With pitchers and catchers reporting in less than two weeks, each MLB team will try to put forth a roster that can compete at the highest level throughout a long campaign. By the time camps break in late March/early April, very single team will have an air of optimism, hoping that the roster that’s compiled can bring success to their city and their fans.
Throughout a busy offseason, all 30 MLB teams have busily prepared for the 2012 season, and through their evaluations, assessments, signings and transactions, they will hope that their efforts pay off in the end. For some, success will be measured in wins; for others, success will only be achieved by putting a shiny championship ring on their fingers.
Given all of the transactions that have transpired over the course of the past four months, which teams have in fact dramatically improved? And, on the flip side, which teams regressed?
Putting down a roster on paper always gives prognosticators the chance to give their best estimates as to how each team will fare, and Bleacher Report is certainly no exception. Based on the changes made by each team this offseason, we will take a stab at how each team will fare this coming season.
The Arizona Diamondbacks, fresh off their surprising NL West title in 2011, made great strides this offseason, obtaining Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow from the Oakland A’s, singing free agents Takashi Saito and Jason Kubel, and resigning Joe Saunders and Aaron Hill.
The D-Backs appear to be the cream of the crop in the NL West. The Dodgers signed a stack of lower-tier players, the Giants still have questions offensively, the Padres will be hamstrung with the development of their younger players and the Rockies were certainly active as well but still have questions regarding the quality of their pitching staff.
If Cahill can transition well into a rotation that’s already regarded as strong, 96 wins could be a conservative number.
Can Tyler Pastornicky shoulder the load at shortstop?
The Atlanta Braves were easily one of the least active teams this offseason, with the only major transaction being the trade of Derek Lowe to the Cleveland Indians in late October.
GM Frank Wren will be counting on the youngsters on the roster to step up and deliver.
First baseman Freddie Freeman will look to avoid a sophomore slump, right fielder Jason Heyward will look to bounce back from a sophomore slump, and pitchers Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado and Brando Beachy will be counted on to deliver big innings. All eyes will also be on rookie shortstop Tyler Pastornicky as he makes his much anticipated debut.
Considering the gains made by the Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins and the continued presence of the Philadelphia Phillies, the Braves may be hard-pressed to contend for a postseason berth. It may just require a perfect storm of all of the above factors in order for that to happen.
The Baltimore Orioles will be looking to avoid a 15th consecutive losing season in 2012; however, O’s fans will likely be disappointed once again.
Despite the presence of Dan Duquette in the front office and the signings of some international stars (Wei-Yin Chen, Tsuyoshi Wada), it’s going to take some time for Duquette to return Baltimore to the winning ways that defined the franchise in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The Boston Red Sox are going to win games in 2012—their roster is too talented for that not to happen.
However, a lack of depth and inability to sign a top-tier starter could bite the Sox, who have undergone tremendous upheaval and change since their epic September collapse.
The restored health of Kevin Youkilis and Clay Buchholz will certainly help, and the successful transition of Daniel Bard to the starting rotation will help as well. But without a quality fourth and fifth starter, new manager Bobby Valentine will have to scramble and hope that his top three starters (Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz) can stay healthy and give him at least 50 total wins combined for the Sox to compete for a postseason berth.
The Chicago Cubs won 71 games in 2011, and they have armed themselves with a new manager, general manager and president of baseball operations. However, on the field, improvements have been slow in coming.
Theo Epstein made it clear that the long-term future success of the Cubs was much more important than a simple one-year fix, and through the transactions made thus far, and the lack of transactions made (Prince Fielder, anyone?), it could be another long year at Wrigley Field in 2012.
I give the Cubs a slightly better chance to win a few more games next season only because the NL Central is considerably weaker with the loss of Albert Pujols and Fielder, so the Cubs at least have a chance to compete just a bit better against NL Central foes.
There’s a new sheriff in town on the South Side, and while Robin Ventura may offer some hope with a new managerial style, that won’t be enough to help the Chicago White Sox.
The Sox will be counting on huge bounce-back seasons from Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham, and will hope that Dayan Viciedo can replace the offense of the departed Carlos Quentin. The rotation will feature a transitioned Chris Sale, who will be counted on to replace Mark Buehrle, and new closer Matt Thornton will be called upon to step up in the absence of Sergio Santos.
That’s a lot to count on, and while it’s doubtful that Dunn and Rios could replicate their woeful performances of last season, it may be way too much to expect that this White Sox team can improve upon last year’s performance.
