Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Not Especially Well-Informed (2008 American League Preview)

Sunday evening was the Auction for my Fantasy Baseball league. In the past, particularly over the past few years when I was co-owning a team with the Former El Guapo, we would have long study sessions, breaking down positions and deciding which players, specifically, we should be targeting.

This year, I'm owning by myself. I bought The Sporting News Fantasy Baseball guide like I always do, sometime in late February. But I really didn't have much time or energy to really study for the draft like I usually do. In fact, outside of skimming the magazine a few times, I really didn't prepare for the draft at all. I went in pretty much cold. On some level, you can get away with this, since it is an auction, and you already pretty much know who's good and who's not. But you can only get by so much using this strategy, especially when the auction comes down to dollar players and scrubs at the end of the draft. Usually, I've done well at this point in the draft, but then again, I've also done a really good job at finishing in 9th place in my league every year. So, why not not study for the draft? I actually ended up with a team I'm relatively happy with (and includes, among others, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera and John Maine). And, although it remains to be seen, I have this feeling I might actually do better this season than in previous years. But then, that could just be gas.

You're probably wondering where I'm going with all this.

Last year, I pretty much trashed the AL as Fatboy Baseball, and Commie Baseball. El Guapo pointed out that the AL is more Reagan Baseball rather than Commie, but he couldn't deny me the Fatboy part. To be blunt, I'm not a fan of AL Baseball. I don't like games that require 4 hours to play despite an inherent lack of managerial strategy. True, the AL boasts a better stock of teams. But that's academic, and runs in cycles. I don't pay too much attention to the AL as a whole, and therefore, I tend to stay away from predicting it. But then, maybe knowing less about a league might make it easier for me to handicap it.

(As with the NL, Win-Loss records are approximations and can be taken within a range of +/-5)

1) Boston Red Sox (99-63)
I still think the Red Sox are easily the class of their division, the class of their league, and probably the Class of Baseball this season. They really didn't change much of the team that really romped their way to the World Championship last season. The loss of Schilling for an indeterminate time would likely hurt them, except that they've stockpiled such a talented group of young arms (consider that Clay Buchholz, who tossed a No-Hitter in his 2nd ML Start, is basically buried in AAA for the time being) that Schilling might as well skip the season and it's still very likely that the Sox won't miss a beat. Figure Manny will bounce back from an 0ff-year, Ortiz will be Ortiz, and the production from guys like Youkilis, Lowell and Pedroia remain the same and you've basically got the most loaded team from top to bottom you'll find in the Majors this season. I wouldn't pick against them.

2) New York Yankees (93-69)
For the first time in as long as any of us can remember, this is actually a new-look Yankees team. The Joe Torre era ended with another playoff flop, and the result is that this Yankee team has a markedly different feel to it. Much of the offense has been retained, which is logical since the offense really didn't struggle until the postseason. A-Rod was retained, which means that you can count him in to carry the load, with Jeter providing the intangibles. I also look for a breakout season from Robinson Cano, who might hit himself into a higher spot in the batting order. But the key to the Yankees lies in their pitching staff, which will be asking an awful lot from a questionable rotation consisting of Overrated Wang, Pettitte, Aging Mussina and Unproven guys Ian Kennedy and Philip Hughes. Joba Chamberlain, probably the best of the youngsters, inexplicably remains in the bullpen, and it's unclear if he'll ever make it out. This year will be a year of transition and struggle for the Yankees, but not a rebuilding year, and I still think they'll hit their way into a Wildcard berth. Why wouldn't they? They're the Yankees, after all.

3) Toronto Blue Jays (88-74)
I feel bad for my friends up at the Tao of Stieb. This is a team that's got a ton of talent and some really sharp young pitchers, but they're buried by the Sox/Yankees Arms Race. Put these guys in the NL Central and they'd run away with the damn thing. But stuck in the AL East, they can only think 3rd place unless the Yankees pitching implodes completely. The deal of Glaus for Rolen was basically a wash, but I think Vernon Wells will have a bounce-back season, and I expect Alex Rios to develop into a bigtime stud. Major keys for the Jays, however, include the health and effectiveness of starting pitchers AJ Burnett, Jesse Litsch and Shawn Marcum, and closer B.J. Ryan coming off elbow reconstruction. And, of course, they added David Eckstein.
He's scrappy.

4) Tampa Bay Devil Rays (77-85)
New name, new owners, new identity in Tampa. Maybe, just maybe these guys have finally turned the corner after basically being the Seattle Mariners of the current era. I figure that if the core of the team right now can remain together and mature with experience, they will be contenders within 2 or 3 seasons. I really like the group of pitchers they have right now, even with Kazmir injured, they have guys like Matt Garza, James Shields (All-Star in waiting) and Andy Sonnastine, plus #1 Draft Pick David Price on the farm. The offense still has some holes, and I have my doubts that Carlos Pena can repeat his success of last season. But the outfield of Crawford, Upton and Gomes is one of the league's best, assuming they can stay healthy and hit. I also expect Evan Longoria to ascend before long. They'll be fun to watch. Unlike...

