My Soccer Refereeing Story

I don’t use this blog very often anymore—my preference for playing mind-numbing video games rather than enhancing my mental capacity after a ten-hour day at work probably has something to do with it, and as much fun as writing sports previews and personal articles were, I have never been as dedicated to my writing and analysis to build up any sort of following that would make me prioritize it.

This weekend, however, something happened to me that I wanted to put out in the public forum.

On Saturday afternoon, I was refereeing an Under-10 boys travel soccer game.  I have been refereeing now for eight years, having been encouraged to register with my club teammate by both of our mothers as we were in the middle of eighth grade.  While I am nowhere near the level of fitness that I used to be (i.e. I’ve gotten a bit tubby), I very much enjoy refereeing, and hope to continue to do so for many years.  Now that I am a recent college graduate and am working full-time, I do not need to continue to ref as consistently—after coming home from school I would try to pick up anywhere between 40 to 50 games in the month between my return home in mid-May and the end of the season in mid-June—but I continue to try and pick up as many games as I reasonably can on two counts, the first of which is my never-ending love for the game, which developed during the time I played high-level travel soccer (through high school—subtle brag; I wasn’t great by any means, but I got to start in the same lineup as a current MLS player when I was in high school, so that was cool) and has continued to rise as I’ve gotten lazier.  The other is my recognition of the relative shortage of referees in the game.

It is exciting to see that the game is growing throughout northern Illinois—when I was younger, there were five major teams that I can remember: Eclipse, the Hinsdale Hawks, Eclipse, the Chicago Blast, the Downers Grove Roadrunners, and the Berwyn Blazers were some of the big clubs within a ten-mile radius of my home in Clarendon Hills.  Today, I can think of eleven off the top of my head, including Eclipse, the Blast, the Roadrunners, and the Blazers, and now also including Team Elmhurst, Wizards, AYSO 300, Chicago Empire FC, OBSC, LTSC, and LaGrange Celtics.  In order for the game to continue to thrive, though, referees are inherently necessary; however, incidents like the one I faced on Saturday are the reason that referee participation is on the decline.

The events that led up to this are inconsequential, so long as I was not blatantly making calls towards one team or another; this was my first game refereeing for the home team in over two years, and I believe I called a fair game, as evidenced by the fact that the coaches of both teams, while vocal towards their players for the duration of the match, never once complained about my calls.  The parents of the away team, however, were a different story.

Following the final whistle, I walked back to my bag, and a player’s mother stormed up to me and demanded that I provide her with my name and information.  I had another game to get to, and was not obligated to provide any information, so I declined to offer it.  She then asked me for my credentials, so she could confirm that I had passed my referee test.  I replied saying I did not need to provide that information either, as the fact that I had a 2019 USSF badge was indicative of the fact I was properly credentialed for the game.  She continued to press me for information, and I continued to deny her that information, packing my bag so that once the players had finished their handshake line I could offer them a “good game” and go on to my next match.

 

From here, things escalated further; the woman’s husband came up to me and said “Aw shut up, are you kidding me?  Just give her what she asked for!”  I continued to deny the request, indicating that I was planning to leave and that I would not provide any information.  As he walked away, he called me a “f****** douche,” not at an elevated volume but clearly intended to be loud enough for me to hear.  I asked him what he had called me, and he responded that he said what he did because I had disrespected his wife, stepping back towards me in an intimidating fashion.  During this interaction, three more parents from the same team attempted to crowd me and take my picture to be sent in to the league office.

Fortunately, the president of the home team was at the game, and along with the staff coach of the that team, spoke up to encourage the visiting parents to leave me alone and move on to the parking lot.  While I was confident that nothing would escalate further beyond that, I was still shaken, and the president offered to help me submit a report to the league and walk me back to my car.  I declined, as I didn’t need any more people getting involved in the situation and needed to make it to my next game, but I obtained his contact information to allow for the verification of the events that took place, and I submitted my own objective report to the league earlier today.

There are more games to referee than ever—a great opportunity to make money, get exercise, and enjoy exceptional recreation simultaneously—but many are wary of the amount of responsibility and abuse that comes with the position.  Having played soccer for a long time, I am somewhat used to the yelling, and take advantage of the lack of referees by virtually having my pick of available matches I want each season (I have 34 games this fall).  While monetarily that’s great for me, this deficit of officials is not good for the game; I refereed a high-level Under-18 game yesterday where I didn’t have any assistant referees (the referee from the previous game offered to stay, and we did the game together).  Showing up to work a game alone is not fun.  Being called derogatory names at a game is worse; a fourteen year-old could have refereed that U10 game, and if they were in the position that I was, I believe that there is a significant chance that they would not continue refereeing following that.  There are others that have heard similar stories and choose not to register themselves, or their children, to be referees.

I doubt that anyone that might ever read this could possibly do anything drastic about the massive amounts of abuse heaped on referees by parents, and sometimes even coaches and players.  Heckling referees is so common that it’s virtually an American pastime.  But that doesn’t mean that people are entitled to say whatever they want, especially at the youth level, when almost all of the games are helmed by people like me, for whom refereeing is a hobby rather than something they are wholly dedicated to.

So, with that, I have a few final points to make.  The first of those is this: I encourage those that are willing and able to step in and help referee matches, in soccer and in other youth sports, to please do so.  90 percent of the games I have officiated have come off without a hitch, and in those that had some sort of issue, I received excellent training to handle the situations at hand, and have consistently gotten great support from my referee assignor.  This disturbing incident has even furthered my passion for the game, and furthered my desire to see more people in the sport—there are plenty of fantastic opportunities to be had, as refereeing provides great leadership opportunities while also padding your pocket—and those that stepped up to defend me assured me that there are many great people in the game.  There are so many young people picking up this great game, and many others, and denying them the proper structure to play due to a lack of officials would be demoralizing on multiple counts.

My incident showed, however, that there is still a sense of entitlement that the referee is there to do everything right, and to take any criticism that comes their way without complaint.  We officials are not perfect—while I am sure I was correct in my handling of the game scenario that spurred these events, I am sure I made multiple mistakes in that game outside of that—and this is not something that we are required to do.  There isn’t a whole lot of training involved, sure, but when the shortage is forcing a lot of referees to give up a lot of their weekends to assure games can properly proceed, losing even a few more officials than we already have would leave leagues perilously short of proper referees.

