Wednesday, March 13, 2013

2013 Review/Preview: NL East

The NL East has been quite the interesting division of late.  Since the mid-2000's, the Phillies reigned supreme with the Braves usually the closest behind them (after a brief lull once their streak of 14-straight division titles was snapped).  While there were a few exceptions, the Nationals, Mets and Marlins fumbled around the final three spots for years.  That formula was compromised after the Nationals surged and Phillies faded in 2012, while watching the dysfunction known as the Marlins has been equal parts amusing and depressing.  If each MLB team was a Hollywood star, the Miami Marlins would be an unholy mix of Lindsay Lohan and Joaquin Phoenix.  The Braves have quietly been consistent, and the Mets... well, the Mets are still there, aren't they?  Let's begin the Review/Preview segment with what will likely be the National League's best division in 2013.




ATLANTA BRAVES:

Key Subtractions: Chipper Jones, Michael Bourn, Martin Prado, Tommy Hanson, David Ross, Matt Diaz, Lyle Overbay, Ben Sheets, Jair Jurrjens, Randy Delgado

Key Additions: BJ Upton, Jordan Walden, Justin Upton, Chris Johnson

The Braves sure are good at amassing a ton of pitching depth to form a consistently competitive team.  That's Atlanta's bread-and-butter.  There's not much to talk about in terms of their pitching without sounding redundant year after year.  They already had a good rotation and perhaps baseball's best bullpen (though I could make arguments that only the Giants can make that claim), and that hasn't changed.  Starter Tommy Hunter is out, traded for Jordan Walden of the Angels (because the Braves needed more high-ceiling relievers...).  Ben Sheets helped out down the stretch, but he decided to retire.  Kris Medlen was unbelievable in his 12 starts, so Atlanta may be dealing with another top-of-the-rotation arm in the making.   However, the offense will look quite different -- especially the outfield.  Before musing about the new keepers of the grassy outfield expanses of Turner Field, I must address the retirement of perhaps the greatest all-time Brave outside of Hank Aaron; the one and only Chipper Jones has called it a career.  Chipper will be sorely missed, especially given the lack of dominant offensive third basemen around these days.  As for the outfield, Atlanta essentially exchanged Michael Bourn (free agent) and Martin Prado and a top pitching prospect (both traded) for BJ Upton (free agent) and his broseph Justin Upton (trade).  Brothers in the same outfield?  How cute!  Brotherly fun aside and thinking in terms of making the Braves better, I don't think this swap will help the 2013 Braves.  Bourn and Prado were more productive than the Upton brothers.  Bourn certainly had a better year than BJ, and Prado (1) offers defensive versatility and (2) probably outperformed Justin Upton in 2012.  This does not mean that the deal was a bust.  In fact, I think both teams are better suited afterwards.  Prado was not likely to sign an extension with Atlanta, highlighted by the fact that he inked a four-year deal with Arizona almost immediately after the trade.  Prado had one year left before free agency before being extended, while Justin Upton has three years before free agency.  Three certain years of Upton is better than possibly only one year of Prado, and with his older brother signed for the next five years (for $75.25M), Justin is only going to be more inclined to stay with the Braves beyond 2015.  Beyond that, Justin Upton is 25 and one year removed from a third-place finish on the NL MVP ballot, so he comes with considerable upside while Prado is in his thirties and isn't getting any better.  At the end of the day, the Braves still have a solid offense and delicious pitching.  They may not win the division, but you're darn tootin' they will be as tough competition for a wild card spot as anyone.







