MLB: Stories to watch in 2018

Daniel LopezMLBLeave a Comment

What to expect from the legends of the game

Last year was disappointing for a lot of the games future Hall of Famers. Miguel Cabrera had the worst season in his career. Albert Puljols continued to decline. Felix Hernandez wasn’t anywhere close to what were used to seeing.
Has age just caught up to these guys, or is there something more in the tank?

In the case of Miguel Cabrera and Albert Puljols it may simply be about a change to their off-season routine. Both players came back to spring training noticeably slimmer. Puljols had faced lower body injuries for what seems to be like his entire Angels career. This off season he worked on getting more athletic and cutting down on some of the pounds in an attempt to help him move better throughout the season. Cabrera seemed to do the same as he also came to camp looking slimmer than he did last season. For Cabrera, it might be more about opportunity than it is any physical change. The Tigers of 2018 aren’t expected to be anywhere near the type of team they have been in recent memory. We saw some of that in 2017 with the departure of a lot of the players that made that team go. Cabrera’s stats may be effected strictly because the people hitting in front of him may struggle getting on base.

For King Felix, it may be time to take notes from another notable veteran, CC Sabathia. In 2017 CC returned to form by changing the way he pitched. The big lefty that once sat in the high 90’s started relying on his breaking pitches and hitters making contact early in counts to lead him to a very impressive 2017 season. Felix is in position to do the same. His fastball just isn’t as hard as it used to be. He’s older, it’s what naturally happens with age. Luckily for the King he still has great movement on his pitches. Look for him to rely on his off speed and get his ERA back under 4 this season.

More elaborate defensive shifts
Baseball is in a weird place. Nothing can explain that more than looking at some of the 5 man outfields that were rolled out during spring training. It’s no secret that analytics absolutely run Major League Baseball. In an attempt to win more games teams have abandoned all of baseball tradition and gone to fielding shifts that absolutely challenge everything you may have known growing up. In the first day of the MLB season we already saw a team implement an infield with 4 players on the left of second base. Yeah that actually failed pretty miserably, as the hitter hit the ball to a spot where a traditional outfielder would have been. However, teams are going to continue to do things like this. The Astros have already talked about having a 5-man outfield for certain hitters. It’ll be interesting to see just how wacky some of these positionings are going to get.

The development of the tankers

Baseball teams have been tanking for the last half of the decade. Your last two World Series champions got there by tanking. Baseball is like many aspects of life, in the sense that if you see something that works you copy it. Well now we have many copy cats. Which may be a problem. Not every tanking team is going to win a World Series. That means we need to look at teams like the Braves, Phillies, and White Sox and see how close they really are to being competitive. 2018 will be a big year for many of the games top prospects and their organizations.
Eventually the tanking method isn’t going to work and what should have been just 3 seasons of misery for fans may turn into a decade or longer. It doesn’t help that teams who aren’t tanking like the Astros, Yankees, and Dodgers, have some of the best prospects in baseball in their own right. We’re at the point where me might have to start analyzing what’s the right way to tank. Either way look for some of these teams to take big steps in 2018.

Superstars changing teams during the season
One of the aspects of tanking is making sure that you can get as much in return as possible for the superstars on your team with an expiring contract. Two guys to watch in particular are Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson. Both play in the AL east which are going to be dominated by the Yankees and Red Sox. Both teams know they are heading into a rebuild. Orioles will not be signing Machado to an extension, and the Blue Jays have prospects coming up that will command time where Donaldson is currently playing. Both guys would bring back considerable hauls for their team. Another player to look out for is Andrew McCutchen from the Giants. Yeah, the Giants are all in and they just got him, but there’s still a lot to overcome before they can become serious contenders. If they’re more than 7 games back come July look for them to try to get a return on McCutchen.

Big name free agents still on the market

There is no longer an everyday game changer on the market. That doesn’t mean there isn’t value still available. I don’t understand why some of the low-end contenders haven’t taken a chance on some of these guys. One big name out there is John Lackey. He proves depth, experience, and innings. No, he’s not a player that is going to be an ace of your staff anymore. However, he’s a great fourth or fifth option. The Angels want a 6-man rotation. Well your rotation is unproven. It’s what has the most question marks on your team. Why not add a guy whose succeeded in LA and can help some of those younger pitchers out? Same goes for the Brewers. Their lineup is impressive; their pitching staff is questionable at best. A guy like Lackey would probably make post season starts for them if they got that far.

Other guys in the market still looking for homes are Brandon Phillips and Jose Bautista. Phillips is not what he used to be, and he’s not a guy many teams have a need for. Look for him to be signed if somebody goes down. Think he’s an upgrade over Sogard for the Brewers as well. Bautista has more options because he’s a threat with the bat and should still be able to hit for power. At this point he might just be a platoon player, but could be somebody who in the right situation can propel a team to a wild card spot.

Ohtani
Hate him or love him, the success of Ohtani means nothing but good things for the MLB. People will be watching games just to see this legendary guy who can hit for power and throw a ball 100 mph. He struggled in spring training, and unfortunately it doesn’t look great right now, but he needs to succeed. Look ahead to the year 2020 when a kid by the name of Hunter Greene makes his MLB debut. Greene was drafted number 2 overall in last year’s draft and came out as both a pitcher and a shortstop. As of now the Reds want him to focus strictly on pitching, but that can change if they see somebody else be successful while both hitting and pitching. Ohtani himself might have a hard time adjusting to the majors. It’s something that Japanese players have struggled with before, but it’s in the best interest of the sport that he does well in both roles.

World Series Contenders
This year more than ever it feels like we know exactly who’s going to be in the playoffs with the exception of a few spots. The big question going forward is going to be whether any of these contenders take a step back. However, it feels like the opposite of that. The best teams found ways to get even better. The Bronx Bombers added the ultimate bomber. As well as plenty of depth at positions which were questionable at the end of last season. The defending champs added to another ace to their already stacked pitching rotation. The dodgers reunited with an old friend in Matt Kemp in an attempt to get back to the World Series. Lastly the Nationals are going to be fueled by the end of the Bryce Harper era as well as the arrival of Robles who is looking to be the next big thing in D.C.

The 2018 season started off with a bang (Literally thanks to Ian Happ). Here’s to a good season.

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