So please, try to find some restraint within yourself to really yell at officials; true heckling is generally acceptable (unless it is a younger official; in which case, use common sense—don’t yell at a young teen), and so is an appropriate questioning of a call (my coach growing up was very vocal, and very good at this), as most officials, especially once they reach my age, will not take any comments personally, and if they are good at what they do, perhaps seek to clarify why they did what they did.  But the incredibly rude and very personal insult that I faced, and the numerous other ones many other officials have to deal with, are not acceptable.  I am as much of a competitor as the next guy, but we have to remember that the game is just a game, and that the official is simply trying their best to make sure the game is fair.  Additionally, if you see a coach, player, or another parent berating an official, don’t egg them on for your amusement; encourage them to recognize the reality of what they are doing.  As the game continues to grow, particularly in this region of the world, and even of the country, it is crucial to maintain its integrity, and if referees are going to continue to face these types of situations on a regular basis, then the game’s rise will be greatly halted as quickly as it has started.

My Story

This post is currently a work in progress!

To read the original “My Story” that I posted, and to get an idea of why it might possibly warrant an edit, please click here.

Also, be on the lookout for “My Story – Part Two” soon after this post is finalized.

An Ode to Joel Quenneville

I haven’t updated this blog in over 6 months.  Part of it has been on account of the fact that I haven’t been able to think of anything to write, and part of it has been because I’ve been incredibly busy—working during the summer, seeking a job for the following one, and trying to keep my grades up in what is my second semester as a college undergrad.  But seeing Joel Quenneville relieved of his duties as the Head Coach of the Chicago Blackhawks today spurred me into action.

My dad grew up playing hockey; he played competitively all the way through college, and continued to play recreationally as he moved into adulthood.  But I never found myself interested in hockey—for one, I couldn’t skate to save my life, and hated falling on my butt so consistently.  The main reason, though, might have been because my hometown team, the Blackhawks, were pretty bad, and didn’t broadcast any of their games on local television.  The team had made the postseason once in the past decade, and that, combined with their archaic media policies, made them a laughingstock throughout the sports world.

After President John McDonough was brought into the organization in 2007, a massive culture shift began within the organization.  McDonough, along with owner Rocky Wirtz, who took over the team after the death of his father, Bill, knew they needed to undertake some drastic changes in order to get a moribund team back on track.    So when Coach Q was first brought into the Blackhawks organization as a scout back in 2008, many suspected that it would only be a matter of time before he replaced the team’s head coach at the time, the legendary Denis Savard.  Despite Savard’s solid relationship with youngsters Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, the organization didn’t seem to believe they, and the rest of the team’s core, were progressing as fast as they could have.  And so, four games into the 2008/2009 season, Savard was let go, and Quenneville was installed as the head man.

Of course, in hindsight it was easy to see that the roster that GM Dale Tallon had established was destined for something special.  Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook led the team in average minutes per game the prior two seasons.  Patrick Kane led the team in points.  Savard had the foresight to name Toews captain.  But nobody could have possibly anticipated the incredible run that the team went on, and that was spurred on by Quenneville.

The first full season with Q behind the bench made that especially clear.  It was Quenneville’s decision to give more playing time to Niklas Hjalmarsson, sticking him next to wily veteran Brian Campbell to form the team’s shutdown defensive pairing.  It was Quenneville’s decision to start rookie Antti Niemi in the playoffs over the more experienced (and more expensive) Cristobal Huet, and his decision to move defenseman Dustin Byfuglien into a forward role, often on the first line with Kane and Toews.  Both of those decisions were instrumental to the team winning their first Stanley Cup since 1961.

Quenneville’s impact on the squad’s success reached its peak in his efforts across the next two seasons.  After Niemi and Huet were forced to leave due to cap constraints, Quenneville and his staff helped develop youngster Corey Crawford into the stud that he is today, in addition to continuing to provide an environment for guys like Toews, Kane, and Keith to become internationally recognized superstars.  Players like Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, and Kris Versteeg left within that timeframe, as well, but Quenneville made due by providing increased roles to guys like Nick Leddy and the duo of Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland, who became household names in Chicago after their contributions to the team’s win over the Bruins in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.  He helped work in multiple mid-season acquisitions, including Michael Frolik, Johnny Oduya, and Michal Handzus, almost flawlessly.

As the salary cap continued to dog the ‘Hawks, Quenneville continued to work his magic.  Important depth pieces like Leddy, Bickell, Bolland, and Ray Emery were all forced out the door; Handzus retired.  But Quenneville gave big roles to guys like Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw, who were critical cogs of the roster for the next couple seasons and were unable to find anywhere near the level of success they did in Chicago after they, too, were forced to depart.  He lit a fire under Crawford by starting hometown-hero Scott Darling in five of the first six playoff games in 2015; upon his return to the lineup in Game 7, Crow turned in a virtuoso performance to lead the team on to the next round.

Off the ice, Coach Q was a perfect fit for the Chicago sports environment.  His mustache made him somewhat of a fashion icon, spurring multiple social media pages.  His passion to see the game succeed in the city after decades of poor performance was evident in every game he coached, but also in every press conference he gave, every camp he led, and every community event he attended.  He, along with also-fired assistant Kevin Dineen, established their homes in Hinsdale, a Chicago suburb, and fully integrated themselves into that community.  It became almost commonplace to see him at his favorite diner, Page’s, and in the annual Fourth of July parade, hoisting the Stanley Cup above his head as the community looked on in awe and appreciation.  He made hockey fans out of so many people, myself included—I can safely say that I wouldn’t be as passionate, or know as much, about this team if it weren’t for Q.

Quenneville certainly had his flaws—regardless of people’s thoughts on Q’s firing, the organization had some rationale to relieve the coach of his duties.  His relationship with Stan Bowman was not fantastic, and the two disagreed often as to the type of players that the team should be acquiring and playing on a regular basis (Brandon Manning is the best example this season). While his reputation for being difficult on younger players is largely unfounded—though the struggles of guys like Tyler Motte and Nick Schmaltz can support that claim—the one he gained for messing with lines so much, which largely stems from his disconnect with Bowman, that it effected team morale and performance was warranted; Toews, normally silent on issues within the team, even admitted as much. The team missed the playoffs last season, and is currently on a five game losing streak.  The power play, helmed by Quenneville and Dineen, has been atrocious, and the penalty kill hasn’t been much better.

With that said, it is undeniable that Quenneville is one of the greatest coaches in the history of the Blackhawks, the city of Chicago, and the game of hockey.  His legacy of three Stanley Cups will never be forgotten in this city; the image of his mustachioed-face lit up in a massive smile, looking down over a championship celebration with a sea of red-clad fans that he helped created, won’t either.  He deserves the greatest possible honors that the franchise could bestow upon him; he will be sorely missed behind the Blackhawks’ bench.

Come back next week for my analysis on why this decision was made and how the team will move forward

Niko

Today would have been the 11th birthday of our family dog, Niko.  He was born on this date back in 2007, an Easter baby, and upon bringing him into our family home he became the center of everyone’s lives.  He was unable to use his hind legs, and therefore had to be carried everywhere, in his final couple months, so I know that he did not have an excellent quality of life prior to his being put to sleep.  That said, I still miss him terribly, and wish he was still with us virtually every day.  So, on this special day, I hope to look back on some memories and pictures of him with joy in my heart—and, while I know that this post may be long, and probably pretty cheesy, I hope that you do, too.

