friday, his slider was mindbogglingly good. And when a pitcher like Verlander has a pitch like that going, sometimes the quality of the opponent matters very little. Sometimes the lineup has no other choice but to taste filth.

He threw 28 sliders (37%) on the night, 14 strikes and 14 balls. On the surface, that doesn’t sound so great, and if it were fastballs we were discussing, it would be awful. But sliders are chase pitches, often started to look like it will be in the zone and breaking sharply out of the zone to induce weak contact and swinging strikes.

Of Verlander’s 14 strikes with the slider Friday, eight were of the swinging variety, four were called and two were fouled off, all good by themselves without a lick of context.

Speaking of that context, however, here’s the zone plot for Verlander’s sliders from Fridays matchup:

This is for batters from both sides of the plate. Verlander pounded the down-and-in area versus lefties and down and away versus righties with that slider. Only two of the eight whiffs were on sliders that hit the strike zone and they barely scraped the zone, putting not even a quarter of the baseball into the lower-outside edges of the strike zone o right-handed batters.

As you can see, only one of the four called strikes was above the belt (it was a 1-0 pitch to Evan White), and of the six non-competitive results in terms of location, two induced slight check swings and one produced a whiff. Five of the six were thrown when Verlander was ahead in the count, three with two strikes.

Perhaps more impressive than the strikes are the eight competitive sliders that did not end up as strikes. One should have been a strike. About a quarter of the baseball scraped through the zone. The home plate umpire just didn’t see it that way. That was a 1-0 pitch to Jose Marmolejos. Yes, Verlander threw a rookie bench player a 1-0 slider in the fifth inning of a game he was losing 2-1.

One other was within an inch or two of the strike zone, one was the first pitch of the PA, one was on an 0-1 count after a called strike fastball, and three others were no more than three inches off the plate. Seven of these particular eight misses would unequivocally be called very good pitch locations.

Verlander’s slider averaged just under 87 mph, per Brooks Baseball, broke just under three inches vertically, not including gravity, and broke three inches horizontally, representing the sixth-most horizontal break Verlander got from the slider in a game since 2017. Of the five game his slider had more horizontal break, the vertical break was between 2.34 inches and 2.61 inches. Friday it was 2.9. 

It wasn’t one of Verlander’s better overall performances, as he struggled with fastball location a bit, didn’t use the changeup much, and threw just one or two curveballs, but the slider was about as good as ever for the 37-year-old defending Cy Young Award winner.

In other words, Verlander’s slider was filthilicious. Dirty. Disgusting.

And the Mariners tasted it.…

The 2020 MLB Season is upon us and while there are major hurdles the league and its personnel must leap to get through the entire 60-game schedule, we will get a beginning to the campaign.

Considering the longest offseason of all-time and the dynamics that come with it for this season, let’s power rank every team in baseball.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

It’s the best roster in baseball with two of the game’s top 5 position players in reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger and former AL MVP Mookie Betts leading the way. The starting pitching might be a bit thin after Kenta MAeda was traded, Hyun Jin Ryu left via free agency and David Price opted out, but the re-signing of Alex Wood offers depth and young arms Julio Urias and Dustin May have a shot to help from the start this season.

Walker Buehler is primed to take over as the true ace of the staff, too, and while bullpen questions may remain, the addition of Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol could end up significant moves.

Ross Stripling is starting the season in the rotation, but if the club can add another quality arm Stripling can help out the bullpen down the stretch.

This is a juggernaut destined to get back to the World Series and the truncated schedule shouldn’t be much of an obstacle.

2. New York Yankees

Another very good roster, but the Yankees will be without Luis Severino this year and there are at least moderate concerns about the health stability of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge.

The Yankees will mash and they might have the league’s best bullpen with Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino leading to Aroldis Chapman. If the rotation holds up behind Gerrit Cole, we could have the first Yankees-Dodgers World Series since 1981.

Houston Astros

The Astros lost their greatest advantage when Cole left for pinstripes, but Justin Verlander remains, Lance McCullers Jr. returns and the entire lineup remains intact. Aside from the bullpen, the main question here might be about how much the trash-can banging actually helped the Houston hitters.

I’m going to predict not a ton and another Astros division title, but with Zack Greinke and Verlander aging and with contracts up after 2021, and the pending free agency of outfielders Springer and Brantley, 2020 may be the last hurrah for their current core.

Whether that means they’ll be aggressive at the deadline or not remains to be seen, but there isn’t a lot left on the farm to go out and bring in impact players, so they may have to rely on what they have now to repeat in the west and get back to the World Series.

4. Washington Nationals

We can talk about the loss of Anthony Rendon all day if you’d like, but the defending champs boast the league’s best 1-2-3 rotation punch in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, and the bullpen gained Will Smith via free agency.

Starling Castro and Eric Thames add veteran help for the lineup and 21-year-old Juan Soto and 22-year-old Victor Robles are just scratching the surface. The Nationals are just as dangerous as a year ago.

5. Tampa Bay Rays

From a pure roster standpoint there are flashier clubs ranked behind them, but Kevin Cash is masterful at using his pieces and there are several young players trending up in their process, including shortstop Willy Adames and outfielder Austin Meadows.

If they stay healthy, the Rays’ top 3 starters — Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, and Tyler Glasnow — may be as good as any trip in the American League, and the Tampa bullpen led the American League in fWAR last year and everyone is back, led by Nick Anderson and Jose Alvarado.

6. Minnesota Twins

In a 162-game season, I’d pick the Twins to win the American League Central by 5-10 games. But they don’t have the impact rotation pieces Cleveland does, so I think the Twins are in for a season-long battle.

The key here for me the Twins’ bullpen which lacks names but performed very well in 2019 leading the AL in FIP, but it’s worth keeping an eye on some of the older players in that lineup, including Nelson Cruz and newly-acquired Josh Donaldson. It’s a short season, so the issue isn’t tiring down the stretch, but older players tend to get hurt more and Cruz is closer to 40 than 35 and Donaldson, 34, missed over 150 games to injury 2017-18.

Do they have the guns in the rotation for a deep playoff run? I don’t see it.

6. Atlanta Braves

The Braves aren’t quite as deep and veteran-laden as the Twins, but they have advantages in impact, starting with their rotation and MVP candidates Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr.

Atlanta’s key may be getting enough from an unproven young arm such as Kyle Wright and keeping Mike Foltynewicz healthy.

I look for Max Fried to take a big step forward this season, and the Braves’ catching tandem — Travis d’Arnaud and Tyler Flowers — is among the best in baseball.

8. Oakland Athletics

We used to say, yeah, they aren’t as talented as everyone else but they get the job done, kinda like the Rays. But from a pure talent standpoint, the A’s trail only the top 3 teams on this list.

Matt Chapman is an MVP candidate, Matt Olson is one the elite first baseman in the game, Marcus Semien is a top-level shortstop and this year’s rotation is more naturally gifted than any Bob Melvin has had.

If rookie lefty Jesus Luzardo shows he’s legit behind Sean Manaea — whom the club had for the final month only last season and still won 97 games — the A’s will challenge the Astros in the west.

One interesting situation to monitor on the field is left-hander AJ Puk, who is not ready to go to start the year, but could be a boost in some form in August.

Something to ponder as we watch these A’s in 2020: Where will Semien play in 2021? He’s a free agent at season’s end.

9. Cleveland Indians

Five years ago if you would have said Trevor Bauer and Core Kluber are no longer in Cleveland as of 2020, most would have replied “so much for that starting rotation.”

But Carlos Carrasco remains — and appears to be healthy — and both Mike Clevinger (30, 4.5 fWAR in 21 starts in 2019) and Shane Bieber (25, 5.6 fWAR in 33 starts) have effectively filled the gaps well.

Add to that the emergence of Adam Plutko and Jefry Rodriguez and the rotation is not only very strong again in Cleveland, but more sustainable than it’s been since the World Series run.

The Indians didn’t add a lot of help offensively, but the addition of Cesar Hernandez shores up a weak spot at second base and the additions of Domingo Santana and Franmil Reyes lengthen the lineup and bench.

The club has two MVP candidates in Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, one of which is looking to rebound from a bit of an off year (Ramirez played 129 games and posted a 104 wRC+) and the other is playing for a contract. Lindor hits free agency after next season, suggesting this may be his final season in Cleveland if the Indians choose to move him rather than let him play out the string.

10. St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals aren’t among the 10 most talented rosters and in that regard do not belong ahead of divisional rival Cincinnati, but they won 91 games a year ago despite a down year for Paul Goldschmidt (116 wRC+, 2,9 fWAR | 5.2, 146 in 2018) and Carlos Martinez pitching out of the bullpen.

Not to mention the emergence of Jack Flaherty, who starts the year as the club’s ace after leading NL pitchers in fWAR (4.1) and ranking No. 2 in FIP after the All-Star break last season.

11. Cincinnati Reds

Lots of talent, not major holes in projected lineup, but they may lack rotation impact to put them over the top. Legit division contender and should score a lot of runs if they stay healthy.

12. New York Mets

Despite the loss of Noah Syndgergaard for the season, the Mets rotation boasts five mid-rotation or better talents led by Cy Young favorite Jacob deGrom. Marcus Stroman‘s recent injury puts a damper on that a bit, but he’s considered week-to-week and does not require surgery.

With Pete Alonso anchoring, the Mets’ lineup could be as daunting as any in recent years, but there are some ifs that serve as prerequisites, including a return-to-form by Robinson Cano.

13. Chicago Cubs

On paper, the Cubs should score runs, but the pitching staff is a lot of what-ifs and question marks with both performance and injury concern.

Keep an eye on Kris Bryant, a free agent after 2021, whom the Cubs may shop as early as this summer if they’re not in plain sight of a postseason berth in five weeks.

14. Philadelphia Phillies

Among the clubs outside the top 10, Philly might have the most upside. They were a .500 club last year, added Zack Wheeler and Did Gregorius, Andrew McCutchen is healthy to start the year (played just 59 games last season) and Joe Girardi is a significantly better puzzle master than his predecessor.

15. Texas Rangers

I’m high-man on Texas, and I’m fine with that. A year ago, the Rangers went 78-84, six games better than the division-rival Angels, and did so with Joey Gallo (paced for a 7-win season at the time) out for more than half the season.

General manager Jon Daniels added Kyle Gibson, Jordan Lyles and Kluber to a rotation that ranked No. 5 in the AL in fWAR last season, despite lacking a lot of impact performances beyond Mike Minor and Lance Lynn. the Rangers also boast multiple position players either on their way up or right in their prime, including Danny Santana (111 wRC+), Gallo, Willie Calhoun (110 wrC+) and Ronald Guzman.

16. Milwaukee Brewers

Still don’t see the starting pitching the Brewers need to do damage in October, but the lineup remains good and deep, led by former MVP Christian Yelich and the surging Keston Hiura, and the division isn’t exactly flush with flawless, runaway rosters.

17. Arizona Diamondbacks

I like Ketel Marte a lot, and liked him a lot before anyone else liked him at all, but I don’t buy his 7-win season as repeatable and the D-Backs didn’t do enough on the pitching front to lend confidence in competing for more than the No. 2 Wild Card. Madison Bumgarner and Starling Marte help, but they’re not stars and that’s what’s lacking in Phoenix.

18. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Yep, they have Mike Trout, and yes, they signed Anthony Rendon, an MVP candidate. But Rendon may start the year on the IL, and the Angels have questions marks all over the roster after that.

Albert Pujols is a shell of himself, Justin Upton is now 32 (33 in August) and showing some signs of slowing down (missed 99 games in 2019, posted 92 wRC+), and perhaps the tremendous wizardry at shortstop is taking its toll on Andrelton Simmons, too.

The good news for the Angels is Shohei Ohtani is ready to roll and the dude can hit and he can really, really pitch. The bad news is, Andrew Heaney is a No. 3 at best, and an injury risk. Dylan Bundy is a No. 4 at best and an injury risk. Griffin Canning, who might be the defacto No. 2, is not yet established and had a bit an elbow scare this week.

The re’s no pitching depth in the minors for Joe Maddon to go to, but Maddon himself might be the Halos’ biggest addition.

If I’m Gm Billy Eppler and owner Arte Moreno right now, I’m eyeing every impact starter in baseball – readily available or not — and offering anything in my organization outside Trout, Rendon, and prospect Jo Adell to try and add one. Otheewise, the long-term, pricey addition of Rendon, who is already 30, stumbles out of the blocks.

19. San Diego Padres

A very talented team just waiting for young arms to blow up, and that could start in 2020. Chris Paddack and Dinelson Lamet are ready to show they’re frontline arms to lead a staff, Garrett Richards will be good as long as he stays healthy and Cal Quantril has No. 3 written all over him.

The bullpen figures to be very good again and they start the season with a healthy Fernando Tatis Jr. The reliance on so many young players is the only reason why the Padres don’t rank 8-10 spots higher, but they do have that kind of upside in 2020.

20. Chicago White Sox

The White Sox don’t have the Padres’ depth just yet, but they might have as many or more high-impact talents. For every Tatis Jr and Manny Machado San Diego boasts, the White Sox have their Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez, not to mention Lucas Golito at the top of a staff balanced by veterans Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez.

The South Siders have similar upside as the Padres, but come with more questions marks (pitching, overall depth) than the clubs ranked ahead of them to start 2020.

21. Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox are a mess. They traded Betts for Alex Verdugo ( a nice player, but one without Betts-level upside) and Chris Sale is out for the year, leaving the rotation to Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi and patchwork. The bullpen doesn’t look much more stable. They’ll score runs, but they’re going to need to threaten .500 this year.

22. Toronto Blue Jays

A team on the rise that will get Nate Pearson late in Week 1 of the season could be a nuisance to AL East rivals. They;re a year away, most likely, from even Wild Card contention, but are one of the clubs with a real shot should MLB and the PA agree on a 16-team playoff format before Opening Day.

Side Note: I hate changing the playoff structure this late. Doing so did not give fringe clubs a chance to consider their opportunity over the past month, likely leading to fewer trades, more focus on development and less interest in acquiring veteran free agents.

23. Colorado Rockies

I have no idea what it is the Rockies are doing. Neither do they.

There’s talent here and two top-10 players in the NL in Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado, but there are a lot of holes and it’s difficult to think the field staff and players buy into the brand right now.

24. San Francisco Giants

Do not know what the Giants think they are doing, but they seem stuck in the middle of rebuild and add veterans to stay relevant. Reeks of the Howard Lincoln-Chuck Armstrong led Mariners after Pat Gillick left in 2003.

