MLB 2015 Preview – Baseball is Back!
The hot stove was absolutely smoking over the winter, with players moving all over the place, crazy contracts being signed, and even a new commissioner sitting down at the head of the Major League Baseball table for the first time in 23 years. And while the thermometer might not be showing it in many parts these days, Spring has officially sprung in Florida and Arizona with MLB teams reporting to camp, and it will soon be time to call "play ball" for a new season on the diamonds.
So what’s it all mean? Who’s landed where? Who looks good, who needs more seasoning and who’s going nowhere fast? Here’s a run through the baseball gamut as we look at each team’s chances for the 2015 season.
American League East
A year after surprising many in the baseball world by winning 96 games, the O's won't be sneaking up on anybody this year. The team suffered two substantial losses with the departure of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. With no significant additions, fans in Baltimore will be relying on their big three of Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Chris Davis to stay healthy (and clean) enough to post some monster numbers and carry the Orioles back to the post season.
Toronto Blue Jays
After teasing their fan base for the past two seasons, the Jays brought catcher extraordinaire Russell Martin back home to Canada and traded for one of the top third basemen in the league in Josh Donaldson. If nothing else, a line up with Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnaciòn at its heart has to be fun to watch. After a couple of misfires in recent seasons, this year is looking like a make or break year in Toronto.
Boston Red Sox
Following a disappointing 2014 campaign, the front office in Boston brought in veterans Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to mix with upcoming youngsters like Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo and Xander Bogaerts. The reality is that quite a few things have to go right for Boston to challenge, including progress from the youngsters, Ramirez making the adjustment to life as a left fielder in the shadow of the Green Monster and Dustin Pedroia staying healthy.
New York Yankees
Speaking of question marks, there are more of them in Gotham this year than there are on the Riddler's green suit. Is Didi Gregorius really Derek Jeter's heir apparent? Can CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda stay healthy enough to anchor the rotation? Do the likes of Stephen Drew, Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira have any tread left on the tires? And oh yea, what about the whole Alex Rodriguez thing? As the Bronx Turns may be a soap opera of epic proportions in, but it's bound to make scintillating viewing if nothing else.
Tampa Bay Rays
Joe Madden, Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and Wil Meyers? Gone. It will be hard to replace so much offensive production and a manager with a proven track record of working with what he's given. Evan Longoria is still in town, and pitching staff that includes Drew Smyly, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi give the folks on the Bay some reason for hope. Runs might be hard to come by, though, which means the Rays are going to need every bit of that pitching to keep them in ballgames.
American League Central
While the Tribe have some issues defensively, they are loaded with young talent and pitching. Left fielder Michael Brantley, first baseman Carlos Santana, second baseman Jason Kipnis and catcher Yan Gomes are all coming into their primes. Add in some solid pitching from the likes of Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, the playoffs are a distinct possibility on the banks of the Cuyahoga.
The last four AL Central titles have gone to the Motor City, and there's no reason to think they won't give it up this year without a fight. Max Scherzer has moved on to richer pastures, but David Price can step in. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez bring lots of punch at the plate, so plenty of offense and pitching to go around, though Justin Verlander could use a bounce–back year.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals brought small ball back into fashion while making their first World Series run since 1985, but the loss of James Shields, Billy Butler and Norichika Aoki will hurt The brass in KC will be hoping that Yordano Ventura is ready to be an ace and that there is still some magic left over from last year.
Chicago White Sox
Credit the front office on Chicago's South Side for going out and bringing some talent to add to the likes of Chris Sale and Jose Abreu. Pitcher Jeff Samardzija, outfielder Melkey Cabrera and first baseman/DH Adam LaRoche are all upgrades, but there are still big holes at catcher, third base, second base and the back of the rotation.
The Twins have the highest ranked farm system in baseball, which means it will be a few years before the talent starts to filter through to the big leagues. Look for baseball's top prospect Byron Buxton to make it to Target Field this season, if he can stay healthy.
American League West
Los Angeles Angels
After winning 98 games a year ago, MVP Mike Trout and the Halos will be looking to get back to the playoffs for a second straight year, but it's hard to see them equalling last year's win total. The rotation is solid, but Jeff Weaver and C.J. Wilson might not be what they once were, and the loss of second baseman Howie Kendrick will hurt. That doesn't mean they aren't the team to beat out west.
