It’s that time again, friends: to break the spring optimism, here is the 2014 edition of Why Your Baseball Team Sucks, a cynical look at the potential issues and shortcomings that will face all 30 teams this season. Always note that these are not necessarily meant to be team previews, and each team’s pessimistic outlook should be viewed independently from any other team’s. These are intentionally lightheartedly cynical for a reason (sometimes to the point of nitpicking), and I happen to believe that a number of these teams are very, very good. For several of these teams, a great many things will go perfectly right, and for one team, it’ll go so right that they’ll win a World Series this year. That said, no team is perfect, and I’m here to tell you why!
ATLANTA BARVES | At some point during this spring, Dr. James Andrews’s silent minions invaded Braves camp and sentenced two fifths of the projected rotation to Tommy John surgery. This is the only rational explanation for the fact that, of the top four guys Atlanta figured would be starting for them this year when they planned out camp, only Julio Teheran survived the spring unscathed: Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy needed Tommy John and Mike Minor took longer than expected in recovering from a, uh, genitalia malady. All of this necessitated the emergency signing of Ervin Santana to a one year deal, promptly costing Atlanta their first round draft choice. It also meant they’ll have to dip into their depth and start guys like Gavin Floyd (once HE’S healthy) and Alex Wood. So the Braves aren’t exactly what they thought they’d be on the pitching side of things.
Offensively, Atlanta is the ultimate Three True Outcomes Club: the Braves tied with the Mets for the most strikeouts in the National League last year, hit the most homers, and were second in walks. Little will change this year: they’ll actually probably end up worse off since they have to replace Baseballing Sheriff Brian McCann with strikeout and homer machine Evan Gattis behind the plate, with some Gerald Laird mixed in. The rest of the lineup is the same, including colossal busts Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton. Said lineup flailed their way to the NL East title and an NLDS defeat, and they got there because they were able to take advantage of a surprisingly weak Nationals team. Washington is better this year. The Braves aren’t. Beware.
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS | After remaking the team around GRIT and INTANGIBLES, the 2013 Diamondbacks finished with the exact same record as the 2012 Diamondbacks. HUSTLE can only do so much for you, apparently. A year after targeting and acquiring Didi Gregorius via trade, some reports indicated that they were already willing to deal him this spring. Not sure what Arizona’s plan is. Not sure if there even is one, really.
This year, in the ongoing grittification of the Dbacks, they’ve brought in Mark Trumbo, whose only real asset is his power (sure it’s an asset, but he lacks the OBP skills that other high power/high strikeout guys like Adam Dunn possess.) They traded a top 100 prospect for a closer – Addison Reed, not even a top-tier closer. And after a winter of rumors stating that they’d be willing to pay top dollar for a highly rated free agent starter, they ended up having to settle for innings-eater Bronson Arroyo, a decision that looked even worse after Patrick Corbin was lost for the season with an injury. Few things are markedly improved about the Diamondbacks, a .500 team that stayed in contention for as long as they did because of the incompetence of their division rivals more than anything they actually did themselves.
BALTIMORE ORIOLES | The Orioles predictably crashed back to earth in 2013 after a fluke success in 2012. The reality for the Orioles is that their lineup is full of holes. Matt Wieters is clearly not what Orioles folks dreamed he’d be, Ryan Flaherty is below average, David Lough and Delmon Young do not make up an acceptable left field platoon, and they’ll miss the injured Manny Machado. Even if Chris Davis is for real and Adam Jones is good and Nelson Cruz will be a decent addition offensively, that’s probably not enough firepower to get them to the top of this division.
The pitching situation is even shakier. Ubaldo Jimenez was brought in to be the ace of the staff, and while he pitched well last year, his awful 2011 and 2012 seasons should not be forgotten – Jimenez is the type whose mechanics could easily fall out of whack. The team traded for Bud Norris from Houston and didn’t look like much of a solution in his nine Orioles starts. Tommy Hunter takes over the closer role from Jim Johnson, and it remains to be seen how he’ll cope with the 9th inning. The bottom line is that Baltimore’s pitching is what held them back last year, and it’s hard to argue that they’ve significantly improved it in 2013. And that’s what will keep them stuck between 80 and 85 wins.
