Spring is Finally Upon Us: The Return of America’s National Pastime

A long 3-month wait finally comes to an end as MLB Spring Training officially begins.

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Pitchers and Catchers report.

Those 4 words are music to a baseball fan’s ears this time of year. Now that the calendar has finally turned to February, and the Super Bowl is in the rearview mirror (congrats to the Philadelphia Eagles on their first Super Bowl victory), the spotlight turns to baseball. Beginning today, Major League Baseball players and coaches will begin reporting to their Spring Training camps in Arizona and Florida to prepare for the upcoming season. This is a special time of year. The slate is wiped clean for all 30 baseball clubs, and optimism is running high heading into a new season. No one knows what will take place over the next 8 months, but there is one thing we know for sure, it will be a fun journey.

Off-Season Recap

A slow, uneventful off-season has made the few months since the Houston Astros took down the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series feel like an eternity waiting for this great game to return. Many big name free agents are still looking for their payday, stalling the market. There is such a glut of unsigned free agents, in fact, that there will be special spring training camps available to these players. There was action to be found on the trade block, however, with teams either shipping away some of their best players for future stars or contenders putting the finishing touches on their rosters.

Here are some of the major moves that have been made over the winter:

  • November 15: A’s slugger Ryon Healy was traded to the Seattle Mariners. This is an improvement for a Mariners team that was on the cusp of a playoff berth in 2016 but fell off in 2017. They still need a frontline starter to be competitive in the AL West.
  • December 7: The Seattle Mariners continued to improve, trading for speedy Marlins 2B Dee Gordon. This was the beginning of a major salary dump by the Marlins.
  • December 10: After months of hype and rumors, international phenom Shohei Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels. The two-way star chose the Angels after a long decision process, giving the Halos another potential star to play alongside superstar Mike Trout.
  • December 11: Only a day later, Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who clubbed 59 home runs on his way to winning the 2017 NL MVP, was traded to the New York Yankees. Just like that, the two biggest names of the offseason found new homes. This is a significant addition to a Yankees team who fell just one game short of the World Series in 2017 and will be one of the favorites in the American League in 2018.
  • December 13: Not long after the Marlins shipped off their top slugger to the Big Apple, Miami sent away their starting left fielder Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals. This was a big move by the Cardinals to try and improve on their 83-79 record in 2017, falling short of the postseason for the second year in a row. Being a part of a once again tough NL Central, the Cardinals desperately needed to improve and are on the right track acquiring Ozuna.
  • December 20: Former Cleveland Indians 1B Carlos Santana signed a 3-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies are still in their rebuilding process, but the future looks bright in the City of Brotherly Love. Santana can bring veteran leadership to a still young Phillies team that looks to be competitive in the years to come. 
  • December 20: On that same day, the San Francisco Giants made the first of two moves in an attempt to improve on their horrible 64-98 record in 2017 by trading for veteran 3B Evan Longoria.
  • December 29: The Colorado Rockies, fresh of a postseason berth in 2017, signed closer Wade Davis to a 3-year deal. After losing Greg Holland to free agency, the Rockies found a more than suitable replacement in Wade Davis, who has been one of the best closers in baseball over the past few seasons. As with any pitching acquisitions made by the Rockies, it will be interesting to see how the thin air in the Mile High City affects Davis.
  • January 13: The first major acquisition of 2018 occurred when the defending world champion Houston Astros traded for former first-round pick and Pittsburgh Pirates ace Gerrit Cole as part of a 5-player trade. Cole is an instant upgrade to the middle of the Astros starting rotation behind Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel. On the other side, this move appears to signal the beginning of the rebuilding process for the Pirates.
  • January 15: Shortly after trading away their ace, the Pirates continued to trend toward a rebuild when they traded former NL MVP and franchise cornerstone Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants. The Giants are trying for one more run from their core group of players who brought home a World Series as recently as 2014. While Longoria and McCutchen are on the back end of their careers, they both know what it takes to win, which is important for a team trying to improve on a league-worst 64 win season in 2017.
  • January 16: Jay Bruce signed a 3-year contract to return to the New York Mets. Bruce played for the Mets for one year before being shipped away to the Cleveland Indians in a trade deadline deal last year.
  • January 26: The Miami Marlins fire sale continued with the trade of outfielder Christian Yelich to the Milwaukee Brewers. The Marlins continued to shed salary at a record pace and acquire young talent while the Brewers sent a message to the rest of the MLB that they’re ready to win now, after surprising everybody and coming within one game of a playoff berth in 2017.
  • January 26: The Brewers weren’t done there. News broke that same afternoon that the Brewers had signed free agent outfielder Lorenzo Cain to a five-year deal. In a matter of hours, the Brew Crew assembled one of the best outfields in all of baseball that should help them compete in a tough NL Central.
  • February 7: Third baseman Todd Frazier stayed close to home, moving from the New York Yankees to their crosstown rival New York Mets.
  • February 10: The Chicago Cubs signed Yu Darvish to a 6-year deal. Darvish is the replacement for the departed Jake Arrieta, who left for free agency after last season. Darvish has more than proven himself to be a capable frontline starter and should give the Cubs a boost over their division foes.

That may seem like a long list, but you have to take into account there are still numerous unsigned free agents waiting on the open market, which is not a good sign as Spring Training begins. Notable unsigned free agents include the aforementioned Jake Arrieta, slugger J.D. Martinez, first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, the list goes on and on. The lack of action on the free agent market has made this winter feel especially long, making the fact that Spring Training is finally upon us that much more satisfying. The fact remains, though, that time is running out on these free agents to find a place to call home for the next 8 months, as Spring Training is getting underway and Opening Day is just around the corner.

Predictions

There is nothing quite like going to the old ballpark and taking in a baseball game. All the unique sights and sounds are unforgettable. The sight of the freshly cut grass and the perfect dirt diamond around the infield. The crack of the bat, the pop of the mitt, the roar of the crowd. But the real treat is being able to enjoy these pleasures in the month of October when Major League Baseball begins its postseason. As for who will be participating in the 2018 Postseason, nobody knows, but today, I’ll take a stab at who I think will be fighting in October for the coveted Commissioner’s trophy given to the World Series Champion.

Only 10 of MLB’s 30 clubs advance to the postseason, five from the American League and five from the National League.

These predictions are based on the current makeup of all MLB rosters, not what rosters could look like in the coming weeks.

Here’s how I see the American League playing out:

  • #1 Seed- Houston Astros (103-59)
  • #2 Seed- Cleveland Indians (97-65)
  • #3 Seed- New York Yankees (93-69)
  • #4 Seed- Boston Red Sox (90-72)
  • #5 Seed- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (86-76)
  • Outside looking in: Minnesota Twins, Seattle Mariners

Let’s move on to my National League Predictions:

  • #1 Seed- Los Angeles Dodgers (99-63)
  • #2 Seed- Washington Nationals (97-65)
  • #3 Seed-Chicago Cubs (91-71)
  • #4 Seed-Arizona Diamondbacks (88-74)
  • #5 Seed- Milwaukee Brewers (87-75)
  • Outside Looking in: Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants

Of course, these are only predictions. I am not sitting here as I write this with a crystal ball in my hand. That is what is so great about baseball. No one knows what will transpire over the next 8 months. Beginning March 29th, all 30 Major League Baseball clubs will begin the long, strenuous six-month grind that is a 162-game baseball season. Over the months to follow, there will be ups and downs, history will be made, incredible feats accomplished, and excitement abound.

Who cares if Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. In my opinion, today is the official start of Spring. The boys of summer are back, and we should be in for one heck of a ride.

 

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