A little more than a week before opening day, and rosters are mostly set. So let’s do this!
1) New York Yankees — The pitching is suspect, and the defense is poor, but the Yankees still have the most ferocious offense in baseball, and that will probably be enough. Sabathia’s decent, but Vazquez is unreliable, Pettitte and Burnett are expensive and average, and Philip Hughes… eh. The bullpen is crummy until you get to Joba and Mo. The big offseason acquisition of Curtis Granderson probably won’t be a very big deal; defensively, he’s about equivalent to the dear departed Melky Cabrera, and his ridiculous platoon split (his career OPS against RHP is .897, but against LHP is only .484 (!)) saps a lot of the offensive upgrade. The Yankees can probably make last year’s division win hold up, but they’re headed rapidly toward the same place they were a few years ago: a team full of expensive old players who aren’t producing anymore and can’t be moved.
2) Tampa Bay Rays — The Rays got a ridiculous season out of Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett last year. I’m expecting both of them to drop back a bit (though Bartlett may not have been all fluke; his BABIP was a career-high .364, but that actually underperforms expectation by about 25 points — fucker’s LDr was 27% last year. 27%!), especially if B.J. Upton still can’t remember how to play baseball. Defensively, Tampa is probably the best team in the AL (if not in the whole baseballings), but their pitching is suspect. If new closer Rafael Soriano figures out how to get left-handers out, that’ll be a step in the right direction.
3) Boston Red Sox — I look at the moves the Red Sox have made, and I don’t like them. John Lackey isn’t anywhere near as good as they’re paying him to be, but he’s still decent, and the pitching should be a highlight for the Sox this year. Offensively, they’ve taken a major step backward, and even moreso if David Ortiz continues to be as bad as he was in 2009. Mike Lowell being old and broken and dead leaves them with a big hole at 3B that sucky Adrian Beltre has to try to fill. Replacing Jason Bay with Mike Cameron will cost the Sox dearly on offense (though the defensive upgrade may make it worthwhile). Shortstop is still a hole; Marco Scutaro is lousy, and I don’t care how scrappy and full of grit and hustle he is. Lunchpail.
4) Baltimore Orioles — The Orioles are much-improved over last year. They’re not ready for prime time yet, but I don’t expect to see them last in MLB in everything anymore. Catcher Matt Wieters did a decent job in his half-season of work last year; he didn’t set the world on fire like he was predicted to, but he put up some tolerable rookie numbers. I don’t know about the big Kevin Millwood acquisition; he’s been decent in the past, but he’s also been really bad. Reminds me a bit too much of the birds’ flirtation with Sidney Ponson. And the absence of George Sherrill is going to hurt.
5) Toronto Blue Jays — Don’t worry, Blue Jays fans — Roy Halladay may be gone, but you’ll still have Vernon Wells chewing up payroll for another three years!
1) Minnesota Twins — With Joe Mauer locked down for the next hundred years, the Twins can now set their minds to the task of actually winning some baseball games. They have the best offense in the AL Central (which isn’t saying much), and their defense is fine, but their pitching is weak. Losing Joe Nathan for the season (Tommy John’s revenge) isn’t helping matters any. Still and all, the division’s weak, and the Twinkies should be able to hold on.
2) Detroit Tigers — The Tigers, against all odds, look to be pretty competitive coming out of spring training. Their pitching is surprisingly strong — behind Verlander and Porcello they have the recently-acquired Max Scherzer, and, wonder of wonders, it seems like Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman are ready to be big-league pitchers again. If both Bonderman and Willis can regain some semblance of their old form, the Tigers will have a truly frightening rotation heading up to actually-good closer Jose Valverde. Offensively, they still look to be mainly the Miggy Cabrera show, though Mags looks better than he has in a few years. Will the addition of Johnny Damon help the Tigers at all? He was good last year, but New Yankee Stadium’s contours are perfect for him, and transformed his doubles power into a shitload of bombs. Not sure that’s going to happen in Comerica.
