The 2011 season was supposed to be the year of the Boston Red Sox with Theo Epstein snagging Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez from the free agent market. That dream of a World Series in Boston faded in September when the Red Sox surrendered a nine-game lead in the division, only to see it get even worse when word came out that players were drinking and messing around in the locker room at the wrong time.
So what does that tell us about 2012? Don’t automatically assume that you can buy a team and succeed. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim went out and paid for Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, which automatically put them as a World Series favorite. Not so fast. I explain below in my predictions why the Angels may not win it all.
There are some interesting teams to watch this year. Will the Tampa Bay Rays young and potent pitching staff be able to knock out the New York Yankees powerful bats? Will Bobby Valentine right the ship in Boston? Is Kansas City actually close to becoming a contender? Will Yu Darvish succeed in the United States? Tons of awesome storylines to follow when the season begins.
Without further ado, here are my predictions for 2012….
New York Yankees
Who’s new: SP Michael Pineda, SP Hiroki Kuroda, OF Raul Ibanez
Who’s out: SP AJ Burnett, C Jorge Posada, SP Bartolo Colon, C/DH Jesus Montero
Hal Steinbrenner finally came to his senses this offseason and realized that the Yankees will never win another World Series without some pitching. No one saw the blockbuster trade coming that sent Pineda to the Bronx and prized catching prospect, Jesus Montero, to the Seattle Mariners. It was a win-win trade for both teams and gave the Yankees a potential ace for the next 6-8 years.
One day after acquiring Pineda, the Yankees grabbed Kuroda off free agency. Who in their right mind wouldn’t take Pineda and Kuroda for Burnett? Now, that is an upgrade, folks! A rotation with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova is filthy. There are obvious question marks on the left side of the infield with Derek Jeter’s age and Alex Rodriguez’s health, but that isn’t a big issue with Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson in New York. This team should be dominant both on the mound and at the plate. We could see 100+ wins, but I think they fall just shy of that mark.
2012 prediction: 97-65
Tampa Bay Rays
Who’s new: 1B Carlos Pena, OF Luke Scott, C Jose Molina
Who’s out: DH Johnny Damon, C John Jaso, 1B Casey Kotchman
The Rays don’t look pretty from afar, but Joe Maddon’s laid-back attitude and baseball intelligence somehow continue to get it done. Maddon has had the pleasure of guys like David Price and James Shields taking the mound every fifth day, but it somehow is about to get better. Jeremy Hellickson turns 25 right after Opening Day and Matt Moore is 22 years old. This staff is young, powerful and capable of being the future big three or four that the Philadelphia Phillies currently have. Hellickson won the Rookie of the Year award last year, going 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA, while Moore pitched Game 1 of the ALDS, hurling seven shutout innings. These four could be very dangerous in a division that contains a lot more hitting than pitching.
Evan Longoria looks healthy, B.J. Upton provides some nice speed and Ben Zobrist continues to impress. But as everyone knows, you need nine guys in a lineup, not three. Maddon will look to guys like Sean Rodriguez, Carlos Pena and Desmond Jennings to provide some help in the lineup. As long as Longoria stays healthy, I don’t see the Rays missing out on the playoffs.
2012 prediction: 91-71
Boston Red Sox
Who’s new: RP Andrew Bailey, OF Cody Ross, MGR Bobby Valentine
Who’s out: RP Jonathon Papelbon, SS Marco Scuatro, SP Tim Wakefield, C Jason Varitek, MGR Terry Francona
I will start this off by saying I am not a Bobby Valentine fan. As a broadcaster myself, I couldn’t stand the guy. I am glad that he finally got another chance to coach, because he is a pretty good manager. Just look at the teams he had in Asia. He was a force to be reckoned with, but I don’t see that happening in the USA.
I have some major concerns about this club’s chemistry after the way last season ended. If Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz can somehow rebound, then the Red Sox could be very, very dangerous. The hitting is there with Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, and yes, Carl Crawford. If you play fantasy baseball, do not be afraid to reach for Crawford. The guy didn’t suddenly forget how to hit, but instead, was just getting used to being in Boston. The Red Sox out-scored opponents by 138 runs last year and still missed the playoffs. Just imagine what happens if a guy like Gonzalez or Pedroia gets hurt for a long period of time. The pitching depth is lacking and the Red Sox bullpen is relying on Andrew Bailey, so expect some ups and downs in Beantown.
