Articles By Athlon Sports
The Houston Texans hold the No. 1 pick and need a quarterback. A billboard in Houston — “Keep Johnny Football in Texas” — makes it clear which quarterback Texans fans want.
Johnny Manziel played his college ball only 98 miles from Reliant Stadium, making his name just down Highway 6 at Texas A&M. But he stands only 5' 11"and carries some baggage with him.
The Texans face a tough decision.
Or do they?
“The Texans are crazy if they don’t draft Johnny Manziel,” a scout from an AFC team said during Manziel’s pro day.
Manziel, 21, dazzled college football for two years. He also dazzled NFL scouts, many of whom are big fans of his game.
“He has magic,” former Colts general manager Bill Polian says. “There’s no two ways about it. And it’s hard to find players who have magic. They win games.”
Some compare Manziel to Fran Tarkenton. Former 49ers receiver Jerry Rice sees Steve Young when he watches Manziel.
But Manziel brings more pizzazz, and he’s already a bona fide star. He has established friendships with LeBron James and rapper Drake, received an unsolicited text from Katie Perry, dates a model and attracted former President George H.W. and Barbara Bush to his pro day.
Manziel selected Maverick Carter’s LRMR management firm to represent his marketing interests, which are expected to be significant. He hasn’t played a down in the NFL, yet Nike already sells the Johnny Manziel Pro Day Collection, and McDonald’s released a commercial with Manziel as James’ sidekick.
“He’s special. I’m not saying he’ll become a Hall of Famer, but I’m telling you right now, he could change the game.”
“He’s a colorful, confident guy,” Texans general manager Rick Smith says of Manziel. “You’ve got to appreciate that about him.”
Love him or not, Manziel is a draw.
His catchy nickname — Johnny Football, which his corporation, JMAN2 Enterprises LLC, seeks to trademark — has become his identity.
“I’ve been at this a long time, and I’ve never seen anyone like him,” an assistant coach for an AFC team says. “He’s special. I’m not saying he’ll become a Hall of Famer, but I’m telling you right now, he could change the game.”
Manziel will have to win, though, to sustain the momentum at the next level. He went 20–6 at A&M, passing for 7,820 yards and 63 touchdowns while running for 2,169 yards and 30 touchdowns in becoming perhaps the most entertaining, if not the best, player in college football history.
“He’s been a great player for a long time,” Bucs coach Lovie Smith says. “The guy’s a football player. He can do it all. … There are a lot of things to like about him.”
Not everyone is on Manziel’s bandwagon. Critics bring up his arm strength, his durability, his off-field distractions. But he has plenty of believers among NFL executives. Scouts, for the most part, love his competitiveness, his passion and his play-making abilities.
That’s the reason Manziel expects to become only the third quarterback standing 6'1" or shorter drafted in the first round in the modern era, joining Rex Grossman and Michael Vick.
“He’s a fantastic playmaker,” Cowboys quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson says. “You can tell the charisma that he has with the interaction with his own guys. He’s got a very infectious personality as well.”
The only question remaining is: Where will Manziel go?
—by Charean Williams
Since news broke that FSU quarterback Jameis Winston was cited for allegedly shoplifting crab legs at a Publix near campus, the Internet has been having fun with the incident. We rounded up our favorite photoshopped images and memes to share. Enjoy.
Stop if you’ve heard this before: Tennessee is looking for a high-profile coach. Since 2008, the Volunteers have needed to hire seven football and men’s basketball coaches.
And that doesn’t count the retirement of legendary women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt. Bruce Pearl, now the head coach at Auburn, is the only men’s coach since 1989 to last more than five seasons.
Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart will have his work cut out for him on a number of fronts. The departure of Cuonzo Martin to Cal in mid-April is one of the latest hires in the coaching carousel. With the deadline for players to pull out of the NBA Draft approaching and recruiting for 2014-15 nearing an end, many coaches are already preparing for next season.
And then there’s the nature of Martin’s departure. Many Tennessee players congratulated Martin on leaving for Cal as the Volunteers never embraced the coach who led UT to the Sweet 16 in his third season.
So Tennessee — again — will be hiring a coach under less than ideal circumstances. Here’s a look at potential contenders:
Tad Boyle, Colorado
Boyle has led Colorado to three consecutive NCAA Tournament berths, the first time the Buffaloes have done so in school history. Last year’s team may have been his best before point guard Spencer Dinwiddie was lost for the remainder of the season.
Rick Byrd, Belmont
The Knoxville native was a contender for the job when Martin was hired. Byrd will be 61 by the time the 2014-15 season starts, and he’s never coached above the Ohio Valley level. Still, Byrd is nearing the 700-career win mark and is considered one of the nation’s top coaching minds at any level of college basketball.
Ben Howland, formerly UCLA
Tennessee could find few coaches with the ledger of Howland, who took UCLA to three Final Fours. His name has surfaced in coaching searches in the year since he’s been out, including the Marquette position this offseason. With his resume, Holland may demand more than Tennessee is willing to spend.
Chris Mack, Xavier
Mack took a phone call for the Cal job that eventually went to Martin. The Xavier coach reiterated his commitment to the Musketeers, but his willingness to listen was nonetheless eye-opening for a coach with such deep ties to Xavier. Mack has reached the NCAA Tournament four times in five seasons at Xavier, but the last two seasons included a First Four loss and no postseason appearance altogether.
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Tennessee has looked his way twice already. Clearly, Marshall’s situation is different than it was years earlier, thanks to a trip to the Final Four and a 35-1 season. Marshall’s salary is approaching $2 million whereas Martin was paid $1.35 million at Tennessee. Wichita State also has plenty of fan and administrative support to be a national power. This may be too close to a lateral move, or worse, from Marshall’s point of view.
Archie Miller, Dayton
Miller watched his brother jump from Xavier to Arizona, and now Archie may be poised for a similar leap after reaching the Elite Eight in 2014. With the fan support and recruiting base for Dayton, Miller could build a successful program with the Flyers for several years. As with Marshall, there may be little incentive for Miller to jump to a second-tier SEC job.
Donnie Tyndall, Southern Miss
Tyndall picked up where Larry Eustachy left off at Southern Miss, leading the Eagles to back-to-back NIT appearances. Southern Miss is 25-7 in Conference USA the last two seasons, both years making a push for an at-large NCAA bid. Before Southern Miss, Tyndall twice led Morehead State to the NCAA Tournament, including an upset of fourth-seeded Louisville in 2011.
Mike White, Louisiana Tech
White is only 37, but he has plenty of SEC experience as an assistant at Ole Miss. He’s spent three seasons at Louisiana Tech, leading the Bulldogs to two NIT appearances in the last two. Louisiana Tech is 56-15 in the last two seasons.
A few names from deep range:
Tommy Amaker, Harvard
His name has appeared on coaching candidate lists before and will continue to appear as long as Harvard is rolling.
Derek Kellogg, UMass
The John Calipari disciple broke through after six seasons on the job at UMass. He also lost to Martin and Tennessee in the round of 64.
Greg Lansing, Indiana State
If not for Wichita State, Lansing’s record in the Missouri Valley would be more impressive. Even while battling the Shockers, Lansing has four postseason appearances in four seasons, including the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
Eric Musselman, former Arizona State assistant
Three sub-.500 years as an NBA head coach is still NBA experience. The ex-Sun Devils assistant was in the mix for the Cal job.
Richard Pitino, Minnesota
The 31-year-old son of Louisville coach Rick Pitino is a rising star in the business after one season at FIU and one at Minnesota, the latter resulting in an NIT championship. He’s also a former Florida assistant.
Steve Prohm, Murray State
Prohm hasn’t come close to matching his 31-2 campaign in his debut season, but the Racers have won 46 combined games the last two years.
Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin
The former Frank Martin assistant at Kansas State and South Carolina went 32-3 and reached the round of 32 in his first season as a head coach.
Bubba is no longer a curiosity. Rather, Bubba Watson has proven he’s one of the game’s great players. Bubba won his second green jacket in three years with an impressive all-around performance at The Masters. He launched one epic drive after another, bending a final-round tee shot 366 yards around the corner of the 13th hole to leave the par-5 powerless to combat another birdie. He putted with a deft touch. He manufactured iron shots, again turning them left or right depending on what the approach and green required.
If Augusta National is the ultimate shot-maker’s course, maybe it’s time we call Bubba “Mr. Augusta.” Maybe now, instead of proclaiming Tiger and Phil the perennial favorites, this has really become Bubba’s tournament to lose. He’s one of only 17 players with multiple green jackets.
Watson’s game seemed to disappear after his 2012 Masters win — he didn’t make the 2013 President’s Cup team — but he’s back.
“Learning to be a dad and then learning to have a green jacket with you is two big things to adjust to. So it just took me a little time,” he said. “ … It took me a year or so to get adjusted (to the fact) that I'm not really that good. I've got to keep practicing. Finally I got adjusted to it and here we are, another green jacket.”
Watson’s two wins this season have locked him into the Ryder Cup in Scotland in September. Bubba — being Bubba from tiny Bagdad, Fla. — still can’t believe where golf has taken him.
“I'm not trying to play golf for everybody to tell me how great I am or I'm one of the greats of the game,” he said. “I play golf because I love it. I love the game. I want to grow the game. The game has brought me everything that I've ever owned in my life.”
America’s next superstar
He didn’t win. He didn’t have to. Jordan Spieth is ready to take the throne from Tiger and Phil as America’s next great superstar.
Spieth battled for a green jacket like a veteran in his first appearance at The Masters, finishing in a tie for second with Jonas Blixt, three shots behind winner Bubba Watson.
Spieth generally kept his emotions under control. The TV crew referred to the talented 20-year-old as “an old soul.” His game is mature beyond his years.
“Oh, it was so much fun. It really was. Even if I didn't show it there on the back nine, it was,” Spieth said. “I took it all in, standing ovations for both of us to each green. It was a dream come true. Although it sits a little hard right now, I'll be back and I can't wait to be back.”
Spieth has risen to ninth in the world rankings, sandwiched between No. 8 Phil Mickelson and No. 9 Rory McIlroy. The taste of a near-victory should only fuel him further.
“I'm hungry. … I could take a lot of positives away, felt very comfortable out there,” he said. “My game felt like it will hold up and I think I'm going to go forward from here. That's a great feeling.”
The Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders created their third video lip dub. This time the ladies are splashing around at the beach to a mash up by DJ Earworm, based around Mariah Carey's "Fantasy." And yes, it's as awesome as you think it is.
For the second consecutive game in the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison hit a game-winning 3-point shot. This time, Harrison's shot against Wisconsin will send the Wildcats to the national championship game following a 74-73 win.
Harrison also converted a game-winning 3-pointer against Michigan in the regional final to send the Wildcats to the Final Four.
Again, the still is almost as impressive as the highlight:
Aaron Harrison 3 pic.twitter.com/11JNZ6Vvt3— 3030 (@jose3030) April 6, 2014
1. Tampa Bay
3. New York
It has been traditionally baseball’s toughest division, but the AL East appears to have weakened heading into 2014. Still, it may be the deepest of the six divisions, with at least four of the teams capable of winning the crown. The defending World Series champs from Boston may take a step back with the loss of center fielder and offensive catalyst Jacoby Ellsbury. And with all the dollars spent by the Yankees, their infield could be atrocious. With ace David Price still on the roster and Evan Longoria anchoring the lineup, the Rays can beat anyone. And we believe the Rays will win a tight, dramatic race. Baltimore landed outfielder/DH Nelson Cruz and starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez late in free agency to add to a talented core. But pitching will likely be the Orioles’ downfall. Toronto looks like the odd team out in this race.
2. Kansas City
The Tigers appeared to be sleepwalking through much of last season, winning the division by a game over Cleveland. The Tigers tinkered with their lineup, trading Prince Fielder to Texas and moving two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera back to first. Rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos will be under the gun to produce. Detroit’s starting rotation and bullpen, featuring new closer Joe Nathan, should be enough to win another AL Central title. While Cleveland remains a threat, the stiffest competition for the Tigers will come from Kansas City. The Royals will finally see the fruits of a long, tedious rebuilding process. Ace James Shields and closer Greg Holland lead a young and talented staff. The Indians closed 2013 with a 10-game winning streak to earn the first wild card spot. It may take another similar streak to repeat. Chicago and Minnesota are still in the also-ran category.
4. Los Angeles
Much like the East this season, there are four teams capable of winning the West. The Rangers have deep pitching and added Prince Fielder to the middle of an already talented lineup anchored by third baseman Adrian Beltre. Newcomer Shin-Soo Choo gives Texas one of the best leadoff men in the game. But a troublesome back ailment of ace Yu Darvish could derail the season. A quick study of Oakland’s everyday lineup doesn’t exactly scare anyone. But somehow the group manages to score, and more importantly, win with back-to-back division titles. This season, the A’s will lean on rookie Sonny Gray to lead the rotation. Seattle invested heavily in prized free agent Robinson Cano. The Mariners have the pitching to compete with any team. The Angels still have a star-studded lineup, but pitching could prevent a serious run.
*Wild card teams
Detroit over Tampa Bay
St. Louis over Detroit
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles
We know it’s bound to happen soon. There’s been a strong contingent of Trout supporters who believe he should have already won an MVP. The scary thought for AL West rivals is that the fleet outfielder continues to improve. The MVP runner-up the past two seasons will likely see better pitches to hit with the expectation that teammate Albert Pujols should have a bounce-back season.
2. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit
3. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay
4. Prince Fielder, Texas
5. Dustin Pedroia, Boston
AL Cy Young
1. Justin Verlander, Detroit
The Tigers’ ace is not exactly an automatic choice for AL Cy Young, although it seems that way. David Price of the Rays, pitching in a contract year, and Yu Darvish of Texas, if back problems don’t delay his season too long, are equally viable candidates. But Verlander may be as healthy and strong as we’ve seen him.
2. Yu Darvish, Texas
3. James Shields, Kansas City
4. David Price, Tampa Bay
5. Felix Hernandez, Seattle
Rookies to Watch
Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox
The Cuban import had dominated in his homeland and turned heads at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. At age 27, he should be in his prime.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston
The shortstop became the youngest postseason starter in Red Sox history last fall when he played his way onto the postseason roster.
