NL-East

MLB Divisional Preview, Part 6: NL East, The worst for last

by Conway West 03.04.15

The NL East has seen better days. In the 1990s and 2000s, there was a 12-year stretch where the division represented the NL in the World Series 9 times. All five teams have either represented the NL in the Series or had the league’s best record in the past 16 seasons, an honor no other division holds.

At this point, the division looks weak. The division may have the two worst teams in baseball, and the second and third best teams do not look elite either. However, due to the disparity between the top tier and middle tier of teams in the National League, I predict two playoff teams from the East.

  1. Washington Nationals

2014: 87 wins; Steamer 2015: 91 wins; Conwaywest: 95 wins; JD Cam: 94 (1st place)
In: Max Scherzer, Yunel Escobar, Casey Janssen
Out: Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano, Adam LaRoche, Ross Detwiler, Asdrubal Cabrera

Things to like: 6 excellent starting pitchers; a balanced and strong lineup; Anthony Rendon becoming an elite player.
Things to worry about: Bryce Harper and Jason Werth staying healthy; finding the closest thing they can to Clippard in the bullpen.

This is the safest and easiest division pick in all of baseball. The Nationals are loaded: veteran talent and experience; home grown and free agent; power, speed and defense; and most importantly, the best rotation in baseball. Their 5 may be the best in the past 5 years, and they have the best #6 in baseball in Tanner Roark. I believe this is also the year that Anthony Rendon is a national star.

Rendon, one of the most valuable players in MLB last year, could get even better.

This is not to say the Nationals don’t have their problems. The bullpen will miss Tyler Clippard – he has been one of the most valuable relievers in baseball for 5 seasons – and they have 3 injury prone outfielders. But besides predicting injury, this is one of the best teams in baseball. With SS Ian Desmond and SP Jordan Zimmerman becoming free agents after the season, this may need to be their year with the current roster makeup. I am one that thinks it may be.

  1. New York Mets (wild card)

2014: 79 wins; Steamer 2015: 78 wins; Conwaywest: 84 wins; JD Cam: 78 wins (3rd)

In: Michael Cuddyer, John Mayberry
Out: Eric Young Jr

Things to like: Juan Lagares catching a lot of baseballs; Matt Harvey pitching 150 innings; Lucas Duda and David Wright making two good hitters; innovative GM in Sandy Alderson; playing in the NL East.
Things to worry about: lots of bullpen question marks; no corner outfield defense; little middle infield production.

The Mets?! The Mets! After a decade of horrible contracts, poor management, and a little bad luck, the Mets are… still very much the Mets. The team didn’t change very much, has a terrible bullpen, and got a lot older in right field with the addition of Cuddyer. So why the heck do I pick the mets for the second wild card?

The Mets, who won 79 games last year, have tons of young arms to choose from for their rotation (and one very old overweight one). They have young(ish) options up the middle, that all look to produce at or above league average value this year. And, they play in the NL East. If they can take advantage of the Braves being much worse and win 5 more against them, that’s 84 wins. And in the National League, where the second tier teams all have issues, that might be enough for our first Mets postseason birth since 2006. Even if they come up short, they look at least to be in the right direction.

Sandy Alderson looks to have the Mets moving in the right direction after almost a decade of mediocrity.

  1. Miami Marlins

2014: 77 wins; Steamer 2015: 78 wins; Conwaywest: 81 wins; JD Cam: 85 wins (2nd, wild card)
In: Mat Latos; Martin Prado; Mike Morse; David Phelps; Dan Haren; Dee Gordon; Ichiro Suzuki
Out: Nathan Eovaldi; Andrew Heaney; Anthony Desclafani; Chris Hatcher

Things to like: Giancarlo Stanton challenging for 2nd best player in baseball; the return of Jose Fernandez; Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna rounding out top 3 outfield in baseball
Things to worry about: up-the middle defense; infield positions hitting.

The Marlins sure were busy this offseason. As a team that seems to grow young arms on trees, they traded several of them away this offseason for more reliable options: namely, the versatility of Prado, the speed of Gordon, and the potential all-star starter in Latos. They will have 3 new infield starters to supplement their awesome, young outfield.

But is reliable and different better? Latos has been steadily declining over the past several seasons. This team was middling at scoring runs last year, and with Casey McGehee in San Francisco now, who else will step up with crazy high BABIPs ad RISP averages to score runs? The Marlins hope Mike Morse is up for the task.

This team has geared up to win, which is similar to what we saw in 2013. I just don’t see it. I see a .500 team that has two stars in Stanton and Fernandez, but can’t do the little things (including pitch framing) well enough to win.

The Marlins may be mediocre, but Giancarlo Stanton will continue to do amazing things this year.

  1. Atlanta Braves

2014: 79 wins; Steamer 2015: 71 wins; Conwaywest: 68 wins; JD Cam: 70 wins (4th)
In: Nick Markakis; Shelby Miller; Jonny Gomes; Eric Young Jr; Jace Peterson; Alberto Callaspo; AJ Pierzinski; Jason Grilli; Jim Johnson; Wandy Rodriguez; Melvin Upton
Out: Jason Heyward; Justin Upton; Evan Gattis; Ervin Santana; Kris Medlen; Brandon Beachy; Aaron Harang; Gavin Floyd; Jordan Walden; Tommy La Stella; David Carpenter; Emilio Bonifacio; BJ Upton

Things to like: Andrelton Simmons and Freddie Freeman are still on this team; Julio Teheran and Alex Wood are a decent 1-2 starting pitching punch; Craig Kimbrel throws hard; Christian Bethancourt getting lots of starts at catcher;
Things to worry about: lots of dead lineup spots; getting any value from their outfield; any bullpen arms past Kimbrel.

This is where the NL East gets fun! The Braves gutted their outfield, traded their best power bat, saw an entire starting rotation of arms depart, and lost their two best bullpen arms outside all-world closer Craig Kimbrel. All for Shelby Miller, some fringe prospects and financial flexibility. If financial flexibility equates to 4 years and $44 million to Nick Markakis, this team is in trouble for the foreseeable future.