My first memory relating to Niko is a humbling one: I never wanted a dog.  My younger sister, on the other hand, was constantly begging my parents for one, so when they found a breeder that was about to have a litter of Dobermans, the breed that my dad grew up with, my sister was ecstatic.  When we went to meet the puppies—11 in all—we were drawn to three of them.  I use “we” here very loosely—in addition to not wanting to take care of a puppy, I was also scared of them.  They were loud, nippy, and smelled funny.  My only real favorite at the time was “Blue,” so nicknamed because of the blue ribbon around his neck—and the only real reason for that was that blue is my favorite color.  “Green,” who my mom was drawn to, and “Red,” who my sister liked, were also in play.  Ultimately, our decision was helped along by “Blue” and “Green” being deemed show dogs, we ended up taking home “Red” within a couple weeks of first meeting him, my fears being thrown to the wind.

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You can see some of that fear in my face on the big day—the breeder and my sister were extraordinarily enthusiastic to hold the puppy, while I… was not.

He was the first born of his litter, and the name my mom found for him, Niko, literally means “victory of the people,” or, in another translation, “leader of the pack,” so we found it to be a very fitting moniker.

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His floppy ears and tiny body made him cute, but even then he had an aura of regalness, and his massive paws hinted at the massive creature he would become.

Despite this, I remained fearful of him for weeks.  The tide finally began to turn after we returned to see our breeder for a play date with some of his siblings.  He fell asleep on my lap on our drive back home—something that scared the living daylights out of me but also eased most of my remaining fears about him.

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In his recovery from his ears clipped—you can see the bandages on his ears in the last clip—he had to spend a lot of time inside.  That meant he very quickly got acquainted to the “lay of the land,” so to speak, in our house.  He was very excitable, as young dogs are wont to be, so my parents thought of using baby gates to prevent him from running rampant throughout the house, sliding across our wood floors and maybe falling on his healing ears.  It also proved to be helpful if he came inside with muddy paws, or when we had a large amount of company over.  As he got older he outgrew the gates, but they were still a very effective deterrent for him—when they fell over they made a loud noise that he didn’t appreciate, so he avoided going near them at all costs—unless food and treats were involved, and even then he was cautious.

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Being inside so much early in his life also earned him a lot of little goodies.  His first Christmas saw him accumulate a bunch of little toys, which were continuously added to throughout the years.  He seemed to be really good at chewing things to the point that they split in half, but never enough that they were completely destroyed (the only exception to that was my sister’s Crocs, which were the only thing I can remember him chewing that he wasn’t supposed to), and he seemed to switch which bone he preferred on a day-to-day basis, so by the end of his life we had a picnic basket full of toys throughout the years.  He would leave them everywhere throughout the house, too—there was many a time when we would find chew toys tucked under furniture, or when I would find a bone entangled in my sheets (after my parents and sister got new duvets, my bed was the only one he was allowed on; he was, however, allowed to sleep, with a blanket on, on a huge bed right next to my mom).

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His bed

He also got used to getting a very large amount of table scraps.  We weren’t as bad as my grandparents in giving him people food—they spoiled him beyond belief, which is a very grandparent-y thing to do—but he got his fair share from us, as well.  He was a big dog whose eye level was even with our table, so it was easy for him to snatch things off the table, which he did when he was younger, grabbing two of my mini donuts off the table and managing to take a sip of my soup.  To counteract that, we gave him little bits from our meals every day so that he wouldn’t simply grab at things.  That allowed him to develop some great discipline—we could leave food out on lower tables and he wouldn’t take any—but whenever we had food he would look at us with sad eyes that were virtually impossible to ignore.  As such, he developed great tastes for, among other things, steak, yogurt, peanut butter, ice cubes, white rice, scrambled eggs, fresh sweet peppers, and my vanilla ice cream, the remnants of which you can see on his nose here:

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Once he healed up and finally got to spend some time outside, he developed a reputation throughout our neighborhood.  Dobermans, Rottweilers, and Great Danes are frequently portrayed as being vicious in media—or, at the very least, villainous, as in Beverly Hills Chihuahua—so in the first couple years we had him, people would cross the street whenever they saw him walking down the street.  Pictures like this may hint at that reasoning a little:

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As time went on, though, and people around the neighborhood got to see more of him, they became much more comfortable with him, as they realized the truth—that he was a complete softy.  That sense of comfort was enforced even more whenever it was my sister walking him, like in the dog parade below:

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My mom was the person that took him for the most walks—she was around most often and enjoyed the chance to have long talks with him, and God, on their strolls, which in his prime could last as long as two and a half hours.  He made many friends throughout the neighborhood—Henry, Mini Me, Tuffy, Chloe, Frisco, Molly, and his best friend Cooper—that he enjoyed walking and playing with, as well.  I, myself, preferred to spend with my time outside with him just… running around.  We were afforded ample space to do that—we had a big backyard in our first house, and the second one backed up to a giant field, so there was plenty of space for him to roam.  His favorite things to do seemed to be chasing after tennis balls and sticks—about as stereotypical for a dog as you could get—but he also just enjoyed being able to run.  My friends and I would sometimes run to opposite sides of the field as quick as we could; he’d pick one of us to chase after, often plowing us over in his quest to turn around or slow down, before the other person got his attention and he’d chase them.  My dad would sometimes take this a step further, having Niko chase him up the sledding hill and then back down, an incredible feat of athleticism to watch.

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He wasn’t much a fan of rain—it reminded him of showers, which he hated, and it got in his ears pretty easily, so whenever it was raining and he needed to go outside it sometimes took a person with an umbrella leading him to coax him out—but he loved the snow.  He sometimes ran into the path of the snow blower when my dad had it out, and was big enough to look like a little horse prancing in and out of the bigger drifts.  He also really enjoyed chasing after squirrels—he never caught one, as his loud barking and inability to change directions made it near impossible—but watching him try to follow them, then jump up the trees the little animals had scampered up, was always amusing.

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As he got older, and his ability to be active in and out of the house began to diminish, he remained a constant presence in our lives.  We moved in the summer after my sophomore year of high school, and we put his favorite piece of furniture, a couch from our old office, in our front foyer.  It was there where he spent most of the rest of his days—he could see everyone coming walking near or up to the house, which gave him ample time to prepare to greet people with one of his trademark smiles, which always managed to brighten our days even after he couldn’t get up off of the couch to do it.  His lack of mobility also meant that his couch became the center of familial activity in the house—we all wanted to spend as much time with him as we possibly could, to the point where we would spend hours on end just sitting with him, talking, napping, and cuddling.

