The original deed to the family farm in central Vermont specifies the property contains 108 acres. It’s a place split by a one-lane dirt road that runs north and south. On the east side of the road, there is a mostly rock-free, 10-acre hayfield and a woodlot of about the same size, lush with ash and maple. On the west side, there is another 10-acre field on which we’ve usually planted corn, the mud bog where the John Deere tractor was once stuck almost to the top of the back wheels and a fenced hillside pasture on which our herd of Jersey cows grazed.
It’s a beautiful and peaceful place, as green as any ballfield. I would never easily submit the place for wager -- only when I had the highest confidence in the outcome.
With that in mind, here’s what "I would bet the family farm on" in baseball (tractors not included):
I’d bet the family farm that: The Mets’ Noah Syndergaard will finish No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 in the NL Cy Young Award voting if he’s healthy enough to make at least 30 starts. He has shown again this spring that he has the best pure stuff of any pitcher in baseball.
I’d bet the family farm that: The hitters’ pendulum will begin to swing the other way, with more and more focus on hard contact rather than launch angle.
The effort to consistently lift and drive the ball has worked for a lot of hitters, from Josh Donaldson to Justin Turner, and through an army of aggressive hackers, home run production has skyrocketed. But pitchers and teams began making major adjustments against that strategy last season, attacking the upper half of the strike zone -- the kryptonite of the launch angle generation -- and the fact is that with so many players hitting home runs, that particular skill doesn’t pay off the way it used to. Chris Carter, the NL home run leader in 2016, was released and struggled to stay in the big leagues last season. Logan Morrison and Mike Moustakas were among the MLB leaders in homers last season, with 38 apiece, and both waited and waited in free agency before signing modest, one-year deals.
Meanwhile, hitters such as Joey Votto, Anthony Rizzo and George Springer have worked to reduce strikeouts, and in a sport in which emulation is standard operating procedure, others might follow. Mike Trout, who led the AL in strikeouts four years ago with 182, had fewer than 100 last season and did not strike out in his first 44 plate appearances this spring.
Last year, 117 players had 20 or more homers. Just five players had walk-strikeout ratios of at least 1-1, with Votto leading the way at 1.61.
In a business in which supply and demand means everything, this would be one way to do it -- and some folks who know hitting have raised questions about the wisdom of trying to launch the ball. That includes David Ortiz, who said on our podcast that not everybody is meant to be a home run hitter -- which makes sense, because not everybody is a good defender or a hard thrower or a fast runner.
I’d bet the family farm that: The Dodgers’ interest in the star free agents next fall will take on a very different form than anticipated.
There has been a broad, social media assumption that because the Dodgers slashed their payroll and got under the luxury-tax threshold, they are preparing to wage financial war for players such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. But what Andrew Friedman has demonstrated since taking over the Dodgers is that he remains wary of risk -- passing on the chance to add to his offer to Zack Greinke after Greinke got a $200 million-plus offer from the Diamondbacks, or making a big push to trade for Giancarlo Stanton. Machado and Harper will both hit the market at young ages, mitigating the risk of a long-term deal, but if they focus on deals of 10-12 years in length, that could affect the Dodgers’ level of interest. There has been talk among executives that it might make more sense for a team -- and even a player -- to push for a higher annual salary on a shorter-term deal. That’s the sort of philosophy that might be a better fit for the Dodgers, who haven’t doled out a contract of more than four years in Friedman’s tenure running baseball operations.
Additionally, the Dodgers have one big-ticket item already on the horizon, with Clayton Kershaw contractually eligible to opt out of his deal in the fall.
I’d bet the family farm that: Twins hitting coach James Rowson will be interviewed for managerial jobs within the next 4-5 years. The 41-year-old has a comfortable, relatable personality out of the Alex Cora/Aaron Boone mold.
I’d bet the family farm that: The mound-visits limit will have far less impact than anticipated, and that players will adapt easily. But there will be situations in which catchers or pitchers feel rushed into a decision and will gripe about the mound-visit rule and alleged sign-stealing.
I’d bet the family farm that: Aaron Judge will improve. The other day, Boone was asked which player he has learned the most about that he didn’t know before, and he responded without hesitation: Judge. What Boone has learned, he said, is that beneath Judge’s polite and respectful personality, the slugger is relentlessly competitive. “He wants to tear your heart out,” Boone said. Judge’s understanding of the strike zone is so good that even in a bad year, he could post an on-base percentage of .360 to .375.
