MLB Rumors: The Early-Season Buzz Around Every Team
As we approach the end of April, early MLB storylines are coming into focus.
Let’s take this opportunity to survey all 30 teams and the buzz, rumors and notes surrounding them. In some cases, it’s a player off to a surprisingly hot start. In others it’s an underachieving superstar struggling to get it going.
We’ve got the whole summer and into the fall for scripts to flip. For now, this is where the baseball world stands.
American League East
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Baltimore Orioles (6-18): A sell-off is nigh
The Baltimore Orioles eschewed a rebuild this winter and instead opted to make one more run at the postseason before franchise player Manny Machado hits free agency.
So far so bad for the O’s, who own a 6-18 record and are buried in last place in the American League East.
Baltimore won’t start trading pieces yet, but unless the club engineers a massive turnaround, impending free agents such as Machado, closer Zach Britton and outfielder Adam Jones should be on the market, as Sporting News’ Ryan Fagan speculated.
Boston Red Sox (18-5): A powerful new approach
After finishing last in the AL in home runs in 2017, the Boston Red Sox have powered out of the gate and rank third in the game with a .798 OPS. Not coincidentally, their 18-5 record is tops in baseball.
The addition of slugger J.D. Martinez has helped, as has the Sox’s more aggressive approach, which NESN.com’s Mike Cole outlined:
“FanGraphs has a plate discipline stat called Z-swing percentage, measuring the percentage of swings on pitches inside the zone. The Red Sox finished dead-last in Major League Baseball last season in Z-swing percentage. This season, however, they lead the league.”
So far, more swings are adding up to more success in Beantown.
New York Yankees (14-9): Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez struggling
Meanwhile, in the Bronx, two big-time power hitters are scuffling.
Giancarlo Stanton has gotten the most negative buzz and heard the attendant boos. He’s hitting just .213 with 35 strikeouts in his first 22 games with the New York Yankees.
Catcher Gary Sanchez has also stumbled off the starting blocks, and owns a .208 average and .247 on-base percentage.
Both hitters are too talented to remain below the Mendoza Line, but with Boston rolling, New York needs them to rediscover their strokes posthaste.
Tampa Bay Rays (9-13): Willy Adames knocking on the door
The small-market Tampa Bay Rays are never shy about giving young players a shot. Willy Adames could get his soon.
After belting a grand slam for the Triple-A Durham Bulls on Monday, Adames hit for the cycle on Tuesday. It was quite an encore for the 22-year-old infielder, who’s now hitting .339 in 17 MiLB contests.
If the Rays’ top position-player prospect (per MLB.com) keeps it up, it won’t be long before he’s plying his trade at Tropicana Field.
Toronto Blue Jays (14-9): Josh Donaldson’s balky shoulder
At 14-9, the Toronto Blue Jays are tied for second place in the AL East. Unless they get third baseman Josh Donaldson back to health, however, their odds of making a serious postseason push are low.
Donaldson has played in just 12 games because of a shoulder issue and hit .239 during that span. He could begin a rehab assignment soon, as Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reported on Tuesday.
That’s positive news, but until the Jays see the 32-year-old playing like his old self, they’ll be forced to hold their breath.
American League Central
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Chicago White Sox (5-16): Danny Farquhar’s frightening fight
Sometimes, we get a harsh reminder that baseball isn’t everything. So it was when Chicago White Sox reliever Danny Farquhar collapsed in the dugout from a brain aneurysm.
After being hospitalized, Farquhar “has use of his extremities, is responding appropriately to questions and commands and is speaking to doctors and his family,” according to an official team statement (h/t Tom Schad of USA Today).
That’s a positive development in a scary story, but whether the seven-year veteran will ever pitch again remains unknown.
Cleveland Indians (13-9): Melky Cabrera in the mix
The defending AL Central champion Cleveland Indians rank 2tth in baseball in runs scored and OPS. No wonder, then, they’re searching for offensive help.
They may have found some in the form of outfielder Melky Cabrera, whom the Tribe inked to a minor league contract on Monday, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi.
