Around the MLB in 30 Days – Day 28: Pittsburgh Pirates

Why we need playoff fever in Pittsburgh.

Why we need another year of playoff fever in Pittsburgh.

2014 Record and Finish ———— 88-74 2nd in NL Central, Lost in WC game

Last season: Two years ago the Pirates made the playoffs for the first time in living

New year, new look, same Cutch.

New year, new look, same Cutch.

memory for a lot of us. They followed it up last season with another winning effort and a Wild Card appearance. Unfortunately #Buctober was short-lived as they were bounced from the postseason by the eventual champions San Francisco. It was a long road just to get there though as Pittsburg was just one game over .500 halfway through the season. They even survived a mid-August seven game losing streak by reeling off seventeen September wins. The Buccos did a little bit of everything finishing top ten in both runs scored and runs allowed. Andrew McCutchen had an MVP caliber season at the plate and with the glove unfortunately did not bring home any hardware because he shares a league with the Left Arm of God 2.0. He raked though hitting .315 with 25 HRs and 83 RBI’s. Most impressive though was his otherworldly .410 OBP. No less impressive were breakout seasons from Josh Harrison, Neil Walker, and Starling Marte. The much anticipated prospect Gregory Polanco struggled in his first go round with the big boys, but in a lineup in which all nine starters hit double digit dingers, a bad rookie year can be overshadowed. As for the pitching the best numbers came from… drum roll please… Edinson Volquez. That’s right the Pirates with their quality coaching and savy defensive shifts resurrected the career of another starter. Following 7 straight 4.00+ ERA seasons Volquez plummeted to 3.04 in 192 innings of work. The rest of the rotation as well performed admirably all churning out ERA’s under four. The bullpen was fantastic as well led by the trio of Tony Watson, Mark Melancon, and Jared Hughes. While the season didn’t end in a win, I think Pirates fans can live with consistent trips to the second season for now.

Departures: Edinson Volquez RHP, Gaby Sanchez 1B, Russell Martin C, Clint Barmes SS, Justin Wilson LHP, Travis Snider OF

Acquisitions: Francisco Cerevilli C, Justin Sellers SS, Rob Scahill RHP, Antonio Bastardo LHP, Clayton Richard LHP, Corey Hart OF, Jung-ho Kang SS, Steve Lombardozzi UTIL, AJ Burnett RHP

Outlook:          I think it is fair to say that Pittsburgh would generally not be considered the

Every fifth day we'll have an all Francisco battery.

Every fifth day we’ll have an all Francisco battery.

big shakers and movers of an off-season. It was no different this year. The departures list is relatively short, and the acquisitions were small moves to replace guys or add depth. On the pitching side of things losing Volquez may seem like a big loss, but I’ll refer to my previous paragraph as to why it is not. He will be back in his usual ERA range in 2015, as his success was due to some luck and the pitcher whispering of the Bucs. Left in the rotation will be Francisco Liriano, AJ Burnett, Gerrit Cole, and of course two others. Those spots are in question but I would expect Jeff Locke and Vance Worley to get the jobs. AJ Burnett returns to Pittsburgh for his age 38 season after a one year stint on the other side of the state. Reports were he came back to west PA for a discount although $12.75 million doesn’t sound like much of one. He is coming off hernia surgery so that will something to keep an eye on. Gerrit Cole hasn’t quite been the ace we were all expecting, but this may be the year he stays healthy and puts it all together. Regardless him and Liriano make for a formidable one-two punch at the top. The last two guys will be solid if not unspectacular and overall this should be one of the deeper staffs in the majors. Clayton Richard could be a sneaky good minor league contract pickup. Once again in the late innings they will be handing the ball over to a quality pen. Not as quality as we saw last year as I would expect regression from the three mentioned previously, but they are great options for manager Clint Hurdle to turn to.

On the offensive side of things the Pirates should pick up right where they left off. The void left by catcher Russell Martin will definitely be a tough one to fill. It isn’t quite as bad as it looks though as Martin will no way repeat his spectacular 2014 performance. We’ll probably see a fifty point drop in BA from him so the only real loss is the power he provides. Not the only loss as he provides outstanding defense behind the plate, but Francisco Cervelli will be above average in that regard. By the way don’t be excited about Cervelli’s .300 average last year, it was way inflated by his BABIP. Travis Snider represents a loss of nearly 400 plate appearances, but replacing them with Polanco will probably prove to be an upgrade once the young stud finds his way in The Show. The rest of the moves really were to add depth. Having guys like Corey Hart and Steve Lombardozzi to turn to on your bench though is truly a lift. The most intriguing signing is that of Jung-ho Kang. Kang earned himself $11 million dollars after putting up video game numbers for the Nexen Heroes in the Korean Baseball Organization. Those numbers would be .356/.459/.739 with 40 HR’s and 117 RBI’s. Obviously there are questions about how the raise in talent will affect his numbers, and he doesn’t have a guaranteed spot with the Bucs, but that kind of power potential from a middle infielder is worth taking a gamble on. If manages to crack into the lineup I would not be surprised to see yet another international success story. In the end I really like the offseason the Pirates had. They didn’t lose much at all even if they didn’t make a flashy move. This is a team that is close though and I don’t think a big move was necessary.

