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2014 MLB Team Previews

The 2014 MLB season is almost here! Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman brings you an in depth look at each of the 30 teams, prospects and key questions as we head towards opening day.

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Saturday, March 1, 2014

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Oakland Athletics

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MLB 2014 Team Preview: Oakland Athletics
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

2013 Overview:
2012’s surprise playoff run looked like an outlier, but it turned out to be merely a prologue to 2013’s swifter steamroll of the AL West, as Oakland won 96 for an easy first-place finish. Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie broke out in the infield, and Bartolo Colon had one of his finest seasons at age 40. For the second straight season, the A’s look lucky, but luck is the residue of design. Billy Beane continues to successfully identify and patch holes through the trade market and acquire underappreciate assets.

Winter Grade: B+ 

Coming: Scott Kazmir, Craig Gentry, Luke Gregerson, Jim Johnson
Going: Bartolo Colon, Grant Balfour, Seth Smith, Brett Anderson, Michael Choice (minors)
Usually spending the winter upgrading the bullpen is a sign of an uncreative GM, but successful reshuffling of the bullpen is a skill Billy Beane is particularly good at. This winter, closer Grant Balfour is replaced by a pair of solid arms who come at the low cost of a fourth outfielder (Smith) and a AAAA second basemen who fell out of favor with the organization (Jemile Weeks). Losing Bartolo Colon will hurt, but it was a tough decision considering how old he is, and the big geezer is likely to regress. Kazmir is a risky signing, even for just two years, but he offers upside after putting together an impressive rebound. Similarly, Gentry could get 450 at-bats roving around the outfield as a defensive specialist/platoon partner. The four-player deal with Texas could be a rare trade that works out well for everyone, as Michael Choice is a good fit for the ballpark in Arlington.

Wild Card(s):
Yoenis Cespedes found that pitchers had adjusted to him the second time around, striking out more and making weaker contact, although defensive improvements made him a similarly valuable player overall. He has more than enough talent to rebound into a solid offensive threat again.

Key Contract Years:
Jed Lowrie will try to prove that the first healthy season of his major league career wasn’t a fluke. If he can repeat his 2013 line, he’s due for a big payday, which will probably price him out of Oakland’s future plans.

Rookies:
Nobody, probably. There’s not much room on the big league roster, anyway; Oakland has few holes, and they’ve broken in quite a few players over the past two years, so the team is still relatively youthful.

Key Questions:
Are last year’s breakouts sustainable?
Can Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes rediscover their 2012 utility?
Is there any room for growth among Oakland’s young starters?

Farm System Overview: RED (below-average)
…but shortstop Addison Russell is definitely a keeper. He will debut in AA this year and should replace Lowrie by Opening day 2015 at the latest. There’s a possibility he’ll debut at years end. Russell may not immediately hit for average but he offers a good power/speed combination, plate discipline and should play defense well enough to stick at shortstop. After him, there’s not much left in the system, as Oakland traded or graduated everyone else close to the majors last year. There’s some talent in the lower levels, but every team can say that. The future status of Oakland’s farm system mostly rides on the development of some of their toolsier picks from last year’s draft.

2014 Prognosis: Likely Contenders
Their roster is deep and solid across the board, but Oakland doesn’t have a lot of star talent, unless Josh Donaldson’s breakout turns out to be a new level of performance for him. The current Oakland A’s look like a “classic” Moneyball team, with patient, defensively strong players around the diamond, the likes of which are often undervalued by teams with more wealth and less astute management. The only roster spots that are truly questionable, shortstop and first base, also happen to be the only places where Oakland has minor league depth. Billy Beane is a smart guy.

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Minnesota Twins

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MLB 2014 Team Preview: Minnesota Twins
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

2013 Overview:

The future has arrived!...sort of. Consecutive 66-win seasons are set apart by the fact that this time, Minnesota was breaking in some real talent, at least in the lineup, instead of fooling around with the likes of Ryan Doumit. But the Justin Morneau era is over, and it ends in unspectacular, maudlin fashion. He leaves behind a roster full of holes, an army of AAAA batting practice pitchers, and Joe Mauer, now officially an ex-catcher.

