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. New York Yankees: 100-62
An offseason shopping spree of epic proportions make the Yankees the favorite in the loaded AL East. If everyone stays healthy, 100 wins may be an underestimate. But injury and age could catch up to the Yankees and cause them to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive year. If healthy, there isn’t a better starting rotation in baseball than CC Sabathia, Chien-Ming Wang, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain.
2. Boston Red Sox: 95-67
Boston made a whole lot of low-risk/high-reward type deals this offseason (Smoltz, Saito, Penny & Baldelli) and could end up catching lightning in a bottle. They were PR’d into re-signing catcher Jason Varitek and if he gets consistent playing time, he should work in detriment to the team. Their starting rotation is solid and only a few men do their job better than Jonathan Papelbon does his. Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis will anchor the lineup, although I project their production to slip somewhat.
3. Tampa Bay Rays: 93-69
They’d win any other division in baseball by 5 games, but in the AL East, all theyll manage is third place. Their success last year was due to the health of their starting pitching, solid defense and effective relief work. Given the nature of starting pitchers and the fluidity of relievers, one certainly can’t bet on everything falling right for the Rays two years in a row. Their young nucleus of Longoria, Upton and Crawford should continue to develop and follow up their pennant-winning season with another successful campaign.
4. Baltimore Orioles: 78-84
Nothing special this year, Baltimore is raising some good prospects. I love their outfielders and catching prospect Matt Wieters has superstar written all over him. They’re still light on pitching, especially in the bullpen although getting Chris Ray (33 saves in 2006) should help stabilize the bridge to George Sherrill.
5. Toronto Blue Jays: 74-88
With Marcum and McGowan sidelined with injuries and AJ Burnett pitching for a division rival, an apparent strength from 2008 is now a glaring weakness. Roy Halladay is still an elite starter, but after that it’s a crapshoot. Litsch and Purcey are probably the most likely to eat up the innings vacated by Marcum, McGowan and Burnett, but problems abound when Matt Clement is a viable option.
1. Minnesota Twins: 88-74
Every year I slot them in the lower half of this division and every time they make me look stupid by contending. So this year, they’re second in my AL Central. Their young pitching should carry them all season and keep them in contention well into September. However, Mauer and Morneau need to be healthy and productive to make a playoff run.
2. Cleveland Indians: 84-78
The Indians dumped me last year, so I’m going against them again in a weak division. They added a closer to shore up bullpen problems and should get some bounce-back years offensively from a couple of key guys.
3. Kansas City Royals: 79-83
Whoa, right? I haven’t liked a whole lot of their offseason moves (Mike Jacobs, really?) but they’re grooming a nice young crop of players and their pitching is maturing. Meche and Grienke are a nice 1-2 and Soria is a door-slammer in the ninth. They should be a fun team to watch.
4. Detroit Tigers: 76-86
Still don’t trust their pitching, rotation or bullpen. The offense should be there, but this team is going to lose a whole bunch of 9-8 games. Verlander’s looked better this spring, but his peripherals still aren’t where they should be.
5. Chicago White Sox: 73-89
I have an unexplainable dislike of the White Sox and it makes me a little happy when I can pick them to finish in the basement. They’ll be heavily relying on John Danks and Gavin Floyd to build on their successful years from last year. This is an aging team that needs a shot of athleticism.
1. Oakland Athletics: 85-77
They made some smart moves this winter, bringing in Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera to boost an offense that ranked near the bottom in most categories in 2008.
2. Anaheim Angels: 81-81
Last year my surprise was the Rays doing well. This year, I give to you, free of charge, the collapse of the Angels. Without Mark Teixeira and with Vlad a year older (2, actually), the offense just isn’t up to par and the pitching is questionable with the uncertain status of Ervin Santana, John Lackey and Brian Fuentes.
3. Texas Rangers: 77-85
With that offense and that park, they’ll hit their way to a couple of victories, but the pitching is still lacking. They should be in big for Ben Sheets when he’s recovered from his surgery, given his file checks out.
4. Seattle Mariners: 71-91
They started cleaning house last year, shedding some bad contracts and bad characters, but it’ll take more than a year to right this ship. (Get it? Mariners .. ship .. I amuse myself). Felix Hernandez deserves more help than he’s going to get, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to get any in the next few years.
