Month: March 2014

MLB Preview: The Buck Starts Here

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Manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles are counting on a big season from Ubaldo Jimenez.

by Drew Sarver

Key Acquisitions: Ubaldo Jimenez, Nelson Cruz, Ryan Webb, Delmon Young, David Lough

Key Losses: Brian Roberts, Nate McLouth, Scott Feldman, Wilson Betemit, Chris Dickerson, Jason Hammel, Jim Johnson

 

In 2011, Manager Buck Showalter took over a club that had only finished higher than fourth place in the AL East once since 1997. A year later, he led the team to a 93-win season and their first playoff appearance since ’97, ultimately losing to the Yankees in the fifth game of the divisional series. Last year, the team won eight less games than in 2011, missed the playoffs, and settled into a third place tie with the Yankees.

The offense revolves around Chris Davis, who finished behind Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout in last year’s AL MVP voting. Despite missing the playoffs, there’s a legitimate argument that Davis should have been the MVP. Davis struggled in his years with the Texas Rangers organization (2006-2011), and wasn’t highly regarded when he and Tommy Hunter were dealt to the O’s for Koji Uehara at the 2011 deadline.

The change of scenery had an impact for Davis in the 2012 season. He belted 33 home runs, drove in 85 runs and recorded a .501 slugging percentage. Last season, Davis reached another stratosphere – an AL- leading 53 HR and 138 RBI, and a 1.004 OPS. It earned him his first All-Star appearance and his first Silver Slugger Award.

The Orioles finished tied for fourth in the AL in runs scored last season, but general manager Dan Duquette signed free agents Nelson Cruz and Delmon Young to give Davis protection in the lineup. Cruz has a history of injuries, mainly hamstring, and is coming off a 50-game suspension for his involvement with the Biogenesis Clinic. He’s averaged 27 HR and 81 RBI over the last five  seasons, but has topped 130 games played just once in non-suspended seasons.

At 28, Young is not so young any more and is at a crossroads in his career. His image has been damaged by his off-the-field comments and he hasn’t produced on the field. His lone big season came in 2010, when he knocked in 112 runs and topped an .800 OPS for the only time in his career. He’ll likely platoon in right field with David Lough.

The Orioles will be without the services of their phenom third baseman Manny Machado to start the season.  In his first full season in the Majors, Machado earned an All-Star nod and won a Gold Glove award. The 21-year old tore the medial patellofemoral ligament of his left knee in the final week of the 2013 season. He had reconstructive surgery in October with an expected recovery time of 4-6 months. In the meantime, Ryan Flaherty, Jonathan Schoop, and Steve Lombardozzi could see time at third base (as well as second base).

LINEUP

C: Matt Wieters
1B: Chris Davis
2B: Flaherty/Schoop/Lombardozzi
SS J.J. Hardy
3B: Manny Machado (Flaherty/Schoop/Lombardozzi)
LF: Delmon Young/David Lough
CF: Adam Jones
RF: Nick Markakis
DH: Nelson Cruz

Chris Tillman didn’t look good in his 36 Major League starts over 2009 – 2011, but he impressed in his 15 starts for the Orioles in 2012. That led to a breakout 2013 season. Tillman topped 200 innings, struck out 179 and won 16 games. He needs to cut down on serving up home runs, and control is sometimes still an issue, but Tillman should be able to build off of last season’s success.

He’ll be joined by Ubaldo Jiminez, who the Orioles signed to a four-year contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $50MM. It’s a big risk, considering that outside of the second half of last year, Jimenez hasn’t been good since 2010. Jimenez did post a career-high 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings last year and cut his wild pitches (8) in half from 2012. The money per year isn’t bad, but the number of years sounds nuts at the moment.

ROTATION

SP: Chris Tillman
SP: Ubaldo Jimenez
SP: Miguel Gonzalez
SP: Bud Norris
SP: Wei-Yin Chen

Hunter will replace Jim Johnson as closer. He has the tools, but has not had the role of full-time closer before.

BULLPEN

Tommy Hunter
Darren O’Day
Ryan Webb
Evan Meek
Zach Britton
Brian Matusz
Josh Stinson

BENCH

Steven Pearce gives Showalter versatility with the ability to play first base and outfield. The second base/third base triumvirate will have one to two of the three coming off the bench. Steve Clevenger backs up Matt Wieters at catcher. Nolan Reimold continues to struggle in his comeback from a pair of neck surgeries and will start the season on the DL.

OUTLOOK

There are talented players in the Orioles lineup, but neither the pitching nor hitting will provide enough to finish ahead of the big three AL East powerhouses, Boston, New York, and Tampa Bay.

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MLB Preview: Will the Pirates raise the Jolly Roger in 2014?

