Major League Baseball 2014: 5 Early Spring Training Storylines To Keep An Eye On

Is Nick Swisher ready to lead the Indians to a Playoff encore in 2014?

Is Nick Swisher ready to lead the Indians to a Playoff encore in 2014?

To say this is my favorite time would be an understatement.

I’m not talking about the approaching March Madness or the incessant NFL draft conversation (although I’ll be weighing in on that later this Spring), I’m talking about the most glorious words any snow-covered East coast dweller can hear:

Pitchers and catchers reported this week.

What that also means is I’m able to start dissecting the moves that took place this past offseason. But to start, here are five opening storylines to keep an eye on as opening day approaches.

  1. BJ Upton and Dan Uggla journey back to above replacement level: The most remarkable part of the Atlanta Braves 2013 season wasn’t the 96 wins, it was BJ Upton and Dan Uggla combining for 262 games played and a -3.1 wins above replacement while winning those 96 games. That can’t happen in 2014. Not just for the Braves chances, but for their futures in Atlanta. Bottom line: If neither of them hit, I’m willing to bet neither will be around in 2015.
  2. How will Robinson Cano transition to new team, new role: The Seattle Mariners are betting big on Robinson Cano, and with good reason. He’s the best second basemen in baseball and it isn’t even close. So why is his move to Seattle something to pay attention to? Well for starters, he won’t be “just another guy” in the clubhouse. He’s now the guy in Seattle for that lineup. He’s getting paid as a draw, not a piece; and I’m interested to see what he does with this new role.
  3. The health of Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton in year two together with the Angels: Year two of Trout/Pujols/Hamilton needs to start paying dividends. Particularly the Hamilton and Pujols portion of this equation. Injuries plagued both, but with an offseason to heal they should be ready to go. I just don’t see another season of Mike Trout putting up this historic pace and being able to justify paying him less than either of these two. I bring this up because he’s eligible for arbitration in 2015 and this could be an issue.
  4. Will their be a playoff hangover in Cleveland, Pittsburgh?: Last season I called Cleveland as a playoff team and said Pittsburgh could make it if things go right. Now that we know they have capable rosters and personnel based on their 2013 Wild Card berths, I’m interested to see how both prepare this spring now that everyone knows it as well. I know it is weird to think an MVP (McCutchen) needs to take it to another level but he does, especially if Pittsburgh is going to compete with Cincinnati and St. Louis in their division. Both come into camp with playoff aspirations I want to see if they’ve prepared like a team that, now, has been there.
  5.  Masahiro Tanaka watch is on: The Yankees are banking on Masahiro Tanaka to be a stabilizing middle- to top of the rotation presence for them in 2014. To the tune of $155 (plus the posting fee) million dollars. How he fares will go a long way in determining how the Yankees finish in the tough American League East. While Tanaka has international experience, it is going to be interesting to see how he handles the pressure in New York.
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2 comments

  1. Other than leading with homer braves blather….good points. I am also intrigued by how a turn to fitness for the more (most) rotund players will affect their games (CC, Prince, Panda). Who will be this year’s Cle/Pitt? Finally KC? Why haven’t the agents figured out a way around draft pick compensation? (can you do a sign and trade in MLB…instead of a high round pick, what about a middling minor leaguer?) Fill me in man!

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    1. I’m hitting on ALL of those points before the start of the season so you will definitely be filled in. I can answer the draft pick question now though: Sign and trades would be a great idea in baseball if not for few things. Most of the time when a team trades a player to a contender that player has no intention of re-signing with the team so that option is out of the window for them because they know (as well as the rest of baseball) they’ll receive more in the open market so why bother. Another reason is because if you are say the Pirates or a mid-market team you have a set amount of funds to go towards that player for that season, and a lot of the time you see teams that trade a player take on a portion of that salary to help out the club they are trading to (A.J. Burnett is a good example of both of the first points). I’d love to see a sign and trade, but the money on the open market is too great for most, and it is rare to find a situation where a guy gets traded and agents can agree he’ll want to be there long-term

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