With the Seattle Mariners reporting to camp on Feb. 13 (trust me, they need the head start), it’s time to start focusing on baseball.
This offseason has been a whirlwind.
Albert Pujols is no longer a Cardinal. The Angels swooped him up along with their hometown boy CJ Wilson (sorry, Texas).
The Rangers countered by bringing in international import Yu Darvish.
Michael Cuddyer (Rockies) and Jason Kubel (Diamondbacks) are no longer Twins. Carlos Pena decided to return to Tampa. Manny Ramirez apparently may become an A.
Jorge Posada has retired, reminding us that the Men in Pinstripes are, gasp, mortal.
The Phils, Brewers and Tigers are all-in. The Astros, A’s and Padres are just hoping they won’t get relegated to Triple-A.
Indeed, it should be another outstanding baseball season this year.
Times are tough for Astros fans.
The team is coming off a 106-loss season—a club record.
Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers and Bud Norris will most likely begin the season as one, two, three in the rotation and Carlos Lee, JD Martinez, Jose Altuve and Jed Lowrie all will probably be in the Opening Day lineup.
Other than that, this year is an opportunity for top prospects like George Springer, Jonathan Singleton and Delino DeShields Jr. to step up and produce at the big-league level.
The we’re-almost-a-minor-league-team-but-still-better-than-the-Astros Padres lost pitchers Mat Latos, Aaron Harang and Heath Bell in the offseason and still have not replaced Adrian Gonzales’ production in the lineup.
San Diego does have some recognizable names on their roster—notably Jason Bartlett, Orlando Hudson and Huston Street—but Brad Boxberger, Joe Wieland or Yasmani Grandal from the Padres’ vaunted minor league system may be donning a complimentary Fifty cap during the season.
As per club policy, the Oakland Athletics jettisoned anyone who played well in their organization this offseason.
Among those who left: Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, Craig Breslow…
You get the picture.
If the A’s want to compete this season, they are banking on a rebound from Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson and Daric Barton, and production from blue-chipper Chris Carter, Coco Crisp and Kurt Suzuki.
For the cleanup spot, Oakland turned to Seth Smith—the guy that Colorado moved when they got Michael Cuddyer from Minnesota, the team that signed former Athletic Josh Willingham.
If you didn’t follow that, here’s the skinny:
They filled their cleanup spot with someone who most teams wouldn’t put there.
The aging White Sox refuse to enter rebuilding mode (most likely because of the dearth of talent in their farm system) and it could cost them.
With the Detroit as the runaway favorite, an up-and-coming Royals team, a rebounding Twins club and, well, the Indians (nobody knows what’s going on there), Chicago could become a cellar-dweller for years to come.
Save for Paul Konerko (who goes overlooked every year) and AJ Pierzynski (who cannot possibly be overlooked), there isn’t much to like about the team’s projected lineup.
Adam Dunn may be the team’s cleanup hitter (.159 BA last year). Enough said.
The projected rotation of John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Jake Peavy, Chris Sale and Philip Humber does not feature a pitcher with a winning record last year.
Times are tough for baseball fans on Chicago’s South Side.
With the Braves on the rise, revamped Miami and Washington teams and a Philadelphia club that is aging and all-in, the Mets may be the only bad team in the NL East.
The Madoff Ponzi scheme put this team in serious economic jeopardy and left a new building with rows of empty seats.
Johan Santana very well could come back and be lights out after left shoulder surgery and perhaps a trip up Mount Kilimanjaro is the soul-searching experience he needed to rebound from a year where he went 8-13 with a 3.28 ERA.
Offensively, David Wright is still a star and, who knows, a prospect like Matt Harvey or Jeurys Familia may step up and produce for the team this year.
Still, it’s a tough division, a tough situation and, ultimately, probably will be a tough season for Mets fans this season.
Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and MVP runner-up Matt Kemp remain on the Dodgers roster, but it will be a rebuilding year once again in LA as the Dodgers move on from the McCourt/Chapter 11 era.
While this LA team did not pick up free agents of Albert Pujols or CJ Wilson caliber, they did address a problem at second base by adding Mark Ellis and added another lefty, Chris Capuano to a rotation that that already features Kershaw and Ted Lilly.
The Dodgers won’t be any good this season, but they’ll still probably be better than the Padres.
