SweetSpot: Cleveland Indians

Carlos Santana settling in at third base

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
Starting with the standard “just a 10th of the way into the season” caveat, one of the things that’s been interesting to check out about the Indians is how much Carlos Santana has been inked into the lineup at the hot corner. That’s because the big offseason experiment with getting Santana in gear to be their in-house answer at third base was one of those things where it would really last.

So far, the Indians have put him out there only 50 percent of the time, giving him eight starts. Five starts at DH and another three behind the plate as the backup catcher have kept him in the lineup every day.
[+] EnlargeSantana
Scott W. Grau/Icon SMIEarly on, it looks like Carlos Santana has adapted to life at the hot corner.

How does that happen? Making every roster spot work for you, even in the reliever-crowded rosters of the present. The rest of the playing time at third has been spread between Lonnie Chisenhall (when he isn’t the DH) and superutilityman Mike Aviles (when he isn’t spot-starting at second, short or left field). There are a lot of moving parts, plus the need to spot lefty-killer Ryan Raburn wherever he fits in any given day (either outfield corner, DH and maybe second base in a pinch).

It’s the natural outgrowth of a playing-time plan where, instead of marooning one guy in the regular DH role, Terry Francona is keeping his 11 best bats rotating through his lineup, with seven-position reserve Elliot Johnson representing his lone true bench player. That will change when Jason Giambi reprises his gray eminence gig once he’s activated from the DL (reportedly Monday), but the G-man won’t get more than 200 at-bats this year.

Now that the games count, Santana hasn’t looked too shabby at third. A lone error, a league-average rate of plays made, nothing too appalling in terms of the early returns from Baseball Info Solutions’ Plus-Minus, Baseball-Reference.com’s Total Zone or FanGraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating. Yes, it’s only eight games, but none of the interpretive metrics have gone Russian judge on us when evaluating Santana’s performance.

So, so far so good. As one AL insider put it to me this spring, “Can he really be worse than [Miguel Cabrera]?” Even if Santana turns out that badly playing just half the time, he still will likely do more than enough damage at the plate to make up for it. His homer Friday got him off the schneid in that department, and the experiment’s looking good early on.

Making the comparison to Miggy makes sense, because just as Cabrera’s move to third base in 2012 was about adding Prince Fielder’s bat to the Tigers’ lineup, the Indians’ decision to give Santana a shot at third is about getting their best bats into the mix. You can see it as comparable to the decisions about where to put Bobby Bonilla in the lineup in the 1990s: No, he wasn’t a great third baseman, but if you found a right fielder who hit better than your alternatives at third base, you could still contend with Bobby Bo at the hot corner -- as the Pirates did -- or win it all, as the Marlins did.

Making a defensive sacrifice at one of the corners is more affordable than ever today, thanks to the game’s offensive environment: More strikeouts than ever mean that the positions that get the fewest chances have even less of an opportunity to affect outcomes on the field. The Giants won in 2010 with a DH (Aubrey Huff) in the corners, the Cardinals won in 2011 with a DH on the field (Lance Berkman), and the Giants won again in 2012 despite Pablo Sandoval’s immobility at third base. Santana? He’s just the latest example of an adaptive strategy to get runs from your lineup while runs are getting more scarce.

The other half of the proposition was that Yan Gomes had to show he could handle playing regularly as the club’s catcher. Here again, the answer’s a happy one, echoing Gomes’ second-half breakout for the Indians last year. At the plate, he’s hitting for the same kind of power, with an Isolated Power clip in the .180s. Behind it, he’s an asset, according to the new catcher framing metrics, plus he’s deterring the running game, with less than one steal being attempted every nine innings, while he has thrown out 4 of 11 attempts already.

The Indians might have other issues as they try to repeat last season’s success, but Carlos Santana at third base? So far, that ain’t one of them.

Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.

Keep an eye on Buehrle-Kluber matchup

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
Let's put this afternoon's pitchers in the Toronto Blue Jays-Cleveland Indians matchup side by side.

Mark Buehrle has an 0.86 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and .221 opponents' batting average in his first three starts of the season.

Corey Kluber has a 5.40 ERA, 1.68 WHIP and .347 opponents' batting average in his first three starts of the season.

On the surface, the numbers look similar in only one regard (Buehrle's strikeout-to-walk ratio is 16-2, Kluber's is 16-3), but …

Mark Buehrle has gotten his fair share of outs on hard-hit balls in 2014.

Buehrle has allowed 16 batted balls that have been classified as hard-hit by Inside Edge's video-tracking system.

Kluber has allowed only 15.

They've each allowed hard-hit balls in 20 percent of the at-bats against them this season.

The difference in their performance this season is what has happened on those hard-hit balls.

Opponents are 6-for-16 with three singles and three doubles when hitting the ball hard against Buehrle. Against Kluber, opponents are 10-for-15 with two singles, six doubles and two home runs when hitting the ball hard.

Buehrle has benefited from his outfielders being able to chase down fly balls. In his last start against the Orioles alone, there were three warning-track fly outs that had they had a little bit more carry to them, would have gone over the fence and produced four more runs.

Kluber has not been as fortunate. Balls are falling in against him with a bit more frequency, not necessarily an abnormal one, but one that has been damaging to his overall performance nonetheless.

The gap between the two is much smaller if you take a look at a stat like FIP (fielding independent pitching), which estimates ERA based on strikeouts, walks and homers allowed. Buehrle's is 1.95. Kluber's is 3.22.

So forgive us if we like Kluber to bounce back this afternoon and for Buehrle to fall back to earth just a little bit.
The other day, SweetSpot TV co-host Eric Karabell said to me, "It seems like a third of managers are hitting their worst hitter first or second."

True or not? Well, here are some examples:
  • The impetus for our discussion was Tony Gwynn Jr., a career .245 hitter with no power who owns a career OPS+ of 75. After Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg benched Ben Revere for dropping two fly balls, Gywnn took over in center -- and took over Revere's leadoff spot for four games. Remember, Gwynn wasn't even in the majors last season.
  • When Toronto lost Maicer Izturis to an injury, the Jays called up Munenori Kawasaki. In his first game, he hit second, which sabermetricians will say is one of the spots you want your best hitter (second or fourth). So one day he's not good enough to be on the team, the next day manager John Gibbons hits him second. In over 400 career plate appearances, Kawasaki has hit .221/.307/.288. Instead of leaving Edwin Encarnacion batting fifth, why not just move everyone up? Jose Bautista second, Adam Lind third and Encarnacion fourth?
  • The Padres have hit Alexi Amarista second three times since Sunday. He hit a home run earlier in the season, but he's still a career .234 hitter with a .280 OBP and little power. On Monday, Amarista hit second, while Will Venable, a good hitter, batted eighth (against a right-hander, so no lefty in play for Venable). Venable is off to a bad start, but still ...
  • Xavier Nady hit cleanup for the Padres on Wednesday night, which maybe says more about the Padres than Bud Black. Nady was out of the majors last year after hitting .184 in 2012. The last time he had an OPS above league average was 2008. But, hey, lightning in a bottle or something, I guess.
  • B.J. Upton continues to hit second for the Braves, as Fredi Gonzalez pulls the opposite of Black and refuses to react to small sample sizes (Andrelton Simmons, off to a .333 start with no strikeouts, hit eighth Wednesday). Of course, there is last year's sample size for Upton to consider.
  • The Royals called up Johnny Giavotella last week for one game. He hit second.
  • Buck Showalter has hit Delmon Young second four times. Against a left-hander, I guess I could reluctantly accept that. But three of those games were against a right-hander. Young had a .293 OBP last year against righties. In 2012, it was .279. In 2011, it was .288. He also grounds into a fair number of double plays. But, hey, otherwise he's the perfect No. 2 hitter. (To be fair, Young probably isn't the worst hitter on the Orioles. Boy does that team have some OBP issues. They're third in the AL in batting average but 14th in OBP.)
  • When Michael Bourn started the year on the DL for Cleveland, Nyjer Morgan made the team. He hit leadoff seven games. He actually played well (.348), but when Bourn returned Morgan was sent down to the minors. Terry Francona did catch a little lightning there.
  • Bryan Price, of course, continues to hit Billy Hamilton leadoff. But he's not even the Reds' worst hitter right now: That's Zack Cozart and his .109 average. Plus, Price has moved Joey Votto up to the No. 2 spot, so he deserves credit for a solid sabermetric-approved decision there.
  • The Marlins have hit Adeiny Hechavarria first or second five times in 16 games.
  • Derek Jeter has hit leadoff once and second 10 times. (I kid, I kid!)

Look, it's early and these are just a few scattershot examples. If Upton continues to hit .180 and Simmons .300, Gonzalez will make a change soon enough. None of these are Alcides Escobar-type situations yet, when Ned Yost was still hitting Escobar second into July last season despite a sub-.280 OBP.

Still, with all the information that front offices use -- and some of that has filtered down to the field level (such as all the shifting that now takes place) -- it's still strange that managers continue to muck up the batting order or overreact to a few games. The odd thing is most managers probably obsess over this as much as any part of their job. I still think they're too beholden to the conventional approach of a fast guy hitting leadoff and then your two best hitters batting third and fourth. Because usually want a decent hitter following their two best hitters, that often leaves a mediocre guy batting second.

The other problem? There just aren't enough good hitters these days to fill out a perfect lineup card.

ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
Two weeks into the season and things are beginning to take shape, injuries are mounting and confusion about the new home plate no-collision rule is obvious. Let's take a quick spin around the SweetSpot Network for the best of Week 2:

Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
Velocity Report: D-backs pitchers examined. After Rod Ghods uncovered how J.J. Putz has maintained K rates despite a big decline in velocity, Jeff Wiser examines the early-season velocity of all pitchers on the D-backs staff, noting that early-season velocity is highly predictive. Follow on Twitter

Boston Red Sox: FireBrand of the AL
The Red Sox and hitting with runners in scoring position: Should fans be concerned about the Red Sox' inability to hit with runners in scoring position? Nope. It's early, and the lineup will be just fine.

Chicago Cubs: View From The Bleachers
Six things I learned this week from the Cubs: Week 1 is in the books and Joe Aiello would like to open his notebook and share with the class what he learned from watching the Cubs. Follow on Twitter

Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
Robin Ventura wants you to know he'd take used-up Chris Sale over his entire bullpen: Ventura's stated preference for using Sale on his fourth time through the order in a close game seems illogical, but James Fegan shows its more a sad statement on the current state of the White Sox bullpen.

Cleveland Indians: It's Pronounced Lajaway
Tony Plush's new approach at the plate: Ryan McCrystal takes a look at how Nyjer Morgan's improved patience at the dish has led to his hot start in 2014. Follow on Twitter.

Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
Interview with Maury Brown: Richard Bergstrom interviews BizOfBaseball's Maury Brown about the Colorado Rockies ownership and business challenges. Topics include market size, competing with the Dodgers and the Broncos, free agency, concessions and stadium improvements.

Milwaukee Brewers: Disciples of Uecker
POPing the productive out myth: Adam Wieser revisits an old system for measuring "productive outs." Follow on Twitter.

Minnesota Twins: Twins Daily
Why is Joe Mauer such a lightning rod? Why are Twins fans so hard on Mauer, one of the best hitters in baseball? Nick Nelson examines this perplexing subject in a piece that has
generated quite a bit of discussion.

New York Yankees: It's About The Money
Examining Tanaka's initial PITCHf/x data: Michael Eder takes an in-depth look at Masahiro Tanaka's first start in Toronto. Follow on Twitter.

McCann's slow start could be due to lack of selectivity: Brad Vietrogoski examines Brian McCann's start and wonders if he's just swinging too much. Follow on Twitter.

Philadelphia Phillies: Crashburn Alley
An early look at Jesse Biddle: Eric Longenhagen scouts Phillies top prospect Jesse Biddle. Follow on Twitter.

San Francisco Giants: West Coast BiasQuick hits March 30 - April 8: Andrew Tweed takes a look at recent baseball articles from around the country to keep you up to date on anything you might have missed. Follow on Twitter Andrew; Connor.

Texas Rangers: One Strike Away
Calling Prince Fielder: Brandon Land takes a look at Fielder's early struggles and identifies a disturbing trend by looking back at 2009-2013. Follow on Twitter.

