Every MLB team has one thing in common. They all learned something from the 2018 season. Some of the takeaways were good while some were bad, but every team had one.
The success of the team didn’t always determine whether the takeaway was good or bad. For example, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees both had great seasons. But as they head to the playoffs, spotlighting their flaws is unavoidable. Similarly, while the San Diego Padres, Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays will be watching the playoffs from home, their top takeaways are positive. Meanwhile, with the likes of the New York Mets, Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers, the main takeaway is that things need to change.
Looking back on the season that was in 2018, these are the top takeaways from each team.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt must be extended or traded
Goldschmidt is set to become a free agent after the 2019 season. But Arizona needs to make a decision on him as it heads into this winter. Goldschmidt is only 31 and plays a position that tends to age fairly well. So, a long-term deal would make sense. But if that can’t happen, then an offseason trade becomes a must. If the Diamondbacks hold firm and keep him but don’t extend him, they risk one of two things. One, they lose him in free agency after 2019. Two, they try to trade him in July, but get a lesser return. Goldschmidt needs to open 2019 on a new team or with a new contract. Nothing else makes sense.
Atlanta Braves: The future is going to be fun
We’re not ready to predict that the Braves will match their 1991-2005 run. But the future is pretty darn bright in Atlanta. Youngsters like Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies have helped make the Braves one of baseball’s most-exciting teams. Young pitchers like Kyle Wright, Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard will only bolster the pitching staff in the coming years. Atlanta is heading to the playoffs in 2018 and could conceivably win the World Series this year. But even if the postseason stay is short, the next several years are going to be a lot of fun for the Braves.
Baltimore Orioles: It’s worse than a dreadful record
The Orioles experienced one of the worst seasons in baseball history in 2018. But the problem in Baltimore goes beyond simply a bad record. Teams like the Miami Marlins and Detroit Tigers had terrible seasons, but both were rebuilding. This Orioles team was built to compete in 2018. That brings a simple question. If Baltimore was this bad in 2018, what in the world will 2019 — which figures to be far more of a true “tanking” season — bring? There’s not much reason to be optimistic. If a team that was meant to be competitive ended up being this bad, good luck finding reasons to believe in the front office.
Boston Red Sox: Come postseason, the bullpen is a concern
Admittedly, it seems a little nitpicky to focus on a negative when we’re talking about a team that produced one of the greatest seasons in MLB history. But bullpens have become so prevalent in October and the holes in this one are too obvious to ignore. Think about how many times the Los Angeles Dodgers have failed in the playoffs in recent years when they couldn’t get a lead to Kenley Jansen. The Red Sox have had a brutal time getting the game to Craig Kimbrel. This is the same basic issue. Boston could well win the World Series in 2018. But if it does, it’ll have to overcome the bullpen, not ride it.
Cleveland Indians: Jose Ramirez is a superstar
It was easy to think that at least some regression was in order for Ramirez. He hit .318/.374/.583 with 29 home runs in 2017, which was a vast improvement on his .312/.363/.462, 11 home run campaign in 2016. But the regression never came. Ramirez’s average did drop, but he shattered his career highs in both OBP and home runs. Ramirez probably won’t have another top-three finish in MVP voting. But if 2017 was his breakout year, 2018 was the year where Ramirez became a star.
Chicago Cubs: Javier Baez is now a star
Baez has always been an exciting player. But in 2018, he became Chicago’s catalyst in the field, on the bases and at the plate. The power is what really gets our attention here. Baez hit nearly as many home runs in 2018 as he had in his career entering the season. Baez will never be a high OBP guy like Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant. But he did vastly improve on both his career OBP and batting average in 2018. The season was not always smooth for the Cubs. Baez deserves much of the credit for Chicago earning a fourth straight trip to the postseason.
Chicago White Sox: Eloy Jimenez saga should be final straw for Rick Hahn
Jimenez was dominant in 2018. But in a year where we saw young rookies like Acuna, Juan Soto and Gleyber Torres (just to name a few) make big impacts in the majors, Jimenez couldn’t even get a September call-up for one of baseball’s worst teams. If service time was the issue, it’s not only against the rules, but it also shows that Hahn is worried something that will only be an issue six years down the road. Mind you, Hahn has already been the team’s GM for six years and has yet to oversee even one winning season. There’s nothing positive to take from that. He needs to be replaced.
