NEW YORK YANKEES
2011: 97-65, 1st place (lost to Detroit in division series)
Manager: Joe Girardi (4th season)
He’s Here: LHP Andy Pettitte, RHP Michael Pineda, RHP Hiroki Kuroda, DH Raul Ibanez
He’s Outta There: C Jorge Posada, RHP A.J. Burnett, RHP Bartolo Colon, RHP Hector Noesi, RHP Luis Ayala, RHP Aaron Laffey, C Jesus Montero
Projected Lineup: SS Derek Jeter (.297, 6 HRs, 61 RBI, 16 SB, .355 OBP, 84 runs), CF Curtis Granderson (.262, 41, AL-best 119 RBI, 25 SB, AL-best 136 runs), 2B Robinson Cano (.302, 28, 118, 104 runs), 3B Alex Rodriguez (.276, 16, 62 in 99 games), 1B Mark Teixeira (.248, 39, 111), DH Raul Ibanez (.245, 20, 84, .419 slugging percentage for Philadelphia) or Andruw Jones (.247, 13, 33), C Russell Martin (.237, 18, 65), RF Nick Swisher (.260, 23, 85), LF Brett Gardner (.259, 7, 36, AL high-tying 49 SB)
Rotation: LH CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.00 ERA, 237 1-3 IP, 230 Ks), RH Michael Pineda (9-10, 3.74, 171, 173 Ks for Seattle), RH Hiroki Kuroda (13-16, 3.07, 202, 161 Ks for Los Angeles Dodgers), Freddy Garcia (12-8, 3.62 ERA), RH Phil Hughes (5-5, 5.79), RH Ivan Nova (16-4, 3.70), LH Andy Pettitte (14-8, 4.16, 194 2-3 IP in 2010)
Key Relievers: RH Mariano Rivera (1-2, 1.91 ERA, 44 saves in 49 chance, 60Ks in 61 1-3 IP), RH David Robertson (4-0, 1 save, 1.08, 100 Ks in 66 2-3 IP), Rafael Soriano (2-3, 4.12), LH Boone Logan (5-3, 3.46, 41 2-3 IP)
Hot Spots: An abundance of starting pitchers, with seven for five slots after Pettitte decided to come back after a one-year retirement. Among Hughes, Nova and Garcia, one appears headed to the bullpen or the minors for the start of the season, with another to exit if Pettitte is ready to join the rotation sometime in April. Nova looked awful in early spring training games, while Hughes appeared to be rebounding from an injury-filled 2011. Robertson thinks he will be ready for opening day after missing time in spring training when he tripped on a staircase at home. Soriano, who missed much of 2011, is back to challenge Robertson for the setup role. Joba Chamberlain was ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation from elbow ligament replacement surgery but he dislocated his ankle in a trampoline accident and is likely lost for the season. Jeter, who turns 38 in June, hopes his season will resemble what he did last year starting the day he got his 3,000th hit (.338/.392 OBP/.451 slugging) rather than before (.280, .321, .329). Rodriguez, who turns 37 in July, hopes to play in 140 games for the first time since 2007. Ibanez, moving up I-95, replaces Posada as the designated hitter against RHP. Swisher and Martin hope for big seasons going into free agency.
Outlook: Especially with the possibility the third-place team in the AL East can go to the playoffs, the Yankees are well positioned for their 17th postseason berth in 18 years. But with the pinstripes, anything less than first place is not acceptable – especially since wild cards will meet in a one-game knockout round New York would rather avoid. With a clubhouse filled with older players, health will be a key. New York is looking for Jeter, A-Rod and Teixeira to rebound offensively, for Granderson to come close to his career-best season of last year and for Ibanez to produce as a platoon DH.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
2011: 91-71, 2nd place, AL wild card (lost to Texas in division series)
Manager: Joe Maddon (7th season)
He’s Here: 1B Carlos Pena, OF Luke Scott, RHP Burke Badenhop, RHP Fernando Rodney, C Jose Molina, INF Jeff Keppinger
He’s Outta There: DH/OF Johnny Damon, C Kelly Shoppach, C John Jaso, 1B Casey Kotchman, 1B Dan Johnson, OF Justin Ruggiano, RHP Juan Cruz, RHP Andy Sonnanstine
Projected Lineup: LF Desmond Jennings (.259, 10, 25, 20 SB in 63 games), CF B.J. Upton (.243, 23, 81, 36 SB), 2B Ben Zobrist (.269, 20, 91), 3B Evan Longoria (.244, 31, 99), 1B Carlos Pena (.225, 28, 80 with Chicago Cubs), DH Luke Scott (.220, 9, 22 in 64 games with Baltimore), RF Matt Joyce (.277, 19, 75), C Jose Molina (.281, 3, 15 in 55 games with Toronto), SS Sean Rodriguez (.223, 8, 36 in 131 games)
Rotation: RH James Shields (16-12, 2.82 ERA, 225 Ks in 249 1-3 innings), LH David Price (12-13, 3.49, 218 Ks in 224 1-3 IP), RH Jeremy Hellickson (13-10, 2.95 in 29 starts), LH Matt Moore (1-0, 2.89 in 3 appearances/1 start), Jeff Niemann (12-8, 4.39)
Key Relievers: RH Kyle Farnsworth (5-1, 2.18, 25/31 in 63 games), RH Joel Peralta (3-4, 2.93 in 71 games), LH J.P. Howell (2-3, 6.16), RH Burke Badenhop (2-3, 4.10 with Marlins), RH Fernando Rodney (3-5, 4.50, 3 saves with Los Angeles Angels), LH Jake McGee (5-2, 4.50), LH Cesar Ramos (0-1, 3.92), RH Wade Davis (11-10, 4.45 in 29 starts)
Hot Spots: Coming off their third playoff appearance in four years, the Rays entered spring training with few roster spots or position competitions at stake. The biggest decision Maddon faced was whether Moore, who was Tampa Bay’s most effective pitcher in the playoffs after making his big league debut in late September, will open the season in the starting rotation. And if so, whether Niemann and Davis would move to the bullpen. The only other unanswered question was whether Rodriguez or Reid Brignac, who struggled at the plate last season, would be the regular shortstop. Upton will begin the season on the disabled list after injuring his back in a collision with Jennings, who is one of the candidates to fill in at center field.