3) Chicago White Sox — As much as I want to put the White Sox in last place, I just can’t. Not in this division. The White Sox have, as is their wont, listened to their idiot manager and gotten worse in the offseason. They added Jake Peavy, which will buoy the pitching staff that bails them out year after year, but it’s not clear that they have enough going on to survive the legendarily terrible outfield of Pierre, Jones, and Rios. But at least they finally let go of Scott Podsednik!
4) Cleveland Indians — Let’s face it, facing-it fans: the Indians are primed for another season of muddling along and not doing very much. At this point, they’ve traded away pretty much the whole team as they continue to labour under the burden of Travis Hafner’s albatrossic contract. How’s that for a dude who signed a big damn contract and then immediately went into the tank? Positively Vernon Wellsian.
5) Kansas City Royals — Zack and the Muppet Show will continue to bumble along at the bottom of the world doing a whole lot of not-much. Will this ever change? Not until the ownership does.
1) Seattle Mariners — The Mariners look to have dug themselves out from under Bill Bavasi’s shitstorm of bad contracts, and holy moley have they returned to contention in a big way. Capitalising on a weak division, they’ve added Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, Cliff Lee, and Casey Kotchman. The downside, of course, is that Lee is already hurt and Bradley is unpredictable. They’ve had a lousy spring, but if they can get their shit together, this team should be fantastic. The only real hole is that they don’t have much power; on the flip side, they can get on base like sons of bitches.
2) Texas Rangers — The Rangers have some fragile players, but, if they can stay off the DL for ten damn minutes, they should be as effective a team as we’ve ever seen them. Rich Harden will bounce back from his terrible 2009, and I don’t think Vlad Guerrero is half as done as everybody said. Should be enough for second place in a soft crowd.
3) Oakland Athletics — The A’s have the same problem year-in and year-out: everybody gets hurt. If I had to guess, I’d say that’s because injury risks are cheaper than healthy players. Ben Sheets was phenomenally bad a while ago, when he gave up ten runs and didn’t get a single out against the awful Reds, but that’s looking like a fluke, so the A’s should get good value from him. If he stays healthy.
4) Los Angeles Angels — Uh. Huh. Well. It’s not common for any non-Marlins team to get so much worse in the span of just one offseason, but the Angels have found a way. Letting John Lackey go was a good move, given the huge overpay the Red Sox handed him, but… Joel Pineiro? He’s bad at baseball, guys. Hideki Matsui is not as good as Vlad Guerrero, either, and Vlad was pretty much the sole provider of offense for the Angels teams of recent years. Not expecting much from these guys except lots of gratuitous out-making thanks to their brilliant manager.
1) Philadelphia Phillies — The Roy Halladay deal should keep the Phillies on top a bit longer, but the division’s catching up pretty quickly. Sooner or later, they’re going to have to do something about that gaping black hole at short — I know he’s popular, and he seems like a cool guy, but he makes tons of outs. That .296 OBP from last season really needs to go.
2) Atlanta Braves — The Braves Rebuilding Project continues. Chipper should be better than last season (so quit your crying already), Billy Wagner is dynamite if he can manage to stay healthy, and the pitching staff, even Vazquez-less, should be pretty strong. The big question for me is theoretical four-hole hitter Troy Glaus — yes, Troy Glaus, who you probably forgot about since he only played 14 games last season. The Braves are taking a gamble on him, and, if it pays off, they should have one of the more formidable lineups in the NL.
3) Florida Marlins — The NL’s mystery team. The roster is always so young and so full of high-celing players nobody’s ever actually heard of that it’s really hard to tell what they’ll do any given season. But they still have Dan Uggla, they still have Hanley Ramirez, and they still don’t have any pitching whatsoever. Bottom line: better than the Mets, but not going anywhere this year.
