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MLB 2011 Preview: American League
Posted By Christopher Rowe On Mar 16 2011 @ 5:41 pm In MLB | 10 Comments
 2010 has faded into our collective memories and the annals of the long and storied history of baseball record. Joey Votto and Josh Hamilton’s respective MVP trophies place them in the company of Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Willie McCovey but are their teams ready for another postseason run? Can the pitching and pop gun Giants eke another title in the West or will the Dodgers and Rockies show their skills? What about the Texas Rangers? Are they finally a landmark on the Major League landscape or were they a fleeting blip on the radar destined for another 40 years of oblivion? Will the NL Central Royalty (King Albert, Prince Fielder and former Royal Zack Grienke) rule the league or will ballooning contract  discussions and looming trade talk overshadow their efforts? Are the Baltimore Orioles back in the Major Leagues or will the Rays, Jays and O’s all be out of the race by Fourth of July while Yanks and Sox run away with the AL East? Is Felix Hernandez the foundation of the Seattle Mariners franchise or the centerpiece of a landmark deal that could garner FIVE blue chip prospects? Will Phour Loko phinally prove themselves the best rotation since the 1971 Orioles (four 20-game winners) or will the Phantastic Phour implode, succumb to injury and bankrupt the beleaguered Philadelphia Phillies? Carl Crawford (BOS), Adrian Gonzalez (BOS), Rafael Soriano (NYY), Zack Grienke (MIL), Cliff Lee (PHI), Hideki Matsui (OAK) and Jayson Werth (WAS) all made a splash in free agency this offseason. Will any of them shift the balance of power or will newsmakers be those who remained with their teams? Colorado keeps Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitski while Minnesota retains Carl Pavano, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. Are the Dodgers better or worse with Don Mattingly taking the helm from retired Joe Torre? When will Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Washington, Cleveland or Arizona field a major league team again? Who will be the surprise contender of 2011? Could there be more 20 game winners in 2011 than in the past 20 years? Will Jose Bautista or Ryan Howard ever hit 50 HR again? All these questions and hundreds more will be answered over the course of the greatest proving ground in all of sports – playing a 162 game season. Hope springs eternal but will your team be out of the running by Memorial Day or Labor Day? Is league parity at an all-time low or will the market regulate itself once owner stop shelling out $30 Million contracts? This is why they play the games. Play Ball!!!
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
2010 FINISH: 89-73, 3rd in ALE http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/boston-red-sox/ 
ADDITIONS: Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Bobby Jenks, Alfredo Aceves, Jarred Saltilamaccia
SUBTRACTIONS: Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/boston-red-sox/ 
POSITION BATTLES: DH/C/OF balance of Ortiz/Varitek, JD Drew, Mike Cameron, Kevin Youklis http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/boston-red-sox/ 
STORYLINES: Crawford and Gonzalez huge offseason free agent signings; Youklis @ 3B; Ellsbury/Pedroia make Sox running and “smallball” team; Do Crawford/Gonzalez/Youklis/Drew comprise the best offense in baseball without an MVP candidate? Rotation of Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Bucholtz, Matsuzaka can be formidable or fragile while bullpen looks solid; Are Sox “old” or “seasoned”? http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/boston-red-sox/ 
PREDICTION: Ellsbury and Pedroia combine for 200 runs scored; Papelbon/Jenks notch 75 saves; offense will rank #1 in MLB but no Bosox will lead individual category; “Dice-K” will be KO’ed while Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez will actually prove worth the money spent on them http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/boston-red-sox/ 
2011 FINISH: 99 wins, 1st in AL East, lose World Series in 7 games to PHI http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/boston-red-sox/ 
2010 FINISH: 95-67 AL Wildcard; lost Texas ALCS http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/new-york-yankees/ 
ADDITIONS: Russell Martin, Andrw Jones, Rafael Soriano, Bartolo Colon, Pedro Feliciano, Justin Maxwell
SUBTRACTIONS: Andy Pettite, Kerry Wood
POSITION BATTLES: C-Russell Martin/Jorge Posada/Montero/Cervelli; LF-Gardner/Jones; RP-Marte/Robertson/Chaimberlain; SP-Colon/Garcia/Nova/Mitre
STORYLINES: Pettite’s retirement is a non-story but it forced the Yankess to go with Sabathia, Burnett and Hughes as their top 3 SP and then hope for help from Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and possibly Ivan Nova. Yankees have a plethora of young arms in the minors and still may want to trade all of their blue chips for Seattle’s Felix Hernandez – but not before they decide on the viability of a former Seattle ace. Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon are the lynchpins of the Yankees rotation. http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/new-york-yankees/ 
