As we inch ever closer to Opening Day, we now pretty much know who each team is going to employ on its major league roster. Except for a few battles here and there and some questions of who will start or who will be on the bench, the rosters for each team are mostly set.
Now, we begin predicting and projecting, which is just a fancy way of saying that we’re going to start guessing what will happen this season. Of course, we have no idea what will happen, but we’re going to guess anyway! After yesterday’s first prediction piece, today we’re giving out the major hardware. Yes, we’re doing it before the season even starts! Let’s get to it!
AL MVP Finalists: Mike Trout, Carlos Correa, Mookie Betts – You know Trout will be there, regardless of the Angels‘ record, and after being a finalist last season, Betts is here to stay. It doesn’t hurt that the Boston Red Sox are projected to be the best team in the A.L., and they should be pretty close to that this season. Correa took a step back last season after his breakout rookie year, but with arguably the best lineup in baseball around him and a young team ready to make the leap to an elite team in the Houston Astros, Correa should be the best player on a division winner.
That gets you nominated more times than not. The winner, though, is a lot harder to choose; or is it? Last season was a step in the right direction for voters, who decided to give the award to the best player in baseball instead of to the player with the best stats on a playoff team. I expect their decision to be a lot easier this season, as the Angels stand to be much improved. Winner – Trout. Honorable Mentions – Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Francisco Lindor, Evan Longoria, Miguel Cabrera.
NL MVP Finalists: Kris Bryant, Corey Seager, Bryce Harper – Bryant won the whole thing last year, and as good as he is he could still be getting even better. The same could be said of Seager, who was a finalist in his rookie season and is only going to keep improving, especially in a stacked and deep Dodgers lineup that stands to support him and set him up to pile on those counting stats the voters love.
Harper had a bit of a down year last year, and for how hyped he’s been his whole career, he’s really only put together one season worthy of it. He’ll bounce back this year to post impressive numbers, though, and the Washington Nationals should be one of the better teams in baseball. That will help his case. The winner of this award will actually end up in the record books for something even more impressive than just winning MVP; in the history of the award, there’s never been back-to-back winners in both leagues. This season, that changes. Winner – Bryant. Honorable Mentions – Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard, Nolan Arenado, Christian Yelich, Buster Posey.
A.L. Cy Young Finalists: Chris Sale, Chris Archer, Corey Kluber – With David Price‘s injury, the Red Sox will be relying on Sale to help carry the rotation even more. Let’s just say Sale is going to enjoy the pressure, and pitching for one of the best teams in baseball. Archer had a bit of a down year, but he still racks up those K’s, and both he and the Rays should bounce back.
There are worries about Kluber’s workload after last year, but he’s never had a serious injury in his career and is extremely durable. He should be brought along slowly at first, but when it’s all said and done, Kluber will be there for the second straight year as a finalist. It’s hard to pick against the kind of stats Sale could put up for a team as good as the Sox, especially those wins that we know the voters love. Winner – Sale. Honorable Mentions – Lance McCullers, Jose Quintana, Danny Salazar, Cole Hamels, Justin Verlander.
N.L. Cy Young Finalists: Noah Syndergaard, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw – Syndergaard is so impressive in every way, and the Mets have enough question marks offensively that any success they have will rightly be attributed to their pitching staff, of which Syndergaard is the best.
Scherzer and Kershaw are there every year, and this season should be no different. Much like the A.L. MVP discussion, picking the winner of the award seems like a cop-out.
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The truth is that there’s one obvious winner before the season even starts, and they have to lose it as opposed to another player winning it. Last year, it was an injury that cost Kershaw the award, and even though he missed so much time he still had a legitimate case to win the award. His case will be more obvious this time around. Winner – Kershaw. Honorable Mentions – Madison Bumgarner, Carlos Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Kenley Jansen, Johnny Cueto.
A.L. Rookie of the Year Finalists: Andrew Benintendi, Yoan Moncada, Aaron Judge – Another Red Sox player on the list, and you can begin to see why they’re projected to be so good. Benintendi is not only slated to be in the starting lineup, but he should be batting second or third, which will allow him to rack up some impressive numbers, especially for a rookie.
Moncada is starting the year in the minors, but he should be up sometime this year and will put together a good enough season to be a finalist at the end of the year. Judge is still technically competing for a spot, but he’ll seize hold of a starting job in the outfield and will be another finalist. Winner – Benintendi
N.L. Rookie of the Year Finalists: Dansby Swanson, Tyler Glasnow, Hunter Renfroe – Swanson would appear to be the front runner for this award after being a number one draft pick and putting up impressive numbers in his small-sample-size debut last year, but Glasnow has been so incredibly impressive this Spring that he seems primed to be one of the best young pitchers in baseball. Renfroe is a long shot, but he’ll get plenty of opportunities on a bad team in San Diego. Winner – Glasnow.
A.L. Manager of the Year Finalists: A.J. Hinch, Kevin Cash, Robin Ventura – The Astros are the favorites to win the division, and if they come through on that promise and the young players make good on their potential, Hinch will have a strong case for this award.
We know, though, that this award doesn’t always go to the best manager, and sometimes not even a particularly good manager. The award generally goes to the manager of the team that most outplayed its expectations. If a team that everyone predicts is going to be bad has a good season, that team’s manager is automatically considered for the award. In that vein, Cash and Ventura will both be finalists for the award.
The Rays are coming off a bad year, but with one of the best rotations in baseball and an improved lineup, they should bounce back and contend this season. The White Sox are projected to be one of the worst teams in baseball, but with such a young team, you just never know, especially with some of the highly-regarded prospects the White Sox have. They aren’t going to make the playoffs, but they’ll be a lot better than people think, and that’ll be enough to get Ventura into a final spot. It’s going to be a close call between a young team becoming one of the best team’s in baseball in Houston, or a team that was bad bouncing back to become very good in Tampa Bay. It’s all about expectations, though, and if you outplay the expectations, you usually win the award. Winner – Cash.
N.L. Manager of the Year Finalists: Joe Maddon, Bud Black, Brian Snitker – This one will be a lot easier. The Rockies and Braves should both be a lot better this year, but both are going to have a difficult time getting close to the playoffs. In the case of the Braves, they don’t really have anywhere to go but up after the last few years, but Snitker will get some love for the growth of some of the young players and for the team being more competitive than it has been for years.
In the absence of an obvious team-playing-better-than-we-thought-they-would storyline, the next best thing is to just give it to the manager of the best team in baseball. It’s arguably a much tougher job to manage a team with sky-high expectations while avoiding the dreaded Championship Hangover, but the Cubs and Maddon are too good, and will be the best team in baseball this season. This award is Maddon’s to lose. Winner – Maddon.