2014 team-by-team outlooks: What to expect this MLB season
MAR 30, 2014 4:00p ET
For the last six weeks, FOX Sports previewed five MLB teams each week — Monday through Friday — leading up to Opening Night (Dodgers at Padres) on March 30.
Below are final outlooks from Ken Rosenthal, Jon Paul Morosi and Rob Neyer with links to the respective team's preview column.
Enjoy and ... "Play Ball!"
KEN ROSENTHAL: NL EAST
Every season, it seems, people overlook the Braves. I’m tempted to do it again, particularly after the free-agent defections of catcher Brian McCann and right-hander Tim Hudson. The rotation lacks a veteran ace. The bullpen lacks a proven setup man in front of All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel. The offense, unless B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla snap out of it, has too many outs. Yet, even though the Braves’ only additions are super-utility man Ryan Doumit and right-hander Gavin Floyd, they’re talented enough to compete for a wild card – and maybe even surprise the Nationals, just like they did a year ago.
FULL PREVIEW — Feb. 17
It probably would be a stretch to label the Marlins a potential surprise. But the talent in the rotation and outfield is considerable, and the team took steps to improve its infield during the offseason, adding veterans such as Garrett Jones, Rafael Furcal, Casey McGehee and Jeff Baker. Most of the excitement with these Marlins will stem from right-hander Jose Fernandez, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, and right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, one of the game’s top young sluggers. But things could get interesting if new catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia helps gets more out of the team’s young rotation.M
FULL PREVIEW — Feb. 18
NEW YORK METS
Know what I’d like to see? The Mets this season if they had right-hander Matt Harvey. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen, as Harvey will be recovering from Tommy John surgery. And, as much as I liked the Mets’ combined $87.25 million investment in right-hander Bartolo Colon and outfielders Curtis Granderson and Chris Young, the team is short at least one pitcher (Harvey) and one position player (free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew). The Mets ranked 11th in the NL in runs last season. They play in the same division as the Nationals and Braves. They will contend after Harvey returns in 2015. Maybe.
FULL PREVIEW — Feb. 19
The Phillies keep saying they’ll be fine if their veterans stay healthy, but one rival executive says nope, they won’t even be good then. I’m not sure I agree with the exec’s assessment – the Phils’ star power is still impressive – but this team operates with little margin for error in a division that includes two teams that look better on paper, the Nationals and Braves. Yes, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett are a formidable front three, but there is just too much that can go wrong. Don’t be surprised if this team is a major seller in July.
FULL PREVIEW — Feb. 20
I still can’t figure out how the Nationals won only 86 games last season, so it’s not a stretch to see them winning 96 this season — or more. The trade for right-hander Doug Fister makes a fine rotation even better. The signing of free agent Nate McLouth makes a strong outfield even deeper. And while Williams has not managed previously, his attention to detail is a welcome change for a team that seemed to lose focus last season under Davey Johnson. The Nats are loaded, a reasonable choice to represent the NL in the World Series.
FULL PREVIEW — Feb. 21
KEN ROSENTHAL: AL EAST
Only four teams in the majors scored more runs than the Orioles last season, and the Baltimore lineup has gotten even better with the addition of Nelson Cruz. Only three teams, however, had a worse rotation ERA, and the signing of right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez will not necessarily be the answer, given his past inconsistency. The Orioles could get a boost if righty Kevin Gausman emerges or righty Dylan Bundy returns from Tommy John surgery by midseason. The team also has a question at closer, with Tommy Hunter replacing Johnson. Still, if everything clicks, the Orioles will be legitimate contenders.
FULL PREVIEW — Feb. 24
BOSTON RED SOX
The Red Sox can’t help but regress, right? The team lost Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate and (so far) Stephen Drew at short, and its only additions were complementary pieces such as catcher A.J. Pierzynski, outfielder Grady Sizemore and reliever Edward Mujica. Beyond that, the rotation may struggle to recover from pitching three postseason rounds, and the Sox are going young at shortstop, third and in center field. Still, I’m bullish on the defending World Series champions. Xander Bogaerts is a superstar-in-waiting, and the Sox possess enough young talent and financial flexibility to address any other holes.
FULL PREVIEW — Feb. 25
NEW YORK YANKEES
The Yankees spent nearly a half billion on upgrades, and where did it get them? They’ve still got questions at every infield position as well in the rotation and bullpen. Will left-hander CC Sabathia regain his dominance? Will first baseman Mark Teixeira regain his power? Will shortstop Derek Jeter regain his mobility? I could go on, but you get the idea. The additions of right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, catcher Brian McCann, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and right fielder Carlos Beltran will help, but look for the Yankees to miss the playoffs in two straight years for the first time since 1992-93.
