Articles By Charlie Miller
Nicknames and baseball players just seem to go together like bat and ball. For as long as young boys and men have been batting baseballs around, they have given each other descriptive nicknames for facial features, deformed body parts, the way they played the game, hair color and, the most popular, shortening their surnames. In fact, some players with nicknames were given nicknames for their nicknames.
Here are the 50 best—and often very politically incorrect—nicknames in baseball history.
50. Don Mossi
Ears (also The Sphinx)
Perhaps you had to see Mossi to really appreciate the name. In Ball Four, Jim Bouton said Mossi “looked like a cab going down the street with its doors open.”
49. Ernie Lombardi
Not to allow Mossi and his ears steal all the thunder, the catcher who was also known as the world’s slowest human had a beak of monumental proportions. But the catcher hit his way into the Hall of Fame.
48. Nick Cullop
Cullop spent 23 years in the minors, hit 420 home runs and had 2,670 hits, both minor league records when he retired.
47. Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown
Known more commonly as Three Finger Brown than by Mordecai, Brown capitalized on losing most of his index finger in a childhood farming accident. Apparently that helped him throw a devastating curveball described by Ty Cobb as the toughest in baseball.
46. Don Zimmer
Despite the success for the Red Sox in the late 1970s, Zim is blamed for the team’s collapse in 1978, ultimately losing a playoff game at Fenway Park (commonly known as the Bucky Dent game). Because of this, lefthander Bill Lee, with whom Zimmer often sparred, gave him the name Gerbil.
45. Bill Lee
And speaking of Lee, it wasn’t as though he was a mental giant himself. The lefthander’s outrageous, often irreverent personality and his fearless rhetoric earned him the name Spaceman, allegedly, from John Kennedy (the Red Sox utility infielder, not the former President). Just being left-handed in Boston was probably enough.
44. Jim Grant
Grant, who became one of the most successful African-American pitchers in the 1960s, was the roommate of his boyhood idol Larry Doby when he first came to Cleveland. It was the veteran Doby who dubbed him “Mudcat”, saying that he was “ugly as a Mississippi mudcat.”
43. Jim Hunter
Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finely often seemed more interested in flashy P.R. than winning baseball games. Evidently, this nickname was a product of the PR-conscious Finley more than any angling the Hall of Fame pitcher might have done in his home state of North Carolina.
42. Randy Johnson
Okay, get your mind out of the gutter. Former Expos teammate — yes, Johnson was originally a member of the Expos — Tim Raines once collided with him during batting practice, looked up at the 6’10” hurler and proclaimed, “You’re a big unit.”
41. Mark Fidrych
The affable righthander enjoyed talking to the baseball while on the mound and manicuring the mound on his hands and knees between innings. But it was because of his resemblance to Big Bird of Sesame Street fame that Fidrych was given his name.
40. Marc Rzepczynski
Some surnames scream for nicknames, like Yastrzemski with Yaz, and Mazeroski with Maz. But there are few names that could earn more points in the famous word game than this lefthander’s.
39. Doug Gwosdz
Ancestors of the former catcher of the San Diego Padres must have misspelled this name somewhere down the line. But as astute teammates surmised, his jersey resembled those charts hanging on walls in optometrists’ offices.
38. Johnny Dickshot
First of all, that is his real name. And secondly, he referred to himself as the “ugliest man in baseball.” So, we have no qualms about Dickshot making the list.
37. Luke Appling
Old Aches and Pains
Dubbed by teammates, it’s unclear whether the name was given in jest. But it is clear that Appling didn’t mind complaining about the physical demands of the job all the way to the Hall of Fame.
36. Roger Bresnahan
The Duke of Tralee
Nothing really unusual about this name; after all many players were named in honor of their hometowns. Earl Averill was the Duke of Snohomish after his hometown in Washington. But, Bresnahan was from Toledo. For some reason he enjoyed telling folks he was born in Tralee, Ireland.
35. Bob Feller
Taking the American League by storm as a teenager led to this nickname as well as The Heater from Van Meter (Iowa).
34. Edward Charles Ford
The Chairman of the Board
Well known as Whitey because of hair color, the lefty dominated the American League for 16 seasons as a member of the Yankees. As a tribute to his calm, cool demeanor in tough situations, he became known as the Chairman of the Board.
33. Leon Allen Goslin
Several sources agree on how Goslin acquired his name. Evidently, he waved his arms as he chased fly balls, had a long neck, and was not the most graceful player.
32. Willie Mays
Say Hey Kid
There is no definitive agreement on how Mays acquired this classic name.
31. Mickey Mantle
The Commerce Comet
Mantle, a star athlete from Commerce, Oklahoma, was offered a football scholarship by the University of Oklahoma, but wisely chose baseball.
30. Joe Medwick
Ducky-Wucky (also Muscles)
According to Baseball-Reference.com, fans called Medwick Ducky-Wucky more than merely Ducky, presumably because of his gait, or perhaps the way he swam. Teammates, seemingly out of self-preservation, never called him Ducky-Wucky, but chose instead the name, Muscles.
29. Brooks Robinson
If you ever saw Brooksie do his work around the hot corner, you would quickly understand the moniker. Teammate Lee May once quipped, “Very nice (play)...where do they plug Mr. Hoover in?”
28. Aloysius Harry Simmons
With an exaggerated stride toward third base. Bucketfoot Al bashed major league pitching at a .334 clip on his way to the Hall of Fame.
27. Lynn Nolan Ryan
No one readily admits giving him the name, but any hitter who stood in the box against Ryan is keenly aware of what the name means.
26. Darrell Evans
One look at the famous puppet and a glance at the power-hitting lefty, and you’ll know why.
25. Dennis Boyd
Born in Mississippi (where beer may be referred to as oil), the colorful righthander carried the nickname on to the major leagues.
24. Johnny Lee Odom
Reportedly, a classmate in grade school thought Odom’s face looked like the moon. Really?
23. Frank Thomas
Given to Thomas by White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson. Thomas put the big hurt on American League pitching for 19 years.
22. Garry Maddox
Minister of Defense
If you watched Maddox patrol center field for the Phillies in the 1970s, you immediately get the name.
21. Mike Hargrove
Human Rain Delay
And you think Nomar Garciaparra invented the step-out-of-the-box-and-adjust-your-batting-gloves routine. Nope. Seasons changed between pitches when he was at bat.
20. Daniel Joseph Staub
Le Grand Orange
Known as Rusty by the Texans while with the Colt .45s, he became Le Grand Orange in Montreal as a member of the original Expos.
19. Jimmy Wynn
His small stature and powerful bat led to this moniker.
18. Steve Balboni
Presumably, Balboni was given the name because of his propensity to hit home runs. It may also be noted that a double meaning could be bye-bye, as in “He gone” back to the dugout because of his propensity to strike out.
17. Joakim Soria
When the Royals’ closer took the mound, it was usually lights out for the opponent’s offense. He has since requested another, less violent name.
16. Frank Howard
The Capital Punisher
While playing in the nation’s capital, Howard punished AL pitching for 237 home runs in seven seasons, twice leading the league with 44, and finishing second in 1969 with 48.
15. Carl Pavano
After signing a four-year, $38 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 2005 season, Pavano made just nine starts in four seasons, going 3-3 with a 5.00 ERA.
14. Lawrence Peter Berra
Evidently when Berra sat with arms and legs crossed a friend suggested he looked like a Hindu yogi. Now the term Yogi is associated with malaprops more than Hindu.
13. Mariano Rivera
Good night batters.
12. Rickey Henderson
Man of Steal
One look at his stats and you understand this one: 1,406 career steals and a record 130 in 1982.
11. Shane Victorino
The Flyin’ Hawaiian
Victorino plays the game with endless energy and spunk, but his heritage rules the day.
10. Vince Coleman
Vincent Van Go
A true artist of the stolen base.
9. Ken Reitz
Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon marveled at how the St. Louis third baseman could pick up everything.
8. Pablo Sandoval
Kung Fu Panda
The loveable Giant Panda.
7. Fred McGriff
One of ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman’s nicknames that actually stuck. Thanks McGruff, the cartoon Crime Dog.
6. Kenny Rogers
“Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser. The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”
5. Jose Bautista
Bautista was terrific as Joey Bats in “The Hitman” on YouTube. He’s been even better as himself for the Blue Jays.
4. Harry Davis
Poor Davis lost his job as Detroit first baseman to some kid name Hank Greenberg in 1933.
3. Ron Cey
Playing for Tommy Lasorda in the minor leagues must have had its pros and cons. Having your manager dub you Penguin because of your awkward running style would probably fall on the con side.
2. William Ellsworth Hoy
As if anyone needed reminding, here’s a clear indicator of just how far political correctness has come in 100 years. William Ellsworth Hoy lost his hearing and ability to speak as a result of childhood meningitis. At only 5’4”, he was difficult to strike out and was the first player to hit a grand slam in the American League. He died in 1961, just five months shy of his 100th birthday.
1. George Herman Ruth
Babe (also the Bambino, Sultan of Swat, The King of Sting, The Colossus of Clout)
Babe was the only major leaguer large enough for five larger than life nicknames.
The 2013 Major League Baseball season kicks off on Sunday night with the Astros taking on the Rangers. Before the first pitch, here are 101 stats to know for the 2013 season.
101 Stats to Kick Off the 2013 Major League Baseball Season
Players elected by the BBWAA for Hall of Fame induction in 1950, as was the case in 2013. There were 48 players on the ballot in 1950 that would eventually gain election to the Hall.
Number of times a team has overcome a 3-games-to-0 deficit to win a postseason series. The Boston Red Sox mounted the historical comeback over the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.
Hits by Joel Youngblood off two Hall of Fame pitchers (Fergie Jenkins and Steve Carlton) for two teams (Montreal Expos and New York Mets) in two cities (Chicago and Philadelphia) in the same day. On August 4, 1982, Youngblood started in center field and batting third for the Mets at Chicago in an afternoon game and singled in two runs in the third inning off Jenkins. He was replaced by Mookie Wilson in center in the middle of the fourth inning when it was learned he had been traded to the Montreal Expos. He hopped a flight to Philadelphia and arrived during the game. He was inserted in right field for Jerry White in the sixth inning and caught a fly ball to end the inning. In the top of the seventh, he singled off Carlton. The well-traveled Youngblood was on deck when the game ended with the Phillies ahead 5-4.
The number worn on the back of Babe Ruth’s uniform. The Yankees introduced uniform numbers in 1929.
Consecutive MVP awards won by Barry Bonds from 2001-04, becoming the only player to win more than two in a row.
Members of the original Hall of Fame class in 1936. Ty Cobb received the most votes (222), followed by a tie between Honus Wagner and Babe Ruth (215). Christy Mathewson (205) and Walter Johnson (189) were the two pitchers elected. Cy Young was named on just 49.1 percent of the ballots, Lou Gehrig 22.6 percent and Jimmie Foxx 9.3 percent.
Stan the Man Musial made this number famous in St. Louis. Among his many gaudy stats, are 1,815 hits on the road and 1,815 hits at home.
Modern record for hits in a nine-inning game. Rennie Stennett of the Pirates pasted Cubs pitching for seven safeties on Sept. 16, 1975 at Wrigley Field. The Pirates’ leadoff hitter had four singles, two doubles and a triple in the Pirates’ 22-0 thrashing in Chicago. After Stennett’s eighth-inning triple, future New York Yankees All-Star Willie Randolph pinch-ran for him. Stennett led off the game with a double off of Rick Reuschel and ended his day with a triple off of Paul Reuschel.
Different pitchers to lead the Rays in saves over the past eight seasons. With Fernando Rodney back this season, the string is likely to be broken.
Players sent to the plate in the 1976 World Series by Reds manager Sparky Anderson. With the DH used for every game that year, Anderson used the same lineup for all four games and used no pinch-hitters in the Reds’ sweep of the Yankees.
John Tudor in 1985 was the last pitcher to throw 10 shutouts in one season.
Home runs for Babe Ruth for the world champion Red Sox in 1918, which led the American League. That was the first of 12 home run titles for the Babe.
Batting titles for Ty Cobb.
Times Lou Gehrig posted 100-plus runs and 100-plus RBIs in the same season, the most all-time.
Walk-off losses in the postseason by the New York Yankees.
Full seasons in which Joe McCarthy managed the New York Yankees. During his tenure, the Yanks won eight pennants, winning seven World Series, and finished second four times.
Retired numbers by the New York Yankees, the most of any franchise. This number includes the No. 42, retired across all of baseball in honor of Jackie Robinson. It counts the No. 8 just once, although it is retired in honor of both Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra.
Age of Bob Feller when he made his first major league start in 1936. He tossed a complete game against the St. Louis Browns giving up six hits, four walks, one earned run with 15 strikeouts for the win.
World Series home runs for Mickey Mantle, the most all-time.
Wins by rookie Mark “The Bird” Fidrych for the Detroit Tigers in 1976, a season in which he captured the hearts of baseball fans everywhere.
Consecutive losing seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates, setting the all-time record for any North American major team sport.
Consecutive losses by the Baltimore Orioles to begin the season in 1988.
Games started in the World Series by Whitey Ford, most all-time.
Grand slams hit by Lou Gehrig and Alex Rodriguez, the most all-time.
Appearances by Mariano Rivera in the World Series.
Hits by Lou Brock in the 1967-68 World Series. The total is the most ever in back-to-back World Series.
Consecutive games won by the New York Giants in 1916, the longest winning streak in history. From Sept. 7-Sept. 30, the Giants didn’t lose a game, but gained just 8.5 games in the standings before finishing the season in fourth place. Lefty Tyler of the Boston Braves pitched a complete game to end the streak.
Wins for Steve Carlton of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1972. The team won just 59 games that season giving Lefty more than 45 percent of his team’s wins.
Times Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera grounded into a double play in 2012, which led the majors.
Wins for the Baltimore Orioles in one-run games in 2012. Their 29-9 record (.763) is the best all-time.
Home runs hit by Albert Pujols after May 5 last season. The slugger began the season by hitting just .217 with no homers and four RBIs in April. After taking a day of on May 5, he homered the next day and proceeded to put together a Pujols-esque season.
Wins for Lefty Grove of the Philadelphia A’s in 1931 and Detroit’s Denny McLain in 1968, the highest win total in the live ball era (since 1920).
Postseason doubles for Derek Jeter, most all-time.
Miles between the high schools where reigning Cy Young winners R.A. Dickey (Montgomery Bell Academy, Nashville, Tenn.) and David Price (Blackman High School, Murfreesboro, Tenn.) attended. It is the closest of any two Cy Young winners from the same season.
Hitting streak by Dom DiMaggio of the Boston Red Sox in 1949.
Strikeouts by Bob Gibson (27 IP) in the 1968 World Series.
At-bats by Jimmy Collins in the 1903 World Series. It’s the most ever in a Fall Classic and was established in the first World Series ever played.
Number retired in honor of Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel by both the Yankees and the Mets.
Saves by John Hiller of the Tigers in 1973, just two years after suffering a career-threatening heart attack at age 28. The total led the majors and was the record for saves in a season until 1983.
Number retired by the Los Angeles Dodgers in honor of Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella, whose career was cut short due to an auto accident, which left him paralyzed.
Appearances in the World Series by the New York Yankees, by far the most of any franchise.
Wins by Jack Chesbro of the Yankees in 1904, the highest total since 1900.
Number universally retired by MLB in honor of Jackie Robinson.
Age of Nolan Ryan when he won his 11th strikeout title. In 1990, he struck out 232, the most in the American league a year after whiffing 301.
Consecutive game hitting streak for Pete Rose in 1978 to tie Wee Willie Keeler for the National League record. Rose hit .385 during the streak and raised his average from .267 to .316.
Over the 104 years since the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series, the team has had 45 winning records, finished .500 twice and posted 57 losing seasons.
Earned runs allowed by the San Francisco Giants in 16 postseason games in 2012.
Hank Aaron’s career-best home run season, which came in 1971. The total has been eclipsed 72 times, 28 of those before Aaron retired in 1976.
Road wins for the Washington Nationals in 2012, most in the majors.
Home runs hit in the regular season by Babe Ruth in ballparks still in use today. Ruth hit 48 home runs at Fenway Park and one at Wrigley Field.
World Series games played by Frankie Frisch, eighth all-time, but the most by anyone who never played with the Yankees.
Seldom-used uniform number may possibly be retired by five franchises some day. It is already retired by San Diego in honor of closer Trevor Hoffman. It is highly likely to be retired in Seattle (Ichiro Suzuki) and likely by Arizona (Randy Johnson). The Cardinals (Willie McGee) and Yankees (Bernie Williams) have yet to issue the number since those players retired.
Last season, the San Diego Padres, according to Elias, became the only team since at least 1900 to have three catchers start as many as 52 games. Nick Hundley started 56 times, John Baker and Yasmani Grandal 52 each.
Hits by Cincinnati pitchers last season, most in the majors.
Home runs by Babe Ruth in 1920, smashing the record of 29 that Ruth had set the year before. The total of 54 was eclipsed by just one team in all of baseball that season (other than the Yankees), the Philadelphia Phillies.
Wins for the Houston Astros in 2012, a franchise low including the strike-shortened seasons of 1981 and 1994.
Consecutive games in which Joe DiMaggio of the Yankees hit safely in 1941. Interestingly, during that same stretch from May 15 to July 16, Ted Williams of the Red Sox outhit Joe D .412 to .408 with a better on-base percentage (.540 to .463) and OPS (1.224 to 1.181).
Road home runs hit by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012, the lowest total in baseball.
Home runs needed by Oakland A’s hitters to reach 12,000 in franchise history. Getting their start in 1901 as the Philadelphia Athletics, the franchise also played in Kansas City from 1955-67 before relocating to Oakland in 1968. Entering this season, only eight other franchises (New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies) have hit 12,000 or more home runs. The Baltimore Orioles will also reach this milestone this season and should do so before the A's, as the O's need just eight round-trippers to reach 12,000.
Consecutive scoreless innings pitched by Orel Hershiser to end the 1988 season. The streak including five complete games in September and 10 shutout innings in his last start, which the Dodgers eventually lost 2-1 in 16 innings.
Extra innings played by Baltimore last season.
Number of games last season that Tampa Bay pitchers struck out 10 or more batters breaking the record of 57 set by the Cubs in 2003.
Number of players drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1996, two years before the club fielded its first major league team.
Fewest regular-season wins ever for a World Series winner. The Los Angeles Dodgers won just 63 games in 1981, a season shortened by almost 40 percent to a players strike.
Years since the Cleveland Indians last won the World Series. It is the second-longest drought in baseball behind the 104 years that Cubs fans have been waiting.
Average number of wins for the Kansas City Athletics during their last seven years in the Midwest before moving to Oakland in 1968.
Wins for the Cincinnati Reds in 1981, the most in the National League. However, the Reds were not one of the four teams in the playoffs that season. The St. Louis Cardinals also had the best winning percentage in the National League East, but didn’t qualify for the playoffs that season due to the split-season format forced by the players strike.
All-time record number of doubles in a season set by Earl Webb in 1931.
Wins needed by Josh Beckett, Carlos Zambrano and Randy Wolf to reach 200 for their careers.
Runs scored by the San Francisco Giants in 16 postseason games in 2012.
Home runs hit by Mark McGwire in 1998 to break the 37-year-old record of 61 held by Roger Maris.
Hits in World Series play by Yogi Berra, most all-time.
Highest uniform number retired for a player. The Chicago White Sox retired No. 72 in honor of Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk.
Home runs for Barry Bonds in 2001, setting a new record for home runs in a season.
Wins for the Orioles last season against no losses when leading after seven innings.
World Series games played by Yogi Berra, the most all-time.
2013 will be the 76th season since a player in the National League won a triple crown. In 1937, Joe Medwick for St. Louis was the last National Leaguer to accomplish this. Joey Votto, Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun seem to be the likeliest candidates to break the string with Carlos Gonzalez, Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton and perhaps Bryce Harper having outside shots.
Points Alex Rios’ batting average increased from 2011 to 2012 (.227 to .304)
Stolen bases by Jose Reyes in 2007, the most of any player in the 1990s and 2000s.
Percent of the seasons that the New York Yankees have finished above .500. In 112 seasons, the Yanks have posted 89 winning seasons and finished at an even .500 once.
Hits Colorado first baseman Todd Helton needs to reach the 2,500 mark in his career. That would make Helton just the 7th player in major league history to have 2,500 hits, 1,300 runs, 500 doubles, 350 home runs, 1,300 RBIs, a batting average of .300 or better and more walks than strikeouts in their career. The others are Hank Aaron, Lou Gehrig, Chipper Jones, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.
Wins by Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Pat Dobson and Jim Palmer in 1971 for the Baltimore Orioles. That was the last time a team had four 20-game winners.
Players with 250 home runs for one club. There are 10 Yankees who have hit as many as 250 homers in pinstripes. Arizona, Washington, Tampa Bay, San Diego and Miami have none.
Fewest regular-season wins ever for a world champion in a season not cut short due to a labor dispute or war. The St. Louis Cardinals squeaked into the playoffs in 2006 with an 83-78 record.
Home runs for Curtis Granderson over the past two seasons. No other player has more than 74.
Runs scored by Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels last season. It was the first time in his 12-year career than the All-Star first baseman had scored fewer than 99 in a season.
Years between World Series wins for the Red Sox. Boston won in 1918 then suffered through 86 years before winning again in 2004.
Wins needed by the Los Angeles Angels this season to end the season above .500 for the history of the franchise. The last time the team was above .500 was after their first game in history on April 11, 1961.
Years between World Series wins for the White Sox. Chicago won in 1917 then suffered through 88 years before winning again in 2005.
Years since Washington, D.C. celebrated a World Series win. The old Washington Senators (now the Minnesota Twins) defeated the New York Giants in seven games in 1924. It was Tom Zachary, not the great Walter Johnson, who won two games. Goose Goslin and Bucky Harris combined to drive in more than half of the Senators’ runs.
The number of shutouts that Roy Halladay needs to tie Walter Johnson for the most all-time. Halladay is the active leader with 20.
Tim Raines received 91 more votes (297 to 206) than Barry Bonds in the most recent Hall of Fame balloting.
Runs Derek Jeter needs this season to pass Babe Ruth as the all-time leader in New York Yankees' franchise history.
Plate appearances at the Triple-A level for Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout before his call-up last April. He was batting .403 with a .467 OBP and had four doubles, five triples, a homer and scored 21 runs in 20 games with Salt Lake.
Wins for Babe Ruth as a pitcher.
Average number of wins for the Oakland A’s from 1971-75 during which they won five AL West titles and three straight World Series.
Doubles for Alex Gordon of Kansas City over the past two seasons, the most in the majors.
Average number of wins for the New York Yankees over the last 17 years. (1996-2012)
Wins by the Washington Nationals last season establishing a new high-water mark for the franchise surpassing the 95 wins by the 1979 Expos.
Hits needed by Alex Rodriguez to become the 29th member of the 3,000-hit club.
Wins for the Amazin’ New York Mets in 1969 after finishing in ninth or 10th place the previous seven years.
The 2013 MLB season is almost here. Texas and Houston will get things started on Sunday night as the Astros play their first-ever game as an American League team. That's not the only change baseball fans will have to get used to this season as interleague play will take place year-round, starting with the Los Angeles Angels opening their season in Cincinnati.
In the American League alone, many players, notably Josh Hamilton, Torii Hunter, James Shields and Nick Swisher will be in a different uniform this season, while others like Michael Bourn, Melky Cabrera, R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes and Shane Victorino are switching leagues entirely. There also is another crop of up-and-coming players that everyone will be watching to see if any of them can have the same type of impact that Mike Trout and Bryce Harper had on their respective teams last season.
Related: 2013 NL Predictions
2013 American League Predictions
1. New York
2. Tampa Bay (Wild Card)
The Toronto Blue Jays made the biggest splash of the offseason and the AL East with the additions of shortstop Jose Reyes and starting pitchers R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. Robinson Cano anchors the injury-riddled Yankees’ lineup. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira will begin the season on the disabled list. Tampa Bay has, by far, the best pitching, maybe in either league. The rotation, led by Cy Young winner David Price, and the bullpen, led by Fernando Rodney, are deep and talented. While the Blue Jays added some key components, especially in the rotation, the bullpen has questions. The Orioles found magic in extra-innings and close games last season. They probably won’t go 29-9 in one-run games again. Boston is now the team left out of contention.
3. Kansas City
Last season there was no debate over the favorite in the AL Central. The Tigers made the experts sweat a little falling behind by six games in June, but managed to eke out a division title, taking over first place for good with eight games to play. Triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera returns as does Prince Fielder, ace Justin Verlander and Victor Martinez, who missed last season with a knee injury. Cleveland with new manager Terry Francona should be better, but still not at Detroit’s level. Kansas City now has a respectable rotation but is still dependent on youngsters developing in the bullpen. The White Sox clearly overachieved last season and were in contention until the final week of the season. The Twins are still attempting to develop young pitchers. Kyle Gibson may be the team’s next ace, but he’ll begin this season in Triple-A.
1. Los Angeles
2. Texas (Wild Card)
The Los Angeles Angels continued to up the ante in the AL West by signing Josh Hamilton a year after inking Albert Pujols. With those two former MVPs and leadoff hitter Mike Trout, the Angels clearly have the best lineup in the division. However, the Angels’ bullpen was among the worst in the majors last season. Texas will miss long-time linchpin Michael Young and Hamilton even though Adrian Beltre is among the best hitters in the league. Lest we forget, it was the Oakland A’s who won the AL West last season. There were some smoke and mirrors along with stingy pitching and the emergence of Yoenis Cespedes. Seattle has made a financial commitment to ace Felix Hernandez, but the M’s are easily a notch below the leaders. The Houston Astros join the AL at the lowest point in franchise history.
Detroit over Los Angeles
Detroit over Washington
1. Robinson Cano, Yankees
2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
3. Evan Longoria, Rays
4. Albert Pujols, Angels
5. Adam Jones, Orioles
6. Mike Trout, Angels
7. Prince Fielder, Tigers
8. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
9. Yoenis Cespedes, A's
10. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
AL Cy Young
1. Justin Verlander, Tigers
2. David Price, Rays
3. Jared Weaver, Angels
4. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
5. Yu Darvish, Rangers
AL Rookie of the Year
1. Wil Myers, Rays
2. Jurickson Profar, Rangers
3. Dylan Bundy, Orioles
Despite new ownership and a new TV deal, it looks like it’s going to be more of the same for the Padres. While the NL West rival San Francisco Giants are coming off a second World Series title in three seasons and the Los Angeles Dodgers continue to spend lavishly, the Padres appear content with the status quo. They hope Chase Headley will replicate his big season, and they will continue to build from within. They don’t seem inclined to go after big-name free agents, even though they are bringing in the fences at Petco Park. The Padres were so bad in April and May that a strong second half couldn’t lift them out of fourth place.
The Padres were hit particularly hard by injuries to starters last season, beginning when projected Opening Day starter Tim Stauffer was scratched hours before first pitch due to a sore elbow. Stauffer came back in May and made only one start before the injury flared up again. Then again, it wasn’t a powerhouse rotation to begin with. Edinson Volquez, one of four players obtained from Cincinnati for Mat Latos, bounced back nicely from a disappointing final season with the Reds. Jason Marquis made 15 starts after coming to San Diego from Minnesota, and posted the lowest WHIP (1.302) of his career. Eric Stults seemed to get better as the season progressed. The Padres won eight of his final 10 starts. Tyson Ross, who never found his groove in Oakland last season, has earned the fifth spot with s strong spring.
Injuries weren’t limited to the rotation. Huston Street, who replaced Heath Bell as the closer, was on the disabled list twice, with lattisimus dorsi and calf injuries. Nonetheless, he made his first All-Star team and converted 23-of-24 save opportunities. The Padres gave him a $14 million, two-year contract extension. San Diego will look for some stability in the bullpen, where 19 different pitchers made at least one appearance last year. The pen featured seven rookies, including righthanders Brad Boxberger (2.60 ERA in 24 games), Brad Brach (3.78 ERA in 67 games), Dale Thayer (3.43 ERA in 64 games) and Nick Vincent (1.71 ERA in 27 games). Luke Gregerson is the only remaining pitcher from San Diego’s former 1-2-3 punch in the pen, which included Mike Adams and Bell.
The Padres injected some life into their dismal season when they released second baseman Orlando Hudson and placed shortstop Jason Bartlett on the disabled list with a knee injury on May 17. On the same day, the Padres brought up Everth Cabrera, who has been with the Padres off and on since 2009, and exciting Alexi Amarista, who stands just 5'7" and was obtained from the Angels in the deal for reliever Ernesto Frieri. Cabrera became the first Padres player to lead the National League in stolen bases, swiping 44 bags in 48 attempts. While Cabrera took over at shortstop, Amarista split time with Logan Forsythe at second base. Forsythe is the projected starter at second, but Amarista will definitely be in the mix. Top prospect Jedd Gyorko could force himself into the picture if he continues to hit well.