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I would go more into what he meant to me personally, but there’s just so much to share, so much to say, that I wouldn’t ever be able to properly articulate exactly how much he meant to me.  So I’m just going to end with this: he was the brother I never thought I’d be lucky enough to have.  He was my source of comfort in my hardest times and the one of the brightest lights in the good ones.  He lived with me in two different houses and met both of my girlfriends.  He was my best friend.  I will love and cherish him, and these memories of him, forever.

Niko Gaffney

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If you want/have more pictures, or want to talk more about Niko, comment below or contact me here.  I would love to hear from you.

2018 White Sox Season Preview

Last season wasn’t a great one on the field for the South Siders—they finished 67-95, fourth in the division, and said goodbye to arguably their most talented pitcher in Jose Quintana, as well as two of their best field players, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera, in mid-season trades.  That being said, we also got a glimpse of the bright future the team is shooting for—top prospects Yoan Moncada, Lucsas Giolito, and Reynaldo Lopez all cracked the Show last year, showcasing some of the immense talent that gives them team one of the nest farm systems in the game.  While this season figures to be much the same in terms of game results, we may see some more of their fellow prospects reach the majors, and if the performances of Giolito and Lopez so far are anything to go by, a lot of games could be exciting to watch.  So, on that note, here is my overview of the 2018 Chicago White Sox:

Outfield:

LF- Nicky Delmonico

CF- Adam Engel

RF- Avisail Garcia

Out of the three projected starters from last year, only one of them, Garcia, is expected to start the season with the bug club.  The 26 year-old finally managed to put things together at the plate after a couple seasons’ worth of on- and off-the-field struggles, hitting for an excellent .330 average, bashing 18 homers, and establishing himself as a good compliment to Jose Abreu in the middle of the order.  A lot of the team’s offense will figure to come from those two, and Garcia is going to have to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke, but rather a sign of better things to come.

The other two outfielders are significantly less experienced—both made their MLB debuts just last season.  Delmonico is probably the better of the two—he hit .262 in 43 games with the club, getting playing time in left and at third base.  That flexibility will make him a valuable commodity on this year’s squad, especially if he is able to maintain the level of performance with the bat (and his glove) that he did last year.  Engel’s a bit of a defensive whiz, but didn’t offer much else last year; that being said, he had a great spring training, which is good because there’s really nobody else that could really challenge him for a spot at this point.  He’ll need to continue hitting as well as he has in the spring, though, to prevent guys like Charlie Tilson or Leury Garcia stealing some of his playing time.

Infield:

3B- Yolmer Sanchez

SS- Tim Anderson

2B- Yoan Moncada

1B- Jose Abreu

C- Welington Castillo

DH- Matt Davidson

The left side of the infield is made up of guys that I think have underwhelmed a little bit the past couple seasons, though for different reasons.  Sanchez hasn’t gotten a ton of playing time the past few seasons, with guys like Moncada, Todd Frazier, and Brett Lawrie blocking his path to playing time.  This has prevented him from really ever getting into a rhythm at the plate.  Based on this team set-up, I see him as the starting third baseman for now; however, he could shift into a back-up role if one of the team’s top outfield prospects make the bigs, as I think the team holds Nicky Delmonico in higher regard than Sanchez, and his primary position is third, not left field.  Anderson, meanwhile, has been the team’s everyday shortstop for a good part of the last two years and has all the athletic tools to be a star.  However, he’s had an inconsistent glove and some exceptionally poor plate discipline.  There’s no real challenge behind him in the system yet, but he needs to continue on his current level of performance—he’s been on fire to open the season—because if he doesn’t, with the rumors surrounding Manny Machado this past off-season, if I were Rick Hahn, I’d be acquiring him to replace Anderson and not Sanchez/Delmonico.

The right side of the infield has among the greatest star potential out of every pairing in the league.  Moncada was obviously the crown jewel of the Chris Sale trade, and while he struggled a bit with the bat in his time in the majors last season, he’s only 22, and has shown many a burst of power, or speed, that made him one of the game’s best prospects last year.  Abreu, meanwhile, is the steady veteran presence on the team—the slugger didn’t quite bounce back to the highs of his rookie year, but hitting 30 dingers while batting over .300 isn’t too shabby.  His role as a cog in the middle of the order is crucial; so, too is his status as one of the older, longer-tenured players on a team loaded with up-and-comers.

The other two projected starters, Castillo and Davidson, don’t really fit into either of the main tropes on this year’s team, seasoned veterans and youngsters.  Castillo started hot in his career with the Cubs but tailed off a bit while still remaining an adequate catcher.  His presence will be ideal for some of the inexperienced arms that will take the hill for the team this year, and he’ll offer a better bat than any of the team’s backstops from last year.  Davidson, meanwhile, was highly regarded after being acquired from Arizona in 2013, but didn’t get extensive playing time until last season, when he flashed some of the power that made him one of the team’s top prospects at the time he was brought in.  He might not be able to provide much more than that power and provide Abreu with a couple days off at first, but certainly has the ability to build off of last season’s burst of power.

Bench:

C- Omar Narvaez

IF- Tyler Saladino

UT- Leury Garcia

Narvaez was the one of the main men behind the plate last season, but figures to be the back-up this year with the addition of Castillo.  In all honesty, the role suits him pretty well—he isn’t super great with the bat, but he can have his moments, and is an excellent defender and pitch framer, both of which are valuable commodities in catchers nowadays.  He’ll be a nice piece to keep around.

Saladino is probably capable of starting over Moncada, and, I believe, is close to being on par with Anderson, but the other two are more highly-touted, so he’ll have to make do with being the first guy off the bench.  I still expect him to get in 80-100 games somehow, and his flexibility will be helpful to a team that doesn’t have much in the way of middle infielders in the pipeline.

Garcia’s main positions are second and center, but can play virtually anywhere; that being said, I expect him to see most of his time in the outfield.  He might not last long in Chicago if Rick Hahn feels the team’s young outfielders are ready for the big time, but until that happens, he’ll be the reserve outfielder.

Rotation:

Carlos Rodon- LHP

James Shields- RHP

Miguel Gonzalez- RHP

Lucas Giolito- RHP

Hector Santiago- LHP

I know that Shields is was the Opening Day starter, but I feel that Rodon will be the real ace of the team this year—the lanky lefty struggled mightily with injuries last year, with those problems carrying over into the start of this season.  However, if he can find a way to consistently control his pitches, he has the potential to be a high-end starter for years to come, especially with a pitch as excellent as his slider.  Shields will, probably, be unable to pitch up to the standard that his salary would normally require, but his ability to eat some innings will be nice for a team that doesn’t seem to have as deep of a bullpen as it did last year.

