I know I am late to the party on getting my predictions up, as the Dodgers already swept two games from the Diamondbacks in Australia. Be assured however, that those games will have no impact on my standings projections. Also, keep in mind that the number of wins I project is just an educated guess. The important part is not the exact number of wins, but the reasoning behind the win totals. With that disclaimer out of the way, it is time for me to roll the dice on my educated guesses for the 2014 season, starting with the American League. Note that all additions and subtractions without a parenthesis behind it were acquired or lost through free agency.
1. Tampa Bay Rays: 94-68
Key offseason additions: RHP Grant Balfour, C Ryan Hanigan, INF Logan Forsythe (trade)
Key offseason losses: RHP Roberto Hernandez, IF/OF Kelly Johnson. RHP Fernando Rodney, LHP Alex Torres (Forsythe trade)
The Rays biggest move of the offseason is the one they did not make, as most experts predicted a trade of LHP David Price for a big batch of prospects. The Rays had different plans however, as they decided to keep their ace and go for the AL East crown in 2014. The Rays added a solid relief pitcher in Balfour and an underrated pitch-framing expert in Hanigan, and they did it in their typical bargain bin fashion. With continued growth of RF Will Myers and RHP Chris Archer, I think the Rays are in a great position to grab the AL East crown.
2. Boston Red Sox: 88-74
Key offseason additions: C A.J. Pierzynski, RHP Edward Mujica, CF Grady Sizemore
Key offseason losses: CF Jacoby Ellsbury, SS Stephen Drew (still a free agent), C Jarrod Saltalamacchia,
Coming off a World Series championship, I think the Red Sox are due for some regression. With the loss of Ellsbury to their rival Yankees and the loss of two solid performers to free agency in Drew and Saltalamacchia, I do not think a repeat is in the cards. Likely regression from veterans coming off big years such as RF Shane Victorino, RHP John Lackey, and RHP Koji Uehara could really hurt the defending champions. To be clear I think that all three of those guys, especially Uehara, will be very good this year but I also see three veterans who outperformed their career averages and are most likely to regress back to their normal numbers. I do like SS Xander Boegarts to have a great rookie year and I think Dustin Pedroia's power will come back now that he is over his 2013 thumb injury.
3. New York Yankees: 87-75
Key offseason additions: CF Jacoby Ellsbury, RHP Masahiro Tanaka, C Brian McCann, RF Carlos Beltran, INF/OF Kelly Johnson, 2B Brian Roberts
Key offseason losses: 2B Robinson Cano, RHP Mariano Rivera (retirement), LHP Andy Pettitte (retired), OF Curtis Granderson, LHP Boone Logan
After much talk of a $189 million salary cap, as if that was being stingy, the Yankees notably decided to blow right past that mark to $197.5 million according to Cots Contracts. Despite all of the activity, I think that the most likely outcome is about what they did last year. While the additions make this team look like a potential dynamo, I think that they will miss Robinson Cano and the great Mariano Rivera more than currently anticipated. Despite a lineup full of former All-Stars, the Yankees have major question marks in the infield, such as Kelly Johnson at third base even though he has never played third full time, a certain 40 year old shortstop coming off major ankle surgery, injury riddled Brian Roberts at second, and 1B Mark Teixeira coming off a major wrist injury. Their starting pitching should keep them in most games with depth 1-5, with a solid #6 in case of injury in RHP David Phelps. There are questions in the rotation such as whether LHP C.C. Sabathia can be effective with diminished velocity, how will Tanaka pitches in his first MLB season and if wild card RHP Michael Pineda can stay healthy after missing two years due to a shoulder injury. Despite these question marks, I think that the rotation will be above average. Overall though this team has as much volatility as any, as they could run away with the division if everything breaks right and they could also sit in 4th if the question marks turn into questionable performances.
4. Baltimore Orioles: 78-84
Key additions: RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, OF/DH Nelson Cruz, OF David Lough
Not so key addition: DH/OF Delmon Young (I am so sorry Orioles fans, I feel your pain.)