Andrew  McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen and the Pittsburgh Pirates are looking to go deeper into the postseason in 2014.

by Brandon Karsten

Key acquisitions: IB Chris McGuiness, RHP Edinson Volquez, C Chris Stewart.

Key losses: RHP A.J. Burnett, 1B Justin Morneau, 1B Garrett Jones, OF Marlon Byrd

The Pittsburgh Pirates created a buzz througout Major League Baseball in 2013. The Bucs not only had their first winning season since 1992 (When a player named Barry Bonds was patrolling left field at Three Rivers Stadium), but also locked up the NL Wild Card with a one-game winner-take-all victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

The Pirates lost the Division Series in five games to the eventual National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals, but the season’s achievements gave the team new confidence. With the off-season dapartures of some of the players that got them over the hump last season, the Pirates will have to rely on some of their home grown talent keep that buzz alive in the Steel City.

To continue to build on last year’s success, Pittsburgh will have to turn to its mega-star, Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen won the National League MVP after finishing third in the MVP voting in 2012 and got his second straight Silver Slugger Award. But while McCutchen is the rock of the outfield, who’ll be helping him out?

With the free-agent departure of Marlon Byrd to the Phillies, the Pirates have three other experienced outfielders on the roster: Starling Marte, Travis Snider, and Jose Tabata. The lack of outfield depth may force the Bucs to pick up another player off the end-of-Spring Training waiver wire.

The infield has undergone some changes as well. Pedro Alvarez will continue to be a mainstay at the hot corner and in the heart of the lineup. Although Alvarez struggled at the plate with a .296 on-base-percentage, he led the National League in home runs (36) and cracked the 100 RBI plateau for the first time in his career. With Garrett Jones and Justin Morneau gone, Gaby Sanchez will get the bulk of the at-bats at first base. Travis Ishikawa will spell him from time to time.

Russell Martin returns as the starting catcher, but the Bucs need find a solid back-up catcher after Michael McKenry was designated for assignment. The Pirates got veteran backstop Chris Stewart in early December from the Yankees in exchange for a player to be named later. However, Stewart suffered a knee injury during a Spring Training on March 12 and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. He’s expected to miss four-to-six weeks. For now, Tony Sanchez will back up Martin.

LINEUP
C: Russell Martin
1B: Gaby Sanchez
2B: Neil Walker
SS: Jordy Mercer
3B: Pedro Alvarez
LF: Starling Marte
CF: Andrew McCutchen
RF: Jose Tabata

The starting rotation looks almost similar to 2013 with the exception of A.J. Burnett. Burnett went across the state of Pennsylvania to Philadelphia for a one-year, $15 million deal with an option for 2015.1 New to the rotation is Dominican righty Edinson Volquez, who signed a one year and $5 million contract 2 The Pirates will be counting on Gerrit Cole, who made his major league debut in the middle of the season, to build off his 12-game debut. (5-3, 2.91)

ROTATION
SP: Francisco Liriano
SP: Charlie Morton
SP: Gerrit Cole
SP: Wandy Rodriguez
SP: Edison Volquez

The bullpen remained pretty much the same from last year. Jason Grilli proved last year he was a reliable closer with 33 saves in 35 chances. When Grilli was injured in midseason, the Bucs showed they had a solid replacement in Mark Melancon.

BULLPEN
Jason Grilli
Mark Melancon
Tony Watson
Justin Wilson
Jeanmar Gomez
Stolmy Pimentel
Bryan Morris

BENCH

Clint Barmes and Josh Harrison are the utility infielders, with Harrison also the fifth out fielder for now.

Pittsburgh’s top prospect, outfielder Gregory Polanco,  was sent down to AAA Indianapolis aftera decent showing  in Spring Training. He’ll start the season at Triple-A Indianapolis, but could join the Pirates during the season.

Also waiting for a major league call-up this year will be Jameson Taillon. The righty Taillon spent most of 2013 at Double-A Altoona with some starts in Indianapolis. Taillon, the 2010 second overall draft pick, was one of the first cuts in the Pirates Spring Training camp and will start the year in Indianapolis.3

OUTLOOK

Just like last year, Pittsburgh will have to fight with St. Louis to win the NL Central. The defending NL Champion  Cardinals lost Carlos Beltran to free agency and traded away 2011 World Series hero David Freese, but still maintain a solid rotation in Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha.

With most of the key players back and a taste of the postseason in their mouths, the Pirates appear to be hungry and are primed to continue where they left off in 2013.

1 – mlb.com

2 – mlb.com

3 –  wtae.com

Brandon Karsten is a contributor to Designated Four Assignment. He can be found on Facebook or contacted by email at bkarsten2009@hotmail.com.

