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Tracy Ringolsby

Nine players who can make a big difference in 2014

Yankees' Teixeira and Jeter are among those expected to rebound from tough '13

Nine players who can make a big difference in 2014

The New York Yankees won the headline war this offseason, going on a $465 million spending spree to replenish their roster, including landing Japanese star right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

Seattle shook things up in December when it lured second baseman Robinson Cano away from the Yankees, signing him to a 10-year, $240 million deal -- three years longer than the Yankees said they were willing to go.

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And Texas also returned to the offseason big-spender club with the addition of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to a seven-year, $130 million contract.

They certainly impacted the Hot Stove conversations.

But those deals alone aren't enough to help the Yankees, Mariners or Rangers get back into the postseason after recent frustrations.

Are they contenders or pretenders?

That's the beauty of 162 games.

Time will tell.

Here are nine players who, if they can rebound from their struggles last season, can make a difference in 2014:

Yankees 1B Mark Teixeira and SS Derek Jeter
The Yankees missed the postseason for just the second time in 19 seasons due in large part to their numerous injuries. New York used the disabled list a Major League leading 28 times in 2013, and Teixeira (right wrist surgery) and Jeter (recovery from a fractured left ankle) were both out for the majority of the season.

Teixeira has not suffered any setbacks in his rehab, but doctors warn it will be a full year before he has full mobility. Similar operations in the past for David Ortiz and Jose Bautista did result in down offensive years upon their return. Teixeira plans to get into games by early March.

The Yankees did somewhat offset the loss of Cano by signing Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, but a return to strength by the switch-hitting Teixeira adds depth to the lineup.

Jeter, who will turn 40 in June, had limited range before the injury. But the presence of the captain can't be underplayed, particularly when you consider the state of flux for an infield that lost Cano to free-agency and third baseman Alex Rodriguez to suspension.

Mariners DH/RF/1B Corey Hart
For all the chatter created by signing Cano, who is one of the game's elite players, he also added another lefty bat to a Mariners lineup that already swings heavily in that direction. That's why Seattle was willing to gamble $6 million guaranteed -- and as much as $7 million of incentives -- on Hart, who missed all of last season after having surgeries on both knees. Hart and Logan Morrison, acquired during the offseason from Miami, could give the Mariners much-needed right-handed power to protect Cano.

Hart has played through an assortment of injuries over his career, which made his absence last year a surprise. However, the Mariners feel they can provide some protection for him by alternating Hart and Morrison at DH and left field, and giving both of them some time at first base when Justin Smoak fills in as the DH. In five big-league seasons in which Hart had at least 475 plate appearances he averaged 26 home runs and 84 RBIs.

Rangers RHP Neftali Feliz
There has long been debate in the Rangers organization over whether Feliz is better suited to start or pitch in relief. That discussion has ended. After the loss of closer Joe Nathan to free agency, and Feliz having undergone Tommy John surgery in 2012, the Rangers are looking for Feliz to regain his ninth-inning role, with Joakim Soria serving as an insurance policy who can also handle setup chores.

Feliz began his comeback late last season, working 10 2/3 shutout innings of relief in eight Minor League appearances and 4 2/3 more shutout innings in six appearances with Texas in September. He also pitched 9 2/3 innings in winter ball, where scouts consistently clocked his fastball at 95 mph.

Rockies LHP Brett Anderson
It's easy to write off the Rockies after their back-to-back last-place finishes in the National League West.

But don't be deceived. The Rockies have a solid foundation; they just were missing necessary adornments to contend a year ago.

Nowhere was the hole more glaring than at the backend of the Colorado rotation. The Rockies were 49-32 in games started by Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood, and 25-56 in games eight others started. With a .500 record in outings by the fourth and fifth starters, the Rockies would have been contenders.

Enter Anderson, acquired from Oakland in a December deal that included lefty Drew Pomeranz going to the A's. By the age of 22, Anderson had posted a career 18-17 mark with a 3.57 ERA, but then came a two-year battle with elbow problems that resulted in Tommy John surgery.

Having healed from the operation, the A's made Anderson their Opening Day starter a year ago, but a stress fracture in his left foot brought a premature end to his season. Rockies doctors gave the lefty a clean bill of health, which gives the Rockies reason for optimism.

Royals LHP Danny Duffy
For a guy who walked away from baseball in the spring of 2010, Duffy has shown a definite commitment to make good on his immense talent since returning in the middle of that season.

His progress in the big leagues sidetracked by Tommy John surgery in 2012, Duffy's 30-16 record and lifetime 2.88 ERA in the Minor Leagues underscores his ability. He was brought back slowly last season, pitching primary in the Minors, but he did make five starts for K.C. and was 2-0 with a 1.85 ERA, despite walking 14 in 24 1/3 innings.

With James Shields, Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie in place at the top of the rotation, Duffy's ability to step into one of the backend spots and allow Wade Davis and/or Luke Hochevar to remain in the bullpen would provide a major plus for the Royals in their bid to advance to the postseason for the first time since 1985.

Brewers LF Ryan Braun and 3B Aramis Ramirez
The Brewers aren't getting much attention from preseason prognosticators, but their signing of free-agent starter Matt Garza to a four-year deal in excess of $50 million guaranteed is evidence that the organization is committed to turning things around.

The anticipated return for a full season by Braun and Ramirez are two more reasons for optimism. Coming off one of the worst offensive performances in club history, the Crew are expecting rebounds from their Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, who combined for just 21 home runs and 87 RBIs a year ago.

Padres CF Cameron Maybin
Petco Park is a pitcher's paradise, which puts an emphasis on the Padres having an offense that can manufacture runs.

Maybin, with his great speed, has the potential to be a big-time run creator. What's more, he is one of the game's top defensive center fielders. The Padres' faith in Maybin is underscored by the five-year contract they gave him in 2012.

A year ago, Maybin played in only 14 games. Ten games into the season, he was sidelined with inflammation and an impingement in his left wrist. He returned in early June, and in his fourth game back suffered a torn posterior crucial ligament in his right knee. While out with the knee injury, Maybin had surgery on the wrist, as well.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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