5) Baltimore Orioles (67-95)
...These guys, who will be simply miserable all season long. Even after the Astros basically handed them most of their best pitching prospects in the asinine Miguel Tejada trade, the Orioles still went out and stupidly brought back Steve Trachsel, putting him in with Adam Loewen and the Vince Vaughn of pitchers, Daniel Cabrera, while Matt Albers is sent to the minors. They're backed up on offense by a horrible mishmash of B-level players and Melvin Mora. I swear these guys look to be about as exciting as the 1979 Mets.

1) Cleveland Indians (93-69)
Flip a coin and either one might be right. I figure the Indians and the Tigers will duke it out all season for AL Central supremacy. I give the Indians the slightest of edges based on the depth of their pitching staff. When it counts the most, the Indians can throw a guy like Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, or Jake Westbrook at you and the Tigers don't have dependable arms like that. Plus, the Indians can throw some runs on the board too, with Grady Sizemore leading a powerful bunch that includes established guys like Victor Martinez, but also a couple of young studs in Ryan Garko and Franklin Gutierrez. They're going to take it all the way down to the wire, but I look to the Indians to win the Central again.

2) Detroit Tigers (92-70)
They basically reinvented themselves with the Cabrera/Willis deal. In Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers got, perhaps, the best young player in the game today, provided he doesn't eat himself onto the bench, or worse, the DL. Then, they stuck him in between Magglio Ordonez and Curtis Granderson. Can you say runs galore? They'll have an offense to rival the Red Sox or the Phillies, but they have a pitching staff that could easily turn games 27 different kinds of ugly. This is the kind of staff that will have Jim Leyland eating cigarettes by the pack in early June, if things don't go well. True, Verlander will lead the way, and Willis should be better than he was last year. But guys like Bonderman are erratic, Kenny Rogers is old and Nate Robertson flamed out miserably late last season. Add to that the fact that Todd Jones is still closing for them, and will continue to do so with Zumaya out until July, and you have to wonder if this team can just hit enough to offset their lousy pitching. It'll cost them in the end.

3) Minnesota Twins (83-79)
Carlos Gomez won the CF job, and I'm happy for him. I expect him to do well in the AL, but I can't say as much for the team around him. If the Twins are smart, they'll stick with an OF of Gomez, Delmon Young and Jason Kubel, and with Mauer healthy and Morneau the same, they'll have a nice top of the lineup. But without Santana leading the way, the pitching staff all of a sudden became very, very pedestrian. In addition to losing Santana, the Twins lost Carlos Silva and dealt Matt Garza for Young, so all of a sudden, the Twins are looking at Boof Bonser as their ace, followed by Philip Humber, Scott Baker, and, yes, Livan Hernandez. Sigh...

4) Chicago White Sox (78-84)
I don't really know too much about the White Sox team this year, at least not enough to write an informed description of them, except that I don't have any reason to believe that they'll be very good. Look for a few entertaining blowups from Ozzie Guillen, at the very least.

5) Kansas City Royals (68-94)
I expect that Alex Gordon will blossom a bit this year, after plodding his way through a lousy rookie season. Other youngsters David Dejesus, Billy Butler and Mark Teahen will also actually have chances to play, although I heard that Jose Guillen was the Royals most recent "Useless Veteran du Jour" to hit Royals camp. The pitching staff is still a muddled mess, although Brian Bannister showed flashes of brilliance nobody knew he had in him and Zach Greinke appears ready to turn the corner after some personal problems. They also might let stud prospect Luke Hochevar pitch in the Majors this season, but God forbid they should prevent Kyle Davies from making his scheduled start. I don't know what else to say. Just show up and hope for the best.

1) Seattle Mariners (87-75)
Surprised? Not me. I have the feeling that this will be the year that the pitching staff, led by Felix Hernandez, puts it all together and carries this team through the inevitable 2-month slumps from guys like Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre and Raul Ibanez. Bringing in dependable starters Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva to bolster the rotation should be enough to put them over the top in the West.

2) Anaheim Angels (85-77)
I toyed with picking the Angels by default, but I think they're easily the most overrated team in the AL. Outside of Lackey and Weaver, the pitching staff is incredibly shaky. Ervin Santana was one of two things last season: Brilliant, or horrendously miserable, with no common ground. Jon Garland enters the fold, although what he brings, I'm not quite sure. Kelvim Escobar is, of course, just another injury waiting to happen. Guys like Nick Adenhart would likely be pressed into service, though I think he's a year or two off from really being effective. The offense is pretty boring, Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins aside. But everyone seems to love these guys. I guess it's because nobody thinks Seattle will be a viable competitor, and that's really the only viable competitor they've got. I still don't think they're as good as people think they are, and I think they can be had. You hear that? THEY'RE NOT WHO YOU THINK THEY ARE!!!

3) Texas Rangers (81-81)
Look, it's the American League's answer to the Cincinnati Reds!

(No, seriously, take a look at those rosters. They're carbon copies of each other, just with different names.)

4) Oakland Athletics (73-89)
I looked at the lineup the A's threw out there against the Red Sox for the game in Japan this morning before I left for work. When I don't know more than half of the names comprising a team's starting lineup, it's probably not your year.

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, DET
AL Cy Young Award: John Lackey, ANA
AL Rookie of the Year: Joba Chamberlain, NYY

ALDS: Red Sox over Mariners (3), Indians over Yankees (4)
ALCS: Indians over Red Sox (7)

Yeah, that sounds good enough to me.

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