In an extremely competitive World Series with the Washington Nationals fighting to stay alive, a horrendous call by an umpire could have nearly cost Washington its entire season.
As the Nationals held a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning with Yan Gomes on first, shortstop Trea Turner hit a soft bouncer short of the mound. When Houston Astros pitcher Brad Peacock finally picked it up and fired it to first base, the throw was off the mark and forced Turner into first baseman Yuli Gurriel’s glove.
A play that should have been ruled an error with both runners advancing down the base paths, the umpires called Turner out for interference with the play and made Gomes return to first base.
After Turner and Washington’s skipper Dave Martinez lit into umpire Sam Holbrook for the horrendous call, fans and players watched as the umpires put on headsets as the play was reviewed in New York.
Following an excruciating wait that stalled the game and left everyone feeling restless, the umpires finally took off the headsets and announced the call stood.
Washington’s dugout and the entire baseball world exploded with shock and rage after learning the league’s replay officials stood by the horrendous call.
Whether it comes as a strong finish to an already dominant season or an amazing comeback, or it’s a newly emerged contender coming out of nowhere, there have been some remarkable finishes in the recent history of Major League Baseball. The wild-card era has ushered in far more opportunity for the postseason than ever before but also has raised the stakes within the pursuit.
With 2019’s pennant chase preparing to take shape, let’s take a look back some of the great finishes of baseball’s modern postseason era.
1 of 20
Seattle Mariners, 1995
After owning a 34-35 record at the All-Star break, the ’95 Mariners went from last to first place in the season’s second half. Ken Griffey Jr returned from a two-month absence to hit 10 home runs over the final two months, Edgar Martinez won the AL batting title and Randy Johnson won his first Cy Young Award. The Mariners bested the California Angels in a tie-breaker game to claim their first division title in franchise history. They reached the AL Championship Series, led by a legendary performance by Martinez against the Yankees in the ALDS. Seattle lost to Cleveland in the ALCS.
2 of 20
Chicago Cubs, 1998
While the summer of ’98 is best known for the home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, it also is known for a tight NL playoff race. Sosa’s Cubs were one of the hottest teams in the game in the middle of the year before cooling off late. Meanwhile, Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants won nine of their last 12 games to catch the Cubs. The teams squared off in one-game playoff in which Bonds nearly hit a ninth-inning grand slam amid a Giants rally that fell short. The Cubs hung on to win, and they reached the playoffs for the first time in nine years. 3 of 20
New York Yankees, 1998
Not all memorable second-half performances included airtight races to the finish. Take the case of one of the greatest teams of all time, the ’98 Yankees. They were dominant from start to finish, winning 20 games in three separate months en route to a record 114-win season. They won the AL East by 22 games, with a breakout season for a young Derek Jeter, who hit .324 with 203 hits. They finished the season 66 games over .500 and set a record for most wins in a season, 125, after sweeping the San Diego Padres in the World Series. 4 of 20
Cleveland Indians, 2001
Aided by Minnesota’s huge collapse, the 2001 Indians staged an incredible comeback to claim an AL Central title. After reaching the All-Star break 23 games over .500, the Twins dropped 15 of their first 20 second-half contests, losing their grip on the division in the process. Meanwhile, behind a 49-homer season from Jim Thome, after being five games back at the All-Star break, the Indians finished six games ahead to win a sixth AL Central title since 1995, going 9-3 against Minnesota in the second half. 5 of 20
Oakland Athletics, 2001
In the wild-card era, no team has had more second-half success than the 2001 A’s. They set a 162-game schedule record by going 63-18 over their final 81 games, which included an incredible 29-4 record over the season’s final month. Led by their hallowed three-ace rotation of Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson, along with a string of incredible starts from Cory Lidle, who went 11-2 after the break, the A’s set a record for most wins by a wild-card team with 102. It also was the most wins by a second-place club, but they still finished 14 games behind the record-setting 2001 Seattle Mariners.
