After losing 98 games in 2017, the San Francisco Giants opted for a retool over a rebuild. They swung trades for veterans Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen, sacrificing prospects and payroll space in the name of winning now.
They doubled down on a roster anchored by franchise catcher Buster Posey and stud left-hander Madison Bumgarner.
The former is the best backstop in MLB until further notice. The latter was coming off a season marred by a freak dirt-bike-induced shoulder injury. Surely such rotten luck wouldn't repeat itself, right?
In a spring training game Friday against the Kansas City Royals, Bumgarner was hit on his throwing hand by a Whit Merrifield line drive. X-rays revealed a fracture that will keep the 28-year-old on the shelf indefinitely.
"It's just horrible news for us," Giants skipper Bruce Bochy said, per Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic. "It happened. There's nothing we can do but push on."
Further, Baggarly noted, Bumgarner will have pins inserted in his hand that won't be removed for four-to-six weeks. It's possible he won't take the mound for the Giants until the All-Star break or later.
To put it bluntly, San Francisco is screwed.
The Giants already faced an uphill battle in a division that features the defending National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, last year's NL wild-card qualifiers.
Even with the additions of McCutchen and Longoria, the Giants needed everything to break right to sniff the playoffs in 2018.
Instead, they lost right-hander and ostensible No. 3 starter Jeff Samardzija to a pectoral strain, per Baggarly. Then came the Bumgarner bombshell.
Suddenly, a starting rotation that was slated to rely on unproven youngsters Ty Blach and Chris Stratton is down its ace and its innings-eater. Johnny Cueto, the final established hurler remaining in San Francisco's dwindling starting five, had better watch his back.
The Giants offense finished dead last in home runs and OPS last season. Longoria and McCutchen ought to help, but the Orange and Black always relies on pitching in the spacious confines of AT&T Park.
Plus, San Francisco logged the 16th-best ERA in MLB in 2017 with a middling mark of 4.50. The team was banking on Bumgarner riding in on his horse and saving the day. Now, he'll be watching from the sidelines.
Should the Giants accept the inevitable and initiate a fire-sale? Maybe. But who will they sell?
Posey would draw interest, but he's the franchise backbone. Second baseman Joe Panik might be tradable, but he's coming off a down offensive year. The same goes for shortstop Brandon Crawford.
Most of the impact players on the Giants' big league roster are on the wrong side of 30. Bumgarner, who is locked into a team-friendly deal that pays him $12 million this season with a $12 million team option for 2019, is their most attractive chip.
Needless to say, this isn't the moment to shop him.
This is a bitter pill for Bumgarner, who was the picture of stamina before his recent rotten luck, per Michael Baumann of The Ringer:
"It's a cruel irony for the most durable pitcher of a generation for which Tommy John and shoulder fatigue are rites of passage: From ages 21 to 26, Bumgarner threw 200 innings or more six straight years. Even his postseason heroics are predicated not only on pitching well but pitching often: Three of his 14 career playoff starts were complete-game shutouts, and a fourth went eight scoreless. He clinched the 2014 World Series by throwing five scoreless innings on two days’ rest. Bumgarner’s connective tissue is impervious to your pitiful human weapons."
Bumgarner was supposed to be the antithesis of the modern pitcher who must be treated with kid gloves lest his tender arm gets overused. Now, after tumbling off a motorcycle and being nailed by an errant exhibition line drive, his injury woes are mounting.
As for the Giants' woes? If Bumgarner comes back far sooner than expected, they could sneak into the wild-card race. They were already counting on a lot of good fortune, however. Without Bumgarner, they'd better stockpile rabbits' feet and four-leafed clovers.
All the top and mid-tier pitching free agents are off the board. The external options are exhausted.
The Giants hoped for a retool. Now, they're going to have to dig deep into their tool box, where they may find little more than rusty nails and dashed dreams.
All statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball Reference.
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When you picture a battle between David and Goliath, you likely aren't casting the New York Yankees in the role of David.
To hear some members of the Yankees tell it, however, it's time to fit them with a pinstriped slingshot in their upcoming tussle with the big, bad Boston Red Sox.
"The Red Sox are the team to beat because they won the AL East last year," outfielder Brett Gardner said Monday, per Tyler Kepner of the New York Times.
General manager Brian Cashman took things a step further last month.
"We're 'The Little Engine That Could,'" he said on ESPN New York's The Michael Kay Show (via ESPN.com's Coley Harvey).
"I look at [the Red Sox] as the defending American League East champions. We have to find a way to close the gap on them. They just added another piece to improve on what they already had. So we already know who they are and what they are. And our job is to find a way to figure out to somehow get past them..."
Yes, the Red Sox signed slugger J.D. Martinez. Yes, they are the defending division champs. But the Yankees as a chugging underdog struggling to climb the hill?
We'll pause while you finish chortling.
These are the same Yankees who perennially sit at or near the top of the MLB payroll heap. The same Yankees who have hoisted 27 Commissioner's Trophies in their rich, storied history.
The same Yankees who acquired the reigning National League MVP and most fearsome power hitter in the game this winter to gild an already-potent lineup.
With Giancarlo Stanton in the fold, Aaron Judge ready to build on last season's 52-homer explosion and catcher Gary Sanchez arguably the best of the bunch, New York boasts a burgeoning Murderers' Row 2.0.
The bullpen is among the best in the game, and the rotation should be solid behind Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery.
The Yankees aren't free of flaws, but painting them as a piddling second fiddle strains credulity.
Martinez will help the Red Sox's offense, no question, and he joins a superlative young core that includes outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi and third baseman Rafael Devers. Keep in mind, however, that Boston's offense finished dead last in the AL in home runs in 2017.
Boston can count on ace Chris Sale and closer Craig Kimbrel to be top-notch, but the Sox have question marks in both the bullpen and the rotation, where they need David Price and Rick Porcello to rebound from ho-hum years.
FanGraphs projects New York as the toast of the division, foretelling a 95-67 record for the Yankees compared to a 93-69 mark for Boston.
Both would be playoff teams under that scenario, but the Yanks would be alpha dogs.
The Yankees also have baseball's third-best farm system, according to Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter, while the Red Sox check in at No. 22. Thus, it's tough to make the case for the Bronx bunch as anything other than a juggernaut.
Above all, the rekindling of the ancient, simmering rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox is good for the game. It attracts eyeballs and ratchets up the drama.
Here's another wrinkle: The Yankees hired Aaron Boone to be their new manager this offseason. Boone, of course, launched a walk-off home run in the 11th inning of Game 7 against the Red Sox in the 2003 American League Championship Series, sealing New York's trip to the World Series.
"I think there's a reason why the ribbing I've always taken in Boston has been good-natured," Boone said earlier this month, per MLB.com's Mike Lupica. "I mean [the Red Sox] did go on to win three World Series in the next 10 years. Who knows what would have happened if I didn't hit that home run?"
That's a winking statement. It's reasonable to assume Cashman was also winking when he made his "Little Engine" remarks. Both he and Boone surely understand they're driving a finely tuned sports car, even if they call it an undersized locomotive.
The Yankees are Goliath. The Red Sox are Goliath.
When that's true, baseball is more fun.
All statistics and projections courtesy of FanGraphs.
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There are few things more exciting in baseball than a prospect on the precipice of MLB stardom. Close your eyes and imagine the potential. See the sky? That's the limit.
Of course, not all touted youngsters have a path to big league playing time. Some need seasoning; others are blocked at their position of choice.
Here are 10 highly rated MiLB blue chips who have demonstrated their worth in the minor leagues and spring training and who have plausible paths to playing time in the majors.
Meet 2018's most likely breakout stars.