This baseball offseason was punctuated by a couple big trades and signings. The movement of former AL MVP and perennial All Star left fielder Josh Hamilton from the Rangers to the Angels was likely the biggest free agent signing along with the that of starting pitcher Zack Greinke by the Dodgers, who found themselves being the big spenders this year following the blockbuster Red Sox trade during the season which brought Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett. The Dodgers and the Angels are among the teams with the highest expectations, but there are several teams who are right there with them.
The Washington Nationals, who owned the best record in baseball last year, added two great pitchers, starter Dan Haren and reliever Rafael Soriano, to a pitching staff that was already considered one of the best, along with the addition of speedy outfielder Denard Spahn. They improved an already great team, but it’s the Atlanta Braves who made perhaps the biggest offseason splash in the NL, acquiring first BJ Upton, a five tool outfielder with proven success, and then his brother Justin Upton, 2011 MVP contender and one of the most diversely talented young player in the league.
However the improvement of NL teams like the Nationals and Braves was equaled by a few teams in the AL as well. The Blue Jays captured the biggest headlines of the offseason with their trade with the Marlins which brought in shortstop Jose Reyes, and starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. With Reyes and Johnson as bonafide stars and Buerhle as one of the most consistent starters in the game, this move alone would have brought them to contention, but the Jays didn’t stop there, adding 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey as well as 2012 All Star MVP Melky Cabrera, additions which instantly catapult them to the top of contention.
The AL’s best team last year, the Detroit Tigers, also added some crucial pieces, where a string of young players were cycled as starters in right field last year they will now have All Star Torii Hunter, a huge improvement both offensively and defensively. The resigning of Anibal Sanchez will give the Tigers his services for a full year, and he is added into a rotation which includes the best pitcher in the game (Justin Verlander), one of the best young flamethrowers in Max Scherzer, and the perennially consistent Doug Fister. However perhaps the biggest addition is coming from in house, with the return of perennial All Star and one of the most consistently excellent hitters in the game, Victor Martinez.
The Angels, Tigers, and Blue Jays are the favorites in the AL, and the Braves, Nationals, and Dodgers are the favorites in the NL, so how is it going to shake out? The Angels lineup, including Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout, and Mike Trumbo, is likely the most formidable, though their starting pitching and bullpen is stellar and nothing more. The Tigers have likely the most complete team, with the best rotation in the AL, a star studded lineup including the 2012 Triple Crown and MVP Winner Miguel Cabrera, consistent MVP contender Prince Fielder, four time All Stars Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter, and a bullpen full of young flamethrowers, though health is a big question for their relievers, and consistency for young position players like Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks. The Blue Jays are stacked with talent, but the players they added include frequent underachievers (Reyes), injury prone players (Johnson), and a couple who have large question marks about their ability to produce consistently, especially in the more competitive AL (Cabrera and Dickey).
In the NL likely the overall favorite is the Dodgers, with a dominant pitching staff (Kershaw, Greinke, and Beckett) and a formidable lineup (Kemp, Gonzalez, Ramirez and Crawford). However they’re a bigger question mark than the Braves and Nationals, because production and health from many of their stars is uncertain. The high quality pitching of the Braves and Nationals, along with the Giants, assure their spot in contention, though their lineups don’t quite match up with the Dodgers. With so much talent on so few teams it’s difficult to set them apart, but the season’s almost here so the speculation can come to an end!