Outlook: Surprisingly, the Rays were able to address their biggest off-season priorities without giving up anyone from one of baseball’s youngest and deepest starting pitching rotations. Executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman bolstered the offense this winter with the acquisition of free agent sluggers Pena and Scott, who’ll add power to the lineup without costing the Rays defensively. Badenhop and Rodney were added to an already solid bullpen that flourished after being rebuilt a year ago, when Tampa Bay lost six relievers to free agency. The off-season moves didn’t create splashy headlines, but Maddon and Friedman are confident they will help the budget-minded Rays remain competitive with the big-spending Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the rugged AL East.
BOSTON RED SOX
2011: 90-72, 3rd place
Manager: Bobby Valentine (1st season)
He’s Here: OF Ryan Sweeney, OF Cody Ross, RHP Andrew Bailey, RHP Mark Melancon, C Kelly Shoppach, INF Nick Punto
He’s Outta There: RHP Tim Wakefield, C Jason Varitek, RHP Jonathan Papelbon, SS Marco Scutaro, RF J.D. Drew, OF Josh Reddick, RHP Dan Wheeler, LHP Erik Bedard
Projected Lineup: CF Jacoby Ellsbury (.321, 32, 105, 119 runs, 39 SB), 2B Dustin Pedroia (.307, 21, 91, 102 runs, 26 SB), 1B Adrian Gonzalez (.338, 27, 117), 3B Kevin Youkilis (.258, 17, 80), DH David Ortiz (.309, 29, 96), C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.235, 16, 56), LF Cody Ross (.240, 14, 52 with San Francisco), RF Ryan Sweeney (.265, 1, 25 with Oakland), SS Mike Aviles (.255, 7, 39 in 91 games)
Rotation: LH Jon Lester (15-9, 3.47), RH Josh Beckett (13-7, 2.89), RH Clay Buchholz (6-3, 3.48 in 14 games), RH Daniel Bard (2-9, 3.33 in 70 relief appearances), LH Felix Doubront (0-0, 6.10 in 11 relief appearances)
Key Relievers: RH Andrew Bailey (0-4, 3.24, 24/26 with Oakland), RH Mark Melancon (8-4, 2.78, 20/25 with Houston), RH Alfredo Aceves (10-2, 2.61 in 55 games, 51 in relief), LH Franklin Morales (1-2, 3.69)
Hot Spots: Bard must show he can make the transition from effective setup man to the rotation. Bailey has a formidable task to match Papelbon’s success with 219 saves in six seasons as Boston’s closer before signing a $50 million, four-year contract as a free agent with Philadelphia. Carl Crawford, after a disappointing first season as Boston’s left fielder, is likely to miss the start of the season while recovering from left wrist surgery. Aviles has gotten most of the work at shortstop after the Red Sox traded Marco Scutaro to Colorado in the off-season, but fielding whiz Jose Iglesias could take over the spot at some point this year.
Outlook: Valentine’s energetic style contrasts with the more laid-back approach of former manager Terry Francona. But will players chafe at Valentine’s tendency to criticize them publicly? He’s brought a new atmosphere after Boston went 7-20 in September and missed the playoffs on the final day of the regular season. He’s banned alcohol in the clubhouse but has praised players’ attitudes after reports that starting pitchers drank beer and ate fried chicken in the clubhouse. He also jabbed the Yankees in spring training – we’ll see what’s next in the rivalry. New GM Ben Cherington stayed away from big-money signings and added depth with second-tier players. That may not be enough in an improved AL East with the Yankees and Rays. Wakefield and Varitek retired after long, outstanding careers with the Red Sox, but their play had declined to the point where the team did not re-sign them.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
2011: 81-81, 4th place
Manager: John Farrell (2nd season)
He’s Here: RH Francisco Cordero, OF Ben Francisco, LH Aaron Laffey, C Jeff Mathis, LH Darren Oliver, RH Sergio Santos, INF Luis Valbuena, INF Omar Vizquel
He’s Outta There: RH Shawn Camp, RH Frank Francisco, OF Adam Loewen, C Jose Molina, RH Jon Rauch, INF Mark Teahen, OF Dewayne Wise
Projected Lineup: SS Yunel Escobar (.290, 11, 48), 2B Kelly Johnson (.270, 3, 9 in 33 games following trade from Arizona), RF Jose Bautista (.302, 43, 103, ML-leading 132 BB), 1B Adam Lind (.251, 26, 87), DH Edwin Encarnacion (.272, 17, 55), 3B Brett Lawrie (.293, 9, 25 in 43 games), CF Colby Rasmus (.173, 3, 13 in 35 games following trade from St. Louis), C J.P. Arencibia (.219, 23, 78), LF Travis Snider (.225, 3, 30 in 49 games)
Rotation: LH Ricky Romero (15-11, 2.92), RH Brandon Morrow (11-11, 4.72), LH Brett Cecil (4-11, 4.73), LH Henderson Alvarez (1-3, 3.53 in 10 starts), RH Dustin McGowan (0-2, 6.43 in five games)
Key Relievers: RH Sergio Santos (4-5, 3.55, 30/36 opportunities with White Sox), RH Francisco Cordero (5-3, 2.45, 37/43 opportunities with Cincinnati), LH Darren Oliver (5-5, 2.29 ERA with Texas), RH Casey Janssen (6-0, 2.26)
Hot Spots: Left field is Toronto’s only position battle. Will Snider’s strong spring be enough to vault him past incumbent Eric Thames for the starting role? With concerns about the depth of the rotation, the Blue Jays have been shopping around for a veteran arm to bolster the starting staff. Santos, a converted infielder, is coming off his first season as a full-time closer and remains an unproven commodity. But with veterans Cordero and Oliver backing him up, Toronto’s bullpen is in better shape than it has been in several years. Vizquel made the roster, a month before his 45th birthday after an excellent spring training.
