Biggest Winners and Losers of 2014 MLB Spring Training
Nobody likes to lose, even in spring training.
Sure, the games and the statistics don't technically count, and those who put too much stock into what goes on during the preseason typically find themselves disappointed during the regular season.
But that doesn't mean that we should completely discount the spring, which gives us the answers to some of the questions that we had heading into the exhibition season and presents us with winners and losers, both on the field and off of it.
With spring training all but complete and the regular season quickly drawing near, let's take a look at the biggest winners and losers from this year's exhibition season.
Winner: Miguel Cabrera
That Miguel Cabrera arrived to spring training healthy, fully recovered from a groin injury that made the game's most feared hitter appear to be a mere mortal down the stretch in 2013, makes the two-time AL MVP a winner.
When you factor in the eight-year, $248 million extension that he signed with Detroit, as reported by Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi, Cabrera easily enters the conversation as baseball's biggest winner in spring training.
Because he still has two years and $44 million left on his current deal, more than a few around the game, including Bleacher Report's Zachary D. Rymer, have raised an eyebrow at the team's decision.
But whether you agree with it or not, there's no doubt that Cabrera heads into the regular season as the spring's biggest winner.
Losers: Texas Rangers
Unless you're a fan of another team in the AL West, it's hard not to feel sorry for the Texas Rangers, a team that has not only been hit hard on the pitching mound, but lost key pieces of its expected Opening Day lineup as well.
Starting pitcher Derek Holland went down with a knee injury before spring training began, so he's not included, but Texas' list of walking wounded is still quite impressive, to say the least. Via MLB.com:
- OF Engel Beltre (Fractured right tibia, 60-day DL)
- SP Yu Darvish (Stiff neck, scratched from Opening Day start, possibly headed to DL)
- SP Matt Harrison (Stiff lower back, possibly headed to DL)
- RP Joseph Ortiz (Fractured left foot, 60-day DL)
- 2B Jurickson Profar (Torn muscle in right shoulder, possible return after the All-Star break)
- C Geovany Soto (Knee surgery, possible return in early June)
Losing that many players—key pieces—not only makes Texas one of the biggest losers this spring, but it could make the Rangers one of the game's biggest losers in early April as well.
Winners: New York Yankees
While the Yankees haven't hit particularly well this spring (.254 BA, .682 OPS, 128 R), the team's pitching has been phenomenal, posting the game's lowest WHIP (1.14) and second-best ERA (3.38), trailing only the Tampa Bay Rays.
Of the team's expected Opening Day rotation, only Hiroki Kuroda (6.48 ERA, 1.56 WHIP) has an ERA above 3.60 or a WHIP above 1.17. Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia have combined to go 5-2 with a 1.25 ERA and 0.86 WHIP over 36 innings, walking only four while striking out 32.
Only two of the nine players that comprised New York's Opening Day lineup a year ago—catcher Francisco Cervelli and left fielder Brett Gardner—will get a chance to avenge last year's 8-2 drubbing at the hands of the Boston Red Sox.
But despite the offense posting some disappointing numbers this spring, that the Yankees are relatively healthy—and that Pineda looks poised to actually contribute to the cause for the first time since the team acquired him heading into 2012—makes the Yankees one of the game's big winners this spring.
Losers: Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales
Perhaps we shouldn't have been quite as quick to dismiss Scott Boras' proclamation that his clients, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales, would remain unsigned until after the MLB draft in June if that's what it took for teams to offer the kinds of deals that they wanted, per ESPN's Jerry Crasnick:
The system they've been dealt has basically prevented them from free agency. They want to make sure about their next step, whatever that will be. It means either signing a long-term contract now -- and we're still taking offers on those -- or a number of other prospects that could occur after the season starts or in June, after the draft happens.
Like any players, they want to play baseball. But they're also looking at the long-term aspect of their careers. This system has placed them not in free agency, but it's placed them in a jail.
I happen to agree with Boras. The current system is broken and needs to be fixed. But that doesn't make holding out until the first week of June, when the first-year player draft takes place, a wise decision.
There's no guarantee that the lucrative, multiyear deals that the pair of veteran free agents seek will be there waiting for them once the draft concludes—with the very real possibility existing that the only offers they'll receive are prorated one-year deals for far less than they could have potentially signed for over the winter.
Winners: Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians have baseball's best record (20-8), leading hitter (Michael Brantley) and one of its hottest pitchers (Justin Masterson) this spring—not bad for a team that had been all but dismissed as a contender after losing Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir over the winter.
Brantley (.521, 10 XBH, 14 RBI, 1.342 OPS) leads an offense that ranks near the top of the spring leaderboards in nearly every major category, including a hold on third place in runs scored (184), batting average (.288) and OPS (.810).
