1. SB Nation's2014 MLB Preview

  2. Introduction

    As baseball fans, we count the days until the pitchers and catchers report. The days until spring training officially begins. This year, we were lucky (in a sense) in that the Winter Olympics are able to bridge the gap between the Super Bowl and spring training proper. I mean, the biathlon is kind of like baseball, right? If you squint. And put a ton of schnapps in your cocoa.

    Better than spring training (and for 93.3 percent of baseball teams' fanbases, better than the World Series) is that first month of the regular season. First, there's the endless griping of us and our ilk that hey, ESPN jerkfaces, baseball is back! Isn't that more important than NFL Combine news and NFL free agency news and NFL preseason news? (And the joke is on us, of course. Baseball is not more important to television viewers and -- more importantly -- television advertisers than the single most popular thing in America; plus, what the hell are we doing still watching ESPN in the year 2014? As baseball fans, we should have learned better by now.)

    Between those complaints that you wish you didn't feel in your baseball lizard brain and the long stretch of summer when baseball is the ONLY sport happening and you really wish your football and basketball and hockey and college football and college basketball-fan friends wouldn't complain QUITE so loud (and maybe if they could appreciate your FanGraphs links you keep sending them and maybe if they could roll their eyes a bit less loudly when you talk about Wil Myers) ... between those two points, there is something every last baseball fan can get well and truly jazzed about: that glorious first month of the season.

    It's the best month of the year. It's the month where all 30 teams are in it. Look at the standings from the first month of the last, I dunno, dozen seasons. Bonkers. There aren't many wire-to-wire winners these days, but those are boring, anyway. (Unless it's your team, of course. Then it's the BEST.) The first month of the season is for all of us. We gloriously-deluded fans. (And really, most baseball fans are deluded on some level. We've convinced ourselves that 162 three-hour games each year, plus the postseason, is a terrific idea.) (It totally is.) The Astros could reel off a 20-game win streak to start the season (but probably not). The Marlins could once again thumb their nose at everyone and their blow-up-the-team-in-favor-of-cheap-young-talent chutzpah could have them surging out of the gate, threatening to wrestle the NL East away from the Braves, Nationals, et al in the garish confines of their park you could have sworn was a dome because you only ever watched nighttime games before.

    The point is, as much as you're not looking forward to the slew of columns with original headlines like "Are the Royals for real?" or "Are the Cubs for real?" or "Are the Mariners for real?" or "I Thought The Angels Weren't For Real. You'll Never Believe What Happened Next," that first, glorious, bonkers month of the season is when everyone falls back in love with baseball again. For good reason. Everything will be happening. Players you've never heard of will put up monstrous numbers. Teams you never suspected will play above their level and leave you grinning. And oh, there will be GIFs.

    Before your team lets you down, before the June swoon, before you've had your heart broken and crushed into tiny pieces, before Roger Angell pops up in the postseason to capture the endlessly elegant poetry of our beautiful, pastoral game in a few lovely paragraphs, there will be that perfect first month. No matter which team (against your better judgment) completely owns your heart, you will be able to dream. But that's okay. We'll all be doing it.

    Not all of your favorite baseball memories happened in October, you know. Here's to April. Let's hope it lasts forever.

  3. AL East

    Champion: Tampa Bay Rays

    We, and by “we” we mean “everyone” annually call this the toughest division in baseball. That used to be mainly because the high-spending Red Sox and Yankees were in it. Despite their presence, it wasn’t always worthy of that designation, not with the Rays post-expansion pushovers, the Orioles rapidly losing competence, and the Blue Jays stuck in the same rut they first entered after their 1993 championship (Toronto’s 20-plus years of not good, not bad, just mediocre, is one of the greatest feats of defying gravity in the history of baseball). Now, with the Orioles trying again, the Rays one of the best-run organizations in the game, and the Yankees spending the gross national product of Luxembourg to keep up with the Red Sox, the AL East truly deserves its designation. No one makes it out of here alive, no matter how many greenback dollars you throw to the wind.


    1 - Tampa Bay Rays

    2 - Boston Red Sox

    3 - Baltimore Orioles

    4 - New York Yankees

    5 - Toronto Blue Jays

  4. Tampa Bay Rays

    The Rays lost in the American League Divisional Series to the rival Red Sox last October, but they come into 2014 with the likes of Chris Archer, Wil Myers, and Alex Cobb sporting another year of experience. They also still have former Cy Young winner David Price around after finding no worthwhile takers this off-season, meaning their rotation is still one of the American League's best. The lineup continues to be underrated due to platoons and Tropicana Field, but Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce, and Myers form a productive middle of the order that will have Tampa Bay in the playoff hunt once again. -- Marc Normandin

    • Owner Stuart Sternberg
    • General Manager Andrew Friedman
    • Manager Joe Maddon
    • Key Additions C Ryan Hanigan, U Logan Forsythe, OF David DeJesus (for the whole year), RHP Grant Balfour, RHP Heath Bell, RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo, RHP Brad Boxburger. That’s a few good role-players and a few high-upside but high-variance relievers.
    • Key Departures RHP Fernando Rodney, LHP Alex Torres, C Jose Lobaton, U Kelly Johnson, RHP Roberto Hernandez, OF Sam Fuld. A few good roll-players, a few high-upside but high-variance relievers, and an interesting fifth starter. Funny how that works.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Ryan Hanigan, 1B James Loney, 2B Ben Zobrist, 3B Evan Longoria, SS Yunel Escobar, LF David DeJesus, CF Desmond Jennings, RF Wil Myers, DH Matt Joyce
    • Rotation David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi

    Why the Rays will win the Pennant

    So this is what the Rays being “all-in” looks like -- or does it? Since they arrived in Tampa Bay, Stuart Sternberg, Andrew Friedman, and the non-devil Rays executives have always carried two goals through each offseason: make the Rays better for the upcoming year and also make them better in the seasons after that. As such, while it’s tempting to look at this Rays team, which may turn out to be the best of the Andrew Friedman era, and say that they’ve gone “all in” for the 2014 season, it’s not that simple.

    Read full breakdown at Drays Bay →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Evan Longoria

    When a team has a legitimate league MVP candidate there’s no reason to get cute with this. The only thing that could keep Evan Longoria from being the Rays’ MVP would be a truly amazing breakout from Wil Myers or an injury. When healthy, Longoria is perhaps the best defensive third baseman in baseball; on offense, he’s a classic slugger. The ball carries off Longoria’s bat like off few others’ in the game. One of these years, it will all come together for Evan Longoria, and he’ll be the unquestioned top player in baseball, rather than simply one of the top five.

    Team Cy Young

    David Price

    Yes, his velocity was down last year (but he still might have the best fastball in baseball); yes, he spent time on the disabled list; and yes, his strikeout rate was down from his Cy Young 2012. But when he returned from the DL, his control was Cliff Lee-esque. Not only did he walk no one, he almost never found his way to a three-ball count, either. I’d be lying if I said I could predict what type of pitcher David Price will be in 2014, but there’s so much talent there, chances are he’ll be very good.

    Top Rookie

    Jake Odorizzi

    Rays fans are used to staring longingly at the Triple-A Durham roster, waiting for the next impact rookie to be promoted. This year there is no such player waiting in the wings. The closest, Odorizzi, doesn’t impress with any one pitch, although his low-90s fastball is better, due to its strong vertical rise, than its velocity would indicate. Odor has good command of all four of his offerings and nothing left to prove in the minors. The 2014 season may well be an early preview of 2015, when he may be trying to fill David Price’s shoes.


    Alex Cobb

    It’s hard to call a pitcher coming off a season where he recorded a 2.76 ERA a sleeper; Cobb won’t be better in 2014, but he also won’t take a line drive off his skull and miss part of the season with a concussion. Cobb doesn’t wow with his velocity, but he’s not a finesse pitcher. He pounds the zone with three plus pitches: a low-90s sinker; a big 80 mph curve; and his signature pitch, a changeup that has serious vertical splitter movement. All induce grounders, and his split-change misses bats as well as any pitch in the league.

    Key Stat

    Joe Maddon has used more pinch-hitters than any other manager in the American League for six years running, resulting in 922 pinch-hit plate appearances, 278 then the next most sub-happy team, the Joe Girardi Yankees. Pinch-hitting is a difficult thing to do well, and results are often meager; Rays pinch-hitters have hit only .209/.310/.340 in that span. Those rates actually stand fifth in the league for the period, and mask some strong performances, such as 2011, when they got a terrific .382 on-base percentage from their replacement swingers, or 2010, when their pinch-hitters averaged .245/.343/.422. With the Rays planning to platoon at left field and designated hitter this year, expect Maddon to continue to chase the platoon advantage whenever possible.


    Subjects for further review

    James Loney, 1B

    Another top defender, but one stationed at a premium offensive position, Loney does just enough with the bat to keep his exceptional glove on the field. Last season, Loney posted his best BABIP and isolated power of the last five years. The former means he’s an obvious candidate for regression, but if he can prove that his minor power resurgence isn’t a fluke, he can remain a useful player. The Rays gave him a relatively pricey three-year contract, so they’re betting on him.

    Ben Zobrist, 2B

    If anyone can’t figure out why the Rays kept winning, you can be pretty certain that bemused observer doesn’t realize just how good Zobrist is. Acquired as a slap-hitting shortstop with great command of the strike zone, Zobrist was sent back to Durham where he figured out that it was okay to swing hard. He returned in late 2008 as Zorilla, and hasn’t looked back since. Able to play great defense anywhere the team needs him, Zorilla had his worst offensive year since 2010 and was still worth over five wins above replacement in 2013, That’s all-star level production.

    Desmond Jennings, CF

    As with Rays center-fielders past, it’s easy to look at Desmond Jennings and see unrealized potential. That would be a shame, since he’s really very good right now. He was the seventh-best offensive center fielder last year (via WAR). In his first full season in center field, Jennings rated a bit below average, according to Ultimate Zone Rating. Some of that is due to his subpar arm, but the speed and the range are there, so enjoy the bat for what it is, and expect the defense to improve.

    Matt Moore, LHP

    Matt Moore’s command and control took a step back in 2012, got worse in 2013 while he struggled with elbow inflammation, and his fastball lost two mph of average velocity. The movement on his fastball is still elite, his changeup and curve are both plus pitches, and he’ll only be 25 in 2014, so it’s reasonable to stay hopeful about Moore. It’s also reasonable to worry, as the Rays have him signed through 2016, with team options through 2019.

    Fantasy Corner: Rays Top Five Fantasy Players

    Evan Longoria, 3B: Longoria is either the third- or fourth-best fantasy third baseman, capable of hitting 35 home runs if he can maintain his 45 percent fly ball rate.

    David Price, LHP: One of the top pitchers in the game, he was still very good in a “down” year. One area of concern is the drop in his strikeouts per nine innings to 7.3 last season.

    Alex Cobb, RHP: Cobb pitched to a near ace level last season, winning 11 of 22 starts with a sub-3.00 ERA due to an excellent 8.4 strikeouts per nine and a 56 percent ground-ball rate.

    Ben Zobrist, INF/OF: Zobrist saw his power drop once again last season, but he still managed to hit .275 with a .350-plus on base percentage.

    Wil Myers, OF: Myers had the potential to hit 30 home runs and drive in 90 runs this season.

    Best Case

    Alex Cobb and Chris Archer will take steps forward to become rotation mainstays like the arms they replaced, and Matt Moore will pitch well enough to make dealing David Price that much easier next winter. James Loney's resurgence in 2013 won't be a fluke, Grant Balfour will stay healthy and anchor another high-quality Rays' bullpen, and the Rays will see October baseball for the fifth time in seven years thanks to the same approach to team-building that's worked so well for them since 2008.

    Worst Case

    The young arms won't take things to the next level, foreshadowing how difficult life without Price will be, and the likes of James Loney and Ryan Hanigan drag the lineup down just enough to be a problem in the ever-competitive AL East.

  5. Boston Red Sox

    When faced with the choice of keeping the 2013 World Series-winning roster together, general manager Ben Cherington instead furthered the club's long-term goals by bringing in short-term additions like Edward Mujica, Burke Badenhop, A.J. Pierzynski, and Grady Sizemore: Once more, the present looks promising, but not at the expense of the future. Whether that tactic works again in the crowded AL playoff picture remains to be seen, since so much of it relies on the development of their prospects. -- Marc Normandin

    • Owner John Henry
    • General Manager Ben Cherington
    • Manager John "Not Bobby Valentine" Farrell
    • Key Additions SS Xander Bogaerts, OF Jackie Bradley Jr., OF Grady Sizemore, A.J. Pierzynski, RHP Edward Mujica. Two highly-touted rookies set for their first full year, and an extra punch to a bullpen that probably didn't need it to begin with.
    • Key Departures OF Jacoby Ellsbury, SS Stephen Drew, RHP Ryan Dempster, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The loss of Dempster doesn't sting, and the arrival of the aforementioned prospects should lessen the sting of Drew and Ellsbury's departures.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C A.J. Pierzynski, 1B Mike Napoli, 2B Dustin Pedroia, 3B Will Middlebrooks, SS Xander Bogaerts, LF Daniel Nava/Jonny Gomes (platoon), CF Grady Sizemore, RF Shane Victorino, DH David Ortiz
    • Rotation Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront

    Why the Red Sox will win the Pennant

    Last spring the Red Sox needed to convince the baseball world they were contenders. One World Series championship later, that won't be nearly so difficult to do in 2014. It's true that these are not the same Red Sox that defeated the Cardinals in six games, not entirely, at least. Jacoby Ellsbury now wears pinstripes and Stephen Drew exists in qualifying offer limbo. But all the other most important pieces are still in place, and the Sox have one of the strongest farm systems in the game conveniently ready to fill both holes.

    Read full breakdown at Over the Monster →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Dustin Pedroia

    No, he doesn't swing the bat like David Ortiz, but with his still-solid contributions at the plate, his superlative glove, and unofficial captaincy, he stands out on a team full of good players. When it comes to injuries, iIt's not a question of if he'll play or if he'll be good. He was good in both 2012 and 2013 despite playing through thumb injuries in both years (every single game of 2013, in fact). No, the question is whether he'll be able stay healthy enough that he gets back to performing like the league MVP he was in 2008.

    Team Cy Young

    Jon Lester

    How do you make a fanbase forget a terrible 2012 and a lengthy midseason slump? A lockdown postseason doesn't hurt. Facing the Rays, Tigers, and Cardinals, Lester turned in 35 innings of six-run ball, helping the Red Sox to better than a third of their playoff wins. The aforementioned slump, coming after a dominant start to 2013, is likely enough to keep Red Sox fans wary of another sudden disappearance from Lester. Until that happens, he's earned his place atop the rotation.

    Top Rookie

    Xander Bogaerts

    No surprises here. The shortstop that was promised arrived last year. Now he'll get the chance to show what he can do over the course of an entire season. The expectations are high -- Bogaerts has been Boston's best prospect for at least two years now, and arguably longer --but for good reason. A tremendous offensive talent, Bogaerts is the rare player who can fit in both the middle of the infield and the lineup. He might not be an All-Star in year one, but he's one exciting young player.


    Will Middlebrooks

    Man, 2013 was ugly, the kind of ugly that makes fans want to give up on a player. Yet, as bad as it was, it has to be taken in context of Middlebrooks’ late-2012 wrist injury. He’d hardly be the first player to need more than a year to recover -- see David Ortiz's 2009 performance to see proof of that. Having arrived at camp with a bunch of new muscle, Middlebrooks will need to show he did more than pump up, but there's no Boston player with a greater disparity between expectations and potential contribution.

    Key Stat

    In 2013, Red Sox hitters were first in the majors with 25,667 pitches seen, eclipsing the second-highest mark by more than 600 pitches. This total, fueled by a very high rate of pitches per plate appearance (4.01), made the 2013 lineup reminiscent of the meat-grinder lineups of the middle '00s. Boston will look to wear down opposing pitching staffs again in 2014, despite the addition of the free-swinging A.J. Pierzynski (3.27 P/PA in 2013).


    Subjects for further review

    A.J. Pierzynski, C

    Pierzynski is what he is: A placeholder for Boston's up-and-coming catching prospects in Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart. He’s a decent enough player, but the real question is how the controversial backstop will fit in the tremendously positive environment he's being brought into. Ultimately, a successful season for Pierzynski will be one where he goes largely unnoticed.

    Mike Napoli, 1B

    He came up with big contributions in September and October, but we have to remember the months of strikeouts that came first. Napoli can crush the ball when he connects, but there's the possibility that 2014 is that year where his contact issues take him over the edge. If it's not, though, Napoli's big postseason will hopefully make fans more patient during the quiet stretches so that there's no regret when the shirtless antics eventually arrive.

    Shane Victorino, OF

    Entering 2013 as one of the offseason's most derided signings, Victorino proved he was still capable of playing the game at a very high level. Though he missed some time to injury, it's almost a miracle that he played as often as he did given the way he threw himself all over the field (and the number of plunkings he endured at the plate). He's had consistency issues in past years, so there are no guarantees for the 33-year-old outfielder, but he's certainly got the benefit of the doubt now.

    Clay Buchholz, P

    The question for Buchholz is simple enough: can he stay healthy? After back surgery sidelined him in 2011 and slowed him in the first half of 2012, a lingering neck injury did him in for much of 2013. The Sox have the depth to withstand another injury saga, but they're a much better team when he's making every fifth start.

    Fantasy Corner: Red Sox Top Five Fantasy Players

    Dustin Pedroia, 2B: I have him ranked as my third ranked second baseman for 2014 though last season marked the first time since 2007 that he did not reach double digits in the home run category. Rebound from his thumb injury is key.

    David Ortiz, DH: His 30 HRs tied for 11th and his 103 RBI tied for 10th in in the majors, so even at the age of 38, Ortiz can still put up solid fantasy numbers for his owners.

    Shane Victorino, OF: This season marked the sixth time in the last seven seasons that Victorino stole 20 or more bases and the seventh straight season where he reached double digits in home runs. Vic turns 33 at the end of the month, so one has to wonder how long he can continue the stolen-base streak.

    Jon Lester, LHP: Lester's strikeout rate has dropped in three of the last four seasons, and his ground-ball rate has dropped in each of the last three seasons, so there are a few things to watch come draft day 2014.

    Xander Bogaerts, SS: My preseason favorite for AL Rookie of the Year; he showed us in the postseason he is more than ready to excel at the big league level. He could be a top-five fantasy shortstop at this time next year.

    Best Case

    Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. flawlessly replace Stephen Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury, respectively – failing Bradley, a healthy, productive season from Grady Sizemore would work – while the rotation and its impressive, youthful depth lead to October ball once more.

    Worst Case

    We all end up reading a whole lot of columns about how the Red Sox should have spent all the money and years on True Yankee Jacoby Ellsbury.

  6. Baltimore Orioles

    They had to wait out the rest of the market to do it, but the Orioles plugged holes by adding Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz through free agency, signifying that their plan is to compete in the American League East once again. Whether they have enough to go up against the powerful Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, and the rest of the AL in a wild card race is an open question, but one that can be answered quickly if the likes of Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters can return to the forms of their better years. -- Marc Normandin

    • Owner Peter Angelos
    • General Manager Dan Duquette
    • Manager Buck Showalter
    • Key Additions Suk-min Yoon, RHP Ryan Webb, OF David Lough, DH Delmon Young, Grant Balfour oops, 2B Jemile Weeks, RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, OF Nelson Cruz. The late signings of Jimenez and Cruz helped save an otherwise abysmal offseason.
    • Key Departures RHP Jim Johnson, OF Nate McLouth, RHP Scott Feldman, 2B Brian Roberts. Feldman could prove to be the biggest loss for the pitching-starved Orioles, but seeing Roberts in pinstripes will cause heartburn across Birdland.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Matt Wieters, 1B Chris Davis, 2B Jemile Weeks, 3B Ryan Flaherty (Manny Machado on DL), SS J.J. Hardy, LF David Lough, CF Adam Jones, RF Nick Markakis, DH Nelson Cruz
    • Rotation Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez

    Why the Orioles will win the Pennant

    The Baltimore Orioles could win the World Series this year. They probably won't win, but that's not what's important. Until a couple of years ago, even in the wildest dreams of Orioles fans, there was no way to envision that kind of triumph. The 2012 season changed everything. All things are now possible. Sometimes it seems like Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette was so fond of the 2012 Orioles that he just wants to try again to win with them. Maybe the third time would be the charm. Then, after lying dormant until after spring training began. Since then, the team surprised by adding free agent starter Ubaldo Jimenez as well as former Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz.

    Read full breakdown at Camden Chat →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Chris Davis

    It’s hard to argue with the improvements Davis has made since becoming an everyday player in Baltimore. As impressive as his power has been, his improvement in strike-zone recognition has been just as important. In 2011, Davis swung at pitches outside the strike zone 45.6 percent of the time. That number went down to 39.5 percent in 2012 and 35.7 percent in 2013. As that number went down, his walks went up. Davis has always had great contact rate inside the strike zone, and once he stopped swinging at pitches outside of it, opposing pitchers were really in trouble.

    Team Cy Young

    Chris Tillman

    Tillman has spent part of five seasons pitching for the Orioles, but he only put it all together in the second half of 2012. He’s been the best starter on the team since, but it’s not like he has that much competition. A fly-ball pitcher who struggles with home runs, as long as Tillman keeps his walk rate down and his strikeout rate up, he will find success. Over the last two seasons Tillman has pitched to a 3.48 ERA in the American League East, and given that he’s only 26 this year, the best could be yet to come.

    Top Rookie

    Kevin Gausman

    Gausman’s major league debut wasn’t anything to write home about, but there was no questioning his stuff. His fastball sits the high 90s and he has a plus changeup that averages about 85 mph. Keith Law ranked him the 23rd-best prospect in baseball this year, and he will battle for the fifth starter’s spot in spring training. Even if he doesn’t make the team, the safe bet is that by the end of this season he’ll be one of the better arms in the rotation, with the potential to be the best.


    Ryan Flaherty

    If you don’t follow the Orioles closely, chances are you barely know who Flaherty is. A former Rule 5 pick, Flaherty has somehow stayed on the roster for two seasons despite dismal offensive numbers. A defensively sound utility infielder, he’s shown flashes of promise at the plate. Last year it looked like he was just starting to get it together when Brian Roberts returned from the disabled list and took away his playing time. The O’s like him enough to have kept him on the roster this long, this could be the year he rewards their faith.

    Key Stat

    The Orioles' starting rotatation put up a 4.64 FIP in 2013, tied for worst in all of major league baseball. FIP or Fielding Independent Pitching is a stat that measures only the outcomes the pitcher can control, so this means the staff was, well, out of control, more reliant on defensive wizardry than their own wiles to retire hitters. That’s an act that’s hard to sustain from year to year, so even with the addition of Ubaldo Jimenez the team will need its carryover pitchers to improve in order to make another run at the playoffs.


    Subjects for further review

    Matt Wieters, C

    We’ve all accepted that Wieters will never be what we thought when he was drafted. But is it too much to ask for a league-average bat?

    Adam Jones, OF

    Jones is the face of the franchise, and 2014 will be more of the same. Flashy outfield catches, majestic home runs, and a frustrating lack of plate discipline.

    Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP

    The newest member of the Orioles comes with questions about his mechanics but a lot of upside. It's likely that as his season goes, so will go the Orioles.

    Wei-Yin Chen, LHP

    Chen has pitched two seasons with the Orioles with nearly identical results and it's safe bet 2014 will be more of the same. He's a reliable league-average starter, which is nothing to sneeze at.

    Fantasy Corner: Orioles Top Five Fantasy Players

    Adam Jones, OF: Jones is a top-10 pick in mixed drafts this year, and for good reason.

    Chris Davis, 1B: Davis shocked the fantasy community last season. Don't expect him to hit 50 home runs again, let alone 40 home runs, but he has as good a shot as any to reach that level in 2014.

    J.J. Hardy, SS: Hardy might be the most undervalued fantasy shortstop in the game; he doesn't hurt you with the batting average and has hit 20-plus home runs in each of the last three years, leading all shortstops in home runs and RBI in that period. Yet, some don't rank him in the top-10 for fantasy shortstops. Let that sink in.

    Matt Wieters, C: Wieters may never hit for a high batting average, but he will hit 20-plus home runs and drive in 65-75 runs every year. It's less than what was expected of him in the real world, but is valuable for a fantasy catcher.

    Manny Machado, 3B: Recovering from offseason knee surgery, but has the potential to be a middle of the order hitter someday. That day could be a few years away as Machado hasn't shown much power at the major league level just yet.

    Best Case

    Ubaldo Jimenez holds on to his midseason gains and pitches like the top-line starter the Orioles desperately need, top prospect Kevin Gausman grabs a rotation spot and never lets go, and both Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters recover their pre-2013 forms, giving the Orioles the production they need to return to the postseason.

    Worst Case

    Jimenez's mechanics slide once more. Wieters' and Markakis' disappointing 2013s represent their new level of performance. The Orioles once again fail to develop any pitching internally. Add it up, and you've got Baltimore fighting to stay out of last in the AL East despite apparent talent.

  7. New York Yankees

    Knowing their 85 wins from 2013 were a mirage, general manager Brian Cashman set Plan $189 million on fire and committed nearly half-a-billion dollars to Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Masahiro Tanaka, and the re-signing of Derek Jeter. All of a sudden, the Yankees lineup is full of promise, even without Alex Rodriguez, who will miss all of 2014 with a suspension thanks to his affiliation with the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic. The rotation has its questions, but like the lineup, the scales are tipped more towards success than disaster after this winter's spending. -- Marc Normandin

    • Owner Hal and Hank Steinbrenner; team president Randy Levine and COO Lonn Trost also play key roles.
    • General Manager Brian Cashman
    • Manager Joe Girardi
    • Key Additions RHP Masahiro Tanaka, OF Jacoby Ellsbury, OF Carlos Beltran, C Brian McCann. Missing the playoffs in 2013 was enough to make the Steinbrenners abandon the foolishness of a $189 million payroll in favor of hauling in some of the best free agents on the market.
    • Key Departures 2B Robinson Cano, RHP Mariano Rivera, LHP Andy Pettitte. Two retirements and a gigantic contract handed out by the Mariners have deprived the 2014 Yankees of some of last year’s most valuable assets.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira, 2B Brian Roberts, 3B Kelly Johnson, SS Derek Jeter, LF Brett Gardner, CF Jacoby Ellsbury, RF Carlos Beltran, DH Alfonso Soriano
    • Rotation CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda

    Why the Yankees will win the Pennant

    When Ben Lindbergh said (Baseball Prospectus, "Effectively Wild" podcast, November 4, 2013) that the Yankees would have to sign all the good players to become an exciting team in 2014, it is almost certain he didn't think the Yankees would actually do it, would spend quite as abundantly as they did during the 2013-14 offseason. No one could have guessed that the Yankees would suddenly commit about a half-billion dollars to their future over the next few months, completely dispensing with the long-rumored "Plan 189 from Outer Space," as it was occasionally referenced on Pinstripe Alley. Supposedly, the Yankees were going to try to stay under a $189 million payroll in order to avoid the luxury tax, but after a season of missing out on playoff revenue, upper management reconsidered its tactics.

    Read full breakdown at Pinstripe Alley →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Jacoby Ellsbury

    Someone will have to fill the void left by Cano’s departure. Ellsbury may be the answer despite bringing a much different game to the table. His speed makes him a dynamic player that can change the landscape of the game. There is the added silliness of Ellsbury being the latest in a line of players that have switched sides in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Ellsbury wll have to exceed expectations; if there is one way to have a fan base consider you one of their own, it's to give them no choice but to love you.

