Articles By Charlie Miller
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.
It’s possible that the Kansas City Royals, after more than two decades of often pointless meandering, can become truly relevant again in 2013 after a seminal offseason in which general manager Dayton Moore overhauled a wretched rotation. Moore retained free agent Jeremy Guthrie and added James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis through trades. Remarkably, Moore did all of this without blowing up the baseball club’s modest payroll budget or disrupting a promising young lineup or deep bullpen. The cost, and it was high, came in prospects from a deep farm system, including outfielder Wil Myers (the consensus 2012 Minor League Player of the Year) and righthander Jake Odorizzi (the club’s most advanced pitching prospect). Myers and Odorizzi each went to Tampa Bay, along with two other prospects, to acquire Shields and Davis. It was a go-for-it move not without risk, but, as Moore says, “It’s time for us to start winning games.”
Shields is the front-of-the-rotation arm the Royals have coveted, and failed to develop, since trading Zack Greinke to Milwaukee after the 2010 season. Shields isn’t an ace in the mold of Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez or even former Rays teammate David Price. But he is a genuine staff leader who eats innings and brings a proven ability to anchor a rotation. The Royals control Shields for two more years, and there is genuine debate whether that span is sufficient to offset surrendering six years of Myers. But they wouldn’t have made the deal if they didn’t think they could reach the postseason before Shields becomes a free agent. Davis also came in the Tampa Bay deal and will get a chance to pitch as a starter after spending last season in the bullpen. Davis flashed a notable hike in velocity as a reliever. If he can maintain that bump for 100 pitches, he could be an enormous addition. The Angels agreed to part with Santana primarily because the Royals will be paying all but $1 million of his $13 million salary for the final year of his contract. Santana closed strong last season after some early struggles. A full bounce-back would more than validate the financial outlay. Guthrie returns on a three-year deal after resurrecting his career with two terrific months following a July 20 trade that brought him from Colorado. That leaves the final spot as a battle between veteran lefty Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar, whose flashes of considerable potential are too often countered by monumental meltdowns. The Royals are open to trading either one. Otherwise, the loser goes to the bullpen.
Closer Greg Holland heads a collection of young power pitchers who performed so well last season the Royals chose not to pony up the dollars necessary to see whether former closer Joakim Soria could return to form after Tommy John surgery. Holland was 16-for-18 in save opportunities after replacing Jonathan Broxton (who replaced Soria) as the closer. Holland also compiled a 2.08 ERA after returning in early May from the disabled list. Lefty Tim Collins, in his second season, led all AL relievers with 93 strikeouts and demonstrated improved consistency in compiling a 3.36 ERA in 72 appearances. Aaron Crow, an All-Star as a rookie in 2011, produced a solid second season with 19 holds and a 3.48 ERA in 73 games. But the staff’s best arm is Kelvin Herrera, who had a 2.35 ERA in 76 games while often drawing the toughest assignments prior to the ninth inning. Manager Ned Yost relies on those four to protect leads. Francisley Bueno is a good bet to be the unit’s situational lefty after a strong series of late-season appearances, which could push side-armer Louis Coleman into a battle for one of two projected long-relief roles. Luis Mendoza is likely to get one of those jobs after the offseason seemingly squeezed him out of the rotation.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar turned into an All-Star candidate with a breakout offensive season after signing a four-year contract that includes two additional club option years. Escobar batted a career-high .293 while stealing 35 bases and provided the glue to an underappreciated defensive infield. Second base will most likely be a platoon situation with Chris Getz, who can’t stay healthy, and Johnny Giavotella, who has yet to replicate his minor league production.
That overhauled rotation might not mean much if first baseman Eric Hosmer doesn’t rebound from a disappointing sophomore season. The most hopeful sign, beyond his immense potential, is that Hosmer batted .255 last season on balls in play. Statistically, that just shouldn’t happen again. Hosmer’s tools project as an impact No. 3 hitter — and that’s what the Royals need him to be. Mike Moustakas is another high-profile homegrown talent still looking to climb closer to his potential. He hit 20 homers last season while playing third base well enough to be a Gold Glove candidate in any league without Adrian Beltre. Moustakas denied a connection, but his production plummeted after he tweaked his knee in late July in Seattle.
Here’s where the trade sending Myers to Tampa Bay has its biggest negative impact: The Royals, barring a late move, now have limited alternatives to right fielder Jeff Francoeur, whose production dipped alarmingly last season after a revitalized 2011. Then again, Francoeur could quell the concern by bouncing back again. Lorenzo Cain, when healthy, draws comparisons in center field to a young Torii Hunter. Problem is, Cain played only 61 big league games in 2012. Yost says, “I need him healthy.” There are no worries in left field, where Alex Gordon backed up a breakthrough 2011 season with another All-Star-caliber year and a second straight Gold Glove.
Salvy Perez, at 22, is firmly established as the club’s most irreplaceable player because he combines superior defensive skills and a remarkable feel for calling a game with an ability to hit for average and power. Perez suffered torn knee cartilage last year in spring training, which sidelined him until June 22, and it’s no coincidence that the Royals stumbled through a disastrous April. He showed no limitations from the injury after returning and is likely to start at least 140 games.
Billy Butler was the Silver Slugger recipient last year for designated hitters and is quickly validating the belief that he is this generation’s Edgar Martinez — a .300-plus hitter with power but limited speed and defensive skills. Plus, Butler shows signs of only getting better after achieving numerous career highs in 2012. The bench will consist of a catcher (George Kottaras, acquired on waivers from Oakland); a utility infielder (presumably Getz or Giavotella, but Miguel Tejada, is trying to restart his career); and a backup outfielder (speedy Jarrod Dyson is the leading candidate); and an extra utility type (Elliot Johnson, acquired off waivers from Tampa Bay). David Lough, who is having a terrific spring, could be a low-cost corner outfielder to challenge Francoeur.
Moore achieved his offseason goal of upgrading the club’s rotation by retaining Guthrie and acquiring Shields and Davis from Tampa Bay and Santana from the Angels — all without surrendering anyone from the club’s projected big-league roster. Yes, the cost in prospects was high. Some argued that the cost was too high. Time will tell. This much, however, is certain: Moore’s efforts send the Royals into the season positioned as legitimate postseason contenders for the first time since 1994.
The Royals have everything in place to harbor postseason aspirations, although let’s not overstate things; Detroit remains the division favorite, and the Royals need a nine-game improvement just to reach .500. There’s a lot still to prove, but there’s real hope in the Heartland. That’s no small thing.
LF Alex Gordon (L)
Lineup’s best fit for leadoff role but only if Eric Hosmer can handle No. 3 slot.
SS Alcides Escobar (R)
Performed well last season after being moved up from bottom of the lineup.
1B Eric Hosmer (L)
Average dropped from .293 as a rookie to .232 in 2012; home runs and RBIs were down, too.
DH Billy Butler (R)
Continues to establish himself as one of the game’s best all-around hitters; belted 29 HRs in 2012.
C Salvy Perez (R)
Assuming he stays healthy, will be interesting to see what he can do in a full season.
3B Mike Moustakas (L)
Always likely to be streaky hitter but must prove late-season slide was outlier.
RF Jeff Francoeur (R)
Will be watched closely to see if he rebounds to 2011 form after disappointing 2012.
CF Lorenzo Cain (R)
Must prove he can stay healthy after multiple injuries derailed him a year ago.
2B Chris Getz (L)
Has set a franchise record with 887 career plate appearances without a home run.
C George Kottaras (L)
On-base percentage fell from .409 for Brewers to .280 for A’s. Has never hit higher than .252
2B Johnny Giavotella (R)
Will platoon at second base with Getz.
IF Elliot Johnson (S)
Is handy with the glove at multiple positions.
OF Jarrod Dyson (L)
Speed makes him ideal late-game weapon; could be more if he keeps ball on ground.
RH James Shields
Last two seasons in Tampa were outstanding; won a combined 31 games and gave up 403 hits in 473 IP.
RH Jeremy Guthrie
Pitched like a legit No. 1 starter over final two months, which led to three-year deal.
RH Ervin Santana
Royals betting $12 million that he bounces back big in final year before free agency.
RH Wade Davis
Velocity jumped last season when used as a reliever — but can he do it for 100 pitches?
LH Bruce Chen
Probably merits rotation job over Luke Hochevar after winning 35 games in last three years.
RH Greg Holland (Closer)
Proved over final two months last season that he had all the tools to be a closer.
RH Kelvin Herrera
Superior arsenal makes him a closer-in-waiting while getting tough outs before ninth.
LH Tim Collins
Proved last year that he was more than a situational lefty; has multi-inning stuff.
RH Aaron Crow
Much like Collins, he can handle hitters from either side; potent setup weapon.
LH Francisley Bueno
Former Cuban defector emerged late last season as good fit for duty as situational lefty.
RH Luis Mendoza
Often characterized by manger Ned Yost as a perfect fit for duty as swingman/long reliever.
RH Luke Hochevar
Loser in battle for fifth starting spot will spend time as long man until opportunity to spot start arises.
Looking for a big finish, not just a fast start, the Chicago White Sox hope they can out-pitch their competition in the AL Central. That’s a tall order given that the Detroit Tigers line up behind Justin Verlander, but first-year general manager Rick Hahn hopes that his rotation will be deeper and even more effective. He re-signed Jake Peavy to work alongside lefty Chris Sale and is counting on a comeback from John Danks, the 2012 Opening Day starter who was limited to nine starts and eventually underwent shoulder surgery. The lineup lacks any especially dynamic young hitters, continuing to count on Alex Rios, homer-or-bust slugger Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko. Manager Robin Ventura had his team in first place for most of 2012, with strong fielding as the trademark, but he will be challenged to improve on that 85-win season.
You can argue that the White Sox never should have let Mark Buehrle get away, but Sale has emerged as a potential long-term ace, and Peavy rebounded from three injury-plagued seasons to deliver 219 solid innings. Sale, an All-Star in his first year as a starter, draws some comparisons to Randy Johnson, with better command if not quite as much velocity. A few years ago, Danks looked like he’d be a staff ace, compiling a 3.32 ERA as a 23-year-old in 2008, but he now finds himself trying to turn around a slide that began in 2011. Gavin Floyd has been a consistent double-figure winner, which was why his contract option was exercised. Lefties Hector Santiago and Jose Quintana try will try to build off strong rookie seasons, with Brazilian prospect Andre Rienzo pushing for big-league consideration. Quintana has the edge over Santiago and Rienzo, who has a high ceiling, needs a full season in Triple-A.
How much does experience matter? Addison Reed and Nate Jones seemed to move past Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain to become the key guys in a group that is talented but wildly inexperienced. Reed is looking to build off a 29-save rookie season, and Jones carries just as much momentum into his second season after going 8–0 with a 2.39 ERA over 65 appearances as a rookie. He’s got the best stuff on the staff, but Reed doesn’t rattle, which is why he’s the closer. Thornton, arguably the best lefty setup man in the AL over the last seven seasons, appears to be a trade candidate with Donnie Veal and possibly Santiago or prospect Santos Rodriguez available to fill that role. Matt Lindstrom, signed as a free agent, adds some experience.
Shortstop Alexei Ramirez and second baseman Gordon Beckham provide up the middle fielding that’s as strong as any combination in the big leagues. But you wonder how much longer they will play together, as both have regressed as hitters. Ramirez’s OPS was .788 in 2008, his rookie season, and slipped to .651 last season. Beckham, a former first-round pick expected to be a force, had an .807 OPS as a rookie in 2009 but has been below .700 since. Carlos Sanchez, who hit .370 in 30 games in Double-A late last season, is a gifted fielder and promising on-base guy who could force himself into the mix at some point this season.
Konerko has been as consistently productive as any big leaguer over the last decade but at 37 is starting to show his age. Metrics suggest he’s become a liability in the field to go along with a career-long base-clogging tendency. The White Sox hope offseason surgery on Konerko’s left wrist will make this season more enjoyable for him, as it is the last one on his contract. He’s averaged 33 homers and 96 RBIs over the last nine years, and the Sox need him to get back to that level after a second-half slide ruined what was looking like a strong 2012. Third baseman Jeff Keppinger, signed to a three-year, $12-million contract, could get 500-plus at-bats for only the second time in almost a decade in the big leagues. He’s not flashy but could end the post-Joe Crede revolving-door approach at third.
Rios resurrected his career after a 2011 season that had people wondering if he could be productive again. He adjusted his batting stance, raising his hands into a more conventional position from an exaggerated crouch, and is pounding the ball in the fashion that prompted the Blue Jays to give him a seven-year, $70-million contract before the 2008 season. He’s had an up-and-down career since then but will establish himself as a true All-Star if he can repeat a season in which he had 37 doubles, 25 homers and 23 stolen bases. Center fielder Alejandro De Aza and left fielder Dayan Viciedo return for their second years as regulars. De Aza is a decent on-base guy and good baserunner. Viciedo is better than advertised defensively in left, thanks to a strong arm, but his low on-base percentage (.300) must be addressed to justify regular at-bats. Dewayne Wise is available if Ventura wants to consider a platoon. His on-base was only .322 against righthanders, however.
Few teams allow above-average catchers to walk, but the White Sox made almost no attempt to keep A.J. Pierzynski after he turned in a career year at age 35. It was clear that Hahn did not believe Pierzynski could duplicate that performance, and also that Hahn felt it was past time for 27-year-old Tyler Flowers to get his shot as a regular. Flowers, who is listed at 6'4", 245, spent the last two years backing up Pierzynski. He has hit only .205 in 108 games, but the Sox are sold on his ability to replace Pierzynski’s power and also to be an upgrade behind the plate. He threw out 33 percent of runners attempting to steal last season, and Sox pitchers had almost exactly the same earned run average with him catching as with Pierzynski.
To know Dunn is to respect him, which made it easy to explain how he was named Comeback Player of the Year even though he hit .204 and finished one strikeout short of matching the all-time record. It was impossible to ignore his 41 home runs, but the reality is that Dunn was never happy with his performance, even if it was much better than the nightmare 2011 season in which he hit .159 with only 11 homers. This is not an especially deep team, as Dunn, Konerko, Rios, Peavy, Danks and Floyd earn a combined $74.25 million (even with Konerko deferring $7 million of his salary), leaving little for spare parts. The Sox picked up corner infielder Conor Gillaspie over the winter and the former Giant appears to have earned a roster with a strong spring. Jordan Danks could figure in as an extra outfielder, though former Padre Blake Tekotte will also be in the mix to win a spot. Angel Sanchez, claimed in the Rule 5 Draft, and backup catcher Hector Gimenez round out a second-division bench.
Hahn, who had spent 12 years as Ken Williams’ assistant general manager, takes over an organization that has wasted its post-World Series spike in attendance, which has fallen below two million, where it was in 2004. Williams repeatedly went for the jugular and failed after the ’05 championship, trading away kids for veterans and largely neglecting the farm system. Hahn’s mandate is to rebuild the foundation while trying to contend behind the declining base of veterans. It’s a daunting task, but he is off to a good start by penciling in Brent Morel, Carlos Sanchez, Tyler Saladino and Andy Wilkins as his Triple-A infield rather than rush any of them to Chicago. The Sox gained a pulse internationally when Williams hired Marco Paddy from Toronto to run that operation, and the 2012 draft — the first with the spending limits favored by Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf — seemed a step in the right direction. Ventura finished third in Manager of the Year voting in his first season on the job. Pitching coach Don Cooper remains a key organizational asset.
There’s nothing wrong with this team that Mike Trout or Bryce Harper couldn’t fix. But the White Sox haven’t found many impact hitters in the draft since the run that brought them Frank Thomas, Ray Durham, Mike Cameron and Ventura, among others. The Sox were fourth in the AL in scoring last year but seem unlikely to sustain that level given the age of the lineup. They’ll need great pitching and fielding to compete. The presence of Sale, Peavy, Reed and Jones gives them a chance, but it will take surprising contributions elsewhere to win 85-plus games and click with a shrinking fan base.
CF Alejandro De Aza (L)
Leadoff man with speed had a higher WAR than Paul Konerko last season.
3B Jeff Keppinger (R)
Solid right-handed bat figures to get 500-plus at-bats in first year of three-year deal.
RF Alex Rios (R)
Best hitter in the lineup hit mostly fifth and sixth a year ago, a mistake Robin Ventura shouldn’t repeat.
1B Paul Konerko (R)
Surgery on left wrist may explain why his OPS dropped from .932 at All-Star break to .771 in the second half.
DH Adam Dunn (L)
Fifty-homer season isn’t out of the question if he stays healthy and figures a way to make better contact.
LF Dayan Viciedo (R)
Decent first season as a regular, highlighted by .289 average with runners in scoring position.
SS Alexei Ramirez (R)
While hitting career-low nine homers, took only 14 unintentional walks in 621 plate appearances in 2012.
C Tyler Flowers (R)
Favorite of teammates and coaches last two years when serving as A.J. Pierzynski’s understudy.
2B Gordon Beckham (R)
.270 average as rookie in 2009 has shrunk to .245 career batting average.
