Baseball is back! Spring Training has concluded, the weather is getting warmer, and our nations ballparks are open for business. The 2019 Major League Baseball season is finally underway after winter’s hibernation. After the Boston Red Sox won last year’s World Series, we went through an offseason that was dominated by one of the most talked about free agency periods ever, and discussions about minor leaguer’s service time were at the forefront.
With the season beginning, however, we have some new storylines unfolding. There are many questions to be answered by some of the game’s top Latino players in 2019. The answers to these questions could shape the future of the league. Of course, these questions will have to be answered in the field of play. But here are the players, and the questions that accompany them, that will be talked about this season….
Can Manny Machado Live up to the Contract?
Arguably the biggest free agent signing this offseason, Machado spurned the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, and declined a return to the Los Angeles Dodgers in order to sign a 10-year, $300 million deal with the rebuilding San Diego Padres. In signing one of the largest contracts in the history of North American professional sports (Mike Trout, $400 million, Bryce Harper, $330 million, and Giancarlo Stanton, $325 million, received more), the infielder caused some bitter feelings amongst the fanbases of the teams he turned down.
The Padres haven’t been to the playoffs since 2006, haven’t had a winning season since 2010, and haven’t been too lucky on the free agent market during that stretch either (Eric Hosmer and Ian Kinsler are the recent exceptions). Now armed with that new contract Machado will not only be tasked with improving the Padres in the present day, but he’ll also be looked to for leadership in the future. With big money comes big responsibilities, and Machado now has a lot of responsibility to this franchise as the Padres look to end their postseason drought.
Can Nolan Arenado Lead the Rockies to the Promised Land?
Originally Arenado was on course to the big free agent target heading into the 2020 season. The Rockies decided to delay his free agency until 2028 after locking down his continued services with an eight-year, $260 million contract extension just before the season began. The 28-year-old has been in Denver since 2013 (.291/.346/.537/.883 career slash line), but it wasn’t until 2017 that the Rockies reached the postseason during his tenure there. In fact, Arenado has been part of back-to-back playoff appearances in the Mile-High City.
In 2017 the Rockies lost to Arizona in the Wild Card Game. Last season they defeated the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs in the Wild Card Game, but only to get swept by the Milwaukee Brewers in the Division Series. By securing Arenado’s future in advance, the Rockies front office has reaffirmed their belief that he can be this team’s franchise player. Now it’s up to the third baseman to do his part to help take the Rockies -who’s only World Series appearance came in 2007- to the next level of the postseason.
Can Robinson Cano Rebound with the New York Mets?
Before the Mets new second baseman received his 80-game drug suspension with the Seattle Mariners last year, the team’s record was 23-17. After the suspension was handed down, Seattle finished the year losing an average of two games a week and had 15 multi-game losing streaks and missed out on the playoffs for the 17th consecutive season. This came four years after Cano signed a 10-year, $240 million contract to head to the Pacific Northwest. During the offseason Cano was one of many players that the Mariners shipped out in order to start over.
Now the 36-year-old is back in New York where his career started. Only this time he’s wearing the blue and orange of the Mets instead of the midnight blue of the Yankees. The Mets spent quite a bit of money this offseason, but they have also been prone to injuries amongst their star players over the last few seasons. And when you combine that with Cano’s career-long durability (played at least 150 games a year between 2007 and 2017), the health of the team could put the spotlight squarely on Cano. Whether or not he can bounce back in the city where it all began will depend on his performance, his health, and of course keeping himself free from PED’s.
Will Albert Pujols Surpass Willie Mays?
He can if he stays healthy and is consistent at the plate…. Ever since signing that 10-year, $254 million contract before the 2012 season, Pujols hasn’t quite been the player that he was in St. Louis. A knee injury in August ended his 2018 season, foot surgery a few years earlier shortened his 2013 campaign, and he’s had some occasional nagging injuries in between. His batting average hasn’t reached .300 since 2010, last touched .280 in 2012, and his highest average since then was back in 2014 when he hit .272. This came after he had an average of .300 or better every year from 2001 to 2010.
His longest season in an Angels uniform so far was 119 games back in 2016 and has only reached the 100-game mark three other times in Anaheim (105 games in 2012 and 2014, 101 games in 2017). When you combine his decreasing production, with the injuries, and his age (39), time isn’t exactly on his side. But if he stays healthy, and if he can hit his stride at the plate again, he’ll only need 27 home runs to tie Mr. Mays (660) on the all-time list. But another 30-home run season will put him just 33 homers behind Alex Rodriguez.
Can Javier Baez Win the National League MVP?
“El Mago” finished second in the voting behind Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich in 2018. He definitely made his case after finishing the year with a .290/.326/.554/.881 slash line. He also became one of just three players (the others being the aforementioned Yelich and Cleveland Indians infielder Jose Ramirez) to finish the year with 30 home runs (34 for Baez), 100 runs batted in (111), 20 stolen bases (21), and 100 runs scored (101). The end result was Baez’s first career All-Star Game appearance, and a fourth consecutive playoff appearance for the Cubs. After being denied the award after having a career year, you have to wonder what Baez has planned for an encore performance in order to claim the coveted award this season.
Can Eloy Jimenez Live Up to the Hype?
The White Sox top prospect certainly has a tall task ahead of him. But after hitting for 65 home runs, 281 RBI’s, and scoring 232 runs at the minor league level, Jimenez is ready for the big time. The Sox rewarded his big-league potential by giving him a six-year, $43 million contract extension as spring training was concluding. The White Sox haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008, and last posted a winning record in 2012, and the franchise believes that Jimenez can help them end that drought.
He’s now the face of the White Sox youth movement and if this team is to get back on the winning track, Jimenez needs to deliver early and often.
Will Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Shine in the Majors?
First, he needs to fully heal from his oblique injury, then he needs to get called up from AAA. Once there he’ll shoulder the responsibility of carrying on a family legacy. His father, Vladimir Sr., is enshrined in Cooperstown. His uncle, Wilton, found a decade-long career as a utility player. While is cousin, Gabriel, has already spent a full season in MLB (2018).
He’s already proven himself to be a solid power hitter, a damn good defense player (.938 fielding percentage in the minors), and he has youth on his side (20-years-old). Now he needs to gain the experience under the bright lights of Major League Baseball.
It’s time to play ball!