1. Tampa Bay Rays
WHY: Erik Bedard, who was the Pirates’ Opening Day starter in 2012, was forced to fight for the fifth spot in the Rays’ rotation, which is a sign of a healthy, fortunate, and right-thinking team. They’ll also get a full season from Wil Myers, who’s either the slightly poorer woman’s Mike Trout or the extremely wealthy woman’s Quinton McCracken.
BUT: The Rays made the playoffs last year and still finished dead last in attendance in all of baseball – below even teams like the Astros and the Marlins, who were each clearly making a point of not trying. This 2014 Rays team will be the Emily Dickinson of Major League Baseball and not be appreciated until decades from now.
2. Boston Red Sox
WHY: I know, they just won the World Series last year, but with an average age of 28.8 years old, this is the oldest roster in the game. Remember when you were 28.8, old man? That’s how old David Gilmour was when he co-wrote “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” to remind us that even making it to 28.8 is an achievement. Fielding a starting lineup of these folks is a moral quandary.
BUT: In 2002, while a member of the Minnesota Twins, Red Sox DH David Ortiz put on a pair of underwear that was loaded with chunky peanut butter, and trotted out to the field for batting practice. He wasn’t aware that he’d been pranked by then-Twins infielder Corey Koskie, who observed, “I don't know what's in that dude's underwear the rest of the time but not to notice you have chunky peanut butter in there…”
3. New York Yankees
WHY: The Yankees—like Sears, Nokia, Planter’s Cheez Balls, or Master P—no longer have a home in the world they helped create. With Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian Roberts, and Carlos Beltran, they at least have a lineup that would finish no worse than third in most fantasy leagues.
BUT: The Yankees have a new closer for the first time since 1997, when a 27-year-old failed starter named Mariano Rivera inherited the job from John Wetteland. Even if the new guy, David Robertson, is halfway decent, it’s going to seem sad and weird; there’s no escaping the feeling that David is the Andrew Johnson to Mariano’s Abe Lincoln.
4. Baltimore Orioles
WHY: Baseball players love their walk-up music when they come to the plate at their home stadiums. New second baseman Jemile Weeks plays “Everythang” by Young Jeezy whenever he bats at Camden Yards. He replaces Brian Roberts, whose walk-up song was “We All Make Mistakes” by Submersed. Shortstop J. J. Hardy’s is “Flower,” by Moby.
BUT: Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, who batted .283 last year and led the American league with a beautifully surprising 51 doubles, is making $519,000 this year, $19k above the league minimum, because he’s a young player and hasn’t yet put in the service time to negotiate a larger contract. “It sucks,” he tells the Washington Post.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
WHY: I think Ervin Santana turning down a contract with the Blue Jays because he “didn’t want to play in the American League” (after playing his entire career so far in the American League) is the baseball equivalent of Keith Richards telling a groupie that he doesn’t sleep with women under 40.
BUT: This offseason, ace pitcher R. A. Dickey—a book enthusiast who claims that he would be an English professor if he wasn’t a baseball player—traveled to the red-light district of Mumbai as part of his charity work to curb sex trafficking in India. “It made me want to grab every downtrodden person I could find,” he told the New York Daily News, “and walk them through the door, into the light and possibility, beyond the vile and violent world they’ve grown so accustomed to.”
1. Cleveland Indians
WHY: No longer just a factory of sadness, Cleveland is finally competent at something at the right time; the Tigers are as vulnerable as they’ve been in years, the Royals ain’t ready, and the Twins and White Sox are in “rebuilding mode” in the same way that Bikini Atoll or Chris Brown are in “rebuilding mode.” The Indians can be worse than they were last year and still win the division, so let’s go ahead and expect this.
BUT: While on the road, the more famous players on a team often register at a hotel under aliases to disguise their whereabouts. Last summer, the Cleveland Indians’ guest list at a W Hotel was leaked to Twitter, where it was revealed that Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana, Michael Bourn, Jason Giambi, and Justin Masterson, among others, registered under names like “Mr. Romeo,” “Jed Clampett,” “Shania Twain,” “Dick Tracy,” and “Tar Zann.” A legend was not provided, so the next time you’re on red-eye flight to someone’s wedding, sit there in your rigid middle seat in the dark and try to figure out who was who.
2. Detroit Tigers
WHY: Excellent starting pitching, but the lineup isn’t as scary as it used to be, and young starting shortstop Jose Iglesias now has stress fractures in both of his shins and is expected to miss “significant” time.
BUT: Outfielder Torii Hunter grew up in poverty in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in a home that was often lit by candlelight because their crack-addict father had squandered the money meant to pay the electric bills. Since his days in the minor leagues, Torii has gone out of his way to reach out to the young fans who, like himself, lacked strong role models. “A lot of these kids don't have dads,” Torii told mlb.com. “There's a lot of dads missing in this world, so some of them look up to other men. If you're in a position to be an example to them, that's what you've got to be.”
3. Kansas City Royals
WHY: The Royals are the Cinnabon of Major League Baseball; they’re pretty good, given the lack of options in their respective locations.
BUT: On his tenth major league club since 1998, Bruce Chen seems to have found a home with the Royals, where he’s one of the most popular players on the team. Every day when he arrives at team facilities, he not only personally greets every other player, but every member of the Royals’ staff, over sixty people in all. “Bruce just keeps things light and makes things fun in the clubhouse,” Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas tells cjonline.com. “It’s just cool to be on the same team as him.”
4. Minnesota Twins
WHY: They seem to be taking the year off from competing, at least at professional baseball. When you enter a season without a lefthander in your rotation, and your manager threatens to bat Kurt Suzuki (career BA: .253) and Brian Dozier (career BA: .240) in the leadoff spot, you may have a hard time convincing fans in Minnesota to watch outdoor baseball in April.
