Takeaways from the 2016 MLB Winter Meetings

Aside from the mid-season trade deadline that sees numerous players changing squads with the hopes that they might be the final piece needed to push any given team into the postseason, the Winter Meetings are the busiest time of year for trades and signings to take place around Major League Baseball. mlb

In the past, some of baseball’s biggest deals have taken place during the Winter Meetings (it was the 2007 meetings when the Tigers picked up Miguel Cabrera). But while the 2016 Winter Meetings that took place in National Harbor, Maryland, didn’t have nearly as much action as some of the previous ones, there were still some huge transactions that will vastly affect teams when the 2017 season begins.

Following the signings of big-time free agents Yoenis Cespedes and Carlos Beltran over the past couple of weeks, the Winter Meetings began on Sunday evening, with many rumors swirling around as to what would take place over the course of the five day event. But over time, as always, fact was quickly distinguished from rumor.

Things kicked off with the signing of Matt Holliday by the New York Yankees on a one-year, 13 million dollar deal. While the acquisition doesn’t immediately jump off the page as all that great, it’s still an impactful one. The seven-time All-Star can play a variety of positions, and can still hit with the best of them, knocking 20 homers in 2016.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia PhilliesOn the opposite side of the spectrum is Mark Melancon, who is one of the best at limiting homers, giving up just three total over the course of 71.1 innings last season. For his efforts, Melancon was grabbed by the Giants for the next four years at a price tag of 62 million. After saving 88 games over the last two years, Melancon certainly earned it, and San Francisco appears to have found their closer.

It also appears that Melancon will come in handy for the Giants, as their long-time rivals, the Dodgers, were successful in resigning Rich Hill on a three-year, 48 million dollar deal. After being virtually on his way out of the sport at one point, Hill posted a 2.12 ERA last season, and would likely be the Dodgers’ ace if not for Clayton Kershaw. Still, he sits as one of the best pitchers in the game.

Offensively, it became apparent that the Blue Jays were looking into other options other than Edwin Encarnacion following their signing of Kendrys Morales a few weeks ago, but it became even more so with the addition of Steve Pearce for 12.5 over the next two years. Pearce doesn’t have nearly the power of some players, but his bat is still one that can impact any given game, despite not being a huge move.

However, just as it seemed that the Winter Meeting were going to be a bit slow, with just a few above average deals, the Red Sox decided to take things up a notch. Following a trade for reliever Tyler Thornburg from the Brewers in exchange for Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington, Boston made the biggest splash of the offseason to this point.

Reaching deep into their farm system, the Red Sox sent away highly coveted prospects saleYoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, along with Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz, in return for Chris Sale. If Sale can keep up his dominance that’s made him one of the best pitchers in baseball, the Red Sox could win the division with ease in 2017. But as has been seen in the past, baseball is extremely unpredictable.

Nearly as uncertain is a player’s health from any given season to the next, and Wilson Ramos is a prime example of that. After beginning 2016 on a tear, Ramos suffered a season-ending injury this past season, but hopes to be ready to go sometime around the middle of 2017. Whenever he arrives with the Rays, who signed him to a two-year, 12.5 million (18.5 with incentives) dollar deal, he’s sure to make his presence known.

Wade Davis is also sure to make a big difference for the Cubs, as if they needed any more help. After winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years this season, Chicago picked up lockdown reliever Wade Davis from the Royals in a trade that sent Jorge Soler to the Royals. With Aroldis Chapman winding up with a team away from Chicago as the Winter Meetings progressed, Davis could come up big in 2017.

But while teams such as the Red Sox and Cubs were focused on rebuilding their major league lineup, there were those like the White Sox who made huge improvements to their farm system. After receiving quite the hall from the Red Sox in the Chris Sale deal, the Sox proceeded to pick up Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning from the Nationals, losing just Adam Eaton in the swap.

Many see this as a vastly one-sided deal, with the Nationals getting the short end of the stick. But after losing out on Chris Sale and Mark Melancon, the Nationals were undoubtedly looking to add an impact piece and were all in to get Adam Eaton. They may regret it in the short term, but in the long term things may work out in their favor.

desmondOne player who didn’t have things work out quite the way he had been hoping was Ian Desmond, who agreed to a five-year, 70 million dollar contract to play in Denver. After struggling mightily in 2015, following a turndown of a 7-year, 102 million dollar offer from the Nationals in 2014, Demsond really broke out again in 2016 with the Rangers.

The Rockies could use some offense (among other things), and Desmond adds a big piece to their improving lineup, despite not getting the contract he could have received just a few seasons ago.

