Under the original playoff system the best team in each league met in the World Series. If that system were still in place the pennant race in both leagues would be nearly over. The Houston Astros lead the American League by 6 games and the Los Angeles Dodgers lead the National League by 12.5 games. It is early August. The rest of the season would be rather boring unless at least one of these teams takes a nosedive. Barring the unthinkable, it would almost seem like a waste to wait until October to play the World Series. Houston and Los Angeles have demonstrated their dominance over their respective leagues during the first two-thirds of the season.
Thankfully baseball no longer goes straight from the regular season to the World Series. Instead a potential snooze fest of a season is shaping up to be an exciting stretch run. The Red Sox and Indians lead their respective divisions, with the Yankees, Twins, Royals, Rays, Mariners, Angels, Orioles, Rangers, and Blue Jays within five games of either their divisional lead or a Wild Card spot in the American League. In the National League, the Cubs and Nationals lead their divisions with the Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates, Rockies, and Diamondbacks within five games of their division lead or a Wild Card spot.
The Dodgers hope to celebrate a World Series victory in October. (Noel M. Vasquez/ Getty Images)
Baseball is better when 18 teams are in the running for the playoffs, not just two- exciting playoff races are one way to grow the game.
One of the critics of each playoff expansion, from Championship Series to Divisional Series to Wild Card, has been that the best team in baseball does not always win the World Series. No doubt this is true. The Braves of the 1990’s should have won more than just one World Series. The Indians of that era should have at least one World Series title to their credit. Meanwhile, the Miami (Florida) Marlins won two World Series, both times as the National League Wild Card.
Sandy Alomar and the Indians were the better team during the regular season, but came up short in the World Series. (www.si.com)
In many ways this unpredictability in the World Series is good for baseball. Think of the billions of dollars the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, and Red Sox have spent over the last decade to win four world Series between them. Large payrolls don’t guarantee World Series victories, nor does a World Series title guarantee success the next season as the Red Sox can attest. In basketball, it’s an easy bet that any team with LeBron James will play in the NBA Finals. In football, the Patriots are usually a solid choice as long as Tom Brady is healthy. It does not work that way in baseball. If it did every World Series would be Mike Trout and the Angels and/or Bryce Harper and the Nationals. How many World Series appearances do they have combined? Zero.
18 of the 30 Major League teams still have at least an outside shot at the playoffs. Are some teams delusional about their chances and were buyers instead of sellers at the trade deadline? Absolutely. However, baseball as a whole benefits when the majority of teams are still playing hard with two months to go instead of rolling over and waiting for next year. The Astros and Dodgers should play each other in the World Series, but like most things in life and baseball this is not guaranteed.
If the New York Mets had a team motto for the 2017 season it would something like, “Finishing what you started and start what you want to finish.” 47 games, almost 30% of the season, could determine if the other 115 games matter in Queens.
The Mets schedule has them playing against only National League East opponents until May 8th when the Giants come to Flushing. The NL East can be shaped by how well the Mets come out of the gate. A great start to the season would mean the rest of the East has to beat up on each other while the Mets sit back and watch. It is hard to catch up with a team when you are not playing them. A terrible start could mean it is the Mets who are struggling to play catch up all summer.
A good start and finish could see Queens celebrating late into October. (NewsDay/ Thomas A. Ferrara)
Even if the Mets are unable to run away with the East with a successful beginning of the season, so long as they remain close they will have the opportunity to catch up at the end of the season. The final 15 games of the Mets’ season is against only NL East opponents. If the Nationals, the expected winner, have not clinched the Division, the 3 game series in Queens starting on September 22nd could decide who wins the National League East in 2017.
In 2016, the Mets began the 2016 season 20-12 (0.625) through their first 32 games and finished the season 9-6 (0.600) in their last 15 games. The Nationals also began the 2016 season 20-12 through the first 32 games, but finished 7-8 (0.467) over their last 15 games. This 2 game difference could be reduced to 8 season games that eventually led to the Nationals winning the East. Washington went 7-3 in the last 10 games before they clinched the division and began resting players for the playoffs. The Nationals were playing well when they secured their playoff spot, and then let off the game and coasted through the finish line.
The Mets could be the smacked in the face by their own play by the end of the season. (www.mlb.com)
Injuries happen to every team, so it is hard to justify a team coming up short based solely on an injury to a single player or a select group of players. The easiest way for the Mets to win the East is to play better against the Nationals and the Braves. In 2016 the Mets were 7-12 against Washington and 9-10 against the Braves. The Mets should have a winning record against the Braves and at least play .500 against the Nationals. This is a three game swing in the wins column, reducing the Nationals lead down to five games. New York went 12-7 against both the Phillies and the Marlins and needs to do so again this season. Good teams beat up on the teams they are better than in an effort to stockpile victories.
The Mets are off to an 8-11 start, wins and loses through 19 games this season. Their first 32 games and their last 15 games, roughly 30% of the season will loom large as to the success or failure of the 2017 season in Flushings. The Mets can put pressure on the National League East from the beginning or dig themselves into a whole that could be nearly impossible to get out of. If the Mets hope to finish what they start this season, they must start what they want to finish at the beginning of the season.