BUT: In 1991, my friend Big Al won a contest where he got to throw out the first pitch at a Twins game. He invited me to come along, and we got to hang out on the insipid, shiny Metrodome turf, under a roof the color of a dirty baseball. I learned that Tony Oliva is unintelligible, Kevin Tapani thought we were lost, Jack Morris is kind of a pervert, and I was too shy to talk to Kirby Puckett, who would’ve been 53 earlier this year.
5. Chicago White Sox
WHY: I like that the Twins and White Sox are each so bad right now, the teams are considering swapping players again. This has only happened once since 1986—when the Twins acquired Juan “Disgusto” Agosto from the Sox for cash—and it was on July 28, 2012, when last-place Minnesota let second-place Chicago have Francisco Liriano for almost nothing. Now, as with other situations in life where nothing is at stake for everyone involved, the best the Sox can hope for is something on the competent side of unremarkable.
BUT: Veteran DH Adam Dunn, who was an investor in Dallas Buyer’s Club, flew out to Los Angeles to attend the Oscars earlier this month. He has a small role as a bartender in the film, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll pursue a second career as an actor. “One scene was 29 takes,” Adam told mlb.com. “They'd say, ‘That's perfect. Looked great. Now do it again.’ I never realized everything that goes into [filmmaking]. Every second, piece by piece, camera angle, getting yelled at by this director for no reason – it was strange to be part of.”
1. Texas Rangers
WHY: This lineup, with Prince Fielder, Shin-soo Choo, Adrian Beltre, and Alex Rios, will be shaming opposing home teams all season long, making “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” sound like a passive-aggressive chant at ballparks around America. I also love the makeup of this team; the Ranger rotation has five pitchers from four different countries, and ten countries (United States, Japan, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Canada, Curacao, South Korea, and Cuba) are represented on the Ranger’s 25-man roster. Good job, scouting department, but the highest praise goes to whoever went to Venezuela and signed the best name in all of baseball, second base prospect Rougned Odor.
BUT: Prince Fielder, a former vegetarian, told the Dallas Morning News that he’s now in the best shape of his life. I’m not sure if this is what the Rangers want to hear; the chunk-style Prince Fielder they traded for was not only an astounding power hitter, but an iron man who has a streak of 505 consecutive games played, the longest active streak in baseball. “I just know I’m going to play every day until I can’t,” Fielder says.
2. Oakland A’s
WHY: If they didn’t just lose young starting pitchers Jarrod Parker for the year and A.J. Griffin for at least two months, they’d have a shot to repeat a division champs; now, they’ll be wildly lucky to hold off the Angels for a Wild Card spot.
BUT: A’s outfielder Covelli “Coco” Crisp, despite his nickname, has no room in his life for the most important meal of the day. “Most of the time, I don’t eat breakfast,” he tells askmen.com. “To start my day working out, I can’t really eat before I work out. I’ll usually have some fruit or some orange juice.” He much prefers dinner, when he can have steak, pizza, and wienerschnitzel. “I eat bad,” he says.
3. Los Angeles Angels
WHY: Three members of their rotation have less that 30 career starts, and there just ain’t much else at AAA if they fail. Expect the Angels to do just well enough to be takers at the trade deadline, almost certainly for pitching. Minor league guys like 1B C.J. Cron, 3B Luis Jimenez and RHP A.J. Schugel could be wearing major league uniforms in a different city than Anaheim by this time next year.
BUT: Some interesting music choices in SoCal. New Angel Raul Ibanez comes to the plate with Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” as his walkup music. Outfielder Peter Bourjos has the PA system blasting “Still D.R.E.” by Dr. Dre. Closer Ernesto Frieri takes the mound to “Volare” by the Gipsy Kings.
4. Seattle Mariners
WHY: The Seattle Seahawks just won the Super Bowl, and the Sounders set MLS attendance records every year, but the Mariners have a ways to go before they give their local fans another postseason. This team looks like an improvement on last year’s 71-91 squad, but despite a strong spring, this is not a starting nine that will hit for a great average, and Fernando Rodney is to relief pitchers what Monuments Men was to winter movies. That said, I bet both will look somewhat better with a lot of sativa, provided you turn down the sound and put on some Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
BUT: Taijuan Walker, everyone’s favorite rookie pitcher, will probably miss his first start of 2014, but if he is who everyone thinks he is, the Seattle rotation will be able to hang with anybody. Walker, for his part, just wants to be successful to he can pay back his mom for everything she did to raise him. “I’d cook and try to clean up for her,” the 20-year old tells the News Tribune of his teenage years. “I did it on my own, because I knew she was already working so much. When I signed, I bought her a car and a house. I’d love to eventually make sure she didn’t have to work any more, let her enjoy life.”
5. Houston Astros
WHY: The Astros offered their top prospect, George Springer, a 7-year, $23-million contract last year, before he’d even played a day in the majors. George—confident in his abilities, not confident in the Astros, or both—turned it down. He’ll see the major leagues this summer at the soonest. In the meantime, how did erstwhile Colorado center fielder Dexter Fowler end up on this team? I bet every time when he comes to the plate, he’ll look like a guy who just awoke from a car nap.
BUT: When a team’s been this bad for this long, they will end up picking near the top of the draft a lot, and consequently, the Astros have six of the top hundred prospects in the game. The 2017 Houston Astros, with Springer, Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, and Jonathan Singleton, will be beautiful and dastardly; we will once again see members of the Bush family get startled by foul balls to the backstop, morning show sports guys will demand trades for Rougned Odor, and Houston, America’s Shanghai on the Gulf, will shine like a free sandwich on the bus.