Will Jon Lester and the rest of Boston's starting rotation bounce back in 2013?
Just because a team makes a couple of changes over the offseason doesn’t mean the question marks completely disappear.
If a club saw its starting rotation struggle in 2012 and made a trade or signed a big-name free agent this winter, does that guarantee success in 2013? For those truly pondering that question, I’ll help you out; it doesn’t.
If a player had a tough year after a couple of seasons of success, does that mean he’ll bounce back this upcoming year? No, flukes can quickly become trends and players aren’t always on the rise—many players in 2013 will continue to decline.
Whether it is the ability to score runs or a specific player slated to start, there are plenty of questions for each team heading into spring training.
Here’s a look at the biggest question mark for every Major League Baseball team at the start of the spring.
*All statistics were acquired via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.*
Question Mark: Wilson Betemit
The Baltimore Orioles are going to rely on Wilson Betemit as their everyday designated hitter and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
The veteran former infielder played in more than 100 games in 2012 for the first time since 2007 and has only done it four times in his 10-year career. Last season with Baltimore, Betemit hit .261/.322/.422 with 12 home runs and 40 RBI.
Betemit played third base for Baltimore for nearly all of last season, but the promotion of Manny Machado limited his playing time. He strikes out fairly often and doesn’t walk much. He still has some power, but overall is not even close to one of the better DHs in the league.
Question Mark: Starting Pitching
The Boston Red Sox had a terrible season overall in 2012, and the main problem was the starting rotation. The collection of starters only won 48 games, the fourth-fewest in the American League.
Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz both had down years, Felix Doubront was still getting acclimated to the big leagues, John Lackey was out after having Tommy John surgery and nothing, in general, seemed to go right. This offseason, those four, along with Ryan Dempster, will make up the starting five.
But Boston’s rotation is far from guaranteed to shine. The addition of manager John Farrell is expected to help work out the kinks, but there were a ton of kinks last season and Farrell only has so much time before the regular season begins.
Question Mark: Health
The New York Yankees are very old and some of their best players’ bones are starting to break a little easier than the Bronx Bombers would like. As of now, ESPN has New York as the third-oldest team in baseball with an average age of 28.3.
The Yankees enter spring training with a bunch of question marks surrounding players who are coming off of big injuries. Derek Jeter broke his ankle during last year’s postseason, but still expects to be ready for Opening Day, according to Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York.
New York will also welcome longtime closer Mariano Rivera back in 2013 and hope that CC Sabathia can stay healthy and is able to lead the Yankees’ starting rotation. Alex Rodriguez is already out for majority of the season with hip issues, and Kevin Youkilis is expected to take his place at third base in the interim.
Question Mark: Offensive Production
Tampa Bay may have Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Desmond Jennings in its lineup, but B.J. Upton is gone and the rest of the Rays batters aren’t very threatening. Matt Joyce and Yunel Escobar will have their moments, but the bottom of Tampa Bay’s order is weak.
Luke Scott rarely makes contact and strikes out frequently, Kelly Johnson is extremely average for an American League second baseman, James Loney is hard to watch at the plate and Jose Molina is only in the lineup because he works well with the Rays pitching staff.
The Rays sat in the middle of the pack of MLB last season in WAR, but will likely dip in the upcoming season. Upton’s production is sure to be missed and even the absence of Carlos Pena and Jeff Keppinger should be noticeable. Tampa Bay’s offense is certainly suspect heading into spring training.
Question Mark: Chemistry
The Toronto Blue Jays gave this past winter their best shot, trading for and signing players that will immediately impact the overall look of the Canadian club. But in order to be successful in 2013 and beyond, the players have to build a bond with one another.
As Rosie Dimanno of The Toronto Star writes, that process has already gotten started:
Unlike the goop they put in their hair, gelling as a group doesn’t come out of a tube. It takes time. Those who were here before, Jays in situ, have a particular responsibility for oiling the squeak out of transition awkwardness among the incoming. So there’s been down here, even in the very early going, a quite evident attempt at accelerated pace familiarizing and bonding, with several position players reporting earlier than required, fraternizing with the pitchers and catchers.
