Amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which includes an alarming renewed surge in positive cases across an overwhelming majority of states in recent weeks, Major League Baseball remains on the precipice of kicking off its abbreviated 60-game regular season. In less than 48 hours, a quartet of perennial powerhouse franchises are lined up to face off in a pair of prime-time matchups on Thursday evening. The defending World Series champion Washington Nationals will square off against the New York Yankees, followed by the Los Angeles Dodgers hosting the San Francisco Giants in the nightcap.
The central focus of baseball-starved fans will justifiably revolve around a highly-anticipated showdown featuring Nationals’ burgeoning superstar slugger Juan Soto and newly-acquired Yankees’ flamethrower Gerrit Cole. However, the most intriguing storyline swirling around Thursday’s twin-billing concerns the immediate outlook for the Dodgers. While the Padres, Diamondbacks and Rockies lurk as potential contenders, Los Angeles remains the clear-cut favorite to capture their eighth consecutive NL West crown; especially after managing to extract former AL MVP Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox in a monumental offseason trade. Yet, they face more questions than answers at a key offensive position after their decision to option electrifying rookie second baseman Gavin Lux to their alternative training site on Tuesday.
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The 22-year old infielder - universally regarded as the NL Rookie of the Year frontrunner this spring - was a late arrival to Dodgers’ summer camp due to unspecified reasons. He reportedly struggled with persistent contact issues at the plate upon his return and as a result will not be on the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster to begin the shortened 2020 campaign. “There’s a lot that goes with his swing and at this point in time, he just wasn’t synced up,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters on Tuesday. “Nothing against him. It’s just right now where we’re at, we hope for Gavin to get lots of at-bats off site and we’ll see him be ready when called upon. He started the playoffs for us last year, that shows the confidence we have in him. I just want him to get right.”
Lux, who spent last season laying waste to Triple-A pitching staffs in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League - recording an extra-terrestrial .392/.478/.719 triple-slash line across 232 plate appearances - ostensibly projects as the team’s everyday option at the keystone for the next half-decade. That future will have to wait, at least for the moment, as he’ll be given more time to work on his swing mechanics and ramp up away from the big-league squad. In his absence, lefty-mashing utility man Kike Hernandez and jack-of-all-trades specialist Chris Taylor - who swatted a three-run homer in an exhibition contest against the Angels on Tuesday evening - will fill the short-term void at the position. In addition to optioning Lux, the Dodgers also announced the signing of free agent left-handed reliever Jake McGee to a one-year contract on Tuesday. The 33-year-old southpaw was released by the Rockies last week and it didn’t take long for him to find a new home. He recorded a pedestrian 4.35 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and 35:11 K:BB ratio across 41 1/3 frames last year, but should provide some valuable bullpen depth this season.
From a fantasy perspective, this is an extremely tantalizing buy-low opportunity for managers in re-draft formats. Per NFBC average draft position data, Lux was selected just outside the top 150 picks (162nd overall) in fantasy drafts over the last three weeks. His fantasy stock will justifiably crater over the next few weeks due to the condensed campaign, but that will create a rare opportunity for savvy managers to acquire a premium talent (at a relatively barren position no less) for a drastically reduced asking price via trade. These types of opportunities don’t come along often and Lux is exactly the type of high-upside talent worth taking a considerable risk on.
Yankees Reshuffle Rotation
With the clock winding down before their Opening Day matchup against the Nationals, the Yankees made an extremely surprising decision to option left-hander Jordan Montgomery to their alternative training site on Tuesday evening. It’s likely nothing more than a procedural move, since the Pinstripes won’t need a fifth starter until their second time through the rotation. However, it’s worth noting that right-hander Mike King has reportedly made the Opening Day roster, and could be in line to start against the Nationals on Sunday afternoon, and veteran southpaw J.A. Happ has been announced as the team’s starter for their fourth regular season game against the Phillies on Monday. The Yankees’ rotation will become even more crowded once right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who remains sidelined as he recovers after sustaining a concussion in summer camp, is ready to return. He was officially placed on the 10-day injured list on Tuesday, but threw 20 pitches from the mound at Yankee Stadium and is slated to throw roughly 35-to-40 pitches in his next session on Sunday. He’s tentatively scheduled to return on July 31 against the division-rival Red Sox.
Where exactly Montgomery, who has looked extremely impressive in summer camp appearances over the last few weeks, fits into the Yankees’ long-term plans remains unclear. It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which the 27-year-old southpaw isn’t making starts for the Yankees in short order, but there’s a chance that he needs to unseat King in order for that to happen. From a fantasy standpoint, Montgomery, who evolved into a popular late-round sleeper in drafts this spring, should remain rostered in deeper mixed leagues and AL-only formats. However, fantasy managers in shallow mixers should consider cutting bait in favor of alternatives in the meantime. He doesn’t project as a prime breakout candidate, but King should be worthy of a speculative pickup in deeper mixed leagues and AL-only formats as a streaming option moving forward.
