Beyond Color: The Value of Jackie Robinson

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a re-blog from my original post from 4/7/2013.In celebration of the trials, tribulations, and triumphs that were a part of Jackie Robinson‘s playing career, I felt that it was important that people saw that there were abilities and production that overshadow the focus on his breaking the color barrier. For that reason, on this day that so many will be looking at Jackie Robinson’s statistics and his contribution to the game, I wanted to have this out there once again. Enjoy it again or for the first time, it’s like the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes of a baseball blog.
Robinson2With a little less than a week before the release of the film 42 and the 63rd anniversary of his arrival in Brooklyn, it seemed like a fitting time to look back at the career of Jackie Robinson to determine where he ranks and where he could have ranked in baseball history, similar to the Bo Jackson article that I wrote in December.

My dad was five when Robinson retired from baseball, so needless to say, I never had an opportunity to see him play, outside of some old videos and Ken Burns‘ fantastic baseball documentary. Luckily, his statistics from his time with the Brooklyn Dodgers still remain. While you can link directly to his statistics through the hyperlink attached to his name, here they are for the lazier of the readers:

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Awards
1947 28 BRO 151 701 590 125 175 31 5 12 48 29 74 36 .297 .383 .427 .810 MVP-5,RoY-1
1948 29 BRO 147 648 574 108 170 38 8 12 85 22 57 37 .296 .367 .453 .820 MVP-15
1949 30 BRO 156 704 593 122 203 38 12 16 124 37 86 27 .342 .432 .528 .960 AS,MVP-1
1950 31 BRO 144 613 518 99 170 39 4 14 81 12 80 24 .328 .423 .500 .923 AS,MVP-15
1951 32 BRO 153 642 548 106 185 33 7 19 88 25 79 27 .338 .429 .527 .957 AS,MVP-6
1952 33 BRO 149 636 510 104 157 17 3 19 75 24 106 40 .308 .440 .465 .904 AS,MVP-7
1953 34 BRO 136 574 484 109 159 34 7 12 95 17 74 30 .329 .425 .502 .927 AS,MVP-12
1954 35 BRO 124 465 386 62 120 22 4 15 59 7 63 20 .311 .413 .505 .918 AS
1955 36 BRO 105 390 317 51 81 6 2 8 36 12 61 18 .256 .378 .363 .740
1956 37 BRO 117 431 357 61 98 15 2 10 43 12 60 32 .275 .382 .412 .793 MVP-16
10 Yrs 1382 5804 4877 947 1518 273 54 137 734 197 740 291 .311 .409 .474 .883
162 Game Avg. 162 680 572 111 178 32 6 16 86 23 87 34 .311 .409 .474 .883
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/7/2013.

Robinson3Pretty incredible overall statistics, especially considering the fact that Robinson didn’t get his career started until he was 28 years old. Certainly, the fact that he broke the color-barrier is the ultimate achievement in his professional career, which doesn’t measure up to his character and mental toughness, needed to overcome the bigotry and hatred from fans, the opposition, and his own teammates; however, he was just as valuable to the game for his abilities as he was to the game for his social impact.

Based on Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Jackie Robinson is the 15th most valuable second baseman in the history of baseball. Those above him include Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Charlie Gehringer, Frankie Frisch, Joe Morgan, Roberto Alomar, Joe Gordon, and Ryne Sandberg, all Hall of Famers. A few others also rank ahead of Robinson in WAR, but Robinson’s 5,802 plate appearances are far fewer than the others greats on the list of immortalized second basemen.

After looking at Robinson’s career in MLB, the only other statistics that exist for Robinson are one season in the Negro Leagues for the Kansas City Monarchs and one season playing for the Montreal Royals in the International League (Triple-A).

Year Age Tm PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
1945 26 Kansas City 63 58 12 24 4 1 1 2 5 .414 .460 .569 1.029 33
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/7/2013.
Year Age Tm Aff G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
1946 27 Montreal BRO 124 553 444 113 155 25 8 3 66 40 92 27 .349 .468 .462 .929 205
1 Season 124 553 444 113 155 25 8 3 66 40 92 27 .349 .468 .462 .929 205
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/7/2013.

Robinson was involved in the military and was the Athletic Director at Sam Huston College prior to accepting his contract to play baseball with the Kansas City Monarchs and the Brooklyn Dodgers. While Robinson posted impressive numbers in his two seasons within the Negro Leagues and the minors, the numbers didn’t carry over…at least not immediately…to Brooklyn.

Robinson’s rookie season, 1947, was the worst of his first eight seasons, only outdone by his 1955 season, his age-36 season, which was normal regression in the pre-performance-enhancing drug era of baseball.

Year Age Tm G PA WAR oWAR dWAR
1947 28 BRO 151 701 3.1 3.3 -0.9
1948 29 BRO 147 648 5.4 4.9 0.9
1949 30 BRO 156 704 9.6 8.6 1.8
1950 31 BRO 144 613 7.5 6.6 1.6
1951 32 BRO 153 642 9.7 8.1 2.3
1952 33 BRO 149 636 8.5 7.9 1.4
1953 34 BRO 136 574 6.9 5.9 0.8
1954 35 BRO 124 465 3.7 3.8 -0.3
1955 36 BRO 105 390 2.6 2.2 0.4
1956 37 BRO 117 431 4.6 2.7 2.0
10 Seasons 1382 5804 61.4 54.1 10.0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/7/2013.

So, if Robinson posted a 3.1 WAR for five seasons, 1942 through 1946, would Robinson have been a top five second baseman in baseball history? Adding a 15.5 WAR to his 61.4 WAR from above would have left Robinson at 76.9, behind only Hornsby, Collins, LaJoie, Morgan, and Gehringer. But who is to say that his earlier experience wouldn’t have allowed him to thrive earlier in his “pretend career”?

Robinson’s WAR increased 74 percent from his first season to his second season and another 77 percent from his second to his third. Of course, there were slight regressions overall in his career, but considering Robinson averaged a 7.2 WAR over his first seven seasons, it is easy to suggest that Robinson could have ended up as one of the top three second basemen in baseball history had he started his career earlier.

Robinson1While we can’t go back and change history, we don’t have to. Jackie Robinson was, statistically, one of the greatest players to ever play baseball. His athleticism, which led to his 19 steals of home, was unmatched, and when you consider that 87 players struck out 100 times or more in 2012 and it took Robinson his first three seasons (1947 through 1949) to strikeout exactly 100 times in his career, you can appreciate the skills that allowed Robinson to post a career .409 on-base percentage.

Jackie Robinson was so much more than someone who paved the way for people of all different skin pigmentation to reach the highest ranks of professional baseball. Robinson’s actual statistics seem to be overlooked, at times, in the presentation of his story. Robinson was just as gifted athletically as he was mentally, and as people continue to learn his incredible triumph over hatred with this Friday’s release of 42, I hope that people also realize that Robinson was so much more to the game of baseball than a color.

Robinson4

 

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Is 755 Still Meaningful?

On Tuesday night, the Atlanta Braves celebrated the 40th anniversary of Hank Aaron‘s 715th home run, which catapulted him past Babe Ruth for Major League Baseball’s all-time record for career home runs. Aaron’s career was finished following the 1976 season, and, while Barry Bonds and his asterisk-filled resume was able to pass him on the home run list, Aaron still holds the major league record for RBI (2,297) and total bases (6,856).

There are many numbers that people remember about baseball:
4,256. Pete Rose – career hits.
714. Babe Ruth – career home runs.
2,632. Cal Ripken, Jr. – consecutive games played.
511. Cy Young – career pitching wins.
61. Roger Maris – home runs in 1961.

756755 is also one of those numbers that is burned into the minds of baseball fans; however, it was replaced by a new record for career home runs, established on August 7, 2007, when Bonds’ 756th bomb left AT&T Park in San Francisco. Bonds would be blackballed from baseball after the 2007 season, leaving the game with 762 career home runs and a legacy tarnished by perjury charges and his link to performance-enhancing drug use.

This morning in my drive home from dropping off my daughter at school, Mike and Mike, the morning ESPN Radio show, were discussing the importance of Aaron’s numbers and what they mean to baseball today. Mike Golic made an excellent point – why can’t baseball throw away the performance-enhancing drug numbers the way that track and field does? When an athlete sets a record, wins a medal, or any other significant merits that are later tarnished by allegations and proof of cheating, those awards and records are stripped, as if they never happened. If baseball wants to keep their records clean, they, led by commissioner Bud Selig, had and have the opportunities to do such a thing. Considering the MLB Player’s Association’s unwillingness to support Barry Bonds when he was unable to find a job after the 2007 season, it would appear that the removal of records would be something that could be easily accomplished by MLB leadership.