BOSTON RED SOX | The story of the 2013 Boston Red Sox was based largely on unexpected successes. They got unexpected success from their closer, Koji Uehara; nobody quite expected the sort of rebound Shane Victorino gave them; Lester, Lackey, and Buchholz proved a far better front three in the rotation than most expected; Jacoby Ellsbury stayed healthy. You know, stuff like that.
What is a potential danger for the Red Sox? They’re old. The only under-30 players in their projected lineup are Will Middlebrooks and the remarkable Xander Bogaerts. And all those unexpected successes breed questions. Was Victorino’s year a fluke after his 2011 and 2012 seasons were subpar? How long can David Ortiz possibly keep hitting this well? Has Middlebrooks adequately adjusted to the big leagues? The new additions have questions, too – there were plenty of warning signs in A.J. Pierzynski’s 2013, and he’s a 37 year old catcher. And of course, there’s Uehara, whose 2013 was so otherworldly good that he just has to regress some, and that’s assuming he stays healthy. It’s been a problem for him before.
But the biggest question for the Red Sox is this: who gave you the right? You, probably the most successful franchise of the last decade, owner of now three World Series titles, acted like you suffered in 2011 and 2012, and 2013 was just rewards for that suffering? How dare you! How dare you just waltz back to baseball’s pinnacle like it was nothing while the team I root for continues to suffer heartache after postseason heartache! How DARE you get another turn at the top that soon – at my team’s expense, mind you – when I’ve never seen my team win a World Series despite coming close three consecutive years now? HOW DARE –
Oh. Wrong time and place for that? And a bit too entitled of me? Yeah, you’re right. So sorry.
CHICAGO CUBS | As the Cubs enter year number 106 of their post-World Series rebuilding plan, we’re faced with the same old Cubs. Theo Epstein is still putting pieces in place. He’s been doing that for two years, and it’ll probably be a few more before the Cubs resemble anything close to contenders, but hey, it’s the Cubs, what’s a few more years of waiting?
Basically, the Cubs are a work in progress, as are most teams that employ Jose Veras as a closer. They’re starting to bring up the prospects that will supposedly make them contenders, and they’ll need a few years to figure out the majors. In the meantime, they hope Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, and Anthony Rizzo will keep them respectable. They certainly won’t take them to the postseason. Keep on waiting, Chicago.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX | Remember how close the White Sox came to making the playoffs in 2012? What the heck happened?
Well, people got old, people got hurt, and people underperformed, thus leading the White Sox to hit the reset button. They spent most of this past winter trying to bring in some prospects, as their farm system was widely regarded as one of baseball’s worst. They also spent big on Cuban import Jose Abreu. That said, they return just one player who spent the entire year with them who posted an OPS above league average, and that one player was Adam Dunn. The prospects will be interesting to watch, but this is a team that lost 99 games last year and it’s a very similar roster. Even the rotation is hit-or-miss behind Chris Sale, and the bullpen is largely average. It’s a long-term rebuilding project in Chicago now. At least their neighbors from the north side can tell them a thing or two about those.
CINCINNATI REDS | Same Reds team that got bounced from a one game playoff last year, albeit Dusty-free now, which can only help. As fast as Billy Hamilton is, they’re going to miss Shin-Soo Choo and his OBP magic. They’re also going to have to find 200 innings of an ERA under 4 now that Bronson Arroyo has moved on. They’re also going to need to keep Johnny Cueto healthy, which they’ve had some issues with in 2011 and 2013. Can Tony Cingrani step up in that rotation? Can they cover for Aroldis Chapman’s unfortunate injury? This remains to be seen. Otherwise, it’s the same old Reds team. They’re capable of making the postseason – but they’ve never shown the ability to actually win once they get there. And even so, they’re in a division where the Cardinals and the Pirates clearly mean business.