25. Miami Marlins

Young talent starting to sprout — Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith, Pablo Lopez, Brian Anderson –and some sneaky veteran depth could get the Marlins out of the cellar trio in the league in 2020.

26. Pittsburgh Pirates

Chris Archer is out for the year, Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon are on the IL and after Josh Bell there doesn’t appear to be much firepower in the lineup.

The Bucs saving grace in 2020 is a future rotation including Taillon, Mitch Keller, Joe Musgrove joining forces this year, and the club is one year closer to the arrivals of Ke’BRyan Hayes’ bat and the overall games of Oneil Cruz and first-round pick Nick Gonzales.

27. Kansas City Royals

The Royals remains years from competing, but have several potential trade targets on which to keep an eye over the next six months, including White Merrifield, Danny Duffy, Trevor Rosenthal and Salvador Perez.

Otherwise, it’s a potential 40-loss season.

28. Seattle Mariners

Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais are committed to continuing the development path, despite a 60-game season offering increased chances of a fluke postseason berth. Such consistency in approach to the rebuild is a microcosm of the differences between the current and previous front office and ownership.

It also appears, despite 2020 clipping their path a bit, the Mariners are on a faster track to being competitive than is typically foreseeable when clubs tear it all the way down the way they have.

29. Detroit Tigers

They have arms brewing in the minors to team up with Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris in a few years, but 2020 is all about maximizing assets, so expect Matthew Boyd‘s name to come up in trade talks until he’s traded.

One thing to watch for with the Tigers this season is a healthy Miguel Cabrera, who will surpass 1700 RBI and could get to 2900 hits. He’s also 23 shy of 500 homers, but 23 in a 60-game stretch is prime Cabrera fire, not that of the 37-year-old version.

30. Baltimore Orioles

The O’s are still pretty early in their rebuild and had nothing of impact to trade to get a legitimate jump-start the way Dipoto and the Mariners did after the 2018 season, so this is going to take a while.

Baltimore has some pitching growing on the farm, namely Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall, and their top prospect is catcher Adley Rutschman, among the top talents in all of baseball. That group should start showing up next season, but 2023 is probably the soonest the Orioles could be competitive again.…

The Houston Astros have a potent lineup, plus the reigning Cy Young winner and Rookie of the Year. Yet, a turbulent offseason leaves the team vulnerable to challengers within its division. Can the Astros hold it together in 2020 and repeat as AL West champions?

To gauge the likelihood of the defending AL champions winning a fourth consecutive division title, let’s peruse key components of the roster new Astros GM James Click is providing new skipper Dusty Baker. There are many familiar faces, but the club’s success may ultimately hinge on the performance of young newcomers.

Rotation

The staff took a big hit when Gerrit Cole signed a monster free agent deal with the Yankees in the offseason. But the rotation still features Cy Young Award winners Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke as its headliners with Lance McCullers Jr. locked into the third spot.

While Verlander and Greinke had great seasons in 2019, Verlander is 37-years-old and Greinke turns 37 in October. Am I suggesting the duo falls off an age-regression cliff this season? No, but Verlander did go down in March with a lat strain and subsequently underwent groin surgery. The 15-year veteran is now healthy, but his injuries represent a subtle reminder that Father Time doesn’t schedule his arrival.

Age isn’t an issue for the 26-year-old McCullers, but the right-hander missed last season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Moreover, he’s averaged just 20 starts/season during four seasons in the majors due to injury problems. Perhaps this isn’t a big deal since the club will be asking the son of former major leaguer Lance McCullers to make 10-12 starts during a truncated 60-game regular season.

Entering Summer Camp, the prime candidates for the final two rotation slots were José Urquidy, Josh James, Austin Pruitt, Framber Valdéz, and Bryan Abreu. However, health-related issues are complicating the situation.

Urquidy was a front-runner to make the rotation before camp, but he’s on the injured list for an undisclosed reason. During his rookie debut last season, the 25-year-old posted a 3.95 ERA in nine games, including seven starts. However, Urquidy’s .292 xwOBA (.319 was league-average) suggests he performed better than his conventional stats indicate. The right-hander’s crowning achievement was five shutout innings in Game 4 of the 2019 World Series.

Pruitt is currently dealing with an elbow issue, which takes him out of contention for the Opening Day roster. The 30-year-old pitched with the Rays organization last season bouncing between the majors and Class-AAA Durham. In both locations, the right-hander primarily served as a reliever. In fact, he’s made just 24 starts in the majors and minors since 2017.

James was as a reliever in 2019, but likely to make the rotation this year. Since debuting in the majors in 2018, the 27-year-old has demonstrated the capacity to miss bats (13.8 SO/9 in 84.1 MLB innings). Unfortunately, finding the strike zone (4.5 BB/9) has been a recurring problem for the right-hander.

Valdéz didn’t pitch particularly well in 2019 with opposing hitters having a .790 OPS against the 26-year-old (league-average was .743). As with James, free passes were an issue for Valdéz (5.7 BB/9). Nevertheless, he’s emerged as a favorite for the final spot. If the left-hander doesn’t make the starting staff, he may land in the bullpen.

Still just 23-years-old, Abreu appeared in seven games for the Astros last year striking out 13 and walking three in 8.2 innings. The Dominican Republic native is a dark horse to begin the season in the rotation and may join the bullpen if he doesn’t make the cut.

I didn’t list Brad Peacock as a candidate since the Floridian is dealing with shoulder issues first encountered last season. Peacock began 2019 as a starter, but the shoulder sidelined him during the second half. Still, the 32-year-old did return to make five postseason relief appearances. If he returns in 2020, the right-hander most likely pitches in relief.

Perhaps Houston’s top pitching prospect, Forrest Whitley, is a factor this year. Injuries and ineffectiveness derailed the 22-year-old’s 2019 season, although he did pitch well in six Arizona Fall League starts. Still, it’s reasonable to wonder whether management would start the right-hander’s service time clock during a shortened season.

Bullpen

Last year, Houston relievers collectively posted a .292 xwOBA – second best in the majors behind the Dodgers. However, the team’s current bullpen won’t be an obvious strength on Opening Day.

Closer Roberto Osuna was a late arrival to camp due to undisclosed reasons and wasn’t in shape. Apparently, pandemic-related restrictions in Mexico reduced his training opportunities. The team maintains their closer will be available for the season opener, although he hasn’t thrown off a mound during camp. Last season, the 25-year-old led the AL with 38 saves and his .259 xwOBA ranked tenth best in the majors among relievers.

Ryan Pressly dealt with a July knee injury last year, which affected his second half and postseason effectiveness. The knee is now healthy, although Pressly is currently nursing a blister on his index finger. That said, the team appears confident the unheralded 31-year-old can once again be a key late-inning weapon.

This is a pivotal season for Chris Devenski, who’s coming off two sub-par campaigns since being a 2017 All-Star. While it’s plausible the 29-year-old could rebound, it’s unclear whether Baker will use Devenski in high-leverage situations.

After the three most prominent names, there’s much more uncertainty. In the past, the club turned to established veterans such as Peacock, Will Harris, Héctor Rondón, and Joe Smith to get the ball to Pressly and Osuna. Not this year.

Rondón and Harris left via free agency in the offseason signing with the Diamondbacks and Nationals respectively and we’ve already covered Peacock’s issue. Making matters worse for the Astros, Smith recently opted out of playing this season. Losing the side-arming right-hander is a big loss considering he held opposing hitters to a .249 xwOBA in the second half of 2019 – best on the team and top-15 in MLB after the All-Star break.

It appears the new front office intends to rely more heavily on young and undistinguished arms to reach its late-innings. As noted earlier, Abreu could be in the mix for the bullpen. Other potential candidates are Joe Biagini, Blake Taylor, Cy Sneed, Brett Conine, Enoli Paredes, Jojanse Torres, Brandon Bielak, and Cristian Javier. It’s worth noting Taylor, Conine, Paredes, Torres, Bielak, and Javier have no big-league experience.

It’s certainly possible some of these youngsters can step up to buoy Houston’s relief staff. After all, Edwin Díaz went from Class-AA Jackson to closing for the Mariners in 2016. Still, heading into the regular season with so few proven relievers is something the previous regime didn’t do when the club expected to be competitive.

Infield

The infield has been an impressive unit, perhaps the best in baseball. However, there are reasons to keep an eye on its performance and durability this year.

Last year, first baseman Yuli Gurriel had his most productive campaign since joining the team as a rookie in 2016. However, the Cuban is 36-years-old and the team’s first base depth is relatively thin.

Meanwhile, second baseman Jose Altuvé is entering his age-30 season averaging just 130 games during the last two years. Another indicator of potential trouble, his combined 8.9 bWAR for 2018-19 barely surpasses the value of his 2017 MVP season (8.1). Having said that, it’s only fair to point out the Venezuelan hit 21 home runs and slashed .325/.372/.622 after the All-Star game last season.

Shortstop Carlos Correa appeared in just 75 games in 2019. Since 2017, the former All-Star is averaging 98 games annually. Fortunately, for the Astros and Correa, he’s still just 25-years-old and fully healthy heading into the upcoming season.

At third base, 2019 AL MVP runner-up Alex Bregman is the best player on the Astros. Last year, Bregman hit 41 home runs and .296/.423/.592. In the last 10 seasons, only six players have hit 40-plus homers with a OBP over .420 – Bregman, Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista, and Bryce Harper.

Considering potential availability challenges in the infield, utility-man Aledmys Díaz plays a pivotal role. Díaz started 15-plus games at both corner infield spots and second base while hitting .271/.356/.467 last year. The 29-year-old also made starts at shortstop and in left field.

Prospect Abraham Toro projects to fill a bench role. Toro appeared in 25 games with Houston last year. The 23-year-old had double-digit starts and second and third base in the minors in 2019, although he was primarily a third baseman. Another young infielder with a chance to make the Opening Day roster, Taylor Jones, made 64 starts at first base for Class-AAA Round Rock last year and has third base and outfield experience.

Outfield

George Springer, Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick, Kyle Tucker, Myles Straw should comprise the outfield rotation. Springer and Brantley will start in center field and left field respectively. Right field may have competition with mainstay Reddick potentially having to fend off Tucker.

Since 2018, Reddick has a 93 OPS+, which places him in the bottom 15-percent of hitters with 1,000-plus plate appearances. It’s worth noting the 33-year-old has historically been a strong defender, although STATCAST ranked him 27 out of 40 right fielders with -2 Outs Above Average (OOA)/ On the other hand, only Mookie Betts was the only right fielder with more OOA than the Georgian in 2018.

Straw is a versatile performer capable of playing any outfield position. He even appeared in 25 games at shortstop for the Astros in 2019. Moreover, the 25-year-old possesses superb on-base abilities to go with the elite-level sprint speed.

Designated Hitter

Yordan Álvarez projected to be the everyday designated hitter. However, he hasn’t been in camp and currently on the IL for undisclosed reasons. Therefore, we don’t know when the 2019 AL Rookie of the Year may rejoin the team. Obviously, we’re rooting for Álvarez to completely recover from whatever is ailing him. From a baseball perspective, which is secondary, his absence is a significant loss to Houston’s lineup.

With Álvarez unavailable, Baker could utilize Brantley and Tucker, assuming he prefers a set designated hitter. Brantley had 110 plate appearances at the position last season and performed well. As already noted, Tucker is competing for the right field job with Reddick.

It’s also possible Baker chooses to use the designated hitter spot as an opportunity to give his position players a break during the hectic 60-game schedule.

Catcher

Martín Maldonado is the starter with Dustin Garneau serving as backup. Maldonado won’t provide much offense (.219/.289 /.355 career slash), but he possesses the reputation of being a strong defender. Similarly, the 32-year-old Garneau, who’s played in 123 career games in the majors, is a good glove and light hitter.    

Third on the depth chart is Garrett Stubbs, who possesses a measure of positional versatility. Stubbs appeared in the outfield with Houston and even started three games at second base with Class-AAA Round Rock last year. 

Moving Forward

The Astros’ lineup remains loaded with stars, plus they still have the one-two punch of Verlander and Greinke anchoring the rotation. Still, this year’s roster enters the upcoming season with more uncertainty than recent versions and that should be troubling to Houston fans.

Sure, losing both GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch in January due to their involvement with the Astros’ elaborate sign-stealing scheme was a big blow. But it’s important to remember Luhnow hadn’t done much to improve the club’s roster prior to his ouster.

Luhnow’s most notable additions to his former team were the now-injured Austin Pruitt in a minor trade with the Rays and Blake Taylor in the a deal sending defensive stalwart Jake Marisnick to the Mets. Other than that, the architect of the franchises’ first-ever World Series championship retained free agents Martín Maldonado and Joe Smith, who’s now sitting out the season.

Perhaps the truncated season benefits Houston’s aging veterans and lessens the criticality of using so many unproven commodities on the pitching staff. Still, two issues become readily clear after reviewing the Astros’ projected roster. The loss of Verlander, Greinke, or McCullers to the IL would be a significant. Moreover, the team will struggle to stay atop the AL West without a reliable bullpen to back up the starting staff.

Can the Astros repeat as AL West champions? Absolutely, but the competition for the division crown will be more intense than in recent seasons. Considering the uncertainty with the pitching staff and the fact the Oakland seems poised to wrest the title way, I see 2020 as the year of the A’s in the AL West.

My Oh My….

(Photo of Justin Verlander – Mark J. Terrill / AP)

Despite winning 97 games in 2018-19, the Oakland A’s couldn’t advance past the Wild Card game both years. Will 2020 be different? Could the A’s win the AL West and perhaps make a deep postseason run?

It’s important to recognize that wresting the AL West title from the Houston Astros won’t be easy. After all, the Astros are defending AL champions and have won three consecutive division titles. Still, there are reasons to believe 2020 could be Oakland’s year, assuming its starting rotation thrives this season.

To see what I mean, let’s review the A’s starting staff and its supporting cast. Doing so led me to arrive at the conclusion Oakland can be 2020 AL West champions. Perhaps you’ll feel the same way after our discussion.

Rotation

Last year’s staff lacked marquee names, yet managed to be top-10 in ERA, WHIP, AVG, and WAR. There’s a chance the rotation is even better in 2020.

Entering Summer Camp, the main contributors projected to be Mike Fiers, Frankie Montas, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, and top-100 prospects A.J. Puk, and Jesús Luzardo. However, a health-related development will affect the club’s plan.

Luzardo tested positive for COVID-19 and won’t be available for Opening Day. It’s unknown when the Peru native may rejoin the team. Moreover, we don’t how much time he’ll require to ramp-up to game-ready status.