Cincinnati Reds: Money must be spent on the pitching
With Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett and Eugenio Suarez leading the way, Cincinnati has a playoff-caliber offense. It gets even better if talented youngsters like Jesse Winker and Nick Senzel can make a big impact in 2019. The problem is the pitching. It’s a hot mess. And the Reds don’t exactly have a farm system chock-full of MLB-ready pitchers, either. If Cincinnati wants to take advantage of this offense, it’ll need to make a concerted effort to significantly upgrade the rotation in the offseason. That could come via trades. But the best way to make that happen will be to open the checkbooks and spend some money on arms.
Colorado Rockies: Trevor Story goes from masher to MVP
Story has had power since he came into the league. That has not changed in 2018. What has changed has gotten on base more. Once there, he’s done damage, narrowly missing a 30-30 season. This is a guy who entered 2018 with only 15 career steals in two years. That’s made an already dangerous lineup even better, especially at Coors Field. Christian Yelich finished the year on a tear and will probably win the NL MVP. Don’t be surprised to see Story finish high in voting, though.
Detroit Tigers: It’s time to move on from Miguel Cabrera
Detroit is rebuilding. With that in mind, there’s not a lot of point in having Cabrera. He should be on a contending team. His spot on the Tigers should be taken by either a younger player or a much cheaper veteran. Now, we concede that trading Cabrera will be hard for a number of reasons. One, he’s a long-time Tiger and it’s not fun trading guys like that. Two, he’s due a lot of money and coming off of an injury-shortened season. Finally, with his 10/5 rights, he can block any trade. But Cabrera must know remaining in Detroit doesn’t do any good for the team or himself. The Tigers need to make a deal happen.
Houston Astros: Alex Bregman and Gerrit Cole go to next level
Bregman was already very good in 2017. He became a legitimate MVP candidate in 2018. As a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cole posted a combined a 4.12 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and an 8.3 K/9 rate. He’s jumped about three levels in Houston and will almost certainly get at least some AL Cy Young consideration. The last thing the rest of baseball needed was for the Astros to get better than what they were in 2017. But in small part due to what these two have done, that’s precisely what happened.
Kansas City Royals: One more tough goodbye might be needed
Salvador Perez is owed just a shade under $40 million over the next three years. While that’s not huge money in the modern era of baseball, it is still big for a small-market team like Kansas City. Additionally, the Royals are just starting a rebuild. Even if it goes well, it’s hard to imagine Kansas City being ready to contend for a playoff spot until 2021, the final year of his deal. Finally, while Perez is still hitting for power, his slash stats are dropping. If the Royals wait a year (or more) to make a deal, his value might be much less than it is now. Trading a stalwart like Perez would be tough. But it might be a necessary evil.
Los Angeles Angels: The pair of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani can’t be wasted
While it was shortened by injuries, we got more outstanding play from Trout in 2018. He got a good running-mate in this year with Ohtani, who made waves as both a hitter and a pitcher (though he won’t pitch in 2019). But the Angels were nowhere near the playoffs. The injuries to both Trout and Ohtani give the Halos some slack, but not much. The reality is that even with these guys healthy, this team was not going to compete for a playoff spot. The rest of the team was not good enough. That’s unfortunate. Los Angeles needs to put a much better supporting cast around these two special talents.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Walker Buehler is ready to be an ace
As good as Buehler’s final numbers were, they’re not really what grab us. No, what’s exciting is that Buehler actually went through something of a rough patch in late-June and through most of July, but turned it back around. It’s not uncommon for young players to hit a wall. When they bounce back so quickly, it’s a sign of something special. While not exactly probable, it is possible that Clayton Kershaw will no longer be a Dodger in 2019. But regardless of whether that happens, Los Angeles has found its ace of the future in Buehler.
Miami Marlins: Derek Jeter and company are off to a rocky start
In terms of wins and losses, the Marlins were about what we expected. Heck, they might have been slightly better, which is sad. Yelich, a former Marlin, will likely win the NL MVP in his first year with the Milwaukee Brewers. Lewis Brinson — Miami’s prize acquisition in the Yelich deal — struggled mightily. The fans have stayed away from Marlins Park all year. The ones that have gone haven’t exactly been enthused to be there. Jeter and the rest of the new owners were starting from behind. Still, it’s hard to look back on 2018 and say that any significant progress was made.