&Jason Rosenberg is the founder of It's About the Money, a proud charter member of the SweetSpot Network. IIATMS can be found on Twitter here and here as well as on Facebook.

1. The Fast and the Furious III: Who wins the AL MVP Award?

It's the third installment of the epic Mike Trout-Miguel Cabrera trilogy, made even more intriguing by the mammoth contracts the two players just signed. While you can come up with a dozen legitimate MVP candidates in the National League, AL honors will almost surely go to Trout or Cabrera, barring a miracle Mariners run to the AL West title or something like that. Even though Cabrera has dominated the voting the past two seasons -- he received 45 first-place votes to just 11 for Trout -- I'm leaning toward Trout winning in 2014 for the following reasons:

(1) I think he's going to take a small step forward. It's hard to imagine him playing better, but Trout's suggestion that's he going to be more aggressive swinging early in the count could actually be a good thing. Among 140 qualified regulars last season, Trout ranked 140th in swing rate (37 percent). He ranked 131st in swing rate on first pitches. Trout is too disciplined to start hacking at pitches out of the zone, so zeroing in on certain pitches early in the count could lead to more production without sacrificing his walk rate all that much.

(2) Cabrera will be hard-pressed to match the past two seasons. That's not a knock, just an awareness of how good he's been (including a sick .397/.529/.782 line with runners in scoring position last year). Last September's injury issues -- he hit .278 with one home run -- show that Cabrera is human even when his body fails him. He says he's fine after offseason surgery, but it still raises a small question heading into the season.

(3) Only one player -- Barry Bonds from 2001 to 2004 -- has won three consecutive MVP awards. Voters don't like to give it to the same player every year. In fact, Cabrera was just the second AL player in 40 years to win back-to-back MVP honors (Frank Thomas was the last in 1993-94). If the numbers are close, that works in Trout's favor this time around.

(4) More awareness that Trout is the better all-around player. Cabrera has been worth 7.2 and 7.5 WAR (Baseball-Reference) the past two seasons, Trout 10.8 and 8.9. Polls of general managers have indicated they think Trout is the better player. Again, that's not a knock on Cabrera, the best hitter in the game.

(5) The Angels should be better. The biggest roadblock to Trout winning the past two seasons was the Angels missing the playoffs. In recent years, voters have almost exclusively given the MVP Award to a guy on a playoff team. The Tigers are still the better bet for the postseason, so that could ultimately swing the award back to Cabrera for a third straight year.

2. Who is this year's Josh Donaldson or Matt Carpenter?

Historically, these guys had pretty amazing and unique seasons. Donaldson was 27, in his first full season as a starter, and he surprised everyone by finishing fourth in the AL MVP vote. Carpenter, also 27 and playing every day for the first time, finished fourth in the NL MVP vote. And then there was Chris Davis -- also 27 -- who mashed 53 home runs and knocked in 138 runs. He had a little more of a résumé than Donaldson or Carpenter, having hit 33 home runs the year before, but nobody had him as a preseason MVP candidate.

Odds are slim that we'll see even one of those types of performances, let alone three, but since 27 seemed to be the magical age, here are some guys playing their age-27 seasons in 2014: Pedro Alvarez, Jay Bruce, Chris Carter, Colby Rasmus, Evan Gattis, Justin Smoak, Jason Kipnis, Pablo Sandoval, Desmond Jennings, Josh Reddick, Ike Davis, Michael Saunders, Yonder Alonso. Hmm ... Alvarez certainly could go all Chris Davis on us (he hit 36 home runs in 2013), but I don't see a Donaldson or Carpenter in there; then again, we didn't see a Donaldson or Carpenter coming last year. (Guys such as Bruce, Kipnis and Sandoval are already pretty accomplished players.)

If we go down to age-26 players, I see a few more interesting candidates: Brandon Belt (I've written about him), Kyle Seager, Khris Davis, Kole Calhoun, Dustin Ackley. So there you go: Kole Calhoun, MVP candidate!

3. Are the Yankees too old?

Right now, their regular lineup looks like this:

C -- Brian McCann (30 years old)
1B -- Mark Teixeira (34)
2B -- Brian Roberts (36)
3B -- Kelly Johnson (32)
SS -- Derek Jeter (40)
LF -- Brett Gardner (30)
CF -- Jacoby Ellsbury (30)
RF -- Carlos Beltran (37)
DH -- Alfonso Soriano (38)

The top subs are Ichiro Suzuki (40) and Brendan Ryan (32). If those guys ending up staying reasonably healthy, the Yankees won't have one regular younger than 30. I wonder if that's ever happened before. The rotation features 33-year-old CC Sabathia and 39-year-old Hiroki Kuroda.

And yet ... the Yankees may be better than we expect. I have them at 84 wins, which is right where the projection systems have them (FanGraphs at 83 wins, Baseball Prospectus also at 83), and I'm beginning to wonder if that's too conservative. Masahiro Tanaka looked terrific this spring and maybe he does match the 2.59 ERA projected by the Oliver system as opposed to the 3.68 of ZiPS or 3.87 of Steamer. Michael Pineda could provide a huge boost to the rotation. The offense is going to score a lot more runs than last year. Yes, age and injuries will be the deciding factor, but the Yankees have defied Father Time in the past.

4. Will Yasiel Puig implode or explode?

I'm going with explode -- in a good way. That doesn't mean he isn't going to give Don Mattingly headaches or miss the cutoff guy every now and then or get a little exuberant on the base paths on occasion or incite columnists to write about the good ol' days when Mickey Mantle always showed up to the ballpark on time. But the positives will outweigh the negatives, he'll provide tons of energy to the Dodgers, he'll be one of the most exciting players in the game and he's going to have a big, big season.

5. Are the Braves going to implode or explode?

For a team that won 96 games, the Braves enter the season with a surprising range of outcomes. Minus Brian McCann, Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen, this won't be the same team as last year. But maybe that's a good thing if Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton don't hit .179 and .184 again. The Braves allowed fewer runs in 2013 than any of the Glavine-Maddux-Smoltz teams, so they were going to be hard-pressed to match that run prevention anyway. Implode or explode? I'm going somewhere in the middle, with 86 wins -- which may be just enough to capture a wild card.

6. Who are the most important players of 2014?

The first 10 names that pop into my head, without analysis or explanation (other than to say these are players with a great deal of potential volatility in their performance or a high degree injury risk):

1. Derek Jeter, Yankees
2. Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers
3. Tim Lincecum, Giants
4. Billy Hamilton, Reds
5. Francisco Liriano, Pirates
6. Scott Kazmir, A's
7. Albert Pujols, Angels
8. Michael Wacha, Cardinals
9. B.J. Upton, Braves
10. Ubaldo Jimenez, Orioles

7. Which team is baseball's worst?

I'm going with the Astros, although it wouldn't surprise me to see the Phillies plummet to the bottom. Or the Twins. If you want a dark horse team, how about the Blue Jays? The rotation could be a disaster and if even Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes and/or Edwin Encarnacion suffer lengthy injuries, the offense could collapse, as well.

8. Is offense going to decrease across the league again?

Considering there's going to be even more drug testing this year, I'll say it drops a tiny bit. Here are the runs per game totals in recent seasons:

2006: 4.86
2007: 4.80
2008: 4.65
2009: 4.61
2010: 4.38
2011: 4.28
2012: 4.32
2013: 4.17

The increased use of defensive shifts will continue to make it harder to hit singles, and the pitching just seems to get better and better. Yes, we had several guys go down with season-ending injuries in spring training -- most notably Medlen, Jarrod Parker and Patrick Corbin -- but we've added Tanaka, we'll get full seasons from the likes of Wacha and Gerrit Cole and Sonny Gray and Chris Archer and Tony Cingrani, and other young guns such as Taijuan Walker, Eddie Butler, Jonathan Gray, Archie Bradley and Jameson Taillon could make major impacts. Plus, Joe Blanton won't be in the Angels' rotation.

9. Who is this year's Pirates?

By "this year's Pirates," we mean a team that finishes under .500 the year before and unexpectedly soars into the playoffs. We actually had three such teams make the playoffs last year: the Pirates, Red Sox and Indians. In 2012, we had the Orioles, A's, Reds and Nationals. In 2011, we had the Brewers and Diamondbacks. In 2010, we had the Reds.

The Royals don't count because they won 86 games last year, so improving a few wins and reaching the playoffs wouldn't be a surprise.

Technically, the Giants fit since they were below .500, but they would hardly be a surprise team just two years after winning the World Series.

Who does that leave? I see three choices in each league:

Blue Jays, Mariners, Angels -- The Blue Jays need their rotation to produce in a tough division, the Mariners maybe can take advantage of injuries to the A's and Rangers. The Angels were below .500, but they've been perennial playoff contenders, so they hardly fit the "surprise" definition.

Padres, Rockies, Brewers -- I'd be most inclined to go with the Rockies here, as they have two stars in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez and just need better production from the back of the rotation (although the early injury to Jhoulys Chacin doesn't help). I've been on the Brewers' bandwagon the past two years and refuse to jump on this year (which means they're probably headed to the World Series).

10. Who are five rookies who will impact the pennant races?

1. Masahiro Tanaka, P, Yankees. Don't be surprised if he's a Cy Young contender.

2. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox. We saw his already-polished game in the postseason last October.

3. Billy Hamilton, CF, Reds. The speed is Cool Papa Bell turn-of-the-light-switch-and-be-in-bed-before-the-room-goes-dark kind of speed. The defense should be above average, but will he hit?

4. Gregory Polanco, RF, and Jameson Taillon, P, Pirates. They won't be up to start the season but will eventually be part of Pittsburgh's playoff drive.

5. Nick Castellanos, 3B, Tigers. With Cabrera moving over to first, he takes over at third base with potential to produce with the bat.

11. Which division race will be the most exciting?

I'm going with the AL West, which should be a three-team race between the A's, Rangers and Angels, with the Mariners possibly making it a four-team race. Or maybe the AL East, which could be a titanic struggle between the Red Sox, Rays, Yankees and Orioles. Or the NL West, which could be a five-team race if the Dodgers fall back to the pack. Or the NL Central, if the Cardinals aren't as dominant as I believe they will be. Or the AL Central, which the Tigers won by only a game last year. Or the NL East ... which, well, I can't see this as anything but a two-team race. (Sorry, Mets, Marlins and Phillies fans.)

12. Who are some other award contenders?

Here are my picks:

1. Mike Trout
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Evan Longoria
4. Adrian Beltre
5. Dustin Pedroia

AL Cy Young
1. David Price
2. Yu Darvish
3. Max Scherzer
4. Justin Verlander
5. Felix Hernandez

AL Rookie
1. Masahiro Tanaka
2. Xander Bogaerts
3. Nick Castellanos

AL home run champ
1. Chris Davis
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Edwin Encarnacion

AL batting champ
1. Mike Trout
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Joe Mauer

1. Yadier Molina
2. Joey Votto
3. Andrew McCutchen
4. Hanley Ramirez
5. Ryan Braun

NL Cy Young
1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Jordan Zimmermann
3. Jose Fernandez
4. Zack Greinke
5. Adam Wainwright

NL Rookie
1. Billy Hamilton
2. Chris Owings
3. Travis d'Arnaud

NL home run champ
1. Giancarlo Stanton
2. Pedro Alvarez
3. Paul Goldschmidt

NL batting champ
1. Joey Votto
2. Andrew McCutchen
3. Yadier Molina

13. Do the Red Sox win it all?
No, but they do make the playoffs. My final standings:

AL East
Tampa Bay: 93-69
Boston: 91-71
New York: 84-78
Baltimore: 84-78
Toronto: 78-84

AL Central
Detroit: 91-71
Kansas City: 82-80
Cleveland: 79-83
Chicago: 71-91
Minnesota: 67-95

AL West
Texas: 88-74
Oakland: 87-75
Los Angeles: 83-79
Seattle: 76-86
Houston: 61-101

NL East
Washington: 93-69
Atlanta: 86-76
New York: 73-89
Miami: 73-89
Philadelphia: 65-97

NL Central
St. Louis: 95-67
Cincinnati: 85-77
Pittsburgh: 84-78
Milwaukee: 79-83
Chicago: 70-92

NL West
Los Angeles: 94-68
San Francisco: 82-80
San Diego: 80-82
Colorado: 79-83
Arizona: 78-84

14. Who wins it all?
I'm going Rays over Dodgers in seven games. And then the David Price trade rumors will begin again two days later.