Even a short delay for Luzardo must be frustrating for the player and team after shoulder issues early last season delayed his MLB debut until September. When he finally joined the team, the 22-year-old briefly demonstrated why MLB Pipeline ranks him as its twelfth best prospect. In 12 relief innings, the southpaw allowed two runs and struck out 16. Luzardo also tossed three scoreless innings in the Wild Card game.

Luzardo’s diagnosis had a ripple effect on his training partner Fiers, who was a late arrival until testing negative for COVID-19 twice. The delay may cost Fiers the opportunity to be Oakland’s Opening Day starter for a second consecutive year. Last season, the 35-year-old had a 3.90 ERA and led the A’s in starts (33) and innings (184.2)

If Fiers isn’t ready for the season opener, Montas is the front-runner to take the ball. The 27-year-old was having a breakout campaign in 2019 before receiving an 80-game suspension last June for performance-enhancing drug use. Through the 16 starts leading up to his suspension, Montas had a 2.63 ERA – eighth best in the majors at the time. 

Manaea didn’t pitch last season until September due to shoulder surgery a year prior. Despite the long layoff, the 28-year-old was sharp in five starts holding opponents to a .160 AVG and .287 xwOBA, while posting a 1.21 ERA. The former Indiana State Sycamore also started last year’s Wild Came game. 

Puk’s journey to the majors experienced a significant setback when Tommy John surgery cost him the entire 2018 minor-league season. The 25-year-old performed well when he finally made his big-league debut last year. In 10 relief appearances, he posted a 3.18 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 11.1 innings. The former Florida Gator’s strong audition resulted in selection to Oakland’s postseason roster, although he didn’t pitch.

Bassitt is a versatile performer, who may have begun the season in the bullpen if Luzardo was available. Still, the Akron alum’s .307 xwOBA last year was top-40 among starters facing 500-plus hitters placing him ahead of notable names Marco Gonzales (.312), Masahiro Tanaka (.314), and Madison Bumgarner (.316). The unheralded Bassitt could emerge as a valuable weapon in Oakland’s arsenal.

Potential depth pieces for the rotation, and perhaps the bullpen, include Daniel Gossett, Daniel Mengden, and Paul Blackburn. Gossett missed all of 2019 due to TJ surgery, but did pitch in the Arizona Fall League. Mengden shuttled between AAA and the big-league team last year, while Blackburn spent most of last season with Class-AAA Las Vegas.

A few other young arms – Daulton Jefferies (24), James Kaprielian (25), and Grant Holmes (23) – could potentially provide another layer of depth. It’s worth noting all three experienced delays in their development due to recent arm issues.

Bullpen

In 2019, Oakland relief pitchers had the fourth best xwOBA (.295) in MLB behind the Dodgers, Astros, and Rays. With most of the main contributors returning, the bullpen should be a strength. That’s assuming the team avoids the dreaded “reliever volatility.” 

The bullpen’s foundation projects to be closer Liam Hendriks, Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria, Lou Trivino, J.B. Wendelken, plus lefties Jake Diekman and T.J. McFarland. Reinforcements include Lucas Luetge, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since being with the Mariners in 2015, Jaime Schultz, Burch Smith, and minor-leaguer Jordan Weems.

Infield

Three-quarters of the infield was a strength last year with the same players returning. Gold Glovers Matt Olson and Matt Chapman will cover first and third base respectively. Meanwhile, AL MVP finalist Marcus Semien remains the starting shortstop.

Fun fact: Oakland was the only team with three 30-home run infielders in 2019 – Olson, Chapman, and Semien.

On the other hand, second base was problematic. Collectively, Oakland second basemen ranked in the bottom-third of MLB in WAR and every significant offensive category. This season, 24-year-old Franklin Barreto and former Astros prospect Tony Kemp likely form a platoon. Rule 5 pickup Vimael Machin may be a factor at some point.

The right-handed hitting Barreto has appeared in 80 MLB games since 2017. Regular playing time has alluded him with established players such as Jed Lowrie and Jurickson Profar holding down second base in previous seasons.

Kemp has started 161 big-league 300 contests, but the vast majority have come in the outfield (129) compared to second base (32). That said, the left-handed hitter did make 300-plus starts at second base in the minors.

It’s worth noting Machin has played just 26 games above AA, but the 26-year-old made 20-plus starts at second base, shortstop, and the hot corner last year. Moreover, he possesses first base experience and even played catcher for an inning last year.

Another player likely to see some time at second base is Chad Pinder. However, he’s more valuable to the A’s in a utility role. Pinder played a career-high 124 games last season with double-digit appearances at both corner outfield spots, plus second and third base. In addition, manager Bob Melvin occasionally used the 28-year-old at shortstop, center field, and first base.

Outfield

The main outfielders should be three holdovers – Stephen Piscotty and Mark Canha in the corners with patrolling Ramón Laureano center field.

Injuries slowed Piscotty, who delivered a below average .249/.309/.412 slash-line and 93 OPS+ in 93 games. Oakland will be looking for the now-healthy 29-year-old to deliver production similar to his 2018 output (27 home runs and .267/.331/.491).

Conversely, Canha quietly set career bests in every slash category, plus he hit 26 home runs and paced the A’s with a 145 OPS+. The 30-year-old also played every outfield position and started 11 games at first base.

Laureano enjoyed a strong sophomore campaign with an impressive .288/.340/.521 slash and 24 home runs. Furthermore, his 128 OPS+ was fourth best among center fielder behind only Mike Trout (185), George Springer (150), and former Mariner Ketel Marte (149).

Although Piscotty and Canha project to be the corner outfielders, Robbie Grossman will see playing time also. The seven-year veteran had a down season at the plate. Nevertheless, he was a 2019 AL Gold Glove finalist in left field.

How the A’s decide to round out the outfield contingent likely hinges on how the club plans to utilize the versatile trio of Pinder, Canha, and Kemp. Perhaps management eventually integrates youngsters Dustin Fowler (25) and Skye Bolt (26), who have a combined 75 MLB games of experience.

Designated Hitter

Khris Davis will once again be designated hitter. The 32-year-old led the majors with 48 home runs in 2018, but his 82 OPS+ ranked last among 11 teammates with 300-plus plate appearances last year. Overall, the Cal State Fullerton product hit just 23 home runs with a career-worst .220/.293/.387 slash.

Catcher

Prospect Sean Murphy will be the everyday catcher. Ranked number-33 overall by MLB Prospect Watch, the right-handed hitting Murphy started 13 games as a September call-up last year and made Oakland’s postseason roster. The 25-year-old has nothing left to prove in the minors.

Left-handed hitting 25-year-old Austin Allen may be an appealing platoon option to pair with Murphy. Another prospect – Jonah Heim – is the third backstop on the 40-man roster. Heim is the same age as Allen, a switch-hitter, and was a strong offensive performer at AA and AAA in 2019.

New AL West Champs?

Oakland is coming off consecutive 97-win seasons boasting an offense and defense capable of buoying their cadre of young arms seemingly on the verge of blossoming into something special. It’s the ideal roster blend to overtake the Astros in the AL West and avoid another one-and-done postseason scenario.

Sure, many moving parts in the rotation must align to guarantee success. But I like the A’s chances of pulling it off and being crowned AL West champs in 2020.

My Oh My…

(Photo of Frankie Montas – Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)

The Los Angeles Angels have been in the doldrums recently – four straight losing seasons and just one playoff appearance in the Mike Trout era. Enter Joe Maddon, who guided the Cubs to four postseasons in five years and their first World Series win since Teddy Roosevelt was president. Could Maddon lead the Angels to Cubs-like success in 2020?

How much a manager actually influences a baseball team’s win-loss record is a never-ending topic of debate for fans and bloggers. Did the team succeed thanks to their skipper’s field generalship? On the other hand, was it a talented roster? For me, the answer is it’s usually a blend of both.

No manager could’ve made the hapless Detroit Tigers a winner last year. But a skipper could potentially be a positive or negative difference-maker for teams on the fringe of contention. The issue at hand is whether Maddon’s new squad has the talent to contend this year.

Certainly, Angels GM Billy Eppler tried his best to give Maddon more to work with than predecessor Brad Ausmus had in 2019. In the offseason, Eppler signed all-star third baseman Anthony Rendon, thanks to owner Arte Moreno opening his checkbook. The fifth-year GM also managed to add several other recognizable veterans – pitchers Dylan Bundy, Julio Teheran, and Matt Andriese, plus catcher Jason Castro.

So, did Eppler give Maddon the necessary pieces to make the Angels a viable contender in 2020? Let’s walk through the roster the 66-year-old skipper will be working with to determine the answer.

Rotation

Availability was an ongoing problem for the Angels in 2019. No starter remained in the rotation for the entire season with this year’s Opening Day starter, Andrew Heaney, leading the staff with 18 starts and 95.1 innings.

Compounding matters, Angel pitchers made just 22 quality starts – fewest by a team in any season, including campaigns shortened by work stoppage. The league-average for quality starts last season was 51 with the Astros leading MLB with 89. In fact, six pitchers made more quality starts than the Halos.

Pitchers With More Quality Starts Than Angels in 2019

Before Summer Camp began, the projected rotation included Heaney, Shohei Ohtani, Julio Teheran, Dylan Bundy, and Griffin Canning. With Ohtani coming off Tommy John surgery, the Angels will employ a six-man rotation with a gaggle of pitchers vying for the final spot. Initially in the mix were Matt Andriese, Félix Peña, Dillon Peters, plus a trio of youngsters – Jaime Barría, Patrick Sandoval, and José Suarez. But things have already changed.

As already noted, injuries played a significant role in the Angels’ rotation woes in 2019. Health issues are once again affecting the staff’s readiness for the upcoming season. 

Teheran reportedly has COVID-19 with mild symptoms, but may return soon. Still, it’s unlikely the 29-year-old is ready for the start of the season. Ironically, availability has been the nine-year veteran’s strength. Since 2013, only four pitchers have made 30-plus starts in every season – Teheran, Jose Quintana, Jon Lester, and Mike Leake.

On that note, Suarez is one of several Angels on the 10-day IL for undisclosed reasons. Whether it’s COVID-related or something else remains unknown. As with Teheran, the delay diminishes the odds of the 22-year-old being ready for Opening Day.

Peters is also on the 10-day IL, but that’s not a surprise as with Teheran and Suarez. The 27-year-old entered camp expecting to miss a few weeks with a lingering oblique strain from Spring Training. Last season, Peters’ ERA and xwOBA ranked in the bottom 10-percent of pitchers facing 250-plus hitters.

A pair of currently healthy pitchers likely to receive scrutiny due to recent arm issues are Heaney and Canning.

Heaney has made 20-plus starts just once in five seasons with Los Angeles when he started 30 contests in 2018. Last year, it was elbow and shoulder issues slowing the southpaw. When available, he was brilliant at times striking out 10-plus hitters in four games. Conversely, the 29-year-old didn’t reach the sixth inning in half of his outings.

After encountering elbow issues last August, Canning received a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection into the elbow in March. The 24-year-old resumed throwing a month later and reported to camp proclaiming his readiness for the season. Good news for both pitcher and team, although Ohtani and Heaney had PRP injections before eventually undergoing TJ surgery.

On a more positive note, injuries undermined Bundy’s early career, but he’s averaged 30 starts since 2017. His 4.83 ERA during this period isn’t appealing, yet the 27-year-old’s .320 xwOBA was identical to Jeff Samardzija and Marco Gonzales and slightly better than league-average for starters (.324). This suggests pitching home games in hitter-friendly Camden Yards affected right-hander’s conventional stats.

The short-term loss of Suarez and Peters from early consideration benefits Andriese, who began his career as a starter with the Rays. However, the 30-year-old was an effective full-time reliever with Arizona in 2019. Perhaps Maddon uses the five-year veteran in a variety of roles.

Peña logged 96.1 innings as a starter and reliever before suffering a torn ACL in his right knee last August. Considering his .308 xwOBA as a reliever was significantly better than as a starter (.370), Maddon could piggyback the 30-year-old behind the game’s starter early in the season or use him as a swing-man.

Sandoval and Barría, both 23-years-old, scuffled last season. Sandoval was a rookie last year, but Barría made 26 starts with a 3.41 ERA as a freshman in 2018. A return to his rookie form would benefit both Barría and the Halos. 

Bullpen

Last year’s bullpen did a commendable job considering starters rarely delivered quality starts and pitched the fewest total innings in the majors. Considering the potential issues the rotation may be facing this year, expect Maddon to turn to his relief corps early and often.

The main contributors to the bullpen in 2019 were closer Hansel Robles, Ty Buttrey, Cam Bedrosian, and Noé Ramírez. Robles, Bedrosian, and Ramírez were strong. Buttrey began the season well, but slipped during the second half. All return in 2020.

Heading into camp, the leading relievers are Robles, Buttrey, Bedrosian, Ramírez, Ryan Buchter, Justin Anderson, and Keynan Middleton, who’s returning from TJ surgery. Candidates to fill out the bullpen include Kyle Keller, Luke Bard, Taylor Cole, José Quijada, Parker Markel, Jacob Rhame, and Hector Yan.

The left-handed throwing Quijada is also on the 10-day IL for undisclosed reasons. Perhaps this doesn’t matter as much as it did in the past, but the Venezuelan, along with Buchter and Yan, are the only southpaw relievers on the 40-man roster. Furthermore, Yan hasn’t pitched above Class-A level.

Infield

Many familiar faces return this year with one significant addition. The longest tenured infielder with the team is Albert Pujols, who’ll play either first base or designated hitter depending on Ohtani’s availability. The 40-year-old’s offensive production has been below league-average since 2016. Is it possible Maddon would consider reducing the future Hall of Famer’s playing time? Bench options include Matt Thaiss, who also possesses third base experience, and rookie Jared Walsh.

Fun Fact: Jared Walsh made 12 relief appearances and saved one game for Class-AAA Salt Lake in 2019. The left-handed thrower also pitched in five games for the Angels.

David Fletcher and Tommy La Stella should be the main stakeholders at second base. Last year, Fletcher paced the team in games played (154) and doubles (30) with only Trout having a higher AVG and OBP. Adding to his value, the 25-year-old demonstrated positional versatility with 20-plus starts at second base, shortstop, third base, and left field.

La Stella was enjoying a breakout season in 2019 earning his first All-Star selection. Unfortunately, the 30-year-old suffered a fractured tibia in early-July, which sidelined him until late September. La Stella also has third base experience.