SosaMcGwireThe integrity of the game and its records have been tarnished by the use of performance-enhancing drugs. I have long felt that Major League Baseball has had plenty of celebrated miscreants within the game, including racists, womanizers, and cheaters (Ty Cobb, Ruth, and Gaylord Perry fit those descriptions perfectly), while drugs, including “greenies” and cocaine, ran rampant throughout the game for many years undetected and overlooked. After the 1994 player’s strike, the league seemed to be perfectly happy with the home run numbers increasing and the turnstiles producing record numbers, huge revenue, and new stadiums for the good ol’ boy network of owners. Suddenly, those same home runs weren’t as attractive, and the league went after Sammy Sosa, Bonds, and Mark McGwire, instead of acknowledging that they helped to save the game. So, now that the league has moved on from the men who helped to bring it back from the dead and they’re bringing in billions of dollars in revenue through Major League Baseball Advanced Media and lucrative television contracts, they can continue to turn their back on their one-time heroes like Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire, while allowing the Hall of Fame to become a mockery of a museum thanks in large part to the attention-starved writers who now make up the voting oligarchy of Cooperstown.

So, while Hank Aaron was and continues to be a living legend and icon in the sport, is it really fair for his number, 755, to continue to be the measuring stick of power in baseball when that number has been surpassed? No…but it doesn’t mean that it has to go away and that 762 is the only number that needs to be remembered. The 714 home runs that Babe Ruth hit are still an important number in baseball, as are the 660 that Willie Mays hit.

There isn’t an asterisk needed for Barry Bonds because there wasn’t one needed for Ruth’s number to be important. Regardless of the drugs that helped Bonds produce into his 40′s, baseball remains a numbers game. We don’t put asterisks on the numbers that players put up prior to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Wouldn’t baseball have been more competitive, as it is today, with the world’s best players on one stage, and not just the top white players?

AaronHank Aaron’s 755 will live on and his legacy of powerful longevity within Major League Baseball will last well beyond his lifetime. His number will remain meaningful as long as his story does, just as others have heard about and learned to love players from well before their lifetimes. There aren’t many who look back at the production that Ruth put up in his career without being awestruck, and the same will remain true for future baseball fans who won’t even see a game until the year 2214. Why? Because baseball remains meaningful, the players remain meaningful, and the numbers remain meaningful to those who love and are passionate about the game.

 

First Week Failures: Fun Overreactions to Small Sample Sizes

strikeoutThe beginning of the season is full of hope and joy…and when reality sets in, that hope and joy can become fear and anger. It makes fans begin to second guess their team’s season after just four games in a 162-game season. Although the first week isn’t officially over, there are already players who have developed a following of Twitter rage, a second guessing that doesn’t allow for patience, and the fear that could result in a player being added to a sell-low trade in their fantasy league after just 12 to 25 at-bats. These players have become the talk of their respective towns for the wrong reasons.

B.J. Upton, CF, Atlanta Braves

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB
2014 29 ATL 4 16 16 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 9 .063 .063 .063 .125 -65 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/5/2014.

Upton HeywardEven after spending the offseason tinkering with his swing, Upton’s ability to make contact has seemed to completely vanish. Upton has gone from a 4.5 (2007) and 4.8 (2008) WAR player to having a -0.6 WAR in 2013 when he hit .184 and had a 56 wRC+. In just the second year of a five-year, $75.2 million deal with Atlanta, the outfielder, who will turn 30 in August, certainly hasn’t provided anything close to what he has been paid by Braves brass. Although it is early in the season, this type of production, or lack there of, will only force the Braves into difficult choices – like moving Evan Gattis to left while playing Jason Heyward in center and Justin Upton in right, while giving Christian Bethancourt some at-bats behind the plate – allowing Upton an opportunity to continue to alter his swing or pray to the baseball gods for some sort of guidance in what appears to be a hopeless adventure.

Can He Rebound?: Upton has had success in the past, but after his failures in 2013, it’s fair to wonder if the tools that made him a half-way decent player have eroded to the point that he can’t be considered a toolsy player anymore. If he doesn’t have tools, he can’t produce. He has talent around him to hide his issues, potentially seeing more fastballs due to the presence of Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman protecting him in the Atlanta order. I can see him rebounding, but he never was a .300 hitter. Even reaching .250 is going to be a chore, but the power and speed combination is always worth waiting on. The Braves paid a lot for him, so he’ll get a long look.

Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB
2014 23 CIN 4 13 12 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 6 .000 .077 .000 .077 -76 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/5/2014.

Did anyone think that Hamilton was going to hit .368 like he did in his September call-up last season after he managed to hit just .256 in Triple-A prior to the promotion? You gotta love the golden quote from “classy” St. Louis beat writer Derrick Goold on Hamilton, but his sarcasm and mocking ways aren’t all that different from Reds fans, who are already pretty upset with the breeze that Hamilton is creating near the Ohio River. During Wednesday night’s game, Hamilton’s bunting skills were quite questionable, as well, going directly to Michael Wacha and Matt Carpenter with consecutive attempts – DIRECTLY. I was talking to my wife and said the same thing that Goold said, in a different way: “Speed doesn’t matter when it’s walking back to the dugout.” Maybe Hamilton is trying to hit the ball to the gaps, maybe he is feeling the pressure of replacing an All-Star after the departure of Shin-Soo Choo…Regardless, what he is doing isn’t working, and after injuring his finger on his stolen base attempt on Friday night in New York, hitting may be even more difficult until he is 100 percent.

Can He Rebound?: Hamilton didn’t prove anything in Triple-A last season to overcome the questions in his bat. His speed helps his defense play up, but it doesn’t do anything until he starts getting on base. No one has ever had 200 hits while getting 200 bunt singles in a season, and that won’t happen this year either. Don’t be shocked to see his struggles continue, leading to Chris Heisey and Roger Bernadina manning center while Hamilton refines his craft in Louisville. He will need to get it going quickly there, as well, as Phillip Ervin could easily replace him as the center fielder of the future in Cincinnati.

Colby Rasmus, CF, Toronto Blue Jays

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB
2014 27 TOR 5 21 18 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 8 .056 .190 .111 .302 -14 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/5/2014.

When considering that this is a contract year for Rasmus, this certainly isn’t the start that he was hoping for. After posting the highest WAR of his career in 2013 (4.8), things were looking up. With Rasmus, though, the swing and miss in his game can overshadow the large, end-of-year counting stats. At one time, Rasmus had a .361 on-base percentage and walked in nearly 12 percent of his at-bats…but that was in 2010, and Rasmus’ patience has seemed to drop while his power numbers ballooned and his defensive skills increased. Which Colby Rasmus is going to show up in 2014? That really can’t be answered, but if he is going to cash-in on his free agency after the season, he needs to get those numbers back to last year’s really quick-like.

Can He Rebound?: Rasmus, like Upton, has a lot of talent around him in Toronto. He has always had crazy abilities, but the makeup has been questioned due to his run-ins with Tony LaRussa and his defensive numbers looking so week prior to 2013. The power is legit and the payoff for success will be huge due to the lack of center field depth in free agency after the 2014 season. It would be easier to see Rasmus rebounding if he wasn’t struggling so much with making contact, while also seeing drops in his plate discipline numbers. He’s at the right age for a huge breakout, and I can see him hitting 30 home runs in 2014, but it won’t always be pretty.

Cliff Lee, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies

Year Age Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2014 35 PHI 1 0 1.000 14.40 1 1 0 0 5.0 11 8 8 1 1 0 1 2.400 19.8 1.8 1.8 1.00
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/5/2014.

LeeWith Roy Halladay retired and Cole Hamels on the disabled list due to shoulder woes, there was a lot expected of the Phillies’ No.1 starter this season. Even though he earned the win, in spite of allowing eight earned runs in five innings (KILL THE WIN!!!), the fans of Philadelphia can’t be pleased with how Lee looked on Opening Day. However, Lee rebounded tremendously this afternoon against the Cubs, tossing seven scoreless innings (10 hits, 6:0 K:BB) to make things a little more “normal” with a 6.00 ERA. Some may warn that the successful outing was due to the opponent, but Philly fans should anticipate more outings like Saturday’s going forward.

Can He Rebound?: He already did. Trust in him.

Jim Johnson, RHP, Oakland Athletics

Year Age Tm W L W-L% ERA G GF SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO BF ERA+ WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2014 31 OAK 0 2 .000 45.00 2 0 0 1.0 5 5 5 0 3 1 0 12 13 8.000 45.0 27.0 0.0 0.00
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/5/2014.

Johnson has been, quite possibly, the worst development of the first week of the season. He had faced all of 12 batters and NINE of them had reached base – five of them scoring – heading into Saturday. He did get through an inning today while striking out two, allowing zero runs (hooray!), and allowing only one hit. After imploding in his first two appearances, it was fair to wonder if the A’s would give him the ball in the next save situation, especially with a solid bullpen in Oakland. Today was proof that they aren’t giving up on hit just yet, and with a $10 million salary for this season, it seems very unlikely that Johnson will lose his job too quickly.

