By Dan Lagnado
East: Washington Nationals
Coming off a disappointing season in which the Nats were 10 games behind the first place Braves, I expect a bounce back season and 95+ wins from the Nationals. An improved starting rotation with the addition of Doug Fister and a lineup without a weakness, the Nats and first year manager Matt Williams can make a run in the playoffs.
Central: St. Louis Cardinals
Last year’s National League champions continue their regular season success led by a batch of young starters. The loss of Carlos Beltran is minimized by the arrival of Jhonny Peralta and the Cardinals have a good chance to defend their title.
West: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers simply have too much firepower to not win this division. They won the division by 11 games last season and there is no reason for them not to repeat unless the team is decimated by injury.
Wild Card 1: Cincinnati Reds
The NL Central is one of the most competitive divisions in baseball with three teams making the playoffs last year. I think the Reds jump up a spot from WC 2 to WC 1 in the upcoming season behind the strength of Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. Another reason for the improvement is that Pittsburgh’s dream run last year does not have the same impact this time around and they drop off enough for the Reds to overtake them down the stretch.
Wild Card 2: San Francisco Giants
In a bounce back year the Giants will finish second in their division and take the second Wild Card position. The starting rotation will return to its former glory and the addition of Tim Hudson will add stability to a rotation that already contains Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner.
East: Boston Red Sox
This was not an easy decision but in the end I have to stay with the defending champions. A solid pitching rotation returns intact and the playoff experience will help this team retain their division title.
Central: Detroit Tigers
Even with injuries to Jose Iglesias, the Tigers are still the team to beat in the AL Central. Miguel Cabrera is coming back healthy and new acquisition Ian Kinsler will provide a big boost at second base. Joe Nathan will provide a boost at the back of the bullpen and Justin Verlander should be back healthy.
West: Texas Rangers
The arrival of Prince Fielder and Alex Rios and the first full season of Jurikson Profar will key the Rangers to a division title. Yu Darvish looks to follow up a dominant year and cement himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. In a competitive division that goes down the wire, the Rangers will edge out the division.
Wild Card 1: Oakland Athletics
The A’s continue their recent success by locking up another playoff birth, this time by Wild Card. Despite injuries to the starting rotation, Oakland does have enough young pitching to get them through the season effectively.
Wild Card 2: Los Angeles Angels
The Angels’ power bats finally get it together and make it into the postseason. Mike Trout once again will be one of the best in the league and Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols finally get it together in the American League to carry the Angels to success.
Dan Lagnado is studying communications, law economics and government at American University. He’s a fan of both the Mets and Jets and has been writing about sports for four years. You can follow him on twitter at @dlag1995
By Ben Ozur
This is no joke! It has been confirmed that this trade is official. Quite the movement of talent to say the least, not to mention the money! But why did this trade happen?
The Texas Rangers made it very clear that they wanted to move a middle infielder, whether it be Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, or Jurickson Profar. It was clear that Kinsler would be the best of the three for them to move, as the other two are still in their young 20s. Also, Kinsler’s contract doesn’t last as long as the others, so they don’t lose a ton of control of a valuable player. With this trade, Profar can now become the everyday second baseman. But there’s more to that than you may think.
The Texas Rangers wanted Profar in the lineup every day, as opposed to the utility role he served in 2013. Thus, a trade needed to be made. But was Kinsler unhappy about this? Perhaps. There were many rumors that Kinsler would have to change positions to either leftfield or first base. Kinsler is a two-time 30/30 player (HRs and stolen bases), so considering his speed, moving him to first base would waste that speed. This potential move makes sense, considering David Murphy just left as a free agent to play with the Cleveland Indians, and Mitch Moreland hasn’t played up to his full potential. There are plenty of outfielders on both the free agent and trade markets, but not first basemen. So they made it happen by acquiring Prince Fielder. Now, why would the Tigers do this?
The Detroit Tigers were expected by many to repeat as AL Champions in 2013 and maybe even win the World Series. They received these expectations after signing Prince Fielder to a 9-year/$214M contract in the 2011-12 offseason, and his first year was a huge success. He won a Silver Slugger and took his team to the World Series. This was seen as a very hefty contract, but the Tigers had the money to spend and felt that they needed that left-handed bat in the middle of their lineup. Though he had a down year in 2013 (at least for his standards), he has done everything the Tigers have asked him to do.