As spring training continues it will be interesting to see how well the new Blue Jays stars play with those returning to Toronto for 2013.
Question Mark: Tyler Flowers
Tyler Flowers has a ton of pressure on him to have a productive 2013 campaign as the starting catcher of the Chicago White Sox. Flowers inherited the job after longtime backstop A.J. Pierzynski left for the Texas Rangers during free agency.
Flowers hit .213/.296/.412 in 52 games last season as Chicago’s backup. Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago Tribune writes that the coaching staff has been working with Flowers on being too relaxed at times, something he’s struggled with for a while.
Hector Gimenez is expected to come off the bench for the White Sox in 2013, but he doesn’t have much experience either. The sample size on Flowers is too small to judge how he’ll perform as a starter, but from what we’ve see thus far, the White Sox could have a major issue on their hands if he doesn’t produce at a high level early on.
Question Mark: Starting Pitching
The Cleveland Indians were rewarded with a horrific season from their starting rotation last year. Cleveland starters finished the year with the third-lowest WAR in Major League Baseball, just ahead of the San Diego Padres and Minnesota Twins.
It’s certainly an area of weakness and Cleveland made a few moves to try and improve for 2013. The Indians signed a couple of veterans that will compete for a spot in the rotation and also landed prospect Trevor Bauer from the Arizona Diamondbacks who could come in early and steal the No. 5 role. Cleveland is likely to go with their two veterans, Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson, atop the rotation.
But there are also questions surrounding those two right-handers. Both pitchers finished 2012 with a negative win percentage and each had a very high ERA. Jimenez and Masterson have struggled with their control as of late and that’s a major determinant of why they’ve struggled. They need to get their acts together for the betterment of the franchise.
Question Mark: Bruce Rondon
What happens when a team slates an up-and-coming reliever without any major league experience as its closer? A question mark arises. And that’s exactly what the Detroit Tigers have on their hands as they’re prepared to enter the season with Bruce Rondon as closer.
Rondon is one of Detroit’s promising prospects, but it’s rushed him through its system. Rondon started last season in Single-A and was later promoted to Double-A. He appeared in just nine games in Triple-A by the time the season came to a close.
In most instances, a reliever with just nine games in Triple-A wouldn’t be promoted to the major leagues until a handful more appearances—probably around 20. There’s no guarantee that Rondon is going to pitch well in the big leagues since he barely pitched in the level below. Detroit is taking a major risk and it’ll be noticeable if Rondon slips early.
Question Mark: Eric Hosmer
There have always been high hopes for the career of Eric Hosmer, but through two seasons, he hasn’t lived up to expectations. He still has plenty of time to develop into a star, but the Kansas City Royals are trying to win now and aren’t too concerned about the future.
Hosmer hit .232/.304/.359 last season with 14 home runs and 60 RBI while playing a terrible first base. Among qualified first baseman in 2012, Hosmer ranked 24th in WAR with minus-1.1, finishing the year as one of the three who had a negative WAR.
Bob Dutton of The Kansas City Star writes that a lot depends on Hosmer playing well in 2013. According to Dutton, many people within the organization are confident that he’ll bounce back with a strong campaign and he’s been working to improve this offseason by installing a batting cage and workout room to his home.
Question Mark: Pitching Staff
The Minnesota Twins pitching staff was in shambles last season and their statistics definitely show that. Taking into consideration that the offense wasn’t very good either, Minnesota finished with the fourth-fewest wins in baseball last year.
Minnesota also had the third-highest ERA and the lowest WAR of any team in Major League Baseball. Those are not the types of things anyone wants, but someone has to be the worst and that just happened to be the Twins in 2012. But there is something to look forward to in 2013.
