As we continue to watch for where two of the largest free agent pieces will fall into place in Max Scherzer and James Shields we will look at what expectations we should have with only two months from pitchers and catchers reporting for most clubs. After an incredible 2014 we march into 2015 with a surprising reigning American League Champion. So can Kansas City do enough to replace Billy Butler and James Shields to defend that title?
American League East
Baltimore, somewhat surprisingly ran away from the rest of the division in 2014 winning the East by 12 games. Markakis and Cruz are gone and Cruz’s 40 homers went with him. Can De Aza replace Markakis and will Machado return the same man?
The Yankees have made moves, but none of them are very Yankee like. They will return ARod as a DH, but how do you replace Brandon McCarthy and how in the world do you replace Jeter? So far the Yankees look as confused by these questions as the rest of us.
Toronto has made a flurry of moves with signings of Russell Martin and trading for Josh Donaldson being the cornerstone. Tampa loses Joe Maddon and with him their culture I believe. I’m not saying that Kevin Cash will be a bad manager, but I think it will take him more than a little while to get it going.
Boston has added Hanley Ramirez and Rick Porcello, but is that going to be enough to go worst to first again in this division, no. Boston is counting on their hitting with runners in scoring position and in clutch situations returning to 2013 form, there is no one explaining why they have this faith.
It appears from the outside looking in that Baltimore will return to the pack and Toronto will make an improbable run in this division and those two, not the Yankees not the Red Sox that will emerge from the east. If the Yankees end up landing Scherzer or Sheilds look for them to compete here to, they have the talent, but I still even with one of those arms think the division will come down to Baltimore and Toronto.
American League Central
This is the best and most active division in baseball top to bottom. Detroit and Kansas City both made the playoffs, the Indians were in it up until the end and the White Sox and Minnesota don’t appear willing to concede 2015.
Detroit replaces Porcello with Alfredo Simon, lose Sherzer but add Cespedes. On paper this team is worse, but Dave Dombroski is arguably the most aggressive GM in baseball, behind Brad Pitt in Oakland. The Royals lose Shields and Butler but add Morales, Rios, Medlen and Volquez without breaking up the vaunted HDH (Herrera, Davis, Holland) back end of the bullpen. The strong bullpen has only lost Crow, but will see Hochaver return from Tommy John.
The Indians add both Gavin Floyd and Brandon Moss. They will be better, problem is so will everyone else and they haven’t done enough to keep up with the Jones’. Because in the windy city the Sox have added Melky Cabrerra, Samardzija and Robertson making them more than just a little better
And while the Twins don’t seem a legitimate threat, they’ve gone after two highly sought after players Torii Hunter and Ervin Santana. This won’t be enough. This will be a three way race between Detroit, Kansas City and Chicago and expect two playoff teams and two teams that can win the whole thing to come out of this division.
American League West
While the Angels traded Howie Kendrick for young pitching, they’ll use Rutledge to replace him, this is really the Angels division to lose. So largely standing pat will serve them just fine. After losing what some argue was the best game ever played to the Royals in the AL Wild Card Billy Beane absolutely blew up the A’s, again, at this point are we really surprised? They’ve traded Donaldson, Samardzija, Moss and Norris. They’ve added Billy Butler.
Seattle sincerely seems lost in regards to their own weaknesses, unwilling to admit they have holes, what’s more confusing is the fan bases willingness to tap into their patience and see a playoff capable roster. They’ve added Nelson Cruz but can you really expect Cruz to have the output in Safeco that he did in Camden Yards?
Houston and Texas have both made some moves but both are more than three or four players from being legitimate contenders. Thankfully for Texas fans, they avoided getting swept into trying to require Hamilton who has been awful for the Angels. The Angels win the division and I don’t know that it’s close again this year.
The AL Champion resides in the Central
I believe the best division in the American League is the AL Central. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where two very good teams don’t emerge from this division. The Royals will start this season with an enormous 29 year old monkey off their back. Watching how those players react to that will be fun, but I don’t expect anyone to run away and hide. The East will be very different as you see new teams and players emerge. It’s no more about Boston and New York. The West is the Angels, the mad genius and three other teams. Here’s to a great 2015!