The Melk Man has extensive experience in the division after stints with the White Sox and Kansas City Royals. He’s also coming off a more-than-respectable season in which he hit .285 with 17 home runs.
Only because of the stingy nature of the 2017-18 offseason could the Indians snag the 33-year-old in late April on a minor league deal.
Detroit Tigers (10-11): Miguel Cabrera heating up
Rumors of Miguel Cabrera’s demise were apparently exaggerated.
Coming off his worst big league season (.249 average, .728 OPS), the 35-year-old appeared to be on the downslope of his Hall of Fame career. So far, Miggy is hitting .300 with an .855 OPS. Over the past week, he’s hitting .474 with two doubles and a home run.
If he keeps raking, it puts the rebuilding Detroit Tigers in an interesting spot. Do they enjoy the exploits of their franchise player, or dangle him and see if a contender is willing to send back some prospects and take on a portion of the $184 million he’s owed through 2023?
Kansas City Royals (5-17): Mike Moustakas a massive bargain
The Kansas City Royals spent most of the offseason playing hard to get with third baseman Mike Moustakas, then re-signed him to a one-year, $5.5 million deal with a mutual $15 million option for 2019 and a $1 million buyout.
So far, Moose is hitting .307 with six home runs and 17 RBI in 21 games and is looking like an absolute steal for K.C.
The Royals, meanwhile, are in last place at 5-17. If Moustakas keeps hitting and they keep losing, he’ll be among the hottest commodities at the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
Minnesota Twins (8-11): Byron Buxton’s return delayed
If the Minnesota Twins are going to build on last season’s AL wild-card berth, they need a fully functional Byron Buxton.
The 24-year-old broke out in 2017 with 16 home runs, 29 stolen bases and a Gold Glove in center field. Migraines put him on the disabled list and a foul ball off his left foot in a minor league rehab game delayed his return, per Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
The Twinkies won’t rush their prized young outfielder, but they also need him back in the fold ASAP.
American League West
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Houston Astros (17-9): No championship hangover
The Houston Astros hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy in 2017. So far in 2018, they rank fifth in baseball in runs scored and first in ERA. At 17-9, they’re half a game up on the surprising Los Angeles Angels in the AL West.
Since 1979, only two teams have won consecutive World Series: the Blue Jays (1992-93) and the Yankees (1998-00).
There’s no guarantee the ‘Stros will become the third, but they’ve come out of the gate like a club that swallowed some aspirin and left the championship hangover behind.
Los Angeles Angels (16-9): Shohei Ohtani is the real deal
Speaking of the Angels, they’ve gotten a predictably strong performance from perennial MVP candidate Mike Trout and solid contributions elsewhere on the roster.
The story, though, has been Shohei Ohtani.
After a dismal spring training, the two-way Japanese star has lived up to the advance billing, with 26 strikeouts in 20.1 innings to pair with a .997 OPS in 42 at-bats.
He recently battled a blister issue, but returned Tuesday to throw eight pitches at 100 mph or faster against the Astros, per SportsCenter on Twitter.
Keep your DVRs poised and your radar guns cocked.
Oakland Athletics (13-12): Sean Manaea suddenly looks like an ace
The Oakland A’s are known for unearthing diamonds in the rough. Their latest gem? Sean Manaea.
Through 36.2 innings, Manaea owns a 1.23 ERA and has held opponents to a .130 average. On Saturday, he authored a no-hitter against a potent Red Sox lineup.
The 26-year-old showed flashes in each of the past two seasons with Oakland, but the 4.37 ERA he posted in 2017 didn’t portend this type of start.
Now, we wait to see if he can keep it up.
Seattle Mariners (13-10): King Felix officially off his throne?
The Seattle Mariners have won three of Felix Hernandez’s first five starts. He’s pitched into the sixth innings or later in four of them. That’s the good news.
The bad news? The Mariners’ former ace owned a 5.06 ERA entering his outing on Wednesday while his average fastball velocity had tumbled to 90.3 mph, down from a career average of 93.8 mph.
The M’s have been waiting and hoping for King Felix to regain his royal stature. At this point, that seems like a fairy tale.