Can He Rebound?: Johnson blew nine saves in 2013, lost eight games, and still managed an ERA under 3.00 while closing 50 games out for Baltimore. In fact, he has 101 saves since the start of the 2012 season. This was a lot of money for a team like Oakland to spend on a closer, which leads me to two conclusions: 1) The A’s will win a lot of games this season, and 2) Jim Johnson will remain the closer.

The Intelligence of the Rays Shines Again

Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Tampa Bay Rays have signed right-handed starter Chris Archer to an extension. The deal will, potentially, buyout, when including the options, three free agency seasons from Archer. The 25-year-old wasn’t arbitration-eligible until after the 2015 season.

Rays RHP Chris Archer

Rays RHP Chris Archer

After going 9-7 with a 3.22 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 23 starts and 128.2 innings in his rookie season, the Rays were wise to lockup the 6’3″ righty, giving the Rays a solid 1-2 foundation in Archer and Matt Moore in coming seasons, especially with the likely departure of David Price through free agency or a trade prior to the end of his team-controlled time in Tampa, which would be the end of the 2015 season.

The Rays seem to be having a more difficult time developing their own since they’ve been drafting at the back-end of the MLB Draft due to their recent run of success. Last season’s trade with the Kansas City Royals that send James Shields to K.C. brought the Rays major league-ready talent in Jake Odorizzi and Wil Myers, but the system isn’t nearly as deep as it was several seasons ago, and a lot of the top-end, top of the draft talent that came to the Rays in their worst seasons are now becoming too expensive to realistically keep due to the club’s continued revenue struggles in a weak baseball market.

The Rays ownership and management may not have a lot of money to spend, but they can’t stop here. There are still a few players on the club’s roster that would be worth locking up to similar contracts, including the aforementioned Myers, whose ability to hit for power will be absolutely damning to the Rays within the arbitration process.

Alex Cobb should get a similar deal to what Archer received, though, he could be receive quite a bit more guaranteed money due to reaching arbitration after the 2014 season. Cobb’s success could also lead to more guaranteed money, as the 26-year-old right-hander had a breakout 2013 season, interrupted by a horrific injury on a comebacker, in which Cobb went 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, establishing himself as a possible pseudo-ace if the Rays were to field offers for Price during or after the 2014 season. Already one of the top 10 pitchers in the American League, Cobb’s devastating changeup and above average control would provide the Rays with the top of the rotation arm that they can continue to add to that rotation with youngsters like Odorizzi, Nate Karns (who already 26), Enny Romero, and Alex Colome (when he returns from his suspension).

Additionally, Desmond Jennings appears to be a fantastic candidate for the club to lockup. Like Cobb, Jennings will be arbitration-eligible after the 2015 season. Already 27, Jennings hasn’t really shown star-level talent, but he has the tools to be productive, although he did show negative value defensively in his first full season in centerfield. Perhaps Jennings is more of a left fielder than a centerfielder, but the Rays had quite a bit of success out of a toolsy outfielder who played left for several years, Carl Crawford. Jennings blend of power, speed, and solid but not elite on-base skills, would be a nice addition to the long-term building of a club that continues to come up short offensively.

 

Rays 3B Evan Longoria

Rays 3B Evan Longoria

Evan Longoria will be a Ray for life due to his MLB Player’s Association loathing contract, but the Archer contract could and should be a sign of things to come from Tampa. The Rays need more contracts like those of Longoria, Archer, and Moore to survive in the current market that is only being enhanced by the success of Major League Baseball Advanced Media and local television contract revenue. As those who focus on the numbers and dollars of baseball seem to be developing the cost of a win as a foundation for free agency money, it appears less likely that the Rays and other cash-strapped teams will find it more difficult to fill holes on their rosters with free agents, which will make these so-called team-friendly deals all the more necessary for those teams. It will be interesting if the player’s association and agents find a way to combat the risk for the player in taking such financial security deals, while potentially leaving millions of dollars on the bargaining table. In the meantime, teams, especially the Rays, should continue to do all that they can to make these Archer-like deals happen.

 

2014 MLB Predictions and Useless Guesses

I do this dance when I'm right - which is often

I do this dance when I’m right – which is often

This is the third year that I’ve created this article (2012 and 2013) and it’s always a lot of fun. After I looked back at the 2013 version and saw that I did mediocre, I figured that it was worth trying out once again, just to see if I’m as brilliant as I like to, humbly, think that I am.

American League East

1st:  Tampa Bay Rays

2nd: New York Yankees

3rd: Boston Red Sox

4th: Baltimore Orioles

5th: Toronto Blue Jays

Courtesy: fantasyfurnace.com

Courtesy: fantasyfurnace.com

Last year, I went with Toronto, which was an absolute nightmare. They still have a lot of offensive talent, but they don’t have the rotation depth (even with Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez knocking on the door) to compete in this division. I really like the Orioles and I even think that Ubaldo Jimenez can make it work in Baltimore, but I’m hesitant to expect a repeat from Chris Davis in 2014 and we still don’t know the second base situation will work out or when Manny Machado will be full strength. The top three in the East are nearly replaceable parts, as you could put them in any order and look like a genius. For me, Boston doesn’t have the goods this year, having not replaced Jacoby Ellsbury with a legitimate part (Grady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley, Jr.) and a veteran team another year older screams regression. The Yankees are a mess at second after losing Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners, but they added enough parts to look like a team on the rise. The Rays nearly stood pat, but I think that will work for them. A full season from Wil Myers and the tremendous arms in David Price, Matt Moore, and Alex Cobb make them a force. While re-signing James Loney was the highlight of their offseason, the Rays are still strong enough defensively and in the rotation to win this division. The only worry is injuries, as their minor league system hasn’t produced many stars as they’ve moved to the back-end of drafts due to their major league success.

American League Central

1st: Detroit Tigers

2nd: Cleveland Indians

3rd: Kansas City Royals

4th: Chicago White Sox

5th: Minnesota Twins

Courtesy: dcobb1621.blogspot.com

Courtesy: dcobb1621.blogspot.com

The Central was quite competitive in 2013, as the Tribe and Royals finally pushed the Tigers and made the division look respectable once again, though Chicago and Minnesota were two of the worst teams in all of baseball. Things still look bleak for the latter two teams, as they are both slowly rebuilding by developing their own talent or acquiring talent in trades. The Twins will be a force to be reckoned with within the next couple of seasons when Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano (who will miss all of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery), Alex Meyer, and others begin reaching Target Field, and the White Sox will be better with solid, young, major league-ready talent in Avisail Garcia, Matt Davidson, and Jose Abreu being acquired or signed within the last year. Regardless, this division will be a three-way battle in 2014. The Royals will come up a bit short after losing Ervin Santana‘s production to free agency. While Santana struggled to find consistency throughout his career, Yordano Ventura, no matter how good he may be in his rookie season, likely won’t be able to repeat Santana’s 3.24 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 211 innings in his age-23 season in the No.5 starter role. I’m expecting huge things from Eric Hosmer and tremendous improvements out of Mike Moustakas and his new swing, but the rotation isn’t strong enough to contend with the other offenses in this division. The Indians may not win 92 games again this year, but the have the offensive firepower to be a contender. Even with lackluster seasons from Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Bourn, and Nick Swisher in 2013, Cleveland rocked. They’ll struggle due to rotation losses, much like the Royals, needing to replace both Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir‘s innings, but Danny Salazar should continue to establish himself as an electric arm, albeit with around a 170 to 180 innings limit. The Tigers will remain the class of the AL Central due to their rotation. Even after trading Doug Fister, the Tigers were able to replace him with the young lefty Drew Smyly, and the Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez trio should be good for over 600 innings and 600 strikeouts in 2014. Rick Porcello‘s drastic improvements last year leave him heading towards his free agency after the 2015 season, so if he is determined to strike it rich, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him be the 2nd best pitcher on the staff this season. Miguel Cabrera may be all that they need, but rookie Nick Castellanos can swing it, Austin Jackson is looking at a breakout season, and Ian Kinsler, even if he is just mediocre away from Arlington, is more than capable of devastating opposing pitchers. The Tigers may be a 100-win team in 2014.

