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1 Huge Fear Every MLB Team Should Have This Spring

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2014

1 Huge Fear Every MLB Team Should Have This Spring

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Fear is a powerful, versatile weapon, one that can be used to motivate—or deflate—hope.

    Sitting in spring training, every team in MLB is hopeful—hopeful that their key players emerge from the exhibition season unscathed, that their youngsters have continued to develop and that the moves they made this winter will lead them to playing meaningful baseball deep into October.

    But locked in the deepest, darkest corner of every manager and GM's mind is a major fear, a scenario so troubling that they only mention it in passing—if at all—quickly dismissing the thought as nonsense.

    Now, it would be easy to sit here, name each team's most important player and say that a major injury to that player is his team's biggest fear. I've tried to avoid doing that, though in some cases it was unavoidable for a number of reasons, which are detailed in the slides that follow.

    From a lack of depth to an aging core and unproven youngsters, the list of fears that every MLB team should have this spring is far-reaching.

    What should your favorite team be most scared about this spring? Let's take a look.

     

    *All spring training statistics courtesy of MLB.com.
    *Unless otherwise noted, all other statistics courtesy of FanGraphs

Arizona Diamondbacks: Miguel Montero's Struggles Continue

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Miguel Montero found the perfect words to sum up his 2013 season in a recent conversation with MLB.com's Steve Gilbert: "Nothing seemed to be going my way."

    Whether it was a lower-back injury that kept him out of action for nearly a month, that he could never get his timing at the plate quite right or leading the league with nine passed balls, failing to throw out at least 40 percent of would-be base stealers for the first time since 2010, Montero is right.

    He was in a funk—one that lasted all season long and something that manager Kirk Gibson told Gilbert he could relate to: "Players have off years. If you play long enough it's going to happen to you. You do have to put that behind you. I've got a good feel about where he's at."

    An integral part of Arizona's lineup, hitting in the cleanup spot between Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo, the Diamondbacks need Montero to get back to his previous All-Star level of production if the team has any chance of contending for a playoff spot in 2014.

    Struggles from Montero this spring could be an ominous sign of what's to come this season in Arizona.

Atlanta Braves: Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton Don't Show Signs of Life

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    Dave Tulis/Associated Press

    A combined .181 batting average, 31 home runs, 81 RBI and an OPS of .619 was certainly not what Atlanta expected to get out of second baseman Dan Uggla and center fielder B.J. Upton last season for a total of $26.25 million.

    So far, Uggla has looked good in spring training, going 4-for-7 with four RBI and more walks than strikeouts. The same can't be said of Upton, however, who has managed only one hit over his first eight plate appearances despite retooling his swing this winter, something he explained to MLB.com's Mark Bowman recently.

    It's early, so you can't get too excited—or dejected—about how both players have looked so far. While Tommy La Stella and Todd Cunningham are perhaps ready to take over for Uggla and Upton, respectively, the Braves simply can't afford to have that much salary tied up in bench players.

    While All-Star-caliber seasons from the pair would be nice, Atlanta doesn't need them to perform at such a high level. It merely needs them to perform, and this spring should give us a good indication of whether that's remotely possible.

Baltimore Orioles: Ubaldo Jimenez Reverts to His Previous Form

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The deeper we got into the 2013 season, the better Ubaldo Jimenez got.

    Under the tutelage of a new regime in Cleveland—manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway, specifically—Jimenez went 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA and 1.33 WHIP with 194 strikeouts in 182.2 innings of work. He was especially strong down the stretch, posting an ERA of 1.82 over his last 13 starts.  

    Baltimore is convinced that the 2013 version of Jimenez is the one that it signed this winter, giving manager Buck Showalter a reliable innings-eater atop the rotation alongside Chris Tillman who knows how to miss bats and will help to take pressure off a bullpen that is without an established closer.

