With Robinson Cano and fellow stars Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo in the AL West, that division is certain to be more competitive.
Plenty of Internet ink is spilled on rating and ranking individual players and teams in baseball, but what about doing the same thing for divisions?
Obviously, the offseason isn't over, what with some big names still available in free agency (Masahiro Tanaka, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana come to mind) and others on the trade market (David Price, Jeff Samardzija and Andre Ethier, to name a few) who can swing things, depending on where they land.
With pitchers and catchers barely more than a month from reporting, though, the most major moves have already been made, and shifts in talent and power have taken place as a result. Plus, it's a new year to boot, so why not take stock with a snapshot in time by running down the six different divisions—along with some noteworthy names to arrive and depart from each—worst to best?
The purpose here will be to put greater emphasis on the good and less on the bad. In other words, if a division has one or two awful teams at the bottom, that's not quite so damning if there are two, or even three, strong clubs at the top.
The star-studded Dodgers, led by two-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, are a notch above the rest of the NL West.
This has to be the caboose. The NL West was the only division in baseball to have but one team above .500 in 2013, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and it's hard to claim that any one club has improved much since the end of last season.
The Dodgers are bringing back much of the same star-studded roster that went on a historic 42-8 midsummer run to jump from last to first, so they're in position to dominate even more in 2014 if they can avoid another injury-riddled slow start.
This is especially true since the Arizona Diamondbacks, who finished 81-81, haven't exactly moved the needle much by trading young talent in left-hander Tyler Skaggs, center fielder Adam Eaton and third baseman Matt Davidson for flawed slugger Mark Trumbo and solid-but-not-spectacular closer Addison Reed.
The one potential X-factor that involves those two teams could be Tanaka, as both have been rumored to be after the 25-year-old Japanese ace, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. If the right-hander heads to L.A., this division could be over before the season starts; but if he winds up in the desert, things will be much more interesting.
Beyond the D-backs, the San Francisco Giants might be the best bet to bounce back and give the Dodgers a run for their massive amounts of money after adding right-hander Tim Hudson and streaky slugger Mike Morse to a re-returning core (read: Hunter Pence, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and Javier Lopez) that helped win two World Series titles within the past four years.
Meanwhile, the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies both brought in a few intriguing names but likely not enough to make a real push.
The former added stud righty Josh Johnson, who looked washed up (6.20 ERA) when he wasn't hurt last year, as well as consistent late-inning arm Joaquin Benoit and solid platoon outfielder Seth Smith. The latter is hanging its hopes on the always-injured Brett Anderson, past-his-prime Justin Morneau and a rebuilt bullpen that includes LaTroy Hawkins and Boone Logan.
Even after trading a pair of key players, the Tigers still have two-time reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera.
The Detroit Tigers have been the presumptive favorites in the AL Central in recent years, and they own the longest active streak of division crowns at three straight. They once again look like the head of the class in 2014, even after an on-the-fly revamp that involved trading Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler and moving dependable righty Doug Fister for spare parts.
Offseason abdominal surgeries for superstars Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander make things at least a little murkier at the top, but getting closer Joe Nathan to shore up the ninth should help.
Still, this may not be a one-horse division anymore. Both the Cleveland Indians, who finished just a game back and earned a wild-card berth, and the Kansas City Royals had surprising seasons, winning 92 and 86 games, respectively.
While Kansas City has made some solid under-the-radar transactions (lefty Jason Vargas, second baseman Omar Infante and outfielder Norichika Aoki), it may be losing free agent Ervin Santana, who was the team's second-best starter.
By comparison, Cleveland's rotation has been ravaged this offseason, as lefty Scott Kazmir is now in Oakland and righty Ubaldo Jimenez remains unlikely to return. Unless you're a really, really big fan of David Murphy, the Indians might be in line for some regression.
The Chicago White Sox have continued the rebuild that began last summer by netting the aforementioned Eaton and Davidson, as well as imported Cuban slugger Jose Abreu, but they need to find out how all the new pieces fit.
Last and least, the Minnesota Twins have managed to work on an atrocious rotation that sported an MLB-worst 5.26 ERA last year by signing righties Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. But this franchise won't be turning around until its farm system starts churning out gems in a year or two.
Baseball still hasn't seen the best from either Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg—or the Nats.
This division could be ranked higher, but that depends on the Washington Nationals at the moment. Last year's preseason darlings, they need to make good on all that potential that never manifested until the final six weeks of 2013.
Despite that disappointment, it feels safe to say that we've yet to see the best from Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Co. They could make the leap next season bolstered by a deep and talented rotation that now has Fister in the fourth spot and some outfield depth with veteran Nate McLouth.
The Atlanta Braves, who led the NL East practically wire to wire, are always contenders and have one of the best young cores in the game. There should be some concern, though, over the departures of longtimers Tim Hudson and catcher Brian McCann—not to mention a lack of any real acquisitions outside of platooner Ryan Doumit and still-injured Gavin Floyd.
Here's where the drop-off happens, as the once-mighty Philadelphia Phillies won't be rescued from their continued decline by the return of the elderly Carlos Ruiz and the addition of the even more elderly Marlon Byrd.
After a fifth straight losing campaign, the New York Mets finally made a couple of noteworthy free-agent signings in outfielder Curtis Granderson and ageless wonder Bartolo Colon. The team likely won't turn things around, though, until Matt Harvey gets back on the mound in 2015.
The Miami Marlins? Well, they've got Jose Fernandez.
Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals have some stiff competition in the NL Central.
An argument could be made that the NL Central should be ranked higher than this. After all, the division sent three teams to the postseason last October, the first time that has happened in MLB history.
