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Column: Dodgers star Corey Seager’s MVP run and other predictions entering the MLB season

Corey Seager prepares to throw the ball.
Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager warms up before a spring training game against the Colorado Rockies on March 15 in Scottsdale, Ariz.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

The perception that Corey Seager rediscovered his pre-surgery form last year isn’t entirely accurate.

He was actually better than he was before.

Which makes sense.

Seager was just entering his physical prime. When the two-time All-Star celebrates his next birthday later this month, he will turn 27.

Mookie Betts may be the face of the Dodgers and Fernando Tatis Jr. the face of baseball, but Seager will be the MVP of the National League this year.

Spring training statistics should generally be ignored but could be instructive in Seager’s case. Seager whacked eight homers in 22 spring training games, a sign the power he displayed in the shortened 60-game regular season last year was something permanent.

With L.A. and Orange counties moving into the orange tier of the coronavirus guidelines, the Dodgers and Angels will be allowed to sell more seats.

Manager Dave Roberts said he could envision Seager hitting long balls at the rate he did last season and breaking the 40-homer threshold.

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“I think with Corey and the talent, I think anything’s possible, certainly,” Roberts said. “Because he does know where the barrel’s at, he can slug to all parts of the field.”

While Seager has maintained an aggressive approach — he averaged fewer pitches per plate appearance last year than in any season of his career — Roberts feels he has become more adept at working counts.

“I think any guy that’s going to hit 40 homers can run counts and get deep into counts,” Roberts said. “He’s done a much better job of that, in my opinion.”

The paradox is that the more successful he is, the less likely he could be to remain with the Dodgers beyond this season. Seager will be a free agent in the winter. The Dodgers know they will have to pay Seager top dollar to keep him; the question is how much.

Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager is coming off a sensational season and will be a free agent at the end of 2021. But he doesn’t want to talk about a new contract.

Like Seager, Francisco Lindor of the New York Mets was eligible to become a free agent at the end of the season. Lindor, who is five months older than Seager and plays the same position, agreed to a 10-year, $341-million extension on Wednesday night, according to multiple reports.

Other predictions for the upcoming season:

Wild card peril

The Best Team Ever could find itself in a wild card game.

Really.

The Dodgers are the favorites to win the NL West, but they shouldn’t be favored to the point that a division championship is considered a foregone conclusion.

Their depth should help them outlast the San Diego Padres in a six-month regular season, especially one following a 60-game campaign. But the Dodgers have problems. Clayton Kershaw’s velocity is down again. Kenley Jansen’s isn’t up again. A number of starters must adjust to pitching in relief. Cody Bellinger is coming off shoulder surgery.

Padres tickets for their series against the Dodgers at Petco Park in April start at $320 on StubHub. The team is offering incentives for fans not to sell.

In Tatis and Manny Machado, the Padres have two of the most dynamic players in the league, either of whom could catch fire and carry their team to a division title the way Manny Ramirez once did the Dodgers.

Should the Padres win the West, the Dodgers’ postseason chances — regardless of how many victories they compile — would hinge on one wild-card game to advance to the NLDS.

Pitching remains MIA

The story never changes in Anaheim, where the Angels are facing the same problem they did last year … and the year before that … and the year before that.

They don’t have pitching.

Arte Moreno’s fantasy of just outslugging opponents didn’t materialize as planned last year. That won’t change this season, not even if Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton rebound from down years. Case in point: The Dodgers hit 12 home runs against them in the Freeway Series.

Shohei Ohtani delivers a pitch.
Shohei Ohtani pitches against the Oakland Athletics on March 5 in Mesa, Ariz.
(Matt York / Associated Press)

The Angels have a projected top-10 payroll in baseball at around $180 million, but a disproportionate share was spent on offense, forcing new general manager Perry Minasian to resort to a version of dumpster diving to which not even Ned Colletti was subjected when he ran Frank McCourt’s Dodgers.

In the days leading up to the season opener, Minasian reconstructed his bullpen by picking up pitchers unwanted by other teams. He paid cash to the Miami Marlins for James Hoyt; re-signed Noe Ramirez, whom he traded earlier this winter; and signed Steve Cishek and Tony Watson. Ramirez, Cishek and Watson were released near the end of spring training by the Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies, respectively.

Albert Pujols’ contract can’t expire soon enough.

Murakami will wow

Remember the name Munetaka Murakami.

A 21-year-old corner infielder for the Yakult Swallows, Murakami could be Japan’s next premium export to the major leagues.

Outside of Ichiro Suzuki, Murakami could one day become Japan’s most productive offensive player in the major leagues, with one scout comparing the left-handed batter to Adrian Gonzalez.

Former Dodger Adrian Gonzalez signed with the Guadalajara Mariachis of the Mexican League. Gonzalez, soon to be 39, hopes to represent Mexico in the Olympics.

Drafted by the Tokyo-based Swallows out of high school, Murakami spent a year in the minor leagues, then smashed 36 home runs as a 19-year-old rookie. He followed that by batting .307 with 28 home runs in a pandemic-shortened 120-game season.

Murakami should come to the majors sometime after the 2025 season but before spring training in 2027. Murakami will be subjected to international bonus pool money restrictions until he is 25, which gives the Swallows no financial incentive to make him available before then. (The posting fee paid to the Swallows would be based on the value of Murakami’s deal with the MLB team that signs him.) At the same time, they figure to sell him before he accrues nine years of service time and becomes eligible for international free agency.

The champs

NL division champions: Dodgers, Cardinals, Braves.

NL wild cards: Padres, Mets.

AL division champions: Astros, White Sox, Yankees.

AL wild cards: Blue Jays, Twins.

World Series prediction: Dodgers over the White Sox.

And ... a late start

Enjoy this season. With the collective-bargaining agreement expiring at the end of the season, there’s a good chance the 2022 season won’t start on time.


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