Milwaukee Brewers: Spark of the newcomers
The Brewers are playoff bound for the first time since 2011. Naturally, there’s a lot to like about this team. But the two prized offseason acquisitions, Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, really stand out. Yelich is 26, the likely NL MVP, and signed through at least 2021 on a supremely team-friendly deal. One year in, it looks like Milwaukee robbed Miami blind in that trade. Cain won’t win the MVP. But he’s been a steady force. David Stearns — the GM who brought these two in — is only 33. So no matter how this postseason shapes up, Milwaukee and its fans have to love where this team stands.
Minnesota Twins: Struggles of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are worrisome
By and large, everything that went right for the Twins in 2017 went wrong in 2018. The most-notable cases are Buxton and Sano. Offensively, Buxton seemed to turn a corner in 2017. Injuries severely shortened his 2018 season, but he was not very effective when playing, hitting .156/.183/.200 with no home runs. Sano was ineffective through the season, getting sent down to Single-A at one point. Both men are young enough that it’s probably not time to completely panic in Minnesota. But these are two cornerstone players for this franchise who had miserable seasons. That’s certainly concerning.
New York Mets: It’s time to blow it up
Whoever the new GM is should have a very busy offseason involving trades and the beginning of an intense rebuild. The Mets really couldn’t have gotten much better pitching from Seth Lugo, Steven Matz, Zach Wheeler, and of course, Jacob deGrom. Yet, this is a fourth-place team. And when we combine young talent and prospects, the Mets aren’t in the same stratosphere as the Braves. At least some of that quartet, along with Noah Syndergaard, must be moved. Unless New York is going to deviate from the norm and spend big on the free agent market, those trades are the only sensible decisions.
New York Yankees: It’s time to invest in staring pitching
To reach the World Series, New York will need to beat the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card Game, the Red Sox in the ALDS, and either the Indians or Astros in the ALCS. If you’re a fan of the Yankees, how many starting pitchers do you feel comfortable with against those offenses? The bullpen is great. But the impact of a bullpen is minimalized when it’s not given a lead. New York should be in the market for at least two starters. With Luis Severino on board, an ace may not be needed. But at least one of those starters should be an unquestioned strong No. 2.
Oakland Athletics: Just wait until the pitching arrives
Preseason injuries to the likes of Jharel Cotton and A.J. Puk seemed to doom the A’s before their season even began. In season, we saw the likes of Kendall Graveman and later, Sean Manaea go down. Yet, this team still made the playoffs. Regardless of what happens in the postseason, it’s impossible to not love Oakland’s potential heading into 2019. If the A’s could be this good, despite so many key injuries to pitchers who figured to be prominent parts of the staff, how good can they be when these guys are healthy and on the mound?
Philadelphia Phillies: It’s time to be big in free agency
While they finished poorly, the Phillies had a positive year. Unfortunately, they’re not as good as the Braves. Worse is that Philadelphia’s Minor League system doesn’t match Atlanta’s, either. To compete in the NL East in 2019 (and the foreseeable future), the Phillies will have to be big on the free agent market. The good news is that recent buzz has suggested that Philadelphia could be in on both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Whether the Phillies sign both, either one, or even neither remains to be seen. But that kind of aggressiveness in free agency will be necessary.
Pittsburgh Pirates: A young pitching staff emerges
They’re not going to the playoffs, but the Pirates did have a nice season. What Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams did in 2018 gives great reason for hope going forward. Even better than their stats is that both also have a year of team control and then three years of arbitration before free agency. Taillon will turn 27 in November, while Williams won’t be 27 until April. Starting pitching is hard to find. Taillon or Williams could easily be starting for some playoff teams in 2018. Pittsburgh should find itself quite pleased to have this duo on board.
San Diego Padres: Come on down, Fernando Tatis Jr.