Much like the Phillies, the Braves appear to be in all-out tank mode. Also like the Phillies, their farm system lacks huge talent to turn around their team quickly. The Braves sold off their best assets besides Kimbrel – he may be traded as well – so it may be a tough year in Atlanta, and 100 losses isn’t out of the question. Hopefully Andrelton Simmons can develop into a power bat to go along with his incredible defense. That could give Braves fans a couple things to look forward to… for 2017 when the new stadium is complete.

The Braves hope Andrelton Simmons can become an all-around star to compliment his elite defense.

  1. Philadelphia Phillies

2014: 73 wins; Steamer 2015: 68 wins; Conwaywest: 66 wins; JD Cam: 66 wins (5th)
In: Aaron Harang
Out: Jimmy Rollins; Marlon Byrd; Kyle Kendrick; AJ Burnett

The Phillies finished 2014 with 73 wins, which feels surprisingly high for the attention their roster received for its need to be disassembled. This offseason, the Phillies began that rebuilding job in earnest, trading franchise icon Jimmy Rollins and aging bat Marlon Byrd. Now, they look to move Cole Hamels (probably), Jonathan Papelbon (hopefully), and Ryan Howard (good luck!) as they try to turn the page in what was the most successful Phillies core in team history.

The trading of parts is why my 66 wins may be high: this team is only planning on getting worse in 2014. They may end the year with many fringe big leaguers logging heavy usage. 100 losses may be a formality is many of their pieces get traded away (as they should). The “Fire Ruben Amaro” fan club will only grow.

Phillies fans are not too happy with how the current regime has handled the team.

AL East

MLB Divisional Preview, Part 5: A Division full of questions

by JDCam 02.25.15

The AL East was unusually uncompetitive in 2014. The Red Sox dropped a staggering 26 wins on 2013, Tampa Bay dropped 15, only the Blue Jays and Orioles improved, with the Orioles running riot by a 14 game margin at the end of the regular season. The division promises to be much closer in 2015, with the Red Sox and Blue Jays making major roster upgrades this off-season, while the Yankees in particular are tough to project. There are dozens of questions surrounding the division, both on the field (Red Sox youth movement) and off the field (A-Rod, sigh). With an influx of mediocre pitching and elite hitting into the division, expect the AL East to be a slugfest in 2015.

1. Boston Red Sox

2014: 71 wins; Steamer 2015: 88 wins; Conway West: 90 wins; JDCam: 89 wins

In: Alexi Ogando, Robbie Ross, Ryan Hannigan, Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval,

Out: Yoenis Cespedes, Ryan Lavarnway, Anthony Ranaudo, Will Middlebrooks, David Ross, Allen Webster

Things to Like: New infield high impact bats; a season for Rusney Castillo to shine; Mookie Betts talent (and the best name in baseball)

Things to Worry About: An inferior rotation; Hanley staying healthy; Will Xander Bogaerts live up to the hype?

Will Castillo provide a boost for the Red Sox in 2015?

Will Castillo provide a boost for the Red Sox in 2015?

Just about everything that could go wrong for the Red Sox did go wrong for the Red Sox in 2014. Between poor performances, injuries and blooding young prospects they were a shadow of their 2013 World Series winning team. The 2015 Red Sox should have a huge turnaround, with exciting talents Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts as well as Cuban import Rusney Castillo given a whole season to test their mettle. After losing Jon Lester, their biggest question mark will be their rotation, with mid-level starters Justin Masterson, Rick Porcello and Wade Miley who will all be relied upon to deliver in the absence of a true ace. Additions like Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval don’t hurt either; if the Red Sox stay healthy, they should be in the hunt for another AL East crown.

2. Toronto Blue Jays

2014: 83 wins; Steamer 2015: 84 wins; Conway West: 88 wins; JDCam: 85 wins

In: Michael Saunders, Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, Marco Estrada

Out: Casey Janssen, Colby Rasmus, George Kottaras, Melky Cabrera, Brett Lawrie, JA Happ, Anthony Gose, Adam Lind,

Things to Like: The arrival of Josh Donaldson; one of the strongest lineups top to bottom; a potential sleeper in Marcus Stroman

Things to Worry About: An inevitable letdown year from Russell Martin; will their rotation hold up?

Donaldson will form a formidable 3/4/5 combo with Encarnacion and Bautista

Donaldson will form a formidable 3/4/5 combo with Encarnacion and Bautista

The Blue Jays have been the teaser team of the AL East the past two years after an aggressive building process from GM Alex Anthopoulos. This could finally be the year when the Jays break through. Their 3/4/5 of Encarnacion, Bautista and Donaldson rivals the Tigers as the best in baseball and the addition of Russell Martin will be a huge upgrade at catcher, particularly if he can continue his 2014 form. Much will depend on the competitiveness of the Jays rotation, with arms like Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison who will need to keep the Jays competitive for their big bats to take over.

3. Tampa Bay Rays

2014: 77 wins; Steamer 2015: 83 wins Conway West: 81 wins (4th place); JDCam: 82 wins (4th place)

In: Asdrubal Cabrera, John Jaso, Rene Rivera, Steven Souza, Ernesto Frieri

Out: Jeremy Hellickson, Joel Peralta, Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist, Wil Myers

Things to Like: Replacing one potential star in Wil Myers with another in Steven Souza; a rotation full of sleepers (Smyly, Cobb); an improved Evan Longoria

Things to Worry About: Losing Joe Maddon; a potentially crippling team OBP; no one wants to watch them play

Drew Smyly is one of several underrated Rays rotation pieces

Drew Smyly is one of several underrated Rays rotation pieces

The Rays finally broke up a core of players that had seemed to be in play forever at Tropicana field, with David Price leaving (got fleeced by the Tigers) and Ben Zobrist departing for the As. Much more importantly, longtime GM Andrew Friedman headed to LA after he was handed the keys to the Dodgers. Much will rest on new GM Matthew Silverman and his ability to tap into the undervalued player market in the same way Friedman was able to, as well as building expertly through the draft. The Rays promise to be an average team, with a surprising rotation, but they may be stuck in a rut of mediocrity for the foreseeable future.

