Thursday, February 6, 2014
Ranking the teams: 12 through 7
By David Schoenfield
It's Day 4 of our big team rankings package, where you get upset because I ranked your team too low. We're now in the territory of teams I'm projecting to make the playoffs (well, when you get to No. 10).
• Team rankings: Nos. 18-13 »
• Team rankings: Nos. 24-19 »
• Team rankings: Nos. 30-25 »
12. Arizona Diamondbacks
How they can get to 90 wins: Score 41 more runs, allow 52 fewer.
Big offseason moves: Acquired OF/1B Mark Trumbo from the Angels for SP Tyler Skaggs and CF Adam Eaton (who went to the White Sox), acquired RP Addison Reed from the White Sox for 3B Matt Davidson, re-signed 3B Eric Chavez, traded RP Heath Bell to the Rays, re-signed SP Daniel Hudson to a minor league contract.
Most intriguing player: First baseman Paul Goldschmidt finished second in the MVP voting after leading the NL with 36 home runs and 125 RBIs and hitting three walk-off home runs. He added 15 steals and a Gold Glove Award. The big year resulted from improved production against right-handers, from .257 and 10 home runs in 2012 to .300 and 25 in 2013. If he gets any better, he'll get that big trophy this season.
Due for a better year: Miguel Montero was a career .275 hitter entering the season, but fell to .230 as his BABIP decreased from a .318 career mark to .282. His line-drive rate remained in line with his career norms so it looks like some bad luck went on.
Due for a worse year: One reason I like the Diamondbacks is there isn't an obvious candidate to have a worse year unless you don't believe in Goldschmidt. Maybe he won't be "Mr. Clutch" in the late innings again, but I believe he's a legit .300, 30-homer guy. Patrick Corbin had a stellar first full season that was surprising (14-8, 3.41), but there's nothing about him that screams fluke.
I'm just the messenger: The D-backs were in on Masahiro Tanaka, with good reason. They want more depth for the rotation as only Corbin and Wade Miley were able to remain healthy all season. They need better production from Brandon McCarthy and the fifth starter right now would be Randall Delgado (with top prospect Archie Bradley behind him). They lost out on Tanaka, but it makes sense for them to sign Ervin Santana, even at the cost of losing their first-round pick. After a good year with Kansas City, Santana should be a solid mid-rotation starter in the NL.
The final word: The Diamondbacks finished .500 last year and while Goldschmidt and Corbin were great, they also suffered through a lot of injuries. I wasn't necessarily a big fan of their offseason moves, especially trading away Eaton, but this is still a team with depth in the lineup if everyone stays healthy. The Diamondbacks have the best defensive right fielder in the game in Gerardo Parra and A.J. Pollock looked very good on D as well in center. That will help them carry Trumbo's weak glove in left. The infield is also above-average defensively. While Trumbo's OBP won't be pretty, he should give Arizona another 30-homer guy (and maybe 40 as he moves from a tough home run park to a good one). The bullpen will be deeper with Reed closing and they have a good bench with Cody Ross, Cliff Pennington, the loser of the Chris Owings-Didi Gregorius shortstop battle and Chavez.
Projected record: 85-77
11. Los Angeles Angels
How they can get to 90 wins: Score 43 more runs, allow 51 fewer.
Big offseason moves: Traded 1B Mark Trumbo for SP Tyler Skaggs and SP Hector Santiago, traded OF Peter Bourjos to the Cardinals for 3B David Freese, signed RP Joe Smith, signed DH Raul Ibanez.
Most intriguing player: Mike Trout. Or Albert Pujols. Or Josh Hamilton. But definitely not Joe Blanton.
Due for a better year: Pujols and Hamilton. If I were betting on which of the two, however, I'd take Pujols, chalking up last year to the foot injury that eventually required surgery. Remember, even though 2012 wasn't the MVP-caliber Pujols from his Cardinals days, he still pounded out 80 extra-base hits.
Due for a worse year: J.B. Shuck got to play and hit .293/.331/.366. Shuck puts the ball in play -- in his two-plus years in Triple-A he had 111 walks and just 65 strikeouts -- but he'll be back on the bench this year as a backup outfielder and probably won't get 478 plate appearances again.
I'm just the messenger: The Angels seemed to learn their lesson from last year, when they took chances on sore-armed Tommy Hanson and veteran innings-eater Joe Blanton. Hanson wasn't healthy or good and Blanton was, somewhat predictably, shelled in the AL (he went 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA). This year, they traded Trumbo and his 34 home runs -- but sub-.300 OBP -- for younger arms with more upside in Skaggs and Santiago. They could still use another starter -- I'm not a big believer in Garrett Richards as a starter and Skaggs is unproven -- so I recommend signing Bronson Arroyo, who would be a perfect fit in Angel Stadium.
