Zack Becker

30 Days for 30 Teams: Boston Red Sox

 

BY ZACK BECKER

2013 Record: 97-65 (1st Place AL East, – GB)

Well, this is it. We’ve made it 30 days, now here’s your look at the reigning World Champion Boston Red Sox.

Last season, the Sox surprised everyone, coming back from a last-place finish in 2012 to win the World Series over the Cardinals in six games. I hate to pick on ESPN for a second straight post, especially their baseball guys whom I love dearly, but they tweeted this  the other day, so they earned it.

How many of their 43 “experts” chose the Red Sox to win the East? Zero. Only three had the BoSox sneaking in with a Wild Card berth. Twenty of those same experts had the lowly Blue Jays winning the division.

But I digress.

Boston’s rotation was the weaker part of the team for much of the year, with staff ace Jon Lester carrying a bloated 4.60 ERA late into the season. Then, Lester and the rest of the rotation, caught fire. The lefty went 5-1 over his last eight starts with a 2.22 ERA in that span. He carried that momentum into the postseason, where he pitched to a 1.56 ERA in five starts including two World Series wins.

The real strength of this team was its offense. They plated 57 more runs than the next closest club. They also finished among the top of the league in in batting average (2nd), hits (2nd), doubles (1st), home runs (6th), walks (3rd), stolen bases (4th) and OPS (1st).

The leader of this power surge was none other than Big Papi. David Ortiz missed the team’s first 19 games, but when he returned, he didn’t miss a beat, hitting .309 and going 30/100 for the first time since 2010.

Unfortunately, times have changed and a championship team often breaks up before the next season begins. The Red Sox were no exception to this trend; although they head into the 2014 season with some new faces, the goal remains the same: Repeat.

Key Acquisitions

CF Grady Sizemore  (1yr/$750,000)

C A.J. Pierzynski (1yr/$8.25 mil)

RP Edward Mujica  (2yr/$9.5 mil)

The biggest low risk/high reward signing of the offseason award goes to the Sox for Gradius Sizemore III. His contract is barely a blip on the radar of the enormous $162,817,411 Boston payroll. Incentives can increase the value of the deal to $6 million. He’s already earned an extra $250,000 by being placed on the Opening Day roster, where he’ll be penciled into the starting centerfield role. He hasn’t played in a major league game since 2011 and his last full season was way back in 2008. Sizemore is only 31, so it’s not out of the question to believe he can play well in the Bigs again. His Spring Training audition (more on that later) went well enough for the team to demote hot prospect Jackie Bradley, Jr. in favor of his oft-injured self. Everyone (well, at least the girls) from Ryan and Corey’s neck of the woods is rooting for her future husband Grady.

Pierzynski fills the void left at catcher by Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He’s a 16-year veteran of the league, so I doubt he’ll have much trouble handling the Red Sox rotation, much of which is comprised of veteran pitchers. He rejoins Jake Peavy, whom he caught with the White Sox. That familiarity should provide for a good season for the former Cy Young winner. His .722 OPS looks just alright on paper, but it’s masking a career-worst  .297 on-base percentage that came as a result of the backstop drawing a career-low 11 walks — his career high is 28, so it’s not likely he’d get on base that way anyway, but an increase in plate discipline can’t hurt. Luckily, this offense is good enough that he can hit low in the lineup, where a low OBP won’t hurt the team too much.

Mujica comes to a great bullpen and will likely see some time in a setup role. He’s been a bit of a journeyman, but he’s pitched well regardless. Over the last two seasons, he’s appeared in 135 games and kept his ERA to a low 2.91 across 130 innings. In those two years, he’s gathered another intangible that the Sox desire — postseason experience. He appeared in 10 playoff games with the Cardinals in 2012 and 2013. If the Red Sox play in October, look for John Farrell to call on Mujica in crunch time.

Key Losses

CF Jacoby Ellsbury — this one hurts. Well, at least it hurts Boston fans. Ellsbury, fresh off his second World Series with the Red Sox, took a massive contract from his former rival Yankees that his old team refused to match. Injuries sidelined him for most of 2010 and 2012, but when he’s healthy, he is a major presence on the basepaths. He still stole an average of 55 bases per 162 games with the Sox, leading the league three times. If Sizemore can recapture the skill of his glory days in Cleveland, Sox fans won’t mourn the loss of Ellsbury too long.

