Okay, folks – the time has finally come. Nearly all of the free-agent deals are done (and pretty much all of the ones that matter are done), so it’s time to take a look at what the 2012 season might look like. I’m going to go through each of the divisions, pick a winner, and indicate whether or not I think the Wild Card winner will come from that division. I’ll go through these fairly quickly at this point. When we’re getting close to the end of Spring Training, and the beginning of the actual season, I’ll give a more detailed preview (including pre-season MVP, ROY and Cy Young picks), since we will certainly have more to go on at that point (especially considering injuries, and potential newbies from the minor leagues). So, here’s my initial thoughts on the upcoming season for the AL East.
This is still probably the best division in baseball, in spite of the NL East’s best efforts to take that title. I think it’s the only division that has 4 legitimately dangerous offenses, and if things go just right, you could even count the Orioles in with the group. But, that won’t be enough, as I still think they’ll finish last. Here’s my current picks:
1. Tampa Bay Rays (95-67)
2. Boston Red Sox (91-71)
3. New York Yankees (88-74)
4. Toronto Blue Jays (82-80)
5. Baltimore Orioles (74-88)
In spite of the fantastic offenses in this division, it still comes down to pitching. The Rays have a young, and extremely talented pitching staff. Remember Matt Moore? The guy that shut down the potent Rangers offense in the first game of the ALDS? Yeah, he’s currently #6 among their starting pitchers. Now, he’ll probably work his way into the rotation in spring training, and based on his talent, he could be their #2 or #3 starter by season’s end. The Rays’ offense took a small step forward by getting Carlos Pena back, but more importantly their defense at 1B took a massive step forward. They also signed Jose Molina away from Toronto, who will be a great asset for this young pitching staff. I think they’ll win this division.
I also think Boston will bounce back. A new face at the helm will help, and I think Bobby Valentine could be the right guy. They didn’t need to make a lot of adjustments to the team, because if the guys perform the way they should, then you have a playoff team already. Losing Papelbon, I thought, was really dumb. That is, until they turned around and traded for Andrew Bailey. It will be interesting to see how he holds up under the pressure of the AL East, but I think he’ll be fine. And, if Lester, Beckett & Buchholz can remain healthy at the top of that rotation, they could have three 15-18-game winners. But, is it enough to make the playoffs? Hmmm . . . I’ll hold off on my Wild Card picks until I’ve picked every division.
The Yankees absolutely did the right thing in signing Hiroki Kuroda. Assuming Ivan Nova wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan rookie, Kuroda makes a great #3 starter behind Sabathia and Nova. But, Nova is no guarantee. And, Kuroda’s good numbers the last couple seasons have come mostly against an offensively depleted NL West. And, you figure age eventually has to catch up with these guys, right? Rivera is 42. A-Rod will turn 37 in July. Sabathia will turn 31 (and he’s averaged 240 innings pitched over the last 5 seasons). Jeter will be 38 in June. Granderson had a career year last season, at the age of 30 – and most guys (short of PHD’s) don’t get better once they pass that age. Teixeira will be 32, and has seen a steady decline in his OPS and batting average over the last 4 seasons. And, your most likely opening day DH is Andruw Jones, who’ll be 35. It’s just enough to make me nervous – but, they could very well win 100 games. Who knows?
The Blue Jays were unable to do anything to make significant improvements to their pitching staff. They have a “revamped” bullpen, but that doesn’t necessarily mean improved. Their offense is very good, but just ask the Texas Rangers from 5 years ago – offense isn’t enough. The Blue Jays simply have too many starters that will finish the season with ERA’s well over 4.00, and they don’t have a talented enough bullpen to back them up. So, I think they’ll stay right around where they were last year – about .500.
If healthy, the Orioles could improve. Could they compete? Uh, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. They traded away their best starter to Colorado (Jeremy Guthrie), and replaced him with maybe a #2 or #3 starter from Taiwan – Wei-Yin Chen. Not exactly an improvement. And their closer will be Jim Johnson, who has a total of 21 career saves, along with 16 blown saves, and a 3.31 career ERA. IF all their offensive players stay healthy, they could compete with Toronto to stay out of the cellar in this division. But, I don’t see that happening.