Outlook: They’re sporting a new look this season, a throwback to Toronto’s glory years of back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and ‘93. But it’ll take more than updated uniforms to get the Blue Jays back in the playoffs for the first time in almost two decades, even with an expanded postseason format. Toronto needs consistency from its starting rotation, dependability from its rebuilt bullpen and advancement from young stars such as Arencibia and Lawrie if it hopes to contend for a wild-card berth in the competitive AL East. Another power-packed season from Bautista wouldn’t hurt, either.
2011: 69-93, 5th place
Manager: Buck Showalter (2nd full season)
He’s Here: LH Wei-Yin Chen, LH Dana Eveland, RH Jason Hammel, RH Matt Lindstrom, LH Tsuyoshi Wada, C Taylor Teagarden, 2B Matt Antonelli, OF Endy Chavez, CF Jai Miller, INF Wilson Betemit, INF Ryan Flaherty, LH Dontrelle Willis
He’s Outta There: DH Vladimir Guerrero, LF Luke Scott, C Jake Fox, OF Felix Pie, RH Chris Jakubauskas, RH Jeremy Guthrie, LH Jo-Jo Reyes, RH Rick VandenHurk
Projected Lineup: LF Nolan Reimold (.247, 13, 45 in 87 games), SS J.J. Hardy (.269, career-high 30, 80 in 129 games), RF Nick Markakis (.284, 15, 73), CF Adam Jones (.280, career-high 25, 83), C Matt Wieters (.262, 22, 68), 3B Mark Reynolds (.221, 37, 86, 196 Ks), 1B Chris Davis (.276, 2, 13 in 31 games with Baltimore after trade with Texas), DH Wilson Betemit (.285, 8, 46 in 97 games with KC and Detroit), 2B Robert Andino (.263, 5, 36 and team-high 13 SB)
Rotation: RH Jake Arrieta (10-8, 5.05 before season-ending elbow surgery in August), LH Wei-Yin Chen (combined 36-30, 2.48 over four seasons in Japan), RH Tommy Hunter (4-4, 4.68), RH Jason Hammel (7-13, 4.76 with Colorado), LH Brian Matusz (1-9, 10.69)
Key Relievers: RH Jim Johnson (6-5, 2.67, 9/14), RH Kevin Gregg (0-3, 4.37, 22/29), RH Matt Lindstrom (2-2, 3.00, 2 with Colorado), LH Tsuyoshi Wada (16-5, 1.51 in Japan in 2011), LH Dana Eveland (3-2, 3.03 in five starts with Los Angeles Dodgers)
Hot Spots: Leadoff hitter and two-time All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts is still working his way back from a concussion that kept him sidelined for most of the 2011 season. That means the Orioles will again have to count on Andino to start, even though he’s best suited to be a utility player. Andino led the team in steals with 13 – an indictment of the team’s overall lack of speed. Roberts’ absence also increases the pressure on Reimold, previously a part-time player who has been handed the starting job in left field along with the leadoff role.
Outlook: Between Hardy, Jones, Reynolds and Wieters, the Orioles have enough power to compete with the big boys in the AL East. The problem is the pitching, again a huge question mark. If newcomers Chen, Wada and Hammel hold their own in a new league, and if Arrieta and Matusz bounce back from injury-troubled seasons, Baltimore’s starting rotation will survive the loss of workhorse Jeremy Guthrie. But the back end of the bullpen remains suspect, given that Gregg struggled in 2011 and Johnson has not yet proven he has the mindset needed to close out a tight game. New executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and the Orioles won’t be a contender in 2012 as they celebrate the 20th anniversary of Camden Yards, but if they can avoid injuries and get some decent pitching they could snap an embarrassing streak of 14 consecutive losing seasons.