After posting career bests in AVG, OBP, and OPS+ in 2018, injuries limited the offense and availability of Andrelton Simmons last season. The 30-year-old former Gold Glove winner will be looking to rebound during an abbreviated walk year.

Holding down the hot corner is Rendon, who the team inked to a seven-year/$245 million contract. Last season, the NL MVP finalist set career highs in doubles, home runs, AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS+, and WAR.

The Angels reportedly attempted to trade Luis Rengifo to the crosstown rival Dodger in exchange for outfielder Joc Pederson in the offseason. Entering camp, the 23-year-old seemed like logical fit as back-up middle-infielder before disappearing to the 10-day IL recently. During his rookie season in 2019, switch-hitter started 90 games at second base and 11 contests at shortstop.

There’s still a chance the Rengifo is ready for Opening Day. If the team were to look elsewhere for an infield reserve, potential candidates include non-roster invitee Arismendy Alcántara plus minor leaguers Jose Rojas, Jahmai Jones, and Elliot Soto.

Outfield

As with the infield, most of the usual suspects return from 2019 with the notable exception of Kole Calhoun, who signed with Arizona. But there’s an outside chance a highly-touted prospect joins a future Hall of Famer in the outfield this year. 

Lower leg injuries limited left fielder Justin Upton to just 63 games and his worst offensive production since his rookie season in 2007. Upton slashed a lackluster .215/.309/.416 with 12 home runs in 256 plate appearances. The Angels certainly need a bounce back season from the 32-year-old.

Trout, last year’s MVP, returns in center field. The New Jersey native slashed .291/.438/.645 with 45 home runs and led the majors in OPS+ for a third consecutive season. It’s worth noting the 28-year-old has intimated he may not play this year to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 exposure for his wife and unborn child.

In Upton’s absence, Brian Goodwin played a career-high 146 games and delivered personal bests in doubles (29), home runs (17), and OPS+ (109). The 29-year-old will begin the season as the everyday right fielder, although it’s plausible top prospect Jo Adell makes the team and eventually supplants Goodwin.

Still, Adell wasn’t expected to be on the Opening Day roster in March and isn’t on the 40-man roster. The loss of the minor league season may delay the 21-year-old’s MLB debut until next year.

Michael Hermosillo likely serves as the fourth outfielder. The 25-year-old has limited big-league experience since first debuting in 2018, but he can play anywhere in the outfield. It’s reasonable to expect Fletcher to see playing time in the outfield. Former first round pick Taylor Ward may be in the mix for a backup job also.

Designated Hitter

When he’s not pitching, Ohtani will serve as primary designated hitter. Although he couldn’t pitch last season, the 26-year-old delivered 43 extra-base hits, including 18 home runs, in 106 games. He also lead the team with 5 triples and 12 stolen bases. As noted earlier, Pujols likely fills the DH role when Ohtani is on the mound or unavailable due to pitching responsibilities.

Catcher

Free agent addition Jason Castro figures to be the regular catcher with Max Stassi likely spotting Castro. With Minnesota last season, the left-handed hitting Castro platooned with Mitch Garver. One area to watch; Castro’s career .553 OPS against southpaws is much lower than against right-handers (.750). Castro has a reputation as a sound defender and pitch framer.

Stassi is strong defensively, but the right-handed hitter hasn’t enjoyed much success at the plate during a 183-game career spanning seven seasons. The team’s third catcher is Anthony Bemboom. The left-handed hitting Bemboom, who is solid behind the plate, made his MLB debut last year at age-29.

Moving Forward

While the addition of Rendon and Ohtani’s return to the mound provides a boost, starting pitcher health once again looms as a potential showstopper. Perhaps the truncated 60-game season diminishes the importance of a deep rotation. If that’s the case, Maddon may be able to compensate for his staff’s shortcomings by having a quick hook with struggling starters. That’s assuming the bullpen performs as it did in 2019.

Still, the Angels’ chronic difficulties with starting pitcher availability is tough to overlook. For this reason, I believe the AL West is out of reach, even with Maddon at the helm. Maybe the three-time Manager of the Year can elevate to fringe contender status, but it’s tough envisioning the team earning a wild card berth in the highly competitive American League.

This disappoints me since I’d like to see Trout, baseball’s best player, add meaningful October baseball to his already-brimming Hall of Fame résumé.

My Oh My…

(Photo of Joe Maddon – AP)

Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels made upgrading its starting staff a priority last winter. But can Daniels’ revamped rotation propel the Rangers to the postseason?

Daniels was an aggressive shopper in the offseason acquiring former Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber via trade and signing free agent starters Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles. Certainly aggressive moves for a club in dire need of rotation help. But most of the Ranger’s regular position players are back this year. Considering the offense’s lackluster performance last season, more of the same from the lineup would be problematic.

Rangers 2019 Offense With MLB Rankings

Last season, offensive mediocrity was a team effort. Just four Rangers with 300-plus plate appearances had an OPS+ over 100 (the league average) – Willie Calhoun, Shin-Soo Choo, Hunter Pence, and Danny Santana. The only AL clubs with fewer were Cleveland (3), Kansas City (3), and Detroit (1). And how crazy is it that the Texas Rangers, a club known for having a strong offense even when the club has a losing record, would be mid-pack in home runs in the same year MLB sets the all-time record for dingers in a season?

Not All Bad News

It’s not all doom and gloom in Arlington. The Rangers have a new ballpark and Calhoun, Choo, and Santana are still with the team. Calhoun is the most likely of the trio to demonstrate significant improvement in 2020. The 25-year-old has yet to play a full season, although he did manage to hit 21 home runs and .269/.323/.524 in 83 games last year. Amazingly, the Rangers’ projected starting left fielder suffered a broken jaw in Spring Training. Thankfully, he’s healthy and ready to go.

Choo, who will be 38-years-old before Opening Day, hit 24 home runs .265/.371/.455 and swiped 15 bags last year. The left-handed hitter has been remarkably consistent during six seasons with Texas. However, he’s slashed just .225/.323/.334 against southpaws since the beginning of the 2018 campaign. Considering his advancing age, it’s inevitable Father Time catches up with the South Korean. Rangers fans have to be hoping 2020 isn’t the year the team’s designated hitter falls off a cliff, offensively speaking.

For the first time since debuting in 2014, Santana made 500-plus plate appearances and he didn’t waste the opportunity delivering 28 home runs and 23 doubles with 21 stolen bases. Moreover, he demonstrated superb positional versatility playing everywhere in the field with the exception of pitcher and catcher. Still, 2019 was the first year the switch-hitter had an OPS+ above 64 since his rookie campaign. Will the Dominican Republic native repeat his 2019 success or revert to his previous norm?

A pair of newcomers could help elevate the offense. Daniels inked veteran infielder Todd Frazier, who hit 21 home runs and .251/.329/.443 and a 106 OPS+ with the Mets last year. Frazier’s presence in the lineup should help the team plate more runs this season.

Only Detroit’s catchers ranked worse than Texas’ in AVG and OPS. Former Ranger backstop Robinson Chirinos, who returns after a year in Houston, should improve the situation. Although he’s not a top defender, the 35-year-old has averaged 17 home runs and 107 OPS+ since the 2017 season.

A healthy Joey Gallo will be a big help too. After averaging 40 home runs in 2017-18, injuries limited Gallo to 70 games and 297 plate appearances last year. That said; he did achieve career bests in AVG/OBP/SLG and OPS+. Furthermore, only AL MVP Mike Trout (18.3-percent) and Brandon Nimmo (18.1) had a better walk-rate than the 6-foot-5 Nevadan did (17.5).

The Rest Of The Story

Certainly, the additions Frazier and Chirinos and a complete season of Gallo should bolster the Texas lineup. But the team’s infielders could potentially be a drag on run creation. Last season, the unit was one of the least productive in MLB last season with a combined .306 OBP – only the Tigers (.294) and Royals (.291) were worse. Despite this glaring shortcoming, the only upgrade to the infield from outside the organization is Frazier.

Ronald Guzmán started 72 games at first base in 2019 and remains in the mix heading into this year. Guzmán is a solid glove, but has an underwhelming .229/.307/.415 triple-slash in 723 plate appearances since his big-league debut in 2018. Last season, the left-handed hitter struggled greatly against southpaws (.179/.242/.315) compared to right-handers (.246/.330/.451). Perhaps a platoon is an option.

It’s plausible former Yankee Greg Bird becomes a factor at first base. However, Bird, also a lefty hitter, has relatively similar career numbers to Guzmán’s (.211/.301/.424). Therefore, Bird doesn’t necessarily represent an improvement over the 23-year-old Guzmán, who is four years younger.

Frazier could potentially bolster first base production as a platoon partner for Guzmán. While it initially appeared Texas signed the right-handed hitter to stabilize third base, the team could move the 34-year-old across the diamond when the club faces a left-handed starter and have him patrol the hot corner when righties start.

If Frazier were to play first base against southpaws, third base options include Santana, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Nick Solak. We’ve already discussed Santana not having a record of sustained success in the majors. Thanks to their youth, Kiner-Falefa and Solak represent a potential source of new plate production.

Since debuting in the majors in 2018, the 25-year-old Kiner-Falefa has appeared in 176 games with an average-ish .253/.315/.344 slash-line. Still, the right-handed hitter may prove more productive with regular playing time. Even if that’s not the case, his positional versatility provides value. The Hawaiian has started 60-plus career games at catcher and third base, plus 19 contests at second base and two at shortstop.

Also 25-years-old, Solak managed to slash .293/.393/.491 with a 123 OPS+ during a brief audition last year. Granted, the former Louisville Cardinal’s production encompassed just 135 plate appearances. However, if he continues to produce similarly, the club will find a position for the rookie whether it’s third base, second base, or in the outfield.

Certainly, the presence of Frazier and newbies Kiner-Falefa and Solak could fortify the infield’s offensive contributions. But the middle-infield remains an area of concern. Second baseman Rougned Odor and shortstop Elvis Andrus were two of the least productive hitters in MLB last year. Among 135 qualified hitters, Odor ranked 130 in OPS+ with Andrus right behind him at 131. This may be a make or break season for both players.

About That Rotation

Adding recognizable names like Kluber, Gibson, and Lyles to join holdovers Lance Lynn and Mike Minor certainly gives the Rangers a chance to have a dominant starting staff. But it’s unclear what the newcomers will be capable of delivering this season, plus it’s conceivable Lynn and Minor take a step back.

Injuries limited Kluber to just seven starts last year, but he was one of baseball’s premier pitchers during the previous five seasons. During 2014-18, the 34-year-old averaged 32 starts with a 2.85 ERA and won two Cy Young trophies – he also finished top-3 in voting two other times. Which version of Kluber do the Rangers get in 2020?

Intestinal issues affected Gibson’s performance last year, but not his availability. The 32-year-old’s ERA slipped to 4.84, although he did log 160 innings in 29 starts. Just a year earlier, the right-hander set career bests in starts (32), ERA (3.62), and innings pitched (196.2). That’s the pitcher Texas fans have to be hoping to see this year.

Lyles split time between the Pirates and Brewers in 2019 delivering vastly different results with each club. In Pittsburgh, the 29-year-old posted a 5.36 ERA in 17 starts. After a deadline deal sending him to Milwaukee, he was far more impressive – 2.45 ERA in 11 starts. It’s worth noting the South Carolina native has bounced between starting and relieving throughout his nine-year career. His 141 frames last year represented his highest inning total since 2013.

This year’s Opening Day starter, Lance Lynn, and Mike Minor had career seasons in 2019 combining for 416.2 innings (51.6-percent of the rotation’s innings pitched) and a 3.63 ERA with each delivering over 7 bWAR. The only other clubs with two or more 5-plus WAR pitchers were the Nationals (3) and Astros (2). So why my concern with the duo?

Obviously, Lynn and Minor were studs in 2019, but both have a history of arm issues and logged career-high workloads last season. Am I suggesting certain regression? No, but neither Lynn nor Minor have enjoyed sustained excellence over multiple campaigns and both are on the wrong side of 30. For these reasons, feeling a bit apprehensive whether they can repeat last season’s success makes sense – at lease to me it does.

If any of the starting five were to falter, the Rangers may have a problem. The organization’s rotational depth includes an aging veteran and a stable of unproven youngsters. Edinson Vólquez, signed to a minor-league deal, missed 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and pitched just 16 innings last year. Behind the 37-year-old are Kolby Allard, Ariel Jurado, Joe Palumbo, Tyler Phillips and Taylor Hearn. All are 25-or-younger with a combined 33 MLB starts.

And The Bullpen

Last year, the Rangers’ bullpen ranked in the bottom-third of the majors in strikeouts, plus walks and home runs allowed last year. Overall, Texas had 20 relievers throw at least 10 innings – second most in the majors behind the rebuilding Mariners (22). Spoiler alert: this is not a good thing.

Returning at closer is José Leclerc , who started last season in the same role before losing and eventually regaining the job. The list of candidates to join Leclerc is long, although not awe inspiring – Nick Goody, former Mariner Juan Nicasio, Luís Garcia, Rafael Montero, Jesse Chavez, Yohander Méndez, Jimmy Herget, Tim Dillard, Brian Flynn, Jonathan Hernández, Luke Farrell, Derek Law, Cody Allen, Demarcus Evans, Ian Gibaut, and Wei-Chieh Huang. With the exception of Montero, the remaining pitchers didn’t deliver positive results on a consistent basis in 2019.

Health issues have slowed two relievers expected to be in the mix – Joely Rodríguez and Brett Martin. Rodriguez, arguably the best offseason addition to the bullpen, has been dealing with a lat strain since April. The southpaw is throwing again, but not expected to be ready for Opening Day.

Martin, who is diabetic, tested positive for COVID-19 at the onset of camp. The team reports the 25-year-old was exhibiting mild symptoms with no projected return date. Let’s all hope Martin recovers quickly from the virus without further complications.

Looking To September

Despite the good work by Daniels and his staff did to bolster the rotation in the offseason, the Rangers face an uphill battle in the AL West and the AL wild card race. Is it possible Texas contends for the postseason this year? Sure, but a lot has to go right for a club that’s experienced three consecutive losing campaigns.

Offensively, the team needs youngsters like Calhoun, Kiner-Falefa, and Solak to take the next step in their career progression. At the same time, veterans Choo and Frazier must avoid age-related regression, while Odor and Andrus can’t bog down the lineup again with below-average performances. Otherwise, it’s unlikely the Rangers experience meaningful improvement in run production.