The reigning Central champ St. Louis Cardinals are one of the most consistently deep and productive teams in the game, thanks to a few perennial All-Stars like Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday, as well as a plethora of young talent that is either itching to contribute or already doing so. As such, they've been relatively quite this winter, but they did solve that pesky, persistent shortstop problem with Jhonny Peralta.
And then there's the Pittsburgh Pirates, doormats of the division for two decades, who are very much for real after breaking a streak of 20 straight losing seasons with 94 wins in 2013—and brandishing the NL MVP (Andrew McCutchen) and home run leader (Pedro Alvarez) to boot. Plus, there's actually a chance they could be better in 2014 with a full season of ace-in-the-making Gerrit Cole.
The playoff trio was capped off by the Cincinnati Reds, who remain more than just relevant because of a very strong rotation one through five, even with the loss of durable Bronson Arroyo. Alas, while homegrown studs Joey Votto and Jay Bruce are still in play, the mighty Cincy offense is likely to take a hit without on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo, who jumped ship to the Texas Rangers. That could cost the Reds a third straight October.
Down in the dumps, the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers both have been incredibly quiet this winter, and they're likely to stay that way into the spring and summer. Well, aside from all the fuss and focus on Ryan Braun and his return from that 65-game Biogenesis ban.
Prince Fielder is just one of the big names to join the beefed up AL West this offseason.
Unquestionably, no division has had a bigger influx of big names than the AL West—and more could even be added in the form of Tanaka. That's why this batch of clubs was able to leapfrog the NL Central.
The Oakland Athletics haven't made any major moves, relative to the rest of the division, but then again, they've also been the best of the West each of the past two years. So, maybe, adding southpaw Scott Kazmir and improving the bullpen with new closer Jim Johnson and setup man Luke Gregerson was all they needed to do.
Although, a bounce-back campaign from power-hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson proving his 2013 breakout was no fluke could be essential to stay on top.
That's because the Texas Rangers look like they've had perhaps the best offseason of any team in baseball by trading for Fielder and signing Choo, a pair of stars to put some much-needed production back into their lineup. They also have consistent stud Adrian Beltre.
The rotation, fronted by strikeout king Yu Darvish, should be great as well, but the starters continue to suffer injuries. As Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News reports, lefty Derek Holland's knee surgery could keep him out up to three months.
Speaking of starters, the Los Angeles Angels have added depth to their rotation with lefties both young (Tyler Skaggs, Hector Santiago) and old (back-from-the-dead Mark Mulder), which was priority No. 1. They also addressed the hole at third base by trading for one-time World Series hero David Freese and fixed up a leaky bullpen by signing Joe Smith.
Meanwhile, veteran Raul Ibanez replaces Trumbo at designated hitter, which is a downgrade, but if Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton return to their star selves alongside the phenom that is Mike Trout, it won't matter.
The biggest shocker, though, was the Seattle Mariners snatching up Robinson Cano for a whopping (and overpriced) $240 million. A club that has had major offensive woes in recent seasons is hoping Cano will team with fellow newcomers Corey Hart and Logan Morrison to jump-start the lineup. Maybe better balance is just the thing top starters Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma need to end a string of four consecutive losing years.
Additionally, if one of the Rangers, Angels or Mariners—each of which has been mentioned as a possible destination for Tanaka—brings in the righty, it would be a banner offseason for what is already the most improved division in the majors.
Even if the Astros wind up losing 100-plus games for a fourth straight season.
Having the reigning champion Red Sox is a good reason why the AL East is still the best division in baseball.
The competition is pretty fierce for this No. 1 ranking, but the AL East still is the cream of the divisional crop, as it has been for the past handful of seasons. That's what happens when four of the five clubs sport better-than-.500 records.
The Boston Red Sox, of course, get their due for winning it all last year. They are capable of defending their title heading into 2014 with veterans David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester and Koji Uehara in place, and youngsters Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. ready to step in for Stephen Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury, respectively, at shortstop and center field. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski and setup man Edward Mujica have been the only notable newbies to date.
There's still a chance that former Cy Young winner David Price could be moved in the coming weeks, but regardless, the Tampa Bay Rays are consistently dangerous given their pitching depth (even sans Price) and ability to accumulate young, big-league-ready talent. The lineup, led by Evan Longoria, will benefit from having Rookie of the Year Wil Myers around all season long, too.
The Baltimore Orioles might have a better batch of hitters, though, including home run champ Chris Davis, stalwart Adam Jones and youngster Manny Machado. It's no accident that the O's led baseball by plenty with 212 homers. Pitching is their problem, at least until youngsters Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy turn into impact arms, which might not happen before 2015.
Another problem? Baltimore hasn't made a single noteworthy acquisition this winter.
The New York Yankees, on the other hand, have made quite a few of those by spending north of $300 million on Ellsbury, McCann and postseason stud Carlos Beltran. Whether they'll get to see Beltran's October heroics first-hand, though, will depend more on the caliber and depth of the rotation, fronted by what looks to be a declining CC Sabathia and full of holes at the back end—unless they can ink Tanaka.
Plus, if age and injuries continue to get the better of captain Derek Jeter and first baseman Mark Teixeira—and the whole Alex Rodriguez suspension situation proves disastrous—there's a chance the aging Yankees could be in trouble.
Which brings us to the Toronto Blue Jays, who suffered through a spate of their own injuries and issues with the rotation, masher Jose Bautista and speedster Jose Reyes. There's still a lot of talent here, including fearsome Edwin Encarnacion and former Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, but unless the Jays have a big move or two left in them, they're going to need everything to go right to contend.
Especially in the best division in baseball.
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