Don’t Be the 2017 Royals

As we’re coming out of the All-Star break, and we are nearing the trade deadline, there are always those teams that are right there on the bubble.  And, it seems as though there are always a couple teams that miss their chance to capitalize on the opportunity to build for the future.  Teams like the 2017 Kansas City Royals who decided to hold on to several players that were headed to free agency, only to finish the season below .500, and 5 games out of the Wild Card race.  And, today, they have the worst record in the AL, and they don’t have a single prospect in the top 100.

Imagine what the Royals could have picked up in trade for the likes of Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, etc.  But, because they thought they still had one last playoff run left in them, they missed out on their chance to begin building a team that could compete sooner rather than later.  And, the way I see it, there are two teams that are in danger of making the same mistake in 2018.  I would have included the Angels and Cardinals here, because they both probably need to admit they aren’t in legitimate playoff contention. But, they also don’t really have tradable pieces that would make a significant difference to a contender, with perhaps the lone exception of Ian Kinsler.  So, here are the two teams that – barring an incredible run in the next week – need to stop fooling themselves, and plan for the future.

San Francisco Giants

Yes, they currently have a winning record.  But, they’re in 4th place in the division, and are trailing by 4 games in the Wild Card with 5 teams ahead of them.  Meanwhile, they have some very appealing pieces that, if traded, could give this team a boost into the next year or two.

Andrew+McCutchen+San+Franciso+Giants+v+Los+GTZAcN0EeYplAndrew McCutchen plays a premium position, and currently has a .764 OPS in a very pitcher-friendly ballpark.  Nick Hundley would be a nice pick-up for a team needing some help at catcher.  Derek Holland hasn’t been lights out, but he could add depth to a contender’s bullpen.  All of these will be free agents at the end of this season.

If you really wanted to go into rebuild mode, and start planning for 2020, can you imagine the haul the Giants could get for Madison Bumgarner (who has one year left after this one before becoming a free agent)??  Relievers Will Smith and Tony Watson would also fetch a nice price on the trade market, and they will be free agents after 2019.  The Giants have a nice long-term core in Posey, Longoria, Cueto, Crawford, and Belt.  But, they also have a payroll over $190 million, and only one prospect in the top 100.  If now isn’t the time to start building momentum for the future, then I’m not sure when is.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals, more than any other team, are almost exactly where the Royals were a year ago.  They have several key pieces that will be free agents at the end of the year.  They have recent postseason experience.  And, they’re not technically out of the race this year.  But, let’s be realistic…

They’re 5.5 games behind the Phillies, who are likely going to make a trade to get even better before the trade deadline.  They’re 5 games out of the Wild Card, with half a dozen teams ahead of them.  And, since the end of May, they’ve gone 15-25.  This is not a team that is headed in the right direction.

But, take a look at the players that will be free agents at the end of this year:

  • Gio Gonzalez
  • Daniel Murphy
  • Ryan Madson
  • Shawn Kelley
  • Kelvin Herrera
  • Matt Adams
  • Jeremy Hellickson
  • And … hmmm … I keep thinking I’m forgetting someone … oh yeah … BRYCE HARPER!

19623203605_914875df50_kWith the exception of perhaps Madson and Murphy, every one of these names would be appealing to contending teams.  The Nats have a great young core in place with Trea Turner, Juan Soto, and Michael Taylor.  Plus, Victor Robles is on his way.  Add to that the prospects they could rake in by trading away these names … never mind “rebuild.”  The Nationals could be ready to compete again in 2019!

Well, that is, if they don’t make the same mistake as the 2017 Royals.


Opening Day … What A Day!

And so it begins.

The 2018 season began with a BLAST as Ian Happ launched the first pitch he saw from Jose Urena into the right field seats. And Marlins Park erupted … thanks to the overwhelming presence of Cubs fans in Miami. So, the first pitch of the Major League season included the first strike, first hit, first extra-base hit, first run scored, first home run, and the first (of what looks to be many) Marlins deficits.

Giancarlo Stanton hit his first HR as a Yankee – and, wouldn’t you know it, he did so with a little flair. In his first AB in the new uni, he hit the hardest opposite field home run in baseball, since 2015. Oh, and just for kicks, he also was the first Yankee to have 3 XBH and 4 RBI on Opening Day since Roger Maris.