MLB Preview: Red Sox, Defenders Of The Crown

jonlesterJon Lester’s season is the key to the Red Sox season.

 

by Drew Sarver

Key Acquisitions: A.J. Pierzynski, Grady Sizemore, Edward Mujica, Brian Badenhop

Key Losses: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Stephen Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ryan Dempster

 

The 2013 Boston Red Sox proved that with the right mix of players and a manager that is respected by the players (and puts his players first), anything is possible. The 2012 Red Sox team was the polar opposite of last year’s sqyad. Manager Bobby Valentine and his inflated sense of self was a disastrous choice to replace two-time World Series winner Terry Francona. The team was bogged down with bloated contracts for players who were either full of excuses for losing (Adrian Gonzalez), couldn’t stay healthy (Carl Crawford), or were too self-involved (Josh Beckett).

The team’s turnaround began when an infusion of  cash, from new ownership, made the Los Angeles Dodgers all giddy. They took Gonzalez, Crawford, and Beckett off the Red Sox hands, instantly changing the dynamic in Boston’s locker room, and lowered the Red Sox total payroll.

Then came the inevitable ax to Valentine, who basically blamed the players for everything that went wrong in a 69-win season. Former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell was released from his contract as Toronto’s manager and was hired as Valentine’s replacement. Order was instantly restored to the Red Sox clubhouse. With the additions of Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Ryan DempsterStephen Drew, Jake Peavy, and Koji Uehera, the team won 97 games and their third World Series title in 10 years.

The 2014 team faces the task of trying to repeat, something the Red Sox have not done since 1915-1916. The team’s lineup is basically the same with the addition of rookie/top prospect Xander Bogaerts  replacing Drew at shortstop and veteran Grady Sizemore  taking over center field with the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury to the rival Yankees. Sizemore, who hasn’t had a Major League at-bat in three years, beat out Jackie Bradley Jr. for the job.

Will Middlebrooks will get the chance for regular at-bats at third base provided he shows more consistency than he did last year. The Texas native has hit 32 home runs in 615 career at-bats so he’s capable of a 25-30 home run-season, if he sticks in the lineup. The team has prided itself on defense and are gambling that the offense provided by Middlebrooks and Bogaerts will offset what may be a rough time in the field for the duo.

With the departure of free agent Jarrod Saltalamacchia, GM Ben Cherington brought in veteran A.J. Pierzynski to get the bulk of at-bats as the starting catcher. The 37-year old still has pop in his bat (37 home runs over the last two seasons), but will need help from the Red Sox pitchers to cut down on the number of stolen bases he normally allows.

The offense, will of course, rely on mainstays David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, as well as Mike Napoli, who was arguably the most clutch hitter in the Red Sox lineup.

LINEUP

C: A.J. Pierzynski
1B: Mike Napoli
2B: Dustin Pedroia
SS: Xander Bogaerts
3B: Will Middlebrooks
LF: Daniel Nava/Jonny Gomes
CF: Grady Sizemore
RF: Shane Victorino
DH: David Ortiz

 

Getting rid of Josh Beckett in 2012 not only freed up money, but took a bad influence away from the team’s younger pitchers. The team now looks to their ace, Jon Lester, and veteran John Lackey, who exceeded expectations last year after he underwent Tommy John surgery and sat out the 2012 season. Joining them in the rotation are Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, and Jake Peavy.

Buchholz’s health is a major concern. He was phenomenal last year (12-1, 1.74 ERA, 1.025 WHIP), but made just 16 starts due to a neck injury. In 2011, he was limited to 14 appearances with a back injury.  Farrell has to wonder if Buchholz’s body can withstand a 180-plus inning workload, like the one he produced in 2012.

Doubront’s has made 56 starts over the last two seasons, with mixed results.  Doubront will throw a lot of pitches past people, but some of those pitches won’t be near the strike zone. He’s averaged four walks a game the last two years and 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

Peavy came over at the trade deadline last year and made 10 regular season starts. Two of his three post-season appearances were a disaster, but he’s a good man to have in the back of your rotation. Should the Red Sox need another starter during the season, they could go with veteran Chris Capuano, or minor league left-hander Henry Owens, who will start the season at Pawtucket.

ROTATION

SP: Jon Lester
SP: John Lackey
SP: Felix Doubront
SP: Clay Buchholz
SP: Jake Peavy

BULLPEN

Koeji Uehara was a Godsend for the Red Sox last year, just as important to the Red Sox as any other player on the roster. After closers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey went down with season ending injuries, Uehara stepped up and was outstanding in the closer role. He picked up 21 saves and struck out better than 12 batters per nine innings. He was even better in the post-season. In his 13 appearances, Uehara allowed one earned run in 13.2 innings pitched, struck out 16 hitters, and saved seven of the Red Sox 11 post-season wins. The Japanese native will turn 39 the first week of the season, but shows no sign of slowing down.