CLEVELAND INDIANS | The surprise AL team of 2013 won’t sneak up on anybody in 2014, except maybe their fanbase, who didn’t pack the stadium until they actually made it to the postseason and were defeated by Delmon Young in a one-game playoff. They finished one game behind the Tigers, after all! (Let’s ignore the fact that this happened because the Tigers punted the final regular season series in Miami after being in control of the race for most of the season. But that’s OK.)
Cleveland’s offense was surprisingly competent last year, with a lot of it down to Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, and Michael Brantley. Michael Bourn was predictably underwhelming and Nick Swisher actually had a down year. They’ve brought in David Murphy to play right and Lonnie Chisenhall, a prospect who has yet to show staying power at this level, will handle a fair amount of the duties at third. In reality, the Indians offense will again be built around Kipnis, Santana, Brantley, and Swisher. They’ll need to make up for the fact that Nyjer Morgan is on the Opening Day roster.
And then there’s the pitching, which was surprisingly good last year. John Axford is the new closer, and he’s not great. They’ll miss Joe Smith in the bullpen, and as good as Justin Masterson was last year, he was really good in 2011 and then really bad in 2012. The rest of that Tribe rotation needs to replicate 2013 if they want to make the postseason again. And that tends to be the thing about teams that come out of nowhere to have a good year: how real is it? We’ll find out when Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister pitch this year.
COLORADO ROCKIES | As usual, the Rockies boast CarGo, Tulo, and pitching that won’t put up many 0s. They were the best offensive team in the National League last year and you probably didn’t know that because they were worst at pitching. Little appears to have changed. As potent as Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are (until Tulo gets hurt, at least), and as solid as Wilin Rosario and Michael Cuddyer proved to be, they still can’t pitch. They’ve brought in Brett Anderson to try and solidify the rotation, but he too is prone to injury and was poor when healthy for Oakland last year. LaTroy Hawkins will try to solidify the bullpen, but he’s 41 years old. They even brought Franklin Morales to try and plug a hole in the rotation – the same Franklin Morales who was so bad in his first stint in Colorado they sold him to Boston without a second thought. It’s a real pity that all these runs they’ll score are going to go to waste, but until Colorado can assemble a pitching staff, that’s exactly what will happen – and Colorado has never really shown any real ability to assemble a pitching staff.
DETROIT TIGERS | The Tigers got sick of being the eventual World Series winner’s doormat this winter. The solution to rectifying this was apparently letting a third of their lineup and a fifth of their rotation move on. The Tigers lost Jhonny Peralta, Omar Infante, Prince Fielder, and Doug Fister; two of them were free agents, the other two were trades that netted them a bitter 31-year old second baseman who has been league average since the end of 2011, a LOOGY reliever, a mid-level rotation prospect, and a mediocre utility infielder who already got traded for an even older and even worse infielder. Hard not to be excited about that. And yes, whatever you think of them, the Tigers will miss those players, particularly Fielder – you can’t just replace 30 home runs even if you are sick of the guy’s perceived aloofness.
Ah, but it was Detroit’s bullpen that cost them so dearly in 2013. That unit saw two departures, plus Drew Smyly moving back to the rotation. They replaced Joaquin Benoit with old-as-hell Joe Nathan and, for their one big huge depth addition to solidify the 7th and 8th innings, they brought in Joba Chamberlain, who spent 2013 throwing batting practice to the AL East. Inspiring.
So we’re left with Miguel Cabrera, a few guys who pulled disappearing acts in the postseason, an untested rookie third baseman in Nick Castellanos, about four horrible shortstops to choose from thanks to a Jose Iglesias injury, and a left field platoon guy without a platoon partner, also thanks to injury. And a bullpen whose most trustworthy asset is a 39-year-old with a surgically repaired elbow who grossly outperformed his peripherals last season. Verlander, Scherzer, and Sanchez might have to throw 230 innings a piece this year.
HOUSTON ASTROS | Shoutout to Jose Altuve. Keep fighting on, little guy. Maybe you’ll be playing for a competent Astros team by 2020. (But it won’t be in 2014. Sorry.)
KANSAS CITY ROYALS | Ah, Jon Heyman’s 2014 Chosen Ones. The annual spring buzz around the Royals has reached a fever pitch now that they actually showed tangible on-field progress in 2013. They’re a popular dark horse pick in 2014, which kind of disqualifies them from dark horse status, but whatever.