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit
The Tigers’ willingness to part with first baseman Prince Fielder to open a spot for Castellanos speaks volumes as to his potential.
George Springer, OF, Houston
At age 23 he posted 37 homers, 45 steals, 106 runs and 108 RBIs in 135 games across Single-A and Double-A. The Astros believe he’s ready.
Taijuan Walker, SP, Seattle
The athletic Walker is still learning to pitch. He held big league hitters to a .204 average in three starts last season.
4. New York
Heading into spring training this looked like a two-team race. But a couple of key injuries to Atlanta starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy handed the advantage to Washington. The Nationals have a tremendous rotation, deep bullpen and talented lineup. Keeping outfielders Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth healthy for a full season is key. They are the anchors of the batting order. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann form a tough 1-2-3 combo. Already suffering the loss of catcher Brian McCann to free agency, Atlanta acted quickly to sign starter Ervin Santana in the wake of the pitchers’ injuries. Philadelphia is another year older and this surely is the final run for Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard et al. The Mets are an up-and-coming team. Miami has some enviable talent that is not quite ready for prime time.
1. St. Louis
The strongest division in the National League had three playoff teams last season and could again in 2014. The defending NL champion Cardinals added speed and athleticism to their lineup without sacrificing any pitching. There are five dependable starters in St. Louis led by Adam Wainwright, NLCS MVP Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller. Outfielders Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and catcher Yadier Molina could be in the MVP discussion. The Pirates are out to prove that 2013 wasn’t a one-year wonder. The talent is still developing, an indication that the club will be in the hunt for years to come. Cincinnati did very little to strengthen its lineup, and with the loss of leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo, the Reds may struggle to score. Rookie Billy Hamilton will be fun to watch on the bases. Milwaukee has a respectable rotation and could have a potent lineup if the embattled Ryan Braun can return to form. The Cubs appear headed in the right direction, but the destination is still in the distance.
1. Los Angeles
2. San Francisco*
5. San Diego
The Los Angeles Dodgers have officially become the West Coast version of the so-called evil empire once known as the New York Yankees. No contract is beyond the Dodgers’ reach. Money alone can’t win division titles, but Los Angeles has put together a talented roster, especially the pitching staff. Ace Clayton Kershaw is the best in the game right now. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Zack Greinke could be No. 1 starters for most teams. The Giants have assembled a pretty good staff as well, but the G-Men may have trouble producing runs at the same clip as the Dodgers. Arizona has MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt in the heart of the batting order, but he may be pitched around. A season-ending injury to ace Patrick Corbin was a huge blow to the D-backs. Colorado and San Diego will once again sit this race out.
*Wild card teams
St. Louis over Washington
St. Louis over Detroit
1. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Colorado
There isn’t a shortage of MVP candidates in the National League. Gonzalez won a batting title and led the NL in total bases back in 2010. He was on a similar pace last season when injuries limited him to 110 games. If he stays on the field for 145 starts, he’ll win this award. We believe he’s in for a healthy season.
2. Bryce Harper, Washington
3. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
4. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona
5. Allen Craig, St. Louis
NL Cy Young
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
Forget about the back stiffness that has knocked the Dodgers’ lefthander out of the club’s second Opening Day. He will be fine now that the team isn’t flying all over the world, interrupting his training routine. Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game with the added benefit of pitching in a friendly ballpark for a winning team.
2. Jordan Zimmermann, Washington
3. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis
4. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco
5. Jose Fernandez, Miami
Rookies to Watch
Travis d’Arnaud, C, New York Mets
Traded for multiple Cy Young winners while still in the minors, the Mets believe injuries are behind him and he’s ready to blossom.
Alex Guerrero, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers
It may take him a few months to acclimate himself with the American game, but the Dodgers believe they have another Cuban star.
Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati
Much has been made over his base-stealing prowess — and rightfully so — but will a .350 career OBP in minors translate to majors?
You may exhale now.
In a wild night of Sweet 16 games, Kentucky and Michigan State advanced to the regional finals when both games came down to the final possessions and final possessions.
First, Kentucky defeated rival Louisville 74-69 on a go-ahead basket by guard Aaron Harrison with 40 seconds remaining. Kentucky made its last four free throws to seal the win. Kentucky led 2-0 and never again until Harrison’s basket.
Here’s a look at Harrison’s big-time corner 3:
Meanwhile, Michigan State weathered a Virginia comeback to win 61-59. Branden Dawson had the dunk that turned out to be the difference in the final minute.
Russ Smith played the role of rally killer early against Kentucky with a ridiculous dunk over Wildcats star freshman Julius Randle.
Louisville pulled away early before Kentucky went on an 11-3 run. Smith halted any momentum for the Wildcats with a wild dunk, splitting Wildcats defenders to re-open a seven-point lead.
Take a look:
Major League Baseball has been around in some form or fashion for nearly 150 years. From the days of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams to the time when Hank Aaron became the home run king or the more recent exploits of the likes of Mariano Rivera and Miguel Cabrera, one of the things that have always been synonymous with America's pastime are the statistics and the history associated with them.
Along those lines, one of the unique things about baseball is that history can be made on any given day or night at the ballpark, especially if you are paying close enough attention. The 2013 season was no exception, as players and teams alike added their names to the record books. Here is a rundown of some of those baseball "firsts" that may have initially gone unnoticed.
IN 2013, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN BASEBALL HISTORY A BATTER…
Struck out more than 10 times in the first four games of his team’s season (Brett Wallace).
Drove in 16 runs in his team’s first four contests (Chris Davis).
Had both a hit and a strikeout in 15 straight games (Joe Mauer).
Owned a Triple Crown line of at least .340-15-60 at the end of May (Miguel Cabrera).
Hit 12 home runs in a month, yet did not draw a walk (Domonic Brown in May).
Collected 10 total bases and five RBIs in a game in one of the first two contests of his career (Yasiel Puig).
Hit two extra-inning home runs, one of which was a walk-off grand slam, in the same game (John Mayberry Jr.).
Tied an extra-inning contest with a grand slam (Kyle Seager).
Hit a home run in consecutive at-bats against Mariano Rivera (Miguel Cabrera).
Amassed 13 hits and 18 RBIs over a four-game span (Alfonso Soriano).
Homered twice in a game after the 13th inning (Matt Adams).
Knocked home a run in each of his first six postseason contests (Pedro Alvarez).
Supplied an outfield assist and a walk-off hit — both in extra innings — in a playoff game (Carlos Beltran).
Reached base in 31 consecutive postseason games (Miguel Cabrera).
Hit a second career go-ahead grand slam in the playoffs (Shane Victorino).
Charted multiple hits and multiple RBIs in all three World Series openers in which he’s played (David Ortiz).
Drove in 13 runs in his first eight World Series games (Mike Napoli).
Beat both reigning Cy Young Award winners in back-to-back starts (Justin Masterson).
Struck out 35 batters in a season before he issued a walk (Adam Wainwright).
Fanned more than 10 batters in a start of less than five innings (Alex Cobb, 13).
Pitched nine scoreless innings, walked none, struck out at least 12 and allowed only hit, yet failed to win the game (Matt Harvey).
Struck out at least 14 men, walked fewer than two and did not allow an earned run, yet took the loss (Chris Sale).
Began a season 10–0 despite not throwing a complete game (Max Scherzer).
Defeated former Cy Young Award winners in each of his first two major- league starts (Gerrit Cole).
Won five consecutive starts for one team, then made his next appearance for another (Matt Garza).
Threw a second career game in which he whiffed at least 14 batters, allowed no more than one hit and walked fewer than two (Yu Darvish).
Struck out more than 40 batters in a calendar month while issuing no more than one walk (Cliff Lee, 54).
Struck out 100 batters, but allowed fewer than 10 walks in a season (Koji Uehara).
Punched out 12 batters without allowing a hit in a playoff game (Anibal Sanchez).
Walked one batter over a span of five postseason starts (Wainwright).
Lost a postseason start in which he allowed no earned runs and two or fewer hits (Clayton Kershaw).
Started, won a World Series-clinching game for a second team (John Lackey).
Allowed no runs and struck out at least 15 foes in back-to-back games (Texas Rangers).
Hit a walk-off home run in four consecutive home games against the same opponent (Rangers vs. Los Angeles Angels).
Went 407 contests without a complete game (Milwaukee Brewers).
Boasted nine players with 200 career home runs on its roster at some point during the season (New York Yankees).
Hit 100 fewer home runs in a non-strike season than they did the year before (Yankees).
Fanned at least 13 times in each of the first four games of a season (Houston Astros).
Finished its season with 15 straight defeats (Astros).
Won four elimination games in four different cities in six days (Tampa Bay Rays).
Trotted out nine pitchers in a nine-inning playoff game (Rays).
Carried no-hitters into the sixth inning of three postseason games in a row (Detroit Tigers).
Failed to get an RBI from its cleanup hitter in 17 consecutive postseason games (Tigers).
Won the first two games of a postseason series despite batting below .150 (St. Louis Cardinals).
Won a World Series game in which all three of its pitchers used were under the age of 24 (Cardinals).
Won two straight World Series games with the winning run scoring on an error in the seventh inning or later (Cardinals).
—Compiled by Bruce Herman for Athlon Sports. This is just one of the features that can be found in Athlon Sports' 2014 MLB Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands and online now. Starting with 21 unique covers to choose from, Athlon covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between. Order your copy now!
For as much success as the SEC has on the football field, the league was one of the most maligned major conferences in college basketball this season.
The league received only three NCAA Tournament bids with teams like Arkansas, LSU and Missouri falling out of NCAA Tournament contention in the final weeks of the regular season.
The league, though, will place three teams in the Sweet 16, one team (Tennessee) needing to win three times to get there.
Was the SEC overlooked during the season or is this a case of teams getting hot at the right time?
Was SEC basketball undervalued this season?
David Fox: Certainly, the SEC going 3-for-3 on Sweet 16 teams is a mild surprise, but all this tells me is that Kentucky and Tennessee should have done more of what Florida did that what they actually did during the regular season. The Wildcats and Volunteers have finally found a formula that works, and kudos to them, they did it in the first week of the NCAA Tournament. But this could have been done months ago. The SEC was not a great league. Three bids out of a 14-team league, especially one in which two programs that actually focus on basketball (Missouri and Arkansas) didn’t make the field. Georgia and Missouri were knocked out of the NIT by Conference USA teams, shouldn’t that count for conference bragging rights as well? Tennessee and Kentucky finally started playing how they should have been performing all year. To me, that has little to do with the other teams in the league.
Braden Gall: SEC basketball was not undervalued at all. The league wasn't very good and that has nothing to do with how we now view Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee after all three made it to the Sweet 16. Florida is the best team in the nation, the world's greatest recruiting class is finally starting to play like it at Kentucky and the Vols were a popular pick to make the Big Dance in the preseason with one of the SEC's best rebounding tandem's in history. All three teams have talent, coaching and appear to be peaking at the right time. Florida being great has nothing to do with how good (or bad) the SEC was this year. Just ask Jimbo Fisher and the Florida State Seminoles football team.
Mitch Light: I don’t believe so. Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee deserve credit for playing well in the NCAA Tournament and reaching the Sweet 16, but one weekend of strong play — most notably by Kentucky and Tennessee — should not change opinions formed during the course of the entire season. The biggest issue with the SEC this season was that too many of its better teams simply did not play up to their potential. LSU and Missouri (and possibly Arkansas) had rosters good enough to reach the NCAA Tournament, but those teams simply did not play well enough to make the field. So we were left with a league that only sent three of its 14 teams to the NCAA Tournament. And that, despite the strong performance of those three teams this past weekend, doesn’t not mean the SEC was undervalued in 2014.
Nathan Rush: The SEC wasn't a deep league this season. So the 14 teams judged as a group were appropriately rated. But the best of the best — Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee — are matchups no team in the country wanted to see on Selection Sunday. Three Sweet 16 teams and possibly one (or more) Final Four team(s) is NCAA Tournament success any conference would be jealous of. The SEC was a top-heavy conference this season but it should be respected and never underrated. The SEC has a long track record of championship success in nearly every sport, including a combined five NCAA titles in men's basketball since 1996. Anyone who doubts Florida, Kentucky or Tennessee should think twice and will likely pay the price.
After winning World Series titles in 2010 and 2012, the Giants weren’t quick to embrace the notion that they had become an even-year franchise. But now they’re happily clinging to it. Anything to move beyond their tremendous disappointment last season, when they needed a strong finish in September just to avoid joining the 1998 Marlins as the only defending champs to finish in last place. The Giants decided to view it as a “flat tire” season, in the words of GM Brian Sabean, eschewing an overhaul and instead spending most of their budgeted funds to retain Hunter Pence, Tim Lincecum and Javier Lopez. Their two additions — pitcher Tim Hudson and left fielder Michael Morse — were discounted on the free-agent market because they are coming off injuries. The Giants need more than Hudson and Morse to have bounce-back seasons if they hope to keep up with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks.
The Giants didn’t come close to winning it all last season, but they took some inspiration from the team that did. The Boston Red Sox made their run because of a resurgent pitching staff, and the Giants see the potential to emulate them. They’ll certainly have to do better after their starters ranked 13th out of 15 NL clubs in ERA. Four of five starters return, with Madison Bumgarner (among the league leaders in ERA, WHIP and BAA) the only one coming off an excellent season. Matt Cain, still viewed as the rotation’s leader, pitched like his old self in the second half and should return to frontline status. Lincecum, who threw a no-hitter July 14, still strikes out a batter an inning even if he’s no longer elite at run prevention. The Giants bet $35 million that he’ll improve. They’re hoping Ryan Vogelsong’s awful season was a result of the World Baseball Classic, too. Hudson, who fractured his ankle in a season-ending collision last July, should add some smarts and fire to what already is a competitive group.
