Here is post #2 of the Challenge! Remember to check out the Challenge page [http://sidelinesapp.com/challenge/announcing-the-sidelines-mlb-opening-day-challenge] for the leaderboard. Also, remember that I am ineligible for the contest to ignore my name up at the top!
CARDINALS - What can’t they do? Is any other club even close when it comes to player development and roster construction?
This is an unimpeachable organization. I can’t help but hate them. They’re the Yankees of the Midwest: they’ll beat your ass with a smile on their faces. The young pitching depth is filthy. They proved their flexibility by the following brilliant series of moves: 1. trade underwhelming David Freese to the Halos for top-flight defensive CF Peter Bourjos; 2. flip versatile Matt Carpenter to 3B allowing Kolten Wong to play his natural 2B; and 3., filling Beltran’s RF void with Allen Craig giving Matt “Big City” Adams 500 at bats at 1B. Check. Mate. Mozeliak.
PIRATES - Can a surging outfield compensate for regression everywhere else?
Pittsburgh just locked up Starling Marte to a team-friendly 6-year, $31 million extension, so he’ll be playing next to reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen for years to come. The final piece of the puzzle is tantalizing prospect Gregory Polanco, who stroked 12 homers and 30 doubles to go with 38 stolen bases across 3 minor league levels last year. While the outfield projects to be elite once Polanco arrives, the infield is a mess. Alvarez provides power, but at the cost of a .296 OBP. Yikes. But the real concern: Will the defensive shifting that boosted the Bucs’ pitching production the last few years continue to provide an advantage? The combination of average range from most of the infield, the rest of the league catching up in shifting and a fragile rotation will combine to mitigate the defensive gains PIT made.
BREWERS - Can Ryan Braun redeem himself to Brewers fans?
I don’t think the majority of baseball fans will ever forgive Braun for his cheating and lies. But just as Giants fans proved with Barry Bonds, if you hit well enough the hometown fans will love you anyway. So now Braun has to prove that it wasn’t just the PEDs. If he turns in another dynamite season and the Brew Crew make the playoffs, you better believe he will return to golden god status in Milwaukee. Either way, the Hebrew Hammer has a ton of image rehab to do. Anyone who can make A-Rod a sympathetic figure by contrast is dwelling at the PR nadir.
REDS - Will Billy Hamilton emerge as the catalyst the Reds so desperately need?
After losing the OBP machine Shin-Soo Choo to Texas in free agency, Cincy’s lineup looks very thin all of a sudden beyond the thumpers in the middle: Votto and Bruce. But Hamilton could change all of that. He’ll need to do a lot better than the Golden Sombrero (4 Ks) he posted on Opening Day. If he can hold his own at the plate (say .280 AVG/.320 OBP), his speed alone could change the fate of the entire lineup. Hamilton could easily steal 100 bases if he hits that well, meaning pitchers will be constantly distracted. The Wild Card isn’t out of reach for this club, but they could really use a speedy boost in the leadoff spot, especially with their rash of pitching injuries.
CUBS - Will we see progress in Year 3 of the Epstein 5 Year Plan?
The Cubbies have stockpiled a legion of young, talented position players: Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, etc. We should see at least Baez in the bigs this year. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are counting on a few of those hitters achieving MLB success to bolster a weak lineup. But the other reason to stockpile position player prospects is that they are a safer bet than young arms. I’m not the first to speculate that one of those hitters will be used as trade bait for an ace pitcher when the Cubs are closer to contention. But while it’s fun to speculate on young talent, at some point you need to show some results. I’m all for giving a front office administration their full 5 year contract to build a winner but 127-197 needs to start changing by Year 3.