American League East
The Yankees opened the offseason with a very questionable starting rotation after CC Sabathia, but have since transformed it into a strength. After re-upping with Freddy Garcia early on, they traded for young right-hander Michael Pineda and signed former Dodger Hiroki Kuroda. With one of the league’s most potent offenses and a shutdown bullpen, the Yankees seem to be the best team in the East.
Like the Red Sox, the Rays’ season came down to the very last game. The Rays are all about run prevention, running out an excellent rotation and a shutdown bullpen that Joe Maddon manages very well. The reunion with Carlos Pena will add some pop to a lineup that desperately needs it, and a full season of Desmond Jennings should help as well.
3. Red Sox
The Red Sox undoubtedly have a ton of talent, and had they won one more game last year, their whole season could have turned out drastically different. They’ve replaced Jonathan Papelbon with some new bullpen arms after moving Daniel Bard to the rotation, and still possess arguably the league’s best offense. Unfortunately, they have two teams ahead of them in the division to jump.
There’s some hope for the future here, but I think they’re still a season away from contending. The bats are there and Baltimore will certainly hit for some power with bats like Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds. The bullpen should be a strength but it’s the starting pitching that needs to improve for the O’s to climb out of the bottom of the division.
5. Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are an improving team that has a lot of potential, but fulfilling that potential will be challenging, especially in this division. Jose Bautista is probably at his peak performance and while guys like Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus have room for improvement, it’s not a given that they’ll translate their tools into production. After Ricky Romero, the starting rotation doesn’t have an arm that you can count on.
American League Central
Detroit ran away with the division last season and went ahead and got better. They already had the best hitter (Miguel Cabrera) in the division and the best pitcher (MVP & Cy Young Justin Verlander) but decided that Prince Fielder would be an adequate replacement for Victor Martinez. If you asked me which team was most likely to win their division by 15+ games, I wouldn’t hesitate picking the Tigers.
2. White Sox
Thought long and hard about the rest of this division, and it’s pretty close who finishes in spots 2-5. Chicago has some intriguing arms in their rotation, mainly Jake Peavy (health) and Chris Sale (transition to rotation) and should have enough offense to stick around .500 for most of the season.
Their farm system is once again churning out very nice players, and this time they’re locking them up long-term early to try and stabilize some costs. Losing closer Joakim Soria hurt the back end of the bullpen, but if Jonathan Broxton can provide some stability at the end of the game, KC has a chance to put a nice little season together. Offensively, they’re probably the best of the bunch not named the Tigers. But the starting pitching is still an area in need of improvement.
They definitely over-achieved last season, and the offense still is not good. There are far too many regular at bats for guys that are well below league average. The Indians are going to need guys to stay healthy (already a problem) and play above their heads if they want to make any noise in a very weak division.
It’s a shame Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have fought injuries and ineffectiveness the past few seasons. The new ballpark should have been an exciting time for the Twins, but they’ve just kind of wallowed around the past few years. That Carl Pavano is starting Opening Day says a lot about the amount of work their rotation needs.
American League West
They’re still the cream of the crop out here, with a potent offense, and a ton of pitching depth. Yu Darvish looks to replace the production of the departed CJ Wilson and even if Neftali Feliz doesn’t work out as a starter, they have guys like Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison waiting fill in. After consecutive AL pennants, the Rangers are still the team to beat.
But if anyone’s going to give the Rangers a run for their money, it will be the Angels and their new big name free agent splashes. Joining the team are Albert Pujols who gives them the middle-of-the-order bat that they desperately needed and CJ Wilson who fills out the starting rotation and make the Angels front four one of the best in the game.
Their big offseason acquisition was Yoenis Cespedes, who put together a fancy highlight video of himself, but still has zero MLB games under his belt. He could be a middle-of-the-lineup game changer or he could wind up hitting a buck-fifty on June 1 for a last place team. The A’s have a ton of young pitching and if those arms pitch up to their potential, they could hang around and make a run for that second wild card spot.
