By: Noah Epstein
The winter is over, the spring has begun, and it is finally time for baseball season. The eight month journey is underway, and the very long season is just getting started. This past offseason was one of the loudest in recent MLB history, as the two biggest questions going into 2019 were regarding for which teams Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were going to play baseball. These two all-stars were free agents, after Harper’s 7 years with the Nationals and Machado’s 7 years with the Orioles and Dodgers, where he was traded to last year as a rental. So, who is going to sign them? Where will they play, and how much will they earn?
The baseball season ended with the Red Sox winning the World Series in late October, and neither signing took place until February 19th, when Machado signed with the San Diego Padres. The deal was for 10 years, $300 million, and it became the largest free agent contract in North American sports history. Although Machado is a great talent and a spectacular ball player, I don’t see the Padres being serious contenders in the recent future. However, their number one prospect, shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., is playing in his first season in the bigs this year, meaning that the left side of the infield for San Diego should be exciting to watch for the next decade. Not too long after the Machado signing, Bryce Harper signed a massive 13 year, $330 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, with NO OPT OUTS!! I kid you not, I called my friend after I got that update on my phone to make sure I wasn’t going crazy. It suddenly surpassed Machado’s contract as the largest guaranteed sports contract in North American sports history, and I believe it makes the Phillies serious contenders. They aren’t a World Series team yet, but with Bryce locked up for 13 years and still a lot of cap space with money to spend, you can bet on the Phillies to be a successful team once again, like they were when they reached and won the World Series in 2008 and reached it again in 2009. The Phillies are back.
A couple of weeks after the Harper signing, another huge name signed a contract who wasn’t a free agent. Mike Trout, the best player in baseball, signed a 12 year, $430 million contract extension with the Angels, which is now the largest contract in professional sports history. To say that Trout deserves this kind of money is an understatement. Trout has been baseball’s best player for some time now. He’s been an all-star in each year since his rookie season in 2012, when he won rookie of the year of course. He has a .307 career batting average, a .989 career OPS (on base + slugging), and a 64.2 WAR (wins above replacement). Mike is 27 years old, and if he stays healthy, he will almost certainly become one of the greatest to ever play this great game. Trout is arguably the most dominant athlete in America and that includes players such as LeBron James and Tom Brady. He is so much more ahead than his competition that it’s almost unfair to be as good as he is. Having said that, the Angels still need much improvement, as Trout has only reached the playoffs once, in 2014, and they were swept by the Royals in the ALDS. The LA Angels are definitely not contenders yet, but they do have their big piece to potentially build around for the future.
Now, let’s get to the new baseball season. Every season is so exciting because there are so many teams that can be surprise teams and also teams that end up doing much worse than expected. Personally, I love this about baseball. In the NBA, we know the team/teams that are going to be hoisting up the Larry O’Brien Trophy almost every year, and there are usually no real surprises. In the NFL, the Patriots have had a dynasty for 20 years, so they’re always Super Bowl contenders at the end of the season, and there are never any surprises when they reach the final game of the postseason almost every year. Baseball is just different. Every game, every inning, every pitch, every play – anything can happen. There’s no clock in baseball, so the saying “27 outs” is a legitimate phrase as it couldn’t be further from the truth. Good pitching beats good hitting, and then, all of a sudden, good hitting beats good pitching. There’s no predicting baseball, but I am about to try anyway.
The most talented teams in baseball are the Red Sox, the Astros, and the Yankees, which were the three teams that reached at least 100 wins last year. The Red Sox are the defending World Series Champions, after going through the Yankees, the Astros, and the Dodgers last October. However, they did lose their two best relievers, Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel, and they didn’t make any impactful acquisitions, so they did become worse than last year. Reigning American League MVP Mookie Betts and slugger J.D. Martinez led the Sox, along with shortstop Xander Bogaerts who had a 6 year, $120 million contract extension. The Astros had a key addition to their squad, adding outfielder Michael Brantley after signing him to a two year deal. However, they lost starting pitchers Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers Jr., and Dallas Keuchel to free agency this past offseason. They still have a young, star-studded core in Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, and their rising star, Alex Bregman, along with all-star pitchers Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. As for the Yankees, they have gotten much better since last season. They acquired starting pitcher James Paxton from the Mariners, as well as infielders D.J. LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki in free agency. New York also added to their already outstanding bullpen with the signing of Adam Ottavino, who pitched for the Rockies last season. Unfortunately, however, the injury bug has stung the Yanks already. The current Yankees on the Injured List include (you might want to take a seat for this): Miguel Andujar (runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year in 2018), Giancarlo Stanton (National League MVP in 2017), newly acquired Troy Tulowitzki, reliever Dellin Betances, shortstop Didi Gregorious, center fielder Aaron Hicks, veteran pitcher C.C. Sabathia, Luis Severino (3rd place in Cy Young Award in 2017), and Jacoby Ellsbury (who is getting paid $153 million). The most significant and serious injury is most likely that of Gregorious, as he is recovering from Tommy John surgery and will possibly return no earlier than June. The Yankees are one of baseball’s top teams when healthy, so they desperately need their best players back to compete for their first division title since 2012 and their first World Series since 2009.
As for the National League, the division races should be unforgettable this year. The trio of the Brewers, the Cardinals, and the Cubs in the NL Central will live up to the hype, and I believe it will come down to the end of September. The Cardinals added star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to their lineup, as well as Andrew Miller to their bullpen. The Brewers are led by reigning MVP Christian Yelich who took over baseball last season, and the Cubs still have their core of stars in Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez. Another great division race will be the NL East, especially with Bryce Harper going to another team in the same division as the Nationals, and the Braves won the division last year. In the NL East this offseason, the Phillies got Bryce, the Nationals signed pitcher Patrick Corbin and infielder Brian Dozier, and the Mets traded for Robinson Cano and star reliever Edwin Diaz. The Mets are possible playoff contenders, but it would be tough for them to not fall behind all those great teams in the National League. They would most likely have to win their division to make the postseason in 2019.
I think the Yankees will overcome their many injuries and win their 28th World Series title in 2019, and I think they will go through Boston, Houston, and then face off against the Dodgers in the Fall Classic. I think the Dodgers are talented enough to make a World Series appearance for the third straight year, but they don’t have the weapons that New York has. Whatever the end result, we can all expect an exciting season filled with new records being set, close division and wild card races, and hopefully game sevens come October. It’s April, and baseball is back!!