The Twins made a few moves this offseason with the intent of improving the pitching staff. Minnesota traded for Vance Worley, who’s expected to be the Opening Day starter, and signed Kevin Correia, who will likely be the team’s No. 3 starting pitcher. Glen Perkins is a decent closer, but the rest of the bullpen could definitely use some help.
Question Mark: Everything
The scary thing about the Houston Astros is that they could end up being worse in 2013 than in 2012, which would give us a brand new definition of horrible. Houston finished last season with the worst record in baseball and have since moved to the American League West.
The Astros had the league’s worst offense in terms of WAR last season and one of the worst pitching staffs. This offseason hasn’t been very friendly either. They were able to acquire a handful of players, but many of them are well past their primes or have always been below average.
Houston’s offense is bound to fail and the pitching staff is laughable. Bud Norris, who is projected to be the team’s Opening Day starter, probably isn’t a No. 3 in any other starting rotation. Carlos Pena, who has been terrible the last couple of years, will most likely hit third in the Astros lineup. Every single aspect of this team brings up a question.
Question Mark: Ryan Madson
The Los Angeles Angels had a very successful offseason, bringing in a lot of talent to a team that didn’t exceed expectations in 2012. One of the players now under team control is Ryan Madson, who missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Madson was expected to be the team’s 2013 closer, but that plan is currently on hold. Mike DiGiovanna of The Los Angeles Times writes that Madson had soreness in his elbow after throwing off the mound just four times when pitchers and catchers recently reported to camp.
DiGiovanna reports that Madson could end up throwing soon, but he’s likely to open the season on the disabled list. The Angels still have Ernesto Frieri, who is more than capable of closing, but they didn’t sign Madson for him to sit on the bench with a bum elbow. Los Angeles need not panic yet, but they should keep the button within arm’s length.
Question Mark: Second Base
As I recently profiled in an article about spring training battles, the Oakland Athletics' second base job is up for grabs. There are several candidates in contention to win the starting role and the competition should be relatively exciting. But the problem is that none of the candidates are that impressive.
Oakland didn’t get a lot of production out of its second basemen last season, but still managed to win a bunch of games and upset the Texas Rangers to make the postseason. In 2013, the A’s have to hope that the several players who are capable of playing every day push each other to play better.
The A’s have the potential to repeat their 2012 success, but whoever plays second base the most next season needs to step up. Hitting below .225 isn’t going to cut it in 2013 and general manager Billy Beane knows this heading into what could be another good year in Oakland.
Question Mark: Jesus Montero
Believe it or not, there’s a bit of pressure on the young catcher for the Seattle Mariners. In Jesus Montero’s first full season in the big leagues, he didn’t play as well as many had hoped. He’s an in-between player—meaning he’s like a catcher/first baseman/designated hybrid—who doesn’t really have a place.
The Mariners worked very hard this winter to bring in players to improve the overall image of the club. But Montero, who’s expected to hit in the heart of the lineup, needs to play better in order for that dream to become a reality.
Montero hit .260/.298/.386 with 15 home runs and 62 RBI in 135 games last season, but was a major liability in the field and on the base paths. Before you know it, top prospect Mike Zunino will be ready and Montero may not have much job security. If he doesn’t start the season hot, he could be on the bench—or on a different club—before he knows it.
Question Mark: Middle Infield
There isn’t much wrong with the play of Elvis Andrus at shortstop or Ian Kinsler at second base. But the question remains as to which of the two will be in the Opening Day lineup at those positions, since top prospect Jurickson Profar is ready to play for the Texas Rangers and could play either of the two.
Profar has yet to play a single game in Triple-A, but he has major league-ready skills that have the Rangers asking themselves what the appropriate course of action is. In theory, Texas could move any one of the three players to a new position. Kinsler could play first base and either Andrus or Profar could move to center.
The Rangers could also decide to trade one of the incumbents, Andrus being the more likely of the two to be dealt. But in order to maximize production, keeping all three is in the Rangers’ best interests. Finding the perfect way to play all three each day is what Texas must do during spring training.
