Every MLB Team's Biggest Strengths Heading into Spring Training
With the voluntary spring training reporting day just six days away, suddenly the winter just doesn't feel so cold.
Baseball is here. Well, almost.
Over the course of the winter each team has taken time to assess their rosters and are comfortable (for the most part) with what they've assembled heading into the 2013 season.
What exactly sets a team apart? Here is a look at every MLB team's strengths as we head into spring training.
The Baltimore Orioles finished the 2012 campaign with a surprising 93-69 season, finishing second in the American League East behind the Yankees. The team managed to take those same Yankees five games in the ALDS before finally being eliminated from the playoffs.
Nobody expected them to be that good.
This season, teams will be on the lookout for the O’s. When the team appeared to be floundering down the stretch of the 2012 season, 19-year-old Manny Machado got the call up to play third base on August 9.
From that point forward, the Orioles went 33-18 to finish the season strong.
For the most part, the 2013 incarnation of the Orioles is very similar to that of the 2012 team. Their biggest strength this season is a combination of youth and confidence.
One thing is certain, anyone who thinks the 2012 season was an aberration is only fooling themselves. The Baltimore Orioles are legit.
Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox were awful in 2012. Period.
There was a complete lack of chemistry. The team hated their manager Bobby Valentine and it just felt as though they hated each other.
When their season mercifully ended on October 3 (with a loss, no less), immediately, the front office went to work in an effort to right the sinking ship.
However, those changes needed to be somewhat cost-effective after the team had been alleviated of some $250 million plus in contract dollars by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
So, Ben Cherington went to work and brought in various players to fill the gaps in the Red Sox lineup, along with an old familiar face to manage the team: John Farrell.
In 2013 the biggest strength the Boston Red Sox have is the clean slate they’ve been blessed with. It is up to them to prove to their fans, and the rest of Major League Baseball, that they are no longer a laughingstock.
New York Yankees
The New York Yankees may be nearing the end of a long and glorious run as one of the most dominant teams in Major League Baseball over the last 17 years.
The last season in which the team did not make the playoffs was 2008, prior to that...1994.
With their efforts to bring down their payroll—coupled with aging players like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Mark Teixeira, Ichiro Suzuki, Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis—this is hardly a team of spring chickens.
However, what some may see as a weakness could, in fact, be their biggest strength.
The Yankees are loaded with talent and future Hall of Famers. In what they may lack in speed and youth could be made up for with wisdom and experience.
While many people may want to count out the Yankees, this is still not a team to sleep on.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays have been the model small market franchise for the last five seasons. In which time the team has been to the playoffs three times, losing a World Series and two Division Championships.
Considering the fact that for the first 10 years of their existence they only finished above fifth in the AL East once—and that was fourth place—that is a tremendous accomplishment.
The team has found a way to keep overturning its talent and continuing to develop its own players: Evan Longoria, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson all come to mind.
Once a player prices themselves out of the team’s price range, they just move on. Such was the case this season with allowing B.J. Upton to walk and trading away James Shields. (Wade Davis was collateral damage.)
Therefore, the biggest strength for this Tampa Bay Rays team has to be faith in their system and manager, Joe Madden, as well as their pitching staff, anchored by Cy Young winner David Price.
Toronto Blue Jays
Discontent with being a fourth place team in the AL East for the past five seasons, the Toronto Blue Jays decided it was time for a change.
So change they did, in a big way.
The team added three new front of the rotation pitchers in NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle while adding Melky Cabrera, Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio to play the field.
All of which are impact moves.
For the first time since the 1990s, fans can say that their Blue Jay team is stacked. That is clearly their strength. They’ve got depth and an amazing pitching staff, while unproven, that projects to be one of the best in all of baseball.
Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox will be taking the field in 2013 with much the same team that they had in 2012.
One upgrade is the addition of Jeff Keppinger at third base. Keppinger had a .325 average in 115 games last season with nine home runs and 40 RBI.
Additionally, he is three years younger than Kevin Youkilis, who played the hot corner for the Sox for 80 games last year.
One position that could be a concern is behind the plate. With young Tyler Flowers taking over for longtime backstop A.J. Pierzynski, it could be an interesting season. However, obviously ownership has enough faith in Flowers moving forward that losing Pierzynski was a non-factor.
The biggest strength this team will have moving forward is their familiarity with one another as well as a mixture of youth and veteran leadership.