PREDICTIONS: Offensively this club rocks top to bottom. Jeter, A-Rod, Texiera, Cano with help from Gardner, Jones, Granderson and venerable Posada. Scoring runs will not be a problem. Bullpen now features soon-to-be All-Time Saves Leader (Rivera) along with the Closer of the Future and highest paid setup man in baseball (Soriano). Pedro Feliciano, Damasco Marte, Joba Chamberlain and Robertson are in the mix. If Sergio Mitre loses his battle in the rotation he may find his way to the most overstocked bullpen this side of Pamplona! Robinson Cano may finally win his MVP Award. http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/new-york-yankees/ 
2011 FINISH: 90-72 which should be good enough for a wildcard spot. Yankees should hope to draw Minnesota as they always dominate the Twins. Last year the Yankees run ended with Texas who eventually lost to the Giants in the World Series. Yankees haven’t won a World Series since 2009, which is an eternity for the Bronx Faithful but they may want to get used to early postseason exits. Lose ALDS. http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/new-york-yankees/ 
2010 FINISH: 85-77, 4th in ALE http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/toronto-blue-jays/ 
ADDITIONS: Yuniel Escobar, Juan Rivera, Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch, David Purcey, Scott Podsednik, Frank Francisco, Wil Ledezma, Brett Lawrie, Chad Cordero, Edwin Encarnacion
SUBTRACTIONS: Shawn Marcum, Vernon Wells, Kevin Gregg,
 POSITION BATTLES: 3B now belongs to 50-HR man Jose Bautista, leaving Encarnacion to battle with Adam Lind (1B) and Juan Rivera (LF) for DH at-bats. C-JP Arencibia will share time with Molina but the catcher of the future is here and he will only get better with time. All he has to do is learn to hit, catch, throw and call a game!!! Closer looks like it will be Dotel but Francisco and Rauch provide excellent support should the veteran struggle.
STORYLINES: Don’t blame the exchange rate for the Blue Jays financial woes. Most of these players were toddlers when the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Championships in 1992-1993 and long gone are those days of plucking the free agent market for the cream of the crop. Management has been bargain hunting like the rest of the economy grabbing Edwin Encarnacion instead of Paul Molitor. Moreover, the Jays unloaded Vernon Wells and his $10M contract to make way for future stars such as Travis Snyder , Adam Lind and Rajai Davis. Smacks of the days of Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Mosbey and George Bell on those mid-1980s teams that had a lot of sock but were lacking in success. Unlike those teams, this Jays season boasts a nest of potential aces on the mound including Ricky Romero, Kyle Drabek, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and Jesse Litsch. Romero will be shelved to start the season but make no mistake that this team will go as far as pitching and defense take them.
PREDICTIONS: Jays bide their time with significantly reduced payroll and solid pool of talent while developing Snyder, Davis, Lind and Arencibia. Jose Bautista should return to Earth but will still be asked to power this offense. While you can never have too much pitching, the Jays still need a top of rotation guy – either from in-house candidates or a 2012 free agent pursuit. Bullpen looks solid but won’t have many chances for save opportunities with this gaggle. This is a team preparing to contend in 2012 and 2013 which bodes unwell for Skydome/Rogers Centre ticket-holders. However, they will tip their tooks and bear witness to the marquee talent in the American League East when they see the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles and Tampa Rays head for the Great White North this season.
2011 FINISH: 81-81, 3rd in ALE http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/toronto-blue-jays/ 
2010 FINISH: 66-96, 30 games removed, AL East basement, 2nd worst record in AL (Seattle) http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/baltimore-orioles/ 
ADDITIONS: Mark Reynolds, JJ Hardy, Derek Lee, Vlad Guerrero, Justin Duchscherer, Kevin Gregg, Cesar Izturus, Jeremy Accardo, Randy Winn, Ryan Drese, Koji Uehara
SUBTRACTIONS: Melvin Mora, Ty Wiggington, Koji Uehara, Kevin Millwood, Julio Lugo
POSITION BATTLES: For the first time in a decade, the Orioles can field a respectable team. Manager Buck Showalter won 35 games toward the end of 2010, matching and surpassing their season total prior to Showalter taking the reins. Matthew Wieters finally has some protection in the lineup which looks like it will bat Reynolds 7th and leave run production up to Derek Lee, Vlad the Impailer and homegrown thumpers Nick Markakis, Luke Scott, Adam Jones and Nolan Reimold. Felix Pie and Reimold look to be odd men in outfield and with Guerrero at DH, those are the only contested positions.
