With the division previews wrapped up, I'm now going to make some predictions regarding the major awards.
I'm also making a few misc. predictions, taking a look at potential Cinderella teams, vulnerable managers, the All-Star Game, and trades that may happen.
I did not pick any of last year's award winners to repeat; if you want to read that Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols will repeat as MVPs, you can read ESPN or SI's season preview. I've decided to go a little off-the-wall and pick some dark-horses.
Enjoy! Coming your way after this will be the eighth and final part in this series, my postseason predictions.
For once, I think Tex is going to get off to a hot start. He should benefit from a full season of A-Rod hitting behind him. My pick to lead the AL in RBI, and he'll finish in the top 10 in HR, SLG, and OPS as well.
Joe Mauer: Now that he knows he's going to be in the Twin Cities another nine seasons, he can keep his focus on terrorizing AL pitching. I don't think he's going to repeat, but at the least, he'll be in the conversation for not only AL MVP but the batting title as well.
Miguel Cabrera: It seems his personal issues are behind him. He is one of the most complete hitters in the game, that rare slugger who will hit 30 bombs and drive in over 100 all while hitting well over .300. He's vital to the Tigers' success.
Evan Longoria: This could be the year he overtakes A-Rod as the game's best third baseman; some think he already has. With Scott Kazmir gone and Carl Crawford's future with the team unclear, he is undoubtedly the face of the Rays.
Kendry Morales: Even with Chone Figgins gone, RBI opportunities should be plentiful for this young Cuban slugger. Him winning the MVP would make the Angels' decision to not resign Teixeira after 2008 look even better.
Say hello to the newest member of the 30-30 club. This feat, along with his play helping the Dodgers hold off Colorado and Atlanta for the NL Wild Card will be enough for this five-star stud to overtake King Albert for NL MVP.
Albert Pujols: The best player in baseball, he'll at least be in the conversation and he is going to lead the Cardinals to another NL Central title. I'm not picking a three-peat, but I wouldn't be remotely shocked if he pulled it off. He's that kind of player.
Hanley Ramirez: With all the talk Pujols and Mauer have been getting the last year or so, it's easy to forget about this guy but I think he's on their level. As well-rounded a player as there is in the game today.
Prince Fielder: The centerpiece in the middle of a potent Milwaukee offense, I think Fielder is going to lead the majors in home runs this season. If the Brewers make it back to October, Fielder will likely be a major reason.
Chase Utley: A superstar talent with the mindset of a role player. For all the great hitters they have, Utley is still the Phillies' best overall player and should help lead them to a fourth straight NL East title.
If Zach Greinke's ERA had been a half run higher last season, King Felix would already have a Cy Young under his belt. He's durable, he's got swing-and-miss stuff, and he throws strikes. This is the year he establishes himself as the AL's best pitcher.
Justin Verlander: He's the harder-throwing, more-likeable modern day version of Jack Morris. With arguably the best fastball in the majors and a devastating curve, Verlander has the stuff to be the best pitcher in baseball. A Cy Young is in his future; just not in 2010.
CC Sabathia: Has to be considered a Cy Young contender for the sole reason that he's got the best offense in baseball backing him up. It doesn't hurt that he's got one world series under his belt and should be feeling no pressure compared to last year.
Jake Peavy: If his showing last September is a sign of things to come, look out AL Central. That division is chock full of mediocre lineups that Peavy can mow through when he's going well.
Jon Lester: Lackey was the impact signing, and Beckett is the Red Sox legend, but Jon Lester is really the ace of this staff; just not everyone knows it. I have a feeling that will have changed by the end of 2010.
I hate to hop on bandwagons, but I can't help it here. I just can't pick against the Doctor in the National League. Some people really felt the Phillies were unwise trading Cliff Lee to get him; Halladay will have proven those people wrong by July.
Tim Lincecum: You'd think he would be the favorite as the two-time defending Cy Young winner. I'm as big a fan of him as anyone but I like Halladay more playing in a worse division and with a better offense. Still wouldn't be surprised if he pulled off the first three-peat since Randy Johnson.
Clayton Kershaw: I'd think the kid gloves would be taken off a little this year, even as quick as Joe Torre is to turn to his bullpen. From May on last season, he was just about untouchable. More innings and greater run support, and Kershaw could skyrocket.
Adam Wainwright: He paired with Chris Carpenter last season to form the NL's best one-two punch. He allowed quite a few hits, but he gets a lot of strikeouts and doesn't walk very many. Under Dave Duncan's watch, he should have continued success.
