The 2020 MLB season will be a short, strange trip. It will be unlike any other baseball season in history, both in brevity and oddity, and will feature just enough small-sample miracles and debacles to forever leave some baseball cards of the future looking just plain funny.
Mid-pandemic, we’re getting an abbreviated MLB season dropped on us tonight. With no fans in stands, broadcasters talking over themselves thanks to Zoom delays, no spitting, and new daily rituals and protocols for players to jump through just to play in place, the ability to simply navigate it all and stay cool suddenly becomes the sixth tool of the modern position player. Pitchers, too, will be incredibly impacted by this all, as we’re yet to see how ready they are to go deep into games - or if the expanded rosters even necessitate that anymore.
In short, this whole idea might well end up an awful one, but it will undeniably be one rife with unexpected outcomes, and we will be very, very here for it. With that in mind, here are Five Dumb Predictions for how the 2020 season plays out, with full acknowledgement that taking these to Vegas and putting your savings on them just might be the only thing dumber than the predictions themselves. (Still, there’s a chance...)
The Boston Red Sox lose 40 games
We’ll start with one whose premise is obvious, with an exaggerated number tacked on for good measure.
Look, saying that 2020 doesn’t look like Boston’s year is easy, and I get that. They flipped Mookie Betts and David Price to save cash, lost Chris Sale to injury, Collin McHugh opted out of the season, Eduardo Rodriguez was beset with COVID-19, and Jose Peraza - yes, that Jose Peraza - is set to be their regular 2B. All that on top of a sub-par 2019 season, and they’re still getting used to both a new front office and new manager.
Now, they’re in the expanded East, meaning they get to tussle with the likes of the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, and Philadelphia Phillies on top of the already potent AL East clubs, and 2020 just seems like a spiral year for the Sox.
They still have brilliance, of course. Xander Bogaerts is a legit star, while Rafael Devers is a rising one. Alex Verdugo has the chance to be a good pickup as a cornerstone OF, and Nathan Eovaldi - when actually, legitimately healthy - can be as nasty as they come. Still, it just feels like they’ll be mired terribly at the bottom of things this year, right next to the poor New York Mets.
Ramon Laureano finishes 2nd in AL MVP voting
Whether it’s the consistently low payroll, the Pacific Time Zone and late starts, the old beater of a stadium, or simply the shadow of the recent success of the San Francisco Giants, we just keep overlooking the general excellence provided by the Oakland Athletics. They scooped up Khris Davis and let him shine, and the current Corner Matts have emerged as perhaps the best combo at their positions in all of baseball.
That doesn’t even get to Marcus Semien, who last year made the leap from above-average regular to legit MVP candidate. That brings me to Ramon Laureano, himself a classic under-the-radar Oakland acquisition who quietly a near 4 WAR campaign in 2019 despite playing in just 123 games.
This year, it’s Laureano who makes the leap.
He boasts pop (.220 career ISO, 24 HR last year), plus defense in CF, 20 steal potential (over, y’know, a usual 162 game season), and one of the absolute best outfield arms in the game, all with a hit tool that’s seen him hit exactly .288 in each of his two abbreviated big league seasons. This year, I say it all comes together for him on an Oakland club who will be bashing balls all over the place, and he’ll ride it to an impressive finish in the award voting.
(Mike Trout wins AL MVP, by the way, because duh.)
Jorge Soler hits league-leading 25 homers
Soler is fresh off a Royals-record 48 dinger campaign, and while everyone and their uncle is blasting dingers at record rates of late, doing so with Kauffman Stadium as your home park makes it just that more impressive. 21 of his 48 came at the cavern in Kansas City last year, and if he can hit that many there, I think his schedule in the many homer-friendly confines of the Midwestern parks will give him every opportunity to top the MLB leaderboard in homers in this 60-game campaign.
He’ll certainly face some tough pitching with the crowded, talented NL Central staffs facing him regularly, but he also won’t have to face them during the cool weather of April and early May, either.
The Royals still figure to struggle this year, but I think Soler keeps right on blasting.
Javier Baez is annoying brilliant, and it leads to MLB’s next huge contract
I only say ‘annoyingly’ because, well, he has that Cub uniform on everyday. That aspect aside, there are very, very few players who I enjoy watching base the balls more than Baez, whose absurd glovework paired with eye-popping power is just about as fun as can be.
(It me, a Joey Votto Stan who truly adores a player who has posted a cumulative .319 OBP over his last 585 games dating back to 2016. I digress.)
Anyway, we’ve seen the contentious nature of the Chicago Cubs and co-star Kris Bryant, with enough animosity to suggest those two aren’t going to link up on a huge deal anytime soon. Factor in that longtime fan-favorites (and rather pricey payroll cogs) Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo are seeing their contracts wind down, and I think the Cubs are about to be in position to lob a huge contract at someone quite soon, even with Jason Heyward and Yu Darvish still on the books.
Of course, it’ll take another spectacular season from Baez to ice that cake, but I think he’ll put one up - just hopefully not at the expense of the Reds, against whom he has belted 13 career dingers to date (his most against any other MLB club.)
Johnny Cueto is the Trade Deadline star
Let’s be very honest here, shall we?
The San Francisco Giants are in a pretty rough spot right now. Buster Posey rightfully opted out of playing this year, while other aging cogs like Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria are set to open the year on the IL with no clear date for a return. Add-in that they lost Madison Bumgarner to free agency without really replacing him at all, and it’s clear that the last vestige of their dynasty is just about out.
Johnny Cueto, though, is not out.
After having Tommy John surgery and firing just 69 total innings over the last two seasons (nice), Cueto is back healthy and fully intent on restating that he’s one of the best pitchers of his generation. Of course, he’ll be doing so on a rebuilding club with just one year beyond this left on his deal, and I’d be shocked if Farhan Zaidi and the innovative San Francisco front office have him in their long-term plans.
I think Cueto comes out firing on all cylinders, wiggle-delivery and all, and shows enough over 3-4 starts to become the kind of starting pitcher most every good club will be shopping for at this year’s trade deadline. The kind the Houston Astros might want. The kind the New York Yankees might want. The kind the emerging Minnesota Twins might want. You get the picture.