The addition of the second wild-card spot in 2012 has done more than add a little do-or-die drama in the form of a one-game playoff. It has also opened the door for a wider variety of teams to contend each season. 

With over two-thirds of the league believing their team can now legitimately reach the postseason, there were no shortage of active clubs this offseason. But just because an organization can shell out free-agent money or make flashy trades doesn’t mean it’ll see the desired results on the diamond.

Take the 2014 New York Yankees for example. The Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Masahiro Tanaka and Carlos Beltran last winter, winning the coveted “Winter World Series” due to bringing in such high-profile talent.

While the Yankees seemed vastly improved on paper, the club actually finished with one fewer win than in the previous season. Yes, those signings did positively impact the Yankees, but the Bronx Bombers failed to reach the postseason due to other key weaknesses that the club’s front office failed to address.

So which busy MLB teams could be headed toward a similar route? We’ll take a closer look at three teams that will enter the season with high expectations and discuss why those clubs will miss out on October baseball, despite doing their best to improve this winter.


Boston Red Sox

2014 Record: 71-91

Key Additions: Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson

Key Losses: Jon Lester, Yoenis Cespedes, Will Middlebrooks


1. Who will step up to bolster the rotation?

Look, the Red Sox are going to score runs in bunches in 2015.

With a lineup including Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Mike Napoli, there should be no shortage of offensive firepower on this team.

But while Boston’s strength lies in its offense, its pitching staff has glaring holes that could derail a Red Sox return to the postseason. 

After failing to bring back Jon Lester this offseason, the Red Sox have put together a cost-effective rotation reliant on the bounce-back capabilities of their staff. 

Of all the projected starters for the Red Sox, Rick Porcello probably inspires the most confidence.

After being acquired in the Yoenis Cespedes deal, he will need to duplicate the 3.43 ERA and 200-plus innings he produced with the Detroit Tigers last season. But the 26-year-old right-hander is not without baggage. He posted four consecutive seasons with an ERA above 4.00 with very marginal strikeout totals before a breakout 2014.

Behind Porcello are two reclamation projects in Wade Miley and Justin Masterson

Miley impressed in his first two seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks, eating his share of innings and preventing runs from crossing the plate. But in 2014, Miley walked more hitters and allowed more homers, something that will burn him at Fenway

Similar to Miley, Masterson is coming off a 2014 season he’d like to forget. Although he was injured for most of the year, the right-hander posted an ERA of nearly 6.00 and walked close to five batters per nine innings. The 29-year-old was one of the AL’s best arms from 2011-2013, and the Red Sox are hoping their one-year gamble will pay off. 

Then, of course, there’s the mystery that is Clay Buchholz, who has gone through a roller-coaster career of his own.

When he’s been healthy, he’s proved that he’s capable of putting together great numbers, like he did in 2013 when he went 12-1 and recorded a 1.74 ERA down the stretch to help Boston win the World Series.

But that ERA rose nearly four whole runs last season, leaving Red Sox fans scratching their heads. As a familiar face, Red Sox fans will be turning to Buchholz to return to his best form and give the staff steady force at the front of the rotation.

The Red Sox front office seems to be revamping the rotation with ground-ball specialists, as evidenced by the projected staff’s career ground-ball rates:

Masterson, Porcello and the right-handed Joe Kelly all induce ground balls over 50 percent of the time, with Buchholz and Miley not too far behind. While the rotation remains a question mark heading into the season, those numbers do translate well to success at the hitter-friendly Fenway Park.  

It’s one thing to enter the season with one or two questionable pieces on your staff, but the Red Sox will start 2015 with five uncertain starters. The offense will likely be World Series-caliber, but the rotation will not, and it will surely be Boston’s undoing despite its offseason spending spree. 

The Red Sox may still make a late run at James Shields or pull off a blockbuster deal for Cole Hamels, but an iffy rotation with no true leader doesn’t bode well for a club determined to get back to the postseason.


2. Can Hanley Ramirez figure out the Green Monster and give the Red Sox an injury-free season?

The Red Sox decided to give the 31-year-old Hanley Ramirez a four-year, $88 million contract this offseason, something that should frighten the Boston faithful. 

Sure, Hanley can still rake. He slashed .283/.369/.448 with 135 wRC+ last season in 126 games. He’s a career .300 hitter and an extra-base hit machine, as evidenced by his lifetime .200 isolated power rating.