The focus in Seattle is on the future.
Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Mike Carp and Jesus Montero will probably be great players in the future.
Their franchise player, Ichiro Suzuki, may be moved from the leadoff spot.
Manager Eric Wedge may turn to 34-year-old Chone Figgins.
That should tell you all you need to know.
The Orioles are coming off their 14th consecutive losing season.
Last season, they were dead last in ERA, quality starts and WHIP and second-to-last in BAA.
And they play in the league’s toughest division.
Fair to say, this team had a lot to take care of in the offseason.
The O’s hired executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette to remedy their situation and Duquette has got the process moving by using the international market to shore up a farm system that lacks depth.
In order for the O’s to compete next year (or sometime in the near future) they need more from their rotation—it would help if Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta rebound from last year—and hope that somebody steps up in the cleanup spot.
That’s a tall order for a young team that had minimal success last season.
The Indians enter 2012 with three big questions:
How to resolve the Fausto Carmona (or Roberto Hernandez Heredia or whoever…) question?
Will Ubaldo Jimenez pitch like he did in Colorado?
Can Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo stay healthy?
The Carmona situation is interesting and definitely worth reading up on. The Indians need to ensure this ongoing legal debate does not become a distraction in the clubhouse.
At the time Jimenez was brought over, the Indians were in striking position in the AL Central and were willing to gut their minor league system for success that season.
The former Colorado pitcher finished the year with a 10-13 record and 4.68 ERA.
Jimenez insists that his early-season health problems led to flaws in his mechanics. Tribe fans and management are hoping that’s the case and he’ll return to form this year.
Sizemore, 29, had surgery on both knees and a hernia last season. He is healthy heading into camp.
Choo also suffered from injury, oblique and left thumb, and got a DUI in May. He needs to remain healthy and sober for this team to compete.
The Cubs went out and picked up GM Theo Epstein from the rubble that was the Red Sox’s collapse last season.
The hope is that he can build a contender in Wrigleyville…now.
“In baseball, anything can happen,” says Epstein.
New manager Dave Sveum confirmed that the team plans to win this year and is beginning the long-term building process this season rather than writing it off as a rebuilding phase.
Instead of going for an instant fix by adding an Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, two players who tore them up while playing for divisional opponents, Epstein added depth in pitching with Travis Wood (formerly of the Reds), Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm and added some pop to the lineup with Ian Stewart and David DeJesus.
While the Cubs faithful is hardly broken up about the departure of Carlos Zambrano and Kosuke Fukudome, the team has some holes to fill with Aramis Ramirez joining the Brewers and Carlos Pena returning to the Rays this season.
To the outsider, this looks like a rebuilding year, but I guess you never know…
Can the Pirates avoid a 20th straight losing season?
If this Pittsburgh squad, with their rich history and glorious stadium, wants to pack the house and attempt to finish what they started last season—they led the NL Central at the 100-game mark, only to go 16-40 down the stretch—they going to need…luck.
GM Neal Huntington signed Clint Barmes to take over at short, Rod Barajas to take over behind the dish and Erik Bedard to add depth to the rotation.
The team is expecting import Casey McGehee to be an upgrade over Garrett Jones in the cleanup spot and may be looking at a trade with the Yankees to acquire AJ Burnett in order to add some strength to the rotation.
There may be more urgency to win in Pittsburgh this season than what meets the eye.
Andrew McCutchen will bounce if this team doesn’t improve, and there’s certainly a large fanbase there that, until last year, has gone relatively untapped due to poor performance.
The Rox are looking to rebound from a disappointing 2011 campaign by shaking things up a bit.
Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki will remain in the one-, two- and four-holes, but the two and five hitters will be newcomers Marco Scutaro and Michael Cuddyer.
Pitching will be a big question mark for Colorado.
Jeremy Guthrie and Jhoulys Chacin both had losing records last year and Drew Pomeranz and Juan Nicasio have only 11 combined starts between them.
There is also a concern over whether Rafael Betancourt can close games for this team.
In case you missed it, the Red Sox had an epic collapse at the end of last season.
The result is a new GM, Ben Cherington, and manager, Bobby Valentine.