Texas Rangers (9-17): Down in the standings, Adrian Beltre hobbling
The Texas Rangers didn’t need any more bad news after a 9-17 start. They got some when third baseman Adrian Beltre strained his hamstring while running to first base on Tuesday, per the Associated Press (h/t the Washington Post).
The veteran slugger was set to be evaluated on Wednesday, but considering he’s 39 years old, a stint on the disabled list is likely bordering on inevitable.
His absence won’t doom the Rangers this early, but it won’t help their cause, either.
National League East
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Atlanta Braves (13-10): Ronald Acuna arrives
Ronald Acuna Jr. hit .432 this spring for the Atlanta Braves but was sent back to the farm, seemingly to delay his service-time clock and give Atlanta another year of club control.
Then the touted 20-year-old prospect hit .232 in the minors, suggesting more seasoning was needed.
Acuna began to heat up for Triple-A Gwinnett by collecting 11 hits in his last 33 at-bats, and he got the call from the Braves.
On Wednesday, Atlanta slotted him into its starting lineup and gave him the opportunity to enter the NL Rookie of the Year race. No pressure, kid.
Miami Marlins (7-17): Not as awful as expected…actually, worse
No one thought the Miami Marlins were going to compete in 2018. Under a new, cost-cutting ownership group fronted by Derek Jeter, they jettisoned multiple pieces this winter, including their entire 2017 starting outfield.
The Fish, though, have sunk below the most modest expectations.
Entering play Wednesday, they were tied for 26th in runs scored and ranked last in OPS. On the pitching side, they were 26th in WHIP and 28th in ERA.
By any measure, this is a terrible team. They might be worse than their 7-17 record. Listen for the echoes emanating from Marlins Park.
New York Mets (15-7): Zack Wheeler’s comeback
With the exception of erstwhile Dark Knight Matt Harvey (who was demoted to the bullpen), the New York Mets starting five is bouncing back. Not surprisingly, so are the Mets, who lead the NL East with a 15-7 record.
Ace Noah Syndergaard’s return garnered headlines, but the Amazin’s should be equally pleased with Zack Wheeler’s burgeoning renaissance.
The 27-year-old gave up four runs in four innings in his start Tuesday against the St. Louis Cardinals, but he fanned seven in seven innings in his debut on April 11 and has displayed glimpses of the pitcher who once looked like a rotation-fronting force.
Philadelphia Phillies (15-8): Starting pitchers making hay
The Philadelphia Phillies are the second-place team in the NL East at 15-8, thanks in large part to the starting rotation that ranks fifth in baseball with a 3.23 ERA.
Jake Arrieta has done his part with a 2.04 ERA in three starts, but Aaron Nola (2.30 ERA) and Nick Pivetta (2.57 ERA) have also looked the part of rotation-toppers.
The Phils are allegedly in the midst of a rebuild, but if they keep throwing the ball like this, they could also be in the midst of the Senior Circuit postseason scramble.
Washington Nationals (11-14): Sagging in Bryce Harper’s swan song
This might be the final season the Washington Nationals play with Bryce Harper. So far, they aren’t acting with the requisite urgency.
At 11-14, the Nats are looking up at the Mets, Phillies and Braves. Harper has eight home runs and 19 RBI in 24 games in his much-anticipated contract year and Max Scherzer is pitching like an ace, but the supporting cast isn’t picking up the slack.
If Washington wants to get past the division series for the first time since relocating to D.C., it will need the entire roster to rise to the occasion.
National League Central
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Chicago Cubs (11-10): Yu Darvish on blast
In four starts with the Chicago Cubs, Yu Darvish owns a 6.86 ERA. He’s given up 21 hits, 11 walks and 15 earned runs in 19.2 innings. That’s…let’s check the math…not good for a guy who signed a six-year, $126 million deal this winter.
“It looks like he got too comfortable when he got the second out,” 25-year-old Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said after Darvish walked Rockies pitcher Tyler Anderson with two down on Saturday, per Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times. “In the big leagues, no matter how many outs there are, you have to keep attacking the hitters. I hope we learn from that.”
It’s unusual for a young backstop to call out a four-time All-Star, and it’s even more unusual for the team to remain silent. Clearly, the Cubs aren’t enamored with Darvish’s early returns.