The back end of my ideal rotation features two veterans and one young gun.  Gonzalez, who was traded away last season but returned for another stint with the club, is, like Shields, a good innings-eater.  His ceiling is lower than the former Ray’s, but his floor is higher, and should be a solid option throughout the year, assuming he doesn’t get traded again.  Giolito, meanwhile, had a pretty good spring, especially in hitting a good velocity with his fastball, and should be provided ample opportunity to work on honing his off-speed pitches, particularly his nasty but inconsistent curveball, to grow into the immense potential that made him the centerpiece of the Adam Eaton deal.  Lastly, I know that Carson Fulmer and Reynaldo Lopez figure to play roles in the rotation going forward, but I believe that Santiago deserves the last spot for a couple reasons.  None of the trio had particularly good springs, but I feel Santiago was sharper as he got into better game shape, and having another lefty in the rotation instead of straight righties behind Rodon would help provide a little bit of balance.  That said, if Lopez or Fulmer are performing well enough to warrant more starts while not stalling their development, I’m all for it.

Bullpen:

Carson Fulmer- RHP

Luis Avilan- LHP

Danny Farquhar- RHP

Gregory Infante- RHP

Nate Jones- RHP

Aaron Bummer- LHP

Juan Minaya- RHP

Joakim Soria- RHP (closer)

The team’s bullpen was what kept it hovering around contention in the first half of the season, and it netted them a couple of good prospects once it was dismantled in July.  This year’s edition is not quite as strong, nor quite as deep, but it does have some exceptional players.  I think that a long reliever/spot starter role is the best role for Fulmer at this point in his career, so he’ll slot in here.  Aaron Bummer can also fill a similar role throwing from the left side.

Moving towards the back of the ‘pen, Farquhar and Minaya have perhaps the greatest potential to be the Tommy Kahnle’s of this season, while Avilan provides Rick Renteria with a lefty specialist for shorter appearances that Bummer wouldn’t be useful in.  Nate Jones and Gregory Infante make up what I believe to be one of the more underrated set-up duos in the game, and while they may not be pitching in a lot of situations where the team holds a lead, they’ll be exceptional nonetheless.  Jones, in particular, could catch eyes come mid-season and could snag a decent prospect.  The primary closer is penciled in to be Soria, who was traded to the team from the rival Royals this past season.  He wasn’t super effective in the past two seasons, so while I expect him to get most of the chances to close, expect Jones to get some chances, as well.

Possible Call-Ups:

OF- Eloy Jimenez

OF- Micker Adolfo

Reynaldo Lopez- RHP

Thyago Vieira- RHP

Jimenez is certainly the team’s top prospect now that Moncada should be locked into a full-time role; I’m putting him here, though, because of the sheer amount of prospect talent that this club has.  The DR native, who was the centerpiece of the Jose Quintana trade, has been wowing scouts for month with his incredible power and athleticism; I think the team would love to maintain his service-time so that they can maintain control over him for another year, but if he continues to rake in the minors, they might not have a choice in calling him up.

Adolfo is another big, athletic outfielder from the DR that has the potential to break into the line-up at some point this year.  Adolfo’s been in the team’s system for a while—he was signed back in 2013 as a 16 year-old, and his struggles with the bat, and with injuries, have kept him down the team’s prospect list.  That being said, he reportedly looked pretty solid this winter before hurting his elbow, and getting him some playing time at a higher level could be important to the team in determining if he will be an important part of their long-term future.

I think Lopez, the “less-regarded” of the two righties sent over from Washington last season, has a ceiling above his fellow former National, Giolito, and close to that of the team’s other fireballing prospect, Michael Kopech.  He had five quality starts in his eight times on the bump with the big club last season, and certainly has the talent to be a back-end starter this season, as evidenced by his solid start against the Blue Jays.  That being said, I think that another year of seasoning in AAA would be good for him, especially in helping him establish confidence in his off-speed pitches.

Vieira obviously didn’t start the season with the Sox—he’s got an incredible fastball, but it doesn’t have the consistency, or the complimentary pitchers, that other hard-throwing relievers like Craig Kimbrel have hung their hats on.  That being said, the Brazilian, who was acquired from Seattle in exchange for international bonus pool money, has some intriguing potential.  If he can establish some control, and a second pitch, he could prove to be a valuable asset in the heart of the ‘pen for the next couple years—or a possible trade chip as soon as this July.

Top Prospects:

3B- Jake Burger

OF- Luis Robert

Michael Kopech- RHP

Burger tore his Achilles in a spring game in mid-March, so we won’t be seeing any of him this season.  However, the team’s first round pick from last year reminds me a lot of a better version of former White and Red Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis.  Burger is a bigger player, but he’s got a lot of pop, and in his brief spring appearances seemed to showcase some good discipline at the plate for a younger guy.  Third base is one of the major holes in the big club right now, and I think Burger has the ability to fill that role for the team for years to come.

Robert is one of the best of the club’s immense stash of exceptional outfield prospects.  The 20 year-old Cuban, signed last season, is a tall, lanky specimen; he doesn’t quite have the power of Jimenez, but he’s still got it, and has shown himself to be a better fielder and baserunner than his countryman.  If he can continue to improve his ability to get the bat on the ball after he returns from injury—he’s out for around the next month and a half or so with a thumb injury—he could be a star.

Kopech is probably the most easily recognizable pitching prospect in the organization—partly because of his flowing locks and hard fastball, and partly due to his reality star girlfriend.  Despite the possible off-field distractions that the righty has faced (and is currently facing), he has the stuff to be a true top-end starter.  Like most young hurlers, he needs to continue to develop his off-speed stuff, but he already has a pro-level fastball to build on for the future.

Possible Surprises:

OF- Blake Rutherford

OF- Charlie Tilson

Robbie Ross Jr.- LHP

Dylan Covey- RHP

Rutherford was the centerpiece of the deal that sent David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to the Yankees.  He isn’t as flashy as many of his fellow prospects, but he’s a pretty solid contact hitter and has solid fundamentals in every aspect of his game.  He might not make it above AA ball this year, but he might also go on a tear that sees him streak through the minors and earn a September call-up.

Tilson’s injury issues last year were a huge drag on the New Trier graduate’s development—he was considered the frontrunner for the center field job last year, yet was one of the first cuts in spring training this year.  If he is able to work back to full strength and utilize the athletic gifts that caused his unlikely rise to the border of the bigs, he has a pretty good shot of getting playing time ahead of some bigger prospects so the team can preserve their service time.

Ross was a solid reliever for the Red Sox in 2015 in 2016, but struggled mightily last season while being bogged down by back issues.  Solid lefty relievers are a dime a dozen, so if Ross is able to regain his mojo, and one of the younger specialists that are currently projected to make the team struggle, Ross could end up appearing in 30-40 games.