Blue Jays Migrating to Pittsburgh
According to a report by MLB Network’s Hazel Mae on Tuesday night, the Blue Jays have been told that they will play their home games at PNC Park in Pittsburgh this season. No formal announcement has been made yet, but it appears to be a virtual lock at this point. The team had been scrambling to find a new ballpark ahead of their July 29th home opener after the Canadian government denied them permission to play at Rogers Centre in Toronto due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. There are a handful of scheduling conflicts between the Pirates and Blue Jays (mostly in September) that need to be ironed out, but it appears to be the most logical solution of the last-minute options presented earlier this week. It’s impossible to quantify how much this semi-permanent venue change will impact the Blue Jays’ on-field performance, but there’s no question that it will put a massive strain on players, coaches and their families this season.
Meanwhile, Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo told reporters Tuesday that he thinks Lourdes Gurriel (side) will be ready for Opening Day. The 26-year-old infielder experienced mild left side discomfort while playing in an intrasquad game last Friday, but took live batting practice on Tuesday evening and he should be in the Blue Jays' starting lineup for their first scheduled regular season game against the Rays later this week.
American League Quick Hits: Astros 2B Jose Altuve is considered day-to-day with a left leg contusion, which he sustained during Tuesday’s exhibition contest versus the Royals. He’ll be re-evaluated on Wednesday, but is expected to be ready for Opening Day. … Angels manager Joe Maddon did not provide an update on Anthony Rendon's oblique injury before Tuesday's exhibition game. … White Sox manager Rick Renteria told reporters on Tuesday that he expects 2B Yoan Moncada (COVID-19) to be ready for Opening Day. … Athletics manager Bob Melvin told reporters Tuesday that LHP Jesus Luzardo could be ready to pitch in the first or second game of the season. … Athletics LHP A.J. Puk received a cortisone shot in his left shoulder Tuesday. … Astros RHP Josh James was scratched from his scheduled start against the Royals on Tuesday due to concerns over the weather conditions. … Indians RHP Aaron Civale will start the team's fourth regular season game against the White Sox on Monday. Meanwhile, RHP Zach Plesac has won the final spot in the team’s rotation with Adam Plutko opening the season in the Indians' bullpen. … Orioles LHP Tommy Milone will be the team’s Opening Day starter against the Red Sox because LHP John Means will not be ready in time after experiencing arm fatigue last week. … Red Sox LHP Darwinzon Hernandez (COVID-19) officially joined the Red Sox on Tuesday. … Rays LHP Colin Poche has been diagnosed with a torn UCL in his left elbow and will likely undergo Tommy John surgery.
National League Quick Hits: Mets RHP Jacob deGrom (back) threw a side session without incident Tuesday at Citi Field. The back-to-back NL Cy Young Award winner is in line to start the Mets' season opener on Friday against the Braves. … Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo (back) is expected to start at first base in the team’s final exhibition game Wednesday. … Cubs LHP Jon Lester is scheduled to start their fourth regular season game versus the Reds on Monday. … Cubs LHP Jose Quintana (thumb surgery) said Tuesday that he hasn't felt any pain in his left thumb in recent days. … Mets C Wilson Ramos (personal) was present in workouts on Tuesday for the first time since last Friday. He’s expected to be reevaluated on Wednesday. … Yoenis Cespedes said Tuesday that he expects to be the Mets' designated hitter on Opening Day. … Braves signed RHP Jhoulys Chacin to a one-year contract. … Braves manager Brian Snitker said Tuesday that 1B Matt Adams, who was signed to a minor league contract on Monday after being released by the Mets last weekend, “kind of fills” the team’s DH spot. … Reds OF Nick Castellanos (back) returned to the team’s lineup on Tuesday for their exhibition contest against the Tigers. … Phillies SS Jean Segura (hand) took batting practice on Tuesday afternoon. … Brewers RHP Corbin Burnes will start the team’s second game of the season against the Cubs. … Reds OF Travis Jankowski has made the team’s Opening Day roster. … Braves purchased the contract of INF/OF Charlie Culberson from Triple-A Gwinnett. He will be on the team’s Opening Day roster. … Brewers purchased the contract of 1B Logan Morrison and RHP Justin Grimm from Triple-A San Antonio. They have both made the team's Opening Day roster. … Pirates placed OF Gregory Polanco on the 10-day injured list. … Phillies released INF Josh Harrison. … Rockies released RHP Ubaldo Jimenez.