4. New York Yankees

2014: 84 wins; Steamer 2015: 83 wins Conway West: 82 wins (3rd place); JDCam: 83 wins (3rd place)

In: Andrew Miller, Didi Gregorious, Justin Wilson, Garrett Jones, Nathan Eovaldi

Out: Ichiro Suzuki, David Phelps, Martin Prado, Francisco Cervelli, Shane Greene, David Robertson, Brandon McCarthy

Things to Like: The return of Masahiro Tanaka; A better year from Carlos Beltran; I’m reaching here…

Things to Worry About: The return of Masahiro Tanaka; Michael Pineda staying healthy; CC Sabathia (just their rotation in general!)

TanakaSlider2

Last year we were looking at footage of Tanaka from Japan. Now we are wondering if he can return to his pre-injury form from 2014

Yankee fans witnessed the end of an era with Derek Jeter’s retirement after the 2014 season. This was also symbolic of the Yankees slow transition to become more youthful as they possessed one of the oldest rosters in baseball. Many questions surround the 2015 Yankees and they are genuinely hard to project. If Tanaka and Pineda can remain healthy and promising starter Nathan Eovaldi can be effective they could compete. Yankee fans should be prepared for another season that is dominated by off the field news (A-Rod), another unwelcome distraction from the teams on field play and improvement.

5. Baltimore Orioles

2014: 96 wins; Steamer 2015: 79 wins Conway West: 78 wins; JDCam: 78 wins

In: Nolan Reimold, Delmon Young

Out: Steve Lombardozzi, Nick Hundley, Andrew Miller, Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis Joe Saunders

Things to Like: The return of Manny Machado; Chris Davis on Adderall; high impact pitching prospects (Gausman, Bundy)

Things to Worry About: Not really attempting to replace any lost pieces; No super human effort from Nelson Cruz; Steve Pearce will go back to being Steve Pearce

Machado GIF

Much will depend on whether Manny Machado can recover from his horrific 2014 knee injury.

There was no team that did as little this off-season as the Orioles, resting on their laurels after an impressive 96 win season in 2014. They lost two thirds of their outfield and an integral piece of their bullpen. The return of wonder kid Manny Machado and a not so inept Chris Davis should help, but the Orioles should expect some regression in 2015 after doing too little to replace their key departures.

NL Central

MLB Divisional Preview, Part 4: Its Not All About the Cubs

by JDCam 02.21.15

While the off-season dialogue around the NL Central has largely surrounded the Cubs and their aggressive rebuilding, the division promises to be highly competitive in 2015. The NL Central got far worse in 2014, particularly the exceptionally disappointing Cincinnatti Reds who had a -14 win swing. Even the division’s elite teams, the Cardinals and Pirates, dropped 7 and 6 wins respectively. The division’s less competitive teams did improve, with the Brewers and Cubs picking up 8 and 7 wins respectively. With the exception of the Cubs, NL Central teams had a relatively quiet off-season, which should lead to a three team showdown in September with the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs battling for supremacy in the central.

1. St. Louis Cardinals

2014: 90 wins: Steamer 2015: 86 wins; Conway West: 88 wins; JD Cam: 89 wins

In: Jason Heyward, Mark Reynolds, Matt Belisle

Out: Shelby Miller, Jason Motte, A.J Pierzynski, Daniel Descalso, Pat Neshek, Justin Masterson

Things to Like: Cleaning up in the Heyward trade; having a ton of underrated players; playing in a weak division

Things to Worry About: Replacing Oscar Taveras; Rotation depth; The Cubs

The Cardinals didn’t do much in the off-season, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. They did ship Shelby Miller to the Braves with a package for OF Jason Heyward, a significant defensive upgrade who should continue his steady offensive improvement. The Cardinals did lose top prospect Oscar Taveras to a tragic car accident this winter, but come September, this team will be in the hunt for another NL Central crown.

2. Pittsburgh Pirates

2014: 88 wins: Steamer 2015: 85 wins; Conway West: 85 wins; JD Cam: 86 wins

In: Corey Hart, Steve Lombardozzi

Out: Edinson Volquez, Clint Barmes, Ernesto Frieri, Ike Davis

Things to Like: No key departures; maintaining a stockpile of solid prospects; an OF of McCutchen, Polanco and Marte

Things to Worry About: No key additions; rotational depth and consistency from Gerrit Cole

400+ ABs for Gregory Polanco should bode well for the Pirates talented outfield

400+ ABs for Gregory Polanco should bode well for the Pirates talented outfield

The Pirates are going places. After two excellent seasons under the guidance of underrated helmsman Clint Hurdle, the Pirates could be primed to take the next step and make a deep October run if all goes well in 2015. Much will depend on the consistency and development of former number 1 pick Gerrit Cole, who needs to make the jump into the upper echelon of NL starters. The Pirates starting outfield of McCutchen, Polanco and Marte is frightening, with a truly impressive combination of speed, power and defensive range. With several other underrated pieces such as Joey Harrison, Neil Walker and unknown quantity Jung Ho Kang the Pirates will be a formidable team in 2015.

3. Chicago Cubs

2014: 73 wins: Steamer 2015: 84 wins; Conway West: 80 wins; JD Cam: 82 wins

In: Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Jason Motte, David Ross, Chris Denorfia, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero

Out: Kyuji Fujikawa, Justin Ruggiano, Dan Straily

Things to Like: Significant upgrades at multiple positions; number 1 farm system in baseball; Joe Maddon

Things to Worry About: Consistency from Soler and Baez; a young inexperienced team

Jorge Soler is just one of a litany of talented players at Joe Maddon's disposal

Jorge Soler is just one of a litany of talented players at Joe Maddon’s disposal

Very few teams in baseball have a front office who have played their hand more brilliantly than the Cubs. In the midst of another losing season the Cubs traded away their best major league assets for prospects which boosted their farm system to the best in baseball. They picked up their prized pitching anchor in Jon Lester and resigned stalwart Jason Hammel. Chicago’s most important acquisition however may have been manager Joe Maddon, the perfect foil for the Cubs litany of young talent. There are a lot of question marks around the Cubs young and talented roster. They may not be quite ready, but this Cubs team is primed to be dominant in the next few seasons.