For the rotation to have a chance to be special, Lynn and Minor must duplicate their 2019 excellence with Kluber and Gibson resembling their 2018 versions. Furthermore, Leclerc has to be more consistent, while his supporting cast must preserve leads for the closer. Otherwise, the Rangers risk wasting any good effort put forth by the starting staff and the lineup.

Certainly, this year’s truncated 60-game season is like no other before it. Therefore, it’s possible some of the concerns I’ve expressed won’t be as important to the Rangers’ success as I expect they will be. Having said that, I suspect Daniels’ club is more likely to be deadline sellers than late-season contenders in 2020.

My Oh My…

(Photo of Joey Gallo – Getty Images)

 …

Photo: Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
Whether realignment in Major League Baseball is temporary for 2020 or not, there’s a better way to realign the 30 clubs in order to make what promises to be a treacherous schedule more palatable for the players and other essential staff.

When thinking about realignment there are a lot of things to consider, including:

  • Location. Where will games be played? There’s been talk of Arizona only, Arizona and Florida, Arizona and Texas, Arizona and California, and the latest, which suggests teams will play games in their stadiums as usual. We’ll run with this as the most likely of the plans.
  • How many games in how many days? How many off days will there be? Will there be doubleheaders? How many?
  • Roster size. The league was already expanding to 26 for 2020, but with a more difficult schedule ahead it may be expanded to 30 or more, especially early in the season.

For me, realignment should be about making the schedule as easy on essential staff as possible, regardless of all of the above, which means as little travel as possible, within reason.


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Another goal should be to keep rivalries part of the season, both same-league rivalries such as Yankees-Red Sox and Cubs-Cardinals, and regional and/or interleague battles such as A’s-Giants.

Here’s what I came up with considering the aforementioned:

WEST WEST CENTRAL CENTRAL EAST EAST
LAA SD CHC MIL NYY WAS
LAD AZ CHW CLE NYM ATL
SF COL MIN CIN BOS TOR
OAK HOU STL DET PHI TB
SEA TEX KC PIT BAL MIA

As you can see, I kept same-city clubs in the same division, even if they typically are in different leagues. That helps me accomplish easier travel/proximity goals.

I also kept Cubs-Cardinals and Red-Sox-Yankees, put the Reds- Indians rivalry in the same division, and did the same with Rangers-Astros, but split up a few division rivalries that may have mattered in 2020, such as Mets-Nationals, Twins-Indians, and Braves-Nationals, but did so for the right mix of competitive balance.

But I’m not suggesting the Mets, in my American League East, can’t play multiple series versus the Nationals, who reside in my National League East. They can, and should. At least a home and home setup, depending on how many games the league schedules.

Here were my notes after putting together the above realignment:

  • Yep, one can easily make a few swaps and it can make a lot of sense. Orioles for Nationals, for example. In that scenario, putting the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and Nationals in the same division is unfair to every team. Four of those teams have a chance at the postseason and the fifth, Boston, expects to be competitive, despite injuries and the trade of Mookie Betts figuring to lower their ceiling and expectations for 2020.
  • Mostly play same-division and mirror-division series, especially early in the season to alleviate inherent scheduling issues.
  • Limit trips across multiple time zones. Under this regulation, the Eastern time zone clubs wouldn’t travel to the Pacific time zone more than once, and vice versa, but if the schedule dictates, Phillies going to Colorado twice would be allowed if the schedule dictated.
  • The proximity-based schedule makes the other parameters here plausible.
  • Shorter trips and lack of longer trips allow for bigger ask of players, including fewer days off, doubleheaders, short spring training, et al.

On top of realignment and special proximity-based scheduling, the league should be open to other adjustments, even if just for 2020. These include:

Adopting the mitigated extra-inning plan instituted in the minors a year ago, with some add-on paramaters

  • Start every extra-inning with a runner on second base and no outs.
  • Starting in the 12th inning, the runner starts at third base, but the three-batter minimum for pitchers is removed.
  • No ties.

Expanded Rosters
I think rosters should expand to 32 for the first 30 days with a 28-man active limit and no limit on pitcher count, then after 30 days shrink to 30 with a 26-man active limit and a 13-man pitcher limit, as originally planned for 2020.

Playoffs
If the league can get in 80 or more games — and it seems reasonable, even though there are some things that have to happen before ANY games will be possible — the playoff format should remain the same.

If the schedule is less than 80 games, adding three playoff teams to each league would allow the league to take advantage of, well, time. There’s a better chance fans will be able to attend games in October than in August, therefore taking advantage of that time by adding more teams and playoff games makes a lot of sense.

I expect the regular season to be rolled into October some as it is, but it’s not reasonable to play deep into November when weather in most cities has too large an impact on the results and will often threaten whether or not the game takes place at all.

If three playoff teams are added to each league, the format can look like this, using 2019’s final standings in the American League to demonstrate

1. Division Winner Houston Astros
2. Division Winner New York Yankees
3. Division Winner Minnesota Twins
4. Wildcard 1 Oakland Athletics
5. Wildcard 2 Tampa Bay Rays
6. Wildcard 3 Cleveland Indians
7. Wildcard 4 Boston Red Sox
8. Wildcard 5 Texas Rangers

The first round is simply 1 vs. 8 and so on, in a three-game series played entirely at the higher seeds ballpark.

Winners advanced to seven-games series in traditional formats.

Highest remaining seeds host lowest remaining seeds in Round 2, the Divisional Round. If the No. 6 seed, Cleveland in our demo scenario, beats the No. 3 seed, the Twin, in Round 1, and all other higher seeds win, the No. 1 seed Astros would play the No. 6 seed Indians in the Divisional Round. It’s a simple re-seeding after each round plan, something all sports leagues should adopt.

Round 3, which normally is the League Championship Series, is simply the League Semifinals, using the same parameters as above. If the higher seeds kept winning after Round 1, we’d see an Astros-Yankees LCS, but they’ll have to earn it with an extra round of winning necessary.

The simple idea is more baseball when it’s more likely fans will be able to attend. I don’t think typically 16 playoff teams, eight in each league, is a good idea. In this demo, the American League would have a sub.500 club in the postseason, the Rangers. The NL would have been able to fill out the bracket with winning clubs — the Cubs at 84-78 would have been the No. 8 seed.

An expanded playoff for 2020 might be wise even if the league can squeeze in 80-100 games. But I think the fewer regular season games, the longer the postseason should be. I’ve even floated the idea of a March Madness-style postseason if the regular season is 30 games or fewer.

Every team is in the postseason for at least a three-game series. It’s out there, but it’s also not implausible and might represent the best chance to get as many games played in 2020 as possible without playing games well into November — which would be a terrible idea.

It’s a strange circumstance we’re in with sports and the game of baseball. Extreme, I’d say. And you know what they say about extreme circumstances.…

During the 1995-96 MLB Amateur Drafts, the Mariners selected an outfielder in the late rounds, who rebuffed the team each time preferring to remain in school. The player eventually signed with the Rockies, played 14 seasons in the majors, and recorded a career .295 AVG with 614 stolen bases. His name was Juan Pierre.

I know what some of you are thinking. The Mariners have an inauspicious draft history; the team missing on Pierre doesn’t surprise you. Yes, the draft hasn’t been an organizational strength for much of its existence. But criticism isn’t warranted in this particular situation.

It’s not as if Seattle wasted an early round pick on Pierre, who likely believed playing college ball would improve his draft stock. Besides, many great players, even Hall of Famers, have rejected clubs to remain in school. Naturally, this reality energizes the daydreams of baseball fans everywhere.

What if those players didn’t reject their favorite team?

It’s a fun question worth exploring. Let’s discuss a great player each team failed to sign after drafting them.


Angels – Buster Posey

Posey was a fiftieth round pick of the Angels, but chose to attend Florida State. The Giants later selected him with the fifth overall pick in 2008. In 11 seasons, the former Seminole has been an MVP and Rookie of the Year, a batting champion, winner of four Silver Sluggers Awards, and a Gold Glover.

Had Posey become an Angel, he’d be teammates with Mike Trout – drafted a year later. Perhaps combining these two great players results in the Halos making more than one postseason appearance during the Trout era.


Astros – Jason Varitek

Before leading the Red Sox to championships, Varitek was a late pick of Houston. Minnesota later selected him in the first round, but he remained at Georgia Tech another year before signing with Seattle. The Mariners subsequently shipped the Michigan native to Beantown where he’d become team captain, an All-Star, a Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glove catcher.

When Varitek became a regular, the Astros were competitive and reached the World Series in 2005. Perhaps his presence helps Houston win a title, although the team did have Gold Glove backstop Brad Ausmus.


Athletics – Aaron Judge

Judge chose Fresno State over being Oakland’s thirty-first round pick in 2010. Wise move for the Californian, who’d later be a Yankees first rounder. In the Bronx, he’s been Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star. Since 2017, the 28-year-old has averaged 35 home runs and .279/.401/.572.

Fans of AL West rivals may not agree, but Judge anchoring an already potent lineup boasting Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien, and Khris Davis would be fun to watch.


Blue Jays – Kris Bryant

The same year Oakland drafted Judge, Toronto also selected Bryant late. The Cubs subsequently chose him with the second overall pick in the 2013 draft. The Las Vegas, Nevada native has since earned Rookie of the Year and MVP honors.

An All-Star third baseman, Bryant has double-digit starts in the outfield and first base. His versatility would’ve proven beneficial had he signed with Toronto. When the San Diego alum debuted in 2015, Josh Donaldson was AL MVP while patrolling the hot corner. Currently, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the team’s third baseman.


Braves – Randy Johnson

Atlanta made Johnson a fourth round pick, but he preferred being a USC Trojan. Montreal subsequently signed the 6-foot-10 left-hander who’d pitch 22 years, win five Cy Young Awards, and log 4,875 strikeouts – second only to Nolan Ryan (5,714).

When Johnson rose to prominence, the Braves’ rotation boasted future Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine. Although the team reached the NLCS eight times in the Nineties, it won just one World Series. Perhaps the Big Unit rewrites that history.


Brewers – Jason Giambi

Apparently, Long Beach State was more appealing than Milwaukee to Giambi. With Oakland, he was 2000 AL MVP and runner-up a year later. The five-time All-Star also led the league in OBP three times and slugged 440 home runs in 20 seasons.

The Brewers were irrelevant during Giambi’s Oakland stint, plus the team had Richie Sexson at first base. Then again, no Giambi on the A’s possibly alters the outcome of the 2000 AL West division race when Oakland edged out Seattle by a half game.


Cardinals – Max Scherzer

The three-time Cy Young Award winner is my choice over Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, who was a great player. But Scherzer is more dominant. Since 2013, his 46.7 bWAR is best among pitchers outpacing Clayton Kershaw (40.3), Chris Sale (36.2), and Justin Verlander (35.7). The 35-year-old’s 29-percent strikeout rate is highest all-time among pitchers with 2,000-plus innings pitched.

The Cardinals are perennial contenders reaching three NLCS and a World Series during Scherzer’s best years. Perhaps he propels his hometown team to a twelfth championship.


Cubs – Mark Langston

Langston opted for San Jose State over the Cubs and later became the second round pick of the fledgling Mariners. In 16 seasons, the southpaw was 1984 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up to teammate Alvin Davis, a four-time All-Star, and a Gold Glove defender seven times.

During Langston’s rookie year, the Cubs fell to the Padres in the NLCS. Adding him to a rotation already boasting Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley and 1984 NL Cy Young Award winner Rick Sutcliffe potentially helps the North Siders reach the Fall Classic.


Diamondbacks – Ian Kinsler

The Diamondbacks were fond of Kinsler, who they drafted twice before the Rangers signed him. For a decade, the Arizona native was one of the best second basemen in the majors with Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, and Chase Utley. His 55.2 career bWAR ranks nineteenth all-time among second basemen; his 257 home runs eighth best.

If Kinsler had signed with Arizona, he may have become one of the best Diamondbacks ever. The former Missouri Tiger’s bWAR, home run, doubles, and stolen bases with Texas would rank top-3 in the D-Backs’ record book.


Dodgers – Tom Seaver

During his first decade in MLB, Seaver was Rookie of the Year, a three-time Cy Young winner, and led the Mets to a World Series title. When elected to the Hall of Fame, Tom Terrific received the highest vote tally ever recorded.

Had Seaver become a Dodger, he replaces the retiring Sandy Koufax. That said; the team already had Hall of Famers Don Drysdale and Don Sutton, plus Claude Osteen and Bill Singer. Not landing the USC product would’ve crushed the Mets – he’s the best player in franchise history.


Giants – Barry Bonds

Although he eventually reached San Francisco, the son of Bobby Bonds chose Arizona State over Dad’s former team in 1982. Pittsburgh later selected him sixth overall. When Barry’s illustrious career ended in 2007, the seven-time MVP held the all-time records for home runs and walks.

If you apply Bonds career stats to the Giants’ record books, he’s the franchise leader in stolen bases and overtakes Willie Mays for top spot in doubles, home runs, and bWAR. The Pirates reached three consecutive NLCS with Bonds. This doesn’t happen without him.


Indians – Tim Lincecum

The Bellevue, Washington native chose his hometown college over the Tribe. Lincecum would go on to win consecutive NL Cy Young Awards with San Francisco in 2008-09. He’d also help the Giants win three World Series trophies in five years.

Lincecum’s presence likely doesn’t change the fact the Indians regressed after losing the 2007 ALCS. On the other hand, the Giants were on the rise. Perhaps the team doesn’t reach the top without the former Washington Husky or at least not as easily.


Mariners – Barry Zito

Seattle took their shot at Zito late in the 1996 draft; the A’s landed him with the ninth overall pick three years later. During his eight-year stint in Oakland, the Nevadan won a Cy Young Award and was one of baseball’s best left-handed pitchers with Randy Johnson and Johan Santana.

Having Zito at peak form would benefit the Mariners, while simultaneously weakening Oakland. His first full season was the same year Seattle fell to the Yankees in the 2001 ALCS. Perhaps the southpaw’s presence gets the Mariners over to the hump and to its first World Series.


Marlins – Cliff Lee

The Marlins selected Lee the same year they won the 1997 World Series. The Expos subsequently signed the former Razorback, but then dealt him to Cleveland where he’d win a Cy Young Award. The lefty played 13 seasons and was a four-time All-Star.

Lee’s first full season was 2004; the year after Florida won their second Fall Classic. The club then finished in third place in consecutive years. It’s plausible the Arkansas native’s presence helps, assuming the trade-happy team doesn’t deal him.


Mets – Roger Clemens

Clemens spurned the Mets in 1981 signing with Boston two years later. Only Cy Young (165.7) and Walter Johnson (159.7) have a higher career bWAR than the Texas product (138.7). His 4,672 career strikeouts rank third all-time behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875).