    But it wasn't so long ago that Jimenez looked like one of the worst pitchers in baseball, posting a 5.32 ERA and 1.58 WHIP over his first 42 starts in an Indians uniform, a stretch that included a league-leading 17 losses in 2012.

    If that Jimenez begins to emerge in spring training, Baltimore could be in some serious trouble once the regular season begins.

Boston Red Sox: Age Catches Up to David Ortiz

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Boston is very much like St. Louis this season, boasting incredible depth at nearly every position, capable of filling a hole that appears from within or using its plentiful assets to bring in an outside solution.

    If there's one thing that the Red Sox would be unable to replace, however, it's David Ortiz in the middle of their lineup.

    Dustin Pedroia might be Boston's unquestioned leader, but Ortiz is his outspoken, larger-than-life sidekick. His mere presence in the lineup brings with it an intimidation factor that few players in baseball possess—and something that it's impossible to put a price tag on.

    That he's coming off a MVP-caliber season (.309/.395/.564, 30 HR, 103 RBI) doesn't hurt that intimidation factor either. But Big Papi is 38 years old and, eventually, father time is going to begin to catch up with him. Sooner, rather than later, his 12-year streak of hitting at least 20 home runs in a season is going to end.

    If the Red Sox are going to successfully defend their World Series crown, they need a productive Papi in the middle of the lineup, doing what he does best.

     

     

Chicago Cubs: Jeff Samardzija Gets Injured

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    While some executives around baseball believe that Chicago may still trade Jeff Samardzija before Opening Day, as they told the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer recently, most people believe that the Cubs will look to move him closer to the nonwaiver trade deadline.

    Under team control through the 2015 season and without the wear and tear on his arm that other starting pitchers his age have, thanks to starting his career as a reliever, Samardzija is sure to be one of the most sought-after pitchers on the trading block this season.

    But if we've learned anything from watching baseball over the years, it's that nothing destroys a pitcher's value like an injury.

    Having Samardzija go down with injury this spring would not only set an ominous tone for the Cubs season but, potentially, rob the Cubs of their most valuable trade chip, one that should bring back a significant package of talent for the team to continue its rebuilding efforts with.

Chicago White Sox: Jose Abreu Looks Overmatched at the Plate

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Aside from Chris Sale, the ace of Chicago's pitching staff, there isn't a more important player on the White Sox roster than first baseman Jose Abreu.

    Signed to a six-year, $68 million deal this winter—the most lucrative in team history—the 26-year-old Abreu is expected to become a focal point of the White Sox lineup, following in the footsteps of recent Cuban defectors Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig.

    While Abreu doesn't necessarily subscribe to the same line of thinking, he's well aware of those expectations, as he explained to ESPN Chicago's Doug Padilla:

    They're a great source of inspiration for me what they have been able to do. I see it as that. I don't see it as, 'Hey, I have to do what they have done.' It's more like, 'It's great they have done that and it's an inspiration for me.' 

    Expectations for me are clear, but I have to prepare. That's all I control for now is preparation. That's what I'm doing right now.

    As B/R prospects guru Mike Rosenbaum detailed after Abreu's spring debut, he showed a far more advanced approach at the plate than many expected to see. But it's early, and as teams gather more information on how to attack Abreu, the onus will be on the youngster to adjust to those adjustments.

    White Sox fans have seen highly touted prospects fail to live up to expectations before—Gordon Beckham, currently the team's starting second baseman, is a constant reminder of that—and the White Sox can ill afford to further alienate their loyal fanbase by having Abreu struggle this spring.

Cincinnati Reds: Billy Hamilton Can't Adjust His Approach at the Plate

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Few prospects in recent memory have been handed as golden an opportunity as Billy Hamilton finds himself in with the Cincinnati Reds: The chance to bat leadoff atop one of baseball's most talented and dangerous lineups.

    But his approach at the plate isn't as polished as other top prospects who have made their MLB debuts in recent years.