    Team Cy Young

    Masahiro Tanaka

    No one expects Tanaka to be an automatic ace, but he brings stability and talent to a rotation that had previously promised only Kuroda, Nova, and the shell of Sabathia. Expect Tanaka to be as solid as Kuroda was in the first half of 2013, though perhaps with an ERA over 3.00. He will eat a good amount of innings, strike out a lot of batters, and will walk very few. Basically, he's going to bring his typical game over to America -- exactly what you want from someone at the top of the rotation.

    Top Rookie

    Masahiro Tanaka

    The Yankees being an older team without a lot of talent on the brink of the majors, selecting Masahiro Tanaka as their top rookie performer in 2014 is a no-brainer. Signing Tanaka required a leap of faith on the part of the front office; there are also those who feel that he may never reach the benchmarks set by Yu Darvish. Yet, Tanaka was so dominant in Japan that even a partial repeat would easily get him easily into the Rookie of the Year discussion, an award no Yankee has won since Derek Jeter in 1996.


    Michael Pineda

    Bold prediction: This is the year that Pineda makes it back to the majors. We don't know what he's going to be like after shoulder surgery, but a very good spring has helped make the case that he hasn’t lost much. He has more upside than David Phelps or Adam Warren, and even if he doesn't make the roster right out of the gate could still be instrumental to the Yankees this season. Phelps and Nova have both dealt with arm injuries that could crop up again, and Kuroda is 38, so Pineda could easily find his way into the rotation.

    Key Stat

    The Yankees employed seven different shortstops in 2013, and the ragtag bunch hit a combined .228/.283/.308. Only the Marlins had worse offensive production from their shortstops. After a season that featured twice as many DL trips (four) as extra-base hits (two), can the ageless Derek Jeter still man the position, or will the Yankees need a permanent replacement for their captain a year before his intended retirement?


    Subjects for further review

    Mark Teixeira, 1B

    Teixeira has been declining rapidly and his wrist remains a concern, so the Yankees need to come up with some kind of a backup plan just in case.

    Brian Roberts, 2B

    You can't replace Robinson Cano with Brian Roberts, so what will it mean when they have to replace Roberts before the All-Star break?

    Brett Gardner, OF

    The addition of Ellsbury allows Gardner to shift back to left field where he was a force to be reckoned with on defense. Can he stay healthy and prove there is room in the Yankees outfield for two players with the same speed-and-defense style.

    Ivan Nova, RHP

    Posted a 2.70 ERA after a demotion to Triple-A. Is this the season he finds consistency, or will he continue to alternate periods of dominance with days in which it seems as if he’s forgotten how to pitch?

    Fantasy Corner: Yankees Top Five Fantasy Players

    Jacoby Ellsbury, OF: We could see a bump in Ellsbury's home run totals to the mid-teens this season. He's a top-20 outfielder.

    Carlos Beltran, OF/DH: Beltran offers fantasy owners 20-25 home-run power (maybe a few more with that right field porch in Yankee Stadium) along with a solid batting average and RBI total.

    Brian McCann, C: McCann not only brings a power bat that is a perfect fit in Yankee Stadium, but is a leader in the clubhouse and a policeman behind the plate.

    Alfonso Soriano, OF/DH: Soriano should be good for at least 25 home runs and double digit bags this season.

    Masahiro Tanaka, RHP: He could end the season as a top 25-30 starter or better.

    Best Case

    The new additions do what they were signed to do, rejuvenating both the lineup and the rotation. CC Sabathia returns to form, as does Mark Teixeira. Derek Jeter's farewell tour is made that much more special due to his shooting up the all-time hits leaderboard during a meaningful, competitive Yankees' campaign.

    Worst Case

    Derek Jeter spends more time accepting gifts on his farewell tour than he does on the field, CC Sabathia's 2013 was a harbinger rather than a fluke, Masahiro Tanaka is rudely welcomed to America, Michael Pineda suffers yet another injury setback, and the Yankees fail to finish better than fourth place once again.

  8. Toronto Blue Jays

    The Blue Jays almost seemed afraid to make any noticeable moves just one year removed from multiple splashes that made them the talk of the 2012-2013 off-season. Rather than fill holes in the rotation with one of the many free agents available all winter, general manager Alex Anthopoulos waited for a bargain to fall in his lap, but it never happened, with Ervin Santana coming the closest, only to be snatched away by the better-positioned Braves. Now, they have much the same roster they did heading into 2013, with many of the same potential pitfalls in place. Luckily, Anthopoulos did manage to improve the horrific situation behind the plate, where the Jays had some of the worst production in all of baseball a year ago. If a few things break right, 2014 could be a post-hype surprise for the Jays. -- Marc Normandin

    • Owner Rogers Communications Inc., the largest cell phone provider in Canada, owns several 'Sportsnet' sports cable channels, and is one of the richest ownership groups in baseball.
    • General Manager Alex Anthopoulos
    • Manager John Gibbons
    • Key Additions C Dioner Navarro, C Erik Kratz. That's it for additions. Kind of amazing that a last-place team would do so little to improve.
    • Key Departures C J.P. Arencibia, RHP Josh Johnson, which is the definition of addition by subtraction. Also U Mark DeRosa, so they are going to have to find someone else to fill the designated old guy role.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Dioner Navarro, 1B Edwin Encarnacion, 2B Ryan Goins, 3B Brett Lawrie, SS Jose Reyes, LF Melky Cabrera, CF Colby Rasmus, RF Jose Bautista, DH Adam Lind
    • Rotation R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Drew Hutchison, Dustin McGowan, Brandon Morrow

    Why the Blue Jays will win the Pennant

    The Jays will win the AL East because the Baseball Gods owe them one. After being the odds-on favorites last year, the Baseball Gods either injured or removed all baseball ability from almost every player on the Blue Jays’ roster. For some unlikely Blue Jays, the Gods did both, removing every ounce of baseball talent and then injuring them.

    Read full breakdown at Bluebird Banter →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Edwin Encarnacion

    Over the past two seasons Edwin has hit 78 home runs. Prior, he was better known for occasional bursts of power followed by long streaks of lousy production. He's been DFAed, lost on waivers, picked back up, sent to the minors, moved off of third base and sent back. Last year's fun stat was his 10 percent strikeout rate, unusual for a power hitter. Add in a good number of walks and you have very good player. If he could get his 2013 BABIP of .247 up to his career average you would have an MVP candidate.

    Team Cy Young

    Brandon Morrow

    With a rotation led by a 39-year-old knuckleballer and a 35-year-old soft-tossing lefty and the rest filled by journeymen, let's pick the middle guy. Morrow finally put together the sort of season long predicted for him, but he missed two months with an oblique injury. His 2013 started badly and at the end of May he went on the DL with a nerve injury in his arm. That was the type of year the Blue Jays had -- there were so many injuries, they had to make up new ones that nobody had ever heard of before.

    Top Rookie

    Marcus Stroman

    A first-round pick in the 2012 draft, Stroman is ready for the majors but Toronto is more likely to wait so as not to start his arbitration clock. With all the injuries to starting pitchers that the team has suffered through, in recent years, it won't be all that long until they are forced to call him up. Standing only 5’9”, Stroman’s durability is going to be in question until he shows he can hold up under a major league workload, but with low-to-mid-90s stuff and a superb strikeout-walk ratio, he’s going to get every chance to try.


    Brett Lawrie

    Sleeper is the wrong term for a Red Bull-powered mass of raw nerves and social media gaffs, but this should be Lawrie's season to shine. He’s just 24, though it seems like he should be older because we've been talking about him for so long. He's been all-world in the field, so he's been a valuable player, but we expected his bat to carry his glove, not the other way around. His stance is a mess of twitches and movements, causing inconsistency. The Jays need Lawrie to step it up this year if they have any hope of being in contention.

    Key Stat

    Since the departure of Roy Halladay prior to the 2010 season, the Blue Jays’ rotation just hasn't been the same. In the last four seasons, Toronto starters have posted a dismal 4.62 ERA -- 26th in the majors -- while throwing the fifth-fewest innings of any staff. Going into the 2014 season with at least two question marks in the rotation, it's hard to see things turning around any time soon.


    Subjects for further review

    Jose Reyes, SS

    Reyes wrecked his ankle on a bad slide into second on a stolen base attempt on April 12th, missed the next two months and moved around very gingerly when he did come back. The injury defined the season. When Reyes was healthy, he was exciting to watch. Unfortunately, he's 30 now and the Blue Jays are going to be paying him a lot of money over the next few years. Betting that a player who has had more than his share of injury troubles, will age gracefully at shortstop is a foolish thing.

    Melky Cabrera, OF

    When Anthopoulos signed Melky to a two-year $16 million contract, despite Cabrera coming off a 60-game PEDs suspension, it seems like a good move; Melky would be motivated to prove that the drugs didn't make him the player he was. It didn't work out. Cabrera looked incredibly slow both in the field and on the base paths. Late in the season a benign tumor was found circling his spine and apparently causing weakness in his legs. We can hope that removing it will give him back his speed.

    Colby Rasmus, OF

    Despite having missed more than a month of the season with injuries (including being hit in the face with a ball thrown by his replacement, Anthony Gose), Colby led the team in WAR. A year ago, it seemed he was going to have to move to a corner outfield spot, but in ‘13 he looked like a potential Gold Glover. On offense, what you see is likely what you’ll get, a guy that strikes out far more than you would like but, when he connects, the ball goes a long way.

    R.A. Dickey, RHP

    A sore neck and back contributed to a slow start to the season for RA. He might have been better off going on the DL, but with most of the team already there, it’s hard to blame a guy for trying to tough it out. The second half of his season went much better, with a 3.72 ERA in 22 starts from June on.

    Fantasy Corner: Blue Jays Top Five Fantasy Players

    Edwin Encarnacion, 1B: Encarnacion is coming back from offseason wrist surgery and it remains to be seen how that will affect his power at the plate. Experts don't seem to care as he has been one of the top 20 players being drafted in expert leagues.

    Jose Bautista, OF: Bautista is coming off a surgery of his own but a strong spring (five homers at this writing) suggests he will be 100 percent on Opening Day.

    Jose Reyes, SS: When healthy last season, Reyes was his old self. He may not run as much as previous years due to the ankle injury that truncated his season, but he should be one of the top four or five shortstops off the board on draft day.

    Brett Lawrie, 3B: Lawrie is due to break out one of these years, isn't he? Staying healthy will go a long way toward telling us if he will ever reach his potential or not.

    Colby Rasmus, OF: Rasmus will be looking to build on his solid 2013 season. The one-time top prospect has been a disappointment over the years, and this may be all that he has to offer fantasy owners going forward.

    Best Case

    Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes combine for 300 games played, keeping the Blue Jays from exposing any additional holes in the lineup. While Ryan Goins hits like a replacement level player, he fields like no other, and improves the Jays' work at the keystone. Dioner Navarro is not J.P. Arencibia. R.A. Dickey builds on his second half, Toronto gets even 150 quality innings out of Brandon Morrow, Marcus Stroman is let loose before J.A. Happ can continue to show he doesn't belong in an AL East contender's rotation, and Brett Lawrie returns to the form that made him so exciting just a few years ago. If all of these players rebound, and the Blue Jays avoid long-term injuries, they could legitimately contend in the AL as was planned last year.

    Worst Case

    The Blue Jays will have nothing to show for the emptying of their farm system to the Marlins and Mets, except for Jose Reyes' expensive mid-30s years.

  9. AL Central

    Champion: Detroit Tigers

    The Tigers have taken body blows since the last time we saw them, trading Doug Fister and Prince Fielder, losing their left fielder and shortstop to injury. On the other hand, Joe Nathan and Ian Kinsler are hardly consolation prizes, Nick Castellanos could be the Rookie of the Year, and the benefits of a rationalized defense could pay huge dividends in fewer runs allowed. The Royals are solid but still not deep enough, the Indians have gone backwards, and the White Sox and Twins are still on the long comeback trail. This is still the Tigers’ race to lose.


    1 - Detroit Tigers

    2 - Kansas City Royals

    3 - Cleveland Indians

    4 - Chicago White Sox

    5 - Minnesota Twins

  10. Detroit Tigers

    The Tigers couldn't make it to the World Series last year despite a lineup built around the three-headed offense-monster of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Victor Martinez. With Max Scherzer and Martinez both free agents at year's end, and this iteration of the Tigers seeing their window close, the Tigers shook things up, swapping Fielder for defensive stalwart Ian Kinsler, shifting Cabrera to first, and putting their top offensive prospect, Nick Castellanos, at third. Will improved defense put them over the edge, or will they regret trading starter Doug Fister sooner than later? -- Marc Normandin

    • Owner Mike Ilitch
    • General Manager Dave Dombrowski
    • Manager Brad Ausmus
    • Key Additions 2B Ian Kinsler, LF Rajai Davis, LHP Ian Krol, RHP Joba Chamberlain, RHP Joe Nathan. The Tigers added a bit of speed and fielding ability while sending mixed messages about their bullpen, but at least the closer role is as safe as it gets, at last.
    • Key Departures 1B Prince Fielder, 2B Omar Infante, SS Jhonny Peralta, RHP Doug Fister, RHP Joaquin Benoit. For a team that has been to three straight championship series, including a World Series, the Tigers saw a lot of turnover and will feature a completely reconfigured infield to start the year.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Alex Avila, 1B Miguel Cabrera, 2B Ian Kinsler, 3B Nick Castellanos, SS Andrew Romine (Jose Iglesias on DL), LF Rajai Davis (Andy Dirks on DL), CF Austin Jackson, RF Torii Hunter, DH Victor Martinez
    • Rotation Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly

    Why the Tigers will win the Pennant

    It came as a surprise to many when the three-time defending American League Central Champions, a team coming off three consecutive ALCS appearances with an AL pennant raised in the middle, chose not to play it safe this offseason. It would have been easy for them to make a minor tweak here or there and enter 2014 expecting not just to make another playoff appearance, but to make good on the championship promise of the 2013 roster, because a healthy Miguel Cabrera and any semblance of an appearance by Prince Fielder would have put the Tigers back in the World Series. When the league’s MVP is hobbled so badly it is painful to watch him run or even try to field at third base, it becomes that much harder for any team to win, and each ALCS game but the last came down to the thinnest of margins.

    Read full breakdown at Bless You Boys →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Miguel Cabrera

    The two-time reigning MVP of the American League will enter the year needing to quiet fans’ worries about his midsection. After staying healthy for most of his Tigers career, Cabrera’s body betrayed him repeatedly in the second half of 2013, culminating in an offseason core muscle repair surgery. If all is well -- and there’s no reason to believe it’s not -- Cabrera should pick up right where he left off as the best hitter of his era.

    Team Cy Young

    Justin Verlander

    What’s wrong with Verlander? The 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner had his worst season since 2008, and still managed to put up a 4.6 WAR season with a 3.46 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning. If that’s a down year on a team featuring three aces, you’ll take it. Verlander is coming off core body surgery in the offseason, but expect him to regain his past form in 2014.

    Top Rookie

    Nick Castellanos

    Don’t stress, kid. All you have to do is step into a starting role with a team projected to win the most games in the American League. No sweat, right? Castellanos has developed power to go along with a respected swing and should be considered among the favorites to win AL Rookie of the Year honors.


    Alex Avila

    The Tigers’ catcher was banged up in 2013 after being overused the previous two years by manager Jim Leyland, and it showed. Even then, he was among the best catchers in baseball at framing pitches and saved more runs than average while also putting up an average batting line for a catcher. He may not regain his 895-OPS form of 2011, but it’s not a big leap to expect him to be the team’s best comeback story in 2014.

    Key Stat

    If you judge a pitching staff by strikeouts, walks, and homeruns -- the three outcomes that don't rely on defense -- the Tigers rotation from a year ago was one of the most dominant staffs in baseball history with a Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) that was 23 percent better than league average. They came up just short of the all-time record, but they blew away their 2013 competition: The second-best rotation in the league was only six percent better than league-average. Even with a little regression and the loss of Doug Fister to Washington, the Tigers rotation is coming down from a very high peak and should still be one of the very best in the game.


    Subjects for further review

    Ian Kinsler, 2B

    But can he play second base? Oh yes, yes he can. Quite well, actually.

    Rajai Davis, OF

    Set to begin the season as the right-handed platoon to Andy Dirks, Davis may have the position all to himself while Dirks recovers from back surgery. Expect the Tigers to look for short-term help, as Davis has struggled against right handers (.255/.297/.353 career) in the past.

    Torii Hunter, OF

    He’s not the fielder he used to be and probably not the same batter, either. He’s still sound in both aspects of the game, though, and is one of the most fun players on the team.

    Victor Martinez, DH

    Got off to a slow start coming back from the knee injury that cost him the 2012 season, but hit .367/.418/.519 from July through the end of the season. Expect more of the same.

    Fantasy Corner: Tigers Top Five Fantasy Players

    Miguel Cabrera, 1B: The best hitter in the game. Not much else one has to say about Miggy.

    Max Scherzer, RHP: One of the game's best, but one always has to worry when the postseason tacks an additional 22.1 innings onto a starter's workload.

    Justin Verlander, RHP: Verlander was not as dominant in 2013 and the wear of all those 200-plus-inning seasons may be catching up to him. Some still rank him among the top 10-12 starting pitchers in the game, but fantasy owners may want to exercise caution.

    Anibal Sanchez, RHP: Your 2013 AL ERA leader may not repeat at the same level given a career mark of 3.75 coming into last season, but he does have a better defense behind him this year with Miguel Cabrera moving across the diamond to first base so it's not impossible.

    Ian Kinsler, 2B: Like Verlander, Kinsler is highly ranked among fantasy second baseman, but there are indications that he is in the beginning of his decline years -- and note the change in home parks. Caution flags are up.

    Best Case

    Victor Martinez continues to mash, as he did during 2013's second half, Ian Kinsler continues to be productive on both sides of the ball, Nick Castellanos shows that unfriendly minor-league environments have analysts underrating him, and Drew Smyly becomes the mid-rotation arm the Tigers believe he is, all leading to another deep playoff run.

    Worst Case

    Smyly turns out to be better in relief than the rotation, Scherzer walks at season's end, Kinsler's bat continues to slide as he moves further from 30, and Torii Hunter finally shows his age at a time the rest of the AL Central is stocking up on youth and promise.

  11. Kansas City Royals

    The Royals traded Wil Myers and others for James Shields before 2013 in the hopes of ending a playoff drought that spans parts of four decades. At the end of this season, Shields will be a free agent, delivering a significant blow to a Royals rotation that desperately needs his arm. Upgrading right field with Norichika Aoki and second base with Omar Infante is more progress than it looks like, but will it be enough for a team that's still relying on Bruce Chen in its rotation? -- Marc Normandin

    • Owner David Glass
    • General Manager Dayton Moore
    • Manager Ned Yost
    • Key Additions OF Norichika Aoki, 2B Omar Infante, U Danny Valencia, LHP Jason Vargas. Aoki gives the Royals an added dimension at the top of their lineup.
    • Key Departures OF David Lough, U Emilio Bonifacio, RHP Ervin Santana. The Royals weren’t able to replace the production provided by Ervin Santana in the rotation.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Salvador Perez, 1B Eric Hosmer, 2B Omar Infante, 3B Mike Moustakas, SS Alcides Escobar, LF Alex Gordon, CF Lorenzo Cain, RF Norichika Aoki, DH Billy Butler
    • Rotation James Shields, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, Bruce Chen, Yordano Ventura

    Why the Royals will win the Pennant

    The Royals slogan for the 2014 season is, “Be Royal.” Catchy, but may I suggest, “Hope Springs Eternal” instead? If you stick around for several years, discuss The Process while showing modest improvement in the win column, fans get overwhelmed with a healthy dose of optimism. Optimism reigns supreme in Kansas City.

    Read full breakdown at Royals Review →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Alex Gordon

    Last year, Gordon’s line-drive rate dipped, as did his BABIP, as he chased more pitches outside the strike zone than usual. Defensively, there isn’t a better left fielder in the league. While Gordon can make the spectacular grab and his fearless play borders on the reckless, his arm is his real weapon. He’s made 54 assists from the outfield over the last three seasons, the most in baseball. The Royals are planning on dropping Gordon to the fifth spot in their lineup, an insane move that underscores how far removed the team’s braintrust is from progressive baseball thought.

    Team Cy Young

    James Shields

    While Shields is an excellent pitcher, he’s gets the nod here by default. His strikeout, walk, and home-run rates have been remarkably consistent over the last three seasons. Unless something goes horribly awry, Shields will spend the entire summer in Kansas City, receive a qualifying offer before departing for greener pastures.

    Top Rookie

    Yordano Ventura

    Armed with a fastball that makes scouts swoon, Ventura could be the first impact starting pitcher the Royals have developed since Zack Greinke. His big curve and improving change only serve to accentuate the flames that ripple through the atmosphere as he routinely tickles triple digits on stadium radar guns. A hot spring earned him a slot in the starting rotation, and the Royals think he can throw 200 innings this year. Voted most likely to break Pitchf/x.


    Mike Moustakas

    When is a former top prospect a sleeper? When his nearly 1,500 career major league plate appearances have been the largest flop this side of “Supertrain.” Moustakas used his winter playing ball for hitting coach Pedro Grifol in Venezuela and getting in The Best Shape Of His Life. Can a renewed work ethic prevent foul pop outs? The Royals hope the answer is yes.

    Key Stat

    In 2013, two Kansas City Royals emerged as top-10 players at their respective positions: Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez. These young stars found success with their aggressive mindset at the plate, swinging at an above-average percentage of pitches outside the strike zone. In fact, the 2013 Royals as team swung at 32.4 percent of pitches out of the zone, one of the highest rates in the in the league. Kansas City continues to have the longest playoff drought in the league (28 consecutive seasons), and the bottom line is that the Royals seem to have nothing to lose by being extremely aggressive at the plate.


    Subjects for further review

    Billy Butler, DH

    The subject of myriad trade rumors through the years, one still gets the feeling if Moore ever was offered the right deal, he’d jump at it. Coming off a down year in 2013, Butler will need to stop hitting so many ground balls -- he had an amazing 2.01 ground-ball/fly-ball ratio last year -- if he’s to return to previous form.

    Salvador Perez, C

    Signed to an incredibly team-friendly contract, Perez serves as the backbone of this Royals team. Equipped with an amazing arm and solid game-calling skills, he’s quickly emerged as one of the game’s top backstops. His hitting is a work in progress, but that’s not much of a concern given his position and his defensive ability.

    Eric Hosmer, 1B

    A tale of two seasons for the Royals first baseman. Over the first two months, Hosmer was abysmal. A change in hitting coaches seemed to inject a much needed shot of adrenaline in his swing. From June 1 to the end of the season, he hit .318/.367/.494.

    Alcides Escobar, SS

    Perhaps the worst regular offensive performer in baseball last year. He doesn’t walk and doesn’t strike out, so he’s at the mercy of the BABIP Gods. In 2012 he had a .344 BABIP and a .331 OBP. In 2013, his BABIP was .264 which resulted in a .259 OBP. He earns defensive plaudits, but his glove is overrated.

    Fantasy Corner: Royals Top Five Fantasy Players

    Eric Hosmer, 1B: Hosmer turned things around at the plate soon after George Brett was named the Royals' hitting coach at the end of May. He could put up an MVP-type season if he can maintain his progress.

    Alex Gordon, OF: Gordon will be moving down in the Royals order after the offseason trade for Norichika Aoki, who will take over the leadoff spot. A drop in runs scored will be offset by an increase in RBI.

    James Shields, RHP: Big Game is one of the more underrated starting pitchers in the game, as he regularly puts up double digit wins with a sub-3.50 ERA and solid WHIP. Expect the same in 2014, with a chance for 15-plus wins.

    Billy Butler, DH: Butler could not repeat his breakout power season in 2012, but he is one of the more consistent hitters in the game. If you are looking for home runs, though, look elsewhere.

    Greg Holland, RHP: Holland is one of the top five or six closers in the game.

    Best Case

    Omar Infante and Norichika Aoki do exactly what they were brought in to do, which is be multiple wins better than their sub-replacement-level predecessors. Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, and Alex Gordon make up a high-quality middle of the order, while Mike Moustakas finally shows that he belongs in the majors and at third base in Kansas City. No one regrets signing Jason Vargas.

    Worst Case

    James Shields doesn't get any help in the rotation, prospect Yordano Ventura isn't ready enough to step in and fix that issue, and Moustakas continues to flounder in the lineup. The Royals get close once again with a winning record, but not even close enough for the easily impressed Dayton Moore.

  12. Cleveland Indians

    The Indians ended their playoff drought and nearly won the AL Central last fall, but this offseason saw them lose multiple successful starting pitchers without adding anything of substance to replace their production. Postseason baseball is still an option for Cleveland, but it will take significant seasons from the kids in the rotation, as well as bounce-back campaigns from lineup regulars, to get them there. -- Marc Normandin

    • Owner Larry Dolan
    • General Manager Chris Antonetti
    • Manager Terry Francona
    • Key Additions OF David Murphy, RHP John Axford… um, LHP Josh Outman, if you want to stretch the definition of key.
    • Key Departures RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Chris Perez, RHP Joe Smith. If you had told me 12 months ago that I would someday consider Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir “key departures,” I would have taken your keys and called you a cab.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Yan Gomes, 1B Nick Swisher, 2B Jason Kipnis, 3B Lonnie Chisenhall, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, LF Michael Brantley, CF Michael Bourn, RF David Murphy/Ryan Raburn, DH Carlos Santana
    • Rotation Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin

    Why the Indians will win the Pennant

    To the surprise of just about everyone, the Indians won 92 games last season and took the top wild-card spot. In previous years this would have given them a spot in the ALDS, but with the addition of another wild-card team in each league, they were instead forced into a single-elimination game -- which they promptly lost. That was somewhat disappointing, but on the other hand they hadn’t even finished with a winning record in six years, so by any reasonable measure the season was a success.

    Read full breakdown at Let's Go Tribe →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Jason Kipnis

    Kipnis’s power fell off in the second half. In an effort to keep his hitting closer to its first-half form, Kipnis took up a form of martial arts called Muay Thai during the offseason, and showed up to spring training in the Best Shape of His Life®, having added “about 10 to 15 pounds” of muscle. Kipnis had a .345 BABIP in 2013, so hopefully being more fit will counter some of the expected regression in luck, and allow his overall numbers to remain about the same.

    Team Cy Young

    Justin Masterson

    Masterson has been the team’s best pitcher in each of the last three seasons, and has to be considered the favorite to claim that honor again in 2014. Masterson was something of a different pitcher last year; throwing his slider more often. On the strength of that pitch and a solid fastball,he struck out 9.1 batters per nine innings, 11th-best in the majors, and easily the best rate of his career. He has a chance to pitch himself into a $100-million contract if he’s at his best, which would almost certainly price him out of Cleveland’s budget.

    Top Rookie

    Francisco Lindor

    The shortstop will start the year in Double-A, but any injury in the infield could result in the team’s top prospect coming up. Another possibility is a trade involving Asdrubal Cabrera, who the team won’t be looking to re-sign in the offseason. Even if everyone stays healthy and no one is traded, if Lindor posts an 801 OPS like he did in the month after he was promoted to Akron last season, he’s going to force the issue. His defense could win him this prize even if he’s called up for only a month.


    Lonnie Chisenhall

    It seemed likely that Chisenhall would become the first player to serve as the Tribe’s third baseman for more than three full seasons since Brook Jacoby held the job from 1984 to 1990. Unfortunately, Chisenhall hasn’t been able to hit, posting modest numbers against righties and dreadful ones against lefties. He’s still only 25; if he’s able to make adjustments and something clicks, the Indians could receive above-average production from every spot in the lineup.

