So we know who won the award that really matters – that World Series trophy – let’s get a jump on the individual hardware presentations and look at the deserving American League winners.
Manager of the Year- Bob Melvin, Oakland. today might be Halloween, but the veteran manager did some real magic during the season, taking his no-name A’s from a run-of-the-mill but predictable 75 wins last year to a playoff-clinching 97 this year. Yes, starting a guy who’s been a reliever this season in the all-important Wild Card game wasn’t smart, but the award is based on the regular season…and Melvin got the proverbial 110% out of his Moneyball, Pt. II, roster.
Runner-up- Alex Cora, Boston. Again, the award is based on regular season performance not the post-season. Either way, Cora would probably be second. Certainly he had the best team in baseball this year and it took some skill to maneuver it to the World Series, but with Sale, Price, Betts, JD etc, that wasn’t magic. Increasing the win tally by 15 from last year and earning respect of a big-money crew while a rookie “skip”… that just might be.
Rookie of the Year – we need the wisdom of Solomon to decide this one. Best position player vs best pitcher vs guy who’s not best but is good at both and has the highest upside. My choice – Miguel Andujar, New York. The 23 year-old played in a tough market all season long and was the best rookie hitter in baseball, NL pick Ronald Acuna notwithstanding. .297, 27 HR, 92 RBI, a solid .855 OPS. He tied Mookie Betts for second in doubles among all players (47) and led rookies in homers, RBI and hits. Granted his defence has pundits wondering if the Yankees won’t bring in Manny Machado and find somewhere less challenging for Miguel, which might be a decent idea. In 136 games at the hot corner, he had a lacklustre .948 fielding percentage,limited range, 15 errors and had a hand in only 6 double plays. compare that to savvy veteran Mike Moustakas, for instance, who had a .966 fielding percentage in 128 games, started 32 DPs and averaged about a chance a game more . But that doesn’t diminish Andujar’s hitting prowess and ability to stay in the lineup.
Runner-up: tie. Shohei Ohtani, L.A. Anaheim, and Ryan Yarbrough, Tampa Bay. Yarbrough could have probably been the best rookie starting pitcher this year, were it not for Tampa’s odd managing tactics and dislike of “Starters”. As it were, the lefty functioned as a “pseudo-starter”, pitching 38 games, 6 of which he began, and lasting 147 innings. He led all rookies with 16 wins, going 16-6, with a decent 3.91 ERA pitching against the hard-hitting AL east. All that from a 26 year old with an 89 mph fastball (his best pitch, according to MLB a sinker) who somehow wasn’t even on the radar before spring training despite being better-than-adequate (13-6) last year in AAA.
Ohtani, of course, is the guy baseball so wants to be Superman. What better than a multi-tasking young Asian to sell the game to Generation Z? And, all in all, Ohtani showed he was up to the task- when healthy. the first real two-way player since the Babe, he was a good pitcher (4-2 , 3.31 in 10 starts with 63K in about 51 innings, even though batters skied the ball off him, with about 1.4 flyballs for every grounder) and a good hitter too (.285, 22 HR, 61 RBI, .361 on base, in 326 AB). But he was limited to DH, despite his stated preference of having some games in the outfield. And of course, his elbow woes put him on the shelf for most of June and limited him to just two appearances on the mound after May. Sure if he was healthy, he might have won15, struck out 250, and hit 30 homers to boot… but he wasn’t and neat as it was, 4 wins, 10 starts and a decent showing as a DH in about half his team’s games isn’t quite trophy-worthy.
Next- we take on the Cy and the MVP.
Well on Day 2 of the season, we’ll shift our gaze westwards and look at the American League’s Central and West divisions.
