20 Questions for the 2020 MLB Season
For bona fide baseball fans, there are no sweeter words in the English language than: ‘Pitchers and catchers report…’
Except maybe, ‘PLAY BALL!’ or ‘The [INSERT FAVORITE TEAM NAME HERE] win the pennant!’
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Gerrit Cole is in pinstripes. The Dodgers look unbeatable. The Astros are in full-on apology mode (or are they?). Live by StubHub looks at 20 burning questions for 2020.
1 | HOW WILL FANS REACT TO THE HOUSTON ASTROS? Players are lining up to weigh in on baseball’s biggest conundrum since the steroid scandal. Houston’s sign-stealing revelations have stirred up some strong emotions, with the likes of reigning league MVPs Mike Trout and Cody Bellinger calling for harsher punishments, and Braves outfielder Nick Markakis going so far as to say he feels “every single guy over there needs a beating.” Not everyone is buying the apologies of Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, etc. We won’t really know how fans will react until the first pitch of the regular season is thrown on Opening Day.
2 | DO THE DODGERS FINALLY HAVE THE STUFF TO WIN IT ALL? Seven straight NL West titles, back-to-back World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018 — yet LA is still chasing its first Commissioner’s Trophy in more than three decades. With the Mookie Betts/David Price deal (finally) official, the Dodgers are well positioned for a return to the postseason. Just imagine trying to navigate a Betts-Muncy-Turner-Bellinger-Pollock-Seager-Smith-Lux lineup. Who do you pitch to?
3 | CAN NOLAN ARENADO FORGIVE AND FORGET? After an unsettling offseason in which he was constantly rumored to be on the block, Nolan Arenado arrived at spring training in the familiar purple/black/silver of the Colorado Rockies. Awkward. The five-time All-Star signed a long-term extension last year, only to find himself the subject of various trade scenarios with the Cards, Braves, White Sox, etc. The usually tight-lipped third baseman was candid in his commentary, confiding that he felt “a lot of disrespect” and pointing to a “disconnect” between himself and team management. For now, at least, it looks as though he’s staying put. Expect the 28-year-old — the consummate gamer — to play his tail off regardless of which locker room he calls home.
4 | HAVE THE WHITE SOX POSITIONED THEMSELVES TO WIN THE AL CENTRAL? If there’s an American League franchise in ‘win-now’ mode, it’s the White Sox. Winter was a busy one for the Southsiders, to say the least. Wallet at the ready, the team extended slugger Jose Abreu on a three-year, $50 million contract; inked catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million deal; locked up lefties Gio González (one year/$5 million) and Dallas Keuchel (three years/$55.5 million), agreed to a six-year, $50 million package with Luis Robert (before the promising Cuban had even appeared in a single MLB game); and took flyers on DH/first baseman Edwin Encarnación (one year/$12 million) and sidewinding reliever Steve Cishek (one year/$6 million). Whew. But even GM Rick Hahn knows it won’t mean a thing unless it translates in the win column. Said the GM, “People aren’t too interested in hearing about the labor. They want to see the baby.”
5 | WERE MO AND GIRSCH WISE TO STAY OUT OF THE PRICEY FREE-AGENT MARKET? Cards fans couldn’t update their Twitter feeds fast enough when rumors began to emerge that the franchise was engaged in talks with the Rockies regarding Nolan Arenado. The question was, how much of their future would they have to mortgage to land the perennial All-Star/Gold Glover/Silver Slugger, who only last year inked an eight-year, $260 million contract extension to remain in Colorado? In the end, President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak and GM Mike Girsch opted to hang on to young guns Dylan Carlson, Nolan Gorman, etc. They also declined to pursue a multi-year deal with Marcell Ozuna, who, despite some defensive miscues, carried one of the more potent bats in the Cardinal lineup. That doesn’t mean they didn’t make any moves. STL did ship OFs Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena eastward for prized pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore. One can only wonder where the power will come from in 2020.
