Baseball America editors answer the important questions about the 2014 season.
Which team will be the biggest surprise in 2014?
Will Lingo: Blue Jays. Toronto is going to run out a team quite similar to the one a year ago that everyone considered a contender in the AL East heading into the season. I think they could surprise some people.
John Manuel: Angels. I liked the Mark Trumbo deal in adding lefties Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago, who both can help in 2014 and relieve some salary pressure. Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton likely will be better than last year, even if they aren’t their old selves. This team should be better.
J.J. Cooper: Angels. This team’s window is closing quickly, but they have the best player in baseball and an improved pitching staff. If Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton can be 75 percent of their old selves, the Angels should be a playoff contender.
Ben Badler: Giants. They still aren’t better than the Dodgers, but the Giants should be wild card contenders after an aberrational 2013 season.
Matt Eddy: Padres. They won’t have a position regular younger than 25 or older than 31 on Opening Day, and this is a pitching staff that finally has veteran anchors in Andrew Cashner, Josh Johnson and Ian Kennedy (with a boatload of prospects on the way).
Jim Shonerd: Giants. No way they’re as bad as the 76-win team of last year. Tim Hudson is a nice upgrade to the rotation and chances are Matt Cain won’t have two subpar years in a row.
Josh Leventhal: Royals. Mike Moustakas figures things out and the Hosmer-Butler-Gordon heart of the lineup keeps KC competitve in the Central.
Vince Lara: White Sox. They rebuilt their infield, and added Matt Davidson and Adam Eaton rather cheaply.
Josh Norris: Robinson Cano obviously helps the offense a great deal, and Fernando Rodney helps the pen, but if Taijuan Walker breaks out, Seattle’s top three starters could be imposing.
Clint Longenecker: Angels. The fourth-best offense in the majors last season (by wRC+) could be just as strong (if not stronger) in 2014. The pitching should be improved with more depth and by not giving one quarter of the team’s starts to major league flotsam.
Which team had the best offseason?
Lingo: Yankees. I think people probably hate to admit it’s the Yankees, but it’s got to be the Yankees. They did it with money rather than anything particularly savvy, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. And yes, they are relying on a Japanese pitcher who hasn’t yet proven himself in the United States and a bunch of old guys. But let’s not forget that their offseason also included the removal of A-Rod from their lives for at least this year.
Manuel: Rangers. I love the Prince Fielder trade, and the upgrade to Texas’ lineup of Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo makes them my choice, despite the injuries to Derek Holland and Matt Harrison’s poor offseasons of health.
Cooper: Braves. For years, the Braves have had to operate in the guise of a small-market club. This year, they’ve taken the projected additional revenue that should come from a new ballpark to lock up much of their young core. Some of these deals could carry long-term risks, but keeping this group intact for years to come gives the Braves salary clarity and a clear road map for years to come.
Badler: Nationals. Did the Doug Fister trade really happen?
Eddy: White Sox. The price was right to acquire Jose Abreu, Matt Davidson and Adam Eaton, and if you stretch to late-season trades from 2013, then the Good Guys also added Avisail Garcia and Leury Garcia to a young core that includes Chris Sale.
Shonerd: Rangers. Not a fan of giving Shin-Soo Choo a seven-year deal, but he’s a clear upgrade for now in left field, and unloading the superfluous Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder was a real score.
Leventhal: Braves. Include a sweetheart of a deal for a new ballpark with the re-signing of core players during Atlanta’s productive offseason.
Lara: Yankees. Sure, they spent a ton of dough, as the Yanks are wont to do, but that shouldn’t distract from the fact that they filled holes, notably at catcher and in the rotation.
Norris: Braves. Locking up Freeman, Kimbrel, Simmons and Teheran for the long term keeps the team’s young, talented core intact. That’s a major plus both now and in the future, and assures fewer off-field distractions.
Longenecker: Nationals. Washington had very few holes to fill but acquired a starting-caliber outfielder (Nate McLouth) to supplement a supremely talented outfield that lacked a clean bill of health, one of the best starters moved this offseason (Doug Fister) and a reliable lefthanded reliever (Jerry Blevins).
Which team had the most disappointing offseason?
Lingo: Rockies. If the Rockies are any better this year, it will be because of radical pitching turnarounds rather than signing Drew Stubbs and Justin Morneau.
Manuel: Phillies. It all could come together for this older bunch, but signing Marlon Byrd and A.J. Burnett didn’t help this team get younger or more versatile. It’s more of the same for Ruben Amaro’s crew, and the February Ben Wetzler affair added an unnecessary public relations black eye.
Cooper: Blue Jays. Yes Toronto had a lot of injuries last year, and with roughly $130 million committed to the 2014 payroll, the Blue Jays weren’t going to have much roster flexibility. But in doing almost nothing to improve a 74-win team, the Blue Jays seemed to fall further behind in one of baseball’s most competitive divisions.
Badler: Pirates. They lost A.J. Burnett and are counting on players who had career years to repeat their 2013 performance. They’re as strong of a regression candidate as any team in baseball.