Let’s try this again. For the fourth year in a row The Winning Run will try in vain to accurately predict what will happen during the 2017 Major League Baseball season. We do this knowing that we are terrible at this, yet it is still fun to try. The only thing that we can guarantee about our predictions are that they are wrong and the actual season will be better than the season we predicted. Thanks to Bernie for his commentary on each team.
We realize that the season has already begun and that we are late to the party. There is a good reason for this. We were all attending Derek’s wedding with Jesse as the Best Man, Bernie as a groomsman, and John as an usher. Sorry about the delay, life got busy. And so, here are our predictions for the 2017 season.
|1st||Washington Nationals||New York Muttz||Washington Nationals||Washington Nationals|
|2nd||New York Mets*||Washington Gnats||Atlanta Braves||New York Mets|
|3rd||Miami Marlins||Atlanta Bravos||New York Mets||Miami Marlins|
|4th||Atlanta Braves||Miami Fish||Miami Marlins||Atlanta Braves|
|5th||Philadelphia Phillies||Philadelphia Follies||Philadelphia Phillies||Philadelphia Phillies|
Washington Nationals – These guys are like Peyton Manning. Great in the regular season but can’t seem to navigate the playoffs. Will they capture hardware this year? I won’t hold my breath. Bryce Harper is pretty much a force of nature in the game but more like a tornado in that the damage is only done if you get in the way.
New York Mets – I’m torn about putting them further down the list. Why? Because of another f-ing football player – Tim Tebow. With arguably the best rotation in the league and young bats that are finding their stride, these guys only get in their own way. If they could borrow some of the “No F@#$s Given” attitude of their crosstown rivals, I’d put them in the NLCS without hesitation. If there’s even a whisper of Tebow getting called up after the All-Star Break, write these guys off.
Miami Marlins – Stanton looked good in the WBC. The team met with considerable tragedies last season. Even if they get it together and settled this year, they’re a couple seasons away from elbowing out the Mets and the Nationals.
Atlanta Braves – The Braves are rebuilding with some interesting young talent. Dansby Swanson is really just the icing on the cake. Big Sexy, Bartolo Colon, is just fun to watch as he continues trucking along as if he were decades younger. Hopefully, he’ll share his experience in a way that keeps the young guys on track and out of trouble. It’s still a long way from seeing them place higher in the division.
Philadelphia Phillies – There are few franchises that I can think of that are more poorly managed from the front office on down. Did I bother to look up anything on their off-season? Why bother?
Bartolo Colon brings his power bat and arm to Atlanta, can Big Sexy hit career home run #2 for the Braves. (www.mlb.com)
|1st||Chicago Cubs||Chicago Harry Caray’s||Chicago Cubs||Chicago Cubs|
|2nd||Pittsburgh Pirates||Pittsburgh Buckos*||St. Louis Cardinals*||St. Louis Cardinals*|
|3rd||St. Louis Cardinals||Cincinnati Fighting Vottos||Pittsburgh Pirates||Milwaukee Brewers|
|4th||Milwaukee Brewers||St. Louis Dreadbirds||Milwaukee Brewers||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|5th||Cincinnati Reds||Milwaukee Brewniversity||Cincinnati Reds||Cincinnati Reds|
Chicago Cubs – The Cubs have to get the nod for being the World Series Champs but especially so because the win came on the backs of a core group of young talent in Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Addison Russell. Javier Baez continues to amaze with his acrobatic defense and it’s getting more refined. Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks are the only guys on the rotation I’d trust to finish the season strong but that may be all they need to go deep in the playoffs.
St. Louis Cardinals – I’m now more convinced than ever that Yadier Molina is a cyborg. I keep thinking they’re too old to keep up and I’m looking like a fool as they pull out wins. What’s also got me intrigued this season is the new roster of incoming talent with guys like Alex Reyes (before he needed Tommy John surgery) and Luke Weaver. They’re rebuilding while still competing for the playoffs. That deserves a lot of respect.
Milwaukee Brewers – I think they’re trying to follow the Cardinals’ example of rebuilding without demolishing. For some odd reason, I have a feeling Junior Guerra will have a great season. I don’t put a lot of stock into spring training except to see how individuals spent their offseason getting ready but they’re looking pretty good.
Pittsburgh Pirates – I’ve been high on them in the past. I think I need to sober up. Aside from their all-star outfield, I’m not sure there’s a lot else to be hopeful about.
Cincinnati Reds – They’re rebuilding. I don’t think they’ll be the worst but this division may be the overall best division in all of MLB. Finishing last in the Central but maybe 10th in the National League.
|1st||Los Angeles Dodgers||Colorado Silver Bullets||Los Angeles Dodgers||San Francisco Giants|
|2nd||San Francisco Giants*||Los Angeles Vin Scullys*||Colorado Rockies*||Los Angeles Dodgers*|
|3rd||Colorado Rockies||San Padres Big Macs||San Francisco Giants||Colorado Rockies|
|4th||Arizona Diamondbacks||Arizona Trouser Snakes||Arizona Diamondbacks||Arizona Diamondbacks|
|5th||San Diego Padres||San Francisco Gigantors||San Diego Padres||San Diego Padres|
San Francisco Giants – Cueto and Samardzija still have enough in the tank which makes this the best rotation in this division. Melancon is a solid closer addition to anchor a bullpen. The talent on this roster is well-experienced but not fighting the twilight of their careers.
