The Glass Eye: MLB Preview Part One – The Bottom 10

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March is here, spring training is in full force, and it’s time for the annual Glass Eye MLB preview. This year I’m going to preview the teams I believe will be the 10 worst in MLB this week, followed by the AL contenders, then the NL contenders. So, without further ado…

30.) Houston Astros

Last season’s record:  51-111(5th in AL West, 30th in MLB)

Key losses: RP Jose Veras, SP Erik Bedard, SP Jordan Lyles, DH Carlos Pena

Key Additions: CF Dexter Fowler, RP Jesse Crain, SP Jerome Williams

Outlook:  This is a team set to rise soon – just not this soon. The minors are full of prospects, and catcher Jason Castro appears to be for real, but the major league roster has far too many holes to come anywhere close to .500. Call it 100 losses again for the Astros, with an eye towards real improvement in 2015.

Why they could be worse: They cannot possibly be any worse. Seriously, 111 losses – and three years in a row of 100+ losses – shows that the Astros have hit rock-bottom. Even if they lose 100+ games again, they are starting to recover overall.

Why they could be better: The Astros’ farm system was ranked #1 overall by ESPN’s Keith Law and #2 by Baseball America this winter, which means help is coming – and soon, in some cases. If a few of those rookies are immediate contributors, this team might only lose 90-95 games instead of 100+.

Chances to contend: The Astros contending in 2014 would be the most unlikely baseball story since ‘Major League’ was in theatres. It’s not going to happen in 2014. 2016 is the earliest this team will be a factor, especially in the incredibly tough AL West.

29.) Philadelphia Phillies

Last Season’s Record: 73-89 (4th in NL East, 24th in MLB)

Key Losses: OF Delmon Young, 3B Michael Young, SP Roy Halladay, SP John Lannan

Key Additions: RF Marlon Byrd, SP AJ Burnett

Outlook: I’m more down on Philly’s chances than most, but what we have here is a team in a hitters’ park that scored only 610 runs a year ago. 610!! Only the Cubs, Marlins, and White Sox scored less. They were outscored by over 130 runs, which means they were EXTREMELY lucky to win 73 games – this was a 65-70 win team last year at its core.

Making matters worse, the Phillies’ farm system is universally regarded as poor, their everyday lineup includes five hitters age 34-38, ace Cliff Lee is 35 (albeit still seemingly in top form), and co-ace Cole Hamels is going to miss much of spring training with a sore shoulder.

I might add that of all the options available to ex-Pirate AJ Burnett, choosing Philly might have been the worst. He’s gone from an excellent defensive team (which greatly aided his numbers) in a neutral park to a poor defensive team in a hitter’s park. Let’s not overlook that he’s also gone from a fan base that by and large loved him and was just happy to have something to cheer for, to a Philly fan base that’s already disgruntled and expects this team to find a way to win. When things go bad – and I am pretty sure that they will – Burnett’s Yankee memories may seem pleasant compared to Philly.

This team reminds me of the Astros a few years ago, when they desperately needed to tear down and start over – but were too stubborn to do so. That decision turned what could have been a 2-4 year rebuild into a prolonged stretch of awful, and the Phillies are standing on the edge of a similar abyss. Call it 95 losses for the Phils this season.

Why they could be worse: At 29th, with only the Astros below them, they won’t get much worse.

Why they could be better: I’m suggesting that their overall age and complete lack of depth will sink this team. However, an unusual run of health, combined with a relatively weak division, could allow this team to make a run at .500. EVERYTHING would have to break right, though, and on a team this old, that’s not likely.

Chances to contend: Unlike the Astros, you can make a best-case scenario for this team of maybe 85 wins. That’s enough to contend into September. I’d estimate that at around 10%, but stranger things have happened – just don’t bet the farm on it.

