MLB Spring Training reveals a new baseball landscape

February 18, 2015 / Volume XXXVII / Issue I

The 2014-2015 Major League Baseball (MLB) offseason has been an offseason like no other. Between a litany of trades and major free agent signings, the 2015 MLB season promises to bring a whole new league, and the action might not even be over yet. Nineteen-year-old Cuban phenom Yoan Moncada is one of the most highly touted infielder prospects in the history of the league, and has gathered plenty of interest but has yet to sign. Cole Hamels, Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasberg are all young and elite pitchers who are reportedly available to be traded, but their high asking prices have prevented any final deals. Even the rules are looking to be changed with the arrival of a new MLB commissioner, Rob Manfred, who is looking to spark the declining offense with the elimination of defensive shifts and a possible altered strike zone. However the offseason comes to a close, spring training is unveiling an MLB that is incredibly different from that of last year.

One of the busiest teams of the offseason, the San Diego Padres made an enormous splash with the many trades that brought them a whole new offense, namely, the additions of the former MVP runner-up Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks. The Padres’ offense ranked last in the MLB in several categories last season, but with the almost entirely remodeled lineup they might be a force to behold. Their rotation – while it was a league leader last year, ranking fourth in overall team ERA at 3.27 – also looks to be improved, as the team added James Shields. The pitcher helped bring the Kansas City Royals to their first MLB postseason since 1986 with a solid 3.21 ERA through 227 innings. The Padres look to make the playoffs with their revamped team, after falling 11 games short in 2014 with a mediocre 77-85 record.

Another team trying to escape from their division’s basement is the Boston Red Sox. After winning the World Series in 2013, the Sox fell to last in their divisional standings with a 71-91 record. Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli battled stressful injuries throughout the year, and prospects Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts failed to live up to their heavy expectations, resulting in a losing season and a fire sale at the trade deadline in the pursuit of assets. With those assets, the Sox restocked their already plentiful farm system and traded Yeonis Cespedes for Rick Porcello. Shoring up their lineup further, Boston signed free agents Justin Masterson and Wade Miley, and bolstered their lineup with the signings of sluggers Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. After the storm of offseason action, the 2014 AL East’s worst team looks to sport the best offense in the league and make another run at the World Series.

The Chicago Cubs are looking to end their World Series drought – dating back to 1908 – with a stellar rise of young talent and the signing of the game’s premier pitcher. Jon Lester, who was traded from the Red Sox to the Athletics just last year, signed a six-year, $155 million contract with the Cubs after posting an elite 2.46 ERA over 219 innings in total throughout in 2014. With one of the top hitting prospects in the game, third baseman Kris Bryant, looking to break into the major leagues after a ridiculous run through the minor leagues, Chicago might make a run at the playoffs. With several of the best young players and prospects in the game and a newly signed ace pitcher in Jon Lester, the Cubs enter spring training with a full head of steam.

After several years of bolstering a strong rotation, the Washington Nationals might have assembled the best rotation in the history of Major League Baseball with the signing of Max Scherzer. While the former Detroit Tiger might have been signed for a ridiculous seven-year, $210 million contract, the Nationals have added another ace to their already league-best 2014 rotation. Last year’s rotation alone sported the best ERA in the league with a stellar 3.14 mark, and now Scherzer will join Stephen Strasberg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez in what may very well be the best group of pitchers ever. Washington is a strong World Series favorite after their monumental signing and are even willing to part with either Strasberg or Zimmermann due to their confidence in their rotation.

All of that action, along with Nelson Cruz, Russell Martin, Ervin Santana, Andrew Miller and Chase Headley all finding new teams through free agency, guarantee that the MLB of 2015 will not be the same as last year’s. Several teams that struggled through last season are looking to contend, and topple, the favorite and possibly historic Washington Nationals. With spring training already beginning for many teams, the sun is rising over an unfamiliar but exciting new MLB landscape.

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