Outside of Arlington: Winning the Winter Means…?

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Baseball, as everyone – fan or not, knows, is a very long season. Often times, the eight month stretch from Spring Training to Postseason consists of a roller coaster of winning and losing, and fan emotion ranges from eternal optimism to complete hopelessness. The old adage is, “You can’t win a season in April, but you can certainly lose one.” Going into every season, people like the ones that run this website and beat writers on a local and national level analyze moves that were made in the Winter – trades, free agent signings, minor league promotions, extensions, etc – and determine who “wins” the off season.

Certainly, the landscape of 2015 Major League Baseball was due to change this season. Teams that had struggled for so long, teams that had franchise-worst seasons last year – really, teams that would be considered underdogs – were making moves that, on paper, should have had them all playing in October. On paper. Again, an old adage comes to mind: “Games aren’t played on paper.” So far, we’ve seen several teams that were supposed to be world beaters fall short of expectations. Let’s look at five teams that, even though there are four months left in the season, are flirting with a disappointing season.

5. Seattle Mariners 22-23, 4th in AL West, 7.0 Games Back

For the last several years, the big gripe with the Seattle Mariners has been that their offense lacked punch. With a rotation fronted by Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Taijuan Walker, pitching was not where the M’s needed to allocate their resources. In 2014, Jack Zduriencik, made some huge moves in signing Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, and, most notably, Robinson Cano to provide the run support that the pitching staff needed. Hart and Morrison suffered through injury plagued years, as has been the norm for them, and Cano did Cano things but with nobody else surrounding or supporting him.

This year, Jack Z cut ties with Corey Hart and replaced him with the 2014 home run king – Nelson Cruz. With Kyle Seager on the rise, that provides a nice middle of the lineup for Lloyd McClendon’s club. So why are they in fourth place in the AL East? While Nelson Cruz is on fire, nobody else can seem to get on a consistent roll. Many (including myself) have picked Seattle to win the AL West, and there’s not a reason to believe that their string of mediocrity will actually hold up through the season, but the inauspicious beginning to 2015 is something that Seattle will need to put behind them while they hope for LoMo, Cano, Seager, and Cruz to get on the same page.

4. Boston Red Sox 21-25, 5th in AL East, 3.0 Games Back

Going from worst to first to worst again can prompt ownership to call for some consistency. After a 2014 in which they came in the bottom fifth of nearly all significant offensive categories, Ben Cherington and company decided that they needed a boost at the plate. To that end, they signed Pablo Sandoval out of San Francisco to be their power-hitting third baseman, Hanley Ramirez out of Los Angeles to be an offense-first left fielder, made Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts everyday players at shortstop and center field, and, since Ryan Hanigan landed on the DL, have brought up star prospect Blake Swihart to be their power.

Of course, the most criticized move, or non-move, in this case, was that there was no move made to augment the pitching staff. The Red Sox have decided they would roll the dice with Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Justin Masterson, Wade Miley and Rick Porcello as their rotation. Critics agreed that this rotation could not possibly carry this team into October, but perhaps it could be good enough to keep them afloat until the trade deadline. So great was their faith in this starting five, that they signed Miley and Porcello to contract extensions before they even threw a pitch. The proposed move to boost rotation stability and confidence has not worked out, and the only reason they are just three games back is because the rest of the AL East is just struggling to stay at .500. It’s a tight race in the division, but the Red Sox are going to need to do something (like make the clamored-for trade for Cole Hamels) to make that pitching staff stand up.

3. Miami Marlins 18-29, 5th in NL East, 9.5 games back

Maybe the Marlins being in last place isn’t a huge surprise, but given the gargantuan contract extension for Giancarlo Stanton and the promise made during that press conference that the club would make moves to make them competitive while he was on the team, perhaps it’s a surprise that they are as bad as they are. The moves that were made after the Stanton extension – signing Mike Morse and Ichiro Suzuki, extending Christian Yelich, and trading for Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, David Phelps, Martin Prado and Mat Latos. The most fruitful of those moves has been bringing aboard Gordon, Haren and Ichiro. The rest have either fallen flat or haven’t really been of consequence.