Let’s tackle the widely-praised lineup first. Said widely praised lineup was 11th in the AL in both runs scored and OPS last year, and the additions of Omar Infante and Nori Aoki, while nice, aren’t going to provide much in the way of power. They’re heavily relying on Mike Moustakas to break out to help a lineup that boasted only one 20 homer guy last year. Somebody needs to drive in those runners.
Ah, but the pitching! The pitching was the biggest difference between the Mediocre Royals of years past and the Kinda-Sorta-Contending Royals of 2013. James Shields was a big part of that, but so too was Ervin Santana, and he’s gone now. He’s been replaced with Jason Vargas, who simply isn’t as good. It’s a rotation that also features Jeremy Guthrie, who isn’t getting any younger, and Bruce Chen, who is Bruce Chen. Yordano Ventura has the stuff, but he lacks experience and it remains to be seen what he’ll bring this season. And, shockingly, they’ll actually miss Luke Hochevar, who is out for the season after being a lights-out setup man in 2013. Remember, these guys led the AL in ERA last year and *still* finished 3rd, and they weren’t exactly breathing down anyone’s neck then, either. It’s easy to see where the pitching staff could potentially regress some. They’ll need some of the bats to take a noticeable step forward if they’re going to even come close to fulfilling some of the expectations that certain pundits have placed upon them this year. Pump the brakes, Jon.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM | Meet the team that was responsible for nearly 20% of Houston’s win total in 2013!
This bloated mess of a ballclub lost 84 games last year despite having the best player in baseball, which says a lot. They addressed their multitude of needs this winter by effectively swapping out Mark Trumbo for Raul “The Cryptkeeper” Ibañez, a guy who has fallen firmly into the “wow, that guy’s really, really old” category for about five years now. The Angels are effectively hamstrung by the fact that they invested the gross domestic product of pretty much every country in the world into Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, who gave them a combined OPS around .750 last year. (Good news, Angel fans: those contracts are backloaded, so the price only goes up from here! $40 million combined in 2014… $49 million in 2015…)
All that money still can’t buy them a pitching staff, either. The Jason Vargas/Tommy Hanson experiments failed, so they’re now turning to younger guys like Garrett Richards, new addition Hector Santiago, and Tyler Skaggs. Little has been done to address the problems of a pitching staff that was 11th in the AL in ERA in 2013. For that reason, little more can be expected of a .500 team that’s going to be stuck under a mountain of bad contracts for the foreseeable future.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS | For all that cash the Dodgers have spent, their season still ended against St. Louis with Clayton Kershaw getting the stuffing beaten out of him. All that cash still hasn’t bought them a second baseman (Dee Gordon and Justin Turner aren’t quite up to par) or a healthy Matt Kemp. Niggling injuries keep popping up and biting Carl Crawford, whose skill set really doesn’t suit his aging curve very well. Andre Ethier isn’t the player he once was, and the back of their rotation leaves a lot to be desired (Dan Haren didn’t do a very good job for a Nationals team that had similarly high expectations but missed the playoffs). Also, they’re leaning heavily on Brian Wilson, in his first full season, to get the ball from the starters to Kenley Jansen, because the rest of the middle relief corps isn’t much to write home about. Lots must go right for the Dodgers to be celebrating that championship.
MIAMI MARLINS | Is there any reason to watch this team on days Jose Fernandez isn’t pitching? Not unless you want to see people pitch around Giancarlo Stanton. The Killer Fish have at least made a halfhearted attempt to field a more veteran lineup this year, but veteran does not necessarily mean good. Brian Bogusevic and Rafael Furcal are not major league starting players anymore. Aside from that, a young rotation that has struggled at times means this is just another step in the Marlins process: wait for some prospects to develop, trade them for more prospects once they hit their arbitration years. Enjoy Fernandez and Stanton (and Christian Yelich!) while they last, south Florida. Or better yet, just watch the Heat.