OF Dewayne Wise (L)
Veteran with all-around skills could get 250 at-bats if Viciedo starts slow.
SS Angel Sanchez (R)
Houston’s primary shortstop in 2011, he hit .320 in Triple-A last year.
C Hector Gimenez (S)
Next to Wise, probably the best hitter in the group; could emerge as a key contributor.
1B/3B Conro Gillaspie (L)
Picked up from San Francisco over the winter, he had six extra-base hits in his first 32 at-bats in the spring.
LH Chris Sale
A 17-game winner and All-Star in first year as a starter, he looks like a cornerstone player.
RH Jake Peavy
Fifth in AL with 219 innings last year; White Sox are betting he’s overcome run of injuries.
LH John Danks
Signed to a $65-million contract a year ago, he is a question mark after shoulder scope last August.
RH Gavin Floyd
With free agency around corner, the consistent double-figure winner is a trade candidate.
LH Jose Quintana
A major surprise as a rookie; started 22 games and pitched 136.1 innings.
RH Addison Reed (Closer)
Stephen Strasburg’s old college closer was 29-for-33 in his rookie season.
RH Nate Jones
High-90s fastball and snap-dragon curve give him chance to be eighth-inning force.
RH Jesse Crain
Veteran setup man makes mistakes up in strike zone but held hitters to .171 average last year.
LH Matt Thornton
Quiet leader in bullpen, the veteran workhorse worked a career-high 74 games at age 35.
LH Donnie Veal
Former Cubs second-rounder throws a slider that was death to left-handed hitters down the stretch.
RH Dylan Axelrod
Independent League find has a filthy slider and the ability to start or relieve.
RH Matt Lindstrom
Veteran allowed just four of 20 inherited runners to score last season split between Baltimore and Arizona.
The 2012 Detroit Tigers were a runaway pick to win the AL Central and a fashionable pick to win it all. But nothing ever seemed easy for them. They floundered below .500 for most of the first half of the season, trailed the Chicago White Sox for the bulk of the year and didn’t clinch the AL Central title until the calendar had flipped to October. Then, after surviving the A’s in the ALDS and destroying the Yankees in a four-game sweep in the ALCS, their bats curiously disappeared in the World Series, as they lost to the Giants in four games. The Tigers knew they needed more pop, and they also knew more pop was on its way, with DH Victor Martinez set to return in 2013 after a year spent rehabbing a blown-out knee. But that wasn’t enough — they also struck early in free agency, signing 37-year-old outfielder Torii Hunter coming off a career-high .313 average. Finally, they upgraded their rotation by re-signing righthander Anibal Sanchez, who came to Detroit in a trade-deadline deal last summer and pitched impressively down the stretch. Perhaps even more than a year ago — against a backdrop of an American League in which several perennial powers appear in decline — the Tigers will be viewed as a threat to win it all.
On the surface, any rotation that has Justin Verlander at the top and three other 10-game winners following him — a rotation that, in fact, posted a combined 3.76 ERA in 2012 — is plenty solid. Not only that, but No. 2 starter Max Scherzer also took a huge step in 2012 towards fulfilling his vast promise, with a 16-win, 231-strikeout season. But as the wise men say, you can never have too much pitching, and the Tigers knew they needed to retain Sanchez if they wanted to enter April with a championship-caliber club. The cost was staggering: $80 million for what is essentially a No. 4 starter. But the payoff is also enormous: The Tigers’ rotation is arguably the strongest and deepest in the American League — whether the fifth starter’s job belongs to righthander Rick Porcello or emerging lefty Drew Smyly.
After letting Jose Valverde, their high-wire artist of a closer, walk away via free agency, the Tigers kicked around various options for a closer in 2013, including free agents, trade targets and in-house candidates. Of that last category, the most intriguing option is much-hyped prospect Bruce Rondon, a 22-year-old Venezuelan who torched batters at Single-A and Double-A in 2012. The Tigers have given him a chance to win the closer’s job, and it appears that he has done so this spring. Also on board for 2013 is a strong core of bullpen veterans in lefty Phil Coke and righthanders Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel, plus an intriguing Rule 5 pickup in swingman Kyle Lobstein. Al Alburquerque appears healthy and ready to return to his swing-and-miss form.
Although Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta, the Tigers’ veteran double-play combo, don’t inspire much excitement, on this team and in this lineup there is something to be said for steady veteran play up the middle. Infante, a second baseman acquired last July in the Anibal Sanchez trade, broke his hand in Game 4 of the World Series but is completely healthy. Peralta, meantime, saw his offensive numbers drop in 2012, but he was an All-Star as recently as 2011 and is a capable shortstop, if nothing else.
The Tigers paid their corner infielders a combined $44 million in 2012 to hit a lot of home runs and not kill themselves (or the team) on defense. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder succeeded on both counts. The former had a historic year at the plate, winning both the Triple Crown and the MVP, and while the latter posted his lowest home run total in six years, he put up otherwise gaudy numbers in line with his career norms. On the other side of the ball, while neither was a threat to win a Gold Glove, the “experiment” of shifting Cabrera from first to third in order to accommodate Fielder was also not the abject disaster many predicted, and Cabrera’s selflessness in switching positions resonated both with teammates and MVP voters.
With all the firepower in the middle of the Tigers’ lineup, it was easy to overlook the brilliant season put up by center fielder Austin Jackson, who raised his OPS by 166 points over the year before and established himself as one of the top leadoff men in the game. One of the great travesties of the 2012 AL MVP race was that Jackson garnered nary a vote. The addition of Hunter gives Jackson a Gold Glove-caliber wingman in right, as well as another big-time bat behind him. Left field might wind up being a revolving door, but for now it appears that Andy Dirks, who had a fine 2012 season in a limited role, will get the first crack at the starting job. At some point in 2013, top prospects Nick Castellanos and/or Avisail Garcia could get the inevitable call-up.
Alex Avila had a breakout 2011 season, highlighted by an All-Star selection, but an injury-plagued 2012 sent his numbers plummeting and raised questions about his future durability. He made only 107 starts at catcher in 2012, down from 130 the year before, and almost all his numbers dropped — including his OPS by a whopping 159 points. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that Tigers felt it important to upgrade at backup catcher, dropping veteran Gerald Laird and signing free agent Brayan Pena.
With Martinez out for the year following knee surgery, the Tigers’ DH job in 2012 was left primarily to Delmon Young, who, while capable of an occasional burst of power, is certainly no V-Mart. Getting the veteran Martinez back in 2013 will be like adding another big bat via free agency — only without the extra expenditure. As for the Tigers’ bench, Don Kelly, Jim Leyland’s favorite super-utility security blanket, is gone now, and it could take multiple players to replace him. The Tigers acquired a second baseman, Jeff Kobernus, in the Rule 5 Draft, but if he is to stick he will need to learn additional positions — and perhaps become a Kelly-like utility man. The Tigers still have Danny Worth and Ramon Santiago as backup infielders — though they can probably only afford to carry one of them — plus Quintin Berry as an extra outfielder. It isn’t the most intimidating bench around, but it should be functional.
Leyland, who has led the Tigers to two AL pennants in seven years with the organization, seems content at this point to exist on a series of one-year contracts, ending his last one with a World Series appearance, then signing yet another once the series was over. But at age 68, there are plenty of people wondering how many one-year contracts he has left in him. Which means, like plenty of others in the organization, his sense of urgency to win in 2013 will be acute. General manager Dave Dombrowski, on the other hand, signed a four-year extension in 2011 that carries through 2015 — not that he feels any less urgency to win. Together, they form one of the longest-standing and most respected GM/manager duos in baseball.
Tigers owner Mike Ilitch has always shown a willingness to spend money, pushing the Tigers’ payroll into the upper quartile of baseball and dishing out mega-deals to Cabrera and Fielder. But in 2013, with the Tigers coming off a season that fell one step short of the ultimate goal, Ilitch is going another step. The signings of Hunter and Sanchez, plus the arbitration and contractual raises due a number of key players, will push the Tigers’ 2013 payroll into even more rarified air — in the $150 million range. Clearly, from the top of the organization down, the Tigers believe they are in position to win it all in 2013. They have arguably the best nucleus of talent in all of baseball, and all they need is for the rest to fall into place.
CF Austin Jackson (R)
Dazzling .300/.377/.479 season established him as one of top leadoff men in game
RF Torii Hunter (R)
Still a great glove man, a professional hitter and top-notch clubhouse influence.
3B Miguel Cabrera (R)
Inherited the mantle from Albert Pujols as best right-handed hitter in the game.
1B Prince Fielder (L)
His 30 HRs were fewest since 2006, but Tigers are confident he’s poised for a monster 2013 season.
DH Victor Martinez (S)
His return from injury deepens the lineup and makes pitching around Cabrera, Fielder a risk.
LF Andy Dirks (L)
Tigers anxious to see if he can extend big-time 2012 production over a full season.
SS Jhonny Peralta (R)
Steady veteran has played at least 145 games in seven straight seasons.
C Alex Avila (L)
Even in what constituted a “down” year, posted a healthy .352 OBP.
2B Omar Infante (R)
Say what you will, but if he’s your No. 9 hitter, you’re in good shape.
C Brayan Pena (S)
Upgrades backup catcher spot, replacing popular veteran Gerald Laird.
2B Jeff Kobernus (R)
Light-hitting Rule 5 Draft pick will probably need to play multiple positions to stick.
OF Quintin Berry (L)
Plays all three outfield spots, and stole 21 bases without being caught in 94 games in 2012.
IF Ramon Santiago (S)
Has made at least 60 starts as a middle infielder in each of the last four seasons for Detroit.
RH Justin Verlander
Cy Young runner-up in 2012 is arguably the best pitcher in the game.
RH Max Scherzer
Flamethrower took huge step forward in 2012, winning career-high 16 games.
RH Doug Fister
Strained oblique plagued him in 2012, but still won 10 games with a respectable 3.45 ERA.
RH Anibal Sanchez
Justified July trade with three quality starts in postseason and was signed to big deal in offseason.
RH Rick Porcello
Still only 24, but allowed a career-high 11.5 hits per nine IP in 2012.
RH Bruce Rondon (Closer)
Throws gas, but does he have the command and the calm to close in majors?
RH Joaquin Benoit
Jim Leyland’s top right-handed setup man struck out 84 in 71 innings.
LH Phil Coke
Strong showing in 2012 postseason underscored his value and versatility.
RH Octavio Dotel
Not the workhorse he used to be, but still effective when used right.
LH Kyle Lobstein
Rule 5 Draft pick is seen as a starter long-term, but to stick he’ll need to relieve.
RH Brayan Villarreal
Emerged as Leyland’s top option in the sixth and seventh innings.
RH Al Alburquerque
After returning from injury last September, he struck out 18 and gave up only six hits in 13.1 innings, but walked eight.
This time of year, sports fans and many non-sports fans are thinking about one thing: their NCAA Tournament brackets. For the next few days hoops fans will dissect rebounding margins, three-point shooting percentages, experience of guards and the ability to force turnovers. But for those of us who spend much more time studying pitchers’ velocity, prospects’ development and fielding practice on back fields in Florida and Arizona, it can be a bit difficult to complete basketball brackets.
But here goes. A completed NCAA Tournament bracket from a baseball nerd, uh, fan.
1 Louisville vs. 16 Liberty/North Carolina A&T
8 Colorado State vs. 9 Missouri
The fighting Sid Breams of Liberty will live to face Louisville in what we call the first round. We understand enough to know that 16s don’t beat 1s. Claiming Garry Templeton’s son, Garry Jr., isn’t enough for NC A&T. We love 8/9 games. Colorado State and Missouri is a classic. The Tigers with Max Scherzer, Aaron Crow and Ian Kinsler advance. But our favorite Mizzou alum might jut be Homer Summa.
In the second round Mizzou knocks out Louisville. There are only five former Cardinals who ever reached the majors, four of them in the 2000s. The tradition just isn’t there for Louisville.
5 Oklahoma State vs. 12 Oregon
4 Saint Louis vs. 13 New Mexico State
Oklahoma State and Oregon should be a real battle, but Okie State advances. After all, the Ducks just revived their program five years ago after rival Oregon State won a couple of College World Series titles. Saint Louis and New Mexico State? Really? How can I pick against a team from Saint Louis?
But being from Saint Louis is good enough only for one round. Not having produced a big leaguer since 1971 can’t match a school that produced Robin Ventura. Cowboys advance to Sweet 16.
6 Memphis vs. 11 Middle Tennessee/Saint Mary’s
3 Michigan State vs. 14 Valparaiso
St. Mary’s easily slides by Middle Tennessee. The Gaels have produced about four times as many major leaguers as the Blue Raiders. But we’ll take Dan Uggla’s alma mater (Memphis) over Mark Teahen’s (Saint Mary’s). Michigan State dominates Valpo. Steve Garvey and Kirk Gibson begin making plans to drop in on the Final Four.
Sparty keeps moving. There have been 38 players in the bigs who matriculated at East Lansing. Far more than at Memphis.
7 Creighton vs. 10 Cincinnati
2 Duke vs. 15 Albany
Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson, who grew up in Omaha, was a basketball star at Creighton in the 1950s. He appeared with the Harlem Globetrotters, so this is a no-brainer as the Bluejays soundly defeat Cincinnati. Dick Groat, a teammate of Gibson’s on the 1964 World Champion Cardinals, was an All-America hoopster at Duke. No one from Albany has ever played in the majors.
The Blue Devils’ Groat hit .317 off of Creighton’s Gibson in his MLB career with no HBPs. Advantage Groat and Duke.
Things begin to get serious in the Sweet 16. The Oklahoma State Cowboys have appeared in 19 College World Series, Missouri just six. Groat continues a march toward MOP. He hit .320 in 101 plate appearances off Hall of Famer, and Sparty alum, Robin Roberts.
Crash Davis, an infielder not a catcher, played in 148 games over three seasons for Connie Mack during WWII. Basketball All-American Groat won NL MVP in 1960. Two-sport star Quinton McCracken played defensive back for Steve Spurrier before playing 999 games in the majors. With those three stars, Duke takes this bracket rather easily.
1 Gonzaga vs. Southern
8 Pittsburgh vs. 9 Wichita State
I’m sticking with the rule that 16s don’t lose to 1s, but I like Southern’s heritage with players like Lou Brock and Rickie Weeks. Pitt has never reached the College World Series, Wichita State has been to Omaha seven times, winning it all in 1989. Easy call. Not to mention the Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t fielded a winner since 1992.
The Zags have such little baseball tradition, Wichita State shocks the No. 1 seed.
5 Wisconsin vs. 12 Ole Miss
4 Kansas State vs. 13 Boise State/LaSalle
Wisconsin has produced a few heavyweights through the years, namely Addie Joss and Harvey Kuenn. But long-time Cubs shortstop and Ole Miss alum Don Kessinger was named to the SEC Decade of the 60s basketball team along with Pete Maravich, Louie Dampier, Dan Issel, and Neal Walk. We’re sold on the Rebels. No major league hitter explored LaSalle or Boise, and the schools have combined to produce just five pitchers. With 194 major league wins, Larry Jackson gets the nod for Boise State. Even though Carlos Torres, who spent some time in Manhattan, Kan., is kicking around spring training with the Mets, Boise State advances to face Ole Miss.
Ole Miss easily dispatches the Broncos.
6 Arizona vs. 11 Belmont
3 New Mexico vs. 14 Harvard
Arizona has 16 CWS appearances and is the reigning champ. I love Belmont, but the Bruins are not going to knock off the Wildcats. New Mexico has never been to the College World Series. Harvard made four CWS appearances in a span of seven years from 1968-74. But that was a long time ago. Three Lobos spent time in the bigs last season, so New Mexico advances.
Arizona easily advances past New Mexico.
7 Notre Dame vs. 10 Iowa State
2 Ohio State vs. 15 Iona
It’s pretty simple, really. Iowa State defeated Notre Dame 13-8 in 10 innings in the 1957 College World Series, so there. Both teams were eliminated the day before Cal beat Penn State 1-0 for the title. We’d have to see Nick Swisher of Ohio State face Jason Motte of Iona to be sure, but since the Gaels have yet to produce a major league hitter or play in the College World Series, we’re moving the Buckeyes into the next round.
Ohio State wins big over Iowa State, a school without a major leaguer since Mike Myers retired in 2007.
The Shockers have had an alum in the major leagues every year since Bryan Oelkers and Joe Carter entered the league in 1983. Ole Miss is no match. Arizona is looking like a tournament favorite with all its tradition. Former Wildcats have accounted for 793 saves in the majors, 601 coming from Trevor Hoffman.
In a battle of heavyweights, Arizona by virtue of 16 CWS appearances to Wichita State’s 7 moves on to the Final Four.
1 Kansas vs. 16 Western Kentucky
8 North Carolina vs. 9 Villanova
No. 1 seed Kansas played in the 1993 CWS. The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers did not. Villanova has produced 49 big leaguers, but only 10 have made it to the show since the 1940s. Of the 60 players UNC has produced, 23 have played in the majors in the 2000s. Go Tar Heels.