That leg kick.

That leg kick.

It looks even better from the side.

It looks even better from the side.

Prediction:       I’m going to peg the Pirates as the winner of the NL Central. Tough to pick against the Cardinals, but I think Pittsburgh is the better team and this is the year they finally end up on top. Great opportunity to make #Buctober last a little longer this year as well.

Around the MLB in 30 Days – Day 24: The Detroit Tigers

2014 Record and Finish ———— 90-72 1st in AL Central, Lost in ALDS

The two best hitters and biggest questions for Detroit.

The two best hitters and biggest questions for Detroit.

Last Season:    Heading into 2014 the Tigers were a fairly popular pick to win the World Series. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as Detroit had been the class of the AL the three previous years winning the AL Central every year during that stretch and advancing to the ALCS each time. Following a shaky and rainy first month of the season, they rattled off eight straight wins to start the month of May. For the most part this pattern held throughout the season, with long losing streaks being matches with a bit longer winning streaks. All in all it was enough to being crowned Central champions for the fourth straight season and another, albeit a short, postseason appearance. New manager Brad Ausmus set the MLB’s second highest scoring lineup. Detroit saw a career year from Victor Martinez and a break out from another Martinez, first name J.D. The man who everyone relates to the Tigers, Miguel Cabrera, battled through injuries and had a “down” year with a slash line of .313/.371/.524. There can really be no complaints from what the offense did, the major problems were seen in the pitching staff. Despite the big names on the rotation Detroit finished 24th in the majors in ERA. Justin Verlander was a main culprit having an awful season coming off of core muscle surgery. The majority of the blame though has the go to Ausmus’s management of the bullpen and the quality of pitchers afforded to him by GM Dave Dave Dombrowski. When Joba Chamberlain is a bright spot out of the pen you have issues… to the tune of 4.29 ERA from relievers and the second worst K/BB ratio. No lead was save for Detroit and ultimately cost the Tigers regular season wins and perhaps any chance at playoff success.

Departures: Drew Smyly LHP*, Austin Jackson OF*, Max Scherzer RHP, Torii Hunter RF, Phil Coke LHP, Jim Johnson RHP, Andy Dirks OF, Rick Porcello RHP, Eugenio Suarez SS, Robbie Ray LHP

Acquisitions: David Price LHP*, Joakim Soria RHP*, Anthony Gose OF, Yoenis Cespedes OF, Alfredo Simon RHP, Shane Green RHP,Tom Gorzelanny LHP, Alex Wilson RHP

*Moved in 2014

Outlook:         As is usually the case for DD and the Tigers it was a busy offseason. Winters are never dull for Detroit fans. Now whether you argue the moves helped or hurt the Tigers is up for discussion, but there is always discussion. The biggest losses are of course the two starting pitchers in Scherzer and Porcello. Scherzer got himself a huge pay day which was rightfully earned. However, I’m fine with the Tigers passing on this one. Two hundred and ten million is a whole lot of change for a starter who averages under 7 IP a start and is on the wrong side of thirty. Don’t get me wrong he is a fantastic starter who rarely gets hit hard, but he only has one complete game in his career as well. Looking at Porcello, Detroit is missing out on one more cheap year of quality pitching. As aggravating he has been at times he is a ground ball pitcher that had one of the worst infield defenses behind him for many years so it is tough to put all the blame on him. Rick may be on the cusp of breaking out, let’s not forget he is only 26 years old. The Tigers are trying to replace those two with a full season from David Price (yes please), and newcomers Shane Green and Alfredo Simon (ehhhhh). Green actually put up better numbers in 14 starts in the majors this year than he had in his minor league career. Fair to say that is a red flag. He has pretty good stuff though so maybe he continues the success of his 3.78 ERA last year. More likely he become a 4.00+ fifth starter type of guy. Simon transitioned to the rotation last year after a couple of quality seasons out of the pen. It was a tale of two halves for him, 2.70/4.52 ERA pre and post all-star break respectively. His true value lies somewhere in the middle, another 4.00+ fifth starter type guy. The top of the rotation will be strong with Price, not much to comment on there. Justin Verlander is an interesting case. The velocity decline has been well documented, but Verlander pitched far better than his numbers indicated last year posting a 3.74 FIP. A full year removed from major surgery as well points to a bounce back year. Anibal Sanchez meanwhile suffered through multiple DL stints last year. When he is on he can be an ace. Detroit is hoping to see that kind of performance out of him and it can certainly happen.

That’s enough for the starting rotation, let’s look at the everyday guys. The major losses are Hunter, Jackson, and Suarez. Truthfully though Hunter is well past his prime and at this point his defense isn’t worth his offensive contributions. Jackson was a solid defense centerfielder, but by all accounts Anthony Gose is better, though the Tigers may be losing here in the lineup. Yoenis Cespedes adds to the long list of big names on Detroit’s roster. He certainly does bring some pop even with a subpar OBP. Regardless the middle of the order with Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Yoenis Cespedes, and JD Martinez will be tough to get through unscathed. This lineup is formidable. That is if offseason injuries of V-Mart and Miggy were truly taken care of. While Martinez’s injury was much more recent, the nagging injury of Cabrera might be of greater concern. It might be slow in the early going for those two, but expect strong years from two of the game’s best hitters. Stepping in to fill Suarez’s role will be The Human Web Gem, Jose Iglesias. While he might as well head to the plate with a wiffleball bat, he can flash the leather with the best of them. Wrapping up the lineup with Nick Castellanos at third (breakout potential) and Alex Avila isn’t too shabby either.