    The higher the level of competition, the lower his walk rate has gone. Coupled with the fact that he doesn't seem to have the strength needed to turn on pitches inside, many are left wondering whether he can have sustained success against major league pitching.

    Cincinnati can't afford to head into the regular season without Hamilton at least beginning to silence his doubters this spring. 

Cleveland Indians: Not Enough Pitching

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    After losing Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir to free agency, Cleveland's rotation features Justin Masterson and four pitchers who have never spent a full season in the majors as a starter. 

    None of the arms penciled into the Indians rotation after Masterson—Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar and either Carlos Carrasco or Trevor Bauer (pictured)—have ever made more than 24 starts in a given season or thrown more than 150 innings.

    To be fair, that group has significant talent—especially Bauer and Salazar, who could develop into front-of-the-rotation arms. But without a veteran innings-eater to complement Masterson, Cleveland could find that it simply doesn't have enough firepower in the rotation to contend in 2014.

Colorado Rockies: A Legitimate Leadoff Candidate Doesn't Emerge

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    Barry Gutierrez/Associated Press

    I was all set to write about Colorado's starting rotation until ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reminded me (and everyone else) that the Rockies are still trying to replace Dexter Fowler as the table-setter atop their potent lineup.

    Manager Walt Weiss has four potential candidates to choose from this spring: Center fielders Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson (pictured) and Drew Stubbs and second baseman D.J. LeMahieu.

    Stubbs and LeMahieu are the most experienced, but neither one has done much hitting leadoff over the course of their careers:

    PlayerLeadoff PABAOBPOPSBB/KSBR
    LeMahieu45.190.244.4833/623
    Stubbs932.245.323.69391/25952139

    In an ideal world, Dickerson, the player with the most upside, would separate himself from the rest of the pack and make Weiss' decision for him.

    But what happens if none of the four steps up its game this spring?

    It's a question that neither Weiss nor the Rockies want to know the answer to.

Detroit Tigers: Nick Castellanos Can't Handle the Hot Corner

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Nobody disputes that moving Miguel Cabrera back across the diamond to first base was the right move for the Detroit Tigers to make this winter. Keeping the best hitter in baseball healthy is of paramount importance to the Tigers season, and his body won't take quite the beating at first base as it did at third.

    In his place, the Tigers have inserted top prospect Nick Castellanos at the hot corner. While the 21-year-old has a strong throwing arm, his reaction time and aggressiveness—or lack thereof—has left some wondering whether he's long for the position.

    Detroit watched its two most versatile infielders, Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta, depart via free agency this winter, leaving the club with few options to replace Castellanos should he prove to be too much of a defensive liability to consistently play the position.

     

Houston Astros: First Wave of Youngsters Looks Lost at the Plate

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    Houston fans aren't expecting a miracle—like the Astros contending for a playoff spot—in 2014, but the beleaguered fanbase does have a right to expect to see some signs of progress after years of futility aimed at building a formidable farm system of talent.

    With two of the more highly touted pieces of the rebuilding puzzle, first baseman Jonathan Singleton (pictured) and center fielder George Springer, expected to make their MLB debuts at some point this season, a strong showing by both this spring would go a long way toward keeping alive the promise of a brighter future.

    Should the pair struggle, however, it would make believing in that bright future significantly harder to do—and a team that hasn't been able to fill Minute Maid Park to at least half capacity since 2011 could continue to struggle mightily at the gate.

Kansas City Royals: Rotation Becomes an Issue Once Again

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Last year, a rotation led by James Shields and Ervin Santana boasted MLB's 12th-best ERA (3.87), helping Kansas City come within 5.5 games of clinching its first playoff appearance in nearly two decades.

    This year, the rotation after Shields is full of more questions than answers. Santana has been replaced by the more injury-prone and less overpowering Jason Vargas, while veterans Bruce Chen and Jeremy Guthrie are miscast as mid-rotation arms. 

    Youngsters such as Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura have talent and upside but lack experience.  