MIAMI MARLINS:

Key Subtractions: Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, Juan Oviedo, Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Lee, Heath Bell

Key Additions: Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre, Henderson Alvarez

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL.
Everything and more has been said about the Marlins' fire-sale.  One year after changing their name, ballpark, manager and half the team's best players, the Marlins are back to being a bunch of nobodies.  No more Jose Reyes, no more Josh Johnson, no more Mark Buerhle.  I would say no more fans, but I'm not sure those things ever existed.  Poor Giancarlo Stanton will be blasting home runs all by his lonesome, though if the Marlins are smart (they're not) they would try to grab young guys like Jurikson Profar and/or Mike Olt from the Rangers.  Stanton is probably not a happy camper, but more importantly, he's nearing the end of his pre-arbitration years.  That means he's about two-to-three years from being really expensive, which is around the time the Marlins ship off their players.  Unless the Marlins believe they can slap together a contender in the next two or three years, it may be wise to keep the fire sale going in order to reap even more prospects and cheap, controllable players.  I don't even think MacGruber could salvage the wreckage of the Marlins' roster.  No amount of lettuce in the buttcheeks can distract from what roughly equates to an Astros-esque roster.  To the Marlins' credit, they managed to acquire good prospects from Toronto, so their infamous trade wasn't exactly a pure salary dump.  They'll have plenty of openings for youngsters to make a name for themselves, even if it's just for a couple years before they end of traded.  Other than Stanton and Logan Morrison, the Marlins traded away their 2012 Opening Day lineup -- three players traded midseason, the other four in the Toronto swap.  The only reason I can think of to watch the Marlins, other than Stanton, is to see a bunch of prospects with wide eyes and heads full of fluffy dreams of being a Major Leaguer duke it out for playing time.  Other than that, this team will not be fun to watch, and that will reflect in the standings.





NEW YORK METS:

Key Subtractions: RA Dickey, Jason Bay, Josh Thole, Andres Torres, Ramon Ramriez, Chris Young, Kelly Shoppach, Ronny Cedeno, Jon Rauch

Key Additions: John Buck, Travis d'Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, Fred Lewis (lololololol)

For several years, the Mets have been struggling to create a competitive team due to their payroll limitations and bad decision making.  Past monster deals to Johan Santana, Jason BayFrancisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran didn't pan out as well as they hoped, and have added further stress on their tumultuous financial situation.  Thankfully, only one year remains on both the Santana and Bay deals (even though Bay was cut), while the others have run their course.  This allowed New York to maintain some goodwill with the fans by inking David Wright to an eight-year deal worth $138M (that includes the $16M he was already set to make after they exercised the option-year on his previous deal).  Outside of that, the Mets have taken a different direction by trading away 2012 NL Cy Young winner RA Dickey to Toronto, who might as well rename themselves to the "Really Good NL East Rejects."  That's an awful name that took no creativity, but that's beside the point.  You can criticize my laziness later, you jerk.  While shipping away a Cy Young winner who's being payed like a 3-starter seems counter-productive, the Mets got two fantastic young'uns in exchange.  Travis d'Arnaud -- who highlighted the deal betwixt the Phillies and Blue Jays that sent Roy Halladay to the City of Brotherly Scumbags -- could end up one of the game's best catchers in the near future, while pitcher Noah Syndergaard is almost as highly-regarded around the game.  Throw in Zach Wheeler, who the Giants swapped Beltran for in 2011, and suddenly the Mets have a solid core of youth they can possibly build around.  But for 2013, the team lacks depth in the rotation, bullpen and lineup.  Last time I checked, those are three pretty important things in baseball.  Unless a ton of little tikes burst onto the scene, the Mets will have to spend another year towards the bottom of the division.





PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES:

Key Subtractions: Vance Worley, Placido Polanco, Jose Contreras, Joe Blanton, Nate Schierholtz