I’d bet the family farm that: If the Brewers are in serious contention at midseason, they will be aggressive to deal for what they need (and they might need less than expected, given the wave of young pitching near the top of their farm system). This is owner Mark Attanasio’s way.
I’d bet the family farm that: At the end of Alex Cobb’s four-year, $57 million deal with the Orioles, it will turn out to be a good investment for the club. More than a third of the contract, $20 million, is deferred without interest, so the actual present-day value of the contract is assessed at $47 million over four years. The Orioles are shedding a lot of money next fall, with the certain departure of Machado and Zach Britton and the possible exit of Adam Jones, and to land Cobb at a rate of about $12 million annually is well within range for an AL East-proven pitcher. There are a ton of questions about the Orioles beyond the 2018 season, but at the very least they’ll have Cobb to go along with Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman in the rotation.
I’d bet the family farm that: Ronald Acuna will be a superstar, and sooner rather than later. The Braves outfielder will have to wait out service-time purgatory early in the season, but once he arrives, his impact will be immediate. “You can’t take your eyes off him when he plays,” one evaluator said this spring.
News from around the majors
Among the hitters Lance Lynn faced in Florida as he waited to sign with another team was Logan Morrison ... and both landed with the Twins. Lynn could have pursued a longer, more lucrative deal elsewhere, but he bet on himself while giving himself a chance to win. The Twins are poised to compete for the playoffs again, and next fall, Lynn’s value in the free-agent market will no longer will dragged down by an attachment to draft-pick compensation. There was no dialogue about a possible return of Lynn to the Cardinals.
Spring training statistics evaporate once the season begins, but the defending-champion Astros have been getting excellent results -- the lowest team ERA by far, the most pitching strikeouts and the best won-loss record.
The Blue Jays are in the midst of a transition in which a lot of their position-player group is turning over -- Edwin Encarnacion left before Jose Bautista, and Josh Donaldson might be in his last year with Toronto. The club will soon be in the hands of the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, and the folks in the front office have been thrilled by the presence and influence of Curtis Granderson, one of the game’s best professionals, in the way he conducts himself and the way he treats others.
With Bryan Shaw and others moving on from the Indians’ bullpen the past couple of years, the Indians need pitchers under their control to step forward to step into bigger roles, and lefty Tyler Olson -- who threw well for Cleveland at the end of last season -- has become an important option for manager Terry Francona. Olson did not allow any earned runs in 20 innings for the Indians in 2017, and this spring, he has compiled 12 strikeouts and just 1 walk in 11 appearances.
Ten of the Giants’ first 28 games are against the Dodgers, and Madison Bumgarner might well have started three of those 10. But now, “somebody else has to put on some big-boy pants,” said one evaluator, speaking of the Giants.
Kenta Maeda was a revelation for the Dodgers in the postseason, with his velocity clocking higher. This spring, he has reverted to his old stuff so far; it will be interesting to see if he applies some of that bullpen aggressiveness to his work as a starter.
Baseball Tonight podcast
Friday: Twins second baseman Brian Dozier discusses the development of teammate Byron Buxton, Minnesota’s offseason moves and the value of a team meeting in the midst of last year’s pennant race; Karl Ravech, on the idea of Bryce Harper and/or Aaron Judge hitting leadoff; Logan Morrison, mic’d up in an exhibition game.
Thursday: New Sunday Night Baseball play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian talks about his baseball roots, the baseball link with his first cuss word and the Orioles’ signing of Alex Cobb; Sarah Langs and the Numbers Game; and Jessica Mendoza on the Astros’ athleticism and the Twins’ progress.
Wednesday: Boog Sciambi on the spring struggles of Shohei Ohtani and Cobb and the team he views as a breakout candidate; Keith Law on Ronald Acuna’s demotion; Paul Hembekides on the Yankees’ roster depth.
Monday: David Ortiz on the Red Sox’s leadership and the question of whether J.D. Martinez's hitting style will fit Fenway Park; Tim Kurkjian on Jose Altuve’s new deal; Todd Radom’s latest uniform-and-logo quiz.
And today will be better than yesterday.