By JOEY MERKEL
Now that the powerhouse AL East is out of the way, let’s meet the other teams who will be vying for playoff spots this fall.
You could say that the Tigers were the big winners in the MLB during the off-season. Not only did they get Miguel Cabrera from the Marlins, they also got Dontrelle Willis to put at the end of their rotation. I’m a big fan of Dontrelle even though he has struggled as of recent, but his stuff is electric. Miguel Cabrera is just a monster; he’s young, talented and can hit the cover off the ball. The tigers also acquired Edgar Renteria from the Atlanta Braves to play shortstop. Although the Tigers gave up their two best prospects, Cameron Maybin and Zach Miller, for the elite Marlins, they made it clear to the rest of baseball that they are coming to play in 2008 and they absolutely will contend.
The Indians ended up winning the AL Central last year, and could have gone to the World Series if it weren’t for them choking in the AL Championship series against the Red Sox. If Travis Hafner can bounce back from last year and a have monster performance like in 2006, I say the Indians can get first place again this year, but beating the Tigers will be tough. The Indians didn’t add any big names to their lineup, but they hope they can get the same productivity out of their players, especially young flame-thrower Fausto Carmona. Carmona is coming off an excellent sophomore year after a horrendous rookie season. If he can stabilize the rotation behind C.C. Sabathia, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, the Indians will be tough in 2008
Chicago White Sox:
The South Side Sox are in a tough position this year. Much like the AL east, the central division has two power house lineups in it and the White Sox may not be good enough to keep up with them. The White Sox did a lot this offseason to try to crawl out of the lower levels of the Central division. But is it enough? Early in the off-season they acquired shortstop Orlando Cabrera from the Angels in exchange for pitcher Jon Garland, a former two –time 18 game winner who is still under 30. They also looked to bolster their bullpen adding veterans Octavio Dotel and Scott Linebrink. The two relievers should give a worn out 2007 bullpen a lot of help in the upcoming season. The White Sox’s big splash this year, however, was trading for Athletics center fielder and first baseman Nick Swisher. Swisher is a power hitter and will look good sitting behind or in front of Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, and Jermaine Dye, all of who can go deep at any point in the game. The Sox lineup will be tough to get around this year, the question is whether their rotation will hold up.
In my mind the Twins were the losers of the off-season. They traded the best pitcher in the game for four very unproven prospects, none of which I see being stars in the league. They gave up Johan Santana without getting the Mets’ best hitting prospect or best pitching prospect. You really have to hand it to Omar Minaya, the General Manager of the Mets, for pulling off this deal. If the Twins hadn’t danced around this whole trade situation, they could have gotten a deal containing Phil Hughes from the Yankees or Jacoby Ellsbury from the Red Sox, both of who will be absolute studs for years to come. Along with trading Santana, the Twins traded their best young pitching prospect in Matt Garza, to the Rays. This deal was not as much of a hosing considering the Twins got a great young hitter in Delmon Young. The twins are going to battle for fourth place this year and won’t do much else. The one bright point in the Twins rotation is Francisco Liriano. He was having an unbelievable rookie season in 2006 before an injury put him out for the rest of the season and all of last year. It will be interesting to see if he can bounce back.
Kansas City Royals:
Kansas City is royally screwed this year, much like the Orioles, however they didn’t do nearly as much to help themselves in the future. The Royals brought in steroid user Jose Guillen on $40+ million contract and after admitting to using illegal substances he is suspended for the first 15 games of the season. Their rotation is anchored by Gil Meche, another guy they overpaid for, and a pleasant surprise in sophomore Brian Bannister who had a breakout year in 2007. Third baseman Alex Gordon is by far their best look in to the future. The Royals are sure to come in last this year, although if you’re looking to make some money this off-season, go to Vegas and bet some money on them now, I’m sure the odds are terrible.
Prediction: 1) Tigers 2) Indians 3) White Sox 4) Twins 5) Royals
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim:
Last offseason, after his best MLB season, the Angles signed center fielder, Gary Matthews Jr. to a 5year, 50 million contract to plug the hole between the corners. I was never a big fan of this signing simply because he only had one good year, and then we soon found out he had been linked to HGH like so many ball players are. This year the Angels decided that they needed to overpay for another center fielder, enter Torii Hunter. After back-to-back almost 30 home run and 100 RBI seasons, the Angels signed the longtime Twins center fielder to a ridiculous contract where he will make $90 million over the next five years. In my mind, Hunter isn’t worth nearly $18 million per year especially at 32. The Angles will certainly have a potent lineup with Vladdy “Who’s Your Daddy” Guerrero ( a personal nickname), Matthews Jr., Hunter and Garrett Anderson, but we’ll have to wait until the All-star Break to see if it will make the difference the Angels were looking for.
