BY KEN MORSE
There are some things in life that never change. Like for whatever reason, when we change the clocks ahead anticipating the first signs of spring, winter decides to make a curtain call.
It seems like for the past 27 years, every time I get ready to write my MLB season preview column, we have a blizzard. But with the changing of the clocks to spring ahead one hour, it’s only a matter of time before we hear the umpire yell, play ball.
The winter meetings held in December between the 30 MLB representatives and the 120 Minor League affiliates dates back to 1876 and became and annual event in 1901. This year’s get-together didn’t have the same drama as last year when the lockout occurred with owners and players trying to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement.
This year’s meeting was more about where Yankee slugger Aaron Judge would spend his summers for the foreseeable future and who would plunk down the $300-plus million to have that say so. And you could just hear John Sterling in the background with that annoying, ‘The Yankees win’.
The Yankees may have kept the rights of Judge for the next nine-years at $360 million, the third-largest contract in baseball history, but the Bronx Bombers will be hard-pressed to duplicate what they did last season. Anthony Rizzo missed time last year with what has been described as a cranky back and is currently on the injured list as of the time of this writing.
Harrison Bader, expected to be a difference- maker, is out for six weeks and after plunking down major dollars to acquire Carlos Rodon, he will be out until end of April. Relief pitchers Lou Trivino and Tommy Kahnle are out untll May with Frankie Montas out until the second half.
If the Yankees are going to repeat as A.L. East division winners they are going to need all hands on deck and not sitting in the waiting room at the nearest hospital. Aroldis Chapman is no longer a Yankee and the team might even be better without the much-maligned pitcher.
The Mets tied the Braves with 101 wins in the N.L. East so owner Steve Cohen doubled down and signed Justin Verlander after picking up Max Scherzer last year. They did lose Jacob deGrom to Texas but return two 15-game winners in Chris Bassitt and Carlos Carrasco.
They will have enough firepower with Pete Alonso (40 HR and 131 RBI) to go along with Francisco Lindor (26 HR and 107 RBI) to give the Braves another run for their money.
The Red Sox are intriguing at best after starting spring training undefeated at 9-0. They let Xander Bogaerts go, not interested in inking a 31-year-old shortstop for 10 years, which is understandable. But they went all in on Rafael Devers, the 26-year-old slugger, after team owner John Henry was booed at Fenway during the Winter Classic hockey game.
Chaim Bloom, chief operating officer, has been in the rent-a-player mode the past few years, doling out expensive short-term deals to guys like Trevor Story, Eric Hosmer and now Justin Turner, but he is quietly building a veteran staff around Chris Sale in hopes that he can finally give a full season after being in touch-and-go mode the past four seasons. If James Paxton can make a full recovery from Tommy John surgery and Corey Kluber can take the next step in his comeback, the Sox will have a dominant front three as any team in the league.
If that happens whatever Masataka Yoshida and Adam Duvall bring to the plate will be a plus. Tristan Casas is said to be in the running for Rookie of the Year honors and if Turner is as tough as advertised, Boston may find themselves in the hunt even without J.D. Martiniez.
Looking into the crystal baseball, I see the Yankees struggling to stay healthy costing them games in the win column but not enough to keep them out of the postseason, even if it’s a brief journey.
The Mets are a hands-down favorite to be back in the playoffs. Doesn’t really matter where, when and how, they will be hard-pressed to get past Dodgers.
The Red Sox may not be the most improved team out there, but if potential counts for anything, I would hedge my bets towards the Sox heading back to the playoffs.
BY KEN MORSE