It’s pretty clear which teams can expect to be near the top of the standings in Major League Baseball and which can expect to be near the bottom. That leaves a mess of teams in the middle that may or may not be good enough to contend, but at least a few will be similar to last year’s Oakland Athletics and pleasantly surprise.
Here are seven teams that could unexpectedly make some noise in MLB this season.
7. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates quietly won 82 games a year ago, and they may be poised to do even more this season. The key will be finding out where the offense comes from; the likes of Starling Marte will have to have solid seasons for the Pirates to improve. They were helped significantly last season with the emergence of Trevor Williams as a solid starting pitcher. The addition of Chris Archer should really start to bear fruit this year, potentially leading to some improvement from the club.
Frank Robinson, a trailblazing baseball legend who is the only player ever to be named MVP in both the National and American League, has passed away at the age of 83 after a battle with bone cancer.
In addition to his successful playing career, which featured 586 home runs, a triple crown, and two World Series wins, Robinson also became the first ever black manager in Major League Baseball history when he took over as player-manager for the Cleveland Indians in 1975.
During his career, Robinson spent time with the Cincinnati Reds, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, California Angels and aforementioned Indians. He also served as manager of the San Francisco Giants, Orioles and Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals after his time in Cleveland.
A 14-time All-Star, 1956 NL Rookie of the Year, 1966 World Series MVP, and 1989 Manager of the Year, Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 alongside Hank Aaron. He has also been inducted into the Reds, Orioles and Indians Hall of Fame and had his No. 20 retired by all three clubs.
In 2005, Robinson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.
Robinson is survived by his wife, Barbara, a son and a daughter.
Gray extension with #Reds complete, per source. Three years, $30.5M, covering 2020-22. Club option for ‘23 at $12M. All salaries can grow based on numerous escalators. Plus $500K of innings pitched bonuses each year.
It sounds as though trade talks have been steadily progressing, with the Reds clearly in the lead. They’re hoping that they can help Gray rediscover the form that made him such a highly-coveted pitcher when he was with the Oakland Athletics a few seasons ago. It seems increasingly likely that the two sides will get this over the line.
Gray trade talks had quieted down a bit before a recent resurgence, with the Reds most prominently linked. A lot of teams have been involved in the discussions, but Cincinnati looks to be the frontrunners. It makes sense, as they’ve been linked to a lot of starting pitchers this offseason.
Once touted as a future star for the Oakland Athletics, a move to New York never really agreed with Gray. He’s coming off a season that saw him post a 4.90 ERA and lose his spot in the rotation, so he’ll be hoping that any trade helps revitalize a once-promising career.
The Los Angeles Dodgers were looking to clear some payroll this offseason and accomplished that goal in a major trade with the Cincinnati Reds.
The Dodgers are trading Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, $7 million, and prospect Kyle Farmer to the Reds. Homer Bailey, Josiah Gray, and Jeter Downs are among the players going back to Los Angeles, according to reports.
You’re probably thinking to yourself: Puig and Kemp were very good last season, why would the Dodgers want to trade them? The answer has to do with money and roster space.
The Dodgers had a surplus of outfielders and were unable to play all of them at the same time. They often had Kemp or another slugger like Joc Pederson on the bench during the postseason when everyone was healthy. Because Kemp ($21.75 million) and Puig (due to make around $11 million in arbitration) are making the most money, it made the most sense to trade those two and keep the much cheaper Chris Taylor, Pederson, Enrique Hernandez and Cody Bellinger, who combine to make less than Puig. All four are under team control, with only Pederson and Hernandez in their second year of arbitration.
The deal makes some sense for Cincinnati in the short-term. They get out of the money owed to Homer Bailey (around $28 million) and for around the same amount, they get a productive outfielder in Kemp. Plus they get Puig and Wood on essentially 1-year deals for a total expected to be around $20 million. This really helps add some pop to the lineup and protection for Joey Votto. But one has to wonder what their incentive is for getting rid of two prospects.
The Dodgers add quality prospects in Downs and Gray, who will help give them some future cost-controlled cheap options that have become so valuable these days.
The Cleveland Indians have received plenty of interest in their starting pitchers already this offseason, and the Cincinnati Reds are said to be among the teams who are exploring a possible deal with them.
Jon Morosi of MLB.com reports that the Reds are open to making a “blockbuster trade” with their in-state rival for either Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer, though it doesn’t sound like any real progress has been made.
#Reds are open to an intrastate blockbuster trade with #Indians for Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer, sources say, although there hasn’t been recent progress on a deal. Reds want a top pitcher and aren’t a favorite for No. 1 free agent Patrick Corbin. @MLBNetwork@MLB
We have already seen a number of significant trades this offseason, and it seems like there are a lot of teams who would prefer to trade for players under team-friendly contracts rather than spending huge in free agency. Kluber, who finished third in AL Cy Young voting this year, is owed $17 million in 2019 and has club options of $15.5 million and $16 million in 2020 and 2021. That makes him one of the better bargains in baseball, so the return for him would have to be quite impressive.
Bauer is also coming off an outstanding season in which he went 12-6 with a 2.21 ERA in 28 starts. He is five years younger than Kluber at age 27, though he’s only under team control for two more years.
The Indians have discussed trading a top starting pitcher with at least one other team, so the Reds will undoubtedly have some competition.
The Cincinnati Reds are looking to rebuild after four consecutive seasons with 68 or less wins, and they apparently feel that bolstering their starting rotation is a great place to begin.
Jon Heyman of Fancred sports reports that the Reds have been in contact with the Seattle Mariners about James Paxton, the New York Yankees about Sonny Gray and the Cleveland Indians about both Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. The main focus for Cincinnati is Paxton and Gray, according to Heyman. However, the Reds are said to be hesitant about dealing top prospects.
While Gray may be the cheapest of the aforementioned options, Jon Morosi of MLB Network notes that the Yankees could ask for Cincinnati’s top shortstop prospect in any potential trade.
As #Yankees and #Reds discuss a Sonny Gray trade, one would expect Yankees to ask for Cincinnati’s top shortstop prospect, given injury to Didi Gregorius. His name: Jeter Downs. (Alas, Jeter spent this year in the Midwest League and probably isn’t ready to fill in at @MLB level.)
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has openly admitted that the team plans to trade Gray, but that does not mean they’re going to just give him away. Gray struggled in New York, but he had a proven track record prior to that. Multiple teams are interested in adding the right-hander.
Bell, a former MLB infielder who grew up in Cincinnati, worked for four seasons as a manager in the Reds’ minor league system from 2008-2011. The 46-year-old was the vice president of player development for the San Francisco Giants for the past two seasons. His father, Buddy, is a former manager and currently works in the Reds’ front office.
The Reds’ desire to hire Girardi cannot be seen as a surprise in light of reporting on the type of manager the team is seeking to hire. It’s unclear why Girardi would back out, but it may be that he’s simply looking for a more competitive situation than Cincinnati can offer, as they look to be in the midst of a full rebuild.