East: 1. NYY 2. BOS (*) 3. TB 4. BAL 5. TOR I don’t like it either, but let’s start here: the Yankees were the best team in baseball last year, and got younger in the OF and added an outstanding starter basically in exchange for 2 fourth outfielders and a lefty one-out specialist. So what’s going to stop them from still being the best team? Right, they are older than an actor playing a high school student in an early 80s Canadian music video. And, sure, Posada and *&^%$ Jeter are likely to be down this year (though not Slappy), and Rivera probably only has another 30 or so years injury-free years as the best closer in history left. But both of these guys can lose ground and still be among the best in the league at their positions, and they have a lot of company — this is still the best team in the division, and hence baseball. The Red Sox are interesting, and I do like the additions of Cameron and Beltre. I think the lack of a first-rate power bat in the middle of the lineup is a worry, but the depth is definitely improved over previous years (with Varitek reduced to backup a major plus.) Great bullpen too; they can certainly win, although Beckett pitching like an ace in the regular season would help. Sabermetric types seem to think of the Rays as co-favorites in this division. If you agree, answer me this: where are they better than New York or Boston? Better than both in left, than the Red Sox at 3rd, as good as Boston and better in New York in right if Zobrist is for real, probably not much worse than Boston at short, similar in center if Upton comes back, and…that’s about it. Given that their rotation, while excellent, is also inferior to either team (and the bullpen substantially inferior), I just don’t see how you can pick them. It’s tragic that the third- or fourth-best team in baseball plays in a division with the other two, but them’s the breaks. They’re good enough to take advantage of a lot of injuries on the part of either, but you can’t pick them. The Orioles are finally in the hands on competent people, which is different than actually being a good team or anything. It will be a very sad situation in Toronto, a rebuilding team not overflowing with young talent in a brutal division; it’s hard to see the road back for a while.
Central: 1. MIN 2. CHI 3. DET 4. CLE 5. KC Two picks here are pretty easy. The injury to Nathan is regrettable but livable, and their lineup — featuring a real second baseman and shortstop for the first time since the Clinton administration — is easily the best in the division. You’d like to see a real ace in the rotation, but it’s mostly at least decent and they’re not exactly going up against the ’96 Braves in this division. On the other hand, the Royals are by far the worst team in the league; to paraphrase Bill James on Hank Peters’s tenure with the Tribe, I know there’s a lot of respect for Dayton Moore throughout baseball, but Jesus Christ what a pathetic operation he’s running. It’s a shame that Greinke and Soria are stuck with an organization this unserious. (And I don’t want to hear about revenue imbalances when you’re paying an ungodly sum to Kyle Farnsworth.) The rest of the division is just…eh. Chicago and Detroit define mediocrity, with the latter having more upside but more holes. I could see either winning if things break right, at least, which is more than I can say for the Tribe. I can sort of see Neyer’s point about the new manager, but…the pitching looks ghastly, the offense unexciting, and I’ll believe in Carmona and Pronk when I etc.
West: 1. SEA 2. TEX 3. ANA 4. OAK As everyone has already said, a weird division, with at least three decent teams and no especially good one. Given that it’s throwing darts for once instead of a reverse hedge I’ll make a counter-backlash pick. I’d feel a lot more comfortable with picking Seattle if Lee was healthy, but assuming he’s back in two weeks Seattle’s pitching + defense is the strongest component any team in the division has, and their biggest weakness (power in the corner spots) is the one most easily remedied by trade if they’re in the race, and they should be. Texas is the new trendy pick, and they could win, but while we’re used to them having a fine offense I find it pretty underwhelming (especially with Kinsler’s status uncertain.) It’s also awfully hard to develop young pitchers in that park, so I’ll give Seattle that .01% extra chance of winning. Since I pick the Angels to fall off every year I can’t stop now, especially since their rotation features exactly one guy I’d be confident will be healthy and above average, and Weaver ain’t exactly King Felix or Lee. Their underrated offense and correctly highly rated manager will keep them in the race, though. The Prospectus projects the A’s to be over .500 and hence well in contention in baseball’s egalitarian division. They also project Sheets and Duchscherer to pitch upwards of 300 quality innings, their bad-peripheral young starters to also be healthy and effective…good luck with that, especially with an offense that will be hard pressed to outscore the Mariners.