2014 AL Preview
Spring Training is upon us, and the beginning of my favorite season, baseball season. The Diamondbacks and Dodgers have reported, because their season opens in mid-March over in Australia. The rest of the teams will have reported by the end of this week or early next week. Without further adieu, here’s my preview.
The East holds the defending champs, a massively improved Yankees roster, an always competitive Tampa Bay, a talented Baltimore squad, and the Toronto Blue Jays. The AL East rivals the AL West as the best division is baseball, with the difference between the Astros and Jays most likely being the tiebreaker.
New York Yankees: The Yankees stole Jacoby Ellsbury from their division rival, Boston Red Sox. The Bombers also signed Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Masahiro Tanaka. Brian Cashman sure hopes that the $400M he doled out to those four superstars pays off in 2014.
Boston Red Sox: The Sox lost Jacoby Ellsbury as stated earlier, but they plan to replace him with Jackie Bradley Jr. Jarrod Saltalamacchia left for Miami, but he will be replaced with David Ross. Shortstop Steven Drew is still unsigned, but he can be replaced by top prospect Xander Boegarts. The Sox are putting lots of responsibility on the youngsters to produce, and I’m not sure if they will be able to do it.
Tampa Bay Rays: Andrew Friedman always finds a way to field a competitive team for Tampa. Friedman had a brilliant offseason, as he signed Grant Balfour, traded for Heath Bell, who I’m sure Tampa will find a way to revitalize, and traded for Ryan Hanigan, who is one of the best defensive catchers in the game. The Rays are going to be a thorn in the side of the rest of the AL East again in 2014.
Baltimore Orioles: Baltimore followed up their playoff campaign of 2012 with another competitive season, but they didn’t quite make the playoffs. Orioles ownership has made it no secret that they have money issues, and they haven’t signed anybody this offseason. As much as I want Baltimore to win, the rest of the division has improved and they haven’t. Buck Showalter is going to have to manage a miracle season for them to make it.
Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays had a disastrous season is 2013, and while I don’t think the will compete this year, they could surprise everyone. Jose Bautista will be back healthy and Jose Reyes will be too. You can count on Reyes serving at least one DL stint though. While the lineup has talent all over it, the rotation is just too weak.
Division Champ: New York Yankees
Detroit Tigers: The Tigers trade with the Rangers was one of the biggest win-win trades of the offseason, however, there is one problem I see with the trade. Miguel Cabrera did so well because he had Prince Fielder protecting him in the lineup. Nobody wanted to walk Cabby to get to Prince. Who’s going to protect Cabrera now? The Tigers did improve defensively and on the basepaths by acquiring Kinsler, but will that replace Fielder’s offensive production? I also HATE the Doug Fister trade for Detroit. The rotation is still good, but it went from a top 3 rotation to a top 10 rotation.
Cleveland Indians: The Indians were one of the surprise teams in the MLB last year, and I don’t see them repeating their success this season. It looks as if the Indians are going to let Ubaldo Jimenez walk, and his production down the stretch was key to the Indians postseason run. Also, how will the swirling contract talk and trade rumors affect Justin Masterson? Will Michael Bourn have a bounce-back year? What type of player is Asdrubal Cabrera? There are just too many question marks for the Indians in 2014.
Kansas City Royals: Royals GM, Dayton Moore, had a brilliant offseason. He nabbed Nori Aoki from the Milwaukee Brewers for next to nothing. His performance will be much better than the Justin Maxwell/David Lough platoon they had at the end of the season. Jason Vargas is a solid signing, and he’s kind of a “see what you get” guy. If Moore brings back Ervin Santana, then he might have had the best offseason in the MLB.
Chicago White Sox: The White Sox had a great offseason. They signed Jose Dariel Abreu from Cuba. While projections for a foreign guy are always spotty, he seems to be a 25-30 homer guy. Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson come over from Arizona. Eaton didn’t have a great season in 2013, but he is still a top prospect. Matt Davidson won the Futures game MVP in 2013, and will play 3B for the White Sox. Rick Hahn did a good job of improving the team while getting younger in the process.
Minnesota Twins: The Twins are really bad and did nothing to improve this offseason, need I say more?
Division Winner: Kansas City Royals
Oakland Athletics: Billy Beane had another spotless offseason. First, he stole Jim Johnson from the Orioles for Jemile Weeks. Jim Johnson had 51 saves in 2012 and 50 saves in 2013. Beane then got Luke Gregerson from the Padres for Seth Smith, another steal. Billy replaces Smith, a platoon outfielder, with Craig Gentry, who’s a better hitter than Smith anyways. The A’s let Bartolo Colon walk in free agency, and replaced him with Scott Kazmir. Oakland also got Drew Pomeranz in a trade with Colorado. Pomeranz was once thought of as a top prospect, and maybe he can rekindle his magic in the Bay Area.