Dan Haren: Every year, all this guy does is improve his numbers across the board. Each of his first five losses last season were quality starts; as a whole, he was lights-out before the All-Star break. It's scary to think what he could do with a less sporadic offense than Arizona's.
Some aren't high on Matusz's AL ROY prospects because he pitches in the AL East. Last I heard, good pitching beats good hitting though. Maybe I'm expecting too much, but I don't think a Justin Verlander-Francisco Liriano kind of impact is out of the question.
Wade Davis: I saw this kid's big league debut against Detroit last season; I was thoroughly impressed. I don't think Davis is going to be an ace, but he sure looks like a solid two or three to me. The Rays took their time with him, developed him properly, and they're about to reap the benefits.
Austin Jackson: For the life of me, I can't understand why everyone is obsessing over his lack of power; last I heard, that wasn't necessary to be a good leadoff man. If he gets on base and wreaks some havoc, he could be just the spark plug the Tigers need.
Carlos Santana: The fact that the Dodgers were more willing to trade this young stud than pay Casey Blake for two months really doesn't say much good about their organization. Sandy Alomar Jr. has already said he reminds him of Victor Martinez.
Chris Carter: Carter is the young home-grown slugger the A's have been looking for since Jason Giambi left. Only Eric Chavez and Daric Barton are ahead of him on the depth chart; that bodes well for his chances of making it to the majors this year.
Hopping on another bandwagon here but I don't know how you pick against this guy. Heyward looked awesome this Spring, and no one breaks in young talent better than Bobby Cox. I could see him having a Ryan Braun-Evan Longoria kind of impact.
Alcides Escobar: The Elvis Andrus of 2010? He's flying completely under the radar thanks to Heyward, but this guy has quite a promising future himself. I love his skillset; he does everything you could ask for from a leadoff man. Add in that he's stellar defensively, and he could make quite a difference.
Aroldis Chapman: I think he'll make it to the majors before Strasburg, especially if Leake or Bailey struggles and the Reds find themselves needing power pitching. He's got a major league fastball; once he masters his breaking pitches, the Reds should have something special.
Tyler Colvin: Wasn't even on my radar a few weeks ago; he obviously was on Lou Piniella's though and his opinion counts for a lot more than mine. With such mercurial players as Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome ahead of him, I'll bet he's going to get playing time.
Stephen Strasburg: I had to at least include him on here, but I think he's going to get at least a month or two in the minors and that hurts his cause a little. Bottom line, he'll probably be in the majors by September and that is as clear a sign of Washington's progress as anything.
I know what you're thinking, and I've had doubts about his chances myself. I've got Texas winning the West though and I think the voters are going to be in a forgiving mood come November. If Texas doesn't make it to the postseason this year, I think he'll be fired; sounds like enough motivation to me.
He already has one under his belt from when he led the Padres to the top in 1996. He'll do the same with the Giants this season, and will be rewarded for doing so at the end of the year. Boch had to endure a few tough seasons in San Francisco at first, but the good times are rollin' now.
He was my preseason pick for AL MVP last season; yeah, that didn't really work out. I've got more confidence in Sizemore this time around; he was simply playing hurt last season. Look more for the guy who flirted with 40-40 in 2008 than the imposter from last year.
Jake Peavy: As I mentioned before, he's a dark horse Cy Young contender.
Vladimir Guerrero: Call me crazy, but I don't think 30 bombs and 100 RBI is out of the question.
David Ortiz: I expect the Red Sox to be short on sentimentality when it comes to this guy; If he doesn't produce, he'll be replaced.
Magglio Ordonez: Similar situation as Ortiz; if we wants to collect $15M a year from now, he better tap into some of that pre-2009 form.
Nevermind the fact that's he got something to prove this year (whether he thinks so or not). The bottom line is that Manny doesn't have a 2011 contract. The last time he was a free agent to be, he single-handedly carried a team to the playoffs.
Cole Hamels: 2009 was a result of him throwing 260+ innings the year prior, and he no longer needs to worry about being an ace.
David Wright: You know he's going to hit for contact, but I expect some of the power to come back.
Conor Jackson: He was a hitter to be reckoned with before valley fever struck.
Tim Hudson: Hanson and Jurrjens are getting the attention and with good reason, but Hudson still has the ability to be the ace of Atlanta's staff.
They're two of baseball's historic franchises; the last decade has been pretty rough for them both though. Perhaps things are finally about to improve.