4. Milwaukee Brewers

2014: 82 wins: Steamer 2015: 76 wins; Conway West: 72 wins (5th); JD Cam: 70 wins (5th)

In: Adam Lind, Neal Cotts

Out: Marco Estrada, Zach Duke, Mark Reynolds, Tom Gorzelanny, Yovani Galllardo

Things to Like: The better ‘Cargo’; Jean Segura improving on his .286 OBP from 2014

Things to Worry About: Ryan Braun NOT enhancing his own performance; a weak rotation; little improvements across the roster

Top prospect Orlando Arcia maybe all Brewers fans have to look forward to in 2015

Top prospect Orlando Arcia maybe all Brewers fans have to look forward to in 2015

The Brewers just scream .500 don’t they? They don’t provoke much of a reaction, either positive or negative. Several Brewers had poor seasons in 2014 after a blistering start. Ryan Braun suffered from constant niggling injuries and Jean Segura was as bad in 2014 as he was good in 2013. The Brewers will suffer this season from a lack of rotational depth (after shipping innings eating Yovani Gallardo off to the Rangers). While the arrival of top prospect Orlando Arcia is exciting, Brewers fans may have little else to cheer in what promises to be an underwhelming 2015 season.

5. Cincinnati Reds

2014: 76 wins: Steamer 2015: 76 wins; Conway West: 77 wins (4th); JD Cam: 78 wins (4th)

In: None of note

Out: Chris Heisey, Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon

Things to Like: Aroldis Chapman; Johnny Cueto; an improved year for Jay Bruce

Things to Worry About: Where did the rotation go? Mesoraco can’t reproduce 2014’s numbers

Having ace Cueto back for a whole season will be critical to the success of the Reds in 2015.

Having ace Cueto back for a whole season will be critical to the success of the Reds in 2015.

The Reds 2014 was disastrous, dropping a full 14 wins from 2013. They had several key contributors who struggled with injury and poor performance (most noticeably Johnny Cueto and Jay Bruce). The Reds lost Mat Latos to a trade with the Marlins and breakout sensation Alfredo Simon to the Tigers. Tony Cingranni will need to step up if their rotation is going to be competitive. Even if Devin Mesoraco can’t continue his remarkable form from 2014 a healthy season from Cueto and Homer Bailey ought to yield a marginal improvement on 2014.

Central

MLB Divisional Preview, Part 3: Don’t Sleep on Cleveland

By JDCam 02.16.15

There was greater parity in the AL Central in 2014. A strong off-season by its poorer clubs (White Sox) and recent playoff success (Tigers, Indians and Royals have all been in the last two seasons, including an AL Central World Series representative in two of the last three seasons) has led to the division shaking the mantle of one of the weakest in baseball.

In 2014, aside from the Royals remarkable run, the hapless Twins and White Sox got a little better (4 and 10 more wins respectively), while Detroit and Cleveland got a little worse (3 and 7 more losses than in 2013). With perhaps no team having a stronger off-season than the Chicago White Sox, the Central is shaping up to a slugfest four horse race in 2015.

1.Detroit Tigers

2014: 90 wins: Steamer 2015: 85 wins; Conway West: 84 wins (2nd); JD Cam: 85 wins (1st)

In: Yoenis Cespedes, Alfredo Simon, Shane Greene, Anthony Gose

Out: Max Scherzer, Don Kelly, Danny Worth, Rick Porcello, Tori Hunter

Things to like: Yoenis Cespedes: a healthy Jose Iglesias; a dominant middle of the lineup

Things to worry about: Miguel Cabrera and V-Mart coming into spring off of surgery; Pressure on a rebound season from Justin Verlander; an awful bullpen.

Cespedes will bring another huge bat to the middle of the Tigers already formidable lineup

Cespedes will bring another huge bat to the middle of the Tigers already formidable lineup

With V-Mart’s torn meniscus the latest in a series of winter challenges, the Tigers may have an uphill battle to retain their AL Central crown. The addition of Cespedes, pending the health of Martinez and Cabrera, creates the most formidable 3/4/5 combination in baseball. Detroit is counting on Justin Verlander returning to ace-like form and not going the way of CC Sabathia. The Tigers did little to improve their bullpen which hamstrung them the last few season both in the regular season and playoffs. The Tigers face a lot of question in 2015 but should still have enough to top the division for the fifth straight year.

2. Cleveland Indians

2014: 85 wins: Steamer 2015: 84 wins; Conway West: 88 wins (1st); JD Cam: 84 wins (2nd)

In: Brandon Moss, Gavin Floyd, Scott Downs

Out: Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Masterson, Nyjer Morgan

Things to like: Underrated rotation; Solid core of young hitters; Francisco Lindor’s debut

Things to worry about: Not enough offensive production; question marks surrounding young starters.

Top prospect Lindor should make his arrival sometime in 2015

Top prospect Lindor should make his arrival sometime in 2015

The Indians didn’t do much this off-season, but then, they didn’t have to. With a core of excellent young hitters (Brantley, Kipnis, Santana) and the emergence of 2014 Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, the Indians look primed to challenge the Tigers for divisional supremacy. Much will depend on the development of Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazaar, who could combine with Carlos Carrasco and Kluber to form a dominant rotation. Cleveland fans have to be excited by the possibility of top SS prospect Francisco Lindor making his debut in 2015. Do not sleep on the Indians; they should be competing for a wild card spot at worst come September.

3. Kansas City Royals

2014: 89 wins: Steamer 2015: 81 wins; Conway West: 80 wins (4th); JD Cam: 80 wins (4th)

In: Alex Rios, Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales, Kris Medlen

Out: Billy Butler, James Shields, Nori Aoki, Aaron Crow, Bruce Chen, Josh Willingham

Things to like: Alex Rios is due for an ‘on’ year; a dominant bullpen, high end young starters

Things to worry about: Inferior replacements for their lost pieces; not enough offense; risky rotation pieces

Will Alex Rios strengthen the Royals OF or continue his consistent inconsistency?

Will Alex Rios strengthen the Royals OF or continue his consistent inconsistency?