6 of 20
Seattle Mariners, 2001
Led by an incredible jolt of energy from MVP/Rookie of the Year Ichiro Suzuki, the 2001 Seattle Mariners tied the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the most regular-season wins in history with 116. The team never posted a double-digit loss total in any month and saved the best for last. From Sept. 1 through Oct. 7, they went 20-7, with a 4-3 loss on the season’s final day, costing them a chance to set the outright record for most wins in a season. 7 of 20
Oakland Athletics, 2002
For a second consecutive season, in 2002 Oakland channeled second-half magic, going 24-4 in August, a run that included the bulk of one of the greatest winning streaks in MLB history. Oakland went undefeated from Aug.13 to Sept. 4, embarking on an AL-record 20-game winning streak — which included walk-off wins during the final three victories of the streak. However, taking over the division outright required a second, shorter winning spree, when Oakland won nine of its final 11 games over divisional foes to win the AL West. It was a season that changed the way the sport is perceived and inspired the book and movie”‘Moneyball.”
8 of 20
Florida Marlins, 2003
The 2003 Marlins are the definition of a team that got hot at just the right time. After losing eight of their final nine games in August, Florida entered the final month 13 games back in the NL East and barely in control of a wild-card spot. However, its “team of destiny” run — which included an NLCS victory aided by the “Bartman Game” vs. the Cubs and a stunning upset of the New York Yankees in the World Series — got underway quickly in September. Jack McKeon’s club went 10-2 to start the month and won seven of its last nine to claim the NL wild-card spot.
9 of 20
Minnesota Twins, 2006
In 2006, the Twins pulled off the biggest second-half comeback of the last quarter century, erasing an 11-game deficit in the process. With Johan Santana embarking on a 13-0 second half en route to claiming AL Cy Young Award honors, Justin Morneau capturing AL MVP and Joe Mauer being crowned as AL batting champion, the Twins went 49-27 in the second half. This allowed them to track down the Detroit Tigers, who had posted the game’s top record in the first half but stumbled south of .500 following the All-Star break. Ultimately the Twins won the AL Central on the final day of the season. 10 of 20
Colorado Rockies, 2007
On Sept. 15, Colorado was barely above .500 and 6.5 games back of the San Diego Padres. However, the Rockies soon turned the booster jets on, winning 13 of their final 14 games to incredibly reach 90 wins and force a one-game playoff for the NL wild-card spot. The game featured another incredible comeback, as the Rockies rallied from a two-run deficit in the bottom of the 13th inning, capped by Matt Holliday scoring a still-disputed run on a Jamey Carroll sacrifice fly to send the Rockies back to the postseason for the first time in six seasons.
With the MLB regular season now about one-third of the way finished, we have a clearer picture of where each team stands. Some managers are already looking over their shoulders as a result of poor team performance. The following gallery is a ranking of MLB manager job security from one (least secure) to 30 (most secure).
1. Dave Martinez, Nationals
Brad Penner / USA Today Sports Images
While the Nats allowed Bryce Harper to walk in free agency, they entered the season with high expectations after signing Patrick Corbin. The roster has its share of stars with Corbin, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon, yet the team was almost out of the playoff race entering June. Washington was also the most disappointing team of 2018, at 82-80, and fired pitching coach Derek Lilliquist in early May. Frankly, it’s surprising Martinez has lasted this long in his second year.
2. Mickey Callaway, Mets
Noah K. Murray / USA Today Sports Images
The Mets sideshow continues. Callaway’s team finished with 77 wins in his first season but seemingly went all in this offseason by adding Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano and Wilson Ramos and also allowed rookie Pete Alonso to stick on the roster out of spring training, thereby losing a year of team control. Yet, New York was below .500 entering June, and the pitching staff (Callaway’s area of expertise) has been disappointing.
3. Don Mattingly, Marlins
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It’s hard to believe him, but Marlins CEO Derek Jeter has insisted he expects the Marlins to win now. Jeter and Mattingly go way back to their days with the Yankees, but if Jeter truly practices what he preaches, Mattingly could be on the chopping block. To the surprise of no one (except maybe Jeter), the Marlins were 21-36 through June 3 and in contention for the worst record in baseball.
4. David Bell, Reds
Brad Penner / USA Today Sports Images
On one hand, the Reds ranked fourth in run differential in the NL through June 1. On the other hand, they were in last place at 27-32 with a lineup that has been a massive disappointment. The Reds’ pitching additions have worked out for the most part, particularly Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark, but the team had much higher expectations in Bell’s first season. It would be surprising if Cincinnati fired Bell in his first year but not unprecedented.
