Thursday, February 25, 2021

2021 Pre-Season Profile: Arizona Diamondbacks

The Arizona Diamondbacks had a disappointing season in 2020, leading to the team being sellers instead of buyers at the Trade Deadline.  Will 2021 be a bounce back year for the D-Backs?

2020 Predictions
#8 - 2nd in NL West, WILD CARD, lose in NLDS
MIH - Starling Marte
MIP - Robbie Ray
PTW - J.B. Bukauskas

2020 Results
#25 - 25-35, 5th in NL West
Every year, there are one or two teams I whiff pretty badly on.  Last year, the Diamondbacks might have been the team I missed the worst.  I took a stab thinking they could be a surprise team to reach the Divisional Series in the NL.  Instead, they missed the playoffs, even with them expanded by almost double the teams.  The Diamondbacks made the choice to jump into the sellers market when few were ready to give up on the season.  My Most Important Hitter and Pitcher for the team last season were both traded to contenders at the deadline, as well as closer Archie Bradley and setup man Andrew Chafin.  This dropped the D-Backs down to the cellar of the NL West.

Additions / Subtractions
The most significant moves the Diamondbacks made were the moves made at last year's Trade Deadline.  The returning lineup is almost identical to how they ended the year, with the signing of veteran infielder Asdrubal Cabrera being the only semi-significant move.  Their pitching staff is fairly untouched as well, with veteran arm Joakim Soria being the only significant addition.

Most Important Hitter
Ketel Marte
One of the biggest surprises for the Diamondbacks over the last few seasons has been the emergence of Ketel Marte.  This 2B/SS/CF started to break out in 2018, then finished 4th in MVP voting in 2019 showing he was one of the brightest stars to watch across the league.  Marte's 2020 season was solid, but definitely saw a drop off from the production of the previous two seasons.  The D-Backs need to see Marte bounce back to his All Star level if the current group is going to have any success in 2021.

Most Important Pitcher
Madison Bumgarner
The Diamondbacks made a splash before the 2020 season when they signed the man, the myth, the legend, Madison Bumgarner.  However, his production in 2020 was less than stellar, finishing the shortened season with a negative WAR and a 6.48 ERA.  The Diamondbacks have some great young pitching, but MadBum needs to be their leader.  He is only entering his age 31 season, but all the work he put in while fighting for championships in San Francisco may have left him with not many bullets left.

Prospect to Watch
Geraldo Perdomo
The Diamondbacks do have some exciting young talent coming up through their system.  The one most likely to make a splash in 2021 is shortstop Geraldo Perdomo.  This 21 year-old is the best defender in the D-Backs system.  He is also a switch hitter that can hold his own at the plate.  Ranked the 79th best prospect in all of baseball, there may be some space for him to make his debut around the infield at some point in 2021.

2021 Prediction
4th in NL West
The Diamondbacks made a clear decision last season to take a step back.  Now they are not into a full rebuild, but they are stuck in a division with two of the most stacked rosters in all of baseball.  They (and the Rockies for that matter) are set up to be a doormat in 2021 and end up with a lower record than their talent might otherwise warrant.

Fearless Prediction
Madison Bumgarner will be not be on the Diamondbacks roster at the start of 2022.
The Diamondbacks have stripped back almost all commitments to veteran players recently in an effort to get younger and possibly open up a window later on down the road when it might be a little easier to win the division.  The last one left is MadBum.  If he shows flashes in 2021 that he is back, look for the Diamondbacks to try and unload him in a similar move to what they did for Zack Greinke a few years ago.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

2021 Pre-Season Profile: Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies made some big news this offseason, but it wasn't for something that will help them win in 2021.  Are the Rockies going to be competitive this season, or is the start of a rebuild?

2020 Predictions
#24 - 4th in NL West
MIH - Trevor Story
MIP - German Marquez
PTW - Brendan Rodgers
FP - Nolan Arenado will not be on the Rockies' roster in 2021.

2020 Results
#23 - 26-34, 4th in NL West
The downward spiral of the Colorado Rockies started as soon as rumors surfaced that Nolan Arenado was available via trade just one season after signing a megadeal.  The 2020 season for the Rockies wasn't horrible, but it wasn't good either.  The Rockies seemed to be stuck waiting to see what would happen with Arenado.  I honestly can't believe that my Fearless Prediction actually came true.

Additions / Subtractions
This section starts and ends with Nolan Arenado.  Take your pick on which was the bigger trade this offseason between Arenado to the Cardinals and Francisco Lindor to the Mets.  (I would argue that the Arenado trade was bigger because he is under contract past 2021.)  With that said, Arenado isn't the only missing player from last year's roster.  Starting catcher Tony Wolters signed elsewhere, first baseman Daniel Murphy retired, centerfielder Kevin Pillar signed elsewhere, outfielder David Dahl signed elsewhere, DH Matt Kemp is gone, Ian Desmond opted out for a second straight season ... and that's just the lineup!  All of these subtractions were replaced with internal solutions.  No one significant was added to the lineup this offseason.  The pitching staff is almost the same except for young pitcher Austin Gomber joining the rotation from the Arenado trade.

