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What was your reaction to the selection of Rob Manfred as MLB's next commissioner?

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Marshall Garvey

Los Angeles Dodgers

2013 result: 92-70, 1st place lost to St. Louis in NLCS 4-2

Of all 30 previews, this is the one where I have to practically be held at gunpoint to not let my excitement distort an honest prediction, having been born in Southern CA to a Dodgers family. The Dodgers’ historic second-half run in 2013, followed by a deep but ultimately disappointing playoff run, brings unprecedented expectations to the 2014 campaign. But unlike the dizzying amount of money spent on high-priced free agents in 2012, LA approached the hype this time around with a brilliantly restrained offseason. Aside from Clayton Kershaw’s record-setting extension, their moves were comprised of smart re-signings (Brian Wilson, J.P. Howell, Juan Uribe) and a few upgrades (Dan Haren, Chris Perez). The only new question mark is 27-year-old Alexander Guerrero (a Cuban defect like Yasiel Puig), who will take veteran Mark Ellis’s place at second. Otherwise, with the team basically the same as last year, it comes down to performances from leading players. In particular, a full season of a more mature Puig, a full season of Hanley Ramirez, and (god-willing) Matt Kemp playing 130-140 games could push the Dodgers into scary-good territory.

Prediction: 100-62, 1st place Continue reading

St. Louis Cardinals

2013 result: 97-65, 1st place, lost to Boston Red Sox in World Series 4-2

For a team that can be satisfied with three consecutive NLCS trips, two pennants and a thrilling 2011 World Series triumph, the Redbirds approached this winter in a way that was prudent and conducive to letting their homegrown talent continue to blossom. With Carlos Beltran headed to the Yankees, they wisely boosted their outfield by acquiring Peter Bourjos from the Angels for David Freese. With newcomers Jhonny Peralta and Mark Ellis strengthening the infield, the Cardinals can now simply let their mind-boggling (and young) starting rotation mature and position players like Allen Craig and Matt Adams click into place. With so few moves, the Cards still did everything right and arguable had the best offseason of any team.

Prediction: 96-66, 1st place Continue reading

Washington Nationals

2013 result: 86-76, 2nd place

Blame it on having to follow a 98-win season (and thus hoping to alleviate the sting of their NLDS loss to the Cardinals), but it was difficult to see the 2013 Nationals as anything but a disappointment. At 86-76, they were far from an embarrassment, and certainly didn’t trip over their shoelaces in the face of high expectations like, say, the Blue Jays or the previous year’s Marlins. Unlike the Dodgers or Yankees, however, they’ve sought to address the hype with a low-key offseason. They replaced Davey Johnson with the dynamic Matt Williams as manager, and landed underrated starter Doug Fister in a lopsided trade with the Tigers. An offseason whose greatest triumph was acquiring Detroit’s fourth-best starter seems like a dud, but actually therein lays its success. The Nationals are a team that simply needed to augment their rotation and get a fresh start, and getting Fister and hiring Williams does just that. If the rotation performs to its full potential, and Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper stay healthy, and Williams improves Johnson’s clubhouse coordination issues, the Nationals are a safe choice for their second division title in Washington.

Prediction: 95-67, 1st place Continue reading

In recent years the “blockbuster” contract has become increasingly seen as an ill-advised endeavor. Initially it seems like an obvious, comforting and exciting idea: Bringing in a top-tier player to boost a team’s drawing power and ability to contend for a few years, or lock up a team star to avoid losing him to free agency and pre-empt later contract disputes.

But all across MLB, the examples of these deals quickly losing favor are abundant. Even with the added factor of their health issues in the past season, the Angels could easily find themselves hampered by two mega-contracts for Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, the former more likely due to decline as he passes his mid-30s.

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski received universal praise for jettisoning Prince Fielder and his nine-year, $214 million deal, even though he’s 29 and highly likely to bounce back after a year of personal difficulties. And it’s hard to construe Seattle’s decision to take on 31-year-old Robinson Cano for 10 years at $240 million as anything but foolish and financially crippling in the long run. Continue reading

A year after the Baseball Writers Association of America neglected to vote in a single player, the 2014 ballot provides a greater array of more enticing choices. Not everyone will get in (sorry Mike Timlin and Richie Sexson), but even the most implacable analyst would be hard-pressed to not pick at least three. Here are the inductees on my hypothetical ballot, along with runner-ups who came very close and could just as easily have gotten the call:

1. Greg Maddux

The easiest choice, first-year nominees and all. His career numbers (355 wins, 3,371 K’s, 3.16 ERA) are but an abbreviated look at his legacy. He was the winningest pitcher of the 1990’s, anchoring the “three kings” Braves staff (along with Tom Glavine and John Smoltz) that won eight division titles, three NL pennants, and the 1995 World Series. He arguably defined the idea of a defensive pitcher, winning a record 18 Gold Gloves (including 13 consecutive ones from 1990 to 2002). He also netted four Cy Young awards, eight All-Star selections, and four NL ERA titles. In the age of live-ball era after 1920, only Warren Spahn has more career wins than Maddux. As good as it will ever get in this or any era. Continue reading

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