4) New York Mets — What the hell? Last year’s Mets got completely exploded by injuries, which was sort of completely hilarious. In the offseason, Omar Minaya picked up an awful lot of backup catchers and reserve outfielders, and sort of ignored the fact that his team has exactly one pitcher. So, hey, good luck out there, Johan! As long as you can manage 162 complete games this year, the Mets should be fine.
5) Washington Somethings — A bad team with bad pitching. Will they be bad? Impossible to predict!
1) Ft. Louis Fatinals — The Fatinals look strong, but they’re placing all their eggs in very few baskets. In Albert Poopholes, they have the best overall player in baseball, which is a big advantage as long as he’s healthy. If he goes down, they’re in trouble. Matt Holliday is also excellent, but I don’t expect him to be as good as he was down the stretch last year, when he was actually better than Pujols. On the pitching side, they have the hugely overrated Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, and not much else. Really, this is a team that’s riding on its four superstars to an almost lunatic degree.
2) Chicago Cubs — The Cubs, if they stay healthy, will give the Fatinals a serious chase this season. Derrek Lee was a monster in 2009, and probably won’t be that good again this year, but should deliver 150-or-so games of 130 OPS+ goodness. Aramis Ramirez is still awesome. The real keys on the offensive side are: is Marlon Byrd any good outside of Texas, can Geovany Soto not be awful, and can Kosuke Fukudome solve his Granderson-like platoon issues. If those questions all shake out the right way, the Cubs should be a force, especially with pitching like they have. Zambrano – Lilly – Wells – Dumpster – please God make it Tom Gorzelanny and not Carlos Silva is as good a rotation as anybody’s, and Carlos Marmol is amazing when he can find the plate.
3) Milwaukee Brewers — The Brewers signed hundred-year-old Jim Edmonds this offseason. That’s funny to me. Since they still can’t pitch their way out of an old hat, I expect Jim and Prince will be sharing meatloaf recipes in October rather than playing any postseason baseball.
4) Cincinnati Reds — Aroldis Chapman, you are next in line to be sacrificed to the dark god. Bring me more young arms! I am mad with power!
5) Houston Astros — Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, and… do the Astros have any other players? It is a mystery.
6) Pittsburgh Pirates — Hey, remember when Barry Bonds used to play in Pitt? Maybe they should sign him again. Even at 46, he’d be better than anything else they’re putting out there. And plus, he’s hot.
1) Colorado Rockies — It seems a little bit crazy, but the Rockies are starting to turn into a pitching team. If Ubaldo Obamanez can keep bringing his walks down, and Jeff Francis can remember what end of the baseball to hold, and Aaron Cook can make it through a whole game without a nap, and Jorge De La Rosa can make it through a whole season without a season-ending injury… well, it all seems pretty good. The Rockies also somehow managed to keep Jason Giambi, giving them a dedicated pinch-hitting monster. That’s quite a weapon to have available in late innings. And he comes with his own magical golden thong! Which he’ll even share. He’s dreamy.
2) Los Angeles Dodgers — The Dodgers have materially improved their offense by replacing Juan Pierre with a cardboard box. They still have Manny, and they still have the best bullpen in baseball, but what they ain’t got is a trustworthy rotation. Mediocre crap-basket Randy Wolf carried them last season with his fortuitous career year. Will they get another lousy veteran to have a lucky break this year? It is a mystery.
3) San Fransisco Giants — It’s funny to me how thoroughly Barry Zito is kicking this team’s ass. I mean, he’s been decent, but they’re paying him way ridiculous money. As a result, the Giants weren’t able to make any moves in the Matt Holliday or Jason Bay sweepstakes. So they still have exactly no offense to go with their amazing pitching. As we learned last year, best pitching + worst offense ~ .500 record.
4) Arizona Diamondbacks — The good news? Eric Byrnes is gone. The bad news? The Diamondbacks are so terrible he was actually one of their best hitters.
5) San Diego Padres — Do these guys still play? Huh. Adrian Gonzalez is good, I guess.