Happy New Decade!
This past year was certainly an eventful one: the Astros were (allegedly) cheating, the Nationals made an improbable run through the playoffs, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado signed mega deals (that happened in 2019, by the way), MLB wants to axe some minor league teams … a lot happened.
But 2019 is in the rear-view mirror, and with your 2020 glasses set on the 2020 MLB season, there is plenty to watch in the coming year.
So without further ado, here are 20 baseball things to keep an eye on heading into the 2020 season:
1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. …
Vladito had an up-and-down rookie season. He didn't quite make an impact on the team the way many expected him to. Still, he's a very exciting young player who should be primed for a breakout 2020 season, so keep your eyes North of the Border.
2. … and the rest of the Blue Jays' core
Guerrero wasn't the only one who made his debut in 2019. He's joined by Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio, two other bright young stars on the Jays' roster. Bichette had a very good rookie season, as did Biggio. The three second-generation stars in the making are going to head up a great era of Jays baseball, should they continue to develop.
3. Cleveland's next moves
Cleveland shipped Corey Kluber off this offseason, and there's still some expectation they could try and trade Francisco Lindor. It's unfortunate to see the Indians go from World Series hopeful to hopefully competing in a few years, and 2020 is going to offer a lot of insight as to where they're going in 2021 and beyond.
4. Juices are flowin'
Will the juiced baseballs reappear in the next year? What MLB is calling a quality-assurance issue and manufacturing inefficiencies resulted in the home run boom of the last two seasons.
5. A grandpa's touch
David Ross is entering his rookie year as a manager, giving the Cubs a bit of a "feel-good" hire. Chicago is still very good on paper.
6. New-look White Sox
Chicago AL brought in Dallas Keuchel and Yasmani Grandal to help speed up the rebuild, and it'll be fun to watch, especially with a group of Keuchel, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech and others throwing to Grandal. With a core that features Giolito, Kopech, Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez, Chicago could get good pretty fast — if the Sox take the next step this season.
7. Tampa Bay's build
Tampa Bay was a surprising 95-win team in 2019, but don't expect that "surprise" to happen in 2020. Everyone knows the Rays are good, and this year they'll have potentially healthy seasons from Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton — that's a solid 1-2-3 in the rotation. Also, keep your eyes on Brent Honeywell, who is on the comeback trail after two devastating elbow injuries in the last two years.
8. NL West race
The Padres finished a disappointing 72-90 after looking like they were going to take a big step forward early in the season. The Diamondbacks signed Madison Bumgarner and are building something good. The Giants are in a state of limbo. The Dodgers look to be the cream of the crop once again, but will anyone give them trouble?
9. How bad will bad get?
The Orioles boast an improved farm system, and the Tigers can look to brighter days ahead. But both teams don't look like they care to be more competitive on Opening Day 2020. Will both teams cross the 100-loss mark again, and if they do, how bad will it get?
10. The next step for the Twins
The Twins blew the doors off pitching rotations around baseball in 2019, setting an MLB record with 308 home runs launched. The next step for the Twins is crucial: they need to build on that AL Central crown and not make last season look like a one-and-done.
11. Stars in new places …
Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Corey Kluber and Zack Wheeler all have new homes in 2019, and each guy could have a major impact on playoff races. Cole could be the difference in the Yankees finally breaking through to the World Series. Rendon could provide a helpful punch to the Angels in a wild-card spot (not division quite yet). Kluber offers a much-needed top of the rotation guy for the Rangers, who were much better than people expected in 2019. Wheeler will be a good Robin to Aaron Nola's Batman in open NL East.
12. … and stars continuing in the spotlight
MLB has done a much better job in recent years of elevating and promoting its talent. We saw it with the Mike Trout and Javy Baez commercials, miking up Francisco Lindor during the All-Star Game and so forth. The marketing strategy has been varied and widespread, and that's a good thing for fans and the growth of the sport. Hopefully, MLB can continue that momentum moving into a new decade.
13. The Astros' rebound
With the fallout from the Astros' sign-stealing scandal rocking the organization, what's next for Houston and new manager Dusty Baker? Will they perform or will they wilt? It's going to be very interesting to watch.
14. The Braves' playoff journey
Atlanta got embarrassed in Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS vs. the Cardinals, a team that clearly didn't belong on the same field as the eventual champion Nationals. That should hurt doubly bad for fans of the Braves, and how they rebound in 2020 both in the regular season and during a potential playoff run is going to be telling for the future of the team.
15. The Mariners' next trade
It's been a suspiciously quiet offseason for Jerry Dipoto. Is he snowed in? Does his cell phone have service? What's going on there? With the main move from Seattle being the trade of Omar Narvaez to the Brewers, it's been an uncharacteristically dead offseason for the Seattle front office.
16. The hunt for Reds October
The Reds are all about improving right now, making them the only team in the NL Central that can admit to, like, trying at the moment. While the Reds were a deceptively decent team in 2019, no one will be surprised this year. Could it mean NL wild card? That remains to be seen, but they're a team to watch in 2020.
17. The Mets — that's it, that's the thing
The Mets are always good for some ridiculous headlines. Will chairs be thrown? Will Carlos Beltran curse out a reporter? Will Brodie Van Wagenen develop some humility? All questions that will be answered. Maybe.
18. The remainder of free agency
It's been a refreshingly busy offseason, with major signings happening during the Winter Meetings and before, so that's nice. But there are still plenty of serviceable free agents left, highlighted by third baseman Josh Donaldson. With a few months left until the season starts, it's worth monitoring which general managers will bolster their rosters.
19. Future of the Red Sox
The Red Sox won a World Series in 2018, but it feels like an afterthought now. A disappointing 2019 season saw them miss the playoffs entirely, and with rumors swirling about the potential trade of Mookie Betts, the 2020 season for Boston could be telling. With Chaim Bloom ready to lead Boston's front office, maybe the Sox will shed payroll if they don't get out to the start they want in 2019 — or maybe they'll do it just for the hell of it.
Oh, and by the way, they're still looking for a manager.
20. What's next for the Rockies?
The reported availability of Nolan Arenado means the Rockies could be heading for a breakdown sooner rather than later. Until they get the pitching figured out, they won't be more than a "fun to watch" team, so 2020 will tell us a lot about where the Rockies are heading in the future.