It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Call out sick or do whatever you have to get out to the ballpark – (see note below) – because it’s the best day of the year! Happy Opening Day! Here’s a guide to the 2019 MLB season and predictions for the postseason (keep your Magic 8-Ball handy).
To start this season off with a bang, a few franchises offered big-time capital for some of the Big Show’s best and brightest. There were four position players who commanded mega contracts all in the month of March. Between the four of them, they earn well over $1 billion.
- The 26-year-old Mike Trout (OF) – likely to be the youngest G.O.A.T. in the game – signed for $440 million over 12 years
- Bryce Harper (OF) – just grabbed 13-years for $330 million
- The best third baseman in the game – Nolan Arenado – locked in 8 years for $260 million
- Mr. “Could-be-the-best-third-baseman-if-he-liked-to-hustle”: Manny Machado – 10 years for $300 million
The league may have some pace of play issues and problems marketing athletes to the same level as the NFL or NBA, but baseball is going to be just fine. Well that is until the next collective bargaining agreement comes in 2021. The hot stove of the past two off-seasons have been more frigid than Drake sitting atop the CN Tower in Toronto for his last album. No longer are owners spending on players what they have accomplished in the past but what they are projected to do based off the sport’s obsession with analytics and technology. The term “hot stove” no longer need apply.
Nobody illustrates the problem perhaps more than Dallas Keuchel (formerly from the Houston Astros.) Keuchel was the 2015 AL Cy Young winner and won a World Series with the club in 2017. Even in a “down” year for him with a 3.74 ERA, he is still a free agent on Opening Day. The Yankees need rotation help badly and a lefty at that. You can’t tell me Keuchel is a perfect solution. But he turned 31 this year and that might as well be 100 to baseball GMs. When every club is treating players this far beyond Keuchel and players like him, the complicity seems glaring. Unfortunately, the only way this might end is with the players striking for the first time since 1994 (in only the second time there was no World Series.)
So, on that happy note, let’s look ahead to the 2019 season on the best day of the year. (Seriously, how is this not a national holiday yet?)
How the West Will Be Won
Technically, Opening Day started more than 6,000 miles away on March 20, 2019 for a two-game series between the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo, Japan. The series was a great representation of how far this game has grown, but it was the perfect send off to the greatest hitter this game has ever seen. (Yes, move over Pete Rose.) Ichiro Suzuki retired in his home country and it seemed like an end of an era.
The greatest hitter in today’s game doesn’t reside in Seattle but in the same division down in Anaheim: Mike Trout. He may never have the same international appeal that Suzuki had, but the best player from Japan since Ichiro is currently on Trout’s team and he will have a much more difficult run in his sophomore campaign than he did for rookie of the year. That’s only because Shohei Ohtani went under the knife for Tommy John surgery in the off-season and won’t be able to pitch. But Ohtani more than answered the call as the next Babe Ruth when he hit 22 home runs and had 3.31 ERA in 51.2 innings. The Angels will be a much-improved team with new direction from their manager Brad Ausmus. However, we will have to wait some time to see the game’s best player – Trout – win a playoff game. That’s because the Astros are still the premier team in the AL West. With a healthy return of former Roy Carlos Correa and with possibly the best rotation in the AL, the ‘Stros are legitimate contenders to make a return to the World Series this year.
If I Got to Choose a Coast, I Got to Choose the East (RIP Biggie)
Last year, the Red Sox dominated the Yankees in the ALDS. To be fair, they dominated everyone last year – winning a franchise record 108 games and the whole ‘ship to boot. But the Yankees were no slouch and they upgraded their pen to arguably the best in baseball. To compliment the triple-digit heat of Aroldis Chapman, they added Zack Britton (3/10 ERA/1.23 WHIP/7.5 K9) and the Rockies best arm – Adam Ottavino – to have best 7th, 8th and 9th inning trio in baseball. The Red Sox lost their closer in Craig Kimbrel (How is Kimbrel not signed yet? Oh wait, he’s 30…) and had an incredibly quiet off-season (one of the many benefits of being the champions.)