5. Ned Yost, Royals
Jim Cowsert / USA Today Sports Images
Yost gets some leeway for leading the Royals to two World Series, but the organization’s last winning season was its World Series championship 2015 season. K.C. won only 58 games last year and is well on its way to another embarrassing finish. The hiring of former Cardinals manager Mike Matheny as a front office assistant opened some eyes, and he would make sense as a replacement if the Royals move on from Yost, whose contract expires after this season.
6. Joe Maddon, Cubs
Jasen Vinlove / USA Today Sports Images
Maddon is in the last year of his contract with the Cubs, and the team has high expectations for 2019 despite making few offseason moves. While they have appeared in four straight playoffs, including their historic World Series win in 2016, their playoff success under Maddon has otherwise been fleeting. The NL Central has never been tougher during Maddon’s tenure than it is this season, but the team might decide to finally move on from him if it doesn’t go further in the playoffs this year.
7. Mike Shildt, Cardinals
Jim Cowsert / USA Today Sports Images
Shildt was the Cardinals savior last season, going 41-28 after the first-time manager was promoted following Mike Matheny’s firing. His start to this season has been more innocuous at 30-28, third place in the loaded NL Central. The Cardinals are desperate to make the playoffs after failing over the last three seasons and trading a significant package for Paul Goldschmidt in the offseason. Shildt can’t be faulted for the team’s starting pitching struggles, but ownership could make changes if the team disappoints again this year.
8. Brad Ausmus, Angels
Jesse Johnson / USA Today Sports Images
You’ve probably heard this one before, but the Angels have been plagued by multiple pitching injuries and have struggled to find hitters around Mike Trout this year. They had the same issue recently under Mike Scioscia, and Ausmus hasn’t been able to buck the trend despite being far more amenable to using openers and defensive shifts. Ausmus should get some slack, but it’s inexcusable for the team to not be competitive for so long. The Angels are at risk of finishing below .500 for the fourth straight season.
9. Clint Hurdle, Pirates
Philip G. Pavely / USA Today Sports Images
The Pirates remain within striking distance in the NL Central, though winning the division doesn’t truly look realistic with Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams injured. Pittsburgh’s pitching staff has been far worse than expected as a result, and their negative-68 run differential through 58 games currently is the third-worst in the league. Hurdle has done a nice job considering the circumstances, but the team has finished above .500 only once in the last three years and could be in for a standings plunge if it doesn’t get healthy quickly.
10. Scott Servais, Mariners
Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today Sports Images
The M’s had a fire sale this offseason despite winning 89 games in 2018 but were able to get off to a hot start anyway. The Jay Bruce trade on June 2 likely was the first domino to fall in a continuing rebuild with the team standing 17 games out of first place. Servais hasn’t done anything wrong, but it remains to be seen whether the front office sees him as the right manager for what will soon become a younger roster.
Veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips is still hoping to continue his playing career, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reports on Twitter. He has not signed with an organization since wrapping up a brief stint with the Red Sox last year.
Now 37, Phillips is well removed from his days as a stalwart performer with the Reds. He topped 120 games for the 12th straight season — and topped 140 for the 11th time in a dozen years — in a 2017 campaign split between the Braves and Angels. But Phillips didn’t sign on with the Boston organization until late last June and ultimately appeared in only nine contests at the game’s highest level last year.
Phillips didn’t exactly thrive in his brief MLB time last year, though a 27-plate-appearance sample isn’t much to go on. He was strong at Triple-A, turning in a .302/.348/.477 slash line with four home runs over 161 plate appearances. And Phillips was still capable of near-average offense in the majors in 2017, posting a .285/.319/.416 slash in 604 trips to the plate.
That ’17 effort wasn’t far off of Phillips’ career mean. Trouble is, he’s no longer an elite defender at second base. Even though UZR graded Phillips as approximately average at the position in his most recent full MLB campaign, DRS assigned a well-below-average -7 score for the second consecutive season. Phillips has also posted some notable negatives in the baserunning game, although he’s still capable of stealing a bag.
Phillips’s low-walk, high-contact skill set could still hold appeal, particularly to a team that still believes in his glovework. The grading systems were neutral to bullish on his 218 innings at third base in 2017, the first time he had ever played there in the majors. Phillips is no shrinking violet; his occasionally brash presence might not be for every team but could be seen as a bonus in the right circumstances.