Can Mat Latos combine with Johnny Cueto to provide a formidable 1-2 starter tandem in the NL Central?
The National League Central Division has certainly undergone drastic change over the offseason, and the Cincinnati Reds have made several changes of their own.
With Mat Latos now on board at the top of the rotation, the Reds feature a formidable 1-2 punch with both Latos and Johnny Cueto, and in a division that has been weakened offensively with the loss of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, the Reds could very well position themselves nicely in the race for the title.
Much will depend on several factors. Can Devin Mesoraco assume full-time catching duties and be an offensive force? Can Scott Rolen return to full health and produce at the age of 37? Can Cueto remain healthy? Can Zack Cozart stabilize the shortstop position? Who will emerge in left field?
Our guess is that the Reds will bounce back from a disappointing 2011 campaign and make the race in the NL Central very interesting indeed.
To quote the former game show To Tell The Truth, will the real Ubaldo Jiminez please stand up?
The Cleveland Indians won 30 of their first 45 games last season and remained in first place in the AL Central for much of the first half, only to collapse under the weight of an anemic offense and imploding bullpen during the second half.
There is certainly promise in Cleveland, especially with youngsters Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis and the emergence of Asdrubal Cabrera as an offensive force. However, much of the Indians’ offense will depend upon the health of both Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore, and neither has shown the ability to consistently stay on the field in recent years.
The addition of Casey Kotchman alleviates the problem at first base, provided he can replicate his 2011 numbers. GM Chris Antonetti didn’t add any veteran bullpen arms, so that could be a concern as well.
In addition, which Ubaldo Jimenez will show up in 2012—the Jimenez who dominated in the first half of the 2010 season, or the Jimenez who has been seen over the last year and a half?
The good news for the Indians is that they play in a decidedly weak division, and while the Tigers are widely expected to run away with the AL Central, the Indians should see a slight improvement over last year.
Jeremy Guthrie was added to the Rockies' staff earlier this week, but can anyone on the current rotation step up?
The Colorado Rockies had what can only be described as a massively disappointing season last year, causing GM Dan O’Dowd to publicly say he was embarrassed over his team’s play.
O’Dowd sought to make changes this offseason, bringing in veterans Michael Cuddyer, Ramon Hernandez, Marco Scutaro and Casey Blake to complement stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, and adding pitchers Tyler Chatwood and Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie will add veteran depth to a rotation that features youngsters Jhoulys Chacin, Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, and Juan Nicasio will look to return from a horrifying neck injury as well.
O’Dowd certainly made good on promised changes, and the changes should lead to better results, but not enough to overtake the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West.
Does the addition of Prince Fielder make the Tigers the prohibitive favorites to win the AL pennant in 2012?
When designated hitter Victor Martinez went down with an ACL injury during offseason workouts in January, panic gripped Motown, as fans wondered how Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski would offset the loss.
Dombrowski answered that and more, with the signing of free agent Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million contract. Together with Miguel Cabrera, there will be a magical 3-4 combination in the middle of the Tigers’ lineup.
Together with a formidable starting rotation, strong bullpen now aided by the addition of Octavio Dotel, a solid supporting cast that features Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila and Brennan Boesch and an expected weak division, the Tigers should be well-positioned to achieve the century mark in wins during the 2012 season.
The Houston Astros are coming off their worst season in franchise history with 106 losses in 2011, and it’s a lot to assume that they’ll be much better in the coming season as well.
With the successful transfer of ownership to Jim Crane and new GM in place in Jeff Luhnow, the Astros have a new team in place that has a boatload of work ahead of them. The trades of Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence last season significantly improved their farm system, but didn’t do a lot for their current major league roster. The Astros would still love to unload Wandy Rodriguez, Carlos Lee and Brett Myers to free up payroll as well.
The only significant addition to the team this offseason was shortstop Jed Lowrie, who has yet to prove he can actually stay on the field for any length of time, so the Astros will once again be in for a long season. Only a weaker division will stop them from matching last year’s loss total.
The Kansas City Royals have not posted a winning season since 2003, and have marginally improved over the past two seasons, winning 65 games in 2009, 67 games in 2010 and 71 games last season. With a stable of young players in the system, there is some hope.
GM Dayton Moore sought to improve his starting rotation this offseason, acquiring veteran Jonathan Sanchez from the San Francisco Giants for center fielder Melky Cabrera and resigning Bruce Chen, who has revived his career in Kansas City.