NBSR 2NBSR 3

Washington Nationals v Detroit Tigers

Rondon packs some heat. Might be a late inning answer.

            As is always the case for Detroit big questions remain for the bullpen, particularly the back end. While Joe Nathan’s second half was much better than his first (5.61/3.70 ERA) it will be hard for Tiger faithful to put any faith in him. It is really hard to project what to expect out of him as he is only one season removed from a sub- 2.00 year. Detroit has a bit more cushion this time around with Soria being around for a whole year and Bruce Rondon returning from injury. I absolutely do not see a quality pen for them, but I’m not looking at a horrible one either. If they can finally close leads with above average effectiveness, it might be the key to making the next step.

Prediction:       No doubt the window for Detroit is closing, especially with the improvements in the division. I’m putting it off for at least one more season though. The lineup is stacked and the pitching will be good enough for a first place finish in the AL Central.

Friday Trifecta: Around the MLB in 30 Days- Padres, Angels, Braves

San Diego Padres

2014 Record and Finish: 77-85, 3rd in NL West

Last Year: I don’t throw around the word “literally” very often, but LITERALLY the only reason the 2014 San Diego Padres won 77 games was their pitching. They scored the fewest runs in the majors (535), had the lowest batting average and OBP (.226, .292) and had the lowest slugging percentages to cap off what was a terrible offensive season (.342). Their pitching numbers must have been terrific if they won 77 games with that kind of offensive production, right? Yes. 3.27 ERA (4th), 91 quality starts (9th), 1.22 WHIP (8th), .241 BA against (7th), so you could say it was a solid year from the mound. As you can imagine, allowing 577 total runs on the season is not bad, but only scoring 535 runs all year…that is bad.

Departures: RHP R.J. Alvarez, RHP Blaine Boyer, SS Everth Cabrera, C Yasmani Grandal, RHP Jesse Hahn, IF Jace Peterson, C Rene Rivera, RHP Donn Roach, RHP Keyvius Sampson, OF Seth Smith, RHP Tim Stauffer, LHP Eric Stults, RHP Joe Wieland

Acquisitions: SS Clint Barmes, C Tim Federowicz, RHP Shawn Kelley, OF Matt Kemp, RHP Brandon Maurer, 3B Will Middlebrooks, RHP Brandon Morrow, OF Wil Myers, C Derek Norris, OF Justin Upton, P James Shields

Outlook: It was GM AJ Preller’s first off-season with the club, and he was not playin’. The Padres were perhaps the busiest team in the MLB this offseason, and landed many pieces that will make an immediate impact. They revamped their entire outfield with the additions of Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton, who’ll fight over who doesn’t want to play CF. But they weren’t done…they waited on James Shields to finally decide he did want to play for the Padres and signed him for five years. Four of the top seven guys who appeared at the plate most for San Diego are gone as are five of the top 10 organizational prospects. The 2015 pitching staff should be just as good, if not better, than their 2014 counterparts. Shields looks to be the Opening Day starter, followed by Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy and Brandon Morrow. So, maybe the pitchers overachieved last season. Yeah, maybe, but now with a solid #1 on the bump, the Padres made it clear that they were tired of being the NL West’s little brother. What I’m saying is that the pitching will be similar, but the hitting will be better, because it LITERALLY cannot be any worse. They flexed their off-season muscle and made deals that helped them out in the areas they need it, but how the pieces fit together remains to be seen.

Prediction: 2nd in the NL West, can definitely contend for a wild card spot

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

2014 Record and Finish: 98-64, 1st in NL West, lost in ALDS

Last Year: The best record in baseball and +20 wins from the previous year is what the Angels 2014 put up. It was a much improved year for the Halos, but they still couldn’t advance past the divisional round of the playoffs, despite being the best team in baseball.

Departures: C Hank Conger, ​RHP Jason Grilli, RHP Yoslan Herrera, ​RHP Kevin Jepsen, 2B Howie Kendrick, ​RHP Michael Kohn

Acquisitions: C Drew Butera, ​2B Taylor Featherston, LHP Andrew Heaney, OF Matt Joyce, 3B Kyle Kubitza, RHP Jeremy McBryde, IF Josh Rutledge, C Carlos Perez, LHP Cesar Ramos, ​RHP Nick Tropeano

Outlook: The Angels did not add a ton of guys who will come in and necessarily start, but they did add some nice bench pieces and good depth to their already-talented roster. Scoring more runs than they did last year is out of the questions, as they scored 773, good for first in the MLB. If there was a weak area of this team, it was the starting pitching. The starting five looks largely the same as it has: Jered Weaver, Garrett Richards (coming off a leg injury), CJ Wilson, Matt Shoemaker, Andrew Heaney. Those guys plus the bullpen will have to throw well because we’re not sure whether they can hit as well as they did as a team last season. Heaney just happens to be the top prospect in the system, a shallow system at that. The Josh Hamilton situation (drugs) will be decided before Opening Day, and their outfield platoon of guys will have to step up in his loss. The Angels didn’t necessarily have to do a whole lot in the off-season, but improved their farm system with 6 of the club’s top 10 prospects being fresh meat. The question for these guys will be if they can put it together like they did last season, or if there will be a significant drop-off after posting the best record in baseball (hint: probably).