Those numbers prove Ramirez can still be a deadly hitter when healthy, but he’s never been a spitting image of a durable player.

Over the past two seasons, Ramirez has played in just 66 percent of his team’s contests. One would assume that a move to the AL will help him stay on the field, but there’s plenty of evidence that should concern Red Sox fans regarding Hanley’s health. 

I’m sure the Red Sox see Hanley as their future DH, but $88 million is way too much to pay for a player who will be lucky to play in 150 games and who lacks a true position.

Speaking of position, Ramirez will be moving from shortstop to left field this season, and the Green Monster will do its very best to make his transition as difficult as possible. 

Hanley’s defense at short had begun to deteriorate in recent years, so a change had been written on the wall for some time now. But according to Jason Mastrodonato at, only five players since 1970 have played in 200 games at short and 200 games in the outfield. While Ramirez is athletic enough to make the switch, it’s not one that’s happened too many times in MLB history. 

Sean McAdam at Comcast SportsNet has reported that Ramirez will arrive two weeks earlier to spring training to get in extra outfield work and that he’s already been training in his native Dominican Republic this winter. Hanley’s dedication to a position change is a positive sign for a player with a history of being moody at times.

The Red Sox didn’t sign Hanley to play the field, though. He’s going to be counted on to drive in runs at a hitter-friendly ballpark.

But Ramirez’s offensive production is eventually going to slip as he ages. While he may transition well to the outfield, he will undoubtedly go through his share of growing pains dealing with the Monster. As good as he can be offensively, the Red Sox paid a steep price to strengthen an offense that was already going to be among the league’s best anyway. 

Especially with significant holes remaining in the starting rotation. 


San Diego Padres

2014 Record: 77-85

Key Additions: Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Will Middlebrooks, Derek Norris, Brandon Morrow 

Key Losses: Seth Smith, Yasmani Grandal, Jesse Hahn


1. Will Matt Kemp stay healthy enough to make the necessary offensive impact?

New general manager A.J. Preller was busy remodeling the San Diego offense this winter in hopes of providing one of the better pitching staffs in baseball with increased run support.

Preller made a series of clever moves to improve the Padres lineup, headlined by the acquisition of Matt Kemp. 

Kemp has become one of the more intriguing players in baseball during his career. The talent is obviously there, as the outfielder is a career .292 hitter with 182 homers and 600-plus RBI. Although he doesn’t take off nearly as much as he used to, Kemp’s 200 career stolen bases should provide a glimpse at the elite offensive repertoire the 30-year-old possesses. 

But Kemp’s career has been greatly diminished by injury after injury. Although he played in 150 games last season, he only managed to suit up 179 times from 2012-2013. As Kemp now finds himself on the other side of 30, his up-and-down health issues have to be a concern for Padres fans. 

That’s without even mentioning Bob Nightengale of USA Today‘s report that Kemp has “severe arthritis” in his hips. Kemp’s telling physical almost destroyed his move to San Diego. 

Justin Upton is capable of carrying a lineup when healthy, but the Padres lineup was built with Kemp as the focal point. It’s hard to believe that the outfielder won’t miss extended time in 2015, as he hasn’t put together back-to-back healthy seasons since 2011-2012. San Diego is putting a lot of stock in the fact that Kemp can stay on the field this year. 

If he misses any time in 2015, San Diego’s lineup will have its hands full. Kemp’s such a dynamic player that all baseball fans are hoping for another full season of production. When healthy, nobody is as fun to watch. 

But the realist in me is terrified of Kemp being the offensive focus for the Padres this season. 


2. Will the lineup strike out too much?

The San Diego offense will be a much more competent unit than the one that the club trotted out a season ago. But it shouldn’t be too difficult to improve on a squad that finished last in the league in runs, average and on-base percentage. 

But there should be concerns about San Diego’s tendency to whiff. 

Here’s the club’s projected starters in 2015 and their career strikeout percentages:

  • Yangervis Solarte – 10.8 percent
  • Wil Myers – 24.7 percent
  • Matt Kemp – 23.7 percent
  • Justin Upton – 23.8 percent
  • Yonder Alonso – 15.3 percent
  • Jedd Gyorko – 23 percent
  • Derek Norris – 22.7 percent
  • Alexi Amarista – 14.4 percent


That’s five everyday starters with strikeout rates of over 20 percent. Yikes.

