Baseball is not entirely unpredictable, but there is a website named for its unpredictability. How many “experts” picked Kansas City to rampage through the post-season last October? How many believed that Mike Moustakas (52 HRs in 1993 regular season plate appearances) would hit five October round-trippers in his 55 October appearances in the batter’s box? Before last October’s AL Wild Card game, how many fans had ever heard of pinch-running maestro Terrance Gore (two plate appearances, five stolen bases last September)?
This is why we love baseball (or why Orioles fans hate baseball). Because the game refuses to allow us to know how it will play out every year, with broken-bat hits and insane running catches in the outfield (Lorenzo Cain). Because of Tommy John and his infamous elbow operation. Injuries that result from dropping boxes on feet (Chris Sale). Every spring training day that passes, more baseball fans are learning more about anatomy and physiology. Fantasy baseball rosters are filled with tiny red-crosses. Let’s get down to it and ask some hypothetical questions.
Boston Red Sox:
- I’d like to make a substantial wager that Mookie Betts will be an All-Star within three years. Yes, I’d like to bet on Betts.
- How many weeks until we see lefty prospect Eduardo Rodriguez replace fifth starter Joe Kelly (biceps injury and up-and-down career) in the starting rotation?
- With all of the defensive shifts that take place in the majors now, why can’t the Red Sox just play their four outfielders, as they do in softball?
- Who needs a first baseman? Pedroia can scamper over there on infield hits.
- What kind of black magic do GM Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter practice, and will it work on Travis Snider? Left-handed power certainly plays well at Camden Yards.
- When Chris Davis looks in the mirror this March, does he see 2013 Chris Davis (53 HRs, 1.004 OPS) or does he see 2014 Chris Davis (26 HRs, .704 OPS)? The topsy-turvy career continues…
- Manny Machado: Has any player experienced a bigger swing in prospect buzz in the last few years, despite putting up eerily similar numbers from Year 1 (.283/.314/.432) to Year 2 (.278/.324/.431). Missing half a season with a knee injury makes him an under-the-radar player entering 2015.
- Dylan Bundy is one year closer to taking the league by thunderstorm.
New York Yankees:
- If you somehow combine Mark Teixeira and Didi Gregorious together, do you come up with Alex Rodriguez?
- How much of his own money has Brian Cashman (I always find his name ironic) offered new MLB Commissioner Rob “Right Said Manfred” Manfred to make Alex Rodriguez go away forever?
- Now that Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter have retired, will it be A-Rod who receives all the going-away presents? (If yes, I’m guessing most will be PED-related.
Tampa Bay Rays:
- Without Joe Maddon at the helm, are the Tampa Bay Rays no longer the sabermetrically-inclined fans choice?
- Without Ben Zobrist, are the Tampa Bay Rays still the Tampa Bay Rays?
- Will Drew Smyly make this the year he finally marries someone with the last name Face?
- Is Steven Souza the least-talked about prospect in the majors? (Late bloomers in small markets don’t get buzz.)
Toronto Blue Jays:
- Will newly-acquired third baseman Josh Donaldson and ageless wonder Jose Bautista combine for 80 homers?
- Can Donaldson, Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion combine for 110 homers?
- Will the Blue Jays hit enough home runs to make up for the homers their starters surrender?
- Speaking of men who don’t seem to age, will Mark Buehrle pitch until his 50th birthday?
- Is Dalton Pompey a real name or a porn name? Either way he is a speedy prospect.
Chicago White Sox:
- If you must know, ace Chris Sale broke his foot while unloading things from his truck. From all reports, it was a freak accident that occurred at his home in Arizona. I remain convinced someone from the Detroit or Cleveland front office went there and placed some oddly-shaped rocks right near his truck shortly after he returned to his house after a Home Depot trip.
- The White Sox added outfielder Melky Cabrera. Now they’d like to know which version of Melky Cabrera they acquired. Melky’s OPS rollercoaster since 2010: .671, .809, .906* (suspended for PEDs after 113 games), .682, .808. Will the Melk-man deliver again?
- The South-Siders have playoff aspirations this year, but their lineup includes the following names: Gillaspie, Flowers, Bonifacio. That’s a tragic 7-8-9 combo that seems destined to wilt.
- Five starting pitchers who can dazzle. The velocity of youth. Kluber, Salazar, and Carrasco be thy names.
- Remember Jim Thome standing in the batter’s box, pointing out to center-field with his enormous bat? Remember Manny Ramirez hammering opposite field bombs? Remember Roberto Alomar, before the unfortunate spitting incident? These Indians will make Clevelanders some new memories. With less spitting.
- One problem with Cleveland’s lineup: all their best hitters are lefties. Better hope they don’t face a lefty if they happen to make the wild-card game.
- Justin Verlander has a theory about pitch counts. Stop the presses. I have a theory about Justin Verlander. He’s thrown too many pitches and his velocity has abandoned him.
- The Tigers used to have a loaded lineup. Now they have Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Yoenis Cespedes, an aging Ian Kinsler and a few fast young dudes. Anthony Gose and Jose Iglesias are very solid defenders, but I don’t want them up with the bases loaded and two outs, and neither does Brad Ausmus.
- Isn’t it nice that Ford is finally making effective Hybrid cars? Not that they were forced to, or anything.
Kansas City Royals:
- If Mike Moustakas were able to hit the same way in April through September as in October, he’d have hit over 60 home runs last year. Unfortunately, it’s a Jekyll-and-Hyde situation.
