February 19, 2021

Lindy's (Spring Training Magazines, Part 1)

My isolated small town's supermarket carries Lindy's, so I grabbed a copy last week.

I will have to drive three hours south to the "big city" (pop. 35,000) to look for the Athlon and Street & Smith's annuals. (As luck would have it, I have to head down on March 5 for a medical appointment.)

Lindy's picks the Red Sox to finish fourth in the AL East in 2021. 

MFY: "The Yankees probably can't finish first with a rotation of Gerrit Cole and assorted misfits. But rest assured, by the ghost of George Steinbrenner, that help will be forthcoming."

Blue Jays: "It is time for the child prodigies to take the next step. Vlad Jr. should be blasting dingers by now, and not just in the Home Run Derby."

Rays: "Where do the Rays stand after trading Blake Snell? Well, they picked up Michael Wacha, who has been one of the worst starters in the game the last two years."

Red Sox: "The Red Sox seem hellbent on dislodging the Rays as the cheapest team in baseball. The difference is, except for the left side of their defense, they have no real keepers."

Orioles: "Earl Weaver wouldn't like this team: no big bopper in the middle of the order (that's what they paid Chris Davis to be), no ace (or two) in the rotation, no vacuum cleaners on defense."

Red Sox

Well, that was a mess. Boston set the tone for its dismal 2020 in February, when the team traded former MVP Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers for a package of prospects and, more importantly for the Red Sox, salary relief. . . . [The team] also avoided free agency, signing only a handful of players despite holes all over the roster.

The result was as predictable as it was ugly. A team that two years earlier had won 108 games and the World Series finished dead-last in the AL East . . . with its lowest winning percentage since 1965 (.400, or a 97-loss season over 162 games). . . .  [I]t's clear that contention isn't in the 2021 cards either. Presumably the goal under general manager Chaim Bloom is to rebuild the roster and farm system, and turn Boston into Tampa North, complete with slimmer payrolls. . . .

Rotation: Assuming Eduardo Rodriguez returns in full health (and signs are good), he'll be Boston's No. 1 starter, and not just because the rest of the rotation is a problem. The lefty was excellent in 2019 . . . With newly improved control, [Nathan Eovaldi] posted a career-high ERA-plus (126) and strikeouts rate (26.1 percent, three points above the MLB average). . . . Tanner Houck was a surprising revelation as a 2020 rookie, allowing one run in 17 innings across three September starts. . . . Chris Sale is unlikely to help before the second half of the season, if at all. . . .

Bullpen: Matt Barnes is the closer, but he won't be for long should he continue to walk batters at a 5.4 pace per nine innings, as he has the past two seasons. . . . Ryan Brasier throws hard and gets a lot of swings and misses. He also gives up a lot of loud contact. Phillips Valdez found a modicum of success last year . . . Like Barnes, he walks too many batters. .A positive Covid-19 test limited Darwinzon Hernandez to 8.1 innings . . . Austin Brice is a thrift store version of Matt Barnes — lots of strikeouts, lots of walks . . . Josh Taylor, who missed most of last season recovering from Covid-19, is the most trustworthy lefty in the bullpen.

Catcher: Formerly a glove-first catcher with a weak bat, Christian Vazquez now is one of the team's triumphs in player development . . . He makes better contact these days and pops an occasional home run. Vazquez had the benefit of a .344 BABIP last season, which he is unlikely to repeat . . . Kevin Plawecki batted .341 last year in limited duty, about 140 points higher than his career average. Don't expect a repeat.

Infield: The Red Sox have a choice at first base between prospects Michael Chavis and Bobby Dalbec. It's likely to be Dalbec, who hit eight homers in 23 games last year, but also struck out 39 times in 92 plate appearances. . . . Same with Chavis, whose free-swinging ways — 50 strikeouts and eight walks in 158 plate appearances last year — rob what value he brings with his power. . . . Chavis is likely to begin the season as the second baseman . . . The job eventually will go to top prospect Jeter Downs, perhaps later this year. Xander Bogaerts . . . had a team-best 131 OPS-plus last season, although the metrics crowd said he hit too many ground balls, made less hard contact and was fooled by breaking balls to often. Bogaerts is an acceptable shortstop as long as he hits well. Third baseman Rafael Devers managed to finish as an above-average MLB hitter last season, despite a terrible start. Through his first 21 games, Devers slashed .183/.239/.317, but he went .307/.350/.573 the rest of the way. Just 24 years old, he isn't close to his ceiling. Devers, though, remains a subpar defender.

Outfield: Alex Verdugo's task last season was to at least faintly mirror [Mookie Betts's] production . . . [He led] the team in WAR with a 1.9 score and finishing second in OPS-plus at 126, while playing above-average defense. Look under the hood, and you will find some issues, such as a ground balls rate of 52.2 percent . . . and a mediocre hard-hit rate. Then you remember that Verdugo is only 24 and still getting his career off the ground. . . . Hunter Renfroe has three things going for him: power (career .486 slugging percentage), an ability to crush lefties (career .258/.339/.573 slash line) and above-average defense. On the downside, he is an unapologetic hacker (career .290 OBP and 28 percent strikeouts rate) and virtually useless against righties (.216/.268/.449). . . .