Aaron Judge is batting second in the Yankees lineup, where he’d be the most dangerous hitter in any other lineup. Giancarlo Stanton pushes this team over the edge against the defending champions. Just imagine if they added Keuchel. This is baseball’s best division. The Tampa Bay Rays won 90 games last year and were still 18 games back in this division. The Blue Jays will be better once the best prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. makes it to the majors. (He’s being held back in the minors only because the team can control him for an extra year.)
The 2021 off-season is all too close. The Orioles are just another story. Baltimore was more games back in the division (61) than games they won (47) last year. Three teams from this division will make the playoffs. The Evil Empire has the best chance to differentiate themselves from this loaded division.
Now Let’s Talk About Those NL Contracts
After the Red Sox won the World Series, it seemed like the only topic the MLB powers that be would let anyone talk about was the impending free agencies of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. While Harper is one of the best batters of this generation, he has rollercoaster stats at the plate.
Harper hit .249 last year. He also hit 34 homers and 100 RBIs. But with Harper, you have to balance those stats with his dWAR (which was -3.2 last season.) If that continues – now that he’s in Philadelphia – the city known for its patient and adoring fans, we’ll see how that anomaly of a 13-year contract ages. Before that contract is over, he’ll most likely be a DH. Without an opt-out in his contract, that means the NL will finally adopt the DH (to combat the rising advantages of pitchers) or he’ll be out of baseball early. His contract sums up this generation of baseball without Ichiro.
Let’s compare the 26-year-old Harper to the Milwaukee Brewers third baseman, Mike Moustakas. To be fair, the “Mous” is 30 years old. He hit .251 with 28 homers and 95 RBIs last summer, and he played a vital role in October. He re-signed for $7 million for one year in the off-season with the Brewers, who were one game away from the World Series. While Moustakas deserved more in his first bout with free agency after a breakout year in 2017 (can’t stress 2021 enough), Harper is not $23 million dollars better than the Brewers third baseman.
Harper signed for more money than Manny Machado, but the new San Diego Padre is the more consistent player. Machado will be back as a generational talent (at third base this year) after shaky stints at short with the Orioles and Dodgers last season. But the Padres didn’t even get the best third baseman in the game. That distinction goes to the Colorado Rockies when they resigned Nolan Arenado.
Machado has a career 11.3 dWAR which is enviable and was only hurt with a -1.2 dWAR while playing shortstop. Arenado has a career 13.3 dWAR. He’s the best third baseman today and is fighting for a spot as the greatest of all time in the hot corner.
Arenado’s 2.5 dWAR/162 games is only behind Lee Tannehill (2.8) and above Brooks Robinson (2.2) and Machado (2). Machado does lead Arenado in career offensive WAR 25.7 to 21.6 respectively but the Padres new third baseman has played one more year than the Rockies star.
While this is an area for Machado to outshine Arenado, he has never hit above .300 and has only hit over 100 RBIs once. Nolan has reached that milestone four times and hit more home runs than Machado.
Machado signed for $300 million for 10 years. He has an opt-out clause after the 2023 season which will pay him out $150 million by the time he is 31 years old. The Padres are going to be much more competitive beyond their recent free agent signings with one of the top ranked farm systems in baseball. But, with their lack of recent success and with the way these long-term contracts usually work out (e.g. Giancarlo Stanton and Alex Rodriguez left their original long-term contract teams to sign with the Yankees), it wouldn’t be surprising to see him leaving for greener-contending pastures.
The Rockies signed the best player in the NL, and they gave him a better contract. For the last three years, Arenado has finished in the top five contenders for the League’s MVP winner. This is the year he deserves to take the top spot. If he does, the Rockies will make it to the playoffs for the third consecutive year. The Padres are two or three years away, and Philadelphia plays in the toughest division in the NL.
Way Too Early Playoff Predictions
AL West: Houston Astros NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
AL Central: Minnesota Twins NL Central: Milwaukee Brewers
AL East: New York Yankees NL East: Philadelphia Phillies
First AL Wild Card: Boston Red Sox First NL Wild Card: St. Louis Cardinals
Second AL Wild Card: Tampa Bay Rays Second NL Wild Card: Chicago Cubs
World Series: Rematch of the 1981 World Series Dodgers beat the Yankees in six games.