No area of last year’s club stayed healthy, and that included the late-inning relievers. Santiago Casilla (bone cyst surgery) and Jeremy Affeldt (groin surgery) both missed time after signing three-year extensions. They’ll need to get back in line behind closer Sergio Romo, who had some durability issues in the past but held up remarkably well while knocking down 38 of 43 save chances. Romo’s rate stats went up across the board, though. Regardless, the ninth inning belongs to him if he’s healthy. Heath Hembree is seen by many as the Giants’ closer of the future, even if his fastball is a few ticks slower than the 98 mph he threw in the low minors. If he doesn’t win a job in the spring, he’ll be a force soon enough. Lopez, one of the best left-handed specialists in the game, signed a three-year extension. A healthy Affeldt will allow manager Bruce Bochy to deploy Lopez more efficiently. Yusmeiro Petit, who finished an out away from a perfect game last season, is out of options and expected to make the club as a long man.
Brandon Crawford was on his way to a breakout offensive season when he jammed his hand while sliding into second base. There are many in the organization who still believe the gifted defensive shortstop will be able to hit higher than eighth in the lineup. But for now, the Giants’ pitchers are happy enough to have his glove back there. With the Braves’ Andrelton Simmons in the league, though, it’ll be tough for Crawford to win a Gold Glove anytime soon. Marco Scutaro will turn 40 in 2015, when he’ll play the final year of his contract. But his body already is beginning to betray him. Hip and back issues limited his range and defensive ability all season, and then he sustained a torn tendon in his pinky finger on a hit-by-pitch. He had surgery after the season, and the Giants are banking that his contact skills will be an asset again in the No. 2 spot in the order.
Pablo Sandoval went from World Series MVP to mega-bust while letting his weight become an issue again. The third baseman missed two weeks while on the DL, this time because of a foot injury, and he had just three home runs over a span of 303 at-bats from late May to Sept. 4. That’s when he broke out for a three-homer game in San Diego that nobody saw coming. (Well, nobody except Justin Verlander, maybe.) Sandoval is entering his walk year, and he lost significant weight over the winter. The Giants certainly need more heft from him in the lineup. First baseman Brandon Belt quietly was the Giants’ best offensive player, leading the team with an .841 OPS that ranked 14th in the NL. The hope is that Buster Posey can catch a few more games and limit his starts at first base so that Belt’s bat can stay in the lineup.
The Giants entered their final homestand with just one starting outfielder under contract, and Angel Pagan was coming off major surgery to reattach two hamstring tendons. They got a jump on the market and signed Pence to a five-year, $90 million extension that looked like a bargain given what the free-agent stars received in open bidding. It was easy to commit to Pence. He brings energy every day — he became the first Giant since Alvin Dark in 1954 to start every regular-season game — and although nothing he does is pretty, his hot streaks can carry a club. Pagan’s incredible walk-off, inside-the-park home run May 25, the first in the big leagues in nine years, marked the high point of the Giants’ season. The team’s glaring lack of depth was exposed when Pagan missed significant time after surgery on his hamstring. They’ll need him to be healthy, as well as Morse, who offers big-time power that should translate even to AT&T Park if he can stay in the lineup.
It’s hard to follow up a batting crown and an NL MVP Award. But for Posey, it might have been a bigger challenge to play out the string for the first time in his career. It went unnoticed because the Giants were out of contention, but Posey had a miserable second half. He hit .325 with 13 home runs before the break and .244 with just two homers after it, and it was evident he was swinging on tired legs. Posey acknowledged he wanted to do more lower body strengthening work over the offseason. While other offensively gifted catchers like Joe Mauer are moving out of harm’s way, Posey wants to catch as long as possible. At least there’s some peace of mind now that there’s a new rule that will protect catchers from being targeted in home-plate collisions.
Gregor Blanco’s premium defense and on-base ability make him a valuable asset, but he was overexposed in an everyday role following Pagan’s injury last season. He’s back to being a fourth outfielder and should be a regular late-inning replacement for Morse in left field. If Blanco’s playmaking ability is solid, Juan Perez’s is breathtaking. He played just 218 of the team’s 4,342 defensive innings in the outfield but led the club with eight assists. Backup catcher Hector Sanchez is a young switch-hitter who can compete against quality fastballs. Joaquin Arias returns in a reserve infield role.
With the retirement of Jim Leyland and firing of Dusty Baker, Bochy suddenly found himself the active leader in managerial victories. He’s exactly 1,530–1,530 in his career, with many years in payroll-poor San Diego holding down his winning percentage. He already has Hall of Fame credentials with his two World Series rings. Sabean might lack the trade creativity of Billy Beane, his counterpart across the bay, but he’s the longest-tenured GM in the game, and his staff continuity is extraordinary.
Surprisingly, the Giants won the season series against each of their NL West rivals last year, and their 44–32 division record was the best of the group. So they see no reason why they can’t challenge for the NL West title again, especially after spending $173 million to keep their roster together. After a couple tweaks, the parts appear to fit — if all goes to plan. But the number of what-ifs and the lack of organizational depth loom as twin concerns. The pitching talent in the minor leagues is a bit closer, but the Giants hope they won’t have to rely on it too soon. If the rotation can’t pull a Bostonian about-face, it’s hard to imagine the Giants being an even-year team again in 2014.
CF Angel Pagan (S)
Talented switch-hitter has topped 125 games just twice in his career, and is coming off hamstring surgery.
2B Marco Scutaro (R)
Despite a down year, 38-year-old was the second-hardest to fan in MLB (16.09 plate appearances per K).
1B Brandon Belt (L)
His .841 OPS was better than Carlos Beltran, Jay Bruce, Justin Upton … and yes, Buster Posey.
C Buster Posey (R)
Pledged to improve his leg strength after he struggled for just two home runs after the All-Star break.
RF Hunter Pence (R)
Bruce Bochy plans to give him a day off in 2014? Expect Pence to fight that decision with all he’s got.
3B Pablo Sandoval (S)
If the Giants don’t extend him this spring, he’ll be a sought-after 27-year-old on the free-agent market.
LF Michael Morse (R)
Lacks range, and a bum wrist led to a downturn last season, but Bochy envisions a modern-day Pat Burrell.
SS Brandon Crawford (L)
Hit just .199 against LHP, so expect Joaquin Arias to soak up a few starts against lefties.
OF Gregor Blanco (L)
If he starts 113 games in the outfield again, you know it didn’t go according to plan for the Giants.
OF Juan Perez (R)
Speed? Range? Arm strength? Accuracy? Daring when the wall is near? Check. Now if he can develop the bat…
C Hector Sanchez (S)
Inflamed shoulder held back the young switch-hitter for most of the season, but Giants like his potential.
INF Joaquin Arias (R)
Made career-high 47 starts and hit .368 on the road, but just .167 at home.
INF Tony Abreu (S)
He’s out of options and so is Ehire Adrianza, so the Giants will have a decision to make this spring.
RH Matt Cain
Became the first Giant since Carl Hubbell in 1929-37 to make 30 starts in eight consecutive seasons.
LH Madison Bumgarner
Finished with 199 Ks and became Giants’ first left-handed starter to make All-Star team since 1997.
RH Tim Lincecum
Averaged 16.3 wins during first three full seasons; 11 wins (and 14.3 losses) since.
RH Tim Hudson
Leads all active pitchers with 205 victories; he’ll take old Oakland pal Barry Zito’s place in the rotation.
RH Ryan Vogelsong
Had a 7.19 ERA in first nine starts, then it got more painful when a pitch crushed his right hand in May.
RH Sergio Romo (Closer)
His workload was well managed; he exceeded 20 pitches only 11 times and never threw more than 28.
RH Jean Machi
Splitter specialist is a slight favorite over George Kontos and Jake Dunning for final spot in the bullpen.
RH Heath Hembree
Saved a franchise-record 31 games for Triple-A Fresno; development of power slider earned him a call-up.
LH Javier Lopez
Lefties hit .156, and he allowed just 10.5 percent of inherited runners to score — lowest rate in the league.
RH Santiago Casilla
Despite missing 47 games after bone cyst surgery, his seven wins matched his career high.
LH Jeremy Affeldt
39 appearances his fewest since 2004, and his alarming 1.24 K/BB ratio was cut in half from a year earlier.
RH Yusmeiro Petit
Giants went 6–1 in his seven starts after Aug. 26 — including one memorable one-hit shutout.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Christian Arroyo, SS
The Giants went off the draft board of most prognosticators when they selected Arroyo with the 25th overall pick. Although his pure hitting ability was well known to anyone who saw him win MVP honors for the Team USA under-18 squad that won the World Championships in South Korea, it was thought that Arroyo didn’t have the physical tools or quick feet to stay in the middle of the diamond. But Arroyo made the Giants look smart after a dazzling pro debut in which he hit .326 while leading the short-season Arizona League in doubles, RBIs, slugging and OPS to add another MVP trophy to his collection. He’s smart, too; Arroyo was salutatorian of his high school class in Brooksville, Fla., where he graduated with a 4.4 GPA.
RHP Chris Stratton (23)
The Cardinals snagged NLCS MVP Michael Wacha one pick ahead of Stratton, who was set back by a vicious concussion after getting hit in the head by a line drive in 2012.
2B/SS Joe Panik (23)
Scrappy competitor saw his average dip to .257 in Double-A after hitting .247 in Single-A in 2012.
LHP Edwin Escobar (20)
Big, durable starter thrived after promotion to Double-A, and should be ready to provide big-league rotation depth.
LHP Adalberto Mejia (19)
Youngest pitcher in the Single-A California League more than held his own with two-seamer, slider, cutter and changeup mix.
OF Mac Williamson (23)
Former Wake Forest standout has legitimate right-handed power reminiscent of a younger Paul Goldschmidt.
RHP Derek Law (23)
His hard, sinking curveball is a weapon that he used to post a perfect ERA in 11 appearances against Arizona Fall League prospects.
LHP Ty Blach (23)
Command lefty was the ace of a prospect-heavy staff at Single-A San Jose, winning Cal League ERA title and also pacing the circuit with just 1.2 walks per nine innings.
RH Kyle Crick (21)
His mid-90s fastball and swing-and-miss slider should have him in the Giants’ rotation by 2016.
Beyond the Box Score
No-Nos The Giants were involved in two of three no-hitters thrown in the majors in 2013. The Reds’ Homer Bailey mowed them down July 2 at Cincinnati, the 16th time in Giants franchise history that they were no-hit. Just 11 days later, Tim Lincecum threw 148 pitches while completing a most unexpected no-hitter in San Diego. Lincecum hadn’t thrown a complete game in over two years.
Almost perfect Yusmeiro Petit nearly topped Lincecum’s feat and probably surpassed him in terms of sheer drama. The career journeyman came within one strike of throwing the 24th perfect game in major-league history Sept. 6 vs. Arizona. Eric Chavez somehow laid off a two-strike curveball before rapping a pinch single with two outs in the ninth that landed maybe 12 inches in front of Hunter Pence’s diving attempt. Petit kept his poise and retired the next hitter, then pointed to the sky with no hint of disappointment after throwing his first MLB shutout.
Error free The Giants were a subpar defensive team in 2013, committing 107 errors — tied for the third-most in the NL. Yet somehow they set a modern franchise record by playing 13 consecutive errorless games from Aug. 30-Sept. 11. “I didn’t see that one coming,” Bruce Bochy said.
Division champs It’s fascinating when you chop up the Giants’ 2013 campaign. Not only did they post a winning season series against every NL West opponent, but they haven’t dropped one to a division foe since they went 6–12 against the Padres in 2010. What killed the Giants was the NL Central (11–23) and interleague play (6–14), including a 2–8 record in AL parks in which they averaged 2.4 runs per game. They’re hoping a true DH like Michael Morse will help them do better this season.
Iron Man Not only did Hunter Pence become the first Giant since Alvin Dark in 1954 to start every regular-season game, but he also sat for a grand total of only 16 innings. Pence accounted for 98.89 percent of the Giants’ defensive innings in right field. He enters 2014 with a streak of 171 consecutive starts, the longest in the NL and second-longest in the majors behind Prince Fielder (505, 17 of them at DH). Bochy does intend to give Pence an occasional day off, though.
Wichita State’s bid for an undefeated season ended Sunday with a loss to Kentucky in a thriller in the round of 32.
The Shockers put together one of the great regular seasons in college basketball history, regardless of their strength of schedule.
Yet Wichita State didn’t reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. How should we evaluate Gregg Marshall’s team in years to come?
How should Wichita State’s 35-1 season be evaluated in the long run?
David Fox: Wichita State’s achievement of starting 35-0 will most often be remembered in the shorthand. By that, I mean the next time a team starts 25-0, Wichita State’s record of 35 consecutive wins to start the season will be the benchmark. And think about that: A team starting 25-0 still has 10 more to go before tying what Wichita State did. Moreover, the Shockers’ win over Kentucky will be remembered as one of the best NCAA Tournament games of the last decade or so, especially if Kentucky continues to advance through the tournament. Unfortunately, there will be a segment of fans that will see the next team to go on a long undefeated streak outside of a power conference and react with skepticism because Wichita State didn’t make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. That’s not the outlook anyone with perspective should have, but it’s one that’s going to persist.
Braden Gall: Wichita State had a historic season that should and will be remembered for a long time. Some will choose to only remember the final 40 minutes and not the previous 35 games. Gregg Marshall did an amazing job with his squad and they were perfect until one uber-talented No. 8-seed battled them to the proverbial death. It's not the first time that has happened to a top-seeded team and it won't be the last. To be fair, I had Louisville topping the Shockers in the Sweet 16, so I wasn't exactly "on the bandwagon" but I certainly believe that this team was seeded perfectly. Wichita State deserved to be a one-seed in the hardest bracket — and the result was an instant classic.
Mitch Light: That’s a difficult question to answer because college basketball is such a postseason sport. Wichita State is clearly an elite team — one of the best in the nation this year — but the Shockers will not be remembered by most as one of the best in recent years because they did not advance past the first weekend of the tournament. This Wichita State team has often been compared to the 2003-04 Saint Joseph’s team that went undefeated in the regular season, but that team reached the Elite Eight before losing to a No. 2 seed, Oklahoma State. Wichita State, on the other hand, only won one game in the NCAAs and lost to a No. 8 seed, Kentucky.
