- Yankees – AL Champions – Curtis Granderson will do more than people are expecting and if and when he’s healthy Nick Johnson will annoy pitchers by forcing them to throw many pitches and then watch him get on base. I’ll take my chances on Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher both having strong seasons. Javy Vasquez is a solid addition to the rotation and Joba Chamberlain is where he belongs and I really like Dave Robertson in the pen as well. Robinson Cano is my pick for AL MVP, despite another brilliant year from Derek Jeter.
- Rays – Wild Card – There is a reason why this team went to the 2008 Series and we’ll see it again this season. I expect big things from B.J. Upton, closer, Rafael Soriano and starters Matt Garza, James Shields and David Price. How will Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena handle their contract years? Will Evan Longoria continue on the road to superstardom? If the answers are yes and if Jeff Niemann pitches well again and Wade Davis pitches like the Rookie of the Year candidate that he is, then this team will finish first and maybe win their first World Championship.
- Red Sox – I don’t mean to sound defensive but I find the Sox offense offensive (see my analysis).
- Orioles – Next year, my friends, next year. There is a lot to like about this team. Matt Weiters is the next Joe Mauer, Brian Matusz could be the next Jon Lester, and who doesn’t like the future for Nick Markakis? Miguel Tejada and Kevin Millwood and Garrett Atkins and Mike Gonzalez are good pickups for a team that would love floating realignment.
- Blue Jays – This is a last place team that could probably contend in the NL. They are weak all over but still have some solid players (Adam Lind) among the 25 on the team. They need a DR, Designated Rouser, to wake up Cito Gaston before he leaves at the end of the season (if he’s lucky to make it that long). I’ll tell you this, they are still a team you want to follow if for no other reason than Jerry Howarth on radio and Buck Martinez on television, may be two of the most interesting and knowledgeable play-by-play guys in the game.
- White Sox – Fourteen out of the last 15 seasons a team that finished under .500 made it to the postseason, this year it will be the ChiSox. Jake Peavy is a Cy Young contender, if he stays healthy. I love second baseman Gordon Beckham. I also see a big year from third baseman Mark Teahen. If Carlos Quentin can come back to health, this team will enjoy some Ozzie Guillen crazy.
- Twins – Joe Mauer may be the next American idol, but dawg, the Twins need a little time before they make their new home their own. How do you turn up the heat and the noise in this new place? They will really miss Joe Nathan, who wouldn’t?
- Tigers – Justin Verlander is a Cy Young contender and maybe a favorite and Johnny Damon should become a fan fave, but the back end of their rotation and the back end of their line-up keeps them in the back end of this division despite Miguel Cabrera.
- Indians – First the splurge, then the purge, and now, the recovery. The Tribe needs a few years to get the youngsters they acquired to mature before this team starts the on the road back. The Indians need a healthy Grady Sizemore and another good year from Shin-Soo Choo, but I still don’t think Manny Acta was the right choice for manager.
- Royals – The Royals tied the Indians for last place last year, and that was with Zach Greinke winning the Cy Young Award and Joakim Soria coming out of the pen. This year’s only bragging rights will come as Billy Butler has truly an All-Star season.
- Mariners – I can’t wait to watch Ichiro and Chone Figgins at the top of the lineup. I love the vision of GM Jack Zduriencik and the style of manager Don Wakamatsu. The reason that this team will win this year is Franklin Gutierrez in center and Jack Wilson at short. But the guy who will come through with the bat this year will be third baseman Jose Lopez. Watch Junior Griffey mentor Milton Bradley this season to keep his cool in a city filled with great fans who stay relaxed and enjoy the game. I say Felix Hernandez wins the Cy Young Award. I would love to go to Ivar’s during the Series.
- Angels – I’m sorry, but testing the greatness of manager Mike Scioscia by losing Chone Figgins, John Lackey, and Vladimir Guerrero is not a fun game. I personally think they will really miss Darren Oliver.
- Athletics – If Ben Sheets is with this team after the trading deadline, then you will know that this is the surprise team of the American League. If Justin Duchscherer can come back, this team will be able to show off as well. Tough losing Coco Crisp already.
- Rangers – These guys are a trendy pick almost as much as the M’s, but I think there is too much too worry about between the lines, if you’ll excuse the manager Ron Washington allusion. I doubt if Rich Harden, Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton and Tommy Hunter can stay healthy enough to put together a complete year, but Scott Feldman is the real deal.
