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2014 Toronto Blue Jays

Who else will give stability in the rotation other than RA Dickey and Mark Buehrle?
The Blue Jays had a lot of issues last year — many of them stemming from the lack of consistent pitching. The aforementioned Dickey and Buerhle were supposed to be joined in the rotation by Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow to make a very formidable quartet; unfortunately this was not the case, as Johnson and Morrow combined to make 26 unsuccessful starts for the 2012 Jays. This is probably where one could start when trying to see why the Jays only won 74 games. Even though Dickey and Buehrle were both reliable options for the Jays in 2013, they were not the picture of consistency and were not the true aces that would be needed to get through the logjam that is the AL East.

With Johnson now gone for San Diego, the Jays have to figure out who is going to hold the middle of the rotation. Brandon Morrow is a very talented pitcher, but health and inconsistency have hurt his assent to being a good pitcher. A former top 5 pick out of Cal by the Mariners, Morrow has seen his K rate diminish from almost 11 to 7 per 9 innings in his 4 years with the Jays. During the 2012 wherein Morrow had a sub-3 ERA, his K rate was a bit under 8, but he also focused heavily on his ground ball rate and, quite frankly, was a bit more lucky with his BABIP. 2013 was a lost season for Morrow in many ways and for the Jays to be competitive at all during the 2014 season, Morrow needs to give the Jays more stability for the team to be successful.

In fact, considering that Buehrle is more of a work horse than a staff ace and that Dickey is both getting older and loses a bit from his knuckle ball when he is inside of a dome, Morrow may need to be relied upon to be the top pitcher for a winning Jays team. Considering that during his 4 years in Toronto Morrow has only averaged 19 games started, this is would be seen as a reach for even the most optimistic Jays fan.

As for the back end of the rotation, both JA Happ and Kyle Drabek, the projected 4 and 5 starters, have shown spurts of success in the big leagues, but neither are the answer for the Jays. Happ would fit very well in a rotation with pitchers that have pedigree and not in one where he is relied upon heavily, although some in depth analysis of Happ shows promise. He strikes out enough of hitters and is able to pitch himself out of bad situations. On the other hand, Kyle Drabek has been a huge disappointment for the Jays since they received him in the Roy Halladay trade from the Phillies. Drabek has regressed since being called up to the majors in 2010 and has seen drastic issues with his control leading to frequent demotions. A positive experience in the minors in 2013, and a severe cut in walk rate while in the minors, has given Drabek another chance in the big leagues, but patience may be wearing thin in Toronto for the 26 year old.

When will Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman be in Toronto to help the team?
The minor league system for the Blue Jays is not very deep, but there are silver linings in that both Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman are top 100 prospects in baseball and might both be able to help in Toronto this season. Marcus Stroman was taken with the 22nd pick of the 2012 Draft out of Duke and the Jays did not know if he would start or prepare to be the closer of the future for the Jays when the team drafted him and he started his minor league career as a reliever. After a PED suspension, Stroman moved up to AA and moved into the starting role and became a much better pitcher in every statistic.

While with New Hampshire, Stroman solidified himself as a power pitcher with very good control and considering that Stroman was a college pitcher, he is probably not very far from the big leagues. His height at 5’9 may be an issue but with a fastball, cutter/slider, curveball, changeup mix and velocity in the mid-90s, Stroman should not have a problem in the big leagues. If he does not have an issues in AAA, Stroman may even make a very early debut in the majors. There is still a chance that Stroman may break camp on the Jays roster, but that might not be the best of decisions. It is not that his talent should be questioned, in fact he may be a top rookie of the year candidate if he is in the starting five, but the Jays need to see what they have with the pitchers that are already in the projected rotation before they move onto Stroman. If Kyle Drabek is not doing too well or if there is an injury in the rotation or bullpen, the versitility of Stroman would be a huge boost to the team.

In the case of Aaron Sanchez, the 21 year old may need a bit more polish but his upside is much higher than any player in the Jays organization. As with most younger players, Sanchez has had his issues with control, but in his season at High-A Dunedin, he cut his walk rate by one per 9, exhibiting that he has put in the effort to work on his control issues. The Jays would look to get his walk rate into the mid-2s before they see him in the big leagues and he does need to build a bit more command of his pitches, but it would not be farfetched to see Sanchez in the big leagues during the 2015 season. Sean Nolin may also be able to help the Jays from the minors this year as well, but fans of the Jays should look to see both the promising Stroman and Sanchez in the big leagues by 2015.

