Storylines For All 30 Teams
Since it is Opening Weekend and baseball is back in full force, below are a few of the biggest storylines/things to watch for this upcoming season for each team. Hopefully, none of my takes age too poorly, but if so, whatever. What do I know? I am just a die-hard fan like many of you reading. Enjoy:
Geez, where do I start? This division is loaded and could send 4 teams to October under the new playoff system. The Rays have continued to defy the odds and win after trading away key pieces year after year. Will this continue after they recently shipped away Austin Meadows? They are still the favorites to repeat as division champions, despite the aggressive moves made by the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Baby Jays bolstered an already loaded lineup through free agency splashes and trades. They brought in Matt Chapman, one of the premier defenders in the MLB. They lost Robbie Ray, but they replaced him with Kevin Gausman and Yusei Kikuchi. In addition, their young stars like Vladdy Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, and Bo Bichette will continue their development.
The Red Sox brought in Trevor Story to solidify their infield and add a power bat to their lineup to replace Kyle Schwarber. Unfortunately, not adding any significant depth to their starting staff hurts them, especially since Chris Sale will start the season on the shelf.
Onto the Yankees. I do not know what to think about their offseason. They did not make a splash like many thought they would, opting to make moves similar to those you would expect from the Rays. They utilized their prospect depth and young talent to trade for Josh Donaldson, Isaiah Kiner-Falefa, and Ben Rortvedt. That supplements their weak infield and adds a platoon option for the catching position, which has been a troublesome spot for the Yankees since Jorge Posada retired. They did not have a sexy off-season, but they addressed their needs.
Then there are the Orioles. It is hard to say something nice about them. Not much is looking good for them, aside from their high-end prospects who will potentially be coming up to the MLB, such as Adley Rutschman and Austin Hayes.
Call me crazy, but I think this division is not as predetermined as many think. The White Sox have the best lineup in the division and one of the best bullpens in the MLB, but I am concerned with their starting staff, the area of a team that I think is most important. The loss of Lance Lynn for at least the first month of the season is huge, considering that they lost Carlos Rodon in free agency. Moving Kimbrel was a necessary evil. He is one of the best relievers in the game if he is pitching in the ninth inning. Moving him to the Dodgers for a starting-caliber outfielder made sense.
The Twins shocked the baseball world by signing number one free agent Carlos Correa to a 3-year deal out of nowhere. People forget that this team won the division in 2020. With a healthy Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa, could the Twins rekindle the spark and repeat their 2020 season?
My sleeper team, the Detroit Tigers, will be dangerous this season. Along with aggressive off-season moves, the Tigers have called up Spencer Torkelson, and Riley Greene will be called up later in the season for a playoff push. This lineup is deep, and the starting rotation has serious upside. Do not forget that this team was above .500 last season after April. They got better as the year progressed, and I expect more improvement as this season goes on.
The Kansas City Royals do not believe in tanking or service time manipulation, so that means we will be blessed to watch Bobby Witt Jr. start the year. He is the number one prospect in baseball and has generational talent, according to his scouting reports. The Royals are a strong defensive team with two gold glove outfielders. The biggest concern is whether or not they will be able to keep opposing offenses from scoring. However, Brady Singer and other young arms from their Minor League system could bolster the pitching rotation. I am not sure if they will be contenders this year, but should be a fun team to watch.
The Cleveland Guardians. Hmmm… not sure where I want to start with this club. Like the Rays, they seem to always be a competitive team despite not having the flashiest lineup. Shane Bieber will hopefully bounce back from last year's disappointing campaign and return to his 2020 form, where he won the pitching triple crown, leading the league in strikeouts, ERA, and wins. Jose Ramirez will still be his consistent, underrated self, unless the Indians trade him at the deadline. I am excited to watch Emmanuel Clase pitch. If you do not know who that is, let me inform you of the young flamethrower that had the most pitches registering at or over 100 mph last season. Hopefully, he can develop more control and become a dominant closer in the MLB.
The best team is still the Houston Astros. I am sorry Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. Forgive me. But we all know it is true, even if we won’t admit it publicly. They have a solid young rotation and a banging lineup. I am watching to see what happens with Alex Bregman. Yes, I know he was hurt last year, but he has been in a slump spanning the last two seasons. Additionally, Jeremy Pena could be a rookie sensation that no one is talking about. He is the Astros number one prospect but sits outside the top 100, according to the MLB. He raked in Spring Training to the appeal of no national commentary. Granted, it is Spring Training, but who knows? This could be foreshadowing what is to come.
Then there is “America’s Team,” the Seattle Mariners. Coming off a strong showing in 2021, the Mariners front office went out to supplement the offense while also inking Cy Young winner Robbie Ray. Now, they have one of the most complete teams in the MLB and have carved out a window to compete for a championship. I think they have the best chance to overtake Houston for the division title.