STORYLINES: Reynolds, Lee and Hardy join Brian Roberts in an overhauled infield, anchored by young Wieters. If Vlad Guerrero or Derek Lee have anything left in their respective tanks, they will be considered rock stars down by Inner Harbor. Wieters and Markakis have not reached the status of Ray Lewis yet but they are the best baseball players that don’t make the highlight reels. http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/baltimore-orioles/ 
PREDICTIONS: Pitching staff still needs a lot of help. Guthrie, Matusz and Duchscherer all have the ability to become a #1 starter but none have claimed the title as yet. Duchscherer can’t seem to piece together more than 50 healthy innings and will either be a complete bust or the 463rd coming of Tommy John. Fans have been flocking to this ballpark because it is a modern Cathedral of the Game but they are hungry for a winner. Maybe one more year before they get one but Buck will have this team playing solid fundamental baseball. They are desperately in need of pitching and bear no resemblance to the 1971 squad boasting four 20-game winners. Looking 100 miles north might evince those memories…. http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/baltimore-orioles/ 
2011 FINISH: 78-84, 4th in ALE
2010 FINISH: 96-66, AL East Champs, lost ALDS to Texas http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/tampa-bay-devil-rays/ 
ADDITIONS: Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Kelly Shoppach, Kyle Farnsworth, Cole Figueroa, Joel Peralta, Casey Kotchman, Joe Inglett, Juan Cruz, Felipe Lopez
SUBTRACTIONS: Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Brad Hawpe, Randy Choate, Rocco Baldelli, Chad Qualls, Gabe Kapler, Dan Wheeler, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Willy Aybar, Dioneer Navarro, Lance Cormier, Matt Garza
POSITION BATTLES: Desmond Jennings is supposed to join Longoria, Upton and Price as the new living legends of Tropicana but when an adolescent franchise dumps all of their record-holders in virtually one player (Crawford), it is time to embrace the new forged history that has yet to be made. Wade Boggs, Jose Canseco, Travis Lee and Jose Guillen are not walking through that locker room door but Crawford will be back wearing Red Sox garb. Upton is secure, flanked in center by Damon and supersub Ben Zobrist. Longoria may be the best third baseman in the AL but he is now joined by Dan Johnson, John Jaso and unproven Sean Rodriguez & Reid Brignac. Better hope that David Price gets enough help from James Sheilds, Jeremy Hellickson and whoever PT Barnum digs up to eat some innings. Sonnanstine, Howell and Farnsworth do not comprise a formidable bullpen, but manager Joe Maddon will likely be gulping Tums by the spoonful in the sixth inning.
STORYLINES: Remember the “good old days” of the 2008 World Series? Even in dog years that wasn’t a lifetime ago but it was nearly a baseball generation. Florida has not seen such an exodus of talent since 1997 when the downstate Marlins held a fire sale after their World Series championship. Someone might have thought (hoped) that the Tampa Rays had lost their Tropicana Field lease but it turns out that Rays fans should get used to this collegiate approach to talent. Stadium issues, low attendance and market unfriendliness all contribute to Rays management throwing overboard anything that wasn’t nailed down in an effort to remain afloat. BJ Upton remains as do David Price and Evan Longoria but fans will need a program to identify the players. http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/tampa-bay-devil-rays/ 
PREDICTIONS: Maybe Maddon should keep a supply of Xanax or possibly Viccodin in his office. Bartenders at Tropicana Field should make a lot of money over the 2011 season – likely more than half the Rays players. This is a team with a lot of “potential” which is a very dangerous word in the modern major leagues. Price, Longoria and Upton are the Big Three upon which this future team will be built. Question remains whether or not that time will come before 2015. What will come first for the Rays – a real baseball stadium or another winning season?