Indians should trade Cabrera to Mets

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
So, you think Cleveland Indians shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor might be ready for the show, do you? Paul Swydan makes a great case for why the Tribe should turn to one of the game's top 10 prospects, not just to reap defensive benefits but to follow a time-honored tradition of fast-tracking a top-shelf shortstop prospect.

The question is, who needs one year of Asdrubal Cabrera? He's a free agent after 2014, so if you get him, you get him because you need a shortstop now, because you have big expectations for your team in 2014 and maybe because you think you can sign him next winter.

[+] EnlargeAsdrubal Cabrera
AP Photo/Paul SancyaAsdrubal Cabrera might be more than happy to step into a high-profile gig like playing short for the Mets.
Who fits all of those criteria? I think just one team, the "we'll win 90 now" New York Mets.

What can the Mets give up to get him? Stuff the Indians need, and dealing from depth: First base/LF type Lucas Duda, third-base prospect Wilmer Flores and right-hander Michael Fulmer.

The Mets' gains are pretty obvious, especially if you accept projections of Cabrera rebounding in 2014, whether Baseball Prospectus' .734 OPS, Dan Szymborski's ZiPS (.736 OPS, 17 home runs) or the Bill James Handbook's projecting a .746 OPS. That's a 100-point jump from what's generally expected from incumbent Ruben Tejada at the plate. Like Cabrera (minus-16 in BIS' plus-minus last year), Tejada's defense wasn't an asset last year (rating minus-9 in almost a third of a season); unlike Cabrera, there's no past track record to suggest that he can do better. And why Duda and not Ike Davis? Well, if you're drinking the Kool-Aid that says 90 wins is possible for this team now, I have to believe Davis' .954 OPS in the second half last year is a big part of the reason. And trading for Cabrera means you're drinking pretty deeply from that pitcher of Kool-Aid.

Why does this work for the Indians? Because it gives them help now and upside. Starting with the least valuable player first, Duda would give Cleveland a lefty bat to mix in at first, DH and the outfield, another moving part with platoon punch to fit within Terry Francona's lineup-card shifts. Duda's career numbers against right-handers (.255/.356/.456) will come in handy, especially if David Murphy's awful 2013 season (.656 OPS) was his career's death rattle, leaving the Tribe without a good answer for lefty at-bats at first or in right.

Moving to the long shot with upside, Fulmer is the injury-prone arm in the Mets' stack of talented arms who might reach a middle slot in a big league rotation. Between shoulder and knee problems last year, he didn't log much time on the mound after making his full-season debut in low Class A in 2012, and his bulk combined with the knee injury and the general fragility suggests he might wind up as "just" a bullpen asset. But with a plus fastball/slider combo that he throws with command, and heat that can hit the mid-90s in a bullpen role, he's an upside guy who wouldn't be on the 40-man roster and who could move up fast from high Class A in the next few years if he's healthy.

Which brings us to the top-shelf prospect, which is something you have to give up to get something of value. The question isn't the big league value the Indians would get in the deal. By starting with Duda to help out at first base, DH and the outfield corners, they're getting three years of adequacy. And they already have Mike Aviles around as an insurance policy at short if Lindor stalls, gets hurt or even just needs that initial month in the minors. But what moves the dial for the Tribe is a prospect, especially since trading Cabrera means giving up their own shot at compensation picks. They need a quality prospect, and the Mets, thanks to the sixth-best farm system in baseball according to ESPN Insider's Keith Law, have something to offer.

[+] EnlargeWilmer Flores
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonWilmer Flores' upside at the plate could eventually bring the Indians a .500 slugger at third base.
The easy thing would be to ask for a first-round-quality talent, either a high-OBP tweener like Brandon Nimmo or a ready-now option for third base like Flores. But I don't see the Mets giving up Nimmo, while Flores is blocked by David Wright and his new deal. And frankly, third base is where the Indians have a need, now and into the immediate future. They're already forced to ask themselves how good Lonnie Chisenhall is ultimately going to be, either as a lineup regular (since a .300 OBP or a .700 OPS aren't automatic for him) or as an everyday defender at third base. Chisenhall's shortcomings have already inspired this spring's experiment with putting starting catcher Carlos Santana at third base, a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul the Tribe should forgo so that they can keep Santana behind the plate or at first and DH.

So they get Flores in the Cabrera trade. He's just 22, but is about as ready as he's ever going to be after an .888 OPS in Triple-A last year and .855 at Double-A the year before that. He has a quick bat and good power to all fields, and he comes with .500 slugging potential. Like Chisenhall, he's already projected to produce around a .700 OPS in the majors, but his youth suggests higher eventual upside. Assuming the Indians aren't permanently scarred from the Andy Marte experience -- the last time they traded for another organization's top touted hot-corner prospect -- Flores is a perfect fit.

Finally, remember, the Mets wouldn't be trading for Cabrera to have and to hold forever after -- they're just renting him for a year. But once you have him, you also have a season to make a sales pitch on why he should stick around. If you're the Mets, wouldn't you want to be able to exploit that window, before free agency? Because the other thing to consider is that if the Mets don't trade for Cabrera now, they may well be in the exact same situation in nine months: Making him a multiyear pitch paying eight figures per year, but while competing against every other team on the market. Why not take your chance now, gain that brief, exclusive negotiating window in the offseason?

There are also side benefits come draft day. Let's say getting Cabrera is already something the Mets are thinking about for next winter. By getting Cabrera now they don't just protect their own future first-round pick that they might lose by signing him in December (if they wind up outside the 10 protected picks), they potentially gain one if they instead lose him to free agency. As one former governor of Illinois put it, that's a frickin' valuable thing.

Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN; you can follow her on Twitter.

Team over/unders: Best bets

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
Listed below is each team's over/under win total from Bovada.lv. For each group of five teams, I'll ask you to vote on which one is the best bet to exceed its win total. Wisdom of the crowds, right?

(By the way, if the win totals seem low, they're not. There are 2,430 major league games ... the win totals actually add up to 2,443; so if anything, they're a tiny bit too high.)


Which team is the best bet to exceed its over/under win total?


Discuss (Total votes: 15,858)

30. Astros: 62.5
29. Cubs: 69.5
28. Marlins: 69.5
27. Twins: 70.5
26. Mets: 73.5

I'm going with the Marlins here. The infield is a bit of train wreck on offense, but I think the young rotation with Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez and Jacob Turner could be very good. A full season from Christian Yelich and a healthier season from Giancarlo Stanton will help, and they've added a couple of bats in Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Garrett Jones, who aren't great but are better than what they had last season.


Which team is the best bet to exceed its over/under win total?


Discuss (Total votes: 13,837)

25. White Sox: 75.5
24. Rockies: 76.5
23. Phillies: 76.5
22. Padres: 78.5
21. Brewers: 79.5

I'll reluctantly go with the Padres here. They don't have individual star power, but I think their 25-man depth should push them over .500. The White Sox could certainly be interesting if Jose Abreu proves to be the real deal, but 75.5 wins is still 12.5 more than 2013. The Brewers are tempting with the return of Ryan Braun and the addition of Matt Garza, but Jean Segura's second-half fade is a concern and I don't like the righty-heavy nature of the lineup.


Which team is the best bet to exceed its over/under win total?


Discuss (Total votes: 15,014)

20. Blue Jays: 79.5
19. Diamondbacks: 80.5
18. Orioles: 80.5
17. Indians: 80.5
16. Mariners: 81.5

You can make pretty good arguments for four of these teams. The Mariners? Not so much. I'm going with the Diamondbacks -- hey, maybe they can go 81-81 for the third season in a row! Arizona has a star in Paul Goldschmidt, two elite defenders in the outfield in Gerardo Parra and A.J. Pollock, a guy in Mark Trumbo who could hit 40 home runs and some players returning from injury. Rookie Archie Bradley could provide a nice midseason lift to the rotation, as well, and the bullpen looks deeper with the addition of Addison Reed.


Which team is the best bet to exceed its over/under win total?


Discuss (Total votes: 15,370)

15. Royals: 81.5
14. Pirates: 83.5
13. Reds: 84.5
12. Giants: 86.5
11. Angels: 86.5

The oddsmakers are projecting some regression from the Royals, Pirates and Reds. One note on the Royals: From June 1 on, they had the second-best record in the majors behind the Dodgers. They've made some minor additions with the likes of Omar Infante and Norichika Aoki to help improve an offense that ranked 11th in the AL in runs scored. The concern: They allowed just 601 runs last year, the second-lowest total in the AL in the past two decades. They will likely allow more than that in 2014. Can the offense make up for it? I think so. I'll take the over for the Royals.


Which team is the best bet to exceed its over/under win total?


Discuss (Total votes: 16,627)

10. Yankees: 86.5
9. Rangers: 86.5
8. Braves: 87.5
7. Red Sox: 87.5
6. Nationals: 88.5

Hmm ... considering I have the Nationals winning the NL East, I'll go with them. They did win 86 games last season, so I can certainly see a three-win improvement (and more). On the other hand, it's not like any of the regulars had a terrible season, or that we should expect obvious improvement from somebody. But the bench was horrible last year and will be better. Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon should play and are solid bets to improve. Doug Fister adds another quality arm to the rotation. I like them to win 90-plus games.


Which team is the best bet to exceed its over/under win total?


Discuss (Total votes: 16,376)

5. Rays: 88.5
4. A's: 88.5
3. Tigers: 89.5
2. Cardinals: 90.5
1. Dodgers: 92.5

Five playoff teams from last year. So we're essentially asking: Which team is the best bet to return to the playoffs? I'm going with the Cardinals here, since I do have them as my No. 1 overall team heading into the season. I like their depth across the board: Position players, rotation and bullpen. I like their youth. I think the Pirates and Reds are a little weaker than last season. St. Louis won 97 games last year and I wouldn't be shocked to see the Cardinals do it again.

Lineup discussion: AL Central

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
Our series looking at major league lineups moves over to the AL Central, home of Miguel Cabrera ... and a bunch other hitters that aren't as good.

TigersDetroit Tigers

Key question: How do they replace Prince Fielder's production and presence?

Let's look at it this way. The Tigers have basically replaced Fielder and Omar Infante with rookie Nick Castellanos and Ian Kinsler. The Steamer projection system has Kinsler creating 86 runs (in 146 games) and Castellanos creating 59 (in 130 games). Fielder created about 103 runs last year (he played every game) and Infante 64 (in 118 games). So we're talking about a similar number of total games. We can expect Kinsler/Castellanos to roughly produce about 20 to 25 runs less. The Tigers are hoping the improved defense will make up the difference.

Projected lineup
Austin Jackson, CF
Ian Kinsler, 2B
Miguel Cabrera, 1B
Victor Martinez, DH
Torii Hunter, RF
Andy Dirks, LF
Nick Castellanos, 3B
Alex Avila, C
Jose Iglesias, SS

New manager Brad Ausmus has some options here. Hunter thrived in front of Cabrera last season, so even though he's 38 (39 in July) and has lost a couple of steps on the bases, Ausmus may keep him in the second slot. Kinsler will have to prove he can hit away from Texas, however; his career OPS is .898 in Arlington and just .710 on the road. Dirks will platoon in left with Rajai Davis.

Suggestion: Cabrera hit third in front of Fielder the past two seasons; but back in 2011, he hit cleanup. I'd move him back there as your two best hitters should hit second and fourth. Hitting fourth, he'll get more runners on base or lead off the second inning, making it harder to get pitched around.

IndiansCleveland Indians

Key question: Is this Carlos Santana move to third base really going to happen?

We'll see. But it's not as if the Indians have a full-time DH and thus need to fit Santana's bat somewhere in the lineup. My guess is he gets most of his at-bats as a DH while filling in at third, first and maybe catcher. You don't want to turn him into a straight DH at his age, but that's probably his best position.

