Not everything is all sunshine and rainbows in the sports of baseball, and regardless of how much or how little money you spend, unforeseen circumstances can still fall upon any MLB franchise at any given time.
From an unfortunate and freak injury of a player (Jonathan Lucroy missed time in 2012 while with the Milwaukee Brewers after a suitcase fell on his right hand, causing it to break while trying to locate a missing sock in a hotel room) to shelling out huge contracts to the wrong players, MLB franchises across the league have all experienced some sort of bad luck or ill-fated circumstances at some point.
Large-market franchises, a la the New Yorks, Bostons, Los Angeles’, and the Chicagos of the league all seem to rank as the highest-invested franchises in terms of payroll, which does not fully guarantee success, much less a postseason berth. One year after having won the World Series, the Boston Red Sox had the floor fall out from underneath them in 2019, missing the playoffs completely (even though they still finished six games above .500 to end the season).
Money always generates more of a following, but not necessarily guaranteed results, and this past free agency period proved that the money is once again flowing for players, which is exactly what was needed to help facilitate a transfer of talent to teams not commonly known to be heavily involved in the free-agent market.
With that being said, here are three larger market franchises that could end up disappointing in 2020, much to the surprise of fans everywhere.
Chicago White Sox
Having decided to treat this past offseason as their Monopoly game in which they play the role of the player that decides to buy up as many properties as possible, the Chicago White Sox have a lot of pressure to perform and live up to the high expectations that this offseason has provided. Having added catcher Yasmani Grandal, starting pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzales, and outfielder Nomar Mazara, among other additions, has set the table for potentially a rough season if they do not reach their potential.
The team lost out in the Manny Machado sweepstakes last offseason, settling once again for mediocrity and trading away players at the deadline to try and recoup some value through prospects. Stuck between needing to compete in a large market and a division ripe for the taking, the White Sox have a lot directly in front of them to achieve in just one season.
The hype train has joined this team ever since they made their first offseason addition, and it has not stopped since, especially with how open the American League Central division can be. While the Minnesota Twins did end up putting together an outstanding season in 2019 and knocked the Cleveland Indians off of their perch at the top of the division, both the Twins and Indians have their flaws, as do the White Sox, which could be exploited over the course of a full season.
But the White Sox, who only produced a 72-89 record, would need to win 29 more games in 2020 just to tie the number of games that the Twins won last season, and that was without free-agent addition Josh Donaldson over at the hot corner for Minnesota. And for the Indians, while they may have traded away two mainstays in their starting rotation in Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, still have more than enough firepower to try and replicate their 93-victory season, which left them only three games out of an MLB Wild Card berth.
A team can have issues gelling in its first year together, and with Keuchel and Gonzalez pitching to Grandal, who has caught Gonzalez before when they were both in Milwaukee, there may be some disconnect early on. A team trying to reach the peak too quickly can hurt a franchise’s long-term development, and the White Sox are looking like they could fall into that category of susceptibility in 2020.
Across town from the White Sox, the Chicago Cubs are having a bit of an identity crisis going into the 2020 season, one that began back at the beginning of their 2019 campaign. Devoid of any meaningful payroll space to actually go out and make any sort of impactful moves, this franchise looks to be a bit dead in the water as they try and search for a solution.
Currently situated as having the fourth-highest payroll in the league at a shade underneath $183 million, the Cubs are looking at its competition in the National League Central division without really understanding how they fit into that pecking order.
Last season saw both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers make the postseason out of the Central Division, with the Cardinals winning the Central crown with only 91 wins, six less than the other team that won their division with fewer than 100 wins, the Atlanta Braves. Being the lowest win-total team to win their division heading into the postseason can present a bit of a difficult pill to swallow, but the Cardinals look more than ready to repeat this year as divisional champions.
The Brewers underwent a few huge changes of their own, having lost Grandal to the White Sox and Mike Moustakas to the division-rival Cincinnati Reds, who finally gave the Moose the free-agent contract he was looking for. Having added what seems like 15 players that can play seven different positions make it hard to project, but their overall projects are not placing them high in the Central divisional standings.
The Pittsburgh Pirates look to be full-on in rebuild mode, and even with that mindset they seem to be messing up their future. When they acquired Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays before the 2018 deadline, the move looked to have been made more for future dividends, with the current status of their roster only kind of in mind. Having shipped out both Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows in the deal is a huge loss for the Buccos, and Archer has been only a shell of himself ever since he put on the black and gold in Pittsburgh, pushing the Pirates even farther back in their rebuild.
And that leaves the Reds, who seem to be following a very similar path to the White Sox in how they ran their offseason. Having added Moose, starter Wade Miley, and outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, the Reds are trying their best to rise up the standings and leave all of their Central rivals in the dust, which could easily push the Cubs towards the bottom half of the standings.
With trade rumors of Kris Bryant running rampant this offseason, the outside distractions that this team has been facing on a daily basis will seep into the regular season, ultimately derailing a team that is devoid of financial space and boasting a roster filled with superstar potential that is being held back by unrealistic expectations.
The Cubs could easily become early sellers this year in an attempt to not only sell off money and lower their payroll, but to also signal to the rest of the league that they are in for a hell of a rebuild of a team that just won their first MLB World Series title in over 100 years back in 2016.
Even with the kind of news that has been running rampant through the NL Central Division this offseason in wake of rumored trades and organizational dysfunction, it is going to be quite difficult for anyone to pick out which team will be the clear-cut favorite to win that division. And for the Cincinnati Reds, who have missed out on the postseason since 2013, their chances of improving upon their 2019 season will be hard to do, even with the kind of money they just shelled out.
75 wins still put them 16 victories behind the Cardinals in the standings last year, which was close but not close enough to getting them a divisional crown. Combine their current roster and its $133.5 million payroll and you get a team that has been put under a microscope and expected to outperform its last five seasons and somehow make a huge jump into the postseason.
There is a reason that this team finished fourth in the Central last year – they were just not good. Even with having brought in players like Moose, Castellanos, and others to help improve their squad, the fact of the matter remains that a huge set of changes must occur for the Reds to develop a winning atmosphere.
Joey Votto has been struggling a bit lately and while surrounding the Canadian with proven MLB talent is something that this team so desperately needed to do, they may be putting the cart before the horse this offseason – or the media may be doing it for them.
The Central is one of the most highly contested divisions in all of baseball, and 2020 will be no different. If the Reds are wanting to try and become an upstart threat to the Cardinals for the top spot, then they will need to hope that a lot of things fall their way – otherwise, 2020 will just be looked at as yet another disappointing season that fails to reach the postseason.