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2014 AL West Preview

1) Texas Rangers

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Over the past two seasons, the Rangers have collected a great group of talented players, but failed to make the ALDS. Last season, the Rangers won 91 games, but did not beat the Indians in game 163 and were eliminated from the playoffs. The biggest deal the Rangers made this offseason was the acquisition of Prince Fielder. Although the Rangers were forced to part ways with Ian Kinsler, one of their best players over the past decade, Prince is a significant upgrade at first base and the Rangers had an excess of middle infielders on their team and in their minor league system. The Rangers have one of the best infields in baseball, offensively and defensively, because they have Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Jurickson Profar, when he returns from injury, and Prince Fielder. In the outfield, the Rangers signed Shin Soo Choo to a massive deal because they believe they are close to winning a major league championship. The outfield is deep with Leodys Martin, Alex Rios, and Choo. As long as the Rangers’ offense stays moderately healthy, they should record a lot of runs and win a lot of games in the process. Along with a balanced offense, many of the Rangers are quality defensive players, which is necessary in the Texas.

In terms of pitching, the Rangers should have enough talent and depth to win over 90 games this season and win the AL West. The staff will be led by ace Yu Darvish. Darvish proved last season that he is one of the best pitchers in baseball and the best strikeout pitcher in the game. The Rangers need Darvish to stay healthy and pitch at a high level because the ball can fly in the warm climate of Arlington. Behind Darvish, the Rangers have a solid 2-4 with Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, and Martin Perez. Although Ogando and Harrison have been injury prone in the past, they have great talent and will be incredibly important for the Rangers moving forward. Martin Perez could be the X-Factor for the Rangers because he is a former top prospect with a lot of talent. As Perez gains more experience, he should propel to the number two starter in the rotation, if they do not acquire another starter during the deadline, like previous seasons. The fifth spot for the Rangers will be a question mark because Tommy Hanson has achieved great success in the past, but has struggled with his performance and health over the past few seasons. In the bullpen, the Rangers should pitch very well. Although Soria has not closed since his time with the Royals, he has a good arm and has the necessary experience. Before the ball goes to Soria, Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross, Jason Frasor, and Neal Cotts must hold leads in order to win games. Although the Rangers did not make the playoffs last season, they should win enough games and score enough runs to win over 90 games and reclaim the AL West Championship from the Oakland Athletics, who won the division the past two seasons.

Rangers Predicted Record: 92-70

2) Oakland Athletics

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Over the past two seasons, the A’s have made the playoffs and won the division. Although the A’s do not have the most talent or the highest payroll, Bob Melvin does a great job with the team and the team has exceeded expectations. This offseason, the A’s made a few minor moves, but their offense will predominantly remain the same next season. In the infield, the A’s will be starting Branden Moss, Eric Sogard, Jed Lowrie, and Josh Donaldson. Last season, Donaldson had a career year and bursted onto the scene because he hit and played great defense. Donaldson needs to repeat his performance as a hitter this season. Moss was impressive for the Athletics because he has a big bat and is a great power hitter. In the outfield, the A’s have Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, and Josh Reddick. Crisp has been great for the A’s the lsat few seasons because he is an experienced hitter and is a quality top of the order hitter. Since Cespedes came to the US, he has been one of the best hitters in the AL because he has great talent and has used his raw power to crush balls out of the ballpark.

Although Oakland has established hitters, their pitching will be a major question mark this season because the pitchers do not have experience and a lot of MLB success. The ace of the staff will be Sonny Gray. Although Sonny has a lot of talent and exceeded in the past, he has not achieved greatness at the major league level and it is unclear if he will be able to lead the staff to the playoffs. Behind Gray, the Athletics have Chavez, Staily, and Milone. The three pitchers have shown flashes of greatness over the past few seasons, but have not been able to break out. The trio will need to pitch deep into games and give the team quality outings if they are going to match their win total from the last few seasons. The pitchers will be able to allow few runs per game because the offense has a lot of talent and power. Also, the team plays in a massive ballpark, which will help their pitchers record extra outs and limit runs. In the bullpen, the A’s should have one of the best units in the league because they have established arms like Sean Doolittle, Luke Gregerson, and Jim Johnson. The trio should be the main pitchers in the bullpen and hold the leads for the teams.

Besides the three at the end of the bullpen, Oakland has Dan Otero, Fernando Abad, and Evan Scribner. If Oakland can receive positive contributions from the other arms, they will have an elite bullpen. Although the A’s have achieved success over the past few seasons with lack of talent, it is difficult to see that they will be able to win enough games in the competitive AL West and American League to make the playoffs as a division winner or a wild card team.