While the team's pitching staff hasn't been quite as impressive this spring, it sits in the top half of the spring's rankings in ERA (4.14, 13th) and WHIP (1.33, 11th), with Masterson (4-0, 1.09 ERA, 0.81 WHIP) leading the way.
Most importantly, the Indians head into the regular season healthy, with the lone exception being center fielder Michael Bourn, who is expected to miss the start of the season due to a tight left hamstring.
Given the team's health and performance this season, perhaps the Indians haven't taken as big of a step back this past winter as we originally believed.
Losers: Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves were assured of having a different rotation than what they had in years past heading into the spring after losing Tim Hudson as a free agent. But nobody in his or her wildest dreams expected things to be as drastically different as they are.
Tommy John surgery took Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen out of the picture while Mike Minor will start the year on the 15-day disabled list due to an issue with his left shoulder. While Ervin Santana was bought in as a free agent to help solidify the rotation, he won't be ready to join the Braves until after the regular season has started.
That stretches Atlanta's depth, with Julio Teheran and Alex Wood now followed by veteran journeyman Aaron Harang and the unproven David Hale to begin the regular season. While the eventual returns of Minor and Santana will help, Atlanta's rotation isn't anywhere near as formidable as it was expected to be.
Winners: Los Angeles Angels
When news first broke that the Los Angeles Angels had signed Mike Trout to a contract extension—on the heels of Miguel Cabrera's record-setting extension with Detroit—our minds began to wander, wondering just how much the 22-year-old phenom was going to get.
How do you value a player who, as Greg Beacham of The Associated Press (h/t the Detroit News) noted, has put himself alongside some of the game's all-time greats in just over two years?
"He (Trout) is one of four players in baseball history to bat .320 with 50 homers and 200 runs in his first two full seasons, joining Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Pujols," Beacham wrote.
After the dust settled, we learned that Trout got a six-year, $144.5 million extension —an average value of just over $24 million a season—to stay in Los Angeles through the 2020 season, per ESPN, and the first thing that came to many of our minds was "That's it?"
Granted, $144.5 million is an insane amount of money, enough to set a player, his family and future generations up for life. But based on what Trout has done thus far over his short MLB career—and the fact that he's only going to continue to get better—$24 million a season is a bargain for the Angels.
FanGraphs values Trout's past two seasons at $44.9 million and $52.1 million, respectively. That's $97 million—roughly two-thirds of the total value of his new extension. It's not a stretch to say that, within two or three years, he will have outplayed his new deal.
That makes the Angels big winners this spring, more so than the team's winning record (18-11) on the field.
After suspending 26 players over the past two seasons for violating MLB's drug agreement with the MLB Players Association, the two sides agreed to stiffer penalties this spring, the biggest changes to the system in quite some time.
As reported by ESPN, first-time offenders will now be suspended for 80 games, a 30-game increase over the previous penalty, while second-time offenders will sit out a full 162-game regular season, a 62-game increase. Additionally, players who fail a drug test will not be eligible to play in the postseason.
Newly confirmed head of the MLBPA, Tony Clark, told reporters that he was pleased with the changes, per ESPN, and that the union would consider even harsher penalties in the future:
Our hope here is that the adjustments that we've made do inevitably get that number (of failed tests) to zero. In the event that that doesn't happen, for whatever reason, we'll re-evaluate and move forward from there. But as I sit here, I am hopeful that players make the right decisions that are best for them, for their careers and for the integrity of the game.
The postseason ban may be a bigger deterrent than the suspensions themselves. Both Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta were able to return in late September for their respective clubs and see action in the playoffs, helping the pair land new deals with different teams this past winter as free agents.
Had they not been able to show that they could still be productive players after serving their suspensions, it's possible, perhaps even likely, that they would have had to settle for far less than they got on the open market.
Winner: Grady Sizemore
Had Grady Sizemore merely stayed healthy this spring, he would have been labeled as a winner.
Out of the game since 2011 and having undergone seven surgeries on various parts of his beaten and broken body since 2009, nobody looked at him as anything more than a possible feel-good story and fourth outfielder for Boston this spring.
Instead, the 31-year-old has stayed healthy and outplayed his younger competition, 23-year-old Jackie Bradley Jr., for the starting center field job on the defending world champions.
Not bad for a guy whose MLB career was all but over three months ago.
Losers: Philadelphia Phillies
Despite major questions at the back end, a rotation led by Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and A.J. Burnett should be good enough to keep the Philadelphia Phillies in plenty of games this season.
Whether those pitchers will get any run support is another question altogether, though, and if what we've seen this spring is any indication, the answer is a resounding "No."
No team in baseball has been as putrid at the plate this spring as the Phillies, who have baseball's lowest batting average (.222) and OPS (.632). The team's core—Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley—is hitting a combined .208 with 11 extra-base hits, 10 walks and 38 strikeouts.
That's not good, and with little in the way of impact minor league talent ready to help, manager Ryne Sandberg's first full season at the helm could be a very long one.