The Dodgers and Diamondbacks will kick off the 2014 MLB season with two games in Sydney, Australia on Saturday (much to Zack Greinke’s chagrin). With that day quickly approaching (tomorrow!), I figured I’d jot down a few words on the league’s teams.
Red Sox–The defending champs lost Jacoby Ellsbury to the Yankees (#trader), but that loss alone won’t cause them to plummet in the standings. Plenty of talent on John Farrell’s team. Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe projects the final roster here.
The rotation looks good, and I really like the bullpen, especially if former Cardinal Edward Mujica is the guy he was from April-August (1.73 ERA) rather than the guy he was in September and October (9.68 ERA) of last season. Elsewhere, top prospect Xander Bogaerts will be taking over full-time at shortstop for the Sox, and outfielder Jackie Bradley will get more time, because Grady Sizemore will inevitably sustain an injury. (probably. maybe. i’m not rooting for it.)
Rays–Well, David Price is still there, and that’s good enough for me. This team is good enough to win the East. Joe Maddon has an embarrassment of young pitching riches at his disposal, proving that “Hickey’s shit” really matters (see below). Price, Matt Moore (not of CBS Sports fame), Chris Archer, Alex Cobb…the Rays have “best rotation in baseball” potential (if their FIPs go down). Offensively, the team resigned James Loney after he (unsurprisingly, because Rays) revived his career in 2013, and he’ll form the core of the offense along with the dynamic duo of Evan Longoria and Wil Myers.
(Josh Lueke is still a rapist.)
Yankees–Frugality? What’s that? The Yanks shelled out big bucks this offseason to lock up Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Masahiro Tanaka in an attempt to offset the loss of Robinson Cano (who I’ll get to later). Former Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia was terrible in 2013, posting a 4.78 ERA and a 4.10 FIP, while Ivan Nova was good, ringing up a 3.10 ERA and 3.47 FIP. Go figure. Anyway, the Yankees will be in the thick of what is shaping up to be an intense wild-card race, and Joe Girardi has to hope that Sabathia bounces back and Tanaka isn’t the second coming of Hideki Irabu. The last thing the Yankees want is Jeter retiring with his last postseason game being one where he broke his ankle.
Orioles–They got a pitcher that they desperately needed in Ubaldo Jimenez…if he can bring his sterling 2013 form to Camden Yards. The O’s have an explosive offense and should score a lot of runs, but if Jimenez can’t replicate last season’s 3.30 ERA/3.43 FIP/9.6 K per 9 performance, and if Chris Tillman regresses (his FIP has been above 4.2 each of the last two years, so…), the O’s are probably close to an 85-win team again.
Blue Jays–Toronto had their chance last year in what was theoretically a weaker AL East, but they never got their shit together. The Jays still have a decent team, but the East is very good and the wild-card race will be too congested. In terms of what I’m interested in, I think R.A. Dickey, now that he’s fully healthy, can look more like his 2012 self; that would be nice. Also, how much does 31 year-old Jose Reyes have left in the tank?
On the clipboard are the keys to the universe. Or just useful materials for pitching coach Jim Hickey, aka “Hickey’s shit.” (i mean it could be the keys to the universe have you seen how good his pitching staffs are)
Tigers–Hated their offseason. General manager Dave Dombrowski added some speed to a really slow team, but in doing so, he diluted the potency of a lineup that already has problems scoring in fall. Ian Kinsler isn’t quite the same player he was even two years ago (and he only stole 15 bases last year). Rajai Davis isn’t much of a hitter and has a career OBP of .316. Austin Jackson may have plateaued. Torii Hunter may stop talking and regress to hitting like a 39 year-old. And Jose Iglesias could miss the season with leg problems, which will compromise the improved defense.
On the pitching front, the Doug Fister trade slightly weakens a rotation that is probably due for a bit of regression anyway, and the only move of substance the Tigers made to shore up one of the league’s worst bullpens was signing a really good closer (Joe Nathan) to replace a really good closer (Joaquín Benoit). In spite of all this, the Tigers still have Miguel Cabrera, and they should win the Central again. But I’d be surprised if they achieved anything more than that.
Royals–Don’t you just want this team to win? Kansas City hasn’t seen playoff baseball since 1985, and this iteration of the We Could Be Royals (sorry) has enough to end the 28-year drought. Ace James Shields is a free agent after this season, so he could show out this year. Right-hander Yordano Ventura is one of the game’s top pitching prospects, and will start the season as the team’s third starter. Jeremy Guthrie is a somewhat-reliable innings-eater. And how can we forget about Bruce Chen? (easily, until he tosses seven shutout innings throwing 83 mph.) Ned Yost’s bullpen is anchored by closer Greg Holland, who was overwhelmingly dominant last season (1.21 ERA, 103 strikeouts, 47 saves).
