Baseball Previews

MLB Preview: Oakland A’s Make Another Pitch For Playoffs

Dan-Straily[1]The A’s will again rely on up-and-coming pitchers like Dan Straily.

 

by Alli Baker

Key Departures: Chris Young, Kurt Suzuki, Jemile Weeks, Pat Neshek, Scott Sizemore, Seth Smith, Bartolo Colon, Brett Anderson, Grant Balfour, Jerry Blevins, Michael Choice

Key Arrivals: Nick Punto, Scott Kazmir, Fernando Abad, Craig Gentry, Drew Pomeranz, Eric O’Flaherty, Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson, Josh Lindblom

Last year, the Oakland A’s not only overcame the odds and won the AL West, but they had the second-best record (96-66) in the American League to boot. The A’s came out on top despite having the fourth-lowest payroll in the league, a lack of star power, and playing in a division that includes big-spending rivals like Texas and Los Angeles.

This year, Oakland is looking to go deeper into the post-season. This year’s team has a tough act to follow, but General Manager Billy Beane has been working hard this winter to piece together another contender.

The A’s win with pitching so that was Beane’s biggest priority of the off-season. The A’s acquired Fernando Abad, Jim Johnson, Scott Kazmir, Josh Lindblom, Eric O’Flaherty, and Drew Pomerantz. The new recruits may not have the star power the A’s needed, but Beane has usually managed to put together a serviceable staff.

Scott Kazmir will  replace Bartolo Colon in the starting rotation, and for now Jesse Chavez gets a shot with injuries to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin. Park underwent Tommy John surgery in March and is out for the year. Griffin, a 14-game winner last year, is out until May with elbow tendinitis. Looking for some depth, the A’s signed former Oakland pitcher Joe Blanton to a minor league deal.

ROTATION
SP: Sonny Gray
SP: Scott Kazmir
SP: Jesse Chavez
SP: Dan Straily
SP: Tommy Milone

BULLPEN
Jim JohnsonLuke Gregerson
Sean Doolittle
Dan Otero
Drew Pomerantz
Fernando Abad
Evan Scribner

Johnson will serve as the team’s closer, but since he led the AL in blown saves last season with Baltimore, he could lose his job. Top setup man Ryan Cook is out indefinitely with shoulder inflammation, while O’Flaherty is making his way back from Tommy John surgery.

While the pitching staff was shaken up over the off-season, the A’s lineup stayed relatively unchanged thus from last year. Oakland acquired Nick Punto and Craig Gentry, neither of whom will provide a drastic change to the look of the A’s. Punto’s versatility gives manager Bob Melvin plenty of opportunity to flip-flop players in and out of the DH spot, while Gentry adds some speed to the outfield.

The team will rely on Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson, Josh Reddick, and Brandon Moss for the bulk of their offense. While Beane filled the A’s pitching void,  it would be beneficial to improve rhe offense at some point this season.

LINEUP
C: Derek Norris1B: Daric Barton
2B: Eric Sogard
SS: Jed Lowrie
3B: Josh Donaldson
LF: Yoenis Cespedes
CF: Coco Crips
RF: Josh Reddick
DH: Brandon Moss

PROSPECTS

Oakland has a couple of options with prospects Addison Russell and Billy McKinney. Both players have big potential to boost the A’s lineup.

Russell would also fill the team’s need for a better shortstop than Jed Lowrie while providing some power behind the plate. Last year in the minors, Russell had 17 home runs and batted  .275 average at Advanced-A Stockton last year, before he was promoted for a brief stint at Triple-A. 1 He’s just 20-years old.

McKinney, an outfielder, is said to have a “tremendous feel for the game,”. The 24th overall pick in last season’s MLB amateur draft, McKinney’s impact to the A’s won’t come for some time.2

OUTLOOK

The Oakland A’s might not have an overly-impressive roster, or a giant payroll, but they definitely will compete for the division again. They’ll also be in the running for the wild card spots as well, especially if their pitching gets healthy.

 

1- milb.com

2- bleacherreport.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

MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds On Derek Jeter

By Jim Monaghan

Derek  Jeter

Photo courtesy of MLB.com

When Derek Jeter takes the field for the New York Yankees in Houston this evening, it will mark the final Opening Day for the future Hall of Fame shortstop.

MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds, who played for eleven years in the Major Leagues, shared some thoughts on Derek Jeter with Jim Monaghan on the WDHA Morning Jolt. Here’s a portion of that interview.

Jim Monaghan – Harold, as D4A’s resident Red Sox fan, I’m of the opinion that Derek may have hung around a year too long. Do you think that’s accurate?
Harold Reynolds"<strong – Oh no…not at all. I got a chance to study him…watch him move…you know, last year was an aberration because he came back too early. Anybody’s who’s had a broken arm or a broken leg, you know when they take that thing out of the cast it’s skinny as all get out. And imagine he did that with his ankle and then ran out there and tried to play a baseball game. So he never lifted or did any of that. So he spent the off-season this year really rebuilding the muscle around that ankle. There’s no problem with the bone, or with the foot, the ankle…any of that. He got the muscle back…I watched him in Spring Training and he’s moving great. So I don’t worry about anything else; I think he’ll be fine.

