Here's all you need to know before Opening Day

March 27th, 2018

Seems like only yesterday that the Astros and Dodgers put the finishing touches on an instant classic of a World Series. OK, it was 146 days ago -- if you're going to be like that.

While the Astros lingered happily on the field at Dodger Stadium after winning Game 7, both teams did themselves and their sport proud, and here's to another instant classic in 2018.

Now here on the eve of another Opening Day, we thought it would be a good time to review an offseason that was as strange as it was fascinating. If you haven't been paying close attention, you might have missed a thing or two.

Let's catch up:

Familiar faces in new places

National League Most Valuable Player Award winner was the first of a long list of prominent players to change teams when we was traded from the Marlins to the Yankees in December. The Yankees led the Majors in home runs in 2017, so they didn't set out to add Stanton's 59-homer bat. But when he became available, Yanks executives loved the idea of putting Stanton -- all 6-foot-6, 245 pounds of him -- in a lineup that already had 6-foot-7, 282-pound and his 52 home runs.

We'd like to say the Stanton trade set off an avalanche of moves, but it didn't. In fact, it was one of the slowest offseasons to get going for a long list of reasons, chief among them that data-driven teams seem more reluctant to agree to big-ticket contracts that extend into age-33 seasons and beyond.

In the end, though, things did get done, with free agents (Cubs), J.D. Martinez (Red Sox), (Padres), (Phillies), (Brewers) and (Rockies) among the prominent players signing multiyear deals with new teams.

There were significant trades as well, with the Giants acquiring two franchise icons -- from the Rays and from the Pirates. In addition to the Yankees, three other teams also benefitted from the Marlins' selling -- the Mariners (Dee Gordon), Brewers () and Cardinals ().

The Twins got busy -- and stayed busy

What do you do for an encore after you've improved by 26 games and made the playoffs for the first time since 2010? If you're the Minnesota Twins, you become MLB's most active team.

You add -- take a deep breath -- two starting pitchers (Jake Odorizzi and ), three relievers (, and Zach Duke) and a slugger (). All of this talent joins a team that went 35-24 after Aug. 1 while leading led the Majors in runs during that span. Incidentally, the Twin Cities are absolutely gorgeous in October.

's quest to be baseball's most interesting player

Ohtani chose the Angles after being pursued by virtually every other team, all of them promising to give the 23-year-old a chance to be a two-way player. That is, he will start on the mound every fifth or sixth day and serve as a designated hitter (or play the field) a time or two between starts.

To say baseball people are skeptical is an understatement. They believe that the work and skill level required to succeed at just one thing -- hitting or pitching -- requires every ounce of commitment a player has.

But with bullpens longer and benches shorter, every team is watching the Angels closely and rooting for Ohtani to succeed. Likewise, the Rays and Dodgers are attempting to groom a two-way player in their Minor League systems, and other teams are looking closely at their rosters for players who did both in college.

Ohtani struggled mightily at times during Spring Training, a tough reminder that the transition from Japan would be challenging enough if he were a typical "one-way" player.

Introducing MLB's next generation of managers

Suddenly, they all want some version of AJ Hinch, the man who has led the revival of the Astros. Turns out, he was ahead of his time when the D-backs let him go after parts of two seasons in 2010. At the time, he had an 89-123 career record, and a lot of people didn't think he would get another shot.

Now Hinch's strengths are the same ones that a lot of general managers are seeking. He relates well to players, and he's comfortable collaborating with a data-driven front office. Also important is that his sense of humor and poise play well over a long season.

Of baseball's six new skippers, only one of them -- Ron Gardenhire of the Tigers -- has previous Major League managing experience. Mickey Callaway (Mets) and Dave Martinez (Nationals) have extensive big league coaching experience, while the other three -- Aaron Boone (Yankees), Gabe Kapler (Phillies), Alex Cora (Red Sox) -- have zero or very little coaching experience in the Majors.

But all six of them are known for their people skills, and for their willingness to think outside the box and to adjust to a game that's changing rapidly.

Spring Training lasted too long for some

Every baseball executive says the same thing about Spring Training: "We just want to get out of here healthy."

That's especially true for those injuries that occur late in Spring Training, when Opening Day is just over the horizon.

Unfortunately, it lasted too long for the Giants' (left hand fracture, out until May) and Jeff Samardzija (right pectoral strain, out until late April)), the D-backs' Steven Souza Jr. (right pectoral strain, out until May), the Yankees' Greg Bird (broken right ankle spur, out until May), the Dodgers' (left wrist fracture, return TBD) and the Cardinals' Luke Gregerson (left hamstring strain, return TBD). None of the injuries will cost a player an entire season, and all of them are expected back at some point in the first half.

We have seen the future, and it looks a lot like and

The Braves couldn't have hoped for more of Acuna, the 20-year-old outfielder and Atlanta's No. 1 prospect. He hit .432 this spring and showed off a whole range of skills, from hitting home runs to stealing bases. Acuna's arrival will mark a new chapter of optimism for a franchise headed rapidly in the right direction.

The White Sox can say the same thing about their No. 1 guy, 21-year-old outfielder Jimenez, who missed most of the spring with a sore left knee. When he returned, he batted .571 and reached base six straight times in a three-game stretch. Like Acuna, he will make his Major League debut at some point this season.

Among others on a fast track to the big leagues: outfielders (Astros) and (Nationals), infielder (Yankees) and pitcher (Dodgers).

The Hall of Fame has six new members

Cooperstown will have a large induction class this summer that includes Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, Vladimir Guerrero and Chipper Jones.

Finally, Ichiro

At 44, is back for an 18th season in the big leagues, which makes the world a better place.

Best of all, Ichiro is returning to the Mariners, the team for which he played his first 12 seasons and established his greatness in this country with 2,533 hits, two batting titles, 10 All-Star appearances and 10 Gold Glove Awards. In 26 seasons in Japan and the USA, he has 4,358 hits -- the most in professional baseball history.