Texas Rangers: The Rangers had another great offseason. They got Prince Fielder from the Tigers for Ian Kinsler. The Kinsler trade gives Jurickson Profar an everyday spot in the lineup, and Prince Fielder gets to go to hitter’s heaven in the Rangers Ballpark… I mean Globe Life Park.
Los Angeles Angels: The Angels had an underrated offseason. The Mark Trumbo trade was a great trade for them. Trumbo didn’t have a place in the Angels lineup, and the trade brought them two pitchers that are good enough to pitch in the rotation now. I’d watch out for the Angels in 2014.
Seattle Mariners: The Mariners have been the loud-mouths of the offseason, as they have signed Robinson Cano, Fernando Rodney, and Corey Hart, and traded for Logan Morrison. It is very possible the Mariners sign Nelson Cruz as well. What does all of this spending get them? A mediocre baseball team. The Mariners just aren’t that good. Around Kyle Seager and Cano, the team isn’t that good offensively, the team is a complete disaster defensively, and the pitching staff after Felix and Iwakuma is just an unknown.
Houston Astros: The Astros made strides this offseason by trading for Dexter Fowler and bolstering the bullpen. The ‘Stros will improve, but they are still far from contending.
Division Winner: Texas Rangers
AL Award Winners
AL MVP: Mike Trout – Mike Trout will repeat his two MVP caliber seasons of 2012 and 2013 and win the MVP here in 2014. Two-time defending MVP, Miguel Cabrera, will regress this year without the rather large presence of Prince Fielder behind him in the lineup, and Trout will bring home the hardware that he deserved last season.
AL Cy Young: Yu Darvish - Darvish had a magnificent season in 2013, and I think he will follow it up in 2014. The Rangers have restocked their lineups with the likes of Shin Soo-Choo and Prince Fielder, which means Darvish will get more run support. Expect Darvish’s wins to rise, which will help him win the Cy (wins shouldn’t matter for the Cy Young, but it always does), and if he keeps up his strikeout and .ERA numbers, then he will be just fine.
AL Rookie of the Year: George Springer - Springer had the talent to play in the MLB this year, and he for sure has the talent to start on the Astros this year, however the
Astros will want to delay his service time and he probably won’t play until late May/early June. Springer had 37 HR’s and 40 SB between AA Corpus Christi, and AAA Oklahoma City. Springer has an issue with strikeouts as he doesn’t change his approach with two strikes. Whenever Springer makes contact with the ball it seems to be a hit. Keith Law said that he might be “the first person to ever hit .300 and strikeout 180 times.” I doubt Springer will hit .300 this season, but an average around .270 with 25 HR’s and 20 SB should get him AL Rookie of the Year honors.
AL Comeback Player of the Year: Albert Pujols - Albert Pujols used to be the most feared hitter in the MLB, and while he had a slow start in 2012, he was one of the better hitter’s after the break that year. 2013 was just all-around awful for Pujols. Albert dealt with injuries and he sat out much of 2013 to heal and comeback strong in 2014. I’d watch out for the man they used to call “the machine” in 2014.
AL Manager of the Year: Ned Yost – The Royals finished over .500 in 2013, and I think they are heading for a division championship in 2014. Since the Royals haven’t been to the postseason in an eternity I expect the writers would hand him the award by default.
AL Wild Card
Just to recap, my division winners were the Yankees, Royals, and Rangers. All three of those teams missed the playoffs last year, so I expect lots of turnover in the AL playoff picture. I expect the Athletics, Angels, Tigers, Red Sox, Rays, and Orioles to all be fighting for the wild card. The A’s have won the AL West for two years in a row, and I expect them to give the Rangers a run for their money in 2014. However, Oakland will fall just short of a division championship and nabs one of the two wild card spots. That leaves the Angels, Tigers, Red Sox, Rays, and Orioles competing for the final spot. The O’s don’t have enough pitching, and actually have a fair share of question marks in the lineup as well, so they fall out of the running. The Angels are much improved, but the pitching still isn’t good enough and they will fall out of the
running as well. The Red Sox are the defending champs, but I think the losses of Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Stephen Drew from the lineup won’t help. Throw in the fact that Mike Napoli is sure to regress and the Red Sox got unexpected career seasons from Koji Uehara and John Lackey, and I don’t think the Red Sox will be playing postseason baseball in 2014. That leaves us with the Tigers and Rays for the final wild card spot. Both of these clubs played in the postseason last year. The Tigers won the AL Central, and the Rays claimed the second wild card spot in a decisive 163rd game with the Texas Rangers. The Tigers lost both Doug Fister and Prince Fielder, and while they did add Ian Kinsler and bolstered their bullpen, they just aren’t as talented as last year’s team. The Rays have to run a tight budget, and sometimes they just don’t have the money to put together teams to come out on top. The Rays have had a beautiful offseason, but in the end, the Tigers will get the second wild card spot.
Final Playoff Picture
Wild Card One: Oakland Athletics
Wild Card Two: Detroit Tigers
AL West Champion: Texas Rangers
AL Central Champion: Kansas City Royals
AL East Champion: New York Yankees