1) Tampa Bay Rays (93-69)
Certainly, the AL East reasons to be the most competitive in Baseball this season, with 4 of the 5 teams capable of winning the division title. My pick this year is the Rays. Even though they dealt away James Shields, they still have boatloads of quality starting pitching, led by David Price and followed up by Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore. Critics of the Rays seem to feel that they can't hit, and perhaps their lineup isn't littered with glamorous names like other teams in their division, but they've got one major star in Evan Longoria and a boatload of Ben Zobrist-types that are generally tough outs.
Sorry. Since the majority of their roster was procured in the Marlins' massive salary dump, I kind of got confused. The knock on the Blue Jays here is that the Toronto Marlins weren't successful as a unit in Miami last season, so why should they do any better in Toronto? They might not, but the Blue Jays had a reasonably good roster in place to begin with, starting with Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero, and now they've got some support around them. Plus, Mets fans will be throwing their support behind the Jays, not simply because of a particular division rival, but because of the presence of R.A. Dickey, who'll be taking the ball for them on Opening Day.
3) New York Yankees (87-75)
I know that the faction of spoiled brat Yankee fans who think time began in 1995 are tearing their hair out because Brian Cashman hasn't gone out and annexed Joey Votto to play 1st Base, and my heart just aches sorrowfully for them, but we're finally starting to see the Yankees come back to earth. Their fear of Baseball's new luxury tax has curtailed their generally free-spending nature, which wouldn't be such a big deal if their roster wasn't choking under the massive contracts given to players now beginning to show their age. Let's face it. Jeter's getting old, Rivera's going to retire, Pettitte is old, Sabathia is starting to show signs of wear and Bitch Teixeira is ailing, and that's not even getting to the $275,000,000 White Elephant that's not playing 3rd Base. But we've got to be realistic. The '95ers screaming that this is all of a sudden going to be a 70 win team are mistaken. They are still the Yankees, and they've still got Robinson Cano, and a down year for them may simply be a spot in the AL Wildcard game.
4) Baltimore Orioles (84-78)
Baltimore could conceivably be better this season, with their mostly very young and very talented roster now with the crucible of Playoff Baseball under their belt. But in reality, what will happen is that they're not going to sneak up on teams quite the same way they did in 2012. That said, they're also not going to go back to being the perennial pushover that they'd been for so many years. Buck Showalter and company are a team on the rise in the AL.
5) Boston Red Sox (76-86)
I don't think they'll be quite as embarrassingly bad as last year, but then again that may be because they dealt away a lot of their dead, expensive weight and replaced it with other expensive weight that might not be quite as dead. The lineup has been almost completely turned over since their 2007 World Series Championship, with Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz now joined by my main man Shane Victorino, as well as Jonny Gomes and Stephen Drew, but it remains to be seen whether or not they'll be anything resembling a cohesive unit. Two of the three members of the FriedChickenGate Red Sox are still holding positions in their starting rotation, and John Lackey has been nothing but a malcontent since he got to Boston. Bobby Valentine may be gone, but this still won't end well.
1) Detroit Tigers (99-63)
My sense is that they're probably still steaming from their embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Giants in last year's World Series, and with little turnover on their roster, they stand as good a chance as any to get back there again this year. Whorishly talented Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander will lead the way, and let's not overlook the remainder of their rotation, because Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez are pretty damn good in their own right. Let's also not forget that they added something from nothing because Victor Martinez, out all last season with an injury, returns to DH and perhaps spell Prince Fielder at 1st Base. A soft bullpen is their poison pill, but that may not rear its head until October.
2) Chicago White Sox (84-78)
Unfortunately, for a team whose biggest Free Agent addition this offseason was Jeff Keppinger, the White Sox probably aren't going to pose much of a challenge for the Tigers in the Central, or anyone else who aspires to the Wildcard. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to them coming to Citi Field in May, if for no other reason then to welcome their manager, our old friend Robin Ventura, back to New York.