If Boston is going to bounce back this season, recently-acquired RHP Andrew Bailey needs to fill the hole left by former closer Jonathan Papelbon, Carl Crawford needs to play like he did in a Rays uniform and Kevin Youkilis needs to remain healthy.
There is come concern about the team’s starting pitching, but if they get production from their lineup—which ranked first in runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage—their run production should cover any deficiencies on the mound.
These aren’t your daddy’s Marlins.
The newly christened Miami Marlins will be wearing new uniforms, have a new manager, play in a new ballpark and, well, actually spend money.
Miami went out and got big-name free agents in Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle to generate excitement for the new era of Marlins baseball.
Of course, there are questions about Josh Johnson’s health, if Mike Stanton will have a breakout year and if mercurial Hanley Ramirez will play well at third base.
And, even if all goes well for this rejuvenated team, there will always be a question if people will show up for a baseball game in Miami.
After two years of last-place finishes in the NL West, the Arizona Diamondbacks now will be looking to repeat as division champions.
The D-backs look similar to last year’s squad, save for the addition of hard-hitting Jason Kubel and pitcher Trevor Cahill.
Arizona will hope that shortstop Stephen Drew returns from injury on or near Opening Day and that he’s the same player he was over the past few years.
In his place will be leadoff hitter Willie Bloomquist.
The lineup is pretty stacked, with Bloomquist/Drew and Aaron Hill setting the table for Justin Upton, Miguel Montero, Paul Goldschmidt, Jason Kubel and Chris Young.
The rotation is not too shabby, either. Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson and Cahill take the top three spots.
A repeat as division champs is not out of the question for this squad.
With only one winning season in the last 17 years and little success since their World Series victory in 1985, it’s about time the Kansas City faithful (and boy, are they faithful) are rewarded for their undying support.
Their hope is that homegrown youngsters Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas play to their potential and longtime Royals Alex Gordon and Billy Butler play proficiently at the leadoff and cleanup spot, respectfully.
Their rotation leaves much to be desired.
Of the five projected starters—Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen, Jonathan Sanchez, Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy—only one, Chen, had a winning record and a sub-4.00 ERA last season.
The Nationals have the potential to move on from the ‘Natinals’ era this year.
While a division title would be tough, this team has up-and-coming cornerstone players Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg projected to crack the lineup, they picked up Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to shore up their pitching and have two superstars, Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos, in their prime.
Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche need to step it up and Sean Burnett needs to play like he did after the All-Star Break.
If it all comes together, this team has the potential to go from a laughingstock to a juggernaut over the course of this season.
This will be a watershed season for the Brewers organization.
They are division champs for the first time since 1983.
Prince Fielder is now a Detroit Tiger.
Ryan Braun may be suspended for 50 games for violating a drug policy.
And Zach Greinke, Sean Marcum and Randy Wolf are all entering their final guaranteed year.
Aramis Ramirez will be asked to replace Fielder’s production at in the cleanup spot in some capacity.
Mat Gamel will be asked to take his spot at first base.
And Greinke will be asked to avoid recreational basketball.
In the end, the Brewers need to repeat as division champions—something that will be difficult with a revamped Reds squad and the defending World Champion Cardinals competing in the NL Central.
Minnesota took a giant leap backwards last season, losing 99 games after two-straight AL Central titles.
The Twins used the DL 27 times last year. If Denard Span, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Co. can stay healthy, the offensive production should return.
The bigger question in the Twin Cities is whether they have the pitching to compete in the Central.
In their projected rotation of Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Jason Marquis, only Baker (who suffered injury last year) and Marquis (imported from Arizona) had winning records.
Even if the starters can get through seven innings, there’s a serious question as to whether closer Matt Capps can, well, close games.
Here’s the skinny:
The Cardinals lost Albert Pujols after the World Series victory.
St. Louis still has Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright at the top of their rotation, a solid Jamie Garcia and two top pitching prospects, Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez, coming up the pipe.
Nobody is going to replace Pujols’ production offensively, but there is some concern about whether Matt Holliday-Lance Berkman-David Freese is a sufficient heart of any lineup, let alone one that lost a superstar in the offseason.
Then there’s the question of who’s going to play in the outfield…
The Cardiac Cardinals are a machine, so they can never be counted out, but with many holes to fill, the defending World Champs will really be testing the faith of their passionate fanbase.