C Jarrod Saltalamacchia — that name sure is fun to type. He leaves the team for the Marlins, where he’ll be in a pressure-free environment. Pierzynski is virtually the same player offensively, except he actually hits for a much better average. He, like Ellsbury, will be forgotten quickly if his replacement plays well.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Grady Sizemore and Clay Buchholz. After Sizemore won the starting job in center over Jackie Bradley, he’s expected to play well in a potent lineup. He was three times an All-Star and twice a Gold Glover with Cleveland, so we know he has the potential to be great. This spring, he hit .333 in 39 at bats. It’ll take a bit for him to readjust to game conditions, but I’m looking for Sizemore to have a good season in Boston. AL Comeback Player of the Year isn’t out of the question for him.

Clay Buchholz was fantastic last season for the Sox, going 9-0 before injury kept him off the field for over three months. He returned and finished the season 3-1 to give him an overall 12-1 record with a sparkling 1.74 ERA. However, his regular-season excellence didn’t translate to October, where he made four starts without a decision and a 4.35 ERA. It’ll be interesting to see which Buchholz we see in 2014.

Projected Opening Day Lineup

red sox opening day

Boston lost a leader of the team in Ellsbury, but the real heart of the team remains intact with Ortiz signing an extension this offseason and Pedroia on contract until 2021. The Sox are my pick to repeat as AL East champs, but their domination will be tested all season long by some much improved AL clubs.

30 Days for 30 Teams: Atlanta Braves

medlen

Kris Medlen walks off the field after tearing his UCL a second time. He underwent Tommy John surgery last Friday.

BY ZACK BECKER

2013 Record: 96-66 (1st Place NL East, – GB)

There were many unanswered questions surrounding the Braves heading into the 2013 season.

Could the team overtake the super-powered Nats rotation and take the division crown back?

Could the Upton brothers both go 20-20 in a stacked outfield?

Did the Braves give up too much for those same brothers?

How would the Braves replace future Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones?

ESPN’s “expert team” predicted the outcome of every division in baseball last season. And as our friends over at You Cant Predict Baseball  have shown us so clearly, you really can’t. Thirty-eight of the 43 “experts” picked the Nats over the Braves in the East.

Atlanta’s rotation finished just ahead of Washington’s in starters’ ERA and took the division easily — by 10 games.

The Uptons were all the rage in Hotlanta at the beginning of the year, with Bossman Junior (yes, that’s what B.J. stands for) coming off a fresh, new 5-year, $75.25 million deal and his younger brother Justin joining him in the outfield via trade that sent Martin Prado to the DBacks.

However, after JUpton’s blazing hot start fizzled out — the 25-year-old hit 12 homers in his first 23 games, then just four in the next 77 — the Upton family was questioned as being thought of too highly.

B.J. (given name Melvin Emmanuel) Upton was an enormous bust, he hit an inexcusable .184 with 9 homers and 26 (26!!) RBIs in 126 games. Right now, he’s looking like the owner of one of the worst contracts in baseball history.

It wasn’t all bad — Chipper Jones’ successor, Chris Johnson, was in contention for the NL batting crown and filled in quite nicely at the hot corner.

The team’s pitching won them the division, and Freddie Freeman had a fantastic season for the second year in a row. While Johnson is Jones’ heir at third, Freeman is looking like the next great Braves leader.

The Braves looked great last year, but bowed out of the playoffs without putting up much of a fight — they were outscored 26-14 in a four-game NLDS against the Dodgers.

But enough about last year.

Key Acquisitions

SP Ervin Santana  (1yr/$14.1 mil)

SP Gavin Floyd  (1yr/$4 mil)

SP Aaron Harang  (1yr/financial terms unannounced)

Plans for the future: The Braves agreed to move out of Turner Field, where they’ve played since 1997. This came as a bit of a surprise, as they’ll be the first team to move out of a “new” ballpark. The team will relocate to a northwestern suburb of Atlanta in Cobb County for the 2017 season and beyond.

