2016 American League Preview & Predictions

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The first week of the regular season is in the books, but it’s still not too late to throw out some previews and predictions, right? Well, that’s exactly what I’m going to do, breaking down the highly-competitive American League team by team.

AL East

1. Toronto Blue Jays (96-66)

The Blue Jays are very well good enough to win 100 games, but the division they play in is

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Jose Bautista (above) looks to lead a high-powered offense into the postseason for the Jays.

the best in baseball. I have to assume that the AL East teams are going to beat up on each other, not allowing any to break away too far from the pack. The Blue Jays’ offense is loaded, and now gets a full season with SS Troy Tulowitzki in the lineup. Ace P Marcus Stroman returns after missing almost all of the 2015 season, and he is the leader of the pitching staff. If there is a weakness on this Jays’ team it is the starting pitching, but with a powerhouse offense and a solid bullpen, it’s nothing that a Trade Deadline move for another starting pitcher can’t fix.

2. Baltimore Orioles (94-68)

Picking the second team in this division was more difficult for me than the winner, as each of the teams in the AL East could make a run. However, the Orioles are constructed very similarly to the Blue Jays, in that they have a powerhouse offense. In fact, the Orioles offense may be even BETTER than the Jays, and has the potential to break the MLB record for home runs in a season. However, the Orioles starting pitching pales in comparison to its counterparts, and the team is depending on big seasons from Ps Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez. The O’s will be another team that could use a starting pitching addition at the Trade Deadline to make a run at the postseason.

3. Tampa Bay Rays (90-72)

It’s sad that the Rays have the potential to win 90 games and still miss the postseason. Led by true ace P Chris Archer, the Rays are hoping that their starting rotation can recover from injuries to hold up for one of its best offensive teams it has had in years. The Rays added OF Corey Dickerson, 1B/DH Logan Morrison and utility man Steve Pearce to add some punch and protection to 3B Evan Longoria. However, I still believe the Rays are a big bat and a few bullpen additions away from being AL East champions again.

4. Boston Red Sox (87-75)

For a fourth place team to have 87 wins is ludicrous, but that’s exactly how I believe the AL East will pan out this season. The Red Sox made some big additions in the off season, bringing in P David Price in free agency and closer Craig Kimbrel via trade. With DH David Ortiz in his final season, he surely can be expected for a large offensive output, but I believe it is the supporting cast that will let him down. OF Mookie Betts is expected to be one of MLB’s best outfielders this year, but I am not one that believes that. While Betts is a solid player, I believe he will need more time to develop before being considered a top player. 1B Hanley Ramirez should rebound with a nice season, but 3B Pablo Sandoval is doing nothing but holding the Sox back. They are a couple bats short in this offensive powerhouse of a division. Outside of Price, the Red Sox rotation has a lot of question marks, whether it be health or production. The team will be counting on young Ps Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens to produce, and it will be hard for them to succeed in this division.

5. New York Yankees (83-79)

Yes, I’m picking all 5 teams to finish above .500 in the AL East. I have no idea if the math would even allow such a thing, but it is a likely scenario to me. The Yankees are by no means a bad team, but simply not the best in this division. P C.C. Sabathia is not the same pitcher he once was, and P Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow is hanging on by a thread. Outside of those two, the Yanks’ rotation is mediocre at best. On offense, New York is plagued by aging veterans on bloated contracts and little versatility. DH Alex Rodriguez will still be productive, but is no longer an option in the field. 1B Mark Teixiera is still handy with the glove, but at this point he is always a liability to be injured. OF Carlos Beltran is still a solid hitter, but his skills are rapidly declining. The Yanks will very much benefit from these players’ contracts expiring, and being able to reallocate money throughout the team. However, the bullpen has a chance to be the best in this division, and SS Starlin Castro may revive his career under the New York spotlight. There is a future coming for NYY, but I expect them to miss the postseason in 2016.

AL Central

1. Cleveland Indians (93-69)

Yes, I’m going to be one of those fools that picks against the Royals, AGAIN. To me, the Indians are a playoff run waiting to happen. The team’s rotation is stacked, led by former

Terry Francona

It’s up to Indians’ manager Terry Francona (above) to push the right buttons to get his team to go.

