COVID-19 will continue to have its input, and so will MLB owners and the Players Association.
But I am hoping for baseball in 2021 to be as close to normal as possible.
For I want to look forward optimistically to something because looking back at the last year is so dismaying and disheartening. For the planet. For the sport.
And yet in my little corner of the world …
I saw enough of Juan Soto in a limited 2020 season to want more. Much more. I generally grimace at hyperbole and only make predictions when someone who pays me forces me to do so. Yet, I wonder if I am watching the opening act of the greatest hitter ever. Soto is Miguel Cabrera’s precociousness, Joey Votto’s eye, Big Papi’s sense of the moment and Albert Pujols’ impact.
The only players who batted at least 1,000 times and had a higher OPS-plus through their age-21 season than Soto’s 151 are five Hall of Famers (Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx and Eddie Mathews) and two future Hall of Famers (Pujols and Mike Trout).
So do I want to see him bat as much as possible in 2021? Yes …. Yes, I do.
And give me more of Trout too. This will be the season in which he will turn 30 in August. Can the Angels muscle up so he can play important games in September, if not October? The sport would be so much better if Trout had a meaningful forum to display his skills, even if it is just in a tense race for the postseason.
Yet, give me as much 2021 baseball as possible because I think this could be a torch-passing year — Trout to Fernando Tatis Jr. as the best player in the game. Tatis Jr. turns 22 on the second day of 2021. Yet it doesn’t take 20-20 hindsight to see that 2020 set the stage on offense, defense and charisma for Tatis Jr. to be the standard in the game. Yep, count me in for seeing if that transfer of power takes hold.
But maybe that transfer of power already took place. Mookie Betts’ team won the 2020 World Series and won it not insignificantly because everything you can do well on a field — big or nuanced — Betts excels at. He is baseball as it could be: talented, athletic, heady. He is a triple-double come to MLB because he impacts the game so greatly at the plate, in the field and on the bases.
We are playing a game for all your money tomorrow and you have the first pick in the draft — is there a player who would help you win more than Betts?
I can’t take my eyes off of him when he is just leading off first base. So, again, as much Mookie as possible in 2021.
And as much Betts’ Dodgers vs. Tatis Jr.’s Padres as the schedule can afford. Los Angeles has won the NL West seven straight years and will be defending World Series champs and I can’t wait to see what this assemblage of talent in San Diego can do about that. There is combustibility with the Padres. But also a ceiling as high as any team in the sport. This is going to be the best rivalry in the game in 2021. A three-game series of Yu Darvish, Dinelson Lamet and Blake Snell vs. Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and David Price is must see, along with the tag team of Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado vs. Betts and Cody Bellinger.
As far as matchups go, if I heard Mike Brosseau were batting against Aroldis Chapman today on Wall Street, I’d put on a mask and get there. So, yeah, let’s hope some ninth innings find them together again in 2021.
Also, put me down for Jacob deGrom vs. Gerrit Cole. Neither faced the other New York team in 2020 (the Buffalo Blue Jays don’t count), much less each other. That needs to change in 2021.
The best offseason plot around here is if Steve Cohen and Sandy Alderson and Jared Porter can assemble a team worthy of deGrom. The greatest pitcher in Mets history, Tom Seaver, passed away in 2020. The second best has a 2.10 ERA over the last three seasons, throws 93 mph sliders and struck out nearly 40 percent of the hitters he faced last year.
The second best offseason plot around here is whether the Yankees are retaining DJ LeMahieu. As someone who counts the rarer and rarer half innings that don’t include a strikeout, walk or homer, I want more of LeMahieu going line to line. Nicknames are often tortured. But “The Machine” feels right for his Terminator-esque relentless, emotion-free, pressure-impervious at-bats.
Give me a 2021 with the aesthetic joy of Nolan Areando at third and Kevin Kiermaier in center. For seeing if this is the year Jose Berrios and Luis Castillo become household names. For Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager and Trevor Story dueling to see who emerges atop the best free-agent shortstop class ever.
Devin Williams’ changeup and Garrett Crochet’s fastball. Giancarlo Stanton’s exit velocity and Wander Franco’s entry date. Freddie Freeman in the clutch and Trea Turner in fourth gear.
Here is hoping for a better 2021.