Projected lineup
Michael Bourn, CF
Nick Swisher, 1B
Jason Kipnis, 2B
Carlos Santana, DH
Michael Brantley, LF
Yan Gomes, C
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
David Murphy, RF
Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B

The Indians tied for fourth in the AL in runs scored mostly on the strength of lineup depth, as Kipnis led the team with 84 RBIs and Swisher led with 22 home runs. They also had a lot of timely hitting as they ranked fifth in on-base percentage and eighth in slugging. Not listed above is Ryan Raburn, who had a huge season off the bench. He'll play against left-handers, probably in a platoon with Murphy.

Suggestion: Francisco Lindor hasn't played much above Class A ball but he may be ready to take over at shortstop sooner rather than later. ZiPS projects him to hit .245/.307/.329 in the majors -- which would be a drop from Cabrera's .242/.299/.402. But Lindor would likely provide better D; and if the bat comes along, the Indians shouldn't hesitate to call him up and trade Cabrera.

RoyalsKansas City Royals

Key question: Who hits first? Who hits second?

In 2013, Royals leadoff hitters ranked 25th in OBP; their No. 2 hitters were a little better, ranking 15th in OBP although with just 11 home runs. Ned Yost was either so confused or so clueless that he actually hit the inept Alcides Escobar -- he had the worst OPS among all regulars -- 69 times in the two-hole. Alex Gordon was hitting leadoff by the end of the season and that's as good an idea as any, although former Brewers leadoff hitter Norichika Aoki is another candidate.


Which team has the best lineup in the AL Central


Discuss (Total votes: 3,664)

Projected lineup
Norichika Aoki, RF
Alex Gordon, LF
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Billy Butler, DH
Salvador Perez, C
Omar Infante, 2B
Mike Moustakas, 3B
Lorenzo Cain, CF
Alcides Escobar, SS

The Royals were fifth in the AL in batting average but 13th in walks and last in home runs. Aoki and Infante aren't going to help the power numbers but should be upgrades, nonetheless. The top three guys above are all left-handed, so maybe Infante slips into the second spot. (I can see Yost liking his contact skills and ignoring that 2013 was probably a fluke as Infante had a .315 OBP in 2011 and .300 in 2012.) Against left-handers, you'll see Justin Maxwell and Danny Valencia in the lineup.

Suggestion: Just don't hit Escobar at the top of the lineup.

TwinsMinnesota Twins

Key question: Who hits leadoff?

OK, maybe the key question is when Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton will arrive. Among other problems, the Twins struggled all season to find a leadoff hitter. Dozier hit there most often (74 games); but collectively, the leadoff hitters hit .225 with a .286 OBP. Alex Presley was hitting there by the end of the season, but he's hardly a guarantee to hold on to his job -- let alone hit leadoff.

Projected lineup
Alex Presley, CF
Brian Dozier, 2B
Joe Mauer, 1B
Josh Willingham, LF
Oswaldo Arcia, RF
Jason Kubel, DH
Josmil Pinto, C
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Pedro Florimon, SS

You have any better ideas? Kurt Suzuki is on hand to share catching duties with the rookie Pinto. Kubel is a non-roster invite but should make the team; he did hit 30 home runs two years ago for Arizona. But other than Mauer and probably Arcia, none of these guys have a lock on job security into the future, considering Sano, Buxton and Eddie Rosario are on their way.

Suggestion: Mauer actually hit second more than third last year -- 87 times to 23 times -- and that's where he should hit. His on-base skills are more valuable in that spot in the lineup.

White SoxChicago White Sox

Key question: Will the lineup be any better?

Most likely. Last year, the White Sox ranked 29th in the majors in wRC+ (a park-adjust stat), ahead of only the sorry Marlins. Of course, somebody has to rank 29th; and if Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton don't hit, they're going to struggle to score runs again.

Projected lineup
Adam Eaton, CF
Alejandro De Aza, LF
Jose Abreu, 1B
Adam Dunn, DH
Avisail Garcia, RF
Alexei Ramirez, SS
Gordon Beckham, 2B
Matt Davidson, 3B
Josh Phegley, C

The White Sox brought back Paul Konerko for one final season, and Dayan Viciedo is around. Congrats, White Sox, you have three designated hitters. The keys here will be the two players they acquired from Arizona (Eaton and Davidson) and Garcia. Will they be pieces to build around as the White Sox look to the future? Getting something out of catcher would be a bonus as well.

Suggestion: There's much you can do when nobody on the team posted an OBP higher than .328. And that was Alex Rios, who was traded. Even if Abreu proves to be the real deal, the White Sox will need the young guys to come up big.

Key position switches for 2014

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
A year ago, the St. Louis Cardinals tried the unorthodox move of switching third baseman Matt Carpenter to second base, a position he had played just 18 innings previously in the majors and never in the minors. Players rarely move up the defensive spectrum, but the risk paid off for the Cardinals as Carpenter played a solid second base -- he rated as league average via defensive runs saved (DSR) -- and had a big year at the plate, hitting .318 and leading the National League in runs, hits and doubles.

Carpenter will move back to third base in 2014, clearing room for rookie second baseman Kolten Wong. That will allow the Cardinals to upgrade defensively at two spots: Carpenter over David Freese at third base and Wong, considered a plus defender, over Carpenter.

With teams opening up camps later this week, here are some other key position changes to watch in spring training:

[+] EnlargeJoe Mauer
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJoe Mauer played eight games at first base last season.
Joe Mauer, Twins: Catcher to first base
Mauer has started 54 games at first base in his career, but it appears his catching days are over as he takes over for the departed Justin Morneau. It's the right move by the Twins. It appears that rookie catcher Josmil Pinto will be a solid major league regular, and the move will help keep Mauer healthy and his bat in the lineup more often. Plus, he hasn't really been a regular catcher in recent seasons anyway: The past two seasons, he started 73 and 72 games behind the plate. Mauer may not provide the prototypical power you'd like from a first baseman, but his .400 on-base percentage plays anywhere. He's a good enough athlete to be decent with the glove (he's plus-1 DRS at first base in his limited time there).

Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies: Left field to center field
Like the Carpenter move, this one involves a player shifting to a more demanding position. Gonzalez hasn't played any center field the past two seasons, but did play there earlier in his career (187 games started). This one is interesting because Gonzalez's defensive metrics in left field have been all over the place: plus-8 in 2011, minus-13 in 2012, plus-10 in 2013. Gonzalez, who missed time with a finger injury in 2013, underwent emergency appendectomy surgery in January but is expected to be fully ready for spring training. The Rockies did acquire Drew Stubbs and Brandon Barnes in the offseason, two guys who can play center if Gonzalez is deemed lacking in range.

Ryan Braun, Brewers: Left field to right field
All 817 of Braun's games in the outfield have come in left, but he'll move to right as the weaker-armed Khris Davis takes over in left. DRS has rated Braun as a plus fielder over the years in left -- plus-28 runs -- but his arm has rated slightly below average at minus-10 runs. Still, he should be to handle right field, although opposing baserunners will surely test his arm early on.

Carlos Santana, Indians: Catcher to third base
By far the most intriguing position change, this one isn't written in stone, but Santana has played some third base this winter. With Yan Gomes emerging as a plus defensive catcher, the Indians want to keep Santana's bat in the lineup and Lonnie Chisenhall may be out of chances at third base. Santana was originally an infielder in the low minors before switching to catcher, so moving to third base won't be completely foreign to him. Still, the catcher-to-third move is a rare one midcareer, most notably done by Joe Torre, Todd Zeile and Brandon Inge (who had been a shortstop in college). Most likely, Santana settles in as a super-utility guy, filling in at third and first if he's not the full-time DH.

Alex Guerrero, Dodgers: Shortstop to second base
This is the most common position change as shortstops without quite enough arm are shifted to second. In Guerrero's case, he played shortstop in Cuba and will move because Hanley Ramirez is entrenched at short. The Dodgers sent Guerrero to the Dominican Winter League, but early reports on his defense were not good, with stiff hands being the big issue. He played only a few games there, however, so spring training will be a crash course at second base. The Dodgers are banking heavily on Guerrero since the backup appears to be Dee Gordon, who has struggled at the plate the past two years.

Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers: Center field to left field
Choo had been a right fielder with the Indians and then played center for the Reds. He had a huge year offensively but showed a lack of range in center. The Rangers will wisely move him back to a corner slot, with Leonys Martin in center. Even then, Choo may prove to be a below-average defender as his metrics in right field in 2012 were not good (minus-12 DRS).

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: Third base to first base
The Tigers will have new infielders at all four positions, certainly an interesting twist for a likely playoff team. But they have arguably upgraded defensively at all four spots: Cabrera over Prince Fielder at first, Nick Castellanos over Cabrera at third, Ian Kinsler over Omar Infante at second, and Jose Iglesias over Jhonny Peralta at shortstop. Cabrera isn't a great first baseman, no matter what people try to tell you; he has good hands, but he still moves about as well as a redwood tree.

Rafael Furcal, Marlins: Shortstop to second base
After missing all of 2013, Furcal is hoping to hang on with the Marlins. He hit .264 AVG/.325 OBP/.346 SLG with the Cardinals in 2012, which would be only a minor improvement over the .235/.292/.349 mark the Marlins got from their second basemen in 2013.
It's the third part of our pre-spring training series. One thing that's tougher than you probably realize: predicting records. Think about it: Every team looks better on paper. Most of them plugged the obvious holes from 2013 (or attempted to), everybody is essentially healthy and every young player is projected to improve. Try it. Add up wins and losses for every team. You need 2,430 in each column.

Team rankings: Nos. 24-19 »

Team rankings: Nos. 30-25 »

Kansas City Royals
18. Kansas City Royals

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 31 more runs, allow the same. Sounds simple enough, right? Except the Royals allowed the fewest runs in the AL in 2013 with 601 -- the only AL club in the past 20 years to allow fewer was the 2012 Rays with 577. Before that, you have to go back to the 1990 Oakland A's, who allowed 570. So odds are the Royals will allow more runs in 2014, which means they'll probably have to increase their offense by more than 31 runs.

Big offseason moves: Acquired RF Norichika Aoki from the Brewers for P Will Smith, signed SP Jason Vargas, re-signed SP Bruce Chen, signed 2B Omar Infante, acquired 3B Danny Valencia from the Orioles for OF David Lough, will likely lose free agent SP Ervin Santana.

Most intriguing player: Eric Hosmer. Through the first two months of 2013 he was hitting .261 with one home run and the Eric Hosmer bandwagon was as quiet as the Denver Broncos' locker room at halftime of the Super Bowl. Then George Brett gave a few batting tips or something clicked and Hosmer looked more like the rookie of 2011 and he hit .318 with 16 home runs the rest of the way. He's just 24 so there's still hope he'll turn into that 30-homer first baseman.

Due for a better year: Alcides Escobar hit a miserable .234 with an even more miserable .259 OBP, which he backed up with a complete lack of power. He created about 41 runs less than the average hitter -- the worst in the majors. He can't be worse because if he hits that poorly again he'll lose his job.

Due for a worse year: Jeremy Guthrie went 15-12 with a not horrible 4.04 ERA even though he allowed 236 hits in 211.2 innings and surrendered 30 home runs. His strikeout rate (4.7 per nine innings) is right on the edge of being too low for a major league starter.


Will the Royals make their first playoff appearance since 1985?


Discuss (Total votes: 11,466)

I'm just the messenger: The Royals ranked last in the AL with 112 home runs and while home runs aren't everything -- the Cardinals led the NL in runs despite ranking 13th in home runs and in 2012 had a very good offense despite finishing last in the NL in home runs -- they are nice to have. Especially in the AL. The offseason additions of Infante and Aoki plugged holes (and Valencia can platoon with Mike Moustakas at third base), but you have to wonder where the power will come from.

The final word: I feel bad picking the Royals where I am because it would be great to finally see them back in the postseason. They also have a lot of things going for them: a terrific bullpen, a young core of hitters that could improve, a solid workhorse starter in James Shields. On the positive side, you also can point to how bad Wade Davis and Luis Mendoza were in their 39 starts, so while losing Santana hurts, they could get better production from the No. 5 spot, whether it's Danny Duffy or Yordano Ventura. But I see a pitching staff that is going to regress, maybe a lot, and an offense that won't have enough firepower. I hope I'm wrong.