How can the Blue Jays get the most out of Jose Bautista?
The Blue Jays have two truly elite players on there team, one of which is pretty much a certainty in position in the order and role on the team and the other with the opportunity for versatility that could lead to the team becoming better. Edwin Encarnacion is going to be right in the middle of the lineup and that is a good spot for a player that has developed into a very patient hitter, but, even with the improved approach, he still does not work the count as much. Conversely, Jose Bautista works the count very well and in the five years that he has been with the Jays he has exhibited a proficiency in getting the count in his favor and making the pitchers work. For a team that was middle of the road in on base percentage in 2013, it would be great for the Blue Jays to have a hitter like Bautista to not only work the count but to get on base via walks.

What would be the downside for the Jays is if Bautista loses some of the elite power exhibited throughout his time in Toronto. If Baustista’s focus moves from power statistics to getting on base, this may be a counter-intuitive venture for the team. Although the logic for the Jays to move Bautista to the second spot in the lineup is a sound one, the drop in power may be an issue. When looking at his numbers, there is also a negative trend on his plate discipline and even though this was over a shorter amount of time in the past two seasons because of injury, Bautista might be press a bit too much in the second spot of the lineup and sap the power that he utilized so well.

Essentially this comes down to what the Jays have other than Bautista in the lineup and answering the question of if it better for the team to employ Bautista to drive in runs or for the team to be able to get him on base, and in tandem get the pitchers to have to throw more pitches, and then have enough talent to produce runs from players other than Bautista. This is why guys like Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind need to continue to progress so that the team can thrive. Putting Melky Cabrera or Brett Lawrie ahead of Bautista and Encarnacion in the lineup is not a great idea either, as both hitters are extremely impatient and will not get ahead of the count.

Bautista should be the second hitter in the Jays lineup and be able to maintain his power numbers from the past and the rest of the team should be able to take advantage of the opportunities created by the change in the lineup. Both Bautista and Encarnacion may be able to knock runs in, but it was shown last year that there were not enough opportunities created in front of them to create the big innings that Toronto was looking to capitalize on. With Bautista near the top of the lineup, and with the continued production of Rasmus and Lind, the Jays lineup may be considerably more potent this season.

What will the Blue Jays do about the bullpen?
This may be an odd question considering that the Jays actually had a good bullpen for extended periods of last year. Steve Delabar was an All-Star, Casey Janssen had an ERA in the 2.50s, Brett Cecil was very solid, and Sergio Santos even came off of the DL to look very impressive. So why is there a question about the Jays bullpen?

The issue begins with the fact that the elite relievers in April, May, and June became duds for the remainder of the season. All-Star Delabar and the elite lefty Cecil had ERAs in the 1.50 up until July and, respectively, had a 6.41 and a 5.49 ERA from the month of July on, so the elite relievers from the beginning of the season were not there as the season ended. Even the steady Janssen saw his ERA rise as the season grew longer. Fortunately for the Jays, Sergio Santos was getting healthy at this time and pitching at an elite level so that mitigated some of the issues that the other pitchers were having. Even in the case of Santos, though, there is a long injury history that must be observed before the Jays can rely on him to be a consistent option out of the bullpen.

This question should not only be looked at in a negative light, though. The beginning of this answer should be examined further; the Jays did have a very good bullpen for long stretches throughout the season. The Jays could have a very deep bullpen and they have a huge luxury in their bullpen as well — two left-handed pitchers that they can trust, as Aaron Loup has also been a huge contributor to the Jays cause in the bullpen. Where the Jays’ depth in the bullpen could be useful is if Brett Cecil needs to move back into the rotation for any reason or if any of the younger pitchers discussed earlier would be a part of the bullpen. The Jays have a lot of opportunity to have a truly elite bullpen but they need to make it through an entire season and not tire during the stretch run.

Why are the Blue Jays going to win 81 games?
The Blue Jays will be able to hit the ball and that will make them a tough team to play. There is no way to work around it: any lineup with two hitters that have hit more than 40 home runs in a season, a former batting and steals champion, and a mix of players throughout the lineup that are poised to break out will score a lot of runs. The change in the lineup will also help; with Jose Bautista on base more often and working the pitch totals moreso at the beginning of the lineup, the remainder of the lineup will have greater opportunity to thrive.

The issue is the pitching. The starting pitching is in a rough place right now and, judging by the second half of last season, the bullpen may not be as solid as it looked early in 2013. The 81 wins for the Blue Jays may be very gracious by the end of the season, but there are opportunities that the Jays need to take advantage of. There is the chance that Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman may be all that they are advertised as and they might be able to help the big league team this year. Brandon Morrow’s health is always a question, but if he stays healthy, he will be a great addition to the team. There is no way to say that the team will be 7 wins better than last year, but the injuries did mount up last year and, if the team stays healthy, this year’s team should have a much better outcome.