Key Additions: Mike Adams, Ben Revere, Michael Young, John Lannan

After getting in Shane "Butthole" Victorino's face before an on-field brawl,
Eli Whiteside will always be welcome at the Codega dinner table.  Boy I
miss that little white-haired scoundrel.
The Phillies' fall from supremacy was nothing short of terrific.  Even before things between San Francisco and Philadelphia got heated in 2010, I've disliked them for a while.  Shane Victorino has that effect, but I'll just get really tense and pissed off if I go down that road.  Eli Whiteside. Eli Whiteside.  Eli Whiteside.  Phew, that always calms me down in the middle of my Victorino-fits.  Anyway, this has been a long time coming.  The Phillies rotation was amazing, but pitchers age and get hurt like everyone else -- even Doc Halladay.  The offense has been declining since their 2008 World Series triumph, and after Ryan Howard writhed in pain upon injuring himself on the final play of the Phillies 2011 postseason, their offense fell apart.  The pitching still remains intact, though question marks surround Halladay's health and sudden human-like attributes.  Maybe he's no longer that crazy-dominant ace we've seen for over a decade, but my money is on a healthy Halladay being a classic Halladay.  That is, however, provided that he is healthy, which I cannot express the same confidence for.  Mike Adams will shore things up behind Jonathan Papelbon in the late innings, but without Vance Worley, Philadelphia lacks depth in case Halladay or another starter goes down.  The offense looks different with Victorino and Hunter Pence gone, and that's not really a good thing.  The outfield is up in the air, with no real sure things except the newly acquired Ben Revere in center.  Third base will be interesting, as an aging Michael Young is not a good defender, and his bat was sapped of any power, while he drew fewer walks than usual.  Howard is no longer a very useful player; all he can do is strike out, hit homers and play bad defense.  Chase Utley is still a good second baseman, though his health is a concern as always, and Jimmy Rollins isn't getting any younger.  Carlos Ruiz is good, but he must serve a 25-game suspension for testing positive for amphetamines.  There are some big names, but most are past their prime.  But a healthy rotation of Halladay-Cliff Lee-Cole Hamels with some surprising health from the offense could still result in a good team.  Don't count them out of the race, but don't hold your breath either.






WASHINGTON NATIONALS:

Key Subtractions: Edwin Jackson, Michael Morse, Sean Burnett, Mike Gonzalez, Jesus Flores, Mark DeRosa

Key Additions: Dan Haren, Rafael Soriano, AJ Cole, Denard Span

The Nationals finally crafted a team that parallels America, or 'Murica more accurately.  In the 2012 regular season, the Nationals exploded onto the scene and were probably the best team over the entire 162 games.  This construction of talent took years to complete, but all the work has finally payed off.  What did the Nationals do after winning an MLB-high 98 games?  They let Edwin Jackson walk (who signed a one-year deal) in order to sign the superior Dan Haren (also signed for one year), signed closer Rafael Soriano, resigned Adam LaRoche, traded the expendable Mike Morse for a pitching prospect (AJ Cole) they shipped away for Gio Gonzalez last year and made perhaps the offseason's best trade in acquiring Denard Span from the Twins.  Adding a former All-Star starter to perhaps the game's best rotation, a closer to a bullpen with two capable closers and effectively swapping a flawed power hitter for the speedy leadoff-hitting center fielder they've craved for years.  That's all.  The Nationals have Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Ross Detwiler and Haren in a delicious rotation, a deep bullpen that's great in the late innings and a complete offense with no openings or question marks to speak of other than the eventual re-phasing of Wilson Ramos as the primary catcher.  Even this potential area of weakness is negated due to the presence of Kurt Suzuki, who is a decent backstop even when he doesn't hit.  Oh yeah, and that one douchey guy is pretty solid.  Bryce Harper will play at the ripe old age of 20, and his 22 homers could easily double in the next few years.  Like his team as a whole, Harper is only getting better.  The Nationals are quite possibly the best team in baseball, and by quite possibly, I mean they are.  The only question that remains will be seeing how this team can handle going deep into the postseason.  They got a taste in 2012, and I think anything short of a World Series appearance will be disappointing for them.  It's going to be tough when the Giants dramatically overthrow them in the NLCS, but the Giants can't be the best every year.  If not them, it'll probably be the Nationals.