2011 FINISH: Rays will occupy the AL East basement, which is what their sorry excuse for a stadium resembles – the basement of a failing suburban shopping mall. The paint is faded and while there is some remaining evidence of past success, it is clear that no one is looking to invest in this mausoleum. How long will it take before a viable city with a proper baseball stadium swoops in to claim this team? Tampa was a threat that failing teams used for years to leverage a stadium deal (Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Seattle, San Francisco to name a few). How ironic that after 13 years, this team has to give away free tickets to bring fans to a playoff game? What a joke. Charlotte or New Orleans or Orlando all offer better facilities (minor league and Spring Training facilities at that) but if this team remains in Tampa it will be the death knell for the organization. 60-102, dead last in AL East! http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/tampa-bay-devil-rays/ 
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
2010 FINISH: 88-74, 2nd AL Central, 6 GB Minnesota http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/chicago-white-sox/ 
ADDITIONS: Jake Peavey returns from prolonged injury; Jesse Crain, Adam Dunn, Dallas McPherson, Will Ohman, Lastings Milledge, Omar Vizquell
SUBTRACTIONS: Mark Kotsay, Manny Ramirez, Freddy Garcia, Andruw Jones, JJ Putz, Scott Linebrick, Bobby Jenks
POSITION BATTLES: 3B-Brent Morel/Mark Teahen; 2B-Gordon Beckham/Vizquell; CL-Matt Thornton/Chris Sale/Jesse Crain; DH/1B-Dunn/Konerko
STORYLINES: Adam Dunn and his powerful bat have been delivered from the ostracized Washington Nationals and has found a new home in the AL, in Chicago and with the White Sox as a DH. Dunn may strike out 200 times but will combine with Paul Konerko for 100 HR and 250 RBI. Chris Sale is the leading candidate to replace Bobby Jenks (and his billy goat goatee) as closer. Biggest story of all is that Jake Peavey (who was obtained from San Diego in a trading deadline deal) has returned to form, is healthy and could prove himself one of the best pitchers in baseball. Better news is that Peavy nestles in nicely amongst Mark Buerhle, Gavin Floyd, Jordan Danks and Edwin Jackson. If healthy, Peavey is my early pick for Cy Young as well as Comeback Player of the Year. Gordon Beckham shifts from 3B to 2B making way for highly touted Brent Morel. If that doesn’t work, look for Kenny Williams to go out and grab someone around Memorial Day weekend (Pedro Alvarez of Pittsburgh… Jorge Cantu of SD… Edwin Encarnacion of Toronto… Chipper Jones of Atlanta would be my educated guesses)
PREDICTIONS: Write down Jake Peavey as my leading candidate for 2011 AL Cy Young. His primary competition? Teammate Mark Buerhle. Potentially the best Lefty/Right 1-2 combination in baseball (assuming Halladay/Lee or Oswalt/Hamels split the NL vote). Dunn will whump baseballs toward Lake Michigan while Paul Konerko makes remaining in Chitown worth the money. Supporting cast members Carlos Quentin, AJ Pierzynski and Alex Rios may become household names. Third base is an ongoing project that may require a midseason trade.
2011 FINISH: Chicago and Minnesota have shared the top of AL Central for years nearly uncontested, sometimes extending the season to 163 games requiring a playoff but Minnesota has made all the postseason appearances. Finally that run ends as the White Sox get over the hump. The Go-Go Sox (1959) are nowhere to be found and the 1990s are a distant memory for Jack McDowell and Frank Thomas. 94-68, AL Central Champs http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/chicago-white-sox/ 
2010 FINISH: 94-68, AL Central champs, lost ALDS to NYY http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/minnesota-twins/ 
ADDITIONS: Justin Huber, Jim Thome (re-signed), Carl Pavano (re-signed), Chuck James, Matt Capps (from Washington 2010)
SUBTRACTIONS: Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch, Brian Fuentes, Orlando Hudson, JJ Hardy, Clay Condrey
POSITION BATTLES: RP Matt Capps and Joe Nathan are effective bullpenners but their supporting cast is, to be blunt, a total crapshoot. Starting pitching looks good as a revitalized Liriano, Pavano and the Stache get help from Baker, Duensing, Blackburn and Slowey – which is the only real question. Who will be the 5th starter and who will be the bullpen longman? Casilla is now the SS (Hardy is in BAL), while Valencia starts full-time at 3B, but who is the second baseman? Can Nishioka do the job or will he need help from Trevor Plouffe or Casilla? Look for Plouffe to be the shortstop by midseason. Young, Span and Cudduyer have the OF covered while Kubel and Thome share the DH. If Morneau remains healthy, this provides a good rotation among RF/DH/1B. Hopefully nothing befalls Joe Mauer because he is the one player they cannot afford to lose. Drew Butera is a capable receiver but Mauer is more than a backstop.
STORYLINES: If there is ever a case to be made for the concept of addition by subtraction, Exhibit A resides at Target Field. Thome and Pavano became free agents but returned for another run with the team that wanted them most. This team has always been filled with role players. Now the historical role players (Michael Cudduyer, Jason Kubel, Danny Valencia, Alexi Casilla) have become the starters and the Twins will sink or swim with that combination of home-grown talent, diamonds in the rough and refugees from other major league rosters. Mauer & Morneau have been marketed as the modern day M&M Boys but they rarely see action at the same time. Mauer is showing signs of knee problems while Morneau hasn’t finished a full season since Jesse Ventura left the Governor’s mansion. Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano lead a talented if largely unproven pitching staff. Toss aside the Yankee trade rumors, no one on this team is heading anywhere unless they are wearing Twins pinstripes.