Even with Jesus Montero, who has managed to stay among baseball’s top prospects despite not having a defined position, Seattle will struggle to score runs. Running the league’s worst offense out in the league’s most pitcher-friendly park is not any way to contend for division titles.
National League East
Even with the flashy offseason moves by the rest of the division, Philadelphia is still the team to beat. They may not have Four Aces anymore, but the three they do have are still damn good. Halladay, Hamels and Lee will lead the way for a pitching staff that will have a little less to work with while Ryan Howard and Chase Utley recuperate from injuries.
While the Marlins made most of the big name moves, I think Washington’s young talent taking a step forward does more good in the end. Reliable starting pitching has been Washington’s Achilles Heel the past few seasons, and bringing in veterans Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to go with homegrown studs Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann should give them some semblance of consistency on the mound. The offense should get a bump from a more typical Jayson Werth season and a return of a healthy Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman.
Like the Red Sox, the Braves were just a game away from extending their season past 162 games. But I think they over achieved a little and then didn’t do a whole lot to improve over the offseason. A full season from Michael Bourn will help, but if Jason Heyward and Martin Prado don’t rebound and Chipper Jones spends an extended period of time on the DL, the Braves could find themselves slipping further down the NL East standings than they are used to.
A chic World Series pick, I just don’t see it. The rotation must have everyone stay healthy and effective, and that’s certainly not a lock given the injury history of Josh Johnson and the Jekyll and Hyde routine of Ricky Nolasco and Carlos Zambrano. The offense should be decent enough, but Jose Reyes isn’t a picture of perfect health and I still need to see more consistent effort and production from Hanley Ramirez. Regardless, they shouldn’t expect to be the worst team wearing orange in the NL East this season.
This is a troubled team with no real strength anywhere on the team. The team’s highest paid players are very injury prone and their performances have suffered because of it. The team moved the fences in and lowered them in hopes of jump-starting some of their key players, but more than likely it will hurt their pitchers more than benefit their hitters.
National League Central
The Reds lost their biggest free agent acquisition of the offseason when Ryan Madson went down with Tommy John surgery before ever throwing a regular season pitch for Cincinnati. But with Sean Marshall, acquired in a trade with the Cubs, and Aroldis Chapman, the back end of the bullpen should still be very strong. After Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos, the starting rotation lacks dependable depth and other than Joey Votto, the lineup isn’t all that menacing. However, if there is a division where a team can overlook it’s shortcomings, it’s the NL Central.
They’ll never replace Pujols’ production or the impact that he had on a game just by being in the stadium. But this is still the defending champion and they’re welcoming Adam Wainwright back into the rotation. Even if he’s not the same guy that finished in the top 3 in the Cy Young balloting in 2009 and 2010, he’ll improve the Cardinals rotation. They picked up Beltran on a very team-friendly deal to help fill the Pujols hole (hah!) but what they really need is for Lance Berkman to repeat his 2011 season and for David Freese to take another step forward and become a threat in the middle of the lineup.
Ryan Braun should expect a hard time of it this season, with the positive drug test hanging over him and Prince Fielder no longer looming behind him in the lineup. Aramis Ramirez just isn’t the same guy that Fielder is. With Zack Grienke and Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers have the same deal as the Reds, two very good starters but not much after that. And unlike Cincinnati, Milwaukee doesn’t have the strong bullpen to back the rotation.
Here by the sole virtue that they are not quite as bad as the Pirates and Astros. Apart from Starlin Castro, they don’t have a lot of enviable young talent, and the rotation is a mess behind Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster. With a new front office in place, the Cubs should start returning to relevancy, but not this year and not next year. But hey, $18 million outfielder Alfonso Soriano only has three years left on his contract!
There are only a handful of teams in baseball that could lose AJ Burnett to an injury and have it be a bad thing. But Pittsburgh is one of them. Behind Burnett, the Pirates have a motley crew of reclamation projects (Erik Bedard) and guys that would be more at home in a Triple-A rotation (Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton) than a major league one.