During the second round, most basketball pundits will want to talk about Roy Williams and the UNC-Kansas connection. We’ll be talking about Brian Roberts’ comeback in Baltimore and breakout seasons from Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager. Tar Heels keep moving.
5 VCU vs. 12 Akron
4 Michigan vs. 13 South Dakota State
Evidently VCU has a smart coach and Brandon Inge, of course. There are no major league hitters from Akron. Zip. Nada. Rams advance. Way back during the Dead Ball era, Vean Gregg won 92 games, 72 coming with the Indians. He’s the lone Jackrabbit to make it to the show. And really, if you have to go back that far, forget it. Wolverines in a cake walk.
Michigan has the old: Hall of Famers Charlie Gehringer and George Sisler while VCU can counter with Jerry DiPoto, the general manager of the Angels. Edge to the old guard.
6 UCLA vs. 11 Minnesota
3 Florida vs. 14 Northwestern State
Who would have thought that a cold weather school like Minnesota would have more CWS appearances (8) and titles (3) than UCLA (4,0)? But the Gophers haven’t been there since 1977 and UCLA has been twice in the past three years. Bruins in a squeaker. Although in the 1973 NBA Draft (when John Wooden was still at UCLA) Jim Brewer from Minnesota was drafted second, Ron Behagen seventh before Swen Nater of UCLA was picked 16th. In that same draft, Golden Gopher Dave Winfield was the 79th pick by the Atlanta Hawks. He opted for baseball. Good decision. No big league hitter has ever come out of Northwestern State. Florida has produced three All-Star hitters since the 1980s. Laugher.
In a battle of two baseball factories, Florida has had 18 players drafted in the last two years, UCLA just 16. We’ll take Mike Zunino over Trevor Bauer or Gerrit Cole. Chomp!
7 San Diego State vs. 10 Oklahoma
2 Georgetown vs. 15 Florida Gulf Coast
Oklahoma can lean on basketball star Ryan Minor who hit .177 in 142 games for Baltimore and Montreal. He was a second-round pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1996 NBA Draft, but never played in the NBA. His claim to fame is that he replaced Cal Ripken in the lineup to end the Iron Man’s streak of 2,632 consecutive games. San Diego State has the school’s all-time assists leader, Tony Gwynn, who also managed more than 3,000 hits in the majors. Yep, Gwynn is better than Minor. You know a No. 15 has beaten a No. 2 six times. Of the 35 former Georgetown Hoyas who made it to the show, just one has played in the majors since 1960. Florida Gulf Coast has Chris Sale. Upset!
Okay, we mentioned Tony Gwynn’s basketball exploits earlier, so now it’s time to play the Stephen Strasburg card. See ya Florida Gulf Coast.
And with the even older history of brothers Moses Fleetwood Walker and Welday Walker — two African-American major leaguers in the 1800s — Michigan continues to advance by knocking off the Tar Heels.
Sheer numbers of the Florida Gators are too much for the Aztecs, although the Strasburg-Addison Reed combo put up a fight.
You have to go back to the Dwight Eisenhower administration (1960) to find a season in which there was no Michigan alum in the big leagues. Wolverines fight their way into the Final Four.
1 Indiana vs. 16 Long Island/James Madison
8 NC State vs. 9 Temple
Right off the bat, Long Island takes James Madison. Larry Doby is the most famous LIU alum, while Billy Sample takes that honor for JMU. Uh, no contest. However, Indiana keeps the No. 1 seeds perfect. NC State’s Tim Stoddard, who pitched 13 years in the bigs, was a power forward on the 1974 national title team that featured David Thompson, Monte Towe and the 7’4” Tom Burleson. Temple has Bobby Higginson. Go State!
The NC State Wolfpack knocks off No. 1 seed Indiana based on State’s lone College World Series appearance in 1968. Yep, it was an ugly game. I’m guessing neither team shot better than 30 percent.
5 UNLV vs. 12 California
4 Syracuse vs. 13 Montana
UNLV can impress with the Stottlemyre brothers (Todd and Mel Jr.), the Ludwick brothers (Ryan and Eric) and Cecil Fielder, but you can trace a Cal alum in the bigs all the way back to 1920. That’s a long time. Cal in an upset. No Montana Grizzly has made it to the show. A total of 26 Syracuse alums have made it, but none since Will Pennyfeather last appeared in 1994. Orange moves forward.
Cal absolutely blows out Syracuse. There have 25 former Bears in the majors since Pennyfeather’s retirement as the last Orange.
6 Butler vs. 11 Bucknell
3 Marquette vs. 14 Davidson
Doug Jones had 303 career saves and Dan Johnson hit a memorable walk-off homer for Tampa Bay on the final day of the 2011 regular season. Go Butler. Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson had 373 wins. Bucknell rules. Ralph Shinners is the lone Marquette alum to play in the bigs, and he played his final game in 1925. Davidson wins.
Christy Mathewson continues to pitch Bucknell into unchartered waters. They knock off Davidson to advance to the Sweet 16.
7 Illinois vs. 10 Colorado
2 Miami vs. 15 Pacific
Illinois has sent 71 players to the majors, Colorado only five. Blowout. The list of 11 former Pacific Tigers to play in the majors includes current Padre third baseman Chase Headley, who transferred to Tennessee. The University of Miami had 14 alums playing last season alone. Over by halftime.
Tournament favorite Miami can count 28 All-Star appearances from alums who have played since 2000. Illinois has no chance.
Ryan Braun, Mike Piazza, Chris Perez and others end Bucknell’s Cinderella run. In the top of the bracket, it’s Cal all over NC State. Jeff Kent and Andy Messersmith lead the Golden Bears past, well, Stoddard and the Pack.
There have been 55 Miami Hurricanes play in the big leagues, and 46 of them have done so since 1990. Hurricanes are in the Final Four.
The Michigan Wolverines, living on old tradition, finally run out of gas against the much more modern cast from Miami.
Arizona easily dispenses with Duke. The Wildcats call on Kenny Lofton, the sixth man on the 1988 Final Four team. After basketball season, Lofton joined the Arizona baseball team and got in just five games, mostly as a pinch-runner and had just one at-bat.
Arizona, having appeared in 16 CWS, winning four, and Miami with 23 appearances and also four titles, meet in the championship game.
The two have crossed paths in five CWS, but met only twice on the field. Arizona won 5-1 in 1979, and Miami defeated the Wildcats 4-2 in 1986, but Arizona rebounded to win the title.
In a double-overtime thriller, the Hurricanes prevail with a little help from Barry Larkin’s son Shane, Miami’s point guard.
So, there you have it. That’s how a die-hard baseball (even in March) fan fills out his NCAA Tournament bracket. Enjoy the madness. Opening Day is just around the corner.
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
After years of making flashy purchases, the New York Yankees hunkered down after last season, treading carefully in the market with an eye on their 2014 payroll. Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement gives the Yankees significant financial incentive to keep their payroll under $189 million that season, and they plan to do it. The reasoning is sound — every other champion has spent less than the Yankees on payroll, so why waste money? But the composition of their roster looks thin in certain spots, and old throughout. The Yankees handed one-year contracts to Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Hiroki Kuroda, and signed Kevin Youkilis for a year to spell the injured Alex Rodriguez, at least initially. It’s not an inspiring group, and it’s lacking key contributors like Russell Martin, Rafael Soriano and Nick Swisher. But this is still a team that won 95 games last season and should remain a force in the AL East.
The Yankees doubled down on their 2012 rotation, bringing back Kuroda and Pettitte on one-year contracts to slot behind their ace, CC Sabathia, and in front of 16-game winner Phil Hughes. Ivan Nova and David Phelps are options for the fifth spot, and the Yankees are eager to finally see what they have in Michael Pineda, who missed all of last season with shoulder trouble that could cost him at least the first two months of 2013. Sabathia persevered through elbow discomfort last season and had minor elbow surgery in late October. Other American League aces have surpassed Sabathia in prominence, but there is no one the Yankees would rather have on the mound. Kuroda will be 38 this season, but he made such a seamless transition to the AL last year that he seems to be a sure thing. Pettitte turns 41 in June, and his stamina bears watching. While last year’s broken fibula was a freak injury — it came from a line drive — the fact remains that Pettitte has made just 12 regular-season starts in the last two years. Hughes, who turns 27 in June, should be squarely in his prime. If he’s going to reclaim his All-Star form of early 2010, now is the time. But a back injury has put him on the shelf for what will likely be the first few weeks of the season.
This was supposed to be Rivera’s first year of retirement, but he tore his ACL in a freak injury while shagging fly balls last May and decided to make this his final year. Rivera is 43, but remarkably, his skills have never diminished. To avoid a most awkward parting with the classy franchise icon, the Yankees need him to be the Rivera of old and leave on top, especially after losing their top insurance policy, Soriano. Even without Soriano, Rivera has a top setup man in David Robertson, a strikeout specialist who may have peaked in 2011 but was plenty effective last season, with 81 punchouts in 60.2 innings. Injuries have kept the once-electric Joba Chamberlain from reaching even 30 appearances in either of the last two seasons, but he’s still good for a strikeout per inning and should team with veteran David Aardsma or Cody Eppley as effective righties in middle relief. Lefties Clay Rapada and Boone Logan give manager Joe Girardi some solid matchup options.
Derek Jeter’s gruesome season-ending ankle injury in the ALCS casts him again as an aging icon, obscuring what a dynamic season he had at age 38. Jeter led the majors in hits, with 216, his most since 1999, and even added 15 homers, a figure he had topped just once since 2005. He turns 39 in June, so the offense will go sometime, but that time does not appear to be soon, and the injury should not impact him in the batter’s box. The more important concern is how much the surgery will affect his range in the field, which was already limited and has been well below league-average for years. His double-play partner, Robinson Cano, has no such concerns. Cano, 30, starts his ninth season with the Yankees and his first as a potential free agent. Cano is coming off a career-high 33 homers and .929 OPS, and won his second Gold Glove while finishing fourth in the AL MVP race. He came under some criticism for failing to hit in the clutch, finishing below 100 runs batted in for the first time since 2009.
If the Yankees could dial back the clock five years, they’d have two of the best corner infielders in the game, with another on the disabled list. Alas, it is 2013, not 2008, and Youkilis and first baseman Mark Teixeira appear to be past their prime. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is working to regain strength and agility after offseason surgery on his left hip. He’s scheduled to come back no sooner than June, a lengthier DL stint than he had in 2009 because of the need to repair a bone impingement. To that end, Youkilis was a smart buy on a one-year deal. Teixeira struggled at the end of the season with a calf injury, and he still has four years remaining on his eight-year, $180 million contract. A wrist injury suffered while taking some practice swings in the spring hoists another red flag.
You want left-handed hitters with speed? The Yankees have them, with Brett Gardner in left, Curtis Granderson in center and Ichiro Suzuki in right. Granderson, of course, is more of a power hitter now than a stolen base threat; with 43 homers last season and just 10 steals, he has become the ultimate Yankee Stadium player. Granderson is a top run producer but has a serious problem making contact, with 195 strikeouts in the regular season and 16 in 33 plate appearances in the postseason. But his homers, strikeouts and steals must wait while he recovers from a broken arm suffered when hit by a pitch during his first at-bat of the spring. Gardner missed almost all of last season, but thankfully for the Yankees, the injury was to his elbow, not the legs that scampered to an AL-best 49 stolen bases in 2011. The Yankees are eager to get Gardner and his .355 career on-base percentage back in the lineup, even if he is a very similar player to Suzuki, as a lefty singles hitter. Suzuki, who hit .322 in 67 games for the Yankees, returns with a two-year contract at age 39.
In a sure sign that their world is quite a bit different these days, the Yankees let Martin sign with Pittsburgh without bothering to match his two-year, $17 million offer. That might seem like a lot considering Martin’s .211 average last year, but he hit for decent power and handled the pitching staff well. What’s worse, the Yankees seemed to have no real backup plan, simply turning over the position to reserves Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli while they wait for their vaunted catching prospects to develop.
The Yankees have so many older players needing rest, they really wish they could have more than one DH spot. They’ll begin with Travis Hafner in this role, but will rotate Teixeira, Jeter and Rodriguez (when he returns) in and out. The Yankees are eager to give Eduardo Nunez more playing time, and if his fielding misadventures continue, DH makes the most sense. The Yanks’ tighter budget will result in a considerably weaker bench. Jayson Nix started nine games or more at four positions last season is attractive due to his versatility. Outfielders Matt Diaz and Ben Francisco were added to the mix in the offseason. An intriguing option could be Cuban defector Ronnier Mustelier, who has impressed this spring and can play third base.
Girardi’s stock phrase is “I believe in my guys,” but his faith has limits, and that should be encouraging for Yankees fans. Girardi’s greatest challenge is getting the most from aging superstars, and by benching Rodriguez and others in the playoffs, he showed a realization that big names cannot produce big results forever. Expect Girardi to deftly move his creaky veterans in and out of the DH spot and continue to work closely with Brian Cashman, who enters his 16th season as GM. Cashman recognizes the need for the Yankees to eventually get younger, but with a mandate to win every season, he’ll keep searching for impact veterans on short-term deals.
The Yankees won’t come right out and say it, but they’re going through a transition. The old guard can’t hang around forever, and their presence restricts the club’s flexibility on the field and in the payroll. But while the Yankees aren’t as feared as they once were, there’s still enough punch here to put them in the AL East mix, and the pitching looks solid. A division title is no certainty, but it’s still within reach.
RF Ichiro Suzuki (L)
Longtime Mariner hit .394 in final 16 games to earn two-year contract in winter.
SS Derek Jeter (R)
A hit machine, but serious ankle injury suffered in postseason could further hinder range at short.
2B Robinson Cano (L)
Only American League player to score 100 runs in each of the last four seasons.
1B Mark Teixeira (S)
His .997 AL fielding percentage is best in league history for a first baseman (min. 1000 games). An injured wrist may force him to miss all of April.
CF Curtis Granderson (L)
Has 61 homers at home, 47 on road, since joining Yanks in 2010, but he strikes out a ton. Hit by a pitch in his first plate appearance of the spring that left him with a broken arm and a place on the DL until May.
3B Kevin Youkilis (R)
After .233 average for Boston, hit just three points better after being dealt to the White Sox. He will see some time at first while Teixeira is on the mend.
DH Travis Hafner (L)
Although exclusively a DH, he hasn’t been healthy for a full season since 2007.
C Chris Stewart (R)
Yankee pitchers had a 3.41 ERA when working with this well-traveled veteran.
LF Brett Gardner (L)
Elbow injury ruined last season; led the American League in steals in 2011, with 49.
C Francisco Cervelli (R)
Returns to backup role after spending almost all of 2012 in minors; has hit .271 in his time in the bigs.
INF Eduardo Nunez (R)
They know he can hit and run. Weakness is fielding, so DH spot fits — at least until A-Rod returns.
OF Melky Mesa (R)
The only Melquisedec to make it to the major leagues. That’s why they call him Melky.
OF Matt Diaz (R)
Career .324 hitter vs. left-handed pitching has battled thumb problems recently.
LH CC Sabathia
Only pitcher in the majors with at least 15 wins in each of the last six seasons.
RH Hiroki Kuroda
His 16 victories in first season with Yanks were a career high, including his 11 seasons in Japan.
LH Andy Pettitte
Has made 140 starts without a complete game, longest active streak in MLB.
RH Phil Hughes
Won 16 games in 2012 and 18 in ’10 but only five in dreadful ’11 season. A bulging disc this spring has added to his misery.
RH Ivan Nova
Allowed 87 extra-base hits, a single-season record for a Yankees pitcher.
RH Mariano Rivera (Closer)
Only other Yankee to earn a save after age 40 — Jim Kaat, in 1979.
RH David Robertson
His seven losses in 2012 were most by Yankee reliever since Jeff Nelson in 1997.
RH David Phelps
Held opponents to a .209 average as a reliever in his first season in the majors. Will be the first option to fill in for an injured starter.
LH Clay Rapada
Allowed only 29 hits in 38.1 innings in first season as a Yankee; lefties hit .186 off him.
LH Boone Logan
His 80 appearances in 2012 led the majors and set a record for a Yankees’ lefty.
RH Joba Chamberlain
Missed Yanks’ first 102 games recovering from elbow and ankle injuries.
RH David Aardsma
Has faced just five batters since Sept. 19, 2010.
Grab your hard hats and watch your step, Red Sox fans, because Fenway Park’s going to be a construction zone. After hitting rock bottom in 2012, the Sox aren’t beginning a remodel so much as a teardown. The return to respectability won’t happen overnight, not in the rugged American League East, but at least the Red Sox shouldn’t embarrass themselves, which would be a refreshing development. They spent the winter patching the roster with veterans like Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino and Stephen Drew in the hopes that augmenting a nucleus featuring Dustin Pedroia, Will Middlebrooks and David Ortiz will keep the Sox in the hunt for the second Wild Card while the farm system prepares the next generation. We’ll see if that scenario unfolds. In the meantime, beware of falling concrete.