FINAL STANDINGS:
1. Washington Nationals
2. Atlanta Braves
3. Philadelphia Phillies
4. New York Mets
5. Miami Marlins


The cellar is pretty easy to figure out.  It's kind of cute that the Marlins are still classified as a Major League team, and while the Mets are making some good decisions, they're not ready to put it all together.  Things get interesting with the third spot.  The Phillies are a dark horse for once, but if their old age and injuries get out of hand, they could play uninspiring baseball on par with the Marlins.  On the flip side, they have so many good and experienced players that they could make a run for the postseason.  The new wild card play-in game even gives them hope of making the postseason despite finishing third in the division.  One of those wild card spots has "Braves" written all over it.  The Braves had an 8.0-game lead over the closest team to miss the wild card, and there's little reason to expect them to be any worse.  The Nationals, if anything, are better than the 98-win team of 2012, and anyone who expects them not to win the division is either a Braves fan or a communist.  Anyone who expects them not to win the pennant and represent the National League in the World Series is either a communist or a really perceptive and handsome Giants fan.  In a totally unrelated note, I -- in my perceptive and handsome opinion -- think the Giants will win the 2013 World Series.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

2013 Review/Preview: AL West

It took me many moons to finish my post on the junior circuit's Central Division, so let's just dive right into the AL West.  It would probably be best if I completed these offseason reviews/season previews before the season actually started, right?


HOUSTON ASTROS:

Key Subtractions: Chris Snyder, Jed Lowrie, Wilton Lopez

Key Additions: Chris Carter, Carlos Pena, Phil Humber, Alex White, John Ely

This must be a bittersweet offseason for teams of the NL Central.  On one hand, the new division/league alignment increases the statistical probability of making the playoffs by taking away the Astros.  On the other hand, these teams will no longer play the Astros.  Looking at the Astros lineup, I'm reminded of the Giants mid-to-late 2000's minus an ancient Barry Bonds.  It is full of players who would struggle to reach the bench of many other teams, and Jose Altuve.  The depressing part is that their pitching is eerily equal in mediocrity.  When Bud Norris is your ace, you've got problems.  The Astros are bad.  We all know it, and I'm sure they do too.  But just because the 2013 Astros will likely be abysmal doesn't mean their offseason was.  Under relatively new ownership and management, they have begun a rebuilding process and are making some decent choices for the future.  One year after trading for him from Boston, the Astros sent off Jed Lowrie, a good-when-healthy shortstop.  In exchange for a young reliever (Mark Melancon), the Astros got a year of Lowrie, the quietly-solid Chris Carter and Brad Peacock, a highly-regarded pitching prospect.  They appear to be headed in the right direction.  The biggest headline from Houston, other than swapping leagues, has been their unbelievably low payroll.  The Astros have shipped off almost every player making above the league-minimum salary.  Including the $5M they're paying to Wandy Rodriguez (who was shipped to the Pirates before the trade deadline last year), the Astros have just over $14.5M in payroll other than the league-minimum players: Rodriguez ($5M), Norris ($3M), Carlos Pena ($2.9M), Jose Veras ($1.85M), Wesley Wright ($1M) and Phil Humber ($800k) are making less combined than Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Barry Zito will make individually.  Anywho, it will take an absolute miracle for the Astros to even consider winning the division (Vegas gives them a 0.4% chance at making the playoffs, and that's considering the wild card play-in game.



LOS ANGELS ANGELS OF ANAHEIM:

Key Subtractions: Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, Zack Greinke, Kendrys Morales, Jordan Walden, Torii Hunter, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins

Key Additions: Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas, Josh Hamilton, Ryan Madson

On paper, those subtractions look substantial.  They've parted ways with 60% of their rotation, their closer entering last season, a switch-hitting DH with pop, and an aging outfielder who still managed a very nice season.  But when you look at the additions and consider their offensive depth, the Angels have added plenty of important pieces as well.  Once again, GM Jerry Dipoto made a surprising splash by signing the best free-agent hitter in Josh Hamilton.  There is no longer a serious logjam in the outfield and at DH after shipping Kendrys Morales to Seattle and letting Torii Hunter walk, so a lot of their "losses" are from an area of strength.  But as fearsome their lineup is with Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Hamilton at its heart, they would have been better off resigning Zack Greinke instead of acquiring Hamilton.  Their rotation actually projects to use Joe Blanton every fifth day... what the heckfire? Two years ago, this team was built on a strong rotation, but now it's relatively unremarkable.  Jason Vargas and Tommy Hunter are solid options, but things would be much more secure if they rounded the rotation out rather than fill its middle.  Ryan Madson may miss some time, but after the Angels' struggles in closing out games, he should stabilize things in the bullpen a bit.  The offense will be among the game's elite, but the question with the Angels lies in their pitching.  The AL West looks like it will be a tough one to win, and the Angels will need healthy hurlers to stay in the chase.  While I'm always wary of praising hitting-heavy teams, the Angels will be in the playoff hunt until the end.