Los Angeles Dodgers – These guys caught lightning in a bottle. Seager is my pick to take MVP this season. But there’s some age on this team that’s probably going to show. It’s not just tarnish, it might be rust. I’m not sold on Joc Pederson. Though he’s shown some moments of pure brilliance, it’s too streaky.
Colorado Rockies – If Trevor Story stays healthy this team may be knocking on the Dodgers door…wait, no pitching. Nevermind. Arizona might catch them by surprise.
San Diego Padres – This team may have better luck if they spent some time with the real life versions of their mascot.
The Diamondbacks and Paul Goldschmidt could be a surprise in the NL West. (Ezra Shaw)
|1st||Boston Red Sox||Toronto Canucks||Boston Red Sox||Boston Red Sox|
|2nd||Toronto Blue Jays*||New York Spankees||New York Yankees*||New York Yankees*|
|3rd||New York Yankees||Baltimore Riots||Toronto Blue Jays||Baltimore Orioles*|
|4th||Baltimore Orioles||Steve Irwin Killers||Tampa Bay Rays||Toronto Blue Jays|
|5th||Tampa Bay Rays||Boston Dead Sux||Baltimore Orioles||Tampa Bay Rays|
Boston Red Sox – Getting Chris Sale indicates the Boston Red Sox want to win now. With Price in the pipeline, they might have a slow start to the season but this is probably the most formidable American League rotation this season. There’s plenty of hitting available in the lineup without Benintendi. So he’s just icing on the cake. Blech.
New York Yankees – I think it’s safe to say that Tanaka is a bonafide ace. I’ve heard that Sabathia may have finally perfected another pitch and developed the sort of patience necessary for an arm that’s lost some heat. They got some bats to hopefully keep them in games late so that they can show off what may be one of the top 5 bullpens in the league.
Baltimore Orioles – Manny Machado is a man amongst boys and it’s often forgotten how young he is. Adam Jones is still a force to be reckoned with. This is a roster that’s really good up and down but what I think puts them in third place is that there’s more potential firepower in the rotation and lineup than…
Toronto Blue Jays – Probably the most balanced team in all of major league baseball. Yet, the underachieving in the playoffs is problematic for me. I think this is the year where it’s going to catch up to them this season.
Chris Sale changed his sox and could make Boston untouchable in the East. (www.si.com)
|1st||Cleveland Indians||Kansas City Monarchs||Cleveland Indians||Cleveland Indians|
|2nd||Detroit Tigers||Cleveland Up Three Games To None*||Detroit Tigers||Kansas City Royals|
|3rd||Kansas City Royals||Chicago Black Sox||Minnesota Twins||Detroit Tigers|
|4th||Minnesota Twins||Minnesota Twinkies||Kansas City Royals||Minnesota Twins|
|5th||Chicago White Sox||Detroit Militarized Zone||Chicago White Sox||Chicago White Sox|
Cleveland Indians – These guys didn’t get into the World Series because they were built on foundation of well-experienced and stalwart veteran stars. This is a dynamic team with a creative manager. 2017 is a reloading, not refurbishing, year.
Kansas City Royals – Something didn’t click in 2016 but this is a well-balanced team. The departure of Wade Davis and Edinson Volquez is troublesome but they added some bats to increase their hitting production. Danny Duffy is an exciting talent that is screaming elite ace but let’s hold judgement until we see how he navigates the season.
Detroit Tigers – A veteran team with the closest thing to Murderers’ Row in the AL. If Verlander bounces back quickly they should be considered higher but, aside from Zimmermann, the rotation is unexciting. K-Rod had a great 2016 season but this doesn’t seem to be a bullpen that can truly shorten games. It’s feast or famine with the Tigers this year.
Minnesota Twins – They circled the wagons a bit with their lineup but it’s a solid core group. There’s an interesting variety in the rotation but that’s all that can be said about their pitching.
Chicago White Sox – New manager and a great prospect. But at what cost? Sorry, but the departure of Sale and Eaton leaves a lot to be desired.
|1st||Houston Astros||The Acute Angles of Anaheim||Seattle Mariners||Houston Astros|
|2nd||Seattle Mariners*||Houston Colt 45s*||Houston Astros*||Seattle Mariners|
|3rd||Texas Rangers||Oakland White Elephants||Texas Rangers||Texas Rangers|
|4th||Los Angeles Angels||Texas Dangers||Los Angeles Angels||Los Angeles Angels|
|5th||Oakland Athletics||Seattle Seamen||Oakland Athletics||Oakland Athletics|
Houston Astros – Reddick, Aoki, and Beltran…the Astros built up one of the more enviable lineups in the American League. This should take the pressure off an ERA heavy rotation that can usually pitch deep into games. Gregerson and Giles is a great 1-2 punch in the bullpen.
