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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

2013 MLB Preview - American League

As promised yesterday, here is the Hat Trick's preview of the American League.

A.L. East

Baltimore Orioles

The O’s are not going to sneak up on anyone this season. Whether you are waiting for them to bring it or not, Buck Showalter’s team is going to be ready for battle every night. My concern with this team is starting pitching. Beyond ace Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.43 ERA) I am not instilled with an abundance of confidence in the starters. The bullpen is going to have to carry the pitching staff, much like last season.

The Orioles are a team that lives by power hitting and dies by power hitting. A healthy centerfielder Adam Jones (.287 avg., 32 HR, 82 RBI in 2012) and first baseman Chris Davis (.270 avg., 33 HR, 85 RBI in 2012) should keep a steady supply of game breaking power in the Orioles lineup. I really like what Showalter has been building up in Baltimore over the last several years.  

Toronto Blue Jays

Blue Jays Fan has cause for optimism for the first time in over a decade. The Jays have had potent bats for the last couple of years. They got potent-er. They also made an acquisition in 2012 National League Cy Young Award winning knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey that might give the pitching staff the push they need to win games that they would lose a year ago.

In addition to Dickey, Toronto picked up starter Josh Johnson (3.15 career ERA) and 2011 N.L. batting champion shortstop Jose Reyes in the Miami Marlins’ fire sale from last season. They also rolled the dice and signed last year’s troubled National League batting leader, Melky Cabrera (.346 avg., 11 HR, 60 RBI in 2012).

Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa is a really tough team to count out under any circumstances. This is one of the best run organizations and best managed teams in the majors. The pitching staff is locked and loaded as usual with 2012 American League Cy Young winner David Price leading the rotation. This was a team that did not have a lot of collective pop in its bats last season. The loss of centerfielder B.J. Upton to the Atlanta Braves via free agency and the lack of a comparably serviceable replacement place more pressure on a pitching staff that was among the best in the American League last season and still failed to make the playoffs.

New York Yankees

It’s going to be a L..O..N..G summer in Gotham. The Bronx Bombers were already aging and raised concern about their ability to compete in October last season. Most of those late thirty-something players are on the payroll in 2013. The long-in-the-tooth Yankees’ opening day Disabled List looks like its All-Star Game delegation from a few years ago. 

Future Hall-of-Fame shortstop Derek Jeter is out. All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeria is out. Starting pitcher Phil Hughes is out. All-Star Curtis Granderson, the Yankee’s biggest power hitting threat, is out. Third baseman Alex Rodriguez is on the 60 day disabled list and may be out for the season.
It looks like the Yankees postseason hopes are out.   

Boston Red Sox

This is another team full of aging stars that have not made any power-brokering moves since last season. Their biggest addition was by subtraction, firing last year’s comic-tragic Manager, Bobby Valentine. It would be in the best interests of the Red Sox to have completely cleaned house after last season were money not an object. But it is.

Adam Jones touching the bases. 1

A.L. Central

Detroit Tigers

A year ago the Tigers got off to the most uninspired start for a team with stratospheric expectations. The Tigers managed to catch the Chicago White Sox in the final days of the season to win the Central and eventually won the American League pennant. The expectations are higher this season – win the whole thing.

This team isn’t rebuilding; it’s reloading. This team has all of its key parts from last season, but added a nice part in right field: Torii Hunter (.313 avg., 16 HR, 92 RBI in 2012). The 37 year old, if healthy, could give Motown the extra inches that it fell short of a World Series Championship last year.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals haven’t been to the playoffs since their World Series winning season of 1985 but some baseball writers have speculated that the hex could come to an end, this October. The Royals had a couple of hot flashes last year and had a ray of postseason hope before the All-Star break. Their starting rotation, however, could have had a post All-Star highlight reel accompanied by Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life (Back to Reality)”.