Arizona will be favored to take the NL West title, but the 2010 World Series Champion Giants should not go overlooked in this otherwise weak division.
The return of Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey should galvanize an otherwise anemic Giant offense and everyone in the baseball community knows what Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner can do to opposing pitchers.
Melky Cabrera should give some added support at the five spot, and Brian Wilson is a proven closer.
There is some question as to how Angel Pagan will do leading off. Brandon Crawford will be an impact player if he can hit.
Ryan Vogelsong can be a solid No. 4 guy in the rotation if he can replicate his performance from last year (13-7, 2.71 ERA). And Barry Zito, well…umm…he’s still on the team.
The D-backs are widely projected to take the division, but don’t count out San Francisco just yet.
The Blue Jays are hoping that they have the pitching depth to complement an offense that produced the sixth-most runs in MLB next season.
Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow should be one-two in the rotation, Sergio Santos will be expected to close out games and Toronto is hoping that Brett Cecil will have a bounce-back season after going 4-11, 4.73 ERA last season.
Superstar Jose Bautista, Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie should make up the heart of their lineup, but there’s a question of who should play left field (Eric Thames or Travis Snider?) and if Colby Rasmus can have a bounce-back season.
The reigning AL Central champs bring back MVP Justin Verlander and added highly sought-after free agent Prince Fielder to the mix in hopes of building off last season’s success.
Fielder’s contract should pay dividends early in the season, but there is a question of whether Miguel Cabrera can play third, if Delmon Young will play like he did pre- or post-trade, and how Alex Avila does with extended playing time now that they’ve lost Victor Martinez to injury.
The Tigers also have to determine who will be the fifth man in their rotation.
Two big questions for the perennial contenders:
How will the old men play?
Who gets the fifth spot in the rotation?
As Jorge Posada’s retirement reminds the baseball community, the Core Four is aging—Derek Jeter is 37, Mariano Rivera is 42, Andy Pettitte is long gone—meaning that New York is coming ever closer to another era of Yankees baseball.
Jeter and Rivera are not placeholders. They play important roles on this team and need to be productive, even in their advanced age.
While some teams are struggling to fill five rotation spots, the Yankees have an ace in CC Sabathia, a talented young player in Ian Nova and acquired Michael Pineda from the Mariners.
The fifth spot will either go to Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes or AJ Burnett (barring a trade to the Pirates).
There is a question of whether Sean Rodriguez or Reid Brignac will play shortstop and if BJ Upton’s attitude will bring down his production or the clubhouse chemistry, but otherwise, Tampa looks to be in position to compete once again next season.
They’ve got high-end talent at the top of their rotation with James Shields and David Price and a phenom in Matt Moore who will probably round it off.
Carlos Pena was brought back after a one-year hiatus and will have the support of Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist in the lineup.
If you haven’t learned yet, Tampa Bay always does enough to stick around at the end of the season.
Despite their epic collapse at the end of last season, the Braves have kept their roster relatively similar.
Atlanta is banking that Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, who combined to produce 24 wins last year, will remain healthy and that Jason Heyward will be the player he was projected to be when he joined the Braves roster in 2010.
The team has premier table setters in Michael Bourn and Martin Prado, a solid cleanup hitter in McCann, but have to be wondering of franchise player Chipper Jones, 40, will hold down the three spot for the rest of the season.
If the rotation stays healthy, Heyward takes a step forward in his career and Craig Kimbrel can continue to close out games like he did last year, the Braves will avenge their collapse from last season.
The Reds are trying to win back the National League Central, and rightfully so.
St. Louis and Milwaukee lost their superstar sluggers (and the Brew Crew may lose Braun for 50 games), the Cubs are not ready to compete this year, the Pirates haven’t been ready to compete since 1992 and the Astros would probably struggle to compete in Triple-A ball.
Cincinnati scorched the farm to bring in starter Mat Latos and set-up man Sean Marshall, but got closer Ryan Madson at a discount price.
The team has a solid rotation—Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake all had winning records last year. Bronson Arroyo (9-12, 5.07 ERA) needs to bounce back and Latos needs to show he can play in a regular-sized stadium, but there’s promise on the mound this season.
Offensively, Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce all have proven they can produce. Like Arroyo, Scott Rolen and Drew Stubbs need a comeback seasons, however.