Key losses: RHP Jim Johnson (trade), RHP Scott Feldman, OF Nate McLouth, OF Michael Morse, RHP Francisco Rodriguez
For most of the offseason, Orioles fans were griping that the team had not added anything, especially after a failed signing of RHP Grant Balfour due to a failed physical. Until the surprise signings of Jimenez and Cruz, it seemed like their biggest addition would be the famously inept Delmon Young, who Ruben Amaro Jr. decided to torture Phillies fans with for 80 games last year. Despite the additions of Jimenez, whose performance is always a coin flip, and the always overrated Cruz, I still do not see the Orioles seriously contending this year I think breakout star 1B Chris Davis is due for some regression from his monster 2013 season. In addition, the Orioles are uncertain about the status of their young stud 3B Manny Machado as he recovers from knee surgery. While the Orioles could benefit from better performance from their highly touted catcher, Matt Wieters, and from their former star RF Nick Markakis, I do not project major improvements for either one, as Wieters has major issues from the left side of the plate and Markakis has lost almost all of his power. If you think I am being too negative here, you may be right. However, I see many problems with this team, despite a solid core of position players centered on CF Adam Jones and the aforementioned Davis, Machado, and Wieters.
5. Toronto Blue Jays: 77-85
Key additions: C Dioner Navarro
Key losses: RHP Josh Johnson, OF Rajai Davis, C J.P. Arencibia
The Blue Jays were rumored all offseason to be contenders for free agent starting pitchers such as Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. However, they ultimately were pretty quiet with Navarro being their only significant free agent addition. Navarro should be a significant upgrade over Arencibia and his .227 OBP, even if he does not match his career year of 2013. In addition, I think the starting staff should be better with R.A. Dickey being able to throw his hard knuckleball again with improved health and hopefully somewhat better health from the talented, but injury prone RHP Brandon Morrow. However, even if Dickey bounces back closer to his 2012 form and OF Jose Bautista has a healthy season, I still do not think the Blue Jays will contend this year. Their problems go beyond their stars, as they have to no depth in their rotation beyond Dickey, LHP Mark Buehrle and Morrow for when the inevitable injuries strike.
1. Cleveland Indians: 90-72
Key offseason additions: RHP John Axford, OF David Murphy
Key losses: RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Chris Perez, RHP Joe Smith, RHP Matt Albers
Many experts are predicting major regression from the Indians, such as ESPN the Magazine's recent prediction of 83 wins. However, I am very high on this team, as I really like their core of position players with star 2B Jason Kipnis, on-base machine 3B/C/DH/1B Carlos Santana (not a misprint on the positions), and underrated C Yan Gomes. In addition, I think that last year's free agent additions, CF Michael Bourn and OF/1B Nick Swisher, are due for bounce back years. They had rough 2013 seasons compared to their career norms and I think they are due for some positive regression as long as Bourn's hamstring turns out to only be a minor issue. I am somewhat concerned about the pitching staff after losing Jimenez and Kazmir, but I think RHP Danny Salazar is due for a major breakout year, as he showed great stuff in his brief call-up to the majors last year that was backed by strong peripheral stats. In addition, I also like RHP Corey Klueber and RHP Zack McAllister to be solid behind their more established #1 starter, RHP Justin Masterson. The bullpen is a concern with the losses of the "proven closer" Perez and solid relievers in Smith and Albers, but I like RHP Cody Allen to step up and provide some stability in the back end of the game along with Axford.
2.. Detroit Tigers: 88-74
Key additions: 2B Ian Kinsler (trade), RHP Joe Nathan, OF Rajai Davis
Key losses: 1B Prince Fielder (in Kinsler deal) RHP Doug Fister (trade), SS Jhonny Peralta 2B Omar Infante
The Tigers were nothing if not bold this offseason, as they traded away Prince Fielder, their #4 hitter and "lineup protection" (has been proven statistically to be a myth, but it is quite a popular myth) behind superstar 1B Miguel Cabrera. They also gave away a solid starter RHP Doug Fister to the Nationals for virtually no return and lost solid regulars, Peralta and Infante, to free agency. It was not all bad for the Tigers this offseason, as they did add an underrated player in 2B Ian Kinsler and a solid relief pitcher in RHP Joe Nathan. In addition to all of their losses from trades and free agency, the Tigers also suffered a major blow with the injury to defensive whiz SS Jose Iglesias. It would not shock me if the Tigers repeated with the strength of their top three starting pitchers, RHP Justin Verlander, RHP Max Scherzer and RHP Anibal Sanchez, and with AL MVP Miguel Cabrera, but I think they are primed to be dethroned off their streak of division crowns.