    Should any of those arms struggle, the Royals don't have much in the way of depth—or the financial flexibility—to effectively replace them. 

Los Angeles Angels: Extension Talks with Mike Trout Fall Apart

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Already signed to the first $1 million prearbitration contract in baseball history, Mike Trout is expected to come to an agreement on a multiyear extension with the Los Angeles Angels.

    Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan reported recently that the two sides were working on a six-year deal that would pay the 22-year-old in the neighborhood of $150 million. But no deal has been struck yet, and should Trout play the year without a new deal in place, it's going to get more expensive to lock him up.

    Still years from his prime, Trout has already established himself as a perennial MVP candidate and as the best all-around player in baseball, able to impact the game in nearly every possible way.

    Let's say Trout has another season for the ages, one in which he takes home the first of what will be multiple MVP awards. That $150 million price tag could quickly elevate toward the $200 million mark.

    Crazy as it may sound, signing Trout to a six-year, $150 million deal (or thereabouts) would be a team-friendly deal for the Angels. The pressure is on for GM Jerry Dipoto and owner Arte Moreno to get a deal done before Opening Day hits.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Alexander Guerrero Shows He Isn't Ready

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Starting a new life in a foreign land can be stressful enough, but doing so while trying to learn a new position, one that you've never played before, makes success twice as difficult to achieve.

    Signed to a four-year, $28 million deal this winter, 27-year-old Cuban defector Alex Guerrerro is confident in his ability to make the switch from Cuba to the United States—and from shortstop to second base, as he told USA Today's Jorge. L. Ortiz:

    "I'm about 90 percent there. I think whatever's left I can pick up in the spring training games.''

    But what if he's wrong? What if Guerrero's defense simply isn't where it needs to be to start the season as the team's second baseman?

    Are the Dodgers ready to go into the season with Dee Gordon, Justin Turner or Chone Figgins (yes, that Chone Figgins) spending substantial time at the position? It's a question that the team would certainly prefer not to answer, but the only way that happens is if Guerrerro proves he's ready.

     

Miami Marlins: The Injury Bug Hits Giancarlo Stanton (Again)

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    No player in baseball has as much pure, raw power as Miami's Giancarlo Stanton, but the 24-year-old outfielder has struggled to stay healthy enough to put it on display.

    Stanton has appeared in more than 150 games only once in his career (2011), limited by injury to 123 and 116 games, respectively, over the past two seasons.

    While the Marlins are still a year or two away from even thinking about contending for a playoff spot, Stanton is one of the few draws that the team has at home and on the road. Losing him to injury would not only decimate the team's lineup, but give fans one more reason not to come out and watch the team play. 

Milwaukee Brewers: Yovani Gallardo Struggles

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    Yovani Gallardo is ready to forget all about last season and get back to doing what he does best, he explained to the Journal Sentinel's Tom Haudricourt:

    I'm more relaxed, to be honest. I'm ready to go out and have some fun.

    To be honest, I wasn't happy at all. I think it's obviously the worst year I've had since coming up to the big leagues. My No. 1 goal is to make each year better. Last year, I went in the opposite direction. I have to get back on track and fix the things I have to fix.

    The ace of Milwaukee's pitching staff, Gallardo struggled to get on track in 2013, pitching to a 4.91 ERA and 1.48 WHIP over his first 23 starts before finishing strong, posting a 2.41 ERA and 1.07 WHIP over his final eight starts of the season.

    Even with the addition of Matt Garza to the rotation, Milwaukee's playoff hopes hinge on Gallardo returning to his 2008-12 form, when he averaged a 3.68 ERA and 1.30 ERA over nearly 200 innings a season.

    Getting off to another slow start will cost the Brewers games that they simply cannot afford to lose in what is sure to be a hotly contested race for the two available wild-card spots in the National League.