FULL PREVIEW — Feb. 26
TAMPA BAY RAYS
The Rays are a reasonable bet to reach the postseason for the fifth time in seven years. The rotation still includes left-hander David Price, and the bullpen figures to be imposing with Grant Balfour replacing Fernando Rodney as the closer. My concern is the offense, which ranked ninth in the AL last season in runs; the Rays, after re-signing first baseman James Loney and adding catcher Ryan Hanigan and infielder Logan Forsyth, still lack punch. Of course, the Rays’ defense is so good that it might compensate for any offensive deficiencies. If this is Price’s last hurrah, it should be fun.
FULL PREVIEW — Feb. 27
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
The Blue Jays won 74 games last season. They finished next-to-last in the majors in rotation ERA. Yet, their only significant addition is Dioner Navarro behind the plate. So, how the heck does this team expect to improve? Better health alone should help — shortstop Jose Reyes, third baseman Brett Lawrie and left fielder Melky Cabrera missed significant time last season, and right-hander R.J. Dickey struggled with back trouble. Young pitchers such as Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek and Marcus Stroman could make an impact, but too much has to go right for the Jays to reach the postseason out of the intensely competitive AL East.
FULL PREVIEW — Feb. 28
JON PAUL MOROSI: NL CENTRAL
We might as well say it now: Wait ‘til next year ... or, perhaps, wait ‘til the year after next year. Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer & Co. are entering their third season on the North Side, and the pace of their rebuild has been slower than expected because of MLB’s new spending limits on amateur talent and a modest payroll in relation to market size. In the near term, the Cubs need more from the few big-dollar players they have: Edwin Jackson, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. The greatest intrigue with the 2014 Cubs is whether they will trade Jeff Samardzija and when prospect Javier Báez will make his debut.
FULL PREVIEW — March 3
It speaks to the Reds’ talent that their 90-win season in 2013 was judged a disappointment and led to the dismissal of manager Dusty Baker. Bryan Price was promoted from pitching coach to manager, and he’s taking over a team well-positioned to earn at least a wild-card berth and possibly win the division. Homer Bailey, 49-45 career record with a 4.25 ERA, will be expected to pitch like an ace after signing a $105 million contract extension. Offensively, pressure is on speedster Billy Hamilton (to win the center-field job) and Ryan Ludwick (to assert himself as the right-handed complement to Joey Votto and Jay Bruce). If Hamilton or Ludwick falter, general manager Walt Jocketty should be active on the trade market.
FULL PREVIEW — March 4
However incomplete his admission of PED use may have been, Ryan Braun is back in the Brewers’ lineup to begin the season. He should adapt to his new role in right field, but questions remain about how productive and durable he will be at age 30 – presumably without chemical enhancement. The health of third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who was limited to 92 games last year, is nearly as important to the Brewers’ season as the manner in which Braun responds to the scrutiny he’s about to face. The pitching staff should be better if Matt Garza, Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse perform up to their track records. The Brewers can’t afford a repeat of last year’s 4.20 rotation ERA.
FULL PREVIEW — March 5
The Pirates ended the longest streak of losing seasons in major North American professional sports, returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1992, pushed the eventual NL champion Cardinals to the brink in a thrilling five-game series, and helped a great baseball town fall in love with the sport again. So, what now? If the Pirates are going to improve upon a storybook 2013, they must rely on their farm system after a relatively quiet offseason. Gerrit Cole may need to become this year’s A.J. Burnett, after the veteran signed with Philadelphia, while Jameson Taillon assumes Cole’s role as the star midseason call-up. Keep an eye on Gregory Polanco; the stud right fielder could be in the everyday lineup by June.
FULL PREVIEW — March 6
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
The Cardinals win with a reliable blend of star power and grit, and there’s every reason to expect they will continue doing so in 2014. Jhonny Peralta will receive a lot of attention early – largely because of his PED suspension, but also because the career American Leaguer will be held to a high standard at a demanding defensive position. Newly signed second baseman Mark Ellis is a quintessential Cardinal, and the rest of the lineup returns mostly intact. The Cardinals’ pitching staff is a dream – on paper, at least – with young, inexpensive arms and enough depth to withstand injuries. Michael Wacha’s first full season should be a pleasure to watch after his star turn in the postseason. Outfield prospect Oscar Taveras, slowed by injuries last year, could force his way into the everyday lineup by midseason.
FULL PREVIEW — March 7
JON PAUL MOROSI: AL CENTRAL
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
The White Sox arrived at spring training with an uncommon level of optimism after losing 99 games last year – if not about their chances to win the division in 2014, then certainly the franchise’s overall direction. The immensely respected Paul Konerko returned for one more year as a mentor to Jose Abreu, his replacement at first base. Regardless of their record, the White Sox will declare 2014 a success if Matt Davidson and Adam Eaton establish themselves as long-term everyday players after arriving in separate trades with the Diamondbacks. A winning record is possible if young starters Erik Johnson and Andre Rienzo continue to mature.