Seattle Mariners – This remodeling seems to be going along well. Edwin Diaz looked good in the World Baseball Classic with some nasty late movement in his off-speed pitches. But still not sure the Mariners pitching can consistently give the lineup 8 innings to get to him. This lineup looks good though so opposing pitchers may have trouble getting around Cruz and Cano.
Texas Rangers – These guys finished first last season and are getting what should be a healthy Yu Darvish. But I’m not sold that the departure of Desmond, Beltran, and Moreland was properly accounted for in their hitting lineup.
Los Angeles Angels – Having the best player in baseball shouldn’t make a team complacent. But that’s what we have here. The addition of Cameron Maybin brings some good lumber to the yard but the rotation is iffy and the bullpen is in shambles.
Oakland Athletics – These guys may need a new training staff. To say the pitching staff is a stone’s throw away from triage belies the fact that it’s a stone thrown by my four year-old godson.
Robinson Cano and the Mariners should be tough to handle with solid pitching and hitting. (Troy Taormina- USA TODAY Sports)
My season picks were more serious than these. This is more about what I would like to see happen and what I think would make a great storyline for the game. (The number following indicates games won in the series)
NL Wild Card (previously indicated by a * in the season ranking predictions)
|Winner||San Francisco Giants||Pittsburgh Buckos||Colorado Rockies||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Loser||New York Mets||Los Angeles Vin Scullys||St. Louis Cardinals||St. Louis Cardinals|
Al Wild Card (previously indicated by a * in the season ranking predictions)
|Winner||Seattle Mariners||Cleveland Up Three Games To None||Houston Astros||New York Yankees|
|Loser||Toronto Blue Jays||Houston Colt 45s||New York Yankees||Baltimore Orioles|
|Winner (1-4)||Washington Nationals||Colorado Silver Bullets||Washington Nationals||Los Angeles Dodgers – 3|
|Loser (1-4)||San Francisco Giants||Pittsburgh Buckos||Colorado Rockies||Chicago Cubs – 2|
|Winner (2-3)||Chicago Cubs||New York Muttz||Chicago Cubs||San Francisco Giants – 3|
|Loser (2-3)||Los Angeles Dodgers||Chicago Harry Caray’s||Los Angeles Dodgers||Washington Nationals – 1|
|Winner (1-4)||Boston Red Sox||Kansas City Monarchs||Cleveland Indians||New York Yankees – 3|
|Loser (1-4)||Seattle Mariners||Cleveland Up Three Games To None||Houston Astros||Cleveland Indians – 2|
|Winner (2-3)||Cleveland Indians||The Acute Angles of Anaheim||Seattle Marines||Boston Red Sox – 3|
|Loser (2-3)||Houston Astros||Toronto Canucks||Boston Red Sox||Houston Astros – 2|
|Winner||Washington Nationals||Colorado Silver Bullets||Washington Nationals||San Francisco Giants – 4|
|Loser||Chicago Cubs||New York Muttz||Chicago Cubs||Los Angeles Dodgers – 3|
|Winner||Cleveland Indians||Kansas City Monarchs||Seattle Mariners||New York Yankees – 4|
|Loser||Boston Red Sox||The Acute Angles of Anaheim||Boston Red Sox||Boston Red Sox – 2|
Who will celebrate in October in 2017? (Brian Cassella/ Chicago Tribune)
|Winner||Washington Nationals – 4||Colorado Silver Bullets – 4||Seattle Mariners – 4||New York Yankees – 4|
|Loser||Boston Red Sox – 3||Kansas City Monarchs – 2||Washington Nationals – 2||San Francisco Giants – 3|
Time will tell if any of our predictions are correct. This is our fourth year doing this and we still are horrible at making predictions. So don’t blame us if we are wrong, we warned you. Just remember, baseball makes it better.
DJ, JJ, JB, and BL
Before predicting what will happen during the 2017 Major League season, let’s take a look back at The Winning Run’s predictions for the 2016 season. Once again we did a terrible job of guessing the final standings and playoffs. We are terrible at predictions, but we are consistent at our terribleness. So without further ado, a look back at our sad attempt at predicting the 2016 Major League season.