The Cleveland Indians have quietly had a successful winter.
They brought in a new manager in Terry Francona who is known for dealing with difficult personalities (Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Kevin Millar come to mind).
The team has addressed its offensive needs by signing Nick Swisher to play right field, adding Mark Reynolds at first and trading Shin-Soo Choo for Drew Stubbs.
Additionally, they signed Brett Myers to add another arm to the rotation.
Not bad moves by any stretch. However, their strength is obviously going to be their offense. Justin Masterson, while a good pitcher, is by no means an ace. Ubaldo Jimenez hasn’t been the same since coming over from Colorado and Myers was a reliever last season.
Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction for the Indians.
The Detroit Tigers made it to the 2012 World Series and absolutely fell flat. They were just purely overmatched by the San Francisco Giants.
That being said, heading into 2013 there are very few, if any, areas that are not strengths on this ball club.
Let’s face it—they have the best hitter in the game, Miguel Cabrera, and the best pitcher in the game, Justin Verlander, on the same team.
Additionally, the team will get back a healthy Victor Martinez this season and added veteran outfielder Torii Hunter to the mix as well.
Oh, and then of course, they were sure to re-sign hurler Anibal Sanchez as well, giving them one of the most formidable rotations in baseball.
Strengths are aplenty. However, entering the season with rookie Bruce Rondon on the mound to close out games could prove to be a curious decision.
Kansas City Royals
It is hard not to like what the Kansas City Royals have done this winter. They, like the Toronto Blue Jays, decided that it was time to start winning.
What did they do? They invested in pitching.
While sacrificing their top prospect in Wil Myers, the team was able to obtain 40 percent of its starting rotation in return from the Tampa Bay Rays in the form of James Shields and Wade Davis.
Additionally, the team traded for Ervin Santana from Anaheim and re-signed Jeremy Guthrie.
Pitching went from being an area of weakness for the Royals to their biggest strength. Now, the team is hopeful for its own young stars to come into their own offensively (read: Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer).
After some 28 years of not making the playoffs, the Royals are finally primed to make a huge splash in 2013.
The Minnesota Twins are not very far removed from being a dominant force in the AL Central. While they no longer have a certified ace on their staff (12-11 Kevin Correia is slated to be the opening day starter) the team does still have plenty of solid players.
First off, both Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will be back. Surprise sensation Josh Willingham is also back giving the Twins a formidable middle of the rotation.
In addition to these veterans the team has a solid core of young players.
While they've traded away Ben Revere and lost Denard Span (they're still trying to recover from that one in Minnesota) the team has a nice outfield of Willingham, Darin Mastroianni and Chris Parmelee.
There's a lot of reasons to be optimistic. However, if one can be slightly critical, the team could use another starting pitcher. Kyle Lohse is still available...
Okay, well, the Houston Astros are now in the American League West. Sure, one could be overly optimistic that the team will have a successful first season in the AL, but that might just be drivel.
What the Astros can be optimistic about—other than the new uniforms, which are a fantastic look—is second baseman Jose Altuve. He is one of the most exciting young infielders in the game.
Additionally, the team added veteran slugger Carlos Pena to be the first DH in Astros history.
As far as strengths go, it has to be youth. They’re young and really have nothing to lose. They are a team that can play while throwing caution to the wind; nobody is expecting much out of them this season to begin with.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
While the team was unable to bring back Zack Greinke, they did manage to score Tommy Hanson from the Atlanta Braves. Hanson remember, has won double digit games in each of his four seasons in the big leagues.
The Angels did, however, win the Josh Hamilton sweepstakes which gives them arguably the best middle of the lineup in baseball. Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Hamilton will be surrounded by other great talents like Peter Bourjos, Howie Kendrick and Chris Iannetta.
The team may even score with a low-risk/high-reward closer, having signed Ryan Madson after a 2012 loss to injury.
Offense, defense, and management—everything about this team truly is a strength.
Like the 2012 Baltimore Orioles, the Oakland Athletics were somewhat of a Cinderella story. Is there any reason to think that the fairy tale is over?
Oakland has managed to keep its same core of players while adding Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima and trading for Jed Lowrie.
While the team did lose Brandon McCarthy to free agency, Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone are all back.
There is also plenty of reason to believe in Josh Reddick returning to form again this season, doing just as he did last year, raking.