Nathan Rush: The Wichita State Shockers had an impressive encore following last season’s unbelievable run to the Final Four. There's absolutely no denying that. Coach Gregg Marshall’s team ran the table with a perfect 34–0 regular season record that included wins over five teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament field of 68 — Tulsa, BYU, Saint Louis, Tennessee and NC Central. Those aren't the most impressive wins. Still, the Shockers beat everyone on their schedule until running into preseason No. 1 Kentucky's greatest recruiting class since Anthony Davis and MKG. There's no shame in losing to Coach Cal's NBA roster. Wichita State definitely got a raw draw from the NCAA Tournament selection committee. But it is fitting that the team that foolishly thought it had a chance to go 40-0 took down the team that actually posted a 35-0 record. Wichita State should be proud of the past two seasons.
The Padres are coming off consecutive 76–86 seasons and a seventh straight season out of the playoffs, so naturally the fan base is getting restless. Ownership has promised to increase the player payroll by as much as 20 percent, and general manager Josh Byrnes has added starter Josh Johnson, reliever Joaquin Benoit and outfielder Seth Smith. Now it’s up to the team to deliver. It’ll take a Herculean effort to contend in a division led by the big-spending Dodgers.
This could truly be the team’s strength if it can stay away from the spate of reconstructive surgeries that have sidelined several promising young pitchers. The projected starting five are Andrew Cashner, Johnson, Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross and lefty Eric Stults. “We have the makings of a very solid rotation,’’ says manager Bud Black. Cashner, obtained for Anthony Rizzo two offseasons ago, has solidified his spot atop the rotation after starting last season in the bullpen. He’s taken a few mph off his fastball and is throwing with more control. Johnson was San Diego’s first offseason free-agent signing, getting a one-year, $8 million deal. The team received some bad news late in spring training when Johnson suffered a strained flexor tendon. He will miss the first six to eight weeks. The Padres were hoping to get the healthy version of Johnson, who was an All-Star with the Marlins in 2009-10 and led the NL with a 2.30 ERA in 2010. Johnson had bone spurs removed from his right elbow on Oct. 1 after going 2–8 with a 6.20 ERA in 16 starts with Toronto last season. So 20 to 24 healthy starts may be the best the team can hope for this season. The Padres got Kennedy from division-rival Arizona at the trade deadline, and he bounced back from a rough start with the Diamondbacks to go 4–2 with a 4.24 ERA in 10 starts in San Diego.
Byrnes added Benoit a few weeks after swapping setup man Luke Gregerson to Oakland for Smith. Benoit, who was Detroit’s closer last season, will fill Gregerson’s role and is insurance in case closer Huston Street goes on the disabled list. Street has been on the DL three times the last two seasons. Benoit had 24 saves in 26 chances in his first season as the Tigers’ closer. He was given a $15.5 million, two-year deal. Street had 33 saves in 35 chances last year. He is in the final year of a $14 million, two-year contract, with the Padres holding a $7 million option for 2015. The rest of the projected bullpen includes Dale Thayer, Nick Vincent, Tim Stauffer, Alex Torres and rookie lefty Patrick Schuster.
This is another area that should be strong, featuring shortstop Everth Cabrera and second baseman Jedd Gyorko, who had a solid rookie season in 2013. Cabrera was San Diego’s only All-Star last season, but he also brought the franchise the wrong type of publicity when he was suspended 50 games for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. Cabrera tearfully accepted responsibility, saying he took a substance to help hasten recovery from an injury just before spring training of 2012. Cabrera no doubt will be motivated to have a strong season. Among big-league rookies, Gyorko ranked first in home runs (23), on-base percentage (.301, tied with Nolan Arenado) and slugging (.444); second in RBIs (63); third in doubles (26) and fifth in hits (121). He led the team in RBIs, becoming the first rookie second baseman to lead his team since RBIs became an official stat in 1920. His .992 fielding percentage was the best-ever among major-league rookie second sackers, while his four errors were tied for the fewest among qualified players (min. 108 games).
The Padres are running out of time deciding what they’ll do with third baseman Chase Headley, who will be eligible for free agency after the season. Headley dropped off significantly following his breakout season of 2012, when he won his first Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards and finished fifth in the NL MVP voting. Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler had a rookie owner misstep when he said early last season that he had given Byrnes permission to begin negotiations that would make Headley the highest-paid player in club history. Headley countered by saying he didn’t want to negotiate during the season, then struggled on the field, with a drop across the board from his career-high numbers in 2012. Yonder Alonso returns at first base, where he made 86 starts. He hit .281 in 97 games, with all six of his homers coming before a hand injury landed him on the disabled list from June 1-July 11.
Cameron Maybin missed all but 14 games last year, and was eager to enjoy a healthy season in 2014. But a torn biceps tendon suffered early in spring training will sideline him for the first couple of months. Maybin has yet to pay off on the $25 million, five-year deal he signed during spring training 2012. It was injuries to his right wrist and left knee that led to long stints on the disabled list in 2013. Center fielder Will Venable hopes to continue the success that netted him a two-year, $8.5 million contract extension. Left fielder Carlos Quentin looks to stay healthy. And right fielder Chris Denorfia will no doubt continue playing the hustling style that has made him a fan favorite. Smith was acquired from the A’s to provide a left-handed complement to Denorfia in right. Smith won’t add much defensively, but he can hit right-handed pitching. Venable, the son of former big leaguer Max Venable, had career highs in nearly every offensive category in 2013. He also flashed some nice leather, including making a diving, game-saving catch against the Giants on June 17. Quentin, meanwhile, was limited to 82 games, third-lowest in his career, mostly due to knee injuries. He missed the final two months and had another surgery to clean out his right knee. He also served an eight-game suspension after slamming into the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke after being hit by a pitch in the shoulder on April 11. Denorfia played in a career-high 144 games, making a career-high 105 starts, including 51 in right, 36 in center and 18 in left. He set career highs with 132 hits, 10 homers and 47 RBIs.
Nick Hundley once again will be starting catcher heading into the season, this time due to Yasmani Grandal’s surgery to repair the torn ACL in his right knee. Grandal was hurt in a collision at home plate with Washington’s Anthony Rendon on July 6 and had surgery a month later. With a recovery time of 9-to-12 months, he’s not expected back before May at the earliest. Grandal, one of four players acquired from Cincinnati for Mat Latos in December 2011, started the 2013 season with a 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone. He had just one home run and nine RBIs in 28 games. In 60 games as a rookie in 2012, he hit eight homers and drove in 36 runs. Hundley enters the final year of a $9 million, three-year deal signed during spring training 2012. The Padres hold a $5 million option for next year. He played in a career-high 114 games in 2013, setting career-highs with 87 hits, 13 home runs and 44 RBIs. He threw out only 25.7 percent (28 of 109) of attempted base stealers.
Hundley likely will be relegated to the bench when Grandal returns from reconstructive knee surgery. Alexi Amarista can play both the infield and outfield. When healthy, Maybin could play his way back into the starting center field job. Smith and Denorfia can both be effective off the bench when not starting. Kyle Blanks hopes, once again, to prove himself worthy of a roster spot. He hit s.282 and slugged .456 against lefties last season, but struggled in the second half. Ryan Jackson and Alberto Gonzalez are battling for the final roster spot as a backup infielder. Neither brings much offense to the table.
Black returns for his eighth season, and his job appears safe despite never having led the Padres into the postseason. The new ownership group liked Black so much that they exercised his 2014 and ’15 options late in 2012. The owners — including the third generation of the O’Malley family — seem to be loosening the purse strings and allowing Byrnes to spend money.
Standing pat last offseason meant standing still in the NL West. Byrnes was busier this offseason, when he bolstered the rotation, bullpen and bench. The everyday lineup remains the same. The Padres have to get off to a strong start if they hope to contend, unlike the 5–15 start last year that left them dead in the water by mid-April. Any prolonged team offensive slump or struggles by the rotation will do them in as well. In reality, they’re probably still a year or two away from making some noise.
SS Everth Cabrera (S)
Team’s only All-Star in 2013 will be motivated after serving 50-game drug suspension.
RF Chris Denorfia (R)
Fan favorite can play all three outfield positions and is solid at the plate.
3B Chase Headley (S)
Will he stay or go? Offensive numbers dropped off dramatically after career year in 2012.
LF Carlos Quentin (R)
If his knees are healthy, Padres hope he can get 450-500 plate appearances.
1B Yonder Alonso (L)
Needs to rebound from hand injury that limited him to 97 games in 2013.
2B Jedd Gyorko (R)
Impressive rookie season in the field and at the plate showed that this kid can do it all.
CF Will Venable (L)
Solid in the field and is coming off career year at the plate that netted him an $8.55 million extension.
C Nick Hundley (R)
Enters last year of his contract as starter while Yasmani Grandal rehabs from knee surgery.
UT Alexi Amarista (L)
Solid utilityman, but not a good sign for Padres that he made 53 starts in center field.
C Yasmani Grandal (S)
Looking for redemption after drug suspension, ACL tear limited him to 28 games in 2013.
INF Ryan Jackson (R)
Has only 25 major league plate appearances and carries a .083 batting average.
OF Cameron Maybin (R)
Hurt most of 2013 and has yet to really pay off after getting five-year, $25 million deal two years ago.
OF Seth Smith (L)
Left-handed bat off the bench came at the expense of setup man Luke Gregerson.
1B/OF Kyle Blanks (R)
Probably his last opportunity to prove himself to the Padres.
RH Andrew Cashner
Hard thrower solidifies his move from bullpen to top of rotation.
RH Ian Kennedy
Appears to be on rebound; went 4–2 with 4.24 ERA after being acquired in July 31 trade with Arizona.
RH Tyson Ross
Solid back-of-the-rotation guy who had 2.93 ERA in his final 13 starts last year.
LH Eric Stults
Led Padres with 11 wins, 13 losses, 33 starts and 203.2 innings while recording 3.93 ERA.
RH Josh Johnson
Newcomer looks to return to 2010 form, when he led NL with 2.30 ERA with Marlins.
LH Robbie Erlin
The Padres won four of his five starts down the stretch last season. The lefty had a 1.97 ERA over that period and held hitters to a .227 average.
RH Huston Street (Closer)
Enters final year of contract; had 33 saves in 35 chances in 2013.
RH Joaquin Benoit
Ex-Tigers closer takes over setup role from Luke Gregerson; insurance if Street gets hurt.
RH Dale Thayer
Solid middle reliever set career highs with 69 appearances, 65 innings, 64 strikeouts and 3.32 ERA.
RH Nick Vincent
Local product was 6–3 with 2.14 ERA in 45 appearances; looking for first full big-league season.
RH Tim Stauffer
Crafty veteran has made transition from starter toreliever; 3–1 with 3.75 ERA over 69.2 innings.
LH Alex Torres
In 58 innings with Tampa Bay last season, Torres posted a 1.71 ERA and 0.897 WHIP with 62 whiffs.
LH Patrick Schuster
If he breaks camp with Padres, it’ll be a big jump for Rule 5 draftee who was in High-A last year.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Hunter Renfroe, OF
It was a busy summer for Renfroe. A few days after the Padres took him with the 13th overall pick in the June draft, he helped lead Mississippi State to the College World Series. Renfroe hit .345 with 15 homers and 65 RBIs in 66 games for the Bulldogs. After signing with the Padres for $2,678,000, he began his pro career with short-season Class A Eugene, where he hit .308 with four homers and 18 RBIs in 25 games. He was promoted to Class A Fort Wayne, where he hit only .212 in 18 games. He’s slated to start 2013 with Class A Lake Elsinore. Padres scouting director Billy Gasparino sees Renfroe as a five-tool player whose success in college makes him “a unique player.”
LHP Max Fried (20)
Promoted to Class A Lake Elsinore after going 6–7, 3.49 ERA, with 100 strikeouts in 118.2 innings at Class A Fort Wayne.
C Austin Hedges (21)
Top defensive catcher in 2011 draft class slated to start season at Double-A San Antonio.
RHP Matt Wisler (21)
Going 2–1, 2.03 ERA at Class A and 8–5, 3.00 ERA at Double-A merits promotion to Triple-A El Paso.
OF Rymer Liriano (22)
Working his way back after missing 2013 season following reconstructive surgery on his right elbow; slated for Triple-A El Paso.
RH Casey Kelly (24)
Key player from Adrian Gonzalez deal three years ago continues rehab from Tommy John surgery.
RHP Burch Smith (23)
Made big-league debut in 2013, but was an uneven 1–3 with a 6.44 ERA in four stints.
Beyond the Box Score
Local prospect Minor-league first baseman-outfielder Alex Dickerson, who went to suburban Poway High, was acquired by the Padres from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for righthander Miles Mikolas and outfielder Jaff Decker. Dickerson was named both the Eastern League Rookie of the Year and a postseason All-Star in 2013 after batting .288 (130-for-451) with 17 home runs, 68 RBIs, 61 runs scored and 10 stolen bases with Double-A Altoona. In 2012, Dickerson was named the Florida State League Player of the Year after batting .295 with 13 home runs and 90 RBIs in 129 games with High-A Bradenton.
Winfield represents Hall of Famer Dave Winfield left his position as executive vice president-senior advisor in the Padres’ front office to become special assistant to the Major League Baseball Players Association’s new executive director, Tony Clark. The move isn’t a surprise, considering that Winfield spent 15 seasons as a player representative during his 22-year big league career, which started with the Padres. After retiring, Winfield served as a founding member of the advisory board of the Major League Baseball Players Trust, a not-for-profit founded by active major leaguers in 1996.
Breeding ground Two members of the Padres’ organization were hired as big-league managers this offseason. Brad Ausmus, a special assistant to general manager Josh Byrnes, was hired as manager of the Detroit Tigers on Nov. 3. Four days later, bench coach Rick Renteria was hired as manager of the Chicago Cubs.
Roberts rises Dave Roberts was promoted from first-base coach to bench coach after Renteria was hired as manager of the Chicago Cubs. Roberts was the first-base coach for the past three seasons and had also served as the Padres’ baserunning coach since the beginning of the 2011 season, with the club having recorded an MLB-best 443 stolen bases during that time. Roberts will always be remembered for his stolen base that helped propel the Boston Red Sox to their comeback in the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees, leading to the club’s first World Series title in 86 seasons. Jose Valentin replaces Roberts as first-base coach.
