With 2014 just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at how each team is shaping up at this point in the offseason. With several marquee free agents still available, expect these numbers to fluctuate over the next couple months, making this exercise exactly what it’s meant to be; a rough estimate at this point in time. Firstly, we’re going to look at how American League West teams, including your Seattle Mariners, project in 2014 and compare it to their 2013 seasons.
-All numbers are provided by FanGraphs
Looking at the Mariners, most of us will be happy to see that the team projects to be 15.5 fWAR better in 2014 than they were in 2013. A lot of that increase comes in the form of Robinson Cano and his 5.1 projected fWAR, but the additions of Logan Morrison and Corey Hart project to add 1.7 fWAR and 1.9 fWAR respectively to the M’s lineup as well. It’s interesting to note that both LoMo and Hart are projected to be almost completely average defenders in left field in 2014. That I’ll believe when i see it. Catcher Mike Zunino is also projected to be worth 1.9 fWAR in what stands to be his first full season in the majors. Shortstop Brad Miller is looking to take another step forward after a strong 2013 campaign, and is projected to be worth 3.3 fWAR in 2014; nearly double his 1.7 fWAR in 2013. The only real subtraction to the M’s lineup from 2013 appears to be Kendrys Morales who provided 1.7 fWAR in 2013 as the primary DH.
The M’s pitching staff projects to provide similar value in 2014 despite projected declines in value for both Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Felix will still be Felix, but Iwakuma isn’t projected to repeat his sensational 2013 campaign. Relievers Danny Farquhar and Charlie Furbush are also projected to regress from their 2013 seasons by nearly 1.0 fWAR each. With the 2014 bullpen situation not entirely clear quite yet, the bullpen projections should be taken with a grain of salt. The real wild cards in the rotation come in the form of prospects Taijaun Walker and James Paxton as it’s unknown what their contributions are expected to be next year. In 140 innings, the pair are projected to be worth 1.5 fWAR and 1.3 fWAR respectively.
While most have reserved a rotation spot for one of Walker and Paxton, it would take the acquisition of at least one decent rotation arm for both to not be the best in-house options for the 2014 staff behind Hernandez and Iwakuma. The M’s may prefer to see both spend a little more time at Triple-A, the new plans of contention in 2014 could dramatically alter the timetable for the youngsters; as would a trade of Walker or Paxton for possibly an establish pitcher. Realistically, the M’s are likely to at least pick up some back end of the rotation fliers to compete for jobs in Spring Training. There’s no sense in banking on two pitchers who’ve thrown a combined 39 innings at the MLB level, especially when a pitcher like Matt Garza is available and will only cost money. If Seattle is truly serious about competing in 2014, they’ll need to add at least one more rotation piece, and probably two to provide a safeguard for the rookies.
Overall, the Mariners project to be a better team in 2014, but that much appeared to be obvious. The new-look lineup and the continued progress of other youngsters will provide a strong boost to the M’s offence in 2014. Ideally the M’s add another arm to the middle of the rotation and at least one veteran reliever, perhaps an Oliver Perez reunion would make sense, to consider their 2014 staff to be improved. There’s a lot of good pieces in place, but it doesn’t appear to be enough compared to the rest of the division as Seattle projects to be the fourth best team in the AL West.
The Texas Rangers project as the top team after opening their pocketbooks this winter to better a championship contender who fell short once again last season. Not only did the team spend big on acquiring Prince Fielder, they also made a splash in the free agent market when the brought Shin-Soo Choo onboard. Despite the additions, the Rangers are only projected to be 0.7 fWAR better in the batting department due to the losses of Ian Kinsler and Craig Gentry who were both dealt.
Joe Nathan‘s departure from the bullpen leaves the closer role vacant, but the Rangers have plenty of internal options. The bullpen will remain a strong point in 2014 as Neftali Feliz returns and Joakim Soria is still around. A healthy season from Matt Harrison would help to offset the projected decline of Derek Holland in the rotation that’s still headlined by Yu Darvish. Pitching doesn’t look to be an issue heading forward if Feliz and Harrison are about to contribute full seasons of work. The Rangers are the favourite it win the AL West, but they won’t be without competition.
The Oakland Athletics will be looking to defend their division crown after a fury of transactions this offseason, but like the Rangers, they project to be a few fWAR worse in 2014. Free agent acquisition Scott Kazmir and his projected 2.7 fWAR come in to replace the departed Bartolo Colon and the 3.9 fWAR he produced last season. Sonny Gray should stick in the rotation for the entire year after a great performance throughout the stretch drive last season. The A’s made a peculiar decision to acquire a star closer in Jim Johnson since the All-Star is likely due $10 million in ’14. The A’s bullpen is projected to regress despite Johnson’s presence though, but that could change depending on how the rotation ends up looking.
Slugger Josh Donaldson is projected to come in shy of his 7.7 fWAR 2013 season, but a 5.0 fWAR year is nothing to make light of. Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie both project to produce approximately 1.0 fWAR less each than they did in 2013, but they still figure to set the table well for Donaldson and the rest of the A’s batting order. Even with a bit of regression from some prominent players, the Athletics should provide plenty of challenge for the Rangers.
The Halos rotation has proved to be troublesome beyond Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson the past couple seasons, and with Jason Vargas leaving for greener pastures, the Angels brought in Tyler Skaggs to help shore up the rotation. It’ll probably be a year with some growing pains for Skaggs as he’s just 22, but he’ll have plenty of room for error with the infamous Joe Blanton still in the picture. Times weren’t so good for the Los Angeles Angels last season, both on but off the field. Between injuries to recentfree agents signings Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, and turmoil in the front office with management, dysfunction was a term often associated with the Angels. Not to be overshadowed by the mess though, was phenom Mike Trout who posted a tremendous 10.3 fWAR season. Trout projects short of the 10.0 fWAR mark, but the sky appears to truly be the limit for 22-year old. The Angels have avoided the big ticket free agents so far this winter, and instead acquired David Freese to add some pop to the middle of the lineup.
Overall, the Angels project to be in the hunt for a playoff spot next summer, although their projected 4.3 fWAR increase hinges on Pujols and Hamilton staying healthy and producing closer to the levels they’re paid to play at. If not, it’s going to be another long year in Disneyland.
No it’s not a figment of the imagination; the Houston Astros are projected to be the most improved team in the AL heading into 2014. Coming off a third consecutive season with 100 or more losses, the Astros decided to boost their young nucleus with some veteran talent in the form of Dexter Fowler, Chad Qualls, and Scott Feldman to join budding stars Jason Castro and Jose Altuve. The additions seem slightly surprising as the Astros have worked with an incredibly small payroll the last several seasons, but with new television money coming in, the time may be right to supplant the young core with some more experienced pieces.
Houston has stayed the course with their rebuilding plan the last several seasons and have plenty more quality prospects coming up through their system. Even with a projected increase of 24.4 fWAR for the club, next year looks to be just another step in the rebuilding process as the club projects to land near the bottom of the American League once again. Feldman is the top Astros pitcher on paper, but there’ll be plenty of room for their youngsters to make some noise. Houston has all the time in the world for their youngsters to develop and form what’ll likely be a very good team several years from now.
Despite what the fWAR projections say, it’s easy to see how every team in the division could be improved in 2014. The feeling among many right now, and projections as well, is that the Rangers have an upper hand on the division, with the A’s a close second behind them. Depending on a number of factors, the Angels and M’s figure to hold the three and four spots in the division, and despite a very good offseason in Houston, they appear headed for cellar dweller status yet again.