The American League may seem like "That scary place that uses the DH and stuff!" But if you look at it from up close, it is a scary place that uses the DH and stuff. During the offseason, quite a few AL teams put all of their chips in the center of the table in an effort to get to the top. Follow along as I do a team by team breakdown of the American League. I've also included links to the relevant SBNation blogs for you to check out, if you want. You may not want to. I mean, none of the following are named after lighting fixtures or anything. That would be silly.
Teams with a * next to them indicate Wild Card winners, but you probably could have figured that out yourself, you seem smart. Then again, there probably would have been a comment like
I Don't get
So without further ado (just the state mandated minimum amount of ado) we start with...
Toronto may be the "2012 Miami Marlins Memorial Overhyped Team" award (and they traded for a lot of that same team, so that might be a big red flag), but unlike those Marlins, the Blue Jays added their pieces to a solid core. Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and R.A Dickey immediately make the rotation one of the best in the AL, provided Johnson can stay healthy. The lineup should also be solid with Jose Bautista returning from an injury-riddled 2012. If Jose Reyes can put up his usual line and Melky Cabrera can prove that his resurgance wasn't totally the hitting juice, then the lineup will be solid up and down. Alex Anthopoulos has finally started cashing in his chips, and it may well pay off.
Everything about the Yankees screams "SELL SELL FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, SELL!" Their core is getting old, they're trying desperately to get under the luxury tax threshold, and the whole left side of the infield either is or is coming off an injury. They also lost some guys they probably wanted to retain (Eric Chavez, Russell Martin, and Nick Swisher), so that doesn't bode well.
However, I'm not quite ready to count them out yet. Robinson Cano may be the best offensive Second Baseman in Baseball, Curtis Granderson is still a productive player, and Brett Gardner is coming back from injury to not lead off, even though he probably should but JEEEETAAH. I think they'll be competative, and snag the second wild card.
The Rays are doing their low budget Rays thing and gathering pieces for the future. The James Shields-Wil Meyers trade was the one trade that made the general consensus of the internet go "LOL" before Kevin Towers started doing stuff. They've still got a good team (despite being the unfortunate winners of the James Loney sweepstakes), but this seems like a re-loading year for the Rays.
Count me among the people who thinks the 2012 Orioles were a mirage. That is not to say their future is totally doomed, it is not, but I fear there may be a 2008 Diamondbacks like "LET'S GET DAN HAREN TO GET US OVER THE TOP!" move in them at some point which doesn't pan out. That is not to say the future can't be bright in Baltimore (Dylan Bundy related statement), but 2013 may be a step back.
When your biggest offseason acquisition is Shane Victorino... Yeah. Depsite scapegoating getting rid of Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox are still a mess. There still is a possibilty that a number of people could bounce back from injury/ineffective seasons, but with an aging group it doesn't seem likely. I'll put it another way: Theo Epstein abandoned these guys in favor of the freakin' Cubs.
The Tigers are my favorite in the AL at this moment. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder combine to form one of those "HULK SMASH"ingiist duos in recent memory. Austin Jackson and offseason signee Torii Hunter will also contribute to the offense. Victor Martinez returns from injury to join the other big boppers. Pitching wise, the Tigers are sitting pretty. Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in Baseball, and maybe one of the best of my lifetime. Re-signing Anibal Sanchez was huge, and solidifies their staff.
If there's any weakness to the Tigers, it's the infield defense. Miguel Cabrera should not be playing Third Base during a celebrity softball game, much less a Major League team, but hopefully the offense will keep them out in front of any such malificense.
It's a testament to how weak the rest of the Central is, rather than the moves the Royals made in the offseason, that I put Kansas City here. The Royals seemed poised to compete from 2014 onward, but Dayton Moore got impatient. Ervin Santana, Wade Davis and James Shields are indicative of that. They have a fairly solid hitting core with Billy Butler, Mike Moustakas, and Alex Gordon, and if Eric Hosmer bounces back they could mash it like nobody else. As ill-advised as the Shields-Myers trade may have been, Shields is still a good pitcher, it's just hard to see that void in Right Field filled by Jeff Fran-
PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE HUMAN, FRENCHY IS GOD, YOU WILL WORSHIP FRENCHY AT THE CHURCH OF YOUR CHOICE. FRENCHY WILL LEAD US ALL TO ENLIGHTENMENT AND PEACE. ALL HAIL FRENCHY.
Noteable free agents signed with Cleveland. That is a really weird sentence to type. LeBron James sort of proved that Cleveland is the sort of place you run from the first chance you get, rather than go to or stay. They've totally revamped their outfield through the acquisitions of Drew Stubbs, Michael Bourn, and Nick Swisher. Assuming Swisher is used as a DH and Michael Brantley is put in his place on the field, then that's a solid defensive outfield. Jason Kipnis is a rising star. They also signed Mark Reynolds, which is nice I suppose.
The issue I have with them is when I look at their pitching staff, I suck in my teeth and make a groaning sound, the same sound I make when I read a headline like "SLIDESHOW: MAN DECAPITATED IN GOAT HERDING ACCIDENT". It's a mix of "Not quite there yet" (Trevor Bauer) to "So over the hill that the hill in question is Mt. Everest" (Ubaldo Jiminez, Daisuke Matsuzaka). They're a popular sleeper pick this year, and I can see that, but I just don't think they have enough to get over the hump this year.