National League East
|1||New York Mets||Washington Nationals|
|2||Washington Nationals||New York Mets|
|3||Miami Marlins||Miami Marlins|
|4||Atlanta Braves||Philadelphia Phillies|
|5||Philadelphia Phillies||Atlanta Braves|
The death of Jose Fernandez was a shocking reminder that baseball is just a game. (Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
National League Central
|1||Chicago Cubs||Chicago Cubs|
|2||Pittsburgh Pirates||St. Louis Cardinals|
|3||St. Louis Cardinals||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|4||Cincinnati Reds||Milwaukee Brewers|
|5||Milwaukee Brewers||Cincinnati Reds|
National League West
|1||Los Angeles Dodgers||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|2||San Francisco Giants||San Francisco Giants|
|3||Arizona Diamondbacks||Colorado Rockies|
|4||San Diego Padres||Arizona Diamondbacks|
|5||Colorado Rockies||San Diego Padres|
American League East
|1||Toronto Blue Jays||Boston Red Sox|
|2||New York Yankees||Baltimore Orioles|
|3||Boston Red Sox||Toronto Blue Jays|
|4||Baltimore Orioles||New York Yankees|
|5||Tampa Bay Rays||Tampa Bay Rays|
American League Central
|1||Kansas City Royals||Cleveland Indians|
|2||Cleveland Indians||Detroit Tigers|
|3||Detroit Tigers||Kansas City Royals|
|4||Minnesota Twins||Chicago White Sox|
|5||Chicago White Sox||Minnesota Twins|
In 2016, not every team could take a punch from the competition. (AP Photo/CSM/Albert Pena)
American League West
|1||Houston Astros||Texas Rangers|
|2||Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim||Seattle Mariners|
|3||Texas Rangers||Houston Astros|
|4||Seattle Mariners||Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim|
|5||Oakland Athletics||Oakland Athletics|
|Predicted Winner||Predicted Loser||Actual Winner||Actual Loser|
|Cleveland Indians||Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim||Toronto Blue Jays||Baltimore Orioles|
|Predicted Winner||Predicted Loser||Actual Winner||Actual Loser|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||San Francisco Giants||San Francisco Giants||New York Mets|
Francisco Lindor and the Indians came so close to a World Series Championship, but Cleveland will have to wait at least one more season. (Jason Miller/ Getty Images)
|Predicted Winner||Predicted Loser||Actual Winner||Actual Loser|
|Toronto Blue Jays||Cleveland Indians||Toronto Blue Jays||Texas Rangers|
|Houston Astros||Kansas City Royals||Cleveland Indians||Boston Red Sox|
|Predicted Winner||Predicted Loser||Actual Winner||Actual Loser|
|Chicago Cubs||Pittsburgh Pirates||Chicago Cubs||San Francisco Giants|
|New York Mets||Los Angeles Dodgers||Los Angeles Dodgers||Washington Nationals|
|Predicted Winner||Predicted Loser||Actual Winner||Actual Loser|
|Toronto Blue Jays||Houston Astros||Cleveland Indians||Toronto Blue Jays|
|Predicted Winner||Predicted Loser||Actual Winner||Actual Loser|
|Chicago Cubs||New York Mets||Chicago Cubs||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Games Won||Prediction||Games Won||Actual|
|4 Games||Houston Astros||4 Games||Chicago Cubs|
|2 Games||Chicago Cubs||3 Games||Cleveland Indians|
We did not get much right, but we did correctly predict six teams in their final standings, five playoff teams, and two Divisional Series Winners, and the National League Championship winner. Our predictions were not as accurate as in the 2015 final standings, but we found greater success in the playoffs. The playoffs are where it really matters, right?
The Cubs are World Series Champions. (Ezra Shaw/ Getty Images)
Predicting the final standings for the regular season is not an easy task. Our predictions in 2015 (11 of 30 correct) were much higher than our average, so it came as no surprise that in 2016 our predictions fell back to earth. We were correct that the Miami Marlins would finish third in the National League East, ahead of the rebuilding Braves and Phillies but well behind the Nationals and Mets. The Cubs were the easy pick to win the National League Central, far outpacing the rest of the division.The National League West was a two team race from the beginning, but we were correct that the Dodgers would out last the Giants over the course of the season. Finally we were correct in predicting the American League East would leave the Rays behind and the American League West would leave the Athletics behind as both teams finished last in their division.
Our predictions in the playoffs were much better in 2016. There are ten playoff spots, we selected half the teams before the season began. The Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Francisco Giants all made the playoffs, but despite having half the teams in the playoffs correct, we did not do a great job of predicting what they would do once they made it to October. We were correct in predicting the Toronto Blue Jays would win the American League Divisional Series. We correctly predicted the Chicago Cubs would win the National League pennant, although we felt they were not yet ready to break the Curse of the Billy Goat. Opps.
The 2016 Major League season was not what we predicted it would be; it was better. No matter how careful we are in making our predictions, we will be wrong more often than we are right; such is baseball. Every season has its memories, for the Cubs it was finally winning the World Series after waiting more than a century. The Reds, Braves, Twins, Athletics, and other continued to rebuild. Every team is trying to get better, but not matter what baseball is unpredictable. We hope we are better at predicting the 2017 season than we were the 2016 season. However, there are only three guarantees that we can make: 1) baseball is unpredictable, 2) our predictions will turn out to be horribly wrong, 3) baseball makes everything better.
