Things to look out for
by philippe bouchard, Contributor
This season is shaping up to be a unique one, and not just because of the pandemic.
8. Pitchers with new addresses are looking to make a splash.
Some of the best hurlers in the league are going to pitch for new teams this year, as the Dodgers signed Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer and the Padres filled an already impressive rotation with top names like Yu Darvish and former Cy Young winner Blake Snell. On the relief side of things, Liam Hendricks signed a record deal with the White Sox and is expected to help them move up in their division this year. I, for one, am excited to see if these big names will continue to dominate against new opposition.
7. Young stars are better than ever, and they have things to prove this season.
While the 2020 season was a shorter sample size than a full 162-game regular season, some young stars showed they could have a massive impact on their team’s success in the near future. Are 22-year-old superstars Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto going to be able to keep humiliating opposing pitchers on such a consistent basis in 2021? Will Luis Robert replicate last season’s impressive success at literally every aspect of the game? Will the Blue Jays core of “sons of former players” finally reach their potential? Only time will tell.
6. Are the Angels going to finally capitalize on having the best player in baseball on their team?
Mike Trout is by far the best player in the game. Every statistic shows this, but even with him on their team, the Angels can’t seem to find a way to win. They apparently expect the solution to come from within, betting on Fletcher’s success to continue and a bounceback year from their 2017 gamble Shohei Ohtani. And while the two-way Japanese phenom signing didn’t pan out so far as his return to pitching after a very invasive surgery was less than stellar, he’s having a monster spring. Maybe new closer Raisel Iglesias will be the solution? We’ll see.
5. Watching if the Blue Jays enormous spending on Free Agents pays off.
One of the most active teams in the league this off season, Canada’s Toronto Blue Jays (who probably won’t play north of the border in 2021), bet heavily on former Houston Astros George Springer. Often injured and involved in the sign-stealing scandal, but also consistently putting top five numbers at his position, it will be very interesting to see what he brings to the team in the upcoming year. Marcus Semien’s signing will also bring a very potent bat and above average defensive skills in a lineup already filled with talent. Are those additions going to be enough to contend in one of baseball’s toughest divisions?
4. The Dodgers will still be excellent.
Swapping some bullpen pieces and losing slugger Joc Pederson (who is still mashing the ball for the Chicago Cubs this spring) in the offseason probably won’t be enough of a change to expect the LA Dodgers to do anything but repeat last year’s success. Still the team with the highest payroll in all of baseball, the 2020 world series champions brought back key man Justin Turner and added last year’s best pitcher in the NL to their starting rotation, which should be enough considering their core of Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, and Cody Bellinger are already amongst the very best at their respective positions.
3. Some trades could pay off in a big way… or be a disaster.
If anyone tells you they expected the Rockies, Nolan Arenado, to be traded during the offseason, they’re probably lying. The Cardinals surprised everyone by trading for the perennial 3rd base gold glove candidate and prolific hitter, hoping this trade will help them win after a heartbreaking exit from the playoffs last year against the Atlanta Braves. While the Mets also put their future on the line by trading for 2022 free agent Francisco Lindor, expecting him and a few recent signings to get them back on top of their division, failing to sign him to an extension could be disastrous for the franchise.
2. A lot of teams are actually confident in their ability to contend this season.
Some bad teams are still gonna bad, but many teams are making a huge push for it this year. Any one of AL’s three division has at least three hopeful playoff contenders, and many teams in the NL could give the Dodgers and the new-and-improved Padres a run for their money. I think it’s a good sign for any professional sports league when teams aren’t throwing in the towel before the season even begins, and while MLB’s reluctance in putting a cap on teams’ salaries often led to many experts saying that the teams spending more will win more often, this year will continue the trend of young players putting up crazy numbers and being worth ten times their paycheck, creating a more even league and more entertaining matchups for us fans!
1. Seats will be filling up as the season goes on.
Already, this spring training features pockets of masked fans at a safe distance from one another, bringing a lived-in feel to the ballparks that lacked in last year’s offering of televised baseball broadcasts. As the year goes on, if the vaccination rate in the US and the health measures addressing the global pandemic allows, we could see more and more fans fill in the seats of the stadiums. Even though not everyone should rush south of the border to go see live baseball, more fans will bring more excitement to the players on the field, as well as serve as a hopeful visual reminder to fans from around the world that normalcy is just around the corner.