MLB Previews: Marlins, Royals, Astros, Angels, Dodgers

Florida Marlins
Last Year: 80-82, 3rd in NL East
CHRIS PUMMER: The Marlins are an interesting team. They do enough things well that they don’t slip into Pirates/Royals-like small-market irrelevance. At the same time, they do enough things poorly that it’s hard to imagine them becoming a consistent winner.

Steal Dan Uggla. Trade him for spare parts. Get Ricky Nolasco for Juan Pierre. Dump the useless parts they got for Miguel Cabrera. Get rid of all of those guys because of money issues, but rush out to overpay John Buck to be your everyday catcher.

Florida does have a terrific young outfield with Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison flanking Chris Coghlan, who moves from 2B to CF. SS Hanley Ramirez is an MVP candidate, Omar Infante will be serviceable at 2B in place of the departed Uggla. Third base looks like a glaring problem with no internal solution.

Josh Johnson is a legit ace, with Anibal Sanchez and Nolasco looking like a strong 2-3 provided Nolasco can get over the nagging injuries and the small spike in his HR rate last year. Should Javier Vazquez recover from last year’s disaster now that he’s back in the National League, this rotation looks good. Not better than the Braves or Phillies, though. And the offense isn’t likely to pick up the slack, which is why the Marlins will probably finish third again.

Houston Astros
Last Year: 76-86, 4th in NL Central
CHRIS PUMMER: Astros GM is finally getting around to admitting that his team’s situation is worse than he thought when he took the job a few years ago. He has succeeded in disabusing his owner of the notion that this team can contend, as evidenced by the trades of Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman last year.

The problems remain the same. There are a few solid pieces on the major league roster, but not enough to really make a run. Carlos Lee can’t really be as bad as he was last year. Hunter Pence is good and CF Michael Bourn can be solid. Bill Hall and Clint Barmes might not anything more than placeholders in the middle infield, but aren’t blocking real prospects. Brett Wallace will get a chance to claim 1B so long as the team can stomach Lee’s glove in LF a while longer.

Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ and Bud Norris even give the Astros a chance to have a good rotation, which they surprisingly did last season. There’s arms to work with in the bullpen.

Fill the hole at catcher now that prospect Jason Castro is set to miss the season, catch some lightning in a battle in a couple spots, and Houston could make a run at 82 wins. Unfortunately that wouldn’t be anything to build from, much like a couple years ago when the team beat the odds to win 86. It’s not enough to take the division, and none of these guys look like they’ll be part of the next solid Astros core.

It’s hard to say a team is only likely to win 70 games, but I like Houston’s chances to grab the under and take last place. Hopefully the haul for Pence is better than what they got back for Berkman.

Kansas City Royals
Last Year: 67-95
CHRIS PUMMER: The Royals haven’t finished last in their division in 6 of the last 10 seasons for no reason. They’re awful. Since parting ways with Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye and Carlos Beltran in the early 00s, the core has been too rotten to build around. GM Dayton Moore hopes to change that with are farm system he’s built into what is regarded as not just the best in baseball, but maybe one that’s historically great.

I don’t want to be a wet blanket, but we’ll have to see if that actually happens.In the meantime, the Royals are playing with the detritus already assembled.

Billy Butler might be the only player on the team not looking to establish himself as a good piece on a potentially winning squad. Outfielders Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur are rehab projects, as is Alex Gordon now that the Royals have decided he’s better off as an outfielder. Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar were solid pickups in the Zack Greinke trade, and so was Chris Getz in the Mark Teahen dump of a year ago. All have limited upside, though.

Kila Ka’aihue finally gets his shot to play, splitting time with Butler at 1B and DH. Nobody else looks like they have a future beyond becoming a bench player. And C Jason Kendall just doesn’t have a future anymore.

If that seems bleak, well, the pitching staff is worse. Joakim Soria is the best pitch on the team, but a closer can only do so much. Luke Hochevar is the top starter in a rotation that includes more restoration attempts (Kyle Davies, Jeff Francis) and a couple more guys who are filler.

Those waves of young talent we’re hearing about can’t arrive in Kansas City soon enough. If I had to pick one team likely to lose 100 games, this would be it.

Los Angeles Angels
Last Year: 80-82
CHRIS PUMMER: The Angles are coming of a disappointing season, followed by a disappointing offseason. They missed out on their top target of Carl Crawford, and then “settled” for taking Vernon Wells and his disastrous contract off the Blue Jays’ hands.

For a moment, though, forget about how much money Wells is set to make. The Angles play with a large financial advantage, so taking on an albatross like that isn’t as big of a deal to them. The only problem with that kind of deal is that it keeps a team from committing resources elsewhere when needed. That’s never been a problem for the Angels, and if it were, they wouldn’t have swallowed Wells’ contract on top of Gary Matthews Jr.’s and Torii Hunter’s.

Moving Wells into LF, Hunter into RF and Bobby Abreu to the DH spot will improve the outfield defense. All of those guys did hit well last year, too. Well enough that a good glove is all they need to ask from Peter Bourjos in CF.

The infield looks like worse problem with 1B Kendrys Morales coming back from an injury, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar showing no consistency in the middle infield and Albert Callaspo being just plain bad at 3B. Nobody likes the idea of C Jeff Mathis playing a whole lot.

The pitching staff is where the Angels will have to make up ground, and here they’re maybe capable of doing that. Jered Weaver is terrific, Ervin Santana had a nice bounce-back, Joel Piniero was better than some expected and the team had a great buy-low pickup of Dan Haren last season. I don’t expect Scott Kazmir to ever pitch like he did for a few great years in Tampa Bay, but there are worse options for the fifth rotation spot. There are plenty of bullpen arms to work with.

Nobody really stands out in the AL West, so while this group looks flawed, there’s enough talent to contend. If the Angels are in the mix, they’ve still got the resources at their disposal to make a splash near the trade deadline. That might be to find an infield stopgap solution, or even bring aboard a talent like Haren. Still, it’s hard to see the Angels overtaking the Rangers without a bit of good fortune. With a few bad breaks, they could slip behind the A’s.

Los Angels Dodgers
Last Year: 80-82
CHRIS PUMMER: The Dodgers look like the anti-Angels in that they have enough on paper to contend, but might not have the flexibility to make key additions should they find themselves in the thick of things in July.

They did add big pieces before last year’s trade deadline before a long losing streak ended their season before September. The Dodgers have retooled though, perhaps not very efficiently.

The pitching will be this team’s strength with Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsly and Ted Lilly. Hiroki Kuroda and Jon Garland are also coming off solid seasons, and there’s a little depth behind those five.

The rest of the team looks hit-or-miss. CF Matt Kemp continues to frustrate the Dodgers, maybe to the point that they’ll foolishly dump him if things go south quickly. RF Andre Ethier keeps hitting, but Casey Blake hasn’t. You never know what Rafael Furcal will churn out, or how much. That might also be the case with new 2B Juan Uribe, who probably moves to SS when – not if – Furcal misses time.

Catcher and left field look like a mess, which is the best you can say when Marcus Thames, Jay Gibbons and Rod Barajas top the depth charts. This team is not equipped to deal with setbacks. That’s why I don’t think they’ll finish better than third in the NL West.

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