The long and short of it, the way I see it:
Cleveland 97 65 —
Minnesota 86 76 -11
Chicago 70 92 -27
Kansas City 69 93 -28
Detroit 66 96 -31
Houston 99 63 —
Seattle 84 78 -15
L.A.Anaheim84 78 -15
Texas 75 87 -24
Oakland 69 93 -30
The skinny: Cleveland could actually over-achieve this year, with a schedule thick on weak opponents. Their top of rotation 1-2 of Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco is as good as any in the league and the rest of the rote is better than most as well. Francisco Lindor is quickly becoming recognized as up there with Jose Altuve as the best all-around player in the league; third baseman Jose Ramirez might join the ranks this year . He’s 25 and over past 3 seasons his average has gone .219/.312/.318 and his slugging percentage, from a dismal .340 to a rather stellar .583. A bounceback year from Jason Kipnis wouldn’t be surprising, after missing nearly half of last year with injuries. But, as much as I like EE, I think Encarnacion is following his buddy Jose Bautista on the downward slope.I’ll be surprised if he hits .250 or 32 homers this year.
Minnesota were the surprise of ’17, and congrats to Paul Molitor for turning the team around. The addition of Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi to the rotation improves the team, and I’m not alone in thinking Byron Buxton is about to become the superstar everyone projected him as a few years back. Still, Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier have seen better years, the bottom of the rotation is shaky and Fernando Rodney was a risk as a closer back when he was in his prime- which was long ago. They’re not quite there yet, but are a team going in the right direction.
Likewise, the White Sox. Yoan Moncada signals a movement towards good young players, catcher Wellington Castillo was a great addition at, and behind,the plate but there are a lot of holes to be filled. Six years back, I would’ve liked James Shields as the Opening Day pitcher. By now I’d be wary of having him on the roster, let alone the “Ace.”
Heading in the opposite direction, KC. Little remains of their 2015 championship team, and the parts that are there (like Kevin Herrera) are largely on the downward slope. Mike Moustakas is back, of course, and probably disgruntled. I expect him to be moved on elsewhere by the end of July.It’s gonna be a long ninth season on the bench for Ned Yost.
The best new addition to the Tigers is aging manager Ron Gardenhire. No Justin Verlander, no Ian Kinsler. Miggy’s still there, but the future Hall of famer is a very old 34 as he heads into his 16th season. His .249 average and .399 slugging last year were career lows – they’re not going to go up anytime soon (but he doubtless ads a maturity to the young clubhouse.) The Blue Jays look pretty smart with the David Price trade of ’15… neither Daniel Norris nor Matt Boyd look like they’re amounting to much so far but both are in the rotation.
Westwards, hello Harris County! The reigning World Champions look like World Champion repeaters on paper at least. They’ll have timeless workhorse Justin Verlander for the whole season, added a rising star in Gerritt Cole and already had a good rotation. Brad Peacock is bumped to the bullpen, which shows how strong the pitching is. Then there’s multi-time batting champ Jose Altuve, and the likes of Carlos Correa (23) and Alex Bregman (24) who are young still and improving, believe it or not. Even Yuli Gurriel, 33, is possibly not at his peak , given that he’s only had two MLB seasons behind him. The only reason I project Houston to win “just”99 is the possibility of a bit of complacency setting in, or injuries.
Seattle have in recent years always seemed better on paper than on the field, which is why I don’t see them hitting the post-season in 2018. A big comeback from 3B Kyle Seager and one-time superstar “King Felix” could change that. Canadian James Paxton could take over the Hernandez “crown” as king of the mound, if he can stay healthy all year and go past 180 innings.
The Angels may be the most interesting team to watch this year, with their additions and of course, the Japanese sensation, Shohei Ohtani. He’s really the key to the team’s success. He can throw very hard (past 100mph) but was hit hard in spring and may not be just a hurler rather than a real “pitcher” at his young age. Will the power hitters catch up to his speed ? We’ll have to watch and see. Even more of a question, can he hit? Spring training suggested “No”, but he did score a single in the opener. If he’s a flop at the plate, the Angels are in a hard place. He picked their team essentially on a promise of being a regular DH, but what happens if his bat costs them games? There are other problems Anaheim way anyway; although they should score runs, they’ll give up plenty too. whether they opt for a normal 5-man rotation or a new 6-man, the pitching is mediocre at best.
