February 12, 2020

2020 Season Preview Magazines (Lindy's)


Before I get to the predictions and team overviews, I want to quote from Scott Miller's lead article, "The State of the Game". It's refreshing to read this:
Can't we all just acknowledge that, just maybe, baseball isn't for everyone? Hey, we love the game every bit as much as the next guy or gall, and probably more. Which is why every time commissioner Rob Manfred threatens new legislation, we duck as if he's conspiring to unleash a beanball at our coconut. Yes, it is important to connect with the next generation of fans. But so much so that it is worth depleting the game of a good portion of its soul? ...

[Y]ou can't package every game into a tidy, bite-sized block of time. The average nine-inning game reached a record length of 3:05:35 in 2019, despite Manfred's best efforts to speed up the pace of games and/or shorten them. Maybe it's time to simply say this is what the product is, and those who enjoy it, here ya go ... without suffocating play with more legislation.

AL East (Projected Finish)

Yankees - They were great last season, and now they have Gerrit Cole, the latest best pitcher on the planet, at the front of their rotation. And Giancarlo Stanton is healthy.

Rays - They created the "opener" strategy to help their young pitchers, but now the rotation is one of MLB's deepest. Austin Meadows is trending up.

Red Sox - Expensive starters Chris Sale, David Price and Nathan Eovaldi were in poor health last year and showed signs of wear. Great lineup, but the owner wants to reduce payroll.

Blue Jays - Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Vlad Jr. prove the sons also rise. Hyun-Jin Ryu is their first true No. 1 starter since Roy Halliday.

Orioles - Thank goodness for the Tigers, although no one should care after 100 losses. John Means and Trey Mancini could work for any team.

AL Central: White Sox, Twins, Cleveland, Royals, Tigers
AL West: Astros, Athletics, Angels, Rangers, Mariners
AL Wild Cards: Rays, Twins
AL Pennant: Yankees

AL MVP: Anthony Rendon, Angels
AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole, Yankees
AL Rookie: Luis Robert, White Sox
AL Rookie Pitcher: Jesus Luzardo, Athletics
AL Manager: Rick Renteria, White Sox

NL East: Phillies, Atlanta, Nationals, Mets, Marlins
NL Central: Brewers, Cardinals, Reds, Cubs, Pirates
NL West: Dodgers, Padres, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Giants
NL Wild Cards: Atlanta, Cardinals
NL Pennant: Dodgers

NL MVP: Ronald Acuna, Atlanta
NL Cy Young: Walker Buehler, Dodgers
NL Rookie: Carter Kieboom, Nationals
NL Rookie Pitcher: MacKenzie Gore, Padres
NL Manager: Joe Girardi, Phillies

Red Sox
In many ways, the Red Sox are a team in transition. On the field, they are without longtime contributors Rick Porcello and Steve Pearce. Off the field, a new front office is guiding the team. ...

None of those circumstances diminish the talent in place. Even after a disappointing 2019 season in which the Red Sox missed the playoffs for the first time in four years, it's not hard to see a path back to prominence ... If the club is going to bounce back, the results will likely have to come from within. It was a quiet offseason for the Red Sox ... [Obviously, Lindy's went to press well before the Betts trade. I cut the references to Betts. I mean, why rub it in?]

Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Benintendi were among those who disappointed last year. If they can return to their career norms, the Red Sox will have a much better chance at getting back to the playoffs. ...

The ingredients are in place. The Rays might have more pitching and the Yankees might have more power, but the Red Sox should be a factor in the American League East, too.

