2019 League Rankings
Milwaukee Brewers: A Beer-Flavored Frozen Custard
A song to play while reading about the Brewers: “MAY FAILURE BE YOUR NOOSE” by Lingua Ignota
“In Stearns we trust” has become a bit of a mantra in Brewers nation since David Stearns took the reigns from then-general manager Doug Melvin in 2015. The immensely talented Harvard graduate has effectively spun straw into gold ever since, exceeding most expectations year-after-year since taking over. He’s shown a knack for squeezing maximum value from every roster spot, leaning into the benefits of roster flexibility on both sides of the ball. Considering the Brewers are coming off consecutive seasons where they’ve played more than 162 games, it’s safe to say that his organizational philosophy works.
That recent success has hinged on unbelievable September runs in back-to-back seasons, going 19-7 in 2018 and 20-7 in 2019. These ridiculous results came in no small part due to the increased flexibility that expanded September rosters afford, especially when it comes to the additional out-getters at manager Craig Counsell’s disposal. Recent MLB rule changes aimed at speeding up the pace of play seem specifically targeted at teams like the Milwaukee Brewers, as there’s little doubt that they would have failed to make both miraculous September runs had the rules been in place prior to the 2020 season.
With those rule changes in mind, David Stearns went to work in a busy off-season that saw 13 players from the previous year leave the organization. The starting rotation was in dire need of attention, and the losses of Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas left glaring holes in the lineup that needed to be filled. Swinging a trade for now-injured Luis Urias and Eric Lauer for Zach Davies was an attempt to address the hole at the hot corner while holding steady on the pitching side of things. Omar Narváez was acquired from the Mariners two weeks later and should provide enough offensive output to replace what was lost from the departure of Grandal. Due to their apparent lack of need in the outfield, the free-agent acquisition of Avisaíl García came as a bit of a surprise to most who follow the team.
The rest of the roster was filled out with an underwhelming cast of characters, including but not limited to Justin Smoak, Eric Sogard, Ryon Healy, and Brett Anderson. The current squad should maintain levels of positional flexibility that Stearns and Counsell enjoyed during the 2019 season. Steamer Projections at FanGraphs ultimately grade the 2020 version of the roster as a slight improvement over the 2019 roster while maintaining payroll flexibility going into the 2020 season.
Unfortunately, as Rob Arthur pointed out in a recent Baseball Prospectus piece, payroll flexibility is a lie. In short, “when teams trim their budgets, they don’t respond by spending more later.” The findings of his piece are particularly concerning considering that most believe the window to win for the Brewers is now, while the MVP-caliber Christian Yelich is still on the roster at an affordable rate. Projected payroll going into the 2020 season has dropped to $92,941,666 from its 2019 level of $123,430,400. This is all happening as millionaire owner Mark Attanasio is crying poor to the media this spring. As Dayn Perry of CBS points out, small-market excuses for not spending don’t hold up. If David Stearns is truly a miracle worker, none of this will matter to the rabid Milwaukee fan base. If not, may failure be your noose.
How will the Brewers define success in 2020?
It really depends on who you ask. Ownership seems content with appearing competitive enough to sell tickets and merchandise in order to turn a healthy profit. Most Brewers fans see the Christian Yelich era as the best opportunity for the team to finally make it to the Fall Classic for the first time since 1982. Failing to do so after consecutive postseason appearances will more than likely be seen as a failure by the majority of the fan base.
The most “Effectively Wild” player on the Brewers: Josh Lindblom
Hoping to strike gold with another KBO breakout in the same way he did with fan-favorite Eric Thames, Stearns signed righty starter Josh Lindblom to a three-year deal at a reasonable rate. The 32-year-old reinvented himself overseas, winning consecutive Choi Dong-Won Awards while maintaining ERAs under 3.00 across both seasons. He was also the league MVP in 2019. It’ll be interesting to see whether his wild levels of success will carry over to his time with the Brewers organization or if he’ll just end up being an effectively useless, albeit low-risk signing. Should the Brewers desire to enjoy any real level of success in the 2020 season, however, they’re certainly banking on the former rather than the latter.
If the Milwaukee Brewers were an ice cream flavor, what flavor would they be?
While it may not be widely known that it even exists, beer-flavored ice cream would be the obvious choice for the Brewers. Better yet, make that beer-flavored frozen custard.