Winter Grade: D
Coming: Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes  
Going: Ryan Doumit
Management correctly identified the glaring weakness in their rotation. And ownership threw a solid amount of money at the problem, $84 million. The only problem is who they picked to eat all those innings, and all that money. Instead of targeting higher end arms (a Matt Garza homecoming would have been welcome), the Twins bought high on some decidedly mid-tier free agents, none of whom can safely be expected to be more than a fourth starter. Ricky Nolasco becomes their highest free agent expenditure ever, despite last year being the first in five where he was an above average starter. His 4.37 career ERA is even more milquetoast than it looks considering he’s spent his whole career in pitchers parks. And he was the best they got! Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey are two New York castoffs who never lived up to their pedigree, but that didn’t stop Minnesota from betting on some magical improvements. At least Hughes has shown success in the bullpen; Pelfrey has never missed enough bats with his declining fastball. They were better off just letting the kids take their lumps
.
Wild Card(s):
Aaron Hicks is no longer a rookie, and now he’s an afterthought after hitting a soft .192 last year in 81 games with Minnesota. But the 24-year-old still has 20/20 potential and if he can find the plate discipline he showed in the minors, the Twins will have an underrated everyday center-fielder.

Key Contract Years:
Josh Willingham followed up a huge 2012 with an injured, ineffective 2013, but if he finds a happy middle ground between the two the Twins will have a more difficult decision, as he could be a fine corner OF/DH for another year or two, and offense is suddenly hard to find on the open market. Kevin Correia is a free agent and if things go right this year they won’t need to keep him around.

Rookies:
The rookie most likely to make an impact is catcher Josmil Pinto, who was one of four minor league catchers to have an OPS above 800 Last year, although his defense is a major question mark. Kyle Gibson and Alex Meyer are candidates for the rotation, and both could be better than any of Minnesota’s veterans, although that isn’t saying much. At some point during the year some of Minnesota’s high profile offensive studs will make their debut; five-tool outfielder Byron Buxton, slugging third basemen Miguel Sano and 2b Eddie Rosario.

Key Questions:
Will any of the Twins veterans be better than replacement-level (and/or have an ERA under 4.5)?
Is there any room to see if youngsters like Kyle Gibson or Alex Meyer could be part of the next good Twins team?
When will young slugger Miguel Sano make his big league debut?
Will moving to first base/DH allow Joe Mauer to play an extra 30 games a year?
 
Farm System Overview: BLUE (elite)
And now for some good news. The Twins have an impressive collection of true elite-level talent, although their pitchers are a little further behind. Buxton and Sano make every major top-ten list (ESPN, Baseball America, etc) and overall they have potential stars all around the diamond. The challenge will be finding room to integrate everyone onto the roster over the next few years, or determining who will be part of the next good Twins team or whether they need to trade from depth for more pitching. Also, the next Twins’ shortstop is probably not on the roster at the moment. Pedro Florimon Jr doesn’t count

2014 Prognosis: Rebuilding
Some analysts have pointed to their glut of high-end talent and predicted a potential surprise, but it’s hard to see a contender shaping up with such a bland, uninspiring rotation. It may take some more time for players like Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia to work out the holes in their game and become useful. But if management exercises patience with these guys, they should find themselves with an overflow of big league talent by sometime next year. 2014 also might be a good time to sell high on infielders Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe. They’ll be bad, but they won’t be boring.

Let the Games Begin: Miller on the Move

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Let the Games Begin: Miller on the Move
By Wild on Sports Analyst Jason Gillson

The NHL Trade season is officially upon us! With the Olympics come and gone and the trade freeze lifted, teams in the bottom third of the league are looking to clean house and shift their focus to next season.