1. Philadelphia Phillies 91-71
I want to pick them to finish second, but I can only see the Mets potentially overtaking them, and after getting burned by them the past two years, I won’t this time. The Philly offense will roll and so long as Cole Hamels doesn’t miss significant time, they’ll be fine.
2. New York Mets: 87-75
K-Rod and Putz certainly help, but not as much as most people seem to think. The starting pitching is still iffy behind Johan Santana, but the offense should help the Mets hang around both the division and wild card races.
3. Atlanta Braves: 86-76
They significantly upgraded their rotation, adding reliable inning-eaters Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez and Japanese star Kenshin Kawakami. Adding those three to holdover Jair Jurrjens should make up for losing Tim Hudson to Tommy John surgery for most of the year. Signing Chipper Jones to a 3-year extension as he enters his age 37 season is risky given his durability issues, but a nexessity nonetheless.
4. Washington Nationals: 76-86
They won’t be the worst team in baseball this year, but they’ll certainly still be pretty bad. Adam Dunn adds some much needed offense, and the eventual drafting of SDSU stud Stephen Strasburg will add the much-needed big arm. They’ll toil away all season, pitching decently and hitting every now and then.
5. Florida Marlins: 72-90
They cleaned house again, but could still end up surprising a lot of people, although outside Hanley Ramirez, they don’t really have a truly great offensive weapon. I foresee them being a streaky team, maybe starting hot, but ultimately fading away into obscurity.
1. Chicago Cubs: 92-70
They’ll be fine beating up their weak National League competition all season, but ultimately lose in October. Again. What’s one more penny when you’ve already got a dollar? The Mark DeRosa and Kevin Gregg deals made no sense and the Milton Bradley contract has it’s risk as well.
2. St. Louis Cardinals: 88-74
Especially if Chris Carpenter returns to his pre-injury form, the Cardinals could be a force in the National League. The Cardinals must hope that Ryan Ludwick can repeat his 2008 year and that they receive offense from someone not named Pujols. The closer situation needs to be settled, rookie Jason Motte could step in and provide some closure there.
3. Milwaukee Brewers: 82-80
The loss of Sabathia and Sheets certainly will hurt the Brewers in the standings. Without their pair of aces, the Brewers will struggle to prevent opposing teams from scoring early and often.
4. Cincinnati Reds: 82-80
Aaron Harang can’t possibly be as bad as he was last year, and Edinson Volquez probably won’t be as good. Johnny Cueto could mature and if a couple things develop, the Reds could hang around the wild card race. More likely, they’ll hang around .500 again
5. Houston Astros: 66-96
They can’t score runs, and outside of Roy Oswalt, they can’t prevent them either. That can’t bode well for a team that has basically traded its farm system away from players past their prime. I wonder if they’ll be interested in Roger Clemens again.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates: 63-99
I don’t like predicting teams to lose 100+ games because that’s a terrible team. But I thought long and hard about the 2009 Pirates. For a team that’s constantly rebuilding, they sure don’t have much of a foundation.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers: 91-71
With the return of Manny Ramirez, LA will make a return to the postseason. The pitching is there and the hitting is good enough to eek out a division title.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks: 87-75
Keeping Randy Johnson probably would have made them the favorites here, but they’ll turn his innings over to younger, cheaper options. If their young hitters (Young, Drew, Upton, Jackson) continue to develop, they could absolutely make a run at the division with their pitching.
3. San Francisco Giants: 77-85
This is a team getting close, but they’re still not there yet. The pitching, led by Lincecum is good, but the offense could use upgrades at several positions.
4. Colorado Rockies: 71-91
Same ol’ story. No pitching coupled with some pretty good hitting. Their Cinderella run to the World Series two years ago is ancient history and they’re back to being an irrelevant schedule filler out west.
5. San Diego Padres: 64-98
They need to just dump Peavy and the rest of their vets and start over. Focus on power pitchers suited for that big park, and young, athletic position players that can manufacture runs and prevent them with the leather.
Yankees over Athletics in 4
The Athletics slip into the playoffs from a weak conference and run into the Yankees and their stars. This year, with a much improved playoff rotation, the Yankees are too much for a young and promising Oakland club.
Red Sox over Twins in 4
Boston’s lineup is too patient and disciplined and is capable of taking the Twins young pitchers out of their zone. That, coupled with the Twins middling offense sends the Sox to the ALCS.
