1) Billy Goat snuff
From the Billy Goat curse to the Bartman incident, the Chicago Cubs have known nothing but despair and ineptitude for over 100 years. Plug in Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Miguel Montero, and Dexter Fowler to go along with Joe Maddon behind the bench, and this could be the year the Cubs win the pennant. Can’t imagine it? Go check out “Back to the Future Part II”!
2) Now batting for the Yankees, number who?
For the first time in 20 years, someone other than Derek Jeter will jog out to shortstop for the New York Yankees. 25-year-old Didi Gregorius will have the daunting task of filling the void left by “#2.” There’s nothing tougher than following a legend. So how does Gregorius stack up to “The Captain?” His career .243 batting average would be considered a slump for the recently-retired captain.
3) Doing the box step
“After a pitch, you [have] to stay in the box? I call that bull s—” Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said regarding the MLB’s rule changes. New commissioner Rob Manfred is implementing a new rule requiring each batter to keep one foot in the batter’s box throughout his at-bat in order to speed up the game. Will it work? Depends how good you are at thinking inside the box.
4) Seeing green
Since being hit in the eye by a pitch in early September, Giancarlo Stanton has been seeing nothing but green, signing a 13-year, $325 million contract with the Miami Marlins in November. Stanton then sat back and watched the Marlins reel in Dee Gordon, Martin Prado, Mat Latos, and Dan Haren. If Stanton can stay healthy, this team looks poised for their first playoff run since its 2003 World Series Championship.
5) Pocketed aces
What can $210 million buy you? The Nationals discovered that to be the right price for former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. Washington inked the ace to a lucrative seven-year contract, making Scherzer the highest-paid right-handed pitcher in MLB history. Add Scherzer to a pitching staff already including Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, and Tanner Roark, and this group is certainly one shutdown that Washington wants to see.
6) More questions than answers
After breaking thousands of hearts, last year the Toronto Blue Jays went out and made big moves, bringing in Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson. Unfortunately, the Jays still have question marks all over the field, with a shaky pitching staff and a mediocre bullpen. The Jays are counting on big performances from Brett Cecil and Dalton Pompey—not a good position to be in. Only time will tell if Alex Anthopoulos is a baseball genius or if his tenure in Toronto is coming to a close.
7) International men of mystery
The recent success of Cuban baseball players has created a frenzy down South. In November, the Diamondbacks signed Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas to a six-year, $68.5 million contract. Three months later, the Red Sox spent $63 million to acquire 19-year old Cuban infielder, Yoan Moncada. While Cuba has been a baseball factory as of late, there are a lot of eyes on Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang. It’s uncertain how he will fare with the Pirates, but he did crush 40 homers last year, albeit in the comparatively weak Korean Baseball Organization.
8) Batman and Bane return to Gotham
From the shadows—or a PED scandal—a super villain has returned to wreak havoc on the poor citizens of Gotham. Alex Rodriguez is back, and he’s looking for money—$21 million to be exact. Fortunately for Gotham, a dark knight has risen. After missing the 2014 season due to Tommy John’s surgery, Matt Harvey is back on the mound for the Mets and is looking to save New York from the evil Rodriguez and the rest of the Yankees.
9) How the West was won
Over a dozen players moved in and out of the NL West this year. Add in all the crazy moves the Athletics and Mariners made, and off-season should have heads spinning. One thing’s for sure: This season, the West Coast is certainly the best coast.
10) Worst to first … again?
From 2012 to 2013, the Boston Red Sox went from baseball bottom dwellers to World Series champs. Fast forward to 2014, and the Sox were once again trapped in the AL East’s basement. After a plethora of off-season moves, the 2015 Red Sox look like top contenders for October’s hardware. Can Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramírez, and a handful of new pitchers bring Boston back to baseball’s best?