The Los Angeles Angels finally signed pitching depth. If only that were enough for them. The offense will be average to good, but the biggest storyline is whether or not the stars can stay healthy. The Angels led the division for a week last season when Mike Trout was healthy. I am excited to see what top prospects Brandon Marsh, Jo Adell, and Reid Detmers can contribute to the Halos on an everyday basis. I also want a post-season with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. I hope that this group can sneak into the postseason, but I sincerely doubt that they will be playing in October.
The Texas Rangers decided to go out and drop an additional $100 million on this season’s payroll. It is a completely different team. If they can win 75 games, I would consider all of these moves worth it because they only won 60 games in 2020. All of that is without mentioning Jack Leiter, who could be up by the All-Star break to join the 5 man rotation. They are not going to be a playoff contender this year, but they will be a competitive team within their division.
So I’m not sure what to say about the Oakland Athletics, other than I hope they can get a stadium in Oakland. I have a feeling, however, that they are going to Las Vegas once their agreement with the Coliseum expires. Other than that, I got nothing.
Heavy lies the head with the crown, the Atlanta Braves. Coming off a Cinderella season that resulted in a World Series win, the Braves have made moves to make sure that they have an opportunity to win it all again. Even with the loss of Freddie Freeman, the Braves are in an arguably better position than last year to win it all. They traded for Matt Olson, sacrificing prospect capital to bring in a top-tier 1B. Do not forget about the young starting rotation that features arms like Max Fried, Ian Anderson, and Mike Soroka. The scariest part is that Kyle Wright might also be in the mix. He is a former first-rounder who initially struggled to put it together while at the big league level. Last year, however, he dominated the minor leagues and pitched to the tune of four shutout innings in the World Series. I cannot forget to mention the legend of 27 straight curveballs, Charlie Morton, who will be back in the starting rotation to start the year. The nightshift, one of the best bullpens in baseball, looks to pick up where it left off, and the Braves are primed for even more success in 2022.
Not so fast! Uncle Steve Cohen will not be outspent, nor will he fall short on his promise to win a World Series within 5 years of taking majority ownership of the Mets. His Mets were very aggressive this offseason, bringing in Buck Showalter and Billy Eppler along with top free agents and trade targets, such as Mad Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, and Chris Bassitt. The whole lineup has been upgraded and seems to be in a position to compete with the Braves and Dodgers. The only downfall is the fragility of their starting staff. Jacob Degrom is incredible when healthy, but, for him, that is a very big “if,” unfortunately. Max Scherzer is old too; forgive me, Max. I know he is a workhorse, but I am not sure if he will be able to make 30 starts.
Close on the heels of the Mets are the Philadelphia Phillies. They may not have spent $260 million in free agency, but they made a barrage of moves that made their lineup significantly better. They brought in Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos to improve their lineup and a few relievers to strengthen the lackluster bullpen. They have the offense and starting rotation to compete within the division, but the division is very competitive, so they will not be able to beat up on bad teams like the top dogs in weak divisions.
Then we have the wildcard Marlins, who I think are a better team than they receive credit for. They have serious young pitching depth in Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Rogers, Sixto Sanchez, and Jesus Luzardo. They struggle when it comes to their hitting and relief pitching, but the front office brought in power bat Jorge Soler and gold-glove-winning catcher Jacob Stallings. Hopefully, the young talent can develop and the offense improve, leading the front office to supplement them at the trade deadline or in the next offseason. That does not change the fact, however, that the offense is still mostly lackluster as it stands. For the time being, I expect them to have incredibly different stats between hitting and pitching.
Pretty sure the only thing nice I can say about the Nationals is Juan Soto. Maybe he will continue his upward trend toward an MVP trajectory. He has incredible plate discipline and controls the strike zone unlike any other hitter currently in the MLB. After him, the lineup is just bad.
The Milwaukee Brewers, the pitching capital of the National League, will continue with one of the nastiest rotations in baseball but struggle to consistently hit and plate runs. Like most of the NL Central, the Brewers did not bring in any meaningful free agents or make any trades to supplement their needs.
The Cardinals, who were one of the hottest teams to end the season, look to build on last season’s results. They returned one of the best defenses in baseball and signed future Hall of Famer, Albert Pujols. He will be a solid DH against left-handed pitchers considering his splits. Plus it is a storybook ending for Albert, Adam Wainwright, and Yadier Molina to all retire together. In addition, young outfielders Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill will be fun to watch, since they might be the best LF and CF duo in the game. An interesting development that came out at the end of Spring Training is that Jordan Hicks would become their fifth starter. Hicks is most well-known for his 100 mph plus fastball and has had trouble staying healthy, so this move is interesting. I think this is the best team in NL Central.
