Football season has officially ended and any sports fan knows what that means: it’s time to start getting ready for baseball.
For most teams, spring training games start Saturday, Feb. 22. Spring training is a time for teams to get accustomed to any roster changes they might’ve made during the offseason, for players to try new positions and to get in some needed practice after a long break before games start to count. In order to predict how a team will do in spring training, it’s important to examine what happened during their offseason. So…what exactly did happen this offseason in MLB?
Believe it or not, MLB is coming off of one of the wildest offseasons yet. Let’s start at the beginning. To end the 2019 season, most teams were interested in two pitchers that would be free agents, Stephen Strasburg and Garrit Cole. On Dec. 9, Strasburg opted to stay with his team, the defending World Series Champions, the Washington Nationals, for a seven year contract. A day later, Garrit Cole announced he would be leaving the Houston Astros and signing with the New York Yankees for nine years and for $324 million. Cole’s contract is the largest total for a pitcher, and for a good reason. Cole has the all-time baseball record for highest strikeout rate.
Cole’s switch to the Yankees happened before the Astros’ cheating allegations (please refer to issue 10 of The Oracle for the background information on the scandal). Back in December, the Astros weren’t yet convicted. However, on Jan. 13, the MLB concluded their investigations and confirmed the Astros did illegally use a video camera to steal signs during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The MLB had no other choice but to place punishments for the teams involved, and the repercussions had a huge effect on the rest of the off-season.
The initial punishments were as follows: the MLB suspended Astros manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for one year. The Astros were also fined and stripped of their first and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021. Astros owner Jim Crane proceeded to fire Hinch and Luhnow.
The Boston Red Sox took a hit from the wrongdoings as well. Manager Alex Cora joined the team in 2018, bringing the Sox to a World Series. Prior to his position with the Sox, Cora was a bench coach for the 2017 Astros. From the report, it was confirmed Cora was heavily involved in developing the cheating schemes. In the wake of the revelations, Cora parted ways with the Red Sox after two years. The Red Sox are still being investigated for sign stealing during their 2018 season.
“We agreed today that parting ways was the best thing for the organization,” Cora said. “I do not want to be a distraction to the Red Sox as they move forward.”
The impact doesn’t stop there. Just two days later, the New York Mets got mixed in the backlash as well. The Mets parted ways with their rookie manager, Carlos Beltran, before he got to coach a single game. Despite playing for the Mets between 2005-2011, Beltran played his final MLB season after 20 years with the 2017 Astros. Beltran was mentioned in reports as someone who helped carry out the plan.
Just like that, three teams were without a manager within days of each other, and within weeks of spring training.
The Astros announced the hiring of Dusty Baker as their new club manager and James Click as the new general manager. The Mets are replacing Beltran with Luis Rojas. The Red Sox are replacing Cora with Ron Roenicke on an interim basis.
Some people are surprised that Astors players were not involved in the punishments. There are new rumors, that second baseman Jose Altuve was actually wearing a buzzer under his jersey during game six of the 2019 ALCS against the Yankees. A new video surfaced shows Altuve asking his teammates not to rip off his jersey after his walk-off homerun, as he proceeds to run into the dugout to change. When asked about it, Altuve said last time his jersey got ripped off, his wife got mad.
Naturally, it’s still a sore topic for players and fans. Many people are coming out saying the Astros should be banned, or their 2017 title should be stripped. Just think of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team that lost the World Series two years in a row to the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox. How different could their story have been? It’s also worth noting that in wake of the discoveries Yankees’ outfielder Aaron Judge deleted an Instagram post from 2017 where he congratulated Altuve for winning the American League MVP Award. Judge finished second to Altuve in the voting.
However, as the new decade starts, it’s time for the violations of the Astros to be left in the past and for baseball to focus on a fresh start with new management. The off-season continued with other major announcements. Sox’s right fielder Mookie Betts has just been traded to the Dodgers, an unmistakable blow to the Sox. As for the Yankees, while acquiring Cole is an incredible asset, it’s just been released that starting pitcher James Paxton is expected to miss three to four months after undergoing back surgery which could be devastating to their pitching rotation.
For all those reasons, there’s no doubt in my mind that the 2019-2020 MLB offseason will go down in history as the craziest and most eventful one yet.