5 You Know:
1. RA Dickey
2. Jose Bautista
3. Edwin Encarnacion
4. Mark Buehrle
5. Jose Reyes

5 You Will Know:
1. Marcus Stroman
2. Aaron Sanchez
3. Sean Nolin
4. Anthony Gose
5. AJ Jimenez

5 You Should Remember:
1. DJ Davis
2. Daniel Norris
3. Alberto Tirado
4. Roberto Osuna
5. Franklin Barreto

2014 Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Who can the Orioles rely on in their bullpen?
The Orioles bullpen was the lynch pin of their success during the 2012 playoff season and the normalized regression of the bullpen was the difference in the 2013 Orioles season. Coming into 2014, the Orioles are working on a bullpen without a proven closer which may cause even bigger issues than those from 2013. This offseason, the Orioles tried to save some money and traded away their closer, Jim Johnson, to the Athletics and then were on the verge of signing Grant Balfour, only for a physical to go awry. This may not be a great thing for the Orioles, but when you look back at the teams that have made the playoffs in the past, there are a lot of good examples of teams that have had lackluster closer experience.

Where those teams were successful was in correctly platooning relievers and making sure that the right pitchers were pitching in the right scenarios. This is where the Orioles may have some issues; the Orioles may be a bit light in their bullpen. Darren O’Day is an above average middle reliever but he has no closer experience and his stuff may not translate to the ninth inning. Ryan Webb and Brad Brach are nice additions, but they may not be able to make the difference of the Orioles competing or not.

At the end of the day, all analysis of the Orioles bullpen depends on Tommy Hunter. The former starter for the Texas Rangers has transitioned into a bullpen role for the Orioles since the middle part of the 2012 season and has been a solid contributor. Hunter has struck out more and walked less since moving to the bullpen and has focused more on working the zone with his fastball, which has gained more than 4 mph since moving to the bullpen. What the Orioles bullpen comes down to is if Hunter can make that jump from the 7th and 8th inning to the 9th. He has a lot of things that work in his advantage, but there is also the fact that he just moved to the bullpen over the past couple years and that he has changed his approach to pitching a bit. This is not to say that either of those are bad things, but it may be a big jump for Hunter considering that he does not have a lot of experience to begin with.

It is a comfortable assumption that the Orioles will not have a very long leash with Hunter, especially if the AL East gets off to a good start, but he should be able to get by his hiccups and be the Orioles closer throughout the season.

When does Adam Jones get the respect that he deserves?
Adam Jones might be one of the most underappreciated stars in the major leagues. His lack of appreciation may be from his nonchalant attitude in the outfield with blowing bubbles with his bubble gum while trying to catch a ball; it may be that he does not hit a ton of home runs or that he is not very flashy; or it may just be that he is not that interested in the limelight. Chris Davis’ huge 2013 season did not do very much to help Jones either, as Jones was seen as the sidekick to the titanic efforts of Davis. Adam Jones is a star and should be treated as such.

When you look at Jones, the issue with him is what makes him so great; that he is very solid at almost everything while not being truly elite at anything. His streaky nature of hitting and mental lapses may also be detractors, but he is very valuable in the fact that he can do almost everything that the Orioles ask of him. Over the past five years, Jones is basically the poor man’s version of Ryan Braun: combining speed, power, and durability. Unlike Braun, Jones plays a premier defensive position and adds value to the team. There are not very many center fielders in baseball that have 30 home run power, in fact, there is only one other center fielder with multiple 30 home run seasons in the last five years and that is Curtis Granderson who played in the home run haven of Yankee Stadium. Jones was properly respected by the Orioles with the $85 million deal he inked in 2012 and soon the whole baseball world will see the value of the Orioles’ star.

How do the Orioles fill the void of Manny Machado?
Manny Machado is everything that the Orioles could ask out of a 21 year old shortstop. He is versatile enough to play third base, in fact at a Gold Glove caliber, and has even become a better hitter since he started professional ball. His arm strength is elite and the 51 doubles that he turned in last year will quickly turn into home runs as his swing matures. Unfortunately, this season may be a wipe out for Machado because of the gruesome leg injury he got running down the first base line in a September game against the Rays. Machado is going to try to play and is cleared to hit down in Sarasota, but has yet to be cleared to run.

Given this, Orioles fans should get used to Ryan Flaherty at third, which in turn makes Jemile Weeks the starting second baseman. Neither of these are good things for the impending future of the Orioles. Both Weeks and Flaherty are subpar offensively and the advantage of Flaherty’s defensive skill at second will probably be lost at third while he is filling in for the rehabbing Machado.

For the Orioles, they should not rush Machado as his better years are to come and if a leg injury like his is not properly rehabbed, he may lose some of that elite range. There are a lot more Gold Gloves in Machado’s future and it is important for the Orioles to be patient than rush him back. Although the Orioles would be much better off with Machado at third for the duration of the season, they may be able to patch up the infield with a combination of Weeks, Flaherty, and Jonathan Schoop to fill the void left by Machado.