Rotation: Chris Sale represents the biggest question mark for the Red Sox. Elbow issues contributed to his frustrating, injury-shortened 2019 season. His recovery reportedly has gone well, leading to hope that he can carry his usual heavy load of innings. ... [Sale's] low arm slot and long limbs make it hard for batters to pick up his pitches, and his slider remains a legitimate out pitch. Sale's fastball has lost some life in recent years but still averages 93 mph, more than enough to generate strikeouts in large numbers. ... Eduardo Rodriguez broke out in a big way last year ... One reason for his success: a career-best ground-ball rate of 48.5 percent. ... Nathan Eovaldi needs a bounce-back year. Homers, walks and injuries led to a disappointing 2019 season, but Eovaldi still has a powerful arsenal, including a 97.5-mph fastball ... If the Red Sox can get 22 to 25 credible starts from the fragile Eovaldi, he will have earned his keep. Newcomer Martin Perez has been terrible the past two seasons, but he keeps getting jobs because, well, he's left-handed. Perez wants to work down in the zone with his sinker and slider and elicit soft contact, but it hasn't been happening on a regular basis. He gave up 39 home runs in 251 innings the past two years, and now he will have to deal with the Green Monster.

Bullpen: Brandon Workman has always had a good curveball, and he started using it more often that his fastball last year. The results were impressive: a 1.88 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 72 innings. ... [H]e is unlikely to hold the [closer] job for long if he doesn't do something about his control. Workman averaged an unsightly 5.7 walks per nine innings last year. Setup man Matt Barnes throws 97-mph gas. ... He averaged 15.4 strikeouts per nine innings last year ... Ryan Brasier throws nearly as hard as Barnes, but when he misses high, the ball tends to fly away. ... Marcus Walden's groundball rate last year was 53.5 percent ...

Catcher: Christian Vazquez ... had not hit much until last season, when he set career highs with 23 home runs, a .276 average and a .798 OPS. Like many others, Vazquez overhauled his swing to steepen his launch angle, and soon the Green Monster in left field was his friend. ... Vazquez threw out 38 percent of the runners trying to steal — the MLB average was 27 percent — and ranked among the leaders in pitch-framing, per Baseball Prospectus. ...

Infield: Third baseman Rafael Devers turned his raw hitting potential into results last year, with a breakout 32 homers. Only 15 MLB hitters had a higher average exit velocity than Devers. He is a discerning hitter, swinging at 76 percent of the pitches thrown to him that were in the strike zone last year. Devers has worked to become a passable defender. In an era of premium shortstops, Xander Bogaerts measures up well, at least with a bat in his hands. Patient at the plate, he is willing to wait for his pitch ... He laces doubles regularly, and his power is growing every year. ... His fielding, however, leaves much to be desired. Bogaerts had a -21 DRS score last year and has never been on the positive side of that metric. Newcomer Jose Peraza regularly gets the bat knocked out of his hands, as evidenced by his 20-percent soft contact rate last year. ... Michael Chavis showed budding power as a rookie last year, hitting 18 home runs in 95 games, a rate that could get him close to 30 in a full season.

Outfield: Jackie Bradley Jr. always gives the Red Sox elite defense in center field. His bat is another story. Bradley's batting average regressed each of the past three years, while his strikeouts soared, up to a team-leading 155 last season. Selling out for power, he hit 21 homers last year at the expense of a .225 batting average. Left fielder's Andrew Benintendi's inside-out swing is tailor-made for knocking doubles off the Green Monster, but he took a big step backward last year and it wasn't a fluke considering his BABIP was a healthy .333. Benintendi chased more pitches than ever, and his swing-strike rate rose to a career-high 11.6 percent.

Designated Hitter: J.D. Martinez combines game-changing power with elite bat-to-ball skills. With power to all fields and the ability to lay off pitches outside the zone, he remains one of MLB's most complete hitters as he enters his age-32 season. Since Houston decided he couldn't play and shipped him out after the 2013 season, Martinez has cracked 207 home runs ... and his batting average has fallen below .302 just once.

Manager/Organization: In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately move, impatient Red Sox owner John Henry fired baseball ops chief Dave Dombrowski last year and replaced him with Chaim Bloom, who came from the Rays' incubator for nurturing front office executives. A Dombrowski-built team won the 2018 World Series, but apparently multiple championships is the only thing acceptable in Boston these days. [This observation is wildly reductive and inaccurate. I'm surprised by this unknown writer's ignorance. Maybe it's just poorly-executed sarcasm?] It wouldn't be a surprise if Bloom sticks to a small-market mind-set in running the team, especially at a time when the Red Sox are in the thick of baseball's luxury tax. [In the thick of the luxury tax? What an odd way to phrase this point.]