6 | CAN THE TWINS BREAK THEIR OWN HOME RUN MARK IN 2020? Twins batters homered at a historic clip in 2019, amassing a record 307 round-trippers to lead the team to the second most wins in franchise history (101). Eleven players finished with double-digit home run totals. But despite the explosiveness, Minnesota saw its season come to an abrupt end with an all-too-familiar 3-0 ALDS shutout at the hands of the Yankees. Though CJ Cron (25 HRs), Jonathan Schoop (23 HRs) and Jason Castro (13 HRs) have moved on, the team did win the Josh Donaldson sweepstakes, making up for some of that power loss.
7 | WERE THE PADRES AGGRESSIVE ENOUGH IN THE OFFSEASON? Manny Machado’s first year in San Diego fell short of expectations. Padres ownership had 300 million reasons to believe things would go better than a dead-last finish in the NL West, some 36 games out of first. To their credit, the Friars didn’t stand pat in the offseason, acquiring pitching help in the form of free agents Drew Pomeranz, Zach Davies and Emilio Pagan, while finding a way to hang on to All-Star closer Kirby Yates, who led the majors with 41 saves last year. Hunter Renfroe is gone, but they’ve added outfielders Tommy Pham and Jurickson Profar via trade. A lineup featuring Machado, Pham, Profar, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Eric Hosmer should aid the team as it tries to keep pace with the Dodgers in the NL West.
8 | CAN THE YANKEES STAY HEALTHY IN 2020? Gerrit Cole was New York’s top offseason priority right out of the blocks. Now the player who, as a kid, hoisted a YANKEE FAN TODAY, TOMORROW, FOREVER sign and pined for Derek Jeter’s autograph, is donning pinstripes, a dream fulfilled. The record nine-year, $324 million deal gives the Yanks an imposing five-man rotation: Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, JA Happ and Jordan Montgomery, with Aroldis Chapman returning in the closer’s role. All Aaron Boone & Co. need to do now is stay healthy, avoiding the kind of injuries that plagued the team in 2019.
9 | DOES MADBUM STILL HAVE SOME LIFE IN HIM? If anyone believes he still has the stuff to be a 20-game winner, it’s newly minted D-back Madison Bumgarner himself. The Giants, the franchise with whom he won a trio of World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014, had no choice but to cut ties in the offseason. Saddled with some weighty contracts, the team had to begin the tear-down. But it’ll be mighty awkward to face their former ace on numerous occasions in the increasingly competitive NL West. Does the North Carolinian, who’s gone a collective 19-25 the last three seasons by the Bay, have a chip on his shoulder? You bet he does.
10 | ARE THE REDS THE NL CENTRAL FAVORITES? Cincy was among the league’s busiest franchises in the offseason, pulling the trigger on free agents Nick Castellanos, Mike Moustakas, Wade Miley and Pedro Strop. Given that the rest of the division was all but stagnant, David Bell’s crew should be in for a jump in the standings. Just how high is anyone’s guess. There’s certainly a sense of urgency here, as fan-favorite/team leader Joey Votto, now 36, isn’t getting any younger. Will Nick Krall’s moves pay off and end the team’s six-year playoff drought? (The PECOTA projections say yes.)
11 | WHAT TO MAKE OF THE METS? The Carlos Beltran era was over before it even started. The stigma from the sign-stealing scandal was just too much to stomach, even in the borough of Queens. But there’s much for his replacement, first-time skipper Luis Rojas, to be hopeful about, including NL Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso, Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom and fireballer Noah Syndergaard. The addition of 2016 Cy Young Award recipient Rick Porcello, Dellin Betances and Michael Wacha should only make this pitching staff that much more formidable. Now, if only Robinson Cano and Yoenis Cespedes could get on board…
12 | THE WORLD SERIES CHAMPION NATS BET BIG ON STEPHEN STRASBURG. WILL THE GAMBLE PAY OFF? Washington lost a few pieces from its championship team of 2019, including All-Star third baseman Anthony Rendon. But the organization hung on to mound ace Stephen Strasburg, inking the 31-year-old to a massive seven-year, $245 million deal. Strasburg went 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA last year, leading the National League with 209 innings. He was a perfect 5-0 in the postseason, including wins in Games 2 and 6 of the World Series. The way GM Mike Rizzo figures it, with Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin in his rotation, the Nats will always be in the hunt for Series hardware.