    Key Stat

    In 2013, Cleveland’s starting pitchers were very good at striking out opposing hitters -- the team's 22.3 percent strikeout rate ranked second in baseball, behind division rival Detroit. This wealth of strikeouts made the rotation a clear strength of the team. Maintaining this excellent percentage is key, but could prove difficult given the departures of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir and the uncertain success of second-year starters Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar.


    Subjects for further review

    Yan Gomes, C

    An injury to backup catcher Lou Marson opened the door for Gomes and boy, did he ever take advantage. He proved himself one of the finest defensive backstops in the league and put up a .481 slugging percentage. His .342 BABIP makes him a good bet for downward regression, but with his pitch framing and ability to control the opponent’s running game, even average hitting would make Gomes a very valuable player.

    Nick Swisher, 1B

    Signed to the largest free-agent contract in team history, Swisher brought a fun energy to the Tribe, but his offense was down for much of the season. A strong finish gave him solid enough final numbers, but he’s 33 now, and there’s reason to think he’s entered the decline phase of his career.

    Carlos Santana, DH

    Not only the Tribe’s best hitter, but one of the best in baseball, a fact overlooked even in the 216 area code. In his three full seasons, he has averaged 34 doubles, 22 home runs, and 94 walks. No player in the AL has walked as many times during that span. Santana won’t be the team’s primary catcher in 2014, but he’s worked to transform himself into a third baseman. He could become the first player in franchise history to start 10-plus games at catcher, first base, and third base in a season.

    Danny Salazar, RHP

    The first two innings of the wild card game showed why Salazar could become the Tribe’s best pitcher in 2014; he mowed down six straight Rays hitters with electric stuff, including strikeouts of Wil Myers, James Loney, and Evan Longoria. The next two innings showed why Salazar has still got a few things to learn, as a flat fastball got crushed for a long home run and he struggled in his second time through the order. If he can adjust, he could be pitching in the All-Star Game this summer.

    Fantasy Corner: Indians Top Five Fantasy Players

    Jason Kipnis, 2B: I ranked Kipnis as my No. 1 fantasy second baseman for 2014; I see more growth in power and another 25-30 stolen bases from him.

    Carlos Santana, C/DH/1B/3B: With the better defender Yan Gomes taking over as the Indians full time catcher, Santana's overall fantasy value should rise this season with added positional eligibility.

    Danny Salazar, RHP: Salazar had plenty of helium in offseason rankings, landing in the top 30-35 in some. He should provide solid strikeout, ERA and WHIP stats this season, but will be prone to some growing pains as well.

    Justin Masterson, RHP: Masterson pitched like an ace last season, and he will be looking to duplicate that performance in 2014. He is a top-40 fantasy starter in most formats.

    Corey Kluber, RHP: Kluber burst upon the fantasy scene last season, winning 11 of his 24 starts with a 3 strikeouts per nine over 8.0 and a ground-ball rate over 45 percent. Fantasy experts love him and so should you.

    Best Case

    Jason Kipnis builds on his breakout performance, Carlos Santana transitions to a more versatile role successfully while Yan Gomes adapts to a heavier workload behind the plate, and the bats of both Michael Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera reawaken, leading to an Indians lineup that can support a lesser rotation.

    Worst Case

    Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco can't perform believable impressions of the departed Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, leaving the Indians with a rotation too thin for playoff contention.

  13. Chicago White Sox

    After years of an unhealthy relationship with the draft, the White Sox, under general manager Rick Hahn, have tried to undo that damage and improve the farm system through trades. This offseason saw them deal from their rotation depth to acquire potential power source Matt Davidson and table-setter Adam Eaton, and along with 27-year-old Cuban free agent Jose Abreu the trio is the largest commitment to youth and potential the team has made in years. Will it be enough to shorten what looked like a lengthy rebuilding process? -- Marc Normandin

    • Owner Jerry Reinsdorf
    • General Manager Rick Hahn
    • Manager Robin Ventura
    • Key Additions 1B Jose Abreu, OF Adam Eaton, 3B Matt Davidson accelerated the reconstruction that the July trade for OF Avisail Garcia started.
    • Key Departures Rotation depth in LHP Hector Santiago, and a closer in RHP Addison Reed.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Tyler Flowers, 1B Jose Abreu, 2B Gordon Beckham, 3B Conor Gillaspie/Jeff Keppinger, SS Alexei Ramirez, LF Alejandro De Aza /Dayan Viciedo, CF Adam Eaton, RF Avisail Garcia, DH Adam Dunn/Paul Konerko
    • Rotation Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, John Danks, Erik Johnson, Felipe Paulino

    Why the White Sox will win the Pennant

    It’s been a long time since the White Sox entered the season accepting they were non-contenders. They usually tout themselves as World Series hopefuls, or at least smirk at projections that say otherwise. A 99-loss season marred by faceplants, figurative and literal, wounded some of that pride, but the Sox needed an impetus to commit to a teardown that their place in the standings (usually second) and farm system (usually bereft of anchor talent) somehow couldn’t quite justify.

    Read full breakdown at South Side Sox →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Jose Abreu

    One of the incredible things about the White Sox is that there is not one lead-pipe lock to be an above-average offense player. Abreu is as uncertain as anybody else, although the $68 million contract he signed makes him feel sturdier than the other recent young additions. If he could match his ZiPS projection (.273/.364/.494), that would be a godsend, because the last three times the Sox paid cash to add a position players, they started their White Sox career by forgetting how to play baseball (Alex Rios, Adam Dunn, Jeff Keppinger).

    Team Cy Young

    Chris Sale

    His delivery may be a disjointed set of right angles, but he’s thrown 406 innings the last two seasons, so it’s safe to say that his durability concerns are no different from any other pitcher’s. When it comes to stuff, only a few pitchers can match Sale’s arsenal. The only thing he lacked last year was run support, and he could use a few easy nights this time around.

    Top Rookie

    Erik Johnson

    After breezing through the minors and surviving a number of tight situations in five September starts, Johnson will open the season in the back of the rotation. He has advanced fastball command and a hard slider with late break, but he can take the next step if he can improve his changeup or his curveball, both of which looked more like show-me offerings in his first stint. He has the ingredients to become an average pitcher pretty quickly, but with team expectations tempered, he has time to learn from his mistakes.



    The Sox are stacked with Comeback Player of the Year candidates, so it’s hard to say any position player is more sleepy than the next. But after a year in which severe right-handedness compromised Ventura’s abilities to mix and match, the guy writing out the lineup card may be able to gain the upper hand in handedness with three positions (third base, left field, designated hitter). The White Sox offense needs runs however it can get them, and working platoons could be a way to overcome the lack of name-brand hitters.

    Key Stat

    The White Sox were second in the majors in unearned runs allowed with 80, trailing only the Houston Astros. Letting 66 percent of errors translate into runs (the 2013 MLB average was 54 percent) is one way teams can win 23 fewer games than the previous season. An improved defense with Eaton in center and less of De Aza, Viciedo, Dunn, Konerko, and other defensively-limited players in the field would be a subtle but important step in the Sox once again winning those games their pitching should give them a fair chance to win.


    Subjects for further review

    Gordon Beckham, 2B

    Beckham thought he had finally rediscovered his rookie-year form at the start of 2013, but an early-season hamate injury and a quad injury later has him blaming health for another set of underwhelming numbers. Then again, Beckham always gets to the bottom of his problems in the offseason, but has a hard time staying on top of them once the games start counting. With Marcus Semien and Carlos Sanchez providing two league-minimum options with upside behind him, the clock is ticking.

    Alexei Ramirez, SS

    Home runs turned into doubles. Stolen bases came out of nowhere. So did errors. A family tragedy may have taken a toll on Ramirez, but he’ll have to get back in the game this year, if only to help the next great White Sox Cuban Hope acclimate to America.

    Adam Eaton, OF

    The White Sox like his energy, his left-handedness, his minor-league OBPs and his ability to annoy pitchers. His skill set could translate into an effective leadoff hitter, but his willingness to throw his body around could make it difficult to stay in the lineup. His enthusiasm could be contagious, or it could wear on the clubhouse like Nick Swisher’s did if he fails to produce.

    Avisail Garcia, OF

    An incredibly imposing athlete. An incredibly aggressive hitter if you like him. An incredibly undisciplined hitter if you don’t. He’s only 23, so he’s going to need time to rein in the wilder aspects of his game. If he figures it out sooner rather than later -- assuming it’s ever -- he’s a transformative player for a team that needs a new identity. No pressure.

    Fantasy Corner: White Sox Top Five Fantasy Players

    Chris Sale, LHP: In the real world he's a top-10 starter, but if you want pitcher-wins for your fantasy team you will have to look elsewhere, as the White Sox are in rebuild mode.

    Jose Abreu, 1B: Abreu has his supporters and critics, but he should provide solid power for his owners in 2014.

    Adam Eaton, OF: Eaton was the preseason favorite to win the National League Rookie of the Year award heading into the 2013 season, but elbow surgery derailed his season. He should play every day in Chicago and is capable of hitting double-digit home runs, scoring 80 runs and stealing 30 bases this season.

    Alejandro De Aza, OF: De Aza was three home runs from putting up a 20-20 season in 2013. He might not repeat the power, but should be able to steal 20-25 bases with 75-80 runs scored this season.

    Alexei Ramirez, SS: Ramirez has gone from being a 15-home run, 15-stolen base, 70-RBI hitter to more of a contact hitter with 20-30 stolen bases, so he is still a valuable fantasy shortstop.

    Best Case

    The White Sox are a long shot -- but a shot nonetheless -- to thrive in the AL Central. They'll need Jose Abreu to flourish in his rookie campaign, Adam Dunn to rebound, and the trio of Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia, and Matt Davidson to all make good on their promise for that to happen, though.

    Worst Case

    Rotation additions Erik Johnson and Felipe Paulino fail to stick, none of the over-30 crowd rebounds, and the prospects are more floor than ceiling, leading to another quiet, depressing White Sox campaign.

  14. Minnesota Twins

    Following an abysmal 2013 in the rotation, the Twins spent their winter putting actual major league pitchers on their roster. Whether that will lead to anything besides avoiding embarrassment is to be seen, however, as a rotation led by Ricky Nolasco with Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, and Kyle Gibson to follow is either incredibly optimistic or highly self-aware, meaning, the Twins’ chances to be do anything but give the kids another year to develop in 2014 are slim, but there's no sense in depriving their fans of at least an attempt at actual baseball before Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano arrive on the scene. -- Marc Normandin

    • Owner Jim Pohlad
    • General Manager Terry Ryan
    • Manager Ron Gardenhire
    • Key Additions RHP Ricky Nolasco, RHP Phil Hughes, C Kurt Suzuki, DH Jason Kubel. New de-facto ace Nolasco was given the largest free agent contract in franchise history.
    • Key Departures C/U Ryan Doumit. Not as evil as his soulless black eyes suggest.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Kurt Suzuki, 1B Joe Mauer, 2B Brian Dozier, 3B Trevor Plouffe, SS Pedro Florimon, LF Josh Willingham, CF Aaron Hicks, RF Oswaldo Arcia, DH Jason Kubel
    • Rotation Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, Kyle Gibson

    Why the Twins will win the Pennant

    Minnesota’s chances of contending in 2014 are as solid as my chances of a date with Jenna Coleman, Silje Norendal, Zooey Deschanel, Sofia Vergara, and Rachel Riley combined. And now I’m depressed, thanks for asking.

    Read full breakdown at Twinkie Town →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Joe Mauer

    Entering his age-31 season, Joe continues to be one of the best pure hitters in the game and, with his concussion symptoms seemingly behind him, is poised for a big year in 2014. Moving to first base means less wear and tear on his legs, so he’ll be a consistent presence in the lineup and, hopefully as a result of having legs that stay stronger throughout the summer, will pay dividends offensively. Even if he doesn’t add a few home runs this season, his career numbers make him one of the better-hitting first basemen in the league.

    Team Cy Young

    Glen Perkins

    Considering Kyle Gibson’s disappointing debut last season and Alex Meyer’s chances of making the team pretty low until after the All-Star break, the only good choice here is Glen Perkins. The hometown lefty posted one of the best seasons for a closer in franchise history in 2013, on par with (if not better than) Joe Nathan’s best seasons in Minnesota.

    Top Rookie

    Alex Meyer

    With Miguel Sano's season lost to Tommy John surgery, Minnesota's Rookie of the Year could very well end up being Alex Meyer. Buxton is unlikely to debut until September at the very earliest and Pinto's contributions may or may not be anything special, but getting 10 or 15 starts in the second half from Meyer will allow fans their first glimpse of a potential true No. 1 starter, the team’s first since Johan Santana. Armed with an upper-90s fastball with movement and a wicked slider, Meyer figures to lead the Twins rotation for years to come.


    Oswaldo Arcia

    A 22-year old rookie in 2013, Arcia started out well but his performance and health faded as the season went along. Though he dwells in the shadow of Sano and Buxton, he's the owner of a .314/.376/.540 career triple slash in the minors. Because of a rather pedestrian rookie season, he’s likely to be overlooked at the start of 2014 as well, but he's an exceptionally talented hitter with a great swing and good power.

    Key Stat

    The Twins had arguably the worst starting rotation in baseball last season, as their starters posted an ERA of 5.26 in 2013. The team attempted to address this in free agency, spending over $80 million to improve their biggest weakness, but they'll need the Nolasco/Hughes/Pelfrey trio to perform (and in the cases of Hughes and Pelfrey, improve quite a bit over last season) if the Twins want to win more than 66 games in 2014.


    Subjects for further review

    Ricky Nolasco, RHP

    Rocky Nabisco: baby steps toward The Rotation of Tomorrow! (TM)

    Trevor Plouffe, 3B

    Keeping the spot warm for Miguel Sano. Better suited as a super-utility guy who can mash lefties.

    Kurt Suzuki, C

    The Twins like to have nice guys behind the plate, apparently. It's the real reason they traded A.J. Pierzynski. Suzuki's playing time will depend greatly on how ready Josmil Pinto is to take over the position.

    Josh Willingham, OF

    Easy to cheer for but his days in the outfield are numbered. Probably traded at the deadline in July.

    Fantasy Corner: Twins Top Five Fantasy Players

    Joe Mauer, 1B: Mauer will be moving to first base on a full time base in 2014, which should be a boon for his production at the plate. A relapse of his post-concussion syndrome is a concern you should be aware of on draft day.

    Glen Perkins, LHP: One of the best closers in the game, Perkins should save 35-40 games with a low-2.00 ERA and a high strikeout rate.

    Brian Dozier, SS: Dozier had a breakout season in 2013, hitting double-digit home runs and stealing 14 bags. But can he repeat that in 2014?

    Oswaldo Arcia, OF: Arcia had a problem making contact last season, but he possesses plenty of power and could surprise in 2014. He's a draft-day sleeper.

    Ricky Nolasco, RHP: Nolasco moved from one pitchers' park in Miami to another in Los Angeles last season, and now will pitch in one for the next four years, so he should help owners in the ERA and WHIP categories, but will struggle to win games with the Twins' lineup behind him.

    Best Case

    It would take every starter in their rotation replicating the highest quality work of their past to put this rotation in a position to challenge for October. That, and a massive leap forward for 23-year-old Oswaldo Arcia in right field, would help a lineup in need of a boost.

    Worst Case

    Twins fans will still have Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Alex Meyer, Kohl Stewart, and more to look forward to in their future even if today's patchwork team fails to deliver.

  15. AL West

    Champion: Texas Rangers

    A month ago this seemed like one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. Then a plague of injuries hit. Seemingly half the Rangers will open the season on the disabled list, Oakland has lost two-fifths of its starting rotation, the Mariners are without Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker, and the Angels -- well, the Angels are kind of okay, which suggests that they ought to hop on their Trout and get away while the getting is good.


    1 - Texas Rangers

    2 - Oakland A's

    3 - Los Angeles Angels

    4 - Seattle Mariners

    5 - Houston Astros

  16. Texas Rangers

    The Rangers have slowly been moving backwards, losing the World Series in consecutive years, losing the AL West on the last day in 2012 before dropping the inaugural wild card round to the Rays, then failing to make the playoffs at all in 2013. This offseason was meant to stop the Rangers and reverse course, so they traded Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder in order to improve their lineup and find space for Jurickson Profar, and then signed one of the game's most underrated hitters, Shin-Soo Choo, to a long-term deal. Now, the lineup looks like it can be one of the game's best once more, and if their pitching can stay healthy, anything is possible for this Rangers club. -- Marc Normandin

    • Owner Ray Davis and Bob Simpson
    • General Manager Jon Daniels
    • Manager Ron Washington
    • Key Additions OF Shin-Soo Choo, 1B Prince Fielder, OF Michael Choice, C J.P. Arencibia, RHP Tommy Hanson. A Ranger offense that was pretty mediocre in 2013 got an extreme makeover with the additions of Choo and Fielder.
    • Key Departures 2B Ian Kinsler, RHP Joe Nathan, C A.J. Pierzynski, OF Nelson Cruz, OF Craig Gentry, DH Lance Berkman.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C J.P. Arencibia (Geovany Soto on DL), 1B Prince Fielder, 2B Kensuke Tanaka (Jurickson Profar on DL), 3B Adrian Beltre, SS Elvis Andrus, LF Shin-Soo Choo, CF Leonys Martin, RF Alex Rios, DH Mitch Moreland
    • Rotation Yu Darvish, Martin Perez, Tommy Hanson, Tanner Scheppers, Joe Saunders (Matt Harrison and Derek Holland on DL)

    Why the Rangers will win the Pennant

    Why will the Rangers win the pennant? Why wouldn’t they? They won the pennant in 2010 and 2011, they’ve won at least 90 games four four straight seasons, and a total of 457 games since 2009. While the Rangers have been perceived as disappointments the past two seasons for finishing second in the West, the 93 games they won in 2012 was the fourth best total in franchise history, and the 91 games they won in 2013 was the fifth best total in franchise history. This is a successful, well-run franchise with a strong farm system, ownership willing to spend money, and a front office considered one of the best in the game.

    Read full breakdown at Lone Star Ball →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Prince Fielder

    The Rangers took on a $138M obligation to bring Prince Fielder into the fold in the hopes that he would be the middle-of-the-order offensive force that they lacked in 2013. The Rangers coveted Fielder when he was a free agent after the 2011 season, before Mike Ilitch decided to splurge after Victor Martinez blew out his knee. If Fielder’s 2013 was a sign of things to come, the Tigers will look like geniuses for dumping him on Texas, even if they had to send $30M along in the deal, but the Rangers are betting he’ll rebound.

    Team Cy Young

    Yu Darvish

    Darvish finished second in the AL Cy Young voting in 2013 despite some sniping from local media members that his four 1-0 losses and pedestrian won-lost record showed he didn’t have the “will to win.” When he’s on, Darvish is near unhittable. Sure, Darvish’s pitch counts sometimes run too high, and his command has a tendency to come and go, but for 2014, the question should be, will Darvish be one of the best dozen or so pitchers on the planet, or will he be one of the two or three best pitchers on the planet?

    Top Rookie

    Michael Choice

    This selection is probably as difficult as the Cy Young pick was easy. No rookies are expected to start the season in the rotation or the lineup. Outfielder Engel Beltre, 23, might have been the team’s fifth outfielder, but he fractured his tibia during spring training. Michael Choice, acquired from Oakland in the Craig Gentry deal, is probably the most likely rookie to have a significant impact, although he’ll only get that chance if he joins Mitch Moreland as part of the DH platoon or one of the outfielders gets injured, pressing him into duty.


    Colby Lewis

    Lewis went on the DL in June, 2012, with a tendon flexor problem that ended up costing him the rest of the 2012. Lewis had three different rehab stints in 2013, but never could make it back to the majors, his season ending when he had hip surgery. A healthy Lewis would be a godsend to the Rangers given their many injuries. Initial reports have been good, and if he can be a productive back-of the-rotation starter for Texas, it would be a terrific comeback story and a big boost to the Rangers’ chances.

    Key Stat

    The Rangers had one of their worst team-wide offenses in recent memory last season, a factor that loomed large as they finished 5.5 games back of Oakland in the AL West. Texas' .323 wOBA (weighted on-base average, a statistic that combines all the aspects of hitting into one metric) was the club's worst mark since 1990 and just the eighth-best in the American League. With the offseason acquisitions of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, the Rangers are clearly looking for more production out of their offense this season. To win the AL West and make a deep run into the playoffs, they'll need strong seasons out of Fielder, Choo, and the rest of the lineup.


    Subjects for further review

    Adrian Beltre, 3B

    In 2011, the Rangers gave Beltre a five-year, $80 million contract with a sixth year vesting option prior that most thought was an overpay. Texas felt Beltre would age well, though it’s doubtful even they were expecting this sort of performance. Beltre has, in his three years with Texas, put up a .312/.356/.542 line in 441 games, while playing exemplary defense at third base. He showed signs of slowing defensively last year, and at some point his bat will fade, but for now he is still one of the best third basemen in the game.

    Elvis Andrus, SS

    A strangely polarizing figure for Rangers fans, some praising him as a defensive wizard whose energy sparks the Rangers, others arguing that with the eight-year, $120M extension that kicks in in 2015 he’s an overpaid glove man blocking Jurickson Profar. Still only 25, Elvis is entering his sixth season in the majors, and by this point, Ranger fans have a good idea what to expect: He’ll play every day, he’ll be terrific defensively, he’ll run the bases exceedingly well, he won’t hit for any power, and he’ll have a middling OBP.

    Shin-Soo Choo, OF

    The Rangers front office made clear they wanted their offense to become more patient. With new left fielder Choo Texas has clearly accomplished that goal. He’s a high-OBP guy who has 20-home-run power, steals bases, and should provide quality defense in a corner outfield spot. Giving $130 million to a non-superstar heading into his decline years seems like a risky investment, but the Rangers are confident that Choo’s work ethic and dedication to his craft will make him, like new teammate Beltre, someone whose decline phase will be less severe than the average player.

    Alex Rios, OF

    Rios has now been given away twice, first by the Blue Jays, who put Rios on waivers in 2009 and let him go to Chicago for $25,000, and then last year, when the Rangers got him (plus $1 million) in exchange for Leury Garcia. Rios has had a high-beta career, but at this point, the Rangers are hoping for good defense in right field, 15-20 homers, 30 or so steals, and a decent OBP. If Rios has one of his flat-line seasons, the Rangers have Michael Choice waiting in the wings.

    Fantasy Corner: Rangers Top Five Fantasy Players

    Adrian Beltre, 3B: Beltre is the best fantasy third baseman this side of Miguel Cabrera. With the additions of Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder, we should see him exceed 100 RBI once again in 2014.

    Prince Fielder, 1B: Fielder moves to a better hitters park and I see him putting up a 30-35 home run, 100-plus RBI season.

    Yu Darvish, RHP: Darvish is the second-best pitcher in the game behind Clayton Kershaw. With health, he has the potential to approach 300 strikeouts this season.

    Shin-Soo Choo, OF: Love the signing of Choo for the Rangers. Choo should hit .300 with 20 home runs, 100plus runs scored, 65 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 2014.

    Alex Rios, OF: Rios stole 42 bases last season, but I don't see a repeat this season. He should put up another solid season at the plate with a chance to hit 20 home runs and steal 20-30 bases.

    Best Case

    Time missed by starting pitchers Matt Harrison and Derek Holland won't sink the Rangers chances, with both coming back early enough -- and effective enough -- to offset any damage caused by Tommy Hanson and Joe Saunders. Prince Fielder makes everyone forget about his down (but still productive) 2013, while Jurickson Profar comebs back from his torn shoulder, settles in at second base, and plays to the level scouts and prospect mavens knew he could.

    Worst Case

    Tommy Hanson and Joe Saunders make up a miserable back-end of the rotation for more than half of the season, digging a hole that Yu Darvish, Alexi Ogando, and Martin Perez can't climb out of. Profar’s injury derails his season, the infield defense suffers without Kinsler (and with Fielder) on the right side, and it's just too much to overcome in a division with four legitimate contenders in it.

  17. Oakland Athletics

    There are no hypocrites in the Athletics' front office. General manager Billy Beane immediately spent the new national television money he would have likely killed for during his Moneyball days, rather than pocketing it like some organizations would have (or, more honestly, did pocket). The A's added Scott Kazmir to a rotation in need of some upside, paid to keep Coco Crisp around a little longer, and dealt for Orioles' closer Jim Johnson and the $10 million he is owed in his last year of arbitration eligibility. Will it be enough to bring them a third consecutive AL West title? -- Marc Normandin

    • Owner Lew Wolff
    • General Manager Billy Beane
    • Manager Bob Melvin
    • Key Additions LHP Scott Kazmir, OF Craig Gentry, RHP Jim Johnson. All will replace key cogs in 2013’s division championship team. INF Nick Punto, LHP Drew Pomeranz, Fernando Abad, RHP Luke Gregerson, OF Billy Burns.
    • Key Departures RHP Grant Balfour, RHP Bartolo Colon, LHP Brett Anderson, OF Seth Smith, OF Michael Choice, OF Chris Young, LHP Jerry Blevins.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C John Jaso/Derek Norris, 1B Brandon Moss/Daric Barton/Alberto Callaspo, 2B Eric Sogard/Nick Punto, 3B Josh Donaldson, SS Jed Lowrie, LF Yoenis Cespedes, CF Coco Crisp, RF Josh Reddick, DH Staff
    • Rotation Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone (A.J. Griffin on DL)

    Why the Athletics will win the Pennant

    The better question may be why the A’s won’t win the pennant. Their accomplishments over the last two years have proven that the current core group of key players can bring regular season success. Given that success, Billy Beane’s offseason plan was clearly to replace the production of the group of players he was losing. Scott Kazmir will be counted on -- prayed over, maybe -- to replace Bartolo Colon’s 190.1 innings of 2.65 ERA ball. Craig Gentry (when healthy) will take over the fourth outfielder spot and potentially upgrade it over current Met Chris Young. Finally, Jim Johnson may not replace Grant Balfour’s fiery demeanor, but he will be called upon to close games for Bob Melvin. It is remarkable, actually, how Beane was able to find available players who very closely match the players who left. It is true that he paid a relatively high price for those replacements, but the A’s clearly have a window now that they hope now capitalize on.

    Read full breakdown at Athletics Nation →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Yoenis Cespedes

    Cespedes suffered from a sophomore slump in 2013. With the exception of home runs, he regressed in nearly every way. He also swung at more pitches in the zone and made less contact. Yet, despite how it appeared on TV, his other plate discipline numbers aren’t significantly depressed compared to 2012: he made more contact on outside pitches without swinging at significantly more of them and only marginally increased his overall swinging strike percentage. In other words, his issues in the zone have to do with pitch recognition -- this is a fixable problem.

    Team Cy Young

    Sonny Gray

    Many of the questions about Gray’s lack of a pitch repertoire have been answered after a strong debut in 2013. He featured both a two- and four-seam fastball, the latter of which he can push to 96 mph and a devastating curveball he uses as a strikeout pitch. Indeed, his 24.8 percent strikeout rate was second in only to Danny Salazar of Cleveland among AL rookies. Gray may not be able to keep up such gaudy numbers over a whole season, but he will almost assuredly be the best starter on the A’s.

    Top Rookie

    Sonny Gray

    Without any clearly qualified candidates to play a significant role in Oakland, that award has to go to Sonny Gray now that Michael Choice has been traded away. It is conceivable that, with an injury to Jed Lowrie, Addison Russell could find his way to Oakland in 2014 and put together some actual rookie numbers. However, it is more likely that if he is called up, it won’t be until September.


    Tommy Milone

    Milone was both strangely home-run and walk-prone in his sophomore season. Those are not tendencies he had shown in the upper minors or his rookie season. On the other hand, he also increased his swinging strike rate; players just tended to lay off of pitches in the zone they had previously swung at. A different pitch mix, or simply better luck, could make him a more effective starter in 2014.

