AL teams make resolutions as calendar turns to 2015
New-look Blue Jays, White Sox headline crop of clubs with high hopes
If Major League Baseball resolved to stay on your radar throughout the offseason, that resolution has been met with an outbreak of transactions, the likes of which not even the most creative of armchair GMs could have concocted. And the single premise that drives all of these moves is the bid to get better, the determination to improve on some real or perceived weakness for the long-term or the short.
With the New Year upon us and resolutions still in style, let's look at each club's biggest goal for 2015. We'll begin with the American League and progress to the National League on Monday:
In Toronto, the resolution is obvious: End MLB's longest playoff drought (21 seasons, counting '94). And good for the Blue Jays for making an earnest attempt to do so while Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are still within their window to win. The additions of Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Michael Saunders should help Toronto field one of baseball's deepest lineups, but it remains to be seen if their young starters are ready to step up and how they fill the closer role, in particular.
In Seattle, the resolution is equally obvious: End MLB's second-longest playoff drought (13 seasons). After knocking on the door in '14, the Mariners have also been aggressive, and the best thing about their improved lineup, which now features Nelson Cruz sandwiched by Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, is that it didn't require any major adjustments to a pitching staff that finished second in the Majors in ERA last season.
For the Royals, the playoff drought is no longer the issue. Their resolution is to prove they have staying power amid some major revisions to their roster. Gone are Billy Butler, Nori Aoki and James Shields (presumably), and in their place are Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios and Edinson Volquez. The strength of the Royals will have to continue to be that dynamic bullpen, which is even stronger now that Luke Hochevar is nearing his return. But Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain have to build upon their October surges in starpower.
The Yankees resolve to keep their long-term payroll outlook under control, and that will likely mean going young in the middle infield (Didi Gregorius at short, and possibly either Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela at second) and hoping Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda can get or stay healthy. That also means abstaining from the Scherzer market -- a tactic that seemingly defies the fabric of the Yankees' competitive being. Credit to the Yanks' higher-ups for learning from past financial lessons, but they definitely have some age and injury issues that add significant hurdles on their path back to the playoffs.
The Tigers, as usual, resolve to win the World Series. And as usual, they've put themselves in a strong position to do so, with the addition to Yoenis Cespedes to an already monstrous middle of the order. But unless Max Scherzer re-signs and Justin Verlander returns to his old form, the superiority of the starting staff is no longer assumed, and we'll have to see if the bullpen improves. The Tigers have challenges ahead as they vie for a fifth straight AL Central crown.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Astros resolve to post their first winning season since 2008. Though there's always something to be said for youthful exuberance, this probably won't be a playoff team in A.J. Hinch's first season at the helm. But with a reinforced bullpen and Jed Lowrie added to a burgeoning lineup, perhaps a 12-win improvement is possible for a club that improved by 19 wins from 2013-14. With a full season from George Springer, continued development of Jon Singleton and Domingo Santana around Jose Altuve and Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh coming off breakout years in the rotation, there's a lot to like here.
The White Sox resolve to be as good as they look on paper. You think about a rotation fronted by Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana (with Carlos Rodon an important depth piece), a bullpen augmented by Zach Duke and David Robertson and a well-rounded lineup in which Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera support reigning Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu, and the Sox are a good bet to contend in a really deep AL Central. Rick Hahn has had as good a winter as any executive in the game.
The Red Sox resolve to go from worst to first, which should sound familiar. In today's game, that's not as daunting a task as it once was, and the Red Sox, of course, bid boldly in free agency to revise their lineup with Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez while still leaving ample opportunity for youngsters Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts and Cuban import Rusney Castillo. The lingering question is whether the Red Sox will bid similarly to bring in an ace-type arm (Max Scherzer? Cole Hamels? Jordan Zimmermann?) to front a rotation now featuring Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson.
The Twins resolve to have an improved rotation and avoid losing 90-plus games, which should also sound familiar. After throwing a ton of money at Ricky Nolasco last year, the Twins did likewise with Ervin Santana this year. They'll need both guys to have bounceback years (Santana had an adjusted ERA below league average last year), they'll need Phil Hughes to build upon a breakout '14, and they'll need young guys like Trevor May and Alex Meyer to emerge as legit big-league starters.
In another status that sounds familiar, the Orioles resolve to let the market come to them. Hey, it worked a year ago, when Nelson Cruz was a Spring Training addition who turned out to be a big key to the AL East title and run to the ALCS. Right now, the O's have an array of question marks about how they're going to replace the production of Cruz, Nick Markakis and stud reliever Andrew Miller. Certainly, the O's have obvious areas of internal improvement if Matt Wieters and Manny Machado come back strong and Chris Davis can rebound. But the strength of the Dan Duquette/Buck Showalter pairing has been the ability to uncover unexpected gems (see: Pearce, Steve), and that could happen again in '15.
The Indians resolve to improve defensively. The lineup looks solid, with Brandon Moss bringing added power to a lineup with a solid foundation in Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes, and the young rotation, fronted by Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, was one of the best in baseball down the stretch in '14. But the Indians know they can't kick the ball around like they did in '14 and expect to reach and go deep into October, and that improvement is going to have to come internally. The good news is that the shortstop situation is much better with Jose Ramirez and the looming Francisco Lindor than it was with Asdrubal Cabrera.
The Angels resolve to defend their perch atop the AL West, and it isn't going to be easy, particularly given the improvements made by the Mariners. One big key is getting more than pedestrian production from Joshua Holt Hamilton, who played just 43 games after the break last season and finished with his second straight sub-.750 OPS. The other key is again piecing together an effective pitching staff, this time without key reliever Kevin Jepsen, but with some more young bodies (Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano) looming as viable starting options.
Billy Beane's A's resolve to make like many other Beane-constructed clubs before them and drastically exceed expectations with a revamped roster. Obviously, it's been an odd winter for the A's, beginning as it did with a go-for-it move like signing Billy Butler before quickly transitioning to the rebuild-like decisions to trade the likes of Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Jeff Samardzija. Right now, it's hard to realistically look at this club as a contender, but the A's did grant themselves some financial flexibility and a wealth of young pitching, so it remains to be seen what else happens with the roster between now and Opening Day.
The Rays resolve to adapt to a different sort of change. Let's face it: This organization has lost plenty of key pieces over the years and still remained a legit threat in a daunting division. But now the losses involve the very men who made that sustained success possible: Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon. They left behind a deep rotation, but the Rays still need to drastically improve their run production, and they'll have to do so without Wil Myers.
The Rangers resolve to enjoy improved health (it's basically impossible for them to go backward in that department), with the big question being whether Shin-Soo Choo and especially Prince Fielder can provide anywhere near the production associated with their lofty contracts. What Fielder can contribute after his neck surgery will be one of baseball's biggest mysteries heading into the new season.