It isn’t apparent what kind of opportunity Phillips is seeking. He says he’s staying in shape, but there’s no indication of his preferred timeline. Phillips showed last year that he’s willing to undertake an extended run in the minors, although he surely did so knowing there was a chance at an important role for a championship contender. Whether he’ll be able to secure such an opportunity this time around remains to be seen.
The deal Stanton signed in November 2014 with the Marlins blew away the previous MLB high-water mark by more than $50 million; the 13-year contract also set a standard for length. The first year of the deal was a disappointment for Stanton, who was limited to only 74 games due to a broken bone in his right hand. At the time of the injury in June, he had 27 home runs, four that traveled more than 460 feet.
Alex Rodriguez, $252 and $272 million (2001, 2008)
A-Rod redefined the game’s financial high-water mark not once, but twice, the first time coming when he inked a $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers in 2001. In his first year in Arlington, Rodriguez led the American League with 52 home runs and 393 total bases. He also became the third player in history with 50 homers and 200 hits in a season. He made $20 million more on his second epic deal, this time with the Yankees in 2008. That season he hit 35 home runs, scored 104 runs and led the AL with a .573 slugging percentage.
Miguel Cabrera, $247 million (2014)
On the heels of his third consecutive batting title and second straight AL MVP, Cabrera was signed by the Tigers to a $247 million extension. Although 2014 would be the only year between 2011 and 2015 that Miggy would not top the AL in batting, he still managed to hit .313, drive in more than 100 runs for the seventh consecutive year for the Tigers and lead the league with 52 doubles.
Robinson Cano, $240 million (2014)
The Mariners shocked the baseball world with the deal for Cano’s services, reaching a level the Yankees refused to go for their All-Star second baseman. In Year 1 in the Pacific Northwest, Cano made his fifth consecutive All-Star team and finished fifth in AL MVP voting. However, he posted his lowest power numbers in seven years (14 HRs, 82 RBI) because of a gastrointestinal issue that plagued him late in the year.
Albert Pujols, $240 million (2012)
Angels owner Arte Moreno stunningly lured Pujols from St. Louis with the second-largest contract in MLB history at the time. Although Pujols hit 30 home runs and 50 doubles and drove in 105 runs for the Angels in 2012, his overall performance was well short of the lofty standards he set in St. Louis. He hit at least 40 HRs six times with the Cardinals.
Joey Votto, $225 million (2012)
With an NL MVP, Gold Glove and two on-base crowns already under his belt, the Reds made Votto the highest-paid player in franchise history in April 2012. He led the NL in walks (135) and on-base percentage (.474) and had a career-best .337 batting average. Votto’s torrid 2012 season was interrupted in mid-July because of a meniscus tear in his left knee. He missed 1 1/2 months.
David Price, $217 million (2016)
At the time of his signing, Price’s deal was the richest in history by a pitcher, earning him just under $1 million per start. Although he finished with 17 wins and led the AL in innings pitched with 230, his first year in Boston was an up-and-down affair. His first-half ERA was over 4.00, and he allowed the most hits in the AL that season. His postseason struggles continued as well — he allowed five runs over 3.1 innings in an ALCS defeat.
Clayton Kershaw, $214 million (2014)
Kershaw had arguably the greatest new-money season in MLB history in 2014. The Dodgers’ lefty went 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA in a season that also included a 41-inning scoreless streak. He was a unanimous NL Cy Young Award winner and the first hurler named NL MVP since Bob Gibson in 1968.
Prince Fielder, $212 million (2012)
The Detroit Tigers surprisingly signed the slugging first baseman to a nine-year, $214 million deal. (In 2011, he carried Milwaukee to the NLCS.) In his first of two seasons in Detroit, Fielder hit a career-best .313. slugged 30 home runs, drove in 108 runs and scored 83. He also won his second All-Star Home Run Derby crown, joining Ken Griffey Jr. as the only player with multiple Derby crowns at the time.
Max Scherzer, $210 million (2015)
In his first NL season, Scherzer threw two no-hitters, becoming the sixth player to accomplish the feat twice in a season. At one point, the Nationals’ pitcher retired 52 consecutive batters. He led the league in complete games (4) and shutouts (3).