3) Kansas City Royals (82-80)
The Washington Nationals appearance in the 2012 postseason meant that the Royals are now on the schneid as the MLB team with the longest postseason drought. It's been far from a pleasurable journey for the Royals, but, in similar vein to the Pirates, they've managed to finally put together a roster stocked with young impact talent that's beginning to gel and come of age. The nucleus of Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez appear primed to carry the team to the next level. Sensing this, the Royals shrewdly dealt top prospect Wil Myers to Tampa in order to stock a lacking pitching staff with proven winners James Shields and Wade Davis. It may not be enough to put the Royals over the top, but it will make them a legitimate part of the conversation.
4) Cleveland Indians (79-83)
They certainly opened up their wallets, bringing in Free Agents Mike Aviles, Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Mark Reynolds, so they'll score runs in boatloads, but their pitching appears to be woefully overmatched and it's going to be a struggle for their mashers to outscore their suckitude.
5) Minnesota Twins (73-89)
The cycle theory that the Twins seem to operate on is on the downside once again. Most of the players that they developed into stars have been dealt off for a new wealth of prospects that are probably a year or two off at best. Unfortunately, this means that the Twins will have to slog through a few more lean years before things get better, and then they have to worry about the productiveness of the stars they managed to keep around, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau (which not coincidentally are probably the only recognizable names on their roster right now).
1) Anaheim Angels (90-72)
For the second year in a row, the Angels went out and landed The marquee Free Agent, adding Josh Hamilton to a lineup headlined by Albert Pujols. Conventional wisdom would lead you to believe that this dynamic duo will cruise into October, and they probably will go through the regular season with relative ease, but their pitching might not measure up against some of the teams they stand to meet in October.
2) Oakland Athletics (84-78)
If the A's are going to win, they're going to have to follow the San Francisco Giants model of building around outstanding pitching and an offense that can scrape by doing the absolute minimum, because that's what their roster looks like right now. They won the division last year because their pitchers all got hot at once and their hitters just sort of pecked and scraped their way through everything before the Tigers ultimately got the better of them in the ALDS. Adding Chris Young helps, but for the most part, their comings and goings this offseason were sort of a wash, so it's basically the same group.
3) Texas Rangers (81-81)
How the mighty have fallen. They slumped terribly late in the season, pissed away a division title, slept through the Wildcard Game, and then lost 3 key players via Free Agency, and only responded by adding A.J. Pierzynski, which means that their lineup went from Nelson Cruz as a nice complimentary hitter to Nelson Cruz as the main power source.
4) Seattle Mariners (72-90)
I read somewhere that the Mariners have a somewhat decent pitching staff and I nearly laughed my ass off. The Mariners have one of Baseball's best in Felix Hernandez, that's not up for debate. But how many of you noticed that, at some point during the season last year, they began trotting in Oliver Perez from the bullpen as a lefty specialist? That's right. The Seattle Mariners are depending on Oliver Perez in a role of consequence on the Major League level. Oh, by the way, they also have Jason Bay patrolling the Outfield, in case you needed further laughing material. There's talent behind Hernandez, particularly in Kyle Seager and, if they can get their heads right, Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak, but real tangible help probably isn't going to come this season.
5) Houston Astros (49-113)
They'll move to the American League and bring their losses with them. I'm not sure what the hell happened, but over the past few years, the Astros somehow managed to strip themselves of both viable Major League talent and viable Minor League talent, leaving behind a carcass of a franchise that has to rebuild from the bottom up, meaning they'll be fielding a lineup primarily composed of useless veterans and castoffs, combined with raw youngsters that aren't really ready for the rigors of Major League play while they slowly restock their Minor League system. It's not completely barren, they've developed Jose Altuve, who's got a little spark, but taking a team that was already putrid and not only making them switch leagues but plonking them in a division with 3 other quality teams (and let's face it, the Mariners look like the Yankees compared to them) and you've got the perfect storm for disaster.
AL MVP: Evan Longoria, Rays
AL CY YOUNG: Justin Verlander, Tigers (as if this wasn't already a chic pick)
AL ROY: Jurickson Profar, Rangers
AL Wildcard Game: Blue Jays over Yankees
ALDS: Tigers over Blue Jays, Angels over Rays
ALCS: Tigers over Angels