The only reason I’d say they’ll be better than they were last season is because the 106 losses Houston suffered through in 2012 were the most in baseball since the Diamondbacks lost 111 games in 2004. To celebrate their continued disaster, Houston will move to the American League in 2013 where life certainly won’t be any easier.
National League West
The Giants will once again run out an impressive pitching staff and once again struggle to provide adequate run support. Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan will be counted upon to contribute power and speed to a lineup that desperately lacks both and Buster Posey will look to return healthy and productive from an unfortunate and severe ankle injury. They won’t score a whole lot, but with their pitching staff and their home ballpark, they won’t have to in order to win the division.
With Frank McCourt finally out of the picture, one of the games premiere franchises can get back on the right track. They have a Cy Young winning pitcher and an MVP caliber center-fielder to build around in Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp. The new ownership has to decide if Andre Ethier is worth building around, and if not, see what they can get for him in a July trade.
The NL West is considerably easier to pitch in than the American League, and Trever Cahill should find that out as Ian Kennedy did last year. Jason Kubel will help fill out the lineup, but I just don’t see them carrying their 2011 overachievements into 2012.
Colorado is working San Francisco’s plan in reverse—the Rockies have more than enough offense to go around, but is counting on 49-year old Jamie Moyer, AL East washout Jeremy Guthrie and rookie Drew Pomeranz to flush out their starting rotation. Even with the humidor, there could be a lot of home runs flying over the wall at Coors Field—for both teams.
Other than the fact that the first names of San Diego’s first five hitter form a complete sentence—CAMERON WILL CHASE JESUS YONDER— I can’t think of a single thing that excites me about the Padres. Cory Luebke looked very good in limited time late last season and Yonder Alonso will finally get extended playing time after being blocked by MVP Joey Votto in Cincinnati for so long.
AL East: Yankees
AL Central: Tigers
AL West: Rangers
AL Wild Card 1: Rays
AL Wild Card 2: Angels
NL East: Phillies
NL Central: Reds
NL West: Giants
NL Wild Card 1: Cardinals
NL Wild Card 2: Nationals
1. Philadelphia Phillies (95-67)
The Phillies became so overrated this winter that it’s become trendy to pick against them, so much so in fact that I believe they are underrated again. This is a team that won 97 games last year despite some pretty bad injuries and long disappearing acts from the offense. I’d wager that at least one of their “four aces” takes a turn on the DL at some point, but they are still an excellent ball club and the team to beat.
2. Atlanta Braves (93-69)
Very quietly, the Braves have put together a very formidable team. They have rotation that is deep and talented, so much so that Mike Minor will open the season in Triple-A. The addition of Dan Uggla and the return of a healthy Chipper Jones will lengthen the lineup and provide more support to the staff. They made it to the playoffs last season despite being a lesser offensive club and dealing with significant injuries. I think they make a return trip this season, providing they can stay somewhat healthy.
3. Florida Marlins (88-74)
The 2011 Marlins have significant upside, but have a fairly high bust factor to them as well. They’ve hedging a lot of bets on pitchers that perpetually underperform their peripheral stats (Nolasco and Vazquez). The offense will undoubtedly miss Dan Uggla’s consistency, and expecting Omar Infante and John Buck to repeat their 2010 campaigns may be unrealistic. The talent is there and the team is a good one, but Atlanta and Philly are better.
4. Washington Nationals (78-84)
The future is starting to look a little better, but the nation’s capitol will have to wait a bit longer to be relevant again. The offense has become one that is actually a good unit. Jayson Werth is not worth his contract, but he’s an very good player on both sides of the ball and will fit nicely with the other offensive pieces around him. Ryan Zimmerman is perpetually underrated and Adam LaRoche’s consistency goes overlooked. If young players like Ian Desmond and Michael Morse take a step forward, Washington could prove to be an annoying spoiler team. But regardless of how many runs they score, their pitching staff is more than capable of giving up even more.