The most optimistic view of the situation would be that Machado is able to take the field by the middle to end of April, but a more realistic view would have him being a designated hitter for a bit and taking over at third by mid May. This may be optimistic for the Orioles considering how bad the injury looked at first glance, but his being cleared for baseball activities is a good sign.

What will the Orioles do with Dylan Bundy this year?
Dylan Bundy was all the rage during the 2012 season, making it from Single A to a September call up in Baltimore. There were still big questions about his workouts and labor throughout high school and the Orioles took it very slowly with him, as he only was allowed to go once through the lineups and was instructed to not throw breaking balls as to not harm his arm and to work on his control. All of the talent was there; the Orioles just wanted to preserve the 19 year old prospect that they drafted 4th in 2011.

In the beginning of the 2013 season, Bundy was having arm trouble that shut him down. By the summer, Bundy had undergone Tommy John surgery and the Orioles were trying to figure out what to do with their prized possession. There is a long history of pitchers coming back stronger from Tommy John, but Bundy is not a normal case. It is common knowledge that Bundy is a fan of long toss to warm up (like Trevor Bauer with the Indians) and he was used to pitching 100+ pitches from a very young age in Oklahoma, throwing hundreds of pitches a weekend even. Given all of this, there was not normal wear and tear on Bundy’s arm as to what you would expect from a 20 year old.

The issue now is for the Orioles not to be scared to let Bundy pitch. The fear for every major league team is that a pitcher gets injured and then they lose him forever because they wanted to stretch those extra 15 pitches out of him; this should not be the case for Bundy and the Orioles did him a disservice in the minor leagues in 2012. The team should not run him out there for 85 pitches, especially not during his rehab, but they need to let him pitch. Bundy’s numbers were outstanding during the 2012 season, but most of them were accumulated while he was only facing the lineup in one turn. The hitters were not getting a chance to adjust to what he was throwing and there was very little to show for Bundy’s stamina in a high pressure situation. In fact, once Bundy did get the opportunity to go a bit deeper, there were a few times when he allowed runs when the pressure was there.

It is best for the Orioles to let Bundy recover from this surgery and not let him pitch until the end of the season, but when they let him pitch again, give him the opportunity to stretch his arm a bit and let him work his whole arsenal of pitches. In the long run that will be best for the Orioles and for Bundy. For the 2014 season, it would be best to keep Bundy in the minor leagues and let him work on extending his arm and arsenal against minor league talent.

Why are the Orioles going to win 84 games?
This team is very strong and has a bright future, but the way that the 2014 season lays out does not look very good for the Orioles. Sadly, teams may only get little opportunities to be competitive and hopefully this is not one of the better chances for the Orioles being lost, but there are too many big questions left unanswered. Who is going to close? Will we see first half of 2013 Chris Davis or second half of 2013 Chris Davis? Will Nick Markakis stay healthy? Will the Orioles add another starter? All of these are massive questions that could not have even been touched on in this article because they are very fluid.

The injuries of Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy do not help either. Judging by the talent level of each of these players, the Orioles had to have hoped that they would be key contributors for the 2014 season and, quite frankly, the team is quite barren and two positions that these talented young players would be outstanding fits for. There is a lot of room for improvement with this team and, fortunately for them, it can be made from inside of the organization but until the team is a whole rather than a bunch of incongruent pieces, the playoffs are not in the near future for the Orioles.

5 You Know:
1. Adam Jones
2. Chris Davis
3. Chris Tillman
4. Nick Markakis
5. Matt Wieters

5 You Will Know:
1. Dylan Bundy
2. Kevin Gausman
3. Eduardo Rodriguez
4. Jonathan Schoop
5. Henry Urrutia

5 You Should Remember:
1. Hunter Harvey
2. Tim Berry
3. Zach Davis
4. Chance Sisco
5. Josh Hart

2014 Preview: New York Yankees

Who is Masahiro Tanaka?
This has been the question that baseball has been asking since there was a buzz created around his coming to the United States; buzz that probably started around the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Tanaka is a 25 year old Japanese pitcher with a stunning arsenal of pitches, especially his split-finger, who has had quite a bit of success in Japan since his debut in 2007 at 18. In looking at his abilities, it is best to look at his NPB statistics against those of his two best contemporaries, Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka. It is fair to compare Tanaka to each of these pitchers because they were all similar ages when they started in the MLB (Darvish was also 25 and Matsuzaka was 26) and each was a top of the line pitcher in Japan.