2012 prediction: 90-72
Toronto Blue Jays
Who’s new: RP Francisco Rodriguez
Who’s out: C Jose Molina
Is there a team in baseball that stays out of the limelight more than the Blue Jays? I know they are in Canada, but how does this team continue to stay near .500 without acquiring any big names? Your guess is as good as mine, but I think we can start with Jose Bautista. In one year, Bautista went from hitting 13 homeruns to 54 homers. Is he on steroids? Who knows? But as long as he is on the field, he is one of the most feared hitters in baseball.
The Blue Jays will look to Brett Lawrie to fill a void at 3rd base, but more importantly, give the Jays someone else besides Bautista that can hit the ball. Yunel Escobar is also one of the best shortstops in the AL, so watch out for him at the plate and on the bases. The Jays finished fifth in the AL in runs scored last year, so hitting shouldn’t be too much of an issue. The problem exists on the mound, where guys like Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow will be asked to carry the team. Romero emerged last year in a big way, putting together a 2.92 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. Will he be able to repeat those numbers? I doubt it. But I do think he can put together a 3.20 ERA, which should be enough to pick up wins when he takes the mound. If someone can emerge as a #3 and #4 starter, Toronto could provide a nice little surprise.
2012 prediction: 80-82
Who’s new: 3B Wilson Betemit, OF Endy Chavez
Who’s out: DH Vladimir Guerrero, OF Luke Scott, SP Jeremy Guthrie
Where is Cal Ripken Jr. when you need him? This team is going to be really bad. There is just no way around it. The hitting is mediocre and the pitching is horrendous. Let’s start with the good stuff. I love the Orioles outfield: Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Nolan Reimold comprise one of the youngest outfields in baseball, and there is definitely some potential here.
Jones has the ability to be a 30-30 guy, but is taking a little while to get to that level. Markakis started off his career looking like a guy that could be the face of a franchise. But after hitting at or above .300 in 2007 and 2008, Markakis has actually started to decline and not improve. One guy who did improve last year was Jones. Jones hit over 20 HRs for the first time in his career and also avoided the injury bug, playing in a career-high 151 games. You want a breakout candidate? Look no further than Orioles C Matt Wieters. This guy has power, doubling his HR total from 11 in 2010 to 22 in 2011. He doesn’t have the best average and struggles to stay healthy, but there is massive potential there.
Now for the ugly part- everything else. The rest of the lineup in Baltimore isn’t very good, besides for JJ Hardy, and the rotation might be one of the worst I have ever seen. Let me know if you have ever heard of Wei-Yei Chen, Tommy Hunter, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel or Zach Britton. Wait, you have? You play way too much fantasy baseball. If you are a casual baseball fan, you haven’t. That is the projected starting rotation in Baltimore. The O’s sent their ace, Jeremy Guthrie packing, so there is a lot of youth there. Even if two of the youngsters can have decent seasons, the Orioles might lose less than 100 games. If not, say goodbye to Baltimore in May.
2012 prediction: 60-102
Who’s new: 1B Prince Fielder, RP Octavio Dotel, C Gerald Laird
Who’s out: 3B Wilson Betemit, IF Carlos Guillen, OF Magglio Ordonez, SP Brad Penny
This race should be over by July. The Tigers are averaging over 6 runs per game in Spring Training, which is an absolute crazy amount. I know it is just Spring Training and guys like Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera are facing pitchers that will start in AA, but it is still impressive. The scary part is that the Tigers will be even better in 2013 when Victor Martinez returns from his knee injury. The Tigers won 95 games last year without Fielder in the lineup, but with Fielder and Cabrera in the same lineup as Brennan Boesch, Austin Jackson, Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta, 100 wins shouldn’t be out of the question.
The Tigers offense is just as explosive as the Yankees and the pitching could be even better. Justin Verlander is coming off his Cy Young season, while Doug Fister was a fantastic mid-season addition to put alongside Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. The Tigers can’t expect Verlander to carry the rotation like he did last year, because if they do, then the Tigers could become last year’s Red Sox. As long as Verlander and Fister stay healthy, this team should be fine. Why do I have the Tigers with more wins than the Yankees? It’s simple. The AL Central is horrendous and the AL East has the Rays and Red Sox. Like I said, this race will be over in July.
2012 prediction: 99-63
Who’s new: 1B Casey Kotchman, SP Kevin Slowey, SP Derek Lowe, IF Jose Lopez, OF Ryan Spilborghs
Who’s out: OF Kosuke Fukodome
The Indians shocked the MLB world last year when they got off to a 30-15 start and led the division by seven games in late May. This is the same Indians team that finished 69-93 in 2010, so that made the slipper on Cinderella even more confusing. However, the Indians went through a stretch where they lost 20 of 34 and relied on a guy named Josh Tomlin to anchor the pitching staff. This team didn’t quit and made a blockbuster deal at the deadline, acquiring Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez in exchange for prized prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White. I still believe the Indians are going to regret that deal, but you can’t blame Mark Shapiro and company for trying to win.