Bryce Harper took to the field as a visitor in Washington D.C. for the first time Tuesday night.
Initially, the new Philadelphia Phillies star was treated with boos from fans who had cheered him on for years . After Harper struck against Max Scherzer early on in the game, the Nationals’ Twitter account decided to troll him.
Well, Harper has had the last laugh. With his Phillies up 6-2 in the top of the eighth, Harper hit a no doubt about it 458-foot blast off Jeremy Hellickson. It was an absolute rocket. Better yet? Harper might have put up the best bat flip of his career after the moon shot.
Tuesday night at Nationals Park in D.C. was filled with petty on all sides. For his part, Harper made sure his former team knew he was going to be up for the task. Unfortunately for the home fans, that included Harper taking his frustration out on them.
Harper finished the night with three hits in five at-bats while scoring a run and knocking in three.
After a long winter, MLB Opening Day is upon us. Now that the games are here, our attention shifts from a brutally slow offseason to the season itself.
With the 2019 season set to begin, these are the top storylines to follow on Opening Day and the early months of the season.
Who will sign Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel?
Dallas Keuchel may not be the pitcher he once was, and Craig Kimbrel’s shaky postseason didn’t help his cause. Still, it’s ridiculous that these two remain unsigned. The addition of Keuchel would improve the top end of most rotations and there are few better closers in the game than Kimbrel.
How will the revamped Phillies look?
The Philadelphia Phillies were the talk of the offseason thanks to the signing of Bryce Harper and the additions of Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto and David Robertson.
On paper, Philadelphia should be one of the best teams in the National League, but it won’t be easy. The NL East is one of MLB’s best divisions, and we count nine NL teams that should be in the postseason mix. This team should play well, but nothing is guaranteed in baseball.
What does the Red Sox bullpen look like?
The defending champs have few weaknesses. The biggest concern for Boston entering 2019 is its bullpen. Red Sox relievers consistently made their fans nervous in 2018, and there are certainly more questions now on that front than before.
Kimbrel is gone (though he could still be re-signed), and last year’s bullpen stabilizer, Nathan Eovaldi, has moved to the starting rotation. Make no mistake, the Red Sox are well-positioned to make another championship run, but few things can sink a team like a bad bullpen. This will be something to watch closely in the early weeks of the season.
The encore performance of 2018’s top rookies
Shohei Ohtani, Ronald Acuna Jr., Juan Soto and Gleyber Torres turned the heads of baseball fans everywhere last year. Now it’s time for an encore.
Ohtani won’t pitch this year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, and we probably won’t see him hitting at the MLB level until May. The other three are ready to roll. They won’t catch anyone off-guard this time around, however. The scouting reports are out; now it’s time to see how last year’s rookie stars adjust.
Clayton Kershaw’s rehab and health
Kershaw will start the year on the injured list as he deals with an injury to his throwing shoulder. Any setbacks would be troubling for the 31-year-old pitcher, especially considering his recent injury history.
Unlike past seasons, the Dodgers rotation depth will allow the team to be patient with Kershaw’s recovery, but they’ll need him back healthy and pitching at a high level if this squad is finally going to get over the hump and win the World Series.
Is this Joe Maddon’s last run in Chicago?
The 2019 season is the last on Maddon’s contract with the Chicago Cubs. He’s helped the Cubs win a World Series (the first for the team in 108 years, no less) and has been to four straight postseasons.
Chicago could try to extend his contract. If not, teams around the league are going to give a long look at making room for the highly regarded manager. Chances are that Maddon’s status beyond 2019 won’t be known in the early weeks of the season, but how the Cubs perform early on can and will drive a lot of speculation.
How soon other top prospects join Eloy Jimenez in MLB
The Chicago White Sox deemed Eloy Jimenez MLB-ready right after he signed a contract extension. Whiich top-tier prospects will soon join him?
The two that come immediately to mind are Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Vladmir Guerrero Jr. (who is currently out with an injury) and San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. Others who can make a big impact include Houston’s Forrest Whitley, Colorado’s Brendan Rodgers, Toronto’s Bo Bichette and Chicago’s Dylan Cease, just to name a few. After such an impactful rookie class of 2018, we can’t wait to see what 2019’s group will offer.
