It is only January and the entire free agent puzzle has yet to completely come together. Spring Training has not begun and there will be injuries that affect a team’s forecasted finish as well as their fan bases spirits. However, it is never too early to look at Major League Baseball in 2014 and figure out who just might be a surprise team, who might regress, and who will be rebuilding yet again.
Last season I was dead on with some shocking picks and others I missed altogether. Upon request, this series is rolled back in 2014 removing some of the finer details and hitting the high points for each team. But here we are again and let’s get the ball rolling with the National League West. I could easily see the bottom three in the West changing places depending on injuries.
Last Season: 92-70 (1st in NL West)
Key Losses: Skip Schumaker
Key Additions: Chris Perez, Dan Haren
Yes I know players like Michael Young and Edinson Volquez did not return but they did not improve the roster in their shorts stints making their impacts negligible at best. The Dodgers will return the dynamic Yasiel Puig as well as Hanley Ramirez (now healthy), Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp (if healthy), Carl Crawford and more to continue to control National League pitching. The loss of Skip Schumaker as a super-utility guy will be felt but this is a team full of veteran players that are not over the hill just yet.
The Dodgers are quickly making the Yankees look like a bargain basement team (okay slight exaggeration) with the signing of Kershaw to a seven year $215 million deal. With Kershaw and Greinke locked up long term, the signings of Dan Haren and Chris Perez coupled with impressive youngster Hyun-Jin Ryu and the expected return of Chad Billingsley from Tommy John surgery the Dodgers are poised to continue their 2013 trend of incredible pitching. A back end with Chris Perez, Brian Wilson and Kelly Jansen is formidable for opposing offenses. Anything other than the World Series will be a failed year in Southern California.
Predicted Finish: 98-64 (First in NL West)
Last Season:81-81 (Second in NL West)
Key Losses: Tyler Skaggs
Key Additions: Mark Trumbo
The Diamondbacks were a .500 team last year and they will look to improve in 2014. In 2013 the Diamondbacks were top-5 in runs scored, team batting average, walks and RBI. They also finished sixth in OPS. So what did they do? they added Mark Trumbo and his 30-40 home run power to protect budding star Paul Goldschmidt. AJ Pollock has a full season under his belt and should provide table setting speed for the offense in Arizona.
While they lack a true Ace at the front of the rotation they are a deep squad with youngsters Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley and Randall Delgado mixed in with veteran Trevor Cahill. They were able to trade Tyler Skaggs due to depth in the minors with the likes of Archie Bradley, David Homberg and Braden Shipley. They were a middle of the road pitching staff in 2013 that should step forward in 2014. Do not be surprised to see the Diamondbacks sign one of either Ubaldo Jimenez or preferably Ervin Santana to take the pressure off the front end of the rotation. But even if they don’t they will still be formidable in 2014.
Predicted Finish: 90-72 (Second in NL West)
Last Season: 74-88 (Fifth in NL West)
Key Losses: Dexter Fowler, Todd Helton
Key Additions: Drew Stubbs, Boone Logan, Brett Anderson, Justin Morneau, LaTroy Hawkins
The additions of Drew Stubbs and Justin Morneau are better than most are reporting. Stubbs is a 40 stolen base guy who returns to the National League. He will never hit .300 but he should be able to return to .260 which will be solid enough. Morneau is not what he once was but is an upgrade over retired Todd Helton. Adding them to the already solid core of Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gonzalez and this offense is improved.
The addition of Brett Anderson, if he is healthy, will improve a staff that is in dire need of a step forward. Jorge De La Rosa emerged as the Rockies number one last season winning 16 game with an ERA below 3.50. The other bright spot was Tyler Chatwood who should step forward as a locked in starter. Behind them is a challenge rounding out the rotation. Adding LaTroy Hawkins and Boone Logan will improve the Rockies bullpen but not enough to factor in September. This team will be better than last year and they should see their first winning record since 2010.
Predicted Finish: 83-79 (Third in NL West)
Last Season: 76-86 (Fourth in NL West)
Key Losses: Barry Zito
Key Additions: Tim Hudson, Michael Morse
To say the Giants underachieved last season would be a drastic understatement. While nobody expected this team to explode offensively, finishing in the bottom third of the National League in runs, RBI and home runs was not expected either. Franchise catcher, Buster Posey, did regress in 2013 but still put up numbers that any team would take from a catcher. However, the Giants need more like the 20+ home runs, 100+ RBI and .336 average he put up in 2012. To add pop to the lineup the Giants signed Michael Morse hoping to get a healthy 2011 edition of the outfielder where 30 home runs and 100 RBI are possible.
The usually solid pitching staff of the Giants were third from the bottom in ERA at 4.00 last season which could be directly attributed to the down years of Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain who watched their ERAs climb 2.30 and 1.20 respectively. Tim Lincecum, off a new contract will hope to return to prior than 2012 form. The Giants lost Barry Zito (who always underachieved) but upgraded with the addition of Tim Hudson. Even if Hudson posted an ERA of 3.97 this year it will be an upgrade as the projected number four starter. Ironically the only sure thing in this rotation is Madison Bumgarner who yet again had a phenomenal year. It is weird to imagine “the freak” as the possible fifth starter in the Giants rotation.
Predicted Finish: 82-80 (Fourth in NL West)
Last Season: 76-86 (Third in NL West)
Key Losses: None
Key Additions: Joaquin Benoit, Josh Johnson
Nothing about the Padres pitching staff strikes fear into opposing teams but one thing they are is deep. The question is whether or not anyone will step up to improve a team that hovered near the bottom of the National League pitching stats that mattered. The addition of Josh Johnson should be a benefit every fifth day and provide a veteran presence to the youngsters. Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner both took steps forward in 2013 and it is reasonable to expect another jump. The addition of Benoit will be a boost to the San Diego bullpen.
Offensively the Padres were just not very good which could have been attributed to injuries to Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin. But a poor 201 by Chase Headley did not help. However looking at Headley it could be argued that 2012 was the aberration. The Padres need returns to health by Quentin and Maybin, who finally appeared that he was getting it in 2011 and 2012, as well as steps forward by youngsters Yonder Alonso and Everth Cabrera to factor. Above .500 can happen but they are still a year or two away from contending.
Predicted Finish: 81-81 (Fifth in NL West)