2011: 95-67, 1st place (lost to Texas in ALCS)
Manager: Jim Leyland (7th season)
He’s Here: 1B Prince Fielder, RHP Collin Balester, RHP Octavio Dotel, C Gerald Laird
He’s Outta There: 3B Wilson Betemit, 2B Carlos Guillen, OF Magglio Ordonez, RHP David Pauley, RHP Brad Penny, RHP Ryan Perry, 2B Will Rhymes, LHP Brad Thomas, RHP Joel Zumaya
Projected Lineup: CF Austin Jackson (.249, 10 HRs, 45 RBI, 22 SB), RF Brennan Boesch (.283, 16, 54), 3B Miguel Cabrera (.344, 30, 105), 1B Prince Fielder (.299, 38, 120 with Milwaukee), DH Delmon Young (.268, 12, 64 with Minnesota and Detroit), C Alex Avila (.295, 19, 82), SS Jhonny Peralta (.299, 21, 86), LF Andy Dirks (.251, 7, 28 in 78 games), 2B Ryan Raburn (.256, 14, 49)
Rotation: RH Justin Verlander (24-5, 2.40 ERA, 250 Ks, won AL pitching Triple Crown, MVP and Cy Young), RH Doug Fister (11-13, 2.83 – 8-1 after trade from Seattle), RH Max Scherzer (15-9, 4.43), RH Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.75)
Key Relievers: RH Jose Valverde (2-4, 2.24, 49 saves in 49 chances), RH Joaquin Benoit (4-3, 2.95), RH Octavio Dotel (5-4, 3.50 with Toronto and St. Louis), LH Phil Coke (3-9, 4.47), RH Al Alburquerque (6-1, 1.87)
Hot Spots: There is no fifth starter yet but it’s down to left-handers Duane Below and Drew Smyly, but it’s a race between two players who have yet to establishe themselves at the major league level. Cabrera’s move to third base – to make room for Fielder at first – will be scrutinized, especially after a bad-hop grounder broke a bone below his eye. Brandon Inge is trying to move from third to second in hopes of finding a spot in the lineup. Inge’s bat (he hit .197 last year) might be more of an issue than his glove. Jackson struck out 181 times in 2011 but the Tigers don’t seem to have many other options at the leadoff spot.
Outlook: With Verlander, Cabrera and Fielder, the Tigers have three MVP candidates in their primes, and after winning the AL Central by 15 games last season, Detroit feels its window of opportunity is now to make a World Series push. After losing Victor Martinez to a severe knee injury, the Tigers signed Fielder to a $214 million, nine-year contract in January. Beyond the front-line stars, Avila and Peralta were among the game’s best hitters at their positions in 2011, and Valverde and Benoit were tough to beat late in games. There are some concerns – defense and team speed among them – but there’s been an unmistakable buzz surrounding the Tigers ever since Fielder showed up in Motown.
2011: 80-82, 2nd place
Manager: Manny Acta (3rd season)
He’s Here: RHP Derek Lowe, 1B Casey Kotchman, INF Jose Lopez, RHP Kevin Slowey, RHP Dan Wheeler, OF Russ Canzler, OF Aaron Cunningham, RH Jairo Asencio
He’s Outta There: OF Austin Kearns, RHP Jensen Lewis, RHP Mitch Talbot, INF Luis Valbuena, RHP Alex White
Projected Lineup: CF Michael Brantley (.266, 7, 46, .318 on-base percentage), SS Asdrubal Cabrera (.273, 25, 92, 17 SB), RF Shin-Soo Choo (.259, 8, 36 in 85 games), C Carlos Santana (.239, 27, 79, 133 Ks), DH Travis Hafner (.280, 13, 57), 1B Casey Kotchman (.306, 10, 48 for Tampa Bay) 2B Jason Kipnis (.272, 7, 19 in 36 games), LF Shelley Duncan (.260, 11, 47) 3B Jack Hannahan (.250, 8, 40, 5 errors in 296 chances)
Rotation: RH Ubaldo Jimenez (4-4, 5.10 ERA in 11 starts after trade from Colorado), RH Justin Masterson (12-10, 3.21, 216 innings), Josh Tomlin (12-7, 4.25), Derek Lowe (9-17, 5.05 for Atlanta), Jeanmar Gomez (5-3, 4.47)
Key Relievers: RH Chris Perez (4-7, 3.32, 36/40), RH Joe Smith (3-3, 2.01, 71 games), RH Vinnie Pestano (1-2, 2.32 ERA – 1.13 in last 25 games), LH Rafael Perez (5-2, 3.00), RH Dan Wheeler (2-2, 4.38 with Boston)
Hot Spots: Jimenez didn’t live up to the hype last season, failing to pitch like an ace after the Indians dealt four prospects to Colorado for him at the trading deadline. The 28-year-old must bounce back for Cleveland to have any chance of competing for a playoff spot. The soft-spoken Jimenez has not had a good spring, but he insists he’s healthy after beginning last season with two injuries and happy to be in Cleveland. He may be the most important piece of the Indians’ puzzle. Choo, too, must rebound from injuries and perform the way he did in 2011, when he was one of the AL’s top outfielders. Choo has turned down several long-term contract offers. He can be a free agent after this season.