5. New York Mets (72-90)
The Mets’ new front office has its work cut out for them. The Kings of Queens have turned quickly into jokers. They’ve got some potentially nice offensive pieces, but not a particularly intimidating lineup. They’re not exactly a model of perfect health either and they are betting on some young unproven guys to repeat career performances. If a lot things break right for the Mets they could be looking at a remote wild card shot by July. If not, an enormous roster shake up wouldn’t be out of the question.
1. Cincinnati Reds (91-71)
Apart from Joey Votto, nobody particularly stands out on a rather blase Reds team. But they were good enough to win a weak division last year and it doesn’t look like the division got much better. As is the norm with most upstart teams, the Reds got a lot of unexpected contributions this year and the trick now is to see if they can repeat those.
2. Milwaukee Brewers (90-72)
The Brewers did not struggle to score runs last season, nor did their opponents. While they will remain a very strong offensive team, they did vastly improve their rotation situation which no longer boasts Randy Wolf as a main attraction. Both Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum are excellent additions, although they’ll need to avoid any more pick-up basketball games. The Brewers are definitely the most improved NL Central team and could very well nudge the Reds out for the division crown.
3. St. Louis Cardinals (89-73)
Adam Wainwright’s injury really threw the rotation out of whack, to the point where it probably won’t be all that good. Carpenter is solid, but not a given to stay on the field. Chances are he’ll either be on the DL or on a different team come the trade deadline. After Pujols, Holliday and Rasmus, the lineup is void of any serious offensive threats. The Cardinals are the epitome of stars and scrubs, and with less stars than they had last year, they shouldn’t expect much this summer under the Arch.
4. Chicago Cubs (80-82)
The rotation should be solid and the back of the bullpen is excellent, but the offense seems to be comprised of too many overpaid and underperforming aging veterans. Starlin Castro is a nice injection of youth and ability, but he’s just one guy.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates (75-87)
At least they’re not in last place! They have some nice young offensive pieces like Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker, but the rotation is mostly garbage and the bullpen is not much better. They’re moving in the right direction, but at an exponentially slow pace. The fifth place finish is less a vote of confidence in the Pirates, but rather a complete disbelief in the awfulness of the Astros.
6. Houston Astros (69-93)
Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers did a nice job last year at the front of the rotation, but the back of the rotation is filled with question marks, the bullpen is less than intimidating and the offense isn’t going to out-score anybody enough to consistently win ballgames. And considering the Astros shocking lack of high-end talent in the minors, don’t be surprised to see some veterans shipped off for prospects, like Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman were last season.
1. San Francisco Giants (92-70)
World Series hangover or not, this is still a very good club. I don’t think they’ll get quite the same production that they got last year from Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres and Pat Burrell, but offense isn’t what won them a championship anyways. The 2011 Giants will go just as far as their pitching takes them. And with a rotation fronted by 2-time Cy Young award winning Tim Lincecum and filled out with guys like Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner, that’s a long way. Because of their ability to develop young pitching, it’s made making $185 million dollar man, Barry Zito a very expensive fifth starter a little bit easier.
2. Colorado Rockies (86-76)
I don’t see San Francisco being better than they were last year, but I do see the Rockies being better. However, the Rockies were only an 83 win team last season and didn’t do much to improve themselves except that they expect Troy Tulowitzki to be around for a full season this year. The rotation has a lot of boom or bust potential, and can we really expect the same numbers from Carlos Gonzalez again? Maybe, but I still see them as an also-ran rather than a frontrunner this year.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (78-84)
Kershaw-Billingsley-Kuroda is a damn good front three and they have some depth at the back of the rotation. The bullpen’s not terrible, but I can not foresee the offense scoring with enough frequency to support what should be a nice year from their pitchers. They lack a high impact bat on offense, but could have several nice pieces if they can stay healthy. A bounceback from Matt Kemp would be nice, especially if it settles some questions about his dedication and work ethic. Funny how production answers those. Truth is, the Dodgers really need to smooth out their ownership status before they can truly rebuild themselves into a perennial contender.