CY Young Award winner P Corey Kluber. If the team’s starting pitching can remain consistent, the Indians’ rotation could rival the Mets for the best in baseball. Offense is where the majority of the question lies with this team. OF Michael Brantley is still recovering from a shoulder injury, and is unquestionably the team’s best hitter. C/1B Carlos Santana is highly inconsistent, and the team hopes that SS Francisco Lindor can carry the load in his first full season. However, the team is led by manager Terry Francona, who has a knack for getting the most out of his players. With a couple Trade Deadline additions, such as an impact reliever and a hitter, I believe the Tribe can return to the postseason.

2. Kansas City Royals (91-71)

Look, its hard for me to pick against them, okay? Yet, this may be the year that the Royals show some chinks in their armor. OF Lorenzo Cain is already injured, and playing deep into the postseason for a couple of straight years can be taxing for any team. KC still sports one of the best bullpens in baseball, and now has P Edinson Volquez for a full season. However, every team in baseball will be gunning for them, so I expect the team to fall a few wins short of the division crown.

3. Detroit Tigers (85-77)

The Tigers are built to hit. After adding OF Justin Upton via free agency, the team sports one of the deadliest 3-4-5s in baseball. However, where the Tigers lack is pitching, as the team is relying heavily upon P Justin Verlander and free agent addition P Jordan Zimmerman to carry the load. P Anibal Sanchez had a bad season for the first time in his career in 2015, but should be able to rebound. Outside of those three, the team lacks options in both the rotation and bullpen and most certainly will be seeking arms come Trade Deadline time. In an offensive-minded American League, a team devoid of pitching is a team that will not win, a la the Tigers’ predicted third place finish.

4. Chicago White Sox (77-85)

The White Sox were expected to be better this season, but with a lack of quality pitching behind ace P Chris Sale, I expect the team to falter. P Carlos Rodon is still young, but appears that he could become a solid No. 2 behind Sale. Yet, the team is still depending on P John Danks for a bounce-back season, and has an offense that is highly dependent on 1B Jose Abreu and 3B Todd Frazier. The White Sox could stand to add arms to both the bullpen and rotation, and is missing a couple impact bats that its rivals will benefit from in 2016.

5. Minnesota Twins (63-99)

The Twins have the unfortunate privilege of being the worst team in the American League in 2016. With young stars OF Byron Buxton and 3B Miguel Sano getting their first year of big league experience under their belts, the future will be bright for Minnesota. Just not in 2016. The team’s pitching staff leaves much to be desired, as they are highly dependent on overpaid veterans that have struggled in the past few seasons, such as Ps Ervin Santana and Ricky Nolasco. As the season progresses, the Twins will be able to offload some of their productive players for much-needed prospects while letting their top young players make their MLB debuts and begin gaining experience as they build their next core.

AL WEST

1. Houston Astros (94-68)

The Astros roared their way back onto the scene in 2015, and I wouldn’t expect that to stop

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Astros’ SS Carlos Correa (above) could win the AL MVP this season.

anytime soon. Now, the team benefits from SS Carlos Correa being in the big leagues for a full season, and the kid has MVP potential. I compare him to a more athletic A-Rod of yesteryear. With a multitude of top prospects on the way, and solid hitters around him, the ‘Stros offense should roll again this season. Of course, the team sports reigning AL CY Young award winner Dallas Keuchel, who should be able to remain a top performer for years to come. The team’s rotation is solid behind him, but a Trade Deadline addition of another starter could really put this team over the top. Houston’s bullpen is strong, and they have a multitude of closing options after acquiring former Phillies’ closer Ken Giles in the off season. For now, P Luke Gregerson will remain in the role, leaving the ‘Stros with a strong 1-2 punch to close out ball games.

2. Texas Rangers (90-72)

It is hard for me to have the Rangers missing the playoffs, as I believe they are one of the best teams in baseball. P Cole Hamels will headline the rotation, but reinforcements in the way of P Yu Darvish are not far behind, giving the Rangers’ one of the best 1-2 combos at the top of a rotation in baseball. If Ps Derek Holland and Martin Perez can remain healthy, the Rangers will have a very solid rotation. The bullpen is anchored by closer Shawn Tolleson, and could still use another impact arm to bridge the gap at the end of the games. On offense, the Rangers are stacked, led by 1B Prince Fielder, who showed that he was fully healthy in 2015. Now, the team has added SS/OF Ian Desmond to the fold, and will benefit from the promotions of top prospects OF Nomar Mazara and 1B/3B/OF Joey Gallo. Mazara is a complete hitter with developing power, while Gallo is a homer-happy player in the mold of former 1B/OF Adam Dunn (so home run or strikeout). If the team can get any contribution from OF/DH Josh Hamilton this season, it will be gravy for a team that is very balanced. Even if the team misses the playoffs this year, they will surely be favorites coming into next year, as they will battle the ‘Stros down to the wire for the division.