Outlook: A shocking start in 2011 was followed by an equally unexpected collapse. The Indians were a feel-good story for most of the season. They were still within 5½ games of first on Aug. 1 when it all came crashing down, mostly because of injuries. The club used the disabled list 22 times and only had Hafner, Choo, Cabrera and Grady Sizemore – Cleveland’s four most established hitters – in the same lineup for 17 games. Acta has his players believing they can not only contend again this season, but run down Detroit and win the AL Central. To do that, they’ll have to stay healthy and youngsters like Brantley (filling in for the oft-injured Sizemore), Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall have to take it up a notch. Of the teams who could benefit most from the expanded playoff format, the Indians are near the top of the list.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
2011: 79-83, 3rd place
Manager: Robin Ventura (1st season)
He’s Here: Manager Robin Ventura, INF Osvaldo Martinez, RHP Jhan Marinez, RHP Nestor Molina, RHP Simon Castro, LHP Pedro Hernandez
He’s Outta There: LHP Mark Buehrle, OF Carlos Quentin, OF Juan Pierre, RHP Sergio Santos, RHP Jason Frasor
Projected Lineup: CF Alejandro De Aza (.329, 4, 23, 12 SB in 54 games), C A.J. Pierzynski (.287, 8, 48), RF Alex Rios (.227, 13, 44), 1B Paul Konerko (.300, 31, 105), DH Adam Dunn (.159, 11, 42, 177 Ks), SS Alexei Ramirez (.269, 15, 70), LF Dayan Viciedo (.255, 1, 6 in 29 games), 3B Brent Morel (.245, 10, 41), 2B Gordon Beckham (.230, 10, 44)
Rotation: LH John Danks (8-12, 4.33), RH Jake Peavy (7-7, 4.92 in 18 starts), RH Gavin Floyd (12-13, 4.37), LH Chris Sale (2-2, 2.79 in 58 relief appearances), RH Phil Humber (9-9, 3.75)
Key Relievers: LH Matt Thornton (2-5, 3.32, 3), RH Jesse Crain (8-3, 2.62, .215 batting average against), LH Will Ohman (1-3, 4.22), RHP Zach Stewart (2-5, 6.22 in 10 games), RH Addison Reed (0-0, 3.68 in six games)
Hot Spots: Peavy was roughed up early in spring training after being shut down early last season. Bothered by injuries since coming to Chicago, is he healthy enough to regain the form from his Padres days and help compensate for the loss of the durable Buehrle? And can the hard-throwing Sale make the transition from the bullpen to the rotation? The real question, one that will likely determine the team’s success, is whether Dunn, Rios and Beckham can bounce back from sub-par seasons, especially Dunn, who just missed by a few plate appearances of having the lowest batting average in modern ML history. Thornton blew four straight saves in April last season, losing the closer’s job that he will likely re-inherit.
Outlook: With Detroit adding Prince Fielder, the White Sox will be hard-pressed to win the AL Central, especially if Dunn doesn’t get straightened out. Viciedo will finally get his chance to be an everyday player in the majors and counted on to make up for the run production of the departed Quentin. Danks got a new contract to be the ace but must avoid his slow start – 0-8 – of a year ago when he didn’t win for the first two months. Ventura’s personality couldn’t be more different from the man he replaced, Ozzie Guillen. His laid-back personality and his approach were greeted favorably in spring training, but he takes over a team that lost its ace (Buehrle) and closer (Santos). Konerko, at age 36, will be entering his 14th season with Chicago and is coming off a stellar year, one the White Sox will need again.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
2011: 71-91, 4th place
Manager: Ned Yost (3rd season)
He’s Here: RHP Jonathan Broxton, LHP Jonathan Sanchez, C Humberto Quintero, OF Jason Bourgeois, LHP Jose Mijares, INF Yuniesky Betancourt
He’s Outta There: CF Melky Cabrera, LH Jeff Francis
Projected Lineup: LF Alex Gordon (.303, 23, 87, 17 SB), 2B Johnny Giavotella (.247, 2, 21 in 46 games), 1B Eric Hosmer (.293, 19, 78), DH Billy Butler (.291, 19, 95), 3B Mike Moustakas (.263, 5, 30 in 89 games), RF Jeff Francoeur (.285, 20, 87, 20 SB), C Salvador Perez (.331, 3, 21 in 39 games), CF Lorenzo Cain (.273, 0, 1 in 6 games), SS Alcides Escobar (.254, 4, 46)
Rotation: LH Bruce Chen (12-8, 3.77), RH Luke Hochevar (11-11, 4.68), LH Jonathan Sanchez (4-7, 4.62 with San Francisco), RH Felipe Paulino (4-6, 4.11 after 0-4, 7.36 with Colorado), Luis Mendoza (2-0, 1.23 in two starts will fill in to start season with Paulino on DL), LH Danny Duffy (4-8, 5.64)
Key Relievers: RH Joakim Soria (5-5, 4.03, 28/35 out for year), RH Aaron Crow (4-4, 2.76), RH Jonathan Broxton (1-2, 5.68 with Los Angeles Dodgers), RH Greg Holland (5-1, 1.80), RH Louis Coleman (1-4, 2.87), LH Tim Collins (4-4, 3.63), LH Jose Mijares (0-2, 4.59 with Minnesota), LH Everett Teaford (2-1, 3.27)
Hot Spots: The Royals will likely start the season with five players on the disabled list. Perez had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and could be out until July, forcing the Royals to get Quintero in a trade with Houston. Soria will undergo reconstructive elbow surgery April 3 and is out for the season. The Royals are also keeping a close eye on Sanchez, who had a series of injuries last season with San Francisco, and Broxton, who missed most of last season with the Dodgers. Kansas City avoided the injury bug while getting its kids some experience last year, but it’s already reared its head this spring.