Most Important Hitter
Trevor Story
Just like the 2020 season was completely overshadowed by what would happen with Nolan Arenado, the 2021 season will be completely overshadowed by what will happen with Trevor Story.  He is easily the best player on the roster now, but it is his last season before free agency.  If the Rockies trade him or let him walk after the season, then we know the Rockies are entering a full rebuild.  If they find a way to re-sign him (which is unlikely after seeing the Arenado saga play out after his big deal), it shows that the Rockies are going to be bouncing back sooner rather than later.  So not just for 2021, but the next 10 years of this franchise revolve around what happens with this player this year.

Most Important Pitcher
Jon Gray
This Rockies' rotation has some decent arms that are learning how to pitch in Colorado.  The man that was supposed to be the ace of this staff during this run was supposed to be Jon Gray.  However, he has been passed up by other young hurlers on his club like German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, and Antonio Senzatela.  If Gray can find a way to capture some of the promise his talent showed early on in his career, then this pitching staff could carry this team in a way it has never done before.  Or be traded.  This could happen too.

Prospect to Watch
Ryan Vilade
What makes matters worse for the Rockies is on top of having an aging roster that is trading away its stars to save money, their farm system is not very good.  At the end of last season, ranked the Rockies as having the 28th best farm system in all of baseball with only one top 100 prospect.  Although Zac Veen has the potential to be a stud, he is a 19 year old outfielder drafted straight out of high school that is at least 3 years away from making a big league impact.  They have a few prospects that could break into the big club this season, with Ryan Vilade as the most intriguing.  The Rockies' fourth ranked prospect, Vilade can play third or the corner outfield spots, places where there could be potential holes to fill with the departure of Arenado and the opt out of Desmond making those spots pretty thin.  He has the potential to be an impact bat in the center of that lineup moving forward.

2021 Prediction
5th in NL West
This season is going to be ugly for the Rockies.  Arenado was the heart and soul of that roster.  Now he's gone, and their next best player is most likely counting down the days he can leave too.  Their pitching staff might be able to keep them in games, but it is most likely going to be a lost season for the Rockies.

Fearless Prediction
Trevor Story will be traded before the Trade Deadline.
The way the Rockies handled Nolan Arenado really tarnished their reputation in how they handle their stars.  Whether it is the truth or not, the way it looks is they signed Arenado to a megadeal they were never going to fulfill because they were just going to trade him after making the commitment.  With that in mind, there is no way Trevor Story signs long term in Colorado.  If he isn't going to sign past this season, and the season is going to be as unsuccessful as it appears to be, they should trade him while they can still get something for him.  The entire season will be defined by what they will do with Story, just like 2020 was defined by the Arenado drama.  Trade him now and move on.  The sooner he is gone, the sooner the franchise can start over and rebuild.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

2021 Pre-Season Profile: Texas Rangers


The Texas Rangers had the misfortune of opening a brand new ballpark in the midst of a pandemic, then watching the World Series be played there even though they weren't in it.  The Rangers disappointed in 2020.  Will they bounce back in 2021?

2020 Predictions
#23 - 4th in AL West
MIH - Willie Calhoun
MIP - Corey Kluber
PTW - Nick Solak
FP - Three players on the Rangers' Opening Day roster retire after the 2020 season.

2020 Results
#29 - 22-38, 5th in AL West
Any hope that the shortened 2020 season would be a success went out the window on Opening Day when their big offseason pickup, Corey Kluber, lasted one inning in his only start with the team before injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.  That moment seemed to sum up their season perfectly.  So many things looked like they could have been heading in the right direction, but they all went wrong instead.  Nick Solak did have a strong 2020, playing in almost every game.  Lance Lynn was another standout in 2020, but there wasn't much to be excited about beyond that.  My choice for their Most Important Hitter in 2020, Willie Calhoun, finished the season with an OPS+ of 34...

Additions / Subtractions
The 2020 offseason was about trying to start the new era of Rangers baseball in their new stadium with a bang.  The 2021 offseason was more about setting up the team for a rebuild that will have them successful in the future.  They took advantage of Lance Lynn's strong 2020 by trading him while his stock was high to the White Sox.  They traded closer Rafael Montero to the Mariners.  They signed Japanese import Kohei Arihara to be a part of their rotation.  They took low-risk fliers on injury-riddled players like David Dahl and Mike Foltynewicz.  The most significant transaction they made was trading Elvis Andrus to the A's for OF/DH Khris Davis as the last remnant of the Rangers' World Series runs of the early 2010's was sent off.

Most Important Hitter
Isiah Kiner-Falefa
One of the reasons the Rangers felt comfortable trading away Elvis Andrus is their desire to establish Isiah Kiner-Falefa as their everyday shortstop.  Kiner-Falefa has been a valuable utility player over the last few seasons, with the added versatility of being able to catch.  In 2020, he spent most of his season at third base, and became the best position player on the roster in terms of WAR while winning the Gold Glove at third base.  Now, he is going to be their shortstop.  His glove shouldn't be a problem, but his bat needs to be more impactful to prove to fans that this transition was worth losing a face of the franchise.