OAKLAND ATHLETICS:

Key Subtractions: Brandon Inge, Brandon McCarthy, Dallas Braden*, AJ Cole, Brad Peacock, Cliff Pennington, Stephen Drew

Key Additions: John Jaso, Chris Young, Hideki Nakajima, Jed Lowrie

The A's stunned the game after turning a .500-esque season in July and ended up storming past the Rangers for the division title.  If the Moneyball A's of 2002 earned a movie, this team deserves an HBO series that rivals Game of Thrones.  This team truly had no expectations, at least from the outside observers.  After all their young, cheap players earned jobs out of Spring Training or rose through the minors midseason, the A's are still an affordable and talented team.  Their pitching staff is full of great stuff, from Jarrod Parker to Tommy Milone, AJ Griffin to Sean Doolittle, this team is already among the game's best.  There could be regression -- sophomore slumps and such -- but there could also be improvement as these guys settle in and continue to mature as pitchers.  All this team really needed was to make sure they have enough bats.  Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick now have Chris Young in the fray in the outfield (and don't forget Coco Crisp!), while Brandon Moss gets a chance at producing for a full season.  With John Jaso and Jed Lowrie entering the equation, Oakland's depth appears to equal an adequate offense.  These A's won't sneak up on anyone this year, but with the big headlines in Anaheim and the lack thereof in Arlington, they probably will be more of an underdog than their top competitors.



SEATTLE MARINERS

Key Subtractions: Jason Vargas, Kevin Millwood, Miguel Olivo, John Jaso, Mike Carp, Chone Figgins

Key Additions: Kendrys Morales, Jason Bay, Robert Andino, Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez

 And now we have reached Seattle, the laughing stock of the AL West for the last three years.  Praise be to the Astros, for this will be almost assuredly be the firs time the Mariners don't finish in last place.  Unfortunately, they're also likely to finish fourth for the fourth straight year.  The Mariners have made some interesting decisions this winter.  They've addressed their lack of offense with a couple of trades of varying levels of success.  Swapping Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales isn't a bad deal at all, especially given the depth of young pitching prospects in Seattle.  Trading away John Jaso makes less sense, because the tree-team deal he was a part of netted them Michael Morse, who may be a worse player.  His OBP-shortcomings and lack of defensive value probably negate a lot of the good his power brings.  Jaso mans a premium position at catcher, and while his 2012 season was something of a breakout, he's always had the ability to draw a walk.  The low-risk signings of Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay are solid moves to fill the back of the roster, and despite the perplexity of the Jaso-Morse swap, the offense appears to have been improved, while the pitching is practically the same.  If the Mariners have a young'un like starter Danny Hultzen step up, they could be a dark-horse candidate to reach the playoffs.  They remind me of the 2010 Padres, who just barely missed out on the playoffs.