Question Mark: Third Base
One of the other spring training battles I analyzed was the third base position of the Atlanta Braves, which will be dueled out by Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco. No matter who wins, or if Atlanta decided to platoon the two, the production at third base is still suspect.
Neither Johnson nor Francisco is going to put up numbers similar to that of Chipper Jones, who retired at the end of last season. The Braves have added players to make up for some of the production they lost via retirement, free agency and trades, but the strength of third base is still very much in question.
Johnson is arguably the favorite to win the position battle, but can he play at a high enough level where he isn’t bringing the rest of the Braves down? He will probably be able to hold his own, but the National League East is a very tough division and no one knows what’s going to happen this upcoming season.
Question Mark: Offensive Production
Um, who besides Giancarlo Stanton is really going to put up respectable numbers for the Miami Marlins in 2013? The Marlins are going to be a disaster this season, and while the pitching staff shows promise—or at least potential—the offense lacks a lot of talent.
Former shortstop Jose Reyes went as far as to say he was sorry for Stanton, according to Dave Hyde of the Sun-Sentinel, insinuating that he has basically nobody to play alongside of anymore. Hyde notes that Stanton is still happy to be playing baseball, even if his team isn’t expected to contend anytime soon.
I’m not saying that I can’t be surprised, but at the moment it’d be shocking if the Marlins did anything this season. Maybe everyone plays better than expected, but at best, Miami can only finish in third place in the division this year.
Question Mark: Starting Outfield
The New York Mets have set themselves up for disaster this season in the outfield. The Mets had the second-worst outfield in baseball last season in terms of WAR and aren’t expected to be much better this season. They failed to sign star center fielder Michael Bourn and will likely enter the regular season without much talent.
Marty Noble of MLB.com recently said that “rare is the big league outfield with so little prowess,” describing New York’s outfield. Noble writes:
The alignment of the Mets’ outfield will be, left to right, Lucas Duda, a possible platoon of unprovens Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Colin Cowgill and some combination of Marlon Byrd, Mike Baxter, Andrew Brown and Jamie Hoffman, or Byrd alone if Terry Collins proves prescient.
Basically, the Mets’ outfield is a joke that’s waiting to be laughed at. How are those players supposed to play at a high level if they aren’t developed enough or are well past their primes?
Question Mark: Health
If the Philadelphia Phillies can stay healthy in 2013, expect positive results. But my recent memory says that the Phillies usually having a tough time doing so. Whether it is a star second baseman or starting pitcher, someone always ends up on the disabled list for an extended period of time.
Chase Utley, who has had trouble staying healthy the last few seasons, recently told Matt Gelb of The Philadelphia Inquirer that he expects to play much more in 2013 than he did in 2012. The same could probably be said about the other ailing Phillies including Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard.
If any of the major Phillies stars go down, Philadelphia is in immediate trouble. There isn’t a ton of depth at any position, which will make things extremely difficult should something happen that’s unexpected. The potential to succeed is certainly there, but injuries can derail a season in a matter of seconds.
Question Mark: Gio Gonzalez
Gio Gonzalez has had an interesting offseason. Everything was going according to plan until he was mentioned in a report that claimed he had been linked to performance-enhancing drugs. As Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post writes, the Washington Nationals aren’t worried:
The Nats organization, however, seems far closer to its own provisional conclusion. Through circumstantial evidence, MLB back channels and their own observation of players who’ve been PED users, they believe Gonzalez will end up in the clear.
Boswell also mentions that the Nationals await the results of a drug test that Gonzalez was recently forced to take. So the question remains as to what will happen with Gonzalez. If the test comes back positive, Gonzalez is probably going to be in trouble that could end with a suspension.
Question Mark: Offensive Production
The Chicago Cubs don’t have the scariest starting lineup in baseball, the National League, the NL Central or even in Chicago. But with only a few capable hitters, what do you expect? The Cubs are waiting on their young talent to fully develop into big league stars.