The Mariners made a splash this year in the both the trade and free agent markets. They went out and signed workhorse Carlos Silva to a big contract and were able to acquire staff ace Erik Bedard from the Orioles. Bedard is coming off a season where he went 13-5 with over 200 strikeouts. He led the league in K’s nearly two weeks after a season ending injury and was a front-runner for the league’s Cy Young Award. Because the Angels went up in stock, the Mariners had to something drastic, so they overpaid for Bedard, but not by too much. It will be difficult to see if they can catch up with the Angel’s rotation, but with a 1-2 punch like Bedard and “King Felix” Hernandez, the 21-year-old phenom, the West is prime for a good playoff race.
It is more than difficult to say what the Rangers will do next year. They will be nowhere near first place next year but that’s not to say they won’t improve. Their biggest acquisition was trading for Reds center fielder Josh Hamilton, a former first overall pick who came in to some drub problems and had a breakout rookie season, for young pitcher Edinson Volquez. I say both clubs win on this trade. The Rangers needed a center fielder, and the Reds didn’t, as they have prospect Jay Bruce, the top prospect in the entire MLB. The Ranger’s biggest problem: Rotation. The one bright spot in the Rangers rotation is young gun Kason Gabbard, who they acquired from the Red Sox last year in the Eric Gagne trade. Other than that unfortunately for the Rangers, they have nothing that is going to impress next year in regards with starting pitchers, so much in fact that they were forced to go sign Sidney Ponson to a minor league deal.
Extra! Extra! Read All About It, the Athletics are having a fire sale. The athletics possibly made the most big, trades this winter dealing out center fielder Nick Swisher along with staff ace Dan Haren. Swisher has consistently had 3-20HR seasons including 35 in 2006. Swisher, traded to the White Sox, got the Athletics top pitching prospects Gio Gonzalez and Fautino de los Santos. Both of which should be staples in the Athletics rotation for years to come. Their other big trade, sending Haren to the Diamondbacks, brought back Carlos Gonzalez, a young outfield prospect who should grow up to be a monster ,along with three of the Diamondback’s top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America. The Athletics took the Orioles rebuilding mode, road this offseason. Like the O’s they are setting up their farm system so they can pounce on the two big teams of their division in a few years.
Prediction 1) Angels 2) Mariners 3) Athletics 4) Rangers
The Braves were nostalgic this off-season bringing back one of the team’s best pitchers in the ‘90s, Tom Glavine. The team bolstered their farm by acquiring Gorkys Hernandez and Jair Jurrjens for Edgar Renteria. Other than that, the Braves will try to battle for first with the Mets and the Phillies, but preseason-wise, they are far behind in my book.
The Marlins traded away their best young hitter and one of the most durable, left-handed pitchers in the game to bolster their farm system. This is the thing I don’t understand about the Marlins and it’s downright frustrating. The Marlins go in to rebuilding after every season. They should have resigned both Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis and been happy with on of the best infields in baseball. The Marlins will be lucky to crawl out of the basement in the NL East this year.
New York Mets:
The Mets hit the jackpot this off-season. They played the lotto after buying four $1 tickets and won $250 million. Last month the Mets traded four unproven prospects for Johan Santana, the best pitcher in baseball. With this trade, the Mets skyrocketed to the top of the favorites to win the National League list. Not only did they get Santana, they got to piss off Yankees fans, when they were unable to acquire him.
After winning the NL East in miraculous fashion last year, the Phillies didn’t do much to improve their team. They should get solid outings from young pitchers Kyle Kendrick and Cole Hamels and should battle the Mets for first place. The Phils did however bolster their bullpen by acquiring closer Brad Lidge from the Astros. Sadly, Lidge has surgery earlier this week and is not expected to be ready for Opening Day. Even so, the Phillies will look to contend in 2008.
The Nationals are probably going to upset some people this year because they made little effort to improve themselves from last year. They didn’t make many trades to improve their farm system, nor did they sign any big name free agents. Don’t fret though, I expect the Nationals, like the Orioles, to contend in a few years when their top prospects begin to surface in the Majors.
Prediction: 1) Mets 2) Phillies 3) Braves 4) Nationals 5) Marlins
100 YEARS, what have you ever had to wait for in your life for 100 years? To Cubs fans, there is only one thing. The Cubbies have not won the World Series in a century. It’s not like they don’t have the talent. Their lineup is solid, consisting of Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, and Japanese import, Kosuke Fukudome. The Cubs definitely have the players to make the playoffs, however they are, in my opinion, playing in the worst division in baseball and the West and East divisions have more talent. We might see a repeat of the Cubs playoffs performance last year, however, not according to Ryan Dempster.
The Brews came out firing last year and by the all-star break they were one the best teams in the league. Rookie of the Year Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder were knocking balls out of the park left and right. The Brewers did a lot to try and improve their team. Although they lost Francisco Cordero to free agency, they brought in Eric Gagne, who when healthy is very good. They also brought in David Riske for middle relief help, who should be a good addition to their bullpen. I see the Brewers having a potent offense, and maybe even a better rotation than the Cubs. I think that it should be an interesting race towards the playoffs.