The youngsters continue to deliver hope as well, with first baseman Eric Hosmer looking to continue developing as an impact hitter and youngsters Danny Duffy and Aaron Crow look to impact the rotation.
There is light at the end of the tunnel for the Royals, however, they will likely be competing for second place in the AL Central with the Cleveland Indians.
It’s gonna be an old-fashioned shootout in the AL West this season.
Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno certainly sent a shot across the bow in early December, spending $331.5 million in one day to purchase superstar Albert Pujols and prying C.J. Wilson away from the rival Texas Rangers.
GM Jerry DiPoto also added depth to the bullpen, signing veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins and also upgrading at catcher with the addition of Chris Iannetta.
Things are going to be fun in the AL West as the Angels look to unseat the Texas Rangers at the top.
The Los Angeles Dodgers certainly surprised last season with their 82-79 finish, in a year where absolutely nothing went right behind the scenes.
However, the ongoing ownership issue clearly hamstrung GM Ned Colletti this offseason, as he attempted to make “upgrades” with a series of signings of low-tier free agents (Adam Kennedy, Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston Jr.). Chris Capuano was added to the starting rotation, and stars Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw are now under contract as well.
The return to full health by Andre Ethier will help, and Dee Gordon will be nice presence at the top of the lineup, however there isn’t much more help beyond that for Kemp, who will likely again be left unprotected.
With a new manager, a new stadium, a new logo, a new ownership attitude, a new uniform and plenty of new faces, the Miami Marlins will certainly have a shiny new look in 2012, but can it equal success?
The additions of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell certainly can’t hurt, and the return to full health by Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson will certainly help as well. But the Marlins will still have to contend with the Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves, all of whom feature outstanding starting rotations in the NL East.
There are only so many wins to go around in a highly competitive division, the Marlins will need everything to go right in order to achieve what they are obviously looking for in 2012—a World Series title. Getting through to the postseason will present a challenge all unto itself.
The Milwaukee Brewers captured 96 wins last season on the strength of the bats of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, and an outstanding pitching staff aided by the additions of Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum.
Now, one year later, the Brewers will be hard-pressed to match last year’s success. Not only is Fielder gone, but Braun could be out for the first 50 games of the season, depending upon the results of his appeal to his season-beginning suspension.
The addition of Aramis Ramirez and Alex Gonzalez will help in making up for some of the offense lost, and 26-year-old Matt Gamel will get his shot at first as well. With the starting rotation and bullpen returning largely intact, the Brewers’ 2012 hopes will rest on the questions surrounding the offense, and they will likely be in a hot race at the top of the NL Central with the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds.
The Minnesota Twins just missed out on the century mark last season in losses, beset by a spate of injuries and a woefully inept pitching staff.
With Terry Ryan back in place as GM, the Twins will look to turn around their fortunes in 2012. However, there are still many question marks.
The Twins' offense will rest upon the fate of both Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, who have both failed to stay on the field consistently. Morneau will look to return from four surgeries last season along with recurring concussion symptoms, and Mauer will look to keep his knees healthy. The addition of catcher Ryan Doumit should help Mauer, and Josh Willingham will help to offset the loss of both Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer.
However, the pitching staff returns largely intact, save for the addition of Jason Marquis, and they will need to see marked improvement across the board, especially if the injury bug hits the offense once again in 2012.
Even with the return of Mauer and Morneau to full health, the Twins will be challenged.
GM Sandy Alderson is more than capable, but without the needed funds even the best are hamstrung.
Sorry, Mets fans, but 2012 could be a very long year.
The New York Mets will start the 2012 season with a payroll of approximately $90-$95 million, a drop of at least $40 million from last season. And that kind of drop will only spell disaster.
GM Sandy Alderson signed four players—Frank Francisco ($5.5 million), Jon Rauch ($3.5 million), Ronny Cedeno ($1.15 million) and Scott Hairston ($1.1 million) for just about a million dollars more than it would have taken to retain shortstop Jose Reyes, who will make $10 million in his first year with the Marlins. Arguably, a healthy Reyes would mean more than these four players combined.
With an offense that will rely on Jason Bay returning to 2009 form, a returning Ike Davis from injury and a focused David Wright who isn’t worried about when he’ll be traded, the Mets will be challenged. It remains to be seen what Johan Santana can provide in 2012, if anything, and the rest of the staff doesn’t exactly exude an air of dominance.
Challenges are what the Mets face right now, and by the time it’s said and done, 101 losses could very well be a conservative estimate.