One Miller Park food item that is a must-try: Pete’s Pops
Assuming they’ll still be available in the 2020 season, Pete’s Pops get my wholehearted endorsement. The company started as a fun idea from a “chill pop dude” who just wanted to sell interesting ice pops out of a pushcart during Milwaukee summers. The homegrown brand has flourished since its humble beginnings, and now includes a number of street carts roaming the city, a permanent production facility, and a Miller Park concessions debut in 2019. They specialize in crafting a variety of bold, unique, and delicious flavor combinations you wouldn’t immediately expect to find in an ice pop.
Win total prediction: 84
Minnesota Twins: Cruz Willing
by Lee Pietruszewski
A song for the Twins: Rage Against the Machine — Bombtrack. This was played over the PA in Target Field after every home run last season (there were 307 of them hit by this team), which means it played 137 times last season. There will be more this season, Cruz willing.
Rocco Baldelli was covered in this space last season, and his contribution should not be understated. The youngest manager to win Manager of the Year is now long in the tooth at 39, and despite the loss of revered hitting coach James Rowson to the Miami Marlins, Baldelli’s collaboration with Derek Falvey and Thad Levine in filling the coaching ranks has been impressive in a small sample. It seems like the new, big test comes now as to whether they were skilled or lucky in their first attempt. Wes Johnson remains the pitching coach, and in his second year, fans are looking for his staff to make a leap and prove that the league’s hesitance in hiring college coaches is like all “common sense”: mostly confirmation bias about our personal beliefs.
Meanwhile, Miguel Sano is freshly-extended and newly-positioned, moved from third base to first on defense to make space for Josh Donaldson, who was — in what was probably a shock to the majority of embittered Twins fans — signed to a four-year free-agent contract to play in Minnesota on January 14, 2020. While he mashes — like, MVP-level hitting — when he does play, Sano has dealt with injuries for portions of the past two seasons, along with a very ugly sexual-assault accusation by a freelance photographer following a team event last winter. He has largely skirted accountability for that event, described by many in the larger organization as something they had expected at some point, given his behavior in the minors. He is a tough player for some fans to cheer for in light of this, but apparently the best one can hope for is that he has learned and will remain on notice.
Josh Donaldson has made his reputation in camp so far as a veteran leader and resource for younger players and prospects alike. There are many reports to be found of him leading a clutch of players around the batting cage and to the data-tracking technology nearby and back again, talking the whole way about hitting and its small details. He is following in the large footsteps of Nelson Cruz last season, who came in and reportedly led the young team with a light touch in the clubhouse and dugout — between naps in his clubhouse nap room, that is. His 41 home runs were a sight to see on a team that had spent decades coaching players to go the other way and swing for location, not distance. This writer saw a three–game stretch at Target Field in early August 2019 against the Royals wherein Cruz almost literally made the difference; across the three-game series, Cruz drove in ten runs — including three dongs on three hits on August 3 — and the Twins’ total margin of victory across those three games was eleven runs. His contributions are both tangible and intangible according to teammates, and watching him hit in person prompts a rare feeling of complete wonder.
There will also be pitching that happens. You betcha. Kenta Maeda is the closest thing to the “impact pitching” Falvene (Falvey and Levine) perhaps foolishly claimed they would bring this offseason, but there seems to be cause for optimism when it comes to him. Meanwhile, one can hope that Jose Berrios can be as good in the second half as he has been the first halves of the past few seasons, and Jake Odorizzi is playing for his next contract again this season. His all-star play last season is desperately needed. The bullpen was supposedly very good last season, but that is small comfort when fans saw the Yankees wreck it in the divisional round, so here’s hoping it repeats in an extended form this season.
What is success for the Twins this season?
Beat the Yankees. There is nothing without that. The snakebite that the Evil Empire has struck on the Twins’ ankle is the barrier to a sense of triumph. Even a 101-win season — one shy of a franchise record — with an all-time MLB team home run record was covered with the shade of yet another quick playoff exit at the hands of the most irritating franchise in sports. The Yankees have beaten the Twins in playoff games for twelve contests in a row, and have the fun side of a 16-2 (.889 winning percentage) record in playoff games against the Twins. The dread of a first-round series against New York lives a healthy life in the back of any Twins fan’s head, and the inevitable feeling of bitter tears is one that Rocco Baldelli is tasked with clearing.