Prediction: 79-83

San Diego Padres
17. San Diego Padres

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 61 more runs, allow 99 fewer.

Big offseason moves: Signed SP Josh Johnson, signed RP Joaquin Benoit, traded RP Luke Gregerson to the A's for OF Seth Smith, acquired RP Alex Torres from the Rays.

Most intriguing player: Andrew Cashner. After various ups and downs in his two years since coming over from the Cubs, including an offseason hunting accident, Cashner finally put his explosive fastball/slider combo together in the second half as he posted a 2.14 ERA in 11 starts. A key was an improved changeup -- batters hit .287 against it in the first half but .206 in the second half. With that pitch helping to neutralize left-handed batters, Cashner may take another big leap forward.

Due for a better season: The starting rotation. Gone is Edinson Volquez and his 27 starts and 6.01 ERA. Gone is Clayton Richard and his 7.01 ERA in 11 starts. Gone is Jason Marquis and his 72/68 SO/BB ratio. Yes, Johnson is a gamble, but the most important thing is the depth: Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross, Eric Stults, Robbie Erlin and Burch Smith, with prospect Matt Wisler soon to be ready. From depth the Padres are hoping they'll find quality.

Due for a worse season: One reason the Padres could surprise is that there isn't an obvious candidate to have a worse year. Maybe Stults won't reach 200 innings again, but the Padres are full of players who could improve -- Jedd Gyorko, Chase Headley, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal.

I'm just the messenger: The Padres' fourth- and sixth-highest paid players are closer Huston Street and new setup guy Benoit. The Padres are spending 16 percent of their payroll on those two guys. Not that they're bad pitchers, but the Padres have proved year after year that they can build a cheap and effective bullpen in Petco Park. It just seems like a strange way to use their somewhat limited resources.

The final word: It's easy to dismiss the Padres because they lack a big star -- Gyorko led the team with 63 RBIs last season -- but the Padres are an interesting sleeper pick. They'll mix and match with platoons at several positions. If Headley can produce more like 2012, when he led the NL in RBIs (115), and if Johnson can provide 25 good starts (a big if at this point after his injury-riddled season in Toronto last year), don't be shocked if the Padres sneak into a wild-card position.

Prediction: 80-82

Baltimore Orioles
16. Baltimore Orioles

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 33 more runs, allow 21 fewer.

Big offseason moves: Orioles fans are still waiting for one. Acquired OF David Lough from the Royals for 3B Danny Valencia, traded RP Jim Johnson to the A's for 2B Jemile Weeks, signed RP Ryan Webb.

Most intriguing player: Chris Davis. "Crush" had a monster season, leading the AL with 53 home runs, 138 RBIs and 370 total bases. He added 42 doubles (and a triple) to give him 96 extra-base hits, the sixth-most in AL history behind three Babe Ruth seasons, Albert Belle's 1995 explosion and Jimmie Foxx in 1932. Included in those numbers were MLB-leading totals of 11 home runs and 33 RBIs in close and late situations. If the Orioles had made the playoffs, he probably would have walked home with MVP honors.

Due for a better year: What happened to Matt Wieters? He did hit 22 home runs, but his OBP dropped all the way to .287, thanks to a .214/.270/.358 mark from the left side. Wieters' splits have been so pronounced the past three seasons -- his wOBA is .405 from the right side, .291 from the left side -- that he should probably just give up switch-hitting.

Due for a worse year: Davis. He hit .245/.339/.515 in the second half. Was it because he was getting pitched around because of his torrid start? Not really. In the first half, 44.2 percent of pitches he saw were in the strike zone; in the second half, 43.3 percent. In the first half, 33 percent of his fly balls left the park; in the second half, it was a more normal 20.5 percent (he was 24.1 percent in 2012).

I'm just the messenger: Who closes? After trading Johnson and backing out on a deal with Grant Balfour, the Orioles are left without an obvious closer candidate. The sabermetrician in me says it shouldn't matter, but in the case of the Orioles, it may matter, because Darren O'Day and Tommy Hunter, the top two candidates, both struggled mightily against left-handed batters in 2013. Part of their value came from Buck Showalter's ability to match them up. But you don't match up with closers. I can see the ninth inning being just as problematic as last year, when the O's lost nine games they led after eight innings (the most in the majors).

The final word: The biggest issue in projecting the Orioles to win 90 or 92 games is who is going to improve? You can't expect Davis to play better, Adam Jones does what he does, J.J. Hardy does J.J. Hardy things and so on. Maybe Wieters gets on base a little more, maybe Manny Machado improves at the plate. But the rotation is still a bunch of No. 3 and 4 starters, there is power but OBP issues in the lineup and closer could be a problem. I see a .500 team.

Prediction: 81-81

Cleveland Indians
15. Cleveland Indians

How they can get to 90 wins: Well, they're already there. Their 2013 actual record was 92-70, their Pythagorean record 90-72 (a 10-2 record in extra-inning games helped). The Indians were 43 runs above average on offense and 40 runs better than average on defense, so their success was split down the middle (not factoring in park effects and Cleveland played as a pitcher's park in 2013, so the offense was a little more valuable than the pitching/defense).

Big offseason moves: SP Ubaldo Jimenez remains a free agent, lost SP Scott Kazmir, signed OF David Murphy, signed RP John Axford, lost RP Joe Smith, lost RP Chris Perez, traded OF Drew Stubbs to the Rockies for P Josh Outman.

Most intriguing player: Carlos Santana. With Yan Gomes emerging as a defensive force behind the plate (he hit .294/.345/.481 last season), Santana is no longer the starting catcher. He's trying to learn to play third base in winter ball, but could end up as a super utility player at third, first, DH and catcher if he can't handle third on a regular basis.

Due for a better year: The Indians signed former Rangers outfielder David Murphy believing he'll bounce back from hitting .220. Mark Simon examined why that's likely.

Due for a worse year: Ryan Raburn had a huge year off the bench, slugging 16 home runs and driving in 55 runs in 277 plate appearances (he slugged .675 with runners in scoring position). Good luck getting that production again.

I'm just the messenger: The red flag for me in Cleveland's run to the playoffs was that the bullpen was 19th in the majors in ERA and yet went 33-16. A few of those wins came after blown saves, but that's still an impressive W-L record for a mediocre relief corps. The Indians also lost Smith and replaced him with the erratic Axford. While Cody Allen appears ready to step in as the closer, they also need Axford to provide quality innings in the setup role.

The final word: The biggest issue, of course, is replacing the 340 solid innings they received from Jimenez and Kazmir (assuming Jimenez doesn't return). They'll need Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister to start 32 times instead of 24 and somebody to take over the fifth slot in the rotation. Other than Raburn and maybe Gomes, nobody on offense had a career year, but it's also hard to project much improvement (third base was the weakest spot with a combined .218 average). I just have too many concerns about the rotation and the bullpen to see a repeat trip to the playoffs.

Projected record: 82-80

<a href=14. New York Yankees

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 86 more runs, allow 20 fewer. The Yankees won 85 games last season, but their true talent level in 2013 was much lower as they were outscored by 21 runs.

Big offseason moves: Signed SP Masahiro Tanaka, signed CF Jacoby Ellsbury, signed C Brian McCann, signed RF Carlos Beltran, signed IF/OF Kelly Johnson, signed 2B Brian Roberts, re-signed IF Brendan Ryan, RP Mariano Rivera retired, SP Andy Pettitte retired, lost SP Phil Hughes, lost RP Boone Logan, 3B Alex Rodriguez suspended for season.

Most intriguing player: Tanaka signed a seven-year, $155 million contract on top of the $20 million posting fee. At that price, he better be intriguing.

Due for a better season: Not including the injury comebacks of Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, how about CC Sabathia? Was his 4.78 ERA the beginning of a decline or just a bad year? He's 33, there's a lot of mileage on that left arm, his average fastball velocity dipped 2.7 mph from 2011 and he allowed a career-high in home runs (28), but you never want to bet against CC.


How many games will the Yankees win?


Discuss (Total votes: 18,899)

Due for a worse season: Jacoby Ellsbury's season-by-season WAR totals: 3.0, 2.7, -0.1, 8.1, 1.0, 5.8. Yes, injuries were the factors in 2010 and 2012, but that's the point. You have no idea what to expect. Can you bet on him staying healthy?

I'm just the messenger: Signing all those big free agents plus essentially adding Jeter and Teixeira has created hopes in the Bronx that 2014 will be a repeat of 2009, when they followed a non-playoff year with a World Series title. But no team has won with a 40-year-old shortstop and Teixeira was good, but not great in 2011 and 2012 anyway.

The final word: Hey, the Yankees will at least be far more interesting than last year (no offense to Jayson Nix, Chris Stewart, Vernon Wells or Lyle Overbay). But just how good are the additions? According to Baseball-Reference, McCann was worth 2.2 WAR and Beltran 2.4. Tanaka and Ellsbury should be big upgrades. But will that be enough? Don't forget that they've lost a closer, a starting pitcher who had a good year, the infield is old and they're counting on 39-year-old Hiroki Kuroda to give them 200 innings. It all adds up to a wide range of possible outcomes. The team will be better than last year, but they could actually end up winning fewer games. Such is baseball.

Projected record: 84-78

<a href=13. Pittsburgh Pirates

How they can get to 90 wins: The Pirates went 94-68, but outscored their opponents by just 54 runs. Their totals of runs scored and runs allowed suggests a team that should have gone 88-74. Barring the same "lucky" distribution of runs, the Pirates will need to score 18 more runs to win 90 games if they allow the same number of runs -- or 55 more to win 94 games again.

Big offseason moves: SP A.J. Burnett remains a free agent, lost 1B/RF Garrett Jones, lost RF Marlon Byrd and 1B Justin Morneau, signed SP Edinson Volquez.

Most intriguing player: Well, Andrew McCutchen was the NL MVP last season, and is one of the most exciting players in the game and a true franchise cornerstone at the peak of his abilities. And then there's Gerrit Cole, who could blossom into a franchise pitcher after posting a 3.22 ERA as a rookie.

Due for a better season: The Pirates better hope it's Wandy Rodriguez, who made just 12 starts last year before going down with forearm tightness and tendinitis. With the likely departure of Burnett and second-half collapse of Jeff Locke, the rotation has some question marks behind Cole, Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton.


Which 2013 playoff team is most likely to miss the playoffs?


Discuss (Total votes: 19,297)

Due for a worse season: Mark Melancon had a 1.39 ERA and allowed just one home run in 71 innings, serving as Jason Grilli's setup man and then replacing him as closer when Grilli went down with a right forearm strain in late July. In fact, the entire Pirates bullpen was basically lights out. After ranking fourth in the majors in relief innings, however, will the pen deliver an encore performance?

I'm just the messenger: The Pirates had an Opening Day payroll in 2013 of $66.8 million. Right now, their estimated payroll for 2014 will be about $70 million. Each MLB team will receive an additional $25 million or so in national TV money over 2013 (although Pirates president Frank Coonelly said it's not accurate that teams will receive that amount this season). Pirates' attendance will surely go up after last year's playoff run. Coonelly has also said the Pirates' local TV deal with ROOT sports is in the top half of all MLB teams and that the reported figure of $18 million per year has been "grossly understated." While the decision to not sign Burnett is defensible, it still begs the question of why the Pirates didn't do anything to build on last year's momentum.

The final word: The answer, it seems, is that the Pirates are willing to take a step backward in order to take a step forward. With prospects such as outfielder Gregory Polanco and starter Jameson Taillon perhaps ready to contribute at some point this year and others such as Tyler Glasnow, Nick Kingham and Alen Hanson coming up behind them, the Pirates have talent on the way, some of it potentially top-line talent. Still, it's just potential at this point. Anyway, I see the Pirates allowing more than 577 runs again -- even given their outstanding defense. The offense lacks the upside to make up the difference.

Projected record: 84-78
As we wait for Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Bronson Arroyo, A.J. Burnett, Kendrys Morales and Nelson Cruz to sign, Buster Olney reminds us that there are still a lot of other interesting names out there in free agency, including Jason Hammel, Chris Capuano, Fernando Rodney, Oliver Perez, Tommy Hanson, Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, to name a few. Some of these guys will end up signing minor league contracts with incentives if they're healthy and make a major league roster, like the deal Scott Baker just signed with the Mariners.

