Off-the-Radar Offseason Things to Watch For
After the calendar flipped to January 2020, we as baseball fanatics had a sensory overload. Suddenly, we’re a little over a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting; we can smell the freshly cut lawns of the Grapefruit and Cactus League parks. As the winter months drag on, you can envision taking those three-quarter-length shirts out of the closet.
With this in mind, I present to you five off-the-radar, interesting storylines to look forward to this offseason to hold you over until the real games begin. I hope to present this throughout the year as news unfolds, milestones approach and new concepts are introduced that are relevant to baseball fans all over the world.
The Texas Rangers’ New Globe Life Field Debuts
Every time a new stadium opens, it creates a stir within the sporting community. Purists come from far and wide to check off yet another trip to complete their journey of seeing every ballpark. The Rangers’ new home will be a classic large-scale, “everything’s bigger in Texas” vibe. Featuring a retractable roof to keep the park climate-controlled in the dog days of summer, the big question we have is, “how will it play?”
Dimensionally speaking, the Rangers stayed pretty true to their previous layout, with only a few feet of variance. However, these slight differences have significance, playing on numbers of great Ranger players from yesteryear. In an homage to Adrian Beltre (329’), Pudge Rodriguez (407’ dead-center) and Michael Young (410’ in left-center and right-center), to name a few, the power alleys have been moved slightly. But with the retractable roof offsetting some of the heat that makes balls jump, it may be a wash. The Texas lefties led by Joey Gallo will undoubtedly still feast on the shorter porch in right field.
Nike x MLB Uniform Deal
As soon as this partnership was announced, it felt as if this is something that should have happened a decade prior. Already the provider of official uniforms to the NBA and NFL, Nike has sewn up the market as America’s official unofficial sports sponsorships. Let’s be honest, the difference is real between Nike and Majestic products, and fans will feel the difference. Dri-Fit technology incorporation in apparel for consumers has grown exponentially in the last 10 years, as it has become a standard Nike uses for sporting products. Nike is known to push the boundaries with innovative and creative designs after a year or two in its deals.
Some teams have already implemented changes to their overall design. But every club will have at least one change. The trademark Nike swoosh will be featured on the right front chest of every uniform. There will always be a percentage of the population that says it ruins the tradition of the game, but in fact, MLB needs to be more marketable, more youthful, more modern. What a way to start by incorporating the logo of the brand that is the favorite sports company of both male and female consumers.
Which Ball Will be in Play?
Year of the pitcher or year of the hitter? It seems as though we go into each year wondering which baseball will be used and how that will affect the game. We know offense is what drives fans wild, but the art of pitching is so complex that its brilliance gets tempered by one swing in some games.
We saw that once the playoffs started this past fall; home run numbers magically took a nosedive. In the regular season, we saw a 20% higher total of home runs hit per game than we ever have before.
The main question that teams and fans alike have is: How do we properly evaluate players year to year if there will potentially be a different ball used without warning? Are we thinking Eugenio Suárez is a legitimate 50-home run hitter? This matters on a dollars-and-cents level when dealing with players who reach arbitration and free agency. Even injuries factor in during certain years of manufacturing, ala the 2017 blister epidemic.
I think we’ll go back to the 2018 ball in all honesty. It indirectly looked like MLB realized there was a problem with the ball during the regular season last year and looked to correct it beginning in postseason play so we wouldn’t have a World Series decided on a lazy fly ball that just drifted out of the park.
Big-Market Teams in Flux
Boston. L.A. New York. Chicago. Philadelphia. If you had to think of one classification of these cities for baseball reasons, you’d say the five largest markets. I’m here to question what we’re looking at for their 2020 outlooks.