Prediction: 1st or 2nd in the AL West (or maybe 3rd)

Atlanta Braves

Don’t get used to seeing this, Braves fans.

2014 Record and Finish: 79-83, T-2nd in NL East

Last Year: A September collapse only Brewer fans can truly appreciate (4-16 record) helped this team finish with 17 fewer wins than the year before. Sure, they pitched well, but that’s about the only thing they did well.

Departures: RHP Brandon Beachy, ​UT Emilio Bonifacio, RHP David D. Carpenter, OF/C Ryan Doumit​, ​RHP Gavin Floyd, C Evan Gattis, RHP Aaron Harang, RF Jason Heyward, ​C Gerald Laird, ​2B Tommy La Stella, RHP Kris Medlen, ​IF Ramiro Peña, ​RHP Ervin Santana,  LHP Chasen Shreve, LF Justin Upton, ​RHP Anthony Varvaro, RHP Jordan Walden

Acquisitions: RHP Manny Banuelos, ​IF Alberto Callaspo, ​RHP Mike Fotynewicz, RHP Jason Grilli, OF Jonny Gomes, RHP Jim Johnson, ​RF Nick Markakis, RHP Shelby Miller, LHP Josh Outman, IF Jace Peterson, C A.J. Pierzynski, OF Dian Toscano

Outlook: Addition by…subtraction? Is that what the Braves are going for? Subtraction at the major league level, but addition of prospects headlined their off-season. All the Atlanta names you thought you knew are probably gone, save for Freddie Freeman. The Braves have no interest in winning now and probably won’t until they get closer to opening their new stadium/entertainment complex in 2017. You’ll have to wait it out until then Braves fans. If you’re looking into playing the lottery, start following Cuban OF Dian Toscano, who the Braves signed this off-season. He was about the cheapest defector you could find and has never played competitively outside of Cuba. The team posted the second-fewest runs in baseball and then traded away three of their top four contributors, so what do you want me to say? The 2015 Braves will not be good. Also, if you’re a fan of name changes, BJ Upton will now go by Melvin Upton Jr. That in itself might be the best 2015 storyline to follow with the Braves.

Prediction: Middle-to-bottom of the NL East (4th or 5th depending on who is less bad- them or Philly)

Around the MLB in 30 Days-Day 17, part 3: The Cincinnati Reds

2014 Record and Finish: 76-86, 4th in NL Central

LAST YEAR: Injuries are the first and easiest target to blame for the poor 2014 campaign. A playoff caliber team, partially proven by their faith in what is already there for the 2015 season. Breakout performances from Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco last year strengthen the idea that the pieces are already in place. The two combined for 54 homers, 160 RBI, and both hitting an identical .273. Billy Hamilton left room for the doubters, hitting only .250 while stealing 56 bases in 79 attempts.

C’ya Latos

This team was almost .500 while only having Votto appear in 60 some games and Jay Bruce not hitting his weight (compare .217 to 225lbs.). Ultimately the Reds were 28th in plating runs last year and that has to get better.

Departures: SP Matt Latos, SP Alfredo Simon

Acquisitions: OF Marlon Byrd, SP Anthony DeSclafani

Outlook: Marlon Byrd might be 37 years old, but maybe like a fine wine, he gets better with age. Twenty five homers and 87 RBI for the Phillies last year sounds more like 20+ and 90+ for the Reds. An excellent choice to supplement a further slipping Jay Bruce or injured Joey Votto again. Call it a safety net. On top of that, it’s safe to say not much happened in the Queen City this winter. Latos may be missed, though his oft injured nature won’t. Alfredo Simon supplied nearly 200 innings but his inflated win mark can be a product of run support and a hot first half more than anything. DeSclafani is a former Marlin, 24 years old, and has a shot as the 5th man in the rotation come April.

Mr. Byrd

 

Much like the offseason the Reds had, there’s not much sustenance to this report. Nearly no moves took place this offseason and for good reason; you can’t build a team in anticipation of injuries. To be prepared for injuries is one thing, anticipating is another. If the Reds signed Victor Martinez, they appear as if they have no faith in Votto, even when just trying to cover their bases. The Byrd signing is a semi-brilliant one all around. Letting both Latos and Simon go looks a little sketchy. The rotation has had success in its depth rather than top end talent in recent years and success. Replacing those two with a mostly unproven DeSclafani seems more like a roll of the dice than bags of confidence. Johnny Cueto will be the centerpiece for the rotation to work as it is. He had a dynamite year going for 20 wins and a 2.25 ERA in 240+ innings. He does that again and the Reds could be playing in October.

PREDICTION:: You can’t predict injuries so we have to assume full health here. Run production goes up, but so do the runs allowed. Top of the NL Central, circa 2013, and playoff bound.