Yankees over Red Sox in 7
This year’s ALCS will feature some tough, grind-it-out games featuring good pitching and some wicked hitting. But ultimately, New York’s offseason additions prove to be the difference makers as CC Sabathia goes eight strong and Mark Teixeira delivers a big blow late to send the Yankees to the pennant.
Dodgers over Cubs in 5
Manny Ramirez spins the same tale he did last year, while LA’s arms quiet the Cub bats as Chicago is shown the door once again.
Phillies over Cardinals in 5
Behind the health of Cole Hamels and Chase Utley, the Phillies move on to a NLCS rematch.
Phillies over Dodgers in 6
Philadelphia wins its second consecutive pennant behind their slugging bats and good-enough pitching. Ryan Howard takes the MVP honors this time around.
Yankees over the Phillies in 7
New York brings too much pitching to the World Series and the Phillies ultimately spend the ninth inning of Game 7 watching Mariano Rivera mow through Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard.
AL MVP: Grady Sizemore, Indians
Sizemore is a unique player in the fact that he hits for power and average, can steal bases and plays elite defense at a premium position. Those types of players should be in the middle of the MVP discussion every year. The Indians should be better than they were last year, which will help Sizemore’s visibility on a national level.
He’s a guy that could potentially line up with 50 doubles, 10 triples, 30 homers, 30 steals, a .300 average and 100 RBIs, all while playing a gold-glove caliber centerfield. Those are MVP numbers.
NL MVP: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
Obviously, Albert Pujols is the pick every year for this award. Hanley Ramirez is the only other player that matches the qualities that I listed above for Sizemore. Power, average, speed, defense and premium position.
With the Marlins moving him to the third slot in the lineup, he should see more RBI opportunities which will help his “MVP numbers” dramatically. His stolen bases may fall off, but his overall body of work should improve. He just has to out-shine Pujols.
AL Cy Young: CC Sabathia, Yankees
Sabathia ended up a Cy Young candidate without a league last year when he was dealt midseason to the National League. Staying in one league for the entire year will return the Cy Young hardware to the hefty lefty. A better offense and a better closer will allow Sabathia to avoid the deadly no-decision.
I kind of wanted to pick Toronto’s Roy Halladay, but he may end up being dealt midseason, much like Sabathia was last year. And if he isn’t, the Blue Jays probably aren’t good enough to get him the win total that baseball writers think Cy Young winners need.
NL Cy Young: Johan Santana, Mets
With Cole Hamels hurting, Tim Lincecum coming off a huge jump in innings, Johan Santana should sail to this award. He had a Cy Young caliber season last year, that went largely unnoticed as the Mets collapsed for a second consecutive year.
A sleeper is certainly possible, as we saw with Cliff Lee in the AL last year, but I don’t feel completely comfortable picking someone with Ricky Nolasco, Edinson Volquez or Yovani Gallardo’s track record.
AL Rookie of the Year: Matt Wieters, Orioles
I love the makeup and tools of this kid. He’s a Joe Mauer with power. He’ll start of in the minors, but I expect him to push the Orioles hand, much like Evan Longoria did with the Rays last year.
He’s a major league hitter right now, and Baltimore will be able to get by as his defense continues to develop.
NL Rookie of the Year: Tommy Hanson, Braves
Hanson, like Wieters, will open the season in the minors, but when your parent club includes a 43-year old Tom Glavine, you’ll get your chance sooner rather than later, whether it’s because of injury or ineffectiveness. He’ll be able to mow through NL lineups without any pressure and cruise to the ROY award.
AL Manager of the Year: Ron Gardenhire, Twins
The manager awards are always the most difficult to predict because it really depends heavily on how players perform. But Gardenhire has finished in the top 3 for this awards in five of the past seven years. He’s got solid young pitching and enough potential offense to win the weakened AL Central and maybe make a run into the playoffs.
NL Manager of the Year: Tony LaRussa, Cardinals
Lou Piniella won last year, but watched his team collapse in the playoffs, although anyone who has followed baseball for the past oh, 100 years or show, should have expected that. Tony LaRussa is in a similar position to Gardy in the AL – he’s got some pitching, and if the bullpen works itself out, the Cardinals could be dangerous to make a run a la 2006.