As for this year, I like the additions of Slowey and Lowe to the rotation, while Kotchman should provide some stability at first base. This lineup is very young and raw, but could be explosive in the near future. If you haven’t heard of Carlos Santana, Shin Soo Choo, Michael Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis or Lonnie Chisenhall, then you will be pleasantly surprised this season. All of those guys will be key pieces to the Indians success for a long time.
The rotation of Jimenez, Lowe, Slowey, Tomlin and Justin Masterson should provide some fits for opposing lineups, but the bullpen is a whole different story. Chris Perez is making his way back from a strained oblique and is expected to be ready for Opening Day, but if he isn’t, Vinnie Pestano will close the door in the 9th inning. Pestano is just one of the many “who is he” guys in the bullpen. If Pestano, Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp and Frank Herrmann can become household names, then this Indians team could get over the .500 mark.
2012 prediction: 82-80
Kansas City Royals
Who’s new: SP Jonathan Sanchez, RP Jonathan Broxton, SS Yuniesky Betancourt, 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff
Who’s out: OF Melky Cabrera, SP Jeff Francis
This is a team that is going to be really good and compete for the division title, but just not this year; however, you can expect a jump of 10 wins from last year’s 71-91. There are some phenomenal prospects that finally got their first cup of coffee last year, but it is going to take this team a few more years before it climbs up the AL central standings. I love 1B Eric Hosmer and 3B Mike Moustakas. I got a chance to see Moustakas play in high school and that kid knows how to flat out hit. A middle of the order consisting of Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Hosmer and Moustakas should be the Royals future for the next decade. It will be interesting to see if the Royals struggle behind the plate with the loss of Salvador Perez, but adding Humberto Quintero from Houston should help the cause.
Quintero will be working with a very young pitching staff that is going to have its share of ups and downs. Jonathan Sanchez, Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Danny Duffy are all young, which could mean some excellent starts followed by absolute stinkers. Chen stunned everyone by almost throwing a no-hitter last year, and finishing the season with a 3.77 ERA. KC paid $9 million for two more years of Chen and acquired Sanchez from the Giants, in exchange for OF Melky Cabrera. Pair those two with Hochevar and Duffy and the Royals could have themselves something special.
There is one issue with this team besides for its youth- the closer, or lack thereof. Joakim Soria could be facing Tommy John surgery, which means youngster Aaron Crow might be asked to step into the closer’s role once again. Early word from Royals camp is that Jonathan Broxton is going to get first crack at the role. This might be the worst decision the Royals could make, but they will find that out soon enough. The former Los Angeles Dodgers closer complied a 5.68 ERA in just 14 games in 2011. Crow filled in for Soria for a couple weeks last year when Soria struggled and wasn’t awful. I would prefer to see Crow as the closer, but that doesn’t look likely. If the Royals can’t find someone capable of getting the final three outs, then this could be a long season.
2012 prediction: 81-81
Chicago White Sox
Who’s new: OF Delwyn Young, OF Kosuke Fukodome, MGR Robin Ventura
Who’s out: OF Carlos Quentin, SP Mark Buerhle, OF Juan Pierre, RP Sergio Santos, MGR
The White Sox will have a whole new look this season, and unfortunately for fans in the Windy City, it is not a pretty one. Former manager Ozzie Guillen was chased out of town by the media and management (that didn’t turn out so bad for Ozzie as he left Chicago for Miami).
When you first look at this roster, you see some potential, but unlike the Royals or Indians, this is a team filled with veterans. Adam Dunn and Alex Rios are two key pieces to the White Sox success, but if the two of them have a disastrous season like 2011, then the White Sox are in trouble. Dunn struggled to hit above .200, while Rios somehow had his average drop from .284 to .227. Rios actually struck out less, and Dunn was very unlucky, so I would expect the two of them to rebound (fantasy alert!). Paul Konerko seems to be a lock for 30 HRs and 100 RBIs, but besides for Konerko, Dunn and Rios, this team is ugly to look at. Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez are two solid youngsters that will be asked to carry a large load at the top of the lineup.