To say that Covey had a rough 2017 would be an understatement; in his first year in the majors, the former first round pick (taken one pick after Chris Sale, coincidentally) didn’t win a game and had an ERA over 7.  That being said, there’s a reason he got to the big club—he doesn’t have any one out pitch, but he can control his arsenal relatively well, something which the team clearly holds in high regard, or else they wouldn’t have tried to stick with him throughout his struggles.  I doubt that he gets a lot of action this year, but could be a good back-end starter by the time summer rolls around.

Season Prediction:

Projected Order

2B    Moncada

LF     Delmonico

1B    Abreu

RF    Garcia

C      Castillo

DH   Davidson

SS     Anderson

3B     Sanchez

CF     Engel

The Sox are not going to be good again this year.  They don’t have as many tradeable pieces as last year’s squad, which is indicative of the level of major league talent they currently possess.  That being said, the summer could be fun—we may end up seeing guys like Shields, Gonzalez, Garcia, and Davidson shopped around as the year goes on.  We’re also very likely to see at least a couple of the big guns from the system come up to get their first taste of the Show.  That won’t prevent the team from providing a generally poor product—they should be one of the two worst teams in the American League, along with the rival Tigers—but environment around the whole organization is positive, and if you can look past what are sure to be some icky looking results in the win-loss column, this could end up being a fun and rewarding year for many fans of the South Side squad.

Please note that this roster reflects my preference for the team; the current roster may have players in the minors that are in the majors, and vice versa, and players that I have penciled in on my ideal roster my currently be on the DL.

2018 MLB Season Preview

The Chicago Cubs are about to take on the Miami Marlins in the first game of the 2018 MLB season!  This year the league decided to schedule every team to play on Opening Day, which allows every team and their fan base to get in on the fun as the season kicks off.  Last year, two teams with long histories of late post-season stumbles, the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, gave us a fun-filled World Series that saw the ‘Stros bring home their first ever championship to a city still dealing with the recovery from Hurricane Harvey.  The team is incredibly confident that they’ve got the ability to repeat this year—brazen comments from star pitcher Justin Verlander made that very clear—but many teams have the talent to make the trek to the title.  Will Houston be able to hang on to the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of this year, or will another team manager to snatch it from their grasp?  Here are my predictions for the upcoming season:

 

National League

 

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers (#1)

Arizona Diamondbacks

Colorado Rockies

San Francisco Giants

San Diego Padres

This division isn’t weak per se—I think the AL Central is the worst in the baseball, and the NL East is a (somewhat) close competitor—but LA should have no problems with cruising to the top here.  Their rotation gives me a bit of concern, since they’ll have to depend on some back-end starters that have an extensive injury history, but Clayton Kershaw and their loaded young line-up anchored by Corey Seager are good enough to make it work.  I would have put the Giants second, but the fact that they could be without their top two starters for up to two months will put a real dent in their ability to get something going this season.  As such, I’ve got the D-Backs at number two here.  They’ve got one of the best players in the game in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and a decent supporting cast, with a solid rotation headlined by Zach Greinke and a good sidekick in the line-up in AJ Pollock.  That being said, I don’t think said line-up is balanced enough to get them into the post-season—it’ll be close, but I think they’ll miss out.  The Rockies, meanwhile, have the opposite problem—their batting order, anchored by Nolan Arenado, is loaded with solid hitters, and they’ve got a pretty good bullpen.  Their rotation, though, outside of Jon Gray is a little shaky, and will see them drop down the pecking order in this division.  The Padres will bring up the bottom—they have an interesting mish mash of players with some decent bats, the most prominent of which is new signing Eric Hosmer.  However, they have the worst of both of their rivals’ worlds: neither their rotation nor their order have much depth.  They’ll linger at the bottom until their top ranked farm system produces some MLB-caliber players.

 

NL Central

Chicago Cubs (#2)

Milwaukee Brewers (#1 WC)

St. Louis Cardinals (#2 WC)

Pittsburgh Pirates

Cincinnati Reds

The Cubs were well on their way to their second straight appearance in the World Series before running into the buzz saw that was last year’s Dodgers.  To level up and try to topple their rivals, they took two of their pitchers, starter Yu Darvish and reliever Brandon Morrow.  They have enough talent to hang with LA, but they have a significantly more difficult division, so I don’t think they’ll be able to quite match their record.  They’ll be closely followed by the Brewers, who made two of the biggest moves this past off-season in acquiring outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich.  They’ll come into a line-up that already features some strong performers, like slugger Ryan Braun and versatile Travis Shaw.  Their rotation doesn’t have any real high-end arms, but they’ve got enough firepower in their bats to carry them to the post-season.  The Cardinals, meanwhile, made a major outfield addition of their own, bringing in Yelich’s former teammate Marcel Ozuna and creating what is arguably one of the most talented trios in the game.  They have some serious injury concerns with their pitchers, most prominently with former ace Adam Wainwright and key reliever Luke Gregorson—but as is the case with the Cardinals of the modern era, they are incredibly balanced in every aspect of the game, and should have enough to get back into the play-offs.  The Pirates would have had enough to challenge them for that second wild card spot, but they got rid of two players who were arguably their best in righty Gerrit Cole and longtime outfielder Andrew McCutchen.  If they catch fire early on they could make some real noise, but expect them to deal away some of their remaining replacement-level players to restock their farm system.  The Reds, meanwhile, have Joey Votto and… not much else.  They’ll have ample opportunity to reload with high draft picks over the next couple years; here’s to hoping they’re good again before Votto retires.

 

NL East

Washington Nationals (#3)

Philadelphia Phillies

Atlanta Braves

New York Mets

Miami Marlins

This is a huge season for the Nats—Bryce Harper is widely expected to leave the nation’s capital after this season and they haven’t won a play-off series with the star right fielder on the roster, so this might be their only real chance to fulfill their potential.  Harper anchors a good line-up, and the Max Scherzer-Stephen Strasburg duo is perhaps the best in baseball; that’ll be enough to win the division, but I think the Cubs and Dodgers are just a bit deeper and will finish with better records.  Behind them, the young Phillies are a popular dark horse in the race for a wild card spot this season.  Unfortunately, I still think they’re a year or two away—Jake Arrieta was a good addition, as was Carlos Santana (he’ll take some pressure off of budding star Rhys Hoskins)—but I still think they’re lacking another solid rotation arm.  They’ll be competitive before long, though.  In the now, they’ll be fighting for that wild card spot alongside the Braves, who I expect to surprise some people this year, and the Mets.  I think Atlanta’s rotation is underrated, and there are enough solid hitters around superstar Freddie Freeman for Atlanta to make some noise in the standings, and that doesn’t even take into account top prospect Ronald Acuna.  As for the Mets, they certainly have enough talent to be among the best teams in the game, but the best teams are able to stay both healthy and consistent, and this team is always bound to be unable to accomplish at least one of those things.  As for the Marlins… the less said about them, the better.  Take pity on Starlin Castro and JT Realmuto.