After failing to put up the kind of numbers expected of a third baseman in his first four big-league seasons, Headley more than made up for it with a career year in 2012. The Padres, who control Headley’s rights for two more seasons, would like to see him do it again. He’ll get a late start this season due to a fractured thumb that will cost him the first month or so. With a more aggressive approach and adjustments to his swing that helped him cope with spacious Petco Park, he hit .286 with 31 home runs and led the National League with 115 RBIs. Headley was rewarded with his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, and he finished fifth in NL MVP voting. On the other side of the infield, Yonder Alonso had a solid rookie season. He started 144 games at first base, hit .273 and led all big-league rookies with 39 doubles, which set a Padres rookie record. Alonso is one of four players obtained from the Reds for Latos the previous offseason.
Two of the three probable starters, left fielder Carlos Quentin and center fielder Cameron Maybin, have contract security. The Padres haven’t yet bestowed that on right fielder Will Venable. Quentin had a mixed season, showing the power the Padres sought when they obtained him from the White Sox but missing considerable time after having arthroscopic knee surgery during spring training. Quentin played in only 86 games, hitting .261 with 16 homers and 46 RBIs in 284 at-bats. After being reinstated from the 15-day disabled list on May 28, he announced his arrival by hitting five home runs, four doubles and driving in nine runs in his first six games. If he can stay healthy, he can do some damage at Petco Park. The Padres gave Quentin a $27 million, three-year contract that runs through 2015. During spring training, the Padres signed Maybin to a $25 million, five-year contract. He started slowly but set career-highs by playing in 147 games and driving in 45 runs, and tied his career-best with 44 walks. Maybin made several spectacular catches, including robbing Matt Kemp of a go-ahead homer in a Padres win at Dodger Stadium in early September. Venable made a career-high 103 starts, 80 of them in right, while hitting .264 with nine homers. Chris Denorfia started 60 games in right and proved his worth by setting career-highs with a .293 average, 102 hits, 19 doubles, 56 runs scored and 130 games played.
The Padres were thrilled with Yasmani Grandal after he made his big-league debut on June 20. He hit .297 with 16 extra-base hits and 36 RBIs in 60 games, with 52 starts. Then they were shocked when Grandal was suspended for the first 50 games of 2013 after testing positive for testosterone. Grandal’s suspension gives the job back to Nick Hundley, who seemed expendable after an awful season. Hundley was given a $9 million, three-year contract extension during spring training, then proceeded to hit just .157, was demoted to Triple-A and then, after being recalled, suffered a season-ending knee injury. Backup John Baker also returns.
Denorfia is practically a starter, platooning with Venable in right field and also making starts in left and center. Amarista excited fans with his speed and hustle as he played second base and a little bit at shortstop. Baker ended up starting 52 games at catcher and will be called on again early this season due to Grandal’s suspension. The Padres like Mark Kotsay’s veteran leadership — in the clubhouse as well as in the dugout — so much that he’ll be back at age 37.
The Padres picked up the options for 2014 and ’15 for manager Bud Black, who is the eternal optimist. On one hand, he’s perfect for this club because of his positive nature. On the other hand, there are some who would like to see Black get on his players more. Like Bruce Bochy before him, Black seems destined to shepherd a team that’s barely given a fighting chance by ownership. General manager Josh Byrnes says the Padres were inspired by seeing another low-budget team, the Oakland A’s, reach the playoffs last season.
The Padres teased their fans with a strong finish in 2009, followed by a 90-win 2010 season that fell just short of the playoffs. They appear to be following the same script, although losing 10 of their final 15 games of 2012 put a damper on what had been a strong second half. The Padres might inch closer to finishing .500 or slightly above, but that’s probably about all the fans can expect this season. If they’re really going to contend, that probably won’t happen until 2014 or later. Their payroll is expected to increase beyond last year’s $55 million, but much of it will go toward salaries decided in arbitration rather than to free agents. A big clue came when the Padres were extremely quiet during the Winter Meetings.
SS Everth Cabrera (S)
Recalled on May 17 and became first Padre to lead NL in stolen bases with 44 in 48 attempts.
2B Logan Forsythe (R)
Played in 91 games, including 73 starts at second, and hit .273 in first full big-league season. Could lose playing time to top prospect Jedd Gyorko, who will fill in at third during Headley's absence.
3B Chase Headley (S)
Former second-round pick became the first player in Padres history to have two months with 30-plus RBIs. Will miss the start of the season with a fractured thumb, but hopes to return in April.
LF Carlos Quentin (R)
Limited to 86 games after knee surgery; five of his 16 homers came in his first six games.
1B Yonder Alonso (L)
Made 144 starts, had .348 on-base percentage and hit .273 with Padres rookie-record 39 doubles.
RF Will Venable (L)
Played in career-high 148 games, including 103 starts; tied career-best with .264 average.
CF Cameron Maybin (R)
Set career highs with 147 games played and 45 RBIs and tied career-high with 44 walks.
C Nick Hundley (R)
Rough year included demotion to minors, .157 average and season-ending knee injury.
C John Baker (L)
Played in 63 games and started 52; threw out only 9-of-58 basestealers.
UT Jesus Guzman (R)
Utilityman made first Opening Day roster and started 65 games at three different positions (plus DH).
OF Mark Kotsay (L)
Hit .271 with two homers and nine RBIs as pinch-hitter; started 29 games. Should make a terrific manager some day.
OF Chris Denorfia (R)
Made career-high 77 starts in outfield; batted leadoff in 45 games, hitting .303.
IF Alexi Amarista (L)
Injected life into middle infield after trade from Angels; first career home run was game-winning grand slam.
RH Edinson Volquez
Was 11–11 with 4.14 ERA in first Padres season; threw first complete game, a one-hitter vs. Houston at Petco.
LH Clayton Richard
Workhorse set career-highs with 218.2 innings, 14
victories and 31 homers allowed.
RH Jason Marquis
After release by Twins was 6–7 with 4.04 ERA in 15 starts for Padres before breaking left wrist.
LH Eric Stults
Waived by White Sox; went 8–3 with 2.92 ERA in 18 games with Padres, including 14 starts.
RH Tyson Ross
Struggled mightily with Oakland last season, but has rebounded with a strong spring.
RH Huston Street (Closer)
First-time All-Star converted 23-of-24 save opportunities; earned two-year extension.
RH Luke Gregerson
Had career-bests with 2.39 ERA and nine saves in team-high 77 appearances.
RH Dale Thayer
Was 2–2 with 3.43 ERA and seven saves in 64 games in his longest big-league stint.
RH Brad Brach
Was 2–4 with 3.78 ERA and led all NL rookies with 67 appearances, second-most on team.
LH Joe Thatcher
Bounced back from 2011 shoulder surgery to pitch in 55 games, going 1–4 with 3.41 ERA.
LH Tommy Layne
Made jump from Double-A to majors, going 2–0 with a 3.24 ERA in 26 appearances.
RH Anthony Bass
Split between rotation and pen; went 2–8 with 4.73 ERA and had first career complete game and save.
A band of misfits won the World Series in 2010. Two years later, the Giants simply banded together. Their second title in three seasons felt more scripted than ad-libbed, as a fantastic defense made plays behind a talented pitching staff, and NL MVP Buster Posey steadied the entire operation from behind the plate. The Giants survived six playoff elimination games and became the first NL team since the Big Red Machine in the 1970s to win two World Series in a three-year span. But these Giants aren’t seen as a dynasty yet, mostly because they’ve had so much turnover in their everyday lineup. There will be new challenges as the Giants seek to wear the crown a bit better this time around, especially since the archrival Dodgers all but broke into Fort Knox while loading up their roster with former All-Stars since the middle of last season. Even though the Giants brought back all their impact players from a year ago, they might be considered, by some, underdogs to win the West. It’s a role that has suited them just fine.
The Giants received at least 30 starts from five different pitchers — and all five return this season. Stalwart ace Matt Cain had no complaints after signing a $112 million extension, throwing the first perfect game in the Giants’ 129-year existence, starting for the NL All-Star squad and capping it off with another World Series ring. Madison Bumgarner, who turned 23 in August, topped 200 innings for the second consecutive year. Well-traveled Ryan Vogelsong proved his breakout 2011 campaign was no fluke; he led the NL in ERA as late as Aug. 12 and completed at least six innings in each of his first 21 starts — the longest streak by a Giant since Atlee Hammaker in 1983. As for Barry Zito, long the butt of jokes for his $126 million contract? He paid dividends as the Giants went 21–11 in his starts — including 14 consecutive wins to end the season, if you include his three playoff starts. Those fantastic four made it easier for the Giants to absorb a wildly erratic year from two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, whose 5.18 ERA was the highest among all NL pitchers to qualify for the ERA title. But this lines up to be the NL’s best rotation in 2013.
It’s hard to replace a ninth-inning presence like Brian Wilson, but the Giants made a successful adjustment after the black-bearded Taco Bell pitchman was lost to elbow surgery on the season-opening road trip. After non-tendering Wilson and letting him become a free agent, the Giants will be in committee mode again to open the season. Sergio Romo is expected to get first crack at the ninth inning after he fearlessly threw his sweeping slider and 88 mph two-seamer to escape every big spot in the playoffs. The Giants re-signed valuable lefthander Jeremy Affeldt to a three-year contract and wrapped up righthander Santiago Casilla for three more years, too. Casilla saved 19 of his first 20 chances last season before yielding the closer job in July. Sidewinding lefty Javier Lopez also returns; he’s allowed one home run in two-plus seasons as a Giant.
Brandon Crawford is a Bay Area native who grew up idolizing Royce Clayton. When Crawford took over the everyday shortstop position, his idol gave him one piece of advice: Stabilize the infield. Crawford struggled to do that in the first two months of last season while committing 12 errors in his first 59 games. But he committed just six miscues after that, and he was a playmaking force in the postseason while mixing in a few clutch hits. The Giants paired Crawford’s youth with second baseman Marco Scutaro’s professionalism after they acquired the league’s best contact man (he misses on just 5.3 percent of swings he takes) from Colorado at the trade deadline. Scutaro, the NLCS MVP, hit .362 for the Giants during the regular season, and he carries a 20-game hitting streak into 2013. The 37-year-old probably won’t approach those numbers, but he’s a reliable hit-and-run presence for a team that thrives on crossing the plate without home runs.
The bad news: Pablo Sandoval spent a lot of time on the disabled list for the second straight year. The good news: The switch-hitter has no more hamate bones to break, after dealing with surgeries to repair fractures in both hands. Sandoval, the World Series MVP by virtue of his three-homer game off of Justin Verlander, is forever on the verge of an MVP-caliber season. Although his weight is scrutinized, he’s a gifted athlete who moves well enough to be a solid defender at third base. Brandon Belt endured an up-and-down first season but showed flashes of the pure-hitting talent that allowed him to rocket through the minor leagues. The former pitching prospect is a Gold Glove-caliber presence at first base, even if he hasn’t put up the kind of power production associated with the position. Expect Posey to log 30 or so starts at first base as the Giants seek to save the legs of their most gifted hitter.
Angel Pagan’s career year included a MLB-leading 15 triples, which broke the Giants’ San Francisco-era franchise record previously held by Willie Mays. The club responded by signing him to a four-year, $40 million contract — a bit of a reach for a 31-year-old who’d only played in 125 games twice in his career. But the Giants didn’t have another in-house candidate to replace Pagan’s leadoff presence, since top prospect Gary Brown isn’t ready yet. Right fielder Hunter Pence reached 100 RBIs for the first time in his career, and even managed to knock in 45 runs in 59 games as a Giant despite hitting .219. The Giants’ toughest task in the outfield will be replacing the production of Melky Cabrera, who was leading the majors in hits and runs on Aug. 15 when he was suspended 50 games for a positive testosterone test. Gregor Blanco, a non-roster invitee last spring, will get the bulk of time in left field. But a former 2010 World Series hero, Andres Torres, was re-signed to a one-year contract and will compete for at-bats. The switch-hitting Torres is likely to start against lefthanders.
What a difference Posey makes. In 2011, when a vicious home plate collision destroyed his ankle and ended his season in May, the Giants coughed away the division in the final eight weeks. Posey didn’t take long to reestablish his offensive presence and poise behind the plate. He’s the cleanup centerpiece the Giants had lacked ever since Barry Bonds retired. Posey became the first Giant since Bonds in 2004 to drive in 100 runs; more notably, he became the first NL catcher to win a batting title since Ernie Lombardi in 1942. Not bad, considering it was his first full season in the bigs.
Joaquin Arias is a better right-handed hitter than the numbers indicate, and he can fill in at three infield positions. Backup catcher Hector Sanchez developed a good rapport with Lincecum and Zito, and the switch-hitter is far from an easy out. Aubrey Huff and Xavier Nady are gone, so the Giants could look within the system for depth, with outfielders Roger Kieschnick and Francisco Peguero knocking on the door.
In three seasons, Bruce Bochy went from being viewed as a slow-talking retread to a certifiable genius with a Hall of Fame résumé. He brilliantly shuffled a tired rotation in the postseason and turned Lincecum from an inconsistent starter into a radioactive weapon in long relief. Brian Sabean returns for his 17th season — the longest consecutive tenure of any current GM in the game. It’s hard to find a manager and GM who are more on the same page than Bochy and Sabean.
Not only did the Giants get the band back together by re-signing Pagan, Scutaro and Affeldt, but they also brought back a 2010 World Series hero in Torres. They can’t count on smooth sailing to another division title, though, given their rivals’ free spending.
CF Angel Pagan (S)
Rare hitter whose game thrives at AT&T Park, which is made for triples.
2B Marco Scutaro (R)
Veteran knocked in 44 runs in 243 at-bats after joining the Giants last summer.
3B Pablo Sandoval (S)
Judged Miss Universe pageant over the winter, now hoping for an all-world season.
C Buster Posey (R)
Patient, disciplined, confident and calculating; Posey is a pure hitter.
RF Hunter Pence (R)
Plate discipline is lacking, and he doesn’t look pretty, but he still finds a way to drive in runs.
1B Brandon Belt (L)
The “Baby Giraffe” hit .254 before the break, .293 after it; only hit seven home runs in 411 at-bats.
LF Gregor Blanco (L)
Superb defender is a solid OBP guy but wears down when he plays every day.
SS Brandon Crawford (L)
Wasn’t even a finalist for the Gold Glove last season, which was a crock.
OF Andres Torres (S)
A year after trading him to Mets for Angel Pagan, Giants scooped him up again as a free agent.
INF Joaquin Arias (R)
Former top prospect hit .303 vs. left-handed pitching in his first season with the Giants.
C Hector Sanchez (S)
Caught 25 of Barry Zito’s 32 starts and 16 of Tim Lincecum’s 33, allowing Buster Posey’s legs to stay fresh.
1B Brett Pill (R)
Beat Clayton Kershaw with a two-run homer, but had arthroscopic knee surgery in March and will miss the start of the season.
OF Francisco Peguero (S)
Tooled-up and with a cannon arm, Peguero needs to get on base more to become an everyday player.
RH Matt Cain
His 14 strikeouts in a perfect game matched Sandy Koufax for the most all-time.
LH Madison Bumgarner
His 16 wins were most by a Giants lefty since Kirk Rueter in 1998.
RH Tim Lincecum
Delivery was a mess as he led NL in losses, runs allowed, earned runs, wild pitches; second in walks.
LH Barry Zito
Pivotal win in Game 5 of NLCS at St. Louis was his first in postseason since 2003 with A’s.
RH Ryan Vogelsong
Postseason ace (3–0, 1.09 ERA in ’12) has thrown 41 quality starts over last two regular seasons.
RH Sergio Romo (Closer)
Only Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Eric O’Flaherty posted a lower ERA among NL relievers.
LH Javier Lopez
Sidearm specialist held lefties to a .191 average and did not allow a hit in 3.0 postseason innings.
RH Santiago Casilla
Had a 1.82 ERA after Aug. 1 but didn’t regain closer role; saved 25 games total.
LH Jeremy Affeldt
Filthy curveball artist has thrown 42.2 consecutive innings without allowing a home run.
RH George Kontos
Made huge improvement stranding inherited runners, especially in playoffs.
RH Chad Gaudin
Is now pitching for his eighth franchise in last six seasons.
LH Jose Mijares
He had seven holds and a win after joining the Giants in early August.
It has been a billion-dollar makeover. The Dodgers have emerged from bankruptcy and the dark days of the McCourt ownership transformed into one of baseball’s heavyweights. Armed with deep-pocketed owners (and anticipating a multi-billion dollar windfall from the negotiation of a new TV rights deal), the Dodgers have taken on $600 million in salary commitments over the past year, trading for former All-Stars Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford in midseason then adding free-agent pitching prize Zack Greinke and top Korean lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu in the offseason. The midseason makeover did not take. The anticipated playoff push never materialized. Now the Dodgers will enter 2013 with the highest payroll in MLB history — and expectations to match.
The Dodgers pieced together a rotation for 2012 with low-cost signings of free agents Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano. The result was a 3.41 starters’ ERA that ranked second in the National League and third in the majors. That wasn’t good enough to secure a playoff spot, though, and the Dodgers made landing a top-tier starter their No. 1 offseason goal. Health issues with ace Clayton Kershaw (hip), Chad Billingsley (elbow) and Ted Lilly (recovering from shoulder surgery) made depth in the starting rotation a need as well. A commitment of over $200 million satisfied both goals as the Dodgers gave Greinke the second-largest contract ever given to a pitcher ($147 million over six years) and signed Ryu. The result could be one of the best 1-2 punches in any rotation (Kershaw and Greinke), uncommon depth (Billingsley, Ryu and Beckett), and potential trade chips to address other possible needs (Capuano, Harang and Lilly).
A deep bullpen was a Dodgers strength in 2012, and GM Ned Colletti did his best to put the band back together for 2013. Re-signing Brandon League was the first step. Acquired from the Mariners in July, League will open the season as the team’s closer. But the Dodgers have a hard-throwing option to step in if needed in Kenley Jansen (recovering from a surgical procedure to address recurring problems with an irregular heartbeat). J.P. Howell was signed as a free agent to fill the lefty specialist role.
The “best-case scenario,” manager Don Mattingly said during the offseason, is for Ramirez to be the Dodgers’ everyday shortstop in 2013. That will take a re-commitment to defense by Ramirez, who has not been known as the most focused and consistent performer in the field, or the hardest worker. That sounds great, but Ramirez tore a ligament in his thumb in spring training and will miss the first two months. So much for Ramirez taking over at short. When he returns, if Ramirez has to move to third base, Luis Cruz is the next option at shortstop. Second base figures to be shared by steady veteran Mark Ellis and Skip Schumaker, a versatile left-handed bat acquired from the Cardinals.
Not that long ago, Gonzalez was one of the most complete and consistent hitters in baseball. The Dodgers are hopeful that Gonzalez — sidetracked by the pressure and clubhouse drama that come with playing for the Red Sox — can once again provide a productive presence in the middle of their lineup. If Gonzalez does, he and Matt Kemp could form a 1-2 combo to rival other top duos like Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera in Detroit or the anticipated pairing of Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols in Anaheim. Third base is more of a question mark. The Dodgers hope Ramirez grabs hold of the shortstop position when he returns in June. If he does, Cruz gets first crack at being their everyday third baseman. The journeyman hit .297 with 40 RBIs in 78 games for the Dodgers last year and is the best of some unappealing options at third base. For now, Cruz will be the main man at short with Nick Punto filling in at third.
Kemp, Crawford and Andre Ethier might be the best outfield in baseball — if this were 2010. It isn’t, however, and the Dodgers are counting on a rebound to health by Kemp (offseason shoulder surgery) and Crawford (wrist and elbow surgeries in 2012) as well as bounce-back years overall from Crawford and Ethier to make this group worthy of the massive financial investment the Dodgers have made in them. Kemp is the best bet to live up to his potential. After a near-MVP season in 2011, Kemp was limited to 106 games in 2012 due to hamstring and shoulder injuries, and there is some concern that Kemp’s power could take time to return. If the rest of the Dodgers’ potentially potent lineup is productive, there won’t be as much pressure on Kemp. Crawford and Ethier are much more questionable commodities. Crawford was a complete bust with the Red Sox. Health issues were only part of his problem, and Crawford has a long way to go to rediscover the game that produced four All-Star selections and a Silver Slugger award with Tampa Bay. Ethier has become a flawed player since his All-Star selection in 2010, posting disturbing splits against left-handed pitching. That could be less of a problem with a much deeper lineup around him in 2013.
For all the headline-grabbing moves the Dodgers made last season, one of the most pleasant and valuable developments was the emergence of A.J. Ellis at age 31 as a rare commodity — an everyday catcher capable of contributing offensively. Ellis hit .270 with 13 home runs and a robust .374 on-base percentage that was critical in helping turn over a National League lineup. Defensively, he handled the Dodgers’ evolving staff well enough to have a catcher’s ERA of 3.31. The Dodgers are confident enough in Ellis’ ability to reproduce that performance in 2013 that they could stick with inexperienced Tim Federowicz as his backup.
The Dodgers added an important, versatile piece when they traded for Schumaker. He provides a left-handed bat off the bench capable of filling in for Kemp and Crawford in the outfield if they are not at full strength after 2012 surgeries (as well as providing balance at second base with the right-handed Ellis). The rest of the bench is an assortment of spare parts left over from last season — Jerry Hairston Jr., Juan Uribe, Punto and Federowicz, the backup catcher.
Has any GM in baseball weathered a wider swing in fortunes than Colletti over the past few years? Colletti has gone from needing to pinch pennies and make do with limited resources in the dying days of the McCourt era to the free-spending billionaire-backed days of the new ownership. But the high payroll and big investment made in these Dodgers have created high expectations that both Colletti and Mattingly will have to meet — or likely feel the heat.
The Dodgers will carry the highest payroll in baseball history during the 2013 season — and big bucks have not always brought big success for their predecessors among baseball’s biggest spenders. The Dodgers changed a third of their roster on the fly last season, adding a passel of former All-Stars. It remains to be seen how that group will play together, and health issues (with Crawford and Billingsley, in particular) could scuttle any progress made. Playing in the same division with the Giants (World Series champions in two of the past three seasons) also presents a large challenge. Given all that the Dodgers’ new owners have invested in the past year, however, anything short of a playoff spot and deep run into the postseason would have to rank as a disappointment.
LF Carl Crawford (L)
Dodgers are counting on combination of good health and escape from Boston to revive his career.
2B Mark Ellis (R)
Veteran second baseman came back after nearly losing leg from fluke injury in May.
CF Matt Kemp (R)
Talk of 50-50 season disappeared with injuries in 2012 — but massive potential remains intact.
1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)
Career .244 hitter at Dodger Stadium, second-lowest of any park in which he’s played (.236 at Tropicana Field).
RF Andre Ethier (L)
Has gone from foundation piece to flawed complementary player (poor lefty-righty splits) in matter of months.
SS Luis Cruz (R)
Feel-good story with breakout season in 2012 after 12 seasons in pro baseball with six organizations. Will spend the first two months at shortstop.
C A.J. Ellis (R)
One of only four catchers in NL last year to start at least 125 games (Buster Posey, Miguel Montero and Yadier Molina).
3B Nick Punto (S)
The solid defender will fill in at third as Cruz shifts to short while Hanley Ramirez recovers from a torn ligament in his thumb.
UT Jerry Hairston Jr. (R)
Played well in super-utility role last season until hip issue that led to surgery became problematic.
2B-OF Skip Schumaker (L)
Could see plenty of playing time as multi-position backup — and protégé of hitting coach Mark McGwire.
IF Juan Uribe (R)
Has hit .199/.262/.289 in first two years of misguided three-year, $21 million deal.
C Tim Federowicz (R)
Could head back to Triple-A if Dodgers sign a more experienced backup for Ellis.
UT Alex Castellanos (R)
Appeared in 16 games last season as a rookie, entering five times as a pinch-runner.
LH Clayton Kershaw
Young ace is 35–14 over past two seasons, lowest ERA and WHIP in NL each year.
RH Zack Greinke
$147 million man only 10th in wins (57), 24th in ERA (3.37) among starters since 2009. Elbow inflammation is a red flag.
RH Chad Billingsley
Offseason rehab and throwing program have put surgery for partially torn elbow ligament on hold — for now.
LH Hyun-Jin Ryu
Led Korean Baseball Organization in strikeouts five times in seven seasons — but will that translate to MLB?
RH Josh Beckett
ERA dropped from 5.23 with Red Sox to 2.93 as Dodger last season, but WHIP didn’t (1.33).
RH Brandon League (Closer)
Lost closer job in Seattle but finished season with one run, eight hits, 27 strikeouts in final 27.1 IP with Dodgers
RH Kenley Jansen
Has closer stuff and could be back in that role quickly if League’s Seattle struggles resurface.
RH Matt Guerrier
Veteran presence was lacking for much of 2012 due to elbow problems.
LH J.P. Howell
Held left-handed batters to a .200 batting average with the Rays in 2012.
LH Ted Lilly
Dodgers’ surplus of starting pitching could land a veteran like Lilly (recovering from shoulder surgery) in the pen.
RH Ronald Belisario
Struck out 69 last season and allowed just 47 hits.
RH Aaron Harang
Evidently, he’s still in the league.
General manager Kevin Towers was at his wheeler-dealer best again this offseason, and his acquisitions should return the Diamondbacks to contention in the NL West, the division they won in 2011 in his first full season on the job. Towers believes in pitching, and he added key pieces to the starting rotation and the back end of the bullpen, his area of greatest expertise. He also added offensive firepower and clubhouse chemistry in free agents Cody Ross, Eric Chavez, Eric Hinske, and trade acquisition Martin Prado. Combined with the holdovers, the D-backs appear to have all the ingredients for a bounce-back year.
Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley comprise the front three, with newcomer Brandon McCarthy penciled in as 3b. Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs, prospects obtained from the Los Angeles Angels in the Dan Haren 2010 deadline deal, and Randall Delgado acquired over the winter from Atlanta in the Justin Upton trade, competed for the fifth spot. Currently Corbin stands as the winner, although getting Skaggs regular starts at Triple-A is not a bad thing. Kennedy was fourth in the NL Cy Young Award balloting when he went 21–4 in 2011, but he lost some command of his fastball at times last season and fell to 15–12 as his ERA jumped from 2.88 to 4.02. Kennedy’s typical season probably lies somewhere in between. He has logged more than 200 innings in each of the last two seasons, and when he pounds the strike zone, his fastball-changeup combination can be very effective. Cahill also got to 200 innings in his first season with the D-backs and finished strong, winning four of his last five starts. Miley, the only lefthander in the top four, was the surprise of 2012, starting in the bullpen and finishing as a top candidate for the NL Rookie of the Year award. Miley commanded the strike zone — he averaged 1.7 walks per nine innings — and got early contact. McCarthy signed a two-year, $15.5 million free-agent deal shortly after the Winter Meetings. Like Cahill the year before, McCarthy will face the challenges of moving from a pitcher’s park in Oakland to a hitter’s park in Chase Field. McCarthy reinvented himself two years ago by throwing more two-seam fastballs, and that approach should play well in his new home. Corbin, Skaggs and Delgado should be fixtures in the rotation in the near future.
This is the strongest area of the team, and with it the D-backs should be able to shorten a lot of games. It starts at the very back with righthanders J.J. Putz, Heath Bell and David Hernandez. All three have closed games in pressure situations. Bell, who had three 40-plus save seasons in San Diego from 2009-11, was acquired in a three-team trade with Miami and Oakland early in the offseason. The pecking order entering spring training is set — Bell in the seventh inning, Hernandez in the eighth and Putz in the ninth. Putz lost some velocity when he toyed with a cut fastball early last season, but he junked that after six weeks and dominated from then on, finishing with 32 saves and a 2.82 ERA. Hernandez has 15 saves since joining the D-backs’ bullpen in 2011 as another Towers find and averaged 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings with his fastball/slider combination last season. Bell struggled after signing a $27 million free-agent deal with Miami, but the D-backs believe a change of scenery and a reunion with Towers will help. Strike-throwing submariner Brad Ziegler had the best season of his career in 2012, and his arm angle gives righties fit. Newcomers Tony Sipp and Matt Reynolds will give the D-backs two lefthanders for the first time in, well, forever. Sipp enjoyed good success against lefties in Cleveland last season. Long reliever Josh Collmenter pounds the strike zone with a high-80s mph fastball, a high-70s mph changeup and guts galore.
Aaron Hill may be the best two-way second baseman in the NL. He won the 2012 Silver Slugger Award by hitting a career-high .302 with 26 home runs and also showed great range on the fast track at Chase Field — especially to his right, where he made play after play on balls hit up the middle. Cliff Pennington was acquired from Oakland in the three-team trade that also landed Bell, and will open the season at shortstop.
Paul Goldschmidt took another step forward in his first full season in the majors in 2012, developing into the kind of guy a franchise could build around. With the bluest of blue-collar attitudes, Goldschmidt hit .286 with 20 home runs, 43 doubles and 82 RBIs while playing a solid first base. He has power to all fields, and it would not be a surprise to see more of those doubles turn into homers as he continues to learn pitchers and counts. As tough as it was to trade Upton, getting a player like Prado should pay huge dividends. He can play several positions well having started at four different positions at one point last season in four consecutive games. He is a proven .300 hitter and terrific in the clubhouse.
