First Addition: March 5, 2011

Early Spring Training

1. BOSTON RED SOX  89-73  NR

The 2010 Red Sox finished 3rd in the AL east after being decimated by injuries. This off season the club added Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, two highly talented offensive and defensive players. Bobby Jenks was also added to strengthen the bullpen and provide insurance for Jonathan Papelbon. Adrian Beltre left the club and Kevin Youkilis will replace him at 3rd base. Essentially, the club replaced Beltre's bat with the acquisition of Gonzalez. Josh Beckett and Jon Lackey should have improved seasons after a disappointing 2010 campaign.  


The 2010 Phillies won the NL East and crushed the Cincinnati Reds in the divisional round of playoffs before being sent home by the eventual world champion Giants. The Phillies made perhaps the biggest splash of the off season by signing Cliff Lee and adding him to a rotation that features Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. The key loss of the winter was Jason Werth who signed with Washington. This may be a big loss as the lineup is heavily left handed. Offense however should not be a problem as the everyday lineup will have six former All Stars.


The remaining 28 teams, including the Twins after the jump.


The World Series champion Giants return the same strong starting rotation that led them to the title last season. The questionable offense still remains. A full season with Buster Posey should help, but another big bat would go along way for this club. The only key loss of the off season was Juan Uribe who has been replaced by Miguel Tejada.

4. TEXAS RANGERS  90-72   NR

The 2011 Rangers beat the Rays and the Yankees along the way to the franchises first ever World Series appearance. The club boasts the reigning AL MVP in Josh Hamilton. Adrian Beltre was added at 3rd base. He is a gold glove caliber defender and a streaky hitter that has the ability to carry a team for weeks at a time. With a healthy season from Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler, this could be the best offensive team in MLB.  GM Nolan Ryan and MGR Ron Washington were able to get the most out of a largely unknown pitching staff in 2010, a feat that may be a challenge to duplicate.


In 2010 the Twins won their second consecutive AL Central title, and their sixth in the last nine seasons.  After remarkable seasons in 2010, Jim Thome and Carl Pavano return to the club along with new second base / short stop acquisition  Tsuyoshi Nishioka.  The Twins said goodbye to SS J.J. Hardy and 2B Orlando Hudson, along with relievers Matt Guierrier and Jessie Crain. Former MVP Justin Morneau is looking to return to form after missing 81 games last season with a season ending concussion. All Star closer Joe Nathan also returns after missing all of 2010 with Tommy John surgery. Joe Mauer and Francisco Liriano should be in dominant form. Look for the Twins to potentially three-peat with the improved White Sox and Tigers to follow.


The Yankees were the AL Wild Card winners in 2010, finishing just one game behind division champion Tampa Bay.  After making a run at, and failing to acquire, Cliff Lee during the winter, the Yankees pitching staff looks thin entering 2011. Andy Pettitte retired; leaving Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre as the 4th and 5th starters. The Offense is still very strong, but it is aging fast. Robinson Cano should put up MVP caliber numbers again.  The bullpen added Rafael Soriano as the set up man and heir apparent to Mariano Rivera.


The presence of 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto, projected continued improvement of Jay Bruce, emergence of Aroldis Chapman, and a full and healthy season from Edison Volquez put the Reds back as class of the NL Central entering 2011. The club has pitching depth and a very strong offense. The departure of Orlando Cabrera will be filled by the combination of Paul Janish and newly acquired Edgar Renteria.


Always a dangerous team, the Rockies have 3 of the most exciting young players in baseball in Cy Young Candidate Ubaldo Jimenez and MVP candidates Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. The Rockies bullpen will be a big question mark entering 2011. Huston Street will be the closer with the primary setup man being the inconsistent Matt Lindstrom.  


The Braves pushed the Phillies in the second half of 2010 eventually coming up a bit short and finishing second in the NL East.  Closer Billy Wagner has retired. Slugger Troy Glaus was not resigned. But all is not lost. Veteran star Chipper Jones is back after a season ending ACL injury.  Rookie of the Year runner up Jason Heyward should improve on his 18 HR and 72 RBI season. The Braves also signed power hitting second baseman Dan Uggla. The consistent starting pitching of Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe return. Phenom Craig Kimbrel will get a shot at closing.