Here’s where the season will be made or broken. If Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz return to the form that made them All-Stars in 2010, John Lackey rebounds from Tommy John surgery to win his customary 13-to-15 games, and a youngster takes the fifth spot and runs with it, the Red Sox could contend for the division title. Unfortunately, that’s a lot of ifs, especially since the alternatives — Lester and Buchholz struggle for a second straight season, Lackey struggles with reentry, the fifth starter stumbles — are just as likely. It all starts with Lester. Now that Josh Beckett is gone, Lester is the leader of the rotation, and if he can rejoin that upper echelon of AL starters, he gives the Red Sox a bona fide ace. There are some worrisome signs, though. His strikeout rate has dipped in each of the last four seasons (from 10.0 in 2009 to 7.3 last year), along with his velocity. That’s why it’s so important that Buchholz returns to form and stays healthy. One name to watch is Rubby De La Rosa, a flamethrower coming off Tommy John surgery who was acquired from the Dodgers.
Whatever doubts exist about the rotation, they’re not shared in the bullpen. Taking a page from the 2012 Orioles, the Red Sox have tried to build a deep stable of power arms in the hopes of winning enough close games to stay in contention. The Red Sox have the arms to do it, particularly after acquiring two-time All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan from the Pirates. That shifts fellow two-time All-Star Andrew Bailey to the eighth. From there the Sox have their pick of arms like Koji Uehara, hard-throwing Junichi Tazawa, lefty Craig Breslow, lefty Andrew Miller, and the rubber-armed Alfredo Aceves. Plus, whichever of Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales loses the fifth starter’s battle should end up in relief, too. Breslow’s shoulder has been balky in the spring and will likely delay his season. But this is as deep a group as you’ll find in the majors.
If everyone stays healthy, the Red Sox have a chance to field one of the best all-around double-play combos in the game. Pedroia’s résumé speaks for itself at second. He’s a former MVP and Gold Glover whose tenacity sets the tone on the field and off. And don’t discount the underrated Drew, who has 20-homer power and an ability to work the count. If something happens to the latter, then slick-fielding youngster Jose Iglesias would get the call from Pawtucket, though there are real concerns about his bat. The utilityman should be speedy Pedro Ciriaco, who was a jack-of-all-trades in 2012.
The Red Sox figured they had their hole at first base plugged when they signed Mike Napoli to a three-year, $39 million deal as their first big move of the offseason in early December. More than a month later, the sides still hadn’t agreed on language to protect the Red Sox in case Napoli suffered a hip injury. But on Jan. 17. The sides agreed on language for a one-year deal for $5 million guaranteed. But staying clear of the DL and answering the call every day, the former catcher can earn as much as $8 million. His bat is a plus, but his glove, not so much. The other side of the diamond is far less murky thanks to Middlebrooks, who’s a 25-homer hitter in waiting. Middlebrooks is fully healed from the freak broken wrist (hit by pitch) that ended his rookie season in August.
The Red Sox had once hoped to just pencil in the names Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford in center and left, respectively, and watch them wreak havoc. Instead, Crawford was a colossal disappointment before being dumped on the Dodgers, while Ellsbury has only been able to stay on the field once in the last three seasons. With Ellsbury due to enter free agency, he could be traded at any point before the July 31 deadline, particularly if the Sox struggle to remain in contention. Otherwise, he’ll be flanked by Victorino, a former Gold Glover with the Phillies, in right field and Jonny Gomes in left. Gomes struggles in the field, but his right-handed power and clubhouse leadership make him an intriguing acquisition. Gomes has murdered left-handed pitching but will need a platoon partner against righties, with Daniel Nava and Mike Carp possibilities.
From the moment the Red Sox signed respected backup David Ross in November, it seemed inevitable that the other shoe would drop in the form of a trade of either incumbent starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia or promising youngster Ryan Lavarnway. But the Red Sox believed they could find room for all three catchers, even if it meant returning Lavarnway to Triple-A for further seasoning. In any event, the Sox could employ some intriguing permutations. The switch-hitting Saltalamacchia became an all-or-nothing proposition in the second half after a borderline All-Star first half. He’ll need to improve his selectivity or he won’t be playing anywhere. Lavarnway was likewise hideous down the stretch (.157-2-12 in 46 games). Ross is probably the most talented of the bunch, but he’s purely a backup at age 36 and is unlikely to play more than 70 games.
The man they call Big Papi is officially the last link to the glory of 2004, when the Red Sox ended their 86-year-old curse. Signed to a two-year deal over the winter that finally should provide some peace of mind, Ortiz is nonetheless as motivated as ever to prove to the doubters that (a) he’s worth the $13 million he’ll receive in each of the next two years, and (b) that he can stay healthy. In many respects, he was in the midst of his best season last year before an Achilles injury basically ended his season in July, so proving the first part seems easy enough. However, pain lingers in his Achilles making his availability for Opening Day doubtful. As for the bench, the Sox have put a premium on versatility. Ciriaco can play all over the infield and debuted in center last year. With Victorino able to play center, the Sox are covered behind Ellsbury. Nava and Carp can back up the corner spots and/or platoon with Gomes in left. The final order of business as spring training beckoned was adding Carp as a reserve left-handed first baseman.
Bobby Valentine divided and conquered the clubhouse through passive-aggression last year, and his tenure goes down as one of the biggest mistakes in franchise history. The Red Sox believe they’ve found the anti-Bobby V. in John Farrell, the team’s former pitching coach, who commands respect throughout the organization. Farrell dealt with the Hanrahan and Bailey situation immediately, naming the former his closer in December. In the GM’s office, Ben Cherington has learned from the mistakes of his first season — when he didn’t do enough to change the clubhouse culture — by striking aggressively late last summer (Dodgers blockbuster) and then all winter, securing a number of solid veterans on contracts of three years and fewer. Farrell and Cherington see the game similarly (they’re both former farm directors) and work well together.
The Red Sox need so much to break right to contend in the AL East. Most of their free-agent acquisitions are coming off down years. Vital cogs like Ortiz, Pedroia, and Ellsbury must stay healthy, something none of them managed in 2012. They need the starters to rebound and the bullpen to remain stout. It also wouldn’t hurt if some of the other teams in the East underachieved. In reality, this is Year 1 of a lengthy rebuild, and even though the Red Sox hope and expect to remain competitive, it’s probably going to be another season or two before they restore their status as legitimate contenders.
CF Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
With free agency looming, Ellsbury would like nothing better than to prove his breakout 2011 the rule, not the exception.
SS Stephen Drew (L)
Drew knows how to work himself into a hitter’s count, and then he’s hacking.
2B Dustin Pedroia (R)
Pedroia and Drew are both better suited to hit second, but one of them must bat in the 3-hole where Pedroia owns a lifetime .840 OPS.
DH David Ortiz (L)
Baseball’s best DH by a wide margin, Ortiz hit .320 with a .985 OPS against lefties last year. But Achilles problems continue to plague him and make him doubtful to be ready by Opening Day.
1B Mike Napoli (R)
Napoli’s problem isn’t his production; it’s his health. He has averaged only 379 plate appearances per season.
RF Shane Victorino (S)
Victorino hits lefties (.881 career OPS) far better than righties (.727).
3B Will Middlebrooks (R)
Free swinger struck out 70 times and walked only 13 in 286 plate appearances as a rookie.
LF Jonny Gomes (R)
Gomes may never be a full-time player, but he has reached 20 homers in fewer than 400 at-bats three times.
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)
Needs to add more discipline to his approach, or he’ll be taking a seat in favor of David Ross or Ryan Lavarnway.
INF Pedro Ciriaco (R)
Opened eyes last year as a speedy pest who can play pretty much anywhere.
C David Ross (R)
Ross was universally adored in Atlanta, where pitchers loved throwing to him. Probably the game’s best backup.
1B/OF Mike Carp (L)
Acquired from Settle to potentially platoon with Gomes in left and as insurance for Napoli at first.
OF Daniel Nava (S)
A .317 hitter over six seasons in the minors, the Red Sox expect his bat to come around at the major league level as well.
LH Jon Lester
Let’s not forget that until his terrible 2012, Lester was pretty much a guaranteed 16 wins.
RH Clay Buchholz
There may not be a more diverse arsenal in the game, with Buchholz throwing everything but a knuckleball.
RH John Lackey
The man in the middle is Johnny on the spot. If he’s his Angels self, the Sox could be in business.
RH Ryan Dempster
The Red Sox suspect Dempster will struggle with good lineups, but they want him to feast on bad ones.
LH Felix Doubront
With legit swing-and-miss stuff and a 96 mph fastball, Doubront needs to harness his command.
RH Joel Hanrahan (Closer)
Hanrahan brings the 98 mph heat and buries with a slider that ranks among the game’s most unhittable pitches.
RH Andrew Bailey
Former All-Star closer says he’s okay with move to set up Hanrahan. If he takes to it, it’s difficult to imagine anyone better.
RH Junichi Tazawa
On another team in another season, the hard-throwing Tazawa could be considered a closer candidate.
RH Koji Uehara
Like Tazawa, Uehara strikes out more than a batter an inning with impeccable control.
LH Craig Breslow
After kicking around the game’s margins for nearly a decade, Breslow owns a 3.15 ERA since 2010. A sore shoulder has shelved him for a few weeks.
LH Andrew Miller
A bust as a starter, the 6'7" Miller has been reborn as a junior Randy Johnson in relief, abusing lefthanders.
LH Franklin Morales
Morales was a revelation as a starter last year, and may beat out Doubront for the fifth spot.
General manager Andrew Friedman talks about “always trying to thread the needle” in harmonizing the present and future. President Matt Silverman says the team is operated “as if we’re balanced on the head of a pin.” Both make good “points.” The attendance-famished, cash-impoverished Rays perennially stitch together a contender with a quilt of creative contracts, bargain-basement free agents, prospect development and Joe Mad(don)-scientist field management. Improbably, despite the loss of one of the top three position players (B.J. Upton) and pitchers (James Shields) in their history, they’ve done so again for 2013. Not that they’ve really darned a threadbare offense that was the fourth-lowest-scoring in the AL, but they’ve patched it. Not that they’re likely to match an ERA that was the best in the league since 1990, but the pitching remains enviable. Not that they can replace Upton’s stolen bases or have definitively addressed a defense that led the circuit in errors, but the roster is still athletic. It’s a living-on-the-edge formula tailored to Tampa Bay’s unique situation and executed with dexterity. “We are a turnover team. We do change things on an annual basis,” says Maddon. “Welcome to the Rays.”
Hanging on the wall in a corner of the Rays clubhouse is a slogan made popular by Shields: “If you don’t like it, pitch better.” Even after dealing the inspirational soul of their staff, the team still has a backlog of moundsmen who would be shoo-ins to make many rotations, but will have to “pitch better” to crack this one. David Price can’t pitch much better than he did in 2012. He went 20–5 and compiled a 1.62 ERA in his no-decisions. The Cy Young Award winner now mixes three solid complementary pitches to go with his hot, hot heat, and he remains driven to sustain the growth. Matt Moore is Price on training wheels — outrageously gifted, but sometimes with elusive fastball command. Although he broke the team’s rookie strikeout record, and his 3.31 ERA over his last 22 starts denotes improvement, Maddon cautions, “the finished product is probably two, three years down the road.” Jeremy Hellickson consistently pitches himself in and out of peril with the net result being the AL’s third-lowest ERA (3.02) over the past two years. To take the next step, he’ll have to economize; on 11 occasions, he was yanked after passing 90 pitches yet not completing the sixth inning. Blossoming Alex Cobb will build on an impressive finish to 2012, when his seven wins after July 31 tied for most in the circuit. Despite a career ledger of 40–26, oft-injured Jeff Niemann must hold off the youth brigade for the No. 5 slot. Chris Archer is at the vanguard. “This guy’s going to be so good,” Maddon predicts — but the 24-year-old needs a third pitch to get lefties out or risk being recast as a closer. Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome and Alex Torres face slightly longer odds. The X-factor is Roberto Hernandez, a former 19-game winner who lost track of his mojo — and his age — as Fausto Carmona in Cleveland.
Closer Fernando Rodney had, according pitching coach Jim Hickey, “maybe the best relief season in the history of the game. So I don’t expect him to do that (again).” Anything remotely close to his 48-for-50 save rate and all-time-record 0.60 ERA would be just fine. When Rodney is locating his high-90s fastball and low-80s change-up as he did in 2012, batters have no chance. Should he regress, pea-chucking lefty Jake McGee could probably work the ninth. Of the 44 men he faced in September, four got hits and 21 were punched out. Joel Peralta, the MLB holds leader with 37, was re-signed as the primary bridge man. Kyle Farnsworth brings stability and experience, but is not the fireballer he once was. The pen will fill out adequately with some combo of the losers in the starter’s derby and “4-A” veterans Cesar Ramos, Brandon Gomes and Josh Lueke.
Now that the words “Yunel” and “eye black controversy” will never again appear in print independently, we’re left to wonder whether his gay-slur incident will doom the new Rays shortstop to even more underachievement or prompt him to finally grow up. Escobar is gifted defensively and streaky-solid at the dish, but mystifyingly prone to all manner of mental mistakes. Maddon, like many managers before him, has been impressed initially by Escobar in the spring. We’ll see how long that lasts. The acquisition from Toronto frees Ben Zobrist (who finished 2012 at short) to return to second base where, as a total package, he’s one of the game’s five best. Maddon calls him “no chrome” — nothing flashy, but steely-solid. Zobrist will also see some time in right field as Maddon thrives on mixing and matching lineups.
“Nine 1/2 Weeks” was a movie about a shallow affair. That pretty much describes the Rays offense in the nine-and-a-half weeks it was without hammie-hobbled Evan Longoria. As the team’s only authentic run-producer, his absence turns the attack into a series of toppling dominoes. A full slate of the third baseman’s batsmithery is worth 30 homers and 100 RBIs — or more. “If we have Longo in the lineup all year, we win 10 more games, or 20,” Price speculates. His hyperbole was only slight. Things are not as secure at first, where James Loney succeeds Carlos Pena. He’s a hard worker, but an impatient one, both within individual at-bats and settling on an overall approach. The club would gladly take his 2008-10 production, when he averaged .279-12-89 for the Dodgers. Still, Loney is, says the skipper, “a great defender.”
Where there’s a Wil there’s a wait. At least it would seem that way, based on the team’s inclination to delay prospect debuts for both developmental and financial reasons. But unless the Rays add a thumper at the 11th hour, they almost have to slot treasured rookie Wil Myers into right field. The central return in the trade of Shields to the Royals, he’s a 22-year-old who ranked second in the minors with 37 home runs and carries a “superstar” projection by many scouts. Matt Joyce would then slide to left. His glove is fine, but a once-promising bat has yielded two straight OPS declines to a ho-hum .769. If that doesn’t improve, Myers will shift to left, Zobrist to right and giving Kelly Johnson a chance at second. With Upton off the grid, Desmond Jennings returns to his natural habitat in center, where he has Gold Glove possibilities. He’s a potential league leader in stolen bases, but not if he can’t elevate a .314 OBP that, as a leadoff man, was a literal non-starter. The issue: Jennings worked himself ahead in the count in a team-low 30.7 percent of plate appearances.
The Rays chose not to (or could not) upgrade the catching position, where Jose Molina is a liability at the plate and becoming immobile behind it. He’s still a master receiver/pitcher-handler with an adequate arm. As the team’s oldest position player by five years, he’s limited to 100 games, with replacement-level operatives Jose Lobaton or Chris Gimenez taking up the slack.
There’s no great cache of talent in reserve, just a smorgasbord of versatile grinders. Just the way Maddon likes it. He can play Sean Rodriguez (who Pena says might be the best defensive player he’s ever seen) almost anywhere and Johnson at second and the outfield, get two honest games a week out of three-position outfielder Sam Fuld, dispatch Ryan Roberts to second base when moving Zobrist to the outfield for platoon reasons … and so forth. Lefty swinging Luke Scott and righty Shelley Duncan will likely platoon at DH.
There’s none better in the bang vs. buck department. Friedman checks all the boxes as a GM; Maddon works below market because he adores the environment; owner Stuart Sternberg is fan-friendly and surprisingly agile with his bank. But, warns the latter, “At some point, it stops. You’ve got to make a decision. We’re going to eat steak, and we’re going to eat lobster, and we’re going to order some wine, but we’re not going to be able to turn the heat on, and the house isn’t going to get painted.”
Maddon says the franchise’s “DNA” is “great pitching … great defense.” When he gets both, as he should most days in 2013, the Rays are No. 1 on any opponents’ least-like-to-play list. Unfortunately, there is no forensic evidence to suggest they’ll be any better than mediocre at scoring runs. Still, in a year in which you can throw a blanket over the entire AL East, the Rays have a respectable chance of sewing up a fourth postseason appearance in six years.
CF Desmond Jennings (R)
Set team record (min. 20 attempts.) with 93.9 percent steal success rate last year.
SS Yunel Escobar (R)
Third-most hits (720) while playing shortstop since 2008, behind Derek Jeter and Jose Reyes.
