Last week on Monday Night Raw, Shane McMahon made a shocking return to the WWE after a six year absence. And it was soon announced that he’d be facing the Undertaker inside ‘Hell in a Cell’ at WrestleMania 32. I wonder if maybe, just maybe, Theo Epstein happened to be watching. Because just three days later, Dexter Fowler’s surprise return to the Cubs was as close to a WWE-style swerve as an actual non-scripted sport can get. The only thing it was missing was cued-up entrance music (“My Way” by Fetty Wap, would have been perf) and his Cubs teammates chanting ‘holy shit’ and ‘this is awesome’ (clap clap clap clap clap) after the big reveal.
Until that very moment, the consensus foregone conclusion was that Fowler had signed with the Baltimore Orioles. It was speculated and anticipated for weeks by baseball’s talking head community until it evolved into a full-blown fact. Right up until the moment it wasn’t. And after receiving a text that just said “Fowler!” from my ‘Go Cubs’ iPhone message group, I was so confused and skeptical that I didn’t believe the news until I actually saw the video of a 6’5″ dude in street clothes who looked a lot like Dexter Fowler walking onto the field with a guy who looked a lot like Theo Epstein and being greeted by a group of guys in Cubs uniforms who looked exactly like the rest of the Chicago Cubs. It wouldn’t take long for a meme to go out on social media with Steve Harvey holding the Miss Universe card and saying, “DEXTER FOWLER HAS SIGNED WITH THE ORIOLES.”
And while I could talk about what the Fowler signing means for the 2016 Cubs (the best team in baseball on paper just got better, Jason Heyward can now move back to right field where he’s won three Gold Gloves and it creates an insanely flexible lineup depth with Fowler, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber in the other outfield slots, etc.), it’s probably best to use this as further proof that conventional wisdom at the start of Spring Training doesn’t necessarily equate to actual regular season results. And everything we think we know about the 2016 season before it starts is probably just as true as the fact that Dexter Fowler is the new leadoff hitter for the Baltimore Orioles.
All that being said, I still can’t think of a reason why it won’t be the Cubs’ year in 2016. Yes, I’m still worried about the Cardinals. And I still think the Pirates are probably vastly underrated. And I know that saying, “Anything less than the World Series would be a huge disappointment” is a statement that is probably held equally true for the Mets and the Dodgers. And I know that the Nationals were the team that looked like the hands-down best-on-paper team last year. That is, of course, until they weren’t. But it’s still February as I type this. And hope still springs eternal. So as of right now, I’m a believer.
Around the League
The more I think about the 2016 Boston Red Sox and their high win projections, the more I have a problem with them. Pablo Sandoval showed up to Fort Myers looking like me after a cake bender. And if you combine that with Hanley Ramirez at first base, I don’t see why every team they face wouldn’t just put on a dead-ball-era bunt clinic until the Red Sox can figure their own shit out? But the good news for the Red Sox is that every team in their division has a really good reason why they won’t win either. The best one is that 5’8″ Marcus Stroman is going to become the the ace of the Blue Jays like he’s pitching’s Jose Altuve. And Jose Bautista’s contract looks like it’s already a distraction. As are the whispers that Troy Tulowitzki can’t hit outside of the thin air of Coors Field. And those two teams are the favorites in the division. If you add to that, the uncertainty of the rotation and age of the position players in New York, a possible 30-40 game suspension of Aroldis Chapman, a Tampa Bay Rays team that doesn’t score runs and an Orioles team that doesn’t prevent runs, it leaves me throwing up my hands and saying, “Let them eat cake.”
I’m increasingly curious to see Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios in Minnesota. Not to mention Miguel Sano and Byung-ho Park. That’s too much young talent to not pan out in a division where I’m totally ready to see something new and exciting happen. That could also occur if the White Sox can score runs and if the Indians can play defense. I just don’t want to see a scenario where these Kansas City Royals, who have the 13th-highest payroll in baseball and who will not be sneaking up on anyone this time around, can become the 1998-2001 Yankees or the 1988-1990 Bash Brother A’s. I can only take so many cuts to Happy George Brett in the owner’s box before I get sick of this double-tapered shit.
My way-too-early AL MVP pick is going to be Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros. Especially now that they created the Chase Utley Slide Rule to protect him. Mike Trout is still probably going to be the best player in the league. But he’s going to get ‘LeBron Ruled’ out of the award until the Angels can put a decent lineup around him. The same probably goes for Josh Donaldson and even a returning Miguel Cabrera because nobody likes repeats. So that probably leaves us with Manny Machado, who probably won’t be in playoff contention and Correa who probably will. And my backup choice is obviously Dexter Fowler, the definite new right fielder for the Baltimore Orioles.
And while I haven’t decided on my pre-season NL MVP pick quite yet, I will say that if the Diamondbacks are really going to be in contention, then there’s no reason it won’t be Paul Goldschmidt. But you can’t rule out never-been-picked guys like Giancarlo Stanton (with his zero facial hair and his Barry Bonds) or whichever Cubs player hogs up the most attention in their historic season. Or it could even be whoever this Royce Harper guy is Dusty Baker keeps talking about. I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Well, we have actual Spring Training games next week. We’ll get to see Lucas Giolito and Julio Urias and Corey Seager and Byron Buxton and Joey Gallo and start forming actual thoughts about these teams as they move towards the regular season. I’ve given you my picks for World Series champion and AL MVP. And with just a little bit more information, I can form enough of an opinion to the wrong about the rest. Stay tuned.