Sports Chat: It’s Never Too Early For Baseball
Chicago got its first snow of the Christmas season the other day, but I personally am not cold. I feel a nice summer breeze, and not just because Chicago White Sox GM Kenny Williams fired up the hot stove the other day. With the Yankees resigning Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera (there was never any doubt), the Red Sox trading for Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez, the Oakland Athletics trying to spend money, two of the last three Cy Youngs available, and a killer free agent unsigned, American League baseball is in full swing in December.
Looking forward, the 2011 American League pennant race should be one for the ages. Five teams look capable of winning 90+ games, with an additional five teams with the possibility of going on a playoff run. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers are at the top of the AL heap, with attention due to the Detroit Tigers, Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and possibly even the Toronto Blue Jays. Here’s why:
- New York Yankees: Armed with the most fiscal resources of any club, the Yankees can just buy whatever they want. They did it in 2008, and their poised to do it again (for Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford). Oh, and they’ve won 27 other World Series titles.
- Boston Red Sox: Possibly the best front office in the game, and the Adrian Gonzalez trade shows why. They plan on extended Gonzalez for around Mark Teixeira money (8 years, $180 million). Gonzalez is worth it, rest assured. They traded three of their better prospects in the deal (according to much smarter baseball people than myself) and are yet going to be able to restock their minor league system in the June draft from compensatory draft picks they will receive for letting catcher Victor Martinez and third baseman Adrian Beltre was as free agents and sign with other teams. The talent to make the deal, the money to pay the man to stay (through his prime), the ability to fulfill the minor league system to do the whole thing over again. AND they can still make a run at Carl Crawford (one of the two free agents I mentioned earlier).
- Minnesota Twins: Though the 95 wins were a bit high, the win total over 90 was not a surprise. This is a team that has always drafted and developed players well, continues to draft and develop well and will draft and develop well. They just have not always had the money to retain their talent when it hits the open market (Torii Hunter, Johan Santana, etc). Now they have money, what with the gorgeous Target Field). Scary thought.
- Chicago White Sox: Don’t sleep on this team. Yes, they only won 88 games last year, but they still had one of the best starting staffs in all of baseball. They just signed Adam Dunn to be the primary DH, their worst position in ’10. This cannot be overstated: Adam Dunn is exactly what this team was missing last year and once they resign Paul Konerko, this team is going to be very, very dangerous. Questions still exist around the bullpen, but the rotation, position players and bench are set. Look out.
- Texas Rangers: The league champs will be back. Whether or not they sign Cliff Lee, their drafting has allowed them (notice a theme here?) to put a wondrous group of young talent on the field. They need another starter, but with Elvis Andrews, League MVP Josh Hamilton and hard throwing Neftali Feliz, they’re right in the hunt.
Those five should be the best in the league, but they aren’t alone. With some luck, the following five will be right with them, or at least give them enough headaches during the year to make the summer sizzle. Though only one of these teams even came close to the playoffs in 2010 (the Rays), here’s why each is going to have fun in 2011:
- Detroit Tigers: Anytime you have an MVP-caliber player at first base and a potential Cy Young in the rotation, you’re going to be okay. When you add in an All-Star like Victor Martinez with Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, you’ve got a team that can (and will) give the White Sox/Twins headaches. The Tigers are probably looking at only 86-88 wins, but some of those are going to come against division foes. They’re in the mix, but the rest of the rotation has to step up.
- Tampa Bay Rays: Winning two of the last three AL East titles on a shoestring budget means you know what you’re doing. Losing Carl Crawford (probably to division rival New York or Boston) will hurt, but the farm system is stacked and they can free up some payroll by dealing either starter James Shields or Matt Garza.
- Oakland Athletics: The stingiest pitching staff in all of the American League last year, the question about the A’s will be if they can hit enough to win. They tried to get Adam Dunn and have been linked to Adrian Beltre, but moved on after hearing nothing. Huge home park makes scoring all the more difficult, but they’ve done more with less for a long time.
- Los Angeles Angels: Though these last two will need a bit more luck and roster movement to make the playoffs, they’re in the picture. It’s sort of hard to bet against an organization in the Angels that has missed the playoffs only twice since 2002, boasts of a rotation with Jered Weaver and Dan Haren (the classic not hot/hot combination) and Mike Scioscia as manager.
- Toronto Blue Jays: You have to feel for the Blue Jays. No way they will ever be able to spend what the Yanks and Sawx (different from the Sooox) do, and it’d take a substantial effort to be what the Rays are. The ray of light, however, is that their pitching staff does something you need to succeed: make people swing the bats. The Jays strikeout a ton of opposing batters, and if they can make a deal for disgruntled Royals ace Zack Grienke, then maybe, just maybe, they can give someone a run in the East. Going to take a lot of luck though.
So please, please, please (!) February, get here. I need my pitchers and catchers to report.
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