Here’s my kindling for the fire—how they’re finish and a few words about why. I’ve got no great pedigree as a pickster, but it’s not really about getting it right, is it? It’s about having an opinion and enough preconceptions to rouse you to hone your counterarguments. Today, the American League; tomorrow the National.
The Rays are a neatly balanced team, with power, speed, and a great pitching rotation. David Price, James Shields, and Jeremy Hellickson should combine for 50 wins, and if rookie Matt Moore meets expectations, Tampa Bay can capture the East for the low, low price of a $62 million payroll, or about a third of what New York will spend.
The Yankees are too old to be inevitable this season. The addition of pitchers Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda improve the rotation over last season, but the inevitable ageing of the offense will make the summer feel very long. Yes, I’ve heard about Derek Jeter sprinting to first base in spring training, in terrific condition, but every All-Star on this team is over 30—well, Robinson Cano only turns 30 in October. That’s during playoffs, which will not last past the Sudden Death phase of the wild card for the Yankees this year.
I see Toronto mashing and smashing behind proven Jose Bautista and unproven but promising Brett Lawrie. Their pitching pretty much begins and ends with Rickey Romero and Brandon Morrow, plus the potential of Henderson Alvarez, but there are a lot of RBI in those bats.
The Red Sox could spring right back up after the managerial and GM changes, but I’m not sure that the zombie trance of September will be so easily expunged. The Sox haven’t looked like a cohesive team in several years. They’re a great collection of talent, but you never sense they want to win anything, even with Dustin Pedroia contorting in personal agony through every at-bat.
Finally, the Orioles continue to shuffle pitchers in and out while fans (at best) wring their hands about the untapped potential of Nick Markakis and, now, Matt Wieters. They don’t make nearly enough wild card slots for a team like this.
It’s tempting to buck the bandwagon and ask whether bringing in Prince Fielder might be oversolving a problem. There are plenty of busts in the history of “sure thing” acquisitions, Adrian Gonzalez notwithstanding. And in this case, Detroit must make room for his majesty by shifting Miguel Cabrera to third, with backfire potential rippling through the lineup. But in the end, the remarkable and well-conditioned Justin Verlander could well come close to last year’s stunning stats (those 24 wins were based on a 0.92 WHIP), while the lineup can do every form of baseball damage to opposing pitchers. Case closed for the top o’ the AL Central.
Kansas City is replete with little-known players equipped with soon-to-be-known talent. Their future starts this year. The heartbreak of losing catching prospect Salvador Perez to injury will be offset by the second year exploits of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
Last season, Cleveland refused to match expectations. They outplayed ’em at the beginning of the year, then fell far short when the trades that were supposed to yield a playoff push went awry. The main acquisition, Ubaldo Jimenez, proceeded to have nothing in common with the 19-game winner he was in 2010 for the Rockies. Hard to know which season was the aberration for Jimenez, but it’s easy to imagine a breakout year for catcher Carlos Santana and a return to form for Shin-Soo Choo. But what this team needs is the madcap hope and fervor they showed through last July.
Baseball fortunes change quickly. The Twins will spend 38% of their 2012 payroll on Joe Mauer, a noble soul who can hit a lot of singles for a catcher but who won’t be playing catcher all that often, and Justin Morneau, a spectacular player whose career was cruelly cut short by a concussion in 2010. Morneau is going to try again to shake off injuries and lingering concussion symptoms, but it’s looking like a long shot. Worse, he and Mauer aren’t surrounded by much of a team after trades gutted the roster. Fans could spend the entire season actively missing Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel.
Sorry, Chicago. Sorry, bold managerial choice Robin Ventura. Adam Dunn is not going to become a glorious AL hitter, and Paul Konerko can’t keep carrying this team on his back.
The Angels are insatiable shoppers but somehow come off more lovable than the Yankees do on their spending sprees. Owner Arte Moreno is keen to plant butts in seats, and his attraction this season is the incomparable Albert Pujols. There’s no point in fishing for superlatives; Pujols will perform and he joins a way-above-average squad.
Which means Texas’ brief reign will end after two straight World Series losses. New potential ace Yu Darvish might help the rotation gel, but it’s not clear that Neftali Feliz will make the transition from bullpen to starter. Every source of power in the lineup is susceptible to age, and this team could easily drop to third place.
Each year I turn with curiosity to see what Oakland has assembled. This season they’ve gambled some real dollars on a high-risk/high-reward player in Yoenis Cespedes. He comes from Cuba to join the usual gang of oddballs, castoffs, and diamonds-in-the-rough which will include Manny Ramirez for at least a few weeks of the season.
The suspense surrounding the Mariners runs along the lines of, Exactly how bad will they be? A few years ago, they tried a Moneyball variant in trying to field their way to a championship. Well, Franklin Gutierrez remains impeccable in the outfield and there are other fine glovemen on the team, but nary a .300 hitter. And the defensive prowess only helped Felix Hernandez to 14 wins. Now that the Yankees have abducted Michael Pineda, who formed a 1-2 punch with Hernandez, there’s little to fear from Seattle.