Imagine Clemens teaming with Dwight Gooden in the Mets’ rotation during the mid-Eighties. In such a scenario, the Red Sox likely miss the 1986 World Series and avoid losing to New York in an excruciating manner. Moreover, Sawx fans never get to unfairly vilify Bill Buckner.


Expos / Nationals – Mark McGwire

Selected by Montreal in 1981, McGwire later was the tenth overall pick by Oakland. During the Nineties, the powerful first baseman paced the majors with 405 home runs and a .615 SLG. He’d finish with 583 career home runs.

When McGwire debuted, the Expos had Andrés Galarraga playing first base. Displacing Galarraga would’ve been a tall order. Conversely, McGwire not joining the A’s likely affects the team’s chances of appearing in the 1988-90 World Series. Moreover, the Bash Brothers don’t exist without the USC product partnering with Jose Canseco.


Orioles – Dave Winfield

Baltimore drafted Winfield, as did other professional sports teams – the Atlanta Hawks (NBA), Utah Stars (ABA), and Minnesota Vikings (NFL). In the end, he became a Padre in 1973. When his 22-year Hall of Fame career concluded, the St. Paul, Minnesota native had collected 3,110 hits and 465 home runs.

During the Seventies, the Orioles were one of the better clubs in the AL, but struggled overtaking the Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East standings. Having the former Minnesota Gopher on their roster would’ve helped.


Padres – Todd Helton

The All-Star first baseman was a Rookie of the Year, batting champion and three-time Gold Glover during his 17-year career with Colorado. When Helton retired, he led the franchise in bWAR, home runs, doubles, hits, and walks.

During Helton’s rookie campaign, the Padres lost the 1998 World Series. However, Wally Joyner was producing at first base for the Friars. In subsequent years, San Diego fell into mediocrity until returning to relevance with division titles in 2005-06. Having the former Tennessee Vol possibly helps the Padres advance further in the postseason.


Phillies – Darrell Evans

Four teams drafted Evans before he signed with the A’s, but I’m placing with the team selecting him in January 1966. The Californian is one of just nine players with over 400 home runs and 1,600 walks. Seven are Hall of Famers; the other is Barry Bonds.

During Evans’ most productive years (1972-75), the Phillies were ascending in the standings. However, the two-time All Star would’ve had to move across the diamond to first base to accommodate Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt.


Pirates – Greg Vaughn

Like Evans, four clubs drafted Vaughn but didn’t ink him. The Pirates failed to do so in 1985. A year later, he was a Brewer. The Miami alum clobbered 355 home runs in 15 seasons. The four-time All-Star also finished fourth in NL MVP voting in 1998-99.

When Vaughn debuted in 1989, there wouldn’t have been room for him with the Pirates. By the following year, their outfield consisted of Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Andy Van Slyke.


Senators / Rangers – Jermaine Dye

There’s no clear-cut choice to discuss with this franchise. Raúl Ibañez and Mickey Rivers were possibilities, but I chose Dye. A forty-third round selection by Texas in 1992, he instead attended Cosumnes River College and signed with Atlanta a year later. The two-time All-Star also played in Kansas City Oakland, and finally Chicago where he was 2005 World Series MVP.

Missing on Dye had no consequence on the Rangers. The club was a cellar dweller when he flourished in the majors.


Rays – Jacoby Ellsbury

Tampa Bay tried snagging the Oregon native, but he chose a local college before the Red Sox made him a first rounder. Ellsbury played 11 seasons and was an All-Star, Gold Glover and Silver Slugger, plus runner-up to 2011 AL MVP Justin Verlander. He also helped Boston win the 2007 and 2010 World Series.

During the Oregon State alum’s first full season, the Rays reached the 2008 World Series. However, the club had a 23-year-old Melvin Upton Jr. patrolling center field at the time and didn’t need Ellsbury.


Red Sox – Mark Teixeira

Teixeira was a ninth round pick of Boston, then the fifth overall pick by Texas in 2001. The switch-hitter spent six seasons with three teams before joining Boston’s heated rival – the Yankees. The five-time Gold Glove first baseman was runner-up to 2009 AL MVP to Joe Mauer and finished his 14-year career with 409 home runs.

During Teixeira’s debut year, the Red Sox lost the 2003 ALCS to the Yankees with Kevin Millar at first base. Perhaps the Georgia Tech product’s bat and strong defense helps Boston vanquish New York and reach the Fall Classic.


Reds – Nick Markakis

Cincinnati selected Markakis late in consecutive years before he became an Oriole. Currently with Atlanta, the Young Harris College alum has averaged 13 home runs, 36 doubles, and hit .288/.358/.424 since debuting in 2006. He’s also won three Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger.

If Markakis signed with the Reds, he may have become the team’s regular right fielder when they were fielding competitive rosters in 2010-13. Still, Jay Bruce was in the picture at the time. Perhaps management moves one of the All-Stars to left field.


Rockies – Chris Sale

A late selection by Colorado, Sale would later be a White Sox first round pick. Although the 31-year-old hasn’t won a Cy Young Award, he was a top-five vote getter during  2013-18. Moreover, he was top-three in bWAR, ERA, FIP, WHIP, strikeouts, and complete games.

It’s reasonable to consider how Sale performs at mile-high Coors Field. The Florida Gulf Coast alum’s experience in Denver is a teeny-tiny sample of 3.1 innings in two games – no runs, two singles, one walk, and three strikeouts.


Royals – Will Clark

Six years after Clark passed on the Royals, he was NL MVP runner-up to Giants teammate Kevin Mitchell. “The Thrill” finished his 15-season career with a .303/.384/.497 slash-line, four top-5 MVP finishes, two Silver Sluggers, and a Gold Glove.

Clark’s peak was 1987-92 when Kansas City had winning seasons. It’s plausible the Louisiana native helps the team, but Hall of Famer George Brett was playing first base by then. Perhaps Brett or Clark moves to designated hitter. On the other hand, no Clark potentially keeps the Giants from reaching the NLCS twice and the World Series in 1987-89.


Tigers – Ozzie Smith

Smith later became a Padre after the Tigers made him a seventh round choice. Perhaps the greatest fielding shortstop ever, the Cal Poly product’s 76.9 bWAR ranks fourth all-time among shortstops. The only person ahead of the Hall of Famer playing since World War II – Cal Ripken Jr. (95.9).

Fellow Hall of Famer Alan Trammell was Detroit’s shortstop when “The Wizard” debuted. Also a Gold Glover, Trammell spent his entire career as a Tiger finishing with 70.7 bWAR. Moreover, he was 1987 AL MVP runner-up to George Bell and 1984 World Series MVP.


Twins – George Springer

Minnesota took a late-round stab at Springer, the eleventh overall pick by Houston in 2011. The 30-year-old has since become a two-time Silver Slugger and World Series MVP. His 19.1 bWAR since 2016 ties him with Aaron Judge for second highest among right fielders behind Mookie Betts. Furthermore, Giancarlo Stanton (127) is the only right fielder with more home runs than the former UConn Husky (124).

Signing Springer doesn’t change the Twins’ recent history. But Houston not having his services may have been franchise altering.


White Sox – Jimmy Key

The left-hander preferred Clemson to being a tenth round pick of Chicago and later joined the professional ranks with the Blue Jays. Key never won a Cy Young Award, but was a two-time runner-up. The Alabaman also helped Toronto win its first World Series and is one of the best pitchers in franchise history with Roy Halladay and Dave Stieb.

Losing Key hurts the Blue Jays, not so much with the White Sox. The year prior to his debut, the South Siders fell to the Orioles in the 1984 ALCS. Afterwards, the team delivered mixed results during the first decade of Key’s career.


Yankees – Fred Lynn

Finally, imagine if the Yankees signed Lynn as a third rounder rather than the Red Sox snagging him as a second rounder. With Boston, he was 1975 Rookie of the Year and MVP. Moreover, the nine-time All-Star was 1982 ALCS MVP, a Gold Glove center fielder, and hit 306 career home runs.

If the USC product won 1975 Rookie of the Year and MVP as a Yankee, the Bombers don’t trade for All-Star Mickey Rivers the following offseason. Boston won the AL East over the Orioles by just 4.5 games in 1975. No Lynn possibly keeps the Sawx from reaching the World Series that year.

 

Featured Photo: John Iacono / Sports Illustrated

The selection process for MLB All-Star games is imperfect; we all know this. Fan voting heavily influences the roster; All-Star managers prefer choosing reserves from their own club. Then, there’s the requirement every team must have a representative. In the end, deserving players miss the cut every year.

Generally, players sustaining their success over multiple seasons eventually play in the Mid-Summer Classic. But there are exceptions. Just for fun, I compiled a starting lineup using former players who, according to Baseball Reference, never appeared on an All-Star roster.

Some names may surprise you; others may not. All played since MLB expanded in 1961.


First Base – Wes Parker

Parker won six consecutive Gold Gloves during his nine big-league seasons. The switch-hitter enjoyed his best year in 1970 when he led the majors in doubles and earned a fifth place finish behind winner Johnny Bench in NL MVP voting. Although he didn’t receive the big prize, the former USC Trojan was the Dodgers’ team MVP.

During his best days, Parker’s competition for All-Star selection was Hall of Famers Willie McCovey and Ernie Banks, plus Felipe Alou, Dick Allen, and Lee May. Although still performing well, “Mr. Steady” retired from MLB after his age-32 season in 1972.

Others: Dan Driessen; Donn Clendenon; Pete O’Brien


Second Base – Bill Doran

Another switch-hitter, Doran finished fifth in NL 1983 Rookie of the Year behind Darryl Strawberry. Over the next four seasons, he averaged 23 doubles and 26 stolen bases with a 112 OPS+ and 22.4 bWAR. The only second basemen better than the Miami of Ohio product were Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg (23.9 bWAR and 113 OPS+) and Lou Whitaker (22.6 and 117).

Doran was an amazingly consistent hitter. In nine seasons with Houston, he slashed .267/.355/.374. The Ohioan then hit .265/.357/.375 with the hometown Reds for three campaigns. During his best years, All-Star second basemen were Sandberg, Tommy Herr, Steve Sax, and Juan Samuel.

Others: Mark Ellis; Delino DeShields


Shortstop – John Valentin

Valentin broke in as a shortstop, but he transitioned to second base and finally third base. Between 1993 and 1996, his 21.0 bWAR paced MLB shortstops, including Hall of Famers Barry Larkin (20.9) and Cal Ripken Jr. (15.5) with only Larkin (132) topping his 119 OPS+. In 1995, the Mineola, New York native won the AL Silver Slugger Award for shortstop and received MVP consideration.

When Valentin split time between second base and shortstop the following year, his 124 OPS+ ranked third among middle-infielders behind Hall of Famer and fellow Seton Hall alum Craig Biggio (140) and Jeff Blauser (130). The right-handed hitter also led the AL in doubles.

Honorable mention: Yunel Escobar; José Valentín; Orlando Cabrera


Third Base – Eric Chávez

A Silver Slugger and six-time Gold Glover, Chávez never appeared in a Mid-Summer Classic. All-Star third basemen at the time included Troy Glaus, Álex Rodríguez, Shea Hillenbrand, Hank Blalock, and Melvin Mora.

During his best years (2000-2005), Chávez produced 28.3 bWAR; best among third basemen with the exception of National Leaguers Scott Rolen (32.0) and Chipper Jones (29.8). The Californian also clobbered 177 home runs placing him behind Glaus (189) and Jones (178).

Unfortunately, injuries curtailed Chávez’s availability beginning in 2007. Despite the setback, only Sal Bando (52.1) has a higher career bWAR than Chávez (35.0) among Oakland third basemen. Moreover, his 1,320 games in an A’s uniform trail only Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson (1,704), Bando (1,410), and Mark McGwire (1,329) since the franchise’s relocation to the Bay Area in 1968.

Honorable mention: Richie Hebner; Corey Koskie; Pete Ward; Chase Headley


Left Field – Kirk Gibson

Gibson possessed a superb blend of speed and power. The former All-American football player reached or exceeded hit 25 home runs and stolen bases in a season four times. The only players accomplishing this feat more often – Barry Bonds (10), Bobby Bonds (9), Willie Mays (5), and Darryl Strawberry (5).

Between 1984 and 1988, Gibson produced 25.0 bWAR – tenth best in the majors. His 139 OPS+ ranked seventh best tying him with Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson and Eddie Murray, plus Boston’s Dwight Evans.

After winning the NL MVP in 1988, Gibson played 130-plus games in a season just once more during his final seven years. Still, the former Michigan State Spartan cemented his legacy with Tigers and Dodgers fans by earning 1984 ALCS MVP with Detroit and hitting a walk-off home run as a Dodger in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

Others: Kevin McReynolds; Shannon Stewart; Rusty Greer; Pat Burrell


Center Field – Garry Maddox

A second round pick of the Giants in 1968, Maddox established himself as the best defensive center fielder of his generation after San Francisco shipped him to Philadelphia. With the Phillies, the “Secretary of Defense” would win eight consecutive Gold Gloves.

“Two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water, the other one-third by Garry Maddox.” – Mets announcer Ralph Kiner

Although best known for his glove work, Maddox averaged 31 doubles and 27 stolen bases during his first six seasons in the City of Brotherly Love. During this span, Fred Lynn (26.6) was the only center fielder with a higher bWAR than Maddox (24.8), who also placed fifth in 1976 NL MVP voting.

Since 1947, Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn (58.2) is the only Phillies center fielder with a higher bWAR than Maddox (29.0).

Others: Dwayne Murphy; Coco Crisp; Denard Span; Bill North; Juan Pierre


Right Field – Tim Salmon

The 1993 AL Rookie of the Year remained a fixture in right field for the Angels for a decade. In fact, Salmon stayed so long with the team he played for the California, Anaheim, and Los Angeles versions of the Halos.

From his rookie campaign through the 2000 season, Salmon averaged 29 doubles and 28 home runs with a 138 OPS+ and 32.4 bWAR. During this eight-year span, the only right fielders with a higher bWAR were Sammy Sosa (38.2) and Hall of Famer Larry Walker (37.2) – both from the National League.

Salmon’s 40.6 career bWAR as an Angel trails Mike Trout (72.8) and Jim Fregosi (45.9) in franchise history. Similarly, Trout (176) and Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero (141) are the lone Angels with a better OPS+ than Salmon’s 128. The Grand Canyon University alum holds the team record for home runs (299), although the mark likely belongs to Trout (285) by the end of his next season.