The Royals enjoyed a remarkable fall run hanging onto the coattails of an equally remarkable bullpen. The late inning trifecta of Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland is as good as any in baseball. The Royals lost a huge part of their identity in Billy Butler in the off-season, as well as number one starter and a clubhouse leader in James Shields. They added to an already strong outfield by overpaying for Alex Rios and Edinson Volquez and Kris Medlen are worthy rotation gambles. KC caught lightening in a bottle in September last season but Royals fans should be prepared for an inevitable letdown.

4. Chicago White Sox

2014: 73 wins: Steamer 2015: 78 wins; Conway West: 83 wins (3rd); JD Cam: 82 wins (3rd)

In: David Robertson, Jeff Samardzija, Adam LaRoche, Melky Cabrera, Zach Duke, Gordon Beckham

Out: Marcus Semien, Dayan Viciedo, Paul Konerko

Things to like: See ‘in’ category; no more Adam Dunn; Carlos Rodon’s fast development

Things to worry about: An average infield; not enough rotational depth

No team got better this off-season that the White Sox. GM Rick Hahn deserves a ton of credit for aggressively addressing areas of need. David Robertson will give them much needed stability at the back end of their bullpen, while a one two rotational punch of Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija is a formidable one, particularly with the emergence of Jose Quintana in 2014. The White Sox upgraded in the outfield, replacing Dayan Viciedo with Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche replaces south side legend Paul Konerko in the comfy confines of US Cellular Field which are LITERALLY made for him to mash 25-30 HR. If everything goes right for the White Sox they could challenge for the division, however a finish around .500 is more realistic and not to be sniffed at given recent seasons.

5. Minnesota Twins

2014: 70 wins: Steamer 2015: 76 wins; Conway West: 69 wins ; JD Cam: 73 wins

In: Ervin Santana, Tori Hunter, Tim Stauffer

Out: Jared Burton, Jason Kubel, Anthony Swarzak

Things to like: Ervin Santana and Phil Hughes at the front end of an improved rotation; a slew of young power bats; a more progressive manager in Paul Molitor; Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer making MLB debuts in 2015.

Things to worry about: Apocalyptic outfield defense; a still weak rotation; Joe Mauer’s decline.

Dozier is one of the bright spots in a roster still lacking enough rotation arms to compete for the division

Dozier is one of the bright spots in a roster still lacking enough rotation arms to compete for the division

Coming off the back of 4 consecutive 90 loss seasons the Twins front office unusually made a few moves this off-season, adding Ervin Santana to the front end of a rotation that was anchored by a remarkably under-appreciated season from Phil Hughes in 2014. The Twins added fan favorite Hunter for some vocal clubhouse leadership and while he will contribute offensively he is a defensive liability. Minnesota had one of the most productive offenses in 2014 a trend that could continue if Brian Dozier (Kyle Seager 2.0), Danny Santana and Oswaldo Arcia can continue to develop and Kennys Vargas can build on an impressive debut. Look for some of the Twins vaunted prospects to make their MLB debuts in 2015. The Twins should be better, but they aren’t ready to compete for the division yet. Look out AL Central 2017.

MLB Divisional Preview, Part 2: NL West- Go Padres!

The wins under each team are the actual 2014 wins, the Steamer projected wins, and then Conwaywest and JDCam predictions (JD Cam’s team finish in the division is in parenthesis).

As successful as the Giants have been in the past few postseasons, the division they hail from definitely leaves much to be desired. The NL West had the least wins of any division in baseball in both 2013 and 2014, and 2015 looks like a mixed return for the five teams. The Dodgers got better, as did the Padres, but the rest of the division did not. In fact, the Giants slipped slightly, from a season where they already slightly overperformed. In this weak division, the key for me will be whether the Padres can beat up on the Diamondbacks enough to make the postseason.

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers

2014: 94 wins; Steamer 2015: 91 wins; Conwaywest: 96 wins; JD Cam: 97 wins (1st)
In: Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, Brandon McCarthy, Yasmani Grandal, Brett Anderson, Joel Peralta, Joe Wieland
Out: Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Dee Gordon, Tim Fedorowicz

Things to like: Clayton Kershaw; team defense improvements; Yasiel Puig’s continuing development; excellent farm system backing up experienced core; proven production at every position.
Things to worry about: aging position players; lack of roster flexibility due to massive contracts; continued lack of performance in playoffs.

The Dodgers of recent years prove the fickle nature of baseball. The past years, they have tried to throw money at all their problems, with somewhat disappointing results, all to show that money doesn’t necessarily equate to success in baseball. The bullpen was old and expensive, and up the middle had aging and expensive players who didn’t feel catching the ball was in their job description.

With Andrew Friedman now at the helm, the Dodgers will attempt to win while also being cost effective. It’s a truly unfair proposition: the Dodgers have baseball’s largest payroll, a top 5 farm system, and now management with a plan for all of it. Rollins and Kendrick are perfect fits: solid, varied skill sets on short term contracts, so they don’t block the young guns developing in the farm system. Those two, Grandal and rookie CF Joc Peterson will be huge upgrades defensively, and should hit some, too. McCarthy is an underrated starter and FIP hero, who should benefit from this improved defense and round out an excellent rotation.

Yasiel Puig should continue on his path to superstardom for the Dodgers in 2015.

While losing the bats of Ramirez and Kemp will hurt, the team should field better and still has reliable production at every position. The big question for this team is expectation. Is it Pennant or bust? World Series or bust? The ownership group isn’t spending all this money to flame out in the Divisional round every year. How I see it, this may be the year the Dodgers exceed our expectations, and if they don’t, big changes may be in order.

  1. San Diego Padres

2014: 77 wins; Steamer 2015: 82 wins; Conwaywest: 81 wins; JD Cam: 79 (3rd)
In: Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, James Shields, Derek Norris, Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, Shawn Kelley, Brandon Maurer, Clint Barmes
Out: Yasmani Grandal, Rene Rivera, Seth Smith, Joe Wieland

Things to like: a rotation that goes 6 (or 7or 8) deep; more home runs!
Things to worry about: Who plays first? Or short? Or third? And will anyone catch the ball?

