By: Chris Dagonas and Dan Grant
Ladies and gentlemen, the 2013 MLB season is just about here! Our resident baseball lovers Chris Dagonas and Dan Grant decided to team up and give you fine folks a full preview of both leagues. Today, we begin with the junior circuit, the good old American League.
Dan: Chris, I’m going through some of the preliminary text here and it seems like you have an awful lot to say.
Chris: Well yes, I’m fairly excited for the season to get going and I’ve been reading up a lot.
Dan: It seems like it. So what do you say we go through everything division by division—
Chris: Yeah sounds good!
Dan: –I wasn’t done. And then we’ll each pick a player to breakout this year, a Cy Young candidate and our personal pick for MVP.
Chris: I think that can be arranged. Like you mentioned though, I have quite a bit to say.
Dan: Well that’s ok. I’ll just stick to poking holes in your tragically flawed arguments then, when and if they occur.
Chris: You’re a jer—
Dan: And off we go!
Chris: Go Jays Go! Uh, I mean, I want to present this division in a professional, non-biased way. I’ll leave the Jays for last, and start with the Baltimore Orioles. Last year, the Orioles managed to make the playoffs on the strength of their bullpen and “clutch” hitting. Sabermetricians will scoff and say that “clutch” hitting doesn’t really exist, and that the Orioles were lucky to even win half of their games. I would have to agree with them. They won 93 games last year, but over 20 of those were by a 1-run margin, the league record. Luck does not usually stay with a team two years in a row. They should have been closer to about 83 wins, and will probably drop to somewhere around .500 baseball this season.
Dan: I agree with you mostly here but I feel the need to bring up the 1 run game thing again. They were 29-9 in 1 run games! The best 1 run winning percentage of ALL TIME. There’s no way they repeat that, although I do like their young core and I’m a bit higher on them than you. I think they’ll win 85-87 games and be in contention for the second wild card spot into the later part of the year.
Chris: The New York Yankees have acquired the ghost of Vernon Wells. Good luck. I have nothing else to say.
Dan: Yeah the Yankees are a walking M.A.S.H. unit right now. A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, Phil Hughes, Michael Pineda and Curtis Granderson are all slated to miss major time on the DL, while Derek Jeter is supposedly ‘only’ missing the first week of the season. That coupled with the free agent departures of Nick Swisher and Raul Ibanez leaves the Yankees looking mighty thin and fielding a lineup that will heavily feature Dan Johnson and Juan Rivera. Yikes. That said, I think their rotation is lights out (even without Hughes) and Teixeira/Granderson should be back and contributing before the All-Star Break. I like the Yankees to win 88-90 games and contend for the division title. Who would have thought that statement would be controversial?
Chris: Boston has made some noise in the off-season, signing World Series winner Shane Victorino and former top prospect Stephen Drew to play shortstop. Also, they have the second best Mike-with-a-fish-last-name (Mike Carp) to rotate in at first base with Mike Napoli. They have some decent pieces, and Dustin Pedroia is the best second-baseman in the MLB, but they are still in the dismantling/rebuilding phase of their franchise, and as such, should slide into third or fourth in the division nicely, with about 75-80 wins.
Dan: Boston is going to suck. Their pitching staff is a mess, Jacoby Ellsbury can’t stay healthy, a disease is eating Mike Napoli’s hips and Dustin Pedroia is most certainly not the best second baseman in the MLB (I see you Robinson Cano and Ian Kinsler), although he is the only one with a highly suspect MVP trophy.
Chris: Last, before we get to the Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays are worthy of a mention. They lost star centre-fielder BJ Upton to Atlanta via free agency, and traded away a great number 2 starter in James Shields to Kansas City. They re-signed All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria through the 2022 season, so he is effectively there for his career, and with good reason. Longoria is a fantastic player, and even with that contract may attract some attention from big-money clubs like the Yankees and Dodgers later in his career. The Rays were not able to replace those losses with much big-league-ready talent, so should take a step back this season while creating what might become a monster of a 2014 roster. They could end up as the wild-card team in the AL East, battling with Baltimore, but I would project no more than about 85 wins for them.
Dan: I like the Rays a whole lot more than you do. They’ve have quietly been doing Rays-y things, as they do. They have the best manager in baseball in Joe Maddon and they landed super prospect Wil Myers in that James Shields trade. They’ve acquired value players in Yunel Escobar, James Loney and Luke Scott, paying for results and not big names. Personally, I think their rotation is the best in the AL, talent wise, featuring reigning Cy Young winner David Price and three breakout candidates in Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Rookie of the Year buzz guy Alex Cobb. They also have plenty of pitching depth in the minors if any of those fail, with Taylor Guerrieri, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer waiting in the wings. I think the Rays win the division with 95 wins.
