Hindsight is 20/20, but my foresight is 2020. I don’t need to consult with a crystal ball to learn what the future holds in MLB, for I am an expert on the subject.
If you want proof, you need look no further than my past predictions (trust me, no need to Google them).
Without any further bluster, here are 20 bold predictions for ’20.
Let’s start with some remaining Hot Stove business.
1. The Twins will sign Josh Donaldson.
The ante has been upped in the AL Central, thanks to the White Sox busy winter, and the Twins are proactively trying to stave off regression from their historic offense in 2019. They will give Donaldson the fourth guaranteed year he desires and, in the process, add another layer of legitimacy to their lineup as they try to defend their division title and prove themselves as AL elite in October.
2. The Dodgers will trade for Kris Bryant.
It’s not enough that there is public pressure on the Dodgers to do something significant (they did win the National League West by 21 games, after all), but there really does appear to be some internal inclination toward a significant improvement to the roster, and Los Angeles has plenty of young controllable assets to entice a Cubs team hellbent on improving its future financial and talent forecasts.
3. The Red Sox won’t trade Mookie Betts. They’ll extend (or re-sign) him by year’s end.
New chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom will get the club under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold and “reset” their tax burden, perhaps by moving a good chunk of the money owed to David Price or Nathan Eovaldi. But if one of baseball’s most successful and relevant franchises in one of its biggest markets can’t retain a homegrown superstar, something’s amiss.
4. The Indians will trade Francisco Lindor. In December.
Cleveland has maintained an impenetrable price tag on Lindor, in part because the Dodgers have refused to part with infield prospect Gavin Lux. The Indians’ Lux will run out, and they’ll take Lindor into the 2020 season. They’ll be in contention enough to dissuade them from dealing Lindor midseason.
At year’s end, the Indians will get whatever they can for Lindor in his final year of arbitration rather than risk losing him as a free agent the following winter and only getting Draft pick compensation. One year from now, the Angels, who will be losing Andrelton Simmons in free agency and will be all the more desperate to build an October team after missing the postseason again in 2020 (bonus prediction!), will trade for Lindor. Come to think of it, maybe it’ll be the Phillies. Look, I can only look so far ahead, OK?
Beyond Josh Donaldson, these are the next two biggest bats still available. The Cards’ lineup didn’t have a lot of thump even with Ozuna, so they can’t afford to let him walk. And the Braves will need to pivot to another source of offense when Donaldson heads back to the AL and won’t pay the prospect price for Kris Bryant. (Oh, and Nolan Arenado’s not getting dealt. Sorry.)
6. Derek Jeter will be the only BBWAA inductee in the 2020 Hall of Fame class.
Based on past results and early exit polling, Curt Schilling (eighth year on the ballot) and Larry Walker (10th and final year on the ballot) have the next-best chances of selection on this ballot. They should both be in the Hall of Fame. Period. But I don’t want to give them the kiss of death by predicting them to reach the 75-percent threshold in this vote.
That said, this is not all about superstition. The math is challenging for both men. Walker fell 87 votes shy of induction last year, Schilling 60. As of this writing, with roughly 20 percent of ballots known, Walker has a net gain of 14 votes from returning voters, while Schilling has a net gain of three. (Thanks to the indefatigable Ryan Thibodaux’s tracker, you can see the latest polling here). I hope they both get in, but it’s still a major uphill battle.
Now that we’ve settled some of the big remaining winter stuff, let’s get into the season proper.
7. The White Sox, Reds and A’s will be the upstart division winners.
OK, even I am uncomfortable with that sentence. But in the 2010s, we had turnover at the top of, on average, three divisions per season, so it’s not crazy to think that it’ll happen in 2020.
Now, my loyal legion of regular readers knows that way back in early November, I predicted turnover at the top of the AL East (Rays), AL Central (White Sox) and NL Central (Reds). And I don’t want to upset those five people by making major changes here. But that piece was written before we knew for certain that the Yankees weren’t going to let the luxury tax get in the way of their pursuit of Gerrit Cole. I can’t, in good faith, go with the Rays now, though thankfully the Reds and White Sox have made some big upgrades to add some conviction to my pre-Hot Stove guesswork.