Ichiro Suzuki will announce his retirement following the completion of Thursday morning’s game between the Mariners and Athletics in Tokyo, Jim Allen of the Kyodo News reports (Twitter link). Ichiro has already informed the Mariners about his decision. The 45-year-old outfielder is in Thursday’s lineup, starting in right field in the 2,653rd game of his MLB career.
The official announcement ends months of speculation that Ichiro would hang up his spikes at the conclusion of the two-game series, giving the legendary hitter the opportunity to take a final bow in his home country. Last May, Ichiro moved from the Mariners’ active roster into a front office role, and while he didn’t play again in 2018, both sides made it clear that he intended to continue his on-field career.
With these two games, Ichiro has now appeared in parts of the last 28 seasons in both Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball, completing one of the most remarkable careers in the history of the sport. Over 951 games with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan and then 2,653 games with the Mariners, Yankees and Marlins in North America, Ichiro recorded more professional hits than any player ever.
Heading into Thursday’s action, Ichiro had an incredible 4,367 career hits — 1,278 in NPB, and 3,089 in MLB, reaching the 3,000-hit club in the majors despite not playing his first North American game until he was already 27 years old.
After nine years as a star in Japan, Ichiro made a heavily-anticipated jump to the majors prior to the 2001 season after the Mariners won a posting bid to acquire his services. The transition was more than just seamless — Ichiro’s debut in the Show saw him hit .350/.381/.457 over a league-high 738 plate appearances for a 116-win Mariners team. He became just the second player to win both the Rookie Of The Year and MVP Awards in the same year, also winning the first of three Silver Slugger Awards and the first of 10 Gold Gloves.
Ichiro’s smooth left-handed hitting stroke and quick acceleration out of the box made him a threat to reach base every time he made contact. Perhaps the most notable of his many achievements was setting a new single-season hits record in 2004, as his 262 hits broke the 84-year-old mark formerly held by Hall-of-Famer George Sisler.
Ichiro’s defense and baserunning were perhaps just as impressive as his exploits at the plate. He stole a league-best 56 bases in 2001, and finished his career with 509 steals, tied for 35th-most in Major League history. As a right fielder, Ichiro unleashed a throwing arm that instantly drew comparisons to Roberto Clemente in terms of both power and accuracy.
While his skills inevitably declined with age, Ichiro did his best to stave off Father Time, playing past his 45th birthday due to a near-mythic fitness regime and nonstop preparation. This work ethic helped make Ichiro one of the most respected players of recent times, idolized by both fans and teammates alike all over the world.
We at MLB Trade Rumors congratulate Ichiro on an incredible career, and wish him all the best in his post-playing days.
Athletes in any sport wants to perform at their best the year before they’re eligible to hit free agency, and baseball players are certainly no different. This winter alone has shown how much money can be gained or lost in a contract year, with high-profile names standing out on both sides of the spectrum. Manny Machado used the best season of his career to secure a $300 million long-term guarantee from the Padres, while longtime Astros’ lefty Dallas Keuchel struggled in his walk year and finds himself still unsigned with two weeks to go until Opening Day.
Impending free agents on losing teams always deal with a degree of uneasiness around the trade deadline, when clubs hope to bring back something before letting a player leave for nothing, and it takes a certain level of professionalism to block out the noise and perform. In 2019 several players jump off the page as candidates to enjoy a big walk year. Let’s examine the list.
1. Justin Smoak 1B Toronto Blue Jays
Two years ago the switch-hitting Smoak hit .270 with 38 home runs and 90 RBI while adding 29 doubles and making the All-Star Team. Unfortunately he was unable to come close to replicating that success a year ago. In 505 at-bats, the veteran watched his stat line dip to .242 with 25 homers and 77 RBI, still a solid season but not nearly as eye-opening as his prior campaign. Entering 2019 both the Blue Jays and Smoak would benefit from a renaissance, as Toronto is exceedingly unlikely to be in the mix in a difficult AL East and would love to move him to a bat-needy team at the deadline. Smoak understands the monetary difference between his ’17 and ’18 seasons is massive.
