RED SOX: Dombrowski in, Cherington out

Like with my post when Larry Lucchino stepped down as Red Sox president and CEO, I have many thoughts swirling around my brain about the hiring of Dave Dombrowski as the Red Sox first-ever president of baseball operations and the departure of GM Ben Cherington. As such, I will present my thoughts in bullet form starting…now.

  • There hadn’t been much indication the Red Sox were interested in hiring Dombrowski when word came down this week that it was, in fact, happening, and after being offered a chance to stay on, Cherington would leave. It took me by surprise for sure, and the Red Sox did a great job of keeping the whole thing quiet until they broke the news themselves. I’m excited Dombrowski is coming on board for a multitude of reasons, but my surprise is mostly due to what I believed was a philosophical clash between John Henry’s stats-driven approach and Dombrowski’s more traditional, scouting-based evaluations. But, clearly discussions between the two sides left both believing the arrangement will work. In all of his stops, Dombrowski has shown willingness to do the bidding of his owner (for example, building up, tearing down and then building back up the Marlins of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, then building up and sustaining success for the Tigers for nearly 10 years).
  • If the Red Sox were going to hire someone from outside the organization to run baseball ops, they could not have picked a better candidate than Dombrowski. For nearly 30 years, Dombrowski has been a successful GM, winning the World Series in Florida in ‘97, building the foundation for the ‘03 championship Marlins club, taking the Tigers to the World Series twice in ‘06 and ‘12 and nearly going there in ‘11 and ‘13. Mike Ilitch wanted to win a World Series and while it didn’t happen, it wasn’t for lack of work by Dombrowski. He made big, bold, ballsy moves throughout his tenure, signing the likes of Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez, while trading for Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister. While running baseball ops, Dombrowski also drafted stars like Justin Verlander and Curtis Granderson while also picking up scrap-heap guys like J.D. Martinez. So the pedigree for sustained success is there.
  • The biggest knock against Dombrowski in his time in Detroit was not putting together a championship-caliber bullpen. To me, this isn’t a huge concern. At different times, Dombrowski had guys like Todd Jones, Joel Zumaya, Joaquin Benoit, Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria and many other guys with terrific track records in his bullpen. The problem with bullpens is you could put together a collection of All Star closers and there’s still a chance they all suck. These guys are so volatile and can go from being amazing one year to out of the big leagues the next. Dombrowski just never hit on the right mix. Don’t forget that in Florida his closer was Robb Nen, so it’s not like he has no idea how to find relievers.  
  • Dombrowski comes to Boston with a treasure chest of prospects, many at lower levels, and a solid amount of young talent at the big league level. It’s going to be very interesting to see how he handles those guys, since he has no attachment whatsoever to players drafted, signed or traded for before he arrived. In some respects that’s a good thing, since I think Cherington and Theo Epstein before him were hesitant to move prospects they’d brought into the franchise. At the same time, it’s up to Dombrowski to pick the right players to move to address the team’s big league needs. Based on his track record in Detroit, I have a lot of confidence in Dombrowski to do just that.
  • Dombrowski plans to hire a GM to work under him, mostly to cross the Ts and dot the Is on contracts, initiate discussions with other clubs and agents on moves, and generally ease the workload Dombrowski will now face. While the Red Sox will hold an interview process for GM candidates, much of the recent speculation has focused on Frank Wren, who worked with Dombrowski in Montreal and Florida and was most recently GM of the Braves from ‘10 to ‘14. Wren has a reputation as a bad manager of people and, like Dombrowski, doesn’t grasp analytics in a way Henry probably likes. He also signed Melvin Upton Jr. to a bad free agent deal and gave Dan Uggla an ill-advised extension. But, as Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution pointed out here, Wren did take the Braves to the playoffs three times as GM. And, it’s not like he’d have final say on baseball ops like he did in Atlanta. I wouldn’t get too hung up on who gets hired to be GM under Dombrowski. It will effectively be like what Cherington was to Epstein before Epstein left.
  • The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier has a good look at how Dombrowski may handle the logjam of DH-types the Red Sox currently employ, given that Dombrowski faced a similar conundrum in Detroit after ‘13. As long Dombrowski can drum up interest, I could see him moving Hanley Ramirez as early as this month and definitely in the offseason. As much as I love Hanley’s bat, there simply isn’t a position here for him. I like that Dombrowski didn’t simply stick to the club mantra that Ramirez will be the LF going forward. I’d stick with Pablo Sandoval at one corner and address the other corner in the offseason, depending on what’s out there. An outfield of Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo looks awfully good for next year. As long as they can all remember how many outs there are each inning, of course.
  • Dombrowski faces a very delicate, very difficult decision involving John Farrell. Under normal circumstances, when a new president of baseball operations comes in, they will understandably want the opportunity to bring in a manager they know can work with them. If Farrell were currently in the dugout, I’d have little doubt Dombrowski would fire him. Instead, Farrell is undergoing the fight of his life, receiving chemotherapy treatments after lymphoma was discovered during hernia surgery. It’s hard for me to imagine Dombrowski would fire Farrell while undergoing cancer treatment. But, at some point, a decision will need to be made. I would assume that may happen early in the offseason, since it will be a factor in free agent signings and the availability of other candidates. My guess is that if all goes well, Farrell will get a shot to manage the team next year but will be on a short leash. The only way that doesn’t happen is if a candidate becomes available that Dombrowski doesn’t want to see go elsewhere.
  • An exasperating game around here the last few years played by Red Sox fans and observers has been “Who is really running things on Yawkey Way?” With Dombrowski now in charge of baseball operations and Sam Kennedy in charge of business operations, I think we now have a much clearer picture of what’s going to happen. The buck on baseball decisions will stop with Dombrowski. If something goes right, or wrong, he will be pointed to. This is a very, very good thing for the Red Sox going forward.