With that in mind, let's take a quick scroll through the American League and check out some of the interesting non-roster invitees to spring training.

Boston Red Sox -- Tommy Layne.

The Red Sox list only two non-roster players as of now. Layne is a lefty reliever who used to be with the Padres, and is more of an insurance kind of arm behind Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller.

Tampa Bay Rays -- Jerry Sands, Jayson Nix, Mark Lowe.

Sands is a guy I used to like a bit. He came up with the Dodgers and was traded to the Pirates, and doesn't really have a position although he can be spotted in the outfield and at first base. He has a chance to stick as a right-handed bat off the bench, spelling Matt Joyce and David DeJesus against lefties. Lowe is the kind of arm the Rays always take a chance on.

Baltimore Orioles -- Alexi Casilla, Quintin Berry.

Either could make the team as a bench player.

New York Yankees -- Scott Sizemore.

They have a bunch of pitchers invited and the bullpen is pretty thin so one or two may actually make the team, but Sizemore is the interesting guy here. He missed all of 2012 and nearly all of 2013 after twice tearing his ACL. He hit .245/.342/.399 with the Tigers and A's in 2011, so he's a viable option at third if he can get rid of the rust. Here's more on the Yankees' other non-roster invites from It's About the Money.

Toronto Blue Jays -- Chris Getz, Munenori Kawasaki, Dan Johnson, Andy LaRoche, Tomo Ohka, Juan Perez.

Yes, that Tomo Ohka, who last pitched in the majors in 2009.

Detroit Tigers -- Robbie Ray, Danny Worth, Trevor Crowe.

Ray is the left-hander the Tigers acquired from the Nationals in the Doug Fister trade. He won't break camp with the team but a strong spring could put him in line in case one of the starters goes down.

Cleveland Indians -- Shaun Marcum, David Aardsma, Matt Capps, Scott Atchison, Tyler Cloyd, Jason Giambi, Jeff Francoeur, Elliot Johnson, Nyjer Morgan, Matt Carson, Matt Treanor, Francisco Lindor.

Hands down, the most interesting list of invites. I assume Giambi makes the team again, with Marcum maybe having a shot at the fifth starter slot. Francoeur, Carson and Morgan are possibly in a battle to be a fifth outfielder (edge to Francoeur, who could end up platooning with David Murphy).

Minnesota Twins -- Jason Kubel, Matt Guerrier, Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton.

Sano and Buxton? Catch them early in spring training if you can.

Chicago White Sox -- Dylan Axelrod.

Axelrod lost his spot on the 40-man roster after struggling in the rotation in 2013. He'll get another shot and could stick as a long reliever/spot starter.

Oakland Athletics -- No announcements yet on non-roster players.

Texas Rangers -- Colby Lewis, Jose Contreras, Rafael Perez, Brent Lillibridge, Josh Wilson.

Lewis made seven starts in the minor leagues last year but never made it back to the Rangers. Derek Holland's injury opens up a slot in the rotation, with Lewis and Nick Tepesch the front-runners.

Los Angeles Angels -- Mark Mulder, Clay Rapada, Carlos Pena, Taylor Lindsey, Ian Stewart, Chad Tracy, Brennan Boesch.

The big name here is Mulder, the ESPN analyst who last pitched in the majors in 2008, making his the most intriguing comeback story of the season. Mulder had retired after two shoulder surgeries but decided to try a comeback after watching the delivery of Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez. He auditioned for several teams, was clocked at 89-90 mph and eventually signed with the Angels.

Seattle Mariners -- Scott Baker, Ramon Ramirez, Endy Chavez, Dominic Leone, Carson Smith.

After missing all of 2012 with Tommy John surgery, Baker was able to make just three starts last year with the Cubs. He'll try again with the Mariners. Leone and Smith are right-handed relievers who could break camp with the big team.

Houston Astros -- Mark Appel, Peter Moylan, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Delino DeShields Jr., J.D. Martinez

The Astros have invited some of their top prospects. Springer is the guy to watch. Will he make the team out of spring training or will the Astros send him down to Triple-A for a few weeks to save on his service time?
Jayson Stark has a piece today looking back at the reign of commissioner Bud Selig. One of the important legacies of Selig's tenure has been revenue sharing -- as Jayson points out, nearly $400 million exchanged hands last season, helping some of the less affluent clubs compete with the big boys.

But we know not all teams are created equally in terms of payroll, a point further hammered home when the Yankees outbid the likes of the Astros and Diamondbacks for the services of pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. I thought I'd look back at the past five seasons and review each franchise. We'll rank them from last to first based on total wins -- but also list their total payrolls in that span. (All payroll information is taken from Cot's Baseball Contracts and are drawn from estimated Opening Day payrolls each season.)

30. Houston Astros: 312 wins, $359.5 million in payroll (23rd)

The Astros and Mets were the only teams not to have at least one winning season in our five-year study. The Astros' $26.1 million Opening Day payroll in 2013 was also the lowest in the past five years. They've gone through the worst three-year span -- 106, 107 and 111 losses -- since the expansion Mets lost 120, 111 and 109 games. Of course, the recent struggles are the result of general manager Jeff Luhnow's complete tearing down of the organization and basically starting over.

They'll have the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft for the third year in a row, helping to reload a now highly rated farm system. And the payroll, after stripped to the bare minimum in 2013, will increase to an estimated $48 million after signing Scott Feldman and trading for Dexter Fowler. But when will they start winning and how difficult will it be to win the fans back?

An aside here on competitive balance. Let's get this out of the way. You still hear a lot of fans arguing that a salary cap -- a hard cap, I presume, and not a luxury tax threshold -- would make things "more fair." I guess by "fair" they usually mean "so the Yankees and now the Dodgers can't sign all of the best free agents."

A salary cap, however, doesn't necessarily create more competitive balance. Just look at the NFL. In the past five NFL seasons, six teams never made the playoffs or had a winning record. Two others haven't made the playoffs. That doesn't even include the Detroit Lions, who have had one winning season and playoff appearance in 13 years.

Baseball's system may not be fair, but there isn't evidence that another system would create more parity.

29. Chicago Cubs: 356 wins, $629.3 million (7th)

The Cubs certainly win honors for most mismanaged franchise of the past half-decade, at least in terms of dollars spent per win. From 2009 to 2011, they had payrolls of at least $134 million and topped out at 83 wins in 2009 (after winning division titles in 2007 and 2008). Don't blame Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer completely for the past two years, as they inherited bloated contracts like the ones of Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano. The payroll this year should sit at about $78 million, with a slew of top-rated prospects -- Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, C.J. Edwards -- starting to arrive perhaps by the end of the season.

28. Seattle Mariners: 359 wins, $453.7 million (15th)

The Mariners have stumbled and bumbled their way through a decade's worth of bad, boring teams and awful free-agent signings like Carlos Silva and Chone Figgins. Despite owning five top-five picks since 2005 (Jeff Clement, Brandon Morrow, Dustin Ackley, Danny Hultzen, Mike Zunino) the Mariners' farm system has yielded little in the way of top-line talent since Felix Hernandez arrived in the big leagues. They signed Robinson Cano to the monster contract this offseason, but haven't done much else to provide him help other than to acquire Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, two guys with bad knees. The once fervent fan base has deteriorated and the entire city is wearing Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman jerseys. This is Jack Zduriencik's last gasp; a crushing exposé in the Seattle Times in December painted a picture of an organization without a clue.

27. Kansas City Royals: 361 wins, $329.7 million (25th)

They finally broke through in 2013 with their first winning season since 2003 and second since 1994. In 2011, the Royals had stripped the roster of veterans, and payroll was down to $38.2 million. As the young talent has started to mature, the payroll increased to $82 million in 2013 and looks to be another $10 million higher for 2014.

26. Pittsburgh Pirates: 364 wins, $248.5 million (30th)

After winning 94 games, Pirates fans are understandably frustrated at the club's offseason. While waiting for A.J. Burnett to retire or not retire, the Pirates have basically stood pat and done nothing. The future should be bright. Like the Astros and Cubs, they have a highly rated farm system oozing in talent. The advantage the Pirates have is the big league roster already includes an MVP in Andrew McCutchen and a potential future Cy Young Award winner in Gerrit Cole.

25. Miami Marlins: 370 wins, $294 million (28th)

The Marlins tried that whole fancy free-agent thing in 2012 and look what happened: 93 losses. Don't think we'll be seeing owner Jeffrey Loria going down that road again. The Marlins dropped from a $100 million payroll in 2012 to $50 million in 2013. Despite the influx of $26 million in additional national TV revenue for 2014, Miami's payroll may be even lower. Enjoy Jose Fernandez while you can, Marlins fans.

23. New York Mets: 374 wins (tie), $606.9 million (8th)

Matt Harvey's injury has allowed the Mets to sell 2014 as another rebuilding year, although they did sign free-agent outfielders Curtis Granderson and Chris Young and starter Bartolo Colon. The Mets have one playoff appearance in the past 13 years. I'm guessing it will be one in 14.

23. Cleveland Indians: 374 wins (tie), $338.5 million (24th)

Right now, the Indians' payroll sits right about where it was last season ($82 million), making you wonder if they're hedging on Ubaldo Jimenez not finding a suitor and returning to Cleveland. In 2001, the Indians' payroll was ... $93 million. That was the year after Larry Dolan bought the team and the Indians made the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. Within three years, the payroll had been slashed to $34 million, attendance had fallen by 1.3 million and the Indians have been trying to build a consistent winner ever since. They won last year but the fans still haven't returned, as attendance was actually lower than the 94-loss team of 2012.

22. Minnesota Twins: 376 wins, $458.6 million (13th)

The Twins won six division titles from 2002 to 2010 -- a weak division in that era helped -- but fell apart overnight and have now lost 90-plus games three years in a row, despite three of the four highest payrolls in franchise history. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are two of the top-10 position players in the minors and could arrive sometime this season to help turn things around.

21. Baltimore Orioles: 377 wins, $404.1 million (20th)

Peter Angelos bought the Orioles for $173 million in 1993. For the first several years of his ownership, Camden Yards was packed, the Orioles were competitive (making the playoffs in 1996 and 1997) and they spent freely on payroll, topping $80 million in 1999 and 2000. But as the losing seasons mounted and attendance dwindled, the Orioles seemed unsure of what approach to take. They never committed to a rebuild, but also never committed more resources to payroll. The success of the past two seasons has brought more fans to the ballpark, although they're still well below the figures of the late '90s. Still, Angelos and his son John are reluctant to take a big plunge in free agency and increase payroll much beyond what the club was spending more than a decade ago. The Orioles are now valued at somewhere between $618 million (Forbes) and $1.1 billion (Bloomberg).

20. Colorado Rockies: 386 wins, $396.8 million (21st)

The Rockies made the playoffs in 2009, but have now suffered three straight losing seasons. Their payroll and attendance figures have remained about as consistent as any team in baseball in the past five years, which alludes to a business plan that the front office sticks to. Unfortunately, a solid business plan doesn't mean a solid team on the field. The big moves this offseason were taking chances on Justin Morneau and Brett Anderson and signing reliever Boone Logan to a three-year contract. Those three players likely will have little impact. General manager Dan O'Dowd has been in charge since 2000 and presided over four winning seasons in 14 years. Why does he still have a job?

18. Toronto Blue Jays: 388 wins (tie), $432.8 million (17th)

Hey, the Blue Jays tried to go big last year. While everything went right for the Red Sox, everything went wrong for the Blue Jays. Still, in the end, the Jays haven't made the playoffs now since winning the 1993 World Series. Only the Royals (1985) have gone longer without a postseason appearance.

18. San Diego Padres: 388 wins (tie), $251.3 million (29th)

Perhaps no team is ultimately limited by its geographic location more than the Padres -- blocked to the north by the Dodgers and Angels, to the west by the Pacific Ocean, to the east by a desert and to the south by Mexico. San Diego is still a bigger metro market than Tampa, St. Louis, Cincinnati or Cleveland, but even if they started winning, it's not like baseball fans in Pasadena are going to suddenly dump the Dodgers for the Padres. So the Padres are always operating within a tight budget, although that budget hasn't really grown in a decade.