Scout's Take: "I don't care what happened to them last year — this is still an outstanding young core. Seven of the regulars are in their 20s. ... There has to be concern about Pedroia ... You got to wonder whether a comeback is realistic at his age. ... A guy to watch is Vazquez. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by saying he's the next Yadier Molina. He's that good behind the plate, and now he's hitting the ball and hitting for some power."

Top Prospects: Triston Casas (1B), Bobby Dalbec (3B), Bryan Mata (RHP).
After years of relative austerity, the Yankees are back to their big-spending ways ... but even after adding Gerrit Cole, the Yankees face their share of questions ...

It has been 11 years since the Yankees' last title. ...

On paper, this is a legitimate championship contender. In fact, the Yankees well might be the best team in baseball. ...

Rotation: At 29, Cole is very much in his prime. ... James Paxton ranks among the game's top left-handed starters ... The problem for Paxton is escaping the first inning. he allowed an average of one earned run for each first inning he pitched last year. Luis Severino, interrupted last season by right shoulder and lat injuries, is good to go again. ... Masahiro Tanaka's strikeouts decreased for the second consecutive year in 2019, a concern as he pitches into his 30s. ... Domingo German [ended 2019] suspended on a domestic violence charge and he faces additional disciplinary measures this year. ... [H]itters caught up to [J.A.] Happ's fastball-heavy approach last year. ...

Catcher: The questions about [Gary] Sanchez revolve around his health and defense. Sanchez's arm has been his best asset as a defender, but he prevented just 23 percent of stolen-bases attempts in 2019, and his blocking and receiving skills are below average. Interrupted by assorted injuries, Sanchez has averaged just 106 games played over the last three years. The Yankees need a reliable backup, and it probably is not 39-year-old Erik Katz ...

Infield: Second baseman DJ LeMahieu ... was not the Coors Field monster many assumed. ... First baseman Luke Voit['s] ... .345 batting average on balls in play is highly unlikely to be sustainable for a player with below-average speed.

Outfield: Brett Gardner is MLB's oldest center fielder [age 36, and] is unlikely to repeat his power explosion of last season. ... Aaron Hicks is recovering from Tommy John surgery and is not expected to be ready to play until late summer, if at all.

Designated Hitter: Staying healthy has been a problem [for Giancarlo Stanton] ... Calf, knee and quad injuries limited him to 18 games last year.
James Paxton underwent a microscopic lumbar discectomy last week and had a peridiscal cyst removed from his back. He will be out three or four months.

Kristie Ackert, Daily News:
Less than an hour after Hal Steinbrenner repeatedly said his biggest hope was to get through spring training healthy, the Yankees took their first injury hit of 2020 Wednesday [February 5] — and it is a big one. The team announced that left-handed starter James Paxton is now out "three to four months" ...

Seven days before Yankees pitchers and catchers are to report to the spring training complex in Tampa, their best pitcher of last season is now out indefinitely. ...

It is obviously a huge blow to the Yankees before they even get into the starting gate — especially considering they were already without starter Domingo German, who is serving a 63-game suspension under the MLB Joint Domestic Violence policy to start the season. [He is eligible to return June 5.] ...

Just last month, GM Brian Cashman said that JA Happ would be the Yankees fifth starter coming into the season. That seemed odd at the time ... But it seems obvious now. The veteran lefty is coming off a frustrating season where he gave up a career-high 34 home runs, posting a 4.91 ERA, the second highest of his career.
Joel Sherman, New York Post:
For Paxton, the timing is brutal. He is about to enter his walk season and the bugaboo for a talented starter is fragility — Paxton has still never qualified for an ERA title and now probably won't this season either. ...

[GM Brian] Cashman acknowledged having surgery so close to spring is not ideal ...

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