Happy New Year!
Oh hey there, readers! It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
For reals. I took a three-month hiatus from writing. I don’t know about you guys, but in the midst of all the things going on in the world over the last year or so, baseball just hasn’t been at the forefront of my headspace. Like, I LOVE baseball. I’ve loved it my whole life. But not being able to go to live games, watching owners and players bicker over how/when to play during a pandemic, and my team shitting the bed in the post season yet again, I just haven’t cared enough about any baseball stories to write anything remotely interesting.
Once the Twins were the first team out of the post season again, I didn’t care much about the playoffs or World Series (though, I gotta say congrats to the Dodgers for ending a 34 year drought!). I didn’t care about awards season (2019 stats are going to be worthless/inflated/deflated unless you’re trying to get a big contract). Free agency and signings seem trivial right now in a time where much of the world is struggling to even keep a job or stay healthy (read the room, people.. nobody wants to hear about a player making $300 million right now). So really, what is there to write about?
A lot has happened in the world – baseball or otherwise – over the last three months. Much of it I was ignoring for reasons above. But, the eternal optimist in me wants to start 2021 in a happy place. We all have fresh hopes for our teams. Everyone’s record is reset to 0-0. There’s the hope of going to a live game this season (maybe???). Women are being introduced into the sport – most recently with Boston hiring the first black woman to coach a minor league coaching deal. I can’t keep ignoring baseball if it’s something that has always brought me so much joy. So, without further adieu, here are the things that I’m excited to see in the 2021 season:
A FULL 162 GAME SEASON
More than anything, I’m looking forward to what’s supposed to be a full season. Last year’s
cluster fuck bickering between MLB and the MLBPA and resulting delay to start the season made an already sad time in the world even worse. Other sports were able to hammer out details and figure out how to safely play the game, and baseball took forever to get their shit together. But once the wrinkles were ironed out and a couple of teams had to quarantine, things were smooth sailing for the most part and we actually got to see the season through to the final out of the World Series.
With a better idea of what to do from the start, there’s very little doubt in my mind that we will get to see Major League Baseball starting on April 1. YESSSSSSSSS!
Watching a game at the ballpark
Gone might be the days of the cardboard cutout fans.
I know, I know. This is a big ask. We are in the middle of a pandemic and half of the country thinks we should open everything back up, while the other half says that if we all just hunkered down for 4-6 weeks as a nation, we might actually start to control this damn virus. Regardless of what side you may find yourself, Commissioner Rob Manfred has said that he’ll push for fans in the stands for the 2021 season.
There were fans in attendance in the LCS and World Series at the new Rangers ballpark in Texas without news of a major outbreak, so it’s entirely possible that MLB could see some fans in attendance in 2021. Mind you, Texas has been very relaxed on covid restrictions, while many states won’t allow for fan attendance at all – even while wearing masks or at a smaller capacity.
So some big questions remain around allowing fans inside the gates. One will be is the decision going to be up to MLB or will it be up to the states? The NFL only saw spectators in 13 of 32 teams, and only in states that allowed for them to be there. If not all teams get spectators, what affect will this have on home field advantage? Will MLB have to split the earnings among teams somehow if only a handful of teams are making money from ticket sales and concessions, while the rest of the teams are playing in empty stadiums? Or will teams be forced to play in the states that are open to fans? With Spring Training being in Florida and Arizona (Florida saw NFL fans, Arizona did not), will Grapefruit League get fans, while Cactus League does not? Will Cactus League games be played in Texas? There are SO many questions to unpack here, but maybe if we are lucky between staying home, vaccinations, and increased mask wearing the numbers will be low enough to allow us to watch a game from the comfort of our favorite seats at our favorite ballparks. Maybe.
The Padres are aiming to annihilate the NL West
It’s been brewing for a few years now in what seemed to be an endless attempt to rebuild. Remember when they snapped up Manny Machado in a 10 year/$300 million deal? And how Fernando Tatís Jr was a finalist for rookie of the year in 2019 (rightfully losing out to Pete Alonso) and had a fantastic year in 2020? Oh, and remember how they have been rounding out their lineup with the likes of Tommy Pham, Will Meyers, and Eric Hosmer? Well now they went and made two monster trades getting some of the best pitchers in the game – Blake Snell and Yu Darvish – for a hefty portion of their minor league prospects. They might now have much of a team in about 7 years without a farm system to come up but the payoff in 2021 will likely be worth it.
