MLB Teams That Will Not Live Up to the Hype in 2014
Over the long, winding path of baseball's 162-game season, expectations and hype can be overshadowed by day-to-day results, small-sample size narratives and early-season headlines. In a league where parity is becoming an operative word, more than half of the majors entered 2014 with hype—either from external or internal forces.
When staring down the 40-man rosters of each team, examining potential contributors on the verge of arriving from the minors and separating the signal from the noise of the early portion of the season, four teams emerge as candidates to fail in the quest to live up to hype.
Over the next six months, each team will have moments of glory and success, but ultimately will fall short of the hype. Most importantly, none will qualify for the 2014 postseason.
Here are the teams that will come short of the hype—real or imagined—surrounding the franchise.
Statistics are from Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster projections via MLB Depth Charts.
After back-to-back AL West titles, the Oakland Athletics attacked the offseason like a team looking to get over the hump, win in October and truly compete for the first World Series of Billy Beane's run atop the organization.
With a platoon-heavy lineup and deep, dynamic bullpen—both deployed by the savvy Bob Melvin in the dugout—the Athletics looked like a good bet to reprise a role in October and potentially do damage on the way to glory.
In early March, they were listed among eight AL teams with a true shot at the World Series. Within weeks, Jarrod Parker was lost for the season and A.J. Griffin was injured badly enough to start the year on the disabled list. In a league full of deep, solid postseason contenders, the Athletics were losing wins by the minute.
Over the past week—despite winning four of seven games to start the season—little has gone perfectly in Oakland.
Closer Jim Johnson pitched poorly (two losses) in a season-opening series and sports a 15.00 ERA on the young campaign. When a small-market team like Oakland invests $10 million in a reliever, losses can't ensue during his appearances. On the injury front, shortstop Jed Lowrie was forced to leave Oakland's game on April 7 in Minnesota after being hit by a pitch and is day-to-day with a leg contusion, per John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group.
No, the Athletics aren't slated for last place or a losing season. But the idea of Oakland as a World Series contender seems less likely by the day, especially with a general manager willing to change direction and trajectory if a franchise-altering offer comes across the desk in July.
In the NL, it's hard to find season-altering flaws in Washington, Los Angeles or St. Louis. Those teams should be part of the postseason party, even if the road there is filled with bumps.
Elsewhere, a slew of teams—Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Miami, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Milwaukee, San Diego—will battle it out for two spots in the NL Wild Card Game.
In the NL West, the Arizona Diamondbacks—despite losing ace Patrick Corbin to an elbow injury and failing in attempts to land big-ticket free agents like Shin-Soo Choo or Masahiro Tanaka—believe they are in the mix. In fact, manager Kirk Gibson hyped his club by comparing it to the 2011 team that rebounded from a 97-loss season in 2010 to win 94 games and a division title in 2011, per the team's website.
"I don't think anybody was thinking we were going to do anything in 2011," Gibson said. "I know what we believe in, and that's the important thing. I understand that people ride the emotional roller coaster, but being involved at our level, that's not what you do. You write your own story, your own vision."
Gibson can and should reference that season, but this Diamondbacks team is far from a 94-win outfit right now and likely won't profile as anything close to that over the course of this season. Early on (2-7 record, -22 run differential), the results aren't pretty. Furthermore, the team has wasted a blistering start (5 HR, 13 RBI) from Mark Trumbo and overall excellence (1.062 OPS) from MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt.
Arizona has finished at exactly .500 in each of the past two seasons. If they reach the 81-win mark again in 2014, it will be an internal failure based on the hype the manager created at the end of March.
Boston Red Sox
In professional baseball, there's no such thing as treading water. Every winter, teams improve or decline due to a combination of financial clout, front-office brilliance, progression, regression or luck. That reality includes the 2013 World Series champions.
One year after winning 97 games, capturing the AL East title and rewriting the franchise record books in the aftermath of a 69-93 disaster in 2012, the Red Sox aren't as dangerous of a team now as they were when the World Series concluded.
When Jacoby Ellsbury walked out the door, the Red Sox lost a dynamic defender, speed demon and offensive threat. Without Jarrod Saltalamacchia, extra-base power is missing from the catching position in John Farrell's lineup. The absence of Stephen Drew—despite his continued availability on the open market—has left Boston vulnerable to injuries to Will Middlebrooks or Xander Bogaerts on the left side of the infield.
Meanwhile, teams like the Yankees ($503 million spent on offseason additions), Rays (health, maturity from a dynamic pitching staff, full season of 2013 AL ROY Wil Myers) and Orioles (additions of Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz) improved during the winter.
In 2012, everything went wrong in Boston. In 2013, everything seemed to go right on the path to glory and a magical season in Fenway Park.
This summer, a very good and ascending group of players like Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. could propel Boston to an 87-win season and hope for more in 2015 and beyond. Without the hype synonymous with the role as defending champions, that would suffice.
With the AL East looking as deep as ever, a disappointing fourth-place finish could commence.
New York Mets
In New York, everything is bigger—including self-hype by a general manger trying to change the perception of losing and change the conversation around a big-market team with an Opening Day payroll under $85 million.
No self-respecting analyst or baseball prognosticator would have put realistic hype around the 2014 New York Mets. Not without Matt Harvey for most, if not all, of the season or Noah Syndergaard until after the June arbitration cutoff or a legitimate everyday first baseman or shortstop.
Of course, general manager Sandy Alderson isn't an analyst or prognosticator; he's the figurehead of a team without a winning season since 2008 and lording over a fanbase slowly disconnecting with a "wait until next year!" mantra.
That's why the Mets have a self-imposed 90-win edict that Alderson re-iterated prior to Opening Day, per Mike Vorkunov of The Star-Ledger.
"So the 90 wins is about a challenge," Alderson said. "I stand by the notion that we need to get better. In doing so we need to set concrete goals for ourselves so that we have specific conversations for ourselves about how we get there."
Alderson calls it a challenge, but it came off as unnecessary hype for a team devoid of the requisite talent to win at that clip this summer.
By the spring of 2015—assuming health from Harvey, progression from young arms like Snydergaard, Rafael Montero and Zack Wheeler, continued excellence from David Wright and an aggressive hot-stove season from the front office—the hype around Flushing, Queens could be legitimate.
Right now, a franchise on the path to 70-to-75 wins created hype in an unnecessary fashion.
Which team(s) will fail to live up to the hype in 2014?