Most Important Pitcher
Mike Foltynewicz
The pitching staff of the Rangers for 2021 is piecemealed together for the most part.  However, one player that could have a huge impact that could help the Rangers greatly is Mike Foltynewicz.  In 2018, Folty was an All Star that received Cy Young votes for the Braves.  By the end of 2020, he had fallen so far that the Braves didn't tender him a contract.  Only entering his age 29 season, if he can recapture the magic that made him an All Star, this could be a future ace for the Rangers.

Prospect to Watch
Dane Dunning
Another potential future centerpiece of the Rangers' pitching staff is Dane Dunning.  The top prospect acquired in the Lance Lynn trade, Dunning made his big league debut in 2020 for the White Sox with decent success.  Still considered a top 100 prospect in baseball, look for this rookie to get every opportunity to have a breakout season in 2021.

2021 Prediction
5th in AL West
It seems that 2020 proved to the Rangers that they have a long way to go before they can compete.  Their roster does not look good.  They have a lot of work to do before they can compete again.  They do have some young pieces that will be exciting to watch, but this might be the least interesting roster in the big leagues, not a title you want while welcoming your fans to a new stadium for the first time.

Fearless Prediction
Chris Woodward will be fired mid-season.
Chris Woodward has not really been given a fair shot in his first run as a big league manager.  He really hasn't had much to work with.  However, look for him to be the scapegoat for a franchise trying to prove to their fans that they are trying to win sooner rather than later.

Monday, February 22, 2021

2021 Pre-Season Profile: Pittsburgh Pirates


Spring Training is open and it looks like we are having something that much more resembles a full and normal baseball season in 2021!  Around this time every year, I love to look ahead and preview what the season will look like for every team.  We start at the bottom of my power rankings and work up to my predicted World Series champ.

Our first team is the team that was, by far, the worst team in the short 2020 season.  Is it possible after that horrible 2020 campaign, the Pirates have farther to fall before they turn the corner.  The answer might be yes.

2020 Predictions
#28 - 5th in NL Central
MIH - Bryan Reynolds
MIP - Chris Archer
PTW - Mitch Keller
FP - Chris Archer will be traded before the end of the season for one mid-level prospect.

2020 Results
#30: 19-41, 5th in NL Central

The Pirates quickly dropped all the way to the bottom of the league in 2020 as so many things went wrong in the shortened season.  Bryan Reynolds, the Pirates' breakout star in 2019, had a very disappointing season.  Chris Archer opted out of the last season of his deal with the Pirates.  Nothing went well for Derek Shelton in his first year as manager.

Additions / Subtractions

The Pirates had not entered a full rebuild until now.  This offseason, they traded Josh Bell to the Nationals, Jameson Taillon to the Yankees, and Joe Musgrove to the Padres.  They also let Trevor Williams and Chris Archer sign elsewhere.  With Archer's departure, we might be looking at one of, if not the, worst trade of the 21st century so far.

Most Important Hitter
Gregory Polanco

As the last holdover from the Pirates' playoff teams, you have to think Gregory Polanco will not be lasting much longer in Pittsburgh.  He has a team option after this year, so he could become a free agent after 2021, however he needs to reestablish his value this season as he has never really turned into the star his potential said he could be.  If he has a solid year and returns to hitting like he did in 2017 and 2018, he could be worth something on the trade market mid-season.  Otherwise, he will just walk away after the season.

Most Important Pitcher
Mitch Keller

With Musgrove, Archer, Williams, and Taillon all moving on, that leaves the young Mitch Keller as the ace of the Pirates' rotation.  Keller recovered from a rough debut in 2019 to have a solid season in 2020.  Now he is going to be asked to be one of the faces of the franchise moving forward and be a potential star.  He has the talent if it all comes together right.

Prospect to Watch
Ke'Bryan Hayes

In 2020, we finally saw the long-awaited debut of 2nd generation baseball phenom Ke'Bryan Hayes (son of Charlie Hayes).  In only 24 games, Hayes led the Pirates in WAR for the season.  He did maintain his rookie status, so he will enter 2021 as the team's starting 3rd baseman, the 9th best prospect in all of baseball, and the new star at the heart of the Pirates' lineup.

2021 Prediction
5th in NL Central

As bad as 2020 was for Pittsburgh, I think 2021 will be worse.  They don't have many veterans left, they don't have a ton top-tier young prospects ready to hit the big leagues right now, and the rest of their division is going to be very competitive.  They could be a 110+ loss team this year.

Fearless Prediction
Ke'Bryan Hayes will be an All Star and Rookie of the Year in 2021.

As bad as the Pirates are going to be, young Ke'Bryan Hayes will definitely be a standout and a reason to watch the otherwise irrelevant season they will have.  Look for him to be the sole Pirates representative at the Mid-Summer Classic and ride that all the way to a potential Rookie of the Year win when all is said and done.