New Year’s resolutions for American League teams
Kansas City Royals resolve to snap the major leagues’ longest active playoff drought.
The Royals haven’t been to the postseason since they won their only World Series in 1985. They have, however, improved their record in each of the last four seasons. In 2013 Kansas City turned in its first winning season since 2003 and just its second since the strike-shortened 1994, when its best hitter was Rookie of the Year Bob Hamelin. With the extra wild card in play, the 86-win 2013 Royals weren’t eliminated until their 158th game of the season as they fell just six wins shy of a postseason berth.
This offseason, Kansas City has filled two glaring holes in its lineup with solid, underrated veterans in second baseman Omar Infante and rightfielder Norichika Aoki and added depth to its starting rotation with lefty Jason Vargas. Factor in further growth from the likes of Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez and the potential rotation contributions of Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy and the Royals just might get those six extra wins in 2014.
Minnesota Twins resolve to make their games watchable prior to the sixth inning.
The 2013 Twins had the worst starting rotation in baseball, by a lot. They were dead last in the majors in starters’ ERA (5.26), WHIP (1.54), strikeout rate (4.9 K/9 compared to a league average of 7.2), strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.75), OPS allowed (.826, higher than the OPS of Buster Posey and Prince Fielder last year), innings pitched (871, or 5 1/3 per start) and quality starts (62). Their lineup was lousy, as well, but their rotation was exceptionally terrible, so much so that 32-year-old journeyman Kevin Correia, who went 9-13 with a 4.18 ERA was by far their best starting pitcher. So this offseason Minnesota spent $73 million on Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. That’s got to help a least a little, right?
Chicago White Sox resolve to score some runs.
The White Sox play in one of the best hitters’ parks in baseball, but in 2013 their 3.69 runs per game ranked 29th in the majors, out-pacing only the Marlins’ pathetic 3.17. The team’s goal for 2014 is thus clear: score some darn runs.
Enter the so-called “Cuban Barry Bonds,” first baseman Jose Abreu, who hit .394/.542/.837 with 35 home runs in 87 games in Cuba in 2012 and was signed to the richest contract ever given to an international free agent ($68 million over six years). Abreu pushes the re-signed Paul Konerko into what should be an effective platoon with Adam Dunn at whichever of first base and designated hitter Abreu is not occupying. Add former Diamondbacks prospects Adam Eaton and Matt Davison, who will compete for playing time at centerfield and third base, respectively, and a full season of former Tigers prospect Avisail Garcia in rightfield and Chicago should indeed score more runs in 2014 than it did in 2013.
The White Sox might not be an overwhelming force at the plate, but they should be better, and with their rotation still mostly intact (top prospect Erik Johnson is expected to replace Hector Santiago, the price for Eaton), that should translate to more wins as well.
Oakland A’s resolve to keep their foot on the Rangers’ neck.
The A’s surprised everyone, including themselves, by winning the AL West in 2012 and continued to defy expectations by winning the division again in 2013. The overall excellence of the team and its management, which has a knack for finding unexpectedly strong performances from seemingly marginal players, is the primary reason for that. Still, the A’s success against their principle intra-division rivals, the Rangers, particularly in crucial late-season series, has proven key in each of the last two seasons.
In 2012 Texas led the West from April 9 to Oct. 2, but Oakland took five of six head-to-head games in the season’s final two weeks, including a home sweep of the final three games of the regular season, to steal the division in Game 162. In 2013, the division was more of a see-saw battle, but the Rangers were again in first place in August and carried that lead into September only to again lose five of their last six head-to-head games with the A’s. Oakland tied up the division by taking two of three in the first week of September and effectively put it out of reach with a three-game sweep in Arlington in the middle of the month that built their lead to 6 1/2 games. As as result, heading into 2014, it is the Rangers who are chasing the A’s, rather than the other way around.
Texas Rangers resolve to accomplish the goals of their four-year plan in Year One.