13 | IS MIGGY IN FOR A BOUNCE-BACK IN MOTOWN? There’s no getting around it. It’s been a tough go for two-time MVP and ’12 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera the last three years in Detroit. Plagued by injuries, the aging slugger (he turns 37 in April) hasn’t been producing like the Miggy of old. Given that the guaranteed portion of his $248 million contract runs through 2023, the Tigers are crossing their fingers for a turnaround. Ron Gardenhire might be better off pinning his hopes on the likes of newcomers CJ Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Cameron Maybin, Austin Romine and workhorse Ivan Nova.
14 | HOW DO THE RAYS KEEP CHURNING OUT PREMIER PROSPECTS? Tampa Bay continues to rank at or near the top when it comes to Major League Baseball’s elite farm systems. Credit 2019 MLB Executive of the Year Erik Neander and his staff, which somehow always find a way to stay competitive in the deep-pocketed AL East. The talent just keeps on streaming in. Shortstop Wander Franco is the No. 1 overall prospect in the game, closely followed by lefty Brendan McKay and infielder Vidal Brujan — both in the Top 50. So deep are the Rays that they could afford to swap touted southpaw Matthew Liberatore and hustling outfielder Tommy Pham, bringing in some lumber in the form of Jose Martinez, Hunter Renfroe and Randy Arozarena.
15 | DID THE BRAVES GET STRONGER THIS WINTER? You better believe that 10-run outburst by the Cardinals in Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS — the biggest first-inning output in postseason history — still stings in Atlanta, where hopes were high for a World Series run. GM Alex Anthopoulos opted not to re-sign third baseman Josh Donaldson (despite a 37-home run, 94-RBI renaissance), leaving some to believe the organization would pursue Nolan Arenado or Kris Bryant. Neither option materialized. But the team did add pitching depth in free-agent acquisitions Cole Hamels and Will Smith, as well as some outfield pop in Marcell Ozuna.
16 | HOW LONG CAN CHRISTIAN YELICH KEEP THIS UP? A foul ball off his left kneecap might have been all that stood between Christian Yelich and a second consecutive Most Valuable Player nod. Despite missing the last few weeks of the regular season, the Milwaukee slugger would make it back-to-back NL batting titles and finish second in NL MVP voting behind LA’s Cody Bellinger. To think he was last in the Stanton-Ozuna-Yelich pecking order when the Marlins flushed their outfield in 2017.
17 | SHOULD ROB MANFRED KEEP INNOVATING? It isn’t easy being Rob Manfred these days. Fans/players are on him for how he’s handled the sign-stealing scandal in Houston and for likening the ironically named Commissioner’s Trophy to “a piece of metal.” Amidst all this, he’s getting flack for proposed changes to the playoff format.
18 | IS THERE LIFE AFTER MOOKIE IN KENMORE SQUARE? Bostonians are still reeling following the departure of Mookie Betts, who two seasons ago became the first player in MLB history to win the MVP, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, batting title and World Series in the same season. The move, to cut payroll and get under the competitive balance tax threshold, wasn’t a popular one with Sox fans, who also bid farewell to pitcher David Price and manager Alex Cora, who was a bench coach in Houston during the cheating scandal.
19 | WILL THE JOE MADDON REUNION PRODUCE RESULTS IN ANAHEIM? It sure didn’t take long for Joe Maddon to find a new employer. The ousted Chicago manager, who oversaw perhaps the most successful stretch in Cubs history, returned to the franchise that gave him his start as a scout in the late ‘70s: the Angels. The owner of two World Series rings (2002, 2016) will shoot for a third with a heavy-hitting lineup that now includes both MVP Mike Trout and third baseman Anthony Rendon.
20 | IS GABE KAPLER IN OVER HIS HEAD BY THE BAY? The Twittersphere was imploding even before the ousted Phillies skipper was introduced as Bruce Bochy’s replacement in the Bay Area. San Franciscans weren’t happy with Kapler’s handling of assault allegations when he was director of player development in LA. And despite the presence of some big bats (think Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, etc.), he’d gone an underwhelming 161-163 as manager in Philadelphia. How could he possibly fill Boch’s shoes? But Kapler is intent on earning the fans’ trust, even at a time when the team is in a rebuilding mode.