Holdover Junichi Tazawa and newcomer Edward Mujica, the former Cardinals reliever, will share the set up duties to Uehara. Capuano, Craig Breslow, Burke Badenhop, and Rubby De La Rosa will be among the long relievers and middle men in the pen.

BENCH

Depending on the opposing pitcher, Farrell can flip flop Nava, Gomes, Sizemore, Victorino, and Mike Carp between the outfield and the bench. Nava and Carp will also give Napoli a break now and then at first base.  David Ross will be the back up to Pierzynski at catcher. Jonathan Herrera will likely be the utility infielder, though it woudn’t be surprising to see the Red Sox pick up a veteran castoff prior to the start of the season.

 OUTLOOK

Despite the departures of Ellsbury and Saltalamacchia, and the concern over defense on the left side of the infield, the Red Sox enter the season as the favorites to repeat as the AL East winners.

 

Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

MLB Preview: Injuries Could Haunt 2014 Braves

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Atlanta will need big production from the likes of Freddie Freeman to make up for a rash of injuries.

by Christopher Wenrich

Key acquisitions:  Ryan Doumit, Gavin Floyd, Mat Gamel

Key losses:  Tim Hudson, Brian McCann, Paul Maholm, Luis Ayala, Eric O’Flaherty

Since the 1990s, the Atlanta Braves have always fielded a competitive team and shown the ability to overcome adversity.  But with the rash of injuries already taking a toll on the squad, the adversity may prove to be too much.  Pitchers Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen are out for the year and will be undergoing Tommy John surgery (Beachy’s second in three years).  Tim Hudson – formerly of the Braves – signed with the San Francisco Giants.  Pitchers Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd are also injured and may not be back until late April or early May.

THE LINEUP
C:  Evan Gattis
1B:  Freddie Freeman
2B:  Dan Uggla
3B:  Chris Johnson
SS:  Andrelton Simmons
LF:  Justin Upton
CF:  B.J. Upton
RF:  Jason Heyward

Jason Heyward should lead off for the Braves, as he is the only hitter they have – aside from Freddie Freeman – who can get on base consistently.  B.J. Upton is not qualified for the role, as he registered a sub-.300 on-base percentage in back-to-back seasons.  In 2013, Upton hit a paltry .184 and struck out 151 times in only 391 at-bats.  Justin Upton (161 strikeouts in 558 at-bats) and Dan Uggla (171 strikeouts in 448 at-bats) round out the Braves’ swing-and-miss brigade.  The threesome provide the Braves with plenty of potential for home runs; however, they swing more violently than a screen door in a tornado.  Their penchant for strikeouts render their offense inconsistent and unpredictable.

Freeman will provide consistency and all-star numbers.  Chris Johnson is a steady contact hitter.  Although it is unlikely that Johnson will repeat last season’s breakout .321 average, it would not be entirely surprising (.289 career average).  Outside of Heyward, Freeman and Johnson, there is little consistency in the lineup.  Andrelton Simmons is perhaps the best defensive shortstop in baseball, but he is not a spectacular hitter.  Simmons does have the potential to grow as a hitter and has decent pop in his bat.  Hitting 15-20 home runs is not out of the question for Simmons, and his average may improve as he gains more experience.

Catcher Evan Gattis is another feast-or-famine hitter in the Braves lineup.  Should Gattis struggle mightily or suffer injuries, Ryan Doumit could replace him in the lineup.  Doumit was a shrewd signing for the Braves, as he can catch, play first base and the outfield.

THE ROTATION
Julio Teheran
Ervin Santana
Alex Wood
David Hale
Aaron Harang

With Beachy and Medlen out for the year, Julio Teheran gets the nod for opening day.  Teheran struggled in his few Major League starts in 2011 and 2012, but he followed with a strong 2013 season and has secured his spot in the Majors.  Teheran posted a 3.20 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 30 starts last season.  The youngster has tremendous potential and will continue to grow as a pitcher.  In the wake of the Beachy/Medlen injuries, the Braves signed Ervin Santana to provide some semblance of stability in their rotation.  Santana has displayed bouts of both brilliance and ineptitude in his inconsistent career.

Alex Wood – the Braves’ second-round draft choice in 2012 – will start the season in the rotation.  Wood has looked impressive this spring, as he currently sports a 0.45 ERA.  Wood may be moved to the bullpen when/if Floyd and Minor return.  If Wood continues to impress during the regular season, the Braves may opt to keep him in the rotation and could move Floyd to the bullpen.  The Braves recently released Freddy Garcia and signed veteran Aaron Harang.

