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Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Ranking the teams: 24 through 19

By David Schoenfield

Let's move on to the next six teams in my pre-spring training power rankings. We're getting into the area of "Hey, if things break right any of those teams could be the surprise team of 2014" territory.

Team rankings: Nos. 30-25 »

New York Mets
24. New York Mets

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 73 more runs, allow 72 fewer. Of course, allowing 72 fewer runs will be much more difficult without Matt Harvey.

Big offseason moves: Signed P Bartolo Colon, OF Curtis Granderson and OF Chris Young.

Most intriguing player: Zack Wheeler showcased electric stuff in his 17 starts as a rookie, although the command was shaky at times and the offspeed stuff inconsistent. With Harvey sidelined for the season, the spotlight turns to Wheeler. He has to keep his composure and not try to do too much, improve his curveball or changeup and throw more first-pitch strikes. He has ace potential, although his control may never reach the level needed to get there. The Mets will be happy if he develops into a No. 2 who can give you 200 innings.

Due for a better year: I'd say Ike Davis but he's always due for a better year and Lucas Duda is probably the better bet to win the first-base job with Davis dealt at the end of spring training. Ruben Tejada is the shortstop by default, barring a last-minute Stephen Drew signing and he should bounce back from a miserable .202/.259/.260 line. How quickly Mets fans forget that he hit .289/.333/.351 in 2012.

Due for a worse year: The Mets signed Colon to help chew up innings in the absence of Harvey, but no way will he repeat the 2.65 ERA he had with Oakland last season. He'll be 41 in May and doesn't appear to be keen on eating green leafy vegetables and protein shakes. Colon pumps fastball after fastball, getting just enough late movement to induce weak contact. Still, his peripherals didn't match the ERA -- he had a 3.43 ERA the year before with similar numbers -- so I expect a decline in both results and workload (he pitched his most innings -- 190.1 -- since 2005).

I'm just the messenger: While the Mets did dip into the free-agent market to sign Granderson and Young to help in the outfield, remember that in a best-case scenario Granderson really only replaces the production of Marlon Byrd, who hit .285/.330/.518. Granderson did hit 41 home runs in 2011 and 43 in 2012 and he's only 33, so it's not so much that I'm knocking him as pointing out that Byrd had a very good season going when he was traded to the Pirates in late August.

The final word: It's not so much that the Mets are horrible, but that I have trouble seeing a lot of upside here. You're relying on a fat, 41-year-old starter, a guy coming off an injury-riddled year in Granderson, a guy in Young who hit .200, a shortstop who hit .202 last season, a catcher in Travis d'Arnaud who has never been able to stay healthy and a bullpen that doesn't look that deep. Maybe things come together, but I just don't see enough star-level talent here to crack .500.

Prediction: 73-89

Colorado Rockies
23. Colorado Rockies

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 72 more runs, allow 71 fewer. The Rockies were second in the NL in runs scored, so they just need to improve the pitching, right? No, no and no. They need to score more runs as well, especially on the road, where the Rockies went 29-52. Colorado's problem has never been winning at Coors Field; it's been winning away from Coors Field.

Big offseason moves: 1B Todd Helton retired, signed 1B Justin Morneau, traded CF Dexter Fowler to the Astros for SP Jordan Lyles and OF Brandon Barnes, acquired SP Brett Anderson from the A's for P Drew Pomeranz, signed RP Boone Logan, acquired OF Drew Stubbs from the Indians for P Josh Outman.

Most intriguing players: Is this the year shortstop Troy Tulowitzki or outfielder Carlos Gonzalez win an MVP award? Tulo is entering his age-29 season and CarGo his age-28 season. You get the feeling it's now or never for these two to lead the Rockies back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Of course, you have to stay on the field to win an MVP trophy and the two combined to miss 88 games in 2013. And that was a good year for them.

Due for a better season: The back end of the rotation. If there's reason for optimism in Colorado, this is it. The Rockies gave 26 starts to Chad Bettis, Roy Oswalt, Jeff Manship, Collin McHugh and Pomeranz and they went a combined 0-19. They also gave 24 combined starts to Jon Garland (5.82 ERA) and Jeff Francis (6.27 ERA). So they just need the back of the rotation to be respectable.

Due for a worse season: Michael Cuddyer hit .331 to win the NL batting title at the age of 34. Considering he'd never hit .300 before and hit just .260 his first year with the Rockies, he became one of the unlikeliest players to ever win a batting championship.

I'm just the messenger: The Rockies shuffled a lot of deck chairs, but still failed to make two obvious moves. They need to upgrade second base, where DJ LeMahieu hit an empty .280. And with Helton retiring, they should have moved Cuddyer to first base and out of right field, where his range is a liability. Instead, they signed Morneau for two years and $12.5 million and traded Fowler for Lyles, a guy likely to struggle in Coors. Fowler doesn't make that much more than Morneau ($7.85 million in 2014 and then arbitration in 2015), so that transaction didn't make any sense.