Cincinnati cannot afford another disappointing season like they had last year. Votto will become a free agent in two years. Phillips’ contract is up next winter.
In the past two years, the Texas Rangers have made it to the World Series.
In the past two years, they’ve lost to a Cinderella team.
The Angels are trying to re-take control of the division by putting CJ Wilson in their uniform and signing Albert Pujols.
Texas is banking on import Yu Darvish and convert Neftali Feliz to replace Wilson on the mound and hoping that Josh Hamilton stays sober—allowing them to quash any qualms about not signing Pujols or Fielder.
The Angels are hoping that by bringing in World Series dynamo Albert Pujols and pilfering CJ Wilson from the division rival Rangers, that Los Angeles or Anaheim or whatever will wrestle the division away from the surging Texas club.
There is no complaining about the rotation in Anaheim. Local boys Jered Weaver (Northridge), Dan Haren (Monterey Park) and CJ Wilson (Newport Beach) should lock down any lineup in the AL.
Age in the lineup is a concern, however.
Eric Aybar, Howie Kendrick and Kendrys Morales are all in their late-20s and Vernon Wells, 33, and Torii Hunter, 36 are no spring chickens.
There’s some kid named Mike Trout, 20, who should make an impact in The Show sooner than later.
It’s do or die for the Fightin’ Phils this season.
Their lineup is old, especially with Howard out, and their best pitchers, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, are at the tail end of their prime.
Regardless, this is a team that has proven that if they are healthy, they can win. Just look at the 2008 World Series rings many of the current players wear.
The competition has gotten tougher in the NL East and the Phillies are a year older, but they’re still the team to beat in their division—and, most likely, the entire NL.
Note: This is all done assuming there will be only one Wild Card. Even if there is another Wild Card this year, I won’t recognize it.
- Tampa Bay Rays – they’ve got pitching, a few hitters and a great manager
- New York Yankees – people forget that the core Yankees are aging
- Toronto Blue Jays – they’re a year out from being something special
- Boston Red Sox – that collapse set them back
- Baltimore Orioles – eventually this team will dig themselves out of this hole
- Detroit Tigers – the Tigers are all-in this year
- Minnesota Twins – people forget this team still has Mauer and Morneau
- Kansas City Royals – eventually the youngsters will shine, just not this year
- Cleveland Indians – this team’s not bad, not great
- Chicago White Sox – it’s going to be a long rebuilding process on the South Side
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – free agent signings help in short term
- Texas Rangers (Wild Card) – this team is becoming a perennial contender
- Seattle Mariners – sorry, Seattle. At least you play in a real stadium
- Oakland Athletics – San Jose, here we come
Texas Rangers defeat Tampa Bay Rays (3-1)
Detroit Tigers defeat Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (3-2)
Texas Rangers defeat Detroit Tigers (4-2)
- Philadelphia Phillies – One. More. Year. Then they all retire
- Atlanta Braves (Wild Card) – an up-and-coming, homegrown squad
- Washington Nationals – they’re damn close to being the real deal
- Miami Marlins – another empty new ballpark, patience isn’t Miami’s strong suit
- New York Mets – organization builds a statue giving the middle finger to Madoff
- Cincinnati Reds – it’s do or die for a team that needs to keep its stars
- St. Louis Cardinals – they’re projected to miss the playoffs (read: they’ll win the World Series)
- Milwaukee Brewers – Braun is a distraction and Fielder’s gone
- Pittsburgh Pirates – law of averages says they’ll eventually have a winning season, right?
- Chicago Cubs – everyone knows this is a rebuilding season
- Houston Astros – this team is junk
- San Francisco Giants – never mind that they can’t hit; it won’t take much to win this division
- Arizona Diamondbacks – if the Giants collapse, this team will make it again
- Colorado Rockies – eventually this team will have to rebuild
- Los Angeles Dodgers – organization builds a statue giving the middle finger to McCourt
- San Diego Padres – better than the Astros
Philadelphia Phillies defeat San Francisco Giants (3-1)
Cincinnati Reds defeat Atlanta Braves (3-1)
Cincinnati Reds defeat Philadelphia Phillies (4-2)
Cincinnati Reds defeat Texas Rangers (4-3)
Texas loses to an upstart team once again.