10. CHICAGO WHITE SOX   88-74   NR

Always active in the off-season, the White Sox added slugger Adam Dunn and were in on many other free agents. They have a solid line-up, provided Alex Rios’ resurgence wasn’t a fluke and Carlos Quentin can stay healthy. Gordon Beckham remains a wild card.  Starting Pitching is solid again. The bullpen has power arms, but no proven closer. Jake Peavy needs to prove he can pitch a full season. If these things come together, the White Sox will challenge for the Central Division title.


With the acquisition of Ace Zack Greinke along with Shaun Marcum, combined with young star Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers just may have the pitching to get back to post season play in 2011. The offense should be just fine with Braun, Fielder, Hart, McGehee and Weeks.  Closer, and mustache enthusiast, John Axford anchors a potentially shaky bullpen.  Depth may also be an issue if injuries become a factor.


The Tigers finished third in the AL Central in 2010. Looking to improve, they have added slugger Victor Martinez, reliever Joaquin Benoit, and starting pitcher Brad Penny. Magglio Ordonez will look to improve on a disappointing season. Miguel Cabrera may be the best overall hitter in the American League and Justin Verlander looks to have another Cy Young caliber season. Lack of consistency has plagued this club over the last couple seasons. Rick Porcello, Joel Zumaya, Ryan Raburn and Brennan Boesch are just some of the players that have shown brilliance and have baffled with severe struggles. If the Tigers can get everything going, they could easily see the post season.


The Angels will vastly improve with the return of Kendry Morales for 2011. Newly added Vernon Wells will give the Angels a solid middle of the order along with Morales, Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreau. Starting pitching is strong with Jared Weaver, Dan Hared, Ervin Santana and Joel Pineiro. Scott Kazmir rounds out the rotation and will look to improve on two consecutive poor seasons.


The A's are a big sleeper in 2011. Their top four starters combined for a 3.16 ERA in 700 Innings last season. Average age? 23.5 years old. They added the oft-injured Rich Harden to the mix for 2011. Their offense was what let them down last year, but they’ve helped that somewhat by adding Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham. I still believe they need to add at least one significant bat (and maybe two) to be a real threat to the Rangers in 2011.


The Dodgers underachieved in 2010. The ownership situation is a mess. The Manny Ramirez experience came to an end. Matt Kemp had a bit of a down year. Rafeal Furcal only played 97 games, and closer Jonathan Broxton struggled. The Dodgers added Juan Uribe to start at second and Marcus Thames to platoon in left and add some pop off the bench. But the potentially biggest addition is starter Jon Garland. The rotation will be strong. The question is can the offense score enough runs for the Dodgers to compete with the Giants and Rockies?


In another division, the Orioles may have been legit contenders this season. With some major additions joining the fold in 2011, the starting lineup looks very strong. In are DH Vladimir Guerrero, 3B Mark Reynolds, 1B Derrek Lee and SS J.J. Hardy. They will join Luke Scott, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Brian Roberts and Matt Wieters  for what should be a powerful team that puts up a lot of runs. The top three starting pitchers are pretty solid too. The problem is the last two starters and the bullpen look very weak. This may be the year this club jumps to third in the AL East behind the Red Sox and the Yankees.


Albert Pujols is the best player in baseball. Matt Holiday is an All Star, and Colby Rasmus is an up and coming star. The problem is that the rest of the offense is almost non existent. The Cards did add Lance Berkman in hopes of a return to his (near) All Star form. I predict something much closer to his 2010 season total of .248/14/58. The biggest problem however, is the loss of Cy Young runner-up Adam Wainwright to season ending shoulder surgery. Combine this loss and the potential distraction of the Albert Pujols' looming free agency, and this drops a team with legitimate hopes of winning the NL Central to a team that will likely finish around .500.

18. CHICAGO CUBS  75-87  NR

The Cubs had yet another sub-par year in 2010. 2011 brings the additions of Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, and the return of Kerry Wood. They may be somewhat improved with these additions and full seasons from Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto, and a (mentally) prepared Carlos Zambrano. I don't see this club contending in the NL Central and if they are not contending in August, look for them to dealing.


Josh Johnson is a stud, and the rest of the starting rotation is fairly solid. Hanley Ramiriez is amongst the best hitters in the game, and Mike Stanton has Super Star written all over him. Chris Coghlan is a mystery. After a breakout 2009, Coghlan's stat line plummeted. Which guy will come to play in 2011? The rest of then offense is very limited, and the bullpen is shaky at best.

