The doldrums endured in the harsh winter months by baseball fans were hardly warmed by a Hot Stove this offseason. This free agent market was closer in consistency to collusion-riddled molasses than the quick flowing open-market that us baseball fans are accustomed to following.
In baseball, the season for hope to spring anew is not springtime but winter, when the shackles of a team’s record the previous year are consigned to the history books, and everyone has the same win-loss of 0-0. Championships are won during these winter meetings, when GM’s confer with hungry agents to bring in elite talent at a fairly high cost.
None of that happened this year. Rather, teams wary of overpaying for aging talent and emboldened by a favorable Collective Bargaining Agreement spent very little on the free agents. Mid-tier players, the kind of solid dudes that round out a lineup, ended up with pennies on the dollar in their contracts.
Unlike the Padres of 2015 or the Dodgers of 2012, there has been no team drastically upending their roster in order to suddenly compete. Rather, they are following the playbook of the Astros and Cubs. Both are two dominant teams which, a few years back, disemboweled their roster of competitive players in order to tank, and then rebuild, the farm system. This is encouraging teams who did poorly in 2016-2017 to feel no need to be competitive. Rather, similar to the NBA, there are two races in baseball, the pennant race and the race to the bottom.
This is detrimental for this upcoming season for two reasons. First of all, there will be fewer competitive games. Rather, fans in Detroit, Miami and Kansas City will decide if they want to pay major league prices for Triple-A talent, or stay home.
The second issue is that last year’s status quo has been reinforced, not challenged, by upstart teams. Those rich in talent often got richer this offseason and have fewer teams chasing their tails. As such, I can confidently say this upcoming baseball primer is the definitive primer, due to a relative lack of mobility in the standings. All these upcoming takes are the correct ones and may render the upcoming baseball season redundant for you to watch, as you will now know the outcomes in advance.
It’s sad, but true to say there is only one competitive race in baseball this year — the AL East, which is a two-dog race. The Yankees improved more than any other team this offseason as they were the recipient of the Marlins fire sale, grabbing Giancarlo Stanton for next to nothing. Both teams have 100-win ceilings and, unless the gargantuan Yankees corner outfielders decide to transfer to the NBA midseason, or the Red Sox start drinking beer mid-game again, neither will win fewer than 85 games.
There is one more quasi-competitive divisional race, the NL Central. The Cubs will be chased ineffectually but valiantly by the spunky Brewers and Cardinals, who have assembled teams good enough to be Wild Card teams. They’re clearly a tier below the Chicago outfit, who will win roughly 93 games. In the American League, the wild card teams will be the loser of the Yankees-Red Sox race, and the hapless Mariners, who exist solely to be defeated by better teams in painful ways.
The rest of the races are inexorably and undoubtedly decided. The irrefutable winners of the American League Central are the (W)Indians and in the west, securing 96 wins in their impotent division. The defending champions, the Astros who win a MLB leading 98 times and easily lead their division from start to finish after improving quite a lot this offseason.
In the National League, the races have similarly little suspense. Unless the San Andreas Fault consumes the entirety of California, the Los Angeles Dodgers will win their division handily, despite the Giants assembling the 2012 All-Star Team for their roster.
In the NL East, the Nationals get to beat up the self-destructive and actively decomposing Marlins, and should find no difficulty handling the innocuous Braves, Phillies, or Mets en route to 92 wins. The NL Wild Card will be between the Cardinals and Giants, with the winner being summarily executed by the 96-win Dodgers in the first round.
Feel free to bookmark this column to read after the season ends, and remark in the uncanny accuracy. While obviously there is hyperbole in my assuredness, the uncomfortable fact remains that there is a labor issue in baseball right now. The sluggish free-agent market has resulted in relatively low potential mobility for teams.
Perhaps the next offseason, filled with the potential riches of Bryce Harper and Clayton Kershaw, will bring more excitement and league-wide competitiveness. Until then, enjoy watching my predictions manifest themselves in real time.