Every year, pundits across the world consider either the Red Sox or the Yankees. Who am I to break with tradition?
Boston isn’t perfect. Manny Ramirez has lost some power – I think that’s a real drop-off at age 35. The brain trust was right to try to trade him last winter…. Drew has good numbers for a middle infielder. Ellsbury played over his head last year. On the other hand, Pedroia’s for real and Lugo will recoup some lost value. The weakness here is the starting pitching. With Schilling out, the Sox look to Kyle Snyder, Tim Wakefield, and/or Jon Lester, who’s a better story than a hurler. This is the team that really needed Dan Haren or Johan Santana or Erik Bedard.
The Yankees pitching is better than Boston’s. Their young arms are legitimately positive assets – which is a good thing because Mussina’s done. Hitting wise, the team could use a better bat in LF/DH, but Mastui and Damon aren’t without hope. If managed properly, these Yankees could take the division. Think back to those Florida teams with all that great young pitching: Beckett, Clement, etc. Now put them in pinstripes.
Some corners play up hope for the Blue Jays, but I don’t think they’ll crack the 81-win barrier. You need more than Lyle Overbay as your first baseman if you’re going to do anything. The rest of the hitting is non-descript save Frank Thomas, Matt Stairs, and Alex Rios, who only looks like he deserves a big contract compared to the rest of these guys. The starting pitching is generally crafty – a word often used for “hoping for luck” – and the bullpen is, um, er… – who’s in the bullpen, again?
Last year I said the Devil Rays were going to be fun. This year, the Rays are going to be winners. Yes, they’ll finish above .500, above the Blue Jays. Shields, Kazmir, and Sonnanstine bring the goods to the mound. The bullpen is decent, and the young hitters are developing. Once Evan Longoria comes up to take third base, watch out. If ownership pays to keep this team together, there’s a title here within five years.
Kudos to Baltimore for their off-season moves to get rid of aging or fragile talent and bring in prospects. Buck up, boys.
The Yankees take the division. In fact, they meet the Mets in another Subway Series in October.
The Tigers, with new acquisitions Edgar Renteria, Miguel Cabrera, and Dontrelle Willis, are the sexy pick to win the division and sometimes the league. Cabrera is monster good. Willis, I think, can be counted on for league-average contributions at best. Renteria replaces Sean Casey, essentially, as former shortstop Carlos Guillen moves to first. The problem is the pitching. One Tiger starter with more than a dozen starts last year had an ERA under 4.70. One! The team’s prospects remind me of the Braves’. Both are slugging teams who will go as far as the arms take them. In Detroit’s case, not far enough. (And one last thought: if I were running the Tigers, Cabrera would be at first and Guillen at third.)
Cleveland will win the division again. The Indians have the pitching. Don’t underestimate the boost the team’s offense will get from the move from Barfield to a Cabrera of their own at 2B. Hafner will move back up a notch, too. He’s only 30. Look for a big year from Ryan Garko. The bullpen is a plus. The only weakness on the team is left field, but that’s the easiest position to upgrade in-season. Cleveland will top the Tigers.
The remaining three teams are also-rans, but only the White Sox don’t know it. These Sox aren’t bad, they’re just not good enough – say 85-89 wins. The Twins traded Santana and signed a young core to long contracts. They need to blow away the fluff and start building. The return of Liriano will be a benchmark for the future. Kansas City is a physics problem: the team is stuck in the middle of a frozen lake with a perfectly frictionless surface. How do they make it to shore?
Once again, the Angels will be good… enough. This is a boring division, so let me get through it in a few lines.
Even with the loss of Escobar, the Angels have enough to win. The A’s still have arms, but little bat. Quick, name a pitcher on the Rangers. Now, name another besides Millwood. I did like the move to snag Josh Hamilton, but last year’s Teixeira trade isn’t looking so good. And Seattle, somehow convinced that last year’s record was not a statistical fluke, is trading the young talent the team should be hoarding. Bedard is a boon, but fragile. Defense needs to be a priority here because Seattle’s was atrocious. The hitting is bound to drop off, as the position players are relatively old and coming off peak years. Seattle will be lucky to keep pace with last year’s 88 wins.
There we go. See you in New York in six months.