TEXAS RANGERS:

Key Subtractions: Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Mike Napoli, Mike Adams, Koji Uehara, Scott Feldman, Roy Oswalt, Mark Lowe, Ryan Dempster

Key Additions: AJ Pierzynski, Joakim Soria, Lance Berkman

The Rangers have been the class of the American League the last three years, building a balanced rotation and deep bullpen around their potent lineup.  Similar to the Angels, they have parted ways with a lot of useful players.  In a quiet offseason, the Rangers let their 2010 MVP Josh Hamilton move within the division, traded away their longest-tenured player in Michael Young and let their mashing DH/catcher Mike Napoli depart to Boston.  They lost quality set-up relievers in Mike Adams and Koji Uehara and a very good swingman in Scott Feldman.  While they added the offensive-minded catcher AJ Pierzynski and Joakim Soria fills a bullpen void, it would appear the Rangers have taken a large step back.  Unlike the Angels, the Rangers have replaced the departed with more internal options.  If you think the Rangers have lost too much to be atop the division, consider three things: Mike Olt (24 years old), Leonys Martin (24) and Jurikson Profar (20).  Olt is a powerful top prospect at the infield corners who was often named in hefty trade rumors this winter, Martin is a center fielder who defected from Cuba and tore up AAA as a five-tool player (good speed, contact, power, throwing arm, fielding) and Profar is generally regarded as the best prospect in baseball and is likely capable of making a huge impact at such a young age.  Prospects are never a sure thing, but these three are closer than most to being will capable of filling in the cracks.  And don't forget the team still has Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler.  Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando make up a formidable rotation while Neftali Feliz will join Joe Nathan and Soria in the bullpen when he's healthy.  This Rangers team didn't make a splash, but they're still a very good team.



FINAL STANDINGS:
1. Texas Rangers
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
3. Oakland Athletics
4. Seattle Mariners
5. Houston Astros

Sorry Houston, but this isn't your year/decade.  The Mariners have a lot of good pieces, and there's a decent chance those pieces come together this year.  Regardless, the Mariners have three teams that will be very tough competition.  The A's are crazy young and new to the league, which is a big factor why they made the playoffs and why I think they'll just fall short of the division title.  They have all the tools, but there's too much variability in their potential 2013 performance for my liking, mostly due to the lack of experience in the Majors.  Just a tad in front of them, I placed the Angels second with the Rangers on top.  The Rangers are just too good and now the target is off their back.  They will still mash and their pitching is both deeper and superior to the Angels.  Any one of the top three teams has a great shot, and I can't really definitively argue that one team is clearly better than other two.  The A's have the endless fountain of pitching, the Angels with offense and the Rangers are in between.  But when push comes to shove, this is the most likely way the standings will end up, in my opinion

Monday, March 4, 2013

2013 Review/Preview: AL Central

What a fun, random and totally unbiased picture of an
AL Central player.  I wonder when this game occurred...
With each passing day, Spring Training draws closer I neglect this blog so much that it takes me a month to finish a single post.  The first pitchers and catchers are reporting in 15 days negative 15 days, I reckon.  With baseball on horizon, the time has come to delve into yet another review/preview -- in this case, the AL Central.  This post will surmise all five team's offseason and such.






CHICAGO WHITE SOX:

Key Subtractions: Francisco Liriano, Brett Myers, AJ Pierzinski, Orlando Hudson

Key Additions: Jeff Keppinger

After an abysmal 2011 for the likes of Adam DunnAlex Rios and friends, the White Sox entered the season a non-contender.  But then baseball does what it is oft to do, when a team that's supposed to be a cellar-dweller ends up flirting with first place and nearly steals the division title.  The 2013 White Sox are essentially the same team as last year.  They have some decent arms in the rotation and bullpen, though neither will likely end up among the game's elite.  John Danks was not very dank in 2012, dealing with injuries and ineffectiveness.  A healthy, productive year from him could more than compensate the loses of Brett Myers and Francisco Liriano. And let us not forget Chris Sale, who is only getting more delicious over time and settling in as one of the game's best young arms.  While they're losing an offensively talented backstop in AJ Pierzinski, they'll make up for it by merely not having such an awful human being on the roster.  Chicago does have the versatile Jeff Keppinger to soak up innings around the diamond.  The fact that they chose to take Orlando Hudson off the Padres' hands for the league-minimum salary speaks volumes about their lack of infield depth last season.  Their best and most expensive transaction of the winter is the two-year $29M pact with Jake Peavy, an absolute steal if he remains mostly healthy.  When guys like Anibal Sanchez get five years and $75M, Peavy's deal looks supermodel thin.  Chicago has plenty of talented pieces and, more importantly, they play in likely absolutely the worst division in the game.  They look to be the biggest competition for the heavily favored Detroit Tigers.