THE BULLPEN
Craig Kimbrel
Jordan Walden
Luis Avalan
David Carpenter
Anthony Varvaro
Cory Gearrin

Craig Kimbrel – widely regarded as the best closer in baseball – will again serve as closer.  Jordan Walden will likely serve as the setup man.  The Braves had perhaps the best bullpen in baseball for years, but it looks like it may be a shadow of its former self now.  Jonny Venters will start the season on the disabled list and may be out until late May or early June.  Eric O’Flaherty is now with the Oakland Athletics.  An inconsistent lineup combined with a lack of proven depth in the bullpen may add up to many losses for the Braves this year.  The injuries to the starting pitchers  may also lead to the bullpen being overworked.

THE BENCH

Despite the injuries, the Braves will not be lacking catchers.  Doumit can catch, play first base and the outfield and Gerald Laird will serve as a backup catcher.  Ramiro Pena will back up Uggla at second base and may steal the job if Uggla has another challenging season.  Tyler Pastornicky – who tore his ACL last August – will back up Simmons at shortstop.  Mat Gamel provides a power bat on the bench and can play first base and the outfield.  Gamel was once a top prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization, but he struggled with injuries and was an underachiever.

Outfielder Jordan Schafer will likely start the season on the bench.  If B.J. Upton underperforms, he may lose his starting job to Schafer, who hit .247 last season but registered a respectable .331 on-base percentage.  Despite appearing in only 94 games and 234 at-bats as a part-time player last season, Schafer led the Braves with 22 stolen bases and was caught six times.

The Braves could finish second in the National League East if their offense shows more consistency and if they get another Herculean effort from Freeman, but a fourth place finish is more likely.  When top relief pitchers like Venters go down with an injury, O’Flaherty signs with another team, and Gamel is a key acquisition, all signs point to a troubled season.  Look for the Braves to be surpassed by the New York Mets this season and battle with the Philadelphia Phillies for third place.

Christopher Wenrich is a contributor for Designated For Assignment.  Follow him on Twitter (@DuggerSports).

MLB Preview: Yankees Aim To Give The Captain One More Ring

Could the Yankees get Jeter a ring for his other hand?

by Drew Sarver

Key Acquisitions: Masahiro Tanaka, Carlos Beltran, Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, Brian McCann

Key Losses: Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Alex Rodriguez

The 2013 New York Yankees season was rife with poor performance, injuries, moves made in desperation, steroid allegations, and a roster of maybes, has-beens, and never-weres.  Owner Hal Steinbrenner wanted general manager Brian Cashman to get payroll under control so that the team would fit under the 2014 luxury tax threshold of $189MM.  With injuries and payroll cuts, sub-par players like catcher Chris Stewart and journeyman infielders like Reid Brignac and Luis Cruz littered the 25-man roster last season.

Manager Joe Girardi did his best to push all the right buttons, but many days he simply ran out of buttons to push. The team managed to rack up 85 wins and finished in third place the AL East, but their record fell well short of a playoff appearance. It was just the second time since 1995 that the Yankees missed the post-season.

With Derek Jeter’s announcement that this will be his final season, the moves made by the Yankees this off-season could give him one final chance to add to his championship ring collection (He has five).  More importantly, Jeter needs to remain healthy after ankle and quad injuries limited him to 17 games in 2013.

The Yankees upgraded at catcher when they signed veteran Brian McCann to a five-year deal worth $85MM. The former Atlanta Brave hit 20 or more home runs during the last six seasons and should enjoy swinging at the short porch in right field this year.

Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, a member of the Boston Red Sox 2013 World Series championship, was persuaded to put on the pinstripes with a seven- year deal in excess of $152MM. (The deal could earn Ellsbury close to $169 if the Yankees exercise an 8th-year option.) There’s no question that the Yankees overpaid for a player who has missed more games than he has played in two of the last four seasons and suffered a calf injury during the current Spring Training season. But, if healthy, he can steal 50 bases and hit 10-15 home runs.

Carlos Beltran, a member of the New York Mets for six-plus seasons, returned to the Big Apple with a three-year deal worth $15MM per season.   The new right fielder’s post-season reputation made him a priority target for the Yankees this off-season.

The Yankees’ entire season could very well hinge on the biggest deal they made this winter. With competition from several teams, including Boston, the Yankees landed Nippon Baseball League pitching star Masahiro Tanaka, with a seven-year deal worth $155MM. The contract includes a full no-trade clause and an option to get out of the contract after the fourth year.  The right-handed pitcher was 24-0 last season playing for the Rakuten Golden Eagles and has looked confident in Spring Training.