Last season, Chicago had the 21st-highest WAR in baseball and that was mainly through the production of Alfonso Soriano. Everyone else on the team was either average or below-average both offensively and defensively. Chicago’s offense, however, doesn’t look much different heading into 2013.
Chicago will have its issues, but even the production of the bigger names in the everyday lineup is suspect. Will Anthony Rizzo rise to the occasion and hit third in order with pride, putting up the big numbers he’s capable of? Will Soriano continue to raise his trade value? How will Starlin Castro hit in 2013? There are too many questions regarding the Cubs hitters.
Question Mark: Aroldis Chapman
Spring training marks the true beginning of Aroldis Chapman as a starting pitcher instead of a reliever coming out of the bullpen. How is that going to work out for the Cincinnati Reds? Daniel Bard didn’t make a smooth transition last spring for the Boston Red Sox, but this is a different situation.
John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes that it is a bit questionable to mess around with a starting rotation that was so impressive last season, but notes that this spring is more of a test period for him, according to Reds general manager Walt Jocketty.
Fay also writes that Chapman is going to have to rely on more on his fastball and slider this spring, but Chapman has been working on his changeup and splitter. It will absolutely be fun to watch him more often, but there’s always the chance that it doesn’t work out and he returns to the Cincinnati bullpen.
Question Mark: Ryan Braun
As I mentioned with Gio Gonzalez, there’s a good chance that some of Major League Baseball’s biggest stars get into some major trouble before Opening Day. Another one of those players is Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers. Braun has been linked to PEDs a few times, beating the allegations in the past.
But what happens if Braun goes down this time around and gets suspended? The Brewers then have a major problem on their hands as their best overall player will be sidelined for an extended period of time. Corey Hart is already slated to miss part of the season and that doesn’t leave many other solid options.
Braun is the heart and soul of Milwaukee and he’s what makes them contenders each year. Since Prince Fielder left, more pressure has been put on Braun, but he’s handled it well. Without Braun, the Brewers are bound to fail in a competitive NL Central. They better hope that the allegations are once again false and he’s in the starting lineup Opening Day.
Question Mark: Starting Pitching
The starting rotation of the Pittsburgh Pirates turned a lot of heads last season with how well it looked for most of the year, but overall, it still wasn’t great. The Pirates had the 22nd-best rotation in 2012 in terms of WAR and was pretty bad in the second half of the season.
The Pirates made some changes this offseason to its pitching staff and the rotation will now include the likes of Wandy Rodriguez and Jeff Karstens. It could even include Francisco Liriano. But how well can those three really pitch? Will A.J. Burnett and James McDonald pitch well?
What’s concerning about the Pirates rotation is that there isn’t one guy you can absolutely count on to get a win when Pittsburgh absolutely needs one. They have a collection of average-to-above-average starters that could pitch well or poorly in any given game. The Pirates need strong pitching in 162 games to make the postseason, not 81 like last year.
Question Mark: Starting Pitching
The St. Louis Cardinals really benefited from strong starting pitching last season, but entering spring training there are certainly some questions as to how well they’ll do in 2013. Chris Carpenter is likely out for the season and the Cardinals decided to let Kyle Lohse walk in free agency, although he’s still yet to sign somewhere.
Those absences have opened up for the door for players such as Shelby Miller, who’s now expected to start the season in the rotation. Derrick Goold of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes that even though there are openings, the Cardinals are looking for innings eaters. Goold notes that outside of Adam Wainwright, just one starter has thrown at least 190 innings in a season.
St. Louis’ offense is still very dangerous, but if the rotation can't get the ball to the bullpen without giving up the lead, that doesn’t really matter much. The Cardinals are going to rely heavily on the rotation in 2013 and we’ll soon see whether they take advantage of the opportunity to shine or if that opportunity goes down the drain.