2B Ben Zobrist (S)
Was, in 2012, first player in the modern era to start at least 45 games at three different positions.
3B Evan Longoria (R)
Rays went 47–27 (.635) when he started, 43–45 (.489) when he didn’t.
DH Luke Scott (L)
Hit .149 vs. lefties, .260 vs. righties last season.
RF Wil Myers (R)
Consensus 2012 Minor League Player of the Year will get a chance to win the job in the spring.
LF Matt Joyce (L)
Hit .219 when slotted third through fifth in the order, but .337 at sixth through eighth.
1B James Loney (L)
Led the big leagues in hits with runners in scoring position (161), 2008-10.
C Jose Molina (R)
Third among active catchers (min. 500 games) with 39.1 caught-stealing percentage.
INF Ryan Roberts (R)
Errorless in 225 chances at second base, but made nine in 197 at third.
INF Sean Rodriguez (R)
Has gone to 0-2 count in 1 of every 4.5 career PAs, reaching base in only 1 of 5 when he does.
C Jose Lobaton (S)
Only player ever to be married at home plate at Tropicana Field (last July 2).
1B/OF Shelley Duncan (R)
Will be the primary DH against left-handed pitching.
2B/OF Kelly Johnson (L)
Hit .201 vs. lefties last season, but carries a .274 career average against southpaws.
LH David Price
33–11 in career vs. AL East teams, including 10–2 with a 2.51 ERA in 2012.
RH Jeremy Hellickson
With runners in scoring position, OPS is .083 lower and HR rate about half as in other situations.
LH Matt Moore
Induced swing-and-miss on 11.8 percent of pitches — tied for second in AL.
RH Alex Cobb
ERA would have been 3.22 if his two eight-run stinkers were thrown out.
RH Jeff Niemann
Holds foes to .236 average first two times through order in career, but .284 thereafter.
RH Fernando Rodney (Closer)
MLB relief-record 0.60 ERA was 0.98 lower than any other in 2012 AL (min. 50 innings).
RH Joel Peralta
Has appeared in the most games (147) of AL hurlers the last two years.
LH Jake McGee
At 95.7 mph, unleashed fastest average heater (min. 50 innings) of AL lefty relievers.
RH Kyle Farnsworth
In roughly the same number of plate appearances, he allowed a .088 average in August, .364 in September.
LH Cesar Ramos
Held Triple-A lefties to .125 AVG and big-league righties to .130.
RH Roberto Hernandez
Won 32 games with a 3.41 ERA in his two best seasons with Indians.
The Toronto Blue Jays acted boldly in the offseason to snap out of the relentless mediocrity that has characterized the franchise for almost 20 years. They raided the NL East, acquiring Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle from the downsizing Marlins and Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the rebuilding Mets. They also signed Melky Cabrera despite his suspension for his positive test for testosterone, and re-hired a former Jays manager, John Gibbons, who already understands the local culture. It won’t be easy in the always-treacherous AL East, but it’s reasonable to expect Toronto to find its way back to the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1992 and 1993.
The Blue Jays’ rotation had a 4.82 earned run average last year, ranking 25th in the majors. It underwent a drastic renovation in the offseason, with trades for Dickey, Johnson and Buehrle. The Jays signed Dickey to a contract extension through 2015, betting on a knuckleball that has baffled hitters for three years and earned Dickey the NL Cy Young Award. Dickey is 38, but his career is ascending as he masters the finicky pitch, which he throws hard and controls with uncanny precision. Johnson pitched better than his record indicated and made it through the season after losing much of 2011 to shoulder trouble. He’s still in his prime and should be stronger now, and he will be unfamiliar to many AL hitters. Buehrle, the longtime White Sox mainstay, is no secret, but it’s hard to find a more consistent, dependable pro. Brandon Morrow was on his way to a long-awaited breakthrough season before losing more than two months to an oblique injury, but on his best days his stuff can match anyone’s. The biggest question is Ricky Romero, who seemed to be growing into a force at the top of the rotation before regressing badly last season. The restocked Jays won’t ask too much of Romero, their Opening Day starter the last two seasons, but if he can find his way back to at least being league-average, he’ll help a lot.
The Jays thought they had their closer of the future in Sergio Santos, the former position player who saved 30 games for the White Sox in 2011. But Santos saved only two for Toronto before needing shoulder surgery, and he returns to find his job taken by the veteran Casey Janssen — who also had a damaged shoulder. Janssen pitched a full season but had an operation in late November to shave down a small portion of his clavicle to relieve soreness. It was said to be minor surgery, but shoulder trouble is never a good sign. If healthy, though, Santos and Janssen would form the back end of the bullpen, supported by two lefties — one old (Darren Oliver) and one young (Aaron Loup) — and an intriguing group of righties including Esmil Rogers, Brad Lincoln and Steve Delabar. Rogers blossomed for the Indians last season after never quite figuring out Colorado, fanning 54 in 53 innings, while Delabar also showed strikeout stuff after midseason trades to Toronto.
Maicer Izturis signed a three-year, $10 million contract with Toronto in early November, a move that added a nice, versatile player to the infield mix. Soon after, though, they added a lot more sizzle, trading for Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio from Miami. Bonifacio hopes to pick up where he left off early last season, when he was successful on his first 20 stolen base attempts. Injuries to his thumb and knee torpedoed his progress, though, and he appeared in only 64 games. Like Izturis, he can play all over the infield, a valuable attribute for a team that plays home games on turf and would like to rest some starters now and then. Reyes, in particular, could benefit from occasional days off the turf, considering his history of hamstring injuries. But he was healthy last season and led the National League in plate appearances with 716. He was not the dynamic force the Marlins wanted him to be, and when they saw a chance to escape the last five years of his six-year, $106 million contract, they took it. In Toronto, Reyes might be in a late-season pennant race for the first time since the Mets’ collapses in 2007 and 2008. He should be energized and, still just 29 years old, can be a sparkplug for a dangerous Jays offense.
Trading two years of Shaun Marcum for the start of Brett Lawrie’s career was a steal for the Blue Jays, who love Lawrie’s background (he’s from British Columbia), his versatile offensive skills, and his defense at third. Forget the 17 errors, which led AL third basemen. By more advanced metrics, Lawrie ranked among the most valuable defensive performers in the game, with exceptional range. He’s battling a rib cage injury this spring, but it doesn’t appear too serious. Across the diamond, the Jays can use Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion, who have enough power to fit the profile for a first baseman. Encarnacion had a monster year last season, with 42 homers and 110 runs batted in, double his total from 2011. The Jays rewarded him with a three-year, $29 million contract extension, a bargain for that production, but a waste if his season was merely an anomaly. That is how Lind’s contract looks now, with three consecutive seasons that have fallen well short of his 2009 breakout. Lind, who was sent to the minors last season after hitting .186 through the end of May, has club options for 2014, 2015 and 2016. He needs to turn things around in a hurry for the Jays to consider retaining him.
Gibbons was the bench coach in Kansas City when Cabrera exploded for 201 hits in 2011. Cabrera was even better for the Giants last season, before his suspension for testosterone raised questions about what kind of player he really is. The Blue Jays are spending $16 million for the next two seasons to find out. They’ll trust that Cabrera can be a dynamic player cleanly. Colby Rasmus clashed with an intense manager in St. Louis (Tony La Russa), and played even worse for another intense manager in Toronto (John Farrell). Gibbons has had run-ins with his own players, but by nature he’s laid-back and affable, and perhaps in that environment Rasmus can unlock the talent that made him a first-round pick out of high school in 2005. On paper, he’s the only weak link in an outfield highlighted by Jose Bautista, the game’s premier power hitter the last few seasons. A wrist problem ruined Bautista’s second half, but as long as the injury has healed, there’s no reason to expect anything other than lots of homers, RBIs and walks, and plenty of screaming drives down the left field line.
The Blue Jays used catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud to land Dickey from the Mets. One reason they were willing to part the rising star is that they believe in J.P. Arencibia, with power by far his best tool. He caught Dickey in the World Baseball Classic, which allowed him to become familiar with the knuckler. Veteran Henry Blanco (yes, he’s still in the league) will be the backup at age 41. He still throws as well as any catcher in the AL.
The Jays can use Encarnacion or Lind as the designated hitter, which is also a convenient place to shift Reyes on occasion and play Izturis at shortstop. Gibbons could also inject speed into the lineup by using Rajai Davis or Anthony Gose, both reserve outfielders, in the DH spot.
GM Alex Anthopoulos constantly chases undervalued talent. It’s a worthwhile strategy, but it only goes so far, and Anthopoulos changed course in November. The industry-rattling acquisition of Reyes, Johnson and Buehrle brought proven performers to the Blue Jays, who are owned by a communications giant — Rogers — and have a nation to themselves. Anthopoulos is savvy and aggressive, and in Gibbons, he picked a manager who knows him and knows Toronto.
Four different AL East teams have reached the playoffs in the last four years, and the Jays are tired of being left out. There are no more excuses. The roster is not perfect, given the injury history of Reyes and Johnson, the declining performance of Rasmus and Romero, and the questionable sustainability of Cabrera’s recent success. But Dickey gives them a legitimate ace and helps make this the most talented Toronto team in more than a decade. All the elements are in place for the first postseason games in Canada since Joe Carter homered off Mitch Williams in 1993.
SS Jose Reyes (S)
Ended lackluster season in Miami by hitting .310 with 11 steals after Sept. 1.
LF Melky Cabrera (S)
Must prove his recent breakout is more than a result of PEDs. He was a gamble worth taking.
RF Jose Bautista (R)
Trade from Pirates for catcher Robinzon Diaz is one of great heists in MLB history.
1B Edwin Encarnacion (R)
Blue Jays need him to show that career year in 2012 (42 home runs, 110 RBIs) was no fluke.
CF Colby Rasmus (L)
OBP tumbled from excellent (.361) to abysmal (.289) in two years; still has the talent to be productive.
3B Brett Lawrie (R)
Hit .319 vs. lefties to lead the Blue Jays in his first full season in the big leagues. A rib cage injury leaves his availability for Opening Day in doubt.
DH Adam Lind (L)
Career peaked in 2009 (.305-35-114); can he come close to that again?
C J.P. Arencibia (R)
Is his decent power enough to offset his low on-base percentage?
2B Emilio Bonifacio (S)
Had .360 OBP and 40 steals as everyday infielder for Marlins in 2011.
IF Maicer Izturis (S)
Veteran started at least 162 career games at second, short and third; will be a valuable reserve.
OF Rajai Davis (R)
Playing time could be scaled back despite 46 steals in ’12; could grab some at-bats as the DH.
C Henry Blanco (R)
The 41-year-old backstop has thrown out 45 percent of base stealers since 2008.
OF Anthony Gose (L)
Former second-round pick must make better contact to take advantage of great speed.
3B Mark DeRosa (R)
The veteran will fill in for the injured Lawrie, then return to utility role.
RH R.A. Dickey
Threw one-hitters last year vs. new AL East rivals Baltimore and Tampa Bay.
RH Josh Johnson
A free agent after the ’12 season, he hopes to reestablish himself as an ace.
LH Mark Buehrle
Gold Glove winner in each of the last four seasons, three with White Sox, one with Marlins.
RH Brandon Morrow
Untouchable when he’s on; in his 10 wins, his ERA was 0.68; could be one of the game’s best No. 4 starters.
LH Ricky Romero
Suffered 13 consecutive losses, with 7.42 ERA, before winning last decision.
RH Casey Janssen (Closer)
Went 22-of-24 in save chances after assuming closer’s role.
RH Sergio Santos
Given closer job in 2012 but made only six appearances before season-ending shoulder surgery.
RH Steve Delabar
12.55 Ks per 9 innings was the best figure in the American League in 2012 (min. 60 innings).
LH Darren Oliver
Posted the lowest ERA (2.06) of his 19-year career in 2012, his first season with the Jays.
RH Esmil Rogers
Had 3.06 ERA for Indians in 44 games after escaping Coors Field.
LH Aaron Loup
Held lefties to .207 average in 33 games after promotion from Class AA.
The Baltimore Orioles’ breakthrough season included their first trip to the playoffs and first winning record since 1997. They shocked the baseball world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t guarantee future success. They didn’t follow up with an impact move as the calendar turned to 2013. Other teams in the division, most notably the Blue Jays and Red Sox, made the kind of improvements that should lift them past the Orioles.
Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez are the staples of a rotation that could add a veteran starter before Opening Day. Hammel wasn’t added until last February. Gonzalez was signed out of the Mexican League in early March. Chen adapted quickly to the demands of pitching in the U.S. and was the only Orioles pitcher to post a double-digit win total (12). He also led the staff with 32 starts, 12 more than the next-closest teammates. Chris Tillman figures to stay in the rotation after going 9–3 with a 2.93 ERA in 15 starts, easily his best season in the majors. There is no shortage of candidates for the fifth spot. Jake Arrieta started last Opening Day but was demoted to Triple-A and later placed in the Orioles’ bullpen. He’s competing against lefthander Zach Britton and righthander Jair Jurrjens, who won 27 games for the Braves in 2008-09. Top prospect Dylan Bundy is expected to join the rotation at some point this season.
This was a team strength in 2012 and figures to stay that way. Jim Johnson converted 51-of-54 save opportunities in his first full season as a closer, but he’s quick to credit others for continually handing him the lead. Pedro Strop was an effective setup man until slumping in September. His bouts of wildness are a concern. Darren O’Day (7–1, 2.28 ERA, 69 games) turned out to be one of the best signings of the offseason — and it came after Andy MacPhail left the front office and before Dan Duquette was hired as the team’s executive vice president. O’Day was equally good against lefties and righties, an oddity for a submarine-stylist. Luis Ayala and lefthander Troy Patton also return, and Matusz figures to be the lefty specialist, a role he took on after returning from the minors. The last spot can go to whichever starting candidate is bumped from the rotation. Hunter is out of options, which could make him the favorite.
Shortstop is in the reliable hands of J.J. Hardy, who finally won his first Gold Glove in 2012. He committed only six errors in 779 total chances. Hardy wasn’t nearly as reliable at the plate, however, with his average dipping to .238 with a .282 on-base percentage. His home run total decreased from 30 to 22, and his RBI total from 80 to 68. Second base is becoming less of a riddle. Brian Roberts says that his surgically repaired hip is feeling good, and he’s no longer experiencing post-concussion symptoms. The job belongs to Roberts if he stays healthy through spring training. Otherwise, Alexi Casilla, claimed him off waivers from the Twins, or Ryan Flaherty, a super-utility player would take over.
Top position prospect Manny Machado joined the Orioles in August and was outstanding at third base, steadying a position that had been a disaster for the first four months of the season. Who knew that a 20-year-old Double-A shortstop would make such an impact at the hot corner? He’s the shortstop of the future, but he’s needed at third base in the present. Chris Davis is the leading candidate to play first base after the Orioles made no attempt to re-sign Mark Reynolds. The club needs a big bat for the middle of the lineup. Davis, the team leader in home runs and RBIs, is able to play the outfield corners if needed.
All three projected starters have Gold Gloves at some point in their careers that they can show off, which the pitching staff loves. The Orioles re-signed Nate McLouth, who was a huge addition after they purchased his contract from Triple-A over the summer. He can bat leadoff if needed, and he was the only player whose bat didn’t go into a deep freeze in the playoffs. Nolan Reimold, who didn’t play after April because of a herniated disk in his neck that required surgery, will vie for the starting job in left. A platoon is possible. Adam Jones returns to center field after being named Most Valuable Oriole for the second consecutive season. He played all 162 games. He’s getting a little better every year. Nick Markakis used to be an iron man, but he went on the disabled list in late May with a broken hamate bone and had his left thumb shattered by a CC Sabathia fastball on Sept. 8, costing him the rest of the season and sidelining him for the playoffs. The thumb is healed, and he expects to play every day in right. He’s also a candidate to bat leadoff if Roberts is unavailable.
Matt Wieters won his second consecutive Gold Glove in 2012. No catcher does a better job of fielding short hops and applying the tag. Wieters has turned it into an art form. And it’s usually not wise to run on him. He’s quite a weapon behind the plate. With the bat, he posted career highs with 23 homers and 83 RBIs, but his .249 average was disappointing. He may never be Johnny Bench, but he’s plenty good. The Orioles re-signed Taylor Teagarden to serve as Wieters’ backup. He didn’t break camp with the team last spring because of a back injury. Teagarden had only nine hits, but he also collected nine RBIs. His value comes in his work behind the plate, not beside it, but he had some clutch hits last year.
Manager Buck Showalter can choose a platoon that includes Wilson Betemit, who batted 162 points higher from the left side. Betemit can play the infield corners and left field, but his glove isn’t an asset. He’s best used as a DH and pinch-hitter. Danny Valencia, a new addition to the organization, could be a right-handed DH and occasional third baseman. Casilla will be a utility infielder if he’s not starting at second base. Reimold could be a fourth outfielder. So could Trayvon Robinson, acquired from the Mariners over the winter. He’s out of options. Infielders Yamaico Navarro, acquired in a trade with the Pirates, and Flaherty a Rule 5 pick last year, are also bench candidates.