PREDICTIONS: Pavano and Liriano both flirt with 20 wins and this team will be fundamentally sound. Despite their best efforts, limiting the opposition to 27 outs still provides opportunity to be beaten. Fantastic new stadium, solid offense and capable pitching still cannot keep the Amazing Twins in the playoff picture. Every year it seems they squeak past the Tigers or White Sox, win the Central and lose to the Yankees. This year, the Bear wins – or rather the White Sox from Chicago. http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/minnesota-twins/ 
2011 FINISH: 87-75 2nd in AL Central http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/minnesota-twins/ 
2010 FINISH: 81-81, 3rd AL Central, 13 GB http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/detroit-tigers/ 
ADDITIONS: Victor Martinez, Joaquin Beniot, Magglio Ordonez (re-signed), Johnny Peralta (re-signed), Brad Penny, Scott Thorman, John Bale
SUBTRACTIONS: Johnny Damon, Eddie Bonine, Jeremy Bonderman, Gerald Laird, Armando Galaraga
POSITION BATTLES: 1B-Miguel Cabrera/Victor Martinez, C-Avila.Martinez,
STORYLINES: Why does nobody know who Ryan Rayburn is (39 HR, 155 RBI in 900 AB)?; Victor Martinez huge free agent landed but is that enough? Miguel Cabrera’s personal demons; Does this team have enough starting pitching (Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello, Phil Coke and Brad Penny)? Zumaya is hurt (again) and other than closer Jose Valderde (26 for 29 SVOP) this bullpen is a gaping void; Inge, Guillen and Peralta need to be RBI men and they’re not – leaving Ordonez and Austin Jackson to help Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Rayburn is going to be a superstar but he will need help from Cabrera, Ordonez and Martinez – none of whom look to play a full slate of games this season. http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/detroit-tigers/ 
PREDICTIONS: Look for Detroit to pummel a number of teams but get pummeled by American League titans (Yankees, Red Sox, Anaheim, Texas) as well as a few surprise teams (Oakland, Kansas City. Minnesota). Tigers can tear the cover off the ball, steal bases and play defense but the ultimate determining factor will be their pitching. Even if Brad Penny and Phil Coke are both able to start 25-30 games, this team is one injury away from a mediocre season. Zumaya doesn’t count because news for him would be that he was healthy and available to pitch! Better hope that Verlander, Valverde and Victor can help Cabrera and Ordonez or else this team could be carved up by the trading deadline.
2011 FINISH: 75-87, third in AL Central on decline with KC Royals looking to challenge in 2012 http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/detroit-tigers/ 
2010 FINISH: 67-95, last in AL Central, 27 GB http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/kansas-city-royals/ 
ADDITIONS: Jeff Francoeur, Jeff Francis, Jason Kendall, Pedro Feliz, Alcides Escobar, Melky Cabrera http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/kansas-city-royals/ 
SUBTRACTIONS: Gil Meche, Bruce Chen, Yuniesky Betancourt, Zack Grienke, Josh Fields
POSITION BATTLES: 1B/DH-Billy Butler/Ka’aihue; LF-Gordon/Maier, CF-Cain/Cabrera/Gregor Blanco, 3B-Wilson Betemit/Mike Aviles, 2B-Aviles/Gertz; Six Starting Pitching candidates with up to 3 spots open
STORYLINES: Don’t whoop it up too much Royals fans, this team would have trouble beating their Class AA affiliate right now but the future looks VERY bright. This franchise (born in 1969) has experienced two periods of franchise success. First was late 1970s through 1981. The second was 1985-1988. Both times the success came from an overwhelming cadre of homegrown players who grew up together – whether those names were Brett, Aikens, Otis and Gura or Saberhagen, Cone, Gubicza and Seitzer. That next crop of blue chip prospects are headed for Kauffman and most of them are already sporting power blue Royals uniforms – even if they are doing so prematurely. Veterans Jeff Francis, Jeff Franceour, Jason Kendall and Joakim Soria are the veteran graybeards by default but all may want to stick around a couple of years to see how this story plays out. http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/kansas-city-royals/ 
PREDICTIONS: Billy Butler, Alcides Escobar, Mike Aviles and Mike Moustakis are the infield of the future perhaps with contributions from Kila Ka’aihue. All of them save Moustakis are starting in the Majors because there are no other options. If you are a young player, you want to be drafted by the Royals because you will be spending your major league per diem by age 20. Sadly, the royals are a minor league team masquerading as a major league team – but come 2012 or 2013 this will be a formidable squad of home-grown spaldings! Management will enjoy the extended major league audition as it will afford them to lock up their young stars for the long term rather than let them flee to free agency.