The team that made the biggest splash in the offseason also was the most talked about in the media. As we have covered here, relevance can never be a bad thing. Myers, Upton and Kemp all can mash, and give a huge upgrade in the middle of the lineup. Shields will lead a rotation that figures to be strong and deep. If they get anything close to past success out of oft-injured starters Morrow and Johnson, this could be one of the best rotations in baseball.

All this optimism is great, but the reality of the Padres is they have a decent (but new!) outfield with an atrocious infield. They have a stellar rotation and a solid bullpen, but without good team defense (is there a single plus defender that will play?) and losing their pitch framers (Grandal and Rivera were the best tandem in baseball at receiving last year), the run prevention may not improve all that much. So with all the shuffling, I only see an actual improvement of 3-4 wins. If everything breaks their way, they could be this year’s Royals. If not, at least they are a ton more fun, right?

The Padres got a host of new faces, but how much better will they be?

  1. San Francisco Giants

2014: 88 wins; Steamer 2015: 83 wins; Conwaywest: 80 wins; JD Cam: 84 wins (2nd)
In: Nori Aoki
Out: Pablo Sandoval, Mike Morse

Things to like: Buster Posey; Brandon Crawford’s defense; outfielders who make contact.
Things to worry about: Madison Bumgarner’s innings from 2014 carrying into 2015; replacing Sandoval; rotation injury concerns.

The defending champs lost some pieces this offseason, but the biggest concern is the story of 2014: the Giants were an 88-74 team that played out of their heads through May (36-20, best record in baseball). Then they finished below .500. Which team do I think these Giants are?

I am leaning to the second half team of last year. Posey is undeniably awesome, Brandon Belt is way underrated and I wish there were 20 Hunter Pence’s in MLB. But this team is mediocre, especially when Bumgarner doesn’t pitch half of their innings like he did against the Royals last Fall. The rotation is old and oft-injured, without much depth. Their bullpen is ok. This team screams .500, much like they were if you take May away last year.

Few teams have ever rode two players more than the Giants rode Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner last fall.

In 2011 and 2013, the past two chances to defend their title, the Giants limped out the gates (under .500 both years in March/April) and didn’t make the playoffs. I see the Giants missing out on that second wild card, and missing the playoffs for the 3rd consecutive title defense.

  1. Colorado Rockies

2014: 66 wins; Steamer 2015: 77 wins; Conwaywest: 74 wins; JD Cam: 74 wins (4th)

In: Kyle Kendrick, Nick Hundley
Out: Michael Cuddyer, Brett Anderson

Things to like: Nolan Arenado and Corey Dickerson continuing to improve; Jorge De la Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin actually being good pitchers; Wilin Rosario hitting
Things to worry about: Troy Tulowitzki’s health; getting 4,400 outs from demoralized pitchers; Wilin Rosario catching;

Colorado, by many mainstream analysts, continues to have the same problem: Coors Field kills their pitching staff. After looking at performance weighted by ballpark, however, it may not be the whole staff that kills the team. The team pitching WAR is middle of the pack, and the staff is led by two solid starters in Chacin and De la Rosa. The bullpen is decent with some power arms. The staff may be shallow at the back end, but a mid-level rotation can’t take all the blame for the Rockies continued shortcomings.

The problem may be the dead spots in their lineup. Second base is a weakness for this team, and no one hits away from home. Last year, the team had to give 300 plate appearances to Josh Rutledge, who was not very good. The team is optimistic to lessen these dead spots, with a healthy Carlos Gonzalez and Tulowitzki, who is still the most valuable shortstop in the game while playing 120 games every year. They also hope that Nolan Arenado can continue his offensive development to compliment his elite defense.

Nolan Arenado: the human highlight reel.

The Rockies deal with unique problems: the mental effect of pitching at Coors field is undeniable, as is the ballpark’s negative effects on outfield defense metrics. These factors contribute to something we have known for some time: the Rockies are hard to project. This Rockies team has a fairly high ceiling, but a fairly low floor. They are a just-below-average ballclub, which can be the most uninteresting type.

  1. Arizona Diamondbacks

2014: 64 wins; Steamer 2015: 74 wins; Conwaywest: 69 wins; JD Cam: 65 wins (5th)
In: Yasmany Tomas, Jeremy Hellickson
Out: Didi Gregorius;

Things to like: Paul Goldschmidt being awesome; Tomas hitting a few baseballs far; AJ Pollock being an average MLB regular (you have to reach for positives with this team)
Things to worry about: Mark Trumbo playing a lot; a guy named Tuffy Gosewisch being their #1 catcher on the depth chart; any pitcher throwing strikes

The Diamondbacks look bad for 2015. They have two good defenders (Goldschmidt and Pollock), one hitter who is not terrible (Goldschmidt), and pitchers who struggle to throw strikes consistently. When they did throw strikes in 2014, they were bottom 5 in home runs allowed. Adding Jeremy Hellickson to the mix won’t make matters better on the home-run front. This is a bad team, showing the effects of foolish front office decisions over the past few seasons.

Kicking the Diamondbacks while their down is easy. Let’s focus on some positives: Goldschmidt is in the conversation for “Best Player Not Named Mike Trout” (Andrew McCutchen also may have something to say about that). Tomas can hit the ball far, if they can figure out where to play him (an if he makes enough contact to play). And the Dbacks have some really good upper level minor league arms in Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley, and Aaron Blair (although the all have question marks coming into 2015). Lastly, Randy Johnson is going into the Hall as a Diamondback! Unfortunately, this might be the biggest thing for Arizona fans to look forward to this year. It will also give Arizona fans a great reason to remember the good old days:

AL-West

Divisional Preview, Part 1: AL West – the best division in MLB?

By Conway West 02.06.15

Now that football season is over, JDCam and I will take a look at each division in baseball, highlighting things we are excited about. Up first is the AL West. After these columns, we will dig a little more in depth into teams. The wins under each team are the actual 2014 wins, the Steamer projected wins, and then Conwaywest and JDCam predictions (JD Cam’s team finish in the division is in parenthesis).