 

American League

 

AL West

Houston Astros (#3)

Seattle Mariners (#2 WC)

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Oakland Athletics

Texas Rangers

Houston was a feel-good story last year—in the midst of the crisis their city was facing in the rebuild from the hurricane that decimated property across the South, the ‘Stros played incredible play-off baseball to pull out their first World Series in team history.  This year, they’ll get a full season from Justin Verlander, as well as from another star righty in the form of former Pirate Gerrit Cole.  Almost any other year they’d be good enough to earn a number one seed, but the Yankees are so good, and the Indians play in such a weak division, that they’ll have to settle for being number three.  The Mariners, meanwhile, are one of the more underrated teams in the game—sure, they have the longest play-off drought out of any team in the four major sports leagues in the US, and they’ve underperformed relative to their talent level for years.  But they also added Dee Gordon to a strong line-up headlined by Robinson Cano, and while former ace Felix Hernandez is on the way down, others, like Mike Leake and James Paxton, are on the up.  I expect this team to sneak into that second wild card spot.  To do so, they’ll have to fight off their division rival Angels, who made the biggest splash this off-season with their signing of Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani.  They’ve also made some less heralded moves, such as signing Zach Cosart and trading for Ian Kinsler, to boost their push.  However, I just don’t see their pitching staff as being good enough to warrant a play-off berth.  The bottom two will consist of the Rangers and A’s.  I’ll give the advantage to Oakland, who had the 5th best offense in the league during the second half of last season, over the aging Rangers, who have a very uncertain rotation and an offense that, outside of Adrian Beltre, won’t really strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers.  They could flip-flop, but regardless, I don’t expect either team to be very good.

 

AL Central

Cleveland Indians (#1)

Minnesota Twins

Kansas City Royals

Chicago White Sox

Detroit Tigers

The Indians will have a fairly simple season—they get to play a bunch of games against three teams that seem to be in the midst of full rebuilds and more against a team that doesn’t quite match up well against it.  Just based on that alone, they should be able to snag the number one seed in the AL with ease.  Their season will be judged on whether or not they’ll be able to achieve post-season success, which I’ll talk about a bit later.  On our way down, the Twins are really the only other team in this division with a shot at the play-offs.  They made some smart additions this season, acquiring Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, and Logan Morrison in a flurry of off-season moves.  That being said, I still have some doubts about their line-up—they’ll need solid seasons from both Bryan Buxton and Miguel Sano, and I simply don’t think those guys are at a level where they can provide them yet.  Another year of development and another bat, though, and these guys could be a good dark horse contender next season.  Of the three rebuilders, the Royals have the most top-end talent—Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez, and the newly re-signed Mike Moustakas are all still around, so that will prevent them from going into an all-out tank.  That being said, they’ll be active in trying to get rid as many guys as they can that don’t have long-term potential, so expect to see Duffy and Moustakas in trade talks come mid-season.  The White Sox, meanwhile, have perhaps the least high-end talent of any team in the division, but also have the best farm system.  Once some of their top picks reach the bigs, they should have enough to pull themselves out of the basement.  The Tigers still have Miguel Cabrera at first and guys like Jordan Zimmemann and Michael Fulmer in the rotation, but somehow contrived to finish with the worst record in the game last year, so while those guys still could be top-flight players, the rest of the team should be poor enough to let them finish with the top pick in next year’s draft.

 

AL East

New York Yankees (#2)

Boston Red Sox (#1 WC)

Toronto Blue Jays

Baltimore Orioles

Tampa Bay Rays

This division is consistently the most exciting in the game—there always seems to be at least three teams that have legitimate shots at post-season glory, and I think this year is no different.  The Yankees have gotten a lot of attention for how incredible their line-up is going to look this year, and that makes a lot of sense—it’s been a long time since a pair with as much power potential as Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge have been on the same team.  That said, I think it’s the team’s pitching staff, which is deep enough that former A’s ace Sonny Gray is penciled in as the number three starter and that excellent pitchers like David Robertson and Dellin Betances are merely set-up men for Aroldis Chapman, will carry the team to the top seed in the league.  The Red Sox will be nipping at their heels the whole season—they won the division despite some poor performances at the plate, and just added a power hitter of their own in JD Martinez.  They won’t quite be good enough to topple the mighty Bronx Bombers—I’ve got some concerns about the consistency of the back end of their rotation, both on the field and off of it with injury concerns—but they should have no issues snagging a wild card place.  The Blue Jays will be making a strong push for the other spot, especially seeing as how their star third baseman Josh Donaldson is likely to test free agency after this year.  They have an incredibly balanced batting order, but similarly to the Red Sox, I have concerns about the back of their rotation, and their top-end talent there, and in the bullpen, isn’t quite up to scratch for a play-off caliber team.  I think they, and the Twins, will just miss out.  The Orioles and Rays are both in tough spots—they have decent teams with stars (Manny Machado and Chris Archer, respectively) that rival any in the game, but they’re in a division that has what are arguably the two most talented teams in the AL.  They won’t struggle, but they won’t have enough to make the play-offs, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do with their two big names, both of whom have been in trade rumors since last fall (my prediction: Machado stays put, while Archer is traded to some team in California, with the Dodgers, Giants, and Padres all being players).

 

Awards

 

National League

NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

This figures to be Harper’s last season in Washington, and I think he’ll be especially motivated to make a difference and truly establish his legacy.  His closest competitor should be a duo of Dodgers (Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager), but the slugging Las Vegas native should take the title.

 

NL Cy Young: Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

I’m kind of tired of Clayton Kershaw winning so may awards, so I went with a wild card pick here.  Martinez figures to be the ace of an improved Cardinal team, and he’s got the stuff to make a real breakthrough this year.

 

NL Rookie of the Year: Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves

This is as close to a no-doubt pick as there is, really—Acuna looked incredible this spring, and he has the potential to be a superstar within a couple seasons.  No other prospect with a real chance of touching the majors this year has that potential.

 

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Adam Eaton, Washington Nationals

I admit that I’m a little bit biased with this one—Eaton was one of my favorite players with the White Sox before he was traded.  That being said, there was a reason that “Sparky” was acquired for a couple of solid prospects last off-season—he’s a very talented outfielder, and I fully expect him to bounce back and make a difference for the Nats this year.

 

NL Manager of the Year: Dave Martinez, Washington Nationals

For all the good that Dusty Baker did in managing Washington during the regular season, never winning a play-off series is a big blemish on his resume.  I expect Martinez to be able to steer his team to a solid season and at least one series win, which should be enough to earn him the award.