For measurement’s sake, this will look at a couple key stats: innings pitched per start, WHIP, and strikeout to walk ratio. In Tanaka’s 7 year career in Japan, he averaged 7.6 innings per game started as compared to 7.7 for Darvish and 7.3 for Matsuzaka. When analyzing WHIP, Tanaka posted a 1.11 WHIP, while Darvish was at .985 and Matsuzaka was at 1.14. Finally, in the ever important category of strikeout to walk ratio, Tanaka was at 4.5, while Darvish marked at 3.75 and Matsuzaka was at 2.7. As we have seen, Darvish has rounded into a pretty good pitcher in the big leagues, even with some walk issues, and Matsuzaka was a solid part of the Red Sox rotation until his own pitch count issues did him in with Boston. Given these comparisons and the trends of statistics for each of these players, it is fair to say that Tanaka may not be as explosive as Darvish, but he is a very solid pitcher that will work the zone effectively and get the team deeper in the game.

Both Darvish and Matsuzaka had some walk issues as they transitioned to the MLB, as there is a huge difference between MLB players and NPB players in pitch recognition, and this may be a problem for Tanaka. If one were to hypothesize a reason for the walk issues for both Matsuzaka and Darvish, it was that they had such a huge gathering of pitches and it was tough to grab the strike zone with all of them, particularly their split finger fastballs which had a lot of NPB hitters swinging and missing as they dove out of the strike zone. As the splitter is a key pitch for Tanaka, this is absolutely something to watch during the 2014 season.

The good thing for Tanaka, though, is that he does not have the crazy assortment of pitches like Matsuzaka and he is more like Darvish with the basic four pitch arsenal. Once Tanaka is able to grasp the difference between the MLB and NPB strike zone, there is nothing to keep him from being a solid pitcher in the big leagues. Maybe he does not have the upside of Darvish, but it is not outlandish to predict that he will be a solid number two or fringe number one starter in the big leagues.

When will the Yankees realize how much they miss Mariano Rivera?
Mariano Rivera was the rock and foundation of the back end of the Yankees for the better part of two decades. It would be foolish to say that there will not be a difference made by his retirement, but the impact of his retirement will not be as great as one would assume, particularly for the closer position. In fact, when the Yankees lost Rivera for the 2012 season, they were fine with Rafael Soriano as an All-Star closer. David Robertson may or may not have as much of an impact as a veteran closer like Soriano, but it would be within the realm of possibility that the All-Star reliever Robertson can translate into the All-Star closer Robertson.

That being said, Robertson’s departure to the closer role leaves a large gap in the middle relief and set up roles. Both the inconsistent Joba Chamberlain and the ever reliable Boone Logan leaving will not help the 7th and 8th inning situation for the Yankees as well. The good news for the Yankees is that they signed Matt Thornton to take Boone Logan’s role and Shawn Kelley looked good in spurts while at the end of the game. The big unknowns are two young pitchers that may have a huge impact for the Yankees bullpen in 2014 and beyond. Cesar Cabral is a hard throwing lefty that the Yankees selected in the Rule 5 Draft in 2012 and lost for that season due to Tommy John surgery. Fortunately for the Yankees, the 23 year old came back during the 2013 season and was a strikeout machine in the minors, leading to a September call up to the Yankees, where he was solid in an 8 game audition. If he is able to work on his control, the 24 year old Cabral would be a huge boost to the bullpen.

Another young pitcher that the Yankees need to have make strides is Dellin Betances. The former top 50 prospect as a starter has bounced around a bit and had found a niche in the Scranton bullpen during the 2013 where he allowed one run and struck out 30 while minimizing his walks in his final 19 innings in the minor leagues. The imposing Betances should be able to fill the void left by Chamberlain in the Yankees bullpen and may even be a set up man by the time the stretch run comes around. The impact of Mariano Rivera’s retirement is may not be felt in the closer’s role, but the Yankees will need to shuffle around some players and hope for their younger pitchers to continue their development to fill the void left by the Hall of Fame closer.

How will the big spending of the Yankees affect the development of the younger players?
The Yankees were lauded in the late 1990s and early 2000s for having a seemingly never ending farm system that was fruit for big league stars and young players to involve in the blockbuster trades that the Yankees made. For a long time now, though, this well has dried up and the Yankees farm system is decent at best. There is a ton of opportunity in the minors, though, and the Yankees farm system could bloom into a top farm system if things go right. At the same time, players like Tyler Austin or Mason Williams could continue to regress and Michael Pineda or Manny Banuelos could stay injury prone and the farm system could be even worse off than they are now.

In answering the question posed above, the big spending allows the Yankees to let all of this play out. There will not be a ton of pressure on the younger players to move up the ladder quickly and, frankly, other than middle infielders and relievers, the Yankees do not have pressing needs at the big league level. This is not to say that the Yankees could not use a player like Pineda or Sanchez or Williams at the big league level, but rather it is that the Yankees have spent a lot of money on their big league roster and would like to see return on their investment. There are a lot of players in the minor league system for the Yankees that need a big 2014 season after disappointing 2013 seasons and the spending spree that the Yankees went on this offseason will allow these players to develop at a steady pace rather than feel the pressure of an imminent big league promotion.