Final word: LaTroy Hawkins is the closer. Need I say more? OK, I will. I can certainly envision a scenario where things work out considering how bad the fourth and fifth starters were a year ago. If Tulo and CarGo actually remain healthy for 145 games apiece, Nolan Arenado improves at the plate and Cuddyer repeats his monster season, the offense could be fine. But I just see too many ifs here with guys like Morneau and Anderson to see a playoff team.

Prediction: 74-88

Seattle Mariners
22. Seattle Mariners

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 99 more runs, allow 114 fewer. Robinson Cano ain't doing that all by himself.

Big offseason moves: Signed 2B Robinson Cano, 1B Corey Hart, acquired 1B/OF Logan Morrison from the Marlins for RP Carter Capps, re-signed OF Franklin Gutierrez, signed SP Scott Baker, lost OF Raul Ibanez. DH Kendrys Morales is still a free agent.

Most intriguing player: Cano. So many questions. How will he do away from the limelight of New York? Now that he has his huge contract, will he press? Will he give max effort when he's playing in front of 14,000 fans on a cold night in Seattle in April? Will he hit as well away from Yankee Stadium? Does he have the drive to prove himself as one of the game's greatest second baseman ever? Will he cry when he sees the rest of the lineup around him? Will Jay Z come to Mariners games? Will Cano buy a house next to Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos?

Due for a better year: Justin Smoak? Just kidding. The bullpen ranked 29th in the majors with a 4.58 ERA even though it ranked fourth in strikeout percentage. Strikeouts usually lead to success, so expect better results (the Mariners lost six games they led heading into the ninth inning and went 6-15 in extra innings).

Due for a worse year: Hisashi Iwakuma was a revelation, performing better than Felix Hernandez and finishing third in the AL Cy Young voting. He was as good as Hernandez, but there was some luck involved. Nineteen of the 25 home runs he allowed were solo home runs and he'll be hard-pressed to repeat the .184 average he allowed with runners in scoring position. In Japan, he also had a history of following up good years with years in which he battled injuries. His innings from 2008 through 2011 were 201, 169, 201 and 119. He threw 219.2 in 2013.

I'm just the messenger: According to Defensive Runs Saved, the Mariners were the second-worst defensive team in the majors at 99 runs below average (only the Phillies were worse). The eye test confirms this was the case. The major culprit was an outfield that was predictably horrid at minus-70 runs. Yes, that was what happens when you play Raul Ibanez and Mike Morse out there on a regular basis and move a second baseman to center field midseason. So what did the Mariners do in the offseason? They acquired two first basemen/outfielders with bad knees and are rumored to be interested in the slow-footed Nelson Cruz. Talk about not learning from your mistakes.

Final word: Yes, signing Cano will make the Mariners interesting at the start of the season. But ... well, what else is there? The Mariners are desperately counting on their young players -- Mike Zunino, Brad Miller, Dustin Ackley (is he still a young player?), Justin Smoak (ditto) and Michael Saunders (ditto) to improve -- and all have huge question marks. They're counting on two rookies in Taijuan Walker and James Paxton for the rotation. They hope Hart and Morrison are healthy, but even then they're basically replacing the production Morales provided last year. Cano should be great, but I'm having trouble seeing where the improvement is going to come from unless Walker and Paxton are much better than anticipated.

Prediction: 74-88

Milwaukee Brewers
21. Milwaukee Brewers

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 75 more runs, allow 54 fewer. Playing in Miller Park, which helps hitters, the Brewers have to score more than 640 runs. They scored 721 when they made the playoffs in 2011 and even scored 776 in 2012 when the bullpen imploded.

Big offseason moves: Signed SP Matt Garza, acquired P Will Smith from the Royals for RF Norichika Aoki, signed 1B Mark Reynolds, Lyle Overbay, Cecil Cooper, Franklin Stubbs and Greg Brock to minor league contracts.

Most intriguing player: Ryan Braun. No offense to Scooter Gennett.

Due for a better year: Braun. What to expect? I think he'll return to being one of the best players in the game, maybe even the 30-30 guy he was in 2011 and 2012 when he finished first and then second in the MVP voting.

Due for a worse year: Carlos Gomez. A revelation last year when he hit 24 home runs, stole 40 bases, hit a career-high .284 while winning a Gold Glove, it's hard to improve on a season in which you led all NL position players in Baseball-Reference WAR (at 8.4, just ahead of Andrew McCutchen's 8.2). But much of that value was tied up in his defense in center field, which by all accounts was tremendous. Gomez was credited with 38 Defensive Runs Saved, the most since Baseball Info Solutions began tracking DRS in 2003. Gomez's offense also tailed off a bit in the second half. He's a good player; I'm just not sure he's one of the top three or four players in the league.

