Well, it’s been a full week since I’ve done a column and a week and a half since I’ve done a podcast. It was a crazy week, both for my schedule and for the country’s political landscape, which I think about extensively. So I apologize, but now, I want to get back in the swing of the column.
Grab a cup a coffee, folks, because we’re talking about the upcoming season that’s facing the 30 clubs in the MLB.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to hit each of the 30 clubs, at least a little, as I want to go around the league and talk about the path ahead in each division.
For my Cincinnati Reds, we’re a little over two weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting; the magic day in baseball when we suddenly know, not only that baseball will be back, but the warm air will soon return for the spring and summer months.
It’s not to early to talk about baseball, right? I hope not… okay, let’s go!
2016 gave us the first Chicago Cubs World Series in Betty White’s entire lifetime, but the Oak Park, Illinois native might get to see a second, because the Cubs are back, and even though have a little less gun powder following the departure of Dexter Fowler, this Cubs roster is still loaded.
Overall, they still have a loaded line-up, even with the subtraction of Dexter Fowler. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Ben Zobrist are all going to perform. For them, it’s about some of the down ballot guys.
Jason Heyward has an 8-yr/$184 million contract, which is pretty egregious for a guy that hit .230, had 7 HRs, and 49 RBIs last season. His defense does him a lot of favors, so I have to credit that, but he is a glaring hole in the checkbook and the batting order.
Guys like Javier Baez, Miguel Montero, Addison Russell, and Albert Almora Jr. are solid ballplayers, but they’re all prone to have crappy stretches of the season.
The Cubs also have a bullpen that can’t be trusted, which is dumb for me to say, but I wouldn’t want them in the postseason. They looked touchy at best, often having to rely on their terrific (no problems with the starting arms) starting rotation. That’s a dangerous game to play, because like a five-piece box of chocolates, you never know what starters you’ll get at the outset of the season.
I won’t go as far as to say I can guarantee victory; in fact, I don’t think they’ll win the Fall Classic again this season.
Granted, the Cubs could make a couple moves and look like the 1927 New York Yankees, but I think this team has a few more glaring issues than people are willing to acknowledge; we are still in the honeymoon phase with this Cubs roster, but I think it’ll fog up at least a bit this season.
Chicago hadn’t seen it’s favorite son (they have two kids, but we all know they have a favorite) win that trophy in a long time, but another club, who missed the postseason, are probably going to be back on the October horse this year.
Mike Matheny’s St. Louis Cardinals have so much success over the last decade that their mediocre 2016 is completely negligible. By the way, as a Reds fan, I hate to give the Cardinals any love, but I’m going to, because we’ve stunk for a little while, so the animosity just isn’t there.
My criticism of the Cardinals relates to their suddenly-relevant aging.
Adam Wainwright isn’t a knock-out ace anymore, because he’s a 35-year-old pitcher who’s had elbow problems. Yadier Molina isn’t a superstar behind the plate before because, at 34, he’s caught 1582 major league games; that’s not easy on the knees.
After years of success with the same core, this Cardinals team is starting to lose its mojo; at least to some extent.
Finishing with a record of 86-76 last year, they hung just one game away from the Wild Card seed in the National League; that’s an overall pretty good season.
The youth of the Cubs is pushing back on the veteran Cardinals; it’s going to be hard to maintain the Fountain of Youth for those guys like Waino and Molina, just like we’re seeing with their former teammate, Albert Pujols.
Their offseason signing of Dexter Fowler, who was a key member of the 2016 WS Champion Cubbies, does represent an effort to jockey with Chicago in the Central.
Maybe I said that struggle was negligible in 2016, but I think it might be too much to overcome this year. Sorry, Cards fans, not looking great for the old men by the Arch.
Another team who is looking shotgun blasted by the age-bug are the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had one of the smallest success windows in recent history (it was like two years, people).
I don’t have any particular warm and fuzzies when I talk about any club from Pittsburgh, be it the Steelers, Penguins (sorry, you didn’t do anything, but you’re from a city who’s teams rival mine), Panthers, or the Pirates themselves, but they had a fun-to-watch team for a couple seasons.
Sadly, Andrew McCutchen is not the player he used to be, but he’s still a solid ball player.
Let’s look at the change between 2015 and 2016, a year in which McCutchen was a National League All-Star, a silver slugger, and finished 5th in MVP voting, to a year when he finished with a -0.7 WAR (wins above an average player, so that means he was worse than average).
In 2015, McCutchen hit .292 with 23 HRs and 96 RBIs, which are great numbers.
In 2016, McCutchen hit .256 with 24 HRs and 79 RBIs, which are still alright.
