While a week has passed, I can't honestly say I am in a different frame of mind with my projections then I was a week or two ago. In fact, teams have simply cemented what I already thought of them in most cases, with the exception of the Marlins - whom I still don't trust.
This will be brief, but hopefully it gets the ball rolling on further posts.
1. Toronto Blue Jays - Last year I had the Jays taking second and winning the wild card, this year I have them winning what is easily the toughest division in baseball, and arguably North American sports. The Jays were 5 games below .500 before Cito Gaston arrived and ended the season 6 games above - that's an 11 game turn around in a little over half the season. Projecting a 90 win season out of the Jays is easy, projecting 95 games will rely on a decent amount of luck.
Offensively the Jays are deep, Travis Snider and Adam Lind fill holes that the team had for more then half of last year, Vernon Wells and Scott Rolen need to stay healthy, and Aaron Hill will provide a marked improvement over the Eckstein/McDonald mess that the Jays went with for much of last year. Gaston pushes a more aggressive style at the plate which certainly helped the Jays in the second half of last year.
What the Jays Need? Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum aren't coming back, that's the end of that. Why not kick the tires of Pedro Martinez?
2. Boston Red Sox - I simply cannot deny it, the depth of the Sox bullpen and rotation makes them a feirce opponent whom no one would want to face. Offensively the Sox are deep but are aging and have some major holes (see Varitek and Lowrie). The Sox shouldn't expect Pedroia and Youkilis to repeat 2008, but they will be spectacular hitters no matter what.
What is scary about this Sox team is the fact that this could quite possibly be the club's worst team over the next decade.
What the Sox Need?Forget tradition, forget being faithful, Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield should no longer be taking on vital roles within this organization. The Sox have fine replacements for both players and they should be using them.
3. Tampa Bay Rays - On paper this team is as good as any, where they have offensive weaknesses, they have defensive gems. The club has a deep rotation and bullpen with plenty of backups within the system.
I am cautious in not putting the Rays in second and fighting for the wild card considering all that went wrong for this club in 2008, but I simply prefer the Jays and Sox over the course of 162 games. Despite ranking 3rd, I feel Tampa Bay is the best team in baseball and will make it very close, with the potential at winning the division if the Jays and Sox hit some road blocks.
What the Rays Need? Not much really. If anything they need to make some organization decisions like the one they made with Jason Hammel. Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus recently proposed a situation where the Rays move Scott Kazmir to the Indians for Carlos Santana, this is the sort of active move I would expect the Rays to make.
4. New York Yankees - I know, they added a lot, but they also took a lot away. In all, I see what the Yanks did as moving parallel rather then advancing. Long term they are in a better situation, but for today we're looking at an old team where one missing part could end their season.
With the focus shifting towards defensive play the Yanks did well in cutting ties with Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu, but this team is still weak in most areas with the glove.
In addition, their "ace" is somewhat of an enigma. Certainly Charles Carstens' run with Milwaukee makes him appear as a legitimate ace, but consider that was in the National League. Further, while Sabathia has had a nice career, consider the division and opponents he has, for the most part, faced. That is, all but one of the ballparks in the American League Central is pitcher friendly. Not only that, but CC has had the luxury of facing the terrible Royals and prior to 2006, the terrible Tigers on an annual basis. In other words, leaving the Central is only going to hurt the big guy.
What the Yanks Need? Health. If this club is healthy, they can hit with anyone. If they suffer the expected bumps and bruises of a team with an average age well into the 30s, expect another season of disappointment in the Bronx.
5. Baltimore Orioles - The "Next Year's, This Year's" Rays have a team that won't roll over, at least offensively. In terms of pitching, the O's are set up to let their young guns arrive at the show as soon as they are ready - both Matusz and Tillman will make their Major League debuts sooner then later this season.
Despite the right direction, the Orioles are still a few pieces, and a year (atleast) away from being a true competitor. Put this team in the National League, and we've got a different story. In the men's league, the tough division of the men's league, not so much.
What the O's Need? Don't screw this up, things are heading in the right direction and your fanbase is getting excited for the franchise to show up. A hot start will be lucky and treated as a learning experience.
1. Cleveland Indians - Homer alert! Truth be told, I do not like the way the Indians are currently set up. Offensively they are fine, although I feel as though a good lefty could shut them down. Defensively they are adequate, they have their holes, just as they have their strengths. The bullpen has a lot invested in it, both money and youngsters, and should be able to hold its own. Where the Tribe are lost is with their rotation, that is filled with maybe's and if's and nothing certain, not even within the organization.
That said, I am hesitant to place the Indians atop the division, and do so simply because of my personal biases. In addition to that, I simply cannot see another team in this division being worthy of winning, each having their own major flaws.
What the Tribe Need? Every season I preach the same line, "Let the best play". The Indians, more so then any team in the Major Leagues will keep their players down in the lower levels for what must feel like an eternity. At some point, Matt LaPorta is going to be talking with Mat Gamel and asking him what the show feels like, despite the fact that LaPorta is the far more advanced player.
There were very few who figured that LaPorta wouldn't have been the better Opening Day option in left then Ben Francisco, unfortunately those few are making the decisions in Cleveland.
2. Chicago White Sox - I actually really like this team. The rotation goes 5 strong and I am a big fan of the bullpen. Offensively the ChiSox are old, but with enough promising hitters to even out any drop in production. In addition to this, the Sox are the anti-Tribe in that they will promote their prospects even if they aren't ready. Fortunate for them, Gordon Beckham is ready.