I will say that it's good to see Terry Francona back in Baseball. He got a raw deal in Boston, and I've always liked him.
The Pale Hose faded at the end of last season, which is rarely a good thing. They also did very little to improve their roster, and guys like Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn are a year older, closer to the sweet sweet release of Baseball death. Chris Sale's development will be interesting to watch. They also got rid of A.J Pierzynski, so they're 1,000,000,000 times more likealbe.
What the hell happened? Wasn't it a few years ago that the Twins were a beacon of small-market goodness that could compete on a yearly basis? Now it's just "Joe Mauer and some dudes." The Twins thought that getting rid of two good outfielders for middling pitchers (Denard Span, Ben Revere) was just a dandy idea. Justin Morneau may never be the same player pre-concussion syndrome, and he's getting up there in age. Their big offseason signing was probably Kevin Correia. Insert joke here.
Last year, the Angels signed Albert Pujols to an insane deal. The general idea seemed to be that they would win the World Series within the first few years of the deal, to make the latter part of the deal when Pujols was old and terrible seem not so bad. It didn't quite work out last season, so the Angels decided to double down on that strategy by signing Josh Hamilton to a similar deal.
So, why am I picking them to finish first? Because Pujols and Hamilton are still solid bats at this point in their respective careers, and they made a few smaller offseason moves that could put them over the top. It's easily forgotten, but this team did win 89 games last year (one more than the AL winning Tigers), so adding a few wins from there would do them fine.
They added Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas to shore up their rotation. They signed Ryan Madson to presumably close for them. Jered Weaver is still among the AL's best pitchers. Mike Trout may not repeat his probably-should-have-been-MVP-but-let's-not-open-that-can-of-worms-again season, but if Pujols doesn't start 2013 off slow like he did in 2012, and Hamilton can give them good productioin, then he won't have to. Barry Enright is still here, in case you were wondering.
What Mark Reynolds is to contact, the Rangers are to getting the players they wanted this offseason. Zack Grenkie? Chose the pitcher's park. Josh Hamilton? Takin' the Angel money. Justin Upton? Well you're probably gonna have to get rid of one of your two good young Shortstops... I mean, you'd get to keep the other one, so you'd still be in a good plac e... Oh you want to keep both of them? But you're still going to play Ian Kinsler at Second? That's cool, I guess. Hey, I wonder what Atlanta's doing?
They still have a solid team, that being said. Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison make up a good top of the rotation. If Lance Berkman still has anything left in the tank, he could help make up the power deficiency left by Hamilton. Adrian Beltre is still arguably the best Third Baseman in baseball, and at least one of the aforementioned Elvis Andrus/Jurickson Profar duo should come up big. I see them as the first Wild Card.
I don't think the 2012 Athletics were as big a mirage as the 2012 Orioles were, but I still think they'll take a step back. Relying on Josh Hamilton misplaying balls in the sun to win the division is probably not sustainable. Brandon Moss maaaaaaaay not actually be a table clearer in the future. They do have a pretty good outfield, between Coco Crisp, Chris Young, Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes in any sort of arrangement.
The A's also rode a wave of rookie pitchers to the AL West title in 2012. That is also probably not sustainable (for one thing, all the rookie pitchers aren't rookies anymore, doh) and it will be interesting to see how they all adjust. I see Oakland above .500, but out of a Wild Card spot, but them being in one wouldn't surprise me.
Poor Seattle. They wanted to throw money after players, but none of them wanted to go to Seattle, except Jason Bay. That has to be embarassing, only having Jason Bay like you. It's weird. I don't see why. Of all the American League cities that I've visited Seattle is by far the nicest, in my opinion. I mean, once you get out of all of the Disney owned areas in Anaheim it looks like Cold War era Eastern Europe. Seattle has a museum where there's a room where they can teach you how to play guitar!
This is also where Joe Saunders ended up. I actually like this signing for the Mariners, since that park will probably help make his next payday more lucrative. Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales also happened. Thankfully, the Mariners won't be seeing the cellar anytime soon because....
I can see what the Astros are doing, honestly. Blow everything up and hope you hit on a bunch of high draft picks and start rebuilding. That is basically how the Nationals did it (though the Nationals also happened to get two of the most highly regarded prospects ever in those two drafts). However, the Astros are coming off two straight 100 loss seasons in the NL Central, and now they get to play the Angels, Rangers, and A's many times a season. It will not be pretty, it will be 2003 Tigers bad. Someone like Ervin Santana will throw a perfect game against them. On the plus side:
Wild Card Game: Rangers over Yankees
Tigers over Rangers 3-1
Blue Jays over Angels 3-2
Tigers over Blue Jays 4-2
So who will the Tigers play in the World Series? Will they actually win a game this time around? You'll have to wait until tomorrow at this time when soco previews the National League. Less Astros and all the Uptons!
Coming up next: an ESPN: 30 for 30 special When Dance Memes Ruled the World.
What if I told you a Korean guy pretending to ride a horse would inspire a generation.....?