3. Seattle Mariners (84-78)

The Mariners are making progress, building a solid, balanced team. They just play in a great division and in a strong American League. 2B Robinson Cano looks poised to perform equivalent to his monstrous contract, and the team should finally see some production out of P Taijuan Walker. However, the team could still use an impact bat to pair with Cano and OF Nelson Cruz to make their lineup that much deeper. Seattle will also be seeking arms for the rotation and bullpen, as each unit could be solidified as the team is already facing injuries early in 2016.

4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (78-84)

Let the blow up begin in LA. Simply put, this team is not constructed to win. The Angels are saddled by the huge contracts of 1B Albert Pujols, and Ps Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. Pujols is still a solid player, but is showing signs of decline. Weaver is barely hitting 80 MPH with his fastball, and I fully expect this to be his last season in the big leagues. He has been on a decline for almost four years now. Wilson always deals with injury issues, and is no longer a viable option in the rotation. Outside of P Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney, the Angels lack options for the rotation, and it will prove to be their downfall this season. On offense, the team is still led by OF Mike Trout, but has done little to surround him with support. I fully expect the team’s offense to struggle around him, leading to owner Arte Moreno making a big change with manager Mike Scoscia taking the fall.

5. Oakland Athletics (70-92)

What can you do if you’re the A’s? You’re in a small market with limited ability to make big moves, and are forced to develop prospects in order to win. While the team is one of the best in baseball at producing young talent, that process takes a lot longer than adding key free agents to gear up for the long season, which is why the A’s will find themselves at the bottom of the division again. By only being able to add free agents like P Rich Hill, the team has to take fliers on veterans that might pan out. Yet in 2016, I don’t see the team’s normally savvy moves working out. I’d expect top P Sonny Gray to get moved at the Trade Deadline for a package of young, top prospects that may help propel the Athletics into being more competitive next season.

Watch out for my 2016 MLB Postseason & Awards Predictions coming soon!

Reaction To Lester, Lackey Trades

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Wow.

That word best summarizes the early trades of this year’s MLB Trade Deadline.

First, the Oakland A’s acquired P Jon Lester and OF Jonny Gomes from the Boston Red Sox for OF Yoenis Cespedes and a 2015 Competitive Balance Draft Pick. My initial reaction was how could Oakland, who has been the best team in the Major Leagues this season, trade arguably their best player and their cleanup hitter in Cespedes? It is also worth noting that Cespedes is still signed through next season, while Lester and Gomes are free agents after this season.

After I let this trade digest, and the initial shock went away, I realized that this was a great trade for both teams. The Oakland A’s are primed and ready for a World Series run, and this will give them their best rotation that they’ve entered the playoffs with in the past 20 years. Consider facing this four man rotation in a postseason series:

  1. Jon Lester
  2. Jeff Samardzija
  3. Sonny Gray
  4. Scott Kazmir

Lester has been one of the best pitchers in postseason history, Kazmir and Gray have pitched there before, and Samardzija is a standout young star that is waiting for his chance to prove himself in the playoffs. While losing Cespedes hurts, you have to come to realize that he is going to command a large contract next off season, which is something that Oakland wouldn’t have been able to afford. This move allows them to get a great value for Cespedes, and sets them up for a nice playoff run. Also, with Oakland acquiring OF Sam Fuld in a separate deal with the Minnesota Twins, they are able to form a possible platoon with Fuld and Gomes.