Jason Kubel led the D-backs with 30 homers and 90 RBIs in his first season in Arizona, and his 14 outfield assists also led the team. Ross, who was the NLCS MVP with San Francisco in 2010, signed a three-year $26 million free-agent deal to add an experienced hand in center field after the trade of Chris Young to Oakland. Gerardo Parra, who spent much of 2012 as the fourth outfielder returns as a starter. The former Gold Glove winner has a tremendous arm in right field and can be disruptive on the base paths.
Miguel Montero signed a five-year, $60 million contract extension two months into 2012, and the big-money deal already appears to be a bargain for the D-backs. Montero followed his All-Star 2011 season by hitting .286 with 15 home runs and 88 RBIs. His bat is hardly his only weapon. Montero threw out 42 percent of the runners who attempted to steal on him last season, and his 41 percent success rate is the best in the majors the last two years. He is an upbeat clubhouse presence, and when he talks, pitchers listen.
Towers made a concerted effort to improve this area and signed several of the players he targeted, including left-handed bats Chavez and Hinske and reserve catcher Wil Nieves. Chavez and Hinske provide quality pinch-hit and designated hitter options, and Chavez could be part of a platoon, playing third base and allowing Prado to move to the outfield on occasion. All three bring the clubhouse presence that Towers has made a priority during his tenure. Willie Bloomquist was the starting shortstop on the 2011 NL West title team, and he can play just about anywhere after seeing his first career action at third base in 2012. He’ll nurse a oblique injury to start the season. Outfielder Tony Campana can’t seem to land a starting gig, but in limited action last year, the left-handed hitting speedster swiped a team-high 30 bases for the Cubs.
Managing partner Ken Kendrick and president/CEO Derrick Hall have opened the purse strings, green-lighting a $95 million budget for the 40-man roster, a number Towers reached when he signed Ross. Towers must feel like he won the lottery — his budgets in San Diego were routinely half of what he has this season. The D-backs had their largest attendance in the last four years in 2012, but that is less a driving force on the increased payroll than a determination to put a winning product on the field.
The under-appreciated NL West will only get more difficult, with the Giants building on the momentum of two World Series championships in the last three seasons and the Dodgers now able to spend freely under new management and a new TV deal. The D-backs under manager Kirk Gibson will never give an inch, however, and they believe they have the nucleus to reprise 2011, when they won 94 games and the division.
CF Cody Ross (R)
The MVP of the 2010 NLCS with the Giants, he is back in the NL after a year with the dysfunctional Red Sox. A strained calf may keep him on the shelf for the first week of the season.
3B Martin Prado (R)
Career .295 hitter has carried an average of .300 or better in four of the last five seasons.
2B Aaron Hill (R)
A perfect fit in Chase Field, Hill set a career high with 76 extra-base hits in his first full season in Arizona.
C Miguel Montero (L)
Has blossomed into one of the elite two-way catchers in the game with regular use the last two seasons.
1B Paul Goldschmidt (R)
All you need to know about his acuity — he tagged up from first and took second on a 45-foot foul-out to the catcher.
LF Jason Kubel (L)
He had a triple-double — 30 homers, 90 RBIs, 14 outfield assists — in his first season with the D-backs.
RF Gerardo Parra (L)
A 2011 Gold Glove winner owns one of the best arms in baseball.
SS Cliff Pennington (S)
He had 58 stolen bases in three seasons as an Oakland regular; can play both middle infield positions.
3B Eric Chavez (L)
Hit 16 home runs in part-time duty with the Yankees last season and made playoff starts ahead of A-Rod.
UT Eric Hinske (L)
Valuable member of four playoff teams — the Red Sox, Rays, Yankees and Braves.
UT Willie Bloomquist (R)
Always in high gear; the D-backs see him as a perfect handyman at three infield spots and as a pinch-hitter/runner. An oblique strain will cost him at least a week and could be more serious.
C Wil Nieves (R)
A quality defender and clubhouse presence; his two-month stint in 2012 earned him a return date.
OF Tony Campana (L)
A basestealing wonder who can’t seem to find a place in the starting lineup. May be pushed aside when promising rookie Adam Eaton is ready to return from elbow sprain he sustained in spring training.
RH Ian Kennedy
The top winner in the National League with 36 victories the last two seasons (21 and 15).
RH Trevor Cahill
Already with 53 victories in 128 starts, Cahill does not turn 25 until early in spring training.
RH Brandon McCarthy
Back to full function after suffering a brain contusion and skull fracture when struck by a line drive Sept. 5.
LH Wade Miley
Turned the corner in his first full season in 2012 by throwing strikes and pitching to contact.
LH Patrick Corbin
Used both in the bullpen and the rotation in his rookie season, averaged only 2.1 walks per nine innings.
RH J.J. Putz (Closer)
Was his dominant self the final four-plus months of 2012; has 77 saves and a 2.48 ERA in two seasons in Arizona.
RH David Hernandez
A mid-90s fastball and a slurvey breaking ball he can throw in the 80-85 mph range give hitters pause.
RH Heath Bell
Jerked around in Miami when his closer’s role was taken away early; a return to the NL West should help.
RH Brad Ziegler
Continued to holds righties at bay and made a sharp improvement in success against lefties in 2011.
LH Tony Sipp
A workhorse who had 202 appearances and 51 holds the last three seasons in Cleveland.
LH Matt Reynolds
After 144 appearances the last two seasons in Colorado, should benefit from a change of venue.
RH Josh Collmenter
He brings an 87-mph fastball, a 73-mph changeup and a Michigan woods full of smarts and guts.
The Rockies will try to rise from the ruins of a 98-loss season, the worst in franchise history, and steer a new course under manager Walt Weiss. A popular, heady shortstop for four seasons with the Rockies and later a special assistant to general manager Dan O’Dowd for seven years, Weiss was coaching a high school baseball team in the Denver area when the Rockies reached out to him after manager Jim Tracy surprisingly resigned and walked away from $1.4 million. Tracy saw his job being marginalized when Bill Geivett was given the title of senior vice president of major league operations in August with a desk in a conference room adjacent to Tracy’s office. Those dynamics won’t deter Weiss, eager for the opportunity and in no position to quibble about workplace conditions having never coached or managed at the professional level. Weiss will bring honesty and toughness to his new role and will try to create an environment where the players respect and trust each other and, consequently, the greater good reigns. Chemistry, esprit de corps and a harmonious clubhouse matter, of course, but the Rockies need better starting pitching to make any meaningful progress. The Rockies’ 5.22 ERA was the worst in the majors. Their starters went 29–68 with a big-league high 5.81 ERA last season and at Coors Field were 17–33 with a 6.70 ERA. The Rockies rotation should be healthier and hence better this season. But the depth is questionable, and notable improvement is needed from young starters Drew Pomeranz, Christian Friedrich and Tyler Chatwood.
Injuries marred last season for lefthander Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Juan Nicasio, which forced the Rockies to rely too heavily on inexperienced youngsters. De La Rosa, who underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2011, finally returned to the Rockies last September but went 0–2 with a 9.28 ERA in three starts and was understandably inconsistent. After his August return, Chacin pitched well in his final nine starts, but that was after spending more than three-and-a-half months on the disabled list with an irritated nerve in his pectoral muscle. Nicasio, who is less experienced than De La Rosa or Chacin, suffered a season-ending knee injury in early June. Lefthander Jeff Francis, 32, is a veteran who provides depth at the back of the rotation but must have precise location at this point to succeed. With none of the youngsters seizing the fifth spot, the Rockies turned to veteran Jo Garland, who spent most of the spring with Seattle. Almost immediately after his release from the Mariners, Colorado pounced. He brings a badly needed veteran presence. Josh Outman, Pomeranz, Friedrich and Chatwood will contend for a spot in the rotation at some point this season.
As protection against a decline by closer Rafael Betancourt, who will turn 38 in late April, the Rockies acquired Wilton Lopez, who will give the team another late-inning weapon and help Matt Belisle and lefthander Rex Brothers in the setup role. Lefthander Adam Ottavino should have a significant role in middle relief and veteran Chris Volstad will eat innings in long relief.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hits cleanup and can make a huge impact on offense and defense, provided he can stay on the field. That wasn’t the case last year. Tulowitzki played only 47 games, none after May 30 due to a strained left groin that required surgery. A healthy Tulowitzki can go a long way toward improving the Rockies’ defense, which was shaky last season, particularly on the left side of the infield. Josh Rutledge made an immediate offensive impact when called up from Double-A Tulsa to play shortstop at the All-Star break but then tailed off. He also made seven starts at second base, where he will play with Tulowitzki back.
First baseman Todd Helton, who turns 40 in August, is expected back for his final season after playing in only 69 games due to a labrum tear in his right hip that eventually required season-ending surgery in August. If he’s healthy, the Rockies can count on Helton for stellar defense and a decent on-base percentage but not much run production at this point. Jordan Pacheco and Chris Nelson both hit better than .300 last season but provide little power and ordinary defense (at best) at third base. Newcomer Ryan Wheeler will challenge for playing time at third as well.
Left fielder Carlos Gonzalez is a plus defender and a solid No. 3 hitter who still had a very productive season despite not having Tulowitzki protecting him for the final four months. Center fielder Dexter Fowler had a breakthrough season on offense, hitting .300 with a .389 on-base percentage and 42 extra-base hits, and has the plus range needed in expansive Coors Field. Right fielder Michael Cuddyer, limited to two starts after July 31 by a right oblique strain, was terrific as advertised in the clubhouse but did not produce as much as expected on the field.
Wilin Rosario had a superb rookie season on offense, setting club records for a catcher with 28 homers and 71 RBIs, but his receiving skills were very shoddy as he led big-league catchers in passed balls (21) and errors (13). Rosario played more than expected because of injuries to Ramon Hernandez, who turns 37 in May and is now a $3.2 million backup.
Tyler Colvin can play all three outfield positions and first base, where he and Cuddyer can spell Helton. Colvin hits for power — 18 homers and an .858 OPS last year — but strikes out too often (117 times, or once every 3.6 at-bats last year). Eric Young Jr. has worked hard to become an acceptable corner outfielder who can make a difference offensively with his speed and energy. Injuries limited Hernandez to 52 games, including 45 starts at catcher, where he has declined. Reid Brignac can play multiple positions, but doesn’t have much pop in his bat.
The Rockies showed a willingness to experiment, instituting two notable changes last year, one short-lived. With an eye toward overcoming the inherent challenges at Coors Field, the Rockies switched to a four-man rotation with a limit of 75-80 pitches in mid-June. However, they abandoned that plan two months later because the pitchers, too cognizant of pitch counts, were not efficient and were able to do less work between starts. And on Aug. 1, Geivett was given the title of senior vice president of major league operations. O’Dowd retains final say over trades but will focus more on scouting and player development. The Rockies have had little success developing starting pitchers they’ve drafted, a reason Mark Wiley was hired to oversee pitching throughout the organization.
Injuries last season enabled several young position players to gain experience. But of that group, only Rosario at catcher seems to be a future everyday player capable of making an impact, and that’s provided his defense improves markedly. The young starting pitchers were generally overmatched and looked to scouts like future No. 4 or No. 5 starters. Weiss seems capable of growing into the job of manager. But this offseason the Rockies have been outspent and outmaneuvered by their NL West foes. This team can improve with better health, particularly from starting pitchers De La Rosa, Chacin and Nicasio. But how much of a load can those three shoulder as they come back from injuries? A breakthrough from a young starter would help. Regardless, the rotation lacks certainty, making another losing season likely.
CF Dexter Fowler (S)
Hit .315 with .395 OPS and .462 slugging percentage right-handed and .293/.387/.479 left-handed.
2B Josh Rutledge (R)
Third-round pick in 2010 showed some decent power in his first season in the big leagues.
LF Carlos Gonzalez (L)
Hit .330 with 17 homers before All-Star break and .261 with five homers after the break.
SS Troy Tulowitzki (R)
On a nine-game hitting streak, was 14-for-36 (.389) with four homers and four doubles when his season ended May 30.
RF Michael Cuddyer (R)
Despite the benefits of Coors Field, his .317 OBP was his lowest for any season spent primarily in the majors.
1B Todd Helton (L)
Played in a career-low 69 games due to a hip problem that required season-ending surgery Aug. 10.
C Wilin Rosario (R)
.530 slugging was highest by rookie catcher in majors since Mike Piazza (.561) set all-time rookie catcher mark in 1993.
3B Chris Nelson (R)
OPS was .881 in 180 at-bats after All-Star break compared to .733 in 165 at-bats before break.
OF Tyler Colvin (L)
Played all three outfield positions and first base and hit everywhere in the lineup except eighth and ninth.
OF Eric Young Jr. (S)
Hit .420 with three homers and 15 runs scored in 19 games before season-ending rib muscle injury Aug. 19.
C Ramon Hernandez (R)
Hit four homers in 49 at-bats through April 27 and one homer in final 135 at-bats rest of season.
3B Jordan Pacheco (R)
First NL rookie to finish in top five in batting since Greg Gross (third) and Bill Madlock (fifth) in 1974.
UT Reid Brignac (L)
Hit just .185 in 270 at-bats over the past two seasons with Tampa Bay.
RH Jhoulys Chacin
Came off DL on Aug. 21 and went 3–2 with 2.84 ERA in final nine starts.
LH Jorge De La Rosa
Made first of three starts for Rockies on Sept. 20 following slow comeback from June 2011 Tommy John surgery.
RH Juan Nicasio
Struck out 54 in 59 innings pitched prior to injury to his kneecap in 2012.
LH Jeff Francis
Went 3–2 with 4.97 ERA in first 10 starts and 3–5 with 6.06 ERA in final 14.
RH Jon Garland
Veteran spent almost all of spring training with Seattle before his release and immediate signing with the Rockies.
RH Rafael Betancourt (Closer)
In first full season as closer, blew seven saves but finished with 31, tied for fourth-highest total in club history.
RH Wilton Lopez
Went 10-for-12 in save opportunities while serving as the Astros’ closer in final two months of 2012.
LH Rex Brothers
Led the Rockies with eight wins and an average of 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings.
RH Matt Belisle
Wore down after All-Star break with 6.21 ERA and .317 opponents batting average.
RH Adam Ottavino
Finished third on the team with 81 strikeouts, trailing only reliever Rex Brothers and starter Drew Pomeranz (83).
RH Edgmer Escalona
He struggled in 22 games last season, but is out of options and had a strong spring.
RH Chris Volstad
With 123 starts and only one relief appearance in his career, he’ll begin the season as the long man.
Back in December, Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney introduced Jim Deshaies as the team’s new television analyst and said he would be “the guy who will call the next World Series team for the Cubs.” The last guy to call a World Series team for the Cubs was…well…no one. The Cubs’ first televised game was in 1946, and the team was last in the World Series in 1945. The Cubs haven’t been to a World Series in more than 65 years, haven’t won a World Series in more than a century, lost 101 games in 2012 and made offseason moves that were patchwork for another season of rebuilding. So fans might be forgiven for saying the usual “Wait ’til next year’’ before the season even begins. The second year of the Theo Epstein Era could be similar to the first, with promising players taking their lumps and marginally talented veterans filling up roster spots. Epstein promised the turnaround process would take time and asked fans to show patience. But the resolve of even the most patient Cubs fans was tested last year as the franchise lost 100 games for only the third time ever.
Last year the Cubs opened the season with Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm in the rotation. They ended the season with Justin Germano, Chris Rusin, Jason Berken, Volstad, and Travis Wood. Samardzija threw the most innings (174.2) and was shut down in early September. He could become the ace of the staff. Garza, who was supposed to be traded last offseason and again during the season, suffered an elbow injury a few weeks before the trading deadline and is back to give the rotation some stability. The healthier he gets, the hotter the trade rumors will get. Shortly before Christmas, the Cubs agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal with Edwin Jackson and a two-year, $10 million pact with Carlos Villanueva. Jackson went 10–11 with a 4.03 ERA with the Nationals in 2012. Travis Wood and Scott Feldman seem to have locked up spots in the rotation. Villanueva will have a place at least until Garza returns. It will be interesting to see how Scott Baker, coming off Tommy John surgery last summer, will figure in as the season progresses. He won 38 games for Minnesota from 2008-10.
The Cubs nearly traded closer Carlos Marmol in the offseason. He can either be unhittable or wild. His 11.7 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio is impressive, but his 7.3 walks-per-nine-innings ratio is alarming. Marmol was demoted for a few weeks last May. If that happens again, expect Kyuji Fujikawa, a Japanese import signed to a two-year deal in December, to slide into the closer’s role. Fujikawa posted dominant numbers in the last six seasons as the closer for Hanshin. He had 202 saves with a 1.36 ERA and a 0.855 WHIP. Southpaw James Russell and righthander Michael Bowden could become valuable setup men.
While many people in baseball believe shortstop Starlin Castro and second baseman Darwin Barney will occupy the Cubs’ middle infield for years to come, there are others who believe that minor leaguer Javier Baez is the team’s shortstop of the future because of his superior defense. Castro is erratic, but he and Barney, a 2012 Gold Glove winner, will team together for another year at least. Castro is a gifted offensive player who led the Cubs in hits for the second year in a row. Barney, the Cubs’ fourth-round pick in 2007, needs to improve his .254 average. He hit .303 in Wrigley Field but only .206 on the road.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Ian Stewart are on the opposite ends of the offensive spectrum. Rizzo is an up-and-coming player who many in the organization believe has All-Star potential. Epstein and his lieutenants drafted Rizzo when they were with the Red Sox. Current Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer dealt for Rizzo while he was an executive with San Diego. Then Hoyer joined the Cubs and acquired Rizzo once again. The left-handed hitter showed some power (15 home runs in 337 at-bats) and hit for average (.285) in a half season with the Cubs. Can he keep it up during a full season? This is the year to find out. Between stints on the DL, Stewart hit .201 in 179 at-bats in his first year with the club after hitting .156 in an injury-filled season with Colorado in 2011. Stewart signed a one-year deal in December to remain with the Cubs. But the injury bug has struck once again as Stewart is dealing with a strained quad. Luis Valbuena and Brent Lillibridge will share the position until Stewart is proven healthy and productive.
Left fielder Alfonso Soriano had one of his best seasons as a Cub, hitting .262 with team highs in homers (32), RBIs (108), doubles (33) and total bases (280). He has two more years remaining on his contract, and current management would love to move him and dump his large salary. But as long as there are no takers, Soriano will return and should provide a solid bat, improved defense and veteran leadership. Steady David DeJesus will likely man center field again after moving over to right when rookie Brett Jackson was promoted. Jackson struggled in the big leagues, and it’s doubtful he’ll open the season as a starting outfielder. DeJesus led off and had a team-high 61 walks. His seven stolen bases were third on the team. The Opening Day right fielder could be left-handed hitting newcomer Nate Schierholtz, who has a career average of .270 in six seasons with San Francisco and Philadelphia. He, like Soriano, has a cannon for an arm, and the two should make baserunners think twice about taking that extra base.
With just 63 games under his belt, Welington Castillo will be given the nod as the Cubs’ starting catcher. Last year, in his first significant action in the majors, Castillo hit .265 in 170 at-bats with 51 strikeouts. He is regarded as an outstanding defensive player. If he can just hit a little, he will be a more-than-adequate replacement for Geovany Soto, who was traded last season.
Outfielder Dave Sappelt showed some hitting and speed in a brief stint with the Cubs and could make a case to stick around. Backup catcher Steve Clevenger, a left-handed hitter, has hit .309 in 548 games in the minors but just .202 in his first 71 big-league games and could share backup duties behind the plate with Dioner Navarro. Clevenger can play first and maybe even some third if his bat comes to life. Valbuena filled in when Stewart was hurt last year. He didn’t impress with the bat but was a good fielder. Scott Hairston and Brent Lillibridge bring experience and versatility to the bench.
Epstein cleaned house in his first year with the Cubs. With all of the changes comes an adjustment period — which will require patience from the long-suffering fans. Epstein didn’t get it done with the Red Sox overnight, but he eventually delivered two World Series crowns to the city. His plan is to stock the minor league system with valuable assets. It figures to pay off in the long run, but the struggles in the short term will continue.
The offseason moves were underwhelming. It’s pretty clear there will not be a quick fix. But there is hope that the Cubs will be an improved team in 2013. The starting pitching should be better, and the lineup has some potential if Rizzo develops into a consistent producer and Soriano continues to deliver. There have been times in the not-so-distant past — 1998, 2003 and 2007 — when the Cubs have stunned the baseball world by making the playoffs the season after winning fewer than 70 games. There aren’t, however, many signs pointing in that direction for 2013.
CF David DeJesus (L)
Will become a more effective leadoff man if he can improve against lefties (.149 last year).
SS Starlin Castro (R)
Proven hitter for average — .297 in three full seasons — but is probably a better fit for a No.2 hitter than No.3.
1B Anthony Rizzo (L)
Hit .338 with runners in scoring position in his first run with the Cubs last year.
LF Alfonso Soriano (R)
Slugged .499, hit 32 homers and drove in 108 runs in ’12. Will continue to be shopped.
RF Nate Schierholtz (L)
Was known as “Nate the Great” with Giants. Ready to rebound after a toe injury hampered him last August.
3B Ian Stewart (L)
Hoping back-to-back nightmare seasons at the plate — and in the health department — are behind him. But a strained quad has sent him to the DL.
C Welington Castillo (R)
Solid defensive tools for a player who could be around awhile if his offense develops.
2B Darwin Barney (R)
Already has a Gold Glove under his belt. Has the tools to be a solid No. 2 hitter eventually.
IF Luis Valbuena (L)
He’s an ideal candidate as a late-inning replacement; good glove but light bat (.219 in 2012), but will fill in at third until Stewart gets healthy.
C-1B Steve Clevenger (L)
Will be challenged by Dioner Navarro for the backup backstop position in spring training.
C Dioner Navarro (S)
Has just 369 at-bats over last three seasons total.
OF Dave Sappelt (R)
Could grab the final spot on the roster if prospect Brett Jackson is shipped back to Class AAA.
OF Scott Hairston (R)
Utility player will get lots of at-bats, especially against left-handed pitching.
UT Brent Lillibridge (R)
If he shows he can offer anything offensively, the valuable defender can keep a job.
RH Jeff Samardzija
Impressed in his first extended time as a big-league starter and led the club with 180 strikeouts.
RH Matt Garza
Could be dealt if he bounces back from elbow injury; has a 15–17 record in two seasons with the Cubs. Strained lat will keep him out for at least the first few weeks.
RH Edwin Jackson
Has been on eight teams since 2003 but picked up the long-term contract he’s been seeking with the Cubs.
RH Scott Feldman
Had a 5.00-plus ERA in 2010 and 2012 for Texas and is now looking for success in the National League.
LH Travis Wood
Second on the team with 14 quality starts last year, but will have to fight to win the final rotation spot.
RH Carlos Marmol (Closer)
Will enter the season as the Cubs closer, but don’t be surprised if the team shops him aggressively.
RH Kyuji Fujikawa
Will open the season as a setup man, but has the tools to close. Put up dominant numbers in Japan.
RH Shawn Camp
Had six losses but led the squad with 18 holds last year; tied for the NL lead with 80 appearances.
RH Carlos Villanueva
Has valuable experience as both a starter and reliever; a strong spring could vault him into the rotation. Should fill in for Garza in the rotation.
LH James Russell
Seven wins and a 3.25 ERA in 2012 gives him an edge as the top left-handed setup man in 2013.
RH Michael Bowden
Had a 2.95 ERA with the Cubs in 30 appearances after a long stint with Class AAA Iowa.
RH Hector Rondon
Rule 5 pick should spend the summer eating lots of innings in Chicago.
The Reds dove head-first into the 2012 season determined to make a run at more than just the NL Central division when they traded away Edinson Volquez and two prospects to acquire starting pitcher Mat Latos. That run might have fallen short in a five-game loss to eventual World Series champion San Francisco in the divisional series, but it showed the organization that it isn’t far away. As was the case last offseason, general manager Walt Jocketty didn’t hesitate to make another significant trade. He acquired outfielder Shin-Soo Choo from Cleveland in a three-team exchange that sent center fielder Drew Stubbs to the Indians and minor league shortstop Didi Gregorious to Arizona. Jocketty strengthened a club deficiency by parting ways with talented players who weren’t going to fit into Cincinnati’s future plans. The Reds struggled with their 1-2 hitters last year, but Choo’s presence in the leadoff spot followed by Brandon Phillips should solidify the batting order and provide plenty of opportunities for Joey Votto, Ryan Ludwick and Jay Bruce to drive in runs, especially at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.
This is a maturing group that could be as good as any rotation in the majors for the next few years. Only Bronson Arroyo (36) will be older than 27 during the season. Johnny Cueto was a Cy Young candidate last season, and Latos went 9–2 with a 2.43 ERA over his final 19 starts. Homer Bailey set career highs for wins (13), starts (33), quality starts (21), innings (208) and strikeouts (168). No NL starter has more wins, starts or innings pitched since 2006 than Arroyo. With the experiement to move closer Aroldis Chapman into the rotation now ended, Mike Leake is back in. Leake, the team’s first-round pick in 2008, started 30 games last season and threw 179.0 innings.
Chapman proved to be one of the best closers in the game last season with 38 saves and 122 strikeouts in just 71.2 innings. Aside from a second lefthander to go along with Sean Marshall, the bullpen has plenty of pieces. Jonathan Broxton, who has 111 career saves, is the primary setup man. Marshall, signed through 2015, started last season as the closer but was moved into a setup role as Chapman emerged and excelled in that role. Jose Arredondo had 66 appearances for a bullpen group that led the majors in ERA (2.65) and saves (56) and led the NL in opponents’ batting average (.219). Arredondo seemed to tire down the stretch and wasn’t as effective late in the year. J.J. Hoover, acquired in a trade with Atlanta last April, has closer-type potential and could provide valuable innings that Nick Masset was slated to handle last year before a spring training injury sidelined him. Masset had shoulder surgery in September, and his availability for the start of this season is unknown. The Reds aren’t going to wait around for him. Sam LeCure, once seen as a potential No. 5 starter, has found his niche as a long reliever who can be counted on in tight situations. He allowed just two hits over his final 10 appearances last season as he set a career-high with 48 games. Manny Parra, a member of Milwaukee’s starting rotation for three seasons, has found a home in the bullpen.
Phillips did everything but win the Gold Glove last season, while Zack Cozart became the first rookie to start at short for the Reds on Opening Day since 1971. His development made Gregorious expendable. Cozart showed good power with 33 doubles and 15 home runs, but his .246 average was a detriment at the leadoff spot. He’ll hit down in the order this season. Phillips was the team’s MVP. He’s versatile enough to hit in any spot in the order — an ability similar to what Barry Larkin showed in his playing days for the Reds — but should settle into the No. 2 hole behind Choo and in front of Votto. Phillips and the Reds agreed on a six-year extension last season in part because he’s grown from a highlight-reel defensive player into an all-around threat.
Votto missed 48 games with a knee injury and didn’t have the same pop in his bat when he returned in September, but he was still respected enough that he managed a .474 on-base percentage, 94 walks and 18 intentional walks. He hit .337 with 44 doubles but just 14 home runs and 56 RBIs. Better production at the top of the lineup and a return to full health should make Votto an MVP candidate. Todd Frazier takes over the everyday duties at third for Scott Rolen after being a fill-in at multiple positions last season when he was third in NL Rookie of the Year balloting. There will be more pressure on Frazier to produce this season now that he has a starting role. Last season, he was the guy everyone wanted to see more of in the lineup. Those people will get their wish this season.
Bruce is a two-time All-Star and will be just 26 this season. He improved on his consistency, going through fewer lulls at the plate, and increased his home run total (34) for the fifth straight season. He finished with 99 RBIs. Choo will be playing center field on an everyday basis for the first time in his career, but the smaller dimensions of Great American Ball Park should make that an easier transition than it might sound. Ludwick found his groove in the second half of last season and carried it right through the postseason, earning a two-year deal. He finished with 26 homers and 80 RBIs, including hitting .421 with runners in scoring position over his final 57 chances. He has legitimate power to be the cleanup hitter and provide protection for Votto in the lineup. If this threesome has any major weakness, it would be defensively, especially in center.
Devin Mesoraco might be the catcher of the future, but Ryan Hanigan is still the catcher of the present. He’s got great rapport with the pitching staff (3.05 ERA with him behind the plate), throws extremely well and handles the bat admirably. He hit .274 mostly batting in the No. 8 hole. Mesoraco got plenty of experience last season but didn’t see much action down the stretch. He hit only .212 with five home runs and 14 RBIs.
The Reds will be more versatile off the bench this season. Chris Heisey can play all three outfield spots and gives some speed and power. Xavier Paul found a niche as a left-handed bat, something missing for much of last season. Infielder Jack Hannahan was signed as a free agent from Cleveland and provides another left-handed bat and can play first and third. Infielder Jason Donald was also part of the Choo deal and will give the Reds depth in the middle of the defense.
Owner Bob Castellini has set winning as a priority, and the entire organization follows his lead. Jocketty identified the team’s needs and addressed them by re-signing Ludwick, trading for Choo and signing Hannahan. Manager Dusty Baker signed an extension through 2014 late last season. He’s criticized for a constant shuffling of the lineup, but his formula keeps players fresh, and players respond well to his style.
The Reds are on the short list of contenders to win the World Series. The starting pitching is coming into its own, especially if Bailey continues the maturity and development he showed last season. This is a strong defensive team, even with the loss of Stubbs, and the lineup has the potential to be as good as any in the majors.
