Baseball is officially back and even though the artificial crowd noise and cardboard cutout fans may be a bit weird to look at, there’s still the same old action on the field. Well, for the most part anyway. With (Re)Opening Day and our first weekend slate of games in the rear view, let’s look ahead to our first full week of baseball in 2020!
1. COVID-19 Isn’t Going Anywhere
Initially I had used this section to talk about Juan Soto‘s positive test immediately prior to the first game of the season. We hadn’t even played our first game and already the league seemed to be bungling the health and safety protocols. I believe I used the phrase “Soto wasn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last.”
And oh boy did that hit the nail on the head. Yesterday afternoon, it came to light that the Miami Marlins had 10 positive COVID-19 tests (eight players, two coaches) in addition to the four they had already reported. As the flurry of updates came out, it was announced the Marlins’ home opener Monday evening against Baltimore would be cancelled. But the ramifications are more far reaching than that. The Marlins just spent three games in the Phillies’ visiting locker room, and while I am sure there are sanitation protocols for cleaning them, there is no 100% guarantee that the room is safe. The Yankees were set to occupy that very same locker room on Monday, so their game against the Phillies was subsequently cancelled as well.
Obviously, this is a massive problem for MLB. It took only 1 weekend of games for a team-wide breakout to happen. We are all frustrated that we had to sit for four months with no baseball on our devices. But is this what we want? Do we want players and coaches and team staffs and hotel staffs to risk their health and their family’s health all for our enjoyment? When teams are playing with rag tag rosters with games being cancelled left and right, will we really even care? Some things are bigger than sports and I think we all need to check our perspective a little bit.
The league apparently had an “emergency meeting” yesterday regarding the incident, but there has been no word on any further cancellations. This is going to get worse before it gets better, folks. As the existence of a 2020 season hinges on the handling of health and safety, this will definitely be our #1 story to watch this week.
2. Marlins Aside, Who Still Remains Out?
As soon as regular testing began for players, we saw quite a few cases right off the bat. Throughout July, we saw household names like Freddie Freeman, Charlie Blackmon, Salvador Perez, Kenley Jansen, Joey Gallo, DJ LeMahieu and many others all turn up positive. While many players have since returned, there are a handful who are still waiting out their quarantine. Among the most notable:
Austin Meadows: Quarantined after testing positive and as of Saturday is working out at the Rays’ alternate site
Aroldis Chapman: Still not with the team after his positive result
Yordan Alvarez: Alvarez is away from the Astros for an undisclosed reason but it has been speculated he tested positive and the team has not released that information.
Eduardo Rodriguez: E-Rod is suffering from “minor complications” to do with his heart after his COVID-19 diagnosis and has yet to rejoin the team.
Juan Soto: As previously stated, it was revealed on Thursday that Soto tested positive and will remain in quarantine until he shows up negative on 2 separate tests.
3. The Impending Roster Shuffles
With the 2020 roster rules in place, teams can now roster 30 active players while also maintaining an alternate site where the rest of the player pool is located. To eliminate any funny business, a stipulation has been included that a player can not be recalled for 10 days after being sent to the alternate site.
What teams have done, however, is structure their Opening Day rosters around flexibility, bolstering bullpens and bench bats while not carrying as many starting pitchers. Because the 10-day rule does not apply to players initially left off the 30-man roster, teams could stash a couple of starting pitchers at the alternate site while stocking up on relievers and platoon bats. Now that the schedule is up and running, we will start to see a large influx of roster shake ups that will inevitably lead to teams looking a lot more like the regular season manpower we expected at the outset. Did your favorite young player unexpectedly make the 30-man roster? Sorry to tell you, that may have been by design. He might not be here for much longer.
4. Free Agents-To Be and How They Perform
While I originally wanted to use this section to wax poetic about Mookie Betts‘ foray into free agency, there are still plenty of fun scenarios to play out come the offseason. This might be cheating a little bit because this may be more of a year-long story, but I’m sure that the rumor mills will start to turn sooner than later about each players’ plans for their future. I am positive that I’ll be re-visiting whispers around these guys each week, but let’s have a quick refresher on which notable players are set to hit the market (not including any opt outs or options):
- JT Realmuto
- DJ LeMahieu
- Jonathan Villar
- Marcus Semien
- Didi Gregorius
- Justin Turner
- Marcell Ozuna
- Michael Brantley
- Yoenis Cespedes
- George Springer
- Nelson Cruz
- Trevor Bauer
- Masahiro Tanaka
- Jake Odorizzi
- James Paxton
- Robbie Ray
- Marcus Stroman
That’s a pretty good class! While this isn’t a complete list, it certainly is quite a few high quality players. If teams flop, could we see some rental trade bait at the deadline? While some of these guys between now and the World Series could very well sign extensions with their current teams, I look forward to checking in on the rumor mill here and there.
5. Is Anyone Going to Buy the Mets?
Would someone please rescue Mets fans from the Wilpons? In what seems like an eternity, there has been a sliver of hope for the last several months that the Mets ownership would finally relinquish their hold on the team. When the deal that would make Steven Cohen the new majority owner fell apart at the table, it seemed hope was once again lost. However, since the season turned to summer, Cohen has re-emerged as a suitor for the Metropolitans ownership. Only this time, he’s not the only bidder.