It had been widely speculated that Sabers and Team USA goaltender Ryan Miller's days in Buffalo were numbered. Despite being the face of the franchise for the past decade he was in the final year of his contract and playing for a team that has not sniffed a playoff run in years. Miller is a winner; there is no doubt about that. You had to imagine it was not if but when he would be dealt to a contending team.

Well, that day has come and oh what a blockbuster it was. The Sabers and St. Louis Blues agreed to a trade on Friday that will send Miller and Sabers Captain Steve Ott (also a free agent to be) to STL in exchange for goaltender Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier and at least one 1st round pick (1 guaranteed, 1 conditional).

The deal could not have worked out better for either team. The Blues are one of the better teams in the Western Conference and sure contenders. Miller gives them a chance to win now. He is a big games goalie and shines in the spotlight. He will get his chance to shine in a Cup run. Ott brings some nice grit and leadership that will serve the team well down the stretch.

For Buffalo netting the goaltender of the future in Halak along with very serviceable winger Stewart and the two high picks will set them up down the road. They potentially now have three first round picks in what is expected to be one of the deeper drafts in years. It has been an ugly few years in Buffalo but this deal may have opened up some light at the end of the tunnel. 

Win-win, everybody likes that. Expect for fun to follow. Buffalo is in full sell mode now. There are likely several more pieces on the move.

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Chicago White Sox

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MLB 2014 Team Preview: Chicago White Sox
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Doorman

2013 Overview:
It’s finally time to hit the reset button. After surprise contention in 2012, the White Sox played more to their true talent level last year; an old, boring roster with little depth or rookie reinforcements. The long-overdue overhaul had actually begun the year before, when Chicago let go of guys like Mark Buehrle and Carlos Quentin, but by the middle of the season the rebuilding was fully underway; goodbye Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, and Jesse Crain. Hello high draft picks.

Winter Grade:
Coming: Jose Abreu, Matt Davidson, Adam Eaton
Going: Hector Santiago, Addison Reed
The mid-season deals looked like standard salary dumps, but this winter’s talent exchanges seem rather inspired. So what if they’re just taking advantage of Arizona’s bizarre and misguided mistakes? Current GM Rich Hahn was long thought to be an integral part of Chicago’s success in the mid-late part of last decade, and this winter he may have proved it, adding significant young pieces without having to give up much that will be missed. Reed is a generic mid-tier closer, while Santiago couldn’t hold up for a full season in the rotation. Chicago has a good track record of success mining the Cuban refugee talent base, and Jose Abreu could be a nice replacement for long-time White Sock Paul Konerko.

Wild Card(s):
Dayan Viciedo is still young enough to make some strides with the bat, and he’ll have plenty of room to do it considering this is not a year in which Chicago can realistically expect to contend. Even if he’s not a consistent 25-30 HR threat, some extra plate discipline would go a long way towards making him a league average regular.

Key Contract Years:
Adam Dunn, and that’s it. Paul Konerko is already nothing more than a glorified bench coach/veteran presence at this point, and Dunn may be close behind. Considering how useless his bat has been in two of the past three years, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Dunn get released before the end of the year, or for this to be his last season logging real time in the majors.

Rookies:
Abreu will be the Opening Day first baseman, and he’s 27 so the future for him is right now. Matt Davidson could be an immediate power threat at third base, and if he makes strides on defense, so much the better. Erik Johnson should get a chance in the rotation, and he has mid-rotation upside. Later on in the season, infielder Marcus Siemens could take over for the perennially disappointing Gordon Beckham at second base.

Key Questions:
How will the outfield rotation get resolved?
Is Alejandro de Aza now a fourth outfielder?
Does Chicago have any pieces left to trade for prospects?
Will they completely bite the bullet and instigate a Chris Sale sale?