You know what else has hurt the Padres? They've never really hit rock bottom. There is a potential long-term advantage to doing what the Astros have done -- sorry, I'll call it tanking, even if it was the smart thing to do. By getting those No. 1 picks, the Astros secured premium, sure-thing talent. The Padres have had five top-10 picks in the past decade, but only two in the top five. OK, they blew the first overall pick on Matt Bush in 2004, taking him over Justin Verlander. No excuse there, as Bush turned into the worst No. 1 pick ever. They took outfielder Donavan Tate third in 2009 in what proved to be a pretty weak draft and he hasn't developed. Until the Padres develop a hitter or two to build a lineup around, this team is going to stick to about a 76-86 record every season.

17. Arizona Diamondbacks: 391 wins, $367.2 million (22nd)

We've apparently entered the NL West portion of our rankings. They've finished 81-81 the past two years. Has any team ever finished .500 three years in a row? It doesn't appear so. The Padres won 81 games in 1982 and 1983 ... and then reached the World Series in 1984. So there you go, Diamondbacks fans.

16. Washington Nationals: 392 wins, $405.7 million (19th)

Case in point to my Astros/Padres argument: Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. The Indians came very close from 1979 to 1981, going 81-80, 79-81 and 52-51. The Nationals dropped from 98 to 86 wins, and those 86 wins resulted only after an 18-9 record in September. With the price of success has come an increased payroll: $92.5 million in 2012, $118.3 million last year and about $130 million this year.

Later today: The top 15 teams.
These are 10 players I like heading into the season, five position players and five pitchers. I’m calling them breakout candidates, although if you’re a fantasy player, you already know about them. You always have to be wary about projecting too much growth in a young player -- many fantasy owners have been ruined by falling prey to prospect hype -- but these are 10 young players I'd love to have in 2014.

Jedd Gyorko, 2B, San Diego Padres: He had an impressive rookie season with 23 home runs in 125 games, although a .249 average and .301 on-base percentage leaves room for improvement. Still, his season went pretty unrecognized for several reasons: (1) He plays for the Padres, and (2) it was such a strong rookie class in the National League that there wasn’t much attention left over after Jose Fernandez, Yasiel Puig, Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran; (3) His splits made for an odd season, as he hit .272 with eight home runs in the first half, .226 with 15 home runs in the second half.

Gyorko needs to consolidate those two approaches. Some of that difference came from a big split in BABIP -- .325 in the first half and .245 in the second half, but he did start chasing more pitches out of the strike zone in the second half (34 percent compared to 30 percent). He was a .321 hitter in the minors, so if he can reign in the over-aggressiveness just a bit I think his average and OBP will come up. He hit 13 of his 23 home runs at Petco and hit 30 in the minors in 2012, so the power is definitely legit.

Didi Gregorius, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks: When Kevin Towers acquired Gregorius from the Reds last offseason in a three-team deal, the trade was widely criticized since Arizona surrendered Trevor Bauer, the third overall pick in the 2011 draft. But Towers loved Gregorius’ defense and Bauer had worn out his welcome in Arizona. Gregorius missed some time with injuries as a rookie but showed more potential with the bat than many expected, hitting .252/.332/.372, and showing the ability to turn on some pitches with seven home runs.

He’s never going to be an offensive star, but he puts the ball in play, and if he can improve against left-handers (.200/267/.245), his numbers will look pretty good for a shortstop. If his defensive proves to be as strong as Towers sold us on them (the defensive runs saved metric had him at minus-1 run in 2013), he has a chance to be a very good player. His fantasy value may be limited by his lack of offensive skills, but I believe Gregorius can turn into a championship-caliber shortstop.

Kole Calhoun, RF, Los Angeles Angels: A big reason the Angels felt they could trade Mark Trumbo for pitching depth was the emergence of Calhoun, who hit .282/.347/.462 in 222 plate appearances. He’s older (26), so his star potential is limited. He has a decent approach at the plate and could hit 15 to 20 home runs. A left-handed batter, he has handled lefties well enough that he doesn’t necessarily have to be platooned.

Josmil Pinto, C, Minnesota Twins: You never want to count too much on a young catcher -- we’ve seen top hitting prospects like Devin Mesoraco and Jesus Montero struggle mightily at the big league level -- but the Twins are moving Joe Mauer to first base due to their confidence in Pinto. His 21-game stint in the majors was obviously impressive (.342, five doubles and four home runs in 83 plate appearances) but he has hit very well the past two seasons in the minors, including a .309/.400/.482 line between Double-A and Triple-A in 2013. I like his discipline -- 66 walks, 83 strikeouts in the minors -- and his arm is solid (threw out five of 11 basestealers with the Twins). The Twins brought in veteran Kurt Suzuki, but playing him would be a mistake. Pinto needs to get 450 to 500 plate appearances as the regular catcher. I think he’ll hit enough and play well enough behind the plate to give manager Ron Gardenhire little option but to do just that.

Anthony Rendon, 2B, Washington Nationals: No surprise here. Everyone has expected Rendon to hit since his college days at Rice. The big question with him has always been staying on the field. Injuries limited him to 43 games in the minors in 2012, but he stayed relatively healthy last season, playing 134 games between the minors and the majors. He may end up being more of a doubles guy with a good average than a big power hitter, but either way he’s going to provide value at the plate. Rendon has good balance, quick wrists and he walked more than he struck out in the minors, an approach that should help him improve on the .265 average he hit as a rookie. His defensive transition to second base still needs work, but he’s athletic enough to be acceptable.

With Rendon and Bryce Harper -- heck, I could have put Harper on the list except he's already such a big name -- the Nationals should score more than the 656 runs they tallied a season ago.

Nate Eovaldi, P, Miami Marlins: Among pitchers who threw at least 100 innings in 2013, guess who had the highest average velocity on the fastball? Yep, this guy. Eovaldi averaged 96.2 mph on his heater, one of just four starters to average 95-plus, along with Gerrit Cole, Matt Harvey and Stephen Strasburg. It's a good weapon and proved to be a fairly effective pitch for him; he allowed a lower OPS on his fastball than Zack Greinke, Julio Teheran, Anibal Sanchez, Adam Wainwright and Felix Hernandez. Eovaldi still needs to improve his command, but more importantly needs to refine his secondary pitches. He threw his fastball 1,189 times out of 1,696 total pitches, relying little on his slider or curveball. He needs to turn one of those pitches into more of a strikeout pitch. He did have some shoulder problems at the start of 2013 but was fine after that. He turns 24 in February, and with 46 career starts under his belt, he's young enough to put everything together.

James Paxton, P, Seattle Mariners: Taijuan Walker is the Mariners' rookie starter who has received most of the attention on prospect lists, but Paxton may be more ready for the majors. A lefty with good size at 6-foot-4, Paxton brings a good fastball (he averaged 94.8 mph in his four-start stint in September in which he held batters to a .172 average) along with a curve and changeup, although with a history of shaky command. His Triple-A numbers aren't impressive -- 4.45 ERA, 158 hits in 145.2 innings -- but were better in the second half. The Mariners were a terrible defensive team last year and could be again this year, especially if they end up adding Nelson Cruz in the outfield alongside Corey Hart or Logan Morrison, so keep that in mind. A shaky defense can hurt a young pitcher's confidence and force him to start nibbling at the corners too much.

Corey Kluber, P, Cleveland Indians: Kluber was pretty good in 2013 -- 3.85 ERA in 147 innings -- so this is confirmation bias as much as anything. Originally a fourth-round pick of the Padres way back in 2007, Kluber came to Cleveland in the three-way trade that sent Jake Westbrook to the Cardinals. He finally put everything together in 2013, improving his command and cutting his walks way down. He finished with 136 strikeouts and 33 walks, a 4.1-to-1 ratio, the sixth best in the American League behind guys named David Price, Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Max Scherzer. I'm not saying he's as good as those guys, but he's not just a finesse guy who lucked into a good year, as he owns a solid fastball (93.1 mph average velocity) and terrific curve. Batters hit .196 off it with just two home runs, 50 strikeouts and no walks. Here's an examination of Kluber's improvement, which even spawned the Corey Kluber Society.

Yordano Ventura, P, Kansas City Royals: He'll rank high on prospect lists heading into the season with his high-octane heater. The Royals believed enough to give him three starts down the stretch with the club battling for a wild-card spot. Ventura isn't a lock for the rotation -- James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas are locks, with Danny Duffy and Wade Davis also in the mix -- but the Royals should go with the potential upside of Ventura over Duffy or Davis. Ventura struck out 155 in 134.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A and while the curveball and changeup are still works in progress, it’s the fastball, which hit 101.9 mph with the Royals, that should make him an effective starter as a rookie.

Erik Johnson, P, Chicago White Sox: A second-round pick out of Cal in 2011, Johnson dominated the high minors, posting a 1.96 ERA and allowing just 100 hits in 142 innings. He mixes in a four-seamer and two-seamer with an upper-80s slider that neutralizes right-handed batters. He needs to improve his curveball and/or changeup to become more effective against lefties and pitching in The Cell, where the ball flies, isn't easy, so don't expect a low ERA from him. But he could develop into a middle-rotation type of starter, part of a suddenly interesting young core in Chicago that includes Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia.
It's one month to the official start date of spring training (the Dodgers and Diamondbacks will start a week earlier due to their opening two games in Australia). It has been quiet the past few weeks as everybody waits for Masahiro Tanaka to sign. But the quiet means there are still many questions to consider over the next month. Here are 14:

1. Can the Dodgers afford both Clayton Kershaw and Masahiro Tanaka?

[+] EnlargeClayton Kershaw
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonDodgers ace Clayton Kershaw led the majors with a 1.83 ERA last season.
Well, I suppose they could considering the Dodgers seem to have enough money to fill all the swimming pools in Malibu. But let's say Kershaw eventually signs a $300 million contract and Tanaka goes for $120 million. Throw in the $102 million still owed Zack Greinke and you would be talking over $500 million just for three pitchers -- on top of the $129 million owed Matt Kemp and $110 million owed Adrian Gonzalez. They're three great pitchers, but they're still pitchers with all the inherent injury risks that pitchers have. But unless Kershaw gets done in the next week, the Dodgers have a decision to make before the Jan. 24 deadline to sign Tanaka: All-in on both or just one?

2. Will the Yankees look to make a move at third base?

At this point, I doubt it. Their options include Kelly Johnson, Scott Sizemore (just signed to a minor league deal), Eduardo Nunez and minor league vet Dean Anna, a left-handed bat who hit .331/.410/.482 for Triple-A Tucson (a Padres affiliate). The free-agent options are down to Placido Polanco and Michael Young, not exactly inspiring options. The Yankees probably will roll the dice with the guys they have and focus on signing Tanaka and making some additions to the bullpen rather than trading for somebody like Chase Headley.

3. Will the Rangers try to replace Derek Holland?

Holland injured his knee tripping over his dog at home and will miss at least half the season. The good news for the Rangers is that the pitching staff was the strength of the team in 2013. While closer Joe Nathan departed as a free agent, there is still plenty of depth in the bullpen, plus Matt Harrison should return after back surgery limited him to two starts. Without Holland, the rotation shapes up as Yu Darvish, Harrison, Martin Perez, Alexi Ogando and Nick Tepesch. That still looks like an above-average rotation if Harrison is healthy, but there aren't solid backup options, so the Rangers could still go after one of the remaining free-agent starters. They've already lost their first-round pick for signing Shin-Soo Choo, so signing Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana means they'd surrender only a second-rounder. It's not money the Rangers planned on spending, but they're desperate to get back into the postseason.

4. Are the Mariners done?

I find it hard to believe the Mariners are quitting after signing Robinson Cano and the injury gambles on Corey Hart, Logan Morrison and Franklin Gutierrez. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Mariners' estimated payroll right now for 2014 is $81.6 million -- less than last year's $84.9 million. Where can they upgrade? Well, how about offense, rotation and bullpen? The Mariners were 12th in the American League in runs scored, and while Cano is about a 50-run upgrade over the production the Mariners got from their second basemen in 2013, Hart and Morrison essentially replace Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez. The rotation behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma would be Erasmo Ramirez and rookies Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. The bullpen had a 4.58 ERA, better than only the Astros. The Mariners are undoubtedly in on Tanaka but if they don't get him, another starting pitcher has to be a priority. And don't be surprised if Morales ends up back in Seattle.