MILWAUKEE BREWERS | Well, Ryan Braun’s back! That’s the good news. Since 2011, the Brewers have had two big issues: finding a regular first baseman and coming up with a competent pitching staff. Yovani Gallardo’s down 2013 only served to further magnify the latter part of that. They haven’t really done either this year, with the likes of Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds (Lyle Overbay is still playing!?) penciled in at first. Matt Garza will help the rotation, but not a bullpen that actually includes Francisco Rodriguez (again.) The same problems that have plagued the Brewers will probably plague them again this year. They won 74 games last year and I suspect they’ll win around that number again this year. Hope going all-in in 2011 was worth it. (Also, what the heck happened to Rickie Weeks!?)
MINNESOTA TWINS | After three years of utter futility, the Minnesota Twins finally decided to take a shot at compiling an actual starting rotation that didn’t make pitching enthusiasts’ eyes bleed. Sadly for them, that meant overpaying for perennial underachiever Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco posted an ERA under 4 for the second time in his career last year, parlayed it into a trade from Miami to Los Angeles, and then proceeded to get beaten up in the playoffs. Joining Nolasco is Phil Hughes, who was jettisoned from New York even faster than you can say “man, Phil Hughes gives up a ton of homers!” Of course, you can’t just build a rotation from scratch via free agency on the Twins’ budget, so the rest of their rotation remains little more than filler.
Plus, the Twins have never really been able to hit over that same three-year period. They relied on veterans and prospects last year, and that led to them being terrible again, Josh Willingham having the worst season of his career, and highly-regarded youngsters like Aaron Hicks proving that they aren’t ready, hitting under .200, and landing back in Rochester by June. Same collection of talent this year. Guys like Pedro Florimon are still black holes on offense, and even their brighter spots were pretty average – Oswaldo Arcia brought plenty of power but struck out at a Mark Reynolds-esque pace. A grand total of three Minnesota Twins got 100 PAs in 2013 and posted a league average OPS to go with it – one was Joe Mauer, one was Arcia, one was the now-departed Justin Morneau, and one was Brian Dozier (somehow.) They lost 96 games, and this is the same group with two added pitchers, neither of which is an ace in the grand scheme of things. They’re going to lose some more this year.
NEW YORK METS | I really have to do this? Sigh. Fine.
I’m actually looking forward to watching the Mets this year. At least, I’m looking forward to watching them every five days, because the world will get to see Bartolo Colon bat. Other than that, not much to see here, particularly with Matt Harvey out a while. The progression of Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud will be intriguing to follow, but the Mets are another one of those teams that are waiting for the prospect cavalcade that will allegedly save them from another decade of, well, Metsness. Until then, we get things like David Wright wondering “why me,” and Daisuke Matsuzaka in the rotation, and Jose Valverde as a primary setup man…… hey, maybe the Mets will be more fun than I originally thought. The hilarity that is Jose Valverde as a setup man will be worth the price of admission.
NEW YORK YANKEES | The Yankees finally did the Yankees thing again and spent a boatload of cash money in the offseason. None of it was given to Robinson Cano, though, leaving them with a gaping hole in the middle of their infield that they didn’t really address. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann fill some of the holes the Yankees left themselves with last winter, but Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts (really! Brian Roberts!) shouldn’t be counted on to handle regular infield duties. Mark Teixeira is now 33 and looking as injury prone as ever. Of course, this already mediocre infield could become downright bad if Derek Jeter plays like the 40 year old he is. Is the ankle fully healthy? We’ll find out soon enough, but I wouldn’t expect much from him. The pitching staff has been made over, but CC Sabathia is still at the forefront with his major velocity decline (and weight decline – good for you, CC). All the signs for CC were discouraging last year, and it’s unlikely he’ll ever be the all-conquering ace again. The Yankees also spent big to bring in Masahiro Tanaka, who has been compared to the legendary Paul Byrd. The usual caveats apply when we talk about first year Japanese imports. And then there’s Michael Pineda, who it appears will throw his first pitch for the Yankees this season, 27 months after they traded for him. Maybe he’ll be good, maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll stay healthy, maybe he won’t.