Farm System Overview: RED (below average)
Chicago’s farm system is a marked improvement over past years, but the organization still suffers from lack of high-end talent and overall depth. None of their current prospects can safely project to be a star, although some of their rookies this year could help immediately as everyday average regulars, which is still very valuable. After drafting Tim Anderson in the first round last year, Chicago now has a glut of speedy middle infielders, none of whom project for much power. Next year, Courtney Hawkins could emerge as a potential blue-chip asset but he was badly rushed, so he’ll have to hit better than .178.

2014 Prognosis: Rebuilding
…But they have stepped away from the abyss, which is great news. This year could be a little rough as Chicago tries to solidify a new core, but they should be in a reasonable position going forward into 2015 and beyond. Theoretically things could break right and this team could hover around .500 as they did in 2012, but that’s a real long shot and I think the White Sox are better off selling some more guys. It would be a tough pill to swallow, but trading Chris Sale could really help transform the roster going forward.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Kansas City Royals


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MLB 2014 Team Preview: Kansas City Royals
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

2013 Overview:
It looked like another disappointing year in Kansas City, but the team finished strong, going 43-27 in the second half of the season, and in fact were above .500 in every month except May, when they went an abysmal 8-20. Their solid season may have saved Dayton Moore’s job, and staved off a significant amount of embarrassment coming from the fact that they’d made a tremendous push last winter to compete, trading prized prospect Wil Myers (among others) in the process. Still, they missed the playoffs for the 28th straight season.

Winter Grade: B
Coming: Jason Vargas, Norichika Aoki, Omar Infante
Going: Ervin Santana, David Lough
Kansas City creatively patched up their holes on the roster this winter, signing the now-underrated Infante and acquiring a solid on-base threat in Aoki for virtually nothing. Signing Vargas to a long-term deal is a head-scratcher, especially since Santana remains a free agent, but that excess is mitigating by retaining Bruce Chen on the cheap. Danny Valencia was acquired as insurance at third base that they won’t need (more on that below).

Wild Card(s):
Mike Moustakas. In 2.5 seasons with KC, the former can’t miss prospect has missed a lot of pitches, his strikeouts and weak contact keeping his power numbers down (his career slugging percentage is a cool .385). He’s now 25 years old and far enough removed from his blue chip status that Kansas City is already making contingency plans, but I have faith. Moustakas’ career to date looks a lot like another current Royal, Alex Gordon (albeit with less plate discipline). Gordon took forever to get going but once he broke out in 2011, he’s remained a very solid asset across the board (power, baserunning, defense, etc). Moustakas is still young enough to make a similar jump. He could also tap into more of his raw power and become the AL’s version of Pedro Alvarez. In short, there are plenty of still likely scenarios in which he contributes to a contender.

Key Contract Years:
James Shields, Norichika Aoki. Shields may well be a goner after this year, which puts an immense amount of pressure on the Royals to win this year; as good as Shields was last year, to having nothing to show for letting go of Wil Myers and company will haunt the Royals management team (lead by Dayton Moore), wherever they wind up after this year. That said, the Royals have done a decent job locking up their best homegrown talent, with an offensive core of Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez in toe for the long haul. DH Billy Butler has an option for 2015 that will be picked up unless he has a complete breakdown this year.

Rookies:
Flamethrower Yordano Ventura will get first crack at a rotation spot, followed closely by Kyle Zimmer, a former first-round pick whose high ERA last year (4.32) masks a strong finish and excellent component ratios. Both could have Royals fans forgetting Ervin Santana by the end of the season.

Key Questions:
Will another bad start force the Royals to deal Shields midseason?
Where will the power come from in the lineup?
Can Bruce Chen keep hitters guessing with smoke and mirrors for at least one more season?
How bold will management be in reinforcing the roster if they are contending?

