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2014 Major League Baseball Preview: Is Money the Answer?

Posted on March 30, 2014 by Dean Hybl
Despite hitting 86 home runs the last two seasons, Chris Davis is still one of the most underrated players in baseball.

Despite hitting 86 home runs the last two seasons, Chris Davis is still one of the most underrated players in baseball.

Several major league baseball teams spent the winter spending money like a drunken sailor in hopes of moving to the top of the league. Yet, as we prepare for the 2014 season the teams expected by many to contend are a combination of big money and middle payroll teams.

For now, the Los Angeles Dodgers have surpassed the New York Yankees as the team with baseball’s highest payroll. However, that doesn’t mean the team in the Bronx is suddenly being frugal. The suspension of Alex Rodriguez hacked a large salary off their payroll, but the Yankees made up for that by signing Japanese pitching star Masahiro Tanaka and high money free agents Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.

While several teams in recent years have been able to make the playoffs without high payrolls, once the playoffs begin the higher payrolls have generally had an advantage. That was quite obvious last season in the two playoff series that went to a decisive game. The higher payroll Cardinals and Tigers each started a seasoned veteran in the fifth game of their division round playoff series (Adam Wainwright and Justin Verlander, respectively). Their opponents, the Pirates and A’s, each started a rookie who wasn’t even in the major leagues when the 2013 season started.

Having a high payroll is no guarantee that a team will make the playoffs, but big off-season spending has certainly put several teams in a position to contend.

Below are a few thoughts heading into the 2014 season:

Baseball’s Most Underrated Player
In the last two seasons Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis has hit 86 home runs, driven in 223 runs and scored 178 runs, yet ESPN’s recent player rankings didn’t have him listed among the top 25 players in the game. The Sybermetrics disciples have become so enamored with WAR and other made-up stats that they have forgotten that driving in and scoring runs is the name of the game. As a team, the Orioles have been generally dismissed despite having two consecutive solid seasons, but they have a very potent offensive and if David has another strong season the O’s could again be in contention throughout the season.

Will the Los Angeles Dodgers ultimately regret signing Clayton Kershaw to a seven year guaranteed contract?

Will the Los Angeles Dodgers ultimately regret signing Clayton Kershaw to a seven year guaranteed contract?

Baseball’s Most Overrated Player
At what point does a “can’t miss prospect” actually have to produce instead of living on potential? That seems to be the question around Washington Nationals phenom Bryce Harper. In two seasons he has hit 42 home runs and driven in 117 runs, yet he was included in the ESPN top 25 player list from which Chris Davis was omitted. The 21-year-old slugger was hampered by injuries last season, but if he wants to really be considered as a superstar player he will have to improve on his 20 home runs, 58 RBI and .274 batting average from a year ago.

Best Off-Season Acquisition
With so many players shifting teams this offseason there will certainly be several who make major contributions for their new teams. However, there seems to be two that could be especially important to the playoff chances for their squads. Doug Fister had the best season of his career in 2013 going 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA for the Tigers. That the Washington Nationals were able to obtain him for two situation players and a minor leaguer could be the best coup of the offseason. With him in the rotation the Nationals now have one of the strongest rotations in the league with four top of the rotation starters.

New Kansas City Royals second baseman Omar Infante is coming off the best season of his career after hitting .318 with 10 home runs and 51 RBI for the Tigers. He provides the much improved Royals with a veteran presence with playoff experience as they look to continue their quest towards making the playoffs for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Worst New Contract
With so many teams spending big money in the offseason there seems to be several candidates for the biggest albatross contract. Certainly the most puzzling seems to be the Detroit Tigers recently giving Miguel Cabrera, who had two years remaining on his current contract, a ten year contract for nearly $300 million. Cabrera is without question one of the best hitters of his generation, but with a history of weight issues, it seems unlikely that the 31-year-old will be productive for another decade. However, the contract that is likely the most risky is that given by the Los Angeles Dodgers to their staff ace Clayton Kershaw. While the two-time Cy Young Award winner has clearly been the best pitcher in the National League for the last three years and is only 26, he is already showing some vulnerability having just gone to the disabled list for the first time in his career. The Dodgers will be extremely fortunate if he is able to produce at a Cy Young level for the entire seven seasons of his new contract.

Post Season Predictions

Could choosing to keep David Price prove to be the decision of the year for the Tampa Bay Rays?

Could choosing to keep David Price prove to be the decision of the year for the Tampa Bay Rays?

The National League division races all have clear favorites. It would be very easy to predict the Nationals, Cardinals and Dodgers will all win their division and they are all without question the favorites. However, we all know that injuries and other factors often derail the best laid plans. Look for the Nationals to win their division primarily because the rest of the division is at-best average. The Dodgers will have a tough challenge from an improved Giants squad, but will again win the NL West. The team that seems the most likely to fail to live up to expectations is the Cardinals. With the Pirates and Reds both capable of winning the division, the Cardinals will be in a battle throughout the season and will ultimately fall to the Reds. However, the Cardinals and Giants will each make the playoffs as the wild cards.

There are arguably 10 teams in the American League capable of reaching the playoffs. In the AL East the Tampa Bay Rays will edge the Red Sox, Orioles and Yankees. The Kansas City Royals appear poised to unseat the Tigers in the AL Central, but starting pitching is their greatest weakness. Ultimately, the Tigers will hold off the Royals and KC will also fall just short of a wild card spot, but it won’t be too much longer before they get back to the postseason. The Oakland A’s and Texas Rangers will battle it out for the AL West title before Oakland pulls away in September. The Red Sox, Orioles, Rangers, Yankees, Royals, Angels and Indians will all battle for the wild card spots, but ultimately the Rangers and Orioles will meet in the one game wild card playoff for the second time in three years.

Though they don’t have the resources of many of the other teams in the American League, the Rays will ultimately reach the World Series for the first time since 2008. Their opponent for the title will be the Washington Nationals as they have a pitching staff capable of dominating in the postseason. This may not be the World Series desired by the big market driven television networks, it will be one of the most entertaining as two teams with great pitching and timely hitting will provide great entertainment before the Rays win their first World Series title.

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