American League West

1st: Los Angeles Angels

2nd: Oakland Athletics

3rd: Texas Rangers

4th: Seattle Mariners

5th: Houston Astros

Angels OF Mike Trout

Angels OF Mike Trout

Houston is brutal, but you have to trust in the processes that GM Jeff Luhnow brought with him from the St. Louis Cardinals. He has quickly turned the minor league system around for the Astros and there is tremendous talent on the way up, but Houston looks like a 95 to 100 loss team once again in 2014, though there are some pieces who will show themselves useful to the organization in Jason Castro, Dexter Fowler (likely trade bait), Brad Peacock, and Jonathan Villar (a poor man’s Everth Cabrera). Seattle improved tremendously and will field a winning team, but they don’t have the talent to overcome the class of the division. The Mariners have plenty of young talent in Taijuan Walker, Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Brad Miller, and Dustin Ackley who will be valuable, but they also have glaring weaknesses in Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders locked into starting roles. If Seattle continues to add pieces over the next couple of seasons to their strong, young core, they’ll get there. The Rangers have been very good for quite some time, and they made the Kinsler trade with Detroit to bring back the big bopper that they lost when Josh Hamilton left for Los Angeles. Prince Fielder should be tremendous in Texas, likely rebounding to the 35 to 40 home run power that we used to see in Milwaukee, while the trade opened up a spot for Jurickson Profar at second. With Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios still around and the additon of Shin-Soo Choo, the Rangers should be very tough to keep off of the scoreboard, but with injuries to Derek Holland and Matt Harrison (whose back still isn’t right), the Rangers will heavily lean on Yu Darvish and youngster Martin Perez. They’ll need a lot of help from Colby Lewis (who missed all of 2013) and Tommy Hanson (a shoulder injury away from being out of the league) to be competitive. The A’s have lost A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker to injuries (Parker is out for the season) already this spring, but they still have solid depth in their rotation with Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone, and Jesse Chavez to be solid in the rotation, especially with their spacious home field. Yoenis Cespedes should provide a full season with 30/30 potential, Josh Donaldson can really hit a baseball and pick it in the field nearly as beautifully, and Josh Reddick has a healthy wrist and will want to prove that he is more the 2012 version (32 HR/85 RBI) than last year’s version (12 HR/56 RBI). The A’s are dangerous, and while they don’t look like much offensively in parts of the order, Billy Beane continues to do quite a bit with the talent that he and his operations staff are able to find and get the most out of. The Angels have had a rough go of things in the Albert Pujols era. Mike Trout is now the centerpiece of the team, but the club has continued to put pieces around him, adding David Freese at third, and a couple of solid young arms to a depleted rotation in Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. The minor league system is still a hot mess, but the Halos have quite a bit of talent that, if healthy, will allow them to be a dominant team once again. I’m betting on Pujols, Trout, Josh Hamilton, Jered Weaver, and C.J. Wilson in carrying this team back to the top of the West in 2014.

American League Wild Cards

New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics

National League East

1st: Washington Nationals

2nd: Atlanta Braves

3rd: Miami Marlins

4th: Philadelphia Phillies

5th: New York Mets

Braves OF Jason Heyward

Braves OF Jason Heyward

I may be a bit of an optimist when it comes to the NL East, but I’m seeing things a bit differently than most. The Mets offense is horrendous and they haven’t had a full season of David Wright in two of the last three seasons – plus, Wright’s now on the wrong side of 30. The outfield is a cluster of mediocrity, featuring an aging Curtis Granderson and Chris Young, while the club seems to think that Eric Young, Jr. is an everyday corner outfielder. The rotation is also ugly after losing Matt Harvey late last year. Zack Wheeler is still a work in progress, but a team in need of a rebuild signed Bartolo Colon and Daisuke Matsuzaka to fill their rotation voids. I don’t see it working. The Phillies also feature aging players, and it’s hard to see full seasons out of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley again in 2014. The rotation is hurting a bit with Cole Hamels having shoulder issues and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez looking like garbage after signing out of Cuba, but Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett should continue to be productive. I’d like to see Domonic Brown have another season like 2013 to make Ruben Amaro, Jr. look worse than he already makes himself look with his horrific contracts and clueless way of running the team, after letting Brown waste away for so long in the Phillies’ minor league system. I like the Marlins this year. The rotation is very good: Jose Fernandez is an ace; Henderson Alvarez may not strikeout a ton of guys, but he keeps the ball down and pounds the strike zone; Nathan Eovaldi has an upper-90′s fastball and looks promising; Jacob Turner is up and down like most young starters, but he was once a future No.1 or No.2; A.J. Ramos and Steve Cishek are good at the back-end of the bullpen, and you can’t not like Giancarlo Stanton mashing in the middle of the order. The club will get some offensive help with Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Garrett Jones (only against RHP) in the lineup. They won’t be above .500, but they should be better than the Mets and Phillies in 2014. The Braves are hurting in the rotation after losing Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen to Tommy John surgeries in the last few weeks; however, they still have Julio Teheran, Mike Minor (when he’s over his injury around the second week of April), and Alex Wood, with Gavin Floyd coming back from Tommy John surgery by mid-May. They just need to make it through the first month, and they have enough offense to do that. Jason Heyward is a monster who has struggled, but I’m expecting huge things out of him this season after injuries limited him to 104 games last season. Justin Upton and B.J. Upton will likely rebound, as well, and Freddie Freeman looks to be an MVP candidate after having a breakout season at the age of 23 in 2013. Andrelton Simmons could only build on his breakout 2013, and Atlanta is either going to get a rebound from Dan Uggla or production out of his eventual replacement, Tommy La Stella, at second. The Braves will be great, but not was good as the Nationals. This team is setup to win games and win lots of them. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Doug Fister present a top four of a rotation that can’t be matched by another club in Major League Baseball. Bryce Harper is jacked and looks primed to reach 30-plus home runs at the age of 21 and Jayson Werth will team with him in the middle of the order to cripple opposing pitchers. Ian Desmond is one of the top offensive shortstops in baseball and Anthony Rendon should establish himself as an All-Star level producer at second this season. Ryan Zimmerman is still a defensive wizard, and, if he can stay on the field, he can come close to 30 home runs and 90 RBI at the hot corner. The Nationals, like the Tigers, are capable or exceeding 100 wins.

National League Central

1st: St. Louis Cardinals

2nd: Cincinnati Reds

3rd: Pittsburgh Pirates

4th: Milwaukee Brewers

5th:  Chicago Cubs

Courtesy: ESPN.com

Courtesy: ESPN.com

The Cubs will be difficult to deal with in 2015, when Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Mike Olt, and Arismendy Alcantara are officially within their everyday lineup; however, in 2014, Chicago will, once again, be the red-headed stepchild of the NL Central, taken out back and beaten in the wood house, or any other form of describing a team that will be laughably bad. If Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo bounce back, they could win 65 to 70 games, but if they’re both as bad as they were in 2013, this is a 100 loss team. The Brewers will be better in 2014. Management has spent money and, while the minor league system rivals the atrociousness of the Angels’ system, Milwaukee has Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, and Khris Davis in the lineup to be productive offensively. Wily Peralta should build on his late season success from 2013, and the veteran leadership in the rotation from Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, and Matt Garza should lead to an above .500 season. The Brewers just don’t have the depth to overcome injuries to the rotation or the everyday lineup, so they’ll likely run into some trouble in 2014, especially if they’re counting on 200 innings from Garza. The Pirates surprised everyone by winning 94 games in 2013, but they aren’t going to stop there. Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, and Gerrit Cole look like the core of a franchise that will be capable of winning several divisions in a row in coming seasons. With Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, and Gregory Polanco on the way, this club should only get better. Unfortunately, the loss of A.J. Burnett could take its toll on the rotation. Cole and Charlie Morton are effective, Francisco Liriano and Wandy Rodriguez, however, haven’t shown much consistency for health or production over their careers. If things break right, the Pirates could be right where they left off, but that’s a big “if”. The Reds lost a lot of production when Shin-Soo Choo signed with Texas. Billy Hamilton will utilize his thoroughbred-like speed to steal bases and score runs, but he doesn’t have the power or on-base skills that Choo brought to the club. With Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in the middle of the order, the Reds have plenty of pop, and if Brandon Phillips rebounds a bit (hard to say with 100-plus RBI, but the average and on-base numbers were rough), the offense should still be in good shape, especially with production from Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier. The rotation is still solid. A healthy Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Tony Cingrani will battle the Washington Nationals for a starting staff ERA title. The scary injury to Aroldis Chapman hurts the bullpen for the next six to eight weeks (his real-life health is more important considering what happened), but J.J. Hoover, Sean Marshall, and Jonathan Broxton have each closed games before. The window is closing in Cincinnati quickly, though, so they could make some moves to make a late season push. St. Louis and the “Cardinal way” is frustrating to watch as a lifelong Cincinnati native and Reds fan, but you have to appreciate their success. The team is setup to be dominant once again. Strong offensive output from Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, and Matt Adams will carry the team, while Jhonny Peralta, Peter Bourjos, and Kolten Wong make adjustments to new leagues or life in the majors. The club has a .300 hitting, 30 home run talent waiting in the wings in Oscar Taveras if an injury strikes in the outfield or an infield corner, but the rotation depth is what makes them unbelievably good. Joe Kelly, who had a 2.28 ERA over 15 starts in 2013, may not even be in the rotation. Adam Wainwright could be joined by Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, and Carlos Martinez. Any other team would likely be starting Trevor Rosenthal, but the Cards can let him close thanks to their rotation depth, which hasn’t even included Jaime Garcia, who is, once again, battling shoulder woes…but he could be ready to pitch again soon. The Cardinals are a tremendous example of a team that can compete while consistently drafting in the last half of each round, while not having an unreasonable payroll number. They should be envied by fans and replicated by other organizations.

