With pitchers and catchers having now reported to Spring Training, baseball season has unofficially started. Following an offseason dominated by headlines of power changes and controversy, the question now is what will be the stories that unfold during the season? With opening day a little more than a month away, there’s ten stories to watch for going into this season:
1. The Aftermath Of The Houston Astros’ Video Replay Scandal
While the 2018 Boston Red Sox were guilty of it as well, it’s the 2017 Houston Astros that have been “media darlings” since they started it. All three coaches that lost their jobs stem from the initial scandal and more than likely may never coach again in the league. However, there’s more to this story than just that.
Now Major League Baseball is open to scrutiny about how this could happen and what it’s going to do going forward. As much as they want to avoid it, MLB may need to launch an investigation. If this has been going on since 2016, then it’s hard to believe only the World Series champions did it. At this juncture baseball needs to attack it before another player says his team did it as well.
2. Boston’s Restructuring
Going into this offseason, Boston Red Sox fans were praying outfielder Mookie Betts would resign. Instead, he and pitcher David Price were traded for three young players.
On the surface, it doesn’t seem like much but when you look how the previous general manager, Dave Dombrowski, raided the minor league system, it makes that sense Boston tried to build a future. It could be another year or two before Boston makes the playoffs but even the New York Yankees knew when it was time to develop talent.
3. The “Other” Los Angeles Team
The Los Angeles Angels took the first major shot this offseason and signed third baseman Anthony Rendon from Washington Nationals. Add him to a line up featuring outfielders Mike Trout and Justin Upton and second baseman Tommy La Stella, and this team could be more dangerous than perceived. It’s not quite the Los Angeles Dodgers line up but still potent.
If the pitching can hold up, maybe they could surprise the American League West. However, they may need one more piece. If they’re in it, watch them at the trade deadline.
4. The Replacements
Last year, the New York Yankees we’re riddled with injuries to the point that their team was comprised mainly of young talent that was eager to prove themselves and the doubters wrong. They ended up being one game away from a World Series appearance.
This year, two big questions follow New York. First, will that fire be the same? The proved their doubters wrong, so will they take their foot off the gas pedal as much or will they continue to floor it?
The second question is, who stays and who goes? With the Yankees now having multiples at each position and limited roster space, some players are going down to the minors. With each call up/send down, they use up options and it leads to possible designation for assignment for some of these players.
5. Mets For Sale
The New York Mets seemed to have everything going in the right direction going into this offseason: a clear cut agenda of what to get, a new owner to support the teams plans and fans hungry for a chance at their first World Series title since 1986.
That was going well until current owner Jeff Wilpon wanted power still and added provisions to the purchase deal. This scared off potential owner Steve Cohen and the $2 billion he was ready to spend on the purchase.
Now Wilpon is backtracking on the control thing in an attempt to sell the team. As if this team hasn’t had enough problems, their owner is finding ways to shoot the team in the foot. At least James Dolan hasn’t mentioned any interest in the team.
6. Wild, Wild, West
The National League West has become baseball’s most-must watch division. With the Los Angeles Dodgers still being the powerhouse favorites, especially with the addition of outfielder Mookie Betts, it gets more exciting.
The Colorado Rockies young core is stepping up more and more as the seasons pass. The Arizona Diamondbacks played great baseball last year and look to build on it. Even the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants could go on a run that nobody would expect from them.
While the Dodgers may run away with the division, there’s no doubt that whoever finishes in second will more than likely be a wild card team.
7. 2016 World Series Revisited
The 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians was one of the better match ups of the previous decade. However, it was at the end of that World Series where fans were thinking both would be back within the next few years. They were wrong.
In fact, the sands in that hourglass are starting to reach the bottom. Chicago let manager Joe Maddon walk, only to replace with him former catcher David Ross, as well as trying to trade third baseman Kris Bryant.
Meanwhile Cleveland has seemingly taken steps back with losing key players including pitchers Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber. With the constant rumor of trading shortstop Francisco Lindor, it seems like each teams’ opportunities are starting to dwindle.
Each team has a window of opportunity with certain talents. Those windows may be just about shut at this point.
8. Choppin’ On
The Washington Nationals stole the spotlight from the Atlanta Braves’ great season last year. Despite winning the National League East, they would come up short in the playoffs, only to watch their division rivals hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy.
Now with a similar line up to last year and some fire power lost by the defending champions, can Atlanta finally make that next step from good team to great team? Is this the year the Braves finally go back to the World Series?
9. Welcome To The Machine: Part 2
Nobody was expecting the Cincinnati Reds to make a significant splash in the offseason. A few big signings later and they now have a team to watch out for.
Acquiring infielder Mike Moustakas and outfielder Nick Castellanos were huge signings as they provide a veterans touch to the line up. Add them to late season pick ups from last year like shortstop Freddie Galvis and pitcher Trevor Bauer and they could be a dark horse candidate to win the wild card, maybe even the National League Central.
10. The New Era
The biggest story away from major league stadiums is the use of their newest technology: robot umpires.
Starting in the 2020 season, minor league baseball will be using automated strike zones to cut down on bad calls with balls and strikes. While it will only be a trial run, should this be successful, baseball may say it’s time to bring it to the major league level within the next five years.
This will also raise question, will the human element of baseball be completely erased?