    Key Stat

    The seven pitchers who will open the season in the A’s bullpen (plus the wounded Ryan Cook, who should be back by April 5) had a 2.86 ERA in 2013. Reliever ERA isn’t at all predictive, but it suggests the quality of the pitchers Bob Melvin will have to choose from as he goes out to relieve his frayed starting rotation. Last year, A’s relievers had the third-best ERA in the American League, but only the 10th-best strikeout rate, a bad sign, perhaps if the team was to avoid a balls-in-play-style regression in 2014. Intriguingly, once Grant Balfour left town, the team’s solution was (a) import the Padres’ Luke Gregerson, career strikeout rate of 9.1 per nine innings, and (b) trade for Orioles’ closer Jim Johnson, who is more of a ground-ball pitcher than a strikeout artist. We’ll see if it all balances out in the end.


    Subjects for further review

    Jed Lowrie, SS

    Lowrie posted career highs in every offensive category in 2013, and also played in a career high number of games. He had never before stayed healthy through an entire season. He’ll be an above-average hitter, but whether he is again the second-best offensive shortstop in the league remains to be seen. Given that concern, Nick Punto was acquired to potentially spell Lowrie on days when the A’s play left-handers. Punto’s excellent defense could counteract some of Lowrie’s poor defense, which is not expected to improve.

    Coco Crisp, OF

    Crisp had a breakout 2013 season in the power category, posting career highs in home runs and isolated power and near-highs in slugging and on-base percentages. He is also a superior baserunner, even though stolen bases may not end up being as much a part of his game as it was in the past. Crisp is the type of player who will miss 25-30 games per year with a hamstring pull here and there, but is a very productive player when he is healthy. He better be, as the A’s just re-signed him (again) to a two-year contract.

    Josh Reddick, OF

    Despite the guff he takes from some A’s fans, Reddick brings gold-glove caliber defense to the table along with occasional power. In 2012, that meant 32 home runs; in 2013, it meant 12. Where his true power lies is uncertain, as he was able to improve his walk and strikeout rates last year, but didn’t have much to show for it. His contact and swing rates also improved overall. Some upward regression is possible here offensively, but if all else fails, he’ll still be a 2-3 win player when defense is accounted for.

    John Jaso, C/DH

    A concussion shortened Jaso’s season, but he showed the approach the A’s acquired him for when he was able to play. A high-OBP, low-power player, Jaso will provide a better-than-average bat when he is in the lineup. Despite the concussion he’s still in there catching, but it is likely he will see significant time at DH and maybe even first base. It seems clear now that the power he displayed in 2012 was most likely a mirage, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still useful.

    Fantasy Corner: Athletics Top Five Fantasy Players

    Yoenis Cespedes, OF: Cespedes had a bit of a down year in 2013, but I see the batting average rising in 2014 and he could approach 30 home runs if healthy.

    Josh Donaldson, 3B: Donaldson enjoyed a breakout season in 2013, and is ranked accordingly. Donaldson offers a high batting average, with 20-plus home-run power in 2014.

    Sonny Gray, RHP: Gray was dominant in his 10 starts last season, striking out more than a batter per inning with an excellent 2.67 ERA. He is being drafted as a top-40 starter right now, but will go through some growing pains, as most young starters do.

    Brandon Moss, 1B: Moss showed that his power is for real in 2013. He is a solid mid-round power option at first base.

    Jed Lowrie, SS: Lowrie had the best season of his career, playing in a career-high 154 games. Can stay healthy again? Our font set does not permit a large enough question mark.

    Best Case

    The Athletics will not only win the AL West once again, but they'll finally advance in the playoffs and bring home their first World Series title since 1989, all because of their impressive lineup, balanced rotation, and strong bullpen.

    Worst Case

    The A's will face Justin Verlander in the playoffs again.

  18. Los Angeles Angels

    After two loud years on the free agent market, the Angels were relatively quiet between 2013 and 2014. However, they might have finally set themselves up to compete in the difficult American League West, as they addressed the very thing that ruined them a year ago: The rotation. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are now joined by young hurlers Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, and while it cost the Halos homer leader Mark Trumbo, they can replace his production with off-season acquisition David Freese and second-year player Kole Calhoun. -- Marc Normandin

    • Owner Arte Moreno
    • General Manager Jerry Dipoto
    • Manager Mike Scioscia
    • Key Additions 3B David Freese, RHP Joe Smith, LHP Hector Santiago, RHP Fernando Salas, LHP Tyler Skaggs, DH Raul Ibanez. The Angels added plenty of arms that appear to have upside and the hope/prayer that Freese rebounds. Scioscia has made noise about Ibanez needing to play the field on occasion so the great logic behind signing him is of course gone like so many other smart moves handed off to a dumb ex-jock with the lineup card in his hand.
    • Key Departures 1B Mark Trumbo, CF Peter Bourjos, LHP Jason Vargas. While the team gets points for making moves from depth, the return on the Bourjos trade could haunt them. The Trumbo trade was as much as one could ever dream of getting for 34 home runs and nothing else. League-Average Vargas was replaced by the arms Trumbo brought in via the trade.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Chris Ianetta, 1B Albert Pujols, 2B Howie Kendrick, 3B David Freese, SS Erick Aybar, LF Josh Hamilton, CF Mike Trout, RF Kole Calhoun, DH Raul Ibanez
    • Rotation Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs.

    Why the Angels will win the Pennant

    Last year’s disappointment has provoked many excuses, but the core truth to the underachieving was an injured Albert Pujols, a lousy bullpen, and no reliable pitching after the top three arms and that was with a league-average No. 3 in the person of Jason Vargas. He’s gone and has been replaced with last year’s kind-of No. 4 Garrett Richards. Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago will fill out the fourth and fifth slots. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are the keys, though. Healthy they are as reliable a 1-2 punch as any team could wish for. Give the 2013 team an average Pujols and they are one more solid pitching performance away from taking the division.

    Read full breakdown at Halos Heaven →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Mike Trout

    It’s still unbelievable that he did not win the MVP the last two seasons. The man’s historic comp is Mickey Mantle. He is a great hitter still developing power and, if Mike Scioscia would just unleash him on the basepaths more, a speed demon even in the land of the fleet. Defensively he was a little tentative last season but without Bourjos gone he will have a chance to show that he can run wild in center field at last.

    Team Cy Young

    Jered Weaver

    Until further notice, this spot is occupied by Weaver. He was injured for a month last year, nothing chronic, he just landed funny on his non-throwing hand. He is 31 and the best Angels starter since Chuck Finley morphed into a Tawny Kitaen punchline. All systems are go with the Weave for 30 starts of ace stuff. Nobody wants to win as an Angel more than Jered and the heart/grit translates to talent/results in his case.

    Top Rookie

    Kole Calhoun

    Calhoun no longer qualifies as a rookie, but he is my vote for surprise All-Star contender. An exciting player he has the classic “makes the most of what tools he has” makeup, with a developing power stroke from the left side and enough contact andspeed that he will get a shot at batting leadoff. The Angels have no farm to speak of so anything that comes up and surprises you will surprise us as well.


    Hector Santiago

    The Chicago park he called home is a homer-haven and Angel Stadium is a pitcher’s paradise. Santiago, acquired via the Diamondbacks in the Trumbo trade, struck out 137 batters in 149 innings but did walk a few too many. Going from a park factor of 107 to one of 94 and adding a better defense could make the 26-year-old shine. Angels fans should look forward to a better version of the All-Star season by Joe Saunders a few years back.

    Key Stat

    For the second straight year, the Angels came into April with a big new signing and high expectations. Still, the team's pitching staff struggled through injuries and inconsistency, allowing 737 runs, the fifth-highest total in the American League. This offseason, the Angels landed starters Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs via trade, while Jason Vargas and Jerome Williams left in free agency. The biggest question facing the Angels in 2014 is whether they can improve on that runs allowed total. With Jered Weaver now on the wrong side of 30 and a starting rotation that still looks thin on paper, it's fair to wonder if the Angels can keep up in a crowded AL West.


    Subjects for further review

    David Freese, 3B

    The jury is out. He has all the hallmarks of a bounce-back candidate but just as strong a profile for continued degradation of his skills. If there is trouble, Luis Jimenez is the short-term solution in the minors.

    Erick Aybar, SS

    Underrated at the plate, Aybar uses his contact skills to play Scioscia’s brand of defense-pressuring ninny-ball as well as any player. The problem is of course, you scream “Quit being such a ninny!” when there are inexplicable bunts, hit-and-run plays, and other kamikaze strategies proven to backfire when used regularly, but still, that’s not Aybar’s fault. He makes the most of an average skillset to be a better player than he should be year in and year out.

    Josh Hamilton, OF

    Hamilton was the stupidest signing the Angels have made since Gary Matthews, Jr. (I said signing, not trade, you Vernon Wells hecklers) but there might be hope. Hambone’s tinkering has reverted his swing to its Texas form, he had a good last two months, and is back on chewing tobacco or caffeine or some other substance that is not a drug labeled “a demon” to be fought with. J.B. Shuck is the backup and giving him over 400 PA last season was the team’s demise.

    Ernesto Frieri, RHP

    Frieri is the closer. He is the kind of pitcher who dazzles with an unhittable fastball until it is suddenly the size of a grapefruit and is smashed over fences. If only he had an offspeed pitch as dazzling as his heater.

    Fantasy Corner: Angels Top Five Fantasy Players

    Mike Trout, OF: Trout is the best fantasy hitter in the game and is being drafted first overall in the majority of experts drafts and offseason mock drafts I have participated in.

    Albert Pujols, 1B: I am not a huge Pujols guy, as his decline over the past five years has hurt his fantasy value, and dropped him from an annual top-three pick to a third or fourth rounder.

    Josh Hamilton, OF: Hamilton hit well in the second half last season. I see him returning to the form of a few seasons ago, hitting .280 with 30-plus home runs in 2014.

    Jered Weaver, RHP: With all the excellent young starting pitching options this year, Weaver is getting lost in the hype, and is offering excellent value to fantasy owners. Grab him when others are drafting Michael Wacha and Danny Salazar. You will be glad you did.

    C.J. Wilson, LHP: Wilson still walks too many hitters, but quietly puts up solid numbers across the board.

    Best Case

    Tyler Skaggs adjusts to the majors, Hector Santiago continues to pitch well, and Albert Pujols manages to rediscover his stroke following surgery to repair his plantar fasciitis. The Angels have hit, even with the struggles of Pujols and Josh Hamilton, so if they pitch well, they'll be involved in the AL West race.

    Worst Case

    Joe Blanton will throw meaningful innings.

  19. Seattle Mariners

    The Mariners spent their winter trying to leave the legacy of #6org behind, and looked to be on the right path when they threw bags of money at free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano -- when's the last time the Yankees lost out an elite free agent of their own to another team? The problem is that the Mariners might not have pushed hard enough elsewhere, adding reclamation projects like Corey Hart and Logan Morrison to the mix but failing to bring in anyone else guaranteed to move the needle in their favor. Still, between Cano, the potential for Hart and Morrison to rebound, and the young talent already in the lineup and rotation, it's too early to write off the Mariners' efforts just yet. -- Marc Normandin

    • Owner Nintendo of America: After longtime team president Hiroshi Yamauchi passed away in September, the organization no longer has a face to put to ownership, though Yamauchi was rarely visible to begin with. New president Kevin Mather takes over for the recently retired and oft-criticized Chuck Armstrong with promises of increased resources.
    • General Manager Jack Zduriencik
    • Manager Lloyd McClendon
    • Key Additions 2B Robinson Cano, OF/DH Corey Hart, 1B/RF Logan Morrison, RHP Fernando Rodney. Cano was stolen from the New York Yankees for a mere $240 million over 10 years. Rodney is a perennially underwhelming reliever turned dominant closer hoping to regain his spectacular 2012 form at age 37.
    • Key Departures 1B/DH Kendrys Morales, LHP Oliver Perez. Morales walked away from a one-year, $14 million qualifying offer to test a market that has left him unemployed.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Mike Zunino, 1B Justin Smoak, 2B Robinson Cano, 3B Kyle Seager, SS Brad Miller, LF Dustin Ackley, CF Michael Saunders, RF Corey Hart, DH Logan Morrison
    • Rotation Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, Randy Wolf, Roenis Elias (Atijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma on DL)

    Why the Mariners will win the Pennant

    Hope springs eternal for Mariner fans. The rebuild of the Seattle Mariners after the wasteland left by former GM Bill Bavasi has been painstaking, long, and full of disappointment. The decimated farm system proved to be a difficult hole to dig out of for GM Jack Zduriencik, who has made his fair share of mistakes along the way. The collection of young talent the Mariners have acquired under Zduriencik's regime has mostly graduated, and the production from previous graduates has been underwhelming. A star has yet to emerge from this highly-touted batch of youngsters, and only third baseman Kyle Seager has developed into a quality starter.

    Read full breakdown at Lookout Landing →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Robinson Cano

    Is there any doubt? Maybe a little. While Felix Hernandez has long been the face of the franchise, Cano joins an offensively-challenged lineup that has struggled to score runs throughout much of Zdurienck's regime. He'll provide around 5-6 WAR immediately, anchoring the middle of the infield for years to come. He should provide the first outstanding offensive season the Mariners have seen in a number of years.

    Team Cy Young

    Felix Hernandez

    Even though it was Cy Young finalist Hisashi Iwakuma who got the accolades last year, Hernandez's run of dominance is more likely to continue. With Iwakuma sidelined with a finger injury, Hernandez will return to his position of the team's best pitcher, still as deadly as ever. Despite losing velocity over the last few seasons, Hernandez has produced outstanding numbers, even reaching a career high in strikeouts per nine innings last year. The King remains atop his throne.

    Top Rookie

    Taijuan Walker

    Regarded by many as the best pitching prospect in all of baseball, Walker will enter 2014 as a member of the Mariners rotation, assuming his shoulder soreness clears. With a smooth delivery and sneaky heat, Walker's fastball is ready to deliver immediate dividends. His off-speed offerings remain a work in progress, but Walker has the talent to be a star pitcher. He'll have his ups and downs, but a solid rookie campaign with the chance to be special seems likely.


    Danny Fuquhar

    Farquhar got shelled through the first half of 2013 despite missing a ton of bats. Despite his inflated ERA, Farquhar's peripherals were spectacular, and placing them next to Craig Kimbrel's didn't show much difference between the two pitchers. With Fernando Rodney as the team's new closer, Farquhar will move into a "fixer" role. If he pitches like he did in the second half, he could have a huge impact on this team's ability to retain leads in the late innings. One could argue Farquhar may end up being the more important reliever than Rodney as the year goes on.

    Key Stat

    Seattle achieved their goal of hitting for more power last year, finishing second in the majors in home runs. Unfortunately, they also finished 22nd in runs scored thanks to a fifth-to-last finish in on-base-percentage (.306 OBP). In short, their homers and doubles often came with the bases empty, limiting the damage done by big hits. Their offseason additions of Cano, Hart, and Morrison might not fix this problem on their own, so scoring may be tough again in the Emerald City.


    Subjects for further review

    James Paxton, LHP

    The ultimate wild card. After struggling with inconsistency across the minors, Paxton earned a late promotion in September, dominating his four starts while often touching the upper 90s. The big lefty tantalizes with his heat and nasty curve, but has to prove he can consistently pitch deep into games while harnessing his control. Older than Rick Porcello, the time is now for Paxton to break out and prove he can deliver on his potential.

    Mike Zunino, C

    Zunino enters camp with a whirlwind season under his belt, catching in the majors less than a year after he appeared in the College World Series. His quick ascension didn't treat him particularly well, though he showed signs of an offensive turnaround before breaking a bone in his hand. Now working on a new stance with hitting coach Howard Johnson to help him hit breaking balls, Zunino will hit near the bottom of the order and guide young pitchers Taijuan Walker and James Paxton through their rookie year.

    Justin Smoak, 1B

    Maybe just one more year. Now well into his prime and with nearly 2,000 MLB plate appearances under his belt, Smoak is out of excuses if he wasn't before. If he falters, he'll face immediate competition from Logan Morrison and Corey Hart, who can shift over to first. This is the end of the rope for Smoak, the last chance to see if he can finally put together a consistent season with his frequent carrot-dangling package of power and patience.

    Kyle Seager, 3B

    The perennially underrated and eternally-adored Kyle Seager was just a month away from a breakout season of his own before a miserable September soured his year. Though his overall line suffered down the stretch, his growth throughout the summer was encouraging, and he will once again enter 2014 as a sleeper candidate to be one of the team's offensive leaders. A steady glove at third and rock-solid at the plate, the left-handed Seager is one of the few Mariners who have their position locked down without doubt.

    Fantasy Corner: Mariners Top Five Fantasy Players

    Robinson Cano, 2B: I dropped Cano to No. 2 in my second base rankings, as I project we'll see his numbers fall across all five categories with his move to Safeco Park. I see him hitting 20-23 home runs, with a .280 batting average and 75-80 runs and RBI in 2014, and wouldn't be surprised he struggles to reach those depressed levels.

    Felix Hernandez, RHP: King Felix is still one of the top five or six starting pitchers in the game, but gets slighted a bit since he plays for Seattle and doesn't win many games. He provides positive value across four of the five pitching categories year in and year out.

    Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP: Iwakuma will start the season on the DL, but should be one of the top 20-25 starters in the game when he returns. He owns a solid strikeout and ground-ball rate, and doesn't walk many batters.

    Kyle Seager, 3B: Seager started hitting more fly balls last season, but hit just two more home runs than in 2012. Still, he could exceed 25 home runs in 2014.

    Corey Hart, OF/DH: Hart will play every day in the outfield or DH, and should provide owners with 20-25 home runs and 80 RBI this season despite his year off.

    Best Case

    Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley continue to progress at the plate after achieving post-hype status, the kids like Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino, and Tajiuan Walker show exactly why the Mariners didn't need more off-season help, and both Logan Morrison and Corey Hart return to the form that made them intriguing corner players in the not-so-distant past. Oh, and Robinson Cano justifies his contract. The combination of finances and farm leads to the end of their decade-spanning playoff drought.

    Worst Case

    Mariners fans have already seen what happens when free agents fail to deliver and prospects don't develop as planned. They've seen re-runs, even. The difference this time is that Jack Z might not survive another failure with his job intact, so maybe 2014 is win-win for the fans.

  20. Houston Astros

    The Astros are an easy target, as they've put some embarrassing lineups and players on major league fields over the last few seasons, but it's all in the interest of reversing what had been an even bigger joke: their horrendous farm system. Now they're overflowing with prospects and have even begun to spend at the big-league level in the hopes of avoiding another catastrophic showing in the only league that matters. The 2014 season is too early for Astros relevance once more, but flashes of the team they hope to be could come this summer. -- Marc Normandin

    • Owner Jim Crane
    • General Manager Jeff Luhnow
    • Manager Bo Porter
    • Key Additions RHP Scott Feldman, OF Dexter Fowler, RHP Jesse Crain, RHP Chad Qualls, RHP Jerome Williams, RHP Matt Albers. Houston’s outfield and bullpen were two of the biggest black holes on the worst team in baseball. Fowler fixes one of those somewhat, replacing about -4 WAR with +2 WAR of his own, while Crain, Qualls and Albers gives Houston some experience and (hopefully) stability to one of the worst bullpens in league history.
    • Key Departures RHP Jordan Lyles, OF Brandon Barnes, LHP Erik Bedard, 1B Brett Wallace. None of these will hurt in 2014; Barnes was a fourth outfielder pushed into an everyday role on a bad team and both Bedard and Lyles were better at eating innings than pitching well.If Lyles develops, he could haunt the Astros in three years.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Jason Castro, 1B Chris Carter, 2B Jose Altuve, 3B Matt Dominguez, SS Jonathan Vilar, LF Robbie Grossman, CF Dexter Fowler, RF L.J. Hoes, DH Marc Krauss
    • Rotation Scott Feldman, Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer, Brad Peacock, Dallas Keuchel

    Why the Astros will win the Pennant

    Slowly but surely, Jeff Luhnow has brought rescue to Astros fans. That basement-dwelling farm system from a few years ago was ranked No. 1 by some outlets this winter. The system has high end talent like shortstop Carlos Correa, major league-ready talent like George Springer, and lots and lots of depth.

    Read full breakdown at The Crawfish Boxes →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Jason Castro

    The former first-round pick had the breakout season that some thought would never happen, though his power surge was predicted by Beyond the Box Score. Castro received rest often to keep him healthy, yet he was still able to hit 18 home runs in only 120 games and 491 plate appearances. The move to the AL may have helped him stay healthy as he logged 79 plate appearances as the designated hitter. Expectations will be very high for Castro coming into this season, but expect a little bit of regression considering his BABIP was a career-high .351.

    Team Cy Young

    Scott Feldman

    The Astros gave Feldman a 3 year/$30 million contract, which is the largest contract handed out so far in the Luhnow era. He isn’t likely to be an exciting player, but he brings stable veteran leadership to the rotation. One of the top ground-ball pitchers in the majors, Feldman sported a 50 percent ground-ball rate last year. The Astros will expect Feldman to pitch deeply in games and save the bullpen from the stress of having to pitch four or five innings per game, which happened too often last year.

    Top Rookie

    George Springer

    A case could be made that Springer is the most anticipated rookie in team history, given his place in the Prospect List Era. Of course, he’ll immediately get supplanted once the two Carloses (Correa and Rodon) finally make it to the majors, but for now, Springer carries the weight of Houston’s turnaround on his shoulders. How much contact he makes will largely drive how successful he is in the majors, though. Springer made contact at Mark Reynoldsian levels last season in the minors, with his strikeout rate hovering way too close to 30 percent in Double-A.


    Dallas Keuchel

    Among pitchers with at least 150 innings, Keuchel ranked third in the league in ground-ball percentage, just behind Justin Masterson and A.J. Burnett and just ahead of Rick Porcello and Doug Fister. All four pitchers posted a WAR of three or higher, but the Astros ranked near the bottom in defense, spelling trouble for pitchers who give up grounders. Homers were an issue as well. While we don’t know how homer-prone Keuchel is yet, a 17.4 percent home run to fly ball ratio is abnormally high. Both his BABIP and HR/FB should regress towards the mean, helping his results improve overall.

    Key Stat

    In 2012, Houston spent $61 million on a team that lost 107 games. Following that season, the Astros slashed payroll to a measly $26 million, by far the cheapest payroll in the majors and in line with the salaries of Alex Rodriguez ($27.5 million), Justin Verlander ($25 million), and Felix Hernandez ($25 million). Houston went on to lose 111 games last year and shed an additional $7.8 million at the trade deadline. The Astros made more of an effort this offseason, bringing in $26 million worth of free agents and Dexter Fowler, but could still lose over 100 games for the fourth straight season.


    Subjects for further review

    Jose Altuve, 2B

    Altuve’s national recognition and new long-term contract have established him as the current face of the franchise, but they also mask the fact that the keystone man had a down year in 2013. Hampered by nagging injuries, Altuve hit just .248/.282/.361 from May through August; only by bookending the year with excellent hitting (.330/.374/.438 in April and .357/.378/.461 in September) did he manage to keep his season numbers from being truly terrible. He stole 35 bases, a career high, but he also led the American League in being caught 13 times, for a mediocre 73% success rate.

    Dexter Fowler, OF

    Fowler was a very nice consolation prize for missing out on the Shin-Soo Choo sweepstakes. Limited to 119 games because of injuries of the freak variety, Fowler is the most exciting major league acquisition under Luhnow. His slash line prior to the first injury last year was .302/.399/.498 with 10 home runs in only 277 plate appearances. After he was injured, he finished the year with a slash line of .211/.330/.289. If Fowler can remain healthy, he could be one of the most productive Astros in the 2014 season and a possible All-Star.

    Chris Carter, 1B/DH

    Fielders had nothing to do with the outcome of Carter’s plate appearance 53 percent of the time due to a walk, homerun, or a strikeout. With Carter it all boils down to contact. Carter is always going to strike out a lot; he just needs to reduce the rate a little. In 2012, when he struck out at a much lower rate of 31.9 percent (which is still high), he hit quite well. I agree with John Sickels. Chris Carter will have at least one monster season in his career. Maybe it will be 2014.

    Jarred Cosart, RHP

    While he doesn't like to admit it, Cosart is a prime candidate for regression. However, that doesn't mean he will regress quite as much as people think. In 10 starts last year, Cosart allowed merely 13 runs for a sparkling 1.95 ERA. However, it were his walks and strikeouts that had people worried; his FIP was a shocking 4.35. The regression won't be nearly as large as most think. The Astros' infield defense was absolutely terrible last year, but with defensive improvements the hits he allows, of which 54.5 percent last year were grounders, will go down as well.

    Fantasy Corner: Astros Top Five Fantasy Players

    Jose Altuve, 2B: Altuve is the Astros' best fantasy player, -- until George Springer arrives. Altuve offers owners a solid batting average and 30-plus stolen bases, but not much more. He should score more runs with the Astros lineup improving this offseason.

    Jason Castro, C: Castro hits plenty of line drives, which should support a solid .270-.280 batting average going forward, and we could see a bump in his home run total as well.

    Dexter Fowler, OF: Fowler will have to answer the question as to how will he hit now that he no longer calls Coors Field home for 81 games per season.

    Chris Carter, 1B/DH: Carter is plenty valuable since when he does make contact, it usually goes a long way. He is good for 25-30 home runs until the Astros strong farm system starts to push him for playing time.

    Jonathan Villar, SS: Villar is another low-average Astro capable of stealing 35 or more bases and hitting double-digit home runs with regular playing time. Grab him in the later rounds of drafts if you can deal with the .230-.240 batting average.

    *George Springer, OF: The Astros' top fantasy prospect is capable of putting up a 20 home run, 20 stolen base season in 2014 should he get called up before June. With that will come plenty of strikeouts and walks, increasing his chances of stealing 20 bags on an annual basis.

    Best Case

    Damn it, Astros GIFs will be replaced by ones where their players are baseballing the right way, instead of the hilarious way.

    Worst Case

    We'll still have Damn it, Astros GIFs to look forward to.

  21. NL East

    Champion: Washington Nationals

    It’s hard to tell from last season’s outcome, but the NL East is shaping up to be one of baseball’s more competitive divisions. With Doug Fister and the possibility of a healthy team, the Nationals still seem like the team to beat, and despite the Braves seeing pitchers drop like clay pigeons at a shooting gallery, they still have the overall depth to win. What makes things interesting, is that while the Mets, Phillies, and Marlins are unlikely to be true contenders, none of them should be patsies either; on any given day, they can make life difficult for the opposition.


    1 - Washington Nationals

    2 - Atlanta Braves

    3 - New York Mets

    4 - Philadelphia Phillies

    5 - Miami Marlins

  22. Washington Nationals

    Last year’s preseason favorites have a new manager, a deeper starting rotation thanks to an on-the-cheap acquisition of Doug Fister, and will once again be looking to make their second postseason of the Washington years and the franchise’s third October appearance since 1980. The parts are in place, but much will depend on a team which lost far too many games to injury getting healthy playing time out of Wilson Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, and Ross Detwiler. The Nationals have some admirable pitching prospects, including 2012 first-round righty starter Lucas Giolito, but as in 2013 the second-line options on offense are less than inspiring, so it’s durability or bust. -- Steven Goldman

    • Owner Ted Lerner
    • General Manager Mike Rizzo
    • Manager Matt Williams
    • Key Additions RHP Doug Fister, LHP Jerry Blevins, OF Nate McLouth, C Jose Lobaton
    • Key Departures RHP Dan Haren, U Steve Lombardozzi. Lombo was traded (in the deal that brought Fister to D.C.) Haren is bound to be the pitcher the Nationals were hoping for last season now that the Southern Californian is back in LA, with the Dodgers this time.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Wilson Ramos, 1B Adam LaRoche, 2B Anthony Rendon, 3B Ryan Zimmerman, SS Ian Desmond, LF Bryce Harper, CF Denard Span, RF Jayson Werth
    • Rotation Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, Tanner Roark

    Why the Nationals will win the Pennant

    The Nationals are primed and ready for another run. As Jayson Werth noted in a conversation with reporters last month, however, the Nats were one of the best teams in baseball down the stretch, and as he saw it, had they earned a postseason berth, they could have gone far. "If we get in," he said, "I think we're the best team in baseball at the time and I think it was ours to lose."