National League West

1st: Los Angeles Dodgers

2nd: San Francisco Giants

3rd: Arizona Diamondbacks

4th: Colorado Rockies

5th: San Diego Padres

YasielPuigBatFlipSideThe Padres are a solid team with a lot of good talent, but the NL West is quite competitive, and the Padres home park may continue to be their own worst enemy. They’ll have an advantage for their pitchers, but they just don’t have enough offensive talent to overcome Petco’s offensive squashing ways. Chase Headley quickly returned to form in 2013 after a breakout 2012 and Carlos Quentin, once again, showed that he is productive and very, very fragile. The Friars will have full seasons out of Yonder Alonso and Everth Cabrera, with some power production from young second baseman Jedd Gyorko, but Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, and Tyson Ross will struggle to win games due to the rest of the talent, or lack thereof, around them. The Rockies may finally have an appropriate way to attack their own offensive environment in Coor’s field, finding and developing pitchers who can pound the bottom half of the strike zone, drafting and developing pitchers like Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler in the minor league system, but they’re still a year or two away from overcoming the pitching talent that they currently are rostering at the major league level. Still, they’ll win games thanks to Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer, Wilin Rosario, and Nolan Arenado powering home runs. The Diamondbacks continue to deal away tremendous young talent to compete at the major league level, acquiring Mark Trumbo from the Angels this winter. Trumbo will add great power to a lineup already featuring NL MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, and with Martin Prado and Miguel Montero in the lineup, the D’backs should score plenty of runs. The rotation lost Patrick Corbin to Tommy John surgery, but they had Randall Delgado out of options to step into the rotation, with Archie Bradley near-ready in Triple-A. Wade Miley, Bronson Arroyo, and Trevor Cahill should provide solid innings, while Brandon McCarthy could be the wild card in the teams success due to his dominance when healthy, though he can’t always be counted on. The bullpen in Arizona is dynamite, featuring Addison Reed at closer, with J.J. Putz, Oliver Perez, and David Hernandez as setup men. The Giants have pitching for days, but still have trouble finding offense. Pablo Sandoval will be a free agent after this season and utilized that motivation to finally show up to spring training in shape. Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence should continue to produce, while they are hoping that Mike Morse can return to his powerful 2012 form rather than whatever it was that showed up last season. Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain could be Cy Young candidates, while the Giants will hope that Tim Hudson and Tim Lincecum can return to their former Cy Young candidacy days. The Dodgers…do they ever have a loaded roster! All-Stars all over the field: Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp will lead the club offensively, while manager Don Mattingly finds a creative way to rotate four very good outfielders between three spots, with a fifth, Joc Pederson, nearly ready to produce when called up from the minors. The rotation is very deep and the bullpen is the deepest in baseball. Clayton Kershaw needs no explanation, and Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren, and Paul Maholm should be very productive in a forgiving home ballpark with an electric offense supporting them. Five pitchers with closing experience in the bullpen make it nearly a guarantee for success. A payroll with no end makes the Dodgers capable of adding pieces if a need were to arise, as well.

National League Wild Cards

Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds

World Series Prediction

Washington Nationals over the Detroit Tigers in six games

American League MVP

Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

He’ll finally do enough to get the votes that went to Miguel Cabrera the last two years. He has easily been the best all-around player in the game since the start of the 2012 season. At just 22, it’s scary to think of what he will become in his prime if he, fingers crossed, stays healthy.

National League MVP

Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta Braves

There’s just something about a guy coming off of any injury plagued season who didn’t live up to expectations that makes me want to go with him here. He’s not Joey Votto, Bryce Harper, or Andrew McCutchen, but Heyward will be doing a lot of the things that made Shin-Soo Choo so valuable for the Reds in 2013: getting on base as the leadoff hitter, hitting for power, and stealing bases. I could see Heyward posting a 30/30 season out of the leadoff spot in Atlanta while driving in close to 90 runs and scoring over 100. The numbers will add up to make him one of the top players in baseball, leading Atlanta to an NL playoff matchup with the Nationals.

American League Cy Young

Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers

Yu Darvish will be your trendy pick because of all of those strikeouts, but Verlander has shown that he still has something left, striking out nearly 11 per nine over his final six starts before striking out over 12 per nine over his three playoff starts. With negotiations with Max Scherzer being completely thrown out, Verlander is the man in Detroit, and he is going to show why once again.

National League Cy Young

Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants

Kershaw, like Darvish, would be the easy pick. I picked Bumgarner last year, and one of these years, I’m going to look smart for sticking with him. Bumgarner’s hits per nine (6.5) was the lowest of his career last year, and that number continues to fall each season, while his strikeout rate continues to increase, while he reached 8.9 in 2013. He’s just 24 and he has the home ballpark and the stuff to continue to improve his already impressive numbers.

American League Rookie of the Year

Xander Bogaerts, SS/3B, Boston Red Sox

Bogaerts showed that he is advanced beyond his years in the playoffs last season, helping Boston win another World Series with his impressive play. He hasn’t shown the power yet, but Bogaerts could be a 25 to 30 home run hitter in coming seasons, and his youth is a welcome addition to the aging Red Sox roster.

National League Rookie of the Year

Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds

Vince Coleman once stole 100 bases with a .581 OPS. If Billy Hamilton is on base enough to steal 100 bases, he’s going to score enough runs to create value for himself and the Cincinnati Reds. I’ve seen him run in person and it doesn’t seem real. He’ll have more infield hits than some teams will combine for. Even if he isn’t successful, Hamilton doesn’t have any true competition for at-bats beyond Chris Heisey (who likely can’t handle center field) and Roger Bernadina (who hasn’t been able to handle a job). He’ll maintain the job and be quite productive due to his speed, but if he ever gets a leg injury and loses that tool, he has no role and no business in baseball.

Random Bold Predictions

1. Bryce Harper will hit more home runs than Miguel Cabrera.

2. Rick Porcello will be a better pitcher than Anibal Sanchez in 2014.

3. Yordano Ventura and Danny Salazar will both strikeout over 170 batters, even if they only reach 150 innings pitched.

4. Grant Balfour will have more saves than whoever closes for Baltimore, and the Orioles will look even more ridiculous for backing out of the contract that they signed with him than they already do.

5. Drew Smyly will win more games in Detroit than Doug Fister wins in Washington.

6. B.J. Upton will hit over .260 and will hit at least 15 home runs while stealing 25 or more bases.

7. Devin Mesoraco will provide more value offensively than Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina provide offensively AND defensively in Tampa…which will show just how bad Dusty Baker messed with the former top prospect in Cincinnati by not playing him daily.

8. Hector Santiago will win 14 or more games to solidify an iffy Angels rotation.

9. Yoenis Cespedes will post an OPS over .920 and will be a top 5 AL MVP candidate at seasons end.

10. Giancarlo Stanton will hit over 40 home runs while walking over 90 times.

11. Drew Hutchison will be the most valuable Toronto Blue Jays starter until they shut him down in September.

12. Starlin Castro won’t lose his job to Javier Baez…but Darwin Barney will.

13. Someone who wasn’t on the Mets’ Opening Day roster will lead the pitching staff in wins.

14. Dan Uggla posts his typically ugly batting average and strikeouts, but rebounds to 25 or more home runs and close to 90 RBI.

15. Prince Fielder will have a higher WAR than Ian Kinsler. Texas wins the blockbuster trade.

Breakout Stars

Alex Cobb, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays – last year was really what he can do, now, we get a full season of it.

Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals – 25 or more home runs, close to 20 steals, top 10 AL MVP candidate.

Hector Santiago, LHP, Los Angeles Angels

Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals

Danny Salazar, RHP, Cleveland Indians

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies

Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles

Henderson Alvarez, RHP, Miami Marlins

Drew Hutchison, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays

Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals

Prospects to Watch

This has nothing to do with my Top 100 list, but you will find some familiar names and others that will be players to keep an eye on, especially if they’re on your favorite team or if you’re in a keeper fantasy baseball league.