4. San Diego Padres (76-86)
Now that Adrian Gonzalez no longer anchors the lineup, the Padres offense is among the games worst units—Ryan Ludwick probably bats cleanup for San Diego this year. Take a terrible offense and make it play 81 games in one of the most offense-suppressing ballparks in baseball and you end up with very ugly results. The rotation isn’t anything special and since that is the case, the shutdown bullpen is typically going to be rendered to lower-leverage situations.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks (70-92)
A bounceback from Justin Upton would go a long way into re-establishing this lineup, but apart from him there are a lot of decent players with big holes. They strikeout way too much and get on base way too infrequently. Those two characteristics lead to a very inconsistent and ineffective offense which is the last thing the Diamondbacks need with its pitching situation in absolute shambles. Ian Kennedy profiles more as a back of the rotation guy, but draws an Opening Day start for Arizona.
During the eighth inning of Philadelphia’s 6-3 loss to the Cardinals on Monday night, some teenage punk decided it would be in his best interest to hop onto the playing field and run around like a lunatic. He weaved his way around officers trying to subdue him for about thirty seconds until the officers decided they had had enough and tasered the young gentleman.
There has been some questioning as to whether or not using the taser on the teenager was the proper way of going about subduing him. While I had no problem with using the taser on this idiot, I did notice that in the above photograph, the officer also is carrying a firearm.
Had the officer used his gun rather than his taser, I think the teen in this case would have definitely been subdued and other punks would be dissuaded from attempting any similar shenanigans in the future. People complain about the “excessive” force that law enforcement officials sometimes use to subdue a suspect, but you rarely hear complaints about the reasons that they have to use such force.
If that was my kid, he’d want the Taser again once he found out what I would have had in store for him when he got home. Don’t like being tased? Then how about you keep your butt in your seat? There were 48,817 people at that game on Monday and 48,816 managed to keep themselves off the playing field.
Some people may say that the 2009 trade deadline was relatively calm in comparison to past years, but I disagree. It’s not every year that the defending World Series champs trade for a reigning Cy Young award winner, and that’s not the only Cy Young winner that changes teams.
Both the Tigers and the White Sox made big moves to take a run at the up-for-grabs AL Central. The Tigers picked up Jarrod Washburn from Seattle for a pair of prospects while Chicago shipped a package of minor-league talent off to San Diego for Jake Peavy (second times a charm, eh?)
The nosiest team at the deadline was Cleveland, who traded away nearly every major talent except for Grady Sizemore. Ryan Garko to San Francisco, Cliff Lee to Philadelphia and Victor Martinez to Boston. Let’s take a look at how some of the major moves affect the teams involved.
CLEVELAND INDIANS: A very disappointing season left them in the unenviable position of having to call it quits this year. They moved a lot of major pieces, and surprisingly didn’t get a whole lot of top talent in return. Cliff Lee brought back some nice pieces from Philadelphia, but the Phillies managed to hold onto their best pitching prospect and their best position prospect.
Single-A starter Jason Knapp is the headliner of the deal for Cleveland, a tall righty that has been called by some as a “Roy Halladay clone”. If he ends up with a Roy Halladay type career, then Cleveland wins this deal easily. More likely however, is that Knapp eventually becomes a back-end rotation guy. Triple-A right hander Carlos Carrasco, shortstop Jason Donald and catcher Lou Marson round out the deal, which also sent outfielder Ben Francisco to Philadelphia.
None of the last three have superstar potential, but all three could eventually become serviceable major leaguers. But all three are young and cost-controlled which is just what the Indians need as they rebuild a broken team.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: Already the class of the NL East, they became the favorite in the entire league by beefing up their rotation with Lee, in addition to adding a solid reserve outfielder. With not much serious contention from within their own division, this is a move that addresses not only their August and September needs, but their October ones as well.