Minnesota Twins: Another Catastrophic Injury to a Top Prospect

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    Hannah Foslien/Associated Press

    MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger was the bearer of bad news for fans of the Minnesota Twins recently:

    Assistant GM Rob Antony confirms Miguel Sano will miss the entire 2014 season. Needs eight months of rehab after Tommy John surgery.

    — Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger) March 1, 2014

    Believed to be injured during an intrasquad game, Sano was expected to begin his MLB career before the end of the 2014 season. One of the top prospects in baseball, nobody's quite sure how this surgery will impact his swing, his power, or his future.

    The 2014 season was supposed to be about the future in Minnesota, with Sano, top prospect Byron Buxton and the team's top pitching prospect, Alex Meyer, all set to debut at some point this season.

    That's still a possibility for Buxton and Meyer, but keeping the pair healthy has suddenly become as important—if not more important—than getting them extended playing time against major league competition this spring.

    Losing Sano for the season sets things back in Minnesota, but it's not a knockout blow to the team's future success. Losing Buxton or Meyer as well would be.

New York Mets: Ruben Tejada Starts the Season at Shortstop

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    There's no question that New York would like to move on from the Ruben Tejada era at shortstop, but the Mets are apparently unwilling to meet Stephen Drew's asking price on the free-agent market or Seattle's asking price for Nick Franklin.

    As the New York Post's Joel Sherman points out, the club lacks any viable internal options to replace Tejada: Omar Quintanilla, Wilmer Flores and Anthony Seratelli aren't actually upgrades—merely mediocre players with different flaws than what Tejada presents the club with.

    Ultimately, signing Drew makes the most sense for the Mets, something that has been repeated ad nauseam this winter. Not only would it fill a gaping hole on the roster, but the move would appease a loyal-but-frustrated fanbase, one that expects the Mets to operate like a big-market club.

New York Yankees: CC Sabathia Struggles to Transform

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Despite throwing a pair of scoreless innings against Philadelphia this past weekend, questions about CC Sabathia and his fastball velocity once again entered the conversation.

    “I don’t make much of it,” manager Joe Girardi told reporters, including Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News after the game. “That was something people wanted to make a ton about last year and I’m not going to make much of it.”

    Problem is, last year was the worst of Sabathia's career, with the hefty lefty pitching to a 4.78 ERA and 1.37 WHIP, allowing more than 100 earned runs for the first time in more than a decade.

    Sabathia was dismissive of those concerns as well: “My fastball is what it is. If it gets better, it will. If it’s not, it won’t. I can pitch. I’m fine. As long as I’m healthy I’ll be good."

    Talk is cheap, actions speak louder than words—pick the cliche you like best.

    The days of Sabathia blowing his heater by batters is gone, and the time has come for him to reinvent himself as a pitcher, not a thrower. We saw how he handled a reduction in his fastball velocity last season, and the results were not good.

    Even after signing Masahiro Tanaka and keeping Hiroki Kuroda around for another season, the Yankees need Sabathia to be the workhorse of the rotation, eating innings and keeping the team in games.

    Whether he can do that effectively anymore remains to be seen—and the deeper we get into spring training, the better idea we'll have as to whether he's up to the challenge.

Oakland Athletics: Yoenis Cespedes Loses Focus Again

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    While he got hot in the playoffs, going 8-for-21 (.381) with a double, triple, home run and four RBI against Detroit in the ALDS, 2013 was a disaster for Yoenis Cespedes, who seemed to run smack into the wall that often greets players entering their sophomore seasons.

    He walked less, struck out more and looked lost at times. Oakland hitting coach Chili Davis told MLB.com's Jane Lee that Cespedes spent the winter trying to shorten his swing and that the two have talked about staying focused throughout the season:

    Cespy performed so well in the playoffs last year that he realized, at the end there, the level of his focus was so strong. That was all he needed. 

    Offensively, the sky's the limit. He's in a position in the lineup to drive in a lot of runs, and if he's focused, he can drive in 120-plus runs. I see him as a guy that has the ability to be one of the top five players in the game if he wants to be. He understands if he wants to get there; he has to have the discipline.