    Read full breakdown at Federal Baseball →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Bryce Harper

    Harper scuffled against lefties in his rookie and sophomore campaigns, but crushed right-handers with a .286/.360/.509 line with 20 doubles, five triples and 16 HRs in 119 games and 395 PAs vs RHPs in 2012 and a .300/.388/.560 with 16 doubles, three triples, 18 HRs in 106 games and 339 PAs versus righties last season. With continued exposure, will Harper's numbers against lefties continue to improve? Davey Johnson said he'd figure lefties out eventually. If Harper can stay healthy, [insert joke about not running into walls] and put together a full season's worth of at-bats, he could be a 21-year-old team MVP in 2014.

    Team Cy Young

    Stephen Strasburg

    Strasburg had surgery to remove "loose bodies" from his right elbow in late October. That's two procedures on the 25-year-old right-hander's elbow in his four-year major league career, and no doubt he would like nothing more than to end all of the talk about his health and make the topic of conversation his performance alone. Asked at NatsFest in January what he was working on improving for the 2014 season, Strasburg said, "Work on the pickoff move. Work on time out of the stretch. Work on commanding the fastballs both sides of the plate, sinkers more so, both sides of the plate too. Just trying to take that next evolution. Trying to get more complete."

    Top Rookie

    Zach Walters

    Walters unlocked his power in 2013 and hit more home runs in one season (29) than he had in the previous three seasons (25). There are holes in the 24-year-old infielder's game, however, with defense and high strikeout totals a concern. He could have an impact if there's an injury. If the left-handers in the Nationals' pen don't work out, Sammy Solis, 25, is an option as a reliever according to the Nats' GM. Steven Souza is a 24-year-old outfield prospect who had it all come together for him in 2013 (.300/.396/.557 line, 23 doubles, 15 HRs in 77 games at Double-A) though he missed time with injury issues.


    Wilson Ramos

    His 2012 season ended after 25 games when he tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee. He played 78 games total this past season and spent over a month on the DL with the second of two hamstring injuries he dealt with last summer. He returned just before the All-Star Break, however, and turned it on, with a .303/.333/.540 month of July and seven home runs in 96 PAs in September. He started an MLB-high 24-straight games in the second half. All signs point to a breakout year... if he can stay healthy.

    Key Stat

    According to defensive metric Ultimate Zone Rating, Ryan Zimmerman cost the Nationals 14 more runs than an average defensive third baseman would have last year due to his poor range, which was even more damaging than his many throwing errors. His range around the third base bag was once an asset, but self-consciousness over those throwing errors led him to play too shallow in 2013. Zim needs to regain confidence in his arm so he can be an effective all-around third baseman again and help the Nats reach their potential.


    Subjects for further review

    Anthony Rendon, 2B

    Rendon made his MLB debut early last season and learned on the job at second after the former Rice University third baseman replaced the struggling Danny Espinosa in June. Though Rendon suffered an ankle injury in 2012 and missed important at bats at a key time in his development, he stepped in at second last summer and the job is his to lose as the season begins.

    Ryan Zimmerman, 3B

    Mashing 11 of his 26 homers in the final 26 games of the year was the surest sign Zimmerman was working his way back to health throughout 2013. By that point his throwing issues were lessening as well. The hope is that the shoulder surgery he had last winter keeps him healthy and manning the hot corner for a few more seasons. The reality is that Matt Williams told him to bring a first baseman's glove to spring training with the expectation that Zimmerman might play 10-15 games at first this season. He's not done at third yet, however, and a strong season might push back a position change.

    Ian Desmond, SS

    Desmond proved that his breakthrough season in 2012 was no fluke. He has also reportedly emerged as a clubhouse leader in D.C. and is a fan favorite. There has been talk about a long-term deal for Desmond for the past few winters, but he settled for a two-year/$17.5 million contract this winter that bought out his remaining arbitration years. Desmond broke out under Davey Johnson's guidance, but can he take it to another level in 2013?

    Denard Span, CF

    Span was everything the Nationals were looking for on defense when they acquired the ballhawk from Minnesota in return for top pitching prospect, Alex Meyer, but he struggled to hit lefties, putting up a .198/.254/.313 line. He finished strong, batting .302/.337/.413 in the second half, including a 29-game hit streak during which he looked like the player the Nationals want at the top of the lineup.

    Fantasy Corner: Nationals Top Five Fantasy Players

    Bryce Harper, OF: Even after an injury-plagued 2013 season, Harper is being drafted in the first round of deeper mixed league drafts this offseason.

    Stephen Strasburg, RHP: Strasburg is still a top-10 starting pitcher in fantasy circles even after winning just eight games and seeing his strikeouts rate drop by almost two strikeouts per nine.

    Ian Desmond, SS: Desmond silenced his critics last season by putting up another 20 home run, 20 stolen base season, one of only nine players to do so last season.

    Ryan Zimmerman, 3B: A streaky hitter, a move to first base could hurt his draft day value come 2015.

    Jordan Zimmermann, RHP: Zimmermann is one of the more underrated starters in fantasy leagues, as he consistently offers a low-3.00 ERA and both a solid WHIP and win total, yet doesn't get enough love due to his low strikeout totals.

    Best Case

    Matt Williams wins Manager of the Year honors as the Nationals finally put it all together; Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg take home the major awards hardware along the way.

    Worst Case

    Injuries strike again, leading to too many box scores in which the starting outfield is Nate McLouth, Denard Span, and Scott Hairston.

  23. Atlanta Braves

    Brian McCann is gone, but with extensions handed out to Jason Heyward, Julio Teheran, Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, and even general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez, no one else will be going anywhere anytime soon. That core, along with a deep starting rotation, seemed set to carry the team forward, but this spring has seen Mike Minor delayed by injury and Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy carted off for Tommy John surgery. Now much will depend on their replacements, as well as the Braves extracting some value from Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton. That the Braves made it to 96 wins last year with two sub-replacement-level players in the lineup was a miracle that may not repeat itself. -- Steven Goldman

    • Owner Liberty Media, a media conglomerate run by CEO John Malone.
    • General Manager Frank Wren
    • Manager Fredi Gonzalez
    • Key Additions C/OF Ryan Doumit, RHP Gavin Floyd, RHP Luis Vasquez, RHP Yunesky Maya. Clearly, the Braves were comfortable with the team they put on the field last season.
    • Key Departures C Brian McCann, RHP Tim Hudson, LHP Eric O’Flaherty, RHP Luis Ayala, LHP Scott Downs. The Braves lost their two longest-tenured players to free agency, one of whom (McCann) they could not afford, while the other (Hudson), was allowed to depart in favor of more youthful pitchers.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Evan Gattis, 1B: Freddie Freeman, 2B Dan Uggla, 3B Chris Johnson, SS Andrelton Simmons, LF Justin Upton, CF B.J. Upton, RF Jason Heyward
    • Rotation Rotation: Julio Teheran, Mike Minor (will start season on DL), Alex Wood, David Hale, Aaron Harang, Ervin Santana

    Why the Braves will win the Pennant

    In some ways, the Braves had a painfully quiet offseason, losing Brian McCann and Tim Hudson and replacing them with a pinch hitter and a pitcher coming off of Tommy John surgery. Yet, it’s understandable that they didn’t do much in terms of changing the roster: the Braves were easily the best regular-season team in the NL East last season even with career-worst performances from high priced players in Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton, so if those players fail to repeat their almost historically disappointing seasons, it’s easy to forecast improvement for the team even without major additions.

    Read full breakdown at Talking Chop →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Jason Heyward

    No player on the team has the ability to combine offense, defense, and baserunning to the extent that Heyward does. The former number-one prospect has battled injuries in three of his four major league seasons, but only in one of them did those injuries actually hurt his on-field performance. He has a 20-20 season under his belt already, and is the top defensive right fielder in the game. It’s all about staying on the field with Heyward, and last season his injuries were of the freak variety. An emergency appendectomy and a pitch that hit him in the face shelved him on different occasions, but Heyward thrived on the leadoff spot when healthy (hitting .294/.373/.495 from June on) and should begin the season as the leadoff man again this year. Look for him to have that breakout season everyone expected last year in 2014.

    Team Cy Young

    Julio Teheran

    Both the projected Cy Young and MVP are difficult with this team, as so many of the players are of similar quality. The most talented of the arms is likely Julio Teheran, though. Expect Teheran to be the best on the staff, if only by a little. Teheran’s youth and impressive rookie year has prepped him to make the jump to staff ace. He has the tools and command of his pitches to be able to compete with anyone in the game, and this year he’ll show that to the rest of baseball.

    Top Rookie

    Tommy La Stella

    The Braves do not have many kids on the brink of cracking the major league roster, but La Stella should be the team’s top rookie. La Stella has shown a great ability to control the strike zone and hit for average, hitting .343 in 81 games at double-A last year. Dan Uggla is owed a lot of money over the next two years, but La Stella is 25-years-old and ready to contribute. If he gets his shot, expect him to be a solid contributor despite lacking power or impressive wheels.


    Ramiro Pena

    In just 50 2013 games Pena wowed Braves fans but suffered a season ending injury, halting his breakout. He’ll be a utility player entering 2014, but his .278/.330/.443 line last year along with top-notch defense will allow him to push for playing time. Look at Pena as a sort of Martin Prado of old, before Prado became a regular. Pena will provide value across the infield and if he comes to earn a shot on his own, he may just end up running with it. Along with La Stella, Pena will be pushing for playing time at second base if Dan Uggla falters.

    Key Stat

    The 23-year old Curacao native delivered on scout's rave reports in his fielding in 2013, garnering a massive 41 Defensive Runs Saved -- a statistic that analyzes all of a player's contributions on defense. For comparison's sake, Pedro Florimon came in a distant second among shortstops with 12 runs saved, meaning Andrelton was more than three times as valuable with the glove by this metric. Not only was Andrelton's mark the highest DRS total since the statistic was first calculated in 2002, but his single 2013 season would be the 15th highest career total for a shortstop since 2002.


    Subjects for further review

    Justin Upton, OF

    Upton started off his Braves tenure on fire and cooled off as the season wore on. He still had a productive season and is just entering the prime of his career. With all of the extensions being handed out to mid-20’s players in Atlanta, Upton must not be forgotten. Everyone knows the talent is there, and if he is to earn a long-term contract, the key for both he and the Braves will be finding offensive consistency and improving his defense in left field, which was lackluster in his debut at the position.

    Evan Gattis, C

    Gattis is no spring chicken so he has to produce now if he wants to cement a role as a starter rather than a glorified utility player with power. He hit over 20 home runs last year, so that type of power extrapolated over 450 plate appearances could lead to a lot of long balls for El Oso Blanco. He was better than expected defensively behind the plate, and with a full offseason of focusing on being a catcher rather than learning the outfield, he should continue to improve defensively.

    Chris Johnson, 3B

    This time last year, Chris Johnson was vying to be Juan Francisco’s platoon mate. With Francisco shipped off to Milwaukee last season after Johnson got off to a hot start, third base is his alone. He was a marvel to watch last year, getting base hit after base hit, which is where pretty much his entire value lies. As a very bad defensive player and poor baserunner who lacks both plate discipline and power, Johnson’s value is strictly tied to his batting average. But will he continue to hit at batting-champion levels or drop back down to his career norms?

    Andrelton Simmons, SS

    Defensively, there is no better shortstop. Offensively, Simmons made some strides and impressed in an area nobody expected him to impress in. Between the glove and being a shortstop with a league-average bat was enough to make him the most valuable player on the roster according to WAR, so if he can improve his skills at the plate and on the basepaths enough to be an asset rather than just average we could be looking at an MVP-caliber player.

    Fantasy Corner: Braves Top Five Fantasy Players

    Freddie Freeman, 1B: Freeman had a breakout season in 2013, hitting over .300 with 23 HRs and 109 RBI. He is a line drive hitter who may never hit 30 home runs, but is now getting comparisons to Joey Votto.

    Justin Upton, OF: Upton had a bounce-back season in the power category in 2013, but has the same problem as Joey Votto when it comes to driving in runs. The drop in stolen bases makes him a 3-4 category hitter now, rather than the 5-category hitter most expected.

    Jason Heyward, OF: Heyward will most likely bat leadoff for the Braves this season after his successful debut in the role in 2013. A leadoff hitter who can hit 20 home runs and steal 15-20 bases? Sign me up.

    Craig Kimbrel, RHP: Kimbrel is the best closer in the game and you will have to draft him in the early rounds if experts drafts are any indication. He was taken in the fourth round of the recent LABR mixed experts league draft.

    Julio Teheran, RHP: Teheran is coming off a breakout year of his own, and is on the cusp of becoming another in a long line of aces in Atlanta.

    Best Case

    B.J. Upton, 30-30 man; David Hale, 15-game winner.

    Worst Case

    B.J. Upton, $60 million bench-player; Dan Uggla, .150 hitter, Evan Gattis, minor leaguer.

  24. New York Mets

    Even without all the Bernie Madoff-related fallout that limits the team’s aggressiveness with player signings, the Mets are an iceberg taking one step forward and two steps back. Add Curtis Granderson and Chris Young to create a deeper outfield? Great! Use that as a way to reduce ballhawkin’ Juan Lagares’s playing time to make room for the speedy but ineffectual Eric Young, Jr? Not so great. Even given the odd priorities expressed there, the Mets might be a decent ballclub this year, with a solid starting rotation (even in the absence of Tommy John victim Matt Harvey) and a lineup that might be at least a bit more robust than last year’s. This isn’t the team that will return the Mets to the World Series for the first time since 2000, but with right-hander Noah Syndegaard and catcher Travis d’Arnaud likely getting shots this season, the club is at least taking baby steps. -- Steven Goldman

    • Owner The Wilpons and a host of minority investors who totally don’t have payroll restrictions anymore. They promise.
    • General Manager Sandy Alderson
    • Manager Terry Collins
    • Key Additions OF Curtis Granderson, RHP Bartolo Colon, OF Chris Young. The trio easily constitutes the Mets’ biggest offseason spending under Alderson.
    • Key Departures OF Marlon Byrd. The outfielder was excellent for the Mets last year, though it’d be a surprise if he were that good again in 2014.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Travis d’Arnaud, 1B Ike Davis/Josh Satin, 2B Daniel Murphy, 3B David Wright, SS Ruben Tejada, LF Eric Young, Jr., CF Chris Young, RF Curtis Granderson
    • Rotation Jon Niese, Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee, Jenrry Mejia

    Why the Mets will win the Pennant

    As the baseball season draws nearer, there’s at least some hope that the Mets will surprise the baseball world and be good this year. While few will pick the team to make the playoffs, never mind win the pennant, it would be foolish to completely count the Mets out before Opening Day.

    Read full breakdown at Amazin' Avenue →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    David Wright

    The team’s captain had a very good year in 2013, despite appearing in just 112 games because of a hamstring injury. Nevertheless, Wright’s WAR over the last two seasons place him fifth among position players, behind only Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Miguel Cabrera, and Robinson Cano. He’s one of the best players in the game and undoubtedly the best player on the Mets. The production dip of 2009 through 2011 is a distant memory at this point, and Wright should have another excellent year.

    Team Cy Young

    Zack Wheeler

    Perhaps he’s getting an unfair boost because Matt Harvey broke out in a big way last year, but Wheeler appears to have the stuff to outperform his fellow Mets starting pitchers. He’ll need to improve his strikeout rate at the major league level, but he managed a 3.42 ERA with just 7.56 strikeouts per nine in 17 starts last year.

    Top Rookie

    Travis d'Arnaud

    The highly-touted catcher wasn’t impressive at the plate in his brief debut last year, but he still has rookie eligibility and gets plenty of praise as a prospect. With very good early returns on his pitch blocking and a strong minor league track record as a hitter, he seems the most likely Mets rookie to have a good season. Pitchers like Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard could prove more talented at the major league level, but neither one is likely to play in the big leagues all season, as d’Arnaud is.


    Chris Young

    Though his signing was poorly received by many Mets fans because of his down year in 2013, Young was a valuable player in 2012 and a great player in 2010 and 2011. He’s still only 30 years old, and while a return to his peak form is far from guaranteed, he could be a bargain for the Mets at $7.25 million this season.

    Key Stat

    The Mets tried to compensate for their lack of power by moving the fences in at Citi Field in 2012, but the team still ranks 25th in home runs since then with 269 team longballs. Offseason acquisitions Curtis Granderson -- who hit 84 home runs in the last two full seasons he was healthy -- and Chris Young, who hit 47 home runs in the last two seasons he was given everyday playing time, will try to bring their power to Queens. This might help replace the 21 dingers that outfielder Marlon Byrd surprised the team with last season. Whether thanks to closer fences or bigger bats, the Mets need to raise the Citi Field apple more often to be competitive.


    Subjects for further review

    Daniel Murphy, 2B

    It’s not likely will be much different than he was over the past couple of years. In a vacuum, that’s okay. An average-ish defender and contact-reliant hitter, Murphy figures to be among the top 10 or 12 second basemen in the game.

    Ruben Tejada, SS

    After posting a .345 on-base percentage and playing a capable shortstop between 2011 and 2012, Tejada was dreadful in 2013. He spent much of the year at Triple-A Las Vegas and wasn’t much better there than he was in the big leagues. Adding injury to insult, he broke his leg shortly after rejoining the Mets late in the season. He’s still only 24 and spent time at the Mets’ conditioning camp in Michigan this winter. A strong start would go a long way towards making people forget last year.

    Juan Lagares, CF

    Was the youngster’s defensive performance a mirage? He certainly looked great in center, but the defensive metrics were sky-high on him last year. That’s why his WAR looked so good despite a lack of production at the plate. With Eric Young Jr. on the roster and Terry Collins’ temptation to use him as a leadoff hitter, Lagares will have to hit at least a little bit to ensure he gets the everyday job.

    Jon Niese, LHP

    Before hitting the disabled list with a partial tear in the rotator cuff in his left shoulder, Niese really struggled. Perhaps it was the extreme cold in which the Mets played on a road trip last April that did him in, but once he returned in August, he was back to his usual self. It looked like 2012 was his breakout season, but if he’s the pitcher that he was after returning last year (3.00 ERA, 15 walks, 56 strikeouts in 66 innings), 2014 could be his best season yet.

    Fantasy Corner: Mets Top Five Fantasy Players

    David Wright, 3B: Injuries are starting to mount for the face of the Mets franchise, but he is still a valuable fantasy contributor, capable of hitting .290-.300 with 20-plus home runs and 15-20 stolen bases.

    Zack Wheeler, RHP: Fantasy owners would like to see some gradual growth from Wheeler in 2014, where he can limit the free pass and improve the 7.56 strikeouts per nine.

    Curtis Granderson, OF: The Grandyman moves across town to Citi Field, where he may find more fly balls land in a glove rather than the outfield seats.

    Daniel Murphy, 2B: Where did all these stolen bases come from? Murphy had a breakout 2013 season, setting career highs in runs, home runs, RBI and stolen bases. Don't bet on a repeat.

    Travis d'Arnaud: Combining power and fragility, d'Arnaud will be the Mets' starting catcher in 2014, with the potential to hit 15-20 home runs.

    Best Case

    The fixer-upper outfield and Ike “I sucked last year because I sucked” Davis combine with David Wright and a solid pitching staff to push the team well over .500.

    Worst Case

    More serious, Harvey-like injuries afflict the young starting pitchers, and Bartolo Colon coughs up some illicit substance that nets another suspension, forcing Daisuke Matsuzaka to remain in the rotation all season, while injuries among the position players exposes the team’s lack of depth.

  25. Philadelphia Phillies

    Ruben Amaro, Jr. insists his team isn’t suffering from hardening of the arteries. The presence of five lineup regulars and two starting pitchers 34 and older contradicts him. With Cole Hamels slated to start the season on the disabled list, the once-dominant veteran rotation is down to Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett (who split the difference between playing and retiring by joining a team on which so many players are close to retirement age) and second-line dross. Unless the old-line stars have a last hurrah in them, it could be another long year in Philadelphia. -- Steven Goldman

    • Owner David Montgomery. He keeps the ownership faceless and unknown, though it’s becoming clearer how much he and his partners affect front office decision-making.
    • General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr.
    • Manager Ryne Sandberg
    • Key Additions OF Marlon Byrd, RHP Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, RHP Brad Lincoln, C Wil Nieves. With the exception of Gonzalez, who was signed on August 30, this is a list that reflects the Phillies’ offseason: depressing.
    • Key Departures RHP Roy Halladay, C Erik Kratz, LHP John Lannan. Considering how these guys did in 2013, their departures are not a bad thing for the increasingly decrepit Phillies (though we’re pouring one out for Roy Halladay, who retired in December).
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Carlos Ruiz, 1B Ryan Howard, 2B Chase Utley, 3B Cody Asche, SS Jimmy Rollins, LF Domonic Brown, CF Ben Revere, RF Marlon Byrd
    • Rotation Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, Kyle Kendrick, Roberto Hernandez, Cole Hamels (will start season on DL)

    Why the Phillies will win the Pennant

    In all honesty, it’s not going to be an easy task for the Phillies to win the Championship this year, let alone the National League Pennant, let alone the NL East crown, let alone a Wild Card bid. Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron recently pointed to his site’s fairly bearish take on the Phils’ chances this year: to wit, the Phillies have a 5.3 percent chance of winning the NL East, and a 6.7 percent chance of winning the wild card. In case you were wondering, that’s bad. The culprits for the miserably low percentage of success seem to be, in no particular order: the many bunglings of GM Ruben Amaro, Jr; the rapidly advancing age of the roster; and the various projection systems’ belief that the 2013 season was a sign of things to come for the Phillies going forward.

    Read full breakdown at The Good Phight →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Chase Utley

    For a player whose career looked to be over after developing chronic knee injuries in both knees, Utley responded in a big way in 2013, hitting .284/.348/.475 with 18 HRs while playing his most games (131) since 2009. He likely would have 20 or more homers had he not missed 31 games with a strained oblique. His 3.5 WAR led the team and, as he enters the 2014 season at 35 years old, he’s still the Phils’ best position player. The hope is that, after signing a two-year, $25 million dollar deal with vesting options, his knees will stay trouble-free.

    Team Cy Young

    Cliff Lee

    Lee is your neighborhood two-seamin’, four-seamin’, cut-fastballin’, no-smilin’, left-handed National League menace. He’ll turn 36 during the season, and they don’t let him burn through nine innings like they used to, but he still doesn’t walk many hitters, remained an All-Star, and will be an ace, top of the rotation starter until the day his left arm falls off, scampers away, and begins to spawn and grow a whole new Cliff Lee for us to enjoy. The tragedy is he may just be the next beloved, extremely talented starting pitcher to come to Philadelphia for a ring and leave without one (again).

    Top Rookie

    Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez

    “MAG” (to his friends and people who like acronyms) was signed to a three-year, $12 million deal last August, although the contract was reduced from an initial six-year, $48 million agreement after Philly saw his medicals. Still, it was a huge commitment for a big-name international player, and the Phillies hope he can be at least be a viable No. 4 or 5. No one has the slightest clue what he’s going to give the Phillies, though. Gonzalez says he has several pitches, including a fastball, curve, change, cutter, splitter, sinker, and knuckler. If “MAG” can refine his stuff, his value could skyrocket.


    Ben Revere

    After a dreadful April, Revere turned it on starting in May, hitting .347/.380/.404 in 240 PAs until breaking his foot on a freak foul-ball in July. He’s no Steve Jeltz, power-wise, at the plate (he’s still looking for that first career home run after 1400 plate appearances), he doesn’t walk a whole lot (just a 5.2 percent walk rate for his career), and although Revere would make highlight reel defensive-plays last season, his work in center was not as good as team officials hoped. Still, Revere could be a tremendous table-setter if he can keep his batting average above .300 and continue to steal bases.

    Key Stat

    In 2013, Defensive Runs Saved ranked the Phillies as the worst team in the majors defensively at -102 DRS. The main reason for this rating was the Phillies' poor range, as the club's Plus/Minus Runs Saved (rPM) of -104 was more than 40 runs worse than any other team. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), another range-based defensive metric, tells a similar story: the Phillies were second to last in UZR and dead last in RngR, the component of UZR that measures runs saved or allowed due to a defense's range. As this old team gets older, a failure to get to batted balls will only become more of a problem.


    Subjects for further review

    Ryan Howard, 1B

    For the first time since 2011, Ryan Howard will enter spring training fully healthy. Team officials say Howard’s Achilles and knee injuries are fully healed. The big question is whether or not manager Ryne Sandberg will platoon Howard against tough left-handed pitching more this year, perhaps using Darin Ruf in those situations. Even more telling will be whether they pull him against tough LOOGYs late in games. Still, the Phils will need Howard to anchor the middle of a lineup devoid of much power. Can he reach back into his youth and somehow dig up another 30 homer, 100-plus RBI season?

    Cody Asche, 3B

    Hey, look at that talented young scamp over there in the hot corner! The 23-year-old came up late last year and even though he was playing for a stumbling, struggling, strangling-itself, dead inside Phillies team, his spirits remained unkilled. He batted .235/.302/.389, but it was fun to watch him spear the sizzlers down the third base line that Michael Young would have, god bless ‘im, probably tried to stop with his face. The young, sturdy, quick-wristed Asche, should be one of the more fun facets of the team to witness this season.

    Marlon Byrd, OF

    Byrd, you old so-and-so, what in the name of Ed Wade’s dress socks are you doing here? What is this, 2006? Am I late for World Jump Day? Byrd’s season last year was one of those seasons that an older guy has that makes you tell people, “Y’know, I don’t like his team, but I’m rooting for Marlon Byrd.” Byrd put up solid numbers for a 35-year-old Met and even better numbers as a 35-year-old Pirate. Chances are high that Byrd doesn’t have an encore in him. Marlon presents a different argument: he’s not old. And the Phillies aren’t old! And you know something? Maybe you’re old! Yeah.

    Kyle Kendrick, RHP

    Kendrick is still here; through giving up five RBI to Jason Giambi in one game, leading the league in hit batsmen, being convinced he’d been traded to Japan, filling in for Roy Oswalt, Hurricane Katrina, and the Deepwater Horizon spill, Kendrick hasn’t budged from the Phillies’ pitching staff the way that former Triple-A long relievers and spot starters have before and after him. He’s a proven starter, somewhere between the third and fourth slot, and he can fill the hell out of a roster sheet.

    Fantasy Corner: Phillies Top Five Fantasy Players

    Cliff Lee, LHP: Lee is the owner of an elite strikeout-walk rate, and is a top-five starting pitcher in 2014. Don't worry about the win totals; they will be fine. Lee offers owners a low ERA and WHIP with double digit wins and 200 strikeouts every year.

    Cole Hamels, LHP: It was recently reported that Hamels is behind in his offseason throwing program and won't be ready for Opening Day. Not to worry. This spells a buy-low opportunity for fantasy owners.

    Domonic Brown, OF: Brown had a breakout season in 2013 after making adjustments to his swing. He has the potential for a 30 home-run, 15-20 stolen base season in 2014.