The Orioles’ pitching dominated the Twins all day long. And, with a 2-0 lead going into the 9th, the Orioles sent in their closer. But, a lack of control by Brad Brach, led to some very patient at-bats by the Twins hitters. And, after giving up 2 walks and 2 hits, the game was all tied up. But, two innings later, it was Adam Jones who stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th. And, on the first pitch he saw from Fernando Rodney … swing, drive, home run, game over. 3-2 Orioles.

The Red Sox looked like they were going to cruise to an easy victory over the Rays, as they were up 4-0 heading into the bottom of the 8th. But, the Rays scored six runs in the inning. It culminated in an impressive at-bat by the veteran, Denard Span. With the bases loaded, a full count, and two outs in the inning, Span turned on a pitch, and drove a triple into right field, giving the Rays a 5-4 lead. They would go on to win 6-4.

The A’s came from behind twice to tie up the Angels. Once, when they were trailing by 4 in the 5th inning, and again in the 7th when they were down a run. Then, it was a wild 11th inning. With one out, Boog Powell hit a drive that just barely went off the top of left-fielder Justin Upton’s glove. Powell hustled out a triple, on a close play at 3rd. Then, Scioscia decided to walk the next batter, and go with a 5-man infield, with a slider-pitcher on the mound – hoping the batter would roll over a pitch and into a double play. Marcus Semien didn’t oblige – hitting a line drive into center-field (where no one was located) for a walk-off single.

The Phillies were up by five going into the bottom of the 6th. But, after 2 runs by the Braves in the 6th, and 3 runs in the bottom of the 8th, it was a whole new ballgame. Then, in the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs, and a runner on 2nd, the Phillies decided to intentionally walk Freddie Freeman. So, what does Nick Markakis do? He drives a 3-run walk-off HR into right-center.

Extra innings, walk-off home runs, 21 runs scored in a single game . . . this is why Opening Day is one of the best days of the year.

Greatest Single Season in History at First Base

There are some amazing offensive seasons by first basemen. And, it’s all over the board, regarding what made that particular season so impressive. George Sisler had 257 hits in 1920, batting .407 (the second highest average ever at first base – second only to Sisler’s .420 in 1922!). Stan Musial led the league in runs, hits, doubles, and triples in 1946. How great might Jeff Bagwell’s ’94 season have ended up being, had it not been for the strike? He already had 39 HR, 116 RBI, and a 1.201 OPS in just 110 games.

But, as great as those seasons are, there were a couple names that showed up time after time after time. In fact, before I reveal who they are, let me put this in perspective. Albert Pujols is easily the best first baseman of his era. He will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and will go down as one of the greatest sluggers of all-time. In his best seasons, he had an OPS over 1.100, hit 45+ HR, drove in 130+, etc. He has some great seasons under his belt. But, when you sort the best seasons at first base by OPS, or OPS+, there are a couple guys whose names appear multiple times before you even get to Pujols’ best season.

Honorable mention, here, goes to Jimmie Foxx. A guy that I’ve always felt was under-appreciated, because he just happened to play in the shadow of the Yankees during their dynasty of the ’20’s and ’30’s. Foxx has two seasons with an OPS+ over 200 (201 in ’33, and 207 in ’32). He won the MVP in ’32 with a 1.218 OPS, 58 HR, 169 RBI, and 438 total bases – all of which led the league. But, as amazing as that was, the best overall season at first base has to belong to . . .

Lou Gehrig – 1927

Gehrig has so many incredible seasons, it was difficult to choose. He has six seasons in which his OPS is higher than Pujols’ best year. SIX! He has three seasons in which he bat over .370. Seven in which he drove in 150+ runs. Five seasons with 40+ HR. Eight seasons with 200+ hits. And, not once did he strike out as many as 85 times in a season. In fact, his average full season was a .343/.452/.640 slash line with 36 HR, 147 RBI, and just 56 K’s.

So, for his best season, I went with the one in which he posted the highest OPS ever by a first baseman – 1.240 in ’27. He also bat .373 (7th best at first – behind 2 of his other seasons), hit 47 HR, drove in a league best 173 (4th most in history at 1B), and led the league with 52 doubles, while collecting 218 hits. All of which led to 447 total bases – the most ever by a first baseman.