DJ, JJ, JB, and BL
Valentine’s Day is less than two weeks away. Time to start planning those romantic dinners, flowers, and cards. Oh also remember your glove and bat. Half of Major League teams have Valentine’s Day as the official report date for their pitchers and catchers. February 15th will see 13 other teams report on February 15th. The Dodgers and Nationals are the last two teams to require their pitchers and catchers to report to Spring Training, their report date is February 16th. The path to the World Series begins with the most anticlimactic event in sports. There is nothing to see when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, it is simply players showing up to the facility. Baseball usually ends with a bang in the World Series, but it begins with a bit of a whimper. Players playing catch, running, fielding, laughing, and smiling. It is a scene that every player at every level, no matter their ability, can duplicate.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Love John McClane (Twentieth Century Fox)
Love is in the air on Valentine’s Day this year. The warm sunshine, the green grass, and the sound of baseballs popping the catcher’s mitt. Hearts and candy are nice, but the sights and sounds of baseball are the most beautiful of all. This year for Valentine’s Day I will celebrate the beginning of baseball without actually seeing anything occur on the field. My heart will just know that the season is beginning. Personally, I will enjoy my traditional Valentine’s Day dinner with my fiancée by eating hamburgers and watching Die Hard. Love is in the air, and it is less than two weeks away.
So it’s a lovely midsummer afternoon and I am enjoying a fine matchup between the Mariners and the Cubs. I receive a little writing inspiration as I watch Aroldis Chapman come on to save a 1-0 game for the Cubbies. Now this time last year Chapman was playing for the Reds and was a division rival of these same Cubs, a lot can happen in a year. The concentration of moves at the trade deadline makes the end of July one of the best parts of the season.
The Difference a year makes, Aroldis Chapman will be trying to save games against, instead of for the Reds. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Yes it is trade deadline season, and if you are following this blog and MLB in general you get the idea behind all the moves. But how does it affect you and I the fans? How are we supposed to feel when a star slugger or fireball closer are sent off to a rival team or a team in the other league entirely? Well let’s look at Chapman for perspective. The Yankees acquired him from the Reds this offseason to bolster their bullpen. The Yankees had high hopes for this season and thought a closer with 105 mph heat could help them, even with Chapman missing the first month of the season due to suspension. The Cubs went into the season with a lineup stacked with power hitters and great starting pitching. The Cubs went into the season with Hector Rendon as their closer, not a bad closer but still not one you ride to the World Series. Well as they say everything looks good on paper and that’s why you play the games. The Yankees season has not turned out well, surprise surprise, and the Cubs still have a shot at winning the World Series. So with the magic of owners and agents, Chapman was traded to the Cubs and here I am watching him come on from the bullpen wearing different pinstripes.
Going once, going twice, sold to the Texas Rangers. (Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
Now I am all for teams being allowed to trade, it mixes things up and gives me something to look forward to between the All-Star Game and September call ups. It also gives you a little chuckle when you watch Chapman blow the save opportunity and allow 3 runs with a wild pitch thrown in. That’s part of the fun. I don’t wish many players, outside of Boston, any ill will or harm but seeing Chapman get roughed up for another team is entertaining. Other teams have been and still are looking for arms to finish games. As I write the Nationals acquired Pirates closer Mark Melancon seemingly ending the Pirates hope of the postseason. The Brewers benched their catcher Jonathan Lucroy, and then traded him not once but twice.
It’s exciting to think about all the possible trades during the weekend of the trade deadline. I can just imagine every front office was reenacting the scene from Moneyball where Brad Pitt and Johan Hill are working the phones to get the players they want at the price they are willing to pay. Meanwhile I’m sitting here watching baseball hoping someone will stocks my beer fridge for two years. Happy Trade Deadline.
So much time and energy is spent talking about the mistakes teams make when drafting with the first overall pick in sports. The players who never turn into the superstars that many envisioned. The bulk of the time is spent in commiserating about such mistakes because it is rare for teams to use the top pick to select the best player in the draft when all is said and done. The Seattle Mariners with Ken Griffey Jr. and Atlanta Braves with Chipper Jones built a franchise around their top picks. The Houston Astros are doing the same with multiple top picks. The Washington Nationals had the first overall pick twice and have been successful both times with drafting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. No team will feel sorry for the Nationals’ success. However Washington is quickly approaching the difficult part of drafting well, paying to retain the talent.
Bryce Harper has found a spot few athletes find, people either love him or hate him. There are few people who feel ambivalent about him. Harper’s intensity on the field, chasing every ball hit to him in the outfield, crashing into walls, diving to make a catch, crushing home runs is the textbook definition of playing the game hard and, for many, the right way. That intensity seems to laugh at the notion of getting injured, Harper just wants to win and will do anything to help his team do it. What fan or team would not want a player who brings this sort of intensity to the game, along with elite skills? However, despite his great play on the field, plenty of people do not love Harper. He rubs people the wrong way. Harper brings his own flair to the game and the national media loves him. He has not been bashful in talking about the need for baseball to reenergize, nor is he afraid to tell reporters that their question is “a clown question bro.” The most recent incident was his ejection for arguing balls and strikes from the dugout. He then ran back on the field to celebrate a Nationals walk off victory. Simply coming back onto the field after his ejection was a violation of the rules, which got him a one game suspension and a fine. Yet Harper went even further by getting the umpire’s attention by yelling, “HEY, DUCK YOU!” (edited for the family audience). Every player, coach, announcer, umpire, and fan knows you cannot argue balls and strikes. Regardless whether the umpire was right or wrong, Harper knew arguing would get him ejected. Plenty of players and coaches are ejected for arguing, but once the argument is over, it is over. There is no reason to continue the argument. The umpire was not even paying attention to Harper when he ran back out on to the field, rather it was Harper who got the attention of the umpire to continue the argument. There is plenty to love and hate about Bryce Harper.