The names of Myers, Kemp and Upton may put more fans in the seats, but that heart-of-the-order triumvirate can strike out as much as anybody in baseball. All three found themselves in the top 20 in strikeout percentage last year. 

For Kemp and Upton, the K’s aren’t that big of a deal. Both sluggers have proven that they are capable run producers despite a tendency to strike out.

But Myers’ lack of improvement in that area is alarming for a young player still finding his way in the league. Throw in Norris and Gyorko‘s similar struggles with the punch out, and the San Diego offense could struggle with its situational hitting.

In a division overflowing with power pitching, the strikeouts could doom the Padres’ playoff chances this season. 


Toronto Blue Jays

2014 Record: 83-79

Key Additions: Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, Marco Estrada,  Michael Saunders, 

Key Losses: Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus, Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind, J.A. Happ, Anthony Gose, Brandon Morrow


1. What’s going on with the bullpen?

The Blue Jays reshuffled their deck this offseason and have the pieces in place to contend in 2015.

But they failed to address a key weakness that could diminish their playoff chances.

The Toronto bullpen was one of the worst late-inning units in all of baseball in 2014. The Blue Jays ranked 25th in bullpen ERA and 22nd in bullpen WAR

Unlike other teams with bullpen issues, the Jays can’t depend on a reliable closer to steady the group. The club decided to let longtime closer Casey Janssen test the free-agent market and have yet to replace him for the season ahead. 

Toronto has some internal options that might do the job in Brett Cecil and young Aaron Sanchez, as both saved games for the Blue Jays down the stretch.

Cecil fanned nearly 12 per nine innings and posted a 2.70 ERA in 66 games last season. The lefty did struggle with his command though, walking well over four per nine.

Meanwhile, Sanchez impressed with a 1.09 ERA in 24 appearances. But he rose through the minor league ranks as a starter, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Blue Jays hand him the closing duties or let him compete for a starting job.

Aside from that, the Jays’ remaining options are pretty unconvincing.

Aaron Loup was an above-average left-handed option in 2014, but Chad Jenkins and Todd Redmond did little to inspire confidence for improved production in 2015. Marco Estrada will likely take over the long-man role after coming over from the Milwaukee Brewers via trade.  

An interesting option that Jays fans are hopeful on is Steve Delabar. The right-hander struck out 12 per nine in back-to-back years in 2012 and 2013, and could potentially work his way into a larger role if he can flash similar strikeout numbers.

Shi Davidi of has reported that the Blue Jays are unlikely to add another bullpen piece due to budgetary constraints. If that’s the case, Toronto’s postseason hopes will take a massive hit despite a young and talented roster. 


2. Are the young pitching studs ready to take on a bigger role? 

The club wasn’t much better in terms of its starting pitching a season ago, finishing near the bottom of the league in ERA and WAR.

Mark Buehrle was actually quite effective last year, leading the Jays in pitching WAR. R.A. Dickey topped the club in innings pitched and wins, providing Toronto with quality veteran options to start games. 

After those two aging workhorses, the Blue Jays were able to bring along some of their young pitching talent in starting roles. Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison will likely find themselves in the rotation again this season, while the previously mentioned Sanchez and top prospect Daniel Norris will vie for the rights to the final rotation spot.

Stroman was fantastic a season ago, winning 10 out of 20 starts and leading Toronto starters in ERA. Despite his small stature, the right-hander held his own against major league hitters, fanning nearly eight per nine innings. 

While Hutchison didn’t impress to the extent of Stroman, he proved he’s got enough arm talent to stick in the league. He logged 184.2 innings and also showed a knack for striking out opponents. 

Norris was ranked the 25th overall prospect by at the beginning of the 2014 season and ended the season in Toronto for a very small sample size of relief innings.

Young pitching talent is never a bad thing, but the Jays will be relying on three of their four youngsters to handle a bulk of the starts this season.

Buehrle and Dickey are solid arms to have on a youthful staff to both shoulder most of the responsibility and mentor their younger teammates. But for a team with lofty expectations to contend in the upcoming season, an unproven rotation is a worrying development.

The Jays offense will take some of the pressure off the pitching staff, but for Toronto to win the AL East, it’ll need an improved effort from its rotation. 

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