By Michael Levitt
This year has been different than normal in many ways. Amidst a pandemic, sports leagues of all kinds did their best to have business as normal, or at least as normal as it can be during this time. In baseball, that meant having a significantly shorter season and implementing many safety measures to protect everyone around the game. With baseball looking at a full season this year and spring training starting this week, fans are getting excited about their team’s chances. Many teams are finding familiar faces that they have not seen in some time, although there are some reunions every year. This year, though, there seem to be more than normal, and they might help in a bigger way than expected.
The biggest reunion in terms of money was Mike Minor joining the Kansas City Royals for two years and $18 million. This is Minor’s second time inking a two-year deal with the Royals, and it will hopefully turn out better than the first time. Minor was signed as a starting pitcher in his first stint with the Royals too, but last time, he missed the first year of his contract with injury. His second year with the Royals went better, although he was moved to the bullpen to curb his injury troubles. Minor had success out of the bullpen with the Royals, throwing over 75 innings and striking out 88 with a 2.55 ERA. But after that year, he signed with the Texas Rangers and became a starting pitcher again, and has been serviceable since then, even finishing eighth in the 2019 American League Cy Young Award. This time around, the Royals are surely hoping Minor will not need to be moved to the bullpen, whether to avoid injury or because of ineffectiveness. Minor will likely slot in as the number three starting pitcher in Kansas City’s rotation behind Brad Keller and Brady Singer, and is looking to rebound after some struggles in 2020. Kansas City does have a pitching-friendly ballpark and Minor has experience pitching there, so there could be some improvement coming in 2021.
While very different from the last time he wore the jersey, Charlie Morton signing with the Atlanta Braves is a homecoming of sorts. Morton was drafted by the Braves out of high school in 2002, so it took him a few years to make it up to the major leagues. In 2008, he had finally made it to the highest level, although he did not have much success, hurling a 6.15 ERA in almost 75 innings with a 48:41 strikeout-to-walk ratio. After the season, the Braves packaged him along with two other prospects in a deal to the Pirates for outfielder Nate McLouth. In Pittsburgh, he developed into a quality starting pitcher. Fast forward to the present day, and Morton is looking for redemption with the Braves. Now 37 years old, Morton is the oldest member of Atlanta’s starting rotation, and with that comes the task of mentoring the younger starting pitchers, especially the ones who do not have much experience at baseball’s biggest stage. Atlanta was hoping Cole Hamels would provide the same sort of mentorship last season before he got injured and missed the season, so having some veteran presence in the rotation could be helpful. The Braves also signed veteran Drew Smyly, so Morton will have some help mentoring the younger pitchers.
Just reported this past weekend, James Paxton has agreed to return to Seattle and again pitch for the team that drafted him in 2010. Paxton had a good amount of success, including a no-hitter, with the Mariners in his first stint with the team and will get a chance to be in the same rotation as Justus Sheffield, who was part of the return the Mariners received for trading Paxton away two seasons ago. Seattle has made it known that they plan to use a six-man rotation this season, so Paxton will get a chance to bounce back from his five-start 2020 season in which he was more hittable than any of his previous seasons. Going to a six-man rotation should also help Paxton stay healthier, as he has not thrown more than 161 innings in a season during his career.
Switching to a hitter, the Chicago White Sox brought back outfielder Adam Eaton to be the starting right fielder after last year’s trade for Nomar Mazara did not go as planned. The White Sox non-tendered Mazara this offseason and replaced him with Eaton, who played for the club from 2014 to 2016. Chicago had received Eaton via trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks before the 2014 season, and after the 2016 season, he switched teams again, this time to the Washington Nationals. Eaton is another player who will get the opportunity to be on the same roster as someone they were traded for. Actually, Eaton gets to be on the same team as two players he was traded for, those being starting pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, and was almost on the same team as three players he was traded for. The third player Washington gave up for Eaton, starting pitcher Dane Dunning, was just traded this offseason by the White Sox to the Rangers in exchange for starting pitcher Lance Lynn. Eaton helped the Nationals win the World Series in 2019, so they are probably not complaining too much about that trade. Eaton has had some injury issues in the past, but assuming he stays healthy, he should put up solid numbers for the White Sox and provide stability to their right field position.
Another hitter who is joining their former team is catcher Jason Castro. Castro put pen to paper with the Houston Astros and will likely split time with Martin Maldonado, who is more known for his defense than his hitting. Castro, on the other hand, has had success with both hitting and defense, although he struggled in 2020, compiling a .188 batting average, a .293 on-base percentage and a .375 slugging percentage. However, his defense was still above average, and in general, catchers can have longer careers with good defense. Castro has bounced around a bit since leaving Houston after the 2016 season, as he has been with the Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres. Castro may get a chance to be Houston’s starting catcher this year if he is hitting well, but his value, like most catchers, comes from his defense.
There are more reunions than just these five, such as Chris Archer with the Tampa Bay Rays and Jake Arrieta with the Chicago Cubs, and all should be fun to watch. Maybe there will even be some more in the next month before the regular season starts. Either way, it will be an exciting season for baseball; one that will help distract from the new normal we live in today.
Edited by Emma Moloney