    While the A's were able to clinch their second consecutive AL West title without a productive Cespedes for much of the season, there's no question that a dialed-in Cespedes makes them that much more dangerous.

    With the rest of the AL West improving this winter, the A's need a focused Cespedes to pace the lineup.

Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels Has a Setback

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    Injuries have once again begun to strike at Philadelphia's core, with Cole Hamels not expected to be ready for Opening Day due to discomfort in his left shoulder. But the 30-year-old is making progress as he works his way back, according to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, and he may only miss a start or two at the beginning of the season. 

    With an aging core that is watching its window of opportunity quickly close, the Phillies can't afford to lose Hamels for an extended period of time if one more deep playoff run is in this group's future. Even with the addition of A.J. Burnett to bolster the rotation, Hamels is one of the irreplaceable pieces on the roster.

    A setback in his recovery could spell an early end to any optimism that the Phillies and their fans had for the season.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Gaping Hole at First Base Remains

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo noted that the Pirates had scouts in attendance at a recent Boston Red Sox game scouting 1B/OF Mike Carp, perhaps signaling that Pittsburgh realizes it has a problem.

    The team's internal options to pair with Gaby Sanchez at first base—Travis Ishikawa, Andrew Lambo, Chris McGuiness and Travis Snider—aren't actual options at all, and an upgrade is needed.

    Whether it's pulling off a trade for Carp, New York's Ike Davis or signing a free agent like Kendrys Morales (pictured), the Pirates cannot afford to leave things as they presently sit.

    Coming off a season in which the Pirates became "America's Team," ending a two-decade absence from the playoffs, the club suddenly finds itself ill-equipped to carry that momentum into 2014 and beyond.

San Diego Padres: Another PED-Related Suspension

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    San Diego saw three players, including two key pieces of its infield, miss significant time in 2013 due to PED-related suspensions.

    First was catcher Yasmani Grandal, suspended for 50 games before the 2013 season got underway due to elevated levels of testosterone, followed by shortstop Everth Cabrera and minor league pitcher Fautino De Los Santos, both slapped with 50-game bans due to their involvement with the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic.

    San Diego has a chance to surprise some people with a strong showing this season, but for that to happen, manager Bud Black needs a fully stocked roster. Having another key piece be taken away by the commissioner's office due to poor decision-making would be a serious obstacle for the team to get around.

San Francisco Giants: An Injury to Any of Its Starters

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Few teams in baseball have as little depth as the San Francisco Giants do.

    There isn't a veteran position player sitting on the bench, ready to step in should an injury strike a position player, nor is there the kind of minor league depth that contenders try to build in their Triple-A rotations.

    The farm system's best talent—C/1B Andrew Susac, RHP Kyle Crick and LHP Edwin Escobarare all still at least another year away from making an impact at the major league level, so there are no reinforcements on the way from the minor leagues.

    San Francisco heads into the season ill-prepared to handle an injury to any of the team's starters—a terrible position to be in.



Seattle Mariners: That Robinson Cano—And Everyone Else—Is Right

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    Those who believed that the additions of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison to Seattle's lineup was enough to complement Robinson Cano were few and far between this winter. Now, as Cano explained to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, we can count him among the nonbelievers:

    I'm not going to lie. We need an extra bat, especially a right-handed bat. We have many left-handed hitters. We need at least one more righty. You don't want to face a lefty pitcher with a lineup of seven left-handed hitters.

    Cano went on to suggest that the Mariners re-sign switch-hitting Kendrys Morales, but with a glut of DH/1B types already on the roster, Morales isn't an ideal fit on the roster. 

    With both Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker not expected to return from injury until after the regular season starts, Cano and Seattle's lineup will be under even more pressure than originally anticipated to produce out of the gate.

