The 2021 MLB season is upon us.
The hope, of course, is the new campaign will look more “normal” than the 2020 season, which featured a 60-game schedule and empty ballparks as Major League Baseball (like the rest of the world) wrestled with the COVID-19 pandemic. Fingers crossed.
To celebrate, with Opening Day on deck for Thursday, we decided to look into the crystal ball and fire off some MLB predictions — 21 of them, in fact, to honor our current trip around the sun.
So, let’s have it.
1. Francisco Lindor will sign 12-year, $360 million contract extension with Mets
The Mets reportedly offered Lindor $325 million over 10 years, but the All-Star shortstop reportedly wants a 12-year, $385 million deal, which would trump the contracts Mookie Betts and Fernando Tatis Jr. signed with the Dodgers and Padres, respectively. Let’s say the sides meet somewhere in the middle.
2. Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter will make history in MLB draft
Never before have teammates been the top two picks in the MLB draft. That’ll change this July, when Rocker and Leiter — two stud Vanderbilt pitchers — are selected No. 1 and No. 2. The only question: Who goes first?
3. Cubs will trade Kris Bryant and Kyle Hendricks to Blue Jays
We’re expecting a rebuild on the North Side of Chicago after the Cubs stumble out of the gate. That’ll include dealing away Bryant, who’s in the final year of his contract and has been the subject of trade rumors for months (with the Blue Jays even mentioned as a possible suitor), and, in a somewhat surprising twist, Kyle Hendricks, who has three more years remaining on his deal beyond 2021.
The Blue Jays, fresh off signing George Springer and Marcus Semien, among others, are all in at this point and presumably won’t shy away from adding payroll, especially if it means landing another bopper and the starting pitching they desperately need. Toronto has the prospect capital to be creative at the deadline.
4. Rockies will trade Trevor Story to Athletics
The Rockies are going to stink, and Story is set to become a free agent after the 2021 season. Sure, Colorado could explore a contract extension, but the more likely scenario involves the underratedly awesome shortstop getting dealt. The A’s are no strangers to swinging for the fences at the deadline.
5. Nationals will trade Max Scherzer to Astros
This one might be a reach, for two reasons: 1) The Nationals, who won the World Series in 2019, actually could be good. And 2) Even if they’re not that good, the Nats could decide they’re better off keeping Scherzer, a free agent-to-be, in the hopes of re-signing him next offseason But where’s the fun in that?
Scherzer, despite turning 37 this season and showing slight regression in 2020, has the potential to really impact a pennant race, and thus could be a nice trade piece if Washington, which needs to infuse more talent into its depleted farm system, makes the ace available.
6. Ronald Acuna Jr. will hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases …
Acuna, who hit 41 homers and swiped 37 bags as a 21-year-old in 2019, will become the fifth player in MLB history to go 40-40, joining Alfonso Soriano (2006), Alex Rodriguez (1998), Barry Bonds (1996) and Jose Canseco (1988).
7. … but finish second in National League MVP voting to Christian Yelich
Yelich, also a threat to go 40-40, will remind the baseball world of his talent, ultimately posting a higher batting average and OPS than Acuna, who will lose MVP votes to Braves teammates Freddie Freeman, Marcell Ozuna and/or Ozzie Albies.
8. Two Brewers pitchers — Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes — will finish in top 10 in NL Cy Young Award voting
Woodruff, an All-Star in 2019, is underrated. And Burnes, who finished sixth in 2020 upon transitioning to the rotation on a full-time basis, has flashed elite strikeout ability ahead of his age-26 campaign. Milwaukee’s rotation doesn’t get a lot of attention, but it’s in good hands.
9. Shane Bieber will repeat as American League Cy Young Award winner
Because he’s absolutely filthy.
10. Mike Trout will do something he’s never done before
Win a batting title? Win the home run crown? Win … a playoff game?
11. Shohei Ohtani will pitch and hit in AL Wild Card Game
Angels manager Joe Maddon isn’t ruling out Ohtani, a two-way sensation, hitting on days when he pitches this season, something the 26-year-old did frequently in Japan but hasn’t done since arriving in the majors. If the Angels make a playoff push in 2021, it’ll likely be thanks in large to Ohtani’s contributions on the mound and in the box. And in a one-game playoff, you can’t hold anything back.
12. Rays will win AL East
The Angels will face the Yankees in the aforementioned one-game playoff, because the Rays will repeat as division champs thanks to their deep stable of pitching and Kevin Cash’s managerial acumen. Having the 2020 postseason’s breakout performer, Randy Arozarena, and top prospect Wander Franco doesn’t hurt, either, as Tampa Bay once again looks to exceed expectations.
13. White Sox will not make playoffs
The White Sox have an extremely high ceiling. But there also are many ways things could go sideways for the South Siders, starting with manager Tony La Russa. We’re banking on Minnesota coming out of the AL Central, while Chicago will face stiff wild-card competition from the Yankees, Angels, Blue Jays and A’s.
14. Aaron Boone will not return to Yankees in 2022
The Yankees should win the AL East. In fact, they probably should reach the World Series. And if they don’t, it’ll be a disappointing season in the Bronx, right before the manager’s contract expires.
15. Trey Mancini will win Comeback Player of the Year and contribute to playoff team
One year ago, Mancini was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. Now, the 29-year-old is back with the Orioles, who will flip him to a contender at the trade deadline, paving the way for the best feel-good story of the 2021 MLB season.
16. Joe Musgrove will be Padres’ biggest offseason addition
San Diego traded for Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, the reigning NL Cy Young Award runner-up and the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner, respectively. Yet, one shouldn’t overlook the addition of Musgrove, who found a new gear with the Pirates last season that included striking out 12.5 batters per nine innings.
The Padres’ rotation is stacked, with Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack joining the aforementioned trio, top prospect MacKenzie Gore waiting in the wings and Mike Clevinger rehabbing from Tommy John surgery with an eye toward 2022. It’s a shame they play in the NL West.
17. Padres will win more than 100 games …
Pretty good, right?
18. … but lose to Mets in NL Wild Card Game
Oh, yeah. The Dodgers.
Only 10 times in MLB history has a team won 100 games and not won its division. Only four times has it happened since the divisional era began in 1969. But that’s the fate the 2021 Padres are facing thanks to sharing the NL West with the Dodgers, the most loaded defending champion in recent memory. And anything can happen in a one-game playoff, especially when Jacob deGrom is on the other side.
19. Twins will snap 18-game playoff losing streak and advance to World Series
It’s almost impressive that Minnesota has lost 18 consecutive playoff games, the longest postseason losing streak in the history of North American professional sports. When the Twins finally get the monkey off their backs — a reasonable expectation with this current group — it’ll be a relief that catapults them toward the Fall Classic.
20. Dodgers will repeat as World Series champions …
Again, the Dodgers are just so, so good.
They have legitimate superstars (Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager), a silly rotation (Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin), a good manager (Dave Roberts) and, now, no questions about whether they’re capable of getting over the hump.
21. … and David Price will record final out as Los Angeles’ closer
The Dodgers obviously have other options, with Blake Treinen and Corey Knebel, among others, joining incumbent closer Kenley Jansen in Los Angeles’ bullpen. But Price, who opted out of the 2020 season, has been relegated to a multi-inning relief role to begin 2021, thanks to the Dodgers’ rotation depth. Who’s to say he won’t find himself pitching in high-leverage, late-game situations come October?