Get ready for a 2012 season with J.J. Cale’s After Midnight as the theme song. On many nights, the best baseball will be played in the Pacific time zone, with the Rangers, Angels, Diamondbacks, Giants and Dodgers creating must-see TV after much of the country has gone to bed.
With Yu Darvish expected to sign with the Rangers and Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson already with the Angels, the American League West should give us the type of power struggle we have been used to in the AL East during the wild-card era. The punch-counterpunch approach that general managers Jon Daniels of the Rangers and Jerry Dipoto of the Angels have taken in building their respective rosters underscores a significant change to the baseball landscape.
While teams in the East continue to spend money, the balance of power has shifted to the West in both leagues. The Yankees beat the Phillies in the 2009 World Series, and the year before that the Phillies beat the Rays. That seemed a normal order of things, given baseball’s East-to-West pattern of spending. But three of the last four pennant winners have been from the West, and there’s no doubting the seriousness of the competition out there.
TALENT SHIFT: There are still a lot of moves to be made this off-season, of course. Prince Fielder is still on the market, as are many quality free-agent pitchers such as Hiroki Kuroda, Joe Saunders and Edwin Jackson.
But there has been a decidedly western migration pattern, led by Pujols’ $254 million deal with the Angels and the Rangers’ winning of the rights to sign Darvish. In terms of significant players, the AL West and National League West stand alone in adding more talent than they’ve lost thus far.
AL West teams have added Wilson (Angels), Joe Nathan (Rangers), LaTroy Hawkins (Angels), Chris Iannetta (Angels) and George Sherrill (Mariners) in addition to the two big guys. NL West teams have added Trevor Cahill (Diamondbacks), Michael Cuddyer (Rockies), Jason Kubel (Diamondbacks), Chris Capuano (Dodgers), Huston Street (Padres), Melky Cabrera (Giants), Ramon Hernandez (Rockies), Edinson Volquez (Padres) and Tyler Chatwood (Angels).
WILD-CARD ROUTE: We still don’t know if baseball is going to have one or two wild cards in each league next season – the longer this goes without an announcement, the more it looks like the expanded format won’t be used until 2013 – but we can say this: Teams from the American League East better win the division if they want to get into the playoffs.
Finishing second in the AL East has gotten the Red Sox (seven wild-card appearances), Yankees (four), Rays and Orioles into the playoffs 13 of 17 tries in the wild-card era, which began in 1995. But after quiet, seemingly content offseasons in terms of roster activity, the Yankees and Red Sox have allowed themselves to become surprisingly less relevant.
NL WEST FIREWORKS: The NL West could be even more entertaining than the AL West.
The Diamondbacks seem determined to repeat the division title they won behind the new management team of GM Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson, trading for Cahill and signing Kubel to play left field even though incumbent Gerardo Parra won a Gold Glove last season. The Diamondbacks have a deep rotation with Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Cahill and Josh Collmenter, with 2011 first-round pick Trevor Bauer expected to come fast.
A healthy Buster Posey should restore the Giants’ threat as they still have the collection of power pitchers (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Brian Wilson) that carried them to the World Series championship in 2010.
And the Dodgers are coming off a season in which they sported the Cy Young Award winner (Clayton Kershaw) and almost had the MVP (Matt Kemp). GM Ned Colletti has added more parts than anyone this offseason so the franchise should be stronger once the ongoing sale is completed.