Athletics Predicted Record: 86-76

3) Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim

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In terms of talent and experience, the Angels should have won the division the last two seasons and competed for the pennant and the championship. However, the team has struggled and they have not even been close to making the playoffs. The team has suffered through injuries and funks and has greatly underachieved. This season, the Angels have a lot of talent and should be able to compete for a wild card position in the AL.

The Angels will be led by their offense. In the lineup, the Angels have Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and David Freese. Although Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton have not played well since they arrived in Los Angeles, they should be able to produce quality numbers if they stay healthy for an entire season. While Pujols and Hamilton have underachieved, Trout has positioned himself as the best overall player in the league and will compete for the MVP award. Besides the big three, the Angels will need to rely on role players like Freese, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, and Raul Ibanez. If the offense reaches its potential, the team should be one of the highest scoring teams in the league because they may have more talent and potential than any other team.

The Angels have a lot of question marks in their pitching staff, which may keep them from the playoffs for another season. The top of the pitching staff will be held by Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson. Both are constant and reliable pitchers. The Angels need the duo to have great seasons because the rest of the rotation does not have a lot of experience of success at the major league level. The back of the rotation has Hector Santiago, Garett Richards, and Tyler Skaggs. This offseason, the Angels were able to remake their pitching staff by trading Trumbo for Skagss and Santiago, two young lefty arms. The Angels did not have many options for their rotation so they hope that the young starters can learn on the job and succeed at the highest level. If the Angels make the playoffs, it will be because the back of the rotation did not implode and lose games for the offense.

In the bullpen, the Angels have the potential to have a nice unit. At the back of the bullpen, the Angels have Joe Smith and Ernesto Frieri. The two have experienced success over the past few seasons and the team should feel confident if they can hold a lead into the eighth inning. The middle of the bullpen may have a lot of problems because they do not have a lot of innings in the majors, which has been a problem in the past. Although the Angels have the talent to make the playoffs and win the division, they have suffered many injuries in the past and it is likely that they will continue to underachieve and finish third in the division.

Angels Predicted Record: 85-77

4) Seattle Mariners

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The Mariners made the biggest offseason move this offseason when they signed Robinson Cano to a monster deal worth $240 million over 10 years. The Mariners have had a lot of money to spend over the past few seasons, but have been unable to lure a free agent to the team. Over the past few seasons, the Mariners’ offense has been atrocious and mediocre, but they believe they will take a step forward this season. Along with Cano, the lineup has former top prospects like Justin Smoak, Mike Zunino, Kyle Seager, and Dustin Ackley. Although they have a lot of talent and potential, they have been unable to transform their potential into performance, which has held them back as a team. If they can take a step forward, the team, will drastically improve their win total because they do not allow many runs. Last season, the Mariners won only 71 games, but it is likely that the enhanced offense will allow them to win more games.

While the lineup is one of the worst in the AL, the pitching staff may be the best in the league. Although Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijun Walker are on the disabled list, they should be able to return soon and greatly improve the staff. The ace of the staff is Felix Hernandez, who is one of the best pitchers in the league and is building a hall of fame caliber career. Last season, Iwakuma was great and should be able to continue his success and compete for the CY Young, like Hernandez. Walker has been one of the most hyped prospects over the past few season and is ready to display his potential this season. Walker should be a great number 3 while he learns how to pitch at the major league level. Along with Walker, Paxton should be able to succeed at the major league level. Paxton does not have the same talent as Walker, but should be quality middle of the rotation starter in the future.

The rotation needs to excel in order for the Cano deal to be worthwhile and the team to win games. The Mariners totally rebuilt their bullpen this offseason. The new closer will be Fernando Rodney and will be set up by Charlie Ferbush and Tom Wilhelmsen. The bullpen should be consistent and hold the leads that they are given because they have a lot of experience and success in the league.

Predicted Mariners Record: 84-78

5) Houston Astros

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The Houston Astros’ past few seasons have been disastrous and this season should be no different. However, the team does not care about their current record because they are building for the future. The Astros have one of the best farm systems of all time because they have numerous players that should be stars in the future. The Astros should have the number one overall pick which should enable them to add to their depth. The Astros hope that they can be like the Rays and use their young talent to start a dynasty and make a lot of playoffs. However, the Astros are in a bigger market, which will allow them to keep their young stars, unlike other teams that have rebuilt in the past.

On their current team, the offense is led by Jose Altuve, Jesus Guzman, Matt Dominguez, LJ Hoes, Jason Castro, and Dexter Fowler. Although the team does not have a lot of talent, they will be better than last season because Fowler is an improvement and the extra year should help a few of their young players. The team will go through a lot of struggles and losing streaks, but the future of the team is very bright and the fans should stay confident about the future of their team. The team should be excited because they will play with enthusiasm and a few of their players have a lot of talent.

On the pitching staff, the team does not have a lot of talent. The rotation includes Scott Feldman, Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer, Lucas Harrell, and Dallas Keuchel. Besides Feldman, the pitching staff does not have many innings pitched or experience. Although the pitchers are young, only Jarred Cosart is in the future plans for the Astros because he has a lot of talent and should pitch high in the rotation in the future. Last season, Cosart showed flashes of greatness and shut down some offenses in the major league.

The Astros have a cheap bullpen with many pitchers who are hoping to revive their career like Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, Anthony Bass, Kevin Chapman, and Jerome Williams. The pitchers throw hard, which gives them a chance to succeed and overwhelm opposing hitters. The Astros will likely lose over 100 games this season, but they hope that they can improve their record from last season and allow their players to grow. The Astros will consider this season a success if their young players gain experience, improve, and succeed at the major league and minor league level.

Predicted Astros Record: 59-103

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Pics and Stats from ESPN.com

Derek Jeter’s Legacy and his Future Replacement

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By: Jon

 

5 time champion, 4th member of the core four, 3 top 3 MVP seasons,  2 is his jersey number, and 1 legend.

 

On Wednesday February 12, 2014, Derek Jeter announced on his Facebook page that he would retire after the 2014 season. Jeter’s impact will be felt on and off the field when he leaves the team after the season. Jeter is the 11th captain of the New York Yankees and will be a future Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible in 6 years.

Jeter’s Legacy on the Field:

The Flip Play against Jeremy Giambi Courtesy of MLB.com
The Flip Play against Jeremy Giambi
Courtesy of MLB.com

This season, Jeter will play in his 20th season and this will be his 19th season as the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees. Jeter is part of the new breed of shortstops that are bigger and have more offensive skills than the shortstops that played before the 1970s. When Jeter entered the league, he was compared to Nomar Garciaparra, who retired a long time ago, and Alex Rodriguez, who switched positions when he came to the Yankees. While Jeter never had the power like Ripken or Rodriguez, he had the ability to score runs, get on base, and have a high batting average. Although Jeter will be remembered for his intangibles and leadership skills, he is arguably the best shortstop since Honus Wagner, who retired in 1917.

Derek has a career batting average of .312 and an on base percentage of .381, which are impressive numbers from a position that normally does not provide offensive output. During his career, Derek has batted over .300 twelve times, scored 100 runs thirteen times, accumulated over 200 hits eight times (including leading the league twice), and stole more than 20 bases eight times. In terms of offensive production, Jeter has the highest offensive WAR of any shortstop in the modern era, which includes Cal Ripken, who many believe is the best offensive shortstop. Although Jeter does not have great power like Ripken, he hit over 250 home runs and has slugged .446 during his 19 years. Derek has the 10th most hits in MLB history and the most among active players with 3,316 hits. If Jeter can collect 119 hits, he will move into 6th place. If he can garner 198, which will be difficult and probably unlikely, Jeter can pass Tris Speaker for 5th place on the all time list. Jeter is currently ranked 12th in runs scored, but has the chance to move into the 9th spot, if he can score 73 runs during the season.

After Jeter flew into the stands Courtesy of ESPN.com
After Jeter flew into the stands
Courtesy of ESPN.com

Although Jeter’s offense has made him one of the best shortstops in MLB history, many people have questioned his defensive ability. Throughout Jeter’s career, many scouts and people in baseball have criticized his range and true value on defense. The defensive metrics do not favor Jeter. His Defensive WAR, -9.2, is the reason why he does not rate well compared to other great shortstops in MLB history. Jeter has posted a positive dWAR only 3 times during his career. Although Jeter does not have great range, he is one of the most sure handed shortstops in the league. Many managers and executives have noted that they would not want any other player, but Derek Jeter to make a play with 2 outs in the ninth. Although Gold Gloves have lost their value because many feel the selections are a popularity contest, he has won 5 Gold Gloves during his illustrious career.

Mr. November Courtesy of Newsday
Mr. November
Courtesy of Newsday

While the regular season has made Derek Jeter one of the best players in history, his postseason career has made him a legend and an immortal. Jeter has played nearly an entire season, 158 games, in his postseason career. Remarkably, Jeter’s postseason stats are similar to his regular season stats, which is rare for a great player. Jeter has batted .308 with 20 home runs, 61 RBI, 18 stolen bases, 200 hits, 111 runs, and played in 16 of the last 18 playoffs with the Yankees. He has also played in the most playoff games, which has allowed him to record the most at-bats, plate appearances, runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles, triples, and singles. Jeter is additionally top five in walks, RBI, and home runs. Along with his great numbers, Jeter has had many great moments, the flip play, home run against the Diamondbacks, and home run against the Orioles. These moments validated his nickname as Mr. November and Captain Clutch. If the Yankees meet expectations, he could have a chance to improve his numbers and possibly reach his 6th championship before he retires from the game.

Legacy off the Field:

The 11th Captain of the Yankees Courtesy of the NineRoute
The 11th Captain of the Yankees
Courtesy of the NineRoute

Although Jeter has been at the center of attention since he won the Rookie of the Year and led the Yankees to their first title in 18 years in 1996, he has always said the right things and has never made a major mistake like others in the past. In today’s world with constant media involvement, it is likely we will never see another superstar succeed as much on the field while maintaing a perfect image off the field. As many have noted, Jeter is the perfect captain for the Yankees because he has the ability to absorb all the pressure while maintaining a stoic complexion. Many players look up to Jeter during difficult situation because they know he will not allow his nerves to overcome himself and affect his play on the field. Unlike Alex Rodriguez, who is a superior player and has more talent, Derek has the rare ability to slow down the speed of the game and perform at the highest and most pressure filled situations. Derek has been able to keep his personal life away from the media, which limits the amount of distractions on the team and him. This talent helps explain his crazy .321 average and .384 on base percentage in World Series play. Jeter has a great work ethic which has made him a better player and has inspired his fellow teammates to improve and exceed their expectations. It is interesting that Derek announced his big news on Facebook because many people didn’t even know he had a Facebook page since he rarely posts on Facebook. Although Derek will always be remembered for his skills and talent, he will mostly be remembered as a great person and teammate that helped his teammates win and succeed.

Awards:

2000 WS MVP Courtesy of Sportingnews
2000 WS MVP
Courtesy of Sportingnews

During Jeter’s great career, he has won numerous individual and team accolades, which adds to his legend. Derek Jeter broke out in his first full season when he hit .314 with 104 runs, 183 hits and won the Rookie of the Year in 1996. Although Jeter will likely never win an MVP, he has finished in the top-3 3 times and top-10 8 times. Derek has competed in 13 All-Star Games and was the first Yankee to win the All-Star Game MVP in 2000. He became the first player ever to win the All-Star Game MVP and the World Series MVP in the same season in 2000. During his career, Jeter has won 5 Silver Slugger Awards at shortstop and won 2 Hank Aaron Awards in 2006 and 2009.

Future:

Will Troy Tulowitzki be the next star shortstop for the Yankees? Courtesy of ESPN
Will Troy Tulowitzki be the next star shortstop for the Yankees?
Courtesy of ESPN

Although the future for Jeter looks bright outside of baseball because he is well known and beloved by many, the Yankees may have a difficult time finding his replacement. Currently, the Yankees do not have any viable options on their current roster or in the minor leagues. Eduardo Nunez and Branden Ryan are no full time shortstops and cannot be the shortstop to replace the great Derek Jeter. In the minors, the Yankees tried to replace Derek by drafting CJ Henry and Cito Culver, but neither have shown the ability to make the Yankees’ roster in the future. The Yankees will need to find Jeter’s replacement outside the organization, if they want to continue winning and competing for Division Titles and World Series Championships.

