BASN HOT STOVE REPORT, PART II – MLB 2014

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Updated: February 27, 2014
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BASN’S HOT STOVE REPORT, PART II – MLB 2014

By Tony McClean, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

BASN

 

NEW HAVEN, CT (BASN): The brief period between the end of the Super Bowl and the beginning of Spring Training is something I call “the dog days of sports”. No disrespect to college or pro hoops, the Winter Olympics, or NASCAR, but there always seems to be a lull during those days. For NFL fans, it’s withdrawal from nearly 20 weeks of watching games from 1 pm to the last play of Sunday Night Football.

 

However for MLB fans, it’s the anticipation of a new season getting ready to start. We here at BASN have already done our part for all the optimistic baseball fanatics. Just a few days ago, we took an educated look at some of the teams in the American League as they head down to Arizona and Florida, respectively. And now, today we give equal time and questions to the National League teams.

 

Is the NL Central the best division in MLB?

 

Here’s our case. Three teams — including the NL champion Cardinals — made the postseason last year. The other two — Pirates and Reds — met each other in the NL wild card game, eventually won by Pittsburgh. The Brewers have quietly put together a solid rotation with Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, and Yovani Gallardo. And believe it or not, even the lowly Cubs currently have seven players on Baseball America’s Top 100 MLB Prospects list for 2014. While the NL East with the Nats and Braves along the NL West with the Dodgers and Giants gets all the hype, the Central may have more of a lasting impression over the next few seasons.

 

Who will be the St. Louis Cardinals’ next great rookie find?

 

Even though he only played in 47 games last year due to injuries, OF Oscar Taveras is still on the fast track to St. Louis. The young Dominican Republic native might have gotten a quick look last year if not for an ankle injury that sidelined him for the season in May. Following surgery in August, Taveras should probably break camp with the big club this spring.

 

The 21-year-old phenom has been a hitting machine (a .320 batting average with a .895 OPS) during his five years in the minors. Here’s the real scary part — Of the nine rookies that played on last year’s NL pennant winning squad — Taveras may have the most talent. Just something else the rest of the NL Central has to deal with.

 

Is OF Billy Hamilton a worthy successor to Shin-Soo Choo or the next Herb Washington?

 

Much like the aforementioned Taveras, it seems like we’ve been hearing about the Cincinnati speedster forever. After two straight seasons of over 100 steals in 2011 and 2012, Hamilton finally reached the majors late last season during the Reds’ playoff push. A .368 batting average including 13 swipes in 13 games made management feel comfortable enough to let Choo walk.

 

Now the real pressure comes as he’s been handed the center fielder job. One thing he’ll have to overcome — especially as a leadoff hitter, is his inability to make contact. Hamilton whiffed over 100 times during last three years in the minors. The old adage of “you can’t steal first base” may play into just how much patience the organization will have with him.

 

Do the Washington Nationals have the NL’s best starting rotation?

 

Let’s see. They added Doug Fister to a staff that already included Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, and Stephen Strasburg. What makes them even more formidable is that this is a relatively young group of hurlers. The key to success for D.C. will be the health (again) of Mr. Strasburg, who’s coming off his second injury (elbow surgery) in the last three years. On paper, they have the look of one of the league’s best rotations.

 

However, they also looked like the best team in the division last year on paper until the games got started. The bitter taste of 2013 should be enough of a motivator for this group.

 

Will Bartolo Colon be a good replacement while the New York Mets wait for Matt Harvey’s return?

 

Even before the steroid allegations, Colon was an All-Star and Cy Young Award winner. Sadly, most media folks have been more critical of his girth than of his performance. That being said, only Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer won more games (21) last year than the veteran right hander, who went 18-6 for the A’s. However, he should be a good addition with Jonathan Niese, Zack Wheeler, and Dillon Gee for the Amazins’. Truth be told, the three returning starters could probably learn something from Colon.

 

Even though he’s signed for this year, will Marlins’ OF Giancarlo Stanton end the season in Miami?

 

As of now, Marlins management is saying all the right things in regards to wanting to lockup the slugging right fielder to a long term deal. But fans of the Fish have seen this movie before. After both World Series wins, management has cried poor and in turn used the off-season as their very own fire sale. Yes, Stanton and reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez are two good building blocks for the franchise.

 

But in a recent article, Stanton remains skeptical about the Marlins motives, given their history of letting their top players leave or get traded. He’s not from Missouri, but he’s saying that he needs to see more of a long-term commitment from management. You and the Marlin “fans” are looking for it as well, Giancarlo.

 

Is it possible that the Los Angeles Dodgers will trade Matt Kemp?

 

It’s amazing what being screwed out of an MVP award (due to Lyin’ Ryan Braun), nagging injuries, and the emergence of one Yasiel Puig can do for the reputation of this still talented outfielder. The thought of Kemp being dealt should be somewhat blasphemous. However given the higher than high expectations in La-La land, the possibility has been mentioned more than just a few times. It might be a bit premature to say that he’ll be dealt by the trade deadline, but rumblings and rumors seem to get louder and louder every day. One man’s opinion: Sometimes the best trade you make is no trade.

 

Could the Colorado Rockies be this year’s Indians?

 

While adding 1B Justin Morneau and RP Boone Logan to the squad isn’t something that’s a headline grabber outside of Denver. However, it allows NL Batting Champion Mike Cuddyer to move back into his normal outfield position, and solidifies an underrated bullpen.

 

A healthy Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez will definitely help as well. However, in a division that including two strong teams like the Dodgers and Giants, as well as a good young squad in Arizona, a wild card berth may be the only realistic way the Rockies could make a legitimate postseason run; especially when you consider the starting rotation as the club’s biggest question mark.

 

Which first year NL manager needs to win this year: Matt Williams or Bryan Price?

 

Both teams are coming off of disappointing campaigns. The Reds battled to get a postseason berth only to lose in the NL wild card game. Meanwhile in D.C., the Nats completely bottomed out last year after running while with the NL East in the previous season.

 

What makes both hires interesting is that these will be first-time managers taking over talented clubs with very high expectations. Both have been longtime coaches, but they’ll still have to overcome their neophyte status. Since he was already in Cincy as the pitching coach, Price’s transition may be a bit smoother. Williams’ task may prove to be a bit more challenging given the fact that many media wags felt Washington was ready for a World Series run.

 

teemack@blackathlete.com

 

 

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