Most intriguing among the competition is a coalition of sports figures led by Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod is one of the most polarizing MLB names in history and has been rumored to be interested in team ownership ever since he has re-appeared on the baseball scene in an effort to purify his image. While I think it would be very on-brand for a former cross-town rival to buy the Mets, coalition ownership could be messy and lack unified direction. But on the other hand, Wilpons.
Given the way news has cropped up again about the possible purchase, I could definitely see more progress now that the season has begun. For Mets fans, I’m hoping it is sooner than later.
6. Daniel Bard is BACK!
Daniel Bard is a survivor. This guy was an electric reliever, got the yips, and should have washed out of the league a long time ago. Emphasis on the “should.” Bard had bounced around the league and had not pitched in a major league game since 2013. 2013! Seven years of fighting and Bard has finally found his groove in the Rockies’ bullpen. He earned the win after pitching 1.1 scoreless relief innings. That’s a comeback story if I’ve ever heard one.
Now 35, Bard will look to continue his success story out in Colorado. Bard also had encouraging words for anyone going through a difficult time, preaching positive perspective and dedication. Comforting words in a time that feels anything but comfortable. Comeback player of the year incoming?
7. Some Concerning SP Injuries
It didn’t take long for injuries to crash the party of Opening Weekend. On Thursday it was revealed that Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw had a stiff back and wouldn’t be able to make his start. Took the wind right out of my sails. The good news is that Kershaw’s MRI came back clean and he has resumed playing catch. Hopefully the lefty can make his next scheduled start, but with his recent propensity for injury, I’d keep an eye on this one.
The more concerning injury came on Saturday, when the Nationals stated that recent free agent signing Stephen Strasburg would be unable to start against the Yankees due to a nerve issue in his hand. We all know Strasburg has an injury history, and this cryptic episode certainly doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. For what it’s worth, the team is saying he is day-to-day after receiving an injection for the issue. The Nats are counting on big things from Stras after opening the check book, and hopefully he can soon rejoin the three-headed monster atop that rotation.
8. Giancarlo’s Torrid Start
Giancarlo Stanton is a mountain of a man. This is news to no one, but I think he just wanted to remind everyone over the weekend. Stanton needed just one at-bat to absolutely annihilate a baseball. Max Scherzer caught a bit too much of the zone with a fastball and Stanton sent it 459 feet with a 112.2 mph exit velocity. Oh my.
But Stanton wasn’t done. On Saturday, he crushed another one, a blast to left field off of Erick Fedde. This one went 483 feet with an astounding 121.3 mph EV. Statcast has only been around for five years, but Saturday’s homer was the second-hardest hit in the Statcast era, trailing only a 121.7 mph homer in 2018 off the bat off… Giancarlo Stanton.
After a lost 2019, Stanton is looking locked in to his typical MVP form. The universal DH will also give the Yankees opportunities to give the slugger half-days when needed. He’s looking primed for a big week against Philly and Boston.
9. Losing Streaks Are Bad!
Now that we are only getting 60 games this season, each game will have more emphasis. While the new playoff format will offset this somewhat, bad slides for teams will be magnified. For this season, a three-game losing streak is roughly equivalent to an eight-game losing streak in the regular 162 game season. All it will take is an off weekend here or there for a team and all of a sudden they’re on the outside looking in for a Wild Card spot.
Luckily, no teams have managed to go winless so far in our young season. In fact, the parity so far has been quite noticeable. Every division so far is held by only one game or less. With only a handful of games played so far, it’s still easy to dream of your favorite team waltzing into the postseason.
But don’t get too comfortable. A three or four game losing streak in a regular season is less than ideal, sure. You’d most likely be upset by it and forget about it in a week or so. But in the craziness of 2020, that three or four game slide could end up being a death knell for your squad’s playoff hopes.
10. Players Raising Awareness
I wanted to end on a more solemn note this week. As I’m sure you have seen by now, many players and coaches across the league have been taking a knee during the national anthem in solidarity with protesters and advocates across the country seeking social justice and equality, especially for those who have been victims of police brutality. Because it is such a hot button issue, broadcasts have been shining a spotlight on it, generating even more attention as a whole.
Unsurprisingly, due to the power of social media, many have expressed their distaste for the players and coaches for perpetrating these actions and for the league who is not only allowing it to continue, but fully standing behind them. It is refreshing to see athletes using their platform to express the importance of issues that they hold dear, and even more refreshing to see the league backing them up in doing so. Sometimes we forget that athletes are humans too. They have faced or know people who have faced adversity in their lives and know what it may be like to be treated unfairly due to something outside of their control. Now that they are famous and are on TV almost every night each week, they may feel obligated to cast a light on these injustices. Who among us wouldn’t do the same?
While kneeling during the anthem certainly is not a new issue, it has been galvanized over the past several months with sports finally returning to our nation. In its first iteration, many athletes may have felt that it was too risky of a career move to put themselves out there against the wishes of their employers. But now things feel different. This doesn’t seem like it will lose momentum. Now that Opening Weekend and the fanfare that comes with it is behind us, it will be gripping to follow just how much of the league will join in for raising awareness for those who may be unaware.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)