We always have predictions and expectations for each team heading into spring training.
As the Super Bowl ended, focus has begun shifting to baseball. Teams will be analyzed, and storylines will be made.
Baseball is always tough to predict, but some teams don't receive enough credit.
With the list I have put together, it's not to say these teams will make the playoffs. I am just saying they will turn some heads.
These are the sleeper teams who will have people talking about them in positive ways (like the Pittsburgh Pirates of recent years) and will exceed their expectations in the 2013 season.
Eric Hosmer is a key piece for the Royals.
The Kansas City Royals have been one of the worst teams in baseball for more than a decade. If you discount the 2003 season, when they had a winning record (83-79), every season since 1999 they have finished with a losing record and fourth or fifth in the division.
Injuries and poor player performances have kept them from being in the hunt.
I expect this year to be different. And so does general manager Dayton Moore. The slogan for the Royals this season is, “This year, we’re trying to win.”
With the improvement of the starting rotation (acquiring James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana, plus re-signing Jeremy Guthrie), the Royals are trying to field a contender.
While first baseman Eric Hosmer suffered from a season-long sophomore slump, he will be counted on to be a major force in this Royals lineup. With names like Mike Moustakas and Billy Butler hitting around him, Hosmer should see some good pitches to hit and has to take advantage of those pitches.
The health of Lorenzo Cain is important. Missing a substantial amount of time last year hurt the Royals. Cain provides speed from the leadoff spot and great range in center field.
The bullpen is young and coming off a great season. They set an American League record in 2012 with 535 strikeouts. It may be because they pitched the most innings in the AL and second most in all the majors, but it is still a remarkable achievement.
The Royals may be a year or two away from the playoffs, but should be able to exceed their expectations on the way to bringing competitive baseball back to Kansas City.
Asdrubal Cabrera (left) and Carlos Santana (right) will have some offensive help this season.
The Cleveland Indians have made some major changes this offseason after losing 94 games in 2012. It started with the hiring of Terry Francona (who brings along two World Series rings) to be the manager.
The Indians lacked offensive production last year, leaving many runners on base and had no player hit more than 20 home runs.
They have traded for Drew Stubbs to take over in center, signed Nick Swisher to play right and signed Mark Reynolds to play first base. These additions provide the Indians with some much-needed offensive support.
Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera will benefit from the help they have around them in the lineup.
They have plenty of pitching options; they just need someone to emerge as an ace. Trading for Trevor Bauer and signing Brett Myers certainly gives them some depth. Bauer was the third overall pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011.
The improvements this team has made puts it on the right track to get back to the playoffs. Francona has already had the impact to lure some players to Cleveland. At Swisher’s press conference, he called Francona a great recruiter.
The team still needs a little help, but the offense it now has is going to turn some heads this year. People will see that the Indians have a new feel to them.
Longoria is the face of the franchise.
The Tampa Bay Rays have lost some vital pieces to their recent successes. James Shields was traded to Kansas City and B.J. Upton walked in free agency.
Still, they have Cy Young winner David Price coming off a 20-win season and arguably the best third baseman in the game, Evan Longoria.
They have added defensive first baseman James Loney. Loney has struggled to find his identity at the plate, but does hold a career .282 batting average.
They traded for shortstop Yunel Escobar and received highly touted prospect Wil Myers in the James Shields trade. Myers should compete for a roster spot in spring training.
Joe Maddon’s team keeps getting better. Each year they seem to improve, no matter the offseason changes. In recent years they have lost Carl Crawford and traded Matt Garza but have seen players step up. Maddon told Bill Chastain MLB.com earlier this offseason,
It's going to be kind of tight. Respectfully, I think, every team in our division is going to have an opportunity to get to the playoffs next year. ... More so than any time in the recent past.
Their pitching staff is always top of the line. Young slingers Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson have another year of maturity under their belts.
They have players who can contribute all over the field. No matter the adversity this team faces, it is always in the hunt.
I don’t expect that to stop anytime soon. While having one of the lowest payrolls in the league, the Rays have taken advantage of sabermetrics and have a roster full of quality players.
I can realistically see Tampa Bay winning around 90 games. You never can count the Rays out.
Ackley and Montero (right) won't be called on to lead the offense this year.
The Seattle Mariners have greatly improved their offense with the additions of Raul Ibanez, Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse and Jason Bay. I believe their lineup has the potential to make some noise this year.
There is a nice mixture of young players and veterans on this club. With the presence of some of the new additions, pressure won’t be placed on up-and-comers Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero.
The Mariners offense will be a strong point in 2013. Manager Eric Wedge commented on the upcoming season (h/t Ryan Divish, The News Tribune):
I feel as confident as ever in regard to our future here in Seattle. The only thing I can tell you is we will be better. And we will continue to get better. That’s what happened the last couple of years. And at some point, sooner rather than later, we will be a championship team.
The problem lies with their pitching. After receiving 217.1 innings pitched from Jason Vargas, they traded him to the Los Angeles Angels for Morales. Behind ace Felix Hernandez, the starting rotation is very weak.
There is still work to be done as the Mariners look for rotation help. They could look to their farm system or try to get guys on minor league deals as they did with Jeremy Bonderman.
It will be a long road, but I think the revamped offense will add some confidence to this young pitching group going forward.
Tom Wilhelmsen showed he can be a quality closer last year when he recorded 29 saves with a 1.11 WHIP and 2.50 ERA in 2012. The games just need to get to him.
Overall, this team has added some tremendous value and should garner some attention with its play. I don’t think an above .500 record is out of the question.
Prospect Matt Harvey will see an increased role this year.
It’s been an increasing disappointment for New York Mets fans over the past five years. While in rebuilding mode, they have fallen to the gutter of the NL East.
After trading Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, the Mets have replaced him with Shaun Marcum. Though they haven’t made big headlines this offseason, they have made some beneficial moves, adding Collin Cowgill and John Buck.
They have also parted ways with headache Jason Bay.
In a recent New York Post article by Mike Puma, Daniel Murphy commented on the moves his team made:
While it may not be big league free-agent splashes that we’ve made so far, I think we’ve added some pieces that definitely are going to help us.
Heading into spring training, the Mets aren’t expected to make an impact in the competitive NL East. It will be interesting to see if any other moves are made before Opening Day.
Reports (via Ken Davidoff, New York Post) have the Mets signing reliever Brandon Lyon, and they just added veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd.
Ike Davis will look to continue his strong performance from after last year's All-Star break; he cranked 20 home runs in the second half. Davis is the biggest home run threat in the Mets' lineup and intends to have more energy entering the season.
While their bullpen remains a concern, the Mets have begun to fill in their needs. Signing LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Atchison and Pedro Feliciano to minor league deals have the potential to be highly rewarding. (Feliciano took $8 million from the Yankees the last two years without pitching an inning.)
Pitching prospect Matt Harvey, who has all of 10 career starts, is going to have a major role in the rotation. It may be optimistic, but Harvey feels this team can win now (h/t Peter Botte, New York Daily News):
As players, we’re not looking at this as rebuilding for next year or the year after. It’s now, it’s this year, and we feel like we can win and we’re going to do everything we can to play into October.
Because the Mets' expectations are considerably low, I think they will exceed those expectations and have a positive year. While I don’t think they have a playoff team, it could wind up being a tough series for any opponent.
It’s time for the Mets to get back on track and give their fans something to look forward to.