Imagine facing a team in which Gehrig puts up those kind of crazy numbers . . . and he’s the second best player on the team. Yikes.

Next up: Greatest Single Season at Second Base.

Greatest Single Season in History (Catcher)

Giancarlo Stanton is approaching 60 HR’s.  For much of the year, Justin Turner was batting .380 or better.  Chris Sale was just the 4th pitcher in history to reach 200 K’s in his first 20 starts of the season.  There’s no question we are seeing some amazing things in 2017.  I only hope that the postseason is every bit as exciting.  All of these individual accomplishments got me to thinking about some of the great individual seasons I’ve seen in my lifetime – Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown in 2012; Alex Rodriguez’s 40/40 season in 1998; Pedro Martinez’s incredible season in 1999.  But, to put those seasons in context, I decided to do a little research into the greatest single seasons in baseball history.  Not surprisingly, there were some names that appeared multiple times (Ruth, Williams, etc.). So, I decided to dig a little deeper – who has had the greatest single season at each position?

Naturally, this may stir some debate, as the definition of the “greatest” season will vary, depending on which statistics you emphasize.  But, based on the research I have done, there will be 10 posts in the coming days covering the most impressive seasons by any player at each position (splitting pitchers into starters and relievers).  And, today’s is…


While this isn’t always one of the best hitting positions in the game, there is no shortage of great offensive seasons at catcher.  Joe Mauer won a batting title, and the MVP, while also leading the league in OPS (1.031 – including the highest OBP by a catcher since 1935) in 2009.  Mike Piazza had two 40-HR seasons, and drove in 100+ six different times.  Buster Posey won a batting title in 2012, and had the highest single-season OPS+ by any catcher not named Piazza.

But, offense isn’t the only metric needed to measure a catcher’s success.  Certainly, to be considered here, offense matters.  But, a catcher’s defensive capabilities are every bit as important.  And, when you have a catcher with a great bat and glove, you have something really special. Which is why honorable mention here goes to Gary Carter.  In terms of dWAR, he owns the best season by a catcher in history, and it really isn’t even close (4.0 in ’83).  He also has some great offensive seasons in his career, driving in 100+ five times, hitting 25+ HR’s five times.  But, the greatest single season in history belongs to:

Johnny Bench – 1972Johnny Bench

From an offensive perspective, it was the best season of his career.  He led the league in HR (40), RBI (125), and even in IBB’s (23 – the 2nd most ever by a catcher!).  He had a .920 OPS, and a 166 OPS+ (tied for the 6th highest in history by a catcher with at least 100 games behind the plate).

But, in addition to all of this – Bench was incredible behind the plate.  He led all catchers in caught-stealing percentage (53%), and in defensive WAR (2.4), which played a part in him winning his 5th of 10 consecutive Gold Gloves.  His overall WAR was 8.6, which among catchers is second only to Piazza’s 8.7 in ’97.  It’s no wonder he won his second MVP in ’72, as he led the Reds to their 2nd of 4 World Series appearances during his career.

Up next:  Greatest Single Season at First Base.  Pujols?  Gehrig?  Foxx?  We’ll see.

3 Up 3 Down

As we’re heading into the final stretch of the season, there are some teams making a push for the playoffs, some teams sitting comfortably at the top of their division, and some teams starting to show some chinks in the armor. So, let’s take a look at three teams that are looking like they could make a legitimate postseason push (3 up), and 3 teams that may be primed for a late-season swoon (3 down).

3 UP

  • St. Louis Cardinals – this is a team that has underperformed in a pretty significant way. Despite the fact that they have outscored their opponents by more than 40 runs, they have only played to a 57-56 record. Their Pythagorean record is 62-51. So, what has happened? Well, they’re 5 games below .500 in 1-run games. They’re batting .262 with runners in scoring position (8th in the NL). So, with a little better luck, and some more timely hitting, this is a team that can capitalize on the fact that they have several games coming up against the Braves, Giants, Padres, and Reds.
  • Colorado Rockies – this might not seem like such a stretch to say that the Rockies are headed in the right direction. They’ve played to a .571 win pct. both before and after the break. And, it isn’t as if they have any chance of catching the red-hot Dodgers. But, consider this – they have already played most of the games they will play within their division. And, they have yet to play teams like the Marlins, Tigers, and Braves. Oh my.
  • Baltimore Orioles – at the time, I thought they made the worst trade-deadline decisions. A team that seemed clearly out of contention, and with players headed to free agency – they obviously should have been sellers, right? Well, don’t look now, but the offense in Baltimore has woken up. They’ve outscored their opponents by almost 30 runs since the break, and are now just 1.5 games out of the Wild Card. They’ll have plenty of opportunities to make up ground, too, as they will play several games against the teams right around them in the standings the rest of the way (like Tampa Bay, Seattle, and New York).


