The New York Yankees and Washington Nationals are two teams that ended their seasons short last year but show no signs of repeating the same fate in 2014. While the Yankees made a much bigger splash than the Nationals this winter, they both seem to be doing what is necessary to propel themselves into the playoffs.
New York Yankees
The Yankees missed the postseason in 2013 for only the second time in the past 19 seasons, but it’s no wonder why they’re one of the most talked-about teams this offseason. Here’s why they will win the AL East crown:
Last season, Yankee catchers struggled offensively with a .213 batting average. Adding Brian McCann from the Braves brings power to the plate and leadership behind it. He holds a career .277 batting average. Defensively, Atlanta pitchers held a 2.98 ERA when he called the game. He could also easily become a designated hitter if necessary.
Newly acquired Kelly Johnson has most of his experience at second base, but he's very versatile. Johnson has hit at least 16 homers in the past four seasons and is solid on defense. If Johnson is needed to cover other positions former Baltimore Oriole Brian Roberts is a strong backup option at second. Although this pair together doesn’t quite equal what was lost with All-Star Robinson Cano, they will be able to contribute positively both offensively and defensively. Especially with Alex Rodriguez’s status for the season being uncertain, having Johnson with experience at third gives the Yankees more options.
The Yankees starting rotation needed a face-lift after last season. CC Sabathia ended with a 4.78 ERA and Phil Hughes with a 5.19 ERA. The Yankees re-signed Hiroki Kuroda, who held the rotation’s lowest ERA (3.31), and Hughes departed to Minnesota to pitch for the Twins, both of which are positive moves for New York. The Yanks currently have Sabathia, Kuroda and Ivan Nova and still have high hopes of acquiring Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka.
Bleacher Report’s Kenny DeJohn explains what the Yankees will do if they aren’t able to sign him, saying they will likely try to sign Ubaldo Jimenez or Johan Santana instead. Some work still needs to be done by the Yankees to build a powerhouse rotation.
Gaining outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury from the Red Sox might be a key to the Yankees pushing past the World Series champions in 2014. Ellsbury is strong on both sides of the plate with a .297 career batting average and .992 fielding percentage. Carlos Beltran, whom the Yankees also signed this winter, has a .283 career batting average and will certainly bring a strong offensive force to the lineup. These two additions amp up the aging outfield that Curtis Granderson left when he signed with the Mets.
The biggest competition within their division right now looks like the Boston Red Sox. Given the rosters that both sides are building this offseason, the Yankees can pull away with the AL East title.
The Red Sox haven’t made too many moves this winter other than re-signing the majority of their team. They lost catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Marlins, replacing him with A.J. Pierzynski. They’ll likely miss the doubles from Saltalamacchia, but otherwise, the two are comparable offensively. The Yankees gaining Ellsbury is a bigger loss to the Red Sox than the Matt Thornton trade. The Red Sox will likely fill center field with Jackie Bradley Jr., a former first-round pick who has 95 major league at-bats and comparable minor league stats to Ellsbury during his minor league career. However, Bradley is new to the major leagues and needs to prove he can be consistent at the next level.
As for the Nationals, they also had a disappointing 2013 season, keeping them out of the playoffs. Over the offseason, they kept most of their roster the same but added a few key players that will ensure they won't repeat history in 2014.
Starting with the pitching, Washington has added Doug Fister and Jerry Blevins from Detroit and Oakland, respectively. Fister replaces Dan Haren, who became a free agent at the end of his worst MLB season in 2013. Fister has a career 3.53 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. Bill Ladson of MLB.com reported a statement from Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who said Fister “is battle-tested through playoff experiences, and the depth he brings to our staff is exceptional. We are thrilled to welcome him aboard."
As they should be. He joins an exceptional pitching rotation that consists of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.
This season, Blevins gives the Nats something they didn’t have at the start of last season—a strong left-handed relief pitcher. He has a career 3.30 ERA and 1.21 WHIP and no problems pitching against right- or left-handers. Paired with the starting rotation, this is going to be a tough group for any batter to face.
Nate McLouth is the third major addition. He is an outfielder from the Orioles with a career .250 batting average and .334 OBP. His offensive strength, along with the potent bats of Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, will hopefully translate to a deep lineup this upcoming season. McLouth is not only strong offensively, but he also won a Gold Glove in 2008. He’s an all-around great new asset to an already dangerous team.
Other than Matt Williams taking over as skipper, there hasn't been much else going on this offseason with the Nationals. As Bleacher Report’s Zachary Rymer points out, the Nats have gained far more talent this offseason than they have lost.
These few additions will join the existing Nationals team that has pretty much stayed the same. Add a healthy Bryce Harper to the mix, and this team can only have a better season in 2014.
Not only does it help that the Nats have acquired a few key players, but the other teams in the NL East aren’t exactly looking to have their best seasons in 2014. The Braves appear to be their biggest competition. After losing Brian McCann to the Yankees and Tim Hudson to the Giants, they don’t look as strong as they did in 2013. Evan Gattis will become the everyday catcher, and Ryan Doumit was added as a third catcher to give the Braves flexibility. Otherwise, the Braves have been pretty silent this winter. So between the Nationals beefing up and the rest of the teams not making the same adjustments needed for huge 2014 seasons, the NL East will likely belong to the Nationals this year.
The Yankees and Nationals have exhibited how several huge trades, including a few necessary ones, can be beneficial for transforming a team from forgotten one season to serious playoff contenders the next (if my predictions are correct, at least).
All stats courtesy of MLB.com.