I need a new third source of turnover. It would be easiest to pick one of several contending clubs from the NL East to overtake the Braves. But the sign-stealing allegations against the Astros -- combined with the loss of Cole that takes a lot of shine off an aging rotation -- make me wonder if Houston is bound for a year of distraction and regression. Oakland’s strong rotation outlook gives the A’s a chance to get off to a better start in 2020 in order to avoid the whims of the Wild Card and take down the defending three-time division champs.
Come to think of it…
8. Neither 2019 World Series team will reach the 2020 postseason.
Improved depth within their respective divisions, significant free-agent losses (Gerrit Cole for the Astros, Anthony Rendon for the Nationals) and, yes, the 'ol hangover that comes from so much being asked of the arms to get to Game 7 will, I’m afraid, take a toll on these two teams.
Hey, we’ll always have “Baby Shark.”
9. Rick Renteria and David Bell will be the Managers of the Year.
We’re all familiar with the formula here. Skippers of pleasant surprise squads get this award. Oakland manager Bob Melvin has won it too recently to win it again, so it’ll go to the leaders of my two other upstart division winners.
Will the White Sox and Reds still qualify as surprises on the heels of their busy winters? Good question! I don’t know! But let’s not fret about the Manager of the Year Award, because there’s more hefty hardware to hand out here.
With the notable exception of the 2017 season in which Trout was limited to 114 games and finished (gasp!) fourth in AL MVP voting, it’s an annual tradition for Trout to finish first or second. The difficulty is predicting who will fill the other slot. It was Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and ’13, Victor Martinez in ’14, Josh Donaldson in ’15, Mookie Betts in ’16 and ’18 and Alex Bregman in ’19. What all of those guys have in common is that they had incendiary seasons for postseason-bound ballclubs.
If I’ve already predicted the White Sox storming to the top of the AL Central, then it only stands to reason that somebody is going to get some MVP love on their roster. And Moncada, having already made a huge leap in production in his second full season in 2019 (batting .315/.367/.548), is a good bet for continued improvement in his “junior” year at the age of 25.
11. Ronald Acuña Jr. will be the NL MVP.
Acuña already had 41 homers and 37 steals as a 21-year-old. He is also an adept defender. That gives him a high floor and a very lofty ceiling in the Wins Above Replacement tally, which, for better or worse, has become the de rigueur starting point for scribes deliberating over their MVP ballots.
If Acuña can reduce the strikeouts and bang out a few more doubles for a contending Atlanta club, that’s his path to the MVP. Not that I expect Christian Yelich or Cody Bellinger to take a serious step back, but we haven’t had a guy win the MVP multiple times in the NL since Albert Pujols more than a decade ago. Acuña will be the latest fresh blood atop the ballot.
12. Mike Clevinger will win the AL Cy Young.
His own rotation mate, Shane Bieber, is a candidate to watch, as well, after finishing fourth in the voting in 2019. But Clevinger’s brilliant finish (11-2, 2.30 ERA, 129 strikeouts in 101 2/3 innings in the second half) to a '19 that began with some injury disruption has him on the cusp of elite standing in the sport, which is why so many teams have tried to trade for him this winter.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the long ball will bite Gerrit Cole in the Bronx just enough to take some of the shine off his Cy Young case. He’ll have to settle for second place, ahead of the Rays’ Tyler Glasnow.
13. Walker Buehler will win the NL Cy Young.
The layup choice here would be two-time-reigning Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom. Or the Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty, coming off a sterling second half. And of course, you can rarely go wrong betting on Max Scherzer, though there’s no telling if the effects of the deep October run and pitching through injury issues in 2019 will get the best of him.