What will the twilight of Derek Jeter’s career look like?
As with every person, at some point in life, your skills diminish and you have to walk away from what you were once good at. For Derek Jeter, this realism has to occur quite soon. In almost every way you look at it, Jeter has become weaker and his skill base is eroding. At the best point of Jeter’s career, he was a hitter that could control the field and spread the ball all over the place with his patented inside out swing. Now, he has lost a bit on his swing and cannot get around on the inside pitch as well as he did even two or three years ago and his contact has become weaker, with ground ball rates in the 60% range. Since his speed has also disappeared, this is a bad omen for the soon to be 40 year old Jeter.

What is even worse for Jeter is that his hitting is the reason that he is still playing baseball, as his range is nearly non-existent. It is sad to see the greats go out like Jeter will, but he needs to realize that his time has come to an end. The Yankees need to work diligently at finding a replacement for Jeter in the minors, as the free agent market for shortstops is usually thin, and it was good thing that the Yankees used an early pick on Gosuke Katoh who may be able to bridge the gap. As for the twilight of Jeter’s career here in 2014 and, possibly 2015, expect that he plays about 100 games at shortstop, another 20-25 at designated hitter, and is cautiously used in a way that can optimize what skills he does have left. If Jeter is able to keep his batting average in the high .270s or .280s, the Yankees will be able to accept that along with his leadership and knowledge of the game.

Why are the Yankees going to win 93 games?
The prediction on the Yankees is strongly based in the fact that the past two years that the Yankees have not had superb seasons and have had very good outputs. It is shocking to say that the Yankees have not had a great amount of success considering how much money they spend on their team, but that is the truth. At some point, Joe Girardi may need to be given some credit for managing the egos that the Yankees have and for making sure that they are at the top of their games. Last year’s team had no reason to win 85 games and there is more talent on this team. There are many that are not fans of the Yankees having a lineup that is full of so many older players and, at my count, five different players that will need to play DH this year for some reason or another, but there is a lot to like about this Yankees team. Although Jacoby Ellsbury was a very big reach, all of the other pick ups that the Yankees made this offseason were smart in a financial and player personnel way. This year, a lot of the holes that were there with the Yankees of 2013 should be filled and the Yankees will return to the playoffs.

5 You Know:
1. Alfonso Soriano
2. CC Sabathia
3. Hiroki Kuroda
4. Carlos Beltran
5. Jacoby Ellsbury

5 You Will Know:
1. Masahiro Tanaka
2. Jose Ramirez
3. Mark Montgomery
4. Slade Heathcott
5. Zolio Almonte

5 You Should Remember:
1. Eric Jagielo
2. Tyler Austin
3. Gary Sanchez
4. Mason Williams
5. Ian Clarkin

2014 Preview: Boston Red Sox

What will the Red Sox get from Xander Bogaerts this year?
Right now, there are a lot of good things that people are saying about Xander Bogaerts and there is a lot of reason for that. He is a big, strong kid (yes, kid — he is only 21) and he will only grow into his body more and more as time goes on. Many can say that Bogaerts strikes out way too much for a middle infielder, but he is also not your typical middle infielder, as people see 25-plus home run potential from Bogaerts. Also, his walk rate has stabilized in the 10% range, and that is good for a young hitter. As for this year, Bogaerts should grab the shortstop position from the departed Stephen Drew. An average around .270 and somewhere between 15-20 homeruns with a very incongruent fielding season should be a good rookie campaign out of Boegaerts. That would make him about the same value to the Red Sox in 2014 as Drew was in 2013, but in the grand scheme of things, a top 3 Rookie of the Year performance will be a huge boost to the future of the Red Sox.

Who will be the 5th man in the Red Sox rotation by the end of the season?
On the onset of the season, the Red Sox have a very volatile rotation other than Jon Lester. Between the inconsistency of John Lackey and Ryan Dempster and the injury history of Jake Peavy and Clay Buchholz, it is very difficult to say if the Red Sox will have an elite staff like the one that led them to a World Series title or if the injuries and inconsistency will lead to a lot of round trip journeys to Pawtucket. By the end of the season, for one reason or another, Matt Barnes will sneak into a consistent fifth starter in the rotation. The first pick by the Red Sox in the 2011, Barnes has had some issues with walks throughout his minor league career, but he has blown hitters away at each level since being drafted and will prove his worth in AAA before he makes it up to the Boston roster. This is not an indictment of Allen Webster or Henry Owens, but rather it is an endorsement of the skills of Barnes over them. As stated previously, the Red Sox are set up very favorably in the near future with those three ready to join the rotation with Lester and Buchholz.