CF Shin-Soo Choo (L)
Career .289 hitter will provide decent pop in center field; had 43 doubles and 16 HRs with Cleveland last season.
2B Brandon Phillips (R)
Had 52 multi-hit games to lead club while batting leadoff (28 games), third (43 games) and fourth (73 games).
1B Joey Votto (L)
Led Reds in OBP for third straight season, joining Joe Morgan as only player to accomplish the feat.
LF Ryan Ludwick (R)
Hit .313 with 21 doubles, 18 home runs, 53 RBIs in his last 80 games, securing his spot in the everyday lineup.
RF Jay Bruce (L)
Joined Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera as only players with at least 34 homers, 35 doubles and 99 RBIs.
3B Todd Frazier (R)
Won Players Choice Award as the NL’s outstanding Rookie after ranking in the top 10 among rookies in BA, HR, RBIs.
SS Zack Cozart (R)
Became one of four shortstops in franchise history to have 30 doubles and 15 home runs in a season.
C Ryan Hanigan (R)
Caught 11 of the 12 shutouts by the pitchers and six of nine complete games by starters.
C Devin Mesoraco (R)
Optioned to Class AAA in August before returning in September, making just two appearances the rest of the way.
OF Chris Heisey (R)
Started 80 games and received the team’s Heart & Hustle Award for his passionate play.
OF Xavier Paul (L)
Found his niche as a pinch-hitter after July call-up, hitting .314 in 55 games for Reds.
IF Jack Hannahan (L)
Experienced at all four infield spots, primarily at third base and first base, but has had lingering back issues.
IF Jason Donald (R)
Has yet to have a full season in the big leagues but has versatility to play third base, second base and shortstop.
RH Johnny Cueto
Cy Young candidate also helped himself at plate with 17 sacrifices, tying Philadelphia’s Juan Pierre for NL lead.
RH Mat Latos
Has already made 105 starts before his 25th birthday,
including 30-plus each of last three seasons.
RH Bronson Arroyo
Has thrown 200 or more innings seven of last eight
seasons. The one season he didn’t, he had 199 innings.
RH Homer Bailey
Finally finding consistency to match first-round talent. Won four starts in a row last July for first time in career.
RH Mike Leake
Was odd man out with Chapman in rotation but has earned his way back in the rotation with Chapman closing.
LH Aroldis Chapman (Closer)
Got a long look as a starter, but with a week or so to go before the season, was moved back into the closer’s role.
RH Jonathan Broxton
Saved all four chances he got when Chapman was out with shoulder soreness in September.
RH Jose Arredondo
Had a career-high 66 appearances last season with 62 strikeouts, also a career best.
RH J.J. Hoover
Allowed 17 hits in 30.2 innings over two stints with Reds,
including 0.71 ERA in final 11 appearances.
LH Sean Marshall
Didn’t allow an earned run in his final 15 appearances of the season or any runs in final 13 games.
RH Sam LeCure
Set a career high with 48 appearances, including throwing at least 2.0 innings 12 times.
LH Manny Parra
A former starter with the Brewers, he held lefties to a .229 average in 62 games in relief last season.
It will all come down to pitching. Heard that one before, Brewers fans? Offensively, Milwaukee has a versatile and explosive lineup built to contend right now. The Brewers led the National League in runs, home runs and stolen bases a year ago, and every regular returns in 2013. So while Bernie Brewer should be plenty busy again this year, the hope is that the bullpen phone won’t ring so much. The team took a major step in improving the rotation while hopefully lessening the load on the bullpen with the signing of Kyle Lohse late in spring training. He and Yovani Gallardo are the only proven winners in the starting rotation, and the bullpen, though largely remade, was arguably the worst in the majors last year.
In Gallardo and Lohse, the Brewers boast two aces at the top of the rotation. Gallardo is a workhorse who almost always keeps his team in the game and can be counted on to be among the league leaders in strikeouts. He has started three consecutive Opening Days, and there’s zero doubt that he’ll again anchor Milwaukee’s rotation. Just how soon Lohse will be ready this season is a question, given that he signed on March 26, just six days prior to the Brewers’ first game. A victim of a shrinking free agent market, the 34-year-old inked a three-year deal for $33 million. Lohse has been a double-digit winner just five times in his 12-year career, but was 30-11 with a 3.11 ERA in just under 400 innings for the Cardinals over the past two seasons. He will offer a huge boost to the rotation. However, the contract may not look so good in 2015. The big question is, who will follow them? Veterans Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson, both of whom have pitched well in starting roles in the past, are the third and fourth starters. Both missed time with injury last year (Estrada missed a month with a quad strain; Narveson was out nearly the whole year with a torn rotator cuff) and both have experience pitching out of the bullpen, so manager Ron Roenicke may opt to put one or both of them there to solidify a shaky relief corps. Mike Fiers was surprisingly effective over his first 16 starts (8–6, 2.85), but seemed to tire as he faltered down the stretch (1–4, 7.09 in last six starts). Mark Rogers, a former No. 1 draft pick who saw his ascent slowed by injuries, finally got his chance and pitched well, striking out 41 in 39 innings. Big Wily Peralta, the organization’s top pitching prospect, threw well in his first big-league stint late last year (2–1, 2.48). He’ll get a shot at some point this season.
There’s nowhere to go but up. Brewer firemen had a bad habit of starting more infernos than they extinguished for a significant stretch of 2012, dooming any chance Milwaukee would return to the postseason for a second consecutive year. The good news is that flame-throwing closer John Axford seemed to fix his problems late in the year (converting 17 of his final 18 save opportunities), and just about all the other arsonists are gone. After toiling in the minor leagues for 10 years, Jim Henderson finally made it to The Show in 2012 and pitched well enough that he’ll be the set-up man for Axford. Brandon Kintzler, another late-season addition, will also get plenty of late-inning work. Lefties in the bullpen have been a rarity in recent years, but the Brewers picked up two from the Washington Nationals in the offseason, Tom Gorzelanny and Mike Gonzalez. So, the Brewers return the closer who led the majors in blown saves and everybody else is either new or relatively unproven. A recipe for success?
Milwaukee’s middle infield promises to be one of the most dynamic in the National League. At second, Rickie Weeks worked hard to dig himself out of a major early-season hole (raising his average from .190 to .230 by hitting .282 over his final 65 games), and his powerful bat is a rarity at the position. As always, the question is whether he can stay away from injury. The Brewers have struggled to find a reliable shortstop for several years, but the Crew believes they’ve found one in 23-year old Jean Segura, the key pickup in the Zack Greinke trade. Though he’s a free-swinger, Segura has the tools at the plate and in the field to be a fixture in the Milwaukee infield for years to come.
At third, Aramis Ramirez was just what the Brewers hoped for in his first year in Milwaukee, putting up his usual impressive numbers at the plate (hitting .300 and collecting 100 RBIs for the seventh time and notching his 10th career 25-homer campaign) and leading all NL third basemen in fielding percentage. At first, Corey Hart settled into his new position nicely and didn’t let the transition affect his offensive performance. However, knee surgery in January will delay his season up to a month. Veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who has 1,536 games at short and none anywhere else on the diamond, will don the first baseman’s mitt to start the season. His season ended last year after just 24 games due a torn ACL.
If you’re a fan of the No. 8, you’d better enjoy watching Ryan Braun wear it because odds are it will never be donned by anyone else ever again in Milwaukee. Braun seems assured of going down as one of the Brewers’ all-time greats, and he’s still only 29 years old. One of the game’s most prolific sluggers, Braun followed up on his MVP season by posting numbers that were just as gaudy, leading the NL in homers, total bases, runs and OPS. In center, Carlos Gomez has finally established himself as a legitimate everyday player. He’s always been a plus defender, and last year he became much more consistent at the plate, putting up career bests in just about every category and ranking as one of only five players in the majors with at least 15 homers and 30 stolen bases. There was no more pleasant surprise in Milwaukee last year than Norichika Aoki. Arriving from Japan with little fanfare, Aoki’s emergence allowed Hart to move to first base. As a catalyst at the top of the lineup, Aoki has a nice blend of speed and occasional power.
Roenicke has a nice problem behind the plate with two more-than-capable backstops. Starter Jonathan Lucroy ranks among the top hitting catchers in the game today; his .320 average last year was the best among Milwaukee catchers in team history. When he missed a long stretch due to a hand injury last year, Martin Maldonado stepped in and showed he belonged in the bigs. Defensively, he’s better than Lucroy, and he more than holds his own at the plate. Expect him to see more action than the typical backup.
The bench has rarely been a strong point in Milwaukee, and this year is no exception. With regulars firmly established at every position, there will be little opportunity — barring injury — for significant at-bats for anyone on the pine. Logan Schafer is a nice fourth outfielder, bringing superior defense and great speed. Taylor Green is a capable left-handed pinch-hitting option, and Maldonado will spell Lucroy behind the plate.
Brewer fans have every reason to be confident in the franchise’s leadership. Even though he’s cut payroll back this year, owner Mark Attanasio has shown a willingness to spend money and make bold trades to give the team a chance to win. GM Doug Melvin has assembled a group that has won consistently, a fact that should not be taken for granted in Brew Town. The franchise has posted four winning seasons the last six years; this after zero plus-.500 campaigns the previous 14 seasons. Roenicke made a great first impression, leading the Crew to the NLCS in 2011, but last year may have been a more impressive performance, guiding the club through an early offensive slump and a midseason bullpen meltdown to eventually get the team back in playoff contention.
Brewer fans are a little confused about how to approach this season, and with good reason. Is it a rebuilding year? With a group of unproven starting pitchers and a re-tooled bullpen, it looks that way. Is the Crew a contender? With a proven offensive attack, it’s hard to count them out. Here’s the most positive way to look at it: Expectations will be lower than they were a year ago. The team can hit. Axford may have solved his problems, and the rest of the bullpen is new. A bunch of talented young pitchers are looking to make their mark. It’s more fun to be the hunter than the hunted. Sound good, Crew fans? If not, there’s always the Sausage Race.
RF Norichika Aoki (L)
Versatile offensive threat who ranked among NL’s most potent rookie bats in 2012.
2B Rickie Weeks (R)
Veteran overcame horrendous early-season slump by
hitting .282 over final 65 games.
LF Ryan Braun (R)
Perennial All-Star is only player in the majors with 100 runs and RBIs in each of last four seasons.
3B Aramis Ramirez (R)
Steady presence at hot corner batted .327 over final 111 games, raising average from .218 to .300.
C Jonathan Lucroy (R)
Arguably best offensive catcher in team history; .320 average was tops ever among Brewer catchers.
CF Carlos Gomez (R)
Solid defender coming off career-best year at plate — notched career highs in homers (19) and steals (37).
1B Alex Gonzalez (R)
The veteran shortstop who lost most of last season to a knee injury, will be the stopgap at first until Corey Hart is healthy.
SS Jean Segura (R)
Highly touted prospect was key acquisition in Zach Greinke trade; hit .329 in final 22 games.
1B Corey Hart (R)
Moved to new position and still excelled at plate, ranking among NL leaders in HRs and extra-base hits. Knee surgery in January has delayed his season.
INF Taylor Green (L)
Became first Brewer since Prince Fielder (2005) to collect first two career homers as pinch-hitter. A strained hip has landed him on the DL, but he shouldn’t miss too much time.
C Martin Maldonado (R)
Outstanding defensive catcher gets results — team was 10 games over .500 in his 58 starts.
OF Logan Schafer (L)
Speedy centerfielder is ideal fourth outfielder with good defensive skills.
INF Jeff Bianchi (R)
Second-round pick in 2005 made his first appearance in the majors last year, hitting .188 in 69 at-bats.
RH Yovani Gallardo
Ace produced second-most quality starts in NL (25); has four straight seasons with 200-plus strikeouts
RH Kyle Lohse
The Cardinals’ ace in 2012 pitches to contact. He had a 1.090 WHIP last season, but just 143 whiffs in 211 innings.
RH Marco Estrada
Bounced back from injury to go 5–2 with 2.03 ERA in final eight starts of season.
LH Chris Narveson
Opened season in rotation but suffered year-ending rotator cuff injury after just two starts.
RH Mike Fiers
Ranked third among NL rookies in wins (nine), strikeouts (135), ERA (3.74) and IP (127.2).
RH John Axford (Closer)
His 81 saves over last two seasons are third-most in MLB; had career-high 93 K’s in ’12.
RH Jim Henderson
Made big-league debut after 10 seasons in minors; pitched well enough to earn set-up role in ’13.
RH Brandon Kintzler
Worked way back from injury to add stability to Brewer pen; retired 12 of 14 first-batters faced.
RH Mark Rogers
Lost his spot in the rotation after team signed Lohse; struck out 41 in 39 IP a year ago. Begins the season on the DL, but not too serious.
LH Mike Gonzalez
Veteran lefty held left-handed batters to .179 average last year; has 56 career saves and could be closer in a pinch.
LH Tom Gorzelanny
Steady veteran lefty is equally effective against left- and right-handed hitters; can also spot start.
RH Alfredo Figaro
Non-roster player has earned the final spot in the pen.
RH Burke Badenhop
Could be the odd man out when Rogers returns.
After another unlikely October comeback, the Cardinals won three quick games against San Francisco and found themselves one victory away from a second consecutive National League pennant and the World Series. It was where they planned to be. It was not how they planned to get there. The Cardinals took several detours before their seventh National League Championship Series since 2000, navigating around a spring training injury to ace Chris Carpenter and the loss of Albert Pujols (to free agency) and Tony La Russa (to retirement). Rookie manager Mike Matheny inherited the 2011 World Series champs and drove them to contention despite a maddening offense. The Cardinals scored the second-most runs in the NL, but did so in gulps. In 44 of their 162 games they scored two or fewer runs and went 5–39 in those games. A third consecutive second-place finish in the NL Central meant the Cardinals needed the grace of Bud Selig’s second Wild Card to reach the postseason. Once there, the offense helped oust Atlanta in the Wild Card Game and proved timely for the Cardinals’ record rally from a 6–0 deficit to Washington in Game 5 of the NL Division Series. Then, true to the trend, the lineup wilted. The Cards scored one run in the final three games of the NLCS, and the Giants claimed the pennant. Denied a fourth trip to the World Series in nine years, the Cardinals confronted their contrast: To match the team that was one win shy of the World Series, they first had to address what also made them the team that finished nine games behind Cincinnati.
Adam Wainwright returned from the elbow surgery that stole his 2011 season, but Carpenter had recurring nerve issues in his right shoulder and eventually surrendered to surgery. Second-year righty Lance Lynn won 18 games as his sub. Kyle Lohse’s 2.86 ERA anchored the rotation’s 3.62 ERA, fourth-lowest in the majors. Jaime Garcia struggled because of a shoulder injury that did not require surgery but will be closely monitored during the spring. The absences tested the Cardinals’ pitching depth, and they passed with surging prospects. Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, and Shelby Miller — all 24 or younger — proved themselves capable of joining the rotation. Wainwright became stronger as the season progressed and appears to be back in Cy Young form. Carpenter, on the other hand, appears to be at the end of his career due to continued nerve problems. Lynn has nailed down a spot in the rotation, as has Garcia as long as his shoulder holds up. It’s now Miller’s time to join the group as the fifth starter.
After weeks of letting leads slip in the unsteady seventh inning, the Cardinals’ grip improved with the addition of Edward Mujica. Acquired at the trade deadline, the splitfinger-firing righty gave Matheny an effective, three-step approach: Mujica in the seventh, NL holds leader Mitchell Boggs in the eighth and closer Jason Motte (42 saves) in the ninth. That trio was the backbone of a bullpen that had an average age of 26 in the postseason and, led by Rosenthal’s 100-mph heat, overpowered with fastballs often surpassing 97 mph. But it was still lacking a lefty. The Cardinals signed veteran lefty specialist Randy Choate, who has held left-handed batters to a .173 average since 2010, and expect him to further simplify the relief recipe.
Rafael Furcal’s season ended with a torn ligament in his right elbow in August. Rehab created optimism, but his elbow didn’t hold up in spring training and he’s lost for the season. Rookie Pete Kozma’s unexpected punch from shortstop in September fueled the postseason run. He’ll get the call from the start of the season this year. It remains to be seen how he can produce over the long haul. Matheny will have an interesting decision at second. He has incumbent Daniel Descalso, a solid defender, and Matt Carpenter, a third baseman by trade. Carpenter batted .294 with an .828 OPS last season. Contrast that with Descalso’s .227/.627. Both will get some time there as Matheny must choose between offense and defense, at least until Carpenter gains some experience.
Allen Craig’s move to everyday play at first base happened a year earlier than expected, but his production was exactly as imagined. Despite missing a month recovering from knee surgery, Craig delivered 92 RBIs and a .522 slugging percentage. Since 2011, Craig’s .889 OPS ranks 17th among hitters with at least 700 plate appearances, and he’s the only one in the top 24 who hasn’t been an All-Star. That should change. Craig and third baseman Dave Freese were two of the five Cardinals who hit at least 20 home runs, a first for the club. Freese set career highs in homers and RBIs because of one big change: health. The hero of the Cardinals’ 2011 October run played more than 100 games in the majors for the first time in 2012. Now healthy again is an issue as a balky back has landed Freese on the DL to begin the season. Optimistically, he’ll miss no more than a week or so.
With Pujols away and Lance Berkman reduced to 32 games due to knee injuries, Carlos Beltran became a worthy and necessary complement to Matt Holliday. Beltran’s 32 home runs and 97 RBIs were his highest totals since 2007. Holliday’s .903 OPS since 2010, his first year with the Cardinals, ranks fifth in the NL, and he and Beltran are the only current teammates to rank in the top nine in OPS during that span. Often hitting back-to-back, they were bookends in the field around Jon Jay, who became a deft center fielder and then a capable leadoff hitter when Furcal faltered. With three stalwarts, prospect Oscar Taveras offers intrigue in the outfield. The heir to Beltran in right, Taveras, 20, could see playing time in center if he sticks out of spring training, which isn’t likely.
Yadier Molina’s record-setting season ended with a fourth-place finish in the NL MVP, the highest for a Cardinals catcher since Tim McCarver was second in 1967. On his way to a fifth consecutive Gold Glove Award, Molina became the first Cardinals’ catcher in more than three decades to hit 22 home runs and drive in 76 runs. With a .315 average, he led the team in batting for the second consecutive season, all while nurturing a pitching staff to a 3.60 ERA with him behind the plate. Molina started 133 games, leaving few for Tony Cruz, an adept backup despite the limited activity that will likely continue. Molina enters the first season of a five-year, $75-million extension signed in March 2012 insisting that “what I did was good, but I know I can do more.”
The Cardinals moved quickly this winter to add the player they believed their bench missed late in games last summer. Ty Wigginton signed to provide right-handed power potential and a veteran presence — “a piece, by definition, that you (cannot) get from your system,” GM John Mozeliak explains. Greenhorns and a rotating cast of minor leaguers will still be asked to provide bench options — like rookie slugger Matt Adams, a true left-handed threat — but Wigginton’s addition concedes that an unproven and improvised bench left Matheny shorthanded last season.
A rookie manager, Matheny showed he could work around injuries, integrate youth, and massage a lineup to avoid overtaxing players. Over the winter, the club tinkered with the roster to better fit his managing style. Mozeliak’s increased imprint on the organization includes the expanded use of analytics and a business model that rewards in-house players and avoids bidding wars. In five seasons as GM, Mozeliak has routinely made midseason moves to solve weaknesses, like the bullpen in 2011 and 2012. The trades have recently been subtle, yet substantive. Now with a cache of young pitching talent, he has the means and awaits the motivation to make a splash.
The Cardinals had a quiet winter, content to use a thin free-agent market for fine-tuning. With several aging contributors, health remains their biggest risk, but less so as the club has a stronger, self-sufficient farm system ready to keep them consistently competitive. There are many routes to their stated goal of annually reaching the playoffs. And the Cardinals, twice a champ as the Wild Card, know October’s abiding rule: A team just has to get in it to win it.
CF Jon Jay (L)
In his first year as the everyday center fielder, Jay seized the leadoff role with a .303 average when batting No. 1.
RF Carlos Beltran (S)
Seven-time All-Star brought desired jolt to Pujols-free lineup, with 32 homers and 97 RBIs, his best totals since 2007.
LF Matt Holliday (R)
Through nagging hip and back injuries, outfielder played 157 games and was an offensive fulcrum with team-high 102 RBIs.
1B Allen Craig (R)
In his first season as an everyday player, ranked seventh in the NL in both average (.307) and slugging (.522).
C Yadier Molina (R)
After signing a 5-year, $75-million extension, Molina set career highs in home runs (22), RBIs (76), and batting average (.315).
3B David Freese (R)
Adding 2012 health to his 2011 heroics, Freese set highs for homers (20), RBIs (79) and games played (144). Injuries continue to plague Freese this spring as a bad back has landed him on the DL again.
2B Daniel Descalso (L)
Emerged as the starter at second in September, overcoming a difficult offensive season with sure-handed play at the pivot.
SS Pete Kozma (R)
Thrust into starting job at short late last season, he responded with a .333 average and a .569 slugging percentage in 26 games.
UT Matt Carpenter (L)
Called “offensive spark” for production in a reserve role, he’s being outfitted for more playing time and a new position. He replaces Freese at third (his natural position) to start the season, but it will be interesting to see if he hits enough to replace the better defender (Descalso) at second once Freese returns.
UT Ty Wigginton (R)
Craving a seasoned presence for clubhouse and right-handed pop for the bench, Cards signed veteran who hit 22 HRs in 2010.
1B Matt Adams (L)
The slugger had 24 strikeouts and 21 hits in an audition last season.
C Tony Cruz (R)
Proven to be a reliable backup for his handling pitchers and ability to also play corner positions.
OF Shane Robinson (R)
Need for a right-handed-hitting center fielder off the bench creates an opportunity for solid-fielding Florida State alum.
IF Ryan Jackson
Recalled when Freese went on the DL.
RH Adam Wainwright
Gaining strength with each start after elbow surgery, Wainwright went 5–1 with a 2.75 ERA in six August starts.
LH Jaime Garcia
Inconsistency stemmed from a shoulder injury he insists he can overcome without surgery. Has 2013 to prove it.
RH Lance Lynn
Burly righty filled Carpenter’s spot in the rotation with an 11–4 record and 3.41 ERA in first half before stamina faltered.
RH Jake Westbrook
Sinkerballer’s 3.97 ERA was his lowest in a full season since 2004, and his overall sturdiness earned an extension for 2013.
RH Shelby Miller
The top prospect finally joins the rotation full-time.
RH Jason Motte (Closer)
In first season as surefire closer, Motte collected every save for the Cardinals, tying for league lead with 42. A sore elbow has shelved the former catcher and could delay his season.
RH Mitchell Boggs
Fulfilling his promise to be an impact pitcher in 2012, power righty led NL and set club record with 34 holds. He’ll close in Motte’s absence.
RH Edward Mujica
Acquired at the trade deadline, veteran righthander became the seventh-inning solution with 18 holds and a 1.03 ERA.
RH Fernando Salas
Led team with 24 saves in 2011, but that workload may have contributed to erratic, ragged results in 2012.
RH Trevor Rosenthal
Flamethrowing rookie was a postseason revelation as he struck out 15 of the 30 batters he faced in October.
LH Marc Rzepczynski
Perhaps miscast as a specialist; Cards hope addition of second lefty allows “Scrabble” to reset and thrive in late innings.
LH Randy Choate
The 37-year-old received a 3-year, $7.5-million commitment from the Cards because he’s the lefty neutralizer they lacked.
RH Joe Kelly
Will take on the long relief role if Motte is out for an extended time.
If the season ended in mid-September, the Pirates’ streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons would be over. Alas, the Major League campaign continues to run through September, and the Pirates have to find a way to keep playing well throughout the entire season. Their record after Aug. 1 the past two seasons is a combined 37–76, costing them a chance (twice) at making a run at a postseason berth. So how do the Pirates get over the hump in the final third of the season?
Righthander A.J. Burnett and lefty Wandy Rodriguez, both acquired in trades last season, are the top two starters. Burnett went 16–10 with a 3.51 ERA after coming over from the New York Yankees in the early days of spring training. Rodriguez was acquired from Houston in a late-July trade and was 5–4 with a 3.72 ERA in 13 games with the Pirates and 12–13 with a 3.76 ERA overall. Righthander James McDonald went 9–3 with a 2.37 ERA before the All-Star break but finished 12–8 with a 4.21 ERA and was yanked from the rotation in the season’s final weeks. One of pitching coach Ray Searage’s biggest challenges this spring will be to get McDonald back to his first-half form. Another priority for the affable Searage will be finding a way to turn Jeanmar Gomez, acquired from Cleveland in a January trade, into a reliable starter. The 25-year-old Gomez had a 14–16 record in three years with the Tribe, but he had his worst season in 2012, going 5–8 with a 5.96 ERA in 20 games, including 17 starts. He’ll probably start the season in the bullpen until he proves he has turned the corner. The Bucs will turn to one youngster and one journeyman to complete the rotation. Lefty Jeff Locke, just 25, will get a chance to start every fifth day. Jonathan Sanchez, with just one successful season — 2010 with the Giants — on his résumé, will begin the season in the fifth spot.
Setup man Jason Grilli will be elevated to closer following the offseason trade of two-time All-Star Joel Hanrahan to Boston. Hanrahan converted 76-of-84 save opportunities during his two years as the Pirates’ closer. Meanwhile, Grilli has five saves in 10 big-league seasons. However, the Pirates are convinced the 36-year-old can pitch effectively in the ninth inning after he struck out 90 batters in 58.2 innings last season. They signed him to a two-year, $6.75 million deal in the offseason. Mark Melancon, who came over in the Hanrahan trade, will get a chance to pitch in a setup role despite struggling (6.20 ERA in 41 games) with the Red Sox last season. Jared Hughes will also pitch late in games after proving to be durable as a rookie in 2012. He worked in 66 games and recorded a 2.85 ERA. Tony Watson served as the lone left-handed reliever for most of last season and led the team with 68 appearances, posting a 3.38 ERA. Righthander Chris Leroux, out of minor league options, is likely to make the team as well. Gomez will pitch in long relief early, but he should eventually replace Sanchez in the rotation.
The double-play combination of shortstop Clint Barmes and second baseman Neil Walker is not the flashiest in the big leagues, but they form a solid defensive duo. Barmes struggled at the plate last year in the first season of a two-year, $10.5-million free agent contract, hitting only .229 with eight home runs in 455 at-bats. Walker hit .280 with 14 homers but missed most of September with a herniated disc in his lower back.
Few big-league hitters have more raw power than third baseman Pedro Alvarez, but he is still refining his game. He hit 30 home runs in 2012, his first full season in the majors, but also had a .244 batting average and 180 strikeouts. First baseman Garrett Jones had the best season of his five-year career, hitting .274 and belting 27 homers. However, Jones is a career .198 hitter against left-handed pitchers and will be often spelled against southpaws by Gaby Sanchez.
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen had his best season yet in 2012 as he won back-to-back National League Player of the Month awards in June and July, hitting a combined .405 with 14 home runs in 52 games. He capped the year by winning his first career NL Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. He finished the season hitting .327 with 31 home runs and 20 stolen bases. A group of five players — Starling Marte, Alex Presley, Jerry Sands, Travis Snider and Jose Tabata — began the spring competing for the other two starting spots. Marte hit .257 with five homers and 12 steals in 47 games as a rookie last season, while Presley, who began the year as the starting left fielder, batted .237 with 10 homers. Sands played in 70 games with the Dodgers the past two seasons and hit only .244 with four homers. Snider battled hamstring problems after being acquired from Toronto in a late-July trade last season and hit just .250 with one homer in 50 games. Tabata flopped in the first year of a six-year, $15-million contract, posting a .243 batting average with only three home runs. For now, the Pirates will go with Marte and Snider. But both are one slump away from demotion.
The Pirates made a rare free-agent splash by signing Russell Martin for two years and $17 million after he hit a career-high 21 home runs for the Yankees. He also hit a career-worst .211 but should be a big upgrade defensively from Rod Barajas.
Michael McKenry is a solid No. 2 catcher with pop who hit 12 home runs in 88 games last season. Sanchez hit just .241 with four homers in 50 games after coming over from the Marlins last year but is being counted on as the top right-handed hitter off the bench. Josh Harrison is below average defensively, but he is valuable because he can play almost anywhere on the infield and both corner outfield spots. John McDonald, acquired from Arizona late in spring training, is the backup at middle infield. He is a terrific defender. Tabata, one of the odd men out in the outfield competition, should stick as the fourth outfielder.
Hurdle has changed the culture of the clubhouse and instilled confidence and a winning attitude in a young club during his two years as manager. While he may not be a master strategist, and his bombastic nature can be wearing at times, he is a motivator. General manager Neal Huntington has hit some potholes along the way but has improved the talent throughout the organization during his five-year tenure. Huntington has whiffed on a number of free-agent signings, so it’s important that Martin — who received a big-money contract by the penny-pinching Pirates’ standards — plays well enough to warrant his deal in 2013.