Cincinnati Reds (5-19): Joey Votto looking mortal
One of the best hitters of his generation and certainly the best hitter on a ho-hum Cincinnati Reds squad, Joey Votto has opened 2018 with some uncharacteristic struggles.
In 22 games, he’s hitting .244. More troublingly, only two of his 22 hits have gone for extra bases.
We aren’t sticking a fork in the 2017 NL MVP runner-up yet. However, it’s worth noting that he’s 34 years old, an age when even the most finely honed skills begin to erode.
Milwaukee Brewers (16-9): Eric Thames to DL
Since returning from Korea to the big leagues in 2017, Eric Thames has been one of the best stories in baseball. He smashed 31 home runs with the Milwaukee Brewers last season, and he had seven in his first 22 games this year.
On Tuesday, however, the Brewers announced Thames is headed to the 10-day disabled list with a ligament tear in his left thumb.
It’s a blow for the Brew Crew and a setback for a Hollywood-ready comeback tale.
St. Louis Cardinals (14-9): Marcell Ozuna wobbling
The St. Louis Cardinals acquired outfielder Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins this winter with the intention of making Ozuna a lineup cornerstone.
So far, Ozuna is hitting .233 with a .256 on-base percentage.
That’s perplexing, but the 27-year-old two-time All-Star ought to come around.
“You’re coming to a new team. They know you have good talent, good offense,” Ozuna said, per Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I’m trying to prove what I have. Right now, I just feel like I’m trying to do too much.”
National League West
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Arizona Diamondbacks (16-7): The toast of the NL
Forget the Cubs, Nationals or defending NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers. The Arizona Diamondbacks are the early kings of the National League.
After winning 93 games in 2017, the Snakes have opened 2018 at 16-7.
They’re hitting. They’re pitching. They’re fielding. They look, talk and slither like a top-tier franchise.
“I just think we have a good team,” veteran starter Zack Greinke told reporters. “There’s not really any holes.”
Colorado Rockies (14-12): Jon Gray getting shelled
Despite a 14-12 start that has them in the thick of the NL West scramble, the Colorado Rockies have to be concerned abut ostensible ace Jon Gray.
Through five starts, Gray owns a 7.09 ERA and has yielded 36 hits in 26.2 innings, including four home runs.
“I can be good 95 percent of the time but not good 5 percent of the time. It doesn’t matter, I guess,” Gray said after a tough loss to the Nationals, per Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. “I’ve got to find a way to be good right there.”
The 26-year-old was a key to Colorado’s success in 2017. The Rockies need him to bounce back.
Los Angeles Dodgers (11-12): What happened to Puig?
Since he burst on the scene with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013, Yasiel Puig has been a magnet for attention.
First, it was because of his five-tool abilities. Then, it was because his declining performance and distracting antics spurred a demotion in 2016.
Last season, Puig hit 28 homers with an .833 OPS. He seemed to be on the doorstep of stardom at last.
Through 22 games in 2018, he’s hitting .195 without a home run.
The Dodgers will keep giving Puig rope based on his tantalizing skill set, but at a certain point, the bench will come calling.
San Diego Padres (9-17): Eric Hosmer looking like a toxic asset
The San Diego Padres haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 and are a rebuilding team for all intents and purposes.
Despite that, they handed an eight-year, $144 million contract to first baseman Eric Hosmer this winter.
So far, the 28-year-old has struck out 26 times in 22 games while hitting a paltry four RBI. He still has the rest of this season and multiple years after to make good on the Friars’ investment, but thus far, it appears as though San Diego should have saved its shekels.
San Francisco Giants (11-13): Mac Williamson to the rescue
When the San Francisco Giants placed veteran left fielder Hunter Pence on the disabled list with a thumb injury and called up Mac Williamson, they were hoping for an offensive spark.
So far, Williamson has been that and more.
In five games with the Giants, Williamson has clubbed three home runs. However, he was scratched from Wednesday’s game against the Nationals with a stiff neck, per Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Assuming that’s merely a minor setback, Williamson ought to be a major puzzle piece for the Giants going forward.