This team has swagger, which is an obvious strength. They did take the Detroit Tigers to five games in the ALDS.
The Seattle Mariners missed out on Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke. The consolation...obtaining Michael Morse back from the Nationals.
Not bad, but it could be better.
Additionally, the team traded for Kendrys Morales from the Angels, so their offensive needs were addressed to some degree. However, it is not quite to the point whereby one could comfortably call it an area of strength for this team.
There is no denying that Felix Hernandez is the backbone of the team.
If some of the younger players like, well, the entire infield, can come into their own offensively, this Mariners team could be in good shape. Of course, that will also require solid performances out of Blake Beaven and Hisashi Iwakuma as well as anything more than two wins from Hector Noesi.
It would be easy to write off the Texas Rangers after losing Josh Hamilton and not signing Zack Greinke.
It would be easy, but it would also be extremely foolish.
The Texas Rangers have a tremendous core of talent like Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and rookie Jurickson Profar, as well as David Murphy and Nelson Cruz, which make their offense and defense both strengths.
The starting rotation may not scream "dominant"—but Matt Harrison is consistent and Yu Darvish could easily develop into an ace.
After all, a 16-9 rookie season is quite impressive, even if he was 25.
It may not be enough to call their pitching a strength, however, it is by no means a weakness.
The 94-win Atlanta Braves of 2012 certainly erased the embarrassing way the team ended their 2011 season. However, they still failed to make it out of the Wild Card round.
What did they do? Strengthened their outfield by adding not just one Upton, but two.
The team signed B.J. Upton to replace departing Michael Bourn and then managed to trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks to bring in his brother, Justin Upton, to play left field.
Those two, coupled with Jason Heyward, give the Braves one of the speediest outfields in all of baseball.
In addition, the team has one of the strongest rotations in the National League, another obvious strength.
That said, this season will be one for the ages to watch a Braves/Nationals showdown for NL East supremacy.
Well...at least the Marlins still have Giancarlo Stanton.
New York Mets
While the New York Mets opted to trade away their Cy Young Award winning pitcher, R.A. Dickey, the team did not come out of the winter in all that bad of shape.
Yes, Dickey is gone. However, the team did manage to sign free agent hurler Shaun Marcum. In an injury shortened season, Marcum still managed to start 21 games and post a 7-4 record with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Additionally, the team has a solid core of younger players like Ike Davis and Lucas Duda to complement the face of the franchise: David Wright.
The strength for this team has to be youth. They're young and have a lot to prove.
The obvious strength of the Philadelphia Phillies, once again, is the pitching staff.
Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay make up one of the most profound pitching Cerberuses in all of baseball. Providing, of course, that they can bounce back from their .500 season of 2012.
The team did manage to get some offensive help in the outfield, but not much. Ben Revere and Delmon Young are new in town, which doesn’t really inspire Phillies fans all that much.
That said, the old adage is that pitching wins championships; this team certainly has that on their side.
The Washington Nationals had the best record in all of Major League Baseball in 2012; however, that didn't win them the World Series.
The team had the best pitching staff in the National League last season and it was an obvious strength.
This season, the team is back with what is arguably a rotation. How so, you may ask. Simple, they've taken out Edwin Jackson and supplanted Dan Haren.
Say what you will about Haren, but he is a three-time All-Star who has double digit wins for each of the last seven consecutive seasons.
Oh, and Stephen Strasburg will be back for a full season with no innings limit.
In addition, phenom Bryce Harper will be playing in his second professional season, helping to boost the Nats' offense, complementing Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche.
Speaking of Edwin Jackson, the former National signed a multiyear deal to pitch for the Chicago Cubs.
Slowly, Jed Hoyer is putting together an extremely good, young team while adding a few veteran pieces along the way.
The strength of this team is the young offense led by first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. Additionally, Darwin Barney is a solid second baseman that has been, and continues to be, an important piece to this transition the Cubs are in.
Pop quiz: which player had more doubles, base-on-balls and a higher OBP than Miguel Cabrera last season?
If you said Joey Votto, pat yourself on the back.
Yes, he did have about 200 less at-bats and only played in 111 games, but think about what he can do this season if he comes back healthy and strong.
That's what the Reds are hoping for. They've surrounded him with a great offense once again. Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick help make up the middle of that monster lineup.