If the Yankees want to continue spending money and draft picks this year, they could sign Stephen Drew to a long term deal. Drew is a competent shortstop who batted .253 with 12 home runs and 67 RBI. If Drew can return to his 2008 form when he hit .291 with 21 home runs and 67 RBI, the Yankees would hit a home run with him. However, Drew’s market is remarkably down and I do not think that the Yankees should sign Stephen Drew because he is not a very good statistical performer and will face a lot of pressure in New York. After this season, the Yankees can sign a shortstop because the class is pretty deep with talent. Currently, there are three shortstops that could play for the Yankees and provide quality production, JJ Hardy, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera. JJ Hardy will turn 32 during the 2015 season and has been an All-Star twice during his career. Last year, Hardy had a very good season when he hit .263 with 25 home runs and 76 RBI, while winning the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award. Last year, Hardy posted a WAR of over 4, which is great. Hardy may cost about $30-$36 million over about 3 years because of his recent success. Another option is Jed Lowrie, who will be 31 during the 2015 season. Lowrie has been improving over the last few years since he has been given more playing time. Last year, Lowrie hit .290 with 15 home runs, 75 RBI, and a WAR of 2.8, but a OWAR of 4.3. Although Lowrie does not have a great glove, he can hit for a good average and should be considered by the Yankees next year. Lowrie will probably demand a contract for about 3 years and $21-25 million.  Last of these three is Asdrubal Cabrera, who will be only 29 during the 2015 season. After 2 consecutive quality seasons in 2011 and 2012, when he made the All-Star team and compiled a WAR of over 4, Cabrera had a horrible season last year. Cabrera hit only .242 with 14 home runs and 64 RBI. The Yankees should consider Cabrera next offseason because he will be cheaper than the other alternatives, unless he has a big year, and has more overall potential and talent. If Cabrera can return to his 2011-2012 form, the Yankees would have a shortstop that could bat .275 with 20+ home runs and 75 RBI while playing above average defense at shortstop. Cabrera is also at least 2 years younger than the other shortstops, which means the Yankees will be receiving him during the last of his peak years, unlike the other players. If Cabrera has another poor season, the Yankees may be able to sign him for a deal similar to Lowrie, which could be a steal.

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If the Yankees want to make a splash and spend a lot of money through a free agent signing or a trade, they should go after Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, or Troy Tulowitzki. After this season, Hanley Ramirez will be a free agent. In 2015, Hanley will be 31 years old, but is coming off of a great season with the Dodgers. Although he played only 86 games, he showed that he still has the talent that made him one of the best players in the game with the Marlins. During his 86 games, Ramirez hit .345 with 20 home runs, 57 RBI, and 62 RBI while finishing 8th in the MVP voting. If Hanley repeats his performance this season, he will easily make over $100 million in his next contract. Ramirez will be a perfect fit for the Yankees because he would be an improvement at the position and could fit into the middle of the order. Hanley would be able to man the position for a few years before converting to 3rd base. Hanley is a great player and the Yankees should go after him hard next offseason if he makes it to free agency. If the Yankees do not want to sign a shortstop next offseason, they should consider making a trade for one. Jose Reyes is currently on the Toronto Blue Jays, but may become available if the team fails to meet expectations during the season. Like Ramirez, Reyes was limited to only 93 games, but was effective during his time on the field. Reyes, a four time All-Star, batted .296 with 10 home runs, 57 runs, 15 stolen bases, and 37 RBI.  Reyes’ injured hamstring from  last season inhibited his explosiveness and stopped him from stealing many bases. However, when healthy, Reyes has the ability to steal 40+ bases, collect 65 extra base hits, and bat around .300 at the top of the order. However, Reyes is due a lot of money over the next 4 years of his contract. If the Yankees trade for him during the middle of the season or at the end of the year, they will owe him at least $70 – $76 million dollars over 3 – 3.5 years. Since his contract is an albatross, the Yankees may be able to include lesser prospects in the deal.

If the Yankees want to go for the home run, besides Ramirez, they should attempt to trade for Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies shortstop. Like the other stars, Tulo has been hampered by injuries over the past two season, which has limited him to only 173 games. However, Tulo has shown that he is an MVP candidate and the best shortstop in the game, when healthy. In 126 games last year, Tulo hit .312/.391/.540 with 25 home runs, 82 RBI, and 72 runs scored.  Although some of his stats may be inflated because of Coors Field, he has the potential to hit above .300 with 25+ home runs, 100 RBI, 100 runs, and slug .540. Like Reyes, Tulo has a ginormous contract. If the Yankees trade for him at the deadline, they will owe him at least $126 million over 6.5 years, plus they can exercise a team option which would push the deal to $136 million. If the Yankees are willing to eat the whole contract, they may be able to facilitate the deal, although their farm system is depleted. If they were to make a deal, they probably would have to part ways with Gary Sanchez, a pitcher, Nova or Pineda, and maybe another prospect.

 

Pics and Stats from ESPN.com and BaseballReference.com

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