JM – You mentioned recently on MLB Tonight that you thought Jeter’s moving better than you’ve seen in a few years.

HR – Yeah, you know the one thing that happens to guys with injuries, you’ve got to work lifting weights to build that area back and sometimes you come back even stronger. I’m not going to deny he’s 40, you know obviously he wasn’t moving like that when he was 20, but when you look at two years ago he had 200 hits before the injury. I don’t think he was missing a beat and at that point he was probably thinking, “I can probably play another 5 years.” The one year off for him really kind of made him think about his future. And also, the work…in talking with him the one thing that stood out with him was that this is the way you’re supposed to feel when you’re 39 trying to come back from an injury. It’s not that easy. I think he has a great perspective…his mind is clear…his body’s ready…I think he’ll have another big year.

JM – With Mariano Rivera having already retired, and Derek Jeter about to, if it hasn’t already happened by then will one of them be the first unanimous first-ballot inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame?

HR – Boy, that’s a great question. I would have to lean towards no just because these guys (the baseball writers) have kept it a tradition. When Cal Ripken plays every game for every year for 10,000 years and puts up the Hall of Fame career he did…you look at Tony Gwynn, Greg Maddux in this last induction did not get 100%, so I would have to say no. You would think that maybe one of those guys might make it but there’s always going to be that one guy who wants to be the newsmaker – “I didn’t do it because I’m holding to tradition.”

JM – That’s some “tradition,” keeping a sure-fire Hall of Famer off your ballot. If it were to happen, though…if someone were to get in as a unanimous choice – for argument’s sake, let’s say it’s Rivera or Jeter – do you think it would open the floodgates to where these clowns finally say, “This guy deserves to be in…I’m voting for him?”

HR – You’ve got me laughing calling them “clowns” but you might be dead on. Yeah, I think that does open up the floodgates ’cause there’s going to be some players that are coming in the near future. Ken Griffey Jr. comes to mind for me; I can’t see how he’s not a first-ballot Hall of Famer 100%. So hopefully that trend gets changed and we’ll see some guys get in immediately.

Jim Monaghan can be heard Monday through Friday mornings on the WDHA Morning Jolt from 6-10AM & Sunday’s from 7-10AM with “All Mixed Up.” He’s also an instructor at Professional Baseball Instruction in Upper Saddle River. Follow him on twitter – @Monaghan21.

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

"The

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: 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: Phils Full of Questions

Injury concerns surrounding Cole Hamels cast more doubt on the Phillies’ 2014 playoff hopes.

by Christopher Wenrich

Key Acquisitions:  Marlon Byrd, Bobby Abreu, Chad Gaudin, Barry Enright, Reid Brignac, Brad Lincoln, Ronny Cedeno

Key Losses: Roy Halladay, John Lannan

After a string of five consecutive division titles and two World Series appearances (one won and one lost), the Philadelphia Phillies toiled in mediocrity and missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons.  Prized ace – and possible future Hall-of-Famer – Roy Halladay struggled with injuries in back-to-back seasons and announced his retirement not long ago.  Longtime stars Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins have aged and struggled with injuries.  While the Phillies aim to establish themselves among baseball’s elite again, their window of opportunity may have closed.

During the Phillies’ five-year run of division titles, they averaged 799 runs scored and 675 runs against them.  In the past two seasons, the Phillies have averaged 647 runs scored and 714 runs against them.  The core of their once-mighty offense (Rollins-Utley-Howard) are past their prime.  Utley is still a very productive hitter; however, he cannot be counted on to play nearly 162 games.  Utley’s 131 games in 2013 was the first time he appeared in more than 115 games since 2009 (156 games).  Howard is an all-or-nothing hitter who would club 40 home runs and strike out around 200 times.  Howard struggled with injuries and a very sharp decline in productivity the past few seasons.  Rollins has not been hit by the woeful injury bug that Howard and Utley had over the years, but he has declined significantly as a hitter.

The Phillies’ top prospects – Maikel Franco and Jesse Biddle – will most likely start the 2014 season in the minors and possibly not see MLB action this year.  The Phillies made a questionable signing in right fielder Marlon Byrd.  Regardless of whether or not Byrd has a productive season with the Phillies, the signing appears senseless because it takes at-bats away from Darin Ruf.

Ruf is a power-hitting right-handed batter who has shown an ability to get on base at a consistent clip in his short time in the majors.  If Ruf were to get regular at-bats over the course of a full season, he could conceivably hit 30 home runs and have a respectable on-base percentage.  Ruf could be a slightly better version of Mark Trumbo.  With Howard still under contract and starting at first base, and Byrd expected to start in right field, Ruf’s value to the team is greatly hindered.  Ruf may lose even more at-bats if veteran Bobby Abreu receives some starts in right field.  Limiting Ruf to a platoon role with Howard at first base severely dampens the potential of the Phillies’ offense.