While the team will be changing its location, its young, talented core of star players certainly will not be anytime soon. It didn’t sign any big name free agents outside of Ervin Santana, but man, oh man, did the team’s front office stay busy this offseason— it locked up Freeman  (8yr/$135 mil), shortstop and defensive magician Andrelton Simmons  (7yr/$58 mil), Opening Day starter Julio Teheran  (6yr/$32.4 mil), and the best closer in baseball, Craig Kimbrel  (4yr/$42 mil).

For those of you counting at home, that’s 25 contract years and $267.4 million to four players with eight full seasons in the Majors COMBINED.

Santana was initially reported to be heading to the AL East, whether it was Toronto or Baltimore rumored to sign the righty, but fate had other plans. He signed a wealthy one-year deal to pitch in Atlanta. He’s alternated solid and bad seasons for the Angels and Royals in recent years, so the Braves are gambling a bit with this deal. They hope to get the 3.24 ERA Santana of last year, not the 5.16 ERA Santana of 2012.

Floyd and Harang, like Santana, come on one-year rent-a-starter deals that give the rotation a more veteran presence following the departure of Tim Hudson.

Harang was signed to replace Freddy Garcia, whom the team cut this week. He’ll fit into the back end of the rotation.

Now, I know what you’re wondering — if this team had the 5th-best starters’ ERA in the NL (and 6th in baseball) last year, why did they go out and sign three starting pitchers for this season? Well, if you haven’t been paying attention to Spring Training news, scroll down.

Key Losses

The Braves’ losses came in two waves: Late November and Mid March.

The late November losses came by way of free agency.

C Brian McCann — had it not been for Chipper Jones’ presence as the undisputed leader of the Braves, McCann certainly would’ve been in the discussion. He caught games for nine seasons in Atlanta, hitting 176 homers in those seasons. He joined the Yankees on a lucrative deal.

SP Tim Hudson — after sustaining a nasty broken ankle that ended his season in late-July, Hudson left Atlanta, where he spent the last nine seasons, for San Francisco. He was 113-72 with a 3.56 ERA with the Braves.

The mid March losses hurt a bit more.

It’s a good thing the Braves article came so close to Opening Day, because the front office really had to scramble to put together a Major-League-ready rotation after theirs was picked apart by injuries.

Both SP Brandon Beachy and SP Kris Medlen had their second Tommy John surgery of their careers this week and will miss the entire 2014 season. Both showed a lot of promise and were expected to head the rotation this season. Instead, that burden now falls into the laps of Santana and Teheran and the once-great Braves rotation now looks shaky and inexperienced.

As of now, behind Teheran and Santana, the Braves rotation is as follows: Alex Wood, Harang, and David Hale.

More like Who?, This guy, and Who? Not looking good.

Floyd will join the rotation later in the season when he returns from a Tommy John surgery of his own.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Chris Johnson. The Uptons are too obvious of a choice here, as everyone will have their eyes on them to improve this year. I’m interested in seeing Johnson follow up his career-best season after hitting well above (a 42 point boost) his career average last year. His .394 BABIP led the Majors last season, so this year look to see if that was just very good luck or if the 28-year-old can keep it up.

Projected Opening Day Lineup

braves opening day

Since Gattis made it into over 100 games for the Braves last year, this lineup is nothing new. No changes at all — but that may not be such a good thing. At least for Upton and Uggla. That pair batted .184 and .179, respectively, in a combined 839 at-bats. To put that into perspective, if their horrific averages weren’t enough for you, their 152 combined hits are 24 fewer than Freeman put up alone — in 288 fewer at-bats.

Initially, I had this team again finishing atop the NL East yet again, but with the significant blows the rotation has taken in the last week and the improvements the Nationals made to their own staff, I’m going to revise my prediction that I made in my Nats article and say that this is the team that’ll have to fight for the NL Wild Card, not Washington.

30 Days for 30 Teams: Tampa Bay Rays

BY ZACK BECKER

2013 Record: 92-71 (2nd Place AL East, 5.5 GB)

Ahh, finally. Some playoff teams.