Outlook: The Royals return virtually the entire roster they had at the end of last season, when the average age on some nights was 24 years old. They dealt Cabrera for Sanchez in an attempt to improve a mediocre pitching staff, but they also believe that Cain can become a star in the outfield. He was part of the trade that sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee a couple years ago. If the pitching holds up and a young nucleus of Hosmer, Moustakas and Escobar can fulfill massive expectations, the Royals might have what it takes to make a playoff run for the first time since winning the 1985 World Series. Even being in the race at the break – Kansas City hosts the All-Star game this year – would be a vast improvement.
2011: 63-99, 5th place
Manager: Ron Gardenhire (11th season)
He’s Here: SS Jamey Carroll, OF Josh Willingham, RHP Jason Marquis, C-DH Ryan Doumit
He’s Outta There: OF Michael Cuddyer, RHP Joe Nathan, OF Jason Kubel, RHP Kevin Slowey
Projected lineup: CF Denard Span (.264, 2, 16 in 284 ABs), SS Jamey Carroll (.290, 0, 17 with Los Angeles Dodgers), C Joe Mauer (.287, 3, 30 in 296 ABs), 1B Justin Morneau (.227, 4, 30 in 264 ABs), RF Josh Willingham (.246, 29, 98 with Oakland), DH Ryan Doumit (.303, 8, 30 in 218 ABs with Pittsburgh) or Trevor Plouffe (.238, 8, 31 in 286 ABs), 3B Danny Valencia (.246, 15, 72), LF Ben Revere (.267, 0, 30, 34 SB), 2B Alexi Casilla (.260, 2, 21 in 323 ABs)
Rotation: RH Carl Pavano (9-13, 4.30), LH Francisco Liriano (9-10, 5.09), RH Scott Baker (8-6, 3.14), RH Nick Blackburn (7-10, 4.49), RH Jason Marquis (8-6, 4.43 with Washington and Arizona)
Key relievers: RH Matt Capps (4-7, 4.25, 15/24), LH Glen Perkins (4-4, 2.48), LH Brian Duensing (9-14, 5.23, 28 starts), RH Anthony Swarzak (4-7, 4.32)
Hot Spots: The trainer’s room will be the first place to look at midseason when determining whether the Twins are back on track from their 99-loss debacle of last year. Mauer and Morneau are the franchise cornerstones and former AL MVPs who together take up more than one-third of the payroll, and they combined for just seven homers in 2011 while spending most of the season on the disabled list. Their health and productivity is paramount to this team’s success in returning to pennant contention, as is to a lesser extent Span’s. He also missed a big chunk of last year with injuries. The bullpen is the next area to keep an eye on, after a majors-worst collective 4.51 ERA by the relievers last season. After being booed off the mound at home during several blown saves last year, Capps is back to be the closer. Duensing moves from the rotation as another late-inning lefty to complement Perkins. But others must emerge from a group of unproven options to help keep the team afloat.
Outlook: Well, the Twins can’t fare much worse than last year. That’s the upside to 2012. Mauer and Morneau have been full participants in spring training, so that’s progress so far, too. Prospects like Joe Benson and Chris Parmelee are hanging around, waiting for their opportunity to be major league regulars, should someone falter or get hurt again. Willingham will be asked to replace Cuddyer at the plate and in the field, but Cuddyer’s lost leadership will leave a void. Whether it’s pitching, hitting or fielding, from fundamentals to special skills, the Twins struggled in every area last season. General manager Terry Ryan’s return to his old role has helped restore some optimism. The division is better than it used to be, though, so the Twins have a lot of improvements to make even if they stay healthy to be the annual contenders they were over the last decade.
2011: 96-66, AL champions (lost to St. Louis in World Series)
Manager: Ron Washington (6th season)
He’s Here: RHP Yu Darvish, RHP Joe Nathan
He’s Outta There: LHP C.J. Wilson, INF Andres Blanco, LHP Darren Oliver
Projected Lineup: 2B Ian Kinsler (.255, 32 HRs, 77 RBI, 121 runs, 30 SB, .355 on-base percentage), SS Elvis Andrus (.279, 5, 60, 37 SB), CF Josh Hamilton (.298, 25, 94), 3B Adrian Beltre (.296, 32, 105), DH Michael Young (.338, 11, 106), RF Nelson Cruz (.263, 29, 87), C Mike Napoli (.320, 30, 75), LF David Murphy (.275, 11, 46), 1B Mitch Moreland (.259, 16, 51)
Rotation: RH Colby Lewis (14-10, 4.40 ERA), LH Derek Holland (16-5, 3.95), RH Yu Darvish (18-6, 1.44, 276 Ks/36 walks in 232 IP in Japan), RH Neftali Feliz (2-3, 2.74, 32/38 saves as closer), LH Matt Harrison (14-9, 3.39) or RH Scott Feldman (2-1, 3.94 in 11 games/2 starts in return from microfracture surgery on right knee)
Key Relievers: RH Joe Nathan (2-1, 4.84, 14 saves in 48 games with Minnesota), RH Mike Adams (2-3, 2.10 in 27 games after acquired from San Diego), RH Alexi Ogando (13-8, 3.51 in 31 games/29 starts), RH Mark Lowe (2-3, 3.80, 1), RH Yoshinori Tateyama (2-0, 4.50), LH Michael Kirkman (1-1, 6.59)
Hot Spots: Feliz in rotation, OF positions. This time, Feliz is going into the rotation. The hard-throwing righty was stretched out last spring for that possibility, but was needed more as a closer. The back end of the bullpen was bolstered this winter with the signing of Nathan, four-time All-Star who appears fully healthy again after elbow surgery in 2010. Feliz’s final appearance last season was in Game 6 of the World Series, when he was within a strike of a championship-clinching victory before allowing a tying two-out, two-run triple in the ninth inning of an 11-inning loss. Cruz is set in right field, but the rest of the outfield depends on if Hamilton plays center or more in left, which the Rangers did last season and seem to prefer. Murphy has gotten more than 400 at-bats in each of the past four years as primarily the fourth OF. Julio Borbon could get another shot as the starting CF, while Craig Gentry and Cuban standout Leonys Martin are also option.