And the Yankees do have to replace Mariano Rivera, too. David Robertson may well be up to the task, but that leaves a big hole in the eighth that will be filled by one or two of this largely unproven group: Shawn Kelley, Dellin Betances, Matt Thornton, David Phelps, Adam Warren. Yeah, the Yankee middle relief corps isn’t really very good. It’s been a while since the Yankees missed out on the postseason two years in a row, but they just might make it happen in 2014.
OAKLAND ATHLETICS | Dr. Andrews’s Spring Warpath went through A’s camp and took Jarrod Parker with it, so Oakland is already short at least one starting pitcher, with A.J. Griffin also likely to miss part of April – at least – due to an elbow issue. This means the A’s will be leaning on the likes of Jesse Chavez and Scott Kazmir to get them quality innings. It’s also the same old A’s lineup that relies on extra base hits and doesn’t hit for average much. They can be had by more powerful pitching staffs, as the Tigers have repeatedly demonstrated during the last two Octobers. It’s a thinner rotation than they’re used to, but they’ll still have to find a way to pitch their way to the playoffs. If they get there, they’ll have to overcome their archnemesis – game five of the Division Series – if they’re going to be taken seriously as a World Series threat.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES | If this were 2008, the Phillies would be amongst the forerunners in the World Series chase. Unfortunately for them, it isn’t, though Ruben Amaro doesn’t seem to have caught on to that yet. Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley are now both 35, injury risks, and untradeable. Ryan Howard is now 34 and even more untradeable thanks to one of the most laughably bad contract extensions in recent memory. The Phils ranked in the bottom half of the NL in most offensive categories last year.
The pitching staff that once obnoxiously boasted four aces has fallen on similarly hard times. Cliff Lee is as good as ever, but there’s no guarantee on what 37-year-old A.J. Burnett will bring after spending the better part of the offseason waffling on whether he wanted to pitch in 2014 at all. Cole Hamels won’t be ready on Opening Day after a rather alarming bout with shoulder tendinitis. At the back end of the rotation, Roberto “Fausto Carmona” Hernandez and Jeff Manship simply aren’t good solutions. And Kyle Kendrick spent 2013 remembering he is, indeed, Kyle Kendrick. Add in Jonathan Papelbon and a contract that looks worse by the day and you have a shining example of what happens when you let sentimentality rule ahead of rationality. Turn back, Ruben! You should have learned from Joe Dumars what happens when you cling to a group of aging ex-champions for too long! (You get to suck for half a decade and keep your job. Maybe it’s not all that bad a gig. Don’t listen to me, Ruben.)
PITTSBURGH PIRATES | First, I’d like to congratulate the Pirates for not sucking last year for the first time in forever. It’s worth noting, however, that the 2013 Pirates were a middling offensive club that was propped up by a pitching staff that enabled them to outperform their expected record by six wins. A.J. Burnett is gone now, and to take his spot, Pittsburgh bafflingly shelled out $5 million to Edinson Volquez, who couldn’t even be saved by Petco Park last year. Volquez has pretty much been an afterthought since 2008 and rewarded the Pirates’ faith by looking like his usual awful self this spring. I bet he’s out of the rotation by July.
Since the lineup has seen few changes,the pitching will likely have to carry them again. That will require Francisco Liriano to stay healthy and consistent, Wandy Rodriguez to maintain his form at the age of 35, and Charlie Morton, Mark Melancon, and Jason Grilli (age 37) to repeat career-best seasons. If the offense stays static and the pitching stumbles at all, they’re going to have issues.
SAN DIEGO PADRES | In this space last year, I wrote the following: “This will be the same old Padres: don’t give up a lot of runs, score even fewer, which will probably get them fourth place but little else.” The more things change, the more they stay the same. They’re always poor offensively, but even the pitching let them down last year – they gave Edinson Volquez and his 6.01 ERA over 140 innings, for pete’s sake. They brought in Josh Johnson to try and strengthen that this year and he predictably got hurt already. Another of their more skilled players, Cameron Maybin (yes, he’s one of the more skilled ones), also suffered a serious spring injury. So yeah, same old Padres. Still mediocre, still going nowhere fast. (Although I should give them credit. They finished third last year!)