20. TAMPA BAY RAYS  96-66  NR

After winning the AL East and finishing with the best record in the American League in 2010, the Rays have gone through a fire sale over the winter. Gone are Carl Crawford, Jason Bartlett, Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano, Matt Garza, Joaquin Beniot and Grant Belfour. New players include the aging Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. Evan Longoria is a super star, but the rest of the offense may struggle quite a bit. The starting pitching remains strong and could keep the Rays in the race for a while, but the bullpen is not good, and will really hurt an offensively challenged team.  Look for this to be the year the Rays fall back (to maybe to 4th or 5th) in the division.


Toronto won 85 games last year an finished 4th in the strong AL East. I don't expect a better finish in 2011. Gone is long time Blue Jay Vernon Wells and his monster contract. Jose Bautista had a career year by blasting 54 home runs (his previous career high was 16!). I don't think anyone can realistically expect a repeat performance. The starting pitching and bullpen are okay, but that isn't nearly good enough in the AL East.


The Nationals signed Jayson Werth to a monster long term contract over the winter, and also added Rick Ankiel. The loss of Adam Dunn is a big one. Dunn can be counted on for 40 HR and 100 RBI every year. Those are big shoes to fill. Ryan Zimmerman is among the best third basemen in MLB. Without Stephen Strasburg, the rotation relies on the seemingly 50 year old Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis. 2011 won't be great in Washington, but 2012 might be a lot of fun with the return of Strasburg and possible arrival of top prospect Bryce Harper.

23. NEW YORK METS  79-83  NR

The Mets are in big financial trouble. The owners are looking to sell a significant portion of the club and will likely be trying to trade away salaries when the Mets are out of contention. This team and its star players have been stricken with significant injuries for what seems like years and years. Johan Santana is out until at least July. Carlos Beltran, Jose Rayes and Jason Bay are all coming off injuries or sub par seasons. It looks to be a long year in Queens.


After just failing to with the NL West in 2010, the Padres have taken a big step back in 2011, and are in full-on rebuilding mode. Gone is All Star slugger and stellar defender Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox. Also departing was Chris Young to the Mets. Orlando Hudson is in at second base and and Jason Bartlett at short stop. Brad Hawpe will be replacing Gonzalez at first. Matt Latos is a star in the making and Heath Bell is a commodity that could fetch a steep price at the trade deadline. The Padres will be in a fight to stay out of the basement in the West.


The positives? The Mariners have Felix Hernandez and Ichiro Suzuki. King Felix might be the best pitcher in baseball, and Ichiro is, well, Ichiro. The Negatives? The Mariners have virtually nothing else to write home about. After accumulating the worst record in the AL in 2010, it would take a near miracle for the M's to avoid a last place finish again in 2011.


The Royals are bad. But there is hope. Billy Butler is a legit hitter. Kila Ka'aihue has big time power. Joakim Soria may become the best closer in the game. Will Luke Hochevar and Alex Gorden reach their potential? Who knows. Read what  Baseball Prospectus wrote before the Zack Greinke trade: [i]This is not just the best minor-league system in baseball, it’s the best by a wide margin. The more I wrote about these prospects, the more trouble I had figuring out any way for things to go wrong. Another winning record could occur as early as 2012, but more importantly, the team should return to annual playoff contention shortly thereafter.
[/i] That is some high praise and should bring at least a glimmer of hope to Royals fans.


The D-Backs are in all out sale mode, even looking to trade Justin Upton. Stephen Drew, Chris Young and Kelly Johnson are good players. That's about it. This club looked like a team on the rise just a couple years ago, now in for a long rebuilding process.


Hunter Pence and Brett Myers are the Astros best players. Carlos Lee is old and on the decline. This team will be lucky to win 70 games in 2011. Not much to be excited about in Houston.


The Indians have one very good over all player in Shin-Soo Choo. One beat up and often injured former star in Grady Sizemore (who hasn't played a full season or been remotely productive since 2008). One quality pitcher in Fausto Carmona. And one excellent youngster in Carlos Santana. This will win the Indians about 65 games again this season. Cleveland may currently be the saddest sports city in America.


Pittsburgh has a couple of nice young players in Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker, but the Bucs have absolutely no pitching to speak of. It will be another losing season in the steel city. A record 19th in a row.  For whatever fans the club has left, the 2010 draft was a strong one for the Pirates. Maybe these players will be able to break the losing streak; in for or five years.

So this is how I see things as Spring Training is underway. How do you have the teams ranked? Which teams do you see as new contenders and which teams will be falling out of the playoff picture?  Who are your favorites to head to the Fall Classic? I will be excited to read what you have to say.
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