Well, the 2014 season is in the books following an amazing performance by NLCS and World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner leading the San Francisco Giants to their third World Series Championship in the last five years. Now that winter has arrived (I believe in two seasons: Baseball and Winter) I wanted to take a quick look at each team in the American League based on their performance this past season and how they stand for next season.
Baltimore Orioles: Their World Series dreams came to a grinding halt after running into the Kansas City Royals buzzsaw in the ALCS. A timely hit or two and maybe they play the Giants in the World Series instead of the Royals. All four games of the ALCS were decided by a total of 6 runs. The future in Baltimore is bright, especially if they can resign Nelson Cruz. Do the O's go big after a pitcher like Max Scherzer?
New York Yankees: Ah, my Yankees. What to do with the Bronx Bombers. REBUILD!!! If there was ever a time to do so, it is now that the last piece of the Yankees dynasty of the late 1990's and early 2000's has retired in the form of Captain Derek Jeter. This team needs to rebuild around Masahiro Tanaka, the youth in the bullpen and give the youth in the Minor Leagues a real opportunity to show what they can do. Oh, by the way, Alex Rodriguez's return looms large. The drama never ends in the Bronx Zoo.
Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays season ended in a disappointing fashion after the Blue Jays had hopes of ending their playoff drought. While 83-79 isn't a record to be ashamed about, this was the season where the Blue Jays should have taken advantage of a weakened AL East. Do they try to make a blockbuster trade as they did during the offseason following the 2011 season?
Boston Red Sox: Arguably their performance this season was the most disappointing of the 2014 campaign. Following their 2013 World Series Championship, the team faltered and a number of players were traded away at the deadline. Now, you can never count the Red Sox out. Remember, in 2012 they did the same exact thing, restocked, reloaded and won the trophy in 2013. The Red Sox Nation shouldn't worry about their team sliding down any further. I see the Red Sox making a resurgence next season through home grown talent and timely free agent signings (Yankees, take note, this is how you should be doing it).
Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays are the team with the most question marks after losing their GM Andrew Friedman and Manager Joe Maddon. Does the trade of David Price work in their favor this season? What moves to the Rays make, if any since ownership wants to shed payroll. Is there any validity to the rumors of the Tampa Bay Rays considering a move to Montreal? 2015 will be a very interesting season to see what happens to the Rays.
Detroit Tigers: The trade for David Price seemed like the Tigers would be a shoo-in for the World Series. But as we know, the games have to be played on the field. Now, Price did his job. If it wasn't for a bullpen that just couldn't get outs when needed, maybe the Tigers play the Royals in the ALCS instead of the Orioles. The big questions are do the Tigers resign Max Scherzer and Victor Martinez. Trading for Price gives the Tigers some leeway if Scherzer decides to leave Detroit. Martinez put up MVP numbers in his walk year and is due to sign one last big payday. We'll have to see what the Tigers do to rearm for the 2015 season.
Kansas City Royals: What can be said about the Royals that hasn't already been said. The darlings of the 2014 Postseason broke their 29 year playoff drought in an exciting fashion leaving the tying run on third base in Game 7 of the World Series. The city of Kansas City was reinvigorated and will undoubtedly be hoping that this season was a sign of things to come rather than a fluke. That is the question. What do the Royals do next. Their bullpen is set and they have tremendous youth in their lineup. A veteran starting pitcher like Max Scherzer would do wonders to solidify their rotation even if they are able to resign James Shields. The issue is, do they crack open the vault and spend some major money to lure players to Kansas City? Will players want to sign with Kansas City this offseason?
Cleveland Indians: The future is bright in Cleveland after a second consecutive winning season under Tito Francona. The emergence of Corey Kluber as a viable AL Cy Young candidate as well as AL MVP candidate Michael Brantley bode well for the future of the Tribe. I think they face a similar fate as the Royals do. Will they be able to lure free agents to sign in Cleveland? Cleveland is willing to spend money as seen in the contract signings of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourne a few seasons ago. Do they also make a run to sign Max Scherzer in an addition by subtraction to gain traction against the Detroit Tigers?
Chicago White Sox: I see the Chisox in a similar situation as the Yankees. They need to rebuild. Captain Paul Konerko has walked off into the sunset and the rebuilding project should be undertaken in earnest on the South-side. Build around slugger Jose Abreu and staff ace Chris Sale. A player like Pablo Sandoval would be a major coup for the White Sox. He would solidify the left side after third baseman Gordon Beckham was traded to Anaheim during the season and he would be a tremendous bat behind Abreu in the lineup. Nelson Cruz would also fit the need for more power in Chicago. Now I'm not sure if the team is going to jump in head first in the free agency market or try to rebuild from within. But the South-Side faithful might have to be a bit patient with this team for a few season.