The Yankees have two huge holes to fill in the infield. The team’s best hitter, second baseman Robinson Cano, departed for Seattle and a 10-year free agency deal. Third baseman Alex Rodriguez received a 162-game suspension from MLB for steroid use.

Without tried and true in-house replacements, the Yankees signed oft-injured, long-time Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts and utility infielder Kelly Johnson, who played for three different teams in the last four seasons. Johnson will get the starting nod at the hot corner,  while the 36-year old Roberts hopes to play enough to contribute. The Yankees also signed one-time second base prospect Scott Sizemore to compete for an infield spot.

LINEUP

C: Brian McCann
1B: Mark Teixeira
2B: Brian Roberts
SS: Derek Jeter
3B: Kelly Johnson
LF: Brett Gardner
CF: Jacoby Ellsbury
RF: Carlos Beltran
DH: Alfonso Soriano

The starting rotation is set in the first four positions. Veteran lefty CC Sabathia will be followed by Hiroki Kuroda, Tanaka, and Ivan NovaThe final spot in the rotation was went to Michael Pineda after he out-performed David Phelps. Having Phelps in the pen will also be an asset to the Yankees. 

ROTATION

SP: CC Sabathia
SP: Hiroki Kuroda
SP: Masahiro Tanaka
SP: Ivan Nova
SP: Michael Pineda

BULLPEN

David Robertson takes over for his long-time mentor, Mariano Rivera, at the closer position. He’s not guaranteed to be a lock there for the full season. He’ll be helped out in the late innings by Shawn Kelley, free agent lefty Matt Thornton, and possibly Dellin Betances.

Vidal Nuno adds another lefty to the pen, while Warren and Phelps will work as  long men.

Bench

The Yankees will deal outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, whose bat has slowed considerably, to open a spot for a youngster like Zoilo Almonte.

The Yankees re-signed utility man Brendan Ryan to back up Jeter at shortstop, but a back injury will land him on the DL to start the season. Decent-hitting, poor-fielding Eduardo Nunez has been sent to the minors in favor of minor leaguers Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte, neither of which has a Major League at-bat.

Barring a trade, Francisco Cervelli, who is out of minor league options, will start the season as McCann’s backup. Soriano should be the primary DH and will get some outfield time. He’s also been taking grounders at first base as another way to keep his bat in the lineup.

The Yankees added some depth on Friday (3/28) when they brought back Al Aceves with a minor league contract, who was with the team from 2008-2010. Though he split time as a starter and reliever his first go-round, Aceves will be a starter for Triple-A Scranton.

Outlook

Health is the key to the Yankees season, especially that of Ellsbury, Sabathia and Teixeira. The Yankees will hit the 90+ win mark if the offense produces,  Sabathia can bounce back from last year’s ineffectiveness and lost MPH on his fastball, Tanaka is the real deal, and youngsters Nova and Pineda reach their potential.

Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

MLB Preview: Marlins Fishing for Wins In ’14

The Marlins must prove they are committed to winning in order to strike a long-term deal with Giancarlo Stanton            The Marlins must prove they are committed to winning to keep star Giancarlo Stanton.

by Christopher Wenrich

Key Acquisitions:  Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rafael Furcal, Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee, Carter Capps, Jeff Baker, Reed Johnson

Key Losses:  Logan Morrison, Justin Ruggiano, Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre, Ryan Webb, Chad Qualls

The Miami Marlins are a team in turmoil whose performance on the field, good or bad, is super-ceded by their reputation for hosting fire sales.  Since their inaugural 1993 season, the Marlins have had two post-season berths and won the World Series both times (1997 and 2003).  After each World Series title, the team was dismantled, first by owner Wayne Huizenga, and then by owner Jeffrey Loria.  The Marlins made dubious headlines again prior to the 2013 season when they traded away the likes of pitcher Josh Johnson and shortstop Jose Reyes.  The end result was a disastrous 62-100 record and animosity from fans whose money helped Loria build a new ballpark.

Despite the laughable record, the Marlins were not without their bright spots.  Rookie Jose Fernandez made the leap from Single-A to the majors as a 21-year old and pitched like a true ace (12-6, 2.19 ERA and 187 K in 172.2 IP).  Fans have high expectations for their 2013 Rookie of the Year award winner and the Marlins need him to deliver results.

THE LINEUP
C:  Jarrod Saltalamacchia
1B:  Garret Jones/Jeff Baker
2B:  Rafael Furcal
3B:  Casey McGehee
SS:  Adeiny Hechavarria
LF:  Christian Yelich
CF:  Marcell Ozuna
RF:  Giancarlo Stanton

The Marlins scored an MLB-worst 513 runs in 2013, after being near the bottom of the pack the prior two years. Their offense will go as far as Giancarlo Stanton can carry it.  Stanton showed tremendous potential in 2012 when he produced 37 home runs and a .969 OPS, but injuries have played a significant part in his young career.  After playing 150 games in 2011, Stanton appeared in 123 in 2012 and 116 last year (He still managed to hit 24 home runs and compiled an .845 OPS).