Beyond that, there are multiple reports that Baldelli’s opening speech to the team this spring training insisted that the World Series — and a win there — was the goal for the team. It’s easy to dismiss that as the same thing that any manager should be telling their players, but the incredible success the team had in 2019 is the supporting evidence, and the World Series is a fair expectation with the kind of lineup they sport this season. Is pitching still required, or can they just skip that part?
Which Twins player will get a mention on “Effectively Wild” this season?
It will be Byron Buxton’s year. He will be the hitter he was during the first half of 2019…and the second half of 2018…and in AA. He got on base at a .314 average and his OPS was .827 in 87 games of the 2019 season, and was leading the league in doubles when he injured his shoulder making another superhuman defensive play. The talk around camp is that he is ready to be kinder to his body on defense, which is a bummer for highlight junkies, but will make him into the most valuable player on the field in any given game. He is the only player this writer has ever seen manufacture a run completely on his own: BB, SB, SB, R scored beating the throw on a hard grounder to short in one inning. It was unreal.
What flavor ice cream are the Twins?
A root-beer float is the correct answer here, even though it’s not a singular flavor. Harmon Killebrew’s “Killer Brew” Root Beer is the spiciest root beer around, and combining it with some solid, local Kemp’s vanilla is a taste sensation you will not soon forget.
The vanilla ice cream is an appropriate flavor to honor noted milk-lover Joe Mauer, so one can honor two of the greatest-ever Twins in one food item that is more seasoned than either of the people being honored. They’re both great, and they’re both very well-behaved, but they are not exciting, so combine their two food choices and experience the most complex palate stimulation that either of them could imagine.
What is one food item from Target Field that you MUST try?
Supposedly the deep-fried walleye on a stick from the Minnesota State Fair booths at the stadium is the real deal, but this writer does not like fish, so it cannot be discussed either way. It is very Minnesota, though. Personal experience suggests either Pizza Luce in center field or the Hot Indian cart on the third-base line. There is a good chance that your visit to Target Field will be either very hot or colder than you’d like. Summer nights are nice, but Hot Indian makes for a delightful and spicy warm-up, should you need it.
Win total prediction?
96 wins, with some regression and both Cleveland and Chicago likely not being the underachievers they were last year, but the Twins’ improvements in the off-season making a big difference. The Tigers and Royals still suck, though. Also, Carlos Santana should be walked every PA against the Twins this season — just for safety’s sake, ya know. You betcha.
New York Mets: The Most Exciting Mets Offense in a Decade?
By Michael Conte
A song to play while reading about the Mets: “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine” by Modest Mouse. I cannot wait for a full season of a beaming, hopefully healthy Brandon Nimmo, their likely opening day centerfielder, whose ability to make walks surprisingly entertaining by sprinting at full speed to first base is matched only by his knack for pissing off umpires when refusing to even attempt to dodge the mildest, most easily avoidable contact to get a hit-by-pitch.
Last year, while possessed by some chaotic spirit that understood my undying passion for rookie masher Pete Alonso, I said that if he beat the rookie home run record, I’d get a polar bear tattoo for my first tattoo. Come March 6th, I will have fulfilled my pact with the Arctic animal and Mets first baseman, presumably staving off the polar ice caps melting for a couple generations.
The upshot is that Alonso is still dripping with poise and charisma and will probably hit within 5 home runs of however many Rob Manfred decides will be the upper bound for the 2020 ball, and Mets fans like me will continue to whine about how he doesn’t get enough attention from the rest of the league because he’s not a shortstop or a Yankee or have a famous dad, and he’ll lead what could be the most exciting Mets offense in a decade.
Starting third baseman Jeff McNeil will likely either chase a batting title or decide to be more useful to the team and hit more dingers, and it will be awesome to watch either way. Michael Conforto will likely once again scoot between looking like an MVP hitter and some dude. Wilson Ramos will maybe decide that, actually, hitting the ball in the air and not on the ground is a good thing he should do more. At this point, post-post-hype shortstop Amed Rosario has established a pattern where he will likely start slow and hit ok in the second half. If he can keep his powder dry on the defensive side, like he managed to do in the second half of 2019 with the help of Robinson Canó and the coaching staff, it’ll be fine. And speaking of Canó, if pitchers stop throwing directly at his hands and he ignores old racist New York tabloid columnists whining about him not running hard, he’ll probably hit better than last year (former EW guest Sheryl Ring’s analysis on this subject is not optional).