Will the Red Sox miss Jacoby Ellsbury?
This could be very simple and to the point, Jackie Bradley Jr. should be worth about two wins less than Jacoby Ellsbury this year. That is very cut and paste and that should be enough to say that the Red Sox will miss Ellsbury. This is not the whole story though. There is the fact that Ellsbury has been hurt throughout his career very frequently and his production has been incongruent. Considering the amount of money that the Yankees paid to get him to come to New York, it is not a shock that the Red Sox let him leave. In a vacuum, the Ellsbury move was one that was bad for Boston, as they do not have a sure thing in Bradley and there is nothing in Bradley’s history that shows that he will be anything better than just above average.

When you look at all of the factors, though, the move is a bit better for Boston. The easiest reason to say that the Red Sox will be fine is that all of the money that would have been spent on Ellsbury can now be given to other players and that the Red Sox do not need to pay an aging veteran a lot of money in the next five years. Also, even though the Red Sox are coming off of a World Series win, the team is looking to build for the future with guys like Bradley and Bogaerts and want to see what they have for the future and want to see if they have in house players that could fuel another run and a profitable future.

What should the Red Sox expect out of Clay Buchholz?
A couple times in this post, I have mentioned Clay Buchholz and I feel like I could write 2500 words just explaining him and the enigma that he is as a player. Throughout his minor league career, Buchholz was a big time strikeout guy and looked that way during his brief call up in late 2007. He also pitched a no-hitter late in the 2007 World Series winning season. Since that time, Buchholz’s entire career has been an elevator and at any time that he seems to figure it out, bigger questions are created; specifically looking at his two best seasons, 2010 and 2013.

In 2010, Buchholz was 17-7 and had a 2.33 ERA which were stellar numbers for a 26 year old, making the Red Sox look at him as the ace for the future. He also, though, only had 6.22 K/9 and 3.38 BB/9. There were good numbers that led to the solid “baseball card” numbers of 17 wins and a 2.33 ERA, but none of that was sustained in 2011 and 2012, although there were moments in 2011 when Buchholz was a good player before he got injured.

Suddenly, in 2013, Buchholz was better than ever, posting a career high in K/9, a career low in BB/9, and minimizing home runs, leading to a sub-2 ERA. Unfortunately, this was done in just over 100 innings pitched and his strand rate was at a career high while his BABIP was at a career low. For the 2014 season, the median should be the norm, as Buchholz’s ERA should be in the mid 3’s and he should be able to contribute 25-28 starts for the Sox. As for the walk and strikeout rates, it is probably best for Buchholz to pitch to contact a bit more and let that walk rate get into the high 2’s per 9. A wise suggestion for his future would be to get a bit more sink on his fastball, as his ground ball rate is alarming low for a pitcher obviously focusing on pitching to contact a bit more.

Why are the Red Sox going to win 86 games?
The 2013 Red Sox were a team on a mission, both to run the table in the AL East and to win the World Series. This year, though, there are some big question that are still similar from the onset of the 2013 season. No one knows about the health of Clay Buccholz or Jake Peavy or even Shane Victorino or Mike Napoli and a team with those many injury questions cannot be seen as a force going forward. That being said, there is a very strong case for the Red Sox exceeding what the predictions say, as John Farrell is a very good manager. As shown last year in the juggling that was done and all of the correct platoons that Farrell played, there is no reason to expect that the Red Sox will be under 90 wins. It is a catch-22 to say that the same reasons that the Red Sox may succeed is why they may fail, but the Red Sox cannot expect guys like Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp, and Daniel Nava to perform at the same level that they were at during the 2013 season and that is why there is a dose of pessimism in the the forecast for the Red Sox.

5 You Know:
1. David Ortiz
2. Dustin Pedroia
3. Mike Napoli
4. Jon Lester
5. Clay Buchholz

5 You Will Know:
1. Matt Barnes
2. Henry Owens
3. Rubby De La Rosa
4. Allen Webster
5. Brandon Workman

5 You Should Remember:
1. Bryce Brentz
2. Garin Cecchini
3. Blake Swihart
4. Trey Ball
5. Mookie Betts

2014 Predictions: Tampa Bay Rays

What is the impact of Evan Longoria on the 2014 Rays?
This is a tricky question to answer, as he is the most important player on the team and he makes this team run smoothly. That being said, he has had some injury and consistency issues in the past and it is very possible that those same issues will plague him during the 2014 season. The positive things about Longoria abound: he fields a tough position very well, he hits for power, he balances the lineup, and he walks a good amount for a power hitter. Yet there are still some questions with the young star. First off is the strikeout rate, which has consistently been in the 20% range, except for the 2011 season. This is interesting to look at because the 2011 season, Longoria had outliers in the positive rate for walk rate and for strikeout rate, yet his patient approach lead to a career low in batting average, most attributed to his ridiculously low BABIP.