I’ll wrap this up with some thoughts about Cherington. It’s hard to see him leave. I think I first became aware of Cherington around 2002, when he was one of several whiz kids the Red Sox were elevating to high positions following Henry’s purchase of the team. Cherington was hired as a scout under Dan Duquette. He leaves Boston as one of two general managers since 1918 to win a World Series for the Red Sox.

It’s hard to say Cherington deserved to keep his job, or at least all of his powers, after experiencing what will likely be consecutive last place finishes after winning the ‘13 World Series. For all the great moves he made to put together that team, nearly every move he’s made since has backfired. This is a results-based business, and the results simply weren’t there to justify Cherington continuing on as GM.

I think ultimately, Henry and Tom Werner didn’t trust that Cherington was the right person to turn this team around and find sustainable success. That’s got to really sting Cherington.

As a fan, I always held Cherington in high regard, and still do. He seemed like a truly honest, intelligent and thoughtful guy who worked very hard for over decade to get his chance to run the organization he grew up rooting for in small-town New Hampshire. He succeeded immensely, and then failed miserably.

Now he’s out of the picture. Based on numerous reports, it sounds like Henry and Werner were not entirely forthright with Cherington about their pursuit of Dombrowski and what it would mean for his future in Boston. Henry also claims he told Cherington about the Dombrowski discussions more than a week before Cherington said he was made aware of such talks. I can’t blame Cherington for walking away, especially in that light, after taking so many shots for the club’s failures since 2013.

After seeing things like this happen for so many years, I’ve come to the conclusion that Henry and Werner are very good businessmen who’ve been successful in many walks of life…but they’re simply bad with people. Ask Terry Francona. Hell, even ask Lucchino. Look at the statement they released when Farrell left for cancer treatment. What happened to Cherington is probably the least egregious of all these. I’m not saying he deserved to keep his job, but he deserved better than this.

It’s still disappointing as a fan that this is apparently the way the guys who brought us three World Series championships feel they need to treat people and do business. Still, that didn’t keep a quality baseball executive like Dombrowski from coming here, so maybe I’m making too much of this.

I hope Cherington gets another shot soon to run a team.


MLB: 2015 American League Preview

It was another terrible winter in Boston, and now that the 83 weeks of spring training are just about over, it’s time for my annual American League preview! I’ve been doing this in some form since 2005 and I hope you still enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy writing it. I know spring is either just around the corner or has arrived whenever I put this together.

As I’ve done the last few years, I stay away from specific predictions with where teams will place in the coming season and instead just offer a general outlook on each club. If nothing else, it makes me look like less of a doofus at the end of the year when I get things wrong.

Clubs are presented in alphabetical order by division, going east to west. I welcome your critiques in the comments.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the real games when they start Sunday night.