 

Around the MLB in 30 Days- Day 17, part 2: Miami Marlins

2014 Record and Finish: 77-85, 4th in NL East

Last Year: Giancarlo Stanton broke his face but made $325 million. Jose Fernandez started just 8 games. Regardless of how the season went, it was probably better than their 2013 62-100 showing, and it was. The Marlins became one of just three National League teams since 1969 to win at least 77 games a year after a 100-loss campaign. In Fernandez’s final start before Tommy John surgery, the Marlins held a 20-16 record and a half-game lead in the division. When a fastball struck Stanton in the face in Milwaukee in early September, the Marlins were just 4.5 games back in the wild-card race and on a hot streak. Those injuries didn’t stop the team from remaining competitive as Miami went 35-28 in one-run games throughout the season. What the Marlins could take away from their 2014 season was that their outfield will be the building blocks for what’s to come for this franchise as you already knew about Stanton, but Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna both broke out last year. Not to be outdone, Adeiny Hechavarria upped his average to .276 and his fielding to .979, ahead of even Andrelton Simmons (!).

Departures: RHP Anthony DeSclafani, RHP Nathan Eovaldi, IF Rafael Furcal, RHP Kevin Gregg, RHP Chris Hatcher, RHP Andrew Heaney, IF Kiké Hernandez, OF Reed Johnson, 1B Garrett Jones, RHP Dan Jennings, 3B Casey McGehee, RHP Brad Penny, IF Jordany Valdespin

Acquisitions: RHP Preston Claiborne, RHP Aaron Crow, 2B Dee Gordon, RHP Dan Haren, RHP Mat Latos, 1B Michael Morse, 3B Martin Prado, RHP David Phelps, RHP Andre Rienzo, IF Miguel Rojas, OF Ichiro Suzuki

Outlook: Building on their 2014 momentum will be a key with the new acquisitions for this team. The front office clearly thinks that this is their window of opportunity and made moves to show that this off-season. Instead of signing big name free agents, the Marlins went about this off-season by trading their way to newcomers, including Dee Gordon, Dan Haren and Matt Latos, who all look to be big-impact players come summertime. Gordon is perhaps the biggest position-playing upgrade in the NL, over a group of Miami 2B that hit in the .230’s and didn’t get on base much more last season.  Michael Morse was their big free agent signing-he’ll step in at first base right away, as will Martin Prado at third. Henderson Alvarez took huge steps last season, but will have to take a back seat to Mat Latos, the Opening Day starter, and Fernandez once he comes back (sometime after June 1). The rotation looks like this: Latos, Alvarez, Jarred Cosart, Haren and Tom Koehler for a group that put up a 3.78 ERA last season. The catcher position looks to be a weak spot with Jarrod Saltalamacchia completing the battery. Ichiro coming to Miami makes for a nice story and a valuable veteran off the bench for a team that hasn’t seen the playoffs since they were the Florida Marlins. We hope and pray that the big money curse doesn’t take its toll on Giancarlo Stanton this season after getting a big payday and that he continues to be one of the most exciting players in the game. As for the rest of the roster, they’ll follow his lead to (possibly) a wild card berth.

Prediction: 2nd in the NL East (Not as good as the Nats)

Around the MLB in 30 Days – Day 17, part 1: Cleveland Indians

The Indians are the first part of a multiple-part series here on Day 17, otherwise known as St.Patrick’s Day. Today you can enjoy us attempting to catch up multiple pieces that may be aimed to help spur some conversation among the happy hour suds. 

2014 RECORD AND FINISH: 85-77, 3rd in AL Central, 3 GB in Wild Card

LAST YEAR: Nyjer Morgan starting in centerfield and brought optimism to a 2014 season that piggybacked a one-and-done postseason in 2013. The .500 start to the season was matched by a .500 record through July. Things heated up in August and the Indians looked like they were headed to the postseason. An even hotter Kansas City Royal team and cool Cleveland September ultimately left them on the outside looking in.

The biggest highlight of 2014 was undoubtedly Corey Kluber’s Cy Young win. His 2.44 ERA and 18 wins in 34 starts was among the top in baseball. An absolute work-horse of a season, as Kluber posted 269 strikeouts in 235 innings. The rest of the staff complimented Kluber

Brantley

as the Tribe finished first in baseball in strikeouts and a 3.56 team ERA. On the offensive side, Michael Brantley was far and away the key piece for the Indians. The .327 average, 97 RBI and 23 stolen bases were all team bests. The Indians as a team presented the 14th best batting average and 11th most bases in baseball. Through and through, the team numbers rank mildly above average and compliment the mildly above .500 record.

DEPARTURES: 1B Jason Giambi, 2B Joe Wendle, SS Asdrubal Cabrera*, RHP Justin Masterson*, RHP Vinnie Pestano*

ACQUISITIONS: OF Brandon Moss

*Moved during 2014 season

Joey Wendle

OUTLOOK: Giambi and Wendle are merely footnotes but as footnotes they do get mentioned. Giambi spent much of last year injured and mustered only 2 homers in 60 at bats with his .133 average. Maybe a sign his long career has come to an end. Joe Wendle is one of those mid-level prospects who has potential to be great but gets overshadowed. His power from the second base position is rare and I bet the A’s will look to hold onto him for as long as possible.