The Nationals paid Stephen Strasburg, which sets the table for Washington to pay Bryce Harper. (www.washingtonpost.com)
Clearly the Nationals and Washington fans love Bryce Harper. The franchise wants to keep him in Washington for as long as they can. Harper does not reach free agency until 2019. This gives the Nationals a little time to figure out how they will retain his services for what will be a mammoth contract. Harper’s current contract runs through 2017, and is for two years, $7.5 million; clearly a bargain for his skills. Entering the 2016 season Bryce Harper is 23 years old, yet this is his 5th season in the Majors. In his first four seasons, Harper has been impressive. Offensively his stats look like this:
Defensively, Harper has a career .976 Fielding %, with 39 Assists, and 24 Errors in 1,039 chances. He is not a one trick pony, he is an all-around great player.
His skills on the diamond and the stats he has amassed during his young career have garnered Bryce Harper plenty of accolades. He is a three time All-Star (2012, 2013, 2015), the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year, the 2015 National League Hank Aaron Award winner, he won a Silver Slugger in 2015, and was voted the 2015 National League MVP. Not bad for the first four years of a career, regardless of age.
Bryce Harper’s desire to win can lead to him injuring himself, but even then Harper will not let up his intensity on the field. (www.nydailynews.com)
The sky seems to be the limit for Bryce Harper on the diamond. His name is already being compared to some of the greatest players who have ever played the game: Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, among others. A player like Harper does not come around often, but the Washington Nationals now have the daunting task of outbidding the rest of Major League Baseball to retain his services. The Nationals put major money down on Stephen Strasburg with his seven year, $175 million contract, the highest ever for a pitcher who has undergone Tommy John surgery. Scott Boras, agent for both Strasburg and Harper, does not give discounts and will potentially use the Strasburg negotiations as a warm up for the Harper negotiations.
Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals have roughly six options as Harper approaches and reaches free agency in 2019. Two of these possible options can be tossed out without much discussion: the Nationals allowing allow Harper to simply walk away as a free agent or signing Harper to a two or three year contract. Allowing Harper to walk away without getting anything in return will not happen for obvious reasons, he is the most valuable commodity in baseball, the Front Office’s’ job is to get a return on its investment. Second, the Nationals will also not sign Harper to a short term deal, because they do not want to simply kick the can down the road a few years into Harper’s prime, ultimately costing themselves even more money. The third option is to trade Harper. This is unlikely but injuries, internal issues between Harper and the organization, and/or a decline in production could see Harper traded away for multiple players in return. The Nationals could also trade Harper if they realize they will not be able to re-sign him. If the latter happens, Washington can almost name its price for Harper.
Mike Trout is poised to become a free agent in his prime, that contract could make anyone smile. (www.usatoday.com)
The final three options are the most likely. Bryce Harper could sign a contract similar to Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, or Alex Rodriguez. The Angels signed Mike Trout to a six year, $144.5 million contract; averaging $24 million per season. Trout will be 28 years old when the contract ends, meaning he will hit free agency in his prime. This medium length contract gives Trout the assurance that he is not stuck with the Angels if they continue to not progress towards winning a World Series. It also gives Trout another opportunity to sign a huge contract as the value of contracts continue to grow, hard to blame a player for making as much money as they can during their playing career.
The second type of contract Harper could sign would be similar to Giancarlo Stanton’s contract with the Marlins. Stanton signed for 13 years and $325 million. However, Stanton has a player opt out clause after year six (2020) that could make him a free agent entering his age 31 season. This style of contract gives Stanton, or Harper, the security of a long term contract regardless of production or injury, yet also allows them to reenter the free agent market should they believe their skills are or soon will be under paid. This also keeps teams accountable to continue building a contender, one that is competing for a World Series. The Marlins are not known for building and maintaining a winning team, if Miami goes through yet another fire sale and only Stanton is left he has the ability get out of town instead of spending his best years on a team perpetually rebuilding.
Giamcarlo Stanton gives the Marlins a foundation to build around, but he can leave Miami if the team is not winning. (www.bleacherreport.com)
The final option for the Nationals is to sign Harper to a contract similar to the contract Alex Rodriguez signed with both the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees; specifically Rodriguez’s contract for 10 years, $252.87 million with the Yankees. The contract was for the peak of Rodriguez’s career and guaranteed him a long career regardless of injury, lack of production, or in Rodriguez’s case PED suspension. The Yankees were never going to tear the team down and rebuild, it is not how they do baseball in the Bronx, instead they went after big free agents. However nearly every other team does or will rebuild at some point, signing a long contract can tie a player to a team for the peak years of their careers will no options for getting away from a team going nowhere.
