In approximately a month, pitchers and catchers will start reporting to spring training in Arizona and Florida, and it will be time for another baseball season to get underway. The 2014 campaign will be an improved year for some of these teams, even though they might not have had the best of times in 2013.
Obviously, there have been some rather large transactions taking place this winter. Free agents have been signed and trades have been made. They all had the potential to alter the landscape for next season, and I want to highlight five teams for have set themselves up for the biggest improvement in 2014.
As a quick note, some of these teams might not have done that badly last year, but their offseason moves have made them that much better for the upcoming season, so I am talking about their degree of improvement rather than where they started from.
I needed to start with the obvious one. As much as I don’t like the Robinson Cano contract that the Mariners agreed to, there is no doubt that adding the best offensive second baseman in baseball will do anything but help the Mariners this season.
Beyond that, they have a group of young pitchers—led by James Paxton and Taijuan Walker—who will fill in the rotation very nicely behind the always excellent Felix Hernandez.
Due to the natural progression of these young pitchers, as well as the signing of one of the top players in baseball in Cano, Seattle will be better in 2014. Making the playoffs might be difficult because of the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics entrenched at the top of the AL West, but they have a better chance than they have had in quite a while.
I think that the acquisition of Mark Trumbo was a great idea for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Paul Goldschmidt was really the only major offensive threat in that lineup from a run production standpoint, and Trumbo will be able to provide another weapon for an offense that was purely average last season.
I also thought that it was good for the Diamondbacks to trade for Addison Reed. Although he can be a little bit inconsistent as a closer (eight blown saves last season), he strikes out a lot of batters and will at least give the Diamondbacks a proven closer in the ninth inning.
Arizona ended at 81-81 last season, and with these few improvements, I would not be surprised to see them challenging for a playoff spot this season.
On one hand, it is really easy for me to say that the Houston Astros are going to improve in 2014 after they went 51-111 last season. After all, it would be very hard for them to be much worse.
However, I am impressed by some of the positive moves they have made this winter, and while I think they are still a long way from contention, signing Dexter Fowler and Scott Feldman gives me hope. Let me explain. Neither one of these players is what you might call a superstar, but they are more than capable of being solid contributors on good teams.
Houston is beginning to build a base of solid players, and as younger players like Jarred Cosart continue to develop, you might start to get a decent nucleus in Houston. This season will be the first step in the right direction.
Prince Fielder is certainly going to bring plenty of power to the middle of the Texas Rangers lineup, but he isn’t the only new player who they added. Shin-Soo Choo is an all-around performer who will provide power and speed to a lineup that is already among the best in baseball.
Texas really did not do very much to improve its pitching rotation, but it is fair to say that the Rangers had their share of injuries last year. Both Matt Harrison and Alexei Ogando are solid pitchers who missed time, and with the addition of Martin Perez, the rotation should be much better than it was last season.
Everything is coming together for the Texas Rangers, and I would not be surprised at all to see them as the top team in the American League this year.
I was debating whether or not to include the Toronto Blue Jays on this list. Last season, they were expected to compete for the American League East, and they were largely disappointing. I think that they have too much talent to be as bad as they were a year ago.
They Blue Jays did not make many monumental moves this winter, but they probably did not have quite as much financial flexibility as many of the other teams on the market. They are going to get better because Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes will both return from injury.
Beyond that, it is definitely possible that Brandon Morrow and R.A. Dickey will settle down and form the top of a decent rotation. I know that this may all sound like kind of a weak justification, but when you combine substandard performances by some players with injuries to others, it is no surprise that the Blue Jays had a tough season in 2013.