1 Huge Fear Every MLB Team Should Have This Spring

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 25, 2013

1 Huge Fear Every MLB Team Should Have This Spring

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    Spring baseball is here, and it's time for teams to see their offseason moves in action as they begin to get an idea what their roster will look like come Opening Day.

    The time for shoring up areas of need has come and gone for the most part, but there are at least a few things that each team is still concerned about entering the season.

    So here is one huge fear that every MLB team should have this spring that it will look to overcome in the weeks ahead.

AL East

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    Baltimore Orioles: The pitching staff could once again be a merry-go-round of arms.

    Despite winning 93 games and reaching the postseason last year, the Orioles struggled all season to find five consistent arms to fill out their rotation.

    In total, 12 different players started a game, and only Wei-Yin Chen made more than 20 starts. Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez came on strong down the stretch last year, and Jair Jurrjens was signed as a free agent, but the Orioles rotation is still far from a sure thing entering the season.


    Boston Red Sox: An offseason spending spree still isn't enough to keep them out of last place.

    With Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford shipped to the Dodgers and Daisuke Matsuzaka's contract coming off the books, the Red Sox had a good deal to spend this offseason.

    After losing 93 games last season, the team went out and added nine veteran players led by Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew. Despite all that, they may still have a hard time avoiding a second straight season in last place with the entire division around them looking tough.


    New York Yankees: Signs of age and injury prove too much for team to overcome and the Yankees miss the postseason.

    The Yankees' core of superstars is not getting any younger. And as those players continue to climb into their late-30s, declining production and injuries are likely to become a bigger issue.

    Curtis Granderson is already lost for 10 weeks to a broken forearm, Alex Rodriguez is out until midseason at least after undergoing hip surgery and Derek Jeter remains questionable to start the season. A lack of depth across the roster means a few key injuries could keep the Yankees out of the postseason in a deep division.


    Tampa Bay Rays: Not enough was done to improve offensively and no one steps up for James Shields.

    The Rays have long been a team built on terrific pitching and an average-at-best offense. This offseason, they set out to improve offensively.

    James Loney, Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar form a new-look infield alongside Evan Longoria, but the big move was shipping workhorse James Shields to the Royals for prospect Wil Myers. 

    If Myers can step forward as a key run producer long-term and someone like Matt Moore can take a step forward in the rotation, the team should be in great shape. If neither of those things happens, though, the Rays may be worse off than they were entering the offseason.


    Toronto Blue Jays: They wind up being this seasons's Miami Marlins.

    The Blue Jays had a huge offseason, going all in on the 2013 campaign and adding Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Melky Cabrera, among others.

    With those guys joining an already talented core made up of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brandon Morrow and Brett Lawrie, the team looks to be a legitimate contender on paper. So were the Marlins last year, though, and they fell flat after a busy offseason. 

    I think the Blue Jays have a far better team than last year's Marlins, but the potential is always there for a big letdown after a busy offseason. 

AL Central

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    Chicago White Sox: Jake Peavy, Alex Rios and Adam Dunn return to their 2011 form and no one steps up.

    Expectations were relatively low for the White Sox entering last season, and they surprised by giving the Tigers a serious run for the division title and hanging around late into the season.

    Much of that had to do with the improved play of the aforementioned trio. Rios improved his OPS from .613 to .850, Dunn saw his home run total jump from 11 to 41 and Peavy topped 30 starts for the first time since 2007 and had a 129 ERA+. So, which version of those guys will show up in 2013?


    Cleveland Indians: Lack of frontline pitching keeps an improved group from contending.

    With the additions of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Mark Reynolds to the lineup, the Indians should be able to improve on their 68-94 showing from a year ago.

    However, a staff led by under-performers Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson and newcomer Brett Myers has the potential to be a disaster and could be a major hindrance.


    Detroit Tigers: The team once again plays down to the rest of the division.

    On paper, the Tigers were without a doubt the best team in the AL Central last season. Yet it wasn't until September 26 that they took the lead in the division for good.

    Adding Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez to the mix offensively, as well as a full season of Anibal Sanchez in the rotation, should make the reigning AL pennant winners even better. The potential remains for them to struggle to pull away from the pack, though.


    Kansas City Royals: New-look rotation isn't enough to make them contenders.

    With a bumper crop of homegrown positional talent, the Royals' future ability to contend hinged on improving the starting rotation, and they did that this offseason.