2011 FINISH: 72-90…fourth in AL Central but Wait Until Next Year http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/kansas-city-royals/ 
2010 FINISH: 69-93, 4th in AL Central, 25 GB
ADDITIONS: Anthony Reyes, Carlos Acevedo, Austin Kearns, Travis Buck, Adam Everett, Jack Hannahan, Orlando Cabrera, Nick Johnson, Chad Durbin
SUBTRACTIONS: Aaron Laffey
POSITION BATTLES: 3B-Donald/Nix/Valbuena, SS-Cabrera/Cabrera, 1B-LaPorta/Duncan, LF-Kearns/Brantley; Starting pitching – everyone besides Fausto Carmona (Masterson, Talbot, Carrasco, Tomlin, Gomez, Huff) and bullpen besides CL-Perez; Minor league teams could use restocking!!!
STORYLINES: Cleveland loses major league team and longs for salad days of Jacobs Field. Talk about Dollar Store shopping. In the past years this team has traded away or let go into free agency the likes of C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Rafael Betancourt, Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta just to name a few. Forget the days of lumber laden lineups that included Thome, Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Roberto Alomar, Brian Giles, Omar Vizquell and Kenny Lofton. Forget about the legends of Rick Sutcliffe, Len Barker or Orel Hersheiser. Those names are as old as the “Mistake by the Lake” and twice as subject to the winds of change. This generation of Cuyahoga Warriors aspire to shaving rather than scalping enemies. Travis Hafner, Shin Soo- Choo and Grady Sizemore are among the handful of players who were in the majors prior to the 2008 presidential election, let alone when the club had back-to-back Cy Young Award candidates (Sabathia, Lee). The bad news is that aside from Sizemore (29), Choo (29) and Carlos Santana (25) most of these players would not be in the Major Leagues with any other organization (perhaps Pittsburgh or Kansas City). Makes one wonder if Willie Mayes Hays, Pedro Cerrano and Wild Thing are headed through the locker room doors? Those odds are juuuust a bit outside!
PREDICTIONS: Manager Manny Acta and staff along with President Mark Shapiro and GM Chris Antonetti have made a sweeping youth movement in an effort to overhaul the payroll and revitalize the organization. The downside of this sort of housecleaning is that a five year tailspin can alienate the fans. Can’t say as any of us would blame them. If you knew your team’s chances of winning teetered between slim and none, would you fork over $50 to see a ballgame? Help is on the way at every level of the organization. Cleveland better hope that the Pirates remain in Pittsburgh to make the Tribe look better!
2011 FINISH: Believe it or not, worse than 2010… 50-112, dead last in AL Central as well as MLB.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
1. LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM (ORANGE COUNTY/DISNEYLAND) http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/la-angels-of-anaheim/ 
2010 FINISH: 80-82, 3rd in AL West, 10 GB
ADDITIONS: Vernon Wells, Scott Downs, Hisanori Takahashi, Danny Haren (2010) http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/la-angels-of-anaheim/ 
SUBTRACTIONS: Mike Napoli, Scot Sheilds, Hideki Matsui, Ryan Buddie, Hisanori Takahashi, Kevin Fransden, Juan Rivera
POSITION BATTLES: Bullpen should be nailed down by May; Danny Haren; Bourjos
STORYLINES: Names like Troy Glaus, Vlad Guererro, Francisco Rodriguez, Garrett Anderson and John Lackey left prior to the 2010 season but only now is the impact of those departures truly felt – and augmented by the additions of Torii Hunter (2010), Vernon Wells (2011), Scott Kazmir and Danny Haren (both 2010). The face of this franchise has been drastically changed into a combination of power/speed and pitching. No single marquee name in the lineup but a slew of solid hitters who can do everything. Hunter (23 HR, 90 RBI), Wells (31 HR, 88 RBI), Abreu (20 HR, 78 RBI, 24 SB) and Kendry Morales (24 HR, 108 RBI in 2009, 11 HR & 39 RBI in just 51 games in 2010) could all be potentially 30/30 men depending on their role and where they are asked to hit in the lineup. Augmenting their efforts with those of Howie Kendrick, Aybar, Mathis, Macier Izturis and Bourjos should constitute a balanced offense. Starting pitching is solid with Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Haren, Kazmir and Piniero the five candidates. The bullpen is spearheaded by Fernando Rodney and Scott Downs. If anything this is an area of moderate concern. By the end of Spring Training, this is where the tough cuts will be made among Bulger, Jepsen, Thompson, Rodriguez, Kohn and Walden. Cassevah rounds out the list which should be split between AAA and the Majors. Kendry Moralez returns from injury having missed the final two months of the 2010 season. http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/la-angels-of-anaheim/ 
PREDICTIONS: Kazmir is in a contract year and has yet to prove that he is a front-line starter but he has a left arm and a pulse so he will be given every opportunity (hello Jarrod Washburn and Scott Schoenweiss?). Joel Piniero is getting long in the tooth to develop into a starting pitcher after stints with St. Louis and Philadelphia (and everyone this side of the California Penal League). Look for the Top 3 (Weaver, Haren, Santana) to be dominant and hope that another starter develops or is acquired by midseason. The offense will be formidable and so long as the Angels avoid raucous celebrations at home plate (Morales season-ending injury occurred during one) this team will return to the postseason.