Raimel Tapia, OF, Colorado Rockies

David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies

Robert Stephenson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds

Lucas Sims, RHP, Atlanta Braves

Lucas Giolito, RHP, Washington Nationals

Nick Williams, OF, Texas Rangers

Nomar Mazara, OF, Texas Rangers

Alberto Tirado, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays

Victor Sanchez, RHP, Seattle Mariners

Phillip Ervin, OF, Cincinnati Reds

Hunter Harvey, RHP, Baltimore Orioles

Franchy Cordero, SS, San Diego Padres

Alexander Reyes, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

Spring Stars and Surprises

Spring statistics don’t really mean much to anyone, that is, of course, unless those numbers are being used to determine a position battle. I like to see young players who are getting long looks and veterans coming off of injuries prove their health and worth by admiring their feasting on lesser competition. While there are many out there that think that spring training is a waste of time and that the statistics don’t mean anything, they do mean a little something – especially to these players. (Statistics as of 3/20/2014)

Tigers 3B Nick Castellanos

Tigers 3B Nick Castellanos

Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers

.396/.412/.667, 19 H, 7 2B, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 2 SB, 5:2 K:BB in 48 AB

Why Spring Matters for Castellanos: The rookie third baseman is going to need to pick up some of the offensive production that was lost when the Tigers traded Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for a non-Arlington-version of Ian Kinsler. Kinsler has a career .242/.312/.399 line away from the spacious confines of the Ballpark at Arlington and a .304/.387/.511 line at home. Comerica Park is NOT  Globe Life Park in Arlington, and with the injury to Jose Iglesias (who may or may not be offensively capable), the Tigers need more players to step up to allow Miguel Cabrera to be an MVP candidate again in 2014. Castellanos doesn’t have the prospect shine of Byron Buxton or Xander Bogaerts, but he is going to hit. He always has. The fact that he is hitting while re-adjusting to playing third base, having been switched to the outfield just two years ago from the hot corner, is a positive sign. Additionally, he just turned 22 at the beginning of March. Castellanos may never hit 30 home runs and he may struggle to hit .300 due to contact and discipline questions, but if the Tigers are going to maintain solid offensive production, they’ll need this young man to hit the way that he has this spring. There may be some growing pains, but this production is very encouraging.

Mariners OF Dustin Ackley

Mariners OF Dustin Ackley

Dustin Ackley, OF, Seattle Mariners

.457/.490/.696, 21 H, 6 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 1 SB, 6:3 K:BB in 46 AB

Why Spring Matters for Ackley: After hitting .304/.374/.435 in the second half of 2013 (208 plate appearances), Ackley deserved a long look this spring. When the Mariners signed Robinson Cano and Corey Hart and traded for Logan Morrison, it was worrisome that the M’s could have squeezed their former top pick the way that they have their current middle infielders with the Cano signing. An already crowded, though hideous, outfield could still be impacted if Morrison and Hart man the corners with Justin Smoak at first, but the hope for all baseball enthusiasts is that Ackley gets 500 at-bats while playing a single position, something that the former top prospect hasn’t had an opportunity to accomplish in his very shifty career. The month of March has been very kind to Ackley and he should be locked into an everyday role, especially with Franklin Gutierrez out for the year (not shocking) and Michael Saunders floundering last season so badly. His gap power and on-base skills will make him a surprisingly valuable asset in the Mariners push towards contention in 2014.

Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals

.450/.521/.875, 5 2B, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 1 SB, 6:6 K:BB in 40 AB

Why Spring Matters for Moustakas: Moustakas’ career appeared nearly dead when the Royals signed a perfect platoon partner, Danny Valencia, to pair up with the former top prospect. Then, Moustakas went and played winter ball and worked on his swing…and now this. Maybe it was the fire under the sphincter that Moose needed to get his career on track, maybe the alterations were enough,  or maybe he’s a late bloomer like the man that he replaced at the hot corner, Alex Gordon. Gordon was nearly out of the league until a breakout in 2011 at the age of 27, but Moustakas, 25, doesn’t deserve to be given up on just yet, either. Perhaps Moustakas has found the swing that led to 36 home runs and a .999 OPS at the age of 21 in 2010. He may still have some issues against the toughest of left-handed pitchers, but this could be the year.

hamilton3

Reds CF Billy Hamilton

Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds

.325/.413/.450, 13 H, 2 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 9 SB, 12 R, 6:6 K:BB in 40 AB

Why Spring Matters for Hamilton: He’ll never replace Shin-Soo Choo and his ability to get on base, but when Hamilton gets on base, he’s nearly a lock to score. I am not sure how he managed to hit a home run, as the Reds should be instituting push-ups like Willie Mayes Hayes from the great American classic Major League. Hamilton’s wheels will make him a game-changing talent until an injury is to arise. It is highly unlikely that he’ll hit at this rate in 2014, but even a .250/.310/.325 line would afford him enough opportunities on the base paths to score close to 100 runs while stealing 50 or more bases. It may not seem mathematically realistic, but you need to see Billy run in person to gain an understanding of his actual speed. The walks and contact rate is encouraging, and while Great American Ballpark doesn’t have the thin air of the desert, it is still a launching pad – Hamilton just needs to keep the ball on the ground to better utilize his legs and to avoid the push-ups.

Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants

0.00 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 17 IP, 10 H, 16:2 K:BB

Why Spring Matters for Bumgarner: Spring doesn’t really matter much for Bumgarner, I just hope that people see this and realize that he is capable of winning the 2014 National League Cy Young award. The 2014 season is his age-24 season and he already has incredible numbers. His hits per nine fell to a career low in 2013 (6.5) and his strikeouts per nine were a career high (8.9). The dominance in his 17 spring innings will be what you’ll see in 2014. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stole the award from Clayton Kershaw. There weren’t eight pitchers in the NL better than him, regardless of the Cy Young voting.

Hector Santiago, LHP, Los Angeles Angels

2.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 16.1 IP, 11 H, 19:6 K:BB

Why Spring Matters for Santiago: Thanks to Joe Blanton being terrible and the Angels minor league system being even worse, Santiago was a lock for the rotation when he was acquired from the White Sox in the Mark Trumbo deal. Santiago, though, is a very interesting pitcher in 2014. He has some friendly ballparks in the American League West and he has the stuff to post nearly a strikeout per inning. Add in an impressive offense and Santiago could be one of the more surprising No.4 starters in baseball. He has shown the strikeout stuff and how hard he is to hit this spring, and if he can cool the walks a bit, which have always been an issue for him, the 26-year-old will continue to be effective for the Halos.

Cardinals RHP Carlos Martinez

Cardinals RHP Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

1.76 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 15.1 IP, 8 H, 9:3 K:BB

Why Spring Matters for Martinez: The Cardinals just aren’t fair. Joe Kelly, who only went 9-3 with a 2.28 ERA over 15 starts in 2013, is battling one of the club’s former top prospects for the No.5 spot in the Cards’ rotation. Nicknamed “Little Pedro” due to his stature and stuff being similar to future Hall of Fame right-hander Pedro Martinez, this 22-year-old Dominican future star has shown just how unhittable he is when he can manage to control his impressive arsenal. Many will wonder if his best long-term role will be the bullpen due to injury risks and how his stuff plays up in short bursts, but Martinez is much more valuable over 200 innings, and the Cardinals continue to have the depth to plug him into the rotation and reap the benefits of their minor league system. Martinez won’t look like Michael Wacha did down the stretch last season, but that is because he’ll be making a name for himself on his own in 2014.

Baseball: Priority Changes

University of Cincinnati Medical Center flying a flag in honor of two successful kidney transplants on 3/17 - including my wife's donation

University of Cincinnati Medical Center flying a flag in honor of two successful kidney transplants on 3/17 – including my wife’s donation

I almost feel bad. I’ve stepped away from writing about Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and elbow injuries for quite a while now. It just hasn’t seemed all that important. I’ve neglected to maintain my blog. I almost feel shame…but I don’t and I never will.

I don’t have millions of pageviews, annoying pop-up advertisements, or additional writers on my blog, so when real life interferes with blogging, there are extended times away like this, and absolutely no content. This absence is certainly something that I am proud of, though.

On Monday, my wife donated a kidney to a stranger. It was sort of a trade for another kidney because our friend, who was originally supposed to receive her kidney prior to some antibody issues, received a kidney from another woman. Two donors. Two recipients. Hundreds of family and friends impacted by the heroism of these selfless acts are now able to celebrate the potential long-term health and improvement in quality of life for the recipients.

I have no words to describe how proud I am of my wife. As she returns to living a normal life over the next several weeks, you’ll see a few more posts and a return to normal on the blog. As more posts come, it likely means that she is doing very well, so that’s a good thing.

For now, I am going to just enjoy the fact that she is here with me, knowing that my wife is a hero, and reflecting on how little  baseball can mean to me in the grand scheme of life. And THAT is a bold statement coming from this blogger.

Pitchers to Watch in 2014

I’ve already done a breakout piece, but this one is a little different. With many pitchers coming back from injuries or  a player coming back from a season of ineffectiveness, these names could end up being steals as buy-low options in fantasy leagues. However, not all of these pitchers will be worth a roster spot at the start of the season. Take a look at these names and store them in a safe place. They could surprise you in 2014:

Drew Hutchison, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays

"Jays

In 2012, Hutchison started 11 games for the Jays at the age of 21. By June of that season, he was done for the year due to Tommy John surgery. He only pitched about 55 innings in the minors in 2013 as he worked his way back, but with the Jays lacking any major players for the back-end of the rotation, he could quickly earn a look this season. He has his fastball back, touching the mid-90′s and sitting in the low-90′s, and he already has solid command of his secondary pitches, which shows the progress in his rehab. He may have to fight off super-prospect Marcus Stroman at some point for some innings, but if Hutchison gets a look, he has some excellent stuff. He has managed to get major league hitters out in the past, and he, likely, has matured through fighting his way back from surgery.