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS | The 2013 Giants forgot how to do two things that were very important to the success of the 2012 Giants: hit home runs and pitch. Hunter Pence was the only Giant to hit more than 20 homers, only four had more than 10, only one starter had an ERA south of 4, and their bullpen depth wasn’t what the club had gotten used to having. The feel-good story that was Ryan Vogelsong doesn’t feel so good anymore, and there’s no indication he’s going to rediscover the form that made him a revelation a few years ago. Barry Zito has been effectively replaced by Tim Hudson, now 38 and coming off an ankle fracture. Then there’s Tim Lincecum, who was rewarded for his second straight season of mediocrity by receiving $35 million from a very generous Brian Sabean. Matt Cain’s falloff was particularly alarming. If the Giants pitch a bit better, they’ll have a better year, but the only thing they did to address their powerless offense was add Michael Morse, who spent most of 2013 either injured or sucking with Seattle. They never scored much even when they were good, but the Giants are gonna have to score more — and that might be a tough ask.
SEATTLE MARINERS | Jack Z threw a $240 million band-aid on his ballclub (after outbidding himself) in the shape of Robinson Cano. Unfortunately for Seattle, that’s exactly what it is: a band-aid. A band-aid that will be around for a very long time and probably be quite gross toward the latter stages of its contract. But Robinson Cano’s awful contract is a topic more suited for the 2022 edition of Why Your Baseball Team Sucks, so let’s focus on the here and now.
The Mariners needed far more than one bat to push themselves into the same league as the Oaklands and Texases of the world. They know this too, of course, but their grand solution for augmenting Cano is to acquire Logan Morrison (178 games over the last two seasons, with below average offensive production and the added bonus of politically incorrect tweets that will have to be explained away by the PR department) and Corey Hart (a 32 year old outfielder-turned-DH who missed 2013 with double knee injuries who has also been bothered by his back and forearm this spring). So hey, that bodes well for them, especially since Hart is essentially a replacement for the departed Raul Ibañez. The rest of the lineup is going to be packed with either post-hype guys who simply haven’t produced (Justin Smoak) or hype guys who are yet to produce (Mike Zunino). Hey, they might turn out great, but it’s too soon to expect that in 2014.
As for the pitching staff, Felix Hernandez still exists, and Hisashi Iwakuma has been a revelation. The rotation behind them, though, looks a lot like the lineup behind Cano: either young and unproven or mediocre. James Paxton and Taijuan Walker might end up being great. But it might not end up being in 2014, and that’s really the overarching theme of the Seattle Mariners.
(Oh, and they have Fernando Rodney as their closer. That is all.)
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS | I’m not even sure what the point of this is, since their entire team could get hurt tomorrow and they’d just conjure up some of their Cardinals Devil Magic and cruise to 90 wins anyway.
Alright, let’s see what we can do. Um… Matt Carpenter might regress? Jhonny Peralta is lacking defensively and hasn’t been a consistently great offensive shortstop… uhhh, Peter Bourjos is lacking offensively… Kolten Wong might not be ready… err… maybe somebody will need Tommy John! Probably not, huh?
Okay, well, the Cardinals are good – really good – but they still didn’t win the World Series last year. So there. Your team sucks. Ha ha ha ha ha. And Carlos Beltran is gone, and so you won’t win it this year either, because Carlos Beltran is good and you’ll miss him! HA HA HA. HA. HA. So there.
TAMPA BAY RAYS | The annual Rays Makeover was actually rather pedestrian this winter, with only Grant Balfour, Heath Bell, and Ryan Hanigan coming in from the outside. Balfour is 36, Bell has been sliding further into irrelevance over the last two years, and Hanigan is mostly there for his defense. The rest is the same Rays team that crashed out of the playoffs again last year.
They’ll rely on their usual cast of reclamation projects and blue chip prospects to get them back there. As reclamation projects, the questions will linger about how good they really are. James Loney is a prime example. He was run out of Los Angeles, picked up by Joe Maddon’s Merry Band of Ragtags, and proceeded to carry a .316 average into August. He proceeded to hit .266 with a .687 OPS in August and September. How flukey was Loney’s 2013?
