It's baseball season. Is there anything better? Don't answer that because it's obviously no. Let's get to the rankings.
Yeah, they lost Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, but they'll make up for that in other areas. For starters, there's a good chance they're getting a bounce back season from Manny Machado, despite his lack of playing time last year he made improvements in several areas last year, like improving his on base percentage from .312 to .324 and hitting almost as many homers last year as he did in 2013 (12 last year and 14 in '13) in less than half the at bats. Matt Wieters's production will help as well. He hasn't lived up to the hype he had in the minors, but around .250/.320/.425 and 20 homers is nothing to complain about from your catcher.
Toronto Blue Jays
Every year I tell myself to beware of the trendy team, like the Jays last year, or the Marlins in 2013, and then every year, I find myself convincing myself that maybe they can be good. I mean, the Blue Jays improved a lot this offseason. Russell Martin's going to have a huge impact, both offensively (a .290/.402/.430 line last year) and defensively, where he stole an estimated 111 strikes last year with his pitch framing, eighth best mark in the league. Josh Donaldson will help too. Their biggest problem will be their bullpen, and there's never a shortage of relievers available at the trade deadline... Damnit, I just talked myself into the trendy team again.
Boston Red Sox
You can put me in the nonbelievers division of the Red Sox this year. Sure they'll score lots of runs, but they don't have the pitching. Porcello was a good return for Cespedes, but there's no stability past that. Wade Miley and Joe Kelly are both question marks, doing well in 2013 and coming down to earth last year, Justin Masterson somehow figured out a way to be more enigmatic than Miley and Kelly and I haven't even mentioned the defensive train wreck between Panda and Hanley in left and third. They'll be fun to watch, but that's about it.
Tampa Bay Rays
Not much here, if they stay healthy Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly might make them interesting but that's it. The Rays are just taking a few years to retool and restock their depleted farm system.
New York Yankees
This team will also be undoubtedly better than last season with just the upgrade from Jeter to Didi Gregorious, especially defensively.* That said, the East has gotten a lot tougher this year, and I get so much satisfaction picking the Yankees last, I'd be lying if I said that didn't have something to do with the decision.
*My favorite discussion this offseason was, "who can possibly replace Jeter?" Umm, he was statistically the worst everyday player last year. I think Chris Christie could have covered more ground at short.
Chicago White Sox
I liked all of the Sox moves, especially the Samardzija trade, which I talk about in the A's section below. Melky Cabrera was a good move as well, and all of these can add up quickly in a wide open division.
I talked about why I'm skeptical of the Tigers a month ago. That should give you a good idea of what I think of them.
Kansas City Royals
I didn't like the defending AL champs' moves, they overpaid for Kendrys Morales. Before I go on, I'd like you to quickly recount your memory of Morales last year. There's a good chance you're a Twins fan here, so you probably remember how disappointing Morales was for the Twins last year before they traded him to Seattle. His .234/.259/.325 line was pretty bad with the Twins, but he was somehow just as bad, and in some areas even worse with the Mariners, hitting .207/.285/.347. The Royals gave him two years. Averaging 7 million a year. For I guy who hit into more double plays (12) than homers (8). Now that I'm done criticizing that deal, the Royals are still a pretty good team. Losing Shields hurts, but Yordano Ventura might be able to pick up some of the slack.
Man, is this central division race going to be fun or what? The last four teams I named are all potential playoff contenders. The Indians improved their atrocious defense, starting last year at the trade deadline when they dealt Asdrubal Cabrera. Francisco Lindor will likely get called up at some point this year, further improving their fielding. They continued into the season by trading for first baseman Brandon Moss, allowing them to move Carlos Santana to third base and get Lonnie Chisenhall out of there. The biggest question facing the Tribe will be pitching. Obviously Corey Kluber will be good, but the young guys Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer have to perform for Cleveland to contend. Don't look at this fourth place prediction as a knock; this is a tough division and any of these teams can pull out the championship here.
Well, except for the Twins. You can read my Twins preview here.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
An intriguing storyline to watch for with the Angels is Trout trying to adjust to high fastballs. Pitchers figured out that was his weakness last year and started peppering him with them as 62.4 percent of the pitches he saw last year were fastballs. Beyond that there aren't a lot of things happening with the Angels, they still have the worst name in all of sports, keep that in mind.
We know what we're getting from the M's at this point, great seasons from Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, really good seasons from Hisashi Iwakuma and Kyle Seager and a completely befuddling job by Lloyd McClendon as manager. That's why Nelson Cruz is so important to the club. At age 34, there's no way he's going to repeat his season last year, but if he can do 75% of what he did last year he'll lift the ceiling for an offense that badly needed pop last year, scoring just 613 runs over the course of the year, 18th in the league.
After winning the "Most Bizarre and Confusing Season" award, the Athletics kept it going by winning "Most Bizarre and Confusing Offseason". I liked most of their moves, especially getting Jesse Hahn for Derek Norris. Even if Hahn was protected by the graveyard of Petco Park's outfield, he had a park adjusted ERA+ of 109. Meanwhile Norris rode a .336 BABIP to hit .294/.402/.477 mark in the first half of the season before falling to .240/.324/.335 in the second half. On the other hand, they gave Jeff Samardzija away for Rangel Ravelo and a box of peanuts and top shortstop prospect Daniel Robertson for one year of Ben Zobrist. They didn't seem to decide whether to look to the future or try to contend next year. We'll see how it plays out.
I had the Rangers winning the west last year, which submarined my predictions, and now things look bleaker than ever. I don't know how good Prince Fielder will be, but there's no question that that contract isn't ending well, same with Shin Soo Choo.
Welcome to the Twins of the west. George Springer, Jon Singleton and whatever other prospects show up will make them interesting. Personally, I'll be watching them to scout them for the 2017 ALCS but that's just me.
Disclaimer: When I talk about awards, I mean MVP and Cy Young. Rookie of the Year is a crapshoot and manager of the year is pointless. Thank you and please drive through.
MVP: Mike Trout
See above. It's all about adjustments. I have a feeling he'll make it.
Cy Young: Chris Sale
I'll take him even with the injury. While nobody was paying attention last year, he took a huge leap, moving from the "really good" section on the pitcher hierarchy to the "great" section, going 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA and a 176 ERA+, tops in the league.
NL coming tomorrow!