5. Is Gaby Sanchez really the Pirates' regular first baseman?

[+] EnlargeGaby Sanchez
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesGaby Sanchez batted .254 with just seven home runs in 136 games for the Pirates in 2013.
I hope not. As the Pirates wait on A.J. Burnett's retirement decision, the biggest issue the club faces isn't replacing Burnett but getting more offense from first base. Sanchez is a platoon bat at best. He's hit .234/.306/.368 against right-handers the past three seasons; that's barely acceptable for a shortstop let alone a first baseman. They signed minor league veteran Chris McGuiness, who played briefly with the Rangers in 2013, but he hit .246 with 11 home runs in 362 at-bats in Triple-A. Morales is out there, but the Pirates don't want to surrender their first-round pick to sign him. They could try minor league slugger Andrew Lambo (32 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A) there. Ike Davis remains a trade rumor. But right now first base looks like a nightmare for a team that needs to score more runs.

6. Where does Stephen Drew land?

You'd think there would be more interest in a solid defensive shortstop who hit .253/.333/.443 -- that's a .777 OPS and only two teams (the Rockies and Dodgers) received a higher OPS from their shortstops in 2013. Only 12 teams even topped .700. So why is Drew still out there? He could be asking for too much; he does have an injury history; most teams are set at shortstop, even if it's a young, glove-first guy like Alcides Escobar in Kansas City, Pedro Florimon in Minnesota or Adeiny Hechavarria in Miami. The obvious fit for Drew would seem to be the Yankees, but they seem content to rely on some guy who played in only 17 games a season ago, hit .190 and turns 40 in June.

7. Where does Ubaldo Jimenez land?

As with Santana, Bronson Arroyo and Matt Garza, it's a waiting game until after Tanaka signs. Bottom line: Teams are clearly reluctant to pay big money and surrender a first-round pick for Jimenez (That signals a return to Cleveland or signing with a team whose first-round pick is protected -- Seattle or Toronto being the best bets).

8. Are the Indians really moving Carlos Santana to third base?

A couple of position switches paid huge dividends last year, most notably the Cardinals moving Matt Carpenter to second base. Indians third basemen hit 20 home runs, but batted just .218 with a .274 OBP. With the emergence of Yan Gomes behind the plate and not wanting to bet once again on Lonnie Chisenhall, Santana has been playing third base in winter ball. Catchers have moved to third base before -- Joe Torre, Todd Zeile -- so it isn't unprecedented, plus Santana played some third base early in his minor league career. The Indians understandably don't want to turn Santana into a full-time DH at his age, but that's always an option if he doesn't take to third base.

9. Are the Royals done?

The Royals have made some solid moves to upgrade an offense that ranked 11th in the AL in runs -- they signed Omar Infante to play second base, acquired Norichika Aoki to play right field, and picked up Danny Valencia to platoon with Mike Moustakas at third base. None of those were sexy moves like their rumored quest for Carlos Beltran, but all should help the team score more runs. But will it be enough? The Royals won 85 games thanks to their run prevention -- they allowed the fewest runs in the AL -- but they're expecting Jason Vargas to replace Ervin Santana and Danny Duffy and Wade Davis/Yordano Ventura to step in the fourth and fifth spots. James Shields is a solid No. 1, but Jeremy Guthrie and Vargas don't seem to fit as a playoff threesome. While there are rumors of Santana returning to Kansas City, that seems unlikely considering the team's payroll is already an estimated $11 million higher than last year. It seems to me that any increase in runs will be canceled out by an increase in runs allowed unless a young guy -- Eric Hosmer, Ventura? -- takes a big leap forward.

10. So who signs Santana?

[+] EnlargeErvin Santana
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesErvin Santana posted a career best 3.24 ERA while making 32 starts for the Royals last season.
Santana is a fly ball pitcher so he's a good fit for the Mariners or Angels, a bad fit for the White Sox, Rangers or Blue Jays. But how about Arizona? The Diamondbacks are reportedly interested in Tanaka, but it seems unlikely they'd win that bidding war. Santana would give Arizona a needed workhorse to slot in behind Patrick Corbin and Wade Miley.

11. Which team has had the best offseason?

Until we know where Tanaka lands, this question is still open. I like what the White Sox have done, acquiring Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson from the Diamondbacks, two young guys who should step into the starting lineup, and signing high-upside Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu. But how about the Angels? They traded the powerful but overrated Mark Trumbo to get Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, two pitchers who should help shore up their rotation. They traded a spare part in Peter Bourjos for David Freese (the Angels were 29th in home runs from third basemen with eight last season). They signed a valuable bullpen arm in Joe Smith. The biggest questions remain Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, but the Angels look better on paper. (Of course, they looked better on paper the past two years …)

12. Which is the biggest hole still to be filled?

Besides first base in Pittsburgh? Among potential contending teams, here are five:

1. Second base in Toronto. The Blue Jays received the worst production from second base in the majors last year at .216/.258/.297. Rookie Ryan Goins has a plus glove, but doesn't bring much with the bat. Maybe veteran Maicer Izturis bounces back.

2. Designated hitter in Baltimore. If David Lough is penciled in as the regular left fielder, that pushes Nolan Reimold into a DH battle with Henry Urrutia. Reimold can't stay healthy although Urrutia, to be fair, has some potential. The 27-year-old (in February) Cuban did hit .365 in Double-A and .316 in Triple-A with nine home runs in 314 at-bats. In 58 PAs with the Orioles, however, he had no extra-base hits and no walks. We'll see. Morales is a good fit if the Orioles are willing to punt their first-round draft pick.

3. Closer in Tampa Bay. This looks like a spring training battle between Heath Bell, Jake McGee and Joel Peralta. Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney are still free agents, but don't expect the Rays to pony up the cash. (The Orioles still need a closer after backing out of a deal with Balfour, but for now they'll let Tommy Hunter and Darren O'Day duke it out. Likewise in Texas with Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria and Tanner Scheppers.)

4. Yankees fourth/fifth starters. Once you get past CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova, it's wide open: David Phelps, Michael Pineda (good luck after missing two full seasons), Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno. Thus the interest in not just Tanaka, but other starters. Don't be surprised if Bronson Arroyo ends up here.

5. Phillies rotation. Wait, the Phillies are contenders?

13. Will anybody get traded before spring training?

It's the same names that we've been talking about: David Price, Andre Ethier, Nick Franklin. But you don't usually see trades between now and the start of spring training. So I'd bet that Price remains in Tampa … which I think is the right move for the Rays. Yes, this is the perpetual cycle they have to stay in to remain cost efficient, but at the same time their chances of winning the World Series are going to be much higher with Price in their rotation than with any trade they make.

14. Which team wins the World Series?

The Cardinals look strongest on paper, although their lack of power could prove to be an issue. The Red Sox bring just about everybody back, but will be relying on three young players -- Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Will Middlebrooks -- to provide offense. The Tigers are trying something new: defense. The Rangers brought in Choo and Prince Fielder. The Nationals should be stronger after last year's disappointment. If the Dodgers land Tanaka, they may head into the season as the preseason favorite.

But there will be a team that will come out of nowhere, the Red Sox or Pirates of 2013. The magic of the unknown still exists in baseball. In a month, it all begins. I can't wait.

How the Indians can contend again

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
The Cleveland Indians did it last season -- they made the playoffs for the first time since 2007 en route to finishing with the club's seventh-highest winning percentage since the American League expanded to the current 162-game schedule in 1961.

Of course, doling out $117 million in free agent contracts didn't hurt, a total that was nearly $110 million more than the franchise handed out the two previous winters. It took a 21-6 September record, including winning the final 10 games of the regular season, to win a wild-card spot, where the Indians succumbed to the Rays in the one-game playoff.

For a franchise like the Indians -- an organization that perpetually has to keep one eye on the present and the other on the future -- a lot needs to go right. And it did.

Scott Kazmir was resurrected off the Indy League scrap heap to throw the third-most innings in his big league career. Yan Gomes went from nondescript prospect acquired from Toronto to finishing with 3.7 Wins Above Replacement (FanGraphs), the third-best mark among AL backstops. Ryan Raburn, released by the Tigers, followed up the worst season of his career with one that no one could have expected (.272/.357/.543 and a 152 wRC+). And a move that was staunchly criticized by the local media for two years -- acquiring the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez -- was one of the key driving forces down the stretch.

Not just a lot of things went right last season. A lot of unforeseen things went right for the Indians.

The difference between last year's club and the one heading into 2014 isn't drastic -- Jimenez, assuming he signs elsewhere, is going to be replaced by a full season of Danny Salazar, the club's most exciting homegrown pitching prospect since C.C. Sabathia; John Axford replaces the mercurial Chris Perez, and Shaun Marcum has the inside track at Kazmir's fifth spot in the rotation.

And, yet, Cleveland could just as easily win 82 games as it could 90 in 2014.


Depth. Or more precisely, the lack thereof.

The Indians' modus operandi has been to extend the organization's net as wide as possible in the bargain bin, hoping to unearth a few solid performances -- perhaps even getting lucky with a career season or two -- out of the mixture of buy-low candidates. It's essentially throwing as much wet spaghetti against a wall and waiting to see what sticks.

Through that method they hit three home runs in Kazmir, Raburn and lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski, who allowed just two earned runs during his 20-plus innings of work in Cleveland. The club did OK with Mark Reynolds (he was hitting .255/.336/.505 through the end of May), and they swung-and-missed terribly on Brett Myers. Hard-throwing reliever Blake Wood, who was claimed on waivers in November 2012, is another that fits that buy-low mold who has a chance to become a key contributor in 2014.

By adding outfielder David Murphy, Marcum and Axford, the club has continued to take this approach.

But it can't stop there.

Four spots in the rotation are taken -- Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Salazar and Zach McAllister. There are a couple internal candidates for the fifth spot to go along with Marcum -- Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer. But it wouldn't hurt to add one more arm capable of chewing up some innings at or slightly above league-average replacement level.

Lefty Erik Bedard would come rather cheaply. He battled some control issues last season, walking 11.3 percent of the batters he faced, but he did also fan 20.8 percent, a slightly above-average mark. Travis Blackley, another southpaw, has the ability to pitch in the rotation and out of the pen and should have to settle for a minor league deal. A few others include Clayton Richard, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in July, Jeff Niemann, Jeff Karstens and Scott Baker.

The bullpen is pretty solid with Axford, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Rzepczynski, Wood, and recently acquired Josh Outman slotted for spots. Vinnie Pestano, C.C. Lee, Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes, Matt Capps and Austin Adams will lock down the remaining opening or two.

On offense it's much the same: Adding depth.

The club seems committed, at least for now, in moving backstop Carlos Santana to third base, which is a fantastic gamble. Along with Santana's ability to play first base, Mike Aviles and recent signee David Adams help provide late-game defensive replacements at the hot corner without totally removing Santana's bat from the game.

Signing another catcher like defensive stalwart Taylor Teagarden on a minor league deal with a midseason opt-out option would be wise for when the bumps and bruises start to add up on Gomes. Adding Adams to the picture also provides the team with another option -- further exploring a trade for enigmatic shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.

While the shortstop market is a bit limited right now (maybe Cincinnati?), it would be prudent to remind teams that Cabrera, who's signed for a reasonable $10 million through the end of 2014, has spent more than 1300 innings at second base throughout his career. Are the Yankees really content replacing Robinson Cano with Kelly Johnson? The same could be said about the Orioles heading to spring training with the duo of Jemile Weeks and Ryan Flaherty at the keystone. Toronto's second base situation is a bit muddled and the Jays are clearly in a win-now mode.

If the Indians can't find sufficient compensation, then head into the year knowing Cabrera won't be re-signed and be content grabbing the compensation pick in the offseason. But it's something the team needs to explore.

First baseman David Cooper has already been added, but signing a few additional low-risk minor league deals like Travis Hafner, Chris Dickerson and Randy Ruiz wouldn't hurt.

For the Indians, it's not about making a major splash; it's about adding as much low-risk depth as possible. It's the same approach Branch Rickey took when he established the first farm system, creating "quality out of quantity."

The club needs to get lucky again, and they'll do this by attempting to stack the odds in their favor.