The other losses from 2014 were proven as replaceable in each’s regard. Masterson and Pestano didn’t prove as large voids, with Carlos Carrasco headlining that effort. The starter turned reliever, and then back again, isn’t always the most focused player on the field. Notably a very “headsy” player, when he is on, he can’t be touched; but too often he isn’t on, and leaves a propensity for short outings. However, last year’s rendezvous in the bullpen seemed to help straighten him out, and in 40 appearances (14 of those starts) Carrasco accomplished a 2.55 ERA. Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor are knocking down the door to the big leagues and are more than able to hold down the fort in the middle infield.

With Brandon Moss comes a some solid power from a corner outfield position. More importantly, Moss will provide some needed offensive help, but isn’t the ultimate answer to the Indians success in 2015. Let’s start with the rotation. Bauer and Carrasco need to provide top-end rotation help with Kluber serving as the Ace. All young and definitely unproven, if the three can avoid regression, the Indians may have a chance to sniff October.

Moss throwing his body at the baseball

On top of that, Michael Brantley needs to be the cornerstone of the offense. Kipnis broke in 2013 and reversed that story in 2014. Brantley needs to avoid repeating Kipnis history and bring him back to those 2013 numbers. Ramirez is MLB ready and an everyday starter role further strengthens the Indians.

PREDICTIONS: Don’t want to get too cliche, but the Indians have the pieces in place and just need production. On top of what was said earlier, Nick Swisher/the DH spot needs to add to the offense and not take away from it. With that they could go far. But to stay level-headed, the prediction puts Cleveland as a wild card team and playoff threat, top of the AL Central.

 

Around the MLB in 30 Days – Day 15: Seattle Mariners

2014 Record and Finish ———— 87-75, 3rd in AL West

Cano was "The New Hope" last year for Seattle, there is even more hope for this season.

Cano was “The New Hope” last year for Seattle, there is even more hope for this season.

Last Year:       Following four consecutive losing seasons, the Mariners made a huge splash last off-season by signing Robinson CanYes to a 10 year, $240 million contract. It would be fair to say that not many people saw that one coming. Despite the hype of the deal there were serious questions if the move was enough to make any major difference for Seattle in terms of competing for the postseason. It didn’t look great early on for the M’s as they started 7-11, but new manager Lloyd McClendon saw his Mariners right the ship to finish just one game out of a wild card appearance. As is usually the case for the SafeCo Field dwellers, pitching led the way giving up the fewest runs in the MLB. King Felix finished the year with a 2.14 ERA and was probably a win and ten strikeouts away from winning his second Cy Young. There were no true standouts in the rotation outside of Hernandez, but was filled out with four very solid starters. There were a lot of quality bullpen’s out there, but actually Seattle had the best of the bunch with the relievers turning in a 2.57 ERA. The staff carried an offense that mustered only the 19th most runs in the majors. The Cano signing worked out last year as he played 157 games and led the team in batting average (.314) and OPS (.836). Third bagger Kyle Seager had a breakout season with 25 HR’s and 98 RBI’s. Outside of those two there wasn’t a whole lot to like about the offense, but that isn’t how Seattle is winning most of their games anyhow. I think most Mariners fans would be happy with the 87 wins, but finishing so close to post-season play has to have the faithful following hungry for more.

Departures: 1B Justin Smoak, OF Corey Hart, 1B Kendry Morales, RF Chris Denorfia, LHP Joe Beimel, RHP Chris Young, RHP Brandon Maurer, RF Michael Saunders

Acquisitions: OF Austin Jackson*, LF Nelson Cruz, LHP J.A. Happ, LF Seth Smith, RF Justin Ruggiano, 2B Rickie Weeks

*Moved during 2014 season

 

Power and SafeCo don't usually mix, but Cruz is looking to change that.

Power and SafeCo don’t usually mix, but Cruz is looking to change that.

Outlook:          The question is, did the Mariners do enough to play at least a 163rd game? The answer is yes, but they aren’t a lock. With that being said there is a lot to be excited for the M’s 2015 season. Namely the offense should be improved. For the second consecutive winter Seattle made a big move bringing on reigning home run king Nelson Cruz. Say what you want about him and his past but he launches the big flies with the best of ‘em. Cruz has hit 22+ homeruns in each of the last six seasons despite barely playing over 100 games in a couple of them. While his numbers may dip a bit at the spacious SafeCo, if he plays 145+ games he presents a major upgrade at DH. Production from that spot was as non-existent as our Indians, Brewers, and Reds write-ups. The designated hitters, who by their name should be able to swing a bat a bit, posted an AL worst .567 OPS for Seattle. The thought of replacing Cruz’s numbers with that is salivating. Mariners have a very sexy platoon potential with newly acquired outfielders Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano. Smith has a career .839 OPS against righties while Ruggiano’s career OPS against lefties is .836. I’m a big believer in platoon’s especially this one should Seattle deploy it. It looks to me as though Seager is the real deal, expect similar numbers for him this year. A full season of Austin Jackson actually might be an offensive upgrade in CF believe it or not, and he will provide fantastic defense. All in all the lineup is looking much better, so don’t anticipate as many rainy hitting days in The Rainy City.