With the trade for Prince Fielder and the signing of Shin-Soo Choo following contract extensions for Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Martin Perez earlier in the year, the Rangers have a lot of cost certainty over the next five seasons, as well as a lot of cost. In 2016, Fielder, Choo, Andrus, Harrison, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Adrian Beltre will cost the team a combined $104.1 million. In 2017, Beltre comes off the books, but the other six (assuming Holland’s option is picked up) plus Perez will cost the team $94.1 million, not counting that year’s arbitration settlement for Jurickson Profar. After that Darvish becomes a free agent and Holland, Harrison and Perez all have options, creating an opportunity for Texas to tear things down before the 2018 season and start over, or to reinvest in that core group.
For the next four years, however, the key parts of the Rangers’ roster and payroll are set, and that significant investment demands a significant return. For a team that is still smarting from its World Series losses in 2010 and 2011, particularly the latter when it was twice within one strike of the first championship in franchise history, it would just as soon get that return in 2014 and let the remaining years be gravy.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim resolve for Mike Trout to win an MVP award.
Trout has done his part each of the last two years — hitting a combined .314/.404/.544 while averaging 30 homers, 41 steals (at an 87 percent success rate), 95 RBIs, 124 runs scored, eight triples and a 166 OPS+ while playing the majority of his games in centerfield — but the vote has gone against him both years in part due to the shortcomings of his teammates. The Angels have failed to reach the playoffs in each of Trout’s first two mind-blowing seasons, and he has finished a distant second in the MVP voting both years.
Los Angeles’ biggest problem in 2013 was the back of its rotation. To fix it, general manager Jerry Dipoto, who has a poor track record on trades, made what looks like a nice three-way deal with the White Sox and Diamondbacks to land young lefties Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs for impatient thumper Mark Trumbo (career OBP: .299). Dipoto then replaced Trumbo on the cheap with veteran lefty power bat Raul Ibañez (OBP last three years: .300). With the Rangers having reloaded and the A’s likely improved as well, the Angels don’t have a clear path to their first playoff berth since 2009, but if they can add a healthy Albert Pujols and a bounce-back year from Josh Hamilton to the potential upgrades in the rotation, they could make things very interesting in the AL West in 2014.
Seattle Mariners resolve to prove that Robinson Cano’s contract wasn’t a prideful mistake.
Coming off four straight losing seasons, a 91-loss campaign in 2013 and having not outscored their competition since 2003, adding Robinson Cano won’t single-handedly transform the Mariners into a contender, but they took a big chance anyway and signed the 31-year-old second baseman to the third largest contract in major league history. Cano is a great player whose line-drive swing and slick fielding should translate to any ballpark, but his 10-year, $240 million contract (reportedly $65 million more than the Yankees were offering with no known third team involved in the bidding) could prove to be a disaster.
That would only enhance the image of the Seattle front office as dysfunctional, undisciplined and lacking both a plan and astute player evaluation. The best way to counter those claims is to have Cano lead the Mariners to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. Of course, most New Years’ resolutions are broken well before the year is over.
Houston Astros resolve to finally turn the corner.
In the last three seasons, the Astros have lost 106, 107 and 111 games, respectively. That makes them look like a pathetic organization, but there has been a lot going on in the background. The team was sold in 2011, moved to the American League in 2013 and has undergone a complete overhaul of its front office (which has included the hiring of several of my former Baseball Prospectus colleagues in Mike Fast, Kevin Goldstein and Colin Wyers). They’ve also had some outstanding drafts, buoyed by their having the top overall pick in 2012 and 2013, a distinction they hold for 2014, as well.
Houston isn’t ready to contend yet, but for the first time in four years, it should be a better team in the coming season than it was in the previous one. That will be thanks to the arrival of outfield prospect George Springer, an astute trade for Rockies centerfielder Dexter Fowler, the maturation of sophomore starting pitchers Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock and the potential addition of 2013 top pick Mark Appel to the rotation during the season. The Astros aren’t ready to take their big step forward just yet, but for the first time since 2010 they should win more games than they did the year before.