The final word: Everyone is down on the Angels after they went 78-84, their worst record since 2003. I'm a little more optimistic as they played much better after a disastrous 9-17 April. They obviously need Pujols to bounce back and Hamilton to hit better and one of Skaggs or Santiago to become a reliable No. 3 starter. Oh, and they have the best player in baseball and he's still young enough to get better. They should be in the playoff race.
Projected record: 85-77
10. Oakland A's
How they can get to 90 wins: They've been there the past two seasons, winning 96 games in 2013 as they ranked third in the AL in both runs scored and runs allowed.
Big offseason moves: Lost SP Bartolo Colon, signed SP Scott Kazmir, lost RP Grant Balfour, acquired RP Jim Johnson from the Orioles for 2B Jemile Weeks, acquired P Drew Pomeranz from the Rockies for P Brett Anderson, acquired RP Luke Gregerson from the Padres for OF Seth Smith, acquired OF Craig Gentry and RP Josh Lindblom from the Rangers for OF Michael Choice, signed IF Nick Punto, signed RP Eric O'Flaherty, lost OF Chris Young.
Most intriguing player: Yoenis Cespedes hit 26 home runs and knocked in 80, but his OPS plummeted from .861 to .737 as he hit just .240 with a .294 OBP. Some felt Cespedes became too homer-hungry and his strikeout rate increased 5 percent from the year before while his walk rate dropped slightly. If he's going to be a big star, he's going to have to play better.
Due for a better season: Cespedes is the obvious choice, but the A's are also counting on better results from Dan Straily, who went 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA in his first full season. He's a fastball/slider guy, but needs to improve his changeup since his fastball sits in the low 90s.
Due for a worse season: Josh Donaldson was maybe the biggest surprise in baseball, ranking second in the AL in WAR and finishing fourth in the MVP voting. He has a good approach at the plate (76 walks) so I think he'll be very good again, but I'm not sure he's going to post another 8.0 WAR.
I'm just the messenger: The A's made a couple of interesting offseason gambles, betting that Kazmir's first solid season since 2008 will happen again and betting that Johnson -- who led the AL in saves (50) with the Orioles but also blew nine save chances and lost eight games -- will effectively replace Balfour as the closer. GM Billy Beane did seem to hedge a bit on Johnson by also acquiring the solid Gregerson. Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle are still around so the bullpen should be deep. I'm not sure either move is a net gain, however. Kazmir replaces Colon, who was terrific (2.65 ERA in 190.1 innings), and Johnson is unlikely to improve on Balfour's results.
The final word: It's not so much that I'm down on the A's, but that I can see some regression, in part because the rest of the AL West should be improved. Will Brandon Moss hit 30 home runs again? Will Donaldson be an MVP candidate again? Will Jed Lowrie stay healthy? Is Sonny Gray as good as he looked down the stretch and in the playoffs? On the other hand, you can point to Josh Reddick having a better year and not giving Young (who hit .200) 380 plate appearances again. In the end, I see a rotation that doesn't have a proven No. 1 or No. 2. Maybe Gray and Jarrod Parker will be those guys. If so, the A's will win another division title.
Projected record: 87-75
9. Cincinnati Reds
How they can get to 90 wins: They went 90-72 in 2013 (with a Pythagorean record of 93-69), ranking third in runs scored and fourth in runs allowed.
Big offseason moves: Lost CF Shin-Soo Choo, SP Bronson Arroyo is still a free agent, signed OF/2B Skip Schumaker.
Most intriguing player: Speedster Billy Hamilton has been handed the center-field job with the departure of Choo and there's little doubt he'll be one of the most exciting players in the sport. But how valuable will he be? He hit just .256/.308/.343 at Triple-A Louisville and the fear is major league pitchers will be able to bust him inside with fastballs. The obvious comparison is Vince Coleman, who hit .265/.326/.339 in his first six seasons with the Cardinals, averaging 92 steals and 2.0 WAR per season.
Due for a better season: Catcher Devin Mesoraco showed the ability to hit in the minors so look for better numbers than the .238/.287/.362 he flashed in 2013.
Due for a worse season: Mike Leake actually posted a better ERA than Homer Bailey despite striking out three fewer batters per nine innings. He had a 3.37 ERA, but his peripherals suggest a pitcher with a 4.00 ERA.
I'm just the messenger: How are the Reds going to replace Choo's offense? Basically, once you got past Joey Votto's and Choo's ability to get on base (they ranked 1-2 in the National League) and Jay Bruce's power it was a terrible offense. Brandon Phillips drove in 100 runs and while he did hit well with runners in scoring position, his overall line of .261/.310/.396 was the worst of his career. For all his speed, Hamilton won't match Choo's 107 runs if he's not getting on base. The Reds will need somebody -- Ryan Ludwick? Todd Frazier? Mesoraco? -- to have a big year.
