UPDATE: Major League Baseball has suspended Spring Training
The league announced on Thursday, March 12th, that Spring Training has been suspended and the regular season will start at least two weeks late in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The league said it will continue evaluating the situation and adjust moving forward.
If you can believe it, Spring Training is right around the corner. This offseason had a little bit of everything from big named players being moved to a sign-stealing scandal that has rocked the game of baseball as we know it. Yet, the games will still be played and players will once again be vying for a solidified roster spot on their respective teams. Here, we’ll be looking at some storylines ahead and what we can look toward as teams open camp in Florida and Arizona to get ready for the 2020 season.
How do the Houston Astros react?
We’d be amiss if we didn’t talk about the Astros first. In what has been arguably the biggest news of the offseason, the sign-stealing scandal has suffocated this offseason with a story that seemingly never ends. We all know the backstory and the punishments that have been laid out so I won’t bore you with that. However, what should be talked about is how opposing teams will react. Many players have been very vocal about their displeasure of this story and it’s put a black eye on the Astros organization.
It reminds me of an altercation that took place between the Red Sox and Yankees when Ryan Dempster threw four inside pitches to Alex Rodriguez on the heels of his PED suspension. Granted, he didn’t do a great job at sending a message, as A-Rod would go on to blast a monster home run against him in the sixth inning. Regardless, this could be an issue the Astros lineup, specifically, Jose Altuve will have to deal with throughout the season. Adapting to this situation quickly will be key but something that may very well be unavoidable.
Where does Yasiel Puig sign?
Arguably the best free agent still available, Puig has yet to find a home with Spring Training looming. After starting the season with the Reds, Puig was shipped off to the Indians as part of a three-team deal that was headlined by Trevor Bauer heading back to the Reds. Between both teams, Puig ended 2019 slashing .267/.327/.458 with 24 home runs, 84 RBI and 19 stolen bases. With a player posting some impressive numbers as stated, what’s exactly the hold up here?
Puig’s power dropped off dramatically in the second half of the season. Of his 24 home runs, 20 of those came during the first half! Through 49 games with the Indians, Puig only hit two home runs. He did have 15 doubles and a triple but even playing somewhere like Progressive Field didn’t help his home run numbers. Is it enough to scare teams off? While I’d like to think not, actions speak louder than words and as I write this, Puig is still without a job for the upcoming 2020 season.
When all is said and done, Puig will find a home, it’s just a matter of where. He is visiting the Giants. The Tigers could use some outfield help but it’s likely to see them not spending money. The Cardinals are very bloated in the outfield but they could use some power in that lineup to compliment Paul Goldschmidt. The Red Sox could also be a target to help reduce the sting of trading Mookie Betts.
Will the Cincinnati Reds be the surprise team of 2020?
You may not realize it but the Reds have really loaded up ahead of this upcoming season. Last season, the gears started to go into motion when they made the surprising move of trading for Trevor Bauer at the deadline. Then, during the offseason, they signed 2B Mike Moustakas, OF Nick Castellanos, and SP Wade Miley. Adding some big boy power and a reliable stater could be the key pieces the Reds need. Consider that with a division that could be more open than usual and the Reds are in a great spot to be THAT team in 2020.
The NL Central could be a wide-open division for the first time in a long time. The direction of the Cubs still seems up in the air at this point (more on that in a moment), the Brewers have some serious questions with their rotation and the Cardinals lost a good chunk of power for a team that struggled with that already. The Reds, by far, made the most improvements in this division and the addition of 62 home runs between Moose and Castellanos is huge. Keep an eye on this team.
Will the Cubs trade Kris Bryant?
Now that the grievance filed by Bryant has been resolved, the door is open to trade the star third baseman. Bryant complained that the Cubs intentionally left him in the minors longer than necessary and thus gained another year of team control in doing so. Anyone with half a brain would agree with Bryant but there was no smoking gun to prove the Cubs intent. Instead of becoming a free agent at the conclusion of this season, Bryant is under team control until 2021. This makes him a much more attractive trade target instead of a potential one-year or even a half-year rental.
It feels as if the Cubs are on the brink from a potential reset. Their rotation could use some help, as could their bullpen. Second base is also an area that will need addressing at some point but will likely be put on the back burner for now. The Cubs missed out on the playoffs for the first time in four years last season and if they get out to a slow start, a move could be warranted. Bryant would likely bring back a nice package, especially with the added year under team control. Bryant is coming off a fantastic season in which he slashed .282/.382/.521 with 31 home runs and 77 RBI. At 28 years old, he’d be one of the most attractive targets for teams to acquire.
A change of winds in the American League Central?
Both Central divisions in the MLB will be worth watching. After touching on the Reds earlier, it’s worth getting into the American League side as well. The White Sox have made some big moves this offseason and have a legitimate chance to make some noise. This team has added everywhere and suddenly, when you look at this roster, you’re left nodding your head in approval. They made the earliest splash of the offseason by signing C Yasmani Grandal despite have James McCann on the team. He’s masterful at pitch framing and it doesn’t hurt that he’s a switch-hitting power hitter either. Grandal hit .246/.380/.468 with 28 home runs and 77 RBI through 153 games with the Brewers last season. After that, they’d go on to sign DH Edwin Encarnacion, SP Dallas Keuchel and RP Steve Cishek and acquire OF Nomar Mazara via trade. Not to mention, this team had plenty of talent already with Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert.
The division could see the Indians become sellers, as rumors of trading Francisco Lindor come to fruition. The Twins will be players once again but a lack of pitching could come back to haunt them. While they’ll be able to post a number of runs each game, they’ll be giving up just as many with a shaky rotation and bullpen. The Royals and Tigers? Please, don’t even bother. It truly opens up the window for the White Sox to fight for the division and most certainly a Wild Card spot.