Casey Kelly, RHP, San Diego Padres

Once the centerpiece of the Adrian Gonzalez to the Boston Red Sox deal, Kelly underwent Tommy John surgery in April of 2013, so he isn’t quite ready for game action. He could, however, be ready for San Diego by the middle of the 2014 season. He isn’t a future ace, but Kelly still has the big frame and, depending on his recovery, the stuff to become a tremendous mid-rotation arm for the Padres. The Friars have tremendous rotation depth, even after losing Cory Luebke to a second Tommy John surgery, as Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Josh Johnson, Eric Stults, Tyson Ross, Burch Smith, and Robbie Erlin are lined up as rotation members, with Matt Wisler and Keyvius Sampson ready at Triple-A. Kelly may have to leapfrog some other arms at this point, but he figures to have enough pedigree remaining to be on a radar, and, if nothing else, could be moved for a bat in a deal.

Brad Peacock, RHP, Houston Astros

Astros RHP Brad  Peacock

Astros RHP Brad Peacock

After being acquired in the Gio Gonzalez deal from the Washington Nationals prior to the 2012 season, Peacock opened his career in Oakland with their Triple-A affiliate, posting a horrific 6.01 ERA over 134.2 innings. He was quickly shipped packing to Houston when the A’s dealt for Jed Lowrie, and things quickly got back to normal for Peacock. He posted a dazzling 2.73 ERA and struck out nearly 8.7 per nine innings before earning a look in Houston. While the Astros were nearly as horrible as Peacock was in 2012 last season, Peacock did show some signs of usefulness. His 5.18 ERA doesn’t tell the whole story. After pitching in the minors from June 9 through August 3, Peacock was promoted and posted a 3.64 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP over nine starts with a 54:20 K:BB in 54.1 innings and a .216 BAA. The Astros are gaining a lot of momentum due to the number of solid prospects that they have within their system, but there doesn’t seem to be enough ready talent to boot Peacock from the 2014 rotation. His numbers may not look all that pretty in the wins column this season, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see a guy with more than a strikeout per inning and respectable peripherals for a very low price this season.

Wade Miley, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

Many people will be scared away from Miley due to his final numbers. The 3.55 ERA and 1.32 WHIP don’t seem like numbers that are all that favorable in fantasy circles, especially when you consider the 147 strikeouts in 202.2 innings. However, if you dig deeper, Miley was a monster over his final 22 starts, posting a much better 2.87 ERA to go with a 1.29 WHIP. While the WHIP isn’t all that sexy still, Miley had a tale of two seasons – posting a 5.01 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP in his first 11 starts. If you had him after his miserable start, he may have carried you to the playoffs. If you think that he isn’t as good as his second half numbers, you may be right – but he’s at least worth a look.

Brandon McCarthy, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

Shoulder woes cost McCarthy over two months of the 2013 season. Injuries are nothing new for the tall, lanky right-hander, but at some point, things will break right for him. Last season, even when healthy, nothing seemed to. McCarthy’s 2013 is hard to explain. He had a 4.53 ERA and 1.35 WHIP despite maintaining his low walk rate (1.40/9), maintaining his groundball rate (48.2 percent), and being about league average in HR/FB rate (10.3 percent). What seemed to get him in his first season in the desert was luck, as his BABIP soared to .320 and his career rate now stands at .289. Chase Field won’t be nearly as forgiving as Oakland Coliseum, but you’d be hard pressed to find a veteran who is more likely to rebound from a sad 2013 than McCarthy in 2014.

Bauer

Indians RHP Trevor Bauer

Trevor Bauer, RHP, Cleveland Indians

Mechanics can be messy, especially when you don’t listen to coaches because of your fondness for your own routine. Such is the disaster of Trevor Bauer since reaching the majors in late 2012 with Arizona. He seems to have allowed Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway to make a few adjustments, finally, after watching Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez thrive under the coach in 2013. The results to this point seem quite promising. Bauer has shown excellent velocity, touching 98 and sitting 93 to 96 with his fastball, though he has walked three in five spring innings. Command will continue to be the kryptonite of Bauer reaching his full potential, but he has time and the right pitching coach – if he just opens his mind to the philosophies.

Henderson Alvarez, RHP, Miami Marlins

Alvarez pitched a no-hitter on the last day of the season in 2012, but it was the Detroit Tigers celebrating on the field when they clinched their playoff spot in Miami. Alvarez missed a lot of time due to shoulder inflammation in 2013, but upon his return to the field, he was very effective for the lowly Marlins, posting a 3.59 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 102.2 innings and 17 starts. He doesn’t strike out a lot of batters (5.0/9) but he doesn’t allow many walks (2.37/9), home runs (HR/FB of 2.6 percent), or hits (.237 BAA), while keeping the ball down (53.5 percent groundball rate). He’ll be just 24 in 2014 and he is an impressive piece behind Jose Fernandez in the Marlins’ rotation. I’ve been a big fan of his since he came up with the Jays and was pounding a 98 mph sinking fastball in the bottom part of the zone, and while his fastball isn’t sitting there anymore, he’s still a potentially dominant arm.

Garrett Richards, RHP, Los Angeles Angels

Because Joe Blanton is not good, Mark Mulder got hurt, and the Angels have a weak farm system, Richards will settle behind C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver in the Angels rotation, likely in the No.3 spot, with Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs battling for their placement. Richards was actually pretty solid in his final 13 starts. In fact, if you remove his September 23 start against Oakland from the equation (4.2 IP, 7 ER, 8 H), he would have posted a 3.10 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP over those final starts. The WHIP may always be an issue, at least until Richards gets his fastball under control. It is an electric pitch, averaging 94.8 mph. If Richards can give the Angels some quality innings in 2014, they have enough offense to take control of the AL West again. He is a wild card due to his stuff, but his stuff could also lead to a spontaneous combustion of epic proportions.

Gavin Floyd, RHP, Atlanta Braves

Floyd missed all but five starts of the 2013 season after having Tommy John surgery in May. Like Kelly, he won’t be ready for the start of the 2014 season, but Floyd could be a nice, low-cost, luxury item for Atlanta. With Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, and Alex Wood in control of rotation spots, Floyd could be a long reliever or a swing man, while potentially filling a rotation spot if ineffectiveness or an injury occur. While Floyd hasn’t ever been a truly elite starting pitcher, he has been good for roughly 30 starts and 180 innings throughout his career, and at just a $4 million investment, he was a a worthy gamble for the Braves. If you can stash Floyd on a DL list, he may be worth the hold, especially if you’ve ever seen the violent nature of Alex Wood‘s delivery!

"Mariners

Erasmo Ramirez, RHP, Seattle Mariners

Ramirez has been the darling of dreamers for a couple of seasons now, as those looking for a good young arm to add to the spaciousness of Safeco Field have long drooled over his potential. Unfortunately, Ramirez hasn’t thrived when given a role by the Mariners, having posted a 4.98 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 72.1 innings in 2013, including a 57:26 K:BB. His 1.49 HR/9 in 2013 is astronomical for a Seattle pitcher, even after they moved the fences in, and it’s fair to wonder if he still needs additional minor league seasoning. However, the Mariners may be forced into giving him a rotation spot at the start of the 2014 season due to injuries to Hishashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker, leaving just Ramirez, James Paxton, Scott Baker, and Brandon Maurer behind Felix Hernandez. There is still enough potential here to take a gamble, but, even at just 24, this could prove to be a make or break year for Ramirez.

When Arguing By History Goes Horribly Wrong

Angels 1B: Albert Pujols

Angels 1B: Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols should be a first ballot Hall of Famer, even if you only consider his time with the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols posted an 83 WAR (FanGraphs) from 2001 to 2011 in the “Gateway to the West”, winning three MVP awards and earning nine All-Star appearances in those 11 seasons. He parlayed that success into a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels prior to the 2012 season.

Since joining the Angels, the Pujols that you grew to love (or hate) has played in just 253 games, compiling a .275/.338/.485 triple-slash with 47 home runs and 169 RBI, while amassing a 4.4 WAR over the last two seasons. “Prince Albert” certainly hasn’t lived up to expectations, but the partial tear of his left plantar fascia played a major role in his sudden decline in 2013, as his 30 home runs and 105 RBI in 2012 can’t truly be considered a failure – unless your own expectations could have been judged in the same way.

Bob Nightengale posted a piece at USA Today which detailed a response that Pujols had to an interesting question:

Are you motivated to put up the same numbers as Mike Trout?

Pujols’ response was intriguing, to say the least:

“Can you imagine someone saying that to me? I felt like saying, ‘Come on, are you serious? Are you really asking me that? Check out my numbers. I know what Mike Trout has done in his first two years is pretty special, but will you look at my numbers. I’ve been doing this for almost 14 years. The only guy in baseball who can match the numbers I’ve put up is Barry Bonds, and someone is actually asking if I can put up numbers like Mike Trout? Are you freaking kidding me?”