The Detroit Tigers also have a large hole at second base. Omar Infante, their regular second baseman in 2013, is now a free agent. Not knowing if he would resign, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski didn’t hesitate in finding his replacement. Ian Kinsler, in my opinion, is the third-best second baseman in the game (only behind Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia), and with the inflation currently in the game of baseball, Kinsler’s contract doesn’t comparatively look too much look like an overpay. Trading for him seems to be worthwhile, but at what cost? Prince Fielder!
So now everyone wants to know: who won this deal? It’s too early to tell, considering it just happen. But I’d presume that most people believe that this was an absolute steal for the Rangers. Not so fast. There are many factors that must be considered in this:
- Who wins the money-side of the trade? Considering that there isn’t a drastic difference in their talent, I would rather take a guy who’s making over $100M less. This is a big win for the Tigers.
- Who had a bigger net upgrade between first and second bases? I believe that each player is a top five player at his respective position. Because first base is a significantly stronger position than second base right now, finding a good second baseman is hard. It’s not as difficult to find a talented first baseman. Now, I still believe in Mitch Moreland. I don’t think that the Rangers HAD to trade for Fielder as much as they had to move Kinsler. So it doesn’t make too much sense, from this perspective, for the Rangers. But it made MUCH less sense for the Tigers. Because now we must ask the biggest question of all: who takes over as the Tigers’ first baseman in 2014? Um… exactly! Who will fill the role of cleanup hitter now? Ultimately, Victor Martinez will get the first stab at it, but his hitting prowess doesn’t compare to that of Prince Fielder. It is no contest here: advantage, Rangers.
- Who had a bigger hole to fill? There are more available second basemen than first basemen on the free agent market, so finding one wouldn’t be terribly difficult. The Tigers could’ve found any second baseman and given him a smaller contact, and he could’ve been serviceable. Brian Roberts and Mark Ellis fit this profile perfectly. Like I just said, the Tigers’ first base is a massive, and I mean MASSIVE, hole to try to fill. So the Tigers didn’t fill a hole, they created one. On the other side, the Rangers had a surplus of middle infielders and felt a need for an upgrade at first base (like I said, I don’t completely agree, but I understand where this is coming from). So, there wasn’t a huge problem to fill, by default, the Rangers win this argument.
- And, of course, who’s the better player? You could look at this from a bunch of different angles. To make it simple, we’ll look at three: at the plate, on the bases, and in the field. Fielder clearly has the advantage at the plate, but not as much as you may have first expected. There are many comps to Fielder as a first baseman at the plate (i.e. Votto, Goldschmidt, Davis, Gonzalez, and Freeman) and not as many to Kinsler (considering power and contact, only Robinson Cano and Brandon Phillips). I’ll still give Fielder the benefit of the doubt. On the bases and in the field? Kinsler is the clear-cut winner. When you put this all together, what’s the answer? They really are so close, it’s hard to make the call. I could easily be persuaded either way.
So one edge for the Tigers, two for the Rangers, and a tie. Does this mean that the Rangers automatically win the trade? Not quite. The money argument is the most lopsided, in my opinion. They are similar players, after all, yet Fielder is being paid more than double what Kinsler is making.
So considering all of this, who wins the trade? I really don’t know. It is still too close to call and too early to judge. If I had to make a guess, I think this gives the Rangers a bigger immediate boost, but the Tigers will be more satisfied in the long haul. Again, I don’t feel strongly about this on either side; it’s just my prediction. What I can tell you is that a trade of this magnitude (one star for another, straight up) is very rare. Normally, it’s easier to judge the winner, but not here.
The Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers have made significant trades to their roster, so these two teams will be very interesting to watch going forward.
Ben Ozur is an absolute baseball guru. He is a huge Mets, Jets, Knicks and Islanders fan whose life revolves around fantasy sports.