The final big transaction made on the final day of the Winter Meetings saw Aroldis Chapman going back to the Yankees for five years and 86 million dollars. Coming off his help with the Cubs in their World Series title quest in this season, Chapman has long been known as a devastating pitcher, with his 102+ mile per hour fastball. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees fare in 2017 in what has become a competitive division, but with Chapman locking down the ninth, anything is truly possible.

But while some teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox left the Winter Meetings with their teams very different from when things began, with others doing hardly anything at all to improve their club, it’s important to keep in mind that there are still over 16 weeks left until the 2017 season begins.

The shaking up of teams this offseason could possibly be far from over.

2016 MLB Postseason Predictions

For the fifth straight season, I made preseason predictions as to how I felt each division would play out, and for the fifth straight season I was extremely far off. For one reason or another, I’m not very good at making division predictions before a given season begins.

This year, though, I hope to finally correctly predict how the postseason will play out. While I’ll likely be off, either by a little or a lot, it’s always fun to make predictions. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and have a perfect prediction of how the postseason will unfold. You never can tell what may happen in October.

WILD CARD GAMES (AL October 4th & NL October 5th)

American League: Blue Jays Vs. Orioles

Winner: Orioles

This is sure to be a great game between two great teams, and although it will be played up in Toronto, with the Blue Jays having home-field advantage, I think the Orioles will be able to prevail. The key reason behind that logic lies with Zach Britton, who can almost guarantee a win, should the Orioles be holding the lead heading into the ninth. With the Orioles having hit the most homers in all of baseball this season, they should be able to put together enough runs to pull out the victory, despite having to face Toronto’s Marcus Stroman.

National League: Mets Vs. Giants

Winner: Mets

I realize it’s an even number year, and therefore the Giants should be all but guaranteed to win the entire World Series — they won in 2010, 2012 and 2014 — but I don’t even see them making it past the Wild Card game. Yes, the Giants’ starter, Madison Bumgarner, had a stupendously great year, but the Mets have a Cy Young candidate of their own on the bump, in the form of Noah Syndergaard. With this sure to be a pitcher’s duel, one run very well could be the difference, with the Mets’ lineup simply having more thump than that of the Giants.

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (Begins October 6th)

Indians Vs. Red Sox

Winner: Red Sox

I’ve been betting against the Indians all season long, so I’m a bit hesitant to go against them after they had the season they did. But although I don’t think this will be an easy task by any means for the Red Sox, I see them overtaking the Indians, especially with the injuries Cleveland began experiencing towards the end of the regular season. Without the full health of their rotation, I don’t see the Indians overtaking Boston. For that reason, when all is said and done, the Red Sox should be the team moving on to the ALCS.

Rangers Vs. Orioles

Winner: Orioles

This is by far the most difficult decision I had to make to this point in the post, as both teams have very even rosters from top to bottom, and each have had rotations that have struggled at times. But despite all of that, the Orioles seem to be a bit better set up for a postseason push than the Rangers do. Having likely just won the Wild Card game in my mind against the Blue Jays, I feel that Texas won’t be able to withstand the momentum of the hard-hitting and hard-throwing Orioles for the full length of the series.

NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (Begins October 7th)

Nationals Vs. Dodgers

Winner: Nationals

After several disappointing seasons in which many people envisioned great things for the Nationals only to watch them fall apart during or even before the playoffs, this is the year for the Nationals to finally win a few playoff games, in my opinion. Although they have a great deal of injuries, including those to several All-Star players, I don’t think the Dodgers will be able to compete with Washington when all is said and done, even with the best starting pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, leading their staff.

Cubs Vs. Mets

Winner: Cubs

2016 is finally the year of the Cubs — or at least that’s what ninety-nine percent of the baseball world is happily telling themselves. Following a century-long drought of a World Series title, the Cubs seemingly have no holes whatsoever in their entire roster. Even though there’s a long way to go before the end of the postseason (they need to win eleven games to take home the Championship), there are still a lot of reasons to like the Cubs. I really don’t think this will be that competitive of a series, with the Mets lacking the all-around talent that the Cubs have.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (Begins October 14th)

Orioles Vs. Red Sox

Winner: Red Sox

This will wind up being the end of the line for the Orioles as far as I’m seeing things now. If in fact they are taking on the Red Sox in the ALCS, I don’t think the Orioles will be able to beat them in the end. Even so, this series could wind up going to a sixth or possibly even seventh deciding game. It would truly be one of the best postseason series we’ve seen in quite a while, especially with it being the final season for David Ortiz. What each team lacks in pitching dominance, they more than make up for in power hitting, which could make this a back-and-forth series.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (Begins October 15th)

Nationals Vs. Cubs

Winner: Cubs

If the Nationals manage to make it this far into the playoffs, it will include a small amount of luck, and I simply don’t think they will be able to defeat the powerhouse Cubs. As I’ve already stated, the Cubbies are one of the best all-around teams we’ve seen in quite some time, and the Nationals don’t seem to have what it takes to take down a team such as Chicago. With that said, I still think it would end up being an exciting matchup, just not quite as good as the ALCS would be. But then again, it’s October baseball, where the impossible happens on a regular basis.