This is also David Price’s contract year, which means the pressure will be on for Tampa to get it done this year, particularly as they decided against trading him during the winter. Tampa Bay is a good ballclub, but they’ve been a perennial playoff contender lately that hasn’t had any playoff success – since their unlikely run to the World Series in 2008, the Rays haven’t even made it to the ALCS, and they’ve had better squads than this one during that time. What’s changed this year that will get them there?
TEXAS RANGERS | What follows is the starting rotation the Texas Rangers will open the 2014 season with:
Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez, Robbie Ross, Joe Saunders and Nick Martinez.
I’ll let you laugh for a moment. Matt Harrison will ideally be back for them in April and so too, they hope, will Yu Darvish, with Derek Holland following some time later. That said, it’s a huge problem spot for Texas.
So what will Texas’s solution be on days Joe Saunders just doesn’t have his best stuff? Outscore you, of course. To do this, they’ll use Elvis Andrus, who had a hurt elbow all camp and hasn’t been league average offensively at any point in his career; a Mitch Moreland/Michael Choice platoon type of thing; J.P. Arencibia, who people are finally realizing isn’t very good after posting a sparkling .194 average last year; and Donnie Murphy, who’s filling in for Jurickson Profar, who’s hurt until midseason. Sure, they’ve got Prince Fielder (and his contract) now, but there are better lineups in baseball. Think of it this way: Texas was a more powerful offensive team in both 2012 and 2013, and they didn’t win the division either year, and both years they had a better pitching staff.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS | We warned you in this space last year not to buy the “Jays as AL Favorites”narrative. We hope you listened to us, because the Champions of the 2012-13 Offseason were a whole one win better than they were in 2012. They trot out a similar group of players this year, but the buzz surrounding them has rightfully disappeared. Injuries didn’t help, but it was always a good bet that the likes of Jose Reyes and especially Josh Johnson were going to spend some time on the DL. Guys like Brett Lawrie and Melky Cabrera also saw DL time, but they didn’t contribute as hoped even when they were playing. Colby Rasmus remains a below average offensive player, and they’ve replaced J.P. Arencibia and Emilio Bonifacio with Dioner Navarro and Ryan Goins, who aren’t up to par either.
Even more alarming, the entire starting rotation busted spectacularly (warned you about that, too!) with R.A. Dickey coming back to earth, Mark Buehrle finally looking old, and nobody else coming close to pitching 150 innings, much less 200. Johnson was a spectacular failure, Ricky Romero got a total of 7.1 horrendous innings, Brandon Morrow struggled and predictably ended up on the DL, and Esmil Rogers ended up being the Jays starter who pitched the third-most innings. They’re relying on Dickey, Buehrle, and Morrow again this year, perhaps foolishly. Then it’s Dustin McGowan, now 32, and top prospect Drew Hutchison, fresh off Tommy John surgery. Toronto’s bullpen proved competent last year, but what difference does it make if they can’t get the ball with a lead?
As is the case with most teams that had high expectations and promptly flamed out, the aftermath is pretty ugly and they’ve got a lot of work to do before contention becomes a realistic goal again. Don’t expect much from Toronto.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS | Last year the Nationals were everyone’s runaway NL pick. They responded by playing like garbage for a good portion of the season and they missed out on the postseason.
So the Nats made some changes, including utterly stealing Doug Fister from the Tigers, so I’ll admit their rotation is better now. That said, they didn’t do anything to a lineup that was pretty much league average. They’ll need Bryce Harper to be healthier (so don’t run into any more walls, Grady Sizemore 2.0) and they’ll need Adam LaRoche to pretend it’s 2012 again (even though he’s 34) and they’re gonna need Jayson Werth to repeat his 2013 (even though he’s turning 35) and they’re gonna need Denard Span to be better. And breakouts from Wilson Ramos and Anthony Rendon wouldn’t hurt either. If all that happens, sure, the Nationals will probably make the playoffs!
But that was supposed to happen last year. And it didn’t. Who’s to say it won’t be like that again?