 

NL Best Offseason Acquisition: Tyler Chatwood, Chicago Cubs

The Cubs’ signing of Yu Darvish has gotten all the headlines, but I think that, for the money, Chatwood is a significantly better signing.  He pitched well in a tough Colorado environment last year, so while Wrigley Field is no pitcher’s paradise, he should be able to take advantage of not having Coors Field as his home park and leverage that by turning in another solid season.

 

NL Worst Offseason Acquisition: Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres

I actually really respect Eric Hosmer—he’s an exceptional hitter that made things tough for my White Sox many times over.  That being said, to get a six year deal, worth a ton of money, in this money, is a big investment; that it was made by a team that doesn’t really figure to contend for a couple, when Hosmer’s salary might look slightly ridiculous, made this one a bit much for me.

 

American League

AL MVP: Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox

Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge will get a ton of attention all season long, but I think that Betts will benefit immensely from the addition of JD Martinez.  It’ll free him up from a lot of pressure and allow him to excel, so that, combined with his excellent defense, should win him this award.

 

AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

THIS HAS TO BE THE YEAR.  Seriously, though: the inconsistencies of the 2015 White Sox probably cost Sale a chance at this award in his last season in Chicago, and he was on track to win the award last year before a poor final two months saw him drop off.  If he doesn’t win this year, I won’t have much hope for one of the greatest lefties of his generation to ever win the award (until I stop thinking he will).

 

AL Rookie of the Year: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Ohtani’s poor performance in spring training gives me pause in picking him to win this award; he made the team, but I think that had a lot to do with his salary and name recognition than his actual value to the team at this point.  That being said, I think he’ll be able to settle in by mid-June (faster at the plate than on the mound), which is more than enough time to develop into a good enough player to win this award.

 

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Tim Lincecum, Texas Rangers

This is a bit of an ambitious pick, especially considering the struggles “The Freak” endured the last time he appeared in the bigs.  That being said, his effort to regain a real role on a pro team is commendable, and he certainly has the natural ability to make his winning of this reward entirely possible.

 

AL Manager of the Year: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

The Yankees have gotten most of the attention this off-season, but remember that I have the Indians being the top team in the AL.  I think that somebody in the organization deserves to be commended for that, and I think it’ll be Francona.

 

AL Best Offseason Acquisition: Neil Walker, New York Yankees

Walker might not even be a full-time player, for the Yankees or some other team, by the time this season comes to an end.  That being said, the consistency he brings with his bat is incredibly valuable, especially at his current salary.  If he can maintain his status as the team’s starting second baseman, he could prove to be one of the most underrated signings of the last decade.

 

AL Worst Offseason Acquisition: Alex Cobb, Baltimore Orioles

I could type basically all of the things about Baltimore’s acquisition of Cobb as I did about San Diego’s signing of Hosmer—this was a big outlay for a team that doesn’t figure to be super competitive in a market that was even less competitive.

 

Playoffs

 

National League

Wildcard

St. Louis Cardinals over Milwaukee Brewers

 

Division Series

Los Angeles Dodgers over St. Louis Cardinals

 

Washington Nationals over Chicago Cubs

 

Championship Series

Los Angeles Dodgers over Washington Nationals

 

American League

Wildcard

Boston Red Sox over Seattle Mariners

 

Division Series

Cleveland Indians over Boston Red Sox

 

New York Yankees over Houston Astros

 

Championship Series

Cleveland Indians over New York Yankees

 

World Series

Los Angeles Dodgers over Cleveland Indians

I didn’t have enough time to discuss the play-off match-ups before I needed to publish this, so if you have any questions on why I see those playing out the way I do, or any comments on any other parts of this piece, please contact me here.

Instant Reaction: 2018 NCAA Tournament

March Madness has now officially begun, as the Tournament Committee has finally announced the full 68-team bracket for the upcoming 2018 Division One basketball championship.  Here is my Instant Reaction to this year’s bracket:

The top four seeds in the bracket this year are Virginia, Villanova, Kansas, and Xavier, with the Cavaliers earning the distinction of being the top seed this year.  Out of all of those teams, I think that Jay Wright’s team have the easiest path to the Final Four.  The team with the best shot of toppling them in their quadrant is probably Purdue; that being said, the Boilermakers haven’t really played, and beaten, a team on the Wildcats’ level this season, and I don’t think anyone can match up to Jalen Brunson.  The other top-ranked teams in that quadrant, Texas Tech and Florida, simply don’t seem to have enough depth to be able to hang with the top team—the Gators are even at large risk for upset.  Meanwhile, I think that Tony Bennett’s team were given a really tough draw, especially for a number one overall seed—they lucked into a quadrant where the team that arguably has the most on-paper talent, Kentucky, is the 5 seed.  They also have a chance to face Cincinnati, a team that plays a very similar defensive style to them, or Arizona, which has caught fire behind their star forward, Deandre Ayton.

In terms of at-large teams, the fabled “Last Teams In” went to Arizona State, Syracuse, UCLA, and Saint Bonaventure.  Personally, I feel that all of those teams probably deserved to be in the tournament, though if I had to pick a team that didn’t deserve it, it’d be the Orange.  Oklahoma, too, deserved some consideration as a team to be left out.  The most notable teams to miss out were Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, with the Bonzie Colson-led Fighting Irish being identified as the first team out.  I feel they should have been in for Syracuse.  Some other big-time misses included Baylor, Southern Cal, and Middle Tennessee State.

Now, time for the nitty gritty: the actual match-ups.  In the South region, I can’t wait for the possible second round match-up between Arizona and Kentucky.  That might be the best game before the Final Four, and will determine one half of the game that will determine the winner of that region.  Despite the level of difficulty that I mentioned previously, I ultimately think that Virginia is too good of a team to not make it through.  In the East, I believe Villanova will have a fairly smooth road to the Final Four, but I think that the victor of the game between Texas Tech and the double-digit team that prevails between St. Bonaventure and UCLA could make some noise, so watch out for them.  In the Midwest, I think that it’s fairly inevitable that the top two teams, Kansas and Duke, are on a collision course, with only Michigan State having the talent to topple the blue-bloods.  In that game, I think that the Dukies will be the ones to pull out a win.  In the west, I see Xavier losing early to a dark-horse Missouri team, leaving the quadrant open to whoever happens to find their top gear the soonest.  Going into the tournament, Michigan seems to be the team that has the best rhythm of consistency, so I think they’ll be the ones to make the Final Four from that region.  In the championship, I think it’ll be showdown between the two “V’s,” Virginia and Villanova, with the Cavaliers’ suffocating defense limiting ‘Nova’s shooters just enough to win their first championship in school history.