Well, “playoff team” doesn’t have exactly the same meaning as it used to, but, by virtue of a tiebreaker to decide who plays the play-in game — yep, you read that correctly, welcome to the new playoff format — The Rays snuck in as the second Wild Card in the American League.

I’m not really sure how this team was any good last season, with its 6 starting pitchers going a combined 65-45 and its offense again producing near the bottom of the league.

But as they do, Tampa and mad genius Joe Maddon  surprised everybody and finished second only to the eventual World Champion Red Sox. With a quiet offseason, here’s a look at the 2014 Rays.

Key Acquisitions

RP Grant Balfour (2yr/$12 mil)

Balfour was really the only big addition the team made after the playoffs, which isn’t very surprising. Financial straits are usually the clouds that keep the Rays silent from December to March. He returns to Tampa on a relatively cheap deal for a closer. He’s coming off a career-best stretch in Oakland, where he helped the A’s win back-to-back division titles and brings the one piece the 2008 AL Champion Rays were missing: postseason experience.

Other than Balfour, the Rays flew well under the radar this offseason. Their lineup is almost unchanged.

Key Losses

RP Fernando Rodney — His weird hat style  will be missed, but his low ERA and high save conversion rate? Look for those two things to stick around as Balfour slides into the closer role.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Matt Moore. After Moore came up in 2011 and dominated the Yankees in a late-season start, I knew he was the real deal. Then, his 2012 left some things to be desired. He reclaimed his excellence in 2013, going 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA. If he can continue to develop into a superstar pitcher, he and David Price form a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of a young rotation.

Projected Opening Day Lineup

rays opening day

Like I said, this team did very little in the offseason — but they never really do. Maddon gets these guys to play the game right year in and year out. I expect nothing different this season as this group of guys will be right in the hunt for a playoff berth, and possibly, with some luck against the Sox, a division title.

30 Days for 30 Teams: Washington Nationals

BY ZACK BECKER

2013 Record: 86-76 (2nd Place NL East, 10 GB)

After a 98-win 2012 ended with an early playoff exit, hype surrounded the team in our nation’s capital for the 2013 season. The innings limit for Stephen Strasburg? Gone. The potential for a rotation with at least three aces? Limitless. And what happened? A mediocre season.

Of course.

The Nats had a very quiet offseason, and head into 2014 hoping for better seasons out of their starting pitchers and more offensive production from a lineup that was around the middle of the pack in the NL last season.

Key Acquisitions

SP Doug Fister  (acquired in trade from Tigers)

Trading for Fister last December surprised a lot of people, but he’ll fit right in with the pitching-heavy mindset of this team. The Nats head into 2014 with a rotation that starts with Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann , Gio Gonzalez  and Fister. That’s scary good.

Key Losses

Dan Haren — The carousel of fifth-starters aside, Haren was by far the worst starter on the team last year, going 10-14. While the offense only putting up 3 runs per start for the veteran certainly didn’t help his cause, he didn’t pull his weight either with an ugly 4.67 ERA. He signed with the Dodgers this offseason, and with the acquisition of Fister, the Nats were more than happy to let him go.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Starting Pitching. In 2012, the combined ERA of Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman and Fister was 3.09. In 2013, that number jumped to 3.33. If the Nats’ offense is just barely putting up four runs a game, they’re going to have to pitch a bit better than that.

Fister is dealing with some elbow tightness in Spring Training right now, and it’s safe to say that this potential injury could be the difference between a playoff spot and another postseason on the couch in Washington.

Strasburg, who’s entering his fifth season (wow, I feel old), needs to stay healthy, which he’s done quite well the past two seasons. If he can drop his ERA below 3.00 while increasing his innings for a third straight season, he should receive some Cy Young votes for the first time in his very-hyped career.

And lost in that hype is the team’s most consistent pitcher, Jordan Zimmerman. Since his 2010 Tommy John surgery, he’s pitched an average of 30 games a season with a great K/BB ratio and a respectable 3.12 ERA in last three seasons.

Gio has been a horse for this rotation since arriving in D.C., throwing close to 400 innings in two seasons while striking out more than one batter per inning pitched. His win total suffered in 2013, but chalk that stat up to his receiving a full run of support less than he did in 2012.