By Josh Halilej
After winning the American League West and making the World Series in back to back years (2010-11), the Texas Rangers have been in a period of regression these past two seasons due to an increase in competition with the emergence of Billy Beane’s not-so-underdog Oakland A’s, and the massive spending from the Angels. In 2012, the Rangers managed to stay afloat with a wild card worthy 93-69 record, but they lost their grip of the top of the division to Oakland, who bested them by one game. While this one game may not seem like a big deal, the Rangers were forced to play the first ever one game wild card playoff against the Baltimore Orioles, where they lost 5 to 1. Ron Washington and company vowed to come back next year with a vengeance, and after some offseason moves like trading away Michael Young, they seemed fine, until star player Josh Hamilton abandoned ship to go take his talents to the city of Angels. This season, the Rangers tried to cope with the loss of Hamilton who was their offensive rock, but ultimately could not make the playoffs with a record of 91-72. Someone could look at the loss of Hamilton and assume that the Rangers’ problem was largely offensive-related, but with stellar performances from Adrian Beltre and pre-suspension Nelson Cruz, in addition to receiving Alex Rios from the White Sox, I would have to disagree. Their problems lie within the pitching staff.
Pitching wins ballgames. It’s that simple. A solid rotation that can go out on to the baseball diamond with a different threat every game will wear out opponents in a series and make it that much easier to achieve baseball immortality. Having only two pitchers register more than 20 starts (Derek Holland and Yu Darvish) is not going to strike fear into opponents’ eyes. Aside from Darvish (who put up ridiculous strike out numbers this season with 277Ks in 209 innings pitched) and Holland, three of the next four pitchers who had the most starts on the team were eligible rookies. No disrespect to them, but consistency is key in a pitching rotation because you want to have the same guys out there that you had all year to rely on in situations where the team needs it most. That being said, the Rangers definitely need to address pitching this offseason.
I suggest that the Rangers don’t have to go after some of the ‘bigger’ names in the pitching market this year, but maybe make some trades with the wealth of young talent they have and add consistent veterans to the rotation. I think Scott Feldman, a Ranger from 2005-2012, could potentially be a good fix on the cheaper side because he gave a solid 30 starts to the Orioles/Cubs this year with an ERA at a respectable 3.86. On the pricier side, there is Ricky Nolasco, whose 199.2 innings last year and 33 starts for both the Marlins and Dodgers make him the #7 ranked free agent this season according to ESPN. Possible trades that the Rangers could approach almost always include trading either highly touted prospect, Jurickson Profar or starting Shortstop Elvis Andrus. However, they have been in talks with the St. Louis Cardinals about a possible trade involving Cardinals rookie sensation Shelby Miller, Oscar Taveres or Matt Adams for either Profar of Andrus.
I think that the moves that would give the Texas Rangers the best possible chance to succeed would be performing the trade with St. Louis, making a play for free agent centerfielder Chris Young to fill in the vacancy of Nelson Cruz, and signing Ricky Nolasco to a 4 year, 42 million dollar deal. Maybe with that, the Rangers will make a playoff push and possibly make a title run like they did in 2010 and 2011.
Josh Halilej is a die hard fan of both the Jets and the Mets, and is an avid fantasy sports player. He participates in leagues for baseball, basketball and football. You can follow him on twitter at @Mrmet2323
By: Sam Breiter
Baseball in 2013 was a season to remember to say the least. Whether you are talking about the unbelievable breakout season from Chris Davis, who led major league baseball with 53 homeruns, or if you are discussing the legacy of a man named Mariano, you can clearly see how extraordinary this year in baseball was. Just three days ago, the Boston Red Sox organization gained the title of World Series Champions. For now, they will be noted as the best team in baseball, but April is just around the corner and now every team will have fair game to work on improving their team to become potential champions for 2014. Some teams may look at their 40-man roster today and feel a sense of comfort and confidence for next year, knowing that they may be one small signing or trade away from being contenders. Other teams may look and find that there are many holes that need to be covered, and they have a lot of work cut out for them this winter. Noting, there are some organizations that have more available money for the elite free agents than others. For example, the Houston Astros may need an outfielder, but do not expect them to spend $20 million on a five tool superstar, but rather a player with mediocre talent since they are many years away from being competitive. What I am about to review is the top five teams who need to make moves this offseason in order to have a fighting chance in 2014. I took into consideration the available funds the team has, what they need, and their desire to improve to stand a chance next year.
