Five Storylines to Watch for the 2020 MLB SeasonFebruary 13, 2020
By: Dave Furtado, Baseball Analyst
Pitchers and catchers around the league are reporting to Spring Training and with that, another baseball season has begun. The past few months have been a whirlwind featuring blockbuster trades, major signings, and historic cheating scandals. Thankfully that is all in the rearview mirror and we can all focus on the product on the field. However there are several really intriguing storylines to keep an eye on as Spring Training gets going.
The Results of the MLB Investigation into the Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have had a disaster of an off-season to say the least. They had into Spring Training on the heels of a massively disappointing 2019 season in which they missed the playoffs. In addition to that they just traded superstar outfielder Mookie Betts and one of their best pitchers in David Price. The icing on the cake comes in the form of an MLB investigation into alleged sign stealing that Boston engaged in during the 2018 season, a season that concluded in a World Series Championship for the Red Sox. As a result of this investigation the Red Sox “mutually agreed to part ways” with former manager Alex Cora, who is also at the center of the cheating scandal in Houston with the Astros. The Red Sox have held off on naming a new manager until this week when they slapped the “interim manager” label on former bench coach Ron Roenicke. The intrigue with the Sox however is still the pending results of the sign stealing investigation, and with it, the official punishment for Alex Cora.
Although Cora is no longer a part of the organization the Boston fanbase still has a great deal of affection for their former skipper, and some still believe that he will return to the club following the eventual suspension that gets handed to him. With the interim label attached to Roenicke there is certainly a possibility of a potential reunion between Cora and the Red Sox, however it is unlikely at the moment. Cora is staring down at least a year long suspension, and depending on the results of the investigation into the Red Sox, it could be significantly longer. For the fans who wish to see Cora return to the team he managed to a World Series, the results of this investigation are of the utmost importance.
In addition to the official punishment for Cora, the Sox are also at risk of losing draft picks and receiving hefty fines from the league. The draft picks are the important part here for the Red Sox. The Boston farm system is flat out terrible, and losing multiple high draft picks would be almost catastrophic. At this point in time the Red Sox need to replenish their minor league system, something that new Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom specializes in, and he cannot do that if the Sox are losing draft picks as a punishment for stealing signs. There have been several reports saying that the punishment will be light, if anything at all, a good omen for Boston. However until the results come out, this will be one of the most interesting storylines to follow throughout the early stages of Spring Training.
How the Houston Astros Handle the Blowback from their Cheating Scandal
Not to continue harping on the massive sign stealing scandal that took baseball hostage this winter, but it has given us so much to talk about. Part of that discussion will undoubtedly be how the Houston Astros handle the intense media and fan scrutiny this season. Unlike the Red Sox, we know for a fact the Astros were cheating their way to a World Series in 2017, and everybody is furious about it. What is perhaps worse is the manner in which the Astros players and coaches have handled the aftermath. In the limited media availability the Astros players have had during the winter they’ve completely botched the attempt to try and save face. Only one apology has been made from a player on the 2017 Astros, that player was Marwin Gonzalez, who now plays in Minnesota for the Twins. Typically vocal and boisterous players like Alex Bregman and Justin Verlander have been utterly silent on the issue, which isn’t that shocking, but frustrating nonetheless.
As camp begins and new information continues to pour out about that 2017 Astros team, it will be interesting to see how the club handles it. They begin 2020 with a new manager in Dusty Baker, and a new General Manager in James Click making this season, for the most part, a fresh start. Of course the players will still have to deal with the increased attention and scrutiny, and watching how they react will be interesting. The players will no longer be able to dodge interviews and continue to be silent about the scandal. The questions will be constant, and they won’t slow down until some answers are given.
Fans around the league, and specifically in Los Angeles (Houston defeated the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series), will certainly be happy to see the Astros players squirm a bit as they are forced to discuss what transpired in 2017, but it’s less about the answers and more about the on field response that is intriguing. Will Houston put their collective heads down and block out the noise, or will they let sure to be massive distraction get to them and knock them off their game in the 2020 season? There is an equal chance of both happening, which is why this has become such an interesting storyline to follow as Spring Training kicks off around the league.
The “New” Jays
Finally, some actual baseball. The Toronto Blue Jays are a fascinating team to dive into as they begin Spring Training in Dunedin Florida. There are about a dozen new faces in Toronto this year, and they have the Jays looking lightyears better than they did a year ago at the same time.
