My baseball predictions for 2013
In anticipation of the new year, SI.com's writers are predicting the stories they think will define the sports landscape in 2013.
A wild offseason portends a wild 2013 season, right? Here's a look ahead to 10 things we'll see within the baseball world over the next 12 months.
1. The Dodgers take over the world. -- With the largest payroll in American sports history -- and upgrades still to be made at second base and catcher -- look for the Dodgers to keep spending money like drunken rich guys as their new ownership group works to convince the fans of Los Angeles that they're not like the last one. Even headed for the largest luxury-tax bill ever, the Dodgers could make more moves in-season to bolster a team that will be pushed in the NL West by the defending champion Giants, the revamped Diamondbacks, and perhaps even a young Padres squad. If you wake up on July 24 and the Dodgers have purchased the entire AL Central lock, stock and Twin, just to add a couple of relievers, would you be that surprised?
2. Bryce Harper goes nuts. -- Harper's age-19 season was arguably the best ever for a player of his age. It wasn't just his physical tools, but his approach at the plate, with a good walk rate and acceptable strikeout-to-walk ratio, the way he worked to improve in the outfield, and his unmatched aggression on the bases. Mike Trout set the bar high for 20-year-olds last year; look for Harper to clear it and set a new standard for baseball playing by a guy who can't legally buy a drink. He will challenge for the NL MVP for a Nationals team that might be the best in the game.
3. Hope and faith, you're up. -- For the first time in years, there's no clear-cut best team in baseball as we head into a new year. The dominant teams of recent seasons, the Yankees and Red Sox, the Rangers and Phillies, have all taken steps back. Now there is a pool that includes the big spenders this offseason, like the Dodgers, Angels and even Blue Jays, as well as some of last year's division winners like the Nationals and Reds.
None of those teams, you'll note, is the 2012 World Series champions. It will make for a fascinating season in which all those teams can lay claim to the title, and a half-dozen others are bucking for inclusion in the group.
4. Surprise! Yay! -- Last year, the Orioles and A's were considered among the worst teams in baseball headed into the season, then rode strong pitching to 90-win seasons and the ALDS. This year, the team to watch is the Padres. San Diego went 42-33 in the second half last year, led by MVP candidate Chase Headley and rookies Logan Forsythe, Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal.
Grandal will miss 50 games to start the season (testosterone), but the rest of the team returns and could be bolstered by rookie raker Jedd Gyorko and a step forward by centerfielder Cameron Maybin. The real question is the pitching, which could rise or fall on the health of Andrew Cashner and Cory Luebke. There's no parallel for the Padres in the AL -- only the Mariners, if all their young pitching arrives quickly, are a potential surprise, and even that is a longshot in the deadly AL West.
5. Surprise? Boo!. -- The Royals have invested cash and prospects into making 2013 their second competitive season since the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. It won't work. There's young hitting talent here and a lot of great bullpen depth. However, the rotation has merely added bulk innings (and a No. 2 starter in James Shields) while the offense has substantial holes even with Eric Hosmer getting back on track with a huge breakout year. Kansas City won't reach .500 and will clean house after the year, starting over with a new GM, new manager . . . and the same penurious owner.
6. Instant replay continues to be an issue. Instant replay continues to be an issue. -- More than three years after MLB's umpires embarrassed the game during a 2009 postseason filled with egregious, yet correctable, mistakes, MLB has yet to implement an obvious, simple and effective solution. There is no perfect system, but letting perfect be the enemy of better is how you end up with games swinging not on what the players do, but on what middle-management functionaries see. The "human element" is a myth perpetuated by people who send all-caps e-mails and still think of fruit when they hear the word "Apple". MLB has the technology and the money to ensure that the worst offenses are corrected quickly and smoothly. This is what we will be talking about every time the lowest-paid person on the field turns a double into an out because he couldn't see that the second baseman missed the tag.
7. The All-Star Game is a fiasco. -- Given to the Mets due to their success in getting taxpayers to build them a new ballpark -- this is how you get an All-Star Game in the 21st century -- the July get-together will merely serve to highlight how far the franchise has fallen since opening CitiField in 2009. With the Mets under .500 and David Wright off to a poor start, the team's signature player will be left off the NL All-Star roster in favor of token representative Frank Francisco, who has 14 saves and a 3.45 ERA at the time. At his All-Star Game press conference, Bud Selig will refuse to address the issue of the Mets ownership, or explain why a team that has its own regional sports network and a five-year-old ballpark in the largest city in the world somehow has a payroll barely above the league median.
8. Ka-ching! -- Queens (and Miami) aside, the game's coffers continue to grow at a breakneck pace. With sleeping giants in Los Angeles and Toronto fully awakened, MLB's local revenues rise, and labor peace and parity allow for growth in the national deals. MLB Advanced Media's popular applications give MLB an edge on the other leagues in pushing content to tablets and smartphones, deepening fans' connection not just with their local team but with baseball as a whole. As an industry, baseball is more healthy than it's been at any time, and pushes closer to the NFL in total revenues.
9. "...in the AL East" -- That phrase gets retired, as after a decade of hegemony, age and questionable management push the Yankees and Red Sox down the totem pole and bring the game's toughest division back to the pack. It's still a strong group, but no longer clearly the best in the game -- the NL East, AL West and NL West all vie for the title. The 2013 postseason is the first since 1993 with neither of the AL East's scary monsters involved.
10. The Big TO -- In most years, the team that dominates the offseason doesn't quite get it done once the bell rings. In 2009, the Yankees signed three of the top four free agents and went on to win the World Series, but more often, big spending sprees turn you into the 2011 Angels. Well, this time, winning the winter also means winning the summer, as the Toronto Blue Jays ride their rebuilt starting rotation (R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle), their new leadoff hitter (Jose Reyes) and a terrific offense to their first World Series title since 1993.