While the Red Sox made a great haul in bringing back Cespedes for this year and next, they weren’t done dealing and adding parts. P John Lackey was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals for P Joe Kelly and 1B/OF Allen Craig. My reaction to this is that Boston just set up a great possible lineup for next season, boosting their outfield with Cespedes and Craig. The Boston outfield has been historically bad this season, but this possible lineup for next season looks extremely formidable:

  1. CF Jackie Bradley, Jr.
  2. 2B Dustin Pedroia
  3. LF Yoenis Cespedes
  4. DH David Ortiz
  5. 1B Mike Napoli
  6. RF Allen Craig
  7. SS Xander Bogaerts
  8. C Christian Vazquez
  9. 3B Brock Holt/Will Middlebrooks

There isn’t really an easy out in that lineup, and the 3-6 hitters each have the potential to drive in 100 runs. Given the fact that the Red Sox have many young pitching prospects on the rise, and 2014 is a lost season, it is wise to give them a chance to develop at the Major League level in a somewhat stress-free situation. It will prepare them for next season, where the Red Sox have the potential to be reloaded and ready to contend again.

It has been reported that Lester has said that he would be interested in resigning with the Red Sox this off season. Is it possible he could return to lead a revamped Red Sox rotation in 2015? Stay tuned.

Masahiro Tanaka Injury Spells ‘DOOM’ For Yanks

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The most feared injury in baseball nowadays is a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament, or UCL. This injury is most common in the pitching elbows of baseball players, and the most common form of rehabilitation begins with Tommy John Surgery. Although it is possible to rehab a minor tear of the UCL, most cases result in TJ Surgery, and require almost a year of rehab before a player is able to compete again.

There have been a rash of these types of injuries this year, and it appears that the injury bug has bitten again. This time, Yankees P Masahiro Tanaka is the victim, after three different doctors diagnosed a “minor tear” in Tanaka’s UCL of his throwing arm. Despite this tear, the hope is that Tanaka can rehab the injury for 6 weeks, and avoid TJ Surgery. This type of rehabilitation has worked before, but in more rare cases. In fact, Cardinals P Adam Wainwright rehabbed his UCL injury, and was able to pitch for 5 years before finally tearing it and having TJ Surgery.

To me, it seems like the solution is obvious. It’s time for Tanaka to have the surgery to not delay the rehab process, and possibly be available for the Yankees late next season. If Tanaka delays the surgery only to have it later this year, it would rule him out for the entire 2015 season. Either way, the Yankees are in deep trouble.

Masahiro Tanaka (above) suffered a slight tear of his UCL.

Masahiro Tanaka (above) suffered a slight tear of his UCL.

Currently, 4 out of 5 of the Yankees’ pitchers from the Opening Day rotation are on the DL. Tanaka can essentially be ruled out for the season. Fellow starter P Ivan Nova has already had Tommy John Surgery. Ace P C.C. Sabathia has missed a majority of the season with a knee injury that is still ailing, but had not been effective in previous starts. Finally, P Michael Pineda has been dealing with an oft-injured shoulder since April, and was only playing catch as of last week. Only P Hiroki Kuroda remains, and is by far the most reliable starting option for the Yankees right now. They acquired P Brandon McCarthy from the Diamondbacks last week, but he was sporting a 3-10 record with a 5.01 ERA at the time of the trade. They didn’t exactly trade for a “savior” of the ball club.

Despite all of these injuries, the Yankees currently sit at 46-45, and are only 4.5 games back of the first place Baltimore Orioles. That’s some sort of freakin’ miracle. However, they will not stay there, or even have a chance to compete if they don’t make a move to add some pitching depth.

Yet, to acquire top pitching talent, the Yankees would have to part with top prospects, which they have very little of. Most, if not all the Yankees premier talent, is already at the major league level, and isn’t as desirable as young, controllable players. The options for the Yanks are slim at this point, and seem to be limited to Phillies’ pitchers A.J. Burnett and Cliff Lee, and former Yankees pitchers Phil Hughes (Minnesota) and Ian Kennedy (San Diego). I don’t think the Yankees would have enough prospects to entice the Phillies to trade Lee, but it is definitely possible to acquire Burnett, since his deal is set to expire at the end of the season. The latter two options are more interesting, as both the Twins and Padres are way out of contention, and could be interested in moving these players to give younger players a shot at the Major League Level. However, none of the talents available, outside of Lee, are a top of the rotation talent that the Yankees desperately need.

I don’t see how this can end well for the Yankees. They are simply depleted of Major League talent, and absolutely riddled by injuries. It appears as if Derek Jeter’s drift into the sunset will end with a finish in the bottom of the AL East, which is not a way that any fan would have pictured his glorious career ending.