Texas do things big,and with the likes of Nomar Mazara, Adrian Beltre and Joey Gallo, they’ll hit a lot of big flies. But the fielding looks questionable and beyond Cole Hamels…there’s a whole lot of “ifs” on their mound. “If” Mike Minor can come back from all those surgeries, “if” Martin Perez can become more consistent, “if” Tim Lincecum can return to 2011 form (the last time he had an ERA below 4 or limited runners to less than 1.25 per inning) and convert to the bullpen, maybe they won’t be so bad.
Little hope of that inOakland. Jonathan Lucroy was a great addition both in his veteran stature and as an above-average catcher but there’s not a whole lot there to turn one’s head. Not a terrible team, but one that doesn’t stand out in any way at all.
So, later this weekend we’ll look to what we Jays fans care about- the AL East!
Well, no Shohei Otani in Toronto blue and no surprise. After all, while I’m sure Ross Atkins et al made a pitch to the Japanese phenom, I doubt anyone really expected him to pick the Jays for his North American landing spot. After all, Ohtani, arguably the most in-demand player on this year’s free agent market, had his choice of team to play with. Given the current rules and limits to initial salaries for international free agents such as himself, it’s likely all 30 teams (or at least 29 if MLB’s punishment of the Braves for John Coppolella’s violations prevented them from making an offer) made a pitch for the young pitcher/left-handed DH. It wasn’t realistic to expect he’d opt for Toronto.
After all, the blue Jays had less money to offer than several other teams including the Yankees and Rangers, so if money was going to be a determining factor, Toronto was at a disadvantage. Although all signs pointed to the idea that Shohei was motivated by proving himself here and looking at the long-range rather than by high money in 2018 anyway. Which also would lead him elsewhere.
Toronto could boast of the Rogers Centre and artificial turf which perhaps might remind him a bit of the Sapporo Dome he was used to calling home in Japan, but that’s about it. Like it or not, people growing up in Asia fascinated by America and baseball are probably drawn to New York, the biggest city, home to the biggest names in the game’s history- Ruth, Dimaggio, “Mr. October”. Not to Canada; although neither would they gravitate towards places like San Diego or Tampa either if that’s a consolation.
Or, they are of Otani’s age and probably grew up idolizing Ichiro and watching games from Seattle streamed across the sea. Given that team’s popularity in Japan, and the success Ichiro (and to a lesser extent Hisashi Iwakuma) had there, I fully expected the Puget Sound area to be his preferred site. Right coast, wrong end of it.
Toronto fans shouldn’t feel bad about not signing him. I look at it as a positive. First and foremost, I’m a baseball fan. I love the game and want it to prosper. And while I was disappointed at Toronto’s 2017, it was still enjoyable to watch the playoffs and see players like Jose Altuve go for the glory. I’m excited to see what this kid can do. He may not be Cy Young material, or batting title material, but how cool will it be to see how good a hitter a pitcher can be ? Even if he goes , say 13-9 with a 3.60 ERA and then hits .275 with 15 or so homers, that’s a story. That’s a game-changer, literally! If he can do better than that, for a few years, comparisons to Babe Ruth may not be far off.
And this is good for baseball. Ohtani will bring new interest to the game at home and overseas. Old fans will be more interested and new fans will be made. No less important, he adds a new spark to a relatively moribund franchise. The Angels will demand watching again and may be more competitive after spending this decade without a post-season win so far. This too helps baseball, even Toronto. One can only imagine that it will be much easier for Rogers to sell tickets to games with LA-Anaheim coming in than it was before. Attendance will rise and one can predict that, coupled with Mike Trout there, the Angels will be one of the better draws on the road . All teams benefit from that.
A rising tide lifts all ships. Baseball’s latest high tide just rolled in from Nippon. Welcome to the bigtime, Shohei!