For my beloved Chicago Cubs, this is a wait-and-see year. I do not think the front office knows exactly what the identity of the team is. Are Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel real deals or just flashes in the pan? There are a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to this lineup, and I think this year will be full of growing pains. They lack true pitching depth, and the bullpen is shaky, to say the least. However, bringing in Seiya Suzuki shows that they are willing to spend a little to compete. I am looking forward to watching Nico Hoerner and Nick Madrigal work together in the middle infield and batting order. Hoerner is an on-base machine. Nick Madrigal is one of the hardest batters in the MLB to strike out; I was very happy to see the Cubs land him in the Kimbrel trade. Plus, outfield prospect Brennan Davis, the MVP of the Futures Game, is expected to make his debut this year. Hopefully, the Cubs will be in contention at the trade deadline and will supplement the roster for a playoff run.
The Cincinnati Reds lost some, if not all, of their star power. Nick Castellanos left in free agency. They traded Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker, and Amir Garrett to shed payroll, but, unfortunately, they did not return much prospect capital. In terms of high-level prospects, Hunter Greene made the opening day roster and should be fun to watch, considering the young flamethrower sits close to 100 mph on his fastball. The Reds still have Jonathan India, who is on the rise, and Joey Votto is still the face of the franchise. By the end of the season, however, Votto’s current little mid-life crisis might end up being a distraction and take away from his on-field performance.
I don’t know where to start on this one … the Pittsburgh Pirates. I guess I’ll go with service time manipulation. Oneil Cruz is one of the best players in that organization, yet he is in Triple A. What an absolute joke! Ke’Bryan Hayes just received a $70 million extension, which is huge for the young stud. I think he has serious defensive upside and will challenge Nolan Arenado for the 3B gold glove in years to come. Otherwise, I hope they trade Bryan Reynolds at the trade deadline, so he can be on a competitive team.
In LA, the rich got richer. The Dodgers signed Freddie Freeman and traded for Craig Kimbrel. Their batting order is terrifying if you’re an opposing pitcher. Some baseball journalists talk about this being one of the most complete lineups of the last 20 years. I am skeptical, though. I do not think Mookie Betts is what he used to be, nor do I expect Cody Bellinger to somehow return to the dangerous power bat that won him an OROY and MVP. His dropoff has been hard to watch. At this point, his spot in the batting order is a gaping black hole. The starting staff is still elite, but will Trevor Bauer ever throw an MLB inning again? Max Scherzer is gone too. Kershaw will do Kershaw things, and Walker Buehler will continue his rise to being one of the best pitchers in the MLB. Julio Urias, a quiet 20 game-winner last season, gets overlooked but deserves to be recognized. Dustin May should be back into rotation come the trade deadline in August. They are still one of the best teams in the MLB. I expect them to win the division and make a postseason run if they can stay healthy throughout the season.
Can the Giants rekindle the magic of last season? I am skeptical, but it would not surprise me if they are trading punches with the Dodgers down the stretch. Their offensive success came from the long ball last year, as they hit more home runs than any other club. My only concern for repeating the production is that it was older players having breakout years hitting homers. Plus, Buster Posey retired, which creates a void in the catching position. Joey Bart, a high-end catching prospect, will take the lead of the staff. The Giants pitching rotation is deep. They added Alex Cobb and Carlos Rodon, who have had strong showings in spring ball. I think this team has a high ceiling but do not know if they will be able to 107 games like they did last year.
Who thought the Padres would shoot themselves in the foot before the season started? Tatis Jr. has to be the most reckless player on and off the field in the MLB. He refused to get shoulder surgery last year, and now, he is missing at least the first month or so because of multiple motorcycle accidents. I am starting to think he will be a big “what-if” guy. His power from the right side is tremendous, and he is crucial to the Padres’ offensive success. Their offense was deflated without him last year. In addition to losing him, they traded Adam Fraizer away, which I did not understand. They need on-base guys in that line up considering how much swing and miss is present. But hey, no one asked me. They have an elite pitching rotation, which I think is the best in the division. Their biggest question is whether their offense can keep up with the Dodgers and Giants
Who wants to talk about an identity crisis? Oh, wait, I mean the Colorado Rockies. One year, they sign Nolan Arenado to one of the biggest extensions in MLB history. Then they trade him two years later. They failed to trade Trevor Story and lost Jon Gray in free agency. He was the one pitcher who liked to pitch at Coors Field. Like what? How should this not be a career-long relationship? Then, out of the blue, they signed Kris Bryant and extended Ryan McMahon. What is your agenda? Are you trying to win, or are you just acting as if you gave it a good old college try? I don't know what is happening in Denver, and I am fairly certain that no one in that front office does either.
I don’t hate all bad teams. The Arizona Diamondbacks are not competitive, but it is not for a lack of effort. As a smaller market team, it is difficult for them to compete with the Dodgers, Giants, and Padres. When other teams would have gone into a tank mode, they did not. People forget that they were in the playoffs in 2017. They brought in the pitching whisper, Brent Strom, so I am looking forward to what he does with Zac Gallen. In addition, they extended Ketel Marte, who deserves every penny of his payday. He is the face of the Diamondbacks at this point. Seth Beers, one of the pieces of the Zack Grienke trade, has big upside and big-time power.