I feel sorry for anyone that is a Pirates fan out there. Sure they have a cool name, but they haven’t had a winning season in fifteen years. That makes me happy to be an Orioles fan. As far as I can see, their lineup is a mess; their rotation is a mess and their bullpen in a mess. Last place here you come. Next year, Pirates, why don’t you try and make an effort to help your team in the off-season.
I don’t see the Reds doing much this year. I do think that they have talent, but for some reason they can never pull it together. I could see them next year coming out of their shells because they have a lot of pitching talent that is almost major league ready. Pitchers Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez should join Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang (the most underrated pitcher in the game) and should make a very formidable rotation. Along with their pitching prospects, the Reds have first baseman Joey Votto ready to take over on the corner and should immediately help the team. But the gem in their organization is previously mentioned center fielder Jay Bruce, the number one rated prospect in the MLB. Look out for the Reds…next year.
St. Louis Cardinals:
The Red Birds are going to be bad. Sure they have Albert Pujols, but he’s one small injury away from being out for the season. Chris Carpenter is out for the season and other than Adam Wainwright, who is by no means an ace, their projected rotation is terrible; that along with an anemic offense, they will battle the Pirates for last place in the Central. The one good move that the Cards made this off-season is trading for Troy Glaus. If Glaus could stay healthy, he can provide some moderate protection for Pujols.
The Astros I give a B- to for their off-season performance. If they hadn’t supremely overpaid for Kaz Matsui, it would have been a B+. They were able to get Miguel Tejada from the Orioles and Jose Valverde from the Diamondbacks. Valverde was a stud last year in the closer role for the Diamondbacks and after trading Brad Lidge to the Phillies it was a spot in the bullpen that needed to be filled. They should have a home run hitting offense led by Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman and Tejada, however their rotation is in shambles currently. Other than staff ace Roy Oswalt, who consistently is one of the best pitchers in the league, there isn’t much there.
Prediction: 1) Cubs 2) Brewers 3) Astros 4) Reds 5) Cardinals 6) Pirates
I defy anyone to not feel good about the Rockies overcoming all of the odds to make it to the World Series last year. Sadly they were graciously asked to leave the winner’s circle by the Red Sox, but still it must have been exciting for Colorado fans. This year I don’t think the Rockies will make it out of the Central this year simply because the Diamondbacks and the Padres have the pitching that it’s going to take to get them to October. However, the Rockies do have the talent offensively, consisting of stud outfielder Matt Holliday, Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe, I don’t see their pitching severely impressing anyone.
They gave up a bunch of their top prospects so that they could win in all this year, and I think they have a legitimate chance of doing so. The acquisition of Dan Haren gives the Diamondbacks a rotation of: Brandon Webb, Haren, Micah Owings, Randy Johnson, and Doug Davis. Their offense should also turn heads this year. Youngsters Chris Young, Conor Jackson, Justin Upton and Stephen Drew should continue to impress. Look for Jackson too be a fantasy sleeper if you haven’t had a draft yet.
San Diego Padres:
The Padres will battle the Diamondbacks for a little while, but god forbid any of their pitching is hurt this yea they will fall off and not recover. They have a team equipped with reigning Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy, but that wasn’t enough to make the playoffs last year, and it may not this year either. A good sleeper acquisition they were able to bring in is former Cub, Mark Prior. Prior had a lot of success early in his career and is still young, but hasn’t pitched in a game since Aug. 10, 2006. The Padres also acquired Jim Edmonds, who is still a great defensive center fielder and should be a good veteran presence in the clubhouse.
San Francisco Giants:
If Barry Zito can turn it around, and Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum have breakout years, the Giants could be a thorn in the sides of some of the other western teams. The Giants go into this season for the first time since 1992 without Barry Bonds in the outfield. It will be interesting to see how the Giants do this year without such a big distraction in the clubhouse. The Giants don’t have much going on for them offensively other than newly acquired center fielder Aaron Rowand and will cause them to most likely come in last in the division.
Los Angeles Dodgers:
The Dodgers biggest off-season move this year was brining in Manager Joe Torre to replace Grady Little. Andruw Jones was one of the best signings all winter because they got to sign him for only two years. If he does really well they can always extend his contract if they want to. The Dodgers were rumored to be the front-runner for getting Erik Bedard, but that rumor was quickly put to bed once they signed Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. I see the Dodgers battling with the D-backs and the Padres all year but they may come up just a bit short because of starting pitching.
Prediction: 1) Diamondbacks 2) Padres 3) Dodgers 4) Rockies 5) Giants
New York Yankees def. Anaheim Angels
Detroit Tigers def. Cleveland Indians
New York Mets def. Chicago Cubs
Arizona Diamondbacks def. Phillies
Tigers def. Yankees
Mets def. Diamondbacks
Detroit Tigers def. New York Mets