Chris: The Rays, really? Personally I think that the Jays look poised to become the runaway leader in this division, and perhaps in the American League. Over the winter, I have taken to watching clips of the 1992 and 1993 World Series, and noticed a ridiculous collection of talent (and money) that we have not seen since. This season, the talent level is about on par with what it was in 1992. You can even go position-by-position and find comparable player types (the power-hitting right fielder, the loose cannon third-baseman, etc). Though I had my doubts when the big trades and signings happened in November, I see now that the timing was perfect for Anthopoulos to pounce. While the rest of the division will see some regression or stagnation, the Jays have taken a massive leap forward and should easily carry the division.
Dan: I actually wrote a whole column about the Jays chances this year which will be running Monday, April 1st right here on the Same Page.
Chris: Oh really? Did I step on any of your—
Dan: No Chris. But you COULD have.
Chris: Man, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—
Dan: I’m sure you didn’t. You were probably too busy looking at your honourary Dustin Pedroia fan club decoder ring to notice that some people have feelings!
Chris:…is that even a thing? All I was saying is that Pedroia is a great all-around player—
Dan: Like you don’t know!
Chris: You know in books when they say people are bewildered and you wonder ‘Hey what’s that like?’ I am currently bewildered.
Dan: Nailed it! Let’s move on!
Chris: This division has started to become pretty familiar in the last few years. Detroit has the best collection of talent, the White Sox can surprise, and three teams are basically cellar dwellers every year. Starting in Kansas City, where there is some renewed hope and optimism for a young team that might make the leap to Major League contenders. Boasting offensive firepower in Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, and Billy Butler, the Royals can score some runs. Unfortunately, they haven’t proven to be able to stop other teams from scoring much. The acquisition of James Shields will help, although he will be expected to be the staff ace when that title might be a bit out of his element. The Royals should top out at about 75 wins this season.
Dan: I basically agree! The James Shields trade was semi-baffling, as was the Royals acquisition of Ervin Santana this off-season. The Royals do have the aforementioned good young talent, but giving up Will Myers and high upside project Mike Montgomery for Shields, making big money and likely past his prime, made little sense then and hasn’t improved with time. I enjoy the Royals… their uniforms, their stadium, George Brett. No hard feelings about 1985, guys. Best of luck. I like your 75 wins pick. Another fourth place finish in the Show Me State!
Chris: Cleveland must be a cursed city. Of course, losing LeBron James (before the peak of his career) takes the cake as basically the worst thing that can happen to a sporting city, but the Indians are not far behind. (Dan: really? It’s not even the worst thing to happen to Cleveland!) They were decent in the mid-2000’s, but have fallen off a cliff since and have never really recovered, or even looked to be building a farm system, as one does when one has no Major League level talent. However, there are bright spots here, residing mostly in the middle of the park. Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera form one of the best 2B-SS combos in baseball, and both are very good hitters in their own right. They represent the best of the Indians farm system, and both have the potential to be all-stars this season. In centre field, the Indians signed former Atlanta Brave Michael Bourn, who would be your prototypical speedy leadoff hitter, except for a frustrating inconsistency in his ability to get on base. The Indians need great seasons from their hitters and from their mediocre pitching staff to even have a hope of finding the wild card. If injuries get involved, as they did last year, then all hope is gone. Expect 70 wins from these Indians, not much more.
Dan: Again, the Indians are a team I like more than you do. I’ll keep it speedy but they’ve brought in Terry Francona to manage, Michael Bourn, though he K’s a lot, scores runs, is an efficient menace on the basepaths and does not have issues getting on base (career .339 OBP and ,349 last season), the team has brought in Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds to add some power and their young pitchers will continue to develop, especially elite prospect Trevor Bauer, who the Indians acquired in a four way trade this off-season that also netted them speedster Drew Stubbs. I like the Indians to win 85 games and finish third in this division.
Chris: The Minnesota Twins are everyone’s favourite other team, it seems. Especially in Canada, where the Twins are close to the border, and feature one of Canada’s best, first baseman Justin Morneau. Morneau and catcher Joe Mauer represent the good. That’s about it. This team is so deep into re-building, they can’t see either end of the tunnel. Their pitching staff and outfield are mostly a group of AAA call-ups who will be getting their first taste of big league experience this year. I think 70 wins would be a miracle.
