Normalcy -- sort of -- has returned to baseball for the 2021 MLB season. There are still pandemic-related obstacles for the sport to navigate, but at least teams are scheduled to play 162 games and fans have returned to stadiums. The usual rhythm of the sport will take hold soon enough, and like any new season, questions abound.
Which star player will put his bummer of a shortened 2020 year in his rearview mirror with a return to his former elite status? Will new monitoring of doctored baseballs make a difference on the field? Who will be the must-see players to watch this season? And which big names could be moved in blockbuster deadline deals?
We asked a team of 28 executives, players and scouts for answers to these and other pressing questions going into the start of the new season. The caveats were they couldn't vote for their own team or players, all voters were promised anonymity so they could vote freely and not all participants answered every question.
Here is what those around the game predict will happen in baseball this season.
Which team will be the biggest surprise, good or bad, in the league this year?
Survey says: Good -- Royals 7, Indians 3, Red Sox 3, Phillies 3, Giants 3, Diamondbacks 1, Detroit 1,
Bad -- Reds 5, Astros 4, Phillies 2, Cubs 2, White Sox 2, Angels 2, Mets 1
As you might expect, this question garnered a variety of answers with two teams standing out. People in the game are impressed with what the Royals did this past winter and unimpressed by the Reds' lack of moves.
It's no surprise the NL East was represented on both lists as predictions for that division differ wildly among the experts. The Cubs also appeared in each spot because they have talent, but could be selling a lot of it off come July.
"The Red Sox will challenge for the AL wild card behind another great year from Eduardo Rodriguez, the return to form for J.D. Martinez and catcher Christian Vasquez establishing himself as a top-five catcher in the game," said one executive.
"Kansas City," said another. "They had a great offseason and think they have a chance to be a really solid team."
"The Astros started their downward trend last year," said one scout. "The division isn't stacked, so they may hang around the race, but they aren't nearly as deep as they once were."
"The Cubs just have too many things going on," another scout opined. "A new starting staff combined with a large number of players in their walk years will make for a difficult season to navigate."
Another scout had the exact opposite view of the Cubs: "Some clubs think they will flounder with their soft-tossing rotation, when in fact, the slower pace will confuse lineups -- that group is just so different than the rest of the league."
"I'm sure fans will be surprised but the Mets won't be very good, one player stated. "Lindor can't teach them how to win on his own."
Which star player who struggled in 2020 is most likely to return to form?
Survey says: Christian Yelich 12, J.D. Martinez 5, Anthony Rizzo 3, Carlos Correa 3, Javier Baez 1, Justin Upton 1
It's not a surprise that several of these players have expressed their excitement over in-game video returning to MLB in 2021. Martinez and Rizzo are near the top of that list. Interestingly, Yelich is not one of those guys who relies on it. He admittedly simply wasn't good last season.
"Christian Yelich," one executive said. "Because his 100-point decrease in batting average on balls in play will reverse itself,"
"Yelich can't be worse so I'll go with him," a player chimed in.
"J.D. Martinez with the ability to get back on routine through the use of video," said another executive.
"Carlos Correa ... just think he has something to prove heading into free agency," a third voter said.
"Anthony Rizzo has always proved to be reliable. I'll take him," another player said.
Who will win AL and NL MVP?
Survey says: AL -- Mike Trout 11, Aaron Judge 6, Alex Bregman 2, DJ LeMahieu 1, Gleyber Torres 2, Luis Robert 1, Anthony Rendon 1, Tim Anderson 1, George Springer 1, Shohei Ohtani 1
NL -- Juan Soto 7, Ronald Acuna Jr. 5, Mookie Betts 3, Bryce Harper 2, Cody Bellinger 2, Fernando Tatis Jr. 2, Corey Seager 2