Predicting 3 Surprise Teams for the 2014 MLB Season

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistAugust 18, 2013

Predicting 3 Surprise Teams for the 2014 MLB Season

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    In 2012, it was the Oakland A's and Baltimore Orioles who surprised the baseball world to reach the postseason.

    This year may not have an out-of-nowhere postseason team, but the Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals have all posted solid seasons after less-than-lofty expectations entering the year.

    What follows is a look at three surprise teams that could exceed expectations next season and make a run at the playoffs in the process.

San Diego Padres (55-68, Fifth in NL West)

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    2014 Projected Lineup

    1. SS Everth Cabrera
    2. RF Will Venable
    3. 3B Chase Headley
    4. LF Carlos Quentin
    5. 1B Yonder Alonso
    6. 2B Jedd Gyorko
    7. CF Cameron Maybin
    8. C Yasmani Grandal
    9. Pitcher

     

    2014 Projected Rotation

    SP Ian Kennedy
    SP Eric Stults
    SP Andrew Cashner
    SP Cory Luebke
    SP Burch Smith
    CP Huston Street

     

    Potential Payroll Room/Departing Free Agents

    SP Edinson Volquez ($5.725 million), SP Jason Marquis ($3 million), OF Mark Kotsay ($1.25 million)

     

    Team Outlook

    A stretch in June in which they won 10 of 12 games pulled the Padres to two games over .500 and within one game of the NL West lead. However, that was followed shortly thereafter by a stretch where they lost 14 out of 15 games, and they were essentially out of the playoff race by the middle of July.

    Despite that disappointing fall-off, the Padres remain a team on the rise, and at the very least, they should be in a position to make a run at a winning record next season.

    With a young offensive core that would be vastly improved if Chase Headley returned to something close to his 2012 form, one filled with young players capable of taking a step forward, San Diego could be an above-average run-producing team. Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko and Yasmani Grandal all have the tools to be plus contributors at their respective positions, while a healthy Carlos Quentin remains a decent power threat.

    It's pitching that has been the issue. But the team hopes to have at least taken a step in the right direction with the acquisition of Ian Kennedy at the deadline. Edinson Volquez will likely be let go in free agency, and the Padres will likely look to make a play for a frontline arm.

    It will take more than a few things breaking their way, but the pieces are there for the Padres to surprise some people, and something like an 85-77 finish is not out of the realm of possibility.

Seattle Mariners (56-66, Third in AL West)

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    2014 Projected Lineup

    1. SS Brad Miller
    2. 2B Nick Franklin
    3. 3B Kyle Seager
    4. DH Kendrys Morales
    5. 1B Justin Smoak
    6. CF Michael Saunders
    7. C Mike Zunino
    8. RF Carlos Peguero
    9. LF Stefen Romero

     

    2014 Projected Rotation

    SP Felix Hernandez
    SP Hisashi Iwakuma
    SP Joe Saunders
    SP Taijuan Walker
    SP James Paxton
    CP Tom Wilhelmsen

     

    Potential Payroll Room/Departing Free Agents

    CF Franklin Gutierrez ($7.3 million) RF Michael Morse ($7 million), DH Kendrys Morales ($5.25 million), SS Brendan Ryan ($3.25 million), LF Raul Ibanez ($2.75 million), RP Oliver Perez ($1.5 million)

     

    Team Outlook

    The Mariners have begun to see their stacked farm system in action this season, with Brad Miller, Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino already stepping into everyday roles and more call-ups likely on the way before the season is over.

    Incumbents Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager have also taken a step forward this season and look to be solid core pieces, while veterans Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma will be back to once again to anchor the rotation.

    Seattle has an option on Joe Saunders it may consider picking up, and at the very least, the team will extend a qualifying offer to Kendrys Morales if it doesn't simply re-sign him to a multi-year deal.

    The real question for this team is how quickly its young arms, led by Taijuan Walker, can not only reach the big leagues but begin to play up to their potential.

    The Mariners will have some payroll room freed up, with Franklin Gutierrez likely to have his option bought out and Michael Morse likely on his way out as well. They've shown a knack for getting the most out of their low-cost veteran signings over the past few years, and they'll likely look to fill out the roster that way once again.

    The Rangers and A's look solid moving forward, and if the Angels ever play up to their potential, they'll be formidable as well, but the Mariners could be in the AL West mix in the very near future if their young talent progresses quickly.

New York Mets (56-65, Third in NL East)

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    2014 Projected Lineup

    1. LF Eric Young
    2. 1B Daniel Murphy
    3. 3B David Wright
    4. RF Marlon Byrd
    5. C Travis d'Arnaud
    6. 2B Wilmer Flores
    7. SS Ruben Tejada
    8. CF Matt den Dekker
    9. Pitcher

     

    2014 Projected Rotation

    SP Matt Harvey
    SP Zack Wheeler
    SP Dillon Gee
    SP Jon Niese
    SP Rafael Montero
    CP Bobby Parnell

     

    Potential Payroll Room/Departing Free Agents

    SP Johan Santana ($25.5 million), C John Buck ($6.5 million), RP Frank Francisco ($6.5 million), RP LaTroy Hawkins ($1 million), RF Marlon Byrd ($700,000)

     

    Team Outlook

    Though they won't make the playoffs this year, there is plenty of reason for optimism regarding the New York Mets this season, with stars Matt Harvey and David Wright leading the way.

    Current prospects Travis d'Arnaud, Matt den Dekker and Rafael Montero, among others, could all be in a position to step into a major role next year, and top prospect Noah Syndergaard could join the rotation by midseason if he continues to pitch well.

    There are holes offensively, most notably at shortstop and in the outfield, and even if the team decides to re-sign surprise slugger Marlon Byrd, it will still need a bat or two to take the next step forward.

    New York cut its payroll from $142 million in 2011 down to $93 million this season, and even more money will be coming off the books this year. Johan Santana has a $25 million option for next season that will be bought out for $5.5 million, and catcher John Buck and reliever Frank Francisco are making $6.5 million each.

    That's roughly $33 million available on top of the $49 million the Mets have already trimmed from their payroll over the next two years. 

    With a bevy of young talent, this could be the offseason where the Mets look to once again be big players on the free-agent market. And a run at the NL East title next season is not out of the question if they can make the right moves this winter.