The last two seasons have ended in disappointment for the Pirates. But there’s no denying that this franchise has made significant progress in recent years. The Pirates went 79–83 last season and were just three wins away from finally ending their streak of sub-.500 finishes. Making a run at the postseason might be a stretch — even in the era of the second wild card — but a winning record appears to be a realistic goal in Pittsburgh.
LF Starling Marte (R)
Has the power and speed to be a star, but needs to raise his .300 on-base percentage.
2B Neil Walker (S)
A solid all-around second baseman with some pop in his bat, though back problems are a concern.
CF Andrew McCutchen (R)
Already one of the game’s biggest stars at 26, and he still has room to improve his all-around game.
1B Garrett Jones (L)
Mashes right-handed pitching, but his troubles against lefties keep him from playing every day.
3B Pedro Alvarez (L)
Plenty of pop in his bat, but he also has plenty of holes in his swing; struck out 180 times last season.
C Russell Martin (R)
Figures to give his new team solid run production and a strong presence behind the plate.
RF Travis Snider (L)
Has seemingly been a prospect forever, but this season might be now or never for him.
SS Clint Barmes (R)
Solid glove work is the only thing still keeping him in the lineup; hit a career-low .229 last season.
C Michael McKenry (R)
Solid backup has surprising pop in his bat for a little guy, and pitchers love throwing to him.
1B Gaby Sanchez (R)
Late-season power surge in 2012 provides hope he can offer more run production in 2013.
UT Josh Harrison (R)
A true hacker as he has drawn just 13 walks in 480 big- league plate appearances.
OF Jose Tabata (R)
Still just 24, but the regression of his power and speed is alarming; has only 11 home runs in 1,072 at-bats.
SS John McDonald (R)
The outstanding defender was picked up from Arizona late in spring training.
RH A.J. Burnett
Still has great stuff at 36 and was rejuvenated last season by getting traded from the Yankees to Pirates.
LH Wandy Rodriguez
Southpaw’s outstanding command allows him to compete with an average arsenal.
RH James McDonald
Has the stuff to be an ace but lacks both the confidence and mental toughness to be a top-of-rotation fixture.
LH Jonathan Sanchez
Discounting his breakout (and fluky?) 2010, he’s 26-46 with a 1.52 WHIP and 5.09 ERA for his career.
LH Jeff Locke
Only twice in 10 career starts has he completed six innings, never more than that. But in his last start in 2012, he allowed just two hits and one run over six innings to the Braves.
RH Jason Grilli (Closer)
The journeyman is throwing harder than ever at 37 and was dominant last season as a set-up man.
RH Mark Melancon
Pirates hoping a switch back to the National League will get him back on track after a horrible year with Boston.
LH Tony Watson
Took a little bit off his fastball last year in his first full big-league season and gained better command.
RH Jared Hughes
He has an outstanding sinker and could be dominant if he develops a stronger second pitch.
RH Chris Leroux
Tall pitcher whose arm angle makes it difficult for hitters to pick up his pitches.
LH Justin Wilson
Converted starter has hit 99 mph with his fastball out of the bullpen.
LH Jeanmar Gomez
Gets a fresh start in the National League after a rough 2012 with the Indians.
The Braves have endured their share of postseason frustration. They are 9–20 in playoff games since sweeping the NLDS in 2001 — but have managed to remain relevant through changing times in the tough NL East. Since its run of 11 straight division titles ended in 2006, Atlanta has had a winning record in five of seven seasons and made the playoffs in 2010 and ’12. If the Braves are going to threaten the Washington Nationals in 2013, they’ll do it behind a solid young pitching staff and the addition of the Upton brothers: center fielder B.J. via free agency and left fielder Justin via trade. They’ll also need either Freddie Freeman or Jason Heyward — or perhaps both — to take the next step offensively.
How shrewd did the Braves look last September, when Kris Medlen was the best thing going in the majors, and the Nationals had shut down ace Stephen Strasburg to rest his arm? Both were in their first full seasons after Tommy John surgery, and both were on about a 160-inning limit. But the Braves looked smart for pitching Medlen in relief the first half of the season — at least in the long run. Once Medlen joined the rotation on July 31, he went 9–0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts. He enters 2013 as the staff ace, which is saying something for a pitcher with only 30 career starts. Tim Hudson, who has a 49–26 record over the last three seasons, is a solid No. 2 starter. His numbers were up a bit last year — with a 3.62 ERA (third-highest of his career) and 8.4 hits per nine innings (most since 2009) — but he still has several good seasons in his right arm. Brandon Beachy, the Braves’ best starter the first two to three months last season, aims to return from Tommy John surgery around the All-Star break. Paul Maholm, who was acquired at the trade deadline last year, and Mike Minor, who solidified a spot in the rotation with a dominant second half, give the Braves two quality lefty starters. Julio Teheran, considered a top prospect for a few years, finally has an opportunity to shine
In two seasons since taking over for Billy Wagner, Craig Kimbrel has emerged as the elite closer in the National League. He’s a big reason why the bullpen is one of the Braves’ strengths and among the best in baseball. After winning the NL Rookie of the Year in 2011, Kimbrel finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting last year and was eighth in the NL MVP race. He’ll try to match John Smoltz as the second Atlanta closer to post three straight 40-save seasons, after collecting 46 and 42 saves, respectively, in his first two full big-league seasons. Jonny Venters, who struggled to find consistency with his patented sinker, wasn’t as effective in 2012 as he was the year before. But Eric O’Flaherty followed his breakout season of 2011 with another outstanding campaign. Luis Avilan was a sleeper of a find in Double-A, and the Braves added power righthander Jordan Walden from the Angels in a trade for Tommy Hanson. Manager Fredi Gonzalez kept his word not to overuse the back end of the bullpen like he admittedly did in ’11.
Dan Uggla knows no middle ground. In his first two seasons with the Braves, he’s endured long stretches of being either hot or frigid. He hit .185 over the final 99 games last season, though he did manage a more-than-respectable .298 clip with nine extra-base hits and 14 RBIs over the final 23 games. Uggla still finished with 19 home runs — well off his 31 per year average — but struck out 168 times. The Braves are excited to see what they’ll get in a full season from Andrelton Simmons, a 23-year-old shortstop who was taken in the second round of the 2010 draft. Simmons is an energetic defensive standout who contributed more offensively than the Braves anticipated. He hit .289 with 19 RBIs in 166 at-bats in 2012. Simmons is a candidate to bat in the leadoff spot.
The Braves were aware that Chipper Jones’ departure would be problematic, but this offseason reinforced the difficulty of replacing him. The Braves’ original intent was to put Martin Prado at third base and acquire another left fielder and leadoff hitter. As it turned out, it took the trade of Prado to acquire their left fielder Justin Upton. In doing so the Braves acquired a platoon partner for Juan Francisco at third in Chris Johnson. Francisco remains a project, but he has huge power potential. The left-handed hitter needs to drop weight and eliminate extra rotation from his swing, but he took steps in that direction in winter ball in the Dominican. Given Jones’ departure, the Braves will also look to Freeman at first base for more offensive production. Freeman avoided a sophomore slump last season, hitting 23 home runs with 94 RBIs, but he needs to improve his .259 batting average.
The Braves love the combination of speed and power both Uptons bring, especially B.J. in center field, as well as their right-handed bats to balance their lineup. Many experts believe the Uptons and Heyward make up the best outfield in the National League. Outfield defense is certainly a team strength. Heyward won his first Gold Glove award in 2012, a big step in his progression as a young star. Offensively, Heyward made strides as well, rebounding from a rough sophomore season to hit a career-high 27 home runs, steal 21 bases and drive in 82 runs. Justin Upton played most of last season at Arizona with a deep bruise on his left thumb suffered on the first weekend of the season but still tied for second in the NL with 107 runs scored. With better health, he should improve on his 2012 totals of 17 homers and 67 RBIs, his lowest numbers in those two categories since 2008.
Another injury-plagued season cost Brian McCann what would have been a sixth Silver Slugger in seven major league seasons. He was hampered by right shoulder and knee problems and underwent shoulder surgery over the winter. The Braves hope he needs only a week or two in April to get healthy and is soon back to being the perennial All-Star and one of the top offensive catchers in baseball. The Braves lost well-respected backup David Ross to free agency — he signed with the Red Sox — but they believe Gerald Laird will fill in nicely, bringing the experience of playing in back-to-back World Series with the Cardinals and Tigers.
Re-signing Reed Johnson, the right-handed outfield bat the Braves added at last year’s trade deadline, gives the Braves a quality fourth outfielder. Johnson, who hit .270 in 43 games with the Braves last season, can play all three outfield spots, but isn’t expected to see much time. Jordan Schafer should also earn a roster spot. Paul Janish, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, or Ramiro Pena will back up at shortstop. Veteran minor leaguer Matt Pagnozzi will back up Laird until McCann returns.
The Braves stuck by Gonzalez after their September collapse in 2011 and saw the fruits of that decision when he led them to a berth in the Wild Card Game last fall. Gonzalez learned from previous mistakes: He didn’t overwork the back end of the bullpen, he wasn’t afraid to bench Uggla at times when the second baseman was struggling, and he worked Jones in and out of the lineup to keep him healthy. General manager Frank Wren bolstered the offense by acquiring the Uptons, but there is risk. B.J. and Justin strike out frequently and will join a lineup that lost its most disciplined hitter in Jones.
Despite the splash of the Upton acquisitions, the Braves will have a tough time challenging Washington for supremacy in the NL East, but their rotation and bullpen are strong and return largely intact. With Medlen starting all season, Beachy poised to return around the All-Star break, the Braves like their chances to return to the postseason.
SS Andrelton Simmons (R)
Rocket-armed defender who showed he could hit too with a .289 average, three HRs in 49 games as a rookie.
RF Jason Heyward (L)
Career-high 27 HRs and 21 steals, making him first 20/20 Brave since Andruw Jones in 2000.
RF Justin Upton (R)
Tied for second in the NL with 107 runs despite playing most of the season with a damaged left thumb.
1B Freddie Freeman (L)
Led the Braves in RBIs with 94 and second in homers with 23, but batting average fell from .282 to .259.
CF B.J. Upton (R)
Had career-high 28 HRs, added 31 steals last season for Tampa; 160-plus strikeouts for third straight season.
C Brian McCann (L)
Injury-plagued season saw career low in batting average (.230); 121 games were lowest total since 2005. Shoulder surgery
2B Dan Uggla (R)
Streak of five straight 30-plus-homer seasons ended with 19 home runs; hit career-low .220.
3B Juan Francisco (L)
Hit nine HRs in only 192 ABs, and nine more in Dominican League. Power potential gets him starting shot.
C Gerald Laird (R)
Hit .282 in 63 games for Detroit; will be No. 1 catcher in April as McCann recovers from shoulder surgery. Matt Pagnozzi will back up Laird.
OF Reed Johnson (R)
Led majors with 18 pinch hits and was second with .419 pinch-hit average; could win platoon role in left field.
IF Ramiro Pena (S)
Probably gets nod while Paul Janish recovers from shoulder surgery.
3B Chris Johnson (R)
Acquired in the deal with Justin Upton, Johnson could be a valuable platoon partner at third with Francisco.
OF Jordan Schafer (L)
Back for second tour with Braves.
RH Kris Medlen
NL pitcher of month for August and September went 9–0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts after moving into rotation.
RH Tim Hudson
Put up 3.62 ERA despite coming off spine surgery and pitching through bone spurs in ankle.
LH Mike Minor
Came into his own in second half of last season, going 7–4 with 2.21 ERA over last 15 starts.
LH Paul Maholm
Went 4–5 with 3.54 ERA in 11 starts as a Brave after midseason trade from Cubs.
RH Julio Teheran
Long considered a top prospect, with injury to Brandon Beachy and trade of Delgado, the path is cleared.
RH Craig Kimbrel (Closer)
Converted 42 of 45 saves while posting 1.01 ERA with 116 strikeouts and 14 walks in 62.2 innings.
LH Eric O'Flaherty
Allowed only four earned runs in 49 innings (0.73 ERA) in 55 appearances after May 2.
RH Jordan Walden
Closer with Angels (32 saves, 2.98 ERA in 2011) acquired in Tommy Hanson trade. Fastball can touch 100 mph.
LH Jonny Venters
ERA jumped from 1.84 to 3.22, reflecting struggles with his sinker and midseason elbow soreness.
LH Luis Avilan
Surprise of the year in the bullpen, going 1–0 with 2.00 ERA in 31 games after July 4 call-up from Double-A.
RH Cory Gearrin
Side-armer guns for first regular job in majors; 1.80 ERA over 22 appearances with the Braves in 2012.
RH Cristhian Martinez
Dependable long man with above-average change-up; went 5–4 with 3.91 ERA in 54 appearances in 2012.
Talk about a nasty case of buyer’s remorse. In a dizzying span of less than a year, the Miami Marlins: Went through a ballyhooed rebranding. Spent $191 million on three big-name free agents. Moved into a beautiful new downtown ballpark. Served as reality-show fodder for Showtime. Underperformed miserably. Fired manager Ozzie Guillen with three years left on his contract. Hired a rookie manager (Mike Redmond) out of A-ball. And, last but not least: Tore down their roster via a 12-player mega-dump deal with the Blue Jays. Just like old times, eh? South Florida baseball fans, at least what’s left of them, reacted with predictable rage after seeing five proven big-leaguers, including Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, shipped off for a boatload of mostly prospects. Redmond will be asked to pull a Joe Girardi (circa 2006) and whip a bunch of young prospects into a competent big-league ballclub as quickly as possible. Good luck.
Ricky Nolasco, the ace by default, wanted out in the immediate aftermath of the blockbuster deal. The Marlins refused to accommodate him, mostly because Nolasco, who turned 30 this offseason, was the only member of their projected rotation with more than 19 career wins. Plus, if they traded Nolasco and his $11.5 million salary, their net payroll, which opened last season at a franchise-record $112 million, would drop to less than a third of that figure. Henderson Alvarez, who pitched to a 4.85 ERA while spending last season in the Jays’ rotation, is a notable step down from the fellow Venezuelan righthander he essentially replaces (Anibal Sanchez). Young righthander Nate Eovaldi, who came over in a July deal with the Dodgers, has a lot to learn and will likely get 30-plus starts’ worth of education this year. At least he showed signs of sustainable effectiveness during a late-season audition. Wade LeBlanc, the former Padres lefty with 19 wins in five seasons to his credit, figures to occupy one slot. Veteran Kevin Slowey, who last pitched in the majors in 2011 with the Twins, has impressed enough this spring to earn a shot to start the season. But Jacob Turner, acquired from the Tigers last season, will be a key cog in the rotation in the future. He will get a call at some point this season.
Steve Cishek was a revelation for the Marlins in the second half of the 2012 season. The young sidewinder blew just one save after taking over for Heath Bell at the All-Star break. That was enough to convince the Marlins to dump Bell on the Diamondbacks — he wound up costing them $14 million for one horrible season — while turning over the closer’s reins to the former fifth-round draft pick. Sinkerballer Ryan Webb should emerge as the top option for the eighth inning, while Mike Dunn is the best option from the left side. It’s pretty much a no-name bullpen, but after the Marlins relief corps blew 22 saves a year ago, the team is willing to take its chances on some kids. Veterans Jon Rauch and Chad Qualls were signed late and bring some experience and stability.
The Marlins have had more than their share of standout shortstops in their brief-but-volatile history. Edgar Renteria and Alex Gonzalez each helped them win a World Series, while Hanley Ramirez and Reyes were more noted for their offensive prowess. Now along comes Adeiny Hechavarria, the Cuban defector who should start building his Gold Glove collection in the not-too-distant future. At least that’s what the Marlins are hoping after making him the centerpiece of their deal with the Blue Jays. Hechavarria may hit eventually as well, but so far his bat has only been truly lively in the light air of Las Vegas and the Pacific Coast League. Returning at second base is Donovan Solano, who shined with the Marlins after the Cardinals let him leave as a minor league free agent last winter. The 25-year-old Colombian hit .295 in 285 at-bats with the Marlins in his first season in the big leagues. Solano’s step forward made veteran Omar Infante expendable.
You wouldn’t want to run a relay race with these guys. Logan Morrison, moving back to his original position of first base after spending the past few years in left field, is coming off another arthroscopic knee surgery. When healthy, he’s a defensive weapon at first. Getting his legs underneath him also might help reverse a two-year decline at the plate. But he won’t be near full speed by Opening Day, so Casey Kotchman will likely start the season at first. But Morrison should be back by the end of April. At third base, the Marlins are betting $2.75 million that Placido Polanco’s back woes will somehow subside at age 37. Polanco, who attended college in Miami, has played in the postseason five times. That probably won’t be happening again this season.
If the Marlins were as smart as they seem to believe they are, they would have locked up All-Star right fielder Giancarlo Stanton with a long-term deal before dealing away half their roster. Instead, the burgeoning young slugger ripped the organization in the aftermath of its latest Great Selloff. Stanton, who already has 93 home runs in three seasons, can’t be a free agent until after 2016. However, further static from Stanton, along with what promises to be knee-buckling trade offers from lustful suitors, could accelerate his inevitable departure considerably. Juan Pierre, one of the heroes of the 2003 World Series team, is back to play left field. He signed a one-year, $1.6 million deal after a solid bounce-back year (.307 with 37 stolen bases) with the Phillies. Journeyman Justin Ruggiano looks like the smart bet in center field after a breakthrough season a year ago. The former Tampa Bay Ray hit .313 with 13 home runs in only 288 at-bats in his first season with the Marlins.
John Buck never could hit enough to justify that $6 million annual salary. Maybe, the Marlins figure, they will fare better with a platoon of young Rob Brantly, who came over from the Tigers in the Sanchez/Infante deal, and veteran backup Jeff Mathis. Brantly has a sweet lefty stroke and some pop. Unfortunately, Mathis is pretty much all mitt at this point. His combined OPS in eight big-league seasons is a putrid .570, and he doesn’t do much better against lefties than he does against righthanders. Mathis fractured his collarbone early in spring training, so youngster Kyle Skipworth could begin the season as Brantly’s backup.
Ruggiano will get some competition in center field from Gorkys Hernandez and even Chris Coghlan. Hernandez is out of options after enjoying a big winter season back home in Venezuela. Veteran reserve Greg Dobbs is an excellent safety net for those often-hobbled starters at the corner infield spots.
At the press conference to introduce new manager Mike Redmond, Marlins baseball czar Larry Beinfest admitted the organization had strayed from the Marlins Way — a term that he defined as “outperforming our challenges.” Exactly what challenges the Marlins still have now that they’re playing in a publicly funded, $515 million, retractable-roof ballpark was unclear. Redmond, a key backup on the 2003 World Series champions, has the right blend of personality and energy to get the most out of this young group. Even so, most expect a 100-loss season and a third straight year in the basement of the National League East.
Say this for the Marlins: They don’t do anything halfway. In the abstract, what they have attempted in churning nearly their entire roster since the middle of last season makes some sense. It’s probably the quickest way to return to consistent playoff contention and eventually end a nine-year playoff drought that now ranks as the fifth-longest in baseball. However, there’s that nagging little piece about $360 million in public money going toward a ballpark that was supposed to help them compete with richer clubs in more traditional baseball markets. The Marlins aren’t giving any of that money back, but they did find a way to offload more than $236 million in future contract obligations since the middle of last season. In the process, they just may have destroyed once and for all the fragile connection that had existed between South Florida and its twice-crowned baseball club.
LF Juan Pierre (L)
Veteran slugged just .190 against lefties, .405 against righties for the Phillies in 2012.
3B Placido Polanco (R)
Missed a combined 112 games the past two seasons with the Phillies, mostly due to back issues.
RF Giancarlo Stanton (R)
Hit 494-foot homer at Coors Field last year, longest in the big leagues since 2009. Probably feels like the Lone Ranger in Miami now.
C Rob Brantly (L)
Already owns big-league home runs off of Stephen Strasburg and reigning Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.
CF Justin Ruggiano (R)
Career .226 hitter in parts of three big-league seasons before shocking breakout with Marlins last year.
2B Donovan Solano (R)
Made just two errors in 58 games at second base after taking over for the traded Omar Infante.
1B Casey Kotchman (L)
His averaged dropped 77 points from 2011 to 2012, but he’s a stellar defender and capable off the bench once Logan Morrison is healthy.
SS Adeiny Hechavarria (R)
Career OBP of .286 in 172 minor league games outside hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
C Jeff Mathis (R)
Has a .198 batting average in nearly 1,600 career plate appearances in the majors. Makes his living with his defense and arm. A broken collarbone early in spring training has opened the door for Kyle Skipworth to start the season as the backup.
3B Greg Dobbs (L)
Started a combined 166 games the past two seasons for the Marlins.
UT Chris Coghlan (L)
Former NL Rookie of the Year remains on the radar due to his versatility.
1B-OF Logan Morrison (L)
Reached base at .436 clip after the count ran full in 2012, with two hits, 15 walks in 39 plate appearances. Should be in the lineup at either first base or left field every day once his knee is sound.
RH Ricky Nolasco
Has posted an ERA lower than 4.48 just once in seven big-league seasons.
RH Henderson Alvarez
Only two big leaguers (Clayton Richard and Rick Porcello) allowed more hits than Alvarez in 2012.
RH Nate Eovaldi
Needs 5,613 more strikeouts to catch the only other big leaguer from Alvin (Texas) High School (Nolan Ryan).
LH Wade LeBlanc
Turned in quality starts in just three of nine late-season opportunities.
RH Kevin Slowey
Hasn’t pitched in majors since 2011, but was impressive in spring training.
RH Steve Cishek (Closer)
Converted 14-of-15 save opportunities after replacing Heath Bell at midseason.
RH Ryan Webb
Sinkerballer posted a nearly two-to-one groundball/flyball ratio (47-to-26) after Aug. 1.
RH Jon Rauch
Has thrown at least 50 innings every year since 2006.
LH Mike Dunn
Career walk rate is 5.7 per nine innings in parts of four big-league seasons.
RH A.J. Ramos
Struck out 13 and allowed eight hits in 9.1 innings as a rookies last season.
RH Chad Qualls
Veteran allowed 12 of 27 inherited runners to score while logging 52.1 innings for Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the Yankees.
RH John Maine
Will serve as long relief man — and probably gets lots of work.
After the 2011 season, the Mets lost the NL batting champion, Jose Reyes. After last season, they lost the NL Cy Young Award winner, R.A. Dickey. Yet when Sandy Alderson announced Dickey’s trade to Toronto, he declared, “We’re certainly not punting on 2013.” He had to say it — with attendance already plummeting at Citi Field, the Mets don’t need their general manager conceding a season — but it’s clearly misleading. The Mets have no intention of contending this season, which will be the fifth losing campaign in a row for the franchise. On the positive side, they seem to be collecting a promising group of prospects who could grow together in years to come.
The Mets say they wanted Dickey to return, but their offer of a contract extension (two years, $20 million) was laughably out of line for a Cy Young Award winner in an industry with cash. They traded him to Toronto for an impressive prospect haul, but did not get a starter back in the deal. Without Dickey, Johan Santana moves back to the No. 1 spot, and while he has fought valiantly through a variety of physical problems, he’s proven to be unreliable for a full season. Shaun Marcum, twice a 13-game winner for Milwaukee, was signed and should provide quality innings if his shoulder doesn’t get too balky. The starters behind them offer long-term hope, with steady lefty Jon Niese and rising star Matt Harvey. Niese quietly had an outstanding season, going 13–9 overall and posting a 2.93 ERA in the final four months, never once walking more than three in a game over that span. Harvey, the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft out of North Carolina, had an exciting debut, with a 2.73 ERA in 10 starts and 70 strikeouts in 59.1 innings. The rotation falls off steeply after that, with Dillon Gee, a replacement-level righty, having missed the second half of the season after having a blood clot removed from his shoulder. Until Santana is ready for a regular load, Jeremy Hefner will fill in. But the prize of the group for the future is top prospect Zack Wheeler.
Frank Francisco had a 3.55 ERA for Toronto in 2011, and he reversed those digits for the Mets in 2012 — 5.53. That’s not what the Mets had in mind when they signed him for two years and $12 million, but Francisco, in fairness, did not blow a save after June 5. He missed all of July with an oblique strain and may have had arm problems, too. He underwent surgery in December to remove a bone spur from his elbow, and is questionable for Opening Day. If he pitches well, he’ll be trade bait for contenders this summer. Setup man Bobby Parnell was not the best righthander named Robert Allen on the team — that was Robert Allen Dickey — but he did enjoy a strong season, with a career-high in games (74) and a career-low 2.49 ERA. He also earned his seventh save on the final day of the season to give himself another career-best mark. He’ll close until Francisco is completely healthy. Beyond Parnell, though, the bullpen is threadbare. Veteran Brandon Lyon signed late and should be an effective innings eater from the right side. Non-roster veterans Scott Atchison, LaTroy Hawkins and lefty Pedro Feliciano will add depth and give manager Terry Collins some good matchup options. Lefty Josh Edgin can also be a decent match-up guy.
As up-the-middle combinations go, they’re not exactly Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter. The Mets’ Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada are adequate but limited at the plate, both hitting for a respectable batting average but offering little power or speed to go with it. They’re viable big leaguers, which is saying something for this team, but they’re not difference makers. Advanced defensive metrics are not always reliable, but according to Fangraphs, Murphy’s Ultimate Zone Rating ranked 20th of 22 qualifying second basemen in the majors. Tejada was better, but still not among the upper half at his position, ranking 13th of 21 qualifying shortstops. A strained intercoastal muscle may keep Murphy on the shelf to start the season.
This is by far the Mets’ offensive strength. While Ike Davis struggled at Citi Field last season, he managed to smash 32 homers and drive in 90 runs. He needed only 16.2 at-bats per home run, ranking third in the National League, and at 26 years old, he still has time to get better. Across the diamond, third baseman David Wright had his best season since 2008, the year before the Mets moved to Citi Field, where he struggled at first with the distant dimensions. Moving in the fences suited Wright, who hit more long balls at home (12) than he did on the road (nine). A two-time Gold Glove winner, he also excelled in the field, with the best Ultimate Zone Rating among NL third basemen, according to Fangraphs. The Mets locked up Wright with an eight-year, $138 million contract extension that binds him to the team through 2020.
The Mets won the wild card in 2000 with an outfield of Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton and Derek Bell, and advanced to the World Series that year with Timo Perez replacing Bell. That’s a ragtag group, to be sure, but a juggernaut compared to the outfield in Flushing these days. The Mets have few outfielders who would start for other teams, with Collin Cowgill, veteran Marlon Byrd and Lucas Duda likely to hold down the starting spots. Cowgill — who bats right and throws left — will play for his third team in three seasons after stints with Arizona and Oakland, hoping to establish himself as an everyday player. He showed decent power and an ability to reach base in the minors, so he’s worth a look. Duda is the most established hitter, but he lumbers on defense and the bases and struggled to make up for it at the plate last season. Byrd, a non-roster player, has seen his better days, but should hit for a decent average.
The Mets believe they acquired a foundational piece in Travis d’Arnaud, who is so highly regarded that he’s been traded twice for Cy Young Award winners before his first game in the big leagues. He was hitting .333 with 16 homers and 52 RBIs at Class AAA Las Vegas last year before his season ended when he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while sliding to break up a double play. He also missed half the 2010 season with two bulging disks in his back. Those are troublesome issues for a young player, but the Mets were willing to bank on d’Arnaud’s potential while also acquiring a veteran, John Buck, who could be the starter early in the season. With little hope of contending this year, the Mets have determined they are best-served by leaving d’Arnaud in Class AAA to the start the season, delaying his eventual free agency by shortening his major league service time.
For a team with so many holes in the starting lineup, the Mets actually have a decent bench, with useful players like infielder Justin Turner, outfielder Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin, an infielder/outfielder. Valdespin had five separate stints with the Mets last year and set a single-season club record for pinch-hit homers, with five.
The Mets play hard for manager Terry Collins, but a lack of talent and a rash of injuries have doomed them down the stretch in the past two seasons. Collins burns to win and has vaguely raised questions about his team’s effort at times, but that is mostly just frustration, and players appreciate his generally positive approach in an atmosphere that can be harsh. Alderson knows how to build a winner, but he has mostly been limited to low-cost, low-impact moves, essentially treading water until the team has shed its glut of bad contracts. Owner Fred Wilpon and his son Jeff, who essentially runs the team, have sold minority ownership shares but have yet to prove they have really recovered from the havoc Bernie Madoff wreaked on their finances.
This season marks the 20th anniversary of the Mets’ last 100-loss season, and they could be headed for another. These Mets could be very bad, and only the filleting of the Miami Marlins will save them from the basement of the NL East. The good thing is that the future is finally coming into focus, and fans can watch Harvey, d’Arnaud, Wheeler and others develop while knowing that Wright will be here for the long haul.
SS Ruben Tejada (R)
In 78 games as the leadoff man last year, he attempted just four stolen bases.
2B Daniel Murphy (L)
His .291 average trailed only Robinson Cano, Marco Scutaro and Aaron Hill among everyday second basemen.
3B David Wright (R)
Greatest Met never to play in World Series faces a long road to get there. For now, just trying to get healthy to avoid starting the season on the DL.
1B Ike Davis (L)
Outstanding power, but must prove he can handle lefties and hit at Citi Field.