#5 Kansas City Royals- After being regarded as one of the worst teams in baseball after their great run in the 70’s and 80’s, the Kansas City Royals in 2013 really found themselves as a team. Prior to the 2013 season, the Royals had not been over .500 since 2003, and before that 1993. After spending the last couple of years trading away talent to improve their farm system, the Royals have reached that essential milestone where they have developed a group of young prospects into MLB superstars. Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, and Eric Hosmer, to name off a few, had a key role in allowing the Royals to win their 86 games this year. The Royals were just seven games back of the division-winning Tigers, and missed a wild card spot by five and a half games. So what’s it going to take to get over that hump? What do the Royals need to do to go back to the glory days of when they were one of the most feared teams in baseball? I have one answer to that question and that is pitching. If we look at the pitching rotation for 2014, for the team right now you see the names James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Bruce Chen, and two question marks. Ervin Santana, who had an above average year, is now a free agent, and the Royals never really had a true number five guy. Shields and Guthrie provide a great one two punch, yet it is fair to note that Chen has always time after time proven himself to be unreliable with injuries and inconsistent success. With this said, the Royals, in order to get over that hump, need to sign two starting pitchers that will work long innings and keep the rotation intact. The best fit for the Royals would include pitchers who have shown their talent such as Ubaldo Jimenez, Dan Haren, A.J Burnett, Matt Garza, or Hiroki Kuroda. Additionally, they might want to try to get back Santana, and maybe go for some of the lower demand pitchers including Scott Baker, Mike Pelfrey, Ricky Nolasco, or even Jason Vargas. With this added pitching help, the Royals can easily run away with a wild card spot, or perhaps even be the American League Central Division champs.
#4 Texas Rangers- Ever since 2010, the Texas Rangers have always been looked upon as, if not the best, one of the best teams in all of Major League Baseball. Their dominance in hitting the long ball, getting on base, and sustaining an above average pitching rotation and bullpen has allowed their success to last. In 2010, the Rangers made the World Series and fell flat on their face against the San Francisco Giants. The following year, after one of the most dramatic World Series ever, the Rangers fell just short losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in a seven game series. The following year, they won the wild card and missed their shot of going anywhere in the playoffs, and this year they did not even get a wild card spot. Clearly it may look as if this team is declining, but do you really expect the Oakland Athletics to come up with another 96 win season considering their best player is not even considered a superstar. If the Rangers brought back the same team they had this year, next year it looks pretty likely they would be the favorite to win the division, but down in Texas these fans expect more than a division title. Matt Garza, Nelson Cruz, A.J Pierzynski, and David Murphy, to name a few, are players who will be free agents this year and may just not be a part of the team next year. With this said, pitching (both starting and relief), a left fielder, and a catcher need to be acquired if the Rangers do not want to fall short yet again. In terms of pitching, look for the Rangers to attempt to sign one big name pitcher. I believe Garza will return and they will look to bring Alexi Ogando into their rotation and maybe even sign Roy Holladay if the Phillies part ways with the old ace. In terms of the bullpen, whatever happened to Neftali Feliz? From 2010-2011 Feliz combined for 72 saves, but from injuries the past few years people tend to forget about him. Expect Feliz to be their number one closer in 2014, but do not be surprised if Chris Perez comes in to become either the setup man or closer assuming Feliz does not work to his expectations. Behind the plate, the Rangers have always had power, if we go back a few years to Mike Napoli, or the more current days of Pierzynski. Do not be surprised if either of these players are brought back to the organization, yet I predict Brian McCann will be wearing a Texas Rangers uniform in 2014 because he will get paid the money he deserves, and the Rangers have a better resume of getting deep in the playoffs compared to the Braves. The Rangers have always had big time sluggers in the outfield. The Josh Hamilton/Nelson Cruz combo was one of the best power hitting outfields ever seen on one team. With Hamilton enjoying his money in L.A, and Cruz doubtful to return, do not be surprised to see the Rangers spending huge on a new outfielder. Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Curtis Granderson, Carlos Beltran, and Mike Morse are the best fits for the Rangers if they are willing to spend big on a new outfielder.