More of the same. You know the drill. Last time, it was the National League season preview. This time around, it’s the league’s kid brother, the American League.
AL East (Beasts from the Easts?)
Last year, the Orioles rode the bat of Nelson Cruz to a division title in a down year for the entire division. This year, they won’t get so lucky. Toronto and Boston have reloaded. Tampa Bay is always frisky. The Yankees are the Yankees. Meanwhile, Nelson Cruz fled to Seattle, Chris Davis couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, and Manny Machado and Matt Wieters keep running into said barn and coming away with injuries. They’ll escape with a winning record, but only barely – their window might as well be closed.
New York Yankees
Speaking of closed windows, this is the first year for New York to come to terms with the fact that its glory days of the Jeter Yanks have faded into the past. Jeets is gone. A-Rod is A-Rod. C.C. Sabathia, once on track to win 300 games, is now on track to gain 300 pounds. These are dark times in the Bronx…which means only about 80 wins instead of the usual division title.
Yeah, there’s little sympathy for the Yankees here at the Recorder.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays made one of the most important signings of the winter, picking up Russell Martin for five years and $85 million. That might seem like an overpay, if it weren’t for one of the ten best all around catchers in the game. A quality backstop who can handle a pitching staff while also hitting a lick can’t be overvalued enough, and Martin should be the pick-up the Jays staff needs. Never mind that they stole Josh Donaldson from Oakland, and already had one of the most potent line-ups in the league. This team is loaded, and ready to take advantage of the window the Orioles slipped through last year. Anything less than claiming a wild card berth should be viewed as a disappointment. In fact, I’m predicting them to win their first division since before The Lion King came out.
Tampa Bay Rays
I read Jonah Keri’s The Extra 2% a few weeks ago, and it’s a great study on how the Rays leadership turned around one of the worst franchises in professional sports. Much of the success of the Rays was built upon improved business practices, but a good deal also involved hiring the right people – namely GM Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon. This year, Friedman has bolted to the Dodgers, with Maddon also running off to become my neighbor. Can Tampa sustain their success without the familiar faces of the past? Evan Longoria is still a stud, but after him, the lineup falls over dramatically. They’ll contend for a moment, but I have my doubts about their making any noise this year.
Boston Red Sox
On the other hand, you have the Red Sox, fresh off a rebuild with new faces galore. Their rotation is full of average-to-good guys, which might not be enough to win the division on its own. That lineup, though…has a long way to go. If it comes together, awesome. If not…it’ll be a long, long season in Fenway Park.
AL Central (Den of Tigers)
How the mighty have fallen. Well, not fallen per se. I just get the feeling that nobody’s as scared of the Tigers as they were in years past. Losing Max Scherzer in free agency will do that. Having Justin Verlander turn into the second coming of Mark Buehrle will do that as well. All of a sudden, Miguel Cabrera is having a hard time staying healthy, thus proving that getting older does, in fact, suck. There’s enough pieces here to at least win the division, but I have to wonder what shape they’ll be in by the time the playoffs roll around.
Kansas City Royals
Wasn’t last year great?
Can’t it always be like that?
There’s a popular school of thought that the Indians are up and comers. A career year from Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley putting up MVP numbers will do that. However, I’m not buying it. Too much depends upon old hitters having resurgent years, young arms figuring everything out, and those aforementioned career years not being flukes. I don’t see this being the year that Cleveland baseball makes it over the hump.
(Now Cleveland basketball might be a different story…)
Chicago White Sox
On the other hand, we have the White Sox, who somehow filled nearly every hole in the roster through savvy trades and key free agent signings. All of a sudden, Chicago baseball is fun to talk about again. Their rotation, anchored by Cy Young candidate Chris Sale, has a history of dominance (or at least high quality pitching). The line-up can mash and thrash with the best of them, especially now that they have shed killer weights such as Adam Dunn and the Artist Formerly Known as Paulie. It’s going to be a wild card kind of year on the South Side.
Don’t sleep on the Twins. There’s a lot of young talent that can bloom at any moment. Young hitters, mentored by the great Hall of Fame candidate Joe Mauer, could make the Twins dangerous for years to come.
That rotation, though…
AL West (It’s…I’m out of ideas, guys)
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
I don’t know. On the one hand, Mike Trout. On the other, their rotation is nowhere near as solid as it needs to be to repeat as division champions. On the one hand, Mike Trout. On the other, Albert Pujols is on the wrong side of his career and Josh Hamilton is more likely to not play than he is to play. On the one hand, Mike Trout. On the other, it takes nine players to make a winning ball club. They’ll win a wild card berth, but not much more. Mike Trout is amazing, but he can’t do it alone.
But boy, it sure is fun to watch him try.
Meanwhile, the Oakland A’s seemingly get written off every year. They get tossed aside. Billy Beane has no idea what he’s doing. He’s just playing for the long rebuild. His trades don’t pan out. He’ll always be the bridesmaid but never the bride. Every year, he’s always doubted just slightly, more than he should be.
Meanwhile, Billy Beane is all like:
Forget the wild card. The Mariners will win the Division. They’re a chic pic this year, and for good reasons. Robinson Cano anchors the line-up with Kyle Seager, Austin Jackson, and Dustin Ackley serving as capable lineup support. Add in Nelson Cruz, and the team becomes terrifying. Meanwhile, the rotation is fronted by King Felix, followed by a killer support staff. This is the Mariners’ year. Just you wait and see.
Each year brings us a little bit closer to the year when the Astros contend. This might be that year…but I doubt it. At the very least, Jose Altuve is fun to watch. Check back in a year or two, and this team should be really fun to watch.
Some teams just seem to be snake bit. Some teams have bad luck. And then there’s the Texas Rangers…
…is March Madness over yet?