The Royals stepped up to the plate by beefing up the mound.  Stealing “Big Game” James Shields (15-10, 3.52 ERA, 223 Ks in 2012) from the Tampa Bay Rays was a colossal step in the right direction. The Royals added longtime Angels pitcher Ervin Santana, who had an off year in 2012 but has proven he can be dominant. Mid-season acquisition from 2012, Jeremy Guthrie (5-3, 3.16 ERA in 14 GS with the Royals in 2012) is third in the rotation, followed by another Rays defection in Wade Davis (3-0, 2.43 ERA, 87 Ks in 70.1 IP in 2012). Davis is being promoted from the bullpen, where he spent 2012, back to the starting rotation, where he was in prior years of his career.

The Royals pitching staff has a very high upside and a bevy of veteran experience. Royals fan may get his coveted Back to the Future experience, going back to 1985, and having the Royals in the postseason.

Chicago White Sox

This team used its power in the lineup to come very close to snagging the Central away from the Tigers, who were anointed by many as division winners at the start of 2012. The addition of third baseman Jeff Keppinger (.325 avg., .806 OPS in 2012) should help offset some of the loss of longtime catcher A.J. Pierzynski’s bat (Rangers - FA).

My concern with this team is the back end of the starting rotation. The Sox made an addition by subtraction when Phillp Humber went to the future A.L. West cellar dwelling Astros in the offseason. I don’t see any significant upgrades to the rotation while other teams stockpiled in the pitching arms race in the Central.

Cleveland Indians

I could never write off new manager Terry “Tito” Francona, but he has a tall task ahead of him. The Tribe added speedy former Atlanta Braves centerfielder Michael Bourn (.274 avg., 42 SB in 2012), former Yankees first baseman Nick Swisher (.272, 24 HR, 93 RBI in 2012), and a former Oriole, DH Mark Reynolds (181 career HRs in 6 years of service) – key lineup upgrades. The problem is that very little was done to upgrade an underachieving pitching staff that was never in sync as a unit and struggled badly in the bullpen. This is a long term rebuilding project for Tito. 

Minnesota Twins

C’mon man. C’mon. Adding Vance Worley (6-9, 4.20 ERA, 107 Ks in 133 IP) to the starting rotation as an ace was this team's big splash in the offseason. I hope he made a splash in his checking account, because there won’t be one (as in rings) in his jewelry box.

2012 American League Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera (left) and slugger Prince Fielder (right). Make all the fat jokes you want. They'll laugh their way back to the World Series. 2

A.L. West

Los Angeles Angels

This team fell short of lofty expectations last year, in spite of picking up future Hall of Fame first baseman Albert Pujols and the rapid rises of 2012 A.L. Rookie of the Year centerfielder Mike Trout and young gun designated hitter Mark Trumbo (.268 avg., 32 HR, 95 RBI in 2012). The addition of former American League Most Valuable Player Josh Hamilton should give Manager Mike Scioscia all of the ammunition he needs to run away with the West.

Texas Rangers

Last year’s late season collapse may have marked the beginning of the end of the Rangers’ dominance in the American League. Picking up catcher A.J. Pierzynski (.278, 27 HR, 77 RBI) is not enough to offset the losses of Mike Napoli and Michael Young, from both leadership and production standpoints. The pitching staff is still very solid with no weak links in ace Derek Holland, Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, and Alexi Ogando. The middle relief is quality and closer Joe Nathan is as good as he ever was. The Rangers may very well reach the postseason and it is not inconceivable that they could win the West. But I do not see a pennant in this team’s immediate future.

Oakland Athletics

I hope they enjoyed their one moment in time, reaching the playoffs for the first time in six years. They cannot pitch their way to another division title, not in this division, without some kind of pop in the batting order and it just isn’t there. The A’s saving grace was that it could crank out a longball when needed. I don’t even recognize any of the new names in the field for the A’s. Their 2013 Moneyball looks like it is filled with loose change.

Seattle Mariners

Good, but not great pitchers (except for former A.L. Cy Young winner “King” Felix Hernandez) plus batters who might be challenged for their starting spots on some AAA rosters equals another mediocre (at best) season.

Houston Astros

Astros 2013 payroll: $25 million. Alex Rodriguez’s 2013 salary: $29 million.
Any questions?

(Recovering addict) Josh Hamilton in a drunk photo while with the Texas Rangers. Is he sure that Los Angeles is the best place to move? This could have a very happy or very tragic ending. 3

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