Showalter clearly is the face of the franchise. His hiring was one of the best moves to come under the ownership of Peter Angelos. He brought instant credibility to a franchise in desperate need of it. The players respect him and play hard for him, and nobody handles a bullpen better. Duquette’s hiring last year was greeted mostly by criticism and skepticism from the national media. He had been out of the game too long. Nobody else wanted the job. Duquette got the last laugh, adding key pieces such as Chen, Hammel, Gonzalez, Ayala and McLouth. He greatly improved the depth in the organization with under-the-radar signings. Angelos is a big supporter of both men, which doesn’t hurt.
There’s a lot more to like about the Orioles than in previous years. They have a fine nucleus of players in Wieters, Jones, Hardy, Markakis, Davis and Machado. The bullpen is outstanding, and there’s great potential with their younger starters. Plus, top pitching prospects Bundy and Kevin Gausman loom on the horizon. They have lots of candidates for the rotation, but no one who’s a bona fide ace. Having only one double-digit winner is insufficient. The Orioles can’t count on winning as many one-run and extra-inning games as they did last season. They could battle for another playoff spot or tumble into a battle with Boston to avoid last place. The latter seems more likely to happen in baseball’s toughest division, but that’s what everyone predicted in 2012.
2B Brian Roberts (S)
Not a sure thing after being limited to 115 games the past three seasons.
RF Nick Markakis (L)
Needs better luck after having two surgeries and a broken left thumb in 2012.
CF Adam Jones (R)
Two-time defending Most Valuable Oriole batted cleanup in 133 games last year.
C Matt Wieters (S)
Hit .224 with 18 homers from right side and .323 with five homers from left side.
1B Chris Davis (L)
Led the Orioles with 33 home runs, 85 RBIs and 169 strikeouts in 2012.
SS J.J. Hardy (R)
Provides pop but must improve on a .238 average and .282 on-base percentage.
LF Nate McLouth (L)
Also a candidate to bat leadoff or second if Roberts has another health-related setback.
DH Wilson Betemit (S)
Platoon candidate after batting .302 with 11 homers from left side and .140 with one homer from right.
3B Manny Machado (R)
Stud shortstop prospect made smooth transition to third as 31st player to make Orioles debut before age 21.
C Taylor Teagarden (R)
His nine hits in 2012 included three doubles and two homers to produce nine RBIs.
OF Nolan Reimold (R)
Should be fully recovered from disc surgery in neck to compete with McLouth and Betemit for at-bats.
INF Alexi Casilla (S)
Could start at second if Roberts is hurt; is 71-for-80 in stolen base attempts during career.
3B Danny Valencia (R)
Career .316 hitter against lefthanders could platoon with Betemit at designated hitter.
RH Jason Hammel
Was having an outstanding season before bothersome right knee led to surgery in July.
LH Wei-Yin Chen
Only Oriole to reach double digits in victories while adjusting quickly to life in the U.S.
RH Chris Tillman
Long on potential and short on results until going 9–3 with a 2.93 ERA last year.
RH Miguel Gonzalez
Didn’t sign with Orioles until early March and wound up being one of their most dependable starters.
RH Jair Jurrjens
On his way to beating out Jake Arrieta for the fifth spot.
RH Jake Arrieta
Opening Day starter won three games and will need big spring to beat out a host of young candidates. Will likely start season in Triple-A.
RH Jim Johnson (Closer)
No one is suggesting he should be a starter after he saved 51 games in 54 chances last year.
RH Pedro Strop
Was dominant setup man before posting an 8.38 ERA in his last 15 games beginning Aug. 27, but was huge for Dominican Republic in WBC.
RH Darren O’Day
Lefthanders hit .205/.237/.420 against him and righthanders hit .201/.263/.325.
RH Luis Ayala
Can work sixth, seventh or eighth innings, but he did a poor job when inheriting runners.
LH Troy Patton
Former starter posted 2.43 ERA in 59 relief appearances and was sole lefty in pen much of season.
LH Brian Matusz
Former first-round pick thrived as lefty specialist with 1.35 ERA in 18 relief outings.
RH Tommy Hunter
Could be long man if he doesn’t make rotation because he’s out of options; allowed 32 homers in 2012.
As spring training continues in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports offers its thoughts on all the offseason movement. Here are the best free agent signings in Major League Baseball for 2013:
Michael Bourn, Cleveland Indians
4 years, $48,000,000
The Indians certainly were the beneficiaries of a shrinking market late in the offseason. Bourn, one of the best defensive center fielders in the game, immediately makes the Cleveland pitching staff better. While his efficiency stealing bases has declined the past few years, he has a .346 OBP over the past three seasons and will be the catalyst for the Indians' lineup. With a vesting option for 2017, this contract will likely end up being a five-year, $60 million deal, which will make it look even better. It’s backloaded as Bourn will make just seven million this season.
Want more baseball? Check out Athlon Sports' 2013 Baseball Annual for the most complete preview available. Order your copy now!
We all know the favorties to win the American League Cy Young award this season: David Price, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver. But who are the longshots that could come out of nowhere. Here's a quick list of 10.
Healed and Ready
Brett Anderson, Oakland
After making 30 starts as a rookie in 2009, Anderson has been plagued by injuries, succumbing to Tommy John surgery in 2011. He was healthy enough last season to make six starts and shut down the Tigers over six innings in a Game 3 win in the ALDS, allowing just two hit and two walks.
Out of the Shadows
Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle
During his first year in the states, Iwakuma not only had to deal with the usual culture adjustments, but also the severe illness and eventual death of his father in Japan. He began the season in the bullpen and struggled. The 31-year old earned his first big league save in a 21-8 blowout, and his second save in a 12-inning affair. After joining the rotation in July, Iwakuma was 8-4 with a 2.65 ERA as the Mariners won 10 of his 16 starts.
Wade Davis, Kansas City
After two seasons in the Rays’ rotation with mixed results, Davis found a groove as a setup man last season. After June 28, opponents batted just .153. During that stretch he had a 1.82 ERA, 0.923 WHIP and 52 Ks in 34.2 innings.
Matt Moore, Tampa Bay
With stalwart James Shields traded to Kansas City, more burden will fall to Moore, a 23-year-old lefthander. He allowed more than two earned runs just three times in his last 14 starts. He appears ready to turn the corner.
Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay
The Rays are loaded with Cy Young candidates, beginning of course with reigning winner David Price. But Cobb, who has been overshadowed by Price, Shields, Moore and 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, had two rough starts last season that raised his ERA from 3.22 to 4.03. Opponents batted just .173 during his five September starts.
Ready for Limelight
Jose Quintana, Chicago
Quintana shouldered a much larger role than expected last season and tired a bit down the stretch. Over his first 15 starts, he had a 2.94 ERA and a 1.214 WHIP.
Zach McAllister, Cleveland
Over a six-start stretch in June and July — all against winning teams — he went 3-1 with a 2.65 ERA as opponents hit just .248.
A Rookie Cy?
Dylan Bundy, Baltimore
After two brief appearances in relief last season, it would not be a shock to see the prized prospect in the rotation out of spring training. The first-round pick in 2011 has just a scant more than 100 innings of minor league experience.
Trevor Bauer, Cleveland
The former top pick of the Diamondbacks owns a 13-3 mark at Double-A or higher in the minors. Manager Terry Francona will give Bauer a long look during the spring.
Kyle Gibson, Minnesota
The Twins are in dire need of pitching and their former first-round pick is completely recovered from Tommy John surgery, making 11 starts in the minors last season. If he breaks camp in the starting rotation, the Twins will monitor his innings closely.
We all know the favorties to win the National League Cy Young award this season: Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain and maybe closer Craig Kimbrel. But who are the longshots that could come out of nowhere and surprise baseball fans. Here's a quick list of 10.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles
The lefthander led Korean baseball in strikeouts five times in seven seasons, but domination in the Far East doesn’t always translate to the states. The Dodgers have committed $36 million over the next six years, plus a $25.7 million posting fee and are expecting big things.
Out of the Shadows
Mike Minor, Atlanta
The seventh overall selection in the 2009 draft showed over the final few months last season just how dominant he can be. While pitching in the shadows of fellow starter Kris Medlen and dominant closer Craig Kimbrel, Minor was 7-4 with a 2.21 ERA and 0.865 WHIP over his final 15 starts with 73 strikeouts in 93.2 innings.
Ross Detwiler, Washington
Overshadowed by Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, Detwiler was a first-round pick two years before Strasburg. Opponents hit just .234 off the lefty during the second half last season, but issuing too many free passes remains a problem. Harnessing his control could put Detwiler among the elite pitchers in the league.
Homer Bailey, Cincinnati
It’s easy to fall in love with Bailey after his one-hit, one-walk, 10-strikeout performance against the Giants in the playoffs. But over his final seven starts of the regular season, he owned a 0.740 WHIP and 1.85 ERA.
Ready for Limelight
Jacob Turner, Miami
Long considered a top prospect in the Detroit organization, Turner finally received a chance in a regular rotation with the Marlins. In seven starts he had a sub-1.00 WHIP.
Matt Harvey, New York
Few fans outside of New York may recognize the name, but Harvey burst onto the scene last season. The seventh overall pick in 2010 made 10 starts for the Mets and allowed five earned runs once and three earned runs once with the rest zeros, ones and twos. He whiffed 70 over his 59.1 innings.
Jeff Samardzija, Chicago
The once promising wide receiver at Notre Dame transitioned from setup man in 2011 to starter last season. Over the past two years he has 267 Ks and allowed only 221 hits.
A Rookie Cy?
Wily Peralta, Milwaukee
In three starts in September against teams headed to the postseason, the 23-year old struck out 14 in 14 innings with a 2.57 ERA.
Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh
He will make his major league debut at some point this season. The former No. 1 overall pick won’t turn 23 until September.
Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis
With the injury to Chris Carpenter, another opportunity in the rotation awaits this flame thrower.
2013 Spring Training camps are open and many players will compete against teammates for jobs before taking on other baseball teams in April. Here are some position battles to keep an eye on this spring.
National League East
The trade of Randall Delgado to Arizona in the Justin Upton deal eliminates most of the questions surrounding the rotation. This team is pretty much set as far as regulars go. Waiver claim Jordan Schafer will be competing with Jose Constanza for a backup outfield spot and a chance to return to the major leagues with the team that drafted him in the third round in 2005.
Journeyman outfielder Justin Ruggiano enjoyed a breakout season in 2012, when he hit .313 with 13 homers in 91 games, and he will get the first crack at the starting job in center field. If he falters this spring, Gorkys Hernandez or former National League Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan will be there to pick up the pieces. Wade LeBlanc, who got a late-season look in the rotation, will fight it out with the likes of fellow lefty Brad Hand, righty Alex Sanabia and retread John Maine for the fifth starter’s spot. Former Cubs lefthander Scott Maine will compete with Rule 5 pick Braulio Lara and Sam Dyson among others, for a spot in the setup crew.
New York Mets
Amazingly for a team projected to finish so low in the standings, the Mets have few questions in the lineup and rotation, such as they are. With closer Frank Francisco ailing, there is an opening for closer, at least to start the season. Brandon Lyon with 79 career saves is the front runner. Bobby Parnell will be in the mix as well.
Roy Halladay will be highly scrutinized as he tries to rediscover the electricity on his pitches after an offseason spent reconditioning his high-mileage shoulder. While that drama plays out on the mound, rookie Darin Ruf will try to build on a remarkable year in which he hit 52 homers in three leagues on two continents. Blocked at first base by Ryan Howard, the less-than-fleet-footed Ruf is trying to become a left fielder at 26. If he can play the position and keep driving balls, he will earn some playing time. With the equally inept defensively Delmon Young coming off also in the mix, perennial prospect Dom Brown and John Mayberry Jr. will be necessary as defensive replacements.
With the rotation, starting lineup and bench basically set in stone, precious few battles remain in spring training for roster spots, but there could be opportunities in the Nationals’ bullpen. The Nationals have a decided preference for hard throwers, which means that righthander Christian Garcia, who impressed with his 100-mph heat last September, has an inside track for one of those spots, provided the Nationals don’t convert him to a starter. The Nats might look to add a situational lefty before Opening Day.
National League Central
There is a logjam for the final two positions in the rotation. Carlos Villanueva started 29 games for the Blue Jays the last two seasons. Travis Wood was second on the team with 156 innings pitched last year but now has to fight for a spot. Free-agent signees Scott Baker (who missed 2012 after elbow surgery) and Scott Feldman are other candidates. Feldman, a 17-game winner with Texas in 2009, was told he had a spot in the rotation before Jackson and Villanueva signed. In the outfield, David DeJesus will likely hold off prospect Brett Jackson for now, although Jackson is an intriguing combination of power and speed.
Aroldis Chapman and Mike Leake are vying for that No. 5 rotation spot, and it’s very possible the Reds use Leake at the start of the season and bring Chapman along slowly or some other creative strategy to utilize both pitchers. It will affect the bullpen makeup, as will the health of Nick Masset. Logan Ondrusek has had 60-plus appearances in three straight seasons and could easily wind up on the final 25-man roster. How catcher Devin Mesoraco develops also deserves attention. He won’t beat out Ryan Hanigan but needs to show improvement from last season.
With the league’s most potent starting lineup returning intact, there will be no spring training battles among position players, but if shortstop Jean Segura doesn’t convice manager Ron Roenicke he is ready for prime time, veteran Alex Gonzalez will pick up the slack. The Brewers hope Gonzalez will merely serve as a mentor this season. However, the starting pitching rotation is an entirely different matter. Only No. 1 starter Yovani Gallardo is a proven commodity. Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson have pitched well in stretches, but both battled injuries a year ago. Young arms Wily Peralta, Mark Rogers, Mike Fiers and Tyler Thornburg will also compete for starting roles, and even Hiram Burgos has a shot to crack the rotation. Kelvim Escobar signed a major league contract in January. He will get a look as a starter, as well.
Both corner outfield spots are open, and it will likely come down to two competitions — Starling Marte vs. Alex Presley for left field and Jerry Sands vs. Travis Snider vs. Jose Tabata for right field. Presley and Tabata began last season as the starters but lost their jobs to Marte, a highly touted prospect, and Snider, who was acquired from Toronto in a late-July trade. Sands is a wild card after being acquired from Boston in the offseason. Six young pitchers will compete for one spot in the starting rotation. Lefthander Jeff Locke and righties Kyle McPherson and Jeff Karstens are the favorites, but lefties Andrew Oliver and Justin Wilson will get a look as well.
St. Louis Cardinals
Despite winning 18 games and being an All-Star in 2012, righthander Lance Lynn will enter spring training with no guarantee of leaving it as a starter. The Cardinals are throwing open two spots in the rotation for auditions, inviting Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller to make their claim. Lynn has the edge, but the three young righties have starter’s stuff. The World Baseball Classic will allow playing time for prospect Kolten Wong, who will get a long look at second base, where Pete Kozma, Ryan Jackson, Matt Carpenter and incumbent Daniel Descalso will compete. That contest will carry into the season before Cards have an answer.
National League West
Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs, who have been paired most of their careers since coming to the D-backs from the Angels in the 2010 Dan Haren deal, will battle for the final spot in the starting rotation along with Randal Delgado, acquired from the Braves in the Justin Upton trade. Cliff Pennington could face a spring challenge from rookie Didi Gregorius, but the D-backs appear inclined to have Gregorius open the season at Class AAA Reno. Cody Ross enters spring as the starting center fielder, but it will be interesting to see how rookie Adam Eaton fits in the mix. The speedy 24-year old made a strong impression with his defense and energy in a September call-up after hitting .381 with 46 doubles and 38 steals in 488 at-bats at Triple-A last summer.
With the return of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Rutledge will slide back to second base, where he will challenge DJ LeMahieu for the starting job. LeMahieu played well last season and improved as a hitter. The Rockies have to choose a third baseman from among Jordan Pacheco, Chris Nelson and newcomer Ryan Wheeler. The latter is a left-handed hitter, creating the possibility of some platooning at the position. Lefties Drew Pomeranz and Christian Friedrich and righthander Tyler Chatwood, all of whom struggled with the Rockies last year, will compete for the fifth starter’s spot in the rotation.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The most important battles will take place in the trainer’s room. The Dodgers’ fortunes in 2013 will be affected heavily by the health of a handful of key players — outfielders Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford and righthander Chad Billingsley chief among them. Kemp (shoulder) and Crawford (wrist and elbow) are recovering from serious surgeries during or following the 2012 season. Billingsley spent the offseason rehabbing and working out in hopes of avoiding surgery to repair a partially torn ligament in his pitching elbow.
San Diego Padres
The only position battles will be for the middle infield spots. Everth Cabrera, Alexi Amarista, Logan Forsythe and prospect Jedd Gyorko are in the mix. Heading into camp, Forsythe is penciled in as the starting second baseman and Cabrera at shortstop, with Amarista on the bench. Gyorko is one of the organization’s top prospects. His development is one of the reasons the Padres haven’t given third baseman Chase Headley a long-term extension. There will also be the usual battles at the back end of the rotation and bullpen. Casey Kelly, who made his big-league debut on Aug. 27, and Robbie Erlin will be considered for rotation spots.