  • Kansas City Royals – the Royals are 57-55. But, that record is a bit deceiving. Their Pythagorean win-loss record is 54-58, because they’ve actually allowed 21 more runs than they’ve scored thus far this season. And, while they went on a tear in June & July (33-19), they played an awful lot of games those months against the likes of the White Sox, Padres, Blue Jays, etc. They’re 2-6 thus far in August, and just lost their leader (Salvador Perez) for at least 10 days. I say they’re in position to have some mediocre days, and fall out of contention.
  • Seattle Mariners – yes, they’ve played to a 15-9 record since the All-Star break. But, they’ve managed to do that, in spite of actually being outscored by their opponents. They’re also an unsustainable 19-10 this season in 1-run games. So, it doesn’t seem likely that they will be able to sustain the run that has put them in a tie for the second Wild Card spot. They have middle-of-the-pack pitching, and rank 9th in the league in OPS. Not exactly the kind of stats that should make Mariner fans excited.
  • Milwaukee Brewers – the pitching that looked so good in the first half of the season (4th best team ERA in the NL), has begun to look more like what we should have expected (7th in the NL since the break), leading to a 9-15 record, and being outscored by 25 runs. But, even more telling is the fact that the Brewers racked up a ton of wins against some very bad competition in the first half: a 19-6 record against the Reds, Marlins, Mets, and Padres. They have series coming up against the Rockies, Dodgers, and Nationals, which is very likely going to push them out of serious contention.

All Streaks Come to an End

Last night, in the 4th inning of a game in Toronto, Francisco Liriano did something that no one had been able to do in the last 7+ months … he struck out Mookie Betts.  It has been an amazing run for Betts.  129 plate appearances in the regular season since his last strikeout (September 12th of last year).  It was the longest streak by a Boston player since 1975, and the longest in baseball since 2004.

Even with his incredible streak over, however, Betts still has an opportunity to make history.  Since 1947, only 5 players have struck out so rarely that they averaged at least 48 AB’s per strikeout.  The incredible thing about that list is that Nellie Fox accomplished the feat 6 times from ’51-’62!  In fact, every season in which Fox was a full-time player (’50-’64), he never struck out more than 18 times in a season.  

Currently, Betts is averaging one strikeout per 49 AB’s.  To put that into the context of a season – that’s about 11 K’s spread out over an entire year.  The last player to come close to that kind of number was Dave Cash, in 1976.  That year, Cash led the league in AB’s (666), and only struck out 13 times.  

But, the difference between Betts and the rest of the guys on the low strikeout list is Betts’ ability to hit for power.  Cash never hit as many as 5 HR in a single season, and had a career SLG of .358.  Fox had 35 career HR, and a .363 career SLG.  The only man to make the list with legitimate power in his bat was Yogi Berra.  Berra struck out just 12 times in 1950, when he also hit 28 HR and drove in 124.  

If Betts can continue to be as diligent as he has been at avoiding strikeouts, he has an opportunity to join some extremely elite company.

Great Expectations – National League

I love the beginning of the baseball season.  If it were possible, I would take several days off every April, and just watch baseball all day.  The start of a fresh season with all of the unknowns, all of the anticipation, and of course, a lot of different expectations.  As I mentioned last week (Great Expectations – American League), there are frequently unreasonable expectations that fans have for their teams.  Like the Cubs fan who said “this is our year” for the last 40 years, and felt like they had accomplished something by finally being right.  So, let’s take a look at reasonable expectations for 2017.