BALTIMORE: It appeared 2014 would be the year these Orioles made it to the World Series, before running into the Royals October buzzsaw. After the offseason soap opera around Dan Duquette’s aborted attempt to flee to Toronto, Baltimore will be mostly the same team with one significant difference: gone will be Nelson Cruz and his 40 HRs. They’ll fill the gap with Travis Snider, Delmon Young, Matt Wieters (when he’s healthy) and Chris Davis (when his suspension ends). Buck Showalter’s pitching remains in tact, so I expect the O’s to be in it all year.

BOSTON: The biggest question: Will the pitching match the offense? No question Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval add firepower to John Farrell’s lineup, while young guns Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts won’t be relied on as much to produce. Yet no one knows if this rotation will hold up all season and we may be whistling past the bullpen’s graveyard. But, Ben Cherington has more than enough trade chips to fortify his core of arms. Given just how much talent Boston has, a trade or two seems inevitable anyway.

NEW YORK: I can only imagine what Yankees fans thought when Brandon McCarthy signed with the Dodgers for $48 million and Brian Cashman said, effectively, he was too expensive for them. Meanwhile, they’ll spend $98.5 million this year on five veterans (Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann) who won’t play up to their contracts. The Yankees’ quiet offseason may be a harbinger of what’s to come as they wait for albatross contracts to clear. Fans will have to be patient as a result.

TAMPA BAY: A wind of change blew through Tampa this winter, starting with Joe Maddon opting out and Andrew Friedman fleeing for Chavez Ravine. Will the Rays still be the Rays with Kevin Cash and Matt Silverman in charge? When healthy, they likely have the division’s strongest rotation, yet health is the big concern. By mid-season, however, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly and Jake Odorizzi could make the Rays the most dangerous team in the league. But all the pieces have to fall into place and we’ve never seen Cash at the helm.

TORONTO: It’s been a long, long time since I’ve believed in the Blue Jays and once again, I don’t believe in them. Spending lots of money on Russell Martin was OK and Alex Anthopolous pulled a terrific trade for Josh Donaldson. No doubt Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista will form a deadly mid-lineup force. But their pitching may be worse than Boston’s, with R.A. Dickey and Mark Buerhle entering their twilight years, Marcus Stroman devastatingly blowing out his knee in spring training and no clear dominant bullpen piece. It won’t be their year, once again.


CHICAGO: The Pale Hose went from also-ran to legitimate AL favorite in the course of one offseason. They added a bonafide closer in David Robertson, a solid #2 starter to pair with Chris Sale in Jeff Samardzija and some great lineup compliments in Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche. Combine those guys with the existing infrastructure of Sale, bomb-hitting phenom Jose Abreu and strong supporting cast members like Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia and Jose Quintana and it’s easy to see why there’s so much hype around the White Sox. This is a stacked division, but Robin Ventura’s team in positioned to win now.

CLEVELAND: Raise your hand if you saw Corey Kluber’s dominant Cy Young season coming at this time last year. No one out there? That’s what I thought. It goes to show you never can tell when it comes to pitching and who qualifies as an “ace.” Terry Francona has one now with Kluber and his presence gives stability to a developing rotation that will rely on younger guys like Carlos Carrasco and the perpetually-underwhelming Trevor Bauer. With few other changes besides the addition of Brandon Moss, it should be a good year in Cleveland.

DETROIT: The Tigers’ super-rotation is no more with Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello gone, yet David Price, Anibal Sanchez and a hopefully-healthy Justin Verlander remain. Those guys should be enough to prop up another playoff-worthy edition of the Tigers, but the issues in their bullpen should scare the crap out of anyone who thinks they can sail into October again. Joe Nathan was abjectly terrible last year and I can’t imagine much faith in Joakim “Two Tommy Johns” Soria exists. Detroit may need some luck, given the Central’s strength.

KANSAS CITY: Man, what a fun ride that was for the Royals last October. They were the Cardiac Kids, winning in dramatic fashion until Alex Gordon was (correctly) held at third base in World Series Game 7 and their impossible dreams for a title were dashed. While baseball may be revitalized in KC, its team didn’t improve much for 2015. James Shields is gone, replaced by Edinson Volquez. Billy Butler and Nori Aoki departed for Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios. But everything else remains in place, including that devastating bullpen.

