2011 AL Predictions
1. Boston Red Sox (94-68)
I don’t think Boston will be the ungodly superpower that many are projecting them to be. Sure, they picked up Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford, but the two of them were less productive than Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez were in 2010. Gonzalez and Crawford also play less premium positions, meaning the Red Sox will have to run someone like Jarrod Saltalamacchia out there on a regular basis, he of the 82 career OPS+. The back end of the pitching rotation remains questionable. Josh Beckett was not good last year and Dice-K is about as dicey as they come.
2. New York Yankees (93-69)
The Yankees failed to sign Cliff Lee, leaving them to scramble to fill the back two spots in their rotation. If Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia can be serviceable, the Yankees will be just fine. But if they all flame out early, it could be a long year in the Bronx. The offense will remain prodigious, and the bullpen should be among the league’s best. The Yankees led the league in offense in 2010, and did so with several key players contributing less-than-impressive seasons. A return to normal for guys like Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter could turn an already impressive offense into a run-producing powerhouse.
3. Tampa Bay Rays (85-77)
The Rays have won the AL East two of the past three years, but enter into another transition year in 2011. Gone is pretty much the entire bullpen as well as two of their most productive hitters, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena. As usual, the farm system is stacked with plenty of talent ready to start replacing the departed stars, but this year may be too soon to expect full returns on investment. The homegrown rotation will keep the Rays in ballgames and in the division race, but ultimately will miss out on a third playoff berth in four years.
4. Baltimore Orioles (80-82)
The O’s are definitely headed in the right direction, but their touted young talent has failed to develop as well as expected. Matt Wieters has been more average than awesome, and the young outfield has been more ordinary than outstanding. There’s some hope on the way with some pitching prospects, but they’re in the wrong division to be learning on the job. A lot of one year stopgaps in place for the team, with guys like Derrek Lee, JJ Hardy and Vladimir Guerrero looking to rebuild their value off down years.
5. Toronto Blue Jays (76-86)
Trading Roy Halladay hurt, no doubt, but getting rid of Vernon Wells was a fantastic move by the Jays, regardless of how positive an influence he was. His ill-advised contract was a burden on a team playing in a division where every dollar counts if they want to compete. Shedding that salary allows them more financial flexibility going forward.
1. Detroit Tigers (90-72)
Despite his off-the-field antics, Miguel Cabrera remains one of the league’s most prolific offensive players and now has an adequate sidekick to help carry Detroit’s offense in Victor Martinez. The Tigers offense will be better, but they will still rely on their top heavy rotation and shut down bullpen to win ballgames. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello look to build onto their short major league resumes, and Joaquin Benoit will team with Jose Valverde to form an imposing late-inning tandem.
2. Minnesota Twins (85-77)
The Twins have long made a habit of developing their own talent and competing year in and year out with a limited payroll. But the Twins have churned out some rather impressive homegrown players the past few years, and with high attendance numbers and a new stadium generating record revenues, the Twins have raised their payroll into baseball’s top 10. Their park, while detrimental to and infuriating for the Twins home run hitters, is suited perfectly for their “pitch-to-contact” pitching philosophy.
3. Chicago White Sox (82-80)
The Sox are definitely going for it, having taken on a lot of payroll in recent years (Rios, Peavy and Dunn). They’re in the right division to make a run at another playoff berth, but will need their pitching to hold up all season in order to have that shot. They won the World Series because each of their pitchers had a career year and something similar will need to happen for them to be serious contenders again this year. I wouldn’t hold my breath.
4. Kansas City Royals (75-87)
No matter what transpires for the Royals this season, if their young talent continues to develop on schedule the season will be a success. They’ve got some veteran placeholders while that talent approaches the major leagues, and I feel comfortable in saying that the Royals will make the playoffs within the next five seasons. Dayton Moore said that his first priority was going to be rebuilding the Royals from within and he’s certainly accomplished the first step in that process by compiling vast amounts of young talent. The trick now is to develop it and transition it all to the majors.
5. Cleveland Indians (70-92)
In direct contrast to the Royals, the Indians have very few high-upside talents in the minors and look to be mired in a rebuilding stage for a few years. Trading off veterans like Grady Sizemore and Fausto Carmona makes all the sense in the world if by doing so, Cleveland can replenish their farm system. Although given the poor returns on their recent trades, even that may be too much of a challenge for the Tribe. When the best player you get back for CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez is Justin Masterson, it might be time to reconsider the scouting department.
1. Texas Rangers (89-73)
I can’t see them being that much better than they were last year, when they got a career year from Josh Hamilton, a pleasant surprise from CJ Wilson and a resurgence from Vladimir Guerrero. The starting rotation doesn’t look to be overly impressive so the Rangers will have to mash their way to a second consecutive division crown, which they are more than capable of doing.
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (84-76)
In 2011, the Angels will pay over $50 million for three centerfielders—none of which will play centerfield for the Angels. Gary Matthews Jr is still owed $11 million this season despite being dumped last season, while Vernon Wells ($23 million) and Torii Hunter ($18 million) will play the corner outfield positions this year for the Halos. The Angels are a collection of a lot of overrated offensive and defensive players with a pitching staff that doesn’t have much depth beyond Dan Haren and Jered Weaver.
3. Oakland Athletics (80-82)
Perhaps one of the league’s best kept secrets is Oakland’s starting rotation, which is five deep and five strong. With a very good bullpen, even a passable offense could allow the A’s to make their first playoff run since 2006. But additions like Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui probably won’t help an offense that ranked eleventh in the American League last season enough to jump to the top of baseball’s smallest division.
4. Seattle Mariners (63-99)
Typically I don’t like to pick teams to lose 100 games, but the Mariners did it last season and very well may do it again in 2011. The offense was historically futile last season and doesn’t figure to be much better this time around. The pitching, apart from Felix Hernandez, isn’t very good and there’s not much minor league talent behind Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda. The forecast looks just as bad for the Mariners as it does for America’s dreariest city.