CLEVELAND INDIANS:

Key Subtractions: Shin-Soo Choo, Grady Sizemore*, Travis Hafner, Casey Kotchman

Key Additions: Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs, Trevor Bauer, Mark Reynolds, Brett Myers, Mike Aviles, Jason Giambi

The Indians were surprisingly decent for the first two-thirds of the 2011 and '12 seasons.  Unfortunately, both runs for a postseason berth were cut short by slumps and mediocre play down the stretch.  The Ubaldo Jimenez trade has been a mess for both Cleveland and Colorado, as the man they hoped could be their ace is having trouble keeping that ERA under the 5.00-threshold.  Even Justin Masterson faltered last year, failing to live up to his prior success.  The rotation got a huge piece in the three-team Shin-Soo Choo trade with Arizona and Cincinnati in top prospect Trevor Bauer, who could have an immediate impact.  If my extensive research on the Googles it correct, Trevor Bauer is the bastard son of a guy who is loosely related to Jack Bauer.  This means he could be the best, most badass baseball player to ever suit up.  I'm hoping he elects to open a baseball-themed CTU where he rounds up all the PED cheaters on his own and/or waterboards the entire Dodgers organization.  Myers should eat up some innings, and their decent bullpen is intact.  Their offense looks a lot different, with Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs looking for at-bats.  The offense has some much-needed pop, and the Bourn/Stubbs additions bring a lot of defensive value.  Bourn signed a deal worth about two-thirds what he was expected to get, which is hard to pass up when they only had to surrender a third-round pick while other teams would give up a first-rounder.  Because of that deal, he, or another player, could become a very nice trading chip at the deadline to reel in some pitching, but until then they'll score pretty well.  But with shallow pitching, the Indians are going to have to need some luck, good health and a few rebounds for this team to make a run at Detroit.  This Cleveland team has become surprisingly interesting and should be a decent ball club.


DETROIT TIGERS:

Key Subtractions: Delmon Young, Ryan Raburn, Jose Valverde*, Gerald Laird

Key Additions: Torii Hunter, Branyan Pena

The Tigers made headlines by snagging Prince Fielder for a paltry contract for some insignificant $214M deal spanning over a decade.  Their DH/C Victor Martinez had some boo-boos that shelved his entire 2012 season, so, naturally, handing out a 10-year deal (only the fourth to exceed $200M in history) is the rational thing to do.  While Detroit may one day be forced to enact sports' first team-wide Jenny Craig diet when Fielder and Miguel Cabrera are on their motorized scooters donned in moo-moos, the short-term effects have already paid off in a World Series appearance.  At the end of the day, a 3-4-5 of Cabrera-Fielder-Martinez is pretty scary.  Reinforcing the rotation with guys like Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez in back-to-back trade deadlines doesn't often do a club harm, but this team had built a core that should be close to contention year-in and year-out.  Justin Verlander is still ridiculous (he won my Cy Young vote, if I had one), Austin Jackson is getting better and better, and Miggy just won a triple crown.  I could make a joke about letting cows race in the Kentucky Derby, but I feel like that would just be excessive.  After getting swept in the World Series and seeing a called strike three to end Game 4, I'll leave him be.  The Tigers have a slick rotation and a potent lineup.  That alone will take a team places, regardless of their division.  Their bullpen has question marks, but there's enough talent for it to be passable.  The Tigers are good.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS:

