Here’s What You Need to Know As Opening Day Approaches
By George Kurtz
We are now well into Spring Training games and with the start of the real action coming soon, we have trending storylines that we will be paying closer attention to before Opening Day. Some are more important or interesting than others, but all will be worth keeping an eye on. It has been fun to watch a few games so far, but let’s face it, many of us are begging for the games to count. Here’s what we need to keep up on before the real first pitches are thrown out very soon. This is especially useful if you are catching up on what has transpired during the offseason.
Speeding Up the Game: Major League Baseball backed off their plan to put in a pitch clock this season. They couldn’t come to an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association, so instead of a clock or keeping hitters in the batter’s box, they decided to limit the amount of times team personnel may visit the pitcher’s mound. This is still a step in the right direction, but more could’ve/should’ve been done. There is no rule in place as to what will happen when a player, manager, or coach approaches for the seventh time, only that the umpire will have the option of ejecting said player. Couldn’t this entire problem be solved by giving the pitcher and catcher wireless ear pieces like they have in football? This would solve so many problems and eliminate some of the down time in the game.
Big Name Free Agents Still Available: Some big name free agents have finally started to sign recently, as Yu Darvish is a Cub, Eric Hosmer a Padre, and J.D. Martinez is with the Red Sox. There are however, still several big name free agents that have yet to sign a contract for this season. Where will Jake Arrieta end up? How much longer will he wait to sign? There are also second-tier pitchers that are still available like Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb. Greg Holland can close or be a top setup man. If a team needs need a power-hitting outfielder, maybe Carlos Gonzalez still has something left. Remember when Jonathan Lucroy was one of the best catchers in the game? That was just two years ago. If a club needs someone at the hot corner, how about Mike Moustakas? Neil Walker could play second base for quite a few teams. You could field a very competitive team with these players.
— SPORTSRADIO 94WIP (@SportsRadioWIP) March 1, 2018
Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge: The Yankees should not only open the gates at Yankee Stadium early enough so that fans can watch them take batting practice, but they should charge a separate admission for it. Watching these two hit balls into the atmosphere may be more entertaining than some games this season. It used to be the way to shut down a Yankee lineup was to start a left-hander versus them. Well unless that southpaw is a hell of a pitcher (Chris Sale/Clayton Kershaw), good luck with that strategy. If you miss your spot these two will hit it out of the stadium and we haven’t even mentioned Gary Sanchez, who may not hit them as far, but would anyone truly be surprised if he hit 40 bombs this season? He hit 33 HRs last year and he missed a month.
Shohei Ohtani: The Babe Ruth of Japan has quite a few eyeballs on him. I mean, after all, he’s going to hit 35 HRs this season and win 20 games, yes? Okay, probably not, but he is a unique athlete, and everyone is wondering how manager Mike Scioscia will use him. Scioscia has stated that Ohtani will not bat the day before or after he pitches. That would seem to make him a three times a week player at best. It will be hard to see him succeed as a hitter if he’s only playing part-time. The Angels announcing that they were lowering the right-field wall by 10 feet is curious. Ohtani does bat left-handed and it’s not like Kole Calhoun or Luis Valbuena are big time HR threats from the left side. Maybe this indeed was for Ohtani, who will play a bit more than we have been led to believe.
Miami Marlins Fire Sale (again): It has to be extremely tough to be a fan of the Marlins. Their fans were probably excited to finally get a new ownership group in place. You see Derek Jeter is going to control baseball operations and although he has no experience, you’re thinking, well, he’s a proven winner, he’ll make the right moves. Maybe they will turn out to be right but trading away Giancarlo Stanton (Yankees), Marcell Ozuna (Cardinals), and Christian Yelich (Brewers) is probably not what the fans had in mind. Who would you pay to watch on this team and is there any way they don’t lose more than 100 games this season?
Nationals’ Last Hurrah: It’s not a secret that Bryce Harper can be a free agent after the season. Some might believe that the window for the Nationals to win the World Series is closing, at it would seem unlikely that he re-signs with Washington. That may be overstating things, as this team will still have a rotation with Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer and Victor Robles could replace a good portion of the offensive production that Harper produced once he’s given a chance to play on a regular basis. Still, it would behoove the Nats to make every effort to go for it this season. It’s for this reason that I wouldn’t be surprised if they make a play for Arrieta and try to win more with pitching than with hitting. Holland could also be in play here if they want to fortify a bullpen that has proven to be their Achilles heel in the past.
Will Baltimore Trade Manny Machado?: They should’ve traded him already. This is a team that isn’t going to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees this season. Their starting rotation consists of Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, Chris Tillman, and prayers. Yeah, good luck with that. The longer they wait to trade Machado the less they will get in return. Acquiring teams know that they will be unlikely to sign him and won’t give up as much for a rental as for a player they would’ve had for someone they would’ve had for a season-plus. Machado will be moved as soon as the Orioles fall out of the race, so will Zach Britton when he proves himself healthy, but the O’s made a mistake in not making these moves during the off-season or at last year’s trade deadline.
Tanking: Teams are following the blueprint set forth by the Astros and Cubs. Pare down your payroll, lose big for a few years, draft well, and then compete. MLB isn’t the only league that is dealing with this problem. The NFL, NHL, and NBA have all had this issue at some point, it’s just that teams like the Marlins and Rays aren’t even hiding the fact that they aren’t trying to win this season. These two teams may not win 100 games between them. It’s not a good look to have so many uncompetitive teams in the game.