2. Jose Abreu 1B Chicago White Sox
Abreu has spent his entire career in the Windy City after defecting from Cuba prior to the 2014 campaign, and during his first four years in the big leagues he was one of the best run producers in the entire sport. From 2014-17 the right-handed slugger hit over .290 with 25-plus homers and 100-plus RBI in each season, but last year didn’t go nearly as swimmingly. A lower abdominal injury limited the 32-year-old to a career-low 128 games, and his .265 average, 22 homers and 78 RBI were evidence of just how bothered he was by the discomfort. Now back and healthy, Abreu is a prime candidate for a huge year, as he is a proud man who fancies himself as one of the most productive hitters in the American League. A big winter payday is quite the carrot at the end of the proverbial stick.
3. Zack Wheeler SP New York Mets
After spending the majority of his career taking two steps forward and one step back, the right-hander finally arrived in a big way in 2018. In 29 starts, Wheeler dominated for much of the year, turning in a 3.31 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP in 182.1 innings while striking out 179 men and holding the opposition to just a .225 batting average. There had been some minor chatter of New York trying to extend the 28-year-old during camp, but Wheeler spoke candidly about understanding he and Gerrit Cole are the top two free agents to be starting pitchers, and it’s clear he has his eyes on the prize heading into the new season.
4. Gerrit Cole SP Houston Astros
Speaking of Cole, the former Pirates first-round pick landed in Houston as part of an offseason trade prior to last year, and while he often found himself overshadowed by teammate Justin Verlander, he was one of the best pitchers in the American League in his own right. In 32 outings the veteran turned in a 2.88 ERA with a career best 1.03 WHIP while holding the opposition to a sub .200 batting average for the first time and eclipsing the 200 innings pitched plateau for the third time in four years. His 276 strikeouts finished second to only Verlander in the AL, and the UCLA product earned a selection to his second All-Star Team. Entering 2019 Wheeler was 100 percent right that he and Cole will be the two most sought-after pitchers next winter, and provided Cole avoids serious injuries moving forward, his bank account can expect to expand by several zeroes.
5. Josh Donaldson 3B Atlanta Braves
Perhaps no offensive player is more motivated at the outset of 2019 than the 2015 AL MVP, who struggled through a miserable injury-plagued 2018 season and ultimately settled for a high value one-year, prove-it deal in Atlanta. The Braves could be getting themselves a steal as they attempt to win their second consecutive division crown, as from 2015-17 Donaldson launched 111 homers and drove in 300 runs while consistently hitting around .280 and getting on base at close to a .385 clip. Taking the pillow contract was a strategic play for the veteran, as he understood he would be overshadowed by Machado and Bryce Harper on the free-agent market this season. And if he can re-establish himself as a premier run producer in 2019, he just may break the bank next winter.
6. Scooter Gennett 2B Cincinnati Reds
In just two seasons in western Ohio, Gennett has transformed himself from a solid role player in Milwaukee to one of the best offensive second basemen in the league. Last year the 28-year-old hit .310 with 23 homers and 92 RBI while setting a new career high with a .357 OBP and eclipsing 30 doubles for the third time in his career. By all accounts the veteran is someone the Reds should want to keep around for the long haul, but in mid-February he expressed frustration over not receiving a contract extension, a potential rift to pay attention to as the summer unfolds.
7. Marcell Ozuna OF St. Louis Cardinals
When the Marlins were selling off everyone and everything that wasn’t nailed down prior to last season, the Cardinals were happy to swoop in and take the right-handed-hitting Ozuna off their hands. The Dominican Republic native had just completed a season that had watched him hit .313 with 37 homers and 124 RBI while earning a trip to his second straight All-Star Game, taking home his first Silver Slugger award and even winning his first Gold Glove. St. Louis fantasized about adding that type of production to the middle of its lineup, but unfortunately it took the veteran some time to get used to his new surroundings. When all was said and done, Ozuna’s numbers slid to .280 with 23 homers and 88 RBI, still solid but not what the Cardinals were expecting. Entering Year 2 in Missouri, this lineup is now home to slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who will take pressure off Ozuna to be the premier right-handed bat and, in theory, add a substantial amount of RBI opportunities. It should come as no surprise if the 28-year-old delivers a monster season.
Had he been healthy, Severino likely would have been New York’s Opening Day starter. In 2018, Severino posted a 3.39 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and struck out 220 batters in 191.1 innings over 32 starts.
Missing Severino at the beginning of the year will definitely hurt the Yankees, but only to a degree. Expect them to be rather cautious in bringing him along once he does return.