Seven more teams will begin their hunt for glory on Thursday. Pitchers and catchers for the Braves and Tigers, both of whom made the postseason a year ago, will report to camp in the Grapefruit League. The Orioles and Nationals will join them in Florida, while the Cubs, Angels and Padres will get to work across the country in the Cactus League.
The Dodgers, whose pitchers and catchers reported on Feb. 8, will have their position players arrive in Arizona on Thursday.
Atlanta locked in a couple of its young stars and is in good shape to compete again in 2014, having lost only Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm from the rotation and Brian McCann from the starting lineup. The Braves' dominant bullpen remains intact and Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood, both of whom performed well in limited action a year ago, are ready to step into the rotation. Evan Gattis received significant playing time as a rookie last season and is slated to step in for McCann, plus the team has compiled good depth behind Gattis in case of injury or inconsistency. Any improvement from B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla, both of whom hit under .200 last year, will only help what looks like an already solid young team.
Baltimore remained in the race until the final week of the 2013 season but ultimately topped out at 85 wins and missed the playoffs after advancing to the ALDS in 2012. The Orioles enjoyed a breakout season from Chris Davis and got great power production from Adam Jones, but injuries and instability in the starting rotation proved to be too much for the team to overcome. The Orioles haven't done much to address those problems; they still lack an ace, missed out on Bronson Arroyo and don't appear to be able to land A.J. Burnett. Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana are still out there, and the Orioles might be the team with the biggest need to land one of them. If they don't, further regression is likely in the cards unless young, unproven prospects Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy make the rotation and step up in a big way.
Detroit enters spring training with one less power bat than it had on its 2013 ALCS squad after trading Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Ian Kinsler, but the move allowed the team to replace departed free agent Omar Infante and cleared room for third base prospect Nick Castellanos. The team also traded away a proven starter in Doug Fister but will should now have the financial flexibility to retain the rest of its core. Whether or not that core will prove good enough to bring a championship to the Motor City remains to be seen, but having a rotation that includes the likes of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez is a good start.
After leading the league with 98 victories in 2012, the Nationals finished 10 games out of first place in 2013 and consequently missed the postseason. Washington put together a pretty good offensive club last season, as all but two starters finished with an OPS+ of better than 100, but a poor bench coupled with an uneven performance from the rotation hurt the team. Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez proved to be a solid 1-2 punch atop the rotation, but Stephen Strasburg took a step back and Dan Haren scuffled throughout the year. The Nats added Doug Fister to the mix, retained the key pieces from what was a solid bullpen and will return every starting position player from a year ago. With good health, Washington appears to be in a good position to return to the postseason.
The Cubs are the first team on this list that isn't considered a legitimate playoff contender heading into 2014. Not much has been made in the way of improvement, especially offensively, from a squad that lost 96 games a year ago, but some help is on the way. Jorge Soler, who was added to the 40-man roster during the offseason, is a potential impact bat. The No. 2 overall pick of the 2013 draft, Kris Bryant, tore up the minors in limited time last year and followed that by earning Arizona Fall League MVP honors. Though just a non-roster invitee to camp this year, he appears to be on the fast track to the majors, and the Cubs could certainly use him.
The Halos have spent a lot of money over the last two offseasons and have nothing to show for it. Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson haven't lived up to expectations, but the ability of that trio -- plus, of course, the presence of Mike Trout, who is probably the game's best player -- is too much to ignore. In addition, the Angels made steps toward shoring up their rotation by adding Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, while non-roster invite Mark Mulder represents a big wildcard if he can find his pre-retirement form. To inject a further spark into their offense, the Angels brought in ageless wonder Raul Ibanez and postseason hero David Freese, two players who complement an already solid existing core of position players. The team just cannot afford another step back from its veteran stars.
The Dodgers enter the season with huge expectations after using a historic midseason run to sprint away with the NL West title a year ago. PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus' projection system, predicts 98 wins for Los Angeles. On paper, it's hard to disagree with that assessment. The team boasts a pair of elite aces in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke and has stars like Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez all over the diamond. Second base poses a little bit of an issue after the departure of Mark Ellis, but as the Dodgers have shown over the last couple of seasons, there's no problem that money can't solve.
The Friars are widely considered a darkhorse candidate to earn a playoff spot out of the NL West largely due to the presence of a rotation that fits its home park and the accumulation of plus major-league depth. Josh Johnson joins a sneaky good rotation that is headed by fireballer Andrew Cashner and 2013 midseason acquisition Ian Kennedy. Johnson can provide a huge boost if he stays healthy, while a full season in the rotation from Tyson Ross, who struck out 97 batters in 96 innings while posting a 3.06 ERA as a starter last year, could have equal impact. Joaquin Benoit was brought on to stabilize the bullpen, which always seems to be a bright spot under Bud Black. If Jedd Gyorko and Will Venable can build on their breakout 2013 performances and Chase Headley returns to form following an injury-plagued season, this becomes an extremely intriguing squad.
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