This season should be a year for Longoria to really break out and that should bode very well for the Rays. Longoria needs to focus on getting the ball in play, though, because that 2011 season was very fluky and should be looked at as an outlier. As Longoria focuses on stretching out the count and shortening his swing when the count is in the pitcher’s favor, his numbers will get even better. For the 2014 season, an average in the mid-280s with 35-40 home runs and elite defense will make Longoria an MVP candidate.

Is Wil Myers going to turn into a megastar for the Rays?
The 2013 AL Rookie of the Year was everything that the Rays could have expected from a first year player, other than the sometimes suspect defense (see ALDS vs. Red Sox). Considering that, Myers has big expectations for the 2014 season and beyond. When you look at Myers, there is a lot of reason to see a very good player and a few reasons to see just a solid starter. First off, there is the fact that he has jumped around position wise in his time in professional baseball. His days as a catcher and third baseman are behind him, but there was still reason to question his ability to play defense leading to him jumping around. He does have a strong arm, but some of the angles he takes to the ball can be a bit off and that leads to some issues.

Secondly, he strikes out too much. This is an issue for most young hitters so it would be unfair to characterize this as an issue that just plagues Myers, but it is something to look at as he progresses throughout his career. There is a bit of a hitch in his swing, so the strike out issues may not be something that go away. Although I do not see Wil Myers becoming megastar for the Rays, I do see him as a solid contributor, someone that will have upper 20 home run power, play a sufficient right field, and make a couple of All-Star games along the way.

How are the Rays going to manage Matt Moore and Chris Archer?
This question needs to taken in two different ways. First off: are either Chris Archer or Matt Moore that big in the grand scheme of the Rays’ plan and if so which one and how much? In watching Chris Archer, I see stardom in his pitches, his focus, and his delivery. There are certain players that have that IT and Archer has it; his only questions are if he will be able to focus his aggression and emotion on the mound and if he can keep his walk rate near his 2013 MLB level. He needs to focus more on his offspeed pitches, particularly his cutter, and he will be fine.

The analysis of Matt Moore opens up the second question: what can they get from these players? For Archer, they will be getting a decade of advanced pitching. There is no such thing as a sure thing, but looking at Archer, one can see that the moment does not scare him. As for Moore, he will be the next target of a big time trade, either with David Price being traded or Price not being traded. I do not have a huge issue with Moore other than the walk issues, but I feel that there are other teams that may value Moore more (see the pun there!) than he actually should be valued. There are a lot of parallels between Moore and Myers, sadly in a bad way, and I feel like the Rays moreso than any other team in baseball will optimize the value of Moore.

What will be the impact of the next wave of young talent for the Rays?
The Rays are a very solid team that has turned into a superb team by good drafting and developing of players. At this point, though, the well is a bit dry. When you look at the ten prospects below, there are a couple good players that the Rays have in the MiLB, maybe a starter or two, but not that true impact player like the Rays have been rolling off. Going from Longoria to Price to Moore to Myers to Romero/Lee is quite the drop off and the Rays will remedy that accordingly. There will be more than one team that will overspend on David Price and the Rays will make sure to get top flight young talent for him. A team like the Rockies or Phillies, that may be fringe playoff teams, might overspend greatly on Price and fix the Rays minor league issues.

That being said, Hak Ju-Lee should be the shortstop of the future for the Rays and should be a 30 steal player with average hitting and fielding and Taylor Guerreri and Nick Ciuffo are very interesting because they are so young and talented. When you have those three players as middle of the road prospects for the Rays after the big Price trade yields them a big name (see: Eddie Butler from the Rockies or Maikel Franco from the Phillies or a huge package from the Rangers), the Rays will yet again have a top five farm system.

Why are the Rays going to win 89 games?
The Joe Maddon Rays always find a way to be in the conversation to win the division or make the playoffs. He has changed the entire culture of the organization and made it one of the best run teams in the league. Those are the exact same two sentences from the 2013 preview and I do not plan on changing those sentences until Maddon retires. It is nearly unprecedented in the history of baseball that a manager and executive have changed the fortunes of a franchise in the ways that Friedman and Maddon have. The only thing that is missing for the Rays is a World Series title and I have a feeling that there will be a championship in the Rays future soon, as they only get better. All the team does is reload and utilize the players that they have to their maximum utility. Talent wise, this may be the best Rays team ever, so it is not crazy to think that this team could be closer to 95 than 90 wins.

5 You Know:
1. David Price
2. Evan Longoria
3. Ben Zobrist
4. Matt Moore
5. Wil Myers

5 You Will Know:
1. Enny Romero
2. Hak Ju-Lee
3. Alex Colome
4. Jake Odorizzi
5. Kevin Kiermaier

5 You Should Remember:
1. Taylor Guerrieri
2. Andrew Toles
3. Ryan Brett
4. Nick Ciuffo
5. Richie Shaffer