3. Kansas City Royals: 84-78
Key offseason additions: 2B Omar Infante, LHP Jason Vargas, RF Norichika Aoki
Key offseason losses: RHP Ervin Santana, LHP Will Smith
The Royals have been a popular sleeper team for the last two years, as they have had a young lineup with plenty of upside and a lights out bullpen. The question has always been about their starting pitching, as they have a recent history of mediocre starting staffs. They took a major leap forward last year, as their starting rotation, lead by RHP James Shields and recently departed Ervin Santana lifted them to 86 wins. The Royals decided to replace Santana with the soft-tossing Jason Vargas, who has been a reliable innings eater, but he is certainly not an ace. While the Royals still have plenty of upside with the continued development of C Salvador Perez and 1B Eric Hosmer along with bounce back candidate 3B Mike Moustakas, I do not think they have enough high quality starting pitching behind Shields to make a substantial run at the divisional crown.
4. Chicago White Sox: 72-90
Key offseason additions: 1B Jose Dariel Abreu, OF Adam Eaton (trade), 3B Matt Davidson (trade)
Key offseason losses: RHP Addison Reed (Davidson trade), LHP Hector Santiago (Eaton trade), RHP Gavin Floyd
The White Sox have been praised this offseason, and rightly so, for adding a solid core of position players while only giving up a reliever in Addison Reed and a pitcher who may be a reliever in the long term, Hector Santiago. While the White Sox will not contend this year in all likelihood, they are building a solid foundation for the future. One key piece of that future is Jose Dariel Abreu, the 26-year-old Cuban who signed a 6 year, $68 million dollar contract in the offseason. If he can develop into a consistent 35-40 HR bat, which is not crazy with the Nintendo like numbers he put up in Cuba, then the White Sox could have themselves a bargain even at $11.3 million per year.
5. Minnesota Twins: 68-94
Key offseason additions: RHP Ricky Nolasco, RHP Phil Hughes, C Kurt Suzuki
Key offseason losses: C/OF Ryan Doumit (trade)
The major Twins story lines of the year have been the move of star Joe Mauer from catcher to first base and the development of super prospects OF Byron Buxton and 3B Miguel Sano. Unfortunate news developed on the later news early in the spring, as Sano had to undergo Tommy John surgery. Buxton, however, has continued to impress and the Mauer transition has gone well so far. Despite the additions of Nolasco and Hughes, the Twins simply do not have the pitching or the hitting required to contend in the near future. If Sano recovers well from Tommy John and Buxton continues to tear up the minors, they could have a fearsome lineup in the future. The problem that has plagued the Twins lately though has been a lack of starting pitching and that continues to be an issue. Help could be on the way in the form of the 6-9, 220 lb Alex Meyer, but he is also probably a year or two away from making an impact at the major league level.
Oakland A's: 90-72
Key offseason additions: LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Jim Johnson (trade), RHP Luke Gregerson (trade), LHP Eric O'Flaherty (starts year on DL), OF Craig Gentry (trade), LHP Drew Pomeranz (trade), INF Nick Punto
Key offseason losses: RHP Bartolo Colon, RHP Grant Balfour, OF Michael Choice (Gentry trade), Seth Smith (Gregerson trade), Brett Anderson (Pomeranz trade), C Kurt Suzuki
As you can see from the transaction log, GM Billy Beane was busy this offseason. He bolstered his bullpen with the additions of JIm Johnson, Luke Gregerson and Eric O'Flaherty while losing his former closer, Grant Balfour. He also replaced the ancient, but still effective Bartolo Colon with Scott Kazmir, who had not pitched in the majors since 2011 before making a big comeback for the Indians last year. One major limiting factor for the A's could be the health of their starting pitching staff, as Jarrod Parker had to undergo Tommy John surgery and A.J. Griffin is out until at least May with an elbow injury. If they are going to make my projection come true, they need good health from the rest of their starting staff.
