We are not going to know for a long time when the baseball season is going to start — if ever. Amid some predictions the country could still be in the grips of the coronavirus into midsummer, we cannot rule out the possibility there may be no baseball season at all this year.
If that turns out to be case, then what?
Believe it or not, there are some clubs that probably wouldn't mind if 2020 came and went without having to put their teams on the field. Teams like the Yankees, who paid $324 million to one pitcher alone to assure themselves a World Series, and the Dodgers, who added free agent-to-be Mookie Betts to a team that won 106 games last year, were heavily invested in the 2020 season. Those teams in no way want to see it get banged.
The Braves, Nationals and Mets were looking forward to battling it out in the most competitive division in baseball. The White Sox were eager to display their rookie wunderkind center fielder, Luis Robert, and the Cardinals always contend for the most fervid fan base in the sport. They were all looking forward to this season.
But because there is still so much competitive imbalance in baseball, there are far more teams — the Red Sox, Orioles, Rockies, Giants, Pirates and Marlins to name a few — that could just as well do without a season. They had no chance of contending, and attendance was likely to hemorrhage. And then there are the Astros, who took a beating from the fans all spring and for sure had to welcome the abrupt cancellation of spring training.
Taking them one at a time:
It was a brutal spring for the cheating Astros. Everywhere they went they were booed lustily, especially Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, who heard it even in their home ballpark in West Palm Beach. Dusty Baker, the resident Astros caretaker, confided to me his genuine surprise at the overall anger at his team. Presumably, a year from now, after the nation has endured the horror of this coronavirus, the Astros cheating scandal will be last thing on fans' minds.
San Francisco Giants
A veteran baseball man who saw a lot of the Giants this spring and labeled them by far the worst team in the Cactus League, had this observation: "How do you trade Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy, who won three world championships and are both going to the Hall of Fame, for Farhan Zaidi and Gabe Kapler? That's like trading Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio!"
Zaidi, the consummate analytics man, hired Kapler, a dismal failure in Philadelphia, because he was familiar with him and wanted to get away from "old school" types like Bochy. But he's sure gotten him plenty of help. The Giants have 13 coaches this year! How do you need 13 coaches? Having decided to let their lone gate attraction, Madison Bumgarner, go, they were looking at a lot more than 85 losses in 2020. Said the same baseball man: "What the Giants really need is 13 players!"
Boston Red Sox
Have to think nobody in baseball is more relieved to see the season delayed than Sox owner John Henry, who was dreading having to hear the Boston media and Fenway fans wailing and moaning every day the Red Sox lost and Betts did something to win a game for the Dodgers.
In that respect, the second-most relieved person in Boston was Alex Verdugo, who, a year from now, may be forgotten as the principal return from the Dodgers for Betts. Henry refused to admit the Red Sox are downsizing, but believe it, they were looking at a losing season even before Sale went down with Tommy John surgery. At least now, they might get him back some time next year.
It was entirely possible the worst-run team in baseball could have actually surpassed the 108 losses they endured last season. Their best player, Trey Mancini, underwent colon cancer surgery two weeks ago and there was no indication as to when he would be able to play again. Their other best player last year, Jonathan Villar, was traded to the Marlins for a low-A non-prospect pitcher in a salary dump.
The GM, Mike Elias, who was Jeff Luhnow's right-hand man in Houston and right in the middle of the cheating scandal but never charged, is way over his shoes. One of the new minor league coaches he hired reportedly had to be moved to the sidelines in spring training, when he couldn't hit fungoes and, in attempting to throw batting practice, threw a bunch of pitches in the dirt before hitting the batter in the head. Ah, those analytics guys who never played the game. But at least there was that spirited competition in which the analytical hitting coaches were rewarding the hitters who hit the highest pop-ups. Ah, those uppercut swings.
San Diego Padres
There is perhaps no more endangered GM in baseball than A.J. Preller, who heard it from Padres chairman Ron Fowler after last year's 70-92 last-place finish that another losing season in San Diego would not be acceptable. Preller responded by firing Andy Green, a terrible choice as manager, and replaced him with another unknown with no major league experience, Jayce Tingler. The Padres finished 27th in the majors in runs last year and Preller was hoping for significant improvement there with his trade acquisitions of center fielder Trent Grisham (who hit only .231 with 24 RBI in 156 at-bats with the Brewers last year) and Tommy Pham from the Rays, plus a full year from Fernando Tatis Jr. But after just one season, the Padres are realizing the foolhardiness of giving Manny Machado $300 million. Their only hope of getting over .500 for the first time since 2010 is all those games in their division against the moribund Giants and Rockies.
After a totally dysfunctional offseason in which they couldn't figure out in which order to fire their team president, general manager and manager, the Pirates found themselves this spring with a team that was guaranteed to finish last in the NL Central and almost certain to lose 100 games. The only significant off-season acquisition (if you could call it that) by new GM Ben Cherington was outfielder Guillermo Heredia, who hit .225 with 20 RBIs and 60 strikeouts in 89 games with Tampa Bay.
It would seem Cherington, who didn't get hired until November, and his new manager Derek Shelton, were content to use this season to see what they had and then start the rebuilding process next year. In any case, it's going to take a long time for the Pirates to recover from previous GM Neal Huntington's disastrous trade of Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow to the Rays for Chris Archer.
The day before Rob Manfred pulled the plug on spring training, a Marlins scout said to me: "I just hope they'll give us one more year of patience." He was referring to Marlins CEO Derek Jeter's second annual decree that he needs to see improvement this year. Jeter said the same thing last year and the Marlins responded by going from 63-98 to 57-105. Even though they finally added a little payroll by acquiring Villar from the Orioles and signing much-traveled outfielder Corey Dickerson as a free agent, the Marlins have almost no pitching and were once again certain to finish last in the highly competitive NL East, with the lowest attendance in baseball again.
What was shaping up as the summer of discontent for Rockies superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado now at least gives the team more time to trade him. Then he won't have to be part of an even worse season than last year's 71-91 campaign.
Not only did the Rockies fail to trade the disgruntled Arenado, they did absolutely nothing to improve the team over the winter. Only Elias' awful Orioles (5.59 to 5.56) had a worse ERA than the Rockies pitching staff last year. So owner Dick Monfort, who is more interested in spearheading the movement to eliminate 42 minor league teams, was already telling their fans not to bother coming out this season.