Others: Sixto Lezcano; Floyd Robinson; Trot Nixon; Jim Northrup


Catcher – Chris Hoiles

Hoiles’ best season was 1993 when his OBP, SLG, OPS+, and bWAR ranked fifth best in the AL. Among MLB catchers, only Mike Piazza had a higher bWAR. However, the Eastern Michigan product bested Piazza in OBP, SLG, and OPS+. Hoiles didn’t deserve to win the AL MVP over Frank Thomas, although he deserved to finish closer to top-5 than to his actual placing – sixteenth.

You won’t find Hoiles’ name near all-time great Orioles Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray, and Cal Ripken Jr. in franchise rankings. But he’s the best offensive catcher in club history with the most home runs, plus the highest bWAR and OPS+ among Baltimore backstops.

Others: Rick Dempsey; Don Slaught; Steve Yeager; Earl Williams


Designated Hitter – Travis Hafner

During Hafner’s four best seasons (2004-07), he averaged 32 home runs and 35 doubles with a 156 OPS+. Only Albert Pujols (169) and David Ortiz (159) delivered a better OPS+. Right behind the North Dakotan was former teammate Álex Rodríguez (153).

Fun Fact: The only North Dakota native with more MLB games played than Hafner (1,183) is Darin Erstad (1,654).

Hafner finished fifth in 2005 AL MVP voting and eighth the following season. In 2006, he shared the MLB lead in OBP with Manny Ramirez and finished second only to Pujols in SLG and OPS+. The lefty hitter also recorded a .308 AVG and walked 100 times.

Sadly, a shoulder injury in 2008 would affect Hafner’s availability and productivity until his retirement after the 2013 season. During this span, he played in 100-plus games just once in 2010.

Others: Kendrys Morales; Ken Phelps; Cliff Johnson


Utility-man – Tony Phillips

Initially a middle-infielder, Phillips would eventually morph into a full-fledged utility-man. During his 18-year career, he started over 600 games at both second base and the outfield in addition to another 200-plus at both shortstop and third base.

Fun fact: Phillips attended high school in Roswell, Georgia and then attended the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, New Mexico.

Phillips’ best years were his early-to-mid thirties (1990-95) when his 29.7 bWAR ranked eighth in the majors. The only players finishing ahead of him not in the Hall of Fame – Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro. During the same span, only Frank Thomas (661), Bonds (647), and Mickey Tettleton (642) walked more times than the Georgian (632). Accordingly, his .395 OBP was seventh best in MLB.

Fun Fact II: Phillips walked 90-plus times in seven seasons as a thirty-something. Only Bonds (9), Rickey Henderson (8), and Babe Ruth (8) did it more often.

Phillips fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after one year of eligibility, although his career 50.9 bWAR is higher than 13 Hall of Famers since baseball integrated in 1947. Among them: Ted Simmons, Lou Brock, Harold Baines, and Orlando Cepeda.

Others: César Tovar; Mark McLemore; Mike Blowers


Starter – John Tudor

Between 1982 and 1988, Tudor made 208 starts with a 3.06 ERA and 28.6 bWAR. Only Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser, and Roger Clemens had a lower ERA. Gooden and Clemens, plus Dave Stieb were the only pitchers with a higher bWAR.

Tudor’s best campaign was 1985 at age-31. The Schenectady, New York native led the majors with 10 shutouts and a 0.938 WHIP, plus he logged a 1.93 ERA. Since MLB lowered the mound after the 1968 season, only one other pitcher has 10 shutouts in a year – Hall of Famer Jim Palmer in 1975.

Unfortunately, for Tudor, his career year coincided with the emergence of Gooden, who won the 1985 NL Cy Young Award over the Georgia Southern product. Tudor correspondingly finished eighth in MVP voting, although his 8.2 bWAR trailed only Gooden (13.3) and tied teammate Willie McGee.

Since World War II, Tudor’s 2.52 ERA is tops by a Cardinals pitcher with 500-plus innings. His 146 ERA+ similarly leads all Redbird pitchers during this span. It’s worth noting the southpaw tossed 881.2 innings with St. Louis compared to all-time great Bob Gibson, who pitched over 3,800 innings and recorded a 2.91 ERA and 127 ERA+.

Others: Tom Candiotti; Charlie Leibrandt; John Denny


Closer – Billy Koch

Koch’s career was brief, just six years. However, the former Clemson Tiger did save 144 games during his first four major-league seasons with Toronto and Oakland. Only Robb Nen (166) and Hall of Famers Trevor Hoffman (164) and Mariano Rivera (159) were better. Mariano was the lone American Leaguer.

During his final standout season in 2002 as a member of the A’s, Koch led AL pitchers with 82 appearances; his 44 saves trailed only Eddie Guardado (45) in the junior circuit. The Long Islander would also finish eighteenth in AL MVP voting.

Others: Kevin Gregg; Roger McDowell; Michael Jackson; John Axford; LaTroy Hawkins


Active Names

For anyone wondering, here’s a sample of current players yet to appear in an All-Star game. As with the retirees, several of the names may surprise you.

Perhaps the biggest shocker is Andrelton Simmons, baseball’s best defensive shortstop. Despite averaging 32 doubles, hitting .285/.334/.419, and winning Gold Gloves in 2017-18, the Curacao native didn’t appear in the All-Star game either year.

If Marcus Semien repeats his breakout 2019, he’ll likely challenge Simmons for an All-Star bid. Semien’s teammate, first baseman Matt Olson, could potentially join him. Olson has averaged 30 home runs since 2017 and owns two Gold Gloves.

It’s a matter of time before youngsters Juan Soto and Jack Flaherty play in the first of likely many Mid-Summer Classics. Both players had breakout seasons with their respective clubs last year. Soto is just 21-years-old, while Flaherty is 24.

There are other active players deserving of being an All-Star, but you get the drift. It’s not always about worthiness. In the big scheme of things, selections to a mid-season exhibition game have little meaning. Still, it’s something fun to talk about while we remain hunkered down.

After all, talking about baseball is always fun.

Wouldn’t you agree?

My Oh My……

In the big scheme of things, adults playing a child’s game pales in comparison to the very real COVID-19 crisis. Still, whenever we finally turn a corner with the current situation, sports could provide a sense of normalcy, serve as a source of comfort. They did just that for me and others after the events of 9/11.

That’s why the news MLB and the MLB Players Association have hammered out financial details to eventually restart baseball offers cause for optimism. Granted, when a 2020 season actually begins depends on the progression of the COVID-19 outbreak and its aftermath. Plus, subsequent agreements on season length, roster sizes, and postseason format will be required.

Still, overcoming major obstacles now should speed up the process once it’s time to play ball. In the interim, we’re left to speculate on what an abbreviated season might look like. Naturally, such conjecture is fuel for sports talk radio, other media platforms, and the blogosphere.

Even the venerable duo of Ken Rosenthal and Jayson Stark recently joined the conversation. In the Athletic, they highlighted fun and innovative ways MLB could tinker with the season and playoffs. Meanwhile, Keith Olbermann of ESPN presented the radical idea of playing a 32-game schedule starting in September.

Talking about these and other ideas is a nice distraction, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the reality that an abbreviated season likely presents a different outcome than a full 162-game schedule.

I’m not suggesting MLB shouldn’t play a season unless they can squeeze in x-number of games. Only that the postseason picture could be vastly different with a season significantly shorter than the usual campaign.

To demonstrate this point, I’ve devised a science project using the 2019 season. Let’s see which teams would’ve reached the postseason if we ended 2019 after 32, 75, and 100 games.

Two notes before proceeding:

* The dates selected are when the average number of games played by all 30 teams matches the milestone selected. Some clubs will have played the exact number; others will be over/under the mark. Remember, we’re simply attempting to gain perspective on how an abbreviated season might influence the final standings; not determine postseason berths.

* To ascertain team records on our chosen dates, I used Baseball Reference, which provides users with the capability to review standings on a specific date. It also permits us to quickly determine how clubs fared from that point moving forward. It’s a fun tool I turn to often.

Without further ado, let’s begin.

American League

Regardless of when the season started, the Twins and Astros won their respective divisions. But the Yankees would’ve been relegated to a wild card spot using the 32-game micro-schedule.

At least New York makes the postseason under any scenario. The same isn’t true for other clubs.

The Rays, an actual 2019 wild card, win the AL East in a season lasting just five weeks. The team also nets a wild card spot through 75 games. However, Tampa Bay is on the outside looking in at the 100-game mark.

The Indians meander between playoff team and also-ran depending on when the season concluded. A mediocre 12-17 win-loss record in May certainly didn’t help the squad keep pace with the powerhouse Twins. The Tribe would rebound going 35-17 in June-July, but fell short of the postseason for the first time since 2015.

In a 75-game scenario, Boston fans would be pleased. In reality, the Red Sox went 35-37 in the second half of an otherwise lost season. Still, it’s tough feeling bad for fans in New England. Their Sawx won the World Series the year prior.

The Athletics have been late bloomers in recent seasons; 2019 was no different. Only Baltimore and Kansas City had a worse record in the AL than Oakland through 32 games. By June 20, the A’s were surging and just a half-game behind Boston.

Surprisingly, a tie in the standings existed between Oakland and division-rival Texas at 75 games. The Rangers were five games over .500, but an 8-16 record in July squelched any playoff aspirations. Despite the dreadful month, the club had a winning record as late as August 11.

There’s another also-ran worthy of mention – the Mariners. Seattle had an MLB-best 13-2 record through mid-April. Then came a rapid descent towards the cellar. Still, the Olbermann plan would’ve provided a glimmer of hope.

On May 3, the Mariners were just a game behind division-leading Houston. Seattle had already played 34 games. However, two games earlier, the club based in the Pacific Northwest had the same record as the Astros. Imagine the rebuilding Mariners breaking their 19-year postseason drought thanks to a torrid two-week start in a 32-game season.

Wouldn’t that be something?

Here’s a not-so-fun fact for fans in the Motor City. On May 3, the Tigers were just a game under .500 and 2.5 games behind division-leading Minnesota.

Unfortunately, things went downhill afterwards. Detroit won 33 games for the remainder of the season. That’s 10 less wins than the next terrible team – the Orioles. At least the Tigers locked up the number-one overall draft pick.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the Senior Circuit.

National League

As with the AL, the division out west remains unchanged regardless of when the season ended. The Dodgers would still win their seventh consecutive NL West title.

Every other division experienced some level of churn, especially under the 32-game scenario.

Philadelphia was five games over .500 on May 3 and would’ve been NL East division champions. But the club finished with a mediocre 81-81 and replaced its manager. It’s not as if the Phillies cratered, but expectations were high in the City of Brotherly Love after the team signed Bryce Harper to an enormous 13-year/$330 million deal.

The Cubs were a wild card team early and even rose to division leader at later checkpoints. But Chicago fell out of contention later in the season. As late as the last day of August, the team held the second wild card slot with a 4.5 game lead. Then, a disappointing 11-16 run in September finished the North Siders. They too have a new manager now.

Arizona managed to be relevant through 32 games clinching a wild card spot and being just a game behind the division-leading Dodgers. However, the D-Backs would fall to the .500-mark by June 20 and remain there at our next milestone. The team did enjoy a late-season surge going 31-22 down the stretch. When the dust settled, they finished four games behind the second card team – Milwaukee.

Speaking of the Brewers, they were inconsistent throughout 2019. The Brew Crew’s monthly record was .500-or-worse in June-August. Milwaukee finally caught fire with a spectacular 20-7 mark in September, which was enough to get them into the postseason.

Three games behind Milwaukee in the wild card standings at season’s end were the Mets. At the All-Star break, New York was 10 games under .500 – second worst in the NL at the time. But the team then erupted with the second best record (49-26) in the league behind the Dodgers. Too little, too late for the Amazin’s.

And how about the Rockies?

By the end of the 2019 season, Colorado would tie Baltimore for the fifth worst record in the majors. Yet, on June 20, the club was six games over .500 and in possession of the first wild card spot. Then came the crater-job – a 31-57 record the rest of the way.

Ironically, our first two scenarios would’ve excluded the eventual World Series champions – the Nationals.

During last year’s postseason, announcers frequently noted Washington started the season terribly. It’s true; only two NL teams had a worse record than the Nats did at the end of May. That’s when they took off.

Starting on June 1, the Nationals went 69-36 giving the team the best record in the NL from that point moving forward. Only their eventual Fall Classic opponent – Houston – performed better over the last four months of the season.

What’s Next?

As we’ve seen during our discussion, the length of the season can drastically affect the final standings. Having said that, I’m not against any scenario providing us with major-league baseball this year.

Yes, Olbermann’s innovative and fascinating idea feels more like a tease than something that I’d find satisfying. Then again, the alternative is nothing and I vote against nothing when given options leading to games.

By now, MLB has undoubtedly developed contingencies to address multiple potential scenarios, including cancellation of the 2020 season altogether. Hopefully, zero baseball isn’t the endgame. If we’re fortunate to see action this year, it’ll certainly be gratifying for two reasons.

Most importantly, the resumption of sports would suggest we’ve beaten down COVID-19. Baseball returning this year would also symbolize some semblance of normalcy sooner than later. Right now, we could all use some of that.

Wouldn’t you agree?

My Oh My…

Photo: D. Ross Cameron / USA TODAY Sports

Madison Bumgarner Photo by Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports

Advanced metrics suggest Madison Bumgarner may be regressing. But the Diamondbacks are betting five years and $85 million on the belief the 30-year-old pitcher’s career is primed for a strong second act.

The D-Backs’ confidence in MadBum prompted my pea-brain to wonder about previous pitchers having great second acts. It turns out quite a notable names enjoyed success later in their career. So, I made a list.

Please note I chose pitchers with stories compelling to me. Your list would probably look different and that’s okay. This is an exercise in fun, not being right or wrong.

As you’ll see, my definition of “second act” isn’t necessarily age-related. Sometimes, injury or change of location marked a turning point for these distinguished players.

First up, a familiar name from Bumgarner’s home state.


Gaylord Perry

Throughout his 22-year career, opponents accused Perry of throwing the spitball. Despite the suspicions and increased scrutiny from the league and umpires, his effectiveness as a thirty-something led to Cooperstown enshrinement.

Perry was superb in his twenties, but didn’t win a first Cy Young Award until he was 33-years-old. He’d receive the honor again at 39 and finished top-4 in balloting two other times. The North Carolina native also played in four All-Star games with his last appearance coming at age-40.

Now 81-years-old, Perry remains coy about throwing a spitter.


