While prominent free agents remain unsigned, the long MLB offseason is over. It’s time to play some meaningful baseball games. And when those meaningful games are played, we’re sure to see some things that we maybe weren’t expecting.
We haven’t seen a player join the 40-40 club in more than a decade. Nobody has hit 60 home runs in nearly two decades. Both of those could change in 2019. The trade rumors swirled around two of MLB’s best pitchers in the offseason. While those didn’t happen, regular season trades remain possible for both.
The MLB regular season always offers some surprises. Naturally, we don’t know what 2019’s will be. These are some likely candidates.
Aaron Judge will become first player in 18 years to hit 60 home runs
Judge is tearing through Grapefruit League pitching. And while we normally wouldn’t put too much stock in that, it’s important for someone coming off of an injury-shortened season. But Judge is healthy now. Two years ago, Judge took baseball by storm and smacked 52 homers. Now he’s in his age-27 season, which tends to be the peak year for power.
Hitting in one of MLB’s best lineups, Judge should get plenty of solid protection. We expect to see him take full advantage and become the first man to hit 60 or more homers since Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa both did so in 2001.
Madison Bumgarner will be dealt midseason
While San Francisco’s pitching staff is probably good enough to keep the season from being a complete disaster, the offense is nowhere near good enough to contend for the postseason. Making matters worse is that, other than Joey Bart, the Giants are light on big talent coming through the farm system. New team president Farhan Zaidi will certainly want to change that. Dealing Bumgarner — who’ll be a free agent following the year — is a way to do that. Contenders like the New York Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers would both be prime candidates to land the former World Series MVP.
Mike Trout will become fifth member 40-40 club
After not running a lot in 2014 and 2015, Trout has been back to stealing bases over the last three years. He’s also upped his power game. Trout has hit at least 33 home runs in each of the last two years despite spending time on the shelf both seasons. This year, we’re thinking he puts it all together. While Trout has suffered through injuries the last two years, the ailments have all been fluky. There’s nothing to suggest that he won’t be healthy for all of 2019.
Given that, plus his increase in both home runs and steals, we expect to see Trout become MLB’s first 40-40 man since Alfonso Soriano in 2006.
White Sox will make the playoffs for first time since 2008
Much like the Chicago Cubs were in 2015, the White Sox are ready. They’ve had a lot of young talent come up to the majors over the last couple of seasons. Eloy Jimenez should be up early this year and we’re expecting a big impact. Dylan Cease will provide a huge jolt to the pitching staff. On top of all of that, the AL Central is probably baseball’s worst division. It’s been a rough decade on Chicago’s South Side. The White Sox haven’t had a winning season since 2012 and haven’t made the playoffs since 2008. Both of those streaks are primed to end this year.
Trevor Story will earn NL MVP honors
Story hit .291/.348/.567 with 37 home runs in 2018. It was a career year. And when we look at things further, we don’t expect it to be a career year for long. On June 1, Story was hitting .242/.326/.483. From that point on, he hit .317/.360/.611. That jump in performance was aided by a declining K-rate. For the first two months, he struck out 31.4 percent of the time. Over the final four months, it was down to 26.3 percent. That’s a great sign.
On top of that, he plays Gold Glove-caliber defense at shortstop. Given how much Story improved through the year, all signs point to 2019 being even better than 2018 was. If that happens, Story’s MVP candidacy will be awfully hard to ignore.
Yasiel Puig will hit 40 home runs in first year with Reds
Puig’s topsy-turvy tenure in Los Angeles came to an end in December. And from an on-field perspective, it’s hard to imagine a much better situation than the one Puig landed himself in. Playing with the Cincinnati Reds should give Puig a lot of playing time. The lineup is absolutely stacked. So no matter where Puig hits, he should be well protected. And as far as home stadiums for power hitters go, it doesn’t get much better than the Great American Ballpark.
Puig’s career high is 28 home runs. But don’t expect that to last. Membership in the 40-home run club is not just realistic, but expected.
Cubs will trade for Nick Castellanos
Chicago’s offense dragged badly in the second half of 2018. And while the Cubs didn’t really upgrade the offense in the offseason, we do expect to see it make a change in season. Castellanos — who is coming off of a season in which he hit .298/.354/.500 with 23 home runs — would be a sizable upgrade. This is especially true since some of Chicago’s biggest struggles were in the corner outfield.
The Detroit Tigers don’t figure to be anywhere near contention. So it only stands to reason that they’ll trade Castellanos, who’s in his contract year. The Cubs need to be sure they’re the team that lands him.
Brewers set NL record for home runs in a season
The New York Yankees set a single-season record for homers by a team in 2018. But the National League record (249 by the 2000 Houston Astros) still stands. Don’t expect that to be the case at this time next year. In the offseason, the already loaded Brewers added power-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal. Milwaukee will also get a full season of Mike Moustakas. It’s a powerful lineup that also gets to play its home games at Miller Park, which is a launching pad.
The Brewers aren’t the only NL team with a realistic chance at this record in 2019. But they are the one best positioned to break it, which we expect.
Dodgers’ six-year reign atop NL West will come to end
While the Dodgers are talented, they’re also vulnerable. Even if the most recent news on Clayton Kershaw is good, he’s spent a lot of time on the DL over the last five years. The bullpen is also shaky. Offensively, Los Angeles is talented but also a little too one-dimensional. The Colorado Rockies, meanwhile, are strong. German Marquez and Kyle Freeland give Colorado something it’s basically never had — stable anchors to the pitching staff. Led by Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and the aforementioned Story, the Rockies have one of the best offenses in baseball.
Los Angeles has owned the National League West for more than a half-decade, winning the division every year since 2013. But in 2019, Colorado is well positioned to end that reign. We expect to see that happen.
Phillies will bolster starting rotation with trade for Corey Kluber
Reports in the offseason were that the Cleveland Indians had been looking to trade two-time Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber. It didn’t happen. But that doesn’t mean in can’t happen in season, and Philadelphia makes a lot of sense as a destination. When we look at Philadelphia’s roster, we see a lot of talent. But beyond Aaron Nola, the starting rotation is a little thin.
While trading for J.T. Realmuto and signing Bryce Harper, David Robertson, and Andrew McCutchen have long-term benefits, the moves were clearly made with an eye towards making the playoffs and competing for a championship. The former can happen with this roster. The latter is a different story. Trading for Kluber would change that.