League-wide story lines to watch this season, plus some superlatives
Managers on the hot seat
1. Mickey Callaway (Mets): There are high expectations and a new general manager. That’s a bad combination for any manager.
2. Dave Martinez (Nationals): The impatient Lerner family has had seven managers since 2007. They could act quickly if the Nats get off to a poor start.
3. Joe Maddon (Cubs): He’s in the final year of his contract and was not offered an extension. The Cubs are 4-7 in postseason games since winning the 2016 World Series.
Rookies to watch
1. 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Blue Jays): The 20-year-old has the same build and mannerisms as his Hall of Fame father. He hits like him, too.
2. OF Eloy Jimenez (White Sox): He has already been sent back to the minors but is sure to make his debut this season.
3. OF Victor Robles (Nationals): The 21-year-old will make the loss of Bryce Harper easier to take.
Players on the rise
1. 3B Rafael Devers (Red Sox): After a rocky 2018, he reported to spring training determined to be better.
OF Franmil Reyes (Padres): The 23-year-old had a 130 adjusted OPS in 87 games as a rookie last season.
LHP Jose Alvarado (Rays): He wasn’t used as an opener last season because he was so good late in games. Hitters can’t do much with his 98-mile per hour sinker.
Five ballparks you should visit
1. Oracle (formerly AT&T) Park, San Francisco: It has a new name but remains the best place to watch a game because of the great views and friendly atmosphere.
2. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles: For a ballpark that opened up in 1962, it’s astonishingly clean and well kept. The view from the top deck is incredible. Baseball heaven.
3. T-Mobile Park (formerly Safeco Field), Seattle: For a ballpark in the middle of the city, it provides a soothing experience. The concession stands offer creative fare, too.
4. PNC Park, Pittsburgh: The view looks like a vibrant painting as the city skyline and the Roberto Clemente Bridge unfolds in front of you. It’s also cozy at 38,362 seats.
5. Camden Yards, Baltimore: The granddaddy of the retro-look parks, it still has all its charm after 27 years. Get a crab cake sandwich.
Three ballparks you should avoid
1. Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.: That a shabby roof protects you from rain is the best feature. The environment is grim as ear-splitting “in-game entertainment” drowns out any conversation.
2. Oakland Coliseum, Oakland: They’re trying at least. The food choices have gotten better and the fans are into it. But in the end it’s a 53-year-old dirty, worn-out park.
3. Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago: What’s guaranteed is you’ll wish you had gone to Wrigley Field instead. There’s no charm to this place whatsoever.
Stories off the field
1. Rivalry goes to London: The Sox and Yankees play June 29-30 in London as MLB looks for fans abroad. The games are already sold out.
2. One trade deadline: All trades must be done by July 31 now. That should lead to a frenzy as teams will be pressed to buy or sell.
3. Labor bickering: That MLB and the Players Association agreed on rules changes was a good sign. But there remains simmering tension between the two sides over larger financial matters.
Famous faces in new places
1. Bryce Harper: Despite a down 2018 season, he signed with the Phillies for an unfathomable 13 seasons. That’s a lot of being booed.
2. Manny Machado: He hustled his way to San Diego for $300 million. The Padres, who have two playoff appearances in the last 20 seasons, are becoming interesting.
3. Paul Goldschmidt: The productive first basemen was traded from Arizona to St. Louis. His national profile will benefit.
4. Robinson Cano: A lock Hall of Famer before his positive drug test last season, Cano was sent from the Mariners to the Mets. Can he succeed in New York again?
AL MVP contenders
1. Mookie Betts (Red Sox): If anybody can displace Mike Trout as the best player in the game, it’s Betts. By the way, he got stronger over the winter.
2. Mike Trout (Angels): For as great as he has been, Trout has appeared in only three playoff games. That doesn’t appear likely to change any time soon.
3. Alex Bregman (Astros): Taunting Nate Eovaldi on Instagram was a bad idea. But he’s endlessly fun to watch on the field.
NL MVP contenders
1. Ronald Acuna Jr. (Braves): The 21-year-old ran away with Rookie of the Year. Now it’s time for the next step.
2. Manny Machado (Padres): He’ll pile up big numbers, as usual.
3. Kris Bryant (Cubs): After what for him was a poor 2018, there’s a rebound on the way.
AL Cy Young contenders
1. Chris Sale (Boston): He’s finished second, third, fourth (twice), fifth (twice), and sixth. He’s bound to win it one of these years.
2. Gerrit Cole (Astros): He just may be the best starter on the Astros, not Justin Verlander.
3. Trevor Bauer (Indians): If the players voted, he’d finish last. Bauer works hard at his craft but is obnoxious about it.
NL Cy Young contenders
1. Max Scherzer (Nationals): He’s pretty much the best starter of his time and, at 34, isn’t slowing down.
2. Jacob deGrom (Mets): It may be impossible to repeat what he did last season but it also wasn’t a fluke.
3. Kyle Freeland (Rockies): Going 17-7, 2.85 for the Rockies should have merited some kind of award.
Teams on the rise
1. Cardinals: They added Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller to an 88-win team that flourished under new manager Mike Shildt.
2. Reds: Cincinnati traded for Yasiel Puig, Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark, Alex Wood, and Matt Kemp. That may not get them in the playoffs but cheers for the downtrodden franchise at least trying to get better.
3. Padres: It’s not just Manny Machado, there’s a lot of young talent set to mature.
Teams on the decline
1. Mariners: They won 89 games last season then dumped everybody they could. The only plan they seem to have is constantly changing the plan.
2. Diamondbacks: Arizona had its window and now it’s closing. Trading Paul Goldschmidt was the start of a rebuild.
3. Pirates: After an 82-79 season, they cut their payroll and didn’t make any notable additions.
1. 3B Nicholas Castellanos (Tigers): He’s in the last year of his deal and wants out more sooner than later. A 27-year-old who had an .854 OPS last season should have plenty of value.
2. DH Edwin Encarnacion (Mariners): He somewhat inexplicably ended up in Seattle as part of a three-team deal. Seattle has been trying to deal him since.
3. DH-OF Mark Trumbo (Orioles): Baltimore has no need for a 33-year-old DH making $13.5 million. He should be tradable, at least more so than Chris Davis.
4. DH Kendrys Morales (Blue Jays): He’s in the last year of his contract and the non-contending Jays will gladly deal him off.
5. LHP Drew Smyly (Rangers): Smyly pitched in one minor-league game for the Cubs last season as he recovered from Tommy John. Then he was traded to the Rangers. With one year left on his deal, Texas could move him for a few prospects.
Best mascots (Sorry, Wally)
1. Phillie Phanatic (Phillies): When the Yankees come to town, he takes a sledgehammer to a Yankees batting helmet as “New York, New York” plays. Forever the king.
2. Mr. Met (Mets): It’s a man with a giant baseball for a head who always smiles as chaos unfolds around him.
3. TC Bear (Twins): A personal favorite, TC is basically a giant teddy bear who loves baseball.
4. The Oriole Bird (Orioles): When a giant orange bird mocks the umpires from the roof of the dugout, you have to laugh.
5. Billy The Marlin (Marlins): The Marlins don’t do much right, but their mascot is a keeper.