Woof When the Padres’ Triple-A team moved from Tucson to El Paso, officials felt it needed a new name. A contest produced a woofer of a winner: the Chihuahuas. The other finalists were the Aardvarks, Buckaroos, Desert Gators and Sun Dogs. The Chihuahuas are El Paso’s first affiliated pro baseball team since the Double-A Diablos, an Arizona Diamondbacks farm team, left after the 2004 season.
Transfer of power In an interesting twist, the Padres swapped presidents with the Miami Dolphins. Well, sort of. Not long after Tom Garfinkel was forced out as the Padres president, the team hired Mike Dee, who held the same position with the Dolphins. Not long after that, Garfinkel was hired by the Dolphins to replace Dee. Garfinkel had joined the Padres when Jeff Moorad began his failed attempt to buy the club on a layaway plan. Dee was with the Padres from 1995-2002, joining the club as director of corporate development before several promotions that lead to his appointment as senior vice president of business affairs. Dee moved on to the Boston Red Sox and then the Dolphins.
The most expensive reboot in baseball history — professional sports history — was a success. After buying the Dodgers for a record $2.15 billion in 2012, the Guggenheim Partners group green-lighted “spare-no-expense” blockbuster trades and mega-million-dollar free-agent acquisitions that produced a $230 million payroll. The results were good — an NL West division title, berth in the NL Championship Series and the highest attendance in the majors last season. The Dodgers now enter a new phase of their rebirth as a deep-pocketed West Coast superpower. The focus this winter was not on headline-grabbing moves but on maintaining the momentum built in 2013. In particular, new management, led by team president and CEO Stan Kasten and GM Ned Colletti, has focused resources on building the kind of self-sustaining player development system that can fuel perennial championship contention.
The best asset the Dodgers have going for them — and the reason they will enter 2014 as serious threats to unseat the St. Louis Cardinals as NL champion — is a deep starting rotation led by the best starting pitcher of his generation. Clayton Kershaw, who will be 26 on Opening Day, had yet another superb season in 2013, winning his second Cy Young Award in the past three years and leading the majors in ERA (1.83) for the third consecutive season — the first pitcher to do that since Greg Maddux in 1993-95. But it wasn’t just Kershaw. As a whole, Dodgers starting pitchers had the lowest ERA in the majors (3.13) and the most shutouts (22). Before the season, the Dodgers committed more than $200 million in signing Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Both provided a return on the investment. Sidelined by a fractured collarbone early in the year, Greinke rivaled Kershaw for dominance in the second half, going 7–1 with a 1.58 ERA over his final 12 starts. Ryu won 14 games with a 3.00 ERA in his rookie season. Dan Haren has been added as a free agent this time around to bring stability to the back of the rotation, where both Chad Billingsley (Tommy John) and Josh Beckett (thoracic outlet syndrome) will be trying to return from major surgeries. Beckett, in particular, has looked completely healthy and sharp in the spring.
The Dodgers’ rotation is likely the best in baseball — and their bullpen could be the deepest in the majors as well. Going into spring training, the Dodgers will have nine relievers with at least one career save, and six with at least 17 saves in a single season — Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, Brandon League, J.P. Howell and Javy Guerra, who is a long-shot even to make the team. Three of them — Wilson, Perez and League — were selected to All-Star teams as closers but won’t be closing for the Dodgers in 2014. That job belongs to Jansen after a season that saw him post a remarkable 111-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 76.2 innings. Veteran lefty Paul Maholm has a chance to make the team as a long man.
For all the attention garnered by Puig-mania last summer, the key to the Dodgers’ midseason rebirth — and possibly to their 2014 hopes as well — was Hanley Ramirez. The Dodgers were still muddling along in a win-one, lose-two rut for a few weeks after rookie Yasiel Puig’s arrival. It was Ramirez’s return from a hamstring injury that sparked their historic 42–8 run. He played at an MVP level when healthy. The Dodgers were a much better team with him in the starting lineup (51–26) than without (41–44). Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Ramirez was in the starting lineup for less than half of the team’s games. He must be healthier in 2014 for this team to reach its potential. His keystone partner, veteran Mark Ellis, has moved on as a free agent — a loss the team will feel both on the field and in the clubhouse — and the Dodgers are set to take another gamble on a Cuban defector. Alexander Guerrero was one of the best offensive players in Cuba’s top league, Serie Nacional, over the past seven seasons, primarily as a shortstop. The Dodgers gave him a four-year, $28 million contract in the hopes that he would bring that offense to the majors (and make the switch to the other side of the bag). His play hasn’t overwhelmed manager Don Mattingly, but the team still believes in him long-term. But for now, Dee Gordon will get an opportunity at second base. Defensively, the Dodgers believe he can be exceptional, and his speed is a weapon on the bases. It’s just the getting on base that’s been a problem.
Though he wasn’t quite the offensive force he was in San Diego or Boston, Adrian Gonzalez’s steady production was critical for the Dodgers during a 2013 season when injuries were constantly leaving potholes in the Dodgers’ lineup. Gonzalez drove in 100 runs, fifth in the National League, by batting .323 with runners in scoring position. That metronomic performance in the middle of the lineup figures to be a foundation piece for the Dodgers’ lineup again in 2014. Third base, on the other hand, was a black hole for most of last season with Juan Uribe, Nick Punto, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Luis Cruz offering little offensively — that is, until Uribe’s second-half rebirth. With a wafer-thin market of available options, the Dodgers crossed their fingers that Uribe’s revival was not a mirage (as Cruz’s 2012 breakout proved to be) and re-signed the veteran for two years rather than broach the delicate topic of a position switch for Ramirez.
Mattingly insists it’s “a good problem to have.” But the prospect of keeping four every-day outfielders — Puig, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford — healthy, happy and productive in 2014 is daunting. The biggest challenge could be the health part. A year ago, the four were all available for the same game just twice after Puig’s promotion from Double-A — and Kemp ended each of those games with an injury. His recovery from a second shoulder surgery and ankle surgery in the fall will go a long way toward determining how the outfield dilemma plays out. In many ways, Puig has usurped Kemp’s standing as the most dynamic player in the Dodgers’ lineup. He provided just the spark the Dodgers needed to turn around their season last year and quickly stamped himself as one of the most compelling, must-see players in the game. It will be interesting to see how many of Puig’s rough edges the Dodgers can smooth off in his second season. Ethier and Crawford are more limited players. The two left-handed batters give Mattingly a built-in matchup excuse to juggle playing time when all four are healthy.
With all the big names and former All-Stars on the Dodgers roster, the contributions of catcher A.J. Ellis go largely unnoticed. But Ellis’ workmanlike approach to handling the Dodgers’ pitching staff, and the credit he deserves for bringing out the best in Kershaw, et al., should not be underestimated. Though his offensive contributions slipped in 2013, Dodgers pitchers had a 3.06 ERA when throwing to Ellis (lowest among major-league catchers). Ellis also threw out 24 of 59 base-stealers, a percentage of 44.4 that ranked third among MLB catchers. The Dodgers are hopeful that young reserve Tim Federowicz will one day grow into Ellis’ shoes.
If the Dodgers truly will have those four every-day outfielders available on a regular basis in 2014, the bench will benefit — one of that quartet will always be there. The rest of the reserve corps is very much a question mark, however. A trio of solid role players whose contributions to team chemistry will be sorely missed — Punto, Hairston and Skip Schumaker — departed over the winter. Journeymen Mike Baxter and Justin Turner will join Scott Van Slyke as the reserves this season.
Mattingly might have been within days (if not hours) of being fired during the Dodgers’ dark days in May 2013. The team’s turnaround saved his job, and their NLDS win over the Atlanta Braves activated a vesting option in his contract for 2014. But questions about Mattingly’s in-game decision-making remain. Bench coach Trey Hillman was dismissed. And acrimony seemed to flare between Mattingly and management during a postseason press conference. Colletti remains in Mattingly’s corner, but a shadow of dysfunction hovers over the manager-management relationship.
With all the turmoil of the past two years and massive roster turnover, the Dodgers came within two games (and perhaps one cracked rib in Ramirez’s side) of reaching the World Series for the first time since 1988. Kershaw and the best starting rotation in the National League provide the foundation for another deep October run.
RF Yasiel Puig (R)
Can the Dodgers smooth out his rough edges in 2014 — and should they want to?
LF Carl Crawford (L)
Manager Don Mattingly sees Crawford as a 120-game player, better when given frequent rest.
SS Hanley Ramirez (R)
Last year was first postseason appearance after 1,095 regular-season games.
1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)
One of three players with 100 RBIs in at least six of past seven seasons (Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder).
CF Matt Kemp (R)
Has played in just 143 of Dodgers’ 274 games since first of series of injuries struck in May 2012.
3B Juan Uribe (R)
Popular teammate is a placeholder until prospect Corey Seager arrives (assuming Seager plays third).
2B Dee Gordon (L)
The speedster has a .289 OBP over the past two season in the majors, but a .385 mark at Albuquerque last summer gives hope.
C A.J. Ellis (R)
Offensive contributions took a nosedive in 2013 but handled one of the best pitching staffs in NL.
OF Andre Ethier (L)
Did yeoman’s work as fill-in center fielder last year, but offensive numbers are in decline.
C Tim Federowicz (R)
Spent 2013 on shuttle between Triple-A and L.A.; Dodgers were 24–18 in his starts.
OF Mike Baxter (L)
Plucked off waivers from Mets, Baxter could compete with Scott Van Slyke for bench spot.
OF Scott Van Slyke (R)
Provides pop off the bench — 19 of his 40 big-league hits have gone for extra bases.
INF Justin Turner (R)
Hit .267 as a reserve with the Mets over the past three seasons. Can play all four infield positions, and maybe some outfield.
2B Alexander Guerrero (R)
An offensive force in his career in Cuba, but questions remain about how much will translate in MLB. Will likely begin the season in the minors.
LH Clayton Kershaw
Kershaw has won two Cy Youngs in past three seasons and has lowest career ERA in modern era.
RH Zack Greinke
After recovering from a broken collarbone, Greinke justified the Dodgers’ $147 million investment in him.
LH Hyun-Jin Ryu
Korean star made the jump to the bigs with relative ease, giving Dodgers consistent quality.
RH Dan Haren
Has shown wear the past two seasons but went 6–5 with 3.29 ERA in final 16 appearances with Nationals.
RH Josh Beckett
Dodgers are counting on Beckett to return from major surgery.
RH Kenley Jansen (Closer)
After disastrous start, bullpen stabilized when Don Mattingly made Jansen the closer last season.
RH Brian Wilson
It was assumed Wilson would leave for a closer’s job elsewhere, but he returns as $10 million setup man.
LH J.P. Howell
Another key free agent the Dodgers were able to bring back after career-best 2.03 ERA, 1.05 WHIP in 2013.
LH Paco Rodriguez
Rookie was one of NL’s best relievers until September fade; allowed 14 of 69 inherited runners to score.
RH Chris Perez
The Dodgers will benefit if his search for redemption in Los Angeles is successful.
RH Jamey Wright
Returns on a major-league contract, ending string of eight seasons making a team on a minor-league deal.
RH Brandon League
Re-signed for three years but lost closer job early in year, and had no role at all by end of 2013 season.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Chris Anderson, RHP
Having traded away a passel of pitching prospects in 2012, the Dodgers were shopping in bulk for pitching during the 2013 draft and started with Anderson. The Dodgers believe they got a bit of a sleeper akin to Cardinals phenom Michael Wacha, who slipped to 19th in the 2012 draft. Anderson was seen as a top-10 pick before his final college season when pitching for a mediocre Jacksonville University team depressed his statistics (though he struck out 101 batters in 104.2 innings with a 2.49 ERA). The 6'4", 215-pound Minnesota native is seen as a durable workhorse who could rise quickly through the Dodgers’ system. His innings were limited at Class A Great Lakes last year, but Anderson went 3–0 with a 1.96 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 46 innings over 12 starts.
OF Joc Pederson (21)
An outfield mate of Yasiel Puig’s in Class AA Chattanooga early in 2013, the left-handed corner outfielder could be ready to rejoin him in L.A. soon.
SS Corey Seager (19)
Seager’s potential was evident with an All-Star first half in the Midwest League last year.
LHP Chris Reed (23)
The Dodgers’ top 2011 pick out of Stanford was primarily a reliever in college, but Reed topped the 100-inning mark for the first time in 2013. He went 4–11 with a 3.86 ERA for Class AA Chattanooga.
RHP Zach Lee (22)
A Class AA All-Star, Lee was the Dodgers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2013; could challenge for a big-league spot soon.
LHP Julio Urias (17)
Was a Class A Midwest League standout despite being one of the youngest pitchers at that level in years.
RHP Chris Withrow (25)
First-round pick in 2007 shined in his MLB debut in ’13, giving up only 20 hits in 34.2 innings.
LHP Onelki Garcia (24)
Another Cuban defector, the lefthander got a taste of the big leagues and could be back after minor elbow surgery. He will be out until late May.
RHP Ross Stripling (24)
Michael Wacha’s college roommate at Texas A&M was making steady if slower progress through the Dodgers’ system. He underwent Tommy John surgery this spring, so he’s already looking to 2015.
Beyond the Box Score
One of the good guys A year after becoming the youngest player to win the Roberto Clemente Award (which recognizes a player’s commitment on and off the field), Clayton Kershaw had his charitable endeavors recognized again with the Branch Rickey Award following the 2013 season. The Rickey award honors a player who embodies the motto “Service Above Self.” Kershaw and his wife, Ellen, have founded Kershaw’s Challenge, a charitable organization that works to make a difference in the lives of at-risk children and communities in need in Kershaw’s hometown of Dallas as well as Los Angeles. The organization includes Arise Africa, which is building an orphanage called “Hope’s Home” in Zambia, among other projects.
Broadcast news Shortly after new ownership took over in 2012, the Dodgers secured a new TV rights deal that will bring in a record $8.5 billion over the next 25 years. That deal will kick in with the 2014 season, and the Dodgers will become the latest sports team to have its own regional sports network. A channel on the Time Warner Cable system, SportsNet LA, will be devoted to Dodgers coverage. Former MLB stars Nomar Garciaparra and Orel Hershiser have left ESPN to take on roles with the Dodgers’ broadcast team. Jerry Hairston Jr. retired following the 2013 season and will also be involved with Dodgers broadcasts in 2014.
About face Last season, the Dodgers became the fourth team in the divisional era (1969) to win a division title during the same season in which they were at least 12 games under .500 at one point. The Dodgers were 30–42 on June 21. They joined the 1974 Pittsburgh Pirates (14 games under .500 at one point), 1973 New York Mets (13 games under) and 1989 Toronto Blue Jays (12 games under) in rebounding to finish first in their division.
The Rockies improved by 10 wins to 74 victories under first-year manager Walt Weiss but are coming off consecutive last-place finishes for the first time in their 21-year history. The club gave Weiss a three-year contract and then embarked on a very busy offseason. The Rockies’ starters were last in the NL with a 4.57 ERA, and the back end of the rotation was a disaster. When Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin or Tyler Chatwood started, the Rockies went 49–32; otherwise, they went 25–56. Lefthander Brett Anderson, acquired from Oakland, could be an impact starter, provided he can stay healthy. That hasn’t been the case of late. The Rockies’ bullpen also was last in the NL with a 4.23 ERA, in large part because roles changed when closer Rafael Betancourt went on the disabled list three times, the last with an elbow injury that resulted in Tommy John surgery that will cost him the 2014 season. Free agent LaTroy Hawkins, a setup man for the Rockies in 2007 when they went to the World Series, will be given the opportunity to close. The Rockies also signed free agent Boone Logan and traded for Franklin Morales, who began his career in their organization. Along with Rex Brothers, they will give Weiss the luxury of three lefthanders in the bullpen. To replace retired franchise icon Todd Helton, the Rockies signed first baseman Justin Morneau, confident he will benefit from Coors Field and can still be productive despite a power drop-off in recent seasons largely due to two concussions. The Rockies seem poised to break their string of three straight losing seasons. Can they make a bigger leap and become a factor in the NL West race? Stars Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki will have to each play about 150 games. Anderson will have to log about 175 innings and make a major contribution. And the Rockies will need some luck.
De La Rosa, fully recovered from June 2011 Tommy John surgery, reached a career high in wins despite dealing with a painful bone bruise on his left thumb in his final 16 starts. The Rockies went 21–9 in his starts. Chacin missed significant time in 2012 but last year set career highs in innings (197.1) and wins (14) with a 3.47 ERA. He has been dealing with shoulder soreness for much of the spring. Chatwood was recalled from Triple-A on April 24 but missed all of August with right elbow inflammation. He found his niche in the rotation, going 8–5 with a 3.15 ERA in 20 starts. Anderson was Oakland’s Opening Day starter last year but has pitched only 163 innings the past three seasons as he dealt with Tommy John surgery, an oblique injury, and last year a stress fracture in his right foot. Juan Nicasio is the leading candidate for the fifth spot. Righties Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler, the Rockies’ top two prospects, will begin 2014 in Double-A but are expected to be ready for the majors during the season.
Hawkins, 41, will have the opportunity to be the closer but could move back to a setup role if he falters. Brothers, a lefty who filled in for Betancourt, went 19-for-21 in save situations and averaged 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings. But he also averaged 4.8 walks, a reason the Rockies signed Hawkins to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Logan and Morales give Weiss three capable southpaws in the bullpen. Adam Ottavino advanced from middle relief to the seventh inning. Matt Belisle and Wilton Lopez struggled last year but can be used in shorter bursts with a deeper bullpen.
The Rockies went 9–16 last year when Tulowitzki was out with a broken rib. He led National League shortstops with a .986 fielding percentage and was second in the league with a .931 OPS. Tulowitzki hit 25 home runs last season and has hit at least 24 every season in which he has at least 400 at bats. Second baseman DJ LeMahieu is solid defensively, making only three errors in 90 games at the position, and was third on the team with 18 stolen bases. He’s a reliable contact hitter who has gap power but doesn’t walk much.
Nolan Arenado became the first NL rookie third baseman to win a Gold Glove. He hit 29 doubles and 10 homers with 52 RBIs and should develop more power as he matures. Morneau suffered a concussion in 2010 and another in 2011 but no longer suffers from post-concussion symptoms. He still has some power — 17 homers for Minnesota last year, including nine in August before being traded to Pittsburgh — and should benefit from Coors Field and its spacious gaps. The left-handed-hitting Morneau hit .280 in 403 at-bats against right-handed pitchers and .207 in 169 at-bats against lefties. So right fielder Michael Cuddyer and catcher Wilin Rosario, both right-handed hitters, are options at first base against left-handed pitchers. Rosario has played only five games at the position and needs a lot of work.
Gonzalez, a three-time Gold Glove winner, will move back to center from left field following the trade of Fowler. Gonzalez sprained his right middle finger July 7 and re-aggravated it multiple times, making him a non-factor in the second half after leading the National League prior to the All-Star break in home runs, slugging percentage, extra-base hits and total bases. Gonzalez opted against surgery that might have compromised the flexibility in the finger and reported it felt good when he began swinging a bat lightly in December. Cuddyer, the reigning NL batting champion, likely won’t hit .331 again at age 35, having never hit .300 before last season. But he can be counted upon to produce runs and provide veteran leadership. His range and first-step quickness have declined. Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson, both left-handed hitters, will vie for a portion of the left-field job that is likely to be a platoon with right-handed-hitting Drew Stubbs.
Rosario has a strong arm and improved defensively but is still below average at receiving, blocking and calling a game. His main asset is his power. He led all National League catchers in home runs (19 as a catcher, 21 overall) for the second straight season and overall has improved as a hitter, staying back better on breaking pitches and using the whole field. The Rockies decided that catcher was Jordan Pacheco’s best position after watching him play first and third. His throwing is below average, but the rest of his defense is sound. After a solid rookie season in 2012, Pacheco didn’t drive the ball well last year when he had just 247 at-bats and a .588 OPS.
Stubbs and infielder Josh Rutledge will provide power off the bench as will the left-handed-hitting Dickerson, if he doesn’t platoon in left field. But Morneau, who figures to start sparingly against lefthanders, will give the Rockies a legitimate threat off the bench to change a game in one swing, something they haven’t had since Jason Giambi left after 2012. Rutledge can play second base and shortstop, along with Charlie Culberson, who can also play left field. Rutledge and Stubbs are capable base stealers.
Weiss now has the security of a three-year deal, having shown the requisite leadership, communication, organization and decision-making skills. The Rockies moved quickly in the offseason, making four trades and signing three free agents. Trading Fowler freed up $7.35 million that was put toward the acquisitions of Morneau and Anderson. Trading Drew Pomeranz and a minor-league pitcher for Anderson was a wise alternative to paying considerably more for a mid-level free-agent starting pitcher. Poor drafts from 2006-08 ended up hurting the Rockies, but they have infused better players into the system recently, most notably Gray and Butler, two potential impact starting pitchers.
The Rockies can’t afford to lose Tulowitzki and Gonzalez for extended periods again. If Anderson stays healthy, he should give the rotation four dependable starters, and the bullpen should be better. Their first winning season since 2010 certainly seems possible. And with improved offense from Arenado to go with his magnificent defense and maybe a rejuvenated Morneau, the Rockies might truly surprise and end up playing meaningful games late in the season.
LF Charlie Blackmon (L)
Hit .332 in August and September with 14 doubles, one triple, five homers, 18 RBIs and 29 runs scored.
2B DJ LeMahieu (R)
Fielding percentage was .993 in 90 games at second base with three errors in 442 total chances.
CF Carlos Gonzalez (L)
Limited to 391 at-bats by finger injury but still led team with 26 homers, .591 slugging percentage, .958 OPS.
SS Troy Tulowitzki (R)
Second in NL in slugging (.540) and OPS (.931) and led NL shortstops with .986 fielding percentage.
RF Michael Cuddyer (R)
Hit .372 with five doubles, six HRs, 19 RBIs and 17 runs scored during franchise-record 27-game hitting streak.
1B Justin Morneau (L)
Hit .207 with .247 OBP and .278 slugging with two HRs and 16 RBIs in 169 at-bats against lefties.
C Wilin Rosario (R)
Broke his own franchise record for RBIs by a catcher with 79 after setting record with 71 in 2012.
3B Nolan Arenado (R)
Hit .298 with five HRs and 34 RBIs in 242 at-bats at Coors Field and .238-5-18 in 244 at-bats on the road.
C Jordan Pacheco (R)
Hit .351 (46-for-131) against left-handed pitchers as a rookie in 2012 but just .205 (23-for-112) last year.
OF Drew Stubbs (R)
Career marks include .226 average and .652 OPS against righties, .274 with .796 OPS against lefties.
INF Josh Rutledge (R)
Average fell from .274 in 277 at-bats as a rookie in 2012 to .235 in 285 at-bats in 2013.
OF Corey Dickerson (L)
OPS in 90 at-bats at Coors Field was 1.003 compared to .576 in 104 at-bats on the road.
UT Charlie Culberson (R)
His 20 pinch-hit at-bats were third-most on the Rockies despite not joining the team until July 29.
LH Jorge De La Rosa
Set career marks in wins (16) and ERA (3.49) and Rockies went 21–9 in his starts, winning the final seven.
RH Jhoulys Chacin
Had career highs in wins (14) and innings (197.1), and cut walk rate to 2.8 per nine innings.
LH Brett Anderson
Came back Aug. 28 and made 10 relief appearances after missing four months to stress fracture in foot.
RH Tyler Chatwood
Allowed two or fewer runs in 16 of 20 starts and gave up five home runs in 111.1 innings.
RH Juan Nicasio
Wore down late last season while pitching a career-high 157.2 innings.
RH LaTroy Hawkins (Closer)
Went 13-for-14 in save situations with the Mets when he took over for injured closer Bobby Parnell in August.
LH Rex Brothers
Had 32 consecutive scoreless outings totaling 30 innings from April 10-June 28, dropping his ERA to 0.27.
RH Matt Belisle
Fourth in franchise history with 326 appearances after pitching in at least 70 games for four straight seasons.
LH Boone Logan
Only season in the National League was 2009 with the Braves when he made 20 of his 420 career appearances.
RH Adam Ottavino
Fared better at Coors Field with 2.00 ERA in 45 innings compared with 3.51 ERA in 33.1 innings on the road.
RH Wilton Lopez
In disappointing first season with Rockies, allowed a .305 average and an .803 OPS to right-handed hitters.
LH Franklin Morales
Command has been issue throughout his career with averages of 4.5 walks and 7.7 SO/9IP.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Jonathan Gray, RHP
The Rockies took Gray out of Oklahoma with the third overall pick and signed him for a franchise-record $4.8 million. He had a 4.05 ERA and two walks and 15 strikeouts in 13.1 innings at rookie level Grand Junction, where he was allowed to throw only one slider per batter because he had thrown the pitch excessively at Oklahoma. That restriction was lifted at High-A Modesto, where Gray went 4–0 with an 0.75 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 24 innings. Gray, 22, will have three plus-pitches. He sits at 95-96 mph with his fastball and has hit 102 mph. He has a tight slider and a good feel for a developing changeup. He should begin 2014 at Double-A but could join the Rockies’ rotation during the season.
OF David Dahl (19)
Severe hamstring tear ended his season at Low-A after 10 games and 40 at-bats. The Rockies’ top draft pick I 2012 could open 2014 at High-A.
1B Kyle Parker (24)
Introduced to first base at Double-A last year and played the position exclusively in Arizona Fall League. Could reach majors in 2014 and be starting first basemen in 2015.
LHP Tyler Matzek (23)
Command has improved but is still very inconsistent. Might end up in bullpen after pitching there in Arizona Fall League following a season at Double-A.
LHP Christian Friedrich (26)
Recurrence of stress fracture in lower back ended season at Triple-A on April 21 after four starts.
RHP Eddie Butler (23)
He pitched at three levels last year, finishing at Double-A, and went a combined 9–5 with a 1.80 ERA in 149.2 innings.
SS Rosell Herrera (21)
The switch-hitter was MVP of Low-A South Atlantic League, which he led with .343 average along with 33 doubles and 16 homers.
C Tom Murphy (23)
He jumped from Low-A to Double-A during 2013 and finished with combined .289 average, 22 homers and 83 RBIs in 357 at-bats.
OF Raimel Tapia (20)
He hit safely in 29 straight games and led the Rookie level Pioneer League with .357 average and just 31 strikeouts in 258 at-bats.
RHP Rayan Gonzalez (23)
He compiled a 2.68 ERA and 12 saves in 53.2 innings at Low-A with 21 walks and 70 strikeouts.
SS Trevor Story (21)
He started slow and pressed but went back to using the entire field to finish a humbling season at High-A on a positive note.
3B Ryan McMahon (19)
The 42nd overall pick in the 2013 draft hit .321 and slugged .583 in Rookie ball last summer.
Beyond the Box Score
Road woes The Rockies take two three-city road trips this year, the last ending June 1. That’s in sharp contrast to 2013, when they made five such trips and went 13–35 on them. For the second straight season, Colorado finished with a 29–52 record away from Coors Field. In their 21-year history, the Rockies have had one winning record on the road, going 41–40 in 2009.
Golden Nolan Third baseman Nolan Arenado last year became the sixth Rockies player to win a Gold Glove, joining right fielder Larry Walker (five), outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and first baseman Todd Helton (three each), shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (two) and shortstop Neifi Perez (one). Offensively, Arenado hit .267 with a .301 on-base percentage, .405 slugging percentage, 10 homers and 52 RBIs. While he split those 10 homers evenly between Coors Field and the road, Arenado had a .793 OPS at home and .619 on the road.
Hot start The Rockies began the 2013 season with a record of 13–4, reaching that mark on April 20 with an eight-game winning streak that had been preceded by a five-game winning streak. But beginning April 21, the Rockies went 61–84 the balance of the season.
Outlier Michael Cuddyer, who won the National League batting title with a .331 average, entered 2013 with a career average of .271 and a previous best of .284, which he hit with Minnesota in both 2006 and ’11.