But Buehler already had a 3.26 ERA in 30 starts and 182 1/3 innings as a 24-year-old in 2019. He had only six starts allowing five earned runs or more, and four of them were in the second half. He’s got one of the deeper and more potent arsenals in the sport and is a few adjustments away from going deeper into games and avoiding the occasional clunker.
14. Gavin Lux and Brendan McKay will be the Rookies of the Year.
Look, you’re never going to look completely dumb picking a Dodgers player to win this award. The organization has had 18 winners in the 73 seasons that it has been in existence. And Lux (who, again, won’t be traded) is a plus hitter with plus speed and as good a bet as any rookie-eligible player in the Senior Circuit to claim this prize.
Come to think of it, the Rays have already had a Rookie of the Year in three of their 22 seasons, which is a pretty good track record. The two-way McKay -- who fell one inning shy of exhausting his rookie eligibility -- figures to have a rotation role while also getting some reps at the plate, so he will be next. (I could just as easily go with Luis Robert, but I didn’t want to go too White Sox crazy here.)
15. There will be a bunch of breakouts.
Here’s looking at you, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Dinelson Lamet, Julio Urías, Eloy Jiménez, Trent Grisham, Jesus Luzardo, Nick Senzel, Andrew Heaney and Max Fried, just to name a few.
But speaking of breakouts.
16. We’ll see what all the Vladimir Guerrero Jr. fuss was about.
Aside from the night of the Home Run Derby, Guerrero’s rookie year was pretty average. His .272/.339/.433 slash didn’t match the hype. But Guerrero will improve his launch angle in 2020 and be less affected by the ground balls grounding his game. His respectable 17.7-percent strikeout rate is a sign that he’s not overmatched at this level.
17. Christian Yelich will compete in and win the Home Run Derby.
Yelich, you might remember, was a late scratch from the 2019 Derby because of a back issue -- a major bummer that, thankfully, didn’t prevent us from witnessing one of the most epic Derbies ever. Yelich will get another chance in 2020, and the Los Angeles-area native will seize it at Dodger Stadium, edging the Rangers’ Joey Gallo in the finals.
18. The three-batter minimum won’t be that big of a deal.
On paper, it’s arguably the biggest rule change in baseball since the advent of the designated hitter, simply because it impacts decision-making for every team in virtually every game. And I’m sure there will be an instance or three in which a manager gets burned by an unfavorable lefty-righty matchup that he could have avoided under the old rules and catches heck for it.
But the one- and two-batter relief appearances covered by this rule have been on the decline in recent seasons, anyway. So on the whole, the rule is not likely to meaningfully alter the course of the season.
19. The Wild Card winners will be …
The Rays and Indians in the AL.
The Mets and Phillies in the NL.
But only after the Brewers and Padres get eliminated by the Phillies in a three-way tiebreaker for the second spot at season’s end.
No, I promise you, this is not just wishful thinking on the part of the guy who spends the entirety of each September writing about tiebreaker scenarios that don’t end up happening. There will be a three-way tiebreaker in 2020 ... or your money back!*
*As always, I reserve the right to replace these erroneous postseason predictions with a different set of erroneous predictions near the end of Spring Training.
20. Of course the Yankees are going to win the World Series.
Gerrit Cole arguably looked better with a beard, and apparently he’s a bit of a hoarder. But we’re not going to hold any of that against one of the best pitchers in baseball. He was the missing piece of what is now, arguably or perhaps unarguably, the most complete team in MLB.
While recent history is littered with examples of the “most complete team” not getting it done on the big stage (remember all the breathless coverage of the 2019 Astros’ midseason acquisition of Zack Greinke?), the Yanks are going to rise above all that because they’ll be healthier (almost by default) and they’ve retained the system depth to address needs as they arise. We avoided a Yankees World Series title for the entirety of the 2010s. It won’t happen in the first year of the 2020s. The Yankees will take down the NL champion Braves in six games.
(And no, I’m not just saying all of the above as an attempt to jinx the possessors of pinstripes. Where would you get such an idea?)