MINNESOTA: The weak link in the AL Central, once again, is in Minnesota. With Paul Molitor now at the helm, the Twins will struggle to be relevant with a lineup bereft of elite talent (unless you still think Joe Mauer is elite, which is quite debatable) and a rotation that will be without Ervin Santana for half the year thanks to a steroid suspension. Phil Hughes may continue his bounce-back and Glen Perkins is a decent closer, but it seems very likely the Twins will top 90 losses for the fifth straight year.


HOUSTON: For once, the Astros have some hope. Guarded hope, but hope nonetheless. A solid core is growing thanks to George Springer’s dynamism, Jose Altuve’s electricity, Chris Carter’s power and the unexpectedly strong pitching of Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh. They’ve fortified their bullpen with Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, added Evan Gattis, Jed Lowrie and Luis Valbeuna to their lineup and have future pieces like former top picks Carlos Correa and Mark Appel. Houston may not be great yet, but the rise is coming.

LOS ANGELES: Mike Trout is the best, their rotation should be great when healthy, Huston Street gives them an excellent bullpen, Mike Scioscia is excellent, blah blah blah…I’m having a hard time thinking positively about the Angels right now in the aftermath of their shameful handling of Josh Hamilton winning his drug suspension appeal. Hamilton clearly has personal issues to deal with and for the team to pile on like it did was inexcusable in every way. I sincerely hope Hamilton gets help and never has to play for this team again.

OAKLAND: The Athletics had one of the strangest offseasons of any team I can remember. They dealt off Jeff Samardzija just months after giving up a prized shortstop prospect to get him and puzzlingly sent Donaldson away for Brett Lawrie, but also added Billy Butler, Ben Zobrist and Tyler Clippard. So while the A’s may be solid once again, it’s anyone’s guess what Billy Beane will do during the season. It doesn’t matter if they’re bad or good, Beane could deal anyone at anytime. It makes predicting how they’ll be this year very difficult.

SEATTLE: It seems like every year folks jump on the Mariners’ bandwagon and 2015 is no different. It’s hard not to be drawn in thanks to the AL’s best pitcher, Felix Hernandez, the new big bat addition of Cruz and Robinson Cano coming off a strong first year in Seattle. I’m just not sure they’ve added enough to really be a threat to the Angels. They’ll need healthy and productive campaigns from Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton while asking a lot of 38-year-old closer Fernando Rodney. Right now, I don’t see a big year in Seattle.

TEXAS: Yu Darvish became the latest major casualty of the Tommy John epidemic running through baseball these last few years, and man does that suck for him, the Rangers and baseball in general. Texas will attempt to make due with what’s left around including Derek Holland and newly-acquired Yovani Gallardo. The Rangers were inundated with injuries last year and will look to get a full season out of Prince Fielder in 2015. They should be competitive if their rotation and bullpen hold up.

MLB: 2014 American League Preview

Given the winter we’ve had in the northeast, baseball is coming at the most welcome time possible. With that comes my annual preview of the American League, which marks my 10th year doing it.

Once again I’ll be staying away from specific predictions (this approach was a good one for me as the only team I was truly wrong about last year was Chicago) and just going with my general feelings about all 15 clubs going into the season.

Clubs are presented in alphabetical order by division going east to west. Feel free to critique me in the comments.

Enjoy and pray for spring.


BALTIMORE: After his meddlesome owner forced him to back out of more than one deal this winter due to medical concerns, including one with closer Grant Balfour, Dan Duquette finally opened the Orioles’ checkbook and landed compensation free agents Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez for market-value-or-under deals in late February. But it’s unlikely the Orioles improved themselves enough to jump back in the playoffs after missing them in ’13, with Chris Davis and Matt Wieters a year closer to free agency and Manny Machado opening the year on the DL.

BOSTON: With the improbable World Series run behind them, questions loom over the Red Sox chances for a repeat. Can they count on unproven Jackie Bradley, Jr. or Roy Hobbs impersonator Grady Sizemore to replace Jacoby Ellsbury in center field? Will wunderkind Xander Bogaerts stick at shortstop? Will the starting pitchers and relievers bounce back after a short offseason? Is Will Middlebrooks going to produce? After an improbable title, is an improbable repeat possible? With David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester leading the way, it’s hard to deny any possibility.