The additions of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda answered the biggest question of the offseason for the Yankees.
The questions concerning the starting rotation for the New York Yankees at the start of the offseason were abundant. However, those questions have been answered in resounding fashion.
With the additions of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, GM Brian Cashman put to rest any fears that were prevalent early on. With an offense that is robust, a bullpen that features the never-aging Mariano Rivera and a dominant David Robertson, the only question at this point is whether or not the Yankees can win 100 games. We’re guessing they fall just short, but not by much.
At least Coco Crisp is back, so the A's aren't a total loss.
Let’s see. The Oakland Athletics traded three-fifths of their starting rotation (Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Guillermo Moscoso), two key bullpen arms (Andrew Bailey, Craig Breslow), failed to retain their top hitter (Josh Willingham) and cut their payroll by $30 million (from $70.5 to approximately $39 million).
But hey, A’s fans, they did retain Coco Crisp.
Oh, well. At least Jonny Gomes will keep the clubhouse interesting.
The Philadelphia Phillies watched their postseason hopes go down the drain in a disappointing five-game loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, and then watched this offseason as their division rivals Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins made significant upgrades.
However, the Phillies will once again not lay down for anyone in 2012.
GM Ruben Amaro countered by signing closer Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million deal, adding Ty Wigginton to add depth to the infield, resigned Jimmy Rollins, the face of the franchise, to a three-year, $33 million with a an option for a fourth year, and added Jim Thome for more bench depth as well.
At this point, Ryan Howard’s return from a torn Achilles tendon is up in the air, and Thome, Wigginton and John Mayberry will likely combine to bridge the gap. A full year of Hunter Pence will certainly help, and the continued success of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley will go a long way in determining the fate of the Phillies for the 2012 season.
The addition of Erik Bedard likely isn't close enough to turning the Pirates' fortunes around.
The Pittsburgh Pirates were the surprise of the majors last season, actually tying for the top spot in the NL Central as late as July 25.
However, a devastating 19-inning loss at the hands of the umpires and the Atlanta Braves the following day doomed the Pirates, who went on to win only 19 games the rest of the season.
Pitching was largely to blame for the Pirates’ collapse, as the starting rotation that held together fairly well in the first half of the season fell to pieces in August and September. A 3.46 ERA in the first half ballooned to a 4.78 ERA in the second half, and the starters were even worse, posting a 5.04 ERA in the second half.
The only new addition to the staff in 2012 is Erik Bedard, who himself needs to prove he can actually last a full season. None of the current starters would be considered dominant, so it doesn’t bode well for a solid full season. At this point, it doesn’t seem a probability in any way that the Pirates will avoid a record 20th consecutive losing season.
New Padres GM Josh Byrnes is likely to see one year of pain before seeing growth.
New San Diego Padres GM Josh Byrnes certainly didn’t shy away from anything in his first offseason on the job, trading off two of the top players in the Padres’ organization (Mat Latos, Anthony Rizzo), bringing in two quality players for next to nothing (Huston Street, Carlos Quentin) and adding great potential in the form of Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Brad Boxberger and Andrew Cashner.
How will that play out for the Padres in 2012?
Well, that will likely depend on the play of the added pieces. Petco Park has a way of turning a Babe Ruth-type hitter into a Mario Mendoza-type hitter, so Quentin will likely be affected, as will Alonso.
Pitching again will be dominant in San Diego, but without Latos at the top, even that will be sorely tested. It could be a long year for Byrnes and manager Buddy Black.
As nice as it is that San Francisco Giants GM Brian Sabean locked starter Tim Linecum in to a two-year, $40.5 million deal, there are still an abundance of questions concerning the Giants' offense.
Dead last year in the National League in runs scored, the Giants still managed to win 86 games on the strength of their pitching staff. Lincecum, Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner were simply terrific, and together, the four will likely be asked to deliver even more amazement in 2012.
Much will depend on the returns of catcher Buster Posey and second baseman Freddie Sanchez, and while the additions of Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan can't hurt, the Giants must be able to score at the very least 50 more runs than last season to even have a chance.
Can anyone step up to support Felix Hernandez at the top of the Mariners' rotation?
On one fateful day, Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik changed the course of the team with just one trade, and no one is exactly sure what course that will be.
In letting go of potential ace Michael Pineda for budding hitter Jesus Montero and starter Hector Noesi, Zduriencik added a hitter who, together with Dustin Ackley, could very well form the meat of the Mariners’ order for years to come.