Zack Greinke

The first of three active pitchers on our list enjoyed a career-season at 25-years-old winning his only Cy Young Award with the Royals. Nevertheless, Greinke found a second gear in his thirties.

During his age-31 season in 2015, Greinke posted a 1.66 ERA. Since MLB lowered the mound in 1969, only two other pitchers have recorded lower marks – Dwight Gooden and Greg Maddux (twice). Neither were in their thirties at the time. He’s also earned six consecutive Gold Gloves.

Greinke has remained effective and available as he ages. Since 2015, the Florida native is one of just three pitchers to throw 1,000-plus innings. The others – Max Scherzer and teammate Justin Verlander.


Roger Clemens

In 13 seasons with the Red Sox, Clemens was a three-time Cy Young winner and MVP. But the former Texas Longhorn left via free agency in 1996 when his career appeared to be in decline. That’s when Act II began for Roger Rocket.

Clemens joined the Blue Jays the following season and immediately won two consecutive Cy Young Awards. He’d win another with the Yankees and a final plaque with Houston in 2004 – his age-41 season. A year later, his 1.87 ERA was best in the majors.

Thanks to his career renaissance, Clemens finished with seven Cy Young plaques and 354 wins. Not bad for a player appearing washed-up when he left the Sawx.


Tommy John

Tommy John’s second act happened after undergoing the groundbreaking elbow procedure bearing his name. Prior to the surgery, John was a successful 12-year veteran and All-Star spending time with the White Sox, Indians, and Dodgers.

A year after returning to action with the Dodgers in 1976, John was Cy Young runner-up to Steve Carlton as a 34-year-old. In 1979, the southpaw finished second as a Yankee behind Mike Flanagan.

When John finished pitching at 46-years-old, the former Indiana State Sycamore had finished top-four in Cy Young voting three times and was a three-time All-Star after TJ surgery.

Fun fact: John’s bWAR was virtually identical before and after his surgery:

Pre-surgery = 31.1

Post-surgery = 31.0

That’s good, right?


John Smoltz

Smoltz following Tommy John is fitting since the Michigan native wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer without TJ surgery.

Prior to his elbow injury, Smoltz was an established star with the Braves – Cy Young awardee, NLCS MVP, four-time All-Star. He’d miss the 2000 campaign, but returned a year later in a new role – Atlanta’s closer.

Smoltz would go on to appear in four more midsummer classics and earn MVP votes in three consecutive seasons. In 2002, he saved a league-leading 55 games and finished third in Cy Young voting.

After four seasons of closing games, Smoltz returned to the Braves’ rotation in 2005 as a 38-year-old. Naturally, he was an All-Star.

Fun fact: In August 1987, the Tigers were in a heated pennant race, so they traded Smoltz (a minor leaguer) to the Braves for Doyle Alexander.

That’s bad, right?


Steve Carlton

Speaking of trades not aging well, Carlton’s second act followed one of the worst deals in Cardinals history. In 1972, the club dealt the future Hall of Famer to the Phillies for Rick Wise.

During seven seasons in St. Louis, Carlton was a three-time All-Star. But he’d win three Cy Young Awards in Philadelphia, including his first season with the team. The final plaque arrived when he was a 38-year-old.

Lefty also finished fifth in MVP voting three times, earned selection to seven All-Star games, and was a Gold Glover in the City of Brotherly Love.


Greg Maddux

Maddux’s second act also began in a new city. He left the Cubs as the reigning Cy Young winner and signed with the Braves. The right-hander won the award his first three seasons in Atlanta and finished top-5 on three other ballots.

Being highly effective and available were cornerstones to Maddux’s epic 11-season run as a Brave. The Professor’s 342 starts during his thirties (1996-2005) were the most logged during that decade; his 3.7-percent walk rate was the best in baseball.

With Atlanta, Maddux also won four ERA titles, appeared in six All-Star games, and earned 10 Gold Gloves. He’d return to the Cubs for two seasons before finishing his 23-year career with brief stints as a Padre and Dodger.


Max Scherzer

Scherzer was already a Cy Young winner and All-Star when left the Tigers via free agency in 2014. As with Maddux, the best was yet to come for the former Missouri Tiger.

Since joining the Nationals, Scherzer has been one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. He’s won the NL version of the Cy Young twice and finished top-3 in two other years. Moreover, he’s led the league in strikeouts three times and accrued the most bWAR by a pitcher since 2015.

Most importantly, Scherzer helped propel Washington to their first World Series championship this year.


Justin Verlander

Through his age-29 season, Verlander appeared destined for the Hall of Fame – Rookie of the Year, Cy Young winner, and MVP. Unfortunately, signs of regression appeared when he turned 30.

Verlander’s ERA crept upward and his availability declined in his early thirties; a point many pitchers begin to fade. However, the former Old Dominion Monarch experienced a career rebirth.

As a 33-year-old in 2016, Verlander finished second in Cy Young voting. A year later, Detroit dealt the right-hander to Houston where he immediately helped the Astros win their first World Series.

In 2018, Verlander was Cy Young runner-up once again. This year, he won his long overdue second award edging out former rotation-mate Gerrit Cole. The odds of the Virginian earning a Cooperstown plaque are better than ever.


Mariano Rivera

Through his first-half of his career (ages 25-33), Rivera was a superb reliever – five All-Star games, a pair of third place Cy Young finishes, and MVP consideration in five seasons. Then, he decided to defy Father Time for a while.

During his age 34-41 seasons, Rivera accrued 27.3 bWAR – easily the best of any full-time reliever with Joe Nathan (18.4) a distant second. Amazingly, only 13 starters bettered the Panamanian. He’d also be a Cy Young runner-up two more times.

Rivera’s strong second act during a precedent-setting 19-year career earned him the first unanimous selection into the Hall of Fame this year.


Randy Johnson

Johnson was a recognized star when the Mariners traded him to the Astros in July 1998. With Seattle, he tossed a no-hitter, won a Cy Young and was runner-up twice. That said; the Big Unit became a Hall of Famer after his Emerald City stint.

With the Diamondbacks, Johnson won four consecutive Cy Young Awards and was MVP of Arizona’s lone World Series victory in 2001. Three years later, the former USC Trojan tossed a perfect game as a 40-year-old making him the oldest player in MLB history to achieve the feat.


Nolan Ryan

By his thirtieth birthday, Ryan was a two-time Cy Young Award runner-up and four-time strikeout leader. However, the hard-throwing righty kept going and going and going like the Energizer Bunny.

In his thirties (1977-86), Ryan ranked tenth in bWAR. During his age-34 season, he led the majors with a 1.66 ERA and a .188 opponent AVG. Remarkably, the Texan faced 605 hitters and surrendered just two home runs.

The Ryan Express didn’t lose steam entering its fourth decade. During his age 40-44 seasons, Ryan delivered 21.1 bWAR – seventh best during this span. Moreover, the former twelfth rounder won another ERA title, led the league in strikeouts four times, and finished fifth in Cy Young voting as a 42-year-old.

In a way, Ryan had second and third acts.

Fun Fact: Only four pitchers have thrown a no-hitter as a forty-something. Nolan Ryan is the only person to do so twice.


Bumgarner isn’t the only veteran pitcher hoping to improve next season. Former Mariners ace Félix Hernández, who’s been regressing for several years, wants to prove he can still provide value.

Now a free agent, the 33-year-old Hernández is seeking an opportunity to have his second act. As we’ve discussed previously, history doesn’t favor King Félix. But who cares?

Perhaps MadBum and Félix won’t rebound. But rooting for them to succeed is more fun than being a curmudgeon about their future during the offseason.

Wouldn’t you agree?…

Photo of Austin Nola by Ted S. Warren / AP

Marwin González, Brock Holt, and Ben Zobrist are three of the more prominent super-utility men in MLB. But there are other versatile performers poised to help their teams win. I decided to have a little fun identifying some of my favorites.

Most of the names you’ll see played the outfield and infield. Two donned the tools of ignorance to squat behind the plate. One even toed the mound on a recurring basis. Some could be regulars next year depending on their club’s offseason maneuvering.

One note before we begin. Player tables list their WAR (Baseball Reference) and number of games at each position in 2019. With one exception, mound appearances weren’t included.

Leury García – White Sox

With the White Sox potentially transitioning from rebuild to contention this offseason, the switch-hitting García’s positional flexibility could prove beneficial.

García’s .310 OBP was below average, although he did hit 27 doubles and steal 15 bases in a career-high 140 games this season. The native of Santiago, Dominican Republic also led the majors with 14 outfield assists this year.


Ehire Adrianza – Twins

Adrianza rewarded the 2019 AL Central champions for claiming the switch-hitter off waivers from Milwaukee in 2017 with a career-best .272/.349/.416 slash.

With shortstop Jorge Polanco recently undergoing surgery for a chronic ankle issue, Adrianza may have to hold down the position if Polanco were to need more time than expected to recover.


Niko Goodrum – Tigers

After serving as a Swiss Army knife for the 114-loss Tigers this year, the team plans on giving Goodrum a shot at being its full-time shortstop next season.

The switch-hitting Goodrum logged a league-average .248/.322/.421 this year, although the Georgia native did hit 12 home runs and steal 12 bases in 112 games.


Chad Pinder – Athletics

If Oakland upgraded left field – Pinder’s primary position – the club could consider trading the former Virginia Tech Hokie. Still, such a move might be problematic.

The A’s reportedly may deal or non-tender Jurickson Profar, a player with a history of being a super-sub too. Losing Profar would make a trade of Pinder, who appeared in a career-high 124 games this year, less likely for the budget-conscious team.


Willians Astudillo – Twins

Okay, I get it. A 5-foot-9, 225-pound player with a -0.2 WAR and rated one of the 25 slowest runners in MLB by STATCAST isn’t appealing at first glance.

Then again, Astudillo started games at catcher, second base and both corner outfield spots – for a contender. He even played center field for an inning in 2018.

How can’t this be fun?

At the plate, Astudillo had decent numbers during limited opportunities – .297/.322/.424 in 301 career plate appearances since 2018.

Assuming free agent catcher Jason Castro doesn’t re-sign with the Twins; the team could install Astudillo into the regular catching rotation. Another option, acquire a backstop and continue using the Venezuelan in a utility-role.

Either way, watching “La Tortuga” play next season should be an exercise in fun. After all, who can’t root for a player sporting the “regular guy” look?

Fun fact: Astudillo is one of just 42 players to appear at catcher, second base, and both infield and outfield corner positions in the same season.

Next up, someone who also achieved this feat in 2019.


Austin Nola – Mariners

Nola began his career as a shortstop in Miami’s system in 2012, but transformed himself into a utility-man capable of catching.

As a rookie with the Mariners in 2019, Nola hit .269/.342.454 with 10 home runs in just 79 games. By doing so, the former LSU Tiger may have earned a bigger role.

Seattle is reportedly shopping starting catcher Omar Narváez, which potentially opens an opportunity for Nola to pair with Tom Murphy. Adding fuel to this speculation; the 29-year-old honing his catching skills with Estrellas de Oriente of the Dominican Winter League this offseason.


Chris Taylor / Kiké Hernández – Dodgers

Since 2017, Taylor and Hernández have combined for 280 extra-base hits (including 99 home runs), 44 stolen bases, and 17.4 WAR. Still, change could be on the horizon.

MLB Trade Rumors projects the duo will receive sizeable raises in arbitration – Taylor ($5.0 million) and Hernández ($5.5 million). Retaining two right-handed hitters with redundant skills at this cost may be too pricey for the Dodgers. Perhaps the team leverages its super-sub surplus to reshape the roster and maintain payroll flexibility.

Another potential reason for change, the Dodgers are reportedly pursuing free agent third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson. If Rendon or Donaldson signs with the Dodgers, current third baseman Justin Turner likely moves to first base. The entirety of these moves would reduce the need for both Hernández and Taylor.


Danny Santana  – Rangers

Signed to a minor league deal prior to the 2019 season, Santana proved to be a pleasant surprise for the Rangers. The six-year veteran enjoyed a career resurgence hitting 28 home runs and 23 doubles with 21 stolen bases.

With Texas expected to be active this offseason, it’s tough predicting where Santana plays next year. The team could use the switch-hitter in a super-utility role again or employ him on a more permanent basis in one of several spots – center field, second base, third base.


Michael Lorenzen – Reds

Two-way players Shohei Ohtani and Brendan McKay justifiably receive significant fanfare. But Lorenzen pulled off something not accomplished since Babe Ruth did it in 1931. Be the winning pitcher, hit a home run, and play the outfield in the same game.

Lorenzen isn’t just a novelty. The Cal State Fullerton product’s .273 xwOBA was top-25 among MLB relievers facing 250-plus hitters this year. He also saved seven games for Cincinnati.


Scott Kingery – Phillies

Kingery demonstrated average-ish on-base ability during his sophomore campaign with the Phillies. But the 25-year-old did hit 34 doubles and 19 home runs with 15 stolen bases in 126 games.

Where Philadelphia plays Kingery next year depends on the roster moves made by the front office in the offseason. Considering his 2019 production and youth, the Arizona alum will be central to his team’s plans regardless of position on the diamond.


David Fletcher – Angels

Fletcher’s 30 doubles led the Angels this year, plus his .290 AVG and .350 OBP ranked second on the team behind reigning AL MVP and future Hall of Famer Mike Trout (.291/.438). Excellent production for a player moving around the diamond on a regular basis.

More than likely, Fletcher makes the majority of his starts at second or third base next year. However, new manager Joe Maddon typically takes advantage of his team’s positional versatility. No matter where the Loyola Marymount product plays, the Halos will need a repeat of his 2019 offensive output.


Jeff McNeil – Mets

Our lone 2019 All Star slashed .318/.384/.531 with 23 home runs and a team-leading 38 doubles in 133 games this year.

With Robinson Canó at second base, the Mets could continue moving McNeil around or make the former Long Beach State Dirtbag their full-time third baseman – a problematic position since losing David Wright.

Ironically, McNeil’s name was reportedly in the mix during trade negotiations between the Mets and Mariners prior to New York acquiring Canó and Edwin Díaz last offseason.

Imagine the furor in Panic City now if the Mets had dealt McNeal.

Also, how cool is it to have “Dirtbags” as your college team’s nickname?


We’ve seen multi-position players become increasingly important to successful teams. Since many of these dynamic performers are relatively young (and inexpensive), we’re going to see more of them appearing.

Personally, watching this new wave of versatile contributors is fun. That’s a good thing since baseball is supposed to be fun.

After all, baseball is the best sport.…