Often it is easy to project the two teams from the previous World Series as obvious candidates to return – but that might not be the case with the 2015 season. The San Francisco Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals in seven games in the 2014 World Series, yet both teams have major questions heading into this upcoming year. If either is going to make it back to the top of the game, they will have to meet many challenges along the way.
Somewhat surprisingly, neither team was very active in the offseason in terms of acquiring free agents. Each team lost players who were major contributors to their success in 2014, and both got into the playoffs through the wild card route – meaning that they weren’t among the very best during the regular season.
The Outlook for the Giants
The most notable departure from the 2014 team is Pablo Sandoval, who took a free agent deal in Boston to play for the Red Sox. Sandoval has been one of the most-visible figures for the Giants during each of their three World Series titles in the last five years. While he might not be a superstar-level performer, the Giants could have trouble replacing his production both in the field and at the plate. The Giants also lost power hitting Michael Morse to the Marlins, taking away some of the limited power they featured in the lineup. If the Giants are going to return to the playoffs and make another push for the World Series, they are going to need contributions from players who have not yet produced at a high level in the major leagues.
The Outlook for the Royals
The Royals offseason followed in a very similar track to the Giants – meaning that there wasn’t much going on in K.C. They did sign Kendrys Morales to replace the loss of Billy Butler. However, Morales is coming off of a terrible season with Minnesota and Seattle, so he will need to rebound in a big way if they are to get any value or production from that deal. Also, James Shields has moved on to San Diego in free agency. While the Royals did make it to game seven of the World Series, there were already major questions regarding their offense in 2014. Nothing that they have done during the offseason would seem to have solved any of those problems. Much like the Giants, the Royals may need contributions from unexpected places in order to contend once again.
After sitting out the entire 2014 season, Alex Rodriguez will be back in uniform for the New York Yankees as spring training gets underway in Florida. Rodriguez will turn 40 during the season, and it is easy to say that no one knows exactly what to expect from the former star at this point in his career. Major league pitching is hard to hit for anyone, let alone a player who had to sit out an entire year and is approaching forty years of age. A-Rod is owed more than $60 million total over the next three seasons, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him released at any point by the Yankees if his performance does not return to a reasonable standard.
Not only is Rodriguez returning after sitting out all of 2014, he also only played in 44 games in 2013, hitting just .244. So, if he is going to return to form as one of the best hitters in the league, he is going to have to overcome an extended period of inactivity to restore the timing and power that used to be so impressive. Rodriguez is truly one of the best hitters in baseball history, and the Yankees are hoping that some of that former glory will be able to return for at least the 2015 season.
What position will he play?
Of course, Rodriguez moved from shortstop to third base when he came to New York because of the presence of Derek Jeter. However, the Yankees signed Chase Headley during this offseason to handle the third base duties, meaning that Rodriguez is likely headed for a DH role on the 2015 squad. There is also the possibility that he could take reps at first base as well, with Mark Teixiera often struggling with injuries of his own.
Spring Training Will Be Important
For most players, spring training is just a time to work off the rust, get in game shape, and get into the rhythm of playing games every day. However, for Alex Rodriguez, spring training 2015 is likely to be far more important. Not only will Rodriguez be making his return to the field after an extended break, but he will also need to show the Yankees what he can do before heading north to start the year. If he is unable to find the timing in spring training, the Yankees could face a tough decision when the start of the regular season comes around. This will be one of the most-interesting stories to watch from all around baseball in March.
In recent years, one of the more-predictable aspects of the American League was the dominance of the Central division by the Detroit Tigers. Even in 2014, when the Kansas City Royals would up going all the way to the seventh game of the World Series, it was actually the Tigers who won the regular season crown in the Central. They have been the best team in this division for several years now, and are consistently one of the best teams in the American League. However, as the 2015 season gets ready to go, there is a certain level of doubt surrounding the once-dominant Tigers.
One of the problems that the Tigers would seem to face in the years ahead is the age of three of their most-notable players – Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, and Victor Martinez. While Martinez is the oldest by a good margin, each player has seen some kind of performance drop off in recent years. Verlander struggled for the most part in 2014 after being one of the best starters in the game for many seasons. Cabrera is still a feared hitter to be sure, but his defense is a question mark, as is his health. Martinez has already had surgery in this offseason and will be questionable to be ready by opening day.
Uncertain Future on the Mound
Verlander is under contract for many more seasons, so the Tigers will simply have to hope that he returns to form. With Max Scherzer departed via free agency and David Price entering the final year of his contract, the future for the Tigers from a pitching perspective seems to be up in the air. If Verlander fails to return to most of what he was, the Tigers could be in real trouble for the next few seasons. Added to these concerns is the fact that most people rank the Tigers farm system as one of the poorest in baseball at the present time.
As mentioned above, the Royals made the World Series from this division last year, so the Tigers will need to watch out for them in the coming season. Also, the White Sox and Indians both seem to be better positioned than they have been in recent years to make a run late into September. The Twins appear to be the only team that doesn’t have much of a chance on paper to be a contender in 2015. With stiffening competition and an aging group of star players, it could be a tough go for the Tigers in the coming season and beyond.