2011 FINISH: 90-72, AL West Champs, Weaver should be a Cy Young candidate. Mike Scocia may find himself back in the World Series for the first time since 2002. http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/la-angels-of-anaheim/ 
2010 FINISH: 90-72, AL West Champs, lost World Series to San Francisco
ADDITIONS: Arthur Rhodes, Mike Napoli, Adrian Beltre, Yorvit Torrealba, Brandon Webb, Endy Chavez, Brett Tomko, Beau Jones
SUBTRACTIONS: Vlad Guerrero, Cliff Lee, Jorge Cantu, Bengie Molina, Matt Trainor, Cristian Guzman, Frank Franciso, Brandon McCarthy http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/texas-rangers/ 
POSITION BATTLES: Bullpen (if Feliz is not the closer then who?); Michael Young doesn’t have a position and has asked to be traded to another team
STORYLINES: Neftali Feliz completed his first season as a closer going 42 for 46 in SV opportunities, en route to a World Series loss at the hands of the Giants. Now, heading into 2011, he Cliff Lee rental period has expired (on to Philadelphia via free agency) and the team wants to make Feliz a starting pitcher. He is a 22-year-old two pitch pitcher who has proven an effective closer but Nolan Ryan and company have decided to find out what Feliz can do in the rotation – possibly as soon as this season. A rotation which already includes CJ Wilson (who had been a starter until notching 15 victories in 2010), Colby Lewis, Tommy Hunter, Derek Holland and the bionic man, Brandon Webb. MVP Josh Hamilton also resides in Arlington, along with future stars Mitch Moreland,
Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz – all of whom were virtual unknowns until their postseason push. Look for each of them to improve but also look for opposing pitchers to make them work for it! Oh by the way, Adrian Beltre signed on to join this crew, supplanting Michael Young. This makes Young the most highly paid and overqualified utility player in baseball history since Pete Rose who “never had a natural position.” Young will play all four infield spots and may even share DH with Murphy/Cruz just to garner some AB. Mike Napoli is the new catcher as Molina is gone, which is an offensive upgrade (along with Yorvit Torrealba). http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/texas-rangers/ 
PREDICTIONS: The Ballpark at Arlington has always been a launching pad. Look for this lineup to be bashing baseballs to all fields until the “TILT” signs pop up in downtown Dallas. On the road, this pitching staff will look about a run better (ERA) than at home but both teams need to play in Arlington. Seems like Ranger fans may be treated to a lot of 11-8 slugfests in the Texas heat. Should Feliz return to the bullpen (conventional wisdom would dictate that he ought to do so) he will find ageless Darren Oliver along with newcomer Arthur Rhodes and returning Rangers O’Day, Harrison and Lowe. Seems this team could compete for another World Series run if the bullpen performs and they don’t succumb to the Texas heat. They have filled the holes VERY nicely to improve at every position.
2011 FINISH: 88-74, Second in AL West, possible wildcard http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/texas-rangers/ 
2010 FINISH: 81-81, 2nd in AL West , 9 GB
ADDITIONS: Hideki Matsui, Jose Alvarez, Connor Jackson, Danny Haren, Brandon McCarthy, Andy LaRoche, Brian Fuentes, Grant Balfour
SUBTRACTIONS: Justin Duchsherer, Ben Sheets, Eric Chavez, Travis Blackley, Corey Brown, Edwin Encarnacion, Jack Cust http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/oakland-as/ 
POSITION BATTLES: LF-Willingham/Jackson/Carter; SS-Pennington/Rosales; SP-Braden, Gonzales, Cahill, Anderson, McCarthy and Rich Harden. Six guys, 5 spots. Someone has to head for the bullpen but how great to have 6 viable options! Michael Taylor remains in the minors… still waiting for his shot…Carlos Gonzales for one year of Matt Holliday has proven to be a bad deal but Billy Beane generally is very good at amassing talent – and this roster proves exactly that. Crisp is an upgrade from Rajai Davis. DeJesus and Willingham are solid corner outfielders and the payroll allows this team some flexibility down the road. Beane may swing a deal for some SS helps if nothing better develops. http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/oakland-as/ 
STORYLINES: Bullpen is MUCH improved with Fuentes and Balfour and due to the Andrew Bailey injury, this could become much more important early in the season. Matsui is being marketed as the Pan Pacific drawing card, but how much draw does an aging Designated Hitter really offer? This is not Ichiro or Rickey Henderson or Fernando Valenzuela. This is Godzilla who will be a solid hitter and… well… nothing else. The man is a DH! What should be more interesting is seeing how the outfield (DeJesus, Willingham, Crisp) develops. Each have found moderate success with previous organizations but all are essentially refugees seeking a new beginning. Pitching carries this team and Dallas “Perfect Game” Braden may not be the best pitcher on this very young and very effective staff.