The AL West went from the weakest (by wins) in 2013 to the second strongest in 2014, trailing the AL East by 1 win. In 2013, the Rangers infamously made game 163 in large part due to beating the snot out of the hapless Astros (51 wins). The Mariners and  Angels wildly underperformed in 2013 as well.

 

In 2014, the Mariners and Astros improved by 16 and 19 wins, respectively. Neither of these teams improved as much as the Angels, who had the best turnaround in baseball with a 20-win positive swing. Coming into 2015, every team in the AL West feels like they have a solid chance to make the playoffs – every team feels their stock is at least stable, if not on the rise. With an ever-improving Astros, and the Mariners hitting their prime, this division should challenge the AL East for the best in baseball.

 

1. Seattle Mariners

2014: 87 wins; Steamer 2015: 89 wins; Conwaywest: 90 wins; JDCam: 87 wins (2nd, WC)

In: Nelson Cruz, Justin Ruggiano, Seth Smith, JA Happ

Out: Michael Saunders, Chris Denorfia, Brandon Maurer, Kendrys Morales, Justin Smoak, Chris Young

 

Things to like: King Felix (and Felix Day); Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager; bullpen depth; young promising rotation arms; new acquisitions; Mike Zunino’s pitch framing.

Things to worry about: consistent offense from someone besides Cano and Seager; rotation’s recent injury history; Mike Zunino’s plate discipline.

 

The Mariners built on their 2014, which finished one win short of the postseason, with a solid offseason, where they got less lefty-heavy and didn’t lose major pieces (in fact, Kendrys Morales may be addition by subtraction). With a talented young core supplemented by the big name free agent Nelson Cruz, it would take a lot for the Mariners to go backwards this year. As long as they get something out of the Ruggiano/Smith platoon, and the James Paxton/Taijuan Walker starter duo stays healthy, Mariners look prime for the postseason for the first time in 13 years.

 

Seattle fans might have more to cheer for than just the King’s Court this season.

2. Oakland Athletics (wild card)

2014: 88 wins; Steamer 2015: 84 wins; Conwaywest: 86 wins; JD Cam: 82 wins (3rd)

In: Billy Butler, Ike Davis, Brett Lawrie, Ben Zobrist, Tyler Clippard, Marcus Semien, Kendall Gravemen, Sean Nolin, Josh Phegley.

Out: Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, John Jaso, Derek Norris, Jed Lowrie, Jason Hammel, Alberto Callaspo, Jonny Gomes.

 

Things to like: Bevvy of MLB-caliber young arms, led by near-elite Sonny Gray; plate discipline; Zobrist’s and Stephen Vogt’s versatility; Lawrie’s potential; team defense.

Things to worry about: lack of elite talent/production; extreme lack of infield depth; Billy Butler in 2015 looking like Billy Butler in 2014; lots of innings from unproven pitchers.

 

No team radically changed their roster more than the A’s, who confused media and fans alike by their offseason. While no one has to agree with what Billy Beane did this offseason, any baseball savvy mind should understand the intent: get younger, cheaper, and don’t lose any wins. He nearly accomplished it: as stated in a previous article, the A’s lost a couple wins now for $12 million in payroll and more youth at the MLB level.

 

The A’s look like the top wild-card contender in the AL. They don’t do anything elite, but don’t have any gaping holes, and turn more batted balls into outs than anyone. This is a team built for regular season success, and I believe they have all the makings of a contender again in 2015, even if we can’t name half their lineup.

 

Stomper may be the only thing with an Oakland A’s jersey that won’t be traded in the coming months.

3. Los Angeles Angels

2014: 98 wins; Steamer 2015: 84 wins; Conwaywest: 82 wins; JD Cam: 88 wins (1st)

In: Andrew Heaney, Josh Rutledge, Matt Joyce.

Out: Howie Kendrick, Gordon Beckham, Jason Grilli, Kevin Jepsen.

 

Things to like: Mike Trout and his great contract; Garrett Richards ‘ return; league-leading offense.

Things to worry about: Josh Hamilton and his awful contract; Garrett Richards’ knee injury; rotation #2-5; Will Joe Smith be good in the bullpen again?

 

The Angels were baseball’s most improved team last year, and still have some room to grow in 2015. Josh Hamilton could turn around his steep decline in recent years and be productive, and last year’s bullpen started dreadful to finish the year as one of the league’s best. I am also a huge Garrett Richards fan, and believe he could be a Cy Young winner if he recovers from the gruesome knee injury he suffered in September of last year. And of course, Mike Trout will keep being Mike Trout.

Unfortunately, I see many of the Angels pieces regressing this year. One of these years, Jared Weavers loss of velocity will hurt him, and the rest of the rotation has some question marks. Losing Howie Kendrick hurts, and there are no good replacement options. No one in the bullpen looks like they will be shut-down option. I see this team sliding just slightly, and with the division getting better, this could mean 15 less wins.

 

4. Houston Astros

2014: 70 wins; Steamer 2015: 78 wins; Conwaywest: 78 wins; JD Cam: 76 wins (5th)

In: Evan Gattis, Colby Rasmus, Luis Valbuena, Dan Straily, Jed Lowrie, Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson, Hank Conger.

Out: Dexter Fowler

 

Things to like: Jose Altuve’s contact skills; 600 PAs from George Springer; Dallas Keuchel’s remarkable renaissance; Chris Carter’s raw power.

Things to worry about: swing-and-miss rate for Astros not named Altuve; corner infield production; back end of the rotation.

 

The Jose Altuve Jump Swing. Not too many humans can do that.

Could the Astros be a winning team in 2015? Seemed almost unthinkable late in 2013, when they lost 111 games and had so little to even build on at the major league level. Things are different now, as the usually tight-fisted ‘Stros went out and bought a couple high-end relievers, a couple bats, and traded for Evan Gattis. This builds off their formidable young core of Altuve, Springer, Keuchal, and soon-to-be Carlos Correa.

 

As these young guns develop as bonafide stars, the Astros could see their multiple-year tanking strategy pay off. They won’t win the division this year, but if 2015 can prove to be a turning point where they get above .500. I don’t see it happening in this difficult division, but they still could improve by 10 wins.