So what is the issue if the White Sox have five guys who can potentially scare an opponent’s pitcher? Look no further than the man the White Sox opponents will have on the mound. The names are familiar to some, but the results are not even close to where they should be. John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Jake Peavy are household names, but Peavy looks nothing like the Peavy that was an ace in San Diego, while Floyd and Danks are extremely inconsistent. The rotation depth is so scarce that the White Sox are converting Chris Sale from a reliever to a starter. Youngster Philip Humber had an impressive season in 2011, sporting a 3.75 ERA, but I don’t expect a similar performance in 2012.
The bullpen will be interesting to watch, as Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain battle for the closer’s role, while the other should be inserted into the 8th inning setup role. Addison Reed is only 23, but watch out for him in 2012. This should be a team that competes every night with its three big bats and average pitching, but I think it will take a while for Robin Ventura to turn this team into a contender.
2012 prediction: 78- 84
Who’s new: SP Jason Marquis, OF Josh Willingham, C Ryan Doumit, IF Jamey Carroll
Who’s out: OF Michael Cuddyer, OF Jason Kubel, SP Kevin Slowey, RP Joe Nathan
Yikes. Just look at the guys who have left town, and you know exactly how poorly this team is going to do this year. Two bats have left Minnesota and so has a starter and a reliever. Nothing has come in besides a mediocre starter in Marquis and a mediocre hitter in Willingham. This could be the last year Ron Gardenhire is in Minnesota if he can’t somehow pull off a miracle.
The issues start in the batting order where the Twins are going to need Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to stay healthy. Mauer played in only 82 of the 162 games, while Morneau missed 93 games. Morneau was a MVP in 2006, but his 3 for 30 start in spring training is definitely a concern. If Mauer and Morneau can’t produce, then there won’t be anyone to knock in Denard Span or Ben Revere. This is going to get ugly very quickly.
The rotation isn’t much better with Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano and Scott Baker all being average pitchers. Baker is probably the best of the group, even though Liriano has way more potential than anyone else in the group. The bullpen looks absolutely frightening with Matt Capps as the closer and a whole bunch of nobodies in the bullpen. I liked Brian Duensing as a starter, but I am not sure how effective he can be as a reliever in a limited role. The Twins are going to struggle to score runs, even with a healthy Mauer and Morneau, while the pitching will give up its fair share. The Twins need some help from their farm system in a hurry or this could be one of the worst teams we have seen in a while.
2012 prediction: 69-93
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Who’s new: 1B Albert Pujols, SP C.J. Wilson, C Chris Iannetta, RP LaTroy Hawkins, RP Jason Isringhausen
Who’s out: SP Joel Pineiro, SP Tyler Chatwood, SP Scott Kazmir, C Jeff Mathis, RP Fernando Rodney
The Angels made the most noise this offseason, signing former Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols and former Rangers ace C.J. Wilson. The Pujols signing came as a huge surprise to everyone in the baseball world, as new GM Jerry Dipoto and owner Arte Moreno stayed under the radar during the entire process. Dipoto immediately made a name for himself by acquiring a bat the Angels desperately needed and a pitcher that slides in perfectly after the big three of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.
Pujols isn’t the only bat that the Angels will be getting in 2012. Kendrys Morales is making his way back from an ankle injury that sidelined him for the entire 2011 season. This is the same Morales that showed the potential of an Albert Pujols before he got hurt in a ridiculous walk-off HR celebration. If Morales stays healthy, then a middle of the lineup consisting of Howard Kendrick, Albert Pujols, Kendrys Morales, Mark Trumbo and Torii Hunter is going to give opposing pitchers nightmares. Even without Morales, the Angels have plenty of pop.
If you thought the Angels lineup was good, just wait until you see their rotation. The Angels led the AL in team ERA with a 3.57 ERA last season, and basically replaced Joel Pineiro and Tyler Chatwood with C.J. Wilson and Jerome Williams. Williams was 4-0 in six starts in 2011. Everyone thought the Phillies big 3 of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels wouldn’t be matched, but Weaver, Haren, Santana and Wilson might just give opposing lineups as much of a fit as the Phillies’ trio.
The health of Morales and the age of Pujols is a bit of a concern, but the lineup and rotation for the Angels will help the Angels win the division over a very worthy opponent in the Texas Rangers.
2012 prediction: 98-64
Who’s new: SP Yu Darvish, RP Joe Nathan
Who’s out: SP C.J. Wilson
Now this is a team that is extremely intriguing. The Rangers have been to the World Series the last two years, but are still a team that has questions marks. Will Nelson Cruz play more than 130 games? Will Josh Hamilton struggle in his first season since the offseason relapse? Can the rotation function without C.J. Wilson? Is Yu Darvish the next Kei Igawa, Dice-K or is he better than we think? All of these questions will be answered rather quickly, and I expect some interesting results. The rotation doesn’t scream impressive like the Angels staff, but it does have some solid pieces. Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison can all provide a sub-3.75 era, but they will need Darvish to succeed and Neftali Feliz to successfully move from closer to starter. This rotation should be plenty good enough to keep the Rangers nipping at the Angels’ heels all season.