If Stanton stays healthy enough to approach 155 or more games played, a 40-plus home run season would not be out of the question.  Although he does not boast a high batting average (.265 career), his .354 on-base percentage is respectable and will bat in an RBI spot.

Stanton isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2015 and won’t reach free agency until 2017, so the Marlins are paying him a mere $6.5 million this season.  If the front office was to approach Stanton about a long-term deal, they must show him a commitment to winning or else Stanton will likely leave in 2017.  Of course, based on their history, Loria could deal Stanton well before free agency.

Helping to set the table for Stanton this season will be veteran infielder Rafael Furcal.  During his prime years with the Atlanta Braves (2000-2005), Furcal had a spectacular throwing arm, great speed and swung a respectable bat.  If he’s healthy with Miami, Furcal will be the everyday second baseman after years at shortstop.

The 13-year veteran missed the entire 2013 season with an elbow injury, but he was productive with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012 (.264 AVG and .325 OBP in 121 games).  As of this writing, Furcal has been sidelined by a hamstring injury but is expected to be ready for opening day.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia was the Marlins’ big free agent signing this off-season.  The catcher has untapped potential as a home run threat (he’s topped 20 HR just once in his career), and should help the Marlins score more runs.  “Salty” caught 119 games last year for the Boston Red Sox and will see a heavy workload for the Marlins.  Given enough playing time and at-bats, he should approach 30 home runs in 2014.

Manager Mike Redmond hopes that left fielder Christian Yelich can be a breakout star in 2014.  Yelich’s lack of power (four home runs in 240 at-bats) as a rookie in 2013 may have disappointed some fans and scouts, but the 22-year old is still developing that part of his game.  More importantly, he recorded a .370 on-base percentage and stole 10 bases in 10 attempts.  Yelich’s ability to reach base safely is vital to help set up RBI opportunities for Stanton and Saltalamacchia.

The Marlins also picked up veteran infielders Garrett Jones (first base) and Casey McGehee (third base) to add some pop to the lineup.

THE ROTATION
Jose Fernandez
Jacob Turner
Nate Eovaldi
Henderson Alvarez
Tom Koehler

Joining Fernandez in the rotation are Jacob Turner, Nate Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez.  The three are promising youngsters who should keep the Marlins competitive in their games.  Eovaldi is a hard-thrower who induces ground balls, and has the tools to be an All-Star.  He must become more consistent with his performance though, and gain better command of his pitches.

THE BULLPEN
Steve Cishek
Mike Dunn
A.J. Ramos
Carter Capps
Carlos Marmol
Dan Jennings
Arquimedes Caminero

Steve Cishek (34 saves, 2.33 ERA last year) will be the closer for Miami while Mike Dunn sets up.  Through 192.1 career innings, Cishek sports a 2.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and limited opposing hitters to a .217 batting average.  Cishek is eligible for arbitration after this season, so the Marlins may trade him at, or before, the deadline.

Carlos Marmol was a smart free agent signing for the Marlins.  While Marmol has struggled with his control the past few years, he does have tremendous upside as a strikeout pitcher (730 career strikeouts in 563.2 innings).  The Marlins were a last-place team before they signed Marmol and will likely be a last-place team again, so they have nothing to lose by giving Marmol a shot.

THE BENCH

Jeff Mathis will likely be the backup catcher.  Jeff Baker will serve as a utility infielder who can also play the corner outfield spots.  Greg Dobbs can play the infield corners and serve as a power bat on the bench.  Solano should have a spot and may be Furcal’s replacement in the event of an injury.  The final bench spot will likely go to outfielder Brian Bogusevic, second baseman Derek Dietrich or third baseman Ed Lucas.

The Marlins have more pop in their lineup this year and should score more runs.  Their pitching rotation shows promise and so does the bullpen, but they will struggle to win games.  Look for the Marlins to make a minor improvement in winning percentage and to again finish last in the NL East.

Christopher Wenrich is a contributor for Designated For Assignment.  Follow him on Twitter (@DuggerSports).

