Allright, time for some picks (teams listed in order of finish, * wildcard):
AL East: NYY, BOS, TOR, BAL, TB I hate to tell you this, but I think the Yankees are the clearest-cut pre-season favorites they’ve been in a while. Their offense, if healthy, will be one of the better ones in major league history, while the Red Sox have let theirs thin out a bit. The bullpen is anchored by the greatest ever to hold his position by a considerable margin, and backed up well too. The biggest caveat is that they have an old and/or injury-prone finesse rotation, but I think they’ll win more than 100. I didn’t criticize the move at the time, but in retrospect not signing Damon was a big mistake for the Sox. Not only did he let a good player at a scarce position go to divisional rivals, but the Red Sox have never one without quality defense in center. And while Crisp is capable of having a Damon-like year with the bat, he’s not a major league CF, and of course Manny is a butcher. Drew will help a little, at least for the 70 games he’s healthy, but I think a lot of what looks like disappointing pitching last year was a result of the bad defense they were throwing out there. Their rotation is better than the Yankees but the defense will mitigate some of the edge, and they’ll score fewer runs and blow more leads. The Blue Jays don’t have the offensive depth to compete with the big two, and they can’t afford injuries to their injury-prone starters; I’d like to pick them but I think they’ll regress a bit. The Orioles could be competitive; I like a lot of their arms and the bullpen, but the offense isn’t going to permit competitiveness in this division. In the short term, the Rays are if anything going backward; they have some interesting young players but no proven middle-of-the-order hitters in a division with three formidable cores, and their have one good starter and no good relievers. They could be back to losing 100+.
AL Central: CLE DET (*) MIN CHI KC I wasn’t on the Cleveland bandwagon last year, and one still has to have some concerns, especially about the bullpen. Still, their offense is terrific and the rotation at least OK, and they were as good as any team in baseball two years ago; this year I think they’ll get lucky. The Tigers are a real team, and adding Sheffield will help, but the young, high-workload pitchers scare me a little. The Twins could win, but there offense is full of holes and the pitching behind Santana dubious (although their bullpen is could allow them to beat Cleveland.) I don’t like the direction of the White Sox at all; their rotation, in particular, is a lot worse than the world championship team, and the offense is second-tier. The Royals will be more interesting than the previous two years because of Gordon, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be competitive (although I think they will be better than Tampa.)
AL West: OAK LA TEX SEA I guess I’m stubborn about the Angels, who with Lackey, Guerrero, Rodriguez and some new blood could well be back in first place. But I don’t like the offense’s on base skills, and they have a lot of sore-armed pitchers; I think the A’s will beat them again. The Rangers could win too; firing a hardass manager like Showalter can sometimes pay off the next year, Blalock could come back, and if Gagne returns to anything near 100% that’s a mjor asset. But they seem serious about playing Sosa, and it’s too hard to build a rotation in that park. The Mariners have the base of a good team with Hernandez and decent players at most positions, but have a lot of missing pieces in the rotation and bullpen, and are a middle-of-the-order hitter or two short as well. It’s well-known that their offseason was a catastrophe (with the Vidro addition especially bizarre), but what’s doubly irritating that their penny-pinching let a two potential championship teams die on the vine, and they finally started overspending on players when they weren’t good enough anyway. One bit of good news: if the year is bad enough, not only Bavasi and Hargrove will go, but maybe Armstrong as well.