The Royals’ offense is just waiting to break out. Eric Hosmer was fantastic last year and could be a .300 hitter for a long time. Alex Gordon is really good. So is Billy Butler. And Salvador Perez. I loved the addition of Omar Infante. They’ll have depth in the outfield with Norichika Aoki, Lorenzo Cain, and Jarrod Dyson all in play. Plus, Mike Moustakas will surely bounce back (right? hopefully?). Can you tell that I like this team? With minimal #royaling, they could nab a playoff spot. But then these are the Royals.
Indians–The Tribe didn’t do too much this offseason, opting to keep most of the 92-win band together. Which means their starting pitching is still kinda average, their bullpen is pretty good, and their offense is well-rounded. The Indians should stay firmly entrenched in the American League wild-card conversation. Here’s a prediction: Jason Kipnis takes the next step and challenges Cano for the honor of being the game’s best second baseman.
Twins–Damn shame that Miguel Sano needed TJ and is out for the year. But Byron Buxton is still waiting in the wings!
White Sox–I freaking love Chris Sale. His elbow better not give out. I’m intrigued by Cuban import Jose Abreu’s raw power. Other than that, looking like another dismal year on the South Side, and the last year for Paul Konerko.
Here’s a fun fact: Brian Anderson was the Royals’ Opening Day starter in 2004. He posted a 5.64 ERA that year, and the Royals lost 104 games.
A’s–Oakland has a deep lineup that hits for power in a pitcher’s park, and they have lots of promising young pitching, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. Bob Melvin is a mix-and-match wizard, and that approach has carried the A’s to 190 wins and two division titles over the last two seasons, leading to a resurgence in fan support. This season, I’d expect the A’s to win yet another heated division race with the Rangers, but Jarrod Parker needing Tommy John surgery numero dos isn’t at all beneficial. (My expecting this means the Rangers will win the West going away.)
Rangers–The Rangers fixed their DH and outfield problems, trading for Prince Fielder and signing Shin-Soo Choo. Now, if their pitching could stay healthy, we might have something here.
Mariners–The problem with the Mariners is that they signed Cano…and just stopped. Robinson Cano is a great player, but his presence alone is not enough to make the M’s a top ten offense and transform them into a playoff contender overnight. Seattle has a top-of-the-rotation tandem in Felix and Iwakuma that rivals any in baseball, but they’re not much better otherwise. 75 wins.
Angels–TROUT TROUT TROUT TROUT TROUT TROUT
Astros–I’m going to love this team in about five years. Mark Appel, Carlos Correa, and probably Carlos Rodon? /salivates.
Carlos Correa #TurnUp
Nationals–Their 86-76 record last year may not seem horrendous, but for this team and their expectations? Yeah, 2013 was horrendous for the Nationals. But I also think it was a learning experience for them. Matt Williams can feel good about this team; the franchise formerly known as the Expos boasts arguably the best rotation in baseball and a lineup that will be better. Here’s hoping Bryce Harper doesn’t crash into anything this year.
Braves–Replacing Kris Medlen (poor guy) with Santana seems smart, but you have to be careful at Turner Field; he probably won’t be posting a 3.24 ERA again. As bad as I feel for Medlen, I think I feel worse for Brandon Beachy. Can we start a #BanElbows movement?
I’d like to see that outfield consistent (that means you, Uptons) and healthy (ahem, Heyward). Wild-card team imo. Unrelated: I miss 2008 B.J. Upton.
Mets–At least David Wright is the “Face of MLB”? I am interested to see if Bartolo Colon’s anti-suck potion remains effective (he’s moving from one pitcher’s park to another, so it could). And thinking about how good Matt Harvey/Noah Syndergaard/Zack Wheeler is going to be in 2015. Hopefully they won’t be another Generation K.
Marlins–No, Jose Fernandez won’t do *that* again. But the Fish have some pretty good young pitching set up behind him (Henderson Alvarez, Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner). They won’t be awful. Although Jeffrey Loria still is.
Phillies–Three years ago, this team won 102 games. Six years ago, they were World Series champs. And now, they’re a disaster. Entirely possible they finish in last place. Cole Hamels is hurt, Jimmy Rollins is on his last legs, and Ryan Howard is still there. Clifton Phifer Lee deserves better than all of this.
Okay, who remembers these guys?
Cardinals–The BFIB have a reigning NL champion to root for. Not crazy about the Redbirds losing Beltran, but they should still be fine offensively (and not because they gave Jhonny Peralta a crazy contract). Michael Wacha will be a star, and Shelby Miller could put it all together too, forming a three-headed monster with Adam Wainwright at the top of the St. Louis rotation. They could repeat as pennant winners.
Pirates–Everyone seems to think the Buccos will regress this season, but I don’t see it. Well, ok, I see it with Francisco Liriano. That BABIP (.231 at home!) is going to go up, and he’ll probably get hurt because this is Francisco Liriano we’re talking about. Otherwise…I really like Gerrit Cole, the bullpen will probably remain one of the top five units in the NL, Andrew McCutchen is a beast, and if Pedro Alvarez learns a little discipline he’ll be downright scary. I like this team to get the second wild-card in the NL.