I'm just the messenger: Brewers first basemen ranked last in the majors in OPS with a disgraceful .630 mark -- a figure so low that only three full-time position players were worse in 2013. So how do they attempt to fix this issue? Well, they signed the first baseman from the team with the 28th-worst OPS (Overbay).

Final word: I've been burned by the Brewers the past two seasons so I'm officially off the bandwagon. I see the same kind of team as last year -- top heavy with Braun, Gomez, Jean Segura and Jonathan Lucroy, too right-handed and one that has serious depth issues. Now that I'm picking against them, they'll probably win 90 games.

Prediction: 76-86

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20. San Francisco Giants

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 60 more runs, allow 81 fewer.

Big offseason moves: Re-signed RF Hunter Pence, SP Tim Lincecum and RP Javier Lopez, signed SP Tim Hudson, signed OF Mike Morse.

Most intriguing player: Buster Posey. Will 2012 be Posey's career year? After hitting .336/.408/.549 in 2012, he dropped to .294/.371/.450, not that there's anything wrong with that from a catcher. After playing 148 games two years in a row, Posey looked tired in the second half and hit just .244 with two home runs. He did start 16 games at first and five at DH, so Bruce Bochy did give him rest from squatting, but playing him at first also means sitting Brandon Belt, who had slightly better numbers than Posey.

Due for a better year: Matt Cain went 8-10, 4.00, a big drop from the 2.93 ERA over the previous four years. Cain struggled early on with the long ball, three times allowing three home runs in a game through his first nine starts. From June 7 on, however, he looked more like the old Matt Cain, with a 3.03 ERA. His days as a 220-inning workhorse may be over, but look for his ERA to decrease this season.

Due for a worse year: Hunter Pence's totals of 27 home runs and 99 RBIs were boosted by a huge September in which he hit 11 home runs and drove in 32 runs. Pence is a solid, durable player, and the $90 million the Giants gave him wasn't absurd, but with 4.1 WAR, 2013 may prove to be his best season.

I'm just the messenger: People talk about all that went wrong with the Giants in 2013 -- Angel Pagan's injury, Vogelsong's injury, Barry Zito's general awfulness. But you know what? A lot actually went right. Six regulars played 140 or more games, three starters made 30 starts, Marco Scutaro played well at 37, Belt increased his power and the bullpen was pretty solid.

The final word: Nobody likes veterans more than Giants general manager Brian Sabean. He proved that again by signing free agents Hudson and Morse and bringing Lincecum back on a two-year, $35 million deal even though he's been worth -2.3 WAR over the past two seasons. The deals could work out, but the Giants are betting Hudson recovers from his broken ankle, Cain bounces back, Lincecum pitches like it's 2011 and Vogelsong staying healthy and pitching well. That's too many ifs for me.

Prediction: 78-84

Toronto Blue Jays
19. Toronto Blue Jays

How they can get to 90 wins: Score 51 more runs, allow 81 fewer runs.

Big offseason moves: None. Yet. Many expect the Blue Jays to sign one of the remaining free-agent pitchers. Signed C Dioner Navarro.

Most intriguing player: Jose Bautista. Does the slugger who finished fourth in the 2010 MVP vote and third in 2011 have another big season left in him? Bautista has played just 92 and 118 games the past two seasons, although he still swatted 55 home runs in that time. He still has 40-homer power in his bat but needs to stay healthy. And needs to quit his constant bickering with the umpires.

Due for a better season: The team medical staff. Compare that to what we just said about the Giants. The Blue Jays had just three players reach 120 games played, and unfortunately one of those was J.P. Arencibia, who had a .227 OBP.

Due for a worse season: Relievers Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar both made the All-Star team but struggled with injury issues and results in the second half, Cecil pitching 19 games with a 5.65 ERA, Delabar in 17 games with a 7.02 ERA. The Blue Jays may need some of the other bullpen arms -- like Sergio Santos -- to step up in case the All-Stars don't return to their first-half form.

I'm just the messenger: The Blue Jays haven't ranked in the top half of the AL in runs allowed since 2008 (when they allowed the fewest). Guys like Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez aren't the perfect solutions, but Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has painted himself into a corner. With a win-now lineup of veterans like Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes and Adam Lind, the Jays need to build a rotation that can win now. And that means taking a chance on at least one free agent ... and not counting on Brandon Morrow to actually make 30 starts again.

The final word: It was just one year ago that the Blue Jays were World Series favorites (oh, how everyone got suckered by that deal with the Marlins), so there is clearly some level of talent here. But the Jays have a wide swing of possibilities considering all the injury issues of 2013 and a rotation that remains a mess behind Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey. I'm taking the under but wouldn't be surprised on the over.

Prediction: 78-84