Today the Oakland A’s are the first MLB team to have their pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training. Normally by now, we know where all the big free agents have gone and which teams might be the “surprise” team of 2019 – always an ironic practice but nonetheless one that never gets old.
This year though – this year is a bit different. Sure, last year the free agency malaise wasn’t quite as bad as this season with the big Giancarlo Stanton trade happening early and JD Martinez eventually signing with the Red Sox no surprise to anyone. In what was supposed to be one of the most exciting Hot Stove seasons of all time with two of baseball’s absolute top players hitting free agency at young ages and at the same time – baseball instead ended up with more of a collective freezer burn.
Yes, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are unsigned and it’s very likely in fact that neither one will even play a significant impact on pennant races in 2019. Currently Machado’s landing spot is likely to be with the White Sox or the Padres. Harper meanwhile is currently most talked about going to the Giants – fresh off finally realizing they needed to rebuild completely. That is no fun at all. If the Phillies don’t land either – are they the biggest losers in the whole season despite not actually losing a thing?
Part of this goes to teams using more analytics and less on emotion and machismo in their decision making. There are no (RIP) Kevin Towers around these days, with the new Mets GM Brodie Van Wegenen easily being the biggest gunsliner this side of Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto who literally completed a trade from his hospital bed this off-season. The teams that really expected to compete made the moves they needed without getting caught up in the hoopla of it all.
The Dodgers signed AJ Pollock instead of Harper, and moved legacy stars like Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig in the process. The Red Sox just won the World Series, resigned who they thought would be helpful and appear to be flexible moving forward. The Yankees signed a few former All-Stars for the infield and strengthened an already strong bullpen. The Cardinals made a big move in trading for Paul Goldschmidt – which at this point might be the biggest move of the winter. The Braves won the NL East with youth, have more on the way, and signed Josh Donaldson to play third base everyday on a one year deal instead of the 8-10 Mr. Machado is seeking which could paralyze a team like the Braves who would be looking to lock out several young players over that time – not just one player.
So in the meantime, “Pitchers and Catchers Report” just doesn’t quite carry the same excitement this year as it does others. If and when Machado and Harper do sign – it could dramatically change what you thought your team’s chances were for the season. I will say that Machado signing with the White Sox in the AL Central would be the best move from a competitive balance standpoint.
The NL East and Central look stacked this year, as well as the AL West and East. The NL West should be a cakewalk for the Dodgers, though they have a long history of making things harder than needed. Unless…what if the Rockies sign Harper somehow on a shorter deal and he uses that Coors Field altitude to his advantage? The AL East should be all about the Yankees and Red Sox again, unless…what if somehow the Rays sign Manny Machado?
So while we wait for the two great but not perfect superstars to sign, all that talk (non talk?) starts to fade away when the field gets taken and we can start talking more about the players that are ready to play in 2019. Maybe that’s what we’ve been waiting for all along? Baseball after all isn’t played with names on paper, but with leather gloves and cowhide baseballs around cork centers. Perhaps what is missing this off-season isn’t talking about what isn’t happening but what will be happening.
Who am I kidding? Of course we want the season to start. So without further ado, let’s forget about Bryce and Manny and Kimbrel and the others and just focus on what will be happening this week across Florida and Arizona…
“Pitchers and Catchers Report!”