The 2014 Major League season has come and gone, and with the postseason over, the discussion now turns to the hot stove. True championships are not won in October-they are gradually achieved over long winter nights by teams of experts and executives slaving over data. Now, with their sights set towards October 2015, the upper management of every team in baseball will hit the spreadsheets and look to make offseason noise-and perhaps do enough to propel their respective team to the playoffs. As each franchise develops its own agenda, we will take you team by team to attempt to make sense of the information craze that is November to February, and begin to paint a picture of the upcoming MLB season.
The Nationals finished with the NL’s best record in 2014, a year after failing to live up to expectations and missing the playoffs. However, thwarted by the underdog Giants in the National League Division Series, the Nats once again head into the offseason searching for a way to get their immensely talented roster deep into October.
No immediate weaknesses stand out when analyzing GM John Rizzo’s roster. The bullpen and rotation led the league with an outstanding 3.03 earned run average, and they also scored the third most runs in the league. The best solution for the Nats will likely prove to be the health of their core, as Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman missed a combined 163 games in 2014. However, 26-home run slugger Adam LaRoche is slated for free agency, and continuing questions surround Zimmerman’s long-term health and his future in Washington. The Nats will potentially need to replace LaRoche’s power production, so perhaps look for them to deal Ryan Zimmerman in a package for a young, under contract bat.
The Braves’ rotation was ravaged by injury in 2014. Losing both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy before the season, Atlanta heavily relied on veteran arms Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang to carry the load. With Beachy and Medlen returning from injury (the Braves are likely to bring back Medlen through a reduced contract), Atlanta will certainly have a more formidable front five than it possessed a year ago. However, Atlanta will need a veteran starter or two to pair with Julio Teheran in the front of the rotation, as uncertainty always surrounds arms returning from injury. Look for Atlanta to be in the mix for Jason Hammel or Chris Capuano, two journeymen who have boasted tremendous recent success.
New York Mets
The Mets’ core of young pitching is slated to have the blue and orange contending in 2015. However, GM Sandy Alderson must retool the team’s offense before any talk of October can commence. The organization decided to move in the outfield walls, which will likely benefit lefty power hitters Lucas Duda and Curtis Granderson. However, David Wright suffered a severe drop in production in 2014 due to insufficient lineup protection and injury. Another right-handed bat will go a long way towards getting the Mets back into the playoffs. With a limited free agent bat market, specifically with qualifying offers now requiring the signing of certain free agents such as Michael Cuddyer to cost the signing team a draft pick, look for the Mets to turn their pitching wealth into a young right handed bat.
Everybody in baseball would concur that in order for the Marlins to make noise in 2015, young stud Jose Fernandez must return from Tommy John surgery with enough time to make an impact on the pennant race. The 21-year old underwent the surgery midway through last season, so the ace will not be able to return until about halfway through 2015. With so many young players throughout the Miami roster, the Marlin’s 2015 season could benefit from the addition of a veteran starter and bat. Another storyline to follow in Miami is the status of Giancarlo Stanton. Miami will try to sign him to a long-term contract extension, but as Stanton previously indicated, he may not be willing to sign long-term in South Beach if the Marlin’s front office does not demonstrate a willingness to improve the team. If Stanton refuses to sign, look for Miami to move Stanton, and subsequently change the face of baseball, for a royal bounty.
The Phillies represent the only team in the NL East without a promising core of young starting pitching. Caught between a rock and a hard place, GM Ruben Amaro Jr., will have to decide whether to begin the long-anticipated rebuilding process or to hold onto former Philadelphia heroes Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels for the remainder of their careers. Certainly, no Phillies fan would want to see the stars of old depart the City of Brotherly Love, but with a roster riddled with veterans past their prime in a division filled with young stars, the Phillies may have to face facts and ship off their players. Cole Hamels and Chase Utley are the Phillies’ greatest trade chips, as both would infuse tremendous young talent back into the Philadelphia system. The Cubs have already expressed interest Hamels, and with one of the best young hitting systems in baseball, they match up nicely with the Phillies. As always, it will be a tumultuous offseason in Philadelphia.
Photo: Christopher Pasatieri/Newsday