RF Marlon Byrd (R)
Veteran batted .270 in 34 games with the Red Sox last season, which was 200 points higher than his first 13 games with the Cubs.
LF Lucas Duda (L)
His OPS in the second half of the 2012 season was a miserable .644.
CF Collin Cowgill (R)
With .291 average in five minor league seasons, he’s ready for a shot.
C John Buck (R)
After making All-Star team with Jays in 2010, hit .213 in two years for Marlins.
OF Mike Baxter (L)
Sacrificed chunk of his season to save Johan Santana’s no-hitter with diving catch at wall.
UT Jordany Valdespin (L)
Pinch-hitter extraordinaire who started at five positions (LF, CF, RF, 2B, SS) as a rookie. Will get some regular time at second until Murphy is 100 percent.
IF Brandon Hicks (R)
Has a .133 career average in parts of three seasons with Atlanta and Oakland.
IF Justin Turner (R)
Proved himself to be a capable reserve (he hit .269 in 171 at-bats) after a year as a starter.
C Travis d’Arnaud (R)
Vaunted prospect should make debut in ’13 and stay for years to come.
LH Jon Niese
Won 13 games with a career-low 3.40 ERA in his third season as a starter.
RH Shaun Marcum
Has gone 33-19 with a 3.62 ERA over last three seasons.
RH Matt Harvey
Power righty projects as long-term ace; only gave up 42 hits in 59.1 innings last season.
RH Dillon Gee
Missed second half after having blood clot removed from shoulder in July.
LH Johan Santana
The danger of backloaded contracts — Santana will make $25.5M in 2013. A balky shoulder may keep him on the DL to start the season.
RH Jeremy Hefner
Former fifth-round pick of the Padres is leading candidate to replace Santana while the former Cy Young winner is disabled.
RH Frank Francisco (Closer)
First pitcher since 2009 to have at least 20 saves and an ERA above 5.50. Elbow inflammation is not a good sign; likely headed to DL.
RH Bobby Parnell
Especially stingy at Citi Field, with 1.54 ERA at home last season. Will close in place of the injured Francisco.
RH Brandon Lyon
Averaged 61 games and 62 innings over last seven seasons.
RH Scott Atchison
Was effective with Boston last season: a 1.58 ERA in 51.1 innings and a 0.994 WHIP. The 37-year-old has logged more than 1,000 innings in the minors and Japan, just over 200 in the majors.
RH LaTroy Hawkins
In 2009 and 2011 he had a combined 2.26 ERA; an unimpressive 4.97 in 2010 and 2012. Maybe 2013 will follow that trend.
LH Pedro Feliciano
Led the NL in appearances all three years from 2008-10 totaling 208 games, but hasn’t pitched in bigs since.
LH Josh Edgin
Held lefties to .164 average (9-for-55), which was good enough to earn another look.
The Phillies are no longer the team to beat in the NL East. Maybe that will be beneficial, because this graying club, which was knocked from its lofty perch by injury and a horrible start in 2012, can use all the edge it can get. “Everyone is a little angry,” says Jimmy Rollins, the team’s longest-tenured player and a key contributor on five straight division championship clubs from 2007-11. “We have that chip on our shoulder to go back out there and prove this is still our division.” Injuries to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay contributed to a woeful 37–50 record before the All-Star break in 2012. Improved health and performance led to a 44–31 second half and fueled hopes that this team, aging but still high on accomplished star power, might have one more run in it.
What’s up, Doc? This is one of the most important questions facing this team. If Halladay is close to the pitcher he was in his first two seasons with the club, the Phillies will be in the enviable position of having three top starters. If Halladay struggles as he did in 2012, the Phils will have to get by with just two. Indications this spring are that the latter might be the case. Having Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee atop the rotation still puts the Phils in good position in the arms race. Hamels continued to blossom into an elite pitcher in 2012, and management recognized his importance by signing him to a six-year, $144 million contract in July. At 29, Hamels’ time to lead this staff has come. He’s talented enough to join Halladay and Lee as a Cy Young winner and lines up to make his first Opening Day start. “I’m still looking for him to have a really big year — 22, 24 wins,” manager Charlie Manuel said after Hamels’ career-best 17 wins in 2012. “It’s in there.” Lee’s win total was down in 2012, but he remains one of the best. He had a brilliant second half and joined Hamels with a top-10 ERA (in NL) finish. After finishing first and second in NL Cy Young voting his first two seasons in Philly, Halladay was a different pitcher in 2012. His 4.49 ERA was his highest in a season in which he pitched over 70 innings. Shoulder problems, likely caused by the wear and tear of over 2,700 big-league innings, sent him to the disabled list for seven weeks. When he was on the mound, he used off-speed stuff more than past years as he tried to compensate for reduced velocity and movement on his signature sinker and cutter. There is no more dedicated pro athlete than Halladay, who turns 36 in May. He has vowed to come back strong in 2013. If he does, everyone from the front office to the cheap seats will breathe easier, and the rotation will be deeper and more formidable. Kyle Kendrick and newcomer John Lannan, the third lefty on the starting staff, round out the rotation. Kendrick gained valuable confidence by recording a 3.20 ERA in his final 12 starts last season. Lannan has something to prove after being pushed out of Washington’s rotation by more talented arms last season. He made 30-plus starts and had a sub-4.00 ERA three times in Washington.
Even with Jonathan Papelbon converting 38-of-42 saves chances, the bullpen was a fatal weakness in 2012. Phillies relievers helped dig that huge first-half deficit by recording a 4.72 ERA, second-worst in the majors, before the break. The eighth inning was particularly disastrous. For the season, the Phils blew an unsightly 13 eighth-inning leads. Management believes it has fixed the problem with the signing of Mike Adams, one of the best setup men in the business. He and Papelbon could form one of the best back-end tandems in baseball. Antonio Bastardo, a lefty with strikeout stuff, will be key in the late innings as well. The Phils are hoping for the emergence of some of their young, high-upside relievers, most notably Mike Stutes and Jeremy Horst.
The best middle infield combo in franchise history could be nearing the end of a storied run together. Rollins and Utley are both 34. Utley, once the game’s top run-producing second baseman, has averaged just 100 games the last three seasons because of injuries, particularly bad knees. He enters the final year of his contract. He believes he can manage his way through the season, but his batting average and slugging percentage the last two seasons are just .258 and .426, respectively. Rollins won his fourth Gold Glove in 2012 and can still pick it and throw it with the best. He’s never been a prototypical leadoff man because of his aggressive approach at the plate, but he did score 102 runs in 2012. He is signed through 2014 with an option for 2015.
Veteran stars Howard and Michael Young both have something to prove. Howard, long one of the game’s premier power bats, missed three months while recovering from a torn Achilles in 2012. He returned to drive in 56 runs in 260 at-bats, but batted a career-low .219 and struck out 35 percent of the time, a career-worst. Management has challenged him to improve his physical conditioning and approach at the plate. With good health and a full spring training, Howard should hit 30-plus homers and push for 120-plus RBIs. The team needs that from him. Young, who became a spare part after 12 decorated seasons in Texas, takes over at third base. Defense could be an issue, but Young’s deficiencies at third will be tolerable if he can rebound from a career-low .682 OPS and put up numbers similar to 2011 when he hit .338 with 106 RBIs.
This area has been unsettled since Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence were traded in July, and it remains one of the club’s biggest concerns. Management hoped to add a power-defense package in center field, but settled for slap-hitting Ben Revere, who was acquired from Minnesota. The speedy Revere can run down balls, but his arm is weak and his power nonexistent. In their search for a run-producing corner bat, the Phillies signed Delmon Young, last season’s ALCS MVP for Detroit. Liability doesn’t begin to describe him defensively, but he has some pop and his right-handed bat will come in handy. He had ankle surgery. While he recovers, John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix will likely platoon in left field. The Phillies desperately need Domonic Brown to finally seize control of right field, but to this point, the former top prospect has been disappointing.
Carlos Ruiz hit every ball hard, reached career-highs across the board, and became a valuable middle-order bat while making his first All-Star team in 2012. What does he do for an encore after hitting 50 points above his career average? Well, first he’ll serve a 25-game suspension for testing positive for a banned stimulant late last season. At 34, will Ruiz pick up where he left off when he returns, or was his big season a one-year wonder? One thing is sure: Ruiz will handle pitchers well. The staff has great respect for his game management. Veteran Erik Kratz, who showed power, presence and a strong throwing arm while Ruiz was out with a sore foot in 2012, will get the call while Ruiz serves his suspension.
Sure-handed infielder Freddy Galvis is an important piece off the bench. He gives the club a strong defender when Utley or Rollins needs rest, and he can help protect a late lead at third. Kevin Frandsen earned his way into a utility/pinch-hitting role by hitting .338 in 195 at-bats with the big club in 2012. The possibility of outfield platoons could keep the bench sharp.
Manuel is the most successful manager in club history. In eight seasons, he has guided the Phils to the best record in the NL (727–569), five division titles, two pennants and a World Series title. At 69, Manuel is in the final year of his contract. He says he hasn’t decided whether he wants to manage beyond 2013, but a succession plan may have been put into place when Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg was promoted from Triple-A manager to big-league third base coach. Sandberg is considered an excellent managerial prospect.
With Hamels and Lee, the Phils have a great place to start, and with Adams and Papelbon, a good place to finish. Up the middle, the team is solid with Rollins and Ruiz. If Howard and Young rebound, and Halladay and Utley stay active and productive, this club will push for a playoff spot.
SS Jimmy Rollins (S)
Led NL shortstops in runs (102), extra-base hits (61) and fielding percentage (.978) in 2012.
2B Chase Utley (L)
Finally enjoying a full spring training game since missing the last two springs because of chronic knee issues.
3B Michael Young (R)
Lifetime .301 hitter and seven-time All-Star has played just 65 games at third base since 2010.
1B Ryan Howard (L)
He had 46 RBIs in his final 47 games in 2012 to finish with 56 in 260 at-bats.
C Carlos Ruiz (R)
Tied for second among National League catchers with 47 extra-base hits in 2012. Is suspended for the first 25 games for a positive PED test.
RF Domonic Brown (L)
Had seven assists in final two months of 2012, second-most in NL in that span.
CF Ben Revere (L)
His 37 infield hits (nine bunts) were third-most in the majors in 2012.
LF John Mayberry Jr. (R)
Played in career-high 149 games, including 107 starts, in 2012; only had 46 RBIs in 441 at-bats. Will likely platoon with Laynce Nix until Delmon Young’s ankle is completely recovered from offseason surgery.
IF Freddy Galvis (S)
Was leading team with 15 doubles when he sustained season-ending cracked spine last June.
IF Kevin Frandsen (R)
His 37 hits in August 2012 were tied for third-most in the National League.
C Erik Kratz (R)
Threw out 12-of-30 (40 percent) potential basestealers in 2012, and 18 of his 35 hits were for extra bases.
OF Ender Inciarte (L)
Rule 5 pick hasn’t advanced past High-A with Arizona where he hit .319 last season.
OF Laynce Nix (L)
Hit .342 in his first 17 games in 2012 then missed two-plus months with a calf strain.
LH Cole Hamels
Notched a career-high 216 strikeouts in 215.1 innings in 2012.
LH Cliff Lee
His 2.45 ERA after All-Star break was fifth-lowest among NL starters.
RH Roy Halladay
Did not have a complete game in 2012 for the first time in over a decade. Struggling to find velocity this spring.
RH Kyle Kendrick
Durability is valuable — has never been on the disabled list; had a career-high 6.6 K/9 IP in 2012.
LH John Lannan
He is 39–39 with a 3.80 ERA in 115 starts against teams other than the Phillies.
RH Jonathan Papelbon (Closer)
Has reached at least 30 saves in each of the last seven seasons.
RH Mike Adams
In 285.2 career innings in the NL, he has 2.11 ERA, 295 strikeouts and 85 walks.
LH Antonio Bastardo
Ranked third among qualified big-league relievers with 14.02 strikeouts per nine innings in 2012.
RH Mike Stutes
Showed promise in 2011, but missed much of 2012 with shoulder injury.
LH Jeremy Horst
Held left-handed hitters to a .170 average (8-for-47) with 17 strikeouts in 2012.
RH Chad Durbin
Returns to Philadelphia after pitching for Cleveland and Atlanta the last two seasons.
LH Raul Valdes
Lefties his just .149 last season; righties marginally better at .183.
There are many things that history could choose to remember about the 2012 Washington Nationals. There was the debut of Bryce Harper, one of the most dynamic rookies to emerge in recent years. There was the franchise’s first division title and first playoff appearance since it moved from Montreal in 2005. And there was the cementing of Davey Johnson’s credentials as a Hall of Fame manager, as he was named Manager of the Year at season’s end. However, in all likelihood, the 2012 Nationals will still be remembered years from now as the team that willingly chose to shut down its ace — when he was completely healthy. In sidelining Stephen Strasburg in such a fashion, the Nationals cited, among other things, their window for winning future titles. That window is now wide open, and the way history ultimately views the Great Strasburg Shutdown of 2012 will depend largely on how the team performs in 2013 and beyond.
As with virtually every segment of the Nationals’ roster, the rotation is blessed with a plethora of younger, controllable players. Even with a couple of generic slop-ballers at the back end, a front three of Strasburg (presumably unleashed in 2013), lefty Gio Gonzalez and righthander Jordan Zimmermann would take this team a long way. But with the December free-agent signing of righthander Dan Haren to fill the role (held in 2012 by Edwin Jackson) of veteran innings-eater, the Nationals can boast a formidable back end of Haren and hard-throwing lefty Ross Detwiler — ensuring that, no matter where an opponent catches the Nationals in their starting rotation, they will be facing a tough night at the plate. An intriguing option for depth is flamethrower Christian Garcia, who emerged as a bullpen force late in 2012.
The shocking end of the Nationals’ 2012 season, in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the Cardinals, could leave lasting marks on young closer Drew Storen, who blew a two-run ninth-inning lead after the Nationals were one strike away from advancing. While Johnson and the Nationals still believe in Storen, the team signed free agent Rafael Soriano to be the 2013 closer. Two of his 42 saves for the Yankees last season came prior to Mariano Rivera tearing his ACL in May. Storen joins Tyler Clippard to form what could be the most dominant setup tandem in baseball. Righthanders Craig Stammen and Ryan Mattheus, stalwarts in 2012, will return to their middle-relief roles. Lefty Zach Duke, who pitched well during a September call-up in 2012, is expected to fill the long reliever role held last year by Tom Gorzelanny.
Although the Nationals explored trading away second baseman Danny Espinosa this winter — less an indictment of Espinosa than a sign of how highly they regard backup Steve Lombardozzi — the team will return its double-play combo of Espinosa and shortstop Ian Desmond in 2013, and will be perfectly happy to do so. Switched out of the leadoff spot midway through the season (into a more comfortable role as the primary sixth hitter), Desmond had a breakout season that saw him earn his first All-Star appearance and Silver Slugger award (he was also a finalist for a Gold Glove), while becoming the emotional leader of the clubhouse. Espinosa strikes out too much and tends to go into long, deep funks at the plate, but he could also be poised for the same sort of breakout in 2013 that Desmond had in 2012.
After reviving his career with a huge 2012 season (33 homers, 100 RBIs, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, sixth in MVP voting), veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche paid a visit to free agency seeking a long-term deal, but was victimized by the draft-pick compensation rules in the new CBA, and ultimately returned to the Nationals on a two-year deal. LaRoche’s return gives the Nationals a top glove man and a critical left-handed bat in the middle of their lineup. Meantime, Ryan Zimmerman returns at third base following a strange 2012 that is best viewed as being divided into pre- and post-cortisone segments. On June 23, he received his first shot of the painkiller for his ailing shoulder, and his sagging numbers immediately took off. In the end, the popular Zimmerman wound up with a season in line with his career norms, then had a clean-up surgery on the shoulder immediately after the season.
The Nationals had been searching for years for a dependable leadoff hitter/center fielder, and over the winter they finally found their man in Denard Span, acquired via trade with Minnesota. Not only is Span a talented offensive and defensive player, but the Nationals also can envision other pieces falling into place with him on board: Harper (in left) and Jayson Werth (in right) move seamlessly to the corners, while Werth can be freed from the leadoff spot. If all three stay healthy and perform to expectations, the Harper-Span-Werth outfield could be among the best in baseball.
Kurt Suzuki, acquired in an August trade with Oakland, was supposed to have been little more than a two-month stopgap, filling an acute down-the-stretch need but ceding the starting job in 2013 when starter Wilson Ramos returns from injury. However, Suzuki played a critical role in the Nationals’ run to the NL East title. Lest we forget, however — Ramos was considered one of the brightest young catchers in the game before a season-ending knee injury in May. The two catchers proved in spring training that they were deserving of the starting job, and Johnson has decided to begin the season using Ramos and Suzuki every other day, keeping both fresh.
The Nationals were blessed with a potent, highly functional bench in 2012 and will be looking to reconstruct a similar one this year. To that end, they signed Chad Tracy, their top pinch-hitter in 2012, to a one-year extension for 2013, and they will return Lombardozzi, talented fourth outfielder Roger Bernadina and outfield/first base backup Tyler Moore as well.
The highly publicized shouting match between Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo last summer was less a sign of discord within the braintrust than a reminder that these are two bull-headed men who — with plenty of justification — believe strongly in their own abilities. They also happen to like and respect each other. Although Johnson will be 70 on Opening Day and has already indicated that 2013 will be his final year, he remains at the top of his game mentally. (And if Johnson does indeed step down after 2013, the Nationals appear to have already identified his successor in bench coach Randy Knorr.) Rizzo, too, has ascended to the upper tier of his profession, turning a perennial loser into a well-run, self-sustaining, winning organization that is the envy of his peers.
When Johnson blurted “World Series or bust” during the December 2012 Winter Meetings, he wasn’t being boastful or jingoistic. He was merely stating the obvious: This is a team built to win it all. In fact, all along 2013 was the Nationals’ target for contending — it just so happens that they arrived a year early in 2012. One could even argue that the franchise was caught unprepared for what befell them, based on the lack of a better plan for handling Strasburg’s innings limit. It is always dangerous to define your season as requiring a World Series appearance in order to qualify as a success, since the postseason is a crapshoot to some degree. But at least on paper, the Nationals appear to be as well equipped as anyone to survive both the marathon of the 162-game season and the sprint of October.
CF Denard Span (L)
The type of pure leadoff hitter the Nationals had been lacking; slapped 38 doubles and stole 17 bases in ’12.
RF Jayson Werth (R)
Thrived as leadoff hitter, but Nats believe he’ll be a perfect fit behind Span.
LF Bryce Harper (L)
After historic rookie season, ceiling in 2013 appears limitless for the 20-year-old outfielder.
3B Ryan Zimmerman (R)
Played through shoulder injury, put up representative numbers, with 25 HRs and 95 RBIs.
1B Adam LaRoche (L)
Silver Slugger/Gold Glove exacta spoke to his immense value to the Nationals in 2012
SS Ian Desmond (R)
Arguably the best shortstop in the majors last season; had career highs in average (.292), HRs (25), RBIs (73).
2B Danny Espinosa (S)
Power numbers dipped slightly from 2011 rookie season, but Nationals aren’t giving up on him.
C Wilson Ramos (R)
Will need to earn job back after suffering ACL tear last May that ended his season.
C Kurt Suzuki (R)
Cameo after August trade was enough to earn shot at regular playing time in 2013.
OF Roger Bernadina (L)
Versatile glove-man and emerging hitter could start for many teams; valuable reserve for the Nats.
UT Tyler Moore (R)
Pure hitter was a crucial part of 2012 bench; hit 10 home runs in only 156 at-bats.
IF Chad Tracy (L)
Davey Johnson’s favorite pinch-hitter (12 hits in 46 at- bats) in 2012 returns in same role.
UT Steve Lombardozzi (S)
Steady infielder added outfield to his duties in 2012, increasing his value to the Nats.
RH Stephen Strasburg
The former No. 1 overall pick is poised for huge 2013 after being freed from controversial innings leash.
LH Gio Gonzalez
Won 21 games in his first season with the team, kept command issues at bay, kept clubhouse loose.
RH Jordan Zimmermann
Despite bringing heat, ranked eighth in the National League with only 2.0 walks per nine innings.
RH Dan Haren
Has averaged 220 innings pitched since 2005, though injuries plagued him in 2012.
LH Ross Detwiler
On any other staff, he’d be a No. 2 or No. 3, but the Nats are glad to have this 10-game winner in No. 5 hole.
RH Rafael Soriano (Closer)
Saved 42 games and blew just four last season for the Yankees.
RH Drew Storen
Had a 0.989 WHIP in regular season; 2012 season was going swell until ninth inning of Game 5 of NLDS.
RH Tyler Clippard
Had strong run as closer in Storen’s absence, but the Nationals value him as a setup man.
RH Craig Stammen
Paced the Nats’ 2012 bullpen with 88.1 innings pitched; only gave up 70 hits but walked 36.
RH Ryan Mattheus
Trusted seventh-inning man allowed opposing batters to hit .161 with runners in scoring position.
LH Zach Duke
Longtime starter shined in bullpen role last September, and earned himself a big-league contract for 2013.
RH Henry Rodriguez
Needs to cure wildness (22 walks in 29.1 IP in 2012), but Nats still believe in his power arm.
The American League West is arguably the toughest division in baseball, which isn’t great news for an Astros team making its move into the division while trying to rebuild following the two worst seasons in franchise history. Coming off a club-record 107 losses in their final year in the National League in 2012 and 106 losses in 2011 — the Astros enter the AL with new uniforms, a new logo and a new manager in Bo Porter. The club is committed to staying the course of rebuilding through the draft and player development, which means playoff contention is likely years down the road. That’s especially true in the AL West, where the Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and Oakland A’s are all built to contend, while the up-and-coming Mariners are no pushovers. Enter the Astros, who will play each of these teams 18 or 19 times while they try to give young players looks at several positions all over the diamond. Astros owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow, entering their second seasons with the club, are committed to youth and don’t plan to start spending major money in free agency until the team’s youngsters start coming of age. Baseball fans in Houston, who will get to see a different set of teams come through Minute Maid Park this year, can only hope the team grows up sooner than expected because life as the punching bag in the AL West won’t be fun.
The first three arms in the rotation are set, with righthanders Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell and Jordan Lyles. Norris will need to rebound following a 7–13 campaign in which he battled various injuries and went three months without getting a win. Harrell was one of the biggest bright spots for the Astros last year, coming out of nowhere to go 11–11 with a 3.76 ERA while making a team-high 32 starts as a rookie. He led the team in wins and innings pitched and went at least five innings in all but one of his starts. Lyles pitched all last year at 21 years old and struggled through a 5–12 season, though he threw a shutout in his final appearance. The Astros hope this is the year the promising youngster finally puts it all together and becomes a mainstay in the rotation. The final two spots in the rotation are up for grabs among a group of arms that includes lefthander Erik Bedard, a non-roster player, veteran Edgar Gonzalez and newcomers John Ely, Alex White and Philip Humber, who threw a perfect game with the White Sox in 2012. The odds are now that Humber and Bedard will break camp as starters.
The Astros’ youth shows in their bullpen, which was made up of fresh faces after Brandon Lyon and Brett Myers were traded last July. The team gave the closer job to Wilton Lopez to finish the season, but he was dealt to Colorado in December. Houston signed veteran Jose Veras — who will be on his sixth team in five seasons — to handle the closing duties, not that there figure to be too many chances to save games. The Astros also plan to give Josh Fields, taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft, a chance to pitch late in games too. Among those returning to the bullpen this year are righthanders Hector Ambriz and Rhiner Cruz and lefties Wesley Wright and Xavier Cedeno.
The middle of the infield, perhaps the Astros’ biggest area of strength last season, may now be only half full after the trade of shortstop Jed Lowrie. All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve returns for his second full season. Tyler Greene, who seemed to always be on the cusp of a breakout season with St. Louis, takes over at short. Altuve, the 5'5" dynamo, hit .290 with seven homers, 37 RBIs and 33 steals last year, getting plenty of time at the top of the lineup. At 22, he was the second-youngest member of the NL All-Star team after Bryce Harper and led the Astros with 147 games played, including 142 starts at second. Greene hit .246 in 39 games with Houston after managing just .218 in 77 games with the Cardinals. His speed is his greatest asset offensively. The two middle infielders will bat 1-2, perhaps even rotating until the offense finds a groove.
Brett Wallace got most of the time at first base last year following the July 4 trade of Carlos Lee and will enter the season as the favorite to hold onto the job this year. That’s assuming veteran Carlos Pena, who signed with the club in December, gets most of his at-bats at designated hitter. If Wallace can keep hitting for power, though, the position will be his. The Astros enter the season at third base with Matt Dominguez, who has a great glove and has hit well in a limited look. Then there’s Rule 5 pick-up Nate Freiman, who hit .298 with 31 doubles, 24 homers and 105 RBIs in 137 games with Double-A San Antonio (Padres) in 2012. Chris Carter, acquired from Oakland, is penciled in the outfield, but is more suited to first base. Stay tuned.
The competition for spots in the Astros outfield has been a free-for-all this spring. The only player assured of a spot somewhere in the outfield is Justin Maxwell, who slugged 18 homers and 53 RBIs last year as the club’s biggest power threat. Maxwell played all over the outfield a year ago, and where he winds up in 2013 may have more to do with which players lock down the other spots. J.D. Martinez will get another long look after a disappointing 2012 that saw his season end prematurely because of hand surgery. The Astros liked what they saw last year from Fernando Martinez, who along with Maxwell hit some of the longest homers in the majors. If his knees hold up, the former Mets top prospect could win a starting job, or at least platoon. Carter has impressed with his bat and will find his way into the lineup somewhere, most likely in left field, leaving the Martinezes to share right. Brandon Barnes proved he could play center field at a high level, though his bat remains a question mark.
Former first-round pick Jason Castro returned in 2012 after missing all of the previous season following ACL surgery and played well offensively. His knee forced him to the DL at one point, but he wound up hitting .257 with six homers and 29 RBIs, including a .281 average and five homers and 17 RBIs in his final 160 at-bats. Castro is the starter entering the season, but he’s going to have to improve his defense. He let too many balls scoot past him last year, which put his pitchers in tough spots. Castro has enough talent and smarts to be a solid everyday catcher.
Moving to the American League for 2013, the Astros were forced to find their first full-time designated hitter and wound up signing Pena to a one-year deal. He hit 19 home runs with 61 RBIs last year for Tampa Bay, but he doesn’t hit for much average anymore. Houston could also give Wallace some time at DH, but Pena figures to get most of the at-bats. The bench is thin with Marwin Gonzalez backing up in the middle of the infield and Carlos Corporan at catcher. Whichever player from the outfield mix of Fernando Martinez, J.D. Martinez and Barnes doesn’t win a starting job will likely be asked to come off the bench.
This will be the first season as manager for the 40-year-old Porter, who was hired after spending last year as the third base coach of the Nationals. He’s hired a diverse and experienced staff to help him along, but until the team puts better players on the field, it’s going to be challenging to deliver wins.
The Astros will be young and should play hard, but it’s difficult finding a scenario in which they won’t finish in the cellar of the AL West. They’re light years behind the veteran teams in Texas and Anaheim, and Oakland has proven it’s going to contend in the division for years. Perhaps the Astros can look at the A’s as hope that they can reach the playoffs sooner than expected, but they’re in the middle of a long-term rebuilding project and will continue to take lumps at the big-league level.
SS Tyler Greene (R)
Combined to hit .230 with the Cardinals and Astros last year and showed some good power numbers.
2B Jose Altuve (R)
Named team MVP after breakout season during which he hit .290 with seven homers, 33 steals and 37 RBIs.
DH Carlos Pena (L)
The Astros signed him to be their first full-time DH with hopes he can hit for average again.
LF Chris Carter (R)
Hit just .148 after Aug. 31 for the A’s last season, essentially forced to sit out the team’s late surge. Could be an adventure in the outfield.
1B Brett Wallace (L)
Finally began to show the power stroke the Astros wanted, hitting nine homers in 229 at-bats.
CF Justin Maxwell (R)
Played in a career-high 124 games; led the team with 18 homers and was second with 53 RBIs.
C Jason Castro (L)
Bounced back from injury that cost him 2011 season to hit .257, including .281 in his final 61 games.
RF Fernando Martinez (L)
Martinez doesn’t run well anymore, but he showed last year he has plenty of power in his bat.
3B Matt Dominguez (R)
He’s a polished defensive player at the hot corner who showed promise with the bat to end last year.
OF J.D. Martinez (R)
He couldn’t duplicate his promising half season of a year earlier, but still led team with 55 RBIs. He will platoon with Fernando Martinez in right field.
C Carlos Corporan (S)
Veteran did a nice job with the Astros, hitting .269 in 78 at-bats with four homers and 13 RBIs.
SS Marwin Gonzalez (S)
He’s about as good as they come defensively at short, but can his bat keep him in majors?
OF Rick Ankiel (L)
The athletic outfielder will make at least two throws this season that you cannot believe you saw.
RH Bud Norris
The Astros’ “ace” is a combined 22–34 with a 4.41 ERA over the last three seasons.
