Projecting Opening Day Starting Pitchers for All 30 MLB Teams in 2014
For teams like the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays, deciding which starter will take the mound on Opening Day 2014 is nothing but a formality.
However, for most MLB clubs around the league, the process of selecting an Opening Day starter can be far more complex. Some teams simply have a ridiculous abundance of options, while other teams are noticeably lacking in viable candidates.
So, here's a look at the projected Opening Day starting pitchers for all 30 MLB teams in 2014.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
The Candidates: Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, Bronson Arroyo
The Arizona Diamondbacks will open up the 2014 campaign at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney Australia on March 22 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and for the first time in three years Ian Kennedy won't be the Opening Day starter.
With Kennedy long since jettisoned to the San Diego Padres, a new pitcher will step up to claim the gig.
Wade Miley tops the list in terms of service time with the Diamondbacks. The left-hander has made 69 starts across parts of three seasons and enjoyed a strong end to 2013. After the All-Star break, Miley went 4-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 14 starts.
In terms of overall seniority, the newly signed Bronson Arroyo also joins the conversation. The 14-year veteran is no ace, but he's also remarkably consistent. The right-hander has racked up at least 199 innings of work in each of the past nine campaigns.
In the end, though, the nod has to go to Patrick Corbin. The left-hander got off to an electric start in 2013, as he went 11-1 with a 2.35 ERA in the first half to earn an All-Star selection. Of course, the starter floundered badly after the break as he went 3-7 with a 5.19 ERA in his final 13 starts.
Still, on a club where it's difficult to distinguish the No.1 starter from the No. 5, Corbin is the logical choice to start on Opening Day.
The Starter: Corbin
The Candidates: Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Kris Medlen
With 2013 Opening Day starter Tim Hudson now a member of the San Francisco Giants, the Atlanta Braves will need to tab one the club's young starters for that role in the upcoming season.
Mike Minor, who had a breakout season in 2013, is the favorite to land that spot. Last season, the left-hander went 13-9 with a 3.21 ERA, a 120 ERA+ and an 8.0 K/9 ratio.
As impressive as Minor was, though, Julio Teheran might have been even better. Last season, Teheran went 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA, a 121 ERA+ and an 8.2 K/9 ratio.
Kris Medlen is also worth a mention. The 28-year-old was in the running to claim the Opening Day start last season, but ended up losing out to Hudson, according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com.
The Starter: Minor
The Candidate(s): Chris Tillman
Coming off a campaign in which Chris Tillman went 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA, the right-hander is the heavy favorite to take the hill for the Baltimore Orioles on Opening Day.
Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com confirmed as much when she explained that Tillman "looks to be the Opening Day starter as it stands now."
That little qualifier on the end could prove crucial, though. According to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun, the Orioles has "increased their interest in [Ervin] Santana" now that Bronson Arroyo is off the market. Connolly also mentions Ubaldo Jimenez as a possibility for the Orioles, but adds that he doesn't think Jimenez is "atop their list."
However, if either veteran starter is signed, he will certainly challenge Tillman for the Opening Day start.
The Starter: Tillman
Boston Red Sox
The Candidates: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy
Jon Lester appears to be a lock to get the start for the Boston Red Sox on Opening Day. The left-hander has held down that spot for three straight seasons, and after going 15-8 with a 3.75 ERA in 2013 there's no reason to shake things up.
The impressive part about the Red Sox's starting staff is that any of the team's top four starters could handle the Opening Day assignment. The team could easily call on Clay Buchholz, John Lackey or Jake Peavy to take the start if needed.
The Starter: Lester
The Candidate(s): Jeff Samardzija
There's no debate to be had here.
Back in December, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein explained to Carrie Muskat of MLB.com that Jeff Samardzija will take the mound for the Chicago Cubs on Opening Day in the upcoming season.
The right-hander also got the call on Opening Day last year and reeled off nine strikeouts while working eight scoreless innings.
The Starter: Samardzija
Chicago White Sox
The Candidates: Chris Sale, Jose Quintana
For the second year in a row, Chris Sale should get the start for the Chicago White Sox on Opening Day. Last year in the first game of the season, the left-hander recorded seven strikeouts across 7.2 scoreless innings of work as the White Sox edged the Kansas City Royals 1-0.
Jose Quintana, who went 9-7 with a 3.51 ERA last season, wouldn't make for a bad choice, either. However, it will be nearly impossible for the 25-year-old to overtake Sale in the pecking order between now and the start of the season.
The Starter: Sale
The Candidates: Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto
The Cincinnati Reds have three compelling candidates to make the Opening Day start in Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto.
Latos and Bailey are both fresh off impressive performances in 2013, while Cueto looks to rebound from an injury-interrupted campaign. Cueto hit the DL three times last season due an injured right lat muscle. However, despite those setbacks, the right-hander was still highly effective when healthy as he went 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA.