If these four guys find their A-game in 2014, it wont matter who their fifth starter is.

Projected Opening Day Lineupnationals opening day

This lineup is virtually the same as it was for a significant chunk of last year, with the only Opening Day 2013 to 2014 change being a switch from Danny Espinosa at second base to youngster Anthony Rendon, which the team made early on last season. Ramos, like Rendon, saw limited action last year, but they’re both gearing up for a full season in Washington.

Like I said, the strength of this team is pitching, through and through. You won’t see any 35-homer, 100 RBI guys on the lineup card — unless this year is Bryce Harpers breakout offensive season.

Their playoff chances hinge completely on the rotation. If they can get 65 wins out of their top four guns, they’ll be in the hunt for a wild card berth.

#Natitude out.

30 Days for 30 Teams: Baltimore Orioles

BY ZACK BECKER

2013 Record: 85-77 (t3rd Place AL East, 12 GB)

To everyone’s surprise, the Fighting Showalters of Baltimore couldn’t follow up their outstanding 2012 season that saw them go 29-9 in one-run contests — they finished a yucky 20-31 in those games this year.

The team played well through its first 100 games and held a wild card berth as late as August 2.

The second half of the season didn’t go so well for the Birds. They dropped eight games in the standings over the last two months of the season and coughed up their postseason chances.

Key Acquisitions

SP Ubaldo Jimenez  (4yr/$50 mil)

OF Nelson Cruz  (1yr/$8 mil)

SP Suk-Min Yoon (3yr/$5.75 mil)

2B Jemile Weeks  (Acquired in trade from Oakland)

Just after Spring Training began, the Orioles inked Jimenez to a deal that some say over-rewards the 30-year-old, who is just 36-46 with a 4.45 ERA since his unbelievable first 15-1 half in 2010. This contract is easily described in four words: high-risk, high-reward. If he can return to his All-Star form, great. If not, the O’s sunk $50 million into the wrong guy.

Cruz was well on the way to his first 40-homer, 100-RBI season until, well, he was suspended 50 games for PED use. He returned to the Rangers just in time to go 0-4 in a losing effort in Game 163 and end their bid for a playoff spot. The Orioles signed him to a relatively cheap deal among PED-busted players (seriously, why did this  happen?). If his boomstick can handle being off the juice, he should provide some nice pop for the team that hit the most homers in baseball last season.

Yoon comes over from South Korea and is expected to compete for a spot in the rotation. He may join the team a bit later in the season.

Weeks batted .221 in his last full season with Oakland (surprisingly just 9 points worse than big brother Rickie) and only made it into the lineup 9 times last year in the A’s crowded infield. He’ll replace longtime Oriole Brian Roberts and hopefully inject some speed into the offense.

The team also took a low-risk, high-reward flyer on Johan Santana, who’s coming off shoulder surgery. It’s a minor league deal, but if he breaks camp it could be worth as much as $3 million. It’s unlikely that he’ll pitch much, let alone start, but he could see a long relief role if he makes the team.

Key Losses

SP Jason Hammel: The right-hander started 23 games last season and while he didn’t pitch very well, he was the best the team could offer — 10 pitchers started at least 5  games last season — in a merry-go-round back end of the rotation.

OF Nate McLouth: Perhaps his great defense just wasn’t enough to cover his lacking offensive numbers (36 RBI in 531 AB last year). Maybe that’s why the team went after Cruz to replace him.

2B Brian Roberts: Before he signed with the Yankees, he was the longest-tenured Oriole by five seasons over former teammate Nick Markakis. Despite missing at least half of the last four seasons, he left his mark on the franchise as a consistent doubles and steals specialist — he racked up over 275 of each in what equates to eight seasons worth of games over a 13-year stretch with Baltimore.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Chris Davis and Manny Machado. After an out-of-nowhere power surge (see Brady Anderson’s ’96, Adrian Beltre’s ‘04 Jose Bautista’s ’10, et al.), the obvious question is: was it a fluke; or can he keep it up? Not much is different about Davis’ 2014 season. He’ll be on a mission to prove wrong any nay-sayers that say his 53-homer outburst last year was a one-time thing. With Adam Jones giving him lineup protection again, he’ll see no shortage of pitches to Crush.