The M's brought in Nelson Cruz to add some much–needed pop from the right side of the plate. Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager are rock solid at second and third base, respectively, and Felix Hernandez remains "King Felix". It's not too hard to see Seattle equalling or exceeding their 87 wins of a year ago to challenge for the division title.
GM Billy Beane is known as a gambler, and he rolled the proverbial dice once again, completely remaking a team that won 88 games and held on for a wild card berth. Shipping the team's most valuable player, Josh Donaldson, to the Blue Jays for Brett Lawrie was a bit of a head scratcher, and with a whole slew of new faces taking the field, it's hard to know what to expect by the bay this time around.
Evan Gattis and Jed Lowrie head to the Lone Star State, where the lineup has a lot of pop but whiffs a lot. Houston may not be as bad as they were a couple of years ago, but that's not saying much.
The Rangers look to put an injury–filled season behind them and get banner years from Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder, as well as contribution from newcomer Yovani Gallardo, who joins Yu Darvish and Derek Holland in the rotation.
National League East
It's World Series or bust this year in the Nation's Capital. Not content to rest on their laurels after a 96–win season, the Nats gave pitcher Max Scherzer 210 million reasons to come to D.C. and join a rotation that was already one of the best in baseball. 100 wins is by no means out of the question for a team that, on paper anyway, has no real weaknesses.
New York Mets
After years of futility in Queens, the Mets are finally showing signs that they might be able to stay in contention for a post season berth. Matt Harvey returns from Tommy John surgery to join Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom and Zack Wheeler in the rotation. A healthy David Wright and an encore performance from first baseman Luke Duda could lead to post season play in Citi Field come October.
The NL East was certainly the division of the big spenders, with the Marlins locking up Giancarlo Stanton with a $325 million contract extension. The hope is that he comes back from being hit in the face with a pitch late last season to once again be one of the most exciting players in the league. There is hope in Miami this year, and a run at the wild card is not out of the question.
As good as things are at the top of the division, they are bad at the bottom. The Braves officially shifted into rebuilding gear by jettisoning Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis for prospects and hope they are ready to compete by the time their new stadium opens in 2017.
The Phils managed to unload Jimmy Rollins, and they'd be happy to move anything that's not nailed down, including Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard to build for the future. But for now, things look bleak in Philly.
National League Central
There is a lot to like about the Bucs. They have one of the best outfields in the game, led by MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen. They score a lot of runs, have great depth, play great defense and their pitching is sneaky good. The loss of catcher Russell Martin hurts, but maybe not as much as at first glance. The Pirates will be in the hunt once again, me hearties.
St Louis Cardinals
The Cards always seem to find ways to stay in the hunt, and there isn't a lot of reason to expect differently this time around. Jason Heyward will be an upgrade in right field, and while they can't afford drop–offs from veterans such as Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta, an infusion of young talent and a wealth of pitching depth should keep the Redbirds in the running for a fifth consecutive playoff berth.
Manager Joe Madden and veteran pitcher Jon Lester come to Wrigleyville to join a host of top prospects such as Chris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Jorge Soler. The Cubbies are definitely getting closer and should be fun to watch this year, but a bit more seasoning might just be required.
The Crew will rely heavily on Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, a Ryan Braun comeback and improvement from shortstop Jean Segura. Even if all of those pieces come together, it's hard to see the Brewers much above .500 at the end of the season.
The Reds are another team that has some talent with the likes of Johnny Cueto, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, but nothing to suggest they will be much better than average either.
National League West
After winning the division last season, the Dodgers overhauled their lineup, parting ways with Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez, while bringing in Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick as defensive upgrades. Yasiel Puig is still electric, and rookie Joc Pederson will be one to watch in center field. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are still the best one–two pitching punch in the game, and the Dodgers will be hoping to go a step farther than last season.
San Diego Padres
The Friars won the off season, bringing in outfielders Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Meyers, infielders Will Middlebrook and Clint Barmes, and their prime catch, right hander James Shields. The Padres will be better, but the question is how much better?
San Francisco Giants
We all know the Giants only win titles in even–numbered years (2010, 2012, 2014). Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse are gone. The Giants barely even made the playoffs last year before going on their amazing playoff run, and there were no significant upgrades in the off season. Pitching has always been a strength in San Fran. The good news is Madison Bumgarner takes the hill every fifth day, but there might be some concerns this year on the other four days.
Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gomez remain top–flight talents, but will they be anything more than trade bait come July? And the pitching? It's a problem.
Apologies to the folks out in the desert, but the D–Backs are a mess these days, and aside from Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo, there isn't a lot to see here.