2. Texas Rangers: 88-74
Key offseason additions: 1B Prince Fielder (trade), OF Shin-Soo Choo, OF Michael Choice (trade), LHP Joe Saunders,
Key offseason losses: 2B Ian Kinsler (Fielder trade) OF/DH Nelson Cruz, RHP Matt Garza, RHP Joe Nathan, DH Lance Berkman (retirement), OF Craig Gentry (Choice trade)
If the Rangers were healthy, they would be on top of these predicted AL West standings. Unfortunately for them, they have been plagued by injury after injury LHP Derek Holland hurt his knee by tripping on his dog. LHP Matt Harrison has back issues. Former top prospect INF Jurickson Profar tore a muscle in his back and is out 10-12 weeks. C Geovany Soto tore a meniscus in his knee, and, as if all those injuries were not enough, ace RHP Yu Darvish has neck issues and is out for at least Opening Day. I can see the Rangers weathering the storm somewhat with a dynamic lineup core of Choo, Fielder, and 3B Adrian Beltre, but they will have little margin for error from here on out.
3. Los Angeles Angels: 87-75
Key offseason additions: 3B David Freese (trade), LHP Tyler Skaggs (trade), DH/OF Raul Ibanez, LHP Hector Santiago (trade), RHP Joe Smith, RHP Fernando Salas (trade)
Key offseason subtractions: OF/1B Mark Trumbo (Skaggs and Santiago three team trade), CF Peter Bourjos (Freese trade), RHP Tommy Hanson
I seriously considered putting them first in this division with the rash of injuries that has hit both the A's and the Rangers, but ultimately I had them falling just short. If their two most expensive players, 1B Albert Pujols and OF Josh Hamilton, bounce back to anywhere near what they used to be, the Angels could have a great offense when you factor in the best player in baseball, OF Mike Trout. While Raul Ibanez is nowhere near what he used to be at the age of 42, he is useful as long as he is utilized only as a DH versus right handed pitching. If he has to play the outfield, something has gone terribly wrong, as he posted a -19 runs saved in 100 games in the outfield last year according to baseballreference.com. The pitching, as always, is the key for the Angels as they need RHP Jered Weaver to be healthy and to gain some of his lost velocity back, as he averaged 86.8 MPH on his fastball last year according to fangraphs.com, down from his average of 88 MPH in 2012. The back end of the rotation is very young with RHP Garrett Richards and the two acquired arms, Skaggs and Santiago. The Angels success or failure this season could hinge on whether those guys can be effective major league starters or not.
4. Seattle Mariners: 74-89
Key offseason additions: 2B Robinson Cano, RHP Fernando Rodney, DH/1B/OF Corey Hart, DH/1B/OF Logan Morrison (trade), C John Buck
Key offseason losses: 1B Kendrys Morales (still a free agent), DH/OF Raul Ibanez, LHP Oliver Perez, RHP Carter Capps (Morrison trade), OF Jason Bay (retirement)
We could debate the merits of Logan Morrison and John Buck all day, but I prefer to talk about the biggest signing of the offseason, Robinson Cano. Coming to the Mariners on a shocking 10 year, $240 million contract, Cano was signed to boost the Mariners into contention. He gives the Mariners a major advantage with rare elite offensive production at a middle infield spot. Unfortunately for Mariners fans, one man does not make a team and the rest of the Mariners team outside of Cano, ace RHP Felix Hernandez, RHP Hisashi Iwakuma and 3B Kyle Seager is pretty dreadful. One would think that the Mariners would have learned their lesson about playing defensive liabilities in the corner outfield with Ibanez and OF Michael Morse on the corners for parts of last year. The Mariners never seem to learn however, as they signed Hart and Morrison, both defensive liabilities with multiple knee surgeries, to play corner outfield part of the time. If they resign Kendrys Morales, which has been rumored on multiple occasions, they could have 4 guys best suited to play 1B or DH with Justin Smoak also in the mix. Last time I checked each team can only have one guy at a time at each of the 1B and DH positions.
5. Houston Astros: 56-106
Key offseason additions: OF Dexter Fowler (trade), RHP Scott Feldman, RHP Jesse Crain, RHP Chad Qualls, RHP Matt Albers
Key offseason losses: OF Brandon Barnes (Fowler trade), RHP Jordan Lyles (Fowler trade), LHP Erik Bedard
It is hard to say much positive about the 2013 Astros or their prospects of winning in 2014. It is just going to be rough in the near future, but the good news is that help is coming from the farm system. Under the sabermetrically inclined GM Jeff Luhnow, the Astros are headed in the right direction with prospects such as OF George Springer, RHP Mark Appel, and SS Carlos Correa on a path to Houston.