This is the year the Yankees crash and burn.
Remember when MLB’s best teams were in the East? The times they are a’ changin’. Don’t believe the hype about the Nationals and the Blue Jays; for the first time in many years, there really is no favorite in either league, and any of a number of teams could conceivably win the division. In fact, things will be so competitive that it’s possible that, as teams beat up on each other, no wild card winner will come from the East. One more thing—Yankees’ haters are going to get their wish; I think the Boys from the Bronx are going to finish dead last in the AL East in 2013.
National League East: The Nationals are the consensus pick in the NL East, and several analysts pick them to go to the Series and win the whole enchilada. The pitching is deep—any combination of Detweiler, Haren, and Duke are fighting for a place in the rotation—but there are also question marks. Is Gonzalez a steroid fraud? Can Strasburg go more than a 140 innings and stay healthy? Can Jordan Zimmerman be an ace if he has to be? Count me among the doubters of the Nat’s lineup, though I like Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond a lot. Harper has to prove to me he’s the NL’s Mike Trout, Span is just an average player, Werth is maddeningly inconsistent, and I’d shocked if LaRoche comes close to duplicating his 2012 numbers. This team could win; it could tank—badly.
If they do, the Braves have hope, though its staff of Beachy, Medlin, Teheran, Maholm, and Hudson is what the term “yeoman-like” was invented to describe. The Braves can only hope that 37-year-old Hudson is ace for one more year. They are also hoping the B.J. and Justin Upton finally play up to their scouting reports—they never have!—otherwise, they join Jason Heyward in an outfield that can star in Slackers II. McCann is a gem, but there are holes at shortstop, Uggla may be out of gas, and Freeman needs to hit for a higher average. This is a team full of possibility that I think will win the division, but I’d not bet the farm on them.
While everyone has been debating the geriatric nature of the Yankees, the Phillies were the team that grew old fast. This year the outfield will be young, but is anyone impressed by Revere, Delmon Young, and perpetual prospect Domonic Brown? (What do the Phils see in Brown? It’s eluded me.) Then you have guys in their twilight years (Utley, new pickup Michael Young) and several who look older than they are: Howard (33), Rollins (34). Still, unless they break down completely, a 1-3 staff of Halladay, Lee, and Hamels is awesome, and Papelbon gets it done as closer. But the Phils are too fragile to endure the long season.
As for the Mets, New York fans need to understand it’s going to take some time to undo the team's fallout from the Madoff-induced financial meltdown. It was smart to unload 38-year-old Dickey at the top of his market value, and the Mets should probably do the same with other high-priced assets (Wright, Santana, Buck, Marcum) because none of them will be there when the rebuilding is over. The Marlins? Screw them and owner Jeff Loria. I hope the franchise fails, Loria goes bankrupt, and weeds grow from the abandoned stadium. The Fish are owned by a jerk, play in a city where no one cares, and are a collection of nobodies, guys that are too old, those that are no good, and those who won’t be there by trade deadline. (Sayonara, Giancarlo Stanton.)
American League East: I would love to see a revival of baseball in Toronto, but I’m baffled why analysts have conceded the AL East to the Jays. The team’s big moves were to bring in guys who led the Marlins to a last-place finish–in the inferior NL East. Scouts once lusted for Josh Johnson, but he was 8-14 last year and was banished to the bullpen. Buehrle, the only player they picked up other than Melky Cabrera that has actually played in the AL, was just 13-13 last year. How will R. A. Dickey fare in the AL? For all the hype, Romero--despite his recent demotion to the minors--and Morrow might still end up as the team’s aces. The lineup can be fearsome—Batista, Rajal Davis, Rasmus, Lind, Encarnacion—but they need Lawrie to be healthy to anchor the hot corner. (You do not want Bautista there!) Jose Reyes? Okay, but let’s see how he does in the AL. Melky? Is there any reason not to think his numbers are chemically enhanced? I put him in the pee-in-the-cup three times a day category. The Jays should be better, but they can be beaten, and I don’t think they will win the AL East.
For all the Jays transactions and budget-prompted trade decisions, the Rays still have superior pitching: Price, Cobb, Hellickson, Moore, Niemann. Hate the bullpen–Farnsworth and Rodney make it more of a sty—but they probably won’t be needed all that much. I’d pick the Rays in a heartbeat if they hadn’t traded Shields. (Wil [sic] Myers had better be very good.) The question is always whether the Rays can score; as we saw last year, when Longoria gets hurt, the Rays lose. The team finally has an MLB shortstop (Escobar) but the lineup is still guys who start that ought to be utility players. Relocation is the thing standing between the Rays and a World Series ring. (Rumor holds that Montreal may be in the offing!)
Are the Orioles back? Maybe, but gears have to click in an exact sequence for 2012 to have been more than “lucky.” The good? Potentially MLB’s best outfield: Adam Jones, McLouth, Markakis. Two emerging studs: Machado and Wieters. The question marks? Health (Roberts, Markakis). A staff—Arieta, Chen, Hammel, Matusz, Tillman—that’s pretty good, but not real good. Look for the O’s to slip back.
The Red Sox might be better, but only if Lester and Buchholz pitch their reputations, and Lackey recovers his LA groove. Color me a doubter of Dempster or Harnahan adjusting easily to the AL. Health is a big concern—Napoli, Middlebrooks, Ortiz—and the outfield is a guy who can’t wait to get out of town (Ellsbury) and those who evoke a big meh! (Gomes, Victorino, Nava). If Jupiter aligns with Mars, the Sox might surprise. That could happen, though it’s just as likely that the trade van pulls up outside Fenway at the end of July. And, of yeah, John Farrell as the managerial answer? Based on what record?
The Sox should be better than the Yankees. The year everyone has predicted for the past five has arrived: the Yankees are too old. A-Rod’s atrocious contract handcuffed New York and will continue to do so until GM Brian Cashman figures out how to unload it. You will go to see the Yankees this year to pay tribute to Mo Rivera, the greatest closer in MLB history, to see Jeter’s inside-out swing, and to witness the probable last hurrahs of Ichiro, Kuroda, and Pettitte. Granderson, Jeter, A-Rod, and Teixeira are already on the disabled list, and Sabathia just came off. Pineda has yet to throw a single inning for NY. Youkilis, Wells, and Hafner? Ho hum. Welcome to the Bronx basement. Bet Cashman wishes he had traded with the Dodgers last summer. Codicil: If Hal Steinbrenner relents on the pledge to reduce the Yankees’ budget, New York will reload at the trade deadline and the Yankees will make one last run for nostalgia's sake.
NL East: Braves, Nationals, Phillies, Mets, Marlins
AL East: Rays, Jays, Red Sox (hunch), Orioles, Yankees