Reds–First of all, Mat Latos is one of the most underappreciated pitchers in baseball. He cut down on his walks again last year and his FIP was a sterling 3.10–lower than his ERA! Also, let’s see if Homer Bailey can live up to that ridiculous contract he received. Losing Choo (no, they didn’t find him) is obviously a big negative, and new manager Bryan Price has some lineup shuffling to do. It appears as if Brandon Phillips will bat out of the two spot to start the year, so expect him to…not drive in 103 runs again. And we’re finally going to find out if Billy Hamilton can handle a bat at the major league level.
Oh, Aroldis Chapman is out six to eight weeks after getting drilled in the head on Wednesday.
Brewers–Their pitching staff intrigues me. Yovani Gallardo/Kyle Lohse/Matt Garza looks like a solid top three. Also, Ryan Braun’s back! His reputation is in tatters, but he’s back! And it’ll be fun to see if Khris Davis and that .316 ISO of his can keep it up. The Brewers could be the best fourth-place team in baseball, and could actually slide into third if the Reds suck. GET EXCITED MILLER PARK ATTENDEES.
Cubs–Travis Wood had a 3.11 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP last year. Looks good, right? That is, until you get to the insanely low .248 BABIP and “uh oh” FIP of 3.89 and “OH SHIT” xFIP of 4.50. I keep telling myself not to think of Starlin Castro as Shawon Dunston 2.0. Also, did you know Luis Valbuena hit 12 dingers last year? KRIS BRYANT? WHO NEEDS HIM?
This concludes my thoughts on the Cubs.
“Hey Joey, you’re so overrated! Only 73 RBI?!”
Dodgers–Hanley Ramirez triple-slashed .345/.402/.638 with 20 homers and 57 RBI in just over half a 2013 season. Think he’s pretty happy to be out of Florida. The rest of the Dodgers should be happy too, seeing as they’re the favorites in the NL. Kershaw and Greinke are as lethal a 1-2 punch as they come, and Hyun-Jin Ryu figures to be just as reliable in his sophomore season stateside. The bullpen has Kenley Jansen. The offense will survive the probable Puig regression. They’re really good.
Diamondbacks–I liked the Mark Trumbo trade; the Diamondbacks needed some extra pop in the lineup. And the two prospects general manager Kevin Towers dealt to get Trumbo (Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs) had not impressed in the majors. I also was fine with the acquisition of Addison Reed; his 3.79 ERA in 2013 looked bad for a closer, but he had a 3.17 FIP. Infield prospect Matt Davidson (traded for Reed) had his path to Arizona blocked at third base by Martin Prado and at first base by Paul Goldschmidt. Plus, no more Heath Bell!
The offense was fifth in the NL in runs last season (weird, I know), and didn’t get worse this offseason. Goldschmidt is a sure thing, and if Aaron Hill is healthy, Miguel Montero returns to form (an 80-point drop in BABIP had something to do with his off 2013), an Trumbo slugs 35 homers, they’ll stay in the top five.
The rotation was set up to be solid until Bronson Arroyo developed back problems and Patrick Corbin received a tear in his UCL. Arroyo should be okay by the end of the month. Corbin won’t be as lucky; he’ll probably need Tommy John surgery. That’s a big blow. If they can’t poach a starter from someone (reports indicate that they’re looking), Randall Delgado or top prospect Archie Bradley will step in.
Big picture: the Diamondbacks will contend for a wild-card spot on the strength of a good offense, decent rotation, and a (theoretically) better bullpen, but they may need Atlanta or Pittsburgh or #mysteryteam to fade in order for them to sneak in. Maybe they’re the mystery team. I’m just pondering.
Giants–How about Madison Bumgarner for NL Cy Young? If he’s not their only good starter again, they’ll be in the wild-card race. If he is…hey, have you seen Tim Lincecum’s moustache? That’ll be the most fascinating thing about this team. Well, okay, that’s not quite fair. Buster Posey can hit a little.
Rockies–Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki were both hurt last year; Colorado could have pushed .500 if they had both been healthy. Their pitching stunk (again), but Rex Brothers was lights-out in the late innings (1.74 ERA, 19 saves in 2013), Tyler Chatwood was deceptively solid despite a low strikeout rate and high WHIP (8-5, 3.15 ERA, 3.66 FIP). Jhoulys Chacin, who was probably their best pitcher last year, is out for at least another month with a right shoulder strain, but if he returns and looks good (like CarGo and Tulo), the Rockies are a .500 club, maybe a little better.
Padres–So, hey, that wasn’t really Chase Headley last year, right? But, potential good news: Andrew Cashner was really good in 2013 and was rewarded for his performance by being named the team’s Opening Day starter, and the Friars’ farm system has a lot of talent in the lower levels, including one of the game’s top catching prospects in Austin Hedges.
Tyler Chatwood: right-hander, Rockie, registered nurse.
So that’s it. There’s Major League Baseball live from Sydney just a few hours from now.