Designated Hitter: Somehow a hitter of [J.D. Martinez's] caliber got beat by fastballs all season long; he hit a measly .186 with a .372 slugging percentage against heaters. . . . [G]ive him the benefit of the doubt and see what he's doing at midseason.

Manager/Organization: Chaim Bloom's first year in Boston was as rough as it gets. Regardless, it was the first step in what now looks like a multi-year rebuild. Next step: better player development and restocking the farm system, and getting ahead of the curve analytically.


Is it fair to call the 2020 Yankees a disappointment? If nothing else, their season was uneven: a 16-6 start, followed by a 5-15 stretch that cost them the American League East title and almost knocked them out of playoffs contention, and then 12-6. . . . Tampa Bay snuffed out New York in a hard-fought Division Series. . . . 

[Gerrit Cole, with the largest contract in the history of free agency] looked like the final piece to a loaded, terrific roster. Cole did his part, but the Yankees' ship sprang many leaks along the way . . . New York's World Series drought is now 11 years and counting . . .

The core is still in place and very strong. The farm system continues to produce blue chippers like an assembly line. The team might not dominate free agency . . . but it hasn't retrenched financially in the same manner as the Red Sox and Cubs. The gap between dangerous and champion, though, hasn't been bridged, as the Yankees are running short in their rotation, and some of their sluggers are health risks.

Rotation: [Cole posted] a third straight sub-3.00 ERA and . . . remains a top-five pitcher in MLB. . . . Who knows what Domingo German will provide after he missed the 2020 season due to a domestic violence suspension? . . . With Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ all gone, the Yankees will have to fill out their rotation with cheap veterans or some of their prospects. 

BuIlpen: Aroldis Chapman has given up a decisive home run in each of the last two postseasons that has sent the Yankees home. More concerning is his continued drop in velocity . . .

Catcher: What are the Yankees going to do with Gary Sanchez? He continued his long and slow tumble into the muck last year, with a 69 OPS-plus and a 36-percent strikeouts rate. . . . [From 2018-20] Sanchez has a .200/.296/.453 slash line, and his problems behind the plate are well documented. . . . [He has power, but] even that has become a lesser asset given that he flails away at everything and keeps swinging and missing. Sanchez has virtually no trade value at this point. . . .

Infield: [Luke] Voit comes with red flags. He walked half as much as he did in 2019, endured a big jump in strikeouts and often was back on his heels against breaking and offspeed stuff. . . . [Tyler Wade has] no power to speak of, he needs BABIP luck to be productive. About the only positive for shortstop Gleyber Torres last year was that he took more walks than normal . . . he was too passive at the plate. . . . 

Outfield: Aaron Judge's biggest problem is that he's played in only 63 percent of the Yankees' games the past three seasons. He missed half of last year because of a calf injury and posted the worst wOBA, hard-hit rate and average exit velocity figures of his career. . . . Per advanced metrics, [Aaron] Hicks is one of MLB's worst outfielders. . . . [He] gets terrible jumps and has subpar speed.

Designated Hitter: Like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton lives much of the time on the IL, having played in only 18 percent of the Yankees' games the past two seasons. He showed up for 23 games last year . . .
An assemblage of spare parts, platoon players, former top prospects, unexpected developmental success stories and other misfit toys, the Rays last season embodied what is an organizational mindset, namely the sum is greater than the parts. Using a lot of depth and plenty of flexibility, Tampa Bay blazed its way to an AL-best 40 wins . . . Just two victories — and possibly an ill-fated pitching change — separated the Rays from a World Series trophy.

Yet barely two months removed from the Fall Classic, Tampa put payroll ahead of contention, trading staff ace Blake Snell to the Padres for four prospects. The Rays got plenty in return, headlined by Luis Patino, one of the game's best pitching prospects. They also made themselves worse for 2021 . . . Always trade a player too early rather than too late; the moment he becomes too expensive, send him packing; create a foundation of cheap, pre-arbitration players who are 25 or younger. It's a cynical, profoundly fan-unfriendly way to operate a franchise. . . .

Is Tampa Bay's alleged philosophy of "Always trade a player too early rather than too late" really "cynical" and "profoundly fan-unfriendly"?

Perhaps. But it was also one of Branch Rickey's key mantras and his enlightened way of thinking was decades ahead of his fellow front office executives. Indeed, Rickey's ideas still seem beyond the ken of some of today's GMs, even seventy years later.

AL Central: White Sox, Twins, Cleveland, Royals, and Tigers. ("As long as Tony La Russa takes his Metamucil and doesn't nod off in the dugout, the White Sox are good to go.")
AL West: Athletics, Angels, Astros, Mariners, Texas.
AL Wild Cards: Blue Jays, Twins.
AL Champions: MFY.
AL MVP: Alex Bregman (Astros).
AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole (MFY).

NL East: Atlanta, Nationals, Mets, Phillies, Marlins.
NL Central: Cardinals, Brewers, Reds, Cubs, Pirates.
NL West: Dodgers, Padres, Diamondbacks, Giants, Rockies.
NL Wild Cards: Padres, Brewers.
NL Champions: Atlanta.
NL MVP: Fernando Tatis, Jr. (Padres).
NL Cy Young: Walker Buehler (Dodgers).

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