28.) Minnesota Twins

Last season’s record: 66-96 (4th in AL Central, Tied for 26th in MLB)

Key Losses: Rookie 3B prospect Miguel Sano (UCL surgery, gone for the year), C/DH Ryan Doumit, SP Scott Diamond

Key Additions: DH Jason Kubel, SP Ricky Nolasco, SP Phil Hughes

Outlook: The Twins are stuck in an Astros-like pattern, with only the brilliance of Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham keeping them in the 95 loss range the past three seasons. The offense has some decent pieces, but the pitching – especially the rotation – has been a disaster. In a time when there are more strikeouts in the game than ever before, the Twins almost ended 2013 with NO pitchers recording 100+ strikeouts – as it was, two starters tied with 101, a pathetically low total. The addition of Ricky Nolasco does help – he instantly becomes their de facto ace – but losing Sano hurts this team’s chances at a big turnaround, and there’s not a huge amount of help coming soon. The division is weak, but the Twins look to be the weakest of the weak again in 2014. 92-95 losses once again for Minnesota.

Reasons they could be worse: If Nolasco and/or Mauer miss significant time this year, the Twins have a good shot at being the worst team in MLB.

Reasons they could be better: Mauer plays 155+ games now that he’s not at catcher; his replacement behind the dish, Josmil Pinto, shows that his ‘cup of coffee’ success in 2013 was no fluke; Nolasco throws 200+ innings of 3.5 ERA ball; and the youngsters develop ahead of schedule. All that MIGHT get the Twins near .500.

Chances to contend: Not going to happen. A .500 record would be the best-case for this team, and the Tigers, Indians, and Royals are too strong for the Twins to seriously challenge them in 2014.

27.) Chicago Cubs

Last season’s record: 66-96 (5th in NL Central; Tied for 26th in MLB)

Key Losses: RP Kevin Gregg

Key Additions: RP Jose Veras, SP Jason Hammel , CF Justin Ruggiano

Outlook: Take a look at the Cubs’ projected starters and tell me who their All-Star would likely be in 2014. Anthony Rizzo, who hit .233 last year (with 40 doubles and 23 homers)? Starlin Castro, since SS is a black hole and he used to be a future star? My vote would probably go to Travis Wood, a 3rd/4th starter on a good team who is nonetheless the best pitcher on the North Side right now. Simply put, the current Cubs have no star power whatsoever and unless Castro’s career does a 180, I don’t see the Next Great Cub on this roster. The team has no power, no speed, doesn’t walk much…small wonder they scored only 601 runs last season.

The pitching is slightly better, with Wood, Jeff Samardzija, and some decent bullpen pieces, but it’s not good enough to carry this offense. GM Theo Epstein is committed to building the team from the ground up, not pursuing the ‘quick fix’ and while that’s wise, it also keeps the Cubs in their current hapless state a little longer. 90-94 losses for Chicago is my guess, as the Central remains strong and they clearly are the weakest link.

Reasons they could be worse: They were awful in 2013 AND they traded away most of their best players mid-season (Garza, Feldman, Soriano) – so if their replacements falter, this could easily be a 100-loss team.

Reasons they could be better: Rizzo develops into a .250 average, 30-homer threat, Castro remembers how to hit, the pitching comes together and some of their farm talent makes an immediate impact. All of that could get the Cubs NEAR .500, but probably not over .500.

Chances to contend: In THIS division?? Not bloody likely. Their best-case scenario would be a Milwaukee implosion and either the Reds or Pirates regressing, leaving Chicago with a puncher’s chance at third place if everything breaks right.

26.) San Francisco Giants

Last Season’s Record: 76-86 (Tied for 3rd in NL West; Tied for 17th in MLB)

Key Losses: SP Barry Zito

Key Additions: SP Tim Hudson; LF Michael Morse

Outlook: I know this is the team that won the World Series just two seasons ago, but to essentially stand pat after a VERY poor 2013 is quite surprising to me. If he returns from a broken ankle, Hudson may well be an upgrade over Zito – but at age 38, will he last through the season? Morse has power potential, but he’s been wildly inconsistent throughout his career and at age 31 is unlikely to have a breakthrough. The rest of the lineup has some good hitters – Posey, Pence, Belt, and Scutaro were quite good in 2013 – but there’s not a single hitter on the roster that had an ‘off’ year in 2013, and the team STILL scored only 629 runs. The offense was mediocre at best when this team was contending; it cannot be expected to carry the team now.

As for the pitching, there’s more hope on this side but also a lot more risk. I think Tim Lincecum’s days of domination are over, but Madison Bumgarner is becoming an ace, and Matt Cain’s underlying numbers were far better than his ERA in 2013, suggesting he’s likely to return to form. Still, with the uncertainty surrounding Hudson – and little if anything due to arrive from the minors – there’s absolutely NO depth on this team. An injury to Cain or Bumgarner would destroy any chance this team has, and injuries WILL happen.

This is a team trying to squeeze one more run out of this core – I don’t see it. I think the Rockies and Padres have done a better job building their rosters the past two years, and while those three teams are now very close, I think the Giants end up on the bottom of the pile. 87-91 losses for San Francisco.

Reasons they could be worse: Posey, Cain, or Bumgarner get hurt, or the offense as a whole regresses slightly. This is a team with no margin for error.

Reasons they could be better: If they spite the injury gods and keep their best players on the field, especially the pitchers, there’s enough talent here to get to 80-85 wins if they catch the breaks. If they ARE above .500 in July, GM Brian Sabean will certainly pull out all the stops to improve the team, as he showed in past seasons.

Chances to contend: I think the division is out of reach, but a shot at wildcard contention is possible for any of the bottom three teams in this division. Health will tell the tale of the 2014 Giants, and staying completely healthy is unlikely…so call it a 20% chance to be relevant in September.

25.) Los Angeles Angels

Last season’s record: 78-84 (3rd in AL West, 17th in MLB)

Key Losses: 1B Mark Trumbo, SP Jason Vargas, SP Jerome Williams

Key Additions: DH Raul Ibanez, SP Tyler Skaggs, SP Hector Santiago, 3B David Freese

Outlook: There’s a pattern here – the Angels are another team on the wrong side of the age curve, trying to find a way to compete with a core that looks to be in decline. Albert Pujols is a shadow of himself since joining the Angels, and Josh Hamilton also looks to be in steep decline. The offense isn’t bad – Mike Trout is the greatest all-around player in the game today, and he’s only 22! – but aside from him, the key to the offense is Ibanez not collapsing at age 41 and either Pujols or Hamilton having a bounce back season in 2014.

The pitching is even more questionable – Jered Weaver puts up great numbers when healthy, but he’s missed significant time the past two seasons and his velocity has also dropped. CJ Wilson is a solid #2 guy, but after those two there are a lot of young question marks in the rotation.

The REALLY bad news is the improvement the rest of the division has made – Oakland, Seattle, and Texas have all made decisive moves to improve, while the Angels more or less stood pat. I feel like the Mariners have passed the Angels in this ultra-tough division, and I see 86-90 losses for LAA this year.

Reasons they could be worse: If Weaver or Trout miss any amount of time due to injury, or either takes a step backward, it REALLY hurts this team. With so many older players, continued decline would equal continued descent in the standings.

Reasons they could be better: Trout finds yet ANOTHER offensive level, Pujols regains 85% of his MVP form, the pitchers stay healthy, and the rest of the division isn’t as tough as I’m forecasting.

Chances to contend: This team has a wide array of possibilities – moreso than a few ranked above them, who may be better bets to win 80 games but less of a threat to actually contend. IF Pujols can bounce back and IF the young pitchers step in and do an average job; this team could threaten for a wildcard slot. I estimate about a 30% chance that this group could win 85+ games.

24.) Colorado Rockies

Last season’s record: 74-88 (5th in NL West, Tied for 19th in MLB)

Key Losses: 1B Todd Helton, CF Dexter Fowler

Key Additions: SP Brett Anderson, LF Drew Stubbs, RP LaTroy Hawkins

Outlook: Colorado is a classic ‘stars-and-scrubs’ team. SS Troy Tulowitzki and OF Carlos Gonzalez are bonafide stars, and  OF/1B Michael Cuddyer had a career year in 2013 to help bolster the offense. After those three, however, every hitter was average or worse – with HUGE holes at 1B, 2B, and 3B. Cuddyer moves in to take Helton’s place at first, and even with regression he should be good for above-average performance…but Drew Stubbs has not been a useful hitter since 2010, making me wonder if the overall offense might be WORSE in 2014.

Pitching is often the problem in the thin air of Coors Field, but the Rockies got excellent seasons from three starters last season. Chacin, de La Rosa, and Chatwood all compiled ERAs under 3.5 while starting more than 20 games – an EXTREMELY rare feat in Colorado! Unfortunately, all three are not big strikeout pitchers, which leads me to believe that all three will regress somewhat in 2014. The bullpen will be slightly improved with Hawkins taking over as closer, moving Rex Brothers into a setup role.

Colorado has a HUGE home-field advantage- they won 45 games at home despite a poor overall record, and their home field helps them keep an artificially high won-loss record, even when their overall talent level is somewhat poor. Such is the case now…if not for the Coors field effect I would have this team ranked in the bottom five, but their park, plus the efforts of Tulo, CarGo, and Cuddyer should keep the Rockies above 70 wins this season. Call it 85-88 losses for the Rockies.

Reasons they could be worse: I’m REALLY not a fan of their rotation. Their starters allow far too many balls in play to be successful long-term in Coors. Cuddyer is 35 this year and not likely to repeat his 2013 success. In addition, if either Gonzalez or Tulo misses significant time, this team could lose 100 games.

Reasons they could be better: They take full advantage of their park and win 50 games at home, their junkballers fool the opposition for another season, Tulo and CarGo are healthy all season, and Anderson returns to health – and the form that made him Oakland’s ace three years ago.

Chances to contend: Their park will keep them from complete collapse, but their talent level will keep them from sniffing the playoffs. I have trouble envisioning a contending scenario for this team – call it 5% that they are relevant in September.

23.) Toronto Blue Jays

Last season’s record: 74-88 (5th in AL East, Tied for 19th in MLB)

Key losses: SP Josh Johnson

Key Additions: none

Outlook: For a team that completely failed in 2013, the Blue Jays were strangely quiet this winter. On offense I can understand that – despite a GAPING hole at second base, this is a good offense, good enough to contend. The Jays have power (five players with 20+ homers, let by Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista), speed in Jose Reyes, and reasonable balance throughout the lineup.

Unfortunately, the rotation was a DISASTER in 2013 and looks no better in 2014. RA Dickey bounced back after a rough start, and Mark Buehrle was his usual league-average self, but neither is a #1 or even a #2 starter…and the rest of the rotation did absolutely nothing. Expecting a huge improvement from the likes of JA Happ, Brandon Morrow, or Esmil Rogers seems like wishcasting – none are young, and none have great stuff. This is by far the worst rotation in the division, and undermines a competent offense and a very good bullpen. Until and unless the rotation is upgraded, this team isn’t going anywhere in the rough-and-tumble AL East. They lost 88 games a year ago, and I expect similar results in 2014 – call it 85-88 losses for Toronto.

Reasons they could be worse: If Dickey shows his age or gets hurt, the rotation goes from being the worst in the division to maybe the worst in the league. The bullpen was magnificent in 2013, but expect at least a little drop-off this season. Bautista’s numbers have been slowly declining – if that trend continues or accelerates, it would severely harm this offense.

Reasons they could be better: The offense stays healthy, Dickey gets closer to his 2012 Cy Young form, they hang around .500 long enough for the front office to trade for a decent starter.

Chances to contend: Had they made a bold move or two over the winter, I’d say anything is possible…but every single team in the AL East made moves to improve this winter, while the last-place team stood pat. They might improve somewhat, but I see a less than 5% chance they actually win 85+ games.

22.) Chicago White Sox

Last season’s record: 63-99 (5th in AL Central, 28th in MLB)

Key Losses: RP Addison Reed

Key Additions: 3B Mike Davidson, CF Adam Eaton, 1B Jose Abreu, SP Felipe Paulino

Outlook: The ChiSox bottomed out in 2013, especially on offense – the bats were a barren wasteland, with not one position player providing above-average production. As a result, Chicago scored only 598 runs – terrible in any environment, but ESPECIALLY in a hitter’s park like Comiskey.  To his credit, GM Rick Hahn made aggressive moves this offseason, trading for Eaton and Davidson (who is a good 3B prospect), and signing Cuban defector Abreu. Each represents a massive upgrade for this offense, and should allow the Sox to dramatically improve. This still isn’t a GOOD offense, but it should be closer to the middle of the pack in 2014.

The pitching staff has some potential as well – they have three good starters under age 26 in Sale, Quintana, and Santiago, and John Danks was a good pitcher before injuries derailed his career. They are not deep, and the bullpen is mediocre, but there are a lot of good arms in the ‘pen.

I’m not saying the Sox will go worst-to-first, but I do believe they are one of the most improved teams in MLB, and could threaten the .500 mark if they catch a few breaks. I’m saying 84-88 losses for Chicago.

Reasons they could be worse: Like so many teams, an injury to one of their top starters would cripple them. Also, Davidson and Abreu have great potential, but are also high-risk because neither is a proven commodity. If both flop, the offense could be as bad as last season.

Reasons they could be better: Davidson and Abreu turn out to be the real deal, Danks finds his 2010 form, the bullpen comes together, and Hahn makes aggressive in-season trades to bolster the team – allowing the Sox to contend for the second wild-card slot.

Chances to contend: As weak as the division is overall, and as much as I like their moves this winter, it’s too much of a stretch to see them improving 25 games. That seems like a 1-in-30 chance, so I’ll be generous and call it 5%.

21.) Miami Marlins

Last season’s record: 62-100 (5th in NL East, 29th in MLB)

Key Losses: 1B Logan Morrison, 3B Placido Polanco, LF Juan Pierre, CF Justin Ruggiano,

Key Additions: C Jarad Saltalamacchia, 1B Garrett Jones, 2B Rafael Furcal

Outlook: Year in and year out, the Marlins are the toughest team to forecast. They consistently turn over 20-40% of the roster, they rely more on young talent than any other team, and they are prone to ‘fire sales’ midseason. Having said that, Miami has a TON of high-end talent in place, especially on the mound, and I like their chances to bounce back in a big way in 2014.

The offense was TERRIBLE in 2013 – they scored only 513 runs, and only Giancarlo Stanton was an above-average hitter. They had massive holes at C, 1B, 3B, and LF that should be upgraded in a big way in 2014. ‘Salty’, Jones, and Furcal each comes with some risk – but each should give at least league-average production for their position. Having a full season of Christian Yelich in LF should boost production there, and let’s not forget that Stanton is only 24 this season – he is due to break out in a big way very soon. As with the White Sox, these upgrades won’t make Miami a GOOD offense, but they should bring Miami closer to the pack.

Miami can be competent on offense, but they can be DOMINANT on the mound. Jose Fernandez was dominant as a rookie, and he is only 21. Turner, Eovaldi, and Alvarez project as average or better starters, and none is older than 24. Cishek and Dunn are one of the league’s best lefty/righty duos out of the pen, and there’s plenty of depth behind them. If everyone stays healthy – and I know that’s always a BIG IF when talking about pitching – Miami could have a top-3 staff in 2014.

The offense isn’t good enough, and you can bet that one of those young starters will get injured and/or fail to develop – still, there’s an outstanding foundation here, and I see the potential for a 20+ game improvement. I think 15 additional wins is reasonable, so I’m pegging the Marlins for 83-90 losses (I’m allowing for a wider range with them due to all the youth they are playing).

Reasons they could be worse: The pitchers get hurt, especially Fernandez. Jones and Furcal end up being washed up, the offense collapses again, and the Marlins trade Stanton midseason.

Reasons they could be better: Furcal stays healthy along with most of the pitching staff, Stanton breaks out, Fernandez contends for the Cy Young, and the Marlins finish over .500.

Chances to contend: Any team with this kind of star potential is a threat to put it all together and make a run. I think they are still two bats short, and depending on four young pitchers is fraught with peril, but I give the Marlins a 15% chance to be in contention for a wildcard in September.

Next week we will look at the top 10 AL teams, then in three weeks we will count down the NL’s top 10.

Dave Glass can be reached at buggyracer@verizon.net.

 

 

 

 

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