Minnesota Twins: I'll be honest with you all. I am not versed in the Twins and where they stand. This is going to be the first season since 2002 where Ron Gardenhire is not at the helm and the team has yet to name his successor. One thing is certain, the rebuilding project will continue in Minnesota.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: After making their triumphant return to the playoffs since 2009, the Angels were swept out of the ALDS by the eventual American League Champions Kansas City Royals. Where the Angels finished the season with a dominating 98-64 record, they went cold in the ALDS. Albert Pujols showed flashes of the player who the Angels hoped he'd be for them in the playoffs while potential AL MVP Mike Trout and CJ Wilson failed to live up to expectations in the postseason. And what about Josh Hamilton. Can he regain his form for the Angels or are his best days behind him. I think the Angels are in good shape in a division that isn't threatened by teams breaking the bank to sign free agents. If Garrett Richards can make a successful return from the leg injury that prematurely ended his potential AL Cy Young season that would give the Angels a solid rotation to compliment their veteran lineup. Injuries aside, I don't see the Angels falling to far from their 2014 season performance.
Oakland Athletics: Who would have thought that the Oakland A's would have barely made the Wild Card game after the clubbing they were handing out to the league in the first two-thirds of the 2014 season. The trade that brought Jon Lester to the A's from Boston for slugger Yoenis Cespedes raised many eyebrows throughout Baseball. It showed that Billy Beane was ready to play for now and many would argue the move backfired. Lester was the pitcher they expected to get but the run production ended when Cespedes was shipped to Boston. Coincidence? Many will show stats that he wasn't the main cog in the lineup in terms of run production and there are other factors as to why they stopped scoring runs, but when it comes down to it, the Lester-Cespedes trade is the watershed moment for Billy Beane in 2014. If Lester signs elsewhere, is the trade a total failure? Now, even if he does leave Oakland, the A's pitching staff is still solid. Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jeff Samardzija are all in the A's rotation plans for next season. Does Beane continue to buck his M.O. by trying to sign a big bat or does he go back to square one.
Seattle Mariners: Putting up a 87-75 and a 3rd place finish in AL West was quite a surprise for the Mariners. Doing so helped to validate General Manager Jack Zduriencik offseason signing of Robinson Cano and hiring of Lloyd McClendon as manager. Now, Cano didn't put up the power numbers that he had done with the Yankees, but in his defense, Safeco Field isn't a hitters park as Yankee Stadium and he isn't batting in an offensive laden lineup as he did in New York. I believe that it is imperative to get him some real protection in the lineup. Someone like Giancarlo Stanton would help to minimize the pitching around Cano that he saw this season. Do the Mariners have the prospects to make a move for a young slugger of Stanton's stature? Pablo Sandoval and Nelson Cruz will be looking for big paydays and would fit nicely in Seattle but do the Mariners have anymore money to spend after breaking the bank to sign Cano? I won't even talk about Felix Hernandez. What is there to say. After him, the pitching is a big question mark. The team holds a $7M Team Option/$1M Buyout on Hishasi Iwakuma for next season and closer Fernando Rodney is signed thru next season after putting up a 48 save season in Seattle. The rest of the pitching staff? Who knows what happens there.
Houston Astros: Second baseman Jose Altuve provided the major source of excitement for the Houston Astros this season with his leading the league in both hits and average. This team is in full rebuilding mode under new manager A. J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow. They have some real young talent that is getting major league experience on the fly. I think it would be premature to think that the Astros will compete for a playoff spot next season. But I think the future is definitely bright in Houston. The team just needs to stay the rebuilding course and let the young players mature together.
Texas Rangers: Long gone are the years of the Nolan Ryan built two-time American League Champions. The rotation is basically staff ace Yu Darvish and a number of players who pitched for the Rangers due to injury and inability of other hurlers. The trade for Prince Fielder paid no dividends for Texas with Fielder's season being cut short due to a neck injury while Ian Kinsler thrived in Detroit. The departure of Ron Washington and the hiring of Jeff Banister means that the team will be in flux for the next season. If the injured offensive injured players can come back they can carry the rotation to a potential Wild Card berth. But I don't think anything more is possible.
Next I'll look at the National League. I also have some book posts hopefully in the works. So keep an eye out for those.
Until Then Keep Playing Ball,