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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2017 — No. 11: Major turnarounds for the Dbacks, Rockies and Twins

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We’re a few short days away from 2018 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2017. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

In the offseason we hear so much about long-term rebuilds, tanking and teardowns. We hear about moves that are aimed at “the next good [whoever] team,” which may by three or four years in the future. We’re conditioned to believe that there are only a handful of teams who can seriously contend and twenty or more who can’t add, say, a corner outfielder because doing so makes no sense when there are only 80 wins in their future.

Then the season takes place and real baseball shows us that, sometimes, all of that stuff is utter nonsense.

The Arizona Diamondbacks finished 69-93 in 2016, which prompted the firing of then-manager Chip Hale and a complete overhaul of the front office. The hiring of Torey Lovullo was praised all around, but most preseason predictions had them, at best, in third place in the National League West and nowhere close to playoff contention. So much for that: the Dbacks flipped their record to 93-69 and won the Wild Card and, eventually, advanced to the NLDS.

Behind the turnaround: Zack Greinke returning to ace-like form, the emergence of Robbie Ray as a top starter, Archie Bradley‘s astoundingly successful conversion to the relief duties, another MVP-caliber season from Paul Goldschmidt and the deadline acquisition of slugger J.D. Martinez, who smacked 29 homers in 62 games for the Snakes. All of that resulted in an enjoyable season for Dbacks fans and a Manager of the Year Award for Lovullo.

The Colorado Rockies finished in third place in both 2016 and 2017, but in the two Wild Card era, third place can be just fine if you’re in a tough division. That was the case with the Rockies who, place in the standings notwithstanding, improved by 12 games in 2017 behind new manager Bud Black, finishing 87-75 and making the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

As can be expected of a team that calls Coors Field home, the Rockies led the National League in runs, with MVP candidates Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado leading the attack. But unlike most Rockies teams in the past, they could pitch a little too, finishing in the middle of the pack in the league in runs allowed, which ain’t too shabby in Colorado. Of the eight pitchers who made starts for the Rockies in 2017, six had an ERA+ over 100, which is above average. Of the other two, one was a swingman and the other made nine starts after battling cancer. The bullpen, led by Greg Holland, was a strength as well.

The Minnesota Twins lost a major league-high 103 games in 2016, but nonetheless orchestrated a quick turnaround, going 85-77 in 2017, good for the second AL Wild Card. Your feelings about two Wild Card slots notwithstanding, it was the first time a team had lost 100 games and then reached the playoffs in the very next season.

In some ways it was a turnaround within a turnaround for Minnesota, as the Twins were sellers at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, dealing All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler and veteran starter Jaime Garcia, yet went on a 20-10 run in August to surge past the Angels, Orioles, Mariners, Rays and Royals and into playoff contention. Like Lovullo, Twins manager Paul Molitor was rewarded with the Manager of the Year Award for his efforts.

There are a lot of things that can go into a quick turnaround. A team could sharply underperform one season and simply get back to its expected level the following year, with said return appearing to be massive improvement. A team could have a number of players experience career years at once, giving them something of a lightning-in-a-bottle season. A team could, likewise, simply have a critical number of players progress to their true talent level at the same time, thereby having a rebuild culminate the way it expected.

Which of those was the case for the Diamondbacks, Rockies and Twins? We’ll see in 2018. We may also see three or more other teams experience faster-than-expected turnarounds. Regardless of how gloomy things look in the depths of winter.

Report: Gerrit Cole has seven-year, $245 million offer from Yankees

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Bob Klapisch of The New York Times reports that free agent starter Gerrit Cole has a seven-year, $245 million contract offer on the table from the Yankees. As Klapisch also notes, the deal would set a record for total value and average annual value for a pitcher, besting Zack Greinke‘s $34.4 million AAV and David Price‘s $217 million total.

While it is possible that Cole signs before the end of the Winter Meetings on Thursday, clients of Scott Boras have tended to sign later in the offseason, so this may be a protracted process with today’s report as a jumping-off point. Both the Yankees’ and Angels’ front offices have received clearance from ownership to break the bank to sign Cole.

Cole, 29, could not have timed having a career year any better. During the regular season, he led all of baseball with 326 strikeouts and led the American League with a 2.50 ERA while also posting a 20-5 record and walking only 48 batters across 212 1/3 innings. He performed brilliantly in the playoffs as well, holding the opposition to seven runs on 21 hits and 11 walks with 47 strikeouts over 36 2/3 innings of work as the Astros narrowly missed out on winning another championship.

Cole is entering his age-29 season, so a deal of at least seven years would take him well into his mid-30’s. Teams, especially lately, have been hesitant to commit to pitchers, but as the Nationals showed with Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin, sometimes it leads to a championship.

For what it’s worth, Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports says the Yankees haven’t made a formal offer to Cole yet, though the club plans to make one this week. During this time of year, both sides — front office personnel and player agents — leak details to the press to help establish leverage. What we can generally take from this is that the Yankees are hot for Cole and he’s going to get a record-setting contract from some team, even if it’s not the Yankees.