NEW YORK: The Yankees didn’t take losing lying down after ’08 and they didn’t take missing the playoffs in ’13 lying down either. After a dizzying offseason of signings including Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka, the Bombers have pieces in place for a successful year. But they also have as many questions as any team in MLB. There’s no guarantee Mark Teixeira or Derek Jeter will perform after injury-plagued years. Their rotation has no sure things, David Robertson has massive shoes to fill and who exactly will play second and third are up in the air.

TAMPA BAY: There were at least two really surprising things about the Rays offseason: first, they didn’t trade David Price, who with two years left seemed a lock to be moved; and second, they actually spent some money in free agency, bringing back James Loney for $21 million, Balfour for $12 million, extending David DeJesus for $10.5 million and picking up $4.5 million for reliever Heath Bell‘s deal. There’s absolutely no reason to expect the Rays to be anywhere besides the playoff race again this year and going all the way isn’t out of the question.

TORONTO: File this one under “ho-hum.” The Blue Jays had as quiet a winter as any team, changing up their catching situation by fetching Dioner Navarro and shedding J.P. Arencibia but really not doing much else. They were linked to several free agents, including Jimenez and Ervin Santana before each signed. It was perplexing Alex Anthopoulos didn’t bite on either since their first two picks are compensation-protected. Their lack of action could lead to an in-season fire sale if they once again disappoint, possibly undoing many of their big moves last year.


CHICAGO: For once, it really seems like the White Sox have a plan. All it took was Rick Hahn to take over the GM chair from now-team president Kenny Williams. Yes, there is a plan, but that plan probably won’t involve a lot of winning right away. Paul Konerko‘s likely final year in the Majors will represent the last vestige of a bygone Pale Hose era. The new era is likely to be marked by hitters like Avisail Garcia, Matt Davidson, Adam Eaton and Cuban phenom Jose Abreu. Will Chris Sale remain in place as the ace they’ll build around, or will they cash in on a big package now?

CLEVELAND: The feel-good story of ’13 took place in Cleveland, where Tito Francona came out of his one-year hiatus and led the Tribe to a berth in the Wild Card game. They didn’t make a ton of changes heading into ’14, adding John Axford as their likely closer and David Murphy as a spare outfielder. Carlos Santana is poised for a real breakout as he moves out from behind the plate and Danny Salazar has ace potential. The health of veterans like Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher will determine if the Indians make that next step to a real contender.

DETROIT: GM Dave Dombrowski seemed to have a grand scheme when he traded Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler early in the winter, but little materialized outside of a curious trade of Doug Fister and adding a real closer in Joe Nathan. The Tigers have a huge question at shortstop with Jose Iglesias on the shelf for the year; my guess is Stephen Drew signs a one year deal. With Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Miguel Cabrera all here, their challenges could be overcome quite easily with great years from their superstars and supporting players.

KANSAS CITY: No question the Royals are suddenly the hot sleeper team in the AL, with pundits tripping over themselves to declare them a division favorite. I’m not ready to go that far, but coming off a surprisingly good season and adding Omar Infante and Norichika Aoki to plug their lineup holes, getting to the playoffs for the first time since 1985 (whoa) is within grasp. James Shields is a contract-year strike-throwing badass, Greg Holland might be the game’s best closer, Yordano Ventura is a stud, their bullpen is stacked and their lineup is balanced. Why not this year for the Royals?

MINNESOTA: Hope is in the pipeline for Minnesota with Byron Buxton, the game’s best prospect, possibly close to patrolling center at Target Field. That’s the most positive thing I can say about this team’s future. Their chronic inability to develop pitching resulted in laughable contracts for Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, guys just mediocre enough to lift the team above the White Sox in the standings. Still, Joe Mauer‘s career and numbers should see a boost with a full-time move to first base and the dynamic talents this moribund franchise needs could be around the corner.


HOUSTON: This June, the Astros will be the first team in MLB history with the top pick in the draft three years running. It’s likely they’ll break their own record in ’15 after another “rebuilding” season. These top picks will eventually pay off because Carlos Correa and Mark Appel are bonafide studs along with budding superstar outfielder George Springer. But after a winter of puzzling moves like signing Scott Feldman, trading for Dexter Fowler and pointlessly bringing in veteran relievers Chad Qualls and Jesse Crain, it makes me wonder if there’s really a plan here at all.