The relief corps is the biggest question. Seth Lugo’s competence there probably dooms him to remain in the bullpen, but everything else is iffy. Can Edwin Díaz possibly give up as many dingers as last year with a bafflingly good 39% strikeout rate? Can newly svelte Jeurys (my phone always wants to autocorrect his first name, appropriately, to “aneurism”) Familia stave off the walks as well as the pounds? Dellin Betances will definitely have better injury luck with the Mets than the Yankees right? I feel like there’s not a single other team whose bullpen has the potential to be both this good OR this bad simultaneously.
As usual, the Mets will sink or swim with their starters. Jacob deGrom, of course, will probably duke it out with Max Scherzer for the NL Cy Young again, if he can get over the fact that he agitated for and signed an extension right before the free agent market for top-shelf starting pitching went absolutely bananas. Behind him is a damn solid rotation of Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard, and two of the three of Steven Matz, Rick Porcello, and Michael Wacha depending on who’s the least unhealthy and least ineffective.
Of course, any of these pitchers could have their UCL’s pecked out by a flock of seagulls, and unless David Peterson or Thomas Szapucki gets called up and turns out to be the truth, Big Balls Brodie Van Wagenen will then have to gin up another Stroman-type trade with whatever’s left in the farm system or its game over.
Leading this squad is rookie manager Luis Rojas, who worked with many of the players on the major league team as a coach during their time in the minors, and inspires confidence as young, analytically-savvy mind to execute the front office’s blueprint (though honestly if he can just manage to not sound like a moron postgame when an in-game decision doesn’t work out and no one in the clubhouse threatens to assault a reporter, he’ll have already done better than his sadly hapless predecessor Mickey Callaway).
All of this is very exciting, but the real plot twist for this team could come courtesy of real-life feral hog meme Yoenis Céspedes, who, despite coming off a plethora of injuries that have kept him out of spring training games so far, is absolutely hammering the ball in live batting practice against Mets pitchers, so clearly there might still be something there from a guy who’s never hit below a 121 wRC+ with the Mets (and that was his injury-shortened 2018–otherwise it was 132 in 81 games the year prior). While it remains to be seen if he’s even still playable in left field, the idea of potentially the best all-around bat on the team going nuts at the plate in his contract year and powering this squad to a division title has visions of a wild boar tattoo dancing in my head…
How will the Mets define success in 2020?
Nick Skoddy in last year’s preview defined success as an above-.500 finish, and despite missing the playoffs, the Mets still cleared that bar, playing honest-to-god winning baseball with an 86-76 record. That won’t do this year. They might not win a title since they’ll likely need to get through the absolutely stacked Dodgers. But they’re set up to snag at least a Wild Card and have more than a puncher’s chance at the division.
The Mets’ most “Effectively Wild” player: JD Davis
In addition to rocking a 136 wRC+ in a breakout 2019 with no trash can in sight (Effective) and providing some of the team’s most delightful gifs (Wild), the Sun Bear was a member of the 2017 Astros, which will hopefully give Meg another opportunity to giggle at “banging scheme” if he comes up on the pod.
What flavor of ice cream are the Mets: toasted almond
Toasted almond is one of those flavors that seems like it’s gonna be awesome when you’re looking at it and you pull the trigger to get it in your cone/cup/tiny baseball helmet. Call it the “April” of ordering this flavor. Then you actually get it, and realize it’s wildly disappointing, so you have a little then put it down for a bit while you chat with your friends/family and steal bites whatever superior flavors they had. Call this the “May and June” of toasted almond. Then you look down and it’s gotten all melty, and you take a bite and it weirdly tastes better (perhaps because of your lowered expectations), but at that point it’s basically soup so it seems kind of pointless? Call it the “rest of the season.” Anyway, if the Mets can somehow become the version of that flavor that somehow manages to remain solid not soupy all the way through, you will probably not regret ordering them.
Citi Field must-try food item: Arancini Bros. BEYOND Sausage & Peppers Risotto Ball
EY, I’M REFUSING TO FINANCIALLY SUPPORT THE SLAUGHTER OF ANIMALS HERE!
Win total prediction: 90. LFGM, baby.
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