It’s looking like Manny Machado isn’t going to begin the season with the Orioles — he’s rehabbing an injury suffered late last season  — so it’ll be interesting how effective he can be at the hot corner. His Gold-Glove defense and 68 extra-base hits in his age-20 season give O’s fans a lot to look forward to if his surgically-repaired knee holds up.

Projected Opening Day Lineup

orioles opening day

Baltimore’s got a formidable outfield, and their infield, once Machado returns, should provide plenty of offense to make the O’s one of the most homer-happy teams for a second straight year.

Their rotation remains one of the biggest questions, as they’ve got at least eight starters with one or more seasons of big-league experience under their respective belts.

The addition of Cruz and Jimenez coupled with the Chris Davis show will make this team more fun to watch in 2014, but I don’t think they’re quite ready to overtake the Red Sox, Rays, or even the new-look Yankees.

Yep. Shameless self-plug. I had to write about the Orioles, the least you loyal readers could do is humor me.

30 Days for 30 Teams: New York Yankees

BY ZACK BECKER

2013 Record: 85-77 (3th Place AL East, 12 GB)

If we’re being honest, the Yankees 2013 season was over before it began. Their Opening Day lineup featured household names like Eduardo Nuñez, Ben Francisco, Jayson Nix and Francisco Cervelli.

They simply couldn’t keep up with the top dogs of the East, going a combined 13-25 against Boston and Tampa Bay.

All in all, a team decimated by injuries — All-Stars Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Kevin Youkilis played 165 games combined — did the best it could and to everyone’s surprise, competed for most of the year.

Not exactly the best time for ace CC Sabathia to have the worst season of his career.

Key Acquisitions

CF Jacoby Ellsbury  (7yr/$153 mil)

RF Carlos Beltran  (3yr/$45 mil)

C Brian McCann  (5yr/$85 mil)

2B/3B Kelly Johnson  (1yr/$3 mil)

2B Brian Roberts  (1yr/$2 mil)

SP Masahiro Tanaka  (7yr/$155 mil)

Well, what did you expect? The last time the Yankees missed the playoffs, they went on an offseason spending spree. This time around was no different.

If it can stay healthy, New York’s new-look outfield of Ellsbury, Beltran and newly-extended Brett Gardner should combine for 50 homers and 75 steals.

Don’t let the dollar signs fool you, though. After 2B Robinson Cano signed with Seattle, the Yankees signed two aging infielders to cheap deals to take his place.

Roberts has topped 50 doubles three times and 30 steals four times, but he hasn’t played more than half a season since 2009.

Johnson only has 118 innings of experience at third base, all of which came last season. He’ll see a boost in his power numbers playing at Yankee Stadium, but his defense needs to be strong to stay in the lineup over Eduardo Nuñez. He could slide over to second base if the oft-injured Roberts gets hurt again.

Winning the Tanaka sweepstakes was absolutely huge for this team. Its starting rotation without the Japanese star looks weak, but inserting the 25-year-old (who went 24-0 in his last season overseas) makes the staff a bit more formidable.

The club took care of its outfield and catching needs for the next five seasons, but there are still some holes they need to fill to be on top again.

Key Losses

2B Robinson Cano — Cano let his success get to his head and demanded a 10-year, $300 million deal from the only team he’s ever played for. Agent Jay-Z had 99 problems with the way the Yankees were handling negotiations, and ultimately, the two-time Gold Glover signed for $240 million in Seattle.

RP Mariano Rivera — How do you replace the best closer of all time? Mo saved 44 games in his last go-around with the Yankees, with a 2.11 ERA to boot. The team hopes ex-eighth-inning-guy David Robertson can handle following up the Sandman.

OF Curtis Granderson — The Grandy Man did very well in Yankee Stadium, hitting 115 homers and knocking in 307 runs in three and a half seasons. Injuries sidelined him for 100 games last year and he departs to the crosstown rival New York Mets. He’s replaced by Beltran.

SP Andy Pettitte — He’s retired. For real this time! He started 30 games and went 11-11 with a 3.74 ERA last year. Pettitte goes out as the active leader in wins (256) by a large margin. He’ll be missed in the rotation.

PLAYER TO WATCH

The Rotation. CC Sabathia slimmed down  this offseason and is looking to avoid a career-worst slide after last season. He needs to get his velocity back to be the dominant inning-eater he was for so long.

Tanaka’s transition to Major League Baseball needs to be a quick one. If he struggles, his contract could end up among the biggest busts of all time. If he’s as good as he was in Japan, he’ll be a Masa-hero to many.

Ivan Nova showed signs of greatness towards the end of last season, tossing two shutouts in the last month of the campaign. He needs to consistently pitch late into games to keep the Yanks’ shaky bullpen at bay.

Hiroki Kuroda’s main concern is his age. He was among the league leaders in ERA for much of last season, so if he can dip into the fountain of youth for one more year, there should be no problems there.

Michael Pineda came to the Yankees in the Jesus Montero trade. We know how one end  of that trade worked out, but Pineda hasn’t pitched an inning with in New York due to multiple injuries. He’s pitched well this spring, so things are looking up for the former All-Star.

The fifth spot is a free-for-all between Pineda and David Phelps, who was below-average in 12 starts last season (5-4, 4.93 ERA).

Projected Opening Day Lineup

yankees opening day

Although their free agent signings don’t fill every hole in their roster, the Yanks get a lot more than what they bought this offseason, with Teixeira, Jeter and the mysterious Michael Pineda looking healthy for the first time in forever.

30 Days for 30 Teams: Toronto Blue Jays

BY ZACK BECKER

2013 Record: 74-88 (5th Place AL East, 23 GB)

Last season in Toronto can easily be summed up in one word: Frustrating.

There was a whole lot of optimism about this team in 2013, and with the Yankees in a down year, many picked the Jays as a dark horse to swipe the second wild card berth in the AL.

Unfortunately, Canada’s team couldn’t catch a break when it came to injuries. Only three of their nine season-regulars made it into the lineup more than 118 times last year. Only two starting pitchers made more than 20 starts, and the team used 13 starters throughout the season.

Key Acquisitions

C Dioner Navarro (2yr/$8 mil)

MAYBE: P Ervin Santana

The Jays made a quiet signing in Navarro, who faded into obscurity around 2009. This guy started for a team that made it to the World Series back in ’08, so he’s a proven leader behind the plate with postseason experience. However, after five seasons in Tampa Bay, he’s played parts of the last three seasons with three different teams (Dodgers, Reds and Cubs). He had a great season last year, arguably his best since his All-Star 2008 campaign, hitting a career-high 13 homers in 89 games with Chicago while batting .300.

Reports surfaced this week that the team had a 1-year, $14 million deal in place to sign Santana, but the status of that deal remains unclear heading into the week. As of now, the Jays and their division-rival Orioles are the frontrunners to sign the 31-year-old Dominican.

Key Losses

C J.P. Arencibia — The Blue Jays’ starting catcher for the last three seasons has done well with hitting homers, but that’s about it when it comes to his offense. Arencibia failed to break a .233 average in three seasons and the team cut ties with him after a disgusting .194/.227/.362 slash line last season. He’ll get a fresh start with Texas this season.

P Josh Johnson — Johnson spent just one season in Toronto and was quite disappointing, to say the least. The oft-injured All-Star lasted just four starts before sustaining an arm injury that sidelined him for a month. He returned to make 12 more starts before suffering a season-ending injury that left him with a 2-8 record as a Jay with a 6.20 ERA. Not exactly what the Blue Jays had in mind when they traded for him last offseason. The Padres took a 1-year, $8 million flyer on the 30-year-old this offseason.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Jose Bautista. Joey Bats hasn’t been healthy for a full season since 2011, and in the time since, he’s still been able to put up the 17th-most home runs in baseball — the same amount Prince Fielder has in 115 more games. If he can stay in good shape all year long, he’s a shoo-in for the 40-homer, 100 RBI club again.

 

Projected Opening Day Lineup

blue jays opening day

Toronto didn’t make many moves this offseason, and the team is largely relying on a healthier 2014 team to have the success many predicted for them last year.