WORLD SERIES (Begins October 25th)

Red Sox Vs. Cubs

Winner: Cubs

What a World Series matchup this would be, between two great teams and taking place at two 100-year-old ballparks. With the Cubs looking to end their historical 108-year losing streak, and the Red Sox looking to send David Ortiz off into the sunset with style, neither team would want to give an inch in this series. I could easily see this matchup taking six or seven games to decide, with the Cubs ultimately just beating out the Red Sox. Thus, after nearly eleven decades without a World Title, I’m predicting this to finally be the year the Cubs win the World Series.

Red Sox Claim Last Remaining Division Title Spot

Despite losing to the Yankees on Wednesday night via a Mark Teixeira walk-off grand slam, the Red Sox still managed to pick up a major victory. With the Orioles defeating the Blue Jays, Boston has now officially snatched up the final division title slot remaining in baseball, leaving just the Wild Card spots to be decided.MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox

Joining the Indians, Rangers, Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers as the other divisional winners from around baseball, the Red Sox have had a somewhat unpredicted fantastic season. Following a last-place finish in the American League East just a year ago, the Red Sox stormed back to take the division crown once again in 2016, picking up a whopping 14 more wins thus far than last year.

One of the most remarkable things about Boston’s ability to take the division title is their doing so within a division that has once again emerged as one of the best in all of baseball — every team except the Rays have been in the postseason race all season long — in addition to having a multitude of injuries and underperformances (namely, David Price) throughout the year.

With all of the top spots in all six divisions out of reach for the other twenty-four teams in baseball, there now remains just six teams still mathematically in contention for one of the two Wild Card spots in the American League, with three doing the same in the National League. Having four games remaining in the season (the days until the postseason can now be counted on one hand), it should be fun to watch how things unfold.

As great as the regular season has been, the best is inevitably yet to come.

Danny Espinosa Continuing to Stay Red Hot for Nats

When the Nationals lost their star shortstop, Ian Desmond, this past offseason to the Rangers, the plan in the minds of many was for them to place their star prospect, Trea Turner, right into that role from Opening Day this year to see him perform. However, Turner was instead sent to Triple-A, with Danny Espinosa getting the nod in place of Turner.Nats

That would turn out to pay off big for the Nationals.

Although Espinosa is hitting just .241 on the year, he has already recorded 18 homers — just three shy of his career-high of 21, back in 2011 — with over two months still remaining in the season. But what Espinosa has been doing as of late has been even more impressive.

Over the course of his last four games, Espinosa has notched 5 homers and 15 RBI’s, all while playing good defense, and proving himself more than capable of maintaining the shortstop role for the foreseeable future.

But while that’s good news for Espinosa as well as the Nationals, who have won 7 of their last 10 and are 17 games over .500 with a comfortable lead over the second-place Mets, it’s not so good news for Trea Turner.

Despite hitting .299 with 5 homers and 32 RBI’s, including 22 stolen bases to boot, this season in the minors, Turner has only played in two games at the big league level in 2016, going 3-3 in his time up. But with Espinosa playing so well, Turner’s path is blocked.

To solve this, the idea presented by many around the baseball world has been to move Turner into the outfield, where the Nationals could use some help in center. In recent games, the Nationals have been attempting just that, playing Turner in center field at Triple-A; looking to give him a path to Ben Revere’s spot, where despite going 4-5 in a game recently, Revere is hitting just .215 on the year.

Turner would obviously be an improvement.

In the end, although Trea Turner was projected to be the next big thing at shortstop, you simply can’t replace Espinosa who is tearing the cover off the ball this season. But on the flip side, it’s also not fair to Turner to leave him down in Triple-A, where he is doing his fair share of raking.

The Nationals certainly have a predicament on their hands.

But I’ve never heard a team complain about having too much talent.

Asdrubal Cabrera Proving His Value With the Mets

In each of the past two games, Asdrubal Cabrera has hit a home run, going 2-3 with a homer and a walk on Wednesday afternoon, in addition to producing some amazing defensive plays in the field. Although he isn’t seen as the star player he used to be by the majority of baseball fans, Cabrera is still an extremely valuable part of the Mets.

Back in 2011, Cabrera had the best season of his career, hitting 25 home runs, with 92 RBI’s and recording a .273 average, all while playing a terrific defensive shortstop. In the years since, Cabrera hasn’t had numbers anywhere near those, but he’s been consistently good, nonetheless. Cabrera

The Mets have been the beneficiaries of Cabrera’s contributions this season. After spending time with the Nationals and Rays over the past couple of seasons, Cabrera is manning the shortstop role for the Mets and is proving to be a great pickup for them.