San Francisco Giants
Gregor Blanco might have been the most impressive player in the Cactus League a year ago while winning a spot on the Giants’ Opening Day roster. He’ll need another big spring performance to hold off Andres Torres as the starting left fielder. Although the Giants system has plenty of young pitching, not much of it is big-league-ready. So prospects like Chris Heston and Michael Kickham will get a long look in exhibition games. With the lineup and rotation set, this spring will be about staying healthy and deciding on a final spot or two on the bench and in the bullpen.
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2013 Spring Training camps are open and many players will compete against teammates for jobs before taking on other baseball teams in April. Here are some position battles to keep an eye on this spring.
American League East
The fifth starter spot is wide open. Candidates include Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter. Japanese pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada, who underwent Tommy John surgery on his left elbow last May, is ahead of schedule in his recovery and could join the fray. Nolan Reimold isn’t ready to concede left field to Nate McLouth. The last bench spot won’t be handed to Danny Valencia. Infielders Yamaico Navarro and Ryan Flaherty and outfielder Steve Pearce, among others, will try to avoid the minors. Executive VP Dan Duquette speaks highly of first basemen Conor Jackson and Travis Ishikawa and has indicated that they could contribute to the big-league club.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox aren’t opening too many starting spots to competition. The main area to watch will be catcher. With David Ross already announced as a backup who’ll play more than average, that leaves Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway battling for the starting spot. If the former wins, the latter will return to Triple-A. If Lavarnway wins, Saltalamacchia immediately becomes trade bait. The fifth starter’s spot should be a dogfight, too, with Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales battling newcomers like Rubby De La Rosa. The bullpen will be a free-for-all as well, with former dominant setup man Daniel Bard on the outside looking in at the moment.
New York Yankees
It was notable that the Yankees chose David Phelps for a postseason roster spot over Ivan Nova. True, Phelps worked 22 games as a reliever and Nova worked none, but there was no mistaking that the Yankees had more confidence in Phelps to get big outs. Nova was 12–8 in the regular season, but he had a 6.38 ERA after July 1. Phelps flopped in October, losing twice, but he had a solid rookie season and at the very least should challenge Nova for a rotation spot. Michael Pineda, a 2011 All-Star for Seattle, is recovering from shoulder surgery and could be a factor by May or June. Travis Hafner and Eduardo Nunez will compete for at-bats at the DH spot.
Tampa Bay Rays
If super-prospect Wil Myers makes the roster, it’s to play every day. If he doesn’t, four (instead of three) utility spots will be available to contestants Sean Rodriguez, Kelly Johnson, Ryan Roberts, Mike Fontenot and Tim Beckham. Rookies Brandon Guyer and Stephen Vogt will battle Luke Scott for DH duties. An all-out scrum for two of the six bullpen jobs is anticipated, with Cesar Ramos standing the best chance of survival because he’s left-handed and out of options. Most intriguing of all is who, out of at least four serious suitors, will be the fifth starter. Jeff Niemann is the pre-injury incumbent; Jake Odorizzi is the most polished rookie; Chris Archer has the highest ceiling; and the brass thinks it can resuscitate Roberto Hernandez’s star-crossed career.
Toronto Blue Jays
It seemed a little redundant for the Blue Jays to trade for Emilio Bonifacio shortly after signing Maicer Izturis. Both are switch-hitters with little power, and both could start at second base. Izturis has more experience there and is considered a better fielder. But Bonifacio profiles as a better bat and is more of a threat to steal bases. Bonifacio plays more positions, having started at least 17 career games at all three outfield positions and at least 65 at third, short and second. There’s room on the team for both, so expect John Gibbons to use their versatility to mix and match, with a slight edge to Bonifacio as the starting second baseman if he shows enough skill in the field.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox
Carlos Sanchez is ticketed to open the season alongside Brent Morel, Tyler Saladino and Andy Wilkins in the Triple-A infield but could make life uncomfortable for Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez in his first big-league spring. As a switch hitter with speed and strong base-running skills, he could add some balance to a lineup that will lean to the right side without A.J. Pierzynski. John Danks’ health will determine if there are one or two openings for a group of starting pitchers including Jose Quintana, Hector Santiago, Dylan Axelrod, Andre Rienzo, Charlie Shirek, Simon Castro and Nestor Molina.
Backup catcher Lou Marson could be pushed by newcomer Yan Gomes, who hit .328 with the Blue Jays’ Class AAA affiliate last year. If lefthander Scott Kazmir, once one of the most promising young pitchers in the game, has anything left, he’ll get a chance to crack the rotation. Trevor Bauer, Zach McAllister, Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber should have a hotly contested competition for the last two spots in the rotation.
As might be expected from a team with championship aspirations, there are few job battles in the truest sense of the term. There is still some uncertainty at the front end of the bullpen and the far end of the bench. But the biggest question could be the fifth starter’s job, where Rick Porcello is the incumbent and Drew Smyly the challenger. However, knowing what we know about the attrition rate with pitchers, it is almost certain the Tigers will need both of them at some point.
Kansas City Royals
Two to watch: second base, where Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella continue competition for the third straight year; and the fifth spot in the rotation between Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar, who spent last season as the club’s top two starters. Getz was having a career-best season in 2012 until injuries intervened, but Giavotella is generally viewed as having the higher upside. There are other possibilities — Miguel Tejada and Christian Colón — but it’s likely to be Getz or Gio. Either Chen or Hochevar could be traded to fill another need. Otherwise, their battle shapes up as a choice between back-of-the-rotation consistency (Chen) against unfulfilled upside (Hochevar).
Brian Dozier should be a man on a mission this spring. After being named the Twins Minor League Player of the Year in 2011, he had a disappointing 2012 both offensively and defensively. The Twins gave him an 84-game audition at shortstop, and he made 15 errors and posted a .271 on-base percentage. He’ll get another chance to win a starting spot this spring, either at shortstop or second base. Pedro Florimon is the favorite to land the shortstop job, and veteran Jamey Carroll can play either position if the others aren’t ready, so it should lead to some healthy competition.
American League West
The Astros have no shortage of candidates for the final two spots in the pitching rotation, with lefty Dallas Keuchel and righthanders Philip Humber, Alex White, Edgar Gonzalez, John Ely and elite prospects Brad Peacock and Jarred Cosart among those battling for innings. The outfield also figures to be a battle in the spring. Justin Maxwell is likely to start at one of the three outfield spots, but the other two starters will come from a group that includes Brandon Barnes, Trevor Crowe, J.D. Martinez, Fernando Martinez and Jimmy Paredes or even Rick Ankiel. As expected with a team predicted to lose 100-plus games, there should be plenty of interesting battles from among the youngsters in the bullpen, as well.
Los Angeles Angels
Young righthander Garrett Richards nearly pitched his way into the rotation last spring and seemed poised to step into a spot in 2013. The Angels’ offseason moves, adding veteran starters Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton, have pushed Richards out of the picture. He might be in the position of battling a handful of other pitchers for the final spot in the bullpen rather than make a return trip to Triple-A. Offensively, the Angels will have some decisions to make about their batting order this spring, most prominently who gets the enviable task of batting between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols at the top of the lineup.
If you trust OPS as the definitive measure of offensive value, then Jemile Weeks was the worst hitter in the majors last season, with a .609 mark that ranked last among qualifiers. Weeks has talent; he was a first-round pick with a brother in the big leagues, and hit .303 as a rookie in 2011. But he also has competition at second base in Scott Sizemore, who tore his ACL last spring but should be healed now. It’s tough to say who has the edge — a player like Sizemore who missed all of last season, or a player like Weeks who performed so poorly. Spring training will decide it, but the early bet is on Sizemore, who has shown more power. Jed Lowrie and Hiroyuki Nakajima will compete for time at shortstop. The odd man out could see some time at second as well.
If Justin Smoak isn’t dealt, he’ll battle Kendrys Morales for first base time and Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse for DH duty. Left fielder Jason Bay needs to show something to make the team. He’s guaranteed only $500,000, and Casper Wells can fill his role. Lucas Luetge shined as a rookie situational lefty, but fellow southpaws Oliver Perez and Charlie Furbush might force him to Class AAA. Luetge might stay if the team keeps only one of the two fireballing righties — Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps. Non-roster invitee Jeremy Bonderman hasn’t pitched since 2010 and will compete for a fifth starter job with Hector Noesi and top minor leaguers.
The most interesting question will be what the team does with super prospect Jurickson Profar. He just turned 20 and showed signs last September that may be ready for the bigs, middle infielders Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler are well-established. It wouldn’t make sense to keep the youngster, who has never played at the Triple-A level, as a bench player in lieu of getting him regular playing time at Round Rock. Martin Perez enters camp as the fifth starter. The lefthander has been one of the Rangers’ top prospects almost since the day he was signed as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela. He’ll be 22 on April 4, and the Rangers are expecting him to deliver on all the promise they have seen. The Rangers want Perez to be in the rotation, but he could pitch himself out of the job if he struggles with his command. It’s not just throwing strikes, but quality strikes. Righthander Justin Grimm, another top prospect who also debuted in 2012, could land the job if Perez slips.
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Pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training camps in Florida and Arizona. Here are a few stories to watch as MLB players sharpen their skills in preparation for the 2013 season, which begins for every team April 1.
1. Canadian Chemistry
The Toronto Blue Jays, seemingly tired of watching the AL East world pass them by, loaded up this winter for a serious summer run at their first postseason appearance since winning the 1993 World Series. They traded for three near-elite starting pitchers and one of the best shortstops in the game. But the most intriguing move is hiring manager John Gibbons for his second stint in the Blue Jays’ manager’s office. Gibbons posted a 305-305 record as Jays skipper from 2004-08, but there is very little even-keeled about the man. He clashed with several players during his time in Toronto, most notably Ted Lilly and Shea Hillenbrand. The latter led Gibbons to threaten to quit if Hillendbrand wasn’t cut, which he was. But Gibbons was fired about halfway through the 2008 season. Now the older — and presumably wiser — Gibbons must deal with even larger egos. The chemistry that Gibbons establishes with the left side of his infield could be the difference between success and failure this season. Shortstop Jose Reyes is an established star accustomed to more coddling than Gibbons will likely impart, and third baseman Brett Lawrie is one of the most emotional and fiery players in the game. Some kind of confrontation is inevitable. How the manager and players respond to that will make all the difference.
2. Super Sophs
Last spring Mike Trout of the Angels and Bryce Harper were two high-profile prospects, deemed not quite ready for the majors. There was little pressure during spring training as both players knew more seasoning at the Triple-A level was in store. Both were called up at the end of April and their lives immediately changed. Now they are established big leaguers who shoulder significant responsibility for their teams’ postseason fate. Neither player is old enough to buy alcohol in most states, and neither had to weather many tough times last season. Most observers close to the situations in Washington and Los Angeles agree that the two are mature beyond their years, but it will be worth watching how these two respond to the pressure that comes when players are no longer rookies.
3. Angels in the Playoffs?
Last winter the Angels made a huge splash with the signing of C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols. And just when you thought this winter would be much quieter, owner Arte Moreno reeled in the biggest fish in free agency by signing 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton away from division rival Texas. The outfielder joins a roster full of other big-name, big money stars and his positive effect should be huge for Pujols and second-year player Mike Trout. This time last season expectations were high for the Halos, but many thought Texas was still the favorite. No more. Anything less than a division title in Anaheim will be a failure this season.
4. Astros in AL
After 51 seasons in the National League, the Houston Astros are crossing over to the DH league. No more rivalries with St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Chicago. Now fans in Houston must familiarize themselves with Oakland, Seattle, and the Angels in addition to the team up I-45 in Dallas. Still undergoing a massive rebuilding program that saw the Astros produce the two worst seasons in their history, the Astros are likely to lose close to 110 games this season. We’ll see if the new batch of opponents coming to Minute Maid Park this season will be enough to entice fans to visit as well.
5. War on Drugs
Six players were suspended last season for positive PED tests, the most since 2007. Is that a result of more cheating, or more stringent testing? Probably some of both. Drug tests this season that now include blood tests in spring training should lead to a cleaner game. But just when it appeared that renegade labs were under control and whispers about current players juicing had subsided, a Miami newspaper uncovers some disturbing information coming out of Biogenesis, an anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, Fla. As the investigation continues into the Biogenesis lab, most certainly more names of baseball players will surface, and more innuendo and denials will follow. It’s one thing for players already having tested positive for banned substances like Bartolo Colona and Melky Cabrera to be connected with the lab, but for names like Gio Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz and Francisco Cervelli, it’s another matter. Some will say it’s unfair to presume guilt by association. And that’s true. Others might argue that this isn’t a court of law and where there’s this much smoke there must be some flames. Gonzalez and Cruz have already issued denials and MLB is investigating. But all players with any presumed or real ties to Biogenesis will have to answer questions all spring. MLB certainly needs to offer fans and the media some confidence that the game is as clean as it has been since the so-called Steroid Era began in the late 1980s. However, MLB doesn’t need another BALCO on its hands either. This investigation must be complete and pretty swift for this not to linger as a major story all season.
6. Old Yankees Won’t Go Away
The New York Yankees will likely have as much support as any team in the competitive AL East to repeat as division champs this season. But keeping an eye on some of their veterans coming back from injury will tell us much more about this team. Shortstop Derek Jeter is recovering from a broken ankle suffered in the ALCS. He has begun running and says there are no lingering issues. But we’ll need to see him moving laterally to field ground balls before we believe him. Closer Mariano Rivera tore his ACL last May in Kansas City shagging flies. Will the best closer the game has ever seen, now age 43, be effective this season? Andy Pettitte is back in camp for at least one more go at this game. The veteran of 44 postseason starts hasn’t appeared in a season more than 21 times since 2009 when he was 37. Now at 40, will he be able to answer the bell for 30 starts? And what about A-Rod, the unending lightning rod for the Yankees. Recovering from knee surgery, the third baseman is staying behind in New York for rehab rather than join the team in Florida. Just how much of the season A-Rod will miss is still a mystery, but it wouldn’t be a shock if he doesn’t return until next spring training.
7. Profar in Texas – Majors or minors?
Jurickson Profar is universally considered the best rising prospect in the game. The middle infielder briefly tasted life in the majors last season when the Texas Rangers called him up in September. By all accounts he is ready for the big time. But how will the Rangers find playing time for the budding star? Shortstop Elvis Andrus is a two-time All-Star and still getting better. Second baseman Ian Kinsler is a linchpin in the lineup. So will Kinsler move to first base? Will he DH? And what about Lance Berkman signed to be the full-time DH? Will the Rangers keep Profar around as a part-time player, potentially retarding his progress? Or will he spend the season at Triple-A getting regular at-bats?
8. WBC Effect
For more than three weeks in the middle of March, spring training will be interrupted for several players who will participate in the World Baseball Classic. For most veterans, this isn’t a big deal. Miguel Cabrera will surely get enough swings in whether he’s working out with Venezuela or the Tigers. But there could be a few issues created by this international event. As mentioned above, new Toronto manager John Gibbons will work during spring training to foster good will among his players. However, R.A. Dickey, J.P. Arencibia, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Brett Lawrie will leave camp for a spell. Milwaukee will lose both catchers on its 40-man roster when players join their international teams. Jonathan Lucroy will play for the U.S. and Martin Maldonado for Puerto Rico. That’s a lot of bullpen sessions and spring training innings Milwaukee pitchers must work with young catchers rather than developing a rapport with the regulars. Russell Martin, a new catcher to the Pirates this season, will also leave his new club for a while losing opportunity to get to know his new staff better. The impact isn’t all negative. With veterans missing in action for a few weeks, younger players will have opportunities for at-bats to impress their managers. Giants skipper Bruce Bochy will not have the services of Angel Pagan, Andres Torres, Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval during the WBC. But Bochy knows what they can do. This may give Bochy a better look at youngsters Gary Brown, Adam Duvall, Ehire Adrianza, Francisco Peguero and even Angel Villalona (if the Giants can get him into the country).
9. Free Agent Effect
Three players not under contract for 2014 bear watching this spring. Robinson Cano of the Yankees, Adam Wainwright of St. Louis and Jacoby Ellsbury of Boston could become free agents at the end of the season. How quickly will their teams move to lock them up long term? Will they investigate trades during the season? It seems unthinkable that the Yankees would not sign Cano to a long-term deal during spring training to avoid his contract situation from becoming a distraction during the season. And Wainwright still must prove that he is completely healthy, but the Cardinals have probably seen enough to get a deal done. Ellsbury’s situation is a little more tricky. Unlike the Yankees and Cardinals, the Red Sox are not expected to be in contention this season, so a trade may make sense at the deadline.