Lee gives the Phillies a one-two punch at the front of their rotation that matches up well against any other NL team. Offense has never been a problem for the homer-happy Phillies, and now they have a rotation to let that offense relax a little. The move allows the Phillies a chance at repeating as champions without mortgaging the future. They held on to their best prospects and improved their current standing.
Kyle Drabek and the freshly promoted Dominic Brown both remain in Philadelphia’s impressive farm system and they’ve added Cliff Lee to their major league roster. He’s not Roy Halladay, who they were in on for several weeks, but in the end, he’s still Cliff Lee and that’s pretty darn good.
BOSTON RED SOX: The Sox were certainly busy the past few weeks, starting by dealing for Pittsburgh’s Adam LaRoche (the Pirates seem to be the AAAA-affiliate for both the Red Sox and the Yankees the past two or three years). Only a few days after getting LaRoche, they decided he wasn’t what they were looking for and spun him off to Atlanta for Casey Kotchman.
In between, they grabbed the best bat available in Victor Martinez. The Red Sox needed offensive help sure, but trading for Kotchman and Martinez doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Kotchman can only play first base and Martinez is a first baseman who can somewhat masquerade as a catcher. With David Ortiz, Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis on the roster, there’s going to be a crunch in everybody’s at bats.
Unless the Red Sox plan on drastically cutting Jason Varitek’s time, who, while slipping offensively is still an above-average defensive catcher, Mike Lowell will probably see the most bench time. While the additions of Kotchman and Martinez allows Francona flexibility in allowing his players to rest, is it smart?
While it’s hard to quantify a catcher’s defensive contributions, statisticians and scouts continuously rate Victor Martinez as well below average defensively. Is the upgrade his bat provides worth whatever they’ll lose on the other side of the ball. Every Boston fan tells me how great Jason Varitek is calling games and guiding pitchers through no-hitter after no-hitter.
And is Martinez really the answer to Boston’s offensive woes? He’s hitting reasonably well for the season, but most of his numbers are due to a torrid start. He’s batting .211 since the calendar hit June and only .175 in July. He has a decent track record but he’s also a catcher on the wrong side of 30 and they don’t age particularly gracefully.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX: General Manager Kenny Williams traded for Peavy several months ago only to have Jake Peavy nix the deal. But persistent devil that he is, he tried again this week and Peavy approved. They gave up pretty much the same package they initially offered, headlined by Aaron Poreda and Clayton Richard.
With Peavy, the White Sox suddenly have a deep and dangerous rotation but they also have the financial obligation of Peavy’s contract. While it seemed like a bargain a few years ago, in the current economic climate it’s a lot for any team not the Red Sox and Yankees to take on.
But the thing is, Jake Peavy’s hurt. He’s currently rehabbing an ankle problem and it’s the type of injury that could become a recurring problem. Peavy’s a Cy Young caliber pitcher when healthy, but he’s had problems staying that way. The White Sox may have shipped off a boatload of young talent for a chronically injured star.
DETROIT TIGERS: The emergence of Edwin Jackson (epic trade fail by Tampa Bay, btw) in addition to Justin Verlander rediscovering his ace stuff gave the Tigers a pretty devastating 1-2 rotation punch. But after them the rotation was a little patchwork.
Trading for Jarrod Washburn was a smart move. Sure he’s having a career year, getting a little lucky and had Seattle’s insanely good outfield defense backing up his flyball tendencies, but he’s a solid buy for Detroit. He’s moving to a similar situation in Detroit (spacious outfield, decent outfield defense) and gives the Detroit the legitimate third starter they can run out in the playoffs.
Luke French, a decent but not blue-chip prospect went the other way in the deal, along with a relief prospect. About the best the Mariners could expect for a two month rental of Washburn.
SAN DIEGO PADRES: Jake Peavy was a San Diego icon, but his contract was holding the organization back from any real improvement. Getting low-cost prospects back from Chicago was just a bonus to getting out from under the albatross of a contract.
The Padres still won’t be any good for awhile, but at least now they have a little more financial flexibility to construct a team, and not just stick a group of players around one guy.