The lineup for the Rangers has been a beast for the last few years and 2012 is no different. The Rangers have a better 1-7 than the Angels with Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre fitting in some sort of order for Manager Ron Washington. Even if the pitching struggles for Texas, the power and speed from its lineup should make up for it. Some experts are choosing the Rangers to win the division because of their impressive lineup, and that is a definite possibility. All I know for sure is that every game between the Angels and Rangers should be must-see TV this season. The west coast officially has its own Yankees-Red Sox rivalry…just ask C.J. Wilson who tweeted out Mike Napoli’s phone number to all of his 100,000+ followers.
2012 prediction: 95-67
Who’s new: OF Yoenis Cespedes, OF/DH Manny Ramirez, OF Seth Smith, SP Bartolo Colon, P Jarrod Parker, P Brad Peacock, P Tommy Milone
Who’s out: RP Andrew Bailey, SP Trevor Cahill, OF David DeJesus, SP Gio Gonzalez, SP Rich Harden, DH Hideki Matsui, OF Josh Willingham
The A’s were one of the busiest teams this offseason, shipping away staff aces Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill via trades and signing controversial slugger Manny Ramirez and Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. I doubt Manny has anything left in the tank, so relying on him would just be foolish. A’s GM Billy Beane liked what he saw from Cespedes this spring, and will rely on him to patrol centerfield. Coco Crisp will slide over to left and Seth Smith/Josh Reddick will platoon in the other outfield spot. The infield is filled with a bunch of youngsters, but I love the potential of Brandon Allen and Jemile Weeks (younger brother of Brewers 2B Rickie Weeks). There is no doubt that Billy Beane will be using the “Moneyball” approach when it comes to this lineup. There is some speed, some contact and some potential in this order, but I think it will take a few years for everything to click.
The rotation is one of the most intriguing parts of this A’s squad. Billy Beane traded away Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, but he loaded up on young pitching. There is no ace at the moment, but in three or four years, do not be surprised if the A’s have the best pitching in the division. Brad Peacock, Jarrod Parker and Tommy Millone all lit up the minor leagues, but as we all know, the majors is a whole different nut to crack. If these three can somehow all live up to their potential, this team will be dangerous in 2015. However, if two of these three flame out, then the A’s just took a large step backward in their rebuilding process. This should be a fun team to watch, but Oakland is a few years from being relevant.
2012 prediction: 69-93
Who’s new: C/DH Jesus Montero, C John Jaso, SP Hisashi Iwakuma, SP Hector Noesi,
Who’s out: SP Michael Pineda, RP David Aardsma
The Mariners looked like they were starting to build themselves a solid staff with Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda, but that took a quick turn when the Mariners sent Pineda to the Yankees for C/DH Jesus Montero. It was a solid trade for the Mariners for two reasons. First of all, Pineda struggled mightily at the end of last year and is already showing some worrisome signs with his velocity in Spring Training. Secondly, the Mariners desperately need a big bat in their lineup. Ichiro Suzuki had one of the worst seasons of his career in 2011 and apart from rising 2B stud, Dustin Ackley, the Mariners have absolutely nothing in their lineup. This was a move both sides needed to make.
At first glance, the Mariners lineup looks like it is going to struggle to score runs. At second glance, that is absolutely the case. If Chone Figgins can somehow turn into the Figgins that played in Anaheim, the Mariners might have something. But if Figgins only steals a career-low 11 bases and hits under .200 like he did in 2011, then the Mariners might finish last in runs scored. This team needs major production from Ichiro, Montero and Figgins or it will be in big trouble.
Unlike Justin Verlander and the Tigers, Felix Hernandez will not be able to single-handedly carry this team. The Tigers scored runs for their other starters, and as evidenced by King Felix’s 13 wins during his Cy Young season, wins are not easy to come by in Seattle. If the Mariners can only score two or three runs a game, then the Mariners will be losing a ton of games. Jason Vargas is solid, but he is not a #2 starter. Hector Noesi, who was acquired along with Jesus Montero, is a rookie who has a chance to shine in his first season. Blake Beavan and Kevin Milwood will round out the rotation for M’s skipper, Eric Wedge. The Mariners will struggle to score runs and will give up loads of runs when King Felix is not on the mound, so expect a long season in Seattle.
2012 prediction: 61-101