FULL PREVIEW — March 10
The Indians were a surprise playoff team in Terry Francona’s first season, finishing only one game behind the wealthier and more talented Tigers. Now the Tribe must try to replicate that success without help from veteran starters Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, who combined to win 23 games last year and left as free agents. If right-handers Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister account for 180 innings apiece – along with an increased contribution from the electric Danny Salazar – the Indians will challenge the Tigers again. The Cleveland lineup is among the most balanced in baseball – with switch hitters Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera – and should improve as Swisher and Michael Bourn become more comfortable in their second seasons with the team.
FULL PREVIEW — March 11
The Tigers have reached the ALCS in each of the last three seasons and are the class of the AL Central until proven otherwise, but there are genuine causes for concern in Detroit. Will the Tigers miss the power of Prince Fielder and the consistency of Doug Fister? How productive will Torii Hunter, 38, and Victor Martinez, 35, be in the final year of their contracts? Starters Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez had heavy workloads in each of the last two seasons. The bullpen isn’t especially deep. Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter in baseball and should help the Tigers win a fourth straight division title, but this could be their last, best chance to win a World Series with the current core.
FULL PREVIEW — March 12
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
The 2013 season was significant in Kansas City for two reasons: The Royals finished with their best record since 1989, and the team’s largely homegrown core – Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Gregg Holland – experienced meaningful September baseball for the first time. Now the Royals face urgency to complete their rebuild and earn a postseason berth, with ace James Shields in the final year of his contract. The Royals boast one of baseball’s top bullpens and play excellent defense, but two major questions remain: Will prospects Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer make major impacts on the 2014 rotation, and can the offense (namely Mike Moustakas) become a little more consistent?
FULL PREVIEW — March 13
The Twins have struggled so profoundly in recent years that their longstanding success in the AL Central – six division titles and nine winning seasons between 2001 and 2010 – has become a distant memory. Twins general manager Terry Ryan was right to focus on upgrading the rotation during the offseason. But even after adding Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, the Twins’ starting quintet lags behind that of the Tigers, Royals and probably Indians, too. Veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki is well regarded for his ability to work with pitchers, which will help as Joe Mauer transitions to first base. Still, it’s hard to envision the Twins cracking the top three in this division.
FULL PREVIEW — March 14
ROB NEYER: NL WEST
For two years, the Diamondbacks have been conducting a fascinating experiment, repeatedly trading players they don’t seem to like much, personally, for players they might like. How has this All-Chemistry team fared? They’ve been exactly OK, finishing at .500 in each of the last two seasons. This experiment seems to have been inspired by manager Kirk Gibson, and of course abetted by general manager Kevin “The Gunslinger” Towers. But the experiment’s in peril, as Gibson and Towers are in the last year of their contracts. So we should all pull for a big season for the D-backs, because without their crazy ‘sperimenting, baseball wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. But that big season seems pretty unlikely with the news that Patrick Corbin’s going to miss it because of an injury.
FULL PREVIEW — March 20
I don’t know, man ... the Rockies? They seem like nice enough guys and I adore their ballpark. But when are they going to start developing some young pitchers? Because until they do, it’s hard to see them competing for another playoff spot without catching lightning in a bottle (as they did most recently in 2009). Remember in 2011, when they traded Ubaldo Jimenez to the Indians and supposedly restocked the larder? The three pitchers they got in that deal, fine prospects all – Joe Gardner, Drew Pomeranz, and Alex White – have combined for an 8-27 record in the majors since the trade. Which is sub-optimal. Maybe sub-sub-optimal. Developing pitchers in Colorado might be even harder than most places, but whatever the Rockies have been doing isn’t working.
FULL PREVIEW — March 17
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Sure, the Dodgers seemed like a lot of fun when Magic Johnson replaced Frank (and Jamie!) McCourt on your video screens. But will Magic still be so loveable when the Dodgers are collecting division titles and Cuban prospects like so many commemorative spoons? Or will Magic instead become the reincarnation of Boss Steinbrenner (West Coast Edition)? Yeah, probably somewhere in the middle. But if the Dodgers really do become the new Yankees, crushing their competition both competitively and financially ... well, somebody’s going to have to step up and do something. But until then, it looks like the Dodgers and their fans are in for a hell of a good time.