Question Mark: Chemistry
There are a bunch of new faces in Arizona this season and spring training will give those recent acquisitions time to gel with the incumbent Diamondbacks. Some of the new names in the clubhouse this year include Cody Ross and Brandon McCarthy, among others, while one nameplate missing will be Justin Upton’s.
Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes that the Diamondbacks have brought in players that are selfless and want to win, noting that they don’t need players who are only focused on themselves. Arizona is looking to build a club around those who don’t need the cameras on them 24/7.
The way Arizona’s projected roster looks now, there’s certainly an interesting collection of players that range in age, background and experience in the big leagues. As we saw last season with the Oakland Athletics, a team doesn’t need a ton of star power to succeed. The Diamondbacks can be scary good if they’re all on the same page.
Question Mark: Starting Pitching
Colorado Rockies starting pitchers last season won just 29 games, by far the fewest of any team in baseball. For a chunk of the season, Colorado was going with just four men in the rotation and limited their innings and pitches each time they took the mound. Clearly, it wasn’t a very effective idea as the Rockies finished with one of the worst records.
Troy Renck of The Denver Post writes that the Rockies starters are trying to get a head start this year, though:
Pitching coach Jim Wright advised them to throw at least nine side sessions before reporting to spring training. The idea was to give them a head start. With arm strength built up, the pitchers began with 40-pitch bullpen sessions at Salt River Fields and were free to use all of their pitches. In years past, the Rockies used a graduated system, throwing only fastballs initially, followed by changeups, then breaking pitches.
It seems that the Rockies may be better prepared in 2013, but the rotation still lacks talent. A few of the projected starters have potential for the future, but in a very tough NL West, none of them are going to have much success.
Question Mark: Carl Crawford
Injuries have clearly plagued Carl Crawford recently, and they have kept him sidelined for more than both the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers wanted. But all of the surgeries he’s had should make him a better played in 2013. Now healthy, Crawford enters spring training as the likely Opening Day starter in left field for Los Angeles.
The Associated Press (h/t The New York Times) reports that Crawford has been swinging a bat for a couple of weeks and was able to throw from 90 feet during the early stages of camp.
Crawford is a big piece of the Dodgers’ puzzle and his health means a lot to their success. Continued injuries to his throwing arm aren’t going to help anyone. Crawford needs to play well in spring ball, but also needs to be careful that he doesn’t hurt himself again. Another injury would be highly detrimental to his future and could potentially force him to retire earlier than anyone expected.
Question Mark: Stating Pitching
The San Diego Padres don’t feature an overwhelming starting rotation. They had the second-worst rotation in baseball last season, just ahead of the Minnesota Twins, and are bringing basically the same five starters back, with the exception of Freddy Garcia who signed a minor league deal.
But Kevin Acee of The San Diego Union-Times writes that many of the Padres are confident that 2013 will be much different than 2012, when they played terribly for majority of the season and were on pace to break a franchise record in losses at one point in the year.
If the starting rotation shines, that may give the Padres that boost they need. Edinson Volquez is going to have to work wonders and hope that those following him can pitch well enough to get back on track toward a winning season. San Diego has a lot of holes and not a ton of talent in its rotation, but maybe it somehow puts together a successful 2013.
Question Mark: Tim Lincecum
Tim Lincecum was a bit of an eye sore last season, including the postseason where he lost his job in the starting rotation. This upcoming season will be a big one for Lincecum as he’s set to hit the free-agent market next winter and needs a good year to boost his value.
According to Henry Schulman of The San Francisco Chronicle, Lincecum’s first bullpen of the year was a success:
“I definitely feel ahead of where I was last year,” said Lincecum. “Last year coming into it I was trying to lose the weight from the year prior. This year I’m feeling strong and throwing off my leg again. I kept everything slow. My rhythm felt really good. I just threw my fastball and changeup today. The fastball felt good and the changeup location felt good, too.”
Lincecum, looking to bounce back, is even going with a new look this year, cutting his long hair and going with a more professional identity in 2013.