Lefty specialist Boone Logan made a total of 205 appearances the past three seasons with the Yankees, including 80 to lead the AL and tie for the most in the majors in 2012. But Logan, a left-handed specialist, pitched just 136 innings in that three-year span. Logan pitched 39 innings in 61 games last year, including a season-high 1.1 innings five times. The most pitches he threw in a game: 25 while giving up two hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning July 4 at Minnesota.
Troy story Despite missing 25 games with a broken rib and playing 126 games, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hit 25 home runs, the fourth time in his career he has hit at least 25 homers in a season. Tulowitzki is just one of six shortstops in major-league history with at least four seasons of 25 home runs or more. The others are Cal Ripken Jr. (eight seasons), Alex Rodriguez and Ernie Banks (seven), Miguel Tejada (six) and Nomar Garciaparra (four).
The Diamondbacks completed two major offseason trades, moves designed to “keep up with the Joneses,” as president/CEO Derrick Hall said at the winter meetings. The addition of proven power bat Mark Trumbo should provide a middle-of-the-order complement to Paul Goldschmidt, whose breakout 2013 season earned him an All-Star berth and a second-place finish in the NL MVP balloting. Closer Addison Reed is expected to firm up a shaky bullpen. With a return to health by some and a return to form by others, the retooled D-backs again could contend in the rugged NL West.
At this time last year, lefthander Patrick Corbin was one of three candidates for the final spot in the D-backs’ starting rotation. How things change. And then change again. Corbin entered the spring as the clear No. 1 this season after blossoming in 2013, winning 14 games and striking out 178. He was one of only nine NL pitchers to work at least 208 innings, and his 9–0 start through June led to his first All-Star team appearance. Then a twinge in his elbow has him sidelined and visiting a doctor named James Andrews, never a good sign for a pitcher. So the best-case scenario has Corbin rehabbing for most of the season. The most likely outcome is Tommy John surgery. Corbin’s teammates will have to step up a notch to fill the void. Righthanders Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy will fill two of the top three spots, in some order, and both are looking to rebound after missing significant injury time a year ago. Cahill was struck in the right hip by a line drive in June and after two more starts was placed on the disabled list. While there, he tweaked his delivery to find a more consistent release point. Cahill’s hard two-seamer moves so much that he is tough to beat when he is commanding the strike zone, and the change seemed to help — he was 5–0 with 2.70 ERA in his last nine appearances. McCarthy missed nine weeks with shoulder inflammation, an issue that impacts him every year. Lefthander Wade Miley has had two consecutive double-digit win seasons and is an ideal fourth starter, keeping his team in most games. But he’ll be asked to be even better this season. Miley and Corbin finished in the top 10 in quality starts in the NL a year ago. Righthander Randall Delgado used the opportunity when Cahill and McCarthy were out to enter the rotation, and his work helped facilitate the trade of Ian Kennedy at the July 31 deadline. Long-time Cincinnati workhorse Bronson Arroyo signed with Arizona over the winter. He was brought in more or less as insurance and to give Delgado and Bradley plenty of time to develop. But now he must fill a key role. Top prospect Archie Bradley could crack the rotation at some point this season. Bradley continues to improve with a mix of a 98 mph fastball with a sharp curve.
Reed had 69 saves for the Chicago White Sox after becoming their closer two months into the 2012 season, and he should stabilize a bullpen hurt by injuries and ineffectiveness. D-backs relievers tied for the major-league lead with 29 failed save conversions and led NL bullpens with 59 home runs allowed in ’13. The D-backs recovered to win about half of the games in which there was a blown save, but the extra innings (and workload) made it more difficult on everyone. Submariner Brad Ziegler, the third pitcher used as closer, rescued the bullpen with 12 saves in the second half last year and was rewarded with a two-year, $10.5 million extension in the offseason. He is expected to return to his primary role as a setup man. Righthanders J.J. Putz and David Hernandez, bullpen horses in the D-backs’ 2011 NL West title run, look to bounce back from injuries (Putz) and ineffectiveness (Hernandez) in setup roles this season. Putz, who opened 2013 as the closer, was effective in the second half when he returned from an elbow strain. Righthander Josh Collmenter has created a niche for himself in long relief, and he was among the best in the game at that. Righthander Will Harris and lefthanders Joe Thatcher and Oliver Perez provide help.
Dual-threat second baseman Aaron Hill missed about 10 weeks after suffering a broken hand two weeks into 2013, and his production was sorely missed. Tentatively scheduled to be the cleanup hitter a year ago, he is a strong candidate to hit there again, between Goldschmidt and Trumbo. He also can hit in the No. 2 hole. Youngsters Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings could work into a platoon at shortstop, since Gregorius bats left-handed and Owings hits right. Owings was the Pacific Coast League MVP at Class AAA Reno in 2013 and has nothing left to prove at that level.
Goldschmidt signed a five-year, $32 million contract extension two days before the 2013 season and then proceeded to outperform it almost immediately. In a monster year, he tied for the NL lead with 36 home runs and led the league in most other production categories, including RBIs (125), slugging percentage, OPS and OPS-plus. He also won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger, and he led the D-backs in stolen bases. Martin Prado had a career-best 82 RBIs, and his 14 homers were one short of tying his career high in his first season with the D-backs. He was used at second base, third base and left field in 2013, but third base will be his spot this season unless injuries force a change. Prado is also versatile offensively and will likely hit second or sixth.
New left fielder Trumbo had 29, 32 and 34 home runs in his first three seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, and one veteran scout said he believed 35 dingers were possible in Chase Field, which is more hitter-friendly. Trumbo played mostly first base with the Angels, but he also took turns in left field and right field, and the D-backs believe he will be a competent defender. Gerardo Parra set career highs in six offensive categories, including doubles (43) and homers (10), in his first season as a full-time right fielder, and his arm is as much of a weapon as his bat. Parra led NL outfielders with a career-high 17 assists while winning his second Gold Glove in three seasons, first as a left fielder in 2011. A.J. Pollock, a long-shot to make the roster in 2013 until injuries struck, will play center field after finishing second among NL rookies with 12 stolen bases and 28 doubles last year. He is the best center fielder on the roster, and his breakout season made Adam Eaton expendable in the three-team trade that landed Trumbo. Adjustments will be made when Cody Ross returns from a broken hip, perhaps in May.
Miguel Montero played through lower back pain most of last season, certainly a factor in his least productive season since 2010, another injury-shortened year. At normal levels, Montero is one of the best offensive players in the league at his position, and even with a subpar 2013 has averaged 25 doubles, 15 homers and 72 RBIs the last three seasons. He provides the primary left-handed bat in the Arizona lineup.
Eric Chavez’s return is a big get for the D-backs. Chavez had 44 RBIs in 228 at-bats last season, and only Goldschmidt had a better ratio among regular contributors. Chavez will back up at first base and third base and be the prime left-handed pinch-hitter. Ross is not expected to return from his fractured hip until late April or May, at which point the D-backs will have decisions to make about outfield roles. Ross can play all three outfield positions. Cliff Pennington is an above-average defender at second base and shortstop, adding to the depth provided by Owings and Gregorius. Henry Blanco, whose defensive skills and clubhouse presence stand out, signed a minor-league contract in the offseason and will back up Montero.
Hall and managing partner Ken Kendrick demonstrated their commitment to winning now with their checkbook. With deferred salaries virtually gone and the new FOX-TV money combined with a reworking of several sponsorship arrangements, the D-backs had money to spend, and they spent it. The 2014 payroll will be the highest in team history, exceeding the approximately $102 million spent on the 2002 team in the year after the D-backs’ only World Series victory. GM Kevin Towers again was at his offseason best in landing Trumbo and Reed to fill obvious holes.
The D-backs have made it clear that they expect to compete with the defending division champ and deep-pocketed Los Angeles Dodgers and the every-other-year San Francisco Giants. Towers and manager Kirk Gibson are in the final years of their contracts. Each has two option years, but management needs to see progress for a team that faded down the stretch a year ago.
RF Gerardo Parra (L)
Hit five leadoff homers in his first extended time as a leadoff hitter in 2013.
3B Martin Prado (R)
Hit 14 home runs and had a career-high 82 RBIs in his first season with the D-backs.
1B Paul Goldschmidt (R)
The most productive hitter in the National League last season by virtually any measure.
2B Aaron Hill (R)
With health, his numbers should return to normal levels, deepening this lineup.
LF Mark Trumbo (R)
One scout suggests that 35 homers is not out of the question at Chase Field.
C Miguel Montero (L)
A workhorse, he has caught at least 1,000 innings in each of the last three years.
CF A.J. Pollock (R)
Speedy defender capped a strong rookie season by hitting .369 in his last 28 games.
SS Didi Gregorius (L)
He brings a strong arm and good range into his second season in Arizona.
INF Eric Chavez (L)
Averaged an RBI every 5.2 at-bats, second among the D-backs’ regular contributors.
OF Cody Ross (R)
Gamer remains optimistic that he can return from fractured hip in late April, early May.
C Henry Blanco (R)
Solid defender and steadying presence on the 2011 team returns to add skill and savvy.
INF Cliff Pennington (S)
A solid defender who can rise to the occasion, as his two walk-off hits in ‘13 suggest.
SS Chris Owings (R)
Earned 2013 Pacific Coast League MVP honors by hitting .330 with 31 doubles, 81 RBIs.
UT Matt Tuiasosopo (R)
The slugger appeared in 81 games for the Tigers last season and hit seven homers in 164 at-bats. He’ll provide some right-handed pop, at least until Ross is deemed fit.
LH Wade Miley
Over the final four months of 2013, the 2008 first-round pick was 7–5 with a 2.87 ERA.
RH Trevor Cahill
A midseason delivery adjustment seemed to take, boding well for the future for the former 18-game winner.
RH Brandon McCarthy
Looking to rebound from a career-high 11 losses in his first season with the D-backs.
RH Randall Delgado
Given opportunity, had career highs in wins (five), starts (19) and innings (116.1).
RH Bronson Arroyo
Made at least 32 starts each year for the past nine seasons, but carried a 4.10 ERA during that time.
RH Addison Reed (Closer)
Has 69 saves since becoming the White Sox’s full-time closer two months into 2012.
RH J.J. Putz
After recovering from elbow strain, held opponents scoreless in 22 of his final 24 appearances.
RH David Hernandez
His 241 strikeouts are sixth among National League relievers the last three seasons.
RH Brad Ziegler
Submariner leads major-league relievers by inducing 81 double-play grounders since 2008.
RH Josh Collmenter
His over-the-top “tomahawk” style is unorthodox, but the results scream effective.
LH Joe Thatcher
He has allowed 16 percent of inherited runners to score, fifth in the majors since 2009.
RH Will Harris
With a low 90s fastball and big-breaking curve, another bullpen find by general manager Kevin Towers.
LH Oliver Perez
The veteran appeared in 61 games for Seattle last season with 74 strikeouts in 53 innings.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Braden Shipley, RHP
Shipley needed a few outings to settle in at short-season Class A Hillsboro after being chosen from Nevada with the 15th pick of the first round of the draft, but he hit his stride shortly thereafter and did his best work after a late-season promotion to Class A South Bend for the playoff drive. Shipley gave up two earned runs or less in each of his four regular-season starts at South Bend to help the Silver Hawks into the playoffs, and he followed that with even better work, giving up only two earned runs in 13.2 innings in two playoff starts. Shipley is a converted shortstop who has only been pitching full-time since his junior year in high school, and because of that the D-backs see plenty of upside. His stuff is that of a top-of-the-rotation starter — he touches 97 mph with his fastball and uses a changeup as a second pitch.
C/OF Stryker Trahan (19)
After honing his catching skills in extended spring training in 2013, Trahan had 10 homers and 33 RBIs in 59 games at Class A Missoula.
RHP Archie Bradley (21)
The D-backs’ other 2011 first-round pick will bring his 98 mph fastball into competition for a rotation spot this spring.
RHP Matt Stites (23)
A bullpen component who was obtained in the Ian Kennedy trade; his fastball tops out in the high 90s.
RHP Jake Barrett (22)
A reliever who touches the high 90s; had a 1.21 ERA and 29 saves at two 2013 minor league stops.
3B Jake Lamb (23)
Showed good pop — 20 doubles, 13 home runs, 47 RBIs — in a 2013 season cut in half by injuries.
3B Brandon Drury (21)
Led the minor leagues with 51 doubles at Class A South Bend in 2013 after coming over in Justin Upton/Chris Johnson trade.
SS Chris Owings (22)
Did not appear overmatched at all in his 20-game audition last summer.
RHP Aaron Blair (21)
The 36th pick in the 2013 draft made 11 starts with seven no-decisions last season in the minors.
RHP Jose Martinez (19)
Made 10 starts in the Northwest League last summer. The good news is that he allowed just 20 hits in 38 innings. The bad news is that he walked 25.
Beyond the Box Score
Bad blood After the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the NL West crown in Arizona on Sept. 20, a host of Dodgers moved their celebration from the visiting clubhouse to the Chase Field swimming pool, just beyond the right-center field fence. An unnamed Dodger admitted to relieving himself in the pool. Initially unfazed, D-backs righthander Brandon McCarthy spoke for many in the clubhouse when he said: “My presumption was that if it was just based on having fun and celebrating, that’s one thing. If you have some people going out of their way to be a**holes, that’s a whole ’nother thing. If it is something where you are going out to be disrespectful, then that is kind of a simple ‘grow up.’”
Inspiration Ben Petrick was not looking to get back into baseball, but when the D-backs moved into his Hillsboro, Ore., neighborhood and player personnel director Mike Bell came calling, Petrick found himself enjoying his role as a special assistant, basically a “life coach” for the D-backs’ first-year players. A storied high school athlete in Oregon and a five-year major leaguer, Petrick had his career curtailed by early-onset Parkinson’s, a journey chronicled in his autobiography, “40,000 to One.” D-backs No. 1 draft choice Braden Shipley, who started his pro career in Hillsboro last June, called Petrick “one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met. What I respect is how positive he is. That to me is inspiring. That shows me I don’t have it rough.”
Hip check Cody Ross is known as a baseball rat, willing and able to do all the dirty work required to excel. He is now a guinea pig. Ross suffered a fractured bone on the back of his right hip when his spike caught in the dirt as he approached first base on Aug. 11, and the injury is believed to be the first of its kind in baseball.