 

5. Texas Rangers

2014: 67 wins; Steamer 2015: 78 wins; Conwaywest: 74 wins; JD Cam: 80 Wins (4th)

In: Yovani Gallardo, Ross Detwiler…. Can Prince Fielder count?

Out: Alex Rios, Neil Cotts, the injury curse of 2014.

 

Things to like: Adrian Beltre continuing to defy time; Yu Darvish leading a solid top 3 starters; the possibility of Jurickson Profar; strong pedigree of success from core players.

Things to worry about: staying healthy; residual effects of injuries; playing defense; offense is still a couple hitters short.

The Rangers are one of the more peculiar cases of 2015. Riding the recent success of 2 World Series appearances, the 2014 team looked to improve by supplementing their aging core with an elite farm system and marquee aquisitions. Adding Prince Fielder to the mix also gave reason for optimism in Texas. None of that panned out. Texas had more DL days than any other team in baseball by 3 full seasons (2100 games worth!).

 

The Rangers may need more than just a healthy Darvish to return to the postseason.

With the high hopes of 2014, many could think that 2015 is a new year, bringing the wins back to North Texas. I don’t see this happening. Shin-soo Choo, Fielder, Gallardo and Beltre all have seen their best seasons already, and although Beltre is still elite, the others are not. This team could not field last year, either, a trend that won’t be reversed by adding Fielder and Choo full time. And there are concerns about the health of Darvish; without him, the Rangers may rely on some weak back-end rotation arms. I see another disappointing season in Arlington, giving the Rangers tough decisions on how they will build for their future.

Schneider

Schneider Creating a Lasting Winner in Seattle

by JDCam 02.01.15

John Schneider is on a mission. With the Seahawks miraculous come from behind victory over a stunned Green Bay in the NFC Championship game, Schneider could be on the verge of an improbable Super Bowl double, which would push him into the upper echelon of executives across all of the major four US sports, not just football. Schneider possesses a remarkable blend of self-belief, ambition and an acute and expert eye for player talent, particularly under the radar player talent. In 2010 Schneider said of the Seattle franchise that he had been handed the keys to just weeks earlier; ‘I won’t be totally jacked up until we start winning championships and other teams are calling to acquire our players’. Part one achieved. His second stipulation maybe more difficult however, as few players who match Schneider’s thirst for success seem to want to go anywhere anytime soon.

Schneider first worked in the NFL as a scout for the Green Bay Packers. From there he worked in a variety of roles for the Chiefs, Seahawks, Redskins and Packers for a second stint before being brought on as Seattle’s GM a week after the Pete Carroll hiring in 2010. One of Schneider’s first major moves in 2010 was acquiring Marshawn Lynch from the Buffalo Bills for fourth and fifth round draft picks spread out over two seasons. What a bargain that turned out to be, but then, Schneider has always had an eye for an undervalued player.

In his almost five years as Seattle’s GM, Schneider has been the poster boy for balancing building a franchise through the draft and spending wisely in free agency. This is not to say Schneider hasn’t made mistakes (Percy Harvin cough), he has however, accepted them and limited the damage they caused.

Rewinding to the 2010 draft, Schneider’s first with the franchise and the night that really made the Seahawks. Seattle was in the enviable position of having both the number 6 and 14 overall picks courtesy of a trade with Denver in a loaded draft. Schneider made the most of his first two picks, tabbing Russell Okung, a refrigerator sized offensive tackle sure thing good for the next decade or as long as the Seahawks keep him. With the number 14 pick, the Seahawks took Earl Thomas, who has since become the best safety in the league. Schneider’s most surprising victory, it has emerged, came in the 5th round, where he took Kam Chancellor with the 133rd overall pick. Chancellor has combined with Thomas to become part of the most formidable backfield in the league, with his unusual combination of size and speed proving tough to ward off.

Chancellor has become the perfect compliment to Earl Thomas

Chancellor has become the perfect compliment to Earl Thomas

In 2011 Schneider was back at it, proving that the most legitimate contenders not only create depth from the draft but hit the lottery on their later picks. Schneider’s consistency in the later rounds however, is too frequent and too impressive not to turn heads. The Seahawks most impressive contributors again came in later rounds, with K. J Wright being drafted in the 4th round (99th overall), Richard Sherman (an All-Pro in consecutive seasons, in the 5th round (153rd overall), and Malcolm Smith in the 7th (242nd overall). While Sherman’s outspoken and thoroughly entertaining success is well documented, Smith is the definition of a clutch contributor, catching Colin Kaepernick’s ill fated, Sherman tipped pass in the NFC Championship game before a pick six, forced fumble MVP performance in the Super Bowl XLVIII stomping of the Denver Broncos.

Schneider’s uber-drafting will no doubt continue, Seattle’s anemic receiving corps already receiving a boost from Luke Wilson, a 2013 5th round pick out of Rice (anybody betting against Paul Richardson or Kevin Norwood become significant contributors moving forwards)? As is the case with most pro sports and particularly football, Seattle will eventually fall victim to its own success. Thomas and Sherman have already been paid, (Sherman’s ‘I know what it feels like to be a 1st rounder’ comment ringing ironically and painfully on the ears of GMs who didn’t consider him in the draft’s earlier stages). Russell Wilson is up next, his current $798,000 salary as part of his rookie contract being arguably the best value deal in the league. Wilson needs to get paid, which will undoubtedly be a hit on Seattle’s salary cap flexibility.

Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith is a prime example of a late round contributor for the Seahawks D

Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith is a prime example of a late round contributor for the Seahawks D

If Seattle repeats they will face the inevitable burden of an increasing number of free agents looking to cash in on championship success. With few key pieces becoming impending free agents however, extending Wilson will remain the Seahawks top priority. Schneider’s greatest challenge ahead may lie in the Seahawks 2016 class of free agents, a truly formidable group. Seattle will certainly not become the 2014 Baltimore Ravens. If there is one constant in Seattle, it will be Schneider. His ability to seek out undervalued and overlooked players may give Seattle the ability to replicate the long term success of their Sunday opponent, the New England Patriots, the last team to repeat as Super Bowl champions.