    Chase Utley, 2B: Age has caught up to Utley, but he is still fantasy-relevant at the age of 35. Despite severe knee injuries two years ago, Utley is still a top-10 fantasy second base, especially playing in one of the better hitters park in baseball.

    Ben Revere, OF: Last season was something of a loss for Revere, but he still has the potential to offer a solid batting average and 40-plus stolen bases.

    Best Case

    It’s like “The Expendables,” only with old baseball players instead of senior-citizen action stars.

    Worst Case

    After a hot April, Amaro gives Marlon Byrd a four-year contract extension.

  26. Miami Marlins

    More fans spun the turnstiles at Marlins Park than they did at Tampa or Cleveland, something which we can probably credit in equal parts to a ballpark that still has that new-car smell and the attraction of seeing young talents like Giancarlo Stanton (when he played) and NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez. This offseason the Marlins spiked last season’s inexperienced roster with veteran filler such as Rafael Furcal, Garrett Jones, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and the pitching staff remains young and talented. With Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Stanton -- 22, 23, and 24 years old, respectively -- making up the outfield, the Marlins have put an interesting product on the field. The question remains, though, if they will commit to the core long enough for them to fill out a full roster and become competitive, or Jeff Loria and company will once again bait and switch his much-abused fanbase. -- Steven Goldman

    • Owner Jeffrey Loria
    • General Manager Michael Hill
    • Manager Mike Redmond
    • Key Additions C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, INF Rafael Furcal, 1B Garret Jones, 3B Casey McGehee, RHP Carter Capps, U Jeff Baker, RHP Carlos Marmol. The Marlins filled a hole at catcher, but otherwise went for short-term veterans with little upside instead of gambling on a trade.
    • Key Departures 1B Logan Morrison, RHP Chad Qualls. The Fish finally tired of Morrison and decided to send him packing rather than bank on any of his remaining upside.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 1B Garrett Jones, 2B Rafael Furcal, 3B Casey McGehee, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, LF Christian Yelich, CF Marcell Ozuna, RF Giancarlo Stanton
    • Rotation Jose Fernandez, Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, Tom Koehler

    Why the Marlins will win the Pennant

    The Miami Marlins will win the 2014 World Series. No, that’s not true. Truth be told, the Marlins are barely closer to winning the NBA championship than they are to winning the pennant this year. But what can be said about the 2014 Marlins is that they are closer this year than they were last season. Last year, the Marlins were using a number of stopgap players in various positions and only a few players who held true protential. This year, different (and potentially better) stopgaps have arrived, but there are at least a few more promising names on the docket surrounding Giancarlo Stanton than there were last season. In fact, a number of players emerged in 2013 who could prove to be core members of the next competitive Marlins team.

    Read full breakdown at Fish Stripes →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Giancarlo Stanton

    Stanton’s numbers were down almost entirely across the board, but the dip in power was the most concerning. Stanton hit just 24 homers after career-best 37 in three fewer 2012 plate appearances. Stanton’s fly balls were traveling similar distances; in fact, his average fly ball or home run went further last year (302 feet) than in 2012 (299 feet). One suspects that Stanton is losing luck rather than true power, and a little better bounce on those swings will bring a return to prominence. Stanton did show the patience to take a walk when pitchers avoided him last year. If he maintains that ability, there is no reason not to expect a bounce back.

    Team Cy Young

    Jose Fernandez

    Fernandez started the season as a questionable addition to the Marlins’ rotation, having not thrown a single inning above High-A prior to the year. By the time 2013 ended, Fernandez was 30 innings shy of a legitimate Cy Young claim. His curveball (aka the Defector) was devastating, his strikeout rate through the roof, and his combination of bravado and youthful jubilation made him the most GIF-able player in baseball. Fernandez boasts a 95-mph fastball, a change-up, and a curve that buckles hitters’ knees for strikes and makes them miss, too. With his tools, he could be the league’s Cy Young recipient in 2014.

    Top Rookie

    Brian Flynn

    Flynn had a strong 2013 season in the minors, posting a PCL-best 2.80 ERA (3.05 FIP). His strikeout and walk rates have remained fairly static over the last few years as he’s advanced, and that steady production, along with his decent lefty velocity on his fastball and impressive body (he stands 6-foot-8 tall and is a sturdy 240) have propelled his stock from add-on in the Anibal Sanchez trade to legitimate fringe prospect. He still does not have the impressive stuff or flashy numbers to command more than back-end rotation work in 2013, but the Marlins only need that much from him.


    Marcell Ozuna

    Ozuna is the lesser prospect when compared to Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick, but figures to lead the race for center. Last season, he kicked off his career with a hot .333/.372/.462 May, but once the BABIP magic wore off, his line shrunk to Marlins-esque proportions. Still, .265/.303/.389 (90 OPS+) without any of the power that was his minor-league calling card bodes well for the future. Provided that pop arrives, Ozuna figures to be a healthy choice in center, or right if Stanton is traded. Ozuna impressed with his range and cannon arm, earning eight outfield assists and impressing in the advanced defensive metrics.

    Key Stat

    It’s okay, you’re allowed to use the term “historically awful” to describe the 2013 Miami Marlins’ offense. Using the metric wRC+, which compares a team’s overall offense to the league average, the Marlins “earned” a 72, meaning they were about 28 percent worse than the league average. To put that in perspective, the last team to post a worse mark than that was the 1965 New York Mets. To be even a little competitive, the team will need more regulars to be average or above-average hitters -- not just Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich.


    Subjects for further review

    Garrett Jones, 1B

    Jones batted .233/.289/.419 in 440 plate appearances before being dismissed by the Pirates in the offseason. Yet, his above-average power was enough to entice Miami to sign him to for two years for nearly $8 million. The Fish tacked on around $4 million over two years for a platoon partner, too, meaning they’re well aware of Jones’s extreme deficiencies versus lefties: Jones has “hit” .193/.234/.344 against southpaws for his career versus .271/.337/.489 against righties. The Marlins figure that Jones’ power will work better than what Logan Morrison would have provided, but failed to recognize that aside from his said pop, Jones gives them almost no on-field value.

    Rafael Furcal, 2B

    The Marlins are banking on Furcal finding his stroke again after missing all of the 2013 season recovering from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow. In his last two seasons, Furcal has hit just .251/.314/.347 (83 OPS+) and has struggled to stay healthy; he missed 107 games total in those two seasons. Now the Fish are asking him to at least match that production after accumulating a year of age and rust. Given his declining skill set, how much can the team expect that they could not have received from in-house options Donovan Solano or Derek Dietrich?

    Adeiny Hechavarria, SS

    Hechavarria had a nightmare season, posting the second-worst batting line among players with 500 plate appearances. He makes good contact, but anemic power and ground ball tendencies led to too many easy outs. An inability to lay off of pitches meant that he never gave himself a chance to walk, and given that these characteristics match his reputation, it’s difficult to expect improvement. Where he should get better is on defense, where he was flashy and looked like an elite defender. If he becomes the vacuum cleaner his athleticism and strong arm suggest he’ll be, he mighty be an average-ish contributor.

    Nathan Eovaldi, RHP

    Eovaldi emerged as a favorite for the second spot in the rotation after a strong sophomore campaign. He started his season late thanks to a shoulder injury, but returned with no difficulty throwing the baseball and slightly improved velocity. Despite that, the pitch yielded no additional swings and misses and hit the strike zone about as much as it did in 2012. Furthermore, it added nothing to his second and third pitches, which remain works in progress ranging from mediocre to cringe-worthy. While Eovaldi has a fastball-slider combination that works against right-handers, lefties have chewed him up thanks to a lack of an effective change-up.

    Fantasy Corner: Marlins Top Five Fantasy Players

    Giancarlo Stanton, OF: The man with big time power can't stay healthy, but when he does, he is capable of 40-plus home runs, with the slight chance of 50 home runs in his prime (healthy) years.

    Jose Fernandez, RHP: Fernandez had a breakout season in his rookie debut, winning 12 of his 28 starts, with a 2.19 ERA and a K/9 just under 10.0. He is a top 10-12 starting pitcher in 2014.

    Christian Yelich, OF: Yelich held his own in his rookie season, hitting .288 with an 11 percent walk rate and 10 stolen bases in 62 games. What can we expect this season? A .280 batting average with 10-15 home runs and 20-plus stolen bases doesn't seem like too much to ask.

    Steve Cischek, RHP: Why pick a closer on a team as bad as the Marlins? Because they, like other teams, play close games too. He strikes out a batter per inning and keeps the ball on the ground and in the ballpark, so he can pile up the saves in 2014.

    Nathan Eovaldi, RHP: Eovaldi owns one of the best fastballs in the game, but managed to strike out just 6.6 batters per nine in 2013. That could change if he can throw strikes with his change-up, which he has worked on this offseason.

    Best Case

    The young pitching staff gels, forcing opponents to run a killer gauntlet of 2-1 games.

    Worst Case

    More injuries, more precious service time burned on rushed kids, and the outfield home-run feature topples over and kills a visiting Yasiel Puig.

  27. NL Central

    Champion: St. Louis Cardinals

    Last year saw three highly-talented teams -- the Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds -- snarled at the top of the NL Central standings. An offseason in which the Pirates and Reds did little to address their needs, there is now a clear separation at the top. The Cardinals have depth to rival the 1930s heyday of their Branch Rickey-built farm system, and while everyone else in the division is patching.


    1 - St. Louis Cardinals

    2 - Pittsburgh Pirates

    3 - Milwaukee Brewers

    4 - Cincinnati Reds

    5 - Chicago Cubs

  28. St. Louis Cardinals

    Carlos Beltran is gone but Peter Bourjos, Jhonny Peralta, Kolten Wong, and Mark Ellis are in -- and can top outfield prospect Oscar Taveras be far behind? (Possibly, if his ankle ever heals.) Simultaneously, the world’s deepest pitching staff returns intact, and it’s still a young group, with Adam Wainwright the only starter over 26 and only a few fringe pieces in the bullpen (Randy Choate, Pat Neshek) out of their 20s. The Cardinals have made it to 10 of the last 14 postseason dances, and there is little reason to think they won’t be there again this fall. -- Steven Goldman

    • Owner Bill DeWitt Jr.
    • General Manager John Mozeliak
    • Manager Mike Matheny
    • Key Additions SS Jhonny Peralta, OF Peter Bourjos, 2B Mark Ellis. The Cardinals signed Peralta so that they wouldn’t have to play Pete Kozma anymore. Bourjos is an enticing player, especially on defense. Ellis will serve as the short end of a platoon with Wong, getting the starts against southpaws.
    • Key Departures OF Carlos Beltran, 3B David Freese. During his two seasons in St. Louis, Beltran cracked 56 home runs and a .282/.343/.493 line while serving as a veteran presence in the clubhouse. Freese is a postseason legend, but he injured his back during spring training a year ago and never looked comfortable in the field or at the plate throughout 2013.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Yadier Molina, 1B Matt Adams, 2B Kolten Wong, 3B Matt Carpenter, SS Jhonny Peralta, LF Matt Holliday, CF Peter Bourjos, RF Allen Craig
    • Rotation Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly

    Why the Cardinals will win the Pennant

    When Matt Carpenter swung through a Koji Uehara splitter for the last out of the World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals’ season ended two victories shy of the club’s ultimate goal. Nonetheless, the 2013 season was a special one in Cardinaldom. The Redbirds notched 97 wins en route to a division championship and the 19th National League pennant in franchise history.

    Read full breakdown at Viva El Birdos →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Yadier Molina

    Molina finds himself one of the top all-around players in baseball, a potent batsman who is lauded for pitching staff management, pitch framing, ability to block balls in the dirt, and rocket arm. Molina is not a patient hitter. Instead, he relies on his otherworldly hand-eye coordination to put the barrel on balls throughout the strike zone (and outside of it), spraying hits to all fields. The result in 2013 was a .319/.359/.477 line on the strength of a 24.3 percent line-drive rate that ranked 25th in MLB, just ahead of Miguel Cabrera.

    Team Cy Young

    Adam Wainwright

    Wainwright and the Cardinals agreed to a five-year, $97.5 million contract extension befitting a staff ace a year ago, and he began to pitch like one once more shortly after. Wainwright put on the workhorse’s yoke with a league-leading 241 2/3 innings, and the righty’s miserly walk rate combined with a higher-than-average strikeout rate generated a 4.6 strikeout-walk rate that was second-best in the majors. This year the Cards are hoping not to see a pitcher who shows signs of having thrown 276 2/3 innings from April through October of last year.

    Top Rookie

    Kolten Wong

    The Cardinals’ trade of David Freese effectively handed Wong the primary second base job. Talent evaluators describe him as a low-risk, low-reward type of player, a grinder who wrings production out of all phases of the game. Wong grades as an above-average second baseman despite unimpressive arm strength. Perhaps his highest-rated skill is his ability to barrel the baseball (which is something that can be said for an awful lot of Cardinals these days). Wong has been named to multiple top-100 prospect lists this winter and MLB.com declared him the top second-base prospect in the game.


    Matt Adams

    Adams hit his way onto the 2013 MLB bench during spring training, showing his power would play in the big leagues with a homer in every 17.4 ABs and filling in admirably for Craig when the latter hit the DL in September. Adams finished the year with a .284/.335/.503 line -- rate stats not that far off those of the departing Carlos Beltran. The Cardinals are counting on Adams parlaying his minor-league and 2013 major league success into a strong season as the team’s primary first baseman.

    Key Stat

    The Cardinals won 97 games in 2013, but their overall numbers don't fit the profile of such a successful team. The difference between their expected wins and their actual wins can be attributed to historic production with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals' .330 batting average with runners on second and/or third was the highest since 1974, when that stat was first recorded. The Cardinals remain one of the best teams in the National League, but they might not be as lucky in 2014.


    Subjects for further review

    Matt Carpenter, 3B

    Atop the St. Louis lineup, Carpenter batted .318/.392/.481 while also providing decent work in the field. The result was the NL’s top second baseman. Now that the Cards have traded David Freese to the Angels, Carpenter will play his native third base in 2014. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA isn’t worried. It projects Carpenter to be baseball’s best third baseman this year.

    Matt Holliday, OF

    He’s the metronome setting the pace for the Cardinals lineup. While Holliday’s power has fallen off a bit as he moves into the downslope of his seven-year contract with the Cardinals, so has baseball’s as a whole. The result is a batter who has posted an OPS+ between 137 and 151 in every season from 2006 through 2013. Last year, manager Mike Matheny did a good job of getting Holliday sporadic rest throughout the 162-game grind. It showed in October, as Holliday led the Cardinals with a 905 OPS during World Series play.

    Jhonny Peralta, SS

    In 2013, St. Louis shortstops posted a collective batting line of .222/.280/.303. The Cards’ quest to upgrade at short ended when they signed 32-year-old Jhonny Peralta to a four-year deal worth $53 million. Some would describe Peralta as having a thick body, so it’s an open question of whether he’ll be manning short by the deal’s fourth year. But the Cardinals will worry about that come 2017, for the Peralta signing was made to win now. Peralta’s .268/.330/.425 career batting line offers St. Louis an immediate and significant upgrade over the anemic production the club received there a year ago.

    Peter Bourjos, OF

    It’s not a stretch to say that Bourjos might be the closest thing Cardinals fans will ever see to player fielding at an Ozzie Smith level in the outfield. His bat is another story. His 2013 was cut short when he was struck on the wrist by a pitch. The resulting fracture did not heal and surgery was required. Will Bourjos be able to bat close to the .274/.333/.377 line he posted last year, primarily before his wrist injury, or will we be adding his name to the list of ballplayers whose batting skill was sapped due to a wrist fracture?

    Fantasy Corner: Cardinals Top Five Fantasy Players

    Adam Wainwright, RHP: Wainwright is one of the more consistent starters in the game, and he pitches for a team that wins plenty of games and has a terrific bullpen. He is a top 10-12 starter in fantasy this season and should be drafted in the third or fourth rounds of most drafts.

    Matt Holliday, OF: Speaking of consistency, you know what you are getting when you draft Holliday, a .290 hitter with 20-25 home runs, 90-100 RBI and plenty of runs scored. Very little risk here.

    Allen Craig, 1B/OF: Craig disappointed in the power category in 2013, as his home runs dropped from 22 to 13. He is coming off a bad ankle injury, and one has to wonder how long the Cardinals will play him in right field this season.

    Matt Carpenter, 3B: Carpenter is coming off a breakout season where he led the majors in runs scored while hitting .300. He moves to third base this season, but is expected to remain at the top of the Cardinals batting order. Don't draft him expecting a repeat of 2013.

    Trevor Rosenthal, RHP: Rosenthal is one of the best closers in the game and if you want him on draft day, you will have to grab him in the sixth to eighth rounds, because that is where the top closers are being taken in experts drafts thus far.

    Best Case

    It’s back to the World Series.

    Worst Case

    With this kind of depth, it’s hard to imagine everything going wrong. In most cases the Cardinals’ replacements have replacements.

  29. Pittsburgh Pirates

    Last season's Cinderella team had a quiet offseason, bidding adieu to A.J. Burnett and five-year hand Garrett Jones, the latter of whom had largely been superseded by other players. The replacement for Burnett, at least on paper, was Edinson Volquez, one of the most consistently miserable pitchers in big-league history -- his career ERA+ of 84 is the 22nd-worst of all time (800 innings and up) and the fourth-worst 1980 to present. This would be a laughable way of going about a postseason defense if the Pirates didn’t have a full season of Gerrit Cole to look forward to and Jameson Taillon on the way. First base remains a concept, but given the quality of the next wave of reinforcements, the Pirates renaissance should go on.

    • Owner Bob Nutting
    • General Manager Neal Huntington
    • Manager Clint Hurdle
    • Key Additions Uh ... RHP Edinson Volquez? C Chris Stewart?
    • Key Departures RHP A.J. Burnett, OF Marlon Byrd. Byrd only played for the Pirates for a month of the regular season, so Burnett is the big loss. You could put Justin Morneau here too, if you're a fan of aging first basemen who don't hit.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Russell Martin, 1B Gaby Sanchez, 2B Neil Walker, 3B Pedro Alvarez, SS Jordy Mercer, LF Starling Marte, CF Andrew McCutchen, RF Jose Tabata
    • Rotation Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Wandy Rodriguez, Charlie Morton, Edinson Volquez

    Why the Pirates will win the Pennant

    The Cardinals won the pennant last year and have taken a step forward this offseason with their revamped defense, while the Pirates have taken a step back. As such, it's hard to responsibly project that the Pirates will win the NL Central, even if they ought to win 85 games or so.

    Read full breakdown at Bucs Dugout →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Andrew McCutchen

    In 2013, Brandon Inge won the rare DPF/BPA/CCUF Triple Crown, leading the team in Defensive Positions Faked, Batting Practice Attaboys, and Couldn't Catch Up to Fastballs, and his leadership lingered even after the Pirates cut him in July ... Nah, it is who you think it is. In his age-27 season, with no obvious holes in his game, there's no reason to think he won't be awesome again. If anything, McCutchen could potentially hit a few more homers this season, which might help offset a slight dip in his batting average.

    Team Cy Young

    Gerrit Cole

    Francisco Liriano is an obvious candidate, and if the Pirates' infield defense eats its Wheaties, it's possible Charlie Morton could come into play as well. But Gerrit Cole is too good to deny here. The 2013 rookie whiffed the first big-league batter he faced with a 99-MPH fastball and just got better from there, moving away from a fastball-dependent approach and leaning more heavily on his slider and changeup, both of which were very effective. By the end of the season, he was dominating nearly every start. If that continues, the National League had better watch out.

    Top Rookie

    Gregory Polanco

    Three years ago, Polanco was a tall outfielder who couldn't hit but ran like a moose that had suddenly sprouted the legs of a gazelle. Nowadays, Polanco is a scarier beast. He's still fast and has the potential to be an excellent defender. He controls the strike zone, and makes contact well enough that he has obvious offensive upside, especially given his swing and size. Polanco has limited experience in the high minors, so some caution about his hitting is in order. As with Starling Marte, though, Polanco should contribute enough elsewhere to add value.


    Edinson Volquez

    Trying to choose a sleeper on a team following up a 94-win season isn't easy, since most of the Pirates' potential 2013 sleepers spent the year pounding No-Doz. The Pirates would probably name Volquez, who spent most of the last three seasons making his employers tear their hair out while underperforming his peripherals. Of course, not even those peripherals indicated he was very good -- it turns out that xFIP doesn't really like it when a pitcher routinely battles for the league walk lead. Volquez's combination of velocity and ground balls is one the Pirates might be able to work with, however.

    Key Stat

    The success of the 2013 Pirates (including their first postseason berth since since 1992) came as a result of pitching and fielding. Since 2012, the Pirates have led all of MLB in pitching ground-ball percentage. That led to the third-lowest rate of home runs per nine innings (0.79) in the majors. Additionally, keeping the ball on the ground has dovetailed with the Pirates' excellent fielding, and the club has the fifth-lowest opposing batting average on balls in play (.285) since 2012. Expect the Pirates to execute another successful season on the shoulders of their grounder-heavy pitching.


    Subjects for further review

    Russell Martin, C

    Martin's 2013 defensive season was a thing of beauty, and he'll be hard-pressed to repeat it, but he should still be highly valuable to the Pirates, given his pitch-framing and power. Martin was 4.1 wins above replacement last season despite batting .226, which shows how little a statistic like batting average really tells you. Martin's troubles making contact are real, though, and are unlikely to improve as he moves further into his 30s.

    Gaby Sanchez, 1B

    Sanchez is the Pirates' only experienced first sacker, but he posted a 619 OPS against righties in 2013. If the Bucs don't acquire a lefty to platoon with Sanchez, Andrew Lambo is likely to break camp and start against righties at least some of the time. Lambo hit 33 homers across three levels in 2013 and would be a great candidate to play full-time if the Pirates were still in rebuilding mode, but for a contending team, his relatively strikeout-heavy minor league profile may represent too great a risk, at least in the absence of a better backup plan.

    Neil Walker, 2B

    Pirates fans have spent much of the offseason lobbying for Pedro Alvarez and hometown hero Walker to receive extensions, but neither of those deals would make sense, at least not at what Alvarez and Walker are likely to command. Walker is under team control for three more years, after which he'll be 31. He plays second base, not a position where non-superstars tend to age well, and he already has pronounced problems hitting lefties. You don't have to sign every good, cost-controlled player to an extension. It's not, like, a rule.

    Starling Marte, OF

    Here's the player you sign to the extension. Unlike Walker and Alvarez, Marte isn't a former top draft choice (he signed for just $85,000 as an amateur), and he isn't already into his arbitration years, so he should be at least somewhat motivated to sign. He's also young and very athletic, and his defensive and baserunning abilities mean he can provide value even if he struggles offensively.

    Fantasy Corner: Pirates Top Five Fantasy Players

    Andrew McCutchen, OF: McCutchen is a top-four pick in fantasy drafts this season and for good reason. He is almost a lock to put up a 20 home run, 20 stolen base season with a .300 average, and 90 runs scored and RBI.

    Starling Marte, OF: Marte is coming off a season where he hit double digit home runs and stole 40-plus bases, but the question for fantasy owners is whether he can repeat that in 2014.

    Gerrit Cole, RHP: Cole is an ace after less than 20 major league starts. His strikeout rate rose as the season went along, and I see 200 strikeouts from him in 2014.

    Pedro Alvarez, 3B: There aren't many hitters in baseball with more power than Alvarez, but with huge power comes plenty of strikeouts and a low batting average. He could hit 45 home runs. He could also hit .190.

    Francisco Liriano, LHP: Liriano was the third reclamation project for Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, and he might be the best as well. Pitching in PNC Park certainly helped, but Liriano keeps the ball on the ground and strikes out a batter per inning. He lowered his walk rate from 5.00 to 3.52, and more improvement there could push him into the ace category.

    Best Case

    Everything happens roughly the same way it did last year.

    Worst Case

    The club tolerates soft first-base and right-field situations just long enough to knock the team out of contention.

  30. Milwaukee Brewers

    Doug Melvin has been general manager of the Brewers since September 2002, and to his credit has had more success than any Brewers GM since Harry Dalton, with postseason appearances in 2008 and 2011. The team’s reactions to changing circumstances have been strangely directionless. Ryan Braun’s suspension and Rickie Weeks’ two-year experiment with injury and ineffectiveness led to successful (at least in a small-sample sense) promotions for Khris Davis, Caleb Gindl, and Scooter Gennett. Conversely, the season-ending injury to first baseman Corey Hart was met with a less-than-urgent response, with the result that Brewers first basemen hit just .206/.259/.370. Somewhere in between was the last-minute decision to sign free-agent right-hander Kyle Lohse, who was (a) effective, but (b) unlikely to alter the team’s place in the standings enough to justify (c) the expense or the first-round pick that was confiscated from a farm system desperately in need of talent. The Brewers added Matt Garza to their perpetually underachieving starting rotation this winter, but as with Lohse, he should be a stepping-stone towards .500, not contention. -- Steven Goldman

    • Owner Mark Attanasio
    • General Manager Doug Melvin
    • Manager Ron Roenicke
    • Key Additions RHP Matt Garza, RHP Francisco Rodriguez, LHP Will Smith, 1B Mark Reynolds, 1B Lyle Overbay. The Brewers were the last team to sign a major league free agent this winter, but added significant depth to their starting rotation and bullpen with Garza, Rodriguez and Smith. Reynolds and Overbay are two of a half-dozen candidates trying to earn playing time at first base.
    • Key Departures RF Norichika Aoki, 1B Corey Hart, RHP Burke Badenhop, LHP Michael Gonzalez, IF Yuniesky Betancourt. Aoki was the only one to make a significant positive contribution to the 2013 team. Hart missed the entire season with knee issues, Badenhop was largely used in mop-up duty and Gonzalez and Betancourt were used frequently despite being ineffective.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Jonathan Lucroy, 1B Mark Reynolds/Lyle Overbay/Juan Francisco, 2B Scooter Gennett/Rickie Weeks, 3B Aramis Ramirez, SS Jean Segura, LF Khris Davis, CF Carlos Gomez, RF Ryan Braun
    • Rotation Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Marco Estrada, Matt Garza, Wily Peralta

    Why the Brewers will win the Pennant

    This Brewers team is probably closer to "contending if everything goes right" than "legit force to be reckoned with." The simple fact remains that the Brewers have not done a lot to dramatically alter a team that only won 74 games last year. The Brewers' likely group of everyday position players features seven players who finished the season on the roster in 2013, and if Juan Francisco wins the job at first base they could go a full 8-fo-8. Similarly, Matt Garza is the only addition to last season's starting rotation.

    Read full breakdown at Brew Crew Ball →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Ryan Braun

    His days of winning popularity contests around baseball are probably over, but Braun has served his suspension and, for better or worse, he's the cornerstone of this Brewers franchise. The future of this franchise is unquestionably tied to the right fielder, who is under contract through 2020 with an option for 2021. Braun doesn't need to have another MVP season for this Brewers team to be successful, but if he posts something like a 900 OPS with 30 home runs, it'll go a long way to help both his team and his image rebound from a dreadful year.

    Team Cy Young

    Kyle Lohse

    Many Brewers fans were skeptical when the Brewers signed Lohse a year ago, noting that the team's history with veteran free agent pitchers was pretty bad (see Suppan, Jeff) and lamenting the loss of a first round pick. Nevertheless, Lohse was the best pitcher on this team in 2013, falling just short of 200 innings with a 3.35 ERA. He's also widely credited as a leader, high praise for a guy who was a longtime member of the rival Cardinals. His reliability and consistency help him stand apart from the rest of a rotation that can run hot and cold.