PREDICTIONS: Matsui (.300, 25-30 HR, 80-90 RBI) will not be the focal point of this lineup. Oakland has at least 5 players who can match Matsui’s numbers and opposing pitchers cannot pitch around the entire batting order. If Coco Crisp, Kurt Suzuki and Mark Ellis can hold their own, look for Kouzmanoff and Barton to emerge as potential superstars. Adam Rosales may be the ubiquitous utilityman or he may head for the minors to rack up another 400-500 AB. At age 27 he would prefer the former because Cliff Pennington has not staked his claim on the SS position just yet.
2011 FINISH: 81-81, third in AL West. Ho-hum. When’s that new stadium coming? http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/oakland-as/ 
2010 FINISH: 61-101; Last in AL West, 29 GB
ADDITIONS: Fabio Castro, Justin Miller, Ryan Langerhans (re-signs), Justin Smoak (2010), Royce ring, Denny Bautista, Brendan Ryan, Jack Cust, Jamey Wright, Chris Ray, Nate Robertson, Manny Delcarmen, Gabe Gross, Adam Kennedy, Aaron Laffey
SUBTRACTIONS: Russell Branyan, Chris Woodward, Casey Kotchman, Ryan Fierabend, Rob Johnson, Jose Lopez, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Cliff Lee (2010)
POSITION BATTLES: OF-Gutierrez, Saunders, Halman, Bradley, Ryan Langerhans; 2B-Ryan/Ackerly/Kennedy; SS-Wilson/Ryan/Wilson; 3B-Figgings/Tuiassasopo; C-Olivo/Bard/Moore.
STORYLINES: Mariners fans have seen players like Ken Griffey, Jr, Alex Rodriguez, Tino Martinez, Randy Johnson, Dave Henderson, Mark Langston, Freddy Garcia and Jay Buhner establish themselves in Seattle, become superstars and then go elsewhere to splash with the cash and win championships. At some point Seattle starts to feel like a minor league team for the Yankees or Giants or Red Sox. Until that philosophy it proven wrong, it will pervade baseball culture. Seattle boats the jewel of modern cathedral stadiums thanks to the franchise-saving run of 1995 and the efforts of very young Griffey, A-Rod and Randy Johnson – who spent most of their Mariner days at the Kingdome. Ichiro has been the man that kept Safeco open with help from the 2001 team that amassed 116 wins and not much else. Felix Hernandez is not only a proven Cy Young Award winner but is a franchise player in the classic sense of the word. If Seattle trades him to the Yankees or anyone else (even if it is for 5 blue chip prospects) that would be the death knell for the Mariners. Kansas City traded Zack Grienke for less than market value and either St. Louis or Milwaukee may need to unload Pujols and Fielder because they are unwilling to fork over $30 million dollars a year. Hernandez is locked up at a reasonable rate, he is VERY young and he should undoubtedly be the centerpiece for future Mariners success. Whether or not Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackerly and the farm system will provide that support remains to be seen.
PREDICTIONS: Management would be smart to trade off aging players with big paychecks which would include Jack Wilson, Chone Figgins, Erik Bedard and unfortunately Ichiro Suzuki. The good news is that these players have market value and will garner blue chip prospects. Last year Cliff Lee was traded at the deadline, this finally is the year to part with Suzuki. He can help a contender immensely as the most consistent hitter in MLB (10 straight seasons w/200 hits) and still plays Samurai defense. Question is – who has the prospects to offer the Mariners?
2011 FINISH: What’s more amazing – seeing a professional franchise flounder or watching try to see it to their fans? This is tough to predict. While Justin Smoak, Chone Figgins and David Ackerly will provide an excellent foundation of five tools players, there is not a lot here. Hernandez looks to Erik Bedard, Vargas, Fister, Pineda (stud alert), Pauley or French but most are minor league caliber talent. Trading deadline will be the Mariners World Series in 2011 because it will chart the course for the future of the franchise. Look for another sad season in the standings but more seasoning for this young talent. 65-97. http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/seattle-mariners/ 
NEXT: NL East, NL Central, NL West, Postseason Predictions & Awards
Related Article: Pitching Preview http://prosportsblogging.com/mlb-baseball/aces-wild-in-philadelphia/ 
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