10. Brothers Upton
There’s an unofficial changing of the guard in Atlanta. Remember when the Braves were winning 14 straight division titles? Now that Chipper Jones has left the field for his hunting lodge, there are no ties to the titles in uniform this spring. But there are two Uptons, possibly the most talented pair of brothers to play alongside each other since, well, the Waners in Pittsburgh. Will this new age in Atlanta bring a division title? The Washington Nationals will be tough to unseat in the NL East, but the Braves have the bullpen and outfield that should rival any in the game. We’ll see in spring training how the rest of the team comes together.
No matter where you stand on the Baseball Hall of Fame debate this year, there really is no winning side. There are those that will never vote for any steroid user. Voting for a player who is connected with steroid use is an affirmation that PED use is acceptable.
There are those voters who argue that we will never know the truth about steroid use and that players must be judged by performance alone, no matter how enhanced that performance may be.
Still there are others that will attempt to be their judge and jury for each individual player. Maybe Player A did a little something but not enough to keep him out of the Hall, while Player B’s use was somehow more egregious.
Still others will send in blank ballots maintaining that the Steroid Era has forever tarnished the game and that any players during this era deserve some kind of punishment. After all, the players union did very little to curtail PED use for more than a decade.
Some writers will argue that baseball — by its own inaction — passively encouraged steroid use. After the strike in 1994 severely damaged the game’s image and the pain was felt at the turnstiles, MLB enjoyed a significant boon in 1998 as artificially pumped up players like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased one of the most hallowed records in baseball. As MLB learned, not only did chicks dig the long ball, but so did most fans. So any player performing during this era could be excused for going along with the system at the time and keeping his edge any way he could.
So when the Hall of Fame inductees — if there are any — are announced today, there will continue to be controversy. Because the only real truth here is that the game has been tarnished and there is no going back. There is no giving Hank Aaron his home run record back. Roger Maris will not get his record back. No one will take any Cy Young or MVP awards away. The damage has been done.
Just as I did a few weeks ago, I once again examine the pennant races as they’re shaping up for 2013. Sure, it’s early, but what else are you going to read about? Bowl games between a bunch of non-BCS .500 teams? Now that some major free agent dominoes have fallen, and some major trades have changed the MLB landscape, here are my early 2013 MLB picks.
1. Tampa Bay Rays
Even after the trade of James Shields, no AL East team can match the Rays’ pitching. Manager Joe Maddon will prevent newcomer Wil Myers from absorbing too much offensive pressure.
2. New York Yankees
The decline of the pinstripes is happening before our eyes, but the roster still includes some of the best players on the planet.
3. Toronto Blue Jays
Will the All-Star rotation and lineup the Jays collected over the past two months equate to a division title? It quite possibly could. The AL East is much more winnable than anytime this century.
4. Baltimore Orioles
Just about every bounce went the Orioles’ way in 2012. There’s been too little work done to bolster the pitching staff to expect any kind of a repeat from Buck’s troops.
5. Boston Red Sox
Now the Red Sox have overpaid two Drew brothers.
1. Detroit Tigers
Keeping Anibal Sanchez, signing Torii Hunter and the return of Victor Martinez are three reasons to believe in the Tigers in 2013.
2. Kansas City Royals
The trade with Tampa Bay for James Shields and Wade Davis will be the difference between finishing second and fourth. Shields is a big-game workhorse.
3. Cleveland Indians
A change of scenery will probably be good for both Shin-Soo Choo (traded to Cincinnati) and Drew Stubbs (received in return). But Terry Francona is the second-most (behind Shields) important acquisition in the division.
4. Chicago White Sox
We were oh so wrong about this team this past summer. Can they surprise us again?
5. Minnesota Twins
Still not enough pitching. Still not enough hitting.
1. Los Angeles Angels
So, the Angels once again make a huge splash in free agency. Now the belief is that the Halos can avoid a terrible start and take control of the division early. Now about that bullpen…
2. Texas Rangers
The window is closing. No more Josh Hamilton. No more Michael Young. No more Mike Napoli. The newest wave of rising stars in Texas should carry the mantel well, but not well enough to top the Angels.
3. Oakland A’s
If they could win it with the 2012 roster, they can certainly win this division with the 2013 group. But they probably won’t.
4. Seattle Mariners
So happy to see the Astros join the AL West.
5. Houston Astros
It is possible that the Astros will spend less than $30 million on payroll this year. The dividends better pay off down the road.
1. Washington Nationals
In a close call with the Braves, the Nats get the edge with Dan Haren as a No. 5 starter. But they must find a replacement for Adam LaRoche’s RBIs.
2. Atlanta Braves
B.J. Upton is no leadoff hitter. And who will protect Jason Heyward in the lineup until Brian McCann returns?
3. Philadelphia Phillies
The core group that won five consecutive division titles prior to last season is not ready to fold its tents yet. Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee comprise one of the best pitching trios in the bigs.
4. New York Mets
Trading R. A. Dickey was the right thing to do and the return was nice. But it doesn’t help 2013 when you lose a Cy Young winner.
5. Miami Marlins
True to their name, this franchise now has the appearance of a minor league team in the old International League.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
In this tight division, one major injury, one major trade, one major breakout season can tip the scales. Could the trade be Cleveland shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to St. Louis? Could the breakout season belong to pitcher Trevor Rosenthal?
2. Cincinnati Reds
Shin-Soo Choo should stabilize the lineup at the leadoff spot, but will his defense in center field be too big of a weakness? If Aroldis Chapman succeeds as a starter, the Reds could run away with this mediocre division.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers were remarkably restrained during this winter’s free agency frenzy. Congrats to them for not overpaying for overhyped players. But there’s not enough firepower here to overcome both red teams.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
Could this finally be the year when the losing streak is broken?
5. Chicago Cubs
Next year. No really, next year.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
What’s not to like about this roster? Oh, the fact that it didn’t challenge the Giants last season. Oh yeah. But give Don Mattingly a chance to have all the stars in the clubhouse from the beginning of spring training and we’ll see how well he learned from his former boss Joe Torre about managing a roster full of superstars.
2. San Francisco Giants
Go ahead and pencil this team in as the host of the wild card play-in game.
3. San Diego Padres
Moving the fences in may propel Chase Headley headlong into the MVP discussion.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
The pitching should be sound, but where’s the punch in the lineup to protect Justin Upton? Paul Goldschmidt? Jason Kubel?
5. Colorado Rockies
Another winter, another futile search for pitching.
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
In a season that will be remembered for perfect games, no-hitters and near misses, there were lots of options for this list. Here goes my top 10. Send me yours.
More Year in Review for 2012:
2012 Year in review: Baseball's top 10 individual performances
1. Panda becomes a World Series home run hero
Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols and Pablo Sandoval. Those are the four players who have hit three home runs in a World Series game. The Kung Fu Panda struck in Game 1 last October on his way to earning the World Series MVP award. Sandoval performed large on the biggest stage of the season.
2. Josh Hamilton assaults Baltimore pitching
Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers sandwiched a double between four home runs in his assault on Baltimore pitching on May 8. Hamilton hit two homers and the double off Orioles starter Jake Arrieta. He then victimized Zach Phillips and Darren O’Day. Hamilton raised his AL-leading batting average to .406 with his five hits and ended the day with 14 homers and 36 RBIs, both tops in the American League, making him the early favorite for AL MVP.
3. Justin Verlander dominates the Pirates
Justin Verlander was honored with two nominations on this list. The most notable was his four-hit, one-walk shutout against the Oakland A’s in the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS. However, his most dominating effort came in May with a one-hit shutout of the Pirates. Josh Harrison bounced a hit up the middle in the ninth inning to break up the no-hitter. Verlander walked two and just two runners reached second base in the 6-0 Tigers win.
4. Raul Ibanez takes over for A-Rod
It took guts for New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi to pinch-hit for star Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning with the game on the line in Game 3 of the ALDS. But Raul Ibanez was called off the bench to hit for A-Rod with the Yankees down 2-1 with one out and facing Baltimore closer Jim Johnson, who had been lights out all season. Ibanez rewarded his manager not once but twice. He took Johnson deep to tie the game, sending it to extra innings. Ibanez struck again in the 12th inning with a bomb to win it, giving the Yankees an edge in the series.
5. Humber, Cain and Hernandez pitch perfect games
As mentioned above, it seemed as if some pitcher was flirting with a no-hitter every couple of nights. So, to honor the perfect games, I present them as a three-way tie for No. 5.
Phil Humber of the White Sox entered the season with a modest 11-10 lifetime record with just 214.1 innings in his 6-year career. But in his second start of 2012, the journeyman righthander tossed a perfect game at Seattle, striking out nine in the White Sox 4-0 win.
Matt Cain, the ace of the Giants, was at his best in a 10-0 whitewashing of the Astros. Cain struck out 14 in his perfect game. He had a three-ball count on just four hitters, striking out three of them in his masterpiece.
Just 11 days after a masterful performance at Yankee Stadium in which Felix Hernandez needed just 101 pitches in a two-hit 1-0 win over the Yankees, he threw a perfect game at home against the Rays. Once again, there was very little run support for King Felix as the Mariners won 1-0. Hernandez whiffed 12 Rays in the 113-pitch effort.
6. R.A. Dickey strikes out the Orioles
The National League Cy Young winner also had two stellar performances seriously considered for our greatest list. After winning three consecutive starts without allowing a run, R.A. Dickey won back-to-back one-hitters over Tampa Bay and Baltimore. He didn’t walk a batter in the win over the Rays, but allowed an unearned run. So, the performance that is officially No. 6 came when Dickey walked just two and struck out 13 in the win over the Orioles.
7. Ryan Braun blows up San Diego
Ryan Braun, the reigning NL MVP, had four of the Brewers’ seven hits and drove home six of their eight runs in Milwaukee’s 8-5 win at San Diego. After hitting home runs in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings, Braun came to the plate in the ninth inning with an opportunity for a rare four-home run game. He tripled in a couple of runs with a shot to deep right-center.
8. Mike Napoli's 6 RBIs against the Angels
With the Rangers struggling to stay on top of the AL West as the Oakland A’s surged, Texas fell behind the Angels 4-0 in the first inning. It was Mike Napoli to the rescue as he homered in the second and third innings before adding a double in the fifth. His six RBIs helped the Rangers take an 8-4 lead in a game they would eventually win 8-7.
9. Curtis Granderson's 5-hit game
Curtis Granderson joined Josh Hamilton as the only players with a five-hit game in 2012 that included as many as three round-trippers. The Twins led 4-0 after the top of the first, but after two-run homers by the Yankees’ center fielder in the first and second innings, the Yankees led 6-4. He added his third home run of the day in the fourth, then singled in his last two at-bats in search of a fourth dinger.
10. Aaron Cook uses 81 pitches of awesomeness to beat Seattle
This game didn’t get much attention in a season when no-hitters were relatively common, but Aaron Cook’s effort in a 5-0 win over Seattle was among the best all season. Needing just 81 pitches — the fewest for any complete game in 2012 — Boston’s Cook didn’t allow any Mariners to reach second base. He faced just one batter over the minimum as he allowed two singles with both runners erased on double plays. Another batter reached on an error and was stranded at first. Cook had a two-ball count on just three batters the entire game.
- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie or email him at Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com)
Every MLB team should have its own Mt. Rushmore — four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization. Here is one man’s opinion for all 30 Mt. Rushmores from Aaron Cook for Colorado to Babe Ruth for New York. Depending on the organization and how long the franchise has existed, some teams were difficult to find four worthy players. Most teams provided ardent debate.
Below, you’ll find links to all 30 Mt. Rushmores.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com
With the news that the Los Angeles Angels just signed Josh Hamilton to a five-year contract for a reported $125 million, it begs the question: Five years from now, will this be viewed as one of the worst free agent deals in history? If so, Hamilton must “outperform” these big-money free agents from the distant and recent past.
Here's our look the worst free agent signings in baseball history.
Wayne Garland, Cleveland, 1977
The Indians were determined to make a splash in the first year of free agency. The appeal of Garland was his recent 20-7, 2.67 season in Baltimore. Perhaps they didn’t notice he had just 33 career starts. The 10-year, $2.3 million deal gave the Tribe a 13-19 record in 1977 and a 15-29 mark over the next four seasons, then retirement and five years of the contract to eat.
Dave Goltz, L.A. Dodgers, 1977
The Dodgers thought Goltz would bolster their rotation and gave him a six-year contract worth upwards of $2.5 million. He was waived in April of 1979.
Mark Davis, Kansas City, 1990
Davis’ huge 44-save season in 1989 and Cy Young award for San Diego was just too enticing for the Royals. Never mind he had just two seasons with more than seven saves at that point. It took only 15 appearances in 1990 to lose the closer’s job for good. His tenure in K.C. began with five saves, four blown saves and a 7.24 ERA, with 11 walks in 13.2 innings.
Carl Pavano, N.Y. Yankees, 2005
Proof that the Yankees can withstand bad contracts is that Pavano made $39.9 million over four years, but made just 26 starts for the Yankees, finishing with a 9-8 record and 5.00 ERA. Adding to the pain is that in 2009, he made 33 starts for Cleveland and Minnesota combined and won 14 games, while earning just $1.5 million.
Carlos Silva, Seattle, 2008
In 2008, $12 million per season was the going rate for a No. 2 starter. Apparently that was what the Mariners thought they were getting with their four-year, $48 million investment. But in four seasons as a full-time starter with Minnesota, Silva was 47-45 while the Twins were 52 games better than .500. The M’s found out the hard way that he wasn’t a No. 2 starter after all, going 5-18 in two seasons prior to his trade to the Cubs for Milton Bradley, perhaps an even bigger problem.
Jason Schmidt, L.A. Dodgers, 2007
The Dodgers grew tired of facing the Giants’ ace for five and a half seasons, so Los Angeles signed the supposedly durable righthander for three years and $47 million. After going 78-37 for San Francisco, Schmidt mustered only 10 starts over three seasons with the Dodgers, finishing 3-6 with a 6.02 ERA.
Edgar Renteria, Boston, 2005
After making the final out of the 2004 World Series, which gave the Red Sox their first championship since 1918, Renteria inked a four-year, $36 million deal with Boston. That was the going rate for top shortstops. After a season of uninspired play, which gnawed at fans and management, the Red Sox paid the Braves to take on the final three years of his deal in exchange for Andy Marte.
Barry Zito, San Francisco, 2007
He won a Cy Young with Oakland at age 24, and signed a seven-year, $126 million deal. But in his first five seasons with San Francisco he was 43-61 with a 4.55 ERA and was left off the 2010 postseason roster. He redeemed himself to some degree in 2012 with a 15-8, 4.15 season. And the Giants won all three of his postseason starts.
Jayson Werth, Washington, 2011
His name is Werth, not worth. Prior to signing a seven-year, $126 million deal with the Nationals, Werth had never hit .300, nor had he ever driven in 100. This came a year after Matt Holliday signed with St. Louis for seven years and $120 million.
Chone Figgins, Seattle, 2010
The Mariners believed they were stealing the division title away from the Angels by taking their leadoff hitter Figgins. The thinking was that Figgins and Ichiro atop the Mariners’ lineup would put immense pressure on defenses. Turns out the pressure was on Figgins. He hit .259 and stole 42 bases his first season in Seattle. Since then, he’s hit .185 and been a non-factor on the bases.
Joe Rudi, California, 1977
In a five-year, $2.09 million pact, the Angels paid for a .285 average and about 80 RBIs and 70 runs. They received a .249 average, about 60 RBIs and less than 50 runs. However, the club packaged Rudi prior to the final year of his contract in a deal with the Red Sox that brought the Angels Fred Lynn.
Larry Hisle, Milwaukee, 1978
Coming off a .302 average and a AL-leading 119 RBIs as a 30-year-old in 1977, Hisle appeared to be a plum signing for the Brewers, at six years, $3.155 million. Even after his first season in Milwaukee (.290-34-115) in which he finished third in MVP voting, the Brewers were thrilled. That’s where the joy ended. For the next four seasons, he totaled 79 games, 15 home runs and 46 RBIs. He played his final game in May of 1982 with almost two full years left on his deal.
Roger Clemens, N.Y. Yankees, 2007
Hoping for one last hurrah from their former ace, the Yankees committed more than $17 million to Clemens in May, knowing they would get less than 20 starts from him. Clemens didn’t provide a boost of any kind. The Yankees lost nine of his 17 starts, and he averaged less than six innings per start, so the bullpen was not spared. In his lone postseason foray in 2007, he lasted just 2.1 innings in a loss to Cleveland.
Bob Horner, St. Louis, 1988
After a year in Japan, the Cardinals believed that the long-time Brave could rekindle his offensive prowess in the States. Injuries, sub-par hitting and horrendous defense are the lasting memories in St. Louis. He hit three homers in 60 games.
Richie Sexson, Seattle, 2005
His four-year, $50 million deal seemed a bit excessive at the time, but he provided good value in his first two seasons. Seattle released him midseason during the fourth year of the contract, eating about $8 million.
Albert Belle, Baltimore, 1999
After a season with 108 runs, 117 RBIs and 101 walks, it appeared that the Orioles’ $60 million investment might work out. Then Belle’s body began to break down, and he suited up just one more season, although he was paid for four additional years after he unofficially retired.