That performance, coupled with the fact that Cueto has made 160 starts for the Reds over six seasons, means that the right-hander should take the mound for Opening Day for the third year in a row.
The Starter: Cueto
The Candidate(s): Justin Masterson
Justin Masterson looks set to once again take the mound for the Cleveland Indians on Opening Day. That responsibility has also fallen to the right-hander in each of the past two seasons.
Down the line, young starters like Danny Salazar or even Corey Kluber could be worth consideration for an Opening Day assignment. However, neither of those starters will offer a serious challenge to Masterson's status as the Opening Day starter for the upcoming season.
The Starter: Masterson
The Candidates: Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa
Between Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa, the Colorado Rockies have two strong options to take the hill on Opening Day.
De La Rosa has two factors in his favor. First, the 32-year-old has seniority over Chacin since he has pitched six seasons with the Rockies. Second, De La Rosa is fresh off arguably his best season to date with the club.
Last year, the left-hander went 16-6 with a 3.49 ERA and a 127 ERA+. However, Chacin posted a nearly identical stat line as he went 14-10 with a 3.47 ERA and a 127 ERA+.
In the end, Chacin gets the call thanks to the fact that he's younger (26) and was the club's Opening Day Starter last season, as well.
The Starter: Chacin
The Candidates: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer
Justin Verlander has been the Opening Day starer for the Detroit Tigers for six straight seasons, but that streak is in serious jeopardy of ending in 2014.
The six-time All-Star is currently working his way back from core muscle surgery, and his status for Opening Day remains murky, as he explained to reporters at the club's spring training camp: "My goal now is the start of the season. Whether that's Game 1, I don't know. But I intend on being ready."
That comment certainly leaves open the possibility that Verlander won't take the mound when the Tigers face off against the Kansas City Royals on March 31. If he isn't ready, look for 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer to get the call.
Then again, considering just how competitive Verlander is, don't be shocked if he's ready to go for Game 1.
The Starter: Verlander
The Candidates: Scott Feldman, Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer
For the fourth season in a row, the Houston Astros will have a new starter take the mound on Opening Day. Bud Norris got the assignment in 2013, but the veteran right-hander was shipped out to the Baltimore Orioles last summer.
Scott Feldman, who, along with Jerome Williams, will provide a steadying veteran presence on the staff, appears to be the early favorite for the job. The right-hander split the 2013 season between the Chicago Cubs and the Baltimore Orioles, finishing the year 12-12 with a 3.86 ERA.
Young starters like Jarred Cosart and Brett Oberholtzer should also be in the mix. Cosart posted a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts last season, while Oberholtzer produced a 2.76 ERA in 13 appearances, including 10 starts.
However, unless either one of those pitchers has a monster spring, look for the Astros to opt for the safe route and tab Feldman to take the hill on Opening Day.
The Starter: Feldman
Kansas City Royals
The Candidate(s): James Shields
It's difficult to see how the Kansas City Royals could choose anyone other than James Shields to get the start on Opening Day.
The right-hander went 13-9 with a 3.15 ERA and a 131 ERA+ in his first season with the Royals. The starter also boasts an impressive track record that includes at least seven straight seasons of at least 200 innings of work. Over the past three campaigns, Shields has pitched at least 227.2 innings per year.
Jeremy Guthrie has the title of the No. 2 starter on the staff, but it will be next to impossible for Guthrie, or any other pitcher for that matter, to stop Shields from making his second straight Opening Day start for the Royals.
The Starter: Shields
Los Angeles Angels
The Candidates: C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver
After going a combined 30-17 with a 3.60 ERA in his first two seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, there's a compelling case to be made that C.J. Wilson should get the call as the club's Opening Day starter in 2014.
The obvious problem in that logic, however, is that Jered Weaver is standing in his way. Last season, Weaver failed to make 30 starts for the first time since 2007, as he missed time with a fractured elbow.
In the 24 starts he did make, the right-hander still managed a more than respectable 11-8 record with a 3.27 ERA. Weaver has gotten the Opening Day call in four straight seasons, and in five of the last six overall. For now, there's no reason for that trend to change.
The Starter: Weaver
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Candidate(s): Clayton Kershaw
With apologies to Zack Greinke, this decision is a no-brainer.
In 2014, Clayton Kershaw will be the Opening Day starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers for the fourth year in a row. Last year, the left-hander led all of baseball with a 194 ERA+ while locking up the NL Cy Young Award for the second time in three seasons.
The Starter: Kershaw
The Candidates: Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez
This should be an easy decision for the Miami Marlins.
Right-handers Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez both enjoyed strong seasons in 2013, but this would be a massive upset if anyone other than Jose Fernandez got the call for Game 1.