    James Shields and Wade Davis were added in a trade with the Rays, Ervin Santana was acquired from the Angels and Jeremy Guthrie was re-signed after a strong final two months.

    It's certainly an improved group, but aside form Shields, each guy comes with some level of risk. They could be much improved, or they could simply have a much more expensive collection of middling starters.


    Minnesota Twins: Lack of significant additions at the big league level results in first 100-loss season since 1982.

    After losing 96 games last season, the Twins set out of improve their starting rotation this offseason by adding Kevin Correia, Vance Worley and Mike Pelfrey. 

    They now have a solid collection of No. 3 starter types, but still figure to have one of the worst rotations in the league. Add in the fact that Denard Span and Ben Revere were traded, and it could be another long season in Minnesota.

AL West

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    Houston Astros: Lack of prospect development leaves them no better off for 2014.

    At this point, it's more or less a foregone conclusion that the Astros are going to once again lose 100 games as they make the move from NL Central to AL West.

    What goes on in the minor league ranks will be far more important for the team than anything that happens in Houston. Having top-tier young talent like Jonathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart and George Springer struggle would be a major blow to the rebuilding efforts.


    Los Angeles Angels: The retooled starting rotation struggles to back what should be a dominant offense.

    The signing of Josh Hamilton dominated the offseason headlines, but it will likely be the starting rotation that determines just how good the Angels are in 2013.

    Gone are Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, and replacing them is the veteran trio of Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton. Solid arms, but far from sure things to perform for a team with legitimate title hopes.


    Oakland Athletics: A young starting rotation goes through some growing pains.

    There is no denying that the A's have one of the best collections of young starting pitching in baseball. And it's a group that will be counted on heavily if the team is to return to the postseason.

    Bartolo Colon is back, and Brett Anderson should front the staff after missing most of last season. But the remaining group of Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, Daniel Straily and A.J. Griffin lacks big league experience.


    Seattle Mariners: Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak struggle once again.

    The Mariners took steps to improve their offense short-term with the additions of Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse, but they are a team that's built for the future with one of the best minor league systems in baseball.

    The three players listed above were expected to be building blocks for the future. But all three struggled last season. Ackley (.226/.294/.328) and Smoak (.217/.290/.364) were among the worst everyday players at their respective positions, while Montero (.260/.298/.386) was far from the Rookie of the Year front-runner the Mariners expected.


    Texas Rangers: Nelson Cruz is suspended, offense struggles to produce.

    With Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young replaced with Leonys Martin, A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman, the Rangers offense has clearly taken a step back already this offseason.

    That, coupled with the ongoing issues surrounding Nelson Cruz and his tie to the Biogenesis scandal (h/t ESPN), could leave the team scraping to score runs. Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler are solid, but they can't carry an offense themselves.

NL East

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    Atlanta Braves: Lack of starting pitching depth becomes an issue.

    Last season, the Braves had an abundance of starting pitching. But while they still have a terrific staff, they don't have the depth that they did a year ago.

    Tommy Hanson and Randall Delgado were traded, while Jair Jurrjens was non-tendered. As a result, the team is relying on top prospect Julio Teheran to step up to fill the fifth starter spot. Brandon Beachy should be back by midseason to provide a solid sixth option, but if injury strikes, they could be in trouble.


    Miami Marlins: No one will show up to see them play.

    A year after spending big to try to open their new stadium with a winner, the Marlins blew things up this offseason. Aside from Giancarlo Stanton, there isn't much reason to come see them play this year.

    Support was lower than expected last season when there was genuine interest surrounding the team. With the city of Miami not happy that it funded a stadium only to see the team gutted, attendance could plummet this season.


    New York Mets: Lack of offense makes things tough on young pitchers.

    Aside from David Wright and Ike Davis, the lineup the Mets are expected to open the season with is sorely lacking in talent, and that could put a strain on the team's young pitchers.

    Matt Harvey should be joined by Zack Wheeler and Jenrry Mejia at some point this season, and having to pitch in front of a punch-less offense could make things a lot harder on those young arms.


    Philadelphia Phillies: Injuries strike again to the core of veteran superstars.

    The Phillies' window of contention has closed quickly, but they may have one last legitimate chance to make a playoff run if they can stay healthy this season.

    Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard all missed significant time last season. The team needs those three—as well as Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins—to stay healthy if it's going to have any chance.


    Washington Nationals: The team struggles to meet lofty expectations.

    Last season, the Nationals were expected to be an improved team, but few, if anyone, expected them to win an MLB-best 98 games.