  • Atlanta Braves (68-93; last in division) – The Braves have centered their rebuilding focus primarily on high quality pitching prospects.  My biggest concern is the fact that this is a much slower rebuild than the development of position players.  The middle of the infield looks like it will be great for years to come, once Albies and Swanson are playing together every day.  But, for now, the Braves are filling in with a lot of short-term contracts, which could provide trade opportunities at the deadline in July.  And, after going 10-20 against 4 of the 5 worst teams outside their division, this team should naturally see some improvement.  Reasonable Expectations:  75+ wins, young players make strides toward being competitive in 2018.
  • Miami Marlins (79-82; 3rd in division) – The Marlins have had very little movement, other than signing Volquez to take the top of the rotation after the tragic loss of Fernandez.  So, in addition to losing the one quality starter in the rotation, they did nothing to improve the offense.  How does a team with the 2nd best team batting avg. in the NL score the 3rd fewest runs?  By not taking advantage of opportunities (10th in RBI’s with RISP).  And, until Stanton can stay healthy for a full season, there’s no one to fear in that lineup.  Reasonable Expectations:  Drop back a little to around 70 wins.
  • New York Mets (87-75; 2nd in division; lost Wild Card game) – Bruce did not play well in NY after the trade (.219/.294/.391).  You would expect him to be back to his usual 25-30 HR and .800+ OPS form this year, which makes this a formidable lineup. If the pitching staff can live up to expectations, this seems to be a team poised for a great season.  The biggest challenge to improvement will be the Nationals – they went 7-12 against them last year, and that was a huge factor in the Nats winning the division.  Reasonable Expectations:  Compete for the division title; possibly make a deep playoff run.
  • Philadelphia Phillies (71-91; 4th in division) – The Phils have a very young offense that isn’t littered with a lot of firepower (scored the fewest runs in the NL in ’16).  But, as they mature, they could be very consistent, even against better pitching staffs.  However, their own rotation has been pieced together, and isn’t exactly intimidating.  Plus, their bullpen had an ERA over 5.00 last year.  And, this team doesn’t seem to be headed anywhere real soon.  Only one legit top-tier prospect that’s close to MLB ready (Crawford), and several of their best prospects were just drafted last year, and won’t be ready for a few years.  Reasonable Expectations:  with other teams in this division taking steps forward, I think the Phils will drop back to the bottom of the division.  Good news is, after getting to pick #8 in this year’s draft, there’s a good chance they’ll be in the top 5 next year.
  • Washington Nationals (95-67; 1st in division; lost NLDS) – Think of it this way: the Nationals won 95 games with their marquee player having arguably the worst full season of his career, and with just 73 games from phenom Trea Turner, and the worst offensive output from Zimmerman in his career.  What does that mean?  The Nats are legit World Series contenders.  Reasonable Expectations:  At minimum compete for the division; look for a strong playoff run.


  • Chicago Cubs (103-58; 1st in division; Won the World Series) – I know it’s been said a lot, but do you realize the Cubs could actually be better this year?  A full season of Schwarber.  A full season of Contreras.  Baez playing regularly.  Russell, Bryant, & Rizzo all maturing as hitters.  This offense could be one of the most productive ever. Plus, Arrietta wasn’t his dominant self for half the year last year, and the bullpen had obvious holes that have now been filled with Edwards, Uehara, and Wade Davis.  Reasonable Expectations:  Division title; but don’t expect another World Series run – the only NL team to win back-to-back titles since 1922 was the ’75-’76 Reds.
  • Cincinnati Reds (68-94; last in division) – The Reds finished with the worst record in the National League a year ago, and were only 4 games better than their 2015 record.  In fact, since they lost the Wild Card game in 2013, they haven’t been better than 10 games under .500.  And, legitimate impact from prospects like Senzel and Garrett is still a year or two away.  One of the worst pitching staffs in baseball was left basically untouched (4.91 ERA in 2016 – only Arizona was worse), and they’re already starting off the year with DeSclafani, Bailey, and Mesoraco on the DL.  Reasonable Expectations:  Hopefully can use Cozart and maybe Storen as mid-season trade bait for some prospects; hopefully don’t see 100 losses.
  • Milwaukee Brewers (73-89; 4th in division) – Even with NL HR champ Carter, this team was tied for 25th in all of baseball in runs scored last year.  Maybe that’s why they decided they didn’t really need him anymore, and let him go to free agency.  And, after trading Lucroy to Texas, this offense only has one real threat in Braun. The farm system is very strong, but it will be a couple years before it impacts the major league team.  Reasonable Expectations:  Hopefully avoid 90+ losses.
  • Pittsburgh Pirates (78-83; 3rd in division) – After three consecutive playoff appearances, the Pirates slipped just below .500.  They had a terrible record against the division-winning Cubs (4-14), and only 1 game over .500 against the rest of the division.  So, they need to improve there, if they expect to be in the playoff hunt this year.  But, this is a team that has a good offense, when clicking on all cylinders, an excellent defensive outfield, and if they can perform up to expectations, their starting rotation could be one of the best in the league.  Reasonable Expectations:  Probably not able to compete at the top of the division, but a Wild Card spot would be a successful season.  85+ wins is very reasonable.
  • St. Louis Cardinals (86-76; 2nd in division) – The Cardinals missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.  What had as much to do with it as anything was the way they played down the stretch.  Just one game over .500 over the months of August and September.  And, despite scoring the 3rd most runs in the NL, the pitching staff was middle of the pack (7th in team ERA).  And, while the addition of Fowler means the offense is likely to run more smoothly, the pitching staff remains unchanged.  And, any hope they thought they might get from a young Reyes went out the window with Tommy John surgery.  That, on top of other injuries to the pitching staff means this team is starting off on a tough foot.  Reasonable Expectations:  Similar record; compete for a Wild Card spot.