The Chicago White Sox are a solid team, stocked with a healthy dose of veteran talent. That talent comes from a revitalized Jake Peavy and the ageless Paul Konerko (he’s actually 37, but I was smashing home runs with him back on Triple Play 99 on Nintendo 64, so it seems like he’s been around forever). There are actually layers to how ‘veteran’ the players on Chicago are. Behind Peavy and Konerko, are mid-veterans like Alexei Ramirez, Adam Dunn, and Alex Rios. In their early 30s, these guys still have the ability to put up big numbers and have been low injury risks throughout their careers. Their bullpen, also stocked with veterans, is reliable, and their starting rotation features Chris Sale, the 23 year-old flame-throwing All-Star. If they can get hot and avoid injury, they have a slim chance to dethrone the reigning champs: the Detroit Tigers.
Dan: I feel like James Carville to your Frank Ricard on those two.
Chris: The Tigers continue to trot out awesome lineups and starting rotations. Justin Verlander is the best in the American League, and Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez are no slouches either. Behind Toronto, this is the second best rotation in the AL, and easily the best, top-to-bottom, in the division. On offense, what needs to be said beyond Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder? Well, they also feature Jhonny ‘that ain’t no typo’ Peralta, a defensive wiz at shortstop, and Austin Jackson, who is a tremendous centre fielder. Moreover, they have added perennial gold glove award winner Torii Hunter, who will likely patrol right field due to his advanced age, but will be a steady glove and bat. The Tigers will probably reach the 95 win mark, and win the division, but might have some resistance from the White Sox.
Dan: Don’t forget that they get slugger Victor Martinez back after he missed all of last season with a knee injury. The Tigers are scary good this year and I like their rotation much better than the one north of the border. The pure power of Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez is devastating, Doug Fister is no slouch and Rick Porcello and stud prospect Drew Smyly give the rotation depth. The only place the Tigers might need help is the bullpen but I’m sure they’ll be active during the season. They’re my pick to come out of the American League this year.
Chris: This is the division of “anything can happen”. Last season, the Oakland Athletics went on a ridiculous surge through the second half, and jumped from third in the division to first, in only a matter of weeks. They were a stingy defense, allowing the second-fewest runs of any team in the AL, while their offense heated up enough to become respectable, if not exactly terrifying. This season, I don’t expect them to repeat as division champs. In fact, I’d be surprised if they were even in the wild-card race. Beyond a decent rotation that has the benefit of playing half their games in a pitcher’s heaven, and a very solid bullpen, there just is not enough firepower here to have another strong season. Hot streaks like the one the A’s were on at the end of last year tend to cool off over the offseason, and lightning doesn’t strike twice too often. Well done on last season, Oakland, but we’ll see you in third place as usual come September.
Dan: I’ve doubted Billy Beane before, like that time in 1998 when he said ‘Just you wait Dan, I’m going to get Brad Pitt to play me in a pseudo-Oscar contender in like twelve years’. I still owe that guy 20 bucks. I agree with basically everything you said but Oakland still scares me. Yoenis Cespedes is a monster.
Chris: Can we expect the Mariners to be this season’s Oakland Athletics? Not exactly, but they are getting closer. Seattle boasts quite possibly the best starting pitcher in the AL in Felix Hernandez, and a squad of young, hungry up-and-comers like Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley. They’re probably one year away, assuming all goes right, to contending in the West.
Dan: They’ve moved the fences in at Safeco Field this year for whatever reason. That should help the lineup of power hitters Seattle features, as they’ve been hitting fly balls that would have been homers elsewhere. What’s that? They’re lineup is mostly contact and line-drive guys and the best player on the team is a pitcher and this move makes no real sense? Oh. Well thanks then.
Chris: In baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, money talks. On that note, we move to the Bill Gates and Warren Buffet of the division: the Angels and Rangers. The 2013 Angels may have the best outfield ever. Ever. Josh Hamilton has been a beast for five seasons already, and it only took Mike Trout 5 months in the 2012 season to bring up Hamilton comparisons. Trout and Hamilton have the speed, defense and power to already make a formidable two-thirds of a killer outfield. In right field, the Angels feature Mark Trumbo, a sheer power hitter of the Adam Dunn variety (lots of homeruns, lots of strikeouts). Expect tons of runs from this team, which already featured Albert Pujols, undoubtedly the best player of the 2000s, while Trout might prove to be the best player of the 2010s.