What that doesn’t show are McCutchen’s 6.5% drop in on-base percentage, which is something that glares in the face of an aging outfielder. Getting on base is huge, so you have to worry what you’re going to get going forward with such a severe one year drop.
Another glaring issue with this Pirates club is the depleted starting pitching staff. In 2016, they had a 4.21 ERA, which was 18th in the MLB, but more evident was their batting average against; teams batted .267 against Pirates pitchers, which was 26th in the MLB.
For perspective, only two teams that made the postseason had worse ERAs than the Pirates pitching staff (Texas and Baltimore) and neither of those two clubs made it past the first round.
Fortunately for the Pirates, they have the the #9 and #10 ranked prospects in baseball. Tyler Glasnow (RHP) and Austin Meadows (OF), respectivley, could contribute to a quick infusion of youth for this Pittsburgh club, which for the time being, could really use a couple kids to wake up the old guys.
According to Keith Law of ESPN, the Pirates have the two higher-ranked prospects and a slightly better system at #4, the Milwaukee Brewers are pretty close, sitting at #6.
The Brewers have quickly shed their old men’s club and become a team getting ready to compete for the future, which is smart in the NL Central, because the moment belongs to the Cubs.
We could break down 2016 team numbers, but I can give you two that show you the Brewers struggle (that’s a cop out); they finished with a final record of 73-89.
Who cares? They shouldn’t.
It’s not the Brewers time yet. The MLB’s #18 prospect, outfielder Lewis Brinson, exploded with a .382 AVG, 4 HRs, and 20 RBIs in just 23 games at the Triple-A level at the end of last season. Brinson fits the mold as a top-caliber outfielder once he hits the pros.
Sitting at #38 on the MLB Prospect list is Left-Handed pitcher Josh Hader, who looks like one of those guys who would slot in the Mets rotation (seriously, look him up, it’s like the Mets designed him in a video game).
They still have a guy in Ryan Braun who could provide a veteran leader, even though he’s not that same perennial MVP candidate that we watched for the early 5-7 years of his career (although the ‘roids stuff didn’t bode well for his legacy).
There isn’t much exciting, for my money, going on in Milwaukee’s baseball present, so I’m kind of dry on Brewers content, but their future has the potential to be rich.
While the Brewers may take a few more years to compete, the back-to-back years of bottom-feeding from the Cincinnati Reds may finally be paying off, as the Reds are looking like an interesting team heading into 2017.
They are my favorite team, so yeah, I’m biased, but I’ve watched this team stink for most of my life, so spare me if I get a little too amped.
Joey Votto is the best first baseman in all of baseball, hands down. The guy ended up with a .326 average, 29 HRs, 97 RBIs, a league-leading .434 on-base percentage, and a 4.0 WAR. Simply said, Votto was fantastic in 2016, but I will guarantee you, barring injury, you will see a better or equivalent 2017.
Cincinnati’s bullpen started to come into form at the end of last season after a pitiful campaign for most of the year. The Reds converted two starters, Michael Lorenzen and Rasiel Iglesias into a dual-headed closing option, which seemed like a great move.
Couple their success with the offseason signing of Drew Storen, the trade for Austin Brice (we’ll talk about the other guy in a minute), and the maturation of a guy like Ton Cingrani; the bullpen doesn’t look that bad heading into 2017.
Unfortunately, there are some veterans in the way of guys that need to be getting regular time.
At second base, a 35-year-old Brandon Phillips is starting to wear out his welcome.
Brandon is great with the fans, but the era of Jose Pereza is ready to begin. Phillips has declined on defense, as he posted a career-low -0.5 dWAR (defensive wins above replacement) last season.
On the other hand, Pereza hit .324 in 72 games at the Major League level, which is pretty great for a young guy.
The Reds have the #8 prospect system, according to Law, as well as the #26 (Nick Senzel, 3B), #66 (Amir Garrett, LHP), #67 (Jesse Winker, OF), and #87 (Robert Stephenson, RHP) prospects as well as a really nice right arm received in a trade with Miami this offseason in Luis Castillo.
By the way, they have Billy Hamilton, who is the fastest guy in baseball, who can suddenly hit much more effectively. In 115 games last season, Hamilton hit at a .260 clip and stole 58 bases. If he can play 140 games this season, he will likely lead the MLB in steals by at least 20.
Add in solid seasons from Scott Schebler (OF), Adam Duvall (OF), and Tucker Barnhart (C) with a full season out of Homer Bailey (SP), Devin Mesoraco (C), and Anthony Desclafani (SP) and this Reds team is looking pretty tough.
This Reds club has a chance to do something really fun this season, and while I don’t think they have a shot in hell to win the World Series, I think they are a club that could be knocking on the door for that second Wild Card.