10 things to watch in MLB heading into '15
It has been one of the busiest offseasons in recent years, but there are still some issues that teams have to address. Here are 10 heading into the New Year.
Angels (Josh Hamilton): After being limited to 240 games in his first two years with the Halos, Hamilton needs to provide a legitimate power bat to offset the more than $90 million the Angels owe him over the next three years. Johnny Narron, Hamilton's guiding force as a youth and with the Rangers, was hired to be the organization's Triple-A hitting coach but will get plenty of time with Hamilton in the spring. The Angels did win an MLB-best 98 regular-season games last season, but they were swept in the American League Division Series by Kansas City. To take the next step they need the Hamilton of the Rangers to return. The Angels have a big enough hole as it is at DH, where only two players had more than 100 at-bats last season (Albert Pujols 163 and C.J. Cron 125).
Tigers (Justin Verlander): The former AL Cy Young Award winner has to step back into the ace role with the Tigers having dealt Rick Porcello to the Red Sox and still playing the waiting game on free agent Max Scherzer. Verlander has seen his ERA climb each of the last three seasons, reaching 4.54 in 2014 as he went 15-12 . While Verlander worked 200-plus innings for the eighth season in a row, the 206 innings were his lowest total in six years. The Tigers have to decide whether they believe Verlander can return to his role as the rotation ace or if they will be forced into the Scherzer free-agent bidding that agent Scott Boras wants to reach $200 million.
Nationals (General manager Mike Rizzo): The Nationals are considered by many to have the best talent in the National League. The decision for Rizzo is avoiding disrupting that mix and making an all-out run at the first World Series in the history of a franchise that was created as the Montreal Expos in 1969, or try to guard against a possible mass free-agent defection next offseason. The Nationals have six key potential free agents with starting pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, shortstop Ian Desmond, center fielder Denard Span, left-handed reliever Matt Thornton and right-handed reliever Tyler Clippard.
Padres (Carlos Quentin): The new San Diego front office made an impact with the offseason acquisitions of outfielders Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton. Now comes a thinning of the roster. The three primary outfielders from a year ago return -- Seth Smith, Cameron Maybin and Will Venable -- plus Quentin. Limited by injuries to fewer than 100 games in each of his first three years with the Padres, Quentin has $11 million guaranteed left on his contract including the buyout for 2016.
Cubs (Anthony Rizzo): The Cubs made an offseason splash, signing free-agent left-hander Jon Lester and trading for veteran catcher Miguel Montero. They both will be keys for potential success, but Rizzo is the guy the Cubs acquired to be the face of the franchise. Are they comfortable he can step into that role despite fewer than three years big league service time? The Cubs do have a young roster -- only one projected starter could be a free agent after next season -- and Rizzo did start to emerge last season, earning an All-Star selection while hitting a career-best 32 home runs.
Yankees (Alex Rodriguez): Where does he fit? Rodriguez is a 14-time All-Star and a three-time AL MVP Award winner, and he has three years and $61 million remaining on his contract. The 39-year-old, however, was suspended for the 2014 season for violations of the MLB Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program and the Basic Agreement, and he was limited by injuries to 44 games in '13. The Yankees have signed Chase Headley to a four-year, $52 million deal to play third base, and they traded for Garrett Jones, who could fill at least the left-handed portion of the designated-hitter duties.
Rockies (Jhoulys Chacin): A year ago the Rockies thought Chacin was ready for a breakthrough season. At the age of 25 in 2013, he won 14 games and compiled a 3.47 ERA, second lowest in franchise history. For an encore? The Rockies were suspicious of how seriously Chacin prepared in the offseason, and the fears were borne out in 2014 when he made 11 starts, went 1-7 and had a 5.40 ERA. Was it a lesson learned? The Rockies have been impressed with his approach this offseason. The Rockies have to decide whether they need a top-of-the-rotation starter or if they can count on Chacin to step into the No. 2 spot behind Jorge De La Rosa, leaving them in search of a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Orioles (Power source): Yes, the Orioles are counting on the return of catcher Matt Wieters and slugger Chris Davis to provide an offensive lift, but they also lost free-agent leadoff hitter Nick Markakis, a two-time Gold Glove Award winner in right field, and DH Nelson Cruz, who led the AL with 40 home runs and was third in RBIs with 108. The in-house candidates as replacements are Steve Pearce, who split his 102 games in left field, right field, first base and DH last season, and Alejandro De Aza, an Aug. 30 addition from the White Sox who hit eight home runs combined in 2014. The Orioles know they need more impact to take a step up from last year's AL Championship Series sweep by the Royals.
Brewers (Ryan Braun): He's the face of the franchise and will be making $12 million in 2015 in the final year of his contract before a five-year, $105 million extension kicks in starting with the 2016 season. A former NL Rookie of the Year and MVP, Braun's career has been in turmoil the last two seasons. After successfully appealing a 50-game suspension in 2012, he was suspended for the final 65 games of 2013 for violations of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, and he hit .266 with 19 home runs in 2014. Braun underwent offseason surgery to correct a nerve issue at the base of his right thumb in hopes it will alleviate problems he had at the plate.
Mariners (James Jones): The Mariners did sign Cruz in their quest to add right-handed threats to their lineup, but they haven't found a second impact bat this offseason. That led them to trade for Justin Ruggiano, with the idea he could platoon with a left-handed bat. There's been talk of making another trade, with Smith or Venable of the Padres as the prime rumored players, but there is a feeling within the organization that in a platoon situation the promising Jones would be a plus. He is a legit basestealing threat (27 for 28 with the Mariners last season).