Outlook: For the second year in a row, the Rangers lost their No. 1 pitcher in free agency after losing in the World Series. Wilson had moved up in the rotation when fellow lefty Cliff Lee departed after 2010, but then last December took a five-year deal from the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels. The Rangers countered by signing Darvish, Japan’s top pitcher, to a six-year contract that cost them more than $107 million. The 6-foot-5 right-hander had a 1.99 ERA over the past seven seasons in the Pacific League, and he’s only 25. The top-hitting lineup in the majors is basically unchanged, though Hamilton is going into the final season of his contract. After facing Albert Pujols in last year’s World Series, Texas will have to get by him this year to win another AL West title. Pujols is now with the Angels, making it tougher, but that hasn’t changed the confidence of the Rangers to pursue their third consecutive AL pennant.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
2011: 86-76, 2nd place
Manager: Mike Scioscia (13th season)
He’s Here: 1B Albert Pujols, LHP C.J. Wilson, C Chris Iannetta, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, INF Jorge Cantu, OF Ryan Langerhans, LHP Brad Mills
He’s Outta There: C Jeff Mathis, RHP Joel Pineiro, RHP Tyler Chatwood, INF Russell Branyan, OF Reggie Willits
Projected Lineup: SS Erick Aybar (.279, 10, 59, 30 SB), DH Bobby Abreu (.253, 8, 60, .365 slugging), 1B Albert Pujols (.299, 37, 99 with St. Louis), RF Torii Hunter (.262, 23, 82), 2B Howie Kendrick (.285, 18, 63), 3B Alberto Callaspo (.288, 6, 46), LF Vernon Wells (.218, 25, 66), C Chris Iannetta (.238, 14, 55 with Colorado), CF Peter Bourjos (.271, 12, 43, 22 SB)
Rotation: RH Jered Weaver (18-8, 2.41, 198 Ks), RH Dan Haren (16-10, 3.17, 192 Ks), LH C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.94, 206 Ks with Texas), RH Ervin Santana (11-12, 3.38, 1 no-hitter), RH Jerome Williams (4-0, 3.68, 6 starts)
Key Relievers: RH Jordan Walden (5-5, 2.98, 32 saves in 42 chances), RH LaTroy Hawkins (3-1, 2.42 ERA with Milwaukee), RH Hisanori Takahashi (4-3, 3.44), RH Scott Downs (6-3, 1.34), RH Jason Isringhausen (3-3, 4.05 with New York Mets)
Hot Spots: With Pujols taking over at first base, 2011 rookie sensation Mark Trumbo has been learning third base in spring training. Although he’s still working on his defense, the Angels’ leader in homers and RBI last year could be sharp enough to take over from Callaspo early. Abreu also might be fighting for at-bats if Kendrys Morales stays on course for a healthy return from a near two-year absence with an injured ankle. Promising young OFs Bourjos and Mike Trout could fight for playing time if Trout makes the roster out of Arizona. The fifth spot in the rotation is up for grabs with Williams slowed by spring hamstring troubles, so Garrett Richards, Trevor Bell, Brad Mills and Eric Hurley all have a shot.
Outlook: The Angels might have the AL’s best rotation led by Cy Young runner-up Weaver, and their lineup looks good around Pujols, arguably the game’s best hitter, a three-time NL MVP and last fall’s World Series slugger. Anything less than a good playoff run will be a major disappointment in Orange County, and the Angels’ veteran core isn’t shying away from expectations. Keep an eye on Iannetta, who will attempt to shore up the Angels’ awful offensive production at that position last season while learning his new pitching staff. If he stumbles, Hank Conger might get a chance to build on his strong spring after failing to seize the position in 2011. Scioscia is quietly confident Los Angeles has all the ingredients of a championship ballclub that can knock two-time league champion Texas off its perch atop the AL West – and new right-hander Wilson added fuel to the rivalry this month when he tweeted Rangers C Mike Napoli’s phone number. The Angels are ready to roll into the most anticipated season in franchise history.