LOS ANGELES: I like the Angels to have a big bounce-back year. There’s too much talent here for anything else. Mike Trout continues his reign as the best player on Earth while Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols could see comebacks worthy of their past glory. Healthy and effective years for Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson will make a potent right-left rotation punch with the flame-throwing Ernesto Frieri at the end of wins. Don’t be surprised if Kole Calhoun, Peter Bourjos‘ outfield replacement, creates some serious head-turning early in the season.

OAKLAND: I’m a little dubious on the Athletics having the horses in their rotation for another postseason run unless they can pull a trade. They’ve lost Jarrod Parker to TJ, A.J. Griffin is already hurt and Scott Kazmir is, well, Scott Kazmir. Their two best remaining starters, Sonny Gray and Dan Straily, are unproven over 162-plus. Their lineup remains excellent anchored by rain-bringer Josh Donaldson, beastly Yoenis Cespedes and a parade of ex-Red Sox and they’ve got a deep bullpen with new closer Jim Johnson. But I’m not sure it’ll be enough without more moves.

SEATTLE: Let’s not mince words here: the Mariners wil regret giving Robinson Cano a 10-year contract sooner rather than later. Before that happens, there’s a window of Cano’s prime where Seattle can capitalize and win. While Felix Hernandez remains an elite ace, they’ve got question marks throughout the rest of the rotation and bullpen, plus they clearly didn’t add enough offense to support Cano. I don’t see ’14 being the M’s year as a result, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen for them before Cano’s deal becomes cringe-worthy if the right moves are made.

TEXAS: The injury bug bit a huge chunk out of the Rangers’ rotation during winter and spring training, with Tanner Scheppers of all people earning the Opening Day start. Yu Darvish will be back soon and that’s a great thing as he continues his development as an ace. But how they piece together these first few months with their rotation will be important in determining if they’ll have enough in the tank for a postseason run. Fielder is in, Cruz is out as the Rangers enter a new era without Nolan Ryan as an important franchise decision-maker.

MLB: 2013 American League Preview

I’ve been doing an American League preview for as long as I’ve been blogging, which means the first year I did it was 2005. It’s taken various forms through the years, with it happening in audio form in recent times.

With the 2013 MLB season upon us in just a few days, I decided to slap together a few thoughts on each of the 15 (yes, it’s 15 now) teams that will comprise the Junior Circuit.

I won’t be making predictions about where each club will finish in the standings this year because I pretty much always get them wrong. I was the same guy who boldly predicted the Orioles would come in last in the AL East last year. No more egg on my face, please.

Instead, each team is presented in alphabetical order by division, working east to west. Feel free to critique me in the comments if you think I’m way off base. Enjoy.


BALTIMORE: It’s probably safe to say the Orioles played a little over their heads last year. Nearly every pitcher had a great year and their lineup came together really well for once. But Dan Duquette didn’t really add anyone this winter. Will Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen really produce at that level again? Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are stars and they have truly insane pitching depth. But I can’t seem them repeating 93 wins this year.

BOSTON: After their worst season in 20 years, the Red Sox set out to remake everything about their club this winter. Success in 2013 will be predicated on their five starters and the health of their position players. The bullpen appears to be their strength, but that’s not enough to be successful for 162 games. I’m banking on John Farrell making the right adjustments and getting strong years from Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey.

NEW YORK: The problem the last few years for the Yankees has been their age. They did literally nothing this winter to address that and in fact got older by bringing back most of their 2012 team save Nick Swisher. Now they are battling significant injuries with so many veterans. They still have CC Sabathia, a solid offense and Mariano Rivera’s farewell tour. But this will certainly be Joe Girardi’s toughest test yet as a manager.

TAMPA BAY: It’s a major testament to what Andrew Friedman has built that he could lose BJ Upton, trade away James Shields and still be a favorite to win a division title. I don’t know if Fernando Rodney can do it again, but their rotation (which will probably be entirely homegrown once again) is the absolute class of the league and their offense should be great with a full healthy season of Evan Longoria. Even adding a malcontent like Yunel Escobar won’t derail the Rays.