    Top Rookie

    Tyler Thornburg

    The 2014 Brewers are likely to rely heavily on young players who fall just outside of rookie eligibility such as Scooter Gennett, Khris Davis, Wily Peralta, and Jean Segura. Tyler Thornburg isn't rookie-eligible either, but he's never played a full season in the majors and he could be the top candidate to slide into the rotation if one of the original five has to miss any time. Thornburg was good in both starting and relief roles in limited major-league work, but questions about his size (he's under six feet tall) and depth of repertoire may eventually force him into short relief.


    Will Smith

    Smith is a 24-year-old lefty who struggled with the Royals as a starter in 2012 before moving to the bullpen. His slider is credited as being one of the best in baseball. Like Thornburg, the Brewers are going to have a tough decision to make with Smith. He likely has the stuff to pitch as a starter in the long term, but his work in 2013 would suggest he could help the team as a reliever now. At the very least, there's a fair amount of upside here and Smith is still young enough to grow into it.

    Key Stat

    The Brewers had the worst walk percentage in all of baseball, taking the free pass only 6.7 percent of the time in 2013. It's just a walk, you say -- well, of the top 10 teams in walk percentage, seven made the playoffs. None of the bottom 10 made it. With home runs and offense decreasing since 2007, teams need to get on base any way they can, and the Brewers will need to develop some plate discipline to compete.


    Subjects for further review

    Rickie Weeks, 2B

    Finally coming to the end of the four-year deal he signed in 2011 (there’s a vesting option for 2015 based on total plate appearances the Brewers will be praying he doesn’t reach), Weeks presents his team with a no-win scenario: Even if he recovers the offense he’s lost over the last couple of years, he could surpass Juan Samuel as the worst defensive second baseman in history (as per defensive runs saved) as soon as this season.

    Carlos Gomez, OF

    Gomez finally achieved the All-Star status in 2013 that his tools had predicted for him, parlaying a slight uptick in selectivity and a .344 batting average in balls in play into a career high batting average and on-base percentage. Put that together with the baserunning and defensive value that his speed provides and you have an extremely valuable property even if his lack of patience means his OBP will likely slide back towards .300.

    Jonathan Lucroy, C

    At 27, Lucroy had his first season of both health and productivity at the plate. An All-Star berth seems to be in his future, though with Buster Posey in the league he’ll always be a “He’s good too” guy rather than the league’s leading man. Miscast as a central part of the offense last year with Ramirez and Braun out, he’ll go back to being a very good complementary piece this year.

    Yovani Gallardo, RHP

    From 2011-2012, Gallardo went 33-19 with a 3.59 ERA (112 ERA+). In each of those seasons he had a quality start percentages in the 70s that ranked ninth and second in the National League, respectively. With only 17 in 31 tries last year, he dropped to 39th. A more frightening drop was in his strikeout rate, which plummeted from 9.4 from 2009-2012 to 7.2. At 28, Gallardo is still young enough to have some prime years left, but the Cy Young awards which once seemed within reach now seem unlikely.

    Fantasy Corner: Brewers Top Five Fantasy Players

    Ryan Braun, OF: Braun is one of the more polarizing players this season; many do not believe he can return to being the hitter he was before the suspension. If recent expert drafts are any indication, fantasy owners should be rest assured that he will be the old Braun in 2014 -- maybe not the 40 home run/30 stolen base Braun, but a 30 home run/20 stolen base hitter with a .290-.300 average still seems very possible.

    Carlos Gomez, OF: Expect another 20 home run/20 stolen base season in 2014.

    Jean Segura, SS: Segura is one of the top five or six shortstops off draft boards in early mocks, but his struggles in the second half of 2013 suggest he won't hit .290 again. I see a .260 average with 30-plus stolen bases this season.

    Jonathan Lucroy, C: Lucroy is one of the more underrated fantasy catchers in the game, ranking in the top 10 in all five categories among catchers in 2013.

    Aramis Ramirez, 3B: Age and injury finally caught up to Ramirez in 2013, but if he can stay healthy, he is an excellent mid-late round third baseman on draft day, as Miller Park is one of the more hitter-friendly ballparks in the game.

    Best Case

    Garza, Lohse, and a suddenly-consistent Yovani Gallardo lead a surprisingly good starting rotation, while Braun salvages what’s left of his reputation with an indisputably legitimate MVP season.

    Worst Case

    That already happened last year when Yunieksy Betancourt was given over 400 plate appearances. He’s gone now, and whatever comes next won’t be as bad as that.

  31. Cincinnati Reds

    The Reds had the third-best ERA of any starting rotation in 2013, and that unit returns intact, the only change being lefty Tony Cingrani replacing Bronson Arroyo -- very possibly an upgrade. The offense, though, remains underwhelming, fronted by the misunderstood first baseman Joey Votto and now missing walk-crazy outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who decamped to the Texas Rangers. Will rookie Billy Hamilton’s speed be enough to put a charge into a moribund, often self-defeating offense that had five positions post on-base percentages below .320 last season? -- Steven Goldman

    • Owner “Banana” Bob Castellini, a local businessman known for his fruit and vegetable wholesaling company.
    • General Manager Walt Jocketty
    • Manager Bryan Price
    • Key Additions U Skip Schumaker, C Brayan Pena, LHP David Holmberg
    • Key Departures OF Shin-Soo Choo, RHP Bronson Arroyo, C Ryan Hanigan
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Devin Mesoraco, 1B Joey Votto, 2B Brandon Phillips, 3B Todd Frazier, SS Zack Cozart, LF Ryan Ludwick, CF Billy Hamilton, RF Jay Bruce
    • Rotation Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, Tony Cingrani, Mat Latos (may start season on DL)

    Why the Reds will win the Pennant

    The Reds didn’t make a large splash in the offseason, but they should still have enough firepower to compete in the NL. The Reds bring back almost all of their roster from last season’s 90-win team, and with them a renewed sense of accountability brought on by a managerial change to end last season’s playoff disappointment. Dusty Baker is gone, and Bryan Price represents the “new sheriff in town” in the Reds clubhouse. There are plenty of ways that a team can improve with the addition of Dusty Baker, but the management’s gripe was that Dusty was too easy on his players. If you believe ownership, that “relaxed” team spirit cost the Reds their last 6 games of the season, and an early exit in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

    Read full breakdown at Red Reporter →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Joey Votto

    Votto is one of the NL’s best, and his cerebral approach will allow him to continue his dominance. One of the more forward-thinking hitters in baseball, his “on-base first” approach has earned him criticism from the local media, with critics claiming he’s letting traditional categories like RBI lapse while focusing on getting on-base. Critics be damned, though: Votto has led the league in walks for the past three years and OBP for the last four. His amazing plate discipline, paired with his power now that he’s finally healthy for the first time since 2011, should make for a big year.

    Team Cy Young

    Mat Latos

    He has competition for the role of staff anchor, but he had his best season yet in 2013, with a 14-7 record and a 3.16 ERA. In his four full seasons in the majors, Latos hasn’t started less than 31 games in a season, and his strikeout totals have been between 185-189 every year. That’s consistency. The hard-throwing righty should match that this season, if not exceed it as he continues to learn league.

    Top Rookie

    Billy Hamilton

    Hamilton made baseball stand up and notice him as a September call-up. Without an everyday place to play, he made his impact on the basepaths and at this point is the undisputed fastest man in baseball. He only appeared in 13 games, but stole 13 bases, showing a national audience the speed that fans have been anticipating since he stole 155 bases in 2013. Questions still remain as to if he’ll be able to get on base enough to make an impact immediately, but he’ll get every chance to contribute right away.


    Todd Frazier

    Fan favorite Frazier made a huge impact as a rookie in 2012, but had a rough sophomore campaign. He hit .234/.314/.407 in his first season as the full-time third baseman, a far cry from his rookie year where he finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting. There’s nowhere to go but up for Todd, though, and he closed out his 2013 on a positive note, with a 839 OPS in September, his best month of the year. The Reds will need Frazier’s right-handed presence in the lineup.

    Key Stat

    The fact that Joey Votto walked four times out of five with the bases loaded and two outs last year is remarkable; no one in the past 40 years has walked that often in that situation. This little statistical nugget is fun and is representative of two important points about the team: First, they still have one of the most talented hitters in baseball, a hitter that does not walk too much or in the wrong situations, but knows when to take a pitch and let his teammates drive him in. The second point is that the Reds' lineup will sorely miss Shin-Soo Choo, whose .423 on-base percentage was second in the NL behind -- you guessed it -- Joey Votto’s. Choo's absence means that Votto might not be up as often with the bases loaded, and may not be able to leverage his unique skills to drive in runs.


    Subjects for further review

    Devin Mesoraco, C

    The Punxsutawney Kid will finally get his turn as the Reds’ full-time starter behind the dish. He’s shown legitimate power in the minor leagues, but it has yet to translate at the big-league level. Will consistent playing time be the key to a breakout year?

    Jay Bruce, OF

    The Beaumont Bomber had another great season in 2013 and will have a chance to produce even more in 2014 batting in the cleanup spot. The Reds will expect Bruce to join Joey Votto as the latest iteration of the “Bash Brothers”, with the lefty mashers anchoring the middle of the lineup.

    Brandon Phillips, 2B

    Twitter demigod Brandon Phillips was the subject of lots of trade speculation in the offseason, but the Reds decided to keep him and make a run now. Despite his highest RBI total yet, he struggled, posting his lowest on-base and slugging percentages as a Red.

    Zack Cozart, SS

    The slick-fielding, light-hitting Cozart has shown some pop, but had a setback last season, losing 22 points of OPS. His defense is good enough to earn him a place in most lineups, but the Reds will need every bit of offensive production they can get, even out of the shortstop position.

    Fantasy Corner: Reds Top Five Fantasy Players

    Joey Votto, 1B: Despite the low RBI total in 2013, Votto is still considered a top 5 fantasy first baseman and a late first round/early second round pick in drafts this season.

    Jay Bruce, OF: Bruce has averaged 32 home runs and 101 RBI over the last three seasons, so if you want his power on your roster on draft day, you will have to spend a second-round pick on him. He's worth it.

    Mat Latos, RHP: Latos has continued to pitch well despite Great American Ball Park, and is on the cusp of joining other fantasy aces.

    Homer Bailey, RHP: It took a few years, but Bailey has achieved the potential the Reds saw in him when drafting him seventh overall in the 2004 draft. He is a top 25-30 starting pitcher in 2014 fantasy drafts.

    Brandon Phillips, 2B: Phillips drove in 100 runs last season, but has seen his power drop almost continuously since his 2007 high, from an isolated power of .197 then to .135 in 2013. He isn't getting any younger, so be cautious and don't reach for him on draft day.

    Best Case

    A new age of enlightenment dawns and Votto’s approach at the plate becomes not only appreciated, but widely emulated throughout the Reds lineup.

    Worst Case

    Injuries strike the pitching staff, once again putting Johnny Cueto on the shelf and leading to 20 starts for Jeff Francis and Chien-Ming Wang.

  32. Chicago Cubs

    As the rebuild enters year six (or perhaps year 106), the question remains whether the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer regime has made sufficient progress, and even if this will be the year it all pays off. All the prospects in the world are coming -- Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, and the rest will make this a better team in the near future. Pitching, however, remains a concept, and while there are some arms in the system, including 2012 draftee Piece Johnson and trade acquisitions Arodys Vizcaino and C.J. Edwards, the pitchers that will make Jeff Samardzija an overqualified No. 3 instead of an underqualified No. 1 still seem entirely hypothetical. -- Steven Goldman

    • Owner Tom Ricketts
    • General Manager Jed Hoyer, but really, Theo Epstein
    • Manager Rick Renteria
    • Key Additions RHP Jason Hammel, LHP Wesley Wright. That's using the word “key” loosely, of course.
    • Key Departures C Dioner Navarro. I guess, though it's strange to say it's “key” to lose a backup catcher who had a freakish career year.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Welington Castillo, 1B Anthony Rizzo, 2B Darwin Barney, 3B Mike Olt, SS Starlin Castro, LF Junior Lake, CF Ryan Sweeney, RF Nate Schierholtz
    • Rotation Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel, Travis Wood, Chris Rusin

    Why the Cubs will win the Pennant

    They won't. No, seriously, they won't. Even in the optimistic month of March, where sunshine is abundant and rookies blast home runs, there's no way this motley collection of Cubs can possibly win the National League pennant. And that's coming from someone who's normally way overoptimistic about this team's chances. Championship 2014? Not happening. Not from a team coming off two years of 101 and 96 defeats.

    Read full breakdown at Bleed Cubbie Blue →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Anthony Rizzo

    Rizzo's a favorite of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to the point where Theo chose him in the draft for the Red Sox, traded him to San Diego when Jed was GM there, then was brought to Chicago in another deal. He has good hands, and even in a down year for batting average posted a decent OPS+ (101) while ranking fifth in the NL in walks. His BABIP was low, the kind of thing that tends to revert, and he's just 24, primed for a breakout season. There doesn't seem to be anything holding him back from a .280/.380/.480 season with 30-plus homers.

    Team Cy Young

    Travis Wood

    Wood had a near-breakout year in 2013. He just turned 27, and appears to be a lefthander in the Tommy John/Jamie Moyer/Ted Lilly tradition -- guys who don't throw really hard, but mix up their pitches well, have good off-speed stuff, and throw strikes. Wood seems to have learned the key to keeping the ball down at Wrigley Field -- he allowed seven fewer home runs in 2013 than 2012, despite throwing 44 more innings. A good athlete who played outfield in high school, Wood also hit three home runs and batted .222/.258/.381 overall.

    Top Rookie

    Mike Olt

    Well, maybe. This one's hard to tell. The Cubs don't really have many rookies who will make any sort of impact -- not yet, anyway, not until the Javier Baez/Kris Bryant/Jorge Soler/Albert Almora contingent makes the big leagues. Junior Lake, who might have been a possibility to win this nod, spent too much time on the big-league roster in 2013 to qualify. Olt is the only player who qualifies as a “rookie” this year who might make a significant splash.


    Arodys Vizcaino

    Vizcaino was a top prospect for both the Yankees and Braves before his elbow broke down and he had Tommy John surgery. He has not pitched in a game since 2011, when he pitched in 17 major league games for the Braves. The good news is that despite the surgery and some rehab setbacks, Vizcaino is just 23. The Cubs expect him to take a bullpen spot this year; he'll probably start in middle relief or a setup role, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take the closer's spot by the end of 2014.

    Key Stat

    Let’s keep things simple -- in 2013, the Cubs’ on-base percentage (OBP) was .300, ranking above only the Marlins and Astros among MLB squads. When your team makes outs 70 percent of the time, it's tough to win very many games. This is a team that will need to reach base more often, and a bounce-back season from Starlin Castro (.284 OBP in 2013) would do a lot to help.


    Subjects for further review

    Darwin Barney, 2B

    Barney is one of the best defensive second basemen in baseball, if not the best. He set a National League record for most consecutive errorless games in 2012 and produced 1.5 WAR just from defense in 2013, and 6.3 defensive WAR in his career. Unfortunately, that has provided almost his entire positive career WAR (total 6.4). He hits like he's been cloned from the defensive-wizard infielders of the 1960s and 1970s (think Dal Maxvill or Mark Belanger).

    Junior Lake, OF

    An infielder through most of his minor league career, Lake was installed in center last July despite not playing a single game there previously. He was predictably uncertain of where he was going at times, but was moved to left and hit well enough (.284/.332/.428) to put him in the mix for 2014, even if it's in a platoon role. Lake has good speed, but doesn't quite know what to do with it, either in the field or on the basepaths. He turned 24 in March and has talent; the Cubs just need to figure out how to use it.

    Ryan Sweeney, OF

    Sweeney was on the cusp of a breakout year in 2013. After a good season in 2012-13 winter ball, Sweeney was let go by the Red Sox at the end of spring training. The Cubs picked him up and sent him to Triple-A, where he mashed: .337/.396/.627 in 83 at-bats. He was recalled and was hitting well at the big-league level when he ran into the center-field wall in Seattle and fractured a rib, missing two months. He was a Top-100 prospect three straight years (2005-07), but at 29, it's really now or never for Sweeney to prove himself.

    Nate Schierholtz, OF

    Schierholtz was a middling platoon outfielder for the Giants for several years, but upon coming to Wrigley Field, learned it was perfect for his lefthanded stroke. He had his best power year, hitting 32 doubles and 21 home runs despite being bothered by back problems after the All-Star break. The back issues really slowed him down, dropping his first-half OPS (.825) to just .703 after the All-Star break. If he's healthy, look for him to have another 20-homer season on the North Side.

    Fantasy Corner: Cubs Top Five Fantasy Players

    Anthony Rizzo, 1B: Rizzo struggled at the plate in 2013, but his peripheral stats indicate growth in his plate discipline, so a breakout year could be in his 2014 future.

    Starlin Castro, SS: Castro had his worst year as a major leaguer last season, and some of that could be blamed on former manager Dale Sveum. Castro is one of my favorite bounce back candidates in 2014.

    Jeff Samardzija, SP: Like the two Cubs above him, Samardzija struggled in 2013, a year which saw his ERA rise to 4.34, but his peripheral stats show that he was a little unlucky, so a bounce-back season is in order.

    Nate Schierholtz, OF: Schierholtz is nothing more than an NL-only league option as he has limited power and hit tool. Slim pickings in Chicago.

    Javier Baez, SS: The Cubs roster is so bad that their fith-best fantasy asset will start the season in Triple-A. But, boy is he ever good. On the off chance he makes the team out of spring training, he moves to the top spot on this list; there aren't many shortstops with his power.

    Best Case

    All the kids arrive in the second half and Hoyer is able to deal a resurgent Starlin Castro for another top pitching prospect.

    Worst Case

    No one hits, new manager Rick Renteria makes Darwin Barney his leadoff man, and conversation around the break is not about the hopeful future but how much the team can get in trade for Samardzija -- and how little it can get for Edwin Jackson.

  33. NL West

    Champion: Los Angeles Dodgers

    The Dodgers’ projected payroll of $232.7 million is almost as much as that of the Giants and Diamondbacks combined ($251.3 million). Payroll isn’t destiny -- it might just mean that Dodgers players are more well-compensated than talented. Unfortunately for the competition, that theory falls apart when you consider Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Gonzalez, and what a full and/or healthy seasons from Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and Yasiel Puig might look like. The Boys of Scully are far from automatic, but they have to rate as the favorites on the basis of star-power and depth that is missing elsewhere, high payroll or not.


    1 - Los Angeles Dodgers

    2 - San Francisco Giants

    3 - Arizona Diamondbacks

    4 - Colorado Rockies

    5 - San Diego Padres

  34. Los Angeles Dodgers

    You know the story by now: all the money in the world, four top outfielders to fit into three positions, and the best pitcher in the business. The Dodgers have an embarrassment of riches, and yet they may not be complete: The rookie second baseman may not be ready, the outfielders are injury-prone and not necessarily all that productive, and the back end of the starting rotation, held by free-agent imports Dan Haren and Paul Maholm (or a recovering Josh Beckett), may not be particularly special. But the Dodgers’ cornucopia includes strong minor league possibilities such as center fielder Joc Pederson and right-handed starting pitchers Zach Lee and Ross Stripling. As long as Don Mattingly and Ned Colletti are aggressive about confronting any disappointing performances, the Dodgers should be in the race all the way. -- Steven Goldman

    • Owner Guggenheim Partners, led by chairman Mark Walter, showman Magic Johnson, and CEO Stan Kasten
    • General Manager Ned Colletti
    • Manager Don Mattingly
    • Key Additions INF Alex Guerrero, RHP Dan Haren, RHP Chris Perez, RHP Jamey Wright, LHP Paul Maholm. The Cuban defector Guerrero got a four-year, $28 million contract and will shift from shortstop to second base. With Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley returning from surgeries, Haren and Maholm were added for rotation depth and insurance.
    • Key Departures 2B Mark Ellis, INF Nick Punto, U Skip Schumaker, U Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B Michael Young. Almost the entire veteran bench is gone, with the team going younger for the reserve squad.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C A.J. Ellis, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 2B Dee Gordon, 3B Juan Uribe, SS Hanley Ramirez, LF Carl Crawford, CF Matt Kemp (will start season on DL), RF Yasiel Puig
    • Rotation Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu, Dan Haren, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett (will start season on DL)

    Why the Dodgers will win the Pennant

    After getting a taste of postseason success in 2013, the Dodgers find themselves hungry for more in 2014. This is a team built to win now, but also full of the question marks that led to a poor start a season ago.

    Read full breakdown at True Blue LA →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Hanley Ramirez

    After a season that was at both historic and limited by injuries, the 30-year old shortstop in many ways is the key to the Dodgers offense in 2014. In 2013 he rediscovered the form of his halcyon days with the Marlins, hitting .345/.402/.638. With 25 doubles and 20 home runs, Ramirez was just two home runs off the team lead despite playing only 86 games. The Dodgers should benefit from having Ramirez in the middle of their lineup while driving for a contract.

    Team Cy Young

    Clayton Kershaw

    The 26-year-old left-hander is the crown jewel of the franchise, rewarded after two Cy Young Awards in three years with a seven-year, $215 million contract, the largest deal ever signed by a pitcher. Sayeth Hall of Famer and former Dodgers left-handed pitcher Sandy Koufax: "He just has to keep doing what he's doing, and every year he has gotten better. If he keeps getting better the sky's the limit, and if he doesn't get any better the sky's still the limit. He's a great pitcher, he's special.”

    Top Rookie

    Alex Guerrero

    The 27-year old second baseman was part of the Dodgers’ renewed efforts in international scouting. The Cuban defector signed a four-year, $28 million deal with the club and will move from shortstop to second base. Praised as an offense-first middle infielder with quick hands, Guerrero could help provide much-needed production in the lower half of the Dodgers batting order, though he’ll have to wrest the job away from Dee Gordon first.


    Dan Haren

    The southern California native had bigger offers but took less money to pitch at home for the Dodgers, accepting a one-year, $10 million contract plus a vesting option for 2014. The 33-year-old was up and down with the Nationals in 2013. Through June, Haren was 4-9 with a 6.15 ERA and an 18.3 percent strikeout rate before hitting the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. After returning from the DL in July, Haren was 6-5 with a 3.29 ERA and a 23.9-percent strikeout rate. The Dodgers are banking on his second-half improvements continuing into 2014.

    Key Stat

    Limited to just 290 plate appearances in 2013 due to ankle, hamstring, and shoulder injuries, the return of Matt Kemp in 2014 will be the keystone to the Dodgers meeting the team's lofty win expectations. If the massively talented Kemp bounces back to his career average of a 126 OPS+ and 450 PA, it will provide depth and flexibility in the outfield, and give L.A. a run-producing threat to pair with Adrian Gonzalez and sweetheart of the 2013 season, Yasiel Puig.


    Subjects for further review

    A.J. Ellis, C

    Having greatly improved in throwing out runners (second in the NL), Ellis showed up to camp 15 pounds lighter in an attempt to help his stamina after hitting .189/.262/.333 over the final two months of 2013.

    Adrian Gonzalez, 1B

    Gonzalez is Mr. Reliable, averaging 159 games per season for the last eight years. Has hit .328/.430/.566 in his career with runners in scoring position, including an OPS with RISP higher than his overall OPS in six of the last seven years

    Carl Crawford, OF

    The outfielder came alive with four home runs in the 2013 postseason after just six during the regular season, but the Dodgers would like his legs to be healthy in 2014. Limited by hamstring and back injuries, Crawford stole 15 bases and hit three triples last year, a far cry from the man who averaged 50 steals and 12 triples per year from 2003-2010 in Tampa Bay

    Yasiel Puig, OF

    Hitting .278/.376/.470, as Puig did over the final three months of 2013, would have been a perfectly acceptable rookie campaign. But following an historic .436/.467/.713 mark with seven home runs in his debut month of June, it seemed like he was struggling.

    Fantasy Corner: Dodgers Top Five Fantasy Players

    Clayton Kershaw, SP: His fantasy value may never be higher; he has been drafted fifthh overall in some recent experts drafts, and is a first-round pick in mixed and NL-only leagues this season.

    Hanley Ramirez, SS: The hitter below him on this list got all the praise, but Hanley was the Dodgers' best player. If healthy, he is an MVP candidate and is being drafted accordingly. He was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in the recent LABR experts draft.

    Yasiel Puig, OF: We don't know what to expect from him in 2014. He has the potential to hit 25 home runs, steal 25 bases and hit .290-.300, but there is the risk of the sophomore slump as well. Live. Breathe. Puig.

    Adrian Gonzalez, 1B: Gonzalez doesn't hit for elite power anymore, but is still a very productive fantasy first baseman.

    Zack Greinke, SP: Greinke was superb in his first season in Los Angeles and is a fantasy ace. He has traded some strikeouts for more contact, but still put up his best ERA since 2009 when he won the Cy Young Award in Kansas City. Expect more of the same in 2014.

    Best Case

    The Dodgers romp to an NL West title and Kershaw dominates the postseason opposition on the way to the club’s first championship since the Reagan administration.

    Worst Case

    It turns out the Beatles were right and money can’t buy you love -- or a harmonious clubhouse when you have too many star egos for too few positions.

  35. San Francisco Giants

    Any time the defending World Series champions drop 18 wins from their record and finish out of the postseason derby, it has to be rated a disappointing season. The Giants hit well, but the pitching staff, normally a strength, posted a park- and league-adjusted ERA+ of 84. By way of comparison, the Astros’ mark in the same category was 85. Yet, general manager Brian Sabean did not make wholesale changes, merely replacing Barry Zito with his old A's teammate, Tim Hudson . On offense, the frangible Mike Morse takes over in left field from Gregor Blanco, but all else remains the same (save a skinner Pablo Sandoval). Can this veteran group more than reverse their record of a year ago? -- Steven Goldman

    • Owner Charles Johnson. Johnson is the majority owner, but you haven't heard about him. He's the anti-Steinbrenner, staying completely behind the scenes at all times.
    • General Manager Brian Sabean
    • Manager Bruce Bochy
    • Key Additions RHP Tim Hudson, OF Michael Morse. The Giants had their pick of several different short-term rotation options, but they went with Hudson. Their wanton dingerlust led them to Morse, defense be damned.
    • Key Departures LHP Barry Zito, RHP Chad Gaudin, LHP Jose Mijares. Your definition of “key” may vary.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Buster Posey, 1B Brandon Belt, 2B Marco Scutaro, 3B Pablo Sandoval, SS Brandon Crawford, LF Michael Morse, CF Angel Pagan, RF Hunter Pence
    • Rotation Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong

    Why the Giants will win the Pennant

    The Giants lost 86 games last year. They took great pains to retain Tim Lincecum, Hunter Pence, Javier Lopez, and Ryan Vogelsong. They replaced Barry Zito with Tim Hudson and swapped out Gregor Blanco's glove for Michael Morse's power, but this is basically the same team that did so poorly last year. What this roster is, then, is Brian Sabean flipping off the baseball gods. It wasn't Sabean who was wrong last year, it was baseball that was wrong. Let's try it again, from the top, with feeling. It's not a crazy idea.

    Read full breakdown at McCovey Chronicles →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Buster Posey

    The best catcher in team history, Posey is beginning only his third full season in the majors. As the only obvious National League MVP candidate on the team, he's a patently obvious choice for the Team MVP, too. He is better than you and everyone you know. Last season, Posey stalled in the second half, when everyone kept saying, “Boy, this wouldn't be happening if he had an extra 10 pounds of muscle.” Good news: He gained 10 pounds of muscle! Which isn't going to hurt, I guess.

