Hot Stove Report – MLB 2014
By Anthony McClean, Editor – in – Chief Emeritus
NEW HAVEN, CT. (BASN/BASN NEWSROOM) — With Old Man Winter continuing his happy dance on most of the Northeast, it’s probably as good a time as any to start talking baseball again. While the weather outside has been fairly frightful for most of the country over the last few months, nothing can be more delightful for baseball fans than the words “Spring Training”.
Over the next few days, we will take an educated look at both the American and National Leagues as teams begin to train down to Florida and Arizona. Needless to say, but baseball’s hot stove always seems to be stoked from the last out of the World Series to the first day of pitchers and catchers reporting. This winter was no exception.
Here are some burning questions heading into the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues. Let’s start with the American League.
Can the Boston Red Sox repeat as World Champs?
Despite the departures of OF Jacoby Ellsbury, SS Stephen Drew, and C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston returns most of the nucleus of last year’s squad. Most importantly, the starting rotation and stellar bullpen that carried them their worst to first run are still intact. However, they are a year older and the element of surprise is now completely gone. Will they be contenders? More than likely; will they make it back-to-back World Series titles? Recent history says not likely.
Who will win the possible David Price sweepstakes?
We may not know the answer to this until the trade deadline. As of now, the Tampa ace is still on the Rays’ roster. However, if Joe Madden’s bunch finds themselves out of the race by July or August, don’t be surprised if the franchise puts a For Sale sign on the back of the former Cy Young award winner. There will be the usual big market suspects (i.e., Dodgers, Yankees, Cardinals, Angels), however, don’t rule out teams like Atlanta, Detroit, or others if they’re willing to part with some prospects.
Why haven’t the Yankees tried to sign another veteran reliever?
They addressed their daily lineup issues and added some much-needed help for C.C. Sabathia in the starting rotation. However, their most glaring need still needs to be addressed. No disrespect to David Robertson, but for the Bronx Bombers not to bring in a Joe Nathan or a Fernando Rodney shows more arrogance than letting Robinson Cano walk and replacing him with oft-injured 2B Brian Roberts. Remember, even the great Mariano Rivera had guys like Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson, and Grahame Lloyd to fall back on in 1997 when he took over the closer role that season.
Which import will have a bigger impact: 1B Jose Abreu or P Masahiro Tanaka?
When you realize that both “rookies” will get much media hype from their big city/market venues (New York and Chicago), the early line would appear to be on the side of Tanaka given the Bronx Bombers pitching needs. However, given the immediate impact of the recent Cuban players coming into the game (i.e., P Aroldis Chapman, P Jose Fernandez, OF Yeonis Cespedes), Abreu may be just what the doctor ordered for the South Siders. One man’s opinion: the former Cuban National MVP looks like the real deal and may be the man for Robin Ventura’s squad.
Will the signings of P Ubaldo Jimenez and OF/DH Nelson Cruz make the O’s an instant contender?
Much like the Mariners (we’ll get to them in a bit), the Orioles are clearly sending their fans a message that they’re trying to be a player in the AL East. Cruz’s power bat fits in nicely with All-Stars OF Adam Jones, 1B Chris Davis, and 3B Manny Machado. Baltimore is also hoping that a change in scenery will help Jimenez regain his All-Star form. In truth, the real pressure may be on the other starters in Buck Showalter’s rotation; especially for much heralded youngsters like Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.
Are the Detroit Tigers still the team to beat in the AL Central?
Despite the trades of P Doug Fister and 1B Prince Fielder, Detroit should still be in the mix in the Central. First – year manager Brad Ausmus still has a pair of Cy Young Awards winners in Justin Verlander and Matt Scherzer. Along with Anibal Sanchez, throw in new closer Joe Nathan and the Motown rotation will keep them in the race. The real big question will be who protects All-World slugger Miguel Cabrera from being pitched around in the lineup now that Prince Fielder has been sent to Arlington.
What AL manager has the biggest hot seat coming into 2014?
A slow start in Anaheim coupled with last year’s dreadful 78-84 record could possible cost long time Angels skipper Mike Scioscia his job. In Kansas City, the playoff expectations have been raised after finishing over .500 for the first time since 2003. Any setback by the Royals will spell doom for Ned Yost as he enters his fourth season with the club. However, the hottest seat may be in Arlington. Yes, Ron Washington has won at least 90 games over the last four seasons, but one gets the feeling that it’s World Series or bust for the Rangers in 2014. Fortunately for “Wash,” the heat may not be as hot now that he has just been extended through the 2015 season.
Just how far away are the Astros from true contention?
For the first time in franchise history, Houston is coming off of three straight 100-loss seasons. Adding OF Dexter Fowler and P Scott Feldman at least gives manager Bo Porter a few more players with a little more MLB experience. However, the plan is to build through the draft and hope the fans will be patience. Given their projected payroll of just under $50 million, we may not see the words Astros and postseason in the same sentence for a long time.
Will 2B Robinson Cano and RP Fernando Rodney make the Seattle Mariners AL West contenders?
Between hype and hope, Seattle will not only be contenders, they’ll be one of the most interesting teams to watch this season. While Cano will get the most attention, Rodney’s presence in the bullpen along with fellow reliever Danny Farquhar adds to an already solid rotation. While adding OF Corey Hart will give Cano some protection in the lineup, don’t be surprised if the M’s try to add another power bat before the year is over. Especially if Lloyd McClendon’s team is still in the race come the trade deadline!
Who has a better chance to make a comeback: Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton?
While the days of being perennial All-Stars are more than likely over for this pair, they still have enough left to help make Angel fans forget last year’s nightmare season. Management needs either one or both of these veterans to turn it around if the Angels are going make any impact in the AL West this year. Both are prideful men who will play this year with a major chip on their shoulders. Given Hamilton’s history of nagging injuries, I think Phat Albert may wind up being the one that gets his groove back.
Up next: A look at the National League.