AL WEST: 1. SEA 2. LAAOA (*) 3. OAK 4. HOU 5. TEX Like Erik, I’m never inclined to be optimistic about the Mariners, and the offense could certainly still have problems. The Cruz signing has a classic closing-the-barn-door-after-etc. feel to it: guy off a career year coming into Safeco, seems ominous. Only the players whose ABs Cruz will be taking over — see Kansas City — were so terrible last year that if he’s even medicore it will be a major upgrade, and any remnants of 2014 will be gravy. Seth Smith is a nice addition, and Jackson isn’t as bad a hitter as he looked in a Mariners uniform last year…in short, the offense should be improved enough to get the division’s best run prevention team into the postseason. In terms of the division, it’s really a coinflip with the Angels, still a good team but who fuck them. I’ve almost given up trying to understand Billy Beane’s shell games, and the A’s should be respectable and possibly a contender. The rotation should be solid — I like Hahn a lot — but if the offense to challenge the Angels and Mariners is there I don’t see it. The Astros are becoming a real time, although they’re not a contender yet; the main significance of their respectability will be to make life harder to prospective wild card teams in the division. The Rangers won’t necessarily be terrible; Beltre remains a marvel, and if Fielder and Choo can have rebound years the offense could be pretty good. But they probably won’t, and even if they do without Darvish they don’t have the pitching to compete in the league’s best division.
AL CENTRAL: 1. DET 2. CLE (*) 3. CHI 4. KC 5. MIN I understand why analysts are down on the Tigers, but while the general trajectory isn’t great I still think they should be mild favorites, as I’d rather bet on their still-good offensive core than on Cleveland’s young arms. Dombrowski will probably need to find some bullpen help, but that doesn’t seem insurmountable. The White Sox are the opposite of the Tigers — looking better long-term, but still too thin to win this year. Sale is as good as any pitcher in the league when healthy, and he has some support (especially the bullpen,) but beyond Abreu the offense starts to get very thin. If the White Sox are going to get into the race this year LaRoche will be crucial, and signing a 35-year-old who’s been very up-and-down coming off one of his better years seems like a classic bad free agent signing to me. I liked rooting for Kansas City in the playoffs last year, but 2015 will be midnight. One of the things that has generally prevented Dayton Moore from succeeding is his bizarre fetish for washed-up right handed hitters with no defensive value and OBP’s about 20 points above their BA. Signing Kendrys Morales — who last year hit .218 with very limited power and approximately zero pitches taken — takes this to the point of self-parody. The failure to upgrade a not-very-good offense will be fatal to a team that’s lost its ace and is likely to suffer at least a little regression in the bullpen. The Twins are assembling some young talent but are at least a year away from being interesting.
AL EAST: 1. BOS 2. BAL 3. TOR 4. TB 5. NYY As everyone else has said, this a very compressed division. I’m not at all enthusiastic about the Red Sox, with their Brand X starting rotation. But again I’d rather bet on offense than young arms, and the Red Sox have the most offensive depth in an increasingly run-starved context, and they should be able to add starting pitching if they’re in contention. After all, the Orioles don’t have great starting pitching either, and it’s hard to see Baltimore outscoring Boston even if Weiters can stay healthy and they get some bounceback from Davis. They are well-managed at both the field and front-office levels, and I expect them to exceed the analytic projections again. The Blue Jays could certainly win too — if Bautista and Reyes can stay on the field their offense core can compete with Boston’s, but of course they probably can’t. Their rotation has more upside than the Sox but calling their bullpen would be kind. Tampa is the opposite of Boston and Toronto — good-looking rotation, shaky offense — and I don’t like betting on young starting pitchers. But, really, the gap between 1-4 is not very large. Then there’s the Yankees. Offensively, they’re the poor man’s Blue Jays. It’s not just that it’s hard to see Teixeira and Beltran being healthy for most of the year, but even worse there’s not much reason to think they’re championship quality players when they are anymore. Gregorius will help defensively but not much with the bat. I’m not sure why Refsnyder isn’t starting over the remains of Stephen Drew, but whether he’s terrible defensively or Cashman and Girardi have just lost it as talent evaluators the answer isn’t great for Yankee fans. Their hopes for contention rest on their good bullpen and their rotation, which has some upside. But I like those odds even less. Maybe Tanaka is the very rare pitcher who can just pitch effectively through ligament damage without getting Tommy John, but…I know how I’m betting. Maybe Pindea can finally throw 200 innings but ditto. Maybe Sabathia will come back from injury and pitch effectively but triple ditto. Eovaldi was a nice buy-low gamble but I don’t understand why they let McCarthy walk. They’ve managed to stay above .500 2 years in a row with pretty weak teams, but this year I think the flood is coming.
I’ll have to let MVP commenter Howard pick our Planned Parenthood charity bet this year, since the initial premise was that he was regrettably too down on the Yankees.