Dan: I actually think the Angels have the second best outfield in baseball this year, let alone ever. We’ll get to that in our NL preview tomorrow. That said, they’re going to be pretty freaking good and not just because of their power. A sneaky smart signing of Ryan Madson will put together one of the best bullpens in baseball, pairing him with Scott Downs and the electric Ernesto Frieri. The Angels are going to win this division and could win 100 games.
Chris: Lastly, we have the Texas Rangers, beginning the post-Hamilton era. Their roster might not make your eyes widen in fear, but this is still a club that can do some damage. Adrian Beltre knows how to put a ball in the stands, and middle infielders Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler are fairly competent hitters. Where this Rangers team might have the upper hand over the Angels is on the mound. Yu Darvish proved to be the real deal (a rarity for Japanese pitchers), and the bullpen could be the best in the AL. As I said, anything can happen out west, but the Angels seem favourites to capture the crown, while the three other rivals could all make some noise.
Dan: I like this Rangers team a lot, but you’ll see that in the next section. I think they win the first AL Wild Card spot and wreak havoc in the playoffs.
AL Breakout Player
Chris: 3B Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles.
Machado is a converted shortstop, who learned on the fly for two months last season and only made 5 errors in 51 games. He also batted .262 with 26 RBI, good for an RBI every other game, which would extrapolate out to 81 over the course of a whole season. He can hit for 20-25 home runs, and should even improve his defense, given more time at 3B in spring.
Dan: INF- Jurickson Profar- Texas Rangers.
Profar might be a slightly odd pick, seeing as he A) doesn’t have a true position as yet (he’s a shortstop but the Rangers have Elvis Andrus entrenched. He’ll likely have to play 2B in the Majors, pushing Ian Kinsler to another position) and B) he’s starting the season in the minors.
However, I truly believe he’s only in the minors due to the inane MLB rules in regards to free agent service team. in short, the Rangers get another full year of Profar before he’s arbitration eligible if they keep in in the minors until May. I think that by May or June at the latest, you’ll see Profar playing 2B for the Rangers and turning heads with all 5 of his devastating tools.
AL Cy Young candidate
Chris: This early, all eyes are on Justin Verlander. He consistently rates high in ERA, strikeouts, and OBA, and he plays for a great team that inflates his win totals. Honorable Mentions: David Price, CC Sabathia, Jered Weaver.
Dan: Did you actually just quote ‘wins’ in an article about the Cy Young? It’s the 90’s Chris! God! Wins don’t matter anymore. Felix Hernandez won the Cy with 13 wins a couple years back, just a year or so after Zack Greinke did it with 16. Also, Justin Verlander? Way to go out on a limb.
Chris: This isn’t a going-out-on-a-limb contest—
Dan: Not with that attitude it’s not! My pick is the Texas Rangers Yu Darvish. Darvish was a punishing international pitcher who signed this insane contract before ever having pitched in the Majors. He struggled at first to make the transition to MLB, getting off to a hot start but struggling with his command from late June to early August. He was devastating in the last 6 weeks of the season however, posting a nearly 6:1 K-BB (strikeout to walk) rate and finishing seventh in the majors in strikeouts, despite only making 29 starts due to a stint on the DL. Darvish seemed to really figure things out down the stretch and I think this year he’ll put it all together over 6 months. Also, Honorable mentions are for hedgers and vagabonds.
Chris: Jose Bautista. A bit of a homer pick, maybe, but a full season of Bautista-ish mashing and that cannon of an arm in right field, plus the potential for 95 wins for the Jays means that Bautista will be on everyone’s radar this year.
Honorable Mentions: Miguel Cabrera, Josh Hamilton, Evan Longoria.
Dan: Mike Trout was robbed of last year’s MVP; not even an honourable mention Christopher? But my pick is Albert Pujols of those same Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim County Los Angeles. Or whatever their name is these days.
People have been writing Albert off as past his prime, saying that he’s still an elite power hitter but that he’s not ALBERT PUJOLS anymore. I think that’s horseplop. The guy had only played in one city his entire career, he signed a historically large contract and he was dealing with a minor injury, so he struggled in April. Big whoop. After April, Pujols hit like the old Albert, finding his power stroke in May and then going on an absolute tear from June-September. After the All-Star break Pujols hit .305/354/.581 and was generally his terrifying self. Adding Josh Hamilton to the lineup hitting behind him and I’m expecting Pujols to have a monstrous 2013 and come away with the AL MVP award, becoming only the second player to win it in both leagues.
And that about does it. Thanks for sticking around to the end and join us tomorrow for our NL season preview!