Norris was last spotted behind the plate in Kauffman Stadium in the American League Wild Card Game as a seemingly endless parade of Royals baserunners took liberties on the basepaths. The A’s yielded six stolen bases to Kansas City with Norris behind the plate that late September night. Oakland’s season came to an abrupt end when the Royals mounted a furious stolen base fueled comeback. Oakland, the presumed best team in baseball in July, never even made it to October.
A’s GM Billy Beane’s somewhat uneven offseason resulted in the systematic dismantling of the crew that flopped in Kansas City. Athletics were sent to every corner of the continental U.S. and Canada with Derek Norris ending up with the suddenly relevant Padres. Norris made the American League’s 2014 All Star team but he slumped badly in the second half of the season (OPS dropped from .877 on 7/30 to .763 at end of season). Given that Norris caught just 17 percent of would-be base stealers for Oakland last season the Padres will be hoping for an offensive resurgence from their new backstop.
(Photo by Andy Hayt/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)
2. Michael Wacha
The 2014 season was a roller coaster for Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha. After taking the National League by storm as a rookie, Wacha suffered through some bitter disappointment as a sophomore. Wacha won four games for St. Louis after his late 2013 promotion. He went on to notch another four victories in the postseason.
St. Louis had high hopes for Wacha in 2015. The 23-year-old posted a 2.79 ERA through 15 starts before being sidelined with an injury in June. Wacha struggled when he finally returned to the rotation in September, yielding 10 runs in just 16 ⅔ innings. The Cardinals left Wacha out the playoff rotation and stashed him at the end of the bench. St. Louis manager finally called on Wacha at the worst time possible, with the Cardinals’ season on the line. Wacha, who hadn’t pitched in three weeks, promptly allowed two baserunners before surrendering the three-run home run to Travis Ishikawa that sent the San Francisco Giants to the World Series. Wacha has had an impressive spring for St. Louis as he looks to move beyond the heartbreak of 2014.
Nationals’ closer Drew Storen and manager Matt Williams will both be looking for redemption this season. Williams was criticized for pulling ace Jordan Zimmerman with a one run lead and two outs in the ninth inning of Game Two of the Division Series against the Giants. Zimmerman exited for Storen who quickly allowed a single to Buster Posey and a double to Pablo Sandoval that tied the game and sent it to extra innings. The Nationals eventually lost in 18 innings. For Storen it was the second straight disastrous postseason outing. His previous playoff appearance included a blown save against the Cardinals in Game Five of the 2012 NLDS. That loss ended the Nats’ season and sent St. Louis to the NLCS. Storen and Williams will be hoping that 2015 delivers another opportunity to erase past playoff horrors.
The New York Yankees spent more than $175 million to bring Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka to the Bronx prior to the 2014 season. Tanaka looked to be on his way to locking up the American League Rookie of the Year award, and notching some Cy Young votes, when he was sidelined with a forearm injury. Tanaka missed more than two months of action while he rested and rehabbed in an effort to avoid Tommy John surgery. Tanaka made two lackluster starts in late September before spending the offseason rehabbing. The 26-year-old has pitched well this spring but his three starts have covered just 10 ⅓ innings. The Yankees have penciled Tanaka in as the Opening Day starter as they attempt to wring every ounce of value out of his massive contract. Tanaka will be looking to build upon his early 2014 season while avoiding the Tommy John surgery that seems almost inevitable.