MLB Preview: Cleveland Won’t Rock

csantanaCarlos Santana looks to make a smooth transition to third base.

by Alli Baker

Key DeparturesMatt Albers, Scott Kazmir, Jason Kubel, Chris Perez, Joe Smith, Drew Stubbs

Key ArrivalsDavid Adams, Scott Atchison, Jeff Francoeur, Elliot Johnson, Nyjer Morgan, David Murphy, Josh Outman, David Aardsman, John Axford, Shaun Marcum

Prospects to Watch: Francisco Lindor, Clint Frazier

2013 was a year of improvement for the Cleveland Indians. Although they didn’t make it far into the post-season, they took a huge step in the right direction by qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2007.  In their first year under new manager Terry Francona, the Indians went 92-70, a 24-win improvement from the 2012 season. This impressive turnaround can largely be accredited to the Indian’s pitching. However, with the departures of Scott Kazmir, Joe Smith, and Chris Perez, the Indians had quite a bit of work to do this offseason. 1 Unfortunately, it appears, at least on paper, that they didn’t do enough.

Currently, the team has a four-man rotation of Zach McAllister, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, and Justin Masterson.  Only one of the four pitchers, Justin Masterson, has spent a full year in the majors. It would’ve been smart for Cleveland’s general manager Chris Antonetti to acquire a big-name pitcher via a trade or free agency to help continue the team’s success. That hasn’t been the case, though.

The Indians acquired John Axford to replace departed closer Chris Perez, but Axford is likely not going to be the impact player that the team needs. Although there is still time left in the offseason, the days are winding down for Antonetti to make a major move. If a veteran pitcher isn’t signed, the team could rely on prospect Trevor Bauer or allow newly acquired Sean Marcum a chance at making the rotation. Bauer is still going through growing pains and Marcum has suffered a number of injuries the last few years that have derailed his career.

ROTATION

SP:  Justin Masterson
SP:  Zach McAllister
SP:  Danny Salazar
SP:  Corey Kluber
SP:  Shaun Marcum

The Indians do still have a solid offense thanks to players like Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Nick Swisher, and Jason Kipnis.   Swisher and Santana are expected to be the main sources of power after slugging 22 and 20 home runs, respectively, last season. In a move to preserve his body and his offensive output, Santana has primarily played third base during Spring Training and could beat out one-time prospect Lonnie Chisenhall for the job. He’ll also give Swisher a rest at first base now and then.

Brantley, arguably, had the best season of his career. He set new highs for home runs (10), RBI (73), stolen bases (17) and runs scored (66). Fancona is counting on Brantley to continue developing his power. Kipnis built off his 2012 season with a 100 point jump in OPS and led the team with 84 RBI and 160 hits. He and center fielder also disrupt the opposition with their speed. Kipnis stole 30 bases in 37 attempts, while Bourn, despite an off-year, nabbed 23 bases. Bourne has topped the 60-stolen base mark twice in his career.

The Tribe signed free agent David Murphy away from Texas to add a solid left-handed bat to the order. Though his OPS dipped under .700 in 2013, Murphy’s career mark of .778 will be a boost to the lineup against right-handed pitchers.

LINEUP

C: Yan Gomes
1B: Nick Swisher
2B: Jason Kipnis
SS: Asdrubel Cabrera
3B: Carlos Santana
LF: Michael Brantley
CF: Michael Bourn
RF: David Murphy
DH: Jason Giambi

BENCH

Francona will also use Ryan Rabun in the corner outfield positions and second base to add more punch to the starting nine. Jason Giambi should see a good amount of time as the DH against right-handers once the rib he broke in Spring Training heals.

The Indians also seem to have some hope for the distant future with prospects like Francisco Lindor and Clint Frazier.

Frazier, an outfielder taken fifth overall by the Indians in last year’s amateur draft, is known to have raw power at the plate. He slugged an impressive .510 in rookie ball last year and had 21 extra base hits in 44 games. Though a long way off from playing in the big leagues, the 18-year old’s promise gives Indians fans something to look forward to.

With shortsop Asdrubal Cabrera in the final year of his contract, Lindor could make a push for the starting job next season with a stellar year in the minors. Ranked the 13th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America, the 20-year old has a reputation as a solid hitter and base stealer Last year with the Carolina Mudcats, Lindor hit .306, slugged .410, and swiped 20 bases.3 His defense will determine how quickly he arrives in the Major Leagues.

BULLPEN

John Axford
Cody Allen
Mike Rzpeczynski
Vinnie Pestano
Bryan Shaw
Josh Outman

OUTLOOK

Although this extra offense is good for the Indians, it’s not what they need the most right now. Unfortunately, neither of these top prospects are pitchers that could solve Cleveland’s pitching troubles this year. If the team is looking to have a season similar to 2013, something must be done about their lack of experience in the starting rotation. In 2014, the Tribe needs to prove that last season wasn’t just a fluke and that they’re back to compete.

1 –  si.com

2 – espn.com

3 – baseballamerica.com

Alli Baker is a hockey fanatic and contributor for Designated for Assignment.  She can be reached at allibaker23@aol.com or followed on Twitter at @allibaker23