Currently the best contract for Bryce Harper to sign would be one similar to Giancarlo Stanton. It protects Harper should he injure himself, such as Alex Rodriguez and his hips, or his production flames out for some non-injury reason. The contract would also enable Harper to pressure the Nationals to build and maintain a World Series contending team. No player, especially one as fiery as Harper wants to spend their career continually coming into Spring Training knowing that their team has no chance to make the playoffs, much less win a World Series. Ensuring there is an opt out clause in the contract would mean hitting free agency in his prime, and netting Harper yet another monster contract; if he so chooses.
Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees have seen the good times and bad together. (www.newyork.cbslocal.com)
We can only speculate what the money will be for Harper and who will be paying him. The Strasburg contract signals to Harper that Washington is serious about winning and retaining homegrown talent. While the Nationals probably overpaid for Strasburg, primarily due to injury concerns, it shows the team is willing to pay for what it wants. The Nationals’ current front office is not the Yankees of George Steinbrenner or the Dodgers of a few years ago, they do not have an endless supply of money. Paying Harper will require the team to reallocate money from expiring contracts to pay Harper what will most likely be the largest contract in history both in terms of pay per season and overall. Harper signing a Giancarlo Stanton-like contract in 2019, or slightly before, will raise the bar for the second contract that he could sign if he opts out in his prime. It’s hard to conceive a situation where he doesn’t. If Harper were to sign a 10 year, $400 million contract in 2019 when he is 26 years old and then opt out after five or six seasons, he would return to the free agent market at 31 or 32 years old. This dramatically increases the importance of the first contract Harper signs because it will set the table for the second. There would be teams willing to give a 31 year old a long-term deal. Josh Hamilton, with all his personal struggles got five years, $114 million at 32 years old. Albert Pujols got 10 years, $240 million at 32 years old. Robinson Cano also got 10 years, $240 million at 31 years old. Harper should easily be able to sign a new contract for another 10 years and $400 million, if not more money. While Hamilton, Pujols, and Cano all signed with American League teams, thus enabling them to DH later in their careers, Harper could choose to remain in the National League and not use the DH like Barry Bonds, minus the PEDs. The competitor in Harper would most likely want to see if he could beat the legends of the game like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams using the same rules they played under; not padding his stats as a DH late in his career.
Assuming Harper wants to stay in Washington, how would the Nationals afford to pay Harper the largest contract in baseball history? The money would come from three current Nationals players who will reach free agency before Harper: Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy, and Gio Gonzalez. Jayson Werth’s seven year, $126 million contract with the Nationals ends after 2017. Werth will be paid $21 million per year in the final three seasons of the deal. He will be a free agent entering his age 39 season, doubtful Werth will see another large contract. Daniel Murphy will reach free agency at the end of the 2018 season. There is usually not a ton of demand for a 34 year old second basemen, especially one making $17.5 million in the final year of his contract. The Nationals should be able to develop a respectable outfielder and second basemen between now and 2019. Gio Gonzalez will enter free agency after the 2018 season, when he is 32 years old. Gonzalez could be the price Washington has to pay to re-sign Harper. He is an excellent pitcher, but a player like Harper is a rarity and a team ought to do everything it can to retain such a special player. $12 million a year will be a discount for a pitcher like Gonzalez, who can get more as a free agent assuming he is healthy.
Bryce Harper will run through a wall if it means helping his team win. (www.si.com)
The Nationals can lay the foundation for a deal with Harper by simply shifting the $21 million from Werth, $17.5 million from Murphy, and $12 million from Gonzalez to pay Harper. Letting two aging players go in Werth and Murphy would free up $38.5 million a season. The increasing salaries could make the $38.5 million a season within a reasonable jump in pay for an elite player. The Scott Boras factor could require a little more money, thus forcing the Nationals to choose between Harper and Gio Gonzalez, which should not be difficult. $50.5 million per season should be plenty for Washington to retain Bryce Harper, if Harper wants to remain with the Nationals.
$40 million per season ought to entice Harper, and any other baseball player, to remain in Washington. The Nationals would give up three players for one, which would be the smart move for the franchise. The Nationals will also be paying Harper somewhere between $5 and $10 million in his final season before free agency. Washington should be able to develop at least one of the three pieces it will lose to sign Harper. A young outfielder or a young starting pitcher or second baseman should develop in their farm system. The homegrown player should cost no more than $3 million per season, and even this is at the extreme. This would leave between $14 and $19 million for the Nationals to go out and sign a free agent starting pitcher and position player, both of which are possible.
The money will follow Harper wherever he chooses to continue his career once he reaches free agency. Despite all the things so many people hate about Harper, the Nationals love him and want to keep him in Washington at least through the peak of his career. Few players are compared to Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., and a slew of other Hall of Fame players at any point in their careers. Harper is 23 years old and is entering his fifth season in the Majors. He is truly a special player, one that the Nationals should do everything within their power to re-sign as he approaches free agency.