Andy MacPhail has done a fantastic job assembling a young core in Baltimore, and then adding veterans to that mix this off season. I believe they're going to be the most improved team in baseball this year They probably can't make it to October on their own; New York or Boston is going to have to open the door for them by underachieving. While I wouldn't bet on that happening, crazier things have happened.
The Reds have been on Cinderella watch since 2008; they just seem to get lost on the way to the ball every time. I love this club's mix of youngsters and veterans as well, particularly on the pitching staff. I like their postseason chances quite a bit more than Baltimore's, as the Cardinals are hardly as sure a thing as the Yankees or Red Sox. If Volquez and Chapman are both in that rotation by September, the Reds either will push for a playoff spot themselves or play spoiler to some other playoff hopeful.
Ron Washington, Texas Rangers: That's right, my preseason pick for AL Manager of the Year is also sitting on the hottest seat of anyone right now. As I mentioned before, my personal assertion is that's fly or die time for Wash: make the playoffs, or nice to know ya. Right now, I think things are going to work out for him.
Jerry Manuel, New York Mets: You have to admire this guy for maintaining such high spirits through such a turbulent year in Queens. Unfortunately, I doubt that will save him if the Mets perform like they did last year. It's really a pivotal year for everyone in that organization.
I use the word "overhaul" because I really can't pinpoint any bona-fide "fire-sale" candidates. I couldn't have told you the Indians were going to do what they did last season, nor did I think Pittsburgh would go as far as they did with their sale. Simply put, these are organizations that could drastically change the direction they're going in by season's end, whether that means a plethora of deals or not.
Tampa Bay Rays: Rays' brass confirmed it; the payroll is going down next year. To me, there couldn't be a more clear sign that unless the Rays are within striking distance of a playoff spot at the deadline, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena will probably not be sticking around. If BJ Upton and Pat Burrell rebound, I think they'd be in play too. One can only hope that like the Marlins, this organization can secure a new stadium and help the revenue flow so they can stop having to trade off these star players.
New York Mets: I could very easily see the Mets making some severe changes this year, but I believe most of them would be off the field, not on it. Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel's futures with the organization is likely dependent on how the team does this year, and there's no telling what a new GM would think to do. As far the team itself goes, most of the team is either players they probably don't want to move or players they can't move. How long can they not perform before it's time to start over though?
In light of a couple injuries, I've had to change a couple all-star team predictions. Below are my final all-star roster predictions and my prediction for the game itself.
* - Denotes starter.
AL Roster: Erick Aybar, Andrew Bailey, Gordon Beckham, Miguel Cabrera, Carl Crawford*, Chone Figgins, Brian Fuentes, Curtis Granderson*, Vladimir Guerrero*, Rich Harden, Felix Hernandez*, Torii Hunter, Derek Jeter*, Ian Kinsler*, Cliff Lee, Jon Lester, Adam Lind, Evan Longoria*, Victor Martinez, Nick Markakis, Joe Mauer*, Jonathan Papelbon, Jake Peavy, Dustin Pedroia, Mariano Rivera, Brian Roberts, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Grady Sizemore, Joakim Soria, Ichiro Suzuki*, Mark Teixeira*, Justin Verlander
NL Roster: Jason Bay*, Heath Bell, Ryan Braun*, Jonathan Broxton, Octavio Dotel, Andre Ethier, Prince Fielder, Carlos Gonzalez, Roy Halladay*, Tommy Hanson, Dan Haren, Matt Holliday, Jair Jurrjens, Matt Kemp*, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Brian McCann*, Miguel Montero, Hunter Pence, Brandon Phillips, Albert Pujols*, Aramis Ramirez, Hanley Ramirez*, Mark Reynolds, Francisco Rodriguez, Jimmy Rollins, Troy Tulowitzki, Chase Utley*, Joey Votto, Adam Wainwright, Jayson Werth*, Brian Wilson, Ryan Zimmerman*
AL over NL, 6-3
All-Star Game MVP: Evan Longoria
A disclaimer; I realize how lucky I'll be if one of these happens. This is strictly for fun so keep that in mind if you disagree with me here.
1. Adrian Gonzalez to the Braves.
2. Carl Crawford to the Yankees.
3. Carlos Pena to the Mariners.
4. Heath Bell to the Cubs.
5. Ben Sheets to the Dodgers.
6. Brad Hawpe to the White Sox.
7. Jhonny Peralta to the Cardinals.
8. Jake Westbrook to the Rangers.
9. Cody Ross to the Brewers.