What the Sox Need? A drink from the fountain of youth. If Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, and/or Paul Konerko begin to really show their age, this team is doomed. If that trio can stave off aging for one more year, watch out!
3. Detroit Tigers - Admittedly, the Tigers are alright. Having Cabrera and what he can do with the stick will help even the most hopeless of clubs. The Tigers, are slightly more hopeless, having a nice offensive unit and an improved defensive club.
The issue is with pitching and what to expect from the pitchers. The fact that there are question marks from top to bottom with their arms means the Tigers are rolling the dice that they aren't entering every series expecting an out and out slug fest.
What the Tigers Need? Zumaya to come back healthy and for the rest of the bullpen to simply fall into place. If the Tigers can lean on their bullpen it will take some pressure off of the starters who aren't overly conservative with their pitch counts to begin with.
4. Kansas City Royals - This is built entirely off of promise, and the hope that everything lines up accordingly. Out of spite, I wanted to place the Royals in 5th, as Dayton Moore is showing a total disregard for modern baseball analysis.
That being said, the Royals have a fine pitching staff that will steal a series or two. Their hitters, while inferior to the rest of the division, are good enough to win them the occasional 2-1 game.
What the Royals Need?A new leader who has a single plan, rather then a few plans that are half hearted to begin with. Consistent at bats need to be given to their young emerging stars, and innings need to be ripped from their old, lousy veterans.
5. Minnesota Twins - I don't trust them, I don't love what they have, I just can't see them being a team that can contend in what has become a deep, albeit mediocre division. The thing is, no Mauer is a tough pill to swallow. Add to the fact this club has a young rotation that may need to rely on the bullpen, and it just doesn't seem like a formula for success.
I must admit, this was as much of a coin toss as it is an educated decision. The club still has some nice hitters, and defensively they are fine (without Delmon in the lineup), but this isn't enough to save them from being the bottom feeder of this division. Keep in mind, by "bottom feeder" I am referring to the club being an 80 win team in a division being won by an 88 win team.
What the Twins Need? Some help to their bullpen. As much as I am a homer for Canadian born players, Jesse Crain is not the guy you want handing the ball to Joe Nathan. Pat Neshek was, but he is out for the year. This team would be well served to add an arm or two to the bullpen.
1. L'Anaheim Angels - The other teams in this division simply are not ready to compete at the level of the Angels. While they aren't the team they were in 2008 (which was a very lucky team), they are still the class of a weak division. The Angels don't really have any strengths, but they also lack that glaring weakness.
The addition of Bobby Abreu was an excellent one for a team that lacked on base and power. Abreu isn't going to win another home run derby, but he still has fine power. Missing Lackey and Santana has started the Angels off on the wrong foot, but they should be able to sustain the losses, as long as they don't go too far into May.
I suppose this is as good of a time as any to mention the loss of Nick Adenhart. As someone who lost a friend at an early age to tragic incident, there really isn't anything that can be said that hasn't been said, or that will add some comfort to what happened.
What the Halos Need? To play this game with Adenhart on their minds. It has to be impossible to go about regular business, but that is what the club needs to do. They need to play this year for Adenhart.
2. Seattle Mariners - I know, crazy, right? Well I don't think so. This team shed a lot of bad weight and has fine hitters and quality defenders around the diamond. I can't understand why they didn't swoop in and scoop up Dallas McPherson, however, the M's may have their sights set on the #1 pick in the 2010 draft, maybe hoping that Strasburg is too difficult to sign?
That said, the Mariners are in a division with holes. The Angels aren't really that good, and both the A's and Rangers are without reliable starters. This would be quite the improvement, but there are still a lot of things that I like about this team. Don't forget the duo at the top of the rotation, one that is arguably as good as any in the American League.
What the Mariners Need? Depth/Power. The outfield is defence first. Griffey Jr adds some power and should be an adequate designated hitter, but first base is a black hole, and their left fielder is more of a bench player then a guy who deserves 600+ plate appearances.
3. Oakland Athletics - If this club had even one pitcher that could be relied on, say Joe Blanton, then I might have them atop the division. I like what they have, specifically in the bullpen, and offensively they are solid, but the rotation is a year away.
I'm typically not a "names" guy. I am, however, concerned about what a player has done, and what I believe they are capable of doing. Trevor Cahill, for example, has a fine career ahead of him. But how can a team expect a pitcher that has walked nearly 4 hitters per 9 innings to at the lower levels of the minors to succeed at the big league level?
What the A's Need? You guessed it, pitching. Find some cheap, "reliable" pitching, and this club could make some noise. Stand pat, and I have a feeling they are in for some major trouble.
4. Texas Rangers - The Rangers have a plan, one that seems very positive. Unfortunately the pitching is a year behind. The club has nothing to worry about, however, as the next two or three years should have them standing alone in the division.
Offensively the Rangers are stacked. This lineup is dangerous, one that has me sitting my starting pitchers when they go up against the Rangers in fantasy baseball. Defensively the club is fine, not spectacular, but fine. The pitching, however, is dreadful - for now.
What the Rangers Need? Time. They may be tempted to rush things with Holland and Feliz, and they may be justified in doing so. However, if the club is not going to make a legitimate run at the playoffs, there isn't any need to push up the service clock of those two.
As I did last year, I will be reflecting on these projections at the All Star Break and season's end.