TORONTO: Fighting for relevancy for years, the Blue Jays finally made some big moves to grab baseball’s attention. They added three new starting hurlers, an All-Star at shortstop and are taking a chance on Melky Cabrera. But I heard one interesting theory on these new-look Jays: They essentially combined two last-place teams for their 2013 squad. Will that equal success, with a manager in Jon Gibbons who always seemed overmatched his first time in Toronto?


CHICAGO: It won’t be surprising to see the White Sox contending once again, thanks in no small part to their solid if still fragile rotation. The top three in their rotation is gangbusters but health is usually a concern for Chris Sale and Jake Peavy. Adam Dunn is back to his old ways, Paul Konerko remains ageless, a very good OF of Dayan Viciedo, Alejandro de Aza and Alex Rios has formed. There’s no reason why this club won’t be in it all year.

CLEVELAND: The Indians are trying to win now. You don’t go out and hire Terry Francona, give up high draft picks for Swisher and Michael Bourn and trade for the likes of Drew Stubbs and Trevor Bauer without making an attempt to make the postseason for the first time since 2007. But it remains to be seen if their starting pitching will carry them to October. They’ve created a surplus of outfielders, one of whom could be dealt off for a starter if needed.

DETROIT: Despite some improvements to other teams in the division, it’s hard for me to see how the Tigers don’t win the Central again. They have the division’s best pitcher and best hitter, added a still-relevant Torii Hunter and are getting Victor Martinez back as another acquisition of sorts. The bullpen is an area of concern but they have enough talent back there I’m confident it’ll sort itself out. My money is on the insane Phil Coke taking the closer job.

KANSAS CITY: Like Toronto, KC finally realized they needed to do SOMETHING to be relevant. Wil Myers is totally legit and I don’t think the Royals got the better of that trade, yet Shields is a strike-throwing, bad-ass mofo ace. They have a dangerous lineup and a fine back-end of their bullpen with four legit closing options. But past Shields they have no one in the rotation they can rely on. That will keep them from finishing in the top half of the division.

MINNESOTA: The Twins have hit a rough patch after many years of consistent success. The reason? Their usually solid starting rotation has dried up in terms of talent. Their ace was supposed to be Scott Diamond and he’s starting the year on the shelf after elbow surgery. That their next best starter is probably Vance Worley doesn’t bode well for their chances of losing fewer than 90 games. Does Joe Mauer go to bed at night wondering why he signed that extension?


HOUSTON: I am not going to get used to the idea of the Astros being in the AL for a long, long time. But for now, it doesn’t really matter. There is absolutely, unequivocally no chance the Astros lose fewer than 100 games this year. In fact, they’ll defy expectations this year by losing fewer than 120 games. That’s how bad they truly are. Yet, strangely, it’s a franchise that’s headed in the right direction overall after so many years with no hope.

LOS ANGELES: With the signing of Josh Hamilton, the Angels can now sport three of the greatest baseball talents of the last decade-plus in one lineup. The best days of Hamilton and Albert Pujols are probably in their rearview, but that can’t overshadow the best days of Mike Trout that hopefully lie ahead. After not retaining Zack Greinke, their rotation has question marks. I’m not sure if there’s enough here to overtake the other two strong teams in this division.

OAKLAND: The 2012 A’s defied all the odds, pulling off a miraculous comeback to get to the playoffs, winning a round before bowing out to Detroit. Billy Beane did not rest, remaking his middle infield and adding the underrated John Jaso to catch. Oakland has a tremendous bullpen and a potentially devastating starting rotation. Yoenis Cespedes will be a super-duper star this year. They should not need another miracle to contend all season.

SEATTLE: It’s always the same story with the Mariners: so much pitching prowess but nowhere near enough pop to be a real threat. I can’t see the story changing much this year. Felix Hernandez remains the best pitcher in this division and Tom Wilhelmsen is the best closer you’ve never heard of. But unless the likes of Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley find their way at the plate (all had sub-.300 OBPs last year), they won’t get out of the cellar in 2013.

TEXAS: I feel like people are sleeping on the Rangers this year, and probably with good reason after dropping Hamilton and Mike Napoli, trading away Michael Young, losing the Greinke sweepstakes and with Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz coming back from surgery. But Ron Washington seems expert at getting the most out of his guys. There’ll be excitement when Jurickson Profar, the sport’s top prospect, gets regular playing time at some point this year.