PHOTO ©KEITH ALLISON
MLB Season Preview Alex Gordon re-signs with The Royals
AL East Gone are the days when the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays battled it out for the best record in baseball, but it’s hard to completely write off any team in the division. The Yankees have not aged particularly gracefully, nor have they been able to restock their lineup with high-priced free agents, as per their normal modus operandi. The Bombers were able to pry All-Star Starlin Castro away from the Cubs to man second base and add fireballer Aroldis Chapman to a formidable bullpen – after he finishes serving a 30-game suspension for violating the league’s domestic violence policy. If Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi eat enough innings, and graybeards such as Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltrán and Mark Teixeira can roll back the clock, a repeat of last year’s Wild Card finish isn’t out of the question. Over in Boston, the Red Sox have teetered between worst and first the past few seasons, and 2016 is another campaign that could go either way. David Price arrives to shore up the rotation. Outfielder Mookie Betts and shortstop Xander Bogaerts are legitimate talents, and if Dustin Pedroia and Pablo Sandoval can return to form, David Ortiz’s swan song could just extend into October. The Orioles were the biggest offseason spenders in baseball, ploughing $280 million into retaining Chris Davis, Matt Wieters and Darren O’Day, signing Yovani Gallardo, Hyun-soo Kim and Pedro Álvarez, and trading for Mark Trumbo. The O’s will slug a lot of home runs out of Camden Yards again, and their bullpen will stay rock solid, but despite the spending spree, whether Baltimore will be any better than their 81-81 mark of last season remains to be seen. While the Rays look pretty average on paper, they’ve tended to get the most out of what they have in a competitive division. Evan Longoria and the offense need to be more prolific at scoring runs than a year ago 76
(6th worst in the league) in order to support what has been a solid pitching rotation, but it’s hard to get terribly excited about things in West Florida. José Bautista’s monumental bat flip in Game 5 of the AL Division Series against the Rangers was the iconic image of last year’s postseason, and the Blue Jays should have power to spare once again, with an offense spearheaded by ‘Joey Bats’ and defending NL MVP Josh Donaldson. They elected not to dig deeper into the wallets to re-sign ace David Price, trading instead for Jesse Chavez and inking J.A. Happ to a two-year deal. This year’s Blue Jays will look a lot like last year’s, which is no bad thing, and makes them the team to beat in the East.
AL Central The Royals brought a World Series title to Kansas City for the first time since the George Brett era, and the question on everyone’s mind these days is, “can they do it again?” GM Dayton Moore didn’t tinker too much under the hood in the offseason, re-signing left fielder Alex Gordon to a 4-year deal, much to the relief of the Royal faithful. Rentals Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist were allowed to seek greener pastures, but manager Ned Yost and the Royals have a formula based on spotless run-preventing defence coupled with a contact-oriented, team-speed offense that is geared to manufacturing runs. Add in a dash of starting pitching and a lights-out bullpen and you’ve got the recipe for a parade through downtown KC in early November. There are worries that Eric Hosmer (1B) and Mike Moustakas (3B) may regress after career years, not to mention the fact that the rest of the AL Central has improved. But until someone takes it away, the AL Central crown resides in Kansas City. With a starting rotation that includes Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, the Indians have the pitching to
by Jay B Webster
make a run at a division title. The question is, can the Cleveland offense keep up its end of the bargain? While the Tigers maintain an All-Star calibre core of Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Victor Martinez, the trio failed to put up the kind of numbers fans were accustomed to, as Detroit sank to the AL Central cellar. GM Al Avila added starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, outfielder Justin Upton and closer Francisco Rodriguez in order to make one more run at glory with his aging stars. In a surprise turn of events, the Twins returned to respectability in 2015, despite an offense with the lowest team on-base percentage and a pitching staff with the fewest strikeouts in the AL – not exactly a recipe for winning in today’s baseball world. Byron Buxton continues his arc to superstardom, but second-year manager Paul Molitor may well have to continue working his voodoo (124 different batting orders in 2015 season) in order to keep Minnesota in the hunt. The White Sox, on the other hand, had high expectations entering last season and went on to disappoint. Starting pitcher Chris Sale is one of the best around, but slugger José Abreu and newcomers Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie had better get the ‘O’ ticking over in Chi-town, or the rest of the division will continue to pass Chicago by.
AL West After an injury-ravaged 2014, the Texas Rangers reclaimed the division title last season. GM Jon Daniels added Ian Desmond to a lineup that already included Prince Fielder, Adrián Beltré and Shin-Soo Choo. Yu Darvish is expected back in May, and coupled with a full season from Cole Hamels, the Rangers rotation figures to be formidable. If they can stay healthy, another title run could be in the cards.