It's good to be king.

It’s good to be king.

The pitching staff is extremely intriguing. Seattle isn’t getting a lot of hype as a top of the line rotation, but they have a potential top ten group of starters. Of course it all starts with the King. The outlook remains strong for Felix as he has posted his highest K/9 totals his last two seasons despite losing some of his velocity. As such he projects well even as his career inning totals are approaching a tipping point soon. It would be a shock if he doesn’t top 200 innings again this year. Hisashi Iwakuma had a “down year” with a 3.56 ERA after a breakout year in 2013. I expect him to be back down a little bit and will be a solid second starter behind the ace. The three to follow all have question marks, but Taijuan Walker, J.A. Happ, and James Paxton all are looking for big seasons. If 2 out of the 3 have good years (and all three are capable) the staff will be better than last year despite losing a lot of quality innings from Chris Young. As for the bullpen, expect a little bit of regression. Pens are very up and down from year to year and it will be hard to duplicate the success of last season. The M’s are looking for a lefty to replace Beimel as well which will be no easy task. We talked about an improving offense, but the pitching remains the strength of this team.

Prediction:       With Billy Beane turning over the A’s roster once again, the balance of power in the AL West could be up for grabs. Seattle has as good of a chance as any to take the division, but I’m going with the Angels yet this year. Great chance for a wild card.

Around the MLB in 30 Days- Day 11: The Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies

2014 Record and Finish: 73-89, 5th in NL East

Last Year: In 2014 the Phillies never even flirted with postseason play; bona fide cellar dwellars, if you will. AJ Burnett, Marlon Byrd, and Ryne Sandberg were all brought aboard, but to little avail. The Phils looked like a team satisfied with mediocrity. With a handful of contributors, the hot and cold nature from guys that needed to be more dependable, aided in the downfall. The bullpen stunk, the front end of the rotation carried the load, and the lineup had little pizzazz. Your two highest averages were Ben Revere (.306) and Chase Utley (.270). Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd combined for 48 homers, but also .223 and .260 averages.

Departures: SS Jimmy Rollins, LHP Antonio Bastardo, OF Marlon Byrd

Acquisitions: RHP Roberto Hernandez a.k.a. Fausto Carmona, PROSPECTS Joely Rodriguez, Ben Lively, Zach Eflin, Tom Windle, Victor Arano, Jesmuel Valentin

Outlook: Rollins, Bastardo and Byrd accounted for a 6 WAR among the three veterans. If you look at our acquisitions, above, you easily note 6 wins are not being filled by replacements. To say the Phillies will have a down year would be to say Julius Caesar is dead. The real enthralling question is how bad will they be? For starters, the opening day first baseman wouldn’t be on any other major league roster. Their battle for left field rights sits between ex-Indian and Red Sock Grady Sizemore, Darin Ruf, Odubel Herrera, and Jordan Danks. If healthy, Ben Revere will be an All-Star, and potentially trade deadline bait. Cliff Lee’s elbow is a point for concern, and Cole Hamels, while servicable, shouldn’t be around come August. Papelbon, Billingsley and Harrang are three of the most lower-end guys on the list of players I don’t need to use first names for. These Phils remind me of the 2008 Yankees. That Yankee team had the most name recognition of any other in baseball. Matsui, Giambi, Damon, Posada, A-Rod, Molina, and even Ivan Rodriguez was there. But they were all over the hill and stunk. These Phils are full of about 50% of guys you once knew, and 50% new faces. Not a great combination for wins.

Prediction: Last again in an NL East. TBD when competitive again.

 

Around the MLB in 30 Days- Day 10: Texas Rangers

2014 Record and Finish: 67-95, 5th in AL West

Last Year: Unless you were a Texas Rangers fan, you didn’t have the right to complain about injuries. 2014 was an awful year for the Rangers in terms of health. Throughout the year Jurickson Profar, Prince Fielder, Matt Harrison, Mitch Moreland, Geovany Soto, Derek Holland, and Alexei Ogando, Yu Darvish, Adrien Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo all landed themselves on the DL at one point in time. When a team loses that many starters to long-term injuries, it’s going to be hard to have a productive season. Before the injuries, Texas was off to a good start. Texas started the season 15-9. But once the injuries started happening, so did the losing. The middle of June is where the downfall started. From June 17th to July 13th (All-Star break), the Rangers went an abysmal 3-22. Even after the rough stretch in the middle of the season, the Rangers didn’t panic. They didn’t begin unloading their players like most teams do around the trade deadline. However, they did lose their manager, Ron Washington, at the beginning of September for “personal reasons.” It all seemed to be spiraling out of control for the Rangers. Luckily, Texas did have a strong finish to the season, finishing 13-3, and avoiding the dreaded 100 loss season.