However, in the process, they lost a man who could very well turn the fortunes of the Yankees for years to come as well.
Ace Felix Hernandez is now supported by Jason Vargas, Hisashi Iwakuma, Noesi, Blake Beavan and Charlie Furbush, none of whom are ever likely to have the words “potential ace” penciled next to their names. Combined with the fact that Safeco’s cavernous dimensions will likely rob Montero of power, and you have a trade that could be labeled dangerous.
Nonetheless, Zduriencik believes in his young squad, and with other budding youngsters such as Mike Carp, Trayvon Robinson, Carlos Peguero and Justin Smoak, life could be interesting in the Northwest for Mariners fans, but likely not in 2012.
Adam Wainwright returns in 2012, but is that enough to offset the loss of Albert Pujols?
The St. Louis Cardinals will open their season in defense of their World Series championship, and they open it with three key components missing from last season—Albert Pujols, Dave Duncan and Tony La Russa.
The good news is that starter Adam Wainwright will be back from Tommy John surgery. The bad news is that Carlos Beltran alone won’t make up for the lost offense and/or leadership with Pujols’ departure. Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman and Beltran will all be expected to carry the load, a tall task for three thirty-something players. Berkman certainly enjoyed a terrific season, and Beltran played relatively injury-free for much of last season with the Mets and Giants.
Fortunately, the NL Central is considerably weaker with the loss of Pujols and Prince Fielder, and if the Brewers are without Ryan Braun for the first 50 games, the Cards could well take advantage. The guess here is that the Cards, Reds and Brewers come down to the wire.
First baseman Carlos Pena returns to add much-needed power for Tampa Bay.
The Tampa Bay Rays return next season with a pitching staff largely intact, and a lineup that added Carlos Pena and Luke Scott. With the young homegrown starting rotation that includes 23-year-old Matt Moore, the Rays certainly won’t have many issues preventing runs.
Offensively, the addition of Pena adds power, but takes away on-base percentage. Scott is coming off an injury-plagued season in which he hit just .220, and Desmond Jennings will get a chance to prove what he can do over a full season.
Manager Joe Maddon has proven that his teams can never be counted out, and that will likely continue in 2012 in a once-again competitive AL East.
As we said earlier in the slide for the Los Angeles Angels, it’s going to be an old-fashioned fight to the finish in the AL West, and the Texas Rangers aren’t conceding anything by any means.
Faced with the loss of No. 1 starter C.J. Wilson, the Rangers went out and spent over $100 million for Japanese sensation Yu Darvish and plan to transition closer Neftali Feliz to the rotation as well. Considering how well the Rangers’ transitioned Wilson two years ago, there’s no reason to believe that Feliz can’t be successful, either.
Joe Nathan was added to take over closing duties for Feliz, and while Nathan finished strong last season following an up and down season, there’s still a risk. Leonys Martin, Craig Gentry and Julio Borbon will fight for time in center field, and Josh Hamilton will look to stay healthy and avoid any further relapses with a new accountability partner in place.
The Rangers ran away with the AL West the last two seasons. However, they will experience something new in 2012—a fight to the finish.
After a season in which they finished 81-81 and fourth in the AL East, many fans expected the Toronto Blue Jays to be active in free agency this offseason.
However, the Jays were unable to land anyone of note, failing in attempts to land Yu Darvish and others, with management unwilling or unable to commit big dollars to anyone—depending on who you talk to.
What the Jays did do was add Francisco Cordero, Sergio Santos, Jason Frasor and Darren Oliver, which will certainly make the bullpen stronger, and also acquired Ben Francisco, Jeff Mathis and Omar Vizquel, adding bench depth.
But GM Alex Anthopoulos clearly fell far short his goals, which were to obtain a front-line starter and an impact bat. Just a quick purview of Blue Jays’ forums across the web show a clear indication of aggravation among fans who expected much, much more.
The addition of pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson certainly adds spice to the race in the NL East.
The Washington Nationals showed tremendous growth in 2011, finishing the season with a record of 80-81, seeing the emergence of starter Jordan Zimmermann and the successful return from Tommy John surgery for uber-prospect Stephen Strasburg.
The emergence of players Michael Morse and Wilson Ramos were nice additions as well. Now, after the Nats added both Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to the rotation, hopes are indeed high in the nation’s capital. If first baseman Adam LaRoche can come back fully healthy, and if center fielder Jayson Werth can shake off the effects of a disappointing first season in Washington, the Nats could very well make life very interesting in the NL East.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.