For baseball fans, the start of a new year signals one thing: We’re getting closer to games being played again.
The shock of last year’s disappointments are over. It’s time to face 2018 with optimism. Your favorite team might finally get over the hump. Hey, they might even go worst to first — just ask the Minnesota Twins about that.
With all that said, we still have a few grueling weeks to get through before pitchers and catchers report to camp. But we here at The Stew are a little excited. Can you blame us?
While players are still at home working out, we’ll count down the five biggest baseball storylines you should look out for in 2018. With free agents still on the market, and the possible haul of talent that should be available next November, this could be the biggest year in baseball in recent memory.
WHO WILL SIGN WHERE?
Free agency was supposed to begin months ago, but we wouldn’t blame you if you thought players couldn’t officially sign contracts until the start of 2018. Aside from Shohei Ohtani — and let’s face it, his situation was different — every other key free-agent remains on the market.
According to Jeff Passan’s free-agent list, Wade Davis was the next best free-agent to sign this offseason. He ranked No. 9. That still leaves Yu Davish, Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez, and a host of others still available. Given that pitchers and catchers report as early as Feb. 12, you would think those dominoes are going to fall soon. If you’re still worried about your team competing in 2018, calm down. There’s still plenty of talent available that could push them over the edge.
TEAMS LOOKING TO MAKE THE LEAP
Three teams have already made big moves this offseason. With those moves, the Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Angels and New York Yankees have announced they expect more next year. For the Angels, it means trying to get Mike Trout to the postseason again. For the Rockies, that means a deep playoff run. For the Yankees, it means bringing another championship to New York.
The Arizona Diamondbacks, Milwaukee Brewers and Twins could find themselves in the same position as the Angels. All surprised last season, and should try to take the next step in 2018. On the flip side, the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants all disappointed in 2017. They could all make plays to get back into contention in 2018. The Giants have already gotten a head start on that.
On a smaller level, the Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves look to graduate more promising talent to the majors. The Phillies and White Sox will have a lot of money freed up for the 2019 mega free-agent class (more on that soon), and the Braves may be trying to go that way as well. None of those teams look like contenders now, but with their young talent and money, their fortunes could change soon.
The one player who has signed, two-way Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani, should have everyone excited in 2018. He’s coming into the year with a lot of hype, and his willingness to come over to Major League Baseball before he was eligible for a major payday shows just how much he wants to prove himself against better talent.
Ohtani is the most hyped player to come from Nippon Professional Baseball since … well, possibly ever. All eyes will be on him when the season begins. And if he can handle playing both ways, he’ll change how the game is played moving forward. Fans should be excited to see what he can do.
THE MARLINS TEARDOWN
You might not watch a single Miami Marlins game in 2018 — even if you’re a fan. But you’ll still find yourself thinking about them often. That’s not just because Derek Jeter is in charge now. It’s also because they are in the middle of one of the biggest teardowns we’ve seen. Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon are already gone. Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto could be next.
The Marlins won’t be competitive in 2018, so the focus will be on figuring out Jeter’s plan to get the organization back on track. It’s safe to say fans aren’t too happy with the moves thus far, so he’ll have to show them some reason for encouragement as the year goes on.
THE BEST FREE-AGENT CLASS EVER LOOMS
That header is not an understatement. As things stand now, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, Charlie Blackmon, Dallas Keuchel and Josh Donaldson will all hit the market at the end of the 2018 season. That’s not all, though. Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller and Daniel Murphy should be available as well.
That can change, of course. Those guys could opt to sign long-term extensions with their clubs. Though, that doesn’t really make sense for the younger guys like Harper and Machado. That will be a key thing to follow throughout the year, as will injuries. Not only that, but you might want to pay more attention to midseason moves. It’s possible some teams will start trying to lure those key free agents by making a big move early. It could prove to those stars that the team is serious about contending in 2019.
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Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik