A quick run through some totally random gut feelings and stuff I’m looking forward to, or dreading, now that another season of baseball is finally upon us:
Boston Red Sox – Sure, it’ll be interesting to find out whether Boston can win back-to-back championships but I’m more interested in seeing how Grady Sizemore‘s comeback pans out. Just making it to Opening Day as Boston’s starting center fielder is fantastic story, I just hope it has a happy ending by the time the season wraps up. Sizemore’s a spectacular talent who deserves a break after too many years lost to injury.
- Tampa Bay Rays – They’re the A’s small-market counterpart in the AL East and it’s impossible to root against’em as they go toe-to-toe with the AL East’s well-heeled powerhouses. Manager Joe Maddon‘s crew is once again in position to take the division race right down to the wire and they’re a good bet to be one of the league’s best teams in 2014 despite their modest payroll. Gotta love that.
- Baltimore Orioles – With two free agents in and two relatively high draft picks out during the offseason, it’ll be interesting to see whether Baltimore’s win-now moves to acquire Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz pays off with glory in the regular season. Manny Machado‘s health, Tommy Hunter‘s ability to fill Jim Johnson‘s shoes as closer and the emergence of a reliable second baseman may have as much to do with Baltimore’s success as anything Jimenez and Cruz do.
- New York Yankees – The Bronx Bombers spent a zillion dollars over the winter and they’re definitely vastly improved with Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran donning pinstripes. But their infield looks like a wasteland of over-the-hill stars and other teams’ discards. Maybe it’s just the small-market fan in me, but there’s always something satisfying about seeing the Yankees miss the playoffs. Hopefully all their spending won’t pay off with an appearance in October this year.
- Toronto Blue Jays – Last season the Jays failed to live up to the hype, bombing in the AL East in 2013 despite an aggressive offseason. Now that all the pressure is off and no one is expecting much out of Toronto it’ll be interesting to see if they can sneak up on the AL East and make some noise in the playoff race. A healthy, productive Brett Lawrie and solid work out of questionable rotation will go a long way toward digging the Blue Jays out of the cellar.
Detroit Tigers – Rookie manager Brad Ausmus is at the helm, Prince Fielder‘s gone, Miguel Cabrera has a new monster contract extension, Max Scherzer has one blue eye fixed on testing free agency and the AL Central still looks like its Detroit’s to lose. It appears that general manager Dave Dombrowski is trying to shift the team’s focus toward speed and defense and it’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out for Detroit.
- Cleveland Indians – I should be contemplating whether the Indians can improve on last season’s surprising playoff appearance. But for some odd reason my mind drifts to questions such as when are they going to get rid of Chief Wahoo and why aren’t they doing anything to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the classic baseball comedy “Major League?” Yes, I know that doesn’t make much sense but that’s just how I roll.
- Kansas City Royals – Is this the year general manager Dayton Moore’s “process” finally leads to a playoff appearance by the long-irrelevant Royals? You don’t have to squint too hard to see a postseason contender brewing in Kansas City right now. Then again, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to the fact that K.C. hasn’t made noise in October since winning the World Series in 1985. Personally, I’d love to see Kansas City enjoy the kind of summer long-suffering Pirates fans experienced when the Bucs finally made the playoffs in 2013.
- Minnesota Twins – Sure, they added pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes in the offseason, but is anyone outside of Minnesota really interested in paying serious attention to this team until super prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are playing at Target Field?
- Chicago White Sox – Color me intrigued. General manager Rick Hahn made some interesting moves in the offseason, adding Cuban slugger Jose Abreu and youngsters Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson to a franchise that desperately needed an infusion of new blood. It won’t be enough to get them within sniffing distance of the playoffs this season but it could make the club a lot more dangerous in the seasons to come.
Oakland Athletics – I’m an A’s fan, what do you expect me to say here? Until they start playing some games and showing their weaknesses there’s no reason for me to expect anything less than a winning season in 2014 out of the guys in green and gold.
- Texas Rangers – With Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo added to the lineup, it looks like the Rangers are sure to be one of the league’s higher scoring teams in 2014. But right now the pitching appears to be a mess with Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison on the disabled list. Then again, when those pitchers and promising second baseman Jurickson Profar come off the DL and former closer Neftali Feliz works his way up from Triple A, the Rangers could be a force to be reckoned with in the second half.
- Los Angeles Angels – If Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton ever get healthy and productive at the same time and a halfway decent pitching staff emerges in Anaheim, young stud Mike Trout could have all the help he needs to carry the Halos to the top of the baseball world. Until then, the Angels look like they’re bogged down by Pujols’ and Hamilton’s bloated contracts, a questionable starting rotation and a desolate farm system. The one thing working in their favor is that most of the teams in the AL West are starting the season with a rash of key injuries which opens the doors for the Angels to capitalize on a fast start.
- Seattle Mariners – So what was the big deal again? They obviously made a major splash by landing free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano but after that it seemed like the M’s were involved in far more rumors than significant acquisitions. Fernando Rodney is a nice addition to the bullpen but Corey Hart and Logan Morrison are injury-riddled gambles who don’t currently appear to have enough upside to propel Seattle to the top of the AL West. But if Seattle’s young players all take a major step forward at the same time, new manager Lloyd McClendon could have something special on his hands.
- Houston Astros – They’ve been terrible for so long it’s easy to be lazy and write them off as the permanent doormats of the AL West but the Astros’ time in the sun could be coming soon. 2014 could be the year Houston’s top prospects such as George Springer start making noise in the majors and the American League gets a preview of what could be a future powerhouse.
Atlanta Braves – It feels like most of Atlanta’s young players got big contract extensions and most of the team’s starters succumbed to Tommy John surgery during the offseason. Now that the dust has settled and Ervin Santana has been added to the rotation it looks like Atlanta is still in a strong position to contend for the NL East title.
- Washington Nationals – Last year was supposed to be the Nationals’ year but instead, the club finished 10 games out of first place. So now this year is supposed to be Washington’s year with ace Stephen Strasburg further removed from Tommy John surgery and phenom Bryce Harper healthy after an injury-plagued 2013. On paper, Washington looks like one of the best teams in the National League. Now it’s time to see whether rookie manager Matt Williams can guide the franchise to the top of the standings.
- New York Mets – The Metropolitans appear to have the Face of MLB in third baseman David Wright (bogus win over Eric Sogard if you ask me) going for them and not much else. The nice thing about 2014 is it moves the Mets closer to 2015 when ace Matt Harvey should be recovered from TJ surgery, Zack Wheeler should be a little more mature, promising Noah Syndergaard should be in the rotation and catcher Travis d’Arnaud could be delivering big hits in the middle of the lineup.
- Philadelphia Phillies – The Phillies’ front office has cornered the market on signing over-the-hill players to big money and ratting out college draft picks to the NCAA. Not exactly a recipe for success or good PR now is it? If everything breaks right in 2014, longtime Phillies Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins will enjoy one more playoff run but that looks like the longest of longshots.
- Miami Marlins – Cellar dwellars like the Marlins fascinate me. The Marlins have some interesting young players in the majors with some more in the pipeline. If easy-to-despise owner Jeffrey Loria ever gets out of the way and allows the front office to build a winner, fans in Miami may have an excuse to come to the park on a regular basis without worrying about another fire sale.
St. Louis Cardinals – If I have to hear one more word about St. Louis having the best fans in the universe I think I’m going to be sick. Same goes for all the noise about the Cardinals playing baseball “the right way.” Enough already. Every team has die-hard fans and every winning club is doing a lot of things right. But enough of my micro-rant. St. Louis is definitely a model franchise and I’d be amazed if they’re out of the mix for the NL pennant in 2014.
- Pittsburgh Pirates – I’m not even a Pirates fan and I loved the fact that they made the playoffs for the first time since 1992. Who doesn’t root for the underdog? I have a sneaking suspicion that Pittsburgh is going to fall back to the pack in 2014 but it’s impossible not to like a team powered by young players such as Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gerrit Cole and Pedro Alvarez.
- Cincinnati Reds – I can’t quite put my finger on it, but for some reason I have a bad feeling that the Reds could be in for a long, disappointing season. Sure, they have sluggers Joey Votto and Jay Bruce but they also enter 2014 with a lot of key injuries and I’m not sold on fleet-footed center fielder Billy Hamilton hitting enough to consistently spark the offense. If Votto didn’t get many pitches to hit with on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo batting ahead of him I’m not particularly optimistic that his situation will improve with Choo plying his trade in Texas this year.
- Milwaukee Brewers – Maybe it’s just because I live on the West Coast and all of the other teams in this division seem so much more interesting than the Brewers, but I just can’t muster up a lot of excitement for this team. Outside of the return of steroid-tainted slugger Ryan Braun and the fact that the team is having a bobblehead for Hank, the spring training dog, Milwaukee just kind of bores me. Which doesn’t mean that there isn’t an interesting mix of talent on the Brewers. Crazy things happen every season in baseball and if everything falls into place for manager Ron Roenicke there’s a chance this team could sneak up on the rest of the division.
- Chicago Cubs – In a year or two this could be one of the best teams in the National League if prospects such as Kris Bryant and Javier Baez are as good as advertised and a front office led by Theo Epstein lands some key free agents. Until then, the Cubs remain an interesting franchise under construction and out of the playoff hunt.
Los Angeles Dodgers – Is it wrong to want to see the big-spending Dodgers crash and burn in 2014? Nah, I don’t think so. Am I really that bitter about the 1988 World Series? You betcha. The Dodgers have a boatload of talent but they also have more than enough flaws to be anything but a lock for a World Series appearance.
- Arizona Diamondbacks – How bitter am I about the 1988 World Series and that damned Kirk Gibson home run? Seeing the D’backs spin their wheels in the NL West makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I’ll always root for former A’s Brandon McCarthy, Brad Ziegler and Cliff Pennington but if things happen to break wrong for Gibby I won’t shed a tear. I did enough of that after Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
- San Diego Padres – If former A’s pitcher Tyson Ross has a breakout season in 2014 and the Padres develop into a dark horse playoff contender I’ll be extremely annoyed because all Oakland will have to show for its 2012 trade with San Diego is soft-tossing minor leaguer Andrew Werner. Of course, I’ll be happy for Ross too and I’ll be glad the Pads are giving the Dodgers and Giants a run for their money but I’ll mostly be bent out of shape that the A’s got so little in return for a promising young pitcher.
- San Francisco Giants – Am I biased as an A’s fan? Yeah, just a little because it’s just fine with me if the Giants fail miserably on the days when Tim Hudson isn’t pitching and the moments when Marco Scutaro isn’t hitting. Aside from that, I think manager Bruce Bochy‘s club has the best chance of knocking the Dodgers off in the NL West.
- Colorado Rockies – Man, I feel sorry for former A’s shortstop Walt Weiss because managing the Rockies seems like a major headache from afar. The front office appears to be a little too hands-on and Colorado’s chances of winning are going to live and die on the health of Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson and company. All it will take are a couple of key injuries to sink Weiss’ team to the bottom of the division for most of the summer. Then again, if everyone is healthy and productive and rookies Jon Gray and Eddie Butler join the party the Rockies could be playing meaningful games in September … but I wouldn’t bet on it.
So there you have it, a top-to-bottom look at the majors as the 2014 season kicks off. Now it’s time to sit back, relax and see which team will be the last one standing in October.