RH Lucas Harrell
Was named Astros Pitcher of the Year after going 11–11 with a 3.76 ERA in team-high 32 starts as a rookie.
RH Jordan Lyles
As a 21-year-old in 2012, he set career highs in innings, starts, strikeouts, quality starts and wins in going 5–12.
RH Philip Humber
Native Texan returns home to pitch for Astros after going 5–5 with a 6.44 ERA — and a perfect game — last year for White Sox.
LH Erik Bedard
Was a no-so-inspiring 7-14 with a 5.01 ERA in 24 starts for Pittsburgh last season.
RH Jose Veras (Closer)
5–4 with a 3.63 ERA in 72 games for Brewers in 2012, averaging 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings.
LH Wesley Wright
Appeared in a career-high 77 games last year, which led the club; held lefties to a .198 average.
LH Xavier Cedeno
Lefty bounced between minors and majors, but didn’t allow a run in 16 of his final 17 games with the Astros.
RH Hector Ambriz
Signed as a minor league free agent in June, he did nice work, appearing in 18 games for the Astros.
RH Rhiner Cruz
He throws harder than just about anyone on the staff, but he needs to refine control from 2012 rookie season.
RH Josh Fields
The No. 1 overall pick in Rule 5 draft, Fields went 4–3 with 2.01 ERA with 78 strikeouts in minors.
The Mariners head into their fifth year under general manager Jack Zduriencik with too many holes in their offense and pitching rotation to fix in one offseason. Significantly improving the roster became a challenge once the Mariners were outbid by $25 million for Josh Hamilton and saw the price for shorter-term fixes like Torii Hunter, Kevin Youkilis and Mike Napoli spiral away from them. And when potential trade partners demanded too many top prospects, Seattle’s game plan shifted toward a more cost-effective approach to upgrading. Rather than spend on Nick Swisher or Cody Ross in the outfield corners, the Mariners signed cheaper free agents Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez to one-year deals. They also filled a hole in the middle of the order by trading left-handed starter Jason Vargas to the Angels for first baseman Kendrys Morales. Despite a so-so comeback year in 2012, Morales had better numbers than any full-time Mariners hitter and provides an answer at designated hitter or first base while Justin Smoak finds his way. Seattle scored 513 runs in 2010 — second-fewest in club history — and 556 runs in 2011. The Mariners’ production improved to 619 runs in 2012, but the bats could again doom the team’s fortunes without improvement from several members of the lineup. With more hitter-friendly dimensions this season, the Mariners should get an offensive boost by scoring more runs at Safeco Field, where they averaged 3.2 runs per game last season compared to 4.5 on the road. But Seattle’s pitching allowed only 3.2 runs per game at home compared to 4.8 on the road, so any offensive gains from a revamped ballpark could be quickly offset. The Mariners’ pitching could also regress without surprises by starters not named Felix Hernandez. Vargas and Kevin Millwood pitched a combined 378.1 innings last season, but neither is back in the rotation in 2012. The Mariners need some new starters to step up.
Hernandez, the 2010 Cy Young Award winner, has averaged only 13.3 wins in the past three seasons but is still considered one of the elite pitchers in the game. He went 13–9 with a 3.06 ERA in 2012 but did not win a game in his final six starts. The Mariners re-signed Japanese import Hisashi Iwakuma to a two-year, $14 million deal based primarily on the strong second half to his first season in the big leagues. Iwakuma, who went 8–4 with a 2.50 ERA in his final 15 starts, will be the No. 2 starter after 2012 wins leader Vargas was dealt. The loss of Vargas is tough to gauge, given his success in a pitcher-friendly home park and struggles away from it. There was concern the new, smaller Safeco Field would hurt Vargas. Veteran Joe Saunders will fill in innings in the middle of the rotation. After his trade from Arizona, the Orioles won four of his seven starts down the stretch, scoring just two, one and zero runs in the other three. The Mariners have younger arms with big-league experience in Blake Beavan (24), Erasmo Ramirez (22) and Hector Noesi (26). But their best prospects remain in the minors, most notably James Paxton, Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and Brandon Maurer.
Second-year closer Tom Wilhelmsen, with his lethal curveball, leads a bullpen crew long on potential but short on experience. That’s why Seattle re-signed veteran lefthander Oliver Perez, who impressed the organization with his 2012 conversion to a late-innings specialist. The pen looks southpaw-heavy with Perez, Charlie Furbush and former Rule 5 pickup Lucas Luetge. The Mariners also have 100 mph flamethrowers Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor, and both profile as late-inning specialists — or potential trade bait. Another 2012 surprise was Josh Kinney. He missed most of the spring with a rib cage injury giving veteran Kameron Loe an opportunity to prove himself.
Advanced metrics indicate shortstop Brendan Ryan is the game’s best defender at his position, but he hit only .194 last season. That has to improve. Second baseman and leadoff man Dustin Ackley hit .226 in a dismal sophomore season while battling bone spurs in his ankle. The spurs were removed during the winter, and Ackley should be healthy in 2013. The Mariners jettisoned light-hitting backup Munenori Kawasaki and traded for Robert Andino, who also doesn’t hit much. But Andino is still an upgrade, and he can play any spot on the infield.
Morales says he’s 100 percent after breaking his leg in 2010. He’ll play first base a few times per week, but will be the primary designated hitter. That will allow Smoak another chance to prove himself at the plate. Smoak, the former No. 11 overall pick by the Texas Rangers, hit only .217 with a .654 OPS in 2012. Ibanez can also play first, which gives the Mariners the option of sending Smoak to Class AAA to begin the season. Third baseman Kyle Seager likely profiles better at second. He led the team with 20 homers in 2012, and the Mariners lack options at the hot corner. With Ackley entrenched at second, Seager will remain at third base.
Seattle acquired Michael Morse from Washington and the former shortstop will be the left fielder. He hit .303 with 36 doubles and 31 homers in 2011 for the Nationals before injuries slowed him last season. His defense is sub-par, but he has the hitting thing figured out. Franklin Gutierrez is the starter in center field. He hit .260 with only four home runs and three stolen bases in an injury-plagued 2012. Michael Saunders will likely be the everyday right fielder. Casper Wells could remain on the roster as a reserve outfielder, but he’s out of minor league options and getting squeezed by incoming vets.
The Mariners have an offensive-minded catcher in Jesus Montero, who will get only limited at-bats at DH this season after the acquisitions of Morlaes and Morse. Acquired from the Yankees before the 2012 season, Montero was solid in his first full season in the big leagues. He hit .260 with 15 home runs in 515 at bats. Those are decent numbers — especially on a team like Seattle — but the Mariners are expecting more production in ’13. Montero started 55 games behind the plate last year and 77 games as the DH. He will catch more often this season and he must improve defensively.
Morales improved as the season wore on. Ibanez and Bay will also see significant time as the DH as well as filling in on the corners in the outfield. Andino doesn’t hit much, but he’s a versatile defensive player who will see time at all four infield spots. Veteran Kelly Shoppach is a capable backup to Montero.
Eric Wedge has implored his players to adopt a “ready to hit” mentality by swinging at hittable pitches and taking fewer walks. The team OPS improved from .640 to .665 in 2012 while runs jumped from 556 to 619 — but much work remains. Wedge doesn’t tolerate the clubhouse discord that toppled Seattle managers in 2008 and 2010, but he lost Miguel Olivo, one of the team leaders last season. He now will lean on newcomers Ibanez and Bay for leadership. There’s pressure on Wedge for tangible results in his third season. The only change on his coaching staff is the addition of Dave Hansen as the hitting instructor. He will replace Chris Chambliss. The Mariners says they can spend $90 million or more on payroll, but it appears that their 2013 Opening Day roster will be in the high-$70-million range. Zduriencik has yet to match Billy Beane, his counterpart with the A’s, in producing cost-effective winners.
The Mariners could flirt with the .500 mark with modest improvements on offense. They will also get a boost by playing 19 games against the Astros in the AL West. But contending is not likely in a division that features two teams that won 93 games in 2012 (Oakland and Texas) and another in the Angels that features arguably the best lineup in baseball. Anything higher than fourth place in the AL West would be a surprise.
2B Dustin Ackley (L)
Hit .226 in first full season, but played much of it with bone spurs in ankle.
CF Franklin Gutierrez (R)
Injuries limited him to 163 plate appearances in 2012 after only 344 in 2011 due to stomach condition.
3B Kyle Seager (L)
Was team’s most productive regular with .259 batting average, 20 homers and 86 RBIs in first full season.
LF Michael Morse (R)
Returns to Seattle where he was primarily a shortstop.
DH Kendrys Morales (S)
Posted OPS of .900 in August and .829 in September/October in comeback season with the Angels.
C Jesus Montero (R)
Showed some power with 15 homers, but hit just .228 off right-handed pitching.
1B Justin Smoak (S)
Demoted to Class AAA in second half of season in which he hit .217 with 19 homers, but strong September raised hopes.
RF Michael Saunders (L)
Seattle’s best power-hitting regular in 2012 with 19 homers and .432 slugging percentage.
SS Brendan Ryan (R)
Gold Glove finalist and arguably the game’s top defender at his position, but hit just .194 in 470 plate appearances.
C Kelly Shoppach (R)
Has thrown out 37 percent of would-be base stealers over the past two seasons.
OF Raul Ibanez (L)
Will get plenty of at-bats, either in LF, 1B or DH; had OPS of .811 versus righthanders in 2012.
IF Robert Andino (R)
Mariners feel he’ll rebound from down year in Baltimore and provide upgrade in over departed Munenori Kawasaki.
OF Jason Bay (R)
Mariners need the right-handed power he used to display before he hit .165 in final New York flameout.
RH Felix Hernandez
Added perfect game in August to résumé that includes 2010 Cy Young Award, but went 0–4 with 6.62 ERA from Sept. 1 on.
LH Joe Saunders
Has made at least 28 starts each of the last five seasons.
RH Hisashi Iwakuma
Went 8–4 with 2.50 ERA in 15 second-half starts. Had one start and 4.84 ERA in 15 first-half outings.
RH Erasmo Ramirez
Missed two months with elbow injury, then posted 2.86 ERA in four starts and one relief outing in September.
RH Blake Beavan
Made 26 starts and logged 152.1 innings in first full season for former first-rounder.
RH Tom Wilhelmsen (Closer)
Notched 29 saves in 34 opportunities after taking over closer role from Brandon League in May.
RH Carter Capps
Proved capable of hitting 100 mph on radar gun and landing some off-speed pitches in second-half call-up.
RH Stephen Pryor
Debuted last June, but missed seven weeks with groin injury and struggled with off-speed stuff.
LH Oliver Perez
Mariners leaned heavily on his veteran presence and late-inning stuff in second half of a 2.12 ERA season.
LH Charlie Furbush
Was a reliable late-inning and multi-inning reliever until July triceps injury cost him a month.
RH Josh Kinney
Mostly minor league journeyman became a go-to guy late for manager Eric Wedge because of tough slider. He has missed most of spring training with a rib cage injury.
LH Lucas Luetge
Lefties hit .193, righties .318.
RH Kameron Loe
Appeared in 142 games over last two seasons with Milwaukee.
If at first you don’t succeed — buy and buy again. Last winter, the Angels rocked the baseball world with the biggest one-day spending binge in the sport’s history. They committed over $320 million to free agents Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, signing the two within hours one day in December. Even with the emergence of dynamic rookie Mike Trout, that did not get the Angels back into the postseason picture. So this winter, the Angels shocked everyone with another unexpected free-agent splurge, signing outfielder Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $123 million contract. If that isn’t enough to get the Angels into the playoffs for the first time since 2009, it’s hard to imagine who Angels owner Arte Moreno might try to buy next winter.
The Angels thought they had assembled one of the best rotations in baseball last season when they added lefthander Wilson to ace Jered Weaver and righthanders Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. The rotation was solid for most of the season and even added Zack Greinke in midseason. But Haren and Santana underperformed, dragging the rotation down in the second half of the season and leading to an offseason makeover. Greinke didn’t re-sign. Santana was traded, and Haren was allowed to leave as a free agent. Angels GM Jerry Dipoto used trades (for lefthander Jason Vargas and righthander Tommy Hanson) and free agency (signing Joe Blanton) to rebuild 60 percent of the rotation for 2013. After Weaver and Wilson, the quality drops off. The Angels will be happy just to get consistent performances from the rest of the rotation.
More than any other area of the team, it was the Angels’ bullpen that kept them from the playoffs in 2012. Angels relievers blew 22 saves, tied for the most in the American League and third in the majors. To no one’s surprise, the group received a major makeover for 2013. After electing not to sign an established closer for 2012 — Dipoto said he did not believe it was wise to invest big money in relief pitchers — the Angels signed closer Ryan Madson as a free agent this past winter. Madson had 32 saves for the Phillies in 2011 but missed all of 2012 while recovering from Tommy John surgery and will be limited to start this season. Dipoto also added free-agent lefthander Sean Burnett to a group of holdovers that is led by Ernesto Frieri, who led the Angels with 23 saves last year but will probably slide into a setup role when Madson is healthy. Veteran lefthander Scott Downs and righty Kevin Jepsen are two more dependable options for manager Mike Scioscia’s rebuilt pen. Downs has given up only 82 hits in 99.1 innings pitched in his two seasons with the Angels. Jepsen had a 3.02 ERA and 1.142 WHIP in 44.2 innings in 2012.
The Angels have set their keystone in stone for the next few seasons after giving contract extensions to both second baseman Howard Kendrick and shortstop Erick Aybar last spring. Neither has lived up to the potential that seemed to lie ahead in their early years — Aybar hit .312 in 2009 and won a Gold Glove in 2011; Kendrick made the All-Star team in 2011 — but both offer above-average defense and could become more productive offensively as they continue to mature. One (most likely Aybar) is likely to get the enviable boost of batting second in the Angels’ lineup this year between Trout and Pujols. That cushy slot led to a career revival for veteran outfielder Torii Hunter in 2012.
Pujols seemed unaffected by human distractions as he rolled out year after year of consistent production with the Cardinals, earning the nickname “The Machine.” All of that changed last season. Changing teams and leagues for the first time in his career, facing a steady diet of unfamiliar pitchers and trying to live up to the massive pressure of his $250 million contract all proved too much for Pujols last year. Early in May, he was hitting .194 with no home runs and only five RBIs when Scioscia benched him. Buoyed by the arrival of Trout, Pujols was more like himself the rest of the way and finished with enviable numbers (.285, 30 home runs, 105 RBIs). But those numbers have been in a three-year decline now, and The Machine isn’t what he used to be. Teamed with Hamilton in the middle of a deep Angels lineup in 2013, though, he won’t have to be. Third base, meanwhile, remains an unsolved riddle for the Angels — as it has been since Troy Glaus left following the 2004 season. The Mark Trumbo experiment did not last long last spring, and Alberto Callaspo spent another season as the Angels’ primary third baseman. Callaspo is an above-average defender but little more than a placeholder until something better comes along. He hit only 10 home runs with 53 RBIs in 520 plate appearances in 2012.
The 2012 season was transformative for the Angels — not because of Pujols’ debut but due to the arrival of Trout. At age 20, Trout had one of the best rookie seasons in baseball history and one of the most dynamic of any kind. Trout’s promotion in late April last season transformed the Angels’ lineup from a dysfunctional unit dragged down by underperforming veterans (i.e., Vernon Wells, Bobby Abreu and Pujols) into one of the most productive offenses in the American League. Hamilton’s addition for 2013 and beyond should take the Angels’ offense to another level. Defensively, the Angels will often field an outfield of three center fielders — Trout in left and Hamilton in right flanking Peter Bourjos — each capable of Gold Glove-caliber coverage that could make the team’s pitchers look better than they really are.
Satisfying Scioscia’s defensive demands and still offering some offensive contributions has proved too much for a generation of Angels catchers. Chris Iannetta is the latest to try, and Dipoto gave him a three-year contract extension as a vote of confidence. Iannetta did his best work in 2012 after returning from a wrist injury — he hit .306 in August.
The Angels’ decision to trade the limited Kendrys Morales clears the way for Trumbo to become the primary designated hitter. Trumbo figures to still see plenty of playing time in right field and first base with Hamilton and Pujols rotated through the DH spot on a regular basis. The bench, meanwhile, figures to offer little on a team where the everyday lineup is virtually set.
Friction between Dipoto and Scioscia was evident as the Angels got off to a bad start in 2012, reaching a head when Dipoto fired long-time hitting coach (and close Scioscia friend) Mickey Hatcher in May. The Angels turned around their season, but Scioscia figures to be on a very hot seat if the Angels underachieve again after Dipoto has handed him arguably the game’s top lineup.
In the past two years, the Angels have added two of the best players of the past 10 years (Pujols and Hamilton) and one who could be the best player of the next 10 years (Trout). That should allow them to field one of the most productive offenses in baseball and a defense capable of covering some of the team’s pitching deficiencies. The financial commitment it took to put that team together, however, figures to create high expectations and a pressurized atmosphere for Scioscia with a clubhouse now devoid of Hunter’s stabilizing presence. The Angels did not handle that pressure well last year, and it remains to be seen whether Moreno’s checkbook can buy a winner.
LF Mike Trout (R)
Hard to believe his historic rookie season did not result in third MVP-Rookie of the Year double in MLB history.
SS Erick Aybar (S)
Torii Hunter thrived last year in this cushy spot between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. Was one of best hitters in AL from June 2 until end of season (.326 with 111 hits in 91 games).
1B Albert Pujols (R)
Numbers have declined for three consecutive years — but still reached 30 HR-100 RBI plateau in 2012.
RF Josh Hamilton (L)
His K rate increased in 2012 (to 25.5 percent) fueled by jump in fastball miss rate (13.7 in ‘11 to 24.6 in ‘12).
DH Mark Trumbo (R)
Was his second-half slump a sign of growing pains or a regression to the mean?
2B Howard Kendrick (R)
Has hit between .279 and .287 with 14 steals in each of the last three seasons.
3B Alberto Callaspo (S)
Combined .664 OPS of Angels’ third basemen in 2012 ranked 28th in majors, 13th in American League.
C Chris Iannetta (R)
Missed 70 games in his debut season with the Angels with a wrist injury and a forearm strain.
CF Peter Bourjos (R)
Gold Glove-caliber defense but questionable offensive potential, though he did hit .271 in 552 at-bats in 2011.
C Chris Snyder (R)
Mike Scioscia loves veteran catchers who can handle pitchers.
OF Vernon Wells (R)
The Angels would give anything to be out from under this disastrous contract.
IF Andrew Romine (L)
Slick fielder can handle shortstop or third base but has yet to show he can hit at big-league level.
OF Kole Calhoun (L)
Scrappy player but scrappiness can get you only so far when your batting averages hovers below .200.
RH Jered Weaver
Has pitched at Cy Young level for three seasons now without winning the award.
LH C.J. Wilson
Blames bone chips in elbow for second-half slump last year — 4–5, 5.54 ERA, 1.57 WHIP in final 16 starts.
LH Jason Vargas
Benefited greatly from Safeco Field — ERA (2.74 to 4.78), WHIP (1.02 to 1.31) jumped on the road last year.
RH Joe Blanton
Two-year deal with innings-eater seems unnecessary with Garrett Richards knocking on door.
RH Tommy Hanson
Started 2009 10–4 with 2.44 ERA, .190 average against — in 36 starts since is 14–13 with 4.96 ERA, .277 average.
RH Ryan Madson (Closer)
During 32-save 2011 with Phillies had 62 Ks, only eight unintentional BBs, two HRs allowed in 62 appearances. Doubtful to start the season as closer.
RH Ernesto Frieri
Unhittable in debut with Angels — no hits in first 13 innings, no runs in first 26.1 with 45 strikeouts. Will assume the role of closer until Madson is ready.
LH Sean Burnett
Held left-handed hitters to .211 average with 28-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2012.
LH Scott Downs
Veteran had shoulder issues, was not as reliable in the second half last season — hence the Burnett signing.
RH Kevin Jepsen
After two years of knee problems and command issues, righthander has regained his velocity and reliability.
RH David Carpenter
Allowed 22 hits with 22 whiffs to right-handed batters in his debut season.
LH Brad Mills
Logged 378.2 minor league innings over the past three seasons.
RH Jerome Williams
Will be the long relief man and available for spot starts.
Consider this about how far the Rangers franchise has come: Their 93 wins in 2012 were viewed as a major disappointment for a team that has disappointed often since coming to Texas in 1972. Fans in the Metroplex had reason to be upset after the Rangers blew a five-game division lead with nine to play. Texas bowed out of the playoffs with a 5–1 loss to Baltimore in the inaugural AL Wild Card Game. The offseason didn’t start out any better, as five-time All-Star Josh Hamilton bolted to the division-rival Angels, and free agent Zack Greinke turned down the Rangers’ pile of money for a bigger one with the Dodgers. But the Rangers’ lineup, despite losing Hamilton, is still productive. The rotation should be a strength, assuming it can avoid the injuries that led to the club’s downfall last year. There’s too much talent to count this team out.
Failed bids to land Greinke and James Shields were met with dismay by Rangers fans, but the team’s rotation likely will feature three All-Stars and a 16-game winner. Yu Darvish finally lived up to the hype as he thrived down the stretch in 2012. The Rangers saw an ace-in-the-making who went 3–0 with a 2.21 ERA over his final five starts. Darvish made the AL All-Star team via the Final Vote contest on MLB.com. Matt Harrison could be considered the ace after winning a career-high 18 games. He dominated in June, when he was the AL Pitcher of the Month, and was a first-time All-Star in July. The third All-Star is Alexi Ogando, who made the AL team as a starter in 2011. The Rangers have settled on using Ogando as a starter after he spent the 2012 season in the bullpen. Ogando uses three pitches, though a mid- to upper-90s fastball is his best one. Derek Holland, who went 16–5 in 2011, and prospect Robbie Ross will round out the rotation, but the Rangers are expecting a significant contribution later in the year from Colby Lewis as he returns from surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon last summer.
There is little doubt that the Texas bullpen will be much stronger in the second half. That’s when the crew will be at full strength after the return of injured pitchers Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria and Martin Perez. And with the return of Lewis to the rotation by then, Ross will have returned to his valuable role in the bullpen. Soria, the former Royals closer will be an impact arm, but not until late May as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Jose Lindblom, who was acquired from Philadelphia in a trade for Michael Young, takes another spot. He’s a power pitcher who relies on a mid-90s fastball and a slider, but he gave up too many homers (13 in 71 innings) in 2012. Closer Joe Nathan, who saved 37 games, headlines the group of returning relievers. Feliz should return from Tommy John surgery around midseason. Perez may miss a couple of months.
There were multiple offseason discussions about where All-Stars Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus would play in 2013. The reason is top prospect Jurickson Profar. Club brass would like to see the switch-hitting Profar in the lineup every day. To do so, though, either Kinsler would have to be moved from second base or Andrus would have to be moved to another team. With free agency looming for Andrus after 2014 and with Scott Boras as his agent, the shortstop’s willingness to stay in Arlington is in question. Profar, who turned 20 early in spring training, is considered the top prospect in baseball. The Rangers believe his bat would upgrade a lineup that was inconsistent for much of 2012, and he’s athletic enough to play second base regularly even though he has been developed as a shortstop. He still could very well force his way into the Opening Day lineup, but the more likely scenario is that he will begin the season in the minors getting regular at-bats.
Adrian Beltre stands as the Rangers’ undisputed best player after Hamilton left for the Angels’ $125 million offer. Beltre, though, was moving toward that title last season as he swatted 36 homers with 102 RBIs and a .321 batting average. He also played spectacular defense, committing only eight errors, and earned his second straight Gold Glove — as well as the Platinum Glove, given to the best defensive player in the American League. The other side of the diamond, though, could be in flux. Mitch Moreland entered spring training as the starting first baseman, but wasn’t oozing with job security. The Rangers had flirted with the idea of playing Kinsler at first base in an attempt to make room for Profar. Moreland is the only true first baseman on the roster, but the left-handed hitter hasn’t shown much success against lefty pitchers. He also hasn’t had many chances the past two seasons, with the right-handed-hitting Young, Napoli and Mike Olt playing against lefties.
The loss of Hamilton obviously hurts, but there were a couple winners in the fallout of his departure. David Murphy will take over left field on a permanent basis. Murphy, who bats left-handed, hit a career-high .304 last season in 457 at bats and proved that he could hit left-handed pitchers (.347 in 75 at bats). The other winner was Leonys Martin, who defected from Cuba in 2010. He has power in his bat, though he will find more gaps than outfield seats, and his speed allows him to be a threat on the bases and a weapon in the outfield. Martin will open the season in a platoon with another strong-armed speedster, Craig Gentry, but the Rangers want to see Martin seize everyday duties. Nelson Cruz has manned right field since late in 2008, but leg injuries have made him less effective despite having the strongest arm in the outfield.
Along with the bullpen, catcher was the other area that the Rangers needed to address during the offseason. Free agent A.J. Pierzynski signed a one-year deal to be the Rangers’ primary catcher, with Geovany Soto re-signing to be the backup. Pierzynski had his most productive season in 2012, with a career-high 27 homers and a career-high-tying 77 RBIs for the White Sox. Numbers like that ordinarily warrant a multi-year deal, but at 36 years old, Pierzynski’s most attractive offer was the Rangers’ one-year pact. Soto disappointed after being acquired from the Cubs on July 31. He batted only .196 after the trade, but many pitchers preferred to have him as their catcher rather than the departed Napoli.
The Rangers like to use the DH spot as a chance to rest regulars without taking their bat out of the lineup, but the addition of Lance Berkman will limit that practice. Berkman might not be able to play 150 games, but it isn’t outrageous to think he will get 400 at-bats. Some of those could come at first base. Gentry will most likely serve as the fourth outfield, assuming Martin seizes center field. Veteran Jeff Baker appears to have won a reserve spot as a non-roster player. The most interesting decision remains what to do with Profar. Keeping him would most likely send Moreland to the bench. Sending him to the minors would open a spot for utility infielder Leury Garcia, a switch-hitter who has never played above Double-A.
Ron Washington is back for his seventh season as manager. His primary strength is that he consistently gets the most out of his players and allows them to play an exciting brand of baseball. But he also stresses the fundamentals, and the Rangers had their best season defensively since he took over, but their worst on the bases. Hitting coach Dave Magadan left the same post in Boston and takes over an offense that led the majors in runs (808) and finished third in batting average (.273). Dave Anderson and Gary Pettis are swapping coaching boxes, with Pettis heading to third as the Rangers try to maximize the base-running knowledge he had as a player.
The Rangers won’t be favored to win the West this year after losing Hamilton and failing to make an offseason splash. But this team still has multiple All-Stars, including three in the infield and three in the rotation, and they have the prospects and financial flexibility to alter the roster before the July 31 trade deadline. In short, the Rangers know how to win and still have the talent to compete for the AL West title.
2B Ian Kinsler (R)
Kinsler is looking for a rebound season after a subpar 2012. Don’t be surprised to see him play some first base, too.
SS Elvis Andrus (R)
He set career-highs in average, on-base percentage and RBIs in 2012, and was terrific defensively.
DH Lance Berkman (S)
Nolan Ryan helped woo the veteran to Arlington. If Berkman is healthy, he can be a threat in the middle of the lineup.
3B Adrian Beltre (R)
The Rangers’ best player put up huge numbers for a second straight year. No one in the clubhouse is respected more.
RF Nelson Cruz (R)
A more slender Cruz produced career-highs in doubles and RBIs, but was streaky. He’s in his walk year, so look for a big 2013.
LF David Murphy (L)
The longtime fourth outfielder seized his chance to play every day over the final two months of 2012.
C A.J. Pierzynski (L)
Signed in late December, the veteran upgrades the catching situation and provides a needed left-handed bat.
1B Mitch Moreland (L)
He must show that he can stay healthy and handle left-handed pitchers. He had only 46 at-bats against them in 2012.
CF Leonys Martin (L)
A .323 average in 533 minor league at-bats has the Rangers believing he’s ready to succeed in the major leagues.
C Geovany Soto (R)
A .196 hitter after the July trade from the Cubs, this former Rookie of the Year expects more from himself in 2013.
OF Craig Gentry (R)
The defensive-minded outfielder showed something at the plate in 2012, but he is not viewed as an everyday player.
UT Jeff Baker (R)
Hit just .248 for three different teams last season.
UT Leury Garcia (S)
The Rangers are likely to keep Garcia as a bench player and allow Jurickson Profar the opportunity for regular at-bats in the minors.
RH Yu Darvish
The Japanese import was one of the league’s top pitchers over the final two months, giving the Rangers high hopes for 2013.
LH Derek Holland
His 2012 was a disappointment after a 16-win 2011 season. Holland’s main problem was the long ball (32 HRs allowed).
LH Matt Harrison
He has won 32 games the past two seasons, tied for eighth-best in the majors. Won a career-high 18 in 2012.
RH Alexi Ogando
An All-Star in 2011, Ogando was back in the bullpen last year. He’s a starter once again, and it’s the job he wants most.
LH Robbie Ross
A longshot to make the 2012 roster, he posted All-Star numbers before fatigue caught up to him. He’s a key piece in 2013, and injuries to others have opened a door to the rotation.
RH Joe Nathan (Closer)
The veteran was a workhorse and an All-Star in 2012, and must be again while some key relievers try to overcome injuries.