- Phillies – World Champions – This is really an AL team playing in the lesser National League. I can’t wait to read NL newspapers the day after Roy Halladay pitches. It will be fun following his path to the Cy Young Award. This great infield will be even better with return of “The Tenor,” Placido Polanco. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino are a joy to watch, and don’t forget Jayson Werth is in his final Phillies season as he auditions for the Yankees and Red Sox. As we all turn our attention to fielding, its important to note that three teams have ranked in the top 10 in fielding percentage each of the last three seasons: the Red Sox and the Yankees and the Phillies.
- Braves – NL Wild Card – Bobby Cox is one of two managers in their final year of their contract in this division and the one who will leave with a bang. If Rookie of the Year candidate outfielder Jason Heyward is all his hype has made him out to be, the Braves may actually pressure the Phils. I expect a stronger season from Derek Lowe and another outstanding year from Tommy Hanson but I’m not that confident when it comes to Jair Jurgens.
- Marlins – Hanley Ramirez becomes a genuine superstar this season and, despite the empty seats in Miami, everybody will be talking about him amongst the elite in the game. The same is true for Josh Johnson.
- Mets – Jerry Manuel is the other manager in his final season and I don’t expect him to be still in the dugout come August. Many Mets fans hope that GM Omar Minaya heads out the door with him. This team will be lucky to approach .500, but don’t blame Jason Bay who I think will have a solid enough year for Red Sox fans to regret his loss.
- Nationals – Next Easter will Washingtonians be talking about the ascension of Stephen Strasburg? This season will be all about getting 63 wins and I don’t think that likely.
- Cardinals – The big four: Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday (both former batting champs who can field too), Adam Wainwright, and Chris Carpenter are as good as it gets in baseball and manager Tony LaRussa is a great manager in the dugout and in the clubhouse. I would enjoy this team a lot more if Mark McGwire wasn’t such a stain on the sport.
- Brewers – As the Brewers celebrate their 40th anniversary, it would be great to lock up Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder so they are around for the 50th anniversary as well. I’m apprehensive about Randy Wolf as he comes off a career/contract year, but I love Yovani Gallardo. If things come together for this team they could challenge for the Wild Card slot in the weak NL.
- Reds – This is my surprise team in the National League. They have a lot of pieces to their puzzle that could produce a 2008 Rays-like season. Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Orlando Cabrera, Scott Rolen, Jay Bruce, Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, and Aroldis Chapman are the kind of young/old mix that results in magic.
- Cubs – I’m really getting tired of picking this team to win. The Cubs need Carlos Zambrano to be healthy and sane. They need Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez to be healthy and productive. They could also use a little Lou Piniella insanity to motivate this group.
- Astros – New manager Brad Mills will enjoy that Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence, and Wandy Rodriguez are on his team. But what he’ll really appreciate is that Pittsburgh is in his division
- Pirates – It’s been 17 years since the Pirates reached the .500 mark and 31 years since the last championship. But there’s more: the Bucs have not won more than 69 games for five years and haven’t won more than more than 75 in 10 years. Now just add one to all those numbers. Enjoy Garrett Jones, Lastings Milledge and Andrew McCutchen while they’re still on the team.
- Rockies – This is the season when fans recognize the stardom of Troy Tulowitzki as the Rockies enjoy their first first place finish, which will be more likely if Jeff Francis is back. Don’t forget about rising stars Clint Barmes and Jorge de la Rosa, but if Huston Street is out for a long period of time it will be a Rocky Mountain low.
- Dodgers – New t-shirt idea: “My mom and dad divorced and all I got was a second place finish.” Manny B Manny, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier make up one of the best outfields in baseball. I really like starter Clayton Kershaw and closer Jonathan Broxton is a top-flight closer but the way Joe Torre overuses the pen it’s not good for anybody. The fact that Vincente Padilla is the Opening Day starter says a lot about the problems created by the McCourts.
- Giants – The Giants have Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Pablo Sandoval and they still finish in third place? Maybe because that’s just about all they have.
- Diamondbacks – I still don’t understand Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy over Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth. I do understand Justin Upton and hope to see Brandon Webb healthy and on the mound.
- Padres – Just trade Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell already so we can find something else to talk about with the Padres, like the brothers Hairston.