  • Arizona Diamondbacks (69-93; 4th in division) – A.J. Pollack at the top of this lineup is a difference-maker.  Losing him at the beginning of last season took an immediate toll on this team’s chances.  However, I remain unconvinced that Greinke has the mental makeup to be an ace.  And behind him is not exactly a string of dominating pitchers.  Without any significant additions to the pitching staff (Walker doesn’t count, since he has had an ERA over 4.00 the last two years), I don’t see much chance for improvement over the staff that had the worst ERA in the league a year ago.  Reasonable Expectations:  Better offense = a few more wins, but pitching is the name of the game.  75+ wins should be considered a success.
  • Colorado Rockies (75-87; 3rd in division) – This was a team that underperformed at a fairly significant level.  The Pythagorean algorithm based on their runs scored and runs allowed suggests this team should have won 80 games.  One of the biggest factors in this is that they were just 12-20 in one-run games.  A pitching staff that performs okay when you take the thin air out of the equation (7th in ERA away from Denver), should keep them in some games, because the offense is pretty anemic once they get away from Colorado (10th in the NL in runs scored).  Reasonable Expectations:  .500 is what this team legitimately feels like.  Especially in this division.  Not enough offensive firepower or pitching prowess to overtake the big boys.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers (91-71; 1st in division; lost NLCS) – Four straight division championships, but the closest this team has come to the World Series was last year, when they lost the LCS in 6.  The amazing thing about this team is that they have been very good, and keep bringing up impressive prospects.  Pederson, Toles, and Seager the last couple years, Urias will be in the rotation all year this year, and if he gets a chance Cody Bellinger could be an impact rookie this year.  There’s a reason PECOTA predicted them to have the best record in baseball this year.  Reasonable Expectations:  At least compete for the division.  This is a legit World Series contender.
  • San Diego Padres (68-94; last in division) – One of the 8 teams that has yet to win a World Series doesn’t look like they’re any closer to doing so.  They were 10th in the NL in both runs scored, and team ERA.  Quality outfield prospects Margot and Renfroe could be the beginning of an improved offense, but they are both very young and are going to take a little while to make big impacts.  The starting rotation is mostly made up of guys cast aside by other teams.  In a division that seems to have improved everywhere else, this is a team that is waiting for the farm system to develop.  Reasonable Expectations:  Avoid 100 losses, and draft well, as they continue to develop their prospects.
  • San Francisco Giants (87-75; 2nd in division; lost NLDS) – The Giants continue to be a postseason threat, and continue to make very reasonable signings.  Yes, they paid a lot to secure Melancon at the back of their bullpen, but this was an obvious hole in last year’s team – leading the league with 30 blown saves.  The offense really seemed to underperform, considering their lineup.  But, this contributed to a complete collapse in the second half of the season – a 30-42 record which clearly cost them the division.  Reasonable Expectations:  With the closer in place, they should compete for the division, and may very well be a World Series contender … again.