FULL PREVIEW — March 21
SAN DIEGO PADRES
It seems like every year we look at the Padres and think maybe this is their year. It’s not exactly clear why we do this; maybe because the Padres seem like sort of a cute franchise, and also because Support the Troops. Or maybe it just seems like the Padres should be better than they’ve been, especially considering they’ve been blessed with sabermetrically friendly general managers for a number of years running. But things never seem to come together for this team, and last year it was because they couldn’t keep their best players on the field. Alas, most of those players are back this year. Along with oft-injured starter Josh Johnson. Good luck with that, you cute kids.
FULL PREVIEW —March 18
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
The bad news is that Tim Lincecum is attempting to remake himself, and so far it’s not going well; in 15 innings he’s struck out only four batters, and seems to have the stamina of a middle-relief pitcher. The good news is that Lincecum struggled in 2012, when the Giants won their second World Series in three years. While the odds are against that happening again, there are reasons for optimism here. Especially on the pitching side. Lincecum might not be any better this season, but you have to love Cain’s chances to better his 8-10 record of last year. You have to love Ryan Vogelsong’s chances to better his 4-6 mark. And with Barry Zito’s contract finally off the books, new hire Tim Hudson will work on his Hall of Fame credentials. Hey, this might actually work.
FULL PREVIEW — March 19
ROB NEYER: AL WEST
Around the middle of last September, the Astros were ... well, they were awful, but they weren’t epically awful. Sure, they had the worst record in the majors and were a mortal lock to lose more than 100 games, but it looked like they weren’t going to be as awful as the pundits thought. That is, until the Astros became the first team in AL history to lose their last 15 games of the season. That left them with 111, easily the most in franchise history. Not to mention their third straight 100-loss season ... the only three 100-loss seasons, by the way, in franchise history. Is a fourth coming in 2014? Probably not. Not with Dexter Fowler added to the lineup, Scott Feldman added to the rotation, and top prospects George Springer and Jonathan Singleton expected to join the big club during the season. On the other hand, they’ve got a fighting chance at the worst record in the majors, and a fourth straight No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft. Ah, rebuilding.
FULL PREVIEW — March 24
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Every team has question marks. Every team, even the Dodgers and the Tigers. But not many teams with the Angels’ financial resources and payroll have as many question marks, big question marks, as they do. Sure, it’s possible that Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton – or both! – will begin to justify their massive contracts. And yes, it’s possible that Hector Santiago or Tyler Skaggs – or both! – will pitch far, far better in the majors than they’ve ever pitched before. These things really are possible! But they’re not particularly likely, which is why the Angels show up in third place in everyone’s projections (well, except for Baseball Prospectus’). Still, there’s plenty of demonstrated talent on this roster, which is why the Angels are worth watching, at least early on.
FULL PREVIEW — March 25
The A’s are the Feel Good Story of ... well, not of Baseball. That would be the Rays. But after winning two straight division titles while operating on a shoestring budget, the Athletics are the Feel Good Story of the West Coast, for sure. Can they make it three straight this season? They can. They probably will not, for the simple reason that they’re little better than the Rangers or the Angels, and perhaps no better at all. They lost closer Grant Balfour, and replaced him with former O’s stopper Jim Johnson. Wash. They lost starter Bartolo Colon, and replaced him with Scott Kazmir. Wash. The rest of the roster is essentially unchanged, except projected rotation-mates A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker have gone down with serious elbow injuries. Fortunately, the A’s are deep in starting pitchers. But that merely allows them to stay even with their competition. Should make for one hell of a pennant race.
FULL PREVIEW — March 26
Just one month ago, it wasn’t really so difficult to look at the Mariners and dream, at least a little. With Robinson Cano aboard, and reclamation projects Corey Hart and Logan Morrison looking to revive their once-promising careers, it seemed that this club might finally score enough runs to support a fine pitching staff. That was before phenom Taijuan Walker and 2012 Cy Young candidate Hisashi Iwakuma went down, Walker with a shoulder problem and Iwakuma with a finger injury. Sure, maybe both of those guys will be in the rotation by May. But the Mariners’ margin for error was already pretty slim. Now it’s a whole lot slimmer.
FULL PREVIEW — March 27
This might have been the Rangers’ season. Hey, it might still be the Rangers’ season. Shin-Soo Choo should score a ton of runs, and Prince Fielder’s power might come back in Texas. But now the Rangers seem ill-poised to take advantage of the Athletics’ injury-plagued rotation, because the Rangers’ rotation is just as injury-plagued. Maybe more plagued! First Derek Holland and Matt Harrison got hurt, and now Yu Darvish is gimpy, too. And the Rangers lost their starting second baseman when Jurickson Profar went down with a serious shoulder injury. Can the Rangers win 90 games with Tanner Scheppers, Joe Saunders, and Robbie Ross in the rotation? Sure they can. Prince Fielder just has to hit 40-odd home runs.
FULL PREVIEW — March 28