The 2015 version of Spring Training is some 30-odd days away. Post-Winter Meeting baseball’s hot stove season has quieted down a bit, save for separate trades involving Ben Zobrist and Evan Gattis. Max Scherzer and James Shields remain unsigned, but bar any seismic activity most of the major work has already been completed.
Weeks away from Opening Day and nine long months from October, let’s be honest, outside the Vegas World Series odds, nobody really knows anything despite the fact 2015 is the year Biff Tannern acquired his futuristic sports almanac from Back to the Future II. So with that in mind, let’s make five totally random, shot-in-the-dark
guesses predictions for the season ahead.
Random 2015 Baseball Guess No. 1: Alex Rodriguez will have an indifferent season, of which every second will be documented at length by the ravenous New York media.
Do you, as a human being, care what a 39-year-old baseball player eats for breakfast in Spring Training? Perhaps you might be more interested on his last three Netflix streams. Maybe what sort of outfit he wore to the training facility. Etc. Whatever dumb little detail you want to know about Alex Rodriguez, the crack New York press corps will have you covered. (Try to contain your excitement.)
The amount of time and effort spent documenting a player coming off a season-long suspension, with questionable hips and long-declining skills is — logically — baffling, but that won’t stop the New York media which will make A-Rod the story consistently and that’s independent of how many at-bats he’ll get coming off the Yankees bench. Ugh, it just dawned on me writing this that every day in 2015 A-Rod’s status in or out of the Yankees starting lineup will likely be a story.
Baseball consumers apparently can’t get enough A-Rod. Hooray! Side note: the New York media probably topped itself with A-Rod stories already with their Lebowski-inspired urination story from late 2014.
Say it with me again: ugh.
Bonus prediction: 2015 A-Rod hits .268 with 17 homers and 54 RBIs in part-time duty.
Random 2015 Baseball Guess No. 2: The New York Mets will make the playoffs.
Queue up the celebratory Bartolo Colon GIFs! Actually call this more of a “somebody has to do it” type of situation since the National League appears fairly wide open beyond the top 2-3 favorites. Last season the Mets won 79 games — (easy math) two away from .500. The Pirates and Giants won the two Wild Card spots at 88 wins. In 2015 the Mets get back Matt Harvey to team with Rookie of the Year Jacob de Grom in the rotation. Add “professional hitter” Michael Cuddyer to the lineup and the Mets aren’t exactly the trainwreck people on social media love to make easy laughs about.
Atlanta and Philadelphia are in the midst of tearing down their rosters, giving New York a little hope in the division. For whatever its worth, the Mets were two games better than the Marlins in 2014, another team that should also vie for a place in the Wild Card play-in game.
Random 2015 Baseball Guess No. 3: The Cubs will be on a lot of magazine covers in March.
Let’s work under the assumption magazines and newstands still exist — if only in airports. So if you’re a business traveler, frequent flyer or trying to break Wade Boggs beer record, expect to see Joe Maddon’s smiling face surrounded by Jon Lester, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler et al, framed by words saying “Our Year?” or “What Curse?” or something to that effect.
Media executives are putting stock in the Cubs — their game vs. the Cardinals is the first ESPN Sunday Night game of 2015! — but optimism in winter doesn’t amount to much come April. Long-term, yes, the Cubs have a viable plan in place but at the moment they need to leapfrog all four other National League Central foes, including the reloaded Cardinals who remain active on the pitching front with some mild David Price rumblings.
In short, the Cubs are a good winter story — and an easy one — but Vegas moving them up to 12-to-1 to win the 2015 World Series is hilarious. Maddon is a good manager and Lester is a solid front-line starter, but don’t forget the Cubs won 73 games in 2014. Chicago is paying Lester $25.8 million a year to do more than pose for magazine covers, I’d guess.
Random 2015 Baseball Guess No. 4: Miguel Cabrera’s health will develop into a story.
Former MVP and Triple Crown Winner Miguel Cabrera turns 32 on April 18. He’s slated to make $31 million per year through 2023. When healthy, Cabrera certainly earns that paycheck. Quietly this month Cabrera had surgery to remove bone spurs and repair a stress fracture in his foot, he may not be ready for opening day. Never quite healthy in 2014, Cabrera posted his “worst” offensive season since 2008, although it still produced 25 homers and a .895 OPS.
For what it’s worth, Cabrera is a large human being, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 240 pounds. (Tigers radio analyst Jim Price affectionately calls him “The Big Man” during lineup introductions.) There is a widely held theory, stress theory, that “big” guys don’t age well in baseball, meaning if Cabrera isn’t healthy by mid-April or struggles this will develop into a story. ESPN will need something to fill space during February and March once the Super Bowl is over, so it might not even take that long.
Comparisons like this are always a little strained, but 2014 Hall of Famer Frank Thomas stood 6-foot-5, weighing 240 pounds and played first base. A lifetime .301 batter, Thomas never hit over .300 in a year past his age 32 season. That said he hit 42 home runs in 2003 at age 35 and then 39 with the Athletics in 2006 when he was 38.
Since the White Sox made a lot of moves in the winter and the Twins and Indians made improvements, too, Cabrera’s injury status is something to file away regardless since it will affect wins and losses, beyond media talking points to fill time. (I omitted the Royals here under the “Regression to the Yost” theory.)
Random 2015 Baseball Guess No. 5: The Nationals and Dodgers are still the best bet for the playoffs and beyond.
The Dodgers are at 15/2 to win the World Series, which seems the safest bet for a number of reasons. The Giants, fresh off another World Series, might take a step back without Pablo Sandoval, plus there’s the whole odd year/even year thing going on in the Bay lately. The Padres made about 85 trades, but still have a suspect pitching situation … and question marks on all the players new GM A.J. Preller acquired. Math-hating, gritty Arizona and Colorado (which still hasn’t dealt Carlos Gonzalez or Troy Tulowitzki) are a long way off. So the Dodgers look good in the division.
For the tinkering Andrew Friedman and his braintrust will do over the next eight months, there isn’t a fool-proof method to get through the playoffs or figure out a way so Clayton Kershaw pitches in October like it’s still July. But again, the Dodgers look a safe bet to make the playoffs.
Same goes for the Nationals. As mentioned above in the Mets section, Washington has a clear path to October. Much like the Dodgers figuring out a way to transfer a solid regular season — I’d guess the Nats are the best bet of any team hits 100 wins — to a short five-game or seven-game series remains elusive.
As for the American League? Vegas tabs the Red Sox (71-game winners in 2014) as the best bet, even though the massively re-built team has yet to play a competitive game together. The much more static Angels are also at 10-to-1 odds.
Realistically, the only team you can safely say from the American League in mid-January that won’t make the playoffs is Tampa. A case could be made for everybody else, even the Astros if you want.