MLB Preview One: The AL
EAST: 1. NYY 2. BOS (*) 3. TB 4. TOR 5. BALT I will have no problem making my annual reverse-hedge bet for Planned Parenthood with Howard, as the Yankees are still an easy pick here. I’d love to pick Tampa Bay over the Red Sox, because the latter’s niggling flaws — no major league shortstop, marginal RF, LF receiving elite salary who has been an elite player once in the last five seasons, highly dubious rotation after the top 2 — seem less defensible. Still, even if the Greek God of Walks can’t make it through a season again their core offense still figures to allow them to score a lot of runs and Crawford is likely to come back to some extent. While Tampa’s holes are more related to a lack of resources they’re still holes — Jeff Keppinger/Luke Scott platooning at DH, Jose Molina catching, mediocre-at-best OF — their pitching and defense is really good but I’m not sure if it’s that good even if Longoria has the MVP-caliber season I’d expect. Close, but I think Boston will sneak into second. A lot of people like the Jays, but I see a team whose offense outside of Bautista is pretty ordinary and whose rotation is like Boston’s without the two stars (although Romero and Morrow are good.) The Orioles are making some strides but are still going to get buried by this competition.
CENTRAL: 1. DET 2. CLE 3. KC 4. CHI 5. MIN If this were the NBA, the Tigers — with the best starter in the league and two MVP candidate hitters — would be in great shape. Alas, they don’t have a whole lot behind that, although I really like Scherzer, and the lineup at least doesn’t have a lot of black holes; Peralta at least gives you a good bat for the position, Jackson at least gives you elite defense, etc. While not especially good, though, they’re the class of this division, which contains several of the league’s worst teams. Picking the Tribe second is pretty random; they’re not impressive offensively and don’t have a real ace starter, although the depth in their rotation is decent and their offense isn’t terrible. In this division, that should be good enough for second. Even if Dunn comes back somewhat I see very little to like about the White Sox. The Royals are at least interesting, with some quality young talent, but the offense is thin and their Opening Day starter is Bruce Chen (although I think Sanchez was a good pickup.) The complete collapse of the Twins has been striking; they had a worse run differential than the Astros last year, and I’m not sure they’ll be a lot better. Their offense will be poor of Mauer and Morneau can stay healthy and have good years and abysmal if not, and with Baker hurt their rotation has reached the point of self-parody — Carl Pavano and four other pitch-to-contact guys who aren’t as good (in some cases, nearly as good) as Pavano. At least we won’t have to watch them against the Yankees in the playoffs for a while.
Also, I should say I think the Tigers were probably right to sign Fielder, and certainly the arguments by some commenters that it’s the worst contract in baseball are utterly absurd. The Tigers figure to get several years of elite performance during a time in which they have the best core of talent in a weak division. To compare this to contracts like Howard or Werth where the teams are likely to get zero years of even average performance for their money is silly. The last years of the Fielder contract could be pretty bad, but flags fly forever and their window is now.
WEST: 1. TEX 2. LA (*) 3. SEA 4. OAK The Rangers and Angels are basically even; I don’t think LA is quite ready to score enough to catch Texas but they should be close, and you have to love that rotation. (What I said about the Fielder contract also largely applies to the Pujols contract, although while Pujols is better he’s also 5 crucial years older; I think I might rather have the Fielder deal.) While the season certainly won’t involve contention or anything I’ll be interested to watch the Mariners this year. Having abandoned their longtime draft philosophy (i.e. “get guys who are related to famous people or who will play for garlic fries) they have some interesting young players, and it’s crucial to the future of the organization that Montero show he can hit well enough to be good if he can’t catch and for Smoak and Ackley to take steps forward. The As have reached the point where even the projection systems don’t like them anymore, and as I said recently Beane’s inability to identify quality position player prospects has become a serious problem.