The powerful right-hander snagged NL Rookie of the Year honors and landed third on the NL MVP ballot during a sensational rookie campaign. The native of Cuba went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA, a 176 ERA+ and a 9.7 K/9 ratio last season for the Marlins.
The Opening Day assignment in 2014 should be the first of many for the promising young ace.
The Starter: Fernandez
The Candidates: Matt Garza, Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse
Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has plenty of options to consider in terms of who will get the call as the Opening Day starter in 2014.
Matt Garza is the new big-money free-agent addition, while Yovani Gallardo has made the Opening Day start in four straight seasons. Plus, there's also Kyle Lohse to add to the mix.
Gallardo's streak almost certainly appears to have reached an end, as the right-hander was easily the worst of the three in 2013. Last year, Gallardo went 12-10 with a 4.18 ERA and just a 94 ERA+.
Garza landed a four-year, $50 million contract from the Brewers, but the starter's numbers were rather middling in 2013. Garza split time with the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers to produce a 12-6 record with a 3.82 ERA. The right-hander was far more effective with the Cubs as he posted a 3.18 ERA in 11 starts. Subsequently, a return to the NL Central should suit him well.
Ultimately, it was Lohse who had the best season in 2013 and who has the best case to take the mound on Opening Day. After a solid start to 2013, Lohse really picked it up after the All-Star break, going 6-3 with a 2.97 ERA over his final 13 outings.
The Starter: Lohse
The Candidates: Ricky Nolasco, Kevin Correia
Last year, Ricky Nolasco took the mound for the Miami Marlins on Opening Day, and this year he appears an overwhelming favorite to handle that role for the Minnesota Twins.
After Nolasco went 13-11 with a 3.70 ERA for the Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers, the Twins handed him a four-year, $49 million contract to anchor the rotation.
Kevin Correia would be the next most logical candidate for the job, but it would take a massively disappointing spring from Nolasco for him to lose out to Correia.
The Starter: Nolasco
New York Mets
The Candidates: Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese, Zack Wheeler
As Zack Wheeler explained to Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, the right-hander knows exactly where he wants to be on Opening Day 2014: "Last year I was coming in trying to win a spot. This year I'm trying to get the Opening Day spot."
Wheeler also pointed out to Rubin that "anybody" on the staff could handle the assignment, but veterans Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon will offer the most competition.
Niese will have the inside track to the assignment after taking the mound for the Mets in Game 1 of the 2014 season, but don't rule Colon out of the conversation.
The 16-year veteran is fresh off a campaign in which he went 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA for the Oakland Athletics. With a remarkably calm presence on the mound, the right-hander would be the perfect pitcher to set the tone for the rest of the starting staff.
The Starter: Colon
New York Yankees
The Candidates: CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda
CC Sabathia has been the Opening Day starter for the New York Yankees for five seasons in a row. So, the decision to tab Sabathia for a sixth straight start would appear to be relatively straightforward.
Then again, the left-hander is fresh off the worst season of his career, and the club recently dished out a seven-year, $155 megadeal to Masahiro Tanaka.
As GM Brian Cashman explained to Mike Puma of the New York Post, the club doesn't expect Tanaka to be "at the front of the rotation right out of spring training."
Still, why rule out the possibility altogether before Tanaka has even taken the mound in a spring training game? If Sabathia continues to flounder in the spring and Tanaka dominates, then the newest member of the staff deserves to get the call.
However, short of that situation, look for the Yankees to opt for the safe route and to put Sabathia on the mound for Opening Day.
The Starter: Sabathia
The Candidates: Jarrod Parker, Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray
Over the past seven seasons, seven different starters have taken the mound for the Oakland Athletics on Opening Day. With 2013 starter Brett Anderson now pitching for the Colorado Rockies, there will be an eighth in 2014.
Jarrod Parker is the "leading candidate" for the spot, according to John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group. However, Parker hasn't spent much time thinking about it, as he explained to Hickey: "Opening day isn't something I'm concerned with at all. I want to be pitching in September and October."
Scott Kazmir is also near the top of the list of potential Opening Day starters, but Sonny Gray remains the dark horse in the equation.
The former first-round pick has only made 10 regular season starts in his brief MLB career. Then again, it was Gray, not Bartolo Colon, who got the call for the decisive Game 5 of the ALDS against the Detroit Tigers last fall.
The Starter: Parker
The Candidates: Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett
The race to become the Opening Day starter for the Philadelphia Phillies just got a whole lot less competitive now that Cole Hamels has been ruled out for the start of the season, via Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly.
Cliff Lee immediately becomes the leading contender to land the gig with Hamels sidelined. Last year, Lee went 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA and 7.3 WAR. The newly signed A.J. Burnett, who drew the Opening Day assignment for the Pittsburgh Pirates last year, is also worthy of consideration. Still, Burnett faces an uphill battle in overtaking Lee in the competition for the Opening Day start.