    Team Cy Young

    Madison Bumgarner

    Bumgarner got the Opening Day start, and he's probably the best pitcher on the Giants right now. The hedged bets are because of Matt Cain, who was better in previous years. Even if the 2013 season was a fluke for Cain, though, Bumgarner's strikeout prowess and freaky command give him a slight, slight edge, and even then only because the horrible people at SB Nation are making me pick. It's worth noting, though, that young pitchers don't exactly improve in the same linear fashion that we expect from young hitters. This might be as good as Bumgarner gets. It would be plenty good enough, though.

    Top Rookie

    Edwin Escobar or TBD

    Last year, the Giants had five legitimate starting-pitcher prospects in San Jose, all of whom will be at Double-A or higher in 2014. One of them will get called on this year and do well. Your guess is as good as mine as to exactly which pitcher, though. Edwin Escobar is on the 40-man roster, so he's the safest bet, but Kyle Crick, Ty Blach, Aldaberto Mejia, and Clayton Blackburn all bring various combinations of stuff and polish.


    Ryan Vogelsong

    Oh, how quickly we forget. Vogelsong was an All-Star in his first year back with the Giants, and he probably should have been in 2012. After a shaky finish to that season (playoffs mostly excluded) and an abysmal 2013, both projection systems and pundits alike aren't giving him a Pavano's chance of being good this year. What, just because his peripherals are shaky, his velocity is down, and he has a not-that-distant history of completely exploding on the mound? Well, when you put it like that…Either he's out of the rotation by May, or he's back to his old new old self. I'm betting on something of a comeback, even if that's as irrational as expecting his first comeback.

    Key Stat

    Brandon Belt is perceived as a disappointment in some quarters, yet last season he hit .289/.360/.481 and played a fine first base, making for a very respectable 4.4 WAR. No, this isn't Paul Goldschmidt territory, but consider that other than the 5.4 put up by Aubrey Huff in 2010 (a season in which he played just 100 games at first base), no Giants first baseman had surpassed that total since Will Clark in 1991, and that in the years immediately preceding Belt's ascension, the Giants ran out immortals such as Travis Ishikawa, Lance Niekro, John Bowker, and Daniel Ortmeier in between superannuated veterans such as Rich Aurilia, Ryan Klesko, and Mike Sweeney. No, Belt is just fine. He may not be an MVP in the making, but he'll do.


    Subjects for further review

    Marco Scutaro, 2B

    Scutaro shouldn't be this good of a contact hitter at his age, but then his career has always been a little funky. It took him almost his entire 20s to become a reliable starter, and he traded in his high walk rate for see-ball-hit-ball consistency that works when it translates into a high average. When he starts popping the ball up, things get iffy, especially since his defense is sub-Kent by this point. He still turns a double play well, though, and his bat will still carry him for at least one more year.

    Brandon Crawford, SS

    In another era, in another park, Crawford might be picking up All-Star appearances, if not down-ballot MVP votes. In this era, in AT&T Park, he's slightly underrated. He's a legitimate top-tier defender at short, and his bat isn't an embarrassment at all. He showed surprising power in April, hitting more than half of his home runs for the season. Alas, his September was miserable (448 OPS); he was the one of the only Giants who didn’t hit well that month. The real Crawford is almost certainly somewhere in the middle… which is the point of looking at a season’s worth of statistics.

    Michael Morse, OF

    Morse is a month away from 32, coming off a wrist injury, and he fields like he's wearing stilts at the same time he's trying to shoplift more stilts. But from 2010 to 2011, he hit 46 homers in 788 at-bats, and the dinger-starved Giants are trying the Burrell Gambit again, trading in defense for offense in a serious way. Even though Gregor Blanco is the superior fielder and probably the better offensive option against tough right-handers, Morse isn't in a platoon. He's going to hit in the middle of the order, probably for the entire year, for better or for worse. Dingers!

    Hunter Pence, OF

    Pence, who is standing behind you right now, staring at nothing in particular, had perhaps his best season. After a .242/.279/.333 July, it looked like the Giants might not even extend the qualifying offer, but the Giants gave him a new five-year deal after an insane September surge (11 home runs) helped him set a new career home run mark. Pence turns 31 in April, and his swing doesn't seem like the type to age gracefully. If he's going to make the contract look smart, he'll have to do it over the next couple seasons.

    Fantasy Corner: Giants Top Five Fantasy Players

    Madison Bumgarner, LHP: While the Clayton Kershaws and Stephen Strasburgs get all the hype, Bumgarner may be just as good in 2014. He's a steal in the fourth or fifth round of mixed leagues drafts.

    Buster Posey, C: Posey is the top fantasy catcher in most drafts this offseason, but he will have to put his horrific second half (.244/.333/.310) behind him to meet expectations this season.

    Hunter Pence, RF: Pence had his best season as a major leaguer last season, his first in the pitchers' park in San Francisco. He is one of the more consistent fantasy hitters in baseball, hitting 20 or more home runs in each of the last six seasons, and driving in 90 or more runs in each of the last three seasons. Toss in the 20-plus steals last season, and you have a Top-20 fantasy outfielder in 2014.

    Matt Cain, RHP: Don't focus on his career high ERA last season, focus on his 2.36 ERA and reduced home runs per nine in the second half that tells you he is the same pitcher he was before the 2013 season. He will come at a bargain price in drafts this season as a result of that difficult first half.

    Brandon Belt, 1B: Belt is one of my favorite breakout targets for 2014. He showed growth across the board last season, and there is more untapped power in his bat.

    Best Case

    Matt Cain continues his second-half resurgence, Madison Bumgarner stays on the path to stardom, Tim Lincecum finds more of that no-hitter stuff, and Tim Hudson has a strong enough season that pundits start muttering about a dark horse Hall of Fame candidacy.

    Worst Case

    Buster Posey misses significant time with injury leading to a collapse of the offense and the pitching staff is as bad as it was in 2013, pushing the team into 95-loss territory.

  36. Arizona Diamondbacks

    After consecutive .500 seasons, Kirk Gibson’s team of gritty ballhawks sacrificed some defense for a raw power hitter in the Angels’ Mike Trumbo and also added some league-average pitching in Bronson Arroyo. The latter might allow them to keep top pitching prospect Archie Bradley in the minors to start the season, but in dealing youth (Matt Davidson, Tyler Skaggs, Adam Eaton) for ill-fitting parts, have Gibson and general manager Kevin Towers outsmarted themselves? -- Steven Goldman

    • Owner Ken Kendrick
    • General Manager Kevin Towers
    • Manager Kirk Gibson
    • Key Additions LF Mark Trumbo, RHP Addison Reed, RHP Bronson Arroyo. The needle didn’t move very much.
    • Key Departures LHP Tyler Skaggs, OF Adam Eaton, RHP Heath Bell. Nothing major either, but the end of the Heath Bell Experience will be welcomed by fans.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Miguel Montero, 1B Paul Goldschmidt, 2B Aaron Hill, SS Didi Gregorius, 3B Martin Prado, LF Mark Trumbo, CF Gerardo Parra, RF Cody Ross
    • Rotation Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy, Bronson Arroyo, Randall Delgado

    Why the Diamondbacks will win the Pennant

    The Diamondbacks opening series with the Dodgers in Australia to open the season is the kind of endeavor that will help baseball's global appeal, and it's always fun to see new ground being broken by the sport I love. It was a packed and raucous crowd, unlike anything either team has seen domestically, and certainly got 2014 off to a memorable start. I just hope it's not the highlight of the year, with everything going downhill from there for the D-backs.

    Read full breakdown at AZ Snakepit →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Paul Goldschmidt

    Perhaps the best move Kevin Towers made since becoming GM was signing Goldschmidt to a long-term and very team-friendly contract. It's hard to see how Goldschmidt can improve on his season (he finished higher in the MVP voting than anyone in Diamondback history), unless he spent the off-season learning a curveball to help in the bullpen.. Actually, he probably could succeed there if he put his mind to it; Gibson described him as a "sponge for information.”. Last year, Goldschmidt fell one short of tying the franchise walk record. Will the fear of a multi-run Trumbomb make pitchers less cautious?

    Team Cy Young

    Trevor Cahill

    As noted elsewhere, there's no obvious ace, especially after Corbin’s injury . Cahill was done in by a terrible June, but that was explained away by a DL stint, and he pitched well when he returned. Cahill has a longer track record than most of his peers, so seems like a safer bet for consistency in 2014, and he’ll still be only 25.

    Top Rookie

    Archie Bradley

    It seems a question of when, rather than if, Bradley will have an impact, considering MLB.com recently rated him the top pitching prospect in all baseball. Towers is saying he'll not hesitate to use the youngster, but that may partly be inspirational GM talk. The signing of Arroyo would have likely delayed Archie's arrival even more, but the Corbin injury opens up some possible opportunities. It seems probable that we'll see Bradley at some point in the 2014 season, and the D-backs will be hoping he performs better in the majors than some of their other recent pitching prospects. Still, at least Bradley doesn't rap.


    Miguel Montero

    There's no doubt that 2013 was a severe step back for Montero, with an OPS that dropped 167 points -- particularly disappointing the first season after he signed a long-term contract. However, the overall numbers were largely driven by a truly wretched April and May; thereafter, his numbers were more respectable (.252/.342/.384) and there's hope he will rebound to his previous level this year. Just as in 2011, a good season from Miggy could be key if the Diamondbacks are to contend.

    Key Stat

    Diamondbacks pitchers yielded far too many home runs in 2013. Arizona was third-worst team by homeruns per fly ball, sending 12.2% of all flies into the stands -- and gave up the fifth most homers in MLB. The bulk of the pitching staff returns, but there’s room for optimism: despite the D-backs’ propensity for allowing homers, they actually did a fantastic job of keeping the ball on the ground. Between their ability to get grounders and the addition of groundball guru Dave Duncan to the coaching staff, the Diamondbacks should be better at limiting the long ball heading into 2014.


    Subjects for further review

    Gerardo Parra, OF

    He gunned down so many opposing players should be nicknamed "Death to running things."

    Cody Ross, OF

    An injury-plagued 2013 ended in a fractured hip, and he wasn’t ready for the series in Australia.

    Didi Gregorius, SS

    He has a cannon of an arm, though he needs to improve his accuracy. Will he hit enough to be valuable?

    Martin Prado, 3B

    He should benefit from more stability in 2014, and hopefully he can avoid last year's slow start.

    Fantasy Corner: Diamondbacks Top Five Fantasy Players

    Paul Goldschmidt, 1B: Goldschmidt is being drafted as the third overall pick in most drafts this season, after a breakout 2013 season which saw him hit .302 with 36 home runs, 125 RBI and 15 stolen bases. He is the only true five-category first baseman right now, so expect more of the same in 2014.

    Mark Trumbo, OF: Only four hitters have hit more home runs than Trumbo since he came into the league three seasons ago: Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, Jose Bautista and Jay Bruce. Now he's moving to a better hitters park, Chase Field. He could approach 40 home runs in 2014.

    Aaron Hill, 2B: Hill dealt with injuries last season, but was productive when healthy. He is still a top 5-6 fantasy second baseman, as he hits for a solid average with decent power for a middle infielder.

    Martin Prado, 3B: Prado is one of those hitters who won't hurt you in any one category, but he is not your typical third baseman either.

    Patrick Corbin, SP: Corbin's season stats were terrific, but they don't tell the complete story, as he struggled mightily in the second half, putting up an ERA over 5.00 while allowing a .286 average to opposing hitters.

    Best Case

    The starting rotation shows more depth and durability than last year as Arroyo shows that pitching in the desert air won’t lead to any more home runs than he would have given up at the GAP.

    Worst Case

    Trumbo is more notable for doubles played into triples in left field than anything he does at the plate.

  37. Colorado Rockies

    Despite three straight losing seasons and his team’s World Series shellacking in 2007 rapidly receding into the past as a not-to-be-repeated peak, Dan O’ Dowd returns as general manager for his 15th-consecutive season. As always, the starting rotation remains a patchwork, and though top prospects Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler should be on the road to Denver this summer, we’ve heard about Rockies pitching prospects before. Even if they excel, with Jhoulys Chacin possibly injured and the inexplicable decision to focus resources on LaTroy Hawkins instead of the hodgepodge starting lineup, there doesn’t seem to be as much a plan here as a series of undirected spasms and convulsions. -- Steven Goldman

    • Owner Charlie and Dick Monfort
    • General Manager Senior Vice-President of Major League Operations, Bill Geivett and Executive Vice-President/Chief Baseball Officer/GM for life, Dan O’Dowd
    • Manager Walt Weiss
    • Key Additions LHP Brett Anderson, 1B Justin Morneau, OF Drew Stubbs, LHP Boone Logan, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, LHP Franklin Morales, RHP Jordan Lyles, OF Brandon Barnes, RHP Chris Martin, RHP Tommy Kahnle. Colorado had an active offseason, though it’s not clear their talent level improved a whole lot.
    • Key Departures 1B Todd Helton, OF Dexter Fowler, C Yorvit Torrealba, RHP Rafael Betancourt, LHP Jeff Francis, RHP Roy Oswalt, LHP Drew Pomeranz, LHP Josh Outman, RHP Edgmer Escalona, RHP Collin McHugh, RHP Mitchell Boggs. The trade of Fowler to the Astros for Lyles and Barnes was perhaps the most mystifying trade consummated by any team this offseason.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C: Wilin Rosario, 1B: Justin Morneau, 2B: DJ LeMahieu, 3B: Nolan Arenado, SS: Troy Tulowitzki, LF: Corey Dickerson, CF: Carlos Gonzalez, RF: Michael Cuddyer
    • Rotation Jorge De La Rosa, Brett Anderson, Tyler Chatwood, Juan Nicasio, Franklin Morales

    Why the Rockies will win the Pennant

    Injuries, depth, and pitching. These three things have killed the Rockies since their last winning season in 2010. Yet the entire front office remains intact despite the same issues repeating themselves. This offseason, the general manager duumvirate of Dan O’Dowd and Bill Geivett went to work to address these issues, and what emerged is a darkhorse postseason contender.

    Read full breakdown at Purple Row →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Carlos Gonzalez

    In the midst of a career year in 2013 before a nagging finger injury limited him to 41 second-half plate appearances, the 28-year-old outfielder had mostly been thought of as a Coors creation by many within the baseball community. CarGo hushed those critics by hitting 14 home runs away from Denver and managed a .332/.381/.606 road batting line. Assuming he’s healthy, Gonzalez should produce as he has in the past, and perhaps more: At 28, he’s in his prime, has shown he can take full advantage of Coors Field, and is now becoming a feared hitter away from Denver as well.

    Team Cy Young

    Jhoulys Chacin

    When Chacin has been healthy he’s been one of the best pitchers the Rockies have ever had, posting a 3.61 ERA over 608.2 innings. Chacin just turned 26 but he’s already posted four above-average seasons, including a 5.8 WAR campaign last year. Indeed, Chacin might actually be the most valuable player on the Rockies. He’s certainly the most underrated. Chacin usually won’t wow with his stuff -- although his slider is borderline criminal when it’s on -- but he’s allowed fewer than a hit per inning for several seasons now. On the road, he’s compiled a career 2.86 ERA and almost eight strikeouts per nine innings.

    Top Rookie

    Chad Bettis

    Pitchers Jon Gray and Eddie Butler, should arrive in Denver at some point this season, but Bettis will likely provide a lot more value in 2014. He made his debut in 2013 and showed flashes of promise, but finished with a 5.64 ERA in 44 2/3 innings. The hard-throwing Texan showed better strikeout ability out of the bullpen, and the Rockies -- as well as most scouts -- see Bettis in that role in the future. He’s a year removed from shoulder surgery, and he’ll likely be a swingman this season, a more critical role for the Rockies than other teams.


    Corey Dickerson

    The left-handed-hitting outfielder hit in the minors, even though he was lightly regarded as a prospect. He compiled a .321/.379/.601 line in four minor league seasons and finished with a 99 OPS+ in 213 major league plate appearances. He slugged .494 in 173 plate appearances against righties, suggesting a platoon future. That’s fine for now, as the Rockies nabbed lefty-killer Drew Stubbs in the offseason. However, the 24 year-old Dickerson didn’t have platoon issues in the minors and could prove to be effective enough to remain in the lineup. The question is if his defense will be good enough for Coors Field.

    Key Stat

    When you adjust a team's offense for league and park factors using the metric wRC+, the Rockies have had exactly zero above-average offensive seasons in their 21-year history. In fact, the highest team wRC+ in Rockies history is 97 (100 is league average) and over the team's lifespan, its aggregate wRC+ is 89 -- the fourth-worst in the majors. Unless 2014 is the year when Colorado learns to address their poor hitting, they're never going to find success.


    Subjects for further review

    Justin Morneau, 1B

    You can apply the"He's got big shoes to fill" cliché to Justin Morneau; if the shoes dwarf his feet, he’ll look like a clown. Morneau is the only non-Helton or Galarraga to man first on Opening Day in the history of the Colorado Rockies, and the money spent on him is the effective return for Dexter Fowler. His low strikeout rate and his ability to drive the ball to all fields should play well at Coors, while his consistent road numbers are promising for a team that often struggles on the road. Platooning him with Michael Cuddyer or Wilin Rosario could help minimize deficiencies and maximize his contributions.

    Troy Tulowitzki, SS

    The story of Tulowitzki's career has been littered with caveats. If he can stay healthy, and when he is on the field, he is as valuable a baseball player as you can find in the game. Tulowitzki often ranks among the best offensive and defensive players in the game, and he’s easily one of the best and rarest assets in MLB... When he stays on the field. If he stays healthy in 2014, Tulowitzki is always capable of contending for the MVP…but if he doesn't stay healthy no one would be surprised if some Rockies fans devolved into deranged Lewis Carroll characters.

    Nolan Arenado, 3B

    The Rockies’ Gold Glove-winning third baseman can hopefully improve at the plate in his second season. Defensive metrics and award voters agreed on Arenado’s stellar defense, despite it being a question in his minor league career if he could stay there at all. Arenado struggled at the plate, posting just a 706 OPS (82 OPS+) in his rookie campaign, but did have 29 doubles and 10 home runs and improved as the season wore on. Arenado will be just 23 in 2014, but will be looked to as a key player, especially with the injury issues that have plagued some of the team’s more veteran players.

    Rex Brothers, LHP

    Brothers had a breakout season, posting a 1.74 ERA in 67 1/3 innings with 19 saves after taking over for Rafael Betancourt. Brothers will again be sharing time with a veteran, this time with new acquisition LaTroy Hawkins. There has been chatter around the Rockies about the team using Brothers in something of a utility role, having him both close games and appear earlier to clean up the messes of others, similar to the “relief ace” of yore. It would be an unorthodox move, but this is the team that employed a four-man rotation in 2012.

    Fantasy Corner: Rockies Top Five Fantasy Players

    Carlos Gonzalez, OF: Gonzalez is a first-round pick this year, taken in the first five or six picks in some recent experts' drafts (he was taken sixth in the LABR draft). Gonzalez comes with some injury risk, but can be counted on to put up a 20 home run/20 stolen base season with a high average.

    Troy Tulowitzki, SS: Tulowitzki is either the No. 1 or No. 2 fantasy shortstop, depending on who you talk to. Like Gonzalez, he comes with injury risk. Over the last four seasons, he has missed 40, 19, 115 and 35 games, so injuries seem to find Tulowitzki every season now, and he isn't getting any younger.

    Michael Cuddyer, OF: Rockies manager Walt Weiss indicated that he is considering batting Cuddyer in the second spot in the Rockies lineup this season. That will lower his RBI total, but should increase his run total, especially with Gonzalez and Tulowitzki batting behind him. Just don't expect him to hit .336 again this season.

    Wilin Rosario, C: Over the last two seasons, Rosario leads all fantasy catchers in home runs with 49, two ahead of Mike Napoli and four ahead of Matt Wieters. He is also tied for fourth with Indians catcher Carlos Santana with 150 RBI over the same time frame, despite playing in 40-60 less games than the catchers ahead of him.

    Nolan Arenado, 3B: Arenado fared well in his rookie season with the Rockies, hitting .267 with 10 home runs and 52 RBI. He won the National League Gold Glove last season, so he has already established his spot in the field. He is a late-round pick in most drafts this season, with the potential to break out with a 20 home run, 80-85 RBI season.

    Best Case

    The young pitchers come up around the All-Star break and immediately succeed, driving a reinvigorated starting rotation to overcome a depressing offense.

    Worst Case

    The Michael Cuddyer-Justin Morneau combination makes analogies to the 63-99 Minnesota Twins of 2011 all too easy.

  38. San Diego Padres

    The Padres are a team in baseball. That’s about all you can say about them; for five of the last six seasons they’ve floated between mediocre and poor. Far from assertively addressing their problems, which last season included an almost complete collapse of the starting rotation, they amble along, waiting for Chase Headley to leave as a free agent, Carlos Quentin to become a durable player, and Yonder Alonso to turn into a run-producer. The farm system lacks high-impact talent, with their best prospect, catcher Austin Hedges, probably a year away. It’s probably going to be another year in a holding pattern for the Padres, but it’s not clear when this flight is going to land, if ever. -- Steven Goldman

    • Owner Ron Fowler
    • General Manager Josh Byrnes
    • Manager Bud Black
    • Key Additions LHP Alex Torres, RHP Josh Johnson, RHP Joaquin Benoit. Acquired in the trade that sent Logan Forsythe to Tampa Bay, Torres brings a tantalizing combination of youth, versatility, and upside. Johnson is a free agent bounce-back candidate, while Benoit was signed to a pricey (by Padres standards) deal that bets on his right arm holding up through his age-36 and -37 seasons.
    • Key Departures RHP Luke Gregerson, Lt. Col. Jerry Coleman. The biggest loss was off the field: The longtime voice of the Padres passed away on January 5th.
    • Projected Starting Lineup C Nick Hundley, 1B Yonder Alonso, 2B Jedd Gyorko, 3B Chase Headley, SS Everth Cabrera, LF Carlos Quentin, CF Will Venable, RF Seth Smith
    • Rotation Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner, Josh Johnson, Tyson Ross, Eric Stults

    Why the Padres will win the Pennant

    It bears repeating because it happened twice: 76-86. 76-86. Back-to-back years of identical records. The 2012 season was handicapped by bad pitching brought about both by the trading of the team’s best pitcher and injuries. The 2013 season was ruined by injuries to almost everyone and suspensions. The only position on the field where the projected Opening Day starter did not spend time on the disabled list was right field. When these players were healthy they played well, but when they were out of the lineup the team’s depth was stretched. Going into 2014, the assumption is if the team is healthier, it can compete.

    Read full breakdown at Gaslamp Ball →

    Key Players

    Team MVP

    Everth Cabrera

    Cabrera had an unusual path to major league success, coming from the Rockies in 2008’s Rule 5 draft and proving himself to be a serviceable shortstop during an otherwise lackluster season. He then missed most of the 2010 and 2011 seasons, injuring both hamate bones in succession. When he finally returned to the starting lineup in 2012, he became the most dangerous runner in the league, taking 44 bags in just 115 games. He was on pace to shatter that number last season, stealing 37 in 95 games, having a career season until he was hit with a 50-game, season-ending suspension in connection with Biogenesis.

    Team Cy Young

    Andrew Cashner

    With the Padres’ acquisitions of Ian Kennedy and Josh Johnson, you might not pay much attention to a pitcher who spent much of his first few seasons on the disabled list. Cashner made a long-awaited move to the rotation last year, and the results were stellar. On September 16, he tossed a one-hit complete game shutout. The kicker? He faced just 27 batters. It’s easy to write a start like that off as a fluke, but Cashner took strong starts into the late innings regularly last season. Combine that with his 3.09 ERA, and he’s easily the ace of the Padres’ rotation.

    Top Rookie

    Tommy Medica

    Tommy Medica came on strong after a September call-up, and injuries could get him back into the starting lineup. The starting rotation looks set, but injuries can crop up, and strong starts by any of Casey Kelly, Joe Wieland or Matt Wisler could have them contending as the team’s best rookie. There could also be opportunities for debuts from Rule 5 pick Patrick Schuster or minor league studs Kevin Quackenbush and Leonel Campos. If none of these guys make noise this season, perhaps the best unofficial ROY candidate is new first-base coach Jose Valentin.


    Yasmani Grandal

    Grandal spent the majority of his first season with the Padres in the minors and most of his second season sidelined by a suspension and knee injury. You can be forgiven for counting him out for his third season with the club, but he’s shown potential with the bat. He started slow after his suspension, but hit .266/.400/.422 over his final month. After a collision ended his season, Grandal wasn’t expected back until May. However, he might make the Opening Day roster, and getting his bat into the lineup at a premium up-the-middle position would be a big boost to the lineup.

    Key Stat

    The Padres had a team pitching WAR of 3.4 in 2013, which was next-to-worst among NL teams. That means that a staff full of waiver-wire castoffs and Triple-A pitchers probably would have made last year's Padres team only four or five wins worse. A full season of Ian Kennedy, the return of top prospect Casey Kelly, and the additions of Josh Johnson and Joaquin Benoit should bolster the pitching staff and could turn last year's weakness into this year's strength.


    Subjects for further review

    Nick Hundley, C

    Hundley has been on the Padres for six seasons, and he’s had to battle for playing time every year. In 2013 he finally played in over 100 of the team’s games, but might not have if not for a suspension and injury to Grandal. Hundley will have to prove his worth again as Grandal recovers from a knee injury and new top prospect Austin Hedges wows scouts in the minors. No one said it was easy being a major leaguer.

    Yonder Alonso, 1B

    Expectations are high for major league first basemen. Sure they have to field their position, but the bat is the key; they have to hit, and they have to hit a lot. Alonso’s first two major league seasons showed promise, as he hit for power and average with the Reds and pounded 39 doubles in his debut season for the Padres. A wrist injury hampered him for most of the season, but he finished strong. Alonso’s time is now or never.

    Carlos Quentin, OF

    It’s naive to expect Quentin to stay healthy; in both of his seasons in San Diego, he’s failed to play in more than 86 games. However, no other Padres hitter can boast a better slugging percentage in that time, and when Quentin plays, even if he plays hurt, he hits well. His bat makes him valuable enough to start, even if it’s almost a guarantee that another player will need to fill in at some point. He says his balky knees feel good again after multiple surgeries.

    Will Venable, OF

    Promoted from platoon status to starting center fielder with the latest Cameron Maybin injury, Venable is one of baseball’s best-kept secrets due to Petco’s offense-suppressing qualities. A rangy outfielder, Venable is quietly an impact hitter, too, with a career .273/.333/.452 line on the road. Already 31 and not eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season, the bulk of his career will pass in undeserved anonymity, unless a contender remembers him around deadline time.

    Fantasy Corner: Padres Top Five Fantasy Players

    Everth Cabrera, SS: ECab was well on his way to a career year before he was suspended for his involvement with Biogenesis. If you are looking for stolen base production at the shortstop position in your drafts this year, he's your guy.

    Andrew Cashner, RHP: Cashner was dominant in the second half last season, limiting hitters to .194/.249/.304 rates in 75.2 innings. He won't pitch like that for a full season, but he should be a solid performer -- assuming he can stay healthy.

    Chase Headley, 3B: According to Padres GM Josh Byrnes, Headley was more injured than they led everyone to believe last season, so we could see him a nice bounce-back from him in 2014.

    Tyson Ross, RHP: Ross is a top fantasy starting pitcher sleeper for 2014. In last year's second half, he struck out more than a batter per nine and walked fewer than three batters per nine. He can build on that breakout in 2014.

    Jedd Gyorko, 2B: Gyorko was Dan Uggla-like in 2013, but should find more consistency in his second time around.

    Best Case

    Some of the older players get hot and find their way to contenders at the trade deadline in return for the players that will make this team interesting again.

    Worst Case

    Yet another 76-86 season, not bad enough to clean house, not good enough to have hope for the future.