The second half of the Major League Baseball season is underway, and only one of the six divisional races is separated at the top by less than 4.5 games. So, we already have a reasonably good idea of the teams that will win each division. However, there were some intriguing storylines in the first half of the season. Let’s review the craziest happenings so far this year; ones that we anticipate playing out throughout the second half.
1. MLB punishing the Cardinals
A federal judge recently sentenced former St. Louis Cardinals scouting director Christopher Correa to 46 months in prison, which is a tremendous and surprising development. Now all that’s left is for the league to investigate the issues and hand down whatever punishment for the Cardinals that they deem appropriate. It’s important to understand what happened here.
An employee logging into a former coworker’s accounts to view information about a rival business or team, no matter the reason or how easily the information was accessed, is corporate espionage. Because MLB franchises cannot sue one another under the owner’s agreement — this would have happened if the incident occurred in the business world — the Houston Astros’ only recourse is a punishment from Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred.
At some point in the coming months, it’s likely that the Cardinals organization will receive their punishment. We’re guessing the consequences of this individual event will set a precedent for the whole league. How heavy-handed Manfred decides to be could lay the groundwork for just how careful teams may be with the ability to covertly steal data from rivals in the future.
2. The trade deadline
Of course, the trade deadline is a huge storyline. Unfortunately, there are no blockbuster names floating around for potential deals. There is no Cole Hamels waiting on the market to be dealt. But, there are some Rich Hills and Andrew Cashners. Anywhere from five to 10 starting pitchers, not to mention several relievers and a few decent position players, could be dealt in the next two weeks.
While these aren’t exactly superstar players who will likely change teams this year, they are good players who will give new teams better chances at winning a championship. The Cubs need bullpen help, the Giants and the Rangers need a starting pitcher or two, and the Nationals could use a bat.
The divisional races may not be all that close at the moment, but we can’t be certain how things will shake out until after the trade deadline affords us the ability to see more clearly.
3. The CBA negotiation
The collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of December. While there is optimism about a deal being agreed upon prior to the expiration date, there’s always some trepidation with labor negotiations. Commissioner Manfred and Tony Clark, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, both spoke to reporters at the All-Star break about the status of negotiations and expressed their confidence.
However, they really aren’t into the meat of the negotiations yet, which means crafting and trading proposals and working toward a goal that is palatable for both sides. Even in situations where both sides are confident that an agreement can be made, some topics — often economic topics — can become hot-button issues.
The latest public stumbling block, however, concerns the topic of shortening the regular-season schedule to 154 games. There are some intriguing aspects to contract negotiation. In this case, it will certainly only get more interesting as we near the end of the contract.
4. Award races
Where we stand today on all the individual awards might change over the next few months. Right now, there are some clear leaders in the major award races. Kris Bryant is looking like a National League MVP; Jose Altuve is making his case in the American League; and Stephen Strasburg and Chris Sale are early favorites in the Cy Young awards.
Things that can disrupt or shape the award races: major slumps, injuries, or something as simple as a team falling off their pace. (Although, it didn’t seem to hurt Bryce Harper last year when the Nationals fell apart in the second half, but that’s in large part due to the historic season he had.)
There’s still plenty of time for a guy like Harper, on a good Nats team, to get back into the conversation for NL MVP over the next few months. The same goes for any number of starting pitchers and the Cy Young; the case in point would be Jake Arrieta at this point in 2015. Prior to his July 19 start, Arrieta was 10-5 with a 2.66 ERA — having a good season, but not good enough to make the All-Star team in the National League.
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