Once again, the Phillies are a lefty bat-heavy team.  Right fielder Byrd and catcher Carlos Ruiz may be the only right-handed bats in the starting lineup on a regular basis.  The six left-handed bats will likely be Howard, Utley, Cody Asche, a switch-hitting Jimmy Rollins, Ben Revere and Domonic Brown.  The Phillies will have right-handed bats on the bench in Ruf and John Mayberry Jr.  Kevin Frandsen – another right-handed bat – could conceivably be released this spring.

LINEUP
C:  Carlos Ruiz
1B:  Ryan Howard
2B:  Chase Utley
3B:  Cody Asche
SS:  Jimmy Rollins
LF:  Domonic Brown
CF:  Ben Revere
RF:  Marlon Byrd

The opening day batting order at this point is pure speculation.  Because the Phillies will not want to bat four or five consecutive left-handed batters, Rollins or Revere will likely bat in the bottom third of the order.  The Phillies would be best-served by having Revere lead off the order and Rollins moved down in the order.  Revere has tremendous speed and is a respectable hitter.  Revere got off to a slow start in 2013, but eventually rounded into form and became one of the hottest hitters in baseball before suffering an injury.  Although it would be more prudent to bat Rollins in the bottom third, it would not be surprising to see him leading off the top of the lineup (his longtime role with the club).

ROTATION
SP:  Cliff Lee
SP:  Cole Hamels
SP:  A.J. Burnett
SP:  Kyle Kendrick
SP:  Roberto Hernandez (formerly known as Fausto Carmona)

The Phillies have an excellent front end of the rotation with Lee, Hamels and Burnett; however, the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation leave a lot to be desired.  Hernandez signed a one-year deal worth $4.50 million (another questionable signing).  Due to Hernandez’s salary, the Phillies likely will start Jonathan Pettibone in the minors while assuring Hernandez a roster spot.  Hernandez struggled with command throughout his career and leaves too many hittable pitches up in the zone.

Kendrick is a solid pitcher for the back end of the rotation, but is highly unlikely to show significant improvement.  At his best, Kendrick induces ground balls and puts together a stretch of games where he looks like an ace; however, his overall body of work is never impressive over the course of a season.  Kendrick has improved tremendously against left-handed bats over the years (.298 OBP against in 2013); however, he is more hittable to right-handed bats each year.  Right-handed batters posted the following OBP against Kendrick:  .329 in 2010, .298 in 2011, .312 in 2012, and a whopping .358 in 2013.

Adding to the uncertainty of Kendrick/Hernandez, Hamels may be unavailable at the start of the season.  For now, Hamels is shut down from throwing for at least a week.  It is believed that there is no structural damage in Hamels’ shoulder, but Hamels is reportedly fatigued.  Bad news surrounding the front end of the pitching rotation puts a damper on the club’s playoff hopes.  Should Hamels be unavailable, the Phillies will probably use Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez in his place.  Gonzalez reportedly had elbow issues after signing with the Phillies in 2012 and he has struggled with his command in spring training and failed to impress thus far.

BULLPEN
Jonathan Papelbon
Antonio Bastardo
Jake Diekman
Jeremy Horst
Brad Lincoln
Phillippe Aumont

An inept bullpen has greatly plagued the Phillies over the past few years and cost them many would-be victories, however, the bullpen shows promise for 2014.  Jonathan Papelbon will be back as the closer.  Left-handed pitchers Antonio Bastardo and Jake Diekman will also be assured  roster spots.  Veteran Mike Adams will likely begin the season on the disabled list before joining the pen as a righty set-up man.  The Phillies will likely carry six relief pitchers rather than seven in order to create a bench spot for Abreu.  B.J. Rosenberg, Michael Stutes and Justin De Fratus are also vying for spots in the bullpen.  Stutes once showed plenty of promise, but has been nothing short of unproductive since his injury.  With Ethan Martin now injured, his chances of making the team are also slim.

BENCH

Wil Nieves will serve as the second catcher.  Ruf (1B/OF) will be assured of a bench spot.  Mayberry will mostly likely be on the bench.  If the Phillies carry six relief pitchers, three spots remain.  Those last spots will likely go to Abreu (a disciplined hitter who draws walks), Freddy Galvis (2B/3B/SS/OF) and Cesar Hernandez.  Galvis is perhaps the best defensive player in the organization, and should be the starting shortstop; however, Rollins’ refusal to waive his no-trade clause prevents such a move from happening.  Galvis is not a spectacular hitter, but has the potential to improve and has respectable power to the gaps.  Hernandez is young but has potential and could be the everyday replacement for Utley if he were to suffer an injury.

2014 Outlook

The Phillies could sneak into the playoffs and surprise the world in 2014; however, that would be highly unexpected.  The Phillies are a team full of uncertainty and need a large number of what-ifs to work correctly for them.  The Phillies’ 2014 playoff fate rests on the shoulders of their top three pitchers, Revere, and an aging cast of hitters.  Revere could be a tremendous bright spot in the Phillies’ lineup this season, with the potential to approach 200 hits and steal many bases; unfortunately, the Phillies’ other potential bright spots (Ruf, Galvis and Hernandez) are reduced to backup roles.  The injury scare around Hamels at this time does nothing to ease the concerns of Phillies fans.  The over/under for victories by the Phillies in 2014 should be around 80 games.

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