RH Joakim Soria
The former Kansas City closer won’t be ready until late May (Tommy John surgery); will give the bullpen a boost on return.
RH Josh Lindblom
Acquired in the Michael Young trade, Lindblom gave up 13 homers in 71 innings in 2012. He knows that must improve.
RH Tanner Scheppers
Made big-league debut in ’12, two years later than anticipated. Fastball can hit 98 mph but straightens out too frequently.
LH Michael Kirkman
The former starting pitcher has found a home in the bullpen, and his slider is a key pitch against tough left-handed batters.
RH Jason Frasor
Says he’s healthy after hitting the DL (forearm strain) for the first time in his nine-year career in 2012.
Since these are the Oakland Athletics, subject of a popular motion picture you may have heard about, we can say it without exaggeration: The 2012 season unfolded like a movie. Billy Beane, their mad scientist of a general manager, traded three All-Star pitchers before the season started, then used the pieces he got in return to build another unlikely winner. The A’s roared to a 33–13 finish after Aug. 15 to capture the AL West title on the season’s final day. They lost a five-game division series to Detroit but return nearly the entire roster in an effort to get back to the playoffs.
The A’s ranked third in the American League in starters’ ERA, with their 3.80 mark trailing only Tampa Bay and Detroit. They managed this despite having only two pitchers, Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker, make 25 starts, while losing another, Bartolo Colon, to a suspension for testosterone use in August. Still another starter, Brandon McCarthy, had his season end in early September when he took a line drive off of his head. McCarthy has since signed with the Diamondbacks, but the A’s are bringing back everyone else,including Colon, who returns on a one-year, $3 million contract. Perpetually overweight, nearing 40 and presumably off performance-enhancing drugs, Colon is no sure thing. But there is young depth around him, with Milone, Parker and A.J. Griffin having gone a combined 33–19 as rookies last season, and lefty Brett Anderson ready for his first full season after Tommy John surgery. Dan Straily looked promising last season in his first seven career starts.
As well as the Oakland starters pitched last season, the relievers were even better. Only the Rays had a better bullpen ERA in the AL than the Athletics, whose 2.94 mark was more than a full run better than that of the division-rival Angels. Grant Balfour, the hard-throwing, fist-pumping, rage-inducing Australian, secured a closer’s role for the first time in his nine big-league seasons, earning 24 saves in 26 opportunities. And Balfour wasn’t even the bullpen’s All-Star — that honor went to Ryan Cook, who also pitched well in the second half before stumbling a bit in the playoffs. After knee surgery in February, Balfour may not be ready to start the season, leaving closing duties in Cook’s hands. Cook and sidewinder Pat Neshek, who was devastating against righties, provide strong right-handed setup relief for Bob Melvin, who could carry three lefthanders if Travis Blackley stays on the roster as a long man and spot starter. Jerry Blevins is prone to the long ball but generally holds lefties in check. And Sean Doolittle, a former first-round pick as a first baseman, made a remarkably swift transition to the mound, blowing hitters away with his heat while featuring, perhaps, the coolest Twitter handle in baseball (@whatwouldDOOdo).
When the A’s look at what’s new this spring, they’ll train their eyes on the middle of the diamond. Scott Sizemore’s 2012 season ended before it even started due to a knee injury sustained in February. Jemile Weeks struggled to replace him, with a .304 slugging percentage that was even lower than his .305 on-base percentage. Cliff Pennington ended up starting at second in the playoffs but was traded to Arizona, so Weeks and Sizemore remain in the mix at the position. At shortstop, the A’s let Stephen Drew leave for the Red Sox and signed Hiroyuki Nakajima for two years and $6.5 million. Nakajima, a right-handed batter who hit for average and power in Japan, played in the World Baseball Classic in 2009 but did not participate this spring.
Nobody could have predicted at the start of last season that Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson would be starting at the infield corners for a playoff team. The duo had combined for zero hits in the majors in 2011, Moss having gone 0-for-6 in a brief call-up with the Phillies, and Donaldson having spent the entire season in the minors. Their unexpected rise was just further evidence of the charmed existence of the 2012 Athletics, and it’s fair to wonder whether either can maintain their success. So it’s difficult to blame the club for trading for Jed Lowrie. Having played shortstop with Houston last season, the A’s will pencil Lowrie in at third and in the No. 2 hole in the lineup. With Moss, it’s probably unrealistic to expect anything more. In just 84 games last season, he belted 21 homers, drove in 52 runs and posted an OPS of .954.
The A’s lost Jonny Gomes, their high-on-base, high-energy, high-strikeout slugger, to the Red Sox, who gave him $10 million for two years. Even so, the A’s bring back three solid, athletic outfielders — Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick — who cover lots of ground and bring a diverse set of skills to the lineup. Cespedes can do it all and seems to have all the indicators of a possible breakout season in 2013. The Cuban defector has had a year to adjust to the United States and has already shown he can handle the majors, finishing as the runner-up for Rookie of the Year by hitting .292 with 23 homers and 16 stolen bases. At 27, he should be squarely in his prime and is the closest thing Oakland has to a legitimate superstar. Crisp is the old man of the offense, at 33, but he’s plenty spry enough to cover lots of ground in the outfield and is one of the top base-stealing threats in the league. Reddick — another former Red Sox player — blossomed with a full-time role in Oakland, drilling 32 homers and showing off a great arm in right.
The A’s got a catcher from the Nationals before last season (Derek Norris) and then traded a different one (Kurt Suzuki) to Washington during the season. Suzuki was popular in the Oakland clubhouse, but the A’s are fine with the swap. Norris didn’t show much at the plate last year, but he’s only 24 and his minor league numbers suggest the kind of hitter Oakland has long loved: high on-base percentage, big power. He also showed enough leadership qualities and rapport with a young pitching staff to get the most out of their abilities during the heat of the pennant race. The A’s also brought in John Jaso over the winter. He and Norris should split time, keeping both fresh throughout the season.
Seth Smith can play all three outfield spots, but will be the primary DH. The A’s pulled off the rare October trade, acquiring Chris Young from the Diamondbacks shortly after their loss to Detroit in the division series. Parker, who played with Young in Arizona, told the San Francisco Chronicle he loved the move. “He’s similar to a lot of guys we have here. He’s young. He’ll have a lot in common with everyone. It’s going to be exciting to see him.” It’s a bit unclear where Young fits, exactly, because he’s a good defensive outfielder. But the A’s already have three of those, so expect Young to see at least some time at designated hitter while mixing in and out of the outfield to keep everyone fresh. Donaldson is the first option as a backup infielder.
It’s difficult to think of any manager/GM combination that had a better year than Beane and Melvin. Beane’s bold trades of Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez netted both quantity and quality, at low cost, and his signing of Yoenis Cespedes was a masterstroke. The A’s did not expect to win a division in 2012, but they did, and the level-headed, approachable Melvin clicked nicely with a young, exuberant roster. Melvin earned American League Manager of the Year honors, and Beane’s moves give the A’s the chance to keep their core while waiting for baseball to decide if owner Lew Wolff can ever build a ballpark in San Jose.
The unsettled stadium issue hangs over the franchise, but Beane showed last season that he could still win a brain race against division rivals with much more cash to throw around. As the Angels spend lavishly to recapture their recent glory — Albert Pujols one year, Josh Hamilton the next — and the big-budget Rangers try to re-tool, the A’s have a strong chance to at least make things interesting again. It’s probably asking too much to make Oakland the favorite on paper, but with the talent and grit of this group, and with plenty of winnable games against Seattle and Houston, it’s foolish to count the A’s out.
CF Coco Crisp (S)
In three seasons with A’s, has 120 steals and .314 average with runners in scoring position.
3B Jed Lowrie (S)
When healthy, he’s proven to be an all-around solid player and one of team’s top power threats.
LF Yoenis Cespedes (R)
Four-year, $36M deal looked puzzling at the time; looks shrewd now for this emerging star.
1B Brandon Moss (L)
Led the American League with .545 average (18 for 33) when putting first pitch in play.
RF Josh Reddick (L)
Embodies the A’s offense — lots of homers (32) and lots of strikeouts (151).
DH Seth Smith (L)
Made final out of 2007 World Series with the Rockies and 2012 ALDS with the A’s.
C John Jaso (L)
Had a .394 OBP in 108 games with Seattle.
2B Scott Sizemore (R)
A’s are eager to see how he comes back from knee surgery that kept him out all last season.
SS Hiroyuki Nakajima (R)
Hit .302 with four seasons of at least 20 homers in Japan; signed a two-year deal with the A’s.
C Derek Norris (R)
Pitchers’ ERA was 3.13 with him behind plate, best for any AL catcher (min. 50 games). Will get significant at-bats against left-handed pitching.
OF Chris Young (R)
Strong defensive ability could be asset as fourth outfielder.
3B Josh Donaldson (R)
Former Auburn Tiger will need to improve .289 OBP to have a chance as an everyday starter.
1B Daric Barton (L)
Has hit .209 with one home run in 597 plate appearances since hitting .273 with 10 dingers in 686 Pas in 2010.
LH Brett Anderson
Southpaw has held opponents to .195 average with runners in scoring position over last three seasons.
RH Jarrod Parker
Former first-round pick by Arizona went 13–8 and had seven quality starts in his eight no-decisions.
LH Tommy Milone
Tossed Oakland’s only complete game with win vs. Dodgers last June.
RH Bartolo Colon
Won double-digit games for first time since 2005. Still must serve final five games of 50-game suspension.
RH A.J. Griffin
Slumped to 7.27 ERA in final four starts of regular season in his rookie campaign.
RH Grant Balfour (Closer)
Last blown save of 2012 season came on April 29; allowed only 41 hits in 74.2 innings. Will miss the beginning of the season due to knee surgery.
RH Ryan Cook
Held opponents scoreless in 22 of final 23 regular-season appearances in his first season in Oakland. Will fill in as closer until Balfour is healthy.
LH Sean Doolittle
Former first baseman hit 22 homers with 90 RBIs in minors in 2008.
LH Jerry Blevins
Allowed six first-batter home runs, most by A’s reliever in more than 30 years.
RH Pat Neshek
Righties went just 5-for-53 off Neshek after Orioles sold him to A’s in August.
RH Chris Resop
Threw a career-high 73.2 innings, seventh among NL relievers, for Pirates last season.
RH Fernando Rodriguez
Torn ACL leaves season in doubt.
The Minnesota Twins aren’t calling this a rebuilding season, but there’s no question they’re a team in transition. After winning six division titles in nine years, they’ve lost 99 and 96 games over the past two seasons, disappointing the slowly shrinking crowds at Target Field. Some moves this offseason suggested they were more focused on 2014 than 2013, but general manager Terry Ryan insists that fans could see some immediate improvement. Trading Denard Span and Ben Revere in a span of eight days left a big hole in center field, but those moves netted three starting pitchers for an organization sorely lacking quality arms at all levels. Span went to Washington for Double-A righty Alex Meyer, a hard-throwing first-round pick from the 2011 draft. Revere went to Philadelphia for Vance Worley, who will jump right into Minnesota’s rotation, and Trevor May, another Double-A righthander with No. 3 starter potential. The Twins have a wave of positional talent coming through their farm system, including center field prospect Aaron Hicks, a former first-round pick who probably will start the year at Triple-A. The goal now is to build a bridge toward the future without embarrassing themselves on the field.
The Twins gave this group an overhaul after their starters ranked second-to-last in the majors last year, one spot ahead of Colorado, with a 5.40 ERA. Rookie Scott Diamond had arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone chip from his left elbow in December after going 12–9 with a 3.54 ERA in 27 starts. His availability for Opening Day is in question. Kevin Correia, who signed a two-year, $10 million deal, isn’t flashy, but he’s been consistent over the past four seasons for the Padres and Pirates. Worley finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2011 but went 6–9 with a 4.20 ERA for the Phillies last year before having arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow. The Twins were disappointed they couldn’t re-sign Scott Baker, who missed last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Baker took a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Cubs. Instead, the Twins signed another pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery, former Met Mike Pelfrey, who hopes to be ready for Opening Day. Beyond Diamond, Correia, Worley and Pelfrey, the Twins have several wild-card rotation candidates including Liam Hendriks, Sam Deduno, Cole De Vries and P.J. Walters.
Twins officials point to their 2012 bullpen as proof things can turn around quickly. Their relievers were a major concern last spring, as they’d posted the worst ERA in baseball in 2011, at 4.51, before losing longtime closer Joe Nathan to free agency. But Ryan revamped the bullpen, turning it into a team strength. Jared Burton (2.18 ERA) handled the eighth inning, and Glen Perkins (2.56) handled the ninth. With dependable late-inning relief, the Twins had no problem letting former closer Matt Capps leave as a free agent. Burton and Casey Fien (2.06 ERA) were both minor league free-agent signings, proving there are gems in the scrap heap. They’ll both be back, along with lefthanders Brian Duensing and Tyler Robertson. The Twins believe this group can be even better if their starters can pitch deeper into games.
The Twins have candidates for both middle infield spots, but no sure things. Brian Dozier looked like he had real potential at shortstop at this time last year, but he disappointed both offensively and defensively in an 84-game stint. Now, there’s hope that he’ll settle in at second base, with Pedro Florimon taking over shortstop. Florimon has a strong arm and good range, but he’ll have to improve on the .272 on-base percentage he posted in six weeks last year. If either player falters, the Twins can turn to veteran utility man Jamey Carroll, who has shown he can start at second, third or shortstop.
First baseman Justin Morneau is entering the final year of his six-year, $80 million contract, and it’ll be interesting to see if he eventually gets traded for more pitching help. His past concussion issues and surgically repaired left wrist make him a continued injury risk, but after playing just 150 games combined the previous two years, he played 134 last year, making 99 starts at first base. The Twins could replace Morneau at first base with Chris Parmelee, but there’s room for both of them, as Parmelee also plays right field. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe hit 18 home runs in a staggering 39-game stretch last summer, but he managed just six homers over his other 80 games, and his defense was shaky throughout. A thumb injury helped contribute to his second-half fade, and the Twins hope he settles into another groove.
After the Twins traded Span, it looked like Revere would replace him as their center fielder and leadoff hitter, but then they traded Revere, too. It said something about how much confidence they have in 2008 first-round draft pick Aaron Hicks, a switch-hitting center fielder who made big strides last year in Double-A. Hicks will challenge for the starting center field job this spring, but the Twins likely will go with Darin Mastroianni, allowing Hicks to gain polish at Triple-A. Josh Willingham is back in left, coming off a career season that saw him rack up 35 home runs and 110 RBIs. The question now is, can he approach that same success at age 34? Parmelee is getting his first chance as a big-league regular in right field. He batted .355 with a 1.035 OPS for the Twins in September 2011 but struggled in the majors last year.
The Twins will use the same formula they used last year to keep Joe Mauer’s bat in the lineup as much as possible. In 2011, injuries limited him to 82 games, which was especially tough in the first year of his eight-year, $184 million contract. Last year, he rebounded to play a career-high 147 games. After signing Ryan Doumit, the Twins finally had a backup catcher with a good bat, which put less pressure on Mauer to stay behind the plate. Mauer played 74 games at catcher, 42 at DH and 30 at first base, and led the American League with a .416 on-base percentage. Doumit batted .275 with a career-high 18 home runs and 75 RBIs. The Twins were so impressed, they gave him a two-year contract extension.
After trading Jim Thome in 2011, the Twins often used the DH spot last year to keep Mauer and Morneau in the lineup. The team’s constant mound troubles led to it carrying at least 12 pitchers all season, leaving just four spots on the bench. They also kept three catchers, with Drew Butera serving as a defensive specialist to go with Mauer and Doumit (who will see time as the DH). This limits what the Twins can do with their other bench spots, but they gain some versatility with infielders who play multiple positions. Non-roster players Ray Olmedo, an infielder, and outfielder Wilkin Ramirez are making strong showings in spring training.
Ron Gardenhire was named AL Manager of the Year in 2010, but the past two seasons have taken a toll. The Twins made just one change to his coaching staff over his first 11 years as manager, replacing Al Newman with Joe Vavra after the 2005 season. But after finishing with the AL’s worst record the past two years, management demanded changes. Three longtime coaches lost their jobs — Rick Stelmaszek, Steve Liddle and Jerry White — getting replaced by Bobby Cuellar, Tom Brunansky and Terry Steinbach. Gardenhire knows he could be next to go.
Expectations haven’t been this low for the Twins since 2008, the season after they lost Torii Hunter to free agency and traded Johan Santana to the Mets. That year, the Twins wound up playing a Game 163 division tiebreaker, losing to the White Sox. But the Twins were stocked with pitching back then, both starting and relief. With their new makeshift staff, it’s difficult to imagine this team giving its fans much to cheer about in September. It’ll be interesting to see what midseason deals Ryan can make and whether Gardenhire survives to manage again in 2014.
CF Darin Mastroianni (R)
In 77 games as a rookie, he posted a .328 on-base percentage and was 21-for-24 in stolen base attempts.
2B Brian Dozier (R)
A career .298 hitter in the minors, he batted just .234 in 84 games as a rookie last season.
C Joe Mauer (L)
Led the majors with a .416 OBP and a played a career-high 147 games, including 74 at catcher.
LF Josh Willingham (R)
At age 33, he posted career highs in games played (145), home runs (35) and RBIs (110).
1B Justin Morneau (L)
Stayed healthy enough to play 134 games, but his .773 OPS was 78 points below his career average. After a terrific run in July and August (.314), he slipped in September (.236).
DH Ryan Doumit (S)
At age 31, he had career highs for games played (134), home runs (18) and RBIs (75).
RF Chris Parmelee (L)
Batted .338 with a 1.102 OPS for Class AAA Rochester last year but just .229 with a .671 OPS for the Twins.
3B Trevor Plouffe (R)
Twins love his power potential, but he was inconsistent and made 17 errors in 95 games at third base.
SS Pedro Florimon (S)
The switch-hitter needs to improve offensively, especially from the left side of the plate.
INF Eduardo Escobar (S)
Acquired from the White Sox in the Francisco Liriano trade; posted a .271 OBP in 14 games.
C Drew Butera (R)
The defensive specialist’s .198 batting average actually was a 31-point improvement from 2011.
INF Jamey Carroll (R)
After a slow start last year, he batted .295 with a .365 OBP over his final 86 games.
OF Wilkin Ramirez
A .270 hitter in just 37 at-bats in 2009 and ’11.
RH Vance Worley
Acquired from the Phillies for Ben Revere after going 6–9 with a 4.20 ERA last year.
RH Kevin Correia
Despite low strikeout rate, he’s averaged 11.5 wins over the past four years, the past two with Pittsburgh.
RH Mike Pelfrey
The ground-ball specialist had Tommy John surgery May 1 before leaving the Mets as a free agent.
LH Scott Diamond
Went 12–9 in 27 starts and ranked third among all qualifying MLB rookies in ERA (3.54). After elbow surgery in December, Diamond may not be ready to start the season. Righthander Liam Hendricks will fill the gap until the presumed ace is healthy.
RH Cole De Vries
Was 3–0 with a 1.02 ERA in his final three starts before suffering a cracked rib on Sept. 8.
LH Glen Perkins (Closer)
Had 78 strikeouts in 70.1 innings and converted 12-of-13 save chances to close the season.
RH Jared Burton
Posted a 2.18 ERA in 62 innings pitched, holding batters to a .186 batting average.
RH Casey Fien
Another minor league free-agent signee, he posted a 2.06 ERA in 35 innings pitched.
LH Brian Duensing
Posted a 3.47 ERA in 44 relief appearances but went 2–8 with a 6.92 ERA in 11 starts.
RH Alex Burnett
Led the Twins with 71.2 innings of relief, and his 3.52 ERA was down nearly two full runs from 2011.
LH Tyler Robertson
In his final 31 appearances, he held opponents to a .186 batting average, including .167 vs. lefties.
RH Ryan Pressly
Rule 5 draftee posted a 2.93 ERA in Double-A for the Red Sox last year.
Over the 2011 and 2012 seasons, no team spent more days in first place in the American League Central than the Cleveland Indians. Getting there was no problem, but sustaining it proved much more difficult, as the Indians fell apart in the second half in both seasons. But significant changes have the Tribe moving in a better direction. The Tribe’s biggest offseason acquisitions were manager Terry Francona and outfielders Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. The speedy Bourn is a potent catalyst atop the lineup and brings superb defense in center field. The switch-hitting Swisher will help a weak offense that averaged 3.7 runs per game after the All-Star break last season. Francona is coming off a great run in Boston, but Cleveland and Progressive Field are a long way from Fenway Park. Francona doesn’t have the payroll or the talent he had when he led the Red Sox to World Series titles in 2004 and 2007. But his leadership should pay immediate dividends.
Francona and new pitching coach Mickey Callaway are dealing with a rotation that lost the most games (76) in the AL last year. Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Brett Myers and Zach McAllister should fill the first four spots. Masterson and Jimenez, both righthanders, made a combined 65 starts last year, losing 32 of them. Myers was signed to a one-year $7 million deal in January, but he has not started a game since 2011. This will be McAllister’s first full year in the big leagues. The fifth spot will be decided among Trevor Bauer, Scott Kazmir, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and David Huff. Bauer, the third pick in the 2011 draft, was acquired in a three-way trade with Arizona and Cincinnati during the offseason. Bauer put up great numbers in the minors for Arizona last season, but his unique training methods and personality were so off-putting that the Diamondbacks traded him after only four big-league starts. At some point, he will join the rotation if not out of spring training. Kazmir, a former All-Star lefthander, has made just one major league start — lasting only 1.2 innings — since 2010. He came to camp on a minor league deal and has impressed Francona, becoming the leading candidate for the fifth spot.
All winter there was speculation that the Indians would trade closer Chris Perez, who offended almost everyone this side of the Pope last season with a sharp tongue and Twitter account. The Indians did not trade Perez, who will once again anchor the strongest part of the team after recording a save in 75-of-83 chances over the past two years. As in 2012, spring injuries have slowed his preparation for the season. There were changes in Perez’s setup men as Tony Sipp was traded to Arizona, Esmil Rogers to Toronto and Rafael Perez was non-tendered. Still, there are still plenty of good arms in front of him. Closer-in-waiting Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, Cody Allen and Nick Hagadone are back. Newcomers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw were acquired in the Arizona deal. Until Perez recovers from a balky shoulder this spring, Pestano will be the closer and either Rich Hill or David Huff will fill in gaps.
Fat and out of shape is no way for an All-Star shortstop to go through a career. Such has been the chatter surrounding Asdrubal Cabrera. He’s been great until he makes the All-Star team. Then in the second half, when the Indians fall out of the race, he loses interest. He’s signed through 2014, and it will be interesting to see if Francona can snap him out of his second-half slumps. Second baseman Jason Kipnis, coming off his first full season in the big leagues, needs to put forth a much more consistent effort if the offense is going to improve. Like Cabrera, Kipnis disappeared offensively in the second half. The Indians are expecting Cabrera and Kipnis to key the offense between Bourn at the top and run producers Carlos Santana and Swisher in the middle.
This should be the year Lonnie Chisenhall gets his much anticipated chance to start at third base. Chisenhall, a No. 1 pick in 2008, was beaten out by journeyman Jack Hannahan the last two years. Hannahan was non-tendered after the season. The job belongs to Chisenhall as long as he can stay healthy and survive against lefthanders. Chisenhall, a converted shortstop, has power potential, but he doesn’t walk much. The Indians committed $56 million to Swisher over the next fours year, the richest free-agent deal in team history. Not only will his bat anchor the lineup, but his personality will liven up the clubhouse.
The Indians committed $48 million to Bourn over the next four years. His on-base has been between .341 and .354 over the past four seasons, which should translate into about 40 steals and close to 100 runs for the Tribe. Pitchers will love his ability to run down balls in the gaps. Drew Stubbs, acquired in a three-team deal with the Reds and Diamondbacks, is scheduled to play right with Michael Brantley moving to left. Shin-Soo Choo, the Indians’ starting right fielder for the last four years, was traded to Cincinnati as part of the deal. Brantley, the only holdover from last year’s starting outfield, spent last season in center.
The Indians insist that Carlos Santana is a front-line catcher, but the evidence continues to mount that he is a future first baseman or DH. When the switch-hitting Santana struggles with the bat, as he did throughout the first half of last season, his catching suffers. He’s not aggressive or confident with his game-calling, and his ability to block balls in the dirt and control the running game is inconsistent. Santana is blessed with a strong arm, but he threw out only 26.3 percent of the runners he faced last season. Santana did lead the Indians in homers, walks and tied for the team lead in RBIs. Lou Marson was Santana’s backup, but he didn’t get much playing time. Yan Gomes, acquired from Toronto, could steal Marson’s job this summer.
Mark Reynolds has averaged 30 homers per year since reaching the big leagues in 2007. The Indians signed him to a one-year $6 million deal because they needed his power and right-handed bat to balance a lineup that leans heavily to the left. The byproduct of Reynolds’ power is strikeouts, lots of them. He averages 187 per year. His glove improved dramatically at first base last season, so Swisher will DH occasionally. Jason Giambi, in camp as a non-roster player, should make the team out of spring. He may have more value as a mentor and de facto hitting coach than as a pinch-hitter. Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn can both play multiple positions, but neither has much pop at the plate. Gomes may be the most interesting bench possibility. He’s a right-handed hitter with pop who can catch, play some outfield and first and third base.
The ties between the front office and the dugout have seldom been tighter. In signing a four-year deal with the Indians, Francona insisted on a clause that will give him an out if certain members of the front office are fired. It’s believed those members are GM Chris Antonetti and president Mark Shapiro. This is a homecoming of sorts for Francona, who worked as special assistant for the Indians in 2001 and played for them in 1988. Tito Francona, Terry’s father, played for the Indians from 1959-64. Sentimentality aside, there is a lot of work to do. Francona must repair a rotation that posted the second-highest ERA (5.25) in the AL last year and reclaim a roster that rolled over and played dead for former manager Manny Acta in the second half last season. The one good sign is ownership’s willingness to finally spend money on the free-agent market.
The Indians have lost 93 or more games in three of the last four years. Fans have lost faith in the Dolan family ownership, and they showed it with the second-lowest attendance in the big leagues last year. It’s unlikely the Dolans will ever be popular owners in Cleveland, but hiring Francona was a positive step. Signing Swisher and Bourn certainly helped. However, there have been so many bad drafts and poor trades that a turnaround will take more than one or two seasons. The best the Indians can do in 2013 is take one or two steps along that path.
CF Michael Bourn (L)
Speed atop the lineup will be catalyst of the offense although he doesn’t steal as much as he once did.
SS Asdrubal Cabrera (S)
Led AL shortstops last season in OPS (.765) and slugging (.425) and finished second in homers (16).
2B Jason Kipnis (L)
Finished tied for the team lead in RBIs despite driving in only 27 runs after the break.
1B Nick Swisher (S)
Ohio native hit 13 of his 24 home runs last season for the Yankees on the road.
C Carlos Santana (S)
Indians pitchers had a 4.68 ERA last season when he was behind the plate.
DH Mark Reynolds (R)
Hit just three of his 23 homers against left-handed pitching last year.
LF Michael Brantley (L)
Had hitting streaks of 22 and 13 games last season en route to career-high .288 average.
3B Lonnie Chisenhall (L)
Returned from a broken right wrist to hit .257 (18-for-70) in final 19 games of last season.
RF Drew Stubbs (R)
Over the last two seasons, Stubbs has averaged a strikeout for every three at-bats.
IF Mike Aviles (R)
Played in 128 games at shortstop last season for the Red Sox, hitting .250 with 60 RBIs.
C Lou Marson (R)
Threw out only 14 percent (11-of-78) of the basestealers he faced last year.
UT Ryan Raburn (R)
Can play all over the field and has averaged more than 330 plate appearances over last four years as utility man with Detroit.
1B Jason Giambi (L)
Francona loves the presence of the veteran and believes he will be a good manager some day.
RH Justin Masterson
Masterson allowed six or more earned runs in eight of his 34 starts last year.
RH Ubaldo Jimenez
His 17 losses were the most by a Tribe pitcher since Tom Candiotti lost 18 in 1987.
RH Brett Myers
Made 70 relief appearances last season for the Astros and White Sox, but has been a starter most of his career.
RH Zach McAllister
Finished sixth among American League rookies with 110 strikeouts last year.
LH Scott Kazmir
Former Tampa Bay fire-balling ace has resurrected his career — for now — with a fine spring.
RH Chris Perez (Closer)
He’s 41-for-45 in one-run save opportunities dating back to Aug. 12, 2010. With a strained shoulder, Perez is likely to begin the season on the DL
RH Vinnie Pestano
The Indians went 50–20 in his 70 appearances last year; only gave up 53 hits in 70 innings.
RH Joe Smith
His seven wins in relief were tied for second most in the American League last year.
LH Nick Hagadone
Struck out 26 in 25.1 innings last year, but allowed 14 earned runs in his last 10 appearances.
RH Matt Albers
Lefthanders hit .207 against him last year, righthanders .220.
RH Cody Allen
Started last season at Class A Carolina and ended up in the big leagues, where he struck out 27 in 29 innings.
LH David Huff
Made 52 starts over last four seasons with a 5.30 ERA.