Eddy: Tigers. They shed more than $30 million in 2014 salary commitments by trading Prince Fielder and Doug Fister, but they won’t receive the same level of production from Ian Krol, Ian Kinsler, Steve Lombardozzi and Robbie Ray in 2014.
Shonerd: Tigers. The AL Central is weak enough that the Tigers should still win it, but neither the Doug Fister nor Prince Fielder trades look good.
Leventhal: Pirates. Maybe their homegrown core will be enough, but it seems unlikely Edinson Volquez will be a difference maker in the NL Central.
Lara: Blue Jays. The Jays are coming off a season in which their best-laid plans fell flat, and they decided to stand pat, hoping they can just stay healthy.
Norris: Blue Jays. When the rest of the division bulks up and your big addition is Erik Kratz, there’s a problem.
Longenecker: Indians. Letting Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez walk was likely the right move for the fiscally conservaitve team, yet Cleveland remains a prime regression candidate because of performance and health, and after only adding pieces on the margins of the roster. The performance and depth of the rotation could be their undoing.
The biggest storyline of the 2014 season will be?
Lingo: Mike Trout has already become a dominant star in the BA universe, but if he signs his megacontract and has another megaseason with the Angels, I think he positions himself as the next baseball guy that everyone on earth knows about, as Derek Jeter steps aside. All he’ll need to do is date a succession of supermodels.
Manuel: The increased use of shifts on defense and the influence of “Big Data” on how the game is played.
Cooper: The increasing number of teams laughing at international bonus restrictions adds to MLB’s push to institute an international draft.
Badler: More players signing long-term extensions, eroding the upcoming free agent classes and placing more importance on the draft and international marketplace.
Eddy: The success of Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka underscore the impact of foreign professional market, much like Yasiel Puig (Dodgers) last year or Yoenis Cespedes (Athletics), Yu Darvish (Rangers) and Wei-Yin Chen (Orioles) in 2012 or Aroldis Chapman (Reds) in 2010. All those teams made the playoffs. Will the White Sox or Yankees?
Shonerd: Instant replay talk will be pretty inescapable. Should it be expanded? Does it slow games down too much? And so on. That topic isn’t going away.
Leventhal: Instant replay isn’t the quick fix people had hoped for, Billy Hamilton takes a swipe at 100 stolen bases, and injuries and old age hobble the Yankees.
Lara: The continuing decline of offense and the increasing reliance on different ways to score runs. Stolen bases might re-emerge as a valuable run-scoring weapon rather than a vanity play.
Norris: Jeter Retirement Tour. The game’s most revered player for the last two decades is ending an era. If you thought the Mariano Rivera farewell was emotional, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Longenecker: Selig’s farewell, his legacy over a more than two decade tenure, his successor and the reach of the position in light of the Biogenesis scandal.
Meet the breakout star of 2014 …
Lingo: Byron Buxton.
Manuel: Billy Hamilton.
Cooper: Xander Bogaerts.
Badler: Jurickson Profar.
Eddy: Matt Moore.
Shonerd: Taijuan Walker
Leventhal: Billy Hamilton.
Lara: Nick Castellanos
Norris: Xander Bogaerts.
Longenecker: Jurickson Profar.
Which player will bounce back in 2014 after a down 2013?
Lingo: B.J. Upton.
Manuel: C.C. Sabathia.
Cooper: Josh Hamilton.
Badler: Starlin Castro.
Eddy: Matt Kemp.
Shonerd: Matt Cain.
Leventhal: Jason Heyward.
Lara: Albert Pujols.
Norris: Matt Kemp.
Longenecker: Albert Pujols.
The biggest name to be traded in 2014 will be?
Lingo: David Price.
Manuel: Mat Latos.
Cooper: David Price.
Badler: David Price.
Eddy: Jeff Samardzija.
Shonerd: David Price
Leventhal: Jimmy Rollins.
Lara: Troy Tulowitzki.
Norris: David Price.
Longenecker: David Price.
Better season (and bat flip) in 2014: Puig or Myers?
The top three picks in the 2015 draft will belong to . . .
Lingo: 1. Rockies 2. Twins 3. Phillies.
Manuel: 1. Marlins. 2. Astros. 3. Phillies.
Cooper: 1. Astros 2. Marlins. 3. Twins.
Badler: 1. Astros, 2. Cubs, 3. Marlins.
Eddy: 1. Marlins, 2. Twins, 3. Cubs.
Shonerd: 1. Twins. 2. Cubs. 3. Astros.
Leventhal: 1. Twins, 2. Cubs, 3. Phillies.
Lara: 1. Twins, 2. Brewers, 3. Marlins.
Norris: 1. Astros. 2. Marlins. 3. Phillies.
Longenecker: 1. Astros 2. Marlins. 3. Twins.
2014 World Series Prediction?
Lingo: Braves over Rangers in seven.
Manuel: Nationals over Rangers in seven.
Cooper: Cardinals over Red Sox in six.
Badler: Dodgers over Tigers in six.
Eddy: Rays over Cardinals in six.
Shonerd: Dodgers over Rays in seven.
Leventhal: Rays over Cardinals in seven.
Lara: Yankees over Nationals in six.
Norris: Nationals over Red Sox in seven.
Longenecker: Dodgers over Tigers in six.