2011: 74-88, 3rd place
Manager: Bob Melvin (2nd season)
He’s Here: OF Manny Ramirez, OF Yoenis Cespedes, RHP Bartolo Colon, LF Seth Smith, RF Josh Reddick, OF Jonny Gomes, RHP Jarrod Parker, LHP Tom Milone, RHP Brad Peacock, OF Collin Cowgill, RHP Ryan Cook
He’s Outta There: RHP Trevor Cahill, LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP Andrew Bailey, OF Ryan Sweeney, LHP Craig Breslow, RHP Guillermo Moscoso, LHP Josh Outman, C Landon Powell
Projected Lineup: 2B Jemile Weeks (.303, 2, 36, 22 SB), SS Cliff Pennington (.264, 8, 58), LF Coco Crisp (.264, 8, 54, 49 SB), CF Yoenis Cespedes (.458, 2, 5 in 6 games in 2009 World Baseball Classic for Cuba), DH Seth Smith (.284, 15, 59, 32 2Bs for Colorado), C Kurt Suzuki (.237, 14, 44), RF Josh Reddick (.280, 7, 28 for Boston), 1B Brandon Allen (.205, 3, 11), 3B Josh Donaldson (.261, 17. 70 in Triple-A)
Rotation: RH Brandon McCarthy (9-9, 3.32, 4.92 K/BB), RH Bartolo Colon (8-10, 4.00), LH Tom Milone (1-0, 3.81 in 5 starts with Washington; 12-6, 3.22, 9.69 K/BB in Triple-A), RH Tyson Ross (3-3, 2.75), RH Graham Godfrey (1-2, 3.95 in 5 games; 14-3, 2.68 in minors) or RH Brad Peacock (2-0, 0.75 in 3 games with Washington; 15-3, 2.39 in minors)
Key Relievers: RH Grant Balfour (5-2, 2.47, 2/7), LH Brian Fuentes (2-8, 3.70, 12/15), RH Joey Devine (1-1, 3.52), RH Fautino De Los Santos (3-2, 4.32)
Hot Spots: Third base. The already depleted A’s lost starting 3B Scott Sizemore to a torn ACL in his left knee early in spring training. That forced Oakland to turn to Donaldson, a converted catcher who last regularly played third base as a junior at Auburn.
Outlook: After trading away top starters Gonzalez and Cahill and closer Bailey in the off-season, it looked as if there would be little excitement surrounding the A’s until they found out whether they could move to San Jose. Then general manager Billy Beane outbid the competition to sign Cuban defector Cespedes to a $36 million, four-year contract that immediately injected some life into the team – Cespedes hit his first big league homer in Tokyo on Thursday, helping the A’s earn a split of their season-opening, two-game series against Seattle. Beane also signed Ramirez, who must sit out the first 50 games for a second violation of baseball’s drug policy. The mostly unproven rotation could get a boost when Dallas Braden (shoulder) and Brett Anderson (elbow) return from injuries. But the good news the A’s really want to get is for Major League Baseball to allow them to move to San Jose, where a new stadium will help them compete with big spenders in their division like Texas and the Los Angeles Angels.
2011: 67-95, 4th place
Manager: Eric Wedge (2nd season)
He’s Here: C/DH Jesus Montero, RHP Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP Kevin Millwood, RHP Hector Noesi, LHP George Sherrill, C John Jaso
He’s Outta There: RHP Michael Pineda, RHP David Aardsma, INF Adam Kennedy
Projected Lineup: 3B Chone Figgins (.188, 1, 15 in 81 games), 2B Dustin Ackley (.273, 6, 36 in 90 games), RF Ichiro Suzuki (.272, 5, 47, 40 SB), 1B Justin Smoak (.234, 15, 55), DH Jesus Montero (.328, 4, 12 in 18 regular season games with New York Yankees), LF Mike Carp (.276, 12, 46 in 79 games), C Miguel Olivo (.224, 19, 62), CF Michael Saunders (.149, 2, 8 in 58 games), SS Brendan Ryan (.248, 3, 39)
Rotation: RH Felix Hernandez (14-14, 3.47), LH Jason Vargas (10-13, 4.25, 3 shutouts), RH Blake Beavan (5-6, 4.27), LH Charlie Furbush (4-10, 5.48 – 3-7, 6.62 with Seattle), RH Hisashi Iwakuma (6-7, 2.42 in 17 starts with Rakuten in Japanese League)
Key Relievers: RH Brandon League (1-5, 2.79, 37/42), LH George Sherrill (3-1, 3.00 in 51 games for Atlanta), RH Shawn Kelley (0-0, 0.00 in 10 appearances coming back from arm surgery)
Hot Spots: Moving Suzuki out of the leadoff spot is a risk/reward decision by Wedge. The reward comes if Figgins can revitalize his career and be more like the Figgins that was in Anaheim and not the one who struggled the past two seasons in Seattle. Ackley and Carp face the expectation of trying to back up the promise each showed last year. Smoak is under significant pressure to prove that last year was more about major distractions that hounded him all season and that he can return to being a power-hitting prospect the Mariners got when they gave up Cliff Lee.
Outlook: Wedge admittedly was tightlipped with criticism as some of his youngsters struggled through his first season. But after a year of learning the organization, Wedge says he now has a baseline for expectations and will be more likely to call out his players when they’re not performing. Seattle was unable to solve its offensive problems in free agency, so it’s clear its future will be built around Montero, Smoak, Ackley and Carp in the hopes that foursome can anchor Seattle’s batting order for years to come. Hernandez again leads the pitching staff, but what has Seattle excited is the prospects of pairing the former AL Cy Young winner with a foursome of young arms – Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Erasmo Ramirez – that are all likely a year away. With Texas and the Angels both making huge off-season moves, Seattle’s ceiling is probably third place in this division, but it needs to be progressive improvement from a year ago if the expectation of contending in '13 and '14 is to remain realistic.
– Associated Press