St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina Gets Injured

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Identifying a huge fear on a team that has no holes and incredible depth at nearly every position is a daunting task. But if there's one thing the Cardinals would have serious issues overcoming, it'd be a major injury to catcher Yadier Molina.

    The loss of his bat would hurt, but the bigger issue would be the team's pitching staff, which Molina handles as adeptly as any catcher in baseball. His ability to frame pitches, control the opposition's running game and keep the team's young arms at ease on the mound is simply irreplaceable.

    Losing Molina for any period of time would be troubling—losing him for an extended period of time would be devastating.

Tampa Bay Rays: A Major Injury to David Price

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    Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

    Of course, Tampa Bay's chances of winning the AL East and making a deep playoff run are bolstered by having David Price take the ball every fifth day, but keeping Price healthy is about more than on-field results, unfortunately.

    A trade of the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner is inevitable, and as we looked at with Chicago's Jeff Samardzija, nothing devalues a player, especially a pitcher, like a major injury.

    Keeping Price on the mound and performing at the top of his game is only going to bring Tampa Bay a bigger haul back after the season, when it's expected that the team will seriously look to move him as opposed to this past winter, when they tested the waters but didn't find anything to their liking.

     

Texas Rangers: Not Enough Pitching

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Yu Darvish (pictured) is awesome, a perennial Cy Young Award contender and one of the five or 10 best pitchers in all of baseball.

    But he can't take the ball in every game, and after him, Texas' rotation is filled with question marks.

    With Matt Harrison and Derek Holland sidelined by injury, the Rangers will lean heavily on youngster Martin Perez and the oft-injured Alexi Ogando, along with veteran retreads like Tommy Hanson and Colby Lewis.

    Texas retooled its lineup this winter, adding Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder to an offense that should have no problem outscoring the opposition, something that will certainly help to overcome a short-handed rotation.

    But if the Rangers' current crop of starters can't give the team length, the bullpen could quickly become taxed. That creates an entirely different set of problems for manager Ron Washington, problems that he'd prefer to avoid at all costs.

Toronto Blue Jays: Inaction This Winter Becomes Costly

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    Brad White/Getty Images

    Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos believes the team's in-house options are good enough to fix a starting rotation that ranked 29th in ERA (4.81) and 28th in FIP (4.54) and xFIP (4.23) a season ago, as he told MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm:

    We believe in these guys, believe it's going to come, and these guys are going to be successful, especially some of the young guys we have. There's a reason they were drafted as high as they were, there's a reason they were as highly touted as they've been. The skepticism and all that? I totally understand, it comes with the territory, but I think these guys might really surprise.

    Toronto's youngsters—22-year-old Marcus Stroman, 23-year-old Drew Hutchison and 26-year-old Kyle Drabek (pictured)—all have significant talent and upside.

    But Stroman has yet to pitch above Double-A, while Drabek and Hutchison are both trying to return from Tommy John surgery. For a team that is built to win now, betting on those in-house options to get the team over the hump in a ultracompetitive AL East may be a losing proposition.

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper's Knee Acts Up

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    So far, so good when it comes to Bryce Harper's surgically repaired left knee.

    Harper went under the knife in November to deal with bursitis in his left knee, and while new manager Matt Williams told the Washington Post's James Wagner that he would keep an eye on the joint, he had no concerns about his starting left fielder's health:

    He’s a full-go right now. There are no issues. He’s continuing his work in the training room as far as his rehab goes. He’s able to do everything on the field. He’s participated in every drill. For me, he’s good. But we’ll continue to monitor though because once you get on the field and start playing games, everybody gets sore again. There’s no way to prepare for it. We’ll have to monitor as we go along. He seems fine.

    Keeping Harper on the field is paramount to Williams and the Nationals finding success in Williams' first season at the helm. Injuries limited the phenom to only 119 games in 2013, which not only delivered disappointing results for Harper, but the Nationals as well, who failed to defend their division crown.

    If the Nationals have any chance of taking that crown back from Atlanta, Harper needs to lead the way. 

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