Additionally, the team traded Drew Stubbs to the Indians for Shin-Soo Choo, a move that will most certainly pay dividends.
Not to mention, the Reds once again have a formidable starting rotation anchored by Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo and Mat Latos.
The Reds are another team that it is hard to find a weakness in, let alone point out just one strength.
The bad news for the Milwaukee Brewers is that their first baseman, Corey Hart, is going to miss substantial playing time at the start of the regular season.
That's a pretty big blow to the team's offense, thus weakening their biggest strength.
Still, with Ryan Braun, Norichika Aoki and Aramis Ramirez in the mix, things are not that bad.
What the team does need to do is bolster their starting rotation. Yes, they have 16-game winner Yovani Gallardo back, but the team is rolling the dice with Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta as the second and third starters, respectively.
Obviously, Andrew McCutchen is the MVP of this Pittsburgh Pirates team. That goes without question. While the rest of the offense is good, they don’t comprise the overall strength of the team.
With the starting rotation, it is A.J. Burnett’s show. He has a solid staff behind him, but again, it is not the best part of this team.
Where the Bucs stand out is their bullpen.
Who would have thought that trading away Joel Hanrahan would leave the Pirates with a strong pen? Well, it certainly did.
Jason Grilli proved capable of shutting down opponents and should be able to fill the role of closer more than sufficiently. While Mark Melancon was a bust in Boston, when he was in Houston he owned a 2.85 ERA. He posted 20 saves in the one season the Astros used him as a closer.
St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals had an extremely quiet winter.
There's good reason for that; they didn't really need to do anything to upgrade. They already have one of the best pitching staffs in the game with a team ERA of 3.61, sixth overall in the NL.
Even if Chris Carpenter is unable to pitch in 2013, their rotation is still fairly deep. The team still has Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia. Perhaps they should investigate bringing back Kyle Lohse as a precaution...
Their offense scored the second most runs in the NL last season with 765 behind only the Milwaukee Brewers.
In all honesty, their biggest strength might be the next wave of stars on the team, led by Allen Craig, Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay. It gives Cardinal fans significant hope for the prolonged success of their ball club.
The Arizona Diamondbacks could be a very interesting team in 2013. They've managed to trade away star outfielder Justin Upton, but received third baseman Martin Prado in return and signed slugger Cody Ross.
That gives them an outfield of Jason Kubel, Ross and Gerardo Parra; a mix of power and speed.
The infield also has its fair share of offense with Prado, and sophomore Paul Goldschmidt.
Additionally, the rotation has been strengthened by the signing of Brandon McCarthy. He comes to the team to aid Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley, a pitcher that could easily have won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2012.
The only real concern one would have for this team is the health of Kubel and Ross, thus making pitching their strength.
The Colorado Rockies were terrible in 2012, finishing last in the NL West.
The shame of it is that the team has a strong offense. With players like Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, Dexter Fowler, Michael Cuddyer and even an aging Todd Helton, they should be able to produce runs.
And produce runs they did—having scored the third most runs in the National League in 2012 with 758.
The problem was their pitching. Their 5.22 team ERA was not only the worst in the National League, it was the worst in all of Major League Baseball.
Needless to say, their offense is still the backbone of the Colorado Rockies.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have been on a spending spree, doing everything in their wallets, excuse me, powers, to be the best team in the National League.
Their offense, on paper, is incredible.
The same can be said with their pitching.
However, regardless of how well either performs, or fails, the biggest strength of this Dodgers team has to be their financial backing.
Once again, the boys in blue can be powerhouses and afford to make a mistake on a player (or two) and spend their way out of it, should they choose.
San Diego Padres
The Padres have taken strides to improve their team over the past couple of years and it is starting to show with the product on the field.
They've managed to retain some key veterans, like Chase Headley and Carlos Quentin, while allowing some younger talent to develop, like Yonder Alonso.
That being said, the team's patience has to be their biggest strength. They're riding out the development plan which is one of the best things a small market team can do.
San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants are the World Champions of Major League Baseball.
Ergo, they have all the strengths needed to be successful.
The team managed to bring back all of the important pieces to the 2012 puzzle and are prepared to defend that championship with their stellar pitching, offense and defense.
Until they lose that crown, is there really an argument?
Christopher Benvie is a MLB Featured Columnist for the Bleacher Report as well as a contributing writer for WEEI.com in Boston, Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter here: