December 18th, 2014

The American Shuffle

As a chronologically advanced individual, I can’t remember an off season with so much action and intrigue. Scorecard sales should be up this coming season. Man, have the faces and places changed. Especially in the American League.

The Red Sox will open the season with a newly designed starting rotation and with a couple of different potent bats in the lineup.

Rick Porcello leaves the Tigers to become the potential ace of the Red Sox staff. He made his Major League debut at age 20. He’s now 25-soon to be 26. His baseball life is really beginning to peak. He has become a much better, much more reliable pitcher and the Red Sox will reap the benefits.

Justin Masterson will claim a spot in the rotation, returning to the club where his career began. I wish I could figure him out. I think the Indians and Cardinals wish they could have figured him out. He really, really scuffles against left-handed hitters. But his sinking fastball works well against righties. I’ve watched him lose his release point and blow up his game in the period of ten minutes. For me, he’s an “if.” If he can get lefties out. If he can throw strikes. If, if, if.

Lefty Wade Miley is the third new starting pitcher the Red Sox have added. I’ve watched the good and the bad of Miley with the Dbacks. Here’s my concern. I think the Green Monster is going to get a ton of new dents. He just isn’t overpowering enough to leave pitches up in the zone. If he keeps the ball down, he can be very good. Slow worker. And he has real trouble pitching from the stretch. Miley is a rhythm pitcher. When his release point is consistent he stays out of trouble. Some guys can pitch through a loss of mechanics. He has trouble with that.

I really like what Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez bring to the offense. But both have to stay healthy and stay on the field. They could have monster seasons.

I think the Rays did a great job getting back some outstanding prospects in their deal with the Padres and Nationals. Yes, they gave up Wil Myers. I have some real concerns about his ability to recognize pitches and make consistent contact. He may blossom, he may not. But I really like the upside of Steven Souza-an underrated former Nationals outfielder who was blocked in Washington. I think he starts for Tampa Bay. And I think he will hit-maybe not right away. Fans have to be patient.

The real win for the Rays is Rene Rivera behind the plate. He’s an outstanding defensive catcher with some offense to offer. Rays pitchers will be very happy he’s around. He’s far from a prospect, but he’s a very solid, dependable receiver.

I feel the back end of the Rays bullpen was really bolstered with the addition of Kevin Jepsen. I have a hunch he’ll be their closer. He’s certainly capable.

The Blue Jays are an entirely new team-fresh faces in the lineup to make everyone better. How about navigating through Jose Reyes, Russell Martin, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson. The additions of Martin, Donaldson and outfielder Michael Saunders put this club in contention for an AL East championship IMO. If they can add one more solid starter–watch out.

The Indians added two significant parts to their roster. Brandon Moss will take a roll in the middle of the lineup. My jury remains out on his ability to rebound quickly and effectively from hip surgery. I hope they don’t rush him.

Signing Gavin Floyd and inserting him in the four hole in the rotation really took me by surprise. I hope his elbow is totally healed and he’s ready to go. But his acquisition leaves Danny Salazar and lefty T J House fighting for the final rotation spot. I thought both were set in their roles. One won’t be in the rotation.

While I don’t think Jed Lowrie is the long-term answer at shortstop for the Astros (that would be Carlos Correa) I think his bat will be welcomed in the lineup. He can help with some power from that position. Overall, the big change will come in the bullpen. Both Like Gregerson and Pat Neshek will certainly help late in games.

I don’t think the Mariners are finished with their off-season work. Nelson Cruz and Justin Ruggiano are nice right-handed bats to help balance and lengthen the lineup. But I still think they need another bat. Lefty J A Happ fits at the back end of the rotation. But maybe he could fetch another hitter?

In a need for pitching, the Rangers added lefty Ross Detwiler from the Nationals. I still think they need another hitter and another starter. I would guess their on the prowl now for both those areas. If he’s healthy, Kyuji Fujikawa could be a major, major addition to the bullpen. If Neftali Feliz falters, he can close.

Matt Joyce and Josh Rutledge could both find their way into the starting lineup for the Angels. Joyce adds a bit of pop from the left side of the plate and Rutledge should win the second base job vacated by the departed Howard Kendrick. The pitching depth was strengthened with the addition of left starter Andrew Heaney. I think he has tremendous upside, but patience will be required. He’s only 23 and still gaining confidence.

The Tigers supremacy in the AL Central could be threatened. I still don’t think they have replaced the loss of CF Austin Jackson from mid-2014. Anthony Gose is a good fielder and he can run. Can he get on base? That’s my issue. Having Yoenis Cespedes in the middle of the order to compliment VMart and Miggy makes great sense. The guy to watch just may be J D Martinez. But Cespedes could put up some nice numbers. His issue is making consistent contact. The swings and misses may frustrate Tigers fans. Especially with men in scoring position.

Billy Butler, Ike Davis, Brett Lawrie and Marcus Semien are now all part of a less potent Oakland Athletics lineup. Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss are gone. That’s some significant fire power playing elsewhere. Kendall Graveman could make the starting rotation after being obtained from Toronto.

The Yankees have stabilized their third base situation for years to come with the long-term signing of Chase Headley. That was a really good move. I wonder how the situation will work with ARod and Carlos Beltran regarding playing time in the field? They both can’t DH. If they let him play, Didi Gregorius will shine at shortstop and he’ll surprise some people with his left-handed power in Yankee Stadium. Adding two very high quality lefties to the bullpen in Justin Wilson and Andrew Miller will provide the Yankees with one of the finest pens in baseball. Especially with Dellin Betances as the new closer.

Then there’s the Orioles. I feel badly for their fans. They lost Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis without getting anything back in return. They have huge holes in their lineup that have not been filled. What happens if Chris Davis doesn’t perform? Or if Manny Machado and Matt Wieters can’t rebound from injury? I’m confident the team they have now won’t be the same as the one that starts the season. They’ll make some changes.

Thank you for following my work on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done.