The Starter: Lee
The Candidates: Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole
Between Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole, manager Clint Hurdle can't go wrong in terms of picking the Opening Day starter for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Liriano enjoyed a remarkable bounce-back season with the Pirates last year as he went 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA while finishing ninth in the NL Cy Young Award voting. With A.J. Burnett now a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, Liriano is the veteran ace of the staff.
However, Cole also had an excellent season for Pittsburgh, as he went 10-7 with a 3.32 ERA. The No. 1 overall pick from the 2011 draft should get the nod; it could be the first of many Opening Day starts for Cole in Pittsburgh.
The Starter: Cole
San Diego Padres
The Candidates: Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Josh Johnson
The San Diego Padres have so far yet to announce who will be the club's Opening Day starter in 2014.
According to Corey Brock of MLB.com, Andrew Cashner will "likely merit heavy consideration" for the role. Baseball writer Scott Miller seconded that notion:
Bud Black hints at #Padres Fan Fest that Andrew Cashner will be opening day starter.— Scott Miller (@ScottMillerBbl) February 8, 2014
The right-hander went 10-9 with a 3.09 ERA last year in his first full season as a starter. Veterans Ian Kennedy and Josh Johnson appear to be the most serious competitors for the Opening Day spot. However, with both of those right-handers fresh off subpar campaigns, the Opening Day assignment should be Cashner's to lose.
The Starter: Cashner
San Francisco Giants
The Candidates: Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner
Based on 2013 performance, Madison Bumgarner is the obvious choice to take the mound for the San Francisco Giants on Opening Day.
The left-hander was by far the club's most consistent starter last year as he went 13-9 with a 2.77 ERA. Matt Cain, who got the start last year, told reporters at the team's fan fest that he thinks Bumgarner "earned" the role for 2014 with his impressive showing last season.
According to manager Bruce Bochy, though, Bumgarner hasn't won the Opening Day assignment just yet. Bochy explained to reporters that the club "might keep things as they are." That suggests that Cain, who posted a 2.36 ERA during the second half of the 2013 season, will be on the mound for a second straight Opening Day for the Giants.
The Starter: Cain
The Candidate(s): Felix Hernandez
New manager Lloyd McClendon will face a lot of tough decisions in his first spring training as the skipper for the Seattle Mariners.
Fortunately for McClendon, worrying about who will take the mound on Opening Day won't be one of them. Felix Hernandez has been the Mariners' Opening Day starter for five straight seasons, and in six of the last seven campaigns. Incidentally, the Mariners have won all six of those contests.
The Starter: Hernandez
St. Louis Cardinals
The Candidates: Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha
For manager Mike Matheny, figuring out which five starters will fill out the St. Louis Cardinals' rotation will be no easy task. Picking the team's Opening Day starter, however, will be far simpler.
Michael Wacha enjoyed a remarkable debut last year, but it would be absurd if anybody other than Adam Wainwright gets the Opening Day call for the Cardinals in 2014.
The Starter: Wainwright
Tampa Bay Rays
The Candidates: David Price, Matt Moore
When the 2013 season ended, it was a foregone conclusion that David Price's time with the Tampa Bay Rays was over.
However, with spring training underway and no trade imminent, Price appears set to be the Rays' Opening Day starter for the second year in a row, and the third time in the past four seasons.
If the Rays end up swinging a trade during spring training, Matt Moore would make for a more than suitable replacement.
The Starter: Price
The Candidate(s): Yu Darvish
Yu Darvish is set to make his first Opening Day start for the Texas Rangers, as manager Ron Washington confirmed at the team's fan fest. When a fan asked who would get the start, Washington remarked: "I think it's obvious. It's Darvish."
For the Rangers, Darvish will be the team's sixth different Opening Day starter in the past six seasons.
The Starter: Darvish
Toronto Blue Jays
The Candidates: R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle
R.A. Dickey is the leading contender to get the call as the Opening Day starter for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014. The veteran right-hander, who drew the assignment last year in his first season with Toronto, will be pushed for the spot by Mark Buehrle.
However, look for Dickey to make the Opening Day start after a strong end to the 2013 season, as he went 6-3 with a 3.56 ERA and an 8.0 K/9 ratio in the second half.
The Starter: Dickey
The Candidates: Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister
The Washington Nationals boast one of the most formidable rotations in all of baseball, and any one of the team's top four starters would make for a legitimate option as the Nationals' Opening Day starter.
Of course, as long as Stephen Strasburg is leading the staff, it's difficult to see any pitcher other than the former No. 1 overall pick earning the start. Strasburg has already made two straight Opening Day starts for the Nationals, and in 2014 he should make that three in a row.
The Starter: Strasburg
If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.