Boston has been marred by striking a deal with the Dombrowski devil. For their success (another World Series), the Red Sox have seen prospects moved and players overpaid. Now, with Chaim Bloom coming from Tampa, will he reel in the spending for the next season or two? Rumors are always rumors, but where there is smoke, there is fire when it comes to talks regarding Mookie Betts. If Boston can’t keep its homegrown generational player because of money, then we may be seeing a tectonic shift in the AL East power structure.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have an internal philosophy of using their money to be innovative, not overspend. But with seven straight NL West titles and the ever-elusive World Series title hanging over their heads, will this run be riddled by what-ifs? So far, we haven’t seen the Dodgers make a major move in the 2020 offseason. Their only two moves have been $10 million to Blake Treinen and an incentive-laden deal for Jimmy Nelson. Definitely not how we expect a team backed by the Guggenheim firm and Stan Kasten to operate. Will we see the Dodgers strike gold on a late-offseason trade for Betts or Francisco Lindor? Or will they quietly wrap up with a few more fringe signings that will leave fans underwhelmed?
The New York Mets have been a retread team ever since their luck ran out in their World Series appearance in 2015. Ravaged by injuries, investment scandals with ownership and the always entertaining “Bobby Bonilla Day,” they can’t catch a break. On the same day they lost Zack Wheeler to their division rivals, hope was restored. Word came out that minority owner Steve Cohen will assume majority ownership power within the next five years, and fans couldn’t be more blissful. With thoughts of eventually splurging as John Middleton did with the Phillies, we can expect the rumors to run rampant with new possibilities of large-money commitments. This comes at a “Keeping up with the Jones’” pace now that Washington, Philadelphia, and Atlanta are all primed with talented rosters and deep pockets. And speaking of Philadelphia…
How the heck are the Phillies supposed to maintain their financial flexibility and also create a roster worthy of a long postseason run? When Bryce Harper’s contract was signed, they opted for more years to lower the AAV, keeping the luxury tax in consideration. Those dollars were meant to be spent to find another piece last year when in turmoil. It never happened. This year, Wheeler was added with the same philosophy. But that extra money has yet to be spent as well. With an almost 10% increase in franchise valuation last year, has Middleton become the most braggadocious owner in MLB, with his lack of willingness to go into the luxury tax being the Phillies’ Achilles’ heel?
The Windy City has seen its fair share of ups and downs throughout the last decade. But as we move forward to a new year, the Chicago Cubs are leaving much to be desired. Once oozing with top prospects at every level, seemingly poised for a championship window to last for 10 years, that has fallen by the wayside. Factor in two trades involving Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres, along with a terrible situation with Addison Russell, the Cubs are left wondering what is next.
The contracts of Jason Heyward and Yu Darvish have hamstrung front office because of the lack of return on their long-term investment. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer misread the marketplace by striking perhaps a year too early in each of those offseasons, taking them out of the running for Harper, Manny Machado, Gerrit Cole, and Stephen Strasburg.
But here is where the problem lies. Does Kris Bryant want to re-sign after an ugly grievance regarding service-time manipulation? Do the Cubs want to spend the $250+ million to keep him around, or would they rather take a step back to save the cash? All of this will presumably be answered by this season’s trade deadline, as an experienced executive like Epstein knows he’ll need to move sooner than later.
Rule Changes for Pitching
This coming season will put two new rules into play that will affect not only real-life baseball but fantasy as well. Let’s dive in:
A RP must face a 3 batter minimum or pitch to the end of the half-inning
This will mainly have an impact on baseball in real life, with no real fantasy impact here.
Position players not allowed to pitch until losing by six or greater runs, or in extra innings unless designated as a two-way player
I’m slightly biased here, as no one loves seeing a position player pitch more than I do, but I see the thought process here. Let’s keep the game flowing with players who actually get paid to pitch unless the game has gotten out of hand.
To be designated as a two-way player going forward, you must accrue 20 innings pitched and have 20 games played as a position player while having registered at least three plate appearances in those 20 games (Shohei Ohtani qualifies already, Brendan McKay still has some work to do).
Pitchers minimum stay on IL changed from 10 days to 15 days
Maybe this has been put into place because the Dodgers have been blatantly abusing this rule to get another pitcher on their roster and give their starters a break (or a potential to save them from injury). For fantasy purposes, this will help us plan a little better week to week, without having to make rash roster decisions. Having the extra five days is crucial to having another player on the roster and to warrant an actual IL spot used (if your league utilizes them).
Featured image by Michael Packard.