Unlike other teams, the Padres get a pass for leaving Tatis in the minors in 2018. He never got beyond Double-A and had his season ended early with an injury. But on Opening Day in 2019 (or very soon after), this will be San Diego’s shortstop. He hit .286/.355/.507 with 16 home runs and 16 steals in only 353 at-bats. Best of all, he won’t even turn 20 until January. With Freddy Galvis set to become a free agent, the position is wide open for Tatis. For a team that hasn’t been terribly relevant for a while, Tatis’ imminent arrival is something to be genuinely excited about.
San Francisco Giants: The offense needs a massive rebuild
Generally, San Francisco’s pitching held up well in 2018. Unfortunately for the Giants, they were done in by a dramatic lack of offense. The Giants play at AT&T Park and there’s no doubt, that’s a tough place to hit. But here’s a test. Look at San Francisco’s lineup and ask yourself how many Giants would approach even 30 home runs if they played home games at Coors Field. The answer is zero. That’s a bad remedy for playing at a pitcher’s park, especially when your lineup also has little to no speed. San Francisco needs genuine power hitters in the lineup. If that doesn’t happen, more irrelevance is coming in 2019.
Seattle Mariners: Jerry Dipoto dropped the ball
Seattle contended for much of the year, but had an obvious problem in the starting rotation. But Dipoto didn’t really move to upgrade it. In fact, the A’s traded for Mike Fiers after the July 31 deadline, meaning he had to clear waivers. Given that Seattle was behind Oakland in the standings, the Mariners could have, if nothing else, blocked Fiers from their nearest rival. That didn’t happen. Given that he runs the team with the longest active postseason drought in North American sports, Dipoto made the odd decision to stand still. It didn’t work out. With that, he opened himself up for a lot of second-guessing.
St. Louis Cardinals: A new ace and a new closer?
Much like the aforementioned Buehler in Los Angeles, Jack Flaherty looks like a guy who St. Louis can put at or near the top of its rotation for several years to come. He impressed throughout 2018. So the Cardinals have their future ace. Now, what about the former one? Injury issues limited Carlos Martinez in 2018 and he eventually moved to the bullpen. While Martinez certainly wasn’t bad as a starter, he was much better as a reliever, specifically as the closer. Now, are the Cardinals ready to ride that small sample size and give Martinez a new role in 2019? This will certainly be a pitching staff to watch.
Tampa Bay Rays: Blake Snell is a beast
Snell was a monster in 2018. His stats were all outstanding. He also topped the 20-win mark, for those of you who still place a lot of value in that category. Quite simply, Snell was the best pitcher in the AL, if not all of baseball. He’ll also be 26 on Opening Day next year. That’s great news for Tampa and bad news for the rest of the league because we’re really just getting into his prime. An insanely top-heavy AL kept Tampa from more seriously competing for a playoff spot. But this season produced a clear positive with Snell, who only figures to get better in the coming years.
Texas Rangers: Continued development of Nomar Mazara
To the surprise of no one, the Rangers weren’t any good in 2018. But in the performance of Mazara, the season did produce a positive. Mazara had a nice campaign in 2017 (.253/.323/.422, 20 home runs). And essentially across the board, he was as good or better in 2018. Young players often struggle once the league sees what they have. That hasn’t happened to Mazara. Remember, he’s only 23 and not even close to the traditional late-twenties prime years. That’s something that Texas should be quite happy about, even if it came in an otherwise forgettable season.
Toronto Blue Jays: With Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the future is bright
GM Ross Atkins doesn’t quite have the negative track record that Hahn does with the White Sox. So, we’re not calling for his job. That said, keeping Guerrero in the minors all year was just idiotic. He dominated Minor League pitching, hitting .381/.437/.636 with 20 home runs in only 357 at-bats. He should have at least given Toronto and its fans a glimpse of the future as a September call-up. But given that Guerrero will be 20 only in 2019, his dominant 2018 run is certainly something for the Blue Jays to get excited about.
Washington Nationals: Juan Soto provides hope in frustrating year
Entering the year, the Nats were clear favorites in the NL East. They won’t even end up in the Wild Card Game. It’s also entirely possible (if not probable) that Bryce Harper has played his last game for Washington. But in a season that’s been a complete disappointment, the fantastic rookie performance of Soto has been a clear positive. He’s done things that few players his age (if any) have ever done. Given what this team did vs. what it was expected to do, calling its main takeaway from the season something positive might seem askew. Soto has just been that good.