Farm System Overview: GREEN (above average)
Before 2011, the Royals were aggressive spenders in the amateur draft, complementing regular top ten picks with later-round bonus babies like Wil Myers, Chris Duffy and Mike Montgomery, to name a few. Overall they haven’t seen the returns you’d expect given the money they’ve spent and the high draft slots they’ve had, but nevertheless, the system has a nice mix of interesting pitchers and athletic position players, highlighted by Raul Mondesi Jr, the youngest player in full-season ball last year (he’ll be 18 in 2014). They also had an interesting strategy in last year’s draft, which seems to have worked so far; third-basemen Hunter Dozier was signed cheaply so that they could save money for lhp Sean Manaea later on, who fell to them due to concerns about his hip.

2014 Prognosis: Likely Contenders
The Royals are slightly more impressive on paper than the Indians going into the year, and could easily leap-frog them in the standings. They did more to improve their shortcomings this year, but more importantly, there is more room for growth on their roster, particular among position players, as guys like Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez have true star potential. Bullpens are usually fickle, but Kansas City has a tremendous corps of relievers who can make a real difference. Finally, their veteran workhorses seem more than capable of bridging the gap between Shields and their aces of tomorrow.

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Cleveland Indians

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MLB 2014 Team Preview: Cleveland Indians
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Doorman

2013 Overview:
The Indians were seemingly rewarded for spending heavily on an offensive makeover last winter, but their wild card berth came on the back of some surprising sources. Jason Kipnis emerged as a star at second base, Ubaldo Jimenez learned to succeed with diminished velocity, and catcher/first basemen Yan Gomes hit .294 with 11 Home Runs, allowing Carlos Santana to stay fresh all year. But it was lefty Scott Kazmir who drew attention for his feel-good story comeback, who arrived as a spring training invitee, rediscovered his velocity, which, when combined with the best control numbers of his career, led to his first successful season in five years.

Winter Grade: C
Coming: David Murphy, Sean Marcum, John Axford
Going: Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir, Chris Perez
The Indians had spent most of their money last year on outfielders and with their offensive relatively stable, and Danny Salazar set to replace Ubaldo Jimenez, standing pat seems reasonable, but teams that make a 20+-win jump from the previous year, as the Indians did, are prone to some kind of regression either due to bad luck or player performances adjusting.

Wild Card(s): Lonnie Chisenhall 
He was supposed to be a league-average third basemen by now, but he hasn’t gotten on base enough, and now Carlos Santana is expected to play some games at third base this year. But if Chisenhall can emerge as an everyday player, Cleveland has more options, which might mean more Santana at DH, which might mean less Jason Giambi, which is a good thing going forward.

Key Contract Years:
Justin Masterson, Asdrubal Cabrera Losing Masterson would definitely hurt, but Asdrubal Cabrera is probably gone after this season, and Cleveland can easily weather his loss with Mike Aviles and top prospect Francisco Lindor. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cabrera dealt in-season, either for prospects or, if Cleveland is contending, for more pitching help.

Rookies:
Trevor Bauer was a top ten pitching prospect last year, but he struggled with his delivery all year and his velocity fell sharply; he was ineffective between AAA and the majors, bouncing between the two. However, unless he was hiding an underlying injury, Bauer is a reasonable bounce-back candidate, and even a slightly above-average rookie season would mitigate the loss of Scott Kazmir.

Key Questions:
What kind of pitchers can Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber be long (or even mid)-term?
Are they durable enough to last for a full season?
How much longer can Nick Swisher continue to be a viable offensive threat?

Farm System Overview: YELLOW (average) 
The Indians have some intriguing middle infielders, highlighted by blue chipper Francisco Lindor (probably a year away), and Clint Frazier is a highly regarded outfielder taken in the first round last year. After that, the talent level tails off considerably. The top heavy system will need some breakouts from toolsy international signings like Dorssys Paulino or Luigi Rodriguez.

2014 Prognosis: Possible Contenders
The Indians lack star talent, but they are very strong up the middle and their roster has few obvious holes. They will need health and durability from their starters, however, as their bullpen is mediocre and they have very little starting pitching depth to pull from if things don’t go as planned.

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