Man of his word A day after Mark Trumbo was traded to the D-backs on Dec. 10, he still made it a priority to attend the Los Angeles Angels’ annual children’s holiday party in Downtown Disney, an event he began attending while he was in the Angels’ minor-league system. He wore a plaid shirt instead of his uniform jersey, but the kids did not seem to mind as Trumbo read Christmas stories, signed autographs and traded high-fives.
Last fall in the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park, as jubilation swirled outside, the Cardinals quietly came to grips with a sudden October ending. Several luminaries, like Carlos Beltran and retiring star Chris Carpenter, would not be returning, but general manager John Mozeliak surveyed the room and wanted the players to see past the disappointment and recognize a chance for continuation. “We’ve got a good team,” he said. “We’ve got a young team.” The Cardinals, who won a league-best 97 games, claimed their fourth National League pennant in 10 years. They reached the Fall Classic with the youngest roster in the playoffs after a season that featured 11 major-league debuts. And the Cardinals have outfitted a ring-bearing core of Matt Holliday (three World Series), Adam Wainwright (three World Series), and Yadier Molina (four World Series) with young, hotshot pitchers set to carry the club through many autumns to come.
Young and talented are the two words to describe the Cardinals’ rotation. A pitcher 26 or younger started 109 of the Cardinals’ 162 games, and rookies threw 50 percent of the innings in the World Series. In September, Joe Kelly (25) and Lance Lynn (26) combined for a 2.11 ERA, and Michael Wacha (22) had a 1.72 ERA. Shelby Miller (23) won 15 games total. All four cram into a crowded competition for starting spots after Wainwright (32), who tied for the NL lead in wins (19) and led in innings pitched (241.2). “We haven’t seen (their) ceiling,” manager Mike Matheny says. Lefty Jaime Garcia (27) was expected to return from shoulder surgery to arm the Cardinals with a rotation that could go eight deep with sky-high potential, but his shoulder did not respond well in spring training. He’s out indefinitely…again.
Matheny started the 2013 offseason with a pronouncement about 2014: Trevor Rosenthal will be the closer. The flamethrowing righty claimed the ninth inning in September and blazed through four saves and a scoreless 11.2 innings in October. An infusion of power jolted the bullpen for the postseason and will mark the late innings again. Former closer Jason Motte (elbow surgery) is back, giving the Cardinals at least five relievers who throw 98 mph or better. Lefty Randy Choate and Motte will serve as sages for a green group that could include lefty Kevin Siegrist, Seth Maness, and rookie Carlos Martinez. With Rosenthal at the end, Matheny can bridge leads from starter to closer with a familiar late-inning recipe: fast, faster and then fastest. Righties Keith Butler and Pat Neshek will cover any innings that might be available until Motte is completely sound.
When newcomer Jhonny Peralta debuts at shortstop on Opening Day, he’ll continue a Cardinals trend before trying to end it. Peralta, 31, will be the eighth different starting shortstop in eight consecutive Opening Days for the Cardinals. That instability is surpassed to Peralta’s left. Veteran Mark Ellis or rookie Kolten Wong will be the ninth different Opening Day second baseman in 12 years. The Cardinals moved All-Star Matt Carpenter back to third base to allow for Wong, a former first-round pick who brings speed, solid defense and high-average potential. With a .774 OPS vs. lefties since 2011, Ellis offers a right-handed-hitting complement to Wong and alternative starter if he falters. Peralta brings offense that the Cardinals haven’t seen at short in years. The position has averaged a .336 slugging percentage the past four seasons and provided 11 homers total since 2012. Peralta had that many in 2013. The Cardinals crave his production to stop their middle infield merry-go-round. The Redbirds will lose some defense, but Peralta is sure-handed and makes all the routine plays.
The first major move of the offseason was a farewell. The Cardinals packaged favorite son, St. Louis native and former World Series MVP David Freese in a deal with the Angels. The third baseman’s production drifted in 2013, and, due a raise through arbitration, he was in enough demand for the Cardinals to reshape the look of the infield and team defense with a trade. After leading the league in hits, runs and doubles, leadoff hitter Carpenter offers a defensive upgrade at third, and coaches believe he’ll flex more power to offset the loss of Freese and Beltran. Increased thump must come from first base, where Matt Adams takes over full-time. The left-handed-hitting slugger had 17 home runs in 108 games — a pace that would yield 29 homers given 500 at-bats. However, should top prospect Oscar Taveras prove he’s ready for a promotion this season, Allen Craig will move back to first and Adams will resume his roll off the bench.
In exchange for Freese, the Cardinals received center fielder Peter Bourjos, who is in position to win the starting job, or at least share it with incumbent Jon Jay. Bourjos’ 2013 season was hampered by a wrist injury that eventually required surgery, but he is a dynamic fielder with flashes of offensive upside. Jay, who fought fits of inconsistency, did post a .311 second-half average. Bourjos and Wong will add a new speed dimension to the lineup, one built on OBP and timely damage. The pillars of the Cardinals’ lineup bookend Bourjos — Holliday in left and Allen Craig in right. Relocated from first, cleanup hitter Craig would have two consecutive 100-RBI seasons if not for fluke injuries. He’s primed to challenge for an MVP. Annually, Holliday is one of the most productive (and underrated) outfielders — a metronome good for 90 RBIs, 20 homers and .490 slugging. On the horizon looms Taveras, the wunderkind whom the Cardinals call the best hitting prospect they’ve had since Albert Pujols. He missed much of 2013 with an ankle injury that eventually required surgery. He’ll need at least three months at Triple-A this year.
The meteoric arc of his career, from defensive whiz to arguably the best catcher of his generation, can be mapped on Molina’s arms, where he has tattoos for each of the achievements, like Gold Glove awards and championships. Molina’s average climbed to a career high (.319) for the third consecutive season in 2013, and he shepherded a rookie-rich rotation to a career-low catcher’s ERA (3.16). Recurring knee troubles for Molina reinforced the Cardinals’ need to get trustworthy backup Tony Cruz more starts. Molina is one of only two NL catchers with at least 1,000 innings behind the plate for three consecutive seasons, and in that time the discussion of his career has accelerated from MVP candidate to one of the best all-around players in the game.
In two seasons with Matheny as manager, the Cardinals have tried different approaches with the bench. First they went young and then spent $5 million to add seasoning in the second summer. Neither plan worked. Diminished by injury and lacking power, the bench faded by October. The team moved to correct that by constructing a blended bench for 2014 — part veteran, part prospect. Ellis offers seasoning, and Taveras, if he makes the team, could be a power source. Matheny does not let his backups gather rust, but he should now get more production in exchange for the playing time. There will basically be two spots for holdovers Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma and Shane Robinson.
To lead their team in a direction reliant on homegrown talent and on-the-job development, Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and Mozeliak identified a manager who, like the coming players, was more prospect than proven. The payoff has been obvious. In two years, Matheny has nurtured the shift without any lag in the standings. A players-first motivator, Matheny, 43, has a mentor’s touch with young players as he refines his managerial skills. The Cardinals’ commitment to growing with him came with a new three-year extension through 2017. Mozeliak’s fingerprints are all over an organization that remains the envy of the industry. In three swift offseason moves, Mozeliak added a new shortstop, extra right-handed offense and improved defense, all without reaching into his purse of cost-controlled pitching or raising payroll. He has been described by his staff as the organization’s compass, pointing it toward contention.
During their third consecutive run deep into the postseason, the Cardinals spoke frequently about their organizational philosophy, “The Cardinal Way.” The form-fitting phrase was applied to their fundamentals, how prospects are cultivated, and the club’s championship expectations. With a returning core, blossoming pitchers, and additions grafted to the roster’s weak spots, the Cardinals enter 2014 set to prove that “The Cardinal Way” isn’t just a style of play but a direction — one always steering them back to October. Says Matheny: “Let’s see if we can be the best team for a long time.”
3B Matt Carpenter (L)
Returns to third after season at second surpassed in club history only by Hall of Famers like Rogers Hornsby.
CF Peter Bourjos (R)
Had a .333 average and .392 on-base percentage when hit by pitch that led to wrist surgery.
LF Matt Holliday (R)
Holliday surged to finish at .300, his 10th consecutive season with .290 average or higher.
RF Allen Craig (R)
With runners in scoring position, he’s batted .427 (109-for-255) the past two seasons.
1B Matt Adams (L)
Set club rookie record with eight homers in September, batting .315 with a .609 slugging that month.
C Yadier Molina (R)
Is the first catcher since Mike Piazza in the 1990s to have two consecutive top-five finishes in NL MVP vote.
SS Jhonny Peralta (R)
Hit .344 with a .563 slugging percentage in nine postseason starts for Tigers.
2B Kolten Wong (L)
Breakout season with Class AAA Memphis included .303 average, 10 HRs, 20-for-21 in stolen base attempts.
INF Mark Ellis (R)
Slick-fielding veteran offers needed right-handed complement and challenger to rookie Wong.
OF Jon Jay (L)
Sluggish start cost him job as leadoff hitter, though he took advantage of lower spot for a career-best 67 RBIs.
INF Daniel Descalso (L)
.199 average and .237 OBP in second half contributed to club’s search at shortstop.
INF Pete Kozma (R)
Best fielder at short on the team could lose roster spot if Cards go with another outfielder.
C Tony Cruz (R)
Reliable backup who has maintained his edge despite increasingly scarce playing time behind Molina.
OF Shane Robinson (R)
Not likely to get the 170 or so at-bats in 2014 that he has the past two years.
RH Adam Wainwright
In his second season back from elbow surgery, led majors in innings, (276.2, including playoffs).
RH Michael Wacha
Rookie won four postseason games; first pitcher born in 1990s to win World Series game.
RH Shelby Miller
First Cardinals rookie with 15 wins and 169 strikeouts since Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean had 18 and 191 in 1932.
RH Joe Kelly
Versatility could cast him in long relief, but 3.03 ERA as starter gives him claim to rotation spot.
RH Lance Lynn
His spot threatened by August struggles, Lynn finished first 200-inning season with a 2.12 ERA in September.
RH Trevor Rosenthal (Closer)
With 108 strikeouts, hard-throwing righty became first full-time reliever with 100 Ks in Cardinals history.
RH Jason Motte
Flamethrower missed all of last season recovering from a ruptured ligament in his pitching elbow.
RH Carlos Martinez
Will vie for a starting job, but electric stuff — 100 mph heat, biting sinker, darting slider — also fits setup role.
RH Seth Maness
Sinkerballer carved out role with runners on base with uncanny ability to coax double plays — 16 in 62 innings.
LH Randy Choate
Hired to serve as neutralizer for Joey Votto (and others), veteran served also as sage for young bullpen.
LH Kevin Siegrist
Riding a power fastball, sported 0.45 ERA, lowest since at least 1901 for reliever with 35 or more appearances.
RH Pat Neshek
For his career, right-handed batters have hit .181, lefties .237.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Marco Gonzales, LHP
With the 19th overall pick for the second consecutive season, the Cardinals returned to many of their familiar draft archetypes — college pitcher, athletic delivery, record of success, and steady, reliable statistics. Gonzales, a two-way player at Gonzaga, is a left-handed mirror-image of the previous year’s pick, Michael Wacha. His fastball hits around 91 mph, but it’s his command, cutter and elite changeup that made him a first-round pick. Gonzales had his innings carefully monitored during his debut and threw only 23.1 innings in eight games at two different levels. He did well and, more important, finished healthy. Gonzales is earmarked for the High-A rotation, though he’s expected to move swiftly up the system, like, well, other college picks before him.
OF Oscar Taveras (21)
Uncommonly gifted hitter poised to swing into majors this season, a year late because of ankle surgery.
OF Stephen Piscotty (23)
Made a claim for the Arizona Fall League’s MVP award with .371 average and .506 slugging, vaulting him toward majors.
LHP Tim Cooney (23)
Tall lefty downshifts from his above-average fastball to unnerve hitters, an approach he used for 148 strikeouts in 154.1 innings.
RHP Alex Reyes (19)
Power righty with 97-mph fastball relocated from New Jersey to the Dominican Republic and signed $950,000 bonus as amateur free agent.
SS Aledmys Diaz (23)
The young Cuban was signed in March to a four-year, major league deal.
Beyond the Box Score
By the book The Cardinals have done more than talk about “The Cardinal Way.” They put it in writing. Officials spent recent years organizing teachings from luminaries like longtime coach George Kissell, catching guru Dave Ricketts and pitching coach Dave Duncan into a handbook for managers, coaches and players. Manager Mike Matheny penned the chapter on attributes of a Cardinals catcher. The book isn’t for sale, but every draft pick receives a copy when he first reports.
Draft status Five players drafted in 2009 — leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter, 15-game winner Shelby Miller, starter Joe Kelly, closer Trevor Rosenthal, and cleanup slugger Matt Adams — had prominent late-season roles, and 18 of the 25 players on the World Series roster were homegrown. The Cardinals’ draft emphasis peaked in recent years by hoarding picks and speeding promotions. NLCS MVP Michael Wacha and leading prospect Stephen Piscotty were both drafted in 2012 with compensation picks acquired when Albert Pujols signed with the L.A. Angels.
Wacha mania In his final start of September, Wacha came one out shy of a no-hitter when an infield single tipped off his glove. He was just getting started. An ascendant young ace, Wacha, at 22, won four games in October and became a fall sensation. Fozzie Bear references proliferated. (Wacha is pronounced “wocka” as in the Muppet’s “Wocka, wocka, wocka!”) An area sandwich shop named a milkshake for Wacha. And St. Louis native Andy Cohen, host of Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live,” adopted a beagle and named him Wacha.
Peralta backlash The Cardinals took a prominent role in baseball’s new morality when they became the first team to sign a player suspended due to the Biogenesis probe. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta served his 50-game suspension, but his new contract was met with criticism and howls on Twitter, some of them from players. Pitcher Brad Ziegler jabbed owners for “encouraging PED use.” Manager Mike Matheny understood the critical questions. “There are people out there that may not like our stances, (that) think of us as hypocritical,” he said. “So be it. We see a guy who made a decision that he regrets. Now we’re part of his future.”