In 70 games, Cabrera is hitting .270 with 8 homers and 24 RBI’s, but his glove work has been the most impressive. Although Cabrera won’t go down in baseball history as an all-time great shortstop, he is somewhat overlooked, in my opinion, as one of the truly best defensive infielders in the game today.

Cabrera makes nearly every play, even when the plays call for him to range a long way in one direction or another. He is one of those players who goes about his job smoothly day in and day out, making him blend in to a degree. But if you take the time to watch Cabrera on a daily basis, you can easily see the little things make him stand out in a big way.

While the Mets have some work to do in order to chase down the Nationals who have so far been the team that was expected from them last year, they still have a good enough team to make a run at the playoffs as the season progresses. Although not the most talented player on the team, Asdrubal Cabrera is helping keep the Mets in contention.

Decision of Yoenis Cespedes Could Decide the NL East

After watching the majority of above average outfield free agents get plucked off the market over the course of this offseason (the most recent case being Justin Upton, who agreed to a six-year, 132.75 million dollar contract with the Tigers), Yoenis Cespedes is currently in the process of determining his fate for the 2016 season and beyond.Cespedes

Reportedly, the two teams most in the running to nab Cespedes are the New York Mets and the division rival Washington Nationals (though the Yankees have been mentioned as well).

As with every team around baseball, either team would be a better version of itself with Cespedes as part of their everyday lineup in 2016, but in this case I think the choice could wind up being more important than usual. With the Mets and Nationals going back and forth in the division last season, all the way until the latter part of the year, I truly believe that the team that gets Cespedes will be the team that holds the advantage to win the National League East division.

Back on July 31st of last year, the National held a two game lead over the Mets and were seemingly on their way to the postseason as had been expected from Opening Day. But a trade for Yoenis Cespedes by the Mets ultimately gave them what they needed to surpass the Nationals and never look back.

In 57 games with the Mets, Cespedes blasted 17 home runs and drove in 44 runs, all while hitting a cool .287. With Cespedes leading the way, New York wound up taking what was supposed to be an easy division win by the Nats and turning it a complete 180 degrees into a cakewalk division win by the Mets — an outcome that truly stunned many around the baseball world.

Sure, the Mets had a lot go right last season, and the Nationals had almost everything go wrong, but you can’t deny the impact that the lone presence of Cespedes brought to the Mets.

With the Phillies still seemingly lost heading into 2016, NLEastthe Braves working on rebuilding their club and the Marlins being much improved but still likely a third place team at best, the division will inevitably go to either the Nationals or the Mets.

On paper, the two teams are quite even. While I would give the edge to the Mets in terms of pitching staff (with guys like Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard), I would declare the Nationals the better lineup, with tons of pop including the 2015 National League Most Valuable Player, Bryce Harper, who hit 42 home runs and batted .330 a year ago. The difference maker, in my mind, for both teams comes down to one free agent: Yoenis Cespedes.

With the National League East division set to be just as competitive as ever between the Mets and the Nationals, whoever can win the Cespedes sweepstakes (given the reports are correct, and he does end up with one of the two) will hold the upper hand heading into 2016 to win the division. As history has shown since the introduction of the second wild card in 2012, winning the division is extremely important in securing a long playoff run in October.

Time to Panic In D.C. for the Nats

There is now less than a month remaining in the 2015 MLB regular season, and things aren’t looking too good for the Nationals.

StrugglingCurrently sitting six games back of first in the National League East division, it will take a major run for the Nationals to catch the somewhat surprisingly good first place Mets.

Their best shot at making a dent into the Mets’ lead began on Monday, when a three game series between the Mets and Nats kicked off. However, instead of capitalizing on the major opportunity, the Nats have dropped the first two games of the series.

Tuesday night’s game was a bigger loss than most, though. Up 7-1 at one point, the Mets proceeded to battle back in the sixth via good at-bats and wild relief pitching. The result was a comeback that saw the game tied by the end of the inning, and had the Mets take the lead on a Kirk Nieuwenhuis homer in the eighth.

The comeback in the seventh came on 54 pitches, with only 19 of them being strikes, and is the largest lead lost by the Nationals this season. For a team that was supposed to completely blow away the competition with all of the offseason additions they made, the Nationals aren’t exactly producing the way many people think — and know — they should.

With the Mets’ young star pitcher Jacob deGrom taking the mound on Wednesday night, the Mets have to like their chances. Not only of winning the game, but of putting the division out of reach for the Nationals as the weeks go on.