Until last week, the source of the most drama for the Marlins was whether Dan Haren would be pitching with the club. Coming into Spring Training, Haren was contemplating retirement instead of pitching on the East coast. Then last week happened, and the Marlins management decided that they made a mistake in extending Mike Redmond as the manager of the future. Their replacement? General Manager Dan Jennings. For more on my thoughts about that, see last week’s Outside of Arlington piece. This team again, is proving to be the team that you want to see succeed for the players and not for the front office. With that said, it looks like the team will have to solve its problems from within and get on the same page. Their starting pitching isn’t going to be helped until Jose Fernandez gets back, and even then, there’s no guarantee he’s going to be the Rookie of the Year that he was in 2013.

2. Chicago White Sox 19-24, 5th in AL Central, 8.0 games back

With Kansas City losing Billy Butler and James Shields and Detroit losing Max Scherzer and starting with Justin Verlander on the DL, the improved Chicago White Sox were tabbed to take over the AL Central. The Southsiders, like the Mariners, had been criticized for their lack of pop behind the rotation 1-2 punch of Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Losing Paul Konerko was a minor loss, as he had become a part time DH in his last years. Still, the club signed Adam LaRoche from the Nationals and Melky Cabrera from Toronto and was going to get Avisail Garcia back from an injury-halted 2014.

They also picked up Jeff Samardzija and closer David Robertson. With all of those improvements, Shark and D-Rob being the showcase pieces, the White Sox have really been a disappointment. Samardzija continues to be cursed with a lack of run support, and Robertson only has nine saves, which is more indicative of the fact that the club hasn’t given him games to save. Can the Chi-Sox get things together? I can’t imagine them staying in the cellar. Then again, I didn’t imagine Minnesota to be in second place in this division. Chicago’s offense is going to need to get on a roll if they’re going to make the best of the time they have with Samardzija.

1. San Diego Padres 22-25, 3rd in NL West, 7.0 games back

When the Padres named A.J. Preller as their GM, he celebrated by completely turning the club over. His moves were well documented, but they included acquiring Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin and Melvin Upton, Will Middlebrooks, Derek Norris, James Shields and Craig Kimbrel (on Opening Day!). The Padres were made watchable again, and the fans in San Diego have celebrated their baseball team’s relevance – the NL West was going to be a three-team race involving the Dodgers and Giants as well.

To say that San Diego has been a disappointment might be a severe understatement. The outfield trio has failed to collectively produce offensively and the middle of the infield is still a problem defensively. James Shields has been as advertised, but Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy have not been the studs that were expected to come out of the gate; when they have pitched well, the offense has not been their to back them up. So, as is the case with the other teams on this list, it’s a matter of pushing the right buttons and pushing them in the right order so as to get the most from what was expected. It’s been a better team, especially offensively, than past incarnations, but given the hype and moves made, a lot more was supposed to be put forth by this team and they were not expected to be this far back this soon.

What teams around baseball are disappointing you right now? Which one of these teams is most likely to first spin the numbers and find the right combination to unlock their potential? Comment below and discuss who has been your biggest negative shock this year. Next week, we’ll look at who have been the most surprising teams Outside of Arlington.

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Matt Fisher
Matt Fisher is an Editor/Staff Writer for ShutdownInning. He is a baseball lifer, preferring to use the eye test and rely on the knowledge and analysis of baseball minds greater than his, while using relevant stats to encourage situational discussions. He is also co-host of The Most Valuable Podcast on the NextWave Radio Network, talking sports, entertainment, and sports entertainment.

While Matt's favorite team will always be his hometown Texas Rangers, he knows the ongoing story lines of every team in Major League Baseball. If you sit next to him at a game, be prepared to hear him try and do play-by-play. If you're famous and reading this, just know that he's not afraid to drop names.

Matt Fisher. ShutdownInning Editor/Staff Writer

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