Key Subtractions: Wil Meyers, Jake Odorizzi, Yunieski Bentancourt, Joakim Soria

Key Additions: James Shields, Wade Davis, Ervin Santana, Guillermo Moscoso

Ah, it's about time we reached the Royals.  Kansas City, a team that hasn't been relevant in about two decades, has been hoarding prospects for the last several years.  The idea was simple: put more resources and effort into developing home-grown players.  That way, the Royals can keep a core of affordable and controllable players without entering the increasingly expensive free agent market.  But not all prospects pan out, and it's often unwise to keep a really deep minor league system if you can pull off a trade that (1) makes the Major League club better without (2) depleting the farm.  The Royals made a splash to get James Shields and Wade Davis to help strengthen a weak pitching staff.  The move for a legitimate front-end starter (though Shields is not a true ace) and another decent arm makes sense, but in addition to arguably the best hitting prospect in baseball (Wil Meyers), KC shipped a boat-load of talented minor leaguers.  If the main piece in the deal was David Price, this would be another story, but the price (hehe) was incredibly steep with Shields headlining the deal.  The Royals still have a good home-grown lineup and prospects to boot, but the rotation and bullpen are still thin.  Unless Meyers breaks out and becomes Rookie of the Year in 2013, this deal likely makes the current Royals team has improved, but not a by enough to turn them from a fourth-place team into a division winner.  Even the deal for Ervin Santana was lackluster; the Royals gave up a nearly-MLB-ready left-hander and are paying Santana $12M of his $13M salary.  GM Dayton Moore struck the deal early, anticipating an expensive market for innings-eaters, but when Brett Myers gets $7M and Brandon McCarthy gets $15.5M over two years, the price to obtain Santana appears high.  In all, the Royals at least have the offense necessary to win, and with an improved rotation -- regardless of the cost of reassembly -- they are a Danny Duffy breakout-season away from flirting with a .500 record and quite possibly more.  But expecting the Royals to be much better than a .500-caliber team is not entirely realistic.


MINNESOTA TWINS:

Key Subtractions: Denard Span, Ben Revere, Danny Valencia, Matt Capps, Carl Pavano*, Alexi Casilla

Key Additions: Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia

The Twinkies were so dern good in 2010, but they've been a stone's throw from the Houston Astros since -- at least in terms of overall record.  Their offseason has been a bit perplexing.  They've reinforced their rotation, which is rarely a bad idea.  However, not only did they trade Denard Span for not a whole lot, they also ousted another defensively gifted outfielder capable of playing center in Ben Revere.  Span was under control for a modest sum and is a well-rounded leadoff hitter and center fielder, but the Twins got just one solid prospect in return.  Snagging Vance Worley and a prospect for Revere was a much more equal trade in my eyes, as they got a good deal more in exchange for a lesser player than Span.  It's a little confusing that the team trying to overhaul their roster would trade the young, cost-effective pieces instead of a piece like Josh Willingham.  Willingham blasted 35 homers despite playing in the pitcher-friendly Target Field, and would at least spark interest in several clubs.  Anyway, the Twins could definitely be better than a 90-loss team, but probably not by much.  They still have an offense built around Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Willingham and a rotation that should at least eat some innings up, but they lack depth across the board.  They're still a work in progress, and are likely en route to their third consecutive season in the AL Central cellar.




FINAL STANDINGS:
1. Detroit Tigers
2. Chicago White Sox
3. Cleveland Indians
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Minnesota Twins


If things go the most likely route, I foresee the same standings as in 2012.  The Tigers are the most complete team in the division, and will are the favorites.  They boast both the strongest lineup and rotation in the division and are just too good not to pick to win the division crown.  Similarly, the Twins are clearly the weakest link in the division.  The actual analysis and guess-work comes into play for the middle of the standings.  The Royals are just not up to par with the Indians and White Sox, though any team with a rich farm can flourish unexpectedly.  Don't count the Royals out, but don't get hung up on them either.  The Indians may have a flashy new offense that will probably outscore Chicago, they lack the pitching depth the Sox have compiled.  I doubt the White Sox will suffer from abysmal seasons from Dunn and Rios again, so I'm going with the team with the better pitching. 

It's like a red-headed, better-dressed and extremely more handsome version of me!

It's like a red-headed, better-dressed and extremely more handsome version of me!
Compliments of The Sarah Silverman Program

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