- Other than Yordano Ventura, can you name a Kansas City starting pitcher? (hint: there are two more V-names, a double-D name, and a guy whose name was a famous folk singer).
- If Kansas City wins over 88 games this year, I will admit I know nothing at all about baseball and should never again attempt to predict any of it. (The whole division improved and KC’s rotation is not helping).
- Will the real Eric Hosmer please stand up?
- Can Paul Molitor be the first player-manager in a while? He’s got to be a better DH than young slugger Kennys Vargas.
- Aaron Hicks (.201/.293/.313 in 467 career at-bats) is an endangered species at this point. With uber-prospect Byron Buxton waiting for the call to begin what should be a stellar career as the next center field whiz, Hicks must be wondering what’s next.
- Phil Hughes set a record for strikeout-to-walk ratio last year. The man walked 16 hitters in 209.2 innings. Do you think he enjoyed a chance to leave the mighty American League East and the short porch of Yankee Stadium? I think so.
- Chris Carter is busy these days. He’s juggling many selves. On the one hand, he’s hoping to build on his streaky 37-homer season (including 12 in August). On the other hand, he’s bringing back The X-Files after all these years. On a third hand, he’s taking emotional stands against child abuse after an amazing career as a wide receiver.
- George Springer has sprung. The 24-year-old outfielder finished with an .804 OPS and hit 20 HRs in only 345 plate-appearances. We’ll overlook the 114 Ks for now. The Sabermetrically-friendly Astros will gladly take one home run for five or six strikeouts. It brings up an interesting thought: at what point is a power-only hitter still effective? The Astros are certainly not afraid to take their hacks, adding free-swingers Colby Rasmus and Luis Valbuena to the mix.
- Second-base dynamo Jose Altuve is undeniably fun to watch. The Astros are easy to root for. Now if only they added a couple of starters to go with the underrated Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh. Maybe top pick Mark Appel will help soon.
Los Angeles Angels:
- Mike Trout hits. Mike Trout runs. Mike Trout hits home runs. Mike Trout steals. Mike Trout heals. Mike Trout throws. His ceiling: no one knows.
- Kole Calhoun is a cowboy’s name. Calhoun’s emergence will be a key to the Angels season. Can he get on-base ahead of Trout? If not, the Angels lack of balance in the lineup may be an issue. Josh Hamilton’s suspension and lingering issues cloud the fact that his production has been declining steadily over the last few years. Calhoun-Trout-Pujols are a fierce top 3, but that 4-5-6 trio of Joyce-Freese-Cron leaves quite a lot to be desired, not to mention a lot of men on base.
- Garrett Richards’ 96 mph fastball (2nd-highest average fastball velocity) looked unhittable for most of last year before his knee turned, ending his season prematurely. The silver-lining: his arm will be fresh for 2015.
- Just when it looks like the A’s make a trade that puts the future too far ahead of the present to reasonably contend this year (Donaldson to Toronto), they add Ben Zobrist to fill some of the void. Losing Brandon Moss (to Cleveland) will hurt as well, but the A’s seem to get the best out of everyone who dons those green-and-gold trimmed uniforms.
- Gone are Lester and Samardzija. In are Hahn and Graveman. And Barry Zito, for old-time’s sake. Everyone pitches better in Oakland. Partly because the stadium, where Mount Davis, the center field monstrosity, provides a glass-and-steel backdrop behind the outfield wall, knocking down potential long-balls. Partly because of the enormous foul territory, which turns strikes into outs. Partly because Billy Beane knows how to spot pitchers who will thrive in Oakland by throwing strikes. Enter Jesse Hahn, via San Diego and Kendall Graveman, via Toronto.
- Hard to believe Oakland can survive this time, though. The bottom of the AL West will no longer provide that cushion. Houston is rising. Seattle is a real threat (see below), and Texas can’t possibly go through as many debilitating injuries this time around.
- Taijuan Walker will become King Felix’s young prince within two years. Prince Taijuan? The young righty has a slider that many scouts drool over. If he learns to command the fastball, and stays in the friendly pitching territory of Safeco, Walker has a legit chance to be great.
- Nelson Cruz gives the Mariners more offensive balance behind Cano in the lineup. Cruz proved the doubters wrong in Baltimore after the PED fallout resulted in free-agency crickets. Now the people of Seattle have more reason to hope that this is the year their Mariners take the AL West back.
- Beecher’s mac-and-cheese is not of this earth.
- The Rangers put the D in Disabled List last year. I won’t bother to list all of the starters that fell apart. Suffice it to say that they didn’t plan on giving Robbie Ross (78 IP, 103 H, 6.20 ERA) 12 starts last year. Ross, who is a situational lefty by trade, gave up a startling .892 OPS against right-handed batters. And they still had him taking the mound to start three games after the All-Star break.
- The Rangers have already lost ace Yu Darvish for the season to Tommy John surgery. It’s a bit of a mystery why they didn’t see it in September, when his season ended early. Infield prospect Jurickson Profar has been declared out for the year after shoulder surgery.
- The lone bright spots in the Lone Star State (other than the Astros) are two minor league hitters. Powerful third-base prospect Joey Gallo will eventually prompt the Rangers media to push for re-naming the right-field fence at the Ballpark in Arlington. “Gallo’s Pole.” (Zeppelein, anyone?) Perhaps catcher Jorge Alfaro will eventually get a burrito named after him.