    This time around, they won't have the luxury of flying under the radar, as they have perhaps the best team in baseball on paper entering the season. They're a relatively young group, and it will be interesting to see how the players handle the increased expectations.

NL Central

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    Chicago Cubs: Jeff Samardzija will take a step back, prove 2012 breakout was a fluke.

    After bouncing between the rotation and bullpen for his first four seasons in the league, Samardzija was handed a rotation spot out of camp last year. And he enjoyed a breakout year, going 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 174.2 innings of work.

    The Cubs are incredibly thin as far as the future of their starting rotation is concerned, and Samardzija is someone who could be the ace of the staff long-term. Regression from him this coming season would be a big blow.


    Cincinnati Reds: Aroldis Chapman fails in transition to rotation, struggles to regain his form afterwards.

    While there have been a number of cases recently of young relievers transitioning to the starting rotation successfully, it's by no means a sure thing.

    Daniel Bard struggled mightily last season with the Red Sox, while Neftali Feliz battled injuries in what was essentially a lost season. If Chapman struggles with the transition and then struggles to find his groove in the bullpen once again, it would be a major hit to the Reds' staff.


    Milwaukee Brewers: The inexperienced starting rotation holds the team back.

    The Brewers return all of the key pieces from what was the NL's highest-scoring offense last season, and they have taken steps to improve their bullpen. However, the rotation could be an issue.

    Yovani Gallardo is the ace of the staff, but beyond him, it will be some combination of Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta, Tyler Thornburg, Mark Rogers and Chris Narveson. There is potential there, but the lack of experience could be an issue.


    Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen is once again forced to single-handedly carry the offense.

    The Pirates stayed in contention throughout the first half of the season last year, and they did so with McCutchen more or less making up the team's offense by himself.

    Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Garrett Jones are solid complementary pieces and Russell Martin should be an improvement over Rod Barajas, but the team is still without that proven second star offensively.


    St. Louis Cardinals: The starting rotation is unable to make up for the losses of Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse.

    With Kyle Lohse gone in free agency and Chris Carpenter sidelined indefinitely, the Cardinals' rotation will have a different look in 2013.

    Adam Wainwright will have to step up and pitch like an ace. He'll be joined by Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook, Lance Lynn and a young arm from the trio of Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal.

    The Cardinals always seem to find a way to overcome injuries and free agency, but there is no question that their staff is an area of concern entering the season.

NL West

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    Arizona Diamondbacks: Trevor Bauer has a huge season in Cleveland.

    Shortstop was a clear area of need for the Diamondbacks entering in the offseason, both in the present and long-term. They got their long-term guy when they acquired Didi Gregorius from the Reds in a three-team deal.

    In the trade, top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer was shipped to the Indians. After concerns arose about his mechanics and willingness to make adjustments, Bauer was moved. But the tools are still there for him to be a frontline starter. A big season from him would be awfully hard for Diamondbacks fans to watch.


    Colorado Rockies: The pitching staff will once again drag the team down.

    The Rockies' pitching staff was hands-down the worst in baseball last season, and the team did nothing this offseason to improve its starting pitching crop.

    Healthy seasons from Jorge De La Rosa, Juan Nicasio and Jhoulys Chacin, all of whom missed time last year, appear to be what the team is banking on. That still may not be enough to keep them out of last place, though.


    Los Angeles Dodgers: A lack of team chemistry keeps the collection of stars from contending.

    The 2013 season will be the first full year in a Dodgers uniform for Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, Brandon League, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

    That is a talented collection of players. And the team also has Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, among others.

    How quickly the Dodgers can go from a group of stars to a team will go a long way in determining if they contend of a title.


    San Diego Padres: Chase Headley refuses to sign an extension, opts to test the market.

    Padres third baseman Headley was one of the breakout stars of 2012. Though he is still under team control through 2014, the time is now for the Padres to try to extend him.

    If he can prove that 2012 was for real, Headley could put himself in position for a $100 million-plus deal on the open market. And if the Padres are unwilling to pay him that much, he could make his plans to test the market known well in advance.


    San Francisco Giants: The pitching is unable to carry the offense this time around.

    Say what you want about guys like Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence, the Giants offense is below average and Buster Posey is the only real star they have at the plate.

    They've won two titles in three years on the strength of their pitching, and while it should be great once again, the team could regret not adding an impact bat in free agency if it's struggling to support that great staff.