Departures: MGR Ron Washington, RHP Alexei Ogando, OF Alex Rios

Acquisitions: MGR Jeff Banister, LHP Ross Detwiler, RHP Yovani Gallardo (see left)

Outlook: The 2015 seems to be hard to predict for the Texas Rangers, since we haven’t had a good look at all their talent play together for an extended period of time. Adding all the players who were on the 60-day DL to Texas’s “Acquisitions” wouldn’t be a stretch. The makeup of this roster seems to be one of a playoff caliber team, but a first time manager and injury prone players can be a big hurdle to climb. The injury bug has already begun to bite the team. Jurickson Profar will start the season on the 60-day DL and Yu Darvish may not be far behind him. The jury is still out on whether Darvish will require Tommy John surgery, but it doesn’t look good for the Ace. Texas did a good job strengthening their pitching staff this offseason, trading for Washington lefty Ross Detwiler and Milwaukee Ace Yovani Gallardo. While those two definitely improve the rotation, the subtraction of Darvish may land the Rangers in the same problem they had last year. Their offense looks just as deadly as it did last year, prior to the injuries. This team has a scary duo in the heart of their order between Prince Fielder and Adrien Beltre, but the fear can only be instilled into opposing pitchers if these two can stay off the disabled list. The two big questions marks in Texas’s starting lineup are in left field and second base (while Profar is out). As of right now, the players slotted in those positions are Ryan Rua and Rougned Odor. Rua is a local Northeast Ohio product from Amherst Steele High School and Lake Erie College. Rua made his rise to the majors in September and was a big part of their late season success, batting .295 through 28 games. With the loss to Alex Rios to free agency, Rua currently is the front-runner to land the starting job in Left Field. Odor is a strong defensive presence for Texas, but they are hoping he is not there long-term and that Profar can return quickly. If healthy, this team can be dangerous. However, no team can go 162 games without key injuries and the loss to Darvish may have ended Texas’s season before it began. This team does have all the excitement on paper, but being in the same division as Oakland and Los Angeles may be too much to overcome this year.

 

Prediction: Third place finish in AL West

Around the MLB in 30 Days- Day 9: Tampa Bay Rays

2014 Record and Finish: 77-85, 4th in AL East

 

Last Year: The youngest franchise in the MLB played their 17th season in 2014, their 7th as the Rays. If I told you that they went 37-19 between June 10-August 15, you’d think they did alright for themselves on the year, maybe even clinched a playoff sport, right? Nope. The Rays played well for a two month stretch on the season. 11-16 in April, 12-17 in May, 13-16 in June, 17-6 in July, 13-16 in August and 11-14 in September. After six straight seasons above .500, five of at least 90 wins, four postseason appearances, two division titles and a pennant, the Rays got roughed up a little bit in 2014. They scored the 3rd-fewest runs in the MLB (612), but had a team OBP of .317 (12th). They had pretty good pitching stats with a team 3.56 ERA (13th) and 1.21 WHIP (6th), but just put it together well enough to finish 8 games below .500. Halfway through the season, after they felt they had fallen from contention, Tampa traded away David Price, something that had been a long time coming.

Departures: MGR Joe Maddon, SS Yunel Escobar, C Ryan Hanigan, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, OF Matt Joyce, C Jose Molina, OF Wil Myers, RHP Joel Peralta, UT Sean Rodriguez, 2B Ben Zobrist

Acquisitions: MGR Kevin Cash, IF Asdrubal Cabrera, RHP Ernesto Frieri, C John Jaso, RHP Kevin Jepsen, C Rene Rivera, OF Steven Souza

Outlook: Young pitching will definitely be the key for the 2015 Rays, as it has been with Rays teams of the past.

A much younger Kevin Cash, a Tampa native. The Devil Rays traded for him in 2005.

Remember their 2008 World Series run, where they had a ton of young arms to take them close to the Promised Land? That’s what they’ll try to do once again this season. Alex Cobb has already been named the Opening Day starter, followed by Drew Smyly, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome. They’ll have to rely mostly on those guys to win games. Many feel that they’ll be just fine if they do lean heavily on that group of arms. After all, pitching is what the Rays do. An entirely new core of catchers will test the battery pair throughout the first few months of the season. Or at least young pitching is what they did in the Maddon Era. That will be something else to watch this season, both how Maddon does on the North side and how new manager Kevin Cash handles his situation in Tampa. Cash has a fresh set of faces in Tampa to work with, unlike the Maddon teams who had returning top talent to play around with. While Cash may be more “traditional” than Maddon, the organization may be losing some of that small ball flair with the loss of their GM and their president of baseball operations in the offseason. They’ll try to continue their low-payroll success and finish towards the bottom of their cost-per-win column, as they have historically done. In the outfield, Desmond Jennings is a recognizable name in Tampa; he’ll hit leadoff and guide a young OF platoon. Steven Souza is a nice pickup after he had a hard time finding playing time in Washington. Souza is most well-known for his catch to preserve Jordan Zimermann’s no-hitter.  A theme among the lineup is that they are better known defensively than for their bats. That stays true throughout the order, save for Evan Longoria and James Loney. Longoria had a tough year in 2014, but looks to be the veteran presence for this team. While it’s easy to define the Rays by talking about the guys who left & their past success (Maddon, Price, Zobrist, Wil Myers, Hellickson), that wouldn’t be doing their 2015 crop any favors. These guys could be a surprise team if they put it together.

Prediction: Middle of the AL East