The starting rotation is an area of interest with new additions Hyun-Jin Ryu, Chase Anderson, and Tanner Roark. That coupled with the return of Matt Shoemaker, who was sensational last season prior to tearing his ACL, have the Blue Jays rotation looking like a relative strength, as opposed to last season when it was laughably bad at many points. Bringing in veteran innings eaters like Roark and Anderson, and coupling that with a legitimate front line starter in Ryu should give the Jays a fighting chance in most games. The real intrigue with the pitching comes with their final rotation spot, which is currently vacant. There are several players competing for the job including young arms Ryan Borucki, Trent Thornton, and Anthony Kay, as well as Japanese right hander Shun Yamaguchi. Thornton was a mainstay in the Jays rotation last season, but was wildly inconsistent and finished with a 4.84 ERA. As for Borucki he missed most of last season with arm issues, but popped as a rookie in 2018 pitching to the tune of 3.87 ERA over 97 ⅔ innings. Kay is an interesting case, part of the return in the Marcus Stroman trade, Kay pitched well in September of the 2019 season, but it likely won’t be enough to land him the final rotation spot. Yamaguchi is a serious contender for the job, but his experience as a reliever may have him better suited for a bullpen role in 2020. Provided he’s fully healthy I’d expect Borucki to win the job, but the competition will certainly be fun to watch.
The other interesting storyline within the Blue Jays is the first full season of Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. The club played nearly .500 baseball from the time they called Bichette up to the conclusion of the season. There’s no arguing both Guerrero and Bichette are dynamic talents and could help the Jays to take that next step towards being a contender, something they are still a few years away from. However, with the organizational turmoil, and depleted roster in Boston, the door is open for Toronto to move up a spot in the AL East standings to third place. It may not sound like a big deal, but that type of improvement would be a huge confidence boost for the club, proving the rebuild is working and that they are drawing close to contention.
Can Mookie Betts and David Price put the Dodgers Over the Hump?
Now that the blockbuster trade is official, the focus will now shift to how Mookie Betts and David Price fit in with their new club. The Dodgers have made it to two of the last three World Series, but lost both times. They’ll head into 2020 with the best roster they’ve had in a long time, starting with their outfield of Joc Pederson, Cody Bellinger, and Betts. The offense will surely be dominant this season, there really isn’t any excuse not to be with the bats they have at every spot in the order.
Price will join a pitching staff that already boasts the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. He will likely slide into the third spot in the rotation, ahead of top prospect Dustin May and potentially left hander Alex Wood in the fifth spot. Although Price isn’t the Cy Young type pitcher he once was, he is still one of the better arms in the league and his arrival adds another dimension to the Dodgers staff.
The biggest question surrounding this team is a simple one, are these additions enough? The logical answer is yes of course. Two of the top ten players in the sport, and a phenomenal pitching staff, what else could you possibly need to win? Not much, but the Dodgers have wasted some excellent clubs in the last decade, so there is going to be some reason to doubt this current version. Their success will hinge on how Betts and Price settle in. Obviously the Dodgers will be a good team and in the postseason regardless, but they will only go as far as Mookie can take them.
How Good are the White Sox Going to Be
One of the clear winners of the offseason was the Chicago White Sox. They made a flurry of free agent signings, including bringing in left hander Dallas Keuchel and slugger Edwin Encarnacion among others. Chicago, who has an excellent young group of prospects beginning to populate their major league clubhouse, is beginning to buy into those young players by bringing in veterans to compliment them. This display of belief in the team is exciting for the White Sox, who haven’t been contenders in quite some time.
The pitching rotation figures to be a strength, with Keuchel likely at the top they can fill the rest out with names like Lucas Giolito, Gio Gonzalez, and flamethrower Michael Kopech, who is returning after missing all of 2019. Watching how the rotation takes shape is one of the more interesting aspects of the 2020 White Sox. They definitely have the pieces on the staff to have one of the more effective rotations in the American League, but with the mix of youth and some historically injury plagued vets there is room for things to go wrong. With that being said the rotation is really promising on paper, so there is plenty of reason for White Sox fans to be excited about it.
The White Sox are clearly intent on taking a big step forward in 2020, and there is a serious chance for them to do just that. The American League Central continues to be one of the worst divisions in baseball and the only bonafide contending team in the division is the Twins. The Cleveland Indians appear to be coming to a crossroads and could possibly blow their entire roster to bits if 2020 doesn’t get off to a hot start, which leaves the door wide open for the White Sox to be the second team in the AL Central and push for one of the two Wild Card spots in the American League. Even if Cleveland keeps it together, a healthy Chicago White Sox squad may still be better than them. Overall Chicago and how competitive they’re going to be is an incredibly interesting story to keep an eye on as Spring Training begins and through the 2020 season.