We do seem to forget greatness rather quickly in our society, which lives in the now thanks in large part to social media and a non-existent attention span; however, does Pujols have a point?

pujols1You could argue that what Pujols has done – nearly 500 home runs and a little over 2,300 hits – will reach numbers that guarantee a legacy and enshrinement into Cooperstown. If he continues to stay clean, which has been an argument from some in the past, that seems to be a lock, but, as we all know, one wrong move, one wrong vitamin, and one wrong trust in a trainer could leave Pujols waiting on steps of the museum with Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, and others.

Let’s just say that Pujols remains the clean producer that he has been. Pujols will still be considered a monster, likely the second player with 3,000 hits and 600 home runs in Major League history (joining Willie Mays). Does he need to prove anything to anyone, considering that he could post 100 hits and 15 home runs per season over the next seven years to reach those milestones? He certainly wouldn’t be worth his average annual value with that type of production, but given the Angels’ television revenue and the gate revenue that comes along with the milestone chase, perhaps the Halos could still break even.

Here is a bigger question: Is it fair for a member of the media to ask if Pujols can put up numbers that Mike Trout has the last two seasons?

No. Pujols never has posted those numbers and he certainly won’t as he continues to age and decline.

Angels OF Mike Trout

Angels OF Mike Trout

You see, for all of his greatness, Pujols will forever lose value in the battle of statistics. With Wins Above Replacement being such a dynamic measuring tool in player values, Albert Pujols has to understand that he has NEVER been as valuable in a single season as Mike Trout has been in his first two full season. Mike Trout has accumulated a massive 20.4 WAR (FanGraphs) in those two seasons, establishing himself as the top player in the game, even though he has not managed to snag the last two American League MVP awards from Detroit Tigers’ first baseman Miguel Cabrera.

For all of the 14 years of production that Pujols can stand on, for the nine All-Star games, for the three MVP awards – baseball has moved on from legacies and histories to projection. By developing statistics that measure player values currently and in the future, like Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS system, there is information available to teams and fans to dissect and look towards the future with, while hoping that their teams utilize the seemingly endless media revenue streams to lock-up their young stars, like Trout, to long-term deals. Albert Pujols has very little projection left and it seems unlikely that in today’s market, just two years removed, that Pujols would have received the type of contract that he did in Los Angeles.

As for the history that comes with Albert Pujols, he isn’t the player that the Angels are building their franchise around any longer. Although Mike Trout isn’t under team control as long as Pujols, the franchise is aware of the future success of the club, and it lies in the all-around skills and dominance that comes along with the generational talent that they drafted and developed, not the man that they committed a quarter of a billion dollars to in free agency.

If Mike Trout continues to be Mike Trout and he isn’t crippled by injuries like Grady Sizemore or Tony Conigliaro, Pujols will look back at this question and statement to remember that he was the one that could have used a serving of humble pie. Trout’s overall numbers may not reach the 700 home run plateau, but his WAR value could lead him to becoming the greatest player ever.

Pujols has never had a season as valuable as the last two that Trout has managed to post. If he thinks that he is the more valuable player of the two still today, he has to be kidding all of us, right?

How the Toronto Blue Jays Can Fix 2014

Jays RHP R.A. Dickey

Jays RHP R.A. Dickey

After acquiring R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and Melky Cabrera through trades and free agency prior to the 2013 season, it would have been easy to assume that the Toronto Blue Jays would become contenders in the American League East – immediately. With Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion already on board offensively, the Jays possessed a dynamic offense, and the added pieces to the rotation and the top of the order seemed like enough to help Toronto find their way back to the early-1990′s glory days.

Instead, the Jays went 74-88, 23 games back of the Boston Red Sox, battling Justin Bieber for the title of Biggest Canadian Train-wreck of 2013.

Johnson is now in San Diego and the Jays look to be struggling to develop a solid rotation around Dickey and Buehrle, as Brandon Morrow, who has battled numerous injuries and ailments over the last couple of seasons, Esmil Rogers, J.A. Happ, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, and Todd Redmond will battle to fill out the remainder of the Jays rotation in 2014. For that reason, the Jays will likely need to win games by outscoring the opposition.

How can the Jays fix their already present issues?

Jays 2B (?) Brett Lawrie

Jays 2B (?) Brett Lawrie

First, the club needs to move Brett Lawrie back to second base. Ryan Goins, Brent Morel, and Maicer Izturis are currently listed on the club’s depth chart for second, and Lawrie would obviously be a huge offensive upgrade. Lawrie played 249 games at second in the minors and did a nice job fielding the position. If he were to stay healthy and live up to his lofty expectations, he would produce at an All-Star level offensively, likely becoming a fantasy darling and very valuable within the sabermetric community due to his ability to run – and his athletic ability should allow him to thrive as an up-the-middle player, once again.

Obviously, third base would then be open if the Jays moved Lawrie back to second. Edwin Encarnacion played the position horrendously in Cincinnati, but Toronto could move Jose Bautista back to third. Bautista has played all of 21.1 innings at third since 2011 and he posted negative value at the position in his career, but with such low expectations from the current options at second base, Bautista’s negative influence at third could still be smaller than what the Jays will likely receive from Goins, Morel, and/or Izturis.

Jays OF Moises Sierra

Jays OF Moises Sierra

To be honest, one of the major reasons that this move makes sense is because of the outfield options that the Blue Jays have. Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra could provide value to the club if either player was given a full-time opportunity, and both warrant a longer look than what they will likely be given due to the current lineup alignment.

Jays OF Anthony Gose

Jays OF Anthony Gose

Gose is just 23 and has two years of experience at the major league level, as he has 342 plate appearances in Toronto. Gose has over 900 plate appearances at Triple-A, though, and while he has a lot of swing and miss in his game, he seems to have a lot of similarities to Michael Bourn with a lesser hit tool. Tremendous speed and defensive skills will be his calling card, but he does have some power, as well. Giving him a bigger role in 2014 will allow the Jays to have a better idea of options on-hand for the 2015 offseason, as center field will be very weak and the club could lose Colby Rasmus on the open-market.

Sierra, 25, has shown some power at the major league level, posting an .827 OPS (126 OPS+) in 35 games in 2013, including 14 walks in 122 plate appearances after walking all of 17 times in 422 minor league plate appearances last season. The power seems legit, though, as Sierra ripped 46 home runs in 1,395 minor league plate appearances since the start of 2011. He profiles nicely as a corner outfielder, and, while he doesn’t have elite speed, he seems to understand how to utilize the skills that he does possess (77 stolen bases in his minor league career). Maybe he was just bored in the minors and it led to his horrific approach?

Of course, maybe the offense wouldn’t have to be manipulated in any way to improve the team’s chances if the Blue Jays signed another starting pitcher or two. Considering that the Jays’ 9th overall and 11th overall picks in the 2014 MLB Draft are both protected, why weren’t they more aggressive in the top-flight pitcher market? They would, essentially, be giving up a second round pick for a player who is tied to compensation, and their win-now approach, evident from their trades last offseason, warrants that type of investment.

Free Agent RHP Ervin Santana

Free Agent RHP Ervin Santana

It wouldn’t be too surprising for the Jays to settle on a one-year deal with Ervin Santana, just to show some kind of effort this offseason. A better option, however, would likely be Cuban right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne, whose unfamiliarity with the league would at least allow for early success – if he were dropped immediately into the rotation. Other options at this point are not good – Joe Saunders, Barry Zito, Clayton Richard, Jeff Niemann, Jason Marquis, Jeff Karstens, Jair Jurrjens, Johan Santana, and Jon Garland are all that remain of major league free agent starters, while Brett Myers “could” be tried in that role once again after failing horrifically due to injuries with the Cleveland Indians in 2013.

Outside of changing the team’s offensive alignment or signing a free agent starter, the Blue Jays appear to be heading towards another last place finish in the AL East. The Yankees and Orioles made some interesting additions, the Rays re-upped with James Loney and have their core intact, and the Red Sox are only the defending champions. After mortgaging the clubs future (Noah Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud, Justin Nicolino, Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Jake Marisnick) to make a run in 2013, the quiet offseason should be disappointing to fans. After altering the competitive window, the club is now just out there in the land of mediocrity – not strong enough to truly contend and not bad enough to win the Carlos Rodon sweepstakes in 2014, and whoever the top player in 2015 will be sweepstakes, as well.

Marcus Stroman is nearly ready for the rotation, but the Aaron Sanchez‘s and Roberto Osuna‘s are too far away for the Jays to count on in 2014. After dealing so many of their near-ready prospects last year, the only way to salvage the season is to give Moises Sierra and Anthony Gose a larger role, while increasing the team’s ability to outscore their opposition.

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