Postseason aspirations return with new year
Clubs that expected more in '13 get chance for redemption in coming months
Every team in baseball entered 2013 with sights set on making it a better year than the one before. Some obviously had higher hopes than others, aspirations that included the promise of a trip to the postseason.
As demonstrated by a few of those with seemingly all the right tools to make 2013 a special year, high hopes can sometimes be sent on a detour. Ultimately, the destination -- namely, October baseball -- might not be so simple to find.
These were teams that made major moves in the offseason, like the Jays and their remarkable makeover, and the Angels with yet another superstar signed for the long term.
There were teams that had been there before and wanted to take the next step, like the Nationals coming off a division championship that made history in the nation's capital, and the Yankees eager to reunite their veteran core for one more run.
Looking back at some of the stories that defined 2013, those four teams represent clubs whose high hopes were knocked around a bit this past year, teams that are looking to brighter days in 2014 after a year that didn't quite turn out the way they'd envisioned.
In Toronto, high hopes took a detour early and never quite got on track following a winter of change heading into 2013. Bold trades with the Marlins and Mets brought an influx of talent that had the Blue Jays aiming for their first postseason appearance since 1993.
But it wasn't long before it was evident their planned voyage toward October was headed off course. R.A. Dickey was roughed up on Opening Day in what turned out to be a rough April (10-17) for the team as a whole. Their star shortstop and major offseason prize, Jose Reyes, injured his ankle on April 12 and was out for two months. It wasn't a good way to start, and it didn't get much better as the Jays finished last in the AL East at 74-88, a mere one game better than the year before.
"I think almost everyone across the game expected us to be a good team, to what level, I don't know," Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos said at season's end. "But I think unanimously people thought it was going to be a good competitive team, and it didn't work out."
The same could be said for an Angels team that upped the ante on the previous year's haul of free agents by sweeping Josh Hamilton off his feet, shifting him from one AL West rival to another. But, just as Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and even the arrival of megastar Mike Trout wasn't enough in 2012, the addition of Hamilton didn't raise the Angels' place in the standings or drive them to their first postseason appearance since 2009.
With pitching woes and injuries piling up, the Angels finished 78-84, their worst mark since 2003. Hamilton had his worst full season with a .250/.307/.432 slash line with 21 homers and 79 RBIs after going for 43 and 128 the year before with Texas.
"It can only get better for me from here on out," Hamilton said on the season's final day.
For the Nationals and Yankees, building blocks for success were in place after playoff appearances for both clubs in 2012. But both teams took a step backward in 2013, missing out on the October party.
Nats manager Davey Johnson had said it would be "World Series or bust" for his club in 2013 and, well, it wasn't World Series, or even a return to the postseason. The Nationals didn't have the magic they had the year before despite the emergence of Jordan Zimmermann as an elite starter and a few other positive turns in an 86-76 season. They struggled offensively, with Bryce Harper's injury-marred year a factor there, and despite a late push in the NL Wild Card hunt, they were unable to make good on Johnson's best-or-bust boast.
The Yankees, meanwhile, were looking forward to having a healthy Derek Jeter back in action, and they prepared for a farewell tour for all-time great closer Mariano Rivera, and eventually Andy Pettitte. But all that star power couldn't make it happen, especially with Jeter's injury taking a bigger toll than hoped, and the Yankees fell short of making the playoffs for just the second time in the last 19 years. They placed 19 players on the disabled list, using a franchise-record 56 players.
By the end of the year, the team didn't know whether manager Joe Girardi would return for a seventh season. But Girardi signed back with hope for October 2014 and beyond, confident that he'd see another World Series title in the four years of his contract extension.
"Absolutely. I wouldn't have come back if I didn't think we could win a championship," Girardi said. "I know there's a lot of work to be done. I know there's a lot of holes that we have to fill, and there's people leaving and people retiring, but I have faith in our organization."
From there, the Bronx Bombers signed Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran to fill gaps in the lineup, and now they reportedly are in on the bidding for Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees clearly have their sights set on a return to the postseason -- much like they did a year ago.
That's the thing for all those teams whose high hopes in 2013 took a wrong turn: There's always 2014.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnSchlegelMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.