The final word: OK, so I don't like the offense, although having a .435 on-base guy in the middle will go a long way to making it respectable. But the reason I like the Reds as a playoff contender is their stellar rotation, one that new manager Bryan Price helped mold as the team's pitching coach. Bailey, Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto are a great 1-2-3 and you can line them up in any order. Leake is a solid 4 or 5 and I'm a big fan of Tony Cingrani, who had the best strikeout rate on the team as a rookie. Throw in a deep bullpen and the Reds are a good bet to allow the fewest runs in the league.
Projected record: 87-75
8. Atlanta Braves
How they can get to 90 wins: They went 96-66 by allowing 548 runs -- the second-lowest total since the 1980s (not counting the 1994 strike season). Only the 2011 Phillies allowed fewer since 1990.
Big offseason moves: Lost C Brian McCann, lost SP Tim Hudson, lost SP Paul Maholm, acquired C/OF Ryan Doumit from the Twins for P Sean Gilmartin, signed SP Gavin Floyd.
Most intriguing player: Now that he has the big new contract, the pressure will be on Freddie Freeman to prove last year was a real improvement in ability.
Due for a better season: B.J. Upton has to be better than a .184 hitter ... right?
Due for a worse season: The bullpen led the majors in ERA and had three relievers pitch at least 65 innings with an ERA under 1.80. Craig Kimbrel is awesome, but I'm not sure the rest of the 'pen will put up the same lethal numbers.
I'm just the messenger: The Braves' run prevention was historic and the trap is to assume it will be just as good. After all, the defense -- led by the wondrous Andrelton Simmons -- should be very good and starters Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran are all young. But they could have something similar to the 2012 Phillies, with their great trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. After their historic performance in 2011, the Phillies allowed 151 more runs the following season. I don't believe that severe of an increase will happen to the Braves, but you can surely bet they will allow a significantly higher total.
The final word: Braves fans aren't going to like where I've ranked them and they'll point out that the offense is likely to score more runs with betters years from both Uptons, Jason Heyward and even the much-maligned Dan Uggla. I can see that, but I also don't see Chris Johnson competing for a batting title again or Evan Gattis replacing McCann all that well behind the plate.
Predicted record: 90-72
7. Texas Rangers
How they can get to 90 wins: The Rangers and Rays are the only two teams to win 90 or more games the past four seasons. After leading the AL West in late August, the Rangers slumped in early September, rallied to win their final seven games and tie the Rays for the second wild card, but lost 5-2 in the tiebreaker game.
Big offseason moves: Traded 2B Ian Kinsler to the Tigers for 1B Prince Fielder, signed OF Shin-Soo Choo, lost RP Joe Nathan, lost RF Nelson Cruz, lost C A.J. Pierzynski, DH Lance Berkman retired, lost OF David Murphy, acquired OF Michael Choice from the A's for OF Craig Gentry, re-signed SP Colby Lewis to a minor league deal, signed C J.P. Arencibia.
Most intriguing player: Prince Fielder had the lowest home run output of his career last season, hitting 25 for the Tigers, and saw his average drop from .313 in 2012 to .279. He then struggled in the postseason for the second straight year and the Tigers seemed thankful to dump Fielder's remaining contract on the Rangers. Fielder hit .272 against fastballs, leading to concerns that his bat speed has declined (he hit .348 against fastballs in 2012, .323 in 2011 and .296 in 2010). Moving to Texas should help, but is Prince on the decline or did he just have a mediocre (for him) season?
Due for a better season: Jurickson Profar, who takes over for Kinsler at second base and after spending a season in a utility role, will get to play every day. Profar was the game's No. 1 prospect heading into 2012. Expect him to shine.
Due for a worse season: Derek Holland is expected to miss the first half of the season after having knee surgery in early January. The surgery was required when he says his dog ran into him while he climbed stairs at his house. The dog's name? Wrigley. Curse you, Cubs.
I'm just the messenger: The Rangers had to open a slot for Profar and their first-base production with Mitch Moreland was subpar last year, so the Fielder trade -- even with his contract -- is a good gamble in my book. The more interesting question: Who plays first? Moreland is the better defender, but will Ron Washington have the guts to use Fielder at DH if Fielder wants to play first base? In the big scheme of things maybe it's not a big deal. You want to keep the Big Guy happy, but the Rangers are probably the better team if Fielder DHs.
The final word: The additions of Choo and Fielder will help an offense that had slipped the past couple of years -- GM Jon Daniels added two hitters who were fourth and 28th in the majors in OBP. Rangers left fielders hit just .249/.309/.413, numbers Choo should easily surpass, and their DHs (the guys Fielder essentially replaces) had a .698 OPS. The Rangers should score more runs, they have the starter who may be the Cy Young favorite in Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison should be back after missing last season, Martin Perez is developing and they have a deep bullpen that had the second-best ERA (2.91) in the AL last season. Even with Holland out, I like them to get back on top in the West.
Projected record: 90-72