The Superbowl has passed, the seasons have changed from winter to spring (even though it does not feel like it yet), and March Madness is upon us. All of this can only mean one thing; baseball season is almost here. Right now, all thirty teams are preparing for the regular season in either Arizona or Florida. The time for making improvements to the roster has passed, and now the focus shifts to having as much success as possible in the regular season. The team that had the most success last season was the San Francisco Giants, who won their third World Series crown in five years. Now, the hunt for a trip to the World Series begins all over again. To get you excited for the upcoming season, here are ten big things to keep an eye on as Opening Day gets closer and closer.
10. Will Cole Hamels get traded?
Cole Hamels has spent his entire career with the Philadelphia Phillies and has pitched his way to a 108-83 record and a 3.27 ERA. He is a three time All-Star and won the World Series MVP award in 2008. With that being said, the Phillies are in rebuilding mode and have some gaps to fill on their roster. It will be interesting to see how long they will go before seeing what they can get by trading Hamels. Positional players, pitchers or prospects, the Phillies need all they can get to get the rebuilding process going. Getting younger players for Hamels would be a great start to getting back to where they were just a few years ago.
9. MLB, we have a problem: Kris Bryant is almost here
Not many people know much about Kris Bryant. Here is what you need to know: He is a third baseman currently in the Chicago Cubs organization, and he lit up the Minors last season. Bryant hit .325 with 43 home runs and 110 RBI in 492 plate appearances. Couple that along with having a great spring training thus far, Bryant could sneak up to the Cubs roster mid-season and show the world what he can do. One thing is for sure, the Cubs have a lot to be excited about this upcoming season.
Speaking of the Cubs…
8. Relevancy returns to Chicago Baseball
The Chicago Cubs have more than Kris Bryant to be excited about. This offseason the club added ace Jon Lester to lead an already stellar pitching rotation and manager Joe Maddon to lead the entire club. The Cubs have not made the playoffs since ’08 and the hope is that Maddon can lead them back to the postseason. Maddon has had previous experience bringing struggling ball clubs to the postseason, as he did with the 95 loss Rays back in 2008. With Maddon’s leadership over a young ball club and a good pitching rotation, this team has a chance to be scary sooner than people expect. As for the White Sox, they added many pieces this offseason, including pitchers Jeff Samardzija, David Robinson and Zach Duke, outfielder Melky Cabrera, and first baseman Adam LaRoche. Not to mention this club’s bullpen is a lot better than most people think. Call me crazy, but the White Sox could very well compete with the Royals and Tigers for the AL Central Division crown this season. Times are changing in Chicago, for the better.
7. Can Big Papi make it to #500 this season?
David Ortiz has been the face of the Red Sox for over a decade now. The 39-year-old slugger currently has 466 home runs to his name, and is poised to join the 500 club before his career ends. Ortiz hit thirty-five home runs last season, and at that rate he could come close to 500 or break the record this season. With team options in 2015 and 2016, one would have to think that Ortiz will eclipse 500 home runs by the time he retires. It is just a matter of when.
6. Can Jason Heyward live up to the hype and earn a new contract?
Jason Heyward has a fantastic rookie season in 2010, but faded off after that. While he had been a very productive player during his time in Atlanta, he never really lived up to the hype that surrounded his debut in the major leagues. Perhaps a change of scenery could be just what Heyward needs. He hit .271 with only 11 home runs last season, but he will be a huge defensive boost in St. Louis’s outfield. Heyward has a chance to make big bucks in his contract year, and if not, he could be finding himself in yet another new home at a lower price.
5. The potentially explosive Padres offense
The San Diego Padres were another team to make some big splashes in free agency this offseason. San Diego added many pieces to their offense (ranked dead last in batting average and runs per game in 2014), including outfielders Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and Will Myers, catcher Derek Norris and third baseman Will Middlebrooks. They also bolstered their starting staff by adding James Shields. The Padres have competition in the NL West in the San Francisco Giants and Los Angles Dodgers, but they could be in the conversation for a Wild Card spot if this offense can carry them there.
4. Alex Rodriguez
Whether you like him or not, A-Rod will be back on the field in 2015. After serving a one year suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, the 39 -year-old Rodriguez will return to the Yankees as mainly a designated hitter. Occasionally we may see Rodriguez at third base, but at this stage in his career A-Rod will be making mostly offensive contributions. What will be the most interesting to see is how A-Rod conducts himself in stadiums away from home. He has been pretty good with not letting what fans say get to him, but after all the lying this man did it could get ugly when opposing fans let their voice be heard.
3. The Craziness of the Trade Deadline
As mentioned earlier, Cole Hamels is probably in the most intriguing situation in regards to trades. Other candidates for trade include Tigers pitcher David Price, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, Tigers outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmerman and Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto. Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Jeff Samardzija are players mentioned in this article earlier that are also free agents. As the season wears on and teams find themselves, it is always exciting to see who will be rewarded contracts, who will play out their contracts until the season ends and who will be traded midway through the season.
2. How do the standings and playoff scenarios look?
Yep, that’s right! Time for before-the-season predictions on the divisional standings and playoff seedings. Here are my predictions:
2. Blue Jays
3. Red Sox
1. White Sox
Playoffs: Divisional Winners – #1 – Angels #2 – Orioles #3 – White Sox Wild Cards: #4 – Tigers #5 – Blue Jays
Playoffs: Divisional Winners #1 – Cardinals #2 – Nationals #3 – Dodgers Wild Card: #4 – Giants #5 – Padres
1. What can we expect from new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred?
One thing to keep an eye on that has nothing to do with the teams themselves this season is the new MLB Commissioner Fred Manford. Manford will be taking over for Bud Selig, who hung it up after twenty-three years as MLB Commissioner. In his first few months as commissioner, Manfred has already made it known that he intends on speeding up the game. Manfred also faces challenges of globalizing the game and keeping the next generation of fans invested in MLB’s product. Last, Manfred also has shown interest in incorporating technology into the game of baseball, including improving the replay system. All things considered, Manfred has a number of things on his plate that he will address with the intention of improving the game without angering fans in the changes he makes. This season will be a good indicator if electing Manfred the new commissioner was a good move.
The 2015 Major League Baseball season is shaping up to be a great one. Each team now has a clean slate and an 0-0 record, with a World Series crown in sight. To get there, you have to be the best of the best, and many teams have been working to prove that they are just that. Now, its time for us to sit back, kick our feet up, eat some sunflower seeds and enjoy America’s greatest past-time. Welcome to the 2015 Major League Baseball season.
Let your voice be heard! Comment with your division standings or playoff seedings. I would love to hear what you have to say. Also follow @WBUQWMCD on Twitter and send your thoughts there!