The Blue Jays could take the AL East
Before the delayed start to the season, I thought maybe it would be Toronto’s year last year. The Yankees had a ton of injuries that would have been detrimental to the first half of the season, and the Red Sox traded away their star player. However, the eventual AL Champion Rays were just too good, and the Yankees got lucky with the delay giving their biggest names time to heal from the injuries that would have kept them out of the start of the season. With the Rays giving away the aforementioned Snell, I don’t see them having a repeat as the AL champs. The Yankees are going to buy their way into the post season like they always do, either with free agents this winter or via mid-season trades with teams that are willing to give up their stars for a broken-down, past-their-heyday reliever and a pack of gum. But I’m going to hold on to the hopes I had from early 2020 to that the Jays have enough young talent in Baby Vlad, Baby Biggio, and Bo Bichette, plus the seasoned and well paid arm of Yun-Jin Ryu to be a fun group of guys to watch this season.
The biggest question for the Jays this year: Will they get to play at home? Doubtful. They’ll likely have to stay on the southern side of the Canadian border until the pandemic allows them to freely travel between the US and Canada. They might as well get some use out of their upgraded Buffalo home for one more season.
A normal (?) post season
I don’t know about you, but I was not a fan of the mega-expanded post season.
Granted, 2020 was not a typical baseball season, but did it really mean we had to let Manfred sneak in his shitty plan to expand the post season while we all pretended we hadn’t hated the idea just a few months prior? Teams with no business being in the post season took out teams that earned a spot (I’m not bitter or anything), and the expanded format was confusing and drawn way out. There’s still the possibility that we could see an expanded format, but it likely won’t be the 16 team free-for-all that we were stuck with in 2020.
Key Free Agents
As I said earlier, nobody wants to hear about players signing contracts for bajillions of dollars during a time of financial uncertainty for so many and a global pandemic (not to mention the instability of the US government right now between a run off election and a president that seems intent on dividing the nation and starting a civil war.. but I digress). But, for those that want a distraction from the perpetual dumpster fire that is the world right now, there are a few names that might be fun to watch over the upcoming weeks leading into spring training. Most notably, we have reigning NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer looking for a new home. He’s gone from super irritating head-case to one of my favorite players over the last few years, and now he has a career year behind him to earn himself a huge deal in a year where no team wants/can afford to make a huge deal. Will he get a mega contract? Most certainly he will.. maybe just not for quite the amount of money he would have gotten a year ago.
Other notable names on the market this off season are:
George Springer – will his part in the Astros scandal lower his value or will teams look beyond that mess and remember that he was a really good player that didn’t even need to cheat to begin with?
JT Realmuto – the two time All Star catcher (and sometimes 1B) is ranked this year’s number one free agent position player. The two likeliest places he’ll sign will be staying with the Phillies or staying in the NL East with the Mets. He’s looking to make stupid money as the highest paid catcher in history (record currently held by Minnesota’s favorite son Joe Mauer who ultimately was paid $23 million per year to not catch), so it’ll come down to the team that ends up having the deepest pockets. But let’s not forget.. teams are hemorrhaging money these days without fans in the stands, and he could end up signing a shorter deal to bridge the gap until MLB is raking it in again. His contract could set the tone for the rest of the free agents out there.
DJ LeMahieu – the official word from the Yankees a few weeks ago was that their top priority is keeping the infielder… except they haven’t actually made it happen yet. Many are hearing that DJ is looking for 5 years/ $110 million and the Yankees have offered 4 years/$84 million. If the Yankees were serious, they’d cave, because it sounds like the Dodgers are looking to dump their current also-a-free-agent 3B Justin Turner, age 36, for the four-years-younger LeMahieu. Or the Yankees can let him go, sign Turner for less, and then buy an even bigger name in two years when they have the money to blow again.
Nelson Cruz – the mightiest (and oldest) bat in the Twins’ Bomba Squad is on the market this off season. Don’t let his age fool you – he’s still probably one of the best (if not the best) designated hitters out there. There’s a really good chance he’ll stay in Minnesota, unless 2021 (and beyond) sees a universal DH again. If the NL starts having a full time DH.. well then this might just get really interesting.
There are a lot of other really good players on the market this season, but these guys in particular might set the tone for what’s to come. Team pockets aren’t as deep as they usually are, and the ridiculous contracts from yesteryear might be in the rear view for now.
So there you have it, my friends. My triumphant (?) return to the keyboard. I know that baseball season is still a long way off, and things could really change between now and what’s supposed to be Opening Day on April 1, 2021. But for now, I’ll be dreaming of sitting in the stands, with the sunshine on my (someday unmasked) face, watching the boys of summer